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!