12/31/2013

2013 in review

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Fair warning, folks: if you are in any way against pictures of food (or cats, or cute bike-riding boys), do yourself an enormous favor and don't check out my Instagram feed. Because it is full of just those things, in that order. Now, don't let that fool you into thinking I find the latter two less lovable or photogenic. Oh, not a chance. But when I decided to scroll through all the edible imagery I'd posted over the past 12 months (mind you, I didn't get past three months ago for all the options I had available to me), the depth of color and texture is downright beauteous, no? Such variety, such possibility.

I'd like to take that methodology with me while stepping into 2014. There's something wonderfully precarious yet exciting about starting another new year. Anything at all can happen, can unfold, can grow and change right before your eyes: such variety, such possibility

Thanks for reading: really. Happy New Year!



12/30/2013

turning 27 at vedge in philadelpha

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Everyone knows that surviving another year (happy birthday!) earns you dinner, at the very least. And if you're in a particularly celebratory mood, that dinner should be at a significantly more-festive-than-usual location, which Vedge in Philadelphia manages to deliver with a seemingly effortless air. Self-described as a "vegetable restaurant" these folks avoid the words "vegan" or "vegetarian" (though Vedge is both) in order to "raise the bar for vegetable cuisine" as well as remain appealing to omnivores and carnivores, too. It's got mood-ish lighting, not so dark that you aren't sure what you're eating, but the intensely flavorful food also lends a hand in this department: make no mistake, as they're serving up fresh, seasonal ingredients, it is evident from the second each delicately crafted plate reaches your table.

And so you might think: a vegetarian dinner in December (December 2nd, to be obvious and specific..!)? What's around, cabbage? A few straggling squash from the previous fall months? Please. Each plate, all relatively small and/or considered a tasting size, is more colorful and inventive than the last.

We started our dinner with three extra-small plates for the table to share: since we had a table of two, there was plenty of pickled curry cauliflower (amazing), u-peel lupini beans with piri piri (also known as the African bird chili) and fried garlic (after watching me struggle to cut the shell off of each tiny bean, our waitress kindly advised me that simply biting it would do the trick much easier--so good food and a non-fussy atmosphere. I can dig that.) and mixed green olives with fennel and preserved lemon to go around. Let me know if that's not the longest sentence you've ever read about appetizers.


Next from the Vedge bar, we went with salt-roasted golden beets paired with the amazing combination of avocado, smoked tofu, super-salty capers, rye toast and creamy cucumber dill sauce. You can watch head chef Rich Landau talk up this specific dish here, around 2:32. But trust me, the whole segment is worth drooling over. Unique Eats, indeed!

We also went with the sweet potato paté (I mean, do I really need to explain why?) with grain mustard and jerk cashews. It tasted like a super-sophisticated peanut butter sandwich and when our waitress asked if we wanted more paté bread, the answer was an obvious ummm, yeah. Though we could have definitely finished it off with just a spoon.



For our entrées (yep, still hungry), we eagerly awaited the carrots cooked shawarma-style.  Though shawarma preparation can vary greatly by country, it's also typically a way of preparing meat street food dishes. The key connection here is the cook time, which is very long and slow, bringing out all the depths of flavor from the carrots, so thoroughly sweetened they were much closer to a yam, even in texture, and balanced beautifully with the black lentils, garbanzos and tomato-olive stew.


We also had (I KNOW) the fresh hearts of palm, one of the weirdest but one of my favorite veggies which quite literally comes from the center bud of certain palm varieties. I love a good meal where I have to Google half of the ingredients to know what I'm getting myself into. Seriously. Though I'm no newbie to hearts of palm, this preparation is the best I've had to date. Stuffed inside a delicate buckwheat crepe and swimming in a saffron-cauliflower broth, it was just light enough to go with the two additional sides we ordered.

That's right.


And they were: roasted Romanesco broccoli (check out how beautiful and non-food-like it looks raw) with shaved Brussels sprouts and frisée, and, the potato dish to end all others, smashed fingerling fries with creamy worcestershire sauce.

Listen. Listen here. A potato is a potato, I know, but there has never been a fingerling or a spud or a what have you that could hold a candle, no, a tea light, to these particular beauties. I mean it. The sauce? Creamy without a speck of actual cream. What words could I use but WOWZA and CAN I HAVE A DOZEN MORE. EVERY DAY. FOR LIFE. Insanely incredible, even the next morning, eaten out of the refrigerator, cold.



So by now you must be thinking, while all that stuff sounds superb, obviously you haven't thought this meal entirely through: you saved no room for dessert, which everyone knows is the most important part. Well don't be silly. Of course we did. Because what, I ask you, is a birthday dinner without dessert? Though choosing just one (okay, two) feels like an impossible feat, we somehow managed to settle on the chocolate über chunk and the apple cider doughnuts.

Now, anything with the claim "über" in the description is obviously something serious. We don't just throw that word around like it means nothing. In fact, it's a wholly made up slang description (in English, anyhow) just to make sure you know how over the top something actually is. Which is pretty evident when you see the words peanut-pretzel-crust, malt-custard and stout-ice-cream: this dessert isn't messing around. Also, let's get something out in the open here: I like chocolate but I don't necessarily swoon over it in all forms. There is such a thing as "too chocolatey" to me, which most devout lovers would deem blasphemous. I get that. So I'm always a little wary of something that comes out of the kitchen looking all deeply chocolate, gleaming and threatening me with its richness. But this concoction, this total babe of a dessert, was quite honestly one of the best things, dinner or dessert, that I've ever had in my life. First things first, vegan-schmegan because this thing tasted legit. Have you ever had vegan ice cream or custard and then realized holy what-the, this doesn't have a drop of dairy in it at all? Completely incredible. Although we got these two sweet treats to share, I had a tough time swapping plates when it came time.



 That, of course, was before I tasted the apple cider doughnuts. Now, I'm not new to the apple cider doughnut scene. If there was an insider membership or a frequent punch card for this particular breed of doughnut, I'd be a lifer. Queen ACD, if it was available. These particular beignet-sized ones, however, totally changed the game. Sweet, but not too sweet, filled with a tangy cranberry sauce, accompanied with an apple cider shooter (come on, who doesn't like a little bit of cute on their birthday?) and a horseradish cream sauce, they were ... I'm sorry, what's that? You'd like me to back up and explain the horseradish bit? Well, I'd love to, except that I can't. It was crazy unexpected, completely unconventional, and yet? It worked. It worked like horseradish has never worked before.



So the year of being 27 started with eating very, very well. And while I don't have any particular plans for how the rest of the year ought to go, I can be sure that there will be more where that came from, I'm more than certain.

And of course, what would a birthday be without a real, traditional birthday (cup)cake? This particular espresso brownie version (via Instagram, and clearly 27 is also the year I get past my super-chocolate hesitation) from House of Cupcakes in Princeton, NJ.

Psst: Find me on BlogLovin' here


12/20/2013

applesauce spice cake with butter caramel glaze

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I'm going to go ahead and call this the cake of the year. Or at least, of my year. Of all my baking adventures in 2013, this incredibly warm, spicy cake has a tiny bit of tartness from the apples and a sweet hit of richness from the glaze. Totally hits the spot for a fall or winter gathering, holiday desserts, you name it. Though the glaze looks insanely (dare I say beautifully?) intense here, don't worry: it's just enough sweetness that, once it sets, doesn't feel so heavy.



For this recipe you'll need:

For the cake:

2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 large eggs
1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the glaze:

4 tablespoons of butter, cut into chunks
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup of light cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 to 1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted

To get started, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and butter and flour a large Bundt pan. Set aside. Whisk together your flour, baking soda, salt, pepper and spices in a medium bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat both eggs with your sugars until light and airy. Add the applesauce, oil and vanilla and mix on low until smooth. 


With a rubber spatula, fold your flour mixture into the wet ingredients. Pour the batter into a prepared pan and bake for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Once the cake is out of the oven, let it cool for about 10 minutes on a wire rack before flipping the pan over. As long as the pan was well-greased, it should be no trouble at all to remove.  Allow to cool completely, which will take about an hour. The longest hour of your life? Probably. Although, when I know I'm baking for a crowd and I can't taste-test the results right away, I have slightly (though only slightly) fewer ants in my pants. Exactly.




After some time has passed, you can get started on your glaze, which is no doubt the best part. Or is it? Who can tell, it's all good. In a small saucepan, melt your butter down over medium heat. Add your brown sugar, salt and light cream. Whisk to combine, then bring to a rolling boil while stirring constantly. Allow to boil for only one minute, still stirring, and then remove from heat. It should be resemble a slightly runny, syrupy texture. Add your powdered sugar in quarter-cup increments. It's hard to know how much you'll need until you actually get started, so just whisk in small amounts and test the thickness. It should get a little gooier but still be easy to pour. That makes sense, right? It is caramel, after all.



Next, lay a piece of tin foil or parchment paper under the wire rack to catch any drips that you may or may not eat. Slowly pour your warm glaze over the cake, layering until you run out. Or until you decide to finish off the rest with a spoon. It's the holidays, so really, who's judging?



12/16/2013

israeli couscous with roasted roots and chickpeas

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Cold weather is all about simple comfort food. Even though the warmth of the stovetop and the oven isn't completely unwelcome while the weather outside is frightful, I still don't want to spend hours in the kitchen. But the complex flavors of each dish should make everyone think that I do. See how that works?

The absolute easiest way to get a winter meal together is through roasting. Roasting makes everything a little bit deeper, sweetens the flavor and highlights the chewiness of all those beautiful fall and winter vegetables. Paired with the right grains and spices, this base is on our dinner rotation every week.



For this recipe, you'll need:

4-5 large carrots, peeled and diced
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
4-6 smallish turnips, peeled and diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 cups of pearled or Israeli couscous 
4 cups of water or vegetable stock
The juice of one lemon
2 teaspoons grainy mustard
1 teaspoon cumin
1 small onion, any color, finely chopped
1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 teaspoons za'atar spice
Freshly ground salt and pepper
A good amount of olive oil



Heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large roasting pan, toss your diced vegetables in olive oil, salt, pepper, and cumin until evenly coated. On a shallow baking sheet, toss your chickpeas with 1 teaspoon of olive oil, the garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper. Transfer both pans to the over to roast for about 30-35 minutes, tossing every few minutes to ensure nothing dries out. (Although, I happen to prefer the chickpeas when they get super crispy. If you're like me, leave them in for closer to 35-40 minutes for a crazy-addictive crunch.)



When your vegetables are about halfway done, cook your couscous according to the package. A pretty fast cooking grain, you'll need to give yourself about 10 to 15 minutes, to help time things in coordination with the veggies.


While the couscous is still warm, mix together the lemon juice, mustard and za'atar spice in a small bowl. Za'atar is a Middle Eastern spice mix that usually includes dried sumac, salt and sesame, though other varieties exist; for another great way to use this unique flavor, check out this spicy carrot soup recipe. Stir your chopped onion into the couscous, along with the roasted roots and chickpeas, now out of the oven. Pour your dressing over the top and stir until evenly coated, all in the couscous pot.


This simple meal works great hot or even cold and is great for take-to-work leftovers the next day. According to the original inspiration from Food52, you could even add a little crumbled cheese, which of course I can find no fault in whatsoever.


12/09/2013

pumpkin cinnamon rolls

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Okay. Before you dive right in here, something to confess: I made this recipe more than the one time that I'm showcasing here. Wait, wait. Correction. The first time I attempted these rolls, I went through the first half of the recipe three times only to have my dough fail to rise, all three times, and rolls that came out in a sticky, gooey, unappetizing blob. I know. Tough times.


That is to say, yeast-based doughs can be tricky. A lot of factors can weigh in, including both things you can control and things you can't. So while I certainly don't will you fail and in fact am quite positive you will not, don't slump around like I did if you do. There are always other weekends and other recipes and, when the time is right, returning back to the one that had you feeling defeated in the first place.



The second time I took a stab at these rolls, I followed the instructions more meticulously than I have followed anything in my entire life. (I've always been one for a little pinch of that and the hey-why-not attitude. When you're attempting to master a recipe, there's not a whole lot of room for anything other than exact science, which baking practically is.) AND GUESS WHAT: they came out FANTASTIC. Better than fantastic. I believe I walked around all weekend, biting into one here and there and announcing, "This is the best thing I've ever made!" Several weeks later, still true.

I admit I made the second batch hoping to deliver a superb result worthy of bringing to the office. Having made them on a Saturday, I admit they never made it past our front door, and if anyone in the outside world had been given a chance to taste test them, they would understand why I am not ashamed of that fact.

SO. Now that I felt a little gutsy, I decided that I had to make these for someone other than cute Colin and I. (And, yes, Seymour, who as it turns out will eat anything in the bread/baked good department. Great.) Having started a small new tradition last year of birthday brunch for my mom, I thought this would be the perfect occasion to display my new pumpkin-y yeast-y roll-y talents.

For this recipe, you'll need:

Dough:

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, to be divided
1/2 cup of milk (Okay, crucial bit of information here. It's best to know in advance when you're going to make these rolls. Why? Because the best way to achieve the right milk temperature so as not to kill your yeast is to pour it several hours before you plan to bake and just leave it on the counter. If you're feeling a little daring, maybe on top of the oven so it becomes slightly warm but not hot.)
One 7 gram packet of active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling your dough
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2/3 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 large egg
Canola oil or spray for rising bowl

Filling:

3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Melt your butter down until it is liquified. This is best done on a stovetop in a small pan, but microwaving works, too. In a small bowl, combine your warm milk and yeast and set aside for about five minutes.

In the bowl of an electric mixer (what I also admit I find to be a crucial step here), combine your flour, sugars, salt and spices with the whisk attachment. It will smell amazing in about three seconds. Add 1/4 cup of your melted butter (which should you leave you about 2 tablespoons left; keep that for later) and continue to stir. Add your yeast and milk mixture, pumpkin puree and egg. At this point, swap out your whisk for the dough hook attachment and stir on low for five minutes.


At about five minutes, you should notice your dough coming together in a more compact but loose-ish ball shape. Scrape your dough into a well-coated bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, dry place for 1 hour. (Sticking the bowl in your oven, which is off of course, is a great place for this.) While it's rising, line two 9-inch pans (round or square both work) with parchment paper while also buttering the sides of your pans. Whisk together the filling for your rolls (sugars, salt and cinnamon) in a small bowl and set aside.

Now don't come back to your dough expecting it to have gotten huge. It will have puffed up slightly but definitely not an I Love Lucy moment, for sure. On a clean surface, lay down a good amount of flour (don't forget to also flour your hands and rolling pin) because this dough is very, very soft and sticky. Flouring the top of the dough as well, roll out into a rough rectangle shape, about 16x11-inches and about 1/4 inch thick. Brush your remaining butter over the surface of they dough and sprinkle (generously, now, generously) your dough with the cinnamon-sugar filling. Does it seem like too much? Do you have some left over? Nonsense. Keep going until that bowl is empty.



And the fun part: rolling! Starting on the longer side, roll your down together into a tight spiral. You may have some filling spilling out here and there, but that's okay. You can scoop it up later and sprinkle it on top.



Once you've got your dough rolled, using a serrated knife, gently (as in using zero to the power of zero pressure, so you don't crush them) saw your rolls into 1-inch slices, arranging side by side in your prepared pans. Repeat until you've got all your rolls cut, which should come out to be between 16 and 18 depending on your cutting generosity. Cover your pans with plastic wrap, toss them back into the (off) oven and let rise for another 45 minutes.


When you're ready to bake (FINALLY), remove the rising rolls from the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. (And this point, you could also consider making a glaze or icing but I figured I'd skip it so the real pumpkin flavor could shine through. Still, I'm a sucker for a good sugary drizzle, so no judgement here should you go that route.)



Bake your rolls for 22-25 minutes or until they've puffed up and gone all pretty golden-orangey and the whole house starts to smell INSANE. Seriously, when they're out of the oven, wait as long as you can stand it and have two. Such a process, you've earned it. Sorry, did I say two? I meant as many as you want. Maybe four. Who's counting?






12/05/2013

spicy eggplant pasta

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As most of you already know, I've had a bit of a rocky relationship with eggplant. I like it, I just don't know what to do with it. Other than the stuff that everyone already does. And while that can turn out great (and I do mean, great), I'm always excited to find new ways to incorporate this evasive, finicky fruit. Yes, fruit.


Inspired by yet another genius recipe from Food52, I decided to dive head first into spicing things up. For this recipe, you'll need:

2 medium eggplants
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 medium white onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
About 2 cups chopped tomatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
About 2 cups of chopped Swiss chard (or any other hearty green)
1 pound linguine or other long pasta

Let me just start by saying: I don't do spicy food. I've tried to crossover to the other side, I've dipped my fork into the Sriacha, but I have to say, it doesn't do it for me. Or rather, it does, and in a way that I can't quite stomach. So two teaspoons of red pepper flakes is like writing my own death sentence. But I figured, hey. Maybe in combination with these other flavors, it just might work.

Begin by letting your eggplant sweat, which is always the crucial first step of any recipe involving these dark-purple beauties. You want to select eggplants that are on the squat, small side and as blemish free as possible. (Um, try to ignore the huge slasher cuts in mine. Apparently our crisper drawers are a battlefield.) The bigger eggplant get, the more possibility of the flavor being bitter and the flesh too seedy. Wash and cut your eggplant in to 1-inch thick slices. Salt generously on both sides and set aside for no less than one hour. (If you want to encourage even more liquid to drain, you can place something weighted over the eggplant to press them further.)


After you've drained your eggplant, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place your eggplant on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and cracked black pepper. Roast them until they've gone tender, which will take about twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, heat several tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet or pan over medium heat. And your onions and garlic and sauté until slightly caramelized, about eight minutes. Add your tomatoes, chopped greens, oregano and pepper flakes. Continue to stir and allow your sauce to thicken. On another burning, while your sauce continues to simmer, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil.


There's a lot of things going at once here, which makes it a little tough to time it all perfectly, but keeping things on low heat will buy you a little flexibility. Remove your eggplant and chop into smaller bite sized pieces -- carefully, of course, because it just came out of the oven. So it's hot. Add your eggplant to your stovetop sauce, stirring well.


While your pasta is still al dente (or still retaining a slight bite), drain and then quickly transfer to the pan with your sauce. That way your pasta will finish cooking in the sauce and absorb all of that amazing flavor. If you've got some fresh herbs on hand, like basil, it makes for a great serving garnish on this already colorful dish.


I have to say, to me, and probably only to me, this dish had a just enough of a kick. To cute Colin, who is a seasoned spicy foods lover, it was more or less mild. Season as you know best for your taste and what you enjoy--no point in making a dish you can't eat!