Friday, July 30, 2010

The Best o' Pesto!

Photo courtesy of http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/001570.html

One of my all time favorite foods, along with apples, peanut butter, bananas, and granola, is pesto. I do not even recall the first time I tried the food. By 7th grade, however, I was hooked. I remember many times, when I was over at my friend Annie's house, when we feasted like queens on pesto pasta. A couple of years later, after the publication of Ina Garten's first cookbook, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, my sister often snacked on pine nuts, peas, and Parmigiano. Following in her flavor combination, I upped the ante, snacking on (what is even today a comfort snack) pesto, pine nuts, peas and Parmigiano.

This past weekend, my mom was having friends over for lunch. We had an amazing raw tomato "sauce" made from locally grown, organic tomatoes from Wishing Stone Farm. I had picked up some delicious locally made cheese raviolis from Nonni's in Tiverton, RI. The perfect compliments? A salad of greens and beans from our garden, a crusty durum stick of bread from Seven Stars, and my pesto, made with love from our lovely locally grown (outside the kitchen door!) basil.

Basil Pesto

Ratios derived from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food

6 garlic cloves
Pinch salt
3/4 c lightly toasted pignoli nuts
2 bunches fresh basil
3/4 c freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Olive oil

In a food processor, puree garlic and salt until a chunky paste. Wipe down sides and add in toasted and cooled nuts. Process again until a chunky paste. Add the basil, in batches, chopping down into 1/4" or so chunks. Add the cheese, process again, scraping down the sides before and after processing. With the food processor on, add in oil, blending until you get the consistency you prefer. For the batch I just made, I kept the pesto thick, so I could spread it like a tapenade on crostini. When I want to toss it with warm, fresh pasta, I can just save a cup or so of pasta water to thin out the pesto into a sauce of proper consistency.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Thought for the day


So, I subscribe to Rob Brezny's horoscopes, thanks to an old friend, Mary. 



I found this week's reflections interesting, given that I've recently felt the "how are yous" and the "catch you laters" are utterly devoid of emotion, and just filling space and buying time when we are not in touch with our own feelings.

So, for my sign, Rob said: 

"
During the Tang Dynasty, a golden age of Chinese culture, educated people didn't use clich├ęd salutations to begin and end their encounters with each other. No "Hi, how you doing?" or "See you later. Take care." Instead, they improvised creatively, composing poetic riffs appropriate for the occasion. "Your face is especially bright today. Are you expecting to see a lucky cloud?" or "I'll bask in your glories again later. In the meantime, may you find a brisk blend of elegance and mischief." I'd love to see you do something like that, Libra. It's prime time to boost your alliances to a higher octave. Give more to your collaborators, and ask for more, too. "

I love the phrase, " I'll bask in your glories later. In the meantime, may you find a brisk blend of elegance and mischief." To me, if you say what you truly feel, it is more honest, open, geniune. I'm kind of getting the hang of sharing my true feelings and thoughts, and thus giving more, to people after many years of holding it all in in fear of being outcast. However, I'm not very good at trying to get the real emotions and feelings from others. Maybe it is them, they aren't ready to open up. But, I can gently persist by leading by example. I feel like the information I sometimes need is just right there, within reach or a conversation, but I don't want to come off as needy, demanding, or mean by saying "I have to know this. Now!" 

This week's reflections change that. I'm given permission to give and share more, and also ask for more. In retrospect, a certain conversation I had last week comes to mind with regards to this exact sharing of information. And, quite a few days, and much space, later, it's true. You give more, you certainly do get more.

What do you think?


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The way I started my day

I first heard about Kate Moller through her mom, the renowned renaissance woman, Christiane Northrup. I recently subscribed to Kate's weekly "newsletters" (more like inspirational or reflective prose that truly resonates with me). This week's arrived in my inbox this morning, and as I rode the bus to work, I read it, absorbing every word with every cell of my body. I am a queen of daydreaming, of what can and will be. And it is a problem at times, especially these days, as I feel like I shouldn't get too excited for what may be and instead focus on what my reality is. Regardless, I thought, this certainly is something I've been thinking about. There must be others thinking the same.


Thus, I feel I need to share this piece with you. Nearly obligated to share it. And, I'd like to ask you the same questions Kate has asked: 




What is it that you truly desire?
Have you ever felt like you were waiting for someone or something outside yourself before you gave yourself permission to go for your dream?
How do you practice being in the moment?
Do you think you can be present right now while fantasizing about something happening in the future, or are the two mutually exclusive?

I hope you enjoy.  

Monday, July 26, 2010

Rainy Day Ratatouille

From: http://thesaltystudent.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/feature_ratatouille.jpg

Watching Ratatouille on a rainy day you mean? No -- not the movie (in which, I learned last week, Thomas Keller was involved in designing and outfitting the kitchen and the food cooked in it)!!

I mean the famed, classic French vegetable dish, composed of bell peppers, zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes (and sometimes summer squash) slowly cooked together. I know, vague, right? I guess I have just had my fair share of ratatouilles in my life, each of which was made in a different way. Ratatouille in college was a slow cooked mess of the above vegetables, probably seasoned with some dried oregano of sorts. A pretty tasty cooked vegetable for a college dining hall in the dead of winter in VT (yes, in September we ate like kings: fresh organic baby lettuces and ruby red tomatoes grown in the school's Organic Garden. In March, not so much...).

Then there was the life-altering ratatouille omelette experience in Provence. It was 3pm on a given day, and we had been visiting the market in St-Remy-de-Provence. We were driving back to our villa in Cadenet, but failed to do anything for lunch. We came across a lovely fine dining establishment we had read about, and hoped to get a bite to eat, only to learn the kitchen had closed. In despair, we were about to get back in the car and resort to a lunch of cheese and cracker, when the news delivered was taken back. They would love for us to dine with them, if we were okay with eating omelettes and bread. All I can say is that no other omelette has yet to compare (even the lovely french omelettes rolled by my dear French chefs at FCI). The magic ingredient? The most amazingly tender and sweet ratatouille filling. The vegetables were cut in dainty slices, cooked all the way through, yielding an almost caramelly flavor.

And then, one of my favorite experiences, making ratatouille at culinary school, only to have Chef Jacques Pepin come in and tell us all about the "proper" way to make ratatouille. We were going along our merry way, preparing our vegetables and cooking them slowly over the heat of the stove in a large pot, until all of the different textures of the different vegetables broke down to yield one uniform texture, and uniquely blended flavor. Chef Pepin corrected our technique, instead informing us that a truly French ratatouille was made by slowly roasting each vegetable independant from one another, and then combining it to finish.

Though I have still yet to find out which technique is the true, traditional way, I've gone on to make my own version. Like the ratatouille in my omelette in Provence, I love a caramelly flavor, and a texture that is more compote-like than chunky-saucy. However, in the summer, when organic produce is abundant from the garden, I like to keep the cooking-down of the vegetables to a minimum, leaving the zucchini cooked yet still retaining its sense of identity and form, and the tomatoes and peppers identifiable in their similar red states.


Without further ado, my ratatouille recipe, inspired by the recipe from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food.

Ratatouille

1 medium eggplant, cut in 1/2" dice
Salt
2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium yellow onions
4-6 garlic cloves
1/2 bunch basil
Pinch chili flakes
2 sweet bell peppers
2 medium zucchini
3 medium tomatoes
6 basil leaves, chiffonade

Toss eggplant in salt and let drain for 20 minutes in a colander. Drain. Saute in oil over medium high heat and set aside. Heat 2 more tbsp oil in a 6 qt saucepan and saute the onions over medium high heat for about 7 minutes, or until they are translucent. Add the garlic, half bunch basil (keep whole, tied together with string), a pinch of salt and chili flakes. Cook for about 2-3 min. Add the peppers and cook 3 minutes more. Then add the zucchini and cook another 3 minutes. Lastly, add the tomato and cook 10 minutes more. Add in the cooked eggplant and cook for about 10-15 min more, or until the mixture has reached your preferred consistency (if you wish to take the long and slow path, turn your heat down to a simmer and let the pot go, checking every so often and giving it a stir. I like cooking it over heat until the zucchini is barely cooked through, and then letting it sit, off the heat, for another 10-20 minutes to carryover). Check seasoning and serve at room temperature or warm, as you wish, garnished with basil chiffonade.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A sweet and salty marriage


As my post yesterday briefly mentions, I was in a bit of a culinary craze Saturday night. I couldn't quite get enough of the kitchen, which, as I think about it now, is hilarious given the fact that come Monday through Friday, when I'm working nearly 12 hours a day on my feet (or schlepping about the steamy Manhattan streets), I don't even want to set FOOT in a kitchen come 7:30pm and a hot shower. Glass of wine, and a comfy chair, now that is more my style.

Anyways, back to my escapades Saturday. I had already whipped up an amazing gazpacho. I had been busy in the kitchen at work on Thursday, making a vegetarian chili that I shared with my parents for lunch Friday as they were unpacking their new apartment in Greenwich Village. I had also swiped a half pint of a caramelized onion mixture, more of a compote or jam, with the intentions of something along the lines of a pissaladiere, but with a tart dough (um, kind of craving it. Which is pathetically sad, given it is essentially butter and flour. Only me). A quick brainstorm, and I pulled out Alice Water's The Art of Simple Food. She's ingenious, and when I'm looking for a simple yet foolproof and tasty recipe, I always consult this book. Sure enough, she's hit the nail on the head as usual this time and I found a perfect savory tart dough recipe that would suit the ideas flowing around my head.

So, my thoughts: a savory tart dough, speckled with a healthy scattering of herbes de provence. Spread on top a thick layer of caramelized onion (and I later learned some finely chopped olives) jammy compote, and a scattering of nicoise olives (sadly, my local market's were uber salty...). Folded crostata style, very impromtu and simple. A quick dusting of freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano. And voila! Served warm, this little bugger is a perfect complement to a hearty green salad for a light lunch for four (or for a lunch for two, if you've got the appetite I've had today).

Without further ado, more tasty images and of course, the recipe:


Caramelized Onion and Olive Tart

1/4 c ice cold water
1 c flour
6 tbsp salted butter (I am obsessed with Organic Valley's Pasture Butter)
Healthy bit of Herbes de Provence (I used about 2-3 tbsp)
Onion jam
Herbed nicoise olives, pitted

Make a well in the flour in a small mixing bowl. Add the butter, diced in 1/2" chunks, and use your fingers to mix the flour into the butter, creating pea sized pieces. Add a tablespoon of water, and mix (I didn't need much water to bring the mixture into a flakey ball). Once you can kind of bring the butter/flour/water mixture to a ball formation, turn the mixture out onto a lightly floured marble surface (use a pastry cloth if you don't have a suitable kneading surface, and have some bench flour nearby). Knead dough until it comes together into a ball. You can let it rest for 30 minutes, but I was in such a rush I quickly rolled the dough out into roughly a 13" diameter circle. I spread my jam mixture in a 10" circle, and folded over the bare edges of the dough, crostata style, for the tart edges. Scattered the olives on top and popped it into a 375 degree oven for approximately 45 minutes, but watching for when the edges got golden. As soon as it came out, I let it cool for 10-15 minutes, and grated some fresh parmigiano on top. Et voila! Bon appetit!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Have you had your daily vegetable serving?


I don't know what got into me yesterday. Maybe it was all the thinking and stewing about various priorities in my life (hey, I was in need of a major dose of comfort, and I didn't get all I needed, so cooking is my next resort, and it always works). Maybe it was the full day ahead of me in Lil Rhody, free to let me do whatever I damn well pleased. Maybe it was the fact that I spend 12 hours of every work day standing on my feet, chopping, trimming, weighing and cooking various pieces of produce and protein. Who knows, but I was totally in a cooking and baking mood last night. Give me a glass of Sakonnet Vidal Blanc and stand back. She's on a roll.

What was the first thing on my task list? Gazpacho. My aunt made some the week before last, and it was good, but I was determined to top that (sorry Brooke!). As I rushed out the door to make it to the local fish market by 6 (I had 20 minutes, and it takes 15 minutes to get there. I made it, in the end), I grabbed one of my new favorite go-to cookbooks, and dashed out the door.

This recipe is derived from The Silver Palate's New Basics Cookbook (it's a good one. My new favorite, seafood risotto, is from this same tome). I tweaked a couple of items, based on what I found at the market (organic green peppers (from Wishing Stone Farm, in Little Compton, RI. Keep up the GREAT work Skip and Liz, and keep nurturing the relationship with Lees. I'll keep buying!!!), organic cilantro, and TONS of organic tomatoes (Wishing Stone Farm, again! Omg, I think I died and went to heaven eating these big, fat, juicy morsels!). Hey, you gotta go with what's fresh and local. Oh, of course and organic.

A perfect dinner idea for tonight. Or tomorrow. It's hotter than Hades out there (98 in Providence at 4!). Can't you tell I'm looking forward to slaving over a stove tomorrow? Not...

Local Gazpacho

1/3 c red wine vinegar (I used the O brand Cabernet vinegar. It's full flavored, as far as red wine vinegars go. I'm not a huge fan of this kind of vinegar anyways)
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
3 eggs (organic! I love The Country Hen)
5 monsterous tomatoes (or 6 large), coarsely chopped
2 red bell peppers, coarsely chopped
1 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
2 yellow onions, coarsely chopped
2 large shallots, coarsely chopped
2 large (or in my case, 4 small pickling cukes)
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
salt to taste
2/3 c chopped cilantro

Mix the vinegar, oil, and eggs together, whisking well. In a food processor, process the vegetables in batches, adding a little bit of the egg mixture to thin out the soup. Transfer to a large bowl or pitcher which will enable you to combine all the ingredients once they are all processed. Continue to finely chop all vegetables in the food processor and combining in the bowl. Add the cilantro to the last batch of vegetables and finely chop. Once all ingredients are chopped and in the bowl, stir well to combine. Season to taste and serve. A perfect dinner for a super hot day.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Better late than never

So, I promised you all before I left that I'd document my travels to the BVIs. Well, life kind of got ahead of me and that didn't happen. Instead, one of our fellow boat-mates beat me to the catch, and did a superb job documenting the trip, our on and off water adventures, and of course, our daily happy hour routine.

Without further ado, Kevin and Abby's blog.

Sweet secret treats

My dear friend La Bon Vivantella came to Rhode Island for the 4th of July holiday weekend. Having grown up in the area, I knew the ins and outs of the best places to eat. Of course, she had heard of Gray's Ice Cream in Tiverton Four Corners. She went, she tried, and yes, she fell in love (it's all documented here). Yes, it's pretty darn good (especially anything with coffee oreo. Cabinet, please?!). But little did she know that Gray's has been one-upped in my mind (hello, no chemicals, fillers, additives) by The Daily Scoop!

The Daily Scoop was started in Barrington in 2000. There are now two shops, as they opened an additional one in Bristol, RI. They pride themselves on using only the highest quality ingredients and small, carefully made batches. The hard work pays off -- this might be the best ice cream I've EVER had. My favorites? Coffee Oreo, Maple Walnut, Coconut Almond Fudge, and Kahlua Fudge Brownie. Oh yum... You must try their products (check their website to see if your local grocer carries their product!)

Ps. for the BEST curried chicken salad sandwich you have EVER eaten, you MUST try The Provender, diagonally across from Gray's in Tiverton Four Corners!

Oh dear me

I've been too busy. Too busy even, last week, to fit in exercise (I guess it doesn't help that I was exhausted at the end of each day, and getting 4-6 hours of sleep). SO not me, SO not healthy.

Before the crazy week began, however, I was able to enjoy one last "holiday" weekend in Rhode Island over the 4th. Lots of family gatherings, and my dear friend La Bon Vivantella even came to visit.

She has been training for a sprint triathlon that, had I not recently gone sailing for two weeks, and fallen off the training bandwagon last week, I would have joined her on. Sadly, I'm not in shape to compete (next time!). Regardless, I led her on one of my favorite bike rides of ALL time.

Visit her blog to read more and see the details on the route!