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Archive for 2010

The Last Pumpkins (For a While…)

I’ve been having a great fall teaching classes and testing out endless  butternut squash/apple/turnip/pear/carrot/sweet potato/parsnip/pumpkin combinations in soups, gratins, purees, and stew-like creations. I had a hard time deciding what to share with you before TurkeyDay, the biggest food event of the year.

But the other day I cracked open Dorie Greenspan’s brilliant new cookbook Around My French Table for the first time. This is exactly the book I wish I’d written. Like her perfect Baking from my Home to Yours, the recipes are simple, versatile and flavorful, and the pages are saturated with spectacular pictures and peppered with “bonne idées” – good ideas to make each recipe your own. She takes the mystery out of fabulous French cooking from the simplest home meal to the most intimidating pastries. And so many of her recipes have blunt, adorable names – Spur-of-the Moment Vegetable Soup, Salmon and Potatoes in a Jar.

But once I saw “Pumpkins Stuffed With Everything Good,” I knew I’d found my starting point. The concept, taken from generations of French home cooking, is sheer perfection: so cozy, beautiful, and delicious. As Dorie says, “an outline is about the best you can do with this dish” – because there’s so many ways you can, and often must, vary it. She says she never makes it the same way twice.

It’s sort of like a fondue, only you spoon out the contents not skewer them. The concepts all depend on what you like, and the best thing about it is that you can serve it as an appetizer or a side dish on the Thanksgiving table, perfect for all friends and family. You can even easily make it vegetarian if that’s what makes you happy.

Here’s what you have to do:

You take a bake-able pumpkin, like sugar or Cinderella and cut off the top

scoop out the stringy stuff and the seeds (to toast) (or caramelize)

then crush some garlic, and maybe chop some herbs

fill it with your favorite chunks of bread, cheeses, herbs and a bit of bacon or pancetta or similar if you like

Pour in some cream

And bake it!

That’s it! And this is what you get in the end…

Then you scoop this with some of the pumpkin meat on to small plates. Together with a good glass of white wine and you’re in heaven after one taste. I’m not exaggerating.

Full, concise recipe after the jump!

Read the rest of this entry »

Back to Basics, with Bénédict Beaugé

The culinary world is quite confused right now. Between the organic locavore movement and the liquid nitrogen movement, it’s hard to say where food is going. Who are the true innovators? That’s a question I’d been trying to answer for weeks, especially as more and more famous chefs combine the two. But, last Friday afternoon, by sheer, last minute luck, my friend Theresa barged into my room and informed me, “There’s a French man giving a speech on food at the Maison Française at four.” And that, somewhat indirectly, is how I found the answer.

The French man in question was renowned French food author Benedict Beaugé, who was on his way to speak at the James Beard Foundation (fancy, I know).  M. Beaugé has the thickest, most wonderful, most perfectly French accent I have ever heard. But while he might sound a bit, dare I say, like Inspector Jacques Clouseau, he actually has all the simple, sensible answers we need.

To understand innovation today we need to have a little history lesson. You see, the innovations today are directly connected to innovations of the past. And unsurprisingly, they all originated in France. This all began in 1651, with the publication of what Beaugé calls “the first book of French modern cuisine.” Le Cuisinier François was written by Pierre François La Varenne, as a way of departing from the “spectacular” cuisine of the Middle Ages. “People are not so fond of spices now and they try to find the real taste of the produce,” explains Beaugé of the Renaissance attitude. Food became fresher and tastier ­– they didn’t have to do weird things to it to make it taste edible – and so La Varenne called for chefs to highlight le goût naturel – the natural taste of the ingredients they used. Three years later, Nicolas de Bonnefons wrote Les Délices de la Campagne, a book with the same principle, meant not for the aristocracy but the bourgeoisie. “If it is cabbage soup, it must taste cabbage, when you have turnip soup, it must taste turnip, and that’s something really new,” says Beaugé. This is where the true innovation in cooking was then, and, at least as a starting point, where it is today.

While Molecular gastronomy has a place in the kitchen, it is destined to become another technique chefs use to express natural flavor. Molecular gastronomy itself is not particularly innovative. In fact, it’s really just backtracking. “it is quite similar with the cuisine of the Middle Ages or of antiquity, of the Romans, or something like that,” Beaugé says. “Really it’s much more the appearance which is important than the taste.”  “I don’t think molecular gastronomy is the future of cuisine,” he continues, “it’s something which will be integrated with cuisine in a general way, as every new technique is integrated into cuisine – those of 18th century, those of 19th century. It doesn’t mean that everyone’s going to cook with nitrogen.”

His message is helpful and optimistic. Chefs like René Redzepi and Ferran Adrià will be the most inventive, expressing goût naturel through molecular tools, but to a degree we all have an opportunity to be innovators here. With the rise of farmers markets, and the near constant availability of fresh produce, we can all highlight our weekly finds when we cook. I’ve included these pictures from the local farmers market as inspiration. These are the flavors we want to preserve. If we want to be innovative we are so lucky, because even as home chefs we have everything we need.

 

Seeds of Sincerity

Fall break finally arrived this past weekend and, while I could have stayed in the city exploring six star restaurants and interviewing famous chefs, like a good, loving little daughter I hopped on the 6:39 to New Haven on Friday evening, and spent four glorious days [eating candy] with my family.

You see, Francesca really wanted to trick or treat with me. And you know how I hate to disappoint her…

This weekend was a like dream. The moment I got home I opened the fridge, out of instinct, but instead of reaching for something I just stood and stared. I couldn’t believe the freshness, the variety, and the general edibility of everything I saw. When I returned to school, I talked with my friend Mia about her trip home and she said she’d experienced the same Fridge-Shock I had. (Unsurprisingly, the very base of our friendship was founded on Dark Chocolate-Sea Salted Almonds and Magnolia banana pudding.) Four soups – pumpkin, broccoli, carrot-ginger and a vibrant pea – met me at the refrigerator door, and as the weekend progressed we added homemade chili, a boeuf en daube, and a plum-vanilla crisp, to the mix. I was able to choose between two apple ciders, spiced and regular, and I could even heat them up if I wanted. In all honesty, and I say this without a hint of irony, I was so overwhelmed by my refrigerator that by Halloween night I’d almost forgotten about candy.

I certainly miss the pumpkins the most (after the sisters I carved them with, of course). There was not a moment when I wasn’t painting, carving, eating, or watching a movie about one. Francesca, Isabella and I spent several hours on the front lawn, freezing our hands off, while mommy scoured the house for melon ballers, 10-inch kitchen knives, awls, cookie cutters, and mini saws.

Francesca instructed me as I carved my first dictated pumpkin (eyes and nose like closed bananas, mouth like an open banana) and she stirred the seeds for the “pumpkin seed stew” while Isabella and I poked, sawed and pared “The Old House in Paris,” a tree, and various unidentifiable swirly things.

When Francesca had finished preparing the seeds (as everyone knows, stirring them is the most important part), we took them inside and began searching high and low for pumpkin seed recipes. But to my shock and dismay, all I could find, no matter how hard I looked, were recipes that called for nothing more than olive oil and sea salt. Yummy, I suppose, but I wasn’t looking to make gourmet potato chips. After a taxing day of carving and playing I needed something sweet as well as salty, and something unmistakably autumn-y.

And so the cinnamon-caramel pumpkin seeds were born. In this recipe, salt and toasty sugar melt with butter and cinnamon to form a new fall classic. They’re cooked first on the stove, to soften the seeds and melt the sugar, and then spread on parchment paper to bake to a crisp. They tend to stick together into a kind of pumpkin brittle, which I like, although you are free to spend the time making sure they are spread out. Of course, they’re very simple (as all good things should be), and very addictive. So as you’re carving your Thanksgiving pumpkins, as I’m sure you plan to do, make sure you save some time to make this modern fall candy. I know you’ll love it and you’ll make me, and the Great Pumpkin, very proud.

Cinnamon-Caramel Pumpkin Seeds

2 Cups of Fresh, Rinsed Pumpkin Seeds, well stirred by any 5-year-olds you have lying around
3 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
3/4 Teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 Tablespoon Butter

  1. Preheat oven to 325° F
  2. Mix cinnamon, sugar and salt together in a small bowl
  3. Melt butter in medium-small non-stick skillet over medium-high heat
  4. Add pumpkin seeds, and 1/3 of sugar mixture, and sautee for 8 minutes, gradually adding the remaining sugar mixture over the course of the first 4 minutes. Make sure to stir constantly or the seeds may burn
  5. Pour seeds onto a baking sheet coated with parchment paper and spread evenly
  6. Roast for 15 minutes, cool, and enjoy!

Too many Pumpkins…

For most people the holiday season begins with Thanksgiving. Here the “holidays” as they are collectively known, begin in (very) early October. I don’t know why the color orange and October make me so happy, but I am a sucker for all things autumn and Halloween, probably because Halloween is about fun, not office parties. Instead, it’s about apples and pumpkin picking, and laughing at the hysterical decorations and costumes so many people come up with.

More lawns than ever are populated with monsters and graveyards and not-so-scary whimsy, like this monster and mermaid I found in Essex, CT.

 

 

Our house is always the most over the top in the neighborhood, but we’ve even outdone ourselves this year with a witch that projects on to our house. It’s pretty spectacular, if I do say so myself.

We are so into the season that my youngest daughter isn’t allowed to wear anything that isn’t orange and black or doesn’t have a witch or ghost on it. I’m really not kidding. Thank goodness she’s only five and thinks it’s a blast.

A little odd, perhaps, but I did the same thing with Gabrielle and Isabella and they turned out pretty normal.

But of course, this is a food blog, and no post about October would make any sense without talking about all the spectacular cozy foods of autumn. We love teaching light and fresh meals at the Fig Cooking School in the summer – a chilled borsht made with organic beets on a sticky day is superb – but nothing beats hearty stews, rich pies and crisps made with apples or pears, or really anything made with the vast array of squashes and pumpkins now in season.

The best pumpkin has to have the best stem...

Of all the fall foods and decorations I go especially crazy for pumpkins. I can’t get enough of them. Francesca has a fantastic book called Too Many Pumpkins in which Rebecca Estelle thinks she hates those beautiful bulky balls of orange until a truck spills dozens of splattered pumpkins in her yard. The next year there are hundreds of pumpkins and so she has to make dozens of pumpkin pies, cookies, muffins and breads for the townspeople so they don’t go to waste. In the end, the pumpkins bring her happiness and community… totally my kind of story.

If you ask Mark and the girls they’ll tell how they have to pull me away from the pumpkin patch. It’s an addiction, really.

And I like gourds and weird pumpkins too!

 

 

 

So obviously, some of my favorite foods are made with pumpkins. This gorgeous vegetable makes the most wonderful soups, muffins and pies and, when roasted whole, a beautiful, edible bowl for your favorite autumn stew.

 

 

Since it is such a busy time of year, I try to keep it simple and create recipes that are hearty and delicious, so we have more time to be outside apple picking or taking scenic drives. I’ve created a delicious but simple pumpkin-butternut squash soup using canned organic squash and pumpkin. It’s so easy you will never be tempted to by commercial soup again. I promise.

Hopefully it will become part of your regular dinner plans. When you make it, be sure to let us know!

Pumpkin-Butternut Squash Soup with Pears

2 cups of leeks, chopped
1/3 cup shallots, chopped
1 Bartlett pear, peeled and chopped into 1-inch cubes
1 can organic butternut squash puree
1 can organic pumpkin puree (unprocessed)
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup sour cream
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1/3 pound pancetta, sliced thin (optional)

1. Sautee shallots and leeks until they are wilted, but not yet brown, about 5 minutes
2. Add squash and pumpkin and stir
3. Add one teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper
4. Add the broth, pears, sugar and cayenne pepper and bring to a boil
5. Let simmer for about 12 minutes, or until pears are soft
6. Add both the pumpkin and squash and cook for another 7 minutes on a low flame
7. Puree in a food processor, or with an immersion blender (you may also use a blender, but be sure to let the soup cool to lukewarm first)
8. Add sour cream and mix well
9. Fry pancetta in a small pan over medium-high heat, until crisp, and pat between two towels to absorb grease
10. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle chopped chives and crumbled pancetta on top

Life at the Annex

I love everything about college, but I’ve spent a lot of time missing home. And it’s probably horrible to admit, but I miss my kitchen almost as much as my family. I miss the tiny white hexagonal tiles on the floor, and the shelves stuffed with cookbooks, from Giada to Thomas Keller . I miss the overflowing glass jars of cooking equipment for when mom teaches, and the pots and pans hanging from the farm table-turned-island in the middle. My kitchen has ambient lighting and a sturdy, old kitchenaid mixer. It has plates, silverware and an oven. I have been truly spoiled for the past few years. I have none of those things here. I have no glass backsplash, no chalkboard to write the day’s menu on, and no fancy pepper grinders. I do have tile countertops, a dingy, two-burner electric stove, and a microwave. The end. But despite all this, in recent days I’ve come to love my 5th floor substitute.

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Seriously.

..

It all started the day I first realized the dining hall was killing me, in body and in spirit. I was so distracted by classes and awkward social encounters that I didn’t notice it for a few weeks. The warning came, rather suddenly, when I stepped on the scale, for the first time in a month. To my shock and horror, I was losing my Freshman 15.

“You’re crazy, Gabrielle,” you are undoubtedly saying. “Isn’t that a good thing?”

Yes. It is. But it turned me on to a much more serious problem: dining hall food is disgusting. Like, the other day, they were serving a tofu meatloaf… and it was orange. Bright orange..

It was the color of this pumpkin. But it was tofuloaf.

I tried to estimate the number of cucumbers I had eaten instead of dinner over the preceding weeks, and when I’d finished calculating (about a bazillion), I realized I had take matters into my own hands. Fortunately, the shelves on my desk are furnished with almost as many sauté pans as books. So I grabbed my cooking friends, put my eaters on standby, and ran like a madwoman towards the kitchen.

In the spirit of fall, I made caramelized apples. In the spirit of needing somewhere to put the apples, I made crepes. And in the spirit of crepes, I made a Nutella cream sauce. Because one of life’s little known secrets is that there is nothing better than caramelized apples and chocolate. And, as everyone knows, there is nothing better than Nutella with anything.

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This recipe is simple, but spectacular, and is best made with lots and lots of friends. As people came and went, Chelsea, Theresa and I flipped the crepes, Gaby and Soyeon assembled the fillings, Hila entertained us, and we all took turns eating our creations as they came off the stove. We had no fancy equipment, but it was just like being back in the Test Kitchen.

 

So grab some apples and nutella, and enjoy! This recipe can be made without a blender or even mixing bowl, and eaten without forks, knives and plates. It makes 15-20 crepes, so invite lots of people. It’s simple, cheap, vegetarian, kosher, and delicious. They, whoever they are, say the best ideas are born out of necessity. So when you make these fall treats and love them more than anything you’ve ever tasted… don’t thank me, thank my college and its terrible dining hall.

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Note- we had a lot of extra heavy cream (and so will you) so we made homemade butter. By hand! It’s a classic fall activity. We most certainly did it on purpose. We were not trying to make whipped cream.

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Apple Crepes with Nutella Cream

For Crepes (adapted from epicurious)

1.5 cups plus 3 tablespoons whole milk
3 eggs
1.5 cups flour
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cooled, plus extra for greasing pan

 

1. Whisk ingredients together in a mixing bowl (or, if you’re me, 2 large tupperwares) until smooth and lump-free
2. Cover, and allow to sit at room temperature while you make apples and nutella sauce
3. When apples and nutella are made, heat an 8-inch skillet over medium to medium-high heat (depending on your stove) and melt just enough butter to lightly grease bottom
4. Pour 1/4 cup of batter and tilt to evenly coat bottom of pan. Your first crepe will be a disaster, so don’t despair over it. It has nothing to do with your crepe making abilities. Just discard it (preferably in your tummy).
5. Cook for 1.5-2 minutes, until bottom begins to lightly brown, and flip. Feel free to do this with a spatula or chopsticks or whatever moves you, but I recommend you try doing in the air. It’s not hard, and you’ll feel much more accomplished if you do it the fun way.
6. Cook for 30 seconds-1 minute, until second side begins to brown, and glide onto plate. Repeat process with remaining batter. Eat immediately.

 

 

For Nutella Cream

3-4 tbsp heavy cream
3-4 tbsp nutella

 

1. In small saucepan, heat cream and nutella over low heat until blended and heated.

 

 

For Caramelized Apples (adapted from epicurious)

2 lbs apples, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
6 tbsp butter
1/3 cup sugar

 

1. Melt butter in a large non-stick skillet over medium to medium-high heat (depending on your stove)
2. Add sugar and stir until melted
3. Add apples and stir to cover with sugar and butter. Sautée for approximately 10 more minutes, until apples are tender, and cooked through.
4. Remove from heat.

 

Assembly

Fill crepes with apples, drizzle with sauce, and roll up. Alternatively, if you have plates and forks (which we did not), you can drizzle the sauce on the outside of the crepe. Enjoy!

To Market To Market

As I started thinking about Cityseed’s fabulous farmer’s market in New Haven’s Wooster Square and as I looked through the hundreds of pictures I’ve taken in recent weeks, I was struck not only by the vibrant colors, the luscious fruits and vegetables, but the remarkably diverse and colorful people who come to this special place Saturday mornings.

We’ve met so many wonderful people at our booth who genuinely care about food and are meticulous about the quality of ingredients they use in their everyday lives. My hats off to them. For those of us who live in or near New Haven, we owe a lot to market manager Rachel Berg, and her tireless staff for running this market so perfectly week after week and making these local and organic foods accessible.

I will be posting a photo essay on the market seasonally since it is such an integral part any foodie’s life; here are some moments of this past glorious summer and just a hint of autumn.

One of the things I just love about the market is that it is one-stop-shopping; you can and should pick your menus for the week based on what the local Connecticut farmers are harvesting that week.

I fell in love with beets this summer since they were so plentiful and were offered in so many colors; orange, white and of course that beautiful dark purple that turns a gorgeous pinkish lavender color when pureed with a bit of cream. We ate them in chilled borschts, we caramelized them for salads with avocado and goat cheese, and sometimes we just ate them roasted with a just a sprinkle of sea salt and coarse pepper.

There is also no better place to buy so many other herbs, vegetables and fruits as well.

Or ingredients for a refreshing salad of arugula, lettuce, tomatoes and red onions.

You can also pick up gorgeous wild flowers, sunflowers and the most spectacular dahlias to decorate your table with too. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to pick up some of the finest baked goods in Connecticut at the Sono Bakery.

One of the reasons to go to the market, of course, is the people watching. It’s some of the best in New Haven.  The shopkeepers and the customers have a lot of pizzaz and personality.

People find many ways of transporting their goods home too; most, of course, are environmentally friendly; You see re-usable bags  and wheels of every kind.

Of course, pampered pets enjoy the morning at the market too. And why not?

I hope I’ve whet your appetite to visit the market, or one nearest your home. But I’m warning you; they’re addictive. Supermarket produce will never look the same again.

If you live nearby and plan to visit the Wooster market, please be sure to come by and say “Hi” to us next time you’re there. We’d love to see you. If you live far away, find your local market and get to know your local growers. They are wonderful people who care about the land and the food we eat.

For now, enjoy these last pictures of autumn’s beginning; I love all things apples and pumpkins, and I promise to have some recipes for you in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, get out there and pick some apples or pumpkins. It’s good for you.

I’m going back into the test kitchen right now so I can come up with some great pumpkin recipes. I’ll be back soon!

Fall at its Finest

I love autumn for so many reasons – the soft lighting, the crisp air, and the beautiful foliage – but somehow things always come back to food for us. Even when I was a little girl, great food superseded all other experiences. Sure, I was excited to go back to school and for Halloween, but what I really loved were the comfort foods my mother made in the fall. She used to make these wonderful Austrian plum dumplings called Zwetschgenknoedel. These cozy and rich Austrian potato dumplings are filled with Italian plums and have just enough sugar and cinnamon to be called dessert.

When I went to college, I had Zwetschgenknoedel withdrawal every fall, and for years afterward I would beg my mother for the recipe. Like so many great cooks of her generation, she said there was no recipe and she would add a little of this and that each time. But in recent years, Gabrielle and Isabella got so tired of hearing about these special dumplings they begged their Oma to try to write it down. Fortunately, it was much easier to do than she predicted. They’re actually quite easy to make, and they’re spectacularly delicious.

Most Americans have never had these delectable dumplings before. I’ve never seen them on a menu or sold anywhere. In Germany and Austria, they are as common as apple pie and it’s easy to see why. There is nothing better than one or two of these dumplings with a cup of tea after a light lunch or dinner. Help me spread the word and share this link with all of your foodie friends. I assure you, they will be grateful.

Zwetschgenknoedel (Plum Dumplings)

2 Russet potatoes
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons butter
Pinch of Salt
1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk
About 12 Italian Plums (sometimes called prunes) or damson plums
¾ cup sugar1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup bread crumbs

1. Boil 2 russet potatoes until soft (at least ½ hour).
2. Peel off skin and add 1/3 stick butter sliced. Mash potatoes and butter until smooth.
3. Add a dash of salt and mix again. Let cool.
4. Melt 1/2 cup butter in a 12 inch saucepan.
5. Add sugar, cinnamon, and bread crumbs and heat until breadcrumbs are slightly browned. Set aside and cool.
6. Mix one whole egg and one yolk into the potatoes, along with one cup of flour.
7. Mix well and knead until dough is smooth (you may need a little more flour).
8. Shape the dough into a 4 inch by 6 inch rectangle
9. Wash and dry plums
10. Cut approximately 1/2 inch of dough (depending on the size of the plums) and flatten into round shape in the palm of your hand (dough should be about an 1/8 of an inch thick when flattened out).
11. Wrap dough around the plum, making sure to cover it completely.
12. Repeat until all the plums are wrapped.
13. Fill a 6 quart pot two-thirds of the way with lightly salted water.
14. Place the dumplings  gently in the water and let come to a boil again.
15. Reduce to a simmer and cook until you can see the juice “bleeding” inside the dumplings.
16. Remove with a slotted spoon and roll into the bread crumb mixture.
17. Let cool 15 minutes and serve.

 

 

Fig Season is Here!

People often ask me if we sell figs or only teach classes that feature dishes made with figs. It’s fair question considering the names of this blog and my business, The Fig Cooking School, LLC. The truth is that the name was actually inspired by my three charming daughters, Francesca, Isabella and Gabrielle. But we also happen to adore figs and love cooking and baking with them when they’re in season, which is, sadly, oh so fleeting. We are now fortunately now in the height of fig season here in Connecticut and we’ve been cooking up a storm with them.

We thought we’d share with you one of our favorite recipes for honey roasted figs that is extremely versatile. Roasted figs on French bread paired with cheese and a bit of arugula and nuts make elegant hors d’oeuvres. They can also be used in a salad made of mixed greens, French string beans and fruits, or as a side dish with any roast in the early fall. Enjoy these recipes and tell us what you think. We’d love to get your feedback!

Basic Honey-Roasted Figs

14 figs (about a pound)
1/3 cup honey
2 teaspoons of finely chopped fresh rosemary or thyme (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees
2) Slice figs in half and place cut side up on cookie platter lined with foil and lightly greased with olive oil
3) Brush figs with honey and sprinkle rosemary or thyme evenly over them (herbs optional)
4) Season with salt and freshly ground pepper
5) Place in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the honey begins to caramelize. Let figs cool to room temperature

Honey roasted figs with French bread

One batch of honey roasted figs (see above)
28 thinly sliced slices French bread
6-8 ounces of your favorite goat cheese, dolce Gorgonzola, blue cheese, St. Andre, or mascarpone
¼ cup coarsely coarsely chopped toasted walnuts
28 arugula leaves

1) Spread cheese on the French bread and place one arugula leaf on each one.
2) Place one honey roasted fig on each bread slice and top with a few pieces of chopped walnuts

Honey Roasted Figs with Haricots Verts and mixed greens in a Shallot vinaigrette dressing

One batch of honey roasted figs (see above)
1 pound of string beans
2 cups mixed greens
2 cups arugula
4-6 ounces goat cheese, dolce Gorgonzola, or blue cheese
1 large apple or pear sliced thin
½  cup toasted walnuts or almonds
1/3 cup dried apricots, cherries or cranberries (optional) or another favorite fruit
3-4 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
¼  cup balsamic (either traditional or white) or champagne vinegar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¾  teaspoon kosher salt
½  teaspoon pepper

1) Cut the ends of the French beans and place into pot of boiling water for just two minutes (do not overcook)
2) Quickly drain string beans into pot cold water with ice. Let string beans cool completely in the ice water in order to prevent the string beans from cooking further.
3) When cool, dry the string beans in a tea towel or paper towels
4) Place walnuts on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 5-7 minutes until just slightly browned. Put aside.
5) Wash arugula and mixed greens and place in a large bowl or platter along with the string beans.
6) Add the fresh fruit, dried fruit and nuts; toss gently
7) Mix in a small bowl or measuring cup the shallots, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Pour over mixture and gently toss again.
8 ) Arrange the figs on top of the salad along with the cheese, making sure that each guest receives some figs and cheese when served.

Check In

I did it! I finally arrived at college last Monday, I managed to set up my bedding on the top bunk, I connected to campus WiFi and, most importantly, I found a group of friends who are willing to make bruschetta with me tomorrow afternoon. In 18 years I have never once felt this proud of my accomplishments.

So even though I haven’t had much time to explore New York yet, I thought I’d just give a quick update on life in the big city! It’s scary how many opportunities there are to eat here. There’s a Pinkberry within walking distance of my dorm and a farmers’ market across the street from me (with 10 varieties of eggplant!). My room is also conveniently placed across from the community kitchenette, so I’m going to keep cooking. And the good news for you is that my new kitchen is equipped with nothing more than 4 electric burners (2 of which function) and a microwave. So if I can make something here, you can certainly make it at home. I also have many new friends who are kosher and/or vegetarian, so you’ll reap the benefits of my new culinary challenges.

What I can tell you after a week is that Tom’s Diner (the Seinfeld Diner) makes much better milkshakes and pancakes than one would expect from a tourist trap (Order the Broadway Shake. It’s made with chocolate and coffee ice cream, and it’s not on the menu. And if you were wondering, they will serve it at breakfast. Not that I would know…), and I can also tell you that little green plums are not quite as good as little purple plums, but that skinny cucumbers are much better than regular cucumbers, and that okra comes in red, and that fairytale eggplant is  adorable.

My new camera has yet to arrive, so the pictures will get better and more frequent. For now enjoy a few snapshots of the week, featuring the local farmer’s market and Yoko Ono’s Wishing Tree at the Museum of Modern Art. I can’t wait to start sharing restaurants and recipes!

Sugar High: A Mini Anecdote

I love my family for only taking foodie vacations, but after a while the calories will catch up to you. So I was actually a little relieved when my high school friends and I settled on New Hampshire for our post-grad bonding trip, rather than what would have inevitably become an expensive and calorific gastronomic tour of Quebec. We brought The Chef along to chaperone (cook), but I thought we were planning to spend our days on our feet hiking, swimming or at least antiquing. And we did…

mostly.

What I failed to realize, was that the house we rented, on a strict college student’s budget, was a whole hour from Mount Washington, but a mere seven minutes away from the biggest budget basher known to mankind: the world’s longest candy counter.

It’s very dangerous to let me loose in a store like Chutters. With whole bins of cappuccino jelly beans, peach-apricot fruit slices, cognac cordials, chocolate-covered pretzel balls and chocolate-covered gummy bears (tasteless in one sense, so tasty in another) I was like a kid in a… never mind.

Candy here is stored in big jars, and sold by the pound, but I was assured that a pound of candy was a lot, so I set a budget in my mind, and set out filling my bag with what was, to my mind, a very reasonable amount of candy. I took a break from candy buying to take pictures, and 1/2 an hour later joined my friends at the checkout counter. All four of them spent exactly what they planned to… I rang up to almost twice as much.

I call this a mini anecdote, but really it’s the story of my life.

The End.

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