Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pictures from Costa Rica

The view from our room at the resort. That's Arenal Volcano. That's as much of the volcano as we ever saw, thanks to the fact that it was rainy season.

The volcano at sunset.

Full story tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Collards with tahini

I got this recipe from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. Serve it over basmati rice.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 lb collard greens, roughly chopped
1/4 cup chicken stock
3 tablespoons tahini
salt and pepper
Juice of l lemon

Saute garlic in large, deep skillet with lid over medium heat until golden but not brown, about 3 minutes. Add the collards, stock, tahini, and salt and pepper. Cover and cook until greens are wilted, about 5 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until greens are very tender, 5 more minutes. Add a little stock if it starts drying out. Remove from the heat and add lemon juice. Serve.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Turnip tots

Turnip tots! Like tater tots, only, you know, spicier.

Reprinted here from Food52:

4 baby turnips
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons Panko bread crumbs
2 teaspoons minced mint leaves
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
salt & pepper to taste 

In a large saucepan of boiling water cook turnips 10 minutes and drain. When turnips are cool enough to handle, cut each into wedges.

In a large skillet cook turnips in butter over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until almost tender and golden on the edges, about 10 minutes.

Stir in Panko bread crumbs, mint, zest, salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until turnips are tender, about 5 minutes. Plate and enjoy!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving redux: Joshua Tree, Sequoia, Yosemite, and Big Sur, 2009

While I much prefer travelling internationally for Thanksgiving, after moving (and travelling) cross-country in 2009, I was in no financial position to do so. So instead, my future hubby and I scoured various national parks in California: Joshua Tree, Sequoia, and Yosemite, coming home via Big Sur.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving redux: Rome, 2007

Since I'm spending this Thanksgiving in Costa Rica, and not cooking or eating anything remotely Thanksgiving related, you can read about my previous Thanksgiving adventures instead. Here's my account of my trip to Rome in 2007.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Here's hoping your holiday is as serene and tropical as mine.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

Long-time blog readers will know that I'm not much on Thanksgiving.

That's not to say that I don't appreciate the holiday, or that I don't enjoy a turkey-stuffing-mashed potato-cranberry sauce sandwich from time to time.

But I've never really celebrated it on my own.

For years I did the "are we celebrating Thanksgiving or Christmas this year?" dance with my family. Since I was single, and living in New York, I had to travel to them--no one was going to visit me and sleep on the floor of my studio. (Not that I blamed them.) But that meant all the travel expenses were on my end.

Finally I got tired of it, and started my own tradition: traveling elsewhere for Thanksgiving. And by "elsewhere," I mean "internationally."

As I'm sure you know, domestic airfares around Thanksgiving are atrocious--easily three or four times what they would be normally, and the airports are packed. But international airfares--from America to anywhere else in the world--are super-cheap.

Why? Because no one travels outside America for Thanksgiving, it being a purely American holiday.

So, 1. Incredibly cheap airfares, 2. Deserted international terminals at the airport, 3. Still good weather in Europe, 4. Fewer tourists than usual (because all the Americans are at home), means A Great Time to Travel Internationally.

And I'll see everyone at Christmas anyway.

What am I missing by fleeing the country for four days? I can eat turkey at Christmas, see my family then, and I wouldn't dare set foot out of the house on Black Friday anyway. (I do all my Christmas shopping online.)

The last couple of years, due to moves (first to California, then to Massachusetts), I wasn't able to take advantage of this lovely tradition. But this year, I'm reviving it.

So while you're listening to your in-laws griping, trying to defrost the turkey in time, and fighting stampeding crowds at Wal-Mart on Black Friday, I will be soaking up the rays in Costa Rica, drinking things out of pineapples.

Lots and lots of drinks out of pineapples.

See you all in December.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Turnip gratin

Reprinted here from The Pioneer Woman:

4 whole Turnips
3 cloves (to 4 Cloves) Garlic
2 cups Gruyere Cheese
4 Tablespoons (to 6 Tablespoons) Butter
Chicken Broth
Heavy Cream
Salt And Pepper, to taste
Fresh Herbs, to taste

Preheat the oven to 375ยบ.

Start by peeling and thinly slicing the turnips and mincing the cloves of garlic. Grate about 2 cups of Gruyere cheese.

In a large oven-proof skillet, melt 2-3 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat. Place a single layer of turnips on top of the butter.

Next, sprinkle a little of the garlic on top. Next drizzle a healthy splash of chicken broth over the turnips. Next, do the same with the cream.

Now add a nice layer of Gruyere – about ½ cup. Sprinkle a bit of salt, but not much as the cheese is already salty.

Repeat these layers twice more. Sprinkle on some freshly ground black pepper.

Now pop the whole thing into the over and bake for about 20 minutes or until the top is hot, brown and bubbly.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Beet, goat cheese and proscuitto sandwiches

The recipe is in the title--roasted, sliced beets, goat cheese, and proscuitto, on thick homemade peasant bread.

You could add some greenery, if you have some: baby arugula or spinach, perhaps.

Avocado slices would go really well, too.

You could also throw on a fried egg.

Or some ripe tomato (not that you'll be able to get good tomatoes this time of year).

Just be sure to pack a lot of napkins in your lunch. You don't want to drop any beets on your lap.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Apple rutabaga soup

Here's how I used the rest of the giant as-big-as-my-head rutabaga.

From Patrick O'Connell (The Inn at Little Washington):

1 stick (1/4 pound) butter

1 cup onion, roughly chopped
1 cup Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
1 cup rutabaga, peeled and roughly chopped
1 cup butternut squash, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
1 cup carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 cup sweet potato, peeled and roughly chopped
1 quart good chicken stock
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup maple syrup
Salt and cayenne pepper to taste

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, apple, rutabaga, squash, carrots and sweet potato and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent.

Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes or until all of the vegetables are cooked through and tender.

Puree the vegetables in a blender or food processor. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into the same pot you used to cook the vegetables. Add the cream, maple syrup, salt and cayenne pepper.

Return the pot to the stove, bring the soup to a simmer, and serve.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Habanero-infused vodka

What I really wanted to make was habanero-infused mezcal--that's the really smoky tequila. Smoke + habanero = win.

But I didn't have any, and only a little regular tequila. So I tried vodka, instead.

I sliced open a habanero and dropped it into a pint jar full of vodka, and let it sit for a couple of days.

It already smells strongly of habanero--of course, the longer you let it sit, the hotter it will get.

What should I use this for, you ask?

Why, a kick-ass Bloody Mary, of course, with Sriracha bitters.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fried gator

That's right, fried alligator. I'm cool like that.

I had a couple of package of gator meat in the freezer, from our trip to New Orleans. (In Louisiana, you can buy gator in the supermarket. How could I pass that up?) I decided to experiment.

Gator meat, for those of you not in Louisiana, is like a cross between chicken and fish. Imagine meat the color and consistency of raw chicken, but flaky like raw fish. (When cooked, it tastes like a really, really meaty white fish.) It comes in boneless fillets, from the tail, which then flake apart.

To make the fried gator, I soaked the thawed meat in buttermilk with a little hot sauce added. Okay, it wasn't really buttermilk, because I didn't have any--it was regular milk with a little vinegar added. For these purposes, you can go either way.

Then I breaded the meat in seasoned flour (all-purpose flour, cayenne, salt, pepper) and fried them until golden brown.

I used my home deep fryer, with vegetable oil, set at 350, but you could use a skillet too. Just make sure the oil (or lard, or whatever) is at 350.

I made a batch of hush puppies, too.

Then I served everything with Sriracha aioli (Sriracha + mayo).

I can feel my arteries clogging as I speak, but I feel so Cajun. So that's okay.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Rutabaga fries

I have this rutabaga that is, quite literally, the size of my head.

So last night I took part of it to make rutabaga fries.

Root vegetables--parsnips, turnips, rutabagas--are just as good for making fries as their more well-known cousins, potatoes and sweet potatoes. In fact, you could slip any of those into a batch of potato fries and it would be hard to tell them apart. Parsnips, turnips and rutabagas taste like spicier, sweeter potatoes, so it's a good way to introduce them to kids.

Peel the rutabaga(s), cut into fry shapes, toss with a little olive oil, bake in a 375-degree oven until done all the way through. That's it. The same recipe holds true for turnips or parsnips or potatoes or whatever.

But try to avoid ketchup on these. I had them with a Sriracha aioli (Sriracha + mayo).

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Portuguese kale soup

I was suspicious of a soup that only had four ingredients, none of which were the standard onion/garlic saute to start it off.

But I did have two heads of kale that needed to be used up.

1 lb chorizo or hot Italian sausage, squeezed out of the casing
6-7 small potatoes, peeled and diced
2 heads of kale, chopped
Chicken broth
Salt and pepper

Boil the potatoes in water until tender. Drain and roughly mash. In a separate large stockpot, brown the sausage. Add a little broth to that, along with the potato mash. Add the chopped kale, and enough broth to float the whole thing. Stir well and let cook until the kale is tender, 15 minutes or so. Season well and serve hot.

Notes: Be sure to remove the kale stems and chop finely. A rough chop, like I did, is too much for this. Also, you can't have too many potatoes. The potato mash essentially disappears into the soup, thickening it up, so if you want a strong potato taste, add more.

I have no idea if this is the traditional Portuguese recipe or not (caldo verde, or green soup), but it still makes a pretty tasty kale soup.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Baked eggs with bacon, leeks and mushrooms

6 strips of bacon, diced
1 big leek, sliced
1 basket of mushrooms, sliced (I used a bag of dried chanterelles, reconstituted with hot water)
3 cloves minced garlic
1/4 cup parmesan
4 eggs
milk or cream

Cook the bacon until crisp; remove with a slotted spoon, and add the leeks and mushrooms to the bacon fat. Saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant; add in the parmesan, salt and pepper to taste, and a little milk or cream.

Add that into a small casserole dish (I used two individual sized dishes). Crack the eggs on top, and bake at 375 until the whites are set.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Baked eggs with carrot top pesto

A quick, nutritious meal. Ever since I've been waiting tables for a living, I've been eating a lot of eggs. Eggs are absurdly filling, and I need the protein to get through an eight-hour shift on my feet. Two eggs and a piece of toast will more than carry me through eight hours of hard work on my feet. A bowl of Cheerios doesn't even come close.

For the carrot top pesto:

1 bunch of carrot greens, chopped
1 shallot, diced
2 cloves of garlic, diced
1/2 cup heavy cream

I used a small cast-iron skillet for this. Saute the shallot and garlic in a little butter until soft; add the carrot greens and cream and cook for another minute. Puree that, and put it back in the skillet.

Crack open two eggs on top, and cook for another minute. Pop the whole thing in a 350-degree oven, just until the eggs set. Salt and pepper to taste.

The carrot top pesto is really yummy, sort of spicy and green at the same time.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

5-spice pork tenderloin with cabbage

1 pork tenderloin, thawed
1 large onion, cut into wedges
1 large cabbage (red or green), cut into wedges
1 cup white wine or apple juice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Spice mix, made by combining:

1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon each cinnamon, ground cloves, fennel seeds, ginger, and 1-2 broken up star anise
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon sesame oil

Place the onion and cabbage in the bottom of a large heavy casserole or Dutch oven. Rub the mustard into the pork, and press the spice mixture into that. Pour the wine over the vegetables, and lay the pork on top. Roast at 500 for 15-20 minutes, and let rest 5 minutes before cutting.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Goodbye, little camera. You've served me well

Yesterday I killed my camera.

I spilled half a bottle of water in my purse, and my camera was in the bottom of my purse.

Of course I frantically took it apart to let it dry out. I even put it in a container of rice overnight. But, in the words of the camera shop pro I took it to, "it's fucked."

(I did get a flicker of life out of it this morning, after sitting in the rice all night; but only a flicker. I'll wait another day and try again, but I'm not optimistic.)

I suppose I should be grateful I didn't ruin my phone as well. And to be honest, I've sucked my money's worth out of that little camera. It's served me well. The road trip, all the moves, all the sightseeing, and all the food photography over the past two and a half years, and not once has it disappointed me.

So farewell, Canon Powershot SD780 IS with 12.1 megapixels. Bless your little camera heart.

So this means I'll be using my iPhone for blog pictures in the immediate future--they won't be as good, please forgive me, I apologize in advance.

I'll be in the market for a new camera; I have my eye on a Canon G12, but I'm open to suggestions. Any pros/fellow food bloggers out there, what camera do you use and why? Any recommendations?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Purple Rum Ball

In an effort to use up some of the lavender syrup I created, I came up with this drink. I'm calling it The Purple Rum Ball (purple=lavender, get it?).

2 oz aged Cruzan Gold Rum
1/2 oz lavender simple syrup (simple syrup infused with lavender)
juice of 1/2 lime
2-3 dashes of rhubarb bitters

Shake and serve over ice. Surprisingly sweet!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Veal osso buco

Veal osso buco is just veal shank, cooked down low and slow until tender and juicy. The shank is sliced crosswise, so you get a hunk of meat with a hunk of bone in the middle.

The recipe I was using called for 8 veal rounds, but I only had 2 (those suckers are expensive), so I adapted it a bit.

2 (or more) veal rounds
olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery, chopped
3/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
bouquet garni: parsley, thyme, oregano and a bay leaf tied up in cheesecloth

Heat the olive oil in a small Dutch oven and sear the veal on all sides until browned. Set those aside, add a little more oil, and cook the veggies until soft. Add the veal back in, along with the bouquet garni, and add the liquids. They should come halfway up the sides of the veal. Cover and bake in a 350-degree oven for an hour. Flip the veal over, and bake for another hour (or until tender and pulling away from the bone).

I served mine with some sauteed bok choy--not the most traditional of sides, I know, but the tanginess of the greens offset the sweetness of the veal very nicely. I also topped it with a roughly chopped mixture of sorrel, sage, parsley, and lemon zest.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Grilled steak (or, Belated Birthday Dinner)

My belated birthday dinner consisted of grilled dry-aged steak, fried potatoes, and creamed spinach, capped off with the last bottle of Laughing Stock. There was also a sort-of bearnaise sauce, but it didn't come together the way I wanted it to, so we'll leave that out.

The steaks were dry-aged beef. I'll leave out the science of why dry aging beef makes it taste better (it does; you can Google it for more info), but these were tasty steaks. I brought them up to room temperature, seared them on my indoor grill for two minutes per side, and then let them rest.

The potatoes were fried in truffle oil and duck fat.

It was a true Peter Luger-style dinner, in my very own living room.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Spanish omelet

This is a great way to use up fried potatoes.

Or you can fry them from scratch.

2-3 thinly sliced Yukon Gold potatoes (or other potatoes)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
fresh oregano and parsley, chopped
6 eggs

Saute the potatoes in the olive oil over medium heat for about 10 minutes; add the onion, plus salt and pepper to taste, and cook until the potatoes are cooked through, maybe another 15 minutes. Whisk the eggs with the herbs and pour into the pan with the potatoes; reduce heat and cook for 5 minutes. Transfer to a 350-degree oven for 5-10 minutes; let rest for 5 minutes, then serve.

Another carb fest, but hey, it's that time of year.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Birthday summary

I had to work a double on my birthday.

I also got fired on my birthday.

Those two things, however, are not related.

Here's the story: I love the restaurant I'm working at in my new city. I'm hoping to get more shifts there in a couple of weeks, but because it's so small, I have to wait for one of the other four waiters to give up shifts. So I'm usually available if one of them wants a night off.

They asked me on Friday if I could work Saturday night, in addition to my already-scheduled brunch shift on Saturday. I didn't really want to, seeing as how Saturday was my birthday, but I found out Saturday morning I had to, because no one else was available. Fine, I like money, they threw in a bottle of wine to sweeten the deal and let me off early last night, which was very nice of them.

However, somewhere in the middle of all that, my other job called me. The upscale pizza/wine bar in my old city, that I've been driving 40 minutes each way to a few times a week, trying to make a little more money before I got more shifts at the new restaurant. I've been wanting to quit there for a while, it's often not worth it to make the drive, but I was trying to wait until the last possible minute to do so.

So old job called me, wanting me to come in Saturday night as well. "Can't, sorry," I said, "my other job called me in, too."

I thought that was the end of the story, until I was checking my online schedule last night--and discovered my account had been deleted.

That's how they fired me--they didn't actually TELL me I was fired, they just reassigned all my shifts for next week and deleted my account from the online scheduling app.

"Screw 'em," said my husband, "you were going to quit anyway."

"True," I said, "but my goodness, how tacky."

However, it's still better than working in an office.

I'm back for another double today--perhaps tomorrow I'll actually be able to celebrate my birthday!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Linguine with chard and egg

Happy birthday to me, by the way!

This takes five minutes to throw together and is a great way to use up a head of chard. The egg can be poached, fried, whatever. It's a bit of a carb fest, but it has green stuff in it, so it's healthy.

1 head chard
2 cloves garlic, minced
red pepper flakes
olive oil
1 lb linguine, cooked
parmesan cheese
egg, poached or fried, 1 per serving

Saute the garlic and pepper flakes in the olive oil, just until the garlic gets fragrant; add the chard and cook until just wilted, maybe 2 minutes. Add the cooked and drained linguine (a little pasta water is okay). Toss with salt and pepper and parmesan. Top each serving with an egg and enjoy.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Anatomy of a CSA box

It's hard to believe that in a couple of weeks, I will no longer be getting a CSA box on a regular basis.

Apparently no one in RI offers a winter CSA, so once my current one runs out, I'll be on my own until the spring. This doesn't sound like a big deal, until you realize it will be the first time since starting this blog that I'll be CSA-less.

And as you know, a great deal of this blog revolves around discovering new and interesting things to do with CSA veggies. Plus, I've completely gotten out of the habit of regular grocery shopping. I only go once, maybe twice a month, to stock up on pantry items; I haven't bought fresh fruits or veggies on a regular basis since...well, since leaving New York.

So it'll be an interesting journey for all of us!

Anyway, yesterday I picked up one of the last CSA boxes, and it was a big one. Here's what I got:

9 pears
4 big potatoes
9 sweet potatoes
1 big leek
2 heads of chard
1 head of kale
1 cabbage
1 head of green lettuce
2 celery roots

In the coming days, I'll be writing about how I've utilized all those things. Keep in mind I'll also be using the things I got at Venda the other day; dry-aged steak, veal osso buco, proscuitto, cheese, etc., and of course using all the regular pantry stuff.

Because tomorrow is my birthday, I can already tell you that the birthday dinner will be grilled steak with bearnaise sauce, fried potatoes, and a good bottle of wine.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Venda Ravioli in Providence, RI

My in-laws got me a gift certificate to Venda Ravioli for my birthday, Venda apparently being a Providence institution, in the heart of the Federal Hill Little Italy. (If any other readers want to get me something, my birthday is Saturday!) Being still new to Providence, I went to check it out yesterday.

I was expecting an Italian restaurant--and there is one--but Venda Ravioli is also a gourmet food emporium, complete with meat counter, cheese counter, and pre-made Italian yummies.

So, that gift certificate got spent in a hurry.

I got a few things I wouldn't normally get--dry-aged beef, veal osso buco--but I also got some standards: cheese, olives, cured salami, proscuitto. (Look for blog posts about how I use all this stuff soon.) Naturally, dinner last night was a cheese fest.

I'll be back for sure, and now that we're settled in to the new place, perhaps I can start exploring the city in my spare time now.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Apple Orchard, with pics of the dining room/wet bar

Yes, I now have a dining room with a built-in wet bar (also built-in bookshelves!). How cool is that?

So last night I mixed this up, in honor of the weather:

2 oz Laird's Applejack (but any applejack or calvados will do)
1/2 oz ginger syrup
1/2 oz maple syrup
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
2 dashes whiskey barrel bitters

Shake and serve over ice, with a twist.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Creamy potato and turnip soup with jalapeno puree

As a side note to yesterday's pics of the new place: notice the pot rack, happily hung in the middle of the kitchen. That's the first time I've been able to hang that pot rack in three years; since I left Brooklyn. The kitchen ceilings in both CA and MA were way too low.

So home now really feels like home.

Anyway, so, yesterday I noticed I had a big bowl full of Yukon Gold potatoes that were starting to look a little sprouty and old. I searched the fridge for inspiration, and discovered three turnips left over from a CSA box. Voila: creamy potato and turnip soup with jalapeno puree.

1 onion, diced
A few swirls of olive oil (although I used a healthy spoonful of bacon fat instead)
Several Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced
2-3 medium turnips, peeled and diced
Vegetable broth
Seasonings to taste: I used 1/8 cup Italian seasonings, plus roughly 1 tablespoon each ground ginger and cumin, a little cayenne, lots of salt and pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 jalapeno, pureed

Saute the onion in the olive oil in a large soup pot until soft. Add the potatoes and turnips, and enough vegetable and/or chicken broth to float the whole thing. Let that cook at medium-low, covered, until the vegetables are cooked through. Let cool.

Puree the mixture in batches. Add cream and seasonings to the puree, and mix well. Swirl the jalapeno in at the last minute, and serve.

A side note: the turnips just give it an extra dimension of flavor; don't be afraid to use them. (Parsnips or rutabagas will substitute just fine.) Also, don't be tempted to add more than one jalapeno, like I did. A little jalapeno gives this soup just a whisper of heat; more than that makes the soup fiery, which kills the potato/turnip flavor.

Really lovely served with fresh homemade bread--spectacular when you put a little gruyere cheese on that bread, and make a little toasty cheese bread.