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 favorite...as 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!