December 1, 2010

Foodie Gifts

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! 

Mine was busy and exhausting and wonderful all at the same time. It's been a while since I've posted and since we're still munching on leftovers at our place, I thought of something else to share with everyone besides a recipe. It's that time for gift-giving and if you still don't know what to get your favorite foodie, I have some ideas for you in every shape, size, dollar amount, and color. I'll let you know that given the space, I would own each an every item listed here. 
(That totally wasn't a massive hint, hint, wink, wink, to all my family and friends or anything...)
This is slick, cool, useful, and can fit in any kitchen. 
At $199.99 its pricey, but if you've got the cash to spare this makes a stellar gift. 

Talk about cute! 
For $16.95 these are affordable on every budget 
and lets face it who wouldn't want an apple pie pocket?

I for one love exotic salts and peppers. 
I have two kinds of pink (Hawaiian and Himalayan), gray, black, 
and various herb-infused salts that I use all the time. 
Salt is bastion of exotic salts and they have gifts 
ranging from $10-$35. Explore the site it's a fave of mine. 

I have a custom apron in cherry oil cloth and I love it. 
She's not doing any custom orders until New Year, 
but there are still plenty of options in her store. 
Ranging from $20-$65 you can find an apron for anyone. 
If you can't find anything you like, just try typing in "Custom Aprons" 
into the search prompt... you'll find hundreds of sellers!

I can't think of a better gift for a foodie mom or dad than this. 
This little number makes frozen yogurt, fruit,
and other kinds of pops in under 10 minutes!
It's also under $50 - you can't go wrong.  

I can't tell you how much I love this entire collection.
It's bright and happy and durable. 
It's impossible not to smile over this.
With prices ranging from $29-$49 its easy to start a collection.

I think these are just stunning and completely unexpected. 
Modern but delicate, these flutes would be a brilliant
addition to any one's cupboard. Tumblers and wine glasses
are available as well, but to me its the flutes that
are the show stoppers. You get six flutes for $70 which
considering how stunning these are is very much worth it.

There are lots of version of this kind of juicer. 
Braun used to make one that I loved that you can no longer find alas,
 but this one is a Bodum and I happen to like Bodum a great deal. 
It might be more than slightly indulgent, but isn't that what gift giving is for? 
This one runs for about $70 and comes in different colors with two matching glasses,
but you can find the same concept juicer for about $45 at places like

Larousse Gastronomique 
It's the classic cookbook to trump all classic cookbooks. 
Actually, it's more a cooking encyclopedia than cookbook,
 but it's a must for any cookbook lover or collector. 
This version is $55, but look around you'll find all sorts of 
version for various amounts - some even come in volumes. 

Foodie Charities:
There are a slue of extremely worthy charities that focus on providing
 food and water for those who need it most. These are just a list of some of my favorite, 
but with a simple google search you can find hundreds. 

This charity is one of the best water organizations I've come across and I have a fellow blogger to thank for introducing me. They work with communities around world to better their drinking supply in a tangible and immediate way. They provide people with their own ceramic water filter that is 99.9% effective and lasts for an astonishing 5 years. Best part is, they teach locals in the community how to make these filters themselves thereby ensuring that people who need it most will always have safe drinking water at their disposal.

The Food Bank collects all kinds of foods from fruits, veggies, grains, canned goods, etc and stores them at their facility. There is a distribution program, but for those who need it, they are welcome to come to the "bank" and take what they need. There are food banks and pantries across the country though, so if you'd like to help out locally, see which bank or pantry is closest.

Instead of simply handing out food and water, this organization actually reaches out to people and helps them help themselves. Whether it's learning to grow crops and sustain them, or starting up a goat farm, Heifer makes sure that people have the start-up tools they need to become well fed and well educated. 
You can choose which project you'd like help out with and they will keep you updated
on the success of your donation.

November 11, 2010

The Campaign for a Better Chicken Sandwich

I was sick, really miserably sick for about 10 days. It started with strep throat, evolved to an ear infection, and just for fun, ended as a sinus infection. I was out from work, (and obviously didn't post anything either), for entire week and due to copious hours in bed, I'm pretty sure I lost bone mass too. Of course I was on antibiotics which only means that while the meds were killing the various bugs inside me, it was also killing my stomach. I couldn't stand eating much more than toast, yogurt, and plain pasta.

Yesterday was the first day in a long time I felt human again. I'd finished my course of medication and was ready for some real food. I was craving a chicken sandwich. I got a chicken sandwich.... man oh man am I sorry about that. I've said it before, but it deserves repeating: grilled chicken sandwiches are awful. I have yet to meet one that wasn't dry, boring, insipid, uninspired, dull, and any other word that means "blah" you can think of. It is never satisfying in any way unless you hide the useless bit of poultry under tons of bacon, mayo, various cheeses, and veggies.

So last night, still craving a real chicken sandwich, I made one (okay, I made two), the only way it should ever be made, with ROASTED CHICKEN. Really, why even bother with an awful grilled chicken sandwich when a roasted one is moist, flavorful, and actually tastes like something. Avocado, tomato, watercress, Dijon, low-fat mayo, salt & pepper, and I'm in heaven. And if you're worried about calories, spare me. The difference between a piece of roasted chicken and grilled chicken is minimal enough to warrant the pleasure.

I hope you'll join me in my campaign to rid the world of the grilled chicken sandwich. Together we can accomplish anything!

October 25, 2010

Apple Butter Anyone?

I've been threatening to do it for years. Every Fall I say this is the year I go apple picking and make apple butter. I think I started this little charade seven years ago. Well 2010 made me a honest woman. I made apple butter - mounds of it - towers of it.

There's no quick way of doing this. No short cuts. It takes a long time and a lot of patience. This is probably why it took me so long to actually getting around to it. However, when it's 10-something at night and you're proudly looking at a dining table filled with little jars of homemade apple butter, it's very much worth it.

I made three kinds of apple butter two ways. First, a classic cinnamon the classic way, and then a brandy flavored and a more savory rosemary flavored both in the slow cooker. Below are the various methods, recipes, and canning process.

Stove top method:
Cook apples in enough liquid to cover.
Boil until very soft.
Drain apples, return to pot.
Blend with an immersion blender (or press through sieve)
Add sugars, spices, and any flavorings.
Cook down over low heat until desired thickness, stirring often.

Slow cooker method:
Cook apples with sugars, flavorings, and liquid together on low for 6-7 hours.
Depending on the kind of apples used, you might have to drain off excess liquid.
Blend with immersion blender.
If you want or need to cook it down further, do so on high, with the cover off, stirring often.

Canning process
Boil large pot of water.
Unscrew the lids and boil with the jars for ten minutes. Remove. Be sure not to touch the insides of the jars or lids with your bare hands - you can undo the sterilizing process that way.
Set aside until ready to fill and can.
Once filled and covers are screwed on, boil again for 10 minutes making sure there is at least 1" of water covering the jars.
Remove from water and let sit. If within 24 hours the jars don't seal, (meaning they don't "pop" and the button doesn't depresses), then the canning process did not work and they need to be refrigerated instead.

Brandy Apple Butter 
(slow cooker method)
3 cups cored, peeled, and sliced apples (this will be anywhere between 4-5lbs whole apples)
3/4 cups brandy
1 tbs vanilla
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar (up to 1 1/2 depending on apple variety/sweetness)
1 1/2 tsp ground cloves
healthy pinch of salt

-Cook everything together on low for 6-7 hours.
-Drain if necessary. Blend with immersion blender.
-If needed, cook on high, uncovered to desired thickness.
-Makes approximately ten 4 oz. jars or eight 6 oz. jars

Rosemary Apple Butter
(slow cooker method)
3 lbs cored, peeled, and sliced apples
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup rosemary leaves
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup water
Healthy pinch of salt

-Cook everything together on low for 6-7 hours.
-Drain if necessary. Blend with immersion blender.
-If needed, cook on high, uncovered to desired thickness.
-Makes approximately ten 4 oz. jars or eight 6 oz. jars

Cinnamon Apple Butter
(stove-top method)
4 lbs cored, peeled, and slices apples (about 5-6 lbs whole apples)
1/2-1 cup lemon juice
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar (up to 1 1/2 depending on apple variety/sweetness)
1 1/2 tbs+ cinnamon
1 tbs+ ground ginger
1 tbs vanilla
Healthy pinch of salt

-Boil apples in lemon juice and enough water to cover in large heavy bottom pot until very soft.
-Drain off water and using immersion blender, blend in pot until smooth.
-Add sugar, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, and ginger.
-Cook until sugar has dissolved. Taste. You might want to add more spices or sugar at this point depending on the kind of apples used.
-If still not the consistency you want, let simmer on low heat, stirring often until desired thickness.
-Makes approximately ten 4 oz. jars or eight 6 oz. jars

October 20, 2010

'Cause we had the beer...

There was chicken, there was beer, and not much else. That's ok though, becuase beer just happens to be a brilliant cooking medium! Not only does it make for tasty foods, there is hardly a protein I can think of that it doesn't enhance. All manner of poultry likes being cooked in beer, although to be fair, I've never tried duck cooked in beer - maybe next time. Shrimp is especially happy when boiled in the stuff, and a beef stew begs for a dark lager.

So when faced with a fridge that has some chicken and beer in it, don't sigh and order a pizza, give this a shot instead. I served it with yellow rice and I can't tell you how truly satisfying and yummy it was.

Beer-Poached Salsa Fresca Chicken

For Salsa Fresca: (do this first and let sit so that the flavors meld)
3 large slicing tomatoes
1/2 large white onion
1 bunch cilantro
1 Poblano chili
1 tbs hot sauce
Juice of 2 limes
Salt to taste

-Cut chili in half, remove seeds and stem. Over your stove-top's burner, place half of the chili and let each side char, about 3 minutes per side. Set aside and let cool. (You can also broil them for a few minutes, flipping them half way through cooking as well)
-Dice tomatoes. Finely dice onions and chili, place in bowl. Chop cilantro finely, add. Add lime juice, hot sauce, and salt to taste. Mix well and let sit.

For Chicken:
Light colored beer (we had Corona)
Skinless chicken breasts (we had boneless, but bone in would be fine too - also, doesn't have to be white meat)
2 dry bay leaves
1 whole lime

-Pour beer into pot and let sit for five or so minutes to let the beer flatten slightly. If you boil the beer fresh from the bottle, it can bubble over. (If you don't have or don't want to use beer, use broth instead).
-Cut lime in half and add entire fruit to pot. Add bay leaves.
-Bring to boil, add chicken, and let poach until cooked through.
-Slice up the meat (it might have to be lightly salted depending on the beer) and cover in the salsa fresca, serve room temperature.

October 13, 2010

Cooking Like a Celebrity

I'm having a Seinfeld-moment... let me explain. This morning a friend sent me a link with the tag line "Not good. Not good at all." It just so happens that the not-so-good situation she was speaking of was Paula Deen's new line of cookware that looks like - wait for it - buttered popcorn. Wasn't expecting that either huh?

Now back to my Seinfeld moment: What's the deal with these celebrity cookware lines?

The celebrity chef's I get. That Mario Batali, Chef Chen, and Emeril Lagasse have cookware lines makes sense in the same way that athletes have their own athletic gear. If Shaq can have sneakers then Rick Bayless can have his Mexican bean pots, fair is fair. That being said, why do I want to cook in pots that already look they're smeared with grease and yellowed? Paula, I love you. I fall for the southern charm-thing hook, line, and sinker. You have three boys who love you to bits, a big teddy bear of a husband who I'd want to hug too, and bless you and your fried biscuits. But were the buttered popcorn pots and pans necessary?

While we're on the topic, I don't think Rachel Ray needs her own brand of chicken and beef stocks. There is nothing you could say to convince me that paying more for chicken stock that has her face on it is worth it. Meanwhile, Giada De Laurentis doesn't need her own branded measuring spoons. Giada, you are so very pretty and lovely but I seriously doubt that using your mixing bowls will make my meringues any more fluffy.

Let me make one thing clear though, these celebrities with their own TV shows have a place in the culinary word; there is no doubt about that. Anytime someone watches Garten, or Lawson, or Deen and gets inspired to cook a meal, that's a great accomplishment in my book. These ladies and gentleman have only added to the culinary education of this country and that, as Martha would say, is a good thing. But what's next? A Guy Fieri, flame embossed knife called something silly like, oh I don't know, a dragon dagger?

What? Really? You're kidding! 

Guy Fieri's Dragon Dagger Knife

Giada bowls and measuring spoons

Rachel Ray Stock

Paula Deen's Popcorn Cookware

October 11, 2010

Sunday Dinner

A friend of ours just came back from a week in the wilderness. He shipped himself out to the middle of nowhere in Utah and along with ten or so others spent a week torturing himself with no clean water, miles of hiking everyday, and whatever Mother Nature saw fit to throw at him. Definitely not my bag - I'm pretty sure you couldn't pay me to do any of it. But, since he survived, and since I was so damn proud of the guy, I thought a proper Sunday Dinner was in order. Nuts and berries NOT included.

I've mentioned before how much I love my slow cooker. It's a true marvel to me. You take a hunk of a cheaper cut of meat, you throw in a some simple ingredients, set the timer, and by dinner time you have something tender and scrumptious. If you don't have a slow cooker, I'd like to try to convince you to get one. They're not expensive (mine was just about $40), and although they take up room, they are easily stored on top of the china cabinet - just like ours.

Slow-Cooked Pork Loin
3lb boneless pork loin
1 sweet or yellow onion, sliced in rounds
6 cloves of garlic, thickly sliced
3 heaping tbs Dijon mustard
1 bunch of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 pint of mushrooms, sliced (I used Shitake)
1 1/2 cups beef broth
Salt & pepper

-Place onions in slow cooker, scatter half of the fresh thyme across onions.
-Place pork loin on top of onions & thyme, and using tip of a knife, cut little slits across the loin. Stuff garlic slices into slits. Scatter remaining garlic around pork.
-Salt & pepper the loin well. Spread mustard on top and sides of loin. Spread remaining thyme leaves over loin. Add mushrooms, bay leaf, and pour in broth around the loin
-Set on high for 1 hour, then on low for 6.
-Take out the loin, removing any loose fat from the bottom of the loin, and place on serving dish. Remove thyme and bay leaf then scatter onions and mushrooms around the loin.
-Pour off drippings into a pot. Spoon out about 1/2 cup of liquid into a smaller bowl and add 1 tbs of cornstarch - mix very well. Add cornstarch mixture back to pot, whisk well, and let heat until thickened. If you like a thicker gravy, repeat the cornstarch process.

Acorn is my favorite squash. This is a salty preparation, but you can also roast them with butter and brown sugar for something sweeter.

Rosemary-Roasted Acorn Squash
3 small acorn squash, cut into quarters, seeds removed
12 tsp butter
1/4 cup finely chopped rosemary (fresh or dried)

-Preheat oven to 425. Spray a baking dish with non stick spray or a spread a little olive oil.
-Place squash in dish, sprinkle with salt and chopped rosemary.
-Put 1 tsp of butter on each quarter. Roast for 40-45 minutes until flesh is cooked and nicely browned.

Bread Pudding
2 Brioche loaves, crusts removed, cut into about 1" cubes (you can also use Challah, but might only need 1 1/2 loaves of it)
3 cups half and half
2 whole extra large eggs
2 extra large egg yolks
1 vanilla bean
2/3 cup sugar
1 large pinch of salt
1 cup chocolate chips
Butter (for baking dish)

-Pour half and half into a small pot on stove top. Split the vanilla bean, scape out seeds into the pot, and add the entire bean as well. Heat until steaming and bubbles form at the edges, mixing occasionally. Remove from heat and let cool completely. If you don't have or can't find vanilla beans, skip this step and simply add 1 tbs of good quality vanilla extract to the half and half.
-Place rack in lower third of oven. Preheat 350. Butter a 9x13 baking dish, set aside.
-Whisk eggs, sugar, and salt until well combined. Remove the vanilla bean from the half and half, discard. Slowly add the half and half to the egg mixture, whisk well.
-Add bread to the buttered dish, then pour over the custard. Let the bread soak up the custard for about 10-15 minutes until well saturated.
-Sprinkle on the chocolate chips (I like using mini chips, but use whichever you have), then bake in oven for about 40-45 minutes or until bread is toasted, and custard is cooked.
-It is very important that you let this sit for a good 15 minutes before you cut into it. This lets the custard finish setting up and the bread pudding settle, (it will have puffed up in the oven then collapse slightly as it cools).

October 4, 2010

Comfort Food, Duchess-Style

When I invited friends for dinner over the weekend, this wasn't the meal I had planned. I was going to make a much more sophisticated, complicated, and unique meal. Then, on Friday, I got bad news and it shook me hard. I was tempted to tell my friends not to bother coming over, the wind was knocked out of my sails and I felt deflated. But my husband, the wise Jedi that he is, urged me to cook and have our friends over. He knew it would make me feel better and of course, it did.

Since my elaborate meal plans were scraped (for now, I still plan on making that meal one day), I happily shifted to comfort food - 'tis the season after all. So off to an old standby, Coq Au Vin. Don't be fooled by its fancy-schmansy name. It's a French peasant dish and should be treated as such - hence the picture below of the meal in it's pot, as it was out of the oven, and put on the table. The name literally means: Cock in Wine. Since we don't readily get those birds in Brooklyn, a normal chicken works nicely.

Along with some crusty bread, my calorie-busting Potato Galette, and a very simple herb salad of dill, mint, basil, parsley, lemon juice and salt, we had ourselves a party. For dessert I had planned on making this fabulous brioche bread pudding with vanilla bean custard and chocolate... it's as incredible as it sounds. But that very morning, we were watching the Food Channel and Sunny Anderson made something that was so simple, so gooey, so messy (see said gooey mess below), and so yummy that I had to make it instead!

Now remember, as I've said before, as long as the food is good, people won't care that they're eating on paper plates with plastic knives and forks; a theory proved yet again on Saturday.

Coq Au Vin
Adapted and tooled with from Martha Stewart

14-16 pieces chicken thighs and legs with skin on
3 cups red wine (I would suggest a nice Cabernet Sauvingon, but even a Rioja or a Chianti would work)
2 heaping tbs tomato paste
1/3 cup beef broth (this can also be Cognac, but since I never have the stuff in the house I always use stock)
10 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 - 1 1/2 cups white pearl onions (I always used the frozen ones, less peeling)
1 lb slab bacon cut in 1/4" - 1/2" cubes (if you cant find slab, use thickly sliced)
1 lb mushrooms (I use a combo of crimini/baby bella and shitake, you can't beat the smokey flavor of shitake - it really adds to the dish)
3 tbs flour
1 tbs corn starch
3 bay leaves
10+ sprigs of thyme
1 tsp whole pepper corns
Salt and cracked pepper

-Let the chicken marinate in the wine overnight or at least 4-5 hours day of.
-Preheat oven to 325.
-Cook bacon in large heavy bottom pot with lid, must be oven safe. Remove the bacon, set aside.
-Remove chicken and reserve wine. Pat the chicken dry, salt and pepper the meat, then sear in the bacon grease until skin has crisped, about 6-7 minutes per side, set aside.
-Remove all but 2 tbs of grease and cook the chopped onion and garlic until soft and translucent.
-Add pearl onions and mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes (if you need to, add one tbs of butter to help cook mushrooms, they absorb a lot)
-Add the tomato paste, flour, and corn starch, incorporate well.
-Add the stock and scrape up any stuck on bits at the bottom of the pot.
-Return bacon and chicken to pot. Add herbs, peppercorns, and cover with the reserved wine. Bring to boil, mixing everything together, then place in oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour covered until veggies and chicken are cooked. If there is excess oil on the surface, skim away before serving.

*I don't think I need to say this, but this dish the day after is not to be believed! This will happily serve 6-7 people with some leftovers.

Potato Galette
4+ cups of thinly sliced Yukon gold potatoes (I used a Benriner Mandolin for this, but you can use your food processor with the slicing attachment too)
1 cup of heavy cream
1.25 lbs of Jarlsberg, shredded
8 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
Salt & pepper

-Preheat oven to 400.
-Spray a 9 x 13 baking dish with cooking spray.
-Start with a layer of potatoes, cover up any large gaps with a potato slice. Salt and pepper the potatoes lightly.
-Continue with a layer of cheese. Another layer of potatoes, light salt and pepper. Cheese, potato, salt and pepper. Sprinkle on the the chopped garlic, then continue the layering and seasoning. Put the nicest sliced potatoes on the top layer, then cover with one final layer of cheese. You should have 5 layers total by the end.
-Once layers are finished, pour on the cream. Jiggle the dish gently to get the cream in all the nooks and crannies.
-Bake in oven for half hour covered with tin foil. Remove foil for last half hour. The whole thing should be bubbling, the top browned, and the potatoes cooked - if not, leave in for another 10-15 minutes.
-Serve immediately.

S'mores "Crepes"
by Sunny Anderson

Whole wheat wraps or tortillas (these are the "crepes." It is very important that you use whole wheat, the white ones don't have the right "crepe" flavor.)
Mini marshmallows
Toasted, chopped hazelnuts (I used macadamia because I had them)

-Melt 1 tbs of butter in a flat large pan.
-Spread a tortilla with enough Nutella to come about 1 inch to the edge. As it cooks it gets gooey and melts, too much Nutella and it would ooze out while cooking.
-Place tortilla in the hot pan and cover half with the mini marshmallows.
-Fold over the tortilla and cook, flipping once. Remove once the marshmallows melt a little and the tortilla has browned slightly. Cut in half, sprinkle on the nuts and serve immediately.

* I served them with coffee ice cream - they were a wild success and will definitly be made again...

September 25, 2010

In My Godmother's Kitchen

Some places are sacred. Not always for religious reasons, but because they are so very important. My Godmother’s kitchen is one of those places.

Annie has been in my life since I was born. More than just my Mother’s friend from years ago, she was there at every birthday party, at every recital, at every holiday. I had grandmothers, I have aunts, I have cousins, but she was something more and in my mind, deserved a title – and Godmother fit perfectly.

She introduced me to worlds that I may not have appreciated without her - modern dance, water color painting, and foreign films. Through all of our amazing outings and experiences, the thing I’ll remember most, however, is her kitchen table. There were enough sugar cookies decorated, valentines made, and laughter shared at that table to last a lifetime. We used to make chutney together as holiday gifts; if I concentrate I can still smell the simmering apples…

It was around that sacred table that we once again found ourselves laughing and cooking this weekend.  My mother met Annie at a meditation center in New York. Together they traveled to India to study with a famous Jain Guru; it’s an extraordinary story involving elephants, a sacred mountain, temples, a broken ankle, lots of cilantro, and Kashmiri houseboats. During that trip, Annie became friends with Pramoda, the Guru’s wife. From her, Annie learned to perfect the art of Guajarati’s classic vegetarian cuisine. Annie has a natural gift in the kitchen and I’d like to think that she helped spark my love of cooking.

So with a happy heart, I called my Godmother once again for another kitchen adventure.

Vangi Batata Bhaji is a classic Gujarati dish made with eggplants and potatoes. It’s a little spicy, a little smoky, and like almost everything, tastes so much better the next day! A few pointers: make sure that your spices are fresh. Indian food relies heavily on them and if they are old, dishes can turn bland or worst, bitter. Also, don’t skimp on the fresh lemon juice, it’s a lovely dish that really sings once you add that splash of brightness.

Vangi Batata Bhaji
3 eggplants (the long thin kind, like Chinese or Japanese eggplants)
3-4 potatoes (We used three large Yukon Gold. If the potatoes are on the smaller size use four. You want a nice balance of potato and eggplant)
4 tomatoes

1/2 onion
Salt to taste 
2 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp garam masala (a sweet spice mixture. It’s fairly easy to find but here is a recipe)
1 tsp turmeric powder
4 tbs oil (not olive oil. Sunflower, canola, something that won’t alter the taste of the dish)
2 cups water
1 1/2 tsp sugar
3 tbs fresh lemon or lime juice
Fresh cilantro (coriander) leaves for garnish

-Dice the tomatoes and onion finely. Peel the potatoes. Cut potatoes and eggplants roughly the same size, large cubes.
-Heat oil in pan, add the tomatoes, onion, salt, and turmeric powder. Cook for 4-5 minutes until aromatic and soft.
-Add the potatoes, eggplant, the rest of the spices, sugar and mix well. Add water, mix again.
-Bring to boil then let simmer uncovered until the potatoes are tender, the eggplant is soft, liquid has absorbed into the dish, about 15-20 minutes.
-Before serving, mix in the lemon juice and adjust salt. Serve with fresh cilantro leaves over rice.

Indian rice pudding, or Kheer, is a favorite desert of mine. I’ve never made it and surprisingly, neither had Annie. We decided to figure it out together - it came out perfectly. Be sure that you rinse the rice three times (or until the water runs clearly). I know it’s a drag, but it really makes a better dish. Kheer is much thinner than European/American style rice puddings; it’s closer to a sweet rice soup or porridge. The added delight of rosewater and the surprise crunch of slivered almonds makes this even more special.

You could easily replace the rose water with orange blossom water and instead of almonds try raisins or pistachios. Be careful with either the rosewater or the orange blossom water, a little bit goes a very long way. Also, whichever nuts you use, just don’t toast them; you want them there for crunch more than anything and toasted nuts have an intense flavor which would overtake the lovely subtleness of Kheer.

1/2 cup long grain rice (washed and drained, we used Basmati)
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 whole cardamom seeds, smashed (if you can't find whole seeds, use 1 tsp ground)
1/3 cup blanched, sliced or slivered almonds
4 tbsp sugar or more to your liking
2 tbs rosewater

-Bring rice, milk, cream, and cardamom seeds to a boil then simmer gently until the rice is soft and the milk has thickened, about 20-30 minutes.
-Fish out the cardamom pods with a fork, discard. Add the almonds and stir in the sugar gently with a fork until dissolved. Let simmer for about five minutes, adjust sugar to your liking.
-Before serving, gently mix in the rosewater with fork. This can be served warm or cold - personally I like it kind of room temperature. We garnished it with some candied ginger, but thats not necessarily traditional.

September 16, 2010

On Blogging

I believe that given the chance, everyone would press pause. We live in a too-fast world; we interface, we tweet, we text. We walk down the street and close ourselves off with iPods. Instead of taking a breather, we grab what’s fastest and easiest for lunch.  At night we anesthetize ourselves by watching people on TV with awful fake tans yell and hit each other. We forget that rosemary and thyme make everything smell terrific, sugar and spice makes everything nice, and nothing is as pleasurable as the company of those we love.

If I can remind people of the pleasure of herbs and spices, I’d be pleased. If I can convince people that food and cooking are manifestations of love, I’d be thrilled. And when I write something that touches a reader enough to stop, breathe, and boil water even just once a week … I’m fulfilled.

I can’t help but wonder if Pauline and Olga felt the same way. After I started blogging, I discovered that two of my great, great grandmothers wrote about food:  Olga wrote about entertaining and Pauline, a journal of her struggles keeping kosher in South Africa during the turn of the last century. I’d always heard that Olga was an endlessly elegant woman and Pauline was an amazing cook and that’s all I knew. But my new found link to these women in my own history makes my journey through blogging that much more important: no longer an indulgence, I’m now continuing a tradition. I’m writing my book on entertaining and recording my food journal one blog entry at a time.

As a child, I traveled around the world with my parents. No matter where we were, whether it was a beach shack in Guadeloupe or a three star restaurant in Spain, my father would say: “You don’t have to like it …” and my mother would finish with “ … but you have to try it.” And almost everywhere we went people would say, “That young child is eating that?” Yes, that young child ate squid ink pasta at five, calamari a la plancha at six, raw fish at about seven, and sweetbreads at eight. The best, however, was when a four-year-old me declared that the only egg I ever intended to eat again, was caviar.
My 3rd Birthday

But after a long day at work, followed by a long commute on the subway, am I really going to make cayenne-spiced, bacon-wrapped bonbons, or suggest that my readers do? No, probably not. I share recipes with my readers that I hope they will actually be inspired to make. (Hmm, cayenne-spiced, bacon-wrapped bonbons…)

I see my blog as a love letter:  to my parents for encouraging me to become who I am; to my friends for laughing with me and asking for seconds; to my readers, all of whom I would invite over to dinner in a heartbeat; and finally, to my husband, without whom this blog would be a boring, unattractive, anemic thing. 

I cook, I write, I live, and love in Brooklyn. And that’s not just some well-alliterated sentence; it’s a truth that I hold onto dearly. With this blog, I invite people into my kitchen to share my life. I hope my readers find that moment to pause and delight in the people and foods around them.

Somewhere, Olga and Pauline are setting a table and kneading dough. They’re with me, nodding in approval, as I record my own culinary history and share it with the world.

  Great Grandmother Olga
Great Grandmother Pauline




September 9, 2010

The Strawberries Were Calling Me!

After getting off the train and starting to walk home, I passed by the same little grocer I do almost everyday. An array of fruits and veggies were outside as they are every day, but yesterday the strawberries were calling my name. They were past their prime - a little bruised, a little sorry looking. That last pint of strawberries of the season were begging to be be taken home. Of course, a bruised slightly wrinkly strawberry is hardly appetizing. It was almost seven and I didn't feel like a whole production, so I ran into the store, bought the strawberries, some heavy cream, and crescent roll dough. It was a success I'm happy to say, as was the rest of our very simple end of summer meal.

Polenta with Mushrooms
1 cup fine yellow corn meal
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
2 1/2 cups broth & 1/4 cup broth
2 pints mushrooms (I used baby bella/crimini)
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tbs butter (or the fake stuff like Smart Balance)
1 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
Olive oil
Salt & pepper
Juice of half a lemon

-Wet a pyrex dish or other large flat dish, with water, do not dry. This will prevent the Polenta from sticking to the dish. Boil 2 1/2 cups of broth. Slowly add the corn meal and Parmesan and mix/whisk until well combined. Transfer Polenta to watered dish and spread evenly. Let cool on a cooling rack until room temperature, then stick in the fridge or freezer until chilled.
-Meanwhile, saute garlic in butter for a few minutes on high. Add 1/4 cup broth, lemon juice, then mushrooms. Coat the mushrooms well in the butter and broth then let cook away until the mushrooms release their liquid. Keep sauteing until mixture is completely dry and the mushroom are golden. If you want the mushrooms more golden and seared, add a little more broth and cook until dry again. Add salt & pepper to taste, then turn off heat, mix in the chopped parsley, set aside.
-When Polenta is chilled, cut into strips. Heat olive oil in pan, and sear the polenta on two sides until crispy. Serve with mushrooms.


Salad was simple, but the ingredients were so pretty I had to share. Chicken with celery salt, dry dill, pepper, and lemon juice, sauteed in some olive oil. Roma tomatoes and really perfectly ripe avocado. I tossed it with some olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper.

Strawberry Poofs
1 pound strawberries, past their prime preferably, diced
2 heaping tbs sugar (superfine if you have it)
2 tbs brandy
1 tsp vanilla
1 package of crescent roll dough (you could also use croissant dough or even puff pastry if you have it)

-Preheat oven to package temperature (my package said 375).
-Combine strawberries with sugar, brandy, and vanilla - set aside. The longer this sits, the yummier it gets!
-Spoon a single lager of strawberries into a mini-muffin tin.
-Separate crescent rolls, roll them up, and cut them in half. Flatten the dough until you get a round coin that fits perfectly in the mini muffin tray (if you're using a regular sized muffin tin, I would say use the whole crescent roll).
-Cook for 10-15 minutes until the crescent rolls have puffed up and browned. Serve with fresh whipped cream flavored with a little vanilla and cardamom or cinnamon.

(Just to give you an idea of scale, this is all sitting in a 3" round creme brulee dish)

September 2, 2010

Project Food Blog

You may have noticed a nifty widget directly to the right of this entry. I have joined over one thousand others in Foodbuzz's search for the next great food blogger. I'm excited, I'm nervous, and I'm dying to know how far I can get. With your help, maybe to the top. There's public voting allowed, in fact the person with the most public votes, automatically gets pushed forward to the next challenge.

So I hope I can count on your vote for Governor of - I mean food blogger extraordinaire. If nothing else its a wonderful challenge and opportunity to reach more people. I'll let everyone know when the voting opens, but here is a link. Also, follow on me twitter (@duchessinbk) for updates as well. So there it is, short and sweet, vote for me - lets see where this little blog can go!

August 30, 2010

Simple Saturday

Saturday was glorious. Not too hot or humid, we made do with the fans and open windows. I had a hankering for Granita. Then I was lusting after tomatoes. There were also chicken cutlets that had to be cooked, not to mention of a container of ricotta begging to be used so... a little of this, a little of that, and a really wonderful late lunch was had.  

Melted Tomatoes
Roma (plum) tomatoes
Salt & Pepper
Herbs de Provence
Olive Oil

-Preheat oven to 300.
-Cut the tomatoes in half, place on a baking sheet or pan
-Drizzle a healthy amount of oil, then sprinkle on a healthy dose of salt, pepper, and seasoning.
-Bake for 4 hours or until the tomatoes have "melted." That is, the skin has wrinkled, the tomato has deflated and dried out a bit.

*These are excellent cold or hot.
**If you don't have 4 hours. Place tomatoes in a 400 oven for 30 minutes, then down to 325 for another half hour to 45 minutes.
***Feel free to use any seasoning you like by the way, Italian mix, something spicy, whatever you like. I just happen to like the intensely aromatic quality to the Herbs de Provence.

Melted Tomato Cutlets
4-5 chicken cutlets (1/4" - 1/2")
Melted Tomatoes
4-5 tbs Parmesan Cheese
2 cups flour (whole wheat flour is fine too)
1 tbs butter
1 tbs olive oil
1 tsp each salt & pepper

-Preheat oven to 425.
-Season flour with salt & pepper. Dredge chicken cutlets through flour, tap off excess.
-Heat butter and oil in pan until very hot. Quickly sear cutlets, for color, not done-ness. They finish cooking in the oven.
-Place cutlets on baking pan or sheet, cover with a few melted tomatoes, then sprinkle on 1 tbs of Parmesan cheese (or more, you want the cutlet well covered). If your cutlets are thinner than 1/4", skip the pan searing and just sprinkle with salt and pepper, place tomato and parm on top, cook.
-Bake for 10 minutes or until the Parmesan browns and crisps.
-Serve hot or room temperature.

Ricotta Pasta
1 lb favorite pasta (I used a whole wheat thin spaghetti)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
15 oz fresh Ricotta cheese (I used a part skim, because that's what I had, but you can use full or even fat free)
2 cups fresh basil, chopped
2 tbs olive oil
1 tbs fresh ground pepper
Salt to taste

-Boil pasta
-Combine ricotta, olive oil, Parmesan, pepper, basil, and salt in serving bowl, mix well.
-Do not drain pasta, you want the hot pasta water to thin out the ricotta mixture. Instead, using tongs or a slotted spoon, pull out the still dripping pasta directly into the serving bowl. Mix well and serve. This happens to be excellent cold too.

Mint Tea Granita
5 cups water
6 mint tea bags
2 bunches fresh mint, about 2 1/2 - 3 cups
Sugar or sweetener (I used Splenda)

-Boil water. Place 4 of the 6 tea bags, and half of the mint in a SHALLOW freeze-proof container. If you use a deep dish or bowl, it will take forever to freeze.
-Pour water over the bags and mint, let sit for 5 minutes. Remove the tea bags, let mint sit for another 5 minutes. Remove the mint and repeat with remaining tea bags and mint (make sure to save a few sprigs for serving). You do this so that the tea and mint doesn't get too strong. You want an intensely minty Granita, not a bitter one. Add sugar or sweetener and mix to combine, adjust to your liking. I don't like mine terribly sweet, just a hint of sweet.
-Once room temperature, place in freezer uncovered. After 45 minutes, take a fork and rake through the entire pan of tea breaking up the ice. Repeat the raking every 30 minutes until the entire container of tea is frozen and broken up. Depending on the container, and the freezer, this may take 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours. Serve with a mint sprig.
-Serves 4 -5.

*Granita's are a wonderful and easy dessert. You can use watermelon blasted in the blender, a little vodka thrown into the mix. Any kind of juice you like, spiked with any kind of liquor you like. Or like this version, any kind of tea, even iced coffee with cream.

August 27, 2010


My friend, the same one who we celebrated High Tea with, introduced me to Katsudon. It’s a simple Japanese dish that I fell in love with immediately. In fact, I fell so hard for it, that I figured out how to make it myself. I could have just looked at a book I realize, but then there wouldn't have been all those nights of gobbling down those tasty failures! Katsudon (Kaht-soo-don) is a bowl of rice, with sautéed onions, a pork cutlet, and an egg on top. It's simple and so damn good.

This is definitely one of my staple mid-week dinners. It's easy, filling, and of course yummy. It's also a great excuse to make a pot of homemade Miso Soup. That being said, last night we had powdered Miso Soup - like I've said before, we can't all be Martha Stewart all the time.

This is for two people.

Rice (I use a long grain brown rice. Not only is it healthier, we actually prefer the taste)
2 large pork cutlets or 4 smaller/thinner cutlets
1 1/2 cups Panko (I use whole wheat Panko crumbs but they can be hard to find)
1/2 cup flour (can be whole wheat flour too of course)
3 eggs
1/4 cup water
1/2 large onion, sliced (about 1/4". Not too thin, not too thick)
3/4 cup Dashi stock (this is a Japanese powdered stock base. If you don't have/can't find it, just do what I did last night and use vegetable stock instead)
1 Tbs Mirin (a Japanese sweet cooking wine. If you don't have/can't find, replace with Marsala cooking wine or even a dry Sherry)
1 Tbs soy sauce 
1 Tsp sugar
Vegetable oil (for frying. If you want you can also bread the cutlets, bake them at about 400 until they're crispy and cooked through)
Salt & Shichimi Togarashi (Japanese seven spice. Easily substituted with ground pepper)

-While rice is cooking, season breadcrumbs with salt and Shichimi Togarashi to taste. Crack one egg and whisk it, adding water. Dust cutlets with flour, then dip in egg, then coat in Panko.
-Heat oil in pan and fry the cutlets, set aside.
-In a pot, add stock, Mirin, soy, sugar, and onions. Cook together until the onions are tender, about 3-5 minutes.
-Slice the cutlets into half inch slices and add them to the pot (keep the slices together though as if still one cutlet), and cooking in the onions and broth for a minute or two. Whisk the last two eggs very lightly; you just want them barely broken up. Pour half over one cutlet, half over the other in the pot. Cover and cook for about one minute or until the egg has just cooked and set.
-Fill two bowls with rice, and using a spatula, place one cutlet with eggs and onions on top. Repeat with other rice bowl. Sprinkle a little fresh chopped parsley, chive or scallion over it and serve. If there is any extra broth, pour over the rice bowl. I usually sprinkle more of the Shichimi Togarashi on top too - I like things a little spicy. 

August 25, 2010

Small Things

Fresh figs.

I couldn't resist sharing my sensual, sweet, and perfect dessert today...

 (mind the pictures, I had to take them with my phone while at the office!)

August 24, 2010

A Celebratory Tea

Four friends met at Lady Mendl's Tea Salon this past Saturday wearing their best summer frocks and pearls. After all, it isn't everyday that three of those friends become Aunties! One of my dearest friends is expecting, she emailed me from Japan while on vacation with her family to let me know - I squealed and jumped about. We went to high school together, then college. She met her husband while abroad in Japan, they've been together ever since. She moved to Minnesota and although I don't get to see much of her, email and phones keep us close.

So when she told us (myself and her two other besties) that she would be here for August, we knew we had to do something to celebrate. High Tea was the consensus. I had always wanted to go to Lady Mendl's and I was so happy to finally have an reason. It was sublime.

Housed in a restored brownstone at Irving Place, Lady Mendl's is exactly what you hope it would be. Gold wall paper, sweet smells, ladies in dresses and hats. We were treated to a five course tea that was one of the best I've ever had. From a Mushroom Puff to start, Tea Sandwiches, cookies and chocolate dipped fruit, one of the most amazing Mille Crepe Cakes I've ever had (if you can, stop by Lady M Confections, no relation to Lady Mendl's, and try some - you won't be disappointed), scones with clotted cream and jam, and of course tea. The whole affair was was well worth the cost which just happened to be very reasonable indeed.

 Mushroom Puff appetizer,

Lady Mendl's famous Mille Crepe Cake,

Four pots of tea for four friends...

Of course, in the end it wasn't about the pastries or the Darjeeling, it was about our friend and the little star growing inside her. We won't be there to see her through the process, but you can be rest assured that there are three Aunties in New York ready and willing to spoil!

August 17, 2010

1 Week, 1 Grill, 8 Friends - Part 2

*Scroll down for part 1*

Although neither of these are grill recipes, we did have grilled veggies on the side at every meal. Nothing like really good thin asparagus drizzled in olive oil, salt & pepper, then grilled until sligtly charred. And now, back to the recipes at hand...

I love fresh guacamole. When you have avocados that are worth the work, nothing is as wonderful as a flavorful fresh guac. The downside is, guacamole takes a ton of chopping and time. Of course, it's totally worth it in the end and if you have a few friends who are decent with a knife, time can sail by. This recipe makes a ton, but then again we were a ton of people. Cut the recipe in half for a more manageable amount.

One word of advice before the recipe. Do not mix this, store this, or serve this in metal. Due to the limes and avocados, it will turn a particularly awful shade of brown that you wouldn't want to eat.

7 ripe avocados
1 1/2 large white onions (very important that you get white, not yellow onions)
5 large tomatillos
2 large jalapenos
1 large bunch of cilantro
1 pint of sweet cherry tomatoes, or 2 large very ripe regular tomatoes
1 tbs hot sauce
Juice of 3 limes
Salt to taste

-Chop onions and Jalapenos very finely (I removed the seeds and the pith from my jalapenos).
-Roughly chop cilantro, cut the tomatillos and tomatoes to the same size. Not too small though.
-Finally chop up avocados, not smaller than 1/2 inch - when you mix it all together they'll mash together anyway, you still want some chunky pieces in the end.
-Add hot sauce, lime juice, and salt to taste. Mix and serve.

This is a really light and perfectly pleasant chili for summer days. I made it with chicken instead of beef, and kept the tomato base simple. Not much more to say except this was great when we ate it, but stellar the next day!

2 lbs ground chicken
3/4 of a 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes WITHOUT basil
1 29 oz. can pink beans (you can use red or pinto too)
3 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
1 tsp of garlic paste
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 tbs+ olive oil
4 3.52 oz. packets of Sazon
1 tsp hot sauce (of course add more if you want this spicier)
1 tbs red wine vinegar (optional, this really depends on the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste. If they are already very tangy, don't use the vinegar. If they are sweeter and more mild, use it)
Salt & pepper to taste

-Saute the onions and fresh garlic in oil until soft and translucent.
-Add chicken and sautee until cooked through. You might need to add a little more oil.
-Add tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, and combine well. Add garlic paste, hot sauce, and sazon mix well.
-Let heat up together to boil then add the beans with their liquor, you don't want them turning to mush. Bring to a boil.
-Taste and add the vinegar (if needed), and salt & pepper to taste.
-I served this with a yellow rice and it was perfect.