Monday, December 21, 2009

A Winter White Brunch

This weekend's massive snowfall and freezing temperatures inspired the wintry-warm brunch I whipped up at home yesterday...wasn't really feeling inclined to brave the outdoors just yet. I've been recently craving the kale salad at one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants, Northern version, though a bit different, might just be a close second.

Poached Eggs with Kale-Sweet Potato Salad

The Goods
2-3 cups kale (about 1/2 bunch), thinly chopped
1 small sweet potato, diced
2 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp garlic powder
pinch of cayenne pepper
salt to taste
1 Tbsp chopped roasted almonds
1 Tbsp Champagne vinaigrette *recipe below
2 Tbsp fresh grated Pecorino Romano cheese

2 eggs
1 tsp white vinegar

The Breakdown
Place kale in a steamer basket over a medium saucepan on medium-high heat and cover. Steam kale just slightly, about 1 to 2 minutes to keep it a bit crisp and crunchy.
Heat olive oil in a medium skillet and add in diced sweet potato (I wanted to speed things up a little, so I popped the potato in the microwave first for 2 minutes). Add in spices paprika through salt and saute until crispy (almost like baby hashbrowns) for about 6 to 8 minutes on medium-high heat.

Vinaigrette: Whisk together 1 tsp Dijon mustard, 1 tsp minced shallot, 1 Tbsp Champagne vinegar, 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
Toss kale with sweet potatoes, almonds and 1 Tbsp vinaigrette. Sprinkle with Pecorino Romano.

Poached eggs: Bring a small pot of water to a simmer on medium-high heat. Add 1 tsp white vinegar (I used white wine vinegar) and a touch of salt. The vinegar will help hold together the whites of the eggs. Gently slide in two eggs and poach for about 4 to 5 minutes.

Add a mimosa or bloody Mary and you've got a great wintry brunch!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Latkes with an Asian twist for Hanukkah

Happy Hanukkah! If you're like me (who almost forgot that Friday was the first night of the festival of lights), I found myself guilt-ridden yesterday and yearning for a bit of tradition to celebrate the holiday season. Noticing I had a decently sweet potato lying around, I decided to put it to use. Normally, I'm a traditional, straight-up potato and onion latke -- applesauce only, please -- kind of girl, but I was determined to forge new frontiers this year. Why not experiment a little? So here we go with what turned out to be a delicious recipe (I baked the latkes rather than frying and still managed to get them crispy, a small feat). Try serving these mini-style, they'd make a great holiday appetizer.

Sweet Potato Latkes with Siriacha-Creme Fraiche
*Siriacha is Asian hot sauce and is soooo good (but super spicy)! You'll find it at your local Asian market or regular grocery store.

Makes 16 mini latkes (double the recipe for more)

The Goods
1 large sweet potato (or 2 small), peeled and grated
1/2 onion, peeled and grated
1 egg
1 Tbsp flour
2 tsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp salt (or more to taste)
fresh ground black pepper to taste
dash of cayenne pepper *literally a pinch, it's hot!
canola oil for the baking sheet

1/2 cup creme fraiche (a fancified version of sour cream)
1 to 2 tsp siriacha hot sauce (more or less to taste, depending on desired spiciness)

The Breakdown
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
2. Mix grated sweet potato, onion, egg, salt, cayenne and black pepper and soy sauce in a large mixing bowl.
3. Brush a baking sheet with a good amount of canola oil, about 1 Tbsp or so.
4. Make mini latkes from mixture, each about a small handful's worth. Press out excess liquid before placing on baking sheet.
5. Bake at 425 for about 12 minutes, flip latkes and bake another 10-12 minutes until golden brown and slightly crispy.
6. Mix creme fraiche and siriacha and serve with latkes.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Best Ramen in NYC...with a Side of Customer Service

I've been meaning to write this post for a few weeks now, but better late than never. Being that the weekend's weather was unbelievably chilly and rainy, I was reminded of the delicious bowl of steaming hot ramen I had a few weeks back at one of NYC's best spots for the traditional Asian noodle soup -- Momofuku Noodle Bar (1st Ave & 11th St.). I've eaten at Momofuku a number of times, both at Noodle Bar and Ssam Bar, but on this particular Sunday evening, I was more than impressed not because of David Chang's inventive, flavorful fare, but because of some pretty incredible customer service. Here's the backdrop:

8pm - pop into Noodle Bar and order the traditional ramen soup with pork shoulder, pork belly and a poached egg for take-out
8:30pm - get back to my apartment starving ready for some soupy goodness and to my shock and dismay, there was no pork shoulder or pork belly in my soup. I had paid a nice penny for a container of broth, noodles and an egg...clearly I wasn't too happy!
8:35pm - make a call back to the restaurant, but couldn't get ahold of anyone and was directed to a voice message. left a calm, semi-stern and disappointed m
9:00pm - received a surprisingly quick and very nice call from Eugene Lee, Noodle Bar's on-the-ball manager. Eugene was kind enough to not only refund my credit card, but without any prompting, insisted that I receive a gift certificate card (for more than double the cost of my order mind you). The card would be mailed to my address the following day. Eugene thanked me for my business, hoped I would return to Momofuku for another meal, and wished me a good night.

Three days later I received that gift card in the mail...along with a lovely hand-written note from Eugene himself. That's what I call some serious customer service, it really does make a difference. I returned to Noodle Bar with a friend the following weekend and per the usual, the food was absolutely outstanding. Thanks so much Eugene, I'll be back very soon!

*And for all you David Chang groupies, check out his new cookbook, Momofuku - a great stocking gift!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Cookie diets are for the birds...

An article AND a video report from the Wall Street Journal on the infamous cookie diets fresh off the presses this morning. Come on people, are we seriously still talking about this? Rip away all the pretty wrapping, we know there's no magic weight loss or diet pill...and certainly no magic cookie. I don't know about you, but scarfing down a cookie made with sawdust-tasting protein powder, stabilizers, glycerine and whatever other ingredients are involved, doesn't sound too appetizing to me. The diets encourage cookie-eating in place of breakfast and lunch, and then having a "sensible" dinner for around 800 to 1200 calories. Bottom line, eat less of anything and you'll lose weight. Your body recognizes fresh, whole foods best - go back to basics (fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy carbs like brown/wild rice, whole grain breads and baked potatoes) and eat a little less of it, even just 10-20%. Better quality food = better taste and flavor = better satisfaction and less hunger = less of your waistline. That's some serious magic for you. Here's the WSJ's video segment on cookie diets...and how they crumble.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Cookbooks to crush on this holiday season

I tend to lust over cookbooks (both new and old) all year long, but get particularly engrossed around the holiday season and find myself pouring through recipes and gorgeously rich photos for a little cold-weather inspiration and holiday warmth. Here are a few cookbooks on my list this year, and maybe on yours as well.

COCO (Oct. 2009)- Chic design and colorful cover aside, Coco (published by design-heavy Phaidon) is a compilation of recipes from 100 up and coming contemporary chefs -- all of whom were nominated by 10 culinary masters including Mario Batali and Alice Waters. I've only yet flipped through Coco's pages (it's still on my wish list this holiday season), but from what I've seen, it's quite an impressive publication with interesting recipes galore.

Salt to Taste (Oct. 2009) - Marco Canora, owner of Hearth and Terroir restaurants and wine bar in Manhattan, brings rustic, flavorful and market-driven Italian dishes to this book. Recipes are approachable and'll want to head directly into the kitchen and cook up fresh fare like Roasted Salmon with Red Peppers, Veal and Ricotta Meatballs, Pasta e Fagioli, Fava Bean and Pecorino Salad, and Braised Duck with Olives and Rosemary. I love Canora's personal headnotes citing family traditions and cooking tips. One of my favorite parts of the book however, is the quote on the back: "Food -- buy it with thought; cook it with care; serve just enough; save what will keep; eat what would spoil; home-grown is best."

Jamie at Home (Oct. 2008) -- It might be among last year's hottest cookbooks, but this is still one of my favorites from acclaimed celebrity chef and Food Network star, Jamie Oliver and is definitely worth a good mention. Recipes are seasonally-inspired and are organized by spring/summer/fall/winter sections. Ridiculously gorgeous, mouth-watering photos and equally tasty recipes, Jamie's continued focus is on balance, fresh produce, making the most of the season and filling dishes with tons of flavor. You'll find recipes like Grilled lamb kofta kebabs with pistachios and spicy salad wrap, Warm strawberries with Pimm's and vanilla ice cream, and Superb squash soup with Parmesan croutons. And if you weren't already aware, Jamie is taking his fight on obesity and healthier eating habits from across the Atlantic, putting America's "diet" on a diet. Check out a 6-part video series and recipes from his American travels here. Jamie's newest book, Jamie's America (Sept. 2009) is currently out on shelves.

And a few other newbie cookbooks to note:
ref=sr_1_1.jpgDavid Chang's expressive (read: expletives everywhere) and intricate Momofuku (Chang now owns 4 restaurants in NYC -- who doesn't love Ssam Bar's pork buns and Noodle Bar's classic ramen)?
ref=sr_1_1.jpgFood Network nutritionist (and one of my friends and colleagues) Ellie Krieger's new So Easy, full of healthy, super flavorful recipes and nutrition info.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Post-Thanksgiving Round of Recipes

Better late than never! I decided to test a new round of recipes this Thanksgiving, and I can happily say that they were mighty tasty and didn't last long on the holiday table. Here's a smattering of the dishes I contributed to the meal -- in addition to my mother's infamous stuffing and roast turkey *(which by the way, she did something different this year and roasted the turkey at a super high temp - 450 degrees. the birdie took half the time, about 2.5 hours and was perfectly golden crisp and moist).

Simple Pear and Pecorino Salad
We had so much food this year at the table, but my cousin still insisted I prepare her favorite holiday salad. So, of course, I obliged. Can never go wrong with a few extra greens. I decided to keep things simple though and pared down my standard Thanksgiving salad. Quick and easy, this is a great way to get some fall flavor into a starter salad.

Serves 8

1 1/2 bags mixed greens or baby spinach
2 bosc pears, stemmed and cut into thin slices
Pecorino romano shavings *use a vegetable peeler
for nice thick shavings -- about 3/4 cup worth or enough to sprinkle throughout the salad
1/2 tsp minced shallot
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp Champagne vinegar
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Whisk dressing ingredients all, pouring olive oil in a slow drizzle until well blended.
2. Arrange salad and drizzle dressing over as needed.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic-Glazed Pecans

Makes 6 to 8 servings

1 pound Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed (cut the sprouts in half if they’re medium to large or leave whole if they’re small)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

salt to taste

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon honey

¼ cup chopped toasted pecans

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F.

2. Place the Brussels sprouts in a large bowl. Toss with the olive oil and season with salt.

3. Transfer to a baking sheet and roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until the leaves are browned. Shake the pan to keep the sprouts from sticking about halfway through.

4. In a small saucepan, simmer the balsamic vinegar with the honey for about 5 minutes to reduce a little. Pour the reduction over the pecans and stir to coat. Toss the glazed pecans with the sprouts.

Pear Tart with Spiced Caramel Sauce
Ask any of my family members, and they'd likely say that this was the best creation of the holiday. Pretty on the table, it's a light dessert that will go super fast (I almost didn't get a slice myself!). I crafted the recipe from two different recipes off of (I know, it was a pear-heavy holiday for some reason). Acclaimed pastry chef (and James Beard award winner), Karen DeMasco's sable` tart crust might just be the perfect crust with the inclusion of almond flour. I'll definitely be making this one again.

Tart crust:
  • 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 3/4 cup almond flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • In a bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, almond flour, and salt.

    In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and confectioners' sugar. Mix on medium-low speed until well combined, about 4 minutes. You can also use a food processor to mix the dough, pulsing on and off for about 2 minutes.

    Mix in the egg and then the yolk, allowing each to be incorporated before adding the next. In two additions, add the flour mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition.

    Turn out the dough onto a clean lightly floured work surface. Divide it in half, shape into flattened disks, and wrap each one in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or overnight. (The dough can be frozen for up to 1 month; thaw it overnight in the refrigerator before using.)

    Poached pear topping:

    3 ripe red D'Anjou pears, peeled and left whole

    3 cups water

    1 cup white wine

    Place pears in a large pot with water and wine and simmer at a medium-low heat. Poach for about 20 to 25 minutes until soft.

    Allow pears to cool, stem and slice thinly

    Spiced caramel sauce:

    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
    • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
    • 1 whole clove
    • 5 cardamom pods
    • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
    • 1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
    • 2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks

    Put granulated sugar in a 2-quart heavy saucepan and crumble brown sugar over. Melt sugars, undisturbed, over moderate heat until granulated sugar is mostly melted. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally with a fork, until a deep golden caramel. Carefully pour in cream (**note that the mixture will bubble up and caramel will harden slightly**) and stir in clove, cardamom pods, fennel, peppercorns, and cinnamon sticks. Simmer, stirring, until caramel is dissolved and sauce is reduced to about 1‚ cups, about 10 minutes. Pour sauce through a sieve into a 2-cup measure and cool to just warm.


    Preheat oven at 350 degrees. Roll out one disc of dough onto a 12" tart pan with removable bottom. Fork a few holes in the crust and spoon a thin layer of the caramel sauce onto the dough. Arrange the pear slices, fanning them in a circle as in the photo. Drizzle additional caramel over top of the pears. Bake the tart for about 35 to 45 minutes until golden brown. Garnish with a few fresh cranberries or crushed almonds.

Friday, November 27, 2009

"Back to the land"...something to give thanks for

Thought this recent blog posting in the New York Times was a great one - check out the full post here. On this Thanksgiving, some musings on fresh v. fast food, our founding fathers, eating local, Alice Waters, kids in the kitchen, edible schoolyards and more. Happy Thanksgiving everyone, I'm very thankful for fresh food, family and friends!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

An education in pizza...that won't blow your waistline

If you thought all pizza was off-the-wagon when it comes to "healthy eating," think again. Just last week, I had the culinary pleasure of receiving a private pizza education from one of NYC's most esteemed Neopolitan masters, Roberto Caporuscio, the owner of Keste Pizzeria (271 Bleecker St).
Our afternoon of pizza schooling began with Roberto's historical run-down of pizza, it's origins and why
it's wrongly labelled as a calorie-laden food that can pack on the pounds:
- In the 16th century, pizza first came onto the scene in Naples after Spanish occupation. The original pizza, known as the "Mast'Nicola," was topped simply (and somewhat surprisingly) with lardo (bacon fat), pecorino romano cheese and basil. Obviously bacon fat in mass quantities isn't exactly a shining example of health, but keep reading. You'll be pleasantly surprised.
- In the 18th century, the infamous "Margherita" pizza was born, named after the queen of Spain at the time. The Margherita was and still is adorned with just basil and water buffalo mozzarella -- simple and delicious.
- The first official pizzeria in Naples opened in 1757 and the revolution took off from there. Today, according to Caporuscio, nearly 5,000 pizzerias exist in Naples -- a town of 2 million people. That's one pizzeria for nearly every 400 people! Neopolitans eat pizza like it's their average of 4 times a week. How do they maintain their trim figures? Get ready for the health and nutrition SHOCKER with this American v. Neopolitan pizza comparison:
  • Average American 12" Margherita pizza = 1,600 calories (think your national chains, heavy, grease-stained, plasticy-cheese dripping pizza) all thanks to a much heavier dough which contributes more carbs and less protein (which means you're left hungry and may end up eating that much more). We all know what happens when you eat too much bread/bready products and it ain't pretty.
  • Average Neopolitan-style 12" Margherita pizza = 800 calories! That's a huge difference and makes for a much more reasonable and healthfully indulgent meal, particularly when you split the pizza and start with a salad. Why is Neopolitan pizza so much lighter? "It's all in the pizza," states Caporuscio. The best ingredients, the most simplistic and light/airy of doughs, fresh, quality toppings, the hands of a skilled pizza maker and finally, a hot, hot oven (it's imported from Naples and made from volcanic stone). Pizzas are cooked for a mere 45-60 seconds at over 800 degrees! To make their well-received pizzas, Keste starts with the dough, allowing it to rise at least 8 hours -- this allows the yeast to fully rise, gives the dough a more airy, light texture and keeps overall carbohydrates (and that lovely post-pizza bloated whale feeling) to a minimum. I had the chance to make my pizza and hand-flip the dough and it definitely takes a delicate, skilled hand. Too much kneading or pulling and you're left with a chewier, heavier dough.
Now for the good stuff...what to eat at Keste? Caporuscio delighted our taste buds with a tasting of Keste's most popular pizzas. First and foremost, the simple Margherita -- dough + fresh tomato sauce (just good quality canned, crushed tomatoes with a touch of salt) + a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil.
Next up was the "Barolo" -- made with a robust wine-soaked
cheese, radicchio and grape seeds. Sounds like an odd combo, but wow. One slice of this pizza and that's really all you need - very rich, decadent and satisfying.
My favorite of the afternoon was Keste's special "Halloween" pizza made with butternut squash, a chestnutty-flavored cheese, thyme and buffalo mozzarella. Seriously amazing.

Caporuscio even gave us the scoop on his secret recipe for making pizza at home. Here's the basic dough recipe and measurements. Remember, the key here is letting it rise for at least 8 hours and then using the freshest of the fresh and best quality ingredients. Simple, fresh, healthful and incredibly tasty!

Keste's Homemade Pizza Dough
makes 10 - 12" balls of dough

1 liter water
3.78 lb flour *Caporuscio recommends the brand Antimo Caputo flour from Naples which can be purchased at Di Paolo's on Grand and Mott St.
2 oz salt
1 oz sugar
.17 oz yeast

mix all ingredients together, split into 10 balls and let that dough rise!

If you're still skeptical about how to fit pizza into the picture so you're getting a balanced, healthy meal, here's your go-to order:
Start with a salad to pack in greens/veggies and keep portions right on track. Depending on the size, 2 medium-sized slices of pizza (3 for dudes) and you should be perfectly full. Toss on some veggie toppings or go with fresh buffalo mozzarella (better quality cheese and generally less of it). If you're a pepperoni or sausage lover (I admit, I love good sausage), order on occasion - if it comes overflowing with meat, take some off so you can still indulge without going overboard on excess calories or driving up cholesterol levels!
The bottom line message driven home by Caporuscio (and surprise, one that you'll frequently find on this blog) is this: good quality, fresh, whole ingredients = great tasting AND healthful food. Plain and simple. Now go eat some good pizza!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

On my radar: 18 Rabbits granola bars

After taste-testing a new line of granola and granola bars over the past few weeks (well, new to the East Coast at least), I just had to give the folks at 18 Rabbits a solid shout out. Hailing from San Fran and founded by Alison Bailey Vercruysse, 18 Rabbits is totally natural, straight up granola goodness. The products support local farmers and artisans in the Bay Area with sustainable and organic ingredients whenever possible. Forget sugary sweeteners, these delectable items are the real deal with simple, basic ingredients like pecans, apricots, figs, pumpkin seeds, whole oats, bing cherries, dates, almonds, sesame seeds and cocoa nibs. Among the 4 granola bars flavors, the Funky Fig & Cherries was my fave (and I'm beyond selective when it comes to any granola bar period!). Other tasty flavors include: Cheeky Cherry Chocolate, Haute Diggity Date and Veritas granola (hazelnuts, flax, walnuts and cocoa nibs). These suckers are damn tasty and are great for a filling, energizing snack and the calories are right on target around 200. Keep your eyes out, 18 Rabbits has hit Dean & Deluca and is making its way to Whole Foods soon!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Madison WI - a local food lover's dream

If you're seeking some local food inspiration, look no further than Madison, WI. I had the opportunity to spend a recent weekend touring (and eating) my way through Madison. The scenery was beautiful and it was incredibly inspiring to see a town and a community so committed to and excited by eating and shopping locally and sustainably. Every coffee shop my good friend Katie (a Madison transplant) and I passed by touted fair-trade brews. Countless bars around town served up local beer and it seemed that every restaurant takes pride in featuring local farmers and ingredients right on the menu. This trend clearly has taken hold in cities and towns across the country, but it was interesting to be somewhere where eating (and drinking) locally and seasonally is a focus of so much of the community. Katie kept gushing about Madison's weekly farmers market and now I know why. It's a serious event. It's packed and expansive (and I thought I was spoiled by NYC's Union Square market!). The Dane County farmers market is up and running every Saturday and features
(Katie shopping it up at the market!)
produce, fresh pasta, local meats, unbelievably good cheese and fabulous bakeries like Cress Spring who was recently featured in the NY Times for their use of locally sourced and ground whole grains. Interesting that Cress Spring's natural fermentation methods allow their bread to by easily eaten by individuals with wheat allergies. The bread runs out fast, but I did sample a few of their baked goods like the raspberry-pear tartlet and I can see why the bakery's so popular.
Aside from the greenmarket, Katie took me on a fabulous culinary tour of Madison. Here's a rundown of some of the wonderful locally-driven restaurants and delicious meals we had.

Harvest - Our weekend dining commenced at Harvest, one of Madison's top seasonal restaurants. Word of advice if you go, start your night off with one
of their signature cocktails (trust me, they're worth a few extra calories...walk around the city and you'll easily work them off). The Elderflower Gimblet (St. Germaine, vodka and prosecco) was hands-down incredible. To get a nice sampling of the menu, Katie and I shared a beet salad with ricotta dressing and hazelnuts, grilled squid with spicy olive tapenade and a homemade cavatelli pasta with roasted cauliflower and breadcrumbs. I am a huge fan of sharing dishes -- it's the easiest to get a lot of little tastes in without overdosing on calories.

Marigold Kitchen - To prep for a big day of touring the
greenmarket and walking throughout the city, we hit up one of Katie's favorite brunch spots, Marigold Kitchen, close to Madison's capitol. A simple, energizing breakfast of chili poached eggs with rosemary toast, manchego and a few thin slices of prosciutto along with some fresh fruit and of course local coffee was a great start to a long day. Interesting omelets, sandwiches and daily specials with seasonal produce also speckled the menu.
Ma-Cha -- By late afternoon, a quick pick-me-up snack was an absolute necessity. We popped into a newish tea house and art gallery, Ma-Cha. Co-owner Anthony Verbrick greeted us with huge jars of dried tea mixes to sniff and choose from and a tasting of house-made mini asian buns (pork and sweet potato-ginger). The space is adorable, the tea and snacks were awesome, info about tea's health properties and proper brewing was bountiful, and Anthony was incredibly helpful and patient as we sniffed our way through at least a dozen jars of loose tea leaves! He also happens to be a great resource for local restaurant suggestions. If I were a student in Madison, Ma-Cha would for sure be my secret study haven of choice.
Katie and I finished the weekend off with a Madison-esque dinner (one that involved a bit of cheese, a burger -- yet again shared -- and some local beer) and a great Sunday brunch at a teeny-tiny spot close to downtown. I will withhold the name so Katie can continue to hit it up as she pleases and actually snag a seat. I will say however, that my omelet with butternut squash and roasted red peppers was ridiculously good.
I'll sign-off with a brief mention of the oddest (but so delicious) food item I taste-tested in Madison: cheese curds -- little pieces of cheese that form when the milk separates into liquid and solids. They're typically from cheddar, have a mild flavor, "squeak" when you eat them and have proven to serve as a great snack with a few crackers or an apple or pear.
Thanks KP for such a culinary-inspired tour of Madison!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween's inspiration...balsamic roasted pumpkin

As I mentioned earlier today on Martha Stewart Living radio, I LOVE me some Halloween (yes, including a few nibbles of candy corn here and there -- see last year's post on Halloween treats). I also love pumpkin and generally have a mild obsession with it from September through November. Pumpkin's packed with good nutrients, antioxidants, fiber, vitamins A and C and for a mere 49 calories a cup, you can't really go wrong.
Instead of the standard pumpkin breads, cookies and muffins, I decided to tackle pumpkin in it's entirety a few weeks back (it's not easy chopping up a whole pumpkin no matter how good your knife is). What came out of my chopping session was a recipe so delicious, I can't stop thinking about it. Taste-test it for yourself...
Balsamic Roasted Pumpkin with Lentils, Goat Cheese & Crispy Fried Shallots
Makes 4-6 servings

1 small to medium pumpkin, chopped and peeled *if it's too difficult to peel prior to roasting, allow pumpkin to cool and remove skin afterwards
1 cup dried French lentils
4 oz goat cheese (1 small log)
1 shallot, peeled and cut into thin rounds or half-moon shapes
olive oil for "frying" the shallots
1-2 Tbsp olive oil for drizzling, extra for roasting
6 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 4oo degrees. Soak lentils for 10 minutes.
In a large mixing bowl, toss pumpkin with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil and season lightly with salt.
Spread on a cookie sheet or in a roasting pan and roast until soft, about 30-40 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook lentils in salted, boiling water until soft, about 30 minutes.
Heat balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan on medium-low and reduce to about half, about 10-15 minutes.
Pour about 1 inch worth of olive oil into a small-medium heavy pan or skillet (enough oil to cover shallots). Heat oil over medium-high and fry shallots for 3 to 5 minutes until crispy, golden brown. Remove and drain excess oil on a paper towel.
Toss pumpkin with balsamic reduction and mix with lentils and goat cheese. Drizzle with remaining tablespoon of olive oil and garnish with crispy shallots.

On tap for tomorrow is the food-filled recap of my weekend in Madison, WI and the ridiculously awesome Dane Co. farmers market!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The best of fall...from zucchini bread to roasted pumpkin

With the chilly weather of the past few weeks, I've taken to turning up the oven and keeping things warm with some great fall comfort foods (my apartment building has yet to turn the heat on so I figured I'd rather cook than freeze to death). Cold weather comfort food obviously has a different meaning for everyone - whether we're talking mac n' cheese or a plate full warm brownies. For me, it's memories of my mom's pumpkin bread, steaming bowls of split pea soup and my dad's infamous spaghetti sauce. Here's the first post in a mini round-up of recent recipes from my own kitchen that take advantage of fall's seasonal produce and the cool weather.
Zucchini Bread with Walnuts
I tend to get overly excited at the farmers market and buy a little too much on occasion, so when I found two lonely zucchinis sitting in the fridge, I couldn't bare to let them go to waste. Zucchini bread seemed like the perfect use--I'm a sucker for a warm, toasty slice with a tiny dab of butter. I adapted the recipe below from Smitten Kitchen and swapped half the flour for whole wheat, half the oil for applesauce and tossed in walnuts and a nutty-cinnamon topping. The result is a killer bread that's a tad lighter, packed with fiber and vitamins A and C from the zucchini and heart-healthy fats from the walnuts.
*Makes 2 loaves, about 10-12 servings per loaf

3 eggs
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups grated zucchini (about 2 small zucchini)
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
3 tsp cinnamon
1/8-1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts + extra (about 1/4 cup) for topping
1/4 cup brown sugar for topping
1/4 tsp extra cinnamon for topping

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease 2 loaf pans.
2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs and add in oil, sugar, zucchini and vanilla. Mix well.
3. Combine flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda and powder, salt and nuts in a separate bowl. Stir into the egg mixture and blend.
4. Pour batter evenly into two pans. Mix extra walnuts, brown sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle atop each loaf.
5. Bake loaves for 60-70 minutes until golden brown and a tester or toothpick comes out clean if inserted into the center of each loaf.

Up next tomorrow, just in time for Halloween...Balsamic Glazed Pumpkin with Lentils, Goat Cheese and Crispy Fried Shallots.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fall at the Farmers Market...Plain old pretty

I walked through Union Square's greenmarket earlier this week and couldn't help but snap a few pics of all the amazing colors and mountains of fall produce that have come into season. Wondering what's in season at the moment? A few options for your autumn grocery list include: apples (a zillion different varieties, winesap's my favorite currently), squashes like butternut, spaghetti and acorn, pumpkin, beans, potatoes, eggplant and pears among others. Take a look for yourself. Here's a mini visual feast for your eyes...just in time for lunch!

Monday, October 12, 2009

What you can learn from Tom Colicchio in 45 minutes...

It's a little hard to miss Tom Colicchio -- his notorious bald head, his honest (sometimes brutally honest) commentary as head judge on Top Chef and his amazing command of the kitchen and focus on seasonal ingredients. Yes, I've written about Tom before, clearly I'm a fan, but this post comes fresh off of
a) meeting the acclaimed chef in person yesterday (my entire week i
s made!) and b) watching him move swiftly through not one but four different types of confit dishes (lemon, tomato, tuna and pork butt) in under 45 minutes...and still have time for humorous banter with the audience. FYI, confit is virtually anything, meat, fruit or vegetable, slowly cooked and preserved in fat, often its own fat like duck confit.
I was lucky enough to catch Tom's culinary demo in conjunction with Food Network's annual NYC Wine & Food Festival that occurred over the weekend bringing chefs, members of the food industry and food-lovers together for demonstrations, tastings, educational seminars, book signings and more.
But back to the bald chef. Before I give you a sneak tasting of his tomato confit dish, here's what I loved most about Tom's discussion (and why he's one chef in particular I'll continue to chatter about)...

1. He could care less about recipes. He consistently speaks about learning how to work with your food, rather than follow a recipe. It's not about the exact amounts or ensuring you have each and every ingredient on hand. It's about mastering techniques and methods, experimenting and creating, so that you're able to feel at ease in the kitchen. You're mastering cooking, not the ability to follow a single recipe to the tee. Take a flip through his cookbook, Think Like a Chef and you'll understand what I'm talking about.
2. He likes things in moderation. Sure, confits traditionally are made with A LOT of fat (whether it's duck fat, pork fat or olive oil like Tom used yesterday). But he made the point to emphasize balance at mealtimes and small portions, and to call out that processed junk is the primary problem our overweight society is faced with (THANK YOU, Tom!). Real food, good food in smaller portions and leading a balanced lifestyle, exercise and all. When you're focused on that, a little confit in your diet isn't a big deal -- the majority of the fat stays behind in the pot and you come away with major flavor and taste in a few bites.

3. He's big on seasonality and he's prepared. I'm always writing about making an effort to shop and cook seasonally on this blog and Tom is just hammering it home for me (and you). Better flavor, better taste, better nutrients, means you're a happy eater. Creating items and having things prepped and stored away ahead of time allows you to whip up a speedy, healthy meal in no time. No more excuses for the delivery guy.

With all that said, here's Tom's recipe...wait, let's say 'method' instead, for tomato confit.

Tomato Confit
*This is great for end of season or out of season tomatoes that don't have a ton of flavor left in t
Cut tomatoes in half, place them face down on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and a healthy amount of olive oil (we're talking a good half-inch or more). Toss on top some sliced garlic and sprigs of thyme. Cook slowly at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.
Peel off the skin, add additional olive oil and place back in the oven at 300 degrees until the tomatoes cook down, shrink in size, about half, and are completely soft. Remove from oven and pack those babies in...more oil! Jar them or store in them in an air-tight container.
Use the confit to top braised lamb shoulder or grilled fish or chicken, or toss in with some pasta for a quick meal or flavorful side dish. Any confit will last for a good 6 or 7 months in the refrigerator, just be sure not to touch it with your fingers, otherwise it'll spoil.

Here's Tom in action...and just a final note, he mentioned that he's in the process of filming a documentary on obesity and the connection between hunger, type-II diabetes and obesity. Good stuff, Tom.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Saying Goodbye to Gourmet

There's a lot of mourning going on in the food world this week. Conde Nast announced on Monday that it will be closing it's long-standing culinary magazine, Gourmet, at the ripe age of 68. Under editor Ruth Reichl's helm for the past decade, Gourmet explored and presented food, culinary trends, culture and travel in such a wonderful, inspiring, delectable will surely be missed. What's an avid reader and subscriber to do? Get cooking! Flip through your last few issues or jump onto to snag a few tasty recipes and celebrate all that the magazine brought to its readers.
And if you're looking for what's up next for Ms. Reichl, keep an eye out for her new cookbook, Gourmet Today. Sure to be a good one.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Why I've been MIA...

Just a quick disclaimer as I know my posts have been spotty and sporadic of late and will continue to be so through the end of next week. All for good reason though...I am in the last-minute, frenetic stages of completing my book edits for The Cheater's Diet, my new book that hits bookshelves this coming March (so keep your eyes out!). It's going to be a great read...the diet you can actually drink on! Sometimes coming back to the basics is our best, most satisfying secret weapon.
Here's a sneak peak at the cover--pretty adorable, huh?!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What's a "healthy-weight" model look like?

As a quick follow up to yesterday's post about The September Issue and the world of fashion and body-consciousness...I was chatting with my good friend and editor at Glamour magazine, Margarita Bertsos (who has a great weekly blog with Glamour fyi). She mentioned that a photo of a real-life woman with a real-life weight on page 194 of the current September issue caused a quite stir. Lizzi Miller, a 20-year old plus-size model, is pictured in the buck with just underwear...and a small roll at her belly. And she's gorgeous. The related story discussed feeling comfortable in your own skin (as I briefly mentioned in yesterday's post).
It garnered so much attention that editor-in-chief Cindi Leive blogged about it herself....and had a response of nearly 1,000 comments!

I think it's fantastic that such an prominent women's fashion magazine like Glamour is making efforts to reach out to their readership in different ways. They're depicting normal, real women and we as readers relate that much more (hence the 1,000 blog comments!). But it also shows a hopeful shift in body-image and what's "ideal" and what's "normal." Your body's healthy weight is normal! Celebrate your curves people, we all have them...even models! What are your thoughts on the photo?

Monday, September 7, 2009

The September Issue: Delicious

With much anticipation, I saw The September Issue last night - the documentary about the infamous fashion editor/"ice queen" Anna Wintour and the production of Vogue's largest issue ever, Sept. 2007. What does a fashion docu have to do with health and food? A hell of a lot. We're all influenced by fashion in some respsect, whether you want to admit it or not. Culture, design, lifestyle, the way we look, the way we feel and the way we eat...all completely intertwined. And interestingly enough, food, diet and health were often referred to throughout the movie (it's not just all coffee, I did see actual food in those offices and I know Conde Nast has an incredible cafeteria first-hand!). From strong-willed Grace Coddington (Vogue's amazingly talented creative director) and her healthy salad lunches, to Andre Leon Talley's (editor-at-large) mention of his on-going efforts to lose weight healthfully upon Wintour's encouragement. There's even a great scene of a thinner than thin model savoring a small berry tart at the end of a photo shoot - savoring and smiling, kind of a nice change of pace.
Certainly, food and diet is a controversial topic within t
he fashion world when all hinges around weight and appearance, but that wasn't the focus of the movie. Figuring out how to balance healthful eating and a realistic healthful weight helps us feel that much more comfortable and confident in our own skin, regardless of what we put on top of it!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Coffee fave French press

So I just returned from finally getting to watch Julie & Julia (it's been a hectic past few weeks) and clearly the blog-come-book-come-movie inspired me a is almost 1am after all as I'm sitting here typing. If you have yet to see the movie, it's freaking adorable and you should go support your local cinema and pay for over-priced, over-salted popcorn (a child size portion of course). Meryl Streep can't get more amazing as Julia Child and Amy Adams looks like a novice/pro slaving over a hot stove in a tiny Queens apartment. Anyhow, that's my two cents.
On other fronts, I have a new kitchen toy/new obsession. I have recently purchased my first French press coffee maker and will be testing it out tomorrow morning. The style and design of this Bodum French press drew me to purchase it like a kid in a candy store and I must say, it's looking damn fine sitting on my kitchen counter right now. Nothing wrong with a little sleek, sexiness to make your morning brew taste that much better. You can check out the "Eileen" (at left) at Bodum's website
here. Ain't she pretty? She's priced at a reasonable $59. Not to discriminate, I am also drooling over Alessi's Cactus! French press (below), though it's a wee bit pricey. Thoughts on your all's favorite French presses and favorite brands of coffee? I'm on the hunt for an excellent local or fair-trade brand. Suggestions are much appreciated! And for the record, coffee boasts some significant health benefits--it's loaded with antioxidants. In fact, it's the greatest source of antioxidants consumed by the majority of Americans...not blueberries or pomegranate, coffee. That says something about our country's fruit intake and possible caffeine addiction, but we'll leave that for another post.

Aside from getting my caffeine fix this week, I've got a few new recipes to add to the mix. They'll be going up early this week, but as an enticing lead-in, keep your eyes and taste-buds out for Avocado Corn Salad with Roasted Poblano-Jalapeno and Cilantro Vinaigrette and Asian Summer Noodles with Grilled Shrimp and Toasted Peanuts.

In good taste and good health...