Botanica's Kickstarter is LIVE! Please, please, pretty please check it out. We have until January 7, 2017 to make the magic happen...and it's all or nothing! Why donate? If you support small, independent, women-run businesses; if you're excited about innovation in the restaurant world; if you love to cook and will use BotanicaMag.com as a resource for recipes and inspiration; or if you live in LA and plan to visit/eat/shop when we open next year, consider supporting Botanica on Kickstarter! We'll be endlessly grateful (and we have some sweet rewards for you, too).
But wait... there's more! BotanicaMag.com is LIVE! 50+ recipes we've been testing for the restaurant, a dozen how-to's, our favorite products and cookbooks, and so much more. Check it out...and hit the kitchen!!
We've been getting busy this summer! We've been workin' (bye bye, ugly drop ceiling; hello, light-filled future home of Botanica)...
We've been designing (we made fruit and vegetable prints and the lovely and talented Jessica Comingore worked her magic with 'em)...
We've been catering (for baby showers and work gatherings and dinner parties and more)...
And, of course, we've been COOKING (recipe-testing up a storm for the opening menu and for BotanicaMag.com)...
Smoked Paprika Vinaigrette
Makes 1 cup
It's not an exaggeration to say that we use this on everything. (Everything except pancakes. But oh! It would be good on savory zucchini pancakes...) Here are a few ways to try it: grill cobs of corn, cut off kernels, toss them with scallions, cucumber, cannellini beans and this vinaigrette; grill peach halves, put them on a plate with hunks of fresh mozzarella or manouri cheese and drizzle this over top; grill cabbage wedges (see pic above!) or little gem lettuces and spoon this over 'em... You can't go wrong!
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon pimentón dulce (Spanish sweet smoked paprika)
1/4 cup lemon juice (zest the lemons first and throw that in there, too!)
2 tablespoons minced cilantro stems*
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
In a small bowl, combine garlic, pimentón, lemon juice and zest and cilantro stems and season with a good sprinkle of sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Drizzle in the olive oil, stirring vigorously to emulsify. Taste and adjust salt and lemon as needed. Spoon over grilled vegetables (or grilled shrimp, fish or chicken) and garnish with cilantro leaves.
*Omit cilantro if you're not feeling it! This is also great with basil or parsley (but don't use the stems).
Tomato Peach Gazpacho
Makes 1 blender-full (approximately 8 cups)
This cold, summery soup is the easiest dinner party stunner (or quick, lovely lunch). To play up the sweetness of the tomatoes, we like to throw in a few white peaches or nectarines. A drizzle of basil oil takes the soup from good to grand. Serve cold or room temp with a sprinkle of minced cukes, peppers and peaches and some edible flowers, if you happen to have any on hand (and a glass of rosé, naturally).
2 large peaches, preferably white, pitted and roughly chopped*
A bit over 2 pounds of multicolored tomatoes, roughly chopped* (we use a combo of sungolds and heirloom)
2 red (or yellow or orange) bell peppers, de-seeded and roughly chopped
2 Persian cucumbers, roughly chopped
1 white onion, roughly chopped
1-2 tablespoons sherry or red wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
¼ cup olive oil
Sea salt & black pepper
*Ask for seconds (aka super super ripe fruit) at the market. They are cheap as can be and it doesn’t matter if your tomatoes/peaches are a bit mushy! It’s all going in the blender.
Set a bit of peach, bell pepper and cucumber aside to use as garnish; give it a finer chop to make it garnish-ready. Throw everything else, except the olive oil and salt/pepper, into a blender and blend until smooth. Drizzle in olive oil and salt and blend again until creamy. Taste and adjust salt and acid as needed. (If your blender isn't super powerful, combine the chopped veg, olive oil, vinegar and lime in a big bowl, give it a good sprinkle of salt and pepper, and let it sit for 15-30 minutes to let juices accumulate...this liquid will help your blender pulverize it all.) Serve the gazpacho with a sprinkle of cucumber, bell pepper and peach and a generous drizzle of basil oil (if you have a green chile on hand, that's nice on there, sliced paper thin, too!).
Makes 1 cup
1 large bunch basil, leaves picked
1 cup olive oil
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Toss in the basil leaves, blanch for 10 seconds, and then immediately drain and shock the leaves in ice water for 5 seconds (the blanching ensures the leaves stay bright green). Squeeze the water from the leaves, put the basil in a blender, add the oil and a good pinch of sea salt, and puree until smooth. Taste and add salt as needed (the salt helps the flavor really pop). The oil doubles as a dressing for salad, roasted veg, steak, fish, pasta, tomatoes, you name it. And it is dreamy over beans with some shaved pecorino! Keeps in the fridge for two weeks.
We've been busy cooking...and signing leases and applying for permitting and finalizing web design...and then cooking some more! Keep tabs via Instagram and Facebook and sign up for the mailing list at BotanicaMag.com...
This bright, springy soup is so silky and rich that it's hard to believe there isn't any dairy or stock. The secret: onions! (Oh man, we love onions.) They add savory heft to the water-based broth and creamy texture to the pureed soup. Serve it warm, room temperature or chilled, garnished with plenty of cracked black pepper, chive blossoms and shavings of a mild, salty cheese (we like Cypress Grove's Lamb Chopper).
Asparagus and Sugar Snap Pea Soup
1/3 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 bunch asparagus (the equivalent of a dozen thick spears), woody ends discarded
2 heaping cups sugar snap peas, stems trimmed
1 lemon, halved
1 heaping cup mint leaves
Put a large pot over medium heat and add the olive oil. Once warm, add the onion and saute until translucent; you want soft but not at all colored here (so turn down the heat, if needed).
Cut the asparagus spears below the head and cut the stalks in half again (width-wise). Season the onions with a good sprinkle of sea salt and add the asparagus stalks. Stir, cover the pot and let cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 4 cups water to the pot, stir, cover, and bring to a boil.
Cut the snap peas in half (width-wise). When the contents of the pot are boiling, check the asparagus; it should be bright green and starting to soften. If so, add the asparagus tips and snap peas; if not, let it cook for another minute before doing so. Add another solid pinch of salt, cover the pot, and cook for 1-2 minutes until the snap peas are bright and just barely soft.
Remove the pot from the heat and use a slotted spoon to transfer the asparagus, onions and snap peas to a blender. Add the juice of half the lemon and a scant 2 cups of the cooking liquid and puree, adding cooking liquid as needed to create a smooth, silky soup. Add the mint and puree again until blended. Taste for seasoning (it will likely need more salt and the juice of the other lemon half) and adjust as needed.
We started in Seattle, cut down towards Portland, then turned west towards the coast. The destination: a new home in LA. But first, five days of the Pacific Coast Highway in all its craggy, treelined glory. (Video taken while cruising through the redwoods.)
Tulum, Tulum, what a wonderful place. A dreamy week was spent lounging on the beach, cooking up a tomatillo-packed storm at our casita, and feeling wholly in love with this easy going stretch of Mexican coast. Below, a few favorites for eating, drinking, produce purchasing and textile shopping...
Coqui Coqui (above + below): Picturesque and romantic, with great ceviche and juices
Casa Jaguar: Beautiful, tasty, fun, with beautiful fresh juices and a fantastic tamarind-mezcal cocktail
Cenzotle: Also lovely, lively and fun, with a great Mezcal selection
Juice: The best smoothie and juice spot that I found was right across from a hotel called Aura, fairly south on the strip, on the west side of the street. It has a takeout window open to the street, with a chalkboard menu on the wall below... their green smoothie (chaya, banana, chia, etc) and green juice (chaya + citrus) were super. It's next to an artist space called Residencia Gorila.
Taqueria Honorio: Open until 2pm each day, and not to be missed. Home to the best tortillas I've ever had the pleasure of devouring (see photos below), and crazy good cochinita pibil, lechon, pavo en relleno negro. It's on Satelite Sur (just down from the Scotia Bank).
Cetli: A beautiful and charming formal restaurant, with upscale versions of classic Yucatanean and Mexicao dishes (red, green and black moles, chiles en nogada, etc) and a list of Mexican wines
El Asadero: Mexican steak house with delicious arrachera (marinated flank steak). Don't bother with anything else...just get a half-kilo of arrachera, some roasted onions, and corn tortillas. If you're craving steak, this is the spot.
El Camello, JR: totally tasty and low-key. Fish (rather than shellfish) is really what this area is known for, so stick to ceviche de pescado, whole fried fish, and octopus en mojo de ajo. head next door to Los Aguachiles for pescado aguachile.
Pan Comido: Nice green-citrus juice, rustic bread, oatmeal muesli and tartines, too, plus Oaxacan chocolate
If you go one street south from the main thoroughfare, onto Centauro Sur, there's a cafe called Ki'Bok Gourmet Cafe that makes super delicious "breakfast bars" (fruit compote on a whole wheat flour crust). Around the corner on the main avenue is another spot called El Gourmet Tulum that makes tasty amaranth/seed/nut/fruit bars.
La Llorona: The best shop for beautiful textiles, pillows, woven tops and more from across the country (with an emphasis on Chiapas), plus a covetable/museum-quality assortment of antique furniture.
Mixik: More Mexican folk art and crafts: textiles, wood carvings, etc. At the north end of the beach strip, just south of Mateo's.
Lolita Lolita: A local beauty/bath products line housed in a petite cottage
Coqui Coqui: The hotel's shop is packed with problematically desirable things (like the owner's perfume line, gauzy linen dresses, and stunning woven tunics from Hacienda Montaecristo)
Pool: Pick up vegetables, spices and other cooking supplies at this spot just across and up the street from Taqueria Honorio
Seafood: Drive down the main drag in Tulum Pueblo until you see the bright colors below. Pull over and pick up whatever pescado fresco is on hand (they'll happily filet it for you, if you'd like). The shop next door sells gorgeous pollo asado (chicken roasted over charcoal).
You know how, every so often, something comes into your life and you think: "truly, honestly, how did I ever live without this thing before?" One of those things just may be spiced Chinese-style chile oil. It certainly is for me (...written as I notice a smear of it on the side of my hand, left from sticking my finger in the jar this morning). This chile oil doesn't pack a wallop of heat. Rather, it's a pool of savory, aromatic je ne sais quoi (how do you say that in Chinese?) to be spooned and drizzled over everything (except those things that you don't want to drizzle with savory je ne sais quoi).
The obsession/devotion/eternal love was sparked in advance of a dumpling party I threw last fall, during which it was stirred with lobster, Chinese chives and cilantro for shumai, and with black vinegar as a dipping sauce (Bon Appetit's Sichuan chili oil served as general inspiration). Right out of the pot, it gets the job done. After three days in the fridge, it's even more enticing. After a week and a half: wow.
Use it to sauté hearty greens, to fry eggs, to sauté zucchini ribbons or roasted spaghetti squash, or actual spaghetti, made aglio e (chile) olio style. Drizzle it over soft-scrambled eggs, roasted carrots or cabbage, labneh or lentils. Stir it with white miso, rice vinegar, orange juice and grated ginger for a knockout vinaigrette, or with minced cilantro and lime as a topping for roasted fish.
Spiced Chile Oil
Makes a 16-ounce jar of chile oil
4 large (or 6 small) unpeeled garlic cloves
12 ounces grapeseed or canola oil (I use Spectrum organic grapeseed)
A 2-inch knob of ginger, sliced into coins
1 tablespoon star anise
1 tablespoon pink or black peppercorns (or a mix)
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
2-3 small bay leaves
½ cup chile flakes (any basic crushed red pepper will do)
Give the garlic cloves a gentle smash with the side of a knife to crack them a bit. You want some of that garlic juice to be able to seep out, but the skins to stay semi-intact so that the garlic doesn't burn. In a small pot, combine the oil, garlic, ginger, anise, peppercorns, fennel seeds, coriander and bay. Crank the heat to medium, bring to a simmer, and let it gently bubble away for 30-45 minutes (if you have the time, give it a full 45). Check the oil every so often: you want to see the garlic and ginger begin to look toasty, but not burnt. If it gets too brown, turn it down.
After 30-45 mins, turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let it steep for at least an hour. Invite someone over for tea / so they can say: "whoa, what smells so good?" Post-steep, turn the heat to medium-high and bring the oil to a boil. Put the chile flakes in the bottom of a 16-ounce jar. When the oil is piping hot, pour it through a strainer and over the chile flakes; they should fizz and swirl. Place the top on the jar, put it in the fridge, and give it at least three days before you break out your drizzling spoon.
*Note: Adding a good pinch of salt to the chile flakes helps pump up the flavor, but I usually leave it out (and just season as I use it)
And hey, while we're at it...
Makes approximately 24 dumplings
2 1½-pound lobsters
¼ cup minced Chinese chives
¼ cup minced scallions (white and light green parts only)
½ cup cilantro leaves, minced
1½ tablespoons spiced Chinese-style chile oil (see above!)
1½ tablespoons high-quality soy sauce
30 round dumpling wrappers (preferably Shanghai-style, for steamed dumplings)
Make the filling: Place lobsters in the freezer for an hour to slow them down, or kill them with a swift knife to the head. Bring a large pot of water to a simmer then remove from the heat. Remove the claws and tails from the lobsters and place in the pot of hot water. Let the tail poach for 2 minutes then remove; let the claws poach for 3-4 minutes.
Using lobster crackers, kitchen shears, fingers, etc., remove the meat from the claws and the tails. Chop the meat into small pieces and place in a mixing bowl. Add the chives, scallions, cilantro, chile oil and soy sauce, and stir well to combine.
Make the dumplings: Place a heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of a dumpling wrapper. Dip your finger in water and run it around the perimeter of the wrapper (to help the wrapper adhere to itself). Making a series of pleats, fold the wrapper up and around the filling, leaving a small opening at the top (or try what this guy does).
Line a bamboo steamer with parchment paper, brush the paper with a thin layer of oil, and set the dumplings on top. In a wide pan over medium-high heat, bring an inch of water to a boil, and then place the steamer in the pan. Cook until the dumpling skins are glossy and cooked through, about 7 minutes.
Serve with more soy sauce and chile oil for drizzling (though the dumplings are so flavorful and juicy, they may not be needed!).
Snaps from last month's trip to one of the most photogenic and delicious places on Earth:
Morning at Hiiragiya Ryokan means gently simmered tofu, plump white rice and a mosaic of tiny, flavorful dishes, barely changed since the inn first opened in 1818.
The only regret from an afternoon in beautiful Arashiyama: not having booked a table at Shoraian Tofu, a little spot tucked into the woods overlooking the river...
Biggest takeaway from dinner at Kikunoi: walnut miso should be eaten A LOT, preferably atop roasted turnips.
Lunch at Oku is a mighty pretty, wholly delicious affair.
The brand-spanking-new Arabica coffee's got style (and damn good brew).
My most favorite way to take advantage of Pacific Northwest salmon season? See above: A full red-orange fillet showered with shallots, herbs and citrus zests, drizzled with olive oil and citrus juices, and roasted as low and as slow as you can bear.
The sweetness of the shallots and the orange and the aromatic herbs, which wilt but keep their flavor, are beautiful with the rich, mild fish. But it's the low-temperature cooking that's the star here. Cooking the fish in a gentle oven allows the fat to render slowly, which yields a staggeringly moist, tender result.
I'm partial to wild salmon cooked to medium/medium-well, which means it should be pulled from the oven soon after it begins to sweat its opaque white fat (pic above = raw; pic below = cooked).
**If you're lucky enough to get a sack of roe with your salmon, this is the technique I've used to salt-cure the eggs
Slow-Cooked Salmon with Citrus and Herbs
Makes 2 servings
1 large shallot, shaved on a mandoline or sliced as thinly as possible
Zest of 1 orange, plus a good squeeze of the juice
Zest of 1 lemon, plus a good squeeze of the juice
½ cup chopped basil, tarragon, oregano and/or dill
1 teaspoon honey (if your honey is thick, warm it in the oven or the microwave for a few seconds to liquefy it)
Salt & black pepper
Wild Pacific salmon fillet (King, if you can find it), enough for two people
Preheat the oven to 200 (or 220, if that’s as low as your oven goes). In a bowl, combine the olive oil, shallot, citrus zests and juices, herbs, honey, salt and pepper, and stir well. Place the salmon on a high-walled olive-oil-brushed baking sheet, skin-side down, and pour the dressing on top. Season with another sprinkle of salt and pepper. Place in the oven, on the middle rack, and roast for 30-45 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. It’s done when the filet has begun to ooze its opaque white fat, and the densest part of the fish pulls apart easily with a fork (When in doubt, don't overcook! If it's fantastic, fresh wild salmon, it's best cooked medium- to medium-well.). Serve with plenty of the topping ands spoonfuls of the pan juices.
*I could eat this three times a week during peak wild salmon season... but variety is the spice, I suppose, so last night's topping was sautéed ginger, onion and garlic, drizzled with plenty of olive oil and soy sauce, with dried red chiles and star anise tucked into the pan (and it was damn good).
What to do with the leftovers? How about...
Makes 4 appetizer-sized servings, or serves two for dinner with a big ol' salad on the side
Zest and juice of half a lemon (or more)
3 tablespoons minced dill (and/or tarragon and/or parsley)
1 large shallot, minced
1 teaspoon whole-grain mustard
½ cup Greek yogurt, or a combination of Greek yogurt and sour cream
Salt & pepper
1 cup flaked cooked salmon
In a large bowl, combine everything but the salmon and season to taste. Stir in the salmon and mix well to combine. Season again with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon, if needed. And a drizzle of fruity olive oil would only improve the situation. Serve with crusty bread, toasted, and (ideally) rubbed with garlic cloves, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt.
I had the distinct pleasure of selecting and profiling three culinary brights for Plate Magazine's inaugural "Chefs to Watch" list:
>> Ann Redding and Matt Danzer of Uncle Boons in NYC, where I've spent many an evening sending my mouth on a delicious roller coaster ride across fiery banana blossom salads, grilled baby octopus with nam prik talay and rotisserie chicken with green mango salad.
>> Emily Crawford of The Corson Building and The London Plane in Seattle, two beautiful restaurants that I'd live in, if I could, just so as to have Crawford's lovely and clever Pacific Northwest-meets-Middle Eastern/Indian/Nordic dishes every day.
>> Jonathan Wu of Fung Tu (NYC), a thoughtful, measured talent serving some of the country's most imaginative and personal modern Chinese dishes.
Read about 'em, make their recipes, and go to their restaurants. DO IT!
Why pay a visit to Wellfleet, Mass?
After a day of dunes and surf on the Atlantic-side beaches, you can gather oysters, clams and scallops on the shores of the bay (all you need is a permit and a pail)...
...and eat them with Cocchi Rosso or Carpano Antico spritzes (if you hit Main Street Wine & Gourmet in Orleans on the way to town, that is).
You can cook beachside fantasy feasts with stunning local seafood and produce procured from Hatch's (special shout-outs to the monkfish, squid, scallops, clams and albacore, plus the homemade ice pops from the outdoor produce stand)...
...or just eat damn-near-perfect fried scallops from Mac's on the Pier (also home to a solid lobster salad roll) every day.
You can rent bikes from Idle Times Bike Shop, have local-fish tacos down the street at Sunbird food truck, and then cruise along Ocean View Drive...
...or sling a tote with a pair of scissors over your handlebars and pilfer these beauties from the bay side's wildflower-lined inland roads.
You can start the day with oat-chia-flax muesli and hemp milk, made with oh-so-healthy ingredients procured from the Orleans Whole Food Store (which also stocks freshly milled organic flour and excellent Kimball Brook Farm organic cream from Vermont)...
...and end it with a little somethin' like this:
And while you're waiting for your flight from the Hyannis Airport, you can walk across the parking lot to Pain D'Avignon and drown your departure-induced sorrows in fat, garlic-marinated picholine olives and an arugula-fig jam tartine.
*Edible Cape Cod has a thorough list of other resources for shopping, cooking and feasting throughout The Cape
The oh-man-so-versatile I-want-to-put-you-in-everything you-make-everything-better ingredient of this summer = pimentón, Spanish smoked paprika made from peppers smoke-dried with oakwood. It's at once savory, nutty, smoky and a touch sweet (and fiery, if you go for pimentón picante, instead of dulce).
Get yourself a jar. And then stir the crimson powder into vinaigrettes made with ground coriander, honey, olive oil and citrus (orange, lemon, lime or all three), or with cumin, garlic, olive oil and sherry vinegar. Or blend it with olive oil and honey and spoon it over a plate of prosciutto and melon (above!), or with lemon, ground coriander, fresh cilantro and olive oil to finish a dish of seared squid with cannellini* beans, served in their fennel seed- and cumin seed-packed cooking broth (below!).
Most recently it added a smoky je ne sais qoui (er, algo especial) to the orange-cumin-olive oil dressing of a quick summer salad of raw corn, slivered snacking peppers, shaved sweet onions, goat-milk feta and mint.
*Speaking of beans, these bad boys from The Beanery in Maine are EXCELLENT. The cannellinis aren't online, but if you give Brooklyn Larder a call and ask real nice, they might send 'em to you if they're in stock...
It's summertime, the farmers' markets are loaded, and all I want to do is cook cook cook cook cook all day, every day. Specifically:
Open-faced BLTs with garlic-rubbed toast, a slather of mayo, butter lettuce and basil leaves, thick-cut bacon, the ripest of ripe tomatoes and a load of black pepper...
...strawberry gazpacho, Daniel Humm-style (but plus basil and a few extra-sweet tomatoes and minus bread, because we ran out)...
...grilled sweet onion, cherry and sugar snap pea salad with toasted hazelnut vinaigrette...
...Maine lobster salad with sweet onions, corn, arugula and garlic toast (recipe below!)...
...grilled oysters with hot sauce-y garlic butter and roasted carrots with cumin, coriander, pimentón, garlic and citrus...
...Turkish-style poached eggs with garlic-mint-dill yogurt, scallions and Urfa pepper sautéed in butter, and a summery green salad...
...and ALL OF THE TOMATOES, all of the time (with cucumbers, dill, oregano, basil, olive oil, balsamic and red wine vinegar).
Lobster Salad with Sweet Onions and Corn
Serves 4 as a main course, as long as there are other things to eat...
2 two-pound lobsters
2 tablespoons really good sweet butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 smallish sweet white onions, diced (around 1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 ears of sweet corn, kernels removed (2 cups or so of kernels)
1/2 cup basil, torn or roughly chopped
1/2 cup parsley, roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Good bread (a miche or some crusty sourdough)
Cook the lobsters: Plunge them head-first into a very large pot of boiling water, cover, and return to a low boil. Six or seven minutes per pound should do it (I've also heard 10 minutes for the first pound, and three for each additional), and if the lobster is ever-so-slightly undercooked, it's ok (as it gets another turn in a hot pan before serving). Once cooked, plunge the lobster into an ice bath and, once cool, remove the meat from the tail, claws and knuckles. Chop into bite-sized pieces and set aside.
In a large sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter and the olive oil. Add the onions and cook until just translucent, then add the garlic and the corn. Cook for another five minutes or so, stirring regularly so that everything sweats but doesn't brown. Squeeze the lemon over the lot, give it a good stir, and then add the lobster and herbs. Season with salt and pepper, stir some more, and taste -- add more lemon, salt or pepper as needed.
Toss the arugula with lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper and lay it on a serving plate. Mound the lobster on top, and serve it with a pile of bread that's been toasted, rubbed with a cut clove of garlic, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with sea salt. You won't be sorry!
Sunday afternoon is hot as hell, but it's cool in the shaded, AC'd corner of Forgetmenot on the Lower East Side. It's an artfully disheveled joint whose facade of effortlessness is blown by an indecisive DJ who keeps changing the track mid-song. Rolling Stones, Satisfaction? Too obvious. Joy Division? Wrong vibe. Jonathan Wu pays no mind, drinking a pilsner and telling his story as though it's bursting to come out. From high school (loved ceramics, sports, manual labor) and a University of Chicago English degree (the man's well-spoken) to the near-incomprehensible exactitude of the Per Se kitchen, the beauty of Venetian tartufe di mare (deeply cupped clams, eaten raw, that taste of truffles), and the genius of Anson Mills' Glenn Roberts.
Wu has been around; his story takes place in Blue Hill, Anissa, Le Bernardin, Per Se, Brest, Venice. He's found home, finally, at Fung Tu, the restaurant he opened on Orchard Street just last year. It's a place filled with stories: about the wallpaper (inspired by toon leaves, which his grandmother would pluck from her backyard tree and stir into eggs), the light fixtures (designed by his wife), the mishmash of inspirations behind each and every dish.
At Fung Tu, ribbons of celtuce (the lovechild of celery and lettuce) are paired with popcorn broth because the vegetable smelled like corn as Wu was peeling it. They're topped with a soft-cooked, Chinese-style black egg as a nod to Taiwanese eggs with bitter melon. And they are staggeringly delicious. Ditto for petite nuggets of fried sweetbreads lacquered with a sophisticate's General Tso's, and shrimp dip like a seafaring, China-bound Bolognese.
It's Chinese, but not just. It's Wu. He says: "My grandfather came in and was like 'Hey: I want mapo tofu.' I was like: 'Don’t worry, we’ve got something like that...kind of..."
Makes 1 cup of dressing
1 small shallot, minced
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1 heaping teaspoon whole-grain mustard
3-4 tablespoons lemon juice (1 lemons)
3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup tarragon leaves
Salt and pepper
Combine all ingredients and--this is key--let them sit, room temp, for at least half an hour. Maybe more. Let these guys marry. Then spoon over everything (especially grilled vegetables, sliced tomatoes, boiled new potatoes and piles of lettuces). It's wonderful on a Niçoise salad--so wonderful, in fact, that your guests might not notice that the cook drank too much rosé and forgot to add the Niçoise [olives] to the damn salade...
Gazing longingly at last summer's eye candy, ready for it to return...
A week after a 10-day jaunt to Barcelona and Madrid, the cravings were hitting hard. Sherry, garlic, pimentón and jamón withdrawal were in full effect.
Fortunately there was a birthday to be celebrated, so we did it Spanish-style--with fat white asparagus, spritzes, almejas a la marinera, garlicky roasted potatoes, and a rack of pork from Dickson's Farmstand Meats with shallots cooked in Pedro Ximenez. For dessert, a golden cake rich with Spanish olive oil.
THE MENU // spritzes, jamón Iberico, Marcona almonds, olives and pimentos de piquillo // white and green asparagus with lemon vinaigrette and basil oil // almejas a la marinera // pork rib roast with PX shallots and salsa verde // garlicky roasted potatoes // olive oil cake with roasted strawberries and genmaicha ice cream
Aperol Spritzes are the drink del momento in Madrid. We decided our bottle of Carpano Antica would do, and set it out alongside slices of jamón Iberico, Marcona almonds, olives and piquillo peppers, sliced and tossed with olive oil and basil.
Next came asparagus, green and white, braised a la Patricia Wells, tossed with lemon and olive oil, drizzled with basil oil, and sprinkled with redbud blossoms plucked from an obliging tree on Bergen Street. A basil oil tip: If using any but the mildest young leaves, blanch the basil first (5 seconds in boiling water will do) to eliminate any bitterness.
There were almejas a la marinera, too, Long Island clams enveloped in a ruddy sauce of Spanish smoked paprika (pimentón dulce), white wine, garlic and onions (scroll down; voilà, recipe!). The dish is named for sailors, marineros, and I would consider a life as a Spanish sailor if these were promised daily. They're just that simple-but-craveable, thanks to the hefty dose of smoky pimentón.
As for those shallots, a quick brown in butter was followed by a long bath in a half-bottle's-worth of raisiny Pedro Ximenez, rosemary and thyme. They emerged from the oven sweet, aromatic and savory, lacquered with the reduced sherry. (The inspiration: An unforgettable dish of steak with pearl onions and grapes cooked in Pedro Ximenez, eaten in the heart of sherry country in 2006.)
A bite of genmaicha-honey ice cream at Van Leeuwen the day before inspired the dessert: Maialino's genius olive oil cake with roasted strawberries and said (also genius, I'd say) ice cream.
Almejas a la Marinera
Serves 4 as an appetizer
32 littleneck clams
1 bottle white wine
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, minced
4 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon pimentón dulce (Spanish sweet smoked paprika)
1 teaspoon flour
An hour before cooking, soak the clams in water to get 'em to spit out their sand. Pour a few glugs of wine (a half-cup or so) into a large sauté pan, and turn the heat to medium-high. When it starts to simmer, add the clams and cover, peeking frequently so that you can catch them as they open. Stand with tongs at the ready so that you can snag just-opened clams and transfer them to a bowl. Pour the cooking liquid from the pan into the bowl with the clams, give the pan a quick wipe, and set it back over the heat.
Add the olive oil, onion and garlic, and sauté until the alliums soften. Pour the liquid from the clam bowl into the pan and add another half-cup of wine. Once it's bubbling vigorously, add the pimentón and flour and cook, stirring regularly, for 2 minutes or so, so the wine cooks down a bit and the flavors do their thing. Taste for seasoning (you might want to add a touch of salt), add the clams, and gently toss to coat them with the sauce. Sprinkle with a good shower of parsley and serve, preferably with glasses of sherry (Fino or Manzanilla) or a Spanish white like Albariño or Godello.
A scene from yesterday's Indian wedding. Coconuts for prosperity, cumin and brown sugar for the bitterness and sweetness of life, rice for sustenance. And yes, that coconut is bedazzled. Indian weddings = THE BEST. Further proof below. Choreographed dancing and bedazzled coconut and samosas? Heavenly.
'Twas a grey, rainy, fried shallot and fried garlic kind of afternoon...
Rice Noodle Salad with Fennel and Herbs
Nota bene: As far as I'm concerned, this dish solely exists as a vehicle for fried garlic and shallots. But if it's just absolutely not possible to make these magical golden crisps, add toasted cashews and/or peanuts instead (to give it some savory crunch).
Garlic, shaved/thinly sliced
Shallots, shaved/thinly sliced
Rice vermicelli, cooked
Loads o' herbs (cilantro, basil and mint), roughly chopped
Fried garlic and fried shallots*
Make the fried garlic and shallots: In two saucepans or frying pans, heat 3/4 inch of oil over medium heat. Test the oil by dropping in a sliver of garlic and shallot -- if it immediately sizzles, you're ready to roll. Add garlic to one pan and shallots to the other, give both a stir, and reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat as needed to maintain a gentle sizzle, until the alliums turn golden-brown -- 3-4 minutes for the garlic and 15-20 minutes for the shallot. Drain through a strainer (save the oil -- it's full of flava!) and immediately turn onto a paper towel, spreading into a single layer, to dry.
In a small bowl, stir together the rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil and Sriracha. In a large bowl, toss the vermicelli with the fennel and oodles of herbs. Dress the vermicelli with the vinaigrette and a handful of fried garlic and shallot, and toss to combine. Sprinkle more crispy bits on top, grab yer chopsticks, and go!
*Store whatever you don't use in an airtight container in a cool, dry place (not the fridge!); they'll keep for two or three days.
Fact: Greens and booze make any meal (after 10:30 a.m.) better.
Problem: It's noon and your afternoon is filled with important meetings.
Solution: Put the booze IN the greens. Devour. Conquer world.*
I like a good splash of red wine in my tomato sauce -- it adds a dark fruitiness to tomato's bright, savory acidity. Pickled chilies bring tangy, persistent heat (but dried chile flakes and a splash of balsamic could certainly act as substitutes). This is a lunchtime go-to when a big bowl of pasta is calling my name, but the rational "eat more greens! and also your tight jeans are feeling too tight" angel on the shoulder prevails. Dress it for dinner with a topping of roasted fish (cod would be lovely) -- or a tangle of hearty pasta, like rigatoni, orecchiette or pappardelle.
*...or at least don't slur words and/or awkwardly over-share in interview.
Makes a solid lunch-sized serving
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ small yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 small garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon pickled chilies, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
A good splash (2 tablespoons or so) of red wine (or whatever color wine you have sitting open in the fridge)
½ bunch hearty greens, like lacinato kale and Swiss chard, sliced into ribbons (about 2 loosely packed cups)
Salt and black pepper
In a sauté pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil and sauté the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent and the garlic is lightly gold, about 2 minutes. Add the chilies and tomato paste, give a stir, and cook for another minute or so. Add the wine, crank up the heat to medium-high, and let it bubble away, stirring occasionally. When it's mostly reduced, add the greens and stir until thoroughly wilted. Season with a good sprinkle of sea salt and a few turns of the pepper grinder, tip into a bowl, and shower with shaved Parmesan.
We ate 20 courses, we drank local herb and root tisanes, and then we hit the pond. Midnight fishing at Fäviken, as (casually) told to Yahoo Food...
Eating, cooking and design: This subject is RICH. Head-spinningly so. The relationship of this inseparable trio has evolved over the course of millennia, from the earliest molcajetes to the latest immersion circulators; from neolithic Japanese pottery to Crucial Detail; from the ornate cuisine of early Imperial China to the architectural grande cuisine of Marie-Antoine Carême, and the edible landscapes of Rene Redzepi & Co. (those veer into the territory of art, I suppose, but are part of the subject's topography).
A friend is in the early stages of curating an exhibit on the subject for the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, to launch in 2016. At lunch today, over a spread of un-artful but wholly delicious Turkish mezze, we considered the many intersections of culinary and design arts -- the role ceramics plays in a traditional Kaiseki meal, Homaro Cantu's polymer ovens, the movement from vertical to horizontal plating in high-end cuisine, to name a few. A rather excellent way to spend an hour and a half.
At the moment, the genre is racing as though in fast-forward, driven by diverse motives -- artistic, practical, humanitarian. Last week's New York Times article highlights parts of that momentum, citing a handful of creative minds working under the expansive umbrella of food + design. It doesn't touch the subject of art and design on the plate, but another NYT article from last fall, "The Ceramic Canvas," culled visual evidence that the distance between a dinner table and a MoMA gallery is ever-shrinking. And then there's the wild and creative world of package design...
I returned home and pulled a few related favorites off the shelf. Should you want to investigate offline, with book in hand, these are four titles to mine for food-design creativity, from the past, present and into the future: Menu Design in America, Inspired Shapes, Create: Eating, Design and Future Food and Eating Architecture.
Winter. Ugh. I consider its redeeming qualities to be few: hearty bowls of pasta; hot chocolate (note: chocolate, not cocoa); fireplaces; and the occasional sparkling snowfall are as many as I can list. Oh, and multicolored citrus. Thank goodness for pretty citrus. When it's dull, dreary and frigid outside, regular bites of vibrancy are all the more important. Cara caras, minneolas, blood oranges and satsumas: These are barren winter's jewels.
Sumac is another pantry gem. The dried, pulverized berries of the sumac plant are fruity, citrusy and earthy, as if lemons, dried cherries, salt and dried oregano went out in the woods and got real. I grew up showering my basmati rice with the stuff, and today I throw it into vinaigrette, stir it into yogurt with garlic and salt, sprinkle it on pasta aglio e olio, on eggs with thyme...it goes on. Here's one properly bright way to put it, and those citrusy jewels, to use:
Orange Salad with Sumac Vinaigrette
Orange juice squeezed from the bits of fruit left on the citrus peels (see below)
Sumac (a hefty pinch or two)
Fruity olive oil (the best you have!)
Salt & pepper
Oranges (blood and cara cara are the two used here), with the peel and pith cut off (and saved -- see above), and fruit sliced into rounds
Radicchio leaves, torn
Dill or fennel tops, roughly chopped
Parmesan, shaved into strips with a vegetable peeler
Make the vinaigrette: Stir together the ingredients, adding more sumac than you think is reasonable (it's reasonable, I promise). Pour the vinegar with a light hand; the vinaigrette should be fruity, citrusy and just gently acidic.
Combine the salad ingredients, except for the Parmesan, and toss with the vinaigrette. Plate the salad, and top it with the shaved parmesan and another turn of the pepper grinder.
In the small beach town of Troncones, as with many of the best small beach towns, eating is the main event. Sure, there are sun and surf and sand. But in this tiny dot on Mexico's central Pacific coast, they're mostly filler between meals. This is a place where beer is cheaper than water, seafood is dreamily fresh, and margaritas are made just as they should be: with tequila, lime juice and Cointreau; shaken; and served on the rocks.
It's a special place, one that's largely undeveloped and undiscovered. In its honor, a few (culinary) lessons learned on a recent trip, and then a few pictures:
* Key limes have transformative, nearly magical powers. They turn Pacificos and Victorias into the apotheosis of beachside thirst quenching. Freshly fried tortilla chips need little more than a squeeze of them and a sprinkle of salt. Pounded in a mortar with green chiles, they are the secret to the finest camarones en aguachile and tiritas, strips of huachinango (red snapper) tangled with slivered red onion.
* Pretty much everything tastes better when doused with mojo de ajo, especially grilled lobster.
* Walking 2+ miles from Troncones to the tiny fishing town of Playa Majahua for lunch at Doña Martha, a humble, open-walled seafood shack on the beach, is a excellent decision (see previous point and below lobster photo).
* When served within sight of the ocean, machaca -- shredded beef popular in Mexico's cattle-heavy northern states -- is made with fish, and studded with pineapple and raisins. The meaty, sweet/savory/spiced/tomato-y braise is served room-temperature, with tortilla chips, and wouldn't taste out of place on a table in Tangier.
* Fruity, gently spicy guajillo chiles + garlic = true love (aka "al ajillo," Mexican style). Slice dried guajillos into rings, sliver or mince a monstrous amount of garlic, and add both to a pan of olive oil over low heat. Let it all mingle and seep and sauté; as the garlic is just beginning to color, crank up the heat and add some shrimp. (If the shrimp are staggeringly fresh, butterfly the back and cook them with the legs and the shell on. The legs, once crisped and tangled with garlicky chile oil, are arguably the best part of the thing. If not staggeringly fresh, peel away.) Finish the pan with salt and a squeeze of lemon or lime, and serve, as most all seafood in this area is (rightly) served, with fresh tortillas and a beer.