Monday, April 27, 2009

Shakshuka with bulgogi

The peppers I'd bought at the co-op some time ago were on the verge of spoiling, so I figured it was time to try my hand at making shakshuka for dinner. Previously, I'd enjoyed Kenny Shopsin's version, but it was a little too piecemeal for me (I did check with Claudia Roden and found her version closer to Kenny's than the smooth, pureed shakshuka at Miriam), and I wanted to try to make a version that was both right up my alley AND not too difficult. I couldn't decide on a recipe, so after glancing around at eight or ten, I abandoned them all and decided to wing it.

Part of this meal's goal was also to "use stuff up", so my quantities and choices were affected by what I had in the fridge. I chopped up one red and one green pepper (all of what I had; I didn't want any extra) fairly small and threw it in a pan with some olive oil to begin to soften. Then I chopped and added some leeks (again, I had a crapload of leeks left over in the fridge from yesterday, when I made a Claudia Roden leek-and-mint salad that ended up using only half of what I bought...otherwise, I'd have used onions in the shakshuka), stirred it a bit, and then added some chopped garlic. Once everything was clearly softening, I dumped in a bowl of chopped tomatoes, skin and pulp and all (again, I had four tomatoes; they were on the verge of going bad; so, four tomatoes it was) and some salt and pepper.

I let the mixture cook down, piping in a little harissa for heat, while I poked around in the fridge for an accompaniment. I had a small quantity of bulgogi I'd made last night (nothing special, and lots missing from what would be real bulgogi; basically just hangar steak with a pureed marinade of soy sauce, sugar, veg & sesame oils, garlic, ginger, etc.), so I heated that up and sliced it. It looked like the peppers and tomatoes in the shakshuka were almost completely breaking down, so I cracked in two eggs and covered it (I had no idea if this cooking method was going to work; I'd never done it before).

Within a very short time, the eggs looked perfectly cooked--still a liquid yolk, but no runny white. I scooped them into a bowl and dropped the bulgogi slices on top.

It turned out to be excellent! I hadn't really realized it, but the bulgogi was a perfect complement to the bowl of shakshuka...almost like having beef bibimbamp in a big bowl of Korean vegetables and grains, only with an Israeli base. I think it's rare that a chance combination caused by the need to use up leftovers leads to something I'd make exactly the same way again, but in this did. Great! (apologies to Israelis and Koreans)

Hua Ji pork chop shop

So, Prado was struck down by the swine flu and couldn't bring his pot roast for lunch, leaving the Finer Things Club casting about aimlessly for lunch options. I had this half-formed idea that, over the next couple of months, I would work my way completely through Hua Ji (formerly Wah Ji; here's my previous post, and here's a discussion on chowhound involving the name change)'s not-so-large menu, generally ordering things about which I had no idea what they were. Today was as good a day as any, so I trooped off and got the Young Chow Fried Rice ($4.50) and four Curry Rolls ($2).

I watched them whip up the young chow fried rice right in front of me; beating an egg and throwing it into a hot-oil-filled wok, the cook reached back and grabbed a bowl prepared by the cashier, piled with white rice, cubed ham, peas and carrots, roast pork, and little shrimp. Some quick stirring and seasoning and it was done.

Pretty decent, nothing special; certainly not gross, like so much fried rice around here at random places is. I don't think it stacks up to a delicious pork chop, preserved vegetable, and rice (which is the same price).

The curry rolls were a good appetizer, but could've come with some kind of sauce--I had to make do with a snatched packet of soy sauce. Not very spicy, just slightly...

Sympathizing with my pain at being denied pot roast, Gurian gave me half of his delicious Alleva sandwich (mozz, balsamic, soppressata, salami, I think) in exchange for half of my young chow and a curry roll (great deal for me).

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Monday, April 20, 2009

Polish Easter

Sunday morning, before church: what we always referred to as barszcz or borscht or--if you were my Dziadziu--"torpedo juice" but which probably has another, actual Polish name (although some casual Googling finds a bunch of Polish people posting things like "we call this borscht but nobody else does!" so who knows). a vinegary kielbasa broth poured over cut-up ham, kielbasa, horseradish, and hardboiled eggs (all from the aforementioned swieconka basket).

then, later, family arrives, and we have dinner: same stuff as before (kielbasa, eggs, ham) but with the addition of poppyseed bread (my mom's, the best ever, especially with some butter hewed from the butter lamb's face), green beans Polonaise (I made them; butter, bread crumbs, chopped egg, etc.), stuffed shells (my uncle John's, a little nod to the Italians), beets (again, I made them, based on a Julie Sahni Indian recipe--roasted, then glazed with mustard powder, orange juice, etc.)...excellent!

Lamb tagine

Around a month ago, I got it into my head that I wanted to try making preserved lemons, which sounded easy and delicious. Once they were done, I figured, I'd make a tagine or something.

That came to fruition on the last Saturday of spring break, as my preserved lemons were ready just as I found a reasonably priced boneless leg of lamb. (None of the local grocery stores--C-town and Tops--carry lamb, weirdly, and Marlow & Daughters had a 4-pound leg for $52 (holy shit). The cheapest option appeared to be FreshDirect, sadly, which was offering a 5.75 lb piece for $7.99/lb plus $5.79 delivery fee. Then--lo and behold--I found a great grass-fed hippy-dippy boneless leg at the Park Slope Food Co-op for $6.04/lb. Perfect!)

The preserved lemons were the easiest part. You just cut 'em into quarters almost--but not quite--all the way through, so you can spread them open like a flower, and then pack them with kosher salt. Stuff them into a Mason jar and fill it with lemon juice until the lemons are all covered. Leave it in the fridge for three days, add more lemon juice if necessary, and store it in a dark place for four weeks (flipping it once or twice during that time). When you're ready to use them, scrape out and throw away the pulp, rinse off the rinds (they grow a little white mold sometimes--no problem, just rinse it off), and cut them up. The rinds have become soft and translucent and broken-down and can be eaten like salty candy or cooked into oblivion.

I used Claudia Roden's lamb tagine recipe, basically combining three different versions: the mishmishiyya (apricot) tagine, the prunes-and-honey tagine, and the preserved-lemons-and-tomatoes tagine. I put the raw lamb chunks, onions, garlic, spices, and oil in my Dutch oven and covered them with water, cooking for around 1.5 hrs until the meat was beginning to fall apart. Then I added the preserved lemon pieces, prunes & apricots, tomatoes, etc. and finished it off with another 40 minutes to thicken the sauce, stirring in some honey at the last minute.

I'd also found some fresh fava beans at the co-op, which I'd never cooked before; after some advice from the Internet, I tossed them with olive oil and lots of kosher salt and stuck them under the broiler to blacken. Priya rounded out the meal with some Israeli couscous cooked in chicken broth with caramelized onions--something quick and delicious she could make while she worked on her thesis (due in a week!).

It ended up being a fantastic dinner, with a ton of leftovers (I ate it a few more times, froze some, and brought Toby and Yuko a couple of servings). I think the tagine could've had a thicker sauce--maybe if I had had more time I could've cooked it down more--but the flavors were just right, and this marked the first time I've cooked lamb in nearly four years, I think (I used to make lamb vindaloo all the time in Boston, but never found a satisfactory butcher here in NYC...)

After emptying out my jar of preserved lemons, I immediately put three more in, so in four weeks maybe I'll make a chicken tagine or something!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Shopsin's, part deux

After our Shopsin's trip in February (click here), Kenny Shopsin saw my blog post and posted a comment inviting us to return for an avocado shake on him. So yesterday, at the end of my spring break and during Priya's too-brief reprieve from thesis hell, we did just that.

We arrived around 11am and didn't have to wait too long for a table, tucked in the back in the miasma of Saxelby's cheese odors. After much debate, Priya eventually ordered her usual blisters on my sisters, while I selected the shakshuka. I really like the shakshuka I've had at Israeli brunch places and, a few days prior, had purchased a bunch of peppers from the co-op so I could maybe make my own, but I wanted to see Kenny's take on the dish. We also got our (free) avocado milkshake--Kenny seemed to remember instantly when I asked for it.

The avocado milkshake was a lot less sweet & green than previous avocado shakes I've had (which included sugar syrup--I think this one was made with just avocado, milk, and ice cream). I liked the not-so-sweet aspect of it, but I think Priya would have liked it sweeter.

Priya ordered the blisters "7" hot (on a scale of 1-10); last time, she'd asked for "6" and I had made some vaguely disapproving comments about it not being hot enough, so "7" was a step up. Surprisingly, it was barely spicy at all--definitely much less so than the "6" last time. It was still great, but would have been markedly improved with more chiles.

My shakshuka was totally different from what I'd expected. When I think shakshuka, I think of a red puddle of roasted/pureed tomato and pepper sauce; floating in the sauce are baked/poached eggs. Shopsin's variant is much simpler: two sunny-side-up fried eggs on a bed of fried onions, peppers, tomato, and zucchini, with some pita on the side. I was a little put off by the fact that it was $15 for basically fried peppers and fried eggs, but it grew on me as I ate it--delicious, perfectly caramelized onions/peppers that created a brown, highly flavored scum on the bottom of the skillet that was great sopping material for the pita pieces. I don't quite think "shakshuka" when I think about the meal, but I do think it was very good.

As usual, the goings-on around us were at least as interesting as the food. Some mild-looking thirtyish white dude was sitting at the next table, photographing the menu, with what appeared to be his mother and his little (eight- or nine-year-old?) brother with him; clearly he lived in the city and they were down for a visit and he'd dragged them to "this great place I know...", and the mom was looking kind of shocked at the loud cursing coming out of the kitchen until Kenny's son was thoughtful enough to shut the door.

Also, some kind of doofy guys sitting at the counter made some painfully obvious attempts to draw Kenny into conversation ("So, we were talking about this friend of ours who did XYZ... what do you think?" "I think it's a mistake for you to be asking me what I think.") which eventually did bear fruit; they somehow steered the conversation onto the topic of parents and sex, and Kenny had a lot to say about that and how he and his wife had been very open, culminating in the memorable line "My kids would ride on my back while we fucked!"

I can't wait 'til summer break when we can hit Shopsin's at off-times during the week again.

This week's New Yorker on Walter Foods...

...totally agrees with me & Priya:

"The fried chicken, served with an addictive honey-chile dipping sauce, was too dark—“truculent, not succulent,” said one diner..."

New Yorker writeup

My post

Perhaps Sadie should email the New Yorker with her theory of never-changed frying oil.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Every year, on the morning of Holy Saturday (the day before Easter), we go to St. Stanislaus for the swięconka tradition of "blessing of the baskets." I think this is more Polonian than Polish, but it involves making a basket with representative amounts of the Easter foods we're going to eat the next day (kielbasa, hard-boiled eggs, ham, poppyseed bread, horseradish, mustard, salt and pepper, a butter lamb, etc.) and bringing it to the church to be blessed.

After a few quick prayers, the priest opens the floor to blessing, and hundreds of old Polish ladies begin to push and shove to get to the front (this year, my mother and sister and I were among the first people, sitting in the third row, and we were probably the thirtieth to get our baskets blessed--to give you an idea of how vicious the Slavic shoving is). The baskets/platters are generally covered with plastic wrap, and as the priest starts sprinkling holy water on them, the old Polish ladies start ripping off the plastic wrap. "Ladies, ladies," the priest cautions. "If Jesus can pass through closed doors, He can pass through Saran wrap." His words are in vain, however, because the old Polish ladies know better. Every year, the combination of the shoving and the Saran wrap removal causes one old lady to drop her basket and scatter her entire Easter meal across the floor. (In recent years, my mother has begun to remove the Saran wrap as well, a side of her impending old-Polish-lady-ification).

Peter Pan and Polish bakeries

Heading to CT for Easter, my mom asked me to cruise Greenpoint for some Polish baked goods--babka, rye bread, etc. Priya and I took the opportunity to stroll around the neighborhood and ogle the long lines of kielbasa-buyers and the like, and to use the walk as an excuse to go to Peter Pan for breakfast. We'd heard that the egg sandwiches there were amazing, and I'd wanted to try them out for a while.

Egg sandwiches are one of my favorite breakfast items ever, but I never really have a good one here in NYC unless I make it myself. Firstly, bodega egg sandwiches always use orange American cheese. I understand, but when I make 'em myself I use the sharpest, whitest cheddar I have on hand. Secondly--and far more critically--bodegas beat their eggs and then fry them into, basically, a little omelette. I like the eggs to be fried over easy, so when you bite the sandwich, the yolk bursts and soaks the bread and forms a kind of condiment, like yellow ketchup or something. Again, I understand--most people buying egg sandwiches from bodegas are eating them on the go, and don't want drippy egg all over themselves on the train. But it's always a minor disappointment for me...

After a few minutes of trying to get the attention of the counterpeople, we ordered two egg-and-cheese sandwiches, a coffee and an OJ, and a couple of doughnuts (a "marble cruller"--not really a cruller, as far as we could tell, but a cakey donut stick--and a French cruller) . We noticed a family full of kids a few stools over who were splitting an egg sandwich and doughnut four ways. We soon understood why when our sandwiches came--they were gigantic. We couldn't figure out if they were three-egg sandwiches or not, but there's a pretty good chance they were.

Each sandwich had two slices of orange American cheese (oh well), but otherwise were very, very good. The eggs were pale and fluffy--probably cooked with milk?--not the "almost burnt" rubbery things I've gotten at every bodega ever. The rolls were also very good, freshly baked and noticeably different from the stock bulkies most places have. And the total, for two sandwiches two donuts two drinks? $11, less than we'd spend for a single entree at Brooklyn Label brunch or something else. Very nice.

I returned home with a babka from Rzeszowska (missed the amazing-looking cheese as the Polish ladies in line ahead of me beat me to 'em, but got a regular) and a full belly.

PACE Food Swap Day Five: Prado's Mexican meal

So, Lauren began calling us the "finer things club" after, apparently, an episode of the Office. (Evidently Wooh's fancypants meal was too much for the others, especially when we began talking about how we wished we had some cornichons to go with the piave). Apparently there had also been some rumblings from non-members, who wanted us to throw Prado out so they could join (since we refused to expand it beyond five people). So a lot was riding on Prado's meal.

Drawing on his Texan roots, Prado made carne asada and chicken tacos with homemade guacamole and pico de gallo. He marinated the steak all day in something that had a lot of lime in it--chiles, cumin, a little oil...?--and did something complicating with the chicken that involved boiling it before grilling and seasoning it (he said that it improved the texture).

Unfortunately for the non-members, Prado's Mexican food was a hit. It was easy to reheat, immensely satisfying, delicious-tasting, and encouraged everyone who walked by to stare greedily or even reach in for some guacamole. Definitely a great way to round out the food swap cycle.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Leeks and the like

I got a big bunch of leeks at the co-op and used the opportunity to make another dish from Claudia Roden's Middle Eastern cookbook. It was very simple, involving little more than leeks and sugar and garlic, browned in oil and then simmered until tender in water. Inspired maybe by the Sichuan leeks I've had recently, I didn't throw away the greens (only the toughest parts) and chopped them right up with the whites. Pretty good, ultimately! They'd be a great addition to a soup, too...

I also made a quick salad of endive, avocado, roasted golden beet, and goat cheese, with a balsamic viniagrette for dressing.

Endives et al

I wanted to roast my last endive; it's always weird to me that something that is basically roasted lettuce tastes good (and it does). I used oregano, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar and stuck it in the broiler until it browned on top.

Meanwhile I fried some pierogis in butter (cheese, of course; none of those potato and cheese peasant pierogis!) and then browned a vegetarian kielbasa to eat on rye bread with Kosciusko mustard.

another really fast/easy meal that was very delicious.