Monday, June 30, 2008

Pecan Sticky Buns

Okay, so I love eating fresh, unprocessed foods. But, every once in a while, my sweet tooth gets the better of my brain, and I become paralyzed, unable to resist the temptation of the week until my taste buds are satisfied.

This was the dilemma of last weekend. I had brought a friend out to CT with me for some nature and sun. We were at the local Starbucks getting our morning caffeine fix before running some errands, talking and waiting in an epic long line. Ten minutes had passed, and my system needed something - fast - because I began drooling over the nutty sticky buns in the case.

A year or two ago, I would have succumbed to those teeth-achingly sweet pastries that tempted every customer. But, after re-examining my sugar intake, I had successfully and happily elimated all those treats (Iced Lemon Loaf, (brown sugar streusel topped) Bran Muffin...) from my diet, and I really did not crave them any more.

'Til I saw that nutty beast staring right back at my.

"Oh, my...that sticky bun looks good," I exclaimed to my friend, "but, too bad I swore off Starbucks sweets last year."

"Have you had Bouchon's Pecan Sticky Buns?" She replied.

Bouchon. Just hearing that word I was transported off into Thomas Keller land. Oh, to visit Healdsburg and dine at French Laundry. I might not like foie gras, but I oh so want to try the tasting menu at Per Se. And the cookbook! I could daydream all day about the pictures and layout. And sadly (embarassingly!) I had never ventured out to his bakery/takeaway outpost at the Time Warner Center!

"Noooo, why?" I replied. "Are they good?"

Good does not begin to describe these delicacies sent from above (Napa?). My friend and I made a date for sticky buns for the following weekend - this past Saturday. As I rode up the escalator, my mind was abuzz, excited for what lay ahead for my taste buds. Would they be sickenly sweet? What were the nuts going to be like? A little give with a little toasty crunch? Would the dough be too dry and yeasty? Would there be enough sticky sweetness to balance the dough?

As we waited in line, mesmerized by the smart and fresh country decor (I was mesmerized by the white wall, and the perfect font type, color, and size for the writing), I watched the last bun disappear from the display. NO! I had waited and travelled crosstown all for nothing?

When it came to my turn to order, I asked if there were more hiding...there had to be! It was only 12:30 p.m., and these things were apparently amazing. Sure enough, my tastebuds would be spared disappointment. She placed my bun in the bag, and I paid a very reasonable $3.

Grabbing a couple of extra napkins (as any sticky bun fan would know to do), we strode over to a nearby cafe table overlooking the entrance atrium of the TWC. I unrolled the open end, and peered in, strategizing how I was to eat this without wasting anything. My friend stuck her hand in her bag, and pulled off a piece while I immediately decided that would not be the appropriate strategy. I briefly thought about ripping open the top, but that would only spread my mess. So, before I knew it, I reached in, pulled out the bun, and gingerly placed it on top of my now flattened bag, as if it were a plate, without wasting a crumb!

I immediately ripped off a piece from the side, and stuck it in my mouth. The buttery delicateness of the dough, with the not-too-sweet, but perfectly sticky glaze dissolved immediately. There was just enough dough for the glaze, with a little but of cinnamony-nutty filling to go along. I now knew what all the buzz was about. Next, I tried the large pecan staring back at me. It was softened from the sweet glaze, but it had not lost it's nuttiness, which often happens to some nuts when chopped and subjected to such sickeningly sweet toppings. Bit, by bit, I worked my way methodically around the bun, savoring each sweet, doughy, nutty bit. I don't think I could complain about any aspect of this bun - except maybe that it finally disappeared?

I already can't wait to go back!

$13 Local Tomatoes

Yes, $13 dollar tomatoes.

Yes, local tomatoes.

And, yes. I live in Manhattan.

So, Friday night finally came. I was exhausted from a long week of work, and too many consecutive nights of drinks. When I had finally dried out from the prior weekend's non-stop drinking (Rites of Spring event Thursday, with a champagne flute always at my side, to Friday's blood orange margaritas to welcome the weekend, to wine at brunch on Saturday, to a pre-dinner champagne cocktail, and more wine with dinner), it began again on Tuesday with wine over backgammon, then a company party complete with margaritas and dancing til my feet fell off Wednesday, to a birthday/farewell party for two dear former co-workers (complete with wine!) Thursday. 

Maybe I was still fuzzy in the brain from all the booze (and heat), but as soon as I walked in to Eli's Vinegar Factory and smelled tomatoes, I knew I was in trouble. Nothing quite beats fresh tomatoes, still warm from the sun.

And, yes - these qualified! Grown in a greenhouse, right on top of the store, these were local and fresh Manhattan tomatoes. They were soon to be my dinner, too! I headed to the check out, and swiped my card as the cashier told me my total. Wait, WHAT?!!! $13 for three tomatoes?? I quickly thought about saying no and not buying my tomatoes. But, I have been watching these tomatoes grow in that greenhouse every morning since March. I had to at least try them out. And I did.

At the time, I had not quite figured out how I wanted to use these beautiful red orbs. I soon remembered I had some leftover fres spinach pasta in the freezer, and a half a head of garlic. Who needs a hot pasta sauce on a day like that when I had a bag of fresh tomatoes in my hand?

I started prepping my sauce: chopping four small cloves of garlic (note: you can't press garlic and expect to get a good flavor. I'm all for ease, but there is seriously something lacking in that pureed garlic mush that comes out. Believe me). I added that to my bowl, along with a pinch of Maldon salt. I then began working on the tomatoes, slicing the first 2/3 up from the bottom, taking off the top. I squeezed some of the juice into my green salad (a little liquid for the dressing), and then roughly chopped the rest of the tomato, and added it to the garlic. I repeated with the second tomato, this time adding most of the juice to the tomato garlic mixture so that it all can marinate. A little toss, and I put it aside.

By the time the sauce was done, my water was boiling. I added my pasta, and let it cook til it was al dente. Drained it all, saving some water in case I needed it, and I tossed the pasta with a little bit of fresh pesto, in lieu of oil, so that it wouldn't stick. Quite an easy step that I used to forget - but it makes such a difference. I plated the pasta, and topped it with the tomato mixture, and some swiss cheese (all I had). 

Albeit the tomatoes had only sat for at most 10 minutes, there was a lovely light garlic flavor to the tomato broth, and the tomato flavor was quite delicious. Though I might think again about buying three tomatoes for $13, I won't have to think twice before making this dish - it is a perfect summer pasta dish for a hot summer day (I just wish I had taken a picture of it). Bon appetit!

Memorial Day Madness in the kitchen

So this past Memorial Day, I was home babysitting my loveable labs, who, like me, love food. To celebrate not having to work Monday, I decided to hit the farmer's market and pick up one of my favorite fresh foods of all time - morels.

Some people collect stickers, some people collect spoons from places they've been to, others collect corks, and even more collect shot glasses. Well, I seem to collect recipes. Over the years, I've torn out recipe after recipe, daydreaming about how, one day, I'll whip up some delicious, gourmet dish with the flick of a wrist, every night of the week.


In my big kitchen dreams.

But this particular Sunday, I was in a big kitchen...and craving a luscious, not-to-heavy, but a little creamy, morel mushroom sauce. So, I went to the books. Found a recipe here, a recipe there - but not exactly what my taste buds were screaming for right then and there. So, I bit the bullet and decided to come up with something on my own.

I started off with some minced garlic sauteing in butter. Then I added some chopped shittakes, chanterelles, and morels, and cooked until fragrant. I added a cup or so of white wine (right out of my glass), and let the liquid reduce by half. Then I added a 1/2 cup or so of farm fresh heavy cream.

Meanwhile, I had prepared my bunch of my asparagus, and had tossed it with olive oil and a sprinkle of Maldon salt. They were roasting in the oven at 450, and they smelled delicious. I pulled out my asparagus, and checked my pot of water - boiling! Time to add my spinach pappardelle.

I admit. I'm a pasta snob. Nothing quite beats fresh pasta. Or thick pappardelle cuts of pasta. If I was going to make this sauce, I surely had to splurge on the good stuff!

Just as my sauce was ready, my pasta was cooked. I drained the pasta, saving a little bit of water to thin the sauce, and added it to my pan of mushroom ragout. As I plated my dinner, I realized next time, I should have added stock, for a juicier sauce, and to have checked for parmigiano (I was out!!!). C'est la vie....

Topped with a little bit of basil chiffonade, and a couple of spears of asparagus - and that glass of white on the side - and my dish was complete! Bon appetit!