Friday, April 24, 2015

Polenta for Breakfast

Running out the door again. I figured we should have one good breakfast together before my next trip. Now that I've discovered polenta in the rice cooker it's easy enough for anytime. Since I first had it in some California chic restaurant (was it Zuni Cafe or Dell Fattoria by now I can't remember) I've loved polenta and eggs. Quick cook polenta flavored with goat cheese, olive oil fried eggs and crispy disks of spicy sausage -- another treat from the traveling cooler.
Be back soon Honey.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Spicy Sausage and Mustard Green Soup

The garden has gone mad. It got off to a very slow start this season but now we have more mustard greens (and chard and kale) than any normal family could use.
And . . . it's spicy, super spicy.
With polish sausage carried home from Ostrowski's in Baltimore and mustard greens in the kitchen I started on soup. First I sautéed celery, carrots, chopped garlic and leek tops I had stored away in the freezer. I hate to waste anything so when I am leaving town I chop and tuck away any vegetable that won't be used while I am gone. The leek tops I was tucking away for a future vegetable stock but since I hadn't been to the store and we had no onions for the soup I tied the leek tops into little bundles and let them simmer as the soup cooked for a little onion flavor.
When the vegetables had softened a bit I added in slices of black pepper polish sausage and let it crisp just a bit. Then I poured in chicken stock and a jar of tomatoes canned from last year's garden. When the liquid came up to a boil I added in handfuls of mustard greens and let the whole pot simmer until the greens were tender and had lost a bit of their assertive flavor. After about 25 minutes I added in cooked white rice (I had that in the freezer too) and some beautiful scarlet runner beans I cooked of all places in the rice cooker.
Soup from the freezer. A warm dinner and then leftovers tucked back in the freezer for James while I am gone again.

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Little New York At Home

Flying back to San Francisco from New York my checked luggage included a bright red cooler bag literally stuffed with Italian Sausage and cheeses from New York's finest shops (and a couple from my family in Baltimore too). This seemingly innocent coil of Faicco's Sausage Shop's broccoli rabe sausage started it all.  James loves broccoli rabe and James loves Italian sausage and I have never seen one flavored with the bitter vegetable before. I had to bring it home for him to try. So started the cooler.
I proudly laid this coil in a pan heated with a slick of olive oil and a splash of water and cooked covered over medium heat until the sausage was browned on the bottom. I flipped the coil and let it cook for about 10 more minutes still covered until brown on both sides. Okay -- sausage carried lovingly home is one thing, but the polenta -- that's another.
Mercifully I always have some polenta or rice in the house so I can always pull together some kind of dinner. I used to stir polenta on the stove. Then I discovered oven baked polenta and I thought why ever make it any other way. Then came crock pot polenta. It takes longer to cook but stays warm waiting for diner. Make in advance, worry free polenta. Why ever make it any other way.
Until now. For some reason I started browsing rice cooker recipes on the internet. I had read some chef mention that he makes oatmeal in a rice cooker. I tried it and low and behold without paying a bit of attention I had a warm sweet delicious breakfast for James.
What else could I do in there?? Polenta of course.
1 cup of polenta. 4 cups of liquid (I used 2 of chicken broth and 2 of water but if I'd had any milk in the house I might have used some too). A pinch of salt. A knob of butter.
Cook on white rice setting. When the cycle ends give everything a good stir and mix in grated cheese. Set the rice cooking cycle to go again (we like ours a little extra thick) or just allow it to sit on warm. When you are ready your polenta will be too.
No mess, no stirring, no bother. Polenta becomes and everyday dish.
Really -- why make polenta any other way.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

I Love DiPalo's

 I had to visit one more time before leaving New York. I went to do some cheese shopping to bring a little gift home to James butI happened to walk in just as the day's porchetta was coming out. I couldn't resist. Though DiPalo's wasn't making sandwiches that day the DiPalo daughter at the counter quickly grabbed a fresh baked rosetta roll and piled the still warm meat on top.
"That's the perfect roll for porchetta," her uncle (or father) looked on approvingly and said.
""It's crusty and hollow." He explained.
He was right. That simple sandwich, no condiments or cheese or veggies, was the best lunch I had in all of New York.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Another NY Pork Store: Love At First Sight

 It'd be easy to walk by G Esposito and Son's, except maybe for the giant chef pig that guards the doorway. But stepping in is like walking back in time to when Brooklyn was New York's "real" little Italy.
"Yoo next? What can I get cha, sweethaaart?"
There is no hurry here. The countermen greet every customer like a regular with old jokes, gentle chiding and continuing commentary on the choices available. I might have walked onto the set of the Sopranos. I love it here.
I am almost overwhelmed by the choices. Esposito's makes a variety of cheeses, dried salamis and sausages but they are famous for their housemade Italian sausage, made to order sandwiches (in a shop with no menu board or evidence that sandwiches are on offer) and more recently ready-made Italian favorites like eggplant parmesan, filled pastas, and meat filled aranchini, trying to keep up with the quickly changing and gentrifying neighborhood.
A fixture in Carrol Gardens for nearly 90 years Espositos is an old time "Jersey" pork store a moniker from when Jersey produced the best pork in the area and people cooked at home. I want everything but I have come on a mission to bring authentic New York Italian sausage home to James.
I take the thin coiled sausage of their "plain" flavor (they don't have the broccoli rabe variety I was dreaming of -- I had to go to Faicco's for that) and because I can't resist and I know James will love it half a dozen fennel flavored links. That's more than enough to pack the plane but I go on. My man behind the counter offers up a spicy house cured salami.
"It's dry," he offers. "Kind of like a spicy pepperoni."
I take that and a neatly tied dried Soprasata.
"I like spicy," I explain. "But my husband (a convenient explanation for James -- boyfriend just never seems to do it) not as much."
"My kind of girl," he declares, laughing and packing my goods.
I head towards the subway smiling and carrying a heavy bag.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Italian In Baltimore

My mother made apple strudel. It wasn't delicate pastry. It wasn't beautiful. She didn't make many dishes but my mother made apple strudel for holiday dinners and family events and a couple years ago when she passed away I wanted apple strudel after the service.
I checked the internet and called around and found of all places an Italian bakery, Piedigrotta, that opened long after I lived in the city that reviews declared made a flaky delicious apple strudel.
In heavily accented English and out of practice Italian (Italish? Englian??) we negotiated the platters and arranged for my niece to pick them up. I never went in or met the woman on the phone -- until now.
Hoping the train down for the day my niece Jess picked me up (along with her husband Eric and daughter Juniper) and we went straight to Piedigrotta. Finally. I couldn't believe my eyes.
On the outskirts of Baltimore's campy and cozy Little Italy stood a dream bakery and more. Sure you might see the desserts and gelato first -- that's straight ahead. But turn to your left and be overwhelmed by an enormous array of ready made savories including delicate gnocchi, risottos, vegetables, flatbreads and more to eat at the nearby tables or take home to the family. An enormous selection. We were headed to my brother's where Baltimore favorites pit beef and polish sausage were already on the menu but -- being dedicated food tourists -- we had to try.
"Do you make all of these yourself?' I asked Signora Iannaccone.
"Dis all me" She said smiling. " You no like you come tell me."
I loved it all already. We took home platters (filled to the brim -- I'm sure more than usual for the measly $8 each we paid) of gnocchi, mushroom ravioli, and a stellar pizza rustica -- an Easter holiday savory pie filled with eggs and cheese and cured meats.
La Signora quickly started slicing an egg bread studded with candied lemon and offered us a plate across the counter.
Were we going to have something to eat there, she inquired as she strolled towards the pastry case.
After asking her favorite treat La Signora quickly described nearly every pastry and cookie in the case but she stopped lovingly at a puff pastry creation she called "diplomatica."
"Dis is deh real Italian Napoleon," she declared.
Forks in hand we four settled down to espressos (not the baby) and cakes. It seemed positively unpatriotic not to try the diplomatica with that kind of declaration. And we added a tiramisu cake -- made with soft layers of sponge instead of the usual lady fingers.
La signora's husband, Carminantonio Iannaccone -- by the way, is -- to his own account credited with the invention of tiramisu. The world's supposedly highest selling dessert.
Surpassing it's more familiar cousin, the diplomatica is everything pastry should be -- crisp, flaky, sweet but not cloying with a delicate ricotta pastry cream and tiny slivers of raw sugar adding crunch to spectaularly airy baked layers. After one bite I realize I don't care who invented it, I don't ever want to make it and I don't ever want to live without it.
What is this couple doing on a sleepy side street in Baltimore?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Low On Atmosphere, High On Flavor

 I can't resist the siren call of Chinatown. In any city.
In New York -- though the most authentic and probably best Asian food really shows up in Flushing, Queens -- Manhattan's ever growing Chinatown offers plenty of great cheap choices if you know where to look. Over my days in New York I walk the streets looking for those out of the way or sometimes known dive spots known for food not frills.
Walking in with a horde of Asian school kids pressing in for after school snacks and curious tourists I line up at the tiny front counter at Prosperity Dumpling and order Fujian wonton soup -- deep chicken rich stock with tiny thin skinned wontons that practically float down my throat. Prosperity's "dining room" -- a couple of stools and a counter  -- would make most high school locker rooms seem appetizing so I take my soup and sip as I stroll.

I actually go out of my way to find Taste of Northern China. I knew that the "restaurant's " name is not on their sign and that the entrance is not on the street with the their address, I still walked by it several times.
Barely a building -- more a vinyl tent attached to an open collection of appliances one might generously call a kitchen, Taste of Northern China has garnered a stellar reputation among eaters willing to saunter past the storage shed and grocery back room atmosphere to order at the tiny perch by the cash register.
 There are soups and huddled Chinese bent over styrofoam bowls but I am here for the skewers. Each about a dollar and quickly grilled by a friendly young girl then sprinkled with the house's spice blend -- cumin and chile and other tastes I can't identify. My favorite, a consensus among blogging visitors, is the fatty crispy lamb. Probably the tastiest dollar you can spend in Chinatown.
Elegant by comparison, the collection of mismatched chairs and cracked formica that is Tasty Handpulled Noodles stills seems inviting to tunnel-visioned diners and Chinese natives looking for big bowls of warming soups and chewy, stretchy deliciously fresh noodles. The broth may be a bit bland -- it's easily bolstered by the chili oil and chopped cilantro on nearly every table -- but when the winds blow fiercely through the city I long to settle at a table that needs to be wiped for steaming noodles and pan-fried dumplings.