Thursday, August 30, 2007


In her article entitled, So Many Tomatoes To Stuff in A Week, Melissa Clark shares with us her inability to walk away from a farmer’s market without an overflowing satchel of tomatoes in tow. The article chronicles her 7-day tomato-induced rampage as she struggles to answer the question, what am I going to do with all of these tomatoes? There are recipes for Multi colored Tomato Tartlets, Gazpacho with Watermelon and Avocado, and even Green Tomato and Lemon Marmalade…ah yum!
Inspired by her ripe and riveting recipes, I decided it was time I engaged in a little bit of tomato-love myself and I rushed out to the store to purchase some beefsteaks. There were no farmer’s markets to be found, so I stopped by my favorite fruit and veg stand on 7th avenue in Park Slope and found myself some of Jersey’s ripest reds then got to work on yet another Claudia Roden recipe from her book, Arabesque. These stuffed tomatoes made the perfect summertime meal and my friend Kara and I enjoyed them nestled in a bed of Roasted Sweet and Sour Carrots, lemon and ginger wheat berries, and a bottle of Pierre Chermette Beaujolais.

Tomatoes Stuffed with Roasted Peppers, Tuna, Capers and Olives

2 red bell peppers
2 tbsp olive oil
1 7oz. can of Albacore Tuna, flaked
2 tsp capers
3tsp chopped black olives
peel of 1/2 preserved lemon, chopped
2tbsp chopped parsley or mint
5 large beefsteak tomatoes

1.) Roast Peppers by placing them on a baking pan and placing them into a preheated broiler, 2 1/2 t0 3 1/2 inches from flame. Turn them until their skins are black and blistered on all sides. 2.) When peppers are cool, remove and discard the stem and seeds and dice.
3.) Mix peppers and all other ingredients except the tomatoes.
4.) Cut small circles around the stalk of each tomato and cut out a cap. Remove the center and seeds with a pointed teaspoon. Fill the cavities with the pepper mixture and replace caps.
5.) Place tomatoes on a shallow baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven at 350F for 20-30 minutes, or until tomatoes are soft.
6.) I served my tomatoes cold at Claudia's suggestion. Do not refrain from sprinkling these beauties with a bit if feta or Manchego cheese.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Something Out of Nothing

Some of my best food inventions have been a result of my own laziness. You know what I'm talking about, your sitting around the house, your hungry, there's not a whole lot in the fridge, and you don't feel like making a trip to the store. These are the days that I give myself the task of making something out of nothing. If you are like me and have a pantry fill of canned and pickled ingredients, than you are an ideal candidate for such adventures. All it takes is the right balance between fresh and stored ingredients, compiled in just the right fashion and you find yourself asking, "How come I never though of this before?"

Why just the other day I was craving an egg sandwich but low and behold, there was no bread in the apartment. I did however have some leftover arugula and so I scoured the pantry and came up with these,
These supper thin "spring roll skins" are made from rice flour and are super easy to use, simply pour boiling water into a wide bowl, place a sheet of the spring roll skins into the water for 20-60 seconds, remove when soft, fill with ingredients, then roll up and eat. You can put just about anything inside of these noodle like pancakes, pickled beets and tuna, curried tofu and shredded carrots, chopped vegetables, pesto and feta, nuts and berries, or, as I did the other day, scrambled egg whites, steamed arugula, pickled onions, and a drizzle of Carrot Ginger dressing.

Who needs bread, with these babies in your pantry its always easy to make something out of nothing.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Red Gold

In ancient Greece hetaera courtesans used saffron in their perfumes, mascaras, and ointments. In Ancient Persia saffron was used as an offering to the gods as well as in body wash (how convenient.)In 3rd century China there is evidence that it was used to aromatize wine. In Egypt Cleopatra was said to use the stuff in her baths as an aphrodisiac. And in Europe, during the 14th century Black Plague it was employed for its medicinal qualities. Tonight however, in my 21st century Brooklyn kitchen, it was used to recreate a very popular Moroccan dish called Tagine Djaj Bi Zaytoun Wal Hamid or rather, Tagine of Chicken with Preserved Lemons and Olives.

Through out my modest career as an amateur cook, I have always been too fearful to make use of the spice, and at $40-$65 and ounce who can blame me. Why does it cost so much? Well, it takes 150 flowers to render 1 gram of dried saffron threads. Thats thousands of flowers an ounce!

The first time I heard about saffron was from Jacque, the Patriarch of the Ponsolle family and owner of the family run restaurant, Pergola Des Artistes. On any given evening you can find Jacque behind the bar sneaking sips of the house red from a port sized glass and, with rosy cheeks, making passionate conversation with customers. On this evening in particular I was sitting at the bar enjoying a healthy portion of Cog au Vin, as Jacque introduced me to the most expensive spice on the market.

“Zis, zis is the gold of spice.” he exclaimed holding a tiny vile of the stuff up to my face.
“It cost more than the marijuana,” he whispered with a grin, before downing yet another mini glass of red. It made me wonder how up to speed Jacque was on the marijuana market; he did seem rather jolly singing along to Edith Piaf and Charles Trenet.

The whole thing seemed a bit extravagant to me. I was young at the time, 19, and I had only just begun assisting my boyfriend, a chef, in our home kitchen. I couldn’t have told you the difference between cinnamon and coriander or clove and turmeric and so I forgot all about the gold of spice. As I began to learn how to cook, I steered well away from the costly seasoning, always believing that it was way too lavish for my limited cooking abilities. That was, until I stumbled upon this recipe in Claudia Rodens cookbook, Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon. The recipe seemed so simple so…peasant, that I finally gained the courage to buy myself a vile of the legendary spice.
I made a run to Sahadi’s to pick up the necessary ingredients, saffron, pickled lemons, and olives, and I literally ran home excited about my new addition to the spice rack. The recipe was very easy: caramelize the onions, add spices, sear the chicken, braise, then add lemon rinds and olives, simmer a bit more then garnish with chopped parsley.

I must say, that with the accompaniment of a Tomato, Orange and Mint Salad, and Orange Blossom Scented Wheat Berries pilaf, it was a rather extravagant meal for only one person - let just say I won’t be taking any saffron infused baths tonight.

Because there were other new ingredients for me, namely the pickled lemon rind, I cannot say that the saffron was worth the $5 a gram I payed for it, however I felt privileged to sit down to such a stunning meal. The color was vibrant, and the savory brine of the chicken mellowed against of the cool minted tomatoes and the sweet aroma of the what berries. Perhaps there is room in my spice rack for a new permanent resident.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Alternative Forms Of Travel

On the boardwalk in Brighton Beach, we went to a Russian restaurant, which is like saying we went to a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. Brighton Beach is more Russian than American, which is wonderful. For the price of a subway ride, you can go to a foreign country.
- Jonathan Ames,

When I read this passage in Jonathan Ames book of essays, I love You More Than You Know, I immediately though of an old bartender I used to work with named Frank, and a conversation a friend and I once had with him. Frank grew up in The Lower East Side and was extremely proud of the fact that he had never been more than 300 miles outside of the city. He was well into his sixties by the time I worked with him, so this was quit an accomplishment I suppose.

The conversation began when my friend and fellow waitress Kara was talking about visiting her parents in Indiana
"You girls, always flying off to these exotic places..." Frank interrupted with a heavy NY accent.
"Frank, Indiana isn't exotic, its the Midwest!" Kara replied with a look of astonishment, "its not like I'm going to Paris or something like that."
"Paris, Indiana, same thing," he barked back.
Kara Turned to me to share her look of utter disbelief. She is a girl who likes to debate, me not so much. If I hear some one make a claim that is miles from the truth I, for the most part, won't dispute them. Kara on the other hand, being a brazen Taurus and a talented debater, would not dream of backing down from an opportunity to challenge somebody's mistaken opinions.
"What!" she exclaimed, ready to pounce.
"Have you ever even been to Paris?" I asked Frank, finally joining into the debate.
"Never been 300 miles outside of New York City" Frank responded with glowing pride.
"Why not?" I asked, now intrigued by his urban yet somehow provincial philosophy.
" Why would I? Everything they got over there," he was waving his arms in the direction of this unknown land of there, "we got it all right here."
"But Frank, its not the same thing!" Kara cried out with frustration. His inflexible determination was beginning to wear on her mental well being.
"How can you even say that, if you have never been to Paris or to Indiana?" she continued.
"I watch the Discovery Channel!" he barked back with all seriousness, defending his reasoning with a retort that simultaneously discredited it.
Kara, finally realizing the hopelessness of the debate, threw her arms in the air in a gesture of defeat.

When I eat out in NYC, I often think of Frank's argument, and in the context of food, it kind of makes sense. Eating out can be an alternative way to travel. However, we must never mistake eating in a French Bistro in Brooklyn for the real thing. Though the chef may adhere strictly to the statutes of French Cooking, the ingredients he has to work with are ultimately, American, the people he is cooking for are almost all Americans, and there philosophies of food and of eating are predominantly, American. You may be able to get a taste of France, Thailand, Mexico, or Japan in this great city, but it will only ever be a taste, and not the whole enchilada.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Hey Good Lookin'...

It all began when I spotted her at the local grocery store. She was all the way on the other end of the store behind the registers, yet somehow, perhaps it was fate, I caught a glimpse of her magnificent glowing skin through the crowd of anxious shoppers. When I turned to take a better look, she was gone, barricaded behind a lady shopper in a garishly green jumpsuit who was examining sweet potatoes from the bin bellow. How long does it take to select a sweet potato? I thought to myself becoming impatient. I decided to better position myself for a closer look and as I crossed the floor I said to myself , out load mind you, this is crazy, I’m not even here to buy produce.
I had absolutely no need for a lemon colored heirloom freckled with shards of lime green. My fridge was full of aging vegetables, all of whom stoically pined for me to snatch them up - like Richard Gere did to Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman - and to transform them into a savory and fulfilling meal thus rescuing them from a maggot filled demise at the bottom of the trash bin. If I were to buy this young jolly rancher of a tomato and bring her home with me, it would be a smack in the face to my previously purchased vegetables.

Perched behind her like a stalker, I nervously peaked over the shoulder of the green-jumpsuited-lady-shopper and as she moved on to other produce bins she exposed the object of my preoccupation. It was breathtaking. Staring at her, I couldn’t help but think that some higher power had made great plans for this tomato and was speaking to me in subliminal mouth-watering tones. Who was I to refuse? Without a shred of guilt I placed her in my basket and continued shopping.

When I got her home, I placed her on my countertop, and there she sat with the all the regal pride of an heiress and all the quiet wisdom of the Dali Lama. Days passed as I searched and searched for a recipe that was up to her standards. I felt like a father in charge of my only daughter’s arranged wedding, no recipe will ever be good enough! Then one day I noticed the can of La Morena Choptle Chilies in Adobe Sauce sitting at the top of my pantry. I got to work immediately.

It was too hot to turn on the oven, so I roasted my beloved heirloom on the stovetop, turning her over as each side slowly lost its magnificent color and became charred. I scanned the fridge and was lucky to find lime, cilantro, and a red onion, everything I needed to make a roasted tomato salsa. With a few pulses on the Cuisinart my salsa was ready. For days I enjoyed my heirloom in such dished as Huevos Rancheros, and Beef Fajitas.
I dumped her on sandwiches, and drizzled her over salads. It was like a week-long festival devoted to my exceptional heirloom. When she was all gone, the postpartum set in and was only fortified when I found the corpses of my elderly vegetables huddled together in a wilted heap at the bottom of the fridge, I had forgotten all about them.

Roasted Tomato Salsa
1 large tomato, roasted and chopped
the juice of 1 lime
1-2 La Morena Chipotle Chilies in sauce
1/2 a medium sized red onion chopped
salt and pepper to taste
fist full of cilantro

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Not Your Grandma's Chicken Soup

I do apologize for my recent and unexplained truancy. I assure you that I have not been playing hooky rather, I have had what they call in Spanish, gripe. Don't get all worried now, gripe isn't at all as sinister as it sounds, it simply means that I have had a nasty head cold. It has been four straight days of miserable coughing spasms, congestion, and endless sniffling. So, today I decided to put an end to both my blogging sabbatical and my wretched illness by making my, Not Your Grandma's Chicken Soup. This recipe starts off like a traditional chicken soup, but with the help of a few not so conventional ingredients (chili, ginger, and lime) the result is lively and the broth packs a hefty gripe fighting punch.

Not Your Grandma's Chicken Soup

3 quarts of water
1 medium sized chicken
4 whole onions, unpeeled
3-4 large carrots, peeled
1/2 cup of chopped celery
3-4 cloves of garlic
juice of one lime or lemon
chunk of ginger, peeled and shredded
1 small zucchini
1 red pepper, Julienne
1 cup of wheat berries (rinsed)
fist full of chopped watercress or spinach
hand full of chopped Cilantro
1Tbsp Red Curry Paste
1-2 canned chipotle chilies, chopped fine or ground,with adobo sauce

1.) Place Chicken and water in pot and bring to boil. Skim foam from the surface of water.
2.)Add Carrots(minus one which will be used in the final product), Onions, Celery, and Garlic and simmer for 2 and 1/2 hours.
3.) Strain Vegetables from the soup and discard, placing the chicken to one side.
4.) As the broth cools, remove the skin from the chicken, remove the meat from the bone and cut up into bite sized pieces.
5.) Remove the fat from the surface of the broth, add wheat berries, bring to a boil, and simmer for 20 min.
6.) Chop up carrots and zucchini and add to broth along with shredded ginger, red curry paste, ground chipotle chili, and lime juice. Simmer for 5min.
7.) Add watercress, cilantro, and salt and pepper to taste.

A squeeze of fresh lime juice and avocado is the perfect garnish for this picante soup.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Cupcake Payoff

There has been an interesting development in the early morning construction next door. At 8am this morning I found myself laying in bed awake. I was annoyed at first thinking to myself, damned construction, and then I realized, it was silent. I looked out my window to find not a single contractor at work. Anticipating its daily nerve pummeling, my body must have attempted to preempted the assault by waking me with a little burst of adrenaline. However, as it turned out, there was no pummeling/construction planned.

Hesitantly, I climbed back into bed and drifted back to sleep. At 10am, my normal waking hour, I was awaken by the construction noises I had become oh so familiar with over the past week. Now, I know I said that I would have a little chat with these boys and offer them cupcakes to keep quiet until 10am, but I never did muster up the nerve to try my little plan, yet it is almost as though they were aware of my scheme. Why is it that they were now accommodating my subliminal request? Could it be that one of these contractors in an avid reader of The Gourmet Peasant? Will these guys be expecting a cupcake payoff? Oh dear, what have I gotten myself into...

Friday, August 03, 2007

Old Habits...

Dear Bob Brezsny,
I read your horoscope every week. When things are going well in my life, it makes me happy to see that astrologically it was destined to be. And, when I encounter an unusual and frustrating number of delays, I always find it comforting to learn that one of my major planets is in retrograde. This week however, I did not find your astrological report for Pisces at all comforting.

Ron is down to six cups of coffee a day, which is much healthier than his previous 15-cup habit. We, his friends, might wish it wasn't because he joined an ascetic cult that wants him to get into top physical shape in order to fight the evil reptilian extraterrestrials that have taken over the bodies of corporate and governmental leaders. But hey, whatever works. Likewise, Pisces, this is a favorable time for you to resort to just about any legal measure in order to break the grip of your bad habits -- even if that involves substituting some rather exotic new habits for the ones you need to eliminate.

What is that supposed to mean? Are you suggesting that I join a cult so that I can get off the cupcakes, find God so that I might lose the coffee habit, or perhaps start preparing for a reptilian revolution in order to kick my ice cream habit? Bob, let me be frank with you. For years now I have ceaselessly followed your advice no matter how bohemian, outlandish, or even radical it may have seemed, but not this time. This time you have gone too far! I think I'll hang on to those old bad habits in loo of the exotic new ones you are suggesting.
Yours truly
The Gourmet Peasant

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Gentrification and Sleep Deprivation

As some of you may know, I work nights. I usually finish at around 12 -2 am, ride my bike home, take a shower, check my e-mail then turn in between 3-4am. This means that I wake up anywhere between 10am and noon, unless of course there is a construction crew jack-hammering outside my window at 8am!!! That’s right, I am now one of the growing victims suffering from the condo construction craze that has plowed right threw this city.

Ever since moving to Brooklyn years and years ago, I have watched the construction of high-rise apartment buildings swell across the borough and, it appears the rising tide of gentrification has finally reached my neck of the woods. Now, I am not going to get into a debate about the pros and cons of real estate development. Do I want a big and probably ugly high-rise on my corner, not exactly however, I was never very thrilled with the public pissing ground the previously empty lot served as either.

To be honest with you, my main concern is of a much more self-centered nature. Am I ever going to get any sleep? Every morning at 8am, rumbling engines, and earth-rattling crashes make from a deep and blissful sleep. The thing that frustrates me the most is that after a half hour of noise, the workers lay down their jackhammers and take a two-hour break. I just don’t understand! If they are only going to work for a half hour before taking a break, why don’t they just hold off until 10:30am - a much more decent hour if you ask me – to start all the racket?

Many a morning, while trying to get back to sleep, have I considered having a little chat with the construction crew, Do you think that maybe you guys could start off with one of the more quiet jobs, just until say, 10am? They seem nice enough, and surely they could see things from perspective. A good friend of mine suggested that, perhaps if I arrived with a freshly baked batch of muffins and some coffee it might be easier to negotiate the terms of our arrangement. Is this a good idea, or is the sleep deprivation getting to me? Perhaps cupcakes are a better idea...

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Lessons Learned

Every once and a while, after eating one of my fresh baked muffins or cream filled cupcakes, a friend will ask, why don’t you start your own bakery or restaurant? It’s a difficult question to field because it’s one I haven’t always had a straight answer for. Clearly I love preparing food, and I spend a great deal of time focused on the subject, but there is something that has stopped me from pursuing a career in the kitchen. Well, getting prepared for the bake sale this past Saturday made it blatantly clear why it is I am not cut out for the food preparation industry.

Wednesday’s test run turned out beautifully, the cakes were as delicate as can be and the icing light and creamy. ‘Oh this is going to be a breeze’ I thought to myself. Foolish. In fact, I churned out those cupcakes with such ease, that I decided I could do all my baking – three-dozen cream filled cupcakes – Friday morning before work. Very very foolish!

Thursday I dropped off my graphics for some business cards I was having printed and swung by the baking shop to pick up some last minute supplies. Friday morning came, and I jumped out of bed excited to pump out some awesome little cakes. I started with the cakes and custards, both came out perfectly. I was way ahead of schedule! For the chocolate icing, I decided to make the butter cream I used for the Blissfully Banana Cupcakes. I tossed the butter, cream, sugar, and cocoa in the Cuisinart for 5 min, and then whipped it in the mixer for 10-15min. Here is where all the trouble began. The icing was runny! I don’t remember it being runny. Oh well, nothing a refrigerator can’t help, right? WRONG. Even after being in the fridge the icing was liquidly, and grainy, something was not right. I decided to ignore the problem for the moment and focus on the orange icing but sure enough it turned out just the same, runny and grainy!

It was while staring at my two failed and formless icings that reality brutally melted my carefully constructed sugar-coated fantasy. I was covered in batter, my hair was a wild mess, I was drenched in sweat (no air-conditioning), the kitchen was in shambles, I had no more butter, cream, or sugar in the house and, I needed to be at work in an hour and a half! This is, of course, when I received the delayed voice message, Hello Madeline, this is Joe from Village Copiers, while printing your cards I discovered what I believed to be a spelling error, unless you intended to spell the word 'gourmet', 'gouremt'… I hung up the phone, took a deep breath and tried hard to fight off the devastating desperation that welled up along side the tears in my eyes. I called my mom.

Hello mom

What’s wrong you sound stressed?

My icing. It’s all-wrong! It’s runny! It won’t set!

Well butter cream is very heat sensitive dear. Didn’t you know that? (NO!)

Well I have no more time left. I am going to have to wake up early. What should I do, what would you do?

Well, honey I wouldn’t have made cupcakes in the first place. Not in this in this heat…

I cried. At this point, the hurricane in my mind quieted. With all the madness around me I could think of only one thing, my answer to the question: This! This is why I don’t open a damned bakery! Of course the cupcakes came out fine in the end. I woke up at 8am after closing at work the night before and made fresh icing - this time using a more heat stable recipe (more sugar, less butter, no cream.) And, though I only sold three of them at the bake sale, my co-workers happily devoured every last one of them that evening. At least my little cupcakes fulfilled there destiny.

What were the lessons learned?

1.) Next time you participate in a charity bake sale in the middle of a heat wave, don't make
2.) Never open a bakery, unless you like crying all the time!!
3.) Use spell check!!!