Thursday, December 20, 2007

Cumin-Roasted Potatoes and Bacon-Wrapped Dates

Cumin Roasted Potatoes with Smoked Salmon
Wednesday I entered my kitchen for the first time in nearly a month. Well, that's not quite true--seeing as our "kitchen" is really just one wall of our "living room" in our tiny Manhattan apartment, I enter it all the time. But pull out the knives, turn on the oven and follow a recipe? It's been awhile.

But on Monday of this week, I took my last final, turned in my last paper and officially finished my first semester of grad school. How to celebrate? With a fab holiday party of course--as the prosecco flowed, everyone gobbled up bacon-wrapped, parmesan stuffed dates and cumin roasted potatoes topped with smoked salmon and creme fraiche. For the recipes, click the links. The dates can be prepared ahead of time--just store on a baking sheet in the fridge until you want to cook them. With the potatoes, be sure to follow the instructions and roast them cut-side down on the pan--they'll develop a lovely crispy-crunchy skin. Also, I skipped the caviar on the potatos--I am just a grad student after all.

School doesn't start again until late January, so watch this space! Over the next few weeks I'll be reacquainting myself with the kitchen and cooking up a storm (I hope!).

Monday, November 19, 2007

Fall Weather Flavors: Butternut Squash Pasta

Butternut Squash Pasta with Speck and Shallots
Apple crisp, roasted squash, long-braised pork. All of these dishes taste better with a chill in the air and colored leaves on the ground. In Los Angeles, fall and winter dishes usually required suspension of disbelief--yes, I really need that heavy braised lamb to help me face the 80 degree November day. No, there's nothing weird about baking Christmas cookies when it's 70 and sunny. And of course it makes sense that the Pasadena Gap sells hats and mittens--wouldn't want to get frostbite from the 2 second walk from the car to the house when it's an oh-so-cold 50.

No suspension needed here in New York. To say I've enjoyed my first proper fall in over 5 years is an understatement. From the first day I had to wear a scarf, to the hot apple cider from the farmers' market, to the wet, sloppy snowflakes that fell this morning, I've loved every minute.

When I've made it into my "kitchen" (i.e. the back wall of my "living room"), I've greedily exploited fall's signature foods. My favorite dish was one I threw together hastily last week--cubed and oven-roasted butternut squash, sprinkled liberally with salt and pepper, tossed with caramelized shallots and ribbons of speck. Ladled over fresh penne, showered with fresh parmesan. Make sure you let your squash roast long enough to develop crispy corners so you have little cubes of sweet crunchy goodness. Can't wait for December!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Lunch, with Highlighter

Salad, again
Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. I should pack my own lunch for school. But instead I eat salads from Subsconcious all the damn time. Salad bars abound in New York and I love them--you give the guy behind the counter the container of greens you've selected, he dumps it into a big metal bowl, and you proceed to point to all the goodies you want, which he adds, tosses, and returns to you. This is a new phenomenon for me, and damn if I'm not giddy with all the choices (non-local and imbued with pesticides, I'm sure).

The best goodie selection near Columbia is at Westside Market--they have all sorts of berries, apples, pears, candied walnuts and more. Plus they charge you by the pound, not the item. Subsconcious is much closer to school though, so I rely on a mix of cherry tomatoes, corn, chickpeas, sunflower seeds, blue cheese and balsamic vinaigrette. Yesterday I branched out into beets, grilled chicken, cranberries and walnuts. I know this thrilling look into my lunch life is what keeps you coming back to Erin's Kitchen, but right now, it's what I got. Any recommendations for my next salad?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Pizza Worth the Walk-Grimaldi's

Pepperoni and Sausage Pizza at Grimaldi's, Brooklyn
Last weekend, the family was in town, and we took a stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge. Though the day was a bit drizzly and gray, we gawked at the Statue of Liberty, picked out the Empire State Building through the fog, and experienced the Bernoulli effect. Our willingness to endure a few sprinkles was rewarded with a short line at famed Brooklyn pizza joint Grimaldi's, our final destination, nearly smack dab under the bridge.

Home to a coal-fired brick pizza oven, Grimaldi's churns out the bubbling pizzas like clockwork--they need just a few minutes in the toasty oven to bake. The pizzas are all topped with fresh mozzarella, which blisters a delightful brown in the heat. The smell of garlic and basil permeates the small dining room, and it's hard to wait your turn. Our party of six made short work of two larges, one with pepperoni and sausage, the other with peppers, mushrooms and extra garlic (which ensured family togetherness for the rest of the afternoon).

For an extra treat, I suggest a stop at the nearby Jacques Torres chocolate shop for dessert.

19 Old Fulton St. under the Brooklyn Bridge
cash only

Monday, October 22, 2007

From East to Ouest

Fresh Lychees in ChinatownFresh lychees in Chinatown, after dim sum at Jing Fong.

So grad school may not prevent me from eating (as my disturbingly regular afternoon chocolate chip cookie break can attest), but it certainly prevents me from writing about it. In between chapters of the U.S. military's Counterinsurgency Manual and afternoons spent deriving the consumer and producer surplus, I've savored barstool dinners at Franny's and Bar Stuzzichini, both purveyors of rustic, nibbly Italian food and home to well-made aperitifs. I've also discovered 50-cent Ukrainian-grandmother-made varenyky in the East Village, sampled Jing Fong's dim sum, and found time to whip up a nutmeg-laced apple crisp. And of course, $3 pizza slices have found their way into my mouth on more than one late night walk home from the library.

Dinner at Bar Stuzzichini, New York CityDinner at Bar Stuzzichini--arancini (risotto balls stuffed with cheese), meatballs and eggplant involtini

My dining highlight of the past week, however, was a pre-econ midterm dinner at Ouest. Dinner at this proper spot helped remind me of my adult self, not the cramming in the library with vending machine snacks and drinking $2 Coors Light grad school self (to clarify, the beers are not consumed in the library, though that might help). J and I slipped into the bar, among the well-coiffed ladies and blue-blazered gents of the Upper West Side, and ordered comforting, fork-tender game dishes--pan roasted squab for him, roasted rabbit for me. In both dishes, the sides nearly outshone the meats, not a small feat. For every bite I snatched of his earthy duck liver risotto, he paid me back with a fork in my garlicky capellini studded with wild mushrooms.

The prices at Ouest aren't grad student friendly, but on the day before a big exam, I decided a treat was in order. Besides, all that vending machine food saves me plenty.

2315 Broadway
New York, NY 10024
between 83rd and 84th

Monday, October 01, 2007

Plum Flatbread, Roast Cod, and the Balance of Payments

So, if an American buys her plum flatbread with U.S. dollars from an Italian, she purchases an import while increasing her foreign liabilities. And if that Italian, he buys some fresh American cod with his lira? American exports increase, as do our foreign assets.

See--if I tie my foodblogging to economics? Then I can justify the time spent writing this post.

First, let me tell ya about plum flatbread. A few weeks ago, I discovered this late summer delicacy at Casellula Wine and Cheese, a tiny Hell's Kitchen joint. J was out of town, and I was distressed that I hadn't ventured below 96th Street in ages. Thumbing through New York Magazine's Cheap Eats, I noted this spot, figuring it was close enough to make it back home with plenty of study time left in the night.

The plum flatbread stole the show--so much so that I attempted to recreate it for friends at home the very next night. Toast some thin, hearty bread. Roast some plums in the oven for about 1/2 hour. Spread the plums on top of the bread, top with fresh ricotta and arugula tossed with balsamic vinaigrette. If you're not entertaining vegetarians, add some thin slices of prosciutto for extra decadence.

The lovely cod you see at the top of the post? It's all J. He's become the cook in the Sikorsky-Stewart household--as I slave over 800+ pages of reading a week, he chops and sautes with the best of them. He roasted this cod in the oven with green onions, tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper and it was gone in about 5 minutes. Perhaps I'll never be "less busy" than he is again!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

LA Food in NY Style: Red Hook Ballfields

quesadilla at Red Hook Ball FieldsWhen I arrived in New York, fellow foodblogger Eating in Translation recommended I get an unlimited ride MetroCard and explained that to eat the best New York has to offer, I'd have to get out of the Columbia environs as much as possible. While increasingly difficult econ homework makes the latter less and less likely, I do have the unlimited card and I've corralled a group of fellow grad student food lovers with the hope of heading out of Morningside Heights at least one weekend every month for cheap, tasty food.

grilled corn at Red Hook ballfields
Our first excursion took us to the Red Hook Ballfields, home to extremely popular Latin/Central American food stands. The Homesick Texan recommended them as an antidote to my longing for a cheap, decent taco. These stands have inspired extreme devotion from foodies, and so far the Health Department regulators have been kept at bay.

fruit drinks at Red Hook Ballfields
Having only one stomach, I was unable to sample the wealth of goods at the park, but I was more than happy with my spicy, limey grilled corn on a stick and my gigantic "quesadilla"--a tortilla filled with cheese and heated, then filled with your choice of meat, guacamole, salsas, lettuce, etc. Another highlight were the myriad fruity drinks--in addition to the standard jamaica and tamarindo, I also spotted watermelon and drank a subtly sweet lemon-lime.

I felt like I was back in LA, minus the driving, and, oh yeah--what's that I see from the Smith Street subway stop? The Statue of Liberty. Viva Nueva York.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Harriet's Kitchen Puts Shake Shack to Shame

Harriet's Kitchen cheeseburgerAlright, I've only had one Shake Shack burger, and that was a few years ago. But I remember the pleasure of eating outside in Madison Square Park as the highlight of the experience, not the burger itself.

The surroundings in which I ate my cheeseburger from Harriet's Kitchen on the other hand, were not nearly as lovely. This dingy Upper West Side hole-in-the-wall has just two tables wedged in front of a take out counter. But the burger--oh! the burger--if Harriet's required me to eat it on a West Side Highway traffic island during rush hour, I'd comply.

The thick patty was truly medium rare, charred to a perfect crisp on the outside, bursting with juice on the inside. A toasted sesame-seed-sprinkled bun was sturdy enough to absorb the juice, and the burger itself was smothered in a thick layer of cheese topped with a tangle of sweet sauteed onions. This was a burger I couldn't put down, except to eat some equally perfect french fries-deep dark golden brown with potato peels on.

So, skip the line at the Shack, hop the 1 train and visit Harriet's. You're even close enough to Central Park that you could get some take out and improve your surroundings.

Harriet's Kitchen
502 Amsterdam Ave.
New York, NY 10024
between 84th and 85th Sts

Sunday, September 09, 2007

In a Grocery Fix, Pork Chops Soothe the Pain

Fresh Figs from FairwayThese figs came from Fairway, and I had to fight off the fig fanatics of the Upper West Side for them.

Aargh, am I annoyed with grocery shopping in New York. The overpriced Gristede's on my corner makes me grumpy, while the Gourmet Garage doesn't have 1/2 of what I need. The Westside Market has dreamy cheese and charcuterie, but abominable veggies. I think the contents of Fairway's aisles might make me swoon if I could pause long enough to look without getting run over by an impatient 80 year old's shopping cart--today while waiting at the deli counter a gray-haired little lady called the man next to me a jackass because he didn't move out of her way fast enough.

The closest I've come to grocery shopping heaven is the greenmarket at 97th and Amsterdam on Fridays. Imagining a couple of stands a la LA's Silver Lake market, I was delighted to discover a block chock full of veggie and fruit stands, plus a free range pork and beef stand, a dairy dealer, and a turkey guy. I breathed a sigh of relief as I chatted with farmers and filled my bags with lovely local produce.

Saturday night J and I turned my market bounty into the first real dinner to come out of our New York kitchen--we even lit some candles and used cloth napkins! The pork recipe comes adapted from Epicurious, and you could easily use apples instead of the Asian pears. Also, I brined my chops for about 7 hours--about 1/4 c. salt, 1/4 c. sugar, 5 cups water and a handful of cloves and star anise. These chops were so delish, I forget all about the difficulty of city shopping.

Parmesan and Sage Crusted Pork Chops with Asian Pears and Onions

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
5-6 small Asian pears, seeded and quartered
2-3 small sweet onions, quartered
3/4 cups fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 large egg
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 boneless pork chops (each about 1-2 inches thick)

Preheat the oven to 425.

Heat a large, ovenproof saute pan over medium heat. Add butter and olive oil, then the pears and the onions.

While the pears and the onions begin to cook, mix the breadcrumbs, cheese, sage, and lemon peel in a wide, shallow dish. In a separate wide, shallow bowl, lightly beat the egg. Pour the flour on a separate plate.

Salt and pepper your pork chops on both sides. Dredge in flour, then dip in the egg. Then dip the chops in the bread crumb mixture, pressing down on both sides to help the crumbs adhere.

When the pears and onions are lightly browned, move them to the side of the pan so there's enough room in the middle for the chops.

Add pork chops to pan and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes on each side. Place the pan in the oven and bake until chops are crisp on the outside and lightly pink on the inside, about 20 minutes.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Sculpture and a Scoop

Gelato and the Richard Serra exhibit, MOMA
Though the gelato at the newish UWS spot Grom inspires long lines, it certainly can't inspire the awe that Richard Serra's massive steel sculptures do. Serra's Torqued Ellipse IV (1998) and Intersection II (1992) currently sit in the sculpture garden at the MOMA, where you can gaze in wonder while savoring Il Laboratorio de Gelato's intense dark chocolate gelato. The Serra exhibit closes September 10, so get there soon!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Taqueria y Fonda--Morningside Heights

Taqueria y Fonda, Morningside Heights, NYC
On a quest for a taste of LA, J and I descended on Taqueria y Fonda Saturday afternoon. This Mexican dive serves your standard burritos, tacos, enchiladas and tortas (Mexican sandwiches) for student-friendly prices. Though a taco costs a whopping (by LA standards) $3, the huge burritos clock in around $7 and my big-enough-for-two chicken torta was $6.25.

The salsas that came with our free chips were the standout of our meal--two green and spicy, one red and smoky--but they deserved better, saltier chips. J's cesina (dry beef marinated in lemon and herbs) burrito could have fed a small army, and my torta, smeared with refried beans, and stacked with onions, tomatoes, jalapenos, cheese, and charred, juicy chicken (but not the promised avocado) was similarly large. Both were tasty enough that we'll return to sample other menu items, but if we didn't live nearby I doubt we'd make a special trip to visit.

The seating's cramped, but the service and fellow patrons (a mix of Columbia students and Mexican families) are friendly. Unlike most LA taco stands, beer is available, as is delivery (and take out). The specials ("authentic regional dishes from southwestern Mexico" according to the menu) cost between $10.25-$10.95 and include chicken with pumpkin seed sauce, mole rojo (red mole), mole verde (green mole), and one of my favorites, chile en nogada (stuffed peppers with pork, raisins and bananas in a creamy sauce.

Taqueria Y Fonda
968 Amsterdam Ave (between 107th and 108th)
New York, NY 10025
212-531-0383 or 212-531-0325
delivery from 86th St to 122nd St

Taqueria Y Fonda la Mexicana in New York

Friday, August 31, 2007

Surviving with a Sandwich

In case y'all were wondering, this grad school thing? It's kicking my butt, and classes haven't even started yet. The fanciest item out of my frying pan since we moved to NY? A gussied up grilled cheese.

Pressed Sandwich with Bell Peppers
Damn though--a sammie can satisfy, and the ingredients, not hard work, make a good one great. I piled a crusty roll with thinly sliced garlicky salami, a schmear of goat cheese on one side, blue cheese on the other, a smidge of honey mustard and a tangle of sauteed bell peppers and shallots. Then I buttered the outside of the roll, placed it in saute pan over medium heat, then pressed down on the sandwich with my cast iron skillet. After a few minutes, I flipped the sandwich, pressed down again, and thoroughly enjoyed my gooey, toasty mess.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Recession Special at Gray's Papaya

The Recession Special at Gray's PapayaWhen most non-New Yorkers hear "Upper West Side", I doubt a hot dog stand springs to mind as one of the neighborhood's prime dining destinations. But as I waited for J outside Gray's Papaya this evening, I discovered that this home of wieners has a following among grannies with walkers, lithe model types, young families, teenage boys and everyone in between. Frank Bruni's confessed his love for Gray's, as have Mario Batali and Anthony Bourdain.

The location at 72nd and Broadway is one of three outposts of Gray's on the west side of Manhattan and shouldn't be confused with rival Papaya King. On offer--hot dogs with your choice of mustard, onions or sauerkraut (you add the ketchup yourself) and various tropical drinks including banana daiquari, orange, grape, pina colada, and of course, papaya.

The Recession Special at Gray's Papaya
The recession special (or as I like to think of it, grad student special) gets you two hot dogs and small drink and sets you back a mere $3.50. The skinny dogs are nicely grilled with a slight smoky flavor, with a perfect bun to meat ratio. I highly recommend the onions and the mustard, with a smattering of ketchup on top. As for the papaya drink--it's nothing special--a gussied up kool-aid. At the 72nd Street branch, you can wander over to the benches outside the subway stop to enjoy your meal, or just gobble your frank in a few bites outside the restaurant's door.

Gray's Papaya
2090 Broadway (at 72nd)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Studying at Joe The Art of Coffee

Cappuccino at Joe the Art of Coffee
In my undergrad days, The Haymarket was my regular coffee shop spot. The coffee wasn't great, but it was cheap and the vegan anarchist baristas didn't care if you sat all day, ordering just one cup.

It's been ages since I sat in a coffee shop for more than 1/2 an hour, but yesterday I couldn't face another day in the library with my math review materials. Grad school hasn't even started yet, and Columbia's already drowning me in linear functions. So I packed up and headed downtown to Joe The Art of Coffee, a place I'd noted after reading The Amateur Gourmet's plaudits.

My taste in coffee has improved over the past six years, and Joe's more than delivers. My cappuccino's foam was so thick that I had to spoon out the last few bits, and the espresso was rich and toasty. Joe's coffee comes from The Barrington Coffee Roasting Company, and its baristas are well trained and extremely skilled--read through their bios on the shop's website and you'll find they know their stuff.

Cappuccino in hand, I plopped down at a quiet table, got out my notebook, and for about an hour reverted to my student-self. Unfortunately, once classes start, Joe is too far away for regular study sessions (shoulda gone to NYU!), but for that foam I'll make the trip at least once or twice a month.

Joe The Art of Coffee
9 East 13th St

141 Waverly Place

130 Greene St

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Morningside Heights Greenmarket

My first meal in my new apartmentThe first "homemade" meal in my apartment: turkey, cheese and spinach sandwich on Meredith's Bakery oatmeal-walnut bread, tomatoes from the Greenmarket, and "baby" carrots

As J and I wait for the bulk of our possessions to arrive, we've been subsisting on yogurts, bananas and meals out in our neighborhood. We purchased a pack of plastic silverware and two glasses--that's the extent of our current kitchen.

Yet when I stumbled upon the Morningside Heights Greenmarket on Thursday, I couldn't resist the tomatoes, which I've had far too few of this year. I figured Samascott Orchards vibrant yellow cherry tomatoes would be sweet enough for afternoon snacking right out of the container, and I was right.

Samascott Orchards peaches and plums at the Morningside Heights Greenmarket
I also picked up a loaf of hearty oatmeal walnut bread from Meredith's Bakery. Her stand's tables were piled with pies filled with New York state fruit, all sorts of breads and cookies too. I was also pleased that at this fairly small market (about 5 stands) there were two dairy stands, something difficult to come by at LA's markets. One sold ice cream, fresh milk and butter while the other hawked its cheeses. Once our plates and knives and bowls arrive, I'll check them out!

Morningside Heights Greenmarket
Broadway between 114th and 115th
8 am - 6 pm Thursdays and Sundays

Thursday, August 16, 2007

First NY Night Out at Kefi-Upper West Side

Tomato, Green Bean and manouri salad at Kefitomato, green bean, and manouri cheese salad

New York Magazine's annual Cheap Eats issue arrived right before we left LA, and it's the one magazine that made the move cross country. Some have taken issue with the mag's definition of "cheap", and I'll admit my first sample of the list was not a $3 falafel joint. Instead, J and I headed to Kefi, a Greek meze spot run by Michael Psilakas where our tab for two ran about $50.

Though our single income/grad student budget will ensure we visit the $3 places more frequently, the subterranean Kefi was an excellent value. We feasted on three sizable meze plates, shared a pasta dish, and sipped a glass each of a decent Greek red wine. (Though if you include the white wine that entertained us while we waited for a table, you must add another $13 to the tab).

After two moving days filled with unhealthy beige/brown foods, I needed to start with some summery veggies, and Kefi's tomato, green bean, olive, and manouri cheese salad packed a perfect punch. Dressed with a pungent vinaigrette, the salad disappeared quickly as J had to fight me for his share. Not that he minded much--he was distracted by the crispy cod served over garlicky mashed potatoes, which he compared to a less salty brandade, unmixed. I snuck a few bites of the lemony, moist fish which would have only improved if I'd eaten it on the shore of some Greek island.

hearty winter dishes at Kefiflat pasta with lamb in the foreground, sausage and sheep's milk dumplings in the background

Our second round was perhaps more suited for winter, but delicious nonetheless and the air-conditioned, windowless room helped us ignore the summer weather. We shared one more meze and my favorite dish--fluffy sheep's milk dumplings with spicy lamb sausage. With every bite I marveled over the sausage--sweet at first taste, then the spice hits you, with a hint of cinnamon. At this point I was fairly full, but still managed to enjoy our final dish of flat pasta, braised rabbit and graviera cheese. Topped with crispy shallots, this hearty dish was pleasantly gamey and rustic, and as we lingered over our wine, we polished it off.

The menu continues on to a list of main dishes, with a heavy dose of seafood, including a lovely-sounding pan fried striped bass and a grilled branzino. These courses top out at $16, while the meze, which easily provide 3-4 people substantial bites, range from $6-10. There are also plenty of Greek wines by the glass for only $6.

We didn't have a reservation and waited about 10 minutes at 9ish on a Wednesday night. The front bar area is quite cramped, but a decent place to sip some wine while you wait.

222 West 79th Street
between Broadway and Amsterdam

Why NY is Better than LA (for me)

I know I'm picking a fight with this post's title. Don't get me wrong, I grew to like, if not love, LA in my five years there. If you read my posts about LA restaurants, you know I ate at delicious spots high and low and found the food fantastic. As I prepared to leave the city, I featured food lovers' LA favorites, and I wrote a short but sappy ode to the city at the end of June.

But. But. J and I have visited NY once or twice a year since we began dating in 2000, and every time we've been in the Big Apple, we've vowed to live here. It's where we fell in love, it's where we got engaged, and it's where we've enjoyed many a fabulous meal, whether a late night Crif Dog, an even later night steak frites, or one of many dinners with friends and family.

And now, the city is ours--not for a long weekend while we sleep in a friend's living room, but for at least two years of graduate school in our very own Upper West Side apartment. In just two days here, I know that for us, LA doesn't even compare.

I could go on and on, but here's a few food-related charms that I love: 75 cent coffee that's not great, but good, at the deli across the street. Multiple 24 hour restaurants and grocery stores within 2-3 blocks of our apartment. Bagels! Zabars! Walking twenty blocks to dinner. Fruit carts on almost every corner. And this is just the beginning. Check ya later La-La land.

photo by hyunlab

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Best Vegetarian Burgers on the Planet

Walnut Balls at the Trempealeau HotelVegetarian walnut balls at the Trempealeau Hotel

Frequent readers of Erin's Kitchen know my (negative) opinion of fake meat. The worst fake meat of them all? The veggie burger that tries to imitate a beef burger. If you've ever tasted a Boca Burger, you know what I mean. Since a juicy, medium-rare hunk of ground beef is inimitable, the soy stand-ins resemble the wan, dry "Grade D but Edible" patties of my middle school cafeteria.

However, veggie burgers that taste like veggies (or other non-meat ingredients)? Love them!! Morningstar Farms Black Bean Chipotle patties? Yum. My sister's falafel-like discs? I gobble them up.

Therefore, the best veggie burger in the world? It's a walnut burger, found at the Trempealeau Hotel in Trempealeau, WI and I've eaten them since my childhood. They aren't vegan--they're stuffed with cheese, eggs, bread crumbs, tamari and walnuts of course. Rich in flavor, extremely moist--they're vegetarian cooking at its best--instead of attempting to replicate a meat dish, these burgers are a delicacy unto themselves.

At the restaurant, they're served as burgers, and also as "walnut balls"--as an appetizer, in an Italian sandwich, and over spaghetti. You can order the patties frozen online, four patties for $7.40.

The Trempealeau Hotel
150 Main Street
Trempealeau, WI 54661
(608) 534-6898

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Homegrown Tomatoes and Their Enemies

Nothing says summer better than pulling a fresh tomato off my mom's plants on her front porch. Since I've been home on vacation in Wisconsin, I've been munching on these fruits daily--usually sliced with just a bit of salt and pepper.

Yesterday, however, we returned from a few days away and found one of her plants decimated--leaves gone, tomatoes half-eaten, and poop-like pellets everywhere. "Raccoons!" cried my mom. Later that night, as she rinsed the poop pellets off the deck, she looked at the plant again. And saw 1 inch wide, 4 inch long, bright green horned tomato worms. Five of them. The biggest worms I've ever seen outside of a tropical location. Left to their own devices, these worms can destroy a tomato plant within a day or two, and will eventually morph into giant moths. My mom bravely removed them from the plant and sent them on to the great tomato in the sky.

If hornworms haven't infested your tomatoes, you could try confit-ing tomatoes, roasted tomato, bell pepper and corn salsa, tomato pie, or this tomato onion tart.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Final LA Favorites: Nancy's Living Large in LA

Erin's Kitchen has (almost) left LA! Before I go, I'm asking Angelenos to share their favorite food spots--east to west, high to low. Read previous LA Favorites, including recommendations from Jonathan Gold, Russ Parsons, Evan Kleiman and fellow foodbloggers here.

LA Favorites #12: Nancy of Living LArge

How long have you lived in LA?
insert bold tags
5 years. I'm one of those cynical Midwest transplants who bags on LA until I go home one winter into sub-zero temps and freezing hail and decide, hey, it's not so bad after all.

What neighborhood do you call home?
WeHo! Love the 'hood, hate the meter maids.

Quick--a favorite LA food memory. What's the first one that comes to mind?
My first trip to a farmers' market in California. The farmers' markets out here just don't compare to anywhere else in the country. Some friends and I went to the one in Hollywood (near Ivar and Sunset) and gathered up some peaches, strawberries, grapes, plums, gouda cheese, salami, fresh bread, fresh-squeezed lemonade and headed up to Zuma Beach for a hike and picnic.

It's lunch time, you've got $20 bucks in your pocket, and traffic is magically non-existant. Where do you go?
I head east on the 10 and stop at the first banh mi place that I see (probably Lee's or Mr. Baguette) and get a sandwich for lunch, one for dinner and one for lunch the next day. And I'll still have $10 left over.

Top three food or drink experiences I should have before I leave LA?
1. Getting ridiculously housed on wine at Bin 8945 one night and then curing your hangover with a big bowl of ramen at Daikokuya the next day. (That's two experiences, but they go hand-in-hand.)
2. Scoops (on Heliotrope and Melrose) for Tai Kim's extraordinary ice cream, gelato and sorbet. He's a genius with flavors - Raspberry Chimay and Kombucha Brandy have induced tears of happiness. True story.
3. At least one LA food event. Many of them feature great restaurants, and it's a chance to sample a lot of food from many different places as well as meet chefs. Events can be pricey, but the money often goes toward a charitable cause. Some of the biggies include Best of LA (Concern Foundation), Taste of the Nation (Share our Strength), Great Chefs of LA (Kidney Foundation), Savor the Season (Break the Cycle) and American Wine & Food Festival (Meals on Wheels). So eat up, it's a tax deduction!

Whole Wheat Triple Berry Bread

Triple Berry Bread
Perhaps I'm crazy for choosing to bake this quick bread in the middle of my packing adventure, but I had a lovely breakfast all week, and I was able to use up a bit more of my jamfest product. Plus, I needed a break from smashing wine glasses (dropping a bubble-wrapped glass on the floor to see if you've cushioned it enough is NOT a good idea).

raspberries and blueberriesThe whole wheat flour and relatively low sugar content let the berries steal the show, and the jam helps moisten the bread. I used three mini-loaf pans, but one regular pan works fine too. This is my entry for Bread Baking Day #2 hosted by Columbus Foodie.

Whole Wheat Triple Berry Bread
(adapted from Baking Bites' Raspberry Lime Bread)

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp vegetable oil
3/4 cup half and half
3/4 c. blueberries
3/4 c. raspberries
1/2-3/4 c. strawberry jam

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly butter three mini-loaf pans.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.

In a large bowl, stir sugar, egg, vanilla and vegetable oil until smooth. Stir in 1/2 of flour mixture and all of the half and half. Stir in the rest of the flour mixture until just combined.

Gently stir in the blueberries and raspberries. Fill all three pans 1/3 full. Spread the strawberry jam on the batter in the pans. In each pan, cover the jam with more batter.

Bake for approximately 45 minutes at 350F, or until a tester comes out clean when inserted into the center of the loaves.

Turn loaves out onto a wire rack and cool completely before slicing.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

C Stands for Corn Mold:
Testing my Limits at La Morenita Oaxaquena

Enmoladas at La Morenita OaxaquenaEnmoladas (Tortillas drowned in black mole and queso)

Here in LA, the Health Department gives restaurants letter grades that must be displayed on the premises: A, B or C. Though the Department describes a C as "generally acceptable" in food handling and many a Chowhound consider it a badge of honor to eat at C-level restaurants, the bright red letter (A's are blue, B's are green) makes me nervous. Until yesterday, I'd never knowingly eaten at a C--and you know what? I survived.

A few weeks ago, the LA Times gushed over La Morenita Oaxaquena, a cozy Oaxacan spot near Koreatown. Close to my old office, it was a convenient spot to meet with my friend and ex-coworker Axel, a Mexican food expert who has explained to me the real way to make cochinita pibil and generously cooked me his grandmother's delicious chocolately black mole.

Huitlacoche Empanada at La Morenita OaxaquenaHuitlacoche Empanada

As I walked up to this strip mall restaurant, I immediately noticed the bright C in the window, but the call of mole overcame my worries, plus the LA Times writer hadn't mentioned it, right? I like to eat out with Axel because he encourages me to try new things--yesterday it was huitlacoche, a fungus that grows on ears of corn. The Aztec name translates to "raven's excrement" and in Mexico the smoky black mold is prized. We ordered the huitlacoche empanada (looked like a quesadilla to me). The mold mingled with chewy queso, and Axel pronounced it good but canned (canned mold?!?) because of the saltiness.

Axel's Barbacoa at La Morenita OaxaquenaBarbacoa Stew

Axel's barbacoa (goat) soup was rich and red, full of fork tender chunks of goat. My emoladas (tortillas drowned in black mole and queso) had bite and I nearly cleared my plate. The Times article highlights the red and green mole here, but I'm a sucker for black. They also serve tlayudas, crispy tortillas topped with all sorts of goodies--a Oaxacan pizza if you will.

Prices are reasonable but not ridiculously cheap--most main courses were in the $8-9 range. If I was still working in the area, I'd work La Morenita into my lunch rotation---and cross my fingers that they get that B soon!

La Morenita Oaxaquena
550 W. 3rd St.
Los Angeles, CA
10 AM-1o PM, and they take credit cards

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Adult Kool-Aid: Pomegranate & Mint White Iced Tea

Making sun tea
Packing + 80 degrees + no air conditioning = grumpy, sweaty, tired Erin. Fortunately, this barely sweet, grown-up "Kool-Aid" keeps me motivated.

Pomegranate & Mint White Iced Tea
For tea:
4-5 Pomegranate White Tea bags (Trader Joe's has some)
1 quart water in glass jar/container

Place tea bags in water and close jar or cover container. Place container/jar in sunny spot for at least 1 hour, up to 2. Remove tea bags and store jar in the fridge.
For one glass Kool-Aid:
1 tsp. (or less) simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar heated until sugar dissolves)
4-5 mint leaves, torn in half
ice cubes
Pomegranate iced tea
slice of lemon

In the bottom of a glass, muddle simple syrup and mint leaves together. Add ice cubes and fill glass with iced tea. Stir well. Add lemon slices. Repeat all afternoon.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Tasting vs. Viewing a Top Chef at Perilla

Intellectual snob alert: I don't own a television. Hypocritical-intellectual snob alert: I love me some TV, and watch with reckless abandon when in a hotel, at a friend's or on JetBlue. It was on a cross-country flight from Long Beach to JFK that I caught nearly the whole first season of Top Chef, and became smitten with the quiet, industrious, eventual winner, Harold Dieterle.

Though I can count the number of TV celebrity chef restaurants I've visited on one finger (Babbo, and that was inspired by a New Yorker article, not Molto Mario), when wandering the West Village late last Friday, I happened by Perilla, the restaurant that sprang from Harold's Top Chef earnings. Recalling my flight-long crush on this dark-haired cutie, I decided to give his food a try.

These pictures are so dark and fuzzy, not sure it helps to post them, but on the left, duck meatballs, on the right, farro risotto.

At 10:30 PM, a seat at the bar was easy to find, though the restaurant was definitely still buzzing. The gracious hostess and bartenders made me feel at home, and I was soon savoring a humidity-cutting, heat-reducing Hitachino White Nest Ale as I perused the short menu. I settled on spicy duck meatballs with yam gnocchi and farro risotto to ease my late night hunger pains. I tried to pace myself with the fatty, smoky meatballs, enriched by an over-easy quail egg, but they disappeared quickly (the yam gnocchi faded under the glare of the decadent duck--I forgot they existed). The large portion of nutty, creamy farro, a side dish on the menu, lasted longer, but only because I was full. It was well accented with thinly-sliced sweet-tart purple grapes that helped cut the richness. Both dishes were $10 and more than satisfied for a late snack and could have comprised dinner. Main courses range from $20 for a sauteed skate wing to $29 for a grilled rack and breast of Colorado lamb.

Toward the end of my meal I headed to the ladies' room and was surprised to see Harold himself, noshing and canoodling with a lady friend in one of the restaurants booths. It was late, but on a Friday, in the first few months of a restaurant opening, shouldn't he still be barking orders in the back? Or, perhaps, as a TV star, diners want to see him, not taste food he's cooked? Regardless, the dishes I sampled were solid and his cozy restaurant's a pleasant spot for a single at the bar.

9 Jones Street (between West 4th and Bleecker Sts.)
New York, NY 10014

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Moving Cuisine: Pantry & Freezer Concoctions

Wanting a bit of a break before beginning grad school, I left my job on June 30. Instead of spending my days off baking bread, exploring Mangoes and Curry Leaves or constructing three-course feasts for lunch, I'm packing our apartment and attempting to clear out our pantry and freezer.

Some of my concoctions thus far are detailed below. If you have ideas that can help me finish off canned tomatos, tomato paste, canned artichoke hearts, garbanzo beans, cannelini beans, tuna in olive oil, smoked sardines, spaghetti, red curry paste, couscous, basmati rice, rice noodles, pearl barley, arborio rice, chicken stock, vegetable stock, frozen corn, frozen peas, frozen cranberries, frozen hamburger buns, frozen tortillas, and a frozen bag of ham hocks (?!?) please share in the comments.

Upper left: Pearl barley with parsley pesto and spinach; citrusy green bean salad (from Super Natural Cooking).

Upper right: Trader Joe's "spanish" rice; garbanzos marinated in olive oil and balsamic vinegar with red pepper flakes and garlic; tinned smoked trout; goat cheese.

Bottom right: Tortillas spread with goat cheese; pinto beans cooked with onions, garlic and stout; sauteed summer squash.

Bottom left: Bell peppers stuffed with couscous, Merguez, mystery sausage (not labelled in the freezer), harissa, spinach and feta.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Apartment-Hunting Antidote-Little Branch, West Village

Bar at Little BranchAfter two days of hoofing up and down Manhattan's west side on a quest for an apartment, having submitted an application for a perfect spot and nothing left to do but cross my fingers**, I needed a drink. Though nothing was clear about where I'd soon live, I knew exactly where to drink, thanks to a recommendation from Damian at LA's Seven Grand. He told me to check out Little Branch, so I did.

This subterranean bar, a sister to the reservation-only Milk and Honey, takes cocktails very seriously. The mixers and garnishes are as top shelf and artisanal as the liquor, and the talented bartenders know more drinks and tricks than your Mr. Boston ever dreamed of. The light are low, music's jazzy, and the booths require a bit of a wait on a Friday night. I snagged a corner step in the no-stool bar area, but many folks just leaned against the pressed tin bar.

There's a seasonal cocktail menu (all clocking in at $12) or you can ask for the bartender's choice. I explained my love of bourbon, and the bartender suggested a left-hand (or left-handed, my memory's fuzzy). Being a southpaw myself, I was intrigued as he described the "love child between a Negroni and a Manhattan." Basically--sweet vermouth, Campari, bourbon and bitters. He stirred it over ice, then strained it into a champagne coupe. Like a Negroni, it was the reverse of a mullet--party in the front (sweet), and business in the back (mild bitter aftertaste), with a stronger punch due to the bourbon. After a few sips, my apartment worries, while not erased, certainly seemed less important.

Little Branch (cash only)
20 Seventh Ave. South
New York, NY 10011
at Leroy St.
7 PM-3 AM

**Obviously, this time-honored technique works, as we signed the lease yesterday for a lovely one-bedroom near 96th and Broadway. No broker's fee!! Boo-yah.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Look at Lark Cake Shop, Silver Lake

Fortunately I'm moving, otherwise Lark Cake Shop's $1.50 cupcakes would become a regular reward for the pain my eyebrows suffer at Stark Waxing Studio next door. Actually, the tasty cupcakes at this new bakery in Silver Lake are small enough that they're not ridiculously indulgent--in my book, a good attribute.

When I visited, late in the afternoon on the 2nd day of business, the cases featured coconut, lemon and red velvet cupcakes, as well as carrot, chocolate and other full-size cakes in various flavors. The whimsical cake decorations have a Martha Stewart meets Dr. Seuss vibe, perfect for the rocker moms of Silver Lake. Scones, Mexican wedding cookies, buttery nut caramels, and pecan bars rounded out the edible wares (the store also sells a handful of cake plates/stands, birthday candles, etc).

Though the cupcake craze is tired, old news, Lark's confections could spark new life into the trend. I ordered coconut, and was warned that it would taste best at room temperature. Not a patient gal, I sat down on one of two benches in the front of the store and gobbled it up. I understand the saleswoman's admonition--the dense cake would certainly be less chewy if you'd let it sit for 10-15 minutes. However, the flavors and texture were spot on. It managed to taste light and dreamy, and the fluffy frosting neither coated my teeth with buttercream slime (a common cupcake crime) nor did it cause my teeth to ache with its sweetness.

Another fun Lark attribute is its glass walled kitchen, so you can see the bakers in action. While they had a fair number of full cakes in the display case, quite a few had a slice or two cut out, so if you need a cake for a celebration, I recommend calling ahead.

Lark Cake Shop
3337 West Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA

Semi-Homemade Tortilla Chips

No, this isn't an ode to a Sandra Lee monstrosity. It's a report on the one item I actually "cooked" while in Yelapa.

Every tienda (store) in Yelapa stocked thick and fragrant fresh corn tortillas, but not prepackaged tortilla chips. I like something crisp for scooping guacamole, so I decided to try my hand at what I assume every restaurant in town did--fry the fresh tortillas. The result was a heap of triangular chips, with a slight satisfying chewiness, that disappeared in a frenzied afternoon nosh session (because doing nothing, it makes ya so hungry).

To make the chips, cut as many tortillas as you want into small triangles. Heat vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-high heat--you'll want enough that it's about 1/4 deep or so. Add the triangles (it's okay if they overlap and fill the pan). Stir gently and frequently, making sure to flip the chips. You'll easily see when their ready--they'll curl at the corners and start to turn light brown. Remove chips to a plate and salt. We didn't have any available, but I'd recommend lining the plate with a paper towel to soak up the excess oil.

LA Times Food Blog and Magazine Giveaway

Eater LA reports that the LA Times has launched a food blog, The Daily Dish. Other than the fab Eater, it's a total shut out for LA foodbloggers on the tiny blogroll. Ouch. Another case of the Times trying to demonstrate that really, honestly, truly we're a NATIONAL paper, not a local one?

In other news, my pending move means I'm getting rid of stacks of food magazines--Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Everyday with Rachael Ray and a few Martha Stewarts. If you'd like to get your hands on some of these, shoot me an email (erinskitchen [at] gmail [dot] com) with your address, and I'll happily send some your way.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Cassell's Hamburgers -- Koreatown, Los Angeles

Shopping in Beverly Hills, or waiting to get into the latest club on the Cahuenga Corridor, you'd never know of Angelenos penchant for burgers and fries. However, drive any of our major surface streets and examine the strip malls, or ask a roomful of life-long SoCal residents to name their favorite burgers and you'll realize ground beef patties are central to this city's gustatory consciousness.

Cassell's, an anachronistic lunch spot in the heart of Koreatown, regularly lands on lists of "LA's Best Burgers", yet maintains a low profile. Perhaps its limited hours (lunch only) and location relegate it to remain in the shadow of its more talked about fellow travelers--Apple Pan and Pie 'N Burger. Or perhaps its that the burger just ain't that great.

I really wanted to love Cassell's--instead I settled for mild appreciation. You order at the counter, choosing a whopping 1/3 lb. or 2/3 lb. burger, with or without cheese. The rest of the toppings you get to add yourself once the burger is grilled and on its toasted bun--options include lettuce, tomato, thousand island, ketchup, mustard and homemade mayonnaise.

These burgers are fairly flat, making anything other than medium to medium well difficult to come by. They are made from freshly ground meat and hand-shaped, which should lead to a bomb-ass burger, yet mine was just a bomb. What it lacked in flavor and juiciness, it made up for in size, but a 1/3 lb. burger makes for an unproductive afternoon of work.

The french fries, however, were another story. Golden and fiercely potato-y, crispy outside, soft inside, and magically salty all the way through, these were a revelation. Usually I'm strongly anti-thick fries--most are mealy and lacking flavor. Not these. I'd go back for a basket right now, if Cassell's stayed open just a bit later!

3266 W. 6th Street
Los Angeles CA
(213) 387-5502
open 10:30 AM to 4 PM, Monday-Saturday

Monday, July 09, 2007

Yummy Yelapa:
Fish Tacos, Ceviche, Pozole and More on Mexico's Banderas Bay

(Roll over the photos with your mouse and click to see them full size. Click on the words "photo link" on any picture above for a detailed description. It will open in a new window.)

J and I thoroughly enjoyed our car-less, computer-less, media-less vacation in Yelapa, a small fishing village in Banderas Bay, about 45 minutes by water taxi from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. We stayed at Casa Pepe, one of a handful of rustic palapas that make up Casas de Isabel, a short walk from the main village.

Other than the beach, sun, wildlife, and our palapa's hammock, the food, particularly the fish, was a highlight of the vacation. Since we visited in the off-season, the village was even more sleepy than usual, and most restaurants (many of which were just patios outside someone's home kitchen) were open one or two nights a week. Other than the tourist-oriented Hotel Lagunita, every place was cash-only.

My favorite meal was the fresh ceviche whipped up by our day trip guide to the Marieta Islands. While we relaxed on a private beach, our guide Severino took the boat out to catch a few fish. We ate standing on the beach, spooning the cuke, tomato and lime-rich mixture onto crispy tostadas.

Friday, June 29, 2007