Monday, April 16, 2012

snapshot: the food, the stories, the pictures

for those of you who follow me on
twitter - that teeny lot of you -
you know that i've been posting
as much there as i have been here,
save for using my phone to instagram
meals made at home
ingredients picked up at the store.
it's just...
it's just that sometimes it's easier to
come home and just make dinner,
you know?
no stopping and starting
with the camera,
with the silent fight larry
and i have as i turn the switch off to
take a picture using natural light as
he flicks it back on because who cooks
with such dimness in the kitchen?
with stopping to wash my hands,
to think about how to make something
that i'm tossing into a bowl,
pretty, instead of tossed into a bowl.

and then there's this:
you wouldn't want to read a lot
about what we've been cooking.
there have been a lot of salads.
a lot of soups.
a lot of things that you make because you have
to eat dinner, instead of things that you make
because they are blog-worthy, irresistible,
cutting edge or even slightly precious.

but, every once in a while,
i put something down on the table and
think, i want to remember this.
and then, instead of pulling out the camera and
turning out the lights, or dragging my food
outside onto the deck, i grab my phone and
take a quick(ish) picture, which
i upload to twitter. it makes me feel like
i'm still connected to...something.

so, if you're in that small twitter group,
you've most likely seen some of these.
but, if not, here's a glimpse into what i've been
cooking and doing the past couple months.

in january, we surprised our youngest sister, erin, with a surprise party (that she totally knew about), at my other sister, blair's, house. almost six months before, at my birthday dinner, erin told me that she wanted banana cupcakes with chocolate cream cheese frosting for her 25th birthday. i made roasted banana cupcakes with the aforementioned chocolate cream cheese frosting (whipped using bittersweet chocolate) and these, which i've taken to making anytime i need a fail safe dessert. as usual, i left out the irish cream frosting and opted for the filling as a glaze. we balanced them on a cardboard tiered platter that we bought at homegoods. it teetered precariously all night, but never collapsed. score.

growing up, my mom made hummus for every holiday dinner. when i needed to bring in a dish for heritage day, i brought in a bowl with carrots. i'm russian and romanian - i'm not even sure hummus was entirely accurate, but nevertheless, it's the first dish of my mom's i regularly made. my mother feels very passionately about tahini-less hummus - hers is a simple blend of chickpeas, chopped onion, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil and paprika for sprinkling. i made a batch when we had friends over, giving the mixture a heavy dose of smoked paprika and aleppo pepper before pressing puree.
smoked paprika and aleppo hummus

it may look like sludge, or optimistically, like deep chocolate hot fudge, but i promise you it was neither. this tangy, slightly spicy cherry ketchup was spread over dried cherry turkey burgers that larry made for a friday night dinner in february. he really wanted to skip the spread, but i decided to make it while he formed the patties. the ketchup was ready and waiting way before the burgers were done (somehow we had every ingredient in the pantry). and even though larry was dubious, he agreed it was important for the meal.
cherry ketchup

this doesn't look like much (except maybe a mess), but oh my goodness, we loved it. we haven't been eating a lot of pasta around here, but when i found the (new-to-me) blog, post punk kitchen, right around the same time she posted a recipe for these soba noodles, i was pretty sure we'd make it soon. we used green tea noodles, roasted broccoli instead of cauliflower, grilled tofu in place of lentils and scallions, which for me were necessary. commenters were pretty clear that this bowl of food was more than memorable, and even though i made it, i wasn't expecting much from such simple ingredients. i was wrong.
green tea soba noodles

a few weeks ago, several of us at work cooked lunch for the others to help raise money for a final fundraising push. i made those chocolate cupcakes again (fail safe, i promise you), using reduced coffee in place of stout and vanilla extract instead whisky (work event) and, for the second time, i made these salted brown butter rice crispy squares, using homemade marshmallows that i had sitting on the counter and desperately wanted to get rid of, lest they would be eaten or go unnoticed and stale.
brown butter rice krispies squares

my mom visited new orleans in mid-march. larry, innocently - i like to believe - asked her to pick up a bottle of bourbon he enjoyed on our last night in nola. at that table in cochon, he fell in love at first sip, not realizing that that drink was unavailable in, or for shipping to, new jersey. my mom searched the city, unable to uncover a bottle, until one day at restaurant august for lunch, she noticed it on the menu. she inquired, only to find out that only one liquor store in the city sold it. they trekked out there, got the bottle and wrapped it very carefully in a box they had shipped home. when she opened it in front of us, one week later, the buffalo trace was perfectly in tact. it was the jar of pickled okra, next to the bourbon, that had suffered. we made a deal: if i made her pickled okra, we were even. so, i looked at a few recipes before cobbling together my own: cherry peppers, a blend of white and apple cider vinegar, garlic, coriander and red pepper flakes. i think we were both happy with the results.
pickled okra

i can't claim to have made this tuscan onion confit from merrill of food52, unless you call cooking toasting the almonds the night before and coming home after 1 1/2 hours of cooking to stir the mixture and drizzle in extra vinegar. i wanted to make it to serve with the turkey my mother was making on easter sunday. (yes, somehow, we missed passover, but celebrated with an easter dinner this year - with several people at the table who do in fact celebrate easter.) however, i had to work the day before - luckily, larry agreed to take ownership of the confit. it was memorable: sticky, sweet, slightly tangy and deeply nutty.
pearl onion confit

that next night, i had planned to make a snap pea, radish and feta salad, in celebration of spring. but between the turkey, the confit, the matzoh stuffing and homemade applesauce, it just didn't seem like a spring table in need of a cold salad. the day of, i switched my plan to a recipe that was fast, required little prep and most importantly, took up a minimal amount of space in my mother's kitchen and her stove top while she tried to make dinner. i've never prepared radishes any way but raw, but now, i kind of love the tender bite of them braised. one tablespoon of butter doesn't seem like very much for 2 pounds of vegetables, but let me tell you, these radishes from food and wine were buttery. tinted pink, they were pretty, too. my only wish is that i had stirred the sorrel in, instead of sprinkling the greens on top.
butter-braised radishes

and that's that. 3 months. 8 recipes to show for it. 8 pretty good recipes. stories included.

Monday, April 9, 2012

hopefully, a salad worth waiting for

lemony kale salad
i really debated not posting this recipe.
one of the main ingredients isn't even in season anymore,
for goodness' sake.
but, i really have been working on this post for months -
writing here and there,
editing the pictures,
occasionally adding one here -
and i decided that the only way that i can move on
and start posting, is if i get this mountain of a post
out of the way. so, i'm going for it.
delicata squash
half moons
roasted delicata
over the summer,
i was on a work trip and i was
asked if larry and i go out
to dinner.
my answer: yes, more than we
probably should, actually.
the response: based on your blog,
it doesn't seem like you do. i feel like
restaurants are a really good place
for inspiration.

i've been thinking about that a lot.
we do go out to eat - at least once a
week, on most saturdays.
but, we often go out for sushi,
or for food that i'm not so quick
to create at home. or, when
larry really just wants a steak.

that's not to say
that we don't sometimes go out
for dinner,
just because i'm craving something
or i've heard about a new restaurant,
or we're bored of all the other
places we regularly visit.

and, for all three reasons,
that's how we ended up
at porta, in asbury park,
in november.

porta is a newish restaurant,
factory and loft-like,
loud and packed,
drafty and somewhat threadbare
with picnic style seating and
wine served in juice glasses.
and, somehow, it's just right.

through first unfortunate,
and then, fortunate circumstances,
we nabbed a table within three minutes
of walking in, in spite of a 45 minute wait.
we were asked if we preferred to sit
next to each other, or across,
and even though the couple nearest
us had chosen the very close together option,
we decided to face each other.
i ordered a glass of red,
larry, surprised by the selection, and excited,
ordered a dale's pale ale.
in. the. can.

pizza, we knew, was dinner.
that is dinner at porta.
i ordered one with arugula and truffle oil.
larry's decision was made easy when he read
about the carbonara, whose star was the
egg baked into the cheese on top.

for an appetizer,
we debated between a few,
but i pushed hard for the
cavolo nero:
kale salad
with shaved watermelon radishes
and roasted sunchokes.

when it came out,
i was initially disappointed.
the plate was large - huge, i
might argue - but the salad seemed
small tossed into a messy
pile, somewhat off center on the dish,
somewhat, uncared for.

i divvied up most of it between two plates.
and, then, i took a bite.
this salad was fantastic.
the kale, not at all tender,
was full of character. the sunchokes
were golden, the radishes a slightly bitter
foil. the strips of toasted bread
seemed so much more than croutons,
garlicky and spicy. the teeny, tiny cubes
of pecorino were firm and salty,
and worth fishing off the bottom of the plate.

but the thing that i loved about this
salad, the thing that made me wish i had
ordered my own and the thing that
made me decide that i absolutely
had to make this at home,
was the bright lemony dressing,
way more acidic than i would have
ever had the nerve to serve.

i was sad when it was over.
my pizza - it was good.
the wine - i enjoyed.
but that salad.
it was an appetizer to
put all other appetizers to shame.
sourdough loaf
that tuesday,
i looked online and found
101 cookbooks.
it seemed so similar that i wondered
if porta had used it as a jumping off point
when creating theirs. heidi used breadcrumbs
instead of croutons, and her pecorino
was grated into shavings. but it seemed
like a good place to start.
chopped garlic, kosher salt
diced pecorino
dressing and pecorino
once made,
it was pretty clear that,
save for adjusting for personal taste,
this was the only recipe i needed.

i had toasted croutons,
and cubed the pecorino into
teeny tiny pieces, just like we
ate at porta. when we sat down
to eat the salad, i was thrilled
with the results.

slightly spicy
and a mouthful to eat.
this is food that you are forced
to chew, forced to experience
and, if you're larry, forced to embrace
several more times.
kale salad
lemony kale salad with pecorino
adapted from 101 cookbooks
i've made this salad several time since, adding roasted mushrooms, roasted halved shallots, roasted tomatoes, and most often, roasted delicata squash that has been seasoned with cayenne. i wish the salad in this picture featured any of the other options, because it's true: i took these pictures so long ago and started this blog post so long ago (i'm pretty sure i made this particular salad the same day i made cashew brittle for holiday gifts), that one of the main ingredients is no longer in season. don't fret - just add your favorite veggie to roast.

on the pecorino: i'm torn. the first few times i made this salad, i cut the pecorino into the teeniest tiniest bites. each time, they fell to the bottom of the salad, along with tiny pieces of garlic. each time i stabbed one with my fork, it was a gamble - would i end up with a mouthful of salty wonderfulness or a mouthful of garlic? so, this time, i made it with larger cubes and it was delicious, but much more salty. since making this salad, several kale salads have been posted online here and here. both involve grating the cheese. maybe an option?

last thing: leftovers are really, really good. maybe even better than the first time.

1 medium delicata squash, halved lengthwise, seeded and sliced
4-5 ounces bread (my favorites for this: sourdough and multigrain), cubed into 1/2-inch dice
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
4 large cloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped and divided
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
pinch or two cayenne pepper, if desired
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, divided (or more to taste)
salt and pepper
1 large juicy lemon, juiced (you want at least 3 tablespoons)
2-3 ounces pecorino romano, cut into small dice
1 large bunch tuscan kale, stemmed and torn into 1-inch pieces

heat oven to 375˚f. in bowl, combine squash, 1 tablespoon olive oil, cayenne pepper, kosher salt and black pepper, if desired. place squash in single layer on aluminum foil-lined baking sheet. bake 12 minutes; flip. bake 8-12 minutes more, or until tender and slightly golden. set squash aside.

meanwhile, prepare croutons: in same bowl that you used for the squash, combine bread cubes, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 clove chopped garlic and a couple pinches red pepper flakes; season with kosher salt and black pepper, if desired. when the squash comes out of the oven, arrange croutons on baking sheet in single layer. bake 6-7 minutes, or until golden. flip and bake 5-7 minutes more, or until golden brown and crunchy throughout (if the croutons are not completely crunchy and you have leftovers, they will be soggy the next day. believe me: it's a bummer.)

meanwhile, place remaining garlic on cutting board. sprinkle with salt. let sit 5 minutes. cut and mash with sharp knife to form a chunky paste. transfer to a small bowl; add lemon juice and a remaining red pepper flakes. drizzle in olive oil, whisking constantly. add pecorino to dressing.

place kale in bowl (i use the same one that i used for the squash and croutons). top with squash and croutons (if you're going to save some of the salad for the next day, save some of the croutons, too). top with dressing and toss; let sit at least 10 minutes before serving.