Friday, December 31, 2010

Here's to 2011 & Non-Resolutions!

I'm riffing a page directly from two of my favorite gals, Anne Sage and Crystal Gentilello of Rue Magazine and their muse, Erin Loechner.  Instead of listing off a handful of resolutions, I thought it'd be appropriate to finish out the year with a few things I appreciate and won't stop doing in this new year ahead.  So as you scurry off to prepare for this evening's revelries, lift a glass, have a bit of bubbly and toast to a thoughtful, prosperous, wondrous 2011!

1. Similar to Miss Anne, I will NOT save a little extra money by brewing coffee at home.  My morning stop at OST Cafe is one of the highlights of my day - the people, the music and the energy make me start my day with a smile, and that's worth a whole lot more than $2.00.

2. Sometimes it's the tiniest things that are right in front of you that bring something special out in you.  Like my rose` granati hand soap by Molton Brown (I've always been a sucker for amazing scents) or the photo of my friend Risa's son on my Blackberry - his adorableness could make anyone instantly happier.

3. Acknowledging your shortcomings (for me it's taking on too much and letting it stress me out) and working towards managing them a bit better.  And knowing that in some cases, stress can be pretty darn productive.

4.  Appreciating who you are, what you've accomplished and where you're headed whether in your career, your passionate hobby, your diet, your fitness regimen, your family and friendships or any or all of the above.  Take it and own it.

5. Relishing in an indulgent (not-so-healthy) meal once in a while and knowing that it won't make the scale jump 5 pounds.

6. Listening to your gut, trusting yourself, respecting yourself and going after whatever it is you're dreaming of over the next 365 days!

Happy, healthy new year to you and yours!  Keep an out on Monday, Jan. 3rd - I'll be talking it up about's Food Lover's Cleanse on CNN American Morning at 8:40am EST.

Images: Martha Stewart Living, Plush Palate

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Lot of Snow & a Little Pasta

Being blanketed by a wintry sea of snow is somehow a refreshing way to head out of 2010.  But after 3 days of slush, chilly temperatures and being a bit too cooped up for my own good, one can't help but crave a little cold-weather comfort food.  The lonely Brussels sprouts and prosciutto in my fridge seemed like the perfect pairing for a cozy, indulgently healthful dinner.  Who knew fiber and antioxidant-rich B. sprouts could be such shining stars in a pasta dish.  I'll definitely be making this again in 2011!

Pasta with Brussels Sprouts, Prosciutto & Parmesan Sauce
serves 4

8 oz (1/2 box/bag) tubular pasta (I used casarecce here, thank you Eataly!)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
4 cups Brussels sprouts, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 slices prosciutto, roughly chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes or 1 small chili pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan or pecorino Romano cheese

Cook pasta for 11-13 minutes in salted boiling water.
While water is boiling, add olive oil to pan and cook garlic for 2 to 3 minutes over medium-low heat.  Increase heat to medium-high and add Brussels sprouts and chicken broth.  Saute for 5 minutes, add prosciutto, season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.  Cook until sprouts are soft, about another 7 to 8 minutes.
In a separate small saucepan, combine butter, milk and cheese over medium-low heat.  Bring to a simmer and allow cheese to fully melt.
Drain pasta and add back to pot.  Toss pasta with Brussels sprouts mixture and cheese sauce and serve.

Images: my own

Monday, December 27, 2010

New Year's resolutions + the Cheater's Diet paperback!

Just in time for the aftermath of the holidays, a hell of a lot of snow (and comfort food & hot cocoa) and a massive New Year's Eve bash later this week...The Cheater's Diet paperback edition hits bookstores everywhere and online today!  With a fresh, sassy new cover and a lighter price tag, it's the perfect antidote to any accidental winter weight gain.   
Start 2011 with some solid reading, eating, drinking and losing!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Holidays!

What's better than a bit of bubbly to get us in the holiday spirit!?  (It is after all, one of the least-caloric drinks you can opt for at a very reasonable 85 calories per glass).  
The image above is one of my favorites from the very talented artist Laura Loving.  Her set of holiday cards, prints, gilcees on canvas and tiles are perfect stocking stuffers.     
Wishing you and yours a wonderfully warm holiday season and a very healthful year ahead!

images via: Laura Loving

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Snowflakes & Chocolate Pepper Cookies

The first snowflakes of the season earlier this week were perfectly timed to pair with the above chocolate pepper cookies I baked for a friend's holiday party.  These aren't just any old Christmas cookie.  They hail from my friend's mother's kitchen with a lot of love and a little spice.  Marcia Russell has been making these lovely confections for nearly 30 years.  I must quote her directly because her story is so heartfelt: 

"Back in 1981, newly married and almost no kitchen knowledge at all, I came upon a book that changed my life.  Hold on now.  Martha Stewart's 'Entertaining'.  It was all the motivation I needed to quit my job, stay at home, and become the best 'homemaker' ever.  The fabulous Ms. Stewart became for me and as we know now, the standard to live up to in the home!  Ha.  It became my career and I've never (hardly ever) looked back.  Like so many others I imagine.  Within her book is a recipe for Chocolate Pepper Cookies.  For many years I baked them without ever telling anyone the ingredients, for fear of the psychological set-up for turned-up noses.  Everyone loved them though and as food tastes have changed since those days, I now proudly annouce all of the ingredients!  I have also taken liberties with her original recipe (in typical Stewart style), and really 'amped-up' the spices.  I hope you make a batch, find them craveable,  and share them with as many people as you can." 

  According to Marcia and Sarah these cookies also come with a good dose of warning: you will be addicted within a single bite.  Having never baked or tasted them before, I was a bit skeptical.  But, just as they insisted, these treats will be making an appearance each and every holiday season from here out.  They're rich, flavorful and hit you with that perfect amount of peppery-spice.  So indulgent and satisfying that you'll be able to savor one or 2 and be done...well, maybe one or 2 per day while they last, which won't be very long if you share them with family and friends.  
I must thank Mama Russell and Martha Stewart herself this holiday.  In true creative cook form, I've taken additional liberties with the recipe and paired them with a rich caramel filling as well as a touch of mascarpone frosting with candied kumquats.  
On with the recipe...

*makes a double batch
1 ½ cups unsalted butter
1 ¾ cups sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ - ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon + an extra little pinch cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 
Cream the butter and the sugar in a stand mixer or with an electric beater.  Add the eggs and beat until fluffy.  
In another bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.  Add to the butter mixture and beat until well mixed.  Shape into two flattened discs. Wrap the discs separately in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.  The dough can be frozen in an additional plastic bag for one month. 
Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
On a well-floured board, roll out the dough until about ¼ inch thick.  Cut dough into shapes of your choice and set 1 inch apart on baking sheets.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until just set, do not allow to darken.  Cool on racks.

Caramel Filling for "Sandwiches"
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 vanilla bean split in half (scrape out seeds and add both to pan)
In a medium saucepan, heat sugars over medium and allow to melt.  Add in cream, butter and vanilla bean.  Simmer for about 10 minutes while stirring.  Sauce should thicken once cooled.  Refrigerate up to 2 weeks.

Mascarpone Frosting with Candied Kumquats
*note mascarpone is like "Italian cream cheese", you can also substitute Neufchatel (1/3 reduced fat cream cheese) here 
8 ounces mascarpone or Neufchatel cream cheese
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature and cut into pieces
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream mascarpone and butter together.  Mix in sugar and vanilla until well-blended and smooth.

Candied Kumquats: 
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
about 15 kumquats, thinly sliced
1/2 vanilla bean, spilt in half and scrape out seeds

Heat sugar and water over medium heat until sugar dissolves.  Add in vanilla and kumquats simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Place kumquats slices on parchment paper to dry.    

Sunday, December 12, 2010

In the Kitchen: Osso Buco & Buckets of Rain

A soaking wet Sunday and all I want to do is curl up on my couch and cook up a cozy meal.  This one's guaranteed cold weather comfort food. A few weeks back I decided to make an adventurous purchase at the farmers market.  I'd never made osso buco before, but the convincing guys from Grazin' Angus Acres out of Ghent, NY had me sold - it doesn't take much when I imagine braised anything falling right off the bone.  Typically osso buco is made with veal shanks, but Grazin' Angus sells 100% grass-fed and grass-finished beef and their shanks make a mean dish (Chelsea Clinton and Mark Mezvinsky thought so and featured Grazin' Angus and their "animal welfare approved" short ribs at their otherwise vegan wedding).  Basically, their well-raised beef translates to much leaner cuts of beef with greater amounts of healthy omega-3 fats.
Anyhow, back to the osso buco.  Try it out this holiday, it's a definite star at the table.

Osso Buco with Golden Raisins & Crispy Shallots
serves 4

2 lbs osso buco (veal or beef shanks)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
flour for dredging 
2 teaspoons and 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 to 3 cippolini onions, halved
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 carrots, chopped
3 celery stalks
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 can whole tomatoes
1/2 bottle dry white wine* (I used a wine with notes of pepper and crisp apple)
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
2 bay leaves
5-6 thyme sprigs
lemon zest, parsley and crispy shallots for garnish* (see note on shallots below)

Pat beef dry, season with salt and pepper and then dredge in flour.  Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan or a Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Sear osso buco for 5 to 6 minutes on each side.  Remove from pan and set aside. Add onions, garlic, carrots and celery and saute for 5 to 7 minutes until lightly browned.  Add osso buco back into pan along with raisins and tomatoes.  Add wine and chicken stock as well as bay leaves and thyme.  Lower heat to a simmer, cover and cook for about 2 hours on the stovetop.  *Note that beef shanks may take longer than veal.  Preheat the oven to 375 and finish braising in the oven for an additional 90 minutes to 2 hours, or until the meat is tender, moist and falling off the bone.
Garnish with lemon zest, chopped parsley and crispy shallots.
*For crispy shallots, thinly slice 1 slice into rings or half-moons.  Heat 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet and "fry" over high heat for about 4 minutes until golden brown and crispy.
Serve with parsnip puree.

Truffled Parsnip Puree
3 large parsnips, peeled and chopped, about 2 cups
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup whole milk
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon white truffle oil
salt and white pepper to taste

Add parsnips through garlic into a medium saucepan and simmer for about 20 minutes until parsnips are soft.  Transfer mixture to a food processor and puree until smooth.  Add in truffle oil and season with salt and white pepper to taste.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

An Italian Holiday

The Italians know how to do food at the holidays...and all year round for that matter.  They also know how to keep food authentic, ensuring that culinary tradition remains untouched.  Well, at least the Italian Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies is hoping to preserve this.  Together with the Rome Chamber of Commerce, they've launched the "Italianissimi Project" to protect the origins and authenticity of truly "Italian" food products and ingredients - think Parmesan, proscuitto di parma and olive oil.  Basically, they're out to thwart piracy and keep all that we know and love about Italian food alive and very well, and delicious.  A dinner last week on Dec. 1st at SD26 (hosted by the Ministry of Agricultural Policies) kicked off "Italianissimi" and proved a point with multiple dishes highlighting Italy's best. 
From an entire counter strewn with cheese samplings to an array of cured meats and olive oil tastings to an 8 course tasting dinner, you could say that guests, myself included, officially kicked December in full-on indulgent holiday mode.  Thankfully this is not my normal evening dinner routine, otherwise I'd be facing the wrath of the scale post-New Year's, and I fully heed the advice I dish out, scanning the room and the menu for the dishes that particularly stand-out to me, sticking to rock-solid portion sizes and scouting veggies when possible.  My favorite dishes of the evening, most definitely the braised beef cheeks, so tender, and the cheese course studded with truffles and a pear-apple cugni (yes, the word alluded me too, it's essentially a compote) - if you're going to go indulgent, I vote for all the way (in small quantities of course!).  
To make you want to hop the next flight to Rome for Christmas and New Year's even more, here's a quick snapshot of SD26's and the "Italianissimi Project's" featured dishes that evening: 
 the view from SD26's mezzanine level, they're not messing around
 a meat & cheese wonderland
 prosciutto and burrata (a creamy mozzarella) at its best
 one of all-time favorite pastas from childhood: parmesan & black pepper
beef cheeks celebrate the holidays in style 
cheese + truffles + fruit compote = holiday heaven

images: Vasilios Sfinarolakis

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Season for Entertaining

Does this cheese platter situation look familiar?  We're more than a week into December, which means the onslaught of holiday parties and cocktail hours is upon us.  Each and every year we're back to the pattern - attempting to get through the month unscathed on the scale while still taking part in the revelry of season.  It can be achieved if you play the game smartly: keeping your eyes on the New Year's resolution prize and staying mindful of just how much booze, brie, bacon-wrapped dates and bourbon balls you're actually downing over the next few weeks.  And as a disclaimer, I love all of the aforementioned items.  I'll be posting tidbits and tactics throughout the month on how to avoid the holiday weight gain, which as studies tend to show, is actually just a single pound for many Americans.  Unfortunately, the catch is that we often don't shed that pound and it turns to 5 or 10 extra pounds as the years pass.  I'll also be posting how I  myself am celebrating the season and what I'm up to in the kitchen (LOTS of good stuff coming after this Friday, trust me).  To start us off, a quick photo above showcasing simple, but elegant entertaining with the cheese board.  Extra little accents can take you a long way - from adding a touch of freshly cracked black pepper to honey, to stacking crostini toasts (slice a baguette and toast in the oven for 5-7 minutes at 350).  Here I've also got a newly discovered delicious cheese Ascutney from Vermont - you'll find it at Whole Foods and New Amsterdam Market - and fresh ricotta to pair with maple-rosemary roasted pears.  I swear they're incredibly easy and will stun anyone who tastes them.  Slice up a pear or two, drizzle with a teaspoon or two of good maple syrup, sprinkle a pinch of fresh rosemary and roast at 375 for about 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown and soft.  All the tastings that are pictured above are displayed on a slate cheeseboard by Brooklyn Slate Company - easy and gorgeous. 
On another note, for all of you who like your cocktails but not all the extraneous holiday calories multiple nights in a row, reach for a glass of champagne when in doubt.  It's a genius call at 85 calories per glass and who doesn't love a little bubbly every now and then?!
Stayed tuned for more recipes this week...a killer osso buco is on tap and is perfect to warm you up on a chilly winter evening.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hanukkah :: Bright Lights & a Lively Table

I've always loved celebrating Hanukkah.  The warmth and inviting light of candles inside, chilly winter weather outside and traditions that revolve almost completely around food and coming together at the table -- latkes may be fried, but they're so delicious (thankfully my family would only make them but once over the course of the 8 day holiday).  Hanukkah may not be the beacon of a 'healthy holiday' - the more oil and frying the better in memory of an ancient miracle thousands of years ago - but sometimes culture takes precedence and so does moderation.  Balance a latke and sufganiyot (fried donuts)-heavy meal with a simple green salad and lean filet of salmon or brisket and there's always ways of highlighting even the smallest bit of good health.  
With just a few days of the holiday remaining, here's a few photos to feast on and because they were so tasty last year, I'm reposting my recipe for sweet potato latkes with siriacha creme fraiche.  Normally I wouldn't deviate from the tradition of pan-frying, but these mini latkes came out perfectly browned and crispy with far less oil required. Enjoy!

Sweet Potato Latkes with Siriacha Creme Fraiche
Makes 16 mini latkes (double the recipe for more)

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)

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.

Photos: 1, 3, 4 - new york times; 2 -