Wednesday, July 13, 2011

From Tree to Table: Mulberry Merlot Sorbet

This year, since we've gotten really into gardening, I've become even more aware of where the food I eat comes from.

The idea of foraging food has been on my radar for a while now - last year, I read a book called "The Art of Eating In" by Cathy Erway, which tells the story of how she went two years without eating out while living in New York City. It's a very interesting read, and if you're into cooking, or being self-sustaining, or just trying new things, you'll really like it. Anyway, during those two years, Erway explores every alternative she can to avoid restaurants, corner delis, etc. She delved into supper clubs, cookoffs, and and foraging, among other things (dumpster diving included - definitely not her favorite restaurant alternative). It allowed her to become more connected to the food she eats and become more self-sustaining, all the while discovering new things she had never experienced before, and in a way, it even help her to find herself.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Garden of Eatin'

Any of you that know me or read this regularly know that I am IN LOVE with vegetables, and that I also like to grow my own, when the New England climate allows, and I may have mentioned before that I, along with my sister, have a plot in one of the local community gardens. Here in New London, there is FRESH, which has a pretty rockin community garden as well as several educational initiatives that do wonders with city students. They are very inspiring, and I know if they had been around when I was growing up, I would have joined in and gotten my hands dirty - but they have only been around since 2004.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Cookie Crisis Averted: Saving burnt cookies

If you read this blog regularly, you probably know that I am not a fan of baking. It's very precise, and I am really much more of an avant-garde kinda girl. Also, my mom is a phenomenal pastry chef. Although she left her job at the restaurant over 10 years ago, her reputation remains and she is 100% the reason I have such a taste for dessert. So most of the time, I don't bother baking, because she would just out-do me. Times 1,000.

Tonight though, for some strange reason, I decided I wanted to bake chocolate chip cookies. No idea why, especially considering the oven in my new apartment is way beyond unreliable. Well, no, it is reliable... in that it BURNS everything I put into it. And I know what you're thinking, maybe it's me... But nope, it's the oven. When I bake at my moms, and even in my last apartment, it was certainly apparent that my mom's skill in the kitchen has rubbed off on me. I DO NOT burn things. At least, I didn't until I moved in here. No matter what I do- lower the temperature from what the recipe calls for, move the oven rack, try different pans- it always burns things.

And despite that, I still decided to make cookies tonight. I called my mom up for her recipe, because her chocolate chip cookies are to die for. Perfectly golden on the outside, and tender and chewy inside. She says that she "under bakes" them. They are never hard and crunchy, they are perfect. Every time.

And, of course, my cookies burned on the bottom. Really, REALLY badly.
Actually, with exception of the bottom of the cookies, they were kind of perfect. So what's a girl to do?

Ever heard of a Microplane? It is this amazing little grater that is great for zesting citrus fruits, ginger, and garlic, among other things. It's one of those kitchen tools that I don't think I could live without. I got mine from Pampered Chef, but you can get them anywhere that sells kitchen tools, really.
Well, anyway, I read a tip in a cooking magazine once that you could use a Microplane to salvage burned dinner rolls. So tonight, I thought, hey, it will probably work with cookies too. It was definitely one of those "light bulb" moments.

So I Microplaned the bottom of my cookies! Good as new (or at least no longer charred!)
Keep this in mind the next time you pull a "Brenda" while baking!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Few Bites of Heaven at Stonington Vineyards

This is a bit of a departure from what I normally do, but today, instead of telling you about the latest recipe I've tried, I am writing about something I had the pleasure of eating while out yesterday.

Living in New London, I am very lucky to be a 30-minute drive from Stonington, where there are three (yes THREE) wineries. I asked my friend Jen, who I used to work with at the Middletown Press, and don't see nearly enough of anymore, to come down and winery hop with me this weekend. The plan was to hit up all three, but we ended up only making it to two- the Jonathan Edwards Winery and Stonington Vineyards- we'll have to visit the Saltwater Farm Winery another time- a whole 'nother day devoted to wine! I certainly can't complain about that. 

We visited the Jonathan Edwards Winery first- we did a tasting and then sat and had a glass of wine each. Although I am generally a fan of a dryer wine, I LOVED their Table Red and chose that for my glass of wine- totally not my M.O. as it was a more sweet, fruity wine, but it was really, really good. After we finished our glasses we went on the tour of the winery (at 3 p.m. each day they are open)- it was very cool to get the inside perspective on how the wine is made and the winery is run.
Jen and me at the Jonathan Edwards Winery in Stonington, CT

After that, we went to Stonington Vineyards. Well to be fair, we got lost after leaving the Jonathan Edwards winery and ended up taking about 1/2 hour longer than we should have to make it to Stonington Vineyards. So Google maps, thanks for getting us lost! 

The tasting room there closes at 5 p.m. each day, and by the time we got back on track from our little detour, it was already 4:30 p.m. With just 30 minutes 'til they closed, we knew our visit would have to be much less relaxed than last stop. However, when we walked in, we were met with, "Sorry ladies, we're closed." Then three seconds later, "Just kidding." Whew. I would have been BUMMED. 

Jen and I loved that the staff was so much fun and joked with us, just like that. It may have also helped that, being so close to the end of the day, we were the only ones there- we got a totally personalized, relaxed tasting, and had a really great time chatting with the awesome staff there. The three of them were fun, and funny, and made our visit a blast. They even pulled our arms and convinced us to try one of Joshua's homemade wine soaked sponge cakes… Well, who am I kidding? Basically they got out half of the word "cake" and I practically screamed, "Yes please!"

Joshua explained to us that he made a wine reduction, using the Vineyards Seaport White, key lime, and honey, and soaked petite sponge cakes in it. Topped with whipped cream, I think that Jen and I devoured ours in all of like 30 seconds flat. It was THAT good. The cake itself was perfectly tender, and the reduction was a wonderful mélange of flavors- the Seaport White's refreshing balance really shone through, and the key lime in it provided just enough of a crisp tanginess while the honey rounded out the mix. With just a dollop of whipped cream on top, it was the perfect accompaniment to the flight of wine's in the Vineyards tasting lineup, which featured just one red wine- the 2007 Cabernet Franc. I explained to the staff that I am not generally much for white wines- but honestly, their white's may have converted me- I even took home a bottle of their 2009 Riesling (which I hear is in short supply. If you want to try it- and believe me, you NEED to try it- you should go pick some up sooner rather than later.) 

Check out Joshua's masterpiece:
Joshua's Wine Soaked Spongecakes at Stonington Vineyards

I'm not kidding when I say you have to visit this place, and when you do, ask for Joshua's sponge cakes soaked in wine reduction. You'll be thanking me for sending you there once you've tried it!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Food Snobbery and Tofu

I always apologize to my mom for being a "food snob." I don't know when it happened, but as my love for cooking has grown, I've definitely acquired a taste for very particular ingredients and staples. I have also begun to eat less and less poultry and fish. I haven't gotten rid of it from my diet, but I have made a conscious effort to incorporate more vegetarian elements into my meals.

Actually, my entire family has jumped on the semi-vegetarian bandwagon as of late. My older sister, Melissa, has been doing it for a few years now, but my parents and younger sister, Angie, have decided to eat less meat just in the past few months. For my parents, it took watching a documentary touting the health benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle to make the change, (which, by the way, does seem a little silly to me- I've been telling them the same things for the past 14 years!) For my sister Angie, she finally acted on something she'd been wanting to do for some time. Either way, I am happy that my family has made a decision to eat healthfully.

The only downside, is that my mom, who loves to cook, (where do you think I get it from?), told me that it makes her sad because she feels like she is very limited in what she can cook now that she is not eating beef, pork, poultry, or fish regularly anymore. I've tried to tell her that it is because she is approaching cooking from a meat-centric stance. I know I've said this before, but for me, vegetables are often my favorite part of a meal. I decide what vegetables I'm in the mood for and build my meal from there. But then, I've been doing this for almost 15 years now. I can certainly understand it being hard for someone who hasn't even hit the 15 WEEK mark.

You all know how much I love to grill, and now that the weather is consistently in the 50's, I've decided it's grillin' weather! On my way home from work yesterday afternoon, I thought that grilled carrots and broccoli sounded delicious, so I stopped at the grocery store. I decided to grill some tofu to accompany it, and settled on cooking a harvest grain blend I'd picked up at Trader Joe's the last time I was in the Hartford area.

I've never been too fond of tofu, but my grandfather on the Filipino side of my family made it for me once before he passed away (5 years this May- I miss you Grandpa <3), and it was delicious. I had stopped over to visit him once, and we were talking about his years spent in the Navy (after he told me I should be attending West Point instead of Boston University, as usual), telling me about how he had made it for the captain of a ship he was on while overseas, and he said he would make some for me sometime. So I know it CAN taste good, you just have to prepare it the right way.

A few months ago, I tried a new Indian-inspired marinade recipe after I got a jar of the Madras Curry from Williams-Sonoma. I used it for chicken, and it was amazing, and I thought it would lend itself to tofu as well. You can find the original recipe here, and this is how I did it:

    •    1 lemon
    •    1 16 oz package of extra-firm tofu, I buy organic
    •    3/4 tsp. kosher salt, plus more, to taste
    •    2 garlic cloves
    •    1 small yellow onion, chopped
    •    1 cup plain yogurt
    •    1 Tbs. madras curry
    •    1 tsp. sweet paprika
    •    1/4 tsp. cinnamon
    •    1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and coarsely grated
    •    1 Tbs. chopped fresh mint, plus leaves for garnish
    •    Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

First, drain the water out of the package of tofu.

Using either a clean kitchen towel or paper towels, wrap the block of tofu and gently press to get some of the moisture out. 

 Cut the tofu into 4 sections lengthwise, and then carefully repeat the drying process with each block.

 Place the tofu blocks into a glass baking dish and sprinkle with the juice from one of the lemons, and freshly ground black pepper.
 Now, make the marinade. Place the coarsely chopped yellow onion, garlic cloves, 1 cup of the yogurt, curry, paprika, and cinnamon into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. (I use an immersion blender because it takes up MUCH less space in my tiny kitchen)

 Pour the marinade over the tofu, cover and chill for several hours (I marinated for about 3 hours- I also marinated in ziplock bags to keep the marinade from making my whole fridge smell of curry and onions.)
 While the tofu is marinating, make the cucumber mint sauce (Raita). Combine the remaining cup of yogurt with the grated cucumber and chopped mint and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and chill until ready to serve. (Note: I couldn't find my grater, it must have gotten lost when I moved, so I just blended the ingredients together with my immersion blender- it turned out fine)

When it's time to grill,  oil your grate, then preheat grill on medium-high, and turn down to medium to medium-low and carefully place the tofu on the grill. 

 Grill for 7-10 minutes on each side, gently loosening the tofu if it sticks when turning.

  Serve with cucumber-mint raita.
I prepped my vegetables and cooked my Trader Joe's Harvest Grains Blend (which includes Israeli couscous, red and green orzo, baby chickpeas, and red quinoa) just before it was time to grill the tofu. I cooked a 1/2 cup of the grain blend in a cup of boiling chicken stock, with just a tiny drizzle of olive oil (about a 1/2 tsp.) I left it simmer on medium heat until the stock was absorbed, then covered the pot and left it on low for about 20 minutes while the tofu and vegetables were grilling.

I drizzled the vegetables with olive oil and seasoned with salt, pepper, and a sprinkle of garlic powder, and grilled for the same time and heat settings as the tofu. I like my veggies with a substantial amount of crunch, but if you like them a little more tender you will need to leave on the grill a bit longer.

The yogurt in the marinade gives the tofu a nice tangy flavor, and the fragrant spices along with the onion give it a rich, heady flavor. This marinade is also AMAZING on chicken, as featured in the original recipe. I omitted the cayenne pepper included in the original recipe, but I suspect it is great with that as well. The raita lends a creamy coolness to the dish, and complements the bold flavors of the marinade.

Try it out and let me know what you think!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Summer Preview: Grilled Pizza

It's been forever, I know.

A lot of things have changed with me. I have worked at a local orthodontic practice for almost a year now, as a technology manager, and I've been making big strides with my photography business. So... I've been busy, to say the least. Also, I've moved. I'm no longer living downtown, but the name is going to remain "Downtown Dish" out of nostalgia :)

I moved to a one bedroom apartment just a couple of blocks from the beach and I LOVE it. The only thing is, my kitchen is tiny. TINY.

That's the entire kitchen. I can't even fit a microwave in there (I do have one- right outside the doorway to the kitchen though). It works for me though. It's harder to keep clean, because one thing out of place makes the whole room look chaotic, but I've gotten used to it. I'm still cooking very regularly and I have lots of new recipes to share.

Since it was gorgeous out last week, I've already gotten the itch to grill. I know, we are definitely not anywhere close to grilling weather- did you see the SNOW this week? But, we can definitely start thinking about it. It's coming in the near future.

Today, I'm not writing a recipe per se, but a technique. For..... Grilled Pizza! One of my favorite things to make during the summer. I actually photographed this last year, but never wrote about it. Until now! Here is how I do it:

  • Homemade or store bought pizza dough, I use whole-wheat
  • shredded cheese, I use both mozzarella and cheddar
  • assorted toppings
  • pizza sauce
  • cooking spray

-Prep the dough: Put your pizza dough on a greased cookie sheet, give it spray with the cooking spray, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until it doubles. 

-Pre-heat your grill on medium-high heat, then take your pizza dough and stretch into a large round shape. 

-Spray the dough on one side with the cooking spray and carefully place sprayed side down on the grill. 

-Close the grill cover and let pizza dough begin to cook.
-Once the dough has cooked on one side (about 5-7 minutes over medium heat) use a wide spatula to lift it off the grill.

-Hold the dough away from the grill's flames and spray the other side with cooking spray, then place sprayed side down on the grill.
-Spread your sauce on the pizza, then a layer of cheese, then toppings. I also like to finish with another light sprinkle of shredded cheese.

 -Close the grill and continue to cook for another 7-10 minutes over medium-low heat, until dough is completely cooked on the bottom and cheese is melted.
-Carefully use your wide-spatula to transfer the pizza onto a large platter or baking sheet.

One of my favorite things about grilling pizza is the nice, smoky flavor that it has, but also that in the hot summer, you don't have to turn the oven on and make the house unbearably hot.

I know that the weather here in Connecticut it seems like Summer is still far off, but it will be here before we know it and then we can get grilling!