Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Crappy Dinner Parties

September 21, 2016

The other day, I saw a post on one of my favorite websites, The Kitchn, entitled “Five Rules for Hosting a Crappy Dinner Party, and Seeing Your Friends More Often.” It definitely grabbed my attention. The author’s premise was that she had stopped hosting dinner parties because they had become too overwhelming with a fulltime job, and small children. She wore herself out and became someone she didn’t want to be, trying to make sure her home was clean, the food was perfect and the kids were on thier best behavior. Through a friend she learned about the concept of the impromtu “crappy dinner party”, where people just stopped by and the party happened organically.  This version allowed the house to be in a disarray, and the food to be simple. So simple in fact,that  it could be takeout. The kids could run around and the evening would be stress free. All you need are some really close friends who wouldn’t judge to be your guests. Because this became so carefree, the author began to host more and more “crappy ” parties, and got to spend more quality time with those she loved.

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This got me thinking. Could I do it? I have gone so far as to host Sunday dinners that had a “come as you are” dress code. No shoes, no makeup, no problem. I do however tend to go all out on the food. Even when it is a simple menu, I still prepare everything with care, and rarely skip a homemade dessert. Lately, I have avoided having frequent dinner parties because I have been too busy, or so exhausted from cooking and baking all week that I would rather be antisocial than do another dish. That begged the question: Would my friends rather come over to a pile of old newspapers and dirty gym hair, than not see me at all?

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I suddenly recalled a night many years ago when we had a power failure in New York City. Some friends came over and we lit candles in the fancy silver candelabras, opened our finest champagne, and made tuna fish sandwiches. It took the edge off of an unpleasant situation, and made for a fun, memorable experience. One that was completely judgement free under the circumstances.

Maybe it is time to throw caution to the wind, and relax my standards of entertaining enough to actually RELAX and enjoy the company. So, who wants to come to my crappy dinner party?

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: “Cleaner” Cookies

September 20, 2016
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double chocolate chip with sea salt

Lately, I’ve dipped my toe into the wholesale side of my little baking enterprise which is forcing me to expand my repertoire of sweets to keep the variety fresh for my clients. Last week, I came across a tip from the esteemed chef Thomas Keller when he spoke about his version of chocolate chip cookies. In the last few days, I have employed this technique multiple times.

Keller chops his own chocolate for his cookies, rather than buying pre-made chips. Although regular old chocolate chips are great for many things, sometimes chopping up a higher quality, or different cacao percentage makes a difference. I sometimes mix the two, to get even more complexity to the cookie. But, that’s not today’s tip, although it is a great one!

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“Kitchen sink cookies” have chocolate, butterscotch, coconut, pecan and oatmeal in them, among other things!

When chopping chocolate, or nuts for cookies, place them in a fine mesh strainer to allow the dusty particles to slip through. This keeps it out of the batter, allowing you to have a more perfect definition between chocolate, nut and cookie dough.

We have three new cookies to be added to our website, Etsy, Gourmly, Echohabitude, and Chocolate.org, where we are indigo jones eats. For now, stop by Pintail coffee on the LES or Red Hook, or order from Umi Kitchen’s convenient app ( Shari’s Healthy Eats) where each meal comes with the freshly baked treat of the day.

Unrecipe Of The Week: Tomato and Roasted Chickpea Salad

September 13, 2016

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It’s hard to believe that summer is officially over. The weather in New York is hovering in the 90’s, the sun is shining, and the heirloom tomatoes are still readily available at the farm stands in Union Square. Before we have to go back to tomatoes that are vagely reminiscent of styrofoam, I’ll be eating as many of these as possible. One way I’ll be doing that is with this tomato and chickpea salad. The chickpeas get pan roasted and infused with flavor, thanks to a little cumin. Add a little parsley, some salt and pepper and a quick shallot vinaigrette and toss it all with the freshest, ripest little tomatoes you can find. It doesn’t get much simpler, or tastier than this.

Tomato and Pan Roasted Chickpea Salad:

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For the chickpeas:
Heat olive oil in a pan until glistening. Add a can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed to the pan and spread them out so that they are flat and all of them make contact with surface of the pan.
Cook over medium to meduim low heat for several minutes without touching them until the bottoms are browned and they are starting to blister. Add a healthy dose of salt, and shake the pan to allow the chickpeas to cook on all sides. Be careful not to burn them. Remove the pan from the heat, and add a couple of teaspoons of ground cumin, to taste. ( These are a great high protien snack, so consider making extra to munch on !)

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For the salad:

Mix the chickpeas with a pint or two of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half, or several large tomatoes, cut into chunks. We used heirloom cherry tomatoes which come in  beautiful range of colors and shapes. Add a big handful of minced parsley, and season with salt and pepper.
Toss with olive oil, red wine vinegar and a finely minced shallot and enjoy!

We made ours in advance, and kept the shallot vinaigrette separate until just before serving, to avoid having the tomatoes marinate, but you can also mix it up in advance if you prefer.

 

Unrecipe of the Week: Grilled Peach and Burrata Salad

September 8, 2016

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We were in California recently, and had the opportunity to dine at AOC, one of the restaurants from award winning chef, Suzanne Goin. The menu is filled with an amazing array of small plates, meant to be shared. Good thing, since I don’t know how I could have narrowed in on just one or two of the seasonal and flavorful dishes on the list.

One of the first thing to come out of the kitchen was a salad made of grilled peaches and burrata, the soft, runny cousin of mozzarella. Sometimes, the simplest of dishes are the best, when the ingredients are fresh, and skillfully prepared.
The next evening, we were at a wedding, where the meal began with a green salad, topped with burrata, candied walnuts and a grilled peach.

I’ve been dreaming of it since we returned, so this weekend, I made my own version, and I’m pretty sure it will be on heavy rotation around here, until the peaches go out of season.

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Grilled Peach and Burrata Salad:

For the peaches:

Rinse and halve the peaches, and remove the pit. Cut into quarters and brush the flesh with pure maple syrup. Melt butter on a grill pan, and grill each side until you see grill marks. At this point, they will be slightly caramelized. Remove from the pan, and brush them with the maple syrup again.

For the salad:

Toss baby arugula with a little olive oil and a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar. Lay the peaches and chunks of burrata on top. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper and a drizzle of the oil and vinegar, and enjoy!

For a little added crunch, toss some shelled pistachios on top.

*If you don’t have a good, aged balsamic, make a reduction with the kind you have, to create a more mellow flavor, and an almost syrupy consistancy to drizzle. Simply cook a small amount of balsamic vinegar in a pan until it starts to reduce.

Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Naked Cakes

September 6, 2016

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Naked cakes, or those which have icing on the top and between the layers but are bare on the sides have become a trend over the last few years. They have a rustic sensibility about them, and let the beauty of the cake shine through, unencumbered by too much, often cloying frosting. Not to mention the fact that they are easier to make, and to keep in the hot weather.

Earlier in the season, I had an epic cake fail. I was bringing a birthday cake to a catering gig just across town. The extreme temperatures made the cake difficult to ice, but a short stint in the fridge after the crumb coat took care of the problem, and I was able to get the it frosted and decorated without a hitch.

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As the cake sat on my lap in an Uber for the 15 minute ride, I could feel it melting. When I got it upstairs to the client, I discovered that a hunk had literally fallen off in my lap. If McGyver was a baker, he would have been proud of me. I had a thought ahead and brought a container of extra frosting along, and the tools to make repairs in case it smudged in the car. Well, this was a pretty big smudge.We’re talking a large handful of cake that plopped off! I used the icing to “glue” everything back together, and turned the cake so that the repairs were on the back. I went to wash my hands, and when I came back, I realized that the border of rosettes that I had piped along the top edge of the cake were gone. There was no icing thief, who snuck in and ate all the rosettes. They had melted, to the point that the entire cake was now dome shaped. I was scrolling through the phone trying to find the number for Billy’s Bakery, a local bakery who does cakes that start out looking very similar to this one, to see if I could just go and buy one, and add a few proprietary touches, when the group walked in for the party. At that moment, I vowed not to make another layer cake until the fall. (p.s. They were wonderful about it, and said it was delicious!)

Making a naked cake is not only the answer to my problems, but also brings the bonus of discovering that they look, and taste better than a traditional fully frosted layer cake. They also look amazing with a topping of edible flowers and fruit, rather than the standard piped decorations. Something that is simpler, tastier and and more chic than your basic run of the mill birthday cake? Count. Us. In!!!!

To make a naked cake, bake the layers as the recipe indicates. Any cake that can be made in layer cake pans, can be a naked cake.

Prepare your favorite frosting, or if you are serving it immediately, freshly whipped cream will do.

Place the first layer on the serving platter and spread a layer of frosting evenly on top. I like to use a pastry bag with a very large tip to pipe the frosting along the edge of the cake, and inside, so that when it is spread, there will be a perfect rim between the layers, and the frosting will be level. Smooth it with an offset spatula, and place the next layer carefully on top,making sure it is even. Repeat for subsequent layers. Ice the top of the cake, using the same method of piping the rim to ensure a perfect edge. If you like the look of smeared frosting on the sides, spread a thin coat of frosting on the sides and smear it along, keeping it transparent enough to allow the cake to show through. You can also accomplish this by over-filling the layers and smearing that excess along the sides.

If you would like to add fruit between the layers, place the cut fruit flat in concentric circles, paying special attention to the outer edge. You can also spread a layer of cooked fruit or preserves onto the cake before adding the frosting.

Decorate the cake as desired.I love the natural look of edible flowers, which I buy from Windfall Farms at the Union Square Greenmarket. You can also use fresh fruits and berries.
I tuck few sprigs of flowers into the sides of cake between the layers, and scatter some fruit and flowers on the plate, giving it a less contrived look than one would get with piped flowers and borders.

If it is hot, you can refrigerate the cake, pulling it out before you sit down to dinner, so that it is back to room temperature before you serve it.

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Unrecipe of the Week: Savory Tomato and Avocado Butters

August 24, 2016

Avocado toast has taken over the planet, in every iteration from simply smashed to decorative avocado roses. We just stumbled across this recipe for avocado butter from Alton Brown, and knew we had to try it. Oh the possibilities!  Smear it on toast, rub it corn on the cob or spread it on a piece of fish. We could go on and on with ideas for this one.

And then we saw a recipe on the Kitchn for tomato butter and started dreaming of it tossed with fresh pasta, topped on a piece of chicken or spread on bread. Whatever your fancy, these savory compound butters are a must try.

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Avocado Butter:(adapted from Alton Brown)
Combine 2 avocados, peeled and pitted with 1/2 stick of unsalted butter, a garlic clove, a healthy squirt or 2 of lemon juice, a small handful of cilantro leaves, 2 teaspoons of toasted cumin seeds and salt and pepper to taste in the bowl of a food processor. Process until well combined.

Spoon the mixture onto plastic wrap and form into a log. Refrigerate for several hours until formed. Slice and use as desired.

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Tomato Butter:( adapted from the Kitchn)

Place tomatoes under the broiler and cook until they are blistered and start releasing their juice. Cool to room temperature. (use 1 pint of cherry tomatoes, or about 2 cups of regular tomatoes)

Combine the tomatoes with 2 sticks of unsalted butter, salt, a tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves and black pepper in the food processor. Pulse until the tomatoes are finely chopped and the mixture is well combined.  You can roll this into a log as above, or put it in a crock in the refrigerator to store.

Enjoy!

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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Spring Roll Bowls

August 23, 2016

We’ve been obsessed with food served in a bowl for awhile now. Smoothie bowls have gained popularity recently, and grain bowls and “power” bowls have replaced the salad as the go-to healthy lunch option. Now, there seems to be a new bowl on the scene: The spring roll bowl!

Taking a cue from the Asian spring roll, which is traditionally a rice paper wrap filled with vegetables and sometimes seafood or meat, the bowl version lays it all out in abundance, without the carbs.

An array of fresh, raw vegetables are enhanced with Pan-Asian infused flavors for a meal that is tasty, satisfying and healthy. Step away from the stove, and pull out the sprializer, to make your own summer roll bowl!

A Pinch Of Yum created this Vietnamese inspired bowl filled with vegeatables in a sweet garlic and lime sauce.

A Pinch of Yum

A Pinch of Yum

Rawmazing created this amazing spring roll bowl that uses Paleo friendly ingredients, such as almond butter and coconut aminos, instead of peanuts and soy sauce.

Rawmazing

Rawmazing

Lazy Cat Kitchen may call theirs a vegan sushi bowl, but whatever they want to call it, we call it delicious!

Lazy Cat Kitchen

Lazy Cat Kitchen

Tastes Better From Scratch got into the act, with their version on the theme:

Tastes Better From Scratch

Tastes Better From Scratch

Skinny Taste adds shrimp and hoisin sauce to their spring roll bowl:

Skinny Taste

Skinny Taste

Half Baked Harvest’s recipe is for the real deal, but their ingredient plate was so beautiful, we can’t help but think it would be perfect just like this, drizzled in their Thai Mango dipping sauce!

Half Baked Harvest

Half Baked Harvest

We’re definately inspired! Stay tuned for our vegetable summer rolls with carrot dipping sauce to be re-interpreted. Because, let’s face it. Food does taste better in a bowl!

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Travel Snacks

August 19, 2016

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We’re flying to the west coast next week, and with the time difference, it can feel like you spent an entire day trapped on an airplane. I am obsessive about my clean diet, and would much rather indulge in something delicious while on holiday, than have it all break down by eating processed crap on an airplane. I don’t want to land with a bloated, upset stomach, or with a whole day’s calories wasted on Jetblue’s infamous bags of cookies and chips.

Surviving a 5 hour or longer flight without starving or eating empty calories takes a little planning, but it is doable. Choose items that are easy to toss in your bag, don’t require refrigeration, and won’t offend your fellow seatmates. Here is my list of portable snacks that are healthy enough to pass my finisky standards, and the TSA’s:

Healthy Travel Snacks:

Whole fruit: pre-washed and wrapped apples, pears, peaches or plums can be a savior on a trip. I love bananas, but they never seem to survive the trip without bruising and smashing.

Add little packets of Justin’s nut butter, for a balanced snack that combines fiber and protein to keep you full until you land.

Nuts: Small bags of nuts, pre-measured to prevent over eating, are easily packed into a purse or carry on.

Roasted chickpeas: For legume eaters, roasted chickpeas are a great high protein snack, that is delicious too!( unrecipe HERE)

Crudité: Sticks of celery, carrots or cucumbers make a healthy portable snack. Adding a little nut butter makes them more filling, and a whole lot more interesting! Just be conscious of the people around you when start crunching away!

For those who eat dairy, many hard cheeses don’t require refrigeration. Cut a few slices or cubes and eat them with your fruit or cruditês. Avoid the “stinky” ones to keep your neighbors happy.

Protein Bars: I usually rule these out on principle, as most of the commercial bars on the market are no more than fancy candy, repackaged to appear healthy. Kind bars are made from all natural ingredients, and are a better than average choice in a pinch. For meat eaters, EPIC bars get great reviews, and contain grass-fed meats. They are Paleo friendly and are low sugar and gluten free.

What are your go-to airplane snacks? Do you plan ahead, or do you just “wing it?”

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Gelatin

August 16, 2016

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Whether you are making jello-shots, candy, or unbaked cheesecakes, it is important that the gelatin completely dissolves, to avoid unpleasant gummy clumps.
The secret to working with gelatin is a technique referred to as “blooming.”  To do this, mix the liquid and the gelatin together with a fork until forms the consistency of apple sauce. Let it sit for several minutes to fully hydrate, before mixing in the other ingredients. This should allow the softened gelatin to integrate smoothly leaving you a lump free end product. We bloom our gelatin before mixing in the bubbling hot syrup when we make our marshmallows, and it gives us the light, fluffy texture we love.

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Switch To Switchel

August 15, 2016

There are lots of drinks out there, purported to boost energy, create the ultimate balance of bacteria in the gut, help you lose weight and gain clarity. From Red Bull to green tea and the ever trendy kombucha, there is no shortage of  hyped out drinks to choose from. Apple cider vinegar and green juices share the stage with a host of other natural choices with “magical powers” to make your skin glow and your belly calm.

via Alex Lau for Bon Appetite

via Alex Lau for Bon Appetite

Well, just when you thought you had reached your healthy beverage nirvana, a new one steals the spotlight. Say hello to Switchel, the latest beverage to enter the healthy drink scene. Around since the late 1700’s, switchel is the perfect way to hydrate on a very hot day. Made with stomach soothing ginger, it allowed thirsy farmers to consume enough liquid to quell their thirst, without making them sick. It is also thought to reduce inflammation and balance the body’s natural ph levels, due to the apple cider vinegar and maple syrup.
Switchel is similar to lemonade in some ways, and very reminiscent of the iconic Master Cleanse cocktail. It is easy to make your own, and although it is touted as a healthy electrolyte booster ( ala Gatorade), it’s also a great base for an adult beverage when mixed with rum, whisky or a dry white wine.

Give this recipe a try, and perhaps you too, will want to switch to switchel!

Mapel -Ginger Switchel: via Bon Appetite

 INGREDIENTS:

SERVINGS: 4

  • 1 5″-piece fresh ginger (about 6 ounces)
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime or lemon juice
  • 4 cups water or club soda
  • Mint sprigs (for serving)

PREPARATION:

  • Pass ginger through a juicer (you should have about ⅓ cup). Combine ginger juice, vinegar, maple syrup, and lime juice in a large pitcher and stir until maple syrup is dissolved. Chill until cold.
  • To serve, dilute with water and pour switchel into ice-filled glasses; garnish with mint.
  • Do Ahead: Base can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.

Switchel can be mixed with seltzer or sparkling water instead of regular water for a bit of a “fizzy kick.”

If you don’t have a juicer, you can grate the ginger instead.

Some people use raw honey instead of the more classic maple syrup for variation. The most important thing is to use pure maple syrup or honey, and not a processed version.( aka Aunt Jemimah’s pancake syrup)

Enjoy!

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