Monday, September 30, 2013

sauteed zucchini pizza with walnut pesto and ricotta.

I decided today, on the walk home from work, that the month of September may be the best month at the farmer's market.  It's where summer and fall collide into a beautiful produce filled mess, where tomatoes and apples and pumpkin and zucchini and peaches and peppers live together harmoniously.  It's an epic time. 

I've waited for what feels like months to make this pizza.  I first saw a recipe for it long before zucchini season arrived and so I filed it away so that when August did arrive I could make it.  The thing about August and pizza is that they don't really go together because its too god damm hot to make pizza when your apartment already feels like a sauna.  Turning on the oven and then the air conditioner to try and offset the heat radiating out of the oven is just a recipe for disaster.  (Unless of course you have a grill or an outdoor pizza oven and if that's the case I would love for you to send me an e-mail so we can schedule a weekend to get together next year since I would love to take advantage of those things. I promise to also bring dessert.) 

Thankfully zucchini season extends into September when the weather is cooler (bye air conditioning, hello open windows!), and I can finally have a relationship with my oven again and with pizza!  This pizza is a good way to merge the seasons - the pungent pesto and spicy sauteed zucchini reminds you of summer where as the smoky mozzarella is reminiscent of fall. I love serving it with ice cold pumpkin beers (what could be better on a Sunday night?!) 

Sauteed Zucchini Pizza with Walnut Pesto and Ricotta
Recipe is a combination of several most notably this one and this one

Makes 2 pizzas

So a couple of notes. I tested a new pizza dough recipe since I always love trying new things.  The one I used is here (I halved it).  As you already know there are more then enough pizza dough recipes on this blog (here,  here, and here).  Any of these would work well, just depends on what type of recipe you are looking for.  Store-bought pizza dough is always an option (no judgement).  Any leftover pesto/zucchini can be folded into pasta for a killer lunch.  

For the Pizza

2 zucchini, thinly sliced into rounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 - 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 balls of pizza dough (see notes above on recipe's for dough)
4 tablespoons creme fraiche, divided
2 garlic cloves thinly sliced
2/3 cup walnut pesto (recipe below)
1 (4 ounce ball) smoked mozzarella (if you can't find smoked regular works as well), torn into pieces
1/2 - 3/4 cup fresh ricotta
2 cups of arugula tossed with a pinch of salt

Walnut Pesto 

1 cup toasted walnuts
2/3 cup fresh basil
2/3 cup arugula
Juice of half a lemon
1 clove garlic
2 -3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
1/3 - 1/2 cup olive oil (depending on your preference, I prefer less oil then what traditional recipes call for)
2 tablespoons heavy cream or half and half
Salt and pepper to taste

Make the walnut pesto: Puree walnuts, basil, arugula, lemon juice and garlic, then stream in olive oil and cream.  Puree completely. Transfer to a medium bowl and fold in grated Parmesan.  Add salt and peper to taste 

If using a pizza stone, place it on the top rack of your oven and preheat at 500°F for 1 hour.  Use convection if you have it.  If you are not using a pizza stone, preheat your oven 20 minutes before you are ready to bake.  Lighly oil a baking sheet or a metal pizza pan. 

Sauté zucchini with olive oil and red pepper flakes over high heat until deeply browned in parts, 6–8 minutes.

Form each ball of pizza dough into 12"–14" rounds on a floured work surface.  If using a pizza peel dust it with semolina flour or cornmeal.  If not prepare the pizza on your oiled pizza pan.  Place 1 formed pizza dough on peel/pan and spread with 2 tablespoons crème fraîche, along with thin slices of 1 garlic clove.  Top with ⅓ cup walnut pesto, torn pieces of fresh mozzarella, ¼ cup ricotta and a generous amount of zucchini. 

Slide pizza onto pizza stone using a swift movement or place pizza pan in the oven and bake for 8­–10 minutes until golden brown and darker in some parts.  Assemble the next while the previous is baking.

Remove and top each pizza with 1 cups of arugula and a sprinkle of flaky salt.

Friday, September 27, 2013

weekend plans.

It's the last weekend in September. 

Apple season is now officially on.  

Looking forward to a weekend with absolutely perfect weather (72 and sunny is true weather perfection), pizza eating (using the last of the zucchini in a new pie!), and gorging on apples.  

Expect next week to see the first of (many) apple recipes.  And possibly also a squash recipe.  

Fall, I love you more every single day.  

(This picture is from 2 weeks ago when the boy and I made an unplanned apple-picking pit stop.  It was superb.)  

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

carrot cake cupcakes.

The part I like most about being able to cook (fairly) well is that whenever a random craving strikes it's fairly easy for me to satisfy it within a short period of time.  

Take these carrot cake cupcakes which all started after I saw a slice of carrot cake in a diner in D.C. a few weeks ago.  The slice was over-sized in a way that only exists in diners.  The layer of frosting was thick and glossy, the cake was moist and studded with plump raisins and crunchy nuts.  I was dreaming about eating that slice while sitting at the diner counter a large glass of milk in one hand and a fork in the other.  Needless to say my carrot cake dreams were crushed when I realized we didn't have time for carrot cake.  (I am still bitter about that.)

These cupcakes are just as satisfying as a cake but they come in adorably individual sized portions which makes it super easy to share with your friends.  I love them because they are not cloyingly sweet (which I find some carrot cakes to be).  The frosting is rich and creamy and the cupcakes are chock-full of carrot and raisins and nuts (which is how all carrot cakes should be).  They also got a two-thumbs up from Mama bear which means they are really, really, good.  

Carrot Cake Cupcakes
Recipe via Flour by Joanne Chang 

I halved this recipe with ease to make only 6 cupcakes since I've run out of freezer space and having 12 cupcakes around didn't seem like the most intelligent decisions.  (Sometimes I exhibit restraint.)  

For the carrot cake

2 eggs
1 cup (220 grams) packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup (150 grams) canola oil
3 tablespoons nonfat buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (160 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2 cups (260 grams) tightly packed shredded carrots
1/2 cup (80 grams) raisins
1/2 cup (50 grams) walnuts, toasted and chopped

For the cream cheese frosting

12 ounces (340 grams) cream cheese, left at room temperature for 4 hours
1/2 cup (1 stick/114 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 2/3 cups (230 grams) confectioners' sugar

Make the carrot cake: Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners). Using a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment (or a handheld mixer), beat together the eggs and brown sugar on medium-high speed for 3–4 minutes, or until the mixture is light and thick. (This step will take 8–10 minutes if using a handheld mixer.) In a small bowl or pitcher, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, and vanilla. On low speed, slowly pour the oil mixture into the egg-sugar mixture. This should take about 30 seconds.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger. Using a rubber spatula, fold the flour mixture into the egg-sugar mixture. When most of the flour mixture has been incorporated, add the carrots, raisins, and walnuts and continue to fold until the batter is homogenous. Pour the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups.

Bake the cupcakes for about 45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and springs back when pressed in the middle with a fingertip. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

Make the cream cheese frosting: While the cake is baking, put the cream cheese in the stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and beat on medium speed for about 1 minute, or until smooth. If you have forgotten to take the cream cheese out of the refrigerator 4 hours in advance, you can soften it in a microwave on medium power for 30 seconds. Add the butter and continue to beat for another 1 minute. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and add the confectioners' sugar. Beat for 1 more minute, or until well mixed. You should have about 3 1/2 cups.

Cover the frosting and refrigerate for 2–3 hours before using to allow it firm up enough to pipe and spread. (The frosting can be made up to 5 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.)

Remove cupcakes from the muffin tin. Fit a pastry bag with a 1/2-inch star tip and fill the bag with the frosting, then pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes. Or, spread the frosting on the cupcakes with an icing spatula.

The cupcakes can be stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. It is best served a little cooler than room temperature, so remove it from the refrigerator about 2 hours before serving. (it’s delicious straight from the fridge, too, so don't worry if you forget to pull it out in time.)

Note: Softening the cream cheese in the microwave might sound like a strange step, but I've learned if the cream cheese is at all cool, it will get lumpy when you try to combine it with the butter. Just 30 seconds in the microwave (or about 4 hours on a countertop) ensures that the cream cheese, butter, and sugar will blend together seamlessly to create the silkiest, creamiest frosting ever.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

dickson's farmstand meats.

This roast chicken from Dickson's Farmstand Meats in the Chelsea Market is the thing fall dreams are made of.  

Last week when I was in Baltimore, I had a rather in-depth conversation about roast chicken and why I hate the roast chicken's the sell at the supermarket mostly because the roast chickens in the supermarket are nothing like this.

Roast chickens from the supermarket are generally flavorless factory-farmed birds and as someone who looks to make ever meal better then the last, I can't bring myself to eat super market roast chicken.  It just isn't worth it for me.  This is the reason why I seek to procure meat from only reputable sources when I do eat it.  My go to for meat in NYC is Dickson's Farmstand. Their quality and flavor is unparalleled to what you can find in other markets. Their bacon makes me swoon, their roast beef is rich and meaty, their pork and beef are well marbled with an incredible flavor, and their sausage is the only sausage I will eat (the chorizo is magical).  Do they cost more then what's at the supermarket? Duh.  But I would rather eat less meat if it means eating meat of higher level of quality.  So the boy and I eat vegetarian a lot and have meat exist as a splurge.  

This roast chicken costs $16 which is double (I think?) what the supermarkets sell it for, but my god it's the best $16 spent.  And I have bones for chicken stock! (Because when you buy a bird like this you use every last bit  of it.)

Oh and they have really good sandwiches if you are looking for an excellent to-go lunch to eat on the High Line!

Monday, September 23, 2013

upside-down plum cake.

Come September, the second the season's shift, apples become the most popular kid at the farmer's market. End of season tomatoes get thrown to the wayside, zucchini gets ignored, and plums and peaches are all but forgotten.  I am guilty as charged of such acts of negligence and this year I told myself I needed to be better. I needed to embrace  the late summer produce since it will be many months before it comes back.  

The easiest way to embrace summer when fall is knocking at your door is by using summer produce in fall inspired recipes.  Things like grilled pork chops with peaches, whole wheat spaghetti tossed with slow roasted tomatoes, and this upside-down plum cake.  This cake is magical. It's reminiscent of a tarte tatin but a little more unique and unexpected.  The plums bake down, mingling with the brown sugar and butter to produce a caramelized topping that pairs perfectly with the light as air cake.  This makes for one hell of a birthday cake (maybe I'm the only one who loves fruit based cakes) but I also love it as an afternoon snack with a cup of tea. There is something beautiful about the meeting of summer and fall because only in that world can desserts like this exist.  

Upside-Down Plum Cake
Recipe via David Lebovitz 

One 10-inch (25cm) cake, 8-10 servings

Plums are wonderful here but peaches or apricots would also be lovely.  The number of plums you use are dependent on the size of your plums.  I had fairly tiny Italian Prune plums and ended up using about 15.  Just remember more fruit is a good thing.  You want the bottom to be entirely covered! 

For the fruit layer

3 tablespoons butter (45g), salted or unsalted
3/4 cup packed (135g) light brown sugar
15 Italian prune plums, quartered

For the cake layer

8 tablespoons (115g) unsalted butter
3/4 cup (150g) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature.
1 1/2 cups (210g) flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, preferably aluminum-free
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (125ml) whole milk, at room temperature

Melt the 3 tablespoons (45g) of butter in a 10 inch cast iron skillet.  Add the brown sugar and cook while stirring, until the sugar is melted and begins to bubble. Remove from heat and let cool.  Once cool, arrange the fruit in a pinwheel design. Set aside.

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350F. (190C)

Beat the 8 tablespoons of butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time, until smooth. Whisk or sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Stir in half of the flour mixture, then the milk, then the remaining dry ingredients. Do not overmix: stir just until the flour is barely incorporated into the batter.

Spread the batter over the fruit, then bake for 45 minutes to one hour (depending on the size of the pan, and the thickness of the batter.) The cake is ready when it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and the center feels just set.

Remove from oven, let cool about 20 minutes, then place a cake plate on top, and wearing oven mitts, flip the cake out on to the plate, taking care, as there may be some hot caramel that might escape.

Serving: Upside Down Cake is best served warm, perhaps with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. It can be made in advance, left in the pan, and rewarmed in the cake pan or skillet right before serving. It’s also very good rewarmed in a microwave, and served immediately.

Friday, September 20, 2013

grey marble.

After a week spent in Charm City (aka Baltimore aka the city with the best bar food I have ever eaten, New York you could learn something from them) I am looking forward to an evening spent doing nothing but eating pasta with corn and tomatoes and watching The League with the boy.  

Tomorrow I have a date with the oven and our 20 pounds of apples.  Expect a plethora of apple recipes in the coming weeks - cakes and breads and more.  Fall, I love you.  

In other news, this kitchen is everything.  The half tiled wall turns a minimal white kitchen into something interesting especially when the tile is a gorgeous grey marble.  Obsessing over the variety of materials being used here. It really takes the simple to a new level.  (And is reminding me that I should try wearing one color palate and wearing things in a variety of textures.)  

Image via Pinterest

Thursday, September 19, 2013

cream of tomato soup.

The arrival of fall marks the return of my favorite Steve Alan plaid button down, blazers as outerwear (and outerwear in general), olive green corduroys,  black ankle boots (I finally found the perfect pair), and soup for lunch.  I am one of those people who gets an immense amount of satisfaction from a bowl of soup, a chunk of crusty bread, and a wedge of cheese.  It’s a rustic, homey, and comforting meal that feels just right on a brisk fall day. 

Tomato soup is far and away my absolute favorite.  Mostly because it’s an excuse to eat grilled cheese (if you didn’t already know this I am a slight cheese fanatic) but also because it’s a really wonderful way to use up the last of the heirloom and roma tomatoes that are currently languishing at the farmer’s market and turn them into an incredibly satisfying meal.  I’ve made a lot of tomato soups in my day but this recipe is my absolute favorite (and you can make it in the winter using canned tomatoes!).  Roasting the tomatoes first intensifies their flavor causing the soup to taste even more tomato-y and rich.  The roasted tomatoes when paired with homemade stock makes for an incredibly well-flavored soup.  The (small) addition of cream helps turn this into a rather indulgent (yet still healthy) meal.  I plan on making another pot this weekend before tomato season is gone.  

Cream of Tomato Soup
Adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Cookbook 

So this recipe can be done one of two ways.  The first way is to use canned tomatoes but since we are still in tomato season I used assorted heirloom and roma tomatoes.  Both work amazingly well. 

2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes packed in juice, drained, 3 cups juice reserved OR 5 pounds of mixed tomatoes (heirlooms and romas are what I used) (if using fresh you may not get 3 cups of juice so you can make up for the missing juice with water)
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 3/4 – 2 cups chicken stock, homemade or canned low-sodium
¼ - ½ cup heavy cream or half and half (depending on your preference) 
Salt and cayenne pepper

Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 450°F. Lined rimmed baking sheet with foil. If using fresh tomatoes, bring a pot of water to boil.  Cut an “x” into the bottom of each of the tomatoes and place the tomatoes into the boiling water for 60 seconds until the skins loosen.  Once the skins are loose, place the tomatoes in a bowl of ice water or rinse them under cold water.  Cut in half or quarter them. (From this part forward these instructions apply to both types of tomatoes.) With fingers, carefully open whole tomatoes over strainer set in bowl and push out seeds, allowing juices to fall through strainer into bowl. Spread seeded tomatoes in single layer on foil. Sprinkle evenly with brown sugar. Bake until all liquid has evaporated and tomatoes begin to color, about 30 - 45 minutes. Let tomatoes cool slightly, then peel them off foil; transfer to small bowl and set aside.

Heat butter over medium heat in large saucepan until foaming. Add garlic and tomato paste. And stir occasionally until the garlic has softened and begun to brown about 2-3 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds. Gradually add chicken stock, whisking constantly to combine; stir in reserved tomato juice and roasted tomatoes. Cover, increase heat to medium, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, to blend flavors, about 10 minutes.

Transfer soup to a blender or Cusinart and puree until smooth. Place pureed mixture in saucepan. Add cream and warm over low heat until hot, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and cayenne. Serve immediately. (Soup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Warm over low heat until hot; do not boil.)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

rosemary and grape olive oil muffins.

I dreamt these muffins up and after thinking about them non-stop for a 1 week span, I finally took myself to the kitchen and made them.  

They are even more perfect then I imagined.  

After last weeks foccacia re-visit, I got stuck on the rosemary, grape, olive oil combination.  It truly is a magical threesome and I've basically done nothing but try and figure out how how I can incorporate that pairing into just about everything I cook (Sausssage with grapes?  Oatmeal with olive oil and rosemary?  This is how my brain works.)  But no matter what I thought about, I kept returning to the idea of a muffin since I loved the idea of a breakfast pastry encompassing both sweet and savory flavors.  This muffin is tender and moist with the most amazing earthy flavor from the rosemary infused oil.  The grapes create pockets of tartness and the oat topping provides a lovely textural contrast.  It's the kind of thing that makes for an excellent breakfast but works just as well as an afternoon snack (and trust me I've eaten it both ways).  

Rosemary and Grape Olive Oil Muffins
Adapted from Giada DeLaurentis

For the muffins

1 ¼ cups whole wheat flour
¼ cup white flour
¼ cup oats
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar (3/4 cup ¼ cup for topping)
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons whole milk
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil infused with 2 tablespoons rosemary, divided
1 cup grapes

For the strussel

2 tablespoons infused olive oil.
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
¼ cup oats
Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place paper liners in a 12-cup muffin tin.

In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil with the rosemary in it until warmed.  Set aside to cool. 

Blend together the flours, oats, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl to blend.
Using an electric mixer beat the sugar, eggs, in a large bowl until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the milk. Gradually beat in the oil. Add the flour mixture and stir just until blended. Add in the grapes and mix to combine. Fill the muffin tin almost to the top of the paper liners.

Make the strussel by combining the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, sugar oats, and salt in a bowl.  Stir to combine.  Top each of the muffins with some of the strussel.

Bake until golden on top and a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 10 minutes. Remove the muffins onto a platter and let cool for 5 more minutes. Muffins can be stored in an air-tight container for 3 days.  

Saturday, September 14, 2013

peach crepes.

I am obsessed with these crepes.  And really that's all I have to say about this recipe.  

Crepes are the ideal lazy Saturday breakfast because sometimes breakfast should be special, something beyond the standard eggs over easy and toast.  

To note, crepe cooking/flipping is an art as I discovered as I tried unsuccessfully to make perfectly thin un-ripped crepes.  Regardless of your success level, you can arrange them on the plate in an artful fashion that disguises your mistakes (as I did with mine).  These crepes are filling and satisfying due to the addition of almond flour. This is an ingredient I've loved using as of late since the nutty taste pairs beautifully with late summer stone fruits.  Now is the time to make these before stone fruit produce is gone.  

Peach Crepes
Crepe recipe from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman 

Crepe batter is best when it is allowed to sit overnight in the fridge.  If you do that, breakfast cooking is absurdly easy.  

Serves 2 ( I got about 6 crepes so 3 for each!)

For the peaches

2 peaches, halved, pitted, and sliced thin
2 teaspoons butter
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon 
1 tablespoon sugar

For the crepes

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup almond flour
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 cups milk or almond milk
1 egg
1 tablespoon butter, melted and cooled
Powdered sugar for dusting

Cook the peaches: In a non-stick skillet over medium heat, melt the butter.  When the butter is melted, add the peaches to the pan along with the cinnamon and sugar.  Stir the peaches around so everyone in the skillet gets coated with the butter/sugar mixture.  Cook the peaches until they begin to release their juices and then the jucices begin to thicken, about 5 minutes.  Remove the peaches from the pan and set aside.  

Rinse the skillet in order to make the crepes.  

Prepare the crepes: Whisk together all the ingredients except the unmelted butter until smooth; you can do this in a blender.  If the mixture isn't quite pourable add a little more milk.  If time allows, let the batter rest in the fridge for at least an hour, and up to 24 hours.  

Cook the crepes: Put your non-stick  skillet over medium heat and wait a couple of minutes; add a small pat of butter.  Stir the batter with a large spoon or ladle; add a couple of tablespoons of the batter to the skillet.  Swirl it around so that it forms a thin layer on the bottom of the pan, then pour the excess batter back into that which remains.  

When the top of the crepe is dry, after about a minute, turn and cook the other side for 15 - 30 seconds.  (The crepe should brown only very slightly and not be crisp.)  Bear in mind the first crepe is always the worst looking. Consider it the one to taste test!

Repeat the process, adding butter to the pan and adjusting the heat as necessary.  

Asembling the crepes: Place a couple of wedges of peach and juices in the center of each crepe, and then fold the bottom of the crepe up over the filling.  Fold in the sides, and the fold the top down (like a present).  Repeat with remaining crepes. Pour any remaining peach wedges and juices over the top of the crepes. 

Serve immediately with a dusting of powdered sugar.  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

grey is here to stay.

Picasso had a blue period.  I am having a grey period.  

I keep thinking it's because of the change in the seasons, but really I've been having a grey period for the better part of a year now, so I've simply accepted it's my new neutral.  (Sorry navy blue.)

This kitchen is everything.  Organized clutter is chic, which is why I love open shelving so much.  The combination of rustic and industrial is something I still can't get out of my head.  Elegant chandeliers and exposed pipes just feels right.  

(Like crystal necklaces and streamlined blazers.)

I have such a type.  

Image via Pinterest 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

review: blue hill at stone barns.

I’ve spent the better part of the last 72 hours trying to figure out how to describe the meal the boy and I had at Blue Hill at Stone Barns this past Sunday.  I’ve struggled with the words because all I have are words and a couple of pictures to use to try and evoke the feelings that I had about that meal. 

The meal was nothing short of extraordinary. 

I have visited Stone Barns several times.  There is something magical about walking through the farms, watching cows graze on actual grass, the pigs lying in puddles of mud, the vegetables nestled in the greenhouses.  Watching the sun set there is breathtakingly beautiful.  The kind of scene a photograph can never provide justice to.   I’ve wanted to eat at Blue Hill for a while (and get married there for even longer but that's another story) now partially because Dan Barber is always spoken so highly of but mostly because Blue Hill is a restaurant that shares my feelings on food.  Food should be local, seasonal, and sustainable because food grown in that manner always tastes better. 

I won’t describe each of the 12 courses because I simply can't, it would be an impossible task.  Each course was composed of layers of flavors and textures.  Nothing tasted as it looked, instead flavors were pronounced and pure.  Bold and utterly beautiful.  Each plate came out looking like a piece of art work with droplets of vinegar that looked reminiscent of Jackson Pollack.  We were both blown away by the care and attention to detail that went into every component.  Presentation was the furthest thing from a second thought, presentation was of the utmost importance to these chefs since one eats with their eyes before they ever eat with their mouths.  I was in awe of everything.  

The meal was centered around tomatoes since we are currently in the throws of tomato season.  I ate tomatoes in every form - raw, roasted, smoked, and in a compote.  I forgot how much one can do with a single ingredient. How many ways it can be transformed.  How many ways it can taste.  I took notes under the table - dishes I wanted to try and recreate, flavors I wanted to bring into my own kitchen.  I was reminded of the importance crunchy components can bring to a dish.  (Rye breadcrumbs are my new favorite thing.)  I discovered that other people share my belief that meat does not need to be the center of a meal, instead a dish of smoky, slow cooked eggplant can take center stage.  

The moment that blew me away was when our darling waiter invited us to eat our last savory course in a different location.  I expected we were going to be taken to eat to the patio, but instead we were invited to the kitchen (the kitchen!) where I sat with my mouth agape watching Dan Barber and his team cook.  Watching a team of professionals, some of the best chefs in the industry creating beautiful food left me literally speechless.  It was truly the most special dinning experience I have ever had.  

A lot of people may question my sanity about spending so much money on a meal (heck, I think my parents do most days).  But for me it’s not a meal, it’s a 3 hour long performance art piece.  The quality and care that went into this meal cost more then what they charged us, and I wouldn't hesitate to spend it again (but not for another several months since I have yet to find a money tree).  

Blue Hill thank you for the most incredible meal.  

Monday, September 9, 2013

grape and rosemary foccacia (revisited).

I am going to preface this post with the fact that this is the second grape and rosemary focaccia recipe on the blog.  The first was posted almost exactly a year ago (I love how consistent my cooking can be).  You may be wondering how it is possible for me to be discussing a second version of grape foccacia because grape focaccia is not chili or tomato sauce or a food that warrants dozens of different varieties.  But I am a person who loves finding the best versions of thing and while the original was superb in flavor, I always found it to be a little fussier then I would like.  It was a project and I knew there had to be a way to make one that didn’t leave me with sticky dough covered fingers.  This new version does exactly that but in a more streamlined way.  The focaccia is crispy on the outside with a soft and chewy interior.  The grapes cook down, making pockets of tart jammy grapey goodness that intermingles perfectly with the sea salt and coarse sugar.  The rosemary perfumes the whole thing with a warm and earthy scent.  I usually devour the whole thing about 5 minutes after it emerges from the oven and I imagine you will do the same. 

Rosemary and Grape Focaccia (Revisited)
Recipe adapted from Dolci: Italy’s Sweets by Francine Segan

Makes one 9x13 bread

I edited this recipe a little since I found it to be a little overly complicated for my tastes and the new version is utterly perfect.  I also added a sprinkle of salt and coarse sugar (which is reminiscent of the original recipe) to the grapes in order to take this into a more savory direction.  If you don’t devour the whole thing straight from the pan, then I highly recommend serving it with a wedge of tallegio and some thin slices of prosciutto. 

7 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely minced
2 ¼ teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
½ cup warm water
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ pounds concord grapes, halved and seeded (other grape varieties would work as well)
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons coarse suagar

In a small saucepan, heat 4 tablespoons of the oil and 2 tablespoons of the rosemary until warm.  Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Sprinkle the yeast into the warm water and set it aside until it bubbles, about 2 minutes.  Sift the flour onto a work surface or into a large bowl.  Make a well in the center and fill with the yeast water, rosemary oil, 3 tablespoons of sugar, and the salt.  Gradually incorporate the flour into the liquid in the well until a dough forms.  Knead the dough until smooth, then set it aside in a lightly oiled bowl until it doubles, about 1 hours. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Coat a 9x13 inch baking pan with 2 tablespoons of the oil.

Place the dough in the baking pan, stretching the dough so it reaches the corners of the pan.  Top the dough with the grapes.  Sprinkle the coarse sugar, sea salt, and remaining tablespoon of the rosemary over the grapes.  Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of oil over the bread.  Bake for about 1 hour, until the top is golden brown.  Serve at room temperature. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

fresh tomato sauce.

Tomatoes, in comparison to a month ago, are shockingly cheap at the moment, especially the ones that called “seconds, rejects, and unloved” (all names I have seen them labeled with on cardboard signs at the farmer’s market).  While those tomatoes may not be lookers, they still taste absurdly delicious especially when broken down and turned into a tomato sauce that elevates boring spaghetti.  I’ve been stocking up on these rejects, turning them into sauce, and storing them in the freezer so when the depths of winter finally does arrive, I am armed with the taste of summer to get me through.  This is a fun and easy weekend project, the kind of thing that takes no time, but results in a product that is leagues better than anything you will ever buy in the store.  It’s also immensely satisfying to turn an ugly looking tomato into a beautiful homemade sauce. 

Fresh Tomato Sauce

I will be the first to tell you that I was supremely lazy and I did not seed my tomatoes, mostly because the tomatoes I was using really didn’t have many seeds.  If yours are like that, (lucky you) then please skip the seeding step, but it takes no time at all to seed them if you choose to.

Makes about 4 cups

4 pounds of tomatoes – heirloom, roma, beefsteak, really anything works here
¼ cup olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
Slivers of basil to finish

Bring a pot of water to boil. Cut a small X at the bottom of each tomato.  Blanche the tomatoes in the boiling water for 30 seconds, then either rinse under cold water or shock in an ice water bath.  Peel the tomatoes!  If you can’t get the skin off, toss it back in the boiling water for another 10 seconds until the skin loosens up.  Compost or discard the skins.

Quarter your tomatoes.  Place a strainer over a bowl, and squeeze the seeds out of the tomatoes.  Coarsely chop the de-seeded tomatoes and set aside.  Mince your garlic. 

Heat your olive oil in a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat.  Add the garlic and red pepper flakes to the oil and cook until the garlic begins to brown, about 2 minutes.  Add your chopped tomatoes and the tomato juice you collected under the strainer to the pot, and bring to a simmer.  Lower the heat to medium-low to keep it at a gentle simmer.  Use a potato-masher to break up the tomatoes as they cook.  Simmer your sauce, stirring occasionally for about 35 – 45 minutes until the sauce has concentrated and developed a caramelized flavor. 

Taste and season with salt.   Scatter fresh basil over the sauce before serving (if freezing you may want to omit the basil).