Thursday, June 24, 2010

Red, right, return.

Uncooked dinner
Summer arrived without so much as a pause on my part. I've been busy -- with my restaurant work and freelance work, with bike rides and afternoon beers, with last-minute trips out of the city to my friend's fantastic beach house on Cape Cod. In the last month, I've cooked very little. I've been living on hummus and smoothies and tacos and oysters. Some days, I think I could live like this forever. But I know when things slow down, and I'm home long enough to consider a dinner party, this urge will change. Until it does, a picture from a lovely "uncooked" dinner at a friend's house, and some others from the Cape, where I ate oysters, and my ultimate summer indulgence: lobster. I will return here soon, with bells and whistles and stories of the sea.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Rocking the salad roll.

Orchid salad rolls
I wouldn't say I had a complete breakdown on Tuesday, but I wasn't far off. Thankfully I was alone when -- a mere two hours into what I'm calling Project Salad Roll -- I muttered aloud: What the hell was I thinking? An hour later, it slipped out again. Several times. To no one in particular. Then, half an hour after that, as I was bagging up five little boxes each containing five bundles of shrimp, slaw and vermicelli, I burst: These fuckers better be worth it. Forgive me, but I'd invested nearly four hours on what I thought would be a quick snack.

When I arrived at my friend's house a bit later, I was thrilled (nay, relieved) that they still looked good. Sure, they weren't nearly as pretty as the salad rolls I've had in restaurants, and some of them were sporting holes and leaking a bit, but they tasted good. I knew this for a fact because for every half dozen I managed to wrap semi-correctly, I botched at least one, which of course had to be eaten. I thought it a miracle I actually wanted to eat more of them, but I did. They were that good: the gelatinous chew of the vermicelli next to the crunch of the julienned cucumbers; the salty meat of the shrimp dotted with a brilliantly fragrant red cabbage and carrot slaw.

True to my spirit, I'd gone rogue in my planning; what was intended to be a buffet of individually julienned vegetables, turned into a slaw that stole the show. To the cabbage and carrots, I added basil, lovage and raw shallot. At the last minute, there was some raw ginger and lime juice, rice vinegar and sesame oil. Was it too much? Had my delicate dish been compromised?

Carrying the plate from the kitchen to my friends outside, my emotions were akin to a child's on the first day of school. I was excited and a bit nervous, scared of rejection and fearful that everyone but me would be allergic to shellfish. Did I imagine the "oohs" and "aahs" as I lowered the platter to the table? My friends aren't the kind who blow smoke, of that I am certain. So when they said they were good, I believed them. When they went back for seconds, I sighed. And when one friend exclaimed excitedly that my salad rolls looked like orchids, my heart swelled. The hours spent crouched on a step stool next to my kitchen table -- bowls of warm water on both sides, scads of ingredients all around -- did not fade from memory, but almost turned fond.

Yeah, the fuckers were worth it, all right.


You'll forgive me further, I hope, for not sharing the complete salad roll recipe, because there really isn't one to share. Buy a bag of rice papers, some shrimp and vermicelli, channel some patience and experiment like mad. Some tips I found useful:

-- Be sure to soak rice papers in warm warm water. You should be able to touch it, but the water shouldn't be too cool. Change water frequently, if necessary.

-- Compose rolls themselves on the glass plate. Wet rice papers stick to cutting boards.

-- Have a spray bottle of water on hand. Composed rolls should remain damp. I misted mine, then wrapped them in plastic wrap.

-- Relax. You're going to make mistakes. That just means more chances to sample the goods!

If you feel inclined to give salad rolls a go, try using this slaw. It's an attractive and interesting way to compose an otherwise orderly dish. Besides, it makes your prep work a whole lot easier. Salad rolls, I now know, aren't meant to be easy. But no one ever said pleasure was painless.

Asian-style slaw for salad rolls


1 small head red cabbage
5 small carrots, peeled
1 1" piece of raw ginger, peeled
1 small shallot
1/2 cup basil
1/2 cup lovage
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
Sea salt, to taste

Using a food processor (or mandolin, or your own little hands), shred cabbage, carrots, ginger, shallot, basil and lovage.

Whisk together sesame oil, vinegar and lime juice.

In a large bowl, mix vegetables and dressing. It will be fairly dry, that's OK. The vegetables will sweat some.

Salt to taste.

Will make roughly 30 small salad rolls, or individually serve 6-8 people.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Everything but the kitchen sink.

Table detail @ Roberta's
Maine-style lobster roll
I've had a lively run, as of late. I'm not sure whether I should credit the season and the inevitable heart-breakingly beautiful produce it brings, or simply the season itself: warm enough to drive us to seek lush outdoor spaces in which to drink rosé and casually enjoy fingers full of baby greens, shared pizza pies at Roberta's and the first of the year's barbecues. Over the weekend, there were long walks and "Maine-style" lobster rolls (chilled lobster tossed in mayonnaise, versus the "Connecticut-style" of warm lobster drenched in melted butter). And Monday, after an epic bike ride around Brooklyn, I indulged in a truly seasonal feast: the rarest of lamb chops, rubbed with a little extra-virgin olive oil, a sprinkle of sea salt and black pepper, an inspired dash of cumin; minted quinoa with seared shallots; roasted artichoke hearts; and show-stealing spring asparagus. After that, we ate cheese. My friend and I dined picnic-style on the living room rug, sipping wine from tiny glasses while resting our heads on the seat of the couch, faces leaned to the evening breeze creeping in through the open window, the gauzy curtain generously giving way for our enjoyment.

Of course, I don't eat like this all the time. A typical week consists of a handful of truly indulgent meals, punctuated by seemingly austere ones. Breakfast is usually a smoothie or oatmeal with several cups of black tea, and lunch is almost always quinoa salad. I eat so much of the stuff I sometimes feel like it's all I talk about. Anyone who keeps up with me on Twitter knows that this grain is a staple, but I have yet to spend a lot of time here addressing what exactly I do with it. Sure, quinoa is fine on it's own, made sweet with a little milk and honey, or savory with finely chopped fresh herbs, olive oil and salt. But it's easy to make it into something a whole lot more. On a recent afternoon, I took my love of this complete protein to another level when I created a complete meal with it, a salad I fittingly deemed [gentrified] "Brooklyn" through and through.

"Italian" salad ingredient detail

I tweeted excitedly: "Eating a seriously rad 'Brooklyn' salad: red quinoa/roasted peppers/pickles/sausage tossed w/ ramp pesto/lemon/evoo. I feel triumphant." And I did. So triumphant, in fact, that I've recreated the flavor combination several times. The sausage -- be it real or the imitation kind -- with the pickles and roasted peppers evoke the satisfaction of a sandwich at a street fair, but the soft bits of quinoa and nibbles of crunchy carrot and celery scream healthy salad all the way. The best of both worlds? I added some chia seeds for health and texture, and seasoned it all to taste with fresh lemon, the hot oil from the sausage drippings and the last of my ramp pesto. Variations on this salad abound, and I encourage you to try your own and let me know the results.

"Italian" quinoa salad detail

Quinoa salad :: BK style


1/2 cup dry quinoa, cooked and cooled
1 large carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 large roasted red pepper, chopped
1-2 tablespoons dry chia seed (optional)
2 tablespoons pesto, any variety
1-2 links Italian sausage, real or imitation, sliced into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Sea salt, to taste

In a medium-sized skillet, heat extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat, add sausage and a pinch of salt. Cook until skins brown and juices start to release (4 to 6 minutes).

In large bowl, combine quinoa, carrots, celery, roasted peppers, pesto and chia seeds, mix well. Stir in hot sausage, any remaining oil and lemon juice.

Salt to taste.

Serve as is, or over a bed of leafy greens.

Serves 2-3.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Kind and simple.

Tea towel and jam lid
I know it's not very modern to admit this, but saving time isn't high on my list of priorities. Sure, I respect efficiency, but I'm a fan of putzing and sleeping, in no particular order. I like to linger (over meals, in museums, on a wooded trail), and I believe strongly in the productivity that results from letting our minds wander. I harbor ill feelings toward Racheal Ray not because she's annoyingly chatty and peppy, but because I don't believe in measuring life, especially my food life, in 30-minute intervals. I remember falling prey to her mantra in my early-20s; she made cooking look fast and simple. The only problem was, I didn't want to rush. As I learned to cook, I discovered how much I enjoy spending a leisurely afternoon at the market and in the kitchen, chopping, simmering, smelling and finally eating. Making meals from scratch sounds old-fashioned, but it's immensely satisfying and -- I think -- better for our health. Making the kinds of meals I enjoy eating takes time, and that time -- for me -- is always well-spent.

That all said, I gotta to tell you: what attracted me to this cookie recipe was it's promise of ease. The first time I made them, I had a craving for something sweet, but I was short on time and ingredients. Luckily, the seven called for are house-hold staples. So, I whipped up and baker's dozen in less than 10 minutes, and made a pot of coffee while they baked. Fifteen minutes later, I had a warm cookie in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. It was the perfect little treat, not too sweet (the only sugar used is in the jam) and not at all unhealthy. That first batch was gone in less than two days, and since then these cookies have been appearing on our table frequently. They also slip nicely into a coat pocket or purse, should you want to get lost for a while.

Thumbprint cookies

S.H.E. (simple, healthy and easy) thumbprint cookies
Adapted from The Kind Life


1 cup raw almonds
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup spelt flour

1/2 cup grape seed oil
1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup molasses
Jam of your choice

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a food processor, blend almonds and oats until they have the consistency of flour. Transfer to a large bowl, and mix in spelt flour.

In a separate bowl, whisk together grape seed oil, maple syrup and molasses.

Combine wet and dry ingredients. Mix well.

Wet hands and form batter into balls approximately 1-inch in diameter. Using your thumb, press each ball into the cookie sheet, forming an indentation on each top. Fill each cookie with a small spoonful of jam.

Bake for 15 minutes.

Cool and enjoy.

Makes 13-15 cookies.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Localized pleasures.

Earlier this week, I did the unthinkable: I made a breakfast smoothie. I know that doesn't sound too radical, but for a girl who once claimed to not believe in liquid food, trust me: it was a very big deal. I once broke up with a guy because his daily pilgrimage to Jamba Juice upset me so much. And to this day, I defend my reasoning: you can't fall in love over juice. Love is meant to happen over croissants and soft-scrambled eggs, omelettes oozing with goat cheese and herbs, pancakes. Not a styrofoam cup full of soy protein and wheat germ. That stuff, while good for you, is best consumed away from those you hope to be romantic with.

My housemates frequently make smoothies, and typically I haughtily turn my nose up at their offers to share. I struggle with their consumption of so much non-local produce. I'm paralyzed by the number of plastic bags of frozen berries they go through. In the height of summer, our garbage smells like a Caribbean beach after a bonfire: moist and sweet and slightly rotten. It's understandable, then, that my craving the other morning for a banana and wild blueberry smoothie, thickened with coconut oil, flax seed and Greek yogurt, caught me off guard. What made me do it? I suppose the same thing that drives a lot of people to opt for lighter meals: heat and health. It was warm -- uncharacteristically so -- for a spring morning, I was out of eggs and I'm making an effort to eat more fruit (vegetables are never a problem for me, but fruit is, especially in these painful pre-summer months of yearning for ripe local berries, peaches and anything -- God, help me -- other than an apple).

Blob of ramp pesto

Now, here's another confession: that smoothie was delicious: cool and juicy, nutty from the flax seed and tangy from the yogurt. I've made one daily for the past several days, and I've taken to enjoying a little experimentation. One day I used almond milk, another I skipped the coconut oil and used coconut water instead. I've tried yogurts of different consistencies. And they were all fantastic. The best part, though, is I'm developing a more realistic relationship to my food sources. Sure, oranges taste better picked from my mother's backyard in California, but not eating fruit is not really an option for me in terms of my health. Of course, whether I consume non-local or local fruit, I choose organic whenever possible.

Pappardelle w/ ramp pesto

It was in the midst of this non-local fruit affair that I remembered my last bunch of ramps resting in the refrigerator. Immediately, I felt guilty, as if I'd written off all the gorgeous greens from this week's green market in favor of the dazzling violet of non-native crushed berries. The ramps had to be eaten, and soon, as I'd already had them for days and well, it was time. I knew I wanted to make a pesto; it was the vehicle for the pesto I struggled with, since, as I mentioned earlier, I'm making an effort to eat a bit healthier (i.e., less butter, white flour, refined sugar, etc.). I had a bunch of kale and I was craving protein, but I felt tired of quinoa. In the cupboard was a can of chickpeas, which I opened and rinsed. Setting them aside, I set some water to boil for a little pappardelle (I know, not healthy at all, but it was perfect for my plan). While I waited for the water to boil and my pasta to cook, I chopped half a bunch of washed and dried raw kale. Lastly, in the food processor, I made the pesto below. Dinner took less than 20 minutes, but lingered -- thanks to the pungent flavor of the ramps -- much longer. It was light but filling, healthy save the pasta, vegan and utterly satisfying. Would you believe me if I told you I'd have eaten it for breakfast? That is, had there been leftovers, and my smoothie wasn't calling my name.

Ramp pesto


1 bunch ramps -- bulbs and stems, washed, trimmed and cut into 1/2" segments
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Parmesan, to taste (optional)
Sea salt, to taste

In a food processor, combine ramps, a pinch of sea salt, pine nuts and 1/8 cup of olive oil. Blend.

Transfer mixture to a bowl. Stir in additional olive oil, Parmesan and salt to desired consistency and taste.

Serve with pasta, on bruschetta or as a starter for salad dressing.

Yields approximately 1 cup of pesto.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Seasonal shift.

Carrot, almonds, ricotta
In typical April fashion, the weather's been unpredictable: lows as low as 40, and this weekend's to be twice as warm. There have been rain storms, with lightening and thunder. I wake to gray clouds blanketing the sky and am blinded -- suddenly -- by brilliant blue midday. The cherry blossoms and tulips have bloomed, and they've impressed me by standing strong against the winds, which still carry a chilly punch. Despite it still feeling like soup weather, my diet is shifting: a thick slice of toast smeared with fresh ricotta; eggs scrambled with sweet ramps; lentil salads; gorgeous rapini, flowering yellow and white.

Spying some carrots at the green market this week, I remembered a salad I enjoyed at Marlow & Sons a few years ago. It was a simple dish made of chunky bites of raw carrot, crushed raw almonds, finely chopped herbs (parsley being the most notable) and a shallot vinaigrette. It's one of the finest salads I've ever tasted (crunchy, earthy, healthy, sweet), and as I wait to see if they'll recreate it this year, I've been experimenting at home. Toasted slivered almonds and baby spinach were added to carrots above. And just now, I mixed chopped almonds and carrots with shaved apple and chiffonades of kale. A little heartier than the original, but as Mother Nature continues to remind me, April -- even at it's end -- is no May.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Love like soup.

Caldo verde
Because I like to cook, and perhaps more because some might describe me as a little possessive of my kitchen, it's not often that others prepare home-cooked meals for me. When it does happen (and it does happen and I cherish every moment), I am always grateful. It's inspiring to see how others work in the kitchen, what kinds of dishes they are driven to create. Selfishly, I'm often most thankful for the opportunity to truly sit back and relax, a task I find difficult and surrender to only with force or wine. It's occurred to me that this is one reason cooking for others gives me such joy: it's a gift of time and a sign of affection. Feeding someone is one of the most thoughtful things we can do. It's love in action.

When my friend Chris arrived at work Sunday with a bag in tow, I thought he'd brought himself dinner. So imagine my surprise when he handed it to me and said, "I have a gift for you." Inside was a container of caldo verde, a Portuguese soup made with garlic, kale, potatoes, onions and chorizo. I had never heard of it, but it sounded downright dreamy and the perfect antidote to the rain that had been falling hard for what felt like weeks. Leaving work Sunday, I cradled my bag of soup to my chest, and rushed it to the safety of my own kitchen, where I reheated it late yesterday afternoon, adding some crusty bread and a few meaty olives.

And boy, did I feel special. I'd been out -- again, in the rain -- since morning, and I was cold and wet and exhausted. Warming the soup took less time than the toast, and I savored the extra minutes by standing over the warm stove, inhaling deeply the smokey aroma. The soup itself was light and simple. Chris later told me he'd pureéd the soup base of garlic, potatoes, onion and sausage, then added thin chiffonades of raw kale, which retained a little of their hearty texture and turned the soup a brilliant mossy green. I added a pinch of red pepper for color (and taste), and between that and the garlic, I felt alive.

I also felt inspired by the gesture. Forget muffins. Nothing says love like soup.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Oh, I'll eat cake.

Cake slices
But first, I must preface this by admitting I'm not a dessert person. I know, you don't need to tell me; more than once, I've questioned my own authority in the blogosphere -- as a would-be "food blogger" no less -- where so many people are swapping stories about cakes and crumbles and pies and tarts (one would think they include a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking with the sale of every MacBook Pro). Several friends (and several more ex-boyfriends) have admonished me for my boredom as a dinner companion; no sooner does the dessert menu go down than I'm asking about cheese in the same breath as I'm ordering another glass of wine. If I could, I'd write about eggs every day, but we've seen where that will get us. Instead, I've tried to find a balance: an egg soliloquy here, a salad recipe there, a mention of chocolate every once in a tweet. Perhaps no one would've noticed, had I not let the cat out of the bag just now. Is it not best, though, to beat the naysayers to the punch? I thought so.

No, that's not true. What I thought yesterday afternoon, as I cleaned out our pantry on a head-cold driven rampage, was, "Why do we own four and half [insert expletive here] bags of powdered sugar? Four and a half! I don't even like dessert!" Then: "What the [expletive] am I going to do with four and a half [expletive] bags of powdered sugar!?" Then, I sat down I had some water. And while I calmed down, I Googled "powdered sugar" and studied up on frosting and sugar cookies.

The whole cake

This knowledge will likely remain unused, since I plan to maintain my "I'd-rather-eat-cheese" stance against the sweet stuff (although, you never know, next Christmas could be the one where I finally make those gift boxes I've been planning all these years). But this cake I stumbled upon, then made and ate in its entirety (there were five of us) wasn't that sweet. Yes, it made an amazing dessert, still warm from the oven and served with some strawberries a friend salvaged from his local bodega. But I suspect this cake would make a fine breakfast or afternoon snack, as well. It's made with lemon and yogurt, so it's light enough for any time of day and any season, too. More than that, it's easy: I whipped it up in 10 minutes (it then bakes for 30). So, in the time it takes to eat dinner (including a proper cheese course) and finish that bottle of wine, you can bake this cake, allow it to cool and set some water to boil for tea. Last night, I made chamomile spiked with bourbon. Alongside a slice of this beauty, I felt like I was indulging in a deconstructed hot toddy.

Dessert naysayer to hipster pastry chef in one pantry cleaning. Where is my mind?

Look at it

French-style yogurt cake with lemon and sugar glaze
Adapted from Orangette*


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup grape seed oil
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest


1/4 cup powdered sugar
Juice of 2 lemons

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine sugar, yogurt and eggs. Stir well. Add flour, baking powder and lemon zest. Add oil, and stir into a smooth batter.

Pour into a buttered 9-inch round cake pan.

Bake approximately 30-35 minutes, until cake feels springy to the touch and a toothpick tests clean. Do not over bake.

Cool -- in pan -- for 20 minutes, then turn cake out of the pan to cool completely.

Once cake is thoroughly cooled, combine lemon juice and powdered sugar in a small bowl. Spoon over cake. Glaze will be thin and will soak into cake.

Serves 8-10.

* Note: According to Orangette: "This type of cake is an old classic in France, the sort of humble treat that a grandmother would make. Traditionally, the ingredients are measured in a yogurt jar, a small glass cylinder that holds about 125 ml. Because most American yogurts don't come in such smart packaging, you'll want to know that 1 jar equals about 1/2 cup." I converted the recipe above, but the next time I get my hands on a yogurt jar, I'm making this cake the French grandma way.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

For the love of health. And muffins.

Molasses banana muffins
Last week, I was beyond excited to tell you about these muffins. I baked them once before, last fall, and everyone who ate them loved them, and -- in turn -- everyone who ate them loved me for making them. They said they were incredible, and they were -- like banana bread, only lighter. They were moist and nutty, and although vegan, I thought they were perfect with a smear of butter. When I unearthed a black mush of a banana from the back of our refrigerator last week, I did not think: "Garbage;" I thought, "Muffins! Those muffins every one loved so much!" So I whipped up a dozen, setting a plate out for my roommates and packaging a few for a friend, which I delivered wrapped in pink tissue and twine. Then, I waited, not necessarily for undying love and affection, but for some sort of feedback. A day passed, and I got nothing. By the end of the next day, only a few muffins were gone at home. Worriedly, I shoved one -- sans butter, I was too anxious for butter -- in my mouth. It was delicious, which made the lack of love all the more confusing. Why wasn't everyone falling head over heels for my muffins?

The friend who'd received a handful put it plainly: "Way too healthy." He quizzed me: "Are they bran?" (In fact, they are a combination of all-purpose, spelt and whole wheat flours). "And were those raisins, or dried cranberries?" It didn't matter, because he disliked both. Never mind that I liked the texture they added, the little nudge of sweetness. But even that wasn't enough for one roommate, who offered up a dislike for their lack of sweetness, almost apologetically. Somewhat disheartened, I ate another muffin. And I still thought it was delicious.

To be fair to my friends, these weren't the same muffins I'd made last fall. Then, I didn't have all the ingredients, and even last week, I substituted brown rice syrup for molasses, arguing they're both brown. The molasses turned them a deep chestnut -- almost pumpernickel -- and gave them more than enough sweetness for my palette. The raisins, along with toasted walnuts, added some chew, some crunch. And the remaining wet ingredients -- maple syrup and grape seed oil -- insured that the muffins were pleasingly moist, even today, six days later. Just now, I ate the last one, with a smear of butter, a slice of apple, a cup of coffee. One roommate and I have been savoring these muffins, for breakfast, for an afternoon snack, for dessert with a little cream cheese. Like me, he thinks they're fantastic. And you just might, too. But I had to warn you. Not all muffins are created equal, and these muffins are not for the faint of health.

Molasses banana muffins with raisins and walnuts
Adapted from


3 ripe bananas, puréed
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup molasses
6 tablespoons grape seed oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup whole spelt flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/2 cup raw raisins
1/2 cup toasted walnuts (or pecans)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Roast walnuts on a baking sheet for approximately seven minutes. Chop.

In a medium-sized bowl, sift flours and baking soda. Add salt.

In a separate bowl, stir together puréed bananas and liquid ingredients. Mix well.

Make a well in the dry ingredients; pour in wet ingredients. Fold together until mixed. Add the walnuts and raisins and fold a few more times to incorporate. Do not over mix.

Line muffin tins with papers. Distribute batter evenly among the cups.

Bake approximately 25 minutes, or until a toothpick tests clean.

Cool in a pan for a few minutes, then remove to a cooling rack.

Makes 12-15 muffins.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Thursday morning No. 2.3.

Soup prep
A good deal of my morning was spent thinking not about breakfast, but about soup, specifically the pot I whipped up last night. It seems as if everyone (but me, thankfully) has been plagued by colds this season, and yesterday I took advantage of a friend's to make matzo ball soup. I love a good chicken soup, and while my version of matzo ball soup is far from traditional, it's full of health-giving ingredients such as garlic (for cough and croup), ginger (for fever and to increase blood circulation), lemon (vitamin C) and hot peppers (more vitamin C plus a sinus decongestant). These things, paired with the pure joy of eating a nice, fluffy matzo ball, are sure to clear a stuffy head and offer up a metaphorical hug. It's possible I enjoyed the soup more than the patient, since my sense of smell and taste are in tact. To be sure, we both felt great after a bowl (OK, two) and several episodes of Rome.

Matzo ball soup

Cooking for health is not a topic I spend a lot of time on here, but now seems a good opportunity to plug what I'd like to think we already know: in the same way food is medicine, food -- including lack of food -- can run us down. Although most of what I share here seems to born from pleasure, I also hope that my emphasis on local, organic and seasonal produce; whole grains; and a mostly vegetarian diet acts as inspiration to consider what you put in your body. A few weeks ago, I did a little cleanse (no alcohol, caffeine, dairy, meat or processed foods). By sheer coincidence, a Twitter friend urged his followers to do the same for 30 days, with the assurance: "It will change your life." While I'm not willing to be quite so extreme (I am, after all, a bartender), I do think that stepping away from certain foods and substances can provide a chance to evaluate how your body changes with and without their use. My cleanse left me feeling great, and knowing unequivocally that I do not need certain things on a daily basis, no matter how much I enjoy them.

Simple meal

Matzo ball soup, incidentally, isn't something I would eat on a cleanse. More likely, I'd make a broth like this one. But on these fleeting days of winter, I think there's nothing better. For those celebrating Passover this weekend, opt for a vegetarian version. Enjoy!

Hearty and healing matzo ball soup



1 large onion, diced
2 medium-sized carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons raw ginger, peeled and minced
3 small organic chicken breasts, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 quart organic chicken broth
3 tablespoons dried basil
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons dried rosemary
1 to 3 whole dried chili peppers
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt, a pinch and to taste
Black pepper, to taste

Matzo balls

2 eggs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 packet Manischewitz matzo ball mix

In a medium-sized stock pot, heat extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat, add onions and a pinch of salt. Cook until onions become translucent (2 to 3 minutes).

Add carrots and celery. Cook until they begin to soften (3 to 5 minutes).

Add garlic and ginger. Cook for roughly 30 seconds, then add chicken. Stir until contents are mixed and chicken is just seared (2 minutes).

Add stock. Liquid line should be roughly two inches above meat and vegetables. Bring to a boil.

Add chilies, herbs and nutmeg. Cover and simmer 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, i
n a small bowl, beat two eggs with vegetable oil. Add packet of matzo ball mix, and stir until even. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

In a separate pot, bring 2 1/2 quarts of salted water to a boil.

Wet hands and form matzo batter into balls approximately 1 1/2 to 2-inches in diameter. End result should be 7 or 8 matzo balls.

Gently drop matzo balls into boiling water, reduce heat and cover for approximately 10 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, remove matzo balls from water and add to soup. Simmer another 10 minutes.

Upon serving, finish with black pepper. Salt to taste.

Serves 4.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thursday morning No. 2.2.

Bircher muesli and tea
We have a Swiss friend visiting this week. He arrived Tuesday with a seemingly never-ending supply of cheese and chocolate -- cheese and chocolate he assured us we could not find in the United States (no, not even in New York City). He surprised us after dinner the other night with a bottle of absinthe I wish I'd had last fall. Always charmed by a good accent (or even a bad accent, for that matter; Massachusetts, anyone?), I giggle inside when he says things like "It would be a great pleasure" in complete earnest. He's mixed up the routine of our little commune in the quietest of ways, which might explain why the other day, while running through my daily required reading, I took a special interest in this post over at The Blue Hour (one of my favorite blogs, by the way; I encourage anyone with an interest in food, men's fashion, photography and rock of the indie variety to explore it).

Bircher muesli: a staple from my past when I lived on Nantucket Island and pretended because I was so goddamn different than everyone there I was from Europe and not simply Oregon. My roommate then and now, Michael, would make it with berries and grapes, and after hearty bowlfuls we would ride bikes from one end of the island to the other, often with a stop at Miacomet Beach, where I'd adorn myself in seashells and play mermaid. Last night, I prepared my muesli with the winter ingredients I had on-hand: apples, cashews, organic oats, plain sheep's milk yogurt and whole milk. I used the tiniest amount of sucanat. This morning, after another quick stir, I topped my bowl with some pitted dates. And since I know you're wondering, yes, I had two cups of tea.

Between my new Swiss friend, the muesli and the snow, I felt like I was someplace else. Homemade meals don't often inspire that feeling in me, and it caught me off-guard, like a good surprise. Maybe it was the muesli all along. Maybe it's my active imagination. Either way, I look forward to tomorrow, another helping and whatever memory -- distant or future -- it may bring.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Scenes from a dinner party.

It wasn't meant to be a party per se, but what started as an intimate and relaxed meal at home with friends turned out to be one of the finest nights I've had in a long while. There were cocktails and chit chat while I finished cooking, followed by lively conversation and laughs and a Vietnamese feast. I made braised tofu in caramel sauce for the second time, along with a chili and cucumber salad that simultaneously burned and soothed my lips in the best way possible. We drank Riesling and Pinot Noir. After dinner one guest, who is Swiss and arrived in New York yesterday afternoon, shared cheese and chocolate and a very good bottle of absinthe. We left the dishes and retreated to the living room, where we listened to The Mamas & the Papas on vinyl and let sleep set in. And it was a fine sleep, full of aquamarine dreams inspired by a good day's work and some damn good tofu. Below, some scenes captured by Tracy.

Cucumber and chili salad
Place setting
Tofu and wine key
Plated tofu and onions
Table scene

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Variations on pesto.

Almond and pepper pesto 1
We eat gluttonous amounts of pasta in my house, especially in winter, when local tomatoes are a distant memory and our bodies don't seem to mind a few extra pounds. Our favorite dish, which we've come to refer to bluntly as "crack pasta," is a simple combination of either rigatoni or spaghetti (we prefer De Cecco brand), marinara (Rao's is a favorite) and Tofurky Italian sausage browned in extra-virgin olive oil. Sometimes my roommate Gregory (our in-house pasta expert) will doctor the sauce with fresh garlic and dried herbs. Other times, he'll skip the browning of the sausage and toss it directly into the cooked and sauced pasta to warm. Any and every way, it has a drug-like effect on the mind and body, pleasing to dangerously high levels of elation, relaxing to the point of sedation. I just can't get enough.

Then a few weeks ago, walking home from the subway in the blistering cold and craving that thing only pasta seems to satisfy, I thought of something different. Recalling a summer favorite -- spaghetti al limone with toasted almond pesto -- I kicked off my snow boots and ventured into the kitchen. The dish requires very few ingredients, and all of them are staples: garlic, fresh lemon juice, raw almonds, extra-virgin olive oil and pasta. Simply toast a cup of almonds and purée them in a food processor with a few cloves of garlic, extra-virgin olive oil and salt. Then, while your pasta cooks, warm a little more oil and fresh lemon juice in a large skillet. To this, add the finished pasta and pesto, stir, and eat your winter blues away!

Pesto, tossed.

For sure, the meal was success, but it was the pesto that stuck with me. An easy solution for not just pasta but other whole grains, as well, I even thought it'd make a nice salad dressing. So, a few days later I recreated it, this time adding a random hot house pepper I'd picked up at the market that was threatening to go bad. Instead of pasta, I made quinoa, and while that cooked I quick-pickled a shallot and chopped a bunch of raw kale. I tossed the kale with the pesto and shallot, the heat from the almonds actually wilting the raw kale ever so slightly. On a plate, I smeared a little more pesto, added a spoonful of quinoa, then added my salad. The taste was exhilarating: earthy and fresh from the raw kale and full of strong flavor from the shallot. Again, the almond pesto delivered: toasty and sweet and the prettiest of colors. There was just enough left over for a single helping of spaghetti. It is, after all, still winter.

Kale and shallot in pesto

Kale and pickled shallots in toasted almond and pepper pesto


1 bunch kale, washed and dried
1 medium shallot
1 red pepper, seeded
1 cup raw almonds
1-3 cloves garlic
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
Sea salt, to taste
Juice of 1 lemon

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Remove skins from shallot, and thinly slice.

In a small bowl, whisk together apple cider vinegar and sugar. Add shallot and allow to marinate for 20 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally. Shallot will turn pinkish in color.

Chiffonade kale leaves -- removing stems -- and set aside in large salad bowl.

Toast almonds for approximately 12 minutes, remove. Using a food processor, purée toasted almonds, garlic, pepper and 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil. Mixture will be fairly thick.

Add pickled shallot (including remaining vinegar) and half of the pesto to the bowl kale. Toss, adding lemon juice and remaining olive oil. Salt, to taste.

Serve over quinoa. Use remaining pesto to garnish.

Serves 4.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thursday morning No. 2.1.

Lentils with yogurt
Holmegaard egg holderBroken egg in lentils
Yes I still keep a Thursday routine, although lately it's been surprisingly unconventional. Is it the "dog days" of winter that have me tired of eggs and oats? I never thought I'd bore of either, but this documentation process has me thinking an awful lot about variety. As much as I'd like to eat pancakes every day, I pride myself on eating fairly healthfully. With locally grown fruit scarce because of the season, it's a challenge. I like to sauté kale in extra-virgin olive oil with a clove of garlic and red pepper flakes. Or, make an apple salad. But today I wanted something different. It's no wonder that after several cups of PG Tips, I was inclined to indulge in a sort of brunch.

I made a pot of lentil soup yesterday, and like all soups, it tasted even better the day after. While it reheated, I set an egg to boil. I also boiled a little more water for a fresh cup of tea. Sheep's milk yogurt has become a staple in my house, and I thought a spoonful would brighten and add tang to the earthy and sweet lentils (which I'd cooked in water with carrot, celery, onion and potato and spiced with coriander, cumin, nutmeg and tumeric). It did, and the egg added nice texture. I forced myself to pause mid-meal to snap the photo above at bottom right. I wanted to remember the meal just like that: healthy, hearty and oddly beautiful (at least to me). Hours later, I am still satisfied, and happily distracted by future possibilities.

* Note: Snazzy egg holder was a gift, and is made by Holmegaard.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hail the pancake!

One cup pancakes
This isn't an excuse. I've already given plenty of those. This is simply an account of my Tuesday, thus far, a day in which none of the following was intended.

I woke early, at dawn, smelling faintly of bourbon and sweat. It wasn't a dirty smell, but rather a sweet one, swollen with the ache and satisfaction of a long -- long isn't even the right word, I'll say epic -- weekend at work. I tip-toed to the kitchen and downed a glass of orange juice, then I remembered it was snowing when I ended my shift last night. In the living room, outside the giant south-facing windows, I could see bare tree tops weighted with white, the skinny arms of their branches struggling to reach the heavens. I stood there for what seemed like hours, in fact it was minutes, then I returned to my nest to sleep some more. I've been giving into sleep this year, embracing the body's inclination to hibernate. I cannot begin to tell you how good it's been, the strength it's given me.

But this morning, despite being exhausted, I could not fall back asleep. So, I went online for a bit (that always makes me tired), and in my aimless wandering I learned today is Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday. Growing up, I knew today as Fat Tuesday, but Pancake Day is so much better. Because pancakes are incredible. Pancakes are like people, always fascinating and endless in their variety. Some are big and fluffy. Others and small and thin. I like medium-sized flapjacks, the kind I can eat dozens of without feeling guilty. Pancakes, I realized as I lay there restless, deserve celebration. I giggled at the thought of my later breakfast, my dreams sent my heart aflutter. I awoke ravenous.

I'm not the pancake expert in my house. That distinction belongs to my roommate Michael, who has mastered a vegan recipe that I love not only because it's delicious but because I tend to think of vegan food as being healthy. The pancakes I made today were not vegan, and I'm sure most of their health benefits were emotional. They were neither fluffy nor thin, but dense and enjoyable to chew, like a fresh corn tortilla. They were buttery, and they were bright and sweet from the lemon juice and powdered sugar I dressed them in. Best of all, they were incredibly easy to make; the name says it all: one cup pancakes. I ate them like a woman possessed, by winter and snow and a hunger I have been neglecting, a hunger to cook and nurture my body and my soul. In the last bites, I went crazy, smearing soggy pieces of cake in orange and ginger yogurt.

I called everyone I knew, but no one could join me. Perhaps tomorrow. Pancake Day should be celebrated often and with reverence. Pancake Day is worth getting out of bed for.

One cup pancakes with lemon and powdered sugar
Adapted from Jamie Oliver


1 cup flour (all-purpose or self-rising)
1 cup whole milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 lemon
Powdered sugar

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together flour, milk, egg and salt. Batter will be fairly thin and runny, but smooth.

Heat a small cast iron skillet on medium heat, add 1/4 of the butter.

Once butter has melted and pan is hot, ladle batter into the pan. One ladleful will fill the skillet and yield 1 pancake.

Cook for several minutes until the edges start to brown and small bubbles appear on the surface. Flip, and cook for another minute.

Transfer to a plate, carefully wipe the pan, and start again.

Upon serving, finish with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of powdered sugar.

Serves 2-4.