Quick Lemon Pea & Avocado Salad

It should be too late for peas right now, but Spring and Summer have been cool enough thus far to keep pea plants producing.  I picked up one of those small, plastic trays of some at the Grand Army Plaza farmers market to compliment my own modest, backyard-garden haul and improvised my way through the following.  I sIMG_2128imply had the avocado on-hand and needed to use it, but the crispness of the peas contrasted very nicely with its silkiness.  This recipe makes two salads to accompany entrees.

Lemon Pea and Avocado Salad

  • 12 ounces of fresh peas
  • juice of one lemon
  • 2 tbs dried thyme
  • 1 dash of chili powder
  • 5 or 6 cloves of garlic crushed and minced
  • 1 avocado
  • salad greens
  • olive oil and salt & pepper, each to taste Continue reading

Chicago: The Culinary Nostalgia Tour

tapas

Hello again, beautiful.

Which was more essential: Tapas Barcelona or Dave’s Italian Kitchen? What had happened to Giordano’s? And above all, what was the maximum number of meals I could squeeze into a forty-eight-hour period? It was questions like these that tormented me as I worked and reworked our tight schedule.

As some readers may already know, I spent a handful of formative years in Chicago and have had reason to travel there for work lately. But Jason hadn’t been there for many years and he’d never been there with me, which meant that his consumption of cheese in the Windy City was sorely lacking. He decided to join me there for a weekend, but immediately after the plane ticket was purchased, the nail biting began—how to fit six glorious years worth of high-metabolism memories into a single weekend? Tough decisions had to be made. In the end, though, I think I did a good job of picking places that can’t be matched anywhere else (yes, even NYC). Here are a few highlights for the next time you’re in the neighborhood.

Al’s Deli: Yes, I know that “deli” is in the name, but that description doesn’t quite capture the magic of the place. It made me feel oddly at peace when I saw that the two aging brothers who run this place were still at it. One nervously takes the orders; the other, almost invisible to the customers, diligently makes the impeccable sandwiches. We got a Gruyere and a Jarlsberg and took them to a picnic table at a nearby lighthouse. I was so enchanted I forgot to take picture. Continue reading

Rainy Day Cauliflower and Potatoes

cauliflower and potatoesIt’s been a gray and cool spring around these parts, but there’s no reason that a little chill in the air needs to rain on your culinary parade. After all, the days are surely numbered until it’s so hot that you’d rather, I don’t know, be chained down and forced to watch that terrible new Cameron Crowe movie instead of turning on your oven. So embrace the cool; make a casserole.

Here’s one I came up with this weekend. Full disclosure: I wanted to make something that necessitated that I slice at least one ingredient because my friend Mignon gave me a sweeeet new mandolin for my birthday. This handy tool makes me feel at least fifty-three percent fancier as I am cooking, and my potato slices really were shockingly even. But even if you don’t have a mandolin (or a Mignon) in your life, fear not: you can totally rock it old-school and slice them by hand.

Rainy Day Cauliflower and Potatoes Continue reading

The Good Herb Puzzle

mintHerbs! What’s not to love? Because they’re the leafy part of the plant (rather than the bark, seed or root, which are considered spices), they’re one of the first signs of spring to grace the dinner table. Seriously, if there’s no basil plant sunning itself in your garden or on your windowsill by now, remedy that oversight; it will repay you a thousand times over in herb butter and pesto this summer.

But I digress. Test how well you really know your herbs by trying to name the correct one for each of the fun facts listed below. This is a tough one, guys, so if you manage to get even half, consider yourself a perfect herbivore.

  1. A belief in ancient Greece held that this herb (whose name comes for the Greek word for king) would only grow if you screamed curses while planting the seeds.
  2. An English tradition is to plant large patches of this herb as a playground for fairies.
  3. Some people have a gene that causes them to experience this herb as having a nasty soapy flavor.
  4. Some mothers take this herb to help with lactation, but a sweet side effect is that it can make their sweat and urine smell like maple syrup.
  5. This flowering herb prized mostly for its scent was thought to protect the wearer from the bubonic plague when worn around the wrist.
  6. In ancient Rome, this was the most important medicinal herb, so important that our word for it comes from the Latin term meaning “to save.”
  7. This herb is associated with the Virgin Mary, because there’s a story that the flowers of the plant got their color after she placed her blue shawl on one of the bushes to dry it.
  8. This herb has been found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 1000 BC, and Mexicans like it so much that they call it simply yerba buena, meaning “good herb.”

Don’t scroll down or click “Continue” until you’re reedy for the answers! Continue reading

Polenta: The Answer to Starch Fatigue

mushroom polentaOne of the first lessons that any new cook learns is that you can cook pretty much anything and put it on rice and it tastes okay. Ditto with pasta. Hell, you can even use a piece of toast if you’re in a pinch.

But what to do when these old standbys start tasting a little tired? Here’s what: polenta. It’s a thick, savory corn porridge, and the exact same rice-or-pasta rules apply. If I have some roasted root vegetables rapidly approaching their life expectancy in the fridge, I heat them up in a skillet and throw them on top of polenta and it’s a whole new meal. If I have some chunky tomato-y thing that I originally made for pasta, it’s bound to taste great on top of polenta with some Parmesan cheese.

And polenta isn’t just for leftovers. Here’s a yummy mushroom number that I dreamed up in a hurry last night.

Polenta with Mushrooms and Goat Cheese Continue reading

Drink Local Ohio: Yellow Springs

My father, who fits in remarkably well in Yellow Springs

My father, whose long white hair is a kind of camouflage in Yellow Springs, Ohio

Spring has finally arrived in Ohio. I’m sitting in my bookstore with the door and windows open wide. Aretha plays on the stereo. Tiny white petals float in on the breeze and polka-dot the welcome mat. I can hear the voices of under-dressed Ohioans who walk down the street and fan themselves in the 60-degree heatwave. All this scene needs is a cold Ohio beer in my hand!

Recently I’ve decided to apply my big talk about buying local to my beer drinking and to take this hobby of mine more seriously. Time to really explore craft beers in my area. My little heart-shaped state is tiny, but Ohio has at least 109 craft breweries, which ought to keep me busy for a while.

On a recent brilliant blue day I drove down to Yellow Springs, Ohio, which is where Antioch College is, which is code for Warning: high hippy concentration (any way you read it). This blue dot in Ohio’s sea of red is packed with little shops — clothing, jewelry, and every form of currently trending anachronistic media (which is, of course, where I spent most of my time). All the stores had cats.

In the air is the smell of locally grown everything wafting from the cozy restaurants, freshly bloomed spring flowers, and patchouli. Creative, empowering graffiti covers any surface not painted in murals or pasted over with creative, empowering bumper stickers. Continue reading

Los Sabores de México Puzzle

cinco de mayoAdmit it: your understanding of Cinco de Mayo history is a little hazy. (No, it is not just the day to get a free biscuit taco at Taco Bell. Nor is it Mexican Independence Day.) Even though I’ve heard the story a few times, I still get a little fuzzy on the details of the Battle of Puebla. I know it involved the French army and some unanticipated ass-kicking by the ill-equipped Mexicans. It’s also somehow mixed up with the story of Maximilian, everyone’s favorite Prussian puppet Emperor of Mexico. If you want a more expert take on this whole thing, check out this podcast about Maximilian, which touches on the historical context of Cinco de Mayo.

But while you’re brushing up on the finer points, you can at least make sure you’re ready for the holiday on the food front. Can you match each of the delicious Mexican foods in this list with its description? (Warning: if you have ever ingested a biscuit taco or even know what one is, this puzzle might be harder than you think.) Viva México!

  1. Huarache
  2. Menudo
  3. Elote
  4. Chapulines
  5. Tejate
  6. Cecina
  7. Pozole
  8. Taquito
  9. Rajas con crema
  10. Papadzules

Descriptions:

A. Thinly sliced sheets of meat, marinated and dried in the sun
B. Corn tortillas dipped in a sauce made of pumpkin seeds and filled with hard-boiled egg
C. A soup made with tripe and red chili pepper, often topped with lime, onion and cilantro
D. A non-alcoholic beverage made of corn and fermented cacao beans
E. A small tortilla filled with cheese or meat, then rolled and deep-fried
F. An oblong, fried masa cake, with a variety of toppings including salsa, onions, potato, cilantro and some type of protein (such as ground beef or tongue), finished with queso fresco cheese
G. Roasted peppers, thinly sliced and sautéed with onion, then simmered in cream
H. Toasted grasshoppers, seasoned with garlic, lime and salt
I. Corn on the cob, often eaten on a stick with cheese, mayonnaise, lime juice, salt, etc.
J. A hominy stew, usually involving some kind of meat and chili peppers

Don’t scroll down or click Continue until you’re ready for the answers! Continue reading

Gustatory Oddities from the Animal Kingdom

aye aye

We spend a lot of time here at PitchKnives thinking about the peculiar feeding habits of one particular species, but what about all the other eaters out there? This was the question that came to me when Jason sent me this pretty awesome video about aye ayes. Aye ayes are a kind of lemur with a wicked-looking middle finger/ultimate grub-hunting tool. Seriously, just watch the video.

caecilian

Mom! We’re hungry!

But this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of some of the weird animal noshing that’s happening out there. Take the caecilian, for instance, a wormy-looking amphibian that lives in South America and Africa. Since the mother caecilians don’t want to leave their young to look for food, the young just strip the skin off their mom with special fangs and subsist on it. And then she regenerates it so they can do it again. So happy almost-Mothers Day, you lucky ladies out there! At least your babies (probably) did not repeatedly flay you and feast on the remains.

Or what about the male nursery web spider who meticulously gift-wraps a tasty insect in his silk in order to present it to a potential mate? It’s kind of like one of those Japanese gift melons that costs thousands of dollars. The really desperate male spiders (i.e. jerks) will even wrap up pebbles to try to fool the female spiders into mating. The female nursery web spider’s favorite song is the TLC song “No Scrubs.” Continue reading

It’s Just Beer(!)

#whatimdrinkingnow #whatdoyoumeanyoudontcare

#whatimdrinkingnow #whatdoyoumeanyoudontcare

I’ve always had a difficult time mustering up a sufficient amount of care for my own hobbies, which is what I call my beer drinking, because hobbyist sounds better than drinker. I don’t spend time posting in beer chat forums, I don’t post #whatimdrinkingnow pics anymore (I bored myself), I rarely drink out of proper glassware, and I don’t spend a lot of money on it. Because after all, it’s just beer.

But I’m a total beer snob. This is the paradox in which we beer appreciators are stuck.

Beer is a beverage celebrated and sold for its relaxing properties. It’s the drink you have when you get home from the office or from the factory; it’s the drink with which you celebrate both special occasions and your slow days off from work. It’s the everyman drink; the drink to chill out with. When some of us turn up our noses at certain beers, pay $18 for a bomber, or go so far as to call beer our hobby, we risk running contrary to the beer drinking ethos.

For me, this is beer, exclamation point

This is beer(!)

Once you admit that, yes, beer is a hobby — you know a lot about it, you spend time and money on it, you really, really look forward to that seasonal releasing today — you are effectively rendering null the it’s just beer sentiment. Obviously beer is more than just alcohol to you. It’s beer, exclamation point! When you take it a step further and start caring about hop aroma and mouthfeel and shit — well, then you’re the kind of snob that drinking beer is supposed to keep you from becoming. Continue reading

Tofu Shawarma with Garlic Red Cabbage & Roasted Tomatoes

New York, like all great cosmTofu Shawarmaopolitan cities, I suppose, is a city of street meats.  In all sorts of parts of town (but especially those in which office dwellers in their daily dry-cleanables must descend by elevator onto swarming lunchtime streets that will one day give me a heart attack), men of assorted non-Western European ethnicities grill up all kinds of marinated beast on gas-powered metal carts.  I don’t eat grilled beast, of course, but damn if the smell doesn’t always make my mouth water.  The lines at these carts are often positively absurd, I have a friend who insists on going to a particular chicken-and-rice cart every time he visits, and I have no doubt that serious meatys coming from elsewhere in the country would have their minds blown to spend a few meals eating this stuff while leaning against some wall or fire hydrant.

So I get jealous.

And low and behold a shawarma spice mix called to me from the shelves at Sahhadi’s.  If you don’t know, shawarma (which Wikipedia defines as “a Levantine Arab meat preparation” but which is, etymologically, derived from a Turkish word for rotation) is one of those giant meat sticks you see turning next to a flame or heating lamp.  It’s like a gyro, basically, and I once saw someone shave meat from the spit using a circular saw, which was fairly cool.  And I figured I could do something veggie with this.

So boom: Tofu Shawarma with Garlic Red Cabbage and Roasted Tomatoes

  • 1 block of tofu sliced into 1/4″-thick pieces
  • shawarma spice mix
  • 1 1/2 cups of red cabbage sliced 1/4″-wide
  • 3 onions sliced
  • 1/3 of a pint of cherry tomatoes
  • olive oil and butter
  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • 3 tbs cumin seeds
  • 4 ounces plain yogurt
  • 1 lemon Continue reading