Saturday, December 11, 2010

Eggnog Ice Cream

We all have holiday memories we hold to, some we try to continue or recreate, some we just look back upon fondly.

Back when I was a kid, every year at Christmas my mom would gussy up a batch of eggnog. She'd start with the regular store bought stuff but to it she would add rum extract and then float generous, fluffy dollops of freshly whipped cream into it. The whole batch would be sprinkled with plenty of freshly ground nutmeg. It would be served in a punch bowl placed in the middle of the living room.

Given the opportunity, my brother and I would have drank the whole glorious batch. (We never were given such an opportunity though...)

I'm grown up now and am free to drink all the eggnog I want. Unfortunately, as a grown up though, I'm also fully cognisant that drinking excessive amounts of rich, delicious eggnog would do my health and waistline no favors. But, in moderation, I do drink it without abandon or guilt.

And sometimes, I gussy it up.

I don't follow my mother's recipe though: I have no punch bowl, nor do I host the holiday for anyone. And I go the opposite direction when it comes to adding dairy. Although I most certainly don't skimp on the fresh nutmeg.

Now anyone who's ever been to my home knows its quite balmy all winter. 80 degrees in the apartment mid-winter is not unheard of.

So I do the only logical thing: I make eggnog ice cream.

Really all it takes is an ice cream machine and some 'nog, but trust me: gussy it up. And if you are concerned over calories, dilute it.

Eggnog Ice Cream
6 oz eggnog
2 oz skim milk
Generous sprinkle of nutmeg

Add all the ingredients to your ice cream machine & go!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Turkey, turkey, turkey

Well you’ve probably used up all your leftover turkey by now, so these recipes might be moot, but I’ll share them anyway.

Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday.  I enjoy Halloween too, but in a very different more casual way.  To me Thanksgiving is a beautiful thing.  It welcomes all – all nationalities, all religions (or lack there of), all socio-economic groups, all walks of life.  All one needs to be included in Thanksgiving, is something to be thankful for.  And all one needs to celebrate the occasion is a feast.

I’ve had my share of Thanksgivings without turkey and I enjoyed them just the same.  I mean I like turkey, so I enjoy celebrating Thanksgiving with it, but it’s really not necessary.  The only reason we eat turkey is because it was proliferant and indigenous to the north east at the time of the supposed first Thanksgiving.  But truly at its base Thanksgiving is a harvest feast and a time to say thanks. So long as you feast upon whatever is proliferant and indigenous to where you are, you are celebrating within a traditional scope.

I had a lovely Thanksgiving (despite the worst traffic I’ve encountered in years) and a delicious feast, pulled together from several sources.  And as is tradition almost as much as the feast itself I was sent home with leftovers.  And truly I have lots to be thankful for, as I was blessed with the most valuable of all the leftovers – the turkey carcass.  Somehow in fact (was it cut in half?) two carcasses.  One had lots of glorious breast meat still on it; the other was carved as much as it could be.  But carving a turkey only yields you the lovely slices that look nice on the serving platter.  There was still plenty of wonderful turkey in odd shapes clinging to awkward bits of bone.

So over the long weekend I enjoyed the usual leftover treats – turkey sandwiches.  And few bits of just straight turkey.  And turkey & egg (& left over spinach) breakfast sandwiches.  But why stick with the straight & narrow?  Chipotle turkey nachos turned out delicious too. 

The nachos weren’t my idea, but rather my beau’s.  Well he just wanted nachos.  I think I might have been the one to say “turkey would be fine on nachos; we don’t need to buy meat.” And the chipotle part was a last minute addition, and such a welcome one.

Chipotle Turkey Nachos
Tortilla chips
Shredded cheese (we used cheddar and Monterey jack)
Chipotle hot sauce
3 jalapeños
½ red onion
2 tomatoes
Sour cream

Preheat your oven to about 350.  Chop the turkey into small pieces and toss in a bowl with a generous amount of chipotle hot sauce.  On a baking sheet lined with foil, lay a thin layer of chips.  Sprinkle the chips with cheese and spread some chipotle turkey over them.  Add another layer of chips, cheese and turkey. Repeat layers until you use up all your cheese and turkey.  Put in the oven and allow to bake.  Dice up the jalapeños (removing the seeds and stems reduces the heat and the chances of heartburn), onion and tomato.  After about 5-7 minutes check on your nachos – once the cheese is melted they are done – and remove.  Slide the foil with the delicious nachos onto a serving platter.  Spread the chopped veggies on top and add a dollop of sour cream.  Voila! 
A dollop of guacamole is a delicious optional accompaniment as well.

1 ripe avocado
¼ red onion
Juice of half a lemon or a whole lime
Salt, pepper, cumin

Cut the avocado and place in a bowl.  Add the citrus juice and allow to sit for a moment.  Dice the onion as small as you can.  With a fork, mash the avocado into a mush.  Add the onion and the seasoning and mix well.

But the carcass beckoned.  Turkey soup was a must.  Indeed, it’s why I was given the carcasses. Normally I use my vegetable broth as my soup base.  It makes me feel like I’m adding an extra shot of vitamins to my soups, in addition to flavor.  But not this time.  This time it was all about the bird.  Well ok, truth be told, once I removed the bones from the broth and I saw the liquid level drop, I did add one cup of my veggie broth, but the bulk of the flavor came from the bones.

Within minutes of the water coming to a boil my home was filled with the aroma of the turkey, and the wonderful smell lingered all day.  I took my time chopping up my vegetables, almost entirely roots.  Root vegetables are in season this time of year, and are also ever so tasty in soup.  Again, its one of those things that makes you think about how and why cooking came to be and how plants and humans have evolved together.  Soup is great in cold weather and root vegetables ripen in soup season – is it coincidence or cooperation? 

I also added a few sun dried tomatoes, because… well because I had them and they are tasty and healthy, and they add a nice bit of color to the soup.  You can add whatever vegetables you have to your soup.

Turkey Soup
Turkey carcass with bits of meat still attached
1 bay leaf
3 carrots
½ onion
4 small turnips (I have tiny tiny turnips)
3 medium potatoes
½ diakon
3 sun dried tomatoes
6 cups water, approximately
1 cup vegetable broth

Put your carcass into a large pot and fill with water.  Set it on the stove and bring to a boil.  Drop in your bay leaf, reduce to a simmer, and cover.  Allow to simmer about 30 or 40 minutes.  Occasionally scrape off any scum that rises to the surface of the water with a spoon.  In the meantime chop your veggies into soup size pieces.

Remove the carcass from the water and place on a cutting board.  Remove the bay leaf and discard.  Add the vegetables to the liquid.  Add a cup or two of extra liquid such as broth (but water will do) and allow to come back up to a low boil.  Once the carcass has cooled enough to handle, get to work picking off any remaining meat, which you should add back into your soup.  Some will have already fallen off during the simmering, and what is left should come off the bones very easily.  Reduce back down to a simmer, cover and cook for about 30-40 minutes until your vegetables are soft.

Allow to cool and carefully scrape of any fat that has risen to the top.  Eat now, or freeze to enjoy for weeks to come… until you get another wonderful turkey carcass.

Monday, November 22, 2010

CSA 25: Soup

Potato and leek, week after week. And yet it took me this long to make soup. I confound myself sometimes. I mean, who am I? Do I even know me? I love potato leek soup. And it’s super easy to make. I mean, ridiculously simple. All you really need is potatoes, leeks, some fat and some liquid. Why did I wait so long?

Admittedly I did jazz it up a bit more then that, but really you could make a delicious potato leek soup with just those ingredients.

I used some of my homemade broth as my liquid, and I seasoned my soup with salt. And I finished it with a generous few dollops of hot sauce. Now you might think "oh no hot sauce for me! I don't care for hot." To which I respond - try it, its not hot. The soup is so starchy the 'hot' gets totally lost, the sauce simply gives a depth of flavor. It makes sense really - potato is often cooked with [bell] pepper (think home fries, pot roasts, etc) and served with vinegar (fries with malt vinegar, potato salad, etc) and pepper and vinegar are the main ingredients in hot sauce. So really its no surprise the hot sauce adds that final something.

I also leave the skins on my potato. They add nominal flavor but lots and lots of nutrients. Whenever you can eat a vegetable skin, do it. Just scrub it, cook it if necessary but do try to eat the skins.

I finished my soup off in the blender but it’s an optional step. You could easily just eat it as it ends up. I just tend to like smooth soup and since I have a blender, I figure why not use it?  Pureed potato soup gives the impression of a cream soup without all the fat (or the hassle of cooking dairy).

Of course once you get into a soup mood; its convenience, its healthfulness, its ease to make, store and reheat, well it’s hard to not just form a habit; especially during root vegetable season. Crunchy, starchy roots make such lovely soup ingredients. In recent weeks I’ve been getting potatoes, carrots, turnips, radishes, beets and even daikon.

What was I to do with daikon? I mean daikon? What is it even? It’s a root vegetable, that much I could see.  Its sort of a large white cross between a turnip and a carrot, about the size of a zucchini. 

Being soup season and considering at the time I made this I was trying to use up the last of my broth to make room for a new batch, more soup was inevitable. I hadn't been to the grocery store in a while for staples so I wanted a simple soup. Lentil was an easy choice. I figured daikon was a root vegetable, and most root vegetables, such as turnip and carrot, taste good in lentil soup, so it would too. I was right.

The daikon cooked down to a melt-in-your mouth consistency. It’s got a mild, starchy flavor, which picked up salt deliciously. The lentils gave the soup nice body, thick and meaty, and they are a classic soup base for a reason – lentils only require minimal seasoning to make a great meal.

Much like the potato soup before it, I jazzed it up a bit, using my vegetable broth (and water) as my liquid, but any liquid you like will do. You can use broth (homemade or store bought), plain water, you can throw a bouillon into the pot, or any combination of these ideas. You can even use one of those soup seasoning packets they sell at the grocery store if sodium isn’t a huge concern for you. That’s one of the beauties of soup – most soups are quite forgiving recipes. And of course if you are on a budget, well the old adage "you can always water the soup" still stands true - you almost always can just add more liquid to stretch your soup and therefore your budget.

Potato Leek Soup
1 pound of small gold potatoes
1 leek, trimmed of greens
Butter, olive oil
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
Hot sauce

Melt the butter in some olive oil. Dice the potato and leek and add to the oil. Cook about 2 or 3 minutes stirring often. Add the broth and water, bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer for about half an hour. Transfer to blender and blend until smooth. Return to pot simmer another minute or two and turn off heat. Serve into bowl(s) and sprinkle generously with hot sauce.

Lentil Daikon Soup
1 daikon, chopped into cubes about the size of dice
1 cup dry lentils
6 cups liquid
½ onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, well chopped
Olive oil & butter

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and daikon and cook about 3 minutes, stirring a bit, to soften the veggies. Add the garlic and cook about 1 more minute. Add the lentils and liquid, bring the heat up to get the soup boiling, reduce the heat again, cover and simmer for about 30-40 minutes, occasionally stirring. Season with some Adobo and enjoy.

And FYI – lentil soup freezes well, so don’t feel obligated to eat it all at once… of course its low fat, high fiber and has a reasonable amount of protein from the lentils, so don’t feel guilty if you do eat it all.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Restaurant Club: Oyster Bar

Restaurant Club time again! This session of club was held at the famous Oyster Bar in the even more famous historic Grand Central Station.

The usual crowd joined us and a feast was had by all. Due to the nature of many of our dishes and everyone’s desire to try as much as possible, we decided to do our meal family style instead of individual appetizers or entrees.  I missed most of cocktails as it was a weeknight dinner and I get out of work the latest, but dinner carried on for a full 3 hours after my arrival, so I can't have missed much.

We started with cultivated Maine mussels steamed with white wine and garlic ($12.95), smoked North Atlantic salmon ($12.95), jumbo shrimp and jumbo lump crabmeat over classic Caesar salad ($28.45) and 4 Belon wild raw oysters from Maine ($3.95 each). And a bottle of Diseno Malbec 2009 from Mendoza, Argentina ($36).

Everything was excellent, although the wait staff seemed a bit put off at our plan to eat family style, snapping at us over our request for a set of utensils to serve with.  Things quickly smoothed over though and soon our servers were smiling and cheerful again.

The smoked salmon came garnished with large, juicy capers and a side of bread (this in addition to the bread basket already provided, filled with crumbly biscuits and those seeded rectangular crackers popular in bread baskets). The mussels were also excellent; however I do take exception to being served a closed one. I understand occasionally a shell won't pop but I feel that's a loss the restaurant should eat, so to speak, not one they should pass on to the customer so overtly. None the less the open ones were steamed to perfection, with none of the chewiness one encounters when shellfish is overcooked, as it so often is; the garlic wine sauce was delicate and flavorful and the crumbly biscuits soaked it up perfectly.

Our oysters were good, and pre-loosened from their shells.  They were on the small side, a disappointment only because they are one of the pricier oyster options at over a dollar more per half shell.  They really were an appropriate size for eating.  I garnished mine with some hot sauce and splash of lemon.  We were also served cocktail sauce for garnishing.

The wine was a great choice. Traditionally one would never even think to have a hearty red wine with seafood, but we're a modern crowd following modern trends. A slightly woody, earthy (the label extolled coffee and chocolate flavors) tasting wine, the Malbec went down smoothly with our meal. A second bottle was ordered to enjoy during entrees.

Our entrée selections, also enjoyed family style as mentioned, were the fried calamari with marinara sauce ($9.95/pictured), Cajun fried Florida popcorn shrimp ($13.95/pictured), clams casino ($10.95), smoked Idaho brook trout filet with horseradish cream ($7.25/pictured), and sautéed Peconic Bay scallops with garlic herb butter ($30.95/pictured).

Again, for the most part, wonderful food. The calamari was mostly rings with a few of those small whole body squids adorning the plate.  Because I and at least 2 others at the table prefer the rings, this worked out fine for us.  The marinara sauce was served room temperature and was sweet, I would have preferred it hot, both in temperature and flavor, but I’m not sure what proper protocol is for calamari sauce.  The popcorn shrimp were tiny but not over-breaded – they were light and easy to eat and came served with a spicy roumalade sauce.  The clams casino (pictured) tasted good but lost me on presentation: they were simply clams on the half shelf with a piece of slimy looking bacon unceremoniously folded on top.  Personally I felt like the bacon should have been better crisped (perhaps if they had been cooked under a broiler for top heat? Or perhaps dicing it so as to change its shape, appearance and cook-to-crispy time…) and more attention put towards appearance.  They were tasty though – enough so that after everyone had taken one, I asked around and then took the last for myself.

I had had my doubts over both the smoked trout and the bay scallops when we were deciding on our selections and was very pleasantly surprised by both.  The trout was fat and moist and the generous mound of horseradish sauce had just the right amount of ‘bite’.  The scallops were small, as bay scallops are, and in a very tasty garlic sauce that like the mussel sauce before it was excellent on the biscuits.  The serving was the most generous, although no doubt that had something to do with it being an official “entrée” as opposed to many of our selections which were off the appetizer section of the menu.

While ordering desserts one table member also tried to order some of the old fashioned fish and chips ($21.95) to go to bring home to her husband but was informed the restaurant was sold out.  Despite this disappointment, we soldiered through the rest of our meal… only to discover one of our dessert selections, the pumpkin panna cotta with crystallized ginger ($7.25), was also sold out.  It was only about 9:30 on a Friday night.

For dessert we ordered Florida Key lime pie ($7.25), peach apple clafoute tart with brown sugar crisp ($7.25) and the six layer nougatine chocolate ganache cake ($7.95).  The Key lime pie was smooth, creamy and fresh tasting with the slight sourness one should expect from a Key lime pie and not at all gelatinous as some lime pies are.  The six layer cake got excellent reviews from my table mates (I did not try it as I’m no fan of chocolate cake), but the peach apple tarte was not too popular with a good half left untouched by the end of the meal.  Its not that it was bad persay, it was simply flavorless… perhaps due in part to featuring peaches, a fruit not in season at the moment and therefore no doubt not particularly fresh.  In New York, in November, chef’s should probably stick to just apple in their tartes.

The restaurant is huge with a full dining room, a raw bar section and a salon, but at peak dining hours be sure to call for a reservation – when I arrived at 6:30 to meet my club members the place was packed.  I would not be surprised if the chair my friends had saved for me at our table had literally been the only empty seat in the house.  Also be prepared – the restrooms have attendants, or at least the ladies room did, so either be ready to have to awkwardly ask for a paper towel to dry your hands, or come prepared with a dollar to buy one (because lets face it, that’s what you are doing). 

Despite a few let downs such as the out of stock options, the slight snippiness of our server and the presentation of the clams casino, overall it was a wonderful dining experience and I would whole heartedly recommend the Oyster Bar if you are looking for fresh, well prepared seafood in possibly the easiest to get to location on the planet.  The menu is a bit difficult to read, being tightly packed and written in a font reminiscent of handwriting and in all capital letters, but what it lacks in readability is made up for in selection.  I also appreciated knowing the origins of much of the seafood selection, espcially since almost all of it was domestic (there were several Canadian oysters available as well).  In part because we mostly ordered appetizers our feast was incredibly affordable, clocking in at $83 per person after tax and tip.  Not bad for a 5 person, three course, feast.

Friday, November 5, 2010

CSA 24: Broccoli Rabe

The great thing about the CSA is the most basic fact: seasonal, farm fresh, organic produce is just better. It looks better, it lasts longer and it just tastes so good.

People ask me all the time about produce. They hear I'm studying nutrition, and work in a nutritional store, and belong to a CSA and they ask me all sorts of nutrition questions. Which I don't mind at all, I enjoy talking about the value of food.

One of the most common questions is whether canned or frozen vegetables are "good". It’s a weird question. On the most basic level, yes of course vegetables are good for you. Please always know that: vegetables = good for you. Are canned or frozen vegetables the best? Well that's a different question, and too narrow. So really the question should be: what’s the spectrum of vegetables and where does each type land on that spectrum?

Personally I set the spectrum starting with worst: least nutritious and least delicious, to the best: most nutritious and most delicious. Roughly speaking I'd say in terms of taste and healthfulness, completely dried vegetables, such as one might find in a box of some sort of dinner mix, are the worst - hardly vegetables at all really. And in-season, local, fresh, organic is the very, very best. But there's a whole spectrum between those extremes.

Between frozen and canned, frozen is somewhat better simply because canned usually has added salt and cans might possibly leach cancerous chemicals into your foods through their plastic lining (although frozen veggies come in either plastic bags or plastic lined boxes, so perhaps that danger is spread between both). But still canned vegetables are better then no vegetables or overly processed vegetables. Both sources in many cases are more healthful then their "fresh" grocery store counterparts because frozen and canned vegetables are more likely to be vine ripened, as opposed to picked before their prime and artificially forced to ripen in the backs of darkened trucks.

Lately, it is harvest season after all, I've gotten lots and lots of greens. Chard, kale, collards, dandelion, arugula, mixed lettuces, herbs and of course carrot greens, turnip greens and beet greens: you name it, if it grows in New York, I got it. And this of course in addition to tons of tubers, gobs of gourds and plenty of fruiting veggies, like bell peppers and stuff I don't have a category for (what are leeks and fennel? Stalk vegetables? Whatever they are, I got 'em). Unable to eat everything fresh I have the choice to give them away, throw them out or store them for leaner months. I try to not throw them out (although to be honest I refuse to feel guilt if the carrot greens wilt and get discarded), so I'm left with give or store - I do both.

Several sources all agreed the best way to store greens is to blanche and freeze them. So I boiled a large pot of water and dropped in a huge pile of roughly chopped collards and kale. I let them cook for about 1 minute and then drained them and rinsed with cold water. I let them drain for about an hour and then stuffed them in freezer containers. In a few months I bet I'll be happy I did!

But I can't store all my veggies - a girl's gotta eat dinner today too! And so I come full circle on my point about fresh, seasonal, local produce being the best. Stemming, cleaning, chopping, boiling - I was exhausted from cooking before I even cooked, just from preserving greens. I wanted quick, easy, tasty. Luckily my green loot provided. Is there anything easier and tastier then sautéed broccoli rabe? Its fresh and almost crunchy, but sort of soft, and its got that sweet/bitter taste thing going on, and is just overall quite satisfying.

I garnished my broccoli rabe with a few peels of fresh parmesan cheese. And because the produce itself was so good, and flavorful, the cheese provided ample salt. Normally I do advocate a bit of seasoning (salt, in home cooking is not really a "sodium concern", its processed foods that'll get you with sodium). But the touch of salt in the butter and the salt in the cheese proved to be plenty, because ultimately salt is simply a flavor enhancer, and quite honestly this rabe was flavorful enough to begin with!

Broccoli Rabe
bunch of broccoli rabe
1-2 cloves fresh garlic
olive oil
fresh parmesan cheese

Melt some butter in olive oil in a large pan. Rinse the rabe and shake it dry, but not totally dry. Roughly chop it to remove excess stem (some stem is good though). Add it to the oil along with the garlic. I use a garlic press but you could just chop or slice it if you haven't got a press. Sautée until bright green and tender. Move to serving plate. Use a vegetable peeler to shave some parmesan on top. Done and delicious in just a few minutes.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

CSA 23: Mashed Sweet Potato

I've gotten about 12 cumulative pounds of sweet potato over the last four weeks. And oh how sweet it is. It's some darn tasty tuber.

Sweet potatoes are often interchanged with yams, although they actually are different vegetables.  Yams are larger and not quite as sweet.  But both are excellent sources of fiber, healthy carbohydrates and beta carotene.

I've done a few things with them, such as sweet potato oven fries. Oven fries are super easy: cut one sweet potato into fry shapes, toss in a bit of olive oil, bake about 30 minutes, and toss with some Adobo. Done. Yum.

But mostly I bake it, then skin and mash it. My directions below assume you'll be using shaker top seasoning and are per one medium to large sweet potato; Increase the other ingredients as you increase the number of sweet potatoes. And even though they really are sweet I add brown sugar because it really is just super tasty... and because I'm a grown up and I can eat sugar for dinner if I want to. Same with real butter. My philosophy is use small amounts of the best ingredients instead of more of a substitute ingredient. And they make this nifty granulated brown sugar now that doesn't clump and dry out. So it’s easy, delicious, and really honest ingredients.

Do make sure you put the sweet potatoes on something to bake them.  I have a pizza stone permanently in my oven so it’s not an issue for me, but any baking sheet or even just a piece of aluminum foil would work fine.  They are so sweet they actually will ooze a bit of sweet goop as they bake.  This ooze is actually quite helpful – when the goop puddle is about the size of a quarter, you know the sweet potatoes are done baking.

Sweet Potato
1 sweet potato
1 tsp butter
8-10 shakes of cinnamon
1-3 shakes of clove
1 tsp brown sugar

Preheat your oven and scrub the sweet potato, leaving slightly damp.  You can cut off any stray roots, but leave the skin on.  Bake the sweet potato for about an hour at 350 degrees. Remove from the oven, cut in half and carefully, because its hella hot, pop the insides out of the skins into a bowl. Per 1 sweet potato add 8-10 shakes of cinnamon, 1-3 shakes of clove, 1 teaspoon butter and 1 teaspoon brown sugar. Mash with a potato masher. Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

CSA 22: Monster Guts (aka spaghetti squash with pesto)

Monster guts. 'Tis the season after all. I first made this meal a month or so ago and immediately thought "monster guts". Its a funky looking blob of green stringy mush. Honestly it looks like something straight out of a cartoon. But its super tasty and awesomely healthful: spaghetti squash with collard greens and cheese pesto.

For the squash - I find it too hard to cut a large raw squash, but they do cook faster in half, so I cook it about 10-15 minutes whole then cut it. Its still actually kind of hard to cut it but it really speeds the cook time. I pull the seeds  and gook out when I cut it but you could probably bake it with them in it.

As for the green cheese sauce, anything will do fine. I just used what I had on hand: a cheddar cheese stick, a mini Bonbel Light wheel and some fresh Parmesan cheese. And I used collard greens, carrot greens and parsley because its what I had, but spinach, chard, beet greens and any kind of herb would tasty. Of course the sauce would be better with a nut blended in - pine nut, almond, any nut really, and last time I made it I did add almond, but it worked without the nut as well.

Monster Guts
1/2 spaghetti squash
3 collard green leaves
1 clove garlic
handful of carrot greens
handful of parsley
4 oz mixed cheese
olive oil
pepper & Adobo

Bake the squash for about 45-60 minutes until its squishy.

Roughly chop the collards and remove the stems. Boil them for about 10 minutes. Add the carrot greens the last 4 minutes or so. Drain.

Put the greens, the parsley, the garlic and the cheese into a food processor. Start it going and drizzle in some oil. Stop occasionally to scrape down the sides and to season with pepper and Adobo. 

Scrape the spaghetti squash with a fork to release the threads.

Mix the spaghetti with the sauce, revel in its appearance for a moment, and enjoy.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pineapple Coconut Cake

I recently had occasion to bake a cake. And what a fun cake I baked! It was only the second cake I’ve baked in my whole adult life. The last one was a modification of the same original recipe.

Because I don’t bake cakes often I didn’t want to bake one totally from scratch. I was doubtful I could get it moist and perfect on a first try, and I didn’t want the left over ingredients - when would I use cake flour again? But I didn’t want to just open a box and not really contribute to the deliciousness process either. So I started with a recipe that starts with a boxed mix, but with lots of add-ins. I changed the recipe to better suit my tastes and the ingredients I had. Like the pineapple-coconut layer: I had the ingredients available so why not? And why use pecans when I could use almonds?

Pineapple Coconut Cake
1 box white cake mix
1 stick butter, softened
1 cup fat free milk
¼ cup fat free plain yogurt
3 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp almond extract
¾ cup crushed pineapple, drained
¾ cup sweetened flake coconut
2 cups chopped almonds
2 cans cream cheese dressing

Preheat oven to 350. Mix the first seven ingredients really well. Mix in ½ cup pineapple, ½ cup coconut, and 1 cup almonds into the batter. Pour into two 8 inch cake pans, sprayed with oil. Bake about 30-35 minutes.
Let cool. Cut each cake in half, flatways to make 4 disks.
In a small bowl mix the remaining ¼ cup pineapple, ¼ cup coconut and ¼ cup super fine ground almond, set aside. In another bowl mix the frosting with the remaining almonds.
Put a few pieces of wax paper on your cake plate. Put a slice of cake in the center, cut side up. Spread some frosting on it. Place a cake slice on it, cut side up. Spread on the pineapple mixture. Place a cake slice on it, cut side down. Spread some frosting on top. Place the last cake slice on it, cut side down.
*Place a round plate on top as a guide, and use a large serrated knife to trim the cake sides. Remove plate and excess cake.
Using not too much icing, ice the side and top of the cake and put it in the fridge for at least an hour. Once well chilled and set, use the rest of the icing to ice the whole cake. Sprinkle with some of the remaining coconut.
Carefully pull the pieces of wax paper out from under the cake, to instantly clean the whole thing up.

*This trimming step is only necessary if you have a wonky oven such as myself and end up with a very over-cooked on the outside, perfect on the inside cake.  If your oven heats evenly, this step is only necessary if you want a smaller cake.

Monday, October 4, 2010

CSA 21: Herb Roasted Potato

Want to cook something delicious?  Something fresh, flavorful, and impressive… yet easy?  I’ll give you the secret: fresh herbs.  Herbs are an amazing food.  First off, they taste good.  They also smell good and they add an appealing sprinkle of color to food.  But mostly, first and foremost herbs taste good, especially when fresh.
Herbs are also nutritional powerhouses.  Don’t ever forget that green leafy vegetables are green leafy plants – that means eating herbs is right up there in responsible healthfulness with eating your spinach or your turnip greens or kale or any of the other green leafy recommendations you’ve heard.  Most herbs are loaded with nutrients including vitamin C, calcium, folic acid, iron and all sorts of flavinoids.
You can buy fresh herbs year round in most grocery stores, or you can easily grow your own if you have a sunny window and can remember to water them.  If you have a sunny yard, most herbs will grow like weeds – delicious aromatic weeds, but yeah… watch those suckers because they will take over (of course you can just prune them back aggressively by way of eating them).  If you don’t want to kill your plants though, try to never harvest more then 30% of a plant in a week.  Personally I grow basil (two varieties), rosemary and mint on my window sill.  I’ve tried dill, chives and a few others, but don’t get enough sun to truly sustain them.  I also recently noticed some marjoram growing as a weed in my aloe vera pot, which as of yet has not molested the aloe in any way, so it remains.  And of course my CSA share often includes a bunch of fresh herbs.
Add herbs to anything you cook – chop, tear, wilt or puree them.  Add fresh herbs to salads, to marinades, to soups and to sauces.  Drop some into poaching liquid.  Use one herb, or a mixture of whatever you have on hand – almost all green leafy herbs compliment one another.  Herbs themselves can also be the main highlight of a dish – for example pesto, or try making a salad using assorted mixed herbs as your greens (you won’t even need dressing!)
A great way to make a really impressive meal is to simply take a large handful of mixed green herbs, chopped very well, mixed with a touch of salt and pepper and some olive oil to make a gooey paste and rub it on a whole chicken.  Try if you can to actually get the mixture between the meat and the skin, although on top of the skin works ok too.  Get every last corner of that chicken coated in the herb paste.  Toss some chopped root veggies in whatever is left of the herb-oil.  Then just go ahead and bake the chicken in a roasting pan surrounded by the veggies.  Voila.  One of the tastiest meals you’ve ever had, I promise.  And really, can it get much easier then: chop herbs, mix with oil, rub on chicken, bake?  Not really when you are talking about actual ‘from scratch’ cooking.
Of course you don’t need to be so elaborate.  Herb roasted potatoes are an easy, always pleasing dish.  They are simple to make yet have a flavor intensity that suggests true culinary prowess.
Herb Roasted Potato
6 small potatoes (red, golden, fingerling, or a mixture)
1 small handful of fresh herbs (I used parley, rosemary, basil, mint and one I couldn’t identify)
1 clove fresh garlic
Olive oil, salt, pepper
Preheat your oven to about 375.  Chop the herbs as finely as you can.  With a garlic press, squish your garlic clove and mix with the chopped herbs.  Mix in some salt and pepper and add a splash of olive oil.  Cut your potatoes into quarters or 6ths, trying to get them to about even size chunks.  Toss with the herb-oil and bake in a single layer about 30 minutes until golden brown and fork tender (large pieces need to cook longer, smaller pieces shorter).  If you think of it, about 2/3 of the way through baking, give them a good stir to flip them for more even browning.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

CSA 20: Tomato Ice Cream (aka Epic Fail)

People have made various comments to me about my cooking: “you must be a great cook!” or “wow you know so much about cooking!” Comments of that nature. The best is “you must eat so well!”

The truth is… plenty of my cooking attempts result in epic fails. I just don’t generally share the fails. Tomato ice cream for example: ick. Which is not to say I’m giving up on tomato ice cream; But my first attempt, was, well in a word: bad. Perhaps one could even say very bad. When I leave ¾ of my ice cream untouched, you know it’s pretty darn bad.

As I was making it two popular clichés were rolling around in my head: Necessity is the mother of all invention and ice cream makes everything better. I had over a dozen tomatoes and one day left until a new batch of vegetables, and surely more tomato. I needed a way to make tomato better… and I had a brand new ice cream machine just begging for experimentation.

Tomato ice cream certainly works on a basic level – it looked delicious and was a nice creamy texture. But it failed in the most important of areas – taste. The first and most major problem was entirely my fault and preventable. I should have peeled the tomatoes. And the sad thing is I knew that. I thought it through; I planned to peel the tomatoes. And then I got lazy. And you know what kids? Laziness rarely pays off. I simply de-gooked the tomato and put it in the food processor, skins and all. The skins were also the second problem, in that they only ended up chopping to about ½ centimeter bits, and therefore made for a weird texture within the otherwise smooth ice cream.

I used my recipe for strawberry ice cream, simply substituting tomato for the strawberries and omitting the vanilla. I also added an extra tablespoon of sweetener, to make up for the less sweet tomato in comparison to super sweet berries. For sweetener I used half sugar and half Xylitol, but certainly only sugar would work (or if your intestines can take it, only Xylitol would be fine. Alternately I’m sure other sugar substitutes would be fine as well). And while I keep calling it “ice cream” I actually did not use any cream, but rather skim milk* and yogurt, for a fat free treat.

I will be trying it again (why not? I still have at least 8 tomatoes, and I haven’t even seen this week’s veggie haul yet) but with some tweaks to the recipe. Certainly I’ll first and foremost peel my tomatoes. I’ll try using whole milk next time too, to add a bit of tasty creamy fat to it. And I’m thinking some apple sauce might do the trick of cutting the acid flavor better then just straight sugar/sweetener.

Strawberry Ice Cream
6-9 frozen strawberries, chopped
¾ cups (combined total) of plain fat free yogurt and skim milk
3 tablespoons sugar (or sugar substitute)
A few drops vanilla extract

Mix ingredients well so all the sweetener is dissolved. Add to ice cream machine and follow the directions for your machine. Enjoy.

*In the interest of full disclosure – I use the ultra pasteurized, extra protein skim, the stuff marketed as tasting like whole milk. Skim Plus is one brand, Hood Smart Balance is another, but I’m sure local markets vary. Extra milk solids/proteins are added to the skimmed milk making it slightly thicker and creamier tasting. It has higher calories then regular skim milk, as well as more protein, but remains fat free.

CSA 19: Tomato, tomato, tomato

Aka: A Tomato (or Two) a Day, is the CSA Way
Or perhaps an alternate title, No Tomato Left Behind
Or maybe, Attack of the Organic Tomatoes
Or the most fitting, You Say Tomato, I Say Please for the Love of All That’s Holy No More Tomato!

I thought the zucchini’s were bad in July. Oh geez, how I long for the days when I was obligated to eat 5 zucchinis a week, now that I’m faced with 8 full sized tomatoes and a pint of cherry tomatoes a week (that's just an average - last week I got 14 - that's right 14 tomatoes in one week!) My two tomato a day habit is wearing on my patience (I probably wouldn’t mind so much if I didn’t despise tomato seeds and tomato gook, which means the cutting of a tomato involves a lot of work, wet messy work, to remove these bits… my dish rag, left in the sink for day, damp, actually sprouted – SPROUTED. Can you imagine my surprise coming home from work, glancing in the sink and seeing something growing?) Its been weeks now that I've been getting at minimum 5 or 6 full size red tomatoes and a pint of golden cherry tomatoes.

I have made tomato sauce, tomato & beans, sauteed tomato, tomato and chard, tomato salad (more then once my lunch has consisted of various cut tomatoes and some cheese) and tomato salsa. All of which were lovely meals individually, but collectively they are bit much.

I’ve spoken before about how I often wonder about the origins of recipes, how the very first incarnation of certain food combinations came about. The more I entrench myself in eating locally and seasonally the more I come to realize many of the modern recipes we have and love probably have less to do with certain foods going well together and more to do with certain foods being seasonal together. Tomatoes and peppers for example. Sure who doesn’t love a tomato sauce with some bell pepper cooked into it? Or a lovely tomato and pepper salsa? Or even just a big salad full of greens, fresh tomato and chopped bell pepper? But phooey to the idea that these recipes started due to their deliciousness. These combinations came about because tomatoes and peppers ripen at the same time. After all rhubarb would probably taste wonderful with peaches or apples, but who ever heard of peach & rhubarb pie? No one. Because strawberries and rhubarb ripen together, a full month or two after peach season is over and 3 months before apples make an appearance.

Tomato and Chard, with pork
1 pint cherry tomato, halved
6 chard leaves, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 [boneless] pork chop, cubed
Olive oil, butter,
Salt & pepper

 Melt the butter in the oil in a large skillet.  Add the garlic and cook about 2 minutes (be careful to not let it burn).  Add the chard and cook another 2 or 3 minutes until it wilts and brightens in color.  Add the tomato and the pork and season with the salt and pepper.  Simmer for about 6-8 minutes until the pork is cooked through.  Enjoy as is or over rice (or any grain).

1 large tomato
½ pint cherry tomatoes
1 [sweet] pepper (either bell, or long)
1 hot pepper
½ onion or 3 shallots
Handful of cilantro or parsley (or a mix)

Wash and prepare the veggies (pull the outer layers off the onions; remove the stems from the peppers and tomatoes, etc).  Put everything in a food processor and pulse about 4x for about 5 seconds each time.  Let sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Week 15: The Non-Tomato Story

This is not the tomato blog.  I have written it, but this is not it.  The tomato blog is not a very happy piece.  And I didn't want to come across as ungrateful for the recent bounty of nutritious, delicious tomatoes.  So I took a break from tomatoes.  There had been so many that I found I'd been neglecting some of my other vegetables.

Today, for the first time in the 15 weeks its been going on, I picked up my own vegetables.  I was confident I could make it out of work on time, and I did, and I took the express bus, which is twice the price of the subway, but twice as fast as well.  I made it to my car by 6:48 and to APEC by 7:00.

I did get more tomatoes.  Six more, plus a pint of golden cherry tomatoes.  But I also got 2 kinds of peppers, chard, arugula, dill and a spaghetti squash.  But more then just that, I had vegetables left.  I still had some beet greens, half a bunch of chard, parsley, garlic and shallots (not to mention potatoes and roasted beets).  This made for a lot of greens, in addition to a lot of tomatoes.  And I'm not sick of greens.

I didn't make anything new or special, I just used what I had on hand to make something familiar.  I decided on greens pie. Mid-way through I realized my filo dough had pretty much dried out and I could only eek out 2 pies.  I figured I could use the remainder as empanada filling... but that was just me being optimistic - the reality is I diced up a tomato and mixed it with the remaining sauteed greens and feta as lunch. At least its better then yesterday's lunch with was just a cut up tomato and some diced shallot.

In a day or two, perhaps I'll make up a big pot of slow cooked tomato sauce to enjoy with my spaghetti squash.  While its not particularly exotic, and I am in general a squash fan, I don't know that I've ever had spaghetti squash - I'm looking forward to it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

CSA 18 - Tomato Sauce

Sometimes when I cook I think about how cooking came to be.  Humans started off as foragers eating what they found, as they found it.  Then with tools and fire basic cooking was brought into the mix.  But recipes, putting certain food combinations together, determining how long to cook things for, all those details, how did they come about?

I cooked for myself such a basic, classic dish the other day.  I was tired, uninspired and had a fridge full of tomatoes.  Tomatoes are the zucchini of August; there are just too darn many.  But I also had onion, pepper and garlic and I always have a few boxes of pasta on hand, so there we go, dinner.

Pictured are almost all the ingredients.  Missing from the photo are only the olive oil, butter and salt… and the basil because I add the basil at the last minute so I forgot to cut it off the plant in time for the picture.

Really this isn’t even a recipe.  It’s just so basic.  But don’t the simplicity fool you, it was delicate and complex and fresh and tasty. It’s the kind of sauce that as you make it, and eat it, you start to understand the history of cooking, of how and why.  I took a bunch of seasonal vegetables that have been seasonal for a few weeks now so I’m bored of their individual flavors, chucked them in a pot together and voila, a new flavor.  Surely this is how and why cooking came about.  As a way to not only stretch food and spread nutrients amongst the tribe – if you mix it all together everyone gets some of everything – but because it makes foods you are bored with fresh and new again.  It’s the kind of sauce that probably would taste just as good had it been cooked in a clay pot over a campfire as it did cooked in my dutch oven over a stove.

Tomato Sauce
2 large tomatoes, diced
Handful of grape tomatoes, quartered
1 bell pepper, diced
½ onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
Olive oil
Fresh basil

Melt the butter in the oil and add the onion.  Cook for a few minutes until soft, and add the pepper.  Cook about 2 minutes and add the garlic.  Cook about 1 minute and add the tomato.  Season with salt.  Simmer for as long as it takes to boil a pot of water and cook pasta.  In the last 2 or 3 minutes of cooking, add the fresh basil, roughly chopped.
Serve over pasta, with fresh grated cheese.

Simple and perfect.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Restaurant Club

not shown: David
What's in a name? I tried to find some famous quotes but all the good "name" quotes I could think of conveyed the wrong sentiment. Sometimes what you call something is as important as the thing itself.

Restaurant Club. Giving our alternate month dinner party plans a title changes everything. Well ok, no it doesn't change everything, but it did change the dynamic for the better, almost instantaneously. In fact giving the group a name, a "restaurant club" changed my perspective on my social life. As we defined the perimeters of our club I came to realize I've been a part of a few restaurant clubs over the course of my life, we just never formalized ourselves.

Last night we went to Half Moon in Dobbs Ferry. It was an excellent choice. There were 6 of us, so we got a great selection of food, and being the bunch of foodies we are, our bread plates saw some serious sharing action... After we'd finished using the bread plates for the awesome artisan bread and homemade chili infused olive oil and fresh Parmesan cheese, that is.

I started off with my typical cocktail, a scotch and soda.  But Johnny could keep walking this time; I went for a smokey, peaty Talisker scotch, since they had it.  And I was not disappointed.  Scotch without smoke is like... Coke without cola.

Jennifer had read somewhere that the duck tacos at Half Moon were a star of the menu so of course we got a few orders for the table.  The duck was moist and flavorful and the freshly fried taco shells were delicate enough to practically melt in your mouth yet strong enough to hold up to the several bites it took to eat the whole thing.  Topped with fresh vegetables and a generous dollop of guacamole, I have to agree with past reviews and claim the duck tacos to be divine, a "must taste" indeed.

The chipolte caesar salad  was generously sized and full of fresh shaved cheese.  I have to admit I was a bit disappointed that for a restaurant with such a seafood-heavy menu, my salad did not come topped with anchovies, but the chipolte dressing was pretty darn flavorful, so I guess I can forgive the transgression.  Its getting harder and harder to find a proper caesar salad these days, but I am happy that salad in general is becoming a more focused course instead of the after thought is has been in the past.

I'd chosen my entree before even arriving at the restaurant.  I think in fact I'd chosen my entree before we'd even crossed the bridge.  Jennifer was on the restaurant's website getting us directions (they have excellent, detailed directions) and got distracted by the menu which she was reading aloud to me as I drove.  Once she said "skate" I interrupted and said "ok you can stop reading out loud now, I know what I'm getting." The only thing that could have derailed that plan would have char, but thankfully I was not put in a position of having choose - I really don't know what I would have done had I been faced with that choice. (Yes I do, I would have chosen the char since its more ethical... but dang I do enjoy skate.)

The skate was pan fried and topped with bacon crumbles and served on a bed of julienned zucchini.  A perfect dome of cilantro seasoned rice accompanied it.  Half of my dinner companions refused to try it upon hearing it was the wing of a sting ray (well a member of the sting ray family, actual sting rays are poisonous).  They were the same people who were more shocked then amused when I declared I wasn't sure if I liked the taste of raw oysters but I do enjoy the god-complex I get from eating something that is still alive.  But Jennifer and Marian tried it and loved it (and they laughed wildly at my oyster declaration).  I had to remind Jen she'd tried it (and enjoyed it) once before, when I'd ordered it at Bar Americain.

Jennifer shared with me some of her seared halibut - it was like butta;  melt in your mouth, perfectly cooked - just golden on the outside, a perfect smooth white inside.  And Annette shared a generous serving of her lobster macaroni and cheese, full of hearty pasta swirls and fresh mushrooms in a delicate cheese sauce.

As per usual I was in charge of the wine list (I'm not sure how I've become the sommelier amongst my friends, but I've gotten pretty good at it) and I was very happy with the selection available, and the prices.  There were several pages of wines, and they were all very affordable.  I chose for us a bottle of Michel Torino “Don David Reserve” `07, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Argentina (my apologies to my Facebook friends, to whom I announced I'd had a Chilean wine).  It delivered on its promise of being robust and it took on a slightly spicy flavor in conjunction to the meal, and at only $32 a bottle, we didn't even blink an eye at ordering a second.

Although full to near capacity, one simply cannot stop such a meal as we were having without a bit of dessert.  In for a penny, in for a pound - if you're going to feast, feast away!  Jennifer and I decided to share the peach and blueberry crumble, topped with vanilla ice cream.  I didn't try any of the flourless chocolate tortes ordered by Marian & Annette, and David, but I will say they looked wonderful.  The fruit in our crumble was obviously fresh and the oatmeal topping was the perfect temperature barrier between the steaming hot fruit and the ice cream.  Between the two of us we ate every last scrap off our dish.

It was a wonderful meal, with wonderful company, and now with a formalized agenda.  Our restaurant club meets every other month, with the restaurant choice being a rotation amongst the group members.  And although we established the guidelines while at this meal, it still very much qualified financially.  I suggested the price gauge be we must be able to order 3 courses, 1 cocktail and split a bottle of wine for under $100 per person (including tax and tip).  Our meal at half moon came to $85 each - not bad for a 4 hour feast paired with great conversation.