Archive for October, 2008

COOK BABY COOK!

October 24, 2008

The phrase “Drill Baby Drill” may be on some minds recently, but not on mine. I’m chanting, COOK BABY COOK! I have been feeling so inspired to cook recently and have been loving the preparation of putting together a quick and simple week night meal or a more elaborate Sunday night dinner. I have a few ideas as to the genesis of this inspiration – it may be my proximity to great southern California produce, or perhaps all the free time I have as I am unemployed, or it could be the windfall of culinary gadgets my husband and I received for our wedding. Selfishly speaking, one of the best things about getting married – aside from George, of course, is the wedding registry.

The concept of a wedding registry was first developed in 1924 by the Marshall Fields department store in Chicago. At that time, the concept of a wedding registry was limited one; it was a means for engaged couples to share their selected china and silver with their guests. Today, a wedding registry is the “super-sized” version of the 1924 model. Registries today provide engaged couples with a carte-blanche to request anything and everything relating to the kitchen – from food processors, to everyday flatware, or to a pink silicon spoonula. It is also customary to register for bedroom items like new linens or blankets, or even bathroom essentials like towels and shower curtains. And while the registry was originally thought of as a means for couples to ask for a few nicer items for the home, it would not be uncommon to see an engaged couple today registering for a honeymoon or a flat-screen plasma TV.

Although my wedding registry did not include home electronics (to George’s dismay) or a trip around the world, we did register for everything for the kitchen, except for the kitchen sink, of course! What started as a culinary fantasy became a culinary reality thanks to our very gracious friends and family. We now have wonderful kitchen tools like a pasta maker, roasting pans, beautiful serving platters, and the pièce de résistance – fabulously sharp knives (no pun intended, but I know firsthand…I already had a cooking calamity and lost my index finger’s finger nail….).

As I have been trying to test out all my new tools and utensils, I had an idea for a Caprese salad, which not only allowed me to break out my new food processor, but take advantage of the beautiful heirloom tomatoes at the local farmers’ markets. When tomatoes and basil are in season, there are few things better than a traditional Caprese. Gorgeous tomatoes layered between sliced mozzarella and fresh basil…seriously, what more could you want? Well, how about a little bit of basil in each bite?

A Stacked Caprese

A Stacked Caprese

My twist on the traditional Caprese is two-fold: first, I prefer a stacked Caprese – mainly for aesthetics; and second, and most important, I infuse basil throughout my Caprese by using it in a dressing, rather than placing it haphazardly on the salad. Using my new food processor, I made a dressing for my Caprese that resembled a pesto. I begin my chopping one whole garlic clove and several handfuls of basil. To that, I add the juice of one lemon, salt and pepper to season and enough olive oil to thin the mixture into a salad dressing. I find that the fresh lemon juice really pops the basil flavor, which in the affectation of the Oprah–yodel, makes the dressing fabuLOUSSSS….

I simply pour a few teaspoons of my basil dressing over my stacked Caprese and enjoy. This salad could be served as a side dish to grilled fish, chicken, or steak, or could even be served on its own as a first course. Either way, it is a refreshing, seasonal twist, on a traditional Caprese, which could not be accomplished without my new food processor! And with that, COOK BABY COOK!

Until next time…

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The Flavor of a Local Farmers’ Market: Bittersweet

October 18, 2008

Pomegrantes adorned the farmers' tables!

Pomegranates Galore!

I am so excited to share my adventures and discoveries at the South Pasadena Farmers’ market, but before doing so, I want to provide a bit of context for this blog – as this is my first posting. Life was quite copacetic for me until Memorial Day weekend this year. Up until then, my then fiancé, George, and I were living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, planning our September 2008 wedding and enjoying a relatively comfortable way of life as I was working as an attorney and George was working for a big company downtown. Two days before the kick off of summer, George was asked by his company to relocate to Los Angeles and take a new job. The decision was an obvious one and in the midst of wedding planning, George moved to California. I would continue to work through the summer and join him after our wedding.

The summer fortunately passed quickly, we had a beautiful wedding in my hometown on Long Island, and two days after our wedding we boarded a plane that would take us to a new city, a new way of life and to new challenges and obstacles that a few short months prior were not in our wildest thoughts. I am now a resident of Pasadena, CA, living in an apartment that is three times the size of our New York City apartment, and driving a car rather than riding the 3 train. As my life changed radically in such a short time, this blog is about this transition, its challenges and successes, but through it all, how I am finding comfort in what I like best – food and cooking.

As this is my inaugural posting, there is nothing more appropriate to write about than the produce California has to offer any gourmande like myself. Since I arrived, the buzz around town is that the South Pasadena Farmers’ Market (SPFM) is the place to be on Thursday evenings. Located on Mission Street and Meridian Avenue in South Pasadena, a funky suburban town that has a vibe similar to Park Slope in Brooklyn, the South “Pas” Farmers Market is truly a produce Mecca. Similar in style and layout to the farmer’s market to end all farmers’ markets – the Union Square Farmers’ Market in New York City – the SPFM offers produce and variety that one could never find on the east coast – or at least outside of some specialty store.

A beautiful example of a West coast produce wonder!

A beautiful example of a West coast produce wonder!

Walking around the SPFM was nostalgic as it reminded me of New York, but exciting and new in so many different ways. For one, it was a quiet experience – the sounds of taxis and buses were not there, and the smell was different – the smell of basil infused exhaust could not be detected at all… The smell was instead sweet, one of fruits and heirloom tomatoes combined with a scent that I am not familiar with yet – perhaps it was palm tree? While the Union Square Farmers’ Market in New York is magical – a calm oasis of sorts in an otherwise busy metropolis, the SPFM – at least for now – will be a challenge to my culinary routines and comforts.

This time of year in New York, the farmers’ markets are laden with apples from the Hudson River Valley, eastern Long Island and New Jersey. While recipes of apple crisps and apples pies are fresh in my mind, Southern California, and especially the SPFM, offers new ideas for fall recipes and creations. Among the farmers’ tables at the SPFM were varieties of fruits and vegetables that I have never seen, or would never have the occasion to see at a farmer’s market back East. Artichokes, black figs, white radishes, rainbow chard and edamame pea sprouts lined the farmers’ tables. A large pear quash and pomegranates were veritable gastronomic wonders to me, but common place for SPFM customers. An orange orb with a little green stem similar to a small pumpkin struck my interest, and during my conversation with its farmer, learned that it was a type of persimmon that “tastes like bar soap when not ready to be eaten.” There were many varieties of lettuces, from baby greens to arugula to frisee, all of which were so clean and fresh looking. One lettuce farmer, from Living Lettuce Farms in Reseda, CA (http://www.livinglettuce.com/index2.htm) explained that the lettuce was so clean because it is grown hydroponically, which is essentially a farming technique in which the plant is grown in nutrient-infused water, rather than soil. Absolutely fascinating! I also discovered later that night that with a little extra-virgin olive oil and a few minced shallots, hydroponic lettuce becomes a tasty side for any dinner!

While my culinary wheels were churning at mach speed and my tastes buds salivating during my time exploring the SPFM, my experience was bittersweet. It was a reminder of what I have left and the challenges – both in life and in the kitchen – that lie ahead.

Until next time…