Sunday, July 18, 2010

Snacking in the Heat

I hope everyone has survived the heat wave this weekend. Wright and I had the most delicious meal sitting in the "back forty" garden of Back Forty, one of our favorite restaurants. The food was fresh and cucumber cocktails delectable, but I can't lie, we were running towards air conditioning by the time we finished (and this was at 10pm!). We woke up early Saturday morning and headed straight for the suburbs and the pool.

I'm a huge snacker, and this weather only adds to it. With the humidity making my stomach turn, a large meal is completely undesirable and I prefer little bites to anything overwhelmingly heavy. One of my recent discoveries for a fresh, easy snack to keep around is a simple herbed goat cheese.

Cheese is one of my favorite foods in the world, but with this heat the thought of a creamy brie or heavy blue is just too much. By whisking goat cheese with freshly chopped herbs, salt and pepper, and lemon juice and zest, this is a light and fresh spread that tastes particularly good on those kashi TLC crackers for some reason. These days I've taken to making a batch every weekend and keeping it in the fridge to dip into when I get home from work each day, alongside a refreshing lemonade.

Stay cool!!

Herbed Goat Cheese Spread
1 pack of goat cheese (usually about 3 oz.)
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Set goat cheese out about an hour before, so that it softens. Combine ingredients, with a fork or whisk depending on the softness of your cheese, and taste to add more or less of anything. Refrigerate and spread on crunchy crackers.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cooling Down

Oh, hello. Are you readers still there? If I were you I might have given up on me. I've had quite a busy past month, as I just started in a new job last week. I'm still working in the art world, but am very excited about the transition and my new company. Though of course, it's been hectic! I no longer have time to edit blog posts while I have lunch at the office, or even (gulp) to spend too much time in the kitchen at night, as I am often tired when I get home or just plain busy. I know I'll settle into a routine eventually, and while it might mean a little less posting, I do love writing here so I hope I can keep it up.

It's been dreadfully hot in New York, I'm sure you've heard. When you are relieved to see 98 degrees, you know it's been bad. Today is supposed to be rainy and I must admit, I'm kind of excited about it. Coming home from work in the evenings I am usually a total mess of sweat and exhaustion after navigating a new commute (eesh, on the bus!) not to mention a busy day of training and learning. While I love a refreshing, cold beer as much as anyone when I walk in the door, I've started to make myself some juices and lemonades to keep around - and attempt to prevent that inevitable beer.

These are some of my favorites that I've made so far - cucumber mint lemonade, watermelon lemonade, and rosemary limeade. Keep in mind that these recipes are only suggestions - everyone likes their juices to a different level of sweetness. The easiest way to do it is to make the simple syrup right away, then as it boils and cools you can squeeze your citrus. Have lots of ice on and enjoy after a long, hot day.

Cucumber Mint Lemonade
1/2 cup sugar
10 mint leaves, roughly chopped, plus more for garnish
1 medium cucumber, peeled (not too perfectly)
7-8 lemons
Ice water

1. Make your mint flavored simple syrup by putting 1/2 cup of sugar, mint leaves, and 1 1/2 cups water in a small saucepan. Bring to a light boil, then let simmer as you stir and the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and let cool, then strain out the mint leaves.
2. Chop cucumber into pieces and place in food processor with the juice of two lemons. Add more lemon juice if it isn't liquifying enough.
3. Squeeze the remaining lemons into a pitcher, then pour in the cucumber juice through a fine mesh sieve.
4. Stir in plenty of ice, about 3 cups of cold water, and simple syrup to taste (I would guess 1/2 - 1 cup). Refrigerate and serve over ice with a mint garnish.

Watermelon Lemonade
About 1 cup simple syrup (see recipe above; omit the mint)
2-3 cups of watermelon, cut into pieces, seeds removed
8-10 lemons
Ice water

1. Place watermelon pieces in food processor with the juice of two lemons. Add more lemon juice if it isn't liquifying enough.
3. Squeeze the remaining lemons into a pitcher, then pour in the watermelon juice through a fine mesh sieve.
4. Stir in plenty of ice, about 3 cups of cold water, and simple syrup to taste (I would guess 1/2 - 1 cup). Refrigerate and serve over ice with a mint garnish.

Rosemary Limeade
2-3 sprigs of rosemary, leaves removed from stem and roughly chopped, plus more for garnish
About 1 cup simple syrup
8 limes
2 lemons
Ice water

1. Make your rosemary flavored simple syrup by putting 1/2 cup of sugar, chopped rosemary leaves, and 1 1/2 cups water in a small saucepan. Bring to a light boil, then let simmer as you stir and the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and let cool, then strain out the mint leaves.
2. Squeeze the limes and lemons into a pitcher.
4. Stir in plenty of ice, about 3 cups of cold water, and rosemary simple syrup to taste (I would guess 1/2 - 1 cup). Refrigerate and serve over ice with a rosemary sprig as garnish.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Early Summer Pico de Gallo: A CSA Study

This month our CSA has started again! It is so much fun to go pick up fresh vegetables every week - I really missed having a refrigerator crowded with local produce over the winter. While the first couple of weeks are generally loaded with greens, we ended up with some lovely spring onions this week, so I thought I'd use them in a pico de gallo.

Generally, my pico de gallo recipe consists of fresh tomatoes, red onion, garlic, cilantro or basil, and salt and pepper. Maybe a jalepeno if there's one lying around, but otherwise very simple. With these spring onions on hand, I decided to play with the flavors a bit and use them instead of the red onions.

We also got garlic scapes in the CSA - the flavorful part of the garlic plant that can be found for just a few weeks a year (before the flower moves all the way up the stem and/or the farmer cuts off the scape). Instead of the garlic cloves I usually use, I thought I'd just use the scape for a little bit of a brighter flavor.

In addition to the usual cilantro, I threw in a few leaves of mint to change things up a bit, since I got a ton of it in the CSA as well. One thing I learned in the cooking classes I took two years ago was the classic mantra "what grows together goes together." The tomatoes may have been a little off-season, but everything else had not only grown together, but grown together on the same farm. And what do you know, the mantra was right and this pico was absolutely delicious!

Early Summer Pico de Gallo

2 tomatoes, diced
6-8 spring onions, diced
1 teaspoon of garlic scapes, minced
1 tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped
2-3 mint leaves, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredients. Taste for salt and pepper, and add a dash of hot sauce if you'd like a spicier dish. It is best to let the pico de gallo meld in the fridge for a couple of hours before serving.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Summer Reading

It will come as no surprise that I enjoy reading books about cooking. I do try to break it up a bit, but most of the books I've read in the past year have something to do with food. I recently picked up the book Lunch in Paris, by Elizabeth Bard, taglined "A Love Story, with Recipes." Totally up my alley, but I was definitely worried about the cheese factor.

There are a lot of these "love stories with recipes" books out these days, so many that I've been starting to cringe a little bit (though I read them all). I am embarrassed to admit how much I loved the enormously cheesy Cooking with Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser, mostly because of her writing skills; The Sharper your Knife, the Less you Cry by Kathleen Flinn was endlessly fascinating, and I thought one of the better looks into culinary school that I've read about; Under the Table, by Katherine Darling was pretty terrible, on the other hand.

The thing about these books is that there are so many different aspects to love or hate. Some have terrible writing, but delicious recipes, others include a great love story but lackluster food. While the story was kind of so-so (and I have to say, I wasn't a huge fan of Ms. Bard herself), Lunch in Paris stole the show with its recipes. I would speed read through the chapters, dying to get to the recipes at the end of each one, drooling over ingredients and making notes on methods. Before I even finished the book, I was in the kitchen.

The first thing I made was her Coucous salad, spun out of a chapter on how French women stay thin (and how she tried to emulate the eating habits of her French mother-in-law). This is a light but filling lunch, and it stays extremely fresh and tasty throughout the week. (I pushed it to cover 1 1/2 weeks of lunches to bring to work...) The recipe makes a lot, so I would halve it if you are just making it for yourself, but for a picnic lunch with a group this is ideal. Plus, I found myself even eating it for breakfast it was so good! Don't skip any ingredients until you've made it once before - the way the flavors come together is just perfect.

Summer Couscous Salad
Adapted from Elizabeth Bard, Lunch in Paris

2 cups couscous
2 cups flat leafed parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh mint or basil, finely chopped
4 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 cucumber, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins
3/4 cup olive oil
juice of 1 1/2 grapefruits
juise of one lemon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin
freshly ground black pepper to taste
extra lemon or grapefruit juice, squeezed fresh on top before serving

1. Put couscous in a large bowl and add 1 cup boiling water. Stir and let sit while you chop the vegetables.
2. Whisk together olive oil, grapefruit and lemon juices, and salt.
3. When the couscous has cooled off, fluff with a fork and sift with your hands. Toss in all of the vegetables and herbs. Stir in the dressing and season with spices to taste. Serve cold.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Cookbook Therapy and Rhubarb Cake

Last week, the Sunday paper ran a review of all the stand out new cookbooks coming out this summer. I was positively drooling over each review, and trying to narrow it down to only three purchases was utterly impossible. Of course, I came home and took one look at my cookbook shelf and reluctantly threw away my list. I have way, way too many cookbooks - many which sit for months without my so much as glancing at them. In these days of food blogging, I end up getting about half the recipes I make online, leaving all but my three or four favorite cookbooks practically gathering dust.

This had to change. I absolutely love cooking from my cookbooks - making notes in them, re-reading them to discover new recipes, pulling sticky pages apart and oogling over the beautiful photos. I wanted to get back into cooking from my cookbooks, and enjoying it. So, I've set a new goal for the summer. One by one, I'm going to focus on a cookbook, making at least three recipes from it. I think this will help me get a better sense of the recipes that I have sitting right in my kitchen, and maybe it will even help me clean out my shelves (hey, three duds will just have mean the recycle bin for some of these). Then, eventually, I'll allow myself to add a few new ones to the stock.

I started with the wonderful cookbook Hollyhocks & Radishes, by Bonnie Stewart Mickelson. My grandmother gave it to me for my birthday this year, as it has been a favorite of hers and my moms for years. Mickelson had a summer home on the Michigan shore, cooking with many local fruits and vegetables for her large family, so the recipes are all fresh and seasonal, with that wonderful family feel to them. Without the flashy pictures of cookbooks these days, it could easily be passed over at the bookstore, but it really shouldn't.

The first recipe I made was the Rhubarb cake. I made it twice, and ended up adapting it a fair amount, first to put it in a loaf rather than a bundt pan, and then adding some whole wheat flour to make it a little bit more rustic. The flavors are wonderful, and I've found it to be a perfect spring coffee cake. Don't be put off by the rhubarb - it creates a lovely sweetness that balances the cinnamon well.

Rhubarb Cake
Adapted from Bonnie Stewart Mickelson, Hollyhocks & Radishes

1 cup finely chopped rhubarb (about 2 large stalks)
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, separated
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick butter, softened
2 eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a loaf pan and line with parchment paper.
2. Combine rhubarb with 1 tablespoon sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.
3. Sift together flours, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
4. Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then oil, lemon juice and vanilla.
5. Fold 1/3 of the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Stir in half the milk, then half of the remaining dry ingredients, followed by the remainder of the milk and finally the remainder of the dry ingredients.
6. Put about a third of the batter into the loaf pan. Spread half the rhubarb on top. Repeat and finish with remaining third of batter.
7. Bake for one hour, or until cake is set in the middle.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Diner's Journal

Is everyone else as obsessed as I am with the re-vamped Diner's Journal blog from the New York Times? They recently combined it with Mark Bittman's and Eric Asimov's blogs, and added some fantastic new features. My favorite is Dear FloFab, where Florence Fabricant answers questions about dining etiquette. I've always liked her writing, but had no idea she was such an expert on things like what to do if your waiter takes away your plate but others are still eating, or whether you have to open and serve a bottle of wine that someone brings to your dinner party. She has such great advice!

Just a few days ago they added another feature, which is quickly hitting FloFab status in my book: Hey, Mr. Critic!, where the food critic Sam Sifton gives advice on restaurants to go to. His lighthearted writing is perfect for these quick responses in blog format, and he's actually been posting quite a lot!

Of course, there are also wonderful posts from all of your favorite Times writers, and they update fairly frequently. The only thing I haven't quite figured out yet is how to make sure I don't get sneak previews of the articles in the Wednesday Dining section, obviously one of the highlights of my week. Oh well, I'm sure I'll get the hang of it soon! Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Cookin' Lobstah

Wright and I had the house in Maine to ourselves this weekend so we decided to be adventurous and cook up some live lobsters. I'd been eagerly anticipating this activity for a few weeks, excited to try something so drastically different from anything I'd done before. I pictured us cheerfully picking out the liveliest lobsters at the pound, laughing as we had lobster races around the kitchen, and gleefully popping them into the pots, only to pull out beautiful, bright, red dinners.

For some reason, it hadn't occurred to me to be all that nervous. I'm not exactly someone who thinks lobsters are cute, nor did I have any real issues with the killing factor. I loved the farm-to-table idea, and pictured a rather idyllic time as we listened to the ocean crashing outside the window, thinking about how these guys were out there just that morning.

This was not, I repeat not how it went. The minute the man at the lobster place put our two lobsters into our pot, I panicked. And not just silly, oh-boy-they-are-really-moving-in-there panicked, but full on went white and felt my entire body start to shake as I grabbed the pot. I walked about two feet out the door, felt something move and started screaming for Wright.

He, of course, could not have found this funnier if he tried. He immediately staged a photo-op in the parking lot while I tried my hardest not to cry and/or drop the pot and run. There was something so creepy about having these live crustaceans in the back of the car... at one point I literally put my feet up on my seat, imagining them escaping and crawling under the chair to attack me.

One thing I forgot when I was thinking about how non-cute they are was how ugly and scary they are! When Wright pulled them out of the bag I felt like I was six years old - they were big and black with all sorts of arms and legs and pinchers and feelers and they were moving like crazy. Literally, going nuts (which apparently is a good thing - you know they are not only fresh but healthy). My earlier excitement was long gone as I watched Wright try to control the two lobsters as they flapped their tails vigorously. Again, he only found this funny and proceeded to chase me around the kitchen, until I finally ran into the bathroom, closed the door and locked it.
All plans of back-rubbing, freezing, cutting through the head between the eyes, etc. were completely out of question as I barely completed my role as Official Pot Lid Slammer. Wright put the wriggling lobsters into the pots of boiling water and I immediately slammed on the lids. Voila! Look at me go! Thank goodness there were no screams from the pots and barely any movements. Larry and Linda Lobster R.I.P.

To settle down, I quickly set out to make guacamole and set the table. My shaking hands were visible and I was called out for being a complete and utter wuss many, many times. But that's okay. When we pulled the lobsters out about 15 minutes later, they were absolutely gorgeous. We ate with excitement, and the taste of the fresh lobsters was indescribable - even with all of the disastrous stress levels during the cooking (that, let's be honest, took years off my life), there was something so cool about this dinner. And we could taste it.

To boil live lobsters, pick them up right before you are going to eat them. If you are near Ogunquit, Maine, we'd recommend Brass Plum Farm, right on Route One. We got two 1 1/2 pound lobsters. Fill the pot(s) up about a third of the way with water and a lot of salt, and bring to a hard boil. Place lobsters in, lid(s) on, and let boil for about fifteen minutes (longer if they are bigger lobsters). Serve with melted butter, lemon, and celery salt. Wash down with a Maine beer and enjoy by the ocean.

Fresh Berry Scones

I have an announcement to make: I have discovered a scone recipe. A scone recipe that is out of this world - crunchy on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside, and not too difficult to make. Scones are one of those pastries that usually allude me. Often hard as rocks or unbearably buttery, I rarely find a scone that doesn't disappoint, whether from my own kitchen or purchased at a bakery. But I am thrilled to have found a perfect recipe.

The key to this recipe is grating frozen butter. Sounds strange, but it works like a charm. It makes it to much easier to incorporate the butter into the flour (no exhausting pinching until you get pea-sized chunks - just a simple stir with your hand) and the butter ends up distributing very well, making for a moist but not too buttery scone.

When I told Wright that I was bringing scones up for breakfasts in Maine, he promptly inquired as to what, exactly, a scone is. In my mind it should be somewhere between a muffin and bread, both cookie-like and cake-like, but not too sweet. They are leavened with baking powder, like many sweet pastries, but the dough and process feels closer to making bread. There is a brief and uncomplicated folding and rolling situation included in this recipe that at first looks daunting but couldn't be simpler.

I was lucky enough to have some leftover strawberries that I picked up at the market last weekend, so I chopped those up along with blueberries for the filling. The neat thing about scones is how endless the possibilities are - think cinnamon scones, currant scones, orange chocolate chip, pistachio... anything you have! These fruits turned out to be perfect for Memorial Day weekend - fresh and summery, the scones were a perfect way to start out mornings in Maine after a refreshing walk on the beach.

And the best part? They can be made ahead and frozen, which is how I brought them up to Maine. Freeze the scones unbaked (but cut into their triangle shapes) and bake right from the freezer. Just brush on some melted butter, sprinkle a little sugar on top and pop in the oven. If you're simply making them a day ahead, you can also just stick the unbaked scones into the refrigerator and do the same the next morning.
Fresh Berry Scones
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated
Makes 8-10 scones

1 stick of butter, frozen
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting surface
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 cup blueberries
1/2 cup strawberries, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Sugar, for dusting

1. Grate frozen butter and place in refrigerator until needed. Note: it is easier to grate two halves of whole sticks of butter, so that you have something to hold onto while grating.
2. Whisk together milk and sour cream in a small bowl and set aside until needed.
3. Whisk flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and lemon zest in a large bowl. Mix in grated butter with your hand, gently until evenly distributed.
4. Add milk and sourcream mixture, stir with a wooden spoon until it comes together, then dump onto floured work surface. Knead a few times with your hand until you have a large ball of dough.
5. Spread dough out, using your hands or a rolling pin, into a 12- to 14-inch square. Fold bottom third onto middle third and then top third onto middle third (as if you are stuffing a business envelope). Then fold two side into the middle. Place in refrigerator for 5 minutes.
6. Roll out dough again into a 12- to 14-inch square, and sprinkle blueberries and strawberries all over the square, pressing them lightly into the dough with your hands. Starting from the bottom, roll the dough up to the top, until it forms a log. Pat down the log a little bit, so that it ends up 12- to 14-inches long and maybe about 4- to 5-inches wide.
7. Using a pastry cutter or knife, slice out scones in triangles.
8. To bake immediately, brush melted butter on top and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Bake at 425 degrees for 18-20 minutes, until golden brown all over. To freeze, place on a tray or plate in the freezer overnight, then transfer the frozen scones into a plastic bag to keep for longer. Bake them the same way, but for more like 20-22 minutes.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ready for Summer

Well, I guess you never know how many readers you have until you space out for a couple weeks and forget to post. I'm so sorry that I've been MIA this month. Is it just me, or is May the busiest month of the year? It's actually become competitive with December this year! For some reason I feel like I haven't had the chance to slow down at all this month to sit back and enjoy the beautiful weather we've been having, or even to spend time in my kitchen. Between graduations (congrats Morgan and Bowen!), a big show at the gallery, yankees games, birthday dinners and the Lost finale, I have been running around like crazy. Everything has been an absolute blast, but I am definitely looking forward to some relaxation this weekend and a slower summer.

I am so excited to be driving up to Maine this weekend for Memorial Day. (You may remember last summer's fateful lobster roll.) We're planning on lots of walks on the beach, reading by the pool (I can't wait to dive into The Imperfectionists), and eating lots of lobster.

I only made it to the Farmer's Market once this month. And only for about fifteen minutes - totally pathetic! But I brought home a (now beautifully blooming) bunch of peonies from Wright and a pint of the most beautiful strawberries I've ever seen.

I'll be back in full force in June!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Spring Vegetables

Despite back and forth weather, it finally feels like spring is in full swing in New York when you visit the market. Ramps, asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, irises, peonies... it is so exciting these days! I've been obsessing over ramps and leeks and just itching to make my first strawberry rhubarb pie of the season.

One thing that I've been keeping my refrigerator stocked with these days is asparagus. I just can't get enough of it - I have filled up multiple quiches, chopped it up to go on top of pasta, grilled it with a little lemon juice, and even made a raw asparagus salad.

Come again? RAW? I know, I didn't believe it would work either. I thought about it and thought about it and couldn't wrap my brain around eating this bizarrely delicious vegetable without cooking it first. But I was inspired and curious.

The results? A refreshing, crunchy, rustic and flavorful salad. A vinaigrette soaks into the asparagus to brighten it up and loosen up the earthy flavors, warm hazelnuts add a decadent spin, and shallots a bit of sweetness. I ate it with a full smile and a glass of rose - perfect summer dinner for one. I do have to admit, though, that since I am only one, I had leftovers. And the leftovers, they were not so good. The vinegar kept biting into the salad overnight and it turned into a cough-worthy strength of a salad - not my cup of tea.

But if you, like me, are looking for fun twists on an old standby of a spring vegetable, look no further.

Cold Asparagus Salad
Adapted from Culinerapy

Note: this recipe is very flexible, do not feel the need to be exact. You can certainly change around the nuts, add cheese, skip the mustard, use champagne vinegar, etc.

1/2 bunch medium to thin asparagus
3 tablesp0ons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon mustard
pinch salt, pinch pepper
1 shallot, diced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup hazelnuts

1. Wash and trim asparagus. Cut into 1/2 inch pieces.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together red wine vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper, and shallot. Slowly whisk in olive oil, then toss in the asparagus. Cover and let soak in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours.
3. Just before serving, toast the hazelnuts in a dry pan over medium heat for 5-8 minutes. Toss into the salad and serve.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Frozen Blueberries

While (not) cleaning out my freezer, I stumbled upon a bag full of frozen blueberries. I may have some mysterious items in that freezer, but I do try to be diligent about writing the dates on things I freeze. Sometimes this backfires. Like when I found blueberries from July 2009.

The good thing about finding blueberries from July 2009 is that you know they were fresh and most likely even local. Which is a lot better than the $5.99 tasteless blueberries that you'll find in your grocery stores in April. The bad thing about finding blueberries from July 2009 is that, well, they are from July 2009. Which was kind of a long time ago, even in freezer years.

This fact did not stop me from popping one in my mouth, deeming them good as new, and whipping up a Lemon Blueberry Yogurt Cake featuring said blueberries. And no, this cake did not taste like it was from 2009. It tasted like summer... fresh, delicious, summer.

The best way, by the way, to freeze fruits like blueberries, raspberries and blackberries, is to spread them out on a baking sheet or plate so that they aren't touching each other. Place in the freezer for 4-6 hours or overnight, until they have frozen individually. Then put into a freezer bag and label with the date (and item! You never know how long it will be...) and freeze as long as you'd like. Generally the rule of thumb is only about 1-3 months maximum for meats, 3-6 months for every thing else, depending on quality, fragility, and freezer reliability. If freezer burn (those white crystals) start to grow, take it out and use it before it gets bad, otherwise I wouldn't bother with eating it, especially meat.

Lemon Blueberry Yogurt Cake
Adapted from Ina Garten

1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plain yogurt
Zest of two lemons
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup blueberries (frozen or plain)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a loaf pan and line with parchment paper.
2. Sift 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl.
3. Whisk together yogurt, lemon zest, sugar, eggs and vanilla.
4. Slowly stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients.
5. Fold vegetable oil into batter.
6. Toss blueberries in remaining 1 tablespoon of flour, until they are all covered. Fold them into the batter, then pour batter into loaf pan.
7. Bake at 350 for 50-55 minutes, until cake is golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.

Friday, April 30, 2010

A little Spring Cleaning...

I've been reading the book The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and have been absolutely loving it. In it, she describes her year-long quest to become happier by trying out small things, so that she could change her life and be happier, without actually changing her life (no running off to Italy or Bali for her!). There are so many different things she tried that are really thoughtful, and have really clicked with me. My favorite so far is the "one minute rule" wherein if a task takes less than a minute, just do it right then. It's only a minute! I am notoriously guilty of being too lazy to, say, fold and a sweater I tried on but decided not to wear, or place the newspaper in the recycling after I'm done. Sweaters end up in piles, newspapers strewn around the apartment. That's just me, but I'm trying to instill her rule (I obviously used kind examples).

Anyway, the book has been really inspiring so I thought I'd do a little Spring Cleaning to de-clutter my apartment. I only got through phase one, but I consider it the most important phase: my refrigerator.

This is what my refrigerator looked like:

It may not look that bad, but it was. I could barely fit anything into it and who knows how long some of those vegetables have been in there. So I started out by taking everything out and laying it out. Then throwing out some (half of) the stuff in there. (Please don't look at the piles in the background...)

Seriously, I found a Christmas cookie. Ugh. Anyway, I moved on. The smartest thing I did was order these little glass bowls with lids. They are the best! Seriously, you must make this investment - under $20 for twelve of them. I ended up putting a lot of things in them for the refrigerator, and not just leftovers, but things that come in flimsy plastic containers or leaky ones. I can't think of an easier way to store things like cheese, or that half lemon from last night's vinaigrette.

I took these bad boys beyond the refrigerator too - great for pantry staples like dried fruit, and so much easier than dealing with "resealable" (ha) plastic bags. Also, they double as serving dishes - much better presentation points for a glass bowl of olives than the plastic container they came in. (And you can then wash and save the plastic container for bringing lunch to work - much lighter to carry and no need for presentation points.)

But I digress. So I ended up taking out all of the shelves, wiping everything down, and then putting things back in nicely (in their glass bowls!). One thing I realized was that I could raise the upper shelf one level and still fit everything above, which gave me much more room in the middle section.

So far, I've been really excited about this and have kept everything nice and tidy. I even arranged the refrigerator door!

Wasn't I clever with my active dry yeast packets going next to the beer? Yeah, I thought you were impressed with my themed sections.

While I feel like I've added a big step in my happiness levels with this cleaning out, there is still a looming fear: the freezer. I shudder to think about cleaning that one out. Not a one-minute task.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Food for Thought & Baking for Good

Do you remember bake sales? As a child, I remember them being a highlight of elementary school. Not only was it exciting to buy a homemade treat, but it was thrilling to be on the other side of the table and spend an afternoon baking cupcakes with my mom. As a teacher, I was always a big fan of them. Not only do they encourage wonderful moments at home (learning to cook! A fun activity with family members!) but they teach a lot of great lessons to kids - counting money, buying and selling, donating to charity, and fundraising.

But with the recent onset of promoting healthy eating, which in general I am a huge supporter of, something has gone seriously awry with bake sales in New York City schools. School districts have allowed only certain items to be sold at "bake" sales, but the logic is off. Since homemade foods don't have exact calorie counts, they can't adhere to school rules on what can be sold. So homemade oatmeal cookies are out, and packaged foods, like Doritos, are in. Total catastrophe, right?!

Kim Severson recently reported on this issue - read the article here - and the writers in the Diner's Journal blog from the New York Times (which has recently gotten so fabulous, by the way) got together to encourage people to submit recipes of what they'd bake in a bake sale. What would I bake? Hmm... I'm absolutely obsessed with these cocoa brownies. Oh and I also loved these chocolate yogurt cakes. And these oatmeal spice cookies. And these easy chocolate chip cookies... I could go on and on.

There is another thing, however, that you can do if you love bake sales, that doesn't involve baking or protesting at City Hall. The girls over at Big Girls, Small Kitchen, are part of a Virtual Bake Sale, and are raising money for the Valerie Fund. By going to the Baking For Good website, you can purchase some yummy Peanut M&M Blondies, made by Cara and Phoebe, and the proceeds will be donated to the Valerie Fund, a New York-based charity that raises money for children with cancer and blood disorders. Click here to read more about it and to buy some of those mouthwatering blondies... it is the perfect dessert to have for a Mother's Day brunch or a picnic this weekend or (if you're like me) just to have around the house. And what a great way to hark back to the wonders of the bake sale!

One of the things I believe in most is that eating healthy means eating real food. Desserts shouldn't come from a package - if you are going to treat yourself, treat yourself right and eat something homemade. You'll know what went into it (real butter, no preservatives, etc.) and enjoy it more. Bake sales (Virtual or in elementary school hallways) should encourage this and not shy away from it. Of course, we can't be eating brownies every day, but a treat that comes with life lessons for kids or a donation to a good cause is always welcome in my book.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tomato and Sausage Risotto

On Sunday morning, I (as usual) had a Barefoot Contessa episode playing while I was getting myself organized for the day. Ina was making a spring vegetable risotto, which caused Wright to immediately request risotto for dinner that night. I'd planned to make dinner family-style for a group of friends before we caught up on Lost (!!), so that seemed like a reasonable request, but I couldn't help groaning on the inside.

I've made risotto before, and while it's always a fun (though monotonous) adventure, I've never been completely satisfied with it. Sure, everyone else has loved it - but to me it ends up being kind of boring after the third or fourth bite. It becomes too vegetable-y, too mushroom-y, too risotto-y. I like to have meals where each bite is a little different. I really, really wanted to like risotto - it just looks and smells and sounds so good! - so I kept trying it, and was continually disappointed.

Until this recipe. This recipe took risotto out of the box for me. At first, I was a doubter. Sausage in risotto? Nah, couldn't work without tasting like meat glop. Canned diced tomatoes? Blah, salty and too tomato-y. Cooked spinach? Not my cup of tea. But I was proved wrong. The risotto was hearty, meaty, flavorful, and delicious - with none of the asparagus overload or constant mushroom mush situations I was used to. The spinach and basil helped it feel fresh and light, while the sausage (I used a mix of sweet and hot) kept each bite interesting.

Since we had a group of five, I doubled the original recipe and was glad I did - we actually did not have very much left. The recipe below should serve six. I also decided to punch up the flavor a bit by adding garlic and hot sauce in addition to the two sausages. I wouldn't be afraid to use all hot sausage, but of course, I'm not really a spicy person so I love the sweet. Now, I know what you are thinking, this is not the most ideal meal for a dinner party, as you are a slave to the pan for about an hour, but the end result it worth it (and it can be fun to give non-cooks a turn stirring!). The most important part is to have lots of fresh parmesan and basil on hand for serving. Oh, and keep stirring!

Tomato and Sausage Risotto
Adapted from Martha Stewart

2 28 oz. cans diced tomatoes (in juice)
1 large yellow onion, diced
1.5 lbs sausage, casings removed (hot or sweet Italian)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup freshly grated parmesan (plus extra for serving)
5-10 dashes hot sauce (optional)
1 bunch spinach, washed and stems removed
1 bunch basil, washed and julienned

1. Combine tomatoes with six cups of water and bring to a boil, then let simmer on the stove.
2. Sauté the onion in olive oil in a wide stockpot or pan (large enough to fit all of your risotto).
Once translucent, add sausage and let brown, then add garlic. Add about a teaspoon of pepper
3. Add rice to the pan and stir around, "toasting" the rice.
4. Add white wine to the pan. Stir and let reduce/soak into the rice for about 3-5 minutes.
5. Add about two cups of the simmering tomatoes/water to the pan and stir continuously, until all of the liquid has soaked into the rice. Continue to add the liquid, a cup or two at a time, until the rice is completely cooked through (about 25-35 minutes, be sure to test it by trying some!). You may have leftover tomatoes/water. Add salt and pepper to taste as you are stirring it.
6. Stir in parmesan, butter, hot sauce, and spinach.
7. Serve immediately in bowls, topped with extra parmesan and basil

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dinner Party Solution: Quiche

On Saturday night, I had a small dinner party at my apartment. I'm lucky enough to have an open kitchen, so whenever I host friends for dinner, I can cook and participate in conversation at the same time. (Technically, one can do anything in my one room apartment and participate in the conversation, but let's not go there.) The only problem is, I'd rather just relax and have fun - it's kind of a hassle to be chopping and prepping, steaming up the apartment with the burners on, and stockpiling your sink with dirty knives while you're trying to catch up with friends.

So, I've found a perfect solution - one where I don't even have to throw on my apron over my outfit - quiche. Simple, filling, and absolutely delicious when made well and with quality ingredients, this dish is ideal for dinner parties, both because of the way it is made and its flexibility - you can really fill it with anything, depending on whether your guests are vegetarians, meat-lovers, big eaters or not. There are plenty of ways to play around with it.

I made a mushroom and asparagus quiche for dinner on Saturday, and, paired with a simple green salad, it fed five of us (though we did finish off every last crumb...). With Maddie bringing appetizers, Rachel bringing wine, and Andrew bringing dessert, my preparations were a complete breeze, and we all had a great time. I had the quiche ready to go (and cutting boards, etc., put away) before they were due to arrive, and simply popped it into the oven when everyone was there. That gave us a perfect 45 minutes to one hour for cocktails, and took a load off my back with cooking while hosting!

Mushroom and Asparagus Quiche
1 pie crust (homemade - see below - or store-bought/frozen)
1/2 bunch of medium- sized asparagus, trimmed
1/2 pound of baby bella mushrooms
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 eggs
1/3 cup of heavy cream or whole milk (your choice, but heavy cream is better)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 large shallot
3 oz. grated gruyere cheese (approximate)

1. Set a pot of water to boil and preheat oven to 375.
2. Slice mushrooms roughly and sauté in olive oil over medium heat for about ten minutes, until they are soft and dark
3. Cut asparagus into 3/4 to 1 inch slices, including the tops. Blanch in the boiling water for about one minute, then remove and add to pan with the mushrooms.
4. Mix mushrooms and asparagus together and place into pie crust, spreading out evenly.
5. Whisk eggs, milk, salt, and pepper together, then pour over the vegetables until the pie crust is filled (you may have extra).
6. Thinly slice the shallot and spread on top of the quiche, then spread grated cheese on top. Add a sprinkle of salt and some fresh ground pepper on top.
7. Bake at 375 for 45 minutes to one hour, until it is golden brown on top and set in the middle.

Note: This recipe can be altered in many ways. Any vegetables (leeks, spinach, broccoli, etc.) can be used, just prepare them as you would normally before putting them into the quiche. Sausage is a great addition, simply remove the casing and brown it on a sauté pan before adding it (same with ham, bacon, etc.). My mom makes the simplest and most delicious quiche with just bacon (chopped and sautéed) and multiple cheeses - some mixed into the eggs and some on top for browning.

Easy Pie Crust
2 sticks of butter, frozen or very cold
2 cups of flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons (or more) ice water

1. Cut butter into small pieces (or use a grater).
2. Using your hands, mix butter into flour, until there are only pea-sized pieces of butter.
3. Add salt and toss.
4. Slowly add ice water, mixing until the dough comes together (I usually have to add more).
5. Form into two disks, wrap each in plastic, and refrigerate for 30 minutes (or freeze the extra at this point)
6. Roll one of the disks out into a large circle (larger than your pie pan) and then place into the pan.
7. Blind-bake for about 15 minutes at 350 (I use tin foil and dried rice or beans), then for another 10-15 minutes without the weights.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Recipe Index!

"Bookshelf 11" by Jane Mount

I started this blog when I graduated from college as a way to keep in touch with friends and write about the adventures I was hoping to encounter. At first, I stuck with my theme of "Art, Food, Travel, Life" and wrote pretty evenly about each of those topics. In fact, I just realized that the first six months or so of my blog was mostly focused on art reviews! Random!

Well, times have changed. I've moved from Charlottesville to New York, and now that I work in the art world, I don't really have too much desire to write about it extra-curricularly. At least not all the time. In fact, I've started to focus more and more on a hobby that I was just starting to pick up when I left college - cooking.

Perhaps you've noticed that my blog is now almost entirely devoted to food - mostly to my adventures in the kitchen, but also to my adventures in eating it. I've become really involved in and passionate about food and cooking, to the point where it's become a major part of my life. Everyday I think about upcoming meals and different things to try out in the kitchen; I devour cookbooks, magazines, and cooking blogs, trying to soak up as much information as possible. I love cooking. And eating.

Okay, I've gone sappy. I'm not quitting my job and becoming a cook or anything. All I have to announce is that I've created a "Recipe Index" for the website - accessible through this link, as well as the one on the left side of the page. I really came up with the idea because I was having trouble searching through posts for old recipes and pictures, because of course none of my titles match up to whatever food I was making, and I realized that if you, dear, mysterious readers, ever wanted to make something that I've talked about on this site, well, it might be difficult to find it. So I hope this helps!

Oh, and by the way, this does not mean I'm going to devote the blog solely to cooking. I know there are readers out there who, (ahem, Bowen) do not even like my cooking posts, and that's okay! I'll try to keep it mixed, but it's hard when I spend so much time eating and cooking...ha, maybe I should add "exercising" to that list...

Back Forty Spring Cheese Dinner

I am embarrassingly addicted to daily e-newsletters; I subscribe to a multitude - DailyCandy, The Zoe Report, Tasting Table, Tasting Table New York, A Sharp Eye, Grub Street, Politico Daily Playbook, Who What Wear, and the list goes on - you name it, I get it. Or I'll sign up immediately after finding out about it. I don't know what it is - the excitement of getting so many emails, perhaps - but I really enjoy reading them all. It helps me feel current, and many point out really great events going on in the city, like the Spring Cheese Dinner at Back Forty, which I was lucky enough to attend last night.

I've waxed poetic about Back Forty before, so I won't bore you with my obsession. (Yes, the main image of me on this website was in fact taken at Back Forty). The dinner last night paired spring cheeses from Saxelby Cheese with various beers from Chelsea Brewing Company. It had me at cheese. It had Wright at beer. Immediate RSVP.

While we knew we'd be in for a treat, we definitely underestimated how delicious, informative, and fun the dinner would be. Not only did the chef work with both Saxelby's and Chelsea Brewing Company on the pairings and dishes, Anne Saxelby and the brewer from CBC were on hand to tell us about what we were tasting and answer any of our questions! It was fantastic.

Anyway, the point of this post is not to rub in the fact that I was at this amazing dinner, but as a reminder that events like these are so easy to pass over and hit "delete" on. But so often they are beyond wonderful and truly worth it - we really could not have been happier (or more full!) when we left Back Forty last night.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Back in the Kitchen... and baking bread!

It felt so good to be back in my kitchen making a mess and cooking up a storm this weekend. I was beyond thrilled to hit the Farmer's Market for the first time since February (eek!) but the sunshine didn't exactly mean great produce - I left with two small herb plants and a large bunch of peach blossoms. Oh so beautiful, but not exactly the bundle of joy (ahem, spring vegetables) that I was hoping for. I need to keep reminding myself that it is only April!

What I did set out to do this weekend, though, was bake bread. I know I haven't really written about it on the blog, but over the past few months, I've been honing my bread baking skills, inspired by Jim Lahey's no-knead method. While I had cut out Mark Bittman's article on his method way back when I lived in Virginia, I didn't actually spring to action and try it out until I read about it again on Big Girls, Small Kitchen.

I followed along with their description (the pictures were much more helpful than my deteriorating newspaper cut-out) and could not believe the results. Not only did it work, it worked fabulously and (what felt like) effortlessly on my part! I was blown away, and instantly addicted. I could barely hold myself back from sprinting to Barnes & Noble to buy Jim Lahey's book, My Bread. (Side note: the James Beard Foundation just named this book one of the top baking cookbooks of all time).

The book is absolutely beautiful. Lahey writes with a real passion for baking, and explains everything in great detail, without becoming overly scientific or complicated. His goal is to inspire the everyday cook (like you and me!) to become comfortable baking their own breads, to dispel the fears surrounding bread-baking and encourage us to appreciate homemade, artisan bread. Well, it worked in my apartment.

Taking Lahey's suggestion, I spent a couple of months working on his basic recipe, simple white bread. I tried to incorporate whole wheat sometimes, and tested out a few different flours and yeasts, really just getting used to the process and how it all should look and feel throughout. This is tough because many of his recipes are very tempting - cheese bread!! - but I stuck to my guns and waited until I felt comfortable to take the leap into more out of the ordinary breads, like the one you see pictured here - Pan co'Santi, or Walnut Raisin bread.

The wait was well worth it. My walnut raisin bread was, if I do say so myself, out of this world. I almost melted when I heard is loudly "singing" as it cooled. Maybe it was being back in the kitchen after a month away, maybe it was knowing how many loaves of bread I'd gone through to work up to this point, or maybe it really was just that good - whatever the reason, I was in heaven eating this bread. I am thrilled to be baking again.

I'm going to lead you over to Big Girls, Small Kitchen to get started on your bread baking, as that is the description that I used before I bought the book. Keep in mind that this method takes 12-24 hours, so think ahead about when you are going to be able to bake the bread. Good luck! Link

Monday, April 12, 2010

On Cooking for 25

Over Easter weekend, my godmother had a casual dinner party... for 25 of us. The four families that made up most of the group (mine included) have been friends for decades, so we always have a blast getting together, and dinner at her house in Charleston has becoming something of a (wild) tradition. Needless to say, we always plea with Nancy to let us bring something or help out, but she is ever gracious and seems to pull these large dinners off as if she were throwing together a meal for two.

I've mentioned her chili before, which is always a safe bet when feeding a large group. This year, however, we had lasagna. Yes, she made lasagna for 25, which included a handful of growing and hungry 20-something boys, and acted as if it was no big deal. At one point, a guest noticed that Nancy was pulling out the multiple lasagnas... and was absolutely stunned to see that they were all homemade. Cool as a cucumber, Nancy responded: "Well of course. The way I see it, I could have used store-bought lasagna and served it on my china, or I could make the lasagna myself and use paper plates. I hate washing dishes."

And there you have it, folks. How to pull off a dinner party for 25? Pick your battle - cooking or dishes.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Some highlights from Bruges

Bruges, which was the first stop on our trip, is an absolutely lovely medieval town in Northern Belgium. We were lucky enough to be there on two beautiful days, and we thoroughly enjoyed exploring the cobblestone streets, riding bikes along the canals, and even taking a boat ride!

Bet you didn't know I could ride a bike!

Of course, a highlight was visiting Cafe Vlissinghe, a pub that has been in business since 1515!! We enjoyed a beer in the back garden and had a blast dueling it out on their bocce court.

I let him win.