Thursday, June 28, 2007

Summer: Time for Gazpacho

June 28

As a bride, one of my first discoveries was the lovely salad-soup from Spain called Gazpacho. I discovered it in my Blender Cookbook, by Ann Seranne and Eileen Gaden, published in 1961. I still have the book, although it's seen better days -- it's one of those batter-splattered treasures that, like an old teddy bear, has been well used since the day it was bought. I can say that thanks to this book I was the first in my crowd to know anything about Gazpacho.

Here is that recipe:

Into blender container put

1 clove garlic
1/2 small onion
1/2 green pepper, seeded and sliced
3 ripe tomatoes, quartered
1 small cucumber, peeled and sliced
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons wine vinegar
1/2 cup ice water

Cover and blend for 3 seconds, or until the last slice of cucumber is pulled down into the cutting blades. Chill in refrigerator, or pour into serving dishes and serve with an ice cube in the center of each serving.

I must say that I was never able to get all this in my blender at one time, so I always make it in two batches, and sometimes I use tomato juice or V-8 instead of the water. I don't think I've ever used water at all. I also never served it with an ice cube in the center -- but I've served this soup all over the world. I just made myself some for lunch.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Peeling the Big Orange

June 24

When I was a kid my mother read in one of her magazines that children should be encouraged to eat the white part of the orange peel. According to the article, this usually-discarded part of the fruit is high in calcium.

A dutiful child, for years I ate that part of the peel, scraping it from the outer rind with my teeth. When I grew up I saw no documentation for its nutritional content, so I generally avoid it now. But what I don't understand is the constant admonition of every food writer that the white part of the peel be avoided because of its "bitter" taste. I've tasted it many a time, and bitter is not a word I would use. It's very bland, and has a texture that would certainly detract from its use in cooking, but there is nothing bitter about it.

My conclusion is that everybody says it's bitter because they've been told it's bitter. If they actually tasted it, they would stop saying that. They might find any number of reasons to tell us not to use this part of the orange, but bitterness would not be among them.

I wonder if it's true that it is high in calcium. I can't help but think it is. It's white as milk, and soft as beans. It has a blandness that makes one think of high-calcium foods. It is part of an extremely nutritious fruit. I'd like to think that it is worth doing something with, if only eating as is after peeling and sectioning an orange. I wouldn't use it when candying the peel, or when grating it, but I wouldn't be afraid of it. It isn't a bit bitter, and it may actually be good for you.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Cold Cure: Garlic Soup

June 22

I noted yesterday a bit of dryness in my throat, that telltale first sign of a cold, and by morning it was clear that I had to embark on taking every cold remedy in the house. Luckily I had a few supplies, including that new high vitamin stuff that comes in tablets like Alka-Seltzer, but, dropped in water, taste like Seven-Up. Besides being fun and tasting good, the drink actually helps knock out a cold.

I'm taking care of myself today, and yearned for my favorite cold cure, Julia Child's French garlic soup called Aigo Bouido. Not having time or ingredients to attempt the full thing today, I took half a can of chicken broth and started on my own version.

Here's what I did: Take three cloves of garlic, smashed them to release oils, removed the skins and drop them all into a mug of canned chicken broth. I microwaved the mixture for one minute and left it to steep while I prepare the liaison.

For the liaison I separated an egg and whipped a few tablespoons of good olive oil into the yolk. It's sort of a mayonnaise, which thickens hot soup the way the French do. I put about half of this mixture into a soup bowl, reheated the broth for about 30 seconds, and removed the garlic cloves. While hot, I whisked it into the liaison. I happened to have a piece of bruschetta left over from my birthday party last month (I had them in the freezer), so I put that in the middle of the bowl. Grated Parmesan cheese is supposed to go on top, but I committed the kitchen sin of using some cheddar that was on hand, and it was wonderful! I hope nobody finds out.

My cold feels better already. And I can use the rest of the liaison in my next salad dressing, and add the extra white to my morning scrambled egg!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Professional Salads You Can Make at Home

June 13

When traveling in such a food-laden city as New York, we must resist the temptation to stuff our bodies at every meal. It’s so easy to get a full breakfast, from a bagel shop where what they call a “schmeer” is more like what you’d call the better part of an 8-oz package of Philadelphia Cream Cheese, to a simple egg and toast at a diner (with about ten slices of bacon, of course, plus a cup or two of crunchy, fat-fried hash browns).

So I try to go light at lunch. Just a salad. Day before yesterday I found a lovely Italian restaurant in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn. Not intending to review it, I didn’t note the name, but it was something like Pastissima, meaning that it purported to specialize in pasta dishes. But I was focused. I was going to have a salad, nothing more.

Of course, salads in Italian restaurants come with trays of lovely Italian bread, and this one had a bowl of oil with herbs and chopped olives, just to make it interesting. The salad I ordered was Goat Cheese over Arugula, with sliced peppers and Balsamic dressing. Just a few thin slices of goat cheese that had been doused with a bit of Balsamic vinegar, not the French breaded-and-sauteed goat cheese I expected. But the arugula was fresh and tasty, and the bread was just enough to make this simple salad a memorable meal. And it’s something you and I can do at home.

Yesterday I was in the West Village at lunch. I wanted a salad, and I wanted a place I could sit inside with air conditioning. New York is now a sidewalk café town, not as it was 20 years ago when I lived here. It’s been awfully hot, and the city is not so dedicated to air conditioning as we are in the South. Today I wanted it.

I chose a restaurant called Paris Commune, on the corner of Bank Street and Greenwich. I was drawn in by the house special salad, but on closer observation of the description on the menu I realized it was that bistrot special made of frisée, lardons, and I think goat cheese and maybe an egg. There is nothing that can induce me to eat frisée, that tasteless, briar-textured green so adored by salad lovers everywhere, especially in France. Not this salad eater. So I opted for the Duck Confit salad, which was only a couple of bucks more, and it was fabulieux. I mean, good.

Confit of Duck is a process by which duck, already a rich and fatty fowl, is poached for hours in, of all things, duck fat! I don’t believe I’d ever had it before, but I hope I do again. Duck cooked this way is crispy and tender, and tastes every bit as ducky as a duck can. The salad was light, put together with very fresh, very special greens and just a hint of dressing. Both my restaurant salads here make me think maybe I overdo the dressing when I’m making a salad. I like the dressing better than the greens, so I drown them. These people, at least at the French Commune, may not even be using olive oil, but a lighter tasting choice like canola. I must learn a little restraint from the French. Remind me of that when I get back to my kitchen.

Okay, so under the warm duck leg, there was this plate piled with elegant, very fresh salad greens (mesclun, to the French, a cut above what you get in a bag at the supermarket, but that will work fine) lightly tossed with a touch of vinaigrette – and topped with craisins! And sunflower seeds! If you will check on the archive of this blog you will learn that these are among my favorite salad ingredients these days. And there they were at this very fine New York French restaurant. I thought they were the perfect touch.

I wonder if these sumptuous salads are saving me any calories. Nah. Well, we can't ask for too much.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A Place To Eat

June 12

I found an unusual restaurant in this neighborhood the other day. So far I’ve eaten there twice and recommend it to you without equivocation.

That is, as long as you’re not daunted by items like Cow’s Foot Soup on the menu. I see something like that and think, “Now this is my kind of place!” Not that I’m looking for a nice comforting bowl of Cow’s Foot Soup, but it does my heart good to know that it’s there.

So here’s a little info about the place. Specializing in Cuban and Dominican cuisine, it is called Calidad Latina. Prices are very reasonable as I’ll detail later. The cozy little restaurant is located at 132 Ninth Avenue, between 18th and 19th Streets, open Monday through Saturday from 11 A.M. til 11 P.M. and Sundays from 1 – 10:30 P.M.

The first time I was there I was in the mood for soup, and I saw some lovely bowls of it being passed out, so I ordered the soup of the day, which was Beef Tripe. I didn’t recognize any particular bits of tripe, but the soup was hearty and had a big chunk of what I think was chicken in it. It was on a bone, hacked up a bit, but looking as if it had originally been what is known as a “Drumette,” that little drumstick-looking part of the wing. There was a big potato-looking vegetable, too starchy and gummy to be a potato, likely yucca (or manioc), which served the role of potato. There were three or four generous chunks of plantain as well. A large, soul-filling bowl cost me only $6.95, and there was a tray of delicious garlic-toasted bread slices to go with it.

The second visit I was ready for a real meal. Before, I had seen the orders of fish being placed on other tables, accompanied by neatly mounded red-colored rice known as “yellow” rice, and bowls of beans – red or black – being served with it. I noted that the special of the day on the takeout menu was cod, for $9.95, so I had decided on that. It turns out that the takeout menu gives lunch specials, and cod is not on the dinner menu, so, no problem, I ordered Flounder in Lemon Sauce and was not disappointed. I even sprang for a glass of white wine. The whole meal, fish, rice, beans, wine, and the lovely garlic toasts again – and a tip – only set me back $25. And it was excellent.

The atmosphere of the little place is very pleasant. My waiter, a handsome man, dark and Latinate, could be the owner; he was that solicitous. Yet he was never obtrusive. He had a ready smile and seemed to like his work. He had his eye on his tables, and he pleased us all. It just seems like a place that is run by a family, for a family, and I felt like one of them after just two visits. I’d like to take someone there, but -- just in case I can’t do that this trip -- let me send you, on your next visit to New York.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Notes on Eating in New York

June 9

I’ve been eating my way around New York for a couple of days. Excellent food at good prices…it’s hard to tell what the common denominator in a good restaurant is, if there is one, but I think excellent food at good prices is the place to start.

I had lunch with a friend at a place on the Lower East Side called “Elephant,” which has an Indian décor and staff but a sign in the window describes it as Thai. Chopsticks are offered wrapped in the silverware napkin.

My friend was paying, and he had eaten there often. He recommended the salmon with cucumbers, and we both ordered it. There must have been a whole cucumber on each plate, chopped and marinated in a light vinaigrette which may have contained lime and definitely had mint chopped among other herbs. I think there was some fresh tarragon. He said he had tried over and over to duplicate it but couldn’t. A chunk of grilled salmon sat atop the cukes, and a swirl of finely spiral-chopped marinated beets adorned the place. It was a satisfying and economical lunch – gourmet level, with the bill of $5 per person. There was nothing skimpy about the servings, and the ingredients were fresh and made a wonderful combination.

Back in the neighborhood of my hostelry, I had passed a place with the name of “La Grainne Café” which I assumed to be vegetarian. I couldn’t recall the word grainne from my rudimentary French, but think it might be the same as “grain,” which would suggest health food.

Yesterday and today a chalk board out in front of La Grainne Café proclaimed “Carrot” as the soup of the day. I thought a soup would be nice, so in I went.

I discovered, rather than a “grain” restaurant, that I had stumbled onto a truly French café, with fresh salads, crêpes, moules, mousse au chocolat, and other French specialties. The walls were covered with hammered tin painted a bold yellow overlaid, as is now the style, with an orange wash. I ordered the ham, egg, and cheese crêpe, thinking it would be kind of a supper version of breakfast. First I was brought a couple of slices of a tasty white French bread with that extra-fat, unsalted butter the French are famous for. There was a large wine bottle on my table which I discovered, by observing other diners, was my drinking water.

The crêpe, produced with whole wheat flour, was wrapped around its filling of Gruyere, diced ham, and an egg, in a way that no Frenchman would ever eat for breakfast. It came with a fresh salad of mixed greens that even made a little frisee, my least favorite thing to find in a salad, palatable. The meal set me back $9.75, and even with a tip I was able to stay well under any budget I could have imagined for the day. Of course it doesn’t hurt with someone else is doing the buying!