standard New York breakfast

By Sarah

My favorite part of living in New York City is the food. Maybe this isn’t surprising, since my favorite part of many things is the food, but you have to admit that NYC really is one of the best places to eat in the world. There’s the variety: just about every type of cuisine under the sun is represented in its five boroughs. There are the swanky places: if you’re a famous chef you just have to have a New York restaurant. And there’s even delicious classic NYC dishes: hotdogs, reuben sandwiches, cheesecake, and bagels which are emulated throughout the rest of the country.

There’s so much food in NYC that it almost seems strange that we started a blog based primarily on cooking our own food. Why bother to cook if we can find any kind of food, often as good as and sometimes even better than can be made at home, no more than a subway ride away? To begin with, we’re a couple of poor students and can’t always afford those better-than-at-home restaurant items. But even if money wasn’t an issue, we would still cook. We make food because we enjoy the process. And so sometimes we cook or bake an item that can be bought easily and cheaply in our own neighborhood, just because it sounds like fun.

On a recent Sunday morning we were enjoying a standard New York breakfast, bagels. The bagels were soft inside and just barely crisp on the edges from the toaster. We topped them with cream cheese or white fish salad, just like on other mornings. The only difference from all the other mornings on which we’ve enjoyed bagels was that the bagels were homemade, as was the white fish salad.

We found the bagels surprisingly easy to make. The secrets seem to be an overnight rise (a bread baking tip that I adore) and a slightly hard-to-find ingredient, barley malt syrup.  With just those two items, and a little bit of planning ahead, you too can enjoy a standard New York breakfast, even if you’re far away from this grand city.

Adapted from Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Bread Every Day (we love this book)

1 Tbsp (21g) barley malt syrup or 1 tsp (7g) diastatic malt powder*
1 tsp (3g) instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp (10.5g) salt
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp (225g) lukewarm water (~95F)
3 1/2 (454g) cups bread flour

For poaching liquid
~3 quarts (96oz) water
1 1/2 Tbsp (28.5g) barley malt syrup
1 Tbsp (14g) baking soda
1 tsp (7g) salt

Stir malt syrup, yeast, and salt into the lukewarm water. Place the flour in a mixing bowl and pour in the malt syrup mixture. Mix on lowest speed of stand mixture with the dough hook for three minutes (or by hand with a large sturdy spoon), until well blended. The dough should form a stiff, coarse ball, and the flour should be fully hydrated; if it isn’t, stir in a little more water. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.

Resume mixing with the dough hook on low speed for another 3 minutes (or knead by hand for 3 minutes). The dough should be stiff yet supple, with a satiny, barely tacky feeling. If necessary, knead in a little more flour. Place the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for an hour.

Prepare a sheet pan by lining it with parchment or a silicone mat, then lightly coat the parchment paper with oil. Divide the dough into 6-8 equal pieces (a typical bagel is 4 oz, but you can make them smaller if you prefer). Form each piece into a loose ball by rolling it on a flat surface with a cupped hand. (Don’t use any flour on the work surface. You may need to wipe the surface with a damp towel.) There are two methods to shape the balls:

Method 1: Poke a hole in a ball of bagel dough and gently rotate your thumb around the inside of the hole to widen it to approximately 2 1/2 inches in diameter (half of this for a mini-bagel). The dough should be as evenly stretched as possible (try to avoid thick and thin spots). I preferred this method.

Method 2: Roll out the dough into an 8-inch long rope. (This may require rolling part of the way and resting the dough for 3 minutes before extending the dough again to bring it to its full length.) Wrap the dough around the palm and back of your hand, between the thumb and forefinger, overlapping the ends by several inches. Press the overlapping ends on the counter with the palm of your hand, rocking back and forth to seal. This method is supposedly preferred by professional bagel makers, including Andrés.

Place each shaped bagel on the prepared sheet pan; mist bagels with spray oil. Cover the entire plan with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough overnight or for up to two days.

On baking day, remove the bagels from the refrigerator 60 to 90 minutes before you plan to bake them. If you plan to top the bagels with dried onion or garlic, rehydrate those ingredients. Immediately check whether the bagels are ready for baking by using the float test: place one bagel in a bowl of cold water. If it floats, it’s ready to be poached. If the bagel sinks, shake it off, return it to the pan, and wait for another 15 – 20 minutes before testing it again. When one bagel passes the float test, they are all ready to be boiled. If you aren’t ready to boil them yet, place the bagels back into the refrigerator so they don’t overproof. Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 500 F (260C) and gather and prepare the garnishes (poppy seeds, sesame seeds, those rehydrated onions, etc).

Make the poaching liquid by bringing the 3 quarts of water (it should be at least 4 inches deep) to a boil. Lower the heat to maintain a simmer, then stir in the malt syrup, baking soda, and salt.

Gently lower each bagel into the simmering poaching liquid, adding as many as will comfortable fit into the pot. They should all float within 15 seconds. After 1 minute, turn each bagel over with a slotted spoon. Poach for another 30-60 seconds, then transfer the bagels back to the pan, domed side up. (It’s important that the parchment paper be lightly oiled or the bagels will adhere to the paper.) Sprinkle on a generous amount of the desired toppings (except cinnamon sugar, which you want to add after baking).

Transfer the pan of bagels to the oven, then lower the heat to 450F. (We never lowered the temperature, and the bagels were fine.) Bake bagels for 8 minutes, then rotate pan and check the underside of the bagels. If the undersides are too dark, place another pan under the baking sheet. Bake bagels for another 8-12 minutes, until the bagels are golden brown.

Cool bagels on a rack for at least 30 minutes. We prefer to slice and toast the bagels before serving them.

*Peter Reinhart says that you can use honey or rice syrup instead of the malt, but I would definitely try to find the malt syrup.

White Fish Salad

1/2 lb smoked white fish
1/2 stalk celery
~2 Tbsp mayonnaise

Separate white fish from the skin and bones, shredding it with your fingers. Coarsely chop celery and combine it with the fish. Add mayonnaise to taste. Spread on top of a nicely toasted bagel.


A seasonal fruit dessert

By Sarah

Wow. It’s been a while. I’m sorry about that. I don’t even have an excuse for you, just that we’ve been really busy trying to enjoy the spring. We’ve been wandering through Central Park, looking at the flowers. We’ve been standing in line in Madison Square Park to get a ‘shroom burger. We’ve been running along the river. We’ve been growing herbs in pots by the window. We’ve been going to the farmer’s market to buy lots of rhubarb.

Julio liked the flowers but he loved the rhubarb even more, so today I will tell you about that. Specifically, I will be discussing strawberry-rhubarb sorbet. I find fruit sorbets even more refreshing than ice cream on hot days, so this was a perfectly light dessert last Sunday when the weather was particularly sweltering. Plus, the dish managed to keep both its strawberry and rhubarb flavors beautifully, with just the right amount of sweetness. My rhubarb was not very pink, but the strawberries were more than able to balance the color.

We served the sorbet with delicate little cookies called punitions, or punishments. (Legend has it that grandmothers used to call their grandchildren in by letting them know their punishment was ready. I can’t imagine it took much convincing to receive this type of punishment.) These French cookies are thin and buttery, with a sandy texture. Alone, the cookies are a bit plain, but that didn’t stop me from eating plenty of them. With the sorbet, I thought the cookies provided a needed textural contrast, particularly when built into a sorbet sandwich. As a garnish to the sorbet alone, I will choose a crisper cookie next time so that one can have just a bite or two of crunch with the refreshing sorbet.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Sorbet
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

14 oz rhubarb, washed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2/3 cup (160ml) water
3/4 cup (150g) sugar
10 oz fresh strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Place water, rhubarb, and sugar into a medium pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover the pot, and simmer the mixture for 5-8 minutes. The rhubarb should be tender. Remove mixture from heat and cool to room temperature.

Once the rhubarb has cooled, puree the rhubarb mixture with the strawberries and lemon juice in a blender or food processor until smooth.

Chill the mixture thoroughly (this will take a couple of hours) and then freeze it in an ice cream maker according to the instructions for the ice cream maker.

Punishments (Punitions)
Adapted from Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan

10 Tbsp (140g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Slightly rounded 1/2 cup (125 g) sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 cups (280 g) all-purpose flour

Place the butter in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and process, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until the butter is smooth. Add the sugar and process until thoroughly blended into the butter. Add the egg and continue to process, scraping the bowl as needed, until the mixture is smooth and satiny. Add the flour all at once, then pulse 10 to 15 times, until the dough forms clumps and curds and looks like streusel. If you don’t have a food processor, feel free to do these steps by mixing by hand.

Gather the dough into a ball and separate it in half. Shape each half into a disk and wrap the disks in plastic. Chill the disks until they are firm, about 4 hours. If you’re in a hurry, you can roll the dough out immediately; it will be a little stickier, but fine. The dough can be wrapped airtight and refrigerated for up to 7 days or frozen for up to 1 month.

Working with one disk at a time, roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface until it is between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick. Using a 1 1/2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out as many cookies as you can and place them on lined baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them. You can gather the scraps into a disk and chill them, then roll, cut, and bake them later.

Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes in a preheated 350°F oven, or until they are set but pale. If some of the cookies are thinner than the others, the thin ones may brown around the edges, which is fine. Transfer the cookies to cooling racks to cool to room temperature. This recipe makes ~4 dozen cookies.

the best Lithuanian-themed party

By Sarah

I am not much of a party person. I just don’t find parties very exciting. I don’t understand why I would want to stand in a room, crowded with people, music blaring and just talk. If I want to talk with someone, I choose to do it sitting down, in an environment where I’m not competing with loud music and dozens of other people.

Julio, on the other hand, adores parties. He would attend a party every night if we let him.

So I try to compromise with the boy. I’m actually just not much of a standing-around-and-talking-party person. I do like other parties. I love dinner parties, for obvious reasons. And dance parties are a wonderful thing; if you just take that other kind of party mentioned above and let me dance (and preferably not be the only one dancing), I am perfectly happy. Oh yes, and I also like themed parties. When a party is an excuse to dress as something else or reminisce about a previous era, the event is vastly improved. So Julio and I are both happy.

I also like planning parties, especially themed parties. So, naturally, when Andrés suggested hosting a Lithuanian-themed party in honor of his Lithuanian heritage/citizenship, I immediately started preparations. This wouldn’t just be a party, it would be the best Lithuanian-themed party our guests had ever attended. We would have Lithuanian food, Lithuanian drinks, and Lithuanian games. Not just standing around and talking, but talking about Lithuania.

The party, which took place on Saturday, was a success. There was a lot of fun, a lot of guests, and a lot of Lithuania. But mostly, there was a lot of food. When everything was over, we couldn’t even fit the leftovers into the fridge!

One of the few items that did disappear, and disappeared quickly, was a traditional Lithuanian drink I had made for the occasion. This is a pretty divisive drink, either you really like it or you really don’t want to take a second sip. It is made from honey and water, which is quickly fermented by yeast (causing it to become bubbly and sour but still have a low alcohol content, only 1-2%). After fermentation you add raisins and lemon juice to balance the flavors. The flavors, in case you’re curious, were described both as “soda-like” and “sangria-like.” While I was on the not-another-sip side of the aisle, I will certainly be making another batch for our next Lithuanian party. And I also owe a bottle to the trivia winners, who requested it over a bottle of wine.

Another dish I made, not quite as popular as the Kvass (which I think won for its originality), but much tastier (in my opinion) and more versatile were these poppyseed cookies. The recipe isn’t authentic Lithuanian, but I thought it seemed Lithuanian-inspired. Plus, cookies make every party better.

Andrés will let you know about the other, more authentic, Lithuanian dishes he made for the party soon. I hope you can wait!

Lithuanian Honey Kvass
Medaus gira
Adapted from a website of Lithuanian recipes

2 cups honey
5 liters water
20g (4 tsp) yeast
1 cup raisins
juice of two lemons

Bring water to a boil and add honey, stirring until it has completely dissolved. Allow honey-water to cool until it is ~110 F. Add yeast and allow mixture to ferment for ~24hrs in a warm place, until a layer of foam develops on the top of the mixture. Remove the foam. Add raisins and lemon juice, then bottle the kvass and store in a cool place.

Poppy Seed Wafers
From Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce through Thin Crust, Deep Dish

1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons heavy cream
2 egg yolks (save whites)
1 1/2 cups buckwheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
12 tbsps (6 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 tbsps sugar
2 tbsps poppy seeds
egg whites

Sift dry ingredients into a bowl. Using your fingers, squeeze the butter into the dry ingredients until crumbly.  Add cream and egg yolks and continue squeezing with your hands until the texture comes together.

Divide the dough in half and roll each piece into a log that is  3/4-in wide, flouring the dough and work surface as necessary.  Wrap each log in plastic and chill for two hours.

Mix sugar and poppy seeds for topping and spread out on a flat surface.  Brush one log with egg whites and roll in the poppy seed mixture until evenly coated.  Repeat process with other log, then slice logs into 1/8-in thin wafers with a sharp knife and place on lined cookie sheets.

Bake the cookies for 15-17 minutes in a preheated 350 F, rotating the sheets halfway through.  The wafers are done when they are a dark golden-brown with a darker ring around the edge.  They should smell quite nutty.

Andalucía… on the road again

By Andrés

I love Spain.  I love its history, its ancient towns, its art, its culture, its architecture, and its wine.  But above all, I love its food.  The only thing they usually can’t make decently are salads which, among other defects, always contain an animal product.

Two weeks ago I visited Andalucía and I had to try some of the restaurants featured in Spain, on the road again, the culinary travel show through Spain in which Mario Batali, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mark Bitman, and Claudia Basols embarked.  Last year I tried some of the restaurants they visited in Cataluña and Valencia, which were great and a topic for a future blog.

The quality of the restaurants they visited in Granada was more mixed.  At El Rincón de la Aurora at the Albaycín, the old and charming city of Granada, I had a great (room temperature) appetizer of fava beans with olive oil and jamón serrano, which was as good as at Casa Pepe in Barcelona.  I then had a Plato Alpujareño, which is a huge dish consisting of a grilled pork solomillo (tenderloin), longaniza (a type of sausage), morcilla (blood sausage), jamón serrano, a fried egg, and patatas a lo pobre (baked potato slices with green and red peppers, onion, and a little bit of white vinegar).  I confess I substituted more longaniza for the morcilla, which I’ve never had the guts (mood?) to eat.  It was pretty good and really filling.

The food at Mirador de Morayma, the other Spain-on-the-road-again restaurant, was not that good.  The restaurant sits in the slopes of the Albaycín and features great views of La Alhambra, the moorish palaces.  Like at El Rincón de la Aurora, they had pretty good fava beans with olive oil and jamón serrano and it was equally tasty.  A lubina al limón (sea bass with a lemon sauce), however, was bland.  Fortunately, I accompanied with a good bottle of Alhambra Reserva 1925, the best beer I tried in the region.

In Marbella, on the coast of Andalucía, I had the best meal at the fisher’s dock in a restaurant called La Taberna del Puerto.  The pulpos (octopus) a la Gallega, thinly sliced with olive oil, paprika, and coarse salt, where exquisite.  And so were the grilled shrimp.

Vatan: Fantastic Indian Vegetarian Fare

By Sarah

Julio loves it when we have visitors. He loves that there are extra plates to lick, that there are more opportunities for petting, and that he’s more likely to be able to bend the rules a little bit. Rules, like not jumping up on someone’s lap without being invited, disappear quickly when there are new people in the apartment. This past weekend, for example, my parents visited and Julio was not only left unreprimanded after jumping up on many laps, he got away with cuddling between them through an entire night. It must be nice to be so cute that people let you get away with just about anything, like joining them in bed. And pet you for it too.

In addition to showering their “granddog” with lots of love and attention, my parents (and I) spent the weekend walking around the city, enjoying its sights and playing tourist. For me the highlight, besides just enjoying their company, was our dinner Friday night at the northern Indian (Gujarati) restaurant Vatan. Andrés first heard of this place from our Indian friends, who consider it one of the best in the city. Then Andrés’s father took us to Vatan over a year ago and it had stood out in my mind as a truly wonderful meal. Yet, for some unknown reason, I had never made it back. Silly me.

The restaurant serves a set menu, a kind of all you can eat buffet, but not what you’re thinking. Our waitress graciously brought three courses to our table, serving each of us a full tray of new, interesting food items. That’s one of the reasons I really wanted to take my parents here: you get to try so many different foods and yet you never have to make a decision. Another reason is that the decor and costumes, while a bit cheesy, do make you feel like you’re escaping to an exotic land.

Above is just the main course, which includes, clockwise from bottom left,  kheer (yogurt with fruit), chole (chickpeas with tamarind), ful-cobi (cauliflower with green peas), bhaji (spinach with corn), batakanu sak (potatoes in a tomato sauce), puri (puffed bread), toor dal (lentil soup), and papadam (cracker, center).

It’s enough to fill you up, but there’s also an appetizer course with just as many items, plus family-style sides, and ice cream and chai tea for dessert. And the most amazing part is that everything is delicious. I will certainly not wait another year to eat again at Vatan.

Oatmeal-White Chocolate cookies

By Sarah

I have a serious sweet tooth. I mean serious. I will eat just about anything that’s sweet: hard candy, soft candy, all sorts of sweet baked goods, even pure sugar when I really have a craving. But my favorite way to eat sweet is paired with something salty. That’s the beautiful thing about salt, it enhances the flavor of whatever you’re eating making it just, well, better.

That’s also the beautiful part about these cookies. They’re sweet, after all they’re cookies, but they also have serious saltiness going on. Plus oatmeal. And white chocolate. And they’re crispy. Need I say more? Okay, if you’re not a white chocolate fan I think they will be equally delicious without it. And if you’re not a fan of really crispy cookies, know that this isn’t like standard cookie crispiness. It’s more delicious, with little air pockets inside. Exhibit A:

Crispy Oatmeal-White Chocolate Cookies
Adapted from the Smitten Kitchen who got the recipe from Cook’s Illustrated

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant)
6 ounces white chocolate, chopped
flaky sea salt

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

Beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy in a separate bowl. Scrape down bowl with rubber spatula, then add egg and vanilla and beat until incorporated. Scrape down bowl again. Add flour mixture gradually and mix until just incorporated and smooth. Gradually add oats and white chocolate and mix until well incorporated.

Divide dough into 24 equal portions, each about 2 tablespoons. Roll into balls, then place on lined baking sheets about 2 1/2 inches apart. Using fingertips, gently press down each dough ball to about 3/4-inch thickness. Sprinkle a couple of flakes of sea salt on each cookie.

Bake cookies in a 350 degree preheated oven, until they are deep golden brown, about 13 to 16 minutes. Allow cookies to cool for 3-5 minutes before removing them from the pan. I found these cookies most delicious when they had completely cooled down.

Spring bolognese

By Sarah

Spring has always been my favorite season. In Minnesota, spring is a sloppy, muddy mess, and, as a child, I absolutely adored jumping through the puddles as the snow melted.  And walking on the thin layer of ice after that same melted snow refroze during cold nights. Of course I also loved the flowers which appeared in late spring and watching the entire natural world come back to life.  Spring is so lovely, isn’t it.

Dear spring, however, is also very fickle. For a day or two she will tease you with sultry warm weather and then all of a sudden she gives you the cold shoulder. Case in point, last Saturday I spent a lovely day in my floppiest spring skirt eating a picnic in Central Park with my two favorite boys, enjoying 70 degree weather. Yesterday I had to bring out my thickest down coat, ear warmer, and gloves just to bring Julio out for his walk, which I did grudgingly because after such a warm streak the cold is especially bitter.

Anyways, all of this is to explain why I am sharing a winter recipe with you when it’s springtime and, in just a day or two, may be another balmy 70 degree day. But right now it’s cold and all I can think of is bolognese.

This bolognese recipe is thoroughly hearty and will warm you right up if you’re also experiencing chilly weather. But it’s not your traditional bolognese and so, might I suggest, that we think of this as spring bolognese? You see it’s made with fish (yes, fish!) and I think of fish as summer fare, so the fish bolognese is right in between, like a spring day. (Am I trying too hard? My apologies.)

The recipe comes from the restaurant Esca, one of our favorite seafood restaurants in the city. It’s a lovely place which combines extremely fresh fish with more traditional Italian cooking. Which of course, also, describes this recipe perfectly. We loved this very comforting dish and, honestly, you can’t even tell that it isn’t a traditional meat bolognese. As it is, it’s not fishetarian friendly, but if someone tries exchanging/omitting the pancetta please let me know how it works.

Rigatoni with Tuna Bolognese
From David Pasternack in The Young Man and the Sea

2 pounds fresh tuna scraps or steaks , cut into large chunks
10 ounces pancetta
6 ounces mackerel, but into large chucks (we used blue fish)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bottle (750ml) red wine
1 bay leaf
1/2 cinnamon stick (about 2 inches long)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes and their juice
black pepper
1 pound rigatoni
1/2 pound mascarpone cheese

In a food processor, pulse the tuna, pancetta, and mackerel until coarsely ground. Set aside.

In a large pot over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until translucent, which takes ~4 minutes. Add the tuna mixture and turn heat to high. Cook, stirring with a fork until the juices run dry and the fish begins to brown, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the red wine, bay leaf, red pepper, and cinnamon stick, and cook until dry, about 15 minutes. Add the tomatoes, crushing them by hand, and 1/2 cup water. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Let simmer, uncovered, for 1 1/2 hours. The sauce should be moist but not wet. Season more with salt and pepper; remove bay leaf and cinnamon stick.

Prepare the rigatoni according to the package instructions, cooking 1 minute less than suggested for al dente. Drain in a colander and and combine with the bolognese sauce. Divide among serving bowls and top each serving with mascarpone cheese.

Sarah’s Notes: This recipe is supposed to serve four and so we made half of the sauce, but then I looked at, and, unsurprisingly, there was a ton of bolognese (the recipe does call for 3 lbs of meat/fish!). So we used a full pound of pasta (double the amount for our half recipe) and had enough food for more than 5 servings. If you go to the restaurant the proportions are on the small side so I’m not sure who thought this would only serve 4 people. Also, I was going to skip the mascarpone, and was very glad I didn’t. The sauce is so heavy it needs the cheese to lighten it up (I know, it’s hard to believe that a thick creamy cheese would do this, but compared to pancetta/tuna in wine sauce it does seem light!).