What says love better than beef jerky? Do everyone a favor and heat up this Hallmark holiday with a gift your lovers can really sink their teeth into. A large jar of savory and slightly spicy beef jerky (homemade so nothing like the bland plastic-like store-bought kind) plus a side of funky dark chocolate bark with spicy mango and pepitas—wrapped in roses and a cute tote. Make this V-day spicy—and a little sweet. Order now and I’ll deliver it to your honey in time for Valentine’s Day!
So while the rest of the world is observing a Dry/Vegan/Meatless/Paelo/Whole 360/Gluten-free January, I seem to be eating more sugar and drinking more alcohol. It could have something to do with the fact that our heat is broken – that means OFF—for a week now while they find a new part for the motor. Happy 2019!
I now know how those southern people feel when they move to New York. I’m writing this in a winter coat and dreading taking a shower because the second floor feels like Canada. So I’m blaming the cold on my inability to give up the satisfying things in life. I need those things. I’m cold.
Michael and I did resolve to give up meat this week which was going well until I made a pork shoulder. This is the recipe for Momofuku’s Bo Ssam that I made for a dinner party of 6, and it’s amazing and surprisingly easy. We also ate it for three days after the dinner party because the leftovers were so good.
So aside from that….we’re practically vegan. It is a good challenge though and has inspired some new dinners: fish tacos, Instant Pot Shakshuka (from Melissa Clark’s book Instant Dinner), shrimp with cauliflower puree. In other words, we’re not just eating pasta with the kids.
I also made my chocolate peanut-butter balls which aren’t particularly healthy but aren’t particularly unhealthy either (and this version included hemp seeds which are nutty and camouflage nicely). It’s a good snack for the ravenous 6-year-old that gets off the bus every day. I suspect that instead of eating lunch, he just says “poopy” and “fart” until recess. When he gets home he needs a snack the size of a meal. These balls are a good filler-upper for him and unlike the store-bought stuff, they are from real ingredients.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls
1 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup coconut flakes
2 tablespoons hemp seeds
1/4 cup chocolate chips
3/4 cup peanut butter (or other nut/non-nut butter)
1/3 cup honey or agave
1. Grind oats, coconut, hemp seeds and chocolate chips in mini food processor.
2. Mix peanut butter and honey, then stir in oat mixture.
3. Roll into balls (add a few drops of water if too dry). Sprinkle with powdered sugar (for effect) and refrigerate.
I’m making foodie baskets, packed with homemade goodness…see below. Please contact me for more information or orders! firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
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.
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
Mocha Cocoa (Add to hot milk for delicious hot chocolate)
with gin, lemon and seltzer
It’s a great gift—email me to request one!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.”
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.
You can always go into the city.
True, but it’s a hassle with the kids.
You have to make the effort!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.)
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.)
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.
- 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)
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?
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:
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
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:
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.
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.