All Veggies, Major Flavor

July 30, 2010

Ratatouille

 Although being a part of my CSA has been really rewarding, yesterday’s pick up was the first I was beyond excited about. It sounds ridiculous but for someone like myself, the Thursday late morning email we receive, is a bit like that feeling you get on Christmas Eve; you know the presents are coming, you just have a few more hours to get through. 

Well let’s just say, this week, I got everything I  had asked Santa for: Zucchini, cucumbers, eggplant, broccoli, carrots, and beets filled this bundle leaving me flooded with ideas for the week’s meals. 

Cooking without meat or fish on some nights is a really good test for me. I love pairing the flavors of vegetables with the richness of beef, or the delicate flakiness of cod, or the comforting flavors of roasted chicken. So when your meal relies only on the flavors of the vegetables themselves, pairing and seasoning are absolutely crucial. For a bit of clarity, all it takes, is to look at a classic… 

Adding some store bought tomatoes (can’t wait for CSA tomato season), I constructed this delicious and eye-catching Ratatouille packed with herbs de provence and olive oil. The layers of eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes meld together to form an amazing punch of flavor. A delicate sweetness with a pop of acidity made this main dish absolutely delicious perfectly complimented by a little salad; I roasted the broccoli, and tossed it with raisins, toasted almonds, and fresh mozzarella. The salt, pepper, and paprika I used to season the broccoli was enough for the “dressing” in this case as the fresh mozzarella added the perfect richness. 

Roasted Broccoli Salad

 Now don’t get me wrong…I’m not about to give up meat. But meals like these are good reminders of how much flavor, texture, and comfort the best vegetable dishes can bring!


A Ramen a Day…

July 28, 2010

Miso Ramen

My first real cooking only required 3 minutes and a blind eye to dehydration. For about two years, everyday after school I broke into a packet of Chicken and Mushroom Ramen prior to Ice Hockey practices or games. When your typical dinner time is pushed back for sports or any other activity for that matter, you need some sustenance to get you through those afternoon hours. Okay, so maybe sustenance isn’t exactly the right word for Ramen packets but I’ll tell you what…for a handful of pocket change there isn’t a whole lot that competes with that flavor (at least that’s what I remember).

But since $14 ramen shops have become as NY as pizza and crowded subways, my idea of delicious noodle soup has changed with the crowds. Still extremely salty, although packed with additional ingredients, these more traditional Japanese ramens are eye-openingly flavorful. One of my favorite spots, Men Kui Tei in the East Village offers some amazing versions, even one including a combo mapo tofu, ramen called “Mabo Men”. But it’s been a while since I’ve last gone. Time to give the homemade version a shot…

Although the most flavorful broths I’ve tried are rich in pork or fish flavor, my broth was  star anise, charred scallion, and miso infuzed that I let simmer for quite sometime. I added in a few flavor additives (soy, siracha, sugar, cilantro) and the depth really came out. Piled in were traditional noodles, napa cabbage, red onion, broccoli, shitakes and hard boiled egg. Topped with a few chopped scallions, my version really hit the spot. Although I think it’s time I head back to Men Kui Tei for the real deal.


Sharing is Caring

July 27, 2010

Szechuan String Beans

Although it’s rarely the root of the dish formation, plating is always on my mind as I am cooking. It’s got to have the “look”. And the funny thing about taking pictures of food, is that it doesn’t really have to taste good. Make it look pretty, throw in some flowery description and you’ve got yourself a winner. It’s why companies spend a ridiculous amount of money on food stylists. Or take pictures of faux food to ensure the perfect look.

So plating a dish, beyond it being delicious, is always on my mind (even though it doesn’t always turn out as I’d like). But in focusing on individual plating, I realize we never eat “family style”. And although I still love the look of a composed plate, there is something really warm and inviting about truly sharing the meal.

One of the best places for sharing is Joe’s Shanghai, our favorite restaurant in China town, where huge tables are filled with multiple parties, all chowing down on big portions of soup dumplings, mapo tofu, and Szechuan string beans (at least that’s we typically order).

So last night I attempted my own version of Szechuan inspired string beans that came fresh from the CSA last week. Using a ground grass-fed beef (didn’t have the traditional pork), and a bit of miso I was able to develop that rich and tangy flavor that makes the perfectly cooked string beans pop with flavor. I added a bit of frozen corn for sweetness and paired the meal with a little quinoa I spiked with star anise. With a glass of vino verde, this dinner was absolutely delicious, and perfectly shared.


Silver Caterers: Babies-R-Me

July 26, 2010

Mediterranean Chicken Skewers

I never imagined I’d utter these words, but I’ve become a seasoned veteran in baby showers. Catering for these types of events is always fulfilling and extremely entertaining, but this one was a lot more special. Partially because of the keg, the tailgating games, a slip and slide (yes, for adults), and even more so because of the co-ed invite list. But mainly because, this baby party was for my brother, his wife, and my very first niece! 

When Steve and Nat asked me if I’d help out with the party I knew that making a menu fit for both an outdoor grill fest and a cocktail party, would be the perfect combination. Despite the abundance of friends and the showering of gifts, this event was more party than baby shower. And that’s exactly how they wanted it. I’m so pumped for them, and their soon to be new addition to their family. I can’t wait to be an Uncle! 

But that’s enough gushing for now…what about the food? 

Snack Spread: Philly Soft Pretzels, Guacamole, Hummus, Salsa, and Veggies

The group may not have been able to finish the keg, but the food, that was a different story. Everything was great but there were a few stand outs in my mind. The grilled chicken skewers (shown above) were flat-out amazing. I cubed chicken thighs into pretty tiny pieces and marinated them in citrus and mediterranean spices. Cutting the pieces smaller than your typical chicken skewers worked wonders to infuse the flavor of the marinade and keep the chicken extremely moist, as they only took a few minutes to cook. Additionally, grilled mushroom, pineapple, and zucchini skewers basted in a ginger sauce were a huge hit. 

The grill was also featured in the potato salad. These par-boiled baby potatoes (purple, red, and yukon) were tossed in roasted garlic and thrown on the grill to char. Mashing them up with a yogurt and lemon juice dressing added just enough tang to make this side an interesting twist on the typical. 

Grilled Pineapple, Mushroom, and Zucchini Skewers

But the dessert is where the meal really took off. Sticking with my ice cream sandwich trend, I made peanut butter shortbread cookies that sandwiched strawberry ice cream. Think a frozen version of a peanut butter and jelly. I love this idea as there is nothing more comforting than an ice cream sandwich. Even more delicious (at least in my mind) was the fresh blueberry mousse and basil whipped cream cups. I’ve always loved making chocolate mousse in the past but it is a bit rich and decadent. Using fresh blueberries and mint to make a thick syrup (same as the syrup I used for the blueberry lemonade cocktails), and then folding in the remaining mousse essentials gave this tangy dessert serious body with a ton of freshness. And with a dollop of basil whipped cream, the best words I heard describing it were “summer in a cup”. 

 I really admire Steve and Nat’s willingness to break down some of the “rules” and welcome in some of their closest friends to share in their happiness! Events like these are meant to be celebrated in every way and I’m just thrilled I could help make their day a special one. 

Baby Part Menu: 

Snacks – 

Chips w/ Salsa, Homemade Guacamole, Hummus 

Philly Soft Pretzels 

Vegetable Crudite w/ Edamame Dip 

Main Dishes –  

Mexican Corn Salad 

Grilled Vegetable Panzanella 

Grilled Potato Salad 

Mediterranean Chicken Skewers 

Pineapple, Mushroom, and Zucchini Skewers 

Desssert –  

Peanut Butter Shortbread and Strawberry Ice Cream Sandwiches 

Blueberry Mousse and Basil Whipped Cream


“One Jameson, and a Sex on the Beach please…”

July 22, 2010

Blueberry Mint Martini

I like my liquor two ways: Straight Up or in a Fruity Cocktail.

And it takes a real man to admit the latter. Because I (and most other guys I know) have spent  nights committed to avoiding the “girly” order, instead competing over who can drink the most Klontarf (Reserve). But without realizing it, I’ve become an avid drinker of some pretty fruity drinks: Rum Punch, Grapefruit Margarita, and Lemon Basil Mojito just to name a few. Well maybe it’s easier to feel manly drinking a brightly colored beverage, when you’ve made it yourself.

This last cocktail creation may be the best one yet. I made a thick simple syrup with fresh blueberries, mint, water, and sugar that I mixed with a splash of triple sec, a heavy “splash” of vodka, and topped the whole thing off with a little seltzer and some freshly frozen blueberry skewers. I actually ended up making these two ways. The martini version I just described (and that you can see in the pic), but this also worked great as a drink on the rocks. Not to mention this was a necessity after the first martini knocked us on our asses…

So with great reluctance…

I declare my love for fruity cocktails! Join me in this declaration and I’ll send you the recipe! (No seriously, please join me)


Good to be home…

July 21, 2010

Mediterranean Salmon w/ Zucchini "Spaghetti"

When you really stop and think about it, how crazy is take out/delivery? Pretty much whatever you want, whatever you crave, you can get. And in most cases, within the hour. But with all the options available, the choice isn’t always easy. I would bet, that on some nights, I’ve spent more time deciding what to order, than actually eating.

So typically, and last night was no different, when the flavors I’m craving come to me easily, it’s more exciting (and often more time efficient) to make the meal on my own.

So when I was flying back to town and couldn’t get tomatoes, olives, lemons, and yogurt out of my mind, it wasn’t too long until I had this meal ready to go. Using the mandoline, I made zucchini “spaghetti” that I tossed in a little honey and lemon spiked yogurt. Laying the “spaghetti” over a garlic and kalamata tomato sauce brought together some of my other favorite mediterranean flavors. Topping the dish was a yogurt and mint marinated roasted Salmon, that completely rounded out what I was looking for: salty, sweet, fresh, and delicious.

I’m always pumped when a meal comes together as a real composition. Taking bites of the individual components was good, but eating them all together was amazing!


Airline (cancellation) Food

July 20, 2010

Curry Mussels with Roasted Vegetables

When my flight to Chicago got cancelled this past Saturday night (for a broken air conditioner of all things), my frustration was quickly alleviated when I found out what Em’s Mom was cooking for dinner out in Sea Cliff (just a quick ride from La Guardia). I could have cabbed it back to Manhattan or I could have devoured these curry roasted mussels with roasted broccoli, potatoes, and corn. I’m pretty sure I made the right decision.

Thanks American Airlines!


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