Saturday, April 19th, 2014

An Easter Non-Feast

photoI know these aren’t dyed in pastel colors, but this is where our decorated Easter eggs will end up come Sunday morning: A pre-church breakfast of hardboiled eggs over buttered toast with salt, what could be better? Well I guess a side of bacon could be better but you get the idea.P1300233

I actually have no idea what I’m cooking this year. To be honest, I’ve run out of steam in the cooking-for-events-and-major-holidays department, so I might be making this one super easy on myself and just make a spread of lovely cheese and bread, maybe sliced ham, a green salad with green goddess dressing, and a lemon tart bedecked with raspberries. I’m also a little obsessed with pink grapefruit at the moment—I’m craving it all of the time…why is that?—so perhaps I’ll mix up a few glasses of my favorite new cocktail (see below). So this year’s Easter non-feast will b no cooking, mostly tossing and slicing.  One of these days I’m going to get myself invited to an Italian-American Easter feast just so I can get a slice of pizza rustica. But until then, have a lovely holiday and happy hunting!

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Pink Grapefruit Cocktail

Juice from 1 large grapefruit (fresh squeeze if possible)

Juice from 1 lime

Agave

Gin (the good stuff if you can; I like Hendricks’s)

Tonic

Fill a high ball or juice glass 3/4 of the way with ice. Add grapefruit juice 1/3 of the way, a splash of lime juice, a small amount of agave (perhaps 1/4 tsp), a jigger of gin (or to your taste/tolerance). Pour into a shaker and shake vigorously to combine. Pour back into highball glass (refilled 3/4 of the way with fresh ice) and top off with tonic. Stir gently to combine. Enjoy.

 

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Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Cakeboy

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As you long-time readers may recall, every year on my son Conor’s birthday, I make him a birthday cake from scratch. Some of you are probably thinking, “big whoop”, right? “I can make scratch-birthday cakes while grooming the dog and organizing the junk drawer.” Well yes, for the baking-gifted this really is no biggie, but for me it really is something because first, my baking skills are extremely limited: My repertoire is short and sweet (haha!) and includes the following: Chocolate chip cookies, brownies, a “perfect” lemon tart that is indeed perfect, fruit crisps and crumbles, a very basic vanilla sheet cake, a messy but formidable apple crostata, and banana cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.

Second, the other issue here is that when Conor turned two, he asked me (with somehow only a rudimentary vocabulary) to make hims a birthday truck cake. Meaning, a birthday cake in the form of some kind of truck. Just so we’re clear, he didn’t mean a cake with a truck drawn on it. No. He meant cake that was a 3-dimensional truck. I could have just bought a fondant monstrosity and called it a day. But I loathe fondant (sugar paste). And something about my little boy’s request just felt personal. Like I should be the one to do it.

Ever since that first challenge—chronicled HERE…my gosh I’ve been writing this blog for a long time—all of Conor’s cakes (he’s now 7) have had to follow the theme of cake, truck, vehicle of some kind (but never a moped because they’re too hard). Why I still continue to do this to myself when baking cakes seriously stress me out, I don’t know. Someone (my husband) suggests it’s some sort of mama’s-boy syndrome. Whatever. I’ll probably be making Conor a hovercraft cake when he turns 2o, and that’s just what I’ve gotten myself into. But this year I found myself a loophole…

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P1300005I decided that I would ask Conor to make the cake for his family party. Give myself a break and have him take over the chore of decorating. I can’t say he totally went for it—his backyard party with buddies and classmates is in a couple of days and I thought I heard him say something that sounded like “can you make a cake that looks a quad?” But I’ll cross that frosting bridge when I get to it. For Conor’s first annual DIY cake, I used my favorite all-time brownie recipe from Thomas Keller’s cookbook Ad Hoc At Home—HERE is the recipe—and rather than cut it into squares, just converted it into a chocolate cake. I then whipped fresh cream for the frosting and set out the rest of the edible decorations for Conor to have at it: A bowl of blue sprinkles, a bowl of chocolate chips, icing, and the cream.

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P1300026The most important thing about this project is not to micromanage. If you find yourself hovering and art directing your kid’s birthday cake then that takes away the fun they’re having and you’re actually doing the decorating and then what’s the point? You can still “manage” by limiting the decorations (if you choose to give your kid a bag of gummy bears and 10 different colored tubes of icing then the outcome is on you) and by not expecting a child younger than the age of 3 to do this without a collosall mess.

P1300027But if you just go with it then the results can be quite nice—see above–simple and homespun and maybe you even buy some time before you have to start on that moped cake.

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Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

How to Make Perfect Fish (and other dinner party tricks)

P1300010Ever since I worked on KEEPERS, and we developed a recipe for cooking fish in the oven, I haven’t wanted to cook seafood any other way. For our method, you basically take a side of flaky fish—cod, halibut, mahi-mahi, or salmon works really well—season all over with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, place slices of lemon all over the top, drizzle the lemon slices with olive oil, place the fish skin-side down on a baking sheet, and then roast in the oven for 10-12 minutes at 450 degrees. The result is a uniformly cooked piece of fish that you can then serve family style. If you squeeze the roasted lemon slices over the finished fish and top with chopped herbs and Greek yogurt, it’s fantastic.

This method is also wonderful for dinner parties, when you don’t want to juggle individual filets, but still want the impact of serving a gorgeous piece of fish. Now I’ve learned of another step that takes this method up a notch. I was reading chef Suzanne Goin’s terrific new book—The A.O.C. Cookbook—and for many of her fish recipes she first seasons the fish with salt, pepper, lemon zest, and herbs (parsley, thyme, etc.), and then places it in the fridge to marinate overnight or for at least four hours.

P1300016I did this the other day with a side of salmon that I was serving at a dinner party and the  result was fish that was even more flavorful than usual. I seasoned it with lemon zest, dill, salt and pepper, and then covered it and left it in the fridge for about 8 hours. Right before dinner, I roasted the salmon the same way as I normally do, laying the lemon slices directly over the herbs and drizzling them with olive oil. It came out a real showstopper: Not over-cooked, tender, and lovely to behold.

Now that I think about it, all of the dishes for this dinner party were prepared in advance: I also made potatoes that I roasted earlier in the afternoon (leaving them on the stove-top when they were done to stay warmish or at least room temperature) and served them with a side of sun-dried pesto (see recipe for sun-dried tomato pesto below) that I also made earlier and then let sit on the counter-top to meld. There were also several bunches of asparagus that I blanched before the company arrived and then tossed with a vinaigrette of sherry vinegar, grapeseed oil, mustard, shallots, and maple syrup…for one of the first times, I actually got to hang out with my guests and not excuse myself every 5 minutes to check on the food. Without knowing it I had concocted the 100% Do-Ahead Dinner Party. Yeah me.

Sun-dried Tomato Pesto

Take about 8-10 whole sun-dried tomatoes and place them in a food processor along with 1/2 cup of toasted walnuts (halves or quarters), a few fresh basil leaves, zest of one lemon, salt, and pepper. Pulse to combine and then slowly drizzle in some olive oil until you get the consistency you’d like (for a pasta sauce add a but more, as a dip or condiment a bit less). Scoop the pesto into a bowl and then stir in about a handful of grated paremesean or pecorino. Taste for salt and pepper. Leave the pesto out on the counter if you plan on serving it that day; but if you plan on eating it later then can be refrigerated for several days.

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Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Food For Thought: A Must-See Documentary

1385817_445298522254822_137680265_nThis weekend, I attended a women and food event in New York City called the Jubilee, hosted by the founders of a wonderful bi-annual magazine called Cherry Bombe (which is also a celebration of woman and food and an extremely cool read). Amongst all the terrific speakers and panels was one in particular that just blew me away and left me in tears. It was about a truly moving and inspirational documentary called Sweet Dreams. The film is about a group of women from Rwanda, all of whom were victims of the 1994 genocide—”widows, orphans, wives and children of perpetrators”—who successfully formed the first all-woman drumming group in Rwanda (traditionally an all-male endeavor). Their leader, a woman named Kiki Katese, then decided to use their success as a group to open Rwanda’s first ever ice cream shop as a place of hope and joy amidst devastation. HERE is a link to the trailer…I dare you not to swell up with tears and happiness while watching it.

SweetDreamsStill.FINALThere are so many wonderful things about this film—the perseverance of these women; their partnership with the owner of an ice cream shop in Brooklyn called Blue Marble, who helped them realize their dreams; and just the thrill of seeing men, women, and children eat soft serve ice cream for the first time in their lives. The shop has been such a success, that a similar one is being planned in Haiti.
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If you’re interested in seeing the film, you can host a screening in your community (go HERE for more information). I’m searching right now for a place to host one, possibly at a school, library, or municipal space! Hopefully we can all help bring this incredible story to many more people!

 

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Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Roasting Cauliflower and the New Waldorf Salad

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P1290972There’s pretty much no ingredient I won’t roast, but I find that spring vegetables are transformed particularly well by giving them the high-dry-heat treatment. Asparagus, sugar snap peas, carrots, beets, radishes, broccoli…I don’t know if they’re all technically spring-season crops where you live, but I consider them to be, and they all come out beautifully when rubbed with salt, pepper, and olive oil and then roasted in a single-layer on a sheet pan in the oven.

My favorite of all has to be cauliflower though. Again, I don’t know if this is technically a spring vegetable, but the ones in the supermarket have been looking great lately and I just love how it goes well with pretty much everything: Tossed in a green salad with some toasted nuts and grated cheddar; stuffed in a pita with hummus, shredded red cabbage and a drizzle of tahini mixed with lemon juice and olive oil; mixed with warm quinoa…

I buy two heads at a time to roast because it goes so quickly. I cut each head into florets (not too small because the pieces will shrink, but it’s actually nice to have a few smaller florets in the mix because these crisp up and taste like potato chips… aka the cook’s treat) and then coat them with a combination of kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, ground cumin, turmeric (hence the pretty golden yellow color) and Aleppo pepper for some kick (this is a Turkish spice that has a mild heat, you can substitute red chile pepper flakes, if you’d like, but I order my Aleppo from HERE). The result is like a middle-eastern/curried roasted cauliflower…

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For lunch this week I used it in a rice bowl with brown rice along with some toasted shredded coconut and golden raisins, and red leaf lettuce, tossed with a vinaigrette of white wine vinegar, dijon mustard, finely chopped shallots, maple syrup, and grapeseed oil.

P1290988That night we ate a tray of the roasted cauliflower for dinner over brown rice with some grilled sausages (the kids just plucked the roasted florets with their fingers out of a bowl, for some reason it actually does taste even better eaten this way).

Then I had the leftovers the next day for lunch again, this time in my version of a Waldorf Salad: Lettuce, curried-roasted cauliflower (with some of the toasted coconut and raisins that remained from the day before),  chopped apples, toasted walnuts, maple-shallot-yogurt vinaigrette, and crumbled feta (no grapes or celery like a traditional Waldorf because for some reason I hate grapes and celery in a salad, although roasted grapes are delicious and I’m thinking I should try adding that next time instead of the raisins). This is now my new favorite salad. And could it be any healthier? I think not.

Recipe for Waldorf Vinaigrette

Use a large jam jar or mustard far to mix the dressing. Fill the jar one third of the way with red wine vinegar or white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar. Add a pinch of salt, ground pepper, 1 tsp of dijon mustard, 1 shallot (finely chopped), 1/2 tsp of maple syrup, and then stir to combine. Fill the jar to about 3/4 of the way up with grapeseed oil (you can also adda little walnut oil or good olive oil as well, if you’d like, to make the dressing a bit richer) and a tablespoon of Greek yogurt. Close the lid again and shake well to combine. Taste and season if needed. Enjoy!

Toasting Coconut

To toast the coconut I use the thicker variety of shredded coconut (so not the finely shredded variety) and place it in a dry skillet over medium-low heat and toast until it turns a light golden brown, tossing it frequently so that it browns evenly.

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