Monday, June 30, 2008

A little night music

I didn't grow up in a very musical house -- if something was on, it was almost always NPR. Luckily for me, Peter did grow up in a musical household, and listening to something fun at dinner is one of the best things he has introduced to me.

The only offerings I brought to the [dinner] table were Tony Bennett's "Unplugged" and the complete Michael Buble collection. Awesome (obviously!), but not exactly extensive. Here are some new favorites, all excellent dinner companions:

She & Him
Forro in the Dark
Super XX Man
John Pizzarelli Trio

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Savory strawberries

One of the best and worst things about dating a teacher is summer vacation.  On the one hand, said teacher gets some much needed rest, has more time to do annoying chores around the apartment, and is a generally more relaxed person.  

On the other hand, they do not have to go work in the morning.  And you do.  

Peter helps to make up for this injustice by making lots of wonderful dinners in the summertime.  He's a much fancier and extravagant cook than I am, which makes it even more fun.  I'm always hoarding our ingredients, saving them for goodness knows what, while he piles on the good cheese and olives and fancy vinegar.  

Now, he's not doing foie gras or frogs legs (yet!).  But he is doing homemade candies walnuts and polenta cakes and savory strawberry sauce.  On a Tuesday!  We had a delicious salad with walnuts, goat cheese, beets, strawberries, and baby lettuce.  We also had polenta cakes topped with slices of beets and goat cheese (I know, I know.  I'm having trouble restraining myself with the beets.).  And, best of all, he made beautiful pork chops covered in a strawberry sauce spiked with cumin.  A delicious, fancy summer dinner.  

Savory strawberry sauce (courtesy of Peter)

You will need:

7 or 8 nice sized strawberries
A shake of cumin
Tablespoon of chopped fresh basil leaves

Chopped up 5-6 of your strawberries.  Add chopped berries and basil to the food processor and shake in your cumin.  Let it work just a little while, maybe half a minute, until you have just a slightly lumpy consistency.  Pour into bowl and add remaining chopped berries.  

Peter seared pork chops, transfered them to a baking dish, then poured this sauce on top.  They went into the oven to finish cooking.  We've never tried it, but I'm sure this sauce would also be fantastic with chicken.  

Monday, June 16, 2008


My all-time favorite weeknight meal is quiche.  It's deceptively easy, versatile, and forgiving.  I made a roasted garlic and rainbow chard one with some cheddar cheese. 

You will need: 

1 pie crust
2 eggs
1 cup cream or half and half
2 cups shredded cheddar (though lots of other cheeses are also be delicious in this)
1 cup sauteed swiss chard, chopped
4 cloves roasted garlic

Roast four cloves garlic for about 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven.  Chop swiss chard and saute until wilted in a little bit of olive oil. 

Mix eggs, cream, and cheese in a mixing bowl.  Add mashed garlic and swiss chard.  Pour into pie dish over crust.  Cover crust edges with foil and bake for 30-40 minutes in a 400 degree oven.  

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Nice little Saturday

Pretty Union Square things: 

And the pretty things that came home with me:

Greek feast

I love trying new cheap date places, and luckily, Peter is incredibly good at finding them.  Last night we went to Kefi on the Upper West Side.  They have delicious Greek food, an enthusiastic wait staff, and a cozy navy and white decor that felt cool and relaxed and just a little bit special.  And it boasted a Food & Wine best new chef.   What more could you ask for from a cheap date place!
Because we cook so much at home, I always feel impressed by the appetizer side of the menu when we go out.  Lately we've just dug in, ordering two or three appetizers and then sharing an entree.  We first got the warm feta with Greek olives, tomatoes, capers, and an anchovy served with pita bread.  The feta was spread out in the bottom of a small baking dish and was just a little bit warm -- not hot -- which was delightful on a summer night, even if we were sitting in air conditioning.  

Then there was the sheep's milk dumplings with lamb sausage.  It came in a lemony tomato sauce that had nicely toast pine nuts, tomatoes, and a bit of feta crumbled on top.  The sausage was a little too spicy for me (Peter adored it), but I fell in love with the dumplings.  They were light and pillowy, the way a good bite of gnocchi should be, but the sheep's milk was a little tangy, and when I swished them around in the sauce, it was heavenly.

We were just a little bit adventurous with our third starter and decided to try sweetbreads for the first time.  They came breaded and fried with roasted garlic and spinach, and looked fantastic, but I was nervous.  It's not everyday that I eat thymus glands.  Peter went at it first. After one bite, he was glowing.

"It will be like the best chicken nugget you've ever tasted."

And it was!  They were light and white and swam in lovely lemon sauce. Our entree was a lamb chop special, and while the lamb was fantastic, I absolutely loved the rice and spinach that came with it.  The rice was wet and buttery with large pieces of parsley and small pieces of spinach mixed in.  Like everything else we had, there were strong lemon flavors mixed in, which made it taste fresh, despite all the butter.  

Definitely a spot to return to!


Monday, June 9, 2008

Let's Talk About Food, Baby!

I am completely and totally in love with pod casts. I know I'm about to admit something totally lame, but truth be told, pod casts are the only reason I ever use my i-Pod. To me, they offer all the incredible benefits of Tivo -- you get to pick from a list of your favorite shows and listen to them whenever you want. This weekend, while Peter and I were fleeing the hot, sticky city for a day at the beach, we totally gorged on new pod casts. We tried a few of the NPR Food pod casts for the first time, and much like my beloved NPR Books podcast, they were a bit hit and miss, but mostly hit.  

The annoying parts mostly draw from NPR's most irritating show -- the Bryant Park Project.  The hosts have loud, grating voices, ask stupid questions, and talk aimlessly about nothing.  But the pod casts are redeemed by things like an interview with the Neely's, or a long chat about Greek feta, or an explanation on how to pick the perfect strawberry.  

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Isabella hash

One of my favorite Friday night activities is to stop at BaBa Louie's for dinner in Great Barrington on the way to my family's house in the Berkshires. They serve incredible salads and pizza -- just the sort of thing I'm often craving on a Friday night after a drive. The last time we were there, Peter and I tried the Isabella Pizzarella with sweet potatoes, garlic, fennel, and a bit of balsamic vinegar.

I found myself with all of these incredients at home last night, and decided to turn it into a hash, with some baby bella mushrooms added in for good measure.

Isabella-inspired hash:

You will need: a giant sweet potato, a medium sized fennel 
bulb, six or seven baby bella mushrooms, two large cloves of garlic, chicken stock, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.

Wash and peel apart the layers of your fennel bulb. Cut into bite-sized half rounds and saute with garlic in a splash of olive oil and a pat of butter until soft, about 6 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside. Add washed, peeled, and cubed sweet potatoes to the pan with a bit more olive oil and butter. Cook until soft, about 10 minutes, and then remove from pan. Quickly saute mushrooms in butter. Add fennel, garlic, and sweet potatoes back into the pan, and and add a good swirl of chicken stock to the mixture. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste, and finish with a couple good shakes of balsamic vinegar.  Left-overs are delicious served with eggs the next day.  

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Hot pink and delicious

Last Sunday was my favorite kind of Sunday. Sunny and bright and warm. I was feeling very European and stopped at three different spots for food shopping throughout the day, ending up with a beautiful bunch of beets and cherry tomatoes and lemon sole and creamy blue cheese and a carton of blackberries -- the makings of a fabulous Sunday dinner.

Before I go any further, I should admit right now that I've had a serious crush on beets for the last few months, ever since a late-winter visit to Chestnut in Brooklyn during restaurant week. I had the most amazing of amazing salads with golden beets, feta, and raisins. It was sweet and still just a tiny bit tart and the beets had a cooked apple sort of texture that was completely delightful. A few months later, Peter and I went to Al Di La for a fantastic dinner date, and I ordered their beet ravioli. Four arrived on my plate, nearly bursting with hot pink beets, swimming in butter and poppy seeds.

I've been dreaming about beets ever since, but I was feeling shy about cooking them at home. They look quite intimidating, with their dirty roots and wild leafy tops. But I was feeling brave on Sunday afternoon, thinking that any true European girl who was grocery shopping in the produce section of Garden of Eden would buy those beets that she'd been dreaming about. And so I did.

Cooking them was embarrassingly easy, and the pay-off is both pretty and delicious.

Beet salad with lemon vinaigrette

You will need: 2 medium sized beets, half a lemon, blue cheese, sugar, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Scrub beets with a potato bush until the dirt and gunk is off the skin, but don't bother peeling them. Cut off the stems and store in a ziplock until you want to add them to soup or saute them with garlic. Put the beets into boiling water and let them hang out there until tender when pierced with a fork. Two medium beets will take about an hour to cook. Let them cool, and then peel the skin off with your fingers -- it should slip off pretty easily. Cut into 1/4 inch rounds and arrange on your serving plate.

For the vinaigrette, combine 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, a teaspoon of lemon zest, salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar. Pour over beets and crumble blue cheese on top. Feta and goat cheese would also work beautifully.

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