Monday, April 26, 2010

Are You Going to Hester Street Fair?

As if Significant Eater and I aren't lucky enough to live in the 2nd most desirable neighborhood in NYC, there is now a fabulous new addition to our 'hood - The Hester Street Fair.

I say "our hood" because I can. Significant Eater and I actually live in the corporation (yes, a co-op is a corporation) known as Seward Park Cooperative, that owns the Hester Street property upon which the fair is located. This plot of land, located right next to Seward Park (the first municipal playground in the US, btw), had sat unused for many decades. Located on top of a subway line, and due to co-op politics, analysis paralysis, inertia and other nefarious reasons, this valuable piece of real estate was basically locked up and allowed to become an eyesore for the neighborhood. However, over the years since we've moved downtown, the residents of SPC have been electing to the board of directors professionals in many fields; architecture, urban planning, finance, legal, IT, business, etc., who have helped Seward Park catch up with the present and move boldly into the future, in terms of our property and with a commitment to making the neighborhood a better place to live. A quick walk around our buildings will make you smile..broad sidewalks, green spaces, beautiful flowers and landscaping, parks for the kids, shopping and other amenities right outside the door are all what made the move to SPC easy for Significant Eater and me. And now, during our co-op's 50th anniversary celebration, we have the Hester Street Fair.

Like an eager kid on the first day of school (well, that would be Significant Eater; I freakin' hated school while she loved it - and kids, stay in school so you can end up with a good job like hers or else you'll end up a blogger like me) I snuck downstairs early (SE hadn't even gotten up for her first cup of coffee) to snap a picture of the setup...

The fair is being run by a professional team known as The Big Social, and most of them live right in the neighborhood. I like to think of the fair as a joint venture between the proprietors of the fair, the neighborhood, our co-op, our management team, vendors, fair-goers, etc. However you look at it, the set-up went smoothly, and by about noon on opening day, this is what it looked like...

Couldn't have asked for a more glorious day, and the crowd was estimated in the thousands. Tree tops will help keep the fair shaded as it gets warmer in the summer, so have no fear...

There was a nice mix of booths on opening day, with probably 20% of them devoted to food. While SE and the rest of the ladies we were with went shopping (strangely enough, they all bought some jewelry), I was busy checking out the food stalls. Pretzels were in abundance, from the Sigmund Pretzelshop on Avenue B. Not only abundant, but fresh and delicious, these are nothing like the street pretzels you might be buying on the corner. Try the gruyere and paprika, and all three of the delicious dips that go along...

Mile End Montreal Bagels was there, and I took home half a dozen for the freezer. They toast up beautifully, and look how happy the bagel people are. You can pre-order or buy them at the fair...

Walking towards the back end of the fair, I spotted these gentlemen, who were intimately involved with getting the fair off the ground, as well as enjoying hanging out in front of our coop's 50th anniversary poster, sporting our new logo. From left to right, Seward Park Cooperative's indefatigable general manager, from property manager Charles H. Greenthal & Co., Frank Durant; long-time director and NYC civil servant Carlos Rosado; and the president of Seward Park Cooperative, Michael Tumminia. Kudos to all...

There were also lobster rolls (we had 2) from Luke's in the East Village, Vietnamese food from Orchard St. faves An Choi, freshly baked pies, shave ice, smoothies, omelets and more...all too much for Tasty to devour in one day. But guess what? The fair is open on Saturday AND Sunday, so even though the weather Sunday was less than ideal, I made my way back, because I wanted to try the Virginia barbecue from Frank's Chop Shop. Although Frank's is a barbershop owned by Mike Malbon, it's not a bad name for barbecue either; the backstory is that Mike's dad is a well-known Virginia barbecue person...(Malbon Bros. Barbecue), so Mike wanted to do barbecue at the fair, and, and, and...this is what I bumped into on Sunday...

Now, there's no way they're making barbecue for thousands, and from what I heard, they ran out pretty quickly on Saturday, but on Sunday I was able to grab a pulled pork sandwich with a side of beans and I headed back upstairs to my apartment to chow down. And it was pretty good - the tender pork piled high on a bun with a hit of tangy cole slaw on top to help it all down. Not bad, boys.

And for dessert from another vendor that wasn't there on Saturday, I (over) indulged in these. Hey, it's for science, you know. While the rainy weather did nothing to help this product, the flavors came through wonderfully, the service was with a smile, and I hope to see Macaron Palace at the fair every weekend.

The Hester Street Fair is located at the intersection of Hester and Essex Streets and will run every weekend through the late fall. The green market will be coming to the fair (on Sundays) sometime in May or early June. There will be a rotating cast of vendors, so it's never going to be the same. Come down to check out the fair, and see what makes the lower east side one of the most exciting places to live and play in New York City.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Does Anyone Still Cook Pasta Salad?

Raise your hand (s). Pasta salad? One of those things that makes you wonder:
"Does anyone make pasta salad anymore?

Did they ever?

Isn't that so...1980s? "

Well, yeah, I do.

I did.

And, no - I find it quite 2010s as a matter of fact.

Why, you ask? Well, because it's good and I like it and even more importantly, Significant Eater likes it - so there. Especially when it's made properly. After all, that old deli classic macaroni salad is basically pasta salad, isn't it? (Say yes, please.) Of course, the macaroni salad that we all remember having was that heinous deli stuff, drenched in enough mayo to make maybe 10 pounds worth of tuna sandwiches - but that's another story (tuna salad, that is). And so's this...pasta salad worth eating.

Like anything you're going to cook, start with good stuff and cook it right. No kidding around here. Good pasta, good ingredients, cooked properly, etc. etc. Last week, I noticed a box of orzo lying around doing nothing in my cupboard (even though I don't think it's a cupboard, I like to say the word cupboard) , so I decided to make, you guessed it, pasta salad.

First, find yourself some vegetables. Some herbs, too. I had this stuff lying around, so that's what I used - but you can use whatever you like or have around.

For me, that was shallots, garlic, red bell pepper, green bell pepper, celery, carrot, scallion. Here's a need to cut the vegetables into pieces about the size of the pasta - otherwise your salad will look dumb and taste even dumber...imagine giant bites of carrot and teeny bites of orzo. Can't have that. My technique also calls for sautéing all the vegetables - nothing raw in this pasta salad, as I find it brings a much greater depth of flavor by introducing the veggies to heat. So cut 'em up, and sauté them in a good couple of hits of olive oil, till they're just past crisp. Sure, you can just blanch them to cook, but that's boring, and adds nothing to the flavor. So, sauté please. And use salt and pepper. We're building layers of flavor here, folks.

Also, mince up a healthy bunch of herbs. Parsley is standard, thyme is nice, fresh marjoram and oregano are great, tarragon can work if used sparingly, chives, etc. etc. Stay away from rosemary, sage and anything dried. Also, basil might not be the greatest, since it tends to turn black once minced, and unless there are tomatoes in your pasta, I find it best left out.

Then, you gotta cook the pasta - cook it like you would cook any good pasta - in a decent amount of well-salted, boiling water, just to the point where you'd normally take it out of the pot to toss it with whatever sauce you were making if you were making pasta with sauce. Very al dente. Trust me on this - it's gonna absorb the dressing and will be perfect by the time it's ready to eat - I actually thought I might have taken it out too early, but it was just right.
Then, you gotta drain and rinse the pasta to get the starch off, otherwise the pasta will be all stuck together which is no fun - and here's my trick...I actually rinse it with hot water, because I want the pasta to be hot when I dress it so it absorbs the dressing more readily. Genius, huh? Well, not really, but just find me one cookbook that tells you this, and if you can't, it's why I can call this recipe all my own,

On to the dressing. I like a nice, 2 parts oil, 1 part vinegar vinaigrette for pasta salad. Red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, white wine vinegar, whatever (not balsamic, please - if you have really great aged balsamic, why do you want to waste it on pasta salad? And if you don't, why bother?). Maybe a little mustard. Salt and pepper. Perhaps garlic or shallots. Whisk your dressing up (a good cup) beforehand, something that tastes good to you, and you'll be fine.

After the pasta is cooked and rinsed (with hot water, remember), it's time to dress it. Take about 1/3 of a cup of your re-whisked dressing, and pour it over the pasta - taste it for salt, is it vinegary enough, etc. Adjust to your liking.

Now, you've got your veggies and herbs ready so toss them all with the dressed pasta. Taste. Add more dressing. Add more salt. Add more pepper. It no doubt needs it. If you're happy with the way it tastes, set it probably don't need to refrigerate it if you're gonna serve it in the next hour or so, otherwise into the fridge it goes, and take it out an hour before you'll be serving it. Before serving, stir it up again and taste - it might surprise you that it wants more dressing, so go ahead. If you've used all the dressing up, pour on a bit of olive oil and fresh lemon juice - which really brightens up the flavor, by the way.

And then sit back and watch your family, friends, significant others and everyone else wonder why no one makes pasta salad anymore. Well, no one that is, but you and me.


1 lb. orzo pasta
1 onion, minced
2-3 shallots 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, diced about the size of the orzo
1 celery, same
1 red pepper, same
1 green or yellow pepper, same
1 fennel, 1 zucchini, 1 whatever, all minced the same

10 T extra virgin olive oil
5-6 T vinegar

Follow directions in funny story above...end up with this...

Friday, April 16, 2010

What Has DC Got That NYC Doesn't?

You know, as a dyed-in-the-wool, jaded and especially annoying New Yorker - born in Brooklyn, even - there isn't much that impresses me, especially when it comes to restaurants, chefs and food. I mean, we've got it all here, under one roof. Access to the best seafood and produce (try the green market some day if you think I'm kidding), a bajillion restaurants (lots of them good, some great), hot cocktail lounges, awesome kitchenware shops, etc. etc. But there's one thing we don't have, and DC does, which should make a lot of NYers jealous...and that's José Andrés. And as if that wasn't inglorious enough, even LA has him now, or at least has a restaurant of his...and it's a friggin' 4-star.

So, DC, thank your lucky stars...because you've got something that NY doesn't. But now, with Significant Eater and me kinda living in both cities, we've got José too. And the other night, we got Zaytinya...and we got hooked.

First off, we walked out of the metro at the Chinatown station (the metro is basically DC's subway system - but way cuter and cleaner than NYC's could ever hope to be) and there it is. Easy as that. All you drunkards out there - no worries about driving, though if you're getting drunk late, remember the system shuts down around 1 AM. Even though our reservation had changed due to a late cancellation, we were seated immediately, at a great table with a view of the action on the streets as well as inside. See how happy Significant Eater looks, even though her plate is empty as she's anxiously awaiting food delivery.

It was soon to be...first the puffy, hot flat bread, along with this cutesy dish of olive oil and pomegranate molasses. I prefer no cutesy, but wtf, it must impress some people, just not me - remember, jaded New Yorker, etc. etc.

Oh, the cocktails surrounding the olive oil weren't bad - SE had a Greek sidecar (Metaxa, cointreau and maraschino), and mine was something or other that I consumed in like 30 seconds; it was that tasty and I was thirsty, after all.

According to our charming waitress, SE and I should probably order between 4 and 6 dishes to be properly sated. HAH! She had no idea who she was dealing with, and as we quickly ordered 9 items, she nodded approvingly.

The first dish to arrive (everything we ordered was paced properly and in the right order; at no time was our table covered with more dishes than two humans could properly consume) was a revelation. Simply fresh roasted chickpeas. In their pods. Like edamame, but so much more, the pods are first roasted and then drenched in an olive oil/lemon juice and dill bath, which we couldn't get enough of. Messy - yes. Lots of bread dipping - yes. Bread runs out and is refilled - yes. What more can you ask for?

Alongside the chickpeas were served kolokithokeftedes, zucchini and cheese patties in a caper/yogurt order of 4, brown and crispy outside, smooth and creamy in. The perfect combo, no?

As we moved on, it became apparent that these guys really know how to cook. Sure it helps if you love the cuisines of Greece and Turkey; lots of yogurt, dill, capers, feta, mint, garlic, etc. - and we do. Though smoked white asparagus with smoked yogurt sauce isn't your everyday Greek fare, and drew a comment from SE as to it's deliciousness...

It's obvious from above - a vegetarian can eat quite nicely at Zaytinya. Sadly, they'd be missing a lot. For instance, the Garides Me Anitho, shrimp sauteed with shallots, dill, lemon juice and mustard almost caused a fight to break out at our table; it was that good. They couldn't have the spiced quail couscous, with little chunks of quail and butternut squash strewn throughout. Nor the lamb ravioli, filled tonight with lamb's tongue and brain, served in a thick tomato sauce, and which might have been our favorite dish of the night.

Might have, had it not been for our final savory course, the spit-roasted lamb (we spotted the lamb roasting as soon as we walked to our seats), encased in a crispy package floating atop it's dill-feta-yogurt sauce without a care in the world...

As dinner came to a close, and we wrestled with the decision as to whether to have dessert or not (3 baskets of bread'll do that to you, but we did have some ice cream/gelato and a small portion of something chocolate-y), SE and I both agreed that we need to return to Zaytinya - soon. Because - there was a lot we didn't get to try.
Because - the price is right...cocktails, a couple glasses of wine and a beer along with all that food was $125.
Because - there are great specials offered at happy hour.
Because - the service is warm, friendly and proper.

And because - there's nothing quite like this in NYC. Thanks for having Jose, DC.

701 9th St. NW
Washington, DC 20001

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Who Likes Vacuuming?

I know, I know, it's a loaded question. But we're not talking about vacuuming the apartment here (or, if you're lucky enough to have one, vacuuming the house). Actually, just the other day, Significant Eater was complaining to me about having to vacuum the apartment down in DC. She was mentioning that she had to take the vacuum out of the closet, plug it in, turn it on...etc., etc. Basically complaining about all the things you do - when you vacuum! See, she really likes it when I do the vacuuming, but that's another story. So let's talk about this kind of vacuuming instead...

Now THAT'S a vacuum - although some call it a syphon pot, it's more well-known name is a vacuum pot. For some reason, I seem to remember seeing this type of coffee maker in my grandmother's house, when we lived upstairs in a semi-detached two-family house in Queens. Though her main method of brewing was the percolator, I have her to thank for my life-long coffee habit - I know she started me on coffee with lots of milk or heavy cream when I was just a year old (hey, at least she wasn't giving me drags on her Marlboro reds). It might even be why I'm so mellow and calm right to this day.

Back to vacuuming - I've been kinda wanting one of these for a long time, so I sprang for it a week ago - under $40, delivered in perfect condition, ready to brew. And guess what? It makes a damn good cup of coffee.

There's no need to go back through all the basic steps involved in making a great cup of coffee, is there? Because I did that back in this post. All about fresh coffee, good water, yada, yada, yada. Read that one and you'll be caught right up to date.

Here's how the vacuum pot works, in a nutshell. Oh, there are various nuances involved, but let's just go basic here. You put the water in the bottom half of the pot, you put the filter and the proper amount of freshly ground coffee in the top half of the pot, put the pots together (they go together nice and easy and there's a high-quality rubber seal that holds them that way) and then place the whole unit on the heat. Bring the water up to a boil, the water expands, flows up into the top half and looks like this...

Keeping it on the lowest heat, give the brewing coffee a few stirs and let it brew for your desired amount of time...I've been working on 2 minutes though your brew time can be anything you want (well, less than 5 minutes, please), depending on how strong you like your joe. The brew will be lightly sputtering and bubbling, but it's not boiling up there, so don't worry about over extracting. Once the brewing is completed to your liking, turn off the heat. A vacuum is created in the lower chamber (maybe that's where the name comes from?) and the coffee gets sucked back down, through the filter that you see in the first photo, ending up like this...

Gently remove the top half of the pot, place it in the stand that comes with the pot, and pour yourself one heckuva delicious cup of coffee. And that's the truth - this cup falls somewhere between French press and drip coffee in body, without any of the muddiness I sometimes associate with French press. You know how with the French press you end up with grounds at the bottom of the cup? Not happening with the vac pot. The filter is cloth and reusable, and filters out even the finest of the coffee grounds. Bringing the flavor profile of a French pressed cup, this vac pot will be replacing the pour over drip method for my daily go-to coffee.

Now...I gotta go vacuum.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Warm Kugelettes - Hey, It's Passover

I'll start by saying I've never made potato kugel. Never. Not once. Oh, I've made potato pancakes plenty of times, and sometimes they've even come out great. But potato kugel...nah.
Kugel, for those who don't know, is a type of pudding or casserole that's baked in the oven. Most are served warm, but they may be served at room temperature as well. Here's the wiki on kugel.

So the other night (the first night of Passover, it so happens), when Significant Eater and I were invited to a mini-seder at a neighbor's apartment, I offered to bring a dish that was suitable for Passover (after I first offered to bring an orzo salad, and was roundly and suitably booed). And then I figured, what the hell? Go for the gusto - er, make that kugel. Even better, make kugelettes.

Of course, what are kugelettes but mini kugels? Since I've never made potato kugel, and I have a philosophy of never bringing or serving a dish to guests that I haven't made before, this was a fairly ballsy move, imo. I started going through a few of my Jewish food cookbooks - that's them, pictured above - and after much research I cobbled together the following recipe. So I can sort of call it my own - even though I took the inspiration from above (get it?). And guess what? The kugelettes came out great - delicious enough that I wouldn't hesitate bringing them to any dinner; Passover for sure, but they'd go great with a leg of lamb at your Easter table as well. And don't tell your bubbe - but they'd probably go damn good with a pork roast too.

Here's the recipe...


4 lbs. potatoes - use Russet or Yukon Golds, or mix 'em like I did - grated or shredded
1 1/2 lbs. yellow onions, (1/2 minced, 1/2 grated with potatoes)
3-4 big cloves garlic, minced
2/3 cup matzo meal
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 T minced celery leaves (yes, leaves)
4 T minced parsley
6 T schmaltz (I used duck fat, you can use good olive oil)
Lots of salt and pepper - it needs it (start with 1 1/2 tsps. of salt)

2 regular sized muffin tins of 12 muffins each (nonstick is best) - Oven Preheated to 375 F.

Now, the technique part is where I really got creative.

First - the potatoes. Peel them. You can shred or grate them, by hand or in the food processor, but there are a few caveats. If you use the food processor, you may end up with very long shreds (I did) if you shred them horizontally (I did). I didn't think the long, lacy shreds would work well in kugelettes, and ended up also cutting them into smaller pieces; it didn't take long, but was an added step. So shred them vertically, and you should be okay. Also, and this is important, the potatoes need to be drained and squeezed fairly dry after shredding. Literally, wring the shreds out in your hands or in a clean tea towel over a bowl (who really has tea towels? use a kitchen towel, you'll be fine). Now, the liquid that is exuded shouldn't be discarded - well, it should, but there will remain at the bottom of that bowl a fair amount of potato starch after the liquid is poured off - by all means, use this in the batter. And whew - that's the potato part - hey, I didn't say this was going to be easy, I said this was going to be good!

Next - the onions. Some recipes call for the onion to be grated and raw; others call for the onion to be minced and sautéed. Of course, I did both, sautéing the minced onions along with the garlic in 2 T of the schmaltz, just till they start to get some color, and add the raw grated onions right along with the potatoes. Easy, no; good, yes.

Now it gets easier...sort of. You've got the cooked onions. You've got the shredded and squeezed and drained potatoes and raw onions. Take that stuff, along with everything else you see above, and mix it all together - go ahead and get dirty - use your hands.

The next step is VERY important. You need to taste your mixture - so heat up a frying pan (if you're smart, you still have the pan you used for the onions right on the stove), form a tiny pancake, cook it and taste. Need salt? Need pepper? Need anything? Well, add them and do it again. Until it tastes good. You didn't go through all this trouble to make lousy kugelettes, did you?

Okay, now take your muffin tins and spray them well with cooking spray...I actually have nonstick muffin tins, and think these work best - potatoes are notoriously sticky. Fill the tins almost to the top with the mixture, and pop them in the oven. Rotate every 15 minutes or so, and in about 50 minutes to an hour, they should be nice and browned; crispy even. Take them out of the muffin pans and put them on a rack and they'll stay crispy. If you do these ahead of time, they can easily be reheated in a 350 F oven for around 20 minutes and they'll be good as new.

Stand back and admire your kugelettes - you did good. Even your bubbe would be proud.