Friday, May 28, 2010

So, the Weekend is Finally Here...

...and do you know what that means? The weather is supposed to be too beautiful to be inside. So, I'll be on a little mini blog-vacation.

But, that doesn't mean I'll be out of the kitchen. In fact, I've got some major eating and cooking to do this weekend. For a taste of what's to come, read on:

- Friday: Dinner at Pietra at The Stone House, Little Compton, RI. First Pietra meal of the summer season!
- Saturday: Seafood Risotto, our new family favorite
- Sunday: Memorial Day feast with friends and family! Nutted Wild Rice, BBQ Chicken, Grilled Marinated Flank Steaks, Green Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash and Curried Almond Dressing, chocolate souffle cakes and Jean-Georges Molten Chocolate Cakes - complete with Creme Anglaise and Raspberries

If you can't tie yourself over until next week -- here's another thought. Check out the Food Network's latest project, debuting Monday! The Cooking Channel...

So, get off your computer, and get outside. Happy Memorial Day!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A quick and easy dinner that is sure to surprise and satisfy

I recently purchased Dominique Browning's latest book, "Slow Love," in which she talks about the process of losing her former job as Editor of House and Garden magazine, selling and moving out of her children's childhood home outside of NYC, shaking off a relationship, and making peace with her "new" life. The way she rights delights me - it's so straightforward, yet like music. Ample description when there needs to be, and it flows at the most lovely, melodical pace. Her writing reminds me of my own stream of conciousness, letting one idea smoothly transition to another, illustrating the process along the way.

Many parts of this book, though she and I are in different stages of life, resonated with me, partly because I quit my job a year ago to travel and go to culinary school...and I'm still unemployed. The change of pace, making a "schedule" out of your otherwise unscheduled (compared to office life) day, the fight to either a) stay in pajamas, b) work out clothes (I've bought 2 pairs of Lululemon pants in the past 6 mos since there the perfect medium between clothes and pjs) versus putting on REAL clothes.

Being a foodie, there was one part of the book that really stopped me and made me think. She talks about how, when she first moved to RI, she would forget about meals, simply scrounging around in the pantry for whatever was on hand (usually peanut butter). She eventually moved on to muffins. But when her kids were around, she would often make souffles for them. She admits she isn't the best of cooks (following recipes don't always yield what they should), but she had mastered the souffle, and talk about how easy it is.

I love it. The irony of a souffle being super easy for the non-cook.

Being supremely competitive, I knew that if she could do it, so could I. Even though, outside of level 2 of culinary school, I've never made a proper souffle.

It is no surprise that a couple of days ago, in a moment of unemployment gloom, that my mind travelled to Dominique's book, and of course the souffles. What to make for dinner, just me, that will comfort and warm me on this damp, dreary day? Of course, a cheese souffle!

I knew I had Ina Garten's Blue Cheese Souffle on hand, but I didn't necessary want to use blue cheese. I always have a block of gruyere on hand, so I knew it would be easy to swap. Add in a couple of other adjustments, and I had myself the recipe for what I would soon find out to be a DELICIOUS dinner. Throw in some leftover roasted asparagus, and a healthy glass of red wine, and I soon forgot about my stresses, worries and frustrations of the day.

Simple Cheese Souffle
Inspired by Ina Garten
Serves 2

1 3/4 tbsp butter, plus more for greasing molds
grated parmesan for molds
1 3/4 tbsp flour
2/3 c milk
Salt and pepper
Pinch cayenne
Pinch nutmeg
3 egg yolks
4 oz cheese, grated (I used gruyere and parmesan)
3 egg whites
Pinch of cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter the insides of 2 3 cup souffle dishes (I used Apilco ones) and cover with parmesan.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add the flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Off the heat, add the milk, 1/4 tsp salt, black pepper, cayenne, and nutmeg and whisk well. Bring back to heat and cook, over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture is nicely thick and smooth. Back off the heat, whisk in the egg yolks, one at a time, and then the cheese.

In a mixer, combines the whites, cream of tartar, and a pinch of salt and whip, with whisk attachment, until smooth and glossy stiff peaks.

Whisk 1/4 of the whites into the cheese mixture to lighten, then add the cheese to the whites and gently and quickly fold (it should not be fully homogenous). Pour into souffle dishes, smooth the top, and draw a ring around the top, about 1/2" from the sides to help aid in puffing. Place in oven, turning it down to 375, and let bake until very golden and puffed, about 30 minutes (it might look done, as mine did after 15 minutes, but the top was still wobbly, indicating the egg mixture wasn't fully cooked at the top.

Serve immediately!!

Meatless days means a craving for meat at night

In my recent effort to eliminate processed foods from my diet, I've started to eat a mostly plant-based diet during the day (save for milk and cheese). It's pretty easy for me, especially as it is getting warmer out and my appetite is changing, craving lighter, less "heavy" foods.

However, that is not to say I have intense meat cravings every other day or so. For example, Tuesday. It was a relatively cold, rainy day. I had started my day off (too early, if you ask me) in New York City and hopped Amtrak back to Rhode Island that afternoon. I was exhausted from going to an event the night before, and running around Manhattan that morning, doing errands. I had grabbed a mesclun salad with pecans, goat cheese, and dried cranberries for lunch. Yet, it didn't quite do the trick

So, by the time I got to Whole Foods in Providence, I had already been masterminding my dinner: asparagus, roasted simply. A hunk of my favorite olive bread from Seven Stars Bakery. Throw in some sauteed oyster and shittake mushrooms, some raisins, salted dried nuts, maybe even put it on a bed of my favorite Satur Farms arugula. And the crowning glory? A couple of slices of delicious rosemary-garlic marinated and grilled grass-fed flank steak. Mmm.

The marinade itself is super easy. I whipped it together in about 10 minutes and let it sit in the fridge for about an hour and 45 minutes. I took it out of the fridge as I started to prep the other ingredients for my meal, so it sat and came to room temp for about 30 minutes. Grilled it about 4 minutes per side, and let it rest for 10. Super fast, easy, clean. Oh, and did I mention tasty?

Here are the shittakes and oyster mushrooms sauteeing. I used a little dry sherry and a hit of cream for flavor. They are excellent even 2-3 days later, tossed cold in a salad, or in a sandwich with some leftover steak.

I've written about roasting asparagus before. Blanch it quickly, then toss with olive oil and a pinch of salt. Broil in oven til it starts to take on color. Season to taste -- or add some grated cheese -- and enjoy.

Here's my steak, kind of still resting (I got excited and had to sample before my 10 minutes were up!). 

Rosemary-Garlic Marinade
(good for about 1 - 1.5 lbs of meat)

1/4 c olive oil
1/4 c honey
1/4 c soy sauce
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 stalks rosemary, chopped
black pepper
1/2 tsp salt

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Place steak in a 9x13" glass pan and pour marinade over. Let sit in fridge for 2 hours, turning every 30 minutes. Before cooking, let meat come to room temperature. Grill steak to desired doneness, about 4 minutes per side. Let rest before slicing against the grain.

The finished result. Yum.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Insider Secrets from the French

My friend Lindsay -- The Lunch Belle -- is a huge francophile. When she shared with me, a self-professed healthy eater and active "athlete" that she was embarking on a new healthy eating and fitness regime, I was delighted and excited for her. As a little bit fun reading and a bit more of positive reinforcement, I gave her a copy of one of my favorite healthy eating books, "French Women Don't Get Fat" by Mireille Guiliano.

So, naturally I was supremely excited when I learned that she was given the opportunity to personally interview Mme Guiliano on the occasion of the publication of her newest book -- the cookbook "The French Women Don't Get Fat Cookbook."

I am so proud of Lindsay, so I couldn't resist linking to her interview on her site: check it out here!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Lazy Night's Dinner

This week, I've been in Rhode Island, helping to take care of my family's two labs (this is their debut, so I've included a picture from their ride out over the Invisible Fence for a walk). This early in the season, the regular local farmer's markets are not up and running yet. The local grocery store, as much as I love it and the immense variety and quality of goods they stock, does not supply the organic and fresh produce I'm looking for. And, when you're as tired as I've been this week, driving to Providence to go to Whole Foods is just not in the books. Plus, it requires me driving the car -- which I have only done ONCE since Sunday. Gotta love being green =)

So last night, 5pm rolled around, I was utterly fatigued from a big bike ride and walking the dogs, was curled up in the sun reading a cookbook I got my mom for Mother's Day...and STARVING. I clearly had kind of left myself in a bit of a pickle for dinner. The night prior, I had sauteed up some wild mushrooms and dried porcinis for a lovely mushroom ragu with my spinach and ricotta raviolis, and served it with a simple arugula and avocado salad. But, I was left with 1/4 of a box of arugula, a handful of mache, no more vegetables in the house...but some strange odds and ends. A link of my favorite smoked gouda and apple sausage and five winter squash raviolis lay in the freezer. Plus, I had a bit of dried cherries and cranberries left over from the granola I made. Add to that the wonderful dried figs I had purchased Monday, and I had a dinner idea! Raviolis with chicken sausage, dried fruit and toasted pistachios in a brown butter sauce with a lovely Tuscan-inspired green salad with mushrooms, parmigiano and balsamico.

First off, I prepped the water for my raviolis and chopped up my dried fruit (I used the dried cherries cranberries whole, and chopped up my figs. I had some dried plums that we incredibly dry, so I reconstituted them in a bit of hot water, then chopped them in half). I then cooked my chicken sausage. Ok, I have to admit I used the microwave to defrost and reheat it since I didn't want to clean the grill after cooking one sausage. I know. Lazy, right?

Once the water was boiling, I added in my ravioli and then got started on the salad. I tossed what greens I had left over with a heaping tablespoon of my sauteed mushrooms from the night before. I grated on top some parmigiano for a saltier flavor, a pinch of Maldon salt, a drizzle of some rich balsamico and a light pour of olive oil. I gently tossed the mixture together and plated it (and sampled it, too).

Once the raviolis were done, I drained them and saved a bit of the pasta water. In a small sauteuse, I heated up about a tablespoon of my favorite "pasture" butter, made from milk produced by cows grazing on spring grasses. It's amazing stuff. I then heated it until it began to brown.

When properly browned, I quickly added in my raviolis, dried fruit, and a bit of pasta water. I gently tossed this mixture to coat all ingredients and brought to a simmer to reduce the sauce. I plated my raviolis along side my salad, and tossed some toasted pistachios on top, and voila -- dinner is served.  

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Piecing Italian Memories together -- with Pici

Last June, most of my family (minus a sister) ventured to Italy for a three week vacation. Most of the time, we were in Tuscany, specifically in the Val D'Orcia, near La Foce, a beautiful garden/estate.

The Italians know how to live life: good wine, a beautiful landscape, wonderful accomodations (and delightful sleep!), and amazing food.

One of the dishes we all loved -- and were determined to replicate once we got home to the US -- was pici.

So, last Wednesday, the second evening my grandfather was home, the temperatures had dropped to a high of 50 degrees F, and grilling burgers outside on the grill was no longer appealing to us. We had invited my cousins, who lived in the next town over, to dinner, too. Burgers for 10 on the grill in the cold? Yeah, not happening. So, my mom and I re-thought the menu. What about using our grass-fed ground beef to make a bolognese sauce, complete with raw milk from Sankow's Beaver Brook Farm? Brilliant, if you ask me. If you haven't tried this milk yet, you must. I'm a convert and used to only drink skim milk, which is really not good for you. This changed my life, and my dry skin! Inspired by our trip to Italy, we decided to make homemade pasta, too. Except our rollers were in storage. Pici, however, would be perfect as we rolled it by hand. Yes, time consuming. But, grab some friends, pour yourselves a cocktail, and have fun.

We followed a recipe by a dear woman named Dania who we met at her restaurant La Chiusa in Montefallonico. If you're ever in Tuscany, the food there is outstanding!

Dania's Pasta Dough:
1 cup flour
1 whole egg
1 tablespoon olive oil
Large pinch of salt

Combine the salt and flour in a bowl and mix well. Add the egg and oil and mix until well combined. Turn the dough out on a smooth floured surface and knead until shiny. I let it rest for 30 minutes under a damp towel before breaking off small pieces and rolling it on a wooden surface to make pici (like fat hand-rolled spaghetti), about 1/8" or so thick (it was very elastic, so it's okay if it's will just need to cook longer).

We let the pici dry out a bit before cooking it in an abundant amount of salty (like the ocean!) water. We served it with sauteed zucchini "spaghetti", a puree of butternut squash, the bolognese, fresh ricotta and parmigiano cheeses, and a loaf of Wave Hill Bread. And, for dessert? My mom's specialty: Passion Fruit Panna Cottas.*

* Many of these recipes I have yet to try, including Bolognese and Panna Cotta, on my own. As soon as I do, I will share the tale and images with you!

Simple Spring Weeknight Dinner

Last week was a week of firsts and lasts. Last week staying at my grandfather's home in Bedford, NY, last week of living near Fairfield County, CT (where I grew up). First week that my grandfather came back North from Florida, first week of amazingly abundant spring produce (Mushrooms! Asparagus! Baby greens! Fiddleheads!). And the first week of multiple nights of homecooked feasts. Oh, definitely not just dinners. Feasts with a couple of courses and many offerings.

First up: Tuesday night's dinner. I went to my favorite local market Table in Bedford Hills and spotted a basket of amazing locally foraged fresh mushrooms. I'm slightly obsessed, so how could I resist not bringing a bunch home?! My selections, clock-wise from top: Hen of the Woods mushrooms (these were chopped in smaller pieces for cooking), Morels, Shittakes, a couple of baby Cremini, and Lionsmane mushrooms.

Here is a close-up some Hen of the Woods, Morels, a couple of Shittakes, and I think some Creminis, too. Yum!

Here they are in the pan, sauteing nicely. The picture is really terrible, my apologies. Proper lighting is key!

So, you ask. Dinner of mushrooms alone? No! We started off with some of Effy's Oatcakes (like wheatmeal biscuits in a way, but butter-ier and flakier and crisper. And Oatier!) with some Monterey Thyme and Olive Oil Chevre and some raw local honey from Cortlandt Manor, NY. Heavenly bites to curb the hunger yet whet the appetite! With this, some had their gin on the rocks, others a bit of chardonnay, and most a Venetian "spritz:" Aperol, Prosecco, a hint of sparkling water, and a twist of lemon. 

I then steamed some fresh asparagus. Now, I grew up always choosing organic produce. But, I've learned over time, that organic asparagus doesn't necessarily mean you are bringing home the best asparagus. What do I look for? Pretty fat stems, which means they are usually more crisp, flavorful, and not too tough. Also, the heads are very tightly compact and intact. If the heads are bumped and bruised, with pieces missing, I'll forgo the vegetable and choose something else. As for origins, if I can get local (which I did the other day from Four Town Farm in Seekonk, MA - it was utterly amazing!), I will choose local. Otherwise, asparagus from California is next on my list. I broke off the stems where they broke naturally near their base with my hands, and plopped them in a saute pan of boiling water, about 1" deep and lightly salted, and cooked them til al dente (how I like them). I then drained and let them sit on paper towels to cool slightly. 

Now, for the secret surprise, which we made especially for my grandfather after our first try at Easter: Easy Hollandaise. I know, I know. Easy hollandaise you might ask? It's like an oxymoron! Yes, hollandaise, made the classic way with a sabayon of egg that is gently cooked over a double boiler and clarified butter is added until properly homogenized, is a very temperature-sensitive nightmare (having made it in a kitchen where the stove is blazing, but the AC is blasting and a step away from the stove results in a 20 degree temperature change, is a nightmare). Yet, I came across a fool-proof recipe...foolproof as long as you use GOOD butter, as I'll tell you later.

Ina Garten developed this recipe, and it is published in her Barefoot in Paris cookbook. I tweaked it a bit as she uses SO much salt (ironically, my mom who is more salt-sensitive than I am didn't have an issue with the flavor, but I did!). Here is my modified version, below:

12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1.5 sticks)
4 large egg yolks, at room temperature
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tsp salt
Generous pinch of finely ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper

Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Place the yolks, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and cayenne into a blender (make sure you have a decent blender...).. Mix on high for 15 seconds. With the blender on low, slowly pour in hot butter (only do this if your blender can keep it from splashing about. Mine couldn't). Blend on high for 30 seconds, or until thick and the mixture is homogenous. Test for seasoning and keep at room temperature.

Now, when I made this over Easter, I used Plugra butter and my Kitchen Aid blender and it was foolproof. I could chill it overnight, reheat it and stir it and it would be just like new. Now, when I made this in Bedford, I used Vermont Butter and Cheese Butter (very good on bread, just not in my hollandaise) and I could not keep the mixture properly emulsified. It kept breaking! I also wondered if it was my blender, some cheap thing that I kept worried was going to break and fall apart. Alas, but it tasted just marvelous with the steamed asparagus. 

I also made a simple green salad with cucumbers, mango, avocado, blue cheese, and toasted walnuts -- a classic combination that my family relies on time and time again. 

Lastly, since my mom had been running errands all day, and I was at the airport, neither of us had time to make the main entree from scratch. Luckily, she was in the city and was able to stop by one of our favorite places (um, some of us used to live was TOO good to be true!!), Eli Zabar's Vinegar Factory. Eli makes SO many delicious foods to take home, including asian salmon, spinach stuffed chicken, chicken parmesan, along with fresh breads, soups, salad bar items, and SO SO SO much more. A family favorite? His turkey meatloaf. She brought home some slices for me to serve with the rest of our meal, along with some family members' favorite: mashed potatoes.

The perfect way to finish off the delicious and VERY healthy dinner we prepared? Make your own cookie sundaes. Mom had picked up some of Eli's flourless chocolate cookies (not as good as Payard's, I think), butterscotch somethings, and coconut macaroons. I picked up some vanilla ice cream and our family's all-time favorite, coffee heath bar crunch (can you tell two of us went to school in VT?!). With some of Laduree's Beurre Sale Caramel and homemade chocolate sauce, it hit my sweet craving on the spot!