Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Chelsea CSA: Week 4

My first month as a member of the Chelsea CSA came to a close with this week's vegetable distribution (thankfully there are about five more months to go- and the fruit distribution has yet to begin!). Stoneledge Farm's Kavakos family brought a colorful variety of vegetables to CSA members during week four- green and yellow summer squash, sugar snap peas, red vein sorrel, escarole, Bright Lights swiss chard, summer spinach, red leaf lettuce, green solix lettuce, and garlic scapes. Excited to taste the newest additions, I focused on creating a meal that would incorporate the sugar snap peas (amazing on their own) and summer squash.

I used one of my favorite kitchen tools (a Microplane) to add lemon zest to fresh ricotta cheese. I put a dollop of the lemon ricotta in a shallow bowl, added a few sugar snap peas, sprinkled it with chopped mint and a dash of salt, and finished it with a drizzle of meyer lemon olive oil (purchased at Carter & Cavero in the Limelight Marketplace) for one of the simplest, and tastiest appetizers I've ever made.

For the main course, I set out to build a crunchy panini. I used the garlic scapes to make a lemon garlic aioli, roasted the summer squash, and sandwiched them on sourdough bread with slices of grilled chicken, parmigiano reggiano cheese and summer spinach. The result- a light, fulfilling dinner-worthy sandwich (recipe for lemon garlic aioli and instructions for grilled chicken and summer squash panini below).

Lemon Garlic Aioli (yield, approx. 1 cup)
2 tbsp garlic scape
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 egg yolks
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
1. Add garlic scape, lemon juice and egg yolks to the bowl of a food processor with chopping blade attached. Blend until smooth.
2. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle in extra virgin olive oil until mixture is smooth and thick.
3. Finish with sea salt.

The garlic flavor is quite potent in this spread- use a lesser amount of garlic scape if you're not a garlic lover

Spread sliced summer squash in a baking dish and roast with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper at 400 degrees for approximately 20 minutes (whatever is not used for the panini can be eaten on its own)

Using a grill pan (or if you're lucky enough to have an outdoor grill) season chicken breasts with salt and pepper and grill until cooked through

To assemble the panini: cut two pieces of sourdough bread- slather one piece of sourdough bread with lemon garlic aioli and place several slices of parmigiano reggiano on top. On the second piece of sourdough bread layer two summer spinach leaves, several slices of grilled chicken, and roasted summer squash. Close the two sides of the sandwich and brush the outside of the bread with extra virgin olive oil

Press the sandwich in a panini maker or grill pan with a panini top (I love Le Creuset's panini press and skillet grill- for this meal I used it to grill the chicken and to press the panini) for approximately 5-6 minutes

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Purple Pig

In the midst of one of the hottest afternoons Chicago has seen this summer, I found myself at The Purple Pig- seated at a high top communal table with three of my favorite people- each of us hungry for the restaurant's renowned cheese, swine and wine. In the 5 months since its debut The Purple Pig, located on tourist friendly Magnificent Mile, has become a popular destination for charcuterie, cheese and Mediterranean inspired tapas.

With some trepidation, we asked our knowledgeable waiter to serve as our guide through the world of undiscovered pig parts (think pig's ear, neck, head and blood). He captained us toward menu favorites, many surprisingly meatless, and within minutes an array of dishes started to arrive in waves. Our journey began with succulent chunks of tuna poached in olive oil and served with plump Greek lima beans, reached a crescendo with squares of golden fried manchego with sweet membrillo vinaigrette, and ended with the afternoon's most exotic dish- pig's ear- thinly sliced, battered and fried, served with crispy kale, pickled cherry peppers and topped with a perfectly fried egg. Like many before us, and I imagine many after us, our afternoon of cheese, swine and wine left us feeling hog-wild about The Purple Pig.

My two favorite Chicagoans, Andy and Marya, at one of the outdoor communal tables

A view from inside- there are several communal tables, few marble topped tables and a number of seats at the bar. A glossary and menu tacked to the lampshades above each communal table adds to the rustic, swine inspired decor

The menu's eight categories- antipasti, salad, fried items, panini, cured meats, smears, cheese, a la plancha, etc.

The outstanding cheese selection is written on a circular chalkboard high above the restaurant's tables

Upon being seated, diners are immediately presented with a plate of homemade focaccia on top of olive oil

3 wonderful cheeses- quadrello di Bufala, l'amuse gouda, and pecorino noce- 3 for $17

One of our favorites- the porchetta with salsa verde panini- $9

Grilled octopus with seasonal favette, and thinly sliced celery and radishes- $9

One of the restaurant's signature dishes- pig's ear with crispy kale, pickled cherry peppers and fried egg- served in a pig shaped bowl- $6

Whipped feta with diced cucumber, olive oil and chunks of grilled bread- $6

My favorite bite- squares of fried manchego with membrillo vinaigrette- $6

Plump olive oil-poached tuna with Greek lima beans- $7

Milk braised pork shoulder with creamy mashed potatoes- $9

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Chelsea CSA: Week 3

As I entered the Hudson Guild to pick up my weekly vegetable share from the Chelsea CSA, I was met by crates brimming with bright leafy greens. Week three's share consisted of several repeats from weeks one and two in addition to a few newcomers. I walked away with two heaping bags, each filled with Chinese cabbage, garlic scapes, Bright Lights swiss chard, summer spinach, romaine lettuce, Boston lettuce, red tide lettuce, and summer savory (also known as summer thyme).

My first inclination was to head home and make a quick salad while I decided how best to tackle this week's bounty (is anyone else wondering how to make the best of all this lettuce?). I had a day-old sourdough baguette, so I cubed it and combined it with extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and some of the summer savory before baking it at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes- voilà- homemade croutons (my mediocre attempt to add a little more flavor to an otherwise standard salad).

I used three sprigs of summer savory, threw away the stems and chopped the leaves before adding it to the crouton mix

The final summer savory croutons- an incredibly easy way to add flavor and crunch to a salad

And what was I inspired to create while eating that crouton heavy salad? A second salad. Instead of using lettuce as a base, I chose barley and dressed it up by utilizing a garlic scape (my first encounter with this elusive veggie!), summer spinach, Bright Lights swiss chard, and a handful of the prior week's fresh sage. With the addition of a few other ingredients- the Barley and Feta Salad was born...

Barley and Feta Salad (yield, approx. 4 cups)
1 cup uncooked barley
3 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp thinly sliced garlic scape
1 tsp minced shallot
1 cup roughly chopped swiss chard (de-ribbed)
1 cup roughly chopped summer spinach
2 tsp sage leaves, thin chiffonade
1 tbsp fresh orange juice
2 tsp orange zest
1/2 cup Greek feta, small dice
salt and pepper, to taste
1. Place barley and chicken stock in a medium pan and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for approximately 35 minutes. Allow to cool.
2. Sweat garlic scape and shallot in olive oil, add swiss chard and summer spinach with a dash of salt and pepper and sauté until tender, approximately 5 minutes. Allow to cool.
3. Combine barley with sautéed greens and remaining ingredients. Season with salt and pepper.

I kept last week's sage fresh by storing it in a ziploc baggie with a damp paper towel wrapped around its stems

The flavor of a garlic scape is more mild than traditional garlic

Remove the colorful ribs from the swiss chard before sautéing

Bright, crisp summer spinach

The final barley and feta salad

Friday, June 18, 2010

Village Tart: Take 2

The last time I was in Village Tart was mid-January when the bakery, café and wine bar had just debuted with a limited bakery menu (the full café menu would not be available until the following week). During this first visit my friend Sarah and I sampled two different pizzetas, an outstanding Valhrona triple chocolate cookie and a runny meyer lemon tart. We chalked our terrible service (a painfully long wait accompanied by a counterperson who gave us the wrong change on two separate occasions) up to opening week jitters. The sweets we sampled, along with the promise of a café menu with more lunch-centric options, intrigued us enough to want to return a second time, and we made a mental note to do so before stepping out into the cold January air.

Nearly 5 months later, Sarah and I found ourselves back on Kenmare Street and back in Village Tart. Unfortunately, aside from an expanded menu, not much has changed. Village Tart still boasts a quiet, cozy atmosphere, is still serving decent food, and is still extremely lax in the service department. After placing our order for one side dish, one beet salad, and one 3 mushroom tart, the food arrived in just under 45 minutes. At the 30 minute mark (when my growling stomach started to turn me into something of an ogre) I made eye contact with our absent-minded waiter. He returned my helpless, hunger-filled glare with a smile and gave a quick shrug of his shoulders. He then proceeded to make his way into the café from his post behind the counter to serve other customers, but never once offered an explanation as to the whereabouts of our meal or asked to refill our drinks (drinks that were sucked dry by that point). The food was good as far as lunchtime fare goes, but not so fantastic that it excuses a 45 minute wait and poor service. Clearly, time has done nothing to rectify Village Tart's service woes. My suggestion- stop into Village Tart for Pichet Ong's inspired baked goods or skip it altogether.

The buttery baked kashi is prepared with pear, feta, ginger, and mint- $6

The candied pistachios were a great addition to the red and yellow beet salad- served with grapefruit supremes and Greek yogurt- $9

The three mushroom tart arrived with sour cream and a side of dressed arugula- $12

Our dessert- an oatmeal, ginger and cherry cookie that we purchased on the way out the door was the best part of the meal- $2 each or 3 for $5

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Chelsea CSA: Week 2

Week two of the Chelsea CSA brought a number of lettuces (red sails, red tide, buttercrunch, and solix), Chinese cabbage, button radishes, sage, and rhubarb- a vegetable that is often mistaken for a fruit. I was happy to see a repeat of the buttercrunch from week one, and interested in tasting the solix and red tide lettuces- two varieties I haven't come across before (at least not that I'm aware of). I used all four lettuces as well as the button radishes (I can't tell the difference between a week two button radish and a week one cherriette radish) to make a multigrain flatbread salad- not very inventive, but a good meal nonetheless. For dessert- I decided to fatten up the rhubarb with loads of butter and sugar, transforming it into a rhubarb triple berry crumble (recipe below). I am looking forward to testing out the garlic scapes this week- a vegetable that looks more like a curly garden snake than what I know to be garlic- but there is no mistaking that scent.

Farm-fresh salad, made with four lettuces and button radishes, over multigrain flatbread

Rhubarb Triple Berry Crumble (yield, 6 generous servings)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into cubes (plus more for baking dish)
2 cups rhubarb, cut into 1/2 in pieces
1 cup strawberries, quartered
1 cup blackberries
1 cup raspberries
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
Juice and grated zest from 1 medium orange
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Combine first six ingredients (through oats) in a medium bowl. Using your hands or a pastry cutter, add butter cubes to the oat mixture until it forms crumbly clumps.
3. Combine the remaining ingredients (rhubarb through vanilla extract) in a separate bowl, then toss into a buttered 8x8 baking dish.
4. Top the rhubarb-fruit mixture with buttery oat clumps and bake for 45 minutes.

Before adding the fattening topping

The final product- a delicious rhubarb triple berry crumble

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Big Apple Barbecue 2010

Why is it that grilling goes hand in hand with overindulging- you've taken down 2 burgers and somehow find yourself stuffing a hot dog in your mouth? My theory- grills are a hot commodity for those of us banned from having one (save for the lucky few, nearly everyone I know in Manhattan). Whenever the hard-to-come-by plate of grilled food makes an appearance it becomes a natural reaction to pack in as much as our stomachs allow.

The Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, held for eight consecutive years in Madison Square Park, is grilling, smoking, charring, and overindulging at its finest. Legendary pitmasters from all over the country gather for one weekend in June, bringing their different barbecue styles and techniques to Manhattan. My husband and I met friends late Saturday afternoon, proceeded to hit up one small section of the party, and still managed to eat more than our fair share. We told ourselves it was overindulgence for a greener New York- proceeds from the event went to the Madison Square Park Conservancy, the organization responsible for maintaining the park.

The FastPass- an essential for the Big Apple Barbecue. The holder and one guest are guaranteed exclusive access to express lines for the duration of the event

The reason we come back year after year, Ed Mitchell's The Pit

Ed Mitchell's smokers, heavy with whole hogs

Blackjack BBQ's pulled pork shoulder and coleslaw

Jim 'N Nick's Bar-B-Q sold homemade sausage with pimento cheese and saltines

Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn's barbecue mutton and burgoo

St. Louis style ribs from Pappy's Smokehouse

Wildwood Barbeque is a local favorite in Manhattan

Pulled pork shoulder and coleslaw from Ubon's Barbeque of Yazoo

This guy found himself on top of a tree with a gaggle of onlookers- possibly drunk with barbecue

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Defeated By Lavender

On Thursday afternoon Bespoke Chocolates announced the winner of its Design Your Own Signature Chocolate Contest. In the biggest upset since the "wide right" debacle (you don't have to be from Buffalo to understand the crushing defeat the Bills endured in Super Bowl XXV), the Ballpark Bonbon was beaten by the Lavender Honey Caramel Fleur de Sel Bonbon. I thought of pulling an Al Gore and demanding a recount, but I imagine a recount would be just as fruitful for me as it was for Al. While the two friends that voted in last night's competition wholeheartedly disagree, there is no denying the deliciousness of the winning bonbon.

The Lavender Honey Caramel Fleur de Sel Bonbon

Lavender and honey infused caramel oozes from inside the winning bonbon

The beer infused ganache filled Ballpark Bonbon

The bitterness of the beer is a great contrast to the sweet crunch of the honey roasted peanuts

The Creamy Halvah Pistachio Truffle

The truffle's interior