Monthly Archives: July 2010

Polka Dots to the rescue

Have you ever had one of those days that you just can’t seem to get it together? There are so many things to do that you run around doing bits and pieces of each thing and then never really accomplish one task? Well, I am having one of those…weeks. With the boyfriend in Miami for a conference all week, you would think that a quiet apartment breeds productivity. More than anything, it seems to be breeding a lot of ideas. Ideas of things that need to get reorganized, rearranged or dumped all together. Ideas of errands to run, oddities I’ve been meaning to purchase for this project, for that project. And then I’m off and running with my head spinning. As it turns out, when things around me are quiet, my mind just can’t shut up.

photo courtesy of Kelly Carámbula of EatMakeRead

This has made for an awfully cool and quiet stove top since Tuesday. I did somehow manage to throw together some peachy keen scones that have been on my To Bake list for far too long and purchase some much anticipated mason jars that are slated for a pickling project, the details of which I promise to disclose to you soon. In the meantime, I am thankful for the inspiration and splendor from other food bloggers. When I happened upon these pancakes via a guest blog on Etsy and became acquainted with the cheery, polka dotted world of EATMAKEREAD, I knew I had to share with you. I usually don’t make a habit of endorsing recipes I haven’t tasted but, come on, those delicate golden cakes look and sound divine! These obviously need to be on your breakfast table tomorrow morning. And in the event that I am unable to pick up the pieces of Project Reorganize Gone Awry before boyfriend makes it home, I have every intention of exploiting the beauty (and presumed tastiness) of these babies for Project Distraction. I’ll let you know how that goes.


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I’ll trade you Brownies for cookies

I love when food brings you for a trip down memory lane, no matter if it lands you at the feet of a feel-good-happy-breezy one or even a once-embarrassing-now-laughter-inducing kind. Yesterday, my culinary endeavors brought me back to my painfully shy six-year-old self clad in a bland jumper and saddle shoes, a long chocolate ponytail flowing down my back, a splintery step stool in my hand and a swarm of butterflies in my stomach. It was my very first Jamboree in my first year of Brownies.

The Jamboree was the Girl Scout camp-out that all good little Brownies and Girl Scouts looked forward to and prepared for all year long–every one but me, that is. I didn’t want to go, I begged not to go as the prospect of sleeping outside under make-shift tents without a night light or my parents down the hall was less than appealing to me. But the day of reckoning arrived and so did I, nervous and jittery and embarrassed that I had joined Brownies too late in the year to have made the requisite sit-upon that all girls made and brought to shield their bottoms from the muddy ground.

The sit-upon is a crude little contraption, a few old newspapers covered in patterned canvas or tablecloth and stitched together with fuzzy yarn. I could have brought one of those foam pads you sit on in bleachers as a substitute or a pile of magazines or a folded up table cloth, for goodness sakes! But no, my resourceful parents, bless their hearts, packed my bags and brought me to camp with a convertible wooden step stool/baby chair that I had used in preschool to reach the sink while brushing my teeth.

Let’s just say, I was not very “cool” at Jamboree. But I tried my best. I dutifully dragged my paint-chipped baby stool from activity to activity, awkwardly participated in the ice breakers and played the games. I ate watery Kraft Mac & Cheese around the campfire and took my turn setting up cereal boxes and milk for our breakfast. I listened when the camp leaders told us not to talk during a nighttime presentation even when I had to use the bathroom so badly, I thought my bladder would burst. And then it happened. The moment that would seal my fate as a Girl Scout drop-out forever. With a worried chaperone waiting outside, in the eery blue glow of porta potty walls backlit by bonfire light, mere milliseconds away from relief, I peed my pants. Yes, really, I did. By the time I finally bolstered the courage to break the no-talking ban for a bathroom request and was quickly escorted to the nearest porta potty, it was too late. My black acid wash jeans were ruined as were my aspirations to one day sport the coveted Kelly green skort of a Girl Scout.

It all worked out in the end, though. Turns out I really don’t enjoy camping all that much and volleyball and cheer-leading were more my style. However, there is still one Girl Scout habit I can’t kick and it involves a box or two of thin mint cookies. I can’t get enough of those things. There is actually a sleeve of them hiding in my freezer, right now. So when I received the book, Tea for You from my Aunt Theresa (yeah, we Italians keep the names in the family) and found a recipe in the back for Chocolate Mint Tea Cookies with promises of thin mint nostalgia, I knew I had to bite. I already had Ghirardelli cocoa powder and peppermint extract scheming somewhere in my spice cabinet and a small ramekin of dried chocolate mint leaves dying to be used, a novelty I had bought on impulse at the farmer’s market.

I ended up adding more mint extract and mint leaves than were called for in the recipe after taste testing the too-chocolaty dough, and added a few drops of extract to the melted chocolate as well. The resulting crunchy cookies were tasty, though thin mints didn’t exactly come to mind. I’ll use a deeper darker chocolate next time, maybe Valrhona dutched cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate for dipping to see if that does the trick. I may have given up on Brownies, but I think I’ll give these cookies a fighting chance.

Mint Tea Cookies Dipped in Chocolate
from Tea for You by Tracy Stern

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp mint tea leaves, chopped (I used 3/4 tsp dried chocolate mint)
1/2 tsp mint extract (I used 3/4 tsp)
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
six ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat 1/2 cup of the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and beat until mixed well. Beat in the egg, mint leaves and mint extract. Sift the flour, cocoa powder and salt into another bowl. Slowly add the flour mixture, half at a time, to the butter mixture, mixing slowly until well blended.

Divide the dough in half. On a lightly floured surgace, roll the dough into two logs, each 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap each log in wax paper and refrigerate for at least 5 hours.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Thirty minutes before baking, place both logs in the freezer for 30 minutes. Slice each log into 1/4 inch thick pieces with your sharpest knife. Place on cookie sheets about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

In a double boiler or in the microwave, melt the remaining 1/2 cup butter with the chocolate pieces (I added a few drops of mint extract here, too). Dip half of each cookie into the chocolate mixture and place on waxed paper for the chocolate to harden. The cookies will keep in a tightly covered container for 1 week.

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year

I am not a very patient person. I tend to want what I want, now! (Please.) So as you can imagine, it was a an awfully long Winter and a seemingly longer Spring and early Summer, but the moment has finally arrived. It’s tomato season! I’ll admit the best of the best usually pop up in August and although that’s not terribly far away, I just can’t wait any longer. I LOVE tomatoes. What is it about that fire-engine-red fruit that makes me so crazy for them?

Maybe it’s the warm and fuzzy childhood memories prompting my subconscious to revisit a simpler time–the days of me and Bridget roaming our backyard to collect the summer’s bounty, or of my Dad peeling off the road at the faintest flicker of farm stand signs boasting “Jersey Corn!” “Jersey Tomatoes!” on our annual escapes to the seashore. Or perhaps it’s the fact that tomato season is so fleeting that makes the real thing extra special (you know, that whole thrill of the chase concept). It certainly isn’t easy to find a good tomato. Those ultra-firm, salmon-hued baseballs that grocery stores shamelessly market as “tomatoes” in Winter and early Spring? Honey, those are not tomatoes. They barely classify as food.

Do you know that those tomatoes are most likely plucked green from the vine (the horror!), shipped hundreds or thousands of miles from some warmer (luckier) climates and then gassed with ethylene to simulate a ripe tomatoey blush meant to deceive us all? Well, it’s true! And while ethylene gas is produced naturally by ripening fruit and is not exactly detrimental to my health, this sham causes detriment to my palate and I don’t stand for it.

Luckily, summer tomatoes abound, and I can run off at a moment’s notice to collect my prize at the market. Behold! There are a plethora of goodies for me to choose from these days: delicate yellow teardrops, green and purple uglies, beautiful beefsteaks and some still on the vine, a novelty not wasted on me. Tomatoes vines have such an intoxicating fragrance, I often marvel at the fact that no one has thought to bottle it up for sale. “Grass” was an awfully hot commodity several years back with Gap and Marc Jacobs on the bandwagon, why not tomatoes? I can’t be the only crazy person who goes around sniffing tomato vines at the market, right? Anyone?

Nevermind, you don’t have to answer that. Instead, I’ll tell you how you can make tomato confit, a delicious and simple treat that turns juicy biting tomatoes into sweet and mellow pieces of heaven. If you thought tomatoes couldn’t be improved upon, you must try this little trick. Cooking them slow and low with a slick of olive oil reduces their juices to an intense mouthful of caramel-y sweetness. I destroyed the entire pan (4 whole tomatoes) in the blink of an eye, popping each piece like candy. Before summer’s end, I’m sure I will be back at the market for a bushel to cook down and preserve in pretty little jars so I can enjoy summer tomatoes all winter long.

Tomato Confit Crostini

For the confit:
4 medium tomatoes (or as many as you have pans for)
olive oil

Preheat oven to 250. Bring a large saucepan full of water to a boil. Cut an “x” into the bottom of each tomato and submerge in boiling water for 2 minutes. Remove tomatoes and place in a bowl of ice water to stop cooking. Peel the skins and discard. Quarter each tomato and remove the seeds. Place pieces, cut-side down, onto a baking sheet brushed liberally with olive oil. Brush each tomato quarter with more olive and place in the oven for about an hour or until tomatoes are wrinkled, reduced in size and have caramelized (a nice golden brown) on the bottoms. Allow to cool and place in an airtight non-reactive container with another tablespoon of olive oil. Will keep for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.

For the Crostini:

1 medium sized baguette, cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices
tomato confit
1 large ball of fresh mozzarella, preferably buffalo mozzarella
16 fresh basil leaves or one for each crostini
balsamic reduction, optional

Preheat oven to 350. Brush both sides of each slice of bread with olive oil. Place on a non-stick baking sheet and bake in the oven for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove these crostini from the oven and allow to cool. Cut mozzarella ball into 1/4 inch slices and cut each slice in half. Top each crostini with a half slice of fresh mozzarella, a piece of tomato confit and top with a basil leaf. Drizzle with any leftover olive oil from the tomato confit and balsamic reduction, if you wish.


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I am almost always hungry

Well it’s about time I broke out this cookbook for you, my friends. It is, after all, one of my very favorites. I feel guilty for neglecting it on my shelf for so long, hiding it away from you in pristine condition, when it is bursting with so many beautiful photographs, chock-full of juicy tidbits ready for you to devour.

I have to admit I bought, well, requested this book, mostly on the premise of the title (me too, I’m almost always hungry, too!…for good food, for travel, for new experiences!). I read a blurb online about the book and was under the impression that it was more of a food memoir. But I was still pleasantly surprised by what I unwrapped from sparkly Christmas paper one year: a wonderful cookbook of seasonal menus infused with Lora Zarubin’s snippets about finding the best ingredients, cooking in harmony with the seasons and traveling the world. Oh, and those photographs! It was better than I imagined. Perhaps my favorite part is her quirky menu titles like, “I Have Nothing To Declare: A Smuggler’s Feast,” or my personal favorite, “You Buy Prada, I Buy Truffles.” It is perfection.

Not only is Lora an incredibly talented chef, she must be something of a psychic, too–how sweet of her to craft a birthday menu (the one titled, “It’s my Birthday and I’ll Cook What I Want To”) specifically for me! With so many of my favorite things–real, from scratch, Caesar dressed salad, fresh cracked crab, lump crab cakes, sourdough bread and sweet butter, and Meyer Lemon coconut cake–she really has outdone herself. Then there is the decadent comfort food winter menu that despite the humidity hanging like velvet drapes in the air and several bitty bikinis hanging in my closet, I can’t quite stop thinking about: braised short ribs with chocolate and cinnamon, creamy grits with pureed celery root, steamed broccoli rabe and profiteroles with banana rum ice cream and bitter chocolate sauce. Sigh. But it is 90 degrees outside and there is plenty of bathing suit season left, so I’ll have to shelve that one for a blustery winter day when I’m prancing around in baggy sweats and make you some corn soup, instead.

Don’t be disappointed. I know corn soup sounds drab in comparison to cinnamon spiced short ribs and bitter chocolate sauce, but it can hold its own. It’s enriched with potatoes to thicken it and make it silky smooth, jazzed up with lime and cilantro and garnished with avocado to bring it all together. It is part of Lora’s “Dinner for Summer’s End” menu, for those nights in September when we can no longer deny the chill in the air and the scent of changing seasons. And although I’m happy to report that we are still a distance away from those impending nights, there are some summer days, rainy days like we’ve been having all week here in NYC, that require something warmer and more comforting than tomato salads or cold stacked sandwiches, and for those days, this yummy corn soup is just the thing. Make it with the plumpest, sweetest corn you can find and you will be so grateful that it’s still summertime.

Lora Zarubin’s Corn Soup with Lime, Cilantro and Avocado

6 ears of white corn, husks reserved
8 cups water
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 shallots, diced
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 cup 1/2 inch diced potato
2 tsp sea salt
finely grated zest of 1 lime
freshly squeezed juice of 1 limes*
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 ripe avocado, pealed and diced in 1/4 inch cubes

*The original recipe calls for juice from 2 limes but the resulting soup was a bit too tangy for me. The avocado does help to mellow that flavor out, but next time I would only use 1. I suggest using 1 and only adding more according to your taste.

Using a small sharp knife, scrape the corn kernels from the cobs into a bowl. Scrape the milk from the cobs into the bowl of corn with the back of a knife.

In a large stockpot, bring the water to a boil and add the corn cobs. Cook over medium-high heat for 30 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, discard the cobs and reserve the corn stock. You should have 5 cups.

In a medium stockpot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and garlic and cook for several minutes. Add the corn kernel milk mixture, potatoes and corn stock. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and cook over medium-high heat for 20 minutes. Add the salt. Remove the soup from the heat and let cool. Puree in a blender.

Return the soup to the stockpot, bring to a high simmer and stir in the lime zest, lime juice and 1 tablespoon cilantro. Pour the soup into individual bowls, garnish with avocado and remaining cilantro leaves.

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A Weekend in Photos: Vermonting, Chocolate and Happy Graffiti

Since I didn’t get to post all week, I owe you a long one… Recipes, next week!

Though I often dream of being a snow bunny, I’m not an avid skier, I don’t snowboard and while I love the flurries and snowflakes, bitter cold winter months in the Northeastern States (read: above NY) do not appeal to me. So if it weren’t for chocolate, I may have missed out on visiting the beautiful state of Vermont.

A few years before we met, the boyfriend huddled up for two winters-worth of Vermont splendor in a quaint farmhouse, logging hours as the plant controller for Barry Callebaut Chocolate company in the sleepy-yet-adorable little town of St. Alban’s. Fortunately for him, work whisked him away to Napa Valley, Switzerland, and Québec on occasion and afforded him the opportunity to pick up a little French (to this day, it still amuses him to respond, “Oui, allo?,” when he answers my calls). Unfortunately for me, his chocolate career occurred pre-moi and so I never did get any free chocolate out of the deal. But I do get Vermont for long weekends (and one heck of a chocolate education) and I think that’s the better end of the stick, anyway.

Our last minute 4th of July getaway to St. Alban’s, Stowe and Burlington was an encore vacation as we had traversed the Green Mountain state together once before, visiting his old friends at Barry Callebaut, gobbling trial flavors of ice cream at the Ben & Jerry’s Factory, testing the limits of boyfriend’s altophobia on the Gondola ride at Stowe Mountain and prancing around Church Street in Burlington for some people watching, a delicious meal and a gorgeous sunset over Lake Champlain.

That delicious dinner I mentioned? Rest assured, we returned to the scene of the sublime this time around, tucked into a cozy corner of Leunig’s Bistro. Their duck frites are a must, dusted in spices and graham cracker crumbs and served with a spicy/savory/sweet chili maple dipping sauce. We split the 1/2 duck crusted in coconut and almonds stacked on top of wild rice, quinoa and pea couscous pilaf and shredded carrot gratin topped with cherry cola demi-glace. I suppose I could go on and on about how delicious it was, but a picture is worth a thousand words, no?

Our second entrée was Maine Lobster and Shrimp with shaved white and green asparagus, peas, leeks, fava beans, zucchini, bacon, pea shoots and Meyer lemon sauce served over house-made pappardelle.
The kitchen was extremely generous with the lobster as you can see by some of the menacing claw meat and lobster tail peeking out from the greens. The homemade pappardelle was pleasantly toothsome, wading in a shallow pool of the delicate lemon sauce. I could have done without the pea shoots, though. Not a pea fan to begin with, the earthy green taste of the shoots overpowered the other flavors in the dish a bit. It’s pretty hard to battle bacon, but these tenacious pea shoots overwhelmed. Despite those pesky little buggers, the lobster, the sauce and the pasta were delicious.

We skipped dessert at the bistro, opting instead to select a few Lake Champlain organic chocolate truffles: French roast, Aztec (a touch of cinnamon and a little peppery heat), Fig & Honey and the classic Champagne truffle. I nibbled them while watching the sunset, so the photo is a bit grainy, but you get the picture.

We watched an impressive fireworks display over the Lake on the 4th Eve…

…then spent the 4th day on the Lake Champlain ferry with a few beers/cocktails watching the sailboats go by.

If this getaway is beginning to sound a bit syrupy sweet to you, it’s because it really was–in a good way, of course. The weather was beautiful (though hot hot hot!), the scenery was amazing and we were surrounded by yummy things to eat and drink (our dinner at Leunig’s, apple cider and cider donuts at Stowe apple farm, coconut curry mussels in St. Alban’s, The Skinny Pancake’s yummy crepes, and Vermont’s own Barry Callebaut & Lake Champlain chocolate, Cabot Cheese, and Cabot buttered bread). Locals mostly dress like they could scale a mountain at a moment’s notice and have the bodies to prove it. There’s an awful lot of healthy and happy in Vermont and it is quite refreshing. Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas New York, anymore. Take a look at the “graffiti” I found in a bathroom stall at a dockside restaurant. The rest of the wall was covered in grinning fishies (no matter that I just threw down mahi mahi tacos for lunch).

Sad to say the weekend eventually came to an end and I left behind the wide open green spaces and fresh air to return to the crowded, noisy streets of New York, the smell of burning kabobs emanating from street carts on every corner. Ahh, it’s good to be home. But you can bet your bottom I’ll jump at the next chance to escape to Vermont for a few days where I’ll revel in its beauty and eat its cheese and chocolate til the cows come home.


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A leaner greener garlic

Being born Italian American (or an Italian American mutt, like myself) ensures that you will have two certainties in your life.

1. The muscles in your mouth will be inextricably linked to the muscles controlling your arms/hands. One will not function without the other.

2. You will have garlic pulsing through your veins. Regular consumption of the herb is necessary to survive.

My Nana must have loved me a lot, because growing up, she fed me enough garlic for two lifetimes: fried in the red sauce, chopped up in meatballs, sauteed with wilted spinach and olive oil, softened in hot soups, roasted in the oven, etc, etc… The first time I looked at a recipe book with recipes that didn’t require garlic, I was shocked. Didn’t every meal have to begin with garlic?

I do enjoy garlic, especially roasted in the oven to spread on fresh bread, and it certainly does have its solid place in my kitchen, but there are occasions when the flavor is out of place or too overwhelming or when I choose to have fresh breath, instead.

Then a few years ago, I was introduced to the garlic scape (perhaps Nana’s divine intervention to make sure I was eating my quota of garlic??). Scapes are the green shoots of the garlic plant that grow in curlicued tendrils above ground. It’s the part farmers snip and discard in order to make sure the garlic bulbs below become hearty and flavorful. Previously considered waste, the garlic scape has become a hot ticket item at farm stands in the last several years. Whether it was the ingenious entrepreneurial spirit of the modern farmer that prompted this shift or simply the realization that the shoots taste rather good is no matter; the garlic scape is delicious. It tastes greener than the garlic bulb: fresher, milder, sweeter. You can eat it raw without consequence, chopped and strewn on salads or soups, sauteed with vegetables or blended into a grassy green pesto. I made just that the other night with toasty walnuts and a handful of basil for good measure.

Garlic scapes are another one of those here-today-gone-tomorrow commodities at the market, so hop to it. While you’re there, grab some zucchini and a couple tomatoes, chop them up and saute them with a few tablespoons of the scape pesto (recipe below) and toss it with your favorite pasta for dinner tonight. Oh, and leftover pesto freezes well in individual portions for future meals, if you’re lucky enough to have any left.

Garlic Scape Pesto with Toasted Walnuts

10 garlic scapes
1/3 c walnuts, toasted and chopped
1/4 c Romano cheese
1/4 c (6-7 basil leaves)
1/2 c olive oil
cracked black pepper and sea salt to taste

Place walnuts in a small saute pan over low heat and allow to toast, stirring occasionally. Watch closely and when nuts become fragrant and begin to brown, remove from pan and allow to cool.

Roughly chop scapes and walnuts and add to a food processor or blender with cheese and basil leaves. Pulse until scapes are broken down and mixture begins to form. Stream in olive oil until it reaches desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. Romano cheese is salty on its own, so taste before sprinkling additional salt.


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