theater party

 Theatrical Bruschetta

Theatrical Bruschetta

I volunteered to make party food for the Irvington Theater’s season-kick-off benefit party this weekend. It’s a lovely organization that I’m excited to be a part of—and excited to be bringing some exciting stuff to this often-sleepy town.

I wanted to make a range of finger foods that had some theatrical color and variety and came up with a spread of different bruschetta. There’s an artichoke and parmesan; beet and goat cheese; red pepper and goat cheese and one with plum chutney and prosciutto.

The decision what to make was based, as usual, on what was on hand—and started with those weird green plums we got from the CSA. They were small and sour and no one was eating them so I boiled them with with some sugar, wine and water until they were pulpy and mushy. That’s basically what chutney is. I paired them with their opposite— salty crispy proscuitto fried in a pan and added a thin layer of the goat cheese mixture (goat cheese mixed with cream cheese for extra spreadability) below it all to soften the blow.

The beets were also CSA remnants, which I roasted in tin foil then peeled and mixed with some cider vinegar and salt. The red peppers were even easier—a bottle of roasted red pepper from Costco that I diced and mixed with red wine vinegar, garlic, sugar, pepper flakes, and teaspoon salt. Those also went over the goat cheese spread, although a whipped feta would work too.

 Left: Costco bottle pureed vs. right: Cook’s Illustrated recipe

Left: Costco bottle pureed vs. right: Cook’s Illustrated recipe

Finally the artichokes—I used a Cook’s Illustrated recipe that pureed canned artichoke hearts with basil, garlic, olive oil, lemon and parmesan but after realizing that the artichokes I bought in bulk were already swimming in an olive-oil mixture—I tried just pureeing the chokes with a bit of the liquid from the bottle and that worked too (a little more acidic than the original but definitely delicious—and since this version was extra I combined it with some sour cream for a dip I was asked to bring to a Friday night dinner party.

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I rounded it out with rosemary roasted nuts that I always make for Thanksgiving, crudite with a green goddess dip (made with all the herbs that were beginning their goodbyes in our garden) and a puff pastry cracker. Plus a couple basic cheeses and olives, all of which cost me a total of less than $100 to make. If it weren’t such a lovely non-profit, I would have quoted a much higher price.

gift basket

Michael’s co-worker heard that I was making foodie gifts and requested a basket for her friend’s anniversary celebration. Here’s what I came up with…

Serrano Blanco (Fresh pepper infused tequila)

Pickled Watermelon Rinds

Beef Jerky

Boozy Cherry Chutney

Garlic-Herb Salt

Bacon Onion Jam

Mocha Cocoa (Add to hot milk for delicious hot chocolate)

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Raspberry-Basil Syrup

with gin, lemon and seltzer

It’s a great gift—email me to request one!


 

 

 

 

chicken leek

When the CAS gives you leeks....make this recipe from Epicurious. Actually, this was a dish that Michael and I made when we were first dating and when neither of us could cook. For some reason, I brought over this recipe to his little Havemeyer Street apartment and we made it together -- a major project. This time, I whipped it up pretty fast while the boys were on their way back from Boston. It's so simple, I thought it would be dull but it wasn't. I added my garlic herb salt and subbed sour cream for cream. It was rich and hearty and just right for a Sunday night dinner. 

pea shoots

pea shoots

Just back from this week’s CSA gathering. And: pea shoots! I’ve loved pea shoots ever since I had them sauteed at M Shanghai in Brooklyn—it’s their signature side and on the menu only when the shoots are in season. Which, apparently, is now. Since I sadly won’t make it into Brooklyn this weekend I thought I should try to recreate the M dish at home.

It turns out it's insanely simple. Heat 1 tablespoon of neutral oil in a hot wok and throw in the shoots and a pinch of salt. Cook while stirring until they start to wilt (2-3 minutes) then turn off heat and add a splash of soy sauce or lemon juice or both and (optional) some sesame seeds (or nori which was a spontaneous purchase at H Mart.) I also added a few drops of hot sauce. And then happily ate it all my myself since the boys are in Boston this weekend.

And despite the fact that today’s CSA allotment of cucumbers was…one (damn you rain!), I will still be pickling and making some other new items for my first customer—a friend who wants to give a wedding anniversary gift basket containing Monsters Vs. Dinner products. I’ve been cooking like a mad woman to get everything ready: beef jerky, onion jam, cherry chutney, garlic herb salt and of course pickles. I’ve been experimenting with salt levels and fermented vs. fridge. It’s a whole lotta science but pretty fascinating and once I get it down, I’ll be a pickling machine—making my MFA in fiction finally worthwhile.

my new favorite diy

garlic herb salt

One of the new items I've been experimenting with is homemade garlic and herb salt. You know that nasty chalky McCormick garlic salt that's been in your pantry for years? Throw it out. This one is easy and makes everything taste better. Seriously. I've tried it on eggs, humous, guacamole, sauteed veggies, salad dressing and roast chicken. I now sprinkle it on a bagel and cream cheese (instant everything bagel!) Try it on top of toast with mayo (or spinach humous pictured above) and fresh summer tomatoes. It elevates flavor and adds a richness without overpowering. Cardboard up next. 

It does however take some upper body strength, so feel free to cancel today's gym plans. 

csa madness

CSA Strawberries

I signed up for The Rivertown CSA this year which means that on Saturdays, I go to town and pick up whatever the local farm has harvested that week. But every time I return home with our weekly allotment, I panic. HOW AM I GOING TO USE THIS PERFECT PRODUCE BEFORE IT ALL GOES BAD? I need to immediately start portioning, assigning, cooking and freezing.

For example, I knew we would never eat 3 baskets of blueberries because the boys would rather eat slime than try them (they said that.) I couldn't bear those beautifully tart firm berries turning to mush. So I froze one basket on a tray and then put them into a plastic bag for smoothies or just some late night snacking. I did the same with the sweet strawberries that actually tasted like strawberries (hulling them before I froze them.)

With the basil that I feared wilting into blackness, I quickly pureed with purple scallions (also from the CSA), pine nuts that have been in my freezer since I learned to cook, parmesan that the kids no longer like with pasta, lemon and olive oil. I froze this chunky pesto too. 

For the Swiss chard, I separated the leaves from the stems and chopped both. I heated olive oil in a pan then sauteed garlic for 1 minute, added stems and cooked for 5 minutes then added leaves, salt and dashes of both cider vinegar and fish sauce. When they were wilted, I stirred in a tablespoon of greek yogurt and a teaspoon of lemon juice. Throughout the week, I used it three times: I served it as a side dish, mixed it into cauliflower rice and added it to scrambled eggs. 

Finally the cucumbers--I turned to my mom's recipe. Cut into small pieces (you could also mandolin), place in large tupperware and add white wine vinegar and salt to taste. Let these mellow out in the fridge for a day or two and the simple pickle becomes a great snack and easy salad ingredient. 

So within an hour of picking up farm fresh vegetables, I had turned them into not-so fresh produce, which maybe is totally insane. It is, right?

 

jammin' now

making cherry chutney

I'm learning that mush is good. Fruits and veggies cooked down with lots of good flavor is a wonderful thing. For example, two of the latest creations (which both are amazing accompaniments to grilled meat, sandwiches or cheese)...

And an onion jam which starts with bacon fat...so nothing bad can happen. 

real food

It's officially summer vacation-- ever since 8:10am today when the camp bus picked up the kids for eight hours!!! We kicked off the season this weekend with our first ever family camping trip. Thankfully, we were also accompanied by our good friends who are pro campers and made the whole experience lots of fun. Minus the deafening nocturnal frogs, it was not nearly as traumatic as we predicted.

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Including the meals. A reheated frozen chili was easy (though the nachos with Rotel and Cheddar Cheese soup were soggy.) We loved steak tacos with all the fixings. They were a bit more work but there's not much else to do when you're sitting around a campsite. The kids ate hot dogs as if they were at home. And the egg hack--crack them into a jar before you leave--worked brilliantly. 

On the way home we tried to counteract all the chips we ate with food from a Catskills farmers market—just-caught whole trout and beautiful produce. Next to the market was the Livingston Manor Farm- part cafe with delicious gourmet sandwiches and part store selling small-batch local food. It's exactly what the Rivertowns need.

Out here, it's easy to rely on a lot of cheap and processed food. After years of city living, Costco and giant grocery stores with big parking lots have been kind of thrilling.

But since reading A Mind of Your Own in which Dr. Kelly Brogan argues that processed food affects not just our physical but also our mental health, I’ve tried to buy more real food. We joined Butcher Box that delivers grass-fed farm-fresh frozen meat to our house every other month, as well as the local CSA. And I have been making an effort to go to Irvington’s fabulous farmers market.  

On the other hand, I haven’t made it out of the kitchen yet today. Just now, as I was finishing the breakfast dishes, Mack ran in claiming he was “STARVING.” 

a year in the burbs

So we’ve been here a year! Can you believe it?

 (This is the conversation I’ve been having not only with our neighbors but also in my head.)

So, what do you think? Did you make the right choice?

 (Here I pause, not sure which answer is correct:

Yes; our kids are happy running around and I’m happy with them running around (without the need for my attention). Driveways! They rock. We’ve met some good people and a few promising friends. It's quiet.

No; I miss the city, the hustle, my arty-worldly friends, good food. I wish there was way more creativity in the schools which teach literally by the (Xeroxed for homework) book. Soccer jerseys. Also, I hate driving everywhere SLOWLY (25 mph town speed limit strictly enforced.)

Well, it takes time.
Yes that’s what everyone says.
It’s different here.
Indeed.
You can always go into the city.
True, but it’s a hassle with the kids.
You have to make the effort!
I’m trying.
Everyone is very nice here.
Everyone is very nice here.

What’s funny is that things start to seem better because they become more familiar. I swear your standards change without you realizing it. All of a sudden one day, you say: you know what? I like driving under 20 miles per hour. It gives me a chance to relax.

(Michael’s 78-year-old father, who drove two hours to work and back for 50 years, now drives 30 miles per hour on the LIE. “What’s the rush?” he says to all the drivers honking at him.)

Anyway, there are pros and cons, like anything else I guess. Same as in Brooklyn. For example, since there are so few good restaurants here (con), I’ve been cooking like a top chef (pro). Every night. I even grill now. So on a high note, here’s the latest successful "Meatless Monday" dish, which I’ve simplified from a NYT recipe.

the never ending winter

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Winter in the suburbs, just as everyone said, is intense. Wool hats have become sleepwear and slippers are no longer optional. Sometimes my fingers are so cold as I’m typing that I have to sit on them. And no I’m not writing outside. This house just only gets so warm. Then there are snow days—seven this year so far. The one thing home-bound cold weather is good for however is cooking. I’ve even roped the kids in to the kitchen a few times-- mostly with the help of this Hanukah-gift Cooking Class: 57 fun Recipes Kids Will Love to Make (and Eat).

**Quick story: The problem with Hanukah (okay, I know I said I was trying to be more positive but hear me out) is that small gifts like say, a mini lego set, the night after they got a large lego set, tend to be a disappointment—which makes us get angry at the kids’ spoiled brat-ness and Hanukah turns into a sulking fest. This year we did the dessert plan: Every night we lit the menorah but Instead of a gift, we ate a fabulous dessert. On two of the eight nights, we gave gifts (a worthy stash that made the Israelites journey worthwhile.)

The cookbook gift was a surprising success --  all the recipes are simple and yummy enough to hold their attention and make them want to do it again. Which at this point, is really the point.

We started with granola bars, crepes and pancakes. Then Mack and I made the popcorn chicken. I also got them this plastic knife set, which I highly recommend. The boys use them all the time to cut their own food without me needing sedatives. The book has some fun tips and labels in the back which we used to package the granola bars for their lunchboxes.

Last night we had a fabulous 7 course “Dinner with Dave” (see below) who admitted that most of his culinary prowess came from cooking with his mom, who wasn’t even a great cook. Maybe someday these boys will catch the bug.

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kids picks

Ever since their older cousin Mae showed them how to mix dirt, leaves, worms and orange juice in a bowl, the boys have been asking to do "science experiments." They've seen their uncle perform the black pepper in soapy water trick to show how molecules separate (or something like that). He blew their little minds. And their grandmother makes slime and other messy substances that take minutes to make and hours to clean up.

I"m always a little skeptical of the mess vs. value of the product. But then I remembered referring to my pickle-making attempts as science experiments. So I found a new recipe in the Jerusalem cookbook (no vinegar or sugar but lots of interesting spices, plus dill) and made it with the boys. They liked smelling cloves and learning about mustard seeds, and what happens when salt dissolves in water. Nate's persistent question throughout was "will they be sour?" To which I had to admit, I don't know. We'll see in 5 days. 

"Aw man," Mack said. "Can we play now?"

Update: They were not sour enough for Nate's taste but they were tasty. Next time I'll play around with the spice mix. A different kind of playing than Mack had in mind, I guess. Stay tuned. 

hello again

So yeah it’s been a long time. Sorry about that. It’s not that I haven’t been cooking—quite the contrary. I have just been cooking (and running around) too much to sit down and write down.

Last week we were in Williamsburg for 4 days where I did zero cooking. Why would I when I can get Korean fried chicken and homemade kimchi delivered in 45 minutes; hot pepperoni pizza only three blocks away at Artichoke Pizza; juicy burgers from the Italian place downstairs and really good (if not authentic) Mexican food that even the kids will eat (with portions big enough for lunch the next day.) Ah Brooklyn.

When we got back, I declared a vacation-inspired no cooking zone and then quickly reneged on that when all four of us were home for three meals and innumerable snacks a day. Every night we said: Let’s go out. But where….? Then I wound up cooking.

So here’s a little synopsis of my recent kitchen outputs. I’ve actually taught myself a few new techniques and found or invented a couple keepers. (If anyone is reading this and wants recipes or more info, please ask.)

Wednesday (dinner party)
Wedge salad—I just quartered an iceberg head and made a dressing of blue cheese, buttermilk and sour cream then threw in a few croutons from our giant Costco bag which never seems to go stale...hmmm. 

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Sous vide steaks I’m obsessed with my sous vide machine! It's as easy as sticking the machine in a container of water to create a steady low temp cooking environment and then slipping in vacuum sealed meats. After an hour, you remove the steaks from the plastic and sear or grill them for 2 minutes. (See below.) There’s no better way to make tender meat and Serious Eats is the best source of recipes.

 Sous Vide Steak

Sous Vide Steak

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Spanish salted potatoes - these were from Milk Street magazine, created by the former editor of Cooks Illustrated, which is my new favorite cooking magazine. After being boiled in way salty water, the potatoes became encrusted with salt but they were creamy and not salty inside. Served them with a fancy take on Russian dressing.


Friday
Sugar-free ribs: We were headed to Long Island where my father in law is struggling with diabetes so I made up a ribs recipe without sugar:

I rubbed pork spare ribs with salt, pepper, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder. Then baked at 325 on a rack/baking sheet for 2 hours; brushed with sauce (salsa, chicory root sugar substitute, the spice rub mix and butter—all boiled down together) and cooked for another 1-1.5 hours.

Served with this homemade sriracha made by Asian Farmer Dumplings that we picked up at Irvington’s fabulous farmers market.

Saturday

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Oven-steamed salmon: This is a great way to get soft decadent salmon with no effort: put a pan of water in the oven as you cook the fish. Served with plain yogurt mixed with lemon juice and pepper.

Sous-vide salmon: Brine for 30 minutes, add salt, pepper and herbs and a little oil then seal in a bag. Cook at 125.5 for 40 minutes and then sear skin in hot pan.

 

Steamed broccoli topped with parm cheese, lemon and olive oil
Toast spread with the excellent salmon cream cheese from the Bagel Emporium in Tarrytown.

Sunday (dinner party)

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Reverse seared pork loin with couscous greens and roasted spring onion. Served with tomato and mozzarella crostini. The reverse-sear method also belongs to Serious Eats and is similar to sous vide: cook low and slow then sear or broil (in this case) for a crust. It's stupid easy—season meat and cook. Then increase heat and cook more.

 

Of course the kids didn't eat any of this so there was plenty of takeout pizza this week too (but none as good as Brooklyn's.)

'burb breakfast: an experiment

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I am still on a search for the perfect kid breakfast, especially now that I understand more about the school cafeteria. I thought the menu at school which includes "all white" chicken patties (can someone please explain the quotation marks?) and "cheesy pasta" would turn off my relatively picky kids. However, they soon figured out that the daily entree doesn't matter as much as the ever-present chocolate milk, ice cream and gummy treats. It's now nearly impossible to convince them that a homemade soynut butter and jelly on wheat is a better option. 

So for the meantime, I'm focusing on breakfast—getting healthy protein and fiber in their little bodies before they flee into the world of "all white" meat. And most importantly, having it mostly ready-made before breakfast time.

I experimented with egg muffins first—basically eggs baked in a muffin tin. One was just an egg whisked with milk and cheese poured into a greased muffin tin. For the others I pressed a piece of crustless whole wheat bread into the tin to form a "crust;" then I poured a scrambled egg mixture into one and broke a whole egg in the other. (See above.) They were really good right out of the oven but a little rubbery a few days the later.

Since the egg texture was the issue I decided to turn to the 'ole Instantpot so I could steam rather than bake the eggs. (I made and wrote about these a few weeks ago and then discovered a better recipe—see below.)

So I made the streamed eggs over the weekend and put them in the fridge. (By the way the steamed eggs themselves, sans sandwich, are incredibly delicious and decadent. Definitely adult-friendly.)

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In the morning, I sliced the muffins and covered with shredded cheese, then reheated them in the microwave for 30 seconds. (I also added some "ham bacon" one day.). Piled on a toasted buttered English muffin, they became Egg McMuffins or rather Egg McShanas. And they were a hit. In fact they may even become a lunch option that can rival the school cafeteria's. If I pack some Scooby Doo gummies, I've got a shot. 

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print recipe
Instant Pot Steamed Eggs
Ingredients
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup cottage cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheese (any kind)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 4-ounce glass jars (such as Ball jars)
Instructions
Whisk ingredients well and divide into three small glass jars that have been greased. Pour 1 cup of water into the Instant Pot and then place a trivet inside. Set jars on trivet and then pressure cook (manual) for 7 minutes. Let NPR for 10 minutes. Remove egg custards from jars and serve or refrigerate for up to 5 days.
Details
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 4 servings

it's better in the burbs?

Well, I don't know about that yet but I'm trying to be optimistic and focus on the positives of our new life. Like, for example, more counter space! On which I can safely perch my instant pot and plug it in without moving ten other things. As a result, I’m using it more. For example, I figured out how to make ricotta cheese after many failed tries.

It's super easy— just pour a half gallon of milk (at Costco they comes in threes) and 1.5 teaspoons of salt in the IP and choose the "yogurt" function. When the IP beeps, add 1/3 cup lemon juice, stir and let it sit for 10 minutes. Finally, strain with cheesecloth for anywhere from 10-30 minutes until it's to your liking. It makes a nice gift if you put it in a jar with a ribbon.

I’ve also used the IP to steam veggies and it made the best chili we’ve ever had.

Another positive happening: I met a friend —one of my few neighbors who have not already covered their houses in inflatable spiders and faux tombstones. She told me about a peaceful shady pond within walking distance, which I found to be desolate and beautiful. As I looped around it, I even started to appreciate this quieter life. (I apparently got so dreamy though that I took the wrong path and had to use Google Maps to get home.) Still, I was pretty proud of my nature walk, and shared it with the kids when they got home from school, along with my pictures of floating geese. Or were they ducks? Wait, what’s the difference? 

magic mac

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For anyone who has followed my multi-year search for the perfect mac and cheese recipe, I'm sorry. It's not exactly the cause I thought I'd champion when I finished grad school. The good news is that I finally found it: an easy, no-powder mac and cheese (slightly tweaked from Dad Cooks Dinner) that both boys loved on two separate occasions. I can make in the Instantpot—it's even easier than a stovetop version, And I can pack it in thermoses for their lunch boxes. And here it is:

MAGIC MAC

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried elbow macaroni
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt 
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 (12 ounce) can evaporated milk
  • 16 ounces shredded cheddar cheese

    Directions
  1. Stir the macaroni, butter, mustard, hot pepper sauce, salt, and 4 cups water in the pressure cooker pot. Lock the lid and cook on high pressure for 4 minutes. Quick release the pressure and remove the lid.
  2. Stir in the evaporated milk and the cheese one handful at a time, stirring constantly.

    ***This makes a ton so feel free to half it or store it in the fridge for a week or two and scoop out as needed. Heat up with a splash of milk or water.

 

 

action in the burbs

I didn’t really miss Brooklyn until I went back to Brooklyn. Driving into our old hood felt surreal, as if we had been staying at an airbnb all summer. Like now we were home.

The kids and I went to our regular movie theater and ate chips from the bodega as we walked down the sidewalk, talking to each other, holding hands at the corner. I miss that. Also: friends, bars without televisions and non-white people. (My kids apparently miss trash because they begged to bring home their playground collection for the playroom:

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I also miss driving over 25 miles an hour. The slogan of this town is: Slow Down. At stop signs, people stop, wait, make sure it is their turn and that everyone else is okay with that. The town mascot is Rip Van Winkle—the guy who slept too long.

Last week however was action packed. First, on Friday, we woke to a recorded phone call that school was canceled because of “police activity.” Rumors started flying: a robbery. A gunman. A hunter shooting at squirrels. Something about Ardsley country club? On the Facebook discussion, several locals asked if it was safe to walk the dog. Finally, the real news came in. A man, with a paintball gun, was spotted. Thankfully he was successfully captured and the locals could take to the streets again. Do I sound jaded? Maybe. I’m just pissed the kids were home all day.

Anyway, just three days later I woke to a loud sound. The kids were sleeping and Michael was out. I immediately thought someone was in the house (actually, I think this all the time.) But then I saw a car parked outside with its headlights on and a man got out carrying a flashlight. The police?! I crept around to the front of the house. Across the street our neighbor was frantically pacing with his cellphone, while Mr. Flashlight waited.

I felt I had a right to know if my children were in danger so I marched outside, still half asleep, in my black nightgown and white socks (the floors are really cold in this house.)

Our neighbor, Larry, came rushing over. "I’m so sorry," he said still on the phone. "My brother in law backed up onto your lawn.” I looked and it was true. A non-police car was halfway up our front lawn. “And then he got stuck. I’m calling the towing company right now." 

Then he looked at me and said very gently, “So how are you doing?” I thought about my outfit. "Fine," I said. "Well thanks for taking care of this. I’m going back inside. Michael will be home soon.” And then I said, because it was true, “Michael is bowling. In Yonkers.” Larry nodded as if he already knew that and I went back inside and locked all the doors and thought, wait did that just happen?

Despite all this excitement I did manage to make a few good meals this week, including this easy new salad dressing I invented while trying to use up a few things in the fridge, like this giant jar of pesto (which is excellent by the way) that I bought at Costco on the advice of a chef friend.

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So I mixed a big spoonful of this pesto with a cup of buttermilk, a little white wine vinegar, salt, pepper and 1 tsp of sugar. It was like instant (healthier) ranch dressing that Mack asked if he could drink from the bottle. It was good. You could also add fresh herbs, garlic and olive oil to give it more zing.

I hate the word “zing.” I never used the word “zing” in Brooklyn.

Save me.

waking up in the 'burbs

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Another sign that you’re an urban girl in a suburban world? When the timer for the muffins goes off and you think it's a car alarm and let it go on for 10 minutes before realizing it's coming from the kitchen.

That happened. But the great thing about these muffins is that, apparently, you can’t really cook them too long or mess them up too badly. Believe me, I’m not a baker. The reason I made these is because of yet another Suburban Catch 22: The bus takes the kids to school (whoopee) but it picks them up at 7:15am (whatttt?)

So our leisurely two-pan breakfasts are about to end and I am trying to think of ways to get food in their bodies before they leap into this new world. We're not a cereal family and Mack turns into Darth Vader without some protein. So I found a recipe from Tory Avey and made it simpler and more kid friendly.

These are light and airy but definitely sweet and they have a little protein from Greek yogurt and a little fruit from applesauce. The best part is they only take about 10 minutes to make and only one bowl. And like I mentioned earlier, you can cook the hell out of them when you mistake the timer for a car alarm.  

Feel free to freeze them too and then you can defrost them in the microwave while yelling "STOP FIGHTING, GET DRESSED, YOU'RE LATE!"

Banana Muffins

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
2 eggs
1/4 cup applesauce
3 ripe bananas mashed
1 cup Greek yogurt (whole, 2% or nonfat)
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Cut the butter into small chunks and place in a large mixing bowl along with the sugar and brown sugar. Use an electric mixer (or standing mixer) to beat together the butter and sugar for a few minutes. 

Add the eggs and applesauce and mix till smooth. Add the mashed bananas, Greek yogurt, and vanilla. Stir, then slowly add the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, cloves and nutmeg while mixing. Scoop into greased muffin tins and place a chocolate chip on top because kids fall for that sort of thing.

Bake the muffins for 25 minutes. Makes about 24 muffins.

 

pickling in the 'burbs

So it finally happened. Urban Girl wound up in the suburbs.

A little background: I was always Urban Girl. And then I fell in love with Suburban Guy who was transforming himself into Urban Guy (because who wants to be Suburban Guy or Sub-anything Guy?) and we lived an urban life. Even after we had a child, we were profiled in the New York Times as Brooklyn pioneers, cool kids with a kid.

Then we had two. And all of a sudden there was dog poop everywhere and we had to shout over construction noises as 20-year-olds in hip "office clothes" brushed past our kids on their scooters. Only our richest friends were living well. And half of the good ones had already fled to LA or San Francisco or DC.

Soon the extra 700 square feet with a patch of grass bigger than a salad seemed not so bad. So and so had moved to Westchester and they were happy. The schools were good. The kids could have their own rooms. Urban Girl could have a little quiet because maybe she wasn’t so urban after all. In fact, all she wanted was a little goddamn peace.

And then the moving trucks came and we genuinely felt like the world was ending and then there we were or rather here we are: the burbs.  

About three days after we moved, my beautiful Brooklyn friend Lisa asked the obvious question: have you started pickling yet? Which got me thinking. I had space in the giant fridge (and another fridge in the garage because that's what suburban people do) so why wasn’t I making pickles?! Duh.

I first turned to the Mile End cookbook thinking Canadian Jews know pickles and made my first batch, which were good but a little sweet. So I tried Tasting Table’s recipe which was simpler (only 48 hours compared to Mile End's two-week picking time) but still a touch sweet. Along the way I stuck random things in the pickling liquid like celery and squash. Our fancy fridge now looks like a science fair but check out my new marble countertops (above) ... and Michael's hedger. Take that Brooklyn!

Gringo Tacos

Put this one in the category of articles I wish I’d written it before Sam Sifton did.

Hard-shell Tacos: What’s so wrong with them?

They get a bad rap (wrap?) as Sifton points on in his recent NYT article. The gringo taco, the Tex-Mex appropriation. The middle school cafeteria lunch.

And just back from a trip to Mexico where I spent a whole day learning Mayan and traditional Mexican cooking techniques, then ate tacos for 5 days, I feel sheepish even addressing this. But the nostalgia factor is high. My mom made theis pass-the-toppings meal at least once a week and I remember it fondly. The shredded cheddar and cubed tomato, iceberg lettuce and canned black olives. The beef juice that ran down your arm as your bit into the crunchy shell. As Sifton says, they still have their place at the family table.

Recently we stopped by a friend’s apartment to deliver their 6 pounds of frozen salmon from an Alaskan share that I introduced them to. They are both new to the country—she is from Hungary and he is an ambassador to the Netherlands. They entertain high-profile people all the time, sometimes without warning

Come in, she said, have some wine.

We sat at her counter as she poured wine and retrieved huge chunks of cheese brought back from their last trip abroad. Then he came home like the Dutch do—full of energy and cheer and without even taking off his jacket, joined us for wine. The kids were playing elsewhere and he invited us to join him later at a little-known outdoor bar run by Monks where a local musician from his country was having a show—that started at 11pm.

But first he would have some dinner, and we would join him. Oh no, I said we should get back….it’s late. We are intruding. I already made dinner at home. What are you talking about? He glared at me. Why wouldn’t you stay?

All of a sudden his wife started making tacos—hard shell American tacos with the little packet of taco seasoning that my mom used to use. She set up little bowls of lettuce, sour cream, tomatoes, shredded cheese around their too-large dinner table and told us (and the kids) to dig in. It was casual and delicious and revelatory. A piece of cheesy American nostalgia that I’ve secretly cherished for decades reignited by a family who had only been in the States for a year.

Of course, I had to make my own at home and of course, there were mixed reactions from the peanut gallery. Nate liked the shell that was like a chip and ate one with just cheese. Mack tried it but his eyes didn’t open as wide as his head, which is what he does when he loves.

Today on the heels of our trip, I stopped at the store to buy some chile peppers and stumbled on an aisle of hard shells and bottle sauces. Nope, I thought, I’m too good for that. Then I got home and read Sam Sifton’s ode—his recipe is just a slightly glorified adaption of the recipe on the back of the taco seasoning packet. Now I’m craving crunchy gringo tacos that fall apart in your hand and I don’t care if they’re fakes. Sifton eats them and so will I. 

fish tacos

I finally tricked my kids into watching "Top Chef" with me and they were surprisingly engaged. The competition aspect and the fact that there is a clear winner and loser really appeals to them. The "Quickfire" that they watched was from season 13, where the chefs make fish tacos in San Diego. Every taco looked so delicious that I ran out and bought cod and tortillas. 

I wanted something between deep fried and grilled--with some crust but not heavy and not to light and flaky either so that the fish just falls apart immediately. I made up the following recipe and it was really good after a couple tweaks. I didn't force the tacos on the kids but at some point during dinner, Mack pushed his pasta away and decided he'd like to be the taco judge. I made him one without the hot sauce and he took thoughtful bites just like Padma does on "Top Chef" and declared it a winner. There was no competition but I'll take it. 

Crispy Cod Tacos

Cut 1 pound of cod into 2 inch pieces and soak in milk for 10-20 minutes. Drain and blot with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt. In a plastic Ziploc, combine the 1 cup rice flour, cayenne, cumin, cilantro, salt and white pepper. Toss the fish.

In a large nonstick skillet over high, heat canola oil. Cook the fish in batches, turning heat down to medium high, until the bottom side is crispy and golden, 2 to 4 minutes. Turn and cook until crispy, another 2 to 4 minutes.

Serve immediately with warm tortillas, creamy slaw, limes and hot sauce.