05 July, 2013

From A-to-Z: Elote in Sedona

A crack of dawn flight left behind the early morning darkness of New York for the desert heat of Arizona.  We arrived in Scottsdale for 3 days of being comfortably captive in a large business-resort hotel, and now it's time to break free on our own adventures. First on the horizon was driving out to Frank Lloyd Wrights’ Eleysian West. As we left the busy suburbs for saguaro-dotted foothills, I read up on his life, vaguely recalling that there had been some intrigue but having quite forgotten the details and depth of drama. Murders, house fires, divorces, and even a 2nd degree connection to Stalin…the artist seldom lives a dull life.
As all the sordid details swirled through my head we joined the guided house tour retracing Wright’s steps: walls of orange and brown, sharply angled beams, the austerity of his office and sleeping alcove.  All the while taking in the seamless melding of landscape and structure that he strove for. Elysian, which started as a summer camp for the architect and his protégés as they fled brutal Midwestern winters, still hosts an active architectural program. Behind large-paned windows current students hunched over the slant of drafting tables as they put the finishing touches on their projects.
Back out on the highway we loop north, out past the city limits, and start climbing up the Colorado Plateau. It is an austere landscape filled in an empty way with dry, beige rock and scrublands. The road, though wide and well-paved, gives off that vibe that late-night drives here might call for extra vigilance as there’s not much to occupy the mind. But for now it is early in the day.
Nearing Sedona the landscape changes. This is red rock country now, where the prettiest time of day by far is dusk and dawn when slanting sunlight has the outcrops aglow in a terracotta wash.
I’ve researched that the best place to eat is the Elote Café. We park in a little lot in town, alongside the rock-bottomed creek now dry after the winter thaw has passed.  Next door, shops and restaurants are tucked away in a tight labyrinth of tiled courtyards. Gnarled sycamores and eucalyptus grow right up against stucco walls casting a cooling shade. We wander back out into the bright sunlight , cross the creek, and stroll along the street until until we spot Elote nestled on the hillside. It’s 5:30 in the afternoon now and we dodge Sedona’s version of rush hour traffic. Gravel and sedges crunch underfoot as we stop in the median to let a noisy truck rumble past.
Climbing up two sets of wooden steps we feel lucky to be seated right away at the bar (Elote is known to have 1-2 hour waits for a table). Behind the bar, bartender Juan muddled mint for mojitos and served up margaritas with a deft hand. The Café even offers flights of tequila and margaritas.

We decide on the eponymous Elote appetizer. Traditionally, elote is a Mexican street food of a roasted ear of corn slathered with butter, cheese and mayo. This version has it served up in a bowl as a slightly warm, creamy dip served with corn chips. 
6 small or 4 large ears of corn
½ cup grated Cotija Cheese (can substitute queso fresco or other soft cheese)
¼ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro leaves
fresh lime juice
chili powder

·Grill or boil the corn, let cool to the touch, strip kernels onto cutting board
·Coarsely chop the kernels, place in a mixing bowl
·Add the cheese and let the heat of the corn melt it. If needed, heat mixture for a few seconds in the microwave for cheese to melt.
·Add the mayonnaise, lime, spices and cilantro, season with salt
·Mix well, serve warm with corn chips

02 June, 2013

Gazpacho--cool soup for hot nights

Many, many years ago, in what really feels like a former life, I was invited along on a business trip to Spain. Those were the days when Wall Street was flying high, and all expenses paid meant staying in some pretty gorgeous places. We visited paradors, the state run hotels housed in old monasteries, castles and haciendas where  breakfast buffets were served up on thick-planked farmhouse tables and creamy, thick yogurt, crusty breads and sweet buns jostled for space with  fried chorizo in paprika-red pools of spicy oil. 
The itinerary stretched from the small walled city of Ávila, to Segovia with it's Roman aqueduct still looping over the landscape, then south across the golden, rolling wheat fields of the plains to Granada where Africa feels but a stone's throw away. There were so many good things devoured on that trip, but the one that always stood out in my mind was the gazpacho I had on that first night in Madrid. 

The Ritz hotel has a garden terrace restaurant protected by high walls to buffer the honking bustle of taxis and city buses on the busy streets just beyond. Twinkling lights are strung from the arching boughs of trees overhead. Each tables is set with little terracotta bowls of olives and Marcona almonds.

The heat of the day was waning by the time we sat down to eat, but it was still far too hot and sticky to order a full, heavy meal. Thus, I ended up ordering what turned out to be the best gazpacho I have ever tasted.

Recipes for this simple vegetable soup abound, and it's another one where you really can't go wrong. It can the thickened by adding day-old bread, or as they did at the Ritz, using finely ground, blanched almonds....maybe that's why theirs was so tasty.

Serves 6
  • 3 lbs ripe tomatoes (I favor the little grape or cherry tomatoes unless you are getting nice fresh ones in the summer)
  • 1 small English cucumber, peeled
  • 1 green bell pepper, cored and seeded
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored and seeded
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 slice crusty white  bread, crust removed, torn into 1-inch pieces (I toast it for a little extra flavor)
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons mild vinegar (like Sherry or Champagne)
  •  ground black pepper
  • A serrano chili, if you want more zing
Add all the vegetables to a food processor or blender and mix until completely puréed, add the bread, oil, salt, pepper and vinegar. Blend again until fully emulsified, adjust seasoning, and chill well. Serve with crutons and a dry, crisp white like a Savignon Blanc.

And here's a little culinary trick: I use my blender for this, and the easiest way to clean it is to add soapy water and run it again, then a quick rinse and it's all clean.

11 May, 2013

Scandinavian Taste--Restaurant Smak

Visits to my homeland are not as frequent as I would like, but this past month saw me flying into the inky night toward Scandinavia for a quick 5-day voyage.

Stockholm was still in the clutches of a winter that just wouldn't let go. Snow that had been through all too many promises of thaw, only to freeze into hulking crystalline humps again and again still rested heavily against the northern sides of buildings and roofs. Nary a spring flower was to be found, grey gravelly dust coated everything. But the love, family, friends and of course...the food...all welcomed me, nurturing both soul and body.

Catta, my dearest darling friend since 6th grade, and I met for a much needed dinner and catching up on life at Smak ("Taste"). The menu plays on flavor themes showcased in tapas-sized portions, with a choice of 3, 5 or 7 miniature courses. We opted for five, nibbling and sharing our way through a stunning meal, perfectly complemented by wine parings (half-glasses available--brilliant idea). Lemon, coriander, chili, ginger, curry...our taste buds went everywhere.
Crisp potato rounds piled high with glistening fish roe, creme fraiche and lemon peel...

Succulent pork cheek with chili-cashew sauce and charred bokchoy....
Duck terrine resting in bergamot-infused broth with golden  chunks of mango and crispy endive shards... 
Oxtorgsgatan 14
111 57 Stockholm
Tel: +46 (0)8-545 172 80

08 April, 2013

Blogging against hunger

Ponder this--and I mean, really ponder, don't just gloss over my words:  

As we sit at our computers, warm, safe, cozy and no doubt well-fed, happily reading updates, posts and blogs showcasing pictures of one foodie delight after another---that all the while the angry, unrelenting beast of hunger gnaws at the bellies of so many in this our "great" nation. Great in a plethora of ways, and yet, just how is it that we accept and excuse that hunger persists? 

Why do kids show up at school not having had a decent breakfast while unimaginable corporate profits are made selling sugar-bomb cereals and cask-sized containers of soda and bragging about how many billions have been served? Did you know that the average food stamp benefit is a meager $3 day? Have you tried to live off of $3 a day?

Thus, today's post is dedicated to the cause  Share our Strength, and the site The Giving Table. I also encourage you to see the movie A Place at the Table.
Over 200 food bloggers have signed on to make this day, April 8, 2013 one where we make a statement, take a stand, raising our collective culinary voices to alert elected officials that no one should go to bed, or school, or work hungry...EVER. We, as food writers, have been tasked with sharing a recipe that is inexpensive, uses simple easy-to-find ingredients,  is nutritious and tasty.

So, before taking another swig of that $4 coffee you were able to treat yourself to at the drive through, or working your way down a lengthy grocery list in a well-stocked store without having to give all too much thought as to how much it will cost---go to this link to show your support, contact your elected official, use your voice in any way you can on social media to help put an end to hunger.

And then go home and cook for your loved ones and count your blessings, for many the question isn't what am I going to eat next, but when....

Orzo with chickpeas, parsley, lemon and feta

Serves 4
1 lb orzo (or any style of pasta--I buy what's on sale)
1 tablespoon oil
1 can chickpeas
4 tablespoons of feta cheese
1 head of parsley
1/2 lemon
1 clove of garlic
salt & black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, add salt and pasta.
While it cooks,  drain the chickpeas into a mixing bowl.
Add chopped parsley, grated garlic and lemon peel, crumble in the feta, squeeze lemon juice and add a drizzle of oil. Check if it needs salt (warning: feta is salty and beans can be too), add pepper and toss to mix.

Drain the pasta, add the chick pea mixture and serve.
Takes less than 20 minutes and $5 to make.

05 April, 2013

Riff on Pasta Puttanesca

Winter felt endlessly long, cold, dark, and ever so snowy. That, coupled with switching from a 3/4 to full time work schedule left me feeling so frustrated as I battled the waning winter light whilst trying to photograph my culinary adventures. Too many times I lost that skirmish, and rather than post gloomy pictures of food that looked for all the world as if they'd been taken at the morgue I held off.

But today the weather was downright glorious.  Spring flowers are poking up everywhere, robins have started their territorial aerobatics, a butterfly daintily flitted across my path as I carried groceries from car to house.

I wanted tonight's supper to be quick, simple and of course tasty---and---it had to be satisfying to both vegetarians and carnivores alike. My family has always liked Puttanesca, but anchovies aren't allowed, so I made this vegetarian riff on the original and then served up crispy andouille sausage for those who wanted it.


 Serves 4
  • 1 lb pasta of your choice
  • 1/2 to 1 head of parsley
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic
  • 2 hand fulls of cherry tomatoes
  • a dozen green olives
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 4-5 tablespoons olive oil
  • pepper
  • Mozzarella
  • Parmesan
  • sausage

Start a big pot of water for the pasta, adding a generous pinch of salt to the water.
I choose these little sweet little bundles of spinach and plain linguine. Once the water comes to a rolling boil add the pasta and stir. 

While the pasta cooks, coarsely chop garlic, parsley, olives and tomatoes.

Grate the lemon, set aside. Heat the olive oil in a cast iron pan until it starts to shimmer,  add all the vegtables and let them fry together for 4-5 minutes until softened and the garlic starts to pick up a little color. Add the zest, stir and and pull off the heat.
In a separate pan (if you have the dual household that I do)  fry sausage until the edges sear and start to crisp up.

Check the pasta, and drain when al dente. Add it back to the pot, drizzle with oil to keep it from clumping and shake the pot to distribute the oil evenly. Start a plate with pasta, then the vegetable mix followed by sausage, top with diced mozzarella, shaved parmesan,  and finish with a drizzle of olive oil and crushed black pepper to taste.

And here is the meatless version....
 Happy Spring!

12 March, 2013

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

The fluffiest pancakes you will ever make, and worth every bit of the extra effort.
Just north up the Hudson is the river town of Nyack. It's full of artsy stores, bars and restaurants--some good, some not so good. This past Saturday morning we went out for breakfast to the Art Cafe. Their lattes are rich and creamy, and the lemon ricotta pancakes paired with fresh berries while delicious, at $14 a plate...well, hmm. As much I love going out and being served good food, it made me wonder if I could make something similar at home. So, I hunted around for a recipe and then played with it a little. These are loosely based on a write up by Jill Santopietro on the website Chow.
You will need 1 large, 1 medium and 1 small mixing bowl, an electric mixer, and a small food processor if you are using cottage cheese instead of ricotta.
Lemon Ricotta Pancakes
Serves 3 hungry teenagers (and 2 adults each got one pancake too)
5 tablespoons salted butter
1 cup whole milk
1 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, yolks and whites separated
2 tablespoons sugar 
finely grated zest from 1 large lemon, plus juice of 1/2 lemon1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese (or whole milk cottage cheese)

  1. Melt the butter in the microwave add the milk, set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl add egg yolks, 1 tablespoon of the sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla, whisk to combine. Whisk in the milk-butter mixture until smooth.
  4. Add the reserved flour mixture and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined (do not overmix). Set aside.
  5. In a medium bowl, whisk egg whites to soft peaks. When they are almost done, sprinkle  the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt, continue whisking until glossy. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the whites into the reserved batter until just combined.
  6. Carefully fold the ricotta into the batter. It will be lumpy and streaky with ricotta; set aside. (if using cottage cheese, see note below).
  7. Heat your favorite large frying pan over medium heat, add a small dollop of butter, and depending on what size pancake you prefer, ladle in the batter.
  8. Let it cook until little bubbles form on top and edges of the pancakes, about 4 to 5 minutes. Turn over and cook the other side until golden brown.
Note: if using cottage cheese, place cheese in a food processor, add some of the vanilla along with a splash of milk. Run until it is broken up and slightly fluffy.

12 January, 2013

Rainy Night--Red Lentil Soup

Thursday was an unseasonably warm January day here on the East Coast. The sun warmed my skin during a midday walk, with readings reaching into the upper 40s. Today dawned with the same promise, but as the hours marched on the skies went grey and a steady drizzle set in. So by day's end I was in fact in the perfect mood for a simple, warming soup and bread dinner.

Red Lentil Soup

Serves 8-10

2  yellow onions chopped fine
5-6 cloves garlic minced
1 carrot, peeled, chopped fine
1 tablespoon fresh ginger minced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander 
3 cups red lentils
6-8 cups water
2 cubes chicken broth
1 can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed
1 can chick peas
3-4 handfuls fresh spinach
 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons vegetable oil 
salt, pepper 
3-4 tablespoons fresh cilantro sprigs, chopped.

Using a sieve rinse lentils in cold water until it runs clear, set aside.

Heat the oil gently in a large pot, add onions, garlic and carrot and stir until coated with oil. Sprinkle the spices and ginger over the vegetables and saute until onions are translucent and soft, about 4-5 minutes.
Add lentils, and 6 cups of water (add more as needed), broth cubes and tomatoes and stir well.
Simmer for about 25 minutes, under a lid, until the lentils are soft. Check every now and then to see if more water needs to be added. It should be fairly thick in consistency.

Add chick peas and spinach and cook another 5 minutes, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, finally stirred in some fresh chopped cilantro.
The soup can be kept vegetarian by using vegetable broth. Personally, I prefer the depth of flavor gained by using chicken broth.
I toyed with the idea of serving pappadams or naan, either of which would have been a perfect complement but there was a clamor for panini so I decided to keep the flavors simple: caramelized a red onion in olive oil, piled the onion on day-old crusty bread, added slices of mozzarella, buttered the outside of the bread and stuck it in my panini pan until the outside was golden brown.