Monthly ArchiveMarch 2007

Seasonal Cooking 19 Mar 2007 10:06 pm

St. Patrick’s Day

When St. Patrick’s day falls on a Saturday what can you do but have a dinner party? A dinner party! How long since our last one? Bun (she’s my wife) emailed invitations early in the week. When we have a dinner party we plan everything diligently: portions, timings, prep work – everything is mapped out to the minute to ensure everything come together at the right time. Usually. For this particular party we were much more nonchalant. We’d just have the classics:St. Patrick's Day: the Brisket corned beef & cabbage, soda bread, Irish beer (no Bass in the house on St. Patty’s Day!) and Irish Whiskey. I bought a brisket and some cabbage and potatoes the day before, and got up at 5am to start the slow-cooker on its 14-hour braise.

But when daylight came and we counted up our RSVPs we quickly realized we were going to have more guests than food. Our neighbor LJ, a.k.a. Party Guest #1, was supplying a second batch of Corned Beef & Cabbage, but even so we came up short when we compared the food we’d planned with the mouths we’d have to feed. And as we looked through the glass lid of the slow cooker and saw how much the brisket had already shrunk (like they always do), a moment of panic set in – we needed more food, and fast.

It was Bun who sprang into action. She made a quick trip to our corner Met Foods grocery, and then sent me out into the neighborhood for some St. Patrick’s Day supplies. First, to Esposito’s st patrick's day: the crispy fried shallotsfor a pound of sliced corned beef and some provolone – we’d set it out deli-style in case the slow-cooked briskets ran out. Then a quick stop at Stinky for some fancy mustard, horseradish, and some terrific Irish cheeses – some mild, firm Coolea, and a softer, stinkier Ardrahan.

While I was out Bun was not idle. She put together a pan filled with wedged cabbage and sliced carrots to be oven-braised, and delicious-looking shepherds pie.

I confess I am a “make everything from scratch” snob. I cringe and make huffy comments when I see Rachel Ray and Robin Miller pouring things from boxes – why resort to manufactured goods when so many delicious fresh ingredients are at hand? But I gladly set aside my whole-food ideology when I tasted this shepherds pie. It was truly a delicious thing – certainly ourst patrick's day: the soda bread party guests thought so, to judge by the speed with which they devoured it. Some quick and pragmatic thinking on BZ’s part allowed her to plan, shop, and cook a delicious dish that fed our guests and rounded out our St. Patrick’s day fest perfectly. Sláinte!

Stay tuned for the recipes we made that day:

Slow-cooked corned-beef and cabbage
Shephard’s Pie
Oven-braised cabbage and carrots
Smashed boiled potatoes with shallot oil
Soda Bread

Seasonal Cooking 11 Mar 2007 04:24 pm

Cantina Style One-Pot Mexican

Everything you do in New York City teaches you a lesson: Get There Early. Somehow though yesterday morning I failed to remember that creed, and so was doomed to crane my neck to see through and around the rows of heads sitting between me and the three top chefs from Rosa Mexicano, demo’ing the preparation of cantina style one-pot Mexican dishes. As you’d expect from Rosa, the dishes were outstanding: Pozole Verde, Zarzuela de Mariscos (which means “seafood party”), and Frijoles con Puerco, along with two salsas prepared in a molcajete, a massive mortar carved from lava rock, bearing a totemic face that surely must invoke some Aztec sprit to give heat to the chiles. The chefs, Roberto Santibañez, David Suarez and Joe Iforgethislastname (sorry Joe), presented with admirable knowledge and enthusiasm. But though the demo was augmented by video, I couldn’t take in nearly as much from my back row vantage point as I would have got from a counter-side seat in front.

Nonetheless, I did manage to get an eye-and-palette-opening encounter with a style ofzarzuela de mariscos cooking, a set of techniques, and some cool ingredients (avocado leaves!) that were unknown to me in my very limited range of Mexican cookery. With these dishes, tortillas don’t appear until the dish is fully cooked and on the plate, and they don’t start with “step 1: cook onions in oil; step 2: toss in cumin until toasted” — the beginning of nearly every “Mexican” dish I’ve ever prepared. These preparations start in a blender, where chiles, spices, onions, and lots of garlic are combined into a flavor-intense paste. This is then added to the tomato sauce in which a seared cod filet is braised; or into a chicken broth where pozole is simmered; or into a thick stew of bacony pork and beans.

Or so I recall: the trio of chefs who dazzled with their knowledge and charm certainly failed to impress with their skill as recipe editors. The tostada garnish for the posole verdespotty handouts they sent us home with leave a lot of guesswork at some pretty crucial points. For example: when during the preparation of the Pozole Verde do I actually add the pozole? When making Zarzuela de Mariscos, what do I do with the blended chiles and spices that I’m instructed to assemble in the first step, but which strangely vanish from the recipe after that point? To find out, I suppose I should buy the new, soon-to-be-available Rosa Mexicano cookbook. In the meantime though, I’ve pieced the steps together as best I can in my edited versions of the recipes that I link to below. I hope Chef Santibañez will pardon my audacity in editing his recipes. I’ve yet to make any of these dishes myself, so I can offer no benefit of experience as to how well they actually work, but they do seem to make sense, and they do show how these cantina style dishes are made.
One Pot Cantina-Style Dishes
Rosa Mexicano – March 10, 2007

Pozole Verde
Zarzuela de Mariscos (Seafood Party)
Frijoles con Puerco (Pork & Beans)
Basic Mexican Tomato Sauce

Seasonal Cooking 04 Mar 2007 07:31 pm

Parsnip Soup

If you’ve been watching this space you’ve seen – or I suppose not seen – that it’s been inactive for a spell. Sadly I’ve had neither time nor energy nor wherewithal to post or to cook. My Parsnip SoupMy worklife has been all-consuming, and I soon have to move as my rented apartment is going onto the obscenely overheated cobble hill real estate market, so I’ve had much to distract me from the important things in life, like making delicious food and writing about it.There will soon be much to tell as I learn the food culture of my new neighborhood (nb: in the end we didn’t move to Fort Greene – found a place two blocks down and so stayed in Cobble Hill), but in the meantime here’s a recipe for Parsnip Soup I devised while I was visiting my brother and skiiing myself crazy in Vermont a couple of weeks ago. Parsnip Soup from Frech RoastI dreamed up this recipe to try and copy what I had at French Roast in the West Village a while back. When I look at the photo I snapped with my camera phone, I remember that their soup was creamed and brothy, while mine was a much denser, thicker bisque. I’d go for a thinner texture next time, and I think a little cream is a very good idea, but I’ll also vote for the hearty flavor I got by roasting the parsnips and garlic.