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Charles Phan's Glass Noodles with Crab

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Oh, how far have I come. Do you see that little green sprig, so innocent, so gentle, lying up there sweetly on that pile of noodles? Just a few years ago, I would have rather chewed on a stick than put a bit of cilantro into my meal, and certainly not for a reason as frivolous as garnish. Feh. But today, bring on the cilantro in all its weird glory! I want to strew with it! I might even chew on it, for a bit.

This is what I like to call progress.

(See wan plate below for comparison: definitely in need of a little sprucing, wouldn't you say?)

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Luckily, the dish itself is quite tasty even without the cilantro and, man, is it fast. I do believe this counts as one of the speediest meals I've ever made that involved turning on a stove (and that does not include scrambled eggs, thankyouverymuch).

A brief aside on the nitty gritty: First of all, I couldn't find glass noodles. I bought Thai rice noodles instead, because it's all I could find that was even close, even though this is a dish from a Vietnamese chef. Don't do what I did: the rice noodles really aren't right here because of their texture, even though I thought the dish still quite delicious. You need that sort of chewy, pliant wonderfulness of a glass noodle here. Second of all, I bought canned crab instead of fresh. It was way cheaper and wild-caught, which is more than I could say for the frozen stuff available at the fish store in Forest Hills. (Which, maddeningly, closes by 6:30 every night, without fail. And refuses to label where the fish comes from. And doesn't give a hoot about all of this stuff either. Out-of-work, ethically-minded, entrepreneurial fishmongers of New York: come to Queens, would you? We need you.) Ultimately, between all the flavorings and the ratio of noodle to sauce to crab, I couldn't tell that the crab was canned (it tasted pretty good, is what I'm trying to say).

The recipe comes from an old column called The Chef that used to run in the New York Times and that I adored. One of the section's writers, like Mark Bittman or Amanda Hesser, would go and spend some time with a chef (like Charles Phan of the Slanted Door in San Francisco, or Gabrielle Hamilton of New York City's Prune) and just shoot the breeze for a while, watching them cook, hearing them tell stories. That would get distilled into a little piece or several little pieces about the chef, his or her work and the restaurant they ran, with a few, truly choice recipes alongside (miraculously perfect for the home cook). That column is long-gone, sadly, and I never understood why. Does anyone reading this know Pete Wells? Tell him to bring back that column! It was such a gem.

I found these noodles to be compulsively edible. They slip down easily and are pretty light to boot. Plus the combination of oyster sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce and sesame oil is irresistible: salty, nuanced, toasty, just so good. This is fast food at its best, and if you buy canned crab, even if it's wild-caught, it's cheap food, too.

Glass Noodles with Crab
Serves 2 very hungry people or 3 to 4 regular eaters

2 packages (2 ounces each) thin glass (mung bean thread) noodles
2 tablespoons neutral oil, like corn or canola
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup trimmed and minced scallions
1 cup crab meat, free of shell
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Fresh cilantro for garnish

1. Cover noodles in warm water for about 10 minutes. Drain.

2. Put oil in a wok or large skillet, and turn heat to high. A minute later, add garlic and half the scallions and, almost immediately, the noodles and crab. Toss, and stir to mix the ingredients.

3. Add the sauces, taste, and adjust seasoning as necessary. Toss with sesame oil and remaining scallions. Garnish, and serve.


Happy Birthday, Little Blog!

This weekend marked this blog's 4-year birthday, which just tickles me to no end. Four years! Holy cats. Happy birthday, little blog. You complete me.

I, of course, didn't realize it until this morning, so there was no birthday cake or candles or anything of the sort. I had a visitor in from out of town this weekend and was too busy showing off this beautiful city to raise a cupcake to the blog. Besides, it was way too hot for cupcakes. (Though we did have an entirely unexpected, truly delicious and completely random buffet lunch at Indus Express on 48th Street for the grand total of $9.95 each - not including the celebratory Taj Mahal beer! So I guess that kind of counts.)

Instead of letting the blog blow out candles to itself this year, I'm going to list a few sites I've discovered over the past year which have made me rather hungry indeed:

Slow Like Honey

Bread Baby

Not Without Salt

The Catskill Kiwi

Rachel Eats

Bread & Honey

Here's to you guys!

And then I'm going to tell you something thrilling. I'm leaving for Italy in a few days, for my annual trip, and this year, for the first time ever, there will be a grill at the house. I don't know what exactly it will look like (though I'm gunning for something rather crude and rustic, like a steel grate over a pile of coals piled into a hole dug in the ground. Wouldn't that be scenic? My mother, I think, might currently be in the process of a dramatic eyeroll, as we speak!), but I'm getting awfully excited about cooking with it. You see, I've pretty much mastered the stovetop, and the oven, and even the broiler, too. Now, after too many meals at other people's houses where the tables sat groaning under the weight of grilled tomatoes, salsiccie, bruschetta and whole ears of corn, I've decided we don't have to live like this anymore: we, too, can grill! And grill we will.

I'm bringing two recipes with me from the New York Times (one for a whole fish grilled in and on fresh fennel, and a recipe from Paula Wolfert for something called Roman steak), but seeing as I am a neophyte and it's my blog birthday, won't you guys inspire me with some of your grilling recipes, tips, secrets? I - and my co-eaters in Italy - thank you in advance.


Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson's Lemon Blueberry Buckle

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Are you sitting down, dear ones? Do you have something to steady yourselves with?

Alright. Now take this in:

Tender buttermilk cake.
Fresh blueberries.
Streusel (pssst: in German, its language of origin, it's pronounced "stroysel", not "stroosel").
And then (oh, then!): Fresh lemon syrup.

Boom!

Yes, I have in fact just listed the four compelling reasons why this lemon blueberry buckle is the very next thing you must bake, even if you live in a city currently suffering through a heat wave. (Strip down to your skivvies, if you must. This is important.)

I know, I know: that list can, to some ears, sound a little...ordinary? Pedestrian? Yeah, yeah, blueberries, streusel, lemons, yadda yadda yadda? But listen, seriously, this thing is so good, so darn delicious, that I cannot let you just walk past. Stop! Stop and look at my buckle!

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A buckle, at least according to what resulted in this recipe, is a tender, buttermilk-enriched cake flavored with lemon zest and studded with fresh blueberries, then topped with more fresh blueberries and a lemon-zest besprinkled streusel that is strewn across the cake half-frozen. And then, in a stroke of genius, after the cake is pulled from the oven, it gets a final shot of extra lemon flavor from a hot lemon syrup spooned across the top.

The best part is that you have to wait until the cake cools completely to eat it, which may seem like torture, but ends up being fantastic. Because: the cake mellows out; the blueberries cool into squidgy little blue pockets of flavor; the streusel settles into itself, crunchy in pockets and tender in others; and the syrup makes everything fairly glow with sweet, tart, citrusy goodness.

Have I convinced you yet? That you must try this? Okay, listen to this: I made the buckle to bring to the office to welcome a colleague back from her maternity leave, and would you believe I actually considered hiding the leftovers from her when she left at the end of the day, in the hopes that I'd get to take them home? Swear to God. A breast-feeding mother. That's how good this is.

(Uh, I made her take home the leftovers. I said I considered it, not that I actually did it. Sheesh.)

(I did have two pieces, though.)

(Should have kept a third.)

(Are you making this yet?)

Lemon Blueberry Buckle
Serves 8

Crumb topping
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
Zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) butter, cubed, at room temperature

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest. Add the butter, using a fork or your fingers to cut in the butter until it is reduced to the size of peas. Loosely cover the bowl, and place it in the freezer while you mix the cake batter.

Cake and assembly
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing the pan
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cup plus 1/3 cup sugar, divided
Zest of 1 lemon
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen, divided
Crumb topping, chilled
Juice of 2 lemons (about 6 tablespoons)

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch square baking pan.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream together the butter, three-fourths cup sugar and lemon zest until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition.

4. Stir the flour mixture into the bowl, a third at a time, alternating with the buttermilk, until both the flour mixture and buttermilk are evenly incorporated into the batter. Gently fold 1 cup of the blueberries into the batter.

5. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and distribute the remaining blueberries evenly over the top of the batter. Remove the crumb topping from the freezer and sprinkle it over the berries.

6. Bake the cake until it is lightly golden and firm on top, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through for even baking.

7. While the cake is baking, make a lemon syrup: In a small saucepan, combine the remaining one-third cup sugar with the lemon juice and whisk until blended. Heat the pan over medium-low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid thickens to a syrupy consistency, 6 to 8 minutes. (The glaze will bubble while cooking and may need to be removed from the heat to check that it is the proper consistency.) Remove from heat and set aside in a warm place.

8. Remove the cake from the oven and drizzle the warm glaze over. Cool to room temperature. The cake will keep at room temperature for 2 to 3 days, covered in plastic wrap.


Florence Fabricant's Thick Tomato-Bread Soup, Catalan-Style

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Let's say I bit off a bit more than I could chew. Move on Sunday, cook that same night already, are you kidding me? What can I tell you: I was in a moving-addled state of mind. It took me three more days just to move the contents of my kitchen, and a few more days from that point on to unpack everything and then get to cooking. So forgive me for my long silence and let's move on. After all, it's a whole new day! And there's tomato-bread soup to be discussed.

(For those of you who care about these things, I decided to stay in Queens, in Forest Hills, to be exact, and simply moved from one side of a parking lot to another. My apartment is a studio now, but it has tons of windows and light, far more closet space than should be legal in New York City, and a pretty swank little kitchen, if I do say so myself. The counter space is still rather piddling, but the stove was manufactured sometime in the last 10 years, which is a step up from the last place, and there's no fear anymore that I'll singe my knuckle hairs off every time I try to boil a pot of water, so that's good.)

The first thing I cooked in the new place was a poached chicken breast, well, three, actually, to shred into a big salad that I made for my neighbors the night before they, too, moved out of our apartment building. (Only instead of moving one block away, which would have been the right thing to do, they had the nerve to buy a house in the boonies and move out to Long Island. I might never forgive them.) But, as triumphant as I felt watching the little bubbles squiggle skyward in the poaching liquid, cukes and avocado diced just so in the salad bowl, it was hardly blog-worthy stuff. You, so full of patience while I left you here with the archives, deserved something a little more exciting, wouldn't you say?

I would.

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Florence Fabricant, ever trustworthy, provided me with just the thing: a tomato-bread soup by way of Catalunya, chockful of most of my favorite things. Peasant bread and fresh tomatoes? Check. Smoked paprika and saffron? Check. Cubes of chorizo and minced parsley? Well, hello, lover.

Normally, I think I'd be too lazy to enjoy the process of making this soup. There's an awful lot of dealing required for the tomatoes and there's quite a bit of dicing, cubing, slivering, mincing of the other things to be done, not to mention the use of a food processor. But after so many weeks out of the kitchen, it was nothing but a relief to be back in my apron, standing at the counter, working quietly, my mind at ease. I highly recommend cooking this soup during the day, preferably on a weekend when midday is quiet anyway, and you can imagine what it's like to be in Spain on a hot summer's day, people asleep during high noon, you the solitary cook, at home in the kitchen. Ooh, that's bliss, all right.

And the soup is none too shabby either. It's thick and sweet-spicy (I used chorizo picante), the bread gone custardy, the saffron, smoked paprika, and pork fat combining to delectably rough-around-the-edges effect. This is a lusty soup if I ever saw one, and when cooled to room temperature, remarkably palatable on a summer's day. And such a welcome return to cooking.

(In other news, the one thing, the one thing I can't seem to find since the move is my bag of Aleppo pepper. Random bags of votive candles, every mix CD I ever was given, even my replacement pack of dryer sheets made it. But the Aleppo pepper is gone. What the what? And, second of all, I saw Julie & Julia and...frankly, found both story lines a little snooze-worthy. Maybe because I liked actually reading Julia's book and Julie's blog instead of watching the movie version(s)? (Though Meryl is, as usual, so good.) I don't know. What I do know is that the internet venom aimed at Julie Powell these days is mystifying and getting old, awfully fast. Third of all...what was I going to say? Oh, right! My camera. Nikon repaired it and the lens and sent both back, beautifully wrapped, only for me to find that although they did manage to fix the lens, the camera body is still busted. Still. Busted. Despite. The. Repair. Slip. Nikon. Included. When. They. Sent. It. Back. Nice, right? So, my beloved is winging its way back to Nikon, probably as we speak, and if you could all put a little prayer in for its speedy recovery and return, I'd be grateful to you, oh, for eternity. That's all.)

Thick Tomato-Bread Soup, Catalan-Style
Serves 2 to 3

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, slivered
4 ounces chorizo (casings removed), cubed
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
3 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled
Generous pinch saffron threads
2 cups crustless country bread, finely diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley

1. Heat oil in a large sauté pan. Add garlic and cook over low heat till soft. Add chorizo, raise heat and cook until starting to brown. Stir in paprika. Remove from heat.

2. Place a sieve over the pan, halve tomatoes horizontally and hold cut side down over sieve as you gently squeeze to remove seeds and allow juice to fall into pan. Remove sieve. Reserve tomato pulp. Heat juice in pan until warm, add saffron and set aside off heat 10 minutes.

3. Finely chop tomato pulp by hand or in food processor. Add to pan. Bring to a simmer. Stir in bread. Cook, stirring, 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Allow to stand, off heat, stirring from time to time, until room temperature, about 30 minutes. Fold in parsley and serve.