Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Damn You, Murphy!

Something is wrong. Something is off.
Something is WRONG and OFF.

For the past week or so, for some inexplicable reason, I have been a walking, talking, breathing (cursing, fumbling), tribute to Murphy's Law. You name it, I botched it. My projects at work? Disasters. Something obstructing a path? It's very likely I tripped over it. Something burning-metal hot? I touched it. Something important that needed to be done? I totally forgot about it.

The worst part about all of this is the fact that I can't sleep. I don't know if swirling neurotic thoughts about my work disasters are the culprit for keeping me conscious when I should be pleasantly unconscious, or if it's that damn Murphy, but whatever it is, it feels very apocalyptic. Yes. Apocalyptic. I'll explain: sleeping is what I do. I can always sleep, no matter what. Uncomfortable mattress? Not a problem. Thunderstorm? Kid's stuff. If left to my own devices, I think I would actually sleep for days on end. I'm that good. I don't do very many things well, but sleeping - let's just say if it were an Olympic sport, I'd be preparing my trip to Vancouver as we speak (and yes, sleeping would have to be a winter sport. No question). Not sleeping troubles me. I lay awake, troubled by this. Which further provokes insomnia. It's not pretty.

I've been avoiding my kitchen for fear that I'll continue to burn or cut myself worse than I already have, finding respite in writing holiday cards instead (for some reason, that has not gone wrong. As far as I know. And I'd like to keep it that way). Eventually my love will overcome the fear and I'll make my way back to the kitchen. I just hope it's sooner rather than later, otherwise... "Honey? Are these Christmas Cookies? You know it's February, right?"

One thing that will help get me through to the other side is the memory of the last meal I executed gracefully just before the moment Murphy swept into my life. It was a surprise for my husband's birthday: Truffled Lobster Risotto. He came home from work at 9:30 p.m. only to inform me that he already had a holiday dinner with his co-workers and forgot to tell me. Two night's later, I tried another special dinner to make up for the missed opportunity, only to absolutely destroy the Bearnaise sauce (and it was looking like it was going to be my best EVER!). It was such a sad moment. Only a split second was all it took for the sauce to separate, and then there was no saving it. I haven't cooked anything more than boiled noodles since.

Recipe for Truffled Lobster Risotto:

The beauty of this dish is that it seems very elegant, but it's super-duper easy. Even for those afflicted by Murphy's Law.
  • One 1 lb. Cooked Lobster, meat pulled out and chopped into bite-sized pieces (save the shells from the claws and tail)
  • 1 cup of Arborio rice
  • 3 cups of chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup of white wine
  • 7-8 stalks of asparagus, washed, trimmed and cut into 1-2" pieces
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 4 tsp truffle oil
  • 2 tbsp heavy cream
  • Shaved truffle for finishing (if you are lucky enough to have a fresh truffle. If not, no worries)
  • Fresh grated parmigiano reggiano cheese for finishing
  • Salt & pepper
After you dismantle your lobster, keep the meat in the fridge, and save the claw and tail shells. Bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a small saucepan. Make a "cheater's lobster stock" by adding the claw and tail shell to the simmering chicken stock, and let it simmer slowly while you prep the rest of your ingredients. In a risotto pan or heavy fry pan over medium heat, melt the butter and add the shallots and asparagus. Season with salt & pepper and toss for a few minutes, until cooked and softened. Remove the asparagus with tongs before they get too soft, and set aside for later. Drizzle 2 tsp of truffle oil in pan and add the risotto. Stir it around for several minutes until toasted. Add the wine, and continue stirring until the liquid is absorbed. Strain the chicken stock and discard the shells. You should have about 2 and 1/2 cups of stock. As you continue stirring, add the stock to the risotto 1/2 cup at a time, and stir constantly until all the liquid is absorbed. When 1/2 cup gets absorbed, repeat the process until risotto is al dente. Finish by adding the asparagus back in, and stir in the lobster meat, the cream, and the remaining 2 tsp of truffle oil. Serve topped with truffle shavings (if you have them) and parmigiano reggiano cheese.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

No Ifs, Ands or Halibuts

Sorry, I just couldn't help myself.

I recently received a notice saying that with the axing of Gourmet, my remaining subscription will be supplemented with Bon Appetit. And since I also have a subscription to Bon Appetit, Conde Nast says they'll just keep 'em coming. Well, alright. I do enjoy Bon Appetit.

Speaking of which, I also recently tried a recipe from their December issue and it turned out quite nice. It was easy, and very tasty. I am always looking for ways to jazz up fish.

Recipe for: Halibut with Clementine Gremolata (adapted from Bon Appetit) -for 2 people

I actually used a tangerine. So, technically, this is a recipe for Halibut with Tangerine Gremolata. Also, I cheated a little bit on the gremolata. I used zest as opposed to chopping the peel.

  • The zest of 1 tangerine
  • 1/4 cup of fresh chopped parsley
  • 1 garlic clove, mince or pressed
  • 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil


  • 2 halibut filets
  • Salt, Pepper, Olive Oil, and a squirt of tangerine juice per fish

Preheat oven to 350. Mix all the gremolata ingredients, olive oil last, and set aside. Cut two heart shapes out of parchment paper, about 12-14 inches in diameter, to serve as pouches for the fish. Place a halibut filet in the center of half the heart, and sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle on a small (1 tsp?) amount of olive oil and a squirt of tangerine juice. Fold the heart so the fish is covered and the edges meet. Fold the edges up, and repeat several times as you move around the fish, to seal the pouch. Cooking fish this way in a parchment pouch is called "En Papillote." With a little fish and some oil or butter, the possibilities for En Papillote are endless. You can add white wine, herbs, veggies... but I digress.

Bake the fish in their pouches on a rimmed baking sheet for about 15-20 minutes until opaque in the center. Serve the fishes hot with the gremolata on top.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Me and The Turkey

I had never been more conscious of my bladder as I was on Tuesday at the corner of 77th and Broadway. Heck, I didn’t even realize that I had to pee until I walked out of the Fairway Market at 74th and Broadway while cradling a 17 pound turkey pressed against my midsection. How do these women who carry around babies and toddlers all day do it? I went about 5 blocks before I started saying silent prayers to miss the green light to cross each street (complete polar opposite behavior of my typical self) just so I could rest the double-bagged bird at my feet for a merciful moment before hoisting it up again and heaving breathlessly as I pressed onward. I really should start working out.

In addition to scolding myself for being so out of shape, and being in awe of mothers who tow their kids around the city (also in awe of mothers who push these huge babies out in the first place), I wondered if there was anywhere along my remaining 10-block journey that I could pop in for a quick restroom pit stop. Am I really comfortable with the idea of leaving a 17 pound turkey with the baristas at Starbucks just because I couldn’t make it 10 measly blocks? Am I really that weak? No, no, I can do this. One block at a time. Big exhale.

I finally made it all the way home to 89th and took care of business. After some rearranging in the fridge, I slid the big guy inside and collapsed on the couch for a good 45 minutes.

On Wednesday I called my mom to ask her opinion on brining. Brining is essentially soaking your bird in a saltwater bath for moisture and flavor. I brined my bird last year but I wasn’t sure if it made a difference. How do you know when to brine or not to brine? She said if you have a really fresh bird you don’t need to brine. My stepfather Ernie’s solution was much simpler: always brine. So brine I did. Also per his advice, I followed the recipe in The Joy of Cooking, which, for overnight brining, called for 1 cup of kosher salt per gallon of water. I stuck my bird in a bucket with the brining water, and tucked him goodnight in the fridge.

On Thursday morning, The Turkey (I never did decide on a name for him this year) was ready to take his place on the giant roasting pan throne. I left a stick of butter out at room temperature covered it in white wine. I took out the neck and stuffed him with onion, carrots, celery, sage and thyme. I was just getting ready to give him the butter-wine spa pack treatment, when I realized I needed to tuck the wings under. I pushed, I pulled, I tried forcing unspeakable positions upon The Turkey. I could not, for the life of me, get the wings under. Do I really call my mom again? No, no, you can figure this out. Try it again. Push. Pull. Unspeakable. Dammit. Where’s my phone? Oh hi Ernie, you can help me with this. Are there any tricks to tucking the wings under? Try tying them? Ah yes, of course! Thanks gotta go!

I’ll try to describe the scene: me, wrestling with a large (approximately 1/7 my size) bird carcass trying to get him breast-side down so I can force his little turkey arms backwards to tie behind his back. I always feel a bit insensitive when I stuff a bird body cavity with vegetables, but yanking that string as hard as I could around those little bird elbows was utterly guilt-inducing. The real problem here is that at this point, I’ve had a couple of days to bond with The Turkey. I had to keep reminding myself that a.) It’s just a turkey, not my pet, and he’s already dead, and b.) I’m planning on doing much, much worse by cooking and eating his flesh.

After that unpleasantness, I rolled him back over and began the all-over butter massage, under the skin and over the skin. With the oven preheated to 425, I tied the legs (much easier than the elbows) and let him get brown for about 20 minutes before basting him and turning down the heat to 325. I spent the next several hours basting, tenting the breasts with foil, basting, taking his temperature, basting, temperature, basting, temperature, basting, and so on.

The breasts are done at 160 degrees. The thighs are done at 170 degrees. When it was all over, and the time came to eat The Turkey, after all that we’d been through together; the end result was amazing. The turkey was delicious. I don’t know if it was all the basting, the butter massage, the brining, or the bonding we did as I held him close on the way home from the market, but everyone loved The Turkey.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Big Day Countdown

The BIG DAY is almost here. I've been so giddy and preoccupied with what to cook that I haven't even thought about what to write.

Luckily, I have Mark Bittman. Author of a few of my favorite books, including a book that every chef should have in their library, How To Cook Everything, he also writes for the New York Times. His "101" features have become somewhat famous, and are always on the list of the "most emailed" articles on the day they are published. Most recently, 101 Head Starts On The Day offers readers 101 simple recipes to complete in advance of the BIG DAY, before the bird takes over your oven.

While it's true that preparing the sides dishes ahead of time will ultimately make your life easier, there are other things that can come up that may need your attention. Like any big event (or like the Boy Scouts) you should always be prepared. Here are 10 other things to think about now that will make your life easier come the BIG DAY:

1.) Check your meat thermometer. Make sure it works properly. The bird is the main event, no matter how many sides you make ahead of time. An overdone or underdone bird will add unnecessary stress to you, the chef.
2.) If you're like me and you use your gigantic roasting pan once a year, wash it. It's probably a tad dusty.
3.) Do you have a gravy separator? You still have time to get one. You'll be glad you did.
4.) Do you have a potato ricer? You still have time to get one. You'll be glad you did.
5.) Get your knives sharpened. Do it now.
6.) Iron your cloth napkins for your guests. Class things up a bit. Last year I forgot about this detail until I was setting the table and the guests were arriving. Whoops.
7.) There are football games on Thursday. Set your fantasy lineup on Wednesday.
8.) Are you brining your turkey? Do you have a large, clean bucket? You can't use the same one that you currently use to mop the floor. Well, I guess you can, but do you want to?
9.) Have you ordered a turkey yet? Do you need to? Now would be the time.
10.) Do something relaxing. Take a bubble bath. Read a book in bed. Don't stress about the BIG DAY; everything will be delicious and everyone will be happy.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fully Capable of This Shepherd Business

I am trying to enjoy this streak of warm weather. I really am. It’s just that…I’m completely in fall-mode and there’s no way around it. I can’t do summer anymore. Not in November. I’ll be ready for summer again sometime around February. I can be robbed of my winter and be forgiving. But not my fall.

Fall is the best time to eat a fantastic meal then snuggle under the covers. It’s when your bedroom is finally cool enough that you never want to untangle yourself from your down comforter; when you get all nice and toasty in one spot, and then roll over onto the cool spot of the bed, catching a small breeze from the chilly air outside of the bed so you burrow even deeper under the covers. Fall is always the time of year that I wish I could morph into a bear and hibernate for the winter.

So, even though it was 65 and sunny the other day when I ventured to the store, I was longing for cool-weather food. Something warm. Rich. Dark. Filling. Flavorful.

I had every intention of making some sort of Philly Cheesesteak-style dish until I stumbled across some ground lamb and decided on shepherd’s pie instead. I’d had shepherd’s pie before, so I understood the gist of it as I stood there with the lamb in my basket, trying to remember what other ingredients I might need. This is the kind of moment that cell phones are for, right? I’ll simply call my stepfather…who happens to have a killer shepherd’s pie recipe… I’ll just reach into my purse here… wait, what? No phone? Great. Perfect. I forgot my phone at home. Oh well, no big deal, I’ll just look up a recipe on… my… phone. Hmm. I didn’t realize how I much I rely on that little thing to get me through the day.

I let myself get flustered for about 2 seconds, and then I remembered that I am Fully Capable of Figuring Shit Out.

With the words warm/rich/dark/filling/flavorful, along with the mental image of an actual phone-less shepherd, serving as my inspiration, I grabbed potatoes, an onion, garlic, an eggplant, and a Portobello mushroom. After a quick internal run-through of my at-home staples (Red wine, check. Butter, check. Thyme and oregano, check. Tomato paste, check.), I ushered my herd of groceries home. I then proceeded to pour myself a glass of wine, reference a few shepherd’s pie recipes in my cookbooks to make sure I wasn’t totally out of my mind, spread my flock of ingredients out on the counter, and figure it out.

The beauty of a dish like shepherd’s pie is that you really can’t screw it up, so you might as well just throw whatever you want in the pot. You’ll be O.K. There is no one authentic recipe that you must adhere to; there are no strict rules. Every shepherd is different. Here’s the way this shepherd made her pie.

Recipe for Pseudo-Chic-Urban-Shepherd’s Pie:
  • A pound of ground lamb
  • One medium onion, diced
  • One Portobello mushroom, sliced
  • Eggplant, diced into small cubes, about ½ cup
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
  • 2 tbsp red wine (aka, a generous splash. Seriously. Don't actually measure this.)
  • 2 tsp thyme
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Potatoes, butter and cream for mashed potatoes

Make mashed potatoes by boiling cubes of potatoes until tender; drain, then mash with cream, butter, salt and pepper.

In a heavy pot with a lid, melt the butter over medium heat and sauté the onions until soft. Add the garlic, mushroom and eggplant, and cook for several minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Season with salt, pepper, one tsp of thyme and one tsp of oregano. Stir in the wine, and let simmer for a minute or two. It should smell reallllllly gooooooood. And it should look warm/rich/dark/filling/flavorful:

Add the ground lamb to the pot and mix. Add the remaining tsp of thyme and oregano, and season with a little more S & P. Once everything has been combined and the meat has started to brown, cover the pot to let the meat finish cooking.

Heat the oven to 350. Spoon the lamb mixture into a pie plate and spread out to fill the bottom. Spread the mashed potatoes out over the top of the meat, and score the edges with a fork. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes. Drink wine, eat the pie, and then pass out under a down comforter until next spring.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sinful Soho Treats

The weather was so nice this weekend, we just had to get out and go walk around. Wanderlust and curiosity drove us to Soho, where, after devouring cheeseburger spring rolls at Delicatessen, we rambled into Rice to Riches.

Before I discuss Rice to Riches, I must describe the cheeseburger spring rolls. It's cheese, plus burger, wrapped in wonton and deep fried to a crisp. It's a heart attack waiting to happen, so naturally, I absolutely adore it.

There's not much of a story behind Rice to Riches (essentially an ice cream parlor, but instead of various flavors of ice cream, it serves various flavors of rich pudding) other than the fact that I had seen it in some movies and was curious about its existence. Also, my husband happens to love rice (and tapioca) pudding, while rice (and tapioca) pudding happens to be one of my biggest fears. No, seriously. Snakes. The Ocean. Dark tunnels. Pudding-that-I-have-to-chew.

So, I figure, if I am ever to over come my fear, it would be more likely to happen over a bowl of rice pudding with a snappy name like "sex, drugs, and rocky road" or "the edge of rum raisin."

The shop itself is really fun - heaven if you love rice pudding - but it wasn't enough to convert me to a fan. I'll stick with paying $6 for a cup of ice cream, thankyouverymuch. Although I might return closer to the holidays for their limited-time flavor, "I'll take eggnog for $200 Alex" because I really like the name.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Knowing how to cook, at least possessing some basic knowledge, is so empowering. One of the best aspects of knowing how to cook, in my opinion, is when you reach that point in your development as a chef where you can decide exactly what you want to eat and create it for yourself. When you are able to flip through a cookbook and say “I think I’ll make this,” and know that you have both the skills and tools to make it.

I have not always been able to do this. I remember, not so long ago, the certain cookbooks on my shelf that I would never open because everything in there scared me half to death. Fish sauce? Braising? Boning a duck?? English, por favor! Don’t get me wrong, I did learn many kitchen basics by growing up in a foodie household, but I never really had the confidence to wield a 10” chef knife with authority until I participated in cooking classes.

I highly recommend taking cooking classes. No matter your background or experience, everyone can benefit from cooking classes. To be able to take a few simple ingredients and magically transform them is a skill that will enrich your life. Obviously my favorite place on the planet for classes is Kitchen Conservatory in St. Louis, which I have mentioned before, but if you can’t make it to Missouri, do a search of classes in your area and pick out some that interest you. Most places offer Culinary Skills courses that take a comprehensive approach to knife skills and meal prep, which is a great way to build a lot of know-how in a short amount of time.

I also recommend good knives.

If you happen to have a particularly stubborn, thick-skinned pumpkin on your hands, I recommend a hammer. This was the scenario I faced on a recent Sunday afternoon. Me vs. the 5 lb sugar pumpkin that just wouldn’t break. I ditched my good Wusthof knives early in favor of a hammer that still had my name and college dorm room number scribbled on the handle in black sharpie. I finally beat the pumpkin in half. Not quite the peaceful afternoon of cake-baking I had envisioned. It was more like an afternoon of a vicious, unmerciful beating, but at least I got my cake.

Like I said – one of the best aspects about knowing how to cook is when you can decide exactly what you want to eat and create it for yourself. For my birthday cake (a few weeks late; who’s counting?) I flipped though my favorite dessert cookbook and said “I think I’ll make this,” while pointing at a recipe for pumpkin cheesecake with a gingerbread crust, topped with spiced pecans.

And guess what? I did.

Know what else I recommend? Buying the cookbook, Classic Stars Desserts, by Emily Luchetti. I give up enough of her recipes from that book on this blog that I’ll probably start to owe her royalties soon. That book is chock-full of amazing goodies; not once have I made something of hers that I didn’t love. The recipe for pumpkin cheesecake is on page 189.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


After a bad sushi experience for my 28th birthday, my 29th bithday sushi experience was a vast improvement. In fact, it was a fabulous, memorable, romantic and delicious experience!

Nathan took me to Morimoto (as in Chef Masaharu Morimoto, of Iron Chef fame) and treated me to the "Omakase," the 7-8 course tasting menu, offering the essence of Morimoto's cuisine. Now that is doing your birthday up right. Excuses to celebrate with indulgent dinners are w o n d e r f u l. Surprises are wonderful... especially when I know they're going to be good. There is nothing more thrilling than a talented kitchen team preparing the very best of what they do, as you wait, giddy and anxious for what's going to be placed in front of you next.

The most unique course (among many interesting courses) was an oyster topped with fioe gras, sea urchin, and teryaki sauce. My favorite was probably the fluke sashimi with mushrooms. But everything was just so good! I really wanted to get photos for you, but it was very dark at our table, and I always take photos on my phone (thus, no flash). Plus, I didn't get pictures of everything because I had a hard time remembering to do it before I devoured the dish.

First photo, first course: Tuna tartare with caviar.

Second photo, second course: The fluke sashimi.

Third photo, fifth course: Sushi!

Fourth photo, seventh course: Roast lobster on the half-shell with garam masala and lemon creme fraiche, and Kobe beef with roasted sweet potatoes.

Fifth photo, eighth and final course: pumpkin cake with ginger ice cream and ginger marshmallows.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Got a Chicken

When I resided in the Midwest and relied heavily on my car to get around, I always had this fantasy about shopping for food that didn’t involve a vehicle. Rather than drive to the supermarket on Saturday mornings to stock up for the week ahead, I simply would stroll home from my fabulous job in a bustling city, and drop into the adorable little shops and markets along the way. I would decide on a whim what I would make for dinner that night based on what’s fresh and in season. I’d scoop up a wedge of cheese, some crusty bread, salami and fruit for a picnic-esque lunch the next day.

I think this fantasy was born on my trip to Paris a few years ago. The sky would dim; the streetlights would start coming on, and the artisan cheese shops, fishmongers, wine, meat, and fresh produce markets would have their goods on display spilling out to the sidewalks. Now that I live in a bustling city, with no vehicle, I walk home from my fabulous job and pass such vendors on the street. It’s just like I dreamed it would be. Sort of.

New York is less romantic than Paris. It just is. Thus, my fantasy-come-to-life also lacks a little of the romance. But sometimes it all works according to plan: I'll stop off to pick up a pound of fresh mussels ($2 a pound. 2 bucks!!), crusty bread (and I’ll get the last one), white wine and some fresh parsley to create a delicious pot of moules provencal. The city quiets for a few key moments, no strangers speak to me (yes I’m anti-social), and the air smells good on my excursion.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way, and I need comfort. After a long weekend, with an unplanned moment of recalling my Grandma (Miss you, Gramma Pat!), catching a cold from somewhere amongst 70 high school kids, sleep/bed deprivation, getting hit in the face by a stranger (hey, a least he didn’t try to talk to me), crappy weather, a full day of screaming emergency sirens (I swear, I have never heard so many in one day), the decision for comfort food is easy. I'll make the ultimate comfort food for myself – the most comforting of all comfort foods – my Grandma’s (then my mom’s…now mine…) Chicken & Dumplings. Just thinking about it makes me feel like I’m getting a big hug from everyone I love. As I’m wrapped in a down comforter. As my pugs curl against me.

As I said, sometimes it just doesn’t work.

Market #1: Picked up carrots, celery, and onion. Wait a minute, where’s the chicken? They always have chicken. Walk away. Now go back and look again. Chicken? Nope. Still no chicken. Is that right? One more time… still no chicken. Where the hell is the chicken?

Market #2: Again with the no chicken. What does a girl have to do to get some chicken in this town??

Dammit, I'm making it work!

Market #3 and several (Cold. Rainy.) blocks later: Chicken. Just barely.

Almost lost my mind, but I got a chicken.

Recipe for Grandma Pat’s Chicken & Dumplings:

My grandma gave me this recipe hand-written on small note cards. I love reading it, making it, and eating it. I’ve adapted it a little bit, but it serves about 3-4 depending on how hungry you are.

  • 2 big chicken breasts and 2 chicken thighs/legs (bone-in, skin-on)
  • 1 small onion, coarsely chopped
  • 5 carrots, peeled and sliced into sticks
  • 2 stalks of celery - whole
  • Chicken stock
  • Salt & Pepper

Wash the chicken and place it in a large pot with a tight lid. Season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle the onions and carrots over the chicken. Lay the 2 celery stalks on top, and pour chicken stock over the top to cover. Simmer uncovered until the chicken is done/tender. Add more salt and pepper at this point. Remove the cooked chicken, discard the celery, and remove the skin and bones from the chicken. Place the chicken pieces in a shallow pan and ladle about a ¼ cup of the stock over the top. Cover with aluminum foil and keep warm in a 200 degree oven. Bring the stock to a boil, and thicken slightly with a water/flour mixture. Whisk it in slowly until the stock is the consistency of thin gravy. Bring to a simmer.

Make the dumplings:

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 4 rounded (generous) tsp of baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¾ stick of butter (soft)
  • ¾-1 cup of milk

In a bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt. Then blend in the butter with your fingers. Add the milk quickly – use as little as possible – dough should be sticky.

Dip a clean tablespoon in hot stock and scoop up a large spoonful of dough and immerse it in the pot. Repeat until the pot is full of dumplings (do not crowd) and cover tightly. Don’t peek or else the dumplings will fall! Let it simmer for 20 minutes. When the dumplings are done, check the gravy for salt. Divide the chicken and spoon the dumplings, carrots, and sauce among all the plates. The more sauce, the better! Get cozy and eat up.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Make Steak

When you can’t remember the last time you had steak, it’s time to make yourself some steak. Especially when the October wind nips at your ears, and the cold rain soaks your socks and hem. You need steak. You deserve steak.

Luckily, steak can be a low-stress any-night meal – good news if it happens to be a Thursday, and you’re exhausted, plus aforementioned condition of socks and hem, compounded with dogs that need walking, and laundry that won’t do itself. For example.

Of course, a good NY strip is the stuff of steak fantasy. Sitting at my desk working on budget plans, letting my mind wander as visions of beef dance through my head, I wipe the drool off my keyboard. But lately, my personal budget plan does not allow for NY strip teases. So instead I like to pick up a flank steak or skirt steak at $12 a pound, big enough for dinner and lunch the next day. Add some potatoes, cheese, and greens, and hellllllooo steak dinner.

Make Steak:
Certain cuts of meat really benefit from a marinade while others don't need it at all. Marinate the flank or skirt steak several generous dashes of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and about 3-4 cloves of crushed garlic. Make the potatoes while the meat marinates. Heat the grill and season the steak with salt & pepper. Cook on both sides for several minutes, until done to your liking. I like it pink, so I cook it to an internal temperature of 135 degrees. Slice on the diagonal.

Boursin Mashed Potatoes:
Peel a couple of big yellow potatoes and dice so each piece is about the same size. Boil until they pierce easily with a fork. Drain the potatoes and place back in the pot. Add about one tsp of Boursin cheese per potato used, and mash with some butter and cream. Season with salt and pepper.

Green Salad:
Rinse and dry mixed greens, and toss with a drizzle of grapeseed oil, balsamic vinegar and serve on a slice of tomato. Grate fresh parmigiano over the top.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Gross Expectations

You may have noticed, dear elite group of readers, that I have been away.

Or maybe you really didn't notice. We've all got stuff to do.

This past weekend was the annual New York Wine and Food festival, and I was hoping to be inspired to write something.

No - I was counting on being inspired.

I was, unfortunately, disappointed instead. On Friday I could hardly contain my excitement. I had won tickets (WON TICKETS!!!!) to the sold-out Meatpacking Uncorked event on Friday night. This was a sort of "taste-of-the-meatpacking-district tour," and if you are not familiar with this particular area of the city, it meant very delightful restaurants, not whatever else the words "taste of meatpacking" might bring to mind.

Oh I am SO glad I did not pay for those tickets.

Had I spent $130 to scamper down each block of the district from one absurdly long line to the next, only to be rewarded with a piece of mediocre food the size of my pinky, I would have been really angry rather than mildly put out. The wine-tasting aspect took place in snooty retail storefronts, with equally long lines and often a "one-in, one-out" door policy, complete with asshole bouncer-guy.

And I had so much fun last year at the "SWEET" event.

Oh well. I'll try again next year. At least I was inspired, just not in a good way, like I was hoping. Expecting.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Come Together

Last Friday night, Cat Cora cooked me dinner.

Well. Me and about 100 other guests of Macy's, who had "Come Together" to share a meal and show support for aiding the hunger crisis.

I had so much fun, I wanted you to be a part of it. So I took a picture of every course, and saved the menu.

Marcus Samuelsson (Aquavit) did an amazing job as the MC for the evening. He was promoting his book, New American Table, and said some moving words about America's table being open and welcoming to not only him, but in general to foods and ethnic dishes from everywhere in the world. Cat Cora (Iron Chef extraordinaire) made two delicious courses that went perfectly with the Trapiche wine and pastry chef Nancy Olson's (Gramercy Tavern) show-stopping goat cheesecake with concord grape sorbet. It was all in the spirit of coming together.

The menu is pretty small on screen, but the first course was Bittersweet Chocolate Agnolotti with Roasted Butternut Squash, Sage Brown Butter and White Chocolate Emulsion, and the main course was Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Black Rice, Pistachios and Orange. The dessert was Goat Cheese Cake with Fennel Semolina Crust and Concord Grape Sorbet.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Squid and the City

To those who voted: thank you. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was having my fate decided by forces outside of myself. The grand-banquet buffet of options for “things to do in NYC” can be absolutely paralyzing at times, and it’s not entirely uncommon for me to just lie in bed and whimper on weekend mornings. Or to simply fall into the farmers market/dog park/cook something/eat it/watch movie/go to bed early routine, which I can do just about anywhere on the planet. Sometimes the awesome-ness of New York propels me to go out and embrace its powerful experiences, but sometimes it overwhelms me so much I want to cry. Then I feel guilty for not embracing all it has to offer. Then I feel overwhelmed again. Then I reluctantly acknowledge that I am a neurotic weirdo.

What made last weekend even more exciting was the fact that the voting was still happening throughout (since I had forgotten to change the settings of the poll to have it end on Friday), and on Saturday morning, it was still anyone’s game. Since “Curry Hill” finally emerged as the clear winner, I promise to do that one soon, but last Sunday afternoon, squid pulled into the lead with a whopping 2 votes.

Saturday went like this:
Nathan: “What should we do this weekend?”
Me: “I won’t know until more people vote.”
Nathan: “Huh?”
Me: “Here are the options: Little Italy in the Bronx for fresh rabbit, but that has no votes, or squid shopping, or the Greek neighborhood in Queens, or Curry Hill; those all have one vote.”
Nathan: “It’s nice out. All those sound good. What do you want to do?”
Me: “The Bronx or Queens. Those are the furthest away. And I know the rabbit stew has no votes yet, but I kind of want to check out the Bronx Zoo. Plus, if something else winds up with more votes, there’s always tomorrow.”

So that’s how I ended up with the best pasta ever. After about 90 minutes wandering around the zoo (with Nathan asking every 30 minutes or so, “Any more votes?”), we headed East a few blocks over to the historic Arthur Avenue/E. 187th Street “Little Italy” neighborhood of the Bronx. Unfortunately it was pretty late in the day by the time we arrived, and Vincent’s Meat Market was closing up shop. I still had no votes for rabbit stew, so I shrugged and told myself I can always come back (the train ride wasn’t THAT long). I did arrive just in time to Borgatti’s on E. 187th to pick up some homemade ravioli – creamy ricotta pillows encased in fresh pasta dough, perfected over their 70 years in business.

On Sunday, I kept an eye on the mini-web browser on my phone, and when squid received its second vote, I scooted over to Citarella to consult the friendly gentlemen behind the fish counter. I practically ran the 15 blocks to get there. When I arrived, I couldn’t believe my eyes – no squid in the squid spot. There is ALWAYS squid in the squid spot. I silently cursed the mini-crowd around the fish counter as if each person was there specifically to buy up all the squid and consciously foil my day. Too late to go to Chinatown; should have gone out for squid earlier; I bet that woman over there bought all my squid – she’s probably eats squid every Sunday – leave some squid for the rest of us, lady! My general New York neurosis was not helping one bit.

Deep breath, my rational brain waves kindly reminded me. “Excuse me; are you all out of squid for today?” The guy behind the counter smiles and says four magic words, with a wink: “Oh I’ve got squid.” He waves me down to the other end of the counter, goes back behind a wall for about 3 seconds, and emerges…with squid. “It’s nice and fresh, too, how much would you like?” I sputter “one-half pound please” in barely comprehensible vernacular because my general New York neurosis and rational brain waves are doing cartwheels of joy together.

(Cease cartwheels)

Suddenly I remember: I have never cleaned squid (or cooked with it for that matter), but I wouldn’t mind trying to figure it all out. “Is it cleaned and gutted and all that?” “Yeah lady, don’t worry.” “Oh. Okay. Thanks.”

I try to look relieved rather than reveal my disappointment. I know exactly what to do with clean squid, but I was kind of intrigued by having to figure out how to do all the dirty work myself. Maybe I will have to get a Chinatown squid sometime after all.

I decided to make “Squid Scampi” as a first course to the delicious fresh pasta dinner. It’s a typical scampi recipe, just featuring squid instead of shrimp.

Recipe for Squid Scampi:

Note: This dish would be even better with shrimp. I should have left that in the recipe. And maybe even added more seafood elements like scallop, mussels, etc. If you decide to up the quantity of fish used, up the other ingredients as well.
  • ½ lb fresh squid, sliced (see photo)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 5 cloves of garlic, smashed with the flat side of a knife
  • ½ of a bay leaf
  • 2 tbsp of dry white wine
  • 1 tbsp of butter
  • Fresh chopped parsley for garnish
  • Salt

Heat the oil on medium-low heat in a large skillet. Add the garlic and the bay leaf. Cook for a minute or so until garlic sizzles golden but not burned. Toss in the squid (and shrimp if using). Squid and shrimp need very little time over the heat. They cook fast, and can overcook easily. Sprinkle a little salt over the dish. After 20-30 seconds the squid will turn opaque, then you really need to watch because as it just becomes opaque and firms up, it is done. Turn off the heat and stir in the butter and wine, and discard the bay leaf and garlic chunks (if you prefer). Top with parsley and serve with crusty bread.



To prepare a cleaned squid, simply trim the tentacles and slice the body horizontally into rings.

The finished product looked like garlic Squidy-O’s.

We ate the ravioli with tomato sauce. Molto bene!

Monday, September 21, 2009

If I had a Pig Head

What does one do with a van full of watermelons?

Last weekend I saw a parked van with its sliding side door swung wide open, exposing the vehicle as a mobile watermelon treasure chest. Of course I had to stop what I was doing and take a picture.

No one was selling the watermelons. There was a little stand nearby, but from what I could tell they were peddling frozen treats. Not whole watermelons. That's just ridiculous. Some little kid on the playground: "Mommy! I want a watermelon!" (points to the van) Mom: "No no sweetie, it's not like picking a Halloween pumpkin." Kid: "But I want this one!"

So, seriously, what do you do with a van full of watermelons? They must be headed somewhere. Maybe somewhere interesting. A party. A big one. A big party for Brad and Angelina and their 6 or 7 (right? I totally lost count) kids out on Long Island. Yeah.

My husband is used to me. He knows what it means when I say, "hang on..." and I slow down my step and start digging in my purse for my iPhone-with-handy-built-in-camera. It means I've come across some sort of New York oddity that must be documented so that when I inevitably return to the Midwest I can maintain a worldly sense of perspective (Not all vans are full of soccer equipment, I'll remind myself 10 years from now. Some are full of watermelons. Watermelons that go to fabulous star-studded Long Island parties.).

Exhibit B: Giant, sparkling hot dogs, being prepped for what I imagine to be some decadent outdoor soiree in Madison Square Park, featuring, oh, let's see, the guy-who-always-wins-those-hot-dog-eating-contests and the cast of Saturday Night Live.

Then there are the pig heads. The pig heads disturb me.

Not even for obvious reasons (what, like that they're flat-out creepy looking? That the eyes are fair game, but God forbid they leave the skin on??). I am cool with other cultures and their cuisines and whatnot. I'm even a pretty adventurous eater. What disturbs me is that these guys are in a cafeteria-style bin right next to the register, as if they might be considered an impulse purchase. "Let's see... I got everything I need... hmmm...... well, what the heck, I think I'll just get a pack of gum, too. And a People magazine. And I better get one of these pig heads."

If I had a van full of watermelons, I'd make sangria. If I had a sparkling hot dog, I'd display it on my porch. If I had a pig head, I have absolutely no idea what I'd do with it.

(On quick personl rnt, my "A" key is not working nd it's relly frustrting. If I wnt n "A" I relly hve to push down on it quite forcefully, more thn once, nd then mybe, just mybe, my keybord decides to give it to me. Don't worry - I'll try not to let it interefere with my postings. Fortuntely, my "E" key works, s it's the most commonly used letter in the English lnguge. Food for thought.)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Has It Really Been That Long?

Nostalgia takes over me as these days grow shorter and also (seemingly) warmer. It was a nasty summer in New York, but late August and September have been perfectly lovely. It reminds me of Minnesota summers - they always seem to save the best for last. I can't help but daydream about the warm-with-a-slight-fall-crisp-in-the-air late summer/early fall weekends that I used to spend “up North” at my family lake home.

Weekends at The Lake were quiet, wonderful weekends. Busy, yet lazy. Chores were rewarded with long naps in a large hammock suspended between two oaks. The soothing sound of the crystal-clear water lapping on the shore that plays on eternal repeat in the background. A tall glass of coke in one hand, which, for some reason, always tasted better than any other cokes in any other moment, and a favorite book in the other.

Of course, in the midst of all my great memories is food. My dad, being the pizza-loving guy that he is, built a wood-burning oven in the lake house to make homemade wood-fired pizza. We would go through the whole process: make the dough, pound the dough, let it rise, pick out our ingredients, etc.

When you’re at The Lake, time and schedules don’t exist. We do have a clock. We do know that time still passes. We just choose to ignore it. Dinners at 11 p.m. are not uncommon at The Lake. We don’t even notice.

Fortunately, the intense fire in the wood-burning oven can cook a pizza in about 2 minutes flat.

It’s not that I can’t recreate some delicious pizza in New York. It’s that I can never have The Lake. In a city where I have grown accustomed to being able to obtain anything, anything at all that I could possibly want, do anything, see or be anything, I can’t be the person I am when I am in the presence of The Lake.

I’ll frequently walk over to the Hudson River and try to pretend that it’s My Lake. Minus the gridlock traffic nearby. And the honking and yelling. And the Jersey skyline. And the distant sirens. And the hundreds of people I am inevitably in contact with every time I step foot outside…. Sigh.

To be in the correct “Lake” frame of mind when I eat pizza, I must make the dough myself, the way my dad would. And I must top it with extra cheese and artichoke hearts, the way I always do when I am at The Lake. My apartment barely provides room for a miniature oven so a wood-burning fireplace remains in my daydreams. I crank the little guy up to 500 and make do. It's not exactly The Lake pizza, but the Hudson isn't exactly The Lake either.

Oh, and yesterday was the one-year anniversary of my blog. Has it really been that long? Yikes. Thanks for reading!

Recipe for The Lake Pizza:

1.) Make a batch of good dough. 2.) Make a compound butter with lots of basil. 3.) Dice your artichoke hearts, and if you want, shred some prosciutto or jamon or something. Slice some fresh mozzarella into thin rounds. 4.) Pound out the dough and pinch the crust, and brush the room temperature basil butter all over 5.) Top with cheese, then the artichoke hearts, etc. Sprinkle a little dried oregano, salt and pepper on top, and grate some parmigiano-reggiano as well. 6.) Bake at 500+ on a baking stone sprinkled lightly with cornmeal until golden brown and bubbly. At 500 it will be about 10-12 minutes. If you have a wood burning oven, spin it around in there for about 2 minutes.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Freakin’ Green Tomato Mac

Today I am in a “mood,” and for no good reason whatsoever. No one pushed my buttons at work. No one hassled me on the subway. My pugs are behaving like angels. Still, for some reason, everything is “f-ing this,” and “f-ing that,” and I just can’t seem to turn on the sunshine. No humans are actually getting any rain from my mental storm clouds. No dogs, even. Just my chores (the dishes and whatnot. Sorry All-Clad pots, but I know you can take it!), and occasionally the cheery disposition trying desperately to creep back inside my head that an irrationally pissed-off disposition keeps flicking at like a big bully.

So, that’s how an abundance of green tomatoes that led to a delicious baked green tomato mac became Freakin’ Green Tomato Mac.


  • 2 cups of bowtie pasta, cooked al dente
  • 2-3 strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 1 green tomato, diced
  • ¾ cup of grated cheese (I used Swiss, because I had it in my fridge. Use whatever cheese you freakin’ want.)
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ cup Panko breadcrumbs
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat your oven. 400 should do the trick. Cook the pasta and drain, and return the empty pot back to the stove. After frying the bacon, wipe out most of the grease and heat the pan on medium low. Toss the diced green tomatoes in the pan and let them soften a little. In the pasta pot, melt the butter over low heat and stir in the flour. Whisk in the milk, then the grated cheese. Stir in the pasta, green tomatoes, and bacon. Taste for salt and pepper. Spread out the pasta in an oven-safe baking dish. Meanwhile, toss the Panko with olive oil, and sprinkle it over the top of the pasta. Bake for 10 minutes or so until the top is nice and golden.

And I just noticed that my freakin' fortune cookie stopped working. How long has that been going on? Sigh.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hooray for Fall!

Tonight marks the start of NFL regular season games. Can you feel the excitement? I have the television on right now as I write this, anxiously awaiting the kickoff.

I consider myself someone who lives in the moment. I hate making plans; when forced into structure, I am a terrible planner. I have never been able to stick to a routine of any kind. I try new things. I take detours. I explore everything. I shake things up. There are, of course, exceptions to every tendency. My particular exceptions are less like chronic habits, and more like sacred traditions. Fall is the season that houses most of these sacred traditions. Football is one.

Football season means several things. I spend much more time on the couch. Sundays, Monday nights, and occasionally Thursdays, are strictly off-limits to other events and activities. My beer and carb intake inevitably increases, contributing to the annual arrival of the very thin fatty layer that keeps me warm as the temperature drops. This works out nicely since I like to eat artery-clog-worthy food while watching football, plus it helps me prepare for winter.

Being averse to routine, I have never really been good at sticking to a workout plan, which also helps to preserve the extra winter insulation. I feel like I’m in decent shape; I walk a lot, and take the stairs. Occasionally, if I’m running late to catch the subway or if I’m walking my pugs and they decide to chase a squirrel, I might even break into a “mini-jog” (a term coined by college friends when we would sort of half-run, usually while wearing heels and trying to catch that last bus to the off-site frat party). Besides, the last time I tried to conquer a treadmill, I got so sore that I vomited. Therefore, I think I will just stick to walks, stairs, the intermittent mini-jog, and couch yoga while watching football. Especially since I’m okay with what I see in the mirror when I step out of the shower, and I don’t hear any complaints from the one other person who sees me naked, so couch yoga and artery-clogging it is. Hooray for fall!

Another sacred fall tradition is fried green tomatoes. I find ‘em, I fry ‘em. They can be elusive, but check out farmers markets over the next couple of weeks and you should be able to turn some up. Or you can just do what I do: try to grow tomatoes over the summer, fail miserably, and pluck the underdeveloped green tomatoes as they mock you.

I wrote a green tomato blurb last year with a family recipe that you can read by clicking here. I finally added some photos, too.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Spice is Nice

Fall is upon us, and typically the temperature of the air is directly proportionate to the amount of rich, aromatic spices I use in cooking. As the outside temps cool off, the general spiciness of my meals heat up. Spice cupboards always need a "fall cleaning." If you find spices hanging around that have been there for over a year, it's time to give them the boot, unless they start paying you rent. In fact, the length of their lease should really be about 6 months, if you're being strict about it.

Always a mystery is, what on earth made me decide to buy such a large quantity of a spice I rarely use? Is that curry powder back there? What made me think I needed that much curry powder? Did I decide I was going to master a new cuisine because I'm such a worldly New Yorker now? Didn't I realize that Indian restaurants deliver $4 curry dishes at all hours?

Didn't I understand that curry powder is at its best flavor for only about 2 months??

You get the gist. I needed to do something with this particular spice blend (yes, curry powder is a blend of, like, 20 other spices). I was so excited that Chelsea Market was selling bulk spices for cheap, that I had ditched my rule of buying ground spices in small quantities. So I was in possession of a whole lot of it. Chicken + curry powder is usually a safe and tasty combo. This recipe is fast and easy.

Recipe for Spicy Chicken Curry:
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne powder
  • 2 tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 2 boneless/skinless chicken breasts, diced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt (I like Fage)
  • Kosher salt
  • Serve over cooked rice

In a heavy pot with a lid, melt the butter over medium heat, and stir in the onion, garlic, and ginger. Stir occasionally until soft, and then stir in the curry powder, cumin, cardamom, cayenne, and some salt. Stir in the pieces of chicken and brown the outside for a few minutes. Mix in the tomatoes and yogurt. Bring to a gentle simmer, then cover and cook on medium-low heat for about 8-10 minutes. Taste for salt - it will probably need it - and stir in the fresh cilantro. Serve the spicy chicken curry over rice.

Monday, August 31, 2009

What's Stirring? Another Awesome Blog.

Wow! I am honored to be a guest on "What's Stirring," the official blog of the Kitchen Conservatory in St. Louis.

I have every right to be bias, since I was once employed there, but shoving aside my natural proclivity in its favor for the sake of journalistic integrity, I can honestly say they have the world's best (and most creatively-named) cooking classes, nicest and most knowledgable staff, and all the cookware tools you could ever need and even those that you couldn't possibly know that you need (but you do).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How to: Deal With Leeks

Making bouillabaisse the other day reminded me of my first leek lesson. Leeks look like an oversized scallion, and are generally available year-round. Milder in flavor than onions or garlic, leeks make a great addition to all kinds of dishes. Pick a batch of leeks with healthy-looking green leaves, and a clean white stem.

First, trim off the dark green leafy end and the root end. Then, slice the stem vertically down the middle. If you run your thumb across each half, the layers will flip like pages of a book. This is where dirt will hide, so you'll want to rinse the leek while you flip the layers.

After the dirt has been rinsed away, place the leek halves flat side-down and make thin slices. The result will be little half-rings that look like fingernail clippings, ready to go into your dish.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Fancy French-Speak for “Fish Stew”

Ever since my stepfather, Ernie, showed me how to make Bouillabaisse a few years ago, I have been dying for an excuse to make it again. My mom and Ernie would often make a big batch of Bouillabaisse for guests, and for me it holds blissful memories of sitting around my mom’s table with friends, being cared for and filled with something warm, fragrant, and intensely flavorful. One of the things I love most about food is that it does for me what music does for some – it envelopes me with deep emotions and memories of how it feels to finally come home after a long time away, tuck yourself under the covers after a bad day; the excitement of falling in love for the first time, or a comforting hug from a dear friend. The process of cooking is exciting, but eating is the reward. And if you have someone to share it with, that makes it all the more rewarding.

I had some fish-loving friends over for dinner last night. There are about a million ways to make Bouillabaisse, a traditional Provençal fish stew originating from the port city of Marseille that contains different kinds of cooked fish/shellfish and vegetables, and is flavored with a variety of spices. This version received rave reviews.

Recipe for Ernie’s Bouillabaisse:

For Bouillabaisse for 4 people, you’ll need:

  • 8 Scallops
  • About 1lb Mussels
  • 8 Shrimp, peeled, cleaned
  • About ½-1 lb of non-oily white fish, such as Halibut, Turbot, Snapper… whatever is fresh… chopped into bite-sized chunks
  • 2 cups of Fish Stock
  • 2 celery stalks, sliced
  • 2 leeks, cleaned and sliced
  • 1 fennel bulb, sliced
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, pressed through a garlic press (or minced very fine)
  • 1 can of whole tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp of tomato paste
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • A pinch (about ¼ tsp) of saffron
  • About ¼- ½ tsp of cayenne pepper (adjust according to your heat preference)
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt & white pepper
  • About 2 tbsp of Pernod (licorice-flavored liqueur)

In a large heavy pot with a lid, heat the olive oil and butter on medium until the butter has melted. Add the chopped celery, leeks, and fennel, and stir in the saffron; add the star anise and bay leaf, and season with salt and pepper. Cook about 5-10 minutes until the veggies are tender. Turn the heat down to medium-low and stir in the garlic and some sprinkles of cayenne. Next, add the tomato paste and stir. Cook for about one more minute, then add the white wine and bring to a simmer. Add the tomatoes and their juices, mashing them into pieces with your stirring device. Add the fish stock and the Pernod. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot and let simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Discard the star anise and bay leaf, and check your seasoning. You might add a little more cayenne, salt or pepper at this point. With the pot is still simmering and steaming, add the mussels and cover. Let the mussels steam for a couple of minutes, until they open up. Discard any that do not open.

Add the scallops and white fish, and let them cook in the simmering liquid for another minute or two, then add the shrimp, and cook until it has just turned pink. Give one last stir, and check seasoning one last time.

Serve it to friends with lots of warm crusty bread, and a simple green salad on the side.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Julia Lived to Be 91, Which Makes Me Feel Better

Dear friends, it's been lovely, truly it has, but I fear this is the end. I could quite possibly be approaching my death.

I only have months now, weeks or days even, before the morning comes that Nathan will think I am simply being stubborn and won't get up from bed. He'll say, "V, seriously, are you still in bed?" I won't even stir. "Well, give me a kiss goodbye then." Nothing. He'll shake me. Call my name out loud. Check my pulse. Panic. Regroup. Call an ambulance and have me rushed to the emergency room. The doctors will puzzle and agonize; how could a seemingly healthy 28-year-old have suddenly passed away like this? How did her arteries come to be like stone?

This is the scenario I play out in my mind as I drink my morning tea, watching Diane Sawyer interview someone about the hazards of too much salt in one's diet. The hazard of it hidden in processed foods especially, since we have no control over what has already been added. The levels of sodium in, say, a hot dog? Much more than our daily recommended value, which should be no more than a half teaspoon.

Wait, a half a teaspoon? That's it? Commence hyperventilation.

An animated graphic pops onto the TV screen of an artery being slowly thickened and hardened over time as the little white dots that represent "sodium" pile onto the screen. This is about where I turn off the TV and begin to accept my fate.

Until that moment, I had been preoccupied with trying to curb my butter intake, which would undoubtedly warrant the same kind of animated artery graphic warning if Diane Sawyer knew what I was up to. Me, and Paula Deen, The Butterton Family (have you seen those commercials?), the entire staff of Kitchen Conservatory in St. Louis (motto: "It's better with butter") and the late Julia Child. We'd all be condemned to watch the artery clip over and over.

But I'd have made up my mind long ago; sacrificing it all for flavor. Nathan would tell people, "She loved life. She lived life. She never took life with a grain of salt... always with butter and usually with more than a half a teaspoon of salt."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Premeditations and Portobellos

I usually have pasta, butter, a block of parmigiano-reggiano, and salt & pepper at all times, so if I ever need a meal in a pinch, I'm prepared.

Sometimes, I even have some cream and beautiful market finds that I picked up with no particular premeditated plans for their future. Most recently: portobello mushrooms.

Recipe for Easy Linguine Alfredo with Portobellos:

You need:
  • Linguine
  • Butter
  • Cream
  • Parmigiano-reggiano
  • Salt & pepper (affectionately referred to as S & P)
  • Portobellos, sliced (stems removed)

Boil pasta. Drain. Cook mushrooms in a couple of tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat in a shallow pan. Add a little S & P. Add pasta. Pour a little cream over the pasta/mushrooms, and toss with tongs. See if you need more cream to cover pasta. Shred as much cheese as your heart desires over the top. Toss pasta again. Serve with a little more shredded cheese.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Best. Cookies. Ever.

I have spent the last two years of my life deliberately researching, tweaking, and tinkering with chocolate chip cookie recipes to try to find one that sticks with me. Because it's my husband's favorite cookie, I feel that, as his domestic partner for life, I simply must possess the ability to create and wield a powerful-good batch of these cookies.

My quest had been on hiatus until last Saturday night. We were lounging on the couch watching Mallrats...

Okay, time-out. No, we do not live in fabulous New York City and spend our weekends watching obscure mid-nineties comedies on HBO. Occasionally we spend a mere fraction of our weekends doing this, but only after a fabulous evening stroll to Bar Boulud, where we had a fabulous meal with some fabulous wine, then walked our fabulous-selves across the street to the Lincoln Center Out of Doors Concert Series for some fabulous musical ambiance.

Where was I? Ah yes. Mallrats.

There is a scene in Mallrats where the two protagonist mall-goers visit the "new" cookie stand (or store, or whatever) in the mall. During that scene, my husband and I think, out loud, simultaneously, how great a warm, chewy, chocolate chip cookie sounds. The next day, in some place I don't remember, there was another reference to warm chocolate chip cookies. I don't remember where we saw it because all I remember is throwing my hands up and saying, "That's it. I'm making cookies. Now."

Prior to Sunday's batch, my cookies have always turned out too light, too dark; too fat, too thin. Too sweet, not sweet enough. Too cakey, too crispy. Etc. I finally went to the right source for guidance. Using Emily Luchetti's recipe for chocolate cookies, making very few of my own substitutions, I fell in love at last with the results.

Recipe for Best. Cookies. Ever. (Based on Emily Luchetti's recipe for chocolate chip cookies):
  • 2 and 1/2 cups of flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 10 tbsp cold butter
  • 6 tbsp cold Crisco
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (or one bag) of chocolate chips

In a medium bowl, mix the flour, salt and baking soda, and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and Crisco with the paddle attachment until smooth. Add the sugars and beat again until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each egg. Mix in the vanilla. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer, and fold in the dry ingredients until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips. Put the dough in the fridge to chill while you heat the oven to 350 degrees. When the oven is hot, roll the dough into tbsp-sized balls and bake on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper for about 13-15 minutes (depending on size and your preference for gooeyness). Serve warm!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Decisions, Decisions

I am married to a great decision maker.

Okay, I confess - not all of the decisions Nathan has ever made have been great. But he consistently picks and chooses wisely, gives great advice, works out problems in a smart and logical fashion, and he always, ALWAYS, orders the best dish on the menu. At least, he always seems to be better at ordering than me. Lucky for me, he lets me try his selections, leaving me free to chase my whim by ordering something that was likely better in my imagination - an imagination that formed these great expectations as I sat studying the menu for several minutes, weighing each descriptive tidbit carefully. I weigh the descriptive tidbits, while factoring what the special happens to be, what day of the week it is, what season it is, what wine I want, what the person next to me is having, what I think Nathan might be thinking about ordering, what I ate already that week, what I might eat later that week, what the weather forecast is, what the waiter recommends, what my mother would recommend, what I might not cook at home, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Nathan simply find what he likes, and orders it. Or at least, that's how I perceive it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Few Thoughts About Lasagna

Out of necessity, and perhaps a little gluttony, I decided to make a lasagna. I say “a” lasagna, despite the improper grammar, because whenever you make a lasagna, it is a behemoth. It’s a commitment. It’s renting the use of your entire 9 x 13 baking dish for the next three-to-five days.

“Necessity” because it lasts about three-to-five days, and anything I can take to work and reheat for lunch is better for my finance-induced-insomnia than pricey NYC take-out lunches.

“Gluttony” for obvious reasons. It’s about eight pounds of cheese and noodles.

Here’s something about me: I love reading the funny pages. I’m a nerd for cartoons. One of my favorite characters of all time, for as long as I can remember, is Garfield. That cat who loves to sleep and eat. Garfield the Cat is a character I can relate to. His favorite food is lasagna, which he always eats while it’s still hot, in one big bite. Jon, Garfield’s owner, turns his back for one second, and the whole lasagna is gone and Garfield’s cheeks have suddenly quadrupled in size.

I think, given the opportunity, my pugs would do the exact same thing. Although, this is the real world, and they would probably need me to turn my back for at least 10 seconds. Then we’d inevitably have one of our little impromptu visits with our friends at the vet’s office.

At some point in my thought process, I realized that I have no idea how to make a lasagna. In my mind I’m thinking, how hard can it really be? You just layer stuff and bake it, right? Actually, that is right. That’s pretty much all there is to a basic lasagna. It’s one of those dishes that once you do it a couple of times, you can put it in your back pocket and make it over and over in different ways.

Here’s the recipe for the lasagna I made. It was really good. Sorry I didn’t take a picture, but it just looked like a heaping pile of noodles and cheese when it came out of the oven (shocking), and I really don’t have a fancy enough camera to make a heaping pile of noodles and cheese look appetizing via digital files posted on this page. You’ll have to take my word on this one.

Recipe for Lasagna with Pork, Basil and Fresh Ricotta:
  • An 8 oz. package of lasagna noodles, boiled (or no-boil version, whatever you prefer)
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves, rinsed clean
  • 1 lb of fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 4 cups grated mozzarella cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 3 cups of your favorite tomato sauce (or you can make it homemade, just use your judgement on what you add to it)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Olive oil

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Heat a small amount of oil in a large pot over medium heat, and saute the onions until translucent. Add the pork, making sure to break up the meat. Cook until browned, and then add the wine. Stir in the sauce. Bring to a simmer and cover. Let your sauce simmer for about 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix one cup of the mozzarella cheese, all of the ricotta cheese, the egg, and the oregano.

Spread about 1/3 of your sauce around the bottom of a glass baking dish. I use a 9x13x2. Place a single layer of noodles over the sauce. Using a spoon and your fingers, drop generous blobs of the ricotta cheese mixture over the noodle layer, about an inch or so away from each other. Place a basil leaf on each ricotta blob, then sprinkle mozzarella and parm' cheese on top. Layer again with noodles, then more sauce, then ricotta, then basil, then other cheeses. Finish by layering noodles, then sauce, then mozzarella sprinkled on top. Bake for 1 hour. Let stand to cool, but don't let your pets get too close.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Platter of Crostini

My mom introduced me to this great book - A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes by David Tanis (Chez Panisse). It is a cook book, split into four sections, one for each season, structured into various themed menus. Genius! I love it. Not that I don't love my books divided by "poultry" and "desserts." I can construct my own menu, and I can cook with the seasons, but if someone can do it for me, and do it well, with some interesting anecdotes along the way, it is much appreciated.

For my stepfather's birthday, we made:

Menu Ten
Feeling Italian (Part 1)
Cherry Tomato Crostini with Ricotta
Roast Pork Loin Porchetta-Style
Beans with Sage and Garlic
Nectarine and Raspberry Macedonia

Actually, we skipped the dessert in favor of his favorite raspberry pie from Turtle Bread Company. It was easier than baking a birthday cake, and was much appreciated.

While everything was delicious, the crostini stole the show. Easy to make, big flavor. Genius! I loved it.

Recipe for Cherry Tomato Crostini with Ricotta (adapted from A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes by David Tanis):
  • 1 large shallot, diced
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste with a little salt-plus another peeled garlic clove or two
  • 2 lbs cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 loaf ciabatta, sliced into 1/2" slices
  • 1/2 lb fresh ricotta
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • A handful of clean shredded basil leaves

In a bowl, mash the shallot in the red wine vinegar with a little salt and pepper. Then whisk in the olive oil. Add the smashed garlic, and toss in the cherry tomatoes to marinate in the mixture for a few minutes.

Spread out the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast under the broiler on both sides until golden. Swipe a peeled garlic clove over each piece for flavor.

Top with ricotta, salt & red pepper, cherry tomatoes and torn basil.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Ugh, New York

Returning to New York City after spending time in Minnesota is roughly the equivalent of crawling under someone's dirty, sweaty sheets.

That's all I've been able to think about the last couple of days. Not how fascinating the city is, not how convenient. How filthy. How I want to take a shower every 5 minutes. Good God I'm spoiled, right?

I had to go to the Union Square farmers market today to try to regain my perspective. That place always makes me feel good; like a little slice of heaven a brief train ride away. Dammit, wouldn't you know, all I could think about was how great the Minneapolis farmers market is, and how I wish I could go there right now. Ugh! The Minneapolis farmers market is pretty great - it's huge, there is an array of freshness and options, and you can get fried mini donuts and grilled sweet corn for breakfast at 7:30am! That's how it's done up North. Take THAT New York!

It's clear that my Minnesota pride has definitely kicked in. It might take me a few weeks to return to my fascinating, filthy, New York state of mind.

Minneapolis farmers market photos:

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Highly Recommended: La Belle Vie

My old list of favorite restaurants needs rewriting. The experience at La Belle Vie, located near Loring Park in downtown Minneapolis, is, WOW.

It should be spectacular - some very talented St. Louis and other Midwest chefs lost out to La Belle Vie's Tim McKee for the coveted 2009 James Beard Award for Best Chef Midwest. You don't even have to leave the bar area. We merely snacked on items from the lounge menu, which is enough to convince anyone that this place is utterly praise-worthy. From the pâté to the ketchup, everything is made in-house.

Pictured below is the "When in Rome" martini which, if I remember correctly, had orange vodka, Campari, bitter lemon, Cava, and rosemary; and a truffled crepe with Jambon-Royal, Brie D'Meaux, and topped with a slow-cooked egg yolk, which tasted simply luxurious.