Thursday, September 29, 2005

Breakfast with the Pie Queen

I'm a sucker for sassy writing, wherever it crops up--like in the Fatted Calf newsletter, a snappy bit of meaty goodness that pops up in my inbox every week. Not being within shopping distance of the Berkeley Farmers Market anymore, I live deprived of such treats as their fig-stuffed quails and lamb crepinettes, but their newsletter almost makes up for this. Today, it was all about breakfast--along with teatime, my favorite meal of the day:

Lemon and Herb Links caught our eye right away-picture those babies alongside some buttery scrambled eggs-mmm. And then, my friend, there is Chorizo-which loves to roll around with potatoes and eggs in a burrito as much as you love eating it. And, finally, what is an ode to breakfast without mentioning that queen of the breakfast meats, her highness Bacon? We know that you know that our bacon has been lauded in the most exclusive and the most down-home of meat-loving circles, so, see for yourself. Waking up never sounded so good.

Having grown up in a pork-less household, I didn't taste bacon until I got to slip the leash and go to Canada one summer. Such were my tiny, tame teenage rebellions--piercing my ears (which earned me a 3-hour lecture about "mutilating my body"--on my birthday, no less), putting drugstore hydrogen peroxide on my hair to turn it red, and ordering bacon for breakfast when I was safely out of the country. Alas, bacon, like Coca Cola, is one of those foods on which you have to be imprinted early in life. Forbidden, yes, but was this the big deal, the holy grail of verboten pork products? Sure, I'll snag a piece if it's in front of me, but overall, give me sausage any day. In fact, give me some sausage right now, so I can swab it around in maple syrup and eat it with these fluffy squash-cornmeal pancakes I'm having for breakfast. A little bit of mashed, roasted butternut squash was languishing in my fridge this morning, longing to be turned into squash pancakes. Chopped apples and pecans would have been a nice addition, or maybe some sauteed apple slices. But just maple syrup and a pot of hot tea was enough to cheer up this cool and windy day.

And speaking of breakfast, if I weren't on deadline this week, I'd be back every morning to EGG, the little Southern breakfast kitchen that's moved into Sparky's from 7am-noon, replacing Sparky's organic hotdogs with country ham and scrambled eggs. And stoneground Anson Mills grits, sorghum granola, and biscuits and gravy. Coffee comes in French press pots, there are crayons and paper on the table so you can draw pictures of your breakfast, and the country ham biscuit--a big lofty toasted biscuit smeared with homemade fig jam, salty real country ham, and a glob of melted Grafton cheddar--is waiting to be your new best breakfast friend.

Egg, 135 N. 5th at Bedford, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 718-302-5151. 7am-noon, M-F; 8am-noon S-S.

Pumpkin (or Squash) Pancakes, Chez PQ

Note: I like a healthy, sturdy morning flapjack. By all means, add melted butter and/or sugar if you want.

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt (opt)
a few hefty shakes of cinnamon or mixed pumpkin/apple pie spice
1 TB maple syrup or honey
1 egg
3/4 - 1 cup milk
1/4 cup cooked, mashed pumpkin or squash
(a couple TB of melted butter or oil, if you want)
Chopped apples or pecans

Very lightly grease a griddle or frying pan. Mix dry ingredients in one bowl; beat egg, milk, pumpkin, maple syrup and butter in another. Mix together until just combined, and add more milk or water if batter seems too thick. Add apples and/or nuts. Pour onto griddle and cook until browned on both sides.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Down on the Apple Farm

It's Fall!! Finally, the 80-degree days of this past September are easing into crisp mornings and brisk blue skies. Concord grapes and shiny gourds are at the farmers' market, and peaches are giving way to mountains of apples and pears. Had the first hot cider of the season last week, and next week, I'll be heading up to the Hudson Valley for a weekend of cider-doughnut munching and apple-picking. So lots of apple posts this week, starting with a memory of autumn in California--an elusive season, since October is much more Indian summer than sweater weather, but with its own charms nonetheless.

One of my best Bay Area autumn memories revolves around apples, or more specifically, the Apple Farm, up in the Anderson Valley. Located down a skinny little side road off Highway 128 in Philo, near the beautiful Hendy Woods redwood grove, this organic apple orchard is a meandering bucolic dream. Ducks and bunnies wander through the herb garden. Tall sheds, open to the still, sweet-scented afternoon air, are filled with heavy wooden boxes packed with gleaming Golden Delicious fruit (which, when freshly picked, is miles away from the usual bland, rubbery corner-store fruit). At the self-service table near the tiny gravel parking lot, crates of juicy, deeply flavored heirloom apples perched next to heavy glass bottles of hard cider and quarts of sweet, cloudy amber apple juice.

On that October weekend a few years ago, Apple Farm co-owner Sally Schmitt taught a group of us just what to do with her apples. (These cooking weekends are really enjoyable, and well worth signing up way in advance for, since they book up very quickly. Check out their website, above, for details). Sausages braised in cider, curried duck breast with apple salsa, and best of all, an upside-down gingerbread cake topped with apples drenched in a buttery brown-sugar caramel. Over time, I've tinkered with the original recipe, substituting different gingerbread recipes for the cake and pears or poached quinces for the apples. A friend from New Orleans always adds a slug of rum to the butter-sugar topping, making it into a kind of apples Foster, while a long, leisurely quest through the world of gingerbread commentary led to this triple slam of powdered ginger, fresh ginger root, and candied ginger in the cake. (Also called crystallized ginger, it's readily available in Asian markets and specialty food shops.) The fresh and candied ginger aren't crucial, but they add an irresistible depth of flavor not found in powdered ginger alone. The apples cook down quite a bit, so squeeze in as many slices as possible, even layering them two deep in places if you can.

Another trick for this cake is to try baking it in a cast-iron skillet instead of a cake pan. Cheap, endlessly useful and nearly indestructible, a cast-iron skillet is equally perfect for roasting a chicken, making a batch of corn bread, and baking a deep-dish blueberry pie and a lovely gingerbread cake.

If you have a favorite gingerbread recipe, by all means use it here, although this version has a particularly alluring balance between springy, delicate texture and forthright spicy flavor. One thing about the recipe: out of habit, you may find yourself reaching to beat in the eggs directly after creaming the butter and brown sugar. Makes sense, doesn't it? Well, not here. You MUST mix everything else into the batter before you add the eggs. The eggs go in LAST, weird as it seems. Trust me, I've done the other way, and I've ended up with a dry, lumpy, weird mess instead of a nice thick batter. And don't use ancient spices--if you have a dusty jar of ginger that's been sitting over the stove for the past 3 years, it's going to have as much flavor as lint. Chuck it and replace, or better yet, dump out all your old spices but rinse out and save the jars. Go to a health-food, Middle Eastern or Indian shop that sells spices in bulk, and stock up on small batches of spices you use a lot, then decant them into the jars when you get home. They will cost mere pennies per bag and will be loads fresher than supermarket spices. And don't store your spices over the stove--the heat dries all the flavor out of them. They really do need the requisite cool dry place.

If you've been to the Apple Farm (or to their stand at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market) and bought a jug of their lovely apple-cider syrup, it makes a great substitute for the molasses. Or try a mix of half cider syrup and half dark (grade B) maple syrup. This has become my standard Rosh Hashanah dessert, much better than the usual heavy honey cake. And baking it will make your house smell like autumn in heaven.

Gingerbread Apple Upside-down Cake

1/2 stick (4 tb/2 oz) butter
2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
3 or 4 apples, peeled, cored, and sliced


1 cup boiling water
2 tsp baking soda

2 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder

1 stick (8 TB/4 oz) butter
2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
2/3 cup molasses or apple-cider syrup
1 Tbs grated fresh ginger
1 Tbs chopped candied ginger
2 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt 1/2 stick of butter in a large, deep cast-iron skillet. Swirl butter around to coat sides, then sprinkle 2/3 cup of brown sugar over bottom of pan. Cook over low heat for a few minutes, until sugar no longer looks grainy. Remove from heat and arrange apple slices in a decorative pattern. (Or, grease a deep cake pan. Melt the 1/2 stick butter and pour into pan. Sprinkle the sugar over the butter, and mix together. Top with apple slices.) Set aside.

Mix boiling water and baking soda, and set aside. Sift together dry ingredients. Cream whole stick of butter and 2/3 cup brown sugar, then beat in molasses, fresh ginger, and baking soda-water mixture. Add dry ingredients and candied ginger, stirring gently until batter is smooth. Stir in eggs. Pour batter over apple slices – batter should fill the pan no more than halfway, to allow for rising. If you have extra batter, bake in a separate pan. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool, then carefully invert on a plate large enough to catch any stray drips of caramel topping. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Say You Ate It at the Antic (and gay penguins!)

Unlike most NYC street fairs, which are dispiriting, interchangeable body-jams of tube-sock sellers and mozzarepa stands, Brooklyn's late-September Atlantic Antic is an actual neighborhood celebration, stretching from Hicks nearly all the way down to Flatbush in a cross-cultural mix buoyant with bouncy castles and canine massage, shea butter and henna tatttoos, blintzes from the Belorussian church and pasteles from the Spanish-speaking one, jerk chicken and rice and peas and falafel and jambalaya and paella and beef brisket with horseradish on a challah bun (this last from Nosh, a new Jewish deli opening this week on the south side of Atlantic near Court St, run by Mark of Blue Star).

Nearly every restaurant, food shop, and church along Atlantic Avenue was dishing out something tasty last Sunday. West of Clinton St, tapas joint La Mancha sent up an irresistable smoke from its curbside grills, where fresh whole sardines were turning golden over the coals , along with huge pots of shellfish-topped paella and chubby lengths of paprika-red chorizo sausage. If your only experience with sardines had been the shiny headless critters revealed as you peel back the flat top of a sardine can--or merely as a metaphor for the 6 train at rush hour--these fat, crispy-skinned fish were a sublime revelation. These were big guys, about the span of your hand, fat and meaty, dark and oil-rich like bluefish or mackerel, spritzed with lemon and scattered with crunchy sea salt.

Next door, Floyd had set up shop on the street, reproducing their bar--complete with a fake fireplace and mantle, comfy couches, rugs, and mismatched coffee tables, and of course, beer taps--out on the curb. (You did have to go inside for bocce, though). Last Exit had its usual hay bales and country swingers; over at Magnetic Fields, thrash-and-burn boy bands. Outside the Atlantic Chip Shop, pans of shepherd's pie languished in favor of misshapen golden lumps of deep-fried Twinkies--Anglo-American cooperation at its queasy best. Not to be outdone, one of the many Italian-sausage trucks (obviously enjoying being MIA from the insanity of the San Gennaro fest across the river) was pitching deep-fried Oreos. Steve and his key-lime pie truck were selling, naturally, key-lime pies, which gave me a pang of missing K., of course, and our key-lime adventures at last Saturday's social.

What else? Belly dancing and Arabic music; cheery zydeco, gumbo and jambalaya outside Stan's New Orleans restaurant; the very serious, all-chick horn section of the funk band outside Downtown Atlantic's bbq-and-beer garden (women who spent their teen years at band camp, no question about it); Brooklyn pride T shirts of all kinds, from 718 thongs to B'klyn Baby onesies and Gowanus Yacht Club baseball tees. Sweet potato pie from the sugar-seeking crush around the Baptist church ladies. And finally, far from the madding crowd, a cool lady's half-pint of Brooklyn lager in the pleasant late-afternoon gloom of the Brooklyn Inn.


Now, as promised, pie-social recipes!

Key Lime Pie (adapted from MIAMI SPICE by Stephen Raichlen)

Graham cracker crust

If you're really pining to make extra work for yourself, you can make your own graham crackers from Nancy Silverton's recipe, here. I didn't love these crackers on their own, but they did make a nice crust, although not monumentally different than one made from a box of teddy grahams from the corner store. Whatever you do, put a whole bunch of crackers into a big zip-lock bag and roll them into crumbs, or break them up and spin them in the food processor until buzzed to fine crumbs. Mix 1 1/4 cups crumbs with 4 TB melted butter and press into a pie pan. Bake at 350 F for 5-6 minutes, until lightly browned and firm.


1 lb key limes*
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
3 egg yolks

Zest off enough rind to make 1 teaspoon. Set aside. Juice the rest of the limes, give or take a few, to make 1/2 cup juice. Using a hand-held or stand-up mixer, beat eggs and milk for at least 5 minutes, until light-colored and thick. Add juice and rind and continue beating. The mixture should be creamy and very thick. Pour into pie shell and bake for 6-8 minutes, until set but not browned. Let cool to room temp, then refrigerate for several hours. Top each slice with a key-lime twist (a thin slice of lime cut down the middle and twisted in opposite directions) and whipped cream, if desired.

*Key limes are very small, yellowish-green limes, often called Mexican limes. They are small enough that you can juice them by twiddling each half between your thumb and forefinger. You can find them, with some searching, in Latin produce markets or specialty produce stores. If you can't find them, Raichlen suggests a mixture of 5 TB lemon juice and 5 TB regular lime juice.

Enough with the pies and sardines, already: we want to know about the GAY PENGUINS!!!!

Well, since the issue of penguin anthropomorphism has been a big topic in the news lately (thanks to March of the Penguins and its tales of heroic ice-bound monogamy--hey, it was a long, hot summer), the Times devoted a detailed update to the trials and tribulations of the Gay Penguins of Central Park today. On the happy rainbow side: Tango, the girl penguin the penguin dads raised from an egg, now has a girlfriend. Go Tango!! Wanna come camping? On the sad rainbow side, her dads Silo and Roy got pushed out of their nest by two" aggressive penguins" (bastards!), and in despair over the NY real estate market, pressured by the demands of celebrity gay couplehood, Silo jumped the fence and started macking on a tattooed lady-penguin barmaid named Scrappy--an import from, of course, that polyamorous paradise, Sea World. All this, reported in page-six detail. First Gay Weddings, now Gay Penguin Gossip.
(And now I'm going over to Sitemeter to see how many people ended up on this blog because they googled "gay penguins." Just as a change from "dirt cake," which is, hands down, the top search that sends random strangers here.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Red Beans and Ricely Yours

From Wednesday's New York Times:

Monday isn't Monday in New Orleans without red beans and rice. That's because back when laundry was done by hand, Monday was the day for doing it. A dish that could simmer all day was called for. People throw their laundry into washing machines any day of the week now, but red beans and rice is still the dish you eat on Monday in New Orleans.

On this Monday, two big pots were cooking on propane stoves on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant Alex Patout's, just across the narrow street from Antoine's.

The building's owner, Finis Shelnutt, was manning the pots, despite the neighborhood's stench, the approaching darkness and the near-barren streets.


"It's Monday, darlin'," he said.

Pie PIx

Well, the Pie Social was a big hit. The only problem was a good one--almost more pie bakers than pie eaters! there were dozens and dozens of pies laid out in the midday sun, from the freaky caramel-pecan cricket (yep, real insects) pie to the wild-apple pies (from 7 wild apple trees in upstate NY) and the goofy worm and fish pies (cream pies decorated with gummy fish and worms). Recipes for my key-lime and plum tart to follow....but here I am, wearing my blue ribbon. Everyone got one, reading "I baked a pie for the Brooklyn Pie Social." Bake, and you're a winner.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Pie Time

Butter. I need butter. A lot of butter. And a five-pound bag of flour, and another big bag of sugar. Yep, it's almost time for the fabulous Brooklyn Pie Social (Sat., 9/17, 12-4pm) and soupy heat wave or no, it will soon be necessary to brave my AC-less kitchen and get baking. That is, if the nice folks from Keyspan ever show up to reconnect the gas on my stove, which was cut off yesterday for reasons unbeknownst to me.

This weather, though. Are you a tad anxious about the fate of your pies? Showers are predicted for Saturday, which is a bummer, given how utterly autumn-y and gorgeous the day was last year. Granted, we're not having hurricanes, and there is a raindate--Sunday Sept. 18th, instead of Sat. But be that as it may, I'm still pressing the gingham and rolling the dough.

It being the moment for Italian prune plums--those narrow, oblong purple fruits with sticky yellow flesh, on the boring side to eat raw but deliciously tangy-sweet when baked--I'm planning a plum tart redux. I don't really have a recipe for this one; plums and sugar are really all you need, although I might get a little fancy and put down a thin sandy layer of pulverized pistachios, lemon rind, nutmeg and cinnamon--a strange but alluring blend that B. bequeathed to me in a large bag, after having invented it and eaten himself silly on it mixed with honey and spread over toasted pita breads. There's also the "fairy dust" mix from an old Chez Panisse apricot galette recipe, which mixed ground almonds, amaretti, flour and sugar--always a good thing. I usually swear by the pie-crust and tart-shell recipes in David Lebovitz's Room for Dessert, but after a trip to the library yesterday, I've got Maury Rubin's uber-chic Book of Tarts from City Bakery, with what the ever-dogmatic Jeffrey Steingarten insists is the perfect tart crust recipe. Rich, though--damn. 13 TB butter to a mere 1 1/2 cups flour, plus powdered sugar and an egg yolk. This sounds like a seriously short (and thus crumbly) dough, and may not work in a big tart (this may be the reason all Rubin's recipes are for making individual small-sized tarts). Hmmm.

Once I was in the pie section, of course, I had to come home with Tamasin Day-Lewis's sexy Art of the Tart, which pours a couple of eggs and a cup and a quarter of cream into almost every recipe. The way she writes, though, you can imagine all her tasty Irish-brogued friends (including, of course, her bro Daniel) coming up behind you and licking the crumbs--and the cream--right off your fingers as you whisk.

But what about the other pie? Well, much as I like to be all seasonal and local, I also love a challenge, and so when the Florida-born K. (who's still a little stunned at being hauled up above the Mason-Dixon line among all these strange Yankees) expressed a wistful fondness for her native key-lime pie, I started scouting around for real key limes. Half the size of the usual Persian lime golfballs, with thin, spotty yellowish-green skins and lots of seeds, these used to be readily available in SF, 12 for a dollar, at the Latino produce markets on Mission Street, where they were labeled Mexican limes. Out East though, it's trickier. I sent a pleading email to Steve of Steve's Key Lime Pies in Red Hook, asking for sources--no dice. Rather than head all the way uptown to the Dominician markets of Washington Heights, I hit Whole Foods (no), Citarella (no), and finally, the Garden of Eden in downtown Brooklyn (yes). I've now got two little one-pound net bags, imported from Mexico, sitting on my table, waiting to be zested, juiced, and whipped up with eggs and sweetened condensed milk, using the excellently easy recipe from Steve Raichlan's very entertaining Miami Spice cookbook, worth buying for the "mangozpacho" (mango gazpacho) recipe alone. And because I am also an insane person, I have grand plans to make my own graham crackers for the crust, using the Nancy Silverton recipe so kindly posted on 101 Cookbooks. I had restaurant-made grahams once, as part of do-it-yourself s'mores at SF's Luna Park (which has recently expanded, under the name Kitchen and Cocktails, to the East Village), and they were huge leaps above your average teddy graham. Weirdly enough, though, Silverton's recipe calls for white flour, not graham flour, which is the whole raison d'etre for these cookies, so I'm going to slip a little whole-wheat in, just for my own conscience.

Hope to see you at the Social--come find me and say hello! All the info (and a picture of me at last year's Social) at Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Dark as the night, blue as the day

The days have been blue as heaven this week, the sky clear and high domed with an unmistakable shift into autumn in the air. The sun has dropped in its orbit, crossing the sky just a little lower than it did a few weeks ago, just enough to prove that summer has said its farewells. Apples--the small, tart early varieties, Tydeman Reds and Gingergolds--are showing up at the farmers market, next to the piles of peaches and corn, melons and tomatoes. These are the last few weeks to sit in the back gardens of restaurants all around the city, drink rose and wave off the wasps and pigeons. At Sweet Melissa's this afternoon, my mother and I got hustled by a couple of very aggressive birds acting like they owned the joint, ready to shake us down for chilled beet-raspberry soup, a slice of baguette or a stray bit of goat cheese and apple salad.

Sitting at Bellavitae (on Minetta Lane, in the Village) on Saturday night, after listening to open-air bluegrass at the Damrosch Park bandshell, K. and I got a plate of figs and proscuitto--which was just that and nothing more, little slices of fig and a few sheets of sheer proscuitto. Pleasant enough, although the figs weren't yet bursting-sweet enough to make such simple treatment perfect. Unless you know one of the lucky people in Carroll Gardens who still have a fig tree growing in their backyard (planted decades ago by the neighborhood's Southern Italian immigrants), most figs in the market need a little help along. So Sunday night, feeling peckish, the figs in my fridge got run under the broiler until they were jammy within and slightly caramelized without, stuffed with a nubble of goat cheese and a few leaves of fresh thyme from the windowbox, then swaddled in strips of proscuitto. Then they were drizzled with a quickly boiled-down syrup of balsamic vinegar and pomegranate molasses. Voila, Figs and Pigs, Chez PQ. We ate the whole plateful, swiping the plate with our fingers for every streak of thick, fruit-tart syrup, and then wandered off to read the Walt Whitman poetry inscribed around the floating deck down the base of the Brooklyn Promenade and eat basil-leafed, fresh-mozzarella'd pizza at Grimaldi's.

This is the month of the corn moon, of harvest time and reaping what you've sown. B., busy doing manly nautical things to his new boat (mostly involving paint and taking the skin off his thumbs with various toxic chemicals), has been letting his fire escape garden run rampant. So after a lazy lunch at Frankie's (and that's the time to go, late on a weekday afternoon when no one's there)--tomato-and-mozzarella sandwiches on Sullivan St Bakery's irresistably oil-sopped pizza bianca; crunchy skinny green beans with roasted garlic, buttery polenta, thick slices of inexplicably good cold roasted sweet potato--I headed out with three plastic bags and a big pair of scissors. Singing Bill Monroe songs to the plants, I snipped and snipped, cutting foot-long swaths off the basil and mint, stuffing velvety, triangular leaves of catnip into my bag, nipping off spikes of rosemary and rumpled stalks of lemon balm, picking cherry tomatoes and 6 long red peppers off the now-huge plants I'd planted back in June. Then I went to pick up golden peppers, red-leaf lettuce, yellow and red tomatoes, lilac-streaked eggplants and green beans at the Cobble Hill CSA dropoff, to go with even more tomatoes that my mom had picked herself at a farm near her house upstate, the corn I'd bought on Saturday thinking to make corn pudding, the bowl of peaches and plums in the fridge.

So it's been salads with everything, peach cornmeal pancakes topped with poached peach slices, panfuls of habanero-green chile turkey sausage sauteed with red peppers and onions. Tomorrow, I'm going to go get even more tomatoes and make Susie Bright's Best Spaghetti Sauce Ever. I love reading Susie on food, because she makes every recipe she passes along sound like the best thing you'll put in your mouth, ever. Check out her cherry pie recipe in Mommy's Little Girl and see if you don't drop everything to start rolling pie crust and pitting cherries, the book still in one hand. So read her recipe, and then read the rest of her blog, for the well-directed outrage and grief at what's going on down South in Louisiana these days, and many, many links to alternative news sources and insightful commentary.

This Saturday, Lillie's in Red Hook is doing a Katrina fundraiser and donation collection--they'll be barbecuing, playing music, and collecting all kinds of stuff--toiletries, clothing, food, bottled water, baby items, and more. Starts at 10pm. Before you go down to Lillie's, stop in at Freebird, the little second-hand bookstore that's hanging on by a thread over on Columbia Street. 4 - 10pm, readings by Jonathan Ames and others, free food, lotsa cool books to buy.

Music for Figs & Tomatoes

1. Dark as the Night, Blue as the Day (Bill Monroe)
2. Pure (Lightening Seeds)
3. I Hope There's Someone (Antony and the Johnsons, channeling Nina Simone)
4. Acadian One-Step (Joseph Falcon, from Harry Smith's Anthology of American Music)
5. This Little LIght of Mine (Louvin Bros)