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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Fresh fig and banana smoothie

After the Labor Day festivities have concluded, there is a noticeable shift in the air in New York City. Street side parking resumes its notorious status of being (at best) frustrating and (at worst) downright impossible. The carefree people on the subway sporting sundresses, sandals and weekend bags have been replaced with sightly glummer-looking (albeit tan) professionals. The facebook statuses have shifted from idyllic photos of sandy toes set on the backdrop of a glistening ocean to posts about the inevitable, but unwelcome, end to summer and the resumption of school, work, or just normal life.

When it becomes tempting to slump over and wave goodbye to an always too short summer, I remind myself of the wonderful things that this season can bring; more of those refreshingly cooler days, the start of football season (go Giants ... and Bengals!) and what I feel is the best harvest time of the year.

The warm weather will, at the least, stretch on for a couple more weeks and, with that, we will continue to have an abundance of late summer tomatoes, corn and zucchini. The transition between summer and fall also brings forth crops that required all summer to develop and ripen to perfection, like eggplant, red peppers and figs.

I will share a few of my favorite recipes for ways to use this late summer bounty. But, first, I want to share a super easy way to use one of my absolute favorite fruit, figs. Figs are in season from the late summer through fall. They are wonderful for snacking, in salads and desserts, but also in somewhat more unexpected places, like smoothies. In this recipe, if it could even be referred to as such, I blend figs with a banana and a handful of spinach for an oddly satisfying and healthful drink. While the spinach will change the color of the drink, trust me, you won't even taste it and it is an easy opportunity to sneak in a few extra leafy greens to your diet.

Fig and banana smoothie
I use a frozen banana, versus a fresh banana, so as to eliminate the need for ice, which can water down the smoothie.

Yield: 1 smoothie

6-8 medium black figs
1 banana, frozen
1/2 cup cold water
handful of fresh baby spinach leaves

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth, adding a little extra water if it is too thick.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Skillet baked spinach and eggs

In this crazy world of vast consumerism, it's no wonder that almost every product on the market, including cookware, is getting improved, reconstructed or re-marketed. I get a lot of questions regarding which type of cookware is the best to invest in. There are so many options out there -- copper, stainless steel, cast iron, non-stick-- it's certainly not easy to decide which are the best for you and your cooking needs. Of all of the types of cookware, and I use many of them for different purposes, I avoid using nonstick because of their potentially toxic coatings (sautéing organic produce on a chemically manufactured cooktop just doesn't jive to me). But this past week my step-sister emailed me asking what I thought about the new "green"nonstick pans.

The jury is still out on whether these new non-stick pans really do what they claim to do. I for one am extremely skeptical. Without diving too far into the details, the short of it is that every nonstick pan is coated with chemicals. That coating eventually breaks down and can emit harmful toxins when it does so. It can break down when heated over high heat, is scratched with cooking utensils, or simply with time. Different pans are coated with different chemicals, some indisputably more harmful than others. At the top of the avoid list are PFOA and PTFE which the Environmental Protection Agency cites for having the potential to cause flulike symptoms all the way to birth defects. A few new "green" coatings, like silicone, have cropped up. They certainly look like they are less harmful than other nonstick coatings, but, when it comes down to it, they still require a lot more resources and technology to produce. Why even take a chance and hold our breath waiting for the next study to come out when traditional options, like stainless steel and cast iron, work perfectly well?

With that said, I know a lot of people that love their nonstick pans. They have solved a lot of cooking woes: they are easy to clean, food doesn't stick to them as easily and you don't have to use as much fat or oil. They're all totally legitimate. Are here are (what I hope to be) legitimate and practical solutions to those concerns:

Case for nonstick #1: They are easier to clean
Yes, nonstick pans are undeniably easier to clean. To clean stainless steel pans, you have to use a bit more elbow grease and sometimes a cleaning agent other than dish soap. For hard to remove food stains I sprinkle baking soda on the spots and then scrub the baking soda over the surface with a damp sponge. For heat stains, I rub a small amount of white vinegar over the stain with a soft cloth or paper towel.

Case for nonstick #2: You have to use less oil
My response: Using a tablespoon or so of heart healthy cooking oils like olive oil and canola oil here or there is good for you. Cooking food on a potentially toxic surface is not. I'll take the healthy fat and calories over the chemicals any day.

Case for nonstick #3: Food doesn't stick to them
Many people use nonstick pans because food doesn't, well, stick to them as easily. So for delicate food like eggs and fish fillets that seem to immediately and irreversibly adhere themselves to stainless steel pans, I have a secret weapon. A big, time-tested, super affordable weapon: cast iron.

Cast iron is some of the most inexpensive cookware you can buy and has (almost literally) been used as a cooking element forever. When properly seasoned (cookware-speak for lightly oiled and baked) it is wonderfully nonstick. It's also heavy, durable, and will last for generations. Plus, I have found that they make for a beautiful and rustic serving vessel (with a towel draped over the handle and a fair warning that the handle is hot!). I cook and serve herbed lemon shrimp in a big cast iron skillet (scroll down to third recipe to see the presentation) and I love it for big veggie and egg bakes.

Now that spinach and other delicate greens are coming into season, I can't get enough of them. This recipe calls for a huge amount of spinach -- a really absurd amount - but it doesn't seem excessive when it is all wilted down. If you're looking to increase your family's veggie intake, this is your recipe. Even a modest serving of this dish will pack in a crazy amount of all those anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and nutritious properties that spinach is know for.

Skillet baked spinach and eggs

4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
16 ounces (1 pound) fresh spinach
2 tablespoons butter
3 spring onions or 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced thinly
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Warm olive oil in a large high-sided pan over medium-low heat. Gradually add spinach to the pan, stirring as you go, until all of it is wilted. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Melt the butter in a 12 inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the spring onion or leeks and saute until tender. Add in the garlic and cook another 30 seconds or until the garlic is fragrant but not browned. Add in the wilted spinach, lemon juice, salt, pepper and nutmeg into the skillet and stir to combine.

Using the back of a wooden spoon, create four indentations into the spinach mixture. Crack each of the eggs directly into the indentations and transfer the skillet to oven. Bake just until the whites of the eggs are set, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the oven and top with the grated Parmesan.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Cincinnati Style Chili [A Special Guest Post]

The first guest Seasonal Brooklyn entry, what an honor!

Some of you may know me personally, others through this blog as they lucky recipient of Rachel's frequent and delicious culinary experiments. Either way, hello! This is Andrew, Rachel's husband, with the the first guest entry here on Seasonal Brooklyn. With this first appearance I wanted to bring a recipe that I have taken the time to perfect (in my mind) to try and keep up with the caliber of the blog, but also one that meant something to me on a more personal level. So today it's all about that unique take on chili from a small city in the Midwest. In keeping with the blog's theme, I have adapted a more locally and sustainably minded approach for my Cincinnati Style Chili recipe, something I believe in as much as my lovely wife.

Like most cities in the Midwest, Cincinnati is a pretty laid back and quiet town full of friendly people. It's the type of place where you say 'hi' to strangers as you pass them on the sidewalk. I have long given up this practice after nearly twelve years on the east coast, but I will slip right back into it with every visit to my hometown. A city rich in American History residing on the border between North and South, it once bore the nickname Porkopolis and is still referred to as the Queen City to this day, and yes, Jerry Springer was in fact our mayor. Cincinnatians love their Bengals (Who Dey!) and Reds, it's home to the Crosstown Shootout, and a unique culinary tradition: Cincinnati Style Chili.

Cincinnati Style Chili originated in Downtown Cincinnati in the 1920's. It was introduced by Greek immigrant restaurateurs that were modifying traditional stews or sauces to broaden their appeal and customer base. I'm surmising that the dish originated as a variation of the traditional Greek meat sauce used in moussaka because the similarity in texture, consistency and use of savory and sweet flavor profiles. The chili is characterized by its unique mix of spices, including spicy, savory and sweet, as well as the manner in which it is served; coneys, three-ways, four-ways, etc. Today Cincinnati style chili is served primarily in what are called 'chili parlors', which are either chains like Skyline Chili, or local single-location restaurants like Blue Ash Chili or Chili Time. Chili Parlors are located in and around the greater Cincinnati area, which span parts of Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana.

There are a few things that need to be laid out before you take on some home cooked Cincinnati Style Chili. Whether you're a seasoned veteran or someone who's never even tried the chili, here are some pointers worth considering:
The Meat
Buy lean ground beef from a trusted butcher and have them use the finest grind they can. The fine grind allows for the chili to be thinner, which will result in a more authentic Cincinnati style chili. I use meat from Dickson's Farmstand, a purveyor of pastured, sustainably raised animals in Manhattan, and have them do a fine grind on a 90/10 meat to fat ratio. You want a little flavor that fat can impart but not so much that it makes the chili greasy (you'll be skimming the excess fat off anyway).

The Seasoning
Cincinnati chili is probably more about the seasoning than anything else, as this is what lends the unique and bold flavor. My fine-tuned concoction is listed below just as I make it at home, but feel free to tweak it to you personal tastes.

The Cheese
You don't want to get too fancy on the cheese front as the proper way to serve Cincinnati style chili is topped with mounds of the stuff. A fine cheese just doesn't quite belong. I go with an easily grated sharp cheddar, but some argue a milder cheddar or even Monterey jack is better suited. Be sure to use the finest grate on your box grater as the cheese will be piled high and should almost be fluffy. Just a quick note for the health conscious, your average cheddar and Monterey jack cheeses are dyed orange with a food-coloring agent called annatto. As you'll see in my photos I have opted for an un-dyed version of sharp cheddar, which can be found easily at your local grocery store.

Serving Styles

Three, four and five ways: The first of two traditional serving styles that dates back to the 1920's is spaghetti topped with a generous serving of chili. Three ways are served over spaghetti and topped with mounds of cheese. Beans and/or raw onions can be added if you like to make it a four or five way.

Cheese coneys: The second traditional serving style is the all-American coney, a hot dog served on a bun and topped with chili and cheese. A variation on this version, which happens to be my personal favorite, is the chili ch
eese sandwich. Its just like the cheese coney, however without the dog, just much more chili and cheese.

Those are some of the traditional ways to serve Cincinnati style chili, but this is still chili my friends and you can serve it up in a number of other untraditional manners. Here are some ideas:
  • Chili Dip (cream cheese topped with chili)
  • Plain Ol' Bowl of Chili
  • Chili Nachos
  • Chili Cheese Fries
With that, I give you
my Cincinnati Style Chili recipe. I hope you all enjoy.
Cincinnati Style Chili

4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2-1/2 tablespoons chili powder
3-1/2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons allspice
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon coriander
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small onions, chopped
8 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds ground beef (90/10 meat to fat ratio, fine grind)
16 ounce can pureed tomatoes
2 cups water
3 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Mix the cocoa powder and all of the dried spices in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add in the beef and cook, stirring frequently until beef is browned. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove the excess fat from the pot (I do this by pushing all of the beef to one side and tilting the pot so that the fat pools on one side and can easily be spooned out). Add in the dried spice mixture and stir until well combined and the cocoa melts in. Add in the tomatoes, water, worcestershire sauce and apple cider vinegar and simmer covered for at least 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, adding more water as needed.

Adjust seasoning if needed and serve in whatever style you're feeling.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Tuscan Kale Ceasar Salad

I've been planning of putting this recipe on this site for a while. In fact, its been sitting in my queue for months and have been waiting for just the right time to share it. The right time, I've obscurely decided, is now. Well, it's not totally obscure. We're heading into the very last week of February and then will be sliding into the month that boasts the first day of spring. Even though we have experienced unseasonably warm temperatures as of late, we don't have yet the produce that the new season brings: asparagus, ramps, fiddlehead, fava beans... I'm getting excited! But, until then, it's still winter and all the hardy produce that comes with it.

Not that I'm hating on winter produce. I do love root vegetables and hardy greens, but it's at this point, toward the end of the season, where I start to become a little antsy. When I start feeling this way (and I'm sure I'm among good company, right?), I pull through by making some of my all-time favorite, you just can't go wrong with, kind of dishes.

Queue my winter ceasar salad. I aim to achieve and preserve the qualities that make this a staple among so many households and restaurants -- which in my opinion are the crunchy freshness, the slight saltiness and the creamy richness -- and update it with nutritious high-quality seasonal ingredients.

Instead of the egg being used in the dressing, I serve on top of the salad (I of course break up the yolk and mix in that creamy goodness with the greens). Instead of croutons, I use whole wheat anchovy breadcrumbs so that you get a little crunch and saltiness in every bite. And instead of romaine lettuce, which doesn't come into season until late spring, I use ultra-nutritious and surprisingly tender Tuscan kale.

I make a big bowl of this and eat it with a good loaf of seedy bread and a bowl of yummy olive oil. And that's dinner. Believe me, it's satisfying enough to be a meal in itself. Unless I'm feeling especially hungry, and then I'll fry up two eggs per salad.

Tuscan Kale Ceasar Salad
Tuscan kale is also known as lacinato, black and dinosaur/dino kale. It's dark green in color, and has flatter, lumpier leaves that curly kale. It also tends to be more tender and is fabulous when served raw in salads.

Serves 4

For the breadcrumbs:
3 tablespoons olive oil
10 anchovy fillets, packed in olive oil
1/2 cup whole wheat panko breadcrumbs

For the dressing:
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
pinch of crushed red pepper
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

For the rest of the salad:
2 big bunches Tuscan kale, course ribs and stems removed
2 tablespoons butter
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish

To make the breadcrumbs, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the anchovy fillets and break them up using the back of a wooden spoon. Add in the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring constantly, until toasted (about 2 minutes). Immediately remove the breadcrumbs from the skillet and place on a plate lined with a paper towel. Allow to cool.

Make the dressing by combining all of the ingredients except for the olive oil in small food processor. Gradually stream in the olive oil while pulsing. Season to taste with salt.

Take the de-ribbed kale leaves and slice into 1/4" thin strips by placing a few on top of each other, rolling tightly and chopping (see photo above). Toss with dressing.

Heat butter in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When the foam subsides, crack eggs into the pan with hot butter. Fry on one side until the egg white is set but the yolk is still runny.

Top the dressed kale with the fried eggs, anchovy breadcrumbs and a little extra grated Parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cumin Sweet Potato Soup with Chipotle Lime Aioli

I'm really excited to share this recipe with you. One, because I just love soup. Two, because I love spicy soup. And, three, because the flavors in this spicy soup just got so well together. (On the other hand, I'm not so excited about the photograph of the soup. But I cooked, snapped and ate so by the time I realized how poorly the pictures had turned out it was too late.)

Andrew likes a good bowl of soup but he doesn't share the all-I-want-to-do-is-put-on-a-cozy-sweater-and-sit-down-to-a-big-bowl-of-soup kind of affinity. When I tell him we are having soup for dinner as the main course (which I do quite often), I can tell he is doing his best to mask a tinge of disappointment when he replies, "Oh, ok, that sounds great." This soup, however, he loved. Closed his eyes for a second, loved. The flavor combination is just right on. Sweet sweet potatoes meets savory cumin meets spicy chipotle. Plus a little touch of lime to really make all the flavors sing.

By following these recipe quantities you'll end up with more chipotle lime aioli than you'll need for this dish. But its really not worth making less, so save the rest. It will keep for up to a week and would be wonderful spooned on top of a baked sweet potato, fish tacos or crab cakes.

Cumin Sweet Potato Soup with Chipotle Lime Aioli

Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a starter

3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed into 1-1/2 inch pieces
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon flour
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 cup sour cream
1 canned chipotle pepper, minced (or a little less, depending on your spice preference)
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss cubed sweet potatoes in olive oil on a large baking dish and spread out in a single layer. Roast for about 45 minutes, or until slightly caramelized and tender.

Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Saute the onion until transparent. Add in the flour and stir for 1 minute to cook off the raw flour taste. Add in the stock, roasted sweet potatoes and cumin and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Carefully puree the soup with an immersion blender, or working in batches, puree in the blender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Prepare the garnish by stirring together the sour cream, minced chipotle pepper and lime juice. Serve hot soup topped with a dollop of the aioli.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Garlicky Braised Savoy Cabbage

I can't help it. I'm a sucker for pretty vegetables. If you're selling a gorgeous head of romanesco or purple cauliflower, I'm your gal. I won't turn away empty handed. That's how I feel when I see savoy cabbage at the farmers' market. It's simply gorgeous. I have to hold back from gushing to fellow shoppers, "Isn't this beautiful?!".

Crinkly, vibrant and lustrous, it's like the vegetable equivalent of a peony in full bloom. How could one possibly resist? If I'm seeming like a complete crazy lady who has lost touch with reality and has started a sordid love affair with a head of cabbage, so be it. I can take it.

Now what does one do with a big head of cabbage in the middle of winter? Coleslaw season is months away, you say. Well, I like to braise it. In garlic and butter and bit of stock. It's mellow and earthy and pairs well with a number of different dishes (my favorite being roasted pork tenderloin with apples). Now, that said, this is less of a recipe per se and more of a technique. It's a simple and straightforward braising method that can be applied to various other types of cabbage and leafy greens. This post hopefully, though, will serve as a reminder to the various ways cabbage can be enjoyed - outside of coleslaw season.

So if you are lucky enough to find a head of gorgeous savoy cabbage, don't resist. The pretty quickly becomes the delicious with just a few staple ingredients and a little love.

Garlicky Braised Savoy Cabbage

1 head savoy cabbage
3 tablespoons butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup vegetable or chicken stock
salt & pepper to taste

Peel tough outer layers from the cabbage and discard. Quarter and remove the core. Slice leaves into bite-sized pieces.

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium-low heat. When the foam subsides, add the garlic and saute until fragrant. Add in the cabbage and stock and stir to combine. Cover the pot and braise for about 30 minutes, or until all of the liquid has been absorbed and the cabbage is very tender.

Season well with salt and pepper and serve.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Curried Black Eyed Peas and Collard Greens

2011 was an exciting year. We traveled here, attended six beautiful weddings, became increasingly experimental in the kitchen and tirelessly rooted on two NFL teams that, by the skin of their teeth, have successfully made it into the playoffs. With that said, I still am welcoming 2012 with wide open arms. We have trips planned to the Outer Banks and Israel. We are eagerly awaiting the arrival of close friends and family's little ones. I started writing articles for the website SheKnows on seasonal eating and lifestyle choices. And we optimistically may see one, if not both (Giants vs. Bengals, anyone?), of our football teams in this year's Super Bowl.

I'm usually not one to make resolutions, but this year I've decided to kick off the new year with an ambitious goal. I want to be more proactive and less reactive. I want to be ahead of the game and be a better planner. I thankfully ditched my procrastinating ways midway through college, but even still, I often find that I'm taking care of work, or planning for meals, right before things absolutely need to be done. My work gets done, and meals get cooked, but wouldn't it be easier and so much less stressful if I operated slightly ahead of the game?

One thing that encouraged this new year's goal are the numerous containers of dried beans stacked in my pantry. I like beans. They're versatile. They're an inexpensive and healthy protein. So why am I not putting these all-around fabulous little guys to use? Well, it takes planning. Most of them have to be soaked a few hours, or overnight, and that requires a good bit of planning ahead (an area that, despite being a food blogger, I admittedly could improve in).

I decided to first tackle the dried heirloom black eyed peas. They are supposed to bring good luck in the new year, right? And being that black eyed peas and collard greens are two of my favorite southern-style side dishes, I chose to combine them in this dish. The spices are anything but southern (except for the cayenne pepper, that is) but it all comes together just deliciously.

Curried Black Eyed Peas and Collard Greens
You can use either a premixed curry powder, or you can elect to mix your own. A sample curry mix recipe is noted below. To make this an even more substantial entree, top each serving with an over easy egg.

Serves 4

1 pound dried black eyed peas
1 fresh bay leaf
1/2 onion
1 pound collard greens
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons curry powder (see below for my homemade mixture)
3/4 cup plain whole milk yogurt

Soak the beans in cool water for 20 minutes. Drain and transfer to a pot. Cover by 2 inches with water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add in 1/2 onion and bay leaf. Simmer for 25 minutes or until tender but not mushy. Drain and transfer to a baking sheet to cool.

De-rib the collard greens and discard stems (or save for vegetable stock!). Roll the leaves up and slice into 1" thick slices. Boil in lightly salted water for 20 minutes. Drain and press out excess water.

Heat olive oil and butter in a high sided skillet. Saute chopped onion until translucent. Add in garlic, collard greens and black eyed peas and saute 5 minutes. Stir in curry powder and yogurt. Season with additional spices and salt and pepper to taste.

Curry Spice Mixture
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper