Thursday, April 5

Mashed Potatoes

My mother expresses love in many ways, but two are a bit more involved in terms of production.

Christmas bounty

First, she gives gifts.  Every year, my sister and I listen to solemn warnings that this year Christmas won't be as present-oriented as it was in previous years.  This is fine with my sister and me because we are not spoiled brats and because a white Christmas in Maine with the whole family is more than enough.  Especially when pies and flan are wedged into two separate refrigerators while the desserts that do not quite fit line the steps in the garage, and your grandmother buys a two liter bottle of Bailey's for the next seven days.  Nevertheless, when Christmas Day comes, presents still blanket the floor beneath the tree and my mother listens to our protests with a kind of giddy mischievousness.

the heroic banana cream pie-cutting effort

Second, my mother expresses her love through food whether it is via a sympathetic text ("Poor baby. Eat some chocolate." eventually followed by, "Better yet, go for a run") or through every candle-lit dinner we have as a family.

This past December, my mother managed to combine these two tendencies perfectly: she gave me the present of a potato masher with which I could now make my own comfort meals! And it is ergonomically designed for ease-of-mashing.


Previously, I mashed potatoes and the occasional tomato with slotted spoon and a regular spoon.  It did not work very well.  Not counting the mashing effort however, making mashed potatoes is surprisingly easy and obviously tasty.  And you can make fried potato pancakes with the leftovers!

Mashed Potatoes
from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food

3 russet potatoes
1/2 cup potato-cooking water
4 tbs olive oil

Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil.
Peel the potatoes and cut them into medium-sized pieces.  Cook them in the boiling water for about 15 minutes, or until the insides of the potatoes are dry and flakey, but tender.
Drain the potatoes and set them aside to cool.
In the same pot, heat the oil and potato-cooking water.  Add the potatoes to the pot and mash everything together.  Add as much salt as you want and eat.
Substituting milk for the potato-cooking water and butter for the olive oil will make the potatoes creamier.

boiled and drained

potato pancakes!
Right now I am going through a French pop music phase, mostly because my French teacher keeps introducing the class to new songs and I keep buying them.  My current favorite is Zaz's 'Je Veux':

Waters, Alice, Patricia Curtan, Kelsie Kerr, and Fritz Steiff. "Mashed Potatoes." The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2007. 319. Print.

Friday, March 30

Alice's Tea Cup

I am not a huge fan of Alice's Tea Cup on W 72nd St right off of Columbus.  Yes, they offer a wide variety of well-brewed teas and the salads are crisp dressed with tanginess .  Yes, the concept and decor are adorable.  For some reason, I still do not like eating here.  Or, more specifically, I still do not like paying to eat here.  Unless I am supping with a group of 12 year-old girls, I prefer to go elsewhere.  It is probably because I think I can replicate most of their dishes at a fraction of the cost, even if my productions do not taste quite so good.

I will say that Alice's sells an impressive number of scones.  While I do make delectable scones, I am craving bread products.  That is why I bought two before a Trader Joe's excursion a few days ago.

a currant scone (right) and
a berry scone with white chocolate

Their scone selection varies day to day, which I have to respect.  Moreover, each scone comes with a little container of cream and jam for smearing purposes.  So, for $3.50 a piece, I will belly up to Alice's counter and shamelessly plaster each crumb with raspberry preserves and homemade clotted cream.

Thursday, March 29

Soda Bread

I am on a bread stint.  Maybe it is because the soul-crippling doubt of junior year is setting in and I crave comfort food, or maybe it is because I lived off of soup for two weeks and now I need something solid.  So I cracked open a few cook books and started to salivate.  I opted to make soda bread because I was only missing one ingredient (the buttermilk), I had two hours free before work, and I did not have any soda bread at O'Flaherty's two weeks ago.

It turns out that soda bread is the official bread of Ireland, but it is also present in Australian, British, and Serbian traditions.  And making it requires so little effort.  Just mix all the ingredients together and stick them in the oven.  When the baking soda mixes with the acidic buttermilk, a chemical reaction occurs and creates little air bubbles so you don't have to wait for the dough to rise!

There are so many varieties of soda bread, and this recipe is about as simple as it gets.  That is why I like Alice Waters' recipes - they provide the perfect structure to show you the basics of the food so you can be creative and inventive later.  Next time I make this bread, I will probably use whole wheat flour and incorporate nuts and currants.  With this version, I recommend toasting slices of bread and drizzling honey on it for a scrumptious snack.  Nothing is better than homemade bread.

Soda Bread
from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food

3 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Mix the dry ingredients (flour, salt, and baking soda) in a large bowl.
Make a well with the dry ingredients and pour in about 3/4 of the buttermilk (or 1 1/2 cups).
Stir, slowly encorporating the dry ingredients.  The dough should be soft but not sticky or wet.  If needed, add more buttermilk.  I used about 1 7/8 cup before the dough became unbelievably sticky and I had to add more flour.
Knead the dough on a floured surface just until it comes together.  Do not over mix though because then you'll pound out the air bubbles and your bread will be denser.  Pat it into a round loaf that is about 1 1/2 inches high.
Put the dough on your baking sheet of choice and cut a deep X in the top.  Make sure to cut deeply and all the way to the edges, as this will help the bread rise uniformly.
Bake for 15 minutes at 450 degrees F.  Then lower the temperature to 400 degrees F and bake for another 30 minutes, or until done.  Check the bread's readiness by tapping on the bottom.  If it sounds hollow, it's done.

This song was not actually written by an Irishman, but I love it anyway.  Someday soon I'll traipse my way through the Irish countryside.  Steven Earle's 'Galway Girl':

Waters, Alice, Patricia Curtan, Kelsie Kerr, and Fritz Steiff. "Soda Bread." The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2007. 274. Print.

Wednesday, March 28

Katz's Delicatessen

After being abandoned by the vegetarians in favor of pseudo-dates and museum wanderings, I went to Katz's Delicatessen with some fellow omnivores.  Katz's Deli is on the corner of Houston & Ludlow or on Houston between Avenue A and 1st Ave, depending on which side of street you are coming from.

After standing in the doorway for a bewildering second, we followed the masses to the counter.  A handsome fellow offered a slice of pastrami on a plate as a sample.  (Pastrami is cured meat, usually beef, that has been brined, dried, seasoned, spiced, smoked, and steamed.  I did not know this.)  I had never tasted pastrami before and Katz's was probably not the best place for this.  Undoubtedly, their pastrami has ruined me forever.  

The meat was perfectly prepared; it was moist and full of flavor but not over spiced.  The bread was fairly standard sandwich bread and it was slathered in mustard.  Katz's also serves soups and salads, in addition to a variety of other sandwiches.  Their food is a little expensive, especially for a ravenous and snobbish college student.  Each sandwich is about $16, but it can be easily split between two people and leave each person feeling satisfied.  If you tip the sandwich-maker, he'll give you even more meat, too.  I had one whole sandwich to myself and you better believe I finished it.

Katz's Delicatessen prides itself on being one of the few remaining and real delicatessens left because "they continue a tradition of meat preparation and preservation predating refrigeration".  It is also the location of this famous scene from When Harry Met Sally:

In other words, Katz's is a place of historical, gastronomical, and cultural import!  Which completely justifies the three hours and $20 I devoted to eating there!

Tuesday, March 27

Pommes Frites

When I first went to Pommes Frites (on 2nd Ave between 7th St and St. Marks), I was completely unaware of what I was about to experience.  Sure, the shoppe is advertised as a vendor of "Belgian fries", but who really cares?  Fries are fries.

I probably should have realized that I had stumbled across something entirely different as soon as I removed one perfectly crisp potato baton from the paper cone.  I did not know these fries were to be savored as the fries of Belgium.  I merely thought this third snack of the day was a world class and ingenious twist of the more well-known fries.  I can only hope that the powers-that-be can forgive me for my ignorance.

According to The One and Only Belgian Fries Website, six traits distinguish Belgian fries: freshly cut and irregularly shaped; cooked or fried twice; fluffy on the inside, crispy on the outside; a distinct potato taste; a thickness of at least 10 mm; and they should be served in a paper cone.

Clearly, I have not sampled many Belgian fries.  (Shame on me.)  But Pommes Frites' potatoes were fried to perfection, irregularly shaped, and oh so crisp.  My group of 8 ordered the regular cone of fries.  Yes, we had just sampled pastries from Veniero's and ice cream from The Big Gay Ice Cream Shop, but everyone ate a satisfactory helping of fries because the regular cone of fries is just so gosh darn large.  In addition to the usual mayonnaise dipping sauce, we also sampled the Honey Mustard Mayo, Pomegranate Teriyaki Mayo, and Sweet Mango Chutney Mayo dipping sauces.  The whole snack cost about $8 ($4.50 for the fries, another dollar for each of the tasty sauces).

So, huddled over a little table made for cone-encased fries and perched on wooden high chairs, my friends and I found the final bit of space in our stomachs and gorged ourselves on fries.

Sunday, March 25

Merilu Pizza Al Metro

I do not think I will ever live long enough to fully appreciate everything that Hell's Kitchen has to offer.  Not only are there dozens and dozens of places to eat and drink, but I also cannot resist going to old favorites such as O'Flaherty's and Room Service whenever I am in the neighborhood.

pizza margherita

Thankfully, someone recommended Merilu Pizza Al Metro, so I bravely led a group of friends past bars, bakeries, and bistros to the little pizzeria on 9th Ave between 52nd and 53rd St.  Apparently, Merilu, the owner and mother of four, brought the recipes for the pizza from her home in Torino, Italy.  I interpret this as a divine indication that I should go to Torino.  And sample all pizzas.

The pizza was excellent, mostly due to their incredible sauce and thin crusts.  The guy behind the counter was nice and patient as I tried to overcome fatigue and place an intelligible order.  Overall, a slice of pizza margherita and a root beer cost less than $6.  There is a good chance that buying pizza from Merilu before bar hopping in Hell's Kitchen will become my new default activity.  Prepare accordingly.

Thursday, March 22

Roasted Sliced Cauliflower

There are so many things you can buy for less than a dollar per pound: carrots, potatoes, rice, lentils, bananas, oats, eggs, kale, beans.  If you're willing to shell out an extra quarter per pound, the possibilities are endless: apples, milk, tofu, coffee, almost any in-season vegetable, squash...  These are my options for dinner tonight because I just bought a song for 99¢, which brings my savings account to a stunning $2.78 for the next 11 days.  Twenty-five cents per day?  Challenge accepted.

My current solution is to buy a single head of cauliflower and slowly consume it until I refuse to even look at cauliflower.  It turns out that this weird mass of flower stems is packed with vitamin C, vitamin K, choline, and folate.  In other words, if you passed on fruits one too many times and are fighting scurvy, drank too much, can't stop your bones from fracturing, and are now feeling a little blue, cauliflower might just be your solution!  Right now, a single head is about $1.67.  Live it up people.

Roasted Sliced Cauliflower
from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food

as much cauliflower as you can handle
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Trim and wash the cauliflower and cut across the whole head into slices of about 1/4-inch thickness.  Lay the pieces flat on a baking sheet without overlapping.  Drizzle or, if you're like me, slather with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Roast the strange vegetable for about 20 minutes or until it is tender and starts to brown.

My sister's gentleman's mother burned her (my sister) a CD of anthems.  You know, songs to get fired up.  In short, the perfect driving CD.  I would like to take this opportunity to note that I have a whole arsenal of incredible dance moves that I can perform while simultaneously keeping a steady foot on the gas pedal.  This is Rusted Root's "Send Me On My Way":

Waters, Alice, Patricia Curtan, Kelsie Kerr, and Fritz Steiff. "Roasted Sliced Cauliflower." The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2007. 299. Print.