heaven on a plate

perfection now this is something you don’t get at the midtown coffee cart. enjoy the long weekend, eat like a rockstar, and tune into writers revealed on sunday night!

and if you’re hankering for weekend reading, check out my friend alex’s boss lady podcast where a team of smart savvy “self-taught entrepreneurs (from graphic designers, to producers, to crafters) will discuss and offer advice on what it’s really like to be the gal running the show.” OR check out founding editor of JPG magazine, Derek Powazek’s candid post about why he left the publication (which evolved into 8020) Entrepreneurs, take note. (via)

and i’ve got a little foody gift for you after the jump…

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because cookbooks are really the new crack…

Super Natural Cooking I knew I was done for (kaput, forget about it!) when I paraded around my office showing my coworkers pictures of lettuce. I couldn’t help myself when I squealed in such high octaves: WILL YOU GET A LOOK AT THAT LETTUCE?!! I proceeded to torture said coworkers with close-ups of sourdough, olives and the ubiquitous muffin (because there must always be a muffin). And it was only when I started howling in the Beverly Hills Anthropologie after I had pried open the pages of Heidi Swanson’s debut cookbook, Super Natural Cooking, and said PRAISE GOD FOR THE WHEATBERRY SALAD, that I knew I had a serious problem.

I’m mad for food. Growing up, food wasn’t a luxury, it was a necessity and scarlet pomegranates and leafy legumes were only in my imagination, foreign, glossy things made for television viewing. Food that I was never allowed to touch much less eat. One summer, we lived on potatoes and sticks of butter. Because we ate so little and so poorly (fried anyone?), it’s only the past few years that I’ve developed a taste for food that is shamelessly commonplace. I found myself marveling over the caramelized carrot! the peppery arugula dressed in a honey vinaigrette! swiss chard sautéed with shallots, almond oil and garlic!

So I feel a bit childlike in my exploration of spices, veggies, grains, fruits and fowl and meat (I do lament that fish does give me vertigo and boy have I tried – I seem to recall an incident involving imitation crab meat that sent me shrieking) and even more thrilled when I because conscious of healthful eating. Of understanding my meal’s origin, for voting with my dollar. So you can imagine how thrilled I was to encounter Miss Swanson’s cookbook, which celebrates all the things I adore – discovery of new dishes, reinvention of one’s pantry and a return to a more soulful and honest way of eating. Although the recipes are mostly tailored for veggies, incorporating meat isn’t all that difficult. Swap the tofu for roast chicken, incorporate velvety strips of tender roast in a green salad, Swanson’s recipes are new to this home cook, but by no means are they not accessible.

Not only did I learn about alternatives to white flour (i had no idea that one could use banana flour! and so many different kinds of wheat flour, quinoa, etc, etc!), processed sweeteners and artery-clogging fats (you don’t need canola and vegetable oil to cook, just buy a better pan that can hold up to higher heating temperatures and use more healthful oils such as olive oil, almond, etc), Swason smartly gives you tips and measurements on how you can make swap outs of the recipes in other cookbooks. You’ll learn about varying flowers, sweeteners (agave nectar is a favorite of mine) and various oils (imagine pistachio oil in a green salad, oh my!)

And did I mention the recipes are delicious??! I was practically licking the page – I kid you not. Fig Spread with Black Pepper and Toasted Sesame Seeds, Sprouted Garbanzo Burgers, Lime-Bathed Peanut Salad (seriously, are you not dying??!! I am, even as I type this), Peach Nectar Ice Tea, Quinoa and Corn Flour Crepes with Chile de Arbol Sauce, and oh, does it go on.

I’ve been a fan of Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks site for quite some time and her message that delicious food CAN be flavorful and healthy and with some slight modifications in your pantry, you can enjoy fine food without all the fanfare and fuss of weight gain, health-risks, etc.

So??!! Are you ordering this book, yet??!

dinner for two…

yummy pesto pasta! if dinner parties make you want to shriek or the idea of having people over for an after-work supper makes you want to pull your hair out, relax, take a breath and remember that, in all likelihood, you will not blow up the kitchen. until this year i used to treat intimate gatherings like formal state dinners – i shopped two weeks in advance and fretted over the place settings – bamboo runner or floral cloth?! oh the lamentations! will i be judged if i don’t have a salad fork? will they forgive me if the hummus is store-bought? is it okay, really, if i don’t cultivate the damn yeast for the bread, myself.

believe me when i say that i’ve made homemade bread.

i am a believer in the stress-free supper. i’ve found it’s all about casual food and the simplest meals are typically the best ones. use fresh ingredients, simple flavorings and always, always, a divine dessert. because a guest will always remember the dessert.

this weekend i had a friend over and i made a homemade lemon/roasted garlic pesto with a salad, hummus and read for a starter and a chocolate cloud cake for dessert.

Ingredients/Plan:
3-4 fat garlic cloves in their skins: roast garlic in skins for 15-20min. remove garlic or you could simply chuck the roasting idea and remove the skins and process
1/2 cup of olive oil (invest in a good olive oil) – not extra virgin, ordinary.
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed (purchased from your local farmer’s market) – note: you can also use mint, which is so delicious and is such an underutilized herb!
1/3 cup of almonds with the skins removed (or pine nuts/walnuts if you’re old school)
lemon (teaspoon) to prevent the pesto from turning brown (oxidizing)
salt/pepper to season
1/2 cup of grated pecorino romano (i don’t like parmesan and feel that romano has a sharper taste)

pulse the nuts first in a food processor then add the rest of the dry ingredients and slowly add the olive oil through the processing tube. after the pesto is all mixed, set aside. cook rigatoni (or any ridged pasta) 1 minute shy of the package so as it’s perfectly al dente. save some of the pasta water as this will make the pasta adhere more to the sauce and will make the sauce (the starch in the salted water) creamy.

add the pesto to the bottom of the serving bowl and toss in the pasta, 1/2 ladle of pasta water and serve with fresh basil as garnish. you can also chop up some cherry tomatoes to toss in and serve with a final sprinkling of cheese.

that was the star attraction. with the pasta pesto, i served two loaves of french bread with Suvir Saran’s homemade hummus (for me, hummus works well with a pesto dish) and olive oil and a baby arugula salad with a honey vinaigrette, and the finishing touch was Nigella’s Cloud cake.

I bought all the ingredients a day before the dinner. Made the cloud cake the evening prior and fixed the rest of the dinner an hour before showtime. sparkling water with limes and a bowl of fresh fruit as the table setting, made for a divine feast. Essentially the dinner is pasta, bread, salad, hummus and cake. How could you go wrong? Forget the insanity of a roast or a decadent starter! Simple is better and my guest was stuffed, happy and stoned, that poor girl, stumbling out the door.

cookbooks consulted:
Suvir Saran’s Indian Home Cooking
Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Bites

the omnivore’s dilemma, take two

farmer's market Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms on organic food being too expensive, thus elitist: “I don’t accept the premise. First off, those weren’t any elitists you met on the farm this morning. We sell to all kinds of people. Second, whenever I hear people say clean food is expensive, I tell them it’s actually the cheapest food you can buy. That always gets their attention. Then I explain that with our food all of the costs are figured into the price. Society is not bearing the cost of water pollution, of antibiotic resistance, of food-borne illnesses, of crop subsidies, of subsidized oil and water – of all the hidden costs to the environment and the taxpayer that make cheap food seem cheap. No thinking person will tell you they don’t care about all that. I tell them the choice is simple: You can buy honestly priced food or you can buy irresponsibly priced food.”

-from The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

We as Americans spend only a fraction of our disposable income on food – a tenth, down from a fifth in the 1950s. Americans spend less on food, as a percentage of disposable income, than any other industrialized nation. Frankly, to me, it’s a matter of choice. One could choose to spend $50-$100 a month on a cellular phone (where cell phones are used broadly, not by the fashionable, rich and elite), we could choose to spend upwards of $150 on cable and internet service per month. We could choose to toss $1000 for a designer bag whose production costs are a slight fraction of retail. We could choose to spend $20-$40 when we go out drinking with friends.
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adventures in baking: chocolate cake

nigella's chocolate cake... what else does a girl need but an almost celestial slice of moist, frosted chocolate cake when all the proverbial chips are hailing down.

a few things to note:
1. The Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake recipe comes from Nigella’s Feast book – the Food Network is doing a crap job posting the correct recipes corresponding to her shows (meaning, they’re not). Nigella has many chocolate cake recipes, however, for me, this is the easiest of the lot. It’s all one bowl baking.
2. ensure all ingredients are at room temperature. unless you’re making pastry, tarts or anything that involves a pie or a crust, all baking should be done with ingredients which have up to room temp.
3. ensure that your levening agents: baking powder & soda haven’t expired.
4. always use unsalted butter
5. use the very best cocoa and chocolate you can find. trust me, it makes a difference
6. usually for chocolate cakes, I add a little bit of coffee. although this recipe doesn’t directly call for it, it wouldn’t hurt. coffee enhances the flavor of chocolate
7. i use certified organic, certified humane eggs, which i purchase from local farms. a favorite: flying pigs farm

OK. Here are the goods (comments in parentheses are mine) Continue reading

just when i thought i was going to shove my head in the oven and leave it there…

chocolate cake...come to mama summer came by my office for a little picnic lunch and introduced me to the wonder that is mr. bento. and after almost bawling into my re-heated butternut squash lasagna, I decided, that by god, this woman (meaning me) needs a chocolate cake. Nigella’s chocolate cake. Pronto. Stat. ASAP. This weekend.

church in the kitchen…

butternut squash lasagna cooking for me is something like church. it’s quiet, nurturing, and there is something particularly gratifying about preparing food as a gift for the ones you love. i’ve been known to whip up pavlovas (nigella’s, of course), orange crunch loaves and piping hot dishes of butternut squash lasagna with a light pesto béchamel sauce.

with cooking, rather than baking, i’m a bit of an obsessive perfectionist (notice a trend?) so i tend to latch onto a recipe i’m quite fond of and cook it and cook it until it not only tastes, but feels right. i prepared giada’s butternut squash lasagna and served it to a friend who came over for dinner and much-needed catching-up. the recipe sounds heavy: béchamel, pasta noodles, cheese, but prepared correctly and with some minor adjustments, it’s surprising light and scintillating. the sweetness of the squash (processed with amoretti cookies) against the savory sauce and noodles is a delicious contrast and while white sauces tend to gnaw at my stomach, i’ve found that mixing milk with a little skim and stirring for a few moments longer to get that thicker consistency, does the trick. and yes, there is still a 1/2 stick of butter, but for a dinner that serves six. i used part-skim mozzarella cheese instead of full-fat, and the first go of the dish was divine.

my friend and i nearly fell out of our chairs, it was that good.

so the second go, i felt a little smug and when i was too lazy to get barilla noodles (the noodles, i’m learning are critical) and settled for ronzoni (huge, huge mistake) and thought i could cut the fat even more by using part skim milk for the béchamel, the lasagna was a bit inferior. because of the heavier noodles, the dish lost it’s light flavor for something more dense and tough and the béchamel, as expected, wasn’t as silky as it could be. i made a tray of the slightly inferior lasagna with my recipe for an orange-crunch loaf (think pound cake with the volume turned up) for this week’s brown-bag lunch.

but in a few weeks, i’ll return to my new favorite dish and try again.

so the lesson here is to keep fiddling, to always consistently work hard – to not rely on past successes so you can skirt by. to keep playing, questioning. to practice, practice, practice. and again, to remember to play. this year, although wonderfully exciting and auspicious, is one of the hardest i’ve known. sometimes it’s so hard to get through the day without screaming, so it’s when i’m in the kitchen, stirring custard until it’s primrose, squinting through the oven window to watch bread rise or pasta bubbling and blistering, it’s then that i feel something that resembles the word home, less like the word terror.

**always an inspiration: the barefoot impresario (nyt article on ina garten, my favorite chef)
**what i’m making this weekend.

clearly i am insane. how could i have forgotten about giada’s new cookbook??!!! christ! if anyone who reads this works at crown or clarkson potter, please email me ASAP. felicia – at – feliciasullivan – dot- com. i’d be willing to give up my first-born for this and the ina paris cookbook. and you think i’m kidding. getting it! GOT IT TODAY – status: panting.

fab find & free books!

blueberry, black currant, lychee and mango purees – oh my! dye your sorbets teracotta. jazz up a homely sponge cake. fashion sauces for that beef tenderloin. the perfect puree of napa valley offers dozens of purees, which are perfect for at-home cocktail making to industrial kitchens.

chocolate chunk cookies - yum!got a food find? a culinary website worth following? want to share a food tip or your favorite recipe? a gadget worth having? a cookbook worth selling your clothes on ebay for? please, by all means, BRING IT ON. post your cool picks and suggestions here. my favorite three entries will snag new cookbooks/entertaining books from my collection. contest closes monday morning.

current swoon: the latest issue of bon appetit

related:
cookbook recommendations
getting all cookbook on you

want love? cute couples? go elsewhere.

first off, there will be no talk of black wednesday. if you’re seeking precious air kisses, strawberries dipped in velvety chocolate, swooning and red hues, take your ass over to hallmark. today, i’m talking about entertaining. the kind of entertaining where you don’t end up hating all of your friends and regretting they ever set foot in your home. i’m talking about entertaining without all the anxiety. the idea here is a xanax-free evening. and i’ve found two books which help the cause.

i’ve seen it all. people who’ve vomited in my bathtub (you know who you are), spilled red wine all over my sheets, and let’s not forget the episode where i walked in on a friend rummaging through my medicine cabinet (i keep the meds by the bedside, people), and a recent divorcee (whose rat-bastard husband cheated on her for an anorexic nineteen-year-old) who drank vodka straight from the bottle (bless her heart. and honestly, wouldn’t you?!). i’ve had successes and disasters, stains and quiet, candles burning down the wick and that time when i almost burned my apartment down (hail sheetrock walls).

as i’m getting older and my tolerance for bullshit is minimal, at best, and i have a little kitty to consider, i don’t entertain as much as i used to (the bi-monthly drink-to-you-see-black parties are history) and now it’s becoming all about quality rather than quantity. who cares that you’ve invited 200 people and 2 show up? you can rock the party nonetheless and in style. and i’ve gotten serious about event-planning. i’ve hosted tea & scone clothing swaps, dinner parties for four, lazy lunches for two.

as i’m type a like you couldn’t understand, i spend weeks planning a party. i consider the invite list (too many writers? the “dumper” aka the girl who feels the need to dump her problems all over your poor, unsuspecting lap, the guy who has likely slept with two or more of your friends, and my favorite, the girl who lamented that she couldn’t invite her boyfriend to an all-girl soiree. CODEPENDENCE IS ON AISLE 2, MISSY!). i consider the food situation (vegans, gluten-free, friends who loathe the sight of food altogether), the music, the decor, the time, the invitations, etc.

so when a dear friend sent over Amy Sedaris’s I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, i was in love. sedaris puts the kitsch back in the kitchen. from how to handle the pill-popping guest to dealing with the long-term elderly entertaining to making dinner for one (plus the imaginary boyfriend, naturally) to snapping up a quick feast for an impromptu gathering, her tips are wry, lovingly self-deprecating and self-loving all at once, witty and fun, and her recipes fairly easy to follow. although i usually go in for the glam, glossy spreads, sedaris’s down-home photos (killer, spicy wings and a sensational blueberry pie earn raves) give more of a realistic flavor to party-giving. because we’re all not living out of a martha stewart catalog or have the budget.

but then there is this. i first spied this book over at alicia’s abode. you want glam? gloss? confetti and all the like? look no further. alicia’s take on the book made me almost pass out.

About the Book: Fran Warde’s informal approach to cooking and her easy-to-follow recipes make this a must-have cookbook for everyone who loves to share good food with friends and family. Her book is arranged by theme, each with its own distinctive style and delicious menu to match, including Dinner in Advance, Everyday Entertaining, Effortless Entertaining, Parties and Celebrations, Drinks and Fingerfood, and Party Buffet. With something to please for every budget, season, and occasion, and beautifully photographed by Debi Treloar, this is the perfect gift for anyone who loves to entertain.

i have a craving for a spring fling. and know that i will be borrowing handsomely from both books. a little kitsch, a little high style, a little muffin, a little wine.

in the kitchen…

i confess. i have a new addiction, and believe me when i say that it is worse than lemon poppy pound cake. far worse than the dries van noten shoe addiction of 2001, and the obsessive collecting of virginia woolf first editions. i am utterly addicted to…COOKBOOKS.

i blame everyone. my coworker who calls me monday morning to discuss the latest nigella episode. the publicist who drops cookbooks in my mailbox with yummy notes attached, my friend who makes homemade pasta and sends me daily recipe links, and goddamn manhattan to hell for having so many stores dedicated to the fancies of food purveyors. i don’t need another whisk or food mill, or a microplane, thank you very much.

what are my current loves?

ina garten’s outrageous brownies and classic apple pie had me at yum. cooking out of her home from east hampton, i’m sometimes unnerved by all the precious blue-blooding (i’m glad she stopped saying “best of class”), but her attention to and affection for food is genuine. from mainstays like parmesean chicken to curried pasta (couscous, but i became inventive), her recipes are flawless, simple and utterly delicious. about her new book (and don’t you think for a moment that i don’t plan on harassing the nice people at crown for a copy):

This is “Barefoot Contessa” Ina Garten’s most intimate book yet, but even diehard fans are more likely to salivate over her delectable recipes than the pretty pictures of her East Hampton digs. The tempting offerings herein include breakfast; soups and sandwiches; salads; dinner specialties; vegetables; and desserts. If you still need to be convinced, sample the Smoked Salmon & Egg Salad Tartines, the Loin of Pork with Onions and Fennel, or the Summer Fruit Crostata.

i confess that i have all of nigella’s books. as a child my foray into baking was dumping a hard-boiled egg into a boxed brownie mix because i didn’t have eggs in the fridge. baking gave me vertigo with all its measurements and sifting and handling. in 2001, nigella made it simple. her show on E! made food, notably baking, an almost etherial experience. i’ve made her madiera cakes, her mousses, her pistachio cookies, her pies and her triffles and not a single failure (well…if you count that time in 2001 when i used confectioner’s sugar instead of granulated, but that’s neither here nor there). top pics: domestic goddess & her latest, feast.

i’m a very visual person, so when cookbooks have thin paper and few 4-color spreads, i go limp. last night, after delving into On Top of Spaghetti…: Macaroni, Linguine, Penne, and Pasta of Every Kind, i made a serious exception. i am a pasta fiend. i shook my fists at that sorrowful atkins revolution, ordered plates of pasta when other girls were shuffling their salad about their plates and bemoaned the anti-carb cry. i adore pasta. it’s a staple in my diet and i have no shame in saying that i eat it at least 2-3x per week. so this book was a godsend and i’ve been paging through it carefully, taking notes in the margins, excited about all the dishes i’ll soon create. Can you ever have enough recipes for preparing pasta? The combinations are infinite, and On Top of Spaghetti offers pages of recipes with sauces for macaroni, linguine, penne and just about every other shape and style of pasta you care to eat. From baked pasta like lasagna to stuffed pasta such as tortellini, with sauces that incorporate meat, vegetables, poultry, seafood, legumes, cheese, and well, just about anything you can put on top of your spaghetti, this book has it all.

ah, then there’s the new one: braised. a single-serving cookbook that my friend millwhistle acquired, and many, many others. oh! when is there time for a pavlova??!

getting all cookbook on you…

in our home there were no preserves, no little silver tins of beluga and sturgeon. there was no creamed butter, tenderloin or rosemary risotto and thymed lamb. we were potato people, hoarders of the infamous oodles and noodles, packages foods and chicken legs wrapped in brown paper, so you looked less poor. we bought $1 legs when were flush and fashioned 42 dinners with bags of idaho spuds when we were bust. spices were salt and pepper – there was no cumin, mustard seed and coriander. aubergine did not exist in my vocabulary.

we feasted on bon ton chips, plantains – our fingers were greased and salty. the best part was licking them clean.

in long island, everything was fried. there was the year when my father and i refused veal. he had woke one morning in ireland to hear the slaughter and i received PETA tapes in the mail. we couldn’t touch the fragile kid meat. but my mother was prone to frying (she was wicked with a vat of oil and tongs) and cruelty so one christmas, when we were presented with plates of breaded chicken cutlets, pork, veal and braciole, we couldn’t tell what was what. we asked about the veal and were told to take our chances.

we held our forks steadfast but hunger took over and we cut and sniffed, cut and sniffed until we sure we hadn’t participated in the killings.

although i’ve always had an affection for food, i didn’t have the means to experiment. in college, i added steak sauce to lasagna and breaded chicken in japanese bread crumbs (panko, I believe it’s called). my dishes were playful disasters and i spent months perfecting a stuffing, a cream pasta, a chicken with rosemary and lemon. i kept it simple and used good ingredients. i watched cooking shows (an obsession from watching them on pbs and channel 13 as a child when the rabbit ears were kind with reception) and learned words like “sift”, “béarnaise”, “rue”, “béchamel”, “twice-baked”, “deglaze”, “chiffonade” – fancy terms that made themselves clearer with much practice.

i made my first cheese cake watching nigella lawson, my first wellington watching ina garten. i perfected the apple pie, spent days on the damn muffins and found that while i could make complicated dishes – the simplest things were suddenly becoming foreign. i dreaded the cupcake, the cilantro pesto, and god forbid you say the words chive biscuits and there i go, with a sifter, screaming. but bring me flambé, alaskas, and tartines. i cook when i’m blue, i cook when i’m tense. i cook when i’m happy. i cook to bring other people closer to me.

lately, i’ve become obsessed with the cookbook and i’ve spent hours in restaurant supply stores, cooking shoppes – marveling at microplanes and other gadgets that do the unimaginable. a mayo maker, an apple peeler, the uber hip of kitchen aids with double digit paddle attachments (a pasta-maker attachment!) i’m still in debt so i like to window shop. i have kind friends in publishing who gift me with books.

after a VERY stressful day in the office where i wanted to throw staplers at people, i ditched my evening plans and came home, lugging a bag filled with cookbooks on the crowded subway. at home, i poured over the beautiful pictures – imagined paninis with the fresh vermont mozarella and roasted seasoned tomatoes, seared grilled chicken with six spices, curried pasta (it’s delish, i assure you!), gelato without an ice cream machine!

currently obsessing over: Simple Italian Sandwiches: Recipes from New York’s Favorite Panini Bar, the new mario batali cookbook (the italian bible, although some of the gamier and fowl fare scare me a bit) and my fave: The Improvisational Cook by Sally Schneider. . i have to say i was disappointed (at first glance) at the lack of photographs and the drab paper, but then i actually read some of the recipes and i was addicted. you know how to make oven baked fries? SWEET! now learn 40 different variations. it’s all about mastering the fundamentals and the rest is all play in the kitchen. it’s about getting the technique down and not being afraid to screw things up.

some people prefer cocktails till dawn and collecting 8-track tapes. give me a whisk, a cast iron skillet, and a good recipe and i’m golden.