Friday, April 2, 2010

visiting: brooklyn

For this post, we spent a day together and shared a meal in Brooklyn. Read about our day and the ensuing deliciousness below.

(Above photos l to r: Kate and Branden's table; A sweet message in Brooklyn)

kate (brooklyn)

Spring was finally on its way. Time to put away those heavy coats and bulky sweaters and pull out the sunglasses and lighter colors. At least I thought that 'til last week when the coats came back out of the closet and our heat finally started coming on full-blast in our apartment for the first time since we moved in. March really couldn't make up its mind whether to be a lion or a lamb.

Kristen and PJ drove down to Brooklyn from Beacon on a warm and glorious 70-degree middle-of-March day. Unlike the unending rain and thunderstorms that took over the day/night of our last dinner party, the sky was clear and the sun was quite warm. I got up early that morning and had a chance to run into the city to get some last minute things at the Union Square Greenmarket and Fishs Eddy (upon realizing we didn't have enough plates or bowls to serve our guests). Seeing a glimpse of colorful flowers under the tents in the market gave me a burst of energy: Winter was finally over and warm weather would save us all.

I wanted to spend as much time with my guests as possible on Saturday afternoon, so I cooked the main meal, a Spring vegetable stew, the night before. Soup always tastes better the second day, and it would be something quite easy to heat up and serve to a crowd of 6. I couldn't find every ingredient I needed for the soup, but luckily the recipe was very forgiving (as you'll see below) and allows for a lot of creativity.

Everything seemed to be going well, until I made the hot pink cupcakes. Or, perhaps, I should refer to them as the hot pink mess. Everything was pretty much a disaster: the cake part tasted weird and spongy and the icing was so bright and tasted like an over-sugared Easter bunny toothpaste. Luckily, my friends, Jannine and Nathan, came to the rescue and brought delicious cookies from the East Village. Branden came up with some amazing appetizers: sweet pea guacamole, Jerusalem artichokes, and hummus. Kristen and PJ topped off the meal with some great wine from the Hudson Valley. One of my favorite things about the night was how we all contributed a bit to the meal in our own way, and it seemed the perfect way to celebrate a first glimpse of Spring.

I didn't even realize that the main course was from the Hudson Valley Mediterranean cookbook, which focuses on seasonal ingredients and highlights farms and small businesses in the Hudson Valley. I wonder if Kris and PJ will make some Brooklyn-ish for us when we come up to Beacon to visit them... ?

spring vegetable soup
adapted from
Hudson Valley Mediterranean
Makes: 6 servings

This classic summer vegetable stew is referred to as "ratatouille." What could be better than cooked down tomatoes, summer squash, eggplant, onions, garlic, and herbs? With its many delicate flavors, this Spring stew eases us away from the root vegetables of Fall and Winter and toward a Summer with bold flavors.

2 large lemons, halved
4 medium artichokes * (I used canned artichokes and you could also substitute frozen for fresh ones)
2 shallots, thinly sliced
9 small red potatoes (1 to 2 inches in diameter), quartered
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 cups vegetable or chicken stock or reduced sodium broth
12 fresh asparagus spears, trimmed and sliced on the diagonal into 3/4-inch pieces
1 cup fresh or frozen peeled fava beans (I substituted edamame)
1 cup shelled peas (fresh or frozen)
1/4 cup snipped chives
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley (you may also substitute basil or tarragon)
3 tablespoons finely grated Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Shaved Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese, for garnish

* (If you decide, like me, to work with frozen or canned artichokes, begin reading at 3rd paragraph)

Fill a large bowl with 1 quart of water, and squeeze two lemon halves into it. Add the squeezed lemon halves to the water.

Working with one artichoke at a time, bend back the outer leaves close to the base until they snap off where they break naturally. Discard the layers until the exposed leaves are pale green at the top and pale yellow at the base. Using a small sharp knife, trim the stem and the base until it is smooth and no dark green areas remain. Trim the leaves. Rub the base with the remaining lemon halves. Cut the artichoke lengthwise into 4 wedges. Using a small knife, cut out the choke and the small purple-tipped leaves, then halve again for a total of 8 wedges. Place the artichoke wedges in the lemon water.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 3 minutes. While the shallots are cooking, drain and rinse the artichokes. Add the artichokes and the potatoes to the skillet and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Pour the wine and simmer until the liquid is reduced to a few spoonfuls, about 6 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Add half of the asparagus, fava beans, peas, cover the skillet, and simmer the stew for 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining asparagus, fava beans and peas, 2 tablespoons of the chives, and 2 tablespoons of the parsley. Let the mixture simmer, partially covered, for about 4 minutes, or until the potatoes and artichokes are tender. Stir in the remaining herbs and the grated Grana Padano, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve topped with shaved Grana Padano.

(Variations: Serve the soup over orzo or with your favorite pasta, or add chicken or sausage. I added green chorizo from The Meat Hook... yum!)

jerusalem artichokes appetizer
adapted by Branden from his friend, Neil

The Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus), also called the sunroot, earth apple or topinambur, is a species of sunflower native to the eastern United States, from Maine west to North Dakota, and south to northern Florida and Texas. It is also cultivated widely across the temperate zone for its tuber, which is used as a root vegetable. (Source: Wikipedia)

4 fresh artichokes or 1 can full
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan cheese

Leaving skin on, slice artichokes thinly. Add oil, pepper and salt. Thinly sliced fennel is also nice to add to each slice. Put a sprig of fresh parsley on each slice and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

sweet pea guacamole
adapted from
Hudson Valley Mediterranean
Makes: 6-8 servings

2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 cups shelled fresh peas (or frozen peas, thawed)
1 tablespoon fresh mint
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring 1 quart of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Season the water with the sugar and salt, then add the peas. Boil for 4 to 5 minutes, untol the peas are tender and bright green (if using frozen peas, cook for only 1 minute).

Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath by filling a medium bowl 3/4 full with ice cubes and water.

Drain the peas, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Transfer the peas to the ice bath and let them cool completely. Then drain the peas and add them to a food processor along with 1/3 cup of the reserved cooking liquid and the mint. Pulse to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure all of the peas hit the blade. Turn the motor on and add more of the cooking liquid, a little at a time, through the feed tube to work the peas into a thick puree with the consistency of guacamole. With the motor still running, drizzle the olive oil through the feed tube. Adjust the seasoning with more salt, if necessary, and pepper, and transfer the guacamole to a serving bowl. Serve with pita, crostini, or crackers.

(Above photos l to r: Colors along a walk in Greenpoint; The Brooklyn Standard)

kristen (beacon)

Brooklyn is a magical place.

Its energy is palpable. The colorful graffit at every turn, the easy pace of Greenpoint, the volume of Williamsburg, the Italian food in Bay Ridge, the Chinese food in Sunset Park, the majestic homes of Dyker Heights, the hot dogs and rollercoasters in Coney Island, matzo ball soup in Borough Park, the cobbled and cavernous streets in DUMBO, the borscht in Brighton Beach, the beer gardens in Red Hook, the young families in Park Slope, and Prospect Park. Who could forget Prospect Park?

Beacon reminds me of Brooklyn. A tiny cross-section of it, dropped right into the middle of the scenic Hudson Valley. Perhaps that's why I love it so much.

When Kate and Branden invited me and PJ to Brooklyn for a meal, we could not refuse. They recently relocated from Williamsburg to Greenpoint, and we were anxious to see their new neighborhood and apartment, and were even more anxious to share a meal with them there.

Just like the two of them, their apartment is warm, easygoing, and splashed all over with color and life. They make such a good team, and their home is a true reflection of that. While Branden worked on making the appetizers, Kate took us on a walking tour (a.k.a. quest for ingredeitns) of Greenpoint and parts of neighboring North Williamsburg. After stops at The Met grocery store, The Brooklyn Standard, The Brooklyn Kitchen /The Meat Hook, and Settepani, we arrived back to the apartment with a fresh loaf of filone (which we learned is half white/half wheat bread), a bunch of kale, a new cutting board (for us), aromatic sausage, kombucha (Kate's favorite), and a really strange bag of Asian cracker mix that tasted a bit too much like teriyaki chicken. We also walked through the gorgeous and historic McGolrick Park, which lies just around the corner from Kate's apartment. In the center of the park stands a majestic pavilion that was built in 1910 and looks as if it's barely been touched by the effects of time. Daffodils and crocuses were popping out everywhere and kids were skateboarding and playing spirited games of baseball on the concrete.

For dinner, we were joined by Jannine and Nathan, two lovely folks who enjoy good food as much as we do. We all dove (literally, almost) into Branden's homemade kale chips (which were perfection) and sweet pea dip (which was fresh and green and delicious). Then, we gorged ourselves on a healthy and hearty Spring vegetable soup over orzo. Coincidentally, the dip and soup recipes came from one of our favorite go-to local cookbooks, Hudson Valley Mediterranean. For dessert, we had Kate's vanilla-and-hot-pink cupcakes (which were delicious no matter what she says) and a box of just-baked cookies that Jannine and Nathan brought from Birdbath Neighborhood Green Bakery in the East Village.

Dinner (and the entire day) was refreshing, creative and easygoing. Just like Kate and Branden. Just like Brooklyn.

(Above photos l to r: Cow statue at The Meat Hook; Fresh filone from Settepani)

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