Archive for November, 2009

Photo by Rachel Clift

On Sunday, Sweet Joy and I made the slow G-train journey to Greenpoint, Brooklyn to check out this crazy 6,000 square foot organic rooftop farm that loads of people have been raving about.  Unlike the photo above, Sunday was the farm’s swansong….a few stalks of chard and kale clung to soil and the very last baby beets and carrots had been tugged and were offered up for visitors’ Thanksgiving feasts. Yet, despite the fact that it’s the end of the growing the season and we’re all looking down the barrel of long, cold winter, the farm was buzzing…and for good reason.

The farm’s gotten a lot of press in past several months, and I don’t want to belabor the point, so here are few interesting facts: the farm is located on the roof of an industrial warehouse on Eagle Street in Greenpoint. It’s the brainchild of Ben Flanner who connected with Broadway Stages, a production company that wanted a green roof on one of its warehouses in Brooklyn.  Broadway Stages footed the billed to prepare the roof for planting and agreed to let Ben grow food on it.  Ben and his partner, Annie Novak (check her out on the Huffington Post’s Hottest Organic Farmers slide show), did the planting and were able to keep all of the profits from their organic vegetables (sweet!). They sold the produce to local restaurants and other community organizations, but only to very local ones because everything was transported by bike (rad!). They also operated a farm stand on some weekends during the growing season (check out the photo below). I chatted with Annie briefly the other day and she told me told me the farm was really a community effort and none of it would be possible without all the volunteers who offer free farm labor. I immediately signed up to volunteer next summer and look forward to working on my tan while taking in some of the best views in the city.

Urban Farmer Annie Novak. Photo by Rachel Clift

Produce for sale at the rooftop farm. Photo by Rachel Clift

After leaving the Rooftop Farm, Sweet and I had a quick cup of coffee at the über-hipstery Greenpoint Coffeehouse and hopped the train to Bushwick to meet the rest of the gals at Roberta’s for our monthly ladies’ brunch.  Roberta’s has quickly become one of New York’s storied “pilgrimage” pizza joints – a place people travel from far and wide to savor. As much as I adore pizza (and it is delicious) I was more interested in seeing the elevated garden sponsored by none other than Alice Waters and the studio in the back garden that hosts the Heritage Radio Network, which programs shows about urban foragers and first-time farmers, like Annie and Ben. Like I said, the pizza was delicious, particularly the Beastmaster (berkshire pork sausage, capers, jalapeño and just a touch of blue cheese), but the fried chicken and homemade biscuit won best of show.  Definitely worth the trip.

Elevated garden at Roberta's in Bushwick. Photo by Aimee Quick

Photo by Aimee Quick

Pizza oven imported from Italy. Photo by Miss Quick


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I was fortunate enough to attend PopTech in Camden, Maine last October (2008), an annual conference that brings together an amazing array of leaders, thinkers, and doers from all walks of life. This year’s theme was “America Reimagined” – where presenters took a hard look at the  forces are reshaping the idea of America, its government’s contract with its citizens, its brand, and its role in the world.

Below are two videos worth watching (I dare say that all PopTech videos are worth watching).  The first is Michael Pollan, author of one of my favorite books and the subject of a recent PBS documentary, The Botany of Desire, a Plant’s-Eye View of the World, along with others well-known titles like  In Defense of Food and the Omnivore’s Dilemma. In the word’s of PopTech’s curator, Andrew Zolli, “Michael Pollan has changed, fundamentally, the way many of us understand what we eat, how it’s made, how it gets to us.”

Will Allen, former Procter and Gamble exec turned urban farming innovator, is the founder of Growing Power, a non-profit whose mission is to bring healthy, high quality, safe and affordable food to urban “food deserts”. What’s truly amazing about Allen is the virtuous circle he’s created with his farm on just two acres of land on Milwaukee’s northwest side, less than half a mile from the city’s largest public-housing project. The farm not only feeds 10,000 residents, but it employs loads of people from the neighborhood,  trains farmers in intensive polyculture techniques, and converts millions of pounds of food waste into a nutrient rich soil that can be circulated back to the farm.

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Wednesday is one of my favorite days of the week because I get to read the Dining section of the paper on the subway to work.  Today’s edition included Mark Bittman’s 101 Things to Prepare Before the Turkey Goes in the Oven….all super-easy and interesting, but the big plus is they can be prepared early and served at room temp, so you can get your turkey/turducken/tofurkey in the oven and chillax til dinner time.

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I’m married to an Englishman who introduced me to the lovely British tradition of the Sunday Roast, an early Sunday dinner/ late lunch consisting of roasted meat, potatoes and a veg.  It’s obviously not an entirely foreign concept to those of us on this side of the pond, but I think the idea of it stirs up some nostalgia for the bustling Sunday dinners I used to enjoy at either of my grandmothers’ homes when I was a kid. Plus, a simple roast is just the kind of comfort food you yearn for on a dreary winter Sunday.

Around these parts, 5:30pm is a perfectly respectable time for a late lunch.  My constant cooking co-conspirator, Sweet Joy, arrived with her S.U.V–sized stroller loaded up with her share of the groceries and her adorable baby girl. The little one was quickly passed off to the menfolk so we could get down to the business at hand.  Although life can get a little hectic, we aim to cook a hearty weekend meal together about once a month.

By way of background, Sweet Joy and I have a deep and abiding friendship that survived the ravages of a psychotic ex-best friend, among myriad other life struggles.  But, you’d hardly know it to listen to us. Most of our conversations have a singular, one-dimensional focus on food – what we ate and where, what we cooked, what we want to cook and what we should cook together. I think we both take great comfort in that fact that we can openly voice our single-mindedness without fear of judgment.

But I digress….Here is the menu for Sunday afternoon’s feast:

Chanterelle Mushroom Crostini


Beef Brisket with Apricots and Caramelized Onions

Truffled Mashed Potatoes

Brussel Sprouts with Pancetta and Dried Cranberries


Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

Since there was a bit of nip in the air, Sweet picked up some Ronnybrook Farm eggnog (hands-down the best available in the area) and I whipped up a quick batch of spiced rum and eggnog (personally, I had a gin martini – rum and eggnog  isn’t a cocktail in my book) to accompany the crostini.  It’s nearing the end of chanterelle season and the food co-op sells them for the bargain basement price of $8 a pound, which is a steal compared to the upscale rip-off markets who sell them for $45 – scandalous!  I’ll use chanterelles in just about anything that calls for mushrooms (pasta, risotto, in pan sauces for chicken, fish or beef), but Sweet, on the advice of her Swedish father-in-law, simply sautés them butter and spoons them toast – which is really the best way to enjoy them since the flavor is quite delicate.  We gilded the lily and cooked them in truffle butter and mounded the mushrooms on toasted baguette slices with some flaky sea salt.  If you can’t get your hands on cheap chanterelles, you can substitute any mushroom, really, and sauté in truffle butter or, alternatively, top with truffle oil, if you want to be all fancypants.


Chanterelle Mushroom Crostini

I prepared the beef brisket and the crème brûlée earlier in the day, since the brisket needed to cook for about 3 hours or so (scroll down for the recipes).  Sweet made mashed potatoes with egregious amounts of heavy cream, whole milk, truffle butter and truffle oil.  For the brussel sprouts, she used a recipe that was demonstrated in her own kitchen by none other than Marcus Samuelsson.  For real.  It’s pretty simple: sauté about  ⅓ of a pound of pancetta in a large skillet until it’s just beginning to brown, add cleaned and sliced brussel sprouts (about pound), the flat, cut side facing down,  ⅓ cup of dried cranberries and long pour of chicken or vegetable stock.  Cook the sprouts over medium heat until they begin to brown on the bottom and stir occasionally until they are tender to your liking, adding more broth so the pan does not dry out.  Finish with a few tablespoons of honey and just a bit of sherry vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste.


Dinner was served family style and we ate well beyond our capacity.  My husband spilled an entire mug full of syrupy gravy that I carefully coaxed out of the beef as it was cooking and nearly ruined our ill-placed white rug (thanks, oxy-clean!!).  Once I regained my composure over the loss of my precious gravy and, possibly, my rug – so sorry for getting pissy, sweetheart! – we set our sights on tucking into the pumpkin crème brûlée.


Brisket with apricots and caramelized onions, truffled mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts with pancetta and dried cranberries

Beef Brisket with Apricots and Caramelized Onions

1-4lb beef brisket
2 red onions, sliced
1 jar of good apricot jam
½ cup sliced, dried apricots
½ cup sun dried tomatoes (not reconstituted)
½ cup red wine, plus possibly extra for basting
½ cup chicken broth, plus possibly extra for basting
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper
**If you want to do it up old skool granny-style, you can add in a package of Lipton onion soup mix , but be sure to moderate the salt you use in the rest of the recipe

Preheat oven to 325°.

In a skillet, caramelize the onions in bit of butter until brown and very soft, adding salt and pepper to taste.  Remove the onions, set them aside. Generously salt and pepper the brisket and quickly sear both sides of the brisket in the same skillet you used for the onions. Place the brisket, fat side up, in a heavy roasting pan and spread a thick layer of apricot jam over the top.  Top the brisket with the caramelized onions, sun dried tomatoes and dried apricots (sprinkle the soup mix, if you used it) and drizzle with vinegar.  Pour both the wine and the chicken broth into the bottom of the roasting pan and cover it tightly with heavy duty aluminum foil.

Place the brisket in the oven.  After about two hours, baste the brisket and check the liquid in the pan.  If it’s getting dark and syrupy, ladle some out and reserve in a bowl for serving, leaving some in the pan for basting and for continued braising. Add equal parts of wine and chicken broth, if necessary, to maintain the liquid in the pan. After the third hour, check to see if the brisket is tender by cutting into it.  If not continue cooking, checking every half hour to see if it is done so as not to overcook.

Allow the brisket to rest about 15 minutes on a plate before slicing against the grain. Add some of the sauce from the pan to reserved sauce, if you have it, and warm it for serving.  Do not spill on your sample sale white rug from Dwell that you stupidly placed beneath your table.

Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

½ cup plus 6 teaspoons sugar
6 large egg yolks
1 large egg
2 cups whipping cream
⅔ cup whole milk
⅛ teaspoon cinnamon
2 pinches nutmeg
1 pinch ginger
1 pinch ground cloves
1 vanilla bean
½   cup pumpkin purée

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place six 3/4-cup custard cups or ramekins in large roasting pan. Whisk 1/2 cup sugar, egg yolks and whole egg in large bowl to blend. Combine cream, milk, spices and vanilla bean in a pot.  Bring to boil. Pull out vanilla bean, slice it open and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds to the cream mixture and whisk to distribute. Slowly and carefully whisk cream mixture into yolk mixture. Add the pumpkin purée. Pour custard into cups, dividing equally.

Pour enough hot water into roasting pan to come halfway up sides of cups. Bake until custards are just set in center, about 35 minutes. Remove from water. Cool; can be chill overnight.

Preheat broiler. Arrange custard cups on baking sheet. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon sugar evenly over each. Broil until sugar browns, rotating baking sheet for even browning and watching very closely, about 2 minutes. Chill custards at least 1 hour before serving.  Obviously, you can use a kitchen torch, which is loads more fun and easier to control.  It’s definitely on my gadget wish-list.

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The pretty lady you see pictured here is Megan. Isn’t she marvelous? Megan’s been threatening for some time to move back to the west coast, or at least to a friendlier climate (which, if I’m to be honest, is perfectly reasonable). When she recently returned to New York after an extended trip abroad I thought it would only be sensible to welcome her home (read: entice her to stay and suffer through the long winter with me) with one her favorite dishes – Chiles en Nogada – and 12 of her favorite friends from the neighborhood.  I had never made the dish before, but I’m a huge fan of all things Mexican, so I thought I’d give it a try. My friends Jorge and Daniel made a big pot of rice and beans with fresh salsa and I made a salad of mesclun greens, roasted butternut squash, pumpkin seeds, queso fresco and a tangy cumin-honey vinaigrette. Nick whipped up some jalapeño corn bread and DIY chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream for dessert. As I’m sure you can imagine, a fine meal was had by all.

**I have to thank Megan’s friend Jacques for the post title.  Apparently, when he saw the above photo of Megan he commented that the dish looked like “fairy poop on a leaf”.  I assure you that, despite appearances, it’s quite delicious, if I do say so myself. The piccadillo filling is rich, smooth and has just enough sweetness to cut the slight heat of the poblano.  It’s a perfect early fall dish on a chilly night, since the fruits are all at their peak, but I could certainly eat it any time of the year.

Chiles en Nogada (Chiles in Walnut Sauce)

Walnut Sauce
1 cup (3 oz.) walnut halves
1 1/2 cups (12 fl. oz.) milk
1 cup (8 fl. oz.) Mexican crema or crème frâiche
6 oz. queso fresco or mild feta cheese
2 tbsp sugar
pinch salt
Place the walnuts in a small heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Let stand for 5 minutes, then drain and cover with the milk. Let soak for 12 hours or over night (I didn’t refrigerate it, but if the weather is very hot, you should).

Drain the walnuts and reserve the milk and place in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients, along with 1/2 cup of the reserved milk and purée with a hand blender until smooth (you can also transfer all the ingredients to a standard blender). It should be thick, but still thin enough to pour. Add more milk if necessary. Taste and adjust the salt.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature until you are ready to use it.  Note: I made the sauce after I finished roasting the pork as I didn’t want to leave it on the counter unrefrigerated for more than a couple of hours.

Pork  (Piccadillo) Filling
1 1/2 lbs. pork shoulder (a/k/a pork butt)
½ cup apple cider
1 large white onion, divided: half cut into 4 chunks, half finely chopped (set aside)
5 cloves garlic: 3 smashed, 2 minced (set aside)
1 bay leaf
10 black peppercorns
2 whole cloves
salt and pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
the chopped onion and minced garlic previously set aside
2 cups ripe tomatoes, peeled, cored, and finely chopped
1 firm, tart apple, peeled, cored, and finely chopped
1 ripe Bosc pear, peeled, cored, and finely chopped
1/3 cup dried peach, chopped
1/3 cup seedless raisins
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch ground cloves

Preheat oven to 325°. Rub the pork shoulder with salt and pepper and place in a dutch oven or other ovenproof dish with a cover.  Pour in the cider and add onions, garlic and spices. Cover and roast the pork for approximately 2 hours or until it’s tender enough to shred with a fork. Remove the pork to a plate or bowl to cool, then strain the cooking liquid and reserve about 1/2 cup of it. When the pork is cool enough to handle, shred it.

In a large (12″) skillet, heat the oil over medium heat, then sauté the onion and garlic until translucent but not browned. Raise the heat to medium-high, add the tomatoes, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the remaining ingredients – except for the pork – and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the pork and reserved stock and stir to blend, then reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for about 10 minutes – until the fruit is softened and the mixture has thickened.

Peppers and Garnish
6 large fresh poblano peppers (no other pepper will do)
1 fresh pomegranate
1 small bunch cilantro, washed to remove any dirt or sand and dried well

Carefully blacken the skin of the peppers without charring the flesh, then set aside in a bowl and cover with a plate. Allow them to cool for about 20 minutes in a bowl covered with plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and then carefully rub off the skins. Slit each pepper lengthwise on one side, and then carefully remove the seeds and membrane. Pat the peppers dry with a paper towel, wiping away any charred skin if it bothers you. Set aside.

Cut the pomegranate in half around its equator. Using your fingers carefully separate the seeds from the membrane and reserve the seeds in a bowl.

Finely chop the cilantro and set aside in a bowl.

Final Assembly

Preheat oven to 325°.  Generously stuff the poblanos with the piccadillo filling and place in a roasting pan.  When all chilies are all stuffed, warm in the oven for 15 – 20 minuets until hot enough for serving.

Gently warm the sauce over very low heat.  If the sauce has thickened, add a little more milk.

Ladle sauce over each pepper so that it is completely coated and there is a circular pool surrounding it. Scatter a tablespoon each of pomegranate seeds and chopped cilantro over each plate.

Serves 6. I easily doubled recipe to serve 12. Note: The walnut sauce and the piccadillo filling can be made the night before.  Take the pork out the refrigerator about 5 hours before you plan to assemble the chiles to allow it to come to room temperature.

This recipe is adapted from A Cooking Life, a favorite blog of mine. I only wish she posted more frequently. Photo by Daniel Pérez.

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