Friday, June 22, 2012

Washington Heights Salad

INGREDIENTS (serves two):

a hearty selection of fresh garden greens; we used baby lettuce, wild arugula, and curly escarole
a handful of yellow wax beans, blanched 2 minutes and then plunged into an ice bath
edible flowers of your choosing; we used arugula flowers and borage
sliced segments from one grapefruit
1/2 a small red onion, sliced very thin
1 large scallion, white and green minced
1 cup of canned black beans
1 cup grated Columbian-style queso fresca
the hank end of a baguette, diced, seasoned and fried into croutons in olive oil

a splash of olive oil
a dollop of mayonnaise
a few liberal shakes of garlic powder
a squirt of Dijon mustard
several dashes of chipotle Tabasco
a glug of apple cider vinegar
a squeeze of honey or agave
plenty of salt and cracked pepper

beer of choice

1)  Whisk the dressing ingredients together.
2)  Toss with the salad ingredients.
3)  Open a beer.  Enjoy together.


It seemed cruel to mention this tasty beverage since you can only get it on draft in the local NYC area, but since we managed to lay our greedy little hands on it, we wanted to shout out to Brooklyn Brewery's Gold Standard Export Kellerbier.  Our pal Kirk Struble of Amsterdam Ale House and Fourth Avenue Pub fame was slinging it on the Upper West Side yesterday, and it's always worth scoping out Mr. Oliver's Brewmaster's Reserve series.  Kellerbiers are unfiltered but with a nicely floral hop nose, and this version is mildly bitter with 100% Bohemian barley.  If you imagine that a hefeweisen and a pilsner had a love child and then married it to a pale ale, you'd be close to imagining what this beer is about.  If you have any desire to watch Garrett Oliver geek out about beergardens and this brew, hit up this video. 



Yes, granted Washington Heights Salad is a vaguely ridiculous name, but you can't eat any more locally than what you grow yourself, and I'm proud to say that 100% of the ingredients came from either our garden plot or the C-Town around the corner. That is staggering.  When Gabe and I first moved up here, we learned the hard way about the ghettoization of grocery stores in poorer neighborhoods.  We love living in upper Manhattan, but time was that our C-Town was good for:

--yucca root
--roots like yucca that are more difficult to identify
--taro root
--roots of many types
--really egregiously terrible meat and fish
--cheap beer

These days, you can get AMAZING (for us) things at our remodeled C-Town, including:

--actual fresh basil
--cheese other than queso fresca, and about 10 national varieties of the latter
--actual organic products of the canned variety
--free range eggs
--leeks (this blew my mind)
--bok choy (see above parenthetical statements)
--snow peas (mind: BLOWN)
--lettuce other than the always delightful iceberg variety

And also:
--really egregiously terrible meat and fish
--expensive beer
--a shit-ton of Fanta (pictured)

So, granted, there was a trade-off, but if I want tofu (and who doesn't occasionally?) I don't have to leave the neighborhood for it.  It's terribly difficult for communities to eat healthy when healthy products simply aren't for sale in the local grocery, and that can lead to all sorts of woes including childhood obesity and diabetes.  It's generally ethnic neighborhoods that suffer this problem, and despite the fact that you can get 15 limes for a dollar during the summertime around here, the shopping for comestibles still presents challenges.  But it's getting better all the time.

Things you still cannot get at my C-Town:

--a baguette
--organic meat, poultry, or fish
--meat, poultry or fish that looks appetizing
--meat, poultry or fish that I'd touch with a ten-foot pole
--meat, poultry or fish that I'd serve to anyone other than someone I was attempting to murder

One day, my friends.  One bright, far-off day.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Diver Scallops with Polenta, Zucchini, Radish, and Chive Blossom

INGREDIENTS (serves two):

1 12 ounce bottle Green Flash Rayon Vert

four large diver scallops
1 tsp ground coriander
four thick slices of cooked polenta (solid leftover polenta from home or the pre-made; we used organic Food Merchants brand)
one medium zucchini, sliced in rounds
1 cup of thinly sliced red radish
4 garlic cloves, sliced very thin
4 ounces of butter, divided
about 1/2 cup of minced roasted bell pepper (we used a nice jarred variety)
a baby fennel frond, pulled into about ten small pieces
2 purple chive blossoms, buds separated
salt and fresh black pepper

8 ounces arugula leaves
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
dash of salt
pinch of sugar

1)  Combine the arugula leaves, olive oil, salt, and sugar in a food processor and puree.  Strain the liquid into a squeeze bottle or other receptacle of choice and discard the solids.  Set arugula oil aside.
2)  Season the scallops on the bottom and top with salt, pepper, and coriander.
3)  Divide the butter in half and heat until foam subsides in two heavy skillets (we used cast irons). 
4)  Saute the zucchini in one skillet and the radish and garlic in the other over medium heat, well seasoned with salt and pepper.  When cooked through, about 5 minutes, transfer the zucchini to your serving plates and sprinkle the radish and garlic over it.
5)  Garnish the vegetables with about five fennel fronds per plate.
6)  Add oil or more butter to your skillets if necessary and bring back to medium high heat.  In one skillet, sear the polenta on both sides until nicely browned.  In the other, cook the sea scallops, turning to sear on both sides as well.  This should take about 4 minutes per side for the shellfish, supposing you have jumbo scallops.
7)  Layer two polenta rounds on each plate over the zucchini, radish, and fresh fennel.
8)  Place sea scallops on tops of polenta rounds.
9)  Garnish scallops with minced red bell pepper and chive blossoms.
10)  Drizzle arugula oil around the perimeter of both plates.
11)  Open Green Flash Rayon Vert.  Enjoy together.


According to Green Flash, a fabulous brewing company located in the heady beer mecca of San Diego, California, the Rayon Vert would have been their flagship brew had they accidentally conceived the brewery in Belgium instead of the United States.  That's a fine endorsement, and the beer stands up to the praise.  Its pours with a rabidly enthusiastic Belgian-style head, softly foamy and frothy and lingering, with a hazy orange color below.  Due to the use of Belgian yeast, there's a touch of medicinal funk on the nose along with the piney hop aroma.  Sip this beer gently as you fork into your sea scallops and you will not be sorry, we found.  The sweetness of the scallop was brightened by the round, subtle citrus of the Rayon Vert, and its dry earthiness really complemented the buttery veg and polenta.  All in all a splendid pairing, and one hell of a fine lunch.

(A word about Green Flash--they're a small company who make killer beer and partner with local charities who request donations.  In other words, they're good people.  So drink their beer.  It'll make your heart strong.)


I went on my first book tour!

(Takes moment to scream HEAVENLYGODHEAVENLYGODHEAVENLYGOD a la Eddie Murphy crossing the freeway in Bowfinger.)

It was awesome.  I learned a great deal, and went to three cities total--the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, AZ; Murder by the Book in Houston, TX; and Once Upon a Crime in Minneapolis, MN.  Here are a few of the things I learned, in no particular order.

--I already figured I was incredibly lucky to be sent on a small tour by Amy Einhorn/Putnam/Penguin, but if I even contemplate guesstimating the travel expenses, my brain freezes like a laptop with three anti-virus programs and steam emanates from my eyebrows.  I am a duck who fell out of the lucky tree and hit every branch on the way down.
--Everything authors say about book tours is true.
--That is, they largely consist of being alone in airports.  This aspect is ameliorated by the fact that I visited not one, not two, but SIX airport bookstores and signed their copies of The Gods of Gotham as a cure for my own boredom.
--I have a tumblr and can look at pretty dresses and BBC Sherlock screencaps too, which is remarkably...time consuming.
--Also, being alone in a hotel room is exotic on the first night, still rather glamorous the second, and by the third, you are watching all three Matrix films in a row and conducting this conversation with yourself:

ME:  The third Matrix movie can't have been as bad as I remember.  I must have had unreasonable expectations.
ME:  No, I remember it was bad.  But true, I could have been in a foul mood that day and just hated on everything.
ME:  See how much fun the second one still is?
ME:  You're right.
ME:  The third Matrix movie is about to be awesome.
ME:  Sit back and prepare to enjoy it like a kid at a carnival.
ME:  You're so open minded.
ME:  This is going to be deeply satisfying Hollywood entertainment.
ME:  WHAT THE ACTUAL F***, third Matrix movie...?
ME:  OK, that effect was kind of cool.
ME:  Was this movie written by monkeys?
ME:  No.  Monkeys give every indication of experiencing emotions.  This movie was written by a spinning Wheel-of-Fortune type line generating device.
ME:  Keanu Reeves, blink like that one more time and I will--
ME:   How many Agent Smiths do we really need, people?  When we know Neo will kick their asses regardless of exact number?
ME:  No.
ME:  NO.  
ME:  So that's your explanation for everything?  That seemed like a good way to end...
ME:  All expenses are presumably paid by Penguin.  Let's set the TV on fire.

--It is possible to be nervous about giving the same speech you have now given four times successfully.  Trust me.
--"Media escorts" are wonderful people who schlep authors out of airports and to multiple book stores for signings.  They are very charming and dislike that the word "escort" connotes "sex worker."  However, in fairness, upon meeting them, one does not assume them to be in the pornography industry, because they do not have Tom Selleck moustaches.
--Planes come automatically equipped with screaming children.
--The Rat Pack was into some crazy shit when it came to hotels.  Look at this.  There's a bathtub in the middle of the room.  A damn BATHTUB.  Is this in case you're in danger of losing your way to and from the bathtub if there are opaque wall-like barriers separating it from the bed?  (Note: it was most relaxing, and it's fun to channel surf while bathing, for the record.)
--The Valley Ho Hotel is the best hotel EVER.  I'm not telling you the price of their happy hour drinks, you'll all move to Scottsdale.  Also...just look at that bathtub, people.
--Booksellers are very kind, intelligent, generous people and I heart them.  All of them were so kind to me, and they had piles and piles of my novel.  It rocked.
--Houston is way, way cooler than I ever expected or even ruminated upon.
--People in Minneapolis are crazy into arts and books.  I enjoy this about them.
--If you throw a pebble in a big city after having advertized your event on Facebook, you'll probably hit an affable Sherlockian.

It was a great time.  There's no place like home and I ate too much hotel bacon, but so goes the natural course of things.  If anyone ever asks me to go on a tour again, I will be delighted and grateful.  Also, my suitcase will be much lighter--after tweeting that I carry far too many books with me due to reading quickly on planes, a Sherlockian from Canada took it upon himself instantly to mail me his old Kindle.  Because, of course you would do that. And pay foreign postage to do so.  It arrived this afternoon.

I mean, I ask you...are people lovely, or are people lovely?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"What Do We Have in the Fridge?" Lamb Stew

INGREDIENTS (serves 6):

1 bottle He'brew Hop Manna Test Batch #4

1 1/2 lb lamb stew meat
1 large onion, halved and sliced
1 yellow pepper, cut into 2-inch strips
6 cloves garlic, sliced
1/8 tsp red pepper flake
dash mace
2 tsp chili powder
1 tbsp paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp allspice
1 tsp thyme
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp flour
1 bottle Sierra Nevada Bigfoot
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 cup water
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 large turnip, peeled and chopped
3 tbsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste

2-3 large parsnips, peeled and chopped, hard core removed and added to stew with vegetables
3 tbsp butter
6 oz sour cream
a handful of fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper


1) Add a touch of oil in the bottom of a dutch oven; heat
and add the lamb. Cook at medium high until browned on all sides.
2) Add garlic, half of the onion and a third of the yellow pepper. Sweat for 5 minutes.
3) Add tomato puree, spices, and flour. Cook 3 or 4 minutes until fragrant.
4) Pour in beer, crushed tomatoes, and water and bring to a boil; then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 2 hrs.
5) Stir in remaining onions and peppers, carrots, turnips and parsnip cores. Increase heat until it starts to boil, then reduce to simmer, cover and cook for about 1 - 1.5 hrs more, until vegetables are tender.
6) Finish with the sugar, and salt and pepper to taste.


1) Heat the butter in a skillet on medium high until it foams and starts to brown; add parsnips and a touch of salt.
2) Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 20-30 minutes, or until parsnips are tender. Stir occasionally.
3) Blend parsnips and sour cream in a food processor until smooth.
4) Salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with fresh parsley.

Open He'brew Hop Manna. Enjoy together.


He'brew Hop Manna Test Batch #4...tasty, tasty brew. It has a rich amber copper tone and good head (that's always fun to write, incidentally). On the nose, there is a lot more malt than you normally get from an American IPA. Has a little more of the bready fruitiness of a British IPA style. The taste follows from that exactly as expected--a medium carbonation, slightly sweet, with a late breaking grassy hop presence. They put 6 different hops in this beer, and to be honest, I'm not quite sure why. But overall a very pleasant beer, which went nicely with the richness and acidity of the lamb stew.


Beer, meet Food.

Lyndsay, meet bright red Le Creuset dutch oven.


During the cold, nipply months, one wants brazen casseroles and thick soups and hearty dishes with dripping meat chunks and cubes of roots tossed in with the tenderous fleshy sinews. (Yes, tenderous is a word. No, you can't tell me otherwise.) Never mind that NYC has been effing creepily warm this winter, I will not have my stew inclinations trod upon by temperate climes. So when Gabe scored me the incredibly natty crimson Le Crueset seen above on my stovetop, I did the Happy Happy Joy Joy dance and a couple of laps around the living room.

I wrote up a piece for Otto Penzler in his forthcoming IN PURSUIT OF SPENSER essay anthology (click here!) about Robert B. Parker's use of food and cooking in the series and mentioned my belief that there's something of a soul to certain kinds of cookware. Really old iron skillets, beautifully made knives, seasoned cutting boards...they matter when you're cooking. Making dishes with beautiful or historied tools means something, particularly when you're serving the concoction to loved ones.

So far, my Le Creuset is a baby. Only two months old, having gotten it for Christmas. But I want to make countless dishes in it, until the memory of many meals shared lives in its enamel. Thus far, it has performed admirably. There is something so bloody sexy about getting a brilliant brown sear on a chunk of meat, and for this reason I have been kissing my new dutch oven repeatedly and cuddling it in the wee hours. It needs to see decades of curries and chowders and tagines come and go.

Le Crueset dutch oven, we shall grow old together. While Gabe is gently caressing his Bob Kramer Henckel carbon steel chef's knife, I shall nuzzle your cool enamel surface, and be content.