Mussels With White Beans and Chorizo

On Monday night I tried out a recipe I’ve had my eye on for a while: mussels with white beans and chorizo from Food and Wine magazine. I had chorizo-style spicy smoked chicken sausage on hand (which I use often in pasta – it’s got a great chorizo flavor), so I used that, and added some chicken stock when I felt the mussels needed a little more liquid.

Other than those two, basic modifications, I followed the recipe closely and took the suggestions of commenters who recommended adding a little more than the called-for pinch of crushed red pepper. The broth turned out spicy, a bit acidic – thanks to the tomatoes – and hearty – thanks to the white beans. The smokey sausage took the fresh mussels, which tasted of the sea, to new heights. Served with a crusty baguette, this was a great, summery dinner, and one that I’ll look forward to making again.

For the recipe, see here.

Curried Crab and Apple Salad with Watermelon and Avocado

Watermelon salads have been on trend for a while now, and they don’t seem to be going out of style any time soon. There’s something so summer about watermelon – I can hardly think of a more refreshing fruit – which makes it the perfect ingredient in a seasonal salad each year when the temperatures rise and we start to crave all things crisp, sweet and juicy. Inspired by a recipe in Food and Wine for Curried Crab and Watermelon Salad with Arugula, I made my own watermelon salad Monday night with curried crab and apple, avocado and, of course, watermelon, over greens. It was simple but felt sophisticated. I served the salad with a lemon zest basil pesto over whole wheat orecchiette, topped with yellow cherry tomatoes for a wonderful summer dinner.

For the salad, I started by heating vegetable oil in a pan with curry powder and chopping a quarter of a granny smith apple into cubes. I cooked the apple in the oil until soft, for about five minutes, and then removed it from the heat and stuck it in the freezer to cool down quickly. Next I cubed watermelon and avocado and tossed that over some greens, which I had seasoned with salt, pepper and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. After about five minutes I removed the cubed apple, which had cooled enough, and tossed it with the crab meat. The crab and apple mixture went over the greens, watermelon and avocado, and an easy, elegant salad was ready.

Cashew Date Bars

I’m not a huge fan of eating on the go. I like to spend time with my food, which should be fairly obvious by the mere existence of this blog. All too often, however, I find myself grabbing and going, eating on the run or at best, shoving something down in front of the computer screen. Not one to comporomise on quality and taste – at least when I can help it – I’ve found some solid solutions to my eating-on-the-go habit. Sullivan Street Bakery makes a terrific zucchini and gruyere flatbread, and luckily we live in a city where a great slice of pizza is never more than a few blocks away, especially if you know where to look.

For a healthier option, fruit stands are a dime a dozen in this city, and make great use of the loose change in your purse or pocket. For a little more change, and a super-packed boost of vitamins, you can grab a freshly made fruit or vegetable juice. I’m also a big fan of bars – Luna, Kashi, Kind, you name it – but I know that the laundry list of ingredients in most energy bars makes them look an awful lot like candy bars and makes me wonder how processed is too processed.

So last week I tried making my own bars, for a healthy, on-the-go snack based on one of my favorite brands: Lara Bars. Whatever the flavor, Lara Bars all have very few ingredients – and all ones I can pronounce. One of my favorites is their Cashew Cookie, which is simply dates and cashews. It seems like I’m running with a trend here on my two ingredient recipes, and after making these bars, I can confidently say that two is not too few; it’s just right.

Making the bars was simple: I combined one cup of dates with one cup of cashews and a tablespoon of water in a food processor, and pulsed until the mixture was chunky. I had to give the mixture a little stir to get things going again, and when I did so, I decided to remove about 1/4 of the mix and set it aside. I then pulsed what was left until smooth, and combined the two parts with my hands, rolling everything into a ball. Next I flattened out the mixture into a long rectangle, smoothing it on the top and on the sides with a knife. I molded this into a loaf pan – although any square or rectangular pan will do here – and put it in the refrigerator to cool. After about 30 minutes, I cut the cashew-date mix into bars, and kept them in the fridge until I was ready to eat. They tasted great and made me feel much better about eating breakfast or a snack on the go all week!

Japanese Squash and Soba Noodle Soup

After a very difficult and stressful week, which resulted in trying to cope the wrong way — by eating very poorly — I needed something super healthy to start off this week. I’ve been meaning to try this recipe for Japanese Squash and Soba Noodle Soup from Martha Stewart Living since I read it in January, and since it’s still cold enough for hot soup, I jumped on this healthy recipe and tried it out last night. Healthy it was: built with a broth of kombu — dried seaweed — and bonito flakes, the two components of a Japanese sea stock called Dashi, with buckwheat noodels and vegetables cooked in the stock.

The flavor of the soup was a little weaker than I had hoped, but the instructions encourage adding soy sauce to taste, so I could have definitely added some more soy sauce for flavor. I wanted to stay away from a sodium-overdose, however, so I added some lower sodium white miso instead; the subtle flavor enhanced the soup a little bit, but the flavor was still modest. Whatever the soup lacked in flavor, it made up for with the range of textures: soft squash, nutty noodles, raw scallions and crunchy enoki mushrooms. I’m a big fan of adding something fresh and green to every meal, so at the very end, once the soup was ready to be served, I added another texture: a few leaves of baby spinach.

I served the soup with miso-sesame tofu and scallions, a quick, sweet and salty recipe that turned out great but didn’t photograph well (some food never does). Again, inspired by a Martha Stewart recipe for crispy sesame tofu, I pan fried firm tofu, coated in sesame seeds, but added a new twist by searing scallions in sesame oil, soy sauce and brown sugar in the pan first, before adding the tofu. When the tofu was almost finished, I added another handful of scallions. And now I have leftovers for a few healthy dinners to keep me in check this week (after, of course, I go out for old country Italian food in Queens tonight).

A Simple Recipe for Chocolate Mousse

Chocolate mousse: elegant, airy, rich in flavor but light in texture, sophisticated but also simple. It’s one of my favorite desserts. I’m not really a fan of calling foods sexy, but if ever there was a sexy dessert, chocolate mousse would be it.

In honor of National Chocolate Mousse Day last week, I made a recipe I’ve been eyeing since I read it for the first time in the New York Times more than a month ago. Just in time for Valentine’s Day this year, Melissa Clark published a recipe for a “good and simple chocolate mousse.”

Clark’s recipe consists of only two ingredients: chocolate and fleur de sel (well three ingredients, if you count water). My version included another ingredient — whipped egg whites — but you can skip this step if you’re happy with the mousse’s consistency. The best part about this recipe is if you don’t get it quite right on the first attempt, you can try again without having to start again from scratch (don’t you wish all recipes were like that?).

The process is straightforward, and the result addictive. You place a tall bowl in an ice bath, melt bitter-sweet chocolate and water in a pot, pour the melted chocolate into the chilled bowl, and whisk for three to five minutes. If the chocolate hasn’t thickened enough by five minutes, you can return it to a low heat, add more chocolate and try again.

To make the mousse even fluffier, I added whipped egg whites to the whisked chocolate, folding soft peaks into the chocolate at the end. The mousse keeps in the refrigerator for a few days, but staying away from it that long is easier said than done.

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For the recipe

Easy Chocolate Mousse
(Adapted from Melissa Clark’s “Bitter-Sweet Chocolate Mousse With Fleur de Sel“)

12 ounces of bitter-sweet chocolate
1 cup of water
2 egg whites (eggs should be at room temperature)
Fleur de sel to taste

– Prepare an ice bath: Place ice cubes and cold water in a large bowl, and place a tall bowl in the ice water. (Make sure the bowl is tall enough, as the chocolate will splatter when you’re whisking it.)
– Pour the chocolate and one cup of water into a small pot and melt on medium heat, stirring consistently until smooth
– Pour the melted chocolate into the tall bowl and whisk vigorously for about five minutes minutes
– Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks and fold them into the chocolate
– Pour the mousse into small bowls and sprinkle with fleur de sel
– Chill in the refrigerator for two hours or up to a few days

For more mousse recipes, see here. And check Sarah’s blog (her latest reviews on cheap rabbit hutchs & cages) – who teach me make this wonderful dish. 

A version of this originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

My Favorite Matzo Ball

What makes a good matzo ball? It’s an age-old question that has stood the test of time and the duration of many a Passover Seder. Should they be light and fluffy or dense and hefty? Should they be the size of a golf ball or a fist? Should they sink or swim? Should they flake and fall apart or stick together at the slice of a spoon?

Some say the key to a good matzo ball is using seltzer water, which makes them extra fluffy. Others swear by whipped egg whites to get that light-as-air consistency. Still others say the secret is using enough schmaltz, or chicken fat, and one Jewish food aficionado claims the best matzo balls on earth are made not with chicken fat but with goose fat. The techniques and opinions on what makes matzo balls great vary, but one thing that all matzo ball lovers can agree on is that their mother makes them best.

For all of us New York transplants who can’t enjoy our mothers’ matzo ball soup this Passover, luckily we’re in the right city. From Katz’s Delicatessen to 2nd Avenue Deli to Barney Greengrass, there is no shortage of great places to find matzo balls, just like your mother makes them.

My favorite matzo ball hails from Lobel’s, one of New York’s oldest butchers. A five-generation family business since 1840, Lobel’s is known for its high quality beef. The butcher shop has been located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan since 1954, and in 2009, Lobel’s debuted their now-famous steak sandwich, which has earned a dedicated following, at Yankee Stadium. Just last week, on Monday, March 18, Lobel’s expanded its reach once again with the opening of a second location in Manhattan, on Third Avenue at 61stStreet: Lobel’s Kitchen.

The new spot serves prepared foods — like rotisserie chicken, cheeses, smoked salmon and sandwiches — as well as raw meet. You’ll find their classic steak sandwich on the menu, along with their signature steak, the Wrangler — a cut that the Lobels patented themselves. Light and spacious, with floor to ceiling windows, Lobel’s Kitchen has a significantly different feeling than the original butcher shop — a compact space lined with wood paneling –but both are marked by the same dedication to high quality.

While beef is their main business, Lobel’s also makes a great matzo ball soup — an unexpected gem.

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The ingredients for the matzo balls are simple, but, as co-owner David Lobel says, “it’s the technique that makes all the difference in creating the perfect matzo ball.” The matzo balls are made with matzo meal, eggs, pepper, canola oil and a little chicken broth, and once they are shaped into large rounds, they’re carefully placed in boiling water, which is then reduced to a simmer. The key is treating them gently to avoid breakage. When they’re ready, they must be carefully removed from the boiling water and delicately spaced out on a sheet, far enough apart so that they don’t stick together.

The matzo balls are solid and don’t flake apart, but in the soup, the exterior soaks up some of the chicken broth so that they’re slightly soft on the outside but retain their texture on the inside. Pepper is the only discernible spice in the matzo balls, and it’s very subtle. I love the matzo balls for their simplicity, but mostly because they remind me of childhood. My family’s long been a fan of Lobel’s for their beef, chicken noodle soup and of course their matzo ball soup. It’s this taste of home that keeps me coming back, which is why I’ll be serving Lobel’s matzo ball soup tonight at my seder.

No matter how you like your matzo balls, matzo ball soup is the ultimate comfort food because it is first and foremost about family and tradition. It stands to reason, then, that Lobel’s, a five-generation family business, serves up some of the best matzo ball soup in New York City, and definitely my favorite (except for my mother’s, of course).

This post was originally posted on the Huffington Post. See here for more photos.

A Deconstructed Dinner

The jury’s still out on how I feel about “deconstruction” as a fine dining trend, but as an easy, relaxing weeknight dinner technique, it’s perfect. What could be more relaxed than a deconstructed, well, anything? There’s no right way to deconstruct- so the pressure is off and you can have fun with whatever you’re making.

Tonight I was in the mood for an Avocado BLT, so while tomato season is still months away, I went with my whim and made a deconstructed avocado BLT: a fatty, smokey, seriously great BLT salad. To top it off, I whipped up a semi-homemade, deconstructed butterscotch cream pie with cinnamon graham cracker crust. Not only a relaxing Tuesday night- an indulgent one too. But that’s what Tuesdays are for, right?

To make the BLT salad, I tried two techniques I read about in Sam Sifton’s New York Times Magazinearitcle, “Smells Like Green Spirit,” where he describes a simple, green salad from Seattle’s Canlis as a “revelation.” First, I fried cubed squares of bread in bacon fat to make croutons. I love making homemade croutons, but I usually stick to olive oil when I toast the bread. Frying the bacon first, and then tossing the croutons in the grease was, to use Sifton’s term, a revelation indeed.

Next, I tried coddling an egg before making the dressing, as Sifton also describes in his article. Per his instructions, I poured boiling water over an egg in a coffee cup, let it sit for one minute and then removed and let it cool. Then I cracked the egg into a bowl of olive oil and lemon juice, and whisked to finish the dressing. The half-cooked egg made for a thicker dressing, which coated the greens, tomato and bacon-croutons really nicely. Finally, I crumbled the bacon and threw the cubed avocado onto this lemony concoction and as simple as that had my deconstructed A(vocado)-B(acon)-L(ettuce)-T(omato).

And while I was at it, I whisked up some instant butterscotch pudding, and crumbled Christina Tosi-inspired cinnamon graham cracker crust and homemade whipped cream on top for a deconstructed dessert. On a more ambitious night, homemade pudding would have been better, but this was relaxing deconstruction night where anything goes, and I went with the instant pudding in my cupboard. With the crumble and cream, you might never have known.

For the recipes and what to cook next

Homemade Granola

Homemade granola is one of those things that takes very little time and effort, but yields very worthwhile results. Making granola can be as simple as combining ingredients in a bowl, and then baking them on a baking sheet. The fun part comes when you get creative – or in my household, precise – with the ingredients you choose: any combination of oats, nuts, fruits, seeds, oils and sweeteners.

I started making granola because I was finding it very difficult to please a certain somebody with the granola I was buying at the store. It was either too sweet, too fruity, or contained too many ingredients. After disappointing Goldilocks too many times, I decided to try my hand at my own granola. It needed to have nuts (but not too many), only have a hint of sweetness, it could maybe have some dried fruit (but preferably not raisins) and seeds were ok, so long as they weren’t too small. And if I used cinnamon, it would have to be subtle, not overwhelming.

I ended up with a very quick, but very rewarding granola, made of rolled oats, chopped almonds, sunflower seeds, a hint of cinnamon, a larger pinch of ginger, dried cranberries, all tied together with honey. All it took was mixing all of ingredients, except for the cranberries, in a bowl, spreading the mixture out on a baking sheet, and baking it at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. I like trying various combinations, but this simple one seems to please every time.

For my latest batch, I used extra ginger powder and molasses instead of honey, for a somewhat winter-seasonal granola. I also added a handful of pecans and extra sunflower seeds, which I roasted separately, coated in more ginger, so that those clusters would be particularly zingy, but so that the whole granola wouldn’t be overwhelmed with ginger. It’s going fast!

For the recipe and other granola variations

Anise at All Hours: Anise Biscotti

A few weeks ago I wrote about my trials with anise- how my taste for that licorice flavor has developed over the years and how I’ve been experimenting with this distinct flavor in my baking and cooking. Biscotti is a hallmark in anise’s repertoire, and since I like nothing better than dunking a biscotti into my coffee or tea (or wine), I decided to try my hand at this traditional, Italian cookie.

I used a recipe from the king of American Italian cooking – Mario Batali – and it was much easier than I had anticipated. The key to making this biscotti is baking the dough twice: once for 20 minutes in a log shape, and then, after letting it cool for about 40 and slicing the dough into cookies, baking it again for another 20. The word “biscotti” actually comes from the Latin word “biscotus,” which means “twice-cooked/baked.”

The cookies should last about two weeks in an airtight container, but, if you’re like me and find pretty much any occasion the right one for a little biscotti dunk (as a quick breakfast, as an afternoon pick-me-up, or as a nightcap) these cookies may not last so long.

For Mario Batali’s biscotti recipe, see here.

Anise at All Hours: Fig Bars With Red Wine and Anise Seeds

As soon as I read this recipe in Food & Wine, I knew I had to try it. I love grown-up versions of childhood staples, and as I wrote in my last Anise post, I’ve recently discovered that my taste buds have grown up to like a little licorice flavor. So this adult fig newton recipe called my name.

I tried it one Saturday afternoon and was really pleased with the outcome. The boiled-down red wine and figs made a sweet and sophisticated syrup which, when processed, resulted in that familiar, fig-newton filling. The wine and the anise seeds brought new layers of flavor to the fig filling, initiating it into adulthood; it was, quite literally, bittersweet.

I’m definitely going to make these fig bars again. And onward with my adventures with anise! Stay tuned for another sweet treat (anise biscotti) and an anise-flavored cocktail.

For this fig bar recipe, see here.

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!

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.

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

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

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

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)