Saturday, December 12, 2009

Adi's Kitchen in Montreal: Chanukah Baking

Good evening fellow foodies,

Insofar as this is my first post, proper introductions are in order! Hailing from the frozen Northlands of Canadia (montreal), my contribution to this eminent blog will be to the highest form of culinary arts: Dessert.

Pastries, Baked goods, and especially Pies and I have always had a special relationship. I loved them, they loved me, I reveled in their various shapes, sizes and colors and everything was dandy. However, recently I've noticed a disturbing trend in the sweet industry. There has been an exponential increase in the sugar content of everything! Corn syrup this, white sugar that. If you'll excuse the joke but it's enough to give Aunt Jemima diabetes!

Therefore, I donned the chef hat and "Kiss the cook" apron not for altruistic reason but out of frustration. You made me do it, now suffer the consequences of your actions!

This week happens to be the Jewish holiday of Chanukah and as is tradition in our home, my mother makes Suvganiot. For those of you who are curious, they happen to the Jewish version of donuts. Deep fried dough traditionally served plain but as my my prior rant stated we've sugarised everything so now they come filled with this cheap fakey jam and are dropped in a vat of powder sugar. Lucky me, my mother happens to be a traditional baker and so we eat them in their original incarnation. Now don't get me wrong, condiments make the world go round. In this case, a selection of maple syrup, powder sugar, strawberry and my personal favorite black currant jam have been scattered around the table.

Now one might think I'm living the good life but you see, I decided to contribute something to the mix and throw a little variety in. Just the other day I was given quite the interesting recipe by an Armenian friend of mine. A dessert that takes all of 10 minutes to make and will survive a nuclear apocalypse, similar to the Twinkie.

As I snuck into the kitchen, careful not to rouse the sleeping beast (An Israeli mother in cooking mode), I unfortunately misjudged her trajectory and a full on collision occurred. I'm holding in my hands the ingredients:

1 cup of dried Cranberries
1 cup of dried Apricots
1 cup of Pecans
1 cup of Dates (pitted)
1 cup of prunes (pitted)
1 cup of unsweetened coconut flakes
and 1/3 of a cup of Cointreau (Orange liquor)

As sealed packages went sailing through the air the only thought going on in my head was "Precious lifeblood! Save the booze!" Fortunately gravity has nothing on my Kung Fu grip and disaster was averted, though the next five minutes of yelling was a bit rough on the ears.

The rest is easy really. Toss EVERYTHING into a food processor, in no particular order and blend. Stop every now and again to test the consistency. You'll know it's ready when you can roll it into a golf ball and it won't fall apart.

After that, my friend recommended I dip them in Cane sugar but the recipe made about 40 balls so I ended up splitting them into four piles: One for Cane Sugar, White Sugar, Powder Sugar and Brown Sugar.

Given the heavy concentration of natural sugar from the dried fruit, I strongly recommend you pair them with a good cup of tea.


Sasha's Kitchen on the Road: Food & Wine Tour of Napa and Sonoma

Tonight I thought I would write about a two week trip my husband and I took last September to California, including some time in Napa and Sonoma. Now, while I enjoy a nice glass of wine, and may be a foodie, prior to this trip, I was by no means a connoisseur of fine wine. However, the combination of the sustainably grown, organic local foods (from cheese to figs), the locally produced, family-owned boutique wineries, and the beauty of the natural surroundings completely sucked me in. I spent months planning exactly what wineries and restaurants we would visit on our trip, and was not disappointed. In this article, I will review some of the wineries and restaurants we did visit, and why I believe a trip to Napa and Sonoma is essential for anyone who enjoys good fresh food, natural beauty, sustainable agriculture, and of course, wine.

Certain varieties of wine are common to different parts of the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Without getting into extensive detail of what is grown where, I note that the following wine varieties are commonly produced in various parts of the Napa and Sonoma Valleys: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir (though probably inferior to the Pinot produced in the Willamette Valley in Oregon), Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Syrah, Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc. These varieties account for the majority of the wines we tasted on our trip.

First, I will touch on the food. We ate at the following restaurants of Note: Cyrus, Ubunto, Auberge du Soleil and Girl and the Fig. We did not eat at the most expensive and best known restaurant in the region, French Laundry, but we loved the places we did go to. (From what I heard, the food and the garden at French Laundry are amazing if you can get a reservation and have $800 to spend on dinner for two).

We had the seven course tasting menu at Cyrus, where the food was absolutely incredible, along with a glass of Pinot Noir from Copain Winery, in Healdsburg, which we toured the next day. The food was fresh, ornate and delious. The people at Copain were really nice - they arranged for a last minute private tour after I told them how much I had enjoyed their Pinot Noir at dinner at Cyrus the previous night. We enjoyed seeing the winemaking facilities at Copain and tasting a number of the excellent red wines, including Pinot Noir and Syrah.

We also enjoyed Ubuntu, an entirely organic vegetarian restaurant in Napa Valley that was able to create masterpieces with fruit and vegetables that I never thought were imaginable. All of the produce at Ubuntu used in the dishes is biodynamically grown, local produce. A copy of the restaurant's current menu is found here. What I love most about this restaurant is how the food is an art form of local California produce, all grown in its natural environment with a commitment to sustainable agriculture. Inspired by this restaurant, one of the projects I hope to explore with my own cooking is how to work with vegetables and fruit in ways I never imagined were possible - without any need for meat. It has and will be an inspiration for my cooking, and is one of the best meals I have ever had. The restaurant chef is in his early 30's (a new top chef) and has earned a Michelin star for his work.

The food at Auberge du Soleil was also very good - wonderful lamb and mushroom risotto, the night we went. The view of the Valley at Auberge at sunset from the outdoor table I had reserved two months prior to our dinner was breathtaking.

We visited a number of wineries in both Napa and Sonoma. In this article, I will discuss a number that we visited in addition to a couple that we did not visit, but would love to on a future trip: Cakebread Cellars, Frog's Leap Winery, Honig Vineyard, Goosecross Cellars, Elizabeth Spencer Winery, Terra Valentine Winery, J Vineyards, St. Francis Winery, Ferrari Carrano Winery, Chateau Montalena, Copain Winery, Kuleto Estate, Round Pond Estate and Sterling Vineyards.

Cakebread Cellars has long been famous for its Chardonnay, which is known to be among the best, if not the best, in Napa Valley. Cakebread is a boutique, family owned winery in Napa Valley. Personally, I loved the Reserve Chardonnay that we tasted in the tasting room, but we also purchased their Rubaiyat (a blend of Syrah and Pinot Noir named after a famous poet who wrote about wine in one of his poems), as well as their Syrah. I know I have not written much, but the Reserve Chardonnay is definitely the best I have ever tasted, hands down.

Frog's Leap Winery was probably my favorite of all the wineries we visited. Don't let the cute frog on their website fool you, the folks at Frog's Leap know how to make some amazing wines. The Winery is located in Rutherford, CA in Napa Valley and has 130 acres of organically grown grapes, used in preparing all of their wines. The winery is 100% committed to the use of sustainable agriculture in producing their wines, as well as all of the produce on the winery. The winery is also 100% solar powered, LEED certified, and uses various organic techniques to produce all of its grapes. During our tour of the winery, which was like touring an organic farm at the same time, we were given cute straw hats to wear on the tour (for the specific purpose of blocking the sun on a 90 degree day). We tasted, in addition to fresh grapes that were being used in "the crush" that was taking place at the time, freshly picked mission figs, strawberries, tomatoes and peppers. We also learned about the process of making wine on this tour and several other of the winery tours. All of their wines are amazing, but my favorites are the Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot and an amazing dessert wine called Frogenbeerenauslese (try saying that six times fast), which is a late-harvest Riesling, more typical of Western New York. I am generally not a fan of desert wines, but this wine is the exception to the rule in my book. It is great with a homebaked blueberry pie. This reminds me that it is definitely time to order more!

Honig Vineyards, also located in Rutherford, is also 100% committed to producing amazing wines using sustainable agricultural techniques. Honig produces exclusively several varieties of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Sauvignon Blanc is one of my favorite Sauvignon Blancs, while the late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc (another dessert wine) is also wonderful. We tasted the wines at a picnic table outside in the middle of the winery's breathtaking natural beauty. This winery, like some of the others I have or will mention, is a small, family-owned boutique winery, which was the type of winery we focused our trip on. We skipped all the large, better known commercial wineries in the region.

Goosecross Cellars is another family owned, tiny botique winery committed to the use of sustainable farming in producing the grapes used in their wines. The wines are terrific, and you feel totally at home in the beautiful, close-knit winery.

Chateau Montelena, in St. Helena, which we unfortunately did not get a chance to visit, is one of two wineries that put Napa Valley on the map during the famous 1976 Paris Wine tasting (the other being Stag's Leap). This is chronicled in the movie Bottleshock. The movie reminded me of all the things I love about Napa and Sonoma, and true to their reputation, their Chardonnay is out of this world. We will have to check out the winery itself on our next trip.

Elizabeth Spencer Winery is a small winery owned by a couple, Elizabeth and Spencer. We hadn't originally planned to visit this winery, but we wound up making a stop there at the suggestion of our driver for the day from Beau Wine Tours, and were glad we did. The tasting room was nice and unpretentious and the wines were great. We did several days of wine tasting, and one day we went to five wineries using a professional driver so that my husband could enjoy drinking the wines without having to spit at the tastings. This was a great decision that will make your wine tasting trip more enjoyable.

J Vineyards in Sonoma County (Healdsburg) has a bit more of a party atmosphere, but is a fun place to visit. Healdsburg is in Sonoma County and is a bit of haven for foodies in Sonoma (it is also the site of Cyrus Restaurant and Dry Creek Kitchen). We were in Healdsburg during our trip for a wedding of friends of ours, John and Alison (at nearby Trentadue Vineyards), which was the reason we organized the entire trip in the first place. J Vinyards is known best for their sparkling wines -we took home the J Brut. Their food and wine pairings have also been quite popular.

Kuleto Estate and Terra Valentine Winery are both located on top of mountains, thousands of feet above the rest of Napa Valley. Kuleto Estate, which we visited is owned by Pat Kuleto, who owns the acclaimed restaurant Boulevard in San Francisco (in a word, amazing - we dined here earlier in the week with our gracious San Francisco hosts Peter and Jill), as well as a number of other high-end California Restaurants. We actually saw Pat Kuleto driving a four-wheeler (or some other type of ATV) around his beautiful winery during our tour. The winery is located on top of a mountain on top of St. Helena. It is a bit tricky to get to, involving long and windy roads up and down the mountain and punching in a gate code at some point. We learned of this winery from reading an article in Conde Nast Travel. However, the natural scenery of the winery and the view were simply breathtaking. We enjoyed the wine and food pairing very much, especially the Zinfandel. However, it was good that we made the visit to the winery our last of the day, given that we both felt a little carsick after driving down the winding road down the mountain after the tour.

Sterling Vineyard, in St Helena is known for the fact that you have to take an aerial gondola to get to the winery, where you can taste the Sterling wines. I was a little nervous about this, being afraid of heights, but enjoyed the ride nonetheless. This winery may be a tad more commercial (I have recently seen a few billboard ads in New York) but the gondola ride to the tasting room is a great way to take in the views of Napa Valley. The wines are terrific too - I enjoyed the Chardonnay the most.

Ferrari Carano Winery is a pretty popular Sonoma County (Healdsburg) winery to visit because of its breathtaking landscaping and gardens. The white wines here are also pretty good - especially the Pino Grigio and the Chardonnay. We also discovered that their wines were among the local wines served at our friends' wedding later that evening.

Finally, Round Pond Estate operates both a winery and an olive mill. We visited the olive estate on our last day in Napa and learned how olive oil is made. During our tour we were treated to a wonderful buffet lunch of their products and various delicious local California foods. Who knew that olive oil tastes absolutely amazing on vanilla ice cream? My favorite of their olive oil are their Blood Orange and Meyer Lemon olive oils. The estate here is also gorgeous and was another good tip from Conde Nast Travel.

We also visited several other wineries that I have not written about here, but were also quite good - Plumpjack Winery (a trendy winery owned by San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom) and Copain Winery (where we had a nice private tour). At Plumpjack Winery, we enjoyed their store where we purchased Cabarknet cookies for our dog (hence the picture of my pug at the top), and enjoyed paging through the pages of the book "Winery Dogs."

Finally - one new winery that we did not visit - Quixote Winery - is an architectural paradise. I had wanted to visit this winery (which I am told has excellent Petite Syrah and uses the Napa-famous screw top method of bottling wine). This winery is designed by the architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser and basically looks like Dr. Seuss designed a winery. Unfortunately we will have to save the tour of this amazing place for our next trip.

The trip was a culinary and gatronomical adventure where we truly ate and drank our way through Napa and Somoma, before heading inland to Yosemite National Park.

Wine on Foodista


Friday, December 11, 2009

Sasha's Kitchen: Hanukkah Sweet Potato-Chipotle Latkes With Lingonberries

Here's my take on the traditional Hanukkah food - the potato latke. These were a big hit in my house tonight. I don't often make them because I absolutely hate grating potatoes, but tonight's batch was definitely worth the elbow grease.

Sasha's Sweet Potato-Chipotle Latkes With Lingonberries

4 grated medium sweet potatoes
1/4 cup all purpose flour
5 eggs (adjust so the recipe is not runny, depending on the size of the potatoes - you could use anywhere from 3 to 6 eggs)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 grated onion
3 teaspoons chipotle puree
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Top with lingonberry preserve

Mix ingredients well and fry in hot oil. I prepared the mix and Brad fried them. The kicker here - and the reason that this recipe is a winner is the lingonberries, a type of Swedish berry or preserve. They are a bit hard to find (you can buy them online, at Wegmans or Whole Foods, or apparently also at Ikea according to the receptionist at Aquavit who I spoke with this morning). I went to Whole Foods, although I love the idea of newly minted college graduates picking up some lingonberries with their ready to assemble desks, with only Swedish assembly instructions. Lingonberries are, in fact, a Scandinavian delicacy and the combination tartness/sweetness of the lingonberries is perfect with the sweet potato and chipotle. It is a stellar combination of flavors. Do not substitute any other preserve, as if will not be the same.

Happy Hanukkah!!!

Latkes on Foodista


Sasha's Kitchen: Wegmans v. Whole Foods, And Thai Stir Fry

Tonight's kitchen calisthenics were delayed due to problems with the NYC subway. After leaving work, I made a quick stop at Whole Foods to get some unusual ingredients, and then got on the subway in Union Square. What is usually a 20 minute trip from Union Square to my front door took and hour and 15 minutes, as the train was stuck on the Brooklyn Bridge (or perhaps it was the Williamsburg Bridge?) for about 40 minutes. I was not pleased

Prior to this subway disaster, I made my first visit to the Union Square branch of Whole Foods. I have to say, I don't understand Whole Foods - it's like a crowded yuppie food playground of expensive designer organic foods, that are no healthier than the half-organic / half supermarket brands I normally buy, but cost twice as much. This is not to say that Whole Foods doesn't have some great stuff for select things, as they do (great cheeses, by the way), as well as some unusual things that are hard to find at conventional grocery stores, but it's just not necessary to do all of your routine grocery shopping at a place like Whole Foods if you want to cook with great ingredients.

In addition, the shopping atmosphere at the Union Square Whole Foods is totally ridiculous. The check out lines are longer than the lines at Disneyland - I think you could get on Space Mountain sooner than you could reach the end of the full check-out at Whole Foods. There are two check-outs - one for people crazy enough to do a large grocery shop here, and one for people like me buying less than 10 items. The longer line was about a 40 minute wait. I waited for about 10 minutes. When I got to the end of the checkout line, there were beeping lights and an automated voice that told you which cashier to go to. Once you got the signal, you had to run to the cashier or someone behind you or from either of the lines beside you would beat you to the register. I managed to get it right on the second try.

Whole Foods only wishes it could be as good as Wegmans - Wegmans has 1000 times better customer service, more space, many more food/products (there is NOTHING Wegmans doesn't carry, it is truly amazing), plus that friendly upstate New York vibe, minus all the urbanite uber-cool yuppies in a mad rush. Plus, the check outs at Wegmans are simpler and much better than the ones I experienced today. Wegmans has all the same expensive brands as Whole Foods but they also have the whole spectrum of alternatives from the generic brands to the designer brands, so you can decide what is best for each food product. Further, Wegmans heavily promotes their own brands, as my mom pointed out, which are generally very high quality.

So what did I buy at Whole Foods - a few things I could not find at my local grocery stores in Park Slope (Associated, Union Market and Key Food), all of which probably would have been available at Wegmans. I bought a bag of Key Limes (for my next Key Lime Pie. I also bought some Meyer lemons and lingonberries, which I will be discussing in my next post.

Now that I have taken this tangent into the battle between the food titans of Wegmans and Whole foods, I will discuss tonight's dinner recipe - my Thai stir fry. There are a bunch of ways to make this and I do little variations each time, always trying new flavors. Here's how I made it tonight:

2 pounds thai stir fry beef
2 red peppers (cut)
1 1/2 tsp diced garlic
2 dried chile peppers (for a mild hint of spice; add more if you want more spice)
2 T fish sauce
1 T sugar
1 T dried lemongrass
1 cup fresh basil (add at the very end, about 30 seconds before you take off the heat)
1/2 onion, diced
salt and pepper to taste
(I usually make this with some kaffir lime leaves as well, but I had run out. I guess I'll check for them next time I brave the lines at Whole Foods).

I did get a late start, but luckily this recipe is a quick and easy stir fry.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sasha's Kitchen: Key Lime Bars

As a kid, my family sometimes went on vacations to Sanibel Island, Florida, a haven for seashell enthusiasts. On these trips, I always loved ordering Florida's most famous desert at the restaurants we went to - key lime pie.

I have made key lime pie before, but tonight I made key lime bars. In my case, the bars were actually lime bars, since key lime is hard to come by in New York City (hint: if you are reading this in Florida and want to send me key lime juice, that would make me very happy). Even without the traditional key lime, these still taste delicious. I think the recipe could also be done with any citrus fruit by substituting the juice and zest of that fruit (lemon, and possibly tangerine, grapefruit or orange).

First, to make the crust, combine the following:

1 cup plus 2 T graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup sugar
5 T butter, melted

Mix well and press into a rectangular or square glass or ceramic baking dish (I used my Emile Henry lasagna dish).

Bake at 350 F for 10-15 minutes until dry and golden brown, and then allow to cool completely.

To prepare the filling:

3 large egg yolks
zest of one key lime (or in my case a regular lime)
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
2/3 cup key lime juice (or regular lime juice)

To make the filling, use your Kitchen aid artisan mixer (which you may have already figured out, is my favorite kitchen appliance. First put in the egg yolks and lime zest in the bowl of the mixer, and beat at high speed for 5 minutes. I intended on using three egg yolks, but I am not actually sure if I used three or four. One of the eggs I cracked open was actually a twin, meaning that it had two yolks! I think I have only seen this once in all of my years of egg-cracking. I am not exactly sure what to say about this, but since I was a biology major in college, I found this culinary oddity to be a combination of both freakishly weird and fascinating. I guess the chicken must have come before the egg?

At any rate, beat the egg yolks and zest at high speed for about five minutes until thick, and reduce to medium. Slowly add the condensed milk and mix for three minutes. Then reduce the speed to low and add the lime juice, just until mixed.

Spread over the graham cracker crust and refrigerate for at least four hours. Mine are currently in the fridge, and so pictures are not quite available yet (soon).

If you want to serve with whipped cream, you can beat 1/4 cup of heavy cream in your mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form.

Another note - I am a planner so, like with vacations and other life plans, I think about my food a week in advance (with the occasional spur-of-the moment decision). The key lime bars were one of my last-minute baking decisions. However, upcoming planned cooking projects include: Baked Alaska, Thai stir fry, raisin-chicken tacos, Chocolate stout cupcakes, and tomorrow night's variation of Hanukkah potato latkes to mark the start of Hanukkah.

Key Lime on Foodista

Sasha's Kitchen: Bucatini all' amatriciana

One of my favorite restaurants in New York is Noho's Lupa Osteria. I have been going there for years, and is especially fun at about 11 PM after drinks, as the atmosphere is always lively and never skips a beat. Lupa, like Mario Batali's other restaurant, Babbo, is known for the signature dish, bucatini all' amatriciana.

Mario Baltali prepares his bucatini all' amatriciana using guanciale, or pig jowls. Upon further research, I learned that the only way to prepare guanciale is to purchase fresh pig jowls, and dry them for about three to four weeks. Don't get me wrong, I like Mario Batali, but the man clearly has an obsession with lard, guanciale and unusual pig parts. Drying pig jowls in the bathtub doesn't really work so well for a nice Jewish girl, so I decided to come up with a similar recipe using something that I might actually consider working with in my home. In the end, I settled on turkey bacon, which is not only more friendly to my semi-kosher family and friends, but also much healthier. However, you could certainly also prepare this dish with either beef-fry or with bacon, if you prefer. This is essentially my take on an Italian classic.

Another thing worth noting is that in preparing the red tomato-based sauce for this recipe, I never add any sugar to the sauce. Rather, I add a handful of baby carrots which add a natural sweetness to the sauce.

Sasha's bucatini all' amatriciana

1 28 oz. can tomato puree
1 small can tomato paste
3 small tomato paste cans filled with water
1 tsp garlic, diced
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp pepper
dash of salt
1-2 handfulls of baby carrots
2 T butter (if you are adverse to butter in this recipe, you can substitute olive oil)
15 strips of turkey bacon, bacon or beef fry, whichever you prefer
1 diced red onion
3 T olive oil

Prepare the sauce with the tomato puree, tomato paste, water, garlic, spices, baby carrots and butter. Bring to boil and then allow to simmer for about a half an hour until it reaches the desired consistency.

Saute the olive oil, red onion and bacon/turkey bacon in a saute pan until fully cooked and add to the sauce.

In the meantime, cook the pasta. I use bucatini, which looks exactly like spaghetti, except that it has a hollow, tubular structure. However, if you are unable to find bucatini, regular spaghetti will work just fine.

This is extremely tasty, and an easy weeknight meal. There's always plenty of sauce left over for the next night, which is great when you need a break from cooking.

a title="Pasta on Foodista" href="">Pasta on Foodista

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sasha's Kitchen: Discussion Of Homemade Pizza Variations

I did not cook tonight. We ordered in sandwiches from a local sandwich shop in Park Slope. However, tomorrow, I will be preparing a pasta dish. However, I figured that tonight would be a good time to discuss some of the homemade pizza variations I have tried over the summer and fall.

You can really put anything on pizza. I love pizza with different and interesting variations. There are a lot of great pizza places here in New York. Some of my favorites are: Grimaldi's, Keste and Otto Enoteca.

The first step in making pizza is making a tasty crust. I have not experimented with a lot of crust variations, but have simply been working with a very basic crust formula. I have, however, experimented with different types of flours - including regular all-purpose flour and a mixture of all-purpose flour with whole white flour to make a whole white pizza crust. In addition, pizza crust preparation, like most bread preparation, requires using dry active yeast, so you should plan on allowing an extra hour for your crust to rise.

Pizza Crust

1 1/2 cups warm water
2 packets (1/4 oz each) active dry yeast
1/4 cups canola oil
2 T sugar
1 tsp salt
4 cups flour (either use 4 cups all-purpose or 2 cups all-purpose and 2 cups whole wheat)

To prepare the crust, add the warm water, dry active yeast, oil, sugar and salt to a bowl and whisk together. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes, until the yeast foams and is "activated."

Add flour and mix. Transfer to a bowl coated in canola oil and allow to sit, covered with either plastic wrap or a warm dishtowel for 1 hour, until the dough doubles in size.

After the dough doubles, prepare your crusts. You can divide into 4 pieces and stretch with your hands and flatten until you have 4 smaller pizzas, or you can make 1 or 2 larger ones. You can freeze the extra crusts until you are ready to use them.

If you are ready to use the pizzas, then it's time to prepare a topping. Here are some variations I have tried:

Grape Tomatoes, mozzarella, arugula, balsamic and pecorino

Cut up grape tomatoes and use to top the pizza. You can use as many or as few as you like. I then used freshly made mozzarella from M&S prime meats in Park Slope, where they make fresh mozzarella daily.

The I baked the pies at 450 F for about 15-20 minutes until done. While the pies cooked, I mixed the arugula with some pecorino cheese and 2 T of balsamic vinegar. Then, I topped the pies with this mixture and baked for about 1 minute, just enough for the arugula to wilt.

Grape tomatoes, Goat cheese and red onion

First top with the tomatoes and goat cheese, Add some sliced and sauteed red onions and bake at 450 F for 15-20 minutes.

Third variation - simple pizza

Same as variation 1, but use a can of tomato sauce instead of grape tomatoes.

href="">Pizza on Foodista


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sasha's Kitchen: Pad Thai - Chicken and Vegan Versions

Tonight I made pad thai for the first time. My dinner and subsequent post were delayed by having to attend a long and boring condo board meeting. However, the pad thai actually didn't take long to make and turn out great. Tonight's pad thai recipe has plenty of wonderful flavors. I also think that I have worked out a wonderful vegetarian variation to this dish as well, which I plan on making for an upcoming dinner party we are having in January with some vegetarian friends.

Thai food is one of my favorite ethnic cuisines. Thailand is one part of the world that I would love to travel to (the closest I've been was a trip to Australia and New Zealand in 2004). My mother spent three weeks in Thailand a couple years ago and I would love to go back with her on a mother daughter trip in the next couple years. She loved visiting the elephant preserve, as well as the different types of thai dishes she ate in Thailand, which has encouraged me to experiment with some different Thai dishes, including pad thai.

Here is the recipe for Pad Thai. Note that I included a vegetarian/vegan variation on the recipe that I made tonight.

Sasha's Pad Thai

8 oz extra firm tofu (16 ox if you are making a vegetarian dish) cut into small cubes
2 8 oz skinless, boneless chicken breasts cut into pieces (obviously omit if doing it vegetarian style)
2 T peanut oil
salt and pepper (for seasoning the chicken and/or tofu)
2 shallots, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 T ancho chile powder
1/4 cup water with 2 tsp concentrated tamarind paste (reconstitute the tamarind paste in the water according to the instructions on the tamarind paste you use)
1/3 cup rice vinegar
2 T fish sauce
2 T brown sugar
2 T peanut butter
1 package pad thai noodles, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes
1/8 cup chopped cilantro
4 oz bean sprouts
1/4 cup cashews, toasted
1 T sesame seeds
2 T truffle olive oil
1/3 cup sauteed pineapple (optional - not included in the dish I prepared today)

Season and grill the tofu and/or chicken separately until cooked through for the chicken or slightly charred for the tofu. Set aside.

Heat 2 T of truffle olive oil in a medium saucepan. Note that truffle oil, if you have it, might work as well. However, I have never had the privilege of cooking with truffle oil, as it is extremely expensive. A smallish bottle of truffle olive oil, which I did use, will cost you about $10.

Add the shallots and garlic and cook until soft. The add the ancho chile powder, tamarind water, vinegar, peanut butter, fish sauce, brown sugar and peanut butter. Bring to a boil. When the sauce has a nice not-too-thin but not gooey consistency, you can turn the heat off. If it gets a little too gooey, add a bit of extra water to thin.

Add the sauce to a large bowl with the chicken and/or tofu. Add the pad thai noodles and sesame seeds and mix.

As I said above, do not be afraid to make a vegan/vegetarian version of this dish. I love tofu even though I am not a vegetarian. I find it extremely rewarding to cook with since it basically adapts the flavors of the other ingredients that are used in whatever sauce it is cooked with. Preparing this dish with tofu, along, rather than combining with chicken, would help highlight the other flavors in the dish - namely the truffles, tamarind, and peanut butter. I think that some sauteed pineapple would also potentially be a welcome addition to this pad thai, which I might consider adding in the future.

Sasha's Kitchen: Blueberry Pie

I could not resist posting my blueberry pie recipe. Blueberry pie is my favorite pie recipe and although this is not seasonal (unless perhaps you live in California), it is a nice corollary to the apple pie recipe.

First make the pie dough following my recipe for apple pie.

Divide the dough into two balls - one for the pie crust and one for the lattice.

Prepare the pie crust in the pie dish you are using with one of the balls of the crust dough. I absolutely love the pie dishes at Mackenzie Childs, as they make gorgeous service pieces that are a bit different from your run of the mill cookware.

To make the filling:

3-4 pints blueberries (depending on the size of your pie dish). I usually use 3 pints
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 T lemon juice

Before you mix the filling you should wash and squeeze the blueberries, by squishing them with my hands.

Fill the pie. and then prepare a lattice by rolling out the other ball of dough and cutting into strips.

Prepare an egg wash glaze by mixing one egg yolk with 1 T heavy cream.

Bake for 20 minutes at 400 F and then for 40-50 minutes at 350 F.

Blueberry Pie on Foodista


Monday, December 7, 2009

Amasea's kitchen in Sun Valley: A cauliflower experiment

When it comes to food, I'm a sucker for inspiration. I've gone on shopping sprees based on episodes of Top Chef or a page out of the dearly departed Gourmet. So when I heard last week's Splendid Table, I keyed in on the idea of cauliflower, a vegetable with a wonderful wintery quality.

Here's the original recipe:

But despite the promises of Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Momofuku's David Chang, I didn't think the crispy rice and fish sauce vinaigrette would sell with my fiance, who is a bit picky about his food and was somewhat skeptical of cauliflower in the first place.

Instead, I took inspiration from my inspiration and decided to merely roast the cauliflower with a mix of key lime oil and olive oil, salt, pepper and some red curry powder (just the boring Spice Islands kind -- when the fiance and I merged our kitchens, we ended up with approximately 87 million spice jars, and have been trying to find ways to use them up).

Here's how the original recipe says to roast:
To roast the cauliflower: Heat the oven to 400°F. Put the florets in a large mixing bowl, add a splash of oil—enough to coat them, start with a couple tablespoons—and toss. Spread the cauliflower out on a rimmed baking sheet (or two—you want space around the cauliflower so it roasts, not steams) and pop into the oven. After 20 to 25 minutes, the cauliflower should be browned in spots and tender.

I say they forgot something: Turn the cauliflower about halfway through. I ended up with cauliflower that wasn't just brown in spots, it was dark brown and crispy in a few places and seasoned-white everywhere else. Which created a discontinuity in texture that ultimately wasn't as pleasing as I had hoped. I believe turning the cauliflower would have mitigated that, and will try turning the next time I decide to roast it.

To accompany the cauliflower (which, though a side, was the main experiment of this plate), I put a large pan on medium high heat. In it I put olive oil, green peppercorns, yellow curry powder, a little powdered red pepper, and salt and pepper. I added sliced yellow fingerling potatoes, and once they were about half done, several chicken tenders. When the chicken and potatoes were done (the potatoes got a nice sear), I removed them, leaving the oil, spices and peppercorns in the pan. I added a little heavy cream and white wine, resulting in about a cup, maybe cup and a half, of sauce.
I also made some garlic bread, melting butter and olive oil with tons of pressed garlic and salt and pepper, then smeared that on slices of fresh olive oil-rosemary bread. That went in the oven (with the cauliflower) throughout the potato/chicken process.

I didn't think to take a picture of the plate -- which is OK, since it was pretty blandly colored, between the garlic bread, cauliflower, chicken, potatoes and basically beige sauce. But at the top of the page is a picture of the cauliflower, with some sauce on: You can clearly see the brown spots.
Lesson learned, veggies turned.

Cauliflower on Foodista


Sasha's Kitchen: Southwestern Chicken With Spinach-Cilantro Sauce

This recipe is a very tasty, easy chicken dish which I learned to make from Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill Cookbook. A somewhat similar version is served at his restaurant Mesa Grill. It is on page 140 of his cookbook. The main difference between my version and Bobby Flay's version is the type of chicken we use. Bobby uses bone on, skin-on chicken breast haves. I do not, but instead use skinless, boneless chicken breasts.

Personally, I prefer to use either Empire kosher chicken breasts or Bell & Evans chicken breasts and cook the chicken in a grill pan.

The first step is to prepare the spice mixture - if you make extra, as I usually do, I save it in a Ziploc for the next time I make the recipe.

Spice Rub (similar to Bobby Flay's cookbook)
1 1/2 T ground cinnamon
1 1/2 T ancho chile powder
1 1/2 T pasilla chile powder (I can not find this spice and have been using regular chile powder; if you are reading this and know where to buy it or want to send me some, let me know)
1 1/2 T ground cumin
1 1/2 T ground coriander
1 1/2 T ground ginger
1 1/2 T sugar
1 T garlic powder
1 T onion powder
1 T salt
1/2 T black pepper (I prefer less than Bobby's recipe, with some testing of this)
1/2 T ground cloves
1/2 T fennel seeds
1/2 T ground allspice
1/2 tsp chile de arbol
1/2 tsp cayenne (you can use 1/4 tsp if you prefer)

Now that you have taken out ever single spice in your spice rack, mix and use the spice mixture to coat the chicken breasts. I usually prepare two packages of chicken breasts which is enough for two nights dinner. The cook the chicken in a grill pan. If you are not confident that the chicken is cooked through, finish cooking in the oven.

Cilantro-Spinach Sauce (also from p. 140 of Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill book)
2 cups fresh cilantro
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1 small shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup spinach (I prefer more than Bobby Flay's recipe, again with some testing)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 T honey
salt and pepper to taste

Combine the cilantro, pumpkin seeds, shallot, garlic, vinegar and spinach in a food processor with 1/2 cup water. Blend and then slowly add olive oil, honey, salt and pepper and blend until the mixture has emulsified. This sauce tastes great on the chicken - it is quite smooth and creamy and is a favorite in my house. Bobby Flay's cookbook has a lot of great recipes and I really learned a lot about cooking from working with this cookbook. It is definitely a worthwhile purchase.

Chicken Breast on Foodista


Sasha's Kitchen: Sweet Corn Ice Cream and Rocky Road Ice Cream

I have a photographic memory for everything except numbers and directions It's weird. I have absolutely the best memory for names. What this means is that if we met in 1997 and I had a positive impression of you at the time, I will remember you forever, even if we haven't spoken since 1998. Among the various things I was able to remember (and the only one that applies to this post) was that my Dad and stepmom received an ice cream maker as a wedding gift, about 22 years ago. I called them about six months ago and asked them to give it to me to use in my kitchen adventures. After a bit of persistence, they obliged and transported the ice cream maker from rural Pennsylvania to Brooklyn. Using the manufacturer's instructions for the ice cream maker, branded as Doniver (apparently a popular brand at the time), I was able to find some great ice cream recipes of some crazy flavors to make in it.

Sweet corn ice cream may sound strange, and perhaps it is. But it is amazing, especially if you make it with farmer's market sweet corn in the summer season, as I did. The idea came to me after going to a Manhattan ice cream shop called Cones, which has many unusual ice cream flavors, such as honeydew, watermelon etc, most of which taste great.

Sweet Corn Ice Cream
4 ears fresh corn, shucked
2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cups sugar
9 egg yolks

First, shuck the sweet corn with a knife to remove the kernels. The quality and sweetness of the corn you use will determine how good the ice cream is. Puree the kernels in a blender. Add the milk, cream and 1/2 cup of sugar and bring to a boil, stirring and then turn off the heat. Infuse for 1 hour.

Next bring back to a simmer. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks and remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Add a cup of the hot cream-corn mixture to the egg yolks and stir constantly so the mixture does not curdle. Add this mixture to the saucepan with the rest of the corn mix. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes until the mixture thickens to a custard. The pass through a sieve if you need to and then refrigerate the custard for 4 hours.

To make the ice cream, then follow the instructions of your ice cream manufacturer for the machine and you should have ice cream after it freezes!

Rocky Road is even easier. This ice cream was created on a Sunday night a week or two ago with my cousin and friend Alicia, during a girltalk "bitch" session. This actually seems perfectly appropriate activity to do while making and.or eating ice cream.

Rocky Road Ice Cream

2/3 cup cocoa powder (I use this expensive dutch chocolate that tastes great)
2 cups sugar
4 cups whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp coconut extract
1 cup almond slivers
1/4 tsp salt
4 cups whipping cream
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1 cup mini marshmellows

Mix cocoa and sugar in a large pan. Add milk and stir on low heat until dissolved. Cool at room temperature and stir in the vanilla and coconut extracts. Add the salt and whipping cream and set aside. Mix in the chocolate chips, almonds and marshmellows. That's really all there is to it, other than freezing as the manufacturer suggests. If you have trouble suspending the marshmellows in the ice cream as I did (they all seemed to float at the surface) you can remix after the ice cream is halfway frozen.

Ice Cream on Foodista


Eric's Kitchen in Jersey City: Mussels Risotto

This recipe came about while dining out in Jersey City a few months ago. My girlfriend and I were at LITM bar and restaurant where they had a special on Belgian mussels. $15 for all-you-can-eat mussels enticed us to go in. We also decided to order the mushroom risotto as an appetizer. When it all came out, the risotto had probably been sitting too long under the heat lamp and had congealed and dried out. We decided to take some of the extra broth from the mussels and revitalize the risotto which worked wonderfully. I decided that I needed to try this out at home and see what would happen when combining too things I love.

I started out by making the Belgian-style mussels with Duvell ale, shallots, mushrooms and fresh parsley. For those who have not tried this style of mussels, you clean the mussels, then saute the veggies in a pot until soft. Add your ale and mussels and steam them, covered, until they open up. I strained all the veggies and mussels from the broth and set them aside and kept them warm.

When making risotto, it helps to coat the rice with fat. In this case we used a thick-cut bacon, copped finely and then cooked until crispy in the bottom of the pot for the risotto. I added the risotto, then some of the broth from the mussels and cooked until most of the liquid had been absorbed. You repeatedly do this until the risotto is done cooking; about 20-25 minutes. You will most likely use all your broth and may have to add some chicken broth or other broth to finish off the risotto. You can also add in the veggies from the mussels about halfway through the risotto. Save the mussels until the very end to avoid over-cooking them.

In the end you should have a delicious dish that combines Belgian-style mussels and risotto, similar to a Paella.

~2Lb. Mussels
1 bunch of parsley
1 shallot
1 bottle of Duvell Belgian Ale (use 1-2 cups for the mussels)
1/2 lb bacon
1 container baby bella mushrooms
extra chicken stock or broth if needed.
1 cup of Arborio rice

One more link: The first (and still the best) place I had Belgian-style mussels is Monk's Cafe in Philly.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sasha's Kitchen: Back To College - Philadelphia In A Burger

I spent my college years in suburban Philadelphia, at Haverford College, on the mainline. Those college years (my 10 year reunion is coming up next year) remain some of my best memories. While at Haverford, occasionally (much more so during junior and senior year) my friends and I ventured from the mainline into Philly for cheesesteaks at Pats and Genos. Philly will always have a special place in my heart, and to this day, those are the best cheesestakes I have ever had.

Recently, I have made a burger which attempts to recreate those wonderful cheesestakes and great memories of the late 90s.

1.25 lb quality burger meat (divide into 4 burgers and season with salt and pepper)
fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
roasted red pepper
caramelized onions

The burgers can be grilled on a grill pan since we are not allowed to have an actual grill in our Brooklyn condo. The cheese should be put on the burger about a minute before it is done grilling and then should be covered with aluminum foil.

I like the homemade mozzarella cheese from M&S prime meats in park slope, as it is made fresh everyday.

Caramelized onions can be prepared by slicing two onions and sauteing in 2 T sugar and 2 T oil.

It's not quite like going back to college in Philly again, but it's a pretty tasty burger.

Hamburgers on Foodista

Sasha's Kitchen: NYC Bagels (and cookies too)

Tonight I tried an interesting experiment that worked - I made bagels, from scratch. This is, however, not the most practical recipe. It was actually relatively easy, but doesn't necessarily make sense since I live in New York and could buy some of the world's best bagels fresh in a snap for about .60 cents a bagel. If you don't live in New York and don't have such access, perhaps then this is a good solution. However, I have been told that they key to amazing New York bagels comes from the mineral content of NYC tap water (since bagels have to be boiled in this water), which is obviously not available outside of New York.

I have been eating bagels for years and after nearly 10 years in New York, I think I've tasted some pretty good bagels. In all fairness, I have tasted some pretty bad bagels. As a small child in central PA (not bagel country, certainly), my Dad made me lenders frozen blueberry bagels with peanut butter for breakfast for awhile. For some reason, rather than telling him I didn't want to eat these (I was like 7 or 8 and ate like a bird as a kid), I decided to stuff the bagels inside the radiator vents in the kitchen. I might have done this about 15 times or so when I finally got caught. Not please, my Dad asked me if I had ever done this before. Not wanting to get in trouble, I assured him this was a one time mistake which I would not repeat. My days of eating frozen lenders bagels were then over, thankfully and I soon completely forgot about my bagel-hiding. Years later, in about 1998 when I was in college, my parents redid their kitchen. They were quite surprised to discover 15 or so completely petrified (12 year old) bagels still inside the radiator. Amazingly, they had not had any other problems (mice, radiator fires or bugs) over the years.

To make bagels, I pretty strictly followed the recipe I located on Chow. This recipe calls for the following ingredients to make a dozen bagels (I cut it in half and made 6):

1 1/2 cups warm water
4 small packets of dry active yeast (I used 2 for 2 cups of flour, which is fine)
4 cups bread flour
2 T malt syrup
2 T kosher salt
4 T sugar
1 egg white

The full recipe I used with instructions is here.

I do not have a professional bagel cooking machine so I just boiled in a large pot. In addition, I used King Arthur Bread Flour, which is just about the best bread flour out there. I could not locate malt syrup at the grocery store where I shop(I am sure I could have if I hunted it down a bit). The guy at the store had no idea what I was asking me for and kept suggesting that I buy maple syrup or chocolate syrup. I did find online that unsulfured molasses is a good substitute for malt syrup, in that the viscosity and sugar content is similar (perhaps a tad sweeter), so I substituted that. To get the glossy color, glaze with an egg white, mixed with 2 T of water, using a pastry brush, before bakign at 425 F for about 25 minutes.

Following the instructions on the recipe, the bagels were pretty easy to make and fun. They cam out slightly lumpy, but general bagel-like. I am not quite sure how they measure up to the very best New York bagels, as I think that a place like H&H has a distinct advantage. However, they were pretty tasty and made for an enjoyable meal with lox and cream cheese.

In addition, I also made some pretty good cookies tonight - Quince Walnut Thumbprint cookies:

1 1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup splenda-sugar (lower sugar content than sugar, as you can also use 1/2 cup regular sugar)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup pureed walnuts

To make the dough, first blend the butter and sugar in the basin of that artisan mixmaster I've been talking about. Then blend in the other ingredients. The walnuts should be processed first into a powder.

Next, let the dough chill for 1 hour in the refrigerator. Then form into cookies and press an indentation or "thumbprint" into each cookie and fill with jam. I chose to use quince jam. The bake for 13-15 minutes until lightly golden at 325 degrees F. Quince is a somewhat sweet, but also tart fruit. Obviously other jam flavors could be substituted.

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