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

“Caesar” salad and sweet potato fries

One of my favorite meals is a caesar salad with a side of sweet potato fries. For some reason, this meal is settling to me — after a long day of traveling (or a long day of partying), if I’m out at a pub or — as of late — if I’m home and feel like making something fast, reliable, and for which I probably have most of the ingredients, in some variation or another.

I really like kale in a caesar salad — preferably black kale but any kale will do. So will iceberg lettuce. I’m partial to kale, however, because if it’s slightly steamed, it really holds the dressing well, which is, of course, the most important part! Depending on what I have around the house, I’ll cut up bread into big hunks, toss those in olive oil and pepper and toast them in a pan. Last night I actually had the perfect bruschetta toasts from a dinner earlier in the week, so I chopped those up and threw them in. Sometimes I’ll add strips of grilled chicken (that don’t need much, if any, seasoning, since the dressing will do the work), and sometimes I’ll throw a few anchovies on top. Finally, I always grate an excessive amount of parmesan cheese all over the salad.

I make a faux-caesar dressing because it’s fast, easy, delicious, and I usually already have all the ingrediants in my fridge. I start by mincing garlic, and mix that together in a blow with olive oil, lemon juice, and either some white or red vinegar. Depending on what I have or what I can find easily, I’ll either add anchovy paste, or the anchovy-infused olive oil from anchovies in a tin, and then I add a good amount of dijon mustard. I whisk all of these ingredients together, and when I’m just about ready to serve the salad, I add the egg and continue to whisk vigorously. Just before serving the salad, I pour the dressing on top and mix. The last step is grating a little more parmesan cheese on top.

Sweet potato fries are the perfect partner to this caesar, and the baked ones I make are not only easy, but they’re also pretty healthy. I peel and cut the sweet potato into long strips, lay them on a baking sheet, douse them in salt and drizzle them with olive oil, and stick them in the oven at 450 degrees. About 15 minutes in, I remove the baking sheet, sprinkle pepper and thyme on the fries, push them around on the pan, and stick them back in for 20-25 more minutes, or until crispy, but not burnt. Voila! An easy, not-too-unhealthy, and comforting dinner.

Chickpeas Recipes

Happy New Year!

‘Tis now the season to eat healthily. It’s January 1, and tomorrow is Monday, January 2, so naturally I should start my annual resolution to eat healthier (mine and everyone else’s) tomorrow. This makes sense, I swear.


In preparation for Week 1 of healthy eating, I made a few healthy snacks to keep me satiated for the next few days at work and at home.

I used one of my favorite foods – Chickpeas – as my central ingredient. I love chickpeas. I eat them raw in salads, stir-fried with zucchini and feta, and I could eat hummus for three meals a day.

For a crunchy, spicy snack, I found a great recipe for Roasted Spiced Chickpeas from one of my new favorite magazines, Whole Living. For my favorite staple, I made a traditional Hummus to eat with Celery and Carrot Sticks.

Twenty minutes of prep for a week’s safety net, which will keep me from reaching for that bag of chips or bar of chocolate, on the first week of a “year of healthy eating…”

Happy 2012!

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.

Spring Dinner: Seasonal Pizza and Salad

Endive, Radiccio, Arugula, Pecorino Salad
Asparagus, Leek, Goat Cheese, Prosciutto Pizza
Lemon Sorbet With Lemon-Thyme Syrup & Raspberries 

Spring weather has been gracing New York since February, and finally spring vegetables are here! Monday night I chose a few of the Springtime’s key offerings and put together a delicious and deceivingly simple dinner.

We started with a salad of endives, radiccio, arugula and pecorino. This salad involves nothing but slicing — the endives lengthwise, the radiccio in half and then lengthwise, and the pecorino thin — and tossing — the sliced endives, radiccio and pecorino with the arugula, the juice of a lemon, and a drizzle of olive oil. Salt and pepper and you’re done!

Next we had an asparagus, leek, goat cheese and prosciutto pizza. To make the pizza, I sliced one, whole leek – making use of both white and green – and sauteed half of it in olive oil for 12 minutes. Meanwhile, I broke off the ends of the asparagus spears and cut the edible parts in fourths.  I then stuck the quartered asparagus in the microwave for one minute to cook through a bit. While the leeks continued to cook, I worked on the salad. When the first half of the leeks were done, I removed them fromt he heat and set aside, and sauteed the next half in the same pan, but this time I added a shower of balsamic vinegar.  While this batch was cooking, I rolled my pizza dough out on a floured surface and finished the salad. By the time the second batch of leeks was done, I brushed the pizza dough with olive oil, spread all of the leeks onto the pizza, layered the asparagus on top, and sprinkled chunks of goat cheese all over the pizza. When the pizza had cooked for about 11 minutes in the oven, I removed it and added the prosciutto, and then cooked it for one more minute. So easy, so good!

A few hours prior, I had made a simple syrup with lemon and thyme that I would use to jazz up dessert.  I boiled 1/2 cup of water with 1/2 cup of sugar, and after all the sugar had disolved (about three minutes), I removed the syrup from the heat and added 2 tablespoons of fresh thyme from my thyme plants. I squeeze 1 tablespoon of lemon in and let the syrup sit for about 2 hours before straining, and pouring over lemon sorbet, topped with raspberries. Spring tastes good!

For the recipes and suggestions for what to cook next…

Pumpkin Muffins

If I had to sum up Fall in a food, it would be a Pumpkin Muffin. For as long as I can remember, my family has been baking this easy and delicious treat every time the air starts to cool and the leaves start to turn.

It usually takes us a few months to get our fill, so we’re still making them around the holidays. By New Years, we’ve had just about enough of these muffins, so we tuck away the recipe until next fall (and replace it, of course, with a pile of other baked goods like the Famous Spiegel Orange Cake or the one and only Spiegel Zucchini Bread. Stay tuned for next season).

Slightly sweet, my family’s Pumpkin Muffins make a great breakfast, and go well at the beginning or end of hearty dinner.


Pumpkin Muffins
(Makes 12 muffins. Or serves a familiar family for a few hours)

1 cup of pumpkin (mashed)
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of oil
1/2 cup of buttermilk
2 eggs
1 2/3 cup of flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice

– Preheat oven to 400 degrees
– Mix pumpkin, sugar and oil together and beat for one minute.
– Add the eggs, flour, baking soda and spices and mix well
– Pour into muffin tray
– Bake for about 20 minutes

For healthier variations:
– I often substitute some of the oil with non-fat, plain yogurt.
– I also often use whole wheat pastry flour, and find the best happy medium is using half whole wheat and half white flour.
– Finally, instead of using buttermilk, you can you use whole, two percent or skim milk.

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

Lemon Yogurt Tea Cake

This lemon yogurt cake is the perfect partner for a hot pot of tea and a lazy afternoon, or the perfect tea party treat to share with friends. Made with all-purpose flour and half as much almond flour, the cake is thick and moist, but not at all dense. The zingy lemon of the icing brings out the subtle lemon flavor of the cake itself. It’s definitely one of my favorites!

The Slow Cooker Chronicles: Mediterranean Lamb

Yesterday I christened my slow cooker, my newest kitchen appliance and an instant best friend. I madeLamb Shanks with Lemon, Dill, and Feta, an easy and delicious recipe from Food & Wine.


Minimal preparation, plus five hours of slow-cooking at high heat, and the lamb shanks were so packed with flavor and so tender, that I might never cook anything outside the slow cooker again.
It’s perfect for a lazy Sunday when you can enjoy the aromas wafting from the pot – especially if you live in a pint-sized, New York City apartment and the aromas fill your entire home.

Along side the lamb, I served healthy and light sides to even out the rich flavors of the meat: Whole-Wheat Orzo tossed in Olive Oil and seasoned with Salt, Pepper and Oregano, and an Israeli Salad – my favorite.

The slow cooker will undoubtedly become a reliable companion for me as the winter encroaches on the joys and great tastes of summer fruits and vegetables, and outdoor grilling. Stay tuned for the next slow-cooked meal, and check out yesterday’s recipe here.

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

Mad Men Party: Deviled Eggs & Onion Dip

In honor of the two-hour premier of Mad Men tonight, some friends and I are doing what everyone else is doing: gathering for a Mad Men party, with cocktails and era-appropriate snacks. It’s just too much fun to pass up. I couldn’t resist this perfect opportunity to make one of my favorite appetizers: deviled eggs. I also made a caramelized onion dip, which I’ll serve with whole-wheat pita chips.

I’m excited to get to the party and see what else is in store; and mostly I’m excited to see what Don, Peggy, Joan, Pete, Betty, Roger and Sally are up to! If you need a Mad Men-inspired snack for tonight’s premier, these two appetizers are simple to make and totally retro-fabulous.

Ina Garten’s Macacroni and Cheese (Or How I Won My Boyfriend Over)

If I didn’t win my lovely boyfriend over with my wit and my charm, I won him over with homemade macaroni and cheese. I made it once, and now I have to make it on a regular basis, otherwise my lovely boyfriend might not think I’m so lovely anymore! I kid. But he really, really likes it. Anyway, my favorite recipe belongs to the queen of the Hamptons herself: Ina Garten.  She has a classic recipe that you can modify to cook in a cast iron skillet instead of the oven, to save some time or if it’s just too hot to deal with the oven.

I cherish the few Barefoot Contessa‘s cookbooks that I own. Actually, I cherish all of the cookbooks I own. But Ina’s are special- they set a mood of summertime. Summertime filled with garden dinner parties, fresh squeezed lemonade, and beautiful friends dressed exclusively in white linen. Thank you, Ina, for bringing me summertime all year-round. (And thank you for helping me seal the deal with my lovely one.)
xo
Alison

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.

Gingersnaps and a Christmas Tree

I was feeling under the weather last Saturday night, so I stayed in, turned on the Christmas tunes, and made Gingersnap cookies. With the sweet aroma of our newly bought Christmas tree mixing with the smell of ginger and cinnamon coming from the oven, our apartment literally reeked of Christmas. All week I’ve been eating these perfect cookies and catching wonderful whiffs of the tree, really revving my christmas engine.

Find the recipe for these classic Gingersnap Cookies below. They make great party favors or potluck offerings, layering neatly in a cookie tin and traveling well. They also stay fresh and delicious for a whole week if they last that long! They’re easy to bake, hard to screw up, chewy in the middle, a little crispy on the edges, and best when consumed alongside a fragrant Christmas tree. Happy holidays!

Gingersnap Cookies

(Makes approximately 24 cookies)

3/4 cup of butter

1 cup of sugar

1/4 cup of molasses

1 egg

2 cups sifted flour

1 teaspoon ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cloves

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

– Cream butter and sugar

– Add molasses and unbeaten egg, and beat all together well

– Add all other ingredients and blend

– Roll balls of dough in sugar and bake on greased cookie sheet at 350 degrees: 10 minutes for chewy cookies, 12 minutes for crunchy cookies

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.

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.

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 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!

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.

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.