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Sassy Radish





Updated: 2009-10-20T21:02:24Z

 



pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting

2009-10-20T21:02:24Z

Consider this a lesson in scale. Something no cookbook will really tell you. You won't see in the notes something like "If multiplying batches, strongly suggesting NOT trying to mix them all in one batch as your kitchen equipment... Consider this a lesson in scale. Something no cookbook will really tell you. You won't see in the notes something like "If multiplying batches, strongly suggesting NOT trying to mix them all in one batch as your kitchen equipment is designed for home-sized batches, not bakery-sized ones". Pretty obvious, right? And yet it wasn't to me, until a few days ago. But now I know - when scaling things in multiples, you might want to do a few batches, to save your sanity and your equipment. In any case, this is a cautionary tale, just for you. As a total aside, I often wonder how various people cook under pressure. Like when you realize that what you're doing might not work out, or that you missed a crucial step in the process (not that it's ever happened to me; goodness, no!) and are trying to add this step later, and you get all focused and tense, or maybe you just remain completely cool as a cucumber, or maybe you hum? Me, I become sullen, focused, quiet. I want to be left alone; I don't want to converse. I just want to get through the bump in the road and get beyond it. I tend to scrunch up my nose and purse my lips and squint a lot. Did you envision that lovely visage? Yes, that's me, trying to focus. Stunning, I know. So, back to scaling and home kitchens and fun with all that. If you're ever asked to do a larger-scale baking job, you should consider a thing or two. Like, the fact that you have a kitchen for home use. Or the concept of batches. Or the fact that perhaps even though you have a "Professional" strength mixer, your 5 quart bowl is anything but a professional size. Because you know, if you were um, say, a bakery, you'd be making dozens of cupcakes, not a mere dozen. And perhaps, you, dear readers, would have the foresight to consider all that, but lately, I've been in a whirl of work and travel I think my brain is full. I ought to sit down and think for a minute, but I don't have that minute. Sigh. The other thing you want to make sure you're good at, if you're scaling a project like this, is multiplication and fractions. Now, fractions - I got this. In fact, I'm all over fractions, being that I work in finance. But if fractions ain't your bag, get some help from a math-inclined friend, because when you are looking at 5/8 of a teaspoon measure of something and have to multiply it by three, that's when you wish you really did pay attention in your math class. So how did I get to baking four dozen cupcakes in one sitting? Well, last weekend my friends Bill and Josey tied the knot, and I think my friends and I set some kind of a record for non-stop dancing at a wedding because that is pretty much all we did. And a few weeks prior to the wedding itself, Josey and Bill sheepishly asked me if I would make cupcakes for their rehearsal dinner. In response, I enthusiastically started to jump up and down. They took that as a yes. Because fall is full of amazing flavors and smells, I wanted to make cupcakes that would celebrate the season. And when I think of fall, I first think of pumpkin. I can't go a block without seeing them displayed in stores, at farmers' markets, on steps of brownstones (albeit the decorative pumpkins aren't the ones you eat). I decided that I wanted to do a spiced pumpkin cupcake with a cream cheese frosting sweetened with some maple syrup, and thought (what naivete!) that I was being original and genius at creating something new. But when I excitedly wrote a friend about my new baking project, she responded, sounding a bit been-there-done-that "Oh like the cake David Leite made and Smitten refashioned into cupcakes?" A few google searches later, I realized that my ideas were hardly original. And not only did Deb go ahead and make cupcakes, she piped the most beautiful roses on them as well. I've never piped any flower onto any cake or cupc[...]



sweet potato gnocchi

2009-10-13T16:46:24Z

It is customary, when making something for the first time, to start with the basic building block and build on out from thereon. I, on the other hand, like to raise the stakes a bit. Normally, you'd start with... It is customary, when making something for the first time, to start with the basic building block and build on out from thereon. I, on the other hand, like to raise the stakes a bit. Normally, you'd start with plain gnocchi to get a feel for it, learn how to get them just right before trying a variation. And even though making gnocchi was on my to-do list for quite some time, I fully got on board to make them only after seeing the October Gourmet recipe listed as Ruth Reichl's Top 10 recipes in the issue. They were sweet potato gnocchi and I pretty much find sweet potato anything irresistible. There was just one catch - gnocchi is one of the dishes that for some reason scared and intimidated me. Hence the reason I haven't made them yet. But surely, you must remember what I said to you about fear and conquering it? Well, I decided to put my money where my mouth was and tackle that which made me nervous. If I tell you to be bold, shouldn't, myself, adopt the very mantra I seemingly espouse? Where do I begin with gnocchi? My love for gnocchi goes beyond words. Made properly they should be like little clouds of goodness, whisking you away upwards to the sky. Made poorly, they're heavy clumps of dough that stick to the roof of your mouth. In between, they're perfectly palatable, but once you've tasted amazing ghnocchi, that's pretty much all you think about when you're eating the so-so ones. It's the kind of dish that makes me think: one false move, and it's ruined. I suppose while something like stewed prunes is impossible to run into the ground, a dish like gnocchi takes practice. You get a feel for the dough, its consistency. You'll know immediately if needs more flour, or if your potatoes aren't dry enough. Because these gnocchi are made with sweet and regular potatoes, and there are a few things I've learned that I'd like to share with you. First, is that it's very important to use the right potatoes - Russets have a high amount of starch and lower amount of water, compared to their other spud cousins - and that's exactly what you want - a nice, starchy potato. Sweet potatoes, however, are much more moisture-laden, so next time I make these, I will cook the sweet potatoes a wee bit longer to dry them out a bit more. Having more moisture in your dough will yield a more doughy gnocchi - and what you're after are little clouds of goodness; sweet potato goodness, no less! I chose to serve these in (what else?) a little brown butter (because I can and I will) and olive oil sauce where you slightly brown the gnocchi after boiling them, and sprinkle a bit of fried sage and shaved Parmiggiano Reggiano and some freshly ground black pepper. And when I finished my plate and used some bread to absorb some of the residual brown butter sauce, I once again was amazed at how incredibly sublime simple food tastes.A few ingredients, a little time, a hungry me. For that kind of bliss, I'll raise the stakes any day! Quick note: Here as Sassy Radish, we're doing a little bit of maintenance and will be migrating over to a new platform (shhhh, that's all I can tell you, but trust me it'll be awesome when it's done!). So, if things are a little wonky here, please be patient! When all is said and done Sassy Radish will be snappier and sassier and have more functionality than ever before. Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Fried Sage and Shaved Chestnuts Adapted from Gourmet, October 2009 Ingredients: 1 1/4 lb russet (baking potatoes) 1 (3/4-lb) sweet potato 1 large egg 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg 1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano plus more for serving 1 1/2 to 2 cups all-purpose flour plus more for dusting 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil 1 cup sage leaves (from 1 bunch) 1/3 cup bottled roasted chestnuts, very thinly sliced with an adjustable-blade slicer or a sharp vegetable pe[...]



something on the back-burner

2009-10-12T03:20:40Z

Last Monday, much to everyone's surprise, Conde Nast announced that it was shutting down Gourmet magazine. I don't really know what to say about this because I have written and rewritten my thoughts on this over and over. I... (image) Last Monday, much to everyone's surprise, Conde Nast announced that it was shutting down Gourmet magazine. I don't really know what to say about this because I have written and rewritten my thoughts on this over and over. I thought how ironic it was that my last recipe and the next one are both recipes from the October issue. I never found the magazine boring or stale - it always offered me recipes I wanted to try. By now, we're all read about a dozen op/ed pieces on Gourmet's demise and its unexpected shutdown. I don't think I can say anything really substantive other than it was more than just a magazine for those of us who subscribed and couldn't wait for the next issue to arrive in the mail. It wasn't just a publication, telling us how to sear scallops, or make delicate genoise, or raise awareness about the plight of tomato workers. Gourmet, to me at least, was something iconic - the very first magazine I subscribed to at the age of 14. Gourmet is my time-capsule; it holds my memories, my transition to college, and to a college graduate. I've cooked many a Thanksgiving dinner armed with nothing more than a trusty Gourmet at my side. And while we could :talk about ad revenue and costs for days on end, I guarantee you this: not one of the McKinsey consultants who made this recommendation had a subscription to the magazine. Nor did they read issue after issue, saving recipes, clipping meaningful articles, discussing the content with friends. To try and sum up Gourmet's importance on its readers, the food community and general history (of how we eat, live, think, dream - because it was a reflection of that too and so much can be gleaned about a people, a nation, from its eating habits) would be like trying to sum up someone in an elegy. You just cannot. Gourmet's impact on my life cannot be described or measured. It simply was. And I'll treasure it forever. Well - a few friends and I were so dismayed by the shuttering of the magazine, that a couple of folks and I have decided put something together - a cooking and writing project, so to speak, to honor Gourmet's 68 year legacy. Certainly, a publisher can shut down magazines, fire its staff and deprive us of getting that glossy in the mail. But - they can't stop us from cooking; and they can't stop us from keeping Gourmet's memory and spirit alive. They can kick us out of their offices, but they can't kick us out of our kitchens. If you're curious to know more, or to get involved, shoot me an email (on my About page) and I'll add you to the distribution list. While this isn't a resurrection per se, consider it an homage, a way for us to all come together and celebrate something we all loved and will continue to relish.



brown butter pound cake

2009-09-30T13:16:42Z

I have been ruined, my friends. Forever. By nothing more than a simple brown butter cake batter. And as I sit here and type this, I can only contemplate one thing - chemistry. What a boring name for what... I have been ruined, my friends. Forever. By nothing more than a simple brown butter cake batter. And as I sit here and type this, I can only contemplate one thing - chemistry. What a boring name for what actually happens! It should be called magic, or sorcery, or things transformed. But not chemistry. That doesn't sounds like something I want to eat. While we're talking chemistry here, let me just confess that I loathed chemistry in high school. In fact, I think I might have avoided pre-med specifically because of it. My mother still thinks I would have made a fantastic doctor (she thinks surgery's my thing) and I don't disagree with her - medicine has always fascinated me as I readily absorbed all the medical trivia. And they always say that you tend to remember that which interests you the most. Likes crus of butter, or benefits of raw milk, or say all the different kinds of apples you can find at farmers market this month. But what I am realizing now, after all these years, is that I should have loved chemistry most of all subjects; I should have been doing that homework first, and not last. After all, chemistry is all about change and transformation - which is really what cooking is all about. Butter by itself is an exciting thing, at least to me. I could wax rhapsodic about how if you take cream and just shake it for some time, you get butter. You start with one thing. You finish with another. Magic, right? And when your end result happens to be butter - nothing short of enchanting or magical should be attributed to your result. But, if you continue on, and take this butter, this delicious, sinfully rich, tangy butter that you just made and you heat it to the point where its solids turn chocolatey-brown, you get this thing that I consider to be the sexiest two words in the English language - brown butter. I think it's impossible to understand why people go mad for brown butter until you try it, or try something with it. I have yet to meet a soul who hasn't been completely seduced by it. I say "seduced" and not "won over" because brown butter is exactly that: seductive, sensual, sexy. If butter is a negligee, then brown butter is the merry widow. Even as I write this, my heart sinks a little bit, the same way it sinks when someone you have a huge crush on leans in for that first kiss and the world suddenly goes into surreal slow motion. For me, this pound cake is that ultimate crush. I can have it as dessert at the end of the meal topped with gorgeous berries (or wine-stewed prunes as in the picture at the bottom of the page) or it's my perfect morning coffee companion. And while pound cake isn't the kind of thing one normally gets giddy about, brown butter pound cake, certainly is, at least in my book. You should also know by now that I'm a girl who likes her bourbon and looks for opportunities sneak it in anywhere she can. At times, I wonder if the Sassy Radish logo should have a parenthetical "we like bourbon here" by-line. By now you probably guessed correctly that I couldn't resist the opportunity to add a tiny bit here just to give the already earthy, nutty flavor a little hint of caramel and smoke. So, my goal here is to ruin all of you as well. Heck, if I'm going down, I'm taking you all with me. And while I might come across as all sweetness and innocence, I have devious plans. If you haven't ever tried brown butter, then you're in for quite a treat, and if you have - then I'm surprised you're still sitting here and reading this post, instead of rushing to the kitchen to make this pound cake. Trust me - being ruined never felt so good. Brown Butter Pound Cake Adapted from Gourmet, October 2009 Ingredients: 2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter 2 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift bef[...]



wine-stewed prunes & mascarpone

2009-09-28T19:40:49Z

Meet my new favorite dessert. Come over and say hello. No, really, take a good look at it, take it all in. Wine stewed prunes, folks. Yes, that's right, my new favorite dessert is something that doctor might prescribe... Meet my new favorite dessert. Come over and say hello. No, really, take a good look at it, take it all in. Wine stewed prunes, folks. Yes, that's right, my new favorite dessert is something that doctor might prescribe older folks for, well, lack of better word, regularity. I know it seems perfectly unbelievable that something as, um, boring as prunes can go from Cinderella to belle of the ball in forty-five minutes flat. I would've never even considered it were it not for a recent meal at Frankie Spuntino, one of my all time favorite haunts, a place considered by some as the most important restaurant in New York City. Usually, I am too full to look at dessert, but last time, I wanted to see what the offerings were and let me tell you, I've been missing out! These red wine stewed prunes topped with the creamiest of mascarpone around, was about the most stunning dessert I've had in a long long time. Its simplicity is what astounds me the most. Luisa waxed poetic about them some time ago, and I've had the New York Times recipe bookmarked for ages (and yet never made the connection!) and I suppose it's time for me to throw my hat in because these are incredible! The dessert is both comfort food and haute cuisine. Something about the thickened, reduced wine, infused with nothing more but sugar and two cinnamon sticks with prunes that absorb these flavors, takes you from pedestrian to decadent. And as we are very clearly entering fall season, eating this at the end of your meal is just about the coziest, most lovely thing you can do. Like pulling a nice woolly sweater over your head and just settling into the fuzzy warmth. And though I know we've been cheated of a proper summer, I am welcoming fall with open arms. When at the end of a long day, I can sink into my couch holding a bowl of these prunes in my hands, I don't even think of shorter daylight hours or the sweaters I'll have to eventually unearth. This alone will be enough to carry me through the darkest and coldest of seasons. And I hope it does the same for you. Wine-Stewed Prunes and Mascarpone Adapted from Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli via New York Times Ingredients: 1 pound pitted prunes (about 40) 1¼ cups sugar 2 cinnamon sticks 2½ cups dry red wine 2 8-ounce containers mascarpone Preparation: 1. Combine prunes, sugar, cinnamon and wine in a pot over medium-high heat. When mixture boils, reduce to simmer and cook 45 minutes, until liquid has turned to syrup. 2. Remove from heat, and rest at least 15 minutes. Spread a mound of mascarpone on each serving plate, top with 6 prunes and drizzle with syrup. Serve immediately. Yield: 6 servings. [...]



nectarine golden cake

2009-09-18T21:44:28Z

Given the choice, I would pick a simple, everyday cake without frosting, over the fancy, tiered, frosted creation. I know that sounds practically sacrilegious - to prefer cake without frosting. But I just do. Most of the time. Don't... Given the choice, I would pick a simple, everyday cake without frosting, over the fancy, tiered, frosted creation. I know that sounds practically sacrilegious - to prefer cake without frosting. But I just do. Most of the time. Don't get me wrong - a well-made frosting is a thing of beauty. But I really have to be in the mood for it. Whereas a regular every-day cake is something I could have, well, every day. It requires no fancy occasion, no long waiting between crumb-layer of frosting and its second one. You simply mix, bake, cool and eat. This four step process appeals to me because it gets me that much faster to cake consumption - which is the goal here. Such cakes are a salve to my busy days, a slice of comfort on my plate. This is a great, every-day cake. The kind you can make on a whim, when you have an unexpected guest, or when you are absolutely keen on having home-made dessert, but are feeling slightly lazy in the baking department. Except, the cake is sort of more impressive than the sum of its parts (my favorite trick!) as it's got this fancy fruit thing going on - dressed up with generous chunks of nectarines, or, depending on your preference and farmers market offerings - peaches. Of course, you could get all Rosh Hashana crazy creative, and put some apples in it instead. Which makes me think - this could be really good drizzled with honey. Right? And here's what happens. These glorious chunks are too heavy for the batter when you place the slices on top of it, and so while the cake is baking, the slices sink deeper and deeper into the batter. Sounds sexy, right? The fruit just can't help itself, the pull is far too much. When you take your cake out, it's like a vanishing act, you wonder, what could have possibly happened to that fruit you so carefully arranged? But you patiently let the cake cool before you serve yourself a generous slice (that's before your guests arrive, because let's face it, you cannot possibly be patient around a cake like this). It's at precisely this point that you discover that this amazing fruit went into hiding - and you see its beautiful slices inside. It really is a stunner of a piece, you will note to yourself. Of course, what kind of a person would I be if I didn't do a quick confessional here. The first version of this cake was a fail. An EPIC FAIL. Despite being picture-perfect and smelling oh-so-seductively, it tasted like a box of baking soda. Imagine licking some baking soda off a spoon - disgusting, right? Well, it was. How did this come to pass? How did such a lovely, easy, moist cake come to be inedible? Well, simple - instead of baking powder, I had put in baking soda (truly a d'oh moment in Sassy Radish kitchen) - and a generous amount as such. I should have caught on while measuring out my ingredients - who uses two whole teaspoons of baking soda on one little cake? Quite mad at myself for being so unattentive, I made this cake the very next day, this time being careful to use the proper ingredients - and the results were truly noteworthy. The cake proved to be everything I imagined it would be. It was the reason I eschewed frosting in favor of something like this. And you see, if you read the directions carefully and put baking powder instead of a baking soda, your first bite, that moist, light, laced with vanilla and almond will not taste even remotely like toothpaste and you will not even think of this thing called frosting. Not even for a moment. You might think of me and of baking soda - and hopefully it'll make you smile. Nectarine Golden Cake Adapted from Gourmet, September 2009 Ingredients: 1 cup all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons baking powder Rounded 1/4 tea[...]



pomegranate molasses glazed eggplant

2009-09-14T01:17:48Z

I got so excited cooking this, that I almost completely forgot to take the prep pictures. Which should tell you that you should, if you're an eggplant fan, go ahead and make this right away. Consider it a direct... I got so excited cooking this, that I almost completely forgot to take the prep pictures. Which should tell you that you should, if you're an eggplant fan, go ahead and make this right away. Consider it a direct missive. Waste no time - it is eggplant season and will be such through October. This was borne out of, well, instinct, really. I was making dinner for a friend on Friday night and our initial plan was to make a stir-fry with vegetables and tofu and serve it over brown rice. But we got carried away - we made that along with leek confit, blackberry pie, and this pomegranate molasses glazed eggplant. What started out as a simple Friday night meal turned into a feast of sorts. And this was the surprise hit. I wasn't prepared to cook eggplant and when my friend picked it up, I automatically nodded, but did I have a plan? No. In fact, I was all shades of disappointment with myself because I didn't have pie crust waiting for me in the freezer, as I normally do, because I happen to get crazy last-minute urges to bake pies. Then again, it's safe to say that I happen to have an abnormal love of pie. In fact, I have pies I've recently made lined up in the queue that I need to write about and I'm embarrassingly behind. In any case, when I was amidst baking the pie (with pre-made crust, see I'm not above it!), prepping the stir-fry, and caramelizing leeks, I suddenly had an idea; I was going to bake the eggplant in an olive oil and pomegranate molasses glaze. I was going to add a spoonful of chopped ginger, a clove of garlic and a sprinkle of salt. And then, I was going to let it cook until the eggplant would get soft and impossibly buttery. That, was my plan and that's what I stuck with. I was a bit worried because, the whole dish was concocted in mere seconds. I had a flash of inspiration, but I had no idea what the results were going to be. But after my friend ate the near entirety of the dish, while I managed to only get a couple of forkfuls, I knew this improvisation was a hit. I loved my forkfuls and clearly, so did he. The next day, I got to thinking about how sometimes when we improvise in the kitchen - we succeed. And other times - we fail. Both are good and necessary processes by which we learn, and yet somehow we get burned and scarred by our failures. My first-ever pie crust, an epic fail, caused me to avoid making my own crust for years. But once I got to do it again, I haven't looked back since. Time and time again, I have to remind myself that should one of the dishes fail, all we have to do is move on, try it again and just realize that sometimes, our tempered eggs will cook, our soufflés might not rise, our cakes might sink. The worst thing - is that we try it all over again. And if that gets us back into the kitchen, is that really quite so bad? Pomegranate Molasses Glazed Eggplant Ingredients: 1 medium eggplant, sliced in half length-wise and then sliced thinly into 1/8 inch slices 1 tsp minced fresh ginger 1 clove garlic, minced 1/4 cup really good quality extra virgin olive oil 1/4 cup pomegranate molasses 1 tsp flaky sea salt (I like Maldon) 2 tsp chopped cilantro Preparation: 1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a baking dish arrange your eggplant slices. 2. Mix together the remaining ingredients in a bowl and pour over the eggplant. Alternatively, you can just add them into the baking dish instead, one by one. 3. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour (check for doneness - you want your eggplant to get soft and reduce in size, and the edges of the baking dish should caramelize nicely). Serve immediately garnished with cilantro. Serves 2. [...]



roast chicken

2009-09-09T04:05:21Z

There are plenty of stories that I could share with you about roast chicken. My memories of eating it as a child, as an adult, and in-between - are plentiful. But that's really neither here nor there, and would... There are plenty of stories that I could share with you about roast chicken. My memories of eating it as a child, as an adult, and in-between - are plentiful. But that's really neither here nor there, and would be distracting to the missive - you need to make this. Soon. As soon as possible, in fact. And I want to tell you that there is a way to get your roast chicken perfect every time. In fact, this chicken sort of just cooks on its own with very little hands-on work. You know, I am having a hard time writing this post. I think what I want to say to you is this. There is nothing more perfect than a perfectly roasted chicken. Nothing more sublime. Nothing more attainable, accessible, every-day-comforting and yet luxurious and decadent. It's the alpha and the omega of meals. It's a meal fit for a regular-weeknight supper or a festive, celebratory feast. It's like that amazingly, fabulous pair of jeans hanging in your closet. An every day must-have, that's also great for a fabulous night on the town. And just as a pair of jeans is an essential wardrobe staple, roast chicken is its kitchen equivalent. It's a classic everyone should master. And it is easier to make than you think. I have, in my lifetime, attempted my hand at roast chicken with as much success as failure. I finally figured out a few things that, I think, make a nearly fool-proof system of getting your chicken just perfect every time. Besides this method, what it takes is just a few times' making it. Getting a feel for the bird, for the roasting process, getting some courage in calling it when it's done. Courage is huge here. I mentioned once that pie crust smells fear. I think it's kind of true for cooking food in general. Or attempting something new. That something will intrinsically know your fear, so I suggest just charging on. What's the worst think that can happen? You will eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner - and is that such a bad thing? Here are some of my thoughts on roasting a chicken. First off, you want your chicken to be on the smaller side. You want that magic perfect proportion of skin to meat, i.e. fat to leaner meat. More fat equals tastier chicken. Also, more moist chicken, since this fat will guard your chicken from drying up. Larger chickens are, well, larger, and so somehow that fat distribution doesn't quite work. So aim for a chicken between 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 pounds. Secondly, it would help you a great deal if you prepped the chicken one to two days in advance. This means, salting it, putting appropriate herbs and whatnot, and letting it sit in the fridge, covered, absorbing this lovely salt. It's really worth it. Third, high temperature, is your friend. In fact, it is your right hand man when it comes to roasting a chicken. Don't fear it, thinking that it'll render your chicken dry. It won't. I promise. In fact, you'll be amazed what blasting your chicken with such high temperatures will do for the bird. It will melt in your mouth. It will not taste like pressed wood composite. Fourth, you want to make sure that before you place the chicken in the oven you want to make sure it is as dry as possible. Dry chicken means it will get crispy and sizzle. Wet chicken means, it'll steam and steamed chicken isn't nearly as exciting-sounding or tasting as roasted chicken. Don't you think? Finally, and just as importantly, once your chicken is done, you want to let it rest. Give it about 15 minutes so that it absorbs the juices and hangs out for a bit. Besides, after pulling it out of the oven, you'll be compelled to pull up a chair and admire it - it will be terribly pretty to look at (and even better to e[...]



venigret - russian beet salad

2009-09-02T21:11:35Z

Okay, so clearly, I've a bit of a problem sticking with a writing schedule. I've been meaning to post this last week. But, you see, I'm becoming a regular at MGH, which isn't particularly a good thing, and that... Okay, so clearly, I've a bit of a problem sticking with a writing schedule. I've been meaning to post this last week. But, you see, I'm becoming a regular at MGH, which isn't particularly a good thing, and that place just takes the wind out of my sail. I'd like to think a hospital is not the kind of place you want to be recognized, unless you work there. By now, you are all probably tired of hearing that I had yet another curve ball thrown my way, but that's kind of what happened. And because I associate food with happiness and pleasant thoughts and joy, it's difficult to write, never mind conceive of a way to connect this story to your senses, when you are thinking about things ending in "noma" and traipsing around various oncology wings in a hospital. When it rains, it pours. And let me hand it to you, dear 2009, you're going down in my history as "la deluge". In fact, I suggest we have an early break-up. You know, where I get to see other years? You haven't been kind to me and I'm not the kind of woman who takes abuse sitting down. I won't beat around the bush. Another family member of mine, this time my other grandmother, and my only remaining grandparent had to show up at the hospital to meet with her oncologist about a breast cancer diagnosis, so I went down to Boston to support her. The bad news is that this was another emotional hit for our family and we all took it pretty hard. But when the dust settled and once we met with the doctor, the good news came out. Short surgery. Self-dissolving stitches. Outpatient procedure. Allowed to shower the following day. In fact, the surgery should take about half an hour and then the extracted lump gets sent to a pathologist who'll determine if radiation therapy is necessary. And, we were told, most likely, it will not be. So, bad diagnosis, but as good of an outcome as you can get given the circumstances. Well, when life throws you lemons, you make lemonade, right? Right. In my case, I came into a nice little dowery of locally grown, beautiful beets. Beets. Beets? Really? No? No beets? No, really, come back, don't go, you'll like this, I promise you. I feel like the poor beet is forever maligned in America. I remember mentioning once in middle school (I learned that lesson fast) about how much I loved beets and a boy sitting next to me smirked and said "Figures. All Russians smell like cabbage. Beets are gross." While I have still no idea what cabbage had to do anything with beets, I'm guessing it was another vegetable he found disgusting. And I understand, beets aren't easy vegetables to love. They're oddly, deeply colored and they dye everything in sight a deep shade of magenta. They've got curious texture. They're just not popular. They're the unpopular kids of the vegetable garden. Like those kids in middle school who weren't cool, but didn't know it and ran for Student Council anyway. Beets try hard. They so badly want to be loved. And loved they are, at least in my kitchen anyway. By the way, I do not, nor have I ever (nor has any of my family immediate or extended) smelled like cabbage. Ever. Now, to the point. Venigret is a Russian beet salad made with potatoes, onions, pickles, carrots and other things. It is hearty. It is filling. It's got a bite. I was told, and I cannot recall by whom, that venigret was invented during Soviet times. I'm not sure if this is true or not, but it was a regular staple in our household and it tastes so Russian to me, that I wonder if there was ever a time Russians lived without it. We made it in the summer, when local beets were hitting the market, and we had it in the winter, when vege[...]



sour cream ice cream

2009-08-20T20:01:38Z

Perhaps, I aught to file this under "how to charm me". Perhaps I should go no further than tell you that should you whisper sweet nothings mentioning such things as sour cream into a Russian's ear, that they just... Perhaps, I aught to file this under "how to charm me". Perhaps I should go no further than tell you that should you whisper sweet nothings mentioning such things as sour cream into a Russian's ear, that they just might be yours forever. Or maybe just enough for you to charm them more. In any case, you are guaranteed to get their undivided attention. Or at least my undivided attention. I stop in my tracks where sour cream is concerned. At the moment, as I write this, two whole tubs of it rest comfortably in my fridge. Judge me if you will, but sour cream, to me, is a beautiful, beautiful thing. Sour cream is the Russia's answer to pretty much everything. The topping of choice to entrees like stuffed cabbage, the dressing to many a salad, the dollop you whirl in your soup. It's tangy, irresistibly clean and fresh and, this part I find utterly seductive, it's sensual and luscious. It's yogurt, but with a more sophisticated, fuller body. In Russia, if you were lucky enough to get your hands on sour cream that came from a someone's farm home, you knew what you had on your hands. Thick, cream-yellow, buttery, it was the equivalent of dairy gold. We would spread it on bread and I would eat it with my eyes closed. I know, the way I describe growing up in Russia, you wonder why we ever left. Thick, golden sour cream on thick black bread? If there's heaven on earth, this was it. So you have to understand my excitement, when I came upon a recipe that suggested I take my favorite condiment and use it to make ice cream. With eight egg yolks. Yes, my friends. Let's take that in one more time. Eight. Egg. Yolks. I can feel my knees getting weaker as I type this. Sour cream and egg yolks married together, infused with a whole vanilla bean and cream. It's as if Gourmet magazine read my innermost thoughts. And while I think this ice cream is just the bees' knees just as it is, you could raise it up a notch and try is as a sundae. It's almost like your traditional vanilla ice cream, except the sour cream gives it that indelible tang, which I find a great deal more refreshing than plain vanilla ice cream - in this summer heat. Besides, what else is there to do in this heat wave, but to make ice cream? You can see, I've been cooling myself off with this stunner and sometimes, even boiling water for pasta is too much. At the rate I'm going, churning batches of ice cream out with regularity, my little ice cream machine is just not cutting it. And I've been seriously contemplating graduating myself to a more sophisticated model. Because you know, I totally deserve it. And lest you think I am being totally selfish, I will have you know that I gladly share my ice cream with friends who drop in. Especially friends bearing cookies. [...]



cacio e pepe

2009-08-17T20:15:06Z

Hello, summer! Finally, you've made your arrival to New York - and boy oh boy, did you let us have it. I mean, could you be any hotter? Scratch that, I'm not about to challenge you - you're already... Hello, summer! Finally, you've made your arrival to New York - and boy oh boy, did you let us have it. I mean, could you be any hotter? Scratch that, I'm not about to challenge you - you're already making my air conditioning work overtime. But really, let's talk here. First, you play coy with us and take your sweet time, and then - wham! You are here, in full bloom: heat, humidity and everything in between. May I just say that the ladies with curly hair are just a wee bit cross with you? I'm just being honest. The other bit is that this sudden and rather intense arrival is sort of creating a rift between me and my kitchen. I want to go in there so badly, I want to chop and dice and saute and broil, but you, you are making it very difficult. Almost impossible I'd say. I'm barely mustering the energy to cook some simple pasta dishes, like this one here and the one I wrote about recently. I've also taken to making ice cream to cool myself off, but I'll save that for another day. As for pasta, as I cannot live on salad alone and peanut butter sandwiches are neither exciting nor inventive, I have to keep it short and sweet. And lucky for you, dear summer, that it just so happens that my favorite pasta dish is this one. Yes, this very one. Dear readers, as you look below in search of ingredients, you find only five. I know - just five! And I bet you have most, if not all in your kitchen already. An authentic pasta dish that traces its roots back to Rome that's as easy as making mac and cheese from a box, if not easier. Originally labeled as cucina povera (aka humble food for the common folk who might not have the means or the time to fix themselves an elaborate meal) this is anything but a poor man's dinner. The marriage of its ingredients, while deceptively simple, is anything but humble when it comes to taste. And yet again, it's a step away from traditional tomato or cream sauces, which, believe me, you will not miss in this sweltering heat. The mere thought of a cream sauce is making me reach for my glass of ice water. I know I keep saying to you fresh pasta, and I'm sure you're a bit annoyed because it's not like fresh pasta is sold in every grocery store. But, just trust me when I say fresh pasta is totally worth it. Really. It's that much better. I think it might be the egg in it, but I'm not certain. If making pasta ain't your thang, and believe me, I don't blame you (who has the time and kitchen space?), try finding it in your supermarket. It will make a difference - and you won't be sorry. When we can be barely brought to approach our stoves, this is a solution that's a good compromise. While you heat the water, you can grate the cheese and make basil chiffonade (a fancy term for slivers). Your fresh pasta takes mere minutes to cook and after a quick drain, you place it in bowls, add heaps of grated cheese, a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle with freshly cracker pepper. You mix the ingredients, and garnish with fresh basil slivers. Then you pour yourself a glass of chilled, robust white wine and sit back while eating your dinner. You won't even break a sweat with this meal which means you win. Score: you - one; summer - zero. Dear summer, you can bring your worst, I am ready for you. Cacio e Pepe Ingredients: 8 ounces fresh pasta (spaghetti or fettuccine works well) 1/3 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese (about 1 ounce) 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil Salt Freshly ground black pepper 1 tbsp freshly cut basil (cut into slivers) Preparation: Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender[...]



sweet cherry pie

2009-08-12T21:17:18Z

Move over, apple pie, you've got serious competition as far as I'm concerned. I know I once pledged my undying love for you, but that was before cherry pie and I had made acquaintance. I really didn't expect it... Move over, apple pie, you've got serious competition as far as I'm concerned. I know I once pledged my undying love for you, but that was before cherry pie and I had made acquaintance. I really didn't expect it to be this good, but I must say, I'm over the moon here. Granted, sour cherries is really where it's at, but I missed the sour cherry season, because while other folks were busy making sour cherry treats, I was busy looking for an apartment, then packing, then moving, then unpacking. And by the time I pulled my baking gear out of boxes, sour cherries were gone, done for the season, and instead these sweet ones were all over the place. Not to be deterred, I decided to give these sweet cherries a whirl in a pie. And to up the ante further, I picked the hottest, most humid of days to do so. Yes, I like an extra challenge, why do you ask? I've written about my thoughts on making a successful crust here, but I'd like to reiterate the cold factor one more time. It's incredibly important to achieve a flaky crust, but in summer weather when you have 100% humidity and 90 degree weather, cold should be the manifesto with which you set out to make the crust. I kept my rolling pin, bowl of flour and butter in the freezer for this to make sure I kept my ingredients as chilled as possible. My one gripe is that butter, when kept in the freezer, will crumble under the knife, instead of making perfect little cubes. I'm a sucker for those perfect little cubes - even if they're seconds way from being blended with the flour into pea sized bits. A few years ago, I attempted a pie crust on what turned out to be the hottest day in all of the summer season. And you know, that totally scorched me. I couldn't come near a pie crust recipe, let alone try and measure out my ingredients. All, I want to say here is that if I conquered my fears and delivered, in this pie, my most successful, flakiest crust to date (and it was anti-crust weather), you can do it too. Just work quickly with determination. Like I said in my latest pie post, pie crust smells fear - and you are stronger than the pie crust! I loved the filling idea from Deb at Smitten Kitchen and so adapted it for the pie here. But I stuck with the sweeter version of my usual pie crust, which I wrote about when I made the Honey Bourbon Caramel Peach Pie - it's the same pie crust as you might find in many books, but with two teaspoons of sugar instead of the usual one. So while the cherries are plentiful and inexpensive and we still have a month of summer left, find the time for this pie - if you make your crust in advance and chill it, it's a cinch - and a delicious one at that. Sweet Cherry Pie Filling and baking temperature adapted from Smitten Kitchen Dough for double-crust pie - recipe for pie crust here. Filling Ingredients: 4 cups pitted fresh cherries (about 2 1/2 pounds unpitted) 4 tablespoons cornstarch 1/2 cup sugar (or more if your cherries are on the tarter side) 1/8 teaspoon salt Juice of one lemon 1/4 teaspoon almond extract 1 egg, beaten with 2 tablespoons water Coarse sugar, for decoration Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large bowl, mix together, gently, the cherries, cornstarch, sugar, salt, lemon juice and almond extract. Roll out half of your pie dough (be sure to pre-chill it first according to instructions) on a flour surface to a 13 inch round. Don't worry about it not being perfectly symmetrical - these things happen. Gently, fold the "circle" in half, and fold that half in another half (in other words, a quarter) a[...]



pasta with goat cheese, zucchini and summer squash

2009-08-11T00:18:04Z

I've been a little zucchini obsessed lately. I can't stop buying them and they disappear as soon as they make it in the kitchen. I've sautéed them, I've gone back to my favorite feta and dill stuffed ones, and... I've been a little zucchini obsessed lately. I can't stop buying them and they disappear as soon as they make it in the kitchen. I've sautéed them, I've gone back to my favorite feta and dill stuffed ones, and I've come across this recipe which I've made at least three times. I know, a recipe repeated? Several times at the expense of others? But there's something soft and comforting and bright and cheery about this meal. And best of all, it lets the seasonal favorites: summer squash and zucchini shine. I'm also taking a break from the traditional tomato-based pasta sauces - I've been craving creamy cheeses like ricotta and goat cheese. And lemon, lots of lemon. I cannot get enough of it. Lemon is my constant water companion; I drizzle it over my salads and fish; and make sorbets out of it. I add it to fruit in pies to make the fruit stand out more. Lucky for me, the local grocer offers lemons in bulk and at the rate I'm buying them, is probably thinking I'm running my own lemonade stand. A few weeks ago, I once again, brought home my current favorite loot. But I didn't quite have a plan, and after staring at the contents of my fridge for a few minutes my vegetables, I had a brilliant plan. I first sautéed a shallot with a garlic clove and then added sliced zucchini and summer squash. The whole thing came together quickly, beautifully and I have to say that for a week night meal, after you get home from a crazed day at the office, this is perfection at its best. I even served this to the book club ladies two nights later. Never one to hoard food, I was a little wistful that none was left over for the following night. Pasta with Goat Cheese, Zucchini and Summer Squash Inspired by Bon Appetit, June 2009 Ingredients: A few glugs of olive oil 1 shallot, finely chopped 1 garlic cloves chopped in a few thick pieces 1 zucchini sliced in 1/8 inch thick circles 1 summer squash sliced in 1/8 inch thick circles 1 round goat cheese - ok, I failed to measure mine, but the amount would have filled 1 cup measure Zest of 1 lemon 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil ½ tsp (or more if you want more flavor) herbes de Provence 1 lb fresh pasta Juice from the zested lemon Salt Pepper Preparation: In a sauté pan, on medium heat, cook the shallot and garlic, until the shallot is softer and translucent about 5 minutes. Add the squash and zucchini and maybe add a bit more olive oil, if the mixture looks a bit dry. While the vegetables were sautéing, make a paste with goat cheese, lemon zest, olive oil and herbes de Provence, while also waiting for the water for pasta to heat. Once the vegetables are ready and removed from heat, and the cheese paste is made, cook the pasta. While you don't have to use fresh pasta (boxed will do in a pinch!) I recommend fresh pasta if you can get your hands on it. It's a truly sublime thing. I'm lucky to live in close proximity to lots of Italian stores and so fresh pasta is quite plentiful. Just keep in mind that dry pasta tends to cook longer (check the instructions on the box) whereas fresh pasta tends to cook faster. When the pasta is done, drain it and dump it back in the pot. Add the cooked vegetables and the goat cheese paste and mix quickly. Taste and season with lemon juice, salt and pepper. This should serve roughly 4 people. [...]



watermelon, feta and arugula salad

2009-08-08T22:02:46Z

It took two months of summer for it to finally get humid to the point where thinking about turning on a burner on my stove makes me break out in sweat and such moments are truly rare. To add... It took two months of summer for it to finally get humid to the point where thinking about turning on a burner on my stove makes me break out in sweat and such moments are truly rare. To add insult to injury, work has been unseasonably busy. Summer hours are supposed to be shorter and lighter, right? In my office apparently, no one got the memo and I've been pulling longer hours. In a way this is a welcome change - things are looking better than last year, so I shouldn't complain. But it's summer, and the season makes me work less and play more especially while we're getting more daylight. There've been times when I'd get home from work, knowing full well that if I didn't cook something in ten minutes or less, I'd be making myself yet another peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And there is something about fixing my own dinner and not reaching for the take-out menu that gives comfort. I can have a horrible day at work, I could be in sour mood, but something about being in my kitchen, picking up a knife and chopping a few things gives me a sense of order in what sometimes feels like an overwhelming and disorderly world. So faced with a dilemma of wanting to cook something and yet being absolutely ravenous, I've come across this gem of a salad. Okay, so you'll have to make your balsamic reduction a little bit ahead of time so it's nice and chilled, but you could do it days before and have it just lounging in your refrigerator for when you want to make the salad. And since watermelon is the thing to eat this time of year, this salad takes, like, five minutes to assemble, and the whole production doesn't require the use of a stove, you now have no excuse not cooking. In the time it takes to put together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you can make this salad. Problem solved! Watermelon, Feta & Arugula Salad Adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2009 Ingredients: 1 5-ounce package baby arugula 8 cups 3/4-inch cubes seedless watermelon 1 7-ounce package feta cheese, crumbled 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar glaze Preparation: I know - these are arduous and complex instructions. Hey, the faster you make this - the faster you will get to eat. Your kitchen doesn't get hot, you don't have to crank up the a/c and your electricity bill is thus lower than it otherwise would have been. Best of all, this will refresh you on that super muggy day (like today). Arrange arugula over large platter. Scatter watermelon, then feta over. Drizzle with balsamic glaze and sprinkle with pepper. [...]



black pepper ice cream

2009-08-03T19:37:18Z

I remember the first time I had vanilla ice cream infused with peppercorns. I was in France for the first time, backpacking for nearly four weeks as a prelude to moving to New York to start work for a... I remember the first time I had vanilla ice cream infused with peppercorns. I was in France for the first time, backpacking for nearly four weeks as a prelude to moving to New York to start work for a big investment bank. My friend and I have been making our way down from Paris all the way down to the French riviera and were spending a few days in Nice. My first impressions of Nice were less than favorable. I found the city disagreeable especially after traipsing around Nantes, La Rochelle, the Bordeaux region (St. Emilion, be still my heart), Avignon and many others in between. Nice was chalk full of tourists, like a tightly packed can of sardines, and I suddenly felt as if we were no longer in France. I was also a little on the tense side, nearing the end of my traveling funds, every franc carefully considered and measured. A combination of heat, poverty and an overabundance of Russian tourists made me slightly cranky towards Nice. Also, it was hot, humid, our hotel room didn't have any air conditioning and when we inquired about a fan, the hotel proprietor yawned and recommended we take frequent showers and sleep au naturel. Yes, he actually said that. So, poor and sweaty, I was in quite a state. Nothing helped - not even the salade Niçoise which was sheer perfection, but it was going to take more to draw me out of my misery. (Even as I write this, I can't help but roll eyes at myself. My goodness, miserable while on vacation in France? What a spoiled brat I must sound like!) My poor traveling companion had to make do with my grumpy mood and put up with my sulking. On the third day of skulking about, I decided enough is enough and ventured to check out Vieux Nice, a beautiful, older part of the city with brightly colored buildings and tiny weaving streets. It was there that I discovered this ice cream cafe in the middle of the plaza - now realizing it was the famous Fennochio's ice cream parlor, which apparently makes over 200 different flavors. If memory serves me right, and I hope I'm not making this up, but the proprietor of the store told me they made around 70 different ice cream flavors on that day alone. I had choice overload. I was smitten with all the flavors available. There is that moment when too much choice makes your decision-making difficult. My travel buddy selected a boule of pistachio and a boule of orange flower. I went with lavender, and also pink-peppercorn vanilla. I know it's a bit cliche to use Julia Child's sole meuniere experience as an example here, what with the movie opening in a few days, but that's sort of the closest I can come to in giving an example that mirrored my own experience. The flavors were magnificent; it was like nothing I expected. I still remember swirling that first spoonful in my mouth, my eyes closed as I tried to take everything in. And in a few moments, and a few spoonfuls later, I was happy, smiling, completely blissful and my misery evaporated instantly. I realize that the recipe below is for black peppercorn ice cream and what I had in Nice was pink peppercorn, which are totally different flavors. But the point is that the infusions of peppercorns in my vanilla ice cream, woke up my palate. At 22, I hadn't thought of combining flavors like pepper with a sweet one of ice cream. Even after sampling chili-infused dark chocolate, I hadn't made the link. That afternoon at the plaza made me reconsider the whole flavor palete and how unexpected notes combine to create someth[...]