Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sweet Potato Biscuit Muffins - A Holiday Baking Mishap

Ironically, it's always this time of year -- prime baking season -- when I have baking mishaps. I chalk it up to being in a rush and not reading directions. Case in point, a few weeks before Christmas, I hosted another holiday open house and decided to make Sweet Potato Biscuits with Ham, Mustard and Honey. Although the recipe was recently published in the December issue of Bon Appetit, I had been wanting to make it since reading about it in Molly Wizenberg's book, A Homemade Life. Heck, I even tracked down the mustard she recommended in preparation.
But in my haste, I did not read the whole recipe closely enough and neglected to let the sweet potato mash (made from potatoes purchased during my final farmers market run) cool before mixing it with the dried ingredients and cold cubed butter. Needless to say, the chilled butter melted on contact with the mash, resulting in a gloppy mess. Since there was no way I could roll out the sticky dough, I decided to try to salvage the biscuits by scooping the dough into muffin tins and baking as is. Although the end result was a little flat and heavy, it actually worked really well, and the "biscuit muffins" were perfectly shaped -- even more so than they would have been had I attempted to cut them out of the rolled dough. Just goes to show that there are holiday miracles this time of year after all. Maybe I should get out the almond meal and attempt macarons again...or maybe not!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Review of The Scarsdale Winter Market

Last weekend, I drove over the (Saw Mill) River (Road) and through the (sparse) woods to Scarsdale, NY on a quest to find the indoor farmers market. Scarsdale has a reputation for being a rather tony place (in fact, the village's Wikipedia entry list dedicates quite a bit of space to the famous and infamous who live(d) there).

Which is probably why everyone was flocking to the downtown area on Saturday afternoon. By the time I navigated the quaint and cramped streets lined with Tudor-revival-style architecture and Land Rovers, I was ready to make this my one and only visit to the market. But as I pulled into the municipal parking garage, I realized the indoor market was really incongruous compared to the other parts of the village.

Because the market is literally set up in a parking garage. No frills, but it works. With a mix of vendors selling everything from cheese to honey to woolen scarves, you can pretty much find anything you want (except takeout Indian. Chutney Masala was not there, as I had hoped).

In fact, the lone produce vendor had quite the assortement -- including purple cauliflower and a variety of mushrooms. He even had greenhouse tomatoes (which, if not as tasty as summer tomatoes from the field, were at least locally grown).

I picked up some apples and shallots, plus a head of purple cauliflower (still looking for inspiration on how to use it!) and drove back home, passing a Hastings farmers market sign on the way. Yes, I could have avoid the trip (and probably scored some samosas) as my local market is open one Saturday a month during the winter season. Oh well, I would have missed counting Land Rovers.


The Scarsdale market is located in the garage at 1 Christie Place every Saturday.

Future dates for the Hastings on Hudson market are January 9, February 13 and March 13 at the Community Center on Main St.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

'Tis The Season for Entertaining

The holidays are here and everyone is scrambling to shop, cook, eat and entertain. This year, I am trying to take a simpler approach in every way possible, including parties. Take last weekend -- I hosted a family brunch for nine adults and two babies. I planned the menu around things I could either: make ahead or in an instant, have people make themselves or items I could cook once and eat twice (or thrice!). So the day before I prepared the spinach artichoke dip and frittata filling, made all of my desserts, and prepped the vegetables for crudité and tossed salad. The morning of the brunch, I juggled oven space, heating the dip, baking off the frittata in muffin tins, warming a spiral ham and cooking scalloped potatoes. At the last minute, I baked the thawed-from-frozen croissants and threw together a fruit salad and batter for make-your-own waffles. Thanks to a few helpers, everything came together beautifully, everyone enjoyed the meal and I had a ton of leftovers. In fact, some of those leftovers, including remaining slices from the 8 lb. ham currently tucked in the freezer, will make a second appearance next Sunday at Holiday Brunch -- The Sequel. After all, 'tis the season. Happy Holidays!
Pumpkin Trifle (adapted from Gourmet)

Do a Google search and it seems like everyone and their brother has a pumpkin trifle recipe. Last weekend, I made this as written but am thinking about using artificial helpers (e.g., the old instant pudding and whipped topping route) next time to get a lighter and fluffier mousse with fewer calories. Will let you know how it goes!


1 8x8 pan of Gingerbread cake (prepared from scratch or from a mix like the one from Trader Joe's)

1 (1/4 oz.) Envelope of gelatin
1/4 C. Water
1 14-15 oz. Can of Pumpkin (unless you're lucky to have fresh puree on hand) 1/4 C. Brown sugar 1 t. Cinnamon 1/2 t. Nutmeg Dash of Salt 2 C. Whipping cream 1 1/2 t. Vanilla extract
1 1/2 T. Sugar
Using a bread knife, cut the cooled, prepared gingerbread cake into 1 inch cubes and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine pumpkin, brown sugar, spices and salt; whisk until well incorporated.
Pour the water in a small pot; sprinkle on gelatin and let sit one minute. Heat mixture, whisking until gelatin dissolves completely. Pour gelatin mixture into pumpkin mixture and combine.
In a separate bowl, combine whipping cream, vanilla and sugar and beat until the mixture forms and holds soft peaks.
Fold 2/3 of the whipped cream into the pumpkin mixture, reserving 1/3 of the cream.
In a clear glass bowl, layer 1/3 of the gingerbread cubes and top with 1/3 of the pumpkin mixture; repeat for two more layers.
Top the bowl with the reserved whipped cream; cover and chill for two hours or overnight.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Crispy Kale on Thanksgiving

Well, I finally made kale chips. I had a bunch of Tuscan kale that was starting to look forlorn, and I figured it was use it or lose it. I tried making the chips once before, but they steamed versus crisped in the oven (or stuck to the tinfoil I lined the baking sheet with). This time, I followed the method recommended by none other than Dan Barber (as published in Bon Appétit). I did decide to jazz it up by using a combination of wasabi and sesame oil instead of olive oil and a sprinkle of soy instead of salt. This time, I lined the pans with parchment and the smaller leaves came out perfect. The larger ones started to burn a bit, and the stems never cooked through, making eating the final product difficult (unless you like chewing and chewing and chewing with green bits of the leaves stuck to your face). The taste of crisped kale was oddly addicting at first, but then, after a few leaves, kind of sickening -- even after I sprinkled a bit of sugar on the crisps to counteract some of the bitterness. In fact, my family nibbled on a few leaves (more as a dare than anything, I think), but we ended up tossing most of the crisps. What a waste of kale. In the future, I think I will reserve kale for soup, and leave the chips to the potatoes!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Stocking up for the Winter

For us in the Northeast, the Saturday before Thanksgiving is traditionally the last farmer's market of the season. In other words, it's time to stock up. Which is why I braved the rain on Saturday and hit my local market.

With a little Googling, I found a great table listing produce and ideal storage conditions (from Knott’s Handbook for Vegetable Growers by way of the University of Wisconsin). Just like our ancestors did, you can actually store much of the late fall produce (and you don't even need a root cellar). *Apples: According to the guide, late season apples store the best at cool temperatures and high humidity (to help retain moisture). The chart indicates you could get two-to-six months under the perfect conditions, but I was not quite ready to buy a bushel and test it out. Instead, I bought some to use in apple sauce, some to eat and a few to save in the crisper. *Cabbage: I don't eat a lot of cabbage, but the guide claims a head should last three-to-six weeks in the fridge. I got some brussel sprouts to roast this week (as I don't think they will last quite as long as a big head of cabbage!). *Garlic: Farmers market garlic tastes a lot better than the kind you get a conventional grocery store, and has a shelf life of six-to-nine months. *Kale: I am new convert to kale, particularly Tuscan kale, and throw it in everything from stir fries to soups. While I still have not figured out how to make a good kale chip (they say they taste like potato chips) or how to enjoy eating kale raw in a salad, I picked up two bunches, which should last two-to-three weeks. *Onion: I heart small red onions. I like to make a salad and use up one small onion versus hack off part of a big one (and then have the remnants stinking up the fridge). Onions are fickle, though, and can last anywhere from a few weeks (especially if they seem moist) to eight months, according to the chart.

*Potato: Under ideal conditions, tubers will last a while. Cool, dark and dry places are best to avoid rotting, sprouting and greening. *Winter Squash: Most sources claim that squash will last about one month, cool, dark place. I bought two butternuts, so check back in and I will let you know!

Eldress Bertha's Apple Sauce (From Cooking Light)
If you think apple sauce is for babies, you have not tried homemade! I like texture, so I use a variety of apples, including those that are a bit more firm and keep their shape. Try adding pomegranate seeds for extra crunch and flair. This also makes a good topping for vanilla ice cream!
Find the recipe here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Keuka Gold meets Green Leeks: Potato Leek Soup

Hard to believe there are only two more weekends for most outdoor farmers markets (many shut down the weekend before Thanksgiving). Judging by the weather, and bounty of produce and prepared food at my local market on Saturday, you'd never guess. Since the end is near, I went a bit wild, dropping a bundle on staples like red onions, apples and yams, but also special items like Tuscan kale and vanilla yogurt and Indian food (you gotta love a market that has a stand selling samosas next to a stand that sells winter squash). However, despite being in a buying mood, I wasn't really in a cooking mood over the weekend. But with a new bunch of leeks, and those Keuka Gold potatoes from the Irvington market sitting on my counter for almost a month, I decided to throw together a quick potato leek soup. Keuka Gold (featured in The New York Times last month) have really thin skins, so I just left them unpeeled and diced the well-scrubbed spuds. Perhaps because I chose to leave the skin on, the final product took on the slightest greenish (leek) gray (potato skin) cast. But it tasted great. And was simple to make, leaving me more time to enjoy the Indian summer sun and less at the stove.
Easy Potato Leek Soup
Believe it or not, this soup actually freezes ok, but the components do separate, so you must add dairy after it's thawed to bind the ingredients back together. And if you bring a frozen container to work to heat up for lunch? Stir in one or two of those small containers of creamer at the end! This recipe makes two, 2-cup servings.
2 Leeks, washed and roughly chopped
1 T. Butter
1 T. Olive oil
1 Shallot, roughly chopped
2 Slices of Bacon, diced
1 Lb. of Potatoes, 1/2 inch dice (I used Keuka Gold, but you can sub Yukon Gold)
3 C. Chicken broth
Splash of milk/half and half/cream
Chives, minced (for garnish)
Fresh ground black pepper
Saute leeks in butter and oil over medium heat for about eight minutes (until softened but not browned).
Season liberally with salt and pepper; add shallot and bacon to the leeks and cook for two minutes.
Add potatoes and broth; bring broth to a boil and then turn down heat and simmer, uncovered, until potatoes are tender.
Turn off heat and let cool slightly; puree with an immersion blender (or in batches in a regular blender) until desired consistency.
Stir in a splash of milk, half and half, or cream before serving; garnish with chives.

Monday, November 2, 2009

London Calling: Kappacasein at Borough Market

I've been doing a lot of traveling lately, which is why I have been doing less cooking (and less blogging!). In fact, I just returned from a big trip -- across the pond to London. I first visited London as a recent high school grad and have been back several times since. It was great to visit old favorites as well as make new discoveries. And for me, no trip to London is complete without a stop at Borough Market. Tucked under London Bridge, on the South Bank, Borough Market is foodie paradise. With a 50-50 mix of whole and prepared foods, even tourists without access to cooking facilities can eat their way through the market. But for me, there's only one stand to hit -- the "Raclette Guy." Originally affiliated with Neal's Yard Dairy, this visit, I noticed a new name on the stand -- Kappacasein (which Google tells me is a protein that is key to the cheese-making process). A recent Serious Eats post makes it sound like Kappacasein is still associated with the famous cheese shop, which is a relief. Despite the new name (and new prices), the stand still sells two dishes, both featuring gooey, melted cheese: raclette (which I have attempted to make before) and luscious cheese toasties, otherwise know as THE BEST TOASTED CHEESE SANDWICH IN THE WORLD. In my opinion, the key to their success is not the sourdough bread (although I think that is really the only kind of bread one should use for toasted cheese). Nor is it the nice mix of scallion, red onion and garlic sandwiched between the bread. No, it's the cheese. This time, I am pretty sure the cheese was a cows milk variety called Ogleshield and it was delicious, mild and melty. I must find some here in the States. If you visit, once you're done with your sandwich, resist the urge to go back for seconds, and instead wander west along the Thames River and hit the Tate Modern or cool home design stores (including Joseph Joseph and Black + Blum) at the Oxo Tower. Then, retrace your steps back to the market for seconds! After all, you'll have walked off the first sandwich no problem. Look for Kappacasein near the London Bridge side of the green market, directly opposite Southwark Cathedral (which has some stone walls and benches for you to sit and enjoy your sandwich).

Monday, October 19, 2009

Autumn Salads, Rainy Weekend

The harvest may be over, and the glory days of the farmers market ending, but last week, I found a lot of good stuff at two different Westchester farmers markets -- the Wednesday night market in Irvington and the Saturday morning market in Hastings. Wednesday was my second time at the Irvington market, but my first time ever shopping at a farmers market in the pitch dark. Oh sure, some vendors had rigged up small battery-operated lanterns, but mainly I had to rely on the senses of touch and smell (and the flashlight on my key ring) to pick out shallots, chard, Keuka Gold potatoes, baby leeks and what is probably the last of the summer sweet corn. On Saturday, I avoided the prepared food temptation and picked up a few supplemental items at the Hastings market, including yams, breakfast radishes and a variety of apples. And on Sunday, it rained. So it was a perfect day for cooking, particularly as I had a friend coming over for lunch. The menu included roasted pork loin, Mark Bittman's Roasted Sweet Potato Salad (with the fresh corn), Smitten Kitchen's acorn squash with chile-lime vinaigrette and a green salad I made up on the fly.
Despite the surplus of yellow and orange in the meal (beta Carotene is all good, right?), my skin has not turned orange like an Oompa-Loompa or anything. But since I am trying enjoy the autumn produce while I still can, who knows what will happen before the season is over!
Crunchy Green Salad
I love cheese in salads, but get sick of feta or goat cheese crumbles, so Ricotta Salata is a good alternative that pairs well with the sweet flavors in this salad.
3 Cups mixed greens (I used the Sorrento blend from Trader Joes)
2 Scallions, sliced on an angle
5 Breakfast radishes, sliced into thin rounds
2 T. Pine nuts, toasted
2 T. Pomegranate seeds
1/4 Cup Ricotta Salata, crumbled
Olive oil
Rice wine vinegar
Fresh ground black pepper
Combine all ingredients and toss with olive oil, rice wine vinegar and spices to taste.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Enjoying the Harvest at Stone Barns

As I hinted in my last post, I've had a crazy few weeks. The big news is that I did it -- I moved out of New York City. I am now a resident of Westchester County. Although I've been consumed with unpacking and setting up my new place, I have been exploring my new area. In fact, last weekend I made it to Stone Barns for Harvest Fest.
Ever since the farm was featured on Top Chef (not to mention a slew of blogs), I've wanted to visit. When I saw the listing for Harvest Fest online, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity.
I admit, I was a bit surprised by the admission fee but I figured I was actually making a donation, since the farm operates as a nonprofit (on a typical day, the center has a $5 parking fee, reimbursed after purchases totaling $15. If you want to attend a program, those have a separate fee). I was also a bit surprised by the lack of program information online, but ended up just going with the flow.

The program, which I received once I arrived, was pretty extensive, with music and demos and hayrides and a street-fair like farmers market. The place was also packed -- but more with families than foodies. Let's just say the stroller brigade was out in full force (one of the reasons I did not take the hayride).

But I enjoyed wandering the grounds and greenhouses, as well as sampling the food: from Stone Barns' own grassfed beef sloppy joes and roast pork sandwiches to tacos from Chipotle (hey, they were a sponsor, and their tacos are good) to Mast Brothers Chocolate to Balthazar's baked goods.
Stone Barns also had a table full of produce for sale, including delicata and dumpling squash. I had never seen dumpling squash before, and since they looked ideal for stuffing, had to buy some. The ladies at the stand recommended a savory stuffing built around rice, as well as a sweet stuffing with apples and nuts.
I opted to go for the former, and combined cooked brown rice with chopped fresh spinach and diced chicken sausage in a light cream sauce. The end result was super cute and tasty, but I realized one thing...I am not a huge sweet, winter squash fan. Oh sure, I like it as a side or in a salad, but squash as a main course is a bit too glutenous for me. Live and learn!

Stuffed [Sweet] Dumpling Squash

As with delicata, you can eat the skin/rind of dumpling squash.

Two dumpling squash, cut in half through stem end and de-pulped and de-seeded
1 Clove of garlic, minced
1 Shallot, minced
1 T. Olive oil
1 c. Cooked brown rice
1 c. Baby spinach leaves, chiffonade
1 Link chicken sausage, chopped
Splash of chicken broth
Splash of half and half
Dash of red pepper flake
Dash of nutmeg
Preheat oven to 375.
Place squash halves in greased baking dish cut side down and roast for 30 minutes.
In the meantime, saute the garlic and shallot in olive oil; add baby spinach until wilted.
Turn off heat and add rice, chicken sausage, liquids and spices to taste.
After 20 minutes, remove the squash and turn cut side up; season interior of squash with salt and pepper; pack loosely with rice filling.
Cover dish with foil and return to oven for another 20 minutes.
Serve immediately.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Wetlands of Amsterdam

It's been quite a hectic September between travel for fun, travel for work (and fun), getting socked with a triple whammy of a ear infection, eye infection and upper respiratory infection, and, if that wasn't enough, packing up and moving out of New York City (more on that later).
Needless to say, I haven't been doing a lot of cooking. So while I get my new place set up, and plan for my first trip to the local farmers market, here are pictures from my canoe tour of the countryside around Amsterdam a few weeks ago.
After watching a segment on 60 Minutes featuring Rick Steves paddling through the canals around Amsterdam, I knew I wanted to do the Wetlands Safari tour. The 60 Minutes segment aired in 2005, right after my first trip to the city and right before my second visit. I tried to make a booking back then, the trips were filled, so I ended up waiting four and a half years to get my chance.
On a cool and cloudy Sunday morning, I met a group of tourists from Australia, Austria, California, the Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland and yes, Holland, at the local TI and boarded a bus a few minutes outside the city limits for what turned out to be a five-hour tour through small villages, part of a major canal, and then a nature preserve.
And despite a little rain and wind mixed in with sunshine, it was worth it for the combination of scenery, wildlife and sound of the water. During the lunchtime pit stop, I even picked some wild blackberries.
So if you've already hit the Rijks Museum, toured the cramped Anne Frank House, bought your van Gogh Starry Nights poster and gawked your way through the Red Lights District, a canoe trip is not a bad way to spend an afternoon in Holland.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Foodie Day in Amsterdam

You know, I could really see myself living in Amsterdam. The people are friendly, just about everyone speaks English, the canals are charming and the food is good. True, you need to hunt down the good food, unless you have the munchies and even a treat from the FEBO automat will do.

My first stop on Saturday was the Noordermarkt. I love this organic farmers market, meets clothing market, meets bric-a-brac market. In addition to picking up some cool souvenirs, you could cobble together a meal out of the prepared food items offered -- from pizza to sushi to Vietnamese food. Or, if you have access to a kitchen like I do, you could pick up bread, cheese, vegetables, and even pate and actually cook. But this time, I just chose to wander versus buy (although I did pick up a cute Miffy toy for my niece).

Just beyond the market is a small shop I stumbled upon during my last visit to Amsterdam (circa 2004) -- Delicious Food. And the name says it all. Picture a gourmet food shop lined with bulk dry good containers filled with unusual treats, a variety of olive oils available by weight and even an extensive raw food section. I restrained myself and got a few grams of mixed nuts, another small bag of museli and a container of salad sprinkle to take home (looks like a combination of dried cranberry, dried apple, seeds and nuts to toss with a green salad). From the market area, I meandered down the Prinsengracht and found Pancakes!, a tiny restaurant that got high marks on and on for its many varieties of pancakes. But it was packed, so I continued all the way down to Wagmama. I know, overpriced ramen seems like a cop-out, but I love the chilli chicken and so rarely get to Wagamama, so I went for it. Stuffed, I continued to follow the canal ring to scout out De Waaghals, another highly rated vegetarian restaurant. It is only open for dinner, so I just looked at the menu and made a mental note to go back someday. One block east, I passed the cutest tea shop -- Taart van Mijn Tante. With elaborately decorated styrofoam cakes lining the windows, and mismatched tables and chairs, the shop has a lot of character. But after over 20 minutes of sitting an outdoor table without being waited on, I bailed (this was after I went in and asked if I could sit outside). Tsk, tsk, but to be fair, they were busy. Sad, but still seeking a sweet, I found another patisserie. During my long walk, I noticed several people carying bags from Holtkamp, and figured it must be a local favorite. It was clear the shop was closing by the time I entered, but I did get a slice of the apple tart and another slice of an electric green and pink cake (which ended up being a delicious sponge with strawberry cream. Wish I had gotten two slices of that and passed on the apple). The shop had really nice looking chocolates, which I noticed after I paid. But in the time I entered the shop and paid, no less than five other people had crowded in, so chocolates would have to wait for next time. Despite the sweet treats in my bag, it would be a while before I would sample them. I got the bright idea to drop by the VVV (Tourist Information office) to ask a few questions, and ended up waiting 45 minutes to speak with someone (the VVV staff also help with hotel bookings, and apparently, this is one of the busiest times of the year due to a huge conference going on. Most hotels were fully booked, so I was very lucky to find the accomodations I did, and felt very sorry for those looking for a room last minute). By the time I left, I was exhausted, and in no mood to dine out. The one bright spot during my 45 minutes at the VVV was that I had time to read the September issue of Time Out Amsterdam cover to cover, and noted that Small World Catering, a catering outfit with a small deli storefront, was right around the corner from my flat. So I swung by and picked up a sandwich and salad to go. The store is very small, and in fact the name does not even appear on the awning outside, so it's easy to miss. There are about four seats inside and four outside, so it's more of a grab-and-go kind of place. The sandwiches (I got a tuna melt on cibatta) were huge and at 6.75 euros, enough for two (or two meals). I know the Dutch love their sandwiches, and I have sampled a few broodjies during my visits, and I can definitely say this one was the best. So I set out for home, carrying a huge tuna sandwich, a small container of couscous salad, a container of Greek vegetable salad and two pieces of cake, when I virtually ran into two people coming out of a small shop carying ice cream cones. Despite my load, I could not resist stopping at Jordino for a gelato. For 2 euros, I enjoyed a small scoop of yogurt and a small scoop of a champagne citron flavor. Some people come to Amsterdam to drink. I think I prefer to eat champage flavored gelato. Lest you think I am a complete glutton, no, I did not eat everything in one sitting, or even two for that matter. That's the benefit of staying in a flat with fridge -- I have lots of leftovers to take on the plane home with me. Bet the other passengers will be jealous that I am bringing a taste of Amsterdam home.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Live Blogging Amsterdam: Dutch Flat

I am staying in a Dutch flat for the weekend. I actually prefer to rent an apartment vs. stay in a hotel because you get more space, a kitchen so you can breakfast at your leisure and overall, a better taste of local life. My current digs are on a busy street in the Jordaan neighborhood (which I really like). No canal view, but it's right around the corner from the Prinsengracht. Of the flats I've stayed in over the years, I give this one pretty high marks for amenities. In fact, there's free Wifi, the mini fridge came stocked with a bottle of Cava and OJ, and there was a hair dryer in the bathroom. But the feature I am most impressed with is the bedroom "open wardrobe." Plenty of room to spread out my junk, but the unit itself has a very compact footprint. Could use something like that at home! P.S. Yes, that's the full content of my suitcase. And yes, that's a vintage-looking KLM travel poster over the faux fireplace. Kind of ironic, considering what brought me to Amsterdam!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Live blogging Amsterdam

36 hours ago, I was at the Delaware shore. Now, I am canal side in Amsterdam. Isn't jet travel grand? I had a work meeting today and decided to splurge on a weekend here in Holland since my beach break was cut short. Even though I've been up for almost 30 hours, I feel very chill and relaxed after my hectic week. And I have not even sampled the local treats (the local coffee shops don't just serve java)! Just a glass of organic wine at De Bolhoed.