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Archive for March, 2008

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That’s the Bramble from Little Branch, a charming underground speakeasy in the West Village. Behind a solitary, unobtrusive door lingering on an unsuspecting corner are steps that lead to a warmly lit room whose grooved ceilings, dust yellow walls and gently clinking glasses envelop you in old world enchantment. Slip into a high-backed booth in view of the stately piano and sip on specialty cocktails, precise combinations constructed by “mixologists” who take an alcohol and wrap it in layers of tasty sophistication. I tend to stay away from trendy, chic places because they make me feel uncomfortable but Little Branch’s unassuming glamor and inventive libations are delicious respites from a routine night out on the town.

Little Branch is located on an unsuspecting corner at 22 7th Avenue S, New York, NY.

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I’ve been terribly distracted lately and I apologize. Spring’s coming and I think I caught the fever. Warm weather has wriggled its way into my brain, affecting my perception. I feel like I’m noticing my neighborhood for the first time, finding delight in the various wooden doorways that adorn the brownstones on my street, and in the way the sun hits the stout skyline of the buildings in Park Slope. I’m overwhelmed by the newness of it all.

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So yes, I’ve been distracted, caught up in contemplating the possibilities of a gentle spring transforming into a hot New York summer. But I need to find a way to assimilate, to regain my footing in the everyday. Early yesterday morning, when the sun was just rising, I made madeleines that turned out beautifully soft inside their scalloped golden shells. For dinner I cooked rajma, using the spices in the masala dubba my mom gave me this weekend, and it turned out surprisingly well too, the flavors forming and binding in the rich tomato base, infusing the kidney beans with a taste I had doubted I could create on my own. I’m enjoying the wonder of these warmer days.

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I’m home for a few days. I like looking out at the trees in our backyard, some with curving leaves still hanging from branches, rusty hooks suspended against the bleak sky. On the ground the leaves look chalky, shivering and scattering when the wind blows. It feels like fall, but Hi, spring. You’ve finally arrived. On a walk I spotted tiny nubs on branches, dark knots framed by gray, soon to unfurl glossy new leaves.

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Last weekend we cooked for a few hours for a late lunch party, climbing out on the fire escape in between dishes to breathe. The sun was throwing gold on us and our forbidden jungle of a backyard.

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We made an Onion Tart with Mustard and Fennel that turned out surprisingly well. I was worried that the dough wouldn’t rise- it was my first time working solo with yeast- but I placed the bowl in a sunny spot and in a little over an hour, a smooth, shiny balloon had formed. In that hour, we slow-cooked three pounds of onions until brown and sticky-sweet, brightened by fragrant fennel seeds. I punched out the dough on a baking sheet and spread a spoonful of mustard across it, then heaped on the onions and sprinkled the Parmesan, dry and sharp.

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After around 30 minutes in the oven, the crust had baked to a crisp, tender, pizza-like dough. The various elements melded together beautifully. The sweet, fennel-speckled onions sitting atop the spicy mustard and covered with a layer of bumpy, browned Parmesan formed a tart that exploded with possibilities of the nutty, the sweet and the heat. It tasted like a new season.

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We also made Sauteed Swiss Chard with Sliced Garlic, gorgeous and juicy (and healthy), a bowl of savory flowers. We added lemon and hot chile flakes to the original recipe to give it an edge.

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We served the swiss chards and the onion tart with L’s excellent turmeric-tinged breakfast potatoes and an Algerian Fennel and Carrot Slaw with Olive Dressing. We had made the salad a couple days back and as the sweet fennel and crunchy carrot sat marinating in the warm oils from the olives and sundried tomatoes, it evolved into a full-bodied cold entree.

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Many more Saturday lazy lunches to come!

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Last time I was home, Maggie took me to her favorite sandwich shop, Darwin’s, located down a lovely, shady curve of Mt. Auburn Street. It’s a cozy coffee and cookie cafe on one end and a sandwich source on the other, both areas filled with fresh flowers. In between, it’s a mini-grocery outpost stock full of bananas and glossy tomatoes, runny cheeses and marzipan chocolates, where sweating bottles of beer are stacked in the fridge and red wine lines the walls.

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Maggie pointed out their color-schemed displays. Yellow in the winter window adds cheer. A happy, sunny spot built with mustard bottles, Toblerones, white wines and lemonade.

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I wish I had gotten a photo of the sexiest sandwich assembly line ever. I kid you not, there is a boy for every crushing girl heart out there: tall, skinny, curly haired, hat haired, smiley, serious, melting eyes, strong hands, tiny t-shirts, etc., etc., etc. Imagine this assortment of cute men, shoulders hunched while making you the perfect sandwich.

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I ordered The Hubbard Park with cheddar on toasted Pepperjack bread. The tables were all taken so Mags and I sat on a bench inside with the “notoriously messy” sandwiches in our laps and a pile of napkins beside us. Stacked inside the sandwich, in addition to the cheese, were slices of avocado, apple, carrot, and tomato, and handfuls of curly sprouts. Hummus and honey-mustard dressed it with a nutty, soft spice. It was an awesome sandwich. Fresh, quality ingredients (and really cute boys) can make all the difference when it comes to food (love).

The Hubbard Park with Cheddar: $7
Darwin’s is located at 148 Mt. Auburn Street and 1629 Cambridge Street, Cambridge MA.
Mt. Auburn: (617) 354-5233; Cambridge St.: (617) 491-2999

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On Robert Sietsema’s recommendation, T. and I made the trip to Jersey City for a meal at Udupi Shri Krishna Palace. While waiting for Gabe, who was overjoyed we were visiting his neighborhood, we walked the glittery length of Newark Avenue, ducking into shops to watch small crowds of customers order sev puri and samosas. I promised myself that if I saw anyone frying up a fresh batch of golden jalebis, I would buy some and spoil my dinner. Sadly, no such luck- I guess Jersey City is not the equivalent of Edison.

Udupi Shri Krishna Palace is a tiny, boxy space, more a take out stop than a restaurant, with florescent lights glaring down on the uncomfortable clutter of benches, tables, and the dusty water cooler in the corner. We sat underneath a protruding heater, our grimy corner illuminated by the lights, and served ourselves water using the plastic cups stacked on the cooler.

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We ordered ragda pattis, fried potatoes cutlets doused in chutney, chickpeas, and in this instance, spoonfuls of crunchy sev instead of onions. The chutneys were spicy and sweet and soaked through the savory pattis for bites that were properly sensational, bites of India in Jersey City.

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Anthony was fascinated by the recipe for the Polish Hunter’s Choucroute that appeared in the New York Times a few weeks ago. The recipe calls for, among other ingredients, 8 ounces of thick cut smoked bacon, 2 pounds of smoked ham, smoked pig knuckles, ham hocks, smoked goose or smoked duck, sausages, and kielbasa. I don’t even know what some of those meats are. I was baffled when I got the following email from him.

Email from Anthony to me:
Did you see that polish stew recipe from the last times dining and wine section? With fake items, that sounds pretty.. great.
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We then chatted online:
Anthony: why does that recipe look so good
3:45 PM me: hahaha let me look at it
Recipe: Polish Hunter’s Choucroute (Bigos)
?
this one??
3:46 PM Anthony: yes
that doesn’t sound good?
admittedly, it’s a bit off the beaten path…for me
3:48 PM me: hahahaha
i cant really imagine what it would taste like
without all the heavy meat flavors
Anthony: hm true
3:49 PM it’s more of a..theoretical interest for me
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And so we decided to give it a shot. After all, the recipe also calls for apples, onions, potatoes, sauerkraut, vodka, and half a bottle of red wine, all familiar flavors, and we like experimenting…

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He did all the work. When I came home, a delicious aroma had permeated the apartment, the result of slow cooking the stew for two hours. My first forkful revealed juicy cuts of sausage and translucent onion steeped in the deep, winey broth. Fake sausage has a lovely, soft texture and in addition to being really tasty, it’s good for you. The copious sauerkraut mellowed and infused the potatoes, apples, and tiny black peppercorns with a pungent, musky punch. We hunched over our bowls and marveled at the feat we pulled in transforming an outright carnivorous feast into a grand stew fit for vegan kings.

Recipe after the jump.

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