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Cool as a Cucumber



It’s been pretty hot the past few days in New York City and I’ve been pausing longer in front of the fridge to catch some coolness. 

Truthfully the contents of the refrigerator were getting out of control from two shoots I did back to back last week and that was also making me pause. 

Among the bounty, I had a few cucumbers and some avocados which sounded like a great combination to me, especially after I read an easy recipe on food52.com, one of my favorite new sites for all things food. 

The idea of a cucumber and avocado soup became a minor obsession, so tonight I finally dragged it all out and starting blending. First I took the skin off 4 large cucumbers and cut them into big chunks and threw them into my new Ninja blender. Then I scooped out the insides of 2 large avocados and added that in and blended it up a little to give me some more room. Next I added in about half a bunch of watercress that I cut the ends off of, 8 scallions with the tops and bottoms cut off, a handful of fresh mint leaves, and then put in the juice from two lemons and a little bit of romaine lettuce to mellow it out. I blended it all up and tasted it and it honestly doesn’t need a thing! It’s smooth and creamy without being too creamy in consistency and I loved every cool bite of it. 

EASY AVOCADO AND CUCUMBER SOUP
4 large peeled Cucumbers 
2 large avocadoes
1/2 bunch of watercress (about 1 cup)
8 strands of scallions, white and green parts included
1/2 cup of fresh mint leaves
juice from 2 lemons

Put it all in a blender and blend until smooth and serve refreshingly, deliciously cold.

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There’s no place like Mom

In the past two weeks I’ve sat and mourned with two friends who lost their mothers and it makes me cherish my own mother all the more.

This week was especially cold and on Tuesday as the snow storm began, I put on my sneakers and hot footed it down to Trader Joe’s to make my Mother’s and her mother’s Chicken Soup recipe, inspired by a little inner competition against the 2nd Avenue Deli Chicken Soup which I had on Monday night.

I picked up a family pack of Chicken parts, some parsnips, fresh dill and a sack of Organic Yellow Onions. I already had carrots and celery at home and forgot the crucial sweet potatoes that my Nana used to put in and the parsley that my Mother reminded me about when it was already too late. Oh well, Thank God she’s still here to remind me!

I began with a large pot of water and salted each piece of chicken liberally as I put it in the pot. I added chopped carrots, celery, parsnips and should have diced the sweet potato like Nana did and added it all to the pot. Each step reminded me of all the years I watched as my Mother made this soup…I quartered the onions and left the skin on like my Mama taught me and turned the gas up to let it all come to a boil, skimming the fat off the top as it boiled. (Another lesson from Mom.)

After the soup came to a boil, I let it simmer for about an hour or so, until the chicken was well cooked and falling off the bone and added the dill and would have added the parsley if I had it.

It was and is a simple and delicious soup to eat and share with someone you love.

To all you Mothers and Mother Lovers out there, this bowl’s for you!

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Breaking some eggs…

I work on a freelance basis on TV commercials and January is generally one of the slower months so the past two weeks I’ve been cooking up a storm at home to beat boredom and save money. 
Yesterday I came up with a great breakfast that was so good, I had to post about it and this morning I think I topped it with an even better one!
Yesterday’s breakfast was sautéed collard greens with red onions and oyster mushrooms served under slightly fried eggs, sliced avocado and a drizzle of Sriraracha chili sauce. It was pretty yummalicious…
Today I opened the fridge and saw some Kombocha squash I’d cubed and roasted and some quinoa and decided to sauté up some red onions and combine them with some garlic powder to fry up into patties. Next time I may add an egg white to bind it all together since they kind of fell apart,  but this time I combined about a cup of squash, a cup of cooked quinoa, ¼ cup of sautéed red onions and a dash of garlic powder and mushed them into patties and fried them in Safflower Oil until they were nice and crispy.
 
While the patties were frying up, I put some water and white vinegar in a sauce pan to simmer and cracked two eggs into the water and poached them until they were the right balance of cooked white and runny yolk.
I layered the eggs onto the patties and sliced up half an avocado and spread it out on top and added a healthy swirl of Sriraracha sauce and took a photo before it disappeared. It definitely topped the Yum Chart at a number 1!

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Teaching a Hot Chick New Cooking Tricks

This week I headed out to Brooklyn to cook with my friend Amanda. She reached out to me a while ago to help her expand her culinary repertoire from macaroni and cheese dinners out of a box for her and her family and I was excited about sharing my experience and love of Good Food!
A Stunning view of the clouds from the cafe at Fairway Red Hook

First we cleaned out her refrigerator and cabinets and I moved some things around so that it made an easier flow for cooking and storing dishes (at least I hope I did!) and so that I could see what we were working with. Then we headed to Fairway in Red Hook and had a nice lunch before we went shopping so we didn’t buy everything in the store out of hunger and got down to business. 

The first item in the basket was a crate of Clementines, which are in season from Spain right now and so easy and delicious to snack on. Next up, we added strawberries, fresh spinach to make salads and to cook with, broccoli to steam or roast and organic Rainbow Chard, some sweet potatoes, golden beets, parsnips, fennel and a Butternut squash, a Kombocha squash and then moved onto dry goods. 

Amanda’s a vegetarian so I wanted to make sure she’s getting enough protein, so we got a can of Cannellini beans, some quinoa and millet and a Chia seed cereal for her and she has an adorable three-year-old son that we picked up a package of chicken and apple sausage for. We also picked up some fruit and nut mix for her to snack on, some individual packs of vegetarian soup stock and a box
of roasted pepper and tomato soup to heat up in a hurry and some yogurt and a chia and blueberry yogurt combination that sounded divine. 
We headed back to her apartment and fired up the stove and started prepping. I taught her how to hold the knife and let her practice on peeling and cutting up the butter nut squash which we cubed and tossed with olive oil, a few cloves of fresh chopped garlic and some dried rosemary and salt and put on a sheet pan to roast at 350 in the oven. We cut up the Kombocha squash into 1” slices with the skin on and Amanda drizzled it with olive oil and a little salt and then put it in the oven to roast too. We discovered that the super thin slices of kombocha turned into delicious crispy chips, so next time we’ll cut some really thin slices with a vegetable peeler and do this on purpose to snack on!
 While the squashes were in the oven we prepped the root vegetables and put them in a glass dish to roast, Amanda got some more knife practice in with the golden beets and parsnips and we cubed everything (beets, sweet potatoes, parsnips, and fennel) and put that in the oven with olive oil and a splash of balsamic and some rosemary, salt and pepper. 
roasted root veggies, quinoa and snack size tureen

Once the Butternut and Kombocha squashes were done (about 30-40 minutes, until they were soft enough to pierce with a fork) we let them cool and popped in the root veggies to roast and got out the Rainbow Chard. I showed her how to roll up the chard to cut it into ribbons and we sautéed it in a pan with chopped garlic and olive oil. I love the contrasting colors of the hot pink and brilliant yellow veins and the deep green of the leaves! I made her a little snack tureen with quinoa, white beans and the beautiful greens.

It was approaching dinnertime and we decided to make soup with the roasted Butternut squash. I chopped up an onion and some garlic and we sautéed that and let it cool and put it into a blender with the roasted Butternut squash, 2 cups of the vegetable stock and let her son help “cook” by turning on the blender, which he enjoyed immensely :-) Enough so that when Amanda and I dipped a finger into the blender to taste the soup (after we took it off the base), he almost forgot that he didn’t like the look of it and stuck his finger in too, but quickly remembered he was supposed to not like it and tried to shake it off!
We used another container of the individual portions of veg stock to make some quinoa, cutting it with water to equal one cup of quinoa to one cup of stock and one cup of water so we’d have enough for the soup. I love quinoa for immediate hunger emergencies since it takes about 15 minutes to make and can be paired with pretty much anything to make a fast and filling meal.
For dinner, we put some cooked quinoa in a bowl with the drained cannellini beans and spooned on the butternut squash soup and added the ribbons of sautéed chard. It was visually gorgeous and so the combinations of flavors were incredible! In retrospect, I should have added a drizzle of the truffle olive oil that I found in the cabinet, but I’ll leave that to her to share with her husband when she impresses him with her newly learned cooking skills ;-)

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Oscar Worthy Country Cooking!

I recently found myself up in Kerhonkson for the second time in 6 months and visited my friends Bart and Jesse Greenbaum at their restaurant Oscar on Route 55. After doing craft service for me back in the 90′s and moving to LA where he worked in the restaurant business and kept getting made Head Chef at every place he worked, Bart decided to kick Tinseltown and move to somewhere more authentic and quiet. His background in baking provided an excellent base for his culinary skills and all that experience in LA wasn’t wasted. His brother Jesse had been a successful Video Technician in New York City and worked on commercial shoots and hooked me up with Bart long ago. He came up to help Bart open the restaurant and was going to stay for six months, and that was five years ago…Living in the region close to foodie mecca, (The Culinary Institute of America) is not easy for a restaurant, these folks might live in the boonies but they have sophisticated palates! Their first year was booming and the second was even better. The restaurant is right on the main road just past the trails for most of the greatest hiking in the Northeast and has three wood burning fire places that provide just the right amount of coziness needed in this winter wonderland.

My friends and I started off with the Chili Crusted Calimari, served with Wasabi and Sriracha Chili dipping sauces. The texture was fantastic and light and they were gone instantly. We also shared the Special Bread Basket, fresh baked and created by Bart. In it were Cheddar Cheese Straws, an Herbed Pound Cake and an Herbed Baguette served with Herbed Butter. I can’t even tell you how delicious it was, but my mouth is watering at the thought of it and I am very proud of myself for resisting the gift of more Cheese Straws that Bart offered to send me home with.

For dinner my friend Jonathan and I had the Grilled Hangar Steak with sauteed Kale and Onions and Mashed Potatoes, which is one of my favorite meals of all time and was done to perfection. The steak melted in my mouth and the potatoes had the right creamy and firm texture you want in a mashed potato. Dave had the vegan Soba Bowl served in a miso broth with loads of fresh veggies and was so big he didn’t have room for dessert! The lovely Jade had Oscar’s sliders, grilled and served on a soft roll with grilled onions, melted cheese and optional bacon and a side of fries that were soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. Our friend Tammy who joined us, is a local acupuncturist who has lived in the area for about 3 years and got the Vegetable Tart and an order of the Oxtail Risotto to take home for her lucky husband.

Jonathan judiciously left room for dessert by only eating half of his entree (which he had packed up to go and left for me to take home and enjoy the next day!) and ordered the Chocolate Raspberry Strudel served with fresh berries and whipped cream. Mike, our served wisely brought extra spoons and we all dove in to savor the sweet goodness. I had to take a second bite and everyone laughed except for Jonathan who had his hand out for me to hand the plate back!

I wish I could live a little closer to Bart and Jesse and come up to Oscar more often but I’ll make sure to make the trip a little more often now that I know where they are. It was so good to see my old friends and even better to see what a sweet spot they’ve made for themselves in the heart of the most beautiful part of New York State.

Slow down, you move too fast…

It was Christmas Eve and Shabbat this year, combining two of the oldest traditions in religion. In honor of the coziness of the winter, I decided to do a trial run of my new slow cooker Crock Pot with a delicious cut of Brisket I had ordered from my friends at Holton Farms this summer and frozen. I’ve never used a Crock Pot before but my friends all swear by them and recently I went to a meal where they’d used it to make a vegetarian Cholent, a stew traditionally made with meat, potatoes, carrots, onions and in Hungary and the “old country” they add whole eggs. I was enraptured by the stew and idea of it simmering all day and melding all the delicious flavors together, layering and deepening. I had to get a Crock Pot.

On my most recent trip to Costco, I picked one up for a job I was working on with the intention of making soup in it. I started making a sweet potato, butternut squash soup in it when I was working on set and got frustrated with the slowness of it. When I want to make soup to be made and eaten in an hour, I need speed. I put in butter, onions and garlic and expected them to sizzle and brown like I normally cook them, but no dice, this wasn’t how it worked. In frustration, I put it in a regular soup pot and went on with my business, saving the Crock Pot for another time when I had more time.

I had the urge to give it another try last week and pulled my brisket out of the freezer to defrost. I picked up a bunch of carrots, a nice big onion and about 6 small Yukon Gold Potatoes and about 4 fat cloves of garlic that had been split from a head.

I chopped all my vegetables up and put them in the Crock Pot and browned the brisket which I had seasoned with coarse sea salt and ground pepper and then put that in on top of the veggies. I grabbed a partially empty bottle of Dijon mustard from the fridge and added some whole grain mustard, ground rosemary, oregano and apple cider vinegar and shook it up and then coated the brisket with it on top of the vegetables. Then I added about a half a bottle of Pinot Noir that had been sitting around for a while and smelled like it would lend itself to the cause quite nicely. I plugged in the unit, put the setting on Low for 10 hours and went and watched “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and had a glass of wine.

All night long as I slept the aroma of the brisket floated through my dreams. By the time I woke up, I was starving! In the morning I made Kasha according to the directions on the package and indulged in brisket and kasha for breakfast. It’s not traditional but this is my favorite meal of all time and as far as I’m concerned, can be eaten any time! Sorry there aren’t any pictures but some things taste much better than they look!

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Everyone loves a Hottie!

So, I was on my way home tonight and stopped in at Whole Foods by Columbus Circle to get something to cook for dinner. This in and of itself is a bit of madness, it being high tourist season and the Time Warner Center is always a bit of a zoo and the Whole Foods there can get so crowded that the line goes almost all the way through the store to the produce section, but I had plenty of time and decided to take my chances.

Breezing through the store was always such inspiration for me when I lived on 57th Street, they really know the lure of visual impact in there and I always got suckered in. I had a short list tonight, just chicken breasts. There was a sampling of Rick’s Picks going on and I went over to try some of the new products. I’m a big fan of the Smokra, the smoked okra and it plays a major starring role in my turkey chili, and up until now, was my secret weapon. I got to chatting with Deittra, one of the Rick’s Picks staff and she told me about a recipe contest they were doing with the newest member of the family, the “hotties”, a spicy sriracha pickle chip, all I had to do was come up with a recipe and send them a picture of myself with my dish. I was practically cooking on my way out the door.

I’m ridiculously lucky to have a wide variety of ingredients left over from my commercial shoots, so I pulled together the ingredients from my shelves and refrigerator and it wasn’t long before I had it all assembled and marinated the chicken. I can’t even begin to describe how delicious this dish came out to be!!!
Peanut Chicken and Rick’s Picks hotties

Marinade:
1/4 cup lime juice
juice from one clementine
2 Tablespoons of Peanut Butter
1 Tablespoon of honey
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon of Chinese Five Spice Powder
1/4 cup of Toasted Sesame Oil

1 cup of Coconut Milk
1/2 jar of Rick’s Picks hotties
1/2 english cucumber cubed
buckwheat soba noodles

Marinate about a pound of cubed boneless breast of chicken for 15 minutes to half an hour.

Cook up buckwheat soba noodles according to instructions.

Heat 1 Tablespoon of Coconut Oil in a heavy sauce pan and add chicken to brown it a bit, then pour in marinade, coconut milk and pickles and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Cube fresh cucumber and plate noodles with cubed cucumber, add chicken and sauce and enjoy!

I would have finished this with fresh cilantro if I had it, but I didn’t and it was delicious all the same!

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Pumpkin madness

Fall is falling fast into winter, the brilliant hues of gold and crimson on the trees are slowly descending to the ground and Halloween passed so quickly, it’s Thanksgiving now. I got a pumpkin for Halloween and it greeted me every time I came in the door until one day I decided it was time to go. But what to do with a pumpkin? The eco-environmentalist in me couldn’t just put it in the trash room next to the recycling, so I looked up how to cook it and came up with some recipes to recycle my jack-o-lantern friend. It was ridiculously easy. I tried two methods, just for kicks, to see which was easier and faster. One method was to bake it at 450 until it was soft and then peel it and the other was to steam it. Steaming was faster since I did it in small chunks, both were pretty easy and the skin pulled right off. I barely had to mash it since it softened nicely in both methods.

Now I had about 5 cups of fresh pumpkin on my hands, so I made a pumpkin pie! Pie is one of my favorite words, it’s impossible not to smile when you say it. Mmmmm, pie. The recipe was easy (it says so in the name!) and I decided to do a gluten free crust, using almond flour instead.

Easy Pumpkin Pie with Almond Flour Crust

ALMOND FLOUR CRUST

1 ½ cups almond flour

3 tablespoons Butter

3 tablespoons Sugar

I melted the butter and sugar together in a 9” glass pie plate at 425 degrees and then added in the almond flour and incorporated it and pressed it into the pan, it was a little shy of the lip of the pan.

Filling:

EASY PUMPKIN PIE (Cooks.com)

1 (9 inch) unbaked pastry shell (I used the almond crust instead)

1 (16 oz.) can pumpkin (I used my freshly steamed pumpkin)

1 (14 oz.) can Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk

2 eggs

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ginger

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine ingredients in large bowl, pour into shell, bake 15 minutes, reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking 35-40 minutes until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

The next day, a friend sent me a link to the New York Times which had published some incredible recipes for fall and I fell in love with a recipe for Pumpkin Chocolate Bread Pudding. Pudding is right up there with pie in my favorite words category, it just sounds so nice and cozy. My sister-in-law’s mother always uses it as a term of endearment and I think it’s perfect. Combine it with the word “pie” and forget about it, that’s cuteness and coziness exponential.

I didn’t want to use the day old bread recommended in the recipe, I wanted something with a little more pizazz and flavor. I had a bottle of molasses sitting on my counter for a few months now, begging to be used in something, so I looked up a recipe using the molasses and came up with a ginger date muffin recipe from Gourmet magazine in January of 1999. (Oh those glory days of Gourmet, and 1999, can’t possibly have been 11 years ago…)

The whole process takes about two hours, which for a multi-tasker like me works perfectly. I can do a load of dishes it took to make it in the dishwasher before the whole thing is finished baking! It’s gone over with eye-rolling groans of ecstasy so I think I’m onto something here…

Pumpkin and Chocolate Gingerbread Pudding

First make:

Ginger date muffins – Gourmet Magazine Jan 1999


  • (for bread pudding recipe, I omitted the dates)

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 large egg

6 tablespoons unsulfured molasses

1 3/4 cups packed pitted dates (about 10 ounces)

1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened

6 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar

Preheat oven to 400°F. and butter twelve 1/3-cup muffin cups (for bread pudding I used mini muffin pan yielding 24)

Into a bowl sift together flour, ginger, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a small bowl whisk together egg and molasses until combined. In a large bowl with an electric mixer beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in flour and egg mixtures until just combined. Divide batter among muffin cups and bake in middle of oven until a tester comes out clean, about 15 minutes.

Then:

Chocolate-Pumpkin Bread Pudding (Chloe Coscarelli. New York Times, November 14, 2010)

1 cup coconut milk

1 15-ounce can organic pumpkin

1/2 cup brown sugar (can use maple syrup)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon cloves

I added ½ tsp cardamom and used a Tablespoon of Pumpkin Pie Spice instead of the above, it’s all the same but has a little white pepper to heat it up and accent the flavor

10 cups cubed day-old bread of your choice (about 10 to 12 slices of sandwich bread, depending on the thickness of slices) (used gingerbread muffins above on this version)

3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips (Guittard and Ghirardelli are among those that are nondairy) (I used Ghirardelli bittersweet on this version)

I also added a package of Heath Bar Toffee Chips which really brought it up a notch

2 tablespoons brown sugar

Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 14 4-ounce ramekins (single-serving ceramic dishes) or a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking dish.

2. In a blender, process coconut milk, pumpkin, brown sugar, salt and spices until smooth. In a large bowl, toss the bread cubes (crumbled ginger bread muffins) with the pumpkin mixture and chocolate chips until each bread cube is coated. (Add package of toffee chips.)

3. If using ramekins: Evenly sprinkle about 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar into the bottom of each greased ramekin. Fill each ramekin to the top with the mixture and lightly press it down with the back of a spoon. If using a 9-by-13 baking dish: Fill the baking dish with the mixture and lightly press it down with the back of a spoon. Evenly sprinkle about 2 tablespoons brown sugar over the top of the bread pudding. The brown sugar will help the pudding to caramelize on the edges. (Steps 1 through 3 can be done up to three days in advance; store covered in the refrigerator.)

4. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until top is lightly browned. If using ramekins: Let the pudding cool a few minutes, then carve around the edges with a knife to loosen and unmold. Garnish with powdered sugar if desired and serve warm. If using a 9-by-13 baking dish: Let the pudding cool a few minutes before serving. Cut into portions, then garnish with powdered sugar if desired and serve warm. The pudding can be baked right before serving or earlier that day and then reheated for 8 to 10 more minutes right before serving. (poured coconut milk over top to serve)

Fall Lentils and Quinoa

I can’t believe it’s been since February since I posted, but that went all too quickly! Now the summer has come and reluctantly is going and fall keeps poking it’s head in the door and seems ready to stay. I had dinner the other night with some friends in a Sukkah that my synagogue Romemu built in the little courtyard on 105th St. I didn’t have time to shop and gathered together things from my cabinets and refrigerator and came up with the following recipe:

Mediterranean Quinoa with Lentils
Ingredients:

1 cups lentils
1 cup quinoa
1/2 red onion, diced
1-2 Tbsp Olive Oil (enough to saute red onion)
Fine Sea Salt
3 small preserved lemons
1/2 cup roasted red peppers
1 tsp smoked paprika (or to taste)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp chopped roasted garlic (from a jar)
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1/4 cup Red Wine Vinegar (more or less, I didn’t measure)
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook Lentils and Quinoa separately (1 cup each to 2 cups water each simmered for about 15 minutes until done.)

Saute Red Onion in Olive Oil at low heat with a little sea salt until nicely browned

Chop preserved lemons and roasted red peppers into dice

Combine all ingredients, add seasonings according to taste

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