Monday, November 22, 2010

Fall Dinner Party

For our dinner party Friday night we whipped up a tasty menu featuring seasonal ingredients:

First course: butternut squash risotto topped with grated asiago cheese. Secret ingredient: a dash of curry powder spices up this dish, complimenting the naturally bright orange hue of the squash and adding depth of flavor. Chop and saute the butternut squash first before starting the risotto (you can even make this ahead and refrigerate so it's ready in advance) and in the final stage when the risotto's ready and piping hot, stir in a soft cheese such as the fontina we chose, for absolute creaminess.
Second course: creamed spinach topped with caramelized eggplant, sundried tomatoes and fresh gorgonzola. Secret ingredient: a pinch of sugar caramelized the diced eggplant as it sautees, browning it wonderfully to perfection. It's best to toss the eggplant with sea salt and let sit for as long as possible before cooking, to soak up its natural moisture to achieve the desired caramelized consistency. I also add minced garlic to the eggplant when cooking (and minced shallots to the creamed spinach because, in the words of my chef friend Bennett, "shallot makes food taste good.")
Dessert: poached pears drizzled with hazelnut liquor served over vanilla ice cream. Secret ingredient: a spoonful of honey in the poaching liquid. This plates as such an elegant dessert and yet it couldn't be easier - peel and core pears, keeping the stems in, and submerge in a pot of sweet wine and water (I used half a bottle of Muscato with about two cups of water), vanilla and a cinnamon stick and turn heat up to simmer, about 15 minutes. In a small saucepan I made a simple syrup with hazelnut liquor and sugar, whisking until smooth. For presentation I placed two scoops of vanilla ice cream in each bowl, sitting the pears upright in the center, and drizzle the hazelnut simple syrup over top. *Tip: I found it helps to slice the bottoms off the pears to create a flat base so that they sit up while poaching and plating. The combination of the hot pear and cool ice cream is delectable, the fruit so soft it scoops up in your spoon ...

Using fresh produce and seasonal ingredients such as butternut squash and pears, this dinner is a perfect example of how one can serve a farm fresh vegetarian meal to entertain in style.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ginger Carrot Soup

This soup was another one of my experimental cooking creations - it was time to use up the copious amount of leftovers, and necessity is the mother of invention. So here's my process:

1) Had a bag of baby carrots were pushing ... not baby. So I sliced a third of them and sauteed them in brown butter in a heavy skillet (add brown sugar to melted butter and stir with wooded spoon) with sage, black pepper and a splash of maple syrup. Serve them hot.
2) Take the remaining cup(?) of baby carrots and give them a whirl in the blender to chop them up a bit. Add them to saucepan with bottom coated in olive oil on medium heat.
3) Add half a chopped onion and a small pear, diced, to mix the savory with sweet. Add a few tablespoons minced ginger and season with salt and pepper. Saute until onions are translucent and then add a cup of water and turn the heat up to simmer.
4) Next I poured the remaining maple brown butter leftover in the skillet into the pot, stirring in a pinch of nutmeg and a generous dash of white pepper. We had leftover rice in a mild curry broth in the fridge, so I stirred that in with the carrots as well.
5) I added a splash of rice vinegar and sesame seed oil, stirring to combine. Then I poured in a can of chicken broth and simmered for 20 minutes to half and hour, the pot cracked to let the soup reduce. I stirred in a little apple cider and salted to taste.
6) When the kitchen smelled deliciously of spicy sweet carrots I took the soup off the heat and poured it into the blender to puree. Then I poured the puree back into the hot pot and topped with freshly ground pepper.

This ginger carrot soup is healthy and delicious, packed with the all the carrots' nutrients and delicious flavor - ginger eases the stomach and the soup warms you up!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Wine and Cheese Party

The cheese platter I created for our wine and cheese party Saturday night:

Juicy grapes, two kinds of pear, walnuts, dried figs and honey accompany nine cheeses: blue cheese, smoked taleggio, herbed goat cheese, fontina, two types of brie, havarti with dill, smoked gouda, gorgonzola dulce, and an artisinal goat cheese.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Curried Sweet Potato Apple Soup

Here's my take on Curried Sweet Potato Apple Soup - I decided to combine chunky and smooth textures with both sweet potato puree and chunks of fresh sweet potato, as well as both applesauce and diced apple for the extra layers; the juxtaposition of spicy savory curry and sweet apple works surprisingly well.


1 medium sweet potato

1 can sweet potato puree

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced (my personal touch for a more chunky soup)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 small onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, smashed

1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, plus more for garnish

 Madras curry powder to taste (original recipe calls for 1 1/2 teaspoons but I used closer to 1/4 cup)

Pinch smoked paprika

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1 can low-sodium chicken broth

1 1/4 cups chunky applesauce

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Chopped fresh parsley garnish


Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the ginger, nutmeg, a few teaspoons curry powder, and salt and pepper to taste and cook until toasted, 1 more minute. Microwave sweet potato and scoop out flesh with a spoon. Peel and dice green apple and add to pot.

Add the  sweet potato pieces and puree, chicken broth and 2 cups water to the pot, cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and stir in the applesauce. Simmer, covered, until the sweet potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, stirring to soften potato chunks and adjust spices to taste. *I added a pinch of Hungarian smoked paprika for extra zing and more curry powder as the soup cooked. I finished it with a baby pinch of brown sugar - so good with the spicy and sweet in this soup - and served the soup in a hollowed out loaf of Tuscan bread, homemade bread bowl with bread pieces tossed in to sop up the succulent soup, and garnished with fresh parsley, toasted pumpkin seeds, nutmeg and freshly ground pepper on top.  It was literally finger-licking good!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Hamersley Cooks

A fun video of Gordon Hamersley, chef and owner of Hamersley's Bistro, preparing simple gourmet fall recipes with  pumpkin:

Watch as he makes curried pumpkin soup with roasted apple and creme fraiche, pickled pumpkin salad, and roasted pumpkin with lentils, wheat berries, and romesco sauce.  Now that's my kind of seasonal cooking! 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Community Supported Agriculture

My boss has a CSA share, which we like to refer to as the "magic box." Basically you pay for a season's worth of regular produce from the participating farm, which you can pick up directly at the farm or designated locations throughout the city for the urban clientele. It's a great deal: pay a flat fee and then receive 20 weeks of fresh fruits and vegetables, whatever crops the farm is harvesting that week. Not to mention the surprise factor is great - you never know what will arrive in your box!

But what is Community Supported Agriculture?

CSA is a model that has been implemented by many small farms as a mutually beneficial partnership between the business and the consumer. The consumer purchases a share of the coming season's harvest. Typically, the share is paid for well in advance of the season. Consumers receive a good value for fresh, local vegetables and an enhanced relationship with their local farm. The farm receives income in the winter months when the seed, plant and supply bills are piling up and other farm income is minimal or non-existent. CSA also provides the farm an important avenue to supply product directly to the people eating it.

For us city folks who don't have the space to grow our own gardens, a CSA share is the perfect way to eat fresh year-round, while supporting our local growers. Look for a CSA pick-up location near you!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

On Food Exploration

"I am not a glutton - I am an explorer of food." ~Erma Bombeck

Monday, November 8, 2010

New York Bites

This weekend we went to the city that never sleeps, which is, above all things in my mind, a literal "melting pot" and culinary mecca! The sights, the smells - there's such a great variety of food in New York City that the real problem is deciding what to try next. So in our quick trip, a "New York minute," we ate our way through the city. Here are my recommendations:
  • Best bagel: Bagel Smith in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. New York's known for bagels, so this is a breakfast must! Interestingly NYC was the first place I saw orders for hollowed-out bagels, for those opting to scoop out some of those extra "evil white carbs." My favorites are toasted everything bagels with light cream cheese or poppyseed with hummus and sprouts.
  • Best hamburger and fries: Shake Shack in Madison Square. You eat at picnic tables out in the square, enjoying the city sights, while enjoying the all-American classic meal. Get the double stack and be prepared for a monster of a burger - two large patties, not overcooked like most fast food joints, stacked on top of each other and dripping with juicy goodness. I'm not a big meat eater and even I had to take a bite of this one. The fries are nice golden ripple fries (no limp, greasy thin fries here) and of course there's milkshakes ...
  • Best French onion soup: Steak Frites in Chelsea - tasty French food at an affordable price. The French onion soup is cooked in a clay pot with the gruyere cheese bubbling on top and the rich broth below, the onions so soft they melt in your mouth. Perfect on a cold night with a glass of wine and a table of good friends - the restaurant's cozy atmosphere is perfect for groups or date nights alike.
  • Best hot chocolate: City Bakery on West 18th. The hot chocolate is so rich and creamy, like a melted milk chocolate bar poured in a teacup with a homemade marshmallow that just soaks up the chocolatey goodness. In addition to their assortment of tantalizing bakery items (their classic chocolate chip cookie is huge, soft, and pretty much perfect), City Bakery also has a savory food buffet serving everything from brussel sprouts to scrambled tofu; we stayed from the brunch wave through lunch time and their menu shifts to serve up hot meals to all crowds. But it's the hot chocolate that really shines - you have to try it!
  • Best quick-fix Italian meal: Eataly, the behemouth Italian food market from the vision of the famed chef Mario Batali, which features a number of fine-dining restaurants as well as assorted counters for espresso, panini, gelato, gourmet cheeses, fresh pasta, a butchery, fish counter, and even produce. Having just opened a few months ago, the new 50,000-square-foot market is "pazzo" as they say in Italian - crazy - busy filled to the brim, but totally worth the hype in my opinion. The atmosphere really emulates the Italian eating experience with tables of people enjoying prosciutto and figs and glasses of red wine, and the food is actually authentic (according to my Italian experts) and delicious!
  • Best cupcake: Magnolia of course. Interestingly I saw my first cupcake van on this trip to New York; riding the growing popularity of food trucks that's booming especially in large cities like LA and NYC right now, rather than offering up hot Vietnamese food, this truck offers sexy little cupcakes! Desserts on the move? Now that's sweet.
City Bakery's heavenly hot chocolate:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Southwestern Three-Squash Stew

We had a plethora of squash decorating our dining room as the autumnal table centerpiece, but as they were nearing "over the hill" I decided to cook them up into something delicious. While perusing Alicia Silverstone's pro-vegan lifestyle cookbook The Kind Diet I came across a recipe for kabocha squash and soybean soup, with a photograph so enticing I couldn't wait to try it.

While Alicia's recipe calls for soybeans and shoyu, or a variation with azuki beans - Asian red beans that they use to make red bean paste - for a Japanese flavor base, I decided to do a Southwestern interpretation. I used a kabocha squash, carnival squash, and acorn squash for my three-squash stew, to combine a variety of different squash flavors with spices and hearty beans, creating a dish that warms you up these chilly November nights!

3 squash (I used acorn, carnivale, and kabocha, but other winter squash will work)
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
3-4 tbsp. minced garlic
salt to taste
red pepper flakes to taste
1/4 cup cumin (approx.)
1/4 cup chili powder (approx.)
15-oz. can diced tomatoes
2 cans black beans
1/2 can kidney beans
chicken/vegetable stock on hand
tsp. cilantro
pinch dark brown sugar
grated cheddar cheese

Here's my method:

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and cut squash into halves, laying them facedown on the baking pan and roasting them for an hour in the oven, or until soft and tender.
2) Scoop out the squash flesh with a spoon, carefully so as not to tear the skin, reserving the remaining shell for squash "cups" to serve in.
3) Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pot on medium-high heat and dice an onion - I used half a yellow onion and half a red - adding to oil and stirring until translucent. Throw in a few tablespoons of minced garlic, a pinch of salt and dash of crushed red pepper flakes.
4) Add cumin and chili powder - *note I used at least 1/4 cup of each to start and added more as the stew came along, because I'm a spicy girl, but if you can't take the heat, go moderately here!
5) Pour in a can of diced tomatoes, stirring to combine, along with two cans of black beans and half a can of kidney beans. I had originally planned to use just black beans for their smaller shape (and because I thought the flavors of a rich black bean soup would pair nicely with squash) but in her blog The Kind Life Alicia mentioned that she tried her recipe with kidney beans so I thought adding some of these sweeter red beans would add another flavor dimension. If you want this stew to be soupier rather than like a vegetarian chili, don't drain off all the liquid and you can even add chicken or vegetable stock to the beans and tomatoes to make it wetter.
6) Add the pieces of squash to the stew and stir into bean-tomato-onion mixture. I found that the softer pieces of squash broke down and melded into the sauce while I left some of the larger chunks still intact (as Alicia's recipe pictured) to have sweet squash nuggets among the spicy base. Season to taste (I added dried cilantro and more hot chili flakes, as well as a pinch of brown sugar to balance the heat) and simmer on low until your desired consistency - this depends on preference, whether you want it soupier or chunkier - and let the flavors meld.
7) Scoop stew into hollowed squash skin shells and top with grated cheddar cheese, heating under broiler a few minutes before serving.

This meal really hit the spot after this cold and rainy weather we've been having, as the spicy hot stew clears out the sinuses and warms the belly. It's also jam-packed with fiber, from two kinds of beans and three kinds of squash - you get the protein and nutrients, and it fills you up! This was my first time cooking with kabocha squash and I absolutely love it, as the sweet orange flesh has the flavor of a soft sweet potato or even slow-cooked carrot - it's seriously addictive. Combining this with the yellower, woodier winter squash varieties made a great flavor fusion in the pot, the different tastes mingling to create a really wonderful result. Not to mention serving it up in the little squash cups is such a festive fall presentation!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Boston Vegetarian Food Festival

We went to the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival this weekend, for a herbivore escapade. There was an impressive array of exhibitors in attendance, with a multitude of vegetarian and vegan products, and of course the best part of all - free samples! From vegan cookies to organic tea to vegetarian cookbooks to the Herbivore Clothing Company's eco-friendly clothing and accessories, the festival had a multitude to enjoy. Whether tantalizing the tastebuds or informing the masses about a Green lifestyle, the vendors had a ton of new tastes (and ideas) to try.

After sampling the lot I think it's fair to say I've now tried a considerable variety of vegetarian products. Like all things, they are not made the same. Some of my favorite brands at the festival were:
  • Looking for a healthy snack? Try Sarah's Seaweed Salsa: the seaweed salsa is suprisingly delicious - who ever thought algae would taste good on chips? But mixed with spicy green peppers it really works - we had some on scrambled eggs and tofu for brunch the next morning and it was excellent. Now I love seaweed salad, but those who aren't lovers of the marine taste will find this product isn't overwhelmingly "fishy" tasting. This brand was by far my pick of the many seaweed offerings at the festival!
  • Missing that meat? Try May Wah Healthy Vegetarian Food: there were many vendors offering imitation meat and "tofurky" samples, but the best by far was May Wah. They cooked the faux-meat on the steaming griddle right in front of you, with an expansive variety of flavors such as chicken nuggets, tuna, salmon, ginger beef and BBQ pork. The most authentic for me was the teryaki beef - it tasted just like meat! If you have a chance to stop by their restaurant in New York City I recommend you stop by.
  • Craving something sweet? Go for Luna and Larry's Coconut Bliss: this ice cream made from coconut milk is rich, creamy, literally melt-in-your-mouth good and beats the soy ice cream brands I've tried, hands down. With such sexy flavors as Naked Almond Fudge, Dark Chocolate and Cherry Amaretto, how can you not be enticed? I tried Cappuccino and loved it so much I want to taste them all. It's sold at Whole Foods.
  • Want something truly out of the ordinary? The most far-out exhibitor at the festival by far was Crazy Camel Dessert Hummus, made right up in New Hampshire. Their wacky flavors do a sweet take on the traditionally savory snack, such as chocolate mousse, peanut butter, and toasted almond; we tried their pumpkin pie and caramel apple - perfect for autumn. It's low fat and high in fiber, and one of the creators Bonnie informed us that they use 95% chickpeas, pretty hard to believe when you taste how smooth and creamy the hummus is - this is a totally unconventional approach but you have to give it a try!

Pumpkin Bread

I wanted to bake a festive fall treat for Halloween, (with some nutritional value) so I decided to make organic pumpkin bread with a maple cream cheese glaze. Here's the recipe I created:

1/2 cup safflower oil (vegetable oil works if you can't find this)
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar, loosely packed (I used dark brown sugar for a richer, more molasses-y flavor)
2 eggs
2/3 can organic pumpkin puree (I used Trader Joe's brand - be sure to get unseasoned pumpkin puree and not pumpkin pie mix, which already has added sweeteners)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup buckwheat flour (I used vegan pancake mix we got at the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
*Can add walnuts to taste but I went nut-free to celebrate the pumpkin flavor

1.) Preheat oven 350 degrees and grease and flower loaf pan.
2.) Mix safflower oil and sugars in large bowl. Add two lightly beated eggs and pumpkin puree.
3.) Add seasoning to taste and stir to combine. Add dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated - should have the consistency of cake batter and nice amber color.
4.) Pour into loaf pan and bake for 35-40 minutes.
5.) Cool on rack at least 15 minutes before topping with maple cream cheese glaze. Serve warm or at room temperature.

To make the glaze: beat cream cheese with about 2 tbsp. real maple syrup and half cup sugar or to taste. Let sit at room temperature to soften while bread bakes. Use spatula to spread over warm bread to drip over edges. So good!

This pumpkin bread is rich and moist and truly to die for - this one got demolished. Yet I constructed a recipe that still has a healthy flare; between the fiber-filled organic pumpkin, wholesome buckwheat flour, and minimal safflower oil so the bread is butter-free, it's relatively low in fat and retains some nutrients. Of course I indulged my sweet tooth with the sugar, but as my creation is super-sweet you can try the recipe using less sugar if you prefer. Combine soft fluffy pumpkin bread with the tangy cream cheese and a hint of maple flavor, and you have the most incredible Halloween treat!