Rooftop dining

It's Crazy Town around here with me leaving for the conference on Wednesday.  It's been so challenging to get out of my own head, away from thoughts about next week, and just be in the moment with my family before I leave.  Luckily, I'm distracted by the joy that my best friends in the world - nay, members of my family - are moving to NYC in a month.  The male half of that pair, Brian, was here last week and through this weekend, looking for apartments and getting a feel for the lay of the land.  I haven't thought about my damn conference at all for the last two days.  That is the magic that is Soul Twin and Brian moving here.

Tonight we sat up on our roof deck for dinner, something we haven't done yet since moving into this apartment three months ago.  And I made my first recipe from Patricia Wells' new cookbook, SALAD AS A MEAL: Scrubbed Bread Tartines with Chorizo, Manchego, and Tomatoes*.  It was so easy and required hardly any heat to be turned on; in short, it was the ideal summer meal.  Here's the lovely dish:

I paired it with a Vinho Verde, which was just lovely.  Vinho Verde is bright and slightly effervescent, and it's lower in alcohol than most wines so it's really the perfect wine on a very warm summer night.  The guys shared a large bottle of Dogfish Head's Squall IPA.  I don't know how it paired for them, though...I'd ask them but I'm back in the apartment typing this and they're back on the roof, smoking cigars.  Overall, between apartment shopping with my best friend and dining al fresco, I'm just the happiest, glowingest gal today.  And right before a conference, that's no small feat.

adapted from SALAD AS A MEAL by Patricia Wells

4 thin slices hearty bread, toasted or grilled
4 ripe heirloom tomatoes, cut into thin slices
Fleur de sel
8 oz. Manchego cheese, cut into small cubes
8 oz. thinly sliced or cubed smoked chorizo sausage
24 large Spanish olives or green Picholine olives

Brush bread slices with olive oil and grill on stovetop castiron grill (or you can toast them).  Scrub a toasted bread slice with the bottom slice of tomato, until all that is left of the tomato is the skin.  Sprinkle with a little fleur de sel.  Top with a quarter of the tomato slices.  Place the bread slices on a platter.  Scatter some of the cheese, sausage, and olives around the bread.

Eat, drink, and thank goodness for chosen family.

* On my menu, I just wrote "Spanish Tartines" because I'm sick to death of these looooooong recipe titles that tell you every single ingredient in the dish.  For heaven's sake, it's just gotten ridiculous.


New Orleans

In a week I'll be off to New Orleans for the American Library Association conference. I've never been to Louisiana, let alone New Orleans, so I'm pretty excited...though I'm fairly nervous about the June weather there. Have you seen my curly hair?!  But I've got scarves ready to go, and I'm taking a bunch of up-do ideas with me, courtesy of Joanna Goddard of A Cup of Jo.

I also have some dinners planned that are work-related, committee entertaining and the like.  I made reservations for Galatoire's and The Palace Cafe, though I actually won't be attending the dinners.  I will, however, be able to attend a dinner at Bayona, and I can't wait!  We're going to try to hit up Cafe du Monde, of course: BEIGNETS!

The timing is perfect then for Alice Q. Foodie to be posting about New Orleans!  Check out her posts here and here.  Her photos are getting me so excited for the trip - check out the photos from the crawfish festival!!!

Amazing photo courtesy of Alice Q. Foodie

I do have one night free and I'll be going out with some colleagues.  When we do get a chance to be free from authors and guests, we tend to try to get to local places, if we can, and something very relaxed (since these are usually the only opportunities we have to get out of our business attire).  Those of you who have been to New Orleans, do you have any suggestions for something relatively close to the convention center that's relaxed with a local flair?  I know we'll be right in the French Quarter and, thus, probably in tourist hell...but there's got to be something, right?  Let me know!

Eat, drink, and hope this


Pea Shoot Pesto

I've mentioned pea shoot pesto here before in the briefest of passing and, for that, I'm sorry.

I'm sorry because it is one of my absolute favorite things to eat in early summer.  I tripped upon a recipe in the New York Times back in May 2009 for the pesto; it sounded delicious but I dismissed it pretty quick.  I mean, where am I going to get pea shoots?

I shouldn't have dismissed it so quickly, of course.  The next time I was at Union Square, I found a stand with pea shoots.  I approached the purveyors and mentioned the article in the Times for pea shoot pesto.  Being the smart folks they are, they had a copy of the recipe and were able to tell me the exact amount of shoots I needed.

In 2010, pea shoot pesto was a regular feature at my table.

Here we are in 2011 and pea shoots are at the Union Square Greenmarket again.  Greener Pastures are the folks to talk to - you'll know them by the yellow school bus behind their stand.  They're known for their wheatgrass juice but I know them as my connection for pea shoots.

And wondering what the fuss is about with pea shoot pesto?  Sometimes I find that basil pesto can be overwhelming and overly rich.  Especially when paired with tomatoes - basil pesto can overpower the fantastic flavor of tomatoes in season.  Pea shoot pesto has a brightness and delicacy to it that I like infinitely better than its basil sister.  And pea shoot pesto is every bit as easy to make:

from The New York Times

1/4 c. grated Parmesan
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 c. pine nuts
3 c. pea shoots
1/2 c. fresh cilantro leaves

In a small skillet over medium-low heat, toast pine nuts, tossing occasionally until golden, about 3 minutes.

In a food processor or blender combine pea shoots, pine nuts, cilantro, Parmesan, garlic and salt.  Pulse until roughly chopped.  With motor running, slowly drizzle in olive oil; blend until well combined.  Scrape pesto into a bowl.  Taste for seasoning.

There have been a few times when I've forgotten to buy cilantro so I omitted it from the recipe; I have to admit that I didn't miss it much.  So feel free to leave it out if you're cilantro-adverse.  Likewise, last time I made this, I used fresh green garlic (instead of the dried kind you get at the supermarket) and it was incredible.  I'd recommend it always in this recipe, but it's in season for a pretty short window so you'll likely have to forge ahead with regular garlic.

The NYT recipe pairs the pesto with pork chops, which sounds really amazing.  However, like a kid who eats all the cookie dough before making cookies, I've never gotten that far with this recipe.  I love to serve it on grilled bread (you know me and the grilled bread recipes!) with a few slivers of shaved Parmesan on top.  I also loved it with a slice of prosciutto over the pesto, and you can see in the (rather dark) photo above that I also topped it with a fried egg. Add a salad, a crisp white wine like Sauvignon Blanc, and you have a light spring or summer meal.

Eat, drink, and experiment with pestos.


Grilled Fontina and Vegetable Antipasti

Choosing this recipe for a weeknight meal came more from the awesome bread I had from the farmers' market than it did from its ease and simplicity.  We bought a loaf of Farm Bread from our favorite baker at the market: Rock Hill Bakehouse; it's dense and jam-packed full of flavor but the downside?  It goes bad.  And fast.  So I try to incorporate it into my meals as much as I can before the mold moves in.

Looking through my saved magazine recipes, I found this one from Food and Wine: Grilled Fontina and Vegetable Antipasti.  The online recipe has all the measurements (the original print version I have doesn't have any amounts or measurements) but the beauty of this recipe is that it's perfect for improvisation, especially if you're nervous about improvising.  Here's how mine turned out:

adapted from Food and Wine

8 1/2-inch thick slices of peasant bread
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
12 oz. sliced Fontina cheese
1/2 c. (4 oz.) roasted red peppers, sliced thin
1/2 c. (4 oz.) marinated artichokes, drained and roughly chopped
3 pickled jalapenos, seeded and roughly chopped
1 stalk green garlic, sliced thin (optional)
Fresh ground pepper, to taste

Brush the bread on one side with olive oil and arrange, oiled side down, on a work surface.  Top half the slices with Fontina, peppers, artichokes, and jalapenos.  Close the sandwiches.

Preheat a skillet, panini press, or grill (I have a stovetop castiron grill).  Grill the sandwiches over medium heat  until the bread is toasted and the cheese is melted, about 10 minutes.  Use a panini press - or a spatula - to put pressure on the sandwiches; this helps the cheese melt and melds the flavors together.  Flip the sandwiches to toast the other side.  Take off the grill, halve the sandwiches, and serve right away.  Serves 4.

You can treat these ingredients as guidelines rather than rules; it really is all to taste.  I added fresh ground pepper.  And I also had some fresh green garlic (not the usual dried kind) from the farmers' market so I sliced that super thin and added that as well.  I'm not a fan of olives but maybe some olives might be good too?  If you like more heat, you can add more jalapenos.  It's all up to you.  Fun, right?

I'm on the bacon bandwagon and I love myself a chunk of rare steak.  But I do try to keep it to a minimum and, more often than not, we eat vegetarian meals around here.  This one is packed with flavor, and the variations are endless.  Lastly, I can easily deconstruct it for Bug: she just had cheese on hers (a.k.a. a grilled cheese sandwich).

Eat, drink, and don't skimp on flavor just because it's a weeknight.


Mint tea

Come winter, you'll hear me wax poetic about hot drinks to warm you to the bones when it's freezing outside.  But right now, I'm all about the summer drinks to refresh you when the sun's beating down.

We were at the farmers' market (Union Square, of course) last weekend and there was a stand (the name of which I can never remember) that had iced mint tea.  Two big coolers full of tea and two small chests with ice.  You can get a small 6 oz cup for $1.00 or a 12 oz cup for $1.50.  Bug begged me to get a cup and, after talking to the purveyor, I learned that the tea had a scant amount of caffeine; other than that, it was sweetened with local farmers' market maple syrup.  Bug and I both had a glass (Adam hates mint so he passed) and it was incredible.  You know when you just drink that perfect drink on a hot day and you just sigh and say, "Ahhhhhh!" when you drink it?  Well, that was this drink.

Naturally, I immediately realized that I could easily make this on my own.  So I bought myself a bunch of mint and went home to give it a go.  I separated the mint into these long tea bags I have:

But I think you could probably put the mint right in the water and then strain it out.  As the water was about to boil, I took it off the stove and let it steep on the countertop for about 10 minutes.  I took out the bags, squeezing the water out of them before tossing them, and then stirred in maple syrup.  Of course I tasted it, tasted it, tasted it to make sure I was adding the right amount of syrup.  Once I got it to the right amount of sweetness, I added it to a pitcher:

And I sipped all week long.  Absolutely wonderful.

Today we went back to the market and bought another cup of their iced tea.  Bug noticed a card with the ingredients: mint, maple syrup, sugar, lemon juice, lime juice.  We didn't add sugar, lemon, or lime to our tea; Bug told me that she didn't think we needed the sugar since it was sweetened with the syrup.  We did agree, though, that lemon and lime juice would be awesome additions.  So we'll try that next.  And that, in a nutshell, is why I love cooking and creating in the kitchen.  Last weeks' tea was great.  But let's add lemon and lime juice to see what will happen.  Maybe it'll be even better.  Maybe it won't.  It's always interesting and always fresh because even I don't know what will come out of my kitchen sometimes.

Eat, drink, and refresh.


Best Dessert

It has been well-documented here how little I like to bake.  And my complete lack of a sweet tooth.  I know I sound like a proverbial broken record - how many times have I talked about this?

All my blah-blahing aside (because, yes, there is part of me that takes a little pride in my love of all things savory), there is one dessert that I cannot resist: strawberries tossed with balsamic vinegar.  And preferably spooned on top of vanilla ice cream.

Thanks to this past Saturday's Union Square Greenmarket, I had three pints of strawberries.  One whole pint we ate on Saturday, of course, while still sitting in the park.  One pint would be eaten on Sunday morning.  But Saturday night we had a pint for dessert.  Here's what you do:

Hull the desired amount of strawberries.  If they're very large, feel free to halve them but, otherwise, you can keep them whole.  Place in a large bowl.  Add good-quality balsamic vinegar* and sugar to taste.  I know my lack of measurements may be frustrating to some of you but you've got to trust me on this.  Some people like it more vinegary, some with lots of sugar.  It's up to you.

Okay, you need measurements?  Here's a good place to start: I recommend a pint of strawberries with a half-tablespoon of vinegar and a 1/2 teaspoon of sugar.  Taste it.  Want more bite?  Want more sweetness?  Adjust accordingly.  Did you add too much vinegar?  Easy fix: add more sugar to even it out.  Spoon it over vanilla ice cream...and make sure to get the juices from the bottom of the bowl and drizzle that over the strawberries and ice cream.

Easiest dessert ever.  And the balsamic is a surprising addition that your dinner guests may not expect at first bite, which makes this seem much fancier than it really is.  The other thing is that if you're one of those people who insists on buying strawberries from the supermarket in February (rather than when they're in season), then this is one of the only acceptable ways to eat them.  Me, I wait until those first strawberries in May or June - there's nothing like them after eating no other fruit but apples all winter.  I was in heaven eating this dessert.

Eat, drink, and lick the bowl clean.

* Don't know if you have good-quality balsamic vinegar?  A good test is whether it's the consistency of syrup.  It should have a thick, syrup quality to it and, for heaven's sake, it should never leave your mouth feeling sore!