Monthly Archives: September 2010

A new Love

I have a little news today. I have fallen head over heels in love–with Fall. Over the past week or so as I reluctantly layered my vibrant summer tanks under fall cardis and slipped on my boots with shorts and tights, I thought longingly of Summer, of all the warm-weather recipes I had intended to share and began scheming and dreaming up transitional recipes, ones that could help me reconcile myself with my all-too-short love affair with Summer. But then accidentally, providentially, I found myself in possession of a cold cup of apple cider and after one sip, I knew it was over. It was cold and crisp and a bit spicy, just like Fall itself. I forgot all about that Other Season and fell completely, unabashedly in love.

And so I am diving right in to all things Fall–chunky knits, tall boots, and decadent recipes that warm the soul. If you are still desperately clinging to Summer, I urge you to give it up. There are better things in store, I promise–like the delicious recipe I’m about to give you for caramel apple cider with spiked whipped cream. You’ll be over it in a flash– a bit of indulgence and a little rum could mend any broken heart, no?

Cider is one of my favorite fall things. I buy it by the gallon and drink it straight and cold or order big steaming mugs of it laced with caramel at coffee shops. The latter can get a bit pricey after awhile which is why I decided to make it myself this year. The caramel is a cinch to make if you have a little patience and a long-sleeved shirt (sugar burns are not fun; dress appropriately.) I suppose you could cheat and buy some in the grocery store, but then the intoxicating smell of hot sugar wouldn’t waft through your kitchen and settle in your living room for half the day. Store-bought caramel certainly won’t have the depth of flavor of homemade, either. I let mine bubble and brown a tad longer than suggested, resulting in a rich color and flavor reminiscent of the burnt sugar shell atop crème brûlée. Swirled in hot cider, it makes the perfect companion to a warm drink on a cool day. The whipped cream is really the cherry on top. I barely sweeten it, then spike it with a splash of rum and a dash of spicy cinnamon.

It’s officially Fall now; drink this cider and surrender yourself to the season. Allow yourself to be giddy over silly things like pumpkins and haystacks. Smile for no reason. Enjoy the chills when the cold snap hits. Embrace these days for it’s the early ones that are the sweetest when falling in love.

Caramel Apple Cider with Rum-Spiked Whipped Cream

For the caramel: Follow this recipe and read these tips. As the recipe mentions you can store the caramel in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. It’s also wonderful as apple dip, drizzled over ice cream, etc.

For the whipped cream: This makes a small amount, but is enough for several mugs of cider. Double or triple as needed.
* A little tip–cream thickens quickest when cold. I like to use a metal bowl which I pop in the freezer for a few minutes before beginning the process. Also, I keep my rum in the freezer which is helpful for this recipe, too.

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tbsp spiced rum (such as Captain Morgan’s)
2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Place the cream in a large bowl and begin whisking by hand (if you have a stand or hand mixer, kudos to you, use that). Whisk for about 2-3 minutes or until the cream begins to thicken.

Add rum, sugar and cinnamon and continue whisking until it forms stiff peaks. Keep cold until serving.

For the apple cider: I like to make 6 oz servings as it is very rich. Keeping that in mind, heat as much cider as needed for the amount you are serving in a small saucepan over medium heat. Place a tablespoon of caramel per serving in the bottom of each mug. When the cider begins to simmer, remove from heat and pour into mugs. Stir to distribute the caramel and top with a dollop of whipped cream.



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It’s about those little moments of joy

I know, it’s Monday morning, again. Mondays usually provoke mutual rants and laments about the transient nature of the weekend, the drudgery that is the work week and the panic and pain that ensues from being awakened by the shrill call of an electronic device. While I’m usually an active participant in the case-of-the-Mondays bandwagon, I’ve decided to reflect, today, on seemingly small things that made me happy this weekend. I hope that it sparks a recognition and appreciation for all the little moments of joy this week that can carry me through until Friday. And if all else fails, I have this song and this song, two buried favorites I never get sick of that my iTunes shuffle so graciously unearthed for me this morning while I ate a breakfast of cornflakes and cantaloupe. So cheer up, there will always be the little things to make you smile, like…

…eating brunch with the boyfriend at Penelope next to an open window graced with a cool breeze and lined with milk bottle flower vases where we drank hot black coffee and fresh-sqeezed grapefruit juice alongside our sandwiches–BLT on sourdough for me and ham & swiss with a drippy fried egg on somun for boyfriend,

…the colorful farmer’s market bouquet I bought myself nestled in the arts section of the New York Times,

…warm, sugary churros sold out of a push-cart just outside my building during the Mexican Day Parade that I had no time to photograph because they were gobbled in the blink of an eye,

…the Missoni-clad San Pellegrino bottle I sipped from Sunday night that now decorates my window sill as a pretty vase (I knew I would be able to afford Missoni, one day).

I hope you enjoy all your little moments this week.

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The Maine event

As I type this, my parents are en route to the land of rocky shores, cobalt waters and lobster rolls. I’m both excited (for them) and terribly jealous. I was lucky enough to visit the quaint southern shores of Maine, myself, a few years ago. A smattering of days filled with kayaking on the bluest waters I’ve ever seen, strolling on rocky, windy shores wrapped in cardigans in the middle of July and fresh-from-the-boat seafood was all it took. I cannot wait to go back, but until then, I will have to survive on texts and picture messages from my Mom.

Their trip follows a Maine-themed birthday party my family threw for my Mom this past weekend–a New England clambake meets good ol’ American BBQ meets Italian feast of sorts. Since I was too busy running around (and eating) to take pictures and because I am quite the fan of list-making, I’ll give you the rundown on the menu:

Crab & blue cheese dip (on sailboat-shaped toasts)
A selection of cheeses and olives
Clams on the grill with browned butter
Grilled red potatoes with rosemary and sea salt
Corn on the cob
New England clam chowder
Spinach salad with toasted pecans and blueberries
Pulled pork BBQ sliders
Chicken piccata
Lobster ravioli with homemade pesto
BBQ baked beans
Zucchini pickles

Boston cream pie
Molasses cupcakes (made from my grandmother’s cake recipe)
White chocolate raspberry cheesecake
Mini lavender cupcakes
Maine blueberry cheesecake bites
Blueberry madeleines
Italian knot cookies

I hope I didn’t leave anything out. As you might have guessed, my family doesn’t really do “simple.” The table-scape was covered in red and blue gingham, a chunk of my Mom’s collection of cobalt blue dishware, vintage mason jars filled with daisies and these adorable barley candy lobster lollies I ordered from Vintage Confections via etsy. It was a lovely day for a party on the deck, good food and surprises.

There is one foodie picture I can offer you (with thanks to my Uncle Jerry for being the pickle photog) along with its recipe. Please enjoy the recipe for these zippy zucchini pickles I found on The Wednesday Chef. Quite simple to make, these addictive golden rounds retain their crunch, infused with a salty sour heat derived from crushed mustard seeds and cider vinegar. I doubled the recipe, packed them into the largest mason jar I could find and served them right out of the jar with a dipper. They were delicious, and quite possibly, the simplest item on our menu. Enjoy!

Zuni Cafe Zucchini Pickles

Makes 3 cups
1 pound zucchini
1 small yellow onion
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed yellow and/or brown mustard seeds
Scant 1 teaspoon ground turmeric

Wash and trim the zucchini, then slice them one-sixteenth-inch thick; a mandoline works best, but a good sharp knife is fine, too. Slice the onion very thin as well. Combine the zucchini and onions in a large but shallow nonreactive bowl, add the salt and toss to distribute. Add a few ice cubes and cold water to cover, then stir to dissolve the salt.

After about 1 hour, taste and feel a piece of zucchini – it should be slightly softened. Drain and pat dry.

Combine the vinegar, sugar, dry mustard, mustard seeds and turmeric in a small saucepan and simmer for 3 minutes. Set aside until just warm to the touch. (If the brine is too hot, it will cook the vegetables and make the pickles soft instead of crisp.)

Return the zucchini to a dry bowl and pour over the cooled brine. Stir to distribute the spices. Transfer the pickle to jars, preferably ones that have “shoulders” to hold the zucchini and onions beneath the surface of the brine. Seal tightly and refrigerate for at least a day before serving to allow the flavors to mellow and permeate the zucchini, turning them a brilliant chartreuse color.

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September: the beach & a birthday

I know I ask this along with thousands of other temperate region dwellers each and every year, but where, oh where, has the summer gone? Somewhere amidst the haze of heat waves, ocean breezes and balmy summer nights, jammed between tomato sandwiches, farm-fresh corn on the cob, juicy peaches and berries, it ended. And before anyone begins quoting the particulars of the autumnal equinox (which occurs on September 22 for anyone not in-the-know), let me tell you that I’ve spent the last five days on the southern Jersey shores, a hub of all things summery, and I’ve felt the chill in the air, I’ve smelled the looming aroma of fall, I’ve seen the golden sunlight settle on the sand. It’s over, folks; the change is palpable.

I couldn’t be happier, really. I would normally be lamenting the loss of summer or singing the praises of fall, anxiously awaiting some seasonal favorites like hot apple cider and crunchy leaves beneath my boots, sweater weather and warm, spicy aromas, but if we’re being totally honest, my favorite time of of year might just be these delicious few weeks between labor day and the first day of fall. To me, September has the best weather and is arguably the best time of year to visit the seashore. The crowds have all but dissipated and the weather is mild. The sun has that just-before-sunset glow all day long and there is the exhilarating feeling of change and potential on the horizon.

As evidence, yesterday, my last day of my Last Summer Hurrah at the Shore trip was a little piece of heaven. I had a book that makes me laugh out loud, waves lapping at my legs and an ocean breeze on an empty beach. I saw nothing but churning blue waves and a constant blue sky, save for a few gulls perusing the muddy sand for a lunch of fresh clams. The rhythm of pulsing winds and crashing waves was hypnotizing and lured me into a state of calm that I haven’t felt in ages. Yes, September summer is my favorite.

I always know when it’s coming: that perfect pseudo-summer weather. Even if I’m tied up and preoccupied with that thing called life, I’ll never forget that it’s coming as a very special person, who also loves the ocean and these mild pre-fall days, has a birthday that heralds in this season of change. So today, I would like to wish a very happy day and a happy, healthy year to someone who inspires change in others and always brightens my days–Much love to my Mom.

I hope you all revel in these lovely weeks. They are short but sweet and come but once a year.


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Summer can still sizzle

It might be a bit of an understatement to say I have a thing for spicy food. There are at least five kinds of hot sauce prepared for battle in my refrigerator right now and a large tub of whole dried chili peppers lying in wait inside my spice cabinet (for things like my grandfather’s crispy eggs). When I frequent my favorite noodle houses, I gravitate to the dishes flanked by those little red peppers and proceed to order them extra spicy. If they haven’t done the job, I pull out the big guns and request a bottle of Siracha and a side of chili oil and go to town.

I have a funny feeling that it was that hot pepper my grandfather fed me at two years old (you know, just to see what would happen) that spawned my love of all things spicy: wasabi, curries, hot peppers, salsas, you name it. That, and my dad’s iron stomach. Give him a spicy dish and watch a feverish flush creep up his neck beads of sweat form on his forehead and tears roll down his face and he will still be smiling. Heartburn? What heartburn?

I quite like that warm tingle myself, the buzzing feeling in your lips, not to mention the health benefit laundry list including weight loss, low cholesterol and stress relief from eating spicy food. I must have been a very intuitive child in addition to my awe-inspiring physical ability to scale high-back pianos in the blink of an eye.

All things considered, after I whipped up a batch of spicy fish tacos, something I crave often thanks to the little Philly restaurant Pico de Gallo, I decided the sizzle factor was pushing it for the average person. A faint buzzing in the lips is pleasant; a numb face a la the dentist chair is pushing it. The tweaked tacos are a symphony of textures–soft corn tortillas with crispy blistering pockets, the crunch of pepper cabbage slaw, soft flakes of white fish, and cool creamy chipotle sauce–and flavors–salty fish with just the right amount of smoked peppery heat and the tang from citrus and cilantro. A simple sweet corn salad rounds out the meal nicely and cools off your sizzling taste buds.

Spicy Fish Tacos with Firecracker Slaw and Fresh Corn Salad

For the firecracker slaw:
1/2 small head red cabbage, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 orange bell pepper, chopped
1 small red onion, chopped
2 jalapeno chiles, chopped

8 oz sour cream (reduced fat works just fine)
1/2 7 oz. can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

In a blender or food processor, blend the sour cream and peppers in adobo sauce just until the peppers are pureed. Add sour cream to chopped vegetables and mix well.

For the tacos:
4 tilapia filets (or 1 filet per person/per 3 corn tortillas)
2 limes, 1 halved; 1 cut in wedges
12 small white corn tortillas
1/2 cup packed cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

Heat a griddle pan or cast iron skillet over medium high heat. In the meantime, sqeeze lime halves over the filets and coat generously with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and place in pan to sear on one side for about 2-3 minutes. Flip filets and allow to cook until fish flakes or about another 1-2 minutes.

While fish is cooking, drizzle tortillas with olive oil and place on the free side of the griddle pan or in another skillet and allow to cook in batches on both sides until just golden brown. The tortillas should remain pliable; do not let them dry out.

For the corn salad:
4 ears corn, shucked
1/4 cup packed cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
juice of 1 lime

Using a small, sharp knife, cut the kernels from the cobs and set in a bowl. Add cilantro, onion and lime juice and stir to combine. You may add salt and pepper if you wish.

Assemble tacos by splitting each tilapia filet in three portions and place one piece in each tortilla. Add a few tablespoons of slaw to each taco. Serve with corn salad, lime wedges and chopped cilantro.

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