Wednesday, August 25, 2010


DP has decided that our children will never have the chance to be picky, because I seldom make the same thing for dinner twice. Since I decided to learn to cook 8 years ago, my collection of cookbooks has grown to more than 20, and I have 4 binders stuffed with all the recipes I have pulled out of magazines to try. Recently I implemented a "one in, one out" policy (toss one recipe for each one I add) but that hasn't kept me from cramming extra pages into the side pockets of the binders. In addition, since I discovered food blogs I've learned how to bookmark recipes in my internet browser for future reference. I now have over 100 saved. I would like to try for a tiny bit more organization to help on those occasions that we like something so much we want it again, but for the most part I like the variety of trying something new almost every time I cook.

I have never been one to have a "favorite" something. Favorite color, meal, band, TV show--I generally don't get attached enough to things to call them my favorite. Occasionally, though, we like a meal so much that it makes a repeat appearance (sometimes the next day--like the Fried Green Tomato BLTs). More occasionally, the meal is so good, and so satisfying that it finds itself in a somewhat regular rotation. There's the "sick soup" (chicken and rosemary dumplings, made when one of us is sick), our favorite pizza, and this salad. It was the first recipe I made from the first food blog I ever discovered, The Kitchen Sink. The creamy, healthy dressing is regularly made for everything from fish tacos to cabbage salad. I think I like it best with the original salad, which I have now made so many times I think I can firmly call it a "favorite."

Crispy Black Bean Cake Salad
adapted from The Kitchen Sink (who adapted it from Food and Wine)

1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons canola oil
1 small onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
2/3 cup dried bread crumbs
salt and pepper
2 to 3 cups baby greens*
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes
3 scallions, sliced
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced
2 limes, cut into wedges
*All salad ingredients and quantities are a matter of personal preference/what you have. Basically, put together the ingredients you would to make any salad.

Yogurt-Lime Dressing
1/3 cup plain non-fat greek yogurt
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon cumin
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium skillet, heat 2 teaspoons canola oil. Add onion and garlic, cook over medium heat until softened, ~ 3 minutes. Add the cumin and cayenne, cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Place the onion mixture in the bowl of a food processor. Add about half the beans (3/4 cup, but I never measure) and pulse until the mixture is finely chopped. Scrape the mixture into a medium bowl, add the remaining black beans and 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs. Add salt and pepper to taste, mix thoroughly. Shape into six patties.

Place breadcrumbs into a shallow dish and dip each of the patties into the dish, pressing to get the breadcrumbs to stick.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in the skillet until shimmering. Add the cakes and cook over medium-high heat until browned.

Meanwhile, mix all of the ingredients for the dressing in a large bowl. Add salad ingredients (except avocado), toss.** Divide between 2 plates.

Top salad with avocado and bean cakes, serve and enjoy!

**Alternately, as in the picture above, you could just drizzle the dressing over the assembled salad.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Bait and Switch

DP and I are planning to move out of our place and into a (hopefully) larger, cheaper apartment in a little over a month. We are currently in the middle of navigating Brooklyn real estate, which has fortunately gotten a lot more reasonable in the last couple of years. Three years ago, looking for an apartment was horrifying. We laughed, we cried, we fought, and then we found ourselves in a beautiful little gem for exactly the right price. It's remembering that the gem is out there that is difficult.

No matter what the state of the market is, real estate agents love the "bait and switch." It's something I had forgotten about in the intervening years, but when we started the search all of the memories came flooding back. Here's how it goes (as I'm sure most people know): you find an apartment, perhaps on craigslist, that looks great. It is large, lots of light, nicely maintained, and the right price (all of which you can't totally tell from an ad, but you get an idea). You call to set up an appointment to see it, and one of two things happens. Either the agent is upfront with you and says that actually, that apartment is [no longer available, not showing yet, being converted into a yoga studio] but how about we show you this other apartment in the [wrong neighborhood/price range/move in date]. Or you show up for the appointment and the same thing happens. Or you show up and the apartment is in a "slightly" different location than you were told. Or, occasionally, it is exactly as represented. That's what we are looking for, and hopeful we will be able to find in the next couple of weeks. Hopefully sans tears/fights/frustration.

Today, after a full morning of appointments, we came home for brunch. There, I performed a little bait and switch of my own. I took a normal, healthy ingredient (heirloom tomatoes), and fried it. Then I served it up with bacon and arugula for a delicious sandwich that screamed of summer. It was a welcome break from the detox diet--although with the light batter and whole grain bread I might have a second batch tomorrow!

Fried Green Tomato BLT
from Food and Wine

4 slices bacon
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound unripe green tomatoes, cut into 1/2 inch slices (I used green zebra heirloom tomatoes)
canola oil
8 slices whole wheat/multigrain bread, toasted
mayonnaise (I used canola oil mayo)

Preheat oven to 400F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, bake bacon on sheet until crisp, or 15 minutes. Drain the bacon and cut in half.

Put the flour, cornmeal, and egg in three separate shallow bowls. Season the cornmeal with salt and pepper. Dredge the tomato slices in flour, egg, and then cornmeal, tapping to remove excess.

In a large skillet, heat 1/4 inch canola oil until shimmery (or water sizzles when flicked in pan). Add tomatoes and cook until golden brown, around 5 minutes, turning once (it took me longer than 5 minutes to cook them until crisp). Drain tomatoes on paper towels.

Spread the toast with a thin layer of mayo. Layer with arugula, 2 halves of bacon, and tomatoes. Serve and enjoy!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Detox and Cake

As I said in a previous post, DP and I traveled a lot (for us) this summer. Starting in April and finishing in late July, we went to St. John, San Francisco, Cape Cod, Princeton, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. Some of those places for just a night, some for longer, but either way by the time the end of July rolled around we felt a little bit of a mess. Housework neglected, freewheeling spending, many weeks of skipped grocery shopping and take out meals, "vacation" lifestyle...let's just say we needed to detox hard. And we are. We are well on our way--the house is looking a lot better, regular shopping and weeknight cooking have resumed, and the spending has been slightly curtailed. Oh, and the gym? We are rebuilding our friendship. Although if they don't fix the air conditioning we may resume our previous casual acquaintance status.

Since we are currently in the throws of eating nothing but sprouted bread, fruits and vegetables, cabbage salad, and other assorted healthy foods, I'm going to take a moment and reflect on cake. In my family the traditional birthday cake is cherry cake. Actually, my mother would argue that it was her special cake and that we all stole it from her. Either way, it's delicious. Flavored with maraschino cherry juice, the bright pink frosting is adorned with pecans and glistening artificially colored and flavored shells of fruit--we like to cram so much on it is difficult to find space for the candles. Friends who have been served the cake generally look at it first with an air of suspicion, then taste it, love it, and find themselves looking forward to it year after year.

So that's what I have on my birthday, but DP is an entirely different story. While she likes the cherry cake, she wants (and deserves) her own special cake. We haven't settled on an every year favorite yet, and this year she requested either a yellow cake or flourless chocolate. I opted to make a flourless chocolate cake (because I like chocolate better...yeah, I'm a gem). As previously mentioned, I am not a baker. This cake makes someone like me look like a whiz in the kitchen, and that I appreciate. It was also delicious, and I might be able to convince myself that its lack of flour makes it detox approved...

but most likely not. Oh well, my birthday is coming up in November.

Flourless Chocolate Cake (or La Bete Noire)
from Bon Appetit

1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar

9 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
18 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used semisweet--next time I'd use bittersweet)
6 large eggs

1 cup heavy whipping cream
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (same above note)

Whipped cream

Cake instructions:
Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a 10 inch cake pan (springform would be easier, but I used my silicone pan and it worked just fine). Line bottom of pan with parchment paper, butter parchment. Wrap 3 layers of tin foil around pan (I tried to do this, failed, and it was fine). Combine 1 cup water and sugar in a small saucepan, bring to a boil and stir until sugar dissolves. Simmer 5 minutes, remove from heat.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add chocolate and whisk until smooth. Whisk sugar syrup into chocolate, cool slightly (I cooled slightly more than slightly--I was afraid I'd end up with scrambled eggs mixed in with my cake). Add eggs to chocolate mixture and whisk until well blended. Pour batter into prepared pan. Place cake pan in large roasting pan, add enough water to come halfway up the sides of the pan.

Bake cake until center doesn't shake when jiggled, about 50 minutes. Remove cake pan from roasting pan and place on cooling rack. Cool completely in pan.

Ganache instructions:
Bring whipping cream to a simmer in a small saucepan, remove from heat. Add chocolate and whisk until smooth. Pour over cake still in pan. Refrigerate until ganache is set, ~2 hours.

Whipped cream:
Pour remaining whipping cream (1 cup from the 2 cup pint) in medium bowl. Add 1 tablespoon sugar (or to taste) and dash of flavored vinegar (I used pomegranate). Whisk your little heart out, until soft peaks form. You could use a mechanical whisker, but I really like to do it myself. Adjust sugar and vinegar--you are going for lightly sweetened.

Monday, August 9, 2010


I love pancakes. Actually, more broadly, I love brunch. By its very design, brunch is like giving yourself permission to slow down. It's a later in the day meal, shared with friends, meant to be lingered over, and often involves a drink. Friends, slowing down, and a well made drink--my favorite things. I love that in New York brunch is something you 'do,' and that in Brooklyn the relaxed pace makes it possible without an oppressively long wait. I love that it's a reliable fall-back idea: Can't think of what to do? Let's do brunch. I also really do love brunch food more than most other meals of the day. Eggs, omelets, frittatas, bacon, and pancakes. And I do love pancakes.

I actually consider pancakes a 'bridge' food. They aren't great for having friends over for brunch (standing at the stove making batches does not a happy hostess make) but they do require a certain amount of extra time to prepare and cook. I also don't, as a rule, order pancakes out--I usually find them dry, and restaurants almost never have real maple syrup. Thus, they're good for the "slow down" part of brunch, but closer to an every day food. Growing up my parents didn't make pancakes, they made crepes, which we called "clipes." We only ate them with maple syrup (which had to be real, no Mrs. Butterworth in our house), and they were a frequent weekend treat. The whole concept of savory crepes still kind of confuses me and I've yet to try them. Since I started cooking for myself (and DP) I've had to try to find my own "go to" pancake recipe. Crepes, unfortunately, are too eggy for DP. While that is something of a bummer, it has given me an excuse to experiment and go searching for the "perfect" pancake recipe.

I think I may have found my "favorite" pancake. It is moist, light, substantive (some pancake recipes, I have found, are too light), and has a great lemony flavor. I made these for DP's birthday and I look forward to enjoying them for many brunches to come.

Blueberry Lemon Ricotta Pancakes
adapted from Epicurious

4 lg eggs, separated
1 1/3 cups ricotta
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh grated lemon zest
1/2 cup all purpose flour
maple syrup

In a medium bowl whisk together the egg yolks, ricotta, sugar and lemon zest. Add the flour, stir until just combined. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites into the ricotta mixture until combined. Melt a small pat of butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until bubbling. Pour the batter into the skillet in 1/4 cup measures. Scatter blueberries into pancakes. Once you see bubbles forming on surfaces of the pancakes, flip (1-2 minutes per side). Cook 1-2 minutes more. Serve with maple syrup and extra blueberries.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Wait, is it August already? I can't believe what a whirlwind summer it has been. Since we got back from traveling I have been cooking up a storm while trying to avoid the unbearable heat and humidity in the city. More to come, later.

Back to July. One of my favorite holidays used to be the fourth of July. Up until I was ten, my entire family would get together for what we called a Penny Sale. All of my relatives would bring dishes to share, and items that they thought others would like to win in the raffle. My Aunt Lorraine, an Avon lady, would bring a whole carload of Avon products and organize the sale. We would arrange all of the items on folding tables and tape a dixie cup nearby. Raffle tickets were sold in envelopes ($2 for adults, I think kids got a discount); you would use your numbers to "bid" on the items. For instance, an envelope might hold 50 slips of paper with the number 2 on them. If you really, really wanted the little keepsake box, you would put all 50 of your tickets in the cup for that item, increasing the chances that your number would get picked. Funny memory--when I was around five I asked my aunt if I could carry on the tradition of doing the sale when she died. She was probably in her mid-fifties at the time.

While the raffle went on, we would sit in lawn chairs, eating barbecue, eagerly anticipating hearing our number from the "caller." In between, cousins and siblings would play lawn games and swing on the swing set. The day would culminate in backyard fireworks--the best, if not the safest, of firework displays.

Family circumstances caused the Penny Sales to be retired some 20 years ago, and the memories of them are drenched in nostalgia. Now I associate July 4 with Cape Cod, and even if I only have a few days off (like this year) I brave the traffic and head up there. Usually the weekend is full of barbecues at various family friends' houses, complete with bocce tournaments and babies, and the best adult perk: wine. This year I was sick and my parents weren't there, so DP and I embarked on a quest to make some authentically summery/Cape Cod-y food. We steamed lobsters, grilled corn and chicken, and made time for ice cream sundaes.

Our lobsters were delicious, and easily made once you get over the whole "they must be cooked while alive" hump. We read that placing them in the refrigerator prior to cooking numbs the nervous system, so we did that. I'm not sure if they were numb or not, but I like to think they fought a little less than usual.

*love the little barnacle by mr. lobster's eye

Loose directions for cooking lobster:
Place a large (really large) pot on the stove, fill with 1-2 inches water mixed with 2 tablespoons salt and the juice of 1 lemon. Bring water to a boil, add the lobsters (1-2 lbs each). Cover, steam 12-15 minutes or until lobster shells turn bright red. Serve with melted butter, preferably on plastic plates printed with instructions on how to eat a lobster (see above).

On the fourth, because I was sick, we kept everything really simple. Grilled the corn, in the husk, no bells and whistles--just butter. Grilled the chicken, brushing with store bought barbecue sauce (Dinosaur) frequently. Grilled romaine lettuce, dressed in store bought balsamic vinaigrette. Drank wine. Ate ice cream, and made it to the beach for the amateur fireworks show. It was great. Not too many pictures, but here's one of the corn: