Saturday, April 28, 2012

encore Paris

Some opportunities are just too tempting to pass up. When the invitation to visit Paris was dangled before me, from a friend renting an apartment there for a month, I jumped. With only a weekend to spare for such a venture I decided to make the most of my short time in a city I love just about as much as New York.

Last week's Parisian weather was less than ideal. I emerged from the RER station at Chatelet-Les Halles greeted by a hail storm. Dragging my luggage down rue de Rivoli (and celebrity spotting Donald Sutherland!!! Looking dashingly handsome, btw) I found my way to a most adorable apartment in the heart of the Marais district. After a loving welcome embrace from my dear friend and my luggage safely unloaded, I was off and running.
The beautiful courtyard of the apartment I was visiting. So French!
Some things you just never get tired of.

During my visit the French presidential elections were going on. These campaign posters were strung outside a voting site. Nicolas Sarkozy's poster looked as if he were starring in a movie, with its soft focus and dreamy horizon. A fantasy film perhaps, from the results of the election, sorry Nick.
At the flea market on Sunday I went wild for these Majolica plates. WILD! I have a real thing for them. They were marked 120 euros. Each! Ouch! Even in dollars I would have thought twice. No plates for me.
What I could afford were vegetables. The organic market at Boulevard Raspail had much to tempt me and I shopped freely, knowing I had an actual kitchen to bring it all back to.
Cute garlic with tails! Or perhaps it is long skinny necks?
After the market, a walk through the Luxembourg Gardens, glorious in full spring bloom. The sun managed to shine for a brief moment.
Even on a gloomy day Paris looks AMAZING.

The highlight of the trip was cooking a meal with the vegetable goodies bought at the organic market. The artichokes were sold with long stems and leaves still attached. They were handed to me wrapped like a floral bouquet. Stunning! And I had to have those cute French Breakfast radishes with the distinctive white tips, too. I ended up sauteing some of the radishes in butter and using the rest raw in a salad.
The artichokes got boiled in lemon water after I cleaned off the leaves and peeled the stems a bit. Once tender, I drained them, quartered them, removed the choke and then sauteed then in butter and garlic for a little extra shot of flavor. Oh so delicious!

 The heirloom tomatoes went into the makings of a salad, along with a disc of aged goat cheese and some baby arugula. This made a beautiful starter course and was easy to put together.

- r e c i p e -
Warm Goat Cheese salad with Arugula and Heirloom Tomatoes

•Make a bed of arugula leaves on a plate and arrange sliced tomatoes on top.

•Slice the goat cheese into 1/2" thick discs and stick them in a microwave for about 30 seconds to warm them a bit. You want the cheese soft and warm but not melted and runny.

•Place the warm goat cheese on top of the salad.

•Dress the salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette.

Balsamic Vinaigrette-
I like to add a squeeze of lemon juice to this dressing to keep the balsamic vinegar from being too insipid.
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 teaspoon mustard
1 teaspoon salt
several grinds of fresh pepper
1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon of lemon juice

Mix ingredients in a small bowl and whisk rapidly to combine. While whisking slowly drizzle in:
3/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil.

Spoon vinaigrette over salad to taste.

bon appetit!
(and Merci Beaucoup Dawn!!!!)

Friday, April 13, 2012


Springtime! The farmers markets are finally beginning to stir. A walk through Union Square on Wednesday yielded some perky young spinach piled high in ruffly mounds, being sold by the pound at whopping prices. Fill a small bag, enough for a salad; it wont weigh that much and you will get a preview of the best tastes of the season.

I was on a mission to find ramps, but did not have much hope of success as I was hitting the market just before closing and those onion-y treasures with a garlicky kick were long sold-out for the day.

Ramps are like that. They can only be harvested wild, they have a very short season and they are scooped up by knowing foodies anywhere they make an appearance.
Each spring my friend Marc, an excellent home cook, waxes poetic when he reveals his swoon-y devotion to the elusive ramp. Last year he served up a ramp bruschetta that was indeed swoon-worthy and I wrote up his  recipe as a post for Edible Queens.

This year Marc's seasonal offering is a vinaigrette made with an entire bunch of uncooked ramps pureed directly into the sauce. He drizzled the vinaigrette over a salad, splashed some on his cooked vegetables, served it as a dip for toasted crusty bread, and then had to keep himself from drinking it straight out of the bottle. Goodness! Sounds like a winner.

Super frustrated by my late arrival to the market I settled on these stunning purple scallions as a ramp substitute. The color beguiled!
Following the spirit of Marc's recipe, I was pleased with the results. The vinaigrette is thick and aromatic and combines nicely with spinach or baby arugula in a salad.

Marc's ramp version is for those who like a robust experience. His young daughter, who at age seven is quite the gourmand in her own right, found it a bit too fort for her tastes. So, forewarned, I am dousing my greens gently as I serve it up to my own family.
Ah springtime!

Ramp Vinaigrette
Note: if you are substituting scallions for the ramps, add a clove or two of raw garlic as well. 
Use good quality extra-virgin olive oil. I occasionally splurge at Fairway, spending time at their olive oil tasting bar to find the most fragrant, unctuous liquid I can find. A good quart bottle can run to $20 or more.

1 bunch of ramps, roughly chopped
4 anchovy fillets
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
8-10 grinds of fresh pepper
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
2 teaspoons honey
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor add all the ingredients except the olive oil. Pulse the mixture several times to mince up the ramps. Then, with the machine running slowly drizzle in your olive oil and puree until the mixture comes together. You will have a thick, delightfully green sauce. Taste for seasonings and adjust.
 Can be stored in a jar in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

somethng spicy for spring

Little flowering surprises are starting to pop up in my garden. Everywhere I look tiny buds are showing up; all over Central park, in window boxes, sidewalk planters and community gardens. New York city is beginning to get all powder puffy as the trees bust out in their floral frenzy. Sublime!

The weather is still cool and damp, like a typical spring, in fact, more spring-like than our strangely wimpy winter which definitely lacked in winter-ness.

There are really no crops ready for the market yet at this time of year so winter comfort food will have to continue to soothe and comfort while we wait for the robust growing season to kick in.

One of the simplest ways to bring a lot of flavor to food is to use curry spices. A tablespoon or two of good curry powder added to a vegetable saute will do the trick. Lots of bang for under a buck of spice powder. I like to source curry powder from Indian stores. We have several good options in the city. There are an abundance of spice stores in the "curry hill" neighborhood of Manhattan on Lexington avenue and 28th street, and then there are the multiple shops in Jackson Heights, Queens. Caribbean cooking also uses curry blends with those tending to be a bit milder than the east Indian varieties. For the milder spice blends I feel freer to be a bit more heavy handed when adding it to a recipe.

Small Yukon Gold potatoes combine really well with leafy greens in a curry preparation. Saute some onions and garlic, fry up cubed potatoes, add the curry powder and handfuls of washed greens. Let the mixture cook down till the vegetables are tender and serve.  Consider adding a dash of something sweet like raisins or a dollop of mango chutney to the mixture to round out the flavor.

This Saumur 2010, Val de Loire, Chenin Blanc is an excellent option to pair with a curry meal. It has a slightly tart, pineappe-ly overtone that brings a tropical fragrance to the forefront. It works well with the aggressive spicing of a curry. This wine also had a lovely woody back note that helped give it some depth and character.

Curried Potatoes and Greens
1 bunch of leafy greens (spinach, mustard, kale, chard, collards would all work well)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups of cubed potatoes
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch piece of ginger, minced
2 tablespoons curry powder
1/2 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup of raisins

•Wash the greens, chop into bite sized pieces and set aside.
•Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the potatoes and fry on all side till they are a bit crispy. Remove the potatoes from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.
•Add the onions, garlic and ginger to the pan and saute for a few minutes on medium heat until the onions soften.
•Add the curry powder and mix well to get the spice completely coated with the oil from the pan. Cook for another minute to allow the spice flavors to develop.
•Add the potatoes back into the pan and the leafy greens. Stir to combine all the ingredients. Cover the pan and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes till the greens have wilted. Add a splash of water to the pan if it gets too dry. You want the vegetables to be loose, but not swimming in liquid.
•Add the raisins and squeeze the juice of the half lemon into the pan and stir again. Let the contents of the pan come back up to a simmer uncovered. Cook for about five more minutes until the vegetables are tender. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Serve immediately.