Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Joe, I'm stopping by!!!

Last night I experienced the highs and lows of eating dumplings in Chinatown. High: hearing and tasting the slurp of vinegar and fatty pork broth being imbibed by myself. Low: accidentaly squirting that juicy goodness onto my white shirt. High: being seated immediately upon arrival. Low: sitting next to an annoying chick who wanted to make friends. High: garlic and exotic water spinach. Low: Not eating all of my dumplings before they got cold, indeed losing steam before I could eat the last two or three doughy gems (I miss you!).

Of course, I was at Joe's Shanghai Restaurant, the place you want to go when you want gastronimic bliss in a steamy little pillows made just for you. If you feel overwhelmed by the choices in Chinatown, take your think cap off and sprint to Pell Street, # 9. I think you'd be hard pressed to beat this pick.

I actually ate at Joe's for the first time not too long after beginning this blog. Since then I have eaten plenty of dumplings, mostly at Flushing establishments. Now I would hate to say anything bad about the Chinese food in Flushing. Let's be honest, Flushing is a hands down foody destination, but none of the dumpling places in Flushing have anything on Joe's.

When I asked my friend who grew up in Chinatown where she would recommend that I go, she sent me to the same place I had been taken to by another friend and a google search yielded the same result. Clearly this is the place you want soup dumplings, especially in all of the cold days we have ahead of us, so warm up and get your butt to Joe's, asap.

They're Waiting!

Joe's Shanghai Restaurant

9 Pell Street, Near Bowery
New York, NY 10013

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Innovations from a Kitchenett

I have been cooking in a new kitchen the last month. Of course, every new kitchen brings along quirks and challenges that a good cook should work around or incorporate into her or his cooking style. I, for example, am refraining from purchasing too many gadgets for my kitchen, which would clutter a very small space.
A long time fan of avocado toast, I have altered my eating habits to accomodate the reality of my new space. Now I eat either rye bread, untoasted or I substitute bread all together for tortillas. I don't have a toaster anymore and I'm reluctant to purchase one because there just isn't much space.
Another lesson one might learn from a small space is how to make your space work for multiple purposes. My stove, for example is not just a source of heat to cook food. I also use the oven as pan storage and, until recently, I used it to dry dishes. It worked out so well as a dish-drying object that I quite regret buying my dish rack, which takes up a lot of space.
Instead of investing in a coffee pot that typically rests on the counter, I bought a coffee press. By doing this I keep my precious foot of counter space free to chop vegetables and hold my drink; water or wine, I drink it out of a short glass tumbler: one cup, two purposes.
By adjusting to my space and making it my own I have come across a couple of food ideas you might want to try out, whether you're in a space crunch or not:
Wilted Kale with Shitaki Dressing
27 wide shreds of sweet potato
1/4 of a bunch of kale chopped
1/8 of a medium sized cabbage, shredded
1 garlic clove slivered
1 tablespoon of corn oil
Salt, to taste
Aunt Annie's Shitaki Salad Dressing, to taste
Spunky music, also to taste
Heat oil. Sizzle garlic. drop vegetables. Blaze temperature. Swirl. Salt. Smell. Lower heat. Cover. Sing along to your song. Lift cover. Turn again. Plate. Drizzle. Mmmmmmm.
Spicy Sausage with Penne (I know it sounds phallic, oh well)
1/2 box of penne
2 links of sausage (I used lean turkey sausage and that totally worked, but you can get whatever)
1 glove of garlic
1 handful of cherry tomatoes
1/2 an onion
marinara sauce
tablespoon of olive oil
to taste, italian spice mix or dry basil
salt, to taste
Put water, salted, to heat. Slice those links! Mince that garlic! Pop those cherries! Breath, pause, now--sliver that onion. Heat the oil; drop the garlic, brown on medium high temperature with onions. When pan gives first hint of smoking add tomatoes with sausage. Toss with conviction. Let pan rest and cover. Water should be at a boil. Add the pasta. Pour a glass of wine or eat a piece of chocolate, sit, relax, take an intermission from the kitchen. After your rest, rise, check the sausage. Is it cooked? If so, pour marinara to your liking. Drain pasta, when al dente. Combine penne with sausage. Let them make an aquaintance under simmering flame while you dress table. Serve. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Tomato: the Fall Struggle

My passion for tomatoes is something I freely divulge. Now that the last summer tomatoes are gone I have been left with a deep loss. A less imaginative soul might curl into a ball and cry. I, however, am going to make it through the winter a tomato winner. How? Roasting, broiling and toiling, that's how.

An alternative to fresh sweet slices in the morning is steamed tomatoes dressed with olive oil. Eat with crusty bread, hummus and black coffee. If you're short on time, use the microwave, it handles this task very well.

Additionally, spruce up your pasta dish by improving on your jarred pasta sauce. I like to slice a garlic clove, some onion and whatever other veggie I have in the pantry. I used beats last week to great success. Saute all in pan with olive oil, italian spices and salt, when everything is browning add cherry tomatoes that have been split open. Let their liquid reduce. Add sauce and stir letting it warm. This makes even Ragu taste pretty amazing. Also, you have to let your pot of water boil for the pasta, so it's not adding time to meal prep and the return is well worth it.

You know those sad pale tomatoes they try to sell you as edible produce in your super market? When you don't have a choice and you have to take them home, here's how to pop some flavor back in. Slash them, put them in the broiler. Take them out and dress with oil and vinegar. Yum!

Also, check out Mark Bittman's recipe for tomato jam. Even though he posted it at the end of summer, it works now because the theme here is that whenever you cook a tomato you intensify the flavor, and that's really the problem we're trying to solve. Fall tomatoes aren't kissed by the sun the way summer tomatoes are.

Okay, well I leave you to check on my carrot soup. Please don't let the season go by without roasting or otherwise engaging the delicious root vegetables that are the real crown jewels of this season.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

La Curva: Pupusotas to make you Triste o Atarantada

Yesterday I found myself with my mom in a Pupuseria near Flushing Meadow Park. I didn't really want to go to the park, but she bribed me. If I hung out with her she said she would buy me pupusas. The offer was irresistible; I've had pupusas on the mind since the other day at Whole Foods and I don't get to eat them very often either. 

Unfortunately, my mom wanted to stop there before going to the park and I was not so hungry. She said, let's just have two each and then if we're hungry later we'll pick some up on the way back. That was an appealing proposition because then I'd have the opportunity to sample the greatest variety. 

When we sat down they were not on the menu and we had to ask, in Spanish, what kinds they had that day. They had: cheese, beans and cheese, revueltas (pork and cheese), and cheese and loroco (the exotic national flower of El Salvador). My mom and I, without discussing it first, ordered exactly the same. For a newbie, I think you would want to order just cheese, but the best are revueltas and de loroco, the flower has a unique taste that is difficult to compare. We also ordered orchata, a drink made of rice water and morro (roll the 'r' when you pronounce it. My mom yelled at me for saying 'moro'). 

After ordering, I had plenty of time to reflect on our surroundings. It took some time for them to bring us our food, although the drinks came quickly. The place was warm, but we skipped on water because they only sell bottled water, which I think is sort of lame. Outside of the restaurant were some older Chinese men hanging out. They were from the car repair shop next door. Yet, inside there were only men, all hispanic, probably all Salvadorean. I wanted to stare at them and look for some sort of family resemblance, but that seemed rude, so I refrained. They were all hanging out in groups or alone drinking Heinekens and Negro Modelo. I bet pupusas are good with beer, but I prefer orchata. If you're going all the way to a pupuseria you might as well get what you can only get there.

The decor was really basic and it had been decorated for Halloween. My mom was a big fan of the gaudy Salvadorean themed clock on the wall. They had two televisions hooked up showing an American movie dubbed in Spanish, which I almost thought my mom found more interesting than my witty banter. 

They ended up giving us cutlery, which is as undesirable for me as getting it in a Chinese restaurant. An authentic meal of pupusas requires clean hands only. The waitress also put down two bottles that looked like ketchup and mustard. I knew that the red bottle, however, was the mild, yet tasty tomato sauce served with pupusas and made out of stewed tomatoes. I was, though, wary of the yellow stuff in the other bottle. I'd never been served that before. I asked my mom what it was and she said it was mustard. I was like, 'really?' Given my reaction she investigated by opening it up and smelling it. It turned out that it was a chilli puree that ended up being so awesome on the pupusas. It had a vinegar flavor to it and a medium level of heat and was well rounded in flavor. When the pupusas came the waitress also brought the curtido, a cabbage relish somewhat similar to sauerkraut. It serves the same purpose as sauerkraut, but ought to be firmer and crisper in texture than the other cabbage relish. It is made of cabbage, onion, carrot, chillies, oregano, salt and pepper cured in white wine vinegar. Please note: put this on your pupusa. Not only is it essential for flavor but there's a gastronomic purpose. The relish aides in digestion. In a pupusa meal you're face to face with a good amount of cheese and spices, be mindful of how this will affect you later.

The pupusas that we ate were, oh, oh, oh, so good. The loroco and the pork came through in the overall flavor of the pupusas. There was the magical burnt cheese that had oozed out from the sides and the sauces and curtido were the perfect match. If you have never eaten a pupusa before, you should know that when you get it, you open it up to reveal both sides. A well made pupusa will have filling come apart on both sides. A poorly made one will have all the filling stick to one side. You then dress the fuller bottom part and start eating the top part that cools faster. Remember these are right off the grill and pipping hot, so be careful. The accompaniments help to cool the pupusa more quickly so you don't burn the roof of your mouth. 

My only complaint about them really is that the pupusas were too big. By the time that I was done with the first one I had no room for the second, but kept eating anyway. When I finished my mom asked, "Estas atarantada?," are you stupid-full? I was like, "yeah, how'd you know?" and she said "because I am too." Apparently that's more full than being triste, literally 'sad with fullness.' It took me the better part of the day to get over the bloating that decision cost me. I'm not just complaining for that reason though; I think that if they were smaller you could try more variations--and I love variety.

I did, however, like the bill: $12.00 for everything; that's nothing to sneeze at in our tough financial times. Anywho, I do recommend this place and I think that the perfect way to work off the heavy meal is to go to the park and play mini golf ($7 for adults). 

La Curva Restaurant
On College Point Boulevard between Stanford Avenue and Maple Avenue

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Little Garden in the City

In the past month I have found out that two of my friends have vegetable gardens and neither lives out on a farm. This doesn't just seem novel right now, but almost necessary. I recently picked up Thomas F. Pawlick's The End of Food. If you want to know what the book is about, well, let's just say Pawlick's title is right on point. I actually picked it up, though, because of the sub-title: How the food industry is destroying our food supply--and what you can do about it. 

Personally, I have never been a hardcore environmentalist. I mean, I try to recycle and to reuse and other things of that nature, but it's not a cause I've ever been passionate about. I am trying to be better about it, especially after reading an article in the New York Times about the slow food movement, which Deborah Madison (aka culinary saint) is associated with. In the article a proponent of the movement said that you can't be a foodie and not an environmentalist because if you want the best product to work with you have to make sure the environment gets the best possible chance. I can't argue with that!

Aside from being environmentally responsible, it seems that we need to take matters into our own hands in other respects. For example, you make think that jarred tomatoes and peppers have always been a part of the italian diet, but this is not true. Since Italy has a temperate and hospitable climate for staple crops, such as the tomato, Italians in the Old World did not need to preserve their vegetables, yet once Italian immigrants came to the United States, the different temperature did not allow them to enjoy great produce year round. Consequently, Italian-Americans, distrustful of supermarket canned goods, began to jar their own. Perhaps it is time we kicked it old school--Italian style.

Incidentally, I have tomato on the brain because Pawlick begins his book with said subject. As my dedicated readers will note, I have always had a love affair with the tomato and Pawlick's railings against supper market tomatoes made a lot of sense to me. I've always been shocked by the vast difference between an ordinary super market tomato and what you get from a home garden or a farmer's market. 

Pawlick explains that it's not just a matter of the super market tomato losing taste, but also nutritional value. Basically, living in the capitalist driven market, taste and nutrition don't end up factoring into the bottom line for tomato producers in the United States. The disappointment of super market tomatoes, in fact, is what inspires Pawlick to write the book. After living in Italy, he cannot stand for the rubbery red balls hacked off as tomatoes in the United States. We have a responsibility to save the tomato, especially since it's our native berry--yeah that's right--the Italian's took it from us, well before we were us, sort of like retroactive globalism. Anyway, this is clearly larger than tomatoes. It's about access to good food that will keep us nourished, satisfied, and--dare I say it? Delighted.

I think the best way to start to reclaim our food is one step at time, like actually planting a patch of cucumbers or a tomato plant. When my friend, Sue Ferranti, told me she was growing cucumbers, I asked her how she ate them and she said, "Just like that, just the cucumber." It makes sense to me; when something's awesome it doesn't need much else, which is why that's exactly how I enjoyed Sue's gift.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Little Pupusa that Could

Earlier this week I went to the Union Square Whole Foods, which is one of my go-to-places when I have evening city plans and heading back to Brooklyn is simply not worth it. I love the dinner potential of this location. I also love sitting upstairs and anonymously watching the hubbub inside and out of Whole Foods. 

I tend to like to each sushi, but I am also a huge fan of their salad bar and the warm food too. I even like the soup and really can't think of anything I haven't liked there. On this particular day I was craving protein and greens because I had carbed out all day. 

I walked from work to my happily anticipated meal of veggies and grilled meats. I am usually a denouncer of the let's-serve-everything-and-get-it-all-wrong mentality upon which most salad bar/sandwich establishments operate in Midtown. At Whole Foods, however, at least the Union Square location, the salad is always fresh, crisp and interesting.

I pilled spinach and grilled beats into my green bowl. I also added artichoke hearts and fresh peas and much more. When I had nearly more than I thought I could eat I navigated the busy space until I made my way toward the drinks. Having a bottle of water in hand I then went to the line formed to get on to the express line. This put me right around the prepared foods that are not in the food bars, to the right of the soups. 

I looked down blankly at a burrito and my eyes kept moving. I saw a disk-like thing and I remember thinking, "Oh those look like..." and then I looked again. I had to edge closer. In a small package I saw two corn disks with a small container of a red sauce on top of it. I read the label, "Pupusas!" They were pork. I was shocked. I looked at my salad and debated abandoning it. I decided against it, since it would undo the purpose of being eco-friendly by using a reusable bowl. I examined the permitter around the pupusas. They were surrounded by burritos on the right and quesadillas on the left. I supposed they had been categorized correctly. They are, after all, often made with cheese. 

At this precise moment I felt profound pride. I know you may think that this is a silly way to react to some corn packed with pork, but for me it was so much more than that. Salvadoreans refer to themselves as, 'la pulga'--the flea--of the Americas. I've heard family make jokes about how if the surrounding countries don't continue to take our borders, the Pacific will do it for them. 

My whole life I have only heard of El Salvador on the international stage for two reasons, both negative. The first is the horrific civil war of the late 70s and 80s. Today the international community knows El Salvador for the extreme measures and organization of rouge gangs. These are hardly reasons for me to be proud of my mother's mother country, but I am. We are an agricultural people, small but strong, industrious and proud.

When my mother came back from her vacation in El Salvador her aunt gave her beans she had grown on her land. I had the luck of visiting my parents recently and ended up staying for dinner. My mom heated some beans which I took without much interest. Yet, when I put them in my mouth I felt the difference. They were clearly Tia Sarah's beans. In El Salvador we call the variety that she grows, frigoles de seda--literally, silk beans. They are called that because they don't take as long to cook as lower quality beans and when they are done the texture is extremely refined, like silk, without any grittiness at all.

Seeing one of our more popular meals among the sushi and thai salad, biryani, lasagna, and dumplings of the international foods that are so readily available and visible in New York was a feat! Of course there are pupuserias in New York, especially on Long Island and to some degree in Queens and Brooklyn, but they are mainly patronized by Salvadoreans, largely escaping the consciousness of non-latinos who enjoy international cuisine.

Inspired by my finding at Whole Foods I ate my food and shuffled over to Barnes and Noble. I went to the international cook books. I saw many options, ones that even surprised me. Yet, there was no cook book on El Salvador; there wasn't even one on Central America. I did, however, find a cook book on Latin cooking and when I flipped to the back and looked up 'El Salvador' I found a recipe for  Salvadorean stuffed tortillas. This is the equivalent of calling burritos Mexican stuffed tortillas: wrong and barely informative. I was annoyed that the cook book failed to correctly name the dish, but at least there was a flea's size tidbit of knowledge on Salvadorean cooking. 

Hopefully, these small steps for Salvadorean cuisine will take on momentum. In that spirit, I highly encourage you to check out Whole Foods' pupusas. I will follow up in a few weeks with more authentic places for you to visit. I have to trek out to Jamaica to get exact addresses.

Whole Foods Market Union Square
40 E 14th Street btwn Broadway and University Place

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Transition of the Seasons

I hear that kids have been back in school for two weeks now. This is just one indicator that an end of a season is nearing its final end. If there is any way in which I will truly feel the loss of the summer, it will be through the lack of some of my favorite fruits and vegetables until next year. I will miss summer's berries, tomatoes, squashes and much more. The consolation, however, is that there is new tantalizing bounty to replace it. After all folks, Thanks Giving is in November. While we say good bye to the airy and tart offerings of the summer, please remember all that the fall offers: cobblers, soups, roasts, casseroles--all filled with bright healthy fruits and vegetables that are packed with nutrients and dense, rich consistencies. This season is all about yams, parsnips, potatoes, and other tubers.

As of late I've been obsessed with a Chinese pumpkin soup with seaweed. It comes in little green packets and is the kind of thing you pour water into and stir. Nonetheless, when I stir it up and put it in my mouth its like magic, hearty, yummy, probably laced with MSG, which yes I least the taste of. This soup inspired me to consider investing in a slow cooker. I imagine if instant pumpkin soup is so rad, then homemade with fresh seasonings and vegetables and maybe a splash of juice--sans the MSG--would be stellar!

What follows is an ideas of what I'd throw in my, as of yet, still un-purchased pressure cooker:

Petu's Pumpkin Delight

Pumpkin, gutted, outer part removed, cut into makeshift portions of about two inches each.
One shallot slivered
Ground toasted cumin seeds, a teaspoon
Cup of water
1/2 cup of OJ

Okay, here's my disclaimer....I just made that up. The proportions may not even work. My intuition says it's going to be rad, real rad, especially if you finish it with a dollop of a high quality tangy yogurt and some chopped cilantro.  I'll write a follow up after trying this out, I promise!

Happy experimenting and buen provecho.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Recession by the Slice

When I went to high school what kids would do after school was get greasy food because we were hungry and greasy food is cheap. There was a pizza parlor that had a special that basically allowed you to share a large pie and a two liter soda for ten bucks. My friends, those days are over.

If you are hungry and you get two slices and a soda you are at least going to spend seven dollars and if you get toppings, don't expect any change back from the ten dollar bill you gave the pizza dude. Heck, you probably still owe him fifteen cents.

Ah pizza, the proletarian meal is no longer a standard, but a luxury. I am mournful of this happening, more so than the rising price of my groceries. For me, the sad state of the economy has mainly been an abstraction since I never had any assets to lose in the first place. The rise in the price of the slice, however, well that hurts--bad.

In these trying times it is best to concentrate consumption to those venues that produce a quality slice.  There are many arguments about where the best slice is in the city. I've been to Franny's, with the upscale personal pizzas with the blistered crust, good indeed. I've also been to Grimaldi's and waited for forty minutes to try the pizza. I believe it was good, but I'm not sure it justified the line and they don't even sell it by the slice. Joe's on 7th in the Slope isn't bad; it's also much closer to what I think of when I think of NYC pizza. X-tra Cheese off of Northern boulevard in Flushing is pretty sweet, although if you do find yourself in the neighborhood, skip the pizza and get the chicken roll.

People often  say Ray's is really where it's at for a quintessential NY slice and I think I have to agree. Of course even if people agree on that, there is the completely different question about which Ray's you are alluding to. Personally my heart belongs to the Ray's on Houston. You just need one slice post drinks, or two if you have a friend not getting a slice with you, soda is optional. May I suggest you violently dust it with garlic powder, followed by a sweep or two of pepper flakes. Enjoy it while you can. Soon we'll all be pouring spaghetti sauce on Lender's bagels and zapping them in the microwave with store brand shredded cheese and calling it a night with some Netflix dvds, which isn't the worst fate that can befall one...if you think about it.

Famous Original Ray's Pizza
195 E. Houston, btwn Ludlow & Orchard Street

295 Flatbush Avenue, btwn Prospect Place & St Marks Avenue

Grimaldi's Pizzeria
19 Old Fulton Street, under Brooklyn Bridge

Joe's Pizza
137 7th Avenue, btwn Carroll Street & Garfield Place

X-tra Cheese
147-20 Northern Boulevard, at 147th Street

Saturday, August 30, 2008

When Dinning Out, Watch Your Toes

Recently I took a quiz that was posted by The New York Times' Well blog written by Tara Parker Pope. It was about seeing how well your personality can be summed up and Pope was taken by how accurate it had been; I was too. Nevertheless, I didn't appreciate the quiz until this morning. You can take the quiz here:

The veracity of the quiz was proven last night when I went out to dinner with friends. I ordered cow tongue tacos and they were amazing; the meat was just as tender as my aunt Tina's. this leads me to believe that tongue must be one of those delicacies where Latin American cuisine really shines, but I digress. This lovely meal was haunted by a dark shadow and that was: the pushy waiter.

In the course of the meal this pushy waiter demonstrated what the psychology quiz had assessed a few weeks ago, I'm nice, really nice and agreeable; yet, like a swirl of chocolate syrup in vanilla ice cream, I have a streak of aggression that keeps me from being saccharine, or what one might call a pushover. Indeed, when picking out a place to eat I let my friend take the lead. However, when we saw Mole I was intrigued and though we should see if they had a table. Since they did we sat down and hoped for some great food.

When the waiter came to take our drink order two people in the party ordered margaritas another said she would not be drinking and I said I would, but I did not know what I wanted. With a desire to be frugal, I knew that I would not have more than one drink. I decided to go with the cheapest margarita since it was only a dollar more expensive than the beer list and there are no Mexican beers that I am crazy about.

The drink took a while to arrive, but that was understandable given the fact that the place was very busy, always a good sign. While having taken the drink order, the pushy waiter had recited the specials. Two sounded good to me; I was curious about the scallop tacos and also about the cow tongue, which is a food that always peaks my interest. He had mentioned it was very tender so I definitely thought about ordering it. Nonetheless, I knew that my drink was going to raise my overall meal cost and he had not mentioned the price of the meal. While I was debating with myself my friend who had not ordered a drink asked about the size of the appetizer, which was slow cooked ribs. The waiter vigorously suggested that an appetizer would probably not be substantial enough but if she ordered a side, it might be okay. She ended up ordering her appetizer. The next person ordered an appetizer for himself of octopus ceviche and one of the dinner specials, which I believe was baked flounder. The following person ordered the first thing that had perked my ears, the fish tacos, but she chose battered fish rather than the scallops. 

Right before the person placed her order for the fish tacos, it was my turn. My friend had just said she only wanted the one appetizer. I was reviewing the menu and saw that they had sopes. I love sopes because they are so much like Salvadorean food. A sope is a thick tortilla that has been lightly fried. Then they place fried beans over it with a stewed meat and dress it with avocado, tomato lettuce and sour cream. I don't care for the sour cream because it pushes a heavy dish over the top. When I ordered this the waiter said, "now that's not going to be enough" and then he turned to the next person who ordered the fish tacos. I knew that he wanted to raise the amount we were spending because of his tip and I knew we were in a small restaurant on a busy night and I was apprehensive that the two sopes would actually be quite small, so I changed my order to the tongue tacos. I felt I was being considerate of the space we were occupying and I gave him the benefit of the doubt on his advice and prodding during our ordering.

Five minutes later the first person's appetizer came out. It was large, if oddly plated. They had put the ceviche in a parfait glass and served it with large tortilla chips that could not be dipped into the glass. My friend seemed overwhelmed, "How am I supposed to eat this?" he asked. We suggested he dig his spoon into the glass and then transfer it onto the chips. While we were discussing how he might overcome the strange presentation I also commented that his appetizer was quite large.

After a good while our pushy waiter came back and asked if we wanted our meal. It was nice that he gave us time to enjoy the space before brining the entrees out. In the meantime two people in the party ordered a second drink. He asked me twice if not three times if I wanted a second drink and I consistently declined.

When the meals came out the plates were really large, but the food was very good and we all merrily ate our food and my non-drinking friend finally ordered a margarita. After the meal we were asked if we wanted dessert and we declined and eventually asked for the bill. As we reviewed it became clear that the waiter had added an extra drink. At this point I had put down $30.00 which covered the tacos at $15.00 and my drink at $7.00 plus tax and tip. I put the numbers down to show that the pushy waiter wasn't getting stiffed on tip.

He thanked me by immediately making me regret having left a generous tip. We waved him over to ask him to correct the bill. We told him he erroneously added a drink. My friend who ordered the drink explained and then the man pointed to me while talking to her and said, "Oh no, she ordered two. I remember bringing it." I replied that I hadn't and after a huff or two he conceded. When he came back he apologized for his error. My friend saw my stony face and asked why I had refused to acknowledge his apology.

The reason why, my dear reader, I did not accept his apology is because in the dance that dinner and waiter perform during the course of a meal a waiter should never step on the dinner's toes and this waiter did even as I had attempted to be a gracious dancer as I could be, to extend the metaphor a bit farther. It is impolite to disagree with a patron's order by talking about them to another patron. He made the mistake, but instead of asking me if I was sure that I had only ordered one drink, he told me what I had done, as if I was trying to stiff him. This was very annoying given that I had heeded his advice and changed my order when the appetizers were clearly not small and I had even left a decent tip.

Despite this experience, however, I would still recommend Mole. The food is delicious and reasonably priced and the space is intimate and warm. It is definitely worth checking out, but be firm with your order and tip according to the service you get.

Mole Mexican Bar & Grill
205 Allen Street
New York, NY 10002


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Petunia's Macro Plate

I don't usually buy carrots, but I did the last time I went grocery shopping because I wanted to see if I could do something that might wave towards Souen's macro plate. My mission was to capture that moment of bliss when your mouth comes down upon a perfectly steamed carrot dressed in a river of itself. Souen's carrot dressing eludes my ability to describe it with words. If I tell you that it is a clean, crisp flavor and that it is refreshing and subtle, as well as, airy with a fluid texture of perfect thickness to dress the vegetables rather then running off or clinging to them--I would miserably fail to describe the simple beauty of this sauce.

Although it is safe to say that I enjoy the carrot sauce, I had no intention of being a copy cat. Rather, I wanted to make something that took the macro plate as a point of reference. I knew that I would need to make a different sort of sauce because I'm not quite sure how the carrot sauce is made. I decided that a garlic yogurt sauce would work well with the vegetables. 

I am not actually sure that my plate was completely macrobiotic as I am not sure that everything I used was local. I do, however, think I was pretty close. Below is my master piece. It is more work intensive than what I usually prepare, but worth it. You can exclude the egg, but I really think you will completely be missing out. I was so delighted to dip the steamed vegetables in the runny yoke; it was like having two different sauces. Hope you try it out!

Petunia's Macro Plate: Buttered Angel Hair Pasta, French Lentils, Poached Egg, Steamed Vegetables and Garlic Yogurt Sauce 

(Cooking time: One hour)


1/4 box of Angel Hair pasta
Two teaspoons of butter 
Tablespoon of salt

Cup of lentils
Medium onion minced 
Two carrots thinly sliced
Two plum tomatoes chopped
Tablespoon of butter
Salt to taste

Poached Egg
White wine vinegar (optional)

Steamed Vegetables
One shoot of brocoli
Two carrots
One handful of yellow green beans

Yogurt Sauce
1/4 cup of yogurt
One large wedge of garlic
Two or three sprigs of curly parsley finely chopped
Two 1/4 inch slices of onion minced
Juice of half a lemon
Hot sauce to taste

Since the Lentils will be the most time consuming you'll want to start there. I find with my cooking style that vegetable prep always takes me the longest. I like to keep a plate or a bowl where I put all the unwanted vegetable parts like the green ends of carrots and the peel. Wash peel and prepare all vegetables according to the ingredient list. As soon as my cutting board fills, I directly dump my prepared vegetables into the pot I will cook them in. I used a large pot. When everything is chopped and in the pot add the butter and put heat on low. Give it a minute or two and then stir. Let the vegetables cook for about five minutes. Meanwhile tidy your work space and then rinse and sort through your beans. It is always a good idea to make sure there aren't any stones mixed in, it happens sometimes. I clean my beans in a cereal bowl and then I dump them in the pot. I add about a cereal bowl and a 1/2 of water to the pot. This is probably about two cups. If you don't like a lot of broth then you can add a bit less water. Add salt to taste and leave the lentils alone for about twenty minutes. You might want to stir and taste them one time before the twenty minutes are up, but you don't need to check more than that.

In another pot put water to boil. I like to fill a large pot half way with water. Salt your water and remember to cover it. I always put a plate to cover the water instead of a lid. This is a way to warm the plate without extra effort. Warming a plate before serving pasta keeps the pasta warm longer, for a better eating experience. I learned that from Deborah Madison. Put the heat relatively high. 

While you are working on the vegetables and yogurt sauce you will be making your pasta. At some point during the vegetable preparation you'll have to put the pasta in and then you'll have to drain. The trick is to do your vegetable work near the pot so you can see when the rapid boil occurs and to gage how far you are in the vegetable preparation. The pasta can sit for some time, but you don't want it to get totally cold. Again, use your intuition. Also, remember that you must take note of the time when you drop the pasta in. After about five minutes from when you dropped the pasta you will have to drain. You will then return it to the stove with the heat off. Drop the butter in and gently stir. Then transfer pasta to your warm plate and finish up the vegetables and yogurt sauce.

To prepare the vegetables for your steamed vegetables begin by washing all of them. Peal the carrots and the bottom part of the broccoli. Pick a nice looking plate that is large, but will fit in your microwave. You will begin with broccoli. You need to cut clean through the middle so you have two long halves. You will then cut clean through the middle of those two halves. You will now have four pieces. Please aim for symmetry, thank you. Arrange the broccoli to make a diamond shape. Next make an angled cut through the middle of each carrot. You will want to have a part of a carrot that is narrower and another part that is wider. Begin with one of the wider parts since it will be easier. Slice clean through the middle of the carrot so that you end up with two long pieces with a part that can lie flush against the plate.  After doing the wider pieces then do the narrower ones. By the end you should have eight long pieces with a cylindrical side and a side that is flat. Arrange these pieces on the inside of the diamond created by the broccoli. Lastly cut off the tops and bottoms of the green beans. Arrange them on the outside of the diamond. At this point you can place them aside until about five minutes before you're ready to eat. When ready, cover with a plate and put in the microwave for three and a half minutes. When it is done check the tenderness. If they aren't tender enough put in for a bit longer. Use you're judgement here.

After preparing your vegetables you can prepare the yogurt sauce. Cut all vegetables for the sauce according to the ingredient list and place in a bowl. Cut your lemon, seed and extract juice directly into bowl. Then add the yogurt. If you want add hot sauce, and remember to season with salt. Stir and check for consistency. You want it to be a sauce that pours over the vegetables. I used a very high quality yogurt that was quite thick. In order to get the right consistency I had to add a little water. It is fine to do this, but remember to taste it before serving. You don't want the water to compromise the precision of your flavors.

By the time you're done with the yogurt your lentils should be done. At this time you should do some clean up and then get your water ready in a skillet to poach the egg. Place the vegetables in the microwave. The great thing about a microwave is that even if you are engrossed in something else it won't continue to cook your food after the designated time has elapsed, so don't worry if you cannot get to the vegetables right away. Also, since the egg is the crescendo of your plate, you'll want to get the basics on the serving plate first. On one part of the plate arrange pasta and next to it a spoonful of lentils. When the egg is ready place it on top of the lentils. Then go fetch the vegetable plate and situate both on your serving table with the yogurt sauce. 

A final note on poaching the egg: if you're apprehensive you can simply do a soft boiled egg and then carefully remove the shell. Boiling an egg also gives you more leeway with timing, but it doesn't look as pretty on the plate. 

Okay, I hope you enjoy this exceedingly. Buen provecho!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bag it or Beware

In an attempt to save money, I avoid buying lunch when I am at work. To be perfectly honest, however, there are other more important reasons that I do not buy lunch at that time. One very important reason is that I am in Midtown, the land of salad bar mediocracy. 

There is one place that I like, but it is expensive: Pret. For a while I used to get their coffee every morning, but since the machine coffee at my work is free, I can't justify great coffee to myself in the morning. 

Being a snack-eater in an office by myself all day, I come to work with a load. The other day in one day I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on my walk to the train right before eight. Then I got to work and ate a few nuts with my coffee. They were salty and roasted. Then at eleven I had chicken with blue potatoes. That was good. I also ate raw zucchini and cucumber with that. Then at about two I had pea soup and I know at some point I ate about two handfuls of blueberries. None of these things is terribly filling, but it's good because it breaks up the day and the food comes from a place I respect and trust, the Park Slope Coop.

Today, however, I was in a tough spot. I didn't bring enough food with me. I forgot to pack the soup. I did have two envelopes of oatmeal and sauteed spinach at work, but they were unappealing around the three o'clock slump. I thought of holding out until dinner, but all I had waiting for me was two weeks old kale and a block of tofu. I didn't even have rice or pasta to go with it. 

I did what I do when my blood sugar is low and my thinking impaired: I took the elevator down to the expensive salad-sandwich joint at the bottom of my building. I've eaten lunch from them at least one day a week for one if not two weeks. It's dangerously close to becoming a habit and what really kills me about this is that I don't love eating their food. I hate spending money on crappy food, especially too much money!

As I let the elevator bring me closer to a regrettable decision, I thought of the good this would allow me to do. I had to run a bunch of errands after work. By eating this now I could post pone dinner. I wouldn't over shop at the coop because I would be full while I was there. By including grocery shopping in the errands I would avoid having to come back here later in the week. I knew I wasn't going to eat kale and tofu for dinner, so I had to go grocery shopping, hence this had to be a good thing to do...right?

I ended up getting a mexican inspired chicken wrap that was purportedly 'healthy,' at least it had avocado. I saw them put it in a big box that vaguely reminded me of a Chinese takeout box, without the wire though and then in a bag. Then, viciously, they told me I owed them $6.86. "I think I made a mistake" skipped in between my ears. 

I trudged back to the elevator and wearily pressed number thirteen. I was up on my floor opening my door. Then I was at my desk unpacking my disappointment. Then I was biting into something. Something blah, predictable, wait. I felt something glide along the left side of my face the space that joins the inside of your mouth and your outer lip. I tugged on a black hair that had escorted its way into my mouth with the sandwich. The perfect ending to an absolutely unenjoyable experience. If you don't enjoy long black hairs in your sandwiches, then stay away from Food Merchants Cafe.

Food Merchants Cafe & Market
26 E 40th Street
New York, NY 10016


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Avocado Toast: Best Breakfast in the World!

I love breakfast. On the weekends I make something special, always. Last Sunday I had a tomato sandwich accompanied by steamed green beans dressed with a lemon butter sauce and finished with parsley and salt. I also had sliced radishes, as well as, fresh blue berries with figs and a sliver of avocado. It was beautiful and healthy and filling, my favorite.

Unfortunately, my weeks don't allow me the leisure of the weekend to chop, dice, steam, fry etc. Instead I have to be quick and efficient. Yet, I still like to eat well. I think I started putting avocado on toast after I visited my cousin Patty when she was in grad school at Buffalo.

When I went to visit Patty she was living in a large old Victorian house. It was a bit shabby. She shared the apartment with a Chinese student who made food in a slow-cooker. I think the whole time I was there she was cooking something in the slow-cooker. They didn't have any living room furniture. Patty said she did not want to make the investment. The living situation was very paired down; we ate that way too.

One night we had pasta that was made with sun dried tomatoes and sour cream. We improvised it from a family recipe. In El Salvador you would cook chicken breast in a sauce made of fresh tomatoes and fresh cream. It is really rich and delicious. You sop up the sauce with homemade tortillas, which in El Salvador are not like the ones you see in the super market and bodegas here. Tortillas over there are thicker. They are made from corn that has recently been dried and taken to the mill that very day. When I lived there with my grandmother one of my chores was to take the parboiled corn to the mill. She would yell at me because apparently I didn't put enough water in the masa.

Normally I would eat an avocado with a tortilla, any kind. Yet, on my visit to Patty's place that all changed. She cut an avocado in half and took out a loaf of french bread. She said, "I just eat it like this." Then she dug a hunk of bread into the avocado. I took my half and did the same. I think I must have asked for salt. I feel like avocado tastes better with salt. It was good, simple and really good.

Going back to Memphis I went through a phase of putting avocado and tomato on toast with salt. That's good, but not as good as adding hot sauce. I think I like the tang of vinegar. You don't need to add salt if you add hot sauce because the sauce is salty. Also, my favorite is the cheap kind. I am no frills when it comes to hot sauce. Eventually I stopped adding the tomato because slicing tomato takes away precious time in the morning. Just the hot sauce, toast and avocado is enough, perfect really.

Hermes' Avocado Toast

Good bread, sliced and toasted*
Hot Sauce

Spread your avocado on the bread, add hot sauce. Eat over the sink, maybe as you sprint to the subway.
*If your bread is really fresh, toasting is optional.

Additions to consider when you already know you're gonna be late:

sliced radishes
slivered red onion

or substitute hot sauce for:

Pepper flakes
Sea salt and cracked pepper

Buen provecho!!!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Have You Made a Lunch Date with that Heirloom?

I went to buy groceries today. This is by far my favorite ritual of the week. I have to hold myself back from going crazy in the produce aisle. Among the most awesome things I picked up today are burgundy colored figs, not to be out done by green beans of the same color. I am told they will turn green when they are cooked. In the cart I dropped furry little soy pods and I also picked up blueberries and luscious radishes, some larger than golf balls, with the green still attached. I also bought tiny little eggplants that were speckled in different hues of lavender. In this mix were also plum tomatoes so red they looked more vibrant than a siren's lips. 

I did not know when exactly I would consume any of the produce I have told you about. Yet, when I rolled past the heirloom tomatoes, slowly, so very slowly, I knew exactly what I would do with the one I bought. A tomato in season must be respected, especially these tomatoes. An heirloom must be center stage. Being simple in preparation is key too. A good way to eat an heirloom is to drench it in your best olive oil and crack black pepper over it. Another option is to squeeze lemon juice over it and sprinkle sea salt. Of course, one can also slice fresh mozzarella and garnish with basil, even pour olive oil--but this is getting complex.

I took my heirloom home. She was red, all red. A red that was bright and fresh and reminded me of strawberries. She was a rippling tomato that clearly had an undulating growth pattern. If she had been like her more regular looking cousins, it would have been as if one would have flattened out the roundness and rhythmically tugged at one end so that she had an appendage, rather than being one simple round entity. 

When I unpacked the groceries and put them away, I left the tomato on the counter. I make food for lunch for the entire week on Saturdays, so before I could eat I had to get that preemptive meal on its way. I was going to make chicken with blue potatoes and herbs. I had to chop garlic and parsley and green pepper. In the mean time I ate my figs. They made me miss Memphis figs, which are sweeter and more syrupy than the ones I was currently eating. The tomato was a safe distance away from the prep work.

Eventually everything was in the pan and I'd cleaned up. Next I went into the fridge and I dug out the soy pods I had purchased. I almost did not get them because they were expensive. I compromised with myself by not getting a lot. I put them in a bowl and rinsed them. I would eat them the way you do in a Japanese restaurant. I did remember that recently The New York Times' Mark Bittman featured soy beans in a dish, but I didn't have the energy to pull up his column, The Minimalist. Instead I popped the pods in the microwave and moved on.

I looked at the hearty brown loaf of bread that I bought. It was harder on the outside but if you pressed it, you could tell that it had give. It would sop liquid up. This, my friends, is key. I gave it a little squeeze and rinsed the heirloom, which up until now had patiently and silently waited for me. I took a sharp knife and pierced the delicate skin. The knife went clear through and what did I see? A beautiful pattern. I cut the slices thick. Then I took a hunk of the loaf and cut it off. 

I went into the fridge and came out with mayonnaise. The kind I have at home is in a plastic container and its squeezable. I should note that this is the only point at which I could really have put more effort in. Making homemade mayonnaise is always going to be better than something that you squeeze out of a bottle. Yet, what makes what I am describing to you so worthwhile is the experience you get for virtually no time. As a cook you have to make your own executive decisions. 

Since the bread had been well lubricated I began to arrange the slices on the bread. Although I was generous, there were still some left over which I kept on the plate. I sliced two radishes to comfort the tomato slices that did not make it into the bread. They made a good match, almost a makeshift salad on their own. By this time my soy beans were steamed, so I sprinkled them with salt. I sat down with a glass of water and enjoyed sweet summer bliss. Below is a recap if you want to try it too. 

Tomato Sandwich with Edamame and Radishes

Ingredients (ten minutes)

One heirloom tomato
Fresh bakery bread
Two or Three handfuls of soy beans in the pod
Two large or four small radishes
Mayonnaise and salt to taste

Rinse the soy pods under water. Cover and microwave for two minutes. Sprinkle with salt. Cut a hunk off of the bread. Slice through this piece to make two slices. Also cut the heirloom tomato in thick slices. Pause to enjoy the beauty of the tomato. Eat a slice, then proceed. You will have to add mayonnaise to the bread. I like to strike a balance between being generous enough you can really taste the mayo, but conscientious enough to know that this is something you should eat sparingly. In other words, don't skimp, but don't over do it. Be Greek, aim for the mean. Take a bite of your sandwich, then slice the radishes. Bring your goodies to the table to eat, as a meal is always more enjoyable when you're not consuming it over the kitchen counter.

Buen provecho amigos!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Comfort Food a Girl Can Feel Good About

Last week I partook in the ritual of New York Restaurant Week. I ate at Spice Market and went home with the sort of bloated belly that allows small girls to pretend they're pregnant, and probably feels just as uncomfortable as actual pregnancy. Although the pull of Restaurant Week is the $35.00 tasting menu, if you drink liberally, you will have quite the bill--and oh I did!

Waking up full and frugal next morning I had to take friends from out of town to dinner. Since I love to be the helpful host I did research on many lovely, healthy, relatively cheap places in Manhattan and Brooklyn. I threw Souen in the mix and left it up to my guests. I am in their debt for having chosen it.

It was not until I arrived at the Soho location that I felt the familiar relief of dining in my spot. In NY there are so many great places that I always feel a pressure to try new things and keep up with all of the amazing options we have. Nonetheless, I never let too much time pass before I return to this gem.

The first time I went to Souen I had sushi, which while good, is not where they shine. I went through a series of visits where I ordered many of the exotic offerings on their menu. Eventually, however, I settled on the macro plate as my favorite dish.

The macro plate is the perfect landscape on a plate, accompanied by the magical carrot dressing. Having a palate that leans towards salty food, I always ask for the gomashio, a combination of salt and sesame seeds. These three elements bring me a gastronomic comfort that would rival any Southerner's affection for fried chicken and collard greens.

At the restaurant's website,, you will find a description of the macrobiotic movement and how it influences their concept and purpose. You'll also find galleries of their delicious food. Both through the food images and their explanation you will see why macrobiotics means to live "comfortably in harmony with nature." It is also supposed to capture the meaning: living a long and large life. Souen, however, does not sacrifice flavor or substance in the process of bringing macrobiotic philosophy to the table. Of course the idea is that by eating balanced meals of unrefined, local, seasonal grains and vegetables we maintain balance with nature, but they also taste amazing here. The macro plate symbolizes this lovely simple fact.

Where to begin in describing my love? A plate comes to the table and it is always a bit different from the last time that you went because the bean changes on a daily rotation. You are, at first, taken by the beauty of all the contrasting colors. White circles bright green kale that underlies a chunk of squash, a pale orange laced with green. You will also see a jewel-shaped hunk of carrot upon the plate. This is by far my favorite domain--vegetables steamed to perfection. Drizzle carrot sauce liberally over these. For me the other portions of the plate play very strong supporting roles.

I like to sprinkle the gomashio over the rice, perhaps a light dash over the vegetables. The beans and the seaweed really don't need it. The rice is brown. It is hearty and filling and I try to eat it sparingly to keep room for all the veggies. The beans are always tender, well seasoned and comforting. Perhaps this is my comfort food because it brings two worlds together for me. The beans and rice of my mother's kitchen with the celebration of vegetables in their simplest state, which I learned to love trough Deborah Madison and her superlative cookbook, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

I was introduced to Souen by a friend. Over the past year I have brought at least six friends there and I've returned with the original friend at least three more times. It is an establishment that jives with something deep within me. The two locations even capture two strong but different strains within my own personality.

The Soho location appeals to my lazy, lounging meditative persona. The restaurant is never busy and the staff leaves you be while you enjoy the food and the people you are with. The atmosphere is simple and clean. I love a weekend lunch there that will very easily take you into the evening. The light softly fades into twilight through the little glass space that makes up this location.

The Union Square location is usually a twenty to thirty minute wait. When you are seated, you'll notice that there are as many plants as there are patrons. A split-level design affords a raised view of the lovely vine garden that reminds one that one is attuned with nature while eating there. The staff are efficient and friendly, without being chatty. I like the bustling loud atmosphere, which reflects the neighborhood. The hearth-like, less polished feel of this space makes you feel welcome. Although busy, I've never felt rushed out.

If I have perked your interest, I would encourage you to be adventurous with the menu. The prices are quite reasonable, especially if you're not ordering beverages. Their portions are excellent. If you do order sushi though, be aware that you'll get roles that have a good amount of rice--more than my preference. Also, dessert can have a disappointing 'granola' quality. It is not that they are not tasty. However, if you want decadence, Souen is not the place to satisfy this desire, and really what's the point of dessert if it's not decadent?


210 Sixth Ave at Prince St

Union Square
28 East 13th St between University Pl and 5th Ave

Friday, August 1, 2008

An Understated Onion is a Beautiful Thing

When I was growing up I was pained by the fact that we had the same five things for dinner over and over again. It would usually be a large pot of some meat cooked with vegetables and rice, so boring. When the pot was completely empty and my mom had to make dinner she often turned to eggs. From living a year in El Salvador I found out that, at least in the country, people often turn to eggs at any meal time when they are in a pinch, which makes sense since you don't have much room for messing up and your meal is prepared quickly. My mom usually sauteed something and then broke the eggs over that. She'd let them fry and then serve with tortillas and canned beans.

Last summer while visiting my parents I made what my mom had been making all those years as a back up meal every day for breakfast. It was really amazing, with some smart additions and modifications. Her method of making eggs brought a subtely out in onions that is worth letting the world know. What follows is a recipe that is worth repeating over and over, ad infinitum.

Tacos de Huevos con Piccado Fresco (20 minutes)


A medium to large onion
Two eggs
Tablespoon and a 1/2 of high quality butter (don't skimp!)
Mexican soft tortillas
Medium sized Tomato
Salt to taste


Four sprigs of Cilantro
Three sprigs of curly parsely
Half a pint of cherry tomatoes
Half a green pepper
Two shoots of scallions
Juice of a lemon
Dash of hot sauce
Salt to taste

Begin by rinsing all of your produce, so you don't forget to do it later. Then continue by slicing the onion by the 1/4 inch. Set the butter in the pan and melt over low heat. Add the onions and spread them out so they get equal surface area. Leave the pan uncovered and begin by chopping the cherry tomatoes in half; add this and all the other produce in the piccado into the same bowl. Like the tomatoes, chop the green pepper. Remember, speed trumps beatuy here. The longer you let the ingridients sit together the better. Also, if you're making for breakfast, you'll want to have the food ready quickly. The beauty of it comes in the combination of colors and smells. Now the next step will be to do the same to the scallions and then address the cilantro and parsley. Begin by removing the stems from the cilantro leaves. You can pluck all of the leaves off and then chop. Since the dish is rustic, however, I just chop off most of the stem part and then chop. You can do the same with the parsley. After this, all you have to do is sqeeze your lemon juice in, add the dash of hot sauce and salt and let sit.

While you are preparing the piccado you should keep an eye on the onion. You don't really need to fuss over it too much. When you see that the onions are getting translucent you can turn them over. Keep the temperature low. What you want to do is let the bite disipate slowly. When you have put the piccado to the side, let the last bit of butter melt into the pan and raise temperature to high. Let the tips of the onion singe and right when those singes want to burn crack the eggs and lower temperature to medium high.

Next, if on a gas stove, put a tortilla on a burner. To heat perfectly you want to keep the temperature moderately high, but lower right before turning. It will take about a minute to heat an entire tortilla. When you heat the first, place on plate, turn your eggs over. Please pay attention, you don't want scrambled eggs. Please flip eggs gently and try to keep them more or less in tact. Perfection is obsolete here, but you still should mind an aesthetic. Heat your next tortilla and check on the eggs. They might need a little bit more time. If so, take the time to take a few wedges from your tomato. When the eggs are ready the yokes will be at the point right beyond runny. If you make this a few times you'll be able to eye it. Remember, eggs cook pretty quickly, so don't fuss too much about avoiding runny eggs.

When you take the eggs off the heat split into the two tortillas. Cut enough avocado slices to cover the side of each tortilla, add a tomato wedge or two and sprinkle salt. Pour a little hot sauce, close your taco and bite! Follow with hearty mouthful of piccado.

Beverage reccomendation: OJ

Como siempre, buen provecho!!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Tongue, I'm on the Fence

My interactions with tongue have been sparse, even though I have been known as a big advocate. My flirtation with this muscle began in my early teens. My aunt Tina opened my eyes to the possibility of honoring this part of the cow as a tantalizing portion of a hearty and rustic meal. I was introduced at an evening meal and I was unsuspecting of the set up. There was vaguely perverse glee dancing on my aunt's face as she ladled meat and cabbage and potatoes into my plate. She sat down, after all were served, and said, "We're eating cow tongue, enjoy!"

I was apprehensive, but there were factors that weighed in the tongue's favor. First of all, being a nurse, aunt Tina always had a superior air about the health of food, in particular vegetables. She sounded like an authority and she was the mother of my favorite cousin, so I had to look up to her; it was inevitable, even when I really didn't like what was in front of me.

I remember that the tongue had a purple hue from the cabbage, along with the potatoes and I want to recall that there was broth, but I'm less sure of that. I do, however, remember that it was so incredibly tender. It tasted like what I imagined veal ought to taste like. That night I decided that I liked tongue. It was magic and I was going to learn the nifty trick: making it delicious. 

This incited one of the greatest misadventures in cooking I've ever lived through. I remember approaching tongue in the meat aisle and facing it in all its raw, taste bud-speckled truth. My aunt had mentioned something about boiling to remove that outer layer. I felt I was up to the culinary challenge, so I braced myself and put the sucker in the shopping cart.

Aside from the clear feeling that it was a huge failure, I've blocked out most of the cooking and eating experience. I do, however, recollect the instance of taking the "meat" out of a boiling pot of water and trying to rip the outer layer from its promised inner glory. I think I was working with large metallic kitchen thongs and I was losing the battle.

A few years back I made breakfast for my brother, which I really like to do because it is one of the rare times that Matt will give me props. I like to extend these accolades, draping them out like a long silk scarf that I coil into, to be sheathed from the harsher side of life. This particular morning, though, the coffee I made did not agree with Matt. I protested. He insulted. I protested, louder. He did not desist. I felt the blood rushing to my head, the higher road was dissipating. Before I knew what happened I was right in the middle of sibling rivalry, a realm I seldom ended getting out of without a few bruises, but I didn't want to believe it. I really, really wanted that damn scarf! I was yelling for my scarf when Matt beat me to the punch. I kept harping on his ingratitude when he busted out, "Well, whatever, I haven't forgotten about that tongue." Damn it! He won. 

Since that culinary blunder I have had tongue twice more. Once it was at a restaurant in the Upper East Side. It was a German place where the delicacy was so much like a nondescript cold cut that I was not offended or amazed, just a little satisfied that I'd ventured into the dark side once again. 

This Friday a menu brought me face to face with the formidable tongue yet again. It was at Momofuku Ssam. The menu captured me in the same way that the first tongue dish did as a prepubescent. I was at a place I really wanted to like with a menu that, even with my eccentric tastes, challenged me. I flirted with the snails and the beef tendon, but I ordered the lamb's tongue because it was coupled with fava beans, which are an exotic legume for me. In the end, I loved the other dish I tried, the charred squid salad. It was the perfect texture eluding the slightest hint of rubber and the dressing, while multi-dimensional, still let the squid's flavor come through. Plus, it didn't leave that je ne sais quoi smudge on the palate that reminded me at every bite of the tongue that it was sort of like meat, but--as the menu puts it--offal.

Momofuku ssam bar

207 2nd Ave
NY, NY 10003

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

That Can of Beans in Your Pantry

When I bring home the goods there are some things that go much faster than the rest. Last time I bought groceries my prized jewels were the lovely tender and sweetly tart raspberries I splurged on. For the next three meals I ate, no matter what else was on the plate, I made room for my pretties. They would sit there with a droplet or two of water, surprising my palate intermittently while I worked through the rest of my meal.

Eleven days later, however, the food situation is less than ideal. This is the point when I open cabinets and assess the troops to figure out exactly what I'm working with. There are some trusty soldiers that always seem to be at attention waiting to be called to the front line; yet more often than not, I disappoint these loyal staples. Among them is the humble can of beans.

With a mother from El Salvador, there is no way that I could not think of beans as a staple. My mom has always excelled at making a good pot of beans, but even she always kept a couple of cans on hand--just in case. It's only natural that when shopping for something to have on hand, I reach for one of the sons of Goya. Unfortunately, once in my home, they tend to get lost in the shuffle.

Last summer I did have a love affair with pigeon peas. I tell no lies when I say that I would literally open the can, drain them, drop them in a bowl and enjoy. I know this may cause you to doubt me somewhat, but all I have to say is have a little faith, give it a go even and let me know what you think. Unlike most beans, the pigeon pea is not stored in a thick broth. The water drains quite easily.

For those of you, however, who would like to give a little more care to the can of beans you've been so carelessly ignoring, please try out the recipe below. To my happy surprise I found out that the humble bean can be just as delightful as those sassy raspberries.

Frigoles con Pescaditos (Ten minutes)

Half a can of kidney beans
a medium-small bowl of steamed broccoli rabe, roughly chopped before steaming.
A small can of high quality tuna
Two small filets of anchovies minced
Lemon juice
Two garlic scapes chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil, generous drizzle over top that can blend in, but not too much.

Steam the broccoli rabe in the microwave. Before you put it in the microwave sprinkle some water over it and cover. Set for two minutes. Meanwhile, drain tuna fish and mince the anchovies. When broccoli rabe is ready, take it out. You will probably have to let it sit for a second while you chop up the scapes. When you have all ingredients ready as listed above, then mix them together.

Let this lovely combination sit for a few minutes, enjoy, but leave half. It has a different but equaly enjoyable taste when you let the flavors blend a few hours in the fridge. Very amazing. This serves two as a side dish or one person as a main course, assuming you will eat the other half as the cold version.

Buen provecho!