Monday, November 5, 2012


No, I'm not going to get all religious on you. Sometimes though, sacred imagery can speak to the heart of the matter where words fail. This past week, we on the North East learned a very hard, sad lesson on how vulnerable we are to changing weather patterns. It has been impossible not to feel the pain of the tens of thousands of families left homeless in the wake of hurricane Sandy.

A casual stroll through St. John's Cemetery in Glendale Queens on Sunday afternoon managed to sooth my agitation a bit. Living through the storm, but being spared any major inconvenience brings a strange sense of having narrowly dodged a bullet and with that, extreme gratitude.
The sky was magnificent for a few hours on Sunday. It has been a long, somber, disorienting week since the storm hit. I have pitched in to clean school kitchens, ransacked my home for warm clothing and blankets for donation centers and regularly checked in on friends and family, some of whom are still living with out power, water, and heat.
A neighbor's garden of mustard greens continues to flourish. We suffered no worse than fallen trees.

With time on my hands as we waited day after day for services to be restored I poked around at some recipes from the pile of clippings I keep adding to but rarely have a chance to explore. The NY Times printed a version of a Roast Carrot and Avocado salad that caught my eye, adapted from ABC Kitchen. I ended up adapting it even further and dispensed with the avocado altogether. What really interested me about the recipe was the spice paste slathered on the carrots before roasting.
It had never occurred to me to try a technique like that. What had I been waiting for? And I loved the idea of roasting lemons and oranges along with the carrots, squeezing the juice on top before serving. That is the way I did it and I'm sticking to it.

 The carrots had a really robust flavor with a tart zing from the citrus. I loved the dish and I have to confess to being not the biggest fan of cooked carrots. I will be making this again.

- r e c i p e -
Spiced Roasted Carrots with Citrus
1 pound medium carrots, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
3 garlic cloves
2 Tbs capers
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper,  to taste
3 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1  orange, quartered
1 lemon, quartered

 Heat the oven to 400F
Arrange the carrots in a baking dish.

Combine the garlic cloves, capers, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, thyme, salt and pepper, and olive oil in a spice grinder, or use a mortar and pestle, smashing or grinding everything into a paste. Spread the paste over the carrots. Lay the lemon and the orange pieces cut side down on the carrots and roast in the oven for 25 minutes until the carrots are tender when pierced with a knife.

Remove carrots from baking dish and arrange on a serving platter. Using tongs, carefully squeeze the juice from the lemon and the orange over the carrots and serve.

Please consider donating to the American Red Cross to support their Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.
Thank you!

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Perfection isn't something I generally strive for. I prefer a little wiggle room in my endeavors, some breathing space for the unexpected, the startle of serendipity, a jumping off point towards how to proceed next. For me, actual perfection is the state of not needing any improvement, a completeness, an awareness of the beauty of the moment. 

Visiting Paris is an exploration of this kind of perfection. There are always days when I would wish for less rain, or avoid the frustration of finding a favorite museum or shop closed for the day. But the city offers pleasures unbound and a treasure trove of opportunities to explore the joy of what is.

Paris October 2012
Tripping through the city of light on a recent four day spree of mostly rainy days and nights needs few words.
A garden wall dripping with green vines.

That turquoise blue!

 Tiered urns in a garden on Rue de Arenes.
 The window of a shop that sells only pies. Savory and sweet, buy them by the slice it seems.

 A fierce door knocker. Makes you think twice about knocking.
Spotted in a restaurant window. This is PORCELAIN! Not a real cauliflower. Truly amazing!

 The cafes beguile. This is the left bank of Paris with sunlight evoking the South of France.
 A mansion overlooking Parc Monceau reminds me of an carefully detailed wedding cake; confection perfection.

 This charming framed tapestry is hanging in the Musee Nissim de Camondo, a Belle Epoque private mansion housing a collection of eighteenth century decorative arts.
 A coppery corner of the period kitchen at Musee Nissim de Camondo, to die for!!

When I returned home, with my heart full and my imagination fired, I came across a recipe for "foolproof pie crust" published by Cooks Illustrated. Foolproof indeed? I had to find out, so I gave the recipe a try. Their secret ingredient is vodka and I happened to have some particularly peculiar tasting vodka on hand, brought home from a trip to Iceland,  sitting mostly untouched in a cabinet for over a year. I was happy to sacrifice it up to the experiment.

Working with the dough turned out to be a mess. It was so soft and sticky I could barely handle it. The dough stuck to my hands and completely fell apart as I attempted to roll it out, even after the required resting in the fridge for an hour. I gave up my idea to bake an apple pie with it and instead salvaged what I could by pressing the dough into a tart tin. In the Parisian spirit I arranged my apple slices into a perfectly pleasing pattern.

Apple Tart -recipe-
1 recipe of Cooks Illustrated Foolproof Pie Dough
4-6 apples sliced into thin wedges, leave the skin on (I used a combination of yellow and red apples for a colorful effect)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon  lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Remove the pie dough from the fridge and use one of the two discs (save the other for another recipe or make two tarts.) Press the dough into a removable bottom 9" tart tin. Try to get the dough to be about 1/2 inch thick all around. Try not to get too frustrated with the very sticky dough. Sprinkle flour on it as you work with it to make it more manageable. 
Stick the dough lined tart tin into the freezer while you prepare the filling. Combine the apple slices with all the remaining ingredients in a bowl and toss well to coat. Taste an apple slice to adjust seasonings. Remove the tart tin from the freezer and begin to arrange the apple slices, skin side up, in a spiral pattern.  Place in hot oven for about 45 minutes, until the apples are tender when poked with a knife point and the edges of the crust are golden.
Allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving.

The finished tart was delicious! The crust was truly light as a feather, buttery and tender. I plan to use the Cooks Illustrated recipe as a go-to for my tart crusts from now on. I remain skeptical about rolling it out for a traditional pie, but am willing to experiment with adding more flour than recommend when rolling it out, and see if that helps. It doesn't have to be perfect!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Stuff it!

The spectacular colors of Fall make the transition from Summer to Autumn just about worth it. The inevitable cold is coming all too soon, but who doesn't smile at a pumpkin?

It is a big decision which magnificent gourd to take home. My agonizing took longer than usual this year. Shape, size, color, and curl of the stem are all taken into serious consideration. But why get just one?

Now that the farmers markets are beginning to wind down their summer produce, I like to make the most of what is still available.  These red peppers were at the peek of ripeness, their flavor fully developed. Their aroma had the perfume and distinctive fruity sweetness that defines a bell pepper. It tastes just the way a pepper should, a full sun-shiny flavor!

Stuffing these beauties seemed like the way to go. Combining cooked grains and beans for the stuffing makes a quick and filling meal.  Saute some onions and herbs for extra flavor, mix in a little cheese and bake. The result is end of summer perfection.


Quinoa, Lentil & Goat Cheese Stuffed Peppers

4 bell peppers
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbs. olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped carrot
2 Tbs. cup chopped parsley

1 cup cooked Quinoa
1/2 cup cooked lentils

4 oz goat cheese, crumbled

•Heat oven to 350 F.
•Cut off the top quarter of the pepper to act as a lid. Remove the seeds from inside the pepper cups. Rinsing them in cold water is usually the easiest way.
•Sprinkle the insides of the peppers with salt and pepper and place the peppers cut side down on a baking sheet with the tops next to them. Bake for about 20minutes so the peppers can begin to soften. Remove the softened pepper cups and lids from the oven and set them aside until cool enough to handle.
•In a saute pan, heat the olive oil. Add the celery, carrots and onions, salt and pepper to taste. Cook the vegetables until translucent and wilted, about 10 minutes. Add the chopped parsley and cook for another minute.
•Remove the sauteed vegetables to a medium sized bowl. Into the bowl mix the quinoa and the lentils together with the sauteed vegetables to make the stuffing. Add the cheese and continue mixing until well combined.
•Spoon the stuffing mixture carefully into each of the cooled pepper cups. Fill the peppers loosely and let the stuffing mound up on top for a pretty presentation. Arrange the filled peppers on a baking sheet and place the top of the pepper back on top. Return the stuffed peppers to the oven. Bake for about one hour, until the peppers are completely softened and the filling is piping hot.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

SoCal Local

It is hard to find things not to like about the southern coast of California, specifically the stretch between San Clemente and La Jolla. When it comes to natural beauty, this area has it all. The main attraction for my husband is the horse racing at Del Mar, and that is how we first discovered the area. Now I join him on these trips to enjoy the scenery, swimming, hiking and great dining along this magnificent 30 miles of pristine coastline.
We started our trip this year from LAX,  driving down the coast along the Pacific Coast Highway. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the only visual highlight, other than the amazing port of Los Angeles outside of Long Beach, was Palos Verdes, an attractive, upscale coastal town, pictured above. A better plan would be to pick up the coastal routes at Dana Point and continue south at a leisurely pace.
San Clemente's Fishermans Restaurant perches you right over the waves with a bird's eye view of the surfers. Outdoor dining like this really sends me into reveries. I hardly notice what I am eating. Whatever it was, it seemed fine ;)
I could not resist the charm of this red sun umbrella at the San Clemente pier overlook.

The farmers market in Solana Beach bowled me over with VERY reasonable prices. After the sticker shock of the Saratoga, NY market this was a welcome surprise.

I love how the hand written price tags even mention which town the produce was grown.

These dried peaches and pluots were as dazzling as this picture indicates. They tasted AMAZING!!!

Magnificent heirloom tomatoes for $3 per pound. How to get them home on the airplane?
Not happening.

What I did bring home were lemons and avocados. The lemons were five for ONE dollar!! And look at the size of them, larger than the avocados. 

The seller assured me that the avocados would be ready to eat by the time I flew home. They are still a little too firm three days later, but I have not given up hope. With this lovely little collection I am going to make an avocado soup from this recipe which requires no cooking and can be made entirely in a blender.  The only tweak I anticipate is a pinch of cayenne to add a little heat. (For a purely vegetarian version please note: vegetable broth can be substituted for the chicken broth.)

I think this soup will pair perfectly with the 2010 Gerard Bertrand Réserve Spéciale Viognier, that I picked up at Paon's wine tasting bar in Carlsbad. Which brings me to yet another selling point of this region- the wine bars! Carlsbad had at least three wine bars within a two block area, offering tastings of any wine they have open (usually 6 or 7 bottles) for $10. Nice!

The magnificent beaches take my breath away.  For an east coast girl like me, these bluffs seems so exotic.
At low tide the locals come out to play with their dogs and the sandy shore becomes the village square.
It was hard to leave this paradise, but reality intrudes. Tomorrow it is back to school and I will resume my work in the NY City public school kitchens with Wellness in the Schools.  What a wonderful summer it has been.

Monday, August 27, 2012

back from the benefit

Tomatoes were piled high at every farm stand between Riverhead and East Hampton this weekend. How many could I carry? How many could I fit in the car was the question. I was on the East End of Long Island to cater a benefit for Wellness in the Schools and my car was already stuffed with serving platters, ice buckets, cocktail napkins, everything we would need to host 200 guests playing tennis matches for a worthy charity on this magnificent summer weekend.

I fit quite a few tomatoes into the car as it turns out, after I wrangled a tiny bit more breathing room in the trunk on the trip home. Buying "seconds" in bulk is hard to resist. I can't help envisioning some major canning or freezing process that will take place when I get them home. By the time I unpacked everything last night, my tomatoes had sustained enough bruises to call an ambulance. Slow roasting seemed like the way to go.

-slow roasted tomatoes-
They are in the oven right now and my whole house smells like a pizzeria. The oven is set at 250 degrees. The tomatoes, cut in half, are dressed with olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme, and a few whole garlic cloves thrown in. I am going to leave them in the oven until the tomatoes shrink a bit and the flavors concentrate, for maybe three or four hours, which will leave them still a bit fleshy, but with a concentrated tomato flavor.  Many recipes call for a six hour roasting, to really collapse the tomato, but that is not my plan today. I will puree the tomatoes when when they come out of the oven to make a richly flavored tomato sauce.

The Benefit was so much fun! Teams of tennis pros paired up with skilled tennis players to compete in doubles matches on the beautiful courts at SPORTIME Amagansett.  The games were serious, but good natured and everyone worked up an appetite.
Plenty of snacks were on hand to keep hungry players focused and energized. Hampton Chutney treated us to guacamole and tortilla chips, to serve alongside my hummas and pita chips.

Turf Lobster Rolls left their primo selling spot on the uber popular Montauk surfing beach, Ditch Plains, to knock us out with over-stuffed lobster rolls. Who could stop to take a picture when you are so busy eating? Take my word for it, they were gorgeous and disappeared in an instant.

People's Pops kept everyone cool with ice cones shaved from a solid block of ice. The cones got doused with a choice of organic lemon syrup or watermelon syrup. Perfectly cooling, and perfectly cool watching the cones being made!
Satur Farms, located on the North Fork, donated these eye-catching edible flowers I used to garnish the salads. There was some skepticism among the children as to how something so magical looking could actually be eaten. Several asked me to describe the taste. Ahem, yummy!

Montaco wound up the feast by serving up a choice of bean, chicken or fish tacos from their hot pink tricked-out food truck.

Wölffer Estate Vineyard, a local winery in Sagaponack NY,  generously donated their Classic White Table Wine. I got to try a glass and it struck me as a perfect pairing for my escarole gratin recipe. I am going to pick up a few bottles to try that.

The day was a huge success. The crew from Sportime were a dream to work with. I highly recommend their facility. The food vendors who joined us were incredibly generous and fun to work with. Everyone made my job so easy I won't even spend one word here complaining about the Hampton's traffic. 

I can't believe it is the end of the summer season. We still have many weeks of great produce coming in from the farms, but it is a given that the days are growing shorter. 

Have a great Labor day weekend!!!

Monday, August 13, 2012

off to the country

The air is completely still and warmly heavy. The sweet, resiny smell of pine mingles with the mineral scent of the marshy mud surrounding the lake. We are hiking in the foothills of the Adirondacks, in the woods surrounding the banks of Lake George trying to find the trail to Shelving Rock Falls and my senses have taken over. I hear far off birds chattering away, now the buzz of an insect getting too close. I wait expectantly for the hopeful sound of leaves shuffling, the signal that a gentle breeze has arrived to relieve the heat.
Not being the most ambitious of hikers, I still love being out in the woods. Short climbs along a well marked trail are just the kind of activity my husband and I will commit to on a hot day. Exploring the Saratoga Springs area rewards us with many options for simple hikes in pristine wooded parks and state forests within 20 miles of the town that is famous for its spring waters, thoroughbred race track and the highlight for me: the fantastic farmers' market held twice a week.
 I am always on the lookout for places to swim. Most of these little ponds are too shallow and clogged with algae for such an enterprise.
The dense forest provides some relief from the heat of the day.
Once I have stomped out of the woods I am ready to eat. The Saratoga farmers' market has been particularly rewarding this summer. As food writer Melissa Clark rightly noted in the NY Times last week- we are being blessed with a perfect tomato season, so grab them up while they last.
 The vendors at the Saratoga market DO NOT sell things cheaply. sigh. I hunted around, poking over every table and found these cherry tomatoes on sale for $1 a box. Excellent! The hunt paid off.

This heirloom variety is new to me. They are so attractive and look like picture perfect plums.

Even with the high prices, it is hard to stay in a bad mood at a beautiful market like this. I actually got teary eyed looking at all the magnificent produce. So much good food, so little time to cook and eat it. I over-shop as usual when presented with such abundance.
Several vendors were offering squash blossoms. These are particularly lovely. Seventy five cents each and they melt in your mouth in one bite, especially when stuffed with something yummy like cheese, and then lightly battered and fried. Sigh. I have a few zucchini plants in my backyard and will wait to harvest the flowers from them.
Green beans are glorious this time of year. Tender, nutty and bursting with juicy freshness. When I see them with a smooth straight shape, I know they are good. Once their seeds start to grow the bean gets misshapen and the flavor declines dramatically. Never buy a lumpy green bean!
I settle on a menu of pan-glazed carrots and a corn risotto. The carrots are finger sized and have an earthy sweetness. No need to peel them if you give them a good scrub to remove surface dirt.
Corn is readily available everywhere now. I made quick work of getting the corn off the husk for the risotto dish. My technique is to lay the cob flat down on the cutting board and run my knife along the sides of the cob. I am mystified by the insistence of so many cooks to hold the cob perpendicular to the cutting board and run the knife down the length of the cob. That approach makes no sense, it is messy and overly dramatic.

For the risotto recipe I use local upstate wine from Johnston's Winery. I had the chance to sample their Chardonnay at the Galloping Grapes wine tasting event at the race track last Sunday. The Johnston's Chardonnay was by far my favorite wine of the tasting; fruity and complex with a pleasing and nicely balanced flavor. I am pretty crazy about their cheeky label too!

-r e c i p e s-

Corn Risotto

 -for this recipe I use water instead of stock to cook the rice, a technique I picked up from Lidia Bastianich. The advantage is a more delicately flavored risotto where the fragrance of the wine infuses the dish.

2 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 cup of fresh corn, removed from the cob
1 shallot, minced
1 cup risotto rice
1/2 cup white wine
salt and pepper to taste
3 cups boiling water
1 sprig of fresh thyme
1/2 cup soft goat cheese

Melt the butter in a large saute pan. Add the shallot and saute for 4 minutes till the shallot softens and browns a bit. Add the corn and stir to coat the corn in the butter and oil. Continue to stir and cook under medium heat for another minute or two. Add the risotto rice and stir to coat the grains. Add the salt and pepper to taste. Add the wine and lower the heat in the pan. Let the wine cook down into the rice and absorb all the liquid.

Begin to add the boiling water a 1/2 cup at a time, allowing the water to cook down completely into the rice before adding more. When the rice is tender but still chewy add the thyme and the goat cheese and stir to combine.

Pan Glazed Carrots

 -baby or small carrots with their gorgeous green tresses still attached are best for this dish. I used Johnston's Winery's Strawberry wine to deglaze the pan.

1 pound of carrots
1 Tbs Butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup sweet white wine (if you use dry wine and add a dash more sugar and or a splash of good quality balsamic vinegar)

Trim the carrots into 2-3 inch pieces length-wise and then half width so they are all about the same size. Leave a bit of the attached root on the carrot for a rustic, farmy touch.
Heat the butter in a saute pan and add the carrots, the salt and the sugar, sauteing for about 5-8 minutes till the carrots begin to soften and caramelize. Add the wine and lower the heat, allowing the wine to simmer slowly and the carrots to finish cooking till tender, about 3-5 more minutes.

Mange Bien!