Wednesday, July 29, 2009

And the fog keeps rolling in...

Ever since graduating from college in '05, I have not had a week off between the months of April and November to spend at my family's summer home in coastal Rhode Island. I learned quickly on those weekend trips from New York that summer isn't a summer without Rhode Island.

This year, I have decided to take the summer "off" to play. My family went on a large trip to Italy in June that I didn't want to miss (details to come!) for 3 weeks, and I knew I would be going back to school in September (French Culinary Institute in NYC!). I wasn't sure if future summers would give me an opportunity to spend a large chunk of time Rhode Island, so here I am playing!

The past couple of weeks have been perfect - sunny days for runs or bike rides to Horseneck, sailing on the pond, lots of picking fruits and vegetables for lunches and dinners. However, it has been an odd summer, too. We had a cooler than normal spring and beginning of the summer - that means certain plants are blooming later than usual (no complaints - I usually miss the rhodedendrons blooming...but I caught the tail end this year). I've noticed that the corn and raspberry crops are "ready" later than usual, too. And, unfortunately, many local farmers have been hit hard with Late Blight on their tomatoes and potatoes - the same fungus that caused the Great Potato Famine of 1850's. Read these articles from the 17th and today to learn more.

The neverending fog that we've been experiencing this week is direct evidence that we're all out of whack. It's incredibly humid and what appears to be foggy - though it is most often a thick marine layer. Yesterday, the marine layer burned off and blew in...but today it is sticking.

In past summers, I've welcomed these foggy days. They're perfect for long bike rides and picking fruit and veggies in the fields. This year, however, it has already been so moist, and days like this aren't helping the molds and fungus that are so abundant this year.

Now that it is nearly the first week of August, many families are in the area to vacation for the month. Young kids and fog are only fun for so long. I ask you, readers, what foggy/cool day activities do you enjoy most - or recall from your childhoods? Here is a sampling of what I've been up to - and what I want to do!

Foggy day activities:
Picking raspberries, beans, and zucchini
Cleaning off sailboats and kayaks
Long walks with the dogs (in the field, and on the beach)
Re-teaching one how to knit
Finish needlepoint projects
Curling up with a book and reading
Baking - coffee cakes, cookies, tarts
Cleaning and organizing
Food shopping - farmers markets and Whole Foods in Providence

Activities still to do:
Go through photographs and fill picture frames with them
Fix broken jewelry and re-string others
Keep cooking and baking
Trip to Newport
Shopping in Boston
More raspberry picking
Make jam with the raspberries
More reading

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My Sunday Sweet Treat

I was home, exhausted, this past Sunday and craving fresh baked cookies. Alas, it was only me and since I'm trying to stay away from sweets these days, I didn't need a full batch lying around!

Solution? A small batch of cakey, tender cookies. I was inspired a bit by the classic Toll House recipe, as well as Martha Stewart's Soft Chocolate Chip cookies.

Chocolate Chip Cookies for One

3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
4 tablespoons sour cream
1 heaping cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Whisk together dry ingredients. Beat butter and sugars in mixer on high speed for five minutes, or until pale and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Reduce to low, and add flour and sour cream, alternating. Remove from mixer and fold in chocolate chips.

Drop onto silpat covered baking sheet by heaping tablespoon and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the edges are lightly golden.

My favorite way to enjoy these? With Whole Foods' Hot Fudge and The Daily Scoop's ice cream (any vanilla/coconut/coffee flavor!)....yum!!!

Tired? Healthy Dinner Solution from the Garden!

Feeling tired at 6pm from busy days in the sun? Have nothing for dinner? Here is a relatively quick and healthy solution for that dinner crisis. Swiss Chard Tart with Pine Nut and Currant Gremolata - from Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques. The combination of swiss chard, pine nuts and currants is a classic Sicilian combination -- and one of my favorites. This dish combines creamy and tangy goat cheese with the sweetness of the currants and toasted nuts. Coupled with a salad, it makes my favorite kind of summer meal.

Swiss Chard Tart

1 sheet of 8x12" puff pastry (I prefer Dufour over Pepperidge Farms)
2 egg yolks
1 large bunch swiss chard, cleaned and ribs removed
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c sliced shallots (I also use yellow onion, chopped well)
1 tsp thyme leaves
1/2 c whole milk ricotta
1/4 c creme fraiche
6 oz semi aged goat cheese (I have also used the Coach Farm logs...)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Defrost the pastry until it is soft enough to unroll onto a silpat lined cookie sheet. With a paring knife, score a 1/4" border around the edge of the pastry. Make and egg wash with 1 egg yolk and a 1/2 tsp water. Whisk together and brush along the scored edge. Chill until ready to use.

Slice the chard into 1" slices. Heat a large saute pan over med-high heat for 2 minutes. Add 2 tbsp olive oil, shallots, and thyme. Saute a minute and then add half the swiss chard. Cook until wilted, then add the second batch of greens and season with salt and pepper. Cook until wilted and let cool.

Place the ricotta, remaining egg yolk, and 1 tbsp olive oil in a food processor (I also use an immersion blender and a deep container) til smooth. Fold in creme fraiche and season to taste.

Spread the ricotta on the pastry inside the border. Crumble 1/2 the goat cheese on top, then spread the swiss chard. Top with more goat cheese and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden. Be sure to check the bottom of the tart - cooked but not soggy!

Cool slightly, and slice into squares with a pizza cutter. Serve with the relish and enjoy!

Currant Pine Nut Relish

1/2 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 sprig rosemary
3/4 cup finely diced red onion
1/3 cup dried currants
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and pepper

Toast the pine nuts til their golden brown. Heat a small saute pan over high heat for 2 minutes, then turn down the heat, adding the oil and rosemary. When they start sizzling, add the onion and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Turn the heat to low and let the onions stew til tender. Transfer to cool and discard the rosemary. Save the pan

While the onion is cooking, place the currants in a small bowl and cover with hot water. Soak for 10 minutes.

Add the vinegar to the pan the onions were in and reduce over medium heat until it is about a tablespoon (depending on the kind of balsamic you use - really watch until syrupy). Add to the onion mixture. Add the nuts, currants, and parsley to the onions and combine. Taste for seasoning and serve with the tart.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Weekend Project I

This is the first in a series of postings that will offer an idea for a weekend project that you (and the family) can work on together! As the blueberries on our bushes here in Rhode Island are ripening, I encourage you to search out your own local pick-your-own blueberry farm and pick some this weekend before making a tasty Sunday morning breakfast treat!

This is inspired by Ina Garten's Sour Cream Coffee Cake and Blueberry Crumb Cake. I use the cake batter from the sour cream recipe, and then use the streusel topping from the crumb cake, plus 3-4 cups of blueberries. Delicious!


1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour


12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

3 extra-large eggs at room temperature

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups sour cream

2 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3 to 4 cups blueberries (you can toss these with a bit of flour if you don’t want them to sink)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and butter and flour a 9 x 13" baking pan. Combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a bowl. Stir in the melted butter and then the flour. Mix well and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for 4 to 5 minutes, until light. Add the eggs 1 at a time, then add the vanilla and sour cream. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture to the batter until just combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer, and add the berries. Finish stirring with a spatula to be sure the batter is completely mixed.

Pour batter into pan and sprinkle the batter with the streusel so there is even coverage. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

A Sweet Treat -- Good For You, Too!

One of my now favorite vegetables, thanks to nutritionist/food therapist friend of mine Katie Graham, is swiss chard. Low and behold, these lovely leaves of "Rainbow Lights" were ready to be harvested this week!

This vegetable is heartier than spinach, and doesn't make your teeth feel weird (thanks oxalic acid - but don't worry, it's harmless in small amounts). Look a little like beets? It's because chard is in the same family - Beta vulgaris. Here is one of my favorite preparations - inspired by Sicilian cuisine!

Two bunches of swiss chard - I like Rainbow Lights, or red stalked chard
Olive oil
Sea salt
Raisins (or dried cranberries - - or dried currants!)
Toasted pine nuts (I like walnuts, too)

Wash the leaves of chard in the sink, then, using a knife, remove the leaves from the stalks and slice the leaves into 3/4" slices. Heat a drizzle or two of olive oil in a saucepan or sautepan, then add the chard. Saute until half is wilted, and then add the raisins (I tend to put a lot in - 1/2 cup). Once the chard is wilted, turn off heat. Add toasted pine nuts and serve!

This is even great the day after, chilled in the fridge, for lunch...with leftover swedish meatballs and lingonberry jam. That's what I had =)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Do you love zucchini?

Here in RI, our zucchini is just blossoming. No little squash yet, but soon.
We eat zucchini a LOT when it is in season:

- sliced lengthwise and sauteed with basil chiffonade and gruyere or parmigiano
- sliced lengthwise and sauteed with fresh basil pesto
- sliced and layered with similarly sliced onion (vidalia) and tomato, topped with a bit of cheese, for vegetable tian
- grated in omelets and quiches (I promise to make the one from Once Upon A Tart!)
- sliced lengthwise and grilled for sandwiches or pizza toppings
- even baked in zucchini bread (if I can get my paws on them)

Typically, over the course of the summer, the zucchini gets ahead of our stomachs, however. I might be absolutely sick of it in a couple of weeks. And this recipe might help (especially when you're craving a bit of fried foods...I know, so bad. But sometimes oh so good). We ate a lot of fried zucchini flowers (and sometimes zucchini) when in Italy. This past weekend, we brought a little bit of Italy to the kitchen in Rhode Island when I made some tempura batter. It's easy to make, and a bit nerve-racking to cook (be careful of hot oil). But it's all worth it when you take a bite. Enjoy!

Zucchini Fritters - I modified a recipe from The Joy of Cooking...I want to try this one below, though, too, as it is similar to what we used in Italy.

Recipe 1:

1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch of black pepper
2 eggs (separate the whites from the yolks and put aside for whisking)
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup beer

Whisk together the flour, salt and pepper together in a medium bowl (you will coat the zucchini in here). Then whisk together the egg yolks and butter, adding the beer once combined. Then pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and fold together til combined. When you're ready to fry the veggies, whisk the egg whites until stiff, then fold into the batter.

Recipe 2:

1 egg yolk
1 cup ice water
1 to 1 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
1 pinch baking soda
A few zucchini (3?) cut the way you desire - coins, slices, sticks - I like sticks =) You can try blossoms, too, just pull off the pistils as they might be bitter.

With a fork, combine the yolk with the water in a small bowl. The consistency should be like that of heavy cream. Just before frying the zucchini, add in the flour and baking soda and stir to just combine. Be careful to not overstir!

For cooking: use only fresh vegetable oil. It should be about 2" deep. When the oil is hot enough, the batter, when dropped into the oil, will sink to the bottom then rise to the surface slowly. If the oil smokes, it is too hot.

Coat the zucchini with the batter, and then drop carefully in the oil. Let it cook for a minute, or til lightly golden. With tongs, remove the cooked piece and place on a paper towel covered plate to cool. I like topping the veggies with a bit of grated parmigiano and salt before serving!

How does your garden grow?

With all this rain we've had in June, some things look great - like the grass. It's growing fast, green, and strong! But, the rain has also taken a toll on the crops.

Here in the Southcoast of Massachusetts, farmers are noticing "Late Blight," a fungal pathogen that attacks potatoes and tomatoes, on some of their crops. Remember the Irish Potato Famine? Late Blight's claim to fame. I am interested to see what will happen over this and next summer - if infected tubers are not removed, the disease can last from one growing season to the next.

I'm also noticing the crops are taking longer to produce fruits and ripen. Corn is a little late here in RI, while our berries are slow to ripen - see here...

Strawberries - typically a June fruit - has a longer (later?) season. Look at this beauty I spied in our patch today. Sliced strawberries with some delicious Balsamico from our Italy trip as a sweet treat after lunch? Si! Si!

I spy a raspberry! One good thing about spending the summer here in RI is that I will have ample time to pick raspberries and blueberries and make jam! It's one of my most favorite things to do. If I get ambitious enough, I might add some peach-raspberry crostatas and blueberry pies into my repetoire. Do you think people would buy my homemade jam if I sold it -- what do you think?

When we re-landscaped the garden, we planted new berry bushes, and added a newcomer: blackberries! I am not really a fan of the blackberries I've eaten to-date from RI (tart much?!), but I've had some big, fat juicy ones from the organic Driscoll's box. Now, if I can keep the birds at bay, will these grow to be that big? We'll see...

Houston - we've got BLUEBERRIES! The bushes are overflowing with berries, it's just that they're not quite green. I've been tasked to monitor the bushes to see if the birds and crows are eating the berries (if so, my dogs better live in fear of me - time to train them to scare the crows!). More for us, less for them! I can not wait to make blueberry pancakes, blueberries on my turkey sandwiches, and blueberries on my yogurt!

Having grown up and spent time in Maine, I can appreciate the little wild blueberries, too (I actually prefer these at times). My father loves the little berries and insisted that we plant some. Just for him. Of course, no one is complaining. I think these berries make better blueberry jam than the big guys...but the big guys are perfect for pies.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A special Sunday surprise

Today, I ventured out (via bicycle!) to the newly restored Stone House, located near Sakonnet Point, for a light Sunday lunch.

Having worked at the Stone House many years ago while in college catering weddings, I have fond memories of passing hors d'oeurves or setting tables on the front sweeping lawn that faces the ocean. As I biked down West Main Road, I wondered - would the food be as stellar as the online menus and website suggests?

Arriving in the drive, I was taken a bit back by the dirt - clearly the construction is still underways. The old barn had been dramatically transformed into a modern, clean structure that houses Pietra, their finer dining establishment, as well as timeshare suites upstairs. The main building, currently still being finished, will feature guest rooms, as well as the 1854 restaurant.

The Stone House also features what looks to be an amazing spa - massages, facials, healing ceremonies and more. It also uses the locally produced (and fabulous!) beauty product line Farmaesthetics. I am incredibly eager to test the spa and yoga classes (on the yoga deck) out!

Back to lunch today - walking in to Pietra, I was immediately transformed to two of my favorite restaurants, Rebecca's in CT and The Modern, in NYC. This dining room features elements that remind me of both of these establishments - warm wood tones, clean modern tables and chairs, delicate crystal glasses, modern silverware, and more. I love how the floor is cork, and in the restroom, there are cool light fixtures that seem to be fully integrated with the wall!

We sat down, and ordered a bottle of one of my favorite light wines - Casa Lapostolle Sauvignon Blanc. Alas, they had run out (clearly a favorite!), so I instead chose a glass of the Chateau St. Michelle Chardonnay. It arrived with some delicious warm whole wheat rolls fresh from the oven, accompanied by some perfectly seasoned butter. I sipped and nibbled as I perused the daily offerings.

The menu looked delightful - sushi selections, with lots of seafood, fresh salads, and heartier entree fare, as well. Truly, as their menu sites, a "tribute to the many foragers, farmers, ranchers, vintners, and fisherman" in the area - meat from Treaty Rock Farm, local greens and vegetables from Wishing Stone Farm and Heritage Farms, cornmeal from Gray's, and so much more.

I decided on the goat cheese croquetas salad, with pistachios, mixed baby greens, strawberries, and port poached figs. My lunch companions selected the watermelon gazpacho, the fresh crudo selections, Sakonnet BLT, and the short rib ravioli. The dishes arrived swiftly, simply and elegantly presented in modern white dishes - visually alone, they surpassed all my hopes and expectations!

The salad, albeit small, was utterly divine - sweet fruits complemented the fresh crunch of the lettuces, and the creaminess of the pistachio croquetas. The short rib ravioli was not multiple small pieces (blah...), but rather one large ravioli, perfectly trimmed and topped with cheese, and filled with tender pieces of my most favorite meat in the whole world. The BLT was filled with tender lobster, smoky bacon, and fresh basil, accompanied with tasty herb hand cut fries. Not too much salt, nor too much mayo - everything was just right!

Pietra is a delightful and welcome addition to the Little Compton restaurant scene. I cannot wait to watch the progress of the inn, and 1854 restaurant, as well as to return to Pietra again for another meal!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Berry Happy Morning

Last week, while watching Food Network while stretching after a run, I found an episode of one of my favorite shows (that I haven't seen in over a year) - Everyday Italian! I love Giada deLaurentiis and her fresh, clean twists on italian cooking. In this episode, she was preparing healthy snacks with a bit of sweetness.

One recipe caught my eye - couscous with dried fruit and nuts. I am not a fan of couscous, but could I create a version of my own?

Yesterday morning, feeling a bit under the weather (and the weather looking threatening), I decided to spend the morning (well, midday - I slept in in a major way) cooking. Here is a link
to the original recipe on Food Network - and my version below:

1 1/2 cups of short grain brown rice
4 cups of water
1 tablespoon virgin coconut oil
salt and sugar to taste (I use a pinch of salt, and a teaspoon of sugar)
1/2 cup chopped organic dried apricots
1/2 cup organic dried cherries
1/2 cup organic dried cranberries
1/2 chopped toasted hazelnuts
1/2 cup chopped toasted slivered almonds

Cook the rice til just tender - Bring water and coconut oil to a boil in a saucepan. Once at a rolling boil, add the rice, salt, and sugar. Cover the pot and cook until the rice is just becoming tender. Then add the dried fruit, and cook until rice is ready (you might need to add a bit more water if the fruit quickly absorbs the water left). Let cool with the top on for 5-10 minutes, then add in the toasted nuts.

This is great both hot off the stove, and the next day chilled from spending the night in the fridge. I could even eat this as a nutritious morning meal on the go!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Sweet Summer Supper Spots

So, last week I was reading some postings on Chowhound, and decided I needed to weigh in on area good-eats and those I wish to visit. Inspired by my friend and fellow blogger The LunchBelle, here are my Fairfield County picks!

1. Mediterraneo - a wonderful selection of beautifully and deliciously prepared mediterranean dishes. My picks? The simple baby lettuce salad, goat cheese fritter, hearts of romaine, any of the pizzas, striped bass with figs, parmesan crusted halibut, chicken milanese. Perfect for a mid-day glass of white and a light lunch while shopping on the Avenue. I love the map of the French Riviera on the ceiling! Sit outside if it's warm.

2. Terra - Mediterraneo's sister restaurant. Not as bright, but equally cozy and warm. The cocktails hit the spot! I've only hit Terra for lunch. Love the grilled asparagus with egg, and the tre colore salad, and the pizzas - similar menu to Mediterraneo.

3. Thomas Henkelmann - for the special occasion, Thomas Henkelmann makes the mark every time! The salads and soups are simple and delicious. The salmon is perfectly cooked, with asparagus. The halibut is a tender surprise inside the potato covered exterior. Service is seamless and always impeccable. The tarts and souffles are a perfect way to end a dreamy evening.

4. Tengda - This sushi/asian fusion place is now in other towns (Darien, Westport), but my favorite location remains Greenwich. Located in a town home off of West Putnam (it's previous residents didn't last long - Tengda clearly has succeeded. Innovative rolls, and delicious salads.

5. Versailles - on the Avenue, this French gem is a true find. A favorite for breakfast on a snow day morning, or for cocoa and baked treats on a winter afternoon. The apple tarts and eclairs are out of this world!

6. Aux Delices - for take away sandwiches, salads, prepared meals, and cakes, the original location on the Post Road is the place to go. A wide selection for tastes of all kinds.

7. Baang - Asian fusion. A must-try if you like this cuisine! Firecracker spring rolls and crispy spinach a must. I love the salmon and sea bass!

8. Rebecca's - My absolute favorite! I go here nearly every year for my birthday, I love it so much. Rebecca is such a wonderful hostess, and her husband is a genius in the kitchen. There isn't one thing on the menu I don't love...but the sole has my heart. Their green salad is so simple, yet flavorful and filling. I was there in April of 2009, and she had the most amazing peony arrangements. Classic, modern, sophisticated...and timeless!

Have you been? I do want to try!
RK, An American Brasserie
Boxcar Cantina
Fonda La Paloma
Barcelona Wine Bar

New Canaan:
1. Cava - consistently great Italian on Forest Street. Fresh salads, delicious salmon, perfect veal milanese, and the perfect pappardelle. As it has gotten more popular, the noise level has risen, though. Still a favorite (I wish they'd bring back the ricotta spread for the bread!).

2. Sole - sister to Terra and Mediterraneo, Sole is a "scene" here in little New Canaan. Mediterranean fare that you can't go wrong with. I recommend the salads, soups, pizzas, halibut, salmon, veal.

3. Gates - California style cuisine. Great salads and sandwiches, and a fun bar (think big, polished oak!). Something for everyone - even sundaes in baseball caps (they're plastic) for the kids. They do put something in their hot fudge that makes me crazy =)

4. Bistro Bonne Nuit - a winter time favorite. I absolutely LOVE their bistro salad and tomato tart! The chicken is delicious, lamb chops are amazing, and the salmon perfect. Their profiteroles are out of this world!

5. Gelatissimo - The best gelato I have ever had!!!! And, yes - I've been to Italy (ate gelato around the country - nothing beat this), and I've had all the best in NYC. I am salivating thinking about the Old Vanilla, Hazelnut, and Tiramisu. YUM.

6. Rosie - For breakfasts, or lunch, Rosie has something for everyone. I love their paninis, salads, and cold prepared salads. Best muffins I've had in a while - well, all of their baked goods are carefully prepared and presented. I don't know what they put in the carrot cake, but as a carrot cake connoisseur, their mammoth version is the best!

1. Napa & Co. - I love wine, love pasta, love burgers - and this place has it all. With a focus on locally sourced foods, Napa & Co is a welcome arrival to the Fairfield county dining scene! Whether you are having a business lunch, dinner with the family, or a glass of wine (or two) with friends, this is a no-brainer choice.

I want to try:
City Limits Diner

1. Acqua - sister to Sole, Terra, and Mediterraneo, Acqua brings the similar cuisine to Westport, CT. A great spot when you're shopping in the area.

2. The Dressing Room - Paul Newman's restaurant near the Country Playhouse. They recently re-jiggered their menu so that the portions are smaller, which means you can order and try more items! My favorites? The green salad, tomato soup, beets, asparagus, meat loaf, gnocchi, and the best ever burger! The Dressing Room also embraces the local food movement and does an exemplary job telling patrons about where their food is coming from. They have also helped establish the Wholesome Wave Farmers Market in Fairfield and Westport - a must-see for you local foodies out there!

More to come later, as I cover Wilton, Fairfield - even nearby Bedford and Pound Ridge, NY!

An Olive Tutorial

The last full day of my trip to Italy, I travelled with my family to Assisi (which is in Umbria) for a some food shopping at a wonderful little shop, Terra Umbria, in Santa Maria del Angeli, followed by a cooking class at Alla Madonna del Piatto.

Terra Umbria features all sorts of delicious, locally produced (and authentic regional Italian specialties) foods and goods: candies, liquors, meats, oils, vinegars, bread, more and more and more! I could assemble QUITE the picnic there, if I had to!

We were treated to a little "cooking the Italian way" 101 there, in that we learned how to buy only the best olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

I grew up cooking with olive oil, and using it in lieu of butter on my bread. As someone who likes big flavors, the stronger the olive oil (for dipping my bread, at least!), the better. What I did not really know was how many "extra virgin olive oils" that are out there really aren't exactly that.

Some things to be aware of:
1. Make sure your oil is cold pressed - this is the least adulterated, and most pure.
2. Look for the origin of your oil - does it say where it was produced?
3. Look for a number - what number bottle is your bottle of the total amount produced?
4. Deep green is good - and cloudy is good. Don't be fooled by crystal clear yellow oils - they've been refined beyond recognition. Good oils may also be cloudy - that is just sediment from pressing. If you leave it to sit in a cool, dark place, it will settle to the bottom over time.

And a tip? Always store in a cool, dark place - not by the stove, unless you use it within two weeks!

After tasting oils (I realized on the trip why most of Italy's bread is unsalted... a) because a lot of the food is quite salty, and b) it's better to taste the olive oil with!), we moved on to balsamico.

I've had a couple of great balsamicos in my life, and a LOT of bad ones. All the balsamic vinegars you buy at the local grocery? TERRIBLE! Toss them now! Balsamic is not really to be cooked with. It is a garnish, so to speak. Good balsamic is so flavorful and sweet, you only need a bit. For example, try just tossing your greens in a good olive oil, and sprinkles of fleur de sel. Mound on plates, then drizzle just the slightest bit of balsamic on top. Here are my tips on finding the best balsamic vinegars.

1. All balsamic vinegar comes from Modena - don't be fooled by that!
2. True balsamic vinegar is aged 12 years - but this stuff is typically VERY expensive - you can also find really great balsamic vinegars that are a third of the price and just as good (following the below tips)
3. Make sure the first ingredient (or the only!) on the list is grape must - this is fresh grape juice and includes the skins, seeds, etc). NO red wine vinegar! NO caramel coloring!
4. Good balsamicos will have a bottle number - indicating which pressing it was produced from.
5. The best balsamics will have a paper certification around the neck - DOP certification

So, where do you find good products like these in the States? I would guess Dean and Deluca, and Eli Zabar's (in NYC). I know for sure that O & Co has an AMAZING balsamic vinegar, and a wide array of good olive oils at their shops - they will even let you taste your way around the shop before you purchase!

We purchased a lot of olive oils, and a couple of balsamic vinegars, in Italy to bring back to the States. Thank goodness, since regular dressings have lost their appeal to me, and nothing brings back memories of Italy like these products do!

A Produce Indulgence

I haven't posted in a while. I've been TOO busy!

I recently left my job in fundraising for a non-profit in New York City to travel over the summer (and relax!) before going to culinary school at The French Culinary Institute in New York come September. I moved back home to Connecticut about a week before my last day, giving me some opportunities to eat at some of the great restaurants here, including Paul Newman's The Dressing Room and Cava.

Two days after I finished work, I packed my bags for a trip around Italy (see my upcoming post), including Tuscany, Florence, Venice, and Lake Como. Maybe I should say I ate my way around Italy - it's more accurate.

To top that off, a couple of days upon returning to the States, I turned around and flew out to Southern California with some friends of mine for a girls weekend in the sun (please, too, stay tuned!).

All of this fun and travelling has left me rejuvenated, but my system screaming for some TLC: abundant fresh, colorful fruits and veggies, exercise, and *ideally* some swapping of wine (wine, and more wine) for kombucha.

So, with a couple of free days ahead of me, I've got a plan to detox a bit from all the alcohol, sugar, and processed foods I've consumed. I hit up the local Whole Foods to buy a bunch of fresh, organic produce. Last week, I spotted some amazing grass-fed ground hamburger meat from Wolfe's Neck Farm (my friend's family owns this place - great work!), and tossed it in the freezer to have on hand. Add to that some yellow onions, local Millstone Farm lettuces, local vine-ripened tomatoes, and I have tonight's meal: grass-fed hamburger with emmenthaler and caramelized onions on a brioche bun, with a large local green salad!

Caramelized onions are easy to make. Some will saute vidalia onions in a saute pan with some olive oil. I prefer using organic yellow onions, sliced thinly (about 1/8 of an inch or a bit more) on a mandoline, tossed with some olive oil and a bit of good (see an upcoming post on how to find a good olive oil and balsamic vinegar!) balsamic on a cookie sheet lined with a silpat. I put them in the oven set at 375 degrees (I turn it to convection bake, so this may decrease my cooking time) for 15 minutes, at which point I stir the onions and rotate the pans, returning them to the oven for another 15-20 minutes.

Super easy and painless (I wore my sunglasses while slicing the onions - so truly painless!). All I have to do now is grill up my burger, and toss the greens with some olive oil and fleur de sel. Maybe even cook up a couple of the extra strips of thick maple-glazed bacon I got for my Fruit and Nut Rice Salad (to come tomorrow)... I'm hungry already!