Monday, May 24, 2010

Gorges Camping

I have a lot to catch up from the month of May, like the trip to the Caribbean, but first let me tell you about my weekend. It was such a welcome and refreshing experience last summer when I reunited with my high school friends from our respective homes scattered around the state for a bachelorette weekend that I decided we should make it an annual occasion, irregardless of weddings. This time we stayed at a camping cabin near Ithaca, which is a bit more our style than a night of gambling and clubbing at a casino, and cheaper than a hotel.

It was camping-lite, with beds, lights, and a full-size refrigerator in the cabin, appropriate for Meredith, our first-time, hesitant camper. She was vexed on the first night when a chipmunk stole a fork and they were unable to build a fire, but things got better from there.

Elaine brought her nine week old puppy Milly, an adorable Brittany Collie mix. She sleeps like a babe and nips like a pup. I spent some time passing on sage dog rearing advice (ie. how to not make my same mistakes) and my friends got a kick out of hearing my singsongy sweet dog-baby training voice. It's strange to think that next time I see Milly she will likely be a full grown dog!

The area is home to state parks brimming with gorges and waterfalls, as well as Cayuga Lake waterfront, making for daily easy hikes with beautiful views.

We ate simple meals heated over Elaine's charcoal grill, at a picnic table adorned with wildflowers.

There were s'mores for dessert, once we procured enough wood to get good glowing fires going. And light boombox music, fireside chats, and board games before bed.

Being in one room when the lights went out was akin to sleepovers of our teenage years, except with real beds instead of an uncomfortable floor.

We also treated ourselves to a dinner out at Moosewood, Ithaca's legendary vegetarian restaurant, for healthy fare that was for the most part delicious, except for some well-intentioned but poorly executed shrimp...and what is shrimp doing at a vegetarian restaurant anyway?

Now I've got the itch to camp again this weekend, but few sites are available for Memorial Day weekend...the late bird must travel far to find a worm.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Garden Update: Adding Color

Phase two of the container garden was adding some flowers for color. I picked zinnias and marigolds for their brightness. They like full sun, so we'll see if the yard gets enough rays to keep them alive.

And impatiens, which like shade and did well here last summer.

Also, bee balm! It's a favorite from the wildflower gardens of my childhood, so when I saw this plant at the farmers market I had to get it. It won't bloom till July or August, but it's a beauty and bees love them. With bees still on the decline, it helps to grow native flowers and herbs, including lavender and bee balm, to attract pollinators.

The swiss chard and arugula are growing faster than the herbs.

So far the mixed greens are the only seedlings coming up...

...if you don't count the weeds.

Although I'm not offcially composting, I have created a leaf and soil heap. I'm afraid that if I add vegetable scraps it will attract unwanted wildlife, but I can handle collecting all the fallen leaves in a pile where it will hopefully decompose over time.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mini Rhubarb and Apple Galettes

Remember when I made mini apple pies in muffin tins? Those were a b*tch to roll out, cut out, and arrange in the tins. Plus you still needed a fork to eat them. So I didn't want to go that route again, but I did want to make some kind of hand pies for my party, featuring rhubarb while it's in season. Lily's love for this rhubarb galette recipe convinced me that I should make mini galettes with adorable free form folds and jewel-toned fruit peeking out the middle. Still not as simple as making one large pie but a little easier than dealing with muffin tins.

I followed Smitten Kitchen's pie dough recipe again, and ended up with way too much dough, so just halve it unless you want to try to make 32 mini pies. I also smartly divided the dough into little balls for chilling to make it easier when it came time to roll it out. My galettes ended up skimpy on the fruit because I didn't have enough rhubarb, so I've estimated what I think would be the right amount of stalks.

Mini Rhubarb-Apple Galettes

half the pie dough recipe from Smitten Kitchen
6 rhubarb stalks
2 apples
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup flour
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp ginger
1/2 cup sugar
additional sugar for sprinkling tops

Make dough and divide into eight little balls to store in plastic bag in refrigerator for an hour or up to three days ahead of time.

Chop rhubarb and apple into small 1/4" or 1/2" inch slices. Combine with remaining ingredients and let sit for half an hour, in a colander with a bowl beneath it to let the juices drain. Preheat oven to 350 and grease two baking sheets.

Remove four of the dough balls from the fridge, divide them each in half, and set to the side of a generously floured surface. One by one, roll out each ball of dough to a rough circle 1/8" thick. Spoon fruit onto the center of the dough, fold and press over edges, and place on baking tray. When this tray is full, sprinkle tops with sugar, and bake for approximately 30-40 minutes until golden brown.

While the first tray is baking, repeat above directions with remaining dough balls from fridge. Makes approximately 16 mini galettes. (To make 32, use the full SK dough recipe and double my rhubarb filling recipe.)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Vegan Party Salads

I didn't expect to be hosting any vegans at my party, but you never know, and I thought it would be nice to have a couple healthy salads as a complement to the big cheese plate. I have never understood why potato salad with mayo is such a popular dish for outdoor gatherings, anyway, considering the health risks, so I made a mustard-shallot vinaigrette. Whenever celery is not in season, colorful swiss chard stems are the pefect crunchy stand-in. I don't bother with bacon or pickles or other crazy fixings because I think this simple variation on potato salad tastes justs fine.

For the bean salad, I opted to use wheat berries because they are available cheaply from Cayuga Pure Organics, but rye berries, farro, brown rice, or other grains could work here. I made an exception to my local role and went exotic with avocados to add a creamy element in place of cheese. I also just realized that I forgot to add fresh herbs, but parsley or cilantro would definitely enhance the brightness of the avocado and lemon.

Both salads can be served warm, room temperature, or cold, and are best served the same day they are prepared - the flavors dulled after the leftovers spent a night in the refrigerator. Check out more of my fun party salad recipes, here.

Potato Salad with Swiss Chard Stems and Mustard-Shallot Vinaigrette
1/2 small onion
stems of 1 bunch swiss chard
1 shallot
3 tbsp mustard
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tbsp water
3 tbsp vinegar
2 tsp dried or 2 tbsp fresh thyme
salt and pepper

Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Chop and add potatoes. Cook until fork tender, drain, and set aside. Dice onion and the stems of a bunch of swiss chard (reserve chard leaves for another use). Dice shallot. In a small bowl, whisk together shallot with remaining ingredients and adjust levels to taste. Add onion, chard stems, and vinaigrette to potatoes and stir until thoroughly combined.

Bean, Avocado, and Wheat Berry Salad
1 1/2 cups dried black beans
1 1/2 cups wheat berries or other grain
1/3 head of cabbage
1/2 small onion
4 fat cloves of garlic
1/3 cup fresh parsley or cilantro
3 avocados
zest and juice of 1 lemon
olive oil
salt and pepper

Soak beans and wheat berries together overnight or for several hours. Simmer in a large pot for about one hour, or in a slow cooker on high for about 4 hours or low for about 8 hours, until beans are tender and grains are just slightly chewy. Drain and rinse thoroughly. The beans and wheat berries can be made up to two days ahead, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Chop cabbage into shreds, dice onion, garlic, and herbs, and chop avocados. Combine with bean and grain mixture, and add lemon zest and juice, a generous drizzle of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Going Glamping

You may recall me agonizing over where to vacation this spring. I finally settled on the St Thomas area. It seems a litle silly to be heading to a tropical location just as the weather is brightening up in New York, but it's what made sense for me. In just a short while, I'll be "glamping" it up at an eco-friendly tent-cottage at the Virgin Islands Campground on Water Island. Scuba diving (I'm nervous but forcing myself to try something new and fun), hiking, island hopping, and lounging on the beach. Oh yeah, and there's a pizza boat that floats around the island. Yes please. Let's also hope I can bring a fresh and carefree outlook back home with me to replace my all-too-stressball attitude of late.

P.S. Party recipe recaps have been scheduled to continue while I'm away.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Superfood Gluten-Free Beet Walnut Brownies

I'm not gluten-intolerant myself (not sure I could live without pizza and bagels and bread), but I was inspired to think about incorporating more variety and gluten-free dishes in my diet by Andrea of Tea & Cookies. A couple months ago I read her new book, The Butcher and the Vegetarian, which is promoted as a book about a vegetarian discovering the world of meat but is really about one woman's search for the right foods for her own health, trying vegetarian, carnivorous, gluten free, and raw food diets along the way.

So I decided to create a gluten-free brownie packed with several of the world's healthiest foods, including walnuts, beets, and flax seeds. They are also low in refined sugar, and I recommend using fair trade dark chocolate and organic ingredients here wherever possible for a practically guilt-free, yet totally indulgent tasting, dessert! Best straight out of the freezer or refrigerator (the cold enhances the flavor), these are intensely chocolatey and complex brownies, similar to flourless chocolate cakes. There are a lot of steps involved but it's so worth it. Of course they were gone by the end of the party. Maybe next time I'll double the batch...because I could really go for one right now.

Updated as of 2013: I used to make these in cupcake tins as mini cakes, but I had too many issues with the brownies sticking to the cupcake tin. I've now taken to baking them in larger pans and ramekins rather than in muffin tins. I think a 9x13 size pan would work. Also make sure to butter and flour (or cocoa dust) the pan, and to let them cool for an hour at room temperature before attempting to remove from the pan.

Gluten Free Walnut Beet Brownies
1/2 cup roasted and pureed beets (2 or 3 smallish beets)
3.5 oz dark chocolate (one bar or about 3/4 cup)
5 tbsp butter (little more than 1/2 stick or 1/4 cup)
2 eggs
1/3 cup raw sugar
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup walnuts, ground into fine meal
2 tbsp flax seeds, ground
2 tbsp cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Ahead of time, roast the beets. Preheat oven to 450. Rinse the beets, coat in olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, and wrap in a tinfoil pouch. Roast for approximately one hour, until fork tender. Let cool (I stick them in the freezer for a bit where they'll cool off quicker) before peeling. Sometimes peels will slip right off after roasting, but other times you may need a peeler. I like to peel mine under a running faucet which also helps the outer skin come clear off. Puree beets in a food processor or blender.

Preheat oven to 350 and grease the pan. Bring a few inches of water to simmer in a saucepan. Roughly chop chocolate and butter and place in a metal bowl over the simmering water. Stir occasionally until completely melted. Remove bowl from heat.

While the bowl cools, grind the walnuts and flax seeds into a fine meal using a food processor or coffee grinder (Be careful to not over-process the walnuts or they will start to clump together on their way to walnut butter).

Once the chocolate-butter mixture is cool, add beet puree, eggs, sugar, and honey, and stir to combine. Dump ground walnuts, flax seeds, cocoa powder, and baking soda into the bowl, and stir to combine. Finally, mix in chopped walnuts. Spoon batter into a cupcake tin or 9x13 pan.

Bake for about 30 minutes (cupcake tin) or 40 minutes (in a pan) (and sorry, I am not a stickler about timing my baking). Check the brownies every 5 minutes or so starting at 20 minutes and remove when a knife inserted comes out with just a little chocolate sticking to it.

Store in an airtight container in freezer or refrigerator.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Party Time and Spinach Goat Cheese Dip

I've been away from this blog because I've been busy, first with a wretched weekend, and then a week that involved saying farewell to my boss of four years as she moves on to become a caterer chef (so excited for her!), and prepping like mad for my own barbeque soiree in our backyard this past Saturday.

As usual, I went a little overboard with self-catering and took on more than was probably reasonable. But honestly it works out because as stressed as I seem, I love spending the day in the kitchen and I prefer to serve food that I source myself from the farmers market and cooked from scratch with care. Kudos to my sister, who stepped in as sous-chef to help me finish the prepping in time.

It's been nearly a year since my last big party, so I'm really glad it was a success. The dogs were surprisingly well-behaved. The weather was beautiful. Everyone enjoyed the candle-lit patio, and it's made me think twice about the plan to move this summer. It was great to meet new people and reconnect with old friends. Guests were nice enough to bring lovely things to add to the spread, like local cheese plates, chili and cornbread, a gorgeous lilac centerpiece, and homemade salsa. Some genius came bearing ice cream sandwiches. I'm happy to have a few of those leftover in the freezer ;-)

I especially enjoyed planning the menu and getting excited to try new things in the kitchen (see my last post). My final menu included:
* Carrot, radish, and pepper crudite with white bean herb dip and spinach goat cheese dip
* Grass-fed burgers and hot dogs with slices of no-knead bread for buns
* Shrimp skewers, marinated in homemade barbeque sauce and grilled
* Vegan bean and wheatberry salad and potato salad with mustard vinaigrette
* Mini rhubarb apple galettes and gluten-free walnut beet brownies
* Homemade ginger ale for mixing cocktails

The white bean dip with fresh herbs and roasted garlic is a favorite that I make for all my parties. I thought up the spinach goat cheese dip for my sister, who can only tolerate goat and sheep cheeses. It was remarkably easy - ahead of time, I sauteed a bunch of spinach in olive oil until wilted. The day of the party, we mixed a tub of Lynnhaven goat cheese feta (or you could use chevre) with half the spinach in a food processor and blended it with olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste. The result was a vibrant green dip that looks like pesto, but packs the unexpected rich and creamy taste of goat cheese. We used it for dipping, but it would also be an excellent spread for crostini or sandwiches. I think it would also be fun to mash the spinach and cheese by hand with a fork for a coarser blend.

I'll be posting the rest of my party recipes over the next several days, so stay tuned!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

April Farmers Market Hauls

I haven't been posting as many recipes lately because I've been cooking super simple meals. Things like roasted vegetables mixed with beans; sauteed spinach and roast potatoes as a side to grilled pork chops; eggs scrambled with ramps and other spring vegetables. Simple is often the best way to prepare high quality farm fresh ingredients, and it certainly makes my life easier to prepare tried and true recipes. Rather than bore you with the same meals over and over again, I'm going to try to share my weekly farmers market hauls as a record of the seasonal produce we're enjoying. I also think this will help me be more accountable when it comes to buying enough produce and actually eating fruit and/or vegetables every day (something I need to work on).

Here's what I took home in April. What's in season at the markets where you live? Can you suggest any dishes involving these ingredients? Maybe some new recipes would help kick me out of my cooking rut.

April 17, 2010:
spinach, asparagus, radishes (first of the season for these veg!), carrots, Wilklow Orchards ramps, Milk Thistle milk, Phillips Farm ketchup. Also, lavender sachets as a gift for my boyfriend's mom - from a new market purveyor, Lavender By the Bay grown on Long Island with such a wonderful smell. They also make baking lavender which I hope to try soon.

April 24, 2010:
spinach, asparagus, leek, blue potatoes, eggs, Milk Thistle milk, Cayuga Pure Organics black and navy beans, Phillips Farm zinnias and marigolds, Evolutionary Organics impatiens, Wilklow Orchards pork chops*. Not pictured: Cayuga Organics wheat berries, Evolutionary Organics bee balm plant.

* I heart Wilklow Orchards. The couple that runs the stand are so sweet and friendly, and their pork chops are the bomb. Plus, you can follow them on twitter and get a preview of what they'll have on sale (great use of social media). Wilklow sells meat and various fruits, vegetables, and baked goods depending on the stand at the Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn Borough Hall, Fort Greene, and the Staten Island Ferry/Whitehall markets.