Double Dip

PhilippeLosAngelesFrenchDipI love a good origin story, the confluence of events leading to the creating of something great. Some uppity American ladies visiting south of the border have a hankering for a midnight snack, a Tijuana barkeep tosses whatever old tortillas he has with some canned jalapenos, the ladies swoon, Nachos are born. The Earl of Sandwich wants something he can hold in one hand to chow down on whilst playing poker, the rest is history. In a pinch, Caesar Cardini uses the dregs of his larder (egg yolks? parmesean? anchovies?) to quick dress a salad, and voilà. It all seems a matter of luck, happenstance, and, generally, a deep hunger. Which, when adventuring, is sort of how I roll- letting fate call the shots, getting really hungry in the process. How fortuitous, then, that TWO different places in Los Angeles both claim to have invented the French Dip Sandwich. Forget Grauman’s Chinese Theater, this is the kind of thing I want to do in LA. ColesLosAngelesFrenchDipPhilippe’s (which looks just like Katz’s inside) claims that their pre-jused buns were accidentally dipped first when Philippe himself (slippery Frenchman) butterfingered a roast beef sandwich into a pan of meat drippings. Cole’s (which looks just like Milk & Honey inside*) claims that the sandwich was invented in 1908 by a sympathetic chef for a customer (une Frenchy?) who was complaining of sore gums. Philippe’s comes wet with juice, Cole’s comes with a side of dip. Philippe’s has briny deli-style pickles, Cole’s has shoestring fries. Phillipe’s has beers, Cole’s has impeccable whiskey cocktails. Both have an incredible (and incredibly horseradishly spicy) mustard. We ate both. We came, we dipped, we conquered. It would be wholly impossible to pick a favorite, and, in the rarified world of archetypal sandwiches, why should you have to?

*ed. note: light googling actually informs me that the new Cole’s cocktail menu is created by Milk & Honey’s Sasha Petraske, so- boom.

Oysters

OysterFaceThis is what it looks like when you’ve just eaten a raw oyster from your home waters. Very, very good. Growing up in the Virginia lowlands, of water stock, I actually never really understood the sense of place in an oyster. They just tasted like oysters. It wasn’t until I was long out of Virginia, a New York veteran of a few years, meeting McKay and Cakes at Marlow for one of those hours long dinners that meeting those girls at that place requires, that I saw a James River oyster on the menu and ordered it. Oh man. Just the taste of that dusky brine and I was immediately transported to summers on the Mobjack bay, wearing white rubber watermen’s boots and traversing the mudflats like they were my kingdom. Tidewater, in an instant, a taste. I bet the old salts around the bar in Montauk feel the same way about their super saline Long Island Blue Points, but the fact is they’re the exact same oyster species as my fat and sweet-salty Virginia half-shell, they’re just tempered differently by the water they’re in. Per usual, a parable. OysterBagBack in Virginia, for my big birthday, I was lucky enough to have two bushels brought to me directly from the coast, just a little over 400 oysters. The plan was to roast most and shuck some. Lucky for me, my dear friend Rob came straight from the banks of the York river bearing his oyster knife, super shucking skills, and intimate knowledge of the oyster crab. OysterCrabThe little yellow-orange jewel here is a tiny soft-shelled crab, a lady, who is symbiotic with the Virginia oyster. They are friends, and are only found in the best and healthiest oyster beds. The New York Times wrote two separate articles in the early 1900’s on the little buggers- here and here. The Times suggests frying them or covering them with a mayonnaise lightly colored pink with beet juice, but Rob told me to just eat it raw. Incredible. It was the first one I ever found, and I felt so lucky to have had it in Virginia, on my birthday.

List Lust

 

How brilliant is this: whenever my dear friend Kitty has a dinner party or an impromptu brunch or (in our case) a weekend-long carnivale of kitchen-and-wine goodness, she writes the occasion and the what-we-will-eat on a plain card, dates the back, and hangs it on a little hook for reference. Whenever the feast is over, she adds the card to the little stack of its brethren. Reference as a useful tool for the future, Good Meals as events of import worthy of record. As someone who loves list making and food making, ephemera saving, AND hanging-pot-open-shelving-situations, I think this might just be something I need to start doing.

In Love and Pizza

New York is a pizza town. Allegiances run deep… One of Sweetheart’s high school friends once broke up with a girl because she ate her pizza with a fork. There’s the ancient Neapolitan battlegrounds (Lombardi’s, Grimaldi’s, Difara’s), Staten Island’s best-pizzas-you’ve-never-had (Denino’s, Goodfellas, Salvatore’s of Soho), the hipsters (Roberta’s, Paulie Gee’s, Speedy Romeo), the best sicilian/place to take a southerner on a date (L&B Spumoni Gardens), the local slice (Rays ad infinitum, in our neighborhood “Not Ray’s”)… With all of these rarified pies, harkening back to ancient traditions, earth vs. brick ovens, coal vs. wood burning, cheese vs. sauce, the consideration of pizzaiolo-as-master-craftsman, it would seem as though pizza might simply be one of those things beyond the scope of the humble home cook, off limits to one possessing nothing fancier than a standard electric coil oven and a pizza stone. To this, I say: fuhgeddaboudit.This weekend at the Kitchen Garden Cooking School‘s Pizza Making Class we proved ourselves capable of transcending pizza barriers. Like most wonderful things, it was truly simple. The Dough: a riff on the fabulous No-Knead dough that turns out such incredible boules, the sauces: simple classic tomato, creamy funky caramelized onion, sweet pungent red pepper, the cheeses: burrata, gouda, gruyere, chevre, fontina, taleggio, parmesean, the toppings: tomatoes, basil, garlic infused oil, roasted garlic, caramelized onions, red onions, ginger, lemon, sumac, artichoke hearts, olives, and pine nuts.

We each floured, tossed, topped, peeled, baked, and devoured our own tiny, perfect pies, and it was revelatory. An ancient skill for the ages to add to the home cook arsenal: food grower, fermenter, jam maker, bread baker, pizzaiola, and the time-spent-with-good-friends factor that is absolutely necessary for successful kitchen endeavors.

 

ps. This was the second Kitchen Garden Cooking class my mama and our dear town mouse friends have taken, if you find yourself in gorgeous Upper Black Eddy, PA, I highly recommend the classes. Check out the blog here.

A-pizza!

It’s been a pretty big week for pizza (when is it not a big week for pizza?): we went to Grimaldi’s new location in an unspoken celebration of Ann Marie’s return to the East Coast, and today I’m leaving to meet my Mama to take a pizza making class as part of her ongoing JUBILEE celebration. We’ll stay with our town mouse friends, have much wine and lots of food, and generally make merry in the best of ways. On a related note, did you know that a standard baking stone is, like, $30? I’ve been under the illusion that they’re hundreds of dollars and that’s why I don’t have one. GET THEE TO A CHEF SUPPLY STORE! In love and pizza, have a wonderful weekend.

 

Grimaldi’s image from here.

We Jam

I’m a sucker for good packaging. When I went to the co-op this week, these concord grapes were laid out like a hot breakfast in their own specially designed little cardstock bag, a squatter version of an apple sack, with a long white stitched handle and perfect Manischewitz-y purple font extolling their delicious and organic status. And, they smelled so very grapey, an olfactory punch powerful enough to create lush sense memories on the spot. I bought a bag and carried them home. By the time I got them back to the apartment, the bag was a crumplety mess, and when I liberated them from their 4x6x4 home it was like a grape clown-car. They just kept coming and I realized I had way more grapes on my hands than I could reasonably eat. Sharp-sweet, tannic, and full of seeds, what to do? Obviously, make Grape Jam. I got out my laminated “making jam without added pectin” chart from the very back of my recipe binder, and went to work. Skinning, seeding, boiling, sugaring, boiling, pouring into jars, putting hot hot hot on toast. Sweet, simple, at once fresh and old fashioned, this jam turned out fantastically, and it’s the most glorious rich dark purple color. Oh boy!Quick jams like this are sort of just about the easiest thing you can make. Have a pot? Can you stir? Good. You’ve got what it takes. If you’ve never made jam before, this tutorial is ah-mazing and has great pictures of each step. This kind of lazy-man’s jam plays fast and loose with canning/preserving requirements, so it will only keep for a few weeks in your fridge (add “the space to store a pot large enough for water bath canning” to my “homesickness vs. wanderlust” chart) but with enough crusty bread and one or two friends who should be gifted a sweet little pick-me-up-in-a-jar and you’ll go through it in no time.

Basil

In anticipation of the frost, we pulled up all of our flourishing basil and made a huuuuuuge batch of pesto. We’ve now got at least 15 summer-bombs in our freezer to make it through the long winter. I continue to be wowed by the perseverance and successes of our little backyard garden. The last basil plant I kept in the city committed herbicide by jumping out of our 6th floor window and landing, crime scene style, at the bottom of the airshaft. I bet it’s still down there. Are my snack-sized frozen zip-locs a glorious root cellar full of pickles and preserves? Not quite, but, hey, baby steps. Have a wonderful weekend!

Lime-Aid

Despite the white-pants moratorium and the sweet chill in the air that has me playing “Autumn in New York” over and over, SUMMER IS NOT THROUGH. I repeat: DO NOT PACK UP YOUR JEAN SHORTS AND HEADSCARVES JUST YET LADIES! I love fall (it’s secretly my favorite), but I’ve also been wanting to cling to the seemingly endless twilit seaside days of the most adventuresome season. And, like-minded tactile and sense-memory based souls, I’ve discovered the best way to do that is with homemade limeaid. This is actually, technically, just lime simple-syrup, one of those non-recipe recipes that takes three things and through some magical alchemy turns it into a world of taste and feeling. Add rum and ice and you have a classic daiquiri, add tequila and you’ve borne the perfect margarita, vodka makes a sideways Tom Collins (a shaken egg-white and some mint and you’ve got yourself a sideways Southside), or just add a few healthy pours into a pitcher of still or sparkling water and you have the most divine, freshest, bracing-but-tart-sweet concoction that’s ever come straight out of August.

Ingredients:

Lime juice
Sugar
Water

Squeeze limes. Boil equal parts sugar and water and cool. Mix lime juice and simple syrup. Voila!

 

Say Cheese

I simply can’t get enough of the divine and positively louche cheese spread on Saxelby Cheese over at the Selby. She arrived at the Essex Street Market around the same time I started frequenting it, and in one of those weird secret girl-crushes, I think trail blazing cheesemonger extraordinairess Anne Saxelby is one of those ladies that, you know, we’d really hit it off if we ever met in person, you know, just like Zooey Deschanel or Michelle Obama, but with cheese, you know? Here, in typical Selby fashion, her illustration of the ideal cheese cave, why parmigiano is like Elvis, and instructions on how to make something that sounds absolutely incredible, her “bourbon soaked grape leaf cheese wrap”:

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