December 15, 2009

Caesar Salad fit for a... Duchess

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like Caesar Salad. Throw some chicken or shrimp over it and you’ve got meal. My husband gets very territorial about his Caesar… he scowls when someone dares take a plateful for themselves. A favorite meal is a good bowl of soup and a heaping plate of C.S.

Personally, I hate those little anchovy bones; they make me gag. And, unless I see the chicken the egg came from, I don’t eat them raw. So I fiddled with a few recipes until I came up with this: no anchovy filets, and no raw eggs. Also, unlike a lot of other recipes, the croutons are baked not deep or pan fried. So, enjoy and be sure to make enough!

This serves 4-5. If you’re making it as a meal with some kind of protein, then 2-3 people.

If you’re my husband, it’s enough for 1.

1 Loaf of good bread, 10 or so ounces (can be almost anything you like, personally I go for a rustic Italian). Crusts removed, and cut into 1” cubes
1 tbs olive oil
2 ½ tbs unsalted butter, melted
½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 ½ tsp salt

3 Romaine hearts (it usually comes in packages of 3)
4 2 ½” - 3” stripes of anchovy paste (the length of an actual anchovy filet)
2 large cloves of garlic (3 small), cut in quarters
1 tbs mayonnaise
1 tbs fresh lemon juice
1 heaping tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp Worcestershire
1 tsp salt
½ tsp fresh cracked pepper
½ cup of olive oil (could be more depending on personal tastes)
1 cup grated parmesan cheese

-Preheat oven to 400
-In a bowl, combine melted butter, 1 tbs of olive oil, ½ tsp cayenne, and 1 ½ tsp salt with cubed bread. Place on baking sheet and put in hot oven for 12-14 minutes or until golden brown
-While croutons are cooking, place garlic, 1 tsp of salt, and 4 stripes of anchovy paste in a wooden salad bowl. Using two forks, mash the garlic, anchovy paste, and salt together until the garlic is in small pieces
-Add mayo, Dijon, lemon juice, Worcestershire, and pepper to bowl, mix well with fork
-Slowly whisk in the ½ cup of olive oil until dressing is well combined and creamy. Taste the dressing. Sometimes I find it needs a little more lemon juice at this point. If you’d like a more mellow flavor, add more olive oil 1 tbs at a time until you are satisfied (keep in mind, you have not yet added the parmesan cheese)
-Remove any tough or bruised leaves from the hearts, cut off the bottoms, then chop the hearts. Add to salad bowl
-Add the 1 cup of parmesan and mix the entire salad very well… you don’t want any dressing left at the bottom of the bowl
-By now the croutons should be done. Remove from the oven and add to the salad, serve

December 9, 2009

Cous Cous Fritters

So you've made your "cous cous on a cold night," and now you have those wonderful leftovers. What to do? Fritters. Super easy, and so tasty especially with the dipping sauce.

1 cup cous cous mixture (without the meat or other protein you have used)
1 beaten egg
1 heaping tablespoon of flour or corn meal
5 tablespoons oil, for frying

Dipping Sauce:
1 cup sour cream or thick plain yogurt
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 tablespon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

-Preheat oven (or toaster oven) to 200-250 degrees, line a baking sheet with parchment or foil, and place in oven
-Combine all ingredients for dipping sauce, cover, and put in fridge until ready to use
-Heat oil
-Mix cous cous with egg and flour/corn meal very well
-Using a large spoon, take about a golf ball size amount of cous cous and place in hot oil, flattening slightly with back of spoon
-Fry until crispy and brown, about 4 minutes per side depending on thickness of fritter
-Place cooked fritters on baking sheet in oven
-Serve immediately with dipping sauce

*Each cup of cous cous yields about 5 fritters

December 8, 2009

Cous Cous on a Cold Night

It was cold and windy, and we wanted something warm and filling. This is an easy recipe that you can adapt to any kind of protein you want. Plus, you probably have most of the ingredients at home already. I used some thin sandwich steaks that were in the freezer and I had defrosted earlier in the day, but it would be excellent with any kind of seafood or meat... even tofu. It serves between 3-4, or 2 with plenty of yummy leftovers.

1 lb steak, cut into 1/2" strips (again, could be any protein you want)
2 cups broth (I used beef, but could be vegetable or chicken)
1 1/2 cups cous cous (depending on the brand, this might be 2 cups, equal to the broth, check the directions on the package, you are making enough for 4)
2 tsp garlic paste (you can use fresh garlic too)
1/2 cup tomato paste
1 tsp salt (depending broth's sodium level, you might have to adjust this)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/2 large onion chopped
2 tbs butter (you can use olive oil too, or a "fake butter" like Earth Balance)
1 tsp olive oil
1 can chick peas, drained
1 10 oz package of frozen peas
1/4 cup of fresh chopped mint

-In a bowl, combine broth, tomato paste, cinnamon, salt, and pepper, whisk. Taste and adjust seasoning, some broths are saltier than others, and some tomato paste's are saltier than others too. Add the steak (or other protein), and let marinate, covered, in fridge for 1-2 hours.
-Sauté onions in butter until soft, translucent, and cooked through - about 7 minutes, in a medium size pot that has a tight fitting lid.
-Pour the broth and tomato paste marinade into the pot, add frozen peas, and bring to boil.
-When peas are cooked through and water is boiling, add the cous cous. Stir everything together once, turn off heat, and let sit for 5-8 minutes covered with lid.
-While cous cous is steaming, cook the steak in the 1 tsp of olive oil.
-Pour cous cous into large bowl, and fluff with fork, and add the drained chick peas, mix.
-Place steak on top, and sprinkle with the chopped mint.

December 1, 2009

Ginger Chocolate Tart

Thanksgiving was wonderful, and this last minute tart that I whipped up was a real success at the meal. Finding out that there were only fruit pies for dessert, I thought some chocolate was needed. Because really, when isn’t chocolate needed? This tart filling is a basic standby for me, but I thought the ginger crust would make it special, and it did! All in all this takes a total of about 45 minutes start to finish. It tastes like hours in the kitchen, but is so easy to make! By the way, the filling is wonderful with any kind of crust you might want to use, or even on its own, baked in ramekins as a kind of flourless chocolate soufflé.

Ginger Tart Shell
1 ½ cups, Ginger Snap or other ginger cookie crumbs
5 tbs melted unsalted butter
1 tsp powdered ginger

-Preheat oven to 350
-Pulse the cookies in a food processor or blender until crumbs
-Add ginger to the crumbs
-Add melted butter and mix with a fork or spoon until all crumbs are well coated
-Place a 9” round fluted removable bottom tart tin on a cookie sheet (remember the tart tin has removable bottom, you want to keep the tart as flat as possible) and press crumbs into tin.
-Bake for 25 minutes or until the edges have changed color
-Place tart, still on the sheet pan, on a cooling rack

*The best trick for getting the crumbs into the pan besides fingers, is to cover the bottom of a glass or cup measure with plastic wrap and gently press the crumbs in the sides, making sure the bottom is as even as you can make it. This gives the sides a nice edge, and keeps the bottom fairly smooth and flat.

Rich Chocolate Tart
2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
12 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate finely chopped or in chips (if you can find the mini semi-sweet chips, even better)
1 cup plus 2 tbs of heavy cream
1 tsp of vanilla

-Preheat oven to 300
-Lightly whisk the eggs, set aside
-Boil the cream, turn off the heat, and add the chocolate directly into the pot. Stir with a rubber, heat proof spatula until all combined (if there are still a few lumps of chocolate, don’t sweat it, but try to get it as smooth as possible)
-Pour 1/3 of the chocolate into the eggs and mix quickly with the spatula. Once combined, add the rest of the chocolate and mix until combined.
-Add the vanilla
-Pour mixture into the tart shell, leaving a rim of crumbs. You might have some extra chocolate left over; you can pour this into ramekins or mini tart tins and bake them too.
-Bake for 25-30 minutes until the tart is glossy, the edges have puffed slightly, and the chocolate no longer jiggles. If unsure, use a wooden skewer and test the center. Don’t worry about any air bubbles; they’ll be covered up anyway.
-Let cool completely before putting it in the fridge. It can be left uncovered, but if you want to use foil, be sure to tent it so it doesn’t stick to the chocolate.
-Before serving, dust with unsweetened cocoa powder (use a sifter or fine gauged, hand-held strainer). You can also decorate the tart with whole or chopped up candied ginger and omit the powder.

*A wonderful addition to this tart is fresh spiced whipped cream. Simply add a teaspoon of allspice, cumin, cinnamon, or another sweet spice to the cream before whipping. Personally, I always add a teaspoon of vanilla extract to fresh whipped cream too; it gives it some extra sparkle.

**By the way, in case you were curious, simply place the tart on top of a glass to remove the sides of the tin. And, unless you have a 9” round spatula, keep the tart on the removable bottom part of the tart tin while serving.

November 11, 2009

The Marquesa's Tortilla

My Nanny was from Colombia. She is a phenomenal cook. I have memories of plantains, rice with peas and onions, and Tortillas. Tortillas are basically large omelets that in the fussy Bistro world would be called a “Frittata.” It's one of those dishes that bring me back to my childhood. My Nanny became part of the family. When she had her own children years later, my family became God Parents to her two beautiful and genius girls. No matter how many times I've made this, it will never be as good the Marquesa's. Whether that's because she snuck something into her Tortilla and never let me see it, or because memory is always stronger than taste buds, I won't ever know. I suspect, however, it's the latter.

You need a really good oven-safe non-stick skillet, or a clean cast iron skillet for this.

1 dozen large eggs
1/3 cup olive oil
1 medium Spanish onion sliced
2 1/2 cups cubed potatoes (I like using the smaller white potatoes, this comes out to about 4)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

*You can add a half cup of fresh or frozen peas if you have them. Add them in with the potatoes.

Preheat the oven to 400.
Boil the potatoes in salted water, drain, set aside.
Heat the oil and gently sauté the onions over medium-high heat until, soft, translucent, and cooked through but NOT browned. (If using cast iron, the pan might have soaked up some of the oil, if it seems like it has, add another teaspoon).
Whisk the eggs with salt and pepper very well.
Add the potatoes to the skillet and then pour the eggs in.
Let the bottom and sides of the Tortilla cook. Occasionally pull at the sides to let some of the raw egg get to the heat.
When the sides and bottom are just cooked, about 3-5 minutes, and the center is still liquidy, place skillet in oven.
Cook for 15 minutes or until eggs are cooked all the way through and the Tortilla has puffed up.
Flip onto a platter and serve.

*This is excellent hot right out of the oven, but it’s even better the next day cold from the fridge. You can serve it with salsa, or how I liked it as a kid, and still my fave way to this day... the very unglamorous Ketchup.
I like to serve this with avocado halves, spritzed with fresh lime juice and salt on the side. The creaminess of the avocado really goes well with the Tortilla.


November 5, 2009

Crab Legs Anyone?

Here’s the thing about Vegas… it’s a blast! I went thinking that we’d spend a little too much money on slots, eat some awful yet plentiful food, and have some fun staring at the parade of drunken college kids. Well, we did in fact spend a little too much on the slots, but the rest of my assumptions were thankfully, completely wrong.

I’m comfortable enough with myself to let you know that I am a complete snob. I openly admit it though, which takes some of the sting away right? I am open minded to a fault, and willing to try anything once, and I don’t judge people by their covers, but places, specifically places that aren’t NYC, well that’s when my inner snob rears her perfectly coiffed head and puffs smoke in your face. It’s the Pine Nut Test: if I can’t easily get pine nuts at the grocery store, what the hell am I doing there?

We arrived after midnight (which was actually 3am for us), and fell into a cab. As we drove away from the airport, the lights of Vegas could suddenly be seen. When we turned the corner onto Las Vegas Boulevard, I had to laugh. It was every scene in every movie about Vegas you’ve ever seen. There’s the Flamingo, there are the girls, girls, girls, there are the fountains of the Bellagio - it was almost surreal. Our sweet cab driver who had moved from Lancaster Country, Pennsylvania just 3 years earlier because he loved the heat, told us that our first night in Vegas we should stay up to watch the sunrise. We did. It was spectacular.

Our first Vegas mistake was the Breakfast Buffet. Don’t get me wrong, it was amazing. No joke, simply amazing. I had some of the best Gravlax and Smoked Salmon of my life that morning. By the way, excellent Gravlax and Smoked Salmon rate very high on the Pine Nut Test; by the way again, spell check does NOT because it didn’t have “Gravlax” in its database… booooo! Piles of crispy bacon, made-to-order omelets and surprisingly good coffee are never a bad thing. So, our mistake was not going to the Breakfast Buffet; our mistake was eating ourselves into a food coma. We somehow managed to wiggle out of our chairs, stand up, and with the clarity and determination of the greatest Olympic athlete, cross the street, go up the elevators, peel off our clothes, and collapse on the bed until we could breathe again. We wound up not eating for the rest of day.

Lesson learned, we planned our days around those crazy buffets. In-between meals we walked and walked and walked. Vegas is an excellent lesson in Urban Planning. Created from nothing in the middle of nowhere, a very well organized city emerged. To make navigating easier, wonderful pedestrian bridges have been erected. It means that you very rarely have to cross the street; in fact Vegas police discourage it. These elevated walk-ways complete with escalators are wonderful and I only wish they could be installed across the country.

The hotels of Vegas are feats of engineering. The Paris hotel, really does feel like parts of France. New York, New York really captured the streets and neighborhoods, and even Caesar’s Palace has created a fantasy of opulence that one could just imagine ancient Rome being. It truly is Disney Land for adults. As I said, we walked a lot. It was a good thing too because something happens to the brain around that much food – you eat it all.

Besides the hotels, there are fantastical free shows on the strip. The pirate ships at Treasure Island, the volcano at the Mirage, and then there are the fountains of the Bellagio. They are a marvel - so beautiful and yet so ridiculous at the same time. Watching water dance to “Proud to be and American,” followed by Andrea Bocelli singing “Time to Say Goodbye,” is definitely ridiculous. But it’s also complexly irresistible.

We decided we needed to have one really good meal. The choices were endless, but we tend to celebrate with excellent steak dinners (or Peking Duck, but that was definitely going to be better in NYC), so I did my research. In the end it was between Tom Colicchio’s Craft Steak or a place off the strip, not associated with a hotel called, Del Frisco’s. Del Frisco’s has lots of locations around the country, but the reviews at the Vegas location were phenomenal.

Del Frisco’s is a 5 minute cab ride from the strip, but you do need to drive. It’s behind the strip amongst the office buildings and company headquarters based in Vegas. Wood paneling, very friendly staff, and dear lord what a steak! I took a picture of it with my camera phone because both my husband and I felt self conscience pulling out the camera, so of course the pic didn’t do our meal any justice and I’m not posting it either, sorry. But you can go to their website to take a gander.

Del Frisco’s is known for their double steaks. That means that while the average steak is something like 2 - 2½ inches thick, ours were 4 – 4½ inches. It was a lot of meat, but good god it was amazing. We don’t eat steak often, and when we do, we spend the right kind of money for them. We got our money’s worth. And, without any exaggeration, I can say these might have been the best steaks we had ever had. The only downside was the rest of the menu. It was just average in inspiration and flavor, but that didn’t matter at all. What mattered was that the main attraction was “like buttah!” as Ms. Streisand would say.

We were never disappointed with Vegas. And I was constantly surprised by the level of sophistication that was around every corner. Sure you could find the drunken frat boys, and people walking around with their fanny packs and frozen margarita’s in two foot long plastic cups, but you could just as easily turn a blind eye and walk through the Bellagio or better yet, the Wynn. The Wynn has no theme, is at the end of the strip, and is by far the most elegant and beautiful of the Vegas hotels. We had lunch there on the patio overlooking the pool, and we could have easily been in Spain or Saint Trope, or some equally elegant location. Damn the cost (which I’m sure is steep), next time we stay at the Wynn.

Our final night in Vegas we had tickets to see Cirque Du Soleil’s “Love.” We had yet to do a proper buffet dinner and decided that was the night. We went to the Bellagio, which is considered one of the best buffets in Vegas, and were greeted by piles of crab legs, mounds of shrimp, acres of beef Wellington, platters of fresh sushi, and the prettiest display of desserts we had seen all trip. Of course, we over did it a bit. I don’t think I’ll be able to eat another crab leg for a few years… not to mention crème brule. There was even chocolate mouse (which unfortunately was not set well) in miniature brandy snifters, the effect of which so cute and perfect, I’m determined to find some for myself.

Capping of the trip with “Love” was perfection. I only wish the show toured because it’s a shame that everyone can’t see it. It was a joyous and heart felt show that was a true spectacle in the best sense of the word. Wonderful visuals, amazing talent, and all the things you’d expect from Cirque, with the added pleasure of an amazing soundtrack provided by the boys from Liverpool. If you go to Vegas, you simply have to see it. No, no, I insist.

Vegas was a very happy surprise. It was colorful and fun. It has wonderful food and amazing choices everywhere you look. And rest assured, it passed the Pine Nut Test with high flying, glittering colors that blink through the night.

October 27, 2009

Ricotta Tart

This is one of those wonderfully adaptable recipes. It works for any season too! This one is made with black seedless grapes, but if strawberries are in season, use them. If you love plums, slice them thinly and use them, raspberries, blueberries, etc.

Makes 1 10x10 tart

Puff Pastry (if you can find ‘Dufour’ brand, that’s best. If not Pepperidge Farm makes a very decent product)**
8 oz. ricotta cheese
1 egg
¼ cup superfine sugar (regular can be substituted, but just make sure there are no lumps)
¼ Tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup (might be a bit more or less depending on the size of the grapes) of cleaned, halved grapes, (if using grapes or strawberries, cut them in half. If using a stone fruit, slice thinly. Other berries you can leave whole)

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees, defrost the pastry as per factory directions
-Line a baking sheet with Silpat or parchment paper, and place a 10x10” (roughly, don’t worry if it’s a little smaller or larger) square of pastry on the sheet
-With the back of knife, being careful not to cut the pastry, you just want to score it, create a 1” border
-With a fork, press into the inside of the tart (not the border), all over. Again, just try to indent the pastry, not pierce it. This allows the border (which is untouched) to puff up, while the center will remain flat
-Mix the ricotta, egg, vanilla, and sugar together
-Using a spoon, or offset spatula, spread the mixture onto the center of the tart, try to get all the corners filled. Make sure the mixture is evenly spread
-Place grapes on pastry in rows
-Place tart in oven and cook for approx 30 minutes. Puff pastry cooks quickly and depending on the oven unevenly. If you see one side browning and puffing quicker than another, turn the baking sheet
-Tart is done when pastry is puffed a golden brown
-Let cool, cut and serve

If you’d like, you can glaze the fruit with a thin layer of apricot jam. See “Rustic Apple Tart” for directions.

**You can make it from scratch and while it’s not difficult, it’s a process. If you’re feeling adventurous, I recommend trying Martha Stewart’s recipe here.

Cabonara for the Grand Duke

Into every life some indulgence must fall.

My Father wanted a cheat day in the worst way. His request: Cabonara. As he says, the true evil of Cabonara is its simplicity. It’s just too damn easy to make and too damn good to resist. I served this with homemade garlic bread (made with garlic paste, a favorite ‘dirty little secret’), a salad, and a ricotta tart. By the way, don’t be shocked by the amount of bacon, if you’re going to clog those arteries, you might as well do it with gusto!

1 lb (1 box) of spaghetti (unless its fresh I really think Barilla makes the best dry pasta)
1/2 cup room temperature Half & Half
3/4 cup grated parmesan
1 pack bacon**
3 room temperature eggs
1/2 Tsp fresh cracked pepper
Large pinch of salt (remember, the pasta is salted, and there’s bacon and cheese)

-Cut up bacon into ¾” – 1” pieces.
-While water is boiling, fry up the bacon, drain, set aside.
-While pasta is cooking, whisk together, parm, eggs, half & half, salt and pepper.
-Add bacon and mix.
-When pasta is done, don’t drain it completely, the hot water will help make the sauce.
-Add pasta to mixture and mix very well.
-Serve immediately.

Technically, this should serve 4, but people gobble this stuff up so happily, it’s more like 3.

**Dirty little secret from my husband. Unless you’re getting freshly sliced bacon from the butcher, the cheaper… the better. Brand names like Boars Head and Oscar Meyer don’t fry up nearly as well as the cheaper brands, and they even tend to have less flavor. If you can find a no-name brand, or even a store brand, that’s the best.

October 22, 2009


I’m sitting at my desk, in my office, thinking about the big tree, in front of the white house, down the block from our apartment. Come autumn, its leaves turn brilliant saffron orange, fade to a banana yellow, then fall to the street to make an urban blanket. We love that house. It’s huge, with a wrap around porch, a long driveway, and a green roof. The owners, “the hippies” as we’ve come to label them, are very rarely seen. They seem to occupy the top floor exclusively, and the amount of times we’ve seen them in the flesh can be counted on our hands.

We’ve come up with all sorts of scenarios to explain away their reclusive tendencies. In the beginning, we called them ghosts, because for almost the entire first year we lived on the block, we never saw them; only the light from the top floor could be seen from behind the blinds. Then, I saw the husband (I assume they’re married, but having decided they’re hippies, they could very well just be partners, lovers, or like totally attached man). He’s a small skinny guy with a mop of messy gray hair, who seems to always be wearing shorts, sandals, and a band t-shirt. He screams American Lit. Professor to me.

When his wife (again, could be just be common law by now), made an appearance, her long straggly once-black hair, band shirt, and black peasant skirt, solidified the hippy status to us. She too could easily be the adjunct Women’s Studies Professor at Columbia, but she never leaves the house. Oh wait! Not true. Mrs. Women’s Studies lets the cat out every now and again. Magically, this big, fat, white Brooklyn cat always finds his way back home.

We covet that damn house. It has a garage, and a wicker archway leading the backyard, and it’s just perfect. It kills me that they only ever use the top floor. I have no idea what the interior is like, but it my mind it’s all original wood floors, and archways - crown molding and tall ceilings. There’s a large gracious kitchen and dining room that seat 20.

That tree in front of their house calls to me. I love fall, it’s my favorite time of the year. Fall in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn means the stunning trees around us become animated with colors, the two Italian-American families across the street battle it out for Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations (and later Christmas), and I can break out the cast iron cookware.

I find very little use for my Le Creuset in spring and summer, and nothing makes me happier than something bubbling away on the stove in my Le Creuset. I can smell something with wine, herbs, and butter right now. I can see the table set, a trivet in the middle ready for the now hot pot. Bottles of open Malbec, fresh mini-lamb sausage and Pecorino Romano cheese chips on the table for nibbling from our butcher, Frank & Eddie’s.

People will come in, take off their shoes, hang their coats, and sit on our bright orange couch. They’ll look out our curtain-free and blind-less windows to the decoration competition below, and exhale. Our neighborhood does that to people. The exhaling I mean. Of course you know you’re still in New York, but the quiet streets, tall strong trees, and lack of honking, music, and trucks rumbling by, somehow make you slide a little deeper into your seat… come in, sit, get comfy.

The kindly old gentleman who I see almost every morning on my way to work, he’s been here since forever. He remembers when the building he lived in had bellhops, a pool, and children’s day care center on the ground floor. He walks with two canes, but never fails to stop, tip his hat, say hello, tell me to stay healthy and be careful, and then finishes with a “goodbye dear.”

The Super’s wife has put up the Halloween décor in the lobby. Spider webs, ghosts and ghouls hanging from the ceiling, and a kooky decapitated head in a crystal ball that laughs and cackles anytime someone passes. By this time next month, there will be garlands of fake orange and red leaves, a huge stuffed black chicken on the table (yes, a chicken, NOT a turkey), and orange lights blinking happily.

The polish Restaurant around the corner not to be outdone by the Super’s wife I assume, has already put up their blinking orange lights and hung their fake leaves. The diner on 3rd Avenue (who still make all their ice cream from scratch, the cinnamon milkshake is not to be believed by the way), is in on the decorating game as well. I wonder where they all get their blinking orange lights anyway?

This weekend my parents will be coming by to take it all in. My Father, the Grand Duke himself, has requested a carb-fest since he’s decided to go off his diet. So, I’ll oblige. I’ll go to Cangiano’s to get some fresh baked Italian bread, and pick up two fresh mozzarella’s still warm from the water they pulled it out of a few minutes ago. The rest of the meal is immaterial since we all know he’s coming for the fresh cheese and warm bread. I’ll set the table with my vintage turquoise plates that my husband hates but I just can’t let go of, and we’ll sit and eat and breathe in the crisp air.

The New York City Marathon comes through our ‘hood. The Verrazano Bridge is only blocks away, and we are lucky enough to see the runners as they start their brave journey, full of energy and hope. Bay Ridge comes out en force to cheer them on. We hoop and holler and slap people’s hands as they rush past. It’s a Billy Joel, “New York State of Mind” moment.

I’m thinking about dried cranberries and pears. I’m thinking that it’s almost cold enough for Bread Pudding and Brandy-spiked Hot Chocolate. I’m thinking I’m hungry and thankfully, it’s lunchtime. I’m thinking I can’t wait to walk down 3rd Avenue and see who else has put up their orange blinking lights. I wonder what new witch or tombstone our neighbors have put in their front yards. I’m thinking I’m glad the leaves have turned saffron.

October 18, 2009

Food Crisis

As most of you know, there is a growing food crisis not only Internationally, but in our own backyards as well. As a self described "foodie" this is hard to understand -- I can go to the store and get whatever I want, and make something wonderful from it, and so can you. However, the crisis is such that people around the world can no longer even afford rice or flour, and other basics. The scope of this can be overwhelming and cause one to feel helpless and not know what to do. I for one, tend to feel that I can't do very much when there are so many in need. But I feel the need to do something now, even if it's seemingly insignificant, even if it only helps one other person... one is a big number these days. I've listed a few links below, some are places to drop off goods (remember besides food, baby formula is always in need), some are links for money donations, and one is free - we can all afford free. Also, check with your local Post Office, many are holding food drives.

The World Food Programme is a United Nations Organization that delivers food Internationally. Here you can donate to the WFP's entire cause, or make a donation to a specific area. The donations can be a one time gift, or ongoing.  

The New York Food Bank supplies food for Families and Individuals in need on a daily basis. Recently their supplies have been dwindling and you can help by donating money or food. (Most states have some kind of Food Bank or Food Outreach Program all easily researched online).  

The Free Rice Game is fun and free! Simply play along, and for every correct answer given, grains of rice are donated. So far enough rice has been donated to feed 1 million people for 1 day. It's a great start.

Dirty Little Secret: Garlic Paste

I am a serious garlic lover.

I can demolish a baked garlic spread on some crusty bread in a matter of minutes. The more garlicky... the better. That being said, even I can admit that peeling and chopping garlic can be a pain. People have manufactured gadgets galore to ease said pain. There are rubber tube thingys that take off the garlic skin (by the way, if you have one or want to get one, make sure you keep it in a ziploc bag when not in use, it will infuse your entire tool drawer with garlic very quickly), there are choppers, smashers, presses, and the old standby: a knife. Regardless of the tool, there’s washing and making sure garlic's essential oils haven't lingered longer than invited.

So here's my dirty little secret: garlic paste. Garlic paste usually comes in tubes, and is NOT to be confused with bottled chopped garlic which is always miserable and tasteless. Depending on the brand, some can be are saltier than others, and you may have adjust your seasoning, so make sure to taste before you use. Regardless though, all garlic paste is a “good thing” (thank you, Martha). You can use it exactly the same way you would fresh garlic. Heat some in oil and sauté with it. It’s wonderful in sauces, and you can make a really good rubs for meat, fish, and poultry.

I introduced my Mother to the wonders of garlic paste this summer, and she hasn't looked back since. Of course this isn't some grand new discovery, but most people either forget it exists, only use it for salad dressings, or have never even thought about using it at all. I'm not going to tell you to that I always use garlic paste, or to replace it with fresh garlic completely, but its a quick solution and a really tasty one. So next time you’re at the market, grab a tube and experiment, you might just fall in love.

October 16, 2009

Rustic Apple Tart

2 small apples: halved, peeled, and cored (personally I like using Gala for this)
Juice of 1 small lemon
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/6 cup sugar (or just less than 1/4 cup), plus more for sprinkling
2 heaping tablespoons apple butter
2 teaspoons unsalted, room temp butter
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
3 tablespoons apricot or apple jam
Pate Brisee (recipe follows)
1 egg beaten with 1 tbs of water (egg wash)

-Preheat oven to 400, and line a baking sheet with Silpat or parchment paper
-Cut the apple halves into 1/4 inch thick slices
-Combine apples, sugar, lemon, and cinnamon in a bowl, set aside.
-Roll out the dough into two rounds roughly the size of a salad plate or 8.5" - 9" inches wide, and less than a ¼” inch thick
-Place rounds on baking sheet, and spread 1 heaping tbs of apple butter on each round, leaving a 1" border
-Arrange apples on the dough, making sure to keep within clear of the 1"
-Fold the extra dough over the apples, creating the "crust" to the tart
-Brush dough with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.
-Dot each tart with 1 tsp butter, (only the apples, not on the dough)
-Bake for 30-40 minutes or until dough is golden brown
-While tarts are cooling, melt the jam with 1 tbs of water over high heat. While glaze is still warm and melted, glaze the apples, and lightly glaze the crust. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds and serve.

*This is wonderful with ice cream, whipped cream, or my favorite, a dollop of crème fraiche.

Pate Brisee
(Personally, I like doing this all by hand, but if you'd rather use a food processor you can, right up to the kneading.)

2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 sticks (8 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1/4 cup cold water

-Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl
-Add butter and using your fingers, combine everything until it looks like parmesan cheese
-Slowly add the water until it just comes together
-Knead on a lightly floured surface until uniform and smooth (don't over knead though! You'll have tough thick overly elastic dough)
-Make two discs and wrap each in plastic wrap.
-Refrigerate to rest for at least an hour. (You can freeze the dough for up to two weeks as long as it’s really well wrapped in both wax or freezer paper and plastic wrap)

*Dirty little secret. If you can't be bothered to, or the thought of making dough from scratch makes you nervous (nothing to be ashamed of by the way), I HIGHLY recommend Pillsbury's Pie Crust. They come two to a box, individually wrapped, and already rolled into circles so all you have to do is defrost, unroll and bake. I promise you they taste wonderful, not at all like frozen pie crust. You can usually find them in the refrigerated section of the market, near the biscuits and butter.


October 14, 2009

Excuse Me While I Gush

There are those of us who love to cook.

We like nothing better than starting with individual ingredients and making something wonderful by adding salt, oil, water, sugar, and bay leaves. For me it’s always been something that connects me to my Mother, who started off my love by making crepes with me every Saturday morning; my Aunt, who I made cookies and chutney with during the holidays. It was the smell of Éclair’s Bakery on West 72nd street on Fridays when we picked up our Challah for Shabbat dinner, or the first time I ate Sushi with my Father. I can still remember his constant "you don't have to like it, but you have to try it."

In culinary school I had a very strong emotional and visceral connection to bread making. Elbow deep in sticky, earthy-smelling raw dough, kneading in a cloud of white flour, I would form the loaf and bake it off. It’s difficult to describe the very basic act of bread making. I had an instant connection to every woman in time that had ever kneaded and baked. Cooking with ghosts, I was suspended in time.

The only serious cooking I did while I was still living with my parents was holiday and party cooking. A 20-pound Turkey, fried Chicken for 4th of July, Lamb for Passover. It wasn't until I left home that I started really cooking. I tried different cuts of meats, new techniques, and different flavors. It was my own private culinary school crash course. There was something else I discovered when I was away from home; I didn't like cooking for myself. I didn't see the need to put much effort into food if it were just for me. Yes, it’s a beautiful piece of seared tuna, but it’s just for me; it somehow felt like a waste.

When friends came over for dinner I went all out. Not that it was lobster and caviar every time, but it was a meal I put love and time into, and they could taste that. I started dating a man in the summer of 2006 - someone who I felt from our very first date was different. There’s no other way to describe it other than: it just felt "right." It still does. We were married in March 2008, just a small gathering of loved ones at the Brooklyn Municipal building. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. In fact, the picture above was our wedding announcement.

The first time I cooked for him was a quiet moment. It was no major event; there were no candles or soft music. He sat at the table with a napkin… I made him a grilled cheese sandwich. Nothing fancy, just some English cheddar and the only bread I had in the apartment, marbled rye. He ate about 4 of them. His yumms and mmmms made me beam.

He had never had a woman cook for him before. I was perfectly happy to remedy that. Now as I said, I never loved cooking for myself, but give me just one other person and I'm in heaven. Give me someone I care for, and I relish every drop of sweat, every cut finger, and every burn. I can't say that the way to his heart was through his stomach (although I'm sure it didn't hurt), but I can say that the every time I cook for him, it makes me smile. Seeing him satisfied, or introduced to something new that I've made, something he now loves, is one of my greatest joys.

Food means so much to us. It means family, holidays, traditions, joy, comfort and a myriad of other memories and emotions. For me, it’s a promise to take care of him, and a promise that he will always have a home to come back to. Some might look cynically upon this. After all, it's not the 1950's anymore. Women are liberated. A home cooked meal for “your man” is no longer a requirement. How backward of you! To those people I would say: I’ve marched on Washington for Women's Rights to choose, am continually politically active, and have read my Gloria Steinem thank you very much.

I'll never be barefoot and pregnant. I'll never put makeup on just because he'll be home in 15 minutes, and I don't have a problem with leaving him alone so I can go out with my friends. However, like a comic gets a high from the audience's laughter, and an athlete prides herself on her finishing time, I get my greatest boosts when he invites people over for a home cooked meal because I make great soup, or when he says "it's really good, Baby." When cooking is my choice and not an expectation, it has nothing to do with the roles of the sexes, and everything to do with love.

Cooking is about connections. Connections to the past, connections to your ingredients, even connections to your body. So it doesn't matter if you’re boiling hot dogs or taking the whole day to make a roast. The underlying message is always the same. Make something for someone; it doesn't matter if it’s burnt or god-awful, it doesn’t matter if the soufflé falls. All that matters is that you made the effort. It’s the effort that speaks to people. The very act of cooking for another says, “You mean enough to me that I’ll risk embarrassment and burns to feed you.”

I'm lucky enough to have found someone who appreciates me. He doesn't take me for granted, and to this day, a home cooked meal is a gift, not an obligation. For his love, for his willingness to try whatever I put in front of him, for his gracious smiles and appreciative head nods, I thank him. And for all that, he gets quiches, roasts, chocolate mousse, and a place to call home.