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Sunday, March 29, 2009

An Ode to Beets

You have been awfully patient with me and my streak of Carb-o-holics Anonymous meetings. Sometimes I just get hooked on the magical comfort of carbs, which, in the interest of science, may be simply explained away by the increase in production of serotonin, but I like to think of it as *magic*. Did you know that protein blocks that release of serotonin, so having a vegetarian pasta will actually feel better than if it was loaded with chicken or meat?! Keep your carbs vegetarian when you really want to relax and take in the comfort factor of your food, then switch it up to have proteins and vegetables together for a low-carb meal when you want to feel energized.

The way I'm talkin, you might think this is going to be another post about the beloved carb, but it's not! It's about beets! I know, I know, besides the occassional trial of this or that, I really have been a nay-sayer about beets and I'm not sure why. I think, dear reader,that I am coming around. And it's all because of Spruce. Spruce introduced me to a new way of thinking about beets. It wasn't a creative preparation or anything unique or fancy, but it was the combination of flavors that really got under my skin. In fact, I had gone on to order lobster, but found that little salad to be the absolute highlight of my meal! "I'm sold," I announced loudly to my dinner companion, who laughed at me as though his love of beets had been around for decades and I was really, really late to get onboard. I have to admit that there is something oddly seductive about its deep red color with a sweet savory flavor...

Photo courtesy of the talented Mr. Jason Henry:
On a large flat plate, red beets had been shaved paper-thin (only a professional mandolin could have accomplished this without the beet tearing or becoming mush). The beets were then topped with some fancy greens (perhaps arugula and frisee) that had been tossed in olive oil, Banyuls vinegar, and salt and freshly cracked pepper. The greens were dotted with little slices of baby tangerines, as sweet and juicy as can be. Then, then, there was a lovely scoop of warm goat cheese sliding down the mountain of greens. All of this was then topped with a sprinkling of delicately toasted hazelnuts, halved and skins peeled.

You're sold too?! Yeah, no kidding. Since my Neighbor the Chef works at Spruce, I got to meet the Salad Station Guru. He's only 19, but, oh my, that boy can make a salad!!!

That salad at Spruce inspired me to revisit my trials at cooking with beets. On evening after rushing home from work, I quickly blanched some fresh asparagus and arranged them on a plate with some thinly sliced beets (that I purchased already steamed and peeled!) and topped it with a handful of toasted walnuts and some knobs of goat cheese. Then I drizzled a Beet Vinaigrette over the whole thing and *Zing*, there it was!

* 3 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
* 5 Tbsp. olive oil
* 1 tsp. dijon mustard
* 1 tsp. lemon juice
* 2 tsp. beet juice
* a little squeeze of honey (optional)
* salt & pepper to taste

Whisk all ingredients together until emulsified.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Garlic Risotto Calabrese with Tomato Cream

Since we are on the topic of comforting starch, let's have a chat about risotto, shall we? Risotto is the Queen of Comfort. But I think risotto gets a bad rap for being a needy child that requires a lot of attention, with all that stirring and fussing. You can't just dump everything in a big pot and let it simmer and expect it to turn into magic. You can't rush those fussy rice kernels. They like to drink liquid at their own pace. But, the rewards are great, I promise. What I have learned about risotto is that 1) a lot of recipes underestimate the amount of stock needed to fully cook the rice grains, 2) baked risotto will never be the same as traditionally made risotto no matter what they say, and 3) the stock you use absolutely matters--a very flavorful stock will come out in the total flavor of the risotto.

Normally, risotto contains a hefty amount of parmesean, which is where most of the fat comes from, but this recipe proves that you can omit it entirely and still obtain the richness by using a good quality stock.

Adapted from and Inspired by Todd English


* 1 Tbsp. olive oil
* 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
* 2 fresh tomatoes, diced
* zest from 1 lemon
* 2 Tbsp. fresh oregano leaves, chopped
* 3/4 cup light cream (or half & half)
* Optional: handful of uncooked shrimp, peeled/deveined/diced


* In a sauce pan over medium high heat, put the olive oil, garlic and tomatoes together and let it cook down for about 5 minutes.
* Add the lemon zest, oregano and cream and simmer for another 3-5 minutes.
* If you want to add shrimp, add them now and let it cook for about 2 or 3 minutes (be careful not to overcook because it will continue to cook while remaining hot).
* Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.


* 2 Tbsp. olive oil
* 1 red onion, finely diced
* 3 or 4 garlic cloves, minced
* 2 cups fresh chopped tomatoes
* 2 cups arborio rice
* 1 cup dry white wine
* 7 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
* 1/2 tsp. black pepper
* Optional Garnish: chopped parsley


* In a deep non-stick skillet, heat the olive oil on medium heat and toss in the onion and garlic cloves and cook until tender, about 6-8 minutes or so.
* Add the tomatoes and cook for a minute or two to release the tomato juices to make a little sauce.
* Add the rice and stir around until it is well-coated and cook for a minute or two.
* Pour in the wine and let the rice soak it up, stirring occasionally as needed.
* Then add the stock gradually, about 1 cup at a time, and continue to stir occasionally and add more stock once the rice has soaked up the liquid.

Ladle the risotto into a shallow dish and put a generous spoonful of tomato cream on top. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley or parmesan cheese.

Oh, and this is the sort of dish that calls for a nice crisp salad and a glass of wine...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Vegan Fettucine Alfredo

Why are starchy carbs so comforting?! I don't have pasta often, but when I do, I like to try something creative. Since I have a rule of never having heavy cream on hand, I thought I might try out a vegan version of alfredo since I had all of the ingredients on hand. This happens often, I find, where I can easily whip up vegan meals using common ingredients I normally buy anyway (granted, there are all sorts of ingredients that vegans use that I wouldn't normally have on hand). I was surprised at its similarity in creamy texture and taste to traditional alfredo sauce, although I don't remember the last time I had traditional alfredo sauce. Maybe years.

Reprinted from Lachesis' Amazing Alfredo Sauce
1/2 c Earth Balance
2 cups unsweetened soymilk
1 package Extra firm silken tofu (I like Mori-nu)
2 Tbsp. white wine
2 Tbsp. onion powder
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. sea salt
pinch of nutmeg
3 T.bsp arrowroot or cornstarch mixed in with equal parts of water
1/2 cup nutritional yeast


* Put all ingredients except for nutritional yeast in a food processor and blend until smooth.
* Heat over medium heat until hot, stirring often.
* Whisk in arrowroot/cornstarch mixture and heat until just bubbling. Do not let boil.
* Add in nutritional yeast and let the sauce simmer until thickened to desired consistency.
* Add in a little water from the boiled pasta if you want to loosen up the consistency.
* Serve over al dente fettucine noodles. Feel free to add in frozen peas or broccoli or top with parmesean and parsley!

**If you want to try a virtually fat-free version, try a recipe from my vegan friend over at Happy Herbivore.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Salted Oatmeal Cookies

As a relatively newcomer to the office world, leaving my expensive academic life behind to get a job to pay for said academic life, I am not accustomed to the ways of The Office. For one, I don't think I have enough fancy clothes. Right around Wednesday or Thursday morning is when I find it difficult to come up with some stylish, work-appropriate ensemble. I also scramble to put together a lunch box so I can avoid spending $7 to $10 at any one of the endless lunch choices in the Financial District. That gets expensive if you add it all up! Usually, I just try to take any dinner leftovers, assuming of course that I planned ahead to make a little extra.

What I really struggle with is the fact that my office has a constant supply of junk food. Is this true of all offices?! My office has weekly Costco deliveries of soda, salted nuts, soda, cheddar goldfish, soda, cookies, and every type of individual sized chips. A big, and I mean BIG, mountain of Doritos-Cheetos-Fritos-Lays. Even a big jar filled with M&M's. Now, I don't purchase any of these items for my home, but now the wall of junk food is staring me in the face daily. Oh, I forgot to mention that my office is directly adjacent to said Chip Mountain. One of my co-workers claimed he binged on so many bags of chips when he first started working there so now he has no problem avoiding them. I just try to pretend that its wallpaper and walk right by it.

In addition to this endless supply, people always bring in a box of chocolates or a package of miniature candy to sit on the secretary's counter so you can conveniently grab one each time you walk by, which could literally be around 15 times a day on a busy day where hunting down a Partner involves covertly spying on him to find "a good moment" to knock on his door to ask a question. Or someone goes on a trip to Canada and brings back a bag of Coffee Crisp bars or Smarties. Or it's Girl Scout Cookie Time. Oh, and don't forget Bagel Fridays (which also happens to be Casual Jean Fridays). This is where I fail. I have no problem avoiding the chip buffet, but it's the random goodie that always gets me. Especially if I am feeling stressed out.

Oftentimes when I am feeling stressed out, I bake cookies. And, on one such occasion, in walked the Salted Oatmeal Cookie and announced it was here to stay. The magic happens somewhere in between the sweet and slightly sour dried cranberries mellowed out by creamy white chocolate chips. My friends tell me they are incredibly addictive. I have to agree.


* 1 stick butter (1/2 cup), room temperature
* 1/2 cup evaporated cane juice (or sugar)
* 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
* 1 egg
* 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
* 1 cup flour
* 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
* 1/2 tsp. baking powder
* 1/2 tsp. baking soda
* 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
* 1/2 tsp. ground ginger (optional)
* 1 cup oats
* 1/2 cup dried cranberries
* 1/2 cup white chocolate chips


* Heat oven to 350 degrees.
* In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and 2 sugars.
* Add in the egg and vanilla and blend together.
* In another bowl, mix together the flour, salt, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, and ginger.
* Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture.
* Gently fold in the oats, cranberries and white chocolate chips and combine (do not overmix!).
* Use an ice cream scoop or scant 1/4 cup to scoop out the dough onto an ungreased baking sheet. If you have a magical Silpat, use it! If you don't some parchment paper will work as well. Bake for 10-12 minutes--it will still be semi-raw when you pull it out of the oven. Take the cookie sheets out of the oven and let them sit on the countertop to continue cooking for another 6-8 minutes or so--the cookies will settle into themselves and create a soft chewy middle...