Thursday, September 1, 2011

Berry Cobbler

I mentioned in my last post that I was in Hilton Head last week with my family enjoying some relaxing time off. My family has rented a condo there almost every summer for the past 5 years, so I’ve been there a couple of times before. I was especially looking forward to this year’s trip because it meant spending some overdue quality time with my family, which doesn’t happen as often as I would like these days.

With the exception of the 16 hour drive home with 5 adults and 3 dogs in the car, which was painfully long and cramped, and the fact that Curb Your Enthusiasm seemed to be playing non-stop in the living room (I like the show but not that much!), we all had a really great time. We’d start each day with coffee, jogs along the nature trails, breakfast (which was so good. I’ll have to post the recipe soon.), bike rides, and then we’d head to the beach for a while before coming back for lunch and puttering around until dinner. Some days everyone would golf. One time I sat in the car waiting for them with a cup of coffee and a book. (I have a short attention span when I golf and check out after about 4 holes so I sat out that activity.) All of it was relaxed, easy, quiet, simple, and we managed to remain active which is something we really enjoy.

I’m glad to be back to enjoy the last few days of summer. Everything seems so quiet and calm this week. There are definitely less people around, there’s less commotion and clutter in the city as people lay low before the hectic first week of school rolls around next Tuesday. (Speaking of, what is it about this time of year that makes me want to go back to college so much?!)

It seems like just yesterday that we were planning for our Memorial Day barbecues, summer Fridays, beach days, picnics, reveling in gorgeous weather and slowing down into vacation mode. It’s hard to believe that in a few days, school will start, the pace of the world will invariably speed up and we’ll find ourselves digging through our closets for a light sweater to wear outside.

Now Labor Day is practically here and, for many, it’s the last chance to squeeze in some outdoor grilling, beers while watching the sunset, and time together before everyone scatters home and adjusts back into real life mode. I’ll be sad to see summer end but, in some ways, I’m eager for fall to begin, too. Something about the crisp morning air, changing leaves and chili simmering on the stove makes me very, very happy. But I’m not quite ready for it yet. Perhaps one more summery weekend will get me there.

And besides, before we jump into pumpkin…everything…when it comes to dessert, I still need time to revel in berry tarts and fruit compotes and whatever else will let me cling to the bright, freshness of summer.

I saw this cobbler on Molly’s site last summer and made it for a Labor Day weekend barbecue where it was the absolute perfect end to a lovely meal. (as were the s’mores we made on the grill…remember that, guys?) I made it again this year for my parents’ 4th of July barbecue (hence the festive decorations) and it was equally wonderful. The fruit in this cobbler is slightly thicker and more textured than jam and is perfectly sweet with the slightest bit of tartness. The cobbler topping is buttery, thick, sweet, and hearty, lending the berries a solid companion but not one that overshadows their vibrancy. This dessert is made even better with a scoop of fresh whipped cream. Totally delicious.

A few notes, first. When I made this most recently (that’s what these photos are from), I used whole wheat flour for the topping (which is all we had), and it wound up being a little too mealy. I wouldn’t do that again. Molly suggests not using strawberries in this cobbler because they don’t always stand up to baking and wind up gooey, and while I agree and prefer to make this with a mixture of raspberries and blueberries, the strawberry version isn’t a complete flop, in case those are the only berries you have around.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

I’m back from a wonderful vacation with my family and now I’m sitting on the couch watching the news coverage of the hurricane (it just sucks you in, you know?). I’ve remained unaffected, thankfully, and I’m so grateful that I still have power because my parents and many other people I know don’t have any. It’s still raining but it looks like things will start clearing out soon. I hope everyone is staying safe out there!

With the exception of a few trips outside yesterday to stretch our legs and to get some fresh air, we’ve been staying inside, cracking open beers, hanging around and relaxing. It’s been pretty nice but there has been a tinge of eeriness and uncertain anticipation in the air which seems to be lifting now.

The first thing I’m planning on doing today (besides, um, cleaning my apartment) is baking cookies. It’s one of those soothing, simple, familiar activities that fills the house with wonderful smells, makes us feel comforted, and gives us something to do when we feel like moving around but aren’t able to get outside. These cookies are the kind that you can bake without even heading to the store because they require ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry.

 

I’m planning on making these today, but I recently made a batch of chocolate chip oatmeal cookies on a day when I didn’t feel like leaving my apartment, and wanted to bake something that only required what I already had on hand. They turned out beautifully and they were simple to make, too. So, if you’re stuck inside today and feel like busying yourself with an easy and delicious baking project, these cookies might be right up your alley. They’re chewy, moist, and just the slightest bit rustic. They’re perfect for snacking on a quiet, indoor day, and they don’t take long to bake at all.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thai Noodles

I’m wondering if I should attach any pomp or circumstance to the first non-vegetarian recipe I’m posting to this site. Probably not. The recipe isn’t particularly scandalous, though, so don’t expect to see pictures of a burger or filet mignon following this paragraph. The truth is that I made a dish inspired by pad thai which required fish sauce as one of the ingredients and it turned out to be pretty good.

I’ll be honest: I wasn’t sure what to think about making this dish. I’ve been meaning to delve into cooking Thai food more, but I didn’t know how well it would turn out. I love eating Thai food but something about it makes it seem like the good stuff (read: the Americanized stuff that we think is good) can only be found in restaurants (in Queens, of course) or in kitchens where someone has been slaving over the stove for days. Being that most of my dinners are cooked in the evenings when I don’t have much time or energy to devote to them, I didn’t know if I could pull off anything even remotely worthy of discussing.

Recently, Scott and I decided that we’d take turns cooking for each other once a week. That way, there is one entire evening free for each of us to take care of whatever we’ve been putting off, watch some favorite television show we’ve been neglecting on the DVR, learn new music, take a voice lesson, stare blankly at the wall, work out…you get the idea. The one who cooks also does the dishes and cleans up everything. The whole thing is pretty brilliant, and it wasn’t even my idea! Unbelievable.

Anyway, one of the first few dishes Scott made was this bowl of beautiful Thai noodles. It shocked and amazed me and it wasn’t long until I, uh, borrowed his idea and made it one night myself. (His was better.)

The key with making these noodles is to make sure the sauce is exactly how you want it to be (or else everything will taste off) and to avoid over cooking the noodles. You’d think these ideas might sound pretty obvious, but they are so crucial that they should be mentioned. For the sauce, try not cutting corners. If you’re able to find all of the ingredients at your grocery store or local Asian market, adding them all will only help your dish.

You can find rice noodles at Asian markets, or in grocery stores with a decent Asian foods aisle. If you live in New York, you can find them at Fairway. If you want to go a step further and get brown rice noodles, which are the kind I used (and they were GOOD!), you can go here if you live near the UWS or Columbia.

You could add mixed frozen vegetables to this dish, but I think it’s better if you use fresh ones if they’re available. The frozen ones add too much water and don’t tend to crisp as well. You could also add tofu or shrimp or even chicken if you’d like. It’s all according to preference and what you’re looking to use up in the fridge.

Best of all, this comes together in almost no time. Boil water, chop vegetables, stir together the sauce, add everything to a wok (or large skillet) and you’re there.

Oh! On Friday night I’ll be heading out of New York to meet my family in
Hilton Head, where they’ve been renting a condo near the beach for the
past few days. I’m so excited! While I’m away, I hope everyone enjoys
these lagging, quiet, peaceful dog days of summer. See you when I get
back!

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Peanut Butter Cream Pie

What I was up to on Friday night:
 
If you’d like to know more about the reason why, this will give you a better understanding.
 
 
When someone asks that you make a peanut butter cream pie in memory of a loved one, even if it’s a person you don’t know, sometimes it’s nice to just dive in and do it. And share it with people you love. I know I’m not alone and that so many others made the pie this weekend, too. The food blog community really showed their solidarity with this one, and I’m grateful to be a part of it.
 
You can find the recipe here.
Thursday, August 11, 2011

Peach Blueberry Galette

 

About a year ago, I woke up one morning with the grand idea to start my own food blog. I had been a loyal fan of all of the popular blogs for a couple of years, read them religiously, and was intrigued by all of the different ideas, food and stories that melted off each page and into my thoughts each day. I decided I wanted my own space for writing, sharing and cooking and, a year later, I’m very glad I decided to add my own space to this larger idea of “food blogging,” and admit that I still am navigating my way through the trenches and working to find my own groove.

I started this blog at a strange time. I didn’t actually have my own kitchen (or a computer) at the time of my first post and, as a result, didn’t cook much. That’s why I only posted once last August. I had just moved into and out of my first NYC apartment within the span of 3 weeks and was in limbo trying to figure out what to do next. All of my possessions were in boxes in my parents’ garage waiting to be unpacked somewhere and I remember feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere.

My first apartment was in East Harlem. I moved into a studio there completely desperate to inhabit my own place and begin my new, adult life. I was robbed 5 days later and learned pretty quickly that things don’t always go as planned. Thankfully I wasn’t hurt AND was able to get out of my lease (I just couldn’t imagine living there for an entire year after that.)

It seems that this was a blessing in disguise. I was able to get an even better apartment on the Upper West Side a month later and now I live in a wonderful neighborhood near Farmer’s Markets, amazing grocery stores, beautiful parks, restaurants, and anything else I could ever want.

Yes, the apartment is a bit slanted (a la How I Met Your Mother)

And, I have a kitchen which gets lots of use. It’s so, incredibly small, though. When two people are in it, it’s too crowded. There’s one square bit of counter space to work on, and the appliances aren’t full sized. But you know what? It’s a kitchen with functioning things and it helps me produce wonderful food every day.

The kitchen, the apartment and the neighborhood have made my transition into an independent, responsible adult one of the most wonderful, eye opening experiences I’ve had in my life so far. I’ve become more self aware and I’ve learned so much about myself, my interests and my goals over the past year. I still have no idea what I want to be or where I see myself in 5 years (although being self-employed is definitely something that interests me), but what I do know is that I’m sure of what I like and what makes me happy and that relationships, generosity, passion, music, truth, food and travel are some of the key elements that make me who I am. 

So much has changed this past year. So much hasn’t, too. Most of it is behind the scenes of this blog because I truly don’t know how to be open here. But I think that parts of my life, whether they’ve been discussed here or not, have influenced my style here, the food I choose to make and the way I approach each post.

When I started writing on this blog, I didn’t really know if I’d draw a following, but I sort of hoped that I would. A year later, I don’t have very many readers, but that’s okay because I still enjoy writing, sharing and becoming better at this in any way I can. It also challenges me to be creative, try new things, and to keep “a journal” of what I’m cooking, what works and what doesn’t.

That’s me in my tiny kitchen
 
 

I’ve learned that, while this blog is focused on food and recipes and sharing that food with others, that the rabbit hole goes even deeper. It’s not just about the recipes and the ingredients. It’s about creating something out of smaller, lesser entities, finding balance, communicating about it, questioning it, learning, feeling, failing and succeeding. It’s about adding something to the bigger picture, making a mark, finding something to be passionate about and striving to be better at it every day.

I love experimenting and trying to bake and cook things that I’ve never tried to make before. Last weekend, I tackled something that had been on my “to-bake” list for a while; I made a galette. I absolutely love the rustic, homey look that galettes have and my recent obsession with peaches led me to this recipe for a blueberry-peach galette. And it was wonderful and far easier to make than I initially thought.

The dough is very buttery and light, and comes together pretty easily in a food processor. It’s easy to work with and is perfect for a fresh fruit galette because it’s not sweet. The crust gives the fruit a solid foundation on which to bake and allows the inherent sweetness of the blueberries and peaches (or any fruit you choose to use, really) to shine through. The fruit, covered in cinnamon and sugar, is bright and still keeps its integrity after being baked. The blueberries and peaches match together very well; the blueberries are tart and bold while the light peaches are the epitome of sweetness. When the galette comes out of the oven, the crust is a deep, golden brown and the blueberries are bubbling and bursting.

I’m looking forward to another year of kitchen discovery, sharing, talking, learning, and being a part of this wonderful community. I’m also looking forward to all of the great changes that life will bring. I hope you’ll be here to join me as I navigate all of it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Monday, August 8, 2011

Pan-Toasted Chickpea Salad

One of my new favorite food hobbies is cooking dried beans. When I think about it, I realize that it seems a bit silly to soak beans for an entire day and then boil them for an hour when I could easily just buy a can of beans at the corner store for $0.89, open it up and drain the contents in about 5 minutes, but something about cooking beans at home makes me feel sort of fulfilled.

You see, I find the anticipation of a bowl of soaking beans to be sort of exciting. When I set them out to soak for a few hours and then go to work, I daydream about them all day instead of actually doing work. (My job is clearly not very exciting.)

My most recent bean soaking triumph led to a delicious curried chickpea salad which I found at 101 Cookbooks. You could absolutely use canned chickpeas for this dish, though, so no worries if you don’t have the time or patience for soaking. I find that “homemade” chickpeas are just more earthy and fresh tasting. They don’t have the edge that canned chickpeas often do, and they come out a bit more tender and with a pure quality that makes them blend better with other flavors.

The recipe, which is simple, delicious, and very conducive to a lazy weeknight sort of situation, calls for toasting the chickpeas, which is something I’d never done before. Toasting them extracts a more nutty, deep flavor. The texture of the chickpeas also changes in the pan. The beans become browned and a little charred and once they’re added the sauteed leeks, onions and curried yogurt sauce, they add an element that just fits perfectly.

The curried yogurt sauce here is so wonderful. I never expected greek yogurt, curry powder and salt to create such a complex, luscious dressing, but it most certainly does. Bathing a batch of pan-toasted chickpeas, sauteed leeks, onion, garlic and lemon zest in it seems so, so right. And refreshingly delicious, too.

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Blueberry Muffins

Sometimes blog posts flow so seamlessly from my fingers to my laptop that they seem to write themselves. Other times, I languish in front of a blank word document (and toggle between Facebook, Twitter and my Google Reader) trying everything possible to will the words out. Where are they? Why don’t I have anything to say?

When this happens, I stare at photos I took of the food about which I am planning to post. I beg them to inspire me. They usually just make me hungry. I continue to stare, check my Blackberry, head to the kitchen for a snack. Another nectarine will have to do. (because, as you know, food bloggers have much less food stocked up at home than you might think)

Who knew that something so wonderfully simple as a batch of blueberry muffins could cause such irritating writer’s block? I assure you, friends, that it is possible.

At this point, I begin writing about something that has been on my mind lately. I may or may not actually post what I’ve written, but I let my thoughts guide me to some sort of conclusion, whatever that may be.

Ah, here we go.

Is it just my imagination, or do a vast amount of the food bloggers that garner attention in this wonderful community of food interested people live in or near Seattle? For some reason, it seems like this to me. But maybe my reading list just happens to include many of these people. And since I love what they write, and their lifestyles intrigue me, I don’t care much.

In New York, it seems that most of the blog writers I follow are professionals in the food community who also write personal blogs on the side. The more blogs I read, though, the more I realize that I don’t have much in common with the writers outside of an interest in food, cooking and restaurants. (which is a big interest, of course) There aren’t many bloggers my age that live in my city and who deal with the sort of life situations that people in their mid-twenties deal with. I’d love to find fellow bloggers to whom I can relate, communicate and commiserate. Perhaps I have to seek them out, and I think, after writing this, that I should.

And, as you’d expect, this all leads to a batch of blueberry muffins posted by a New Yorker that you probably already know.

Despite my love for baking, muffins don’t seem to appear in my rotation very often. In fact, this is the first muffin recipe I’m posting to the blog.

My favorite type of muffin is rustic and isn’t too sweet. I’m not a fan of dainty mini-muffin things that seem too cute to eat, nor am I likely to enjoying a huge, mindlessly put together muffin that’ll put me in a sugar coma. I prefer something that’s in between, interesting, filled with bites of fresh fruit or even a vegetable (zucchini muffins, anyone?), and with a moist, flavorful batter.

These muffins are exactly that. They’re full of plump, fresh blueberries that paint the batter with a deep blue hue. Some of the berries burst, others remain whole, and together they offer a mild sweetness that’s also a bit tart and which freshens the batter and keeps it from becoming heavy and cardboard-like. These muffins are more like sweet biscuits than typical muffins, in my opinion, and they perfectly balance substance and lightness in a way that really works. They’re perfect for a brunch table, a gift to friends, or simply enjoyed in the afternoon with a cup of tea and some good reading material.

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Creamy Taco Mac

I love the days when I make a recipe that winds up exceeding my expectations. If you cook at all, you know that there are always flops and, even when you think the ingredients list and directions look like they’ll lead to a wonderful dish, some recipes are just not inherently meant to be for you. While I know this sort of thing is pretty relative (what I may rave about as an excellent find may be something you can’t stand or vice versa), when I make a recipe multiple times and it’s consistently good, I know it’s a keeper and that I can add it to my rotation. Then I proceed to make said recipe and eat it every day until it’s gone week after week until I get it out of my system.

If you’re the kind of person who hates repeating recipes or who hates leftovers, this can seem like a sort of phenomenon. Eating the same thing 3 days in a row? Who does that? Well, let me explain. I like leftovers for lunch but I don’t really like them for dinner. Dinner is the chance for me to unwind by cooking something and enjoying what I’ve made in the comfort of my home on my own schedule, unlike breakfast and lunch which I usually eat at work, so I look forward to it. Lunch, however, is a different story. In New York, you can’t really get a healthy lunch for less than $10.00 unless you eat soup.  Since rent and voice lessons are not cheap in this city, I try to bring lunch as often as possible (I usually cheat and buy lunch on Fridays, though) and when I have great leftovers from an awesome recipe to bring with me for most of the week, I feel like I’m being economical and healthy since I know exactly what I’m putting into my body.

Is anyone still reading this?

The most recent recipe to surprise me with its simplicity, flavor and health factor is Bridget’s Creamy Taco Mac. If you haven’t checked out her blog, you should because she writes about wonderful, healthy weeknight type meals in addition to mouthwatering desserts.

This taco mac is such wonderful comfort food. It combines all of my favorite things: pasta, beans and spices, and is so filling, makes a huge batch (leftovers!) and is quite inexpensive to make considering how healthy it is. It’s not fancy, but it’s the perfect post workout sort of dinner, or the kind of thing you’d like to eat in a big bowl when it’s cold and gloomy outside.

The pasta in this dish is cooked along with the liquids and beans instead of in water, like you’d usually expect. This cooking process gives the pasta a deeper flavor and helps it blend seamlessly into the rest of the dish. The pasta and sauce practically melt together into a creamy, hearty stew-like meal that’s wonderful and heart warming. Even in the middle of the summer.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lemon Bars

 

My goal for this summer has been to do more fun things. So often, summer passes and I look back and realize I didn’t do anything I wanted to while the weather was warm and the opportunities for outdoor activities were readily available. I wanted this year to be different, and, while I still hope to do even more (like, go to the beach and take a dip in my parents’ lovely pool, for example), I’ve definitely tried to take the time to plan fun things that I miss or have been meaning to try.

So, keeping my goal in mind, some of my recent jaunts have been to Shakespeare in the Park, the High Line, Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn Flea, Smorgasburg, various barbecues and, most recently, here.

Yes, Six Flags, folks. My friend Alyssa and I used to go every year when we were in high school, and I haven’t been since. We made plans to go last Friday for old times’ sake and it was awesome. And SO hot (101 which felt like 114… crazy for the NY area!). But mostly awesome. It was great to re-visit some old favorite roller coasters, and some new ones like this crazy ride. Oh man! It was so much fun.

One thing I haven’t been doing all that much this summer is cooking and blogging. For some reason, I can’t get into a light food cooking groove. I either make the same recipe over and over (to be shared soon!), or I make things that you just wouldn’t talk about on a blog because they don’t require any effort at all and aren’t even really recipes. At first, I sort of worried that I was slacking big time, but I realized that as long as I’m doing what I want to be doing and enjoying that, things can’t be so bad.

And, naturally, this is the point in the conversation when we discuss how I made lemon bars recently that were insanely delicious and filled with intense, glorious lemon flavor with a light, buttery crust. They’re probably one of the best desserts I’ve made so far this summer.

The idea to make lemon bars came from a visit we made to Great Harvest Bread Company in Ballard during our vacation last month to Seattle. We were initially planning on getting croissants and coffee at Cafe Besalu but it was a Tuesday and they were closed. (Don’t worry, we went back to visit before we left.) Wandering around, we came across Great Harvest, and picked up some raspberry bread and a lemon bar. Both were incredible, but the lemon bar, especially, had a lightness and a potent, bright punch of citrus. The lemon curd sat atop a buttery, sweet shortbread like crust that melted with each bite. These lemon bars inspired me so much that I had to come home and make them.

I went with David Lebovitz’ lemon bars, because I had been eyeing his recipe since he posted it, although this comparison of three separate lemon bar recipes is wonderful, too.

The filling in David’s recipe incorporates an entire lemon, including the pith, to lend the bars a rustic, unrefined texture. Flecks of lemon peel poke through, giving a punch of flavor to each bite. The crust is crumbly, buttery and sweet and matches perfectly to its more zesty topping. These bars are the sort of dessert that you savor for a while because they’re wonderful and pure in an amazing, ultimately refreshing way.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Breakfast Crepes with Fruit and Nutella

Breakfast, for me, is the sort of meal that requires motivation to enjoy. I don’t like eating as soon as I wake up and, most days, my breakfast consists of coffee with soy milk and some unexciting fruit and toast that I eat while sitting at my desk at work (sad, I know.)

The weekend, however, is a time when breakfast really comes alive. Pancakes. Omelettes. Booze brunch. Everything bagels from somewhere other than H & H, which is now closed in my neighborhood (I actually prefer these, anyway.) These are the breakfast gems that weekends are made for.

You know what else fits into the lazy weekend morning breakfast category? A crepe. And not just a plain crepe smeared with butter or jam. I’m talking about one that is filled with a warm, smooth layer of nutella and slices of ripe, sweet banana. That’s the motivation to eat breakfast I’m talking about.

I was surprised to find that crepes are pretty easy to make. They are simply a mix of flour, water, eggs, milk, butter and a pinch of salt, and they can be as thin or as thick as you’d like them to be. (I love thick, chewy crepes but most people I know prefer them as thin as paper.)

Usually, when making these, the first crepe is the “experimental” one. It always comes out either burnt, under cooked, or misshapen. Once this first one is out of the pan, though, the rest come together rather easily.

The crepes themselves are chewy and have a slightly salty and doughy flavor, which is the perfect canvas for the sweet, creamy nutella and fresh fruit. The warm crepes melt the nutella and heat the fruit until everything is slightly soft and the nutella oozes out of each bite. These crepes are irresistible, decadent, and fit perfectly into the lazy Saturday morning newspaper and coffee routine. The weekend can’t come soon enough.

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