braised whole cauliflower and syrian meatballs

braised whole cauliflower and syrian meatballs

Mom says this might be the most beautiful meal she’s ever seen, and I think she was mostly referring to the whole-roasted cauliflower which was then basted several times before showcasing it’s good looks. It’s a beauty draped in tomato-red and turmeric-yellow. Tender syrian-style meatballs (and olives, if you have) circle around it, completing this meal. I’ve added garlic scapes this time around. It is, after all, summer.

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Preheat oven to 425 (or 400 for powerful ovens)

for the cauliflower

-1 medium head cauliflower
-pot of generously salted water
-tsp turmeric
-1/2 tsp cumin
-pinches of salt
-olive oil
-tsp of harissa (optional)

Place the cauliflower in boiling, salted water for about 5 minutes. With a pair of tongs, remove the cauliflower and transfer it to a sheet pan. Add a generous amount of olive oil all over, including upside down so that the oil truly gets inside. Season it with turmeric, cumin, and salt. Rub harissa over it if using. Pop it in the oven while you work on the meatballs and braising sauce.

for the Hashu (spiced ground meat with rice)

-1 pound grass fed ground beef
-1/4 c dill, chopped
-1/4 c parsley, minced
-1/3 c basmati rice, soaked in warm water
-1 spring onion/scallion, sliced then chopped, or 1 sm onion finely chopped
-3 garlic cloves, minced
-1 tsp allspice or baharat
-1/2 tsp aleppo pepper
-1/4 tsp cinnamon
-1 egg (optional)

Make the hashu by gently mixing all ingredients in a bowl. Form medium-sized meatballs and sear them in a lightly oiled pan. Don’t over-cook them as they’ll finish off in the sauce. Transfer them to a plate while you work on the sauce.

for the sauce

-olive oil
-2 big garlic cloves, sliced
-sprig of thyme
-aleppo pepper, as much as you’d like
-1 8 oz can tomato sauce
-2-3 cups water or vegetable stock
-a handful of castelvetrano olives (optional)

In a braiser under medium heat, add the olive oil and saute your garlic, thyme, and red pepper for about a minute. Stir in the tomato sauce and stock and bring it to a gentle boil.

At this point you can take the cauliflower out and transfer it to the center of the braiser, spooning some of the sauce on top. Surround the cauliflower with meatballs* and olives and put the pan back into the oven for 20 minutes.

Transfer the meatballs to a bowl and spoon more sauce over the cauliflower. Finish it off in the oven til it reaches desired tenderness and some of the head has caramelized. You can put the meatballs back in during the last few minutes to warm them up.

Note: If your braising pan is not big enough to hold both the meatballs and cauliflower to cook together, cook the meatballs first, transfer them to a bowl, and then braise the cauliflower.

When ready, transfer to a large serving bowl, though we ate straight from the pan! It looked just fine there.

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heirloom tomatoes with fried caper dressing

heirloom tomatoes with fried caper dressing

If anything can make me feel better after a couple of weeks of emergency after emergency, it would be the sight of tomatoes. That, to me, is summer dressed in it’s finery.

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Being absent from the greenmarket was FELT. A single step outside of Union Square train station and I was already overwhelmed with the beauty of it all. At least 8 farmstands showcased my loves. I saw super tiny yellow ones called currant tomatoes and I almost lost my mind. And all my money.

I came home with yellow and blushing heirlooms and I wanted to have them simply. I would’ve just took a bite out of one if I was not sharing with a few others (that’s how simply I wanted to have them). But I aim to share.

The dressing is an infused olive oil with fresh orange, herbs, garlic, and capers that become so crispy you could snack on them alone.

If you can do without the fresh orange juice, add a bit of white balsamic instead. Be sure to give the capers a good rinse, to dull down the salt, then lay them out on a paper towel to dry before frying them. You might have some infused oil left over, which isn’t a bad thing. Save it for something else. As for the tomatoes, they’ll be gone by the end of the meal (or before).

Heirloom Tomatoes with Fried Caper Dressing – Serves 4

-2 tbs capers, rinsed
-1/4 cup good quality olive oil
-3 long strips of orange zest
-2 leafy sprigs of oregano or thyme (or 4 if small/thin)
-1 garlic clove, smashed
-couple of fresh squeezes of an orange
-3-4 heirloom tomatoes, sliced
-feta, fresh herbs, optional for serving

Heat a small pan and pour in your olive oil. When ready, add your capers, herbs, and garlic. Saute for about a minute before adding your orange zest. Here’s an in-action shot:

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Fry til the capers begin to burst (this happens quickly so keen an eye out). Take off heat. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the capers to a bowl or plate lined with a paper towel. In another bowl, pour in the infused olive oil. When cool, add a couple of squeezes of orange juice or white balsamic. You can dress the tomatoes ahead of time but save the capers for when everyone’s ready to dig in.

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I haven’t had the nerve to slice the heart-shaped tomato yet. I’ve 3 heirlooms left and I might just dress them in the leftover infused oil, or take that selfish bite.

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Syrian Meatball Stew with Baby Zucchini

When a friend goes out into his garden to harvest seeds just for you, the gratitude is unreal. I happily carried a small jar of fresh coriander plucked right before my eyes from their cilantro-flowers, from Corona to the Upper East Side, thinking of all the dishes I’d love to add them to.

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This Syrian stew, for starters. Even though the seeds are not something you have to have to make this stew happen, it’s something I did have and it made beautiful, floral sense to use them alongside orange peels and fresh tomatoes and delicately spiced meatballs.

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Let’s not act surprised to see orange peels in this pot. The combination of spiced tomato broth with citrus and floral undertones will always be my thing. You can omit them if you’d like, but why not give it a try? I’ve seen you over there skipping that part in 90 percent of my recipes (I’m laughing). And as for the zucchini, I usually stuff them with this meat and rice mixture (hashu), but look at how tinyyyy these are.

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Baby zucchini is not only adorable, but they are adorable, less watery, less seedy, less all-the-things I don’t really like about zucchini, and sometimes they come with their blossoms attached. You don’t even have to core them! What? But please, using the full-grown guys is also okay for this recipe if you’re not stumbling upon the babies at your local farmers market. I actually found some packaged at Trader Joe’s the other day, and see them often at organic grocery stores. Now on to the recipe:

for the Hashu (spiced ground meat with rice)

-1 pound grass fed ground beef
-1/4 c dill, chopped
-1/4 c parsley, minced
-1/3 c basmati rice
-1 spring onion/scallion, sliced then chopped, or 1 sm onion finely chopped
-3 garlic cloves, minced
-1 tsp allspice or baharat
-1/2 tsp aleppo pepper
-1/4 tsp cinnamon

for the stew

-1 tsp cumin seeds
-1/2 tsp fresh coriander seeds, crushed (optional)
-olive oil, enough to lightly coat pot
-1 1/2 cup fresh tomatoes, chopped
-3 long strips of zest from an orange
-fresh sprigs of oregano (optional)
-1/2 tsp tomato paste
-8 oz can tomato sauce
-about 2 1/2 cups water or stock*
(this thickens into a stew-like consistency so if you’d like a loose broth, add more water)
-baby zucchini or core larger ones and slice
-1 large potato, peeled and diced

1. Make your spiced meat mixture, being careful not to overmix.

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2. Shape them into small balls, which will give you about 25-28. Set aside while you start up the sauce.

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3. Under low heat, gently toast the cumin seeds for about a minute, then add a long drizzle of olive oil. Turn up the heat to medium and add your chopped tomatoes, orange peels, tomato paste, fresh coriander seeds, oregano, Aleppo pepper, and saute for a couple of minutes before adding your tomato sauce and water/stock. Let simmer for 5 minutes.

4. Add your meatballs, gently stirring occasionally. After about 15 minutes, add your potatoes. 5 minutes later, before you turn off your pot, you’ll add your baby zucchini. The meatballs cook through within 30 minutes, any longer and they’ll be tough.

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The sauce thickens with time and I think a piece of bread to sop it all up would be magic. Add some fresh herbs and enjoy. Let me know if you end up cooking with orange zest so I can hug you from here. It doesn’t take much to make my day. ❤

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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Citrus Braised Beans, Ramps, Tomatoes, and Olives

Citrus Braised Beans, Ramps, Tomatoes, and Olives

You wouldn’t believe me if I told you someone else ate the whole pot of beans before I could even fully enjoy a bowl of them. Well, they did. The day that I was recipe developing, I took photographs of the wildly Spring contents, then ran out to Brooklyn to spend some time with Danny, thinking there’d be enough for me to try when I return. (It serves 4 people, people!) How wrong was I. I received a text: “they were delicious! I finished them off with a baguette.” Ha! There’s a serving suggestion for you, am I right?

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And so I made it again the next day, each spoonful creating a sigh, hiding in my room with the pot til I was ready to share.

The heirloom beans are called Jacob’s Cattle Beans. And I love them.

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I eyed their small and spotted bodies at a farmstand at Union Square, where I also bought everything else that wound up in this recipe. Ramps. Tomatoes. Olives. Garlic. Dill. As usual, I had no idea they’d be coming together. Every time I make beans, I “beanstorm” (as Dan calls it) the day before, but shrug off everything I stormed on about. So to get things moving along in the morning, I simmer them in a pot til I remember that, yes, I have ramps, tomatoes, olives, garlic, and dill. How would this taste if they all got together? Perhaps a little too good. Perhaps good enough to eat…a whole pot’s worth? With a baguette. Don’t forget the baguette.

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for the beans (simmer for about 15 minutes, drain, discard everything but the beans)
– 1 cup small variety dried beans, soaked over night
– 2 sprigs tarragon (or other herb)
– 1 clove garlic, smashed
– bay leaf
– shallot

And then it’s time to create hands-off magic

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braising time
– olive oil, enough to coat pan
– 1 long strip of lemon zest
– 1 strip of orange zest
– 5 cloves garlic, peels on
– 1 small bunch ramps, halved lengthwise through the bulb
– 1 pint colorful small variety tomatoes
– about 8-10 castelvetrano olives, pitted
– the beans
– parmesan rind
– 1 cup beef/chicken/veggie stock (enough to cover a quarter of the way up)
– 1/2 tsp aleppo pepper or other red dried pepper
– salt and pepper, to taste
– dill, for serving (optional)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

On the stove-top and in a dutch oven, heat the olive oil and saute your lemon and orange peels, and garlic cloves, for a couple of minutes. Then add everything else! Put it in the oven, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, or until the tomatoes have slightly browned and are almost ready to burst. Juices will reduce, but not too much. You’ll want to sop up every drop that’s left.

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As for the garlic? They should be buttery at this point. Squeeze a clove out of it’s peel and spread it, like butter, on a piece of bread. I promise they are in there for a reason (not just to create a beautiful broth).

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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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Chickpeas + Your Market Haul

Chickpeas + Your Market Haul

Let’s be real. Your chickpeas are grateful when spring and summer at the farmers market debuts their color, crunch, earthiness, herbiness, bitterness, spiciness, and sweetness. My new thrift shop platters are pretty grateful, too. Nevermind how work-friendly chickpea salads are, they are FUN, filling, and way too easy to put together.

Sometimes I have a neglected radish in the crisp drawer, or a wedge of red cabbage left (you’ll be amazed by how long and fresh they last!) They make wonderful additions to any salad that contains legumes and/or avocado. I’m a sucker for balancing out textures. Creamy wants crunch. My sweet buds want earthy and spicy. I always want cheese. Perhaps I want it all.

Here’s a recipe that comes with many variations. Everything depends on your market haul. One week string beans were everywhere and so, a green and yellow bean salad with chickpeas and yellow tomatoes had to happen. (Beware: the beautiful purple variety turns green when cooked). Then squash makes an appearance. Soon, every tomato you can imagine. Sometimes you’ll want to use a different lugume. Sometimes, depending on the size of your haul, you won’t need them.

But when I’m going to work, I need to know I’m taking something hearty with me. Something that doesn’t make me want to demolish Levain Bakery’s chocolate brioche. Which I have done and just did thank you very much. It is literally the size of a hero.

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This addictive chickpea and avocado salad was created by my haul from Down to Earth Markets in Jamaica, Queens the very first day they made an appearance. I will make variations of this forever. Also, don’t be lazy. Peel your chickpeas if you’re not in a rush!

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-29 oz canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed (peel em)
-2 shallots, minced
-1 large hass avacado, diced
-2 medium tomatoes, diced or variety of cherry
-3 long radishes, sliced and quartered
-1/2 cup purple cabbage, chopped
-1/2 cup fresh herbs (parsley, basil, dill, whatever you like)
-lemon zest (tiny bit)

Toss with a quick dressing of juice from 1/2 a large lemon, good olive oil, oregano, salt n pepper. Your favorite dressing will do, too.

Add some crumbled feta. I didn’t have any the first time around. Small pastas like orzo make a fine addition, too. Grate a carrot. Chop olives. Sweet and hot peppers. Cucumber! CORN (in season right now!) We’re trying to eat healthy and seasonally here. Can’t you tell?

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You Have Five Days in New Paltz, Part 2

You Have Five Days in New Paltz, Part 2

During our winter visit in 2017, I remember we quickly drove past a shop in town that had the word CHEESE in it’s name. That’s all I saw. Cheese. We didn’t have time to check it out (every shop closes by 6PM!) but for the next six months, I knew it’d be a priority visit for me if I had a chance to return. Well, a few weeks ago, we walked a couple of miles into town, hangry, and I asked, “Where’s the cheese!? I don’t see the cheese!” Then I remembered all trees were bare the last time we were here. I spotted the only tree-lined block to our right and told Dan it had to be behind them. And there it was, a cheese shop with two entrances, held in what seemed to be a secret block of independent shops.

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At first, I thought it would be similar to World of Cheese in Forest Hills, where, simply put, they sell cheese. But since they’re called The Cheese Plate, I am happy to announce that they sell cheese, but with a cheese-mongers excitement, will put together a cheese board for you to enjoy inside, or outside, their shop. This would be our first meal of day 4. I told them Dan and I enjoy firm cheeses, and we settled on an Italian variety called Piave Vecchio, and Jake’s Aged Gouda. A cross between Parmesan and Asiago, Piave Vecchio crumbled onto the wood. Jake’s was firm and nutty, cut into hearty strips. Then quince paste was added to the board along with pistachios and almonds, olives, slices of apple, and soppressata. They gave us a generous amount of cheese for two people. I’m not complaining.

THEY ALSO SERVE ICE CREAM. And after a walk around town, we decided to return to go get some. We got chocolate, coconut, and blackberry. But alas, this isn’t about the wonderful way we started our 4th day, is it? But look how cute that guy is, handing me creamy blackberry amazingness.

Now, there are many places to eat around here, but when you know you only have 5 days in New Paltz, you eat at the one and only locally sourced Indian restaurant that you fell in love with during your first visit. And you don’t eat there once. If you’re anything like Dan and I, you eat there 3 very magical times and wish you ordered Chicken Masala to take back with you to Brooklyn. This is because every vegetable, cream and butter, is farm fresh. You can TASTE the difference. Coconut samosas? Such a wonderfully sweet departure from the savory potato or meat one we’re used to. The naan? Just look at it.

When we overheard that they serve a buffet on Tuesdays, we changed our plans to accommodate this feast.  Dan truly stuck to his favorite masala and I can’t say I blame him. Tomato and cream have never tasted so rich. We almost thought it was butter.

It was on Tuesday, day 3, that I fell in love with a soup. A thin, extremely fresh-tasting broth, heavy on the cilantro, mildly spiced, reminded me of a cross between my tomato soup and my carrot masoor dal. I kept eating small spoonfuls just to identify everything I could. I gave in and asked them about it, and was told it’s their vegetable soup, pureed with red lentils, and that if I return on a regular day when it’s made to order, it’ll be even better.

IHEARYOU.

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On the 5th day, the day we were set out to leave, I discovered it was their South Indian Mulligatwany. Guys. I’ve had mulligatawny many, many times. But never like this. I am convinced it has to do with the very ingredients they use, and how they use them. When we returned, with our suitcases in tow, needing to catch a train 2 hours from when we sat, I ordered this again. It was thicker. Richer. I think coconut milk was present. I loved it. But is it strange that I love their thinly-brothed version even more? It holds true to what Mulligatawny means: pepper water.

In my version, I use everything I thought I had tasted, and I came so very close to how it actually tasted. And yes, every single veggie and fruit came from the farmers market. I seriously encourage this. Heirloom tomatoes are IN and if I find out you store-bought yours, I already know you will not be able to experience this soup the way I swooningly did.

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A variety of carrots and onions are everywhere. Fresh herbs a must. Fresh spices, yes please. Peppers! Oh my goodness the peppers. Use sweet and ones with heat. You won’t regret it. The color of the soup will also depend on the color of the tomatoes and sorts of peppers you used. Mine were a variety of yellows and reds. It’s lighter-looking than what I had in New Paltz, but that’s also because sunshine lit this bowl up.

 

A Summer Mulligatawny

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted
  • long drizzle of olive oil
  • 1 small onion or shallot, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • an inch knob of ginger, grated or finely chopped
  • 1 large heirloom tomato, diced (a pound and a half)
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 serrano pepper, diced
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tbsp garam masala or maharajah curry
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2-3 cardamom pods, gently cracked open
  • 1/2 cup dried red lentils (masoor dal)
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/4th cup coconut cream
  • cilantro, chopped

Directions

Gently toast cumin seeds in pot, about 30 secs, then semi-coat with olive oil. Add your onion, garlic, and ginger. Saute for a couple of minutes then add tomatoes, carrots, peppers, and spices. Let the spices perfume your kitchen and then stir in your lentils, add your stock, bring to a boil then simmer for about a 1/2 hr, stirring occasionally. Add coconut cream. Puree with an immersion blender or whatever blender you have. Serve with cilantro. For a heartier meal, also serve with basmati.

Variations
For a thicker soup, add more of the veggies you love, and/or add another half cup of red lentils. Some recipes call for an apple. Why not? You could also use coconut milk instead of cream, I was just aiming for richness here. I welcome any herb you’re growing here, too. Add a dried pepper for extra heat! I ran out of em. OH, and try grilling your tomatoes for a few minutes before adding it into the pot. I know that’s exactly what I’m going to do the next time I make this!

Okay. We didn’t just eat 5 days straight. We walked in the rain, too. We walked A LOT.

And in the walks, there was a heart.

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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.

When Friends Ask You to Pick Up Their CSA Share (Part 2)

When Friends Ask You to Pick Up Their CSA Share (Part 2)

You wonder if there is a poem out there that celebrates this moment. Between friends and between yourself and all the veggies, is there a poem? If not, perhaps you could write one, in the same breath as Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, about every saturated-in-color vegetable and fruit that comes home with you on the first Saturday of September–this year and last.

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But if there is a chance you’ve been feeling less like a poet these days, meaning, you haven’t broken a line in a long while for the sake of sound, silence, and meaning, then you become–you are–a poet in your kitchen, roasting tomatoes with whole cloves of garlic. The woody scent of thyme and rosemary from your garden when met with high heat can make you long for the long, deliberate drizzle of rosemary-infused olive oil, and flaky salt, which you know your tomatoes love. You’ve a mind and heart towards Tory and Jon, who shared their share with you as they made their big move into Corona. Think of all the dinner parties and PICNICS, and sneak peaks into their first garden out back.

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Your first thought, after all this gratitude and daydreaming, was roasted tomato sauce, which you learned to make in Valerie’s kitchen a couple of summers ago. This is the way you will make sauce forever. The flavor is tomato multiplied by tomato, on the savory-sweet side. But as you peel each one, you begin to crave soup.

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You never made tomato bisque. I don’t think you ever had tomato bisque so you’re not entirely sure where to begin, but to begin. It started as your favorite sauce, with the addition of chicken stock, cream, carrot and celery, pureed til silky. Doesn’t the same happen in writing a poem? You never know how a poem will end til it begins to unfold itself, line by line, and if it ends on bisque with warm slices of bread instead of tomato sauce, then you take slices of your warm, roasted garlic ciabatta and you dip dip dip it into the creamy broth.

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It almost looks like your favorite carrot soup, which you’ll write about another day. The local farm feta, and micro-cilantro which was part of the share, didn’t just provide this bisque with good looks. It went amazingly well together. Having had Brooklyn Grange’s micro-greens quite a few times, you think you’ll just start picking your cilantro from the garden earlier than usual, because after a week, you honestly want to give up with their eagerness to bolt.

Then there is the tenderness of toy choi, which you just discover and are fond of.

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But with something so tender, you need to put it to use almost immediately. By 9PM the first day, they were wilting. So the next morning, without getting all fancy and having a panic, you whip up a fine breakfast in which you sauteed their small, cabbage leaves, along with their flowers, with smoked kielbasa and red onion. Served it with egg, heirloom tomato salad with local feta, and a blueberry muffin your mom made.

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Everything else will come together, slowly, as the week goes by. You’ll think Jen was making use of the fairytale eggplants because the bowl was getting emptier and emptier as days went by. You’ll soon find one in almost every corner of the house, courtesy your cat, Loonz.

You’ll take what’s left of their most adorable selves (you make a note that you’ll grow them next year, seriously this time), and you roast them with warm spices (garam masala) and garlic.

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You’ll want to stuff the beautiful, red peppers but never find the time to, so you add them in salads and stews. You do the same with the two onions.

You’ll blister shishito peppers, finishing them with smoked salt.

You’ll share arugula with mom, because everything about this is about sharing.

You’ll eventually find the time to write it all down. You’ll feel exactly as you feel when a poem has ended. Which is the same feeling you’ll get when every tomato, herb, oil and cream came together in your pot one afternoon, and again when the last bit of bisque is gone.

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a summer harvest put-together

a summer harvest put-together

I am found in the kitchen most mornings, no later than 9AM. Not only because I get home pretty late from work (8:30-9PM!), but it’s truly my favorite way to spend any morning. The house is quiet. I water my lucky cross tomatoes, a bi-colored beauty which grew slowly from seed (in a 20-gallon grow bag, mind you) but sadly only had a chance to produce a single, blushing fruit. There were a few green ones, but end-rot took over. When your babies become calcium deficient, you begin to question your parenting, eh? I consider every season a learning season, and next year I’ll have plenty to share with friends, you just watch.

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When I get to watering my Sicilian eggplants, which are still producing, I stare alarmingly long at their bashful flowers. That is what you do when your favorite color on earth is found, growing happily in a container. Dan told me he’s only growing eggplants and tomatoes next year. A whole lot of them. I can’t say I blame him.

I harvest what’s ready. Usually thyme and basil, as well as arugula, is waiting to be clipped more than anything else. I toss the harvest in a pan. If my garden wasn’t plentiful this summer, Dan’s was (still is!), and he always made sure I went home with the day’s harvest in my tote. Gratitude for every cherry and roma tomato that entered my kitchen, and for every eggplant my cast iron enjoyed. Zucchini, large and small–thank you.

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I want to highlight one of my morning put-togethers because it has been the most satisfying to me. One evening, Dan handed me two, long Italian eggplants, two zucchinis, and cherry tomatoes. Next morning, I took out my cast iron and wooden spoon and got to work. This meal was so simple and true, I will make this many times more. Dice eggplants and salt them for about a half hour. On high heat I sauteed the eggplant and zucchini, along with thyme from my garden, in the pan with very good olive oil, salt and red pepper. I added the tomatoes and put dollops of ricotta on top with some of my basil, drizzled a little more olive oil, then popped it in the oven for about 20 minutes til the tomatoes were about to burst. I tossed some with pasta that night, and next day I spread the rest on bread. It was beautiful.

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I made this again once I got home from Florida, but this time I added green beans. I also added a little bit of chicken broth and it came out even better. I am obsessed with cooking with thyme and broth these days. Almost as obsessed as I am with Dan’s cherry tomatoes which, kissed by Brooklyn sun, tastes loudly of savory and sweet. This meal was featured on Edible Queens’ Insta BTW! What!?!? That made me super happy because within the next few months, I hope to be submitting some work their way.

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One thing I know I’ll be growing again next year is arugula. Mine tastes like GARLIC and pepper. I ended up putting them in everything, from scrambled eggs, to stirfrys. I dressed them with fig balsamic and sicilian lemons for salads to sweeten up their spice. It grows very quickly from seed and thrives most in cooler weather. Next year, I’ll be growing at least 6 herbs, more lettuces, and I need to get my hand on some fairytale eggplant seeds! They are super container-friendly. I’ll leave all the bigger plants to Dan.

I also grew curly kale, no longer with me as bugs took a liking to them. But before bugs, it was strong and plentiful, and the best thing I did with it was put their chopped leaves in a white bean parmesan soup. The broth was delicate and nutty, entirely healing. The one thing that’s gotten me super excited about Autumn is all the soups and stews I plan on making.

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Most of September was warm. Cool weather has finally reached us and you know that it has because I came home yesterday with a 1/2 bushel of apples and zero plans for them (send me your favorite apple recipes?) Even Loonz wants to know what I’ve gotten myself into. 

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Happy Autumn, everyone! Let’s welcome all the warm spices into our homes, make soups that are the tightest of hugs.