Posted on December 2, 2013
This year we drove up to New Jersey to celebrate Thanksgiving with our new sister-in-law and her family. It was a lot of fun to blend two families together and I enjoyed the nods to both families’ Irish and Italian traditions.
The Mister and I both really enjoy cooking so we were glad to get there a day early, roll up our sleeves, and get started with the cooking. I baked an apple pie and did a lot of the food prep work; he helped our sister-in-law with most of the dinner’s heavy lifting–turkey, stuffing, gravy, etc. He also spent the night before we left making a large lasagna with meatballs to take up to New Jersey with us. It was great to have something ready for everyone to eat for the dinner and lunch before the big meal.
We probably won’t see either of our families again until next year, so it was really wonderful to have time together to laugh, share food, and snuggle adorable babies. Here are a few photos of family and food.
Posted on November 11, 2013
Saturday, I took advantage of the crisp, sunny weather to go for a long leisurely bicycle ride around town. The neighborhoods in this city are old and dense, and if I cycle slowly and circle back and look again, I always find details and secret streets that I have never noticed before.
I planned to be out for about four hours, so I wanted a hearty breakfast to keep me until I got back home. A potato frittata fit the bill perfectly. I generally followed this recipe, substituting chopped leeks for the onions, and only using three small potatoes instead of two large ones. With a little toast and tea, this was the perfect little pre-ride brunch.
A few tips:
When making breakfast potatoes, I prefer to remove the skins and cut them into very small cubes, no bigger than half an inch. The potatoes cook faster when they are cut smaller and have more surface area, and if you leave the skins on, they tend to stick to the pan when you first start cooking which is annoying.
I like to use a cast iron skillet to make breakfast potatoes. Once you add the potatoes to your skillet, let them get a good sear on one side. If you try to stir them too quickly they’ll likely stick to the pan, but if you let them sear for a while, they’ll come away more easily. Flip and then let the other side sear. Eventually you get crispy brown potatoes that come away easily from the pan.
The recipe calls for cheddar. I only had mozzarella, and while that worked just fine, I think goat cheese also would have been nice. I can think of all kinds of additions and substitutions. Caramelized onions. Avocado. Chives. Yum.
I’m an early riser and the Mister likes to sleep in on the weekends. I was ready to head out the door before he woke up, so I left his half out on the table. When he finally got up for the day, he just popped his half of the frittata, still in the skillet, back in the oven for 10 minutes and it came out perfect and ready to eat.
Posted on November 4, 2013
Most people dream of squash, pumpkin, and apples at the market when they imagine the farmers’ market in the fall, but this year I found myself most eagerly awaiting cauliflower. This would probably have surprised my child self, who found steamed cauliflower among the most uninspiring of vegetables. Grown me, however, discovered Thomas Keller’s heavenly cream of cauliflower soup, aloo gobi masala, and this amazing cauliflower alfredo sauce.
I first saw this recipe earlier this summer and tucked it away, knowing it would be the first thing I’d make when cauliflower reappeared in the fall. For this first try, I served it with fettuccine, but it was so wonderful and garlicky, I’m eager to see how well it does over rice or on a pizza as recommended. The Mister even commented (over his second serving) that he couldn’t believe it was cauliflower and not cream.
A few tips:
Unless you have a very large blender, I’d split the blending up into two batches. You want to have a sustained blend to get that really creamy texture, which is harder if the blender is too full. Add a little more stock or milk if it isn’t blending; if the mixture gets too soupy, you can put it back in the pot and thicken with a little flour as we did.
Consider adding a little goat cheese to the blender, or maybe a pinch of red pepper or curry which go so well with cauliflower.
I had a few ends of green onions left from another recipe and softened these in a little butter in another pan, added a few fresh chopped herbs like rosemary and basil, then used these as a light garnish, along with a grating of parmigiano-reggiano.
Posted on November 1, 2013
That’s a spicy meatball! Actually, they’re not that spicy. I love meatballs and grew up making them with my mom. The recipe is pretty simple but for whatever reason most meatballs at restaurants or elsewhere are awful. Because of that, I only eat my own or those made by my grandfather or any of his children (my mom, uncle and aunt). They are the best meatballs I’ve ever had so I didn’t think they could be improved on.
For that reason, I was skeptical when Valerie told me about a meatball recipe she saw on Food Wishes. They weren’t for a marinara sauce, but for Italian wedding soup instead. What was different about this meatball recipe that I thought could improve on my own, was that it used fresh, home-ground meat. I made them in the food processor the first time like the video shows, but after using a meat grinder to prepare cooked meat to make tamales with Valerie’s family, I started looking for my own grinder.
All the grinders I found online were cheap electric or hand cranked grinders that reviews said didn’t hold up, or didn’t even work the first time. Or, they were professional grade and cost hundreds of dollars. They are one of those things that they just don’t make like they used to. Finally, one weekend this summer, we found ourselves taking the scenic route through Pennsylvania, and we stopped at a bunch of antique stores. I bought the first good quality hand cranked meat grinder I could find, just a bit of rust, with a few different blades. I paid $15. As it turned out, just about every store we went into had one or two for about the same price. Getting the rust off was easy, just a bit of brushing with a wire brush and then rubbing it with some corn oil.
A few tips:
Grinding meat makes a big mess. The whole contraption isn’t sealed, so it will drip meat juice out of the back onto the floor and splatter it everywhere; but it’s totally worth it. The flavor is better and the quality is really good(no pink slime or trash pieces of meat). When it comes to health, its going to be a lot safer too. Bacteria on fresh beef only grows on the outside, but when you grind it, you create exponentially more surface area and bacteria begins to grow on all that new surface area. This is why people get sick from burgers made from meat ground at factories or grocery stores but you never hear of people getting sick from eating really rare steaks; that’s because the outside has been been seared and all the bacteria has been killed even though the middle is barely above 100 degrees. But if you grind it fresh at home you cook it before there is any chance for bacteria to grow.
When you clean the grinder just use hot water and soap, and then take all the pieces and put it in the oven on 300° for like 20 minutes or so. This will dry all the pieces so that rust won’t form. You can also rub a little oil or spray it with a cooking spray. These old grinders are steel that have been tinned. The tin doesn’t rust, but because you are buying an antique, some if it has probably chipped off and some of the main grinding pieces don’t have it on there so the oil helps.
I follow Chef John’s recipe pretty closely but add a few of my own touches. I double or triple the garlic and add some cayenne or chili flakes (just a pinch per pound if you want a spicy meatball). Since I’m putting it in sauce–or gravy technically once you put the meat in–I broil them first until deep golden brown on one side then flip; the second side browns in half the time as the first after you flip. If they are really small they will cook through in this process, but if they are a bit bigger you will want them to cook in the sauce for 20 minutes at a minimum. But you should cook them in the sauce for at least 40 minutes anyways because the fresh beef adds a great complex flavor to the sauce like a stock would–and the meatballs absorb some of the sauce.
In this video, Chef John of Food Wishes, explains how its done.
Posted on October 30, 2013
As berries and stone fruits disappear for the season, I find myself switching back and forth from cravings for apple and pear desserts, to anything with dark, dark chocolate. I’ve been having fun trying out recipes from the new Kinfolk Table cookbook and over the weekend, I experimented with their recipe for chocolate pudding with sea salt and lavender.
The Kinfolk recipe is simple and easy, similar to many that can be found online using olive oil, vanilla, heavy cream and sea salt (here’s a Martha Stewart favorite), but with a twist. In this case, you brew 1/4 cup of water with a mixture of lavender flowers and Earl Grey tea. Steep for five minutes then mix it with the chopped chocolate and vanilla, before adding the boiling cream. Check out the new Kinfolk Table for the full recipe, or try adding a little lavender tea and sea salt to your favorite pudding recipe.
A few tips:
A tiny bit of salt really makes chocolate pop. I thought the Kinfolk recipe had just a bit too much, so in the future, I may cut the salt in half. I used the best grey sea salt we have in the house.
Take a few minutes to give your chocolate a good chopping, even if you have morsels. The smaller the pieces, the more surface area and the faster they will melt.
Since its nearly Halloween, I thought it would be fun to dress up the pudding with a little whipped cream and chocolate cobwebs. Last week, Food52 featured a cute little tutorial for making them with melted chocolate and I had fun giving it a try.
These are very rich, and the Mister and I have been splitting a cup after dinner for the last few days. If I serve them to guests in the future, I may layer them with berries, chopped nuts, or preserves.
Posted on October 23, 2013
Just in time for the weekend, my copies of The Kinfolk Table and What to Cook and How to Cook It arrived in the mail. At different times over the weekend, The Mister and I could each be found with a mug of tea or coffee, slowly sifting through the pages, bookmarking the ones we wanted to try right away. Both books, while very different in style, are beautifully written and photographed, and full of simple recipes that are right up our alley.
For lunch on Sunday, I browsed through the books, looking for something that would work well with what I’d picked up from the market the day before. Kinfolk’s Sweet Potato-Apple Salad caught my eye and I decided it would make for a perfect lunch.
Sweet Potato-Apple Salad adapted from The Kinfolk Table, recipe by Julie Pointer of Portland.
Preheat oven to 375°. Toss sweet potato slices with 1 tbsp maple syrup, 1-2 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 40 minutes, until tender, flipping slices after 20 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15-20 minutes.
Ten minutes before sweet potatoes are done, saute onion in a little olive oil over medium heat until transparent, then add remaining tablespoon of syrup, stirring for about 5 minutes until onions are lightly caramelized. Allow to cool for 10 minutes.
While onions and potatoes are cooling, combine 2 tbsp olive oil, honey, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a small bowl, whisking until emulsified. Toss arugula, apple, nuts, sweet potatoes, onions, and dressing in a large bowl. Serve topped with crumbled goat cheese.
A few tips:
This salad is fairly simple and leaves a lot of room for improvisation, which is nice when you need to throw a lunch together and don’t have everything called for on hand. The magic part of this recipe was really in the sweet potatoes. Tossing them with maple syrup and cinnamon, along with the olive oil, really brought out their flavor and it was tempting to munch on them as they cooled instead of saving them for the salad.
This recipe makes a healthy lunch for two, but could easily be halved for one or doubled for four.
When making your dressing, ditch the whisk, and put your ingredients in a small jar, secure tightly with a lid, then give it a good shaking for about a minute. Best emulsification you’ll ever get on a dressing.
I find that adding crumbled goat cheese before mixing the salad means I wind up with more goat cheese on the sides of the bowl than in the salad. Consider tossing the dressing and salad first, then after you’ve served, top with the crumbled goat cheese.
Posted on October 4, 2013
A few years ago I lived in a large, beautiful group house with several wonderful housemates. We had an incredible kitchen in which we spent all our time, laughing and cooking and sharing food. There were a number of cookbooks left in the kitchen by the landlords, journalists who traveled most of the time, and one of the roommates became obsessed with a recipe she found for rosemary remembrance cake. She spent months thinking and talking about that recipe, and though she was an excellent cook, put off making it until just before she moved away to the other coast.
When she finally decided to make the cake, for her going away dinner if I remember correctly, we realized we didn’t have any rosemary. Our house was next to a co-op with an amazing garden. They had a the largest rosemary bush I have ever seen and the neighbors had told us to help ourselves if we ever needed any. My roommate relieved the giant bush of one long branch of rosemary and this was baked right down the center of the cake. It was so beautiful we even did a little photo shoot with it on our front porch.
It’s been about five years since she made that cake, and though I can’t recall the name of the cookbook in our old house, I’d done a little research online to try to find something similar. The original cake was baked in a loaf pan, but I wanted to bake a round cake, and ended up choosing this recipe from Cayuga St. Kitchen.
In general, I’m more of a savory person who enjoys sweets in small quantities, so this warm, aromatic cake is right up my alley, and was the perfect accompaniment to morning coffees and afternoon tea.
A few tips:
While I did follow the recipe in adding two tablespoons of fresh minced rosemary to the cake, I saw a number of other recipes with branches of rosemary baked into the top, so I felt safe amending this one. I selected three 5-in branches of new growth from my rosemary plant, choosing the new growth so that the branches would be flexible enough for me to shape them a bit and arrange the rosemary in a circle around the cake. Fresh rosemary should have lots of natural oils that will be released while baking, so the leaves will dry out, rather than burn, as it bakes.
I felt that the cake might have benefited from a little more lemon zest. Next time I make it, I might try zesting another half or whole lemon.
The powdered sugar and chopped nuts topping suggested in the recipe were a nice addition to the cake I remember. Raspberries or fresh sliced pears would also pair nicely when serving.
Posted on September 30, 2013
All week long I’ve had figs on my mind. I spent hours pouring over new recipes to try, and daydreaming ideas to improve old favorites. Figs come twice a year, but are at their best in the later summer and early fall. To me they are the perfect kind of sweet, not too sugary, not too tart, the way I imagined nectar tasted to bees when I was child. Like a with a good cheese, your first taste of a ripe fig should be held on the tongue for a moment, taking time to appreciate its subtle flavors before it melts away in your mouth.
I like to get to the market early on Saturdays. There is always something delicate that comes in small quantities and is gone if you sleep in, even just a little. For me its worth it to give up a little sleep to have a chance to grab green garlic, the first pears, or a handful of mushrooms. This week we were running a tiny bit late and when we arrived I headed straight to the back to look for figs. To my delight, there was one carton of half a dozen figs left. As soon as I’d set them in my basket, a well-dressed man came rushing up, asking if they were the last ones, and I was sorry to tell him I thought they were.
Years ago, I had an internship in the mountains in eastern South Africa, and next door to our lodge was a tiny little gift shop called Nina’s, that also sold the most amazing light lunches. They had a fig and Roquefort pizza that was a hit with my fellow interns. I’ve never forgotten those amazing flavors and decided to try to make something similar.
The result was better than I remembered. I used far less Roquefort than I would mozzarella on a typical pizza (about an tablespoon and a half vs 1/2 a cup). The Roquefort melts and spreads out thinly over the other ingredients, it’s sharp salty flavor mellowed by the sweetness of the figs and caramelized onions. The mister is not a fan of non-traditional pizza (he loves a good red sauce), but even he wolfed down a few slices and tried to describe how the flavors interacted.
Outside it was sunny with a cool breeze, and I took the entire pizza board outside with a glass of sparkling vinho verde; the perfect lunch for an early autumn day.
A few tips:
Consider a pizza stone. We keep one in the bottom of our oven at all times. Pizza stones help your oven retain heat that is usually lost when opening the oven door. This use of high, even heat combined with the kind of wet, aged dough we use, results in a crust that is crunchy on the outside and chewy within. I’ve mentioned that we use the dough from this book, but here is a similar recipe from Food Wishes.
Aged dough already has really amazing flavor, but I think that brushing a little olive oil over your dough before adding any ingredients really adds another level of amazing flavor. A tablespoon should be enough for the whole pizza.
Caramelizing onions takes a while. I usually start well before I’m ready to make the pizza, and they are easy to keep in the refrigerator if you want to make them ahead of time or even the day before. Just be sure to set the container out when you begin working on dinner; they’ll be easier to spread over the dough if they’ve had a chance to warm up. I caramelized two medium onions for this pizza.
Roquefort and other blue cheeses aren’t the easiest to crumble, but its easier if they are cold. Keep the cheese in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
You can quarter the figs if you’d like, but I find thin, even slices make for easier eating.
I think that a light sprinkling of salt over the assembled pizza really helps bring out the flavors. I take just a pinch of good sea salt and hold my fingers high above the pizza while sprinkling. This helps get a more even distribution so no one part is too salty. In the case of this pizza, I salted it just before adding the figs.
Posted on September 27, 2013
There is a time every year, when I’ve read one too many depressing pretentious books by hot young authors, that I put them all away with a dissatisfied grumble and allow myself to drift off in a series of what I call “French food memoirs.” Typically penned by Americans or Brits living in France or remembering France, they hit just the right combination of bittersweet memories and mouthwatering recipes, and always, always I want to never reach the last page.
One of the first such books that I loosely grouped into “French food memoirs,” is Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life. There’s a short chapter about the early stages of love and eating radishes with butter on toast. At the time, I’d probably never had a radish that wasn’t cut into an underwhelming salad, and I promptly went off to the store to try this supposedly simple, perfect meal.
No doubt it was good, but as I ate them, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would work to saute the radishes in said butter, then serve on a toasted baguette. As it turns out, it was good, very good, and has become one of our go to lazy morning meals as well as an interesting treat we make for guests.
A few tips:
Leave the greens on while slicing the radishes; it makes it easier to stabilize them as you slice and will help prevent a slip of the knife as the end tapers off.
Use a large pan or saute in several batches. If you overcrowd the radish slices, they are more likely to steam instead of brown.
Cook the radish greens for a tasty addition, but beware, they like to hang on to their grit. To get them really clean, float them in a bowl of cool water once you’ve separated them from the radishes. Every few minutes give them a little swish with your hand, and the grit will loosen up and sink to the bottom of the bowl.
Fresh baguette is great, though we like to eat them on sliced and toasted semolina bread, with a fried or poached egg and fresh fruit on the side.
Posted on September 25, 2013
There was a point in learning to cook when I went from a frustrated picky eater trying to make food that tasted the way I wanted, to wanting to make simple, beautiful food to share with friends and family. From the first time I saw them, galettes took my breath away, seeming somehow chic and rustic at the same time.
As autumn makes its way in, I’m tempted to make savory galettes with caramelized onions and squash, or sweet ones with apples and figs. And yet, the farmers market is still bright with cherry tomatoes and ears of corn, and I couldn’t help but think of the summery galette Deb recently posted on Smitten Kitchen. I’d practically drooled onto my computer screen when I first saw it, and this weekend I filled my market basket sun golds and sweet corn, knowing what would be making an appearance on our table for lunch.
Deb’s recipes are highly reliable, so if you don’t have a go-to dough, try hers. We keep an everyday sourdough in our fridge most of the time. It’s a little wetter than her recipe, but I’m used to working with it, so I felt comfortable deviating from her recipe a bit. Apart from using a different dough and substituting one of the vegetables, I followed her recipe exactly and produced a wonderful, summery galette.
A few tips:
Mince a little fresh rosemary and add it to the flour when you are making the dough. Rosemary is such a great aromatic to add to breads and cakes, and really makes a sourdough pop.
If possible, make your dough a couple of days ahead. Dough that is at least 24 hours old develops amazing flavors and helps give it that golden yellow color. This is likely the secret to the amazing crust at your favorite pizza place.
I’m not opposed to zucchini, but I don’t love it either, so I was happy to substitute chopped leeks here. Their buttery flavor was perfect with the tomatoes, corn, and green onions. I’m sure it would easy enough to substitute in your favorite summer vegetable, just make sure it’s something that doesn’t release too much liquid.