Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tart and Salty, but I'm Sure You're into It

Bringing good snacks to work is really a challenge, especially if you want to venture beyond cereal and oatmeal. When my mom visited me earlier this month, she brought me soap, dish towels and a bunch of oranges, all very practical gifts. The following week I ate an orange every single day at work. It was so good! I basically just cut them up and sprinkle them with salt. I like eating oranges like this so much that this week I didn't even buy orange juice. I've been eating two oranges a day. One for breakfast and one around 3 oclock.

There are lots of ways to eat an orange. I like slicing them and sprinkling them with salt because the wedges make it easy to eat without getting your hands messy, which is key when you're eating and working and I love how the salt sharpens the sweetness and tartness of the oranges. I hope you'll try it too. You'll be eating well and warding off your snarky cubicle-mate's cold. Win, win!

Green Plantains, Yum!

I am sure that if you have ever had Cuban or another Carribean food, then you have eaten green plantains. Usually they come as two squashed fried chips next to a meal of seared meat with beans and rice. Of course, they can also be seen in the supermarket next to ripe plantains. The other day I was in the supermarket and the green plantains were so cheap I could not help but snatch them up.

Last night after eating a sad dinner of ham on wheat bread I looked in the fridge for something else. I saw those large green plantains. I was reluctant to tackle them tough. They were large plantains, and I wasn't that hungry. I decided, however, that if I didn't begin to use them they would go bad or I would begin on a cycle of continually passing them over until they became inedible.

So I took one long plantain out and took the green peel off, below is what I did after that. To try it yourself you will need:

A large garlic clove
A neutral oil
Salt and pepper
The plantain, of course

Slice up the garlic clove as the oil heats. You don't need a lot of oil, just make sure you use a non-stick pan. Then heat garlic until it sizzles. Then lay out your slices in the pan. Turn when the slices 'pop' with a golden yellow. In a medium sized pan you will probably need to do two batches. Then season with salt and pepper and drink a coffee with warm milk. It's a great snack or savory dessert when you are curling up with a good book or a movie. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

When in Greenpoint, visit this imp's sweet spot: Peter Pan Donut and Pastry Shop

With so many bakeries in Greenpoint, I wanted to know which bakery was worth going to. My friend, who lives in the neighborhood, told me to go to Peter Pan Bakery. He said they have great dounuts and looked at me as if I should be impressed. I nodded ambivalently and mumbled something about checking it out.

The day I had wanted to go with my parents, my plans fell through. A few weekends ago, however, I had the great fortune to go into the little storefront bakery with my sister by chance. I was instantly charmed. The decor is very old school. It screams establishment, in the good way, of course. I ordered a coffee with milk and sugar and a powdered jelly donut. A teenage girl in a retro coffee shop uniform gave it to me. My sister and I went and sat down at the undulating counter and I took a bite of a light powedery and perfectly sweet donut, then chased it with my coffee. I felt like I was inside of a weightless soapy bubble blown out by a child in the park: totally timeless, totally at peace, totally content.

I don't know that every trip to Peter Pan's Bakery will be as enchanting, but I'm convinced that its name could not be more apt.

Peter Pan Donut and Pastry Shop
727 Manhattan Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 389-3676

Chicken Quesadillas on a Tuesday Night

I tend not to buy meat because I don't feel totally comfortable cooking it. It seems alien to me and I also feel guilty if I do not buy organic or farm raised meat. The last time I went to the supermarket, however, I compared the price of prepared fake meat products with the price of organic farm raised chicken breast. The chicken breast was cheaper and the whole chicken was a lot cheaper!

When I got home I put all my food away, including the raw breasts. I eyed them in their fleshy brightness and wondered if I should just cook them right away before I forogt about them. It is one thing to let carrots wane in your fridge and rotting meat another. I took the chicken out and then needed to tackle the next issue: how to cook this in a generally neutral way so I can use it for many different meals and how can I cook it so that it doesn't taste like bland rubber?

Luckily, because I am brilliant, I had the answer to those questions. Below is the recipe for cooking the breasts (and how to make quesadillas with the meat).

Chicken Quesadillas

4 chicken breasts
1/2 an onion
1 tomato or 2-3 smaller tomatoes
1/2 a green pepper
Generous dash of dry oregano
Salt, to taste
Fresh cracked pepper, to taste

For quesadillas

2 tortillas
A few slivers of sharp chedder cheese

Prep your vegetables by slicing the tomatoes and onions in 1/8-1/4 inch slices. Then julienne the green pepper by the same diameter. Lay your breasts on a pan and in the areas around the breasts put your vegetables. Dash the breasts with salt and the oregano. Turn heat on medium and cover. When you hear and can smell the meat cooking, about five minutes, you will need to turn the meat. Uncover the pan. After you flip a breast over, you will ease the vegetables under the raw side of the breast. The result is that you will have the cooked side facing you and the raw side will be buffered from the pan by the vegetables. Now dash with salt again and crack pepper over the whole thing. Cover and reduce heat to low. Let the meat cook for about twenty to twenty-five minutes. When this time has elapsed you will have a lovely broth on the bottom of the pan with tomatoes and peppers whose flavors have intensified and sweetened, and best of all you will have four juicy delicious breasts.

When you are making the quesadillas you will take each tortilla and bend it in half so that you have four pieces. In a pan or a griddle you will place the first 1/4 inside of the pan. Next take two or three slivers, not slices, of cheese. The cheese is an element, not the highlight here, so please show a little self control. Use just enough so that when it melts it will more or less cover the area of the tortilla without melting over the tortilla's border. Next you will take some of those tomatotes peppers and onions from the chicken pan and drape a layer of them over the cheese. Then slice off a few pieces of chicken of a breast and place on tortilla as the third layer. Next, add more cheese, with the same restraint used before. Top with one of the tortilla quarters and then do the whole process with the last two quarters of tortillas. Put a low heat below the pan and cover. Check the quesadillas in a few minutes. Turn and heat the other side. Plate and enjoy with salsa. Voila, you've got a lovely healthy meal on your hands. Congratulations!!!

Mercadito Cantina, Where They're Gonna Know My Name

I like tacos. They are great. They bring together many things I love, such as citrus, tomatoes, avocado, tortillas, grilled meats, heat, acidity, beer, and the list goes on. When I lived in Memphis my friends and I would travel almost thrity minutes to eat at a taqueria where guys wore real cowboy hats. I'm not sure that makes it the real deal, but it was pretty darn good.

Up until recently I had not had any mind blowing tacos in New York. Then I read about Mercadito Cantina in the New York Times' $25 and Under column. Not only is the place worth a visit, but it's good in the best way a restaurant can be. Every time I go, I am humbled by the fact that I know that I cannot replicate this at home. The caliber of the execution is top notch.

Mercadito strikes the perfect balance between East Village casual cool and delicate, uncompromising culinary delivery. The salsas are not chunky approximations that you can buy in the chips aisle of your supermarket. They are perfectly calibrated in texture without being soupy.

The tacos, as well, are exacting. When I eat their tacos I feel like I've entered the sushi realm of taco making, not because they are playing at fusion, but because each taco comes to the table with a clear nod to aesthetics and balance. Like sushi, each taco comes with sharply defined elements that drape the pallett like a rainbow. You marvel at the clarity of each flavor and how beautifully it blends into the others. Like sushi, too, they are smaller, and so allow one to sample a greater variety of flavors.

I think though, what really makes this place a winner is not just the easy, yet tasteful decor or just the thrilling food, but the combination with a helpful, non-intrusive staff. It is a rare thing to feel so completely taken care of and pampered at a restaurant with so few interruptions. This place is perhaps my favorite discovery of 2008 and I can't wait to go back this year.

Mercadito Cantina
172 Avenue B (Btwn 10th and 11th Street)
New York, NY 10009

Petu's chicken soup with dumplings (variations included)

I don't know about you, but I have a long list of sick friends. I feel like the last one standing! Below is my chicken soup recipe, so you can nurse your clan back to health.


1 Whole roaster (variation: chicken breast, pint of mushrooms or even better, dried mushrooms like porcini, butter or quality olive oil)

A few celery stalks

A few carrots

An onion

A few garlic cloves

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

A few sprigs of fresh parsely**

Sprig of fresh rosemary**

**Totally unnecessary, but lovely additions

2 cups of flour*

2/3 cup milk (at least 1%, whole being ideal)*

2 tbs of butter, melted*

1 egg, well beaten*

4 tsp of baking power** (If you are omitting dumplings, then you don't need these ingredients. Alternatives are wild rice (cooked), noodles, or potatoes)


The first step to make a good soup is making a good broth. Wash your vegetables. Crush garlic to remove outer skin. Remove outer layer of onion and slice in half. As long as you have clean carrots well you don't need to peel. These vegetetables will be discared, no need to make them pretty.Next, if you bought the whole roaster, take the giblets out and whatever packaging was inside chicken must be discarded. In a large pot put whole chicken and giblets then fill with cold water. add the vegetables, bay leaf (also rosemary sprig if you have it) and cover. Apply medium low flame and leave it for about 40-45 minutes partially covered; do check though to make sure your broth doesn't boil down too much. If you aren't using the roaster, you would only put in the mushrooms and the fat (butter or olive oive oil about 1 1/2 to 2 tbs should be okay). If you do have chicken bones you could put those in too, but who just has chicken bones lying around? Oh, also if your chicken breasts aren't already cooked, you might as well put them into the broth to cook.

Soup Prep

While your making your broth you will prep the vegetables for the soup. Clean your celery ribs, carrots and potatoes (If that is your starch). Peel appropriate vegetables. Cut vegetables pretty small, what is most important, though, is uniformity. You want to cut them so that they will cook evenly, so celery a little thicker and carrots thinner smaller, etc. When your broth is done you will remove the roaster and put in the fridge for 15-20 minutes. Then you will take off all the fat, bones and skin and discard. Then cut the chicken into bite size peices, of course if you're using the chicken breasts you can skip the earlier part. Cover your chicken and set aside with preped vegetables. Next you will strain broth. Keep liquid, discard the rest. At this point, you can actually put everyting away until you're ready to eat (Great if you have errands to run!).


If you are making dumplings you will want your dumpling ingredients ready to go. Sift flour salt and baking powder. Combine the egg, melted butter and milk and add to the flour mixture, stirring quickly until just smooth. Do not overstir as it will make your dumplings rocks. At this point you are ready to heat the broth under medium heat. Drop in your vegetables and the chicken. Season with salt and pepper to taste. While you wait for liquid to heat, finely chop parsely, if you have it, and add. Drop dumplings by spoonful evenly into boiling soup. Cover tightly and simmer 18 minutes. Do not peak. If you aren't making the dumplings, then you can add noodles, rice or potatoes when you first add the vegetables. Whatever starch you add, it wil be good, but I am partial to the dumplings. Anyway, that's it. Time consuming, but really great.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Pairing Protien with Pasta

Today on The Minimalist column of the New York Times, we were told that uncooked beans trump canned. I am personally not sold on this, although I usually agree with Mark. The problem with uncooked beans is that you have to make that time to make them ahead. With canned beans you can just open the can and presto, you've got your protein done. The recipe below contains chickpeas. Try cooking raw dry chickpeas and getting them to be the texture of canned ones. I dare you.

Pasta dressed with Tomatoes and Chickpeas

1/2 box of angel hair pasta
1/2 can of whole stewed tomatoes
2 garlic cloves sliced
1 carrot peeled and finely chopped
1 small bowl of shredded purple cabbage
Italian spices
Fresh crushed pepper
Olive oil

Begin by heating water. You can prepare vegetables while it is hitting a rolling boil. Open can of beans and dump salty water into the pot of pasta water. Return to a boil. Meanwhile, circle pan on medium high heat with olive oil. After about a minute add garlic and brown. Afterwards add carrot and cabbage; season pan with all spices to taste. Your pot of water should be back to a boil. Dump pasta in pot. Then make sure all flavors are distributed in pan by turning vegetables. Then cover and lower heat a bit. When pasta is cooked drain pot and put back on burner with flame off. Dump the correct portion of tomatoes from can and with a wooden spoon crush each tomato to release its liquid. Next, return your attention to the pan. Add the chickpeas and use spoon to combine with vegetables. Let everything alone for a minute and then dump the contents of the pan into the pot. Stir everything together and taste to make sure seasoning is to your liking. Voila, dinner!