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    Wednesday
    Sep052012

    Adelaide's Eggnog 

    My mom just sent me this photo of a recipe for eggnog. It must have been tucked away in a cookbook somewhere. And judging from the spelling, I probably had yet to reach the golden and much-lusted after teen years.

    I actually remember making this eggnog! I liked to experiment in the kitchen when I was younger - often making breakfasts (nothing fancy! Poptarts or cereal), salads and a couple of failed baking episodes. My parents were out of town and we had a babysitter. She made us her famed spaghetti casserole for dinner and then we had my special eggnog for dessert, or maybe alongside. My uncle and aunt kindly choked it down, but I'm sure it was atrocious. It was hot out and this drink was probably far from refreshing! Sadly, I've never developed a real taste or love for the stuff. Give me a Bailey's Irish Cream any day. 

    But what I do love, besides the amount of vanilla (twice listed!), is the simplicity of directions. A recipe really doesn't have to be that complicated, does it? I've started challenging myself. I'll read through a recipe once - and that's it! I have to either remember, or experiment, until I've reached a happy result. This is easier than it sounds. Recipes are guidelines, not strict instructions. In the beginning of learning to cook, I used recipes religiously. And why not? They're a wonderful teaching tool, especially if you're just getting started. But now, I use them as inspiration and rough guidelines, preferring to hone my instincts.

    This is where fruit crisps come in. I've been trying to buy as many peaches and plums as possible recently before the fall really approaches. They're delicious cut up with breakfast or slumped together under the buttery streusel topping of a crisp. Recently, I tossed 5 sliced peaches with fresh raspberries, the juice of a lemon and 1/4 cup of granulated sugar. It's important to taste your fruit - my peaches and raspberries were sweet, so I stopped at 1/4 cup.

    I then made a topping using flour, brown sugar, old fashioned oats, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg and 1/2 stick of cold, cubed butter. I didn't use precise measurements. So add just a sprinkle of the cinnamon, salt and nutmeg and maybe a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar. I would start with 1/4 cup each of the flour and oats. Crumble everything together with your hands until the butter is worked in and clumps begin to appear. If the streusel feels to wet with the butter, add more oats and flour. It should be sandy but not totally disparate. I had some chopped pecans in the freezer, so I used these too. Top your fruit mixture evenly with the streusel.

    I baked my crisp for 45 minutes at 375 degrees. Make sure you check it throughout so that the topping doesn't burn. You want the streusel to be crunchy and golden brown and the fruit to be pooling with sticky and sweet juices. Delicious served with vanilla ice cream on top.

    Friday
    Jul062012

    A New Chicken Technique 

    Wow. It's been a long time since I last blogged! Life has been very busy recently; busier than I could have ever imagined, despite the dog days of summer! (To see what I've been up to, check out my website landing page).

    I recently attended a goodbye party of a previous colleague of mine. It felt odd. All of the people I used to work with - my old team - and all the wonderful families and donors couldn't have been friendlier and nicer. Sometimes it feels a little strange to be down to a team of one. While I do enjoy working for myself and primarily in homes/schools/at home, I do at times miss the atmosphere of an office. The coffee runs and quick desk gossip sessions. Or the hustle and bustle of a big event.

    But then, all I have to do is make one stellar meal - or teach a class that really hits home with the students laughing and smiling the whole time - and I know I've made the right decision.

    It's hard not to feel puffed up sometimes. Usually, when someone asks what I do (and I answer), they always respond with joy and curiosity. But yes, while my work is 'cool' and 'fun' - I do work hard. Working with my hands is incredibly satisfying. Working on my feet instead of sitting at a desk feels right to me. But cooking and teaching can stretch me, even if both of these things happily wake me up in the morning.

    On a quick vacation up to Maine recently, I purchased a Gourmet Magazine book of 109 Simple Summer Classics. It was sitting on the magazine stand and jumped right out at me. If you see this booklet at the grocery or drug store, I really encourage you to pick it up. So many delicious recipes - like Asian Lamb Meatballs (delicious), Vietnamese Chicken Salad (mouthwatering) and my favorite: Spatchcock Chicken.

    Have you ever had Tuscan roast chicken? Or chicken under a brick? That's what you're seeing up above - but much more simplified. I taught an adult cooking class recently and the two women in my class wanted to focus on chicken and how to make the dish several quick ways with one result: NO more dry or stringy chicken! So I showed them a stove top technique (ask me about this sometime!), baked chicken breasts in a marinade, roast chicken pieces and of course, spatchcock chicken. 

    Spatchcock is an old English technique. You take an entire chicken, remove any excess skin and interior bits, and use poultry shears to cut out the whole backbone. You then use your hands to break the breastbone by flattening the chicken into one relatively-flat piece. This is called butterflying. And the best part is that you can ask your butcher to do this for you, if you'd prefer not to take the risk of using very sharp (they cut through bone!) poultry shears.

    I then preheat my oven to 425 degrees. At this point, you can sear the chicken, breast-side down, for about 3 - 5 mins in a saute pan, if you wish. But why not just keep it easy? I layered some diced Yukon potatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet and then poured a simple marinade (smoked paprika, chopped rosemary, thyme, salt, garlic, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil) over the chicken, rubbing it in. I placed the chicken breast-side up over the potatoes and let it roast and do its own thing for about 45 - 50 minutes.

    That's it. The fastest, quickest and a very flavorful way to roast a chicken in under an hour. And much, much easier to carve. I've already made this dish a couple different times and know I'll make it many more times in the future.

    Recipes like this make me again joyful about what I do. And sharing them with others certainly beats hanging by the water cooler.

    Monday
    May072012

    Energized and Excited 

    I recently made Hungarian Meatballs from Food52. Mouthwatering is pretty much the best adjective that describes this dish. After you make about 3 dozen meatballs and brown them, you immediately start on a flavorful and rich sauce. The meatballs then braise low and slow in the oven until juicy and the sauce is injected with as much flavor as possible. Stirring in some sour cream at the end doesn't hurt either. I served them over egg noodles with some chopped parsley on top. And then for dessert, we dived into a sticky-sweet strawberry and rhubarb crisp with vanilla ice cream. Really a perfect meal.

    I remember making this dish after cooking for both of my private chef clients. When I got home, I was tired and not particularly in the mood. But I had bought all the ingredients on the way home and it was either cook or settle in on the couch, so I thought why not... And wow! I was glad I mustered up the energy. Cooking for my husband (and myself) makes me happy.

    Several people have been asking what I've been up to recently. It's been an incredibly exciting past couple of months! I think about where I was at this time last year - working in a completely different job, yet with a wonderful mentor and colleagues. However, after 6 1/2 years, I knew I had to create a different tact for myself. And a health scare certainly pushed me over the ledge.

    My life has changed so dramatically since July of last year. You can check out my online bio which pretty much sums up what I've been up to (bottom of the page). I feel healthy and fit and active. Sitting all day at desk is not for me. Instead I spend the day walking from place to place and try to avoid the subway when I can. While each week brings a different element or schedule, my week is traditionally as follows:

    Monday: I cook for my both of my private chef clients and help teach a children's farm-to-table class in Brooklyn.

    Tuesday: Again, I cook for both clients.

    Wednesday: I usually volunteer with Wellness in the Schools in a public school and then help teach another children's farm-to-table class and teens' class in Brooklyn.

    Thursday: I teach afterschool Young Chefs classes at a public school nearby.

    Friday: I teach Kindergartners for a non-profit at a public school and then more afterschool Young Chefs classes.

    I remember taking a character development course as part of my major in college (ah, senior spring...). At the end of the course, we had to write a long paper on our goals in life and proposed careers. All this has to include what we wanted out of our relationships in life as well and where we wanted to live.

    I remember struggling whether to chose fundraising as the focus of my paper (I had completed a really wonderful summer internship in this field), social work or teaching. I made up my mind to pursue fundraising after interviewing for a juvenile lock-down facility position, and being subsequently terrified (and ended up shortly thereafter being accepted in the performing arts administration master's program at NYU), much to the disappointment of my teacher. I remember his voice as he sighed, "Ah, the world could really use you."

    What a grandiose statement, I remember thinking. And the world needs fundraisers, too.

    It's interesting how your work can affect or enhance your health and vice versa. Every day is challenging and teaching is the ultimate test of creativity, patience and endurance. It's a performance and one woman I've worked with put it so aptly: No matter your mood or how you feel, the show must go on! It's the most cause and effect type of work I've ever taken on. You design an average lesson and it bombs. You design an excellent lesson and it soars. You arrive tired - the students sense it. You arrive energized - the students really sense it.

    Before, I always liked (extremely so) what I did. Now, I love it. I can't imagine not teaching students about cooking, and it's still been less than a year. Last week, I taught a class on kale (bitter greens) and quinoa (healthy grains). The class was barely controlled chaos, but I (hopefully) managed to get a couple of points across. In the end, the students agreed that they didn't think they'd like kale or quinoa, but most did - so it's important to try new things.

    While the world may not need me, I do need teaching and cooking. I wake up feeling energized and excited - and that's a total thrill.

    Monday
    Apr162012

    A German Dinner: Warm Potato and Leek Salad 

    I usually ask my husband what he wants to eat on Sunday and I get the same request: Pesto Pasta. But he must have felt inspired, because he asked me to make wiener schnitzel, potato salad and a vegetable side. All served with lingonberry jam. I was so excited to have a new request that I rushed to the store. While I couldn't find lingonberry jam, the staple condiment for schnitzel, I was able to find black cherry jam. Tart and sweet, it provided a similar effect.

    We love wiener schnitzel and one of our favorite upscale versions is served at Wallse, a formal Austrian restaurant in the West Village. Highbrow or lowbrow, it has become comfort food for us. It was a treat to be able to make the dish at home versus eating it out.

    Instead of the typical veal, I used chicken cutlets which I then dipped in seasoned flour along with a dash of baking powder. I then dipped each cutlet in a mixture of  and egg and heavy cream (again seasoned) and then dipped the cutlets back into the flour. This three-step breading method creates a nice crust. The cutlets went into the fridge to firm up.

    I roasted some asparagus (my go-to) and then set to work on the potato salad. I decided to make a warm potato salad instead of my mom's recipe and began parboiling three medium-sized Yukon Gold potatoes. I sauteed about 4 oz of chopped pancetta in a pan and removed the pancetta to crisp up on a paper towel. In went 1 sliced leek to caramelize and soften. Once meltingly tender and a little golden on the edges, I added 1 cup of white wine and 1 tablespoon of whole grain mustard. Both got whisked together with the leeks and some salt and pepper. I also added about 1/4 teaspoon of dried thyme leaves.

    I let this mixture simmer and thinly sliced my potatoes. I tossed them in the warm dressing and placed a lid on the pan. I let the potatoes cook and soak up most of the dressing for about 30 minutes. Make sure you cut the slices evenly and continue to check on the potatoes - some slices may cook faster than others, so you need to check a couple for doneness. And if the dressing looks as if it's drying up too fast, add more white wine or some warm water.

    While the potato salad was going, I began to pan fry the schnitzel two at a time in a large pan with 1 tablespoon melted butter and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Shake the pan a couple of times and use a large spoon to pour some of the oil and butter over the tops of the schnitzels. Flip after 2 - 3 minutes, depending on the size of the cutlets. Continue to fry until the meat is cooked through and the crust is golden brown and crispy. I then lined a sheet tray with paper towels for the finished cutlets and wiped out the pan in between batches for new butter and new oil.

    The cutlets stayed warm in a 250 degree oven and I finished the potato salad with the pancetta crumblings. The schnitzel were delicious with the black cherry jam and a spritz of lemon. However, the potato salad was the real star of the show. The salad (probably a misnomer) would be delicious with another type of meat or even served cold.

    Wednesday
    Apr042012

    Kitchen Utensils and More 

    I love the podcast Spilled Milk. It's produced by Molly Wizenberg of Orangette fame and Matthew Amster-Burton. They're witty and hilarious and even though the 18-minute podcast is about food, it's not really - it's like listening to a very comical and sparing talk show with two very vibrant hosts; except you don't have to watch the television and can do other things (like answer e-mail or clean your apartment) while listening.

    They recently released an episode on utensils. Both hosts had to show each other their three favorite kitchen utensils and it became a show-down. I originally thought: "SNOOZE. I can skip this one..." But in an apartment-cleaning moment, I pressed play and actually enjoyed the episode. And it made think that I should share some of my favorite kitchen utensils here. Some may not be so necessary - but they do make cooking more enjoyable, which helps get you into the kitchen more often.

    Utensil #1: Mini Food Processor. Big Girls Small Kitchen has been exaulting this kitchen appliance for a long time. When I began testing for their cookbook, they made sure I had one on-hand. It really does do everything. You can use it to make bread crumbs, pesto, hummus, honey butter. The bonus is that it's so small that it stores easily and lightly on a shelf or in a cabinet.

    Utensil #2: Flat-edged wooden spoon. I bought mine on a whim in order to give my basic wooden spoon a rest. It's incredible. My round spoon sits in the drawer and this flat-edged spoon/spatula has become a real work horse. It's perfect for scrambling eggs, sauting onions or veggies, even smoothing the tops of quiches.

    Utensil #3: I know, I'm spoon-crazy. But my chef's spoon is very handy. I use it to ladle out soup and stir sauces. It's a handy tasting spoon as well. In cooking school, it was recommended that we each buy one. I thought it unnecessary. Why not just use a regular spoon?! But I'm a convert and this, next to my flat-edged wooden spoon, may be my most used kitchen accessory. Interesting... seems as if I'm not the only spoon fanatic.

    Utensil #4: Small sauce pan. I use mine to reheat leftovers in a flash (good tip: you should never store a big pot of soup or stew in the fridge. Make sure you place it into small - medium storage counters. This way it will cool MUCH more quickly and keep better. It will also make the leftovers look more manageable). I also use it to make oatmeal in the mornings or sugar syrup for lemonade. Speaking of lemonade, I recently used this hefty hand-held tool instead of my usual method of just halving and then squeezing lemons by hand. I was able to extract more juice and it was a lot quicker.

    Utensil #5: Nice table linens. We don't use paper napkins and although keeping up with the laundry can be annoying, it makes a table look so pretty. We use linen napkins typically, but they do have to be ironed or using my method: once washed, fold neatly and place under a heavy coffee table book. Voila! Pressed napkins without breaking out the ironing board. I also love place mats. We have so many, but they really look lovely on a table. Kitchen towels (versus paper towels) are also a must have. I use mine as pot holders in addition to wiping up spills or drying my knifes and cutting board after washing.

    Utensil #6: I'm bad. I'll admit it. I often use this cheapo knife sharpener when I'm low on time and don't feel like using my wet stone. It's quick and although I'm sure it's not great for your knife, better to have a sharp knife versus dull one. Is it bad that I could only find it on camping and hunting websites?!

    Utensil #7: You can't go wrong with a sturdy and classic Dutch oven. I use it for everything from boiling pasta to making soups/stews or braising meat in the oven. It doesn't have to be a Le Creuset, but should be high quality so that it lasts for a lifetime (literally). The 5 1/2 qt. size is an excellent place to start. I have a 4 1/2 qt. and 7 qt. - both too big and too small. Pick one in the middle.

    Any kitchen favorites that I forgot? Please leave a comment.