February, 2010 Archive

Friday, February 12, 2010

spaghetti with cheese + black pepper

black pepper and cheese spaghetti

Alex and I had an accidental date a few weeks ago, accidental in that we set out to take a walk but the conversation quickly turned to “I wonder if we could get a table at Lupa.” The answer, by the way, should be no. One can never get a table at Lupa. They don’t take many reservations, they’re not very big and just about everyone in New York City loves to drop in there for a meal. It is for this pile of reasons that we’ve never been. Or we never had been. Because that evening, there was exactly one eensy little table free and there we were, having an impromptu dinner out on a weekday night, something that would have been nothing out of the ordinary, say, five months ago but as parents to a young dough ball, it was nothing short of earth shattering.

lots of freshly, finely ground black pepper
finely grated romano

I ordered a beer and the spaghetti, well, the bavette or linguini fini, but for the purpose of this story, it will be spaghetti because it was just that humble. When I trust that a place won’t disappoint, I have a tendency to order the plainest thing on the menu, hearkening back to my deep-seated belief that great chefs make you wonder why you’ve wasting so much time with gimmicky sea salts and foie anything when you could be eating a perfect bowl of spaghetti. And this cacio e pepe? It sang to me. Well, sang and then admonished, as food often does in my presence, “seriously, lady, why haven’t you made this yet?”

spaghetti, al denteish

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

chocolate soufflé cupcakes with mint cream

white chocolate mint whipped cream

I’m clearly some sort of grinch, because when I think of flourless chocolate cakes I imagine giant discs of truffle so dense and overly rich that even a sliver of somehow feels excessive, the kind of throwaway dessert restaurants bust out when they’ve got no better ideas. “Add a couple out-of-season, eerily red raspberries and a tuft of whipped cream from a can and it will, without fail, sell,” I imagine sinister managers instructing kitchen staff. Like I said, I’m a total pill.

cream for white chocolate mint creammelting chocolate and buttersecond try, just enough eggs leftribboning the egg yolks

However, when the same flourless chocolate cake is treated like a soufflé — eggs separated, yolks beaten until ribbony and whites whipped until weightless, then gently folded in — and then placed anywhere in my proximity, all bets are off. Because what it does is magical; what was once weighted is lifted off the plate. The top puffs and shatters a little, like a meringue, a meringue with butter. It manages to be both the lightest, barely-there wisp of cake and the most unabashedly rich chocolate fix. Yes, at once.

egg whites, soft peakslight, airy batterready to baketiny chocolate souffle cakes

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Friday, February 5, 2010

ginger fried rice

fried egg on ginger fried rice

According to my calendar — the one I believe I just looked at for the first time since last September, when someone made my life go all date- and timeless — the Lunar New Year and Valentine’s Day fall on the same day this year. In New York at least, the Lunar New Year is an excuse to eat egregious amounts of fried rice, spare ribs and to make your way through Chinatown streets over piles of strewn red paper* from firecrackers. Valentine’s Day, however, is dominated by French food because what could be more romantic than copious amounts of wine, butter, cheese, steak and chocolate?

brown jasmine ricejasmine ricegarlic, ginger and leeksbrowning the ginger and garlicfried ginger and garlic, crunchy bitsfrying an egg

Or, you could stay in and have a little of both. That’s what this ginger fried recipe is to me, a classic Chinese dish, clearly reinterpreted by a French hand. For one, it has leeks, which although used in both Chinese and French cooking, I can’t say I’ve ever seen them caramelized for fried rice. Second, egg isn’t scrambled into the dish, but pulled out, fried whole and laid on top of the rice. There are other deconstructions too: the ginger and garlic are fried until crisp and scattered over the dish, like bacon bits from the Far East, rather than tucked within. And rather than cooking the rice in gobs of soy sauce and sesame oil, both are conservatively drizzled on top at the end like droplets of a pan sauce.

cooking the leeks

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

walnut jam cake

walnut jam cake

Given my fixation with both walnuts and everyday cakes, it should come as exactly no surprise that the time between me spying this recipe and me getting it in the oven was about six days. Which is the equivalent of less than one day in If You Don’t Have An Impish Four-Month Old terms. I fell for it quickly, it came together even faster (spoiler: the whole thing can be made in a single-bowl food processor) and all of that voluptuous stuff on top — a schmear of jam and a “drift” of whipped cream that’s been tarted up with a little sour cream — are standard no-fuss ingredients. This cake is an easy win.

one brown, three white eggs
whipped cream with a little sour

And yet, I must fuss. It is my way. I am 33 years old, clearly too old and entrenched to change. I found the jam a little overpowering. Now, I intentionally went out and sought a jam that would be more tart than sweet, and then I did add the optional lemon juice to further the punch. Nonetheless, when you have a subtly delightful cake — built on a flavor bed of walnuts toasted nearly to the point of caramelization) — it’s hard to find that under a pile of jam. I might halve it next time, or just spread a thin slick of it on top. Or even skip it and for once, listen to my husband who thinks that everything is better with chocolate and perhaps puddle some ganache on top instead. Or my waistline, that thinks this cake is rich enough plain? Nah, definitely the husband.

jam on walnut cake

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Monday, February 1, 2010

chana masala

chana masala

My latest snap of cravings for Indian food hit a couple weeks ago, and because I haven’t learned anything over my two stints in the East Village, we ordered in from a restaurant on 6th Street and received puddles of oily, listless and weakly spiced curries that we dragged our way through only to be rewarded with bellyaches. Also, regret. I have an archive of Indian recipes I make several times a year, that I crave like clockwork as soon as we hit a cold snap and never disappoint, a cabinet full of robust rust and mustard-colored powders and seeds and yet I let someone else put lackluster chana masala in our bellies.

finely chopped onion
canned whole tomatoes

I’ve made a slew of chana masalas — a Northern Indian chickpea stew with tomatoes — but none have made their way to you because while they’ve all been edible, with bowls licked clean as there are exactly no intersections of chickpeas and tomatoes that I won’t gobble down, I had yet to find The One. Many were closer to a spiced tomato sauce with chickpeas in it; few had the spice assault I was looking for and none had that thing, a sour note, you find in great Indian food but is more elusive to American home cooks with a curry habit.

a mutt of spices

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