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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"Four legs is just Greedy"

A moment away from food and a focus on our house mascot, the three legged wonder cat Ronnie-chan Murderball. An integral part of the dining experience at 312 Square Feet is the inevitable ceding of your lap to the Chan. She is the friendliest and most co-dependent cat that I have ever known. What would coming home be if she were not there waiting for me at the door and meowing to me all about her day, which must be very exciting for all of the racket that she makes. What would be sleeping if not for her furry forays over me to window sill or being wakened by her vigorous cleaning of my head.

So I want to bring focus to a woman who I met at Amber's picnic and whose dog suffered from cancer and is now a tripod too. Sonia and Lulu run a blog and sell merchandise to raise money to help out animals whose vet bills begin to exceed the means of their owners. Visit I heart Tripods to read all about the saga of Lulu's battle with cancer and purchase super cute Tee's and totes including this awesome cat Tee.

Ronnie lost her leg on the mean streets of Chicago. She had been a stray cat who picked the right home. In my apartment in Chicago we had a stoop that was gated and we lived on the second floor. One morning as my roommate was leaving for work with her bike, this gray streak ran past her and up our stairs to the landing outside our apartment door. Even then, Ronnie was a super friendly fur ball. Purring and jumping up to be pet, while holding up her front right paw. We noticed right away that she was seriously injured, but we couldn't let her into our apartment because we already had two other cats and couldn't risk their health.

We both called in sick from work and put the then nameless kitty into a carrier and hauled her off to the first vet that would take us. Lucky for us we took her to Higgins Animal Clinic on Belmont. They x-rayed her and bandaged up her foot and told us that she was indeed a girl, very underweight but thankfully with not feline leukemia or other contagious diseases. The bad news was that we had to get the leg amputated as soon as possible. It was gangrenous and was threatening Ronnie's life.

But we just couldn't afford the surgery. We took Ronnie home with the bandaged foot and tried to figure out what we could do. We had about a week to come up with the $1300 that it was going to cost. At the time, I was barely making $10K and my roommate was working at Planned Parenthood, not glamorous or high paying positions. We tried to apply for aid, but we didn't qualify. I guess you have to be broker than living under the poverty line to get help for your animals.

Just in time! The vet at Higgins called us and told us that because we couldn't get all that together that they had a new vet coming in who needed to practice surgery. They would do the surgery after hours and at cost for us. Ronnie was going to be saved!

She had her paw removed and in the course of the surgery they found that she was pregnant with a small litter! They were miss carried because of all of the stress on her poor body, but we had to have the surgery to save her. She was so small and this cat slept and slept and slept. But she is the best cat! I am so lucky to have her.

So go buy a T-Shirt and help out other tripods!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Saturday Celebrating the Tomatoes

On hopefully the last swelteringly humid evening of the summer, we had a little fete incorporating the last of the fruits of the summer, the ripe tomatoes. The sun ripened and heirlooms that have graced the farmers market stalls are soon to disappear and be replaced by the mealy hothouse ones that aren't even worth purchasing. To use up my glut of ripening tomatoes, I incorporated them into an entree and an appetizer. This could be over kill but the two sauces could not be more different. Call it my Iron Chef Challenge.

As my guest were arriving, I welcomed them with Pomegranate Mint fizzes and a some rustic brown bread with St. Andre triple creme brie and herbed gournay cheeses and a selection of marinated olives. I can't ever go back to double creme brie. Once you have had the St. Andre, the difference is stark. I highly suggest purchasing some to even just have for Sunday breakfast on toast. The appetizer was Patatas Bravas with it's smoky and fiery tomato based sauce.

The entree was a huge tail piece of tuna that I had got earlier in the day the fish market at the north side of Grand St. at Chrystie. It was a beautiful hunk of tuna seasoned with lemon, garlic and mint cooked in a lighter and sweeter tomato sauce served with simple steamed rainbow chard. One my tricks to cooking good chard is to steam it in a vegetable broth. It adds so much flavor and richness with out over salting or over fattening.

Finishing off the evening with coffee, port, chocolates and of course, good conversation. Drake of Cafe Drake settled in with Ronnie, Lisa Webber provided much style, Chel and Kathy were belles and Octavio took lovely picutres and I couldn't have hosted it without him. It was comfortable to have a buffet style dinner with six people at little 312 Square Feet.

Pop over to Cafe Drake for more pictures and even more entertaining tips and recipes!

Lemon Mint Pomegranate Fizzes

2 parts vodka
1 part Pama Pomegranate Liquer
Mint Leaves
Dash of Simple Syrup
Lemon Juice
Sparkling Water of Club Soda

This is all approximated but it made for a refreshing cocktail and respite from the heat.
Mash the mint leaves, simple syrup and the juice of 1/4 of a lemon in the bottom of a glass. Pour in the liquor, add some ice and shake. Top off with a generous pour of sparkling water.

Sicilian Tuna

3-4 lb piece of tuna, preferably the tail piece
24 pieces of lemon zest
24 mint leaves plus extra for garnish
8 garlic cloves, 4 cut into 6 strips and 4 mashed
1 28 oz can of chopped tomatoes in their juice
1/4 cup fish or vegetable stock
1/4 white wine
10 white pearl onions
2 tablespoons butter

Wash and pat dry the tuna. Cut 6 vents on all four sides of the tuna and in each vent put one piece lemon zest, one mint leave and one slice garlic.

In a large flame proof casserole or pot, heat the butter. Brown the tuna on all sides for about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and the stock. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 more minutes.

Add the wine and pearl onions. Cover and simmer for 10-15 more minutes. since the piece of tuna is so large the risk in over cooking is high. You want it to be cooked through but still tender. I over cooked mine slightly so I adjusted this last cooking time to be less. More like 10 minutes should be enough.

Remove the tuna and let rest. Bring the heat up and reduce the sauce until it reaches a nice thick consistency. I added a tiny bit of cream to mine to richen it, but you don't need it at all. You could put the sauce in a blend to get a really even sauce, but I am ok with a bit more rustic food and don't mind chunks.

Reduce the heat on the sauce to med-low and put the tuna back in for 5-10 minutes, until it is warmed back up.

Plate on a bed of the rest of the sauce and garnish with extra mint leaves.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Savor the Sauce

I know I have been a bit obsessed with my electric grill, but it really has been the best kitchen appliance that I have purchased. Though with a good friends impending nuptials I may have to invest in a Kitchen Aid mixer to bake their cake! More on that soon. For now back to dinner.

Delicious food is often deceptively simple and inexpensive. I am a firm believer in the power of sauces to transform mundane meals and elevate them to a home gourmet level. That is why there is such an emphasis on sauces, dressings, marinades and vinaigrettes on this blog. Sauces are flexible, can be stored and used in different contexts to very different effects. A good vinaigrette can make a simple green salad something transportive and a red sauce can dress pasta or become a wonderful bake.

This week I knew I had to plan two meals for friends, one for Octavio and one as a pre-practice dinner. So, I wanted to spend less than $15 for both meals not including wine and I came in well under budget.

For dinner on Tuesday I made grilled scallops (1 pound for $7.00 at the Canal St Fish Market on Canal and Baxter) with Bitter Herb Walnut Pesto. One bunch cilantro and one bunch parsley came to $1.60 from a vegetable vendor on Bayard St at Mott. I had a box of cous cous already open and some left over frozen veggies and I keep bags of nuts from Trader Joes at all times (Walnuts are $4.99).

Then on Wednesday I used the leftover pesto and tossed it over some lightly sautéed broccoli ($1.50 from a street vendor in Midtown) and thin spaghetti with some domestic feta from East Village Cheese ($1.50 for half a pound) and a pinch of red pepper flakes to give a bit of heat. Kelly supplied a delicious Rioja and then we went to work!

Bitter Herb Pesto

*these are just guestimates. Please adjust the ratios as you see fit.
Half a bunch of Cilantro
Half a bunch of parsley
1 clove of garlic chopped
juice of half a lemon
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup roughly chopped walnuts
1-2 tablespoons of water
sea salt to taste

Put the herbs, lemon, walnuts, gralic, salt, and water into a blender or food processor and pulse until chopped. Slowly add the olive oil and blend until a nice paste texture is achieved.

I spooned mine over the grilled scallops with a mixed veggie cous cous.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Late Summer Red

With summer's fast fading, the sunset creeping up earlier and earlier, hearing the whispers of fall's change, I just want to hang on to my sun dresses and savor the last few weeks of heat and staggering humidity to the fullest. To help us along and surprisingly, keep me on my budget is this medium bodied Coastal Peak 2002 California Cabernet Sauvignon.

Served slightly chilled, this wine is a great summer red. With bright red fruits like plums at the front and a pleasant cedar finish this can hold up against BBQ and compliments the citrus of summer grilled fish dishes.

The best thing about this wine, it can be had for a mere $4.99 at the place that has saved me from wine drudgery for the past few years, Wine and Liquor Warehouse (Broadway at 8th Street). The Warehouse has everything from amazingly great buys for my meager budget to high end collectors bottles. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable. They always have great suggestions for me to try and the liquors are all also sold at a discount. I have gotten limoncello at a great bargain before.

I would suggest picking up a bottle of this before the summer is over and savor a glass with some grilled eggplant salad.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Quick Weeknight Meal

We can be so pressed for time in the city that even taking an hour to enjoy the simple pleasure of a meal can be a luxury. I try to make time at least two nights a week to truly cook, not just through something together. It is something that I enjoying taking the time from the fast bustle of New York City to do.

Since Octavio can work late hours sometimes an elaborate meal is out of the question, because we would much rather spend the time eating and catching up on the day than in preparing the meal. This week I made a simple tomato sauce that takes less than 20 minutes to prepare but still tastes like it was simmered for much longer.

Simple Basil Sauce for 2

4 ripe Roma or Plum Tomatoes chopped
1/2 cup of white wine
2 tablespoons heavy cream (you can leave this out but it adds a richness to the sauce)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
8-10 fresh basil leaves
Juice of half a lemon
1 shallot finely sliced
2 cloves of garlic pressed or finely chopped
pinch of red pepper flakes
sea salt and pepper

half a pound pre-cooked frozen shrimp

4oz - 2 servings of thin spaghetti

In a medium sauce pan, heat the oil over medium low heat and soften the shallot. Add the garlic and cook until the garlic is also soft and aromatic. Add the tomatoes and cook until they begin to release the juices, add the lemon and wine. Stir in the tomato paste and season with salt pepper and the red pepper. Simmer for about 10 min until the tomatoes are soft but still hold their shape.

While the sauce is simmering, thaw the shrimp under cool water and begin to boil the water for the pasta.

Add the cream to the sauce and raise the heat, add the shrimp and cook until the sauce is reduced and becomes a bit thicker and the shrimp are heated through. Boil the pasta. Add the fresh basil last by shredding it with kitchen shears into the sauce. Cook two more minutes to release the flavor of the basil.

Spoon over the pasta, serve with more basil on top and fresh grated hard cheese like Asiago or Pecorino.

Monday, September 3, 2007

La Sirène

This is the debut post of a new periodic feature here at 312 Square Feet. Part of what is so exciting about living in Manhattan is the food culture and going out to eat, but it can certainly wear away at your wallet. The good thing is that there are many reasonable places to eat that dish out innovative and delicious cuisine. One thing that can help to make an inexpensive and enjoyable night out is to frequent establishments that allow you to bring your own wine or charge a low corkage fee. I will be searching out and reviewing the best places in Manhattan and Brooklyn that are BYOB or charge under $15 for a corkage fee.

Located on small block of Broome Street at Varick, near the entrance to the Tunnel, is the cozy French bistro La Sirene, 558 Broome (212) 925-3061. Octavio took the initiative and sought out this little place for a dinner date for the holiday weekend.

With just 19 seats, chef Didier Pawlicki manages to keep the atmosphere as good as the food that he serves. Focusing on the South of France, the seafood heavy menu offers up some of the best mussels I've eaten in a long time. Several varieties are on offer, we opted for the Provençales with tomatoes, fresh herbs and mushrooms. The aromatic broth was delicious sopped up with the rustic bread.

As entrées I had the who Barrimundi, a mild white fish originally from Australia. I learned that my fish was farmed in Maine! Stuffed with fresh thyme, browned with garlic and well salted, served with a mélange of creative and complimentary vegetables that both entrées shared, it was just great. The skin was perfectly crisp. Octavio had the skate serve with a butter caper sauce. The sauce used the larger plump capers that enhanced the fish well.

The dishes shared the same sides and the cuisine was so consistent that it made no matter. The carrot puree, squash and lima beans worked so well with both dishes and truly made us feel that Chef Pawlicki knows how to use regional ingredients.

In between courses, the gregarious chef came over to share his knowledge of the ingredients and methods of preparation. Since we are foodies, we were delighted and put at ease. The service is friendly and relaxing. We had such a marvelous time. Next time we will skip the dessert. We choose the Peach Melba but it was drowning in whipped cream. Of course we ate it anyway, but just regretted it later!

We plan on going back to La Sirene on a regular basis!

La Sirène
558 Broome St
(212) 925-3061
No Reservations

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Tarte au Citron

For the last throes of summer we are picnicing in Prospect Park tomorrow. Since I love to bake I volunteered to make dessert. I was debating making a cake or making my signature tarte au citron. Since it is going to be a picnic, cakes with butter creams or cream cheese frostings are not that good of an idea so I went with a classic!

Start with a good Pâte Brisée. I use one that uses a little sugar and egg yolk as a binding.

Pâte Brisée

Yolk of one large egg
1 1/2 tablespoons cream
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar (omit this for a savory crust)
Pinch salt
1 1/2 sticks of chilled butter.

Pre-heat the over to 375 degrees.

Cube the butter and chill in the refrigerator. Beat together the egg yolk and cream in a small bowl and chill. Sift together the flour, sugar and salt. I like to keep the flour in the freezer to make this easier to keep cold. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or using two knives until the pastry reaches the consistency of small crumbs. Slowly add in the egg mixture until the pastry just holds together. Roll into a ball and chill for 30min to an hour.

Because I have such a small workspace I like to line my counter with wax paper and flour that to keep the space clean and the pastry from sticking.

Roll out the pastry on the floured surface until large enough for the tart pan. It will be about an inch wider than the pan. I roll it up on to the rolling pin lined with more wax paper and roll it out into the pan. You don't want to stretch it because it could shrink.

If there is extra pastry, roll the pin over the pan to get rid of it and press the edges into the scallops with your thumb. Chill the pastry in the pan for 20 min.

Line the pastry with foil or parchment paper and weight with beans (no need for fancy pie weights from Williams Sonoma. A 99 cent bag of pinto beans works just as well.

Bake the crust for 10 - 15 if you are going to bake it again or 20-25 min for a prebaked crust for fruit tarts. It will be a nice golden on the edges.

Tarte au Citron

1 Pâte Brisée cooked about 15 minutes
4 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup fresh lemon juice
Zest of 3 lemons

Lower the heat from baking the crust to 300 degrees.

Whisk eggs, yolks and sugar together and add the cream. Whisk in the lemon juice and add the zest. Put the shell with the pan still onto a baking sheet and pour in the mixture. Bake for 35 - 40 minutes until the custard is set. cool completely and serve with crême frâiche and fresh berries.

My oven is on an angle so when I bake I make sure to shim the pans with about 1/4 of an inch of tin foil otherwise i get lopsided cakes, leaky tarts or uneven custards. It took a while to figure it our but the method works really well!

Japanese Week

David, enjoying his tempura and cold noodles.

It all started with a trip during lunch up to the oldest Japanese grocery in New York city, Katagiri 224 East 59th Street. Opened at this exact spot in 1907, Katagiri carries everything from fresh shiso leaves to frozen broiled eel to natto that even more fermented soybean Japanese "delicacy" (ew!). I have tried it, I will try anything, but this is truly an aquired taste. It may not be the cheapest grocery but there are deals to be had. This time I got a bottle of somen tsuyu for cold soba noodels that was a reasonable $4.50 and a package of fuereu wakame dried seaweed for $1.69. The seaweed rehydrates to big delicious leaves of seaweed perfect on the soba noodles drizzled with a little sesame oil.

David supplied the delicious shrimp tempura and we had a wonderful light post work meal. These ingredients carried over into a pre-practice meal as well!

In Chinatown, there are plenty of open air fish and produce markets. Who knows the names of any of these places but I have found some of the freshest and best deals on seafood at the one on the South corner of Grand St at Chrystie and also the one across the street. This week I picked up a little over a pound of fresh salmon to make Honey Miso Glazed Salmon for Kelly and I before we had rehearsal. It was only $7 and enough for four servings of fish! I served it with the cold soba and seaweed tossed with a little sesame oil, a couple of tablespoons of somen tsuyu and topped it with some salomn furakake from this weeks earlier shopping excursion.

Honey Miso Glazed Salmon

2 tablespoons miso paste
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup honey
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered ginger
1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 lb salmon
Lemon wedges to serve

Line the broiler pan with tin foil. Pre-heat the broiler by turning it high. Then lower the heat to 325 degrees.

Combine miso and water over low heat until the miso is fully dissolved. Add honey, ginger powder and soy sauce, simmer stirring stirring constantly until reduced to a thick sauce.

Cut the fish into four portions and place on the pre-heated broiler pan and cover with the glaze. Put in the broiler and bake at 325 for about 10 minutes, glazing about five minutes in. Once the fish is almost cooked, add more glaze then turn up the broil to full and cook for 5 more minutes until the glazed caramelizes on the top of the fish. Do not over cook. Rare salmon is better than over cooked salmon.

I find that this method of baking/broiling lets me get a nice top to the fish with out over cooking it. The pre-heating of the broiler pan helps to cook it through from the bottom up too.

Kelly, digging in!