Thursday, September 30, 2010

going for the gold


A trip to Union Square Greenmarket yesterday left me dizzy with possibilities. This time of year is the absolute height of summer harvest and the choices were overwhelming. I had the urge to set up a stove and start cooking right in the middle of the market having all the amazing produce within arm's reach. Needing to narrow this fantasy down a bit I found myself gravitating towards the glowing golden summer squash. When I got home and glanced out the window to my backyard that same golden color dotting the gardenscape. Ah, the charms of early fall!

My husband and I are planning a trip to Paris and we leave next week! In anticipation I have been browsing the internet for interesting items to add to our itinerary. What bliss when I discovered a charming charming oh so charming blog called Paris Breakfast. The photos are sublime and the point of view is tres chic! Today's color story is an homage to Paris Breakfast. Merci Madame!

The golden summer squash I picked up at the market reminded me of a recipe I have not made in a few years: a summer squash gratin. It is a deceptively delicious dish with a surprisingly rich flavor. I once brought it to a dinner party hosted by four strapping brothers, not realizing they were dedicated carnivores who never entertain vegetables. This humble dish was passed around the table and the brothers gave it full approval. One of them commented that it tasted like Thanksgiving. Not bad, right?

Summer Squash Gratin
4 small yellow squash, thinly sliced
1 onion, thinnly sliced
3 Tbs. Olive oil
1/4 grated Parmesan Cheese
3 Tbs. chopped fresh Thyme
salt and pepper
Heat olive oil in a saute pan and cook the onions slowly till golden brown, about 10 minutes. In a baking dish arrange a layer of half the sliced squash, top with half the onions and half the herbs. Repeat with remaining squash, onions and herbs. Sprinkle the  cheese on top and drizzle a little more olive oil over the top. Salt and pepper to taste. Place in oven and bake for 45 minutes until the squash is tender.

I definitely get the connection between this dish and Thanksgiving! In fact, this dish will likely appear on my table on that day, my most favorite of holidays! I love the simplicity of this recipe and the wonderful results I'm sure it yields.

I don't talk much about Merlot in our blog. It's just not one of my regular "go to" wines. Not that I have anything against it. It just escapes my radar for some reason. But funny. When I read Deb's post, I instantly thought of Merlot as the ideal match for this Gratin. Merlot not only displays ripe plum and dark fruit flavors, but it commonly will give off hints of tobacco, tea leaf, rosemary, thyme, fennel, mushroom and sage on the palate. The idea of these characteristics mingling with the parmesan and thyme flavors from the dish delights me! Remember - you want to match a wine to a dish based on the sauces, marinades, or herbs used - not necessarily the main ingredient. So the thyme, parmesan and carmelized onions are really what has driven me to the thought of Merlot. My mouth waters thinking about it!

If you are looking for something inexpensive that can be enjoyed on an everyday basis, the Columbia Crest Horse Heaven Hills from Washington State is a good place to start. For $10.99, the wine is a true bargain. For a little more money, St Francis in Sonoma County is another reliable source for Merlot, and can be found in the $17 price range. And, if a special occasion calls for a higher-end wine, the Merlot from Rombauer in the Carneros area of Napa is a sure-fire hit. Sitting around a table with family and friends while enjoying Deb's gratin and sipping a glass of Rombauer is a recipe for a spectacular night!

Friday, September 24, 2010

local hero

When I mentioned Chef Bill Telepan’s name to my uptown sister she swooned: “I LOVE his restaurant Telepan! It is always a fantastic treat!!” 
The conversation got sweeter when I told my sister I had been hired to cook his recipes in a public school lunch room. Chef Telepan has become a passionate and highly active partner with Wellness in the Schools (WITS) a not-for-profit organization dedicated to combating childhood obesity and bringing healthier lunch programs to the NY City public schools. This is the first year WITS, which had been operating on a volunteer basis, has raised enough money to hire 19 trained cooks to be placed in 19 public schools around the city, working closely with the schools existing lunch staff and their school community to bring Chef Telepan’s menus to reality.

I am thrilled and honored beyond belief to be part of this new venture. We, the cooks, have been undergoing extensive training these past two weeks in nutrition, teaching methods, Board of Ed procedures, and the realities of our country’s alarming health statistics. Everyone involved in WITS is incredibly excited and energized about the coming school year. We begin the new lunch menus (food cooked from scratch in the school kitchens replacing reheated frozen food!!!) early October.

Everyone is working so hard to make this program a success, but I have to give a huge standing ovation to Bill Telepan himself for the massive hours of time and dedication he has put in to creating a menu that could be realized ultimately in every school in this city (and this country!)
Here is my entire vegetable garden yield for the week. One tomato. Stop laughing. I am so proud AND it is an heirloom! It tastes wonderful, a delicate sweet tomato flavor.

During this week of training we spent a day in the Telepan restaurant and just when everyone was feeling weak and weary from all the information being exchanged, out from the Telepan kitchen came a beautiful buffet lunch of sandwiches and salads. The knock-out dish for me was a magnificent farmer’s market frisee salad that was so colorfully pretty I wanted to scoop it up and wear it in my hair (come on, olive oil is good for the scalp!). The radishes with a pink center cut paper thin stole my heart and the impossibly skinny chartreuse streaked haricot vert  just made me want to race out to every farm stand till I found them (where, oh where, can I get them?)
Until these secrets are revealed I will make do with a salad that approaches the spirit of the one served at Telepan. The super fresh and stunningly colored seasonal vegetables were cut on a mandoline slicer which added to the delicate ethereal beauty of this dish. Mandolines can be a tricky little item. I have sliced my fingers many times before mastering the art of paying attention. It is a lesson worth learning.

Pretty Seasonal Salad
The idea I took away from the Telepan salad was to pick a color scheme, choose farm fresh ingredients and slice VERY VERY thin.
To begin with, I did not have frisee. Ok, moving along, I had some escarole which like frisee is also a chicory. To get more of the frisee quality I decided to add some shaved fennel.

For my color scheme I went with the peachy yellow color of my tomato. Peaches, pears, marigold petals, cucumber, fennel and shaved green beans followed. For a dressing I simply added salt and freshly ground pepper, drizzled on some white balsamic vinegar for its acidic sweetness and then a swipe of walnut oil. Everything gets a good toss and then serve. I often like to dress salads this way, by eye without measuring or whisking in a separate bowl.  If you eat a lot of salads it is well worth the time to practice dressing the salads this way- fast and fresh!

Wow, Deb! That looks beautiful! Please oh please can you convince Chef Telepan to come to Westwood, NJ??? What an incredible venture he has taken on. The more I read, the more appalled I become as I learn what goes into the foods that we feed our children. Bravo to Chef Telepan and the WITS for instituting such an incredibly worthy program. Every school in this country should be following suit. It should be mandatory. And congratulations to you, Deb, for being selected to join forces with this wonderful organization and be a part of something truly amazing.

I would love to hear about some of the meals created for the schools! I know my kids are very picky eaters, especially my daughter. So, I'm curious as to how the program balances "healthy" with "kid friendly". For example, my daughter is a very limited vegetable eater so I have to find ways to sneak them in. Do you create typical "kids" meals but just use better ingredients? i.e., grilled cheese, pizza, tacos, chicken fingers, hotdogs...Those are the kinds of meals served in our school's cafeteria. (So far, for the first 2 weeks of school, I have made my childrens' lunch in an effort to have them eat healthy foods).

Now - on to the matter at hand. There is nothing I would rather sip with Deb's salad than a glass of Prosecco. Refreshing and crisp with nice acidity, this Italian bubbly would work perfectly. But there is another white that would be worthy of this beautiful, fall salad as well.

One white I absolutely love but don't mention much is Muscadet. A perfect match for Deb's salad, this white comes from Loire Valley in France. Muscadet is light, bright, fresh and crisp (and affordable) with a good amount of acidity. Melon de Bourgogne is the sole varietal used to make this wine. The most important appellation in the region is Sevre et Maine, so look for this name on the label as well as the designation "sur lies". This means the wine has been kept on its lees (mostly dead yeast and skins) throughout the winter, after harvest, before bottling.

Muscadet is typically low in alcohol too - another reason to enjoy it if you're enjoying Deb's salad in the afternoon! But if you're in the mood for Sauvignon Blanc, Gruner Veltliner, or a dry Riesling - go for it! Any of these are terrific alternatives!

Monday, September 20, 2010

twist and shout

It has been four days since the tornado hit my neighborhood in Rego Park, Queens and things are still far from normal. It is hard to describe the surreal quality of the landscape.

The damage to trees is staggering and I still cannot believe how little human damage was done. Even stranger is the the side by side comparison of the streets and corners that withstood a direct hit from the storm to those just a few feet away that were untouched. My corner is a wreck and we were without services of all kinds up until this morning. The mess will take weeks and weeks to clear. My post this week is brief as I cope with the physical changes the storm brought.
This beautiful butterfly bush was unscathed by the storm and continued to host tiny winged visitors.

I will share one quick recipe.  Minutes after the storm swept through on Thursday evening I hustled out to a dinner party my family was hosting in Manhattan. My Scottish stepfather feted us with a delicious meal and the highlight was his twice cooked potatoes. A Scotsman and his potatoes are serious business and we have enjoyed them in many variations over the years, but this particular batch was outstanding. What is the secret, we begged. Known not only for a fondness for potatoes, the Scots (at least the one that we know and love) are precise in their methods, so here goes:

so few left because we gobbled them up!

Tornado Potatoes aka: Twice cooked red potatoes
-Peel the potatoes and place in a pot with cold water. Bring to a boil and par boil the potatoes for 15 minutes. Drain potatoes and return them to the empty pot. Vigorously shake the pot to rough up the surface of the potatoes and fluff them up a bit. The potatoes can be prepared in advance up to this point. When ready to serve, heat olive oil in a skillet till hot. Drop in potatoes and allow them to brown on one side before turning. Brown on all sides and serve.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A walk on the wild side

There seems to be no denying that summer is over. The change in the air is palpable. A walk through Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge this weekend brought the truth of the matter home. Leaves are curling up and changing color and that is the way it is.
If you are in the NY area and have an opportunity to visit and hike around the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge it is well worth the visit. The view of the NYC skyline is dazzling!

This talk of the wildlife refuge has been my way of avoiding the inevitable, which is that as I was cooking the other day I came upon an amazing discovery that tasted so good I decided to improve upon it and share it with you. This evening I decided to take that recipe to the next level and as the phone rang at home and I caught up with friends and family and recovered from my first day at a new job (more about that in upcoming posts) I took a perfectly good recipe and made it into something very uninspiring and blachhhhhh! My point in all this is to say that even those of us very comfortable in the kitchen can go horribly awry and make something not so great. What can I say? I was distracted and somewhat stressed and inattentive. Cooking can be hard work and a zen-like calm is always to be strived for . My dish was edible but uninspired. I will share with you the original inspiration and explain where I went wrong.
Amanda has described our blog as catering to flexitarians, which I believe means for those who occasionally eat meat and fish. In that spirit I am including my fondness for this spicy fish condiment from the Korean supermarket H Mart in Queens. I add it to the wok to add depth and flavor. The fresh noodles shown here are thick and chewy. Very filling and satisfying.

The inspiration: I had some baby bok choy, sauteed some garlic in a wok, added the bok choy and then a big spoonful of spicy fish condiment from the koraen market. This simple preparation was so good I thought I would faint.

Next Day: Oh I am so clever I am going to make this even better: Sauteed leeks, cabbage, green beans, mustard greens- threw in the spicy fish condiment and some fresh noodles. Oh ugh. Just a big strange mess. Did not taste terrible but had no personality, nothing distinctive. oy. so sorry.

It looks colorful, but it was not at all what I was going for. In this instance mustard greens were not a good substitute for bok choy. These great ingredients tasted good none the less. Taking a risk in the kitchen can be a great learning experience.

Amanda, I could really appreciate a good glass of wine right now. Any suggestions?

Deb, your experiment really yielded some interesting results. I guess this is a perfect example of "less is more". Your elaboration on the dish was really just the addition of some seemingly perfectly well-suited veggies. It's interesting to me that the dish had more personality without these extras. Definitely a great lesson, and one which I most certainly will heed!

Last night, after I left the gym, I was  really in the mood for something healthy and simple. I had bok choy on the brain after reading Deb's post. So, I made a quick stop at the store and picked some up, in addition to some shitakes. Now, I have never cooked with bok choy and I must admit I really didn't know what to do with it in terms of cleaning it up, etc. In Chinese restaurants, I've only seen the white part of the stalk used, so I wondered about the leaves. Ultimately, I prepared a light dish that was really quite tasty. I just chopped up the bok choy (white stalk and leaves. Deb - is this they way you use it?) I sliced the shitakes and threw them under the broiler for a few minutes. I heated some oil and garlic in a saute pan. Added the bok choy and sauteed till wilted. Tossed in a little soy sauce, a touch of mirin, and a generous squeeze of lemon juice. I added the broiled shitakes to the finished mix and it was surprisingly yummy! And painfully simple!

It was late, and having just had a successful workout at the gym, I opted to not have a glass of wine with my creation. But, it made me consider Deb's recipe and what might be a good choice. Her dish is "spicy", and I would imagine the fish condiment has a good amount of salt.  The heat of the dish combined with the saltiness leads me to pick a white wine with a little sweetness. As always with spicier dishes, avoid anything with high alcohol or lots of tannins. Wines with a touch of sweetness will quell the heat your tastebuds are experiencing. Sweeter wines will also work particularly well with salty foods. (don't go too sweet, though. Just a hint of sweetness will suffice) If you happen to love chocolate covered pretzels as I do, you'll understand this reasoning. The contrast when eating something sweet and salty at the same time is wonderful!

The other night, I enjoyed a bottle of Vouvray which would be perfect. Vouvray is a white wine from the Loire Valley in France and is made from Chenin Blanc. The Vigneau Chevreau Vouvray Cuvee Silex is considered dry, but my palate experienced a hint of sweetness. Just delicious, and perfectly suited to Deb's recipe. Ask your local retailer for a recommendation on a Vouvray. Another option is a German Riesling with the "Spatlese" designation. Spatlese wines are made from fully ripe grapes and is the lightest of the "late harvest wines". The grapes for Spatlese are riper than those used for "Kabinett" wines. Therefore, the wines have greater intensity than those that are designated "Kabinett". Spatlese wines typically have a touch of sweetness - they are not fully sweet. A good, basic level Spatlese to experiment with is the Peter Mertes Riesling Spatlese. An affordable choice, this particular wine can be found for around $10.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A seasonal gratin

The goodies are piled high at the farmer's market today. I visited the market on Dahlia Street, outside the Queens Botanical Garden, to pick up some produce for the weekend. The radishes and all the beautiuful greens were particularly tempting.
This is the moment I have been waiting for: the first crisp tart apples of the season. The first bite, a resounding snap of the skin followed by a rush of sweet juicy flesh always sends me over the moon! The arugula looked fantastic too, fragrant with that nutty aroma. Ah, the end of summer. Not so bad I guess.

The market had so many pretty bundles of leafy greens, but these mustard greens looked so tender and fresh I had to have them. There were some young leeks being offered as well and my cooking fantasies began. I had an inclination to make some type of egg based gratin with the mustard greens and leeks, but I was a little nervous because mustard greens can be sharp and domineering in a dish. I was concerned they would be too bitter to make a nice egg dish. Taking it cautiously I sauteed up the leeks and some shallots and then added the chopped mustard greens, cooking everything down till tender. I finished the cooking with a splash of white wine and some grated nutmeg for a little sweetness. So far so good. The greens had a tiny bite, but it was fairly mild. Everything goes into the food processor with the eggs and some grated cheese. I poured it all into a buttered baking dish and topped it with more cheese and then into the oven for 20 minutes.
It came out looking so pretty, and then I tasted it. Yippee!! Sooooooooo GOOD! The greens were definitely assertive, but not overbearing. They gave the dish a really mature deep flavor, so much more interesting than if I had used spinach. 

Mustard Greens & Leek Gratin
3 Tbs. Butter
1 leek, white and green parts chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
4 cups chopped mustard greens
splash of white wine
1/2 teas. grated nutmeg
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
4 eggs
3 Tbs chopped fresh herbs (any one or combination of parsley, tarragon, basil. dill)
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese

Pre-heat oven to 375F
Butter a small baking dish with one Tbs. of butter and set aside. Heat the 2 remaining Tbs butter in a saute pan. Add the leeks and the shallots and cook slowly for about 8 minutes. Add the chopped mustard greens and let it cook down slowly for 10 minutes. When the greens have wilted add a splash of white wine and season with salt and pepper. Cover the pan and continue to simmer for 5 minutes till all the vegetables are tender. Put the cooked greens mixture into a food processor and add the eggs and the Gruyere cheese. Process for about 30 seconds till ingredients are a uniform size and well combined. Pour mixture in to the buttered baking dish and top with the Romano cheese. Bake for 20 minutes until eggs are set.

serves two as a lunch entree or 4 as a side dish

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

messing around

Happy Rosh Hashanah everyone! This year my family and I will be celebrating the Jewish New Year at my dear sweet mother in law's home. I was instructed not to bring ANYTHING, but I find that a hard rule to follow. My own Irish family traditions did not include this holiday so I look to the experts for culinary advice. My BFF Ilene and I have been celebrating Rosh Hashanah together on and off for the last 10 years or so. Ilene has a wealth of family lore to accompany the fixing of the dinner. I called her this morning and asked if there was anything Jewish New Years-y I could do with chilies and peppers from New Mexico? That got her spewing out a whole list of possibilities: sweet, round, eggplant, pumpkin, luck, Eastern Europe, cinnamon, raisins, stuffed, rolled, apricots, coins, carrots, noodle pudding. Oy. She is big into free association. Hey, I 'm there.
There are many wonderful ROUND things to choose from at the farmer's markets these days to grace your dinner table with luck for the new year.

I wanted to stuff my chilies so I decided to make up something with butternut squash and mozzerella cheese, both things I happened to have in the fridge.
 My chilies are roasted then stuffed and ready for the oven.

The result is interesting, a little smoky, a little sweet, a little spicey- just what you hope for in the New Year.

Butternut Squash Stuffed Chilies

10 chilies, roasted at 400F for 10 minutes on a sheet pan till the skin blisters. Remove from oven and throw a dish towel on top of the chilies so they steam a bit as they cool. When they are cool enough to handle, peel the skin off. It should come off like a wet bathing suit after a day at the ocean. Make a small slit in the chili and gently remove the seeds.
Roasted chilies fresh out of the oven and ready for peeling.

Fry up some onions (.5 cup)
mash up some cooked squash or pumpkin (.5 cup), 
add something sweet like applesauce or plumped up raisins (.25 cup), 
add some grated cheese (.5 cup), some chopped herbs (2 Tbs), 
a pinch of cinnamon, 
a teaspoon of brown sugar, 
salt and pepper and 
a squeeze of lemon juice. 
Taste to adjust seasonings. Mash this filling all together and then carefully divide it up among your  chilies and stuff them with a spoon, spreading out the filling as best you can to fill the length of the chili.

Toast up some chopped pecans and some panko breadcrumbs in butter to sprinkle on top before baking.

Lay stuffed peppers close together in a baking dish and bake for 25 minutes at 400F.

Though it's often fun to pair wines with foods that have contrasting qualities, I am going to go with the "complementing characteristics" school of thought on this one. I love the idea of a spicy Zinfandel with this dish. Zinfandel will typically have sweet fruit flavors combined with notes of cinnamon, pepper, plum and raisins. These flavors sipped alongside the similar flavors of the stuffed chilies would be fantastic! And the sweet fruit flavors of the wine will keep in line with the other symbolic offerings of all things sweet for the New Year!
If you are looking for a Kosher wine to go with your Rosh Hashana dinner, Baron Herzog is always a reliable producer of Kosher wines. If "Kosher" is not a necessary designation for you, then look to the always wonderful Zinfandels from Seghesio. Rombauer, Alexander Vineyards, and Outpost are some other names to look for. And finally, if you don't mind spending a lot of money, seek out Carlisle - the cream of the crop! (and very hard to come by...)

Friday, September 3, 2010

going with the flow

Here we are at Labor Day weekend, gulp. Time does seem to, um, move along, sigh.  My game plan is to keep things to a minimum this weekend and enjoy the waning days of heat and long light. A city friend called me yesterday to ask about a tomato jam recipe she had tried that had not quite worked out. The query was whether to seed the tomatoes or not. Well, I have never made tomato jam, nor have I ever given it much thought but as I looked around my kitchen counter and saw all the ripe tomatoes piling up I thought it was not a bad time to consider the recipe.

A little internet research uncovered several versions, ranging from thick and sweet to spicey with lots of texture. The one recipe that suited me best was from a site called White on Rice Couple. It is a really good looking blog and worth checking out. Their suggestion was to play with the basic concept of sweet, savory and spicey, adjusting the ingredients to make it your own. I had some tomatillos from the garden and my own home grown cayenne pepper to add to the mix so I was ready to give it a try. That is when the door bell rang and I was handed a fed-ex package from Santa Fe, New Mexico where my friend and artist Betsy Bauer lives. She had sent me a veritable hoard of New Mexico Green Chilies and Shishito Peppers fresh from the Santa Fe farmer's martket. Wow!! The aroma was heavenly and come on, what timing!!?
New Mexico Green Chili

Shishito Peppers

I decided to immediately add the peppers to the tomato jam and give it a South West twist. The jam is cooking on the stove right now and it smells fantastic. My home is filled with the exotic scent of a far away place. I am giddy with excitement!
Here is the jam at the beginning of cooking. I plan to leave it simmering for at least 1.5 hours.

Try the jam recipe and experiment with the ingredients. I think it will taste great in many variations. And to think I never considered tomato jam before! Silly me.

East Meets West Tomato Jam
-loosely based on the recipe from White on Rice Couple  blog.  Check out their link for variations on this recipe

4 tomatoes, chopped (with seeds left in)
1 whole shallot, peeled
1 stick cinnamon
1 Tbs. whole coriander seed
2 whole cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 Tbs. Rice vinegar
Juice of 1/2 Lime
1 cup of whole fresh shishito peppers (substitute any other fresh chili)
1 whole Cayenne pepper

Put all ingredients in a pot and simmer for 1-2 hours till thickened. Cool before storing in fridge.

OK.  So here I go with the usual questions. First, would you take out the shallot, garlic, and peppers before serving? I guess the peppers are too fiery to eat? This looks very interesting. I'll have to give it a go.  Deb, with what would you recommend serving this? I imagine it would be delicious served with some cheeses and crusty bread.

However this dish is enjoyed, it most likely will not be the main course or focal point of the meal or appetizers. Therefore, it would not be the dish that the wine choice should revolve around. But if you like a lot of heat for this recipe, remember to choose a wine that does not have a high alcohol content. The heat of the food will only seem hotter and will accentuate the alcohol in the wine. So, even if this is a side, or something to enjoy with hors d'oeuvres, don't pick a wine that will ruin your tastebuds for the other courses. A versatile white with a hint of sweetness might be a good choice. For something that will go with a large variety of foods and apps, maybe look towards an off-dry sparkler for starters. This jam seems like it might be fairly sweet because of the brown sugar. So, beware of choosing too dry a wine. The sweetness of the jam would make a very dry wine seem "blah". But again - this jam would not be the focal point of the meal so there is no need to get to crazy about your wine choice. Versatility is key!