Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Last night my neighbors and I convened for a potluck dinner. Our hosts, Matt and Ryan, had suggested a Southern-inspired menu. We kicked the evening off with some decidedly kitschy family recipes. Ryan’s Pickle Roll-Ups featured cold cuts, cream cheese and mustard wrapped around pickles. Rich presented us with British Cheddar Colourful Kiddie Snax–a half grapefruit skewered with cheese, pineapple and maraschino cherries. I mixed up a batch of Sazeracs to get us in the festive spirit.Cocktail Hour

Exactly three months before, we assembled alongside 100 of their nearest and dearest for Chris and Rich’s amazing wedding. In honor of their anniversary, Chris made theKitchn‘s Italian Wedding Soup. While not technically in keeping with the theme, our first course hit all the right comfort spots. Italian Wedding Soup

Round two included Ryan’s oven-baked ribs,Oven Ribs

creamy coleslaw,Coleslaw

and macaroni and cheese; Macaroni and Cheese

Chris’ cold salad of pigeon peas and broccoli rabe;Pigeon Peas and Broccoli Rabe

and my pork-laden collard greens.Collard Greens

Naturally, the spread had to be captured.Capturing the Spread

Half an hour later, we were all very full.Southern Goodness

But somehow we managed to make room for my apple bourbon crisp with ginger ice cream.  Apple Bourbon Crisp

The red wine flowed throughout dinner. Dessert brought a lovely pear schnapps that Matt had picked up in Salzburg. 

I awoke feeling slightly worse for the wear. As luck would have it, I’d managed to pack the leftover greens into a container and get them into the fridge, so breakfast was a potato-collard hash topped with a poached egg.

Collard Potato Hash

Giving Thanks for 75 Degrees

I spent Thanksgiving at my mom’s house in South Florida. My grandparents, who are now 93, relocated to Boca Raton last year. In celebration of their move, the menu featured a Florida theme.

Smoked Marlin Dip with Crackers
Sweet and Spicy Pepitas
Deviled Crab Empanadas with Citrus-Chive Aioli
Crudite and Plaintain Chips with Black Bean Dip

Baked Brie en Croute with Cranberry-Mango Chutney

Mango Mojitos

*  *  *

Butter Lettuce Salad with Mango,

Florida Avocado, Hearts of Palm and a Citrus Vinaigrette

*  *  *

Mojo-Brined Turkey with Gravy

Corn Bread and Mofongo Stuffing

Cranberry-Mango Chutney

Sweet Potato-Plantain Gratin with a Coconut-Rum Glaze

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Grilled Asparagus

Baked Manicotti (courtesy of the Purificatos)

*  *  *

Kabocha Flan

Key Lime Pie

I had intentions of getting photos of the whole meal. But the pressure of producing 20+ different dishes (including the vegan, gluten-free and heart healthy variations not listed above) and a serious burn got the better of me. Suffice it to say that the dishes not pictured were delicious and the mojitos helped ease the pain from my blistering fingers.

We were an even dozen around two tables pushed together. In keeping with the tropical theme, my mom went with colorful napkins and no tablecloth.

Florida Thanksgiving Table

She also came up with a stellar floral arrangement.

Tropical Flowers

The exhaustively researched bird was from BN Ranch. It was compact for its impressive heft.

BN Ranch Turkey

Lacking room in the fridge, I opted to use a cooler to brine the bird.

CoolerMy stepdad devised a rather ingenious strategy for getting a whole lot of potable water into the scrubbed, bleached and rinsed cooler.

Aaron and Surgical TubingHe was also a great help in juicing the citrus that went in the brine along with bay leaves, cumin seed, garlic, cilantro and a whole lot of salt.

Mojo BrineThe bird spent 36 hours in the brine and another 12 hours air drying before it was stuffed with some of the leftover citrus and garlic and rubbed down with butter.

Mojo-Brined Turkey Raw 2It started out in a high heat oven before I dropped the temperature to 375. I basted the turkey periodically and, after a couple of hours, draped it in an olive oil-soaked cheesecloth. (Sadly, I failed to get a shot of the Shroud of Turkin.) It cooked faster than expected. Within four hours, this beauty emerged from the oven.

Mojo-Brined Turkey Cooked

Tony did a bang up job of carving the bird, which was delightfully moist, meaty and redolent of citrus and spice.

Turkey CarcassThe next day, I added the carcass and trimmings to a large pot and let it simmer for a very long time.

Turkey StockThe whole house smelled like turkey. Fortunately, we had plenty of leftovers on hand to satisfy any eau de turkey-induced cravings.

Leftovers

Naturally, the day started with coffee and kabocha flan.

Kabocha Flan, Sliced

I strained the stock into a liquid measuring cup and cooled it so that I could easily skim the fat off the top. Liquid Gold

I then froze the super concentrated stock in a few miniature plastic containers, which I packed in a portable cooler and schlepped back to Brooklyn by way of Miami Beach. Having suffered a nasty bout of food poisoning while in Miami, I gave the stock one more boil back at home before tucking it in my freezer. I see some serious gumbo in my future. In the meantime, I’ll try to get working on a recipe for the Kobocha Flan.

My 15 (or 25) Minutes of Fame

I recently had the opportunity to tape a television show discussing two things I am passionate about: home cooking and abortion access. The Park Slope Food Coop produces The Coop Cooks, a show that airs on Brooklyn Cable Access Television and is now available online. The host, Barbara Kass, invited me on to talk about the New York Abortion Access Fund (NYAAF), a cause that is close to both of our hearts. In fact, Barbara and I first met at NYAAF’s annual bowl-a-thon. The National Abortion Access Bowl-a-Thon is an amazing example of grassroots fundraising–and a whole lot of fun. Sometimes as little as $25 separates an individual from accessing abortion services. NYAAF and a network of funds across the country bridge this gap, ensuring that choice is a reality for everyone.

To see me talking shrimp, grits and abortion access, click on the image below.

Coop Cooks Still

How to Eat Cherries (in the Middle of a Heat Wave)

Summer is upon us. On Sunday I escaped from the sweltering city to the slightly less sweltering Hudson Valley. Despite a weekly influx of fresh fruit from my CSA,  I couldn’t resist stopping off at Fishkill Farms for a little pick your own action. The sun was so strong that the strawberries and I were reddening at an alarming rate.
Strawberry Picking

The cherry trees offered some welcome shade and some succulent fruit, though I could have used the help of someone a bit taller. Standing on my tippy toes, I managed to fill a couple of quarts–and also rain quite a few cherries down upon my head.

I left a mixed quart with my little sis in Poughkeepsie and polished off a good quantity on the winding late night drive home along the Taconic Parkway, the supermoon guiding my way. Somehow I managed to reserve enough cherries for one of my favorite recipes.

How to Eat Cherries (in the Middle of a Heat Wave) 

  1. Rinse your cherries and place them in a ceramic bowl in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours.
  2. Pour yourself a nice glass of rosé  and strip down to your skivvies. (There is a variation on this recipe wherein you simply roll up your shirt, which is acceptable if not quite as delicious.)
  3. Grab the cherries and a juicy novel, crank the fan on high, and sprawl out in the middle of your bed.
  4. Place the chilled bowl of cherries on your stomach and commence to indulge.

If anyone has tips for getting cherry juice out of sundresses and sheets, I’m all ears!

A Day in the Life of a Food Studies Grad Student

My first year in the Master’s Program in Food Studies at NYU is barreling to a close. Holding down a full-time job–one where I am expected to be both physically and mentally present–while taking two courses is rough. And it gets worse at the end of the semester. This past weekend I swore off social engagements and locked myself in my apartment in a desperate bid to make some headway on the first of my two research papers. When the fog lifted on Monday morning, I had some rather impressive spreadsheets, maps, and charts. I also had a lot of leftovers.

It is a common misconception that Food Studies involves cooking. While most of my classmates love cooking and many hold culinary degrees and/or have made a living working in kitchens, Food Studies is an academic discipline and most of our time is spent slogging through old cookbooks, historical documents, scholarly journals, and online databases.

In my experience, this disjuncture gives rise to a unique form of procrastination. Allow me to present A Day in the Life of a Food Studies Grad Student (as Told through the Medium of Food)…

Saturday, 6:00pm – Having dutifully stayed home on Friday night in order to research the geography and history of New Orleans’ Bywater neighborhood, and recognizing the importance of quality food to keeping my energy and my spirits up, I allowed myself a foray to the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket earlier in the day. This meant there were Cayuga Pure Organics cannellini to rinse, sort, and soak.

Cannellini

I also bought a chicken and some andouille from Flying Pigs Farms. The sausage went into the freezer for some future use and the bird got rubbed down with salt, pepper, and Herbes de Provence. I would soon make short work of the leeks, kale, rosemary, chives, and apples that I toted home.

Saturday, 8:00pm – My eyes were starting to go in and out of focus as I struggled through a spreadsheet detailing census data. Assuming it was some combination of fatigue and hunger, I decided it was time for a break. While the oven preheated, I cracked open a beer and set to work making a stuffing of kale, leeks, lemons, fresh rosemary, and toasted almonds. (Shout out to my dear friend Louis for the almond inspiration.)

Leek, Kale, Almond and Lemon Stuffing

Saturday, 8:30pm – It had been several hours since my lunchtime salad and the beer had gone straight to my head. There was a light rapping at my door. A neighbor who had spent the day on a silent meditation hike and knew that I was grounded for the weekend wordlessly handed me a very full glass of red wine. That is the only excuse I can come up with for this compromising photo of my beautiful stuffed heritage chicken.

Stuffed Chicken

Saturday, sometime after 10:00pm – I am not sure what I did while the chicken roasted (save for ponder whether my oven temperature was accurate), but at some point the bird was finally, mercifully done. Even better, my makeshift roasting rack had proven a success. I hacked off a leg, scooped out some stuffing, and went to town.

Roasted Chicken

Sunday, 9:30am – After a leisurely hour sipping a latte and catching up on the gossip blogs, it was time to get back to work. Well, first it was time for an omelette made with whatever bits and ends were in the fridge. In this case, it was red onion, red pepper, and feta accompanied by a slice of toasted whole wheat sourdough and arugula and (past their prime) grape seed tomatoes dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.

Omelette

Sunday, 10:00am – Just one more task before I got to work. I needed to get some vegetable stock going for those cannellini beans. In went the tops from the previous night’s leeks, a large onion, some garlic, a carrot, a few desultory celery stalks, some dried shiitake mushrooms, the grape seed tomatoes that hadn’t made the cut for breakfast, and some whole black peppercorns.

Vegetable Stock

Sunday, 12:00pm – Having put in a couple of solid hours researching mentions of New Orleans and the Bywater in The New York Times, my vegetable stock had achieved a rich caramel hue. I strained it into a bowl, pressing on the solids to squeeze out any additional broth. I was about to discard the dregs when I remembered the chicken carcass I had drunkenly picked before bed. The bones and the leftover vegetables went back into the pot with whatever was left in the fridge – another onion, some garlic, and a bit more celery. This all simmered for a couple of hours before being strained and placed in the fridge.

A couple of days later (tonight, in fact, when I happened to remember it while rooting for the leftover roast chicken), I pulled the bowl of stock out of the fridge. I skimmed off the fat that had congealed on top and added it to the jelly jar labeled “schmaltz” that occupies a place of honor in the freezer. I then spooned the stock into ice cube trays, which I will transfer to a plastic freezer bag once they are set. (If you haven’t already done so, be sure to check out my tips for making stock.) The warm color and the Jell-o consistency tell me that this is going to be good stuff.

Chicken Jell-o

Sunday, 2:30pm – Time to get the cannellini going. I very loosely followed an online recipe that someone had adapted from Sara Forte’s The Sprouted Kitchen, a book I had not previously encountered. (If this recipe is any indication, I’d say it’s worth giving a look.) From what I can recall, my alterations included adding a whole lemon sliced into thin pieces, the rind from a hunk of hard cheese (the ham hock of the vegetarian world), some fresh rosemary, and the aforementioned homemade vegetable stock. It’s safe to assume I took some other liberties.Stewed CannelliniSunday, 3:30pm – Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between distractedness and hunger. Better safe than sorry, so I cut up an apple, added a spoonful of peanut butter, and got back to the books.

Peanut Butter, Apple and Books

Sunday, 4:00pm – OK, it really was hunger. Next up: peanut butter and raisins. This is one of my all-time favorite snacks, which I picked up from a friend of my parents who lived with us when I was somewhere under the age of four. He and I were the morning people in the household. (I grew out of it.) One of my earliest memories is hanging out in the icy cold kitchen of our farmhouse taking turns scooping spoonfuls of peanut butter and raisins while my parents slumbered upstairs. (Our roommate preferred to add the raisins to–and eat straight from–the jar.)

Peanut Butter and Raisins

Sunday, 5:30pm – I had an early dinner party with neighbors scheduled, so I scooped about half the beans into a bowl left over from my short-lived ceramics hobby. I mashed them up, folded in shredded parmesan cheese and chives, dusted a bit more cheese on the top, and popped it under the broiler. While the cheese browned, I toasted slices of the whole wheat sourdough in a cast iron skillet with a little olive oil. I garnished the dip with additional chives and headed downstairs for some much-needed human contact.

Leek and Cannellini Dip

A Hoppin’ New Year

I put the finishing touches on my first grad school research paper a little after 1:00am on December 20th, sacked out for five hours, worked a full day, and then attended my final class. I arrived home around 9:00pm, stuffed some food into my mouth and some clothes into a suitcase, and hit the road for the twelve-hour drive to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Needless to say, I was not in great shape by the time we arrived. I spent the first couple of days mentally and physically recovering.

When I came to, I found myself in a lovely house nestled in the Smoky Mountains, surrounded by good friends who’d driven in from Nashville and from Athens, Georgia. There were two wood-burning fireplaces, a pool table, a (kinda) hot tub, and plenty of booze. I was the first person up each morning and spent the earliest hours of my day under a blanket on the couch in front of a picture window. I alternated between indulging in a juicy novel and watching the mountains disappear and reappear though the mist.

Smokey View

On December 23rd, we hit Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s amusement park in Pigeon Forge. I don’t go in much for heroes, but Dolly certainly is one of mine and I have wanted to visit Dollywood ever since I learned of its existence.

We managed to hit all four of the excellent roller coasters, twice. My favorite was the Wild Eagle, a triumph of engineering in which you are hanging in a seat with nothing above or below. After a delightfully unnerving initial drop, the sensation is one of soaring. Our fear was replaced by a feeling of weightlessness that left us giddy.

Dollywood Coasters

The Chasing Rainbows Museum offered a staggering array of photos of Dolly with celebrities (Grace Jones being my personal favorite), a look back at her childhood and early years in Nashville, and an impressive collection of fan art.

Dolly's Attic

Downstairs were case upon case of clothing from Dolly’s movies and tours. My closet suddenly seems so drab.

Dolly's Wardrobe

We also got to check out Dolly’s tour bus and one of her (in)famous wigs.

Dolly's Wig

The quirky guy leading the tour got a shot of our whole group.

Dolly's Bus

Our day at Dollywood concluded with a Christmas-themed light parade led by a zealous woman with a banjo.

Dollywood Light Show

The next day was Christmas Eve, our last night in Gatlinburg. After taking stock of our food reserves, I headed out do some final grocery shopping. (Miraculously, the booze supply had held.) I knew that I wanted to use the dried black-eyed peas that our Nashville friends had brought, so I was thinking Tex-Mex as I walked into the local Food City. But one look at the freestanding cooler full of collard greens and I had a new plan. These greens were glorious–and huge; one bunch would be plenty to feed all six of us. A few aisles later, I stumbled on a shockingly large display of smoked hog jowl. This store and I were clearly on the same wavelength.

The nice young man who checked me out took one look at my cart and said, “You’re a little early, aren’t you?” For those that don’t know, collards and black-eyed peas are both traditional New Year’s foods in the Southern United States. The peas offer luck and the greens symbolize wealth. Black-eyed peas, which are generally served with rice in a dish called Hoppin’ John, came over with West African slaves. Collard greens, which were considered weeds by many plantation owners, were a mainstay of the slave diet. The hog jowl and other less desirable cuts would have been more readily accessible to the slaves. This combination of ingredients is cheap, easy to cook, and can simmer away untended.

My version is a bit fancified, to be sure, but its spirit is true–as its ability to heal after a night of over imbibing.

Hoppin' John Stew

New Year’s Day Stew

  • 1 pound dried black-eyed peas
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3-4 ounces smoke hog jowl (slab bacon would also be fine), cut into 1/4″ cubes
  • 2 medium yellow onions, diced
  • 8 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 bottle of cheap red wine
  • 16 ounces of chicken stock
  • 2 bunches of collard greens, large stems removed and cut into thick ribbons
  • 2 large tomatoes or 1 can whole tomatoes, chopped
  • 8 ounces apple cider vinegar
  • hot sauce, salt and pepper to taste
  1. If you’ve got it more together than I do, soak the beans in cold water overnight. If not, no worries. Just add them to a pot with enough water to cover them by a few inches, bring to a boil, simmer for a few minutes, and then let stand for an hour or more. Either way, be sure to drain the water.
  2. Add olive oil to a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add your pork and let render, stirring occasionally. Cook the onions for a few minutes and then add the garlic. Continue cooking until onions are translucent, lowering heat if they start to brown.
  3. Add the soaked and drained beans, some leftover red wine, the chicken stock, tomatoes and a good pinch of salt. If the beans aren’t covered, you can round this out with some water. Let simmer until you sense hunger. One hour is probably enough, but two hours will be even better. Add 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar, some hot sauce and lots of black pepper.
  4. Keep simmering while you put a pot of long-grained white rice on to boil. After 10 minutes or so, stir in the collards. (You may have to work in batches, letting each cook down a bit before you can cram the rest into the pot.)
  5. When your rice is just about done, taste the stew and adjust the seasoning with additional salt, pepper, cider vinegar, and hot sauce. (I went with plenty more of all of these.) You can let this simmer or even turn off the heat for a while if you’re not ready. I tend to like my collards a little more al dente than is traditional, but I leave that up to you. Serve the stew ladled over the rice in low bowls and get ready for a glorious new year.

Christmas Dinner

Potluck Progressive

I am lucky to live in a beautiful coop populated by some truly fantastic people. Last night my neighbors got together for a progressive potluck dinner.

My apartment was off-limits owing to an unfortunate leak, so Matt and Ryan graciously hosted the first course. The last month of weekly CSA shares had included more radishes than I could reasonably consume. Last weekend, in a desperate bid to keep them from going bad, I pickled the radishes. I’ve been eating them in breakfast tacos, as a garnish for Anasazi bean soup, and straight from the jar. For our potluck, I served the pickled radishes–along with French bread, baby Brussels sprouts, Macoun apple slices, and steamed new potatoes–with an Appenzeler and Fontina fondue.

The pickled radishes made a second appearance in a round–or, um, three rounds–of Gibsons. A Gibson is a vodka martini with a cocktail onion in place of an olive or a twist. I went with one part dry vermouth to four parts vodka, stirred with ice, strained into coupe glasses, and garnished with a pickled radish. The key is to use a good quality vermouth, which is a whole different animal from the $4 a bottle stuff. In this case, Dolin did the trick.

Next up was Matt and Ryan’s butternut squash and broccoli rabe lasagna. The arugula and radish salad with a lemon dressing provided the perfect counterpoint to the lasagna’s luscious nutmeg-infused bechamel.

At this point, we transitioned to red wine.

From here the party really got moving as we filed downstairs for a delightful spread of Indian street food and, of course, more wine. Praveen has promised to give me some lessons, so hopefully I can report back on what we ate in more detail at a later date. Suffice it to say that the dishes were fresh, delicately seasoned, and made all of our go-to Indian takeout spots seem sad by comparison.

The final stop was Chris and Rich’s newly renovated apartment on the top floor of the building next door. Chris had gamely agreed to take on dessert. But first there was champagne and a demonstration of the snazzy new induction cooktop, which brought a pot of water to a boil in about two minutes.

Dessert consisted of poached pears with crème fraîche and walnuts, some truly decadent English cheeses, and port. I have hazy memories of some more red wine and perhaps a high-end chocolate bar.

It goes without saying that this morning was a little rough, but it was well worth it.

Happy New Year from the Heartland

I spent Rosh Hashanah visiting good friends, Juliet and Phil, who lured me with the promise of an 18-pound kosher turkey and a smoker in which to cook it.

I arrived Friday evening and immediately began assessing the vegetables that had collected in the crisper. There were pattypan squash, corn and bell peppers in abundance. There were fresh herbs in the garden. I wanted a menu that spoke to traditional Rosh Hashanah foods (apples and honey) but also reflected the place (Madison, Wisconsin) and the season (that glorious moment in between summer and fall).

That night Phil stayed home with their son Doobie, who is almost two. Juliet and I strolled over to Lombardino’s for some Brandy Old Fashioneds (when in Rome) and classic Italian American food prepared well using local ingredients.

Saturday morning we headed to the Dane County Farmers’ Market, which is one of the best I’ve had the chance to visit. The stalls are arranged in a square around the state capitol. The Madisonians rotate counterclockwise in an orderly fashion—and are polite enough to not say anything when a New Yorker who’s forgotten something fails to do so. The quality and variety of the produce is pretty astonishing. And oh, the cheese curds!

We bought onions, edamame and poblano peppers to round out a succotash. We snacked on oatmeal rhubarb bars and beef jerky. We bought onions, shallots, leeks and apple cider. I had a vision of a bitter green salad with roasted squash and hazelnuts that would speak to the changing season. There were no delicata squash among the array on display at the squash stand, but the overall-clad man behind the table dug through buckets to procure three lovely specimens. The woman with the exotic greens had sold through her dandelion, but had some chicory that tasted right.

Afterwards, we hit an African drumming class at the Madison Children’s Museum. Doobie got down on the bongos while I tried out the reading nests. Juliet and Doobie headed home with our farmers’ market haul in the undercarriage of the stroller and I headed to the University of Wisconsin campus to collect a friend, Elliot, who was arriving on a bus from Chicago. We indulged in a Madison tradition, beer and bratwurst on the Memorial Union Terrace, which looks out over Lake Mendota before making our way back along the Lakeshore Path, admiring the sailboats bobbing in the water. One of the many charming things about Juliet and Phil’s home is that you know you’re almost there when you spot the octopus.

Later that afternoon, the five of us swung by the grocery store for a few last-minute ingredients. Doobie helped himself to some organic raspberries as we wandered aisles that were a bit overwhelming to an urbanite like myself. Case in point: there was an entire aisle devoted to frozen pizza.

That night a babysitter allowed the four of us to go out for decidedly not frozen pizza at Greenbush Bar. Located in the basement of an old Italian social hall, it is just as charming as it sounds.

Sunday morning was devoted to toasting hazelnuts, roasting squash (with olive oil, salt and pepper) and getting the turkey started in the smoker. We didn’t have one of those handy fire-starting chimneys, so Juliet and I conjured our inner girl scout and eventually achieved a nice smolder. We layered chunks of soaked apple wood on top of the lump charcoal, filled the drip pan with apple cider and set the bird (which I had rubbed inside and out with salt, pepper, allspice, sage and bay leaves the night before) to smoking. I was guessing that this would take anywhere from six to ten hours. I left Juliet, who had challah to make and a child to put down for a nap, with instructions for stoking the coals and refilling the drip pan.

Madison has a bunch of old rail lines that were converted into bike paths, allowing for minimal interaction with cars. Elliot and I followed one of these commuter paths down to the capitol where we had a lovely brunch at Graze, a locally focused gastropub in a light, airy space that’s definitely worth a visit. Four hours later, the smell of smoked turkey wafted down the block as we approached the house. It looked and smelled amazing. I added whatever wood chunks were left and drizzled a little grapeseed oil on top to ensure crisp, brown skin.

The rest of the menu came together pretty quickly.

While the turkey rested, I ladled most of the fat from the pan drippings off and poured the smoky, meaty apple cider that was left into a saucepan. I added some diced onions and salt and left it to simmer while I worked on the other dishes. Before serving, I hit this with an immersion blender, allowing the onions to provide the gravy with some body rather than risk gumming it up with a roux (and because I was already using every burner on the stove).

For the succotash, I browned some kosher Andouille sausage (yes, that exists—and it’s surprisingly good) in a little olive oil in cast iron skillet. I added onions, poblano pepper and red bell pepper. In time, I added the pattypan squash, some shelled edamame and fresh corn cut from the cob. Salt, pepper and basil went in just before serving.

Juliet carved the turkey, which we spread onto cookie sheets with some of the pan drippings and kept warm in a low oven until guests arrived.

I made a wild rice pilaf by sautéing leeks in olive oil, adding crushed red pepper and thyme. I toasted the wild rice in this mixture for a few minutes until each grain was coated and then added turkey stock. After 45 minutes or so of simmering, I pulled the rice off of the heat and added dried cranberries and crushed toasted hazelnuts.

I made a honey lemon dressing for the chicory, toasted hazelnut and roasted delicata squash salad by combining lemon juice, honey, shallots, olive oil, pepper and a little mayonnaise using an immersion blender. (Had this not been a kosher meal, I might have gone with buttermilk instead of mayonnaise.)

Guests began arriving at 6:15. By 6:30, we were an even dozen. Once the sun had set, Phil led us in blessings over the wine, over Juliet’s beautiful raisin-dotted challah, and over the apples and honey. Then we began eating. Things get a little blurry after that. There’s a mysterious alchemy to wine, a bounteous meal and interesting people. At these moments, I feel as though time has stopped and the only thing that exists is our table. It is a moment of pure joy.

Here’s to a sweet 5773!

Baltimore Brunch (with Figs!)

While passing through Baltimore on vacation, I met a couple of lovely artists, David Page and Lauren Schott. Over a dinner that featured two kinds of bone marrow and necessitated a trip to the basement to use power tools, it came out that Lauren and David had three fig trees in their backyard and more figs that they could handle. Fueled by marrow and a good bit of wine, I invited myself and my Baltimore hosts Beth and Don to a fig picking brunch.

Two days later, we arrived bearing a basket.

Lauren explained how to identify the figs that were ready for picking (they’ve started to split at what I like to think of as the belly button) and we got to work.

This is about two-thirds of what we picked. And Lauren assured us that there would be just as many the next day.

Fig picking completed, we retired to the front porch, which has a distinctly Baltimore feel to it.

Lauren poured a round of bloody marys that she made using tomato “seconds” from the farmers market. They hit the spot.

Lauren and David’s two giant dogs stuck close to her as she prepped for our first course on a Weber grill in the front yard.

Grilled figs stuffed with blue cheese are good. A little freshly ground pepper makes them even better.

Eggs cooked inside of Canadian bacon cups and toasted peasant bread followed. Lauren did this all on the grill, using a cast iron muffin tin to cook the bacon and eggs. Cooking eggs for a crowd can be tough. (I frequently resort to a frittata or quiche, which can be prepared all at once and served hot or at room temperature.) I made a note of this technique.

When we had finished eating, David took me and Beth on a tour of his studio space and some of the pieces that he was working on for an upcoming show in Philadelphia. This mask is part of a head-to-toe suit that will be worn by a volunteer during the show. David was kind enough to humor us. It was dark in there.

I could have spent the rest of the day hanging out on Lauren and David’s front porch, but I imagine they had other things to do–and I had a train to catch–so off we went with our basket of figs.

Two weeks later, as I sat at my desk contemplating a mountain of work, a package arrived. Apparently Don had been busy. It contained jars of homemade fig pickles and fig barbecue sauce. The fig love continues.

Living Room Picnic

Last night I was supposed to meet friends in Prospect Park for a screening of The Muppet Movie. Mother Nature had other plans. I’d been prepping for a picnic, but a blanket over the coffee table would have to suffice. On the menu: a Pressed Picnic Sandwich, Quick-Pickled Kale and Beets, Potato Chips (lifted from Thursday’s Prospect Park Alliance fundraiser) and a boatload of rosé.

Pressed Picnic Sandwich

This isn’t so much a recipe as a concept. The idea here is to layer a bunch of tasty ingredients in a logical order and then to press the sandwich with a weight.

I started with a round, day-old olive loaf from BKLYN Larder, but imagine you could use any rustic loaf with a nice crust. I sliced the loaf in half horizontally and scooped out most of the soft stuff with my hand, leaving about 1/2 inch all the way around. I then slathered the inside, top and bottom with a homemade tapenade (oil-cured black olives, anchovies, basil, garlic scapes, almonds, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, capers, and whatever else was lurking in my fridge.). You could use prepared tapenade or pesto or even some herbed mayonnaise. The key is that you need a layer with some fat in it to prevent the bread from getting soggy.

I then added a layer of browned onions followed by strips of grilled summer squash. (I like to do this in a hot cast iron pan and then sprinkle the vegetables with smoked sea salt to give them the depth that comes from outdoor grilling). Next up was an Italian cow’s milk cheese. I’m blanking on the name, but it was creamy and a little tart, which provided a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the veggies. Then layers of hot sopresatta, prosciutto and peppadew peppers.

I wrapped the sandwich in a couple of layers of aluminum foil and placed a cast iron grill pan over the top. Periodically, I would flip the sandwich and apply pressure to the pan until the sandwich looked like a UFO. I would guess that you want this to sit for at least an hour. (Had we been successful in dining outdoors, I would have stuck the sandwich in the bottom of the picnic basket, allowing the weight of the other items to do the pressing.)

As you can see, it sliced beautifully.

Quick-Pickled Kale and Beets

  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2-3 Tbsp combined of whole pickling spices (such as coriander, fennel, allspice, cloves, cumin, fennel, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, bay leaf, mustard seed, etc.)
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 thinly sliced red onion
  • 4 large beets
  • Small bunch kale including stems, roughly chopped

Combine all but the last two ingredients along with ½ cup of water in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and let simmer for 20-30 minutes to give the spices a change to release their flavor into the brine. In a separate pot, add the beets, cover with water, bring to a boil and cook until they give when pierced with a fork (approximately 30 minutes). Pull the beets out and add the kale, starting with the stem pieces. Let this boil for a few minutes and then drain. When beets have cooled, peel and slice them. Combine beets, kale and brine in a jar or plastic container and let sit for at least one hour, making sure to stir if the brine doesn’t fully cover the vegetables.

The living room picnic continued with a trip to the wine shop for reinforcements, a Barbie styling session and fresh nectarines and rum over salted caramel ice cream. Regrettably, it did not conclude with any efforts to clean up.