Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fall Flavors

Was anybody else drooling over their paper this morning? Melissa Clark's article on Autumn was so delectable, I could almost smell the roasted figs in my apartment. Find it here, and find me in my kitchen cooking everything this weekend.

Photos courtesy NYTimes

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dinner Last Night

It was wonderful to have someone to cook dinner for last night. Wright had returned from the West Coast and my refrigerator was still brimming with vegetables from last week's load, so I thought I'd take the time to make a nice meal. It turned out to be vegetarian, but as Wright said, it was pretty hearty vegetarian.

I made a potato and turnip gratin - the simple version by Alice Waters (also described by Smitten Kitchen) with layers of potatoes and cheese and covered in cream (I used half and half). I alternated potato and turnip layers, and added some fresh thyme in the cheese layers, which consisted only of grated gruyere - no messy or complicated béchamel sauce! I baked at 375 for about an hour, and covered the top with more cheese for the last fifteen minutes or so.

To go with the potatoes, I sliced some baby bellas (not the most flavorful mushroom, but since I splurged on nice cheese, I thought this was a more affordable choice) and sauteed them in butter and olive oil. I did it over low heat for almost 30 minutes, which really helped bump up the flavor. For a salad, I tossed arugula, sliced almonds, tomatoes, and shallots into a champagne vinaigrette (honey, dijon, champagne vinegar, s/p, olive oil). It was flavorful but light - a good balance to the gratin.

For dessert, I made Ina Garten's Date Nut Spice Loaf, the first recipe I've made from her new book (not really new anymore!), Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics. It was absolutely divine - tons of flavor in every bite. Though Ina recommends it for breakfast with an orange cream cheese, it was a little too heavy for that. Perfect with a scoop of ice cream for a decadent dessert.

If you don't have the book, see Smitten Kitchen's description for a recipe. I added 1/4 teaspoon of almond extract (added with the vanilla) and used walnuts instead of pecans. Though it looks like an intimidating amount of ingredients, it is a fairly simple recipe that even I could master!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Baby Bell Peppers

There were wonderful baby bell peppers in my CSA last week. They were so colorful, I couldn't resist snapping a few photos.

They are kind of cute, no?

Now I just need to resist petting and actually make something with them!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

DBGB

Before Wright left for Washington, he was kind enough to take me on a date to restaurant we'd been dying to go to since it opened a few months ago - Daniel Boulud's DBGB. The restaurant is the first downtown venture of the famed chef - both in location (Houston and Bowery) and in the sense of the word. With a focus on sausage and beer, there has been a lot of talk about the high-quality food done in a low-brow kind of way (for example, there is a cheeseburger with pulled pork on the menu...probably the best cheeseburger with pulled pork on it you'll ever have, but still, a cheeseburger with pulled pork).

Our table was right by the kitchen, and for once, this was a good thing! The kitchen is open on two sides of the dining room, and it is so much more than just an open kitchen. The array of ingredients and utensils and everything you can imagine that lines the place is overwhelming and stunning. Everyone in the kitchen - and there are a lot of people in the kitchen - is working diligently and carefully, and watching them prep everything with such detail and elegance was fascinating. We were by the dessert station, so it was especially fun to watch them make the ice cream sundaes. (There are three on the menu; we had one with pistachio and golden plum ice cream, marshmallows, and cookies. It was kitschy and divine!)

For an appetizer, Wright had the escargot, which he'd read about in the Times and, well, if you watched the recent Top Chef episode with Boulud on it, you know why. Now, I have never eaten snails before. Are you surprised? Didn't think so. Anyway, they were heavenly - so buttery and flavorful and mmm just scrumptious! Very rich, but oh so delicious. I had the simple butter lettuce and chive salad, which was perfect. Yes, just perfect.

For the main course, Wright had the steak frites, which he quickly proclaimed one of the best he'd had (and he's had many, so this is a big statement). I went for the sausage - we were at DBGB, after all! I chose two types of sausage, one sweet and the other smoky. The smoky sausage ("Beaujolaise") was really flavorful and wonderful - so complex and delicious. The other wasn't as good, but it was still pretty darn wonderful. The sausages are made in house and there are probably about 20 to choose from - each very unique and appealing. I won't lie, it took me a really long time to decide which ones to get, and I will definitely be taste testing more the next time I return!

Yes, we're going back, that would be a definite. It wasn't exactly a cheap meal, but it was "a steal" for the quality, as Wright said. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and can't wait to go back and keep trying more dishes!

Something Sweet...

You know the drill. It's 9pm, you ate dinner two hours ago, and you're hungry. Hungry for something sweet. And this is precisely why you don't let yourself buy snacks or candy to keep in the house: you will eat it. And a lot of it, especially if no one is looking. So, you search your cupboards and refrigerator, and settle on something less than satisfying - usually a small cracker or a scoop of peanut butter. Maybe you've been lucky enough to find a dried cranberry or two. But, well, blah. Not sweet enough, and now you've nibbled on about 9 things and find yourself feeling a little sick and very underwhelmed. Oh, woe.

Last night, my friends Kate and Katherine were lamenting about this situation to me. It's something that happens to everyone, because let's be honest, the only way to not eat lots of sweets is to not have them around the house. But sometimes you just need something delicious. Just a couple of bites.

My solution has been to keep my pantry well stocked with baking items. It's better to eat homemade cookies than storebought ones, right? And I only end up actually going through the process of baking if I'm really desperate. Desperate enough to take the time to bake homemade cookies and do all of the dishes...

Quick Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Amy Sedaris who in turn adapted from the Nestle Tollhouse recipe. This amount will give you about 20 small cookies if using a tablespoon to drop them on the sheet. I generally bake 1 sheet full (9 or 12) and then freeze the rest of the dough.

Ingredients:
1 stick of butter, room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/8 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (amount can vary)
1/2 cup walnuts (optional, but recommended)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Beat the butter and the sugars together using a hand mixer. Add vanilla and egg and beat until combined. Gradually add the flour, baking soda, and salt, making sure that it all combines. Stir in chips and nuts. Drop tablespoon sized balls of the dough onto a cookie sheet, and bake for about 10 minutes.

Eating Well

Recently I've succumbed to super fast meals eaten at my counter and semi-homemade concoctions eaten on the couch. This happens -- particularly when suddenly it's fall and you're busy and your boyfriend is out of town and you're just feeling lazy. This is not a bad thing, but I do think it is important to balance those meals with ones that you take a little bit more time on, that force you to sit down and enjoy the food that you've slowly and carefully made for yourself. Eating meals without the TV on is an important habit to get in to, I believe, and it tends to keep me sane, even if it only happens once or twice a week. Last night I decided a meal like this was overdue.

I didn't make all that fancy of a meal - just a simple salad and a few slices of the cheese I'd bought at the New Amsterdam Market. But I set out my meal as if I were serving guests, and sat down to enjoy it without the TV. Okay, I was still sitting at my counter, but that is because my apartment isn't big enough for a table. But I was sitting! And it was really nice - so relaxing to enjoy fresh, simple food without feeling like I was in a hurry to get somewhere.

The salad was simple - arugula with walnuts, goat cheese, and chopped dates tossed in a lemony vinaigrette. The secret to turning a salad like this from a good one into a great one is toasting the nuts. As you prepare your other ingredients, put the nuts onto a baking sheet and into the oven at 250 degrees. After about 5-10 minutes, you'll be able to smell them and you can remove them. Toss the warm nuts into the salad last and it will not only add a tremendous amount of flavor, but also start to melt the cheese and warm the salad ever so slightly.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Georgia O'Keeffe at the Whitney


I've never been a huge fan of Georgia O'Keeffe's work, and I'm going to go ahead and guess that many of you would agree. The flowers and skulls are well, pretty, but kind of overplayed. And kind of boring. And I'm not a huge fan of all the meaning that people try to attach to them.

Okay, now that's out of the way. On Tuesday night, I went to see the new exhibition, Georgia O'Keefe: Abstraction at the Whitney Museum. Normally, in reference to my above description, I would not have been running to the opening week of an O'Keeffe exhibition. But one of the curators, Beth Turner, is a professor at UVA (she was also the temporary UVA Museum Director while I was working there), and she was giving a talk to UVA alumni and parents at the museum. I've learned to never pass up things like this - there is always going to be something interesting said and it's great to connect with other UVA people in New York.

Anyway, the exhibition focuses on O'Keeffe's early abstractions. So while you may associate her with the 1940's and flowers, these were works she was doing in the 1915-1930 time period, and they are not flowers. They show her great attention to line, form, space, and color in a much more vivid way than any of the more representational work she did later in her life. They, simply, were beautiful. Her sense of color was so profound, and she was so delicate in her work - everything was done carefully and done well. These paintings and drawings really changed my perspective on her work and where it comes from.

The commercialization of Georgia O'Keeffe and her flower paintings was, in my opinion, somewhat of a tragedy. They are calendar pictures at this point, and I roll my eyes when I see them. But the curators of this show really carefully told the story of where she began, and I think truly excelled at introducing a much more interesting O'Keeffe than the one that so many of us recognize.

The exhibition will be up until January 17, 2010, and I would highly recommend you clear any previous notions you have on this artist and go see the show.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Feeling Crunchy...

One of the many items on my to-do list this weekend was to make another batch of granola. I know, I know, I promise I haven't gone off the deep end, granola is actually really easy to make, and it stores very well. I started making it awhile back, and have had fun experimenting with different additions and methods. The nice thing is that you can make a big batch and store it for months, so you really only have to do this every so often. Unless you eat insane amounts of granola, which I don't.

My granola is pretty much only for my breakfast, which I am proud to say I've finally mastered. It's hard to come by a breakfast that is tasty, healthy, and will keep you full until lunch. Maybe it is just me, but I am always hungry in the mornings and am pretty much guaranteed to be starved by 11:55. Anyway, I combine oatmeal (I just use plain oats - it's just as easy as that instant stuff without the sugars), yogurt (plain or vanilla - woo am I exciting!), and my homemade granola. Sounds bizarre, but the three textures are great together and there is so much whole grain goodness that I can survive until noon. I recommend trying it sometime.

Anyway, back to the granola. I sort of guess on how to make it (it's hard to follow anyone's specific recipe, because if you are making it yourself, you want to do it your own way, right?). I generally use about 2 cups of plain oats (rolled, not steel-cut, but sometimes I do a mix of the two), along with sliced almonds and walnuts (1/2 cup each). Spread them all out on a baking sheet and then pour a mixture of honey and vegetable oil on top. Use enough so that the oats and nuts can all get covered onces tossed - probably about 3/4 cup total (1/4 honey, 2/4 oil). Bake this at 350 for 30-40 minutes, tossing once or twice, until golden brown.

Once you remove the tray, toss in dried fruits - I like to use a mixture of cranberries, golden raisins, blueberries, dates, really anything. Then, let it all cool, and the mixture will go from soft and sticky to dried and crispy. Store in jars or ziplocs.

The thing about making granola, though, is really to experiment. Try all different kinds of nuts and seeds (try coconut or flax), different dried fruits (apricots?), different sweeteners (you can use maple syrup, melted butter...), etc. Just make it so it tastes good. Oh, and don't burn it. That's never good. Not that I know from experience, or anything...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Semi-homemade [cringe!]

I have a little trouble with the concept of "semi-homemade" particularly when it is associated with a certain food network host. While the term is meant to be a positive - that you make sure to insert homemade efforts into meals - I think it ends up sounding kind of negative. That you only made part of the meal. Maybe it's just the connotation with "tablescapes," I don't know.

But anyway, last night I ventured into this world. I was tired and Wright was out of town. I had spent all day cleaning my apartment, doing laundry, prepping various storage foods and the like, and I really had no desire to make a huge meal if I was just going to eat it on the couch while watching the Emmy's in my pajamas. I was too lazy to wait for my frozen homemade meals (fully homemade!) to thaw, but too hungry to settle on something along the lines of cereal or a bacon and peanut butter sandwich (my go-to, obviously).

Lo and behold, I had a box of Annie's Macaroni and Cheese for situations just like this one. But, insert Sandra Lee joke here, I wanted to make sure to add a little homemade spin on this instant mac and cheese (that at least wasn't kraft...). So I decided to make mac and cheese with the works - bacon, mushrooms, onions, and peppers.

The meal was absolutely, embarrassingly, divine. So comforting and so easy - the perfect semi-homemade solution. [Can we please come up with a better term for this? I'm still cringing.] If you are ever in a bind, or just looking to dress up your mac and cheese, the "recipe" is below. While I may not have learned to accept this form of cooking in its entirety, this meal did teach me that semi-homemade does not have to be semi-delicious!

Sunday Night Mac and Cheese

Ingredients:
1 box of Annie's White Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese
2 strips of bacon
1/2 yellow onion
1 small red bell pepper
white button mushrooms (I used about 7)
1 tablespoon butter
5-6 leaves of basil
olive oil, salt, pepper

1. Dice bacon into small pieces and saute in a large saute pan (one that will fit the entire dish eventually). Once finished, remove the bacon and place on a paper towel. Wipe down the pan with a paper towel to remove excess fat, but be sure to leave some for flavor.
2. Dice onions and saute in the bacon pan with a little olive oil.
3. While working on the vegetables, make the mac and cheese according to directions: boil water, cook pasta, etc.
4. Dice pepper and add to the onions when they are just beginning to soften. Saute together for a few minutes while slicing mushrooms.
5. Move onions and peppers to the edges of the pan. Add butter to the center area and let melt, then add the musrooms. Let them soak and sweat for a few minutes, then you can begin to mix everything together and allow the flavors to meld. Add salt and pepper to veggies.
6. Add cheese mix (gulp) to the pasta once strained. Mix around until it is mac and cheese like, then pour all of it into the saute pan with the vegetables. Mix everything together and let the sauce reduce and thicken a little bit. Add the bacon back in, as well as the basil (torn or julienned).
7. Serve to yourself and only yourself, preferably while on the couch.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Book Signing

The gallery I work at is dangerously close to Barney's. I'll admit I wander in at least twice a week on my way to the subway. Just to browse! Anyway, last night was no exception, particularly when I got out early from work and Scott Schuman, of The Sartorialist, was going to be there signing copies of his new book, which I'd been meaning to pick up anyway.

The store itself was quiet, so I thought this would be a quick endeavor, but by the time I got to the 3rd floor and weaved my way over to the men's section, it was far from quiet. There were a couple hundred people there, and it seemed more like a cocktail party than a book signing. My first thought was that I should have brought a friend - what was I going to do, stand around by myself? Can't exactly pull off looking like I was shopping in the men's shoe section. Then I noticed a carefully woven line of people waiting to get books signed so I grabbed a glass of champagne and got in it.

The line was only about 30 minutes long, and I met a lot of interesting characters along the way, including the wonderful writer Lynn Yaeger (who signed her page in my book - how dorky am I?). Finally getting to the front of the line was exciting and Scott couldn't have been nicer. He shook my hand and said "Hi, I'm Scott," which was so refreshing (instead of using his full name as if trying to spread his brand). I introduced myself and as usual, we talked a little bit about my name. He introduced me to Garance Dore, which was wonderful, since I love reading her blog (I told her so and she seemed genuinely thankful). And then he signed it. And so did Garance - with a little heart by her name. And that was my little Tuesday night adventure!

The book is available on Amazon, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone - both men and women. Scott's photos are beautiful and the array of styles is very inspirational.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

New Amsterdam Market

This weekend, I expanded my usual Farmer's Market stop to include the New Amsterdam Market on Sunday morning. Held once a month during the fall, the market seeks to "reinvent the public market" and bring together various local vendors including farmers, butchers, bakers and everything in between, creating a lively market full of fresh produce and deliciously prepared goods.

Kate and I arrived early on, but the market quickly became packed. It was a beautiful Sunday and a lovely way to spend the day - lots of things to taste and buy! I came home with cheeses, bison meat, olive oil, bread, garlic, chocolate and more - I really had to restrain myself from buying up the entire place! We also enjoyed plenty of tasty treats while there, including a brisket sandwich, watermelon shave ice, endless cheeses, beet chips, bacon peanut brittle and basil mint iced tea.










The next market will be on October 25 - check out newamsterdammarket.org for more details.

A Beautiful Day

After three days of rain, the sun finally came out today. I took a walk along the East River from the South Street Seaport up into the Lower East Side, and felt like I was walking on air the weather was so fantastic. I hope I'll never be jaded by the view of the Brooklyn bridge on a beautiful day.







Friday, September 11, 2009

Quick Dinner for One

Between picking up my CSA and heading out last night, I made a hasty dinner that was surprisingly flavorful and refreshing. I came home in a hectic rush, but the tomatoes that I'd just picked up were calling my name. I took the juiciest red and the juiciest yellow ones, chopped them up, tossed with goat cheese, fresh basil, salt and pepper and stuffed it into an open pita.

I ate it standing up, right off the cutting board, and finished it off in about 2 minutes. After giving my knife and board a quick wash, I was done - a grand total of about 8 minutes after I walked in the door. Not exactly what they preach in the land of slow food, but when you're in a hurry, this meal is perfect.

Life as a twenty-something can be crazy at times, and having fresh ingredients around is essential to being able to eat quickly while still being healthy. Had I not had tomatoes, goat cheese, and basil at the ready, I probably would have stuffed one of my bland oatmeal cookies in my mouth or gone the route of breakfast for dinner. But my CSA, herb garden, and sickening love of cheese deterred me from disaster!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Those Afternoons...

It's one of those afternoons... where the sky is overcast, the weather slightly cool, and I am feeling tired. I'd like to do nothing but relax when I get home from work.

But I will wake up.

And get dressed.

Because it's Fashion's Night Out.

So I'm going out.

To shop. And I am an avid fan of shopping.

All photographs by James Merrell.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Baking Project

Labor Day has passed and we are moving all too swiftly into mid-September. I even wore a jacket to work this morning! The onset of Fall not only means cool breezes, this year. It means the end to my summer-long Baking Project.

What baking project, you may ask. Yes, I am asking myself that as well. Because I really don't think my weak attempts at baking can qualify as any sort of project. But, I feel that I must wrap up the "project" by looking back, and therefore trying to make myself feel better about the situation. Though I had many disasters, I do feel that I made at least a little progress in most areas.

To get going, I took a class. I learned that you must stick to the recipe or else you will fail. A lightbulb went off in my head: Stop substituting when baking, Calvine! Eureka!

Well, maybe not "eureka." First, I tried to make pie. I tried really hard, and though it was, well, kind of delicious, it was also pretty messy and not exactly the beautiful pie I had envisioned. So last weekend, to set things straight, I pushed aside my fears and tried again.

I used the same pie crust recipe as last time, but for some reason, it worked ten times better this time. It was easy to work with and roll out, and light and fluffy once baked. What? Could I be subconsciously learning? Who knows, but for some reason it turned out much better. Wright helped me come up with a good filling recipe, based on the fruits we'd picked up at the farmer's market - peaches, blueberries, and strawberries - and voila! Peachberry Pie, an original, successful recipe from yours truly.

Speaking of success, my most favorite baking experiment of the summer has to be the Chocolate Yogurt Snack Cakes. I stuck to the recipe and was careful in everything I did. Patience, patience. That is the key. At least in my kitchen.

I was reminded of that lesson again this evening. A little bit hungry after a smorgasbord dinner, I decided to throw together some oatmeal cookies. I used a really simple recipe, substituting only walnuts for raisins, thinking this could be a great foundation for future bake-offs. Though the dough was tasty, the cookies were, well, dry. Boring. Blah. I should have thought about how the raisins provide sweetness, and therefore I could have added some extra brown sugar or something, but, well, then I'd be straying from the recipe, and oh who knows. I'm thinking in circles now. Who knows how to save my oatmeal cookies! Who knows if I'll ever feel confident baking! The only thing to do is just keep trying. So I will.

Even if it means I am stuck eating slightly un-delicious, but still totally delicious, baked goods like these cookies for the rest of my life.