New York’s best coffee

-By Andrés

The New York Times has a map of the best coffee places in the city according to Oliver Strand and Matthew Bloch.

I’ve tried most of the places in Manhattan and, except for Gimme! Coffee, they are all pretty good.  My favorite espressos are at Ninth Street and Cafe Grumpy.  I love the macchiato at Joe.

Di Fara pizza

-By Andrés

We finally made it to Di Fara.  We’ve been wanting to go for a while, but have always feared the long lines.  So on Sunday we decided to go and wait there before they even opened.  After more than an hour ride in the subway we got to Avenue J on the Q line and stood in line at Di Fara.

Domenico DeMarco, a Neapolitan immigrant, opened this pizza joint in 1964 and has continued to make his pizza, single-handedly ever since then.  He is 75 years old now and still going strong.

After waiting for around half an hour for our pie to be ready, we were rewarded with a delicious pizza with mozzarella and parmesan cheese, sprinkled with fresh basil and olive oil.  It was really good.  One of my favorite pizzas in the city.

CSA Produce: Swiss Chard

By Sarah

There’s something I’ve been wanting to share with you. It’s making this summer my favorite of all those I’ve spent in New York (out of nearly four whole summers!). And it’s something I never thought I would get so excited about.

Have you guessed what it is?

Vegetables!

But not just any vegetables. Fresh, seasonal, and locally grown vegetables. Vegetables from Stoneledge Farm through their community supported agriculture initiative. It’s a way for us to support a local farm, purchasing a share of their produce before we have much of an idea of what that produce will be. And we get great vegetables at a great price, weekly delivered to a location in Manhattan just blocks away from our apartment. Kind of sounds like a win-win situation, huh? And that’s even before you’ve tasted any sugar snap peas.

Then there’s the best part, the element of surprise. Every week we get a new assortment of produce, some things we’re not sure what to do with, some things we love, and some things which are downright bizarre. And the result is us ad libbing, making do with the vegetables we were given for the week, trying a couple of potentially fantastic recipes, and consuming the other items in any way possible. Because if there’s one thing I hate, it’s food going to waste.

So here’s where the blog comes in. We’ve already been getting and eating our vegetables for several weeks, but now we will periodically post on one of the vegetables. We’ll tell you what we did with it, even if it was something really simple, and whether the result was fantastic or not. And you’ll keep us honest. So if we’re talking about those sugar snap peas in October, you know we’ve been shirking our duties. If nothing else, the entire process will help us avoid only posting dessert recipes. We might even post a mystery item now and then and you can help us come up with a way to use it. What do you think?

We’re going to begin with swiss chard, mainly because the rainbow variety the csa has provided us with allowed Andrés to take that beautiful picture above. Isn’t it gorgeous? Doesn’t it just make you want to throw it up in the air like confetti?

Well instead of throwing it, confetti style, we sauteed it with onions. And somehow it warped into what is possibly the world’s most hideous vegetable. But also surprisingly delicious. We first made it for brunch alongside a thick slice of ham and one of my favorite egg dishes and, well, the best part of the meal was the swiss chard, hands down. So we made it again and found that the same preparation could be used as a deeply comforting pasta sauce, perfect for a rainy day. The recipe is so simple, but really versatile and delightful.

Sauteed Swiss Chard with Onions
From Gourmet

3 pounds Swiss chard (about 2 large bunches)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium onions, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Cut stems and center ribs from chard, discarding any tough portions, then cut stems and ribs crosswise into 2-inch pieces. Stack chard leaves and roll up lengthwise into cylinders. Cut cylinders crosswise to make 1-inch-wide strips.

Heat oil and butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat until foam subsides, then cook onions and garlic with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, covered, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to soften, about 8 minutes. Add chard stems and ribs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until stems are just tender, about 10 minutes. Add chard leaves in batches, stirring until wilted before adding next batch, and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until tender. Continue to cook chard until most of the liquid is gone and it is very soft. Serves eight as a side dish.

Thai cooking class

By Sarah

Way back in December my mother gave Andrés and me gift certificates for a Thai cooking class. I’m still not sure how she decided on this particular cooking class, but she did a good job because both Andrés and I love authentic Thai food. And, although it took several months to schedule the class, when we finally made it to the class it was quite a success. All eight and a half hours of it.

We made all types of dishes: Pad Thai, chicken skewers, peanut sauce, fried rice, curries, and an absolutely delightful mango sticky rice. Andrés’s  favorite dish of the day was the basil chicken (gai pad gra prow) and this may only be partly because he was behind the stove for it. And that he was allowed to add as many chilies as he wanted. This is a simple dish chock full of veggies and finished with the unique, delicious Thai basil leaves.

For me, the most valuable part of this cooking class was not the individual recipes, but the confidence it gave me to try more Thai recipes, although the ingredients may be a little foreign. Being able to see, feel, taste and smell these ingredients in their raw forms will help me find them in supermarkets and explore their virtues further. It also helps that the stems from the Thai basil plants could be transplanted and would continue to grow leaves. We brought those stems home and now have a mini garden of Thai basil plants, some of which are really flourishing. It won’t be long before we can make Gai Pad Gra Prow at home.

Gai Pad Gra Prow or Basil Chicken
Adapted from Phensri, of Fantastic Thai

1 1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 medium garlic cloves, chopped
1 chicken breast, finely diced
~1 tablespoon soy sauce
~1/2 tablespoon oyster sauce
~1/2 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tsp chili paste + diced fresh chili powder (to taste)
1/4 cup sliced onion
1/4 cup sliced carrot
1/4 cup sliced bell pepper
1/4 cup string beans
~20 Thai basil leaves

Over a medium high flame, heat the oil. Add the garlic and chicken, continuously stirring until chicken is more than half cooked.* Stir in soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, and chilies, all to taste. Add vegetables and cook, continuing to stir, for about 8 minutes, until chicken is fully cooked. Mix in basil leaves and immediately remove from heat. Serve over rice. This serves two people.

Birthday celebration cake

Andrés

This past weekend we went to my cousin Lana’s birthday brunch.  There was a lot of good food, including Cremont, a great goat and cow-milk cheese from Vermont that was recently reviewed in the Times.  Among the many desserts, we contributed a birthday cake.  Having recently learned that Lana likes chocolate, we headed to Alice Medrich’s recipe collection.

Instead of making a more traditional and easy birthday cake, this time we wanted a big challenge, so we decided to bake Medrich’s strawberry birthday celebration cake from her Bittersweet book.  This is a two layer chocolate génoise with whipped mascarpone and strawberries in between.  Alice Medrich does not usually emphasize the difficulty of her recipes and yet she mentioned that several steps in this recipe were hard to master, so we were both excited and afraid to attempt to bake this cake.  The intricacies of the recipe include its artistic design and difficult techniques at almost every step in the creation of the cake.  You can see Alice Medrich baking a very similar version of this cake with Julia Child 14 years ago, here.

We started by making an external chocolate coating, which was not that difficult.

A génoise cake is a type of sponge cake that gets its volume from whipped eggs, without the use of any leavening agent.  It is the basis of many baked goods.  Baking the génoise was fun and easy, but not so much cutting the cake horizontally in two halves.  After some juggling, we managed to put one of the layers inside the coating, then added the whipped mascarpone, placed the strawberries, covered them with more mascarpone and then put the other half of the génoise on top.

We then covered the cake with a chocolate – cream glacé and finally with chocolate cones, instead of the more difficult to make fans.  Making the cones was difficult, as it involves melting chocolate, pouring it over the back of a warm baking sheet, letting it cool down and then scraping parts of the chocolate off with an offset spatula.

In the end, it was worth the effort.  Everybody was very impressed.

Rhubarb crazy

By Sarah

This spring I have gone a little crazy. Rhubarb-crazy.

I grew up eating rhubarb and it wasn’t much different than the other exceptionally fresh vegetables we grew in our garden or got as gifts from my grandparents’ garden. When I went to college it disappeared from my culinary life, but I really didn’t miss it. Until this April. Suddenly I couldn’t go another day without eating rhubarb. I dragged Andrés and another friend to the Union Square green market only to find potatoes and apples in the rhubarb’s stead. When the first barely pink stalks finally did appear, I took dozens home with me. And ever since I have not allowed our fridge to be lacking in rhubarb.

One of the first things I made with that rhubarb was a lovely sorbet. But I also did a lot of experimenting. I found I adore rhubarb in just about all of its incarnations, but that it’s tastiest when its natural spring tartness is allowed to shine. Stewed with white sugar was better than brown sugar. Vanilla and white wine made a better compote than red wine and cinnamon. I liked real chucks in my dishes (except that sorbet) instead of just vegetable mush.  This is all a matter of personal preference of course.

My favorite incarnation of rhubarb this spring has been this dish. The rhubarb is mixed with blueberries, a slightly nontraditional accompaniment, but one that balances it nicely. The rhubarb/berry mixture is contrasted by a crisp topping of oats, walnuts, and hazelnuts (which really steal the show). So I get both tastes: fresh fruitiness and warm, comforting goodness.

Julio liked it so much he licked the entire pan and then begged for more. I kind of wanted to do the same.

Rhubarb Blueberry Crisp

For fruit:
1/3 cup granulated sugar
4 Tbsp flour
1 1/2 pound rhubarb
2 cups blueberries  (~11 ounces, frozen worked just fine)

For topping:
1/3 cup walnuts
1/3 cup hazelnuts
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 cup demerara sugar (aka, sugar in the raw)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/8 tsp salt
6 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Chop rhubarb is 1/2 inch pieces. In a large bowl, mix the flour and sugar, then add the rhubarb and blueberries and mix well. Transfer to a medium baking dish.

In a food processor, coarsely chop hazelnuts and walnuts. Add flour and oatmeal and mix in pulses (oatmeal will be partially ground but not as fine as a flour). Add sugar, salt, and butter to the processor and mix, in pulses, until butter is incorporated. Remove mixture from food processor and, if necessary, mix until dough forms a ball. Squeeze small amounts of dough and drop onto the rhubarb-blueberry mixture.

Bake the crisp in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 1hr. Serve crisp warm. Lick pan (you will want to).

Yiddish food

-By Andrés


Some of my happiest and most vivid memories are of eating certain things as a child.  I remember the exact place and context when I was around 6 years old and I had a piece of spoiled pineapple that was so astringent and sour that I didn’t want to eat pineapple for years afterwards.  I also remember with a lot of pleasure the food I used to eat at my grandmother’s house.  She was such a great cook.  And now that I cook myself, I go to great lengths to try to replicate the flavors, smells, and images from my memories of the food she cooked.  So far I’ve successfully reproduced her celery soup, her potato chips, her kokletn, and her chicken milanese.  Others are getting closer.

The Lithuanian party about which Sarah posted a while ago was basically an excuse to try more of both of my grandmothers’ recipes.  I made a lokshn (noodle) kugl, veal kokletn, gehakte leber, cold borscht, and pickles.  Here are some of the recipes.

Kokletn
(Serves 6)

2 lbs. ground veal or chicken
4 large eggs
1 large onion, chopped in 1/4 inch pieces
2 tsp. chicken bouillon
Vegetable oil for frying
1/3 cup hot water
1/3 cup bread crumbs
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

Fry onion over medium high heat in 1 tbsp of oil until golden brown and slightly blackened.  Dissolve the chicken bouillon in the water.  Puree the fried onions with the water in a blender.  Mix the blended onions with the ground meet, eggs, salt, and pepper in a bowl.  Add a spoonful of the bread crumbs to the bowl and mix. Keep adding bread crumbs by the spoonfuls and mix until the mixture is of a consistency enough to form a ball that will hold its shape.
Pour oil in a frying pan to a height of 1/8th inch and heat at medium high heat.  Make large egg-shaped balls (about 2-3 size the volume of a large egg) with the meat mixture and fry.  Fry about 3 minutes per side.  Transfer to a plate with paper towels and serve.

Lokshn (noodle) kugl

1 lb egg noodles (or penne)
4 tbsp butter
5 large eggs
16 oz cream cheese
1/2 lb ricotta cheese
1 lb cottage cheese
4 tbsp sour cream
1 tbsp salt
2 tsp freshly ground black pepepr

Pre-heat the oven to 300 ºF.  Cook pasta in salted water.  Drain saving 1/2 a cup of the water in which the pasta was cooked.  Mix the cooked pasta with the saved water and the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl.  Transfer to a (DIMENSIONS) pyrex and bake for ~1.5 hours until all the liquid has been absorbed and the top gets browned and crispy.  Cut in squares and serve.