Monday, July 28, 2008


On the lower Eastside of New York City, wedged between the ever expanding Chinatown and terminally hip Soho, remains a spot that transports me back to an era gone by. Here lays a world that once belonged to the immigrants from Eastern Europe. These are the people that my family comes from, and its traditions and tastes are firmly ingrained in me -- even after a century and half since my great-grandparents arrived here. We were not a special family, just your average middle class family with a background rooted in the belief of a better life, full of hopes and dreams. That was the inspiration I was lead to believe that drove my potato-picking peasant-class ancestors to this land of opportunity.

As a child my parents would take us into Manhattan on Sundays from our culturally vacant Long Island hometown in order to experience the theater or a museum, and then of course, a stop in the lower Eastside. There around the infamous Delancey Street one could get anything, and at such a bargain. It was a shopper's paradise. Personally, I wasn't a shopaholic, and quickly bored of all these stores and their endless price slashed selections. How many pair of underwear did I need? What I really waited for was the visit to the pickle man. On Essex Street there stood the last vendor of pickles from the barrel in New York City. I loved this shop that occupied a small alcove on the street with just a simple awning to protect the pickle man from the elements. They sell not just the ubiquitous pickled cucumber, but peppers, tomatoes, cabbages (a.k.a. sauerkraut) and onions. The cucumbers come in a variety of sizes and preparations -- and I was always partial to the tiny, sour garlic ones, as opposed to the more mild half and half ones that my mother coveted.

Garlicky Cucumbers
4 pounds Kirby cucumbers (approximately 3 inches long)
1 quart distilled white vinegar
2 cups bottled water
3/4 cup kosher salt
5 large cloves garlic – sliced thin
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1/4 cup packed loveage leaves (or the heart of celery)

Wash the cucumbers very well removing any blossom that may be attached. Sprinkle half of the garlic, pepper, mustard seeds and loveage leaves on the bottom of the jar, using the remaining half in the center of the jar. Pack the cucumbers snuggly standing-on-end in a clean 1 gallon glass jar with a rubber ring seal.

In a 2 1/2 quart sauce pan bring the vinegar, water and salt to the boil, and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and while still hot carefully ladle the vinegar solution over the cucumbers making sure to come at least a 1/2 inch about the cucumbers with the vinegar solution. If not add some additional to fully cover the cucumbers. Cover securely and place in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Just Beet It

I so remember being served a bowl-full of dark red soup lightened to a fuchsia once one swirled in the sour cream. That bowl of borscht was the extent of my experience with beets for many years, and to make the introductions worst, it came from a jar.

It was not until I was living in Australia and learned the pleasures and subtleties of this subterranean root ball. The ubiquitous sanguine beet so utilized by all of us of eastern European decent is still the standard bearer for the beet. Though in the market right now are young golden; candy-stripped Chiogga; white, and the oblong Formosa. The golden and Chiogga are the sweetest to my palate and along with the least sweet, white, leave no stained hands after they have been peeled. The incredibly dense and meaty Formosa is my choice for borscht that now never comes from a jar.

When purchasing beets regardless of their color I always look for beets with their greens still attached. It immediately lets me know they are fresh, and have not spent too much time off the farm. Plus those beautiful leaves are completely edible, and I wash them and saut̩ them just like I might spinach. My favorite way to cook the beet is to trim off their stems and cut away the root tail then wrap the beets in aluminum foil with about a quarter cup of water. Into a 350 degree until fork tender Рanywhere from 15 minute to 60 Рdepending on their size and freshness. Then while still hot I rub the skin off. Now you are ready. An alternative non-cook option is to by the freshest, baby beets and scrub then well. I slice them thin and drizzle them with lemon juice, coarse salt and olive oil for an easy salad.

Smoked Salmon, Roasted Beets, Goat Cheese and Marinated Red Onions
with Citrus Vinaigrette
-- yields 6 servings

1 large red onion
1/2 cup Champagne vinegar
3 beets (approx 3/4 pound)
11 ounce log goat cheese
1/4 cup chopped dill leaves
1/2 pound sliced smoked salmon
1/2 cup light toasted whole walnuts
12 croutons

Cut the onion in half through the root, and then slice the onion paper thin. Toss the sliced onion with the champagne vinegar and let sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Pre heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Wrap the beet in aluminum foil, drizzled with a 1/4 cup of water, and place in the oven. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes until fork tender. Cool slightly and then rub the skin off the beets. Slice the beets into 1/4” thin rounds.

Place the goat cheese in the freeze for 30 minutes. It is easier to slice the cheese if it’s firm. Slice the goat cheese into 12 pieces and roll in the chopped dill.

Assemble the plate by placing three slices of salmon on the plate along the outer parameter. In the center place the some marinated onions, sliced beet and the goat cheese sitting on top of the croutons. Drizzle with vinaigrette and garnish with walnuts.

Citrus Vinaigrette
1/2 cup fresh orange juice(from about 2 oranges)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
1 cup olive oil

Mix the orange juice, mustard, salt and pepper together to blend. Then slowly whisk in the oil.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Taste Summer

The dog days of summer are barking loudly…hot and humid air seems to slow down every step that is taken. However, your friends on the farm on busy working through these dogged days harvesting the cornucopia that is the summer basket. Corn, tomatoes, pole beans, chilies, zucchinis to name but a few of the edible possibilities seduces me. For me I am never lacking a satisfying meal given how ripe and wonderful the earth is at the moment.

The downside of cause I am not particularly willing to turn my stove on un-necessarily. Fortunately, fresh from the farm means many of the foods I might otherwise cook can be eaten raw and transformed into wonderful salads. To that end, I remember as a child loving a salad I would get at a kosher dairy restaurant chock-full of seasonal vegetables slathered in sour cream. I rarely have sour cream in my house but a pesto made from sorrel fits the bill perfectly to accommodate my daily summer haul.

Summer Salad – yields 8 to 10 servings
1 small carrot – peeled and diced
1-bunch candy stripped baby beets – trimmed and scrubbed; then diced
3 baby white turnips - diced
1-cup fresh peas
1/2-pound green beans - diced
1-bunch radishes - diced
5 scallions – roots discarded; then white and green portion diced

Place all the vegetables in a work bowl and toss with Sorrel Pesto. Let the salad sit in the refrigerator for an hour before serving.

Sorrel Pesto
1/4 to 1/2 cup extra virgin olive
2-cups washed sorrel leaves
2 to 3 garlic cloves – roughly chopped
1/2-cup packed basil, mint, or lemon verbena leaves
1/4 cup blanched almonds
Salt and pepper to taste

In a blender pour in half of the oil and add the sorrel, garlic, basil, almonds and blend to smooth. Use the remaining 1/4-cup of olive oil to thin the pesto to a thick, soupy consistency.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


In small little cardboard grayish-blue half pint size boxes gathers the jewels of the summer pickings. Raspberries are the most delicate of the summer fruit along with blackberries. I could not image doing more to them then nestling in some yogurt for breakfast or scatter over fresh ricotta that is then drizzled with honey. Please never wash the fragile berries that seem to immediately decompose at the mere thought of a faucet’s stream running done upon them. These gems grow in a thick bramble high above the dirt line what need is for washing. Oh, if it is pesticides you better run the hot water and get out the dish soap. The only times I find a moldy one is when I buy them at a supermarket were they have been shipped from somewhere to a loading dock and then to wait for my arrival at the store. Market fresh berries are definitely plumper, sweeter, and most obviously, more seductive to me.

Cook them if you will, but for me, there are best in a bowl with a fingers dropping in gently lifting out a gift for a mouth.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Peas and Carrots

I have always been very specific about what I would eat and how I wanted to eat it. It was paramount to me that my foods never touch unless they were designed to go together – best they keep their distance. My nemesis on any dinner plate were peas and carrots. They were not from the same pod, and as a kid I only ever had them canned. There was not a more foul smell and texture then these two seemingly arbitrary partners. They were an unfortunate staple on our dinner table and a source, not of vitamins, but arguments that I would lose. My first real attempt at a pea was in my late teens when I was presented a fresh, raw version of the legume unpolluted by the canning process or its ever-present escort. It was a revelation – sweet, crisp everything I did not know it could be. My mother to his day denies the fact it took almost twenty years before she served me a fresh pea. She was of the canned generation -- that post world war two population driven by convenience and security. She made sure we were well provided for by converting half of our two-car garage into a mini-mart.

Now, all these years later I still get the dry-heaves when I see mushy peas and carrot bits occupying space on a plate. Yet, in the market the pea is peaking and young, slender carrots are stacked on farmer’s tables. Perhaps they can go together….

Peas and Carrots – yields 4 to 6

1-pound peas (in shell)
3 small carrots
1 small red onion
1 lemon zest
1/2-cup basil – torn
1/4-cup extra virgin oil olive
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Shell the peas, and drop them in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds. Drain the peas, and run cold water over them to arrest the cooking process.

Peel the carrots, and dice the carrots to about the size of the peas. Dice the red onion.

In a work bowl toss the peas, carrots, onion, lemon zest, basil, oil, salt and pepper. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving.