Posts tagged budget
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, June 26, 2009

pasta with stinging nettles and ramps pesto

pasta with ramps and stinging nettles pesto

It should by now not strike me as unusual that things we barely paid attention to in Russia are considered a delicacy in America. Sorrel leaves were the cheapest greens at the market. Chanterelles were considered pedestrian, no matter how delicious. Gooseberries were easily the cheapest berries you could find – and in the US they’re quite a treat. And then of course there were stinging nettles. They grew everywhere, much like weeds. Around apartment buildings, in ravines, in nearby fields. In fact, as a child, I was often covered in an itchy rash from stinging nettles. From time to time, my grandmother would go out and with a towel, pick a bunch of nettles and make them into a soup. In fact, stinging nettles was something you ate to pinch pennies, it was one of those things – delicious, yet somehow indicative of poverty. I didn’t really think about it much while I was young, but I remembered stinging nettles after we arrived to the US and couldn’t find any in the store or at farmers’ markets.

stinging nettles ramps

I suppose stinging nettles have become somewhat en vogue recently because I’ve been seeing them on menus and at green markets everywhere. Maybe it’s always been so and I haven’t been noticing, but it seems to me like suddenly, stinging nettles went from being the girl no one wanted to take to the dance to the girl pronounced them homecoming queen. Humble, unapproachable, homely stinging nettles – suddenly glamorous!

pasta with ramps and stinging nettles pesto pasta with ramps and stinging nettles pesto

I would have shared this dish with you sooner, but I thought the stinging nettles season was over and so this dish was going to go into my computer’s oubliette for a few seasons. But I heard through the bloggy-grapevine that stinging nettles were still abundant at least in Union Square market and so wanted to share this recipe with you as soon as possible.

pasta with ramps and stinging nettles pesto

I had a version of this dish at one of my favorite restaurants, Hundred Acres, on the first night of Passover of all nights. And guess what – it was in a pasta dish (I can see my parents shuddering as they read this bit) as pasta is probably the most anti-Passover food out there. But I was sad that night, because I couldn’t go home for the holiday, meanwhile my dad was sick, my grandmother – deteriorating. And here I was, feeling mopey on the eve of a family holiday, without family in the city to celebrate. Friends who know me well know that I rarely feel homesick, but on that night, I felt very lonely in a city where I feel very much at home. And to cheer myself up, I decided to take myself out to a nice dinner. I just happened to be walking past Hundred Acres – clearly I was meant to dine there that night.

ramps and stinging nettles pesto

Its simplicity and comfort of this pasta dish struck me as exactly what I needed that night. Even though it was as far away from a Passover-appropriate meal, I didn’t care. Passover is a tale of exodus, and a people’s search for home. And I, quite desperately, needed to feel a sense of home that night, at whatever cost. I wanted simple, hearty, homey – and this pasta offered it all. Not to mention as soon as I saw stinging nettles, my decision was even easier.

pasta with ramps and stinging nettles pesto

The next opportunity I had, I bought stinging nettles at Union Square market and tried to recreate this simple, yet amazing dish at home. And wanted to share it with you. Because to me, this pasta brought a little piece of home, in so many ways: the comfort and weight of fresh semolina pasta, the childhood stinging nettles, fragrant coating of olive oil, a sharp bite of grana padano. What I realized that night is that a delicacy need not be a fancy thing – it is the thing that makes you feel indulgent and wrapped in comfort, be it a common food or a fancy one.

Continue reading pasta with stinging nettles and ramps pesto.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

broccoli slaw

broccoli slaw

You know, I’ve a bone to pick with June. A huge, larger-than-life, we’re -no-longer-BFFs, please-take-your-rainy-self-somewhere-else bone. It’s not just the rain. They say April is the cruelest month? I think if Chaucer was witnessing June, 2009, he might reconsider his claim.

You see, on top of this weather, which would be enough to gripe about, I’ve sustained multiple stress fractures on not one, but two of my toes from running. That’s right – I’m an overachiever even when it comes to fractures. And so in the last week and a half, I’ve been limping and ambling and being generally quite annoyed with my left foot. And the bones in it. Hence lots of bones to pick with June. Get it? Bones? Fractures? Anyone? Anyone? [Deafening silence befalls.]

I know, I have a horrible sense of humor.

At least, when it comes to finding a perfect summer slaw, I can nail it. Jokes–not so much. But picnic ideas–I got that covered.

Continue reading broccoli slaw.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

apricot glazed sriracha ginger chicken

apricot-glazed sriracha chicken

I was going to write about roast chicken. I had it all planned and figured out. I was going to tell you of a glorious weekend on the North Fork, and wine tasting, and meeting Claudia Fleming (swoon). But all this must wait. Because I have to tell you about the chicken I made Monday night for our monthly book club. We ate it up and licked our fingers. Well, I licked my fingers, and I think the other ladies in the book club were better behaved.

It’s not often that I find a recipe I like so much that I am thinking about it non-stop and so much so that I would be willing to serve it to my guests again. I’m quite fanatical about not repeating dishes as I try to always cook something new and different and thus maybe have something new to write about, but in this case, really, this will be made over and over and over again.

apricot-glazed sriracha chickenapricot-glazed sriracha chicken

Particularly for dinner parties and more particularly for those dinner parties hosted on a weeknight, when I have roughly an hour and a half to pull dinner together. Because what comes out of your oven is, well, nothing short of stunning. I would even dare say, celestial. I know, I use superlative language here, but if you know me, and I think by now you do, I’m not prone to descriptions that don’t live up to expectation. I’m all about meeting those expectations, folks.

apricot-glazed sriracha chickenapricot-glazed sriracha chicken

And they will be met. Because a slurry of garlic, ginger, apricot jam, soy sauce and the recently written about Sriracha – does something to the chicken that makes it somewhat irresistible. You know it the second you take it out of the oven and smell it that you will be licking your fingers. And the plate, and whatever is left of the sauce. And when your guests go to get seconds and praise your cooking prowess, you might be tempted to tell you that the whole thing took mere minutes to put together. But you won’t. Because you’ll be too busy licking the sauce off your fingers to talk.

Continue reading apricot glazed sriracha ginger chicken.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

mushroom pâté

mushroom pate

You must forgive my long silences because when it rains, it pours. I’ve been pre-occupied with more family things, this time around concerning my grandmother who is, sadly, is no longer with us. She was someone whose life deserves a special mention and more thought, which will be forthcoming, but for now I’ll say this – I’m extremely lucky to have gotten to know her so well in my thirty one years. She made an indelible impact on my life and taught me so much, often without so much as uttering a word. In her last days, she surprised everyone around her, nurses, doctors, our family, with her relentless spirit and strength. We will miss her and we’ll always love her.

Needless to say, planning for all this somber business took some time and I’ve been making some frequent trips to Boston. Let’s just say the bus folks know me well by now and greet me with “Nice to see you again so soon!” I wish it were for happier occasions, but I have hope those happier times are coming. Things must start looking up at some point!

mushroom pate

So while this isn’t a post about my grandmother, she’d have greatly approved of this mushroom pâté. She was a big believer that spending as much time outside as possible was an essential step to good health. And she, herself, was of strong constitution, hardly having any health issues, until the very last years. Back when we lived in Russia, she was always opening windows – even in the midst of the coldest winter days – to air the rooms out. “Provetritsya,” she’d always say, as my mother would rush to close the windows back, afraid I’d catch a cold. A great fan of outside, my grandmother would have been pleased to know that I plan on many a picnic this summer.

And this mushroom pâté is bound to be a hit at any picnic. It takes little time to make, requires few ingredients: oil, mushrooms, onions, salt. But while it’s simple to prepare, it comes across as luxurious and quite complex. A spoonful on a cracker or a baguette slice, it will elevate any picnic to a gourmet level. With dishes like this, we all owe it to ourselves to have as many picnics this summer as possible. Not only will it encourage us to savor the summer’s produce (not that mushrooms are an indication of the season) but we can share wonderful meals with friends and family – memories of which will keep us warm through the winter season.

Continue reading mushroom pâté.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

cream braised cabbage with leeks

cream-braised cabbage with leeks

I know it’s a little strange that I’m that I am telling you about another cabbage recipe so soon after the first one, but I can’t help myself. It’s too good to keep from you a moment longer. Doing so would be selfish and wrong. And I’m anything but selfish. Besides in Russia households typically always have a head of cabbage on hand. I know in my family it’s always been the case.

Moreover, I wish I could tell you that I’m one of those people who cooks a new thing every night, who is constantly craving variety, and is always out trying new things. I don’t. Sometimes I go for weeks without so much as turning on the stove. Embarrassing, but true. So if I find a dish that truly strikes a chord with me – well, I will make it over and over and over. Like this one for instance.

big pile of cabbage - YUM cream-braised cabbage with leeks

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m very open to trying a new dish or a new flavor combination, but I am quite often finding myself ordering the same few things off my regular take-out menus. I could also very well make something and then eat it for several days and sometimes even longer. I’m a creature of habit to a fault. I like schedules and planning. Leftovers are just another way for me to continue eating what I like. Besides so many different things taste that much better the following days when the flavors have a chance to meld together: chili, soup, stew, and believe it or not – this cabbage. That is if it lasts that long in your household.

cream-braised cabbage with leeks

So this cabbage I want to tell you about. Well, I’ve recently fallen in love with braising vegetables in cream. You take something somewhat pedestrian, like cabbage for instance, and you add in some chopped leeks and then you sauté the whole thing for awhile until the leeks start turning yellow-green, closer to yellow; and the cabbage has wilted and began to look a little sad. This is where you swoop in and add some lemon juice, salt and finally cream and thus transform it from sadness into glory, like Cinderella going to a fancy ball. You let it thicken for a few minutes and then scoop it generously onto a plate. And then, as a pièce de résistance, you grate a tiny bit of Grana Padano over it (I know cheese sounds superfluous, but trust me on this one). Just try to have one serving of this and not eat the whole thing. You can consider it an open challenge.

cream-braised cabbage with leeks

Continue reading cream braised cabbage with leeks.