Monday, May 25, 2009

brooklyn flea

A few months ago, I became a little enchanted with the New York Times’ reporting of the emerging Brooklyn culinary scene. As an aspiring home cook with DIY tendencies, I began to fantasize about what I could do with just a little capital and a lot of time.

So on our recent trip to New York, I knew I wanted to check out some of these places, but it seemed nearly impossible when they were scattered all over Brooklyn. How could I sample Salvatore’s Ricotta and Mast Brothers Chocolate?

And then I remembered about something else I had read about: Brooklyn Flea, a wonderful market of food vendors, antiques, and crafts set in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. We got out of bed and rushed over as fast as we could, finding ourselves on a school’s track field, over our heads in culinary delights. (Even foodie favorite Ted Allen was there to indulge!)

We sampled McClure’s spicy and dill pickles (the former were amazing, the latter also pretty delicious), some of Rick’s Picks’ pickled beets and green beans, and even some chocolate from Fine & Raw (sadly Mast Brothers Chocolate does not seem to participate in this culinary extravaganza).

The real treats, however, were vendors whipping up lunch on the spot. I couldn’t resist the pieces of baguette covered in a thick layer of Salvatore’s whole-milk ricotta, sprinkled with sea salt, topped with arugula and cured ham and then drizzled with olive oil—easily one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten.

We got a pretty wonderful grilled cheese from Saxelby Cheesemongers, topped with thin slices of spicy McClure’s pickles (although it could have used a few extra minutes on the griddle, but they were pretty backed-up).

Asia Dog served hot dogs in a similar way to Chicago’s own Hot Doug’s but succeeded where Doug does not, creating interesting combinations without the standard sauce + cheese method Doug is so fond of. We got a Vietnamese style banh mi dog topped with herbs and vegetables like the traditional sub, and the real winner, a Chinese BBQ-style dog topped with a tangy sauce and pork belly.

And for desert? Well, the logical choice would have been a cannoli from Salvatore’s, but when those little sandwiches were so good, why not return for seconds?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

FROM THE PANTRY: smoky tomato soup

It was a chilly May evening here in Chicago and my dinner options were slim: I had a paper to write, a flight to New York to catch in the morning (more about that to follow in future entries), and not much to work with in my fridge. Luckily, I stumbled across a recipe for tomato soup in Deborah Madison’s fantastic Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Using her soup as a template, I created my own version for lack of celery, milk, basil, or a few other key ingredients in less than 30 minutes.

Even with my major modifications, I totally lucked out! This soup was so delicious and took hardly any time at all. I had some Carr Valley applewood-smoked paprika-rubbed cheddar I was dying to use (a delicious cheese I found at Whole Foods here in Chicago), so I grated a little on top. I also used fire-roasted tomatoes, which added to the smokiness, but feel free to use something different if you have others on hand. Since I had just finished my paper, I enjoyed it with a Great Lakes Burning River Pale Ale. Whatever I didn’t eat, I froze for my lunches after I got back from my vacation.

Smoky Tomato Soup (serves 3–4)
28 oz. tin diced tomatoes (preferably fire-roasted)
2 cups chicken stock (or water)
1 medium carrot, roughly chopped
1 small red onion, roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tsp thyme
2 tsp hot paprika
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp cream
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp baking soda
salt and pepper to taste
grated paprika smoked cheddar (for garnish)

Heat the butter in a medium pot over medium-low heat and throw in the carrot, onion, thyme, paprika, and bay leaves. Cook until the veg is starting to soften, about 10 minutes.

Now add the flour, baking soda, tomatoes, stock (or water), and bring to a boil and then turn to low and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring every once in a while.

Once you have a nice thick soup, let it cool for a few minutes and blend it together. An immersion blender is GREAT for this, but if you are using a regular blender or food processor, just make sure you are EXTRA careful since no matter what, I always end up burning myself or covering my shirt in soup. You want it smooth, but I don’t think it needs to be TOO smooth.

Finally, stir in the cream, taste to correct seasoning (adding black pepper really helps this soup, and I added a little extra salt, too), and serve. You can also grate over some of the cheese if you want to use it (I found myself adding more and more, so I definitely recommend it), or even better, serve with a grilled cheese sandwich!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

steak for dinner

Welcome to Steak for Dinner! We’re a group of kids about to graduate from the University of Chicago who love to eat and drink. Without a lot of time or money, we try to do the best we can to make dinner as frequently as possible, not to mention enjoying a good beer, bottle of wine, or cocktail while we’re at it.

Plus, we really love steak.