Sunday, June 26, 2011

Free-Range Cooking

What a full weekend it's been!  It began with a BBQ dinner party, ended with a farmer's market cook-off, and included my niece's 6th birthday party, a pasta class full of Mormons, and the legalization of gay marriage in New York!  Boo-ya!!

Here's a taste of what went on:

Today was a gorgeous day at the Jackson Heights farmer's market, where you can really tell that summer is in full swing.  From the sour cherries that have just cropped up, to the tomatoes, lettuces, zucchini, and peas, it's all there, ripe for the picking.  I was one of three chefs taking part in a pea-themed cooking demo, co-sponsored by Greenmarket and the Queens Harvest Food Co-op.  We handed out samples of sauteed peas with mushrooms and shallots, a raw snap-pea salad with mint and radishes, and (my creation) a snow pea and potato curry.  We had a great turn out and I'm looking forward to helping out with more outdoor cooking demos as the summer progresses!  Here's a recipe for what I contributed:

Snow Pea and Potato Curry (printable version)
(serves 4)
2 tablespoons oil or butter

2 garlic scapes or 2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 knob of ginger, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon mild curry powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
4 medium red-skin potatoes, peeled and diced small
1/4 cup water
1 pound snow peas, washed, trimmed, and roughly chopped
1 cup cilantro leaves, washed and roughly chopped
salt to taste

Heat the oil or butter in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the garlic, ginger, and spices and cook about 3 minutes, being careful not to burn.  

Add the diced potato and water and a generous pinch of salt, and bring to a boil.  Simmer for about 5 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.  If all the water evaporates before the potatoes are cooked, add more a tablespoon at a time.

Stir in the snow peas and cilantro, and return heat to high for another 1-2 minutes of cooking.  Season with more salt to taste and serve immediately.

On Friday, I decided to serve the BBQ pulled pork I made with some homemade buns, and here's how I did it:

the Kitchen Aid is key
Dough after it's doubled in size
Before baking
After baking

Burger Buns - from the King Arthur Flour recipe
(makes 8 large buns)

6 to 8 ounces lukewarm water
1 ounce butter
1 large egg
14 3/4 ounces all-purpose flour
1 3/4 ounces sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon instant yeast

*note: to get the best results, use the smaller amount of water in the summer and the larger amount in the winter.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Mix and knead all of the ingredients, either by hand, in a mixer, or in a food processor, until a smooth, soft dough forms.  Cover and let it rise for 1 to 2 hours, till doubled in size.

Gently deflate the dough and divide it into 8 even pieces.  Shape each piece into a round ball and flatten to about 3" across.  Put the buns on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet and cover and rise for about an hour, till puffed up.

Brush the buns with melted butter and bake for 15 to 18 minutes, till golden.  Remove from the oven and brush with more butter to give them a satiny sheen.  Cool on a rack.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A non-culinary aside: Rooftop farming, or why I need to get out more

It's a farm, on a rooftop, in NYC!
But first a preamble to this digression: People, I've been busy.  And, sadly, it's been a few weeks since I've cooked a real meal in my own kitchen.  Sure, I've made meals for my client.  I've taught groups of people how to make chicken cacciatore.  I've even been sous chef for a wedding of 120+.  But have I managed to get a single recipe up here since the 1st of June?  Negative.  (Oh, I'm also planning my own wedding.  Just one month to go - jeepers!)

Whenever I find myself clambering to do too many things with the short amount of time I have at home, I try to tell myself, "Eve, you have time.  There is always time."  But, inevitably, that "time" turns into a cranky husband-to-be begging me to please, get off the computer and come to bed, for the fraking love of god! 

The revelatory lesson beneath all this blabber?  Multi-tasking doesn't work.  Kapow!  So instead of letting all these infuriating to-do lists faff about the inside of my fishbowl brain, I head outside on my bike and let it take me away, to new and exciting places, such as:

Brooklyn Grange, the rooftop farm down the block!

I heard from a friend that a community organization called Food Systems Network NYC was organizing a tour of and panel discussion at the Brooklyn Grange Farm.  Myself and a group of about 40 other people met yesterday in the lobby of a huge prewar factory building in Long Island City, Queens, and rode the freight elevator up 5 floors, then walked the final flight, to the one-acre rooftop farm at the top.  Not only were the views breathtaking (as you can see), so was the breadth and diversity of the produce perched atop this urban jungle.  What a crazy, inspiring concept!

After Ben Flanner, the head farmer, introduced us to his planties (everything from herbs to lettuces to squash to chiles), his bees, and his chickens, we headed back downstairs to an expansive, empty room where a long table was set up in front of a few rows of chairs.  We took a seat and proceeded to learn all about the many challenges and possibilities surrounding this new and exciting quest to farm the rooftops of NYC.  Brooklyn Grange has truly been a pioneer in its mission to close the gap (in terms of both distance and privilege) between people and their food.

Some key take-aways from the discussion:

  • Although it is a substantial investment, from a purely operational standpoint, starting a rooftop farm is not as complicated as one might think.  Essentially, anyone can do it, which is what makes it such a compelling solution to the problem of increasing food scarcity in urban settings.
  • It's the financial aspect that is the main challenge (even more so than hauling tons of soil up to a roof!).  Although NYC has instituted generous incentives for developers to "green" rooftops - meaning covering them with non-edible plants in order to insulate the building and reduce energy consumption - the legislation passed never accounted for the possibility that rooftop farming would take off to the extent that it has.  The incentive, which allows for a $450/sq. ft. tax break, up to $100,000, is nowhere near enough of a leg-up for those who would want to start an urban farm.  Therefore, even though it's a no-brainer to reap the benefits of a green roof while at the same time growing local, sustainable produce for those who live under it, our city legislators have had their heads too far up their bureaucracy to realize it.  
  • Until now: currently, there is a big debate going down among City council-members over whether it would be best to broaden the existing language to aid in the creation of more urban rooftop farms, or to craft an entirely separate piece of legislation to cover this newer iteration of the term "green roof."
And I learned much, much more regarding the nitty-gritty logistics of starting up and running such an operation.  But rather than hearing it from me, wouldn't it me more interesting to just go visit?!  Drop by every Wednesday, from 2pm to 7pm, to pick up some farm-fresh produce and sneak a peak upstairs.

Hey, chicken!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Bonjour summer!

I'm incredibly excited about the onset of summer.  Sure, summer means there is no cooking without sweating - and, if you're me, there's no cooking with pants - but it also portends that a sumptuous bounty of amazing produce will explode into NYC from all the surrounding farmlands.  And that's sweeeeet.

For the past couple of months, I've been working as one of the managers at the 79th Street farmers market on the Upper West Side, and it's become more and more clear to me that supermarket produce just is not real.  I'm sorry, but have you ever placed a tiny, candy-red, freshly-picked strawberry next to a gigantic, bleached-out, water-logged supermarket strawberry?  In this particular case, bigger is not better, and the producers of these monstrosities should be ashamed!

But let's not blame it on the agro-giants, evil as they may be.  Let's take matters into our own hands, buy local produce, and vote with our dollar.  Hell yeah!

Ok, that's all for the rant.  Here's what I had for lunch:

Mediterranean Orzo & Chickpea Salad (printable version)
(serves 3-4)

1 cup cooked chickpeas
1 cup cook whole wheat orzo
1 green cucumber, peeled and diced
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, quartered
2 scallions, trimmed and sliced thin
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper
feta cheese (optional)

In a large bowl, combine the chickpeas, orzo, cucumber, tomatoes, scallion, and mint.  Using a microplane or fine grater, zest the skin off of the lemon (clean it well first, and be careful not to zest the white pith - it can be bitter), then juice the lemon into the bowl.  Add the olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss well. Crumble cheese on top, if using.  Let chill at least 30 minutes before serving, so the flavors can marinate.

* Note: Oil-cured black olives would make a nice addition here.  And canned tuna also works in place of the chickpeas, for a non-vegetarian version.