Red Hot

Remember that small obsession I have with spicy foods and corn and salsa and tortillas? Well it hasn’t gone away. So much so, that I adapted a few other not-so-traditionally-Latin foods into a spicy red hot fiesta of a meal in my new place the other night.

It all started with a small trip home for less than 24 hours. Actually I think I arrived around noon and left by 7 am the next day. In those short 19 hours I had visited my favorite CSA farm, gone grocery shopping at my coop, packed everything I had up in my house, loaded it onto a truck, went out to dinner, had a great time with my family, slept well, then headed out again. The food sections of this small endeavor were amazing. The dinner, at Maxi’s Supper Club (a small place in Ithaca serving some decent Cajun fusion foods), was great served with a ten-dollars-off bottle of wine, which I split with my mom. The farm was even better – I got to talk to the farmers and hopefully start up a small distribution of their CSA down in my neck of the woods in Brooklyn. Talking with them was such a great time, since they were so down to earth and really into their foods, and getting the word out about sustainability and seasonal produce. On my departure, they offered me a bag or two of some produce. How could I say no, right?

Away from the farm, back to my house to pack up all of my worldly possessions (except those golf clubs that are still in attic from a time when I used to play and not be so awful…), I went with two bags full of zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, peppers, eggplant and Swiss chard. What a nice house warming present for a Brooklynite!

For my first dinner in my new place with friends over, my desire for beans and spicy sauce kicked into high gear. True I wanted to be classy and refined, but I just wanted to get into the foods in front of me, too.  Then that desire for spice added, like a pregnant woman’s strange flavor combination desires, to wanting to cook beets and Swiss chard. As my imaginary meal progressed I had amassed corn and beans and tomatoes and hot sauce and beets and Swiss chard and tortillas and zucchini and broccoli and some cauliflower and it just got overwhelming and amazing.

It might have been a little much in the long run, but I guess I’m just into “overdoing it” recently. Off into the wonderful world of cooking I went.

Ps. Cooking world is much like reading world, where you get so sucked up into the plot of the meal, or the narrative, that everything else drips away – time, people, music, it all just melts into this surreal feeling of accomplishment and production.

The tortillas sat waiting to be rolled out as beets sautéed with olive oil. Swiss chard wilted and balsamic vinegar reduced. Broccoli popped with garlic and eggplant roasted. Salsa sat in the fridge from the day before marinating with vinegar, oil, and a touch of honey with a lot of hot pepper. Friends chatted in the living room and sipped on IPAs and enjoyed what was a relaxing Sunday.

When the food hit the table, and my camera stopped clicking, we dove into the food and sipped hard on our water to calm the spice that built up. Emily had brought over a habenero salsa that got the best of most of us, but it didn’t matter because the foods’ flavors pressed through, and a table filled of six people enjoyed the best of most worlds: spice, homemade food, and good dinner conversation. First dinner, success.

 

Overnight Salsa

4 tomatoes, roasted in the oven at 400 for 15 minutes

1 onion, chopped

2 ears of corn, boiled and kernels cut off the cob

1 bell pepper, chopped

1 hot pepper, chopped with seeds

A decent amount of vinegar

Likewise with the olive oil

Salt

Pepper

Paprika

Tablespoon of honey

 

Combine it in a jar, seal it, leave it over night in the fridge to let the flavors mix and mingle, serve with some tortillas and roasted beets and cheese, if you please. 

Homes and Homies

I look for reasons to go over the top with food. It doesn’t always happen – that is to say on a day-to-day basis at home, I’m not cooking a four course meal with an amuse-bouche du jour and dessert. Couscous-zucchini-citrus vinaigrette and some ice cream afterwards is definitely a staple. But when I can go over the top, flex my culinary muscles, I get giddy with excitement.

These moments sometimes are pushing it. Say, for instance, a friend has a great day. I can’t really be like “Oh, why don’t I do a quick something for you, plate it, serve it to you, and pair it with wine, you lucky goat you!” But when someone moves into a new apartment? That’s fair game.

At least that’s what I called fair game a couple of weeks ago. A friend from years when we only had one number to our age, Sophie, just moved from Manhattan into Brooklyn, and only five minutes from my current place, no less. I helped her move a bit, “Martha Stewarting” her kitchen, and trying to arrange as much as possible to help ease the burden of moving (cause, well, it’s no stroll around a lake). I also decided to christen her oven with a brief meal for five of us. I admit, I might have gone over the top. No courses, but different sections on our plate and pairings of flavors for sure.

Her place is beautiful. It’s a two bedroom in Prospect Heights with a wall of exposed brick. Dark wood and new appliances – a find for sure. It seemed the best place to go a little over the top. As you can tell, I try to rationalize with myself for spending over two hours in a kitchen during a beautiful summer-fall day in the city.

With Emily’s CSA at my disposal, I put seasonal produce to use: Eggplant, Beets, Carrots, Daikon Radish, Kale, Tomatoes. I added a few foreign goods like asparagus, pita, hummus, and chevre. After looking through the heaps of Saveur and Bon Appetit magazines I’ve accumulated while abroad, I decided on a menu.

Pita & Hummus with fresh cracked Black Pepper

Roasted Eggplant with Root Vegetable Salsa and Herbed Chevre

French Lentils with Kale, Roasted Tomatoes, and Butter Sauteed Asparagus

The menu isn’t too over the top but the fact that I then opened wine, poured Sophie, Emily, Rachel, and  Madeleine wine, and plated the food… like I said, maybe over the top, but I have to say: everything was finished. And enjoyed! Dessert was on Sophie, and she brought out some delicious culinary muscles of her own with a plum nectarine crisp with a hefty and hearty granola-like crust. Vanilla ice cream on the side, but of course.

We dined until we were sated, and then some, and then some even more. All together, it was a feast for good people, no matter how “over the top” it might have been. Sometimes, it needs to be a little extravagant.

Want a recipe from this post? Holler at the comment box and I’ll reply with it!

Til The Cows Come Home

One thing that I missed, but didn’t realize, while I was in Korea was Mexican food. I don’t think I really recognized that there was a severe culinary hole in my life until I had to put a quick salad together for dinner and my only thoughts were: cilantro, corn, tomatoes, beans, onions, cheese, tortillas. At that point, that is when I started to think about tortillas and salsa, I knew that I couldn’t really press on without diving into the culinary tradition that’s come to be all but a staple of American cuisine as a whole (you could argue that point with me, if you’d like. I’m shaky on it for sure).

With my sweet corn that was at the beginning (as we are nearing the end, now) of its season, tomatoes fresh off the vine and cherry tomatoes packed with sweetness, cilantro, basil, Swiss chard ( because it never goes away, folks… never), tofu for protein, and a bed of mixed greens (anything that our CSA share threw at us – arugula, spinach, romaine), I started to prepare. Picking mint from the garden and cilantro up from my co-op, it was going to be light summer fare. Nothing special, but surely Mexican themed.

I would say that the meal was outstanding, but really what took mainstage at the show that was are night was, our visitor strolling down the driveway. A dairy cow from a farm up the way.

See, my family lives outside of town, but by no means the boondocks. Rather, we live about a half-mile off an Upstate New York “main” highway. Our land backs up to a state forest, so we’ve got our privacy, and it seems as though our friend wanted to just check out our digs.

The cow – whose name still is unknown to me – stood at our window, our door, behind the house, and eventually ran into that state forest. An hour late a farmer came to pick it up saying “well, she was sick yesterday. Couldn’t stand. Now she’s running away from me. That’s what medicine will do to ya, huh?”

With bowl of Mexican-inspired salad in my hand and a cow outside, it seemed as though my love of Mexican had been reborn.

Appreciation

Emily and I went to one of the best CSA farms I’ve been to (for a couple of reasons, but one is definitely the cherry tomatoes…) and collected my family’s CSA share for that week. We were overwhelmed, overloaded, and overjoyed to have so much produce. Bags and buckets and car trunks full of produce and for good reason: we wanted to cook our families a meal that rivaled professional dinners to show our appreciation for them, and for the summer bounty.

What we had:

Squash, bell peppers, hot peppers, dill, cilantro, beans, sprouts, tomatoes (heritage, vine ripe, cherry), rainbow beets, golden beets, garlic red cabbage, escarole, endive, Swiss chard, arugula, spinach, eggplant, zucchini, carrots, and determination to make this be amazing.

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Get Close

How do you get as close to your food as possible? No, not in terms of touching your nose to your chocolate fig cake, but in terms of distribution. Farm to fork. Seed to plate. Cradle to grave – we’ve all heard these catchy phrases being tossed around but how do you really get close?

Among many perks of living near farms is actually going to them. There is a sense of connectedness, a rooting of person to place, of food to plate, of Farm to Fork. Recently in the Finger Lakes area a bunch of farms have been teaming up with local restaurateurs , grocers, and drink dispensaries to bring the consumer as close to the producer. About a month ago, I went to Silver Queen farm with three wonderful dining companions to have brunch in a barn catered by Serendipity Catering.

Starting at 11:30 am, the brunch tables were set up with local flowers, white linens, and fresh fruit plates for guest to stream in a devour. Peaches, melons, raspberries all sat, beautifully cut, in a pool of honey with honeycomb on the side. To its right, a bowl of local, fresh yogurt.

As we got our bearings (farm out back, coffee to our right and produce for sale on our left), fresh baked goods arrived. Salty scones (on the best kind of scones!) – moist and delectable – fruity muffins, crumbled sweet coffee cake all tempted us to ruin our appetite before the “main” brunch courses came forth.

And come they did – a choice of two quiches. The dark rich flavors of caramelized onions and chevre or the bright flavors of tomato, sage, broccoli and cheddar. Either choice –speaking from gluttonous experience – was buttery, savory, cheesy, locally superb.

With both quiches came locally raised and slaughtered bacon and breakfast potatoes – a cute and quaint name for gourmet homefries.

The combination of these sweet to savory dishes was not only worth the drive, the money, and the planning, but also deliciously easy on the conscious. Everything – even to the fruit in the “all but essential mimosas” provided to all adults was from a farm within 100 miles. It’s like it was supposed to be, or something.

The Silver Queen Farm to Fork Menu

Peach, Raspberries, Plums, Melon, Honey. Breads and Pastries. Breakfast Potatoes. Caramelized Onion and Chevre Quiche. Tomato, Sage, Broccoli, and Cheddar Quiche. Gimme Coffee. Mimosas (courtesy of Felicia’s Atomic Lounge).

Next Farm to Fork in the Finger Lakes? October 2nd. Get in on it, quick.

When Days Disappear

I wish I had not 24, 25 or 26 hours to a day, but a nice round number of 30. I also wish I had another arm to help me carry things, and a never ending supply of kombucha. But these are things we have to live with, deal with, and really just enjoy. And really, as you start to think about it, maybe it is better that days fly by during summer days and autumnal nights. Because, as to really lay the adages on heavy, time only really flies when you’re… you can finish the rest. In fact, there’ s this really cool idea (I heard on radiolab, which is one of the best radio shows on the air right now) that time is different for everyone based. That’s why some people age quicker — they are simply living life at a different time. Hm, philosophical and metaphysical and all that jazz.

Now for the sustenance to keep you rolling through those days that just seem to end but end too quickly. Those days where you don’t sit down, but you don’t want to. Those days that you have one of those stupid smiles on your face non stop and without your knowing.

See, we all know that to keep up with these amazing days, you do need something nutritious, but heaven forbid you spend more than thirty minutes on it. I mean, come on — that’s why 30-minute meals on the Food Network blew up. But here’s the thing, one way to keep it super quick, is to keep it vegetarian. Hold up, what? No meat?! That ain’t American I don’t want it.

Cool down, patriotic patrick — I got your tofu right here, as well as your seasons veggies hanging out in the back of the fridge.

Make It Quick, Make It Delicious, Make it Disappear

Olive Oil, Garlic, Salt, Pepper, Onions, Red Cabbage, Corn, Broccoli, Swiss Chard. Put all those in, in that order, and sautee for about 10 minutes. 

Cut up some cherry tomatoes, get some feta out, and cut some tofu khan (soy-sauce marinated tofu).

Throw the tofu in (protein!), cook for 2 minutes. Top with the tomatoes and feta.

There you go: you’ve got a hearty sauteed salad with some oomff (see: hearty greens and cabbage), the juicy crunch of the cherry tomatoes, the smooth texture of the feta and finally, the protein.

Keep truckin’, dear readers. Let those days disappear with a smile on your face.