Eating New York

The book in my bag this week is Amanda Hesser’s Cooking for Mr. Latte. It’s the kind of book you don’t want to finish off in a hurry. So, just like the dark chocolate in my kitchen cupboard, I treat myself to a little bit of the book every day. It’s about good food, and family, and friends. In New York.

In my mind, New York is intrinsically linked with family, and with food. We landed in JFK not with a Lonely Planet, but a scrap of paper with a list of all the places we wanted to eat in. That’s how we discovered New York. We ate through its length.

Nothing detered us. There we were, D and I, hauling a buggy and a baby, up and down the stairs of subway stations, traveling from a breakfast to a lunch to a dinner. There is not single photograph of us anywhere near Ellis Island.

But we know the Upper West Side, because that’s where Zabar’s is; and Sarabeth’s. We explored Midtown, one Vendy-winning-cart at a time. We walked through the rain for Balthazar. We tracked down John’s of Bleecker Street. Queued for the best arepas in East Village. And my brother and sister-in-law, who live in the Upper East Side, provided yet another list of local recomendations, along with their babysitting services.

We ate New York.

And Amanda Hesser brought it all back for me, with Cooking for Mr. Latte. Midway through a chapter, I decided to take one of her recipes into the kitchen. I made the Linguine with Meyer Lemon Zest, Creme Fraiche and Parmesan Cheese. It was as beautiful as I thought it would. Simple, and so full of summer flavour.

But I’d made too much of it, so I was stuck with leftover linguine, which is far from exciting. The next day, the leftover linguine met some fresh fish. And they got along like a house on fire.

I called it my Hesser Messer Pie. All you do is mess up all the ingredients in one big bowl, top it all with cheese, and send it to the oven. The lemon-zesty pasta paired beautifully with the fish. And what started out as an attempt to save leftover linguine, became quite a dinner.

Amanda Hesser’s wonderful recipe for Linguine with Meyer Lemon Zest, Creme Fraiche and Parmesan Cheese can be found in Cooking for Mr. Latte (page 197).

The Hesser Messer Pie is just my attempt to save the life of a good linguine.

My Hesser Messer Pie

Ingredients

3 cups of leftover linguine, from the Amanda Hesser recipe
2 fillets of cod, cut into cubes
1 cup prawns, peeled
1/2 cup milk
1 cup peas, frozen or fresh

1/2 cup shredded white Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup shredded Gruyère cheese
1 tsp crushed blackpepper 

A bunch of grapes

Pre-heat over, 160 C.
Mix the three cheeses in one bowl, and divide into two equal portions.
In a big bowl, mix together the linguine, cod, prawns, peas, milk, pepper and one portion of the cheese mix.
Once it’s all tossed up, transfer to a baking dish and sprinkle the remaining cheese mix on top.
Bake in the oven at 160 C for 25 minutes.
Serve hot, with some grapes on the side.


Serves 2-3

A Sunday breakfast

When I walk into a cafe for my midday caffeine shot, I try to find a table that’s far away from pre-schoolers and from large groups of new mothers. The first because I get my fair share of pre-school chatter at home, and the second because I have reached a stage where I can no longer bear conversations about nappies, weaning and how “fast their fingernails grow!” In the supermarket, whenever I see two new mums, deep in conversation, I quickly move to a different aisle. Even if it’s ‘Canned Soups’.

At this point, I need to repeat an annoying cliche – it’s not personal. I really have nothing against new mothers. In fact, I know their lives only too well. A couple of years ago, I was knee-deep in the very same conversations. Like sleep-deprived sadists, D and I would be drawn into long chats with parents whose 3-week olds were already sleeping through the night. And everyday, I would groggily trudge to playgroups to catch up on the latest brands of baby food. By the end of year one, I had had enough. Now, I break into a rash every time I hear ‘nappy’.

So yesterday, at the Waterstones cafe, I became slightly concerned when the table next to me filled up with a mother, her 3-year old daughter and 9-month old son. Pre-schoolers have no concept of volume. They speak very loudly in quiet places, and whisper when you need them to be heard. This lovely little girl was no exception, and the quiet cafe was soon privy to her every word.

Mum (spooning mash into her son’s eager mouth): Sarah, eat your ham sandwich please.
Daughter (loudly): I don’t like ham.
Mum (utterly confused): You LOVE ham!
Daughter: I love ham everyday except Sat-ur-day.
The mother turns her head away, willing patience in public, and continues feeding the little boy, who fortunately can’t speak yet.

Yes, my coffee-hour could have been quieter, but this little bit of conversation made up for that. It made me grin into my black Americano, this litle girl’s utter conviction about ham on weekends. The mother had all my sympathies, but I understood exactly what her daughter was saying.

At home, we have a mix of muesli, milk and fruits everyday for breakfast. But never on a Saturday. Or on a Sunday. It just doesn’t feel right. Everything about the weekend needs to be different. Less ordinary.

So today, even though we needed a quick breakfast before going out for the day, it couldn’t be muesli! It was Sunday.

I made an old favourite – an open sandwich that Ma would often make for us on weekends. She calls it ‘Corn on Toast’. It’s quick, it’s simple, it’s delicious. And it reminds me of Sundays in Kolkata. Ma’s version was harder work, because the fresh bhutta, or corn on the cob, would have to be boiled, the corn scraped off, and then cooked. My corn came shamelesly frozen, in a packet.

The sandwich was followed by fresh strawberries with honey & almond creme fraiche. A good start to a Sunday.

Ma’s Corn on Toast

The corn is cooked in White Sauce, a simpler version of the B
échamel Sauce. There’s the classic way of making White Sauce – melting the butter, sauteing the flour, then stirring in the milk, very slowly, a bit at a time, so that no lumps are formed.
And, there’s my cheat-version, for those days when you have no time to stand and stir.
For me, it’s almost always the latter.



Ingredients

1 1/2 cup milk
2 tbs flour
1 tbs butter
Coarsely ground black pepper
A sprinkle of chopped parsley (tarragon is a lovely alternative)
1/2 cup grated cheese (I used a mix of Cheddar and Gruyere)
2 1/2 cups corn
Salt to taste
Wholegrain bread to toast



Take the flour in a bowl, mix it with a few tbs of water and make a smooth paste.
Heat the milk in a pan.
When it’s hot, but before it has boiled, pour in the flour paste, and stir as the milk quickly thickens. Add the frozen corn. Add salt (remember the cheese will add some salt too). Stir occasionally till the corn has cooked, maybe 3-4 minutes. If you want to thicken the sauce further, add some more flour mixed with water. Take pan off heat.
Sprinkle in the cheese, pepper and parsley (or tarragon). Add the butter. Give it a good stir.
Pop bread into toaster or oven. Time the toast well. It should be golden and crisp.
Spoon the corn on the toast. Sprinkle with paprika, and serve immedietely.

Serves: 2-3

Fresh Strawberries with Honey & Almond Crème Fraiche

Ingredients

3 cups of strawberries, all halved
1 cup cr
ème fraiche
2 tbs honey
1 tbs ground almond
1 tbs brown sugar
Few sprigs of fresh mint

Sprinkle the strawberries with sugar and refrigerate for 10-15 minutes.
Mix the cr
ème fraiche, honey and ground almond, stirring it all into a nice, smooth paste.
Divide the strawberries into bowls or cups, and top with the creme fraiche.
Pretty it all up with a sprig of mint.

Serves 2-3