Friday, November 26, 2010


Happy day after Thanksgiving! The calm before the next storm. This day is dedicated to staying in my pajamas as long as possible and NOT SHOPPING.  But cooking? Yes, perhaps.
A perfect time to hike the Palisades overlooking the Hudson River to catch the last glimpse of Fall's colors, as the mild weather continues this month.
A few leaves can be found still clinging to the branches, but not for long!

Today seems like a good day to clear out the old and make way for the next phase of the season as we head towards winter. My friend Jennifer came up with her own version of this ritual which turned into a batch of homemade soup she calls Veggie Sausage Soup

Jen: It all began with the beautiful brussel sprouts that I found at Union Square Greenmarket and just had to buy even though Ron (her boyfriend) doesn’t think that he likes them. He asked me what I was going to do with THOSE? I have to confess even though I like them I have never bought or cooked them myself. My father keeps a huge vegetable garden in our home in Lexington, Kentucky, although he is slowing down now at 92. However, he never grew Brussels Sprouts and I had never seen the plant until yesterday when I was looking online for a recipe.
Jennifer's picture

Deb: I think Brussels sprouts are more a cool climate crop and probably do better up North where they get a touch of frost.

Jen: Anyway, in the process of preparing to leave for a long Thanksgiving holiday I needed to use a few things in the refrigerator before I left.  The brussel sprouts, goat cheese, baby portabello mushrooms, vegetable sausage patties and more needed to get used or thrown away.

Deb: Vegetable sausage patties?

Jen: Yes, I buy Morning Star Hot & Spicy Veg Sausage Patties (I think from Whole Foods) and they are really good! The Brussels Sprouts I actually cored and quartered for the soup. It came out great! Ron and I both loved it.  He says that he has decided that he just didn't realize he liked Brussels Sprouts.

Deb: Cored the sprouts!? Wow, that is a loving touch and probably not necessary as the core will get as tender as the leaves when cooked. Sounds like you have a winning recipe on your hands. May I please share it on the blog?

Jen: Oh why yes! Thanks!

The sprouts I made for Thanksgiving soaking in a bowl of cold water before cooking. I like to do this to refresh them and add a little extra moisture.

Coring a sprout takes some time and patience. Not sure it is worth it or even needed. Maybe fancy pants restaurants do this. Hmmmmm.

Jennifer's Vegetable Sausage Brussels Sprouts and Mushroom Soup

2 packages of 6 each Morning Star Hot & Spicy Veg Sausage Patties
1 small handful of Dried Porcini Mushrooms (I didn’t think I had enough Baby Portobellos)
1 small container Brussel Sprouts- trimmed and quartered
1 head or 6-8 cloves of Garlic, peeled
1 small package Goat Cheese
½ of a container of Baby Portabello Mushrooms
1 head or 6-8 cloves of Garlic peeled
1 bag of Frozen Pearl Onions
1 container of Chicken Stock (4 cups)
1 cup of Water and ½ teaspoon of Veg. Better than Bullion (It needed a little more liquid)
Parmesan Cheese
Olive Oil

Cook the Vegetable sausage patties at 350 on a baking sheet about 12 min to get them a little crispy on the outside. 
Place the Porcini Mushrooms to soak in a small bowl of warm water.  
Place the Brussel Sprouts and the garlic cloves on a baking sheet. Then drizzle Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper and toss.  Roast in oven for 20 mins at 375 tossing 1 to 2 times while cooking.  Slice the Baby Portobello’s.  
Place a large pat of Butter in a soup pan. 
Drain the Porcini (I like the Porcini chopped in small pieces) and Sauté Both types of mushrooms. Make sure to salt and pepper. 
Put the Frozen Pearl Onions in at this point too. Once the onions looked done I then added the Chicken Stock and Goat Cheese. 
Crumble the cooked Veg. Sausage Patties and add to soup. 
Make sure not to overcook the Brussel Sprouts that were roasting and add to soup.  
Save the roasted whole cloves and smash/chop and then add to soup. 
Add a small chunk of grated Parmesan Cheese. Last Salt, Pepper and Cayenne Pepper to your taste.  
My Pearl Onions, the bigger ones seemed a bit tough so I scooped out some of the bigger ones along with some of the liquid and blended them in the Blender and added them back in.

Thanks Jennifer, this sounds great! I love the cooking improvisation that took place in your kitchen born of necessity and a willingness to take a risk. Amanda is away this holiday weekend so we will have to pair this soup with whatever wine is leftover!

Ok, one more amazing cauliflower to share! This is the Romesco variety that I picked up at Chelsea Market and used as the centerpiece of a holiday crudite platter. I cut off some of the smaller floretes, blanched them and sliced in half to nibble on with the dip.

Monday, November 22, 2010


This is the time of year when we begin preparations for the holiday season, even if it is just a mental adjustment. The weather is changing, the light is changing, the time has changed, the colors are changing. That is a lot to adjust to.  It is no wonder many people feel especially stressed right now, as we stare down the home stretch of the biggest family meal of the year.
My approach is to go with the flow as much as possible by following the lead of the evolving colors outside my door.

 Like a small school girl, I can't resist picking up pretty colored leaves that I find carpeting the sidewalks these days.

The last of my crop of heirloom tomatoes. I think my total yield was about 10 tomatoes for the whole season. Pitiful, but proud. We just don't get enough sunshine in my backyard to support this crop, but I had fun visiting the plants each day with hope in my heart and will certainly give it another shot next summer.

 Time to bring some plants in from the garden. The coleus is from a cutting off a magnificently growing bush in my backyard that is now curled up and leafless. I managed to get the cuttings in the nick of time. We shall see if it survives the minimal sunlight on my windowsill over the winter.

Can you believe another crazy colored cauliflower? 
These butternut squashes came from a farm stand on the corner of Bleecker Street and Sixth Avenue, not exactly a rural area! They each weigh almost five pounds. Heavy lifting on the subway ride home.

To simplify Thanksgiving, go with the produce that looks best and has bright color. A basic roast vegetable dish will bring out maximum flavor. No need for elaborate cheese sauces. Throw a lot of peeled garlic on the roasting pan around the vegetables and drizzle olive oil over everything. A good hot 400 degree oven will get your vegetables golden and fork tender in as little as 30 minutes depending on how small you cut everything.
These roasted vegetables will make a magnificent display on the Thanksgiving table. Pictured here is the orange cauliflower, the butternut squash and a variety of an Asian yam.  Don't be afraid to keep things basic. No one wants a stressed out dinner. Let the ingredients do the work for you by showcasing what they have been working on all summer out there in the field absorbing all that sunshine and nutrients from the soil. The taste and color is a gift from nature! Thanks, nature!

Amanda, what should we be looking for to pair with our dinner this year? Thanksgiving tends to be a heavy meal with a lot of rich sauces so I will be looking for something crisp and light for the white and something smooth and fruity for the red. I can't wait to hear what you suggest!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone!!!

The roasted vegetables look beautiful! And so easy! As for wine, this is one of those dinners where you don't have to look for the "perfect match" as there are so many different elements to the Thanksgiving dinner. Just look for those wines that are the most food friendly.

Every year, I choose a variety of wines to enjoy at the table - wines I know everyone will love. For those of you that will be enjoying Turkey with your feast, Riesling is a great match for white, and Pinot Noir is a great selection for red. (These are great choices for purely vegetarian fare as well...) This year, I am going to incorporate a sparkling Rose into the mix with my Thanksgiving meal. I love to enjoy Champagne or sparkling wine with my dinner, and Thanksgiving is just the opportune time to sip some bubbly with the main course. Many people think of Champagne as something to be poured for a toast, or to accompany hors d'oeurvres. But it is wonderful alongside entrees as well. It contributes a wonderful "vibe" to holiday dinners!

My selection will be as follows: I will bring some Prosecco, which is a big hit with my family, for the afternoon pre-dinner festivities. This includes a large variety of cheeses, dips, spreads, chips, veggies, etc. Prosecco is ideal. We sip it all afternoon. For the sit-down part of our meal, I will be enjoying Domaine Carneros Brut Rose (a delightful sparkler from California), Zind Humbrecht Pinot Blanc (a white from one of Alsace's greatest producers),and Georges Duboeuf Morgon Jean Descombes 2009. I highly recommend a Cru Beaujolais - these are wonderful accompaniments to Thanksgiving fare. Not your typical, run-of-the-mill Beaujolais - these are the "cream of the crop", the highest level of Beaujolais. To set these apart from the more mass-produced Beaujolais Villages and Beaujolais Nouveau, producers do not put the word " Beaujolais" on the label. These are spectacular, very affordable wines. The aforementioned Morgon, for example, retails for about $12.99. And, the 2009 vintage is one of the best ever, so now is the time to indulge in these gems. Look to Georges Duboeuf for consistently good quality wines.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

the color purple

So about that cauliflower? Dude, what am I going to do with that amazing purple beautious monstrosity? A quick search on my favorite recipe go-to site turned up the PERFECT RECIPE! I was looking for something that would really feature the insane color of this vegetable and the recipe for Cauliflower Steaks with Cauliflower Puree seemed to fit the bill. The premise of the recipe was to cut slabs (steaks) of cauliflower and pan sear them to get a crust. The rest of the cauliflower florets get parboiled, then roasted, then pureed with some milk and served as a sauce over the slabs (steaks.)
What I love about epicurious, aside from their vast archives, is all the notes people write after the recipe. When I looked at people's comments on this recipe it was immediately clear that the consensus was "BLAND". Well, heck yeah that seems obvious. Why not make a cheese sauce to puree with the cauliflower to give it a little umph? And instead of parboiling and roasting before pureeing why not pan sear the florets as well to get some crispy flavor in one step rather than two. Anyway, I was off and running.
I put some of the cauliflower in a soup. It looked so perky and tasted great too!
Roasting the cauliflower did nothing to diminish the color. After roasting I chopped it up and put it into a vegetable quesadilla for one of my favorite clients.
Ok, so onward with the recipe, or perversion of the recipe shall we say. Look at these slabs, how gorgeous!
While I was on the color kick I started eyeing the green tomatoes I rescued from the garden this morning. How about a few slabs of green tomatoes to go along with the cauliflower slabs? 
The plan was hatched! Pan seared green tomatoes, pan seared slabs of purple cauliflower, pan seared cauliflower florets (add a little water to the pan and cover to let the florets steam a little till tender before pureeing)
Puree the tender florets, then add some bechamel sauce with cheese (2 Tbs. butter, melted, 2 Tbs. Flour stirred in, 1.5 cups milk, whisk, 2 oz. grated cheese, melt)

Plate this and laugh! I think I need my friend Katie the amazing chef and food stylist to help me out here. I could not stop giggling as I ate this because it looked so ridiculous and yet it tasted AMAZING!!! The purple puree was to die for, the green tomatoes added a perfect fresh tartness, the cauliflower slabs were filling and satisfying. This is one funky looking delicious dish. I think if I was working with a white cauliflower it would look fine or at least not startlingly peculiar. I don't know if I would have the nerve to serve this in this incarnation, but the flavor was really really good and worth the experiment.

Amanda, I am thinking an orange or green wine might be just right with this?

Unfortunately the color of the wine I have in mind cannot live up to the vibrant colors of your dish! But I have to say - I actually don't think it looks silly at all - from an aesthetic standpoint, it's amazing! Sure, it's different. But it's just a testament to the natural beauty cooking with vegetables can offer us. I would be thrilled is this plate was set down before me at a restaurant.

Deb - I saw a beautiful orange cauliflower today at an organic market. I have only had the standard, now paler-in-comparison white varietal. Are there taste differences between colors? And to what do we owe these beautiful differences in color? I don't remember seeing all of these different options when I was a kid...

Now onto wine - I want a light, crisp, lively white with this. A wine with a little "tartness" to it would be a good choice, to match with the tartness of the tomatoes. The tartness of the tomatoes with a wine that has no "tart" characteristics, will render the wine weak and thin. A white Bordeaux would be a great complement to Deb's work of art. A mixture of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, whites from the region are typically crisp and acidic (from the Sauvignon Blanc) with a rich, round quality (from the Semillon). 

The Entre deux Mers is a wine region in Bordeaux which lies between two rivers (hence the name) - the Garonne and Dordogne. The region produces wines with fine minerality. Chateau Bonnet is a great, inexpensive representation of wines from the area. At $11.99, the wine displays great aromatics with lively citrus components.  The acidity will work well with the tartness of the tomatoes, which is important, as well as serve as a contrast to the cheese sauce. A Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand would also be a good choice. If you're feeling like a little bubbly, perhaps a bottle of Prosecco. But whatever you choose - I would stick with white on this wine.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

of horses and young men

Two very special guests came to my house last evening, their combined age under five. These two adorable toddler boys entertained us with their joyous curiosity and impeccable table manners.

The evening was partially devoted to watching the Breeders' Cup Classic horse race, where the superstar mare Zenyatta was to run her final race (against all male horses) as a retiring six year old after 19 starts undefeated. You go girl! (For an eloquent description of the race and its ramifications check out my husband's blog post)

The race was exhilarating and the finish an unbealiveable loss by a nose for our horsey princess. Oh well, back to visiting with friends and family and let's eat dinner already.
Having fed plenty of kids over the years, I was not stressed about making any special concessions to young palates other than a big batch of fresh applesauce to appease the picky and cranky (I'm talking about the adults now.) Fortunately there were big smiles all around!
In addition to wine, cheese and a bouquet of flowers, my house gifts included this magnificent cauliflower. What color!
Our theme for the evening, other than horses, was a continuation of my month-long fasination with France. We had some French wine (Les Amies Chanteuses, Cotes Du Rhone) and some French cheese  (Epoisses Berthaut) and I made a big batch of stuffed vegetables, a dish I first learned to make when I lived in the South of France many years ago. Our two young eaters set the example for the rest of us cleaning their plates so they could have ice cream with chocolate sauce for dessert.
 Zucchini is a classic vegetable for stuffing. It is easy to carve out the boat shape with a spoon.
 Fennel bulbs and onions cut into slabs with a well cut out of the center make a great vehicle for the stuffing.

Stuffed Vegetables
4 zucchinis- cut in half length wise
4 medium small onions ends trimmed and cut in half
1 large fennel bulb cut into 2 inch slabs
3 Tbs. olive oil
4 cloves garlic finely minced
1 cup cooked brown rice
1/4 cup grated parmasean cheese
1 egg beaten
3 Tbs. fresh herbs, chopped
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

Heat oven to 400 degrees
Scoop out the center of the zucchinis and set the removed flesh aside. Arrange zucchini shells in a baking dish. With a sharp knife carve out a small well or depression into the onion halves and the fennel slabs, reserving the removed flesh and arranging the vegetables in the baking dish with the zucchini. Drizzle a Tbs. of the olive oil over the vegetables and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put in the oven for 20 minutes, until vegetables start to become tender.

Chop up the reserved vegetable flesh with the minced garlic till it is more or less a small dice. Add the brown rice and the egg and grated cheese and stir well to combine. Remove vegetables from oven and carefully spoon about 1 large tablespoon of filling into each vegetable shell (divide all the filling up between the vegetables, the zucchinis will hold more.) Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over everything and drizzle with the rest of the olive oil. Continue to bake vegetables for another 35-40 minutes till the onions and fennel are tender when piereced with a knife.
Serve immediately or at room temperature as part of a buffet.
serves 6-8

First, I am so impressed that the kids ate stuffed vegetables! Makes me wonder where I have gone wrong?! Possibly my son would try it - but definitely not my 5 year old daughter. That's wonderful that the boys are so "adventurous".

Deb - do the onions and fennel get stuffed as well, or do they get placed inside of the zucchini? The recipe sounds great! I like the idea of pairing a red with this dish. Especially to go with the parmesan flavors. I'm thinking of Sangiovese, the Italian grape variety most known for its contribution to Chianti, Morellino di Scansano, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montalcino, and super-Tuscan wines, to name a few.

A young, fresh Sangiovese will typically have fruity flavors reminscent of strawberries; but when aged in oak barrels will take on  spicy, oaky characteristics. Sangiovese can produce light wines, so often other varietals will be employed to give the wine more body and structure. In other instances, extensive oak treatment will be used to achieve the same results.

For Deb's dish, a Rosso di Montalcino would work well. Hailing from Tuscany, this "baby Brunello" is made from 100% Sangiovese, and is typically lighter and fresher than a Brunello. And a lot more affordable.  It is grown in the same delineated area as Brunello di Montalcino, but the wine does not have to be aged as long as Brunello. A good Rosso can be found in the $15-$20 price range.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Michelin Stars and a pot luck

What a week! Cooking lunch in a public school kitchen everyday is hard work! For my day off I was invited to a pot luck supper and naturally I needed to COOK. Well, I am never happier than when I am in a kitchen (unless I am laying on a Caribbean beach or sipping wine in a Paris cafe) so it was a natural transition to the weekend to be ruminating on what to make for this LOCAL ingredients pot luck party.

Pumpkins were floating in my head and I had a vague notion of making a pumpkin lasagne. My husband took pity on me when I crawled home Friday evening and he whisked me out to dinner to our favorite restaurant in Queens- Danny Brown Wine Bar and Kitchen on Metropolitan Avenue. We had been dying to get over there to help them celebrate their recently awarded Michelin Star!!!!! They truly deserve it (delectable food and impeccable service.) On their menu Friday night was a special: PUMPKIN RAVIOLI- well, it was all meant to be. I tried it and loved the dish and knew that was indeed what I wanted to make for Saturday's pot luck.

Saturday's party in Nyack, NY had a harvest festival theme and was hosted by Pam and Charlie of Hook Mountain Growers.  The fall colors inside and out were a perfect reflection of the season.
Pamela and I check out what is growing at her fabulous homestead micro-farm, still in full production this late in the season.
The sun was already beginning to set when I got there so these photos don't do justice to the crops.
clockwise from top left: Passion fruit, celeriac, cayenne, fennel and chard

And inside at the party:
wonderful local cheeses!
 Delicious homemade dishes beautifully arranged, made from local ingredients.
clockwise from top left: beet salad, yogurt and herb dip,
beet and pasta salad, farro pasta with white beans

The wine was great too. Hudson Wine Farm's Red Banks Red Blend and their Chardonnay were the selections and they went perfectly with the meal. Someone even brought a venison stew made from a deer they had shot with a bow and arrow themselves, braised with shitake mushrooms they found growing right on their lawn (what don't they do in the Hudson Valley?)
My pumpkin lasange was a success. I found some local pumpkins at Gourmet Garage and I raided my herb garden for the sage. It is more laborious a recipe than I usually feature here but the procedure is not complicated and it makes a great seasonal dish.

Pumpkin Lasagne

• quarter a whole small pumpkin and scoop out the seeds,
sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast in a hot 400 degree oven for about 25-35 minutes until tender when pierced with a knife.
• scoop the flesh away from the shell of the pumpkin with a large spoon and put into a food processor (about 1.5 cups)
• add a quarter cup of apricot jelly or a fruit chutney (I used mango chutney, yeah, I know, not local. If I had been more energetic I would have used very tart homemade applesauce)
• add 4 oz. goat cheese and continue to blend till smooth

• make a beshemel sauce with 4 Tbs. butter melted in a sauce pan, add 4 Tbs. flour and mix well with the butter to create a smooth paste. Add 2 cups of milk and bring to a low boil to thicken sauce, whisking constantly. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, freshly ground nutmeg and 4 or 5 torn up fresh sage leaves and allow flavors to blend at a simmer for a few minutes.
• toast in a small saute pan 1/2 cup of peppita seeds and 3/4 cup of bread crumbs in 1 Tbs. butter on a low heat until golden. Process the peppitas and bread crumbs in a food processor till finely ground, then set aside.
• assemble lasagne by covering the bottom of a baking dish with some of the beshamel sauce, followed by a single layer of large sheets of wonton wrappers lined up edge to edge to cover the entire surface of the pan. Add a layer of the pumpkin puree, the beshamel and then the bread/peppita crumbs. Repeat to make two more layers, ending with the wonton wrappers, beshamel and crumbs.
• Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes till hot and bubbly.
• garnish with fresh sage leaves that have been dusted in flour and then fried for 30 seconds in hot olive oil in a shallow pan.

I know it is a lot of steps, but it is a recipe that can be played with when you are relaxed and have the time. Adding the fruit jelly or chutney will give the pumpkin some needed sweetness. Danny Brown garnished his pumpkin ravioli with pomegranate seeds, which was an inspired choice. The tart fruit is a great counterpoint to the earthy depth of the pumpkin.

That dinner sounds amazing! Right up my alley.  Love the pics too! Yes, the pumpkin lasagne definitely requires more work than most of your recipes - but I wouldn't say it's labor intensive - which is a nice thing! I have to make it a point to get out to Hook Mountain Growers - seems like a fabulous place!

The pumpkin lasagne looks to me like the ideal Fall dish. I think a variety of wines would work well. My first choice for white would be a dry, crisp Riesling. I think the vibrant acidity of the Riesling would be great paired with the sweet flavors Deb incorporates into the lasagne. It would also serve to cut through the rich characteristics of the bechamel sauce. Be sure to pay attention to which Riesling you are buying - stay away from anything sweet. A dry Riesling is what would work best here.

A red would also work well with this wonderful recipe. An Argentine Malbec would be a great accompaniment, with its lush texture and ripe fruit flavors. Malbec from Argentina will not have the same tannic structure as one from France, which will tend to be more "rustic" in style. I would prefer something a bit more fruit-forward to sip with the lasagne. Argentine Malbecs tend to be "juicier" and softer as well - qualities that will marry perfect with Deb's dish. Susana Balbo, an outstanding producer in Argentina (one of my favorites), makes an affordable line of wines called "Crios", meaning "offspring". The Malbec is a delicious, everyday wine and can be found for around $11.99.

I think I'd like to plan a dinner party around this recipe! Looks so delicious - perfect to share with friends!