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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

applesauce

my mother's kitchen light

And so we’ve officially ushered autumn in. Everywhere I turn – apples, apples, apples. Everyone keeps telling me about apple picking, my farmers market has more apple stands than I know what to do with, and I’m coming into a small apple fortune come Monday night when a friend plans to bicycle over a portion of her forty pound bounty, and I’m hoping to get busy with some apple butter, which reminds me I should get a food mill and some Bell jars stet.* But that’s a story for another day. Today is all about apple sauce that I made while at my parents’ house a few weekends ago.

quartered

You see, my mother, like me, gets overly excited about fall produce and before she knows it, her house is drowning in apples as if she’s about to start her own apple stand. But you and I both know that a human being can only eat so many apples a day and before you know it, they start to get all mushy and mealy. And then you throw them out, and that’s just tragic. Tragic, I say.

cored

So I found myself staring at piles of apples that I knew, (just knew!) were going to go to waste and that my mother would kick herself for allowing that to happen. I figured apple sauce might be a fun way to use them, and since I’ve never actually tried my hand at it, I decided to trust Elise’s recipe (since hers never fail me) and attempt one of my childhood favorite treats. So while my mother was napping, or running errands (I can’t recall which), I grabbed some apples and got to work. And by work I mean I cut and cored the apples, threw them in the pot with the remaining ingredients, brought everything to a boil, reduced heat, and let everything simmer for half an hour. In fact, while the apples were cooking, I got started on dinner and didn’t even tend to the pot once. Not a single time.

ready

If I’d known apple sauce was so easy to make, I would have never bought it in the first place. And the taste, the flavor, the apple-y intensity that a pre-made version can’t even approximately deliver – are well worth the minimal effort apple sauce requires. Besides, no scented-candle can make your house smell as cozy and welcoming as that cinnamon-apple smell that will envelop your house. If anyone finds a way to bottle it, let me know – I’ll be your first customer!

apple sauce
apple sauce

*Whoa, that was a long sentence!

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

tomato sliders

tomato sliders

I think the only reason I would ever want there to be eternal summer is the promise of a tomato in my hand. I don’t think I can never get enough. I can have them in salads, on toast, slow-roasted, cooked into sauce, and in soup. I can also, with equal pleasure, bite into a tomato as if it were an apple and savor each ripe bite. And though, I am an autumn girl through and through, that ripe tomato cut into thick wedges, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with fleur de sel, is pretty much my idea of heaven in a meal. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way about tomatoes, who might also wish for a summer if not eternal, then certainly extended. But eternal summer is clearly not here to stay, and I guess I’ll make peace with it soon enough. It’s just that I have such a hard time saying goodbye. I’m crap at it, really.

bun mise olive oil, lots of it.
drippy unbaked buns

Apparently, I’m not the only one who wants the season (or at least its produce) to last a little longer. The reason I made these tomato sliders in the first place is because Andrew spotted them in New York Times and promptly emailed me the recipe. One of the best things about dating someone who loves food as much as you do, is that they actively make suggestions and that the get it when you bolt from the couch to make impromptu ice cream. It’s not enough to eat something good, you must experience it with others. And food, as you well know, tastes much better when shared.

shhh, don't tell them they're about to get blanched nekkid!
you's about to get cored sundried
chopped

By now Andrew has heard me wax poetic about Blue Hill and the genius that is Dan Barber. And he sort of instinctively knew that these could not possibly be anything but sublime. Which they were. We could have easily made them into a dinner meal, but I was ambitious that night in the kitchen, and we had them as starters. I think we even fought over the last one – and generously decided to split it.
mascarpone and goat cheese filling
a view from above

I hope that you make these tomato sliders while there are still late summer (or early fall, come to think of it!) tomatoes at the market. Try to find the fragrant ones, heavy and fleshy – they will serve you well. The recipe looks like a handful, but really, there is nothing to it. It’s just a few steps, none of which take too long, and all of which can be made in advance. So if you’re hosting a party, these can be put together in no time. And they will, I guarantee you, steal the show. Because who can resist a miniature homemade burger bun with tomatoes, mascarpone, goat cheese inside? Exactly – no one. And if they do – clearly, that just means more left for you!

tomato sliders
tomato sliders

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

eggplant caviar

eggplant caviar

A few things first. One, my friend Tina thinks the name “eggplant caviar” is an abomination and is misleading, but that’s about the only name I know for it. Blasphemy, she said to me, do you see any caviar here? Alas, I do not. She’s, technically, in the right. So this is partially an apology to her – I don’t mean to mislead. Two, there are two schools of eggplant caviar making that I’m aware of insofar as Russian eggplant caviar making goes. Both parties cling to their version as the version, but the weirdo that is me, likes them both equally – they are quite different from one another. And like a mother to two very different children of the same origin, I cannot pick a favorite.

like little hats!

The first is the method my friends from the Ukraine have taught me – which involves baking an eggplant, removing its skin and combining it with a seductive and potent blend of pureed tomato, onion, garlic, vinegar, salt and pepper, and stirring a bit of finely minced cilantro. It is simple and addictive, and if you’re a fan of garlic, you can’t go wrong here.

halved!

The second is a bit more labor intensive, and hails, at least according to my Uzbekistan-born grandmother, from Central Asia (think former Soviet republics that end in “stan”). It involves slow cooking the eggplant with tomatoes, onion, garlic and red peppers for many hours, until the vegetables combine, disintegrate, fall apart, and grow brown. Their transformation is magical, as things go from acidic, to sweeter, more caramelized, more seductive. While it’s uncommon for brown food to be considered sexy, this dish smolders. If you think you don’t like eggplant, try this and talk to me after. I would be surprised if you didn’t reverse your stance on eggplant.

pretty from the top
looking sadder

Normally eggplant caviar is served during the “zakuski” portion of the meal. For those of you who are not Russian speakers, “zakuski” describes a spread of snacks served at Russian banquets or parties, or in my mother’s case, whenever anyone shows up at the house. Originally, the word stems from the Russian word “kusok” or “kusochik” which means, piece, or little piece. The prefix “za” denotes that you are using these little pieces, or snacks, as a follow up to a drink, a chaser, so to speak. When Russians drink vodka (which they do at most celebratory gatherings), they invariably do it in shots and follow up shots with either a pickle, slice of salami, Russian sauerkraut, a pickled mushroom or a piece of dark, rye bread with something tasty spread over it. Like this eggplant caviar. Zakuski are intense, powerful bursts of flavor designed to quell the burning of alcohol in your mouth.

sad :(
onions tomatoes
cubed peppers

But sometimes you’re not in the mood for a drink (watch the entire Russian clan disown me after this sentence), but what you want is a taste of home, because you miss the food you grew up with. And after you spy eggplant piled high at your favorite farm-stand, you greedily load your bags with the necessary ingredients and then cook the brown mess for hours while you translate your mother’s recipe from Russian, filling in instructions she takes for granted as “given”. And laughing at her description of cooked eggplant as “sad”. If you’ve ever seen a wilted, browned eggplant, you know what she means by that. But invariably, reading that makes me smile.

eggplant caviar eggplant caviar

Looks, my dears, caviar it is not. But were I to really choose between actual caviar and this, I would go for this, hands down. Especially if my mother is making it.

eggplant caviar eggplant caviar
eggplant caviar

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Friday, March 19, 2010

haroset

haroset

All right folks, this will be short and sweet here. Work’s been crazy and I am actually writing this to you on my lunch break – the nerve. I keep trying to sit down and put my thoughts together, but there’s just so much to do during the day and after work, that by the time I get home, I’m a bit spent. I also need to apologize for these hideous photos. The night I took these – my photo mojo was seriously off. I tried so many different angles, lighting options, camera settings, and in the end, it just wasn’t happening. I had to accept the fact that on some nights, your photos will look disgusting. Like these.

However, what’s exciting is that Passover is right around the corner. I like to think of Passover as sort of a Jewish Thanksgiving of sorts. Done right – you have amazing food, memorable meals with family and friends and an opportunity to get a little creative in the kitchen with all the holiday dietary restrictions. It’s a challenge to get so creative that you wind up not missing chametz, or the “forbidden” foods. And with all the cooking to be done for the holiday week, this dish should be the least of your worries. It practically makes itself and it’s also incredibly delicious. Make lots because everyone will want to spoon some on the side of the plate and kids will be eating double that. Allowed to sit overnight, the flavor meld better and develop. Ideally, you’d make this ahead.

haroset

The traditional Ashkenazi haroset is little more than apples, walnuts and honey with a few other ingredients, all mixed together. Apples and honey are nothing new in the Jewish tradition – it’s the thing to eat on Rosh Hashana – for a sweet and prosperous New Year. As for the haroset preparation, there’s really nothing to it – you simply toast some walnuts for a few minutes until they’re fragrant and crunchy, and chop them up finely. You then peel a couple of apples, core them and chop those as well. Some folks prefer their haroset minced, but I like mine on a chunkier side. That way you can really taste the apple texture. And while a lot of versions like to add a few glugs of Manishewitz, or a fortified kosher wine, I prefer to add pomegranate molasses, which gives my otherwise Ashkenazi haroset a Middle Eastern twist. A pinch or two of cinnamon and your haroset is done – provided, of course, you let it sit in your fridge overnight.

haroset

And with that, I shall return to my spreadsheets and Power Point slides. I know what you’re thinking – lucky duck! Don’t be jealous now – sometimes life just isn’t fair.

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Sunday, January 31, 2010

wings: honey-mustard wings & teriyaki wings

teriyaki wings

It’s hard to remember where my love for the American football began. It is an improbable love, sandwiched between my Russian heritage and my sports-apathetic family. In Russia, sports fans watched either soccer or hockey. They also read chess-match play-by-play summaries in the paper (yes, chess was considered a sport in Russia – I kid you not). My family, on the other hand, couldn’t care less. If it wasn’t opera or ballet, my father wasn’t paying attention. And if it wasn’t being broiled, fried or braised – my mother instantly would lose interest.

teriyaki marinadehoney mustard

So it begs the question why I’ve become such an avid football fan, replete with an arsenal of game-friendly foods in my repertoire. While I’ve certainly made my efforts to assimilate better, sports fanaticism is a hard one to fake. You actually have to understand what’s going on. And football comes with a lot of rules at its disposal, so it’s not a late-comer friendly game. Also, it doesn’t hurt that Bill Belichick and I share the same high school alma-mater.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

sugar-and-spice candied nuts

sweet & spicy nuts

Last year I got these as a gift from Deb who gave me a generous, pretty jar filled to the brim with these nuts. Not half an hour later, the jar was empty and I was peering inside it trying to figure out who ate all the nuts. Certainly, I couldn’t have done it in thirty minutes’ time. I even stuck my finger in the jar trying to pick up all the sweet bits and lick them off. It was better than nothing, but still, the nuts were gone and I had to face the music: portion control – epic fail.

sweet & spicy nuts

A week later, I sat my physician’s with a fever and found the recipe in a November issue of the New York Magazine. When the nurse called out my name, I, flustered and achy, accidentally (I swear!) shoved the magazine into my oversized bag, and thus brought it home at the end of the day. I figured the recipe called out to me so much, that maybe, subconsciously, I intended for this issue to be mine. I clipped the recipe and it promptly got lost in my towering recipe pile where it stayed lost until I moved to Brooklyn.

sweet & spicy nuts

A few months later, I was sitting at Hill Country and eating brisket. And ribs. And some serious sides. And drinking a beer. But I digress. Not a half an hour after the brisket was placed in front of me, it was gone. And I was, you guessed it, licking my fingers once again. Ladylike? Who, me? Believe it or not, my parents did raise me with table manners and taught me things like how to use a fork and knife, keeping elbows off the table, and not talking with a full mouth, just to name a few. And yet, here I was, licking my fingers. In public.

sweet & spicy nuts

I suspect my lapse in manners isn’t entirely my fault. I hold Elizabeth Karmel, the executive chef at Hill Country and creator of these nuts, partly responsible. Her food has a certain power over me (and I suspect over logs of others as also) in that I am compelled, whenever in the presence of her food, to lick my fingers and the plate the food came on. I consider it a very good thing, good, ladylike manners aside, that someone can consistently put out food that makes your forget your surroundings and it’s just you and your dinner. [Pan camera Matrix-style 360 degrees around you and the plate.]

sweet & spicy nuts

Let me be clear – these make an awesome holiday gift, be it Christmas or Hannukah (totally belated, I know, but I’m a delinquent gift-giver!), or any other holiday for that matter. And as an added bonus, during this crazy-busy holiday time when we constantly feel two steps behind, these nuts are also a cinch to make, requiring mere minutes of hands-on time and just a quick peek in the oven to stir and rotate your baking sheets. What comes out of the oven is so good, that I teetered on keeping these to myself instead of giving them away. But ‘tis the gift-giving season and I like presenting people with tiny cellophane bags with little red bows.

sweet & spicy nuts

Not that I haven’t ripped open a few for myself. I would never!

sweet & spicy nuts

Continue reading sugar-and-spice candied nuts.