Tuesday, April 19, 2011

How Vanilla

Even though it's mid-50's and rainy -- there is something in the air. At times frustrating, seasons changing are always lovely because you can smell it. Winter is over and the sun is beaming when not hidden behind angry clouds. We all just have to be patient. Ya gotta think glass-half-full people: at least it's not snowing. While crossing my fingers for a warmer and awesome May, I'll be eating spring for breakfast and storing up that good weather energy. 

First of all, vanilla and granola are two wonderful adjectives for something that is boring. But Vanilla Granola is flippin phenomenal. It's also explicitly expensive when you buy it pre-made in any super market or grocery store. But that's why you make it for yourself in ginormous batches.

Mix old school oats, slivered almonds, sweetened coconut, cinnamon, and salt in a pretty bowl. In a saucer on the stovetop bring honey, vegetable oil, and brown sugar to a simmer. Turn the heat off and add vanilla. The syrup will spaz out a little here because of the vanilla, it's kinda fun and spooks ya. Stir it off of the flame and all will be well.

Drizzle syrup over oat concoction and mix well. Spread sweetened oats on a buttered cookie sheet (the butter does wonders for its flavor) and pop in a 325 oven for about 25-30 minutes. Widdle a wooden spoon around three, if not four, times throughout cooking. It's gonna be a lovely brown color and have a gorgeous cinnamon smell. As it cools, run your spoon around it a few more times or the honey will start to bind the oats together into giant clumps.

Hardy oats, mellow yogurt and tartastic blackberries. I personally don't like dried fruit in many things. My dad (as far as i'm concerned) coined one of my favorite phrases when describing food. Bitching about sushi, he called cucumber an uninvited guest (which I don't agree with). Dried fruit is often times an uninvited guest in my humble opinion. The coconut shreds, however, are a fantastic replacement adding the slightest chewy texture and lovely mild tropical flavor. Blackberries were on super awesome sale this week and were totally invited to this granola party. Of course, most any fresh fruit is welcome. I used plane-jane yogurt to bring it all together.

3 cups Old Fashioned Oats
1 cup raw slivered almonds 
1 cup sweetened coconut shreds
1 teaspoon cinnamon 
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 vegetable oil
1/4 honey
1/4 brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


I strive for balance and equilibrium. Combining things that oppose each other make for stability of flavors when cooking. They're like food friends.

Salty ham + sweet pear + buttery brie = campadres

I was about to make a salad out of these three homies but then was like cuss it I wanna sam-ich. Since moving to Chicago I constantly struggle to find a good sandwich, which I simply cannot wrap my head around. Beside the fact that a decent slice of pizza doesn't exist here (hey Chicago, 3-inches of coagulated cheese is NOT pizza), a good deli is hard to find. I grew up with Jewish and Italian deli's on every other block. A good sandwich is a daily convenience that I was apparently spoiled by. Good golly I miss piled high pastrami on rye with grainy mustard or an old-school Italian Combo with Oil and Vinegar. Quality meat, classic combinations and a few off-beat specialties along with a staff of characters. Chicago needs to step up their deli game.

Of the off-beat deli specialties -- I do love some fruit in between my bread. Whether it's a marmalade or slices of produce, fruit tends to add great sweetness and texture that won't overwhelm. I was real happy with the pear against the ham and brie. I used 12-grain bread with mayo and country style mustard along with baby spinach.

The next day I only had the bread ends and made this treat into a panini. If you've never had warm brie you're really missing out. I'll go so far as to say you haven't lived.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Tropic Thunder

Ugh, March is such a tease. In like a lion, out like a lamb my ass. This pussy is roarin' and it's only a week till April. Of course there was that one, glorious day -- near 70 and sunny. Since then its been cold and windy and rainy and schmeh. After all the hibernation of winter my biological clock wants to hop, skip and jump around. The depressing weather, however, is putting my energy at an all time low. So how do you brighten up a gloomy day?  Fake a tropical fiesta in your mouth. 

So the fiesta started out pretty tame. And to be honest, I like it's original version best. Avocado, mango, cilantro, black beans, lime juice, and honey. So tropically good. I made a huge bowl of this, and didn't even bother with chips. I loved the buttery, smooth textures all around. The lime juice and mango were so bright and chipper, and the nutty avocado and mellow beans felt like they melted with every bite. 

As for the cilantro, in my opinion it was just necessary. There is something about Avocado and cilantro -- they're like peas and carrots, Forrest Gump and Jenny -- they belong together. Lime juice is like Bubba, equally necessary but in a different way. Lime juice stops the avocado from browning. 

I first prepped the cilantro dressing. Giving the herb a fine chop, stir together with olive oil, honey, salt, pepper, lime juice and zest. The honey gives the dressing amazing texture and smooths out the sharp cilantro-lime tang. 

Cube the avocado, squeeze lime juice all over and give it a delicate toss. You'll wanna stir everything fairly delicately because of the avocado. See, I wanted to keep it chunky so you actually got to enjoy big pieces the unique green fruit. Besides, this ain't guacamole buddy. Cube the Mango just the same. If you've never cut up a mango before, it can be a little frustrating -- blame the enormo seed. 

Hold the mango upright and narrow and cut the narrow sides off. I know, I know, you want to cut the fat sides off. Well you can't, so settle down. The annoyingly oblong seed in this incredibly delicious fruit gives it shape. Unlike the friendly avocado the mango pit does not easily separate from its flesh, so you have to cut around it. When you cut the narrow sides you can usually hear the knife rustle against the seed. Those narrow sides are the most beneficial. Slice horizontally and vertically then invert the skin (as pictured above) and run your knife along the skin making for lovely little mango squares. Slice along the the remaining two sides of the fruit and get as much mango flesh as you can. Then gnaw on the seed and smile.

Rinse off the black beans and add to the salad. Finally, stir in cilantro dressing. Again, this salad was fabulous. After eating a lot of it, I wanted see if other ingredients would be welcomed. I added strawberries, blueberries and basil. The berries added pops of brights fruity flavors and seedy textures while the basil gave its an aromatic freshness. Each bite was different with the added ingredients, making for an uplifting snack that made me hate March a little less.

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons cilantro
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons lime juice
lime zest
(1 tablespoon basil)

2 avocados
2 mangos
15 oz can black beans
1 tablespoon lime juice

(3-5 strawberries)
(1/2 cup blueberries)

Friday, March 4, 2011


My first chicken. She was a wee three-pounder, named Louise.

Louise is a jewish chicken. I was honored to Bat Mitzvah her with a kosher bath. Give your chicken a good rinse, inside and out. Put her in a bowl of water for half hour, then lay her on a isolated surface and douse with salt. Let her sit, salted, for another half hour. Rinse well and pat dry.

Wash your hands often throughout this process, so not to get chicken germs all over the kitchen.

You may not want to go through these steps. Fine, whatever. Don't cry about it, though, when your unfortunate chicken doesn't turn out marvelous. I watched my mama do this to thousands of chickens growing up, and I trust her when it comes to chicken. The woman knows her chicken. Besides, I have nothing against getting rid of poultry bacteria. If you're into that kind of thing, to each his own. I'm glad Louise was so fresh and so clean, though.

Salt and pepper her insides. Then shove 2 sprigs of rosemary up her bottom, along with lemon and orange wedges. It was a blast flapping Louise's wings around and making her dance but those extremities roast a lot better when tied together. The wings and thighs will dry if they're stretched out like a floppy dog sleeping on his back, so tie them up close to the body.

Remember, I told you to pat her dry. Rub a chimichurri all over her. This sauce has an awesome name and accessible ingredients. Extra virgin olive oil, parsley, rosemary, garlic, lemon and orange zest, fresh squeezed juice of lemon and orange, salt, pepper, and paprika.

You don't want your chicken to touch a lot of surface. Why are rotisserie chickens so fantastic? Because every inch of skin is getting hot waves of heat. Louise started out on her belly. Twenty minutes in, she flopped over on her back. I used a roasting rack over a casserole dish full of potatoes and onions (with olive oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary). Louise's juices dripped down on the spuds. She was basted and her own sweat and given a squeeze of a lemon and orange 3 or 4 times. A chick becomes a lady at 425 for around 15 minutes per pound. Let Miss Louise sit covered in tin foil for a few minutes before you then turn her into a carcass.

Louise was juicy. Her flesh was bright from lemons, sweet with orange, savory of rosemary, and so incredibly juicy.

half orange, wedged
half lemon, wedged
2 sprigs rosmary

extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup
rosemary, 1 tablespoon finely chopped
parsley, 4 tablespoons finely chopped
salt, 1 teaspoon salt
pepper, 1/2 teaspoon pepper
paprika, 1/2 teaspoon
garlic, 1 tablespoon chopped
orange juice and zest, 1/2 orange
lemon juice and zest, 1/2 lemon 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The fookie

Sometimes you want a cookie but don't have any. It's an unfortunate dilemma millions of cookie monsters face every day. Don't fret, stress, or cry, though. When desperate for a cookie but aren't up to baking an entire batch or leaving the comfort of your home, just make a pho-cookie. A fookie.

Buttered toast with cinnamon and sugar. Its like eating a Snickerdoodle. This is one of those treats I grew up eating but forgot existed. It takes 5 minutes to prepare and the ingredients are always in any kitchen.

There's no shame in eating this for breakfast...lunch, dinner, snack, or just because you want to.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Holy Macaroni and Cheese

I needed to be comforted, so I gave my old friend macaroni and cheese a ring. This here is a serious triple threat of yummy. A lovely little restaurant offers these toppings as add ons to their mac and cheese and I aways get it with all three. With a mixture of rain and snow falling from grey skies outside, I was forced to make it myself.

I like roasting my veggies. I think the texture is far superior than boiling and blanching. Put some broccoli tossed in olive oil and salt in a pan with a few strips of bacon. In a pre-heated oven of 425, this should take about 15-20 minutes. If you want the bacon crispy, remove broccoli and cook bacon another 5 or so minutes. Chop into smaller pieces and set aside. While you're chopping, do the same with a few sun-dried tomatoes. You'll wanna get this prep out of the way before you dive into the sauce. 

It all starts with a roux. A roux is basically fat and flour. It's a traditional thickening agent used in many sauces. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter and, stirring fairly constantly, add a teaspoon of flour. Then pour in a quarter cup of milk and stir. Let it come to a simmer and good golly watch that roux thicken. Stir, stir, stir. Season with salt and pepper. Add cheese. I used half a cup of cheddar and just a nibble gorgonzola. The first time I tried mac and cheese I definitely over-gorgonzola-ed the crap out of it. Unless you l-o-v-e blue cheese, watch out. So, yea, gorgonzola. Just a nibble. Stir some more. 

Try to time your pasta cooking and cheese sauce concocting the same. I used conchiglie, aka, shells. This pasta is primo for creamy sauces. It will catch all the cheesy goodness inside the shell and outside on the ridges. When the pasta is al dente, add to your cheese sauce and mix in the awesome additions.

This comfort food is so fantastic, especially when its crappy outside. The cheese sauce is just cheesy. Next time I want to try adding some swiss. I've been told a jack is also a welcomed addition. The sun-dried tomatoes add a bright tang, the broccoli brings incredible texture, and the bacon...well, bacon is always a fatty, salty, welcomed guest in my book.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Slammin' Salmon

Salmon is my favorite fish. While all fish are delicate and lovely, there is something special about salmon. Whether it's raw, smoked, fried or broiled, its almost hard to make this aquatic creature unappetizing. This may be why salmon is the go-to seafood for all the seafood haters out there. Whatever your fish fancy, you'll like this.  

The ingredients are few and inexpensive. You'll want to start by sautéing a yellow onion. Put a tablespoon of butter and a swirl of olive oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Stirring often, cook onions until they start to opaque. Add a sprinkle of sugar and a touch of paprika. Throw in a bell pepper and soften those bad boys up as well. 


Any oven friendly baking sheet or gratin will do. I wrapped my baking dish in tin foil for easy clean up. Plop in your lovely filets and season with salt and pepper. Squirt a friendly helping of honey all over the salmon, about 3 tablespoons for an 8oz filet. Cover the fish in the sauteed onions and peppers and put in a 350 oven for 20-25 minutes. Now thats not all folks. When the fish is about done I like to turn on the broiler and stick it right underneath the flames for another minute or two so the honey and veggies get a nice crispy brown crunch. 

Serve a top a bed of fluffy rice pilaf and crown with fresh chives. The finished product warms the soul with a balance of sweet and savory. It also leaves you with the perfect fullness. Everything on this plate is incredibly healthy (have you heard about omega-3's? They're the ones who got the chilean miners out safely and are currently working on the mess in Egypt). When you gladly devour every last drop of this here slammin salmon, you will experience a happy guilt-free euphoria that is rare when acting as a glutton.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Goat Cheese and Basil on a Tater

"I like baked potatoes. I don't have a microwave oven, and it takes forever to bake a potato in a conventional oven. Sometimes I'll just throw one in there, even if I don't want one, because by the time it's done, who knows?"

The late, great Mitch Hedberg always had some epic advice to live by. Baked potatoes sure do take forever to cook but by golly they're worth it, especially with some super awesome jazzed up sour cream on top. 

For the tater, stick it in a conventional oven for a long time. More specifically, an oven preheated to 350 for about an hour. You'll know it's done if a knife pierces to the middle with ease. That is it. 

Jazzing up your tater topping is a cinch. Use equal parts sour cream, greek yogurt, and goat cheese. Stir together and mix in as much chopped up basil as your little heart desires, a pinch of salt and a few cranks of pepper. Make sure you let your goat cheese get to room temperature so it blends well with the rest of the ingredients. 

I know that chives are the go-to for a baked potato but I wanted to stay away from anything oniony. Basil, on the other hand, is a far more refreshing herb that really meshed well with the sour cream concoction. The addition of a tart yogurt with a mild goat cheese added layers of flavor to the standard and traditional sour cream dollop that will surly lead to three or four more dollops. It turned out to be quite the no-fuss starchy treat Mitch Hedberg would have enjoyed thoroughly. 

The Hardy Mr. Oatmeal

If oatmeal were a cartoon, it would be a super hero. Oatmeal is tough. Oatmeal has got your back. Oatmeal is power. The Hardy Mr. Oatmeal is here to save the day.

There's a million ways to enjoy a bowl of oats. You can use fresh fruit, brown sugar, honey, cream, crème, jelly or jam. I went the old-fashioned route this morning. Put a cup of oats, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and the tiniest pinch of salt in a little saucer. Add a cup and a half of boiling water and stir. Chop a hand full of nuts and yellow raisins, slice up a bit of banana, and top it off with maple syrup. These toppings had a nice balance of rustic and crunchy with smooth and buttery textures.

One of my favorite things about oatmeal is its purity. While Cheerios lowers cholesterol too, look at the back of the box. The second most prominent ingredient is sugar and they have to add preservatives. Look at the Nutrition Facts on an oatmeal cylinder and all you'll find is "100% ROLLED OATS." Because of its absorptive qualities oatmeal will keep you full right until lunchtime, unlike Cheerios. It's also ridiculously easy to make a thousand different ways, whereas milk an cereal gets kinda old. Besides, nothing beats a hot breakfast when there's a snowpocalypse outside.

Now I have no beef with Cheerios, cause that'd be an odd combination (hahaa). Cheerios truly are a delicious cereal option, honey-nut especially. I've never saved the world, though, after a bowl of cereal. Only moments after my bowl of old-fashined oatmeal I rescued two kitties out of a tree, helped an old lady cross the street, and solved world hunger. Don't thank me, thank The Hardy Mr. Oatmeal.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Meat and Potatoes

I made a mustard encrusted ribeye with brown sugar sweet potato fries. It was fantastic. 

Apparently the sweet potato is up there with the healthiest vegetable in the whole universe. This is straight from the Center for Science in the Public Interest over there in Washington, DC. These orange roots are full of complex carbohydrates, natural sugars, vitamins and nutrients. More importantly, they're an awesome winter comfort food.

Peel and cut sweet potatoes into desired shape and size. Toss with a drizzle of olive oil, a couple cranks of pepper, a sprinkle of salt and two or three teaspoons of brown sugar. Spread the future french fries on a pan and throw in a few sprigs of thyme. Put the lovely potatoes in a 450 oven for half an hour. Every 10 minutes give the it a big flip so all sides get caramelized, crispy and browned .

And now: the MEAT. Preparing this meal made me realize I need to find a good butcher. While I'm happy with my thin cut boneless ribeye, its not what I had in mind. The ribeye is great for pan frying at home, it's tremendously tender, and it has delicious fat that melts in your mouth when you bite into it. A couple of beef tricks: let meat get to room temperature so the flesh doesn't freak out when it sears on the sizzling hot pan. Tenderize the bologna out of your beef. I stabbed my ribeye with a fork about fifty times on either side. Let it rest after cooking; this will make a world of difference.

While the beef is getting to room temperature rub a teaspoon of honey and a tablespoon of course ground mustard as well as salt and pepper on either side and let everyone get to know each other. In a caste iron pan, start to heat up some olive oil and a few sprigs of thyme. While the oil is heating up, you might as well infuse it with left over herbs from a side dish. Take the empty thyme branches out the the hot, hot, hot pan and throw in that beautiful piece of meat. Don't really throw it though. In fact, be careful of the hot olive oil jumping on your arm. This was a particularly thin cut, so I only had to sear it for 3 minutes on either side. Remove seared steak from the pan, plate and cover in tin foil for 5-10 minutes before you enjoy.

I repeat: this was fantastic. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Glorious Pancakes

I've never really been a fan of pancakes. I'm way more of a french toast kind a gal. I have sad nostalgia of bisquick mix with crappy 'pancake syrup' or late nights of never ending stacks of IHOP whenever I think about this breakfast favorite. It blew my mind, though, that real pancake recipes are so simple. I used dozens of standard and untraditional recipes and came up with two super easy and incredibly different flap jacks. And screw syrup, get excited for blueberry sauce. 

First up: the baked pancake (pictured above). Just look at that puffy piece of heaven! Okay, okay...it totally deflates the second you take it out of the oven but that doesn't take away from its deliciousness and easiness. My hand crank egg beater and mini iron skillet were ideal for this delicacy. The hand crank wont over mix the ingredients and the skillet goes in and out of the 425 oven with ease (by the way, preheat oven to 425). I stayed true to about 90% of this recipe from the Essential New York Times Cookbook.

Mix 1/3 cup flour, a tablespoon sugar, and a pinch of cinnamon and salt together. Lightly beat 2 eggs and half a cup of milk in another bowl. Combine dry and wet ingredients. Butter the crap out of your skillet, pour in the batter, and stick it in the oven. I made two batches using my 6 inch diameter caste iron skillet. It should take about 20 minutes or until all the giant heat bubbles around the edges have browned. Now your almost done. Once your baked-cake has reached a stunning golden brown, take it out of the oven. Give it a sprinkle of about half a tablespoon of sugar, a squeeze of lemon and put it right back in for two minutes, or as long as you can make yourself wait. I made it two minutes. The pancake comes out of the skillet with buttery easy and has a crepe like consistency with lovely, crunchy, rounded edges. Lemon sugar crepes are as classic as crepes get so its not a surprise nothing had to be added to this delicious baked pancake. But, like, you totally could add some killer blueberry sauce. I mean, no pressure, but you could.


Speaking of easy awesomeness, this sauce fits the bill. The magnificent Barefoot Contessa is to thank for this recipe. I only had to tamper with one ingredient because I didn't have vanilla infused sugar on hand. Anyhoo, put a pint and a half of pretty little blueberries, a cup of sugar, a splash of vanilla, the juice of half a lemon, and a cup of water in a sauce pan. Bring mixture to a boil while stirring occasionally, then drop the heat down to a simmer for about 15 minutes. The Contessa strains the sauce through "a fine sieve." I enjoy the texture of cooked blueberries and don't own a fancy sleeve so I left the sauce as is. 

While the baked crepe was a deflated delight, I wanted to do the pancake justice. I knew a dairy was going to be the star of the show but I couldn't decide between sour cream or yogurt, so I used both. Combine one and a half cups flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons baking powder, and a pinch of salt. In another bowl whisk together 2 eggs, 1/4 cup milk, 1/4 cup sour cream, 1/4 cup vanilla greek yogurt, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, a little lemon zest, and a splash of vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, mixing only until combined. Fry in tons of salted butter. 

These were some killer flap jacks. The yogurt and sour cream gave them this wonderful consistency of fluffy and full at the same time. I used Chobani vanilla greek yogurt, which turned out to be a surprisingly commanding yet welcomed flavor. Its subtle sweetness balanced perfectly with the salty butter the batter was fried in but didn't overpower the lovely blueberry sauce. Hints of lemon in the batter and sauce really brightened up the whole dish.

I like pancakes a lot now.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Zesty Fettuccine

I wanted pasta today. Delicious noodles with tons of flavor and texture and cheeeeeeese. Nothing too heavy or over-sauced though, I craved the perfect balanced of heartiness and brightness. A buttery cream sauce, check. Broccoli with a bite, why not? Juicy grilled chicken, clutch. A touch of red pepper flakes to spice it up with tons of lemon to bring it all together. Bon appetite.

I washed, chopped, and threw some broccoli in a small baking pan. Toss the little green trees with salt, pepper, olive oil, and lemon love (a sprinkle of zest and the squeeze of a lemon half). Stick the pan in a 400 oven for about 15 minutes. Give the broccoli and shimmy or two while roasting.

I had big fat chicken breasts. I wanted to give them a nice sear before sticking them in the oven so they'd be super juicy. Seasoned the same as the broccoli (salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon love), I seared the chicken on a sizzling hot pan until each side had a gorgeous, crispy, brown skin. I gave the chicken one more lemon squeeze, threw the lemon skeleton in the with the chicken, and stuck my favorite little caste iron pan right in the oven.

I use the finger trick to check for doneness when cooking meats such as chicken or thicker cuts of beef. Touch your thumb to your pointer finger without tensing the muscles in your hand. With your other hand poke the fleshy pillow at the bottom corner of your palm and base of your thumb; this is the density of raw meat. Feel the bounce? Touch your thumb to your pinky finger; this is the density of well done. Touching your middle and ring fingers is medium and medium well. Compare the bounciness and firmness of your palm to the meat. Don't forget it's always a good idea to let meat sit a bit after it's taken off the heat. As the meat sits it will continue to cook. In this case, don't keep a thick chicken breast in the oven past a ring finger. At 400, my chicken took about 15 minutes. After the chicken sits a few minutes, slice and set aside.

There are a few golden rules when cooking pasta. Don't add pasta until water is HOT. A bubble or two is not a rapid boil, wait until that water is going crazy. Always add a splash of olive oil; this helps stop the noodles from sticking to each other. Stir! This will really help stop the noodles from sticking to each other. Add a heavy sprinkle of salt, because salt makes life delicious. Utilize pasta water. Noodle infused H2O is great when fiddling with sauce consistency; for example, if a sauce is thickening up just add pasta water to thin it out without destroying the flavor.

Using the golden rules, make a serving of pasta. In the meantime, melt two tablespoons of butter in a little saucer on a low heat. Throw in a clove of chopped garlic, stir around and cook slowly. Before the garlic browns add about a quarter cup of heavy cream, pinch of salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Stirring often, let the concoction simmer and reduce a bit. Once the pasta has that perfect al dente bite, strain and immediately add to sauce. As you mix the pasta and sauce, start to sprinkle in grated parmesan cheese. Keep mixing! Melted parmesan clumps together easily. Too thick? Well its a good thing you saved some pasta water. You're so smart. After you add a nice handful of cheese, squeeze the juice of a lemon half all over the pasta. One more stir and it's ready to plate. Top with chicken, broccoli and a lemon wedge.

I think it goes without saying that a final sprinkle of parmesan finishes the dish. While you're at it, go ahead and squeeze some more lemon love if you like.

The broccoli, chicken, and sauce all have a bright lemon pep that is beautifully balanced by the salty cheese and red pepper flakes. The crunch from the roasted chicken and broccoli is a great texture countered by the soft fettuccine. A smooth Chardonay is a lovely pairing, something velvety with a hint of citrus.

Well, I'm satisfied.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Grapefruit with honey

That's it. Two happy ingredients. 

When life gives you lemons you make lemonade. Lemons are awesome, you just have to add a little sugary love to bring out its natural goodness. Same goes for Grapefruits. When smothered in yummy honey, this pink citrus is just delightful. 

Depending on the bitterness of the grapefruit, I'll give it a sprinkle of sea salt. Salt is magical like that. It will enhance the beautiful sweetness of the fruit and mellow its bitterness. The best and easiest way to enjoy a grapefruit is cut in half. Use a paring knife to cut along the edges of inner skin making for adorable individual triangles. A spoon with a sharper point will get the most rosy flesh. When you're done, you'd be a fool not to drink the mother of all juices waiting for you in the citrus skeleton.

With the holidays long gone, winter has lost its pizazz....and we still have at least one more month of cold grey coldness with a guarantee of even colder to come. Grapefruit and honey is like a bright bowl of sunshine for breakfast. Yum, sunshine.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Vinegar Strawberries with Vanilla Whipped Cream

Even after the heaviest of heavy meals, there is always room for dessert. It is a scientific fact that there is a separate, secret stomach in all humans that is meant for sweets and sweets alone. If you're feeling the pressure from a particularly hearty meal, pour a stiff aperitif and enjoy this incredibly satisfying fluffy treat. Your dessert stomach will thank you.

I was lucky enough to stay with a short, cranky, old patriot named Enriqueta while living in Spain. For five months I lived with a fleeting temper and no tolerance for anything American. She had a hell of a sense of humor mocking the U.S. and our inferior ways. Of the biggest inferiorities? Cooking. So I wouldn't taint her cooking with American mistakes, I was only allowed to cut fruits and veggies and watch her do the rest. She was my Spanish grandmother; my abuela from anotha' motha'. Vinegar Strawberries was one of my first lessons.

Cutting strawberries for dessert was a daily duty. I would put the cleaned, trimmed, and cut strawberries in a bowl. Enriqueta would add a splash or two of good vinegar, a spoonful or two or granulated sugar, a pinch of sea salt, and a couple cranks of a pepper mill. I much prefer eyeing the ingredients, but for the meticulous folks out there: when using one pint of cut strawberries add 3 tablespoons vinegar, 2 tablespoons sugar, pinch of salt, 2 cranks of pepper. Then let it chill out for a bit at room temperature. This is super important. All the juices and flavors need to get to know each other for at least an hour. Once an awesome syrup comes together at the bottom of the bowl, give the berries a big stir and stick it in the fridge. 

When I pester my real grandma in her kitchen, to this day, she has me make the whipped cream. She uses a hand-crank egg beater so it only makes sense that I put my young joints to good use. I bought and use the same tool for economical and nostalgic purposes. By crank or by electricity, whipped cream is super easy to make. Stick a bowl in the freezer ahead of time. Put heavy whipping cream and a splash of vanilla extract in chilled bowl and start cranking. Add one or two spoonfuls of sugar to the cream throughout the whipping process. When the cream starts to thicken, give it a taste. If you think it needs more sugar, by all means add more sugar, but be careful not to over do it! Heavy whipping cream has a natural deliciousness that only need a bit of sugar to enhance. Crank away at a fast and steady pace until firm peaks form when the egg beater is held upside-down. Voila. 

I enjoyed the marinated strawberries and cream with some whiskey. Specifically, The Knot. This Irish whiskey has the qualities of a cordial or liqueur. It has a deep caramel color, and smells of vanilla. The Knot's chocolatey taste paired perfectly with the traditional berries and cream combo while its smokey whiskey flavors complimented the stellar vinegar syrup. 

Thanks grandmas, abuelas and irish whiskey. And don't ever ignore your dessert stomach! This dish is light and airy enough to be fully enjoy even on a full stomach. A 100 proof aperitif (such as The Knot) will also make digestion that much more pleasant, at least temporarily. 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Mmmm Brussels Sprouts.

It took me 20 years, but I finally fell in love with brussels sprouts. I remember the brussels sprouts dish that changed my brussels sprouts life forever. At Crispo, an Italian restaurant in the West Village, my dad (a life-long brussels sprouts devotee) ordered "Caramelized Brussels Sprouts, Maple & Almond." Now that would have been good enough as described but this restaurant specializes in prosciutto and they do it right with big, fat, smoked piggy legs hanging on the walls. After the little cabbage balls caramelize in a bit of maple syrup and are sprinkled with toasted almonds, it's dumped in a craft, covered in thin strips of mouth watering prosciutto, and baked until salty, hammy, pig fat steams and drips down on the brussels sprouts. yum.

This dish epitomizes the universal rule that bacon flavored vegetables are awesome. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. But in general, how do you make guaranteed delicious roasted veggies? Add bacon. Brussels Sprouts tossed in the fat from frying bacon and roasted for around half an hour  at 400 are just delightful. Same goes for asparagus, green beans or broccoli. 

I made this side dish a meal as a frittata. Eggs, cream, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, parmesan cheese, and bacon fat sauteed brussels sprouts. I use a fantastic mini cast iron fry pan when I make frittatas, which is becoming more and more often. I can lightly scramble everything, smother it in cheese, and stick the whole pan right in the oven under the broiler for a few minutes. Nom nom nom noms.