Friday, July 31, 2009

Make this coleslaw.

Along with a cold beer, this simple slaw will cool you down. I promise. Amber, who writes the lovely Worth My Salt, sent the recipe to me upon seeing this picture:


That's kohlrabi, and every summer I receive a few with my CSA share. A few weeks ago I got one, and before I even got around to doing anything with it, I got two more. This slaw was a great solution to my mounting kohlrabi problem. It took less than 10 minutes to make, required little effort (read: sweat), and was so darn refreshing. I ate the whole batch before I even thought to snap a picture!

Fresh coleslaw is a real treat on a hot day (or any day), as a snack or a side. I'll be making more later, just to have around, and when kohlrabi season ends, I'll revert to using traditional cabbage.

Kohlrabi coleslaw


2 kohlrabi, peeled
4 carrots, peeled
1 red onion, peeled
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sugar
Juice (or zest) of 1/4 lemon (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Using a food processor (or mandolin, or your own little hands), shred kohlrabi, carrots and red onion.

Whisk together vinegar, mayonnaise, sugar and lemon juice.

In a large bowl, mix vegetables and dressing.

Salt and pepper to taste.

For maximum relief, chill before serving.

Serves 4.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Corn is a many-splendoured thing.

Snuggle corn 2
When I was in my early 20s, long before I fell for food, restaurants and entertaining to the point where I was utterly consumed by them, I dreamt up my first book of short stories, entitled (brilliantly, I thought) "Olives and Avocados." This must have been around the time I read "Like Water for Chocolate" because before reading that magical little novel I don't think I'd ever equated food and affection. Afterward, the two were so entwined it seemed only natural to name a collection of coming-of-age stories after my two favorite foods. Was I masterminding a dozen metaphors in terms of appetizers and condiments? Were the pits of these fruits symbolic of the pit young love had left in my stomach and heart?

Reflecting on those days, I feel a little foolish, a little nostalgic. But I also feel a little proud of my budding culinary instincts. Olives and avocados are still some of my favorites, and although I rarely enjoy the two together (I prefer avocados on my toast in the morning, and olives as a amuse-bouche at dinner), their connection back then instilled in me the importance of food pairings. Take, for instance, the almost prosaic PB & J. Good individually, yes; but together, stellar. The same has been said for eggs and toast, chips and salsa, and pie and coffee.

Zee herbs

Then there are the more organic couplings: apples and cheddar, fennel and orange, strawberries and tomato, to name a few. I know for some they might not hold the same appeal as the combinations we grew up with, the ones we know and trust. And yet, when sampled, it's as if the sky opens -- and to steal imagery from Margaret Atwood's "They Eat Out" -- "a voice sings Love Is A Many / Splendoured Thing."

I swear that very tune was playing this afternoon when I gorged myself on a corn and cucumber salad I made from my weekly CSA share. So fresh and tender, unguarded and full of surprises, this salad had me swooning over the buttery, young corn kernels; the bright, refreshing cucumber bits; and the earthy and intense herbs, such as purple basil, cilantro, dill and Italian parsley. It's easy to make, no recipe is really required. Simply chop a handful of fresh herbs and one large cucumber (I like the skins and seeds, but you can feel free to remove them), and add the raw kernels of two medium stalks of corn. I also threw in a couple cherry tomatoes, a handful of raw almonds and one diced scallion for a little bite. Mix with this dressing, and eat with whole leaves of lettuce or as a side to some tacos or even a sandwich.

Dive in. Head over heels, no holds barred, your stomach on your sleeve. Don't share.

Corn and cucumber salad

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

It was hot, we ate vegetarian.

Table for Mio
I laugh at myself often for fronting a flippant attitude toward cooking and entertaining. While it's true I'm not a planner like, say, Martha Stewart, I'm not exactly a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of girl (I wish I was, but I'm not). Last week, I didn't have much time to prepare for my dinner party in advance; I had a lot of time to think about it, though. I spent countless hours meditating on the menu, chatting with food friends about their favorite meals to serve, and perusing cookbooks and Web sites for inspiration. I had decided the meal would be vegetarian, since one of my guests is a devout one, and I wondered briefly whether my other guests would mind. I decided it was important to accommodate my vegetarian friend (to paraphrase another friend who's also a vegetarian: nothing's worse than going to a dinner party and having to eat a bunch of side dishes, like you were an after thought). Beyond that, though, I did nothing. On Saturday, I surveyed my weekly CSA share, and on Sunday, still undecided but feeling inspired (by the weather, by my produce, by my love for accessible, simple and -- dare I say? -- sexy foods), I asked myself a very important question: What sounds good?

Neighborhood food stuffs

Here's what I came up with:

Campari and soda, lime

Spicy olives courtesy of the Bedford Cheese Shop
Tortilla Española
Ombra NV Prosecco

Chilled cucumber and coconut purée, roasted beets
Broadbent NV Vinho Verde

Spaghetti with roasted summer squash, Parmigiano-Reggiano, lemon
Mixed greens
Italo Pietrantonj 2006 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo

Mast Bros. Chocolate

Part Italian, part Spanish, it was a Mediterranean feast! The only thing missing was a terrace. I'm still giving myself little back pats and smiling smugly; it was so nice. And easy. And good. And did I mention easy? Had I planned ahead, this meal would've taken 30 minutes to assemble. Instead, it took roughly two hours; not bad, considering.


When cooking multi-course meals such as this one, I like to prep (i.e. wash, chop, mince, slice, peel, deseed, etc.) everything I'll need to cook the meal before I start actually cooking. I find it makes the process so much easier, and it kind of makes me feel like I'm on the Food Network. Once that's done, I strategize, or map out the order in which I'll do what. Since the cucumber purée required several hours to chill, I started there, first sautéing some onions and garlic before pulling out the food processor to blend together the remaining ingredients. Once that was done and in the fridge (er, freezer), I tackled the tortilla -- a common Spanish tapas made of thinly-sliced potato and onion, cooked with egg, olive oil and salt. A tortilla is typically served at room temperature, so I let mine cool at the heart of the table while I set our places around it. Meanwhile, I had a handful of beets roasting in the oven (a foolproof way to roast vegetables quickly, I like to make a "hobo-pack." Fill parchment paper or foil with washed and trimmed vegetables, a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper. In roughly 40 minutes at 400 degrees*, beets will be tender with skins that easily rub away).

Uncooked beets

With the first two courses done, only the pasta remained, and that I saved until just before we sat to eat. Campari and soda in-hand, I set the water to boil, and while the pasta cooked for roughly 10 minutes, I halved and juiced a lemon, and tossed some already roasted summer squash and Parmigiano-Reggiano into a bowl. When the pasta was done, I quickly drained and tossed it into the bowl with a drizzle of olive oil. The heat from the pasta melted the cheese, lemon and oil into a bright but delicate sauce that allowed for the earthy flavor of the summer squash to shine. Surprisingly, it was the hit of the night, although I can't stop thinking about the chilled cucumber purée, so refreshing and simple. I think, along with this chocolate, it's my new summer staple.

Chilled cucumber and coconut purée with roasted beets
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living


4 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded and sliced in 1/4" segments
5 small to medium-sized beets, roasted (see above)
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups coconut yogurt (or 1 1/2 cups plain yogurt)
3/4 cup water
3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to finish
Juice of 1 lemon (if substituting plain yogurt, use the juice of 1/2 lemon)
1/2 cup fresh dill or parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat olive oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat, add onions, garlic, and a pinch of salt. Cook until onions are translucent, add 1/4 cup water. Cover and cook until soft (2 minutes). Let stand until cool.

In a food processor, combine onions, garlic and cucumbers. Process until smooth. Add coconut yogurt, another pinch of salt, and 1/2 cup water. Process until smooth.

Refrigerate mixture in a covered bowl for at least two hours.

Before serving, stir in dill or
parsley and lemon juice. Salt and pepper, to taste.

Garnish with chilled, roasted beets and additional parsley.

Serves 6-8.

* Note: Cooking time is approximate and could vary depending on vegetable type.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My No. 1 summer essential.

Last Friday, my house was a flurry as my three roommates packed and readied for jaunts abroad: Jason to Greece, and Michael and Greg to Spain (expect a guest post from Michael upon return). Not wanting to add to the confusion, I planned to spend most of the day out of the house. Instead, I spent the late morning and early afternoon at our kitchen table, a big old farm-style table we salvaged off Craigslist from some guy in the East Village years ago. It's the center of our home, and from my seat on Friday I enjoyed watching my friends pack their bags, exchange travel tips and leave me detailed instructions on how to care for our many plants. Around 1 p.m., we were all a little hungry, and Jason wondered aloud if he should leave early to have lunch out. Knowing we had more food than I could possibly eat myself, I told him to go out for some beer and that I would make lunch.


Quick and easy lunches are almost as good as long leisurely ones; they certainly can be as restorative and satisfying. As always, I like to seek inspiration from my favorites: Chez Panisse in Berkley (love the new Web site), Le Languedoc on Nantucket, Mass., and Blaue Gans here in New York. Friday, I prepared for ours by boiling a few eggs and putting together a cheese platter with some aged cheddar and feta. Next, I washed some lettuce from our CSA share, chopped a garlic scape and a handful of raw almonds, and mixed an oil and vinegar dressing. Finally, I tossed some leftover spaghetti with marina (I didn't even bother reheating it) with some extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and red pepper flakes. So it was a little more Italian than French or German, it was still delicious and a nice way to say "bon voyage."

While recounting the afternoon to a friend yesterday, I realized none of it would've been possible without a few staples, the things I can't cook without. My list of must haves is short: good coffee, extra virgin olive oil, a handful of vinegars (I like this white wine vinegar from Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, Mich.) and lemons. With these four things in my possession, I feel like I can conquer the world, or at the very least entertain a few hungry stomachs. Of course, actual food is required to do the latter, and what's in the house varies depending on season. For now, it's loads of gorgeous produce from Garden of Eve Farm, like bok choy, frisée, kale, lettuces, cucumbers, dill, garlic scapes, summer squash and this thing:


That's kohlrabi, and it's not as scary as it looks. But until I decide what to do with it, I'm sticking to what I know best.

The only salad dressing you'll ever need (really)

So fresh and simple, a nice oil and vinegar salad dressing will allow for quality produce to speak for itself. And the best part is, variations abound: olive oils and vinegars range from sweet to spicy, and fresh-squeezed grapefruit or lime juice can easily replace the lemon. Chopped herbs or cheese (a crumbly blue or feta works well) can be added for texture.


2 parts extra-virgin olive oil
1 part white wine vinegar
1 part lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large boil, whisk together above ingredients. Add desired produce. Delicately mix by hand.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I'm planning a dinner party.

Before the feast 1
Two dear friends are visiting me next week from Portland, Ore., and I want to throw them a party, a dinner party, the kind of affair that strikes boredom in the hearts of some and sheer excitement in the hearts of others. I obviously fall into the latter category, although my excitement can be peppered with stress and long lists of to-dos (clean bathroom, fluff pillows, pull extra wine glasses from storage). This is often made worse by the fact that I am not a planner. I prefer spontaneity, which means I won't think about food until I assess my weekly CSA goods and run to the market the day before. Wine is a bit easier, since in the summer I love a good rose or Txakolina or -- even better -- this killer Txakolina rose from my local wine shop. However, one bit of planning is best taken care of sooner rather than later: the guest list. This dinner will be small, since I prefer intimate dinner parties; my table seats eight, which leaves me five invitations to extend. Although I could call my guests or shoot them a quick email, I like to use I've always admired handwritten invitations, but sometimes I just don't have time. Crusher makes sending a clean, smartly designed invite hassle free; neither you nor your guests have to create an account, but you might want to.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

So-so-so-so(ba) satisfying!

Summer has been strange and slow to start, and my food swings have been utterly confused as a result. On hot days, I crave yogurt and berries for breakfast, leafy salads for lunch, and I much rather go out than cook dinner. On rainy days, I want nothing more than a big pot of coffee, NPR and a full day in the kitchen. But on a hot rainy day (the only kind of day we seem to have anymore), my stomach and heart can't seem to agree. Instinctively, I crave autumnal meals, but saucy pastas, risottos and stews are hardly appetizing when the humidity is nearly 70 percent. Likewise, the quinoa salads I rely on for quick, easy meals haven't satisfied nearly enough.

Garlic scapes

Inspiration truly does come from the most unlikely places, including mine, which came last week from a local Chinese food chain restaurant called Ollie's Noodle Shop, which has a location near the restaurant-starved Lincoln Center where I was headed for a movie. I can safely say I've never been to a place like Ollie's, which boasts a stellar take-out business, has two sizable floors of seating and offers hundreds of dishes (one source I found estimated 200). It's the kind of menu that quickly excites me by the number of possibilities, then paralyzes me for the same reason.

Now, I don't love Chinese food, but I do have a major weakness for a good garlicky black bean sauce. I ordered that with eggplant and brown rice, and it was really good. But the star of the meal, the thing I carried with me, was our cold noodle in sesame starter, a simple dish of chilled soba, julienned carrots and scallions, and a light sesame dressing. It was perfectly satisfying then, and it was fun to riff on for today's lunch (and maybe again for dinner -- it's that good!).


Soba noodles are fairly common and should be easy to find in the Asian section of your grocery (my local health food store stocks Eden Organic products in the macrobiotic section). You'll also need tahini, or sesame paste, but raw peanut butter would work, too. The remainder of the ingredients -- a hodgepodge of leftovers and greens from my weekly CSA share -- I had on hand; the pickled carrots were a gift and we have garlic scapes (not as intense as raw onion, sweeter than actual garlic) in abundance, thanks to that aforementioned CSA share. Like with most cooking I do, I like to use whatever is fresh (and preferably local) and whatever needs to be eaten (because I hate wasting good food).

Making this salad was easy and fun. The shaved celery offered a nice crunch before cleansing my palate for the double punch of garlic and sesame. The pickled carrots were also crunchy, but sweet versus earthy and a bit tangy, too. And the soba, cooked in six minutes and quickly chilled, was like a nice pasta, only lighter and seemingly weather appropriate. Looks like I finally found a compromise.

Soba salad w/ chopsticks

Chilled soba and vegetable salad with spicy sesame dressing
Inspired by Ollie's Noodle Shop


8 ounces soba, cooked and chilled
3 garlic scapes, julienned
2 stalks celery, shaved
1/4 cup pickled carrots, julienned
4 tablespoons tahini (or substitute)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
Juice of one lemon
Salt, to taste (optional)
Toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Shave two stocks of celery (using a vegetable peeler, peel celery like a carrot) into a bowl filled with ice water. Refrigerate until celery curls and grows crispy (10 minutes).

Julienne remaining vegetables, set aside.

Whisk together tahini, vinegar, pepper and lemon. Salt to taste.*

In large bowl, mix noodles, julienned vegetables and dressing.

Upon serving, top with a small handful of chilled celery curls and toasted sesame seeds.

Serves 4.

* Note: For sweetness, feel free to add a little honey or soy sauce.