Waking up to another gray day in Boston, my cappuccino tastes more cozy and comforting than usual. Weekday morning routines consist of some morning catch-up: deleting spam e-mail, writing in my weekly planner, and randomly pulling a cookbook off the skylight staircase, which acts as a "bookshelf," to gain a little daily food-cookery inspiration. James Beard, the man we all know of and admire, must have been constantly quotable, but this one struck me more so than usual. "When you cook, you never stop learning. That's the fascination of it."
When I attempt a recipe for the first time, James Beard's mentality in this inspirational quote is my motivation. It's only food! If the polenta gets too thick, if the cookies burn, if the pasta is too gummy, I'm learning from all of these hands-on cooking experiences. Sure, the finished product is not as appetizing, but for the most part, it's still edible. As I gain more confidence in my cooking and writing my own recipes, I use these cookbooks as inspirational fuel for my own ideas and creations. Once you get to that point, the kitchen is the most exciting place to be.
Whenever friends or random acquaintances tell me they cannot cook, I think it's simply a feeling of failure, or even embarrassment. I still have these moments too! Even chocolate souffles, a dessert that evokes wonderment and awe, is simply egg whites whipped [not too much] and a chocolate base. Sadly, I overcooked my last batch, but the intensity of the chocolate still hit the spot. That's the best part about learning from cooking the basics, from scratch, and all raw, whole ingredients.
Take lemon juice, lime juice, sugar, and eggs on the stovetop, and it is fascinatingly simple how it will thicken into your own homemade curd: better than anything store-bought. Buy a high-quality coarse cornmeal for a creamy polenta recipe, and it actually tastes like fresh summer corn! Not cardboard-esque like the storebought rubber tubes. It drives my boyfriend crazy that I talk about food and cooking all of the time, but it never tires for me.
The science and transformative properties that cooking and baking do to food is endlessly exciting and remarkable. My kind of learning, and in today's food-foodie-artisanal-obsessed world, there is step-by-step access to cooking from scratch anything, everywhere.
Find a favorite food podcast, online blogger, trusty chef with a few published cookbooks, or any food writer, and they'll tell you that there is trepidation with any new recipe, ingredient, or technique. The fascination that comes with those initial attempts is one of the coolest experiences you'll have in the kitchen. Sharing it with loved ones is even better, and if it fails, all the more reason to try again...and maybe pop the cork on that second bottle of wine.
And cheers to those "third time's the charm" moments, when a pizza crust is the perfect texture, or a soup's flavor comes together right before serving, and when cookies are golden all over and the ideal chewiness. My favorite moments in cooking.
I'm nervous. In less than a month, I am attending Kristin's [John's brother's fiance] bachelorette party! Yikes! This is my first involvement actually in someone's wedding, and don't get me wrong, I am excited to celebrate and party it up with the ladies. However, I believe it involves a pool bar, which means I will be imbibing....in a bathing suit. Sure, I run here and there to attempt to stay "fit," but winter was very, very good to me...very cozy, so I have to get rid of this winter [flub] coat! Working long hours in a restaurant, eating sporadically, and not often sleeping the recommended 8 hours, it can be tough to desire a healthful lifestyle 24/7.
So, this is my goal for the spring and summer: eat fresh, whole foods, and moderate the more indulgent snacks and drinks. I believe that maintaining a slim, healthy frame and sense of being is truly all about moderation! That word we know and love, but it sneaks up on us as we get older, less active, and unaware of how quickly those mindless munchies add up. Here is a recipe that I made to fill you up, but with all the right nutrients and whole foods in mind, and it's gluten free!
Featured in the Boston Globe today, this is my red quinoa salad with roasted butternut, white beans, toasted pumpkin seeds, and cilantro, all mixed in a spicy lime vinaigrette. The bright, citrusy element of the dressing complements the filling, richness of the squash and beans, which also really helps to lighten up this whole grain, whole veggie meal.
Feel free to swap in flat leaf parsley, if you are anti-cilantro...don't worry, I understand you, my sister is a part of that bunch thinking that cilantro is "vile" and "soapy." The toasted pumpking seeds add a nice crunch, and I like to toss them with a little paprika to complement the spicy dressing. I'll be posting more healthful spring dishes for the next few weeks, with a sprinkling of desserts thrown in, all about balance =).
Red Quinoa Salad with Spicy Lime Vinaigrette, serves 4.
For the vinaigrette:
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 small jalapeno, seeded, finely chopped
Grated rind of 1/2 lime
Juice of 2 limes
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons canola oil
1. In small bowl, combine the shallot, garlic, jalapeno, lime rind and juice, lemon juice, salt, black pepper, and red pepper.
2. In another small bowl, combine the olive oil with the canola oil. Gradually whisk in the oil mixture in a slow steady stream. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if you like.
For the salad:
1/2 cup pepitas (toasted pumpkin seeds)
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 cup red quinoa
2 cups water
1 1/2 pounds peeled, seeded butternut squash, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon canola oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 can (15 ounces) white beans, drained
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, sprinkle the pepitas with olive oil and paprika. Stir well. Spread the pepitas in one layer. Toast in oven for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Tip the pepitas into a bowl; cool.
2. Turn the oven temperature up to 400 degrees.Wipe off the baking sheet. Add the butternut squash, canola oil, salt, and pepper. Toss well. Roast for 30 to 35 minutes, turning the squash half way through, or until it caramelizes; cool.
3. In a saucepan over medium heat, toast the quinoa, stirring often, for 2 minutes, or until the grains are aromatic. Add the water and a pinch of salt. Stir well and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover the pan, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until quinoa is tender. Transfer to a large bowl and fluff with a fork.
4. Add the squash, beans, half of the pepitas, and cilantro to the quinoa. Drizzle the dressing over the salad, and toss gently to combine.
5. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt and pepper, if you like. Garnish with remaining pepitas and additional cilantro leaves.
Feelings today consist of a heavy heart and a surreal sense of this painful reality. My heart goes out to all of the runners, families, friends, and Bostonians who were affected by this horrific incident. Reviewing the imagery and videos from yesterday still remains unfathomable. Thankfully, my loved ones are safe, and as I was working a mere mile away from the explosions, my coworkers and I were out of harms way. There is an immense sense of resilience and community support in this city, and Boston will only come together stronger in full force in the face of such attacks.
In such times, I find it hard to be excited about things, but that's okay. My boyfriend is working from home, which is nice for us to be together the day after. I know that I will have to put on a smiling face when I head to work this afternoon. My heart is exasperated for Boston, but tonight will be a moment to provide people comfort through food, drink, and social banter that can temporarily uplift our spirits...because that's all we can do in times like these. Share smiles through a meal that acts as a slight reprive during such tragedy.
Food as comfort is an amazing cure-all. As I walked the solemn, 3 mile stretch home to my apartment, with public transit suspended, all I could think about was embracing John and my friends, knowing they were safe in my apartment. That's all I wanted to do, feed my friends and talk about how gracious we were for being safe and sound, together. It was a quick sobering up as they sat, watching the news, as the replaying footage made them realize that they were only a mere two blocks away from the explosions.
I wanted to write this post letting everyone know that I feel for Boston, and the loss of lives that we've experienced. Marathon Monday will never be the same again, but what we can do now is come together, pray for those in mourning, and embrace them; make them feel loved, comforted, consoled through any means necessary. Sharing stories over food and drink can bring us a temporary sense of normalcy in such tragic times. Thanks to all of my friends and family for checking in on us. We are going to be alright, eventually, together <3 .
Spring is here! Spring is here! Yep, I knew I would jinx this as my blogging attempt froze yesterday, deleted itself, and waking up this morning with 40 degree temps and torrential winds whipping around my apartment. The actual sunshine did feel amazing earlier this week, and it is inspiring me to get back in shape. Not just for looks, but for feeling more healthy on the inside and simply comfortable with myself! Also, another big step, I flossed yesterday, which...that did not feel so grand. I know, it should be everyday, but my gums instantly became swollen and a headache ensued. Guess it's been a bit too long!
I hope everyone had a great Easter holiday! John and I celebrated the holiday with his family back in NJ, along with his parent's 40th wedding anniversary! How amazing? I aspire to be as adorable and loving as they are one day, so genuine and sweet =). Well, I hope I've lead you on long enough with these photos! This is a fun idea I had to combine Italian dessert elements into a classically layered parfait dessert.
If you are a cannoli lover like myself, then please make this very soon. Sweetened ricotta is layered between crushed amaretti cookies [those sweet, brittle almond rounds], and freshly toasted hazelnuts. Also, something to really top it all off, please make your own whipped cream!
It makes a huge difference and adds a personal homemade touch to a dessert when you whip up some heavy cream with a little sugar. As long as you have a electric hand mixer or Kitchenaid on hand, super simple, but don't over whip. I'm excited to share with you that this is my second published recipe for the Boston Globe! Tooting my own horn, I am officially a food freelancer!
How fancy does that sound? It definitely feels good and certainly puts the parents at ease for spending an additional 2 years in school for my Masters degree. Ah, so if you make these and want to add even more indulgence, please add in a little drizzle of Nutella or chocolate sauce, can you imagine?! To enhance the almond flavor of the amaretti cookies, I chose to add a little spoonful of natural almond extract to the whipped cream [or try some almond liqueur instead!].
Please tell me what you think of the parfait photos! My attempts at food styling with John's fancy camera. There is a ton more strategy involved, where to get the best lighting, nice looking props for the background, dishes that aren't too obnoxious looking! Whew, certainly a learning process, and I've been trying to emulate the pro's, so it's been an interesting journey. This photo was St. Patrick's Day, sitting on the roof, observing the parade, well the actual parade and the procession of drunken people staggering about. Truly entertaining! Let me know what you think of this recipe, cheers!
Individual Italian Parfaits, serves 4
1/2 cup skinned hazelnuts, toasted
15 ounces whole or part-skim ricotta
1/4 cup vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
25 amaretti cookies
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 ounce semi-sweet or sweet chocolate, grated (for garnish)
-Set the oven at 375 degrees. Have on hand 4 tall glasses or coupe glasses.
-In a baking dish, toast the hazelnuts, stirring often, for 8 to 10 minutes or until browned and fragrant; cool. Chop the hazelnuts coarsely and transfer to a bowl; set aside.
-In a bowl, whisk the ricotta to a creamy consistency. Whisk in the yogurt, 1/4 cup of the confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla extract. Cover and refrigerate.
-Meanwhile, place cookies in a large zipper-top plastic bag. Use a rolling pin to crush them to the size of peas.
-In a cold bowl with cold beaters, beat the cream and the remaining 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar until it holds soft peaks.
-In the glasses, spoon 1 tablespoon of the ricotta mixture, and sprinkle with amaretti and hazelnuts. Continue layering in this way, ending with a thin layer of ricotta. Add a spoonful of whipped cream to each, top with the reserved hazelnuts and grated chocolate.
Close your eyes, and think about the flavors and textures of your highest-quality extra virgin olive oil. Verdent, lush, and extra savory. That amazing, tantalizing imagery can be reality when you make this pissaladiere! Simple to make, tricky to pronounce, a pissaladiere is a flat, crispy pizza-like specialty from southern France that is traditionally topped with onions, anchovies, olives, and herbs.
It is yeast-based, but what I find unique and extra special about this flatbread is the shaping technique: you get to rub your hands in that amazing olive oil and generously caress that proofed dough ball all over with delicious olive oil.
This additional olive oil allows the pissaladiere to achieve the most perfectly crisp exterior, while still maintaing the tiniest central layer of supple chewiness. I made two of these in the traditional oval-like shape, then cut them into "squares," or whatever individual shape you think those are that make them handheld. My coworkers loved it!
Swapping in half whole wheat flour, this gave my pissaladieres a richer flavor and extra crunchy thinness. For timing, feel free to caramelize those onions while the dough is rising! My inspiration came from a blogger site and the one and only, Saveur, our savior for all recipes that make us feel knowledgeable, fancy, and well-traveled! Let me know how yours turn out, cheers!
Dearest Mother Nature, why is this white fluff still falling from the sky? Residents of Boston have had it with the blizzarding, black ice, gray slushy messes, and their soggy socks and frozen feet. My culinary mindset is forced to remain focusing on braises, stews, and bountiful cups of ginger lemon tea. I'm ready for spring greens, fresh asparagus, buttery leeks, and other vibrant veggies right now! Aren't you? With my free time, I have this cutsy little "decomposition book," which is my newest note-taking space for brainstorming recipe ideas and listing a plethora of ingredients to chop, roast, mix, and whip.
It's hard to be organized about these things, especially if an "a-ha!" moment happens as you're stalled on the green line underground, or if you are running at the gym, and you just happen to jot down those ideas in the wrong place. Yep, I do that a bunch. John has this idea that if you are visualizing the inside of my brain, there are monkeys playing cymballs, doing somersaults, throwing and multi-team juggling pieces of fruit, and the like. That is my thought process, most of the time.
Here is a successful page in that new notebook: a spicy sausage stew with kale, white beans, and a hint of tomato. Yes, yes, sadly I am still trying to warm us all up a bit. Soups, pastas, even some desserts all appreciate a little sprinkling of hot spices. Not to the point of intolerable to finish the plate, but a little bit of heat goes a long way. The spicy element in this dish comes from the fresh Italian hot sausage, which I bought from Whole Foods and squeezed out of the casings. KInd of icky, kind of fun, but if it's not your thing, feel free to buy it simply ground, sans tubular intenstine vessel [sorry if you didn't know this!]. On a sub-30 degree day with the addition of a painful wind chill, make this for your hubby. Comforting, hearty, and spicy, oh, and don't tell him it's kale.
Spicy Sausage and Kale Ragout, Serves 4
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
3 spicy Italian pork sausages (about 1 pound), removed from casing
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 can (15 ounces) white beans, drained
1 can (15 ounces) diced tomatoes
2 bunches curly kale (about 1 pound), stemmed, rinsed, dried, and cut into bite-size pieces
2 cups chicken stock
1. In a large pot over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add the sausage and brown it for 5 minutes, breaking up large pieces with a spoon. Add the garlic, cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the beans, tomatoes and their liquid, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
2. Add half the kale and half the stock. Fold the sausage mixture at the bottom over the top of the kale to wilt it. Repeat with the remaining kale and stock, pressing down on the kale gently to coat all of the leaves. Cover and simmer for 10 minute. Turn the heat to medium-low, stir the mixture, and let it simmer with the cover askew, for 10 minutes more.
3. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if you like. Ladle into shallow bowls.
UPDATE: I am excited to announce that this is my first recipe to be published! You can find it in the Food section of the Boston Globe here. Cheers to a great Wednesday!