Monthly ArchiveJuly 2009

NYC Greenmarkets 24 Jul 2009 07:36 pm

Greenpoint Greenmarket Late July

From Lauren, the market manager of the Greenpoint Greenmarket:

This Saturday at the market there will be…

Red Jacket orchards will have green & purple Gooseberries, cherries, blueberries and currants (as mentioned in this week’s NYtimes).

Healthways has especially tasty blueberries, though they’re just about at the end of this year’s crop.

Suki Di is back at the market with delicious stone fruits. Check out their delicious plums!

Cranberry Hall is also back for the season, with amazing cherry tomatoes and very sweet corn.

Basil is in season and available from various farmers.

Arcadian Pastures has rabbit and will have chickens in 2 weeks.

Newfield Farms (the flower guys) will have lisianthus- a prairy rose native to midwest Texas.

Nature’s way has a milk soap that smells divine.

Seasonal Cooking 22 Jul 2009 07:52 am

The Perro Poblano at the Great Hot Dog Cookoff

Last weekend I finally succumbed to the cook-off mania currently sweeping the kitchens of Brooklyn. The event: the Forth Annual Hot Dog Cook Off, a benefit for City Harvest. It was held at Kelso Brewery, having outgrown last year’s home, the leafy backyard behind the Fort Greene apartment of Kara Masi, organizer of the cook-off and proprietor of the occasional restaurant Ted & Amy’s  Supper Club. All 200 tickets to the events were sold out. To feed this crowd (assuming some of them would be vegetarians) I’d have to prepare 60-some-odd hotddogs, top, dress, slice and arrange them for serving, with only a 30-minute allotment of grill time. This was going push my everyday home cook’s skills to their edges. I’d have to think a little bit like a restaurant chef. I’d need to make a lot of food and make it quickly. It would need to look great and taste fantastic. I’d need to do a couple of test runs. This would take some planning.

First though, I needed to think up a recipe. In my hometown in Indiana there’s a hot dog stand (called, interestingly enough, “Coney Island”). Their specialty is a sort of chili dog, and chili they use is brothy, thin enough to soak down around the dog and into the bun.  I wanted to make a chili dog that did that. But my chili would need to go beyond the ordinary. I’d have only one or two bites to make an impression, to stand out from the pack of franks and convince audience members and judges alike to vote for my dog. My chili would need to deliver a big burst of full, satisfying flavor. It would need to stop the audience members in their tracks, make them roll up their eyes slightly, and with mouths still full of chili dog say “MMMmm.”  It would need lots of pork.

Specifically, I wanted to make a chili from slow-cooked, falling-off-the-bone pork, and with the broth that the pork had cooked in. I looked at recipes in which a less expensive cut of pork, like a shoulder, is cooked for a long time in liquid. In cookbooks by Rick Bayless and Diana Kennedy I found variations on something called “tinga,” a spicy, chunky, stew from Mexico’s Puebla region.  A real tinga contains a mix of potatoes, carrots, what have you (‘tinga’ loosly translates as “a mess”), might be made from chicken or pork, and would be served on tostadas. I left the extra chunk out of mine though, and placed the pork (which I’d rubbed the night before with a paste of garlic, salt, and dried Mexican oregano) into a slow-cooker with a can of whole tomatoes (liquid included), some chopped canned chipotle peppers along with some of the accompanying adobo sauce, and a sliced onion. I let this cook for about six hours and then let the meat cool in the broth for another hour or two. I removed the shoulder to a plate (once it was fully cool I shredded it with my fingers), and skimmed the extra fat off of the top of the cooking liquid.

Now finally I was ready to make my spicy chili broth. I heated a little annatto oil in a large pot and added chorizo, crumbling it with my fingers as I dropped it into the hot pan and chopping it up further with the edge of a spoon as it fried. Once the chorizo was fully cooked, I scooped it out with a slotted spoon, leaving in the pan the spicy red fat it had rendered. Into this I tossed a coarsely chopped onion. Once the onion was translucent I added more canned tomatoes (squeezing them one at a time in my fingers to break them up as I added them) and another chopped chipotle to two. When this had simmered long enough that the tomatoes were beginning to break down further, I added the de-greased juices from the pork shoulder,a bit of salt , enough hot stock to bring the liquid to the level I wanted, and a little beer to offset the flavor.  Once this had cooked down a little, I ran through it with a stick blender to smooth it out. Finally, I returned the chorizo to the pan, and stirred in the shredded pork shoulder. The chili was done.

But I wanted another layer on top of the chili dog, something with an equally potent punch of flavor: roasted poblano peppers.  I’d used them a year ago in a carne asada recipe I’d made for a backyard taco party, and I loved their pungent smoky flavor. In a test batch I mixed them with some minced roasted scallions, as I’d done for the carne asada; but the mixture that resulted was dark in both color and flavor. That’s not a problem for a taco filling hiding inside a tortilla, but it didn’t have the bright contrast I wanted against my rich, smoky chili. I had the same problem with avocados: it would be impossible, I feared, to keep them from dulling while I prepared 180 samples. I noticed, though, that the season’s first sweet corn was appearing in the farmer’s markets, and then my salsa took shape: bright, fresh corn kernels, mixed with freshly minced raw onion, and flavored with cilantro, lime juice, and salt. The smokiness of the poblanos would tie it to the chili; but the brightness of the corn and of the lime juice, the freshness and pop of the raw onion, would provide contrast. The Perro Poblano was born.

Now my recipe was more or less in place, but I’d need to execute it for a hungry crowd of 200 hot dog lovers. On Friday, the day before the cook off, I made a big batch of my chipotle – pork shoulder chili (I splurged on a 4-lb bone-in shoulder from Marlow and Daughters), and grilled 27 poblano peppers and 16 ears of corn. That evening, with plenty of help from Karol Lu (who submitted the delicious and original “American Hot Dog in Paris” to the competition), I peeled and seeded the peppers until I had a stack of fragrant, juicy poblano fillets big enough to tightly pack a quart-sized ziplock bag (and to leave Karol’s and my hands tingling painfully!)

On Saturday morning, I finely chopped the poblanos and cut the roasted corn kernels from the cobs. I also chopped three bunches of cilantro, minced two medium-sized white onions, and squeezed about a dozen limes. I packed up all these ingredients separately; I wanted to mix my salsa at the last minute to keep the flavors as bright and fresh as possible.

At the cookoff, just before grilltime, I mixed the peppers and corn, then added cilantro, lime juice and salt to taste. I poured the chili into an aluminum pan placed on the grill and stirred to heat it through. I grabbed a knife, sliced open the first pack of dogs (Nathan’s All Beef Franks) and started to grill. My friends Tim and Allison, surely not knowing what they were in for, asked just at that moment if I needed help. Boy did I put them to work:  Allison toasted the buns on the hot grill and Tim sliced the chili-sauced, salsa-topped dogs into thirds and arranged them on a serving tray. In between, I grabbed buns in one hand and dogs in the other, slapped dog into bun and spooned on chili, then topped it A photo of the Perro Poblano from Time Out NYs The Feed. Its mistakenly labeled as Brooklyns Corniest, which was Nick Suarez winning dog. Photo Credit Alex Bitaroff with the smoky, tangy salsa. As the bell rang to end my grill time I’d stuffed the last bun. The work was done.

In the end I didn’t win any of the prizes, though it’s rumored I came close and the Perros Poblanos got lots of compliments. It was, after all, my first cookoff, and as I told my friends beforehand, I wasn’t in to win but just to pull off a great-tasting chili dog. I really don’t care that I didn’t win. Really I don’t. Really!

Notes: the photo of the Perro Poblano being sliced into serving-sized portions is by Alex Bitar. The photo of the bowl of corn & poblano salsa is by Cathy Erway.

Seasonal Cooking 02 Jul 2009 05:48 pm

Homemade Berry Soda

Now that summer berries are here, I can’t get enough of them. Fresh Berries from the Union Square GreenmarketAt any given moment I’m slicing them onto breakfast cereal, baking them into tarts, or popping them one after the other into my mouth. Sometimes I cook them down with a little sugar into a compote, which makes a quick topping for waffles or French toast, or even for those pre-packaged cheese blintzes you can find at Polish delis or in the supermarket.

Recently I cooked down some strawberries for a pancake topping, then for some reason decided to pour the finished compote through a strainer. I worked it against the mesh with the back of a wooden spoon to squeeze out as much juice as I could, and ended up with a delicious, fresh strawberry syrup, perfect for my pancakes. As I was enjoying my breakfast the idea struck me: I bet this syrup would be awesome as the base for a soft drink. There was still some left in the pan – I poured it into a glass, topped it with soda water, added ice, and stirred. Refreshing, light, not too sweet, infused with that fresh, only-in-summer berry flavor — instantly, I knew I’d be drinking homemade berry soda for the rest of the summer.

When I had an evening free to experiment, I ran to the Farmer’s Market to stock up: blueberries, sour cherries, more strawberries, red currants, and gorgeous ripe black raspberries that left purple stains on my hands when I barely touched them. After a quick rinse, the berries went into a saucepan and onto the stove. I added white sugar – only a little, less than a tablespoon per pint of berries – and a pinch of lemon zest, and a little water (not too much – only a few teaspoons). I gave it a stir, and as the mixture boiled I mashed it up a bit with back of the spoon or with a potato masher.  I let it simmer for about 10 minutes, then turned off the heat. Once it was just cool enough to handle, I poured it into a strainer set over a bowl, and pressed it repeatedly with the back of the spoon until only a dry, pulpy paste remained in the strainer. I made sure to scrape off the thick stuff that had accumulated on the outside of the strainer, and stirred this into my syrup as well.

And that’s it.  When the syrups were fully cool I funneled them bottles. To make a soda, just pour the syrup into a glass, top with soda water, add ice, and you’ve got the best, most refreshing soda (a.k.a. ‘pop’ for you Midwesterners) that you’ve ever had.  If you like it strong, add more syrup. If you like it sweet, add more sugar.  I use an old-fashioned soda charger to make soda water, but bottled club soda should work just as well. Enjoy!

Some thoughts and pointers:
**With blueberries, there was barely any pulp left in the strainer once I’d worked all the juice out. With raspberries, there was much more left. With strawberries, there was practically nothing left behind at all, but the resulting syrup with quite thick (it sort of looked like ketchup). For a more refined strawberry syrup, think about using a very fine-meshed sieve, or perhaps even cheesecloth.

**Experiment with how much syrup to use for each drink. I like a lighter drink, so I used about a jigger of syrup per pint of soda.  You could use as much as twice that if you like a heavier, sweeter soda.

**Experiment also to find out how sweet you like the syrup. Taste the syrup often as you cook it and add more sugar if needed. It’ll be much easier to dissolve sugar into the syrup as it cooks than it will be once you mix it with cold, iced soda water.

**It’s best to use a strong, good-quality strainer for this. If you have a cheap one, you may bust through it as you work the berry pulp. I’d love to use a food mill for this but the ones I’ve looked aren’t fine-meshed enough.

**Strain the syrup while still warm – it thickens as it cools.

**Add vodka!