Sunday, December 9, 2007

Apple Cake

All week long I've been looking for a recipe for an apple cake to bring to a party on Saturday night. But not just any apple cake. An apple cake that would wow; not one that would just sit on table and look like a regular old cake, without hinting at the
appleness of it. I spent at least a half an hour a day every day googling recipes. I tore through all of our cookbooks. I called my mother. I don't know why I got it into my head that I wanted to make an apple cake, except that there was a New York Times recipe for one from a few weeks ago that I wanted to make, but then decided I didn't like. This is what I made; it's an adaptation of a recipe I found by simply typing in some of the ingredients. It was a hit.

Apple Yogurt Cinnamon Nut Bundt Cake

The layer of walnuts and cinnamon ribboned in the middle and on top of this cake is what makes it special. It's pretty rich, so make sure you get at least 20 thin slices out of it. It takes quite a while to prepare everything, and over an hour to bake.

Equipment needed: a bundt cake pan, a food processor or chopper, a hand-mixer, a spatula, two medium-sized bowls and one large bowl.

2 1/2 cups walnuts (other nuts can be substituted)
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup melted butter

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
2 large eggs, room temperature (take out of the fridge 30 minutes before using)
1 1/4 cups low- or no-fat plain yogurt (you could probably use vanilla)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups of chopped apples, kind of cubed coarsely, big enough to bite into and taste! I used Gala apples, but I'm sure plenty of kinds work well.

Preheat 350 degrees

Butter a bundt pan and then flour (shaking out excess flour)

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt

In a small food processor, chop the walnuts, 3 teaspoons cinnamon, and 1/2 cup sugar until the nuts are chopped. Add in 1/4 cup melted butter and pulse once or twice to combine, place in a small bowl, set aside.

To make the cake: In a large bowl beat the 1 cup softened butter with 1-1/4 cups sugar at high speed with an electric mixer for about 5 minutes. Add in eggs and beat well. Beat in yogurt and vanilla until smooth. Reduce the speed to low and add in the flour mixture, mixing just until blended. The batter will be thick. Add in all but about 1/4 cup of the chopped apples; mix to combine.

Sprinkle one-third of the nut mixture evenly into bottom of the bundt pan. Lay 1/4 cup of the chopped apples over the nut mixture.

Spoon just under half of the batter on top of the nut mixture, spreading out with a spatula. Sprinkle another 1/3 of the nut mixture over the batter, and then spoon another just-less-than-half of the batter over that layer of nuts. Sprinkle the last 1/3 of the nut mixture onto this layer of the batter, and then dollop with the remainging cake batter, spreading it over the nuts with a spoon or spatula. Don't worry if some of the nuts roll up into the batter...this will be on the bottom of the cake.

Bake for about an hour, an hour and 15 minutes, or until cake tests done

Cool cake in the pan on a rack for about 1 hour, then run a thin knife around the inner edges

Place rack on top of the pan, then flip to invert onto rack

Cool completely, wrap, and bring to your party!

You can drizzle a simple icing over the top, but that's not really necessary.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Eating out is usually disappointing from a culinary point of view. Food is rarely prepared or served better than what you can actually do for yourself at home if you put some effort into it. But sometimes, sometimes you come across a place where the food is so good, you want to ask the chef if you can just sit on a stool in the corner to watch him work for a little while.

Tonite we went to a smooth, relatively new restaurant in SoHo called Tailor. It opened up in September to mixed reviews....the chef, Sam Mason, designed a crazy menu combining all different kinds of sweet and savory tastes in the same dish. Mason himself seems like a bit of an egomaniac, and there certainly seems to have been some crazy excesses (wait-staff uniforms made by an English tailor, which the staff had to buy for themselves--outrage), but the food was really really good. And the ambiance was nice as well. Waitstaff were nice, the drinks were interesting and strong. I ordered a Bohemia, which was tequila, becherovka, and naranya agria; D ordered a Crumble, which was brown butter rum, pink clove, and something called scrumpy. We had to switch after the first sip. We had decided to order one appetizer and one entree each, and settled on Peeky Toe Crab with basil, pine nut puree, and topped with a pineapple foam for the starter, and Short Ribs with pureed root vegetable (not sure what it was) and carrots. Both dishes were absolutely delicious, but the short ribs. I don't even know what to say. All I know is that when I cooked short ribs for New Years' Eve last year, I clearly had no idea what I was doing. We'll definitely be trying to get as close to that as we can in the near future. D happened to know some of the management there, and we were treated to an awesome dessert. I had the Caramelized Apple, Cumin Ice Cream, and Preserved Plum; D had some french toast thing with bacon (!) and walnut ice cream or something. Mine was totally better. I loved the cumin ice cream. The downstairs lounge is warm and down-tempo, but the thing I liked best was the decor. There were a few well-placed antique sewing machines and wire fitting mannequins--the "tailor" theme--as well as very tasteful lighting which created the perfect glow. Definitely someplace you'd want to take someone who really appreciates good food for a special occasion.

NYTimes review here: (a not-too-flattering portrait of Mason himself).

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Red Snapper for Seven

We visited our friends who have a house in country along a river in Pennsylvania this weekend. Weekends spent with these particular friends, at this particular house, are magical. There's plenty to do in the area, from little antique stores, a candle factory, and quaint little towns all around, but most of the time, we're just content to sit around the wood burning stove reading or playing board games. This time, we went to a little town about 45 minutes away and found a Buffalo farm where we picked up some cubed Bison for stew and kebabs. Bison meat has about 1/2 the calories of chicken, and is leaner than beef. I can't wait to try some. We also picked up a really nice bottle of Cabernet with hints of fig--a wine I'm always on the look out for--which will go nicely with a bison stew.

On the way to PA from the city, we stopped in Chinatown for some fish. We'd been discussing for a few days how to cook it; perusing recipes online and in D's many fish books, but couldn't quite agree on anything. It all kinda came together on Saturday, and we had a lovely meal with our friends, their engaging artist friend who lives down the road, and another fun couple from the city.

We cooked two whole snappers (about 4 lbs each) in a roasting pan, and tossed a mixture of diced tomatoes, lemon, elephant garlic, parsley, cumin, salt, pepper, and few cut up ancho chiles for about an hour, and served it with seasoned couscous, roasted red and yellow peppers and young potatoes, and of course, plenty of red wine.

Nights in the country end early, especially after feasts like that, and we were all tucked in shortly after 11. We woke to a steady snow this morning that covered the koi pond--and the cars--with several inches. I was excited about the prospect of being snowed in, but D definitely has to be back in the city tonite. Snow makes the city beautiful, but only for an hour or two. Out here, the picture-perfect snow-covered trees and ponds last for days.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Christmas already?!: Dulce de Leche gifts

No break between Thanksgiving and Christmas...just go go go... well, we're game. Tonite we tried out the first of our Christmas-present recipes, dulce de leche. I researched recipes over the past week, my favorite being from Pomelo Pleasures, a blog I found whose author, unfortunately, just started law school and hasn't been writing very often. (There's a link to her beautiful blog on the right hand side of this one).

But D did his own research, and by the time I got home, he was doing a classic recipe: boiling a quart of whole milk on the stove. He added 2 cups of sugar, a teaspoon of baking soda, and a few drops of vanilla to taste. It took forever to cook into a thick sauce....we boiled it over a few times, and worried that we were cooking it too long. But my Pomelo Pleasures guide told us not to fret, just keep cooking until it gets to the right consistency.

Ours was delicious, but it turned out a lot darker than any of the ones we've seen. We're going to keep trying, and maybe add some rum or coconut to our gifts, but I gotta run. D just poured some over ice cream, and we have to get down to business.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Enough with the Turkey

Thanksgiving Detox Dinner

Salmon coated with toasted sesame seeds
Mashed cauliflower with garlic, onions, and white truffle oil
Sauteed green beans
Massive glass of water

And, unfortunately, leftover pecan pie with a glass of spiked eggonog!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Moist Turkey Through & Through? You Better Believe It.

I was listening to the Brian Lehrer show on NPR after Thanksgiving...he had three of NY's "top chefs" (as Lehrer put it; but I know better. NY's top chef lives with me and he couldn't be on the show because he was playing ultimate frisbee in the Turkey Bowl at the time) on the program talking about incorporating recipes from other cultures into the traditional American Meal. The host invited recent immigrants to call in and talk about the alterations to the meal that they had made for their families.

It was a great program, but two of the "top chefs" said that it was impossible to cook a turkey like they show it in the magazines: perfectly bronzed and evenly cooked. One of them said that the only way to ensure that the legs were cooked the whole way through and the breasts weren't too dry was to separate the legs from the breast and cook them separately. I wanted to call in and tell them that they were mistaken, but Lehrer had asked immigrants to call in, so I felt like I shouldn't. But let me set the record straight here:

You can absolutely cook a magazine-cover beautiful turkey that's moist all the way through.

The secret? Brining, seasoning, and basting.

We brined our 20 lb turkey in a big trash bag in a cooler on our back porch for about two days. I used enough water to fully immerse the turkey, 2 cups of kosher salt, a healthy Tbsp of pepper,2 onions (quartered), a few cloves of garlic, and bunch of fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, a bit of oregano). You can throw in some carrots or celery cut into fours; I didn't this year, but it's worked in the past.

Don't stuff the turkey! Just season it well. We put a few stalks of celery, about 5 cloves or garlic, salt, pepper, and uncut herbs in the cavity (the same as above, thyme, rosemary, and oregano--on their stems)--all tossed with some olive oil. We brushed olive oil over and dusted the turkey with paprika, salt, pepper, and a bit of cumin and put it in the oven covered.

Every hour or so, we took a look and basted the turkey with the juices from the bottom of the pan, being careful to continually spread the herbs over the turkey with its juices.

We took the aluminum foil off of the turkey about 35 minutes before it was done and re-seasoned with paprika, pepper, and a little bit more salt so that the skin would get crispy and brown.

You don't need one of those pop-up things to tell you if the turkey is cooked. In general, you cook a turkey by calculating 20 minutes per pound at 375. When you think it should be done, stick a knife in the joint of the hip of the turkey (where the leg joins the body) to the bone, and if the juices are clear, it should be done.

If you're nervous, you can always slice into the turkey and take a look. If you slice neatly enough, no one will ever know.

So now you know. For next year.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Homemade Frozen Bouillon

What a perfect day-after-Thanksgiving. D had to work; I slept in, and when I woke up, I turned NPR on in every room in the apartment. (D hates NPR, so you can't imagine what a luxury this was). The only thing on my to-do list? Make turkey stock. D clued me into this very interesting (and space saving!) idea for what to do with the stock: make frozen turkey bouillon.

This was the most expensive turkey I've ever had, so I was determined to use every last bit of it.

We started boiling the two carcasses from our main turkey (about 20 lbs.) and our 10 lb. turkey breast last night shortly after some of the dishes were cleared. We boiled it until we went to bed at around 1:30 am, and then left it on the stove, covered. I turned it back on at around 10 am, brought it to a rolling boil and boiled it until all of the meat fell off the bone. I let it sit, and then strained the liquid from the bones and meat. I boiled the liquid down for about 2 hours to a concentrated thick stock and cooled it off. I poured the liquid into two ice cube trays and stuck em in the freezer. I now have 24 cubes of frozen bouillon that I can use for various dishes for the next few months. I also have about 32 ounces of turkey meat that we'll use for croquettes!

I used one of the cubes to enrich the soup I made for the next day.

Two-Days-After-Thanksgiving Soup

2 carrots (slightly wilted)
3 stalks of celery
2 onions
4 cloves of garlic
salt and pepper
1 homemade bouillon cube
1 cup of fresch stock
6 cups of water
1 cup of pearl barley

Chop up the veggies. Sautee the onions and garlic in a little bit of olive oil, seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper. Add the carrots and celery and saute until tender. Throw it all in a pot with the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil and then simmer for about an hour. Serve steaming hot with toasted bread.

A Green Thanksgiving

How can you measure success for a dinner like this? Everything came out perfectly? Everything got to the table at the correct temperature? The kids didn't all beg for Cokes despite the fact that we'd made what we thought was some very cool fruit-juice punch? those measures, we wouldn't have been so happy with the results. Nothing's perfect, and kids just love them some Coke. So how did I measure success? By the fact that at least one person from every family asked me for a recipe, and where to find their own local Green Market. That was awesome.

What wasn't perfect? The playlist I'd made didn't really work; the kids needed to put on the TV, and D got absorbed in a Monopoly game that lasted for hours while I was busy playing hostess. We neglected to put pepitas in the pumpkin soup, ruined the mashed cauliflower, and forgot to tell people about the creamed onions until well into the second set of servings. But none of that really mattered.

We had about 25 people over in our modest Gowanus apartment and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves--they all left with a generous bag of leftovers. The last guests left around midnight, and we ended the evening by cleaning while listening to our playlist. We were thankful we did it when we woke up to a clean house the next morning.

The last thing I made before the guests arrived was a yogurt dip for the crudite. I made it with a Lebanese strained yogurt called Labne that we got at Damascus Bakery with lemon juice, paprika, salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, scallions, and a touch of sugar. A great alternative to a sour cream dip--the same consistency, but a lot healthier.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Late Night Shopping at the 24-hour Supermarket

Tuesday night D and I did some last-minute shopping for Turkey Day at the local Pathmark under the BQE in Gowanus. I got home at about 10 pm from a work dinner, and we started to worry about everything we had to do between then and Thanksgiving day. I proposed a quick trip to the all-night store, so we jumped in the car and off we went. On the way, we called my mother, who had told me earlier that day that she was disappointed we weren't making creamed onions for the meal. She told me what we needed to get and D and she debated how to make the sauce as I pulled into the lot. We weren't the only ones with the idea: there were about two dozen other couples walking through the aisles, the woman with the list, the man pushing the cart listlessly. The produce at Pathmark is horrible, and the selection of other stuff was pretty scant, so it was good that we only needed a few basic things.

Creamed Pearl Onions

1 bag of pearl onions
chicken stock
heavy cream
touch of corn starch mixed with water (or cream)

Peel the onions, being careful not to cut down to the root which will cause the onion to separate in the sauce. Place them in a sauce pot covered with some chicken stock. Hit the onions, when tender, with about 1/2 cup of cream (or more if you like it like that). Thicken with a mixture of corn starch and water (or cream). Season to taste with some salt and pepper. Place the mixture in a crock pot or slow cooker and keep it warm until serving. Enjoy!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Holiday Spirit at the Green Market

This past weekend was shopping weekend in preparation for our Thanksgiving feast. I had ordered a 16-18 lb turkey & a 10 lb breast from Dipaola Turkeys in Hamilton, NJ--local, free range, and fresh--and we added on a spiral of spicy turkey sausage as well. My heart stopped beating when we were told how much it all cost, but after a few deep breaths, and repeating the mantra: "local is good, the turkey will be delicious, I'm paying for sustainability," I was okay. After we'd loaded up on all of the veggies and herbs we needed for the meal, I had about $10 left. There's two women who sell flowers each week, and near Thanksgiving and Christmas, they start selling aromatic centerpieces, door wreaths, and swags. Last Christmas, we bought a centerpiece for D's mom and she loved it. (And we loved how it made the car smell for about a week afterward!) I asked the woman behind the table whether she had any decorative wreaths for $10 or less, and she said "no," and sadly shook her head. I asked D for the last $5 he had in his pocket and happily walked up to the woman with the $15 and a door swag. D was standing a few yards away looking stricken by the amount of money we'd just plunked down and I looked over at him; the woman turned to look at him, too, and when she turned back to me I said: "We just spent our entire life savings on fresh turkey for our family for the holidays." She handed me back a $5 bill and said "Happy Holidays." I couldn't really meet her eye, because I started crying, which made D laugh and hug me close to him. What a wonderful way to start the season!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Spicy Gingered Pumpkin Soup

We've been cooking parts of our Thanksgiving meal that will last for the week, and today, D and I prepared the spicy gingered pumpkin soup that will be our appetizer.

On Saturday night, I roasted two medium-sized pumpkins--the kind that are like a peach-tan color, not the bright orange ones. I quartered them, removed the seeds and pulp (setting them aside to roast later on) and seasoned the pumpkin meat with cumin, coriander, black pepper, paprika, salt, and lots of ginger. I laid them skin up in the oven at 400 degrees for about an hour.

We cooled them off outside on the porch, and then today I peeled them and cooked the pumpkin with carmelized onion and apples and more of the same spices. Then I had to leave to go to work for a bit, and while I was gone, D put the mixture through a blender and ta da, now we have about a gallon of soup. We'll just add some light cream to the soup on Thursday, and serve it in cups as our guests arrive.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Roasted chicken & turnips--on a budget

It was a miserable day in New York--drizzly and windy--but I had the good fortune of being called out to an unexpected meeting in Lower Manhattan. I knew there was a Green Market across from Century 21, and I remembered that the lady who I usually visit when I get a chance to go is full of good humor, and always offers to cut the long stems off of the veggies I buy (unless they're something I can cook, and then she'll advise how to do it). I was in luck: it was Green Market day, and I stopped to pick up some veggies to roast with the chicken I took out of the freezer this morning. What fun! I found some stuff I'd never seen before and decided on a bunch of small white Japanese turnips and some thin carrots. I've never roasted turnips before and I thought it might be fun.

I got home at around 7 pm with a bottle of Spanish Grenache and started on the chicken. I thought I could just wash it up, cut off the ends, and place it in a pan with the chicken, salt, pepper, paprika, and honey. But D was not having it. He had to step in and take over. He soaked the veggies to get all of the sand out, cut up some garlic, onion, and a potato I found. He cut the chicken into pieces, and tossed everything in a bowl with some fresh thyme. I insisted on drizzling the honey, but he mixed it all up in there, too. 400 degrees for an hour, and wow. We served it with the turnip greens that I sauteed with garlic, and it was really nice. I wanted to cut the carrots in half lengthwise, but D advised against it and roasted them whole. He admitted as we were eating, thought, that I'd been right; we should have cut them in half.

The best part of the meal: the cost. I picked up the chicken a few weeks ago on sale at the local grocery store and froze it: $2.35. The carrots and turnips were $3.50. The rest of the stuff I had hanging around, but it couldn't have cost more than $5.00 for everything altogether: half a Spanish onion, five cloves of garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil, 10 sprigs of thyme (a sprig meaning only one twig about 3 1/2 inches only--leaves, of course), and about 2 tablespoons of honey. And the bottle of wine was only $13.00. The whole meal was about $24.00 at the most, and we have two generous lunches for tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Thanksgiving planning

We're having D's clan over to our small Brooklyn apartment for Thanksgiving, and we started planning the menu and getting together the "To Do" list this weekend.

I ordered a 14-16 lb turkey from the farmer's market at Grand Army Plaza this Saturday, along with an 8-10 lb breast (for additional meat). I also made spicy pumpkin soup from our Hallowe'en decorations (the ones that weren't cut into jack-o-lanterns), and froze 64 oz of it. I also canned some cranberry sauce (cranberries, onions, apple, and raisins with a bunch of spices).

I hope to do some shopping both at my regular old farmer's market, but also at the Red Hook Community Farm Farmers' Market, which has two more days left until Thansgiving: Saturday, October 10th and Saturday, October 17th, 9am-3pm. The Red Hook Community Farm is so cool: it was opened in a neighborhood that was really suffering from poor nutritional options, and has really evolved into a community hub. The farms are run by community youth, who learn about sustainable living and business management at the same time. Info on the organization:

You can also get directions to the market by going to the website.

So here's a sketch of our Thanksgiving menu so far:

Appetizers: Brie and crackers
cheese and guava paste

First course: Spicy gingered pumpkin soup

Second course: Green salad with tahini goddess dressing or a mustard viniagrette

Main course: Roast turkey with apple walnut stuffing with a pumpkin chipotle sauce
Green beans with bacon, red pepper and almonds
Pureed cauliflower with scallions
Roasted winter vegetables
Cranberry Chutney, and traditional cranberry sauce

Dessert: Pumpkin cheesecake bars and various pies brought by D's relatives

Sunday, November 4, 2007

A New Take on Meat & Potatoes

I just got paid from a relatively lucrative consulting gig and I went to town on menu planning for the week. Last night we had grass-fed lamb chops (coated with honey that I brought back from Ukraine, allspice, cardamom, salt and pepper) on top of curried couscous with cranberries.

Tonite, we had filet mignon au Jus, fresh stringbeans with bacon and almonds, and pureed parsnips with white truffle oil. I dry rubbed the meat yesterday afternoon with thyme, allspice, salt and pepper, and wrapped it in plastic wrap and stuck it in the fridge. This afternoon, I boiled the parsnips in chicken stock and skim milk, then put it through the food processor and added salt and pepper. D blanched the stringbeans, shocked them in cold water, and then sauteed them with the bacon and almonds. We braised the meat in olive oil, then stuck them in the broiler for 26 minutes. We made the sauce by adding shallots, thyme, and brandy with beef stock and the beef juices. Then we heated the parsnips and added the white truffle oil at the end.

Served it with an Organic Rioja from Spain.

A completely new take on a traditional meat and potatoes meal. The pureed parsnips were like pudding. Kids would never know the stuff was healthy. They'd be too busy lickin' it off the plate.

It was an exquisite meal, perfect to top off an exquisite weekend. Last week was hard: Me recovering from some health stuff and D getting over a cold, and me just finding out that I've deveoped some kind of allergy with spots on my forearms. Here I sit watching interesting Sunday night television, finishing off the last of the wine, being fed Marzipan chocolate after D's cleaned the entire kitchen after the meal. And to top it all off, D said despite my spots, he might have to do me anyway.

The whole meal must have cost me $35 at the most (the most expensive thing was probably the white truffle oil, and we've got plenty left for other recipes. Or maybe D's labor). The Rioja sounds fancy, but it was really just $11 at "Big Nose, Full Body" on 7th Avenue in Park Slope. Mostly everything else came from the Farmer's Market at Grand Army Plaza, and the best neighborhood butcher on Prospect Park West and 16th Street--a great little Italian place, family-owned, just the kind that are disappearing from all over New York. I even bought a big ole dill pickle while I was there. Had to go to Fairway in Red Hook for the truffle oil, though.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Making Hot Pepper Relish

All summer long I nurtured my very first pepper plants. In the first few months, they didn't seem to be growing very much and we thought maybe it was because the planters were too shallow, or maybe because I tried to be too fancy and planted some flowers alongside them. But they grew slowly, and as one turned bright red and became loose from the stem, others started to sprout. I removed each one when it was time and placed them in the freezer in a ziplock bag. At this point, I have more than 25 peppers, and three or four are still growing outside. This past weekend was the first I'd been home in about 5 weeks, so I trucked up to the Farmer's Market early Saturday morning and bought onions, bell peppers, and tomatillos so that I could make my relish on Sunday.

I began by using a food processor, but I found that it made the peppers too mushy so I switched to my Cuisinart Chopper. I chopped about 7 medium sized onions; 4 large bell peppers (2 green, 1 red, and 1 yellow); 2 Italian sweet peppers; 8 small tomatillos; and about 8 of my little hot red peppers and placed them in a large kettle on the stove. I added some Kosher salt, and poured boiling water over the mixture and let it sit for 10 minutes. I drained the liquid and returned the pepper mixture to the stove. Then I added sugar and cider vinegar, and simmered the mixture for about 20 minutes. Then I ladeled the relish into about 16 little jelly jars and waited to hear them pop. Such a gratifying sound. I can't wait to make omelets with the relish this coming weekend; and give the rest out as gifts!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Goodbye Layla Kitty Cat!

My beautiful friend Layla kitty cat passed away on March 3 at dawn--on a day that gave us a glimpse of Spring. Her death was as beautiful as her life had been. I was fortunate enough to have been able to stay home during her last days and spend time with her, letting her know that I loved her very much and that she could go whenever she wanted to. I found a great website that helped me create a peaceful and comfortable space for Layla, and for myself. The website encouraged the reader to do everything they can to make things comfortable for the animal, and to not try to force food or water--that only makes the animal feel bad for not being able to please the person. I don't know how much Layla, or cats in general, really care about pleasing us, but the minute I stopped getting her to eat and drink, it seemed like she calmed down quite a bit.

I was able to say goodbye to her Friday night, and on Saturday morning when I woke up, she was no longer on the chair that she's been laying on for the previous three days. I searched for her because I know that "they" say cats go away and hide when they die, but Layla had used her last burst of energy to rouse herself from the chair and walk into my bedroom, where she curled up peacefully and took her last breath under my bed, directly under the place where I lay my head. She looked so graceful.

D and I buried her under a full moon of a lunar eclipse in the park. I said goodbye to her one last time, covered her little body with earth, and scattered dried flowers on her grave. We stood over the grave for quite a while, watching the smoke from the incense we burned drift and play over the dried leaves.

Layla gave me the greatest gift at the end of her life of allowing me to be with her as she moved on, and not putting me in a place where I had to watch her suffer or make the decision to put her to sleep. I will miss her so much.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Cooking for Valentines Day

I've been going over my menu for Valentine's Day for the past few evenings....found most of what I was looking for on, but I am still in search of a healthy chocolate dessert with my favorite fruit: figs. Every recipe I find requires some special tart dish, or looks too sweet, or looks too complicated. I want to experiment with my own thing, but I don't want to screw it up. The whole aim of the meal is to make something that is healthy, not too expensive, totally yummy, and with an aphrodisiac quality. I've got the appetizer down, and the entree, but I'm still working on the salad (and, of course, the dessert). If any of you loyal readers have advice, please let me know. Soon.

On another note, did anyone see Prince at the Superbowl the other night? Jesus. What a show. This is the thought I had after watching: This is one of the few times that America allows a black man to publicly celebrate his sexuality. (And allows white teenage girls to throw up their hands, open their mouths up wide, and shout.)

And Jennifer Hudson on the Grammies. Watching her tonite reminded me of the saying: "A 20 lb sack of potatoes in a 10 lb bag." But I'll tell you what. She is HOT.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Going out into the cold to buy chocolate ice cream

It's Friday and D and I stopped in Chinatown for fish for the weekend before going home to Brooklyn. We made tilapia with olives and mushrooms in a butter sauce on a bed of sauteed spinach with tomato and garlic alongside roasted veggies: garlic, onions, carrots, and beets, with a slice of lemon. Quite a meal; a good cure for a stressful week. The meal was so good, we didn't even want to eat our (very French) post-dinner salad.

We bundled up and headed out in the frigid cold of New York to the bodega to buy some chocolate ice cream. I said a lemon sorbet would be better (to go with our dinner), but he wouldn't hear of it.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Farewell my friend

I haven't written in ages. Most recently, the reason has been that my dear friend Pete died on January 12. I have a link to Pete's blog on the right side of my blog entries; it's MorseKode. Pete's uncle gave the most moving speech at the memorial service in San Francisco last week, and I wish I had it word-for-word, but here's my recollection. He said that he's in aviation, and he knows a lot of pilots, a lot of experienced pilots, who know all there is to know about safety and flying. And every once in a while, the universe twists, and it takes one of them in a random accident. They know that flying is a risk, but they take it anyway, they do their best to be safe, and sometimes fate takes them. He encapsulated more about the losses we suffer in harm reduction in that one statement than I've heard in a long time.

This is what I said at the closing:

We can’t have Pete back, but his death is another reminder, another call to action.

To hold each other more dearly…
To not turn away from the camera when people want to take your picture…
To return the phone call even if you think you don’t have time…
To hug a little longer…
To kiss more slowly…
To speak up a little more…
And to ask the questions that we may be too afraid to ask.

Because this is the work that Pete was engaged in; this is harm reduction. We need each other to stick around for the party when we’re through this mess. When we can dance without a background of sadness and loss.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Single ingredient inspiration

You should always try to use all the leftover ingredients when you're cooking. It can be both the inspiration for a tasty meal the next day, or it can bring back childhood memories of a relative saying, "Eat up! There are children starving in Africa." If you're lucky, both.

D said our meal this evening was not noble enough to warrant blog, but don't worry, I wasn't planning to. (green leaf lettuce salad with mushrooms, grape tomatoes, pepitas, and raisins alongside a big, thick sirloin burger with a side of sauteed onions.)

I just wanted to advance the idea that you can always find use for your leftover onions, chives, scallions, ginger, garlic, or parsley. Or eggplant.

There's about a cup of sauteed onions left from dinner, and I put them in a jar in the fridge to use for tomorrow night's dinner. Sometimes its fun to build a meal around a single ingredient, kind of like a home-version of the Iron Chef. If I had a dedicated fan base, I'd have you all write in with suggestions for how to build a gourmet meal out of leftover sauteed onions, a little bit of feta cheese, and some cabbage. 'Cause that's what's sitting in the fridge.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Sauteing Quince

I came across a box of quinces (is that right? or is it just quince?) at the farmer's market this past weekend, and I thought it might be good to try a quince crisp, instead of an apple one. The guy who owned the stand told me to treat the quince just like an apple in terms of baking methods and time, but I think he was wrong. I sliced up the quince, which was not easy. The inner core was tough and thick, and I found that I didn't get much fruit out of two big quinces. I tasted a slice and wasn't impressed. For me, the fruit seemed a little bitter. So I started cutting the slices thinner, and I did what for me is the unthinkable in a crisp: I sprinkled sugar all over those quinces. And then I added some dried cranberries for some extra sweetness. I mixed together a cup of oats, a cup of flour, 3 TBSP brown sugar, 5 TBSP melted butter, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon for the crisp topping. I still worried about how dry the quince was, so I added about 1/3 cup of lemon juice to the fruit, then put the crisp on top. I popped it in the oven at 375 for about a half an hour. By 25 minutes, I could smell the was a really nice fragrance. I added some chopped walnuts and a few pats of butter to the top and put it back in at about 400 degrees.

Disappointing. It was very very dry. We had to put some whipped cream on top so that it was edible. Next time, I would definitely saute the quince with butter and lemon juice, and maybe even put in some cream. Or maybe not even do a quince crisp at all. Just enjoy it in jam and leave the crisp to more amenable fruits like apples, strawberries, and pears.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Crazy Head Parsnips

I really love the farmer's market at Grand Army Plaza in Prospect Park! It was an insane 72 degrees in New York today, so there was no way I could resist doing a run around the park before hitting the market. I got there a little late and wasn't surprised to find that there wan't a whole lot left. I'd hoped to pick up a bunch of ginger and some tiny onions for pickling this weekend, but no luck. Checking out one of my favorite stands that sells root veggies and sprouts, though, I spotted the funniest looking things I've ever seen. They were curly-headed parsnips! (picture to the side on this page)

You can imagine the first thing I thought: pickled parsnips! How crazy it would be to pickle these things...they'd look so cool in the jars. I asked the woman who runs the stand how she cooks them, and she said she'd never heard of picking them, but she likes to soak them for a few hours to get all the dirt out, and then just roast them whole with all the curly stems, which get crispy and crunchy. It's always a good idea to get an idea about the taste of a veggie, I think, before you pickle it, so I set my excitement for pickling aside and took them home to roast for dinner.

That morning over breakfast, I dug out my two old Bon Apetit and Cooking Light magazines to look for a recipe I had seen for a navy bean salad. I found that recipefor Cauliflower, White Bean, and Feta Salad, but also found a recipe for Ponzu-Glazed Flank Steak and decided that's what we would have for dinner. It was delicious, and looked festive and fun on the plate. If we ever did open a restaurant, this could be a good meal for kids. The steak was sweet and tender, the cauliflower salad looked like little clouds on the plate, and the parsnips--we decided we'd call them "crazy head parsnips" might entice even the most veggie-resistant. We drizzled some butter garlic sauce with rosemary over the parsnip heads.

I also picked up two big quinces, and asked the man who ran that stand how to cook them. He said I could treat them just like apples, and I asked him if he'd ever made a crisp out of them. He said he hadn't, he'd made pies, though, but that I would have a hard time doing it. He said I'd end up eating all the quince slices before they made it into the crisp dish! That's the great thing about having a local market like this. You can ask the sellers all kinds of different questions about their produce.....and they always know the answers! I'll be away for the next two weekends, but the next Saturday morning I'm back in Brooklyn, you'll definitely see me up at the market buying a pound of two of crazy head parsnips for pickling!

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Pickles and Eastern Europe

I went to a party tonite with old colleagues from an international organization that I used to work with. We were talking about what we were all working on, and I told them that pickling was my new interest. People who live and work in the U.S. and Western Europe were sort of bemused, but you should have seen the gleam in the eyes of people who live and work in Eastern Europe, and Russia in particular. You know why? 'Cause it is COLD there, and in the wintertime, many people don't have access to fresh vegetables; pickled veggies are staples.

So back to the problem of do I get these Americans that I know to eat my pickled vegetables. People had several ideas, much better than my idea of buying fancy plates and putting out signs. One woman suggested that I just serve pickled vegetables in place of any other type of vegetable....kind of force my guests to eat them. I liked better the idea of having very small dinner parties, just three or four more people (I actually like to invite 3 single people over for's much more interesting than two couples, who often end up talking about themselves and their coupledom). You bring the pickles out as a sort of discussion piece, like artwork. And then you can initiate a conversation about pickles. And I think it's fun to talk about them; everyone has something to say about pickles. Or maybe that's just my perception, and people think I'm crazy when I start talking about them.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

It’s good to date a chef

So D called this afternoon while I was at work saying that he was going to come over and hang out with me tonite because he had some work to do near my house tomorrow morning. All day long, I was periodically checking my regular cooking websites to come up with something snazzy but simple and healthy to cook with him tonite. But no luck. I don’t know why, I just wasn’t inspired by any of the recipes I saw. Not a disaster, as we could make a great meal out of just stuff I had in my cabinets and fridge anyway, so I didn’t despair.

After work, we met in the park for a run (about 2 miles) and on the way home, we stopped at D’s butcher shop. We both just stood there, I think still reeling from the food over the holidays, and looked at the meat case. I still wasn’t inspired so I asked him to pick. Pork chops. And he said he’d cook while I took a long indulgent shower. Sweet.

So this is the menu we came up with. It’s good to date a chef. ‘Cause even when you’ve run out of ideas, your chef will always have one.

Cheese and Triscuits
Green Leaf, Feta, and Pickled Beet salad
Herbs de Provence Braised Pork Chops with Fennel, Zucchini, and Cranberry Chutney
1 Lindt chocolate truffle & Earl Grey Tea with milk

Herbs de Provence Braised Pork Chops with Fennel and Cranberry Chutney
2- 1 in. thick cut port chops
½ Spanish onion
1 medium bulb of fennel
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 zucchini
½ grated carrot

Season with salt and fresh ground black pepper and herbs de provence. Sear in a hot cast iron pan with 11/2 Tblsp olive oil. Brown on both sides, remove, and set aside. Saute the sliced onion and fennel with the chopped garlic. Add onion before garlic browns, then add fennel after. Cut zucchini into one-inch cubes and add to the onion mixture. Hit with a splash of white wine. Add the grated carrot. (D likes to use the carrots to make the mixture a little sweeter) Place pork chops back on the mixture, cover and cook for 7 minutes. (Note: You should actually cook them medium to medium-rare because when it’s cooked through all the way, it’s dry and tougher.) Arrange on a plate with 1 heaping Tbsp of cranberry chutney and enjoy!

Prep time: 30 minutes
Servings: 2

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Happy New Year!

Whew! I feel like I just got off a rollercoaster after the holidays. Even though I planned to try to take it easy, it seems the hours were filled with making pizelles, potato pancakes with zucchini, and salad for a get-together with D's family, veggie lasagna for my mother and sister who visited during one of the craziest times to come to New York, and french onion soup and braised BBQ short ribs for a New Year's Eve dinner party.

And putting out pickles at every event.

The lesson I learned over the holidays was that I need to present my pickles in a better way so that people want to eat them. Because once they do, they generally love them (although I've gotten quite a few helpful suggestions on how to make them better, too).

I usually put them out on a nice plate, but people don't really know that they are my pickles. So I think maybe putting up a label on a little stand in front of the pickles is the way to go.

I'm excited about the New Year.....there are lots of new pickle recipes to try, and lots of friends on their way to visit with recipes of their own to share with me. If you've got a recipe for a special kind of pickle you can share, please send it to me, I'd love to try it and post the results here.


2 Spanish onions
2 cans of beef broth (or, for the vegetarians, veggie broth)
1/8 tsp thyme powder
1/4-1/2 tsp pepper (depending on your taste)
pinch of salt
12 thin slices of Swiss cheese (or Gruyere if you want to be fancy)
Sourdough bread (6 pieces, sliced thickly enough to come to the top of a ramekin, and toasted)
Romano or parmesan cheese to grate for the top
4 tbsp butter
6 ceramic ramekins (little soup bowls)

Pre-heat your oven to 550 degrees F. Slice the onions and saute in the butter for about 20 minutes on low heat so that the onions are tender and creamy, but not brown. Add broth, thyme, pepper, and salt, bring to a boil and then lower heat to simmer for 15 minutes. Toast the bread in the oven (which is at 550) and place the slices in the ramekins. Pour the broth and onion mixture over the bread just as your guests arrive, and layer with 2 slices of cheese each. Grate a bit of the Romano or parmesan on top, and pop in the oven for about 8-10 minutes, or until the cheese gets a little bit brown and bubbly.

Serve steaming hot, but warn your guests about how hot it will be. Enjoy!