Saturday, June 5, 2010

The most important meal of the day!

Breakfast is something that I definitely had to grow into. As a child, I avoided it at all costs especially during the week. On weekends or during the summer I could be coaxed into a bowl of cereal or a soft boiled egg. Occasionally Mom would fool me with a "bunny shaped" pancake. I say fool because the actual pancake was more like an oddly shaped blob. But she had this way of showing it to me really quickly so I saw what I thought were ears and then she'd cut it up right away and cover it with butter and syrup so I never knew any better. Hey - if Mom said it was a bunny who was I to argue with her? She's my Mom. She wouldn't lie to me right?

Anyway....let's save the therapy session for another time. As I got older I began to enjoy breakfast more. For whatever reason I had issues eating in restaurants as a child - it made me nervous and I would usually work myself up into such a state that I couldn't eat there and would take my entire meal untouched to go. The minute we got in the car I'd be ravenous and devour it with my hands. To allow themselves one stress free meal while we were on family vacations, my parents would go to breakfast and leave me in the room either sleeping late or watching TV (seriously looking back on this someone probably would call Child Services now knowing there's a 7 year old in a hotel room alone....). But I loved it. I'd watch cartoons, day dream about being a pirate, a princess, an astronaut....whatever struck my fancy. And then the door would open and Mom and Dad would come in with a Styrofoam container (this was before the green movement took hold) filled with scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon and buttered toast (this was also obviously before we feared the impacts of cholesterol, saturated fats and heart disease....). I'd sit at the little table in whatever generic hotel room we were in and tuck into my rapidly cooling breakfast enjoying every savory mouthful.

Now as an adult, breakfast is my favorite meal to eat out and one of my least favorite to prepare. Something about the timing of it frustrates me to no end. Last weekend I invited friends over for breakfast and I ended up serving them cold eggs and burned toast. See - even I have the occasional off day. Of course, I had just sent my beloved Bobby Bacala into that great litter box in the sky the day before so I wasn't feeling up to my usual self. But getting the toast and the eggs and the sides to the table all piping hot (or cold depending on the side) is something for the most part that escapes me.

However - once in a while it all comes together. This morning while making my coffee and considering a breakfast of chocolate cheerios with a banana, I noticed a bag of Yukon gold potatoes in the fridge sitting next to a bulb of fennel. I had a flash of inspiration and knew immediately what I wanted - a potato hash. I grabbed the potatoes, the fennel, an onion, an apple and a leftover cooked ear of corn. I chopped everything up into a small dice and sauteed the onion and fennel with a clove of garlic in a bit of olive oil. Then added the potatoes and let them everything begin to caramelize. Lots of salt and pepper and a bit of dried thyme to bring out the flavors. Near the end I tossed in the apples and corn and let it all heat through. When it was ready I turned off the heat, added a handful of chopped parsley and some fresh black pepper. A recent acquisition of a beautiful nonstick omelet pan allowed me to cook up a perfect over easy egg to top the hash. One last sprinkle of fresh parsley and this breakfast was good to go.

Sitting by my open window, catching the breeze with my perfect breakfast and an iced coffee, I thought back on how food has shaped my life in so many ways. Most of my happiest memories have always centered around either preparing, serving or eating. And now, I realize there are also some life altering moments as well. Those bunny pancakes man....I can't believe she lied to me! Mom - I'm sending you my therapy bills! :-) (Just kidding.....sort of.....)

May all your food experiences be happy ones! Happy Cooking!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

One Last Braise Before the Heat....

The short rib is one of my favorite cuts of meat. They're short but thick (hmm...maybe a little like me) and have beautiful marbling that runs through them. On a cold wintery day, or even on a rainy spring day, a braised short rib can be perfect for what ails you.
My parents were coming up to spend the night since the next morning was my graduation from the MPA program at Baruch College. Loving to impress my father (which isn't always easily done) I pulled the short ribs out of the freezer. I flipped through cookbooks and searched the Internet looking for a recipe that wouldn't require me to turn on the oven but would result in a stove top braise that would have the tender meat falling off the bone. Unfortunately, I didn't find anything that impressed me. So I improvised.

I started with about 4 lbs of short ribs, sprinkled them liberally with salt and pepper and gave them a light dredge in flour. Then browned the meat in a little vegetable oil on all sides and set it aside. I poured most of the fat out of the pan leaving about one tablespoon. In that fat, I sauteed 2 large carrots and 2 stalks of celery (about 1/4 inch dice) and one large vidalia onion. When that had started to soften I added 3 cloves of sliced garlic and let the mixture sweat a bit until all the vegetables were softened and the onions were just beginning to brown.

To enrich the flavor I added almost an entire can of tomato paste and let that cook with the vegetables a bit. The ribs and any juices went back into the pan along with some fresh thyme and two bay leaves. For the liquid - I wanted something different than a standard red wine braise. I used a bottle of Brooklyn Lager, and a mix of chicken and beef broth just to cover the meat. I brought it up to a simmer and then covered the pot and let it bubble away for about two hours.

After two hours the kitchen, the whole apartment and most of the floor of my building smelled of this beautiful rich meaty saucy scent (apologies to any vegetarians that may live within sniffing distance). I took the lid off, gave the pot a quick stir and then let it bubble for nearly another hour uncovered so that the gravy would reduce down and become thick and rich.
I served the short ribs over a bed of simple white rice (buttered egg noodles or potatoes would work really well here too). The results were exactly what I was looking for. Tender meat that fell off the bone in a rich gravy. Just look at Dad's face here to see what he thought :-)

Between the 3 of us we finished off most of the ribs but there was a lot of that beautiful gravy leftover. Not wanting to waste it, I used it to dress a simple pasta supper later in the week. I had a little bit of meat left and shredded it into the gravy and poured it over rotelle pasta with lots of fresh grated pecorino romano and black pepper.

As I sit here typing this I can feel the humidity rising and I can't help but feel a little sad that the season for these heart and house warming meals is definitely at an end. As the temperature rises, I will spend my time making cold soups and salads and avoiding any reason to turn on either my oven or my stove. Baking will come to almost a screeching halt unless I'm visiting my parents and making the most of their central air conditioning. But the bounty of summer veggies and trips to the farmers markets will increase and soon I'll be immersed in the joys of warm weather foods, picnics and grilling whenever the opportunity arises.
So fare thee well cold weather and welcome summer. Happy Eating!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

I'm Eggstatic to be back! :)

The thesis is done and submitted and I'm 99.9% sure I'm passing! My Masters in Public Administration is finally complete. Which means that I can get back in the kitchen again!

Waking up yesterday morning I was hit with the delicious knowledge that I did not have to spend my Saturday hunched over a computer. I could have a long leisurely breakfast, take a nap, run some errands and even - if I wanted to have friends over for dinner. I admit I was slightly unsteady for the first few hours of the day having been hit the day before with my first ever migraine headache (complete with vision problems and everything). Oh the joys of the body releasing pent up stress.

So what better way to get over it then with my most favorite and comforting of all breakfasts. A soft boiled egg in my favorite yellow stoneware cup. When I was a kid I loved soft boiled eggs. Mom would make it for me and because I hated the thought of scraping it out of the eggshell - she'd mix it all up for me with a little salt and a pat of butter in this bright yellow cup that I think came from my grandparents kitchen. When she and Dad were packing up the house in Brooklyn before the great NJ move of 2006, I made sure I got last two yellow cups from the cabinet.

The perfect soft boiled egg is actually fairly simple. Cold water + Cold Egg over medium heat and bring to a boil. Once it hits a rolling boil, turn off the gas and cover the pot with a tight fitting lid for 2 to 3 minutes depending on how soft you like your eggs. I like mine where the white is just set and the yellow is still runny so I go just to the two minute mark. To scoop out the egg, I run it under cold water, then whack it in half with a butter knife and scoop it into the yellow (and only the yellow) cup! Mix in butter and a little salt to taste. Serve with buttered toast and maybe a little fruit salad. Yum. I might go make myself another one right now!

Dinner yesterday turned out to be quite an unplanned success. To make some room in my freezer I had taken out a large pork shoulder and decided I'd turn it into pulled pork in the slow cooker. I made a dry rub of garlic powder, oregano, chili powder, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper and rubbed it all over the pork. One large vidalia onion and a few garlic cloves were sliced and placed in the bottom of the slow cooker. The pork went on top and covered with about 2 cups of water and 3/4 jar bone suckin bbq sauce. The slow cooker goes for 8 hours and about halfway through I turned it so that both sides could get really tender. When its done, shred the meat with two forks and then put it back in the slow cooker with some additional bbq sauce to heat through. I serve mine on potato buns.

To go along with the pork, I cooked up some kale with bacon, mustard seed and cider vinegar, a homemade mac and cheese with cheddar and smoked gouda and some homemade beer battered onion rings. As you might have guessed this meal is NOT endorsed by Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig or The Biggest Loser :-). But it was delicious and was a special indulgence. The onion rings were exceptionally good. The beer batter was light and crisp and didn't fall off the onion when you bit into it. Will definitely keep that recipe tucked up my sleeve!

I rounded up a few friends to help with all the eating - but also because I needed their help with another special project. My nephew's 6th birthday is today and I wanted to make him some extra special cupcakes. So I got my favorite crafty Eberhart sisters to come over and after plying them with food and booze we set to work on panda's straight out of the Cupcake cookbook. It was hot and humid in my Washington Heights apartment, and their little faces were drooping (the panda's - not the Eberhart's) so we only made 6 bears and left the rest as cookies and cream cupcakes. Still beautiful. Still delicious. I'll give the panda's another shot when the weather cooperates but here are the 6 we managed to make :).

Stay tuned for more culinary adventures!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Catching up!

My, my! It has been a long time since I've been here. That doesn't mean I haven't been cooking! I've actually been cooking up a storm (in between working, school and writing what is amounting to be the largest paper of my life). I just haven't had the time to actually sit and write about it. So here we go. Lets play catchup over the past few weeks.

It all started a few weekends ago. To help out a friend that had a beautiful baby girl, a group of us decided that we would all take a week to prepare meals for the family so they had one less thing to worry about. I got paired up with Alice "Lemon Tart" Mishkin and so, on a beautiful Saturday morning hauled myself and my knives (I never travel without them) to Park Slope to prepare a vegetarian 4 bean chili, cheddar jalapeno cornbread and a lemon tart (guess who really wanted that)! The chili was a recipe that I had come up with on the long subway ride from Washington Heights to Park Slope and was loaded with light and dark kidney, cannelini and black beans plus lots of veggies and seasoned with cumin, chili powder, oregano and garlic. For cornbread I always follow the recipe on the back of the Indian Head Yellow cornmeal but find that adding a finely chopped chili pepper and lots of cheddar cheese pumps it up even more. And finally, the lemon tart with a special note to remind Alice that it wasn't for her (I did however make her two mini tarts all for herself). I can't wait till little Ella gets big enough to enjoy my cooking!
That weekend also brought a request for "Thomas" themed cupcakes. You know - that train show on PBS that used to have Ringo Starr, George Carlin and Alec Baldwin (!) as the narrator? So anyway, it's one of my best friend's son's 3rd birthday and he wants these Thomas cupcakes. Amy ordered the train cake toppers so all I had to produce were brightly colored cupcakes with colored squiggles to be topped. Easy right? Huh. My cake decorating skills are somewhat lacking so I admit I was a tad nervous but off I went. I baked up 36 cupcakes, half vanilla and half chocolate and then made a vanilla buttercream from one of my favorite basic recipes (out of the Amy Sedaris cookbook). I found these awesome gel food colors that don't dilute your frosting and allow you to get these amazing bright colors. Then using regular writing gel that comes in the little tubes in the baking aisle I made little squiggles on each and topped them with mini plane-train-automobile sprinkles I just happened to have in my cabinet (go figure). Amy's husband came to pick them up Sunday morning and topped them with the train toppers. So voila! Thomas the Tank Engine cupcakes!

Align Left
The following weekend brought a bonus snow day that resulted in many ham quiches from about 10 lbs. of leftover ham my parents had bestowed upon me. Really? I live alone and I work for a Jewish non-profit organization so bringing it into the office wasn't going to do much good. So I made quiche. A lot of quiche. I brought one to my friend Tracy, ate one and froze two. It was loaded with asparagus, cheddar and Gruyere cheese and, of course, ham. Having been inspired from my last snow day of bread baking I also tried Judith Jones recipe for french baguettes. The mini baguettes came lovely - unfortunately I didn't have a sheet pan big enough for the large baguette so I had to curve it to fit which made the curved parts a tiny bit tougher than I wanted. But for a first try I'd say I did fairly well. The trick to baguettes really is to get some steam going in your oven. Oh shoot! Did I ever take that pan out from the bottom of the oven? Huh.... (and guess who forgot to take pictures!)

The next day was Courtney's birthday so once again, I packed up my knives and headed back to Park Slope. On the menu this time was an appetizer of chili shrimp with a roasted tomatillo salsa, followed by a tequila marinated skirt steak (marinated with lots of red onion, garlic, cilantro, olive oil, salt, pepper, a splash of red wine vinegar and tequila), sauteed mix of veggies with multi-colored peppers, red onion, zucchini and eggplant, a citrus quinoa flavored with orange, lemon and lime and another jalapeno cheddar cornbread. For dessert I made a custard similar to the filling for a tiramisu and served it with macerated berries and topped with whipped cream. Judging by the minimal amount of leftovers I think I did fairly well!

The final round of cooking was this past Wednesday evening. To celebrate the upcoming nuptials of another dear coworker and friend, we decided to throw a potluck lunch. To get things started on the right foot I said I'd make an eggplant parmigiana and a baked ziti. Everyone filled in with lots of yummy snacks and salads. There was mozzarella and tomato salad, olives of all shapes and sizes, a tomato bruschetta, an artichoke salad, lots of bread and cheese and a gorgeous (and huge) arugula salad with fennel, apples and a selection of cheeses (I couldn't decide if I liked it better with the gorgonzola or the pecorino romano). For dessert, I added a tiramisu to the mix and there were also italian cookies and pie (my favorite - blueberry)! (Because i'm so dedicated to my eggplant and this is already long enough I think I'll give the parm its own followup post so stay tuned).

Later that day was a birthday celebration for our Vice President for external affairs. With a split mind of wanting to make something special for a special woman but also having the idea of job security in mind (hey - my Mama didn't raise no fool), I also prepared a fruit tart. The morning of the celebrations I put together the tiramisu and also made preparations for the tart. I baked off a simple graham cracker crust (graham cracker crumbs, butter and sugar) in my tart pan and made a vanilla pastry cream for the filling. I learned the hard way that you really do need to watch that cream and let it come to a slow boil - because otherwise it can boil too fast and explode and you'll have to call your landlord to borrow a ladder and explain that you weren't trying to redecorate.... Anyway, of course, my tart pan is 11" and the cream wasn't enough to fill it so I snuck a little bit of the tiramisu in to fill around the edges. To cover up the two different fillings I covered the tart with rings of fresh berries. An inner circle of blackberries was surrounded by raspberries, then a few circles of blueberries and finally, an outer ring of strawberries. I had no idea what it would taste like or if it would even hold together when cut but it worked out to be delicious and gorgeous at the same time. The most frustrating part of this was that I didn't have the chance to take a picture of it! (So if you happened to have seen the tart could you please make a comment on it so people don't think I'm lying here????) Possibly one of the best looking desserts I have ever made.

And I think that brings us up to date on my cooking adventures for the past few weeks. Next up: Irish Soda Bread for Saint Patrick's Day and Zeppole San Giuseppe for Saint Joseph's Day! Who would have thought March to be such an exciting month for food!
Happy Cooking Kids!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Judith Jones Inspired

Recently, a dear friend gave me a copy of Judith Jones' new book "Cooking for One". At first, I admit I was somewhat off put by the book. After all, my love of cooking stems mainly from being able to share what I have created with friends, family and random strangers. Cooking for people is how I tell them I love them, that they mean something to me. Judith Jones takes this love and shows you that its just as good to show yourself a little love. Sometimes, there's no reason to have leftovers for the entire week. Sometimes, a little bit of something really good is all you need.

Tonight I tried Judith's recipe for a single cheese souffle. Having never made a souffle of any kind before, I approached the situation with a certain trepidation. I read and reread the recipe about 5 times and made sure all my ingredients were prepped and ready to go. My cheese grated, my single serving souffle dish at the ready and all of my ingredients measured out. When I set the souffle in the oven to bake, I waited with baited breath. Would it rise and brown? Or would it fall and fail?

While the souffle baked in the oven, I put together a simple green salad of baby spinach and cucumber with a mustard vinaigrette and kept my fingers crossed. After 18 minutes we had the rise but not the browning so I reset the timer for another 5 minutes. When I heard that final beep I was shocked at what I saw. It looked JUST LIKE THE PHOTO!!!! I knew I had to capture a picture and wanted to set one up just like the cover of Jones' book. Unfortunately I should have had it ready to go a bit sooner b/c by the time I managed to get the photo just the way I wanted the souffle had already started to fall a bit. But overall, it kept its light and airy texture with just the right amount of gruyere to make it rich but not overwhelm it. For my first attempt at a souffle, I'd say we had a great success. I can't wait to comb through the book for my next attempt!

Other successes in recent weeks include some pretty damn amazing blueberry muffins that use a little homemade blueberry jam to increase the punch of blueberry flavor:

Greek butter cookies: Light crescent shaped cookies flavored with brandy, vanilla and almond with finely chopped almonds and covered in a heavy dusting of powdered sugar:

A hearty minnestrone soup made with a few slices of Niman Ranch bacon and a rind of parmesan for a burst of flavor. A simple meal to warm the soul on a cold snowy winter day:

In the upper right hand corner of the soup picture you'll see what was perhaps my most exciting discovery to date. Fresh homemade bread. For years, bread was something that others did - proofing and yeast was something I thought beyond my pay grade. But after trying this recipe for honey whole wheat bread I am unequivocally hooked. There is no greater pleasure than kneading dough and lifting up the towel to see it rise gloriously.

Next up will be Judith Jones recipes for classic french baugettes. Stay tuned for photos and updates!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tira My What?

Oh, Tiramisu! Your origins are a mystery. It is well accepted that the current version with its coffee soaked ladyfingers and thick marscarpone custard was developed Trevisio by the Goddaughter of a local pastry chef but the actual circumstances of it's creation are shrouded in mystery.

Some say that the dessert was a created in the 16th century as a tribute to Grand Duke Cosimo de' Medici III upon his visit to Sienna. Others attribute it to the famous "Zuppa Inglese" or English Trifle that combines cubes of sponge cake, zabalgione and fresh fruit. It was rumored to be popular with the English scholars living in Florence in the 19th century.

The name of the dessert, tirami su, literally means pick me up - and is thought to be in reference to the sugar and espresso as a boost to pick up ones lagging energy as sweets of this nature are generally consumed by Italilans mid afternoon with a strong espresso and not at the end of a large meal as we do here in America.

But whatever the origins, tiramisu has quickly taken over the hearts (and stomachs) of many of my friends and family. It is a favorite here in the office and has been made for showers, birthdays, going-away and welcoming parties. My own recipe for the confection is one that I have perfected over time. Having found many too cloyingly sweet or having custards too soupy, I developed a recipe that could satisfy the most raging sweet tooth without hiding the flavor of the mascarpone. Also, having a fear of serving raw eggs (at least the ones I buy in my local supermarket...last time I checked Washington Heights was not farm fresh) I find the recipes that make a cooked custard to be much more appealing.

So here it is kids. My secret weapon to make you all love me more than you already do. My pick me up - my tiramisu!

Combine 2 cups boiling water, 3 tablespoons instant espresso powder and 2 tablespoons Frangelico liquer. Set aside to cool.

Over a double boiler with barely simmering water, whisk together 4 egg yolks 1/2 cup of sugar and 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract. Whisk for 7-8 minutes until the mixture has doubled in volume and forms a ribbon when you pour it back into the bowl.

Remove from the heat and gently mix in 16 oz. mascarpone cheese. In a separate bowl, whip one cup of heavy cream until it forms peaks (not too stiff - we're making whipped cream - not butter) and fold it gently into the custard.

Dip saviorardi (lady fingers - not the soft ones as they absorb too much liquid and become mushy) in the coffee mixture very briefly (don't let them soak up too much) and line a casserole dish (or tupperware - or bowl of your choice). Pour about 1/2 of the cream over the cookies and repeat ending with a layer of the cream. Dust the top liberally with good quality cocoa and allow to set in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving.

Serves one Development Department, one Communications Department and one Executive team.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Who are you calling a tart?

Another day, another celebration for another coworker. Ergo another dessert to prepare.

Today was Alice's 25th birthday. Alice, for those of you who don't know, is basically the glue that holds AJWS together. She's the executive assistant to our esteemed President (the fabulous Ruth Messinger) and to say that Alice handles grace under fire is the understatement of the year. So of course, when she requested a lemon tart I felt the need to deliver.

I have a few recipes that I use for lemon curds and custards but just didn't have the stamina barely 24 hours after the grand cannoli cake to stand whisking over a double boiler. I decided to try a simpler recipe with a cream cheese based custard and shortbread crust. After an intense day of work and the first night of my Communication Strategy class, I wandered the aisles of Whole Foods, slightly dazed and unable to fully remember what I needed. Several impulse buys later (did I really need the Value Pack size of Emergen-C????) I was on my way home. By the time I walked through the door my body refused to measure flour or squeeze lemon juice or even open the cabinet where the food processor was. A night of sleep and then I'd get up early and make the tart in the morning.

At 6:30 the alarm went off. At 6:31 I threw the clock across the room. Finally, at 6:47 I dragged myself to the kitchen. Yowls from hungry felines filled the air but I knew I could not afford any delays. So I shoved the furry feeding machines aside and set to work. Measure one cup of flour, 1/3 cup powdered sugar, 1/8 tsp salt and give it a spin in the food processor. Add one stick cold cut up butter and pulse until it starts to form clumps. Press this into your tart pan and freeze for 15 minutes. Prick the bottom and bake at 425 for 14-15 minutes. While crust bakes take a perfectly timed shower (or as I did slightly overbake the crust).

When the crust is out of the oven and cooling and your all dried and dressed from the shower, combine 5 oz. cream cheese with 1/2 cup of white sugar in the food processor and process till combined. Add two eggs, one at a time and process well after each. Add 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice and 1 heaping tbsp grated lemon zest and process again. Pour into the prepared tart shell and bake at 350 for 28 minutes (or until custard is set).

Top with lightly sweetened whipped cream (this is even more fun if you whisk it fresh in the office before serving it to really show your coworkers how much you love them.) Serve cold.

Of course, by the time the tart was done I was running late so I pulled it out of the oven and put it by an open window to start cooling. I gave it about 3 minutes and then wrapped it in a towel so I could hold it (it was hot!) and headed out the door. On the subway I got a few looks as I knew you could smell the warm buttery crust and the sweet scent of lemon in the air. A cute little old man sitting next to me asked what I was carrying and when I said "a lemon tart" he suggested I let him hold it for a while. Thanks - thanks. :)

Happy 25th Alice!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Things that are difficult....

In increasing order, things that are difficult:

Walking in the snow.

Walking in the snow uphill.

Walking in the snow uphill with a knee injury.

Walking in the snow uphill with a knee injury carrying a cannoli cake roll.

It was difficult but the cake roll (and the ingredients for the whipped cream icing) made it successfully to the office. A light sponge cake rolled and filled with a cannoli cream and covered with orange scented whipped cream, chopped pistachios and mini chocolate chips.

And yes, it is as good as it sounds.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Mom's Birthday Dinner

It wasn't planned. I didn't sit poring over cookbooks for hours coming up with a menu. It just all came together as I was cooking. I was at my parents house in New Jersey and while sitting at the breakfast table at our favorite local diner after church, we were chatting about what to make for dinner. We stopped at the A&P on our way home and picked up pork tenderloins, new potatoes and fennel. What ended up on the table was quite possibly one of my most favorite meals I have ever put together.

It started with the potatoes. They were large so I quartered them before adding them to a pan with a large sliced yellow onion, sliced fennel (and also chopped up some of the fennel fronds for additional flavor), a load of chopped garlic, two apples cut to approximately the same size at the potatoes, and a good amount of chopped fresh parsley. I tossed all of it with salt, pepper and olive oil and set it to roast in a 400 degree oven.

Meanwhile, I cleaned up the pork tenderloins of their remaining silver skin, gave it a rub with a little extra virgin olive oil and a good sprinkle of salt and fresh cracked pepper. I seared it in a screaming hot oven safe pan and let it form a beautiful brown crust on all sides. While the pork browned, I prepared a mixture of crushed garlic, lots of fresh chopped parsley, spicy brown mustard, a touch of real maple syrup and a few slugs of olive oil. When the pork was brown all over I removed it from the pan and gave it a good slathering with the mix and then patted panko over the top for a crust. Into the oven (now up to 425 degrees) until the internal temperature reaches around 150 degrees. Make sure you allow the pork to rest for 5-10 minutes when it comes out of the oven before slicing.

While the pork and the potatoes were in the oven, I cleaned up a bunch of carrots that Mom had in the fridge and cut them into 2" pieces. A tablespoon of butter and olive oil went into a saute pan and then in went the carrots for just a quick saute. Then about 1/2 cup of water and cover (over mediumish heat - how's that for accurate measurements) for about 7 minutes. Remove the lid and let most of the water evaporate. Add 5-6 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and bring to a fast and furious bubble. Toss the carrots in the vinegar mixture and add another pat (or two) of butter to form a glaze.

If you time it right (or get really lucky like I did) everything will be finished at the exact same moment and what you bring to the table will be piping hot and the aroma will have your mouth watering. Mustard crusted pork tenderloin with roasted potatoes, apples and fennel and cider vinegar glazed carrots made for a great meal on a cold Sunday evening!

****Food is something that many of us take for granted. It occured to me both while I was cooking this meal and writing this blog post that while I sit in the comfort of my home, millions are starving in the streets after the earthquake in Haiti. I would encourage you to take a moment and make a donation to an organization like American Jewish World Service, Doctors Without Borders, the International Rescue Committee or Partners in Health to help provide aid where it is so needed. For those of you who prefer the ease of a text message, you can text "AJWS" to 25383 and make a $10 donation to American Jewish World Service's Rapid Relif Fund for Haiti. Remember, there but for the grace of God go we. Thank you.*****

Monday, January 11, 2010

What you crave?

Is it possible to crave something you've never had? Can the brain combine flavors and textures that it knows into something brand new and tell your stomach that this is what it wants? I'd have to say yes. Yesterday I woke up thinking about lamb stew. I have never made nor eaten lamb stew but I've had plenty of lamb and plenty of stews. I couldn't get the thought out of my head. Whether I was having coffee and donuts with friends, wandering the aisles of the new Costco in Harlem or chowing down on a Big Mac while parked in a bus stop in my friends SUV the thought of lamb stayed with me. I flipped through a few cookbooks and searched the standard cooking websites but I couldn't find anything that appealed to me. The Irish lamb stew recipes seemed too bland and the Moroccan style, while delicious seemed more complex than my comfort food seeking brain was looking for.

So I made it up. I knew in my head what I wanted to create. A rich stew with chunks of lamb, loaded with vegetables in a rich broth. For some reason I wanted it to have a Guinness base. On my way home I stopped at my favorite overpriced market in the neighborhood and picked up lamb stew meat, multi-colored fingerling potatoes and a large white onion. Using a tried and true method for beef stew I seasoned the lamb with salt and pepper and gave it a light dredge in flour. I browned the lamb on all sides in vegetable oil. When the lamb was browned I wiped out the pot, added a little olive oil and gave a quick saute of my veggies (carrots, potatoes, onion, celery and a smashed garlic clove). The lamb went back into the pot along with a little tomato puree, beef broth and of course, a half bottle of Guinness stout. I added a few sprigs of fresh thyme, brought the whole thing up to a boil and then lowered the gas and let it simmer for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes had passed I took the cover off and let the liquid boil down into a dense rich broth.

A dip of my tasting spoon told me this flavor combination that was so new to me was in fact what I had been craving. The lamb was tender, the vegetables soft and the broth was rich and complex with the Guinness providing an earthiness to the dish that I was looking for.

My Mom has always been an amazing cook but what amazed me the most was when she would put something together that she had never had before but that she just thought sounded "so good". She be in the kitchen adding a little of this and some of that and next thing we knew we had a new family favorite (that most likely would never be created in its exact likeness again). It was this spirit of adventure that gives me the courage to put lamb to stew and experiment on my own! Thanks, Mom :-)

Sunday, January 10, 2010


My theory of food is make it taste good first, make it look good second. I know they say we eat with our eyes first - but no matter how beautiful a plate looks, if it doesn't have the flavor to match then it's just a huge disappointment. This week however, I had the opposite experience. I was asked to do some baking for a baby shower that we were throwing for a coworker. I was originally just going to make my version of tiramisu but then someone noticed a Christmas gift that I had been carrying around with me that day called "Hello Cupcake" and the next thing I knew I was going home that night to make babies!

I should throw the caveat out there that I am NOT a cake decorator. My icing skills are far from perfect and I think I only recently discovered how to twist a piping bag shut so it doesn't leak out the back. So why I agreed to do this was beyond me. Even though the book said it would be simple - I was still nervous. No fondant, no sugar paste - just regular icing (from a can even), some marshmallows and fruit chew candies. Still - I had images in my head of creating something that would come out more like monsters rather than babies.

I started out by baking box-mix cupcakes. These were going to be more about appearance rather than taste - and really - who doesn't like a good Duncan Heinz every now and then? When the cupcakes were baked and cooled (standard for the base and mini for the head) I frosted them as smooth as I could with a vanilla frosting tinted light pink (I did have to ditch one batch that came out too neon - as I said...alien monsters). Using a Ziploc baggie filled with chocolate frosting I piped eyelids onto the minis and belly buttons onto the standards. The book said to pipe eyelashes but that just wasn't happening. I cut up mini marshmallows and stuck them to the heads as bonnets and even tried making safety pins out of white chocolate (there were a few successes here but most of them just broke when I tried to peel them from the waxed paper). Each standard cupcake had a pretty border piped around it - I did some white as the book called but also did a few with chocolate figuring we could tell the mommy-to-be they needed to be changed (Yes, I know...ew).

The hard part came when I had to attach the heads to the bodies. According to the book you just set the mini cupcake on its side on the standard cupcake and poof! You have a baby. Only I kept ending up with headless babies - kind of scary dark for a baby shower! So I did what any good mother would do and stuck a sharp object through the baby head (in this case - a toothpick) to make it stick to the body! Worked like a charm. A few finishing touches of fruit loop mouths, baby bottles and teddy bears (teddy grahams) and voila! A basket full of babies to help welcome our newest coworker into the world!

When I was all done I sent a photo of the little darlings to my mother with the subject line "Look! I made you grandbabies!" Probably not what she was expecting but I think they turned out pretty cute. :) I have to say that for my first foray into decorating this wasn't a bad experience. Five hours later I had 15 little cupcake babies, a kitchen that was covered in pink frosting and I had probably eaten my weight in mini marshmallows and starburst - but it was worth it. The hard part came on the day of the shower when everyone began to eat them....head first as was my fear! My poor little babies...I had gotten quite attached to them - but its OK. I can just go make more :-).

Happy Eating!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

I'd rather be in the kitchen....

Cooking is my passion. It takes me out of my normally overcrowded head and puts me in a place of focus. When I cook I don't think about the paper that I should be writing or the backlog of work that I need to catch up on or the potential relationship that may be spiraling rapidly down the tubes. All I think about is the culinary masterpiece that is coming together in front of me. Yesterday was one of those days. There were a number of things I could have been doing including cleaning my apartment, catching up on a few overdue work projects, piles of laundry....but instead I chose to spend the day in the kitchen. All of these other things can wait just one more day can't they?

It started with a pint of kumquats that had been staring at me from the kitchen counter for the past 48 hours. I don't even know if I've ever had a kumquat - but there they were in the produce aisle of my local Key Food. And since I can barely get ripe bananas and lettuce there I was struck by the exotic potential of these little citrus fruits. "Sweet edible skin with sweet-tart pulp" the package stated. Into my basket they went. When I got home I tasted one of the little buggers - sweet skin and VERY tart pulp. Can't say I enjoyed the experience but it wasn't exactly a negative one either. For two days I researched recipes and finally found one for a chutney that would work well with roasted meats. Quarter and seed the kumquats and boil together with orange juice and zest, a tiny bit of sugar, shallots, cinnamon, star anise, pepper corns and cloves. It's almost like a spicy marmalade and I have a feeling would go well with some strong cheese and crusty bread. I canned the chutney as I wasn't sure when I would actually have a chance to use it. Yes - I said I canned. I sterilized my glass jar and then sealed it once it was filled with the glistening chutney. Ain't I just little Suzie Freakin Homemaker.

Well - that wasn't enough to distract me. So I decided to start the New Year off with a big pot of soup. I picked up some dark meat chicken quarters that I skinned and tossed them in a soup pot with onions, carrots, celery, garlic and zucchini. Then covered it with water and added a porcini mushroom bouillon cube and a large handful of fresh parsley. While that simmered away I looked for my next project.

Baked goods! I needed to bake something. Its the start of a New Year which means that I have to give up the indulgence of the last month and the excuse of "it's the holidays" and get back to some healthy eating. So what could I find that was healthy and would still be delicious. I put together a batch of carrot-ginger muffins that are just subtly sweet with the spice of ginger and the freshness of the grated carrots. They're made with whole wheat flour, only 2 tablespoons of butter and low fat sour cream to keep them moist. They come together pretty quickly (especially if you have a food processor to grate the carrots) and will be a perfect breakfast treat. I think I might toast them lightly and spread a little low fat cream cheese in the middle. A change from my standard breakfast of multi-grain english muffins with peanut butter and banana (although that is mighty tasty).

As I pulled the muffins out of the oven, I felt that familiar ache in my lower legs and back that said I had been in the kitchen too long. My left knee which is still sore and slightly swollen after a recent fall was softly starting to beg for mercy. But I wasn't done just yet. One more project and then I'd give my body the rest it had earned. Earlier that day I had taken out some turkey drumsticks out to defrost that I had picked up for cheap at Stew Leonard's at a post-Thanksgiving sale. (Side note - if you've never been to Stew Leonard's I highly recommend it. It is more than just a great store - its an experience with loads of free samples and fun stuff for the kids!) I was originally just going to roast them for dinner but then was struck with inspiration. I dredged them in flour and browned them in my heavy dutch oven. Then I sauteed up a bit of carrot, onion, celery and garlic and added the drumsticks back in. I covered it with red wine, a mixture of beef and chicken stock and about a cup or so of crushed tomatoes. Some dried herbs of sage, oregano and thyme (I would have preferred fresh but didn't have any on hand) and some grated lemon zest and the whole thing went into a low the oven for about 2.5 hours. Voila! Turkey Leg Osso Bucco!

Granted by the time it got in the oven it was nearly 6 and there was no way I was going to be able to wait until 8:30 for dinner. So while the osso bucco braised away I shredded the chicken from the soup off the bones and cooked up some tubetti pasta - the perfect accompaniment. As I stretched out on the couch with my soup and the latest Harry Potter movie On Demand, I felt an extreme sense of satisfaction wash over me. It had been a long day in kitchen, a hard day at times, but it was worth it. I had successfully managed to avoid doing all the stuff I didn't want to do, and didn't think about the stuff I didn't want to think about, and yet felt fully accomplished at the same time.

Yes my friends, procrastination is truly a dish best served hot!