Wednesday, July 21, 2010

for my love and our life

Photo by Kelly Boitano Photography

so we'll live in our old van

travel all across this land

me and you

and we'll end up hand in hand

somewhere down on the sand

just me and you

just as free

free as we'll ever be

just as free

free as we'll ever be

drive until the city lights

dissolve into a country sky

just me and you

lay underneath the harvest moon

do all the things that lovers do

just me and you

just as free

free as we'll ever be

Zac Brown Band - Free

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Possible New Venture?

A tweet recently caught my eye from New York Times Dining & Wine. I clicked on the link, began to read the article, and immediately had the desire to leave work and go whip up a batch of pancakes. These were no ordinary pancakes, though. Oh no…these were Elderflower pancakes. Sound familiar? No? We are (well, were) in the same boat.

It turns out that elderflower pancakes (also known as Hollerküchle) are a traditional German favorite. And, regardless of the fact that Germany sautéed my beloved Argentina in the quarterfinal round of this World Cup, I am too excited to try out this recipe. Related to the more well-known honeysuckle, the lacey foliage of the elder plant is inserted face-down into the fresh pancake batter as soon as it hits the pan. The pancake is then either traditionally cooked only on one side (and allowing the top to simply “set”) or the stems are trimmed and the pancake is flipped. The wonderfully delightful food art happens when the rougher stems are pulled from the pancake leaving the blossoms themselves intact within the batter.

This seems like a possible weekend project, with two crucial pieces of information to note. First off, it’s mid-July and it seems elderflowers bloom in the Northeast in June. I will keep on the lookout regardless. Second, elderflowers should not be confused with poisonous Queen Anne’s Lace. Ok, got it. Queen Anne’s Lace is bad. Note to self.

Wish me luck!


Friday, July 9, 2010

Classic Cuban Mojitos

If you’ve been in New York for the past week or so, you know about the crazy heat wave we’ve been having. And at street level in Manhattan, the temperatures seem to be multiplied threefold. The subway is a sticky mess, going out to lunch is almost unheard of, and there are mounds of wilted tourists everywhere. On any other normal summer weekend, I would typically spend time investigating refreshing dishes to serve or drinks to concoct. You can imagine my frenzy once the mercury decided to come to a screeching halt at 104°F.

In a desperate attempt to take advantage of the heat-exhausted mint from our garden, I decided it was time to resurrect my favorite classic summer cocktail: the Mojito. No frills here; just refreshing flavor. I use a wooden lemon reamer for the limes as I like the lime juice to be a little pulpy. The other end doubles as a muddler when you’re ready to crush the sugar into the mint.

Cuban Mojitos (By the Pitcher)

1 large bunch fresh mint (look for leaves that are bright green, free of scars, and firm — not wilted like those that are living through the Great Heat Wave)

1 cup organic granulated sugar (such as Florida Crystals)

10 limes, rolled and juiced, plus 1 for slicing

2 cups white rum, chilled, plus extra for adjustments

2 cups club soda, chilled, plus extra for adjustments

Ice cubes

Wash and pick through mint, setting aside three or four particularly handsome sprigs for later. Roughly remove and set aside the leaves from the remaining homely (although still spectacular) bunch; discard stems.

In a large, sturdy bowl (or mortar), add loose leaves, sugar, and lime juice. Using the back end of the reamer (or pestle), begin to muddle the mixture. The texture of the granulated sugar will allow the oils from the mint to seep out. Once the sugar is, for the most part, dissolved into the lime juice, add the rum and the club soda and mix well. Do a taste test here — the sweetness of the sugar or sharpness of the rum should not overwhelm the overall flavor of the drink. If so, adjust with club soda or extra lime juice until it meets your taste.

This batch can be made ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 hours before serving. Add the ice cubes, sliced limes, and sprigs of handsome mint to the pitcher just before serving. If you prefer, you can filter out the original broken pieces of mint leaves before adding said final ingredients.


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Moutabal — A Smoky Aubergine Dip

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I’ve been ranting about the World Cup and raving about the freshly-made baba ganoush I picked up from Moustache Pitza in NYC’s West Village. Priorities, priorities. Truth be told, Moutabal — the Lebanese equivilant of baba ganoush — isn’t a particularly complicated recipe; it just requires time enough for roasting the eggplants to the point of perfection. Perfection, in this case, being a charred skin that lends itself to the dish’s signature smoky flavor.

Belonging to the nightshade family of vegetables, eggplant is chock full of vitamins and minerals, including essential phytonutrients, antioxidants, and brain-boosting flavonoids. Coupled with extra virgin olive oil (always a winner), freshly chopped garlic, tahini, and lemon juice, this dish is great with homemade whole-wheat pita chips, especially when you just can’t seem to look another can of chickpeas in the eyes.


2 large eggplants (Look for those that are deep purple in color, firm but yielding slightly when squeezed, and avoid those with any tarnished spots or scars)

3 tbsp tahini (sesame seed paste)

3 tbsp freshly-squeezed lemon juice

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed

2 tsp kosher salt

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, for garnish

Paprika, for garnish

Place eggplants over an open flame, be it an indoor stove top or an outdoor grill, and roast evenly until skin has become black and cracking. Once eggplants are sufficiently charred, wrap in aluminum foil and set aside to cool. Alternately, you can bake the eggplants in an oven set to 375°F for 20 to 30 minutes or until they have become completely soft.

Once they are cool enough to handle, carefully peel off the charred skin. In a food processor, add eggplant pulp, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and salt, and pulse until well blended. Taste and adjust for salt, tahini, and lemon juice. Chill completely before serving, adding paprika and olive oil at the last minute. Not feeling the paprika? Try substituting with fresh pomegranate seeds (when in season) for a bright pop of color and a sweet crunch.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Hearty Vegetarian Chili (That Doesn't Require a Slow Cooker...)

Like some of my previous recipes, this recipe came out of many, many miserably failed (and some not-so-miserably-failed) attempts at creating a yummy vegetarian chili that I would actually like to share. It’s really versatile, as a great summer side (or main!) and as a hearty, comforting stew for those colder months. You can also play around with the vegetables, customizing to your own personal tastes.

Vegetarian Chili

2 tbsp olive oil

1 small yellow onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 small eggplant, diced

1 small red or green bell pepper, diced

1 rib celery, diced

1 carrot, diced

1 jalapeño, seeded and diced

1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes

2 tbsp chili powder

½ tsp ground cumin

1 1/2 cups lentils

1 cup 7-grain mix, such as Rice Select’s Royal Blend

1 cup chickpeas, cooked and rinsed

1 cup black beans, cooked and rinsed

5 cups vegetable broth

Kosher salt (if needed)

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over a medium flame. Add onion and garlic and cook until translucent and slightly starting to brown. Add eggplant, pepper, celery, carrot, jalapeño, tomatoes, chili powder and cumin, stir well and allow to cook for an additional 5 minutes.

Once the vegetables have softened and are beginning to brown, add the lentils, grain mix, chickpeas and black beans, and stir well to ensure even coating. Add broth and mix well, bringing mixture to a boil and then subsequently reducing heat to low and simmering for about 30 minutes. Do a taste test about halfway through, adding salt (or a bit of vegetable bouillon) if needed. There is no need for stirring while the chili is simmering; just make sure to check up on the pot every now to see if you need to add some extra water.

Once the time is up (pencils down!), allow chili to sit and thicken for about 5 minutes before serving. Or, better yet, pack that baby up and serve it next day. Yes, this is one of those dishes that’s even better reheated. And don’t forget to have fun with the toppings! I like mine with shredded sharp Vermont cheddar cheese and chopped scallion greens. Ok, ok, and a dollop of sour cream. Yum!

Thursday, June 10, 2010


If you’re looking for something different to serve up at dinner, take with you to work for lunch, or even to steal a couple of bites from at snack time (that’s delicious and nutritious, of course), whole grains can really add a new dimension of flavor to your typical lineup. A great source of protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates, whole grains can be an excellent substitute for any white rice dish or even a pasta dish. Their subtle, nutty flavors and wholesome textures can add a fantastic element to any meal.

At first glance, the world of grains might be a little overwhelming. There are many different varieties, ranging from quinoa to wheat berries, and cooking times that can send some running in the opposite direction. Who has time to babysit a pot these days? The truth is, we often forget how important taking the time to cook a well-rounded meal for our families is and, too often, end up forsaking quality for convenience. Thankfully, many companies now offer premixed packages of whole grains, such as Rice Select’s Royal Blend or Kashi’s 7-Grain Pilaf. If you’re new to the world of grains, this is an excellent time to experiment. Over at 101 Cookbooks, über-chic natural chef Heidi Swanson has put together a list of some of her favorite grains, and, frankly, I agree with her choices.

The start of my love affair with whole grains began more with my mother than my father, although my father really refined the recipes. Farro, if you’ve never heard of it, is an ancient grain that is used in many Mediterranean — and, more specifically in our case, Italian — dishes. It has a hearty, earthy flavor, although it must be slow cooked in order to achieve its full potential. It can be used in stews to create heartwarming winter dishes or served cold with freshly grilled vegetables as a light, refreshing summer salad.

Looking to experiment with farro this weekend? Check out Heidi Swanson’s Farro & Herbs recipe before heading over to your local Italian market!

Buon Appetito!


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Fish Tacos!

Fish tacos are one of my absolute favorite summer dishes. Ah, who am I kidding — fall, winter, and spring as well! After falling in love with the fish tacos from Meetinghouse Restaurant in Bedford, NY, I decided to create my own recipe. And after many failed attempts, I finally came up with a version that I really enjoyed.

An important note here is the type of fish being used: Halibut works because it is a firm-fleshed fish. While flounder and sole are some of my favorite fishes, they are a little too soft for this recipe and would not hold up in this dish. Additionally, this recipe is tasty enough on its own, but also goes well with a chipotle cream sauce — the smokiness and fiery nature of the chipotle peppers are a great balance for the sweetness of the pears and the crunchiness of the cabbage.

Fish Tacos!

Makes 4 servings

4 medium fillets wild-caught Pacific Halibut

4 soft taco-size whole wheat flour tortillas

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

salt & pepper, to taste

chili powder (or cayenne pepper), to taste

1 teaspoon light extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon butter

1 shallot, diced

1/2 medium red bell pepper, julienned

1 bartlett or Anjou pear, diced

1/4 head red cabbage, shredded

2 large carrots, shredded

Wash the halibut, cut into smaller slices, and set aside. Don't dry the fish completely, as the dampness will allow the flour to stick. In a shallow dish, combine flour, salt, pepper, and chili powder (or cayenne pepper, depending on how brave your spirit is. If you've never experimented with cayenne pepper, do proceed with caution.). Blend well and, one by one, evenly coat the fish with the flour mixture.

In a pan, heat the olive oil and butter over a low flame. Add the shallots and allow to soften, about 1 minute. Turn heat to medium and add peppers, sautéeing for another minute or until just beginning to soften. Add diced pear, toss, and let cook for an additional minute. Set aside.

Add the fish to the pan, making sure that all pieces are flush to the pan. You may need to add a bit more olive oil to the pan if it is a little dry. Cook for about 2 minutes per side, or until nice and browned.

Just before you're ready to serve (or have everyone serve themselves), heat the tortillas on the pan quickly on each side to really bring out the flavor. Using your hands to mold the soft tacos into a dish, add a few pieces of halibut, followed by the peppers, shallots, and pear, and then finally topped off with some crunchy red cabbage and carrots.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Buckwheat Cheese Straws

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on here as I’ve been buried among the dead weight of work and winter. And, while it took some time for me to get over that winter-spring boundary line (I’m a snowboarder — this is what happens every year come March), I am completely ready to embrace spring. Winter is packed and put away — it’s time for me to come out of the dusty, stale woodworks and play. (I swear, I did not mean for that to rhyme.)

This isn’t an original recipe. Actually, I can’t say that I will be posting mainly original recipes on here — they’re not exactly easy to come up with on a full-time worker/Maid of Honor’s schedule. But it is an ode to one of my absolute favorite blog sites, 101 Cookbooks. Every time I enter Heidi Swanson’s virtual kitchen, I feel like a kid in an all-natural candy store. She's a published cook book author and an amazing photographer to boot! Seriously, each and every one of you (whoever you are) should check it out. Right now. Yes, I’m serious!

To me, these Buckwheat Cheese Straws are comfort snacking at its finest. I usually make a batch (or two) at a time and store the little “twigs” in a Ziploc bag for future enjoyment. They keep incredibly well and taste just as good as the day they came out of the oven — well, minus the heat.

So off you go, you people, baking and enjoying Heidi’s Web site.

Buckwheat Cheese Straws

1/2 cup buckwheat flour

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped

8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

3/4 cup (2 1/2 ounces) white cheddar, shredded on a box grater

1/2 cup ice cold water

Combine the flours, salt and thyme in a bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles little pebbles in a beach of sandy flour (about 20 quick pulses). Alternately, you can cut the butter in using a knife and fork. Transfer to a mixing bowl and toss in the cheese. Sprinkle with ice water and use your hands or a spoon to stir it through and bring everything together into a ball of dough. Flatten the ball into a 1-inch thick square patty, wrap well in plastic, and place in the freezer for thirty minutes.

In the meantime, preheat your oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat, and place a rack in the middle of the oven.
I find it easiest to work with one half of the dough at a time. Remove the dough from the freezer, cut in half, re-wrap the half you won't be using immediately, and place it back in the freezer. If the dough gets too warm it is difficult to work with. On a well-floured surface roll out the remaining dough into a rectangle roughly 6x12-inches and 1/4-inch thick. Use a knife to cut 1/2-inch wide strips (see photo), each about 6-inches long. Now take a strip of dough and gently pinch it all along its length so that it is easier to roll out into a straw shape roughly 12-inches long. If the dough is giving you trouble, consider chilling it a bit longer. Place each straw on the prepared baking sheet, and repeat with the remaining strips, leaving at least 1/2 inch between each straw.

Bake the straws one pan at a time for about 8-10 minutes, or until the straws look set, and the cheese is golden where it is touching the pan. Flip each straw and bake for another 2-3 minutes on the other side. Keep in mind if your straws are on the thin side, they'll bake in a flash, if they are slightly thicker they will need to go longer. Remove from oven and let cool, they will crisp more as they cool.

Sometimes I bake off half the dough, and keep the other half in the freezer for another day, but feel free to bake all of it - repeating the process with the second half of reserved dough.

Makes about 4 dozen straws.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Onion Soup Gratinée

These days the temperature in New York has been hovering around 20 degrees, with the wind chill making it feel more like single digits. Mornings have been rough to say the least, and the fireplace has certainly been kept busy. As a bustling holiday season was coming to a close, I decided to make a batch of French Onion Soup — or, as my father kept insisting, Onion Soup Gratinée.

Researching recipe upon recipe I quickly realized that, while they all matched in basic ingredients, each recipe was indeed very different from the next. Cooking onions, beef broth, Gruyère cheese and a french baguette aside, suggestions varied from white wine, red wine, sherry and vermouth to mushrooms, parsley and potato flour. Knowing my own cooking style and personal tastes, I printed out several variations and created my own recipe along the way.

Onion Soup Gratinée certainly is one of my favorite comfort foods, but I've almost always found it to be a bit too salty when ordered out. Creating this recipe gave me an opportunity to tailor its delicate flavor to my liking; likewise, you can play around with different spices and ingredients to personalize it however you like. Be aware, however, that the caramelization process is not a quick process by any means. In order to truly get that creamy onion flavor, you need to cook the onions extremely slowly on very low heat.

Onion Soup Gratinée

Makes 4 servings

2 tbsp butter

3-4 large yellow onions

Kosher salt

4 ounces dry sherry

1 bay leaf

1 quart beef stock, low-sodium

1 can (14-oz.) chicken stock, low-sodium

1/2 cube chicken bouillon

8 slices fresh French baguette

1/2 pound sliced Gruyère cheese (at least 12 slices)

4 oven-proof crocks or large ramekins

Begin by preparing the onions. Cut off both ends and then slice each onion in half lengthwise, from top to bottom. Once you have your halves, begin from one of the flattened ends and cut into thin slices. Set aside.

Go into the bathroom and dry out your eyes with a hair dryer. Stuff a couple tissues up your nose, pop a piece of gum into your mouth, put on a pair of safety goggles, and come back into the kitchen. It's ok — no one's home. If the mailman comes by, matter-of-factly explain that you're fumigating the house for dog-sized rats and that he should keep his distance. Trust me, he'll listen.

In a soup pot, coat the bottom with olive oil and set on medium-low heat. Add onions, sprinkle generously with salt, and toss to coat evenly. Add butter, toss to coat once more, cover and allow onions to cook, undisturbed, for approximately 20-25 minutes. This process will allow the onions to "sweat" and prepare them for the caramelization process.

Once the onions have sweated and released a good amount of liquid, add the sherry and cook on low heat, uncovered, for approximately 45 minutes. Check up on them every so often and you'll notice the unique golden color they begin to acquire while they simmer in their butter-and-sherry bath. Low and slow is the secret.

Now that the onions have acquired a creamy texture, add both broths, the chicken bouillon, and the bay leaf and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for an additional 30 minutes, tasting every so often to adjust seasonings.

In the meanwhile, drizzle some olive oil in a separate pan over medium heat. Place the baguette slices in the pan and brown on both sides, sprinkling with kosher salt to taste and adding extra olive oil if needed.

Once the soup is done simmering, ladle 3/4 of the way into individual oven-proof crocks. Place two slices of toasted baguette followed by three or four slices of cheese. Place crocks in the oven and, setting to broil, allow the surface to become bubbly and slightly brown.

Remove and set aside to cool slightly before serving.

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