Fennel-Tomato Penne: Pantry Pasta

PastaThe best summer days are like delicious meandering daydreams.

The thing about being adrift, slipping from salty stroll to hours lost in rediscovering an old love of a book, is that supper hour suddenly nears and the reverie is interrupted.

“S***,” you think. “What will we eat?”

Dorset boy has a plan. The pantry is almost bare, but the few things can prove useful: Fennel, garlic, tomatoes and penne.

Out comes the chopping board, and away we go …

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Sweet Tomato-Egg Stir-Fry: Just Like Mom Made

On a spring afternoon 16 years ago, my dear friend Kelly invited me into her kitchen.

This might not seem particularly noteworthy, given all you read about fearless kitchen action on this blog — except that at the time, I was a tepid (and rather terrified) culinary novice whose oeuvre basically spanned charred fried rice and idiot-proof instant noodles. As interns at the Oregonian, however, we didn’t have much money to eat out at the time, so Kelly invited me over one day to sample a stir-fry that her mom always made in their Indiana home. At Kelly’s small stove in Portland, I watched intently as she heated up oil, stir-fried tomatoes with some sugar, poured in some beaten eggs and in a matter of minutes, the dish was done.

I’ve thought about that meal often — not just because the dish itself was delicious. The diced tomatoes, softened and watery from sloshing about the wok, mingled with hearty eggs and laced with sweetness, made for a combination that was heavenly scooped over hot rice.

Mainly, however, I remember how simple Kelly made it look — and how adult it seemed to be cooking an actual meal that didn’t involve ramen powder packets or crusty burned bits. I remember that I wanted to be Kelly.

Although we stayed in sporadic touch over the years, I never thought to bring up this meal to Kelly — until we caught up at my “A Tiger in the Kitchen” reading at Powell’s in Beaverton, Ore., last month. Over spicy Korean hand-pulled noodles and dumplings after, I finally asked. “Do you remember that tomato and egg dish you made?”

And oh yes, of course she did.

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The Shop at Andaz Fifth Avenue: Style, With Some Substance


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As hotel restaurants go, the shop at Andaz Fifth Avenue tries pretty hard.

Determined to cast itself as a New York restaurant, it likes to broadcast just how local it is. Its Web site rattles off a litany of New York purveyors — eggs hail from Feather Ridge Farm in the Hudson Valley; lox comes from Russ & Daughters on Manhattan's Lower East Side, which has been providing New Yorkers with smoked fish since 1914. And there's even a self-conscious little area that sells snacks made by small, lesser-known brands in New York.

This is all in line with the in-the-know feel that the hotel, part of Hyatt Hotels & Resorts' chain of boutique properties, tries to give off. It's a pretentiousness you can already sense from the fact that it is the shop — spelled all lowercase, the hotel insists — and not, well, The Shop. (You'll have to check out my review of the hotel in the New York Times Travel section for more on this Andaz.)

How would the food stack up against all this posing? We decided to find out …

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Ciano: A Night to Remember


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The idea had been to have dinner, plain and simple.

No thinking about writing about the dishes as we're eating. No scribbling of notes. No blogging. This was a celebration, after all. There should be no room at the table for work of any sort.

But the moment our food started arriving, the game plan changed. Ciano, the much-anticipated new restaurant by Shea Gallante (who greatly impressed critics and diners at the now-shuttered Cru, where he earned three stars from The New York Times' Frank Bruni), pretty much had me at shrimp balls.

From my first nibble of rock shrimp polpette ($8 for five), the deliciously warm one-inch balls stuffed with big chunks of shrimp, I was hooked. Out came the paper and pen and off we were …

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Burgers: A Marriage of Shrimp & Tofu


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I now appear to have a regular lunch date with a gregarious bunch of new friends.

We love to cook and we love talking about cooking — so this little thing about never having met hasn’t exactly stood in the way of our growing friendships.

It all began with a lazy Sunday morning conversation on Twitter when three women, one in Paris, one in San Diego, and one in New York, started craving BLT sandwiches. That blossomed into our first intercontinental BLT lunchdate, which nudged us to new levels of creativity.

Ellise in Paris made a beautiful BLT with chipotle mayonnaise and Poilane bread and Karen in Atlanta created a mouthwatering grilled fontina cheese BLT. Nicole in San Diego actually baked a truly unusual Basque sheepherder’s bread for her BLT. (You’ve got to check out Nicole’s sheepherder’s bread pictures — it was a yeasty architectural wonder if I ever saw one.)

Our virtual lunch left us (temporarily) sated — but hungry for more.

So, for our next lunch, we decided to tackle another standard: Burgers.

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