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Archive for May, 2009

Yesterday’s Brooklyn Half-Marathon ended on the Coney Island boardwalk. My parents and Dave came to cheer me on. This was my father’s first trip to Coney Island since he was seven years old and the first time for the rest of us. My dad and Dave had, in the days leading up to the race, decided that they had to have some Nathan’s hot dogs; when in Coney Island…

The Nathan’s Famous outpost on the boardwalk had a huge line outside (mostly runners), so we decided to head away from the shore to the larger one–the original Nathan’s–that is right by the Coney Island subway station.  

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It was crowded there too, but with many more counters from which to order, we didn’t have to wait too long. Added bonus: they also serve seafood.

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My dad and Dave had two hot dogs each, and Dave and I split some cheese fries. They were my first cheese fries since the snack bar in college, though not quite as good (or maybe my tastes have changed). I don’t know if it was the heat or the post-race adrenaline, or maybe the über-processed cheese, but I wasn’t able to eat that many.

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Dave described his hot dog as, “pretty standard, nothing spectacular, but nice and salty on the inside.” He eats his hot dogs with ketchup and mustard while my dad prefers mustard and sauerkraut. 

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My mother went upscale, with a fried clam sandwich and corn on the cob. I stole a few of the stray clams, and I must say (for a fast food join by the beach), her sandwich was the afternoon’s winner. By contrast, the corn was inedible, and she gave up after one bite.

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Right next to the flagship restaurant is a large billboard with a count down to Nathan’s Fourth of July hot dog eating contest. The current record holder (66 hot dogs in 12 minutes) and reigning champion is Joey Chestnut who won the contest in 2007 and 2008. He will no doubt be challenged by six-time winner Takeru Kobayashi of Japan, who was the champion from 2001-2006.

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After lunch, we went back to the boardwalk and enjoyed the sunshine for a little while longer. It was a beautiful day at the beach, though my (tired) feet never touched the sand.

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Nathan's Famous on Urbanspoon

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The night before the Brooklyn Half-Marathon, which I ran yesterday, I had some friends who were also running the race over for a carb-heavy meal.

The most labor-intensive thing I made was a caramelized onion focaccia.

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It’s actually much easier than it may seem, you just need to set aside enough time for the dough to rise. You start out by making a sponge (a mixture of yeast, sweetener, water, and flour that is fermented for a short period of time) and ricing a potato which gets mixed into the dough.

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The sponge after 30 minutes

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I use my food mill to rice the potato that I have cut up and boiled in well-salted water. If you have a potato ricer (which I don’t) you can use that instead. If you don’t have either (which I didn’t until very recently) you can use a fine metal strainer and simply push the soft potato through the holes with the back of a wooden spoon. The potato should come out looking something like this:

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You then mix the potato into the sponge along with warm water, olive oil, and sea salt. Once you have a well incorporated mixture you want to start slowly adding the flour (I use three different kinds: unbleached bread, semolina, and whole wheat pastry), stirring with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together.

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At this point you can turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead it, adding extra flour as necessary until you have a nice smooth ball of dough. This dough will be slightly stickier than most bread doughs, that’s okay.

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Place your dough in an oiled bowl and let it rise. While your dough is rising you can caramelize your onions. I used the same technique I used when I made my tomato and onion tart, but this time I diced the onion, and added some balsamic vinegar at the end to enrich the flavor.

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Once the dough has risen, punch it down and spread it out onto a piece of parchment paper placed on a half sheet tray. Use the pads of your fingers to give the focaccia its distinctive divots. Cover the dough with a damp kitchen towel and let it rise again.

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After the second rise, brush the dough with oil, sprinkle with salt, and cover with onion. Bake, cool, cut, and serve.

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Along with the focaccia, I made some chicken basil meatballs and baked whole wheat penne with homemade tomato red pepper sauce.

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It was a very satisfying meal, and we all ran well the next day.

Focaccia
Ingredients
:
Sponge:
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon agave syrup (or honey, or sugar)
2/3 cup warm water (110-130 degrees F)
1/2 cup unbleached bread flour

Dough:
1 small potato, cubed, boiled, and riced
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing dough
1 tablespoon sea salt, plus more for sprinkling onto dough
1 cup semolina flour
Mixture of 1 1/2 cups bread flour plus 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

Topping(s) of your choice*

Procedure:
1. Whisk together sponge ingredients in a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free spot for 20-30 minutes. (You know the yeast has been activated if you begin to see bubbles form.)

2. Add potato, water, olive oil, and salt to sponge and stir with a wooden spoon. Add semolina flour. Add flour mixture in 1/2 cup increments until dough begins to come together (you may not need to use the entire mixture).

3. Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead, adding more of the flour mixture as necessary (if you use up all 3 cups and you need more, keep adding small handfuls of whole wheat pastry flour) until you have a smooth ball of dough that is slightly sticky, about 5-10 minutes.

4. Place dough in a lightly-oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to rise in a warm draft-free spot until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Punch down dough and spread onto a half sheet tray lined with parchment paper. Use the pads of your fingers to created depressions across the surface of the dough. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and set aside to rise for an additional 15-20 minutes.

5. While dough is rising for the second time, pre-heat oven to 475 degrees F.

6. Brush dough with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Cover with the toppings of your choice.

7. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until slightly puffed and golden. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Slide focaccia off pan onto rack and cool to room temperature. Slice and serve.

* You can top your focaccia with whatever you like. Two of my favorites are chopped fresh rosemary (simple, classic) and balsamic caramelized onions (a little more labor, but well worth it).

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I recently reconnected with an old friend from elementary and high school, Larcy, and she came over for dinner earlier this week. I wanted to make something healthy and easy, but still good enough for company. Rhubarb is in season right now and I knew I wanted to make a dessert with it.

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Inspired by a desert special that Savoy is currently running, I decided to go with a rhubarb cornmeal cake. Luckily, Nigella has a recipe for one in How to Be a Domestic Goddess. The recipe was nice and simple.

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You cut up the rhubarb and set it aside with some sugar sprinkled on top. After that you cream together some butter and sugar and add eggs, then alternatively add the dry ingredient mixture and yogurt until you have a thick batter.

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The finished product came out beautifully golden brown.

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For dinner I knew I wanted fish. I arrived at the fish counter at Fairway and saw that they had whole wild red snapper that looked good. When I asked the fish guy to descale it for me but keep the head on, the woman next to me looked at me like I was crazy. I’ve noticed that Americans have an aversion to fish heads. It’s one of the first things my mother said she noticed about American food when she moved here from Japan. I love my fish whole. Some of the best dinners I’ve had have been a whole fish for two picked over by two sets of chopsticks (i.e. my mom and I at home, Lisa and I while in Hong Kong), with a bowl of rice and something green on the side.

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I brought the snapper home and found this recipe on epicurious. I upped the garlic and replaced the butter with olive oil. I also added some tomato to the inside and the top of the fish. The recipe calls for “seafood seasoning,” which I assumed meant something like Old Bay, which I don’t keep in the house. Instead, I improvised my own spice mixture after looking up the components of Old Bay. Here’s what went into my mix:

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Once I had my spice mixture, the hard work was out of the way. All I had to do was season and stuff my snapper and bake it, wrapped in foil, for about 45 minutes.

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The fish was moist and subtly flavored. There was quite a lot of juice in the foil when I unwrapped it, so I used it as a sauce on the side. I served the snapper with brown rice and some sauteed vegetables. The cake was good, though quite rhubarby, and paired excellently with some freshly whipped cream.

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Dave, who began the meal with the proclamation, “I don’t like rhubarb,” loved the cake. He ate it three nights in a row.

Rhubarb Cornmeal Cake
From Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess
Serves 8-10

Ingredients:
1 lb 2 oz rhubarb
1 cup sugar, separated
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (the original recipe calls for all-purpose)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons finely ground cornmeal
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons plain yogurt (I use whole milk yogurt)

Procedure:
1. Grease a 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment paper. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Wash and dry the rhubarb if necessary, trim, removing any stringy bits, and cut into 1/2-inch slices. Put into a glass or china bowl and cover with 1/3 cup sugar. Don’t let stand for more than 30 minutes or the sugar will make too much liquid seep out.

3. Mix the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cornmeal together. With a fork, beat the eggs with the vanilla in a measuring cup or small bowl. In a large bowl, cream the butter and the rest of the sugar, then gradually add the egg mixture, beating while you do so. Then add the flour cornmeal mixture alternately with the yogurt. They just need to be combined: don’t overmix.

4. Finally, add the rhubarb together with its sugary, pink juices, folding in to mix, and then pour the speckled batter into the prepared pan. Put in the pre-heated oven and bake for about one hour or until springy to the touch. You may need to cover it with foil after about 40 minutes so that the top doesn’t scorch. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for a while before unmolding.

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A simple pleasure

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Made right here in New York State, Siggi’s Icelandic style skyr is my favorite yogurt by a mile. I fell in love with skyr when I visited Iceland, and was delighted the first time I found Siggi’s here in NYC. Siggi’s fruit flavors are subtle and clean. They are agave-sweetened, unlike most commercial yogurts which are too sugary sweet or have the metallic aftertaste produced by artificial sweeteners. Siggi’s also has the dreamiest, creamiest texture. Yes, it’s pricier than other yogurts, but it’s strained, making it super concentrated and much higher in protein. I treat myself to one every once in a while. I indulged in this container of blueberry after a somewhat harrowing Fairway excursion.

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Omurice

When I was growing up, my mother didn’t make grilled cheese or chocolate chip cookies, she made rice balls and omurice. A great way to use up day old rice, omurice  consists of stir fried rice, often with chicken, that is seasoned with ketchup (yes, ketchup) and wrapped in a thin layer of fried egg. The smell of the dish alone is enough to conjure up memories of quick weekend dinners thrown together by my mother and thoroughly enjoyed by yours truly.

I hadn’t had omurice in ages (they have it at restaurants in Japan but it’s not something that I deem worth my time during a short visit), until Tuesday night. It was Dave’s first day at his summer job and I had already eaten dinner at the restaurant so I had to put something together for him when he got home. I had some leftover rice that I wanted to use up, but I wanted to branch out from the usual “kitchen sink” fried rice that I throw together. When I saw the bottle of ketchup on the door of the fridge it all became clear.

First, I minced and sauteed some onion, then stirred in the rice and a hefty squirt of organic ketchup. You can add chicken, veggies, whatever you like.

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After that, I beat together two eggs, salt, pepper, and a dash of cold water. I then added the mixture to a hot, well-oiled non-stick skillet and moved it around with a rubber spatula until it formed a thin layer around the entire pan.

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All that remained was to turn off the flame, add the rice, and fold the egg over to cover.

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Gently slide the finished omurice onto a plate and garnish with a bit of ketchup. My mom always used the garnish ketchup and wrote the letter “A” on my omurice, but I thought that Dave was a little old for that. You can serve it with a side of salad to add a bit of color to the plate.

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I cannot tell a lie, I stole the first bite. It brought me back to simpler times. Yum.

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Post script: When I Googled omurice I came across this amazing video. While I don’t agree with its use of a bullion cube or creamer, it shows you some good techniques. The dog-as-host thing is quite odd, though “his” voice gets stuck in my head and I find myself chuckling to myself whenever I think about it.

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We spent Memorial Day weekend in Connecticut at my in-laws’ house. Dave’s brother and his wife were visiting from New Zealand, and Dave’s sister and her husband came from Boston with their two little boys. We barbecued, ate good food, and hung out. In addition, Dave’s sister’s youngest was baptized and we all went on a tour of The Glass House.

Our elder nephew, Andrew, who is also our godson, loves animals (especially dinosaurs) so I brought along some of the newest additions to my ever-expanding cookie cutter collection.

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I found these at the Field Museum on a recent trip to Chicago

With some help from Andrew, I baked up some dinosaurs. We ate them after the baptism.

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Monday morning, I took the opportunity to try out another recent purchase: my Williams-Sonoma jungle animal pancake molds

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I was worried that the pancakes weren’t going to come out as pictured, but was pleasantly surprised. To make the cakes, you place the molds on a non-stick surface (I had two going at once: a pan and a hot plate) and fill with batter.

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When the cakes are ready to be flipped, remove the molds, and flip. Voila.

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Filling the molds can be tough if you like thick pancake batter; I had to thin mine a bit so it would spread faster. Even so, I had to carefully spoon batter into the various parts of the mold which resulted in some lines forming on the face of the cakes (as you can see above). Removing the molds also requires a little finesse (I enlisted the help of a rubber spatula), but if you’ve waited long enough and the edges of the cakes have set, it’s pretty simple. This lion was my best cake of the morning:

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It's not perfect, but pancakes shouldn't have to be

After I made pancakes for all eight of my hungry customers, I settled down and enjoyed an elephant and monkey of my own.

 

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