Thursday, March 18, 2010


Our grandmothers are very dear to both of us, and have played pivotal roles in our lives. When we decided to start this blog, we knew immediately that one of our first posts should honor those two very special women. We asked them what they loved to cook, and then we tried to recreate the magic.

(Above photos l to r: Kate's grandparents; Kristen's grandparents)

kate (brooklyn)

“So, what was your absolute favorite dish to make for your family?” I was sitting in the living room of my aunt’s house in February with my grandmother ready to learn a little bit about my family’s past and what kind of challenge I would be facing in the future. After a minute of thinking she responded with “A standing rib roast.”

Hmm... I was not surprised that my grandmother (who I will fondly refer to as “Nan” for the rest of my story) responded with a meat dish. But a standing rib roast? What exactly was that? It seemed like something quite large – along the scale of a Thanksgiving turkey. Would it fit in our tiny oven? Hmm... meat is always a staple at Nan’s house but I was expecting something like turkey tetrazzini or meatloaf.

“Now,” Nan said, “It was a little on the expensive side. Food wasn’t as outrageous back then (we’re talking late 1950s) as it is now. A standing rib roast would cost about $35.” “Maybe before we proceed I should call our butcher and see how much this costs now,” I said. And as it turned out the amount I would need (to feed 4-6 people) would cost over $150. Yikes.

“Okay,” I said, crossing out my notes. “So, what was your second favorite thing to cook? “A flank steak. Steak is a meal that people love and it is not labor intensive.” (I jotted that down in the back of my brain... I was not sure this would be true for me.) “It’s elegant and cost effective.” My grandmother did have seven children. However, a flank steak would be served at dinner parties, which were held quite often at my grandparents’ house in Oakland, Pittsburgh. The children would eat and then be sent to bed while the adults gathered around the dining room table.

I decided to do the same. We invited 4 good friends of ours. As it turned out, two of them were actually vegetarians. I already knew about one of them (he insisted that it would be okay because he loves the smell of steak), but I didn't find out about the other until 30 minutes before they were due to arrive.

I went out Saturday morning to a butcher shop that recently opened in Williamsburg called The Meat Hook. I asked the butcher for a flank steak and unfortunately he had sold the last one the day before. He asked me what it was for and I told him I was making my grandmother’s recipe. (How many times has he heard that?) After a moment of thinking, he told me to hang on and went back into the freezer and pulled out a huge piece of long, thin meat.

“This is what we call a faux hanger steak,” he said. What exactly was that? According to Tasting Table, this particular cut of meat is “also known as the sirloin and is a skinny steak that dangles off the loin. Seared hard on all sides to give it a nice crust, this cut's texture is similar to the one-per-cow hanger steak, a butcher's favorite.”

I watched as he gently pounded and trimmed some of the meat. I really didn’t want to spend the day wandering around the city in search of the perfect flank steak. This would do! It was a good deal: $12 per pound, and The Meat Hook’s products come from trusted farmers who raise animals in a sustainable way. I brought the meat back, as well as some fresh herbs, and manned the deck (or chopping block). Branden showed me how to sharpen our largest knife (which was pretty awkward to do…I guess I need to get more accustomed to doing this on a regular basis). But having a sharp knife sure does help. We also served twice-baked potatoes with basil and kale (as per Nan’s recommendation to serve potatoes and something green.)

There was a horrible thunderstorm that evening (the last couple arrived around 9:00 due to being stuck in the subway for over an hour). We were all starving and as soon as the meat came out of the oven we served it and for the first and only time in the evening there was dead silence. I think that was a good sign.

nan’s flank or “faux hanger" steak

2 pounds flank steak (easily feeds 4 people, you figure 1/2 pound per person)
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

Ziploc bag

The night before or a few hours before you’re about to cook, unroll the steak and diagonally slash both sides. Pour olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette over each side. Rub with salt, pepper and rosemary. Put the steak in a Ziploc bag and let it marinate.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 450-475 degrees. The meat needs to sit on a pan that has holes in it. You can use the pan in your broiler. Ours was missing, however, so I used a non-stick grill grid and placed a baking pan underneath it.

Broil 4-5 minutes on each side. The cut should be rare. As Nan told me, “Time will have to learn by doing.”

Once cooked, cut steak by slashing thin slices against the grain. Pour gravy that has collected in the pan underneath on top.

(Above photos l to r: Kate's grandfather and grandmother; Steak dinner with friends)

kristen (beacon)

“Now Kris, men don’t like things that dribble down their ties.”

This is one of many reasons my grandmother has been making her famous spicy cheese straws since 1955, after coaxing the recipe from her dear friend Betty Boswell. She told me that men love them, that they’re perfect with sweet tea or Coca-Cola and that they’re a big hit at just about any function. No matter what, they are meant to be shared.

My grandmother, Edwina (lovingly nicknamed “Bo”), is the picture of Southern hospitality. All of 5 feet 2 inches, she’s a bundle of hey-y’all’s and hugs. Born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, her warm smile, big heart, and cheery “yoo-hoo!” can charm just about anyone. Her cooking is no different: approachable, generous, steeped in Southern flavors. She swears by White Lily flour and would never dream of using anything other than real, honest-to-goodness butter. When I told her the idea for this post and asked for her favorite thing to make, her spicy cheese straws were her first choice.

Bo’s cheese straws, served with ice-cold Coca-Cola in glass bottles, are my most vivid taste memories of childhood visits to Birmingham. As reliable as a Summer afternoon rainstorm down South, the delightful little treats were always tucked neatly into a decorative tin and sitting on my grandmother’s counter, waiting to be devoured. And devoured, they were. Within minutes of arrival, my brother and I would be hovering over the tin, popping them one after another after another into our mouths.

Bo, still using the reliable metal cookie press the she bought sometime around 1958, makes her cheese straws a few times a year for special occasions (and when hungry and home-cooked-meal-deprived granddaughters would call from college to beg for a batch). Since I don’t own a cookie press, I was a little worried about recreating these at home, but she assured me that they could be made without using a press, and then she sweetly mailed hers to me for the occasion. I was so excited to open the package and see that gorgeous press that has been so lovingly used and cared for over the years. It felt like Bo was right there with me in Beacon.

White Lily flour is next to impossible to find north of the Mason-Dixon line, but I forged on with my beloved Yankee brand, King Arthur. I also decided to use white cheddar instead of yellow and I’m pretty sure I doubled the amount of cayenne pepper Bo recommended (you can’t ever have too much, right?). They were a cinch to make! Easy as 1-2-3, really. In less than an hour, I was packing up a batch for my friend Charlotte (who exclaimed “THESE ARE SO ADDICTIVE!” and noted that they’re excellent with beer) and a tin full for me and PJ, but not before enjoying a few myself with an ice-cold Coca-Cola. The cookie press requires a fair amount of elbow grease to maneuver, so the straws came out looking a bit like “eel bones” (according to PJ), but oh man, they were as delicious as I remember. Savory. Sharp. “Short” (as Bo calls them, referring to their flakiness akin to shortbread). And with just the right amount of peppery kick.


(Today is my grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary. Happy anniversary, you two! Here's to many more years of love and deliciousness!)

bo's spicy cheese straws

1/2 cup butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups White Lily all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur, which also works beautifully)
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups grated sharp yellow cheddar cheese (I used white)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I used a full teaspoon)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with un-greased parchment paper (I used a Silpat baking mat).

Mix the flour, salt and cayenne pepper in a small bowl.

Cream the butter and cheese together with your hands (I used a stand mixer instead) for a few minutes until fluffy.

Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter and cheese mixture until well-blended (but not over-blended).

If you have a cookie press: Press dough into press in small batches, then press straws onto the baking sheet until each is about as long as your index finger. If you don't have a cookie press: Roll dough into a log and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate log for 30 minutes, then slice dough into thin rounds then arrange on baking sheet.

Bake for 10 minutes or so, until the straws (or rounds) are just slightly golden brown. Cool them for 5 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer them to racks to cool completely.

Pack into tins with layers separated by parchment or wax paper, and share!

(Above photos l to r: Bo in the 1940s; Kristen's cheese straws and an ice-cold Coca-Cola)

View more of our grandmother photos on Flickr.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

at the farmers market: winter

Welcome to the first post of our quarterly "At the Farmers Market" series. Once every season, we’ll explore our local farmers markets to see what we can find and what deliciousness we can make of it. Our Winter farmers market adventures begin below.

(Photos above l to r: Madura Farms mushrooms in Brooklyn; A basket full of treats in Beacon)

kate (brooklyn)

I love the idea of going to the grocery store and seeing what inspires me (without a recipe in mind.) So I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into by planning a meal around our local farmers market availability towards the end of February.

I headed over to the Greenpoint/McCarren Park Greenmarket and was surprised to see many things that I didn’t expect: apples, seafood, sausage, and mushrooms! I headed over to the Madura Farms (Goshen, NY) table and looked at all of the odd shapes and sizes of mushrooms – objects that looked like little ocean creatures. I decided to go with the portobellos and grabbed three. Keep it simple. I collected some challah rolls from the Baker’s Bounty, (Linden, New Jersey) and purple Peruvian potatoes (what a surprise to see such a beautiful color when they're sliced!) and an onion from Healthway Farms (Ulster County, NY). My menu was almost complete.

Later that evening, I stopped at
Urban Rustic, a small grocery store (across from the farmers market) that sells mostly local and organic produce and has a great selection of local craft beer. The guy behind the counter let me have a taste of a new beer on tap from Brooklyn that I’d never heard of and it immediately warmed me up. I chose Kelso’s Recessionator beer and carried home my liter-sized growler, hungry and ready to get to work.

I made portobello mushroom sandwiches and purple potato fries. It was the perfect meal for a cold, windy night. There's also not a lot of prep involved and it doesn't take too long to cook.

portobello mushroom sandwiches

Portobello mushrooms (1 for each sandwich)
Buns or bread
Olive oil
Extras: (I added
cheese, arugula, sauteed red peppers, and spicy mustard)

Rinse and dry portobello mushrooms.

Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan (size depending on how many mushrooms you plan to make at once) and turn on medium heat.

Place mushrooms in pan and cover with a lid. Cook on each side for 3-4 minutes. You don't want the mushroom to get too mushy.

You can also toast the buns in the oven for a minute if you're making the fries at the same time.

Add toppings to the buns and place the mushrooms on last. Enjoy!

peruvian potato fries

Peruvian purple potatoes
Olive oil
Seat salt
Herbs or spice of your choosing (optional)

Preheat oven to 475 degrees.

Wash and thinly slice the potatoes (1/4 inch wide) and place on a cookie sheet. Drizzle some olive oil and sea salt on top.

Pop in the oven for about 10-15 minutes (depending on how crispy you like them). They are also delicious with curry or other another spice or herb of your choosing.

(Above photos l to r: Madura Farms table at the Greenpoint/McCarren Park Greenmarket; Portobello mushroom sandwiches, ready to eat)

kristen (beacon)

Whoever said you can’t eat fresh local food in the dead of Winter was very, very wrong.

I was one of those people, until I visited the Beacon Farmers Market in February. I didn’t go shopping with a plan, because I had no idea what I would find, if anything. What could possibly be fresh in the gloomiest part of Winter? Wasn’t the farmers market only awesome in Spring, Summer and Fall? I was skeptical. But amidst the happy, humming crowds on that clear Sunday afternoon inside the Beacon Sloop Club, gorgeous food awaited me.

As soon as I walked in, Petra from Honey Locust Farm House welcomed me with a smile. A jar of their sweet, thick unfiltered honey practically jumped into my basket, and I knew I had found my first ingredient for dinner. Fishkill Farms brought bushels of their beautiful Red Delicious apples and I couldn’t resist taking a few of those home with me, as well.

Have you ever heard of pea shoots? I certainly hadn’t, until Jim from Winter Sun Farms (a local Winter CSA) offered a bite of freshly-picked ones from Little Seed Gardens. They were crisp, earthy, slightly sweet, and tasted and looked just like Spring. Those pretty little shoots, I decided, would have to be part of dinner, too.

I also left with a wedge of velvety Ouray cheese from Sprout Creek Farm, a loaf of aromatic seeded rye bread from Rock & Roll Artisan Bakery, and a carton of sweet cream butter from Ronnybrook Farm Dairy. I also ran into about a half a dozen people I hadn’t seen in months and everyone seemed so happy to be out of their houses for a little respite from cabin fever. Seeing them all in one small room, laughing and chatting and supporting the local farmers and artisans reminded me how much I love this town.

Dinner was simple and fresh, perfect for an early Sunday evening: pea shoot salad with apple, honey and shallot vinaigrette; sliced rye bread with Ouray cheese, honey, and sweet cream butter; apple pudding from Christopher Kimball’s The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook.

I am skeptical no more.

apple pudding
adapted from
The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook's Master Recipe for Fruit Pudding
Makes: 6 to 8 servings

3 cups mixed apples (washed, peeled, cored, and cut into bite-size pieces)
1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 teaspoons lemon zest

2/3 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

4 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla zest

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a shallow casserole or oval baking dish (the sides should be short and the pan should be wide – an 8 X 12-inch pa is about the right size). Toss the fruit with the lemon juice and zest and pour into the baking dish.

Whisk together the flour, salt, nutmeg, and sugar. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, heavy cream, eggs, and vanilla. Add the flour to the milk mixture and stir very gently with a whisk just until smooth. Do no overbeat. Pour over fruit.

Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until custard sets. The center 2 inches should still be wet and custardy. It will finish baking out of the oven. Remove from oven and serve warm, not hot, but no longer than 1 hour after baking.

(Above photos l to r: Pea shoot salad; Apples and lemon zest)

View more of our farmers market photos on Flickr.