Saturday, January 31, 2009


I admit, I was a Facebook holdout, dreading the time it would suck from my life. And, yes, it has… somewhat. But one of the true pleasures of Facebook has been connecting with people who were once very dear to me. One of those people was Kelly, my wonderful friend that kept me sane and happy during middle school and high school.

A couple of days after we reconnected Kelly asked me if I still made snickerdoodles, the cinnamon-sugar cookies that used to be a mainstay in my extremely limited repertoire. I’m not even sure where this recipe came from, although I think it is of the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook genre. It was one of my mother’s favorites, and she actually made the cookies with Rosa recently.

In fact, I hadn’t baked snickerdoodles in years. But Kelly’s question made me eager to try the cookies again. I baked them this afternoon, and fresh out of the oven they were divine: meltingly soft, cinnamon-touched, and with a bite from the cream of tartar. Once cool they became crisp on the outside, but still a bit chewy inside, and very good.

Makes about 4 dozen

2 3/4 cup flour
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup butter at room temperature (two sticks)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs

2 TB sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 400º.
2. In medium bowl whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt.
3. Cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in eggs.
4. Blend the flour mixture into the butter mixture.
5. Stir together the sugar and cinnamon for the topping.
6. Roll dough into 1-inch balls and roll in the topping mixture.
7. Place the dough balls on a baking sheet, a dozen per sheet.
8. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the cookies are lightly golden.
9. Let them cool for five minutes on the baking sheets and then remove the cookies to a rack to cool.

These cookies get hard all too quickly. My mom would put a slice of bread in the container and the cookies would become blissfully soft again.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Roasting Vegetables

First off, let me say that roasting vegetables deserves much, much more than a single blog entry. My most favorite way to eat veggies is roasted. It's so easy, so versatile, and so delicious. Almost any veggie can be roasted. My favorites at the moment are asparagus, cauliflower, fennel, and, of course, potatoes. The method is universal: toss the vegetable with olive oil, salt, pepper and roast in the oven until tender. Of course you could throw in any number of other spices or seasonings. Here is the basic recipe for roasting broccoli, which I did tonight.

Spicy roasted broccoli

1 bunch broccoli, cut into small florets
2 TB olive oil
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper
black pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper (my favorite because nothing sticks to it) or aluminum foil.
2. In a medium-sized bowl toss all of the ingredients together and pour the mixture into the pan.
3. Roast for 15 minutes or until the broccoli is as tender as you want it.

These babies were so irresistible right out of the oven that they became my dinner in its entirety. And of course you can adjust the level of salt and spice to please your palette.

Another roasted vegetable recipe that I really love is Balsamic and Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower from Eating Well magazine. If you don't skimp on the balsamic (or even add a bit extra) it's fantastic!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Ugly Apples

I was in Union Square this morning for an appointment, and I couldn’t resist walking through the Greenmarket even in the bitter cold. The stands were a far cry from their summer glory, but I quickly found Red Jacket Orchards and bought a few apples: three Cameos and two Galas. The apples weren’t shiny, red beauties. They were a mottled greenish-rust color, with unsightly bulges and dull skin.

Next I popped across the street to Whole Foods to buy a few staples. Walking through the front doors, the first items on my right were rows and rows of berries – blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries from Florida and Mexico. All of them were colorful and shapely, brightly beckoning a shopper sick to death of winter and eager for a little vicarious sunshine.

But no.

Over the years I have learned my lesson. Mid-winter strawberries shipped from afar may look inviting, but they taste like sawdust. Blueberries and raspberries in January may promise to cure the winter blues, but they are actually small bursts of sweet disappointment, never tasting as luscious as they do when they are fresh from the local summer sun.

I used to write profiles of chefs for a well-known food organization. After a while the challenge became putting a fresh twist on a chef’s devotion to local and seasonal ingredients, because, “local and seasonal” was the mantra of so many of the nation’s top chefs. The philosophy became so ubiquitous it almost became a cliché.

But taking a bite of the ugly, local apple today and tasting its crisp, honeyed sweetness brought the chefs’ mantras back into focus. Aside from its eco- and community benefits, local and seasonal tastes good… something I will instantly be reminded of when I bite into the first sweet strawberries of summer.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

In the Immortal Words of Jamie Oliver

"If you're going to eat three times a day until the day that you die why not be good at it? It will save you money. It will more than likely make you healthier."

And it will make you happier!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Practically Summer Outside

Compared to the last few days the 34 degree temperature outside is downright balmy. However, not quite balmy enough for me to forsake my warm kitchen. I’m cooking up a storm today; here’s the full list:

- Date muffins with a crunchy, nutty topping
- Pan-fried deviled eggs… so delicious, and I’ve never even liked deviled eggs. The recipe is from The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper.
- Polenta cakes (made with last night's leftovers)
- Chicken stock
- Pizza with homemade dough (plus enough dough to put in the freezer for another pizza next weekend)
- Spicy roasted broccoli
- Fried mozzarella balls, courtesy of Gourmet magazine. Recipe here. This recipe has gotten mixed reviews on the Gourmet/Epicurious website, so I’m curious to see how it turns out. But, the photo (click on the link above) just looks heavenly…molten mozzarella oozing out of a crispy, golden coating. I have high hopes.

I will post a photo or two once everything is prepared.

Yes, this is a lot of food. But unless Rosa suddenly develops an enormous appetite, not all of it will be consumed today. We’ll have enough muffins for breakfast for a couple of days. The chicken stock is for tomorrow night’s risotto, and there will be leftover pizza and broccoli for tomorrow’s lunch.

It’s a win-win-win. Time spent puttering around a warm kitchen, ready-made meals for tomorrow and beyond, and, most importantly to me, delicious food to brighten up a gray day.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Taking Stock

When I return home after traveling one of the first things I do, often even before unpacking, is head to the kitchen and take stock. I go through the fridge and toss anything that is past its prime – the most obvious candidates are the fresh herbs in the veggie drawer that have either turned brittle or slimy. I smell the milk and make sure we have peanut butter and eggs. Next I open the freezer to see how much butter, drip coffee, and espresso we have. Then I check out our stash of garlic at the top of the fridge and our onion levels in the cabinet across the way. Finally I open up the pantry and see where we are with our family’s staples: raisins, canned chickpeas, canned tomatoes, pasta, sugar, flour, and salt.

It goes without saying that we have the exact same amount of food in the kitchen that we did when we left (hopefully!), so my investigations rarely lead to a surprise. But there’s something about making my way back into the kitchen after being away that is the true signal that I’m “home”. Checking out “what’s what” grounds me and reintegrates me into the fabric of my everyday (cooking) life.

I start to think about what I can cook the next day with the ingredients we have on hand and make a mental shopping list for when we have food delivered the day after that. Once I've puttered around the kitchen I can go back to the more nuts and bolts parts of everyday life reentry.

Taking stock is a popular topic this time of year, and Mark Bittman wrote a great column (as usual) with practical tips for cleaning out your kitchen – what to toss and what to substitute. Examples:

OUT – Bottled lemon juice
IN – Lemons

OUT – Dried parsley and basil
IN – Fresh parsley

OUT – Bottled salad dressing
IN – Oil and vinegar

Click here for the full column.

It’s an inspiring list with a simple aim – to encourage people to eat better-tasting food that also happens to be fresher and, in the end, healthier. Personally, I will prepare more dried beans this winter instead of always relying on canned ones (which are a big part of our diet). Canned aren’t the end of the world, especially when rinsed and drained, but the flavor and texture of cooked dried beans are a hundred times better. For someone like me who wants to eat delicious food as often as humanly possible, it’s worth the (small) effort.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Holiday Goodies

When we were home in Colorado for Christmas, we visited my friend Allison and her parents John and Charlotte. In addition to treating us to a wonderful impromptu wine tasting (at noon I might add…I love the holidays), they gave us a bottle of homemade limoncello, a strong, sweet Italian digestif, or after-dinner liqueur. We’ve bought a couple of bottles in the past but having a batch of Charlotte’s Christmas limoncello was special indeed. Per instruction we kept the bottle in the freezer where it became icy cold but didn’t freeze thanks to the astronomically high alcohol level. On New Year’s Eve we brought out the bottle to share with the friends we had over for dinner, and the limoncello was outstanding – bracing and lemony. Next time I’m in Colorado I’m planning to pop by Charlotte’s and ask, pretty please, for a lesson.

On another note, my mother asked how the chocolate pistachio cookies that I blogged about earlier turned out. The answer: pretty good. The cookies looked beautiful – deep brown and studded with shards of the pale green pistachios. The flavor was rich and chocolate-y. But they were crisp. As a soft, chewy cookie person, a crisp cookie seems like a bit of a waste to me. Even if the flavor is nice, I’m not satisfied with the texture. So, I think these cookies are off my list…even though Rosa couldn’t keep her hands off of them.