Friday, December 30, 2011

Adapted Arepas

For the past few years, we've spent the week between Christmas and New Years at beautiful country house in Pennsylvania owned by very dear friends of ours. Whenever we're here, we get inspired to cook up some new dish. This year, I found a recipe for arepas with pulled pork and cheese in the Food & Wine magazine that our friends subscribe to. I looked in a few places here in the country for one of the arepas ingredients: masa harina, but couldn't find it. I thought I could substitute corn meal, but it didn't work. We adapted the recipe and instead made little corn cakes with pulled pork in the center. We served is as part of our little New Year's Day spread for a few friends who stopped by. They were delicious topped with sour cream, pickled cabbage, sliced jalapeno and chopped cilantro. We bought the pork from a local German place up here that sources their meat locally and does all their own butchering called the Alpine House.

Corn Fritters with Pulled Pork and Cheddar Cheese

For the fritters:

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. cornmeal
2 tsp. baking powder
1 egg, beaten
olive oil

For the pulled pork filling:

1 nice-sized pork butt
2 stalks of celery
2 carrots
1 medium onion
2 bottles of dark (or dark-ish) beer
a few cups of chicken or veggie stock
hot sauce
salt and pepper
1 cup of cheddar cheese

For the sides:

1 small head of red cabbage
1 medium red onion
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 bunch cilantro
1 jar of sliced jalapenos
1 cup sour cream

You can make your pulled pork in a slow cooker by placing all of the ingredients (browned pork butt, sliced onion, carrot and celery, 2 bottles of beer, salt & pepper, and enough broth to fully immerse the pork butt) in the cooker and leave on high for about 8 hours. We cooked ours in a heavy ceramic soup pot on low on the stove all day. It fills the house with a nice aroma. When the pork is very tender, remove from the liquid and let cool for a bit. Shred the pork to your liking. Place in a bowl as much of the pulled pork you need for your fritters (1 1/2 cup) and freeze the rest for pork tacos some other night. To the shredded pork that you've set aside, add 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese and hot sauce. Mix together.

While your pork is cooking, make the cabbage by finely shredding the red cabbage and onion, placing it in a bowl and covering with the red wine vinegar. Set aside to marinate.

To make your fritters, mix together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add milk and beaten egg. Stir until moistened. Set aside for a few hours.

To assemble the fritters, drop a heaping tablespoon of the batter into smoking oil in a frying pan. When the batter begins to solidify, drop a ball of the pork-cheese mixture in the center, and top with another tablespoon of the batter. When the "pancake" has some integrity, flip to the other side and fry until golden. Drain on a paper towel.

You can pop a dozen in the oven to keep warm until your guests come. Serve each fritter with a dollop of cream cheese, a pinch of red cabbage, a few sliced jalapenos, and a sprinkling of cilantro leaves.

Festivus Feast

For the past few years, I've been feeling like we need to go on a total cleanse diet after the holidays because we eat so much rich food between Halloween and the New Year. This year, we've been trying to celebrate in moderation to varying degrees of success. Kale is one of those restorative super foods (I've written about it here before), and has been looking pretty good at the farmer's markets this year. I've been trying to incorporate kale into a lot of the meals we eat for both of those reasons. Because I like to celebrate the hell out of every holiday, this is the meal we made for Festivus this year.

Tofu Stir Fry with Kale & Sweet Potato

1 8 oz package of firm tofu
1 sweet potato
A bunch of kale
4 large cloves
1 onion
1/4 of a head of green cabbage
1 small zucchini
olive oil
salt & pepper

Dry and gently squeeze the water out of the tofu and cut into bite-sized cubes. In a cast-iron skillet, heat some olive oil until smoking. Saute the onion and garlic until soft; add the cabbage and sweet potato and saute until tender. Then add the zucchini and kale until just wilted. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the pan to a bowl and set aside. Heat a bit more oil in the pan and slowly brown the tofu cubes. When they are a nice golden color, add the vegetables back to the pan and heat through. We served this over Israeli couscous tossed with scallion, and a healthy side of kimchi.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Nuts about Nuts

My dad loves nuts. If I had to guess at his favorite, it would be hard to decide whether it's Planter's roasted peanuts or pistacchios. For the past few years, I've been experimenting with recipes for different kinds of nuts that I package and give him as a gift for Christmas. This year, I'm trying recipes with walnuts (chocolate-covered), pistacchios (simple roasted), almonds (cinnamon-covered), and these pecans. I've been so enamored by the local maple syrup we've been getting that I decided to try some sweet and spicy pecans with maple syrup. They're in the oven now. Fingers crossed, I hope they turn out as good as they look.

Sweet and Spicy Maple Glazed Pecans

Butter (for the pan)
1 pound unsalted pecans
3 tbsp melted butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tbsp brown sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Set the oven at 375. Lightly butter a rimmed baking dish. In a bowl, toss the pecans with the melted butter, maple syrup, sugar,salt, adn cayenne. Transfer the nuts to the baking sheet. Bake, tossing often, for 10-12 minutes, until browned and fragrant. Cool on the baking sheet.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sick Burger

Inspired by an episode of Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives, D and I made the sickest burger you've ever heard of. The Minotaur's Lair is a burger designed by a place called Kuma's Corner in Chicago, made with pear, onions, brie, and bacon.

We used grass-fed beef from Fleischer's market in Brooklyn to make really nice meat patties, formed with some sauteed onion, garlic, salt and pepper. We grilled the burger patties on our little grill on the back porch. Then we poached and grilled some sliced pears. We served the grilled burgers on toasted ciabatta rolls with carmelized onions and brie, topped with the poached pears. Sick.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Leek Alternative

My experience with leeks,a vegetable I've always considered to be just a giant scallion, was limited to potato and leek soup until last night. I never think to buy leeks when I'm at the farmer's market, and when recipes call for leeks, I'll often cheat and substitute onion or scallion.

Yesterday at the farmer's market, I was looking for a good vegetable alternative for Sunday night's dinner with a few close friends and I saw the most attractive leeks. I had planned a roast chicken accompanied by rosemary potatoes, and thought that maybe roasted leeks would work. I consulted a number of difference recipe sites for the leek recipe, but in the end, I constructed my own.

Roasted Leeks Drizzled with Honey-Mustard Sauce

6 medium-sized leeks
olive oil
1 cup rich mushroom broth (you can substitute any other kind of stock)
3 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
salt & pepper

Wash leeks thoroughly! Especially if you've gotten your leeks directly from the farm, they will have a substantial amount of sand in the crevices of the skin. I would suggest chopping off a bit of the root end and most of the green (so that the leeks will fit in your roasting pan), then soaking them in cold water. Then, cut them in half lengthwise and wash again. Arrange in a baking pan coated with olive oil, cut side up. Drizzle with more olive oil and sprinkle with salt & pepper. Turn the seasoned leeks over, cut side down; season again. Pop in an oven pre-heated to 350 degrees and monitor. You may need to add a little bit of water to the bottom of the pan to keep the leeks moist.

While the leeks are roasting, make the sauce by adding all of the remaining ingredients to the broth. Heat to a boil and then turn the mixture down, stirring frequently as the sauce thickens.

Serve the leeks alongside your favorite locally-produced poultry and allow your guests to drizzle the mustard sauce over meat and leek alike.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cranberry Pomegranate Relish

This year's cranberry sauce is a little more complex than I've made in years past. I decided to incorporate the flavor du jour: pomegranate, into my recipes. I made two cranberry sides for Thanksgiving dinner this year: a cranberry pomegranate relish and a cranberry pomegranate citrus sauce. The savory relish is my favorite, but I always like to make a sweeter, more traditional version for people who expect that.

Cranberry Pomegranate Relish

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1/4 onion, finely chopped in slivers
1 bag (12 ounces) fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup pomegranate juice
2 tbsp finely diced ginger
1 diced apple
1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar
salt, pepper, and cinnamon to taste

Saute shallot and onion in the olive oil until just turning brown. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer on medium-low heat for about 30-40 minutes, stirring frequently, until the cranberries have all popped and the relish becomes the consistency that you want. You can serve immediately, or spoon the relish into jars and set aside until the tops pop, then store.

A few weeks ago, I picked up these beautiful canning jars from Housing Works in Brooklyn. I think they must be European; I'd love to get my hands on some more of them. They would be perfect for gifts.

Cranberry Pomegranate Citrus Sauce

1 bag (12 oz) fresh or frozen cranberries
1 3/4 cups pomegranate juice
3/4 cups sugar, more or less to taste
t tbsp finely diced ginger
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and cook over medium-low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Mixture will thicken as it cooks, and will thicken more as it cools. Cool in a jar or bowl in the fridge. Serve with Thanksgiving turkey.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Cupcake Dilemma

Next weekend in upstate New York, a very good friend of mine is getting married. She found this wonderful guy after a long and storied single life and she's so happy. She asked me a few weeks ago whether friendships with your girlfriends change when you get married (in this case, to a man). I said that the friendships don't change, but for me at least, the time that I spend with my girlfriends is less than I used to. You have to work at it; but also, if they're true friends, you won't lose them. I had already been thinking about what to do for her because she didn't want any gifts for the wedding, and because I feel kind of sad that I didn't have a "bridal shower" kind of thing before I got married. All of my bridal party were from out of town--very good old friends who I wanted to make sure came to the wedding from places as distant as Ramallah. So I took the opportunity of that conversation to ask her if I could host a party for her with her closest women-friends. I thought she would say no, but she was touched, and after some coaxing, sent me email addresses for her friends--none of whom, surprisingly, I knew.

I co-hosted the evening with another friend of hers, and she suggested coordinating the food to make sure we had enough of everything. I decided I would make cupcakes--partly because I love using the cupcake tree my mother gave me a few years ago for Christmas. I also think people like having their own mini-cakes. As the evening drew nearer, I realized I didn't have a clue about what kind of desserts my friend likes. I know she likes margaritas. I know she likes Mexican and Middle Eastern food, but I had no idea about sweets. So I turned to her friends, and to her fiance. I came up with a list of cupcakes that I've wanted to make for a long time from a book Cupcakes I got for my own wedding. From that list, her fiance chose a rosewater raspberry cupcake, but her friends almost unanimously wrote back and said that my friend loves chocolate. What to do?

Last weekend, D and I went to the country to visit with two couples we love spending time with. After a few bottles of wine, I posed the dilemma: do I make the cupcake chosen by my friend's chosen life partner? A man she's known for a sliver of time compared to the girlfriends--some of whom she's known for more than 25 years? The question served as a platform for a lively discussion among the six of us, all men but for me. They debated back and forth about what the schism meant, and finally one of them suggested that her chosen life partner may know things about her that she doesn't even know yet herself. He may represent a new direction--one that she didn't even know she wanted to take. The argument for the rosewater raspberry was gaining support. But then someone said that I should stay safe with a cupcake that everyone knows she will like--it's her party after all. I decided to compromise and make them both, and see what happens.

It was the right decision. The cupcakes were pretty and yummy. Our guests liked them both, but the chocolate cupcakes that I chose to make were a real hit. At some point in the evening, my friend came over to me and told me how much she loved the chocolate cupcakes. I asked her if she'd tried the rosewater. She wrinkled her nose a little bit and said no, she had to keep it to one because she had a wedding dress to look good in next weekend. So I told her the story. She agreed to try the rosewater cupcakes and the smile on her face after she took a bite was priceless. She said: "I love tart things. [my fiance] knows that." She herself would never have chosen the rosewater, but she liked it a lot.

Finding the ingredients for these two cupcake recipes was a bit of a challenge. Despite thousands--maybe millions--of Mexican bodegas and supermercados in NYC, I couldn't find Mexican chocolate. So I substituted a Dagoba hot chocolate cocoa called Xocolatl and reduced the sugar in the recipe. The rosewater called for sugared rose petals as a decoration, and I thought I'd be too busy this week to make them on my own, so I found them at Kalustyan's in Kip's Bay. Unfortunately, they weren't as pretty as ones I would have made on my own, and next time I won't shy away from the task.

Mexican Chocolate Cupcakes

1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup xocolatl (Mexican drinking chocolate--see above)
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup lukewarm water
1/3 cup canola oil
3/4 tsp white vinegar
1/2 cup finely grated semi-sweet chocolate, plus a little extra for garnish
Buttercream frosting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. Sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, 1 1/2 tsp of cinnamon, and the salt into a bowl. Add the water, oil, and vinegar to the flour mixture, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat until combined. Add the 1/2 cup of chocolate and beat until well combined.

Divide the batter evenly into the paper liners filling to about 3/4 full. Bake until a toothpick is inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 24-28 minutes. Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to let cool completely before frosting--about one hour.

Frost with buttercream (I used a chocolate buttercream using the xocolatl again) and garnish with grated chocolate.

Rosewater & Raspberry Cupcakes

1 1/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temp
1 tbsp rosewater
2 large eggs, at room temp
1/2 cup milk
Rosewater glaze
12 raspberries
Sugared rose petals

Preheat oven to 350 degrees; line a muffin tin with paper liners.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, with an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the confectioner's sugar and butter together until light and fluffy--about 2-3 minutes. Add the rosewater and the eggs, one at a time, beating on low speed until combined after each addition. Add the flour in three additions, alternating with the milk in two. Beat on low speed until well combined.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling each to about 3/4 full. Bake until lightly golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 15-18 minutes. Let the cupcakes cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely for about an hour.

When cooled, spoon a small amount of glaze on each cupcake and garnish with sugared rose petals. Depending on what colors you get with each, you may want to add a raspberry on top. My rose petals were too dark and wouldn't have looked good with the raspberries, so I baked my raspberries into the center of each cupcake. (I did this by filling the muffin cups 1/2 full, pressing a raspberry in the center, and then covering with another dollop of batter).

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Favorite. Ice Cream. Ever.

When my close friend and roommate left me eight years ago to move in with his wonderful boyfriend just down the street, he left me a lot of things. His boyfriend was a well-provisioned adult, and I was barely scraping by, so the hand-me-downs were welcome. One of the things he left was an ice cream maker. Every once in a while, I would contemplate the idea of making ice cream but I never did.

Eight years went by and the ice cream maker collected dust. Last year, my husband and I pulled it out and considered selling it at the yard sale my friend and his boyfriend were holding down the street--they were moving to a smaller apartment two neighborhoods away. We didn't sell it; instead, we dusted it off and put it in a new storage place. We vowed to use it soon. We didn't.

Another year went by, but I recently took it out. I experimented first with a simple vanilla ice cream, using some vanilla beans that I foraged in a Mexican market a few years ago. It turned out alright--though a little too fatty for my taste. It was kind of buttery. I served it over a fresh peach pie. My second experiment was with peach ice cream. D had bought a basket of peaches at a roadside green market in Pennsylvania and we couldn't possibly eat them all. This second batch was a little less buttery, but still a bit too creamy for me.

This week I decided to throw myself into the ring all the way and make my favorite ice cream of all time: mint chip. A colleague from work turned me on to a blog by David Lebovitz who writes, among other things, about making ice cream. I printed out the recipe for mint chip and headed to the market. I had no idea how many bunches of mint would make two cups, so I overbought. Then for good measure, I threw a bottle of mint extract in the cart. Instead of heavy cream, I bought light. And instead of whole milk, I bought two percent. In addition to those two ingredient changes, I also added my chopped chips in half-way through the mixing process directly to the ice cream base. I didn't heat it and drizzle as the recipe advised. And, I didn't have to worry about the mint extract, because after the two cups of mint leaves (less than two bunches, it turns out!) had steeped in the milk, I could tell that the flavor would be strong enough. And using light cream and 2% mile made it light and icy, just like I like it.

What is so sublime about this homemade mint chip, though, is the mint flavor. I've never tasted anything like it. To say that it tastes natural is an understatement. I mean, it IS natural. But it actually tastes like being in a garden. Long ago, I forswore mint chip ice cream that had that strange bright green color and only ate Breyer's mint chip. Then Haagen Daaz became the standard. But now? Now I think I'm just going to have to get used to plucking mint leaves to make my own.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Farewell Cookies

Our office is losing a terrific and well-liked attorney on Friday and I baked these cookies as a fond send-off because I can't make it for the traditional send-off drinks on Friday night. I adapted this recipe from one I found on Epicurious. I hope he likes them.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup light wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
10 oz semisweet chocolate chips (or to taste)
3/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly grease cookie pan. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. Beat together butter and sugars in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Lightly beat 1 egg with a fork in a small bowl and add 1 3/4 tablespoons of it plus 2 remaining whole eggs to butter mixture, beating with mixer until creamy, about 1 minute. Beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to low and mix in flour mixture until just blended, then stir in chips. Scoop heaping tablespoon of batter for each cookie, arranging mounds an inch or so apart, on 2 baking sheets. Flatten mounds using moistened palm of your hand. Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until golden for 13 to 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool and continue making cookies in same manner using cooled baking sheets.

Monday, September 5, 2011

End of the Line

When he was a kid, D's dad used to bring home 20 porgies at a time after fishing off the party boats in Canarsie. It was a good way for his dad to hang out with his buddies away from the wives and bring home food for his family. Who knows if you can even bring home 20 porgies at a time anymore? We've been eating less and less fish these days because of sustainability and toxicity concerns. We've also been searching for good information about what to eat and what not to eat, like this terrific NPR story that we heard by chance a few months ago about a book called Four Fishes. Tonight, we watched the movie The End of the Line, a documentary about overfishing featuring scientists predicting the extinction of many of the tastiest species. Porgies aren't one of those endangered fish, yet, but all of the experts advise eating less fish and trying to find sources that are committed to sustainable fishing methods.

Local is usually better. With that in mind, D and I trekked to Chelsea Market to get some fish at The Lobster Place after a day at the Highline Park, a park built on an old elevated former freight line (definitely worth a visit). At $4.50 a pound, the porgy--known for its tasty & firm white meat, locally fished, and not on the "Do Not Eat" list--was the fish to pick. We had 2 porgies filleted, and D prepared them for dinner. We garnished the fish with this black salt that we picked up at Williams Sonoma.

Seared Porgy with Corn & Olive Relish

1.5 lb fresh porgy, filleted
salt, pepper, olive oil
6 olives, chopped
one ear of corn, removed from the cob
small red pepper, diced
2 scallions, chopped
2 limes
1/4 stick of butter
splash of white wine

Saute in a cast iron pan the olives, corn, red pepper, and scallions in 1/4 stick of butter. Season with salt and pepper; finish with a splash of white wine and the juice of 2 limes. Season the porgy with salt and pepper and sear, skin side first, then flip to sear the other side. Pop it in the oven to finish. Serve on a bed of relish with some greens on the side (we used broccoli rabe). Enjoy!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Toasting Summer's End

The swift kick we delivered to summer's ass last night was well-deserved: this summer was, weather-wise, the most miserable one from my perspective in memory. Our second annual Kicking Summer to the Curb party featured a new house specialty: watermelon mojitos. Last weekend, D and I went to a wedding reception where the bride's signature drink was watermelon mojitos and we instantly knew that this drink would be the perfect companion to pernil as a toast to the end of summer. Easy to make, these drinks were a delight and they didn't last long.

Watermelon Mojitos

One ripe, good sized watermelon
1 healthy, fresh bunch of mint
10 limes
1 bottle of selzer water
1 big bottle of rum
crushed ice
lively straws

Blend half the watermelon into a liquidy pulp. Smoosh chunks of the other half of the watermelon into the pulp. Mottle together the lime and the mint and add to the watermelon mixture. Add about 1 tbsp of honey and mix thoroughly. Refrigerate to let the flavors marinate a bit. Serve by filling 1/2 of a 9 oz glass with crushed ice. Pour 1/2 to 1 shot of rum onto the ice (depending on how strong you like your drink), fill to within selter's reach of the cup with the watermelon mixture, top with seltzer water for fizz, and stir. If you want to get all fancy about it, garnish with a sprig of mint, a lime, and a slice of watermelon. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Bars

Last week, everyone from my dad to CNN was warning of the storm of the century. Hurricane Irene was making a bee-line for New York City, and we should all prepare to hunker down with sandbags, flashlights, and bathtubs filled with water for at least a few days, if not more. Most of us felt like the warnings were completely overblown, but echoes of Hurricane Katrina were playing around in my head, so I did everything they told me to do. My go-bag was packed, my cooler was filled with ice, and I was on the verge of taping up the windows. But after some harrowing wind and rain on Saturday night, the worst of the storm was over and when I got up at 6 am Sunday to catch the predicted water surge that would leave all of lower Manhattan under 6-12 feet of water, nothing happened. People in upstate New York suffered tremendously from flooding, but here, I can't even say we had a casualty. In fact, the storm prep motivated us to clean the porch and the fridge. So by Sunday mid-morning, I was feeling quite a bit of post-partum depression. I was all psyched up to sit inside, away from the windows, listening to the howling wind and playing scrabble by lamplight. Now, the sun was shining, birds were singing, and I had no tragedy to focus my energies on. So I decided to make dessert to bring to the home of some friends for dinner that night. I used a recipe from Gourmet magazine from 1999, and while I followed the perfectly good recipe, I would make several modifications to make the bars less sweet and more coconutty the next time around. I used an Epicurious recipe for the shortbread base, but used a light wheat flour instead of white flour. I'll call these chocolate macaroon bars Hurricane Bars probably forever.

Chocolate Macaroon Bars

4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar (I would use 1/2 cup sugar, or the same amount of sugar with a non-sweetened coconut)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup light wheat flour
a 7-ounce bag sweetened flaked coconut (about 2 2/3 cups) (I would use 3 - 3 1/2 cups coconut, and perhaps half or all unsweetened coconut)
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Shortbread Base

1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
2 cups light wheat flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cut butter into 1/2-inch pieces. In a food processor process all ingredients until mixture begins to form small lumps. Sprinkle mixture into a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan and with a metal spatula press evenly onto bottom. Bake shortbread in middle of oven until golden, about 20 minutes. While shortbread is baking, prepare topping.

In a bowl whisk together whites, sugar, and vanilla until combined well and stir in flour and coconut. Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over hot shortbread. Let chips melt and spread evenly over shortbread. Drop small spoonfuls of coconut mixture onto chocolate and with a fork spread evenly. Bake in middle of oven until top is golden, about 30 minutes. Cool completely in pan and cut into 24 bars. We served ours with vanilla gelato.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Late Summer Harvest

Assembling fresh tomato, mozzarella, and basil takes just moments, but when the ingredients are just right, there's nothing better in the dog days of summer. (I know the Dog Days (of Summer) Are Over as of August 11th, but it sounded good). I picked up these lovely tomatoes and basil at the farmer's market on Sunday, and used them on Tuesday night. I stored the basil incorrectly, so very few of the leaves were worth using after two days in the fridge, but luckily enough leaves to accompany the tomato slices. The mozzarella was fresh-made at Fairway. Drizzle some quality salt, cracked black pepper, and a good deep green olive oil and you're good to go. Serve it on a pretty dish and you'll make you dining partner or dinner guests swoon. (This is served on one of a set of owl plates our friend Jess gave us as a wedding gift.) Next time, I would serve with a side of nice crusty/chewy bread to sop up the excess oil. Yum.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Summer Pasta

I got the idea for this recipe from a Martha Stewart Living magazine in my doctor's office. I didn't copy the details; I just remembered the picture. Aside from steaming up the kitchen with two burners, this was a great summer dish.

Papardelle with Summer Squash, Oyster Mushrooms, Basil and Pecorino

12 oz papardelle pasta
1/2 cup of pecorino romano cheese
handful of basil
two yellow squashes
1 cup oyster mushrooms, roughly chopped
a few broccoli florets
small eggplant
half a medium onion
3 tomatoes
olive oil
salt & pepper
1/2 stick of butter
4-5 roasted garlic cloves

Put on a big pot of boiling water, add olive oil and salt to the water. Sautee onion; when carmelized, add chopped eggplant, squash and mushrooms, as well as salt and pepper. Sautee until soft. Place the veggies in a bowl and set aside. Add the pasta to boiling water. Saute chopped tomatoes (seasoned with salt and pepper) in the hot pan (I used a wok) until soft. When the pasta is NEARLY done, add the broccoli florets to the water. When the pasta and broccoli are done to taste, drain in a collander. Return to pan and add pieces of roasted garlic, butter, plus the tomatoes and the set-aside vegetables. Toss over a low flame; do not overmix--the vegetables need to retain their distinctness. Just before serving, add basil and some cheese. Stir, and serve with extra cheese.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Lemongrass Quest

Sometimes a recipe that appears on the yahoo home page catches my eye and I print it out, set it aside, and vow to make it at some later date. I saw this recipe from Better Homes and Gardens one day and always wanted to cook with lemongrass, so into the recipe folder it went. I asked all around to see where I could find lemongrass, and a colleague suggested a Thai grocery in Manhattan. I knew it would be months before I could make the excursion because I've been so busy at work, so I thought this recipe would have to wait. To my surprise, this weekend, we found some lemongrass at Fairway. It looks like an old and stiff scallion, and I was skeptical. But I trusted D, he knows what he's doing. I knew we had leftover pineapple in the fridge, and the rest of the ingredients were light enough for a summer meal so I was ready to go. I feel a little bad about this recipe because pineapple is far from local, but it is so delicious. I added basil to the recipe because my plants were growing so strong on the porch and I needed to trim them back. I made some adjustments, and would make some more if I made it again. Adjustments and suggestions are included below.

Thai Pineapple Lemongrass Chicken Stir Fry

3 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp rice vinegar
3 tsp minced fresh lemongrass (or 2 tsp finely shredded lime or lemon peel)
olive oil
1 medium red onion, halved lengthwise and sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cucumber, cut into thin bite-sized strips (about one cup)
1/4 of a pineapple, cut into bite sized pieces
2 fresh jalapeno chile peppers, seeded and finely chopped
12 oz skinless, boneless chicken cut into thin bite-sized strips
1 cup sugar snap pea pods, trimmed
1/2 sliced red bell pepper
about 10 large basil leaves, chopped into thin strips
handful of chopped cilantro
3 cups rice (jasmine, brown, or basmati)

Make the sauce by combining the lemongrass with the lime juice, fish sauce, and rice vinegar; set aside. Saute sliced red onion and garlic in a wok with some olive oil. Add cucumber, pineapple, and chile peppers. Cook until the pineapple begins to brown/sear. Remove the wok from the heat and dump the vegetables in a bowl; set aside. Add the chicken to the hot wok and cook through. Add the onion/vegetable mixture and the sauce. Cook until heated through. Add the basil strips and stir until the flesh is wilted. Serve immediately over hot cooked rice. Sprinkle and garnish with cilantro.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bread & Butter

Would that making pickles were my bread & butter....particularly small batches like this. We're going camping for the July 4th weekend, so I'm getting some pickles ready for the burgers we'll grill over the fire. These are simple bread and butter pickles that take a few hours to assemble, and then about two weeks to sit.

Bread & Butter Pickles

6 cucumbers
1/4 sliced red bell pepper
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup salt
ice cubes
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp pickling spices
3/4 tsp turmeric

Slice the cucumbers in oblong shapes, thick enough to stay crisp, but thin enough to place in a burger. Slice thinly 1/4 red bell pepper and 1/2 a white onion, then toss with 1/2 cup of salt. Cover the mixture with ice cubes and place in the fridge for at least three hours. The salt will make the vegetables emit water, so you don't need to put any water in with them. When you're ready to drain the pickles, add the cider vinegar, water, sugar, pickling spices, and turmeric into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Drain and lightly rinse the vegetables while you're waiting for the cider mixture to boil. Pack two mason jars full of the vegetables. When the cider mixture has come to a boil, pour the liquid over the vegetables so that they are fully immersed. Tighten the lids on the jars and let sit. After a day or so, you can move them to the fridge and keep until you're ready to use them. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

I'll Bring the Batter

Our friends in the country have a terrific waffle machine that cooks waffles to perfection every time. I have three sourdoughs in the fridge that I have to feed every week. I hate discarding the cups of sourdough, so I always end up making something or bringing a little something everywhere I go. This weekend, I volunteered to bring the waffle batter for some waffle perfection.

I found this recipe on the King Arthur website. We totally forgot to pick up buttermilk on the way out of the city, so I warily substituted light cream. The waffles turned out insanely light and tasty. We're considering using the leftovers to make some savory waffles with leftover ham for tomorrow's lunch.

Sourdough Waffles

Overnight Sponge

2 cups white flour
2 tbsp sugar
2 cups buttermilk (or light cream)
1 cup sourdough starter, straight from the fridge (not fed)

Waffle Batter

All of the overnight sponge
2 large eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda

To make the overnight sponge, stir your sourdough starter and take out a cup. Feed your starter and place back in the fridge. Stir together the starter, flour, sugar, an milk. Cover and let rest at room temperature overnight.

The next morning stir the remaining ingredients into the sponge. Pour into your waffle iron according to instructions and serve immediately once done, with butter and syrup.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Gypsytized Chicken Piccata

Chicken piccata was on the menu tonite, but I defrosted bone-in chicken breasts instead of boneless, and D told me that if I used bone-in chicken breasts, it wouldn't be chicken piccata. So all day, I was thinking about what I could do with these chicken breasts that would be piccata-like. I already knew I wanted to use olives and mushrooms, so this is how I made it. Several epicurious recipes for chicken piccata inspired this, but I didn't use a recipe while I was cooking.

Chicken Piccata Gypsy-Style

2 bone-in chicken breasts
1 lemon
10 cloves garlic
1 medium onion
1 jalapeno pepper
10 olives
10 cremini mushrooms
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tsp cornstarch
handful of capers
2 tbsp parsley
salt and pepper
olive oil

Coat chicken breasts with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Slice the lemon into thin slices and secure three slices with a garlic clove on top of each one with toothpicks. Bake in the oven at about 350 degrees for about a half an hour to 45 minutes, or until done.

While the chicken breasts are cooking, slice the onion into thin slices, and finely chop the garlic and jalapeno. Sautee these three ingredients in olive oil until starting to brown; add sliced creminis and halved pitted olives (I used green and a few black ones). Make your broth and mix with 2 tsp cornstarch. When everything is nice and browned, add the liquids (broth combined with cornstarch, wine, lemon juice) and reduce until the sauce is nice and thick.

When the chicken breasts are cooked through, remove the chicken from the bone and shred into the sauce (truth be told, the breasts were so big--no laughing--that I only used the meat from one of them and froze the other). The garlic was just for show--and a quick snack. We just ate the roasted garlic right off the lemon slices when the chicken came out of the oven. Finish the sauce with a handful of rinsed capers and parsley. I served this over spinach pasta. It was outrageously delicious.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

My New Favorite Sandwich

Last summer, my friend Sue invited me to go hear a string quartet she knew called Ethel at an outdoor venue at Lincoln Center. I rushed from work downtown, and didn't have the time to stop for a snack before and had the munchies when I arrived. Sue shared half of her sandwich with me: apples and brie on a french baguette. I knew I had to make it again for myself, so I did.

How to do it: Start with a quality french baguette, crusty on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. Spread a little mayo on one half, whole-grain mustard on the other. Line with apple slices, pieces of brie, and then fill with sprouts. I used pink lady apples, but any crisp, partly sweet/partly tart apple will work. It's actually better if it sits for a while, so it's perfect to wrap it up tight in some plastic and popping it in your bag to take to work. Yum.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Bronx Find

The organization I work for hosted a series of lunches for defense attorneys in four different cities across New York State to discuss the implementation of a drug law reform measure that passed in 2009. I wanted the luncheons to be something special, but defense attorneys in Buffalo and Rochester weren't very imaginative; we had sandwiches from a (nice) deli in Buffalo, but the Rochester lawyers opted for simple pepperoni pizza. When the luncheon for the Bronx lawyers came up, I posted a request on my Facebook page for some suggestions for a good restaurant nearby. Almost immediately, a friend responded by putting me in touch with a lawyer who happened to work for the organization I was visiting (but in a different department). He said: hands down, Coqui Mexicano. I visited the website and could tell from the menu that this place was a winner.

After agonizing over the menu, and deciding that I'd have to pitch in some bucks for extra food so I could bring home dinner, I called Diego and explained the plan. I was a little worried when he said that their catering menu was different, but not posted on the web, but ultimately, I just told him what I wanted in general and the amount of money that I wanted to spend.

It just so happened that D and I were traveling in the same direction the day of the luncheon, and so we decided to drive up to the Bronx and have a quick lunch together before the luncheon. (I knew that because I was speaking and asking a bunch of questions and taking notes during the luncheon that I wouldn't be able to eat during the meeting.) When we arrived, Diego seemed a bit frazzled, and worried aloud that the avocados weren't really ripe enough yet. The place was not very busy, just a few folks talking leisurely over some food in the brightly-colored dining room. Diego suggested the beef stew, which D ordered--but I knew I wanted a Cubano. I'm not a big Cubano fan, but for some reason, I wanted to try his. I'm so glad I did. Thinly sliced ham, pernil, pickle, and mayo, and a very tasty cheese on a soft roll. He conversed with us while we ate, asking if everything was alright ("some people make crusty Cubanos, I like mine like this. You like it?" I did.)

After giving the avocados a few more squeezes, he excused himself and set off at a quick trot down the street and around the corner--presumably in search of more ripe avocados for the guacamole we'd ordered for the luncheon. Watching him run down the street, I noticed an amazingly ornate, but run-down, building across the street--it was the old Bronx County Courthouse. Now covered in unartistic graffiti and grime, it appeared to be a sad symbol of a neighborhood in decline. But D told me that the owner recently sold it to a charter school, so (notwithstanding concerns about charter schools!) maybe someday soon, the beautiful architecture will shine on the block again. You can see the building in the background of the picture above, but some dude actually took photos of the inside and outside of the building and posted them on his blog, Satan's Laundromat.

Before D and I left to head over to the luncheon, I ordered a piece of Budin de Maiz, a sweet cornbread pudding with raisins, cinnamon, & grated coconut for a snack later that day. It was delicious. As the menu said, it's great for breakfast with coffee, or a dessert. I'll have it anytime, thank you.

When Diego delivered the spread for the luncheon a half an hour later, the lawyers greeted him like an old friend. I didn't know until later that about a year ago, when Coqui was struggling in the neighborhood, the legal services office organized a fundraiser to keep them in business. The bonds are tight between the organization and the restaurant. This article explains the story of Coqui Mexicano and why it's so special in the neighborhood.

I ordered a taco platter with pernil, warm corn tortillas, ricanized couscous salad, guacamole, escabeche de gandules, and five Cubanos. Diego apologized because he didn't bring as much as I ordered because he didn't want to use the under-ripe avocados, which was VERY COOL. He brought the chayote salad as a substitute--I have to admit, I didn't order it because I didn't know what it would be like, but it was outstanding. The lawyers enjoyed the food, the meeting was a success, and I brought some leftovers home so that D and I could taste the whole range of food from the place. I owe Diego a big, warm thank you for his thoughtful preparation of the food. I only wish I had more occasion to go to the Bronx--this would be my go-to place.

Photos courtesy of Welcome2Melrose blog, and The Daily News.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Few of Our Favorite Things

Jess and I hadn't seen each other since my wedding nearly nine months before, so when she made the suggestion out of the blue that we meet for a light dinner at a new Moroccan restaurant on the Lower East Side because she'd purchased a Groupon for it, I readily agreed. We went to Zerza in the East Village and I ordered merguez sausage in a tomato sauce with poached eggs that was absolutely delicious. Two of D's favorite things are eggs and merguez, so I knew he would love this dish. I found this recipe from a blog called Food52 for the dish and made it at home. We served it with a side of sauteed dandelion greens. The bitter of the greens was tempered by really nice olive oil and garlic, and it was perfect with the spicy tomato sauce. I had two types of harissa on hand: one from our friend Samir who is originally from Tunisia, the other (less hot) from a local Middle Eastern restaurant. If the sauce is spicy enough, you won't even want to use the harissa. The cilantro is really key, though, to cut the heat.

Moroccan Merguez Ragout with Poached Eggs

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, small dice
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 pound merguez sausage, sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 tablespoon ras el hanout*
1 teaspoon Spanish sweet smoked paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 15-ounce cans fire-roasted tomatoes, preferably Muir Glen
8 extra-large eggs
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro, stems included
2 tablespoons harissa, see note above
warm crusty bread, for serving

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until golden. Toss in the garlic and cook another 2 minutes. Add the merguez and sauté until almost cooked through, about 3 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the ras el hanout, Spanish smoked paprika and salt. Stir to combine and cook for a minute to lightly toast the spices. Add the tomatoes. Turn up the heat to medium and cook until the mixture has thickened slightly, about 5 minutes. Crack the eggs over the mixture, cover and cook until the whites set, but the yolks are still soft. Divide the eggs and ragout among four warm bowls using a large spoon. Top with a sprinkling of cilantro and a teaspoon of Harissa. Serve immediately with crusty bread.

Ras el Hanout is totally simple to assemble if you have all of the spices. Layering the spices into the jar, the end result looks like a North African desert bathed in a sunset. I shook it to combine the spices before using it in the recipe.

Ras El Hanout

2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon cardamom powder
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Incredible Edible Egg

I used to consider my husband to be an egg fanatic. When I met him, it was disconcerting to me how often he ate eggs. I was never a regular breakfast eater, but every morning after I'd stayed at his house, he'd make us fried eggs, half a bagel, and some coffee. I kind of liked the routine, but when we started living together, I was worried about eating so many eggs every week. "High cholesterol!" I'd exclaim. Some nights when I worked late or went out with friends, I'd find the tell-tale signs of fried eggs in the pan. "Did you eat fried eggs again?" I would ask, accusingly. Depending on his mood, he'd reply sheepishly that he'd been caught, or he would lodge a defense of eggs. In the lean years, he explained, he'd eat mai fun noodles from the corner Chinese place almost every evening for dinner--with a fried egg on top. He plays sports and swears that oatmeal with a fried egg on top is the perfect breakfast before a game.

Years have passed, both of our cholesterol levels are just fine (I insisted he have his checked!), and I feel differently about eggs. There've been conflicting studies about the effect of egg consumption in healthy adults. Some have even called it the perfect food because of it's nutritional properties. According to wikipedia: "They supply all essential amino acids for humans,[21] and provide several vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, riboflavin (vitamin B2), folic acid (vitamin B9), vitamin B6, vitamin B12, choline, iron, calcium, phosphorus and potassium. They are also a single-food source of protein."

And you know what? I love eggs, too. I love omelets (which we make at least once a week), scrambled eggs, egg-drop soup, poached eggs (which I never even knew about until I went to London), eggs in fried rice, egg custard, deviled eggs, and hard boiled eggs at easter time with a little bit of mayonnaise and salt. In fact, I like hard boiled eggs all the time. A friend of mine was traveling in Africa once and packed a dozen eggs with her for snacks on the road. I actually don't know whether hard boiled eggs would keep while you're hiking in the heat for a week, but she swore that they survived the journey well and provided quick and easy energy.

These days, I especially love the eggs that my husband cooks perfectly and puts on top of the flax-oat sourdough bread that I make, with a few strips of smoked salmon. But I use hard boiled eggs a lot, too--both as a good travel breakfast on the train when I'm totally busy or chopped up on salads for lunch. We've started buying cage-free eggs (organic and/or from local farms when we can afford it) because of all of the horror stories about egg production. I still don't know whether to trust the "cage-free" label on the eggs we get at Fairway or Trader Joe's, but I have to think they're somewhat better than the 99 cent eggs in the styrofoam container. There have been a few articles about the topic, but I haven't quite figured it out yet.

Unfortunately, I've found that the better the egg, the harder time I've had peeling them. I used to be an expert egg peeler at Eastertime, but these days, I'm lucky if I get 3/4 of the egg I started with after peeling away strips of rubbery egginess with the shell. I found this recipe for cooking eggs to perfection, and I hope my egg-wasting days are over. The recipe recommends using eggs that are not fresh, 3-5 days old are the best. In contravention to everything I've ever thought, the recipe also tells you to not add salt to water, explaining that the salt will raise the boiling point of the water making the egg whites rubber.

How To Correctly Cook Hard-Cooked (Hard-Boiled) Eggs

Bring your eggs to room temperature before cooking. If the egg has been stored in the refrigerator, it can be warmed gently under a flowing hot tap water or sit at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes. By bringing the eggs to room temperature, they're much less likely to crack in the hot water. Also the temperature of the egg at the start of the cooking process will affect the cooking time.

Choose the right size pot to cook your eggs in: The eggs must not be stacked but be in one (1) layer only. Gently place the eggs in a single layer in a pan with enough cold water to cover eggs completely (approximately by 1 inch of water over the top of the eggs).

Over high heat, bring water JUST to a rapid boil. As soon as the water reaches a rapid boil, remove pan from heat and cover egg pan tightly with a lid.

Set timer for 17 minutes for large eggs or 20 minutes for jumbo eggs. After 17 or 20 minutes (depending on size of your eggs), remove lid and drain off water from the eggs.

Watch the time when cooking the eggs carefully. Overcooking causes a green layer to form around the yolk. This layer is caused by a reaction between the iron in the yolk and the sulfur in the white. Heat speeds up this reaction, so the longer your eggs cook, the greater the chance of discoloration.

IMPORTANT - Stop the cooking process - Residual Heat or "Carry Over Heat."

After the eggs are removed from the heat, some cooking will continue, particularly the yolk of the egg. This is due to residual heat called “carry over cooking,” For this reason, transfer the eggs to the bowl of ice cubes and/or cold water. While they're in the cold water, a layer of steam develops between the shell and the egg white. The steam helps make peeling an egg much easier.

Let eggs cool at least 10 minutes in cold water, then drain. Either store in refrigerator or peel the eggs.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Can't Let Organic Buttermilk Go to Waste

For this year's St. Patrick's Day soda bread, I used an outrageously expensive quart of buttermilk ($4.99). I had at least two cups of it left a few days later and didn't want to waste it. I also happened to have set aside a bowl of sourdough sponge two days ago, and it was nice and bubbly. I found the following recipe on, and we adapted it to make a pancake recipe that's an absolute keeper.

Sourdough Buttermilk Cornmeal Pancakes

1 c. flour
1 c. cornmeal
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. sugar
1 1/3 c. buttermilk
1 c. Sourdough Starter (at room temp.)
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp. vegetable oil

Combine first 6 ingredients in a non-metal bowl; stir well. Add buttermilk, Sourdough Starter and egg; beat just until large lumps disappear. For each pancake, pour about 1/4 cup batter onto a hot, lightly greased griddle. Turn pancakes when tops are covered with bubbles and edges look cooked.

For these, I don't think I would combine them with fruit. Just too much going on.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Ancho Shrimp

My office is holding a chili cook-off this week, and I prepared an ancho chile puree to use in my beef and black bean chili. I had some puree leftover, so we used it for our delicious Sunday night shrimp dinner. We paired the ancho chile shrimp with spaghetti squash, spinach, and black rice. I adapted this from a recipe on eHow.

Ancho chile puree

4 cloves roasted garlic
4 dried whole ancho chiles
1 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper
1 tsp. salt
1/4 c cider vinegar

Soak the whole chiles in warm water for at least 30 minutes, turning to make sure that the floaters are coated for at least 15 minutes on all sides. Remove the stems and the seedpods from the chiles. Cut them in half, and roast them in a dry cast iron skillet over high heat. Slip the garlic cloves out of their skins and place them in the bowl of a food processor along with the salt and pepper, vinegar and the roasted chiles. Pulse the machine a few times to begin the puree. Scrape down the sides and continue pulsing the machine and adding small amounts of water until the puree is as thick as possible but still allows the machine to run smoothly. Scrape down the sides as necessary and puree to a fine paste. Use a rubber spatula to force the puree through a strainer to extract skin and seed fragments.*

*I was too lazy to actually perform this last step, although I should have.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Confetti Cornbread

Sometimes I use a packaged mix. This is a risky admission on a blog that champions slow home cooking and tries to follow, as much as possible, Michael Pollan's suggestion to shop around the perimeter of the supermarket. But sometimes I do. I wanted to make cornbread for an annual chili party that friends of ours on the Upper West Side have every year, and I happened to have three boxes of Jiffy cornbread mix in the cabinet. You can find these little guys for as little as 33 cents in some grocery stores; these were 55 cents at Fairway. The ingredients aren't so bad, and its just so easy: add an egg (in this case three), and a 1/3 cup of milk (in this case one cup) and voila! Tasty cornbread. I dressed it up a bit, of course, with 1/2 cup of corn kernels and about 2 tbsp of chopped red jalapeno and fire-roasted poblano. My cornbread didn't hold up very well on the long walk and subway rides from Brooklyn to the party, but people gobbled them up despite their looks.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Six of Everything

We finally have six of everything for entertaining: six fancy water glasses, six matching cloth napkins, six salad plates, six dessert plates, six steak knives, six matching chairs at a lovely new table, and matching silverware to we had to have four of our friends over for a mid-week dinner party. We haven't had a chance to use the lovely tagine that we received as a wedding present, so I decided to prepare a lamb tagine that I made as our very first tagine, which I wrote about here. One of our friends has very specific food aversions, including nuts, chocolate, and aged cheese--three things we discovered we use routinely. So dinner planning was a bit of a challenge, but a welcome one. Finding an appetizer without nuts or aged cheese was the first challenge. Dessert without chocolate was the second. Epicurious came through with flying colors on both fronts. I decided on a goat cheese with roasted yellow pepper and dill for an appetizer, served with lavash crackers from Damascus bakery on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. For dessert, I chose a honey cake called Basboura. The Basboura was a hit; everyone had a second piece.


2 cups fine semolina
1 cup dessicated coconut
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
A little less than 2/3 cup melted butter or ghee or semnah
1 cup milk

For the syrup...
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1 tbsp lime juice or 2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp honey

Preheat the oven to 345 degrees F. In a large bowl mix all the dry ingredients, the semolina, coconut, sugar and soda together. Mix in the melted butter and milk and stir until well combined. Pat this mixture into a buttered, shallow medium sized oven proof dish and level the surface with a spatula or a palette knife. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown on the top.

In a medium sized sauce pan, place the sugar and water on low heat and stir until the sugar dissolves completely. Increase the heat to medium and then bring the mixture to a vigorous boil and cook until it coats the back of a spoon or reduces by about one-third or until it reaches 220 degree F on a cooking thermometer. Stir in the lime juice and allow to cool. Once cooled or warm, mix in the honey and stir well.

Allow the cake to cool sllightly, for about 10 minutes and then cut it into squares or diamonds. Carefully pour the syrup over the cake. It will look like a lot of syrup, but the cake will absorb all the syrup gradually.

Serve at room temperature. We served ours with a dollop of yogurt mixed with a splash of rose water, and a generous sprinkling of dessicated coconut. The dessert can be served, or baked, with almonds as well.

Goat Cheese and Yellow Pepper Dip

2 yellow peppers, halved, seeded
2 jalapeno peppers, cut in half and de-seeded
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces sharp soft goat cheese
2 tablespoons chopped dill, plus 1 sprig for garnish
1 tablespoon lime juice
Coarse salt and fresh cracked black pepper
Pinch cayenne

Roast peppers over an open flame until soft and a the skin a little charred, about 5-8 minutes. Place them in a plastic bag for about 20 minutes, remove and peel the skin off. Emulsify the peppers in a food processor and add the goat cheese, lime juice, dill, cayenne pepper, black pepper and salt to taste. Pulse until combined well. Serve with flat bread or pita chips.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Kimchi's Best Friend

I started buying packaged bulgogi from Trader Joe's about a year ago and it has become one of our favorite go-to dinners. We love kimchi so much, and pile it high on the plate alongside a modest amount of the seasoned beef and white rice. I swear we could go through a few pounds of kimchi every week without even trying. We've tried to find other kinds of bulgogi in different Asian shops, but haven't been able to find an alternative to Trader Joe's (which is kind of expensive) that doesn't have high fructose corn syrup. D kept suggesting that we could probably make it ourselves, and I don't know why I was so intimidated. Not only was it easy, it was actually deeply satisfying to make. Rubbing the meat with brown sugar and then mushy kiwi was an almost sensual experience. Even now as I write, I can still smell the sesame oil and garlic on my fingers.

I found this recipe on Epicurious, of course. That website never lets me down. The following is an adaptation of the recipe, which unmodified is probably very good.

Homemade Bulgogi

1 1/4 lb skirt steak, cut into 2 inch pieces
2 tablepoons tamari
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons crushed garlic
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon rice wine (sake)
Pinch of black pepper
1/2 tbsp sesame seeds
1 fresh kiwi, juiced in a blender

Juice the kiwi--it's okay if its just in little pieces. It's probably better if it's not completely juiced. Trim the fat off the beef with a sharp knife. Rub the sugar evenly into each piece of the beef. Allow beef to sit for at least 10 minutes. In a separate bowl, mix together the soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, sesame seeds, sake, and black pepper. Put aside. Massage the beef with the kiwi using your hands. The kiwi works as a tenderizer. Add the soy sauce mixture and mix. Allow the beef to marinate for 10 minutes, and then pack closely into a plastic bag. Pop it in the fridge and it will be awesome in a day or so. When you're ready to prepare it, just heat up a wok or a cast iron pan with oil until smoking. Cook the meat directly from the bag quickly until browned, being careful not to overcook. Serve either over or to the side of white rice, with a generous side of kimchi. We've found that pickled mangoes on the side are a nice accompaniment, too.

Squid Memories

Seafood was not big in our house when I was a kid, so when I started hanging out with my late friend Jon Paul , I was constantly fascinated with the seafood stir frys, stews, and soups that he and his partner Wende would dish up for us after a night of street outreach for the needle exchange program that we worked with in Philadelphia. Tentacles, legs, sometimes even eyes would be floating around in the bowls he would hand me; the food they prepared was always delicious. I rarely work with that kind of seafood, but I picked up some fresh Long Island calamari at the farmer's market this weekend, and tried this recipe. JP passed away a few months ago, and this dish brought back fond memories of him.

Thai Calamari with Chili

1 pound calamari (squid)
1 medium onion
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped garlic
3 fresh red chilies, seeded and chopped
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 tablespoons palm sugar or brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon cornstarch

Cut the calamari into chunks; leave the tentacled ones the way they are. Slice onion from top to bottom to form curved strips. in a skillet cook onion, garlic, and chilies in oil till onion is almost tender. Add calamari and cook for a few minutes or till they curl and become tender. In a bowl stir together fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, water, and cornstarch. Add to skillet. Cook and stir till thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir 2 minutes more.

Finally! Perfectly Risen Sourdough Loaf

If you know me, or have read this blog at all over the past year, you know that I've been working with sourdough since December 2009, baking at least two loaves of bread nearly every weekend. Maybe you've even been the recipient of one of my experiments. One of the most mysterious things about this process is that I haven't been able to find one good recipe for a rustic sourdough loaf that has the classic hard crunchy outer crust, and the spongy, fragrant inner bread. I've also had a hell of time getting my white breads to rise beyond bloated flatbread shapes. I finally stumbled upon a good recipe that produced a nice loaf with a strong rise. I served this bread at a chili party/meeting I hosted for my softball team and it got rave reviews.

Sourdough Olive Bread

2 cups lukewarm water (110°F)
2 cups white sourdough starter, room temperature
2 teaspoons active dry instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon diastatic malt**
7 to 8 cups bread flour***
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons finely-minced fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups Kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
Semolina flour, for dusting

** Diastatic malt is powdered malted grain, usually barley, but wheat, and rice may also be malted It breaks down the starch in dough to yield sugars on which the yeast can feed.

*** The thickness of your sourdough starter can determine how much flour needs to be used. If you think the dough is too moist, add additional flour (a tablespoon at a time). The same is true if the dough is looking dry and gnarly. Add warm water (a tablespoon at a time). Your dough should not be sticky but should form a nice elastic ball. I usually have to add extra flour.

Combine water, sourdough starter, yeast, and diastatic malt in the bowl of a mixer; stir with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, just to moisten. Add flour, salt, rosemary, and olive oil; mix the dough until it snaps back quickly. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board; add olives and knead by hand for several turns to be sure the olives are well incorporated and the dough is smooth, adding additional flour if needed. NOTE: Knead dough by pulling the dough towards you and then pushing down and forward with the palms of your hands (kneading gives the bread the elasticity and lets it rise).

Place the dough in a lightly oiled large bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap Let rise until it doubles in volume (when you can put your finger in the dough and it leaves and indentation and doesn't spring back out) approximately 4 to 8 hours (depending on the temperature and the starter used, the rising time can vary as much as 2 hours).

Punch dough down and knead it on a floured board to feed it one more time before baking. Divide dough in half and shape each dough ball into a loaf or round shape (boule); place each loaf into a pan (I used both a loaf pan and a round spring-form cake pan). Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to rise until doubled in size, approximately 1 to 3 hours.

Oven Bread Rising: Sometimes I use my oven for the rising. Turn the oven on for a minute or so, then turn it off again. This will warm the oven and make it a great environment for rising bread. If you can't comfortably press your hand against the inside of the oven door, the oven is too hot. Let it stand open to cool a bit. Sourdough rises more slowly than yeast bread; Always remember, the longer the rise time, the more sourdough flavor.

Cool or Refrigerator Bread Rise: If I don't have the time to wait for the rise to finish or I know that I will be interrupted before the completed rise, I do a cool rise. A cool rise is when the dough is place in the refrigerator and left to rise slowly over night approximately 8 to 12 hours. I usually do this after the first rise and the dough has been shaped into a loaf. As this is a longer rise time, it improves the sourdough flavor in your finished bread.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. After the bread has risen, slash the bread with a bread razor or a very sharp knife making three 1/2-inch deep diagonal slashes. Brush or spray the top of the bread with cold water. Slide the trays in the oven. Spray the oven with a spray bottle full of water and close the oven door. Thirty seconds later, open the oven door and mist the oven again. Repeat this two more times, then turn the oven temperature down to 400 degrees F. and let the bread bake for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, turn the bread around 180 degrees so it can brown evenly; bake another 10 minutes or until nicely browned. NOTE: A good check is to use an digital thermometer to test your bread. The temperature should be between 200 and 210 degrees F.

Remove from oven and place bread on a wire rack to cool. Let the loaves cool for 30 minutes before cutting (this is because the bread is still cooking while it is cooling).

Poor Man's Fish

It's been so long since I've been to the Grand Army Plaza Farmer's Market, things have just been too busy. But yesterday, despite the violent wind, I took a walk through the neighborhood to the farmer's market with a short shopping list in mind: fresh fish, butternut squash, and kale. It's hit or miss at the fish market, and if you don't get there early, some of the fish is sold out and the line is always long. But this Saturday, I was lucky. The wind was so bitter and strong that there weren't that many people out, and instead of the regular fish stand, there was a new one with only two or three people on line. The poor woman who was staffing the table was rosy red with cold and her hands looked like they were on the verge of frostbite. I watched her "fish" out a big slab of cod and a squirmy-looking handful of calamari for the woman in front of me, and so I got the same. The cod looked beautiful--it was a thick, white, meaty 2 1/4 lbs coming in at a whopping $29, but it was Long Island line-fished, never frozen, and we hadn't eaten fish for so so long.

When I brought it home, D was shocked at the price. He told me that codfish used to be known as the "poor man's fish," they used to make fish sticks out of cod. But to me, it's political. We spend too little on food in this country, and we get what we pay for. Fishing off the Long Island coast is probably no easy matter in this weather, and fishermen have to make a living (not to mention the freezing cold fish monger!) I'd rather splurge on a nice piece of cod once a month, than pick up some cheap fish every friday night from Chinatown like we used to do. God knows where that fish comes from, and you can totally tell it'd been frozen. Unfortunately, I violated the complicated fish rules in terms of sustainability. The sustainability issue, as well as the health-related issues surrounding fish, are one of the reasons we hardly eat fish anymore. I still can't quite figure out the rules, but when I consulted one of my food experts, Mark Bittman, while writing this entry, I learned that cod is overfished. : (

We found this spice mix that must have been part of a gift basket at one point, and decided we'd use it on the fish. It is amazing, just check out the ingredients: ginger, roasted garlic, sea salt, caraway seeds, sugar, roasted sesame seeds, cumin, paprika, cassia, chillies, coriander, blackpepper, turmeric, mint, nutmeg, grains of paradise, rose petals, and saffron. D loves roasted cauliflower, so we decided to use that with some sauteed spinach to accompany the fish. D's the king of fish, so he's the one who pulled this meal together. He just asked me to make a tahini sauce like the kind we get at Tanoreen. I can't compare my cooking to that of the chef at Tanoreen, but I think the sauce came out pretty well. We suspect that Tanoreen fries their cauliflower, and nothing beats the taste of fried cauliflower, no matter what the sauce.

This is the recipe I used:

Tahini Lemon Sauce with Pomegranate Molasses

2 tbsp tahini
1 tbsp lebne
2 tbsp plain yogurt (low-fat, for texture)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
2 tsp minced and mashed garlic
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp pomegranate molasses

Combine all and stir vigorously with a fork until it's really smooth. This sauce should be poured over the cauliflower and just thick enough to stick on the vegetables; it shouldn't be the consistency of a dip or a liquid.

We sauteed small pieces of cauliflower with some salt and pepper and when it was nicely browned, it was done. We served it alongside the fish with the sauce drizzled over the cauliflower with a drizzling of additional pomegranate molasses--both for taste and for decoration.

For the cod, D marinated the fish with olive and lemon with salt and pepper, and let it sit for three hours in the fridge. When we took it out to prepare dinner, he coated it generously with the spice rub and patted it into the fish with his hands. He sauteed it on one side for three minutes, flipped it, put a handful of spinach on top, splashed it with some white wine, and some butter and covered it to let it steam for about 7 or 8 minutes at a simmer.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Last Minute Brownies

We had a few friends over to watch the Superbowl, and after setting out all of the dips and veggies and popping the chicken wings in the oven, D asked me if we had anything sweet. We didn't, but I offered to whip up a quick batch of brownies. I was lucky enough to have just enough organic cocoa from Trader Joe's left. The recipe only made about 10 decent sized brownies, but that was perfect. They were chocolatey and chewy...but they would have been better with some Ghiardelli chips.

Epicurious Best Cocoa Brownies

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cold large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup walnut

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray your baking pan (8" square) with olive oil. Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a pot of water so that it fits, and bring to a simmer. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts. Spread evenly in the pan. Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, about 30 minutes. Let cool before attempting to cut, but not too much. These brownies are delicious warm.