it’s been awhile…

June 23, 2009

I’m a bit ashamed of how long it’s been since I last blogged. This last semester seemed to get away from me pretty quickly, between tests and papers, applying for internships, and finishing out a long year. I moved to NYC for the summer, though, a city otherwise known for its status as a food mecca. I have my own kitchen, my own recipes, and my very own neighborhood chock-full of every type of cuisine from street-food to white-table cloth gourmet. I know that this is going to be quite a summer, and I’m rededicating myself to updating this blog with my culinary adventures, inside and outside of the kitchen.

I’m actually quite excited. The fact that I’m able to cook on a regular basis and that I have such a range of  delicious and (sometimes) affordable food within just a few blocks gives me a lot more material to share with the blogosphere. I’m planning on serving up large and frequent doses of foodie material while stretching my somewhat-rusty journalistic muscles.

Making the switch from being a dorm-room student with a (mandatory) unlimited meal plan to having my own kitchen was an exciting prospect. Shopping for food in NYC, otherwise known as one of the most expensive cities in the world, was not. I knew that shopping and cooking on a budget, yet still making tasty and healthful food was going to be a challenge–and yet it was one that I embraced wholeheartedly.

My mother taught me everything I know about nutrition and about maintaining a healthy lifestyle on a budget. A single mother with two ravenous kids, my mother somehow managed to feed us an entirely organic and home-cooked diet. I didn’t know what an M&M was until I was five and “Henry’s” was our euphemism of choice for fast-food chain Roy Rogers. Luckily, my roommate this summer shares my penchant for home-cooked, nutritious meals and similar budgetary restrictions.

This meal that I offer you is multipurpose, incredibly easy to cook, is easy to assembled from prepared or frozen items, and is just as easy to cook for one as it is four. It also stores well and makes a great leftovers lunch. Best of all, it only uses a pot, a pan and a baking sheet. It’s counter-and-sink friendly for those of us with dollhouse-sized NYC kitchens and no dishwashers. Word to the wise: line the baking sheet with foil. It makes cleanup that much easier.

I won’t offer you quantities for this recipe, because you should make the amount that you see fit. The technique is there, and you can adjust the portions to your needs. The chicken can be frozen and defrosted in the microwave beforehand, and you can use roasted vegetables from a local salad bar, pre-roast your own, or give them a quick saute like I suggest here. Note: FunniBonz is the best BBQ sauce out there. If you think otherwise, you’re fooling yourself, but go ahead and try it anyway.

FunniBonz Chicken with Veggie Couscous

Boneless, skinless chicken breast (fresh or frozen)

FunniBonz or your BBQ sauce of choice

Zucchini (1 medium zucchini, chopped)

Tomato (about 2 plum tomatoes, chopped)

Garlic, minced (2-3 cloves)

Whole-wheat couscous

Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and place defrosted chicken breast on top of foil. Spoon BBQ sauce over top to coat. Bake in oven for 25 minutes, or until the center is white (no longer raw) and the juices run clear when cut. Allow to rest for up to five minutes before serving.

In the meantime, preheat a small pan over medium heat with a tablespoon or two of olive oil. When the garlic is fragrant but not yet brown, add vegetables, salt and pepper. Saute over low heat for 15-20 minutes, or until vegetables have softened and turned into a very chunky sauce. The zucchini will release a lot of liquid. Don’t be afraid.

While the vegetables and chicken are cooking, boil 1 cup of water, chicken broth or vegetable broth with a tablespoon of butter and some pepper. Add 1 cup of whole-wheat couscous, turn off heat and let sit until chicken comes out of the oven. While the chicken is resting, fluff couscous, add vegetables and parmesan cheese to taste, and stir.

Serve chicken on top of a bed of couscous and vegetables with thickened BBQ sauce from the pan drizzled on top.

Note: if using Italian-style cutlets, adjust cooking time to 10-15 minutes.

It should come as no surprise that I spend much of my time reading about food. Blogs, magazines, books–I can’t get enough of it. Food writing is just so creative and interesting, and it serves as inspiration for me. Inspiration for my future career and for this blog. When I am back at college and don’t have access to a kitchen on a regular basis, I often resort to reading to satiate my “appetite” for all things culinary. What follows is an (abbreviated) list that encompasses some of my favorite pieces of food writing, which I hope you’ll enjoy as much as I do.

 

Comfort Me With Apples; Tender at the Bone; Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

 

Ruth Reichl is currently EIC of Gourmet Magazine, but her three memoirs detail her experiences growing up as a foodie and the development of her career as a food critic and writer. If asked to name my favorite book, I would have to list these as a three-way tie; they are incredibly honest, well-written, and oftentimes laugh-out-loud funny. Comfort Me With Apples and Tender at the Bone primarily document Reichl’s experiences growing up, her college years, and the early stages of her career. One of the most memorable moments of this mini-series is when Reichl’s mother throws an engagement party that guests must pay to attend, and serves moldy food that sickens all of her guests. Everyone has something that inspired them to their future careers, and anecdotes like these demonstrate the awareness of food that permeated Reichl’s consciousness from the very beginning. Garlic and Sapphires fast-forwards to Reichl’s storied tenure as the food critic of the New York Times. Reichl employs her use of disguises as an extended metaphor for the multiple personalities that exist within all of us, and her journeys on the path of discovering of herself are endlessly fascinating.

 

New York Times Blogs: Bitten and Diner’s Journal by Mark Bittman, Frank Bruni, assorted NYT editors, and other guest posters

 

The NYT is a bastion of talented editors, great writers, and probing topics. The Dining Section never disappoints, but these two blogs are hidden treasures of the online version of the paper. Impeccably written as always, they expand upon articles that have already been published, and have a certain casual latitude to introduce new topics of interest to the online food community.  Mark Bittman often posts recipes, characterized by his simplistic and loose style. Frank Bruni brings up fascinating topics–like the tendency of restaurants to still give men the check at the end of a meal–and then opens the space up to reader responses. These reader response threads are just so interesting, and definitely worthwhile reading. They are often intelligently written, and give others interesting perspectives on controversial topics. One of my favorite posters on Bitten is Emily Weinstein, who does a mini-series on her adventures in the kitchen as she learns to cook. These personal and perpetually human anecdotes are quite amusing and very relatable. Just the kind of food-writing that I love to read.

 

New York Times Dining Section, A Good Appetite by Melissa Clark

 

Every Wednesday, I eagerly anticipate Melissa Clark’s column. It’s not always there (I believe it runs three weeks out of the month, but I could be mistaken), but when it is, it’s a treat better than a chocolate lava cake. It’s a column that I can really sink my teeth into–no pun intended–and one that literally makes my mouth water at times. What is so special about Clark’s column is not the formula, which is relatively predictable and is similar in format to all of the food writing that I mention here, but her ability to make her readers feel like they are really there with her in her kitchen. Prior to the publication of a column documenting Clark’s experiences renovating her kitchen while in the midst of giving birth to her child (“Tossing a Rattle into the Renovation”), I had constructed an alternate reality of what her kitchen looked like, and how it would feel to cook in it by her side. The combination of Clark’s talent for placing her readers in the moment and the spontenaity with which she approaches her recipes are unstoppable. If you are not a regular reader of the Dining section, I sincerely suggest you peruse it next Wednesday.

 

Orangette by Molly Wizenberg

 

This is my favorite blog of all time. Everything, EVERYTHING about it is so compatible with my vision for what food writing should be: great photography, witty writing, and excellent recipes. Despite the fact that Wizenberg, a contributor to Bon Appetit and author of A Homemade Life, is primarily interested in pastry, she has a broad range of recipes and techniques, and I especially love her fearless love of vegetables. It’s one of many qualities that we share. I actually stumbled across this blog after reading one of Emily Weinstein’s posts, which utilized a recipe that Wizenberg adapted from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook. I remain eternally gratefuly for finding this gem of a blog, and I sincerely recommend that anyone even remotely interested in food writing peruse it at some point. She has the potential to be the next Ruth Reichl. http://orangette.blogspot.com

 

Fanny at Chez Panisse by Alice Waters

 

This is the book that first got me interested in food and food writing. Yes, it’s a children’s picture book. And yes, it’s worth reading. Alice Waters is the chef/author that made me fall in love with the kind of food writing that fuses personal anecdotes and memories with recipes and techniques. There is nothing more appealing to me than a personalized recipe accompanied by a meaningful description of the author’s experiences with it. Waters accomplishes this and more, skillfully gearing the tales of Fanny’s (her daughter) adventures in the Chez Panisse kitchen towards children, yet still making the book incredibly appealing for adults. It’s the cookbook equivalent of Toy Story. Morever, the recipes are of the same high quality that Waters usually turns out, but produced in a simple-enough manner that parent and child will enjoy cooking together. “Fanny Chicken” is still a perennial favorite in our household, and perhaps a recipe that deserves a blog entry of its very own in the future.

carrot soup

January 13, 2009

I have two grandmothers, and neither one of them is particularly in love with cooking. Sure, they did it to feed their families, but given the opportunity, they’d shuck their metaphorical aprons and take themselves permanently out of the kitchen. Despite their disinterest in all things culinary, both of my grandmothers developed a variety of signature dishes that were really quite good. My maternal grandmother, Omi, specializes in tomato sauce, baked goods, and salad. Really, I have never tasted such good salad. On one recent trip to her house, I managed to eat nearly an entire large salad bowl–yes, those huge wooden bowls intended to hold enough salad to feed a family of four. What can I say? I love her salad. My paternal grandmother found her niche in Jewish cuisine, perfecting brisket, latkes, and soups to serve on the holidays. And with soup as my topic du jour (pun intended), it seems particularly relevant to discuss her version of carrot soup, which utilizes one of the techniques I discussed in my last post on black bean soup.

 

Gram’s carrot soup is terrific. It tastes exactly as carrot soup was intended to: sweet and carrot-y with just a hint of sea salt to perk the entire pot up. This soup requires 7 ingredients, including salt and pepper. It’s cheap, and like applesauce, quite nearly foolproof. Once you master the technique of sweating vegetables, this soup requires the unusual abilities of being able to pour chicken broth into a large pot and hitting “pulse” on a blender. This carrot soup is a rather pleasant shade of orange, although if you’d like it even brighter, scoop out the vegetables from the broth they have cooked in, blend those, and then add fresh chicken broth rather than the liquid left in the pot. That’s just an aesthetic thing, though, and the flavor will not be compromised either way. While Gram retired this soup (and all cooking, really) from her repertoire years ago, it remains a winter-favorite in our house.

 

Gram’s Carrot Soup

1 small bunch of carrots (4-5 small or 3-4 large) peeled and chopped

1 medium yukon gold potato, peeled and chopped

1 small yellow onion, or 1/2 medium-large yellow onion, peeled and chopped

2-3 tbsp unsalted butter

1 box chicken broth or vegetable broth (we prefer unsalted Kitchen Basics)

sea salt and black pepper

 

Place a soup pot with a tight-fitting lid over a low flame. Add all of the vegetables and the butter, season with sea salt. Cover, and sweat together for at least 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are very soft. Again, the idea is to literally make the vegetables release their liquid into the sweet butter without giving them any color whatsoever. When the vegetables are tender and the onion translucent, add enough chicken broth to JUST BARELY cover–you do not want to make the soup watery, and you can always add more liquid later on. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Lift the vegetables out of the pot and into a blender with just enough liquid to puree. At this point, you may either add the vegetables back into the original broth and adjust the seasonings, or you may add new broth to preserve the bright orange color. Remember to add just enough liquid to bring it to the consistency that you like your soup; I prefer mine quite thick, but many others like a thinner soup. Serve hot with a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper.

From the first crisp days of fall to the last of the icy winds of March, I am a huge fan of soups. They are comforting, nourishing, easy to make, and–most importantly–they warm you from the inside out. I love that soups can fulfill any role, from a light snack to a complete meal in a bowl. They can be soothing, or they can be elegant with various complementary toppings, a light salad, and a lovely crusty bread. I have been making (and eating) a lot of soup lately, and so this will be the first of a four-post series on different types of soup.

 

Black bean soup is one of my favorite winter soups. It’s velvety, full of flavor, and has a Southwestern twist that is endlessly satisfying. This is a black bean soup like you’ve never tasted before, a recipe that Bobby Flay once laid claim to, but that has morphed over many years of experimentation into something entirely our own. The secret ingredient is red wine, which gives it a mystical richness usually associated with dishes that are thought of as more elegant than a humble black bean soup. This dish is perfect for company, and like all soups, it improves with age; make it ahead and reheat it before your guests arrive to make your kitchen smell incredibly enticing. And for those with dietary restrictions: this soup can be made vegan/vegetarian. Simply replace the butter with a butter substitute or oil, and use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth. We prefer Imagine brand.

 

A few tips: we like to serve this soup with creme fraiche rather than sour cream. Creme fraiche is the European cousin of sour cream; it is thicker, richer and glossier, and lends the soup a certain sophistication that the mundane Breakstones lacks. You can serve the soup with chopped cilantro, lime wedges, or any kind of cheese imaginable. Perhaps even some chopped avocado? Use your imagination, but please give this recipe a try. You’ll never go back to normal black bean soup again.

 

Black Bean Soup

1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

2 medium carrots, peeled and finely chopped

2-3 tbsp unsalted butter

red wine (preferably one that you wouldn’t mind drinking, or your favorite cooking variety)

1 poblano pepper

1 16 oz box of chicken stock (or vegetable stock)

1-1 1/2 cans black beans, thoroughly rinsed in a strainer

1 bay leaf

salt and pepper to taste

 

Begin by roasting the poblano pepper: char it over a burner flame until the entire outside is black and blistered. Be aggressive, but do not go as far as to light the pepper on fire. Place the pepper in either a paper bag, or in a bowl covered in saran wrap, and let sit while you prep the vegetables. Place carrots, onions and butter in a soup pot with a tight-fitting lid over a low flame. Cover and let sweat for about 10 mins, or until the vegetables are very soft and smell sweet. They should not be browned; the idea is to let them release their liquid and steam. Remove the pot from the flame and season the vegetables with salt and pepper. Pour in just enough red wine to barely submerge the vegetables. DO NOT cover them entirely. Turn the heat up to high, and cook the wine out until the vegetables are nearly dry, stirring occasionally. You must watch the vegetables carefully at this point; again, you don’t want them to color or burn. Add the whole poblano pepper, the carefully rinsed black beans, the bay leaf, and just enough chicken stock to barely cover the entire thing. You can add more chicken stock later. At this point, you want to have just enough to cook everything together without making the soup watery. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes. With a slotted spoon, scoop out some or all of the black beans/carrots/onions into a blender. Remove the bay leaf and the poblano. We like to blend about 3/4 of the vegetables and beans, so that the soup has body, but enough chunks of vegetables so that you know what you’re eating. If you would like a “black bean stew” you make skip this step entirely. If you like your soup smooth, remove all of the vegetables, and blend with just enough of the stock to make it into a puree. Pour vegetables back into the pot, and add enough chicken stock to make it your preferred consistency. Discard the bay leaf; place the poblano back into the pot so that its flavor will continue to infuse, but the soup won’t be overwhelmingly spicy. Simmer for a few more minutes, and serve steaming hot with a generous dollop of creme fraiche.

vacation…

January 7, 2009

This past week I went on vacation with my father, stepmother, brother and grandparents. I didn’t have much time to cook, which was unfortunate, but I got to do something even better as a replacement: eat. Eat in NYC restaurants. You see, vacations to us are great meals connected by activities such as researching other restaurants to go to, napping, or perhaps even a little shopping to walk off all of those big meals. Although I have no recipes to offer with this post, I hope that these restaurant tips are equally–if not more–satisfying.

 

Every time we journey to the city, my family eats at a Serafina restaurant at least once. Originally “Sofia Fabulous Pizza,” the updated Serafina mini-chain is deserving of its Zagat rating of 19. Serafina has multiple locations across the city and keeps expanding, although we have found the locations on East 61st street and Madison Ave. between 78-79th Sts to be the best. Stay far away from the 49th St location in the Time Warner Hotel; service is horrible and the food isn’t any good either. You also have to take an elevator (AN ELEVATOR!) in order to access the rest-rooms. On the whole, though, Serafina has a distinct European flair that is genuine rather than contrived, and is both family-friendly and a great scene for late-night dining. Best of all, the service is consistently fast and the food is consistently delicious. Serafina has a wide selection of thin-crust pizzas that are quite good and available in whole-wheat crusts, but those are not our mainstay. The tuna sashimi (really tuna carpaccio) is a light and refreshing appetizer, a fusion of Italian and Asian flavors. There is spicy watercress, an unusual but delicious julienned pickled red ginger, creamy avocado, and a fantastic Asian-inspired sauce to drizzle over the top. Penne Arrabbiata is a perennial favorite, a plate of chewy semolina pasta with a spicy tomato sauce and parsley. The fancier (and more expensive) entrees are not particularly risky; filet mignon was perfectly cooked and served with an appealing mound of creamy mashed potatoes. Chicken milanese, however, was slightly overcooked and a bit dry. For dessert, stick with vanilla ice cream, strawberries and Nutella sauce. It’s not on the menu, but they’ll know what you mean. Generally speaking, the portions are generous, although be sure to ask for your soft drinks served in a water glass. When you see the tiny vessels filled with ice that they try to pawn off on other customers, you’ll see what I mean.

 

Geisha is also a must-visit when we’re in the city. It’s a hip Japanese restaurant tucked into a downstairs location on East 61st St, right next to Serafina. In fact, both restaurants are owned by the infamous Fabio. But we discovered Geisha long before we knew it was affiliated with Serafina in any way. In fact, after visiting the two restaurants, you’d never guess they were under the same management. Geisha has a great bar area with comfortable tables and banquettes, where you can order multi-colored drinks served in icy martini glasses and a selection of dishes. Nattily-dressed people tend to populate this area, sipping their cocktails and munching on salted edamame. There are two floors of the main restaurant; request to be on the bottom floor. That’s where all the action is: you can watch the chefs at the sushi bar at work, and for some inexplicable reason, a projector is always playing Japanese anime on one of the walls. There is also a roaring fireplace, which you may be lucky enough to sit in front of if you have a party large enough to fill that table. The food at Geisha is fabulous. I have yet to try something that I didn’t like, but I offer you my suggestions of what to order. For appetizers, order enough of the following for the table to share: tartare trio, chicken salad, and “eggs benedict.” The tartare trio consists of three types of fish (tuna, salmon and mackerel) prepared in different ways and served with delicate rounds of crunchy toast. The chicken salad is the best I’ve ever had, light and refreshing with crunchy lettuce, a miso-sesame dressing, and a delicious fried sesame-flavored “bowl”. Ladies that lunch will appreciate this dish, whether it be as an appetizer or as an entree. It’s certainly big enough to feed one. The “eggs benedict” is really not to be missed. Under any circumstances. Those of you that are squeamish: get over it, open your mouth, and don’t ask questions. I’ll leave it at that. For entrees for the table, I recommend ordering a selection of sushi rolls. The white tuna crunch roll is, quite simply, the best singe piece of maki I’ve ever put in my mouth. The white tuna and avocado are creamy, the asparagus is light and fresh, and the lacy potato shreds give it a satisfying crunch. It’s served with dollops of spicy mayonnaise–take the plunge and dip it. The crispy almond roll seems like a basic roll for the basic sushi eaters among us, and yet it manages to deliver maximum punch with minimalist ingredients. It’s crispy and nutty on the outside, creamy and delicious with ruby-red tuna and bright green avocado on the inside. The wasabi hamachi roll is soft and spicy, served with mounds of green roe that give it a texture akin to a “crunch” in your mouth. And the black truffle tuna sandwich. It’s playful, it’s rich. It’s fabulous. My dad nicknamed it the “miniature truffle club sandwich,” and couldn’t stop talking about it for two days afterwards. If you’re after entrees rather than sushi, the skate and udon are very good, the filet is excellent, and the snapper is superior. Really. I didn’t know that a piece of fish could taste as light as a souffle until I had Geisha’s snapper. Skip dessert at Geisha; despite the quality of the food, desserts are consistently highly mediocre. Have a cup of their selection of teas, or a coffee, or go next door for the ice cream, strawberries and Nutella sauce.

 

On this trip, we also incorporated a new restaurant into our repertoire: Union Square Cafe. Danny Meyer’s Union Square Cafe is a New York landmark, consistently at the top of the list of the city’s most popular restaurants. Although I expected such a well-known restaurant to be loud and bustling on a Saturday night, I was pleasantly surprised: the atmosphere was a cross between an updated country farmhouse and a hip NYC lounge, both comforting and invigorating. It was quiet enough to carry on a normal conversation, and converse we did; the service was so smooth, we barely had to ask for anything throughout the entire meal. The food was a mixture of revelations and disappointments. Appetizers were uniformly good, but the bacon, apple and sage risotto that my stepmother ordered was transcendent. The risotto was tender and creamy, without any of the cement-like heaviness that characterizes risottos in lesser restaurants. There were sweet surprises of tender apple and balsamic, wrapped in the smoky, salty flavor of bacon. Entrees were more of a mixed bag. Stay away from the scallops. While they were perfectly cooked, the roasted vegetables underneath them were so unbearable salty that I was unable to finish my entree. The duck confit, however, was delicious, as was a tender shell steak served with light and fluffy mashed potatoes. A side of roasted brussels sprouts with bacon and red onion was a perfect wintry side dish. The dessert was nothing short of amazing: a warm cinnamon roll with caramelized apples and sour cream ice cream. Don’t be afraid of sour cream ice cream. It’s still sweet, but very tangy, a really nice contrast to the warm, sugary flavors of the cinnamon roll and apple. This dish was one of the best desserts I’ve ever had–and I am not a dessert aficionado.

 

And that was my weekend in food. Some disappointments, but overall a very tasty success.

applesauce

December 28, 2008

Who doesn’t love applesauce? It’s so multi-functional: comforting, perfect for when you’re ill, nutritious if prepared well. It’s a condiment, a snack, a side dish-heck, even an entree (if you’re under two years of age). Applesauce seems to me like one of those recipes you definitely want to have down before you make your way into the real world. And in honor of the last night of Chanukah, that will be my topic du jour.

I first began making applesauce with my mother around the time that I was old enough to go apple-picking. My grandmother loved taking me to Terhune Orchards, where we’d load up a little red wagon with bags and bags of freshly-picked apples. We always picked too many to fit in the fridge and were forced to store them on the porch, the first hints of winter frost helping to preserve their crispness. The realization that there were only so many apples a sane person could eat necessitated finding another use for them. This applesauce is incredibly easy and quite nearly foulproof. Golden Delicious apples work best, although throwing a red apple (such as Macintosh or Braeburn) in gives it a beautiful pink blush that is admittedly more appealing than its natural beige hue. If you already have red apples in the fridge for eating, you can also just toss in the peel. You can add lemon, or not. You can add lots of cinnamon, or just a tad. In fact, this “recipe” that I offer you is really more of a technique, a rough sketch of a dish that you can adapt and amend until it becomes your own. There are only two guidelines that I strongly suggest you follow: use a food mill to transform the softened apples into a sauce, and refrain from adding sugar-or at least until the very end. Golden Delicious apples in season are quite sweet on their own; adding sugar will just mask their delicate flavor and compromise the nutritional value of the end result.

Applesauce

Golden Delicious apples (as many as will fit into your  pot), plus one red apple of your choice (optional)

Cinnamon

Lemon zest (optional)

 

Wash the apples and peel the stickers off. Slice the apples away from the core; each apple should yield four pieces, some larger than others. Leave the peels on and the pieces large-the food mill will do the work later on for you. Place the apples in a pot, and add enough spring water so that there is about a half an inch in the bottom of the pot. The idea is to steam the apples rather than boiling them; don’t add too much, or your sauce will be watery. Add as much cinnamon as you like-I encourage you to be generous. Add a strip of lemon zest if you’d like a tangier sauce. Cover the pot and place it over low heat. Cook for at least 30 minutes, or until the apples look puffy and the peels are falling away from the flesh. Actual cooking time will vary depending on how many apples you use. You may let the apples cool, refrigerate them until you’re ready to process them, or put them through the food mill immediately. Use a slotted spoon to lift them out of the pot, and pass them through the food mill into a large bowl. Taste, and add more cinnamon if necessary, or sugar if you must. I suspect you’ll decide against it.