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.