Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Food for Thought: Book Review

Have you ever read the blog Orangette?  No?  Do yourself a favor, dear reader.  Go check it out.

Awesome, right?  Got a big fat blogger crush on Molly Wizenberg?  Me too.

Recently, I picked up her book, A Homemade Life, at the Strand.  It's pretty awesome, too.

Ms. Wizenberg is a wonderful writer, and every story she tells and every recipe she shares just makes me want to get right into the kitchen and start whipping something up.

And I did.  First, I made a blueberry-raspberry pound cake for my cousin's birthday.  I brought it to the bar where she had her party and served it to all her guests.  Then I made banana bread with chocolate chips.  I gave some to my neighbor.  I couldn't stop.  For my coworker's housewarming, I made him the Winning Hearts and Minds cake.  My colleagues and I licked our plates clean.  Literally.

You guys.  You know I don't bake very often.

But you guys.  These recipes are too good to keep to yourself.  So, if you're ever in the mood for sharing something sweet, I suggest you take a leaf out of Ms. Wizenberg's book and get that oven preheating.

Blueberry-Raspberry Pound Cake, which I topped with some homemade chocolate ganache

Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips (I omitted the crystalized ginger because I didn't have any on hand)

Winning Hearts and Minds Cake.  It does what it says it will.  Trust.

Let me know if you want to borrow my copy.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Food for Thought: Best of the Blogs


Today, September 22, is the first day of fall.  I love it.

For today's Food for Thought, a few steps from some of my favorite blogs to get us in to the spirit of the season:

1.  There's nothing like some bourbon to keep you warm as the weather cools down.  Good thing it's National Bourbon Heritage Month!  Slashfood tells you all about it, and provides a recipe for a Maker's Mark Peach Cobbler.  I suggest you make it.

2.  Colder weather means more time indoors, which means more time in the kitchen!  I for one will be following Mark Bittman's lead and cooking my own meals more frequently.

3.  I will start by using up my abundance of gorgeous CSA tomatoes in this recipe for Fresh Tomato Sauce from Three Many Cooks.

4.  I will also be baking more.  Baking banana bread.  Baking this banana bread from Madison at Espresso and Cream.

5.  When I do go out, it will be for some comforting, tummy-warming ramen at Hide-Chan.  Serious Eats will tell you why.

6.  Sara Jenkins is opening up a new pasta place in my neighborhood, according to the Village Voice.  Maybe we can go there, too.

Bourbon, cooking, banana bread, and noodles.  Sounds like a good start to fall, indeed.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Party for Allison

Me and my friends, at Fordham

Disclaimer: This post is a little sappy.  Skip ahead to the recipes if you'd like to avoid the sap.  But what can I say, I love my friends!

Let me tell y'all about a very special lady in my life.  Her name is Allison, and she lives in Dallas.  She and I met at Fordham, and ever since she left New York for her hometown, it just hasn't been the same.  Life is a little drearier and, dare I say, food is a little blander when she's not around.

This past Labor Day weekend, however, Allison came to visit us all here in New York for a whole week.  And it was a wonderful week.  It just felt so right to have her here with us for our weekly Tuesday night dinner, for happy hour after work, and for late night mac and cheese.

To know Al Pal is to love her, and one of the best things about Allison visiting was eating with her.  That's pretty much all we did, all week long.  This is a girl that enjoys the finer things in life, but also relishes down-home, unpretentious, plain good food.  It is a joy and a pleasure to share a meal with her.

When Allison's friend Hilary told me that she was throwing a dinner party for Allison and she needed a cook, I volunteered right away.  Hilary is a holistic health coach (check out her website here and her blog here) and just loves nutritious, healthful foods, so I knew that I would have to create a very well balanced, and delicious, meal.  I was skeptical at first, since I didn't know whether Allison would want something a little richer, a little more luxurious for her party.  But Allison, sweet as ever, told me that she was confident in my abilities and that she was looking forward to eating my food.

And eat we did!  As I looked around the room at everyone eating up their whole grains and quinoa and roasted veggies and salmon, it seemed to me that they all felt what I was feeling as I was cooking.  Now I know that sounds kooky, but I really cooked those dishes with love, love for Allison and love for food, and immense gratitude for my amazing, awe-inspiring group of close friends.  And as everyone showered Allison with kisses and hugs, and scraped their plates clean, I knew we all felt the same way.

I hope I did her proud.  Now if only she would move here so that I could cook for her more often...

A Party for Allison
Grilled Wild Salmon
Quinoa with Roasted Tomatoes and Pesto
Roasted Eggplant and Squash
Whole Grains with Herbs
Three Bean Salad
Garlicky Kale
Apple Crisp

Quinoa with Roasted Tomatoes and Pesto
This quinoa dish is similar to the one I made for Eat In Week.  The addition of broccoli and avocado brings color and flavor to the dish, while lots of lemon juice brightens it up and gives it a tart kick.

2 cups dry quinoa, cooked according to instructions on package (or boiled in 4 cups water)
1 pound cherry tomatoes
2 avocados, peeled, pitted, and cubed
2 large stalks broccoli
2 lemons
1 bunch basil, leaves separated and stems discarded
3 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Rinse tomatoes, halve them, and toss them with some olive oil and salt.  Spread in one layer on a baking sheet and pop into the oven until beginning to brown and slightly shriveled, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, trim and wash the broccoli.  I like to use the stems, so I use a vegetable peeler to take off the outer layer of the stalk.  Cut the upper part into bite-sized florets and slice the stalk.  In a large pot, bring about an inch of water to boil.  Using a steamer insert, steam the broccoli until just done but still crisp, making sure the broccoli isn't touching the water when it's in the steamer.

To make the pesto, you can use a food processor or a mortar and pestle.  Begin by grinding or processing the basil and the garlic.  Add salt and pepper to taste and continue to grind until a paste is formed.  Add the juice of a lemon.  Slowly incorporate olive oil (in a separate bowl if using a mortar and pestle) until desired consistency is reached, using about 1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil.  My pesto was on the thinner side, since I didn't use cheese or pine nuts.

Combine quinoa, roasted tomatoes, avocado, and broccoli, in a large bowl.  Toss with pesto and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Finish with a drizzle more of olive oil and the juice of a lemon.

Roasted Eggplant and Squash

2 large eggplants, washed, trimmed, and cut into 1-inch chunks
4 squash (zucchini and yellow), washed, trimmed, and cut into 1-inch chunks
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss eggplant and squash with about 1/4 cup olive oil and generous sprinkling of salt and pepper.  Spread over 2 rimmed baking sheets (more if necessary) and bake until golden brown and tender, about 35-40 minutes.  Remove from oven and immediately toss with balsamic vinegar and red pepper flakes.  Serve hot!

Whole Grains and Herbs

1 cup wheat berries
1 cup pearled barley
1 cup brown rice
2 lemons
4 Tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
2 Tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
1 bunch of scallions, thinly sliced
olive oil
salt and pepper

Cook grains (separately) according to package directions.  (Wheat berries can be cooked in lots of boiling water, until tender, and then drained.  Same with barley.  1 cup brown rice should be cooked in 2 cups water, brought to a boil, then simmered.)  Combine grains and herbs in a large bowl.  Squeeze over the juice of 2 lemons (watch the seeds) and season with salt and pepper.  Drizzle over with about 1/4-1/2 cup olive oil, to taste.

Three Bean Salad

1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo beans
1 (15 ounce) can black beans
1 (15 ounce) can cannellini beans
2 leeks, trimmed, tough dark green ends discarded, and washed (by splitting lengthwise down the middle and soaking in cold water or rinsing thoroughly under running water)
3 shallots
1 lemon
3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
olive oil
salt and pepper

Drain and rinse beans, then combine in a large bowl.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Finely slice leeks and set aside.  Trim and peel shallots, slice those, and set them aside as well.  In a large skillet, heat a turn of olive oil over medium-high heat.  When hot, add leeks and shallots.  Season with salt and pepper and cook until very soft and tender, about 10 minutes.  Combine this with the beans and toss with vinegar and the juice of 1 lemon.  Add olive oil to finish, about 1/4 cup.  Check for seasoning; serve.

Garlicky Kale

2 large bunches kale
5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
olive oil
salt and pepper

Clean and dry kale.  Tear or cut into bite-sized pieces.  In a large skillet, heat a generous turn of olive oil over medium-high heat.  When hot, add garlic and cook until just fragrant.  Add kale (in separate batches probably) and cook until tender but still bright green.


The other stuff:

The salmon was simply marinated and grilled on the stove in a grill pan.  The marinade recipe came from Hilary.  Care to share it with us, Hilary?  Maybe in the comments or on your blog?

The apple crisp was haphazardly thrown together with some cored and sliced apples, rolled oats, hazelnut flour, vegan butter, vanilla extract, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  One of these days I'll write the recipe down, I promise!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Food for Thought: Mentors and Kitchens

I don't know how Alice Waters became someone that so many people have such violent opinions about.  She's a tiny little woman.  In my humble opinion, her recipes are great, and I agree with her philosophy.  She might even have been the one that got me thinking about locavorism.  Like most of us, Ms. Waters is just doing what she can to preserve our planet, while eating good food at the same time.  I have always thought of her as a pretty classy lady, and I think that we could do a lot worse than following her lead.

And after all, my one meal at Chez Panisse was possibly the best meal of my life.

That might be why I am so fond of Alice Waters.

Anyways, Vanity Fair just posted a snapshot of Waters's kitchen in Berkeley, CA.

Oh, what I would do with a kitchen like that.  And it opens out into her garden??  Swoon.

By the way, this is my kitchen:

Sure, I could use a little more counter space, but obviously I do just fine with what I've got.  That said, I definitely do my fair share of daydreaming about my dream kitchen.  What I would give for a normal sized fridge and freezer, a sprawling island, or some fancy tiled backsplash.  Sigh.

Speaking of kitchens, the MoMA just opened an exhibit called Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen (check out the link to see a picture of the Frankfurt Kitchen, by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky).  It seems like a really interesting exhibit, addressing how women contributed to the change in kitchen design, and even how these changes affect the way we think about food.  I'm definitely planning on checking it out in the near future.

So tell me, dear readers, who is your food mentor?  And what would your dream kitchen look like?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

End of Summer Roundup

Gah!  I am so sorry I've been absent from the blog for so long!  The summer has been slipping through my fingers, and I've been so busy since I came back from California.  But now I'm officially back!  Blogging will resume as usual, every week.  All will be right in the world once again.

In my last post, I shared with you my experiences at my home in California.  I mentioned that home for me doesn't necessarily mean one single place.  It's more of a feeling, really.  After this summer, I've never felt more at home in New York City.  Sure, it's tough sometimes, and I for one don't need the kind folks over at the Onion to remind me why this city is miserable.  But it's summers like this one that make me fall in love all over again.

It all started with a couple of concerts, a botched picnic, and an immense love and anticipation for summer in the city. Slowly but surely, the days grew hotter and the summer progressed, but I remained motivated in the kitchen with an abundance of CSA vegetables and the A/C running on full blast.  I participated in my first ever food co-op with my coworkers.  My closest friends and I started a weekly Tuesday night dinner tradition.  And then it got hot.  Really hot.  Not quite hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk, but hot enough to keep me away from my stove and oven for a while.  I went camping.  Then I went back to California for an escape from work and city life, and for a much needed dose of fresh California air.  I came home to New York City.  I spent Labor Day weekend in Cape Cod.  My good friend Allison from Dallas came to visit, and we never ate so well.  In fact, that seems to be a common theme of the summer, never eating so well.

And now, here we are.  Summer is coming to a close, and I'm so ready for fall.  I'm ready to carry the traditions of Tuesday night dinners and my work food co-op into the next season.  I'm ready for apple picking, pumpkin carving, soups, stews, butternut squash, spiked apple cider, and Thanksgiving feasts (oh yes, there will be more than one this year!).  I'm ready to continue the theme of never eating so well.

Of course, none of these experiences mean anything without the friends, family, and loved ones with whom I share them.  Food is better shared, and I've realized this summer that home is, too.  Maybe Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros say it best:

Laugh until we think we'll die
Barefoot on a summer night
Never could be sweeter than with you
Oh, Home! Let me come Home!
Home is whenever I'm with you!
Oh, Home, yes I am Home!
Home is wherever I'm with you!

And in the spirit of sharing, I've got some amazing recipes that I can't wait to share with you, including a feast for Allison (the friend from Dallas I mentioned earlier) and some baked goods that I meant to post a couple of seasons ago.

For now, I have a backlog of food porn that definitely needs to be shared.  So, without further ado, a brief food photo roundup of summer:

Homemade Pizza with Mozzarella and Prosciutto (made back when it was cool enough to turn the oven up all the way)

Homemade Pizza Crust

Cooking at the campsite - super easy when you have a camping stove!

Campfire Chili

Lunch at the Black Bear Diner in Sonoma, CA

 My cousin's famous Mexican beef and potato tacos

Purple Potato Hash with Braised Escarole and a Tomato/Corn Salad

Purple Potato Hash

Tomato and Corn Salad

Oven Roasted Tomato Sauce (even though it requires use of the oven, you can just walk away from it and come back after an hour or so to tomatoey goodness)

Tomato Sauce over Rice

Oven Braised Leeks

When I braise leeks, I use the whole leek, dark green tops and all.  They come out of the oven all melty and buttery and soft - great as a side or smeared onto a baguette!

 My second turn with the weekly food co-op: Roasted Pork Loin and Orzo with Tomato Sauce

Pasta with Homemade Vodka Sauce