Friday, November 26, 2010

Surprise, surprise?

This past Saturday, I continued my so-called half marathon training with a 12.5 mile, yes--12.5 mile--run through Brooklyn. I wasn't really going for that long of a run, as I had already done 6.4 through Red Hook on Friday. But, once I got out there, I kind of took a more scenic route... And I'm sure I'm not the only one who has done that before!

Needless to say, by the time I got back to my apartment, I was hot, tired, in desperate need of a shower. And RAVENOUS. I think for the last two miles of my run, I kept thinking about what (little) food I had in my fridge, and what nutritious and satisfying meal I could easily whip up. With the Thanksgiving holiday coming up, and knowing the I wouldn't be home for dinner at all during the week, I didn't really want to stop for something to cook on my way home, like the chicken curry I was kind of craving. I first thought of French Toast, but I didn't have enough of my favorite Sullivan Street Bakery Pugliese leftover to make that (and as I thought I was going to be eating fried oysters, lobster rolls, and yummy fries at Pearl Oyster Bar that night, I wanted something a little less rich in simple carbohydrates). With some ressurance I'd get my rich-fix that night, I had settled on scrambled eggs (with a little heavy cream I had on hand) with sundried tomatoes, maybe some roasted brussels sprouts, and a side of crunchy apple slices and baby carrots that I was madly craving (go figure?!). 

Walking in through the sliding doors of my building, I instantly remembered I had this mysterious package waiting for me with my doormen. When I checked its origins, when my building sent the package notification, it had been labelled "brand marketing," so I had thought it was a package of product I had been expecting for work. But, when my doorman brought this much smaller-sized package--kind of like the size J. Crew ships a pair of jeans or a cashmere sweater in--I was confused. What is this??

I get upstairs, and naturally, must investigate. I rip open the box with my knife, only to discover the above massive array of cheeses, mustard, salamis, and... strawberry candies from Hickory Farms?? My initial thought was oh-mi-gosh, does this--should this--be refrigerated? There wasn't any labelling on the package, and from having recently taken ownership of a sampler of Graeter's Pumpkin and Cinnamon ice creams (if you haven't already tried their ice cream, run, NOW (vite! vite! vite!) to your computer to get some), know if something needs to be refrigerated or frozen as it's slathered all over the exterior of the package--even if it's sitting in a cooler on dry ice, hard as a rock. This wasn't, so I didn't worry. I unpacked the goodies, wondering who on earth this was from. 

After showering, and reconsidering my new lunch options, I decided that a cheese plate was in order. I mean, I've got some new ingredients in the fridge--I've got to see what they're all about. Now, I'm a huge cheese, salami, and cracker fan. I could each wonderfully gooey Swiss and French cheeses with dried salami, yummy fresh butter, and the most crusty-moist loaf of bread--and the requisite bottle of vin rouge or vin blanc any time. But, there was something about this box of meat and cheese, that had not been refrigerated (but yes, the meat was cured) that struck me as not right, and you've got to listen to those initial instincts right?

Well, I didn't. Yup, I tore into the Italian-Style Beef Sausage, and the Maple Turkey Sausage. Served with the rest of my Manchego, apple slices, baby carrots, mustard dipping sauce, and some wheatmeal crackers, I was a very, very happy girl. I try to avoid any cured products with nitrites--and the sausages did have them--but decided to let it slide, whatever. I definitely liked the Italian-Style Beef Sausage more than the slightly-sweet Turkey Sausage. I like my sausage dry, with a melty-quality to the meat, thanks to some fat. Overall, not too bad. Guess the next thing I'd have to try is the cheese... for another day.

Fast-forward to Monday night. I ended up dining with my parents, as my friend Amanda--who I was supposed to go to Pearl with--was stricken with a bug. Sunday Brunch was a real treat with three dear Middlebury friends at Bubby's Brooklyn. Craving carbs, as I didn't get my fix Saturday night, I made hand-torn homemade whole-wheat pasta, with roasted eggplant and Brussels sprouts. My plans for Monday had changed, and I ended up getting home at just an hour where I needed to make something for dinner. 

I wasn't worried: I had ample amounts of leftover Brussels sprouts, and was thinking an adaptation of my favorite dish from Alta Restaurant. Brussels sprouts, with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, thinly sliced apple... and as I didn't have any creme fraiche (or pistachios, for that matter), a couple of slices of cheese with crackers. 

Ah yes... now that I have so many cheeses to choose from, what to choose? I love swiss, but since it's my favorite, I decided to save it, the best for last. Cheddar or Monterey Jack? Neither really went well with the Brussels, and just seemed so blah to me with a cracker. Cheese ball? Hmm... yes, really too processed for my liking, but would two slices kill me? Probably not, I thought.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pasta at Home

When my family moved out of our home--I guess you could call it my childhood home, as though I was born and spent the first three years of my life in Massachusetts, then about 10 years in the first house we lived in in Connecticut, I spent over 15 years in this house--there was a lot of cleaning and purging. Clothing. Dress-ups. Dolls. Kitchen stuff. So when my mom considered parting with an ancient Atlas pasta machine that we had not used in over 17 years, the chef in me immediately piped up, "it's mine!"

So, fast forward to nearly two months ago, and the pasta machine emerged from my tens and tens of boxes. Albeit dusty, it was un-rusted and in need of use. But, when?

I've recently re-embarked on my (okay, crazy) training plan for running a half-marathon. Why crazy, you ask? Well, it's a big of a mish-mash of a plan. There is no "real" training plan that I'm following, and I probably should be working on shorter speed and hill runs. But, I dislike both. I'm a turtle--slow and steady--endurance is so my thing. So, the mileage I've been covering in a week as increased exponentially... and as a result, my diet has fallen apart due to all these changes (more mileage, colder weather, desk job, working late, stress... ). Though I'm sticking to my goal to eat more whole vegetables and less meat, cheese, and nuts (I'm very happy with a bowl of salted nuts, or cheese and crackers, for snacks), my body is screaming for carbohydrates.

My good work in cheese and nut department, however comes at a cost--craving simple carbohydrates. Usually, if I stay away from sugar and "feed" that craving with simple carbs, like a nice slice of artisanal bread, I'm good. But, I caved into peanut M+M's over Halloween--and some Reese's Peanut Butter cups, and since I've been unable to kick the sugar cravings. Sugar, for me, is toxic. To the point where there have been the days when I've come home at 10 and called a bowl of cinnamon and pumpkin ice cream with toasted pecans and caramel sauce dinner, as I had to "test" it for a story at work. What's better--that or those frequent nights where I nibble on a cracker while downing a glass of wine at 10:30, still standing in my work clothes, half asleep.

The weekends are my time to relax, rest, and do what I love most: cook. So, after yesterday's 12.5 mile run through Brooklyn, my body needed some TLC. Although I had little appetite yesterday, it came roaring back today. Instead of filling up on worthless calories--and to get as much nutritional bang for my buck (ok, bite...), as when running about 30 miles a week, I need every bit of mineral and vitamin I can get--I made a wholesome and delicious pasta dish from scratch.

Let's just say, this was an experiment. I don't yet have white flour in my apartment, since moving. But, I do have whole wheat, which is more nutritious. And my pasta machine. And brussels sprouts. So, as I tested a brussels sprouts recipe for Thanksgiving, I had lots left over. End result? Roasted brussels sprouts with balsamic and raisins, leftover roasted eggplant with cumin, topped with simple whole wheat torn pasta with my new favorite olive oil and some chopped sage and manchego.

The picture really doesn't look appetizing, but it was so so good. Maybe even good enough to try again (I warn you--the whole wheat pasta-making process isn't as easy as it is with regular flour).

Whole Wheat Pasta

1/3 cup whole wheat flour, plus more for kneading
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg

Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl. Make a well in the center and add the egg.
Beat the egg in the center of the flour, only adding in the flour from around the well once the egg is beaten well. Mix until the mixture comes together.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead until no longer super sticky, adding more flour as you go.

Run the dough through the pasta machine, making the sheets as thin as you wish (I left mine at level 6, as the whole wheat flour is not as fine). Tear or cut into the shape you wish, then let dry out for 5-10 minutes.

Cook in boiling salted water until pasta floats. Drain and serve immediately with sauce, oil, butter--whatever suits you.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pancakes for Dinner

Feeling Hungry?

I was, too, when I got home from work. Sometimes there are just those nights when you want something comforting, breakfast-inspired even, for dinner. And it was one of those nights recently. This is what I made.

Banana-Pecan Corn Meal Pancakes
As published on The Daily Meal
Growing up, my family and I would always tweak our favorite pancake recipe from Craig Claiborne's 1961 New York Times Cook Book, adding a little bit of whole wheat flour instead of white flour, and Gray's JonnyCake Corn Meal for added texture.

Living in New York City, it’s hard to find my beloved Gray’s, and I don’t always have flour and baking soda on hand, having recently moved. I developed this recipe for those times when I’m in a pinch. It’s healthy, too—the cornmeal adds fiber, while instead of oil, I use plain or vanilla yogurt to keep the fat down.

Oil, for the skillet
1 1/2 cups corn meal mix, preferably Bob’s Red Mill or Aunt Jemima
3 tablespoons raw granulated brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, plus more for garnish (optional)
2 eggs
1/2 cup yogurt, preferably Stonyfield Whole Milk Vanilla
3/4 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 ripe bananas
1 cup pecan halves
Maple syrup, for serving

Preheat the griddle to 350 degrees, or prepare your skillet with oil (but don't heat yet).

In a large bowl, combine the corn meal mix, sugar, and cinnamon. Stir to combine.

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs. Add the yogurt, milk, and vanilla and mix well. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and gently combine.

Preheat skillet over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, slice two of the four bananas very thin and add to the batter.

When your cooking surface is ready, drop pancakes by ¼ cupfuls onto the hot surface. Cook until bubbles begin to form around the sides, and the bottom is golden. Flip and cook until the other side is golden, about a couple minutes more.

While the pancakes cook, toast the pecans in a dry skillet over medium heat or in a toaster oven until fragrant, and heat up the maple syrup in a pitcher in a saucepan of water, or in the microwave (be careful it doesn’t boil over).

Serve with more sliced bananas on top, toasted pecans, and maple syrup. A dusting of cinnamon never hurts.

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Serves 4

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Perfect Pumpkin Soup

Though while this weekend's weather wasn't exactly... well, soup weather, I have been craving a creamy, cinnamon-y, pumpkin bisque soup flavored just like one I used to buy at The Vinegar Factory, when I lived on the Upper East Side.

Saturday's 67 degree weather was totally unexpected--planning a long run out (and around) Prospect Park from DUMBO, I layered on what I had been wearing the day before when I went out for a romp in Red Hook. Yeah... didn't need the Patagonia fleece, silly. So, 9.4 miles later (didn't anticipate that mileage, especially considering I've only been doing 5 or 6 miles first thing in the morning about 2x a week), all I could think about was creamy pumpkin soup with the last of my Salvatore Bklyn ricotta, and candied spiced pumpkin seeds...

Of course, I didn't have any cream in the house, so the soup had to wait til Sunday. Of course, I made the soup, and ate the last of the ricotta, and it wasn't until I sat down to edit my recipe that I realized I left the candied pumpkin seeds in the oven (thankfully the oven was off--they're just drying). So, there will be two images below--soup and ricotta, and then soup and pumpkin seeds. Just goes to show how tired my brain is by the end of the week...

Creamy Pumpkin Soup with Spiced Candied Pumpkin Seeds

For the soup:
1 small pumpkin, about 2 pounds
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
4 small carrots (I had some heirloom varieties in my fridge that needed using; you could use 2)
1 stalks celery (again, finishing off the stalk that needed consumption; you could use 1)
2 cups chicken stock
1 sprig fresh sage
Cinnamon, to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
2/3 cup heavy cream (you can add more or less depending on your taste)

For the pumpkin seeds:
Seeds from the pumpkin
1 teaspoon olive oil
Cinnamon sugar to taste
Pinch cayenne pepper

For the soup:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the pumpkin in half through the center, and season both insides with salt and pepper. Place each half on a lightly oiled baking pan, cut side down. Bake for 45 minutes, or until flesh is tender when pricked with a fork.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan over high heat, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion and saute until translucent. Add the chopped carrots, and chopped celery. Season with salt and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

When the pumpkin is ready, let it cool for 30 minutes, the add the flesh to the vegetables. Add the stock, then bring to a boil over high heat. Add the sage and cook 5 minutes. Add the cinnamon and nutmeg to taste. Remove from heat, remove the sage, and puree until smooth with an immersion blender. Add the cream and stir well. Check the seasonings, adding more salt or spices as needed.

For the pumpkin seeds:

Rinse the seeds well and strain them. Toss with the oil, sugar, and spice and place on a baking sheet. Cook these while the pumpkin roasts , tossing them every 5 minutes to allow the moisture to evaporate and the seeds to candy. When the begin to turn golden, and are crispy (no longer chewy), remove and let them cool, about 30 minutes.

Serve the soup warm with fresh ricotta. I also like topping it with crisp bacon lardons and caramelized apples; a slice or two of prosciutto on the bottom (so the fat melts) of the bowl is also a wonderful salty-rich addition. Oh, and don't forget your spiced candied pumpkin seeds like me...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

'Cause Everything is Better with Bacon...

In the fall, when Brussels sprouts are in season, this is one of the most comforting dishes I turn to. As a child, Brussels sprouts creeped me out. Maybe it was because they were just tasteless the way my mom prepared them (sorry, mom... ). Then again, maybe it was because the only ones we could find back then were the big gnarly ones, not the ones fresh off the stalk I find four times a week at the Union Square Greenmarket.

After coming home quite, quite late recently--famished to the point I could not tell how hungry I was--I remembered I had picked up some sprouts the day before on my lunch break. Lucky for me, I had some smoked bacon in the fridge, and a brand new bottle of grade B maple syrup (ah, the joys of stocking the refrigerator again).

Chopping vegetables, with a large glass of wine by my side, I find supremely comforting and meditative, something I find myself needing to decompress after long days researching, writing, and editing in front of the computer. So, with my large glass of malbec to my left, I set in chopping.

This dish is really quite easy--it's all about the ingredients. And next time I write again about Brussels sprouts, maybe it will be with a new recipe, my latest obsession from a restaurant here in New York called Alta: deeply roasted Brussels sprouts with apple, creme fraiche, and pistachios. Mmm...

'Til then? Maple and bacon, 'cause everything is better with bacon....

Maple Bacon Brussels

8 slices of bacon, thinly sliced into lardons
1/2 shallot, finely diced (optional)
3 cups Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
2 tablespoons maple syrup (plus more if you wish)

Heat a saute pan over medium heat. Add the bacon and saute until golden. Add the onion and sweat for 1-2 minutes. Add the sprouts. Cook for until tender (add 1/4 cup of water if you need some additional moisture to tenderize them). Add maple syrup. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if needed. Serve hot.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Perfect for Entertaining: Eggplant Involtini

These purple beauties are delightful when served to at a restaurant, maybe as a caponata, or delightful eggplant parmigiano. But, when one of these ends up on your counter, what do you do with (or, even better, some of the little Japanese ones are growing in your garden) it?

As published on The Daily Meal

This fresh variation of the Italian classic swaps out tomato sauce for sun-dried tomatoes, and uses cilantro, garlic, and jalapeño to add lots of additional flavor without damaging your waistline. You can also make miniature versions of this dish as finger foods for a cocktail party.

2 eggplants, one chopped into 1/2-inch cubes, the other sliced lengthwise into 1/3-inch slices
Olive oil
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 jalapeño, trimmed, de-seeded, and finely diced
Sea salt
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro, plus more for serving
1 cup fresh ricotta
1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. 
In a large bowl, toss eggplant cubes with about 2 tablespoons olive oil and season well. Pour on to a silpat-lined baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Stir the eggplant cubes, then add the peeled garlic cloves and chopped jalapeños, and roast 30 minutes longer, stirring the cubes again after 15 minutes.

While the cubes roast, brush each side of the eggplant slices with olive oil. Lay on a cooling rack placed inside a baking pan, and season both sides. Set aside.

Combine the sun-dried tomatoes, cilantro, ricotta, and Parmigiano together in a bowl and set aside.

When the cubes are finished cooking (this can be done a day in advance), remove from oven, then lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Bake the eggplant slices for 20 minutes, then remove. Heat the broiler to high. Flip the eggplant slices and then broil them about 6 inches away from the element for approximately 6-8 minutes, or until they are tender and edges browned.

While the slices are still warm, spoon 2 tablespoons filling lengthwise along one side. Roll the eggplant into cigarette shapes and place, seam-side down, on a plate. Repeat with the remaining slices.

To serve, place 4 involtini on each plate. Garnish with eggplant cubes, cilantro, and a drizzle of olive oil, and offer freshly grated Parmigiano on the side.

Serves two
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: about 1 hour, 15 minutes

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sweet and Spicy (Summer-Friendly) Salsa

I know you like salsa. I mean, who doesn't like chips and salsa (even me, who is a picky corn chip consumer)? Salsa on grilled fish or roasted meats? I know some people who love their salsa on their spinach and gruyere omelettes!

What kind of salsa is your favorite? Classic red tomato? Hot or mild? How about tomatillo, roasted garlic or pineapple? Maybe you're looking for a new favorite... While I have yet to experiment with making my new favorite, peach-tomato, I'm sharing one of my go-to favorites for pineapple salsa, that I based off of a summertime favorite, mango-jalapeño. Let me know what you think.

As published on The Daily Meal

A sweet and spicy salsa full of fresh flavors. Pairs well with grilled swordfish or halibut, as well as chicken. Or you can serve it in a bowl with blue corn chips for a party appetizer.

1 whole, ripe pineapple, rind removed, cored, and chopped into 1/4-inch dice (about 3 cups of chunks)
4 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded, and chopped into 1/8-inch dices
1 large red onion, chopped into 1/8-1/4-inch dices
1/2 bunch cilantro, de-stemmed and roughly chopped
Salt, to taste

Combine the pineapple, jalapeño, and red onion in a medium bowl. 
Add the cilantro to the salsa, season with salt and let sit for about 30 minutes at room temperature before serving.

Serves 8
Prep time: 15 minutes

Monday, November 1, 2010

Think Potato Chips, But A Whole Lot Healthier

Ever since I purchased a bag of maple coconut covered kale chips this past winter, I've been slightly obsessed with a crispy version of one of my favorite vegetables.

When did my love affair with crispy greens begin? Probably about 13 years ago, at a birthday dinner at the restaurant Baang in Greenwich, CT. Crispy spinach. Now, don't get me wrong, I try to avoid fried foods, but fried spinach? Any trace of toughness this green powerhouse may have is obliterated as these leaves are left thin and crispy, melting in your mouth.

Fast forward to this winter, when I picked up a bag of these coconut maple kale chips. Slightly sweet, definitely chewy (thanks, coconut), these little morsels were too good to be true. Though I did eat them plain, I much prefered them crumbled on a salad with teriyaki flank steak. Oh my...

But, as anything sweet with me, the wonder wears off quickly. I discovered a savory version from my favorite health food store, Lifethyme, and had a brief obsession with them. Yet, something was missing. The clean kale flavor was certainly overwhelmed by a salty-mustardyness. Yes, delicious when sprinkled (again) over a salad, or even with an omelette. But for snacking, I prefer something much more simple. Clean. And delicious.

So, luck be have it when I came across a recipe for baked kale chips from one of my favorite food blogs, Smitten Kitchen. How could I resist getting my fingers on this recipe, when there is an abundance of Lacinato kale at the Farmers Market?

Baked Kale Chips
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 bunch Lacinato kale (I didn't weigh mine, but it was a large bunch from the market)
2 tablespoons olive
Sea salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Rinse the kale in a sinkful of water. Tear leaves off stem and place into a bowl. Toss one half with a tablespoon of oil and sprinkle with salt. Spread on silpat-lined baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes, stirring halfway so that all the torn leaves are able to crisp.

Remove from oven and let cool slightly. Remove from silpat, and repeat with remaining kale.

Store in air-tight containers (or enjoy immediately). I'm kind of wondering what this would taste like sprinkled on vanilla ice cream. Salty and sweet? Yumm...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

End of Summer Banana Bread

A couple of weekends ago, I ventured up to my family's home in Rhode Island for one last remotely summer weekend. The remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole had passed, leaving a crisp and cool temperature for Saturday. Looking out the window, though, one could be fooled that it was August, as there was not a cloud in the sky.

Given a day like that, after a week of mugginess and rain, I had to spend as much time outside as possible. After a run in the morning, my mom and I kayaked out to the beach from our house to see if the pond had breached the sandy barrier, after all the rain left it super high (and the surf was still high from the storm). A little work for the legs, a little work (um, and a blister I found today) for the arms. Thankfully, a little sweet, but not too sweet, treat helped keep my mind of my then-achy arms. Banana bread!

Walking into the kitchen late Friday, I noticed a couple of overly ripe bananas in the fridge. I hate to see produce go to waste, and so my mind wandered back to a couple of months ago, when I made some banana bread, using a recipe from Saveur Magazine as a launching pad. Though I'm trying to stay away from sweets right now, I figured a little baking and tweaking would yield a supremely healthy treat that would satiate my cravings without sending my blood sugar on a rollercoaster ride.

Using the recipe I developed here, I made a couple of adjustments, using whole wheat flour instead of pastry, cutting back the fat to 1/2 cup, using grapeseed oil not ghee, and cutting the sugar down to 1/2 cup. I swapped out chopped raw (though, after this news, what is really a raw almond?) almonds for the walnuts. I also used 4 mashed bananas, and garnished the loaves with one, sliced on the bias, as well as some organic sugar in the raw. It took about an hour and 15 minutes to bake, but the outcome was utterly delicious!

Do It Yourself: Roast Chicken

Ever wonder what to do with - or how to cook - chicken? Roasting your own whole chicken intimidates many, but it's one of the best food bargains out there -- and it's really easy to do! I'll show you how.

As published on The Daily Meal

Roasting a whole chicken may be one of the more daunting culinary projects a cook may try, but it shouldn't be. All it takes is a couple of pantry basics, and an hour or so of your time - you needn't truss your bird, or even remove the wishbone, if you don't want to. As well, choosing to cook a whole bird, as opposed to a breast or thighs, is much more economical, when you think of the amount of meat you get per dollar spent. When properly cooked, you end up with moist meat that can be eaten alone or used in other recipes like enchiladas, or chicken salad. You can also use the bird's carcass to make a real special treat - your own chicken stock. 

4 yellow onions, peeled and chopped into 6 segments
4 apples, preferably Cortlands
One 4–6 pound whole chicken, preferably organic
Salt and pepper
8 sprigs of sage
Olive oil 

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Cut the apples into quarters, making sure to remove the seeds in the center. Combine the onions and apples together in a roasting pan. 
Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Place on the bed of apples and onions, breast side up. Season the cavity liberally with salt and pepper, and then stuff it with the sage, onions and apples. 
Drizzle the chicken, and apples and onions, with olive oil and season everything again well with salt and pepper. Place the pan in the oven and roast for 50 minutes, or until the juices run clear when pierced in the leg and thigh.
Let the bird rest for 20 minutes before carving so the juices can re-settle.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Concocting your own cocktail

Do you know the basics for creating your own cocktail? The secrets to a full flavored, yet miraculously balanced mixture of liquids? The tricks to infusing lots and lots of flavor in a small amount of liquid?

Well, I didn't. Until Sunday. I was invited to join a fellow foodie and blogger for an event sponsored by Food & Wine and Travel + Leisure magazines in Greenwich, CT. One of the many sessions we went to was run by renowned mixologist Michael Green. Yes, he knows a lot about cocktails and mixology. AND he's hilarious. Especially when he caught my icky facial expression when I tasted the store-bought coconut water. I guess I've been spoiled by the fresh stuff from young coconuts (yes, I wield a chefs knife by profession. And I can hack the top off of those little buggers like it's nothing).

As it was 10 in the morning, alcohol wasn't quite on the menu yet. So we made a Coco Tonic, with coconut water, basil simple syrup, lime juice, and pomegranate juice. Pretty tasty stuff. What was tastier though were the take home tips I got:

1. Every drink needs to have a balance of sweet, savory and sour.
2. Every drink has a base spirit. Flavors are then enhanced with a combination of flavor modifiers (like simple syrups) and fresh juices.
3. Every bar should have a jigger. Nothing is worse than a too-strong (or too-weak) cocktail.
4. There is a right size for ice cubes. The bigger they are, the slower they melt, and your drink becomes perfectly lengthened over time
5. Modifiers are the key to making a so-so cocktail an over-the-top cocktail. My new favorite trick? Homemade simple syrups.
6. There is a right way to stir a cocktail with a cocktail spoon. Twirl the spoon clockwise and counter-clockwise, while also moving the spoon up and down. It ensures your striated cocktail will be striated no more.
7. Lastly, there is a right way to shake. 10-15 shakes properly lengthens the drink and chills the ingredients. Don't have a shaker? Seek out a Boston Shaker (I will be!).

Before stirring

After stirring

Homemade Simple Syrup:

1 cup fresh herbs (basil, thyme, rosemary, cranberries, ginger, orange, lemon...the list goes on)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

Mix all ingredients together in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let cool. Strain out herbs.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I'm back! And Perfecting Pasta...

It's been a long time since I last posted. It's bad. Especially since I work in the food industry. Needless to say, a LOT has happened. I started a new job (check out our site at The Daily Meal and contribute your comments, stories, recipes, and photos!), moved apartments (yay DUMBO!), launched a website (again, above) and am terminally unpacking/combining three "bedrooms" worth of stuff into one. Exhausted yet? Hopefully, I'll get into my new posting groove quickly.

I've been working on a story about pasta for The Daily Meal. More on that later...but to pique your interest, here are some photos from dinner the past two nights.

People who know me may know that I'm not really a fan of dried pasta. Why dried when I can get tender, fresh pasta? Or moist and creamy ravioli? But, I've been perfecting recipes made with dried pasta. Yeah. Pasta. Dried pasta.

I'm working on this piece about Einkorn. Crazy name, huh? It's pretty cool stuff. It is an ancient grain, once grown by man over 12,000 years ago. It is the only grain with a diploid structure (like most plants), so one male chromosome, one female chromosome, which left it unable to hybridize with other grains. Which, in my opinion, helped it (okay, so it has a low yield, and for mass farming, was not a choice crop) as the plant didn't lose nutrients like other grains with more chromosomes did. It's Protein packed, fiber packed. Just like whole wheat pasta. But einkorn is a LOT better. It's nuttier, a bit chewy, with a faint sweet taste. Plus, it is jam-packed full of essential vitamins and minerals. 


Sauteed beet greens with pasta, cream, goat cheese. Awaiting the final topping....

Beets from Pfaffenroth Gardens!

This is a keeper -- not sure if it was the farm fresh beets (and greens) from the market, or the fresh goat cheese from Coach Farm. Or the pasta... Click here for the recipe.

And the prior night's veggie-heavy sauce with my new favorite pasta -- einkorn!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Fall harvest classics

When I think of September and late summer, more often than not, I think of all the amazing fruits and vegetables that are readily abundant and available at markets this time of year on the East Coast. Walking through the Union Square Greenmarket on Wednesday, the colors, scents and shapes of what has been growing utterly amazed me (I wish I had a picture of this to share with you). Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchinis and summer squashes, remaining vestiges of summer still available thanks to the recent sun and heat. Yet, also coming into season right now are apples (my absolute my family members and close friends can attest, "appie" for apple juice being my first word, before "mom" or "dad."), winter squashes, pumpkins, brussels sprouts, and grapes.

One of my most recent finds - and now obesessions - is a variety of apple wine from a vendor in New York. Eve's Cidery, based in Ithaca, NY, sells bottles of the most divine wines and essences produced from a rather unexpected ingredient: apples! My favorite kind of their apple wine is, hands down, their "Rustica," fruity and sweet, yet with 7% alcohol, does do the trick. I like it as an aperitif, but it would also go nicely with cheeses and wheatmeal crackers, or possibly even as a light dessert wine. Eve's also bottles an "Apple Essence," which truly is a sweet dessert wine, I will liken it a bit to Moscato or Sauternes, but with true apple flavor shining through and through. They were out of it this past week -- I hope it will re-appear, soon!

My other recent, well, it's not a find, as I found it many, many years ago. Rediscovery? Remembrance? Possibly. Walking my dogs two weeks ago, I looked up in the grape vines that overtake much of the roadside brush here in RI. I was simply expecting just to see the green leaves, but much to my surprise, I saw elegant clump after clump of wild concord (I would guess -- they taste like them) grapes! There are quite a view vineyards near us here (Sakonnet, Westport Rivers, to name two favorites), so I know it is a good climate for growing grapes, but I have never quite seen the bounty I have seen this year!

So, it was quite a delight to come back to RI last night and hear there is a large bag of grapes from a dear friend for us to use. I recently witnessed ABC Kitchen's Dan Kluger and Cindy Bearman make the most amazing Concord Grape tart, using real grapes to make the juice. With visions of a lovely pannacotta with a concord grape gelee floating through my head (and I don't particularly like pannacotta!), Dan and Cindy's recipe inspired me to do something similar with our grapes.

The grapes we have are particularly sweet, probably thanks to the abundance of sun we had this summer which helps to concentrate the grape flavor and sweetness. My only frustration was that I do not have a chinois at home, so I was squeezing a cheesecloth with my bare hands. Anyone who has played with dark grapes will know this -- grape juice really really stains! Nevertheless, it was a fun project, and I am looking forward to thinking about what to do with all this juice

What would you make or bake with fresh concord grape juice?

Fresh Grape Juice

4 large bunches of grapes, picked and washed, about 4 quarts
1 cup water

Place the washed grapes in the saucepan and add the water. Bring to a boil and then turn head to medium and cook 10 minutes, mushing the grapes well to remove the fruit from the skins, and seeds from the fruit. After 10 minutes, remove the grapes from the heat and let sit til about room temperature. Strain well through 4 layers of cheesecloth, or use a chinois. Either use, chill for use within a couple of days, or freeze. I've loved using it diluted with ginger ale (a la Transfusion, a favorite drink at the pool snack bar at the Bedford Golf & Tennis Club growing up), sparkling water, prosecco, or even a straight up sip (or two). SO so good!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Simple Summer Supper

It's been a while since I've written. I know. And a lot has changed!

My last post recapped some of my favorite places on a recent trip to California, as I was at the time looking to relocate out there. Since then, an internship I had in a test kitchen in New York ended, and just as it did (with a massive thunderstorm, complete with tornadoes), I got a job offer from an exciting new start-up in New York that will be a go-to food "mega-site." More details to come on that front over the next couple of weeks.

I find it interesting that everything -- internship, job, and who knows what else now -- has seemingly worked out on its own just beautifully. One thing ends and seamlessly transitions to another. I'm a huge believer in whatever happens, happens for a reason, and at the most perfect and elegant time. Like, right now, I'm working on finding and apartment. It's stressful, as you don't see places you like, then you do, and you have to put together the package, and are waiting on others for quotes and references. I'm tensing up just writing about it.

So, needless to say, I haven't been in the kitchen at all recently. However, I did cut myself pretty badly with a super-sharp chefs knife last week. Ok, not cut. Stabbed. Yup. Stuck the fleshy part of my hand between my thumb and forefinger pretty deeply with a 10" knife. I was so used to 8" knives that I spaced that one out. Don't recommend spacing out in a kitchen. Bottom line, a not wielding knives, hot pans, and lots of dishes was needed (and the cut healed perfectly on its own, thank goodness).

So, last night marked the first cooking venture in a while. I had some late-summer market treats that I wanted to use. Fresh baby arugula from Satur Farms on Long Island. This stuff is more tender, and rare I find, than their wild arugula. A small red onion from the greenmarket. Some basil pesto (did you know their formula is nut-free?!) from Bear Pond Farm, in Glastonbury, CT. And the last of the delicious and bright red tomatoes grown in my parents garden in Rhode Island. What was on the menu? Simple: cheese-stuffed spinach tortellini tossed with pesto and Satur Farm's baby arugula, topped with a mixture of garden tomatoes, garlic, and red onions, some toasted pine nuts, and a grating of gruyere.

The recipe itself is simple and can be tweaked however you wish.

6 smaller red tomatoes, sliced or rough chop
1 small onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt, to taste
Handful of pine nuts, toasted
1/2 package or 1 serving fresh spinach tortellini
Large handful arugula
1 heaping tablespoons pesto
Freshly grated gruyere (I didn't have parmigiano!)

Combine the tomatoes with the onion and garlic in a bowl, season with a pinch of salt, and let sit for an hour to let the flavors meld. NEVER store your tomatoes in the fridge! It kills the flavor.

Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan for the pasta. While the water boils, toast the pine nuts. Add the tortellini to the salted water and cook until they float, or however your package indicates. While the pasta cooks, place pesto in a large bowl. Drain the pasta, saving about 1/4 c pasta water to thin the sauce if you desire. Place drained tortellini in the bowl with the pesto. Add the arugula and toss. The heat of the pasta will slightly wilt the arugula.

Plate the pasta-greens mixture, and top with a heaping serving of the tomato mixture. Garnish with pine nuts and cheese. Eat immediately =)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

One of my most favorite places...

has become the San Francisco Bay Area.

As most of you know, I ventured out there this past week for some interviews, meetings, and, of course, to see some of my Middlebury friends who are living out there. My week's schedule was jam-packed down to 15 minute intervals, so there was not a lot of time for fun in the sun (or fog, as the first half of the week was graced with puffs of fog rolling in off the Pacific) like my trip two years back (The first of four posts is here) and our whirlwind of a weekend in wine country. However, I did have a chance to visit many new finds, and some old favorites. I couldn't resist not sharing them with you!

Tuesday: A whirlwind day of meetings on the peninsula, but some time for lunch and shopping in Palo Alto was a must. The perfect end to a delightfully (yes, I love the fog) foggy day? An inaugural BART trip, followed by dinner and drinks in San Francisco.

Must-try cafe for lunch in Palo Alto: Cafe Epi, 405 University Avenue, Palo Alto, CA

My most favorite store on University (and the source of this year's Christmas presents for my family): Dolma Handicrafts, 278 University Avenue, Palo Alto, CA

For dinner, we were going to try the wonderful gastrotavern, The Tipsy Pig. We walked in the the delightfully warm and friendly space, hoping for a cozy spot in from the cool breezes blowing in off the bay. However, despite there being a large table open (we figured only 1 waitress?), we were informed of a 45 minute wait. Discouraged, but not in despair, we went to the next stop we were torn between: Tacolicious! Much to our delight (and my hungry tummy's relief) we were seated immediately, and quickly presented with a pitcher of the margarita de la casa and multiple baskets of chips and perfectly spicy farmers market fresh salsa.

As someone who has a sensitive relationship with dried corn products, I was a bit wary of the menu. Yet, my fears were quickly allayed with the delightful array of farm-fresh produce filled dishes. I decided on the Marina Girl salad, heavily bolstered by homemade chips, salsa, and guacamole. As partial vegetarians, my friends fiance got a side of the Drunken Beans and my friend and I split the Heirloom Beans. Our Heirloom Beans blew the Drunken ones out of the water...perfectly warm and cooked just right. What a meal! And it wasn't just my next drink, the Fillmore Paloma with Elderflower and Grapefruit, that made it so good.

The perfect nightcap? A trip to Monaghan's for some tennis and white russians!

Wednesday: Another busy day, capped off by a rosé Mumm to celebrate my friends' engagement and my visit to CA, and of course the Federer vs. Soderling match on DVR. We followed this by a wonderful sushi for dinner in Milbrae: Zen Bistro, 420 Broadway Street, Milbrae, CA

The evening's nightcap? A bit of tasting at 750 mL: 227 South San Mateo Drive (@3rd), San Mateo, CA. Still thinking about the wonderful Malbec I had there...

Thursday brought a farewell to my friends in San Bruno (thank goodness the horrible explosion that night did not impact them, or their apartment, and all are safe) as I ventured off to San Fran for many meetings (with a quick adventure to the Ferry Building) before heading up to Berkeley for the night. I have three close friends all at business school at Haas, so what would a visit be to CA without stopping by to see their amazing home, sharing an amazing meal, and an introduction to "Speed Scrabble."

I've heard SO much about the Cheeseboard Collective in Berkeley all this summer, and my visit coincided perfectly with the North Berkeley Farmers Market. Two farmers marketing loving foodies, Amy and I easily agreed that a home-prepared meal with farmers market finds and the day's Cheeseboard pizza would be the perfect dinner. And the menu?

Local mesclun greens and edible flowers, with cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes and a balsamic dressing

Cheeseboard pizzas: local zucchini with red onion, mozzarella, feta, and pesto (this was AMAZING)

Super-sweet and juicy organic Berkeley peaches with Ici's rum-cinnamon-candied almond ice cream (too good to be true, again)

Friday: I had to wave the Bay Area goodbye (for now...) and head back to Manhattan. After a homemade breakfast of scrambled eggs, local Berkeley bread, and some homemade RI raspberry jam, it was off into the car. But, of course, my trip would not be complete without a stop at Berkeley's own Blue Bottle coffee brewer, Guerilla Coffee (and my friend Tyler's favorite).

Back in New York, I miss CA, all of my dear friends, and gracious hostesses, already very much (and the cooler weather!), but I have a feeling I may be back there, very, very soon...

Monday, September 6, 2010

California bound

So, Hurricane Earl has knocked on the door (hello massive waves in the SouthCoast MA/RI area) and ran away with his tail between his legs. Yup, not much of a storm Friday night. But, no complaints. We had a magnificent weekend to follow in his path (complete with a 45 mile ride, a sail on an old America's Cup 12 Meter boat, Weatherly, and a early morning 30 miler today) and Westport Rivers Pinot Noir harvest will remain on track (read on here for more info).

Not much cooking in the kitchen this weekend, and now I'm off en route to sunny and cool California (San Francisco, to be exact) for a week. I'll be back Friday, with maybe some cooking in my future Saturday. Certainly foodie news! No wine tasting in my agenda this week, but there might be big changes to come, so stay tuned for more information and news!

Happy September!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Figgy Finale

Saturday night's dinner was the culmination of two and half days of cooking my way through a batch of twenty fresh figs (and some dried ones, as well). Ever since my friends Meghan and Lindsay took me to Sfoglia to celebrate my birthday (the day before -- twas a week full of celebrations), I have been obsessed with a dish the chef, Ron, actually came to my former employer to cook: Pasta with Figs, Brown Butter, Basil, and Hazelnuts. I had a bag of handmade, homemade pappardelle in my freezer. More figs than I could eat in one sitting. And some fresh basil I had been growing for the past two weeks in a NY windowsill.

I started the evening off making a red wine-fig vinaigrette with a 1/3 full bottle of one of my favorite red wines (Heitz Cabernet -- loved visiting this winery!) and five dried figs I had on hand. I tossed this with some baby spinach from the greenmarket, and voila - a healthy dose of greens!

I then proceeded to finish cooking off my pasta and browning my butter. I added the fresh figs and basil, with a pinch of salt, to the browned butter and tossed them together, cooking them til the flavors
melded. To that I added my cooked pasta with about 1/4 c pasta water. Brought the mixture to a gentle boil and tossed the ingredients together while the sauce reduced slightly. Served with a healthy dose of grated gruyere, and a garnish of sauteed spicy Italian sausage (I had no toasted hazelnuts on hand, but the pasta is very good with plain, roasted, salted mixed nuts), it was a delicious dish to end a busy day.

Spicy Italian sausage

The finished dish, pasta atop greens

Red Wine Fig Vinaigrette

1 1/2 - 2 cups red wine
5-6 dried figs, quartered
6 demerara sugar cubes
2 tbsp champagne vinegar
Grapeseed oil (I used about 1/4 c)

In a 8" saucepan, bring figs and wine to a boil and reduce until about 1/4" deep (1/2 cup of liquid, or thereabouts). Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Remove from heat and let cool. Pour wine mixture into a jar and add oil and vinegar, shaking to homogenize. Season to taste.

Fig, Brown Butter, Basil Pasta
Serves 2

6 tbsp salted butter
8 figs, quartered
1/2 c basil leaves
Salt to taste
Pappardelle, or another thicker noodle, enough for 2 people
2 spicy Italian chicken sausages, cooked and sliced on the bias, optional
Toasted hazelnuts or mixed nuts, optional
Freshly grated gruyere to taste.

Boil water for the pasta. While the water comes to a boil, heat a 12" sautepan over medium heat. Add the butter and cook, swirling occasionally, until the butter begins to brown and smells nutty. Take the brown color to a dark chocolate color, remove the pan from the heat and add the figs and basil. Season to taste. Cook the pasta as instructed, draining all but 1/4 c pasta water. Add the pasta and reserved water to the sautepan (if it fits -- if not, add to pasta pot).  Toss gently and bring to a boil to reduce the sauce slightly. Plate the pasta, garnishing with chicken sausages and freshly grated gruyere. And basil chiffonade, if you please!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Molasses Madness

Everyone who reads this probably knows I'm a little nutty for granola. So, surprise surprise, I'm out of granola here in NYC and nothing storebought compares to my own.

The pantry here is very minimal, but I have the proper ingredients (oats, nuts, dried fruit, cinnamon, coconut) for my crunchy concoction. And a couple of new but effective -- and essential -- ingredients: blackstrap molasses (reminds me of my childhood, when I apparently was fed a teaspoon nightly. It's nutritious stuff, a concentrated liquid produced when refining sugar cane into (evil) white sugar, and an excellent source of iron, calcium, manganese, potassium and copper), coconut oil (again, VERY good for you, and helps boost your metabolism and helps moisturize your skin from the inside out. It's helped rid my hands of eczema in the winter!), and nutmeg (ever since my trip to the BVIs, I've fallen in love with this spice, freshly grated, again).

Couldn't resist sampling!

Molasses - Coconut Granola

3 c rolled oats
1/3 c flaxseed
1 c angelflake coconut
1/2-1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 of a nutmeg, freshly grated (about 1/4 tsp I think)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 c coconut oil, heated til liquid
1/2 c blackstrap molasses
1 c walnuts, raw
1/2 c mixed nuts
1 1/2 c dried fruits (I used dried figs, halved, and some dried sour cherries)

Toss the oats and spices together well. Combine and stir together oil and molasses with the salt and 1/4 c hot water. Pour over dry ingredients and combine well. Place on silpat lined baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees, tossing every 15 minutes to make sure the granola is toasting evenly.

Remove from oven and let cool. Pour into bowl and combine with dried fruits. Store in airtight container or in a freezer ziploc bag. And take a sample immediately to taste -- soo good!

A Figgy Weekend

So, it's the end of August -- one of my favorite times of year, not just because the sun at 5pm in RI is golden and lovely. Nope, not cause it's almost fall, when it's someone's birthday and the leaves change color and fall. And no, not because the days are getting shorter.

Instead, one (of many) reasons why I love this time of year is because the produce in the greenmarkets is amazing. The colors. The fragrance (yes, just walking past the Union Square Greenmarket, I can identify what is fresh from the ground with my eyes closed. It's intoxicating, especially when it is tomatoes and basil). And those magical figs.

This past week, I had the luck of hitting the figs just right. I brought home 20 figs, about 10 Kadota (large and green -- looks like Calimyrna, but is an American version of an Italian favorite) and 10 Black Mission (deep purple color and a rich flavor, planted by Spanish missionaries) fresh figs. Figs are known for their fiber, but also are a good source of calcium, potassium, and iron (a good treat after the killer workouts I've recently subjected myself to).

Fig 101: 8-10 o'clock are Kadota figs;
3-5 o'clock are black mission figs

Black Mission figs

Kadota figs

I usually buy dried figs in the market, as here on the East Coast, fresh figs are a rarity (I used to have a coworker who had a fig tree and would bring her bumper crop in to share with us. Heaven!). So, when I see fresh figs in the market, I buy a box or two and have lots of fun. I love figs with arugula, a maple-shallot dressing, proscuitto and shaved gruyere salads. Or a triple cream cheese, goat or cow with wheatmeal crackers and sliced figs. A favorite restaurant in CT serves figs with chorizo, piping hot, in ceramic cazuelas. It is SO good, that, with a couple of slices of their steaming hot bread and olive oil, I can call it a meal. I blame that dish for my recently purchasing their cookbook. Oh, Barcelona I love you.

Back to my twenty tender morsels. What, you ask, did I do with twenty whole figs and just my mouth to feed? Created some colorful, healthy, and yummy figgy dishes. I guess I can share my secrets with you!

Thursday's dinner - and my favorite: Arugula with maple-shallot dressing, aged goat cheese, proscuitto, sliced figs, and a couple of wheatmeal crackers for good measure.

Friday's breakfast: cinnamon oatmeal, topped with chopped fresh and dried figs, with some flaked coconut and a drizzle of maple syrup.

Friday's snack: Molasses/walnut/dried fig granola with a fresh fig (more details on this here)

Friday's dinner: More arugula with maple-shallot dressing, sliced figs, and shaved carrot, with some sauteed spicy Italian sausage.

Saturday's brunch: Chopped fresh figs with greek yogurt, more molasses-fig granola, and a bit of honeycomb on top.

And for le piece de resistance? Saturday's planned dinner (you will have to check back for the full report): attempting to make a fig-red wine vinaigrette to serve with spinach and wild arugula. Serving this with a riff on a recipe from one of my favorite Italian restaurant's in NYC, Sfoglia: homemade pappardelle with brown butter, figs, gruyere, and basil, and possibly some italian sausage tossed in there for protein!

We shall see how this turns out -- so stay tuned for another post later this week.