Friday, September 12, 2014

Simple Tomato Sauce // When Life Hands You Tomatoes (weeks 54 & 55)


Our final pop-up event of the summer was a failure. To be more precise, it was a giant, epic, “this isn’t even over yet and I already know I’m going to cry about this for days” no-good, terrible disaster. Our booth was placed in a god-awful location. At the last minute, management decided to call the whole thing a “cash-free event.” For three days, hordes of cashless concert goers dug deep in their high-waist denim shorts for credit cards (no food, it turned out, for those unfortunate few who stuffed a mere twenty dollar bill in their bra straps), and then sauntered over to the food area, a destination that consisted of a good dozen or so food vendors that, by some unfortunate chance, we were not in. Rather, our designated location left us up on a hill, both out of potential customers’ way and also out of their minds. Cricket. Cricket. Then, when we thought things could not get any worse, early Sunday afternoon the sky tore apart, bursts of lightening illuminated the swirls of black clouds and, just like that, the whole thing was cancelled.

Which, of course, is how we ended up with a spare twenty-five pound box of tomatoes hanging out in our home kitchen early last week.



On Monday, Labor Day, Jay and I spent a solid half hour hovering above our kitchen island, just staring at the bloated box, wondering what in the hell we were supposed to do with twenty-five pounds of tomatoes anyway. Since we already had dozens of trays of unsold meat taking up space in the store’s fridges, we didn’t have space for them at the shop. Plus, although he never directly said so, I think Jay felt like they were unlucky in some way and didn’t want them anywhere near his cash register or his knives.


The obvious answer, of course, was to spend an afternoon canning them all up and storing them away for winter. But, in our defeated state, neither of us had the spirit to start sterilizing mason jars. Rather, Jay reached in the fridge, pulled out the last of the summer shandies, and together we moved to the couch for the remainder of the day. 



For the next few days, I began to think of the tomatoes as an enemy of sorts. Every time I meandered into our kitchen to whip up my morning smoothie or to sneak in a late night snack, there it was: a box literally overflowing with jewel-colored reminders of our failures. Neat.

By Tuesday night, I moved the box from our island to a long white bench on the far end of our kitchen. Out of sight, out of mind. But they still caught my eye. By Wednesday, I moved the box again, this time to a spot beneath our kitchen table that I almost never stop to consider (evident, by the way, by the pile of crumbs I discovered there; apparently, our vacuum also never pauses to consider this spot). On Thursday, I was completely annoyed and moved them into the laundry room, figuring that at least they could hide out behind a closed door until I had the heart to do something with them. But on Monday (four whole days after their last move), while attempting to casually toss a load of bath towels in the wash, there they were, like sad little seeded children, completely neglected by moi. And then -- because, you know, fruits and vegetables have human emotions -- I finally began to feel badly about ignoring them.



Without putting much thought into my next steps, I found myself filling a large pot with water and, once it reached a rolling boil, dropping the neglected tomatoes into the steaming bath. I figured, at the very least, I could offer them a sort of cleansing, if you will, to make up for my lack of attention. The house was silent as I removed each tomato and gently dropped it into an ice bath, where its thin, translucent skin began to shrivel and crack away. Then, I grabbed our very stained, very splattered copy of the Silver Spoon, by far one of my top five favorite cookbooks ever, and by far the one I reach for the most when we cook at home, and turned to my most cherished page.


This is indeed an incredibly easy, back-to-the-basics kind of recipe that I so admire for its blatant simplicity and its admiration and celebration of ripe, seasonal produce (perhaps almost too ripe in my case, which is what you get when you smuggle produce into your laundry room, I guess). The recipe, if you can call it that, requires just a few ingredients: plump tomatoes (good quality canned tomatoes also work well during the winter months), a bit of sugar to help bring out the fruits' natural sweetness, a few garlic cloves, a pinch of coarse salt and a small handful of torn basil leaves as well as a good glug of olive oil right at the end. The final product is a simple, flavorful everyday tomato sauce that tastes, well, exactly like tomatoes are meant to taste (which, I think, in our world of prepackaged, preservative packed everything, is sort of saying a lot). Typically, I find the recipe goes pretty quick in our house (figure one night of pasta, followed by another night of pizza and the sauce is gone); however, should you find yourself with an excessive amount of tomatoes, the recipe can easily be doubled (or tripled…or quadrupled) and then frozen for several months.


Simple Tomato Sauce
from the Silver Spoon

- about 1 dozen fresh tomatoes, peeled
- pinch of sugar
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed
- coarse salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 10 fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped

Place the tomatoes into a pan and add the sugar, garlic and a pinch of salt. Cover and cook over a very low heat for about 30 minutes. Do not touch or stir the tomatoes during this time. Mash the cooked tomatoes with the backside of a wooden spoon and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool slightly. Stir in the olive oil and the basil. When kept refrigerated, the sauce will keep well for about a week. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Friday Roundup


Hiiiii and happy Friday! We've officially survived the ever-so-sad end of summer and, if you're here in the Northeast, the official start of a rather humid, rather sticky, rather uncomfortable Indian summer. As a reward, I think it is safe to say that we all deserve a little "almost autumn" Friday roundup to get ourselves pumped for cooler days. So here we go…

Monday, September 1, 2014

Blueberry, Nectarine & Bourbon Crisp // End of Summer (weeks 52 & 53)


It is the last weekend of summer and I just got around to making my first crisp. Terrible form on my part, all around. The summer here was mild, accented by warm, sun-drenched afternoons and cool, often breezy nights. As a result, our local fruit was near perfect. The wild blackberries and raspberries were bursting with sugar and packed a satisfying tart-punch. The peaches have been swollen with sweet juice, hidden behind a perfect veil of yellow and red ombre skin. I've been stockpiling fruit every week during my farmers' market trips, and assembling proud, colorful displays of overflowing wooden bowls on our kitchen island, which we dipped into throughout each day. It's been a little bit of a food lover's version of heaven over here.


With fruit so perfect, crisps seem like the obvious choice. Crisps are champions of ripe fruit, supporters of all seed-bearing rounds that fall from trees. Plus, as every half-decent baker knows, they are impossibly simple to make, mimicking the easy going nature of the season. And yet, here we are. But how? 


Maybe the reason is because we've done next to zilch in the entertaining department this summer. Usually, even when we're impossibly busy, summer is a time when we open our door (and our kitchen) to many friends and family to host what feels like an endless revolving door of barbecues, low-key summer dinner parties, and late night booze-fests accented by cured meats and bubbling, fresh-from-the-oven summery sweets.


This summer was a decidedly lazy one. I can't remember a single time that we hosted dinner, instead opting to check into some neighborhood haunts for indulgent, on-the-fly lunch dates, and passing up opportunities to invite friends to our place to enjoy our outdoor space for quiet nights home alone together with a stack of food and travel magazines and a cold bottle of rosé (which I now aptly refer to exclusively as "summer water," in case you were wondering).


A few nights ago, close friends opened their door to us for an end-of-the-season crab boil. Since Jay and I just recently returned from Charleston (more on that trip and the magic that is Pappy Van Winkle bourbon in another post), our fridge is looking a little sad. Luckily, hidden at the back of the bottom shelf were a few leftover nectarines from our road trip cooler, a pint of blueberries that somehow miraculously survived our absence and a depressing, singular stick of butter tucked beside a shriveled  nub of forgotten ginger root.


I modeled this crisp after a recipe post on Food52, which offered a sort of guide for making the perfect crisp. This time around, I added a generous splash of booze and some brown sugar to the fruit before baking, and then allowed it to macerate for a bit, which produced a final crisp made from incredibly soft, bourbon-kissed fruit. When it came time to make the actual crumble, Jay hovered beside me to "encourage" me to properly incorporate the butter and the dry ingredients in such a way to create a perfect, airy, crumbly topper. Although it physically pains me to admit when he is right, he had a few good pointers. In the past, I've often worked the butter into the dry ingredients so much that it has turned almost grainy, kind of like the consistency of clumpy sand. However, it turns out that it is much better to squeeze the ingredients in your palm (as opposed to sort of breaking up the butter into tiny, pea-sized balls) and then breaking the mixture into larger clumps. Also, although crisps are typically celebrated as the lazy man's dessert, it seems I've been too lazy with mine, often breaking apart the butter, giving those pea-sized rounds a good mix in the dry ingredients and calling it a day. This time, I spent a good five or six full minutes squeezing those ingredients, which ultimately (once again, this part pains me) means Jay wins this round: his advice did in fact lead to a much better dessert.


I'll be back in a few days with a recap on our end-of-summer pop-ups, life at the shop, and a boatload of early autumn recipes (as well as those weekly roundups I promised a while back…don't judge). Until then…


Blueberry, Nectarine & Bourbon Crisp

- 1 pint fresh blueberries
- 2-3 ripe, large nectarines (or other stone fruit) sliced into wedges
- 1/4 cup good bourbon
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup cold butter, cut into small cubes
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup old-fashioned oats
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium-sized bowl, mix the fruit, the bourbon and the brown sugar until the fruit is well-coated. Set aside and allow to macerate for at least ten minutes.

In another medium-sized bowl, add the butter, flour, sugar, oats and cinnamon. Squeeze all ingredients through your palms until the mixture is well-incorporated and breaks apart into large pieces (see details in the above post).

Add the fruit and any liquid to the bottom of a cake pan. Add the crumble mixture to the top of the fruit. Do not press the crumble down; instead, generously pile it on top of the fruit until all the fruit is totally covered. Bake for 40 minutes or until the crumble mixture is a nice, golden brown. Carefully remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Sweet Little Zucchini Cakes w/ Chocolate Frosting // One Year!!! (weeks 51 & 52)


Did you hear that? That was the sound of all the champagne bottles I’m popping. Okay, maybe not, though it certainly feels like I should.

It’s been one year. One year! One year of stress and sleepless nights, of small celebrations and set backs. One year of new friends, new employees and new worries. In the past year, we’ve been a part of one dozen new pop-up markets around New York, been robbed once, had a (now past) employee try to rip off our recipes twice, have added two entirely new sections to our menu (braised meat mac & cheese or brown rice bowls anyone?), have partnered with one of our favorite dessert companies, have received a handful of bad reviews that helped us to do things better and have been shocked to receive a handful of glowing reviews that have made us realize we are capable of doing things way better than we ever thought we could. We’ve survived the dog days of summer, the doldrums of winter, and all the ups-and-downs in-between. Maybe I really should go open that bottle of champagne after all.



Right now, I feel riddled by clichés; however, they all feel true. Time flies. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it. I really don’t know how our first 365 days of operation have unfolded so quickly. In some ways it feels like Jay and I both still have paint and caulking beneath our fingernails from last summer’s renovation. In other ways, it feels impossible to imagine our life together just one year back. What did our life look like before our brick and mortar shop existed? What did we do with our days? What did we possibly talk about other than our shop?


Back in 2011 when we sold our first sandwich at a small, weekends-only pop-up in downtown Brooklyn, we never thought we’d last through the first month. Then, when we spent the next fifteen months operating at pop-ups year-round, we felt we might never have the chance to do more than that. When we signed the lease on our first storefront on NYC’s Second Avenue last spring, we were terrified that we’d never be able to pull ourselves together enough to make the whole thing work out. And then, on August 16th of last year, the day of my 31st birthday, when we opened our doors for real, we were both plagued with anxiety about surviving our first full year.


Last year, the night before my birthday was probably the most unglamorous event of my life. Just short of twelve hours before we were scheduled to open, our dining area was littered with custom tables that still were not assembled; rented tools were spread all across our service bar which, as a result, needed a fresh coat of black paint; our menu sign still rest in the trunk of my mother’s car in New Jersey. I rang in the first few minutes of my 31st year by running a shop vac across our kitchen floor and eating the remains from a bag of gummy candy I left out the day before. Very fancy, I know.


This year, life looks pretty different. For the first time since our shop opened, Jay and I are heading out of town for a few nights (I think some people call this sort of getaway a va-ca-tion. Did I pronounce that right? I can’t be sure). It’s our first big road trip – a thirteen-hour drive south to Charleston – and, naturally, it revolves around food. We’ll be hitting up both of Sean Brock’s restaurants for dinner, and will basically spend the rest of our time searching for the perfect bourbon and taste-testing skillets of cornbread. We both plan to come back at least five pounds heavier.


I’m packing our cooler with all the basic road trip essentials. PB&Js. Stone fruit from a nearby farm. Raw nuts. Granola. And for a taste of something sweet, these little zucchini cakes with chocolate frosting. I know, I know. Chocolate frosting for a road trip? It’s like I’m just asking for a messy t-shirt and sticky hands. However, I figure it’ll be worth the risk to be able to pull over at some scenic southern rest stop, many hours from home, to stretch our legs and enjoy a few sweet bites of these mini end-of-summer cakes to celebrate the fact that together, just one year later, we’ve made it this far. 

Good tidings for now friends. I’ll be back soon.


Sweet Little Zucchini Cakes w/ Chocolate Frosting
Adapted from I Am Baker

For the cake:
-       1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
-       2/3 cup sugar
-       ½ teaspoon vanilla
-       3 egg whites
-       2 cups all-purpose flour
-       2 tablespoons cornstarch
-       3 teaspoons baking powder
-       ¼ teaspoon coarse salt
-       2/3 cup almond milk
-       1 cup shredded zucchini, patted dry

For the frosting:
-       1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
-       ¼ cup cocoa powder
-       2 cups powdered sugar
-       1 teaspoon vanilla
-       2-4 tablespoons almond milk
-       a pinch of coarse salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners. Set aside.

Using the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, combine the butter, sugar, vanilla and egg whites. Beat on medium speed for about 30 seconds, and then on high for about 2 minutes until the mixture becomes very light and fluffy.

In a medium-sized bowl, sift the flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt. Add some of the flour mixture to the sugar mixture. Then add some of the almond milk to the sugar mixture. Continue to alternate until all ingredients are mixed. Mix on low until just combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and gently fold in the zucchini.

Pour the batter into the muffin tins until they are 2/3 full and bake for 25-30 minutes. Meanwhile, to make the frosting, add the butter to a clean bowl of an electric mixture and mix for 1 minute until the butter is creamed. Add in the cocoa, sugar, vanilla and salt and mix on medium speed for about 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to a low speed and add in the milk, one tablespoon at a time.


Remove the muffin tin from the oven and allow the cakes to cool completely before frosting.