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Showing posts from 2013

cheap and sexy christmas eve

For the past few days, I'd been stressing over what to prepare for Christmas Eve dinner.  I wanted to avoid laboring over a meal for countless hours when I had so many other demands on my time and energy, but at the same time, I wanted a meal that would be somewhat elegant and festive, but not crazy expensive.
I know from years of experience, that when it comes to 'elegant and festive', you can choose to save time, or money, but rarely ever both.
Luckily for me, inspiration struck at just the right time!  I've always loved mussels, but I found the process of cleaning and de-bearding them so laborious that I rarely ever prepared them at home.  But since the rest of this preparation was so quick and easy, I figured I could devote some time to the cleaning without too much difficulty.  As it turned out, the mussels that I found were so clean and free of debris that prepping them was a snap, taking less than half the time I anticipated.
Also, to be clear, I did not delibe…

cookin' up a storm!

Nothing like plummeting temperatures, bleak skies, and snow flurries to get me in the mood to whip up some comfort food!  On this particular night, I was inspired by a tuna casserole recipe that one of my friends posted on 'that other social network'.  I adapted the ingredients a bit to accommodate my dietary restrictions, but you can feel free to use the full-fat, full-sodium versions of any of the ingredients.  I didn't measure anything, (I rarely do) so you'll just have to wing it on that front.  Here's what went into the dish:

2 cans tuna fish, drained
1/2 package whole wheat pasta spirals
3 egg whites, beaten
2 tablespoons of Smart Balance spread
grated pepper-jack cheese
diced tomatoes
fresh chopped parsley
chopped onion
fresh ground black peppersalt, to taste (I didn't use any)

Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain.  Mix in all the other ingredients except for the eggs, and a couple handfuls of the cheese.  When the mixture has cooled sl…

"coffee donut"

Having lived in Park Slope for close to 25 years, it's an understatement to say that I've seen a lot of changes in the area.  In my opinion, the vast majority of them have been for the better, but I think the pendulum is swinging so far to the other extreme that the neighborhood is becoming completely devoid of individuality.

In the Times today, Sean came across the story of this amazing artist, who captures (in perfect, miniaturized detail) some of the spirit of a rapidly disappearing New York.  And I was deeply moved to see among his works, a reproduction of a run-down coffee shop, where we spent many a hung-over weekend morning, reading the New York Post, chatting with the owner, Chris, and trading barbs with the waitress.

It has long since been replaced by the expansion/upgrade of a nearby supermarket.  To be honest, the supermarket, while larger, cleaner and more modern, does have a quirkiness of its own.  But we still sorely miss this little shop, which we stubbornly r…

D. I. Y. dinner for the 1%

A few months ago, I noticed a very intriguing sign in a storefront window of an establishment under construction. The shop was to be called 'The Walk-In Cookbook'. Needless to say, my curiosity was peaked, but I resisted the urge to research the hell out of the topic and decided to wait until opening day to find out what it was all about.

Today, my patience was rewarded as I sauntered into the newly-opened establishment to take a look around. The Walk In Kitchen, it appears, is kind of like an Ikea for cooking. There are brightly colored posters that feature photographs of meals, accompanied by ingredient lists and the cost of said ingredients in 2 and 4 serving iterations.



There are also recipe cards, which double as shopping lists as you make your way around the store selecting from the attractively displayed produce and other food items. The layout resembles a professional kitchen, and you kind of get the feeling that a cooking class is going to start up at any minute. Exce…

dinner : caribbean ratatouille

Now, I know you're scratching your head at the name of this dish, but bear with me.  I'd been craving ratatouille for a few days and planned to prepare it tonight, but as I was writing up my shopping list, a minor mental slip turned into a spark of inspiration.
The first item on my list was meant to be 'eggplant', but for some strange reason, I typed the word 'melongene' which is one of the words we use for eggplant in the Caribbean.  In the U.S., I never have reason to call it that, since most Americans would have no idea what I'm talking about, but there it was, sitting on the blank page, staring back at me.  And I think you can follow my train of thought from there.
So this ratatouille came together using produce that is readily available in the Caribbean - melongene, onion, red bell pepper, chayote (which we call 'christophene'), calabaza (West Indian pumpkin), garlic, and tomato (I used canned, diced).  I also added a few tablespoons of diced …

cinema under the stars (and a really big moon)

Whenever I hear the phrase 'film festival', my mind is filled with thoughts of highly intellectual and esoteric cinema that can only be appreciated by people who use the word 'cinema' on a regular basis.  But my personal movie preference leans toward presentations that involve any combination of gunfire, aliens, explosions and shirtless heartthrobs. So when I registered to attend the free Tropfest NY short film festival it was only due in part to my curiosity about the actual films. My main incentive was the opportunity to see Liev Schreiber (this year's host) in the flesh.
With low expectations, and a burning desire to take advantage of a rare sunny day, I packed up a little picnic and headed to Prospect Park with my sweetie to check out some film (and Liev Schreiber).
Because I had an early-morning commitment, we were only able to stay for the first eight films (there were sixteen finalists in all) but I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed every single on…

it's just like riding a bicycle

I feel rather envious of the people who never come to the realization that nostalgia can be a dangerous thing.

For most of my childhood, mid-year school holidays involved endless hours spent on my bicycle (a purple Chopper with orange lettering, a banana seat, basket AND tassels) zipping back and forth on the 4-block stretch that was my street.  Being profoundly chicken-hearted even back then, I rarely ventured beyond the confines of that quiet strip, and I look back in amazement at how I was able to while away so much time in so small a place.  I remember the warm sun on my shoulders, and the wind whipping through my hair, and having not a care in the world.

So, when the long-awaited Citibike scheme finally came to fruition in New York, I was among the very first to sign up, eager to relive those carefree days of my childhood.  Last weekend, I had my first opportunity to hop on one of these blue behemoths, and let's just say things didn't go quite as planned.

I had envision…

dinner : duck coma

My sweetie is terrible at dropping hints, and I'm equally terrible at taking them.  So while his birthday was still months away, he clearly and repeatedly stated that his ideal birthday dinner would be Blue Ribbon Brooklyn's duck club sandwich.  The problem?  Blue Ribbon Brooklyn hasn't had that sandwich on their menu for years - he knew that, and I knew that, thus I considered the gauntlet well and truly thrown down!
The good news : The entire recipe for that delicious sandwich is widely available The bad news : The entire recipe for that delicious sandwich is widely available
Mayonnaise from scratch, yeah I can handle that.  Bread from scratch, are you kidding meeee????
Well, I can't remember the last time I followed a recipe to the letter, and I wasn't about to start now, so let's talk shortcuts and substitutions:
I am not a baker, I don't enjoy baking, but I can yank a bag of bread off a market shelf like a pro! So I searched for the best store-bought r…

dinner : portuguese-ish fish stew

Our usual M.O. for dinner preparations is to decide on the food first, and then pick a wine to match.  But once in a while, we like to mix things up and go the other way.  Vinho Verde is one of my very favorite wines, and we buy it quite frequently, but we often drink it with whatever food we're having - because it goes with so many things.  As a result, we sometimes miss out on its full potential as a food wine.
But tonight I decided to bring the food to the wine and prepare a hearty Portuguese-style fish stew.  I'm careful to say style because people get all huffy when you suggest that your particular version of an ethnic dish hovers in the vicinity of what is truly authentic, whatever that is.  That said, here's my recipe.  I don't like to specify measurements because I rarely measure, so let your taste and judgement guide you.
Sautee some minced garlic, diced red onion and diced fennel in olive oil. Add some fresh thyme, red pepper flakes, diced chorizo, bite-size…

dinner : white bean and tomato stew

This was super easy and very tasty!  I've seen many recipes similar to this, but they usually call for poached eggs, and there was no way I was going to attempt egg poaching in my exhausted state. Here are the basics for about 6 servings:
Sautee a diced onion, some red pepper flakes and minced rosemary in olive oil.  When the onion has softened, add two cans of fire-roasted tomatoes with the juice, and 2 cans of white beans (drained and rinsed).  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer for 15 minutes.  Serve in bowls, topped with one or two fried eggs per serving, grated pecorino and shredded basil.  You might also want to have some crusty bread for soaking up the juices.  

I used low-sodium versions of the canned products, but feel free to use the salted versions, or add salt to taste.

dinner : chicken tagine, moroccan roasted vegetables, spinach salad

Enjoying the leftovers from the African Food Cookalong that I participated in a few days ago.  We're having Chicken Tagine, Moroccan Roasted Vegetables, and instead of couscous or quinoa, I decided to go with a simple salad of baby spinach, cherry tomatoes and red onion, tossed with olive oil and white wine vinegar.

Here are some shots from the original cookalong:





dinner : rotisserie chicken with pine nut brussels sprouts and spicy beets

I actually decided to time myself for this one.  Thirty-two minutes from start to finish*.  Here's how it's done.

Stuff you need close at hand:
1 rotisserie chicken
1 lb pre-cooked packaged beets (yes, beets again)
1.5 lb fresh brussels sprouts
3-4 tablespoons pine nuts
3 scallions
3 oz soft goat cheese
olive oil
red pepper flakes
salt (optional)
2 big bowls
1 non-stick skillet
big knife
easy to clean cutting board (because this could get messy)
utensils for stirring stuff

Put the skillet over medium-low heat and toast the pine nuts.  While that's going on, trim and quarter (or halve, depending on the size) the sprouts, but be very careful to keep an eye on the nuts.  Once the nuts are nice and golden, throw them into one of the big bowls (we'll call this bowl #1). Raise the heat to medium, add some olive oil to the skillet and throw in the sprouts.  Toss them around to coat them in the oil and let them cook while you move on to the next steps.  Every few minutes, go …

dinner : rotisserie turkey breast, beet, avocado and arugula salad, quinoa

Tuesday night is rotisserie chicken night in our household.  In an ideal world, I'd have time to season and roast a whole chicken on a weeknight, but in my world, we'd be sitting down to dinner after midnight if I tried that.  On this particular night, I had the good fortune to come across some rotisserie turkey breast, which I actually prefer to chicken, because it tends to come out more evenly cooked than a whole chicken.

I try to keep things interesting with the side dishes, without getting too complicated, and thus defeating the purpose of the pre-cooked poultry.  The quinoa is super-easy to prepare, but the package directions won't always tell you to rinse the grains before adding them to the pan.  That extra step helps eliminate any bitterness that is often associated with quinoa.

While the quinoa was cooking (about 15 to 20 minutes), I diced up some cooked beets, which I usually find in vacuum sealed packages in the produce section of the supermarket, and tossed th…

dinner : shrimp, spinach and tomato omelette

This one came together in a rather odd way.  My intention was to put the spinach, shrimp and tomatoes into the omelette.  But as I was peeling the shrimp, I was thinking it would be a shame to waste the flavor in those shells, so after I cooked the shrimp in a bit of olive oil and some spices, I set them aside and added the shells to the same pan, with some water (wine would have been better but I didn't have a white on hand).  Once the shells had cooked for a few minutes, I removed them from the broth and added a couple handfuls of halved cherry tomatoes.  I cooked those down, adding more water when the mixture dried out, until they began to fall apart and make a light sauce.  Then I cleaned the pan, and sauteed the spinach with some minced garlic and red pepper flakes. 
 Serving the sauce on top turned out to be a nice touch, and it came in quite handy as camouflage in the spots where I tore the egg (like I always do).  My omelettes are not the prettiest you've ever seen, b…

wine down : ahead of the curve

I stumbled upon this recent article, in which the author documents the latest and greatest wine trends sweeping the industry.  Among them are Eastern European wines, modern rosé and Finger Lakes wines, all of which we have been enjoying for several years.

I don't want to toot my own horn, but as far as I'm concerned, that makes us bona fide trailblazers!

I'll celebrate by recommending one of my favorites, a fantastic Croatian white:

Kozlovic Malvazija, Istria, Croatia Usually available for under $20
Cheers!

dinner : caprese omelette

Tonight is omelette night!  Actually, omelette night was supposed to be tomorrow, but a scheduling conflict forced me to switch nights this week.

Anyhow, omelettes can be a wonderful weeknight meal, especially when you're pressed for time (and really tired from a workout).  The variety of fillings is only limited by your imagination.  Tonight, I'm going with fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil, but there are a few other combinations I've tried with great success.

White beans with pesto and parmesanSauteed spinach and fetaSteamed butternut squash and goat cheeseZucchini, shrimp and corn
..you get the idea.
Remember, you can always use egg whites or egg substitute if you have special dietary considerations.  Serve with a side salad and/or a slice of grainy bread, and you're good to go.


happy accident : chadon beni hummus

It's become a bit of a Sunday afternoon ritual to rummage through my fridge and toss/repurpose any odds and ends laying around before putting away my groceries.  As fate would have it, the only edible items left this time around were a half-empty tub of hummus, and a container of leftover shado beni sauce that I made a few days ago.  I wondered if anyone had ever tried combining the two (yes) and how the combination would taste (AWESOME!)

Here's my recipe for shado beni sauce.  The rest of the concept is pretty much self-explanatory.

20-30 chadon beni leaves, chopped (also called shado beni, culantro or recao)
2 scallions, chopped
6 cloves of garlic
1 hot pepper, seeded and chopped (jalepeno for the wimps, habanero for the bad-asses)
pinch of salt (optional)

Place all the ingredients in a blender and process, adding enough water to create a sauce. The thickness of the finished product will depend on your taste, but I like mine just a bit on the runny side (think chimichurri).

In ad…

dinner : curried black-eyed pea soup

As a reward for enduring horizontal snow during this morning's commute, I decided some comfort food was in order come dinnertime.  This is one of my cold-weather standbys, and was adapted from a recipe by one of my favorite food bloggers.  The original, seen here, uses canned pigeon peas, as well as potato, and is more of a stew consistency.  I used cooked, pre-packaged black-eyed peas, eliminated the potato and added chicken stock and coconut milk to thin it out.  Apart from those items, the ingredients are pretty much the same.  I also threw in a handful of diced carrots that were nearing the end of their usable life.  Once all the vegetables were completely soft, I pureed the mixture using a stick blender, and served it with a dollop of Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of minced cilantro to make it look all fancy. Whenever possible, I used lower sodium and non-fat versions of all the canned/pre-packaged items, and the finished product was still as delicious and comforting as ever. …

name change : game change

Contrary to popular opinion, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth.  But I had fallen into a mental block of epic proportions.  Said block was since compounded by a series of life-changing events, and I feel as if I'm trying to find my creative footing all over again, so please be patient with me.

As I get up to speed on posting more frequently, I'd like to point out that besides the name and layout change, I will no longer be featuring any 'magic number' information in my posts, mainly because I have no idea what my magic number is anymore, and I probably won't know for sure until I've been there for a while.

Okay, let's hope I can get my act together and maintain this thing properly for once and for all.  *fingers, toes and eyes crossed*