September 2009 Archives

Big Girls, Test Kitchen: Fried Green Tomato BLT’s

DISH: Fried Multicolored Tomato BLTs with Basil-Chive Mayo
MAIN INGREDIENTS: Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato

Growing up, on days when a turkey club just felt like too much work for my jaw, I tended to downgrade from the triple-decker to a plain old bacon sandwich with one lettuce leaf and a sizable slather of mayo. At age 11, when I made the personal ruling that tomatoes were indeed a vegetable instead of a fruit, I transitioned from turkey entirely and began a lifelong love affair with the BLT.

I’ve found over the years that my favorites in the BLT department owe their excellence to the quality of ingredients: perfectly crispy bacon, crunchy lettuce, and a thick slice of ripe, juicy tomato. I thought nothing could beat that description, until I discovered the Fried Green Tomato BLT at Slice of Life, a cozy little restaurant in Martha’s Vineyard. The fried tomatoes were a revelation: tart and firm, adding a whole new dimension of crisp, salty goodness sandwiched inside two pieces of house-made rosemary bread.

Once I find heaven in a sandwich, I usually end the search and delve into my singular addiction. Rarely do I have the hubris to attempt to recreate perfection in my own kitchen, especially when it involves deep frying. But back in New York City, a craving hit, and I found myself filling a Dutch oven with vegetable oil, crisping bacon on the adjacent burner, and wrecking havoc on my countertop with wayward cornmeal, four, and egg as I coated farmers’ market heirloom tomatoes in preparation for the fryer.

I knew the most likely letdown for my imposter BLT would be the bread; the rosemary had given Slice of Life’s version an added element of flavor. So to bulk up my rustic Italian loaf, I rubbed a little raw garlic on the toasted slices and added chives to the basil mayonnaise to give it another level of herbiness. For jaded me, the result gave the original a fair run for its money. But for my friends, my Fried Multicolored Tomato BLT reached revelatory standing. They can be happy with the imposter. I’ll just have to keep traveling to that island to the East for the real thing.

From my kitchen, where sandwich perfection is (sometimes) reached, to yours,



Fried Multi-Colored Tomato BLT’s with Basil-Chive Mayo
Makes 4 servings

While most BLTs have a large leaf of crisp romaine lettuce, the Slice of Life version uses a handful of peppery arugula which helps offset the huge slices of fried tomatoes and intensify (instead of water down) the taste of each fresh ingredient.

1 loaf rustic Italian or country bread, sliced 3/4 inch thick
Vegetable oil
2-3 large heirloom tomatoes, preferably firm green or yellow
handful baby arugula leaves
6oz bacon (8 strips)
1 cup flour
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup cornmeal
cayenne pepper
1 garlic clove, peeled

For the mayo:

2 tbsp chopped basil
1 tbsp chopped chives
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ cup mayonnaise (preferably canola-based)Preheat the broiler.

Set a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Arrange the bacon in one layer and fry in batches until dark brown and crispy. Repeat with the remaining bacon. Set aside to drain on a plate lined with paper towels.

Fill a Dutch oven or skillet with 2 inches of vegetable oil and set over high heat. While the oil is getting hot, fill three shallow bowls with the flour, egg, and cornmeal, one ingredient in each. One at a time, dredge the tomatoes in flour, douse in egg, and then cover in cornmeal, shaking off any excess. Repeat with each slice.

Test the oil with one tomato—the oil should bubble vigorously upon contact and the slice should begin browning in less than a minute. Cook each tomato until golden brown and crispy, about one to two minutes per side, and remove with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels. Season generously with salt and pepper.

While the tomatoes are frying and draining, combine all the ingredients for the mayonnaise in a small bowl.

On a rimmed baking sheet, brush each slice of bread on both sides with olive oil. Place in the oven for a few minutes, until the bread is golden brown but not hard. Rub each slice with the garlic clove, and slather both halves with a thin layer of basil mayo. Top the first half with a small handful of arugula, two slices of bacon, and two or three slices of tomato. Top with the other slice of bread and push down to seal the sandwich.

Serve immediately, preferably with a side of coleslaw.

the dad, enjoying BLT perfection at Slice of Life

Potluck Parties: Mag Club, The Year in Review



Mag Club, August 2008

Mag Club, August 2009
hair styles may have changed, but the plaid shirts remain

EVENT: Mag Club One Year Anniversary
VENUE: Leora’s New Apartment, West Village
TYPE: Potluck Party
MENU: Parmesan Polenta Steaks with Heirloom Tomato-Corn Salad (Phoebe); Lentil Salad (Alana); Whole Wheat Fusilli with Roasted Broccoli, Sundried Tomatoes, and Chickpeas (Leora); Sesame Noodles (Jor); Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies (Sarah); Carrot Cake (Cara)

It feels like just yesterday the six of us gathered to kick off what would become our favorite eating ritual: Magazine Club. Back in August 2008, Julie had just moved into a new apartment, and we joined to warm her new digs with Kate’s spicy tostadas inspired by Eva Mendes’ steamy cover of W magazine, Phoebe’s Go Green! Pretentious Pesto Pasta fueled by a 30-pg Thomas Friedman article in New York Times Magazine, and Leora’s Caprese salad, more or less a constant in the year of collective potluck eating, though there has yet to be an argument made for its importance.

The most notable changes since August 2008, have been our various locations. We don’t want to seem like followers, but Julie’s new studio did kick off a second chapter in post-college apartments. Sarah, guiltiest of all, moved right into her building. Jor moved back in with her parents and then, recently, to a studio in the West Village, just a few blocks from Kate’s, to which she in turn had migrated in November. Cara pulled out her skinny jeans and a fedora and relocated to Brooklyn. And after a long-winded battle with bed bugs in her mom’s place, Alana envies us all.

Last, but not least, Leora’s new apartment set the scene for our One Year Anniversary. Though the plans for her move with boyfriend Adam (whose sister heard the news through the blog) were captured in our May Mag Club recap, we were surprised to find that she boxed up her vast number of tchotchkes and relegated them to the one not-so-huge cabinet in her new space. Though Leora’s redesign very much reflected the presence of a man more firmly rooted in her life, the invitation to join our Mag Club circle has, thankfully, not been extended because, well, how else would we get to talk about him?

When magazines have failed to suffice—we can’t remember the last time someone (besides Kate) actually brought, let alone wanted to discuss, an article—boy talk has been the glue in our conversations. We discovered while discussing Cara and Sarah’s various introductions to their boyfriend’s family members, and Julie’s upcoming trip to Bermuda for a wedding, that all our members are now spoken for. That is, except for Phoebe, who now, thanks to her belief in this one element of Thai tradition, automatically gets to eat the last cookie at every meeting.

Though our lives have evolved, the food has remained invariably soul-satisfying. When Leora refrains from the mozzarella and tomatoes, you can be sure that roasted broccoli will make the replacement. Though she attempted Sangria at the Cinco de Mayo Mag Cub, Jor more often than not will fall back on takeout sesame noodles, her order tripling over the months, thanks to our happy consumption. Julie has taken full advantage of the Whole Foods downstairs from her building, making sure to always grace our table with various snacks—hummus, baba ghanoush, pita chips, pretzels. Sarah has added to our waistlines by baking rich, delicious treats (in spite of Cara’s unheeded please to go easy on the butter), and without fail, no matter what her dish, Kate always manages to bring an article to enrich our exhausted minds.

Looking back, we can make out how our monthly tradition has become exactly the type of family dinner that our age group craves but is so often missing. For us Mag-Clubbers, cooking is an outlet for our creative energy, which is often stifled by adult responsibilities, like, say, sitting in a cubicle for 10 hours a day. But the friend part—getting together, getting the dish—embodies what we remember loving about our family meals: the un-compromised attention to one another, to the food, to leaning back, and digging in.

From our kitchen, celebrating a year of our Mag-Club family of friends, to yours,


Leora, the runner-up suck-up, with Michael Pollan’s article on cooking at home

Lentil Salad
Makes 4-6 servings

1 cup lentils
2 tblspns red wine vinegar
3 tblspns olive oil
fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
3 tblspns chopped parsley
1/2 cup diced cucumber
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (also good with goat cheese)

Cook lentils until tender all the way through. Toss lentils with red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. (taste and add more if needed) Add olive oil, scallions, parsley and cucumber. Stir to combine. Refrigerate and garnish w/ crumbled feta or goat cheese before serving.

Whole Wheat Fusilli with Roasted Broccoli, Sundried Tomatoes, and Chickpeas
Makes 4 servings Ingredients

16oz box whole wheat fusilli
1 head broccoli, separated into florets
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced, thinly sliced
3 oz sundried tomatoes, thinly sliced
6 oz portabella mushrooms, chopped
15 oz can diced tomatoes
15 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup fresh bread crumbs (or ½ cup store bought)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

On a rimmed cookie sheet, toss the broccoli with two tablespoons of olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Roast for about 25 minutes, until brown on top. Set aside in a large bowl.

While veggies are being prepared, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and toss with a little olive oil and add to the veggie bowl.

Heat some olive oil in a skillet, and sauté the sundried tomatoes and mushrooms until cooked through. Add to the veggie bowl. In the same skillet, sauté the tomatoes and the chickpeas and let simmer and bubble, until the chickpeas are soft but not mushy. Add to the veggie bowl with a little olive oil and toss together.

The last step is heating a little more olive oil in the skillet, and sautéing the breadcrumbs until crisp and browned. Pour on pasta mixture and serve.

Jor, eating sesame noodles, for which there is no recipe we know

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies
Makes 12 cookies

1 Packed Cup of Light Brown Sugar
1 Egg
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Vanilla
1 cup Chocolate Chips
1 cup Crunchy Peanut Butter

Stir together the sugar and the egg until combined. Sprinkled the baking soda over the mixture and mix well. As the vanilla, Chocolate chips, and peanut butter and stir to combine. On a greased baking sheet, form the batter in 1 inch balls and place at least 1 ½ inches apart. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes.

carrot cake (left), and peanut butter cookies

Carrot Cake
Makes two “sandwich” cakes

Follow the recipe for carrot cake cupcakes here.
Pour the batter into a well-greased 12×18″ sheet pan with sides. Bake for about 25 minutes, until cooked through. Let cool completely.
When the cake has cooled, cut it into four rectangles, each measuring 9×4.5″. Spread the cream cheese on two of the pieces, then top each one with an unfrosted rectangle.

Recipe Flash: Parmesan Polenta Steaks

This dish is modeled after one I enjoyed during a leisurely three-hour lunch on my last day of work, where my (ex-)coworkers and I managed to polish of two bottles of Prosecco among the three of us. Now, granted, anything would taste pretty good after that much Prosecco. But it was the image of this dish that stuck with me: an elegant, beautifully fried polenta steak piled high with delicately shaved summer squash, fresh corn kernels, and julienned basil. Normally I’m not a huge fan of combining a piping hot protein straight out of the oven with a cold, raw topping. But the quality of the summer vegetables made them perfectly crunchy and vibrant, and they complimented the creamy, sharpness of the Parmesan polenta and the salty, smokiness of the crumbled speck on top.

From my kitchen, albeit small, to yours,



Parmesan Polenta Steaks with Heirloom Tomato-Corn Salad and Crispy Prosciutto
Makes 4 large polenta steaks


For the salad:
3 medium heirloom tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 ears corn, kernels removed
¼ lb fresh mozzarella or boccacini, roughly shredded or chopped
3 tbsp chopped basil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small summer squash, quartered and thinly sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp salt

For the polenta:
1 cup polenta
2 cups water or chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream (or you can just substitute water)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp fresh thyme (optional)
salt to taste
olive oil or canola oil for frying

4 slices prosciutto

In a medium stock pot, bring water and cream to a boil over medium-high heat. Slowly pour the polenta into the pot in a gentle stream, while whisking briskly. Turn the heat down to low and cook, stirring constantly, for ten minutes, or until almost all the liquid is absorbed. Add the cheese and butter and whisk to combine. Taste for seasoning, and add salt as necessary.

Butter an 8 x 8 inch baking dish and evenly distribute the polenta. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

Fill a large skillet or Dutch oven with about an inch of oil, and place it over high heat. Remove the polenta from the fridge and cut it into 4 squares. Pat dry each steak dry, and add to the pan, two at a time. Fry each steak on both sides until brown and crispy, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove the steaks to a paper towel to drain.

While the oil is still hot, add the prosciutto one slice at a time and quickly fry on both sides, about a minute. Set aside to drain.

In the meantime, combine all ingredients for the salad in a medium mixing bowl. Toss until all ingredients are well incorporated and taste for seasoning.

Arrange polenta steaks on a large platter or on individual plates and top with the salad mixture. Garnish with some coarsely torn basil and, for the meat eaters, a handful of crumbled crispy prosciutto.

Big Girls, Global Kitchens: Romesco Sauce

dinner’s not complete without a plating competition

EVENT: In Possession of a New Spanish Cookbook
VENUE: Cara’s Mother’s House, Long Island
TYPE: Festive Weekend Dinner
MENU: Cod with Romesco Sauce, Caramelized Corn, Tomato Slices

When my little sister, Kate, turned 21 recently, among other gifts, like a new license and a series of SoCo and lime shots, she received a Spanish cookbook by Anya von Bremzen, a contributing editor at Travel and Leisure with whom she happened to have spent a few weeks this summer in a Turkish resort town (more on that, and more everyday Turkish recipes, soon).

The cookbook, called The New Spanish Table, is a compilation of Spanish food from all corners of the country, and reading it quickly brought back memories of my trip to Spain with Kate last winter. We visited Madrid, Cordoba, and Granada, and in between obsessing over the Allhambra and La Mezquita, we ate our fill of churros with chocolate and patatas bravas, crisped potatoes with a rich, spicy tomato sauce. We were particularly obsessed with one Madrid restaurant’s rendition of this classic potato dish, which they called simply “Pistou”. It was a plate of thinly fried potatoes, covered in a ratatouille-like sauce and topped with an oozy fried egg.

Though we’re excited to try Anya’s recipe for patatas bravas, which looks quite approachable, and which we may even bastardize with a fried-egg topping, our first excursion into the book was a simple Romesco sauce. It’s a slightly pungent, rich dip, thickened with bread, nuts, and oil, and flavored with paprika. Though its ingredients are mainly pantry staples, their combination produces a flavor that’s distinctly foreign, and it spices up local produce and fish as simple and fresh as cod, corn, and tomatoes.

From my kitchen, touched by Spain, to yours,



Romesco Sauce
Adapted from The New Spanish Table

Makes about 2 cups

1 small red bell pepper, in a coarse dice
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2/3 cup mixed nuts: use almonds, hazelnuts, and/or walnuts
4 slices dried-out baguette, cubed
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 large tomato, as much of the skin off as possible, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon paprika
pinch of cayenne
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
salt to taste

Cover the pepper and hot pepper with about 1/2 cup of boiling water. Let sit about 15 minutes, or until ready to cook.

Meanwhile, fry the nuts in 2 tablespoons olive oil for about 3 minutes. Add the cubed baguette and cook until the nuts are very fragrant and the bread is golden. Pour into a bowl (don’t leave in the pan or they’ll keep cooking).

Add the peppers and their water, the nuts, bread, tomato, paprika, and cayenne in the blender and puree into a paste. Slowly add the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil, and puree until the mixture is well combined. Remove to a bowl, stir in 1 tablespoon of the vinegar, and taste for salt. Set aside for at least half an hour. Stir in the last tablespoon of vinegar just before serving. Taste for salt, then spoon over fish or meats.

Beer-poached Cod
Serves 6

This recipe takes the split-second timing out of cooking fish. Because the cod is poached in beer, you don’t have to worry about it drying out. If you need to leave it for a couple minutes while you finish the rest of the meal, no one will know the difference. I owe thanks to my mother for explaining to me about the wonders of poaching in beer.

2 1/2 pounds cod filet
1/2 bottle beer
fresh or dried herbs
1/2 small red onion, roughly chopped

Pour the beer, herbs, and onion in a large pot. Bring it to the boil.

If you have a steamer basket, arrange the cod in it and put it into the pan once the beer has boiled. If not, simply place the cod on the boiling beer.

Cover the pot and let poach for 10-12 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside until ready to serve (no longer than about 15 minutes).

Caramelized Corn
Serves 6

If you make one recipe from end-of-summer fare, make this one. Again, a technique pioneered by my mother, the long, slow saute brings out the sugar in the corn, making it sweet, toothsome, and rich.

10 ears of the best fresh corn
2 teaspoons butter

Cut the kernels off the corn. Put them in a large saucepan with the butter. Cook over medium-low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately.