Saturday, October 29, 2011

nick of time

Deborah brings in the harvest...
Snow hit my garden early this year.

It is a game of chicken as the first frost looms over the garden. How long can I leave the last of the basil leaves and the few cherry tomatoes lingering on the vine before that heartless first frost abruptly claims all? I knew my days were numbered, but it always pains me to cut down the plants, a real summer finale, when I might possibly get one or two more days out of them.

This week I catered an evening event for the non-profit environmental news site Grist . The guest of honor was author Jonathan Franzen reading from his most recent novel, Freedom. The reading was followed by a lively interview of the writer conducted by the savvy and engaging Katherine Schultz, author of her own new book Being Wrong: Adventures in the margin of error.
Basil leaves "sous la neige"
Jonathan Franzen reads from his novel Freedom.
I wanted to use the last of the best from the summer growing season, so I managed to steel myself to the task of harvesting all of my variegated opal basil with the purpose of showcasing it in an hor d'oeuvre for the Grist party.
I decided to marinate bite-sized cubes of smoked mozzarella cheese in an olive oil I had infused with orange zest and red pepper flakes. The cheese is then rolled in toasted breadcrumbs, briefly warmed in the oven to get a little warm and oozy, then served on skewers wedged between cherry tomato halves and feathery basil leaves.

Fresh and light with a nod towards Spanish tapas, this simple hors d'oeuvre is perfect with wine and easy to nibble while listening, perhaps, to your favorite author talk about sex and birds.
The lovely Rachel kept the food moving.

Marinated Smoked Mozzarella Skewers
•cut a pound of smoked mozzarella into bite sized cubes

•mix 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1 Tbs. red pepper flakes and the zest of two oranges together in a small bowl and stir to combine.

•pour the olive oil mixture over the cubed mozzarella and let it marinate for at least one hour or refrigerated overnight.

•in a small, dry saute pan toast on medium heat one cup of panko breadcrumbs, stirring continuously until the breadcrumbs turn golden brown

•heat the oven to 350 degrees

•one by one, remove the mozzarella cubes form the olive oil marinade and roll each piece in the breadcrumbs to cover all sides.

• lay the coated cheese in a single layer on a baking sheet and put in the hot oven for two minutes, until the cheese begins to soften but does not melt.

•Cut 30 cherry tomatoes (red or yellow or a combination of the two) in half across the middle so you have a top half and a bottom half, and lightly salt them.

•remove the smallest basil leaves from their stems and set aside

To Assemble:
• On a small skewer thread a cherry tomato half bottom, a softened cheese cube, a few small basil leaves and then the top of the cherry tomato. Repeat with the rest of the ingredients. Serve immediately.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

a change of color

Deborah's recipes adjust to the new season...
It feels official now, this change of season. The nip in the air is here to stay for awhile. As I walk around my Queens neighborhood the autumnal colors are undeniable.
 These dahlias in my neighbors yard provide a shock of satisfying color as everything leafy begins to slowly turn golden brown.
 Rose hips.
The trees are making a big statement, their last hurrah.
A visit to the nursery on Woodhaven Boulevard gives lots of options for a decorative harvest display. My daughter and I agonized over our choice of pumpkins, weighing the merits of a perfectly round profile vs. a long curly stem. These gnarly gourds distracted us with their improbable shapes. Who would eat such things? They are to be admired for their audacity!

Dinner last night, at my favorite restaurant Danny Brown Wine Bar & Kitchen, provided inspiration for today's recipe. On their menu was a roasted Brussels sprouts salad served with figs (delicious!)
The concept of a roasted vegetable salad makes perfect sense for this transitional season. The roasting brings a warm sweetness to the vegetables and the salad dressing keeps this dish rooted in summer with its acidic brightness. Pumpkins, sweet potatoes and Bosc pears are a great combination, cubed up and roasted till golden and then dressed with a simple vinaigrette fragrant with tangerine zest and Dijon mustard. Sweet, tart, seasonal and oh so colorful!

Roast Vegetable & Pear Salad with Tangerine Vinaigrette
1 cup of peeled sweet potatoes, cut into 1 " cubes
1 cup of peeled pumpkin, cut into 1 " cubes
1 cup of un-peeled Bosc pears, cut into 1 " cubes
1 tbs. canola oil
1 Tbs. chopped chives
1/4 cup tangerine vinaigrette -see recipe below

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Arrange cubed vegetables and pear in a single layer on a baking sheet and sprinkle with the oil. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and tender. Remove to a bowl, toss with the chives and the vinaigrette. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Tangerine Vinaigrette
juice and zest of one tangerine
1 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
In a small bowl combine all the ingredients except the olive oil and whisk briskly to combine. Continue to whisk as you slowly add the olive oil in a continuous stream. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

stuck on Sweden

Deborah's journey continues on to Stockholm...
This beautiful Swedish city comes on like a blast of golden light after the cool grays of Paris. The warm copper hued buildings attempt to fool one into thinking Stockholm is a hot town. Well it is, if you are a club kid, as it offers up great bars, restaurants and music venues to check out all over this tiny, uber-hip city, but it's the weather that is not accurately represented by all these apricoty tones.
This is a city on the edge of the sea with stormy brooding clouds flashing past at dramatic speeds. Put on your coolest looking hiking boots, grab a sweater and scarf and hit the streets.
 Bikes are everywhere in this pedestrian friendly city.
The Swedes seem to shine in metalwork.
 At least when the weather changes you can see it coming!
Anchors and bicycles sit comfortably side by side.
There is so much charm to be found on these ancient city streets.

Östermalms saluhall
Sweden is not especially known for its cuisine, but their ingredients struck me as being especially fresh and wholesome. The butter served with our breakfast every morning was the creamiest and richest flavor I have ever had. Whole grain breads and crackers bear the Swedish imprint; they are satisfying, hearty and pure and they taste wonderful.
The Swedes seem to be more adventurous than the French when it comes to trying new cuisines. In the restaurants it was hard not to notice the latest trend: a heavy focus on sushi and Thai food.
In the famous Östermalms saluhall, the fabulous covered food market, an impressive display of prepared dishes featured traditional Swedish recipes and high-end fine ingredients from all over the world.

 The cheese stall at the slauhall. So much to chose from, so hard to decide.
Blindingly beautiful fruit!
These colorful wreaths are so festive. I wanted one bad and tried to figure out if I could dare sneak one past the custom officials back here in New York.  When we landed at JFK and got to the baggage claims area there were trained dogs sniffing every suitcase. Gulp! Glad I didn't try anything.

Stockholm got under my skin in short order. Our three day stay whetted my desire for a much longer visit. My homage to this Scandinavian city is a whole grains pilaf brightened with fruits, vegetables and lots of fresh herbs.

Tack Stockholm!

Mixed Grain Pilaf with Raisins and Dill
1 cup of *mixed grain rice
2 tbs olive oil
1 carrot chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 cup of cabbage, chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup dill, chopped

•Cook the rice in 2 cups water, simmer for 30-50 minutes till tender (according to package directions)
•Heat olive oil in a saute pan. Add the chopped vegetables and stir fry for about 8 minutes till vegetables are tender, but still a little crunchy.
•Add the raisins to the vegetables in the pan and continue to cook for one more minute
•Stir the vegetable mixture and the chopped dill into the cooked rice and serve

*Mixed Grain Rice
I buy this blend of 3 different rices and beans at the Koren supermarket H-Mart, but there are a lot of great mixed grain blends in the stores these days. Try different ones to see what you like.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Deborah reports on her trip to Paris...
When it comes to Paris, what can I say?  I obsess. This recent visit  had me completely captivated by Parisian apartment windows. The weather in Paris last week featured a magnificent October heat wave with temperatures in the low 80s. Perfect for wandering around the city and staring up into peoples homes. Not only are Parisian apartment windows over-the-top beautiful with gorgeous glass panes, elaborately lush window boxes and ornately curled iron work, no, not only all of that BUT also, they are unmarred by air conditioners! And even more dazzling for me was to see these magnificent windows thrown wide open to catch the breezes without a single instance of screening or insect netting. Amazing! See for yourself:
 Do people really live in these places?
Oh yes, and those awnings, the perfect accent of color. sigh.

The other great Paris obsession is of course food. One of my favorite blogs is Paris Breakfasts, the chronicles of one woman's serious obsession with French Pastry. 
 These simple fruit tarts were irresistible to me.
I like pastry too, but I am more obsessed with the fresh food markets. Last Saturday found me strolling around Paris' Marche d'Aligre, a huge open market teaming with produce and packed with shoppers. 
The garlic just flopped on top of the apples, too much!

Overly stimulated and now totally starving I headed in to the covered market area where you can buy charcutiers and cheeses. I put together a picnic of country pate, goat cheese and a container of artichoke tapanade. To round out the meal we stopped at a boulangerie to pick up a baguette and when they handed it to us it was STILL WARM! Ah heaven, you are Paris.
There is no shortage of perfect picnic spots in Paris. Just stroll right up to the river bank and join the rest of the pleasure seekers.
I did not have a kitchen to cook in on my trip, but I want to make that artichoke tapanade. It had a rich earthy flavor that was addictive,  scooped straight up from the container with chunks of that warm baguette. There are no artichokes in the NY farmers markets right now so for a quickie version this is what I am going to do:

Artichoke Tapanade
- Simmer a package of frozen artichoke hearts in some vegetable or chicken stock until tender.
- Drain the artichokes and puree in a food processor with a good glug of extra virgin olive oil.
- Season with salt, pepper and lots of lemon zest.
Bon appetit!

For further obsessive musings on my Paris trip this link is to my husbands blog where I wrote a post about our day at the horse races in the Bois de Boulonge.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Wingin' It

Amanda tries to re-create a spectacular dressing....

It all started a little over a week ago. Sushi night at my house with some of my neighborhood girlfriends. I do it a few times a year. Lots of laughs (and wine) are regular components of the night. Usually I just order a few platters of different pieces of sushi and exotic rolls. This time, I wanted to add a salad to the mix. I was feeling inspired and wanted to make something special, (but easy) impressive and healthy. I had a hankering for carrot ginger dressing. I envisioned a pretty, crisp, fresh salad to begin our night, along with some Prosecco.

There are a few things I am very particular about, and like only when made in a certain style - hot and sour soup is one, gazpacho another, and carrot ginger dressing yet name a few.  I have a specific type of carrot ginger dressing that I like and I was in search of a recipe that sounded like it might meet my expectations. Right away I was attracted to one in particular - a recipe from Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop Newsletter. (the original recipe is at the bottom of the page on her site).

Seemed straightforward, looked pretty, and I imagined this was exactly what I was looking for. I bought the ingredients on Thursday, and the dinner was going to be on Friday. I decided I would make the dressing Thursday evening. I went to Whole Foods in search of the sweet white miso. Lo and behold, they were out of stock. The employee I spoke with recommended I use the red miso - that it wouldn't make much of a difference. As miso is not my forte, I took his advice and went with the red.

Once I began, right away I knew I would not have nearly enough. Having just got home from hot yoga, I was exhausted - it was 9 pm and I was ready for sleep. I made a quick batch, using the miso very sparingly as I did not know how it would taste. The recipe is for 1 serving. Knowing I would have 6 women over, I increased all of the ingredients. As I enjoy heaps of this kind of dressing on my salad, I wanted to have way more than enough. I took a small taste.  For me, the shallot was too pronounced and rendered the dressing very "oniony" - too much so. Plus, I felt it was missing something. This is what you get for rushing and trying to create something when your heart is not in it. All I could think of was my bed. Not sure whether to throw it out, or start over, I finally decided to put it in a container and deal with it the next day.

So, morning came and off to work I went. Once I got home, I knew I'd have about 1 1/2 hours to finish the dressing before my guests appeared. Plus, I had to straighten up, feed the kids, set the table and pick up the sushi. The day before I had picked up pretty black plates on which to serve the salad.  I was determined to make it a success. Before I did anything else, I had that dressing to contend with. I was on a mission!

I took the previous night's concoction out of the fridge. Got the Cuisinart out. Lined up the ingredients. I poured the dressing I had already made into the food processor. I knew I would not be adding anymore shallots. I would just add the other ingredients to balance it out. First, I re-tasted it. Definitely still too oniony. And it needed a touch of sweetness - perhaps that is what the sweet white miso would've helped with? I decided to add some mirin - a Japanese rice wine similar to sake but with less alcohol. And, it's sweet. So, I drizzled some in. Peeled 3 more large carrots, cut up a huge chunk of ginger, and added more rice vinegar, red miso, sesame oil, vegetable oil and water. Didn't measure anything - decided to just "wing it". After all, I was running out of time.

Pressed the puree button. When I felt it was the right consistency, it was time to try it. IT WAS INCREDIBLE! I couldn't believe it. I thought "this is it!" This is the recipe I've been searching for! It was literally 100% of what I had hoped for. I don't know how I did it.  When the time came, I put some cut up Bibb lettuce and sliced avocado on each plate. I topped it off with a few heaping spoonfuls of the carrot ginger dressing. It was a tremendous hit. Everyone commented that it was better than the dressing they get in Japanese restaurants! I was so happy with the result.

But now here's the problem - I don't know if I can do it again. Was it luck? I'll find out tonight when I try to re-create it. Stay tuned....I will let you know later. And, I'm going to pay closer attention to the quantities I use so I can post them! Gwyneth Paltrow's recipe is terrific and I highly recommend it! Check it out by visiting the link above. I will post my version later!