Tuesday, May 25, 2010

All hail Assyrtiko!

Forget about our Gavi craze from last year, Tastey Boy and I have been hooked to the divine Assyrtiko grape since our trip to Greece in April.

Assyrtiko is a white grape native to the volcanic island of Santorini and is considered by many to be the greatest white varietal of the Aegean region. It has a character similar to a light Sauvignon Blanc, and gets its trademark mineral complexity from the arid volcanic soil it grows in. It also has a unique resistance to phylloxera and some of the older vines on the island are more than 150 years old. There are two distinct styles of the bottled grape—an extremely robust, dry version with strong citrus and mineral notes, and a sweet version where the grape in sun dried before fermentation resulting in an earthy Vin Santo.

We favoured the dry kind, and had samplings from quite a few of the vineyards. But our hands-down favourite is the gorgeous 2009 Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko VQPRD from the Sigalas vineyard in the village of Oia. The customs charges to carry a case from Santorini were too high, so I tracked down the U.S. importer (Frederick Wildman) and ordered a case locally. Sherry Lehmann sells it in their store and website, and Park Avenue Liquor can special order it for a 6 bottle minimum.

I’m determined to introduce my friends and dinner guests to its wonderful versatility so this Assyrtiko will feature prominently in my spring and summer entertaining this year.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tastey Boy’s Favourite Butter Cookies

Tastey Boy loves toast and butter cookies. The world can come to an end or the apocalypse might be around the corner, but he will continue munching on cookies with tea. This recipe is one of his favourites—there’s a wonderful purity to it that says a lot about the beautiful chemistry that happens when you mix butter-flour-sugar-eggs. It’s la belle vie in a bite!  
½ lb Butter
8 oz Sugar
16 oz Flour (all purpose)
1 egg
1 tsp Vanilla extract
2 tbsp Butter, melted
  1. Cream together butter and sugar, using a hand mixer or a stand mixer with it’s dough hook, for about 2 mins, until well mixed and fluffy. 
  2. Add flour, egg and vanilla extract and mix for 2-3 mins until the dough forms into a natural ball. Remove dough, wrap loosely in parchment or wax paper, and cool in the fridge for 20 mins. 
  3. Remove dough from fridge and using your hands, roll into a long tubular shape and divide into 4-dozen pieces. Roll each piece into small balls and press gently between the palms of your hands to create a round shape about 1½” in diameter. Place shaped dough onto parchment-lined cookie sheets or sheet pans. Remember to allow at least 2” space between each piece of dough to allow it to expand. 
  4. Brush each cookie dough piece with melted butter and bake in a 350º F pre-heated oven for 25 mins, until the tops are golden. 
  5. Remove cookies from oven and let cool on a rack. Store in an airtight container. 
[Yield: 4-dozen cookies]

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Lemon Cake with Coconut-Cream Cheese Icing

I made this cake for hubby’s birthday this past Friday. It is a variation of my mother’s classic orange cake which I tweaked using hubby’s favourite lemon and coconut flavours. This recipe yields one 9” round cake. To make a stacked layer cake, just double the recipe. Lemon curd or blueberry purée would make a great filling in between the layers.

8 oz Flour
2 tsp Baking powder
8 oz Butter
8 oz Sugar
Grated rind of 2 lemons
2 tsp Lemon juice
½ cup Milk
4 eggs
  1. Sift together flour and baking powder in a bowl. 
  2. In a separate bowl, beat eggs lightly with milk. 
  3. Using a hand mixer (or a stand mixer), cream together butter, sugar, lemon rind and lemon juice for about 3-5 mins, until well mixed and fluffy. 
  4. Fold-in flour into butter and sugar mixture in thirds, alternating with egg and milk mixture, until all the ingredients are blended. Pour into a 9” diameter greased cake pan and bake in a 350º F pre-heated oven for 50 mins. 
  5. Remove from the oven and let cake cool in its pan on a rack for 10 mins, then slide a thin paring knife around the edge of the pan and invert the cake. Cool the cake completely on a rack, with it's top facing up, before icing.
8 oz Cream cheese (at room temperature)
1½ cup icing sugar / confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp Vanilla essence
1 cup shredded Coconut 
  1. Toast ½ cup coconut in a dry skillet until lightly golden. Spread out on a plate and set aside to cool.
  2. Using a hand mixer (or a stand mixer), whip together cream cheese, sugar, vanilla essence and remaining ½ cup coconut for about 5 mins, until well mixed and fluffy. 
  3. Ice top and sides of cake with icing. Sprinkle toasted coconut over iced cake.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Limelight Marketplace

New Yorkers are used to chameleon-like transformation of buildings and public spaces—biscuit factories morphing to industrial-chic markets, firehouses turning into swanky condos, old speakeasies transforming to rehab centres. Now comes the Limelight Marketplace, which is a spanking new retail space dedicated to gourmet foods, crafts and what-nots, opening in the restored neo-gothic former Episcopal church (1844-1976) at the corner on 6th avenue and 20th street, which was once incarnated (1983-2001) as the infamous Limelight nightclub inaugurated by Andy Warhol.

I walk by the church every morning on my way to work and saw the construction permits and scaffolding go up last fall and lots of hammering and drilling sounds emitting from the site all winter. Yesterday, workers were digging up the dirt pile outside the main church building and planting greenery. All this activity confirmed the imminent opening of the new marketplace, which I’d been reading about in food blogs over the past few weeks. Today’s NY Times food section carries a story announcing the grand opening this coming Friday, May 7th. I will definitely stop by over the weekend, scope out the offerings and report back with a full review.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Addendum: Fragrant Fennel Chicken

I made the fennel chicken (which I posted a few weeks ago) again last night and tweaked the recipe a bit. The little changes made this recipe go from good to utterly delish. So much so, that I have to make it for my chicken-crazy little sis when she visits New York in June for the ultimate stamp of approval.

So the changes were: Instead of frying whole fennel seeds with onions, I crushed the fennel and added it to the marinade at the begining. I also added 1 tsp of turmeric and 1 tsp of black pepper to the marinade. Other than that, everything else stayed the same. The turmeric really balanced the sweet, licorice-y scent of the fennel and amplified it at the same time. And I still added the black pepper and crushed fennel at the end as before.

Here's the updated recipe:

4lbs bone-in Chicken pieces (combination of thigh, leg, and breast)
2 tbsp whole fennel seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle (Mouri, in Bengali)
4 tsp ground Coriander
1 tsp ground Cumin
1 tsp Turmeric powder
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
3-6 tsp Chilli powder (adjust to your taste)
6 tsp Vinegar
6 tbsp Vegetable oil
2 large Onions, sliced
3-4 Bay Leaves
2 tsp crushed Garlic
1 tsp crushed Ginger
Salt (to taste)
2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 tbsp whole fennel seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle
  1. Thoroughly wash and dry chicken pieces and put in a large mixing bowl. Add fennel, coriander, cumin, turmeric, black pepper, chilli powder and vinegar and mix well. Let chicken marinate for 30-45 mins in the fridge. Bring chicken out of the fridge about 20 mins before cooking and let come down to room temperature. 
  2. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat until smoking. Add onions and bay leaves, and fry until the onions are golden brown and well caramelised. 
  3. Add crushed garlic and ginger and fry for 5 mins. Add a sprinkling of water if it gets too dry and starts to stick to the bottom of the pot 
  4. Add chicken and stir well to coat chicken pieces thoroughly with the spices. Add salt and bring to a boil. Then lower heat and simmer uncovered for 30-40 mins. Check the pot occasionally and stir to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom. You know it is ready when a thick, glossy gravy coats the chicken pieces. Turn off heat. 
  5. Add crushed fennel and black pepper to chicken and stir well. Let sit for 15 mins before serving. 
[serves 4-6]

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Quick-fried Potatoes with Blackened Chillis

Growing up in Cal, most of the packaged foods that American children are used to (like chips and soda) were forbidden in our house, and this potato dish was what I considered comfort snack food. If dinner was running late, I remember devouring these steaming hot and fresh from the kitchen, to hold us over till mealtime. The golden, slightly squidgy potatoes, spiked with the smoky heat of blackened chillis, is the kind of irresistible dish that pleases everyone, and no matter how much you make, it will always be gone in minutes.

4 tbsp Vegetable Oil
8-12 Whole Dried Red Chillis
2 lbs Potatoes
Salt (to taste)
  1. Wash and dry potatoes. Leave the skin on and cut into approximately 1/8” slices. 
  2. Heat 1 tsp of oil in a large skillet or frying pan over high heat. When the oil is smoking, add chillis and sauté briskly for 1 min until they are blackened. Remove chillis from pan and set aside on a large plate. 
  3. Add remaining oil to pan and heat. Add potatoes and fry briskly for about 10 mins until lightly golden and cooked through. The potatoes should cover the pan in one layer only. If the pan is not large enough to accommodate all the potatoes, then fry them in batches. 
  4. Remove potatoes to plate with chillis. Using your hands, crush the whole chillis roughly into small pieces and mix with potatoes. Sprinkle salt and toss well. Serve immediately.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

How to clean and disinfect a wooden chopping board or butcher block

My John Boos maple end-grain butcher block chopping board is the centre of the kitchen; it sits on the counter next to the stove and is where all the action takes place—cutting, dicing, prepping, mixing. Other than raw meats, poultry and fish (for which I have a separate non-porous plastic chopping board), I use the Boos block to prep most foods. After everyday use, I generally wipe it down with a damp cloth and let it air dry. But once every 2-3 weeks, I go in and thoroughly disinfect it with salt and lemon juice. Here is my quick-and-easy, all-natural cleaning process:

 [click image to enlarge]

Once the board is clean and dry, I rub-in food-safe mineral oil with a soft lint-free rag to keep the wood moisturised and to prevent it from splitting. I use the John Boos Mystery Oil that came with my block. A little oil goes a long way—I’ve had a 16 fl.oz bottle for nearly1½ yrs now and it is only 1/3 of the way used.

© Copyright 2012 Shubhani Sarkar