Monday, November 23, 2009

Special Announcement, Revealed!

I never win anything. It's crazy I even try anymore! But, one of my favorite blogs, Cooking School Confidential, recently posted a little contest, asking people to post their favorite kitchen tips.

Having spent about 3000 hours in the kitchen (between the hours of 9 and 3 alone - not counting nights and weekends...) since September 1st, I've acquired some pretty useful tips, which I shared in another post. So, I chose to enter the contest simply to share my kitchen tips with others (if it avoids cuts or burns, hey I've done some good!).

I was delighted to learn early last week that I was a winner! @CookingStudent emailed me with the good news. And what did I win you may ask?

Let me quickly interject here with one of the most recent additions to my "kitchen wish list," which already included a 8" poele, wooden fork for omelettes, and an immersion blender. Having spent lots of time chopping bones and vegetables, I'm in need of a special super sharp vegetable-only knife (ooh, a Shun?!) and a wetstone. And, for the tiramisu I want to make for a New Year's Shin-Dig? A moka pot, like those I used every morning in Italy. I DO have a nice espresso machine, but moka pots are so much easier when you need a cup or two of espresso and don't want to have to keep re-filling the portafilter and pulling shots.

Well, the stars aligned in my favor BIG time: I won an Alessi stovetop espresso maker. It's one-cup design is perfect for iced lattes, or to make my New Year's Tiramisu! I can not wait to receive it and give it a whirl.

Photo from Alessi

What favorite recipes do you have that call for espresso? Send me your ideas and I'll share it on the blog!

Thank you again to Cooking School Confidential for the fun contest. Check out the site if you haven't already!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

T-3 Days Left Until Thanksgiving!

Do YOU have your menu planned yet?

I don't - that's because I will be sadly travelling away from the continental U.S. for Thanksgiving. Yes, I will be travelling somewhere warm and sunny, but strangely, I'm struggling with not having Thanksgiving with my family in Rhode Island.

For me, one of the most important "traditions" (I put this in quotes since this is a relatively new tradition - four years old?) is our family Thanksgiving there. Some years, it has just been my immediate family. Other years, friends/godparents have joined us. Whomever our company is, the dining room is always full of laughter, high spirits, and tons of smiles.

Cooking at home in Rhode Island is also a sheer pleasure, as there is an abundance of locally grown meat and produce that makes up our feast: turkeys, oysters, bacon, brussels sprouts, green beans, greens, cranberries, onions, pumpkins, apples, cheeses, and more. I enjoy knowing where my food comes, as it takes the sensory pleasure of eating food to another level. Plus, utilizing locally sourced foods gives me even more reason to be thankful at Thanksgiving.

Lastly, I love late autumn in Rhode Island. The air is crisp in the mornings, and the fields of grass are distinctly brown, with the gray-brown of the leaf-less trees and the deep blue water of the ponds complimenting, yet also contrasting with, a cloud-streaked sky. In the early afternoon, the light begins to turn gold, setting the golden grasses afire with beautiful light. Though it is often 40 degrees outside, the light brings a golden warmth to the landscape.

Though I will miss my "traditional" Thanksgiving, I am looking forward to spending my day this year with all my cousins, aunts, and uncles on my father's side of the family. I am also doing some pre-Thanksgiving celebrating of my own.

Photo courtesy of The New York Times

This past Wednesday, Mark Bittman wrote about 101 Things to Prepare Before The Turkey Goes in The Oven in his The Minimalist column. I'm already a fan of these seasonal 101 articles, but I think that this article is one of the better (best?) ones! I'm all ready to try #42 - Brussels Sprouts Sliders. #s 50 and 54 both sound utterly delicious - Spinach, Raisins and Pinenuts or Curried Cauliflower and Raisins - which to make? Both? And #73, a Roasted Beet Salad, too! I've already tried - and devoured - a batch of #84, the Sage Crackers. Most of his desserts pique my interest, but I'm going to stick with my dad's pumpkin pie...

So, for all of you who have not yet finished your menu, I suggest you check this article out. And, for the rest of you who have finished your menu, will you share with us what you are making?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Send me your tips, your recipes, and your feedback!

We've got an email (finally)!

I'd love to hear your feedback, suggestions, comments, recipes, tips and more! Email me at or follow me on Twitter: @earthlyepicure

Thank you for reading!

Favorite Kitchen Tips

Here are my favorite kitchen tips!

1. Sharp knives! Sharp knifes cut food with little added pressure. That means less pressure on the hand, and  a lesser liklihood of slipping and cutting your finger. And, if you do cut your finger, the cut is super-clean and heals faster (take my word for it. I don't recommend cutting your finger, but after I cut myself pretty badly with super sharp knife, the deep wound healed in a couple of days without any, um, surgical intervention).

2. Always have a dry side towel, and don't pick up hot pans with wet towels. In our professional kitchen, we use side towels instead of oven mitts, and often these side towels are wet, from mopping up water holding peeled potatoes or drying damp hands. Sometimes, in a rush, I will grab a damp side towel to pull a dish out of the oven, and OUCH! Steam burn! The heat of the pan rushes through the damp towel and gives you a really nasty burn (almost as bad as no towel). Keep your dry towels dry and wet towels damp, and away from your pots. Which brings me to my next tip...

3. Have bleach on hand. In the event you DO burn your hand (or whatever), immediately pour undiluted bleach on that burn. It may hurt or look a little gray later, but I promise you this will help reduce the severity of the burn and help healing. You have to do it right after you burn yourself, not an hour or two later. After burning the back of my hand on an oven rack, this trick eliminated blistering and helped heal my burn.

4. While stocking your pantry, also make sure you have white vinegar on hand. When used with a wet rag to clean stovetops, any cooked on grime comes immediately off. Plus, it's relatively safe to use (no chemicals) and does leave a clean smell behind (compared to bleach!).

5. Place a damp towel under your cutting board -- so it won't slip when you're cutting that squash open.

Now that I'm in the tip-sharing mood, I'm going to put together some cooking tips. Please email your favorite cooking tips to

Monday, November 16, 2009

Special Announcement!

Fellow Foodies:

Some exciting news came my way this morning -- and I wanted to let you all know that I will reveal my new addition a week from today in the blog -- with recipes to follow during/after the holidays (as apparently it takes a while to arrive).

Stay tuned -- and keep on reading!

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire...


One time, growing up, I distinctly remember boiling (or was it steaming?) chestnuts, and peeling them, for our Thanksgiving stuffing. More than the nuts themselves, I remember the way my fingers (and nailbeds) felt after all that peeling. Ouch.

So, I am terribly afraid to admit that I -- one who seeks to find a connection in eating "closer" to the earth -- cheat when it comes to chestnuts. Granted, I will only buy canned peeled or pureed chestnuts that are of high quality (French!) and have no additives. But still. Really guilty conscience here.

So, what have I been doing with chestnuts? Well, it all started a couple of years ago when my family spent New Year's in Paris. And we went to L'Atelier Du Joel Robuchon one evening for dinner, and I had the most heavenly chestnut soup. Mind boggling and life changing! Ever since, I have been on a quest (a patient one) to find a similar recipe.

Fast forward to last week -- where all of a sudden my chestnut cravings hit in full force. I started googling recipes and decided to try and experiment over the weekend, when I encountered a relatively simple preparation from Rachael Ray. I'm not a huge Rachael Ray fan, but at the same time, I have an open mind and palate. There is no "gunk" in here, so hey -- I had to try.

This evening, after a rough couple of hours (fire alarms, backing cars into other cars...), some time in front of the stove was what I needed to calm me down. I took Rachael's recipe and slightly modified it. Here is my version -- I drizzled some heavy cream on top (mascarpone, greek yogurt or creme fraiche would have been ideal). I had a green salad with dried cranberries and toasted walnuts to accompany, as I love the sweet and nuttiness to compliment the soup. You can also sprinkle chopped parsley and some spiced nuts on top.


Creamy Cream-less Chestnut Soup (inspired by Rachael Ray)

2 medium onions, diced
4 tablespoons butter
32 oz chicken stock
1/3 c dry sherry
1 can peeled chestnuts
2 cans chestnut puree
salt (generous!) to taste

1. Heat butter in large stockpot. Add onions and cook til softened and translucent. Add stock. Bring to boil and reduce to simmer. Add chestnuts and simmer 10 minutes. Add chestnut puree and simmer 10 minutes more. Using an immersion blender, puree ingredients til smooth. Season to taste and serve with garniture of your choice.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Loving the leftovers...

Today was definitely one of those days I could have made two slices of toast with PB & J and called it a night. At school today, we had our "mock" midterm exam -- pulling two dishes out of a hat (mind you, most of us had made the dishes only ONCE) and cooking them to be presented at a given set time. Needless to say, I am exhausted!

However, during the insanity that was my day, I didn't really have lunch. Does a slice of apple tart with a large quenelle of chantilly and a bite of pork chop count? For me, not quite. So, my tummy (that is getting ready for 15 miles this weekend) wanted some stick-to-the-bones food.

No one wants to go to the grocery store tired, cold and hungry. Neither did I. So, I had to be creative with what I had in the kitchen. Let's see: two leftover braised lamb shanks from Sunday night; a can of diced San Marzano tomatoes, onions, pasta... My mind clearly was craving pasta!

(Sorry for the fogginess - blame it on the steam!)

As I heated some olive oil and sauteed some veg to add a little sweetness to my sauce, I discovered a nearly completely eaten bag of grapes in the fridge. Hmm. Cold grapes? Not quite. Now roasted grapes, tossed with some greens and an apple cider reduction I made last week. The perfect seasonal compliment to my lamb ragu (and a glass of pinot grigio with a healthy splash of St. Germain).

Leftover Lamb Ragu

2 lamb shanks, braised and quickly reheated to warm the meat
Olive oil
1/2 medium onion
1/2 small carrot, diced
1/2 celery stalk, diced
28 oz can diced San Marzano tomatoes

Heat olive oil in saucepan. Sweat the onion, then add the carrot and celery. Add a pinch of salt. Cook til color brightens and veg release flavor. Add tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Add lamb and reduce to a simmer. Cook til tender and a bit reduced, season to taste. Serve over freshly cooked pasta. Excellent with a basil chiffonade.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Quick and Easy Dinner

What to have for dinner on those nights that you just don't feel like turning on the stove, or - as in my case - don't want to lift a pan? No, not something that I pulled from the freezer in a paper box! You know me - I try to choose only whole foods and as few processed ingredients as possible.

Here are three of my favorite go-to solutions - the first of which is the meal I prepared for myself tonight after coming home tired and later than usual from spinning. Topped off with a nice glass of local apple cider from Lyman Orchards. Yum!

1. Harvest Salad: local greens with a apple cider vinaigrette. Served with crumbled blue cheese (love Roaring 40's!), sliced comice pear, and a handful of spiced nuts. I added some yellow beet I had on hand for some extra veggie power!

2. Soup and bread: Tomato soup, Butternut Squash soup, Pumpkin soup...I love them all! A piping hot bowl of soup and a piece of crusty bread (with some peanut or almond butter, or melted cheese, for oomph). Mmm...

3. Omelette and green salad: This was my go to quicky meal when I was working in NYC. I could whip up a nice cheese omelette with some greens and a bit of peach mango salsa in 10-15 minutes flat! I'm going to add a 4th...since I have made a meal out of this -- for dinner, not just breakfast -- many times! Peanut butter and jam on toast. The ultimate comfort food. If you don't have jam (I'm partial to my raspberry jam), try sliced banana, or dried cherries or raisins. I have many friends who turn to this solution when it comes to dining at home, alone, late!

What quick and easy dinner solutions to you turn to in a pinch? Share your ideas with me!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Perfect Winter Meals: Tomato Soup

I. Love. Tomato. Soup.

Not sure when I first fell in love with the creamy tomato goodness. I think in grade school? In the cafeteria? GASP! With canned tomato soup?! I'm so embarrassed to write that!

I haven't had a decent Creamy Tomato Soup in a while...until June of 2009. It was the last week working at my old job ( They do WONDERFUL things for NYC. Check them out. SUPPORT THEM!!!). My youngest sister and I went out to dinner at Paul Newman's restaurant in Westport, The Dressing Room. If you haven't already been, you must go! Brilliant food, wonderful staff, charming space. Every time I go, it's a pleasure, both for the mind and stomach.

Anyways, they have a wonderful tomato soup on the menu, served with two wedges of grilled cheese (in my mind, the right way to serve tomato soup!) made with delicious Nehantic Abbey cheese. First spoonful in my mouth, the symphony began in my head. Oh. My. Goodness. I had forgotten how much I loved tomato soup, and Michael and Johnny, the geniuses behind the menu, have hit the nail on the head! Oh so so good...

Fast forward to the beginning of November. Someone (ahem) had too much fun the day before Halloween and came down with a little cold on Halloween proper. And the only thing, other than sleep, that I knew would help kick the beast was tomato soup.

Luckily, I came across a recipe from a former coworker at Martha Stewart Living on I modified it slightly to suit my tastes. Perfect with a grilled cheese sandwich, a slice of bread, or even on its own!

Creamy Tomato Soup, my way

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 28-oz can of diced tomatoes (I like San Marzanos) in their juices
1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken stock
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup heavy cream

Heat oil in a saucepan til hot. Add onion and a pinch of salt and saute until onion becomes golden and translucent. Add in tomatoes, broth, bay leaves and bring to a simmer. Cook until tomatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

Remove from heat and let soup cool a bit. Remove bay leaves and puree with an immersion blender (or in a blender - be careful to vent the top as hot liquid may cause the top to burst off!). Add the cream in (you can adjust to your taste) and check seasoning.

Serve warm and enjoy!

Perfect Winter Meal: Braised Lamb Shanks

Ha. Ha ha ha. I find myself giggling as I write this post. Friday, planning out my weekend meals on the train home in 45 degree weather, I decided to make braised lamb shanks, as I have some red wine to use, and all the mirepoix ingredients on hand. Fast forward to Sunday, lamb-shank-cooking-day, and it's 70 degrees out.

Okay, so maybe it's not wintery outside, but I'm craving meat and a warm dish and this is so going to hit the spot! It reminds me a lot of one of my all time favorite dishes -- you can find it at Pietra at The Stone House in Little Compton, RI. I'm a low and slow kind of girl. I love short ribs and lamb shanks, stews and navarins. I'm not one to rush things, and when it comes to running, I like the longer distances, but at a slower pace!

Braising is a very straightforward cooking technique. In classic French cuisine, it is a "Mixte" technique, as you are browning meat (concentration method, sealing in juices) and then cooking it in liquid (extraction method - the meat releases juices into the liquid, deepening the flavor). You take meat (beef, lamb, etc) and brown it in a bit of oil on high heat (this I think is the scary part - but put the meat down, and let it sizzle. Don't touch! It will unstick if the pan is hot! After about 2-4 min, depending on the size of meat, flip it and brown another side). You take the meat out, brown some mirepoix - typically onion, carrot, celery, garlic - and then sprinkle in some flour, which will help thicken your sauce (singer en francais!) and moisten with a liquid of your choice -- water, red wine, white wine, stock. Then, add that meat back in, plop a lid on the pot and braise either in the oven (I like this -- at 325) or on the stove.

This recipe was slightly inspired by a recipe in Danny Meyer's Union Square Cafe (one of my favorite restos in NYC) cookbook, and a lot of my own addition/deletion. As I write this, my shanks have been cooking for a bit over an hour in the oven, and I'm salivating smelling the lovely rosemary aroma coming from the oven. Yum, I can not wait to eat this with some crusty Wave Hill Bread!

Earthly Epicurean Red Wine Braised Lamb Shank

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil (or you can use extra-virgin olive oil)
Four 3/4-1 lb lamb shanks
Salt and freshly ground pepper
5 garlic cloves, peeled
4 medium carrots, sliced 1/4 thick
4 medium celery ribs, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2-3 tbsp flour
One 750-milliliter bottle dry red wine (I used a bottle of Meritage I had open that I didn't really want to drink)
1 cup chicken stock or water * (if you don't have stock, use water)
2 sprigs rosemary, chopped

Preheat the oven to 325°. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the oil. Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper and brown them on 3 sides over moderately high heat. Set shanks aside. Add the garlic, carrots, celery and onion to the casserole and saute until golden (if the oil from the lamb is at all smoky, drain and use fresh oil to brown the vegs). Add the flour, stir and cook for a minute or so until the raw flour is gone. Add the red wine and bring to a boil, while stirring up the bottom to loosen the golden bits (tasty things!). Add the stock or water and bring to a simmer. Add the lamb shanks and rosemary. Cover the casserole tightly and transfer to the oven. Braise the lamb shanks, turning every 30 minutes, for about 1 1/2 hours, or until very tender.

Transfer the lamb shanks to an ovenproof plate. Strain the braising liquid (you can save the veg if you want -- I kind of like the braised celery!), pressing on the solids. Bring the liquid to a boil in a saucepan until thick and reduced, covering the back of a spoon. Season the sauce to taste. Pour sauce over the shanks and reheat, covered with foil, if necessary prior to serving.

I like serving these with sauteed kale or swiss chard and polenta!

A Note from Earthly Epicurean

As many of you know, I recently started culinary school at The French Culinary School in New York City. Though I love being in the kitchen all day, commuting to/from school after a long day takes the last little bit out of you. As well, when I'm in the kitchen all day at school, I really don't want to stand in front of the stove at night!

So, during the week, I focus on creating quick, easy and light meals that are fruit and veggie heavy. Usually my big meal of the day is lunch, at school (just not in proper French fashion...multiple hours, lots of wine. I wish!) Usually delicious, these meals tend to be meat and starch based. And as someone who likes to eat "mostly plants," (as the brilliant writer Michael Pollan wrote) I need some color to round out my day. I hope to share some of my go-to favorites in an upcoming post.

On the weekends, I usually cook a dish or two, either to eat over that weekend, or that I can save for a weekday meal. For example, I plan on making some Creamy Tomato Soup and Red Wine Braised Lamb Shanks to come!

Regardless, with this change in schedule, my frequency of postings has decreased, but I promise to share with you not only some interesting recipes that I work on at home, as well as some favorites from school. And, of course, I will be sure to continue on sharing, on a weekly basis, more "Earthly Epicurean" delights that I purchase from the markets...

Toasty Treat

This week brought on the winter-ish feeling weather. Those early mornings, though it is now light, are freezing cold -- I need a little more assistance - or substance - than just my coffee to help wake me up!

Typically, I grab some fruit and yogurt to eat on the train. Favorites? I love Brown Cow, especially their maple, vanilla, or coffee. Even better are Liberte's Mediteranee varieties. I tried the plum walnut many years ago - oh so good. My family discovered coconut over the summer, and I'm HOOKED. Their lemon is lemony - like the filling of a lemon tart. YUM! Caution, however -- they are rich, so if you're watching your waisting, please note. I like them since they don't leave my tummy growling by 9am. Very important when lunch isn't until 2 and you're running around a kitchen for the next 5 hours.

I also like a morning yogurt fix because of all the healthy cultures in yogurt. Sometimes, the rich food at school can upset my tummy, so yogurt is a nice way to give back to my inner furnace. But, it's cold! So, when the temperature gets cold outside, I need to turn to something warmer than cold yogurt!

One of my favorite quick breakfasts, other than yogurt, is peanut butter and jelly -- my own raspberry jam, of course -- on toast. This past week, I had my favorite bread on hand, too - Wave Hill Bakery's Pain de Campagne. The crusty crust, and soft, tender, moist inside isn't just a white bread, but is flecked with little spelt and rye grains. It's wonderful with PB & J in the morning...and also spread with butter or pesto with a salad, or a big hunk to mop up extra sauce with lamb shanks (that's what I'm going to do tomorrow night at dinner!) There really isn't any way you can't not like this loaf!

When I'm craving Wave Hill, I can swing by their bakery on Route 7 in Wilton, right near Wolfpit Road. I hear it is also available at Whole Foods, Walter Stewarts, and Palmer's Markets. Of course, I gobble the bread up whenever I'm at Pasta Nostra...and Napa & Company.