Thursday, July 30, 2009

lemon cheesecake squares with fresh berries

lemon cheesecake squares

I cannot believe how long it’s taken me to tell you about these cheesecake squares. I mean, please don’t be mad, but it’s been almost two months. While I thought that this summer will be a leisurely season for me to cook and lounge, I could not have been more wrong. Aside from summers being typically full of parties and picnics, I managed to get myself in a tizzy over a move.

whole foods - i should have made them

You see, and now that I’m in a fabulous new apartment I can speak freely: my former landlord tried to raise my rent, then lowered it by a laughable (and I mean, laughable amount and then proceeded to ignore my attempts at communication (that’s five unanswered voice mail messages) only to drive me irreversibly annoyed. And once I get annoyed, it is on! I decided that leaving all the power in unresponsive landlord hands was not my style (I am not one to sit and passively observe) and found an apartment that delivered everything that my current one did, and then some: an elevator, built-in air conditioning, ample closet space, laundry on each floor, a dishwasher (swoon!) and a kitchen that made me weak in the knees from the moment I saw it. Not to mention, it was simply bigger. Much bigger. If there was ever love at first sight, this was it.

cream cheese - YUM!after some pounding... crumbs

And so, I spent a good chunk of July packing and then unpacking. In fact, a mere two week after my move, I only have one box sitting by the entrance. I’d say, without giving myself too much credit, I did fairly well. So, while I had all the best intentions to tell you about these amazing cheesecake squares, I didn’t just want to post the recipe along with pictures and a single missive – just go and make these – now; I wanted to tell you the most important part: the crust.

melting butter, swoonthe crust

Be warned – making this crust is a dangerous thing, indeed. Dangerous, because as you start melting the butter with the graham cracker crumbs, you will have a formidable urge to take the entire pan, walk over to the couch, and devour the the crumbs alone scrapping the whole cheesecake endeavor. Such were mine temptations and I was strong enough to resist. But I will tell you, it was a tough choice. Of course, seeing as I promised to bring a dessert to a party, and initially promised cheesecake lollipops. But, a week prior I managed to sustain multiple stress fractures in my foot from running, so schlepping to a store a few block away all to find lollipop sticks was challenging. Hell, walking two flights of stairs in my former walk-up of a residence was a challenge, never mind traversing a few blocks. So I negotiated with my friend – cheesecake, but not quite of the lollipop variety.

pouring the cream cheese mix

Apparently, cheesecake seems like an intimidating thing to make. But this recipe – really, couldn’t be easier. The whole thing came together in no time at all. Which was lovely, since I hopped about my kitchen on one foot and longed to sit on the couch instead. I’m pretty certain that it would go even faster should decide to use both feet for this endeavor. Unless, of course, you like a challenge.

lemon cheesecake squares

lemon cheesecake squares

Continue reading lemon cheesecake squares with fresh berries.

Monday, July 20, 2009

lemony potato salad

lemony potato salad

The other day I got an email from a clothing store telling me about their “all new fall collection” and I suddenly became very agitated. Fall collection? But we’ve only just begun with summer. It wasn’t until a friend pointed out to me that we were nearing the end of July, that it donned on me – my goodness, August is right around the corner. And you know what comes after August.

Suffice to say I am not ready to admit that while we might be well on our way to an all new fall collection, I am feeling the pressure. More picnics, more parties, more cookouts! That’s what my heart is saying. And yet, as summers go, weekends fill up so quickly I don’t know when I’ll have a moment of just being still. I think I speak for many of you when I say that while summer seems a languid and leisurely season, sure gets over-scheduled and hectic. Weddings! Parties! Vacations! I mean, I am far from complaining, but you know, it’s good to just have a quiet moment now and again. Without plans. Or noise. Just as open as a blank page – full of possibilities and lacking pressure. These are the moments of summer I long for. These moments are worth their weight in gold. Or potatoes, for that matter.

the necessary crunch

Funny thing about me and potatoes – I can never have enough. I really can eat them every day with just about anything. Give me a heap of steaming potatoes, freshly boiled, sprinkle a little salt over it, add a drizzle of olive oil and I could sit there in the corner quietly having my potatoes and my little piece of heaven while I’m at it. You can take a girl out of Russia…

It’s also funny how I’ll crave potatoes pretty much all the time, like when about a week ago, I contracted a horrendous case of the stomach flu. To be clear, there is nothing funny about stomach flu, in fact, it was pretty dire and I do not, for a second, recommend anyone getting this “plague”. But what was funny was that I had to go on this so-called BRAT diet – BRAT standing as an acronym for: bananas, rice, apple sauce and toast. Though, I assure you that a few days of eating those four items, and you’re almost guaranteed to turn into a brat yourself, whining for various foods you’re craving and cannot have. In my case, whining rather loudly and with a slight nasal pitch – just enough to drive my mother crazy. The thing I was whining about – craving like nothing before – boiled potatoes with herring and onions. I was like a junkie looking for a fix, and were it not for my mother vigilantly looking over my shoulder at what I was eating, I would have gone out and scored some of that delicacy.

creamy, lemony slurry

What I’m saying here is that potatoes and me – well, we go a long way back. It’s my starch of choice; it’s both my indulgence and comfort food. I could think of nothing better than a bowl of mashed potatoes to cheer up a crappy day. It’s like a security blanket. A warm, starchy, filling security blanket. I could write an ode to the humble potato, but looking at everything I just wrote, I suppose I kind of already did.

What I’m giving you here is a potato salad you could take to parties and picnics and cookouts and make good use of this summer. It’s easy, refreshing, got that obligatory crunch of the celery, and the surprising zing of the lemon. It makes potato salad “sunny” – it simply sings. And don’t you want food that sings to you from the plate? Horseradish, while sounding intense, actually livens the salad up. It sort of gives the solid, boring Joe-potato its edge, the equivalent of a biker jacket, which instantly makes a safe thing, a little dangerous and alluring. The James Dean of potato salads so to speak – it smolders.

fingerlings make me so happy

Of course, you could always skip a party or two and kick back with this salad all on your own. I guarantee, you’ll find that moment of elusive, highly-desired summer bliss. That stillness and calm could be yours, all heaped atop a fork, garnished with dill and singing with lemon.

Continue reading lemony potato salad.

Friday, July 10, 2009

thai beef salad

thai beef salad

Over here at Sassy Radish kitchen we’re in packing mode, finishing food we have and making do with what the pantry offers. Save the occasion dash for an herb or vegetable, cooking here for the next few weeks has to be about not wasting (and thus inventiveness for me) and less about flipping through the latest issue of Gourmet looking for my next fix has come to a screeching halt.

thai beef salad

You see, here at SR I have big news! SR kitchen is about to get bigger. As in square footage. I’m trading my cozy (read: tiny) walk-up kitchen for a spacious, open, with a huge island and shelving (see the pictures) one. To tell you I’m excited, would be a huge understatement. I am counting down the days! Oh and did I mention that it comes with a dishwasher? Every time I say the word dishwasher an angel gets his wings. Or at least it feels like it. Say it with me – deeeeshwaaaasher. Doesn’t it just sound so musical and lovely?

kitchenkitchen

As excited as I am about this new kitchen, I will miss my 40 square foot kitchen I made a pretty good use of over the last 12 months. I didn’t expect to move out so soon, but an irresistible opportunity presented itself. And now I get to be closer to friends, the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, Baked Bakery, the Clover Club and other delicacies that will challenge my waistline. While I’ll miss my cozy little kitchen, I’m ready and excited for a more spacious one.

thai beef saladthai beef salad

Since moving requires packing and perishables do not good packing goods make, I’ve initiated an operation that I’d like to call ECIMK (Eat Crap In My Kitchen). The operation was fully commenced when my friend Marc came over for dinner a few weeks ago. You know you’ve got a good friend on your hands when you write “I have a lot wine and we need to make a dent in the supply.” And your friend dutifully obliges with an “I’m there!” response. And not only does your friend arrive hungry, but also helps you through three (3!!) bottles of wine in one night. Between the two of you. How lucky can a girl get?

thai beef salad

One of my not-to-be-packed items was this lovely skirt steak, chilling in the freezer waiting for the opportune moment to make its statement. Now, this is probably the part where I should tell you that happen to really love a skirt steak, so much so that I’d rather have that for dinner than a filet mignon. I’m an odd girl, I know, but that’s just how things are around here.

thai beef salad

I also come with some odd cravings and on any given day there are a few meals I can always happily consume. A Thai beef salad probably sits at the top of that list. Hearty enough for a dinner dish, it’s the perfect antidote to a sticky muggy day because you get the cold, refreshing crunch of lettuce, the bite of the spicy/sweet chili lime dressing, and the nice heft of beef. Filling, yet not heavy, refreshing, yet you won’t go hungry in an hour. I think it’s the epitome of a perfect meal.

thai beef salad

As you can tell from pictures, I like my meat on the pink side. By all means, please cook it longer because everyone’s preferences vary quite a bit. Not only is this a favorite, but also happens to be super easy to make. The whole thing comes together in under 20 minutes. Including all the prep work. You can even make this on a weeknight when you have little time to cook. And it makes room in your soon-to-be-emptied freezer too. How about you? When you’ve had to move in the past, what were some of your more creative uses of food so it didn’t go to waste?

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Friday, July 3, 2009

honey bourbon caramel peach pie

honey bourbon caramel peach pie

Make. This. Pie. Now. Honestly, I don’t know much else to say about it except just tell you to drop whatever you are doing and just make it this weekend. For the 4th of July weekend. You know, an American pie for an American holiday. I know (yawn) how Patriotic and assimilated of me! But honestly, no one loves a holiday centered around picnics, barbecues and cookouts more than me. I swear, I live for these things!

I know that the saying goes “as American as apple pie”, but in the summertime, no one wants to bake with apples when there’s so much other in-season fruit around. Cherry pie, blueberry pie both seem to come to mind more readily than apple pie does, especially this time of year. Berries shine in summer pies – while apples are better suited for fall baking.

fragrant and ripe

If berries aren’t your bag, or if, like me, you’re always conflicted as to whether you want to eat the berries as they are, or cook with them, consider peaches. I can’t think of a scent more evocative of summer than that of ripe peaches filling the room. Beautiful, ripe, fragrant, full of sun and hot, sticky summer air, peaches often deliver their finest arias after being cooked. rather than on their own. Though, never underestimate that first bite into a ripe peach, its juice running down your arm. Baking peaches gives them a lovely, sunny, caramel sweetness.

peaches!

When I made this pie, I followed most of the instructions, but of course, couldn’t resist adding a little bourbon to the caramel. I was going about my business, making the pie, when I heard the bourbon in my cupboard call out to me, whispering sweet, seductive nothings into my ear. And when there’s an opportunity to add bourbon (hee-hee, ha-ha!), I am unable to resist. I file this behind the I-know-a-good-thing-when-I-see-it tab. And bourbon, like Martha would say, is a good thing, indeed.

making honey bourbon caramelbutter

I bet many of you have holiday plans this weekend and are going to picnics, barbecues, cookouts. I bet you might even have to bring a dish with you. Why not this one? True, you have to make pie dough ahead of time. But really, the whole thing comes together rather quickly especially if you skip the blanching process, which I did, because I was ridiculously short on time and pulled the pie together in under an hour (that’s with crust being made the day ahead – which, by the way, took like 15 minutes!)

It’s funny how with some dishes, I’ll have a story for you and with this one I am so excited about this pie, that’s pretty much all that’s coming to mind. I think you should make this and I know you will love it. Except that I know how many of you feel about making your own crust. I get more questions about crusts and anxiety about making them, than perhaps any other cooking insecurity. And I am far from being an expert.

honey bourbon caramel, poured

Believe me, I know where you are coming from. Until this very pie, I was in the same boat, afraid of making my own crust, nervous about how it’ll turn out. I finally figured it out and I’ll share what I’ve learned with you. But my very first pie crust was a serious fail. A historic, memorable, go-down-in-history-to-scar-you fail. It gave me crust anxiety for years to come. Of course, it doesn’t help that I chose to make my first crust on the hottest, most humid day of the summer. And you know – pie crusts and humidity are mortal enemies. Crusts like to be cold and summers like to be hot and muggy. And with all this abundant, ripe, beautiful fruit in the summer, we have a conundrum. We want a beautiful, flaky, buttery crust – and it absolutely refuses to cooperate? Happen to anyone lately?

all butter pastrycoarse meal texture
making all butter pie crustthis is what you want your dough to do

My very first pie crust, was an abomination. It tore, refused to roll out and just about melted in my hands. It didn’t help that I was a nervous wreck around it and didn’t work quickly enough. Crusts are like dogs – they smell fear and my crust, sensing I was petrified, showed me who’s boss. The whole thing still is traumatic enough to make me shudder. But please just trust me when I say this – a beautiful, delicious, flaky, homemade pie crust is well within your reach. If you want to give it a go – you can absolutely do it! Here are a few pointers that I hope should help to guide you along.

I also think that Deb over at Smitten Kitchen has an indispensable primer on pie crusts – definitely check it out!

all butter pie dough

So here are my few thoughts on what can make your pie-crust-making life a lot less painful. Hope this helps.

Cold butter

First of all, this might sound silly, but as soon as you cube your butter, please shove it back in the freezer and give it a few minutes’ sitting time. While you dump all the other ingredients into the food processor (does the job that much faster – hence keeping it all colder!) – your butter gets a little colder after you touched with your warm hands.

foldedpie dough
the overhangbrushing with milk

Not overworking dough
Until I saw the picture of what the dough should look like, I had no idea what coarse meal really meant. I’ve included a few pictures for you, including how it looks before and after being pinched – so you can do your own ready-test.

making vents

Chill whatever equipment you can
I chilled my rolling pin in the freezer. Every little bit helps, you see.

honey bourbon caramel peach pie

Rolling Dough Out – keep it quick
Finally, I figure out how to roll out the dough. Short, purposeful movements from the center to mid-point of your disk (never to the end) as you flatten the dough. Continue to dust with flour to prevent sticking.

honey bourbon caramel peach pie

I hope this helps and I hope you all have amazing holiday weekends full of delicious food, fabulous parties and lots and lots of sun! Happy 4th of July!

Continue reading honey bourbon caramel peach pie.