Authors Posts by Raison d'Etre

Raison d'Etre

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Anise at All Hours: Blackberry Jam With Anise & Cloves

Do taste buds change as we get older? I can’t speak with any scientific authority, but from personal experience I can say that my taste for certain flavors has developed over the years, and my taste for other things have curbed. Whatever may be going on biologically, I imagine that isolating the biological forces from the societal ones (I’m sure I love coffee so much because I need to in order to function) would be tricky. In any case, over the years I’ve discovered a liking for things that I used to scrunch up my nose to. I discovered a love for olives, walnuts, plain yogurt and most recently, anise.

Anise is an herb with aromatic seed-like fruit, aniseseed, which tastes like licorice. It’s similar in flavor, but different than star anise. I was first introduced to anise when I went to India. I’d seen it in Indian restaurants – sitting in a dish to take on your way out after you had finished your meal – but I had never given it much thought, let alone tried it. When I was India, I was told it was good for digestion (somethingI heard a lot and came to love). I began taking a little bit, here and there, and the licorice flavor that I had always hated started to grow on me.

Years passed, and I never really sought out the flavor on my own. But last year, one of my friends got really into, and really good at, making jams, and she invited me over to make jam with her one afternoon. She had everything set up: we were making blackberry jam with star anise (yes, the star one, but still that licorice flavor), cloves and cinnamon. Jam really is the gift that keeps on giving. Granted, I’ve intentionally been savoring this delicious, homemade spread, but I still have some in my fridge after all this time. The anise flavor is subtle, and pairs really nicely with the tangy blackberries, the sugar and the spicy cloves and cinnamon. I love spreading it on lightly buttered toast. It makes breakfast taste special. And it inspired me to try anise at other times of the day. Stay tuned for an anise-flavored midday treat.

Purple Rice & Stir-Fry

Everyone knows January is Holiday-Hangover month, where New Years resolutions to eat healthy abound. Everyone also knows that good intentions to improve one’s diet don’t always make it past the first month of the new year (or the first few hours, in my case. My blog posts from last January say it all: healthy chickpea recipes; followed by an indulgent, guacamole-filled trip to Tulum, Mexico; swooning over my favorite cupcake from Billy’s Bakery; all capped off by a Sunday afternoon baking Momofuko Milk Bar’sCompost Cookie.) Needless to say, it’s easy to slip back into old habits and let resolutions to eat healthier wait until next year.

It’s not all hopeless, however. One strategy that helps me follow my intention to eat healthier is making healthy food – cooking and eating it – interesting. If I can get excited about trying something new, be it challenging or easy, then eating healthily doesn’t feel quite like a punishment.

In my resolve to keep things interesting this year, I recently tried purple sticky rice as a substitute for the brown rice I typically use when making a vegetable stir-fry (one of my favorite, post-work dinners when I get home late). A new, wonderful friend in my life gave some to me to try, and I’m so grateful to her for introducing me to something new. Purple rice, originally grown in Thailand, is sticky and sweet and often used in desserts (no wonder I like it). Its chewy texture and vibrant color revitalized what was becoming a predictable dinner for me. I added the purple rice to sauteed shallot and garlic, and cooked it on low heat for about one minute before adding the water and letting the rice simmer for about 30 minutes.

I served the rice with a red pepper, snow pea and onion stir-fry, and a tofu and brocoli stir-fry, garnished with cilantro and shaved carrots. Now I’m excited to try purple rice in a lunch salad, and stay on track by keeping things interesting.

Apple Cider Caramels and Why I’m Smitten Too

Everybody is smitten with Smitten Kitchen, the gorgeous, wildly popular food blog, recently turned best-selling cookbook, from Deb Perelman. I’m no exception. Smitten Kitchen’s recipes are accessible, beautifully presented and oriented towards fresh produce. Confessional in tone, as Leslie Kaufman from the New York Times puts it, the blog is approachable, even for beginners. Perelman is self-taught and cooks in a real, New York-sized kitchen, which is encouraging to those of us who often have to pass on recipes for lack of counter space.

I haven’t gotten my hands on the cookbook yet, but at the end of October Perelman published on her blog what she says is her favorite recipe in the book: apple cider caramels. What could be more perfect for a holiday gift?

With list upon list holiday food gift suggestions, it’s hard to know where to start. I’ve seen some great ideas in Food & Wine this year, like these homemade mulling spice packets; HuffPost Taste put together some great ideas for longer-term projects; and there’s not overlooking Martha Stewart this time of year. I also love a good, old-fashioned pound cake as a gift, but this year I wanted to try something new — something I’ve never attempted before (which doesn’t really narrow it down, since I’m such a novice). When I read Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for apple cider caramels, and then found it it was one of her favorite recipes, I knew I had found the ticket.

They’re every bit as amazing as she describes. Melting butter and dissolving brown sugar into the spicy apple cider, reduced to a syrupy consistency, produces the most heavenly aroma. Wafting through my little apartment, the smell of cooking caramel was enough to make my mouth water. Be careful to heat the caramel to the correct temperature (if you want softer caramels, closer to 252 degrees; harder, a little hotter). In a Smitten Kitchen-style confession: the first time I attempted these caramels, the consistency was too runny because I didn’t get the temperature hot enough).  Find this fabulous recipe here. Happy Holidays!

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Smoked Duck Salad From Ducks Eatery

I blew right by Ducks Eatery the first time I tried to find it. I was distracted by neighboring Motorino — one of the best pizza joints in the city — and by Luzzo’s around the corner — one of my favorite pizza joints. Apparently pizza was on my mind. (But when isn’t it?) When I finally found Ducks’ door, however, and saw the sign reserved for Tuesdays, reading “We have brisket,” pizza evaporated instantaneously from my mind and I knew what my night had in store: Texas-Barbecued brisket. No question about it. The brisket, cooked with palm sugar, fish sauce, and apricots did not disappoint. It was good enough that you’d want to return only on Tuesdays. But the eclectic menu at this innovative, Vietnamese/Texan BBQ-inspired restaurant left me wanting to come back every day of the week.

My favorite dish from the night was not, in fact, the incredible brisket, which has become famous in the mere three months that the restaurant’s been open, but the even more incredible Smoked Duck Salad, served with arugula, pomegranate seeds, black sticky rice and goat cheese, all mixed together for perfect, complete bites. Like the rest of the menu, the duck salad combined a slew of textures and flavors that played surprisingly well off one another in odd but unquestionably delightful combinations. As the New York Times aptly describes, “the feeling [at Duck’s Eatery] is part bayou barbecue joint, part backpacker pipe dream, curiouser and curiouser.” I’ll happily keep tumbling down this rabbit hole if more brisket, creamy cocktails,  oyster nests and, of course, duck salad await.

A Pretty Pound Cake (Makes a Perfect Present)

The holidays are upon us, and with them, endless opportunities to make and share holiday goodies. One of my favorite holiday gifts is pound cake. Everybody makes cookies (and no wonder! They’re delicious and can be made in all shapes, sizes and varieties, and they travel well). Pound cake makes an equally transportable and tasty treat, and it’s so easy to make that you can make multiple batches with minimal stress.

Traditional pound cakes are made with butter, sugar, flour and eggs. I love a classic lemon pound cake, from a lemon-yogurt to lemon-buttermilk. Citrus flavoring of any kind – lemon, orange, grapefruit, tangerine, or all of the above – perks up what could otherwise be a somewhat dull dessert. And with citrus in season, the holidays are a perfect time to make a citrusy pound cake. Last year this Lemon-Glazed Citrus-Yogurt Pound Cake from Food and Wine was my go-to holiday gift.

Yesterday I tried a new variation, using oil instead of butter, for a different citrus-scented pound cake:Orange Cardamom Yogurt Cake from Five & Spice, a lovely food blog. This cake was no exception to the easy-to-make/hard-to-screw-up rule of pound cakes, which, again, makes them ideal holiday presents or cakes for entertaining. The distinct, cardamom flavor — unlike anything else — heightens the zesty orange essence of the cake for an unmistakably unique, seasonal treat (and have I mentioned enough how easy it is to make?). See here for this effortless but entirely rewarding recipe.

I love cardamom so much that I would probably have added one more teaspoon of the spice to the wet batter, before mixing it in with the dry ingredients.  Whether you keep the cardamom subtle or go for a heavily seasoned loaf, this recipe will definitely be a one-of-kind crowd pleaser for all holiday parties and gifts. For my next pound cake, I’ll probably use my bundt pan, which makes cakes look beautiful on a holiday table, and sliced up on a plate. A cinnamon swirl pound cakes sounds pretty holiday-versatile and tempting, but I may also go for a full-on eggnog cake. I may stop short, however, before trying theMountain Dew variety (I am nonetheless intrigued!). Whatever I make next, it will ceratinly be hard to top this sweet and earthy, Orange Cardamom Yogurt Cake.

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Fried Chicken from Hill Country Chicken

The best thing I ate last week was fried chicken from Hill Country Chicken.  Devoted to fried chicken, hand-cut french fries and pies – oh the pies! – Hill Country Chicken pays homage to the founders’ childhood memories of eating Texas-style homemade grub: “hearty, crave-able comfort food served lovingly, casually and unpretentiously.”

In a town where trying too hard is the number one offense and a surefire way to looking uncool, manyrestaurants – and people – run the risk of overdoing the “unpretentious” thing. By trying to be too carefree or “low-brow,” they often come across as inauthentic and out-of-touch. Hill country is neither one of those things. It succeeds in its mission of serving food “casually and unpretentiously,” with cafeteria-style service and a short, straightforward menu. The restaurant’s homey decor with a hint of kitch is inviting, in that it’s quaint and cozy but also playful.

Photo Credit: Serious Eats

Like its older sister Hill Country (serving what many call the best Texas BBQ in town), Hill Country Chicken hits the nail on the head. The classic fried chicken is brined in buttermilk and herbs, and fried with the skin on.  Mama El’s recipe, also brined in buttermilk and herbs, is dipped skinless into a crunchy batter. Both styles are outstanding, and both the Hill Country Classic Fried Chicken Breast and the Mama El’s Fried Chicken Thigh are the best things I ate last week.

Can’t Wait for Thanksgiving? You Don’t Have to!

New Yorkers may be known for a lot of things. Patience isn’t one of them. We like our lines short, our take-out fast and our coffee on the go. If you’re wondering who’s standing in an hour-long line for a cupcake, it isn’t a New Yorker.

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Henry Public’s Turkey Leg Sandwich.
Photo Credit: Dan Hallman
 

Some things, however, are worth waiting for, and on this short list, Thanksgiving will always make the cut. New Yorker or not, we all look forward to that joyous day when we gather our loved ones and stuff ourselves with turkey and gravy. Maybe we’ll watch a parade or some football, or maybe we’ll completely unplug for the day. Whatever we do, the feast is always the main event. It’s a day, and a feast, worth waiting for… Unless you absolutely can’t.

If you simply can’t wait for the last Thursday in November, or if you love this day of gluttony so much that you need a sneak preview — an amuse-bouche, if you’d like — then fear not. There is bounty of restaurants serving Thanksgiving fare all year round in this wonderfully impatient, 24/7 city. Thanksgiving at a restaurant. How New York. Yes, flocks of New Yorkers will be eating their annual feast in a restaurant this year, like they have in years past. If you’re looking for day-of Thanksgiving dinners, restaurants from Williamsburg’s new Reynard to the classic Katz’s Delicatessen will be serving grand feasts this year.

But if you need a quick, Thanksgiving fix before the big day, you can find what you’re craving if you know where to look. Here are some of my favorites for Thanksgiving a la carte:

Andrew Carmellini’s The Dutch, one of last year’s hottest restaurants, serves a buttery corn bread to every dinner table. If it’s mashed potatoes you love, the ever-expanding Meatball Shop serves a decadent side of creamy, mashed potatoes that’s not to be missed. If you’re looking for something a little different, Westvilleserves a great plate of pesto mashed potatoes. I’m still searching for good stuffing — the king of Thanksgiving, in my book. Homemade stuffing is really hard to contend with. Any recommendations on restaurants serving great stuffing?

For turkey, look no further than Henry Public, the charming, antique-filled bar and restaurant where you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time to the 19th century. Henry Public’s turkey leg sandwich is legendary among Brooklynites. Braised in milk, the meat is so tender it’s almost shocking, and this sandwich is definitely worthy of all the hype.

Love them or hate them, Brussels sprouts will be dawning many a Thanksgiving table, and these days they’re practically everywhere you look. Some of the best can be found at Alta, served crispy with fuji apples, crème fraiche and pistachios. For a totally unique version, Prospect Height’s Chuko serves spicy, crunchy Brussels sprouts with fish sauce and peanuts.

Some of the best pumpkin pie hails from Hill Country Chicken, which has its very own pie menu. Four and Twenty Blackbirds in Park Slope, selling whole pies or by the slice, also makes a mean pumpkin pie — as well as other Fall pies like salted caramel apple.

And if you want it all in one, Momofuko Milk Bar‘s Thanksgiving croissant couldn’t get much better.

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Hill Country Chicken’s Pumpkin Pie
Photo Credit: Hill Country Chicken
 

The best part is, when the day finally comes and goes, and you’ve plowed through the last of your leftovers, these Thanksgiving staples will still be around, for the best of Thanksgiving, all year round.

A Negroni at Benoit

One of my best friends started drinking Negronis last year, and since I trust her blindly (she’s my best friend, afterall) and know she has great taste, I followed her lead and gave the classic cocktail, which was new to me, a try. Traditionally, a Negroni is one part gin, one part sweet vermouth, and one Campari, with an orange peel garnish. Hailing from 1920s Florence, it’s a bitter drink, perfect before dinner or all night long. Why not?

The best Negroni I’ve had lately came not from an Italian restaurant, but from a classic French bistro:Benoit, Alain Ducasse’s classic, midtown offshoot of the 100-year-old original in Paris. Strong, bitter and refreshing, this cocktail was just right. I don’t know what made it so good — was it an extra splash of Campari or another liqueur? While sipping on this delightful beverage, I decided not to ask the bartender what made it so special. One, he had a very Parisian, no-nonsense attitude and didn’t really look like he was ready to strike up a conversation (which I respect), but two, some things are better left a mystery.

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Arugula Pizza from Graziella’s (and OBAMA FOR THE WIN!)

The best thing I ate last week came from one of my favorite and certainly one of the most underrated restaurants in Fort Greene: Graziella’s. A casual Italian spot on Vanderbelt just above Dekalb Avenue, Graziella’s is a family restaurant where groups, large and small, and of all ages, can relax over a brick-oven pizza and big bowl of pasta – no frills, just reliably, great food. With a dessert counter in front and a foyer with a bar just as you enter, Graziella’s, as a friend pointed out, has a slightly suburban feel. Noticeably different than so many of the other restaurants just around the corner, it has a classic, timeless feel. It’s casual Italian American at its best.

With a big, rooftop terrace, tucked away from the bustle of Dekalb and offering views of Manahattan and Queens, the summer is my favorite time to eat at Graziella’s. But the brick oven downstairs and the friendly vibe make it a great winter spot too.

The arugula pizza with shaved Parmesan is my favorite, and it was the best thing I ate last week. With a thin crust, just enough sauce and gooey mozzarella cheese topped with a heaping pile fresh arugula and thin slices of Paremesan cheese, it’s my go-to whenever I eat at or order in from Graziella’s. Last week, the pizza was particularly good and really hit the spot after a week cooped up in our apartment (and no complaints there- I’m thankful that we had electricity and heat all week, unlike so many New Yorkers. Fort Greene, for the most part, was relatively unscathed after Sandy, and we are all very lucky.). I love this pizza and I love this restaurant, and I hope, despite all the changes that our neighborhood has seen and will continue to see, that Graziella’s and its arugula pizza never change.

A Hurricane’s Caramel Corn

With Hurricane Sandy raging outside our windows last night and the Internet recently down, I, like many, thought it would be a good occasion to try out some recipes. I’ve never made caramel popcorn, and it turns out it’s really easy (which may or may not be a good thing, since I’ll now be tempted to make it at the drop of a hat). Crunchy, salty, caramel goodness to keep us company as we hunkered.

The destruction is massive, the “region crippled,” and it’s not over yet. It’s no time for making light of the situation. But when life gives you popcorn (with nowhere to go, and a long list of movies you’ve been meaning to watch), make caramel corn. I hope everyone is as safe and sound as they can be!

For the recipe and what to cook next

Crunchy Caramel Corn
Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart

4 tablespoons butter, plus more for baking sheet
1/2 cup popcorn kernels, freshly popped
1 cup cashews, coarsely chopped (optional)
3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
Coarse salt

– Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
– Butter a large rimmed baking sheet
– Place popcorn in a large bowl or keep in pot it was popped in
– Mix in cashews
– In a small saucepan, bring butter, sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 4 tablespoons water to a boil, stirring constantly.
– Once boiling, quickly, drizzle popcorn with sugar syrup and toss
– Spread popcorn evenly on prepared baking sheet.
– Bake, tossing occasionally, until golden and shiny, about 40 minutes.
– Let cool about 10 minutes

What to do with leftover caramel? Well, you didn’t put enough on the popcorn, first of all. But if you did make too much caramel, drizzle it over apple slices, ice cream or pancakes. I think I’m making pumpkin pancakes next!

Bourbon-Glazed Sweet Potato Pound Cake

Adventures with a new cookbook: From a Southern Oven -The Savories, The Sweets, by Jean Anderson

I just got a new cookbook that will be perfect as the weather continues to cool down and my comfort-food cravings get serious. From a Southern Oven -The Savories, The Sweets, by Jean Anderson, is going to teach me the Southern secrets that make gratins and casseroles (the savories) and biscuits, corn bread and pie (the sweets) iconically American cuisine that makes even me feel patriotic.

The first recipe I tried was a Bourbon-Glazed Sweet Potato Pound Cake. Made with pecans and two sticks of butter (“no substitutions”), the batter is thick and the cake heavy. But the sweet potato and eggs keep it from being too dense. I served the cake with ice cream at a dinner party (read below for the full menu) and was secretly grateful to find leftovers after everyone went home. Leftover pound cake, in my opinion, also makes a great breakfast. (What do you think I’m nibbling with my tea right now as I write this blog post?) I’m really looking forward to exploring more Southern comfort food with this new cookbook. Cheddar biscuits may be next.

For the full dinner party menu and what to cook next

Cheese Plate with Pilsner beer flat crackers, grapes and sliced apple

Kale salad with pear, fennel, pecans and a French vinaigrette

Slow-cooked brisket (my mother’s classic recipe with ketchup and onion soup mix) with red wine gravy

Roasted small white potatoes

Roasted carrot, sweet potato and onion medley

Chickpea salad with tomato, cucumber, feta

Bourbon-glazed sweet potato pound cake with ice cream

And sometimes the best part of a dinner party is putting your feet up once everyone’s left, and indulging in left-overs for a few days. I mixed the kale salad with the potatoes for a great lunch yesterday, and made a grilled cheese with pear for dinner. Alex finished off the brisket with a serious left-over sandwich of brisket, brie and potatoes. And of course, left-over pound cake can be eaten at all hours, including at breakfast time.

Not Quite Christmas, But Close: Red & Green Peppers

If you ask for Christmas in New Mexico, nobody wil will think you’re asking for eggnog and presents. Everyone knows that “Christmas” means red and green chiles, together. Chiles and Pinto beans are New Mexico’s state vegetables, and green chiles – served roasted in the iconic green chile stew or in salsa, for example – are the real hallmark of the state. When your order Christmas, you’re asking for both green and red chiles, and once you’ve gone Christmas and realized you don’t have to choose between the smokey, hotter green chile or the more mild, pungent red, you will never go back to either-or.

The green and red peppers we got in our CSA last week aren’t quite chilis – these were mild, long green and red peppers – but I always think of year-round Christmas in New Mexico when I think about green and red peppers. I decided to fry the green peppers and serve them alongside a mustard aioli, and I roasted the red peppers for a roasted red pepper spread.

I coated the green peppers in salt before throwing them in a fry pan of hot oil. After frying them until slightly blackened, I removed them from the heat and sprinkled more salt on top. Once cool enough to eat, I dipped them in a lemony, mustard aioli. This appetizer also works well with Serrano Peppers.

For the roasted red pepper spread, I roasted the red peppers in the oven. You can char peppers over an open flame, but these peppers were so thin that I thought high heat (400 degrees) in the oven was the best route. After they had blacked, I carefully removed the skins and seeds, and threw them in a food processor. Mixed with a garlic glove, lemon juice, salt, olive oil and pine nuts, these roasted red peppers turned into a sweet and tangy spread that livened up sandwiches for a week and went really well with goat cheese and crackers. Merry-almost-Christmas.

For the recipe and what to cook next

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Sushi at Neta

It’s really a toss-up this week among a few, incredible dishes. I don’t typically eat out as as much as I did last week, but with a few friends in town and my birthday this past Saturday, Indulgence with a capital I became the word of the week. I took the opportunity of a friend in from L.A. to try Rosemary’s for a leisurely lunch. The Foccacia di Recca filled with Straccino cheese is one of the runners up for the best thing I ate last week. The sharp, melted Straccino is sandwiched between two, fluffy squares of salty foccacia for a decadently delicious starter. The chopped salad at Rosemary’s is perfect, as is the olive oil cake.

I took the opportunity of another friend in town and my encroaching birthday to grab a glass of wine and crostini at what is perhaps my favorite wine bar in the city: Gottino, where the food and ambiance are impeccable. The crostinis — from Acciughe E Burro salted anchovies and homemade butter, to Pesto Di Noci walnut pesto with parmesan and thyme, to my favorite, Carciofi E Mentuccia slow cooked artichokes, mint and pecorino – make the perfect appetizer or after-work small plate.

Photos of Neta, New York City
This photo of Neta is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Alex and I took a wonderful trip to Vermont, full of foliage, crisp air, vistas of rolling hills spotted with red barns and farm silos, and of course, a lot of food and wine. We stayed at the North Hero House for two nights, a beyond charming bed and breakfast on North Hero island on Lake Champlain. The kitchen at North Hero House sources almost all of its ingredients from local farms and purveyors, listing the sources on the menu so that you know where most, if not all, of your dish came from. The almost startlingly tender Free-Range Misty Knoll Chicken cooked two ways: slow-roasted breast and crispy leg confit, served with summer vegetable succotash and roasted chicken jus is another runner-up for the best thing I ate last week. We also spent a night in Middlebury, where we ate at the classic favorite of my college friends:American Flatbread, which was doing the farm to table thing before it was a thing. The pizza is cooked in a big, earthen oven in the middle of the restaurant and sliced into sticks as opposed to pie slices. And I couldn’t leave Middlebury without a sandwich from another old favorite: Otter Creek Bakery. It was a perfect, Fall weekend, mixed with new sights (Mount Mansfield, the North East Kingdom, the Champlain islands) and nostalgia (long drives, slow walks, and my college town).

But the meal that takes the birthday cake for this week comes from Neta, a new, upscale sushi restaurant in Greenwich Village. Where do I begin? Elegant, sophisticated, fresh. The words don’t do the food or the restaurant itself justice. Alex and I tried King Mushrooms with spicy pomme frites and serrano peppers; sushi so fresh it not only lives up to but essentially epitomizes the restaurant’s name (Neta means “the fresh ingredients of sushi”); and a few “omakase” or “chef’s choice,” including lobster and fluke wrapped in cucumber. Delicate touches to each dish elevate but never upstage the freshness and quality of the ingredients. From small plates to sushi, our whole meal at Neta was the best thing I ate last week.

Farro Salad with Squash, Kale and Goat Cheese

Farro, a soft and nutty grain, is my new favorite fall ingredient. Somewhat high maintenance at first, farro can be difficult to find and requires a four to five hour bath before it’s to ready warm up. But once it’s soaked and simmered, farro is effortlessly appealing and has “comforting” written all over it. The subtly chewy, hearty texture is somewhere between wheat berries and pearled barley. It’s great on its own but also makes fabulous, substantial salads.

I’ve made this farro salad with squash, kale and goat cheese a few times already this fall, and each time I’m delighted with the outcome and pleasantly surprised at how well it keeps for left-overs. I’ve actually brought this dish to three, separate potlucks, and each time it’s been a real crowd-pleaser. It can be served warm or at room temperature, and goes well with a range of flavors, making it a perfect potluck offering.

After soaking and draining the grains, I cover the farro with about two to three inches of water, and let the water simmer on very low heat for about 60-75 minutes. Meanwhile, I’ll peel the squash and cube (or if I’m in a time-crunch, use pre-cut squash), and dice a medium onion. I mix the squash and onion together in a bowl with a tablespoon or so of olive oil, salt and pepper and throw on a baking sheet. The squash and onion cooks at 400 in the oven for about 30 minutes, and I make sure to push it around on the baking sheet every so often.

With the squash and onion mixture in the oven and the farro still on the stove, I’ll remove the stems from a bunch of kale, chop up the leaves, wash them and then blanch them for about one minute – just until the leaves turn bright green, so they’re tender but still retain some crunch. I’ve also been known to saute the kale with garlic in olive oil – and both methods turn out great. When the farro is soft but not too chewy, it’s as simple as mixing all the components together with roughly 3 tablespoons of walnut oil, more salt and pepper, and 2-3 tablespoons of fresh thyme. Adding chopped walnuts is optional (as is the walnut oil if allergies are a a concern). The final touch is crumbling a generous amount of goat cheese on top of the salad, and I never skimp on this, because it’s everyone’s favorite part. And there it is: an easy but unique, loveable fall salad.

For the recipe and what to cook next

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Steve’s Swingle

The best thing I ate last week was at Atlantic Antic this past Sunday. After shuffling down Atlantic Avenue – closed to motor traffic, overrun with foot traffic on the 38th Annual Atlantic Antic festival, a day of celebrating Brooklyn’s finest on a ten block stretch of Atlantic Avenue – I spotted the stall I had been waiting for: Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie. Steve’s Authentic makes outrageously good key lime pies from their waterfront bakery in Redhook. Seeing it closer to home on Sunday was almost too good to be true. Having passed by food stalls the likes of Mile End, Rucola and Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches, I almost felt like Steve’s stall at the end of the line was something of a mirage.

I had only ever tried the regular pies (which converted me from being an occasional fan of key lime to a die-hard one), but ever since I heard about the Swingle, I’ve been dreaming of trying one. The Swingle is a frozen, chocolate-covered mini key lime pie on a stick. If you’re wondering, it’s unquestionably as incredible as it sounds. Atlantic Antic, the street fair of all NYC street fairs, is a wonderful event, bringing local businesses and neighbors together for a fantastic day of music, food, crafts and community. Yesterday, it brought me together with the Swingle, my new favorite dessert and definitely the best thing I ate last week.

The Sweet Side of the Subcontinent

Dessert might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about South Asian food, but sweets are an integral part of South Asian cuisine and culture. Often overlooked, forgotten or even unknown outside of South Asia, sweets seem to have gotten lost in translation on many of the Westernized menus that we find in the United States. Where thousands of stand-alone shops sell nothing but sweets in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, in the United States shops that offer any kind South Asian sweet, let alone ones singularly dedicated to sweets, are few and far between.

From deep-fried pancakes soaked in sugary syrup, to fudge-like squares garnished with edible, silver foil, South Asian sweets come in all shapes, sizes and flavors. With such great and delicious variety, it’s too bad these confections seem to have such a low profile outside of South Asia.

Having not been exposed to the wonderful world of South Asian sweets before I studied in India, I was relieved and excited to discover that my sweet tooth would not be neglected during my stay. I quickly fell for mithai: a broad category of milk-based sweets. Burfi, one of the most popular types of mithai, became one of my favorites. Burfi itself can come in many flavors — like kaaju burfi, made with cashews; pista burfi, made with pistachios; or badam burfi, made with almonds. Gulab jamuns — deep-fried dough made of milk-solids, soaked in sweet syrup — became a decadent vice for me, and I couldn’t escape jalebi — a circular or pretzel-shaped, deep-fried, orange treat, sold on so many street corners. Justifying my indulgent exploration into the world of South Asian sweets were the encouraging words of nearly everyone I shared a meal with. A little milk- and sugar-based dessert was good for my digestion, I was told, and would help settle the acidity of a spicy meal. I was in heaven.

Not only are sweets an important part of a complete, South Asian meal, but they are also an essential part of daily culture. Upon my arrival in India, I learned that giving and receiving sweets is a habitual way both to show hospitality and to thank someone for hosting you. Even as clueless as I was when I first arrived at my new home, I knew that I shouldn’t decline the rasgulla — a cottage-cheese-like dumpling, boiled in sugar syrup — I was offered. If you are visiting someone’s home, you should never show up empty-handed, even, as my Bangladeshi friend Shanaz Chowdhury says, if you’re a frequent visitor. While the tradition sometimes strays in the United States to bringing beer, wine or alcohol, it is still very common, Shanaz explains, to bring a mixed box of sweets when you go to someone’s house.

Exchanging sweets is also a central part of festivals like Diwali, one of the most important festivals for Hindus, and personal celebrations, like weddings, having a baby or getting a new job. If a new baby is born into your family, you buy sweets for your friends — not the other way around. Likewise, if you get hired, you share your accomplishment by offering treats, not by accepting them. My nephew was born when I was living in a small town outside the city of Jaipur, and following the advice of a friend, I bought ladoos and burfi to deliver my good news properly. I love this tradition of giving, instead of receiving, when you have good news to share.

Unfortunately, finding good sweets outside of the South Asian subcontinent proves to be quite the task. Despite the abundance of Indian restaurants and food stores in New York City, for example, you will be hard pressed to find many specialty sweet shops. In Manhattan, Spice Corner in Curry Hill offers the best and largest selection you can find. If you want to find alternatives to this Curry Hill market in the city, you’ll have to sit down at a restaurant. But even at restaurants, dessert, if offered, is often an afterthought.The Masala Wala in the Lower East Side makes an excellent gulab jamun, but this seems to be the exception, not the rule.

In New York, the sweets really worth eating, and in shops of their own, are in Jackson Heights, Queens. AtRajbhog, you can find up to 10 kinds of burfi, up to five varieties of ladoos and outstanding gulab jamuns. A block away, Maharaja Sweets offers an excellent array of almond and cashew rolls decorated with with Varakh — a thin layer of silver foil — alongside more burfi, rasgulla and jalebi.

With so many varieties, there really is a mithai for everyone. The trick may be finding them, but once you do, you’ll definitely be going back for more!

End of the Summer Salads

The weather is officially cooling off and I’ve surrendered to fall, willingly. I’m ready for crisp air, sweaters, apples and foliage. I readily welcomed the opening of Ganso, a new ramen restaurant in Downtown Brooklyn, and found myself happily slurping noodles in steamy bowls of hot and spicy broth last night. I’ve planned a trip to Vermont next weekend to get my full, fall flavor on. But our CSA is helping me hang on to that summer feeling, delivering the end-of-the-summer bounty of corn, zucchini and squash, radishes and tomatoes. So, thankfully, I get a little bit of the best of both seasons, in this sometimes jarring, but more often lovely, transition from summer to fall.

Eating corn on the cob is such a treat in the summer (and it’s obviously quick and easy), so I love to eat corn that way for as long as I can. Variety being the spice of life, however, I also love corn soup and corn salads, with anything from avocado, peach and red onion, to black beans and tomatoes. Lately, I’ve been simmering corn kernels in a few cups of white wine with a generous amount of thyme for just a few minutes, draining the corn, tossing it with salt, pepper and sunflower seeds, and eating it as is or on top of a salad for an amazingly fast and desk-friendly dish. The corn tastes almost buttery with the white wine, and the thyme pairs perfectly with the acidic wine and sweet corn.

I’ve also been enjoying trying bok choy in different ways. I’m used to simply stir-frying this leafy, Chinese cabbage, but yesterday I tried it raw, tossed in a salad of julienned yellow squash, radish and cucumber, with a light vinaigrette of dijon mustard, lemon juice and a dab of light mayonnaise. It made a great side salad to some homemade turkey burgers, and a great lunch, topped with my white wine simmered corn!

For the recipes to these end of the summer salads and what to cook next

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Caramel Sticky Bun from Roberta’s

The best thing I ate last week was a burnt caramel sticky bun from Roberta’s Bread. Every Saturday and Sunday, Fort Greene residents are blessed with a special delivery from the one and only Roberta’s to the one and only Greene Grape.

Around 8:30 a.m., neighbors start furtively dashing into the Greene Grape, where an almost nervous crowd starts to hover around the counter in anticipation. These sticky, buttery, chewy, salty caramel buns are one of the neighborhood’s best-kept secrets; neighbors are addicted, and now so am I. “They’re like crack,” I’ve been told on two, separate occasions by cashiers at the Greene Grape.

And they know best – they see the same Fort Greene residents weekend morning after weekend morning, coming in to get their fix. We all have our vices. Add to my list these to-die-for sticky buns.

The Sweet Side of the Subcontinent

Dessert might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about South Asian food, but sweets are an integral part of South Asian cuisine and culture. Often overlooked, forgotten or even unknown outside of South Asia, sweets seem to have gotten lost in translation on many of the Westernized menus that we find in the United States. Where thousands of stand-alone shops sell nothing but sweets in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, in the United States shops that offer any kind South Asian sweet, let alone ones singularly dedicated to sweets, are few and far between.

From deep-fried pancakes soaked in sugary syrup, to fudge-like squares garnished with edible, silver foil, South Asian sweets come in all shapes, sizes and flavors. With such great and delicious variety, it’s too bad these confections seem to have such a low profile outside of South Asia.

Having not been exposed to the wonderful world of South Asian sweets before I studied in India, I was relieved and excited to discover that my sweet tooth would not be neglected during my stay. I quickly fell for mithai: a broad category of milk-based sweets. Burfi, one of the most popular types of mithai, became one of my favorites. Burfi itself can come in many flavors — like kaaju burfi, made with cashews; pista burfi, made with pistachios; or badam burfi, made with almonds. Gulab jamuns — deep-fried dough made of milk-solids, soaked in sweet syrup — became a decadent vice for me, and I couldn’t escape jalebi — a circular or pretzel-shaped, deep-fried, orange treat, sold on so many street corners. Justifying my indulgent exploration into the world of South Asian sweets were the encouraging words of nearly everyone I shared a meal with. A little milk- and sugar-based dessert was good for my digestion, I was told, and would help settle the acidity of a spicy meal. I was in heaven.

Not only are sweets an important part of a complete, South Asian meal, but they are also an essential part of daily culture. Upon my arrival in India, I learned that giving and receiving sweets is a habitual way both to show hospitality and to thank someone for hosting you. Even as clueless as I was when I first arrived at my new home, I knew that I shouldn’t decline the rasgulla — a cottage-cheese-like dumpling, boiled in sugar syrup — I was offered. If you are visiting someone’s home, you should never show up empty-handed, even, as my Bangladeshi friend Shanaz Chowdhury says, if you’re a frequent visitor. While the tradition sometimes strays in the United States to bringing beer, wine or alcohol, it is still very common, Shanaz explains, to bring a mixed box of sweets when you go to someone’s house.

Exchanging sweets is also a central part of festivals like Diwali, one of the most important festivals for Hindus, and personal celebrations, like weddings, having a baby or getting a new job. If a new baby is born into your family, you buy sweets for your friends — not the other way around. Likewise, if you get hired, you share your accomplishment by offering treats, not by accepting them. My nephew was born when I was living in a small town outside the city of Jaipur, and following the advice of a friend, I bought ladoos and burfi to deliver my good news properly. I love this tradition of giving, instead of receiving, when you have good news to share.

Unfortunately, finding good sweets outside of the South Asian subcontinent proves to be quite the task. Despite the abundance of Indian restaurants and food stores in New York City, for example, you will be hard pressed to find many specialty sweet shops. In Manhattan, Spice Corner in Curry Hill offers the best and largest selection you can find. If you want to find alternatives to this Curry Hill market in the city, you’ll have to sit down at a restaurant. But even at restaurants, dessert, if offered, is often an afterthought.The Masala Wala in the Lower East Side makes an excellent gulab jamun, but this seems to be the exception, not the rule.

In New York, the sweets really worth eating, and in shops of their own, are in Jackson Heights, Queens. AtRajbhog, you can find up to 10 kinds of burfi, up to five varieties of ladoos and outstanding gulab jamuns. A block away, Maharaja Sweets offers an excellent array of almond and cashew rolls decorated with with Varakh — a thin layer of silver foil — alongside more burfi, rasgulla and jalebi.

With so many varieties, there really is a mithai for everyone. The trick may be finding them, but once you do, you’ll definitely be going back for more!

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Masala Dosa and Vegetable Uttapam

The best thing I ate last week was a Masala Dosa and Vegetable Uttapam from The Dosa Place in Jackson Heights, Queens. Admittedly, it was my first time in Jackson Heights, so I’m well aware that I have many more places to try, but The Dosa Place really did blow me away. This is what I’ve been missing by not venturing into Queens more often! While I may never be able to make up for lost time, I’ll certainly try to make up for missed dosas.

Both Dosa and Uttapam were served with a traditional side of sambar — a slow-cooked, vegetable stew — and a variety of chutneys, including a subtle and soothing coconut chutney. The dosa was light and crispy, wrapped around potato and onion curry, and the uttapam was thick and fluffy. I love Indian food of all varieties, from all corners of the country, but one of the most wonderful things about South Indian food is that you don’t leave feeling weighed down. The dishes are far less oily than some found in other regions, which, of course, makes it easier and excusable to eat more!

Hanging Onto Summer

Labor Day has come and gone. It is now September and summer is undeniably over. If you’re like me and you’re not ready to let go of long days, sandals and outdoor grilling; if you find yourself prematurely flipping through your summer photos and resisting putting your white pants away; and if you’re already nostalgic for salt, sand and sunshine, then you might find these summer recipes worth giving one last try, and you might like their variations, which will allow you to hang onto summer well into the winter.

Some Simple Summer Recipes
Corn Soup

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic; 1 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons salt; 2 teaspoons cumin,
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup carrots, thinly sliced; 1/2 cup celery, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 poblano chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded & diced (or jalapeno chiles)
3 1/2 – 4 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 1/2 cup water
8 ears shucked corn
1 roasted red pepper, peeled seeded and finely chopped
2 – 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped

– cut corn kernels off ears of corn and set aside
– cut corn cubs in 3 pieces
– heat oil in heavy pot over moderately low heat and add garlic, stirring for a few minutes
– add onion, poblano chilies and cook, stirring occasionally until soft, about 4 minutes
– add cumin, coriander, salt and pepper and cook for 2 more minutes
– increase to moderate heat and add carrots and celery, and cook for about 5 minutes
– add 3/12 cups of stock, water and corn cobbs and bring to boil
– reduce heat and simmer, uncooked for about 15 minutes
– add all corn kernels EXCEPT 1 cup, which should be reserved for later
– allow soup to simmer, covered, until corn kernels are tender, about 15 minutes
– remove corn cobs and allow soup to cool
– when soup has cooled, puree the soup in batches in a blender until very smooth
– cook the 1 cup of reserved corn in a small saucepan of boiling water until tender – about 3 minutes
– drain and rins under cold water to stop from cooking further
– stir corn kernels into the soup
– add the chopped red pepper, cilantro and chipotle chili powder, and salt and pepper to taste
– can serve at room temperature or heat slightly if desired

 

Wheat Berry Salad

1 1/2 cups wheat berries
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup carrots, diced
1/4 cup red onion
1/4 cup scallion
3 tablespoons olive oil

– place wheat berries in a pot and submerge them in enough water to cover them by about 2 inches
– bring water to boil and let wheat berries cook until soft, for about 1 hour in uncovered pot
– drain and toss with dry ingredients, then oil and lemon juice


For more simple, summer recipes and winter substitutions.

(For pet lover, also check my friend’s blog reviewing on best outdoor cat shelter & house for garden space)