Blog, Interrupted

Post hurricane and holidays, I’m back in the blogging saddle.

After I ruefully detailed the collateral damage from Hurricane Sandy, a fellow electricity-deprived downtowner and friend of mine wittily retorted, “Better to toss your tartlets than to toss your cookies!” I needed that laugh. In late October, I had grand plans for new blog posts about brunch-ifying some favorite comfort foods to serve at what would have been my 14th annual fall-back brunch, and I’d spent a marathon week prepping and freezing 450 mini pot pies and mini tartlets to serve 50 friends at fall-back on November 4.

When the lights flickered off late that Monday night, my thoughts immediately turned to my perishable handiwork in the freezer. One electricity-less night morphed into five days spent plotting how and where to pilfer electricity to charge devices, eek out a cellphone signal, and eat a hot meal or two in our new, post-Sandy civilization where electricity reigned above W. 27 street. Once reality set in—that I’d have to cancel fall-back and toss my tartlets—I was too demoralized to write up my copious recipe-testing notes, even though writing is a form of satisfaction and productivity that’s hurricane proof and electricity independent.

I’ll never know if they tasted as good as they looked.

mini vegetable pot pies

assembling mini vegetable pot pies

mini vegetable pot pies assembly

a tiny dab of sauce tops the vegetables

Kate preparing chicken pot pies for the 2012 Fall Back Brunch.

Pre-Sandy, the menu I’d planned was just the kind of cooking-marathon and logistical challenge I can’t seem to get enough of. Through a post-Sandy lens, however, it seems a lot more frivolous to suggest that anyone else invest such time to make these pot pies so I never did write up the recipe. And by now, those notes look indecipherable. If I ever have a change of heart and get around to retesting it and writing it up, I’ll be sure to post it.

Recharged for 2013 and in the resolution spirit, I’ve come up with an eclectic list, in no particular order, of 13 foods I’ve never made before but plan to this year:

  1. croissants ( A brazen choice, given the fact that I live down the street and 5 minutes away from Balthazar and Ceci Cela, home of arguably the best croissant in the city
  2. bi bim bop (my favorite Korean dish)
  3. Ding Dongs (my favorite childhood snack)
  4. French bread
  5. fried chicken
  6. sushi
  7. bread and butter pickles (I’d love to recreate my favorite ones from the farmstand in Reading, Vermont)
  8. Thomas Keller’s chicken and dumplings recipe (the reason I bought his Ad Hoc cookbook, humorously reviewed here:
  9. bouillabaisse (Pearl Oyster Bar’s divine broth sets a high bar for this dish.)
  10. pad thai (A lot of NYC restaurants put ketchup in their pad thai – why not learn to make it authentically?)
  11. Yorkshire pudding (a great excuse to throw a “Downton Abbey” viewing party)
  12. butterscotch pudding
  13. macarons

My first 2013 home-cooked meal met none of these goals but honored my alma mater, The University of Wisconsin-Madison, as the Badgers made their third consecutive appearance in The Rose Bowl: beer-braised and broiled brats topped with slaw on a homemade pretzel bun slathered with homemade sweet German mustard. Thanks to my September bagel-making phase, I had non-diastatic malt powder on hand to pinch hit for food-grade lye, which requires wearing gloves to handle safely. I drew the authenticity line there, and it seemed to do the trick, producing a shiny, golden, pretzel crust.

beer-braised and broiled brat in pretzel bun slathered with homemade sweet German mustard

I don’t recall the brats at the Wisconsin Union being garnished and served with the same flair (mostly I remember the mushy Wonder bread-like bun, back in the good old days when there was no such thing as “gluten free” in everyday vernacular and you could eat those kinds of buns without a whit of guilt), but I sure felt nostalgic as I ate my fancy schmancy SoHo version and new year’s good-luck black eyed peas and watched my team fight valiantly but lose.

Happy New Year!

When Life Hands You Avocados, Make Guacamole

Reliably ripe but firm avocados are hard to find here in local SoHo supermarkets. All too often, what starts out promising to the touch in the store ends in overripe, blackened, unusable disappointment in my kitchen.

So I was more than a little skeptical after I got a little click-happy and threw the “ripe now” avocados, sold in pairs, into the mix of my Fresh Direct order, which I usually restrict to household staples that are especially awkward, heavy, or difficult to carry through the streets of SoHo while navigating lollygagging tourists.

Many satisfactory avocados later, I’m a regular customer. Fresh Direct can be quirky though; sometimes it’ll throw in a suggested substitute when the requested inventory is unavailable. Other times, there are surprises for no apparent reason: last Friday, in place of lemonade, I received beets, snow peas, and an extra pair of avocados. Hours later, the doorbell rang: it was Fresh Direct again, delivering the missing lemonade and more avocados. It was as if the service knew we had a houseguest, a California transplant and avocado aficionado with whom to share our bounty.

I couldn’t figure out how to incorporate beets and snowpeas together—let alone with our unexpected avocado bonanza—but here’s what I made:

Avocado, Orange, and Grapefruit Salad

Diced avocado,
Grapefruit and orange sections,
Watercress? Your choice.

Smattering of chives,
Splash honey mustard dressing,
Sprinkle with pine nuts.

Grapefruit, Orange and Avocado SaladGuacamole

Leftover guacamole can be stored in an airtight food container for a day or two in the fridge. To minimize browning caused by oxidation, keep the pits in the mixture and smooth the entire surface area with plastic wrap before storing.

Yield: about 4 cups

3 ripe avocados
2 jalapeños, ribbed, seeded and finely minced (about 3 tablespoons)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced
½ Vidalia onion, diced (about 1 cup)
1 – 1½ tablespoons lime juice, from 2 limes
1 large heirloom tomato, diced (about 2 cups)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Split each avocado, tracing around the pit with the knife. Twist apart the halves with your hands, reserving the pits. Into a medium bowl, scoop out the flesh with a spoon, reserving the pits. Mash the avocado flesh with a fork, leaving it somewhat chunky. Mix in jalapeños, cilantro, Vidalia onion, and tomatoes. Gradually add the lime juice, salt and pepper to taste.

uacamole Ingredients: Cilantro, Tomato, Jalapeno, Avocado

Guacamole

A Date to Remember

Of all my possessions, my standalone box freezer prompts the most curiosity from guests because its glaring attributes—unattractiveness and girth—defy New York apartment-dwelling and decorating logic. A suburban luxury that aids and abets my cooking habits, it’s roomy enough to store nonessentials like two homemade batches of red-wine ice cream (one to gift and one to keep); it’s also the place I squirrel away my mail-order pecans from Georgia.

That’s quirky, to be sure, but I almost always substitute walnuts with pecans when baking. Freezing pecans maintains their freshness (the high oil content makes them susceptible to becoming rancid in heat and humidity.) And, unlike the chain grocery store pieces who’ve seen better days, these are perfect, whole, meaty specimens.

They pair perfectly with dried Medjool dates, which I’d bought, forgotten about, and needed to use up. Pecan-stuffed dates are a staple of my mom’s Christmas cookie platter, but the other day I conjured up a variation and headed to my local cheesemonger for a petite wheel of Brillat-Savarin, a pasteurized cow’s milk triple crème brie that was a popular standout at our wine-and-cheese party in May.

Back in the kitchen, I whipped up a haiku:

Sweet, crunchy, creamy:

pitted dates stuffed with pecans

and triple crème brie.

I’ve never met a brie or a camembert I didn’t like; feel free to experiment with melt-in-your-mouth varietals that are readily available near you.

These are great as a snack or alongside a green salad for lunch, a first course or light dinner. Keep dates and pecans on hand, and serve Mom’s original version to impromptu guests or my triple-crème embellishment on planned occasions and as party hors d’oeuvre.