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.