This is a completely lifted (and phenomenal) recipe from a fennel-themed contest on Food52, but I definitely had fun putting this together, photographing it, and then eating it all. Em-I-Lis pulled together leeks, braised fennel, and coriander oranges in a cold-weather salad that tastes sweet, warm, and like licorice in the slightest. The caramelized bits of cooked coriander in the oranges makes it taste almost like a meat dish. I used white wine to deglaze the saute pan one night; vodka and chicken stock the other night for two very different end results. The photographed version was with white wine (Pinot Grigio) and was sweeter than the dense stock.
In order to graduate with Honors, a College of Charleston senior has a capstone “bachelor’s essay” project to be completed over the course of two semesters under the supervision of a faculty adviser. When I was a sophomore, I had senior friends losing sleep over the research, the back and forth with frustrating professors, and the 30-plus pages the final work represented. It was a prospect that terrified me from day one: What if I picked a research topic I hated? What if nothing would strike my academic eyes and ears?
Two years ago, I was watching television with my friend Adrian, and a commercial came on for the McRib. It was a spectacle. With all of the close up shots of finely diced onions and this-can’t-be-barbecue-sauce oozing out of the bread, I got to thinking: “why do these ads work?” The slo-mo pickles and music riffs seemed to turn food into an action movie and less of a nourishment, certainly in the case of the McRib, which doesn’t contain bones but has a cult following that ads have likened to the Gratfeul Dead. It’s bizarre that we’ll not only buy something we know is bad for us, something we know isn’t all that it says it is, but we will stand in line for it. We’ll drop our evening plans for studying to go buy one.
Given the public’s obsession with healthful eating and the localism trends, how is McDonald’s, one of the largest food producers comporting itself? The fast food giant forms a cornerstone for how Americans eat and shop for food. I don’t even remember what we watched after that. I had my topic.
I spent the next year researching, watching commercials, and interviewing current and former executives from the McDonald’s corporation. Most were kind enough to indulge not only my research, but also allowed their names to be included. I also had a wonderful resource in Amanda Ruth-McSwain, who inspired a lot of my questions and still corresponded with me during her maternity leave. I can’t really say how much I appreciate her.
Receiving awards during graduation was a great honor, but I was especially floored to hear my work was going to be published in Chrestomathy, the College of Charleston’s undergraduate journal. After edits and some serious trimming (a big thank you to Michael Duvall, professor of English and an excellent editor), I’m happy to say all of this work is now online and available for viewing via this PDF link.
Check out the other essays: the Chrestomathy’s table of contents has something from just about every department, and the authors are all spectacular classmates and good friends of mine.
And yes, I did eat a McRib during the work on this project.
The roller coaster shifts of the holiday rush at my cafe job make me want to stay up all night. When our team is blowing through 400 covers on a Saturday, I realize just how much adrenaline and athleticism rubs off on me, and how much I miss it when it’s gone. Slow afternoons at work make me want to roll up and watch movies, craving the dinner rush more than actual dinner. Lately, I wanted to make a vegetarian pasta dish in the vein of my past experience with pasta carbonara. After a languid afternoon at work, the following pasta dish did the trick.
The apartment I’m subleasing doesn’t have measuring spoons, and I left mine in South Carolina. Either out of laziness or ambition, I’ve been learning to cope without them, tearing a page from home cook-turned-pro Bill Buford, who learns fingertips are used for a “small pinch of this” or a “medium pinch of that.” I’ve kind of liked it better this way. Scarcity of spoons would be a disaster for something exact like baking; for the intuitive approach of pasta cooking, where spaghetti is ready when it sticks to the wall, using pinches just feels right. I’ve learned what a 1/2 teaspoon of pepper flakes looks like in my hand, but forgetting the measurements allows me to cook to my own flavor preferences. I have to taste. I have to cook things “until they’re done.” I’ve found that being on a server’s budget and losing the measuring spoons has made cooking more economical but also more fun. It also makes writing a recipe a real pain in the rigatoni, so I’ve tried to adjust “pinches” for following it again.
I’ve been reading a lot of Alice Waters and Michael Pollan lately, and I think this poor man’s pasta was a subconscious (and meatless) tribute to them. They’re both very big on cooking simply, using lots of vegetables, and using almost everything.
There is some peppery kick and bitter flavors from the lettuces that blends well with the buttery and fatty flavor of the pasta and cheese. The end result is a great “pantry raider” and way to get vegetables, but also reminds me of the many creamy and hyper-concentrated pasta dishes I’d crave at franchise restaurants as a kid. And now as a grown-up kid serving tables, I’ll be thinking about all week, especially if things are slow.
4 oz. rigatoni
1 1/2 tsps kosher salt
1/4 cup white wine (pour yourself some, too)
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 Roma tomato, chopped into a large dice
1/2 cup chicory lettuce, cut into a chiffonade
8 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, leaves chopped and stems reserved. The stems are packed with flavor and add a herbacious accent to the starchy pasta water.
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup grated Romano cheese
In a large saucepan, bring 2 quarts of water and a teaspoon kosher salt to a boil. Add pasta, wine, parsley stems, and one sprig of thyme. Bring to a second boil and stir consistently for about 14 minutes, or until pasta has a bite you like. Drain (don’t rinse) the pasta and reserve a bit (about a 1/3 cup) of the starchy pasta water. It adds some body to the sauce.
While the pasta cooks, mix tomatoes, chicory, parsley, and another sprig of thyme in a medium bowl. Top tomatoes with another “pinch” (about 1/2 teaspoon) of kosher salt, a medium pinch of garlic powder, red pepper flakes, and black pepper. Toss to combine.
Turn heat to low and stir butter, olive oil, and cheeses into the pasta. Toss in vegetable bowl and cook for 30 seconds. Serve.
Give the pepper mill a few grinds over the final bowls. Throw on a violent movie. The King of New York is good.
Illustration by Maira Kalman, who also writes wonderful children’s books.
On Sunday, I went to the niche-as-can-be Lower East Side Pickle Day. It’s an annual event honoring the tradition behind pickling in the early days of the Lower East Side, when many Jewish and European immigrants lived in packed tenement houses and sold food from pushcarts. Many picklers flocked to Essex Street, right in the heart of the neighborhood. In 1910, over 80 vendors just selling pickles were in the area, making competition as bitter as brine.
For the modern era, where the Lower East Side (LES) is now a hot-spot for trendy bars and Danny Bowien’s Mission Chinese, the days of languages overlapping as people hocked pickles are gone. All that remains are the vintage photographs and a handful of businesses that are still around (Guss’ Pickles doesn’t seem to be headed out anytime soon). Us new-New York transplants got an adapted version on Sunday. Orchard Street between Houston and Delancey was blocked off for pedestrians only, making room for food vendors, yoga mats, a Red Bull-sponsored DJ, and little kids playing croquet in their Halloween costumes (picture 3-foot versions of Hocus Pocus. With croquet mallets. Awesome, right?). About 15 different pickle vendors were there, and the crowds were gigantic. Julia (a friend from college and a pickle pioneer) compared getting samples to beating back wild things, and the block reminded me of a violent version of the stock market.
“Sour? Sour? Who can take a sour? Spicy’s out, and dill hasn’t been doing well this quarter.”
We tried some from Mrs. Kim’s Kimchi (kimchi is pickled cabbage after all), Guss’, Brooklyn Brine (mason jar and burly vendor were in attendance), and Divine Brine, as well as some from a probiotic stand. After trying one of their radishes, I could feel my arms and joints turning into soaring gyro-Feng Shui-balanced-otrometers. That’s what probiotic stuff does, right?! In all seriousness, they had a very sweet radish pickle, which I’d try again.
A wrinkled man in a fuzzy green sweater hovered over a barrel of vinegar and looked like a legit source. He actually looked like a pickle, but not so fast. We weren’t fans of the new or sour ones he gave us. They tasted like garlic cloves and celery seed. They did not taste like a pickle.
We also decided that new pickles are not pickles. They are like ice cubes floating in vinegar: they’ve got texture, but a lot of watery flavor.
The afternoon reminded me of Marc Brown’s Pickle Things, which supposes a world with pickles everywhere (see attached photo). Pickle pants, pickled radishes, pickled doughnuts (just kidding). We also saw dill pickle cupcakes, which I am perfectly content with never trying. If I’m going to eat a cushion of frosting with a tiny cupcake underneath, it’d have to be one I wouldn’t feel guilty about.
I love pickles (with sandwiches, you’ll always see me with a stack of slices arranged like poker chips), and this was an exciting (if crazy and sometimes bordering on absurd) glimpse at a tradition that brought New Yorkers of different languages together and gave the newly arrived a way to make a living. You could safely say there are some who live for pickles.
The 2014 Michelin Guide, a red index of fine dining restaurants, just released it’s New York City list today. Sixty-seven restaurants in the Five Boroughs earned one or more of the Michelin star, a mark of excellence, ranking from one (a good place to stop on your journey) to three (worth the journey itself). The criteria for Michelin stars is over 100 years old, meaning the They’re coveted, and once they’re won, the prestige changes the restaurant profoundly, with chefs gaining pressure (or destroying themselves) to hold onto the honor.
The New York division of Eater.com released a fantastic map and visual list of places with the honor.
I’ve only been to four (Casa Mono, wd~50, Public, and The Spotted Pig, which doesn’t really count because I only got a beer and a bar snack). The others were fantastic highlights in the most diverse eating city in America. It’d take a lot of saving to try more, but according to the Guide, it’d be worth every penny. The Michelin Guide also provides a Bib Gouramand list, which sums up places that are great and don’t break the bank.
Looks like I’ve got some eating to do.
The ridiculously subtle autumn breeze is upon me, and that means finding fun ways to eat vegetables. Green beans with orange slices, soybeans with buttermilk, and the last of summer zucchini roasted with lemon and pecans. I’ve had these cheese pumpkins (that sounds so gross), and Sunday night dinner was the right time for them. They’ve got a melon-sweet smell and beautiful (and yes, like cheddar cheese) color. Taking apart the pumpkin took me three knives and lots of slasher film-inspired jokes.
I’ve been putting a lot of vegetables in the smoker (cauliflower is great, so are tomatoes and carrots), but this is a way to take the pumpkin in a new light. The end result is blistery and woody, perfect for the sweet heat of a cinnamon-brown butter.
For smoking chips, I used peach wood chips, soaked in water for half an hour.
1 3-5-pound cheese pumpkin
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
8 Tbsps (1 stick) butter
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 Tbsp light brown sugar.
To “butcher” pumpkin: slice into pumpkin top to remove stem. Begin to scoop out pumpkin membranes and seeds, reserving for roasting and snacking. Once pumpkin cavity is clean, slice pumpkin into 1-inch slices along the skin’s creases. Place slices onto a flat sheet of aluminum foil and sprinkle 1 tsp salt in each pouch. Fold up the sides of the sheet into a pouch-like pocket, leaving pumpkin skin and flesh exposed to air.
In a smoker, place woodchips directly onto lit charcoal embers. When they give off a scent (after about 10 minutes), place pumpkin pouches on two separate racks. Roast for 2 hours.
While roasting, light a grill and turn to medium-high. Arrange slices skin-side down and grill 3 minutes per side. Remove and reserve.
In a medium saute pan, melt butter on low heat. When the milk solids and foam subside, add remaining salt to butter. Continue to watch butter as it turns brown, making sure it doesn’t burn. Once it has reached a brown color (about five minutes), remove from heat and add cinnamon and brown sugar. To serve, arrange pumpkin slices in a casserole dish and spoon brown sugar-brown butter over slices.
Smoke up, Johnny.
All photos by Tommy Werner
After a recent expo at 201 Central, a Harris Teeter subsidy (like I said, HT is pretty awesome), this is a tasting round-up for some of the bottles I brought home. Since I’m not a sommelier/beer snob, my tasting notes are a little limited.
Notes follow the break and this Rolling Stones song off of their boozy Exile on Main Street album. The bridge (2:02) has got enough flavor to be on this list.