Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Diner: The Underrated Gourmet, also known as The Greasy Spoon

There are two kinds of diners in America. There are the ones exploiting that innate nostalgic quality particular of any thorough-bred American Institution in order to overcharge on soggy fries and burgers of questionable composition, and there are the ones that are the "real deals". By "real deals" I don't mean to suggest that these venues of gratuitous, overly greasy consumption are at all equatable to the points of their origin: covered lunch wagons serving foot-sore employees of the labor industry during the late 1800s. I mean only that there are some that doggedly retain a bit of this original integrity; their stools worn with the unmistakable indentation of the over-worked, exhausted girth of the Working Class Person.

The East Village happens to be one of the few, remaining New York City strongholds of such blue-collar business practices, with bustling streets still peppered by the finger-prints of a largely working class Ukrainian population. As the money driven evolution of NYC streets continues to sweep, though, the survival of all those kosher store-fronts balances precariously on their ability to straddle the divide between Yiddish and Yaris. B&H Dairy has managed to build a singularly imaginative bridge to this effect, becoming a comfort-food joint just as easily able to attract the most boisterous and barrel-chested of working men as the slimmest slack wearing of late-night artists.

B&H boasts a room that is only wide enough for a counter and three tables, but it still provides a generous amount of elbow room to those that find themselves routinely perched atop one of its eight-or-so stools. Simple and cheap, it remains absolutely true to the spirit of the American diner while maintaining some of its original, kosher integrity. I mean that it brings something new to the table (literally). The Macaroni and Cheese ($4.10) resides comfortably alongside the Matzo Brie ($4.50) and the Pierogis (4 for $5.00). The Lasagna ($5.50) gets chummy with the Kasha Varniskas ($6.45). The real queen bees of the whole bunch are certainly the home-made soups, though, starting with Vegetable and ending at Hot Borscht ($4.00 a bowl). With coffee and tea running at 80 cents a cup, and heaping sides of challah bread served underneath or alongside most dishes...what's not to love?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Back To Basics: Quinoa

Quinoa is the classic wallflower of foods. It's a plain-jane, purely wholesome dish not flavorfully equipped for any significant amount of time in the spotlight, but like any really good girl-next-door, get her a little dressed up and she's va-va-voom delicious. Above is a plate I scrapped together with the bare, bare remainders of my refrigerator after a week spent up to my neck in finals, so forgive that lack of imagination: a half cup of cooked quinoa simmered in some stewed tomatoes with artichoke hearts, feta cheese, kalamata olives, and grilled onions.

You'll find that Quinoa goes happily with just about anything. Grilled vegetables, swiss chard and tomatoes, fish...make it into salads using apples, celery, nuts, and a little yogurt. If you're curious for more, quiona-recipes.com (yep, there really is one) has a pretty comprehensive list of other recipes.

All tastes aside, though, Quinoa packs a serious nutritional punch. It's a true superfood: a complete protien, with all 9 essential amino acids, plenty of fiber, magnesium, and iron. Considered a sacred crop to the Incas, who spent hundreds of years cultivating it in the Andes, it was referred to as the "mother of all grains" and served as the focal point of their diet until European conquest and subsequent colonialism, whereafter quinoa was scorned and oppressed as an indigenous "non-Christian" food-stuff...right. Anyhow, Quiona's back and bigger than ever.

Basic Quinoa prep goes as follows: Boil 1 cup quiona to 2 cups water (add some salt or olive oil as you see fit), then let it simmer for fifteen or so minutes until all the water is gone. voila! It's Quinoa!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Electronic Eggplant

I've never paid all that much attention to eggplants. Aside from the fact that they are unnervingly globular; a glossy, seemingly impenetrable orb of purple flesh, I've just never exactly cultivated a taste for them. Then, while meandering the Union Square farmer's market, I was caught off guard by some eggplants of a variety that I had never encountered before: miniature. I know, I know...I'm behind the times. Either way, I took them home, coddled them in my vegetable drawer for a night while I mused their fate, and eventually decided to make them into a recipe I found in Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle." The recipe resides here.

The results were surprising, and by that I mean good. It's a little labor intensive with mini-eggplants (balancing onion, tomato, and cheese on each tiny half is precarious business) but worth the work. I think the little bit of nutmeg makes all the difference. Flavorful, bite-size treats. Yum.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Sweet Sweet Back's Badasssss Potato

I feel as if the sweet potato might have been short-changed a bit when it became dubbed as such—"potato"—, particularly because it's far more closely related to a morning glory than a potato (or even a yam, as they are sometimes referred to in grocery stores). But ! it IS an edible root, specifically one that can even be made into delicious fries, and thus I must make the concession that it has found a deserved niche in the American psyche's many imaginings of "potato".

That said, a sweet potato is lucky enough to be blessed with such a singularly sweet (yes, i know), delicate flavor that it can be whipped into a dish treading dangerously close on dessert and still be passable dinner fare next to the green beans and turkey. For example, Sweet Potato Orange Baskets:

Sounds hard, but so easy! Imagine you need one or two decently sized sweet potatos to fill every orange basket and buy both according to how many mouths you're looking to feed. Preheat the oven to 350° while prepping the oranges, Cut a good inch off the top of each, and thoroughly spoon/scrape out the pulp. Then peel and boil the sweet potatoes. Once the sweets are ready, mash them up with butter, nutmeg, and cinnamon to taste. A dash of salt or two can't hurt, either. Then spoon the mixture into the empty orange shells and cook them for 35-40 minutes, until the tops are golden brown.

It's a nice afterthought to save the orange pulp to make fresh orange juice. Or, if you want to really overload yourself: use the juicy remains to candy any left over sweet potato with thinly sliced lemons.

Ta da! Delicoius.