Friday, June 26, 2009

Skaneateles' Greener Bean and Kolhrabi Gratin

After spending Friday night in Owego, NY, I spent last Saturday in Skaneateles (pronounced "skinny-atlas"). Near Syracuse, and on the tip of one of the Finger Lakes, it's quite a charming town. But it rained buckets the whole time I was there. Undaunted, I made my way to the local P&C supermarket, which hosts The Greener Bean farmers market on Saturday mornings. The market, which is certified organic, was small, and by the time I arrived, only three farmers were braving the morning monsoon. However, everyone was super friendly and proud to show off their wares, be it spinach, heirloom tomato plants (some of which are now living in my fire escape container garden - we'll see how that goes), beets or kolhrabi. I had never tried kolhrabi, and was intrigued. And they were a lovely purple shade, my favorite color, so of course I had to buy a bunch. Although the farmer provided a recipe identical to this one, there were really no instructions about how to prepare the kolhrabi for cooking, so I learned as I went along.

And I learned that kolhrabi is a *pain* to peel. After failing with the veggie peeler, I had to use a pairing knife, and then a serrated knife to saw through the stalks and fibrous core. The raw kolhrabi had a nice taste, kind of like a milder form of radish (although some describe the taste more like broccoli stem).

After slicing into thin half moons, I slow braised the kolhrabi in half-and-half in the oven for about 90 minutes before mixing with salt, pepper, Gruyere and Parmesan. And in the end? Well, it looked and tasted exactly like scalloped potatoes.

And given the effort required to hack through the kolhrabi versus what it would have taken to slice a few potatoes, am not sure I'll be making that recipe again.

The next day, I steamed the kolhrabi greens and sauteed with garlic in sesame oil (it paired nicely with grilled salmon).

So maybe I will try kolhrabi again -- but only if I can find it, and only if I can find someone else to peel it!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Owego: Strawberries in the Coolest Small Town

I spent Friday night in Owego, NY, which was voted's "America's Coolest Small Town."
Stay tuned for the October issue of Budget Travel, which is apparently going to feature Owego on the cover.
Technically, I grew up in the larger "town of Owego" (I guess the village I am from is like a suburb?!). Owego proper (a.k.a. village center) is very charming, especially with the architecture, river and shops on Front Street. Also charming is the annual Strawberry Festival.
The last time I went to the festival -- which is part street fair, part music fest, part junk food fest-- I was in high school. And while it's true that the festivities do attract the teen set, there is also a lot for families and adults of all ages.
In addition to the requisite daiquiri, you can find junk food galore -- from deep fried french fries and oreos to spedies (an area specialty) and roast pork.
But my favorite treat of the night was a pint of just-picked berries, a steal for $4, and so perfect that it would have been a crime to do more than eat them plain with a little sugar or slice over shortcake!

The Owego Strawberry Festival may be over, but luckily, there are still a few weeks left of strawberry season before it's on to blueberries.

Fresh Strawberry Daiquiri For One

Everyone has their own strawberry daiquiri formula, so feel free to modify the sour (lime) and sweet (simple syrup) to suit your tastes. But be sure to use the less-than-perfect berries for the drink, and save the better specimens for garnish!
1 c. fresh strawberries
1/2 c. ice
1 oz. rum
1/2 lime, juiced
Splash of simple syrup
Pinch of salt
Combine all ingredients in a blender and whirl until desired consistency.
Garnish with a fresh strawberry and whipped cream.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Bus Station Gourmet: Greenmarket at Port Authority

I've seen my fair share of things at Port Authority bus station. Ok, I am not a daily commuter, but I feel like I am there often enough, especially since I take the bus when I head upstate and visit my family (the only other alternative is renting a car). On Thursday, between the harried commuters, kamikaze indoor pigeons (if you've been to the third floor, you know what I mean) and odd-ball bus passengers, I finally saw a welcome sight: a new greenmarket! Honestly, I would have missed it if I wasn't looking for it (and had read about it on Midtown Lunch). Tucked behind the columns on the main level of the north building, it's off the beaten escalator path. However, once you find it, you have lots to choose from, including produce and prepared treats from Katchkie Farm and baked goods and more from Prospect Hill Orchards. Since I was already juggling a suitcase, carry on and huge purse, I had to bypass the napa cabbage, strawberries and containers of pickled everything. Instead, I fortified myself with an oatmeal raisin cookie from Prospect Hill (huge and only $1.50) and consoled myself with the thought of visiting again the next time I make the 3.5 hour trek upstate via Shortline Bus. Which will be in two weeks...oy!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Take Me Out to the Ball Game: BYO Snacks

Last Sunday, I finally got to check out the new Yankee Stadium. And when I say "finally," I mean I made my semi-annual trip. Yep - I am not exactly what you'd call a die-hard fan. However, I am a fan of most stadium food. Baseball just makes hot dogs taste better. But while I love peanuts and cracker jack, I hate paying stadium prices for food. Plus, call me crazy, but I like to eat a vegetable or two with my lunch, and ketchup or sauerkraut does not count. So the past few times I've gone to 161st Street, I've hauled a bag of snacks with me. Yes, you can bring food into Yankee Stadium. However, the rules (and enforcement of such rules) are a little vague. No glass or cans. No plastic bottles. But apparently water bottles that are still factory sealed are an exception. And you used to have to carry everything in a clear plastic bag, but now the standard plastic grocery bag seems to be acceptable. On Sunday, security barely gave my bag a look, and I had quite a load, including: -Frozen lemonade juice boxes -Frozen water bottles -Baked Kettle Chips -Chocolate chip cookies from "Our Daily Bread" in Union Square Greenmarket -Baby carrots, sugar snap peas (also from the greenmarket) and hummus -Grapes -Cashews Yes, it was a bit excessive and no, we did not polish everything off. But it was really nice to crunch on carrots instead of electric-blue cotton candy. And although it was a pain to carry everything from my apartment, on the subway and up to the nosebleed seats, it was super nice to have a virtual buffet at my seat, instead of having to get up during the middle of an inning. Or worse, wait for a vendor to show up with a soggy hot dog. Instead, we enjoyed garlic fries from the field level seating tier before taking our nosebleed seats. I ducked out after the first inning to grab dogs and kraut from a stand on the terrace level. And perhaps best of all, I didn't feel the need to parttake of the stadium's own "farmers market" (nice idea, but cannot compare to the real thing!).

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Must be June: Strawberries at Union Square

You can tell summer is right around the corner when you realize strawberry "fields" have taken over Union Square. After much deliberation, I finally bought a box from Cherry Lane and ate them all as is, so no recipe suggestions this week! Just a suggestion to run out and enjoy before the season ends.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Book Club Menu: Getting Inspired by Julie and Julia

For four years now, I've belonged to a pretty dedicated book club. Each month, we take turns picking everything from chick lit to memoirs, "serious novels" to satirical comedy. It's a very easygoing group (probably why we've lasted so long). In fact, our favorite question is "who would play so-and-so in the movie version?"
But this month, we already knew the answers to that question, because our pick (well, my pick really) was Julie and Julia, soon to be part of a major motion picture directed by Nora Ephron and starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams (the movie is also partly based on the book My Life in France, which is a wonderful read and highly recommended).
I knew the general story, and even had read a few of Julie Powell's original blog posts before picking the novel. But after finishing the book, I was left a little dissatisfied. Frankly, it did not sound like any fun! And cooking should always be fun -- even if you're hot, flustered, running late and have dirtied every dish in your cupboard...which basically describes the state I was in when my friends came over for dinner this week to discuss the story.
I love a good theme dinner and took inspiration partially from Julie and Julia, but mainly Julia Child herself to put out a meal that included a range of recipes, most of which could be made in advance. The final menu featured:
Sparkling Berry Cocktails or Orangina

Julia's American-style potato salad

Chive crepes stuffed with choice of ham, Gruyere and Dijon or an Asian-style cold chicken salad

A green salad with Julia's vinaigrette

Berry gallettes

Lemon ice cream

Since our meeting was on a weeknight, I did a lot of the prep before. I made the ice cream and crepes the Sunday prior. The salads and gallette dough came together quickly the night before. And the morning of the meeting, I shredded the cheese, drained the berries and set everything up.

When I arrived home (15 minutes before my guests were due to arrive), I quickly rolled out the gallette dough and assembled the tarts, throwing them into a 400 degree oven for 25 minutes. In the meantime, I rolled the ham and cheese crepes and placed them enchilada-style in a large baking dish. When the gallettes came out, the crepes went in and after 10 minutes, dinner was served!

The only hitch in my plan was that it was 80 degrees that evening, and with the oven set at 400 degrees, my apartment was a bit toasty. In hindsight, we should have started with the ice cream! Regardless, we ate well and had fun, which when you boil it down (or when it's boiling hot), is what it should be all about.

Asian Spin on Chicken Salad

Unlike the traditional chicken salad made with a creamy dressing, this one is light and flavorful, which is what I wanted for an 80 degree day (despite it not really fitting with my French theme!). The sesame oil provides great flavor and helps bind the ingredients. You can assemble and dress the salad in advance, but it will get soggier as the hours progress.


2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts

Water and aromatics for poaching

3 T. Sesame oil

1 T. Honey

1 t. Grated ginger

2 c. diced mixed vegetables, such as scallions, sugar snap peas or snow peas, radish, carrot, red pepper (key is to chop each vegetable into similarly sized pieces)

1 T. Soy sauce

1 T. Rice wine vinegar

Red pepper flakes, to taste

Optional extras: Chopped herbs, like cilantro, basil and/or mint; Chopped roasted peanuts


Poach chicken in water with one small onion and celery leaves; chill

Cut chicken to your liking (I like a small dice, some may prefer shredding the breasts), toss with diced vegetables

In a small bowl, whisk together sesame oil, honey, ginger and red pepper flakes; toss with chicken and vegetable mixture to combine

Drizzle with soy and rice wine vinegar immediately before serving; great on crepes or in a wrap or on top of salad greens

Monday, June 1, 2009

Chives: Beautiful Bouquet and Savory Crepes

Really great Saturday at the green market. I saw the first lettuces of the season, as well as the first sugar snap peas (I bough a pound!), among other treats. But what struck me was the number of stalls selling chives. I used to grow chives on my fire escape, but the plant, which is a perennial, succumbed to some odd disease/bug infestation last year. Although I never let them get to the flowery stage, perhaps I should have as my informal research shows that most vendors charge twice as much for chives with blossoms (as compared to those without)! Luckily, I found a vendor charging a fair price, and picked up a nice little bouquet -- some for display but the rest for cooking. First dish - crepes. I am in a book club (which has been going strong, meeting monthly for at least four years now) and had the pick this month. My choice? "Julie and Julia" so I thought it would be fun to whip up a few recipes inspired by the book, including savory crepes. The girls are coming over tomorrow to discuss and eat, so I pre-made the crepes which is a good thing SINCE IT TOOK ME TWO HOURS.

The batter was a cinch, especially since I got to use my Pampered Chef batter bowl for the first time. But with a double batch of batter and one 6-inch skillet, cooking took forever. I did work out a good system in the end:

1. Most recommend using a quarter cup measuring cup to scoop batter. I filled it 3/4 of the way full. I also used a utensil pot clip to hang the measuring cup off my batter bowl and avoid a mess (or another dish to wash).

2. Although I used a non-stick frying pan, I did baste the bottom with Canola oil before pouring the batter in. A silicon basting brush worked for me, and I ended up using about a tablespoon of oil all together.

3. Julia Child apparently flipped crepes with her fingers. I was not that brave. When it was time, I tilted the pan away from me and grabbed the edge with a pair of silicon tongs (which can also be used for fish, as a grabber for items on a high shelf, etc.).

4. I slid the cooked crepes onto a wire rack "second side down." Although many times I was tempted to flip it to see how that side had cooked, invariably, the crepe tore every time I tried.

5. I had to lower my burner after a while since my pan retained a lot heat.

6. After a few minutes cooling, I stacked the cooked crepes in foil separated with parchment and dumped the entire thing in a ziplock and threw in the fridge.

How did the final product turn out, you ask? Stay tuned for part two.