Lucid Food at my local library

IMG_1121.JPGOne morning I was on Twitter when I saw Louisa Shafia mention an event she was doing that afternoon to help support the Brooklyn Public Library. Louisa is the author of Lucid Food, a phenomenal cookbook specializing in local foods and seasonal eating. The recipes are all accessible to cooks of any level. I had known about her cookbook for awhile, but I had never picked up a copy, having borrowed one from the library in an effort to curtail my cookbook buying addiction. After learning that we share a local library (the same one from A Tree Grows In Brooklyn!), and that she'd be doing a demo sharing her knowledge of cooking with farmer's market ingredients, I was in. Going to the library to talk vegetables was suddenly more exciting than I could have possibly imagined. DSCN0965.JPG Louisa came armed with samples of all her favorite seasonal ingredients currently available at the greenmarket that we passed around, smelled, and tasted when possible. I realized there are a lot of leafy greens I have been skipping right over at the market. Hello sorrel, how have I been ignoring you all this time?! They sell locally grown Shiso leaves in Union Square? I guess I was going, but falling into the trap that she mentioned, just going straight for my favorite (safe) foods, without really seeing the bounty of what was available.

When faced with a new vegetable she said you can always ask the vendors for cooking suggestions. About 99% of the time, someone will suggest to saute it with butter or olive oil and garlic. And, truth be told, when doesn't that work? It reminded me that, I don't need a recipe in mind to buy something I've never cooked before. In fact, later that week, I (finally) had the courage to try cooking the radish greens that I had been shamefully discarding. As a child I was utterly disgusted by leafy greens, but I've been working hard to get over that fear even if I find it subconsciously influences my cooking from time to time. I'm pretty much cured at this point, happily eating spinach, all types of chard, kale radish greens! Seriously, they were so much more flavorful than I expected. And, yes, I sauteed them in olive oil with garlic, onion, and lots of salt and pepper. Proof here.

Louisa gave so many wonderful tips about the ingredients in season right now that, I've listed the highlights for you at the bottom of the post. To really learn all she knows, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Lucid Food. As all my trips to the library end, I came out a bit smarter than I went in...and this time with an arm full of recipes to try. She encouraged all of us to force ourselves to explore at the market, and I've been heading her advice every week since. IMG_1120.JPG

Summer produce to try

Shiso Leaves - release the aroma by rubbing the leaves. Sometimes called Beefstake plant. Use to add a meaty flavor to dishes. Throw them in at the end of cooking, like an herb.

Garlic Scapes - they are the green end of the garlic head. Great pickled. (I like using them to make a pesto.)

New Young Garlic - sweeter than older garlic found in the supermarket. You can use the whole long stem like a leek. (I had no idea!)

Thai Basil - used in South Asian dishes, super fragrant. Combines well with mint. Try it in a stir-fry, or summer rolls.

Sorrel - used to be more popular. It's flavor is sour and lemon-y. Will add a lemon flavor to dishes, great with shrimp, and you can make soup out of it.

Rhubarb - little too late right now for this, but when you find it, use it in sweet (compotes or pies) or savory dishes, such as paired with a fatty meat. Don't eat the leaves, they are toxic. Contains lots of Vitamin C.

Baby Beets - sweeter and more tender than larger ones. Leaves are delicious too, if cooked like spinach. Try them in a salad, sliced thin. has a beet burger recipe.

Fava Beans - have to take seeds out of the pod, boil them for 10 minutes, then pull the membrane off. Grill them whole, or puree them like a hummus. (Note: these may be gone by now - check your market).

Sugar Snap Peas - great raw for a snack. Slice them thin for a salad.

Avocado Zucchini - it's a type of zucchini shaped more like an avocado. Contains less water content than the usual variety.

A visit to the North Fork

Wickham's Farm Getting up to be anywhere by 8 am is not really my thing. I'd like to think one day I will morph into an early bird type and be able to enjoy the city before it gets busy and frantic, all the while getting a jump start on the day's tasks. It hasn't happened yet. Actually there is one exception to this problem. Travel. The promise of a trip, almost anywhere, will have me ready to go at least ten minutes early (even if it's without the bright-eyed part). So, when I received an invite to accompany Fresh Direct on a tour of some of the farms they have been working with on the North Fork, of Long Island I knew I'd be jumping out of bed early at least one day that week. The promise of tasting some of this great local food firsthand, and learning about ways to eat locally and still shop at a commercial grocer, just sweetened the deal.

First stop, Wickham's Fruit Farm, which is the oldest continuing operating farm on the North Fork. How old? Well, the farm is over 300 years old, and Tom Wickham, who gave us the tour is the 13th generation to be farming this mere 300 hundred acre plot of land. I suppose 300 acres wasn't much if your family was house shopping pre-American Revolution?! The Wickham's original house was build in 1649 (it's preserved and we drove past it - yay for adult class trips!), and still sits on the property. Tom told us that 200 acres of the land is actually farmed. Originally the land was used for potato farming, but today it is a plethora of fruit orchards and an impressive greenhouse that grows the sweetest tomatoes. I tried plenty of the cherry tomatoes that fell to the greenhouse floor just to be able to tell you that. These are the same tomatoes that Fresh Direct carries. The greenhouse ground is steam sterilized which prevents them from using harsher chemicals and all the the greenhouse tomatoes are unsprayed as well. (Though they can not get the organic label because they do use fertilizer).

Greenhouse tomatoes

Tom, who is a wealth of information, gave us a lot of his personal opinions on everything from immigration policy, to the plight of disappearing honey bees, as well as his views on the organic versus non-organic debate. According to Tom, organic fruit production on Long Island is virtually impossible because of the humidity. He showed us his license issued by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, a government agency that closely regulates the spraying of crops. NYS strictly regulates the use of restricted pesticides, in part because they are protecting the acquifer that supplies Long Island's well water. Tom, pointed out that locally grown fruit is safer to eat thanks to these regulations, as opposed to fruit grown overseas that is not regulated at all. I was so impressed with Tom and his family (his niece is running a hydrangea farm, his sister-in-law was picking blueberries, and his wife was waiting for a school bus of kids from Harlem to take them on a tour of the farm) that I would recommend anyone driving out to the North Fork make a stop at Wickham's. The fruit stand is open everyday but Sunday. I am definitely going back out in the fall for apples and pumpkins. Another great tip from Tom, who at 71 gets noticeably excited to talk about varieties of apples, McIntosh apples are a thing of the past, and Mutsus and Crispins are the best cooking apple.

NY - the big apple(s)

Satur Farms was our second stop and we walked into the modern farm world as envisioned by two perfectionists, Eberhard Müller and his wife Paulette Satur. When I heard that Eberhard would be cooking our lunch later that day from produce picked on the farm, I was excited. But, when I heard that Eberhard had been a chef before he started the farm in 1997, and not just any chef, but the former chef of Lutece in New York City (he also helped open Le Bernardin with Gilbert LeCoze according to his bio), that's when I became positively ecstatic. Truth be-told, I sent a text message that read, "I feel like the luckiest girl in the world today." I will tell you all about the lunch below, but without the farm there would be no lunch, so a little bit about why I was blown away by this modern farm.

Satur Farms

Paulette and Eberhard started small when they opened. Their first customers were the high-end restaurants that Eberhard and his friends worked at. They would drive out to the farm late on a Friday night, work all day Saturday, driving back to the city on Sunday with whatever they picked that weekend, making drop offs at the few restaurants that heard about the amazing greens they were growing. It's the chef equivalent of your neighbor bringing you some extra bounty from their backyard garden. Eberhard was originally from Germany and he wanted to model some of the better European ways of growing. One of the practices that Paulette explained that most impressed me, is so basic and ecologically sound that I can not believe most American farmers do not do the same. The seedling that Paulette is holding up in the photo above, is not planted in a disposable plastic container, but is planted into a little press pot of soil made by a machine. This allows them to do all their transplanting without any waste.

Satur Farms has been working with Fresh Direct for six years now. Paulette explained that Fresh Direct is their farm stand in a sense. They couldn't just bring many of their delicate leafy greens to sit in the sun in a parking lot at a greenmarket and have them be as crisp and fresh as they want you to enjoy them. Working with Fresh Direct they pick the greens, wash them, vacuum cool them, and then package them on the farm in Long Island and then Fresh Direct is shipping them to you the next day. They have expanded their operation to a year around business buy growing the greens in Florida during the winter months. Paulette explained that the greens that they grow in Florida make their way to Long Island to be processed within 24 hours, which in her opinion is still preferable in terms of freshness and environmental concerns for us in New York. Produce grown in California would take closer to six to eight days to get to your table. Each day decreasing in flavor.


The array of vegetables that Satur Farms grows was impressive. They have mesclun, arugula (or rocket), butter head lettuce, of course. They also grow all types of herbs, leeks with long white shanks (Fresh Direct carries both of these too), chard, beets, baby carrots, baby spinach, frisee, and celery (see the photo above for what a celery bulb looks like as its growing). They started growing mache, a very popular green in Europe, and have at times taken other suggestions from chefs.  They are not a certified organic farm, but do use organic sprays and only steam sterilized manure. Another wonderful aspect of farming on the North Fork, is that they are irrigating the fields with well water. Paulette explained that when we've had large recalls of spinach and other vegetables from California, it is because the water they have to use is above ground and susceptible to water born bacteria. By the end of the farm tour, I already knew I'd want to support any farm dedicated to perfection and good environmental choices. Then we went to lunch at beautiful Paumanok Vineyards, pictured below, and I had a meal that was a lesson in what it means to eat seasonal, fresh food.


I should mention, in case you weren't aware, that when most people visit the North Fork they are going for the vineyards. There's a little map you can pick up that lists each vineyard you can visit for wine tasting. I highly recommend more people take this trip. It's a ton of fun (I've done it twice by now, hoping to go again this summer) and I really do find that the white wines are really very good. I haven't loved the reds as much, but then again, I haven't tried them all. The Paumanok family, were all in attendance at this lunch and they were pouring Rieslings (a dry and a semi-dry), a Dry Rosé, a Chenin Blanc (I believe they are the only vineyard on the North Fork growing this grape), among others. It was a perfect setting for the lunch prepared by Eberhard. The ingredients were literally picked that morning, on our plate by lunch, fresh food. According to the Chef, when your food is that fresh there isn't much you need to do to it to bring out the delicious flavors. Eberhard said, "food can't taste any fresher than it does here," and after this lunch, I would have to agree with him. If I win the lotto, I'd by a house on the North Fork over the Hamptons any day.

Eberhard Müller

Seasonal Lunch courtesy of Satur Farms

These photos are some of the more colorful dishes that we enjoyed.  That is a striped bass escabeche, with baby carrots, a beet salad, a green bean salad, and a peach and nectarine fruit soup with a lemon verbena syrup and red currants. This lunch will forever make my lunch of hummus and crackers and maybe a cheese sandwich seem very sad. The color's were breathtaking. It was just as visually beautiful as it was a flavor explosion. Everything was just simply dressed letting the true flavors of the produce shine. I will try to recreate the beet salad for you in the coming days.

To sum up this day trip courtesy of Fresh Direct, I now fully appreciate how this innovative company has taken a big leap towards doing the right thing for the future, and believing that their customers are smart enough to take notice and support their efforts. Now, lucky New Yorkers never have a reason to gripe about not making it out to the greenmarket after work, or living so far away from amazing farms.

FreshDirect has provided a discount code as a special deal for all my NY readers. Enter the SUPPORTLOCAL code for 20% off your entire Local Market and is good all summer long.

* Limited time offer. Expires August 31, 2010. May not be combined with any other offer. All standard terms and conditions apply. Limit one use per customer/account. Residential orders only. Void where prohibited. Offer is non-transferable.

Bing Cherry Baklava

P7030261.JPGI'm not sure what to say about cherries. If you're not eating them, you're missing some of the best fruit nature gives us. I eat cherries by the pound as soon as they show up in summer, until they're practically past their prime and rotting in the box on the way home at the end of the season. I've never thought to do anything with them other than snack on them. Although I love cherry pie, cherry strudel, even cherry soup (yes, there is cherry soup) cherries in my kitchen do not last long. This time I wanted to try something new, and last week wanted something festive for the 4th of July. Somehow I suddenly wanted to try making a cherry baklava, even if it's not as quintessentially American as I had in mind, I told myself it could be a great melting pot tribute to the U.S.A. After all, I'd like to think ingenuity is a quality all patriotic people embrace.

I should say that I realize that my use of the word "baklava" is only loosely appropriate here. I have never been to any of the countries where baklava is a mainstay (Greece, Turkey, parts of the Middle East) so maybe things are different there, but in New York City, I have never seen a variation on the classic baklava. So, I hope I don't offend any die-hard baklava fans with this adaptation. That said, I feel that the use of layers of phyllo dough, chopped nuts and honey syrup are enough to allow me to consider this dessert a baklava of sorts. It is filled with pitted and chopped cherries and a bit of sugar (they're so sweet they hardly need much help). It adds a nice flavor to the dish, as so many baklavas are completely overpowered by the honey syrup poured over the top. If you want a stellar recipe for the classic kind, check out this amazing version. As this was my first baklava attempt, I decreased the amount of layers of phyllo between each layer thinking it wouldn't matter and be less about the crust. That was a mistake. As you can see in the photos, it's  a bit too flat. I have adjusted the recipe so that when you try it it will be better thickness. P7020249.JPG Before you worry that you can't make this dessert because you don't have a cherry pitter, neither do I. Since I was chopping the cherries in half, I simply used a small pairing knife and my fingers. It took about ten minutes to pit about a pound of cherries working quickly. Not the end of the world. Alternatively, here's a great rundown on all the different ways to pit a cherry, including using a safety pin. Like I said, perfectly whole cherries are not needed for this recipe though, because phyllo is too delicate to be able to layer around them without a mess. Everything is chopped which adds to the great texture that this dessert has. Its a mix of crunchy chopped pistachio nuts, the soft syrup soaked bottom layer of the phyllo, and the light as air crisp top layer. It's all those things with an added layer of cherry pie filling mixed with ground almonds. Another American virtue, like it or not is excess, and this is definitely an excess of dessert goodness.

Bing Cherry Baklava Adapted from The Olive and the Caper, by Susanna Hoffman. Makes one 9"x13" pan. Can be prepared ahead of time and left out till serving.

1 package of phyllo dough (about 32 sheets), defrosted 1 cup of unsalted butter, melted 1 cup of ground almonds or finely chopped 1 teaspoon of vanilla 1 cup of finely chopped pistachios 1 1/2 bing cherries, pitted and chopped 1/4 cup of sugar 1 Tablespoon cornstarch 1/2 cup of honey heated and mixed with 1/2 cup of water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Prep ingredients before layering.

Take phyllo dough and lay flat with a sheet of wax paper on top with a damp kitchen towel over that to keep sheets moist. Melt butter. Pit and chop cherries, mix with sugar and cornstarch, and set aside. Mix ground almonds and vanilla. Set aside. Chop pistachios and start to layer the baklava. (Either cut phyllo to fit pan before assembling or you can cheat and do it at the end like me).

Start with 7-8 layers of phyllo at the bottom of a 13"x9" inch pan. Brush melted butter over each layer before laying on the next. Butter the last layer, then spread a third of the almond mix evenly over the pan. Follow that with chopped pistachios. Take cherries and spread them evenly over the almond layer. It will look messy, but don't worry. Place another 8 layers over that, continuing with butter in between each layer. Layer another third of almond mixture and then pistachios. Repeat layers once more, and end with the last 8 phyllo sheets. Brush with butter well.

Using a sharp knife, cut through all the layers hanging over the pan, if you still need to and then cut 15-18 diamond or square shapes. Place in the oven for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, take out of the oven and pour any remaining butter over the top and continue to bake for another 20-25 minues until golden and crisp. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes to cool slightly.

To finish, take the honey syrup and pour around the edges of the dish and in between the cuts. Avoid spilling on top to prevent it from being soggy. Set aside and let cool completely. Sprinkle top with chopped pistachios. Feeds many hungry people or a few greedy ones.

Everyone wins with strawberry cheesecake bites

I did it. I won my first contest. I don't mean to brag or anything, but winning really is sweet. Last Wednesday, I participated in the Best Desserts benefit for The Lamp organization. In the spirit of charity, myself and five other fabulous bloggers turned out an impressive array of desserts for the competition. Esther, took home the audience favorite win with her Jacques Torres inspired chocolate chip cookies, Katy brought mocha brownies, Anna brought amazing bite-sized salted turtle cashew cupcakes, Rachel gave us Asian rice crispy treats and Emily brought chocolate chip cookies covered in a salted butterscotch sauce, yum!

I decided to make strawberry cheesecake bites after being inspired to do something with the incredibly sweet and juicy local strawberries I found at the Greenmarket last week. They blew my mind, nothing like those super-sized ones in the supermarket. These little berries have super-sized flavor and paired with a killer cheesecake, well, it's my idea of a best dessert.

When I set out to come up with my own version of cheesecake, I went to the source of great cheesecake. It's Junior's cheesecake that originated at Junior's Restaurant in downtown Brooklyn. I still remember driving past the restaurant for the first time with Bernie (my grandfather), as he pointed it out to tell me they had great cheesecake. I knew I could trust his opinion on the matter because the only thing Bernie ever points out while driving is all the storefronts that used to be a Jewish delicatessen, well, that and whoever is committing a driving violation. The man really missed his calling as a traffic cop. Back to cheesecake, I'm from New York, and I believe that great cheesecake is New York style cheesecake, like they make at Junior's. You can keep your French or Italian cheesecake with the soft fluffy texture. I want a dense tangy cream cheese overload slice of cheesecake. However, I wanted to make it mine somehow so I tweaked a few things to my liking. Junior's is missing texture. So, I switched out their sponge-cake crust with a graham cracker one. And, I cut down on the sugar a bit knowing that the strawberries are sweet enough. Lastly, I cut out a whole eight ounces of cream cheese for a few reasons. Junior's is almost too dense. It gets stuck to the roof of your mouth like a peanut butter sandwich on white bread. Plus, it was a little trick to cut down on the calorie count (and cost) this way you could eat more of it, and feel less guilty. This is the only way I would attempt to "lighten" a cheesecake recipe. It was a gamble, but I think it worked well.

One more preachy point about the strawberries, this recipe really does benefit from the sweetness of a fresh-in-season strawberry. But, if you're craving it past strawberry season, it's still a cheesecake recipe and it would work with any seasonal fruit. I'm really not ready for strawberry season to end, not one bit. Luckily, summer is just starting, so I guess I'll just have to come up with a "Best Dessert" for each fruit that appears in the market.

Seasonal Strawberry Cheesecake Bites Adapted from Junior's Restaurant Cookbook. Do not attempt this with low-fat cream cheese. Allow these to chill at least 6 hours, or overnight is best.

2 cellophane packs of graham crackers (about 18) 5-6 tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted 3 8 oz. packages of good quality cream cheese, at room temperature 3/4 cup sugar 1/4 cup cornstarch 3/4 teaspoon vanilla 2 eggs 1 cup heavy cream 1/2 cup good quality strawberry jam Pint of fresh local stawberries

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Have handy four small muffin size tins. Do not grease or line them.

Make the crust - Break up graham crackers in thirds and place in a food processor. Pulse until they are fine crumbs. May need to break up a few small bits with your hands. Place crumbs in a bowl and combine with melted butter until all the crumbs look wet. Take about a teaspoon of crumbs and put in each muffin slot. Press down with your fingers until flat. Chill the tins in the fridge while you prepare the filling.

Make the filling - Using a stand mixer place one bar or 8 oz of cream cheese in the bowl with the sugar. Mix for about 2 minutes on low speed until sugar is completely incorporated and mixture looks creamy.

Add the cornstarch and mix to combine. Then add the remaining two bars of cream cheese and mix for another 2-3 minutes or until it looks creamy and smooth. Add the vanilla, mix. Add one egg at a time, mixing until it is incorporated into the batter. Last add the cream and allow to mix for about a minute until texture is creamy again, not liquid-y.

Using two tablespoons spoon mixture into the mufffin tins. Once they're all full, take the jam and break it up a bit with a fork so that it is not so chunky. Place about a teaspoon on each cheesecake and using a toothpick or the end of a knife, swirl it into the top of the batter.

Bake cheesecake bites for about 20-25 minutes or until edges look set and middle is only slightly giggly. Let cool on a wire rack to room temperature, then place in the fridge to cool completely.

Top each one with fresh strawberries before serving.

Muffins that adapt to the seasons

lemon-pear muffinsHappy Spring everyone! The weather is practically perfect and it seems everyone is outside taking in the sunshine. Which, is why you should get out of the house, away from the stove, and enjoy the weather. Time to start thinking about spring vegetables and before you know it, summer fruit. That's why I thought about these muffins. They're a basic muffin recipe flavored with fruit, and nuts if you want, which adapts to the season and what fruit is available in the market that day. They're an easy, effortless way to do a little home-cooking quickly, and produce a perfect little portable breakfast treat to take to the park, where you can sit in the sunshine with your dog, your friends, a newspaper, or all of the above. Muffins and me have had some ups and downs. When I was younger, blueberry muffins from a mix in a red box might have been one of the first things I ever baked. When I went to college, the store across the corner from where I had my classes sold muffins that were about one pound each. They were massive, and I ate one almost every time I had a morning class. Mostly sticking to the chocolate-chocolate-chip variety. By junior year, I realized that I was basically eating a large piece of cake for breakfast every morning and they weren't that exciting anymore. After a brief switch to brain muffins, I just quit on them entirely. I never touched one again for years. I decided they were unhealthy and boring. When I started cooking at home more, I gave them a try again since I had all these muffin tins, but I was a bit too preoccupied with the francophile infatuation I was suffering from post-college, and all I wanted to eat was flaky croissants in the morning (I wasn't concerned with the health factor of those cause we all know French girls are skinny).

These days, my tastes have come full-circle and I'm back to loving muffins. They serve as a great vehicle for jam and once they're a day-old they're even better toasted with some butter. The recipe I use is adapted from one I found in a magazine's cooking with kids section, so you really can do this. The addition of a bit of plain yogurt is what I think makes these much more moist and tender then other muffins. As more and more fruit comes into season, and some of it gets lost in your kitchen and gets a bit past it's prime, muffins are where you can use up over-ripe fruit. But, in all honesty, I must warn you, muffins are the baking gateway drug. Make them and you'll suddenly realize that baking is fun, you want to do more of it, and harder recipes will suddenly seem reasonable to try.

Fruit (and nut) Muffins Adapted from Delicious Magazine. Makes about 7 large muffins or 14 mini-muffins, or the recipe can be easily halved if it's just for you. Below are some seasonal fruit flavor ideas.

Basic Plain Muffin 1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour 3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (original recipe used self-rising flour) 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup sugar 2 large eggs 1/2 cup yogurt (I used Fage brand, full-fat or low-fat is ok) 1/2 whole milk 1/4 teaspoon vanilla 1/4 cup (or a little less) cooking oil (any kind but olive)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease whatever muffin tins you'll be using with butter. Sift dry ingredients (flour-sugar) into a large bowl using a mesh strainer.

Crack the eggs into a bowl and beat with a fork. Measure all your wet ingredients (yogurt - vanilla) and mix together with the eggs. Pour the egg mixture into the bowl with the flour mixture. Gently fold together until flour is incorporated.

At this point add whatever fruit and nut mixtures you want to flavor the muffins (see ideas below) into the batter and mix together. Spoon the batter into the muffin tins until each muffin is about 2/3 full.

Bake for 25 minutes or until they are puffy and golden brown. Cool in the tin for about 5-10 minutes and then flip out of the pan to cool on a rack the rest of the way.

Fruit add-in ideas Spring: Apricots (ripe), chopped + pecans, chopped Juice and zest from one Orange + 1 mashed banana + handful of hazelnuts chopped

Winter: 2 Pears peeled and cored and chopped +zest of lemon and juice 1/2 of it + handful of raisins

Summer: Options are endless...but blueberries are a classic.

Beating the winter doldrums with chili spiked whipped root vegetables

February produce in a four-season climate leaves much to be desired. Chances are most of you don't associate joy with the word turnips. Does the thought of parsnips make you wonder if you can live on pasta alone till spring? If the avocados and tomatoes in your supermarket from far away have you thinking about cheating on your attempts to eat more seasonally consider this -chili spiked whipped root vegetables. I promise they're as creamy and comforting as a bowl of regular mashed potatoes, and with a little extra spice they're just the thing to help you get excited about what little we have to work with this time of year.

This dish is made up of a mixture of parsnips, turnips and a potato or two. It could easily be adapted to whatever root vegetables you prefer. If you have never considered cooking a parsnip or a turnip, let this be your gateway dish. After all, when you add butter and sour cream to a vegetable it becomes much more enticing to most skeptics. The chili powder is an idea I borrowed from a mashed potato recipe in the The San Francisco Chronicle cookbook. The recipe suggested the chili was supposed to "chase away the blues" and I figured given my less than cheery disposition (and most people I came across) this past Monday, it was worth a shot. What resulted was a buttery, slightly sweet, red-hued dish that should wake you up from your winter doldrums and make your diners take notice. The spice is gentle enough that this is definitely still comfort food. Turnips and parsnips are slightly lighter than plain old potatoes, and if you take the time to whip them they will produce an almost fluffy puree. (I was able to get a consistency I was content with using a hand-held mixer. If you were serving this for company and were aiming for a perfect puree it might help to pull out the heavier equipment, the stand-mixer or a food processor). The start of Spring is only a month and a half away, but while we still have to brave the cold for a little while longer, do what you need to to keep your spirits up, especially if it involves a whole lot of butter and chili powder.

Chili-Spiked-Whipped-Root-Vegetables Recipe influenced and adapted from two different sources - the James Beard Foundation website and The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook.

3 medium parsnips, peeled and diced 1 large baking potato, peeled and diced 2 to 3 medium turnips, peeled and diced 1/4-1/2 cup sour cream, or to taste 6 Tablespoons butter, softened 1 Tablespoon chili powder, or more to taste Coarse salt and white pepper to taste Chopped cilantro for garnish

Place the vegetables in a pot with enough salted water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook until the vegetables are very tender, about 30 to 40 minutes. Drain well.

Place the cooked vegetables in a bowl and whip until mashed (this can be done with a hand-mixer or in a stand mixer). Slowly incorporate the remaining ingredients, then whip at high speed for about one minute to lighten the mixture.

Stir in the chili powder and salt and pepper. Taste, and adjust seasons accordingly. Garnish with cilantro before serving.

Peach and Blackberry Cobbler

I finally found some time to bake for Dessert Corps again this week. I really do love doing it, even if it's very hard not to take a taste of the finished product. I'm also considering this post as my contribution for Fight Back Fridays, because allowing the soup kitchen to serve homemade desserts rather than the food "product" alternatives is food justice in action. Sometimes I think about doing a quality control, but in the end self-control kicks in and I choose not to hand over a dish with a piece missing, but boy oh boy it was hard this week. P8050185.JPG The local CSAs donate some of their extra fruit during the summer months to the soup kitchen, so I didn't pick my fruit, it picked me. I kind of like the surprise element to it all. This week they had some extra doughnut peaches (also known as Saturn peaches or pan tao peaches) and blackberries. Doughnut peaches are a very sweet heirloom variety of a peach that are delicious. They are also less acidic than the larger more common variety of peaches. I set out to think about what to do with these star ingredients. I love the combo of blackberries and cornmeal but wanted to make a one-dish dessert that would be easy to serve, so that ruled out making a blackberry sauce. I also wanted to utilize all the fruit so it didn't go to waste. I was leaning towards a cobbler but I wasn't super excited about it. Then I found a recipe for a cobbler that incorporated cornmeal into the biscuit topping. Indecision ended there. Blackberries and cornmeal baked goods (think pancakes) are a natural pairing. That matched with the sweetness of the peaches would be excellent. Cobblers are a pretty simple dessert to make and don't require any stand mixers or fancy equipment. I have always loved old-fashioned American style desserts despite their humble techniques and plain Jane appearances. There is something so comforting to me about being able to whip up a dessert with not more than a bowl and a wooden spoon (dream bubble pops above my head to my creepy 1950's sitcom fantasy of me and one of those frilly half-aprons setting out a pie to cool in my window). Back to reality and East Williamsburg. Regardless, a cobbler dough is a cinch to put together all in one bowl. It is a type of biscuit dough and as soon as you mix the wet ingredients into the dry ones you can smell that doughy goodness. Set that aside while you prep the fruit. Peel and dice your fruit, peaches in this case, and mix in a pot with a thickening agent, in this case cornstarch and some sort of sugar, a bit of lemon juice, cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Mix together and let cook for a mere five minutes. You're fruit mixture will be transformed what looks like and smells like the inside of a slice of warm pie. Yum. I think I might consider using less sugar next time, because I was concerned that the amount used in this recipe might mask the natural flavor of the peaches. But, being that this recipe was Southern in origin, I just went with it.

After the peaches are cooked all that is left is to assemble the cobbler. Mix the berries into the peach mixture, very carefully. Then pour into a greased baking dish (note the one in the photo is obviously too large, but I couldn't find a smaller disposable size to bring to the soup kitchen) and drop tablespoons of the biscuit dough all over the top of the fruit mixture. Maybe it's just because I didn't actually get to have a dish for myself but I can still smell how delicious it was, a mix of aromas of warm peach pie and freshly baked biscuits. Incredible, really. I just hope that it the diners thought it tasted as good as I thought it smelled.

Peach and Blackberry Cobbler Adapted from Epicurious and Down Home with the Neelys. Try this in winter time too with whatever is in season (apples, pears).

For the Biscuit Dough: 2 cups all-purpose flour 1/4 cup cornmeal 1/4 cup sugar 1 tablespoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter 1 cup whole milk 1 large egg, lightly beaten

For the Filling: 2 pounds fresh peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced 1 cup brown sugar 2 teaspoons lemon juice 2 tablespoons cornstarch 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon Pinch salt 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 2 pints fresh blackberries

To make the biscuit dough - whisk together the flour, cornmeal, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs (using your hands works well). Using a fork, stir in the milk and egg just to combine.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously butter a 7 × 11-inch baking dish.

To make the filling - take your prepped peaches and place in a saucepan with the brown sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch, cinnamon, and pinch of salt over medium-high heat. Bring the peaches to a boil, stirring frequently (this is an important step otherwise you'll have caramel). Reduce the heat to medium- low and simmer, stirring, until the sauce thickens and the peaches have softened, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, and stir in the vanilla and blackberries. Transfer the filling to the baking dish.

To assemble - use 2 tablespoons, one to scoop up batter and the other spoon to push it off the spoon onto the fruit mixture. Drop spoon fulls of batter to cover the fruit evenly. Sprinkle the tops of the biscuits with some granulated sugar, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden brown and the filling is bubbly and thick around the edges.

Cool for 10 minutes. Would be great served warm with ice cream.

Zucchini linguine martini bikini Fritters

P7310198.JPGI made zucchini fritters the other night. A fine thing to make to use up some of the mid-summer abundance of squash. While I was standing there with my box grater, grating up zucchini I kept hearing Vince, this hysterically energetic infomercial guy who sells some chopping kitchen gadget. At one point in this particular commercial while he's demonstrating all the things you can grate, he says things like, "fettuccine, linguine, martini, bikini". Hey, what about zucchini, that rhymes too! (This guy has a ton of ridiculous lines one of my favorites being, "stop having a boring tuna, stop having a boring life" that I can't seem to get out of my head, probably cause his commercial is on once a morning while I'm trying to watch for the weather.) Anyways, if you haven't seen Vince in action, it's kind of funny in that infomercial way. Watch it here (localappetite does not endorse the use of this product, only the use of this kind of enthusiasm for cooking). P7300187.JPG In case you hadn't guessed by now, I've been on a one-dish kick this summer. It's insanely hot in my kitchen and basically when I have the time to cook, I'm not making entire meals. Something fresh and tasty that utilizes my CSA produce is basically the only thing that has been motivating me this summer. I've just been rounding out the meals with more cheeses, eggs, dips and fruit. It has been a good way to handle eating at home without being in the kitchen for too too long. I was a little hesitant to fry for these fritters. But, Nigel Slater's entry on the same in The Kitchen Diaries had been in the back of my mind for some time. The only essential step to this process is the time to allow the zucchini to sufficiently drain (see photo above) otherwise you'll end up with soggy fritters that will fall apart when you try to cook them.

The one surprising thing about this recipe was that it added an extra step, which although I followed, I think I would recommend you omit it. Instead of simply mixing the grated drained zucchini in a bowl with your binders, egg and flour, and then frying, he writes that you should saute it all in a pan first and then add the flour and egg and then make little balls and fry in a second pan. I thought he might be onto something (maybe it added extra flavor or helped to further dry out the squash?), but after cooking the recipe through, I think it was an unnecessary step, leaving you with an extra pan to clean. I wouldn't want to do that to you. Either way you do it, you'll end up with light and moist zucchini fritters, if you don't flatten them too much into more of a pancake shape. As you know zucchini works well with almost anything, but either feta or Parmesan would be interesting. I used dill for the seasoning, but definitely just go with what you like or have on hand. And just like zucchini itself, this dish is versatile and will go with whatever else was on the menu for that night. Or, if you're like me, it's ok to just eat this and save room for dessert. It's too hot to eat a big meal anyways, right? P7300193.JPG

Zucchini Fritters Adapted from The Kitchen Diaries, by Nigel Slater

3-4 zucchini, grated Salt 1 small onion, chopped 1 clove of garlic, minced 1/2 cup grated cheese, your choice 1 handful of fresh dill, chopped 1 egg, lightly beaten 2-3 tablespoons all-purpose flour Olive oil

Coarsely grate zucchini and place in a colander. Salt liberally and allow to drain for about 30 minutes. When ready to use take handfuls of it and squeeze out any additional water before placing it in a bowl.

Mix drained zucchini with the rest of the ingredients. It will be a slightly stiff mixture. Heat a heavy pan with enough olive oil for frying. Drop mounded tablespoons into the pan and allow to brown. Keep your eye on them as the oil gets hotter (they will cook very quick at the end) and take care when flipping the fritters as they fall apart easily (a spatula and a fork together worked best for me).

Deconstructed Elote aka My New Favorite Summer Salad

Elote is the Mexican name for grilled corn on the cob smothered with crumbly cheese, lime juice and a bit of cayenne pepper. It is a specialty in the Yucatan peninsula and lucky for me available in various restaurants and flea markets around Brooklyn, if you know where to look. However, if you haven't had one of these, please stop reading and go find one. It truly is one of the best street foods I can think of. It transforms a cob of corn into an explosion of flavor. I would make this treat for myself on a regular basis if I had access to a grill, but since I don't (sob, sob) I used to just wait until I went out for Mexican food to have it. That all changed last night. I think I'll probably make this little beauty of a salad at least once a week, or as long as I have access to the fresh ingredients. My corn on the cob actually came from my CSA. Now if we could only grow avocados up there...
On the issue of eating locally, I have been thinking a lot about how cooking different cuisines can work with a sustainable cooking philosophy. There are always going to be certain essential ingredients that are not going to be available locally if you're preparing dishes from regions and countries with a different climate. In summer I tend to cook a lot of Mexican or Mediterranean dishes, and things like citrus, or olives, or certain cheeses aren't locally sourced in the Northeast where I'm located (as far as I know). It's in these situations I think there is room for flexibility. The goal is to support sustainable food and food purveyors by voting with your fork, but it is not to suffer in the process. I think eating local is the right thing to do, and if everyone did it there would be a change in our broken food system. But, I also think allowing yourself to purchase things that are unavailable in your region is alright too. Phew. Glad I got that off my chest.

Back to the dish. I got the idea for this salad after reading Mark Bittman's article last week in the NY Times Dining section. It was another one of his mega-lists of quick and genius flavor combinations. If you missed it, go and read it here. I know I'm going to use this list again and again when I'm having a cooking block. It's no coincidence that I picked his idea for deconstructing elote for a corn salad as my first dish. It is perfect for a picnic, or when you don't have access to a grill. Or for someone who just wants to eat with a fork.

Basically, you take the corn off the cob and quick roast it until it gets a bit brown in a skillet. This will cause a wonderful toasted corn smell to infuse your kitchen. Combine that with the essential components of elote, fresh lime juice, creamy queso fresco, and some heat (either cayenne pepper or chilis) and you have elote in a bowl. I added a few ingredients to plump up the salad, which just made it a bit more into a meal. Once done, take your salad and a cold cerveza onto your fire escape and you can almost pretend you are sitting in a plaza in Mexico as the sun sets. Buen provecho!

Deconstructed Elote Salad
I mixed the leftovers with some cooked shrimp for lunch today. Options are endless.

3 ears of corn
queso fresco (to taste)
fresh lime juice (about 1 big lime or 2 small ones)
1 jalepeño, deseeded and minced
cherry tomatoes (about 1/2 cup)
1 scallion, chopped
cilantro (small handful)

Take corn off the cob with a sharp knife. Place in a pan with some olive oil and cook stirring to avoid it sticking, till the kernels have a toasted look to them. Place in a
bowl and mix with the cheese and lime juice. Chop all the other ingredients
you're using and mix together. Easy Peasy.

Apricot Clafouti pour moi

Apricots are a gamble. They look to me to be a tiny, tasty smaller cousin of a peach. When I saw them in the farmer's market on Saturday, I assumed they would be as sweet as the fruit they were sharing the table with, cherries and plums. But, as Nigel Slater wrote about apricots in The Kitchen Diaries, "their eating quality depends more on luck than good judgement." Although this statement made me feel a bit better about my purchase, I still had a basket of gorgeous, but very tart, fruit on my hands. Personally, in the summer when fruit is as juicy as it is right now, I hesitate to bake it into anything. Sweet fruit is a dessert all on its own. Sunday night was a different story. I wasn't going to let my apricots go to waste. I took Nigel's advice and decided to "tease out their flavor with warmth" (why paraphrase when he says it better than I could?). I decided to go with a classic French dessert, the clafouti. Clafoutis are traditionally made with cherries, but many different types of fruit would work well. For instance, Julia Child gives different variations using plums, pears or blackberries (although she didn't mention apricots, maybe it is not traditional). I took my recipe from the San Francisco Chronicle cookbook (my favorite favorite cookbook of all time). It is essentially a pancake-type of batter poured over fruit. Some variations (I checked quite a few) use more cream than others and some seem more custard-y than others. Regardless, this was my first clafouti, so I guess I have plenty of room to try others. It did remind me of a Dutch-pancake, something I used to make for brunch sometimes, which is also a batter poured over fruit that puffs up as it bakes, and deflates quickly as it cools. I think in the end my clafouti was satisfying, although the apricots were still quite tart even after baking. The batter was lighter than a cake, but more egg-y tasting than a pancake. If I replicated this dish, I think the apricots could benefit from marinating in some kirsh and sugar, a Julia Child suggestion from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I'll admit I probably should have had another basket of apricots to place in the cake to sufficiently cover the pan. But, then again, sometimes home cooking is about making due with what you have, and I only had one basket of apricots. Looking at the positives - I liked that it wasn't as heavy as a cobbler would have been, had I done that instead. I even think the leftovers could make an acceptable breakfast, and what's better than dessert for breakfast?

Fresh Apricot Clafouti Adapted from a recipe by Georgeanne Brennan in The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook. I noted where I substituted ingredients, but if I set out to bake this again, it would be preferable to have the full-fat dairy ingredients.

1 cup milk (I used reduced-fat only cause that's all I had) 1/4 cup heavy cream (I used light cream) 1/4 cup brown sugar 3 eggs 1 tablespoon almond extract (I used vanilla) 1/8 teaspoon salt 2/3 cup all-purpose flour apricots, halved and pitted (enough to cover most of the pan)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a deep baking dish. Combine all the ingredients, except for the apricots in a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until frothy. (Alternatively, mix all the ingredients in a blender if you prefer).

Pour just enough batter into the pan to cover the bottom with a layer about 1/4 inch deep. Put the pan into the oven for 2-5 minutes, or until just set.

Remove pan from the oven and arrange apricots face down evenly around the pan. Pour the remaining batter over the apricots. Bake until puffed and brown, about 30-35 minutes. It is done if a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Serve warm and sprinkle with powdered sugar.


The weather this month in New York was more like monsoon season than the start to summer. There have been a few brief afternoons when it stopped raining, and on one of those days about a week ago I scored some gorgeous red rhubarb. I know they say that your perception of food is influenced by the way it looks and smells as much as the way it tastes, and in this case, I find rhubarb to be so beautiful looking that I would have tried to eat it, even if I didn't already know it yielded tasty results. Once known as the "pie-fruit" due to its frequent use in, you guessed it, pies (strawberry-rhubarb pie being one of my favorites), it has found its way into many more creative uses recently. I've been reading about rhubarb bellinis, and rhubarb mojitos (check out Brooklyn Farmhouse's recipe for this one), and even savory dishes with rhubarb (again, the Jamie Oliver cookbook), but as this was my first time cooking it at home I chose the very simple, very common, rhubarb compote. It also has the added bonus of making a great breakfast companion to yogurt, or working just as well on top of some ice cream for dessert. Which is right up my alley seeing how I eat breakfast and dessert interchangeably.P6160046 There are as many recipes for rhubarb compote as there are food blogs on the internet, but I'll tell you what I did anyways, and what I learned from it. The best thing about this preparation was that it took no time at all to cook. I even made it before work, although to be honest I had cleaned and prepped the rhubarb in advance, when I originally brought it home from the farmer's market. Unfortunately, I made it a bit too sweet, but it was still perfect over vanilla ice cream for dessert that night, and the next, and probably tonight too. P6160050 Rhubarb can be stringy, almost like celery if not cooked until soft enough, but since it breaks down so quickly try to avoid over cooking it, otherwise you'll end up with something more of a jam consistency. Then again, rhubarb jam is also a treat so don't really fret about it. P6160053 I chose to flavor the compote with the juice of an orange, although the zest would have been nice too, if you want a stronger orange flavor. I also added some fresh ginger, to give it a bit of a kick, which contrasted nicely with the sweetness. I didn't add any additional liquid other than the juice of 1 orange, but you could certainly add some water if you'd rather have more rhubarb syrup at the end. I was after a thick consistency and that's what I got. I mistakenly added about 1 1/2 cups of rhubarb, where I think I should have added about 1 1/2 lbs., which is why my rhubarb to sugar ratio was off. No worries it really was delicious as an ice cream topping, and if I had had some angel food cake, or biscuits, it would have been on top of that too. Meanwhile, I luckily have some rhubarb left due to my faulty arthimetic, (which will probably end up in a cocktail) while I sit home waiting for the sunshine to return. P6160059

Rhubarb Compote I think this recipe could handle lots of different variations, really whatever you have on hand will work. I had an orange, so that's what I used, but lemons, or additional fruit would be nice too.

1 1/2 lbs. rhubarb, chopped into 1 inch pieces, 1/2 cup raw cane sugar (regular is fine too) Juice of 1 orange 1 inch piece of ginger, chopped fine

Place all ingredients into a heavy pot and set to simmer on medium-low. In about 4-5 minutes you should see the rhubarb start to break down and get juicy. Simmer until it is your desired consistency. Probably no more than 10-15 minutes.

Put on top of anything that could use a sweet accompanyment.