Roasted Cheese-Stuffed Spiced Tomatoes

Roasted Cheese-Stuffed Spiced Tomatoes

There’s a roasted caprese I love to make for the family: campari tomatoes stuffed with ciliegine, basil, and topped with seasoned bread crumbs. While I was craving them last weekend, I was also craving sambousak, a buttery, sesame pastry filled with muenster cheese. Lori serves them whenever she cooks a Syrian feast. In fact, it’s how we begin one. While she works the stuffing, I am usually put on sesame seed duty. Dipping and pressing each pastry into a bowl of seeds, then lining them up on a baking sheet and popping them into the oven. The aroma of that moment is what I’m after.

In a perfect world, I would’ve made both. But it’s finally truly warm out and I wanted to fully embrace “less is more” on a Sunday afternoon. The only solution was this: stuffing tomatoes with muenster cheese, leaning more towards Syrian cuisine by using familiar spices, swapping out the basil for parsley, and then topping each tomato with sesame and nigella seeds before they get popped into the oven and, 20 minutes later, right into my mouth.

Guys, I should triple this recipe. I mean, look at that pre-bake and imagine cheese melted, tomatoes fragrant with spices and tasting sweeter, even bolder, than ever. The aroma of toasted seeds fills your kitchen. Or don’t imagine and just peep that after shot.

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You will need:

– 2 lb campari tomatoes, or other similar-sized variety, about 18-22
– drizzle of olive oil
– 1/2 tsp allspice
– 1/4 tsp cumin
– 1/4 tsp Aleppo pepper
– 1/4 tsp salt
– couple of pinches of cardamom
– 7 oz muenster cheese, small diced
– 2 tbs parsley, finely chopped
– 1 tbs sesame seeds
– 1/2 tbs nigella seeds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Core each tomato and take a sliver off the bottom of each one so that they sit up nicely when ready to roast. While you’re working on everything else, have them lined up on paper towels, upside down, so that any excess liquid is drained.

Meanwhile, put all spices in a small bowl and whisk them together. In another small bowl, add both seeds and whisk together.

In another bowl, toss your diced muenster cheese with parsley and a 1/2 tsp of the spices, reserving the rest for later use.

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In a large bowl, drizzle a little olive oil onto the cored tomatoes and sprinkle the spices inside and outside of each one, gently tossing them to make sure they are each seasoned equally.

Stuff each tomato with the seasoned muenster cheese and place them in a cast iron skillet. You’ll want to see cheese peeking out of the tomatoes. When they melt, they get real snug into each one.

Top each tomato with a generous amount of seeds.

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Roast for about 20 minutes. Serve immediately. Enjoy your Sunday.

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Miss-You-Summer Galette with Blood Orange Z’hug

Miss-You-Summer Galette with Blood Orange Z’hug

There’s a farmstand by me that has been showing off tomatoes these last couple of months like they were just-dug-up rubies. It was startling to see such glorious red globes in February, and so many of them, too. Tory and I had just been flipping through Ottolenghi’s Simple, professing our love to the summer tomato on the page. We miss ’em bad and I know you do, too.

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But let’s be real. It is simply not tomato season yet. These beauties tasted identical to the beefsteak tomatoes that are sittin’ bland at the grocery store today, and I know they aren’t the sort of farm that grows them indoors. I *just* recently learned about this kind of farm in NJ, and this is what their tomatoes look like on the farmstand today:

I am pretty disappointed in myself for not visiting the Union Square Greenmarket throughout all of 2018. I think I spent that entire year living a very sad lie. I could’ve had beautiful tomatoes in January! February! All year long. But this post isn’t about those tomatoes. It’s about what I’ve been doing all this time with store-bought ones.

The only way I’ve coped with the lack of summer tomatoes is to purchase a sweeter variety and roast them (usually the smaller varieties). This galette got me all teary eye’d. It was the closest thing to summer I’ve had to date.

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Top it with your favorite cheese and greens. I used feta and radish microgreens. Even better: serve it with my Blood Orange Z’hug to turn up the green and the heat. (Seriously, do that!) Have it with yolky eggs in the morning. I know I did. Maybe don’t forget the olives.

Miss-You-Summer Galette

– 1 9″ pie dough (homemade or storebought)
– about 1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
– drizzle of good quality olive oil
– sprig of thyme or oregano, leaves only, tender stems are okay
– salt and pepper, to taste
– favorite cheese
blood orange z’hug (<-click for recipe)
– microgreens (optional)
– olives (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a small bowl, gently toss tomatoes in olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme. Center them cut-side up on your pie dough (which should be on a baking sheet) and fold in the edges. Brush edges with milk or eggwash, and if you want, season them with flaky salt and/or other spices. Bake for about 40 minutes, til some tomatoes are browned and the dough looks golden.

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You’ll want to make this even when tomatoes ARE in season. 2 1/2 more months? Or, you know, head on over to your local indoor farm. Or Union Sq Greenmarket if you’re around.

Braised Cranberry Beans (Enjoyed Two Ways)

I’ve a confession to make.

I left these beauties in the fridge for at least a week before getting down to business.

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How dare I, I know. It’s just that I’ve been overly excited about Spring’s arrival, and with that comes some major irresponsibility on my part. I am buying way too many things at the farmers market and I can’t keep up with it all. When I looked in the fridge today, I had bags of three kinds of radishes, thyme, chives, forgotten carrots and onions, cauliflower, purple cabbage, ridiculously expensive cherry tomatoes, 5 kinds of cheeses…the list goes on. But can you BLAME ME?

Anxiety started to build up last night. I stayed up late brainstorming what I wanted to make the next morning. Mind you, everything I thought of had zero things to do with cranberry beans, because I actually forgot I had them. I went to bed with more ideas than a solid plan for 8 AM. When I opened the crisp drawer next morning, there they were, a gloriously pink reminder of their existence.

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It was clearly time to sit down, and start shelling. I had no idea what would happen after I revealed what was inside each pod. That’s what makes this recipe special to me. I felt how I used to when writing a poem. The first step is to begin. Begin somewhere, anywhere, and let it transform into something unexpected and beautiful. That’s what happened here. It began with a braise.

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And then it became a salad of some of the things I couldn’t bare to neglect any longer.

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Braised Cranberry Beans

for boiling them first
-fresh cranberry beans, shelled, about 1 1/2 cup
-1 garlic gloves, smashed
-sprig of thyme or other herbs

for the braise
-1/4 cup good quality olive oil, or enough to cover beans half-way in small pot
-1 tsp toasted cumin seeds or powder
-1 garlic clove, smashed
-orange or lemon peels (optional)
-generous amount of Aleppo pepper (or other red pepper)
-salt, to taste

for the Braised Bean Salad (basically, your market haul) I used:

-braised cranberry beans with oil
-cherry tomatoes, quartered
-3-4 radishes, all the colors
-small bunch of fresh chives
-leaves from 1 thyme sprig
-salt and pepper, to taste
-fresh drizzle of olive oil
-fresh squeeze of lemon
-ricotta salata cheese (or other cheese)

Directions

Braised Beans: After the beans have been shelled, put them in a sauce pan with enough water to cover, and let it simmer for 20 minutes with aromatics. Drain. In the same pan, heat the olive oil and begin to saute the garlic, cumin, and red pepper for about a minute. Add the beans and cover, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes under low heat (or until the beans have softened and some have turned a golden color.)You want that braised-crisp look on the outside, but creaminess on the inside.

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At this point, you can serve as is. Spoon it over beautiful bread. Maybe add some grated parmesan.

But if you’re lookin’ for something more, continue on and make the salad. Add all the spring things and toss. Season with salt and pepper and dress it with fresh lemon juice. Use what you have on hand but be sure to have something in there that provides a good crunch. I love the addition of radishes in here for that very reason. Maybe uncooked green beans! Parsley would make another nice, green addition.

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And here’s a friendly reminder: keep an eye out for the beautiful at your local market. They may come in very tiny bundles. The stuff of poems.

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Miss-You-Spring Galette

Miss-You-Spring Galette

Are you over citrus season yet?

Not I.

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But I wanted my next recipe to lean into spring as if it were only 10 days away. (It is. It doesn’t feel like it, but I promise you, it is. My latest trip to the farmers market told me so!)

Some will say I jumped headfirst into our neighboring season with all these glorious yellows, oranges, and greens, but then that buttery, flaky, pie dough keeps things real cozy, just in time for that moment you realize it’s 23 degrees outside and not as sunny as what’s comin’ out the oven.

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I didn’t know what to name this! It’s basically one of my favorite salads nestled into pie dough. Roasted beets and oranges, topped with lots of spicy greens, and feta.

Cara Cara and Golden Beet Salad Galette AKA Miss-You-Spring Galette AKA Fav Salad Galette?

-2 small golden beets, peeled and sliced crosswise
-1/2 tbs blood orange olive oil (or regular olive oil)
-salt and pepper, to taste
-1 Cara Cara, peeled and sliced
-9 inch pie dough (homemade or store-bought)
-milk or eggwash
-pinches of spice blend (or cracked pepper, flaky salt)
-1/2 cup feta, or more!
-1 1/2 cup arugula or microgreens, dressed however you like, I used a citrus balsamic

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

1. In it’s own bowl, toss sliced golden beets in olive oil, salt and pepper.

2. Roll out your dough on a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper and layer it’s center with beets and oranges. You’ll want enough room to fold in the edges. You can even add some crumbled feta at this point, reserving the rest for when it’s out of the oven.

3. Brush any exposed oranges with olive oil.

4. Brush milk or eggwash on the folded edges and sprinkle some seasoning. I added Aleppo pepper, salt, roasted garlic, parsley flakes.

5. Bake at 375 degrees for about 35-40 minutes. Let it cool down a little before piling on your greens and cheese.

I repeat: 10 more days!

Also, just for photographing purposes, I used way less greens and cheese so that you can see the oranges and beets. But please, pile everything on (and some), should you want to. I’ve even placed extra greens and cheese in bowls in case others wanted more. Maybe offer olives, too!

Citrus and Z’hug Marinated Manchego

Citrus and Z’hug Marinated Manchego

When Saratoga Olive Oil Company asked me to write recipes for them using their latest products, I said YES, PLEASE AND THANK YOU, knowing full well that I had a million other things on my plate, including moving in exactly two weeks. Thankfully, I had this recipe in mind for awhile and a plate full of marinated cheese ain’t something to be stressed about.

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I think you might’ve heard me talk about their olive oil before. But here’s a reminder: five years ago during my first picnic, an incident occurred. To keep the story short, my Canon Rebel had Herbes de Provence olive oil seeping out of it’s pores for 3 months straight. Fun times.

I’d love to tell you that I was real chill about being asked to create these recipes and that I didn’t spend an entire day testing out 5 of them at once, but you know I did. And I enjoyed every minute of it!

The menu was inspired by their blood orange olive oil, cara cara vanilla balsamic vinegar, and their z’hug spice blend that I have been putting on literally everything. It has a few of my favorite spices and a few of my new favorites: cardamom, caraway, cumin, coriander, roasted garlic, parsley, tellicherry pepper, Turkish Marash pepper, lemon and Himalayan pink salt. This blend is amazing, especially for being the dry version of something so fresh and so green.

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So, in order to meet a deadline, I stayed true to myself and the first thing on the menu was CHEESE. Marinated cheese. Manchego. The kind of cheese I’d bring to my next party or picnic or next series binge before bed.

This young manchego is marinated in Blood Orange Olive Oil, lightly sweetened with Cara Cara Vanilla Balsamic, and gently spiced with Z’hug. Basically, what cheese lovers should make for other cheese lovers.

*If you don’t have this spice blend on hand, try a combo of cumin, dried herbs, red pepper flakes. Try to use only the white balsamics or honey.*

Citrus and Z’hug Marinated Manchego

-7 oz young Manchego cheese (3 months), broken into small pieces
-1/2 cup Blood Orange Olive Oil (or regular olive oil)
-2 TSP Z’hug seasoning (or your own blend)
-1/2 TSP cumin seeds, toasted
-5 strips of orange zest
-2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
-1 sprig rosemary
-2 TSP SOOC Cara Cara Vanilla Balsamic Vinegar
– drizzle of SOOC Blood Orange Olive Oil (optional)

1. In a small saucepan under medium-low heat, add olive oil, z’hug, cumin, orange peels, and garlic. Sauté for 5 minutes before adding the rosemary, then continue to sauté for another 5 minutes.

2. Set aside and let cool completely. Add Cara Cara Vanilla Balsamic Vinegar and stir.

3. Pour over cheese, gently tossing to make sure everything is coated.

4. Cover and chill for 12 hours, or up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Note: Feel free to add a long, fresh drizzle of Blood Orange Olive Oil. You can also try this recipe using other varieties of semi-firm cheese and spices. Serve with bread.

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Danny told me he thought it looked like marinated cauliflower for a second. I’m not mad.

citrus green bean salad & Tuscan-style beans

citrus green bean salad & Tuscan-style beans

If you can find me competing with squirrels for my neighbor’s figs, then you best believe I was found, on vacation, taking the neighborhood’s oranges from trees bustling with these thick-skinned globes.

As if I didn’t have enough of them, I purchased honeybells, meyer lemons, and tasted a variety of oranges at the farmers market. They made a wonderful addition to a refreshing green bean salad that I made not once, but twice.



Inspired by a meal I shared with Victoria Anzalone in Astoria at Milkflower right before heading to Englewood, Florida, I fell in love with it’s simplicity. The green beans were kept crisp, tossed in a vinaigrette, and topped with sharp cheese, orange segments, slivered almonds, and quick-pickled radicchio. That’s it.

Mine was inspired by Florida and everything I fell in love with at Englewood Farmers Market.

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Wild orange roasted nuts, which were handed to Dan and I with the promise that we’d pay this kind man a week later because we ran out of cash. We paid Ashley Gray, suitcases in tow, an hour before hopping on the plane heading to NY. The cheese we used was a creamy asiago aged with raspberry ale from Stamper Cheese Company. The oranges were sorta-kinda stolen, and used for a citrus vinaigrette to toss the beans with.

Citrus Green Bean Salad

Directions:

We’re using a pound of green beans, trimmed, boiled in salted water for 2 minutes, placed in ice water, then drained. The color of your beans should be bright and glorious. Toss them with a citrus vinaigrette (juice from half a small orange, couple of splashes of apple cider vinegar or rice wine vinegar, little bit of olive oil, salt and black or red pepper.) Keep in fridge marinating in this dressing for at least 30 minutes before serving. Plate the beans, top them with orange segments, crushed nuts of your choosing, your favorite sharp cheese.

I love seeing them on the plate. When I returned home, I made this again but with blood oranges, feta, no nuts, and golden raisins. The dressing was a fig balsamic. Use what you got, I always say!

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I served this with brothy, Tuscan-inspired beans with greens. A beautiful lunch made with ingredients I bought from a Korean farmer at Fresh Harvest who is head-over-heels in love with everything she grew. She handed me the perfect cherry tomatoes, long beans, chinese broccoli. The leafy broccoli and colorful tomatoes were perfect for this.

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Ingredients


for the beans
– 1 cup dried baby lima beans, soaked over night
– 1 large garlic clove, smashed gently
– half a small onion
– bay leaf or sprig of rosemary
for the “soup”
– 4 garlic cloves, chopped
– 1 small onion, diced
– 1 large carrot, diced
– cherry tomatoes, chopped
– fresh thyme
– dash of white wine or rose, optional
– parmesan rind
– 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
– 1 cup variety of greens (parsley, chinese broccoli)

Directions

In the morning, drain beans after it’s over night soak, cover with fresh water in a medium saucepan along with 1 garlic clove, half onion, and bay leaf. Let simmer for 2 hours or til tender. Time varies. In a pot, drizzle olive oil and saute garlic, onion, carrot, tomatoes and thyme for a few minutes. Add the cooked beans and everything but the greens. Cook for 30 minutes more and then add your greens. Simmer for 5 more minutes. Serve with garlic crostinis and salad.

New Years celebration involved a cheese platter with everything from the market, including a Pear Habanero Jam and a Strawberry Chocolate jam. I smuggled these onto the plane and have been using them like crazy.

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Dessert was kept simple, thanks to Jamie Oliver’s New Years advice: frozen grapes with chocolate bark. 

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2019 started off beautifully and, I might say this every year, but I think it’s going to be a good one. I’m moving out next month. I’m getting a shout-out in Edible Queens magazine for the Swedish Meatballs I recently shared on my Instagram. My friendships and family remain fiercely solid. I’m going to live about 30 minutes away from my job, which gives me more time in the kitchen and even more time to do personal chef side jobs in the summer. I’m finally listening to Danny: no more maybes, much more doing, a whole lot less self-induced anxieties. I hope your year started off on a good note as well. We need a good one, don’t we? 

 

Syrian Rice: Bizeh b’Jurah

Syrian Rice: Bizeh b’Jurah

“Let me make you guys a nice, Syrian dinner on Sunday” was really my way of saying, I need a day in the kitchen. An entire day, please and thank you. One beginning with an early morning trip with Lori to a couple of Middle Eastern markets where rose petals, olives, barrels of legumes, Syrian cheeses, jarred tamarind, freezers stocked with homemade kibbeh and sambousaks, still-warm jelly and custard donuts, are aplenty. (Y’all know I came out with allll the donuts. And cheese.)

It’s the first day of Hanukkah, guys, and I needed to do something I love for people I love, and I needed to slow everything down so I could enjoy every second of it. That includes hugging the wonderful woman who brought out her freshly made donuts. If I couldn’t do any of this, a meltdown in the very near future would occur LET. ME. TELL. YOU.

It’s been over two months since I shared something with you. I get up in the mornings to cook something quick for dinner, then run out to work. I get home at 9pm. I’ve been feeling a disconnect in my kitchen and will like to borrow yours on the weekends. Let me feed you!

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Bizeh b’Jurah is Syrian rice with peas and meat. I made it a couple of years back on Rosh Hashanah after having seen the recipe in Lori’s copy of Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews. I LOVE THIS BOOK. It feels most family to me. Every month or so I crack it open for inspiration. This recipe is simple and hearty. It could be a side dish but it could also be a main. I made a few changes to the original recipe. Where she uses coriander seed, I use cumin. Where she uses water, I prefer a rich beef stock. At some point you’re supposed to create a paste with garlic and seed but I omit that part because I adore the wholeness of sliced garlic and seeds. For color and texture, grated carrot or shredded purple cabbage, a variety of fresh herbs and/or spring onions. I turn to the season for this one.

Bizeh b’Jurah, 6-8 servings

  • 4-5 garlic cloves, sliced
  • olive oil, enough to coat pan
  • 1 tbs tomato paste (optional)
  • 1 pound flanken, cut in 2-inch cubes, seasoned with salt n pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon allspice (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 cup long grain rice or basmati (rinsed)
  • 1 cup of frozen peas
  • 4 cups beef broth/stock (or water, or vegetable stock)
  • fresh herbs, chopped (any green that you love)
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced purple cabbage or grated carrot (optional)

In a medium saucepan, sear the flanken on both sides and set aside. Add a little more oil if needed, then add cumin seeds, garlic, and tomato paste if you’re using, saute for about a minute. Add meat back into the pan and pour the stock over it. Cover and simmer for about an hour and half, til tender.

Using a strainer to catch the meat, pour the liquid into a measuring cup. Measure out two cups of the broth because that is all you’ll need. Return the broth and meat into the pot and add the rice and peas, giving it a quick stir. Cover and let simmer til liquid is absorbed, about 15-20 minutes.

Toss in any herbs or crisp veggies you’d like, or leave as is! Chickpeas make a nice addition.

In keeping true to what I needed that day, I took my time with everything. I learned how to make Syrian stuffed grape leaves (Yebra) and enjoyed rinsing, drying, and trimming each small-to-enormous leaf. Adding meat and rice to each one and rolling them, sometimes sloppily, was fun. I eventually got the hang of it. In this recipe, also found in Aromas of Aleppo, you get a tanginess from lemons and tamarind (ou), and added sweetness from dried apricots and prunes.

Even tearing a part Syrian cheese was done slowly. I can eat a whole bowl of this (okay, I actually did eat a whole bowl of this.) I love the addition of nigella seeds.

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I hope that we all take a moment to self-care this winter. I always find getting through the cold and all the holidays pretty difficult, but HEY, for Christmas and New Years I’ll be on the beach away from New York, and that is MAJOR self-care. If you can’t get away, please do something you love. Take your time in doing it. It’s that necessary.

My 30th Birthday Picnic + Recipes

My 30th Birthday Picnic + Recipes

I had it all planned out. Homemade ricotta, not too firm, still warm, spooned onto a white, long platter. Then, I was to gently place beautifully roasted cherry tomatoes on the bed of cheese, it’s vine still attached. As a finishing touch, fresh herbs and edible flowers scattered all around it, and a long drizzle of good olive oil. I handpicked young, lemony basil for the occasion and dandelion yellows from the farmers market. In my mind, it’d make for a beautiful sight.

The fact that I never made cheese before didn’t worry me. It seemed simple enough. Buy THE BEST whole milk dairy you can find. Full fat. Not ultra-pasteurized like the milk or heavy cream we tend to find. Use fine sea salt or kosher salt. Heat til right under a boil and stir in your freshly squeezed lemon, or vinegar. Wait til curds form, about 30 minutes. Then slowly pour into your cheesecloth that is nestled in mesh, over a bowl. Wait another hour. Then voila! Ricotta. Right?

Connie walked into my kitchen and found a frustrated me with furrowed brows over the sink, shaking the contents in the cheesecloth, quickly losing a lot of whey. I must’ve looked like this:

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Barely any curds made it. It needed more time, maybe more lemon. We had to go, though. Whatever seemed thick enough I placed into a container and we headed for the picnic.

To be honest, I wanted nothing to do with the ricotta when I started to arrange the cheeseboard. Connie saw this and decided it’d be best if she gave me her gift early. A handmade, round serving platter, dipped halfway in a finishing wax. It is beautiful. I knew exactly what to do with it.

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Directions

Leave your cherry tomatoes attached to the vine. Put them on a sheet pan, drizzle good olive oil and balsamic over them. I used basil-infused olive oil and fig balsamic. Salt and pepper them to your liking. Add fresh herbs. I used thyme sprigs and some of the young basil. Roast at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes, or just til they are about to burst and have reached that nice charr we all know is where the flavor is at.

The tomatoes, along with the edible flowers, spread onto beautiful pieces of bread that Malvina bought, was my favorite picnic experience in the mouth. It was jammy, rich, salty and sweet. Perfection. I also had more on the vine and decided to pair it with the peppery, smoked turkey and herb-crusted soppressata. My tiny charcuterie board for my very few meat-eaters present.

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The cheeseboard itself was a satisfying and very sentimental experience for me as I was putting it all together. You have to keep in mind where everything comes from. What farm? How local is this considered? How seasonal? And from who/where? The fig jam, olive spread, and cheeses (prima donna extra aged gouda, sweet Irish cheddar, and smoked cheddar) were a gift from Danny’s mom to me. I wanted to share this with them as well but knew they had family emergencies to be a part of. Silent prayers and gratitude were on my brain. Every beautiful friend who spent their day with me were on my brain.

The cashew cardamom brittle, topped with lava salt, was made by Jennifer Dean of The Burley Hen, a new friend I’ve made that I’ve yet to meet, but who I already feel a bond with from afar. Not TOO far! She is a fellow local Queens food lover and maker. ❤

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My homemade Onion and Date jam had strong notes of oranges and thyme and paired well with both cheeses and meats. The recipe is inspired by Sarah Owens.

Directions

img_20180425_103434_5137319913938805768703.jpgThe night before, take the seeds out of about 13-15 Medjool dates and dice them. Soak them in a couple of tablespoons of meyer lemon-infused vodka or bourbon. I used meyer lemon vodka! Next day, thinly slice one, large Vidalia onion (makes a little over 4 cups). Set heavy-bottomed pan or dutch oven under medium heat with a little bit of oil, and saute the onions til they only slightly caramelize. Add 2 sprigs of thyme, the dates, 2 cups of water, tbsp of orange blossom honey (or any mild honey), zest from a small orange, a few cracks of pepper, simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring often. It’ll turn a darker, caramelized color. I added more pepper and a dash of more meyer lemon vodka. Fresh squeeze of orange juice.img_20180425_120406_4844056692902780502767.jpg

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There were a few other items on and around the board: fresh figs, a bowl of olives, mandarins with their branches and leaves still attached, long rosemary sprigs, sweetly blushed moscato grapes, multi-grain crackers and bread. Hot honey! Hummus with smoked eggplant from a local farm, served with all sorts of chips and veggies.

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Tory made fresh radish and cucumber sandwiches, a brightly colored carrot, quinoa, and chickpea salad which was beautifully dressed.

Megan made a cake that she should totally be proud of. It involved blood oranges. Almond flour. CHOCOLATE. Insanely moist.

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The gifts that were given to me showed me how KNOWN and loved I am by these beautiful people. Recipe books dedicated to chickpeas and ginger. Bee-themed gifts. Tea blossoms. Artisinal coffees. Floral purse. Every single thing was very much me and very much love.

Let’s not forget the flower arrangement made by a parent from my center! Franz James Floral Boutique knows art the way my chosen family knows me. What everyone brings to the table is the perfect recipe for each picnic thrown. This one felt like autumn reaching for spring.

cooking with oranges

cooking with oranges

Why an orange in all the things? Since I was young, one sip of orange juice would upset my stomach. I loved the taste, but I have never been able to enjoy an orange and for years I never bothered going anywhere near one. That is, until I began cooking and baking with them. It turns out, I love oranges better when paired with salty, savory flavors. Hard cheeses. As a marinade for chicken or pork. Marmalade. But marmalade-as-BBQ sauce WHAT!? I’ll get to that later.

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I am definitely in love with oranges when fresh thyme, rosemary, and cumin are present. Any fresh herb, really. I once had mussels in a Harlem restaurant with Connie and I kept asking myself, what is this amazingness I am tasting? Orange zest in a spicy broth. Mind blown.

Let’s just say I went a little orange-crazy for Jen’s birthday dinner. Even one of her gifts from me–a latin seasoning packet–had bitter orange peels in it.

The night before, I sleepily baked an Orange Bundt Cake, using cara cara oranges. I did not follow any of the instructions for the wet ingredients because a part of me did not agree with them. It only called for oil? No butter? I threw 2 sticks of room-temp butter in there, no oil, and hoped for the best. And you know what? It was perfectly orange. Soft and moist. I made an icing out of a couple of squeezes of fresh orange juice and its zest, vanilla extract. Served it with fig and orange jam for breakfast after I gently toasted a slice. I’m calling this a Birthday Bundt for Breakfast. I made it again for Tory, using cake flour and way more zest. I drizzled white and chocolate icing over it. It came out even better, I think.

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In the morning, it was time to stew the beans. Remember the recipe for my stewed beans I shared with you some time ago? I have been throwing a few orange peels into the pot ever since I did so in Florida. For Jen’s birthday feast, I even threw in a half of rotisserie chicken which fell apart in the pot and gave it an extra salty something. I’ve done this once before, about two years ago. Not sure why it’s taken me two years to do it again. I remember Dan and I thinking it was a fantastic idea. Perfect for when you have leftover chicken and not sure what to do with it.

Stewed Beans & Chicken with Orange Peels

  • Servings: about 6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • drizzle of olive oil
  • couple of thyme sprigs
  • tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, diced
  • few medium-sized orange peels
  • 2 16 oz cans cannellini beans
  • 1 16 oz tomato sauce
  • 16 oz water
  • half (leftover) chicken, dark meat, bone-in
  • salt n pepper, to taste

Directions

Heat olive oil in dutch oven or pot and add thyme, cumin seeds, onion, and jalapeños. Saute for a few minutes. Add everything else and simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Take out chicken (which is probably super tender by now), shred, and put back into the pot. Serve with basmati rice.

Note: I used canned beans for this recipe because I didn’t have dried on hand, but by all means, if you have them, use them instead. Soak over night.

Variations

I’ve made this recipe using small red beans, and pinto beans. They work very well, I just really love cannellini! Want to use other herbs? Cilantro was the only green my mom used for these beans for years. If you have them, definitely use them. Sometimes I find myself adding dried oregano as well. As for an added richness, sub some water for chicken stock.

If you’re looking for meatless stewed beans, which is what I usually make, I add potatoes and carrots, even olives, or nothing at all! Sometimes, I just want BEANS.

Here is the original stewed beans recipe.


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As a fresh side made with my farmers market haul, this salad was served: mixed greens with baby arugula, purple cabbage, roasted beets, cara cara oranges (yes, the peels went into the beans), and rupert cheese from Scarbourough Fare farms.

Expect way more orange-inspired dishes on this blog! I believe blood orange and meyer lemon marmalade is next–but smothered all over spicy ribs and used in replacement of BBQ sauce. NBD.

Back to Basics

Back to Basics

When the new year arrived, I didn’t do the things I’d normally do, or the things I intended on doing. No lists. No thought-out resolution. In fact, while Danny and I were with his family waiting patiently for the countdown to reach midnight, like we always do! someone glanced at their phone and noticed it was thirty seconds past. We were watching a recording of the countdown happen. We all laughed, calling it a typical Frank Pizzarelli moment, but I do think it meant something.

We spent a lot of our time in New Paltz at his aunt’s beautiful home, nearby this castle. The day we were supposed to leave ended up being a snow day, one of my favorite days out of our vacation. After walking to the castle and working up an appetite, Dan and I made reservations at A Tavola Trattoria, an Italian farm-to-table that reminded me there’s a reason why Glasbern Inn’s farm food made me cry with pure joy: there is nothing better than a locally sourced meal. Nothing. There is nothing more passionate than how it is sourced, prepped, cooked, and delivered to the table. It’s all done lovingly; full of an awareness you can only get from such a place. And to share that with my best friend is beyond words. BTW: citrus-marinated olives, pickled watermelon rind arugula salad, charred brussels sprouts, and this crostini with house-made ricotta, rosemary salt, and truffle orange honey was a beautiful way to start this meal.

We weren’t charged for our cocktails (courtesy Aunt Donna and Uncle Richie, who called in from Florida to let them know two kids in love with food would be there), and they tasted of summer, garden days. Hints of cucumber, mint, house-made pineapple jam to be spooned into gin. Dan and I toasted to the year we were about to leave, and being hopeful about the one we were about to enter.

Donna recommended their Chicken Under a Brick and I can see why. Served with fingerling potatoes that were clearly roasted with the chicken, and charred escarole, we were in heaven. The lemon flavors popped. I was obsessed with the charred greens soaked in all that lemony goodness from the beautifully cooked chicken.

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The town itself seemed as if it was tailored to my dream lifestyle and dream kitchen. There’s a Handmade shop that has beautiful wooden spoons, cheeseboards, handpainted pottery BRIE BOWLS, Y’ALL. I could cry just thinking about all the things I could’ve gotten, but didn’t, simply because I don’t have my own space to fill in such a way that is Me. But I will get there, of course. This year, I’m carving out the path that will get me closer to home.

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In the meantime, we are hoping to return between our birthdays, just in time for strawberry season and spring blooms and spring menus. I’d love to visit the local farms, and spend the warmer months hiking. All we can think about is eating in New Paltz again. At this farm-to-table and their one-and-only Indian restaurant I wrote about in a previous recipe post.

Much gratitude to this beautiful family who I love making cheese platters for BTW. As soon as we arrived, Frank said, “you doing a cheese thing with some meat and maybe a tomatuh?”

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One thing I know for sure for 2018–there will be plenty of cheese, bread, and jam. Strawberry jam from what we pick with our own hands in New Paltz. Fig jam for Aunt Donna, as a thank you for the warm stay but also an apology for devouring the fig jam she left in her fridge. There will also be way more bread and other baked goods.

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I started reading from this recipe book I purchased from our trip when we got back, and that’s when I decided that I must begin the new year by strengthening my relationship to flour and the preservation of every season, with the intent of eating better and feeling better. I also need to drink way more water. Basically, I need to go back to basics. Take a tiny step back in order to move forward more fluidly.

The first thing I baked this month were these Orange Cardamom Crumb Muffins, inspired by a recipe in Toast & Jam.

I paired them with a fig and orange jam Lori bought me from New Paltz. It’s the most delicious thing EVER. The next day I toasted them, buttered them, added more jam and ate them with chunks of cheese. They are wholesome. My favorite thing about these muffins was watching my young niece work a bite of one in her mouth. She looked unsure. But then she said, more, after a brave gulp and I knew I made a worthy muffin.

My Kind of Muffin

My Kind of Muffin

These savory, cheesy muffins are my go-to for picnics, brunch, getaways, but sometimes I make a batch just for Danny who can’t get enough of ’em. (Don’t tell him I said that.) Have them fresh out of the oven or much later. Slather some of my strawberry-fig jam on ’em and be smacked with savory-sweet goodness.

This Ham and Cheese Muffin recipe is adapted from Lee Bailey’s Portable Food book. I’ve toyed with it a bit and encourage you to do the same once you’ve nailed down the basics. While he uses only cheddar, I love a bit of the smokier cheeses as well. I’ve always made a batch with smoked gouda but tried smoked gruyère the other day and it was just as lovely. Adding fresh herbs is my favorite way to consume them, though it is optional. I was growing lots of thyme and rosemary during the summer and decided to toss them into the flour. Best. Decision. Ever. Though I think Dan can go without. Cracked pepper adds the spice I always prefer in a savory thing, add as much as you want! Also feel free to play with whatever variety of cheese you want. I haven’t omitted the ham in this recipe, but if you do, let me know how it comes out. Add a bit more cheese and I’m sure they’ll be perfect.


Ham-N-Cheese Muffins

  • Servings: 12 muffins
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
freshly cracked pepper
1 tbsp fresh herbs, minced
1 egg room temp
1 cup buttermilk room temp
1/4 cup oil
8 oz smoked ham or other smoked meat, finely diced
1 cup grated sharp cheddar
1/4 cup grated smoked cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, stir flour, salt, pepper, and herbs til combined. Add grated cheese and toss into the flour til evenly distributed. In a smaller bowl, whisk in the egg, buttermilk, and oil. Stir in ham. Stir egg mixture into dry ingredients and try not to over mix. Spoon fully into greased muffin pan. Bake for about 20 minutes, til they’ve reached their golden-ness. All done!

These muffins turn crisp and golden on the outside and remain soft in the inside. Dan told me they are almost biscuit-like. These were my latest batch, enjoyed with Dan while pet-sitting at mom’s. Let’s just say Peanut, her Cockalier, went mad for the smell of them.

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Birthday Picnic: cheeseboard, strawberry fig jam + poem(s)

Birthday Picnic: cheeseboard, strawberry fig jam + poem(s)

Red blooming on green
Spring’s mother sends a runner
I run, red-handed

A very young green was my part of the earth (Queens, NY), late-April. I was turning 28 and all I wanted was to be sunning and eating with my loves, surrounded by a landscape dramatically punctuated with big-headed dandelions.

Let’s be real. A bad-ass cheeseboard I wanted, (too).

I am not taking full credit for the success of this board. My boyfriend at the time knew how stressed I was, and so he told me he “got this.” Indeed, he did. He picked out this slab of beautiful cherry wood, as well as purchased 94.6% of what went on it.

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The cheeses: (Alton Brown said 3 is enough for your cheeseboard. We went for 3.5.) We had manchego wrapped with prosciutto, a nutty/sharp, peppery Toscano cheese sold at Trader Joes (one of my faves!), a wedge of Parmesan, and a beautifully sharp and creamy cheddar aged pretty damn long.

The meats: besides the prosciutto? A soppressata made with syrah. Salami.

The Green: Tory brought tabbouleh, beautifully minting up the tongue.

Artfully thrown around the board: cherry tomatoes I got at the farmer’s market, dark chocolate pretzel bark with sea salt, sweet n spiced nuts, olives, grapes. Really good olive oil sold only at La Villa (Brooklyn), which found it’s way into the pores of the very camera  that took all these photos. It took two WEEKS for oil to seep completely out.

Desserts: my loves Valerie and Connie took care of that. Beautiful little pastries and a rustic pear & pistachio tart that Connie said screamed Crystal. It did. It screamed. ❤

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What were my contributions? Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread (I should’ve made two loaves), a jug of Pineapple rum from Puerto Rico that my pops had given me, most of the meats, and my very first, very successful (tiny) batches of Strawberry Fig Jam.

12973522_10154223040359729_5355946865464908475_oGeometry deals with properties of space. Figs
(a “multiple fruit”) are like strawberries

only inside out—its skin is
a receptacle.

–Nick Flynn, from Put the Load on Me

Strawberry Fig Jam

1 pound strawberries, chopped
mission figs, chopped (about 7-8)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 lemon, juiced
zest of orange, to taste
mint (fresh or dried)
Cracked pepper, to taste

Instructions
1. let the flavors of strawberry and fig marry over night (or 2 nights!), along with the sugar in a sealed container. it’ll LOOK like they’ve married when they’re ready, with time.
2. put it all in a skillet over medium-to-high heat, stirring often for about 5 minutes then turn it down to a long simmer. add the lemon juice which will be this jam’s natural pectin/thickener, about 8 minutes in.
3. you can stop here, but this is where I got very free with it. danny calls this my witchery. i added a pinch of dried mint my friend Tory had given me, (definitely feel free to use fresh mint!), a bit of cracked black peppercorn for heat, a little bit of orange zest and some of it’s juice for a refreshing, citrus taste. simmer til satisfied. i simmered for about a few minutes.
4. jar ’em (even a container will do). this was a small batch with the intention of finishing them ASAP so I left a container of it in the fridge. it can stay fresh up to a month this way.
5. put this jam on EVERYTHING!

I’m not even messin’ ’round here. Tory was the brave one to slather this jam on every cheese, meat, bread and chocolate to be found on this board. Once she gave us the GO, we went. (She even took one tiny jar home, which made me all kinds of happy.) Just so you know, this jam paired especially well with the creamy, sharp white cheddar.

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After getting our grub on, some of us went for a walk along the water, and others layed on the grass, talking and not talking. Sunning, definitely. I sat by this board like my life depended on it, while my love handed me a bunch full of dandelions. It was beautiful.

Here’s the aftermath. Sorta. We ate some more and there are people missing from these photos! Like Malvina, who gave us all the water we didn’t know we needed. BTW: 8 is a perfect number for a picnic. (2 more probably would’ve been ok, too). I don’t do well with big groups. I’m the sort who prefers one-on-ones, and having to dedicate my full self to each person can overwhelm me, just because I don’t feel I can really do that with all at once. Nothing about this was overwhelming. I don’t like to use this word, but it was pretty damn perfect. Thank you to my loves.