Tuesday, June 26, 2012

garden eating

There is no going back inside now. Even a rainstorm beckons me out to get my face wet. The weather is unpredictable these days, but venturing out under any conditions is part of summer fun.
The New York Botanical Garden is a perfect place to get lost and cool off under the shady trees.  Wander inside the climate controlled greenhouses for an instant vacation to another climate and take a deep breath of air that positively make you drunk with oxygen overdose.
The green houses and the lily pond at the NY Botanical Garden in the Bronx

The garden is currently featuring a flower specimen show inspired by Monet's garden in Giverny, France. Waterlilies were his big thing, but he was a serious gardener and there is plenty of floral color in this exhibit to dazzle and inspire creative juices.
Waterlilies conjured up images of Monet in his garden. How lovely to spend an afternoon painting them. I did not come prepared!
Walking along the wooded paths, part of the 50 acres of the garden, for instant summer in the country.

Back on my home turf I took a look at my own botanical specimens. The Queens backyard collection is a bit motley I'm sad to say, but anything green does the trick when you are looking to cool off. 

To continue the ease of the long summer day a simple supper of grilled potatoes and vegetables does the trick.  I like to put the potatoes on the grill after they have been par-boiled or partially cooked, to speed up the grilling time. The hot, direct heat of the coals will add some crispy caramelising and smokey undertones.
Small potatoes- parboil unpeeled potatoes in boiling salt water for about 10 minutes until just about tender when pierced with a knife. Alternately, the potatoes could be stuck in a microwave for 3-4 minutes till tender. Put them in pans right on the grill and add olive oil and seasonings of choice. The batch on the left is doused with olive oil and a heavy hand of Indian spices, a blend brought back as a gift from Goa. I added some sliced fennel bulbs for added flavor. The batch on the right is for my husband. A dash of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and pepper and you are done. Let the potatoes get crispy brown in spots tossing them a bit as they cook and the oil sizzles around them.
Bigger potatoes get the same par- boiling treatment. When they are cool enough to handle, split them in half or in thirds length-wise, depending on how big they are, and season the pieces with oil and rosemary. Lay them directly on the grill, moving them around from time to time to get nice grill marks but no major burns. 

The potato above was sent swimming in a fantastic salsa I picked up at the Williamsburg Flea on Sunday, made by The Brooklyn Salsa Company. They have about six flavors and I quickly sampled them all declaring the tomatillo cumin salsa, known to them as The Green, and their mole salsa, aka: The Hot, as the best of the bunch. They are in fact all good and if you have a chance to sample them, do!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

it's the balm!

Hydrangea in bloom to decorate the table, radishes harvested to decorate the salad.

Outdoor dining is here at last. The balmy late days of spring are perfect for enjoying  extended sunlight and the profusion of leafy enticements.

Tender greens are now readily available - I can plunder my own garden for new growth and actually begin to put a meal together from some humble backyard plants.

Garden pesto is a versatile use of just about any edible leafy green and tender herb.

My patch of backyard lemon balm is huge this year. It grows easily and spreads where ever it has a place to go. By mid-summer the leaves are spotty and crisp, not very appetizing, but right now the plant is ever so delectable! I tuck a sprig or two into my iced tea and tear up the smallest leaves to go into salads.  It had never occurred to me to use lemon balm as the base of a pesto, but with the profusion of growth and my basil still barely inches high I decide to give lemon balm a spin in the food processor to see how it would come out.
To add a little dimension to the pesto I included some chives, sorrel, mint and oregano, seeking out the smallest and softest leaves I could harvest. The pesto was so good! I half expected the lemon balm to taste soapy or too perfumey but the young leaves gave a pleasant green bite with the barest hint of lemon.
Night one, I mixed the pesto with spaghetti and roasted peppers. It looked so pretty and tasted great! Night two, I made it for friends and served it over Israeli couscous, adding some grilled vegetables. The two pickiest eaters at the table both announced it "really good" so please don't share this recipe with them because if they knew what was in it (green stuff and cheese) they would never have tried it in the first place.

Garden Pesto with Israeli Couscous & Grilled Vegetables
For the pesto:
2 cups of fresh herbs or leafy greens-any mix of basil, mint, sorrel, chives, lemon balm, tarragon, parsley, cilantro, spinach, arugula, young kale, chard
2 Tbs. walnuts, pine nuts or pumpkin seeds
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
1 teaspoon salt

-put all ingredients in food processor and blend till smooth

For the couscous:
1 cup of Israeli couscous
1 Tbs olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water
In a sauce pan heat the oil and toast the couscous, stirring for about five minutes. Add the water and the salt, cover and lower heat to a simmer. Cook for ten minutes. Transfer to a bowl and fluff with a fork.

For the grilled Vegetables:
1 cup of carrots sliced thin
1 cup of zucchini sliced thin
1 cup of bell peppers sliced into strips
2 Tbs olive oil
- toss vegetables with the oil and lay over a hot grill. Cook on each side till vegetables get some grill marks. They can be crispy. Take vegetables off the grill and chop into bite sized pieces if they are large.

Combine the pesto with the couscous and vegetables. Can be served hot or cold.

Monday, June 4, 2012

try this at home!

Oh my little blog, how I have missed you! May is always a busy month for catering, but this was an especially busy season for me. I worked every single day in May except for the Saturday of Memorial day weekend. So the blog has been a bit neglected. June is busy too, but things are beginning to calm down.  I actually got to take this entire weekend off!

Sunday found me wandering through Brooklyn, checking out
Bushwick Open Studios 2012

a weekend long festival of group art shows, studio tours and special events:
This bicycle is actually built into the gate. 

I fell madly in love with these pot bellied ladies forming a rope.
 A gorgeous curvaceous kitchen by Tripoli Designs
One of the work spaces we wandered into was the studio of designer/sculptor/welder Tyrome Tripoli of Tripoli Designs. His Art Nouveau inspired custom kitchen stopped me dead in my tracks. I was ready to bust out some pots and pans to give it a test run. This gorgeous fabrication is destined for Tripoli's own home. A perfect solution for a small space, the curvy cabinet houses: drying racks, a sink, a stunning slab of marble inlay counter top, and lots of clever and eye pleasing handles for hanging dish towels and spoons. I am so jealous!
Another clever use of space and Boswyck Farms stock in trade: hydroponic farming. This rooftop garden had some of the prettiest red leaf lettuce of the season and we were invited to pluck a leaf and sample it. Nothing beats a freshly picked crop. Delicious! This hydroponic system seems very contained and manageable and I am considering taking one of the growing workshops they offer.

Bushwick has it going on! Artists, designers, farmers, and plenty of attractive restaurants and cafes make this an area in the throes of transition, well worth exploring.

From my busy month I have plucked this recipe to share with you. It is perfect for a springtime dinner party with a dash of elegance, but not a lot of labor. I made this dish for a large dinner party from a recipe I pried out of a fellow cook and lovely comrade in the Wellness in the Schools program, Kristin Atkinson. Kristin's mushroom pasta dish is an easy hit with its rich flavor and special secret ingredient. This dish works perfectly as a meal with a simple salad and a good bottle of wine.

Kristin's Pappardelle with Porcine Mushrooms
Kristin insists that the addition of sherry vinegar to deglaze the sauce is the crucial secret to this dish's success and must not be skipped. I cannot disagree with her. Using fancy good quality pasta will help elevate this dish even further to company worthy heights.

-soak a small bag of dried porcine mushrooms in 2 cups of boiling water for about 20 minutes, drain the softened mushrooms, reserving the liquid, mince the mushrooms.

-mince three shallots and two cloves of garlic.

-slice up a pound of baby Bella mushrooms.

-chop a cup of parsley.

-in a large saute pan, melt a knob of butter and a few glugs of olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan.

-saute the garlic and shallots in the pan for 3-5 minutes

-add the sliced baby Bella mushrooms and let them sear in the pan undisturbed for about five minutes to get them brown, before stirring.

-cook the mushrooms for another 10 minutes and then add the minced porcines.

-add a 1/4 cup of sherry vinegar to deglaze the pan, stirring and scrapping the bottom to get all the browned bits soaked up in the liquid.

-add the reserved soaking liquid and bring everything to a simmer.

-adjust the sauce with salt and pepper

-finish with the chopped parsley and a 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan.

-serve over pasta