Tuesday, December 6, 2011

C is for Cookie (#NYCookieSwap)

Would you believe me if I told you I had never been to a cookie swap before last Sunday?  I know, I know.  Me.  Never, ever.  But it's true.  And in true Melissa fashion my inaugural cookie swap was the mother of all cookie swaps: The Annual NY Cookie Swap.  This was a swap of food bloggers and media types (and their friends).  Organized by the awesome Bloggers Without Borders the proceeds of this year's swap benefited an amazing organizaion: Cookies for Kids Cancer.  And whoa - did the bloggers bring it.

The rules were simple:  for a $40 fee and a dozen cookies you were invited to an amazing lunch at Hill Country BBQ - oh the *brisket*- a few hours of fun, chatting, eating and networking, and COOKIES.  I thought I'd leave with a dozen, but, foodbloggers being the generous folks we are, everyone must have brought about 5x that amount so everyone left with quite the haul.  I wish I had taken pictures of what I brought home before my family devoured everything.  I'm not sure that a picture of a nearly empty and crumb-laden Glad container would prove to be very appetizing.  Suffice it to say everything was delicious and beautiful.  I am in awe of the talents of my fellow bloggers and bakers.

I didn't bring my "good" camera but did manage to snap some pictures on my iPhone.  Believe me - they don't do these works of art justice but you will get the idea.

All in all it was an amazing afternoon.  I reconnected with an old friend from college, met some wonderfully nice people, increased the number of people I follow on twitter, got *kissed* by Dorie Greenspan (I'll never wash my cheek again!) and had a blast.  Many thanks to Hill Country BBQ for hosting the event (and for my awesome dinner for two that I won in the raffle), KitchenAid, OXO, Bloggers Without Borders, Three Many Cooks, The Diva That Ate NY (check out her video of the event here), Hungry Rabbit NYC, One Tough Cookie, Glad and everyone else who organized such a meaningful and successful event.  If I left you out please let me know and I will edit this post.   I was honored to be a part of it and can't wait until next year.

If you are on twitter you can read all about the swap by searching on #NYCookieSwap.  Many people, more eloquent than I, have posted recaps, photos and recipe links.  If you are interested in contributing to Cookies for Kids Cancer (an extremely worthy organization that raises much-needed funds for pediatric cancer research visit them here).  You can also register with them here and Glad to Give will make a 10 cent donation for every treat you share this holiday season.

 I know my holidays will be a little sweeter for having been a small part of this event.

Mexican Wedding Cookies (top-most picture and my shared contribution [along with my friend, Jen] to the swap)
Yields approximately 4 dozen
Adapted from

  • 1/2 lb unsalted butter at room temperature (1 stick)
  • 1/4 cup plus TBS confectioners' sugar 
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups finely ground walnuts 
  • Extra confectioner's sugar plus 1/2 tsp cinnamon for rolling the cookies
  1. Preheat oven to 375°.  Place the walnuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until they form a fine meal.  Do not overprocess or you will end up with walnut butter.  Believe me - I've done this.  Then measure out 2 cups and set aside.
  2. Cream butter until fluffy (about 2-3 minutes on medium-high speed in a standing mixer). 
  3. Add in the confectioners' sugar and vanilla and beat for an additional 1–2 minutes. 
  4. Gradually beat in flour until it is incorporated.
  5. Turn off the mixer and stir in the ground nuts by hand.
  6. Shape dough into 1" balls, using about 1 TBS of dough for each. 
  7. Place 1" apart on an ungreased cookie sheet (or one lined with parchment paper - makes for easier clean up!) and bake for about 15 minutes, turning sheet so that cookies bake lightly and evenly.  They shouldn't get too browned.
  8. Transfer to a rack, allow to cool completely, and roll in the mixture of confectioners' sugar and cinnamon.
 Cookies will keep for about 5 days in an air-tight container and are great with a strong cup of coffee.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ten Gifts for Food Lovers

I hate the word foodie.  I always have.  I'm not good at articulating why I have such a strong negative reaction to the word - I just do.  There is just something about the word and all it connotes.  A foodie, to me, is someone who is snobby about food and takes it much more seriously than one has to.  A foodie is someone who takes all of the enjoyment out of food and makes everything to do with it a competition.  A foodie is that bore at the next table, loudly analyzing every last morsel that goes into his mouth.  A foodie takes ten minutes to order a salad.  A foodie has been everywhere, has eaten everything, and believes she always knows *just* a little more than you do about it all.

In essence - a foodie is a jerk.

Now a food lover - that's my kind of person.  A food lover is, well, someone who loves food.  A food lover can appreciate the beauty of an expertly prepared seven-course restaurant tasting dinner but has equal appreciation for a humble home-cooked meal where love is the main ingredient.  A food lover might know the recipe for every Mother Sauce by heart or he might just understand the gorgeous simplicity in a perfectly crispy French fry.  A food lover has fun when it comes to food.  A food lover doesn't make it a game.  A food lover shares her food.

In that spirit I have pulled together a short list of some fun and (mostly) budget-friendly gifts for the food lovers in your lives.   These are just some items that I either own and love or that I currently covet (hint, hint).

The holiday season can be full of stress so as it begins take time to enjoy a quiet moment every day.  I know it's what gets me through this time of year.  I do hope this list offers you some guidance for the food lovers on your lists.  And if you have any ideas to contribute please add them to the comments!

Cook This Now by Melissa Clark
I have a cook's crush on Melissa Clark.  Not only is she  an inspiring writer, brilliant cook and hugely (though humbly) successful; she is an all-around lovely person.  I have always enjoyed her NYT column but her books blow me away.  Her latest is a collection of perfect family-friendly meals that coordinate with the seasons so there's no hassle and no fuss when shopping.  Every recipe of hers that I have had the pleasure to cook has turned out delicious.  Buy this for friends.  Buy this for yourself.  Just buy it!

Denim Apron
I love this apron.  I have two of them: one going on eight years and one going on ten.  Both were gifts from people who clearly know me well.  This apron is indestructible.  I am a messy cook and no matter how I treat it and what I get on it, this apron always comes out of the wash looking like new.  I love the two front pockets, the extra long ties and the adjustable neck strap.  It comes in a variety of colors but I am partial to the denim version (it is thinner than denim for jeans).  You can personalize it too!

Fooducate App
This is a handy app for anyone with an iPhone, iPod Touch or Android phone.  You can look up the nutritional information of foods and compare them with other choices.  However the best feature is the scanner. When you're in the grocery store you can SCAN in the item you are considering and it will provide the nutritional data and allow you to compare it with other foods in the same category.  This allows you to be an educated consumer and make better choices or at least weigh your options more carefully.  Everything in moderation!

Milk Frother/Steamer
OK - so this one isn't so budget-friendly.  But that's why it makes such a great gift.  Plus the Fooducate App is free so you can average the cost of this plus that if you need help rationalizing...  It's the type of thing someone might not buy for him or herself but a coffee-lover will think of you every morning if this ends up under the tree or beside the menorah.  I can't say enough wonderful things about the Nespresso Aeroccino 3.  It steams.  It froths.  It can steam or froth HOT milk.  It can steam or froth COLD milk.  I bet if you asked it nicely it would empty your dishwasher, too. 


Mydrap Napkins
These are amazing!   Actual cotton napkins that come 100 to a roll.  You can wash and re-use them up to six times before recycling.  And they come in a variety of colors and patterns.  They are great for parties, picnics and even lunchboxes.

Recycled Coasters
Fun coasters made out of recycled newspapers and magazines.  A cute, quirky find that makes a nice host or hostess gift if you are attending any parties this holiday season.  They are food-safe, good for both hot and cold beverages and water repellent.  

Recycled Glass Pitcher
A sturdy glass pitcher is always a great investment and it makes a good gift.  You can never really have too many pitchers.  I find that water, juice or a cocktail always look more festive when in a pitcher.  And, in a pinch, a pitcher always makes for an extra vase.   This one is earth-friendly as it is made from recycled glass.  Always a bonus to think green when buying gifts.

Seltzer Machine
I know I have written about this before but I cannot say enough positive things about my SodaStream.  We drink a lot of seltzer here at Everyone Into the Kitchen and I really couldn't reconcile recycling upwards of 12 bottles a week.   Enter the SodaStream.  To be honest I don't like their soda syrups at all but we don't drink much flavored soda anyway.  The occasional root-beer is about it and when we do, this is the syrup we use.  The SodaStream is fun and simple to use and comes with reusable bottles that last for about two years before they need to be replaced.  Two bottles vs. 1,248?  SodaStream wins.

Soup and Sandwich Tray
I just love the idea of this serving piece.  Sold in sets of two these trays make lunch fun.  Who doesn't love soup and a sandwich (especially the seminal comfort food combo of grilled cheese and tomato soup) on a blustery winter's day?  I imagine that eating lunch (or dinner) off this piece would put a smile on anyone's face.

Whiskey Stones
The husband and I are known to drink scotch on occasion.  We may or may not have consumed a little too much of it on our first date.  As someone who prefers my scotch on the rocks I love the idea of these stones.  Instead of ice, these go in your drink (any drink - it doesn't have to be scotch).  Simply put them in the freezer to chill and add them to your drink of choice.  They cool the beverage without diluting it with any of that pesky water stuff.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankful (and a recipe for simple and delicious Herbed Turkey Gravy)

The child, with my parents - 11/23/11
I know a post about how we all need to sit back and smell the roses is trite at Thanksgiving but this year I have something of a Thanksgiving wish.  And in hoping for this wish to come true I have spent a lot of time contemplating what it means to be thankful.  Is it selfish of me to have this wish?  Isn't this the time of year when we are supposed to be humble and appreciate what we have?  Who am I to want MORE?

Those of you who know me in real life probably know what I want.  It is a very simple desire but for some I guess it could seem petty and small.  Last year my father started a downward medical spiral.  On Thanksgiving.  I won't go into detail but it started with him leaving his and my mother's home in an ambulance and ended when he returned home, to a very different way of life, five whole months later.  He is doing quite well now but last Thanksgiving and the ensuing months hold nothing for me but horrible memories and anxiety.

Believe me when I say I am unbelievably thankful that my father is home, with my mother, where he belongs.  I am thankful for my family (the one I was born into and the one I married into).  I am thankful for my friends (near and far, new and old) who, in my life, are often as close as family.  I am thankful for my health and the health of those around me.  I am thankful for those of you who read my ramblings here.  I am thankful for the life I lead.  But what I really want is for my family to create a new, positive Thanksgiving memory to replace those from last year.  I have been visualizing a day like this - a simple day where we eat some good food, laugh a little and no one ends up in the hospital - not much to ask for I hope.  I have friends, who are more religious than I am, praying for the outcome I desire.  So if it is a little selfish I am going to live with it.  I don't take what I have for granted.  I *am* thankful. 

I just need to WANT a little and then I'll be even more thankful.

This recipe has nothing to do with being thankful but maybe your guests will be thankful you made it.  Or maybe you'll be thankful that you stumbled across this recipe in a last-minute Thanksgiving panic.  Either way, it's a terrific gravy recipe and method that is good to have in your recipe stable.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Herbed Turkey Gravy
Yields about 4 cups

  • 4 cups chicken stock (either your own or the best low or no-sodium store-bought you can find)
  • 1 turkey neck
  • turkey giblets (heart, liver, etc. from inside the turkey cavity)
  • 1 cup onions, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup celery, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 small stalks fresh rosemary
  • 5-6 fresh sage leaves
  • 2 TBS medium brown roux (recipe follows)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Combine stock, turkey neck, giblets, onions, celery, carrots, and herbs in a large pot and bring to a boil.
  2. Cover and reduce to a simmer.  Allow to simmer for 60-90 minutes.
  3. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.
  4. Strain out the vegetables, herbs, bones, giblets, etc.
  5. Turkey stock will keep for 1 week in the refrigerator or can be frozen for several months.
  6. To make the gravy heat the stock over medium high heat. Bring to a boil and whisk in the roux making sure to leave no lumps.  Allow the stock to thicken (the roux will do this).  Remove from the heat and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper to your liking.  If you desire you can add in a handful of finely chopped fresh herbs and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice just before serving.
To make the roux heat 2-3 TBS of butter or oil in a pan (I prefer butter for flavor) and allow to melt (if using butter).  Whisk in an equivalent amount of flour and continue cooking and whisking until the flour-y smell is gone and the roux smells toasty and resembles thin peanut butter.  Allow to cool. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

And Now for Something More Traditional (A Recipe for Creamy Oven-Baked Polenta)

It seems like corn pudding or a variation thereof is a common menu item on Thanksgiving.  Growing up in my home - not so much.  My father is allergic to corn.  Read that again.  Yes, corn.  All forms of corn.  Do you have any idea how difficult it is to be allergic to corn?  It's in EVERYTHING.   Don't believe me - read a label in your supermarket.  You're sure to find corn syrup or corn starch somewhere on the list.

Needless to say there weren't a lot of corn products on-hand or on-table when I was younger.  In the years since striking out on my own I have developed a healthy appreciation for corn meal and corn flour.  I love baked goods made with both products.  And I can't get enough polenta.  I also make quite a mean polenta; a polenta that pretty much secured my "A" on my culinary school final cooking practical.  But making delicious, creamy, luscious, lick-the-spoon polenta is a huge pain in the, ahem, arm.  All that stirring.  And waiting.  And stirring.  And waiting. And stirring... You get the picture.   Once you add a job and a child into the dinner-time mix something as time consuming and attention-stealing as polenta slowly fades from your repertoire.

Enter my savior:  oven-baked polenta.

I'm not sure where I first heard about this technique or what prompted me to try it but it is revelatory.  This method produces a swoon-worthy polenta that is rich in corn flavor, creamy in consistency and all-around delicious.  As an added bonus you can bake it right in the dish you plan on serving it from so there is one less pot to clean.  This is a perfect recipe for Thanksgiving or any time during the winter.  It makes a great accompaniment to braises and anything with a sauce.  And, I have it on good authority (OK, my own) that it's quite delicious on its own topped with some fresh ricotta cheese and toasted walnuts.

Oven Baked Creamy Polenta
Yields 6-8 servings as a side dish

  • 1 cup corn meal (coarsely ground is best)
  • 4 cups unsalted chicken or vegetable broth (you can use water but broth adds more flavor)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2-3 TBS unsalted butter
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (or more to your liking)
  • ¼-½ cup toasted walnuts (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 375˚F.
  2. Grease a 9"x13" baking dish and set aside.
  3. Combine the cornmeal, broth and salt and pepper and pour into the prepared baking dish.
  4. Bake for 45 minutes.
  5. Remove from oven, stir to mix thoroughly, dot the top of the polenta with butter and return to the oven for an additional 10 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven and stir in the Parmesan cheese.  Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking.  Top with toasted walnuts if using.  Serve immediately.

Monday, November 7, 2011

"Delicious!" (Plus a recipe for Apple-Cranberry Bread) #savethanksgiving

I have always loved tart flavors.  My parents love to tell a story of me, at a very young age (young enough to still be in a high chair), sucking on lemons, grimacing horribly and then eagerly asking for "MORE!"   I still love citrus, especially lemons and grapefruit.  I add a squirt of lemon juice or a dash of lemon zest to any dish that will accommodate it.  I love a vinaigrette that makes your lips pucker.    So it shouldn't come as a surprise that I am crazy about cranberries.  I buy them all fall and freeze them for use throughout the year because I just can't get enough of them when they are in stores in November and December. 

I can't remember exactly when I had my first cranberry bread but it had to be when I was about seven or eight years old.  I remember this taking place in our "old" house and we moved just before Thanksgiving the year I was nine.  My mother and I had read a book where part of the story included baking cranberry bread and the book included the recipe (I wish I could remember the title of the book!).  I begged her to make the bread for Thanksgiving that year and, being the awesome mom that she is and was, she made it of course.  I distinctly remember it including orange juice because I was blown away at the idea of baking! with orange juice!  Every since that Thanksgiving our family dinner has included cranberry bread.  Now that my parents live in Florida Thanksgiving definitely has a different feel to it - hello we eat in shorts with the air conditioning on - but a cranberry bread is always part of the meal.

In developing this recipe I wanted to keep the feel of that long-lost recipe but also wanted to boost the flavor a bit.  My favorite banana bread in the world is by Dorie Greenspan and that is the inspiration for this recipe.  Her banana cake (as she calls it) is extremely moist and quite sweet.  I figured the sweetness would play nicely against the flavor of unsweetened fresh (or frozen) cranberries.  Homemade unsweetened applesauce subs for for the mashed bananas and the flavor is enhanced by the addition of cinnamon and ground ginger.  This recipe is extremely moist from the addition of sour cream so rather than adding liquid in the form of orange juice I added the zest of a good-sized orange.  My tasting panel (aka my daughter) declared the bread "delicious."  I hope you do, too.

Apple-Cranberry Bread (Cake?)
Yields 1 Bundt Cake or 2 standard loaves (recipe can be cut in half)
Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 2  tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2  tsp cinnamon 
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 8 oz unsalted butter at room temperature (2 sticks)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce (preferably homemade but store-bought is fine)
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 cup plain yogurt or sour cream (Greek-style is preferable if you opt for yogurt)
  • 1 12 oz bag fresh or frozen cranberries, coarsely chopped (not dried) 
  • 1 TBS flour

  1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 350˚.
  2. Generously grease a 12 cup Bundt pan or two standard loaf pans (I have used three mini-pans in place of a standard loaf pan as well - great for gifts!)
  3. Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and ginger in a bowl and whisk to combine.  Set aside.
  4. Using either a standing mixer with the paddle attachment or a hand mixer on medium speed, beat the butter until it is creamy.  
  5. Add in the sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
  6. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat in the vanilla.  Add the eggs in one at a time taking care to incorporate each egg fully.
  7. Decrease the speed of your mixer and beat in the applesauce.  Add in the orange zest.  Don't worry if the mixture looks curdled at this point - it will come together when the dry ingredients are added!
  8. Add in the dry ingredients alternating with the yogurt or sour cream in two batches and mix to combine between each addition. 
  9. Toss the cranberries with about 1 TBS of flour to coat evenly (this will keep them from sinking to the bottom of the bread).  Mix in the cranberries by hand to distribute evenly.
  10. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top.
  11. If using a Bundt pan it should take about 65-70 minutes to bake.  If using standard loaf pans baking time will be reduced to about 50-55 minutes (The mini-loaves take about 40).  If the bread is browning too quickly during cooking you can cover it, lightly, with some foil.  You'll know they are done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean or when you press on the top it bounces back leaving no indentation.
  12. Allow the bread to cool in the pan for about 15 minutes before removing.  Allow to cool completely on a rack before slicing. This recipe actually tastes better the next day (just wrap the bread tightly for storing).


Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Confession (Plus a Recipe for Roasted Cauliflower with Cumin, Yogurt and Pomegranate) #savethanksgiving

I have a confession to make. It's a little embarrassing.  Some might say it's downright un-American.  But for you guys I'm willing to come clean (takes a deep breath):

I'm one of those people who prefer the side dishes on Thanksgiving.  Left to my own devices I would skip the turkey altogether.

(Hangs head in shame).  I know, I know.  I'm sure my family and guests would revolt so I make a turkey every year - a damn good turkey I should add (dry brine, herb butter, 2 kinds of dressing [not stuffing] and an herb-kissed turkey-based gravy - posts on this forthcoming!).  But the few years I was a vegetarian (11 to be exact) I didn't even miss the turkey on Thanksgiving at all *gasp*.  Plus, if we're going to be historically accurate, it is more likely that the Pilgrims and Native Americans ate lobster or venison than turkey but let's not quibble, OK?

I realize that the center-piece of most Thanksgiving tables is a turkey and I will give the bird its due at some point (see above).  In fact I have taken a pledge to Respect the Bird.  Join me and others who love Thanksgiving in an effort to savor the fall and give Thanksgiving its due before moving on to the craziness of the winter holiday season.  You can follow them on twitter and on Facebook.

But right here, in this little post, I want to to focus on a side dish.  This is a recipe you can use all year long - not just on one day of the year and, while it is my goal to #savethanksgiving,  my ultimate goal is to get everyone cooking a little more  (you know - the whole Everyone Into the Kitchen thing).

As the darker days of fall settle upon us, come dinner-time, I find myself preheating the oven and then digging around the refrigerator for something to roast.  Combined with a little oil, some salt and maybe some herbs or spices, vegetables and meats are transformed by the proper application of dry heat.  As an added bonus roasting doesn't usually involve a lot of advanced preparation, is simple to do and often results is pretty easy clean-up.  

The beautiful, sturdy vegetables of fall lend themselves so well to roasting.  One such vegetable is the often maligned cauliflower.  People are used to eating cauliflower as an overcooked part of a steamed or boiled vegetable medley and I can see why it isn't appealing to many that way.  But once you have eaten roasted cauliflower you'll never look at it the same way again.

Gone is the strange mealy, bumpy texture and lack of flavor.  In its place you will find a subtly sweet, crunchy yet supple vegetable with a complex almost nutty taste.  I have made simple roasted cauliflower for children who claim they "HATE it" and it's "yucky."  But toss it with some oil and a little salt, pop it into a 425˚ oven and call it "popcorn cauliflower" and you've got a hit on your hands.  Combine it with some spices, yogurt and herbs and it is transformed into a sophisticated holiday table worthy side dish or, dare I say, main dish for vegetarians.

Roasted Cauliflower with Cumin, Yogurt and Pomegranate 
Serves 4 as a side-dish
Adapted from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark

1 large head cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets (yes the one in that picture is purple - I'm a sucker for interesting vegetables)
1-2 TBS olive oil
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup plain yogurt (I recommend Greek-style)
pinch of salt
2 tsp chopped fresh parsley or mint leaves (or a combination of the two)
2-3 TBS pomegranate seeds (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 425˚F.
  2. Toss the cauliflower with the olive oil, cumin seeds, salt and pepper.  I do this right on the baking sheet - no need to dirty a bowl!
  3. Spread the cauliflower mixture out on a baking sheet leaving room between the pieces for air to circulate and prevent the cauliflower from steaming.
  4. Roast, tossing the pan from time to time, for about 25 minutes.  You want the cauliflower to be golden brown.  In this case I used purple cauliflower and it is a little harder to see.  Some pieces will be crunchier than others based on the size.  This makes for a nice variation in texture in the dish.
  5. Remove the cauliflower from the oven and transfer to a serving bowl.
  6. Combine the yogurt with a pinch of salt and drizzle over the cauliflower.  Top with chopped parsley or mint and pomegranate seeds.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

#savethanksgiving (Plus a Recipe for Butternut Squash Soup)

I am on a one-woman mission to save Thanksgiving.  (#savethanksgiving) Over the years I've noticed that Christmas seems to come earlier and earlier.  I'm pretty sure things hit an all-time low this year when I saw tinsel in a local Duane Reade drug store on October 5th(!!).  

Before you get the wrong idea you should know this about me:  I am, quite possibly, the biggest "Christmas-loving Jew"™ you will *ever* meet.  Ask anyone who knows me.  I deck the halls. I am jolly. I don gay apparel.  I make cookies.  I listen to music.  I have a TREE (well I am married to someone who isn't Jewish but I am so very happy for the excuse to have a tree!).  And, mom, before you freak out, Chanukah always gets equal treatment around these parts.

But Thanksgiving has always been and will always be my favorite holiday.  Long before I discovered my love of food and cooking I adored Thanksgiving.  I mean, really, what's not to love? It's a holiday that is solely dedicated to the art of eating.  I have fond childhood memories of watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade in my pajamas while delicious smells wafted through the house.  And, although I have since discovered more complex and ingredient-laden recipes, I still make my mother's cranberry sauce because without it it's just not Thanksgiving. 

In my one-woman effort to #savethanksgiving, I am going to use the month of November to post some seasonal recipes that will hopefully make it onto your Thanksgiving table.   This first one is a crowd pleaser which can me made a few days ahead and is a great start to any meal or a meal in itself paired with some crusty bread and a green salad on a cool fall evening.

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup with Coconut Milk
Yields approximately 3 quarts

2 TBS oil (canola, olive, grapeseed - whatever you prefer)
1 1/2 cup of diced onion (about 1 large onion or 2 medium onions)
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 1 /2" piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
1/4-1/2 tsp ras el hanout (or whatever spice you choose to add - curry would work well as would cinnamon but I would add more cinnamon as both ras el hanout and curry have more spicy kick.  I buy ras el hanout at Fairway in NYC but you can order it from a variety of sources )
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 medium butternut squash, peeled and diced with the seeds reserved
4 medium apples, peeled, cored and diced salt and pepper to taste
1 cup of low-fat coconut milk

  1. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a pot that can hold all of the ingredients.
  2. Add in the onions and saute 2-3 minutes until they are just translucent.
  3. Add in the garlic and ginger and saute for about a minute until they are fragrant.
  4. Add in the ras el hanout or spice of your choice and stir to coat the vegetables with it and saute another minute more.
  5. Slowly pour in the stock and bring the mixture to a boil.  Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Add in the apples and squash and allow the mixture to return to a boil.  
  7. Cover and reduce the heat so the soup is simmerig gently.
  8. Allow the soup to cook for about 45 minutes until the squash is softened.  Don't worry that the apples will cook at a faster speed.
  9. Working in batches puree the soup in a blender with the coconut milk.  
  10. Return the soup tyo the pot to gently reheat.  Taste and adjust seasoning to you liking.  
  11. Serve, garnished with the roasted seeds (if you'd like).

For roasted squash seed garnish:
  1. Preheat your oven to 350˚F.  
  2. Separate the seeds from the stringy squash innards (I find a colander and running water work best).
  3. Dry the seeds and toss with a little olive oil and salt.
  4. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet (I line it with parchment paper to prevent sticking).
  5. Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes until lightly browned and crunchy.  Check them every few minutes and shake the pan to ensure even browning.  They may take more or less time depending on their freshness, water content, your oven, etc.  Just don't let them burn!
  6. The seeds will keep well in an air-tight container.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Bragging Rights (and a recipe for Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls)

I rarely brag about my cooking.  People compliment me all the time and I appreciate it.  But for me cooking is less about accolades and more about sharing and nurturing (see here for more on that).  I'm genuinely happy when someone enjoys something I have prepared and I truly love sitting down to a home-cooked meal with people I care about deeply.  But, if I'm being really honest, I have to say that I make really good chicken soup. 

Really.  Good.  Chicken.  Soup.

Asked to bring it to dinner chicken soup.

Rarely have any leftovers chicken soup.

Yet I only tend to make it on Jewish holidays.  I don't know why or how this evolved because not only is chicken soup unbelievably simple to prepare, it's relatively inexpensive to make and freezes well.  Moreover it's pretty much universally loved.  In the spirit of the Jewish New Year (Happy 5772 to you who celebrate) I resolve to make chicken soup more often.

Since I'm being honest here I also have to confess:  many people have asked me for my recipe and I have shared it (but with a few sins of omission).  So, in the interest of getting people to try to make homemade soup, I'm willing to share the unabridged recipe here for the first time. 

The keys to this recipe are sweet and flavorful root vegetables, leeks in addition to onions, a bit of an Asian twist (ginger), good quality dark meat chicken and time

Don't be tempted to skimp on cooking time.  A full 3 1/2 hours will develop a golden soup with rich sweet flavor.  Bragging rights included.

Chicken Soup and Matzo Balls
Yields about 3 quarts of soup and 18 matzo balls

For the Soup

3 leeks, white and green parts rinsed and roughly chopped
2 small-medium onions, peeled and quartered
4 or 5 average sized carrots, washed and coarsely chopped
4 -5 stalks celery, washed and coarsely chopped
2 parsnips, washed and coarsely chopped
2 small turnips, washed and quartered
3-4 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3" piece of ginger, peeled
4 lbs organic, free range chicken with skin and bones (I prefer to use only dark meat as I find it more flavorful but I defer to your personal preferences)
1 bunch fresh dill
A few sprigs fresh parsley
12 cups water (enough to cover everything and then some)
Salt and pepper to taste (after cooking)
2-3 carrots sliced into thin rounds (for serving)
A few extra sprigs of dill, fronds separated (for serving)

  1. Combine everything in a large stock pot.  
  2. Bring to a boil.  Reduce to a strong simmer (you want some, but not many, bubbles breaking the surface) and cover. 
  3. Allow to cook for 3 1/2 hours.  
  4. Allow to cool.  Strain out all of the solids (read: everything).  Be sure to press on the vegetables, etc. to get every last bit of soup and flavor our.  Reserve the chicken if you'd like.  I find it isn't very flavorful but some people like to add it back into the soup.  Sometimes I make chicken salad with it.  
  5. It's best it you can refrigerate the soup long enough for any fat to solidify at the top (it can easily be scraped off this way and reserved for the matzoh balls).  I generally cool it overnight and serve the soup the next day.  Soup is always better the second day.
  6. To serve, add in the carrot rounds and matzo balls.  Reheat over medium heat and season with salt and pepper.  Ladle gently into bowls (the matzo balls are fragile) and top with a few dill fronds.

For the Matzo Balls*

8 large eggs, separated (whites beaten to stiff peaks and set aside)
1/2 cup vegetable oil (or chicken fat if you have any from the soup)
1/2 cup seltzer (bubbly not flat)
2 tsp salt (to taste)
Pinch or 2 of freshly ground black pepper
1 TBS  finely chopped fresh parsley
1 TBS  finely chopped fresh dill
2 c matzo meal

  1. Combine egg yolks, oil, seltzer, salt, pepper and herbs in a bowl and stir well. 
  2. Add in matzo meal and stir to combine thoroughly.  
  3. Gently fold in the egg whites, taking care NOT to deflate them.  
  4. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  5. Bring 2 large pots of well-salted water to a boil (you want room for the matzo balls to expand and move around).
  6. Handling the mixture as little as possible (using two spoons or a 1 1/2 TBS ice cream scoop) form the mixture into balls that are about 1" in diameter.  This is key - manhandling will RUIN the consistency.  Don't worry if they are a little ragged-looking - you will be rewarded with fluffy matzo ball goodness.
  7. Drop them into the boiling water (half in each pot).
  8. Once all of the matzo balls have been placed into the water lower the heat to low and cover.  Allow the matzo balls to simmer for 35-40 minutes until done.  
  9. Remove with a slotted spoon and allow to cool if not serving immediately.  
  10. Store in an airtight container overnight and reheat with the soup as directed above. 

*A note on matzo balls:  There are two schools of thought on matzo balls:  dense and fluffy.  I am firmly in the fluffy camp.  I like when the matzo balls barely hold together and just float atop the golden pool of the soup.  Even better  I love the little pieces that break off and are left in the bottom of the bowl to be slurped up in one last bite in a most un-ladylike fashion.  So if you're looking for something more dense and golf-ball like you're outta luck here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Getting Back Into the Groove (And a Recipe for Peach Butter)

Having recently returned from vacation it has taken me a while to get my cooking mojo back.  It was easy to cook on vacation - there was a barbecue.  Simple meals, minimal cleanup.  Now that I've gotten back into the groove I have been cooking up a storm.  But, upon returning home to an empty fridge and a despondently bare pantry, I may have overdone it with the food shopping...

As I've written here previously, I hate to waste food.  In the time it took me to get back onto the cooking wagon I had accumulated a large amount of peaches.  Between my CSA and an accidental double order on Fresh Direct I found myself with over 4 lbs of nearing-the-point-of-no-return peaches in my refrigerator.  Fortunately one of the blogs I love recently had a recipe for peach butter.  Peach butter?  I've made butter before but I've never made peach butter before.  So I figured, why not?

This recipe is completely inspired by the one found on smitten kitchen. I added in ginger and substituted lime juice for lemon.  I also used considerably less water because the first time I made this according to the original recipe I found it too thin for my taste.   There is also less sugar in this second batch because I wanted the flavor of the peaches to shine.

This is delicious on its own right off the spoon (so I've heard...).  It also makes a nice addition to plain yogurt for breakfast, a topping for ice cream, a spread on toast or an accompaniment to pork.

Peach Butter with Ginger and Lime
Yields about 4 cups

4 lbs peaches
1/4 cup water
1" piece of ginger, chopped
1 cup sugar (or less if you prefer)
Juice of 1 lime

  • To peel the peaches:  make a small "x" in the bottom of each peach and drop them into boiling water for about a minute.  Remove quickly to a bowl filled with ice water.  After another minute you should be able to slip the fruit right out of the peels.
  • Remove the pits and chop the peaches into 1" pieces. 
  • Combine with the water and ginger and bring to a boil over medium high heat.
  • Reduce to a simmer and allow the peaches to cook until they have softened - about 30-40 minutes.
  • Transfer the peaches and any accumulated juices to a blender and puree (do this in batches).
  • Return the peach puree to the pot, add in the sugar and lime juice and stir to  start dissolving the sugar.  
  • Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce to a brisk simmer (you want bubbles to be breaking the surface) and allow the mixture to thicken considerably (it will reduce by about 1/3).  This can take anywhere from 45-90 minutes depending on how much moisture there was in your peaches.
  • At this point you can simply transfer the butter to jars and allow it to cool.  It will keep in the refrigerator this way for about 2 weeks.  Once it is cooled you can also transfer it to freezer safe containers and freeze the butter.  It will last for months in the freezer and allow you to savor the taste of summer peaches in say, February, when summer seems but a distant memory.
  • Or, if you choose, you can opt to can the butter and it will keep for a considerably longer amount of time.  For canning instructions please see here.  I'm lazy and just do the refrigerator method.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

For Ch*** - A Recipe for Simple Chicken Kabobs

It all started with a Facebook status update (identifying features have been omitted to protect the innocent): 

We're all busier than ever these days.  Work.  Kids.  School.  Divorce.  Life.  Marriage.  Aging parents.  Bills.  Social media.  Project Runway (well maybe that's just me).  The person who wrote this is a divorced, working, parent of two young children and the exchange really got me thinking.

Now, don't get me wrong - I was in no way judging anyone.  My philosophy when it comes to food is everything in moderation.  We eat plenty of things in our home that aren't exactly the healthiest.  I just worry that we've all come to rely on convenience foods because we've been fooled into thinking they are an easy alternative to cooking every night.  But when you measure the consequences of reliance on such foods (childhood obesity, increases in Type 2 Diabetes, rising BMIs, and so on), are they really "easier?"

Coincidentally it was recently revealed that  28% of Americans admit that they don't know how to cook.   I firmly believe that armed with the right information and a decently stocked pantry cooking at home can be just as easy as these so-called convenience foods.  If you can read and you can count you can cook.  I promise.   And I also promise that the feeling of satisfaction you get from watching someone eat something you made with your own two hands makes up for any parts that might not initially seem so "easy."

Easy Weeknight Chicken Kabobs 
Yields 6-8 servings

These kabobs are a big hit with kids (who doesn't love food on a stick?).  I usually throw together the marinade the night before I plan on making these so once dinner time rolls around all that's left is the cooking.  I usually serve these with mini whole-wheat pitas, store bought tzatziki and a green salad with feta and olives.

1/4 c olive oil
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 clove of garlic, smashed
salt and pepper to taste
3 lbs thick boneless chicken breast cut into 2" chunks

  1. Combine the olive oil, lemon juice and zest, oregano, garlic and salt and pepper in a large bowl.  Mix well.
  2. Add in the chicken and be sure to coat well with the marinade.  Cover and marinate for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours in the refrigerator.
  3. Preheat a grill or broiler (if necessary).
  4. Thread the meat onto skewers leaving a little space between the pieces to allow air to circulate (if using wooden skewers soak them in water for a while before so they don't burn).  You can also alternate the chicken with vegetables if you'd like.  Some to consider: onion, mushrooms, peppers, zucchini, eggplant.
  5. Grill or broil the skewers, turning a few times throughout the cooking process, until they are cooked through (about 12-18 minutes depending on the heat of your grill or broiler).

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Why Do We Cook? (Plus a recipe for Chinese Tea Eggs)

This summer was long.   The days were hot and filled with activity.  There were highs and lows in both life and temperature.  100+ degrees outside.  Gorgeous mornings for running along the Hudson.  Hurricanes.  Rainbows.  Hail.  My daughter gained a sense of confidence when it comes to sports (something I've yet to manage).  We spent time with friends filled with food and fun. We were lucky to be able to spend another vacation on the Cape. 

But the lowest of the lows came when my father had a health scare which sent him to the hospital and me on the next plane out of town to play my least favorite recurring role:  The Daughter From New York (TDFNY).  Medical professionals in Florida who deal with patients of a certain age dread TDFNY.  She sweeps in (generally wearing all black).  She takes control.  She demands attention.  She asks pointed questions.  She challenges.  She subtly provokes.   In other words, TDFNY gets shit done.  Luckily this was just a temporary hospital stay and my father was home within 48 hours.  I got the chance to spend some quality time alone with my parents without the associated responsibilities of a husband and a daughter.  Refreshing lemonade out of what could have been some extremely sour lemons.  

So what did I do?  I cooked.  And cooked.  And then I cooked some more.  Watermelon and cucumber salad with feta, mint and lime.  Grandma's brisket with homemade mashed potatoes.  Bite sized chocolate chip cookies.  Biscotti with toffee and chocolate.  Fluffy omelets.  Homemade hot fudge sauce for ice cream.  Baked ziti with garlic bread.  I can't fix what ails my father.  I can't make it better for him or my mother.  I can't be there every day.  And I agonize over what I can't do.  But while I am there I can make sure they are nourished by my food and my love. 

Ever since that trip I've been thinking a lot about why we cook.  There are the obvious reasons:  we need to eat; it's healthier and less expensive than dining out, etc.  But for those of us who love to cook it goes much deeper.  For me I can show someone how much I love them by cooking their favorite dish.  I can make their day a little brighter with a small treat.  I can make them feel taken care of and tended to for even just a little while.   And it's also a little selfish.  I relish nothing more than seeing someone enjoy something I've made for them.  Everybody wins.

This past weekend a dear old friend and her mother came to visit me.  They were in town to mark the 10th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  On that day they lost a firefighter brother and son when the South Tower collapsed.   Their resilience amazes me.  And while I couldn't take away their pain, the sense of loss and their sadness there was something I could do:  I could open my home to them.

 And cook.

My Mother-In-Law's Tea Eggs
Yield - 1 dozen

My mother-in-law is an amazing Chinese cook.  Born in China and raised both there and in Taiwan before coming to the United States in her 20s she has a mind-boggling command of Asian technique.  These eggs were a favorite in my husband's home when he was growing up.  I don't recall the first time I ate them but I do remember my sense of awe at how 3 simple ingredients could transform a hard-boiled egg into something so resplendent.  

1 dozen eggs, rinsed
Enough water to cover the eggs in a heavy bottomed pot
2-3 tea bags (plain old black tea will do - I prefer loose leaf teas and usually use oolong)
3 star anise
1 cup soy sauce

  1. Place the eggs in a heavy bottomed pan and cover with cold water by an inch.
  2. Bring the water to a boil.
  3. Cover the pot and remove from the heat.  Allow the eggs to sit in the covered pot of hot water for 8 minutes.
  4. Remove the eggs from the pot and set aside.  Measure out about 1 cup of the hot water and discard.
  5. Add in the teabags, the star anise and the soy sauce.  Allow the mixture to steep.
  6. Carefully roll the eggs to crack the shells all over but do NOT peel them.
  7. Return the eggs to the water/tea/anise/soy mixture and allow the eggs to steep in the mixture for 30 minutes while it cools.
  8. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours.
  9. When you are ready to eat an egg simply remove it from the liquid and peel it.   You will delight in the gorgeous marbling that has taken place.
The eggs will keep for about a week in the refrigerator.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Memory is strange and mysterious.  Over time we can't really tell whether something happened truly as we remember it or if our memory has somehow recorded an altered history. It's as though our brains are revisionists allowing us to remember only certain fragments or parts of experiences be they good or bad.    

One of my fondest childhood memories is strawberry picking with my mother and younger brother after the end of school each year.  I grew up on Long Island, the child of two educators.  My mother had basically the same schedule we had so on the last day of school (which was always a half day in my dim memories) she would take us out to the east end of "the Island" and we would go strawberry picking.  Sometimes my father was there which makes me doubt that this always happened on the last day of school.  I recall plucking the succulent little berries off the bushes and popping them (unwashed of course) right into my mouth.  They would be sweet, juicy and warm from the sun.  For every one we put in our container I'm sure we ate three or four, minimum.   I remember coming home full of strawberries, tell-tale stains on my hands and clothing and feeling happy and lucky that my mother had decided to take us.  I remember how much fun it was.

Now that I'm a parent I understand the importance of traditions and once my daughter started school I reinstated the end of school strawberry picking trip.  I often wonder about my mother's memories of those trips and just how reliable my memories are.  Did we always go *on* the last day of school?  Did my brother and I actually get along (because I don't have any memories of disagreements with him on these trips)? How much picking did we really do versus my poor mother (and father)?   

I often think about what my daughter's memories of these trips will be some day.   We have now taken 5 of them and while I'd like to think I'm making memories that will last a lifetime I do wonder what she will conjure up when she recalls these trips.  Will she remember how I taught her to carefully look into the center of the plants?  That by gently moving the leaves aside she would be rewarded with perfectly ripe berries that other, less patient pickers had overlooked by only picking from the edges?  Will she recall me shouting for her to come to a particularly plentiful plant so that she could be the one to have the satisfaction of  picking all the berries from it?  Will she remember feeding the animals at the farm and how gentle the donkeys were?  I am fairly sure she'll remember the homemade ice cream as a reward for all of her "hard work" in the fields.  I hope she will remember how much fun it was.

I also wonder what I will remember one day far into the future.  Will I remember how I was the one left in the field picking by myself while my "hot, tired and itchy" child decided  she was finished after 20 minutes of picking?  Will I remember how I was "so unfair" and "saved all the good ones" for myself to pick?   Who knows if I'll remember today at all  

I hope I will remember the look on her face when she found that one perfect berry and asked if she could eat it right then and there and I said yes.  I hope I will remember how she bit into it and her eyes lit up at the taste of that perfect strawberry as it hit her mouth.  I hope I will remember her berry stained hand clasping my equally stained hand as we rode back on the tractor to pay for the berries. I hope I will remember how much fun it was.

Strawberry Sorbet
(adapted from Claudia Fleming and Melissa Clark)
Yield: 1 quart (which is NEVER enough and why I usually double the recipe)

I have a freezer that is packed to the gills.  But every summer, just after we go strawberry picking, I am sure to make room for the ridiculously large bowl of my ice cream maker in it.  Why?  Because of this recipe.  This is the recipe my copy of "The Last Course" automatically opens to when I take the book down from the shelf and flip open the cover.  This strawberry sorbet is worth the effort it takes to carve out some space for the gigantic bowl and worth the patience to wait, wait, wait for it to freeze adequately.  The key to this sorbet is making it with the best possible strawberries you can find.  Unless it's the peak of strawberry season it just isn't worth making.   Each spoonful is bursting with luscious flavor if you capture the berries at their best.  If you live in the Northeast make it in the next few weeks or wait until next summer.

  • 1 quart fresh strawberries (the BEST you can get your grubby little paws on), rinsed well, hulled and chopped
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 1/4 cups simple syrup (recipe here)
  • 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice (I prefer lime but most people seem more likely to have a lemon on hand)
  1. Toss the strawberries with the sugar and let the mixture rest for 2 hours.
  2. Transfer the berries to a food processor or blender and puree with the water until very smooth.  Strain and press on the solids to extract all of the juice and flavor.  Discard the solids.
  3. Transfer the puree to a bowl and whisk it with the simple syrup and lemon or lime juice.  Cover and chill until very cold (at least 3 hours or overnight).
  4. Once properly chilled (this step is essential) freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions.
  5. Try to be nice and share with others.  Keeping it all to yourself will be extremely tempting.

Self Portrait of Us.  June 18th, 2011.  Alstede Farms, Chester, NJ

Friday, June 10, 2011

There Goes My Perfect Attendance Record

I missed a day.  So much for 30 days in a row.  I nearly fell asleep while reading with my daughter at her bedtime and then I went to bed early myself.  Sometimes one needs to sleep more than one needs to write.

It's just that I don't really have all that much to say, every single day.  Those of you who know me in the real world are probably shocked at that pronouncement.  Believe me, I've got PLENTY to say.  It's just not all that interesting.  But if I am going to publish something here for public consumption I feel pressure to produce a piece trhat is  at least remotely worth holding one's attention for at least a few minutes. 

I think for some people the exercise of writing every day is necessary because they are WRITERS and it definitely requires a large amount of discipline to commit to such a task.  But I'm not a writer.  I'm not sure what I am (that's another blog post or several sessions with a qualified therapist).  I *am* someone who definitely wants to blog more frequently than once every 3 months or so (ahem) but every day is a bit much for me. 

I am going to press on and continue blogging (almost) every day in June because I have been enjoying it and the response from my readers (aka my friends) has been rewarding, positive and flattering.  But I need your help.  Is there anything you would like to see here?  A specific recipe?  Kitchen hints?   Tips for weeknight dinners?  Kid friendly recipes?  Cook once eat twice recipes?  My opinion on Le Affair Weiner?  Let me know.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Copping Out (Or Link Love)

I might be violating the NaBloPoMo rules with this post but I *just* finished up a sizable work project and I don't have any creativity left in me for the day.  So instead of trying to force myself to write something witty, interesting, or plain old self-indulgent (because really what else is a blog but self indulgent) I am going to list a few blogs and websites I like to visit.  Happy reading!

In no particular order:

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

It's Too Darn Hot

I spent the winter complaining about the cold and the snow (Since when do I live in Minnesota?).  I spent the "spring" (using that term very loosely) complaining about the rain (Did I move to Seattle in my sleep?).  And now that it's almost summer I'm already complaining about the heat.  Today it hit 87.  Tomorrow's forecast calls for 97.  In early June.  In NYC  (Wait, this isn't Southern Florida, it's New York).

When it's this hot the last thing I want to do is cook.  I have a powerful stove that generates a lot of heat.  Turning the oven on isn't even a remote possibility.  Boiling water is about as far as I'll go and that's being generous.  But I have a family to feed and I'm trying to eat healthier so constantly ordering in isn't really a long-term option either.  So I'm going to let you in on my little secret: instead of cooking I assemble

And now you can too.

Top 5 Simple (almost) No-Cook Meals to Beat the Heat

1. Fruit salad, yogurt, granola
Yes this can be dinner.  You can be extra lazy and buy the already cut-up fruit at the grocery store.  Top it with some good high protein yogurt (I tend to favor the Greek kinds - Chobani and Fage) and some crunchy granola and you have an easy, cool, refreshing, filling dinner that is also kid-friendly.

2. Chilled Soups
Cold soups are the perfect antidote to hot, humid, hazy weather.  I love gazpacho, chilled yogurt cucumber soup, cold vegetable purees....  I confess I tend to buy these already made at Fairway or Trader Joe's.  Once tomato season rolls around I'm more apt to make my own gazpacho.  It just involves a lot of cutting and a swirl in the blender.  Tonight we had store-bought gazpacho topped with some shrimp I boiled in well-salted water and a dice of fresh avocado.  One pot, one cutting board and voila dinner was done.

3. Salad
Salads can be surprisingly filling and satisfying.  You just have to go to a little effort to make them interesting.  Load up on crisp greens and top with a variety of ingredients.  I tend to go for a lot of different textures and flavors in my salads.  For something creamy try avocado, a soft cheese or perhaps a buttermilk-based dressing (see my Ranch dressing recipe here).  For added crunch vegetables such as green beans, radishes, peppers, celery and cucumbers are great. Nuts, seeds and croutons also add a nice texture.   Sweetness can balance out the plate - try dried fruits like cherries, apricots or cranberries or even fresh fruits - watermelon, peaches and berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries) are great salad additions.  If you feel you're lacking protein add in beans, lentils, eggs, chicken, fish, steak, etc.

4.  Brinner (aka Breakfast for Dinner)
It doesn't take too much heat to cook up some eggs or even pancakes.  Try an omelet loaded with fresh vegetables and a sprinkling of cheese.  It's delicious and tres chic to enjoy it with a glass of chilled white wine (pretend you're in Paris).  Pancakes made with half whole wheat flour and topped with fresh fruit also make a satisfying fun dinner once in a while.  And I promise it will be a hit with your kids (if you have them).  If not, be one for a night.

5.  Pretend You're in Greece, the Mediterranean or Italy
Tzatziki, pita, olives, grape leaves, tomatoes, cucumbers, take-out rotisserie chicken = dinner.
Hard cheese, olives, sausage, proscuitto, a baguette, some fresh fruit and grilled vegetables = dinner.
Hummus (look here - a recipe!), falafel, baba ganoush, pickles, tabouli, greens, pita, olives - dinner.
You get the idea.

So what do you do when it's too hot to cook?  I'm always looking for some new ideas.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Dining Out(side)

As school draws to a close this week (the more you pay the less they go) thoughts of summer creep in.  One of my favorite things about summer is the ability to eat outside.  Whether it's an intricately prepared meal or sandwiches from the deli on the corner, food just tastes better out of doors.   Think about that the next time you dine al fresco.

And nothing taste better outside than food cooked on a barbecue.  Living in Manhattan I don't have much opportunity to grill unless I venture to our weekend place (a.k.a the in-law's).  But for two glorious weeks every August I am in possession of a house with a backyard.  And a grill.  Within walking distance of the beach.  And numerous ice cream stores.  And for two weeks I eat as many meals as possible outside (followed by ice cream of course).  Breakfast on the deck.  Lunch at the beach.  Dinner is on the deck unless it's eaten somewhere where I can smell, hear and see the water.  And the food?  It all tastes that much more delicious by virtue of eating outside.

One of my favorite items to grill is skirt steak.  It's a relatively inexpensive cut with great flavor and it's easy to find. As an added bonus now you can even find organic skirt which I prefer.  Plus it's a snap to cook.  It takes well to marinades but it's also good properly seasoned simply with salt and pepper.  And leftovers (if you are lucky enough to have any) are always delicious cold the next day as a the filling in a sandwich or on top of a big pile of greens. 

This recipe is easily adaptable to what you have on hand (just think salt, acid and aromatics) and is very flexible.  Marinate in the fridge for up to 24 hours, or on the counter just before cooking for about an hour.    And if you don't have a grill stick it in a grill pan on your stove top or run it under the broiler.  Serve with a salad of peppery arugula and tomatoes and some barely cooked or grilled summer corn.  But, whatever you do, eat it outside.  You'll thank me.

Our little summer oasis

Yields 4 servings
1 clove of garlic, crushed
Juice and zest of one lime
2 TBS balsamic vinegar
2 TBS soy sauce
1 TBS olive oil

1 tsp dark sesame oil (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 ½ lb skirt steak
  1. Combine first 6 Ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine.  Adjust seasoning as necessary. Place the marinade and skirt steak into a 1-gallon sized Ziploc bag and marinate for 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
  2.  If grilling heat grill
  3. If cooking stovetop - preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  4. When ready to cook, remove steak from marinade and drain.
  5. If grilling cook to your desired degree of doneness.  Allow to rest for 10 minutes.  Cut meat on the bias in thin slices and serve.
  6. If cooking stovetop heat a large oven-proof sauté pan over high heat and place the steak in the pan. If necessary, cut the steak into a few pieces. Cook over high heat for 2-3 minutes per side until nicely browned.
  7. Place pan in 400 degree oven and cook 10-15 minutes. 
  8. Remove pan from oven, and remove steak from pan.  Allow steak to rest 10 minutes before slicing.