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...