Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The CSA may be over for the season, but the farmer's market is still going strong! Sure, it's a little bit chillier - or, a lot chillier - but the stands are still full of lovely local produce, and it seems extra important to support our local farmers now.

And it's extra extra important for me to be full of lovely local produce now, since I've jumped back on the Weight Watchers bandwagon. WW just revamped their program to put a greater emphasis on the importance of fresh fruits and vegetables for healthy diets, and I'm totally thrilled. Because, you know, I love vegetables!

Unfortunately, I also love cooking vegetables in massive quantities of fat, which is not exactly gonna help my caloric bottom line (or my actual bottom) so I've got to start learning new ways to turn the same old veggies into healthy new recipes. A good place to start? Well... Weight Watchers, apparently.

Remember this post about butternut squash pasta? I came across a WW recipe that was shockingly similar, except with whole wheat pasta instead of regular, part-skim ricotta instead of full-fat and a conservative sprinkle of toasted walnuts and really good Parmesan for flavor. Delicious! I think the changes actually wound up improving the finished dish. Parmesan shavings pump up the umami without being quite as in-your-face as bacon bits, and I liked how the ricotta stayed in creamy little pockets in the casserole. Oh, butternut squash! You're delicious even without a stick of butter. Who knew?

I plated the pasta with a seriously amazing red cabbage and apple stew. My mom used to make this cabbage dish when the weather got cold. The cinnamon and apples make the house smell so warm and cozy, and the cabbage just sort of melts into this soft, tangy purple lusciousness. I couldn't find any red cabbage at the market this week, so I picked it up from the supermarket, but the apples are crispy Granny Smiths from the greenmarket. I snuck a couple of "test slices" while cooking and wished I'd picked up more apples - even this late in the season, they were crunchy and tart.

And red cabbage stew keeps well in the fridge, too! Behold, the red cabbage leftovers topped with chicken apple sausage from Trader Joe's.

Barely any WW Points and barely any cooking? Dinner is done.


1 small head red cabbage, shredded
2 crisp, green apples (Granny Smiths are great) thinly sliced
2 T apple cider vinegar
2 t sugar
1/2 t pumpkin pie spice
1/2 t cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in a medium pot. Cover and cook over low heat, 30 to 45 minutes, until everything is nice and soft. Add water, a splash or two at a time, if the pot starts getting dry. Serves: a lot of folks.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The first cluster dinner party, no one thought to bring a camera. The second one, I brought a camera but forgot to charge my battery. This year, I brought the camera and charged the batteries, then promptly got tipsy and started taking incredibly out of focus pictures. I apologize in advance for my shoddy camera work. Maybe you should go have a few cocktails yourself before you read this entry? Adding some blur to your vision can only help!

Anyway, the dinner party was a great success! It was our most ambitious yet - six courses, eighteen people. But except for leaving the smoked salt at home, which left my brussels sprouts swathed in marmalade but bereft of smokiness, it all went off without a hitch.

The first course was a crowd favorite: chicken liver pate topped with bacon jam and chopped green apples.

I think this might have been my favorite course, too. It's a gorgeous little fat bomb, the rich chicken liver fighting with the smoky sweet bacon jam for unctuous domination, before the crispy and tart green apple comes in and smacks them both down. Booyakasha!

Next up, my dad's super secret turkey garlic minestrone!

Every year after Thanksgiving, my pops simmers the turkey carcass into the richest, most golden turkey broth you can imagine, then freezes it until Christmas morning, when he turns it into a garlicky minestrone, slicked with olive oil and full of escarole. The whole thing is topped generously with shredded Parmesan cheese and served with fresh baked bread. I made Dad's recipe a little less hearty (keeping out the beans and pasta) and skipped the side of bread, but other than under-salting the broth a bit, I think I did it justice.

The third course was leek and dried cranberry bread pudding with a creamy mushroom gravy.

The bread pudding was basically just my adaptation of the leek bread pudding from Ad Hoc at Home, but with cranberries added before baking. The gravy was simple - just crimini mushrooms cooked with butter, olive oil, thyme and white wine then added to a roux of butter, flour, cream and milk.

Fourth course was the piece de resistance: confit turkey leg with mashed parnsips and baby brussels sprouts with marmalade.

Turkey gets such a bad rap, but when it's well-prepared it can be so delicious. Brining helps and so does sous vide cooking, but for those of us without massive immersion circulators, turkey leg confit is definitely the way to go.

I followed this recipe fairly faithfully, save for the overnight salting. (And I replaced vegetable oil with olive oil in the hopes that olive oil would contribute a little extra flavor to the turkey.) After cooking and cooling and de-boning, I popped everything into the fridge with a bit of extra duck fat on top. At the party, I melted the duck fat, chopped the confit into small pieces and re-heated the turkey chunks in the duck fat. So. Freaking. Good.

The parsnips were easy - a quick simmer in chicken stock, then they get drained and mashed with obscene amounts of butter and cream, salt and pepper. Parsnips are so underrated. They're not all that tempting in the grocery store, but once cooked, they have a surprising sweetness without any of the starchy heaviness of mashed potatoes.

And the brussels sprouts were easy, too - I heated some butter and olive oil in a skillet and let the sprouts cook in there for about five minutes. After they're a bit browned, I added half a cup of water and popped a lid on the pan - that way, the sprouts can steam in the middle but still retain some of that caramelized, buttery goodness from the initial saute. After they were tender, I stirred in a few scoops of orange marmalade and a sprinkle of sea salt. (I would have used smoked salt, but I left it at home. Womp womp!)

After this course, people were all, "So, what's for dessert?" and I was like, "one more course before you find out!"

A salad course, that is. Field greens and radicchio in a maple-balsamic dressing, maple-roasted rutabaga, green apples, pumpkin seeds and a sprinkle of truffle salt. All of the important tastes were present: sweet, salty, bitter, tart, earthy. And aren't those colors gorgeous together? I think the finished product was a little bit over-salted, perhaps because of the super-salty pumpkin seeds, but with a lighter hand on the sodium, I think this was one of the best salads I've ever made.

And finally, dessert: a cinnamon meringue with pumpkin mousse and pomegranate seeds. Sort of like a pavlova and a pumpkin pie got into a fight.

I was shocked that the meringues came out as well as they did, since it was raining on both of the days that I was baking them. I attribute their success to the relentlessly dry heat of New York City apartment radiators. Antiquated heating system, I couldn't have done it without you!

And that was the dinner party! At least the food part of it. The best part, if course, wasn't the bacon jam or the parsnip mash - it was the people who came and made it amazing. My colleagues are the best ever, and everyone got up and pitched in at one point or another, pouring wine or collecting dishes. As always, though, Jenny and Danielle were the best "sous chefs" a lady could ask for, chopping veggies and expediting plates. No one can pull this off solo. I'm lucky that my friends are so willing to come together and put in work to make every dinner party we have a truly amazing evening.

Cluster 2, you da best!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

I just read Michael Pollan's excellent Food Rules - it's a quick read, and full of the kind of sensible nutrition advice that we should all abide by. One of his "food rules" was: eat all the junk food you want... provided that you cook it for yourself. It takes a lot more time and energy to make a batch of ice cream than it does to dash out to the bodega for a pint of Vermont's finest, so you probably won't be inclined to whip up a batch of mint chocolate chip more than every once in a while. (Which, of course, is about how often one should be eating ice cream.)

While I'm definitely not ready to follow all of Michael Pollan's advice to the letter, I think he has an excellent point with the cook-your-own junk food thing. I've been on a Kraft mac and cheese jag lately, and it's really not good for anyone. (And especially not for anyone who's hoping for leftovers, since I can totally dust one of those boxes by myself with astonishing speed.) Solution? This homemade broccoli mac and cheese, which requires barely more time or effort than opening up a packet of neon orange cheese powder.

I set a small pot of water on the stove, then cooked the shells in the boiling water while the broccoli steamed in the steamer insert. In a separate pot, I whisked together a few teaspoons of butter and a tablespoon of flour to make a roux, then added a few cups of milk, a generous pile of shredded cheddar, four slices of American cheese and some salt and freshly ground pepper. By the time the cheese melted and the sauce came together, the pasta and broccoli were both done. Ta da!

And the best part? This is so satisfying and filling, there were actually leftovers to tuck away in the fridge for a hungry boyfriend. Homemade junk food, more satisfying than the "real" thing? Michael Pollan, I think you're on to something!

A simple weeknight dinner: brussels sprouts cooked in bacon grease and olive oil, topped with shavings of ricotta salata and a runny poached egg. This could also be an awesome brunch dish - I'm pretty sure that Maialino serves a similar dish for breakfast, and it covers all the important brunch bases: eggy, cheese-y and bacon-y.

And another one: homemade chicken fingers, maple-glazed carrots and mashed fingerling taters. These carrots were gorgeous - all purply-orange and bright yellow. The awesome purple color didn't survive the peeling and cooking process, but whatevs - they're still pretty, right?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Where the hell did October go?

It's crazy... one day we're sitting in front of fans and air conditioners, sipping iced tea and eating gigantic, juciy red tomatoes - then, all of a sudden, it's fuzzy blankets, fall jackets and root vegetables as far as the eye can see.

I get really excited about fall vegetables, though. The first cabbage of the year might not inspire quite as much excitement as, say, the first ramps of the year... or the first heirloom tomato... but I really love our fall share. Squash and beets and carrots and yukina savoy... fall veggies have such lovely, intense flavors - and many of them are so versatile. Check out this pasta - just rotini, a bit of ricotta, some mashed butternut squash, a little salt and pepper and dinner's ready. I topped this with some bacon bits, but I think the bacon was actually a little distracting. Next time, I'll leave it off and just enjoy the sweet, creamy squash and ricotta by themselves.

Butternut squash is also delicious just by itself, with a little bit of butter and salt. And oh man, check it out - brussels sprouts! We didn't get any from the CSA this week, so I picked these up at the greenmarket. I tossed them with olive oil, smoked salt and maple syrup and then braised them in the oven with half a cup of water. (For some reason, I find that brussels sprouts come out best when they're cooked with oil and a bit of water - they get tender without becoming waterlogged.)

Ed is responsible for that gorgeous, pink pork roast. You think I could cook meat like that? Ha!

Though I can cook meat like this... a chicken breast, butterflied and dipped in egg and breadcrumb then fried in vegetable oil. I love chicken prepared like this, but it begs for a towering pile of vinegary greens on the side. Seriously. A chicken cutlet without a salad is like a Jersey Shore episode without Snooki.

And on the side, a leek and delicata squash risotto. This amazing recipe for risotto from Cooking Light magazine is always my basis for risotto adaptations. I've made it with tomato sauce and seafood, with mushrooms and truffle oil, with saffron and peas, and it's always spectacular. The recipe replaces some of the rice in a normal risotto recipe with chopped leek, which both lightens up the calorie count and provides a reliable way to use up the lone leek in our CSA delivery. This time, I added two peeled and roasted delicata squash and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Autumn, hell yeah!

And one final treat... I've been lusting over this Lenox pattern, Chirp, basically ever since it came out. I dig my cheap IKEA plates and all, but... OMG birdies! Flowers! Watercolors!

Lenox is just a bit out of my price range, though... so I figured these plates wouldn't be seeing the inside of my cabinet for a very, very long time. But then the other day, while I was slogging through the chaotic aisles of my local Marshall's, I came across a treasure trove of Chirp plates. Half price! I snatched up a set of two dinner plates and two salad plates and ran for the registers as fast as one can run when one is carrying four pieces of bone china that, together, cost more than her entire current set of dishes, flatware and glasses put together.

But my heart still leaps every time I see them, and would you look at how pretty they make an apple look? Best investment ever.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Thomas Keller's fabulous Ad Hoc at Home is one of my two coffee table books. (The other one is the French Laundry cookbook. Yeah, in case you couldn't tell, I have sort of a thing for Thomas Keller.) Keeping it in the living room, rather than banishing it to Cookbook Alley in the kitchen, serves two purposes: distracting many of my guests (since this cookbook is like foodie crack) and insuring that I flip through it often enough to keep the recipes in the front of my mind.

Looking through it this morning, I noticed a leek bread pudding that would make excellent use of the single leek in my CSA share, as well as the half loaf of white bread leftover from last week's meatloaf dinner and the cup of heavy cream leftover from last night's ice cream sundae craving. (Come on, if you're making a chocolate sundae, you might as well do it right and whip your own cream. Am I right?) Anyway, I didn't have a ton of bread - or a desire to be eating leek bread pudding all week - so I reduced the recipe by about half, and added some caramelized onions and sage to make it nice and Thanksgiving-y. (You could totally get away with serving this instead of stuffing for Thanksgiving dinner. I couldn't get away with that, though, since my mom's corn stuffing makes folks drive across the country just for a single spoonful. It's spectacular, for real.) I also swapped out the Comte cheese for Parmesan, since that's what I had.

Leek Bread Pudding
(adapted from Ad Hoc at Home)

8 slices of white bread, sliced into cubes
1 c. heavy cream
1 c. whole milk
2 eggs
salt and pepper
one leek
half of an onion
2 T butter
2/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese
3 large sage leaves
small bunch of chives

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Slice leek into 1/2 inch rounds. Slice onion lengthwise into strips. Melt butter in a small saucepan, then add onion and leek and cook over medium-low heat until caramelized.
Put the cubed bread into an 8 x 8 baking dish. Add 1/3 c. cheese and the chopped herbs. When onion and leek mixture is done, add it into the dish and mix slightly.
Combine the cream, milk and eggs with salt and pepper in a bowl. Pour this mixture over the bread cubes and let everything soak for about ten minutes. Then add the other 1/3 c. cheese. Pop it into the oven and cook for about an hour. The pudding is done when puffy and golden-brown.

We got the cutest little baby carrots from the CSA this week, which I peeled and cooked with brown sugar, butter and a bit of water until the carrots were tender and glazed. Alongside the leek bread pudding, they made an awesome little early-fall Saturday brunch.

A few weeks ago, we picked up a real bounty of husk cherries from the CSA. I love these little things - they look like miniature tomatillos in their husks, but they taste intriguingly like vanilla and pineapple. I ate tons of them out of hand, but I knew I had more than I could just take down on my couch, so I preserved them in a medium syrup and stuck them in the fridge. They taste super delicious on vanilla ice cream; something about the vanilla and the creaminess really brings out the flavor of the husk cherries. And aren't they pretty?

And finally, a really simple salad: roasted beets, diced apples and crispy bacon in a mustard and herb vinaigrette. Bacon makes everything better. So do beets. And so do these crunchy, tart Greenmarket apples. Apparently we've been having a fabulous year for apple growing - every local apple I've had in the last month has been really uncommonly great.

Sometimes the simplest stuff really is the best.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Cooking with Ed

Cooking isn't really as much fun without someone to share with. A meal is an ephemeral thing - it takes time, thought, preparation and creativity, but at the end of the day.... it's food. We eat it and then it's gone. So the best thing to do is share it. Work together with someone else to prepare a meal and the process is twice as fast - and a zillion times more fun. And some meals are just made for two people to enjoy together. Splitting a small chicken might mean fewer leftovers, but it also means that the meal is enjoyed at its best - warm and crackling from the oven.

I'm lucky to have met my culinary match in Ed. That's right, ladies, swoon with jealousy: this dude knows his way around the kitchen. He's made so many delicious dinners for me that I've gotta bring my A game every time I cook for him. These pizzas? At the very least, they get an A for effort. And probably another A for awesome.

The margherita pizza started with Trader Joe's pizza dough - though we sometimes just pop next door to the pizza shop and buy a ball of dough from them for a couple of dollars. On top, whole basil leaves, a light schmear of homemade tomato sauce (made with tomatoes I'd canned and basil I'd frozen earlier in the summer along with garlic and a bit of olive oil) and slices of fresh mozzarella. Ciao bella!

The second pizza was topped with the same tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella and sauteed red peppers and leeks from the CSA. We also shredded some of the Parmesan Formerly Belonging to Jessica on top, and I meant to put red pepper flakes on, too, but I.... flaked. (Ba dum chhhh!) Mama luna!

Ahhh, homemade pizza and cold beer on the couch. What could be better?

Oh, I dunno. How about coming home after a long day of work to this?

A perfectly brined and roasted free range chicken, surrounded by your CSA share of potatoes, onions and herbs, all warm and yummy smelling and juicy and amazing, and served with these:

Ed's delicious green beans and potatoes in a rich tomato sauce, slicked with olive oil and fragrant with herbs. I can't even tell you how good these were. If you're jealous of the above picture, you should be. I'm jealous of it myself. Sweet baby Jesus, those were good.

Cooking for two? I highly recommend it. Especially when the cook is Ed!

Comfort Me With Dairy Products

It's been a rough couple of weeks at Chez CookingInsideTheBox; nothing too tragic, but between a bit of moderate apartment-related turmoil (including two weeks without a stove after a gas company snafu) and a fair-to-middlin' amount of work stress, I've been reaching for the takeout menus even more often than usual these days.

Even the dopest sag paneer delivery, though, can't compare to the soul-soothing abilities of a home cooked meal made with super fresh veggies. Accordingly, these last two weeks have been all about the three C's of comfort food: creamy, cheesy and crunchy.

First up, creamed corn. I saw a recipe in the NY Times for a sophisticated version of creamed corn and thought, hell yeah! But I don't like gorgonzola, I was fresh out of pine nuts and the four ears of corn in the fridge were on their last legs after a week waiting for the gas to be turned back on. They weren't about to wait for me to make a Sahadi's run. It was corn time. Stat.

A quick search of the fridge revealed that there was no heavy cream to be found, either. Ruhh roh! (Side note: it's kind of worrying how often there *is* heavy cream to be found in my fridge. I really gotta get right with my arteries one of these days.) But the internet came to the rescue: adding cornstarch to half and half would approximate the thickening capabilities of proper heavy cream. Ta da! Sweet, al dente yellow kernels bathed in a thin, creamy sauce. Eaten out of a bowl in front of the television, it requires no accompaniments - but would match almost any entree.

Creamed corn
serves at least two, probs four

4 ears of corn
2T butter
1/3 c. half and half
about a teaspoon or so of cornstarch
salt and pepper

Cut the kernels off the cob. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the corn, stir for a minute or two. Add the half and half, then sprinkle the cornstarch over the whole mess. Stir it around, add salt and pepper, cook for about five minutes. Om nom nom.

Next up: the return of Trader Joe's burrata!

This summer has been incredibly generous to us, at least as far as tomatoes go. Last summer, our CSA's farmer had a problem with tomato blight; we all got a few tomatoes, but nowhere near the embarrassment of tomato riches we'd been looking forward to. We realized, of course, that we'd taken on the risks as well as the benefits of farming as members of the CSA. But we were all crying on the inside. Crying for tomatoes. Big, red, juicy, sloppy tomatoes.

This summer's bounty has more than made up for last year's drought. We are practically swimming in tomatoes this year: Yellow! Green! Pink! Zebra striped! We've made caprese salads and BLTs and panzanella and tomato and bacon salads and... and... oh man. I think it's finally happened. I can't believe I'm admitting this, but....

I'm a little bit sick of tomatoes.

But hey, you know what I'm not sick of? Burrata! Our local Trader Joe's, always an excellent source of cheap burrata, had stopped carrying it earlier in the summer. "Noooooooo!" I cried, "What shall I do without 24/7 access to delicious mozzarella cheese pouches full of mozzarella cheese scraps and cream?!" Then I picked up a couple of packages of Trader Joe's French macarons and a six pack of Simpler Times lager and things got a little better. But still. I drifted past the cheese section every time I visited, hoping against hope for sweet, sweet burrata.

As you can guess, this story has a happy ending. See above: burrata, which has the magical ability to make even one's hundredth tomato salad of the year a thing of ethereal beauty.

And finally, tonight's dinner was inspired by Smitten Kitchen's creamed chard and spring onions recipe. I had to figure out something that would go with the mushroom ravioli I'd picked up on a whim earlier this week. I was thinking beets and walnuts, but the beets were taking forever to roast and I knew I'd better use up the chard before Ed comes over this weekend. (Before last week's CSA pickup, he'd texted me, "No chard this time, ok?! Please?") And there was one sad little leek leftover from last week's haul - a perfect substitute for spring onions, right? Oh, and that amazingly salty and crumbly two year old Parmesan that Jessica had given me a few weeks ago would be spectacular shaved over the top of this!

Friday night in the kitchen. I pour myself a glass of wine and get to chopping. In barely more than twelve minutes, this:

becomes this:

One more glass of wine and a brand new copy of the new Sophie Kinsella novel - which is even cheesier than this pasta, and just about as delicious - and all is right with the world. At least for tonight!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Everyone who thinks that a tomato is a perfectly acceptable dinner, raise your hand!

Well, not just a tomato, of course. Even in this heat, I need something a little bit more substantial than just a tomato to make a meal. But not a whole lot more. Take this tomato and bacon salad, for example.

Ten minutes in the kitchen and dinner's ready. Above, we have two lovely ripe tomatoes - one heirloom, one not - sliced and topped with a few slices of crispy bacon, a handful of sliced basil and a quick vinaigrette made from bacon fat, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and honey. It's great - sort of like a low carb BLT, infused with smoky bacon-y goodness in every bite.

Not that I have anything against carbs, of course. Check this regular-carb BLT for proof:

Toasted Bread Alone peasant bread (shouts to Boiceville, NY, home of my elementary school and the original Bread Alone bakery) spread with a slightly obscene amount of mayonnaise and filled with a sliced tomato, crunchy thick-cut bacon and this weird dark purple lettuce from the CSA. As both a tomato snob and a serious admirer of the BLT, I really only eat these things from July until September - prime tomato season - and so I cram as many of them into my life as possible during these three short, sweltering months.

(Honestly, I'll take the 95 degree subway platforms in the morning as long as it means I get to eat as many tomatoes as my little Italian heart desires.)

Speaking of Italian - and of late summer delicacies - here are some fried squash blossoms and, underneath, some zucchini and squash fritters. A week or so ago, I went over to Nicole's with a Ziploc bag full of Lynnhaven Farms goat's milk ricotta, an egg and some parsley. We piped the ricotta mixture into some of the above blossoms, twisted their little tops, dipped them into a batter made with flour and seltzer and quickly fried them. Oh, bliss! I thought the goat ricotta might wind up being a little too funky, but it wasn't - it was so creamy and sweet and perfect with the mild floral bite of the blossoms.

I wanted to repeat that evening's success for a weekend dinner with Ed, but I wound up getting a little too creative. I had a bunch of zucchini and zephyr squash in the fridge that I wanted to use up, so I figured I'd dice them up, saute them and add them to the ricotta mixture. Squash stuffed squash blossoms! Brilliant, right?

Yeaaaah... until the watery cooked squash hit the ricotta, egg, parsley and basil mixture.... and melted everything into a soupy mess, completely unfit for stuffing anything. Uh oh.

"How's it going in here?" Ed asked, coming into the kitchen to investigate.
"I think I fucked it up," I said, glancing towards the takeout menu drawer.
Ed thought it over for a moment, then said, "It'll be fine. Just add a couple of tablespoons of flour and you can make fritters instead."

Ricotta and zucchini fritters? Brilliant, for real! Flour added, crisis averted, and minutes later, we were sitting at the table, eating crispy battered blossoms and piles upon piles of fluffy squash fritters and licking the grease and salt off of our fingers.

And finally, a quick Friday night dinner with Jessica. There were some Italian frying peppers left over from that week's CSA share that I had no real idea what to do with. So, dear readers... I stuffed them. With saffron risotto and mozzarella cheese and peas. And then I covered them in garlic and crushed tomatoes from a can and I baked them for a really, really long time. (During said time, Jessica and I were like totally starving and were reduced to eating piquillo peppers out of a jar and Manchego cheese. Oh wait, actually, the peppers and cheese were awesome. But whatevs, we were totally just killing time til the peppers were done.)

They were good. They were really, really good. I just don't have any pictures of them. Which is probs for the best, cause baked stuffed peppers? Not particularly photogenic.

Anyway, I do have a picture of the plum upside down cake that I made for dessert! Two, actually.

I thought it actually came out a little bit dry... so this obscene amount of whipped cream was totally necessary to the overall integrity of the dish. Totally necessary. Not overboard at all. Really, I was there. Trust me.

This is what happens when I get too ambitious at the farmer's market. Two pints of sugar plums sound like a totally aces idea in the moment! But a week later, they're getting soft in the fridge and I'm still snacking on pretzels at happy hour instead of plums after the gym. At that point, there's only one option: make a cake and attempt to foist slices onto all of your friends. Starting with Jessica.

Mission accomplished!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Adventures in Cooking Meat: Episode Steak. I've been craving red meat like crazy lately, but I'm also trying to be a little more thoughtful about where my meat is coming from. Grass-fed, locally raised beef sounds a lot better than a big old slab of artificially-red steak from Key Foods... but it's also quite a bit more expensive. Compromising, I bought this london broil from one of the meat vendors at the greenmarket - a cheaper cut than the strip steak or porterhouse I might splurge on at the supermarket, but not super intimidating.

Sure, I had to ask some more seasoned chefs de boeuf for advice, but it was actually pretty easy to cook - a quick marinade in olive oil, vinegar and rosemary, then a super-hot quick sear and a ten minute rest. Upon slicing, I was greeted by lovely, perfectly pink beef - feral and minerally and so exactly what I wanted.

Alongside, some nutty zephyr squash sauteed in a bit of butter and swiss chard topped with a slice of pistachio and honey-flavored goat cheese. Oh, hell yes.

Oh, and those pickles from last week? Amazing. Dill-pickled kohlrabi in the back, smoked salt-pickled turnips at the front. They're crisp and sweet and refreshing, a great foil to anything rich and savory, and a pretty awesome snack just solo.

"What the frig is quinoa?" says just about everyone who doesn't know what the frig quinoa is. (For the record, it's a seed that's sorta more like a grain - full of protein and fiber and all of that other great stuff that makes nutritionists excited, but also tasty and versatile.) This warm quinoa salad was a great clean-out-the-pantry meal: quinoa, beet greens, garlic scapes and feta cheese with lemon and olive oil dressing.) The feta cheese was leftover from a kale, feta and lemon saute - no pictures of that, though. Sorry, Prentice!

This mint iced tea is probably not as visually exciting as it would have been with actual mint leaves floating around. Rest assured, though, it was full of refreshing minty goodness.

This is the second Beth-inspired recipe in today's blog. (The first was the kale and feta concoction.) Beth's nearly-vegan dinner party blew my mind on many levels, but this zucchini ribbon salad was the one dish that I've become absolutely obsessed with. It's so simple but so sophisticated - you run a raw zucchini through the thinnest setting of your mandoline, making paper-thin zucchini ribbons which you then heap on a plate, drizzle with olive oil, sea salt, pepper and herbs - and then you eat it. Avocado slices are optional, but obviously make everything even better. This is the kind of dinner you make when it's eight o'clock at night and eighty-four degrees in your kitchen and all you wanna do is stop being hungry so you can take a cold shower and go to bed.

Except you never just want to stop being hungry - if that was the case, you could just grab a floppy slice of pizza from next door. No, you want to be sated. You want to be full of fresh, local vegetables. You want something worth savoring. No ovens involved. This salad? It's exactly what you want.

Also great for those no-cook nights? Heirloom tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. With lots of salt. Lots and lots of salt.

And finally, I leave you with this komatsuna and egg scramble, served on buttered Bread Alone sourdough. Komatsuna is a Japanese mustard spinach that I keep calling Korematsu by mistake. (Which is probably funnier if you went to law school or have some other reason to know about Korematsu vs. United States. Oh, law nerd jokes on a cooking blog!) Anyway, the lightly bitter greens combined with the rich, unctuous yolks of the local eggs, the sweetness of the butter and the slight sour tang of the bread made this perfect little lunch treat. I know it's really ridiculous and corny, but as I ate this, I thought about how lucky I am to be able to enjoy my food so much - that I have so much access to so much good food and that I'm able to eat it with such pleasure.

So, thanks, Prospect Heights CSA and Brooklyn greenmarkets and friends who throw dinner parties and folks who know how to cook a steak properly and officemates who remind me to buy tomatoes! Y'all make this little quasi-locavore* very very happy.

(*I can't call myself a locavore with a straight face. Real talk, I ate KFC for lunch today. And there is a 50/50 chance that I will eat Arby's for lunch tomorrow. Every time someone mentions Horsey sauce, it sets a little alarm clock inside my brain: must eat Arby's within 72 hours or else!)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Oh man, I really love pickles.

I love pickled cucumbers and pickled beets and pickled cabbage. I love making jokes about my pickled liver. I still haven't tried pickled eggs, but I'm pretty sure it's gonna happen some time this year. Seriously, I am so fully committed to pickle adoration, I even named my cat Pickles. That's love, right there.

In my fridge right now, there are three kinds of pickles. (Four, if you count kimchee.) There's a jar of Claussen dill pickles, the gold standard for supermarket pickles, a plastic bucket full of the amazing Israeli pickles from Mimi's Hummus in Ditmas Park... and now, homemade pickled turnips.

(Well, I guess they're not quite pickled yet. Give 'em three or four days though.)

Someday I will remember to adjust my white balance when taking pictures. Today is not that day.

The turnips are from the CSA; the pickling recipe is from the Momofuku cookbook. I totally flaked, though, and forgot to buy kosher salt, so I had to improvise with what was in my cupboard: two teaspoons of Himalayan pink rock salt, half a teaspoon of flaky smoked salt. (Lucky for this recipe, I love salt almost as much as I love pickles.) I also threw a couple of peppercorns into each jar cause, you know, why not? It's Thursday. It's a party. Everyone's invited!

The brine is really simple: hot water, rice wine vinegar, sugar, salt. It's weird, being forced to wait a couple of days before the fruits of one's labor can be taste-tested. Was smoked salt a mistake? Are the peppercorns gonna ruin everything? Only Future Kathryn knows for sure! (And Future Matt and Future Batya, cause one of these turnip jars belongs to them.)

Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of the Pickled Turnip Experiment!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Week two of this year's CSA pickup, and things are lookin' good!

This is Ed's quiche, which is technically Paula Deen's quiche, but seeing as how it was prepared by Ed and all... Imma call it Ed's quiche. This week, we got gorgeous swiss chard and spinach from the CSA. And what could improve on fresh, healthy leafy greens? Oh, right. Bacon, eggs, cream, cheese and a flaky pastry crust. Damn, Ed. Your spinach and chard quiche is aces. (And makes an awesome breakfast.)

But hey, my homemade ranch dressing is pretty great, too! Especially on this all-CSA salad (save for the farmer's market fava beans) with radishes, snow peas and romaine lettuce. Mayo, buttermilk, a bunch of young garlic, a squirt of mustard, salt and pepper and lots of parsley and basil = holy moly. I have to restrain myself from eating this dressing for breakfast. With a spoon.

And just in case anyone was concerned that my cardiovascular health was toooo good? Here's the sandwich component of tonight's salad and sandwich dinner: whole grain bread with melted Brie, prosciutto di Parma and fig jam.

Yeah. There are no words.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Last Saturday, I met up with a couple members of my GTFU crew to take a nice, long walk around Prospect Park. Unfortunately, just as we all assembled in the gazebo, laced up our sneakers and got ready to head out, the skies opened up and it poured. Not like a light sprinkle or a delicate mist... this was a torrential downpour. We waited it out for a few minutes, then all agreed that we each deserved an A for effort, but that this walk was not gonna happen. Lucky for me, I had my umbrella with me, so I decided to brave the rain and get my shopping on at the Grand Army Plaza farmer's market.

(Oh, side note! I just signed the lease on an awesome apartment just a few blocks away from Grand Army Plaza and its fabulous greenmarket. The place is really nice, but the best part? It has a nice, big kitchen with lots of cabinets and counters and... drumroll... a dishwasher! I cannot wait to get in there and start cooking... and washing dishes.)

Anyway, standing in line to buy a few bunches of sorrel, I saw a bin full of dark blue potatoes and immediately thought, blue potato chips! (My next thought was "Jetblue!" I've spent many a long flight wedged into a tiny seat, happily munching on Terra Blues, drinking tomato juice and watching trashy television on my own! Personal! In-flight entertainment system!) Anyway, two blue potatoes, sliced on a mandolin, tossed with a teaspoon of olive oil, baked at 400 degrees then sprinkled with salt and herbes de Provence = the tasty little snacks you see below.

They're not quite as greasy and salty and delicious as the Terra Blues, of course... but there's a bonus: I get to eat them while sprawled out on the couch watching my own personal in-apartment entertainment system.

This is a great big salad of red leaf and... oh, I forget... some other kind of lettuce, pea shoots and two different kinds of sprouts. Pea shoots are so amazing. I like them cooked, I like them raw... I like 'em any way I can get 'em.

(I had to use the flash to get this picture, cause it was dark outside and I was hungry and didn't want to wait while I fiddled with my desk lamp and sheets of paper to light everything properly. I like how ominous the picture is, with the shadow of the lens and everything. It's like a fifties B horror movie... It Came For the Salad!!!)

Oh, and hey... in case you were wondering, "whatever happened to that sorrel Kathryn bought in the first paragraph?"

... here is the answer. Potato, leek and sorrel soup! Two leeks, one potato, a bit of garlic and thyme, three or four cups of chicken broth and the leaves (no stems!) of one bunch of sorrel = lemony, herbal, tangy deliciousness. (Especially when garnished with a plop of low fat Greek yogurt.) It certainly isn't the most appetizing color, but the taste is really lovely.

And finally, a picture of Jack curled up in my bathroom sink. I'm going to miss a lot of things about this apartment. I have a feeling that Jack is only gonna miss this one.