January 13, 2012

London 2012

For those of you who don't know, Sam and I are spending three months in London while he completes his MBA at London Business School.  Because of this, I'm taking a little break from posting recipes here (although not from cooking in general!) In the meantime, please follow our European adventures at aspotoftea.tumblr.com. Cheers!

December 5, 2011

Tree Trimming (Literally)

Sam and I went out and bought our first Christmas tree as a family yesterday!  Ok, a little two-person family, but it was fun nonetheless. A couple of observations: 1) I got used to NYC where you can find nice little trees for your nice little apartments.  In NC, these do not exist and I can only assume it's because everyone lives in palaces compared to the city.  2) Christmas trees are NOT cheap.  With these two observations, we came home with a nice "little" six foot tree although once it was up in our tiny house, it didn't look so little anymore.  We put it up in our brand-new plastic stand and thankfully had enough ornaments collected over the years to make it look good. We were pretty proud of ourselves. Until we came back into the room and the tree was nearly toppled over! Apparently we should have taken off a few of the branches at the bottom to make sure the tree fit tightly in the stand.  Off came a couple of limbs, off came the lights only to be restrung, and now our perfect little six foot Christmas tree is a nice 5 foot 8.  Much more manageable!
To accompany this activity, I decided to make an easy Bolognese sauce.  A comforting meal even though it was 70 degrees out and it didn't much feel like Christmas outside.  I put on the Christmas music and pretended we had a cozy fire and we decided to make it feel like a New England Christmas even if we were no where near one.  For the Bolognese, I turned, once again, to Giada.  Her simple Italian recipes are always spot on and are usually the perfect one pot meals.  As always, I added the cooked pasta directly into the sauce with a bit of the pasta water to make the sauce thicken.  Definitely try this technique the next time you make any pasta sauce.

Simple Bolognese (from Giada De Laurentiis)

  • Serves 4-6

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
  • 1 carrot, coarsely chopped
  • 1 pound ground chuck beef
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup flat-leaf Italian parsleychiffonade
  • 8 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
In a 6 quart pot, add extra-virgin olive oil. When almost smoking, add the onion and garlic and saute over medium heat until the onions become very soft, about 8 minutes. Add the celery and carrot and saute for 5 minutes. Raise heat to high and add the ground beef. Saute, stirring frequently and breaking up any large lumps and cook until meat is no longer pink, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes, parsley and basil and cook over medium low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1/2 hour. Finish bolognese with Pecorino Romano. Check for seasoning.
Serve hot.

November 28, 2011

We Gather Together

Goodness.  Another Thanksgiving has come and gone.  This year, Sam and I hosted both sets of parents and my youngest brother here in Chapel Hill in our tiny house.  The oven was pumping all day and I spent most of it either cooking, checking, tasting, or shooing people out of the kitchen. Ok, mostly shooing.  I think I've already mentioned, I don't delegate well.  But, Thanksgiving is not a meal you can make alone.  There are just too many components, too many dishes that need to be timed perfectly to make sure everything arrives on the table piping hot.  I think I planned the meal pretty well, but it's clear I have quite a few Thanksgivings to go before I can be calm, cool, and collected in the kitchen.  A big thank you to my mom and mom-in-law for making two beautiful pies, my dad for helping to stuff the turkey and make the gravy, and to Sam for tackling the carving.  Oh, and of course to my brother and father-in-law for expertly pouring the water and champagne.  It was a full family affair.
The table (or tables)

Everyone has their own traditional Thanksgiving dishes and in my home they always included sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberries, gravy, and most importantly turkey.  There was often something green on the plate, but it was mostly just for the color.  The sweet potatoes went through a phase where they were covered with toasty mini marshmallows and there was one year when we had a frozen cranberry sorbet sort of thing.  But mostly, it was all about the turkey and the gravy.  Not brined, not dry rubbed, just plain, roasted turkey and always stuffed.  I've continued that tradition (although I've updated the stuffing...sorry Mom) and I think our table looked pretty good, if cobbled together.  Here are a few recipes from our meal - don't be afraid to try them out before next Thanksgiving!

Sweet Potato and Carrot Puree (from The Silver Palate)
Serves 6-8

4 large sweet potatoes (about 2 lbs)
1 lb carrots
2 1/2 cups water
1 tsbp sugar
12 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup creme fraiche
1/2 tsp nutmeg
dash of cayenne pepper (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375. Scrub the potatoes and cut a small, deep slit in the top of each. Set on the center rack of the oven and bake until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, peel and trim the carrots and cut them into 1-inch lengths. Put them in a saucepan and add the water, sugar, 2 tbsp of the butter, and salt and pepper. Set over medium heat, bring to a boil, and cook, uncovered, until the water has evaporated and the carrots begin to sizzle in the butter, about 30 minutes. The carrots should be tender. If not, add a little additional water and cook until the carrots are done and all the liquid has evaporated. Scrape out the flesh of the sweet potatoes and combine with the carrots in a food processor. Add the remaining butter and the creme fraiche and process until very smooth. Add the nutmeg, and season with salt and pepper, Add the cayenne, if desired, and process briefly to blend. To reheat, transfer to an ovenproof serving dish and cover with aluminum foil. Heat in a preheated 350 degree oven until steaming hot, about 25 minutes.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Serves 8

8 cups Brussels Sprouts
olive oil
coarse salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Clean and trim the Brussels Sprouts and cut them in half, keeping all of the leaves.  Toss in olive oil, salt and pepper and roast for 30-40 minutes until the sprouts are browned and crisped.

Sam wrestling with the big bird.

Whatever your tradition, I hope you had a wonderful holiday filled with family, friends, and food. But above all, I hope you had a chance to contemplate what you are thankful for, because although Thanksgiving shouldn't be the only time of year we think about all that we are grateful for, it's a pretty wonderful time to focus on it.

Have leftovers?  Consider making Turkey Rice Soup!

November 8, 2011

When in Doubt, Make a Pizza!

Do you ever have those days when nothing seems appetizing?  You can't think of one thing that you want to have for dinner and you're not even sure that you're hungry?  Well, today was one of those days.  I had a pretty frustrating day and to be honest, all I really wanted was to have a gallon of wine. Ok, not a gallon, more like two big glasses, but you get the picture. Now in NY, with our tiny kitchen, this would have meant a quick trip to the local Chinese place around the corner or a pizza joint. But here in NC?  Those simply don't exist.  No let me rephrase that.  They exist, but no self-respecting NY foodie would be a patron of one (you heard me, "I Love NY Pizza").  Plus, Sam and I are really trying to cook at home every night of the work week  down here.  It generally hasn't been difficult, but when you run into a night like tonight when you are so uninspired you contemplate not eating dinner, it becomes quite a chore.

Enter the Trader Joe's fresh pizza dough.  Sam and I have discovered the wonders of making your own pizza fresh from the oven.  I even got these really cool circular pizza pans for our wedding with holes in the bottom to let the heat properly bake the pies evenly.  It's been a revelation and we now always seem to have pizza makings in our fridge and extra dough in the freezer.  I've already mentioned my fear of baking with yeast (hence the fact that I run to TJ's for $1.79 dough instead of making my own) so this is a wonderful substitute.  As long as you have tomato sauce and grated cheese, your option are endless.  Tonight's pie?  Arugula and salami with a taste of truffle salt.  Paired with a salad drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette, it was the perfect antidote to an otherwise uninspired meal.

When it comes to pizza, let your imagination (and fridge) guide you.  Have some mushrooms, broccolini, and potatoes?  Slice them thin and throw them on!  Have some leftover charcuterie from a delicious dinner party? That will work too! My favorite?  Fresh tomatoes and garlic. Simply delicious.

The only specific recipe I'll give you is bake your pizza at 500 degrees for roughly 12-13 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and the crust is golden brown.  It will come out perfectly every time.

November 3, 2011

Food52 Wrap Up

The Table is Ready and Waiting!
Well, I have to say, it was pretty cool to see my (now old) name in print last week.  In honor of the launch of the Food52 Cookbook, I told you I was going to host a potluck party  and boy did we ever.  Although we were a small group, we had enough food to feed us twice over.  In the end it was exactly what a Food52 potluck should be - friends sharing recipes, cooking tips, and favorite cooking tools.  Here are a few snaps from the party - a big thank you to the lovely ladies who bravely went into their kitchens and tried the recipes I chose from Food52.  Each dish was fabulous and delicious and the party would not have been a success without each one of them.  Next time you're thinking of throwing a potluck, take a look at the Food52 cookbook, plan the menu, then let everyone else shine.

Plus two more dishes that were so good, they went before I could take a photo of them!  Fig and Blue Cheese Savouries and Rosemary and Thyme Pita Chips.  The savouries will definitely be put into my party appetizer rotation!

Lastly, a big thank you to Lot18.com who provided us with 4 bottles of Gann Family 2005 Merlot from Alexander Valley, Sonoma.  (Special because Sam and I went to that area on our honeymoon!)

October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

It's Halloween and although I didn't dress up this year, I still love the excitement of the night.  I love jack-o-lanterns, roasted pumpkin seeds, and the sight of little witches, superheroes, and ghosts running up and down driveways to grab as much candy as they can, as quickly as they can before their parents tell them it's time to go home.  This Halloween, I dutifully bought a bag of candy and waited for our trick-or-treaters, but what I really wish I could have given them was a bag of homemade treats. Unfortunately, even I grew up knowing you didn't eat Halloween candy that wasn't hermetically sealed by the manufacturer.
If you do feel comfortable giving homemade treats to your neighbors, then I would recommend this easy and delicious chocolate bark. It can be changed to fit whatever your fancy - even yellow candy corn would make a welcome addition to this chocolate treat.  Oh, and don't just wait until next Halloween to try this out - I'm sure you can come up with a few excellent holiday variations on the theme as well!

Chocolate Bark  
Adapted from Whole Living magazine

2 bars of 70% dark chocolate (3.5 oz each)
1/4 cup chopped roasted almonds
1/4 cup chopped dried cranberries
zest from half an orange
sprinkle of sea salt

Prepare an 8 x 8 inch pan by laying parchment paper in it, making sure the paper drapes over the side so the bark is easy to pull out of the pan when cool. Spray with vegetable oil and set aside. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler and pour into the pan.  Sprinkle the other ingredients over the chocolate and let set in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.  Remove, break apart, and enjoy!

October 25, 2011

Food52 Cookbook and a Trip Down Memory Lane

Well, it's finally here, folks!  Almost 2 years after you all helped to get me into the world's first crowd-sourced cookbook, The Food52 Cookbook: 140 Winning Recipes from Exceptional Home Cooks is now on the shelves. It's an exciting time and I can't wait to get my copy (which should be arriving in the mail any day now).  Food52 struck a chord with me when I first heard about it.  It was the first of its kind - a combination of a recipe amalgamator and a food driven, web-based community.  It praised home cooks, both the ambitious and the realistic, and together we began to give a voice to all of those cooks out there who put delicious meals on the table every night.

Food52 is still doing this (only this time on a fancy updated website) and will continue to do so as long as there are home cooks out there who want to be involved.  I for one now go there whenever I need a little inspiration, or help with a food question, or even just to look at pretty pictures of food - there are TONS of those - and I will continue to do so as I grow as a cook and entertainer.

This weekend, I'm hosting a launch party for the cookbook in our little Chapel Hill house.  We'll be celebrating with friends, a potluck of Food52 recipes, and, in true Food52 fashion, lots of giveaways.  But tonight, on the day of the launch of this exciting venture, I wanted to remember how it all started.  So Sam and I dined on Linguine with Breadcrumbs and Kale, my Food52 winning dish.  It's still as simple as ever, and I still marvel that I made it into the cookbook with it (thank YOU!), but it is honestly one of the most wonderfully satisfying and tasty dishes I have ever made.

So I leave you with an oldie but a goodie, and I challenge each of you to go ahead and make up your own cookbook worthy recipe in the kitchen tonight.  You might be surprised by what you come up with!

Linguini with Breadcrumbs and Kale
Serves 2-3

½ lb linguini (or other long pasta)
2 cloves garlic, sliced
3 slices day old bread, cubed
½ c. olive oil
1 bunch of kale, chopped
¼ c. parmesan cheese
salt & pepper

Boil pasta in salted pot of water.
Process bread in a food processor until it’s about the consistency of coarse cornmeal.  Heat oil in a frying pan and add the garlic.  Once the garlic is just fragrant, add the breadcrumbs, salt & pepper, and cook until the breadcrumbs are slightly toasted and golden brown.  Remove the garlic and breadcrumbs and let sit. Add more olive oil and the kale to the pan with a little bit of the pasta water and sauté quickly.
Add the drained pasta to the kale, and add back in the breadcrumbs.  Add the rest of the oil as needed and mix in parmesan, more salt & pepper to taste, and serve.