Fennel, Apple, Mushrooms, Raisins, Arugula (aka the “Pretty Near Perfect Fall Salad” post)

Three rules I live by: 1.) Frequent trips to the greenmarket. 2.) Keep your kitchen basics stocked. 3.) Let whatever you have on hand inspire your cooking.

Rule no. 1 sets you up for success: If you always have some variation of locally grown, seasonal produce on hand, you’ve got a great basis for inspiration.

Rule no. 2 helps with time management: You won’t have to drop everything to run to the store for one or two items, wasting 30 minutes or more.

Rule no. 3 is easy — when you follow no. 1 and no. 2. Hence this gorgeous salad, which I pulled together based on what I had on hand.

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The Pretty Near Perfect Fall Salad
Serves 2

1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced, some fronds reserved
1 apple, sliced
4 cloves garlic, whole
1/2 c. golden raisins

8 oz. button mushrooms (or baby bellas), thinly sliced
2 sprigs rosemary
Sherry vinegar

Approx. 8 oz. arugula or greens of your choice
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), white balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Add-ons: Protein of your choice — we have wild caught single serve portions of Mahi Mahi from Costco in our freezer. Slivered almonds or cheese would also be delicious additions in the absence of fish. Also, I threw in some leftover pickled onion that I had in the fridge.

Directions: Toss the fennel, apple and garlic cloves in EVOO, salt and pepper, and roast at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, turning once or twice, until lightly browned. Add the raisins for the last 5 minutes. Separate the fennel and raisins; set aside. Chop the roasted apple slices and slice the garlic thinly; reserve.

Separately, heat 1T EVOO and 1T butter (optional — but recommended) in a large saute pan. Add mushrooms and rosemary and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently. Add the reserved apple and garlic. Once the mushrooms are cooked and the liquid has evaporated, add 1T sherry vinegar around the edge of the pan (red wine vinegar or even apple cider vinegar would also work) and stir to incorporate. Continue cooking another five minutes or so, until all of the liquid has evaporated.

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Toss greens in drizzle of EVOO and white balsamic vinegar (regular balsamic vinegar would work as well — white balsamic has a lighter, lightly sweet taste). Salt and pepper lightly.

To plate: Divide salad onto two plates and top with some of the reserved fennel fronds — just a few pieces here and there. Spoon mushroom mixture over salad and gently mix. Add a few more fennel fronds if desired. Top with roasted fennel and raisins.

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Bon Appetit!

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Something Kind of Magic Under the JMZ (aka the “Hello, Moto” Post)

Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that such an utterly romantic, sweetly nostalgic restaurant as Moto could exist — nay, thrive — in a corner of Brooklyn predominantly known for its Hasidic and Dominican communities and fast-food neon …

And yet, that’s exactly where I found myself on a quiet afternoon this last weekend, sipping a black velvet ($7) — a deceptively effervescent Guinness and champagne concoction — and channeling every bit of my attention that wasn’t swooning over the jazz music, muffled and crackling as if from another era, or the way the wooden ceiling fan cast an oscillating pattern of shadows onto the antiquated turnkey clock, while the JMZ Train rumbled on overhead … wait, where am I?

Oh yes, the task at hand: I was alternating between skewering mushrooms that had been marinated in olive oil and sherry vinegar, and finished with capers, rosemary and red pepper flakes, with toothpicks, and constructing gorgeous bites from a deconstructed salad composed of slices of cucumber, tomato, radish and soppressata, hulks of Bulgarian feta, garnishes of fresh mint and black olives.

This was just to sample something the menu; I will surely be back for more.

Moto evades categorization except to be called “excellent.” The best I can do is to say that as I sat there in my reverie, studying my surroundings, more than once I considered comparisons between Moto and such old timey, Euro-inspired cycling-centric bits of pop culture as The Triplets of Belville and that Stella Atrois commercial from last year, which I’ve pasted below:

Moto, 394 Broadway, at Hooper Street, E. Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 718-599-6895. Photos of the restaurant and a bit more information here, great writeup by the Village Voice here.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside? (aka the “Make This Hot-Hot Salad” Post)

Yes, temps are below freezing. And yes, I’m making a salad — no, not iceberg…

… I want all the nutritional value of something dark and green, plus some nice, nutty grains, plus the (possibly) one of the most perfect pork products I’ve yet to discover, loose sausage filling — fresh ground, seasoned, just minus the casing — $3.99/lb at Agata & Valentina, a favorite grocer.

Now THIS is a salad fit for the season:

Winter Sausage Salad
Serves 2

1 c. cooked brown/wild rice blend of your choice, (I had on hand a package of Lundberg’s Wild Blend, wild and whole grain brown rice)
1/3 lb. loose, uncooked sausage meat (you can always just remove the casing)
1/2 medium red onion, roughly diced
2 ribs celery, chopped
1c. – 1 1/2 c. chopped red cabbage (depending on your preferences)
3c. loose mixed greens
slivered almonds or other whole nuts (optional)
olive oil, salt and pepper to taste

1. First, get the rice going because it’s probably going to take an hour to cook. Follow instructions on the package to make the rice, which will yield 2 cups.

2. Start up the rest of the cooking about 20 minutes before the rice is done. Sautée the cabbage, onion and celery on medium-low heat in a tablespoon or two of olive oil for about 5 minutes, or until the onion and celery are translucent and the cabbage has softened somewhat. Set aside.

3. In same frying pan, cook the loose sausage meat until browned thoroughly (7-10 minutes).

4. Mix the cabbage, onion, celery mixture into the sausage; add 1 c. of the cooked rice. Mix thoroughly.

5. Now, here’s the trick: While hot, pack the rice and sausage mixture on top of the salad greens and let rest for 60 seconds — the heat from the warm mixture will slightly wilt the greens.

6. Toss evenly and sprinkle with nuts, then serve into bowls.

Tuesday: Simple Italian with a Touch of Ferrari Red (aka the “Trattoria Cinque Discovery Post”)

When I come across a solid restaurant concept, I like to sometimes pretend that I know enough about the business that can dissect why it works.

rustic bread, fresh ricotta, E.V.O.O., black pepper
rustic bread, fresh ricotta, E.V.O.O., black pepper

I was up for the challenge at Trattoria Cinque on Tuesday. This newish neighborhood spot in Tribeca is a good find — crowd-pleasing trattoria-style Italian run by Italians in a venue that could just as easily be the spot for a low-key, midweek meal with a friend (or three) as for a birthday dinner production for 20.

As far as I can ascertain, here’s why it works:

photo-21Start with stylish, but unpretentious, decor: From the street, you want to walk inside.

Stunning (original) exposed brickwork, vaulted ceilings, brown leather banquets, industrial matte black lamps, backlit bottles of lemoncello, chairs and other accents painted official Ferrari red paint — I was told the design is intended to channel the Ferrari factory, circa 1950s, and it works. It’s fun without being gimmicky.

Keep the concept simple: “Cinque” is Italian for “five” and, appropriately, the menu has five beginnings, five pizzas, five big plates, five pastas, five endings.

On top of that, the entire menu receives a makeover about five times a year, to account for seasonality, popularity and whatever else. Plenty of room for the kitchen to engage with the crowd and evolve responsively.

Make it accessible: The most expensive thing on the menu at the moment is a $25 ribeye steak that’s aged for weeks in a meat locker on site. That’s cheap, especially for this neighborhood, but my favorites of the evening (I didn’t try the steak) were priced well below that.

photo-17The first thing I’ll be back for are Trattoria Cinque’s thin, oblong pizzas ($11-$12) like the pizza con gorgonzola e pere, a delicate, ultra-thin crust pie that is finished with white truffle oil and fresh ground pepper. It’s cooked perfectly and evenly throughout, and somehow, that thin crust holds itself together long enough for you to get it in your mouth.

photo-19Also: A fantastic Caesar salad ($10) that is only deserving of such a production:

Each one ordered is prepared from scratch at a tavola, or a large, wooden table placed prominently and dramatically in the main dining room. It’s dining meets spectacle, old world style.

And before I come back for the brasato di Manzo — braised beef short ribs with white polenta ($20), the hearty meat and potatoes dish I ordered on Tuesday — I’d dig into the list of pastas, all of which are made in-house. Entrée portions of pasta dishes run $14-$18, like most of the menu.

Eventually, we got around to desserts … but by then a bottle of grappa and a bottle of limoncello had showed up on the table. It was time to relax.

TIP: Trattoria Cinque is currently offering a “Pie, Peroni & Pigskin special” on Monday nights where $15 gets you a pie and two Peronis. And, presumably, some NFL football on the TVs in the bar area.

Want more food shots? There’s a photo of the frito misto plate — fried calamari, shrimp, artichoke hearts, and lemon slices — after the jump:

Continue reading “Tuesday: Simple Italian with a Touch of Ferrari Red (aka the “Trattoria Cinque Discovery Post”)”

Sunday: In Search of a Fresh, Lively Salad (aka the “Almost Perfect Baoguette Steak Salad” Post)

photo-6Finally, late into Sunday evening, I found myself  standing at the counter of Baoguette/Pho Sure in the West Village, utterly parched for some fresh, lively greenery after Saturday’s (need I remind you) “Ugghhh …” binge.

There is one salad on the menu, a skirt steak salad. (note: I can find no online menu that reflects this menu change/update.) Skirt steak salad, with pineapple, English cucumber, fresh herbs, crushed peanuts, etc., etc. $12.99.

photo-8“Does that come on a bed of greens?” I ask. I only ask because the only other salad listed, a green papaya salad, while delicious, has no bed of greens whatsoever. And I need some leafy greens. Desperately.

She told me yes.

In fact, the answer is no. No greens. I was sort of annoyed … until I took a bite.

That salad was gone in t-minus 10 minutes, and I wanted more. Simple, fresh, beautiful — and with ample, gorgeous (and gorgeously rare) slices of skirt steak — “Fuck it, I will find some greens tomorrow.”

Tuesday: Ohh I Get It … a “Pitza” is a “Pizza on Pita” (aka the “Bedouin Tent Discovery” Post)

photoMore Atlantic Avenue discoveries.

Bedouin Tent. I stopped in on Sunday to grab a take-out menu and the front of the house smelled so good — that sweet, dough-y, bread baking smell — that if I hadn’t just finished my Paddington Bear panini across the road, I would have ordered something, anything, right there and then.

Bedouin Tent makes their own pita in a huge, industrial pizza oven, right there by the entrance, all day every day. Little dough balls sit stacked in flour on one side, waiting to be rolled out and shaped.

(I don’t really know how to make this metaphor work, but they reminded me of nothing so much as a small surplus of snowballs, lying in wait.)

photo-4Just as the oven is located front and center in the restaurant, the pita here is showcased in every dish: It is the vessel for an assortment of Middle Eastern salads and spreads; split open, the pita becomes a pocket, or sandwich; laid flat and topped with diced and sliced meats, vegetables and (sometimes) fresh mozzarella cheese, the pita becomes a “pitza,” a pita/pizza hybrid; with meal-sized salads and entrees, pita is served on the side, like bread.

photo-3I tried the garden salad ($7.50) — lettuce, tomato, mushrooms, peppers, cucumber, artichoke hearts, olives, parsley and feta cheese — and the Lambajin “pitza” ($7), a crumbled mixture of lamb, onion, tomato, parsley and other spices, spread out on flat pita disc and baked like a pizza.

It was a ton of food — easily enough for two people. (Indeed, it was two meals for me.) This is how every $7.50 veggie salad should be loaded: thick cuts of fresh produce, plus beautiful homemade touches, like housemade stuffed grape leaves, artichoke hearts, a blend of feta and parsley.

The Lambajin … a meat-lover’s “alternative” pizza. Full of flavor and meatiness, I did miss the cheese. (Look closely, there are a couple pitzas that are cheeseless.) All in all, my first Bedouin Tent meal left me wanting to try more, namely the “Green Pitza,” — leeks, scallions and fenugreek (described as “lightly sweet”) and mozzarella cheese — and, well, everything else.

photo-1Bedouin Tent, 405 Atlantic Ave., Boreum Hill, Brooklyn, (718) 852-5555.

TIP: Bedouin Tent has a large back patio, shaded by large, cream-colored umbrellas. I had to take lunch to-go, but if the weather’s good, take advantage of it! Then, it seems like more places than not along Atlantic Avenue have just similar backyards. Merits more exploring …