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Appetizers, Salads, Sides, Snacks

The “Don’t be a hero” Dishes.

November 30, 2016

 

Tis the season to look at your calendar and ponder how it became, seemingly overnight, a microcosm of our universe in its ordered chaos. After enduring several holiday seasons that left me dizzy-as-a-whirling-dervish come January (in no small part due to my STUNNINGLY foolish ideas to make sure everyone is properly accounted for via homemade peanut butter cups, or a 6-hr cajeta, or a hand painted wrapping theme…WELCOME TO BEING YOUR OWN DAMN KRAMPUS Y’ALL), I’ve spent the last couple of years painstakingly simplifying the season in the hopes of returning it to a place of joy, with time spent in calm appreciation of those around me. All that is basically a euphemism for “come at me with one more time constraint and I spend Christmas as Margot Tenenbaum in the tub”. Thus, my holiday party style has become one of being polite, but not a hero.
The best way to go about that is two-fold:
1. Don’t say yes to anything you have to “figure out”. Either it fits in your schedule or it doesn’t, pop-culture acronyms be damned.  If you have to say no to someone who will be heartbroken at your lack of attendance, send them a bottle of something you know they’ll like with an open-ended lunch invite for the new year. This is the “don’t be a hero part”.
2. Don’t show up empty-handed, but do choose something completely simple to bring. This is the “be polite” part. If you can make that something an *unexpected* something, no one will see past the creativity to grasp how little time it took.
With recipes below, here are a few options I’ll be using this season:
Grapes 1

Crostini with pâté, roasted grapes, and a charred-herb salsa:

This…this!  It’s a favorite. You can buy the pâté at the store (I adore Fabrique Delices Duck Mousse with Port Wine if you can find it), roast off the grapes the morning of, and make the salsa up to 5 days in advance. The whole thing is perfect at room temperature, and assembly is as simple as a shmear, a plunk and a drizz.

[recipe id=”686″]
Endive 1

Endive cups with walnut, bleu, tart cherry and pear:

All this app requires is a bit of knife work and a spoon, and can be made a day in advance, which, albeit not *easier*, is a much kinder gluten-free option than rifling through your produce drawer to hand Candace that half-eaten bag of dried up baby carrots before getting back to your good time.

[recipe id=”685″]

Carrot Salad.

Shaved carrot salad with hazelnuts and black garlic dressing:
If you’re going to a dinner, this is the EASIEST. Do you know how to peel a carrot?  Great. Keep on peeling until they’re a tangle of ribbons that resembles the wrapping supplies you threw in the closet with exasperation and blissfully forgot about for a year. You can shave the carrots a day ahead, the dressing can be made a week in advance, it’s gf, df, veegs, and gives reason for the lingering zoodle trend to finally succumb to its rightful culinary dirt nap.

[recipe id=”681″]

Whether you endeavor to be the consummate hostess or the consummate guest, I hope these time-conscious options serve your purposes well.  Happy Holidays!

*It’s worth noting that I cooked, assembled, styled and shot all of these in under two hours, so believe me when I say that whipping just one of these up is a breeze!

Brunch, Cocktails, Lunch, Salads, Sides

Watermelon Serrano Salad.

September 1, 2016

Here’s a fun confession:  I’m a terrible eater. I’ve taken to laughing and telling people to “eat as I cook, not as I eat” when they suggest that I must eat amazingly as I serve them what I’ve prepared. The truth is that while doing the shopping for them, I forget to shop for myself (or choose not to for various reasons including checkout line politeness and tax math).  As a result, I often wind up grabbing something as sustaining yet healthy as I can find from some grab-and-go section, or even sometimes rolling through McDonalds for a trusty #2 (no mustard, yellow mustard is the mustard of sociopaths) on my way to the job. That is if I even remember to eat, which doesn’t happen as often as any medical professional (or all-around reasonable person) would like. Eating before 2pm is a rare triumph that I celebrate by texting my friends who remind me that if I were normal I would be a hangry hellbeast like the rest of them. (Relevant side note: this doesn’t even elicit the culturally positive result of being “perfectly” skinny, so don’t go getting jealous of my un-mandated dietary restrictiveness.)

Preparing food requires a lot of tasting-as-you-go to check seasonings and mouthfeel, so hunger doesn’t often register until I’m back home, out of my chef clogs, and entirely unwilling to prepare something for myself that takes more than 10 minutes. This is why “family meal” exists in restaurants. You might say “enter: the sandwich, dingus!”, but I try not to keep bread around too often. That said, if there isn’t bread around, I’m probably not eating. If there is bread, I’m probably making a BLT. Every other 10-minute meal feels like a carb bomb that I don’t need late at night, or too light and healthy to put a dent in what is now a pit in my stomach as deep and dark as my abyss of a soul.

So, I’m making an effort to do some sort of meal prep. I can’t (read: won’t) do a giant cook-off for myself of things I can then portion into containers and store in the fridge because 1. I’m too fickle about cravings, 2. After 2 days that shit is just SADDDDDD, 3. After I’ve done giant cook-offs for clients I’m in no mood to do that again and not get paid for it, and 4. The ease of meal prep comes with ease of recipes, and I can’t just grill off a piece of chicken; it needs some interest and interest takes time. What I can easily do is make big batches of lettuce-free salads that get better with time and maceration.

Last week I made a huge batch of greek salad and was truly so proud of myself that I felt sure that I was on the road to my best life. I should bottle the juice that forms at the bottom of that bowl and mix it with vodka for a brunch shot; mimosas can take a seat.

This week I want to make a different salad I’ve been making for clients and bringing to pot lucks (hint hint holiday weekend!). It’s so simple, fairly unexpected, takes nearly no time to make, and a big batch of the dressing works well with almost any summer salad that incorporates fruit (I also use it on a salad with nectarines, balsamic caramelized cippolini onions and hazelnuts). Bonus point: you can use the juice that gathers at the bottom to make a yummy little tequila cocktail or shot chaser!

Watermelon Serrano 1-2
1. Pick up two of the same size and always choose the heavier one. I tend to pick up between 5-7 for comparison but I’m the most anal retentive produce shopper you’ll likely see in the grocery store.2. Look for one that has a bright yellow patch. This means the melon wasn’t moved much during growth, letting the flavors really concentrate.
3. Seedless is important, save the seeded watermelons for the kiddos, they love to have spitting contests.
4. If you’re unsure between two watermelons, knock on them like you would a door. The one that sounds the densest is the one to go with.

Watermelon Serrano 1

[recipe id=”622″]

Appetizers, Brunch, Lunch, Salads, Sides

Dirt Rubies & Rosé.

July 2, 2016

Formality might dictate that we call what is happening outside right now “summer” but to me it’s “tomato season” (See also:  dirt ruby season; ‘mater time; vine candy days). It’s not hard to glean from previous posts that I’m a veg-centric chick, and tomatoes are the sun around which all other fruits and vegetables orbit in my universe. I love and respect them deeply, grew 12 of my own plants last year carrying them in and outside each day until the night air was warm enough to welcome them, and will spend my life chasing down the perfect recreation of my grandmothers’ summer tomato salad. The excitement I displayed when a fellow Jersey girl informed me that Rutgers had created a hybrid to bring back the perfectly juicy jersey beefsteak tomatoes of our childhood clearly disturbed her California-native husband, but neither of us cared because our sole purpose in life had just shifted to acquiring one of these vines and no judgment could stop us. I don’t even let the grocery guys bag for me for fear of them bruising or puncturing what I spent no less than 5 minutes choosing.

In the course of this love affair, I’ve pushed the envelope of seasonality many times, only to learn my lesson each time (a stark contrast to other arenas in which I’ve pushed the envelope and…well, basically learned nothing except sometimes you can push the envelope). The disappointment I associate with a mealy, flash-gas ripened, flavorless, out of season tomato isn’t much different than what I feel for a gross bottle of “nice” wine (read: over $20, insert see-no-evil-monkey emoji here). As such, I try to keep my tomato intake for the year between the months of July and September, difficult as it may be as this extrapolates to BLT’s and most crostini (a favorite post-work dinner). There’s rarely a day in this ambling season that I don’t eat at least one tomato, and currently have several macerating in a champagne vinaigrette on my counter.

ALRIGHT CLARK WE GET IT YOU LOVE TOMATOES COOL STORY BRUH BUT WHAT ARE YOU GETTING AT??

Right. Yes. The reason we are here is that I want to share some of those good good recipes for those good good dirt rubies. This happens to also be a season requiring the least manipulation of ingredients for an incredible outcome, so none of this takes long at all, and like most of my food, is meant to be shared al fresco with a glass of seasonal grape juice (namely a sauvingnon blanc or rosé).

Sidenote: Babs just texted to let my brother and I know that there was a huge thunderstorm happening in our native NewJ. I made her record me a soundbite that I’ve now listened to 4 times and I tell you what, I am getting truly verklempt missing those hot, humid summer days when wrathful weather would sweep through the hills and across the fields, battering the flower beds and soaking the stones, only to give way to rainbows, glistening golden hours, and the smell of minerals as the rain evaporated off of those sun-heated stones, giving way to warm nights and hoards of fireflies. FUG I MISS MY HOME AND EARNING EVERY GORGEOUS SEASON. The tempestuous nature of east coast seasons resonates so very deeply with my character; this california sunshine is infuriatingly consistent and chipper and I just don’t relate. Maybe I’ll move back if Hill is elected. If Trump is elected…..DUECES FREAKS IT’S ABROAD LIVIN’ FOR THIS BROAD.

Back to our regularly scheduled program, here are a few super simple tomato recipes to class up your backyard bbq’s this weekend, wherever it may have you!

Tomato salad 1-4

Tomato salad 1

Tomato salad 1-3

[recipe id=”611″]

[recipe id=”609″]

[recipe id=”608″]

Brunch, Lunch, Mains, Salads, Sides

Fennel & Citrus Salad.

March 25, 2016

Easter weekend is upon us and this year I’m choosing to celebrate by 1. Thanking our resurrected savior that I don’t have to attend yet another recipe-recycled brunch buffet at the club, eyes scalded by the omnipresence of Lilly Pulitzers overstated prints, and 2. By bringing an unassuming salad to a friends’ pot luck (to which I’ll be wearing a Mara Hoffman frock that immediately contradicts my disdain for Lilly’s designs in color saturation though not form).

I dreamt the dish up for a job interview ages ago and was subsequently offered the job. It’s secured me a couple of jobs, in fact.  I don’t know anyone else who’s been hired for a salad, but for someone who is determined to resurrect salads from the doldrums of caesar and spring greens, I hold that fact in high regard.

This salad is the freshest, brightest version of winters vegetables I’ve ever known, and satisfying as all getup when accompanied by seared and sliced duck breast. Plunk it on your table as a refreshing departure from the crouton-box salads we’ve played out, or, if you’re as over ham as I am, make it as a bed for a platter of duck breast.

Fennel Salad 2

Fennel Salad 3

Fennel Salad 4

 

[recipe id=”552″]

Mains, Salads, Sides

Kale, Delicata & Farro Salad.

October 8, 2015

I wore a beanie all day yesterday without overheating and that was, in the words of my heart-song homie PJ, MAJORAAAAAAH. But it also triggered something in my lizard brain that said “mac and cheese, down this gullet, now.” (lizard brain, ovaries, WHO’S TO SAY). Luckily, I got a hold of the situation before it spiraled into the nutritionally-void abyss that I typically save for post-spin, when I already look like a stray dog who rolled around in the nearest puddle so what’s an embarrassing meal on top of that? Instead, I made a roasted, toasted salad that I can’t seem to get enough of.

We have a tendency to pack it on for the colder months in preparation for our altered hibernation state, unable to reconcile our evolutionarily engrained drive with the inception of Patagonia and Pendleton. I try not to let that take a sturdy foothold by telling myself that I’m welcome to gorge, so long as it’s a guiltless gorge, and I’m welcome to indulge, so long as I don’t overindulge. A big salad of kale, delicata squash, faro and parmesan seems like a relatively guiltless gorge, and so it has become something I regularly make to stave off other cravings (until I inevitably relent, enjoying every bite like a 21-day-fix’er on day 22).

This salad, despite being a “salad”, is hearty, toothy, and filling, as well as being easily adaptable to vegan/carnivorous/gf/df/tgif/idgaf by either leaving out the parmesan or farro, or adding sliced steak or roasted pulled chicken. It’s ideal for those I know with a split-diet family, or those of us who are sick of the kale caesar.  GORGE ON, GOURMANDS!

Kale Delicata Salad

Kale Delicata Salad-2

Kale Delicata Salad-3

Kale Delicata Salad-4

 

[recipe id=”503″]

Mains, Sides

Ratatouille.

September 15, 2015

To say that ratatouille is a contentious topic at culinary school is to drastically underestimate its importance to the French identity. To say that Ratatouille is a movie I wish people would stop asking me if I saw when I tell them I’m a cook is to drastically overestimate my patience level (also among those topics:  what is my favorite thing to cook, did I read Kitchen Confidential, did I watch SLASH did I try out for the latest season of Top Chef, and when am I opening my restaurant).

I developed a passion for cooking from my mother, but I honed those skills with chefs whom I endearingly refer to as “Frenchies”. Four out of five of my instructors were citizens of France, though all from different regions, and all with a regional concept of what ratatouille is and how to prepare it.  Despite what was supposed to be a standardized curriculum, regional biases seeped out like the liquid of a disgorged eggplant, sometimes leading to highly difficult to follow, heavily accented arguments that inevitably digressed into French. The point being: I STILL DON’T REALLY KNOW WHAT RATATOUILLE IS SUPPOSED TO BE. But I know that I like it and I know that it is the season for it, so I’m going to make it fancy-style, aka neatly-fanned-out-slices-style, aka Parisian-style, aka Chef Udo-style, aka Disney-Pixars-animated-sewer-rat-style.

The trick to making it this way successfully is in getting amazing vegetables of relatively the same girth, and the trick to that is starting with the zucchini and building from there. The other trick is a cartouche – a parchment paper “lid” with a hole cut in it’s middle for a controlled release of steam.  I won’t convolute the visuals of this blog doing a step-by-step-pictorial here, but this is a good video on how to do it, just snip the tip off as well as the edges so you get that controlled release steam hole. (I also REALLY enjoy this chefs anal retentive nature about folding paper, though I do not enjoy that he cuts the paper with a knife. Like, use scissors you nihilist why are you uselessly dulling your edge GOD).

Truthfully though, I glazed over a very serious aspect of the success or failure of this dish which is: amazing vegetables. Ratatouille, as all Frenchies will concur, is a dish of purposeful simplicity.  It is meant to showcase incredible vegetables at the peak of their season. It can be incredible or forgettable based entirely on where and when your produce is from, so don’t make it in february, and don’t source it from the same place you stock up on your secret stash of boxed mac ‘n’ cheese (just me? Whatever, DESPERATE TIMES). Find it now and find it at the farmers markets that are exploding with amazing produce this time of year, I’ve tried it both ways and I promise it pays off.

Assembly

Assembled

Served

 

[recipe id=”295″]