Monday, August 30, 2010

Champagne Cocktails

Yesterday, Heather and I attended the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governor's Island, an event at which the attendees are encouraged to dress up in period clothing--1920s or so--and enjoy live jazz music and dancing as well as some vendors and various planned events such as a tug of war.  They had all sorts of food, beer, and other refreshments, but only one type of cocktail.

One of the event's sponsors was a liqueur called St-Germain.  If you are unfamiliar with St-Germain, it is a sweet liqueur that is made from elderflowers.  The literature that was available at the table said that the drink was aptly named The St-Germain Cocktail and it lists the recipe as follows:

The St-Germain Cocktail
-2 parts Brut Champagne or Dry Sparkling White
-1 1/2 parts St-Germain
-2 parts Club Soda

Fill a tall Collins Glass with ice.  Add Champagne first, then St-Germain, then Club Soda.  Stir completely.  Garnish with a lemon twist, making sure to squeeze the essential oils into the glass.

The cocktail was good.  A little sweet for my taste but good.  It reminded me that I had been meaning to try some champagne cocktails of my own.  It's a subject I've dabbled with in the past.  There was a time just after college when we were knocking back Hpnotiq and champagne.  We were doing a lot with Hpnotiq back then; it was a good way to sweeten up whatever you were drinking, but ultimately we grew out of it and stopped buying it.

I enjoy a good mimosa from time to time.  Heather loves them.  For her, it's the most exciting part about getting champagne.  "This is really good, but don't kill it.  I want mimosas tomorrow morning."

-3 parts champagne
-1 part orange juice

Combine in a champagne flute and enjoy.  If you're feeling really ambitious, add a dash or two of peach liqueur.

This past New Years Eve, we rang in 2010 in our apartment watching Dick Clark and Ryan Seacrest while enjoying a drink called the Benediction.  We discovered it in a New York Times article about Benedictine.

The Benediction
-3/4 oz. Benedictine
-dash orange bitters
-Champagne to top

Add Benedictine to a Champagne flute, add the bitters, then fill with Champagne.

In doing research for my absinthe post, I found a recipe on the Wikipedia page for a drink called the Death in the Afternoon Cocktail.  It was created by Ernest Hemingway and calls for you to "Pour on jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass.  Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness.  Drink three to five of these slowly."  A jigger is a measurement that I took to mean one ounce, but I think I may have overdone it a little bit.  The absinthe overpowered the cocktail a little bit.  For next time, I would use about 1/2 to 3/4 oz.

When I purchased my bottle of absinthe, I also picked up a bottle of pear brandy.  It was the kind with the pear inside the bottle.  I was researching some of the things I could do with it and one that kept popping up was adding Champagne directly to the brandy.  Simple, easy, basic.  Lately, these Champagne cocktails have been finding me.  Heather really liked this one.  It packs a punch but it has a nice syrupy sweetness.  It would serve really well as a dessert cocktail.

Pear Brandy Champagne Cocktail
-1 oz. pear brandy

Add ingredients to a Champagne flute and garnish with a pear wedge.

I love Champagne, but there are a few people in my life who don't like it as much as I do.  And for those people, it's nice to have a few ideas like this in my back pocket to supplement the dryness and fortify the Champagne with a little more kick.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Vegan Corn Soup

I didn't start out trying to rid my kitchen of meat. Once I got started though, I couldn't stop! It became a challenge: how long can I keep the meat-free kitchen going? And so healthy eating month gradually became Vegetarian Cooking Month, with the eggplant, squash, and chickpeas dominating my cooking. And boy howdy has it worked. That's right ladies and gentlemen, with a week to go I weighed in at 132.3 this morning! Two asterisks here. One, there's been some serious gym attendance involved. Like 6 out of 7 days last week type of gym attendance (after returning to yoga for the first time in several months, I could barely lift my arms the next day).

And two, I am not a vegetarian. Not even temporarily. I have been eating meat, I'll order it when we go out and I'll grab a turkey sandwich for lunch at work. As far as cooking goes, however, I have been meat free since late July and since I prepare most of my own meals, that means a significant reduction in overall meat consumption. Apparently I am not alone on my quest to cut back on meat without cutting it completely from my diet. I heard a story on NPR about Meatless Mondays, a movement to reduce meat consumption across the country by 15%. The idea is to take Monday, a day where you are starting fresh and making good choices, and reducing the amount of saturated animal fat that you consume. Once this month of meat free cooking is over, I think I'll continue on by joining this campaign!

Strolling around the local farmers market last Sunday, I realized with horror that I had been neglecting one key late summer veggie. Corn. How could I have forgotten about sweet, fresh, summer corn! It's one of the first things I ever learned to cook when I moved out on my own, and yet the only time I've even glanced at it this summer was the experiment with grilling back in early July. I've been cheating on corn, running around with that little hussy the eggplant and those trampy chickpeas. As the farmer dumped a fresh bag of corn out on the table I dove, begging corn to take me back. $2 and 5 ears of corn later, I had just the dish to make things right with the betrayed.

I wanted to make a corn soup. My first thought was corn chowder, with its creamy deliciousness. As I shopped recipes, however, I quickly realized most of these required ridiculous amounts of heavy cream. Heavy cream that has 50 calories per tablespoon. Not the slenderizing soup I was looking for. Finally I hit upon a recipe that called for only low fat milk, and most of the comments said the milk really wasn't necessary at all. Swap out the chicken stock for vegetable stock and suddenly my soup was fully vegan. Score.

Vegan Corn Soup
Adapted from Bon Appetit


- 1 1/2 teaspoons of corn oil
- 1 small yellow onion, chopped
- 1 small fresh Poblano chili, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 5 ears of sweet yellow or bi color corn, kernels cut from cob
- 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
- Chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, chili, garlic, and cumin and saute until onion and chili are tender, about 10 minutes.

Add corn to the pot. Stir in broth. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until corn is very tender, about 45 minutes. Use immersion blender to puree soup until fairly smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls; garnish with cilantro and serve.

If you like, you can garnish with an avocado. It complements the flavor nicely!
A few side notes. If you don't own an immersion blender you can puree in batches by transferring to a blender or food processor. I heart my immersion blender every time I make a pureed soup and don't have to haul hot liquid, clean a blender, or worry about steam blowing the lid off said blender. If you make a lot of sauces and soups, this thing is great. Since it isn't a closed device, however, you don't get nearly as smooth a blend as you would if you used your other blending appliances. I liked a slightly chunky corn soup, Will felt it could have been smoother. Use your own judgement. Also the original recipe called for mixing in the milk at the blending phase to get the soup to a desired consistency. If you don't care about the soup being vegan and you want something creamier, you can add about 1 1/2 cups of milk at that point. Personally I thought the soup was a little on the thin side anyway and did not require additional liquid, and a taste test confirmed it was excellent without the milk. But the option is open to you.

The soup was a lovely late summer treat, very sweet (which could change depending on the type of corn you buy) and almost indulgent, without being indulgent at all. Will asked the question that always lets me know the truth of whether or not he's liked a dish. "There's more of this, right?"

Monday, August 23, 2010


I celebrated my birthday about a week and a half ago. In the weeks leading up to it, my parents were trying to decide what to get me. I sent them a list of stuff on my wish list, but I also told them that there were a bunch of spirits that I wanted as well--things that I've wanted but couldn't work up the nerve to spend money on right now. Things like 15 year single malt scotch, Hendricks gin (I've been meaning to develop a taste for gin and I've been hearing good things about this one,) and a premium tequila (Patron or Don Julio for example.)

I spoke to my dad on the phone before my birthday and he told me that they didn't have a chance to swing by the liquor store and that he would send me a check. Perhaps they didn't have time to do it, or perhaps they didn't want to encourage what can best be described as my enthusiasm towards alcohol--at least not directly. The check comes and I weigh my options. When considering things to buy, I wanted to make sure that I made my spending count. What was something I've always wanted but never had the wherewithal to get. It hits me: Absinthe.

Absinthe is one of those spirits of legend and myth. It has a sexy mystique to it due in part to its ban in the United States in 1912. The controversy was around a chemical compound called thujone that is alleged to have hallucinogenic properties. The ban was lifted in 2007, but with a caveat: U.S. imports can only contain a maximum thujone of 10 parts per million. An article was printed around then in Time Magazine that shed a little light on the subject.

Since the ban was lifted, I was excited about being able to try absinthe. After doing some research, I decided to go with a brand that seemed reputable--Lucid. I was hoping to get a bottle that seemed more old-timey and vintage looking. You know, something that you might find in your grandparents attic. A relic that was previously undiscovered. But as it stood, Lucid comes in a big dark green bottle with ominous feline eyes at the top. It's pretty badass in its own way. At 62% alcohol, it definitely packs more of a punch than most of the other liquors on my shelf at home. The section of the store the bottle was in also contained several different types of absinthe, varying in color, price and alcoholic content.

One tools necessary for the appropriate preparation of absinthe is a slotted absinthe spoon. They come in a wide range of different designs but share some features in common. The heads are flat with little holes to allow liquid to easily pass through them and they are large enough to rest comfortably on the rim of the glass. "How cool," I thought, "to have one of these spoons with which to prepare my absinthe. I suppose I'll have to improvise with a regular spoon or something." However as soon as I had this thought, I noticed that the bottles of Lucid behind the first bottle had something sticking out of them. I inspected and, much to my surprise, each of them came with their own absinthe spoon. I feel like I'm part of a community now. A community of spoons.

The traditional French way to serve absinthe is to pour 1 oz. of absinthe into a small glass, place the absinthe spoon on top of the rim, place a sugar cube on top of the spoon and slowly drip 3-4 oz. of ice water on the cube, dissolving the sugar into the drink. The drink will then turn a bit cloudy. That is just the anise and other herbs coming out of the drink. The bottle itself recommended that we use 1.25-1.5 oz. of absinthe to 5 oz. water but I figured I would heed my research.

An alternate way of preparing the absinthe--which is less authentic but more fun to watch--is to soak the sugar cube with absinthe, set it on fire for a moment, dump it into the absinthe then extinguish with a shot of ice water. It tastes roughly the same but a tad more caramelized and with the satisfaction of setting something on fire.

The taste was as you would expect, licorice and sweet, and it had a nice cloudy green hue. As far as hallucinations, I think that the effects are largely exaggerated...and the purple gremlin dancing next to me concurs. Since we only drank a total of 1 oz. of absinthe a piece, we were not feeling buzzed from that drink alone. Diluting it with water brought the alcohol down to a manageable level.

The allure of absinthe lies not in its physiological effects, but in the concept itself. it taps into a much larger idea. It harkens back to another time and place--one with great artists and intellectuals. A dreamlike state that can be perceived with total clarity. There's something that seems a little dangerous about it too. Absinthe represents all of these things and should be enjoyed with that in mind.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hummus Three Ways

"But is it Vegan?"

Will loves asking me this question every time I prepare a vegeatrian dish. He doesn't really care, If there's a burger on the menu at a restaurant, that's probably what Will's going to order. Cheeseburger? Even better. There's something just amusing to him about making a dish that conforms to a whole laundry list of things you can't have. And I personally feel that cheese and sour cream make most vegetable dishes better, the answer is almost always no, diminishing my smugness and since of self satisfaction. Kill joy.

The "low meat" diet has been helping me trim down (133.6 for those keeping score at home), and as I've researched new ways to feed myself without cooking up three pounds of pork I found something equally promising. Food I did not have to turn the oven on for. As the temperture hovered at 90° and the humidity made the hair stick to the back of my neck, my food processor and I became best friends. I was going to make my own hummus.

This is one of those things that everyone tells you is "so easy!" but you never quite get around to buying that can of chickpeas or procuring tahini, and the container of already made hummus is right there in the chilled case and look how easily that lifts into your cart. Two weeks ago though, desperate for a meatless dinner that would take no time at all, I decided to tackle this ancient food. When looking for a recipe I hit paydirt in Mark Bittman's hummus recipe. Mr Bittman, a man so annoyed with fussy cooking he writes a column called "The Minimalist" is a bit of a hero to me. When I made his Pear Upside Down Cake last year I knew I had found a soulmate in cooking and sarcasm. And if I wasn't sure how much he endorsed this particular recipe, I had to look no further then the title of the book he included it in: "The Best Recipes in the World". Check.

Adapted practically not at all from the Best Recipes in the World

- 1 cup drained well cooked chickpeas or 1 15 oz. can of chickpeas (often labeled Garbonzo beans), liquid reserved
- 1/4 cup tahini
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus oil for drizzling
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin or paprika, or to taste, plus a sprinkling for garnish
- Juice of 1 lemon, more can be added to taste

Put all ingredients in a food processor and begin to process, add the reserved chickpea liquid as needed to create a smooth puree.
Taste and adjust the seasoning (Mark Bittman likes to add more lemon juice, and I agree). Serve, drizzled with the olive oil and sprinkled with a bit more cumin or paprika.

The batch was fantastic, softer then store bought and melted in your mouth. So great I may have forgotten to take a picture of it. Oops. I want to stress again how much more lemon juice can help, the more juice the brighter the hummus becomes. Will felt it was a bit too far on the garlicky side, but then he's not the biggest fan of garlic, so use precaution in deference to your own tastes. I served it on pita bread that I had brushed with olive oil and thrown on the grill pan, making it crispy and delicious. I wasn't done through. In fact, I was just getting started. Now that I had taken on a basic hummus, I was ready to plunge into a national trend, defiling the stuff by flavoring it. And I was feeling a bit Southwestern one day.

Black Bean Hummus
From Joe D's Cafe (apparently no longer open)

- 1 15 oz can black beans or 1 cup well cooked black beans, drained, liquid reserved
- 3 Tablespoons tahini
- 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- 2 scallions, sliced, white and light green parts only
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Put all ingredients in a food processor and begin to process, add the reserved black bean liquid as needed to create a smooth puree. Season hummus to taste with salt and pepper, and adjust seasoning as desired (threw in a bit more cumin and cayenne). Spoon into bowl.

The black bean was, off the three, Will's favorite. He liked the spiciness, it made him want more. A friend of ours, Brian, who was staying for a few days fell deeply in love with this particular hummus, for a moment I throught we would have to leave the two of them alone. By my sampling of two, I have concluded this is the preferred hummus of the male gender. I am a scientist dammit.

My fickle female heart had wandered on though. I had discovered a recipe for a much more asian hummus, a hummus that had soy sauce and rice vinegar and would even use some of the chili garlic hot sauce I've had sitting in my fridge since back when I made pork dumplings, not to mention some of the ginger we've had on hand since Will started making ginger syrup for his Blueberry Mojitos. This would be damn useful hummus.

Ginger-Garlic Hummus
Adapted a bit from Bon Appetit

- 1 small garlic clove, peeled
- 1 1/2 inch piece of peeled fresh ginger
- 1 cup drained well cooked chickpeas or 1 15oz can of chickpeas , about 1 1/2 Tablespoons of liquid reserved
- 2 Tablespoons Almond Butter (the original recipe calles for cashew butter, but that stuff is like $6 a jar and I was able to find a little packet of almond butter for like 75 cents.)
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
- 3/4 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon chili-garlic sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon ground anise seeds
- 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 teaspoon sliced scallions

Mince garlic and ginger in processor. Add beans, reserved liquid, almond butter, vinegar, soy sauce, chili-garlic sauce, and anise. Process mixture to a coarse puree. Add cilantro and scallions, process to combine. Transfer to bowl.

This was probably the least beloved hummus, but still tasty. I took some into work with pita and some cucumber rounds and felt very smug and self satisfied indeed at my healthy lunch.

All in all the world was right, hummus, especially basic hummus, is incredibly easy to make. Mark Bittman even suggests keeping a few cans of chickpeas on hand so you can bang together a snack at a moments notice, and I'm always a fan of seeming effortlessly fabulous. Once you start making flavored hummus, recipes start jumping out at you from everywhere. Eggplant hummus? Why I happen to have an eggplant from the farmers market right here! Chipotle hummus? That sounds spicy and perfect for a Sunday football party! Will's starting to look a little weary though, it has been a bit of hummus overload. Recently, he's taken to dragging game animals into the middle of out living room and leaving post-it notes on them pointing to the tenderloin. I'm pretending not to notice. I think I may have to start actually cooking food again, and not just blending it in a food processor. He has to admit though, we've been eating very Vegan.

*Note: Each recipe makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Blueberry Mojito

We were strolling through our local farmer's market on a beautiful Sunday morning--Heather with her parasol and I with my handsome vest and pocket square that I purchased that very morning from a shrewd young haberdasher--when we saw a carton of blueberries and dared to dream. Four dollars a pint?  Why that's nary more than a tuppence. "Will, don't you have a fancy muddler at home?" says my lovely wife. "Why yes I believe I do." We bought the blueberries and proceeded home to look for ways I could turn it into something delicious.

Scouring the internet for ideas, I arrived upon one for a Blueberry Ginger Mojito Pitchers recipe. It uses vodka instead of rum. On one hand, I like rum. It can be very refreshing as I have proven in my last few posts. On the other hand, I was beginning to run out of rum. I had a lot of vodka that was nice and cold from being in the freezer.

Blueberry Ginger Mojito Pitchers
adapted from

For the Ginger simple syrup:
-1/4 cup grated fresh ginger
-1 cup granulated sugar
-1 cup cold water

For the Mojito
-1 cup fresh blueberries
-1 lime, cut into wedges
-20-24 fresh mint leaves
-4 oz. ginger simple syrup
-4 oz. vodka
-5 oz. club soda
-Ice cubes
-Blueberries, for garnish
-Mint leaves, for garnish

For the ginger simple syrup:
Peel and grate the ginger and add it, together with the sugar and cold water, to a saucepan. Bring it to a boil and stir until the sugar dissolves. Cover and let steep for 15 minutes. Strain and cool in the refrigerator when done.

For the Mojito:
Add the blueberries, lime wedges and fresh mint leaves to the glass (or pitcher). Muddle with a wooden spoon so the blueberries are broken and the mint and lime release their juices and flavor. If assembling pitchers you can cover them at this stage and leave in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

When ready to serve, add the simple syrup, vodka and top off with club soda. Give it a quick stir and then pour into glasses with ice cubes. Garnish with a handful of fresh blueberries and a sprig of mint.

The recipe outlined below is for 2 tall glasses, but you can use the ratio to make pitchers (depending on how big your pitcher is, double or quadruple the recipe).

Combine the blueberries, mint leaves and lime wedges in the pitcher and muddle it in there with the back of a wooden spoon (or muddler). When you are ready to serve add vodka, ginger simple syrup and club soda. Stir and pour into glasses with a couple of ice cubes. Garnish each glass with some fresh blueberries and a sprig of fresh mint.

I tried making the first batch in a pitcher. I thought it worked out really well, but just for kicks I thought I would try to make it in the glass a few days later. As I suspected, the version made in the glass was a little fizzier that the pitcher version, ostensibly because it hadn't been jostled as much.

The ginger was something I hadn't considered adding to the cocktail, but once I tried it, I wondered why it hadn't occurred to me. It added a subtle burn to the flavor profile and a complexity to the drink throughout. It was a little more work to make the ginger syrup, but it paid off.

This drink goes to show you that vodka does not need to be banished to the winter months. It can--and indeed should--be enjoyed throughout the calendar year.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Brace Yourselves for the Hurricane

Up next in this series of dark rum drinks is something called a Hurricane. This is another recipe taken from the annals of Pennsylvania's Wine and Spirits Quarterly. I was intrigued by their section on dark rum and this recipe caught my eye because it looked fun and summery and it incorporates three different kind of rum: namely light rum, dark rum, and 151 proof rum.

I already had all the ingredients on hand with the exception of 151 proof rum. I don't often find myself needing such strong hooch on hand. So a quick trip to the local liquor store for a small bottle was in order. If I don't drink all of it, I can use the remainder to clean my floor. I don't own hurricane glasses so I had to improvise by using pint glasses that I typically use for beer.

adapted from Wine and Spirits Quarterly
-2 oz. light rum
-1 oz. dark rum
-4 oz. pineapple juice
-dash grenadine
-1/2 oz. 151 rum

Shake rums, pineapple juice and grenadine together over ice. Pour into a glass. Float 151 on top.

(As a fun side note, in the photos of the rum in my last three blog posts, you can see the level of rum steadily go down. It's sort of like a flip book of drinking.)

The big glasses definitely came in handy. The recipe calls for a fair amount of volume when ice is taken into account. As least 16 oz. I'd say. Overall, the drink was nice. The 151 didn't overpower the drink. I think it served to intensify the flavors of the other two rums. It gave them a chance to hold their own with the likes of all that fruit juice. If I'm going to pay for decent rum, I at least want to taste it. I'm not exactly sure why it was necessary to float the 151 on top of the drink. One normally does that for presentation, but the color of the rum doesn't differ drastically from the color of the drink. I'll have to play around with it some more.

I've never purchased a bottle of 151 proof rum before and I didn't realize that there's a flammability warning that reads: "Do not use this product for flaming dishes or drinks. All 151 proof rum may flare up and continue to burn when ignited, possibly with an invisible flame. Do not pour directly from bottle near the flame or intense heat. Use caution." I love it when something you intend to ingest carries the same warning that paint thinner might have. But it does give one the feeling of living dangerously...even if only a half an ounce is used.

I would make this drink again. I probably will make this drink again before the summer's over. I have to use that 151 again somehow. It's another arrow in my quiver of drinks I can use to battle this harsh summer heat. And I know I'm going to need all the help I can get; we're not even halfway through August yet. Arrgh.

Update: We finally tried the brandied cherries from a month and a half ago. The perfect drink for the occasion--I thought-- was a manhattan. I fashioned one for myself and one for Heather before we went to dinner on Sunday. I thought they added a nice syrupy richness to the drink. Heather speculated that perhaps when we become experts at canning one day, we should find a recipe that involves cooking the cherries and canning them with the brandy/sugar solution. The ones that we have at bars tend to have a more caramelized texture to them. But I would definitely recommend this recipe to someone who doesn't want to involve a stove.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Grilled Ratatouille Salad

"I think I bought too many vegetables," I said the other night, staring at a counter full of eggplant, peppers, zucchini, squash, and onion. 
"Well how many is the recipe for?" my husband asked, looking a bit daunted himself. 
"I guess it should be alright then."
"I added things," I admitted, as I grabbed my knife.

This vegetable thing might be getting out of hand. The weight loss thing is going pretty well (134.9 as of Sunday morning, thank you very much) but the quest as well as the onslaught of seasonal vegetables has turned me into, well I'd say a temporary vegetarian but the NY Times might sue me. And it's not really true either, I had a hot dog at Water Taxi Beach the other day and I'm sure I'm pretty sure a turkey sub made it into my lunch rotation this week. Hey I work in Midtown, what do you want from me? As far as cooking though, I haven't brought so much as a chicken breast into my apartment in two weeks.

The sale at Whole Foods read like the ingredient list for Ratatouille, a dish that roughly translates into "pile of late summer vegetables." There are chefs like Julia Child who insist you saute and layer each vegetable. Then there are radicals like the rat in the movie, making some crazy dish that wows the critics. The typical French stew seemed kind of heavy for the hot weather though, so I did some research and  found a recipe that called for grilling the vegetables, but it didn't include squash, which I consider a ratatouille staple, and while it called for red pepper I had a green one just sitting in my fridge... so I used both.

Grilled Ratatouille Salad with Feta Cheese
Adapted from Bon Appetit

- 1 12-14 oz eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch thick rounds
- 1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise
- 1 yellow squash
- 1 red bell pepper, cut lengthwise into 6 strips
- 1 green bell pepper, cut lengthwise into 6 strips
- 1 medium onion, cut into 1/2 inch thick rounds
- 3 tablespoons olive oil

- 2 to 3 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
- 2/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

Place grill pan over medium heat. Place vegetables on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, turn to coat. Grill vegetables until tender and tinged brown, turning frequently, about 6 minutes for eggplant, zucchini, and squash, and about 10 minutes for bell peppers and onion. If your grill pan is not big enough for all that food (like mine) work in batches transferring to a baking sheet in a 200 degree oven to keep warm.

Divide vegetables between 2 plates; drizzle with vinegar. Sprinkle cheese over and serve.  

All the vegetables were very tasty. This might have been great as a side dish, but passing it off as a main dish lacked something. Traditionally ratatouille is served over rice or pasta, so that probably would have served this as well. I have been reaping the benefits of my pile of cooked veggies for days though. Every morning for the next few days I was able to throw together an amazing egg white omelet in no time flat. Just chop up the leftovers (minus the eggplant, that got a little soggy) saute for about 2 minutes to heat them up, and they were fabulous to fill my breakfast. Not to mention the fantastic imported feta cheese I had purchased to finish the dish (and at $5 for the container there was no way I wasn't using that up). The August veggie binge continues. I swear, one of these days Will's going to bring home a raw steak and give me puppy eyes until I cook it. What are your favorite vegetables/preparations at this time of year? Leave it in the comments!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Grilled Eggplant Parmesan

"Oh dear. That's not good."
That was my reaction the other morning when, for the first time in a month, I weighed myself.

I wasn't entirely surprised, and I imagine you aren't either, even before I had just stopped weighing in, the scale had been creeping dangerously upward for a few months. Taking the month of July off to just not care at all hadn't helped things. Still I regret nothing. The Blueberry Peach Gratin, the Kale cooked in Panchetta grease, the Food Truck Drive In, all were amazing ways to spend my summer. And then there's the food I didn't blog about, but lets just saying I'm getting markedly better at homemade ice cream. Ooo, and Restaurant Week was great, I highly recomend the egg yolk in truffle butter of "Uovo" at SD26. But not as diet food.

So yes, I have officially gained back half the weight I had taken off for the wedding, but I haven't been all that depressed about it. Why? Because August is an amazing month to cut your calories by eating fresh veggies and lots of them. The days in early summer when the farmer's market was a bit sparse are long gone, and now table after table teems with food pulled right out of the ground and ready to be my dinner. I filled my freezer with homemade veggie stock last weekend and I am all ready to see what low cal options I have as the harvest comes in. I'm already dreaming of remaking that Zucchini Soup vegetarian style.

A stroll through the farmer's market this past weekend had me picking up my very first Eggplant of the year, and with the beautiful tomatoes piled in bin after bin, I knew just what I was craving. I wanted Eggplant Parmesan. "WAIT!" I can hear you all crying, "Deep frying your veggies is not going to help trim your waistline!" While I have breaded and fried my veggies before (and believe me I love them that way) this recipe only calls for grilling the eggplant. No egg, no breading, no frying. Which means like 87% less guilt. There is a bit of cheese still involved, which if you are super dieting you could go with the low fat versions available in every supermarket. Since I had already foregone meat and deep frying, I figured I could afford real cheese. Besides, I had a huge chunk of aged parmesan just sitting in my fridge. I refuse to be wasteful.

Speaking of not wasting things, I had a bowl of lovely heirloom cherry tomatoes sitting in a bowl on my table that we picked up at Brooklyn Grange last week (still love these guys and their rooftop garden). It wasn't nearly enough to complete my sauce, but they were going to turn soon if I didn't use them, so I combined them with the plum tomatoes I had picked up. This paled the color of the sauce a bit, but the flavor was still great. Also it looked really pretty sitting in the blender.

Grilled Eggplant Parmesan
Adapted from Gourmet
Serves 4


Tomato Sauce:
- 1 1/2 lbs. tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (the light stuff if your super worried about total calories)

- 4 (6 inch) hoagie rolls, split
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 (1 lb.) eggplants
- 1/2 lb. thinly sliced provolone or fresh mozzarella (again, there are light versions)
- 1 cup of basil leaves

Puree tomatoes in a blender or food processor until smooth. Heat oil in a 3-4 quart heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Saute onion and garlic with red pepper flakes until golden, about 4 minutes. Add tomato puree, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 30-35 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cheese. (If you've made a tomato sauce before, you know there's room to play here. I threw in a pinch of brown sugar to cut the acidity and a shake of my favorite focaccia blend because I believe it can do no wrong. If you have some seasoning you think would make this even more kick ass, go nuts.)

Once sauce is prepared place a grill pan over medium-high heat. Brush grill pan with olive oil. Cut eggplants crosswise into 1/2 inch think slices. Brush both sides of slices with olive oil, and season with a pinch of salt.

Grill eggplant, loosening with a spatula and turning occasionally to avoid over browning, until very tender and clear grill marks appear, about 6 to 8 minutes. In between flips you can cover your grill pan with a cookie sheet.

Toast rolls. While rolls are still hot, lay on cheese. (I did this while they sat in my toaster oven, and then waited for the cheese to melt to remove them.) Top with eggplant, and spoon on about 3 tablespoons of sauce per sandwich. Place basil leaves on top. If you like, you can add a small sprinkle of parmesan to finish.

These sandwiches are great. They burst with all the bounty of the farmer's market, and they are so low on the guilt scale that I had two of them (seconds are probably not dietician recommended). Before we moved to NY I don't think Will had ever eaten eggplant, but there he was, inhaling this vegetarian delight.

So the goal is to lose 3-4 pounds by the end of August, since I'm going to the shore on Labor Day. How am I doing?  I'm breaking my own rules here and going public with some sensitive information. Be kind. On July 31 I weighed in at 136.2 (the wedding weight was around 129). Therefore the goal for the month is between 132.2 and 133.2, and this morning I am down to 135.4! I have rejoined my gym as well and I am on my way! Feel free to play along at home, I'll give you an update of my status and hopefully a healthy new recipe every Wednesday this month. Having your own weight loss struggles as the summer plies us with pie and ice cream? Tell me what you plan to do (or not do) in the comments! And cheer me on!

Monday, August 2, 2010

On a Dark 'N' Stormy Night

On the Pennsylvania trip we took last weekend, I picked up the publication the state owned liquor stores put out. It's called Wine and Spirits Quarterly, it's free and as you would imagine, it comes out every three months. The things published in it need to be taken with a grain of salt because the only things featured happen to be the same things featured in the store. At least thats the way it seems to me. But I like to flip through and see what the people on the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board have to say about what's hip in the world of cocktails.

The cover story focused on the genre of dark rum based drinks. The one that caught our eye was the Dark 'n' Stormy cocktail. Neat, I thought. I like rum. However, the thing that caught my attention was that the recipe was provided by Gosling's rum. The very people that produce the rum used in this very cocktail. This made the recipe dubious at best. Highly dubious.

As it turns out, the Dark 'n' Stormy cocktail is a registered trademark of Gosling. They own the drink. And stranger still, I've heard of it. I'm not sure if it's just the weird apostrophe n spelling that's trademarked or if it's the drink itself. What if I use an ampersand? I decided not to ask too many questions. I don't need legal trouble right now. Gosling's even produces a line of ginger beer for the specific purpose of making Dark 'n' Stormys. I can't easily get it, so I went with another brand. I hope I don't get sued by Gosling's.

The drink originated in Bermuda, where Gosling's is produced, and has since been exported to various other places according to Wikipedia. It's become popular in Australia since traveling rugby players discovered it and has become popular in the United States among sailing communities along the east coast. I went to an all boys prep school for grades nine through twelve and Heather likes to give me guff about it. Since discovering the popularity of the drink in the sailing community, Heather has this picture in her head of me standing on the deck of my yacht with a captain's hat on my head, my high school diploma in one hand, a dark 'n' stormy in the other and singing my school fight song. Heather thinks that would be quite yare.

Full disclosure: I would have done this cocktail for last week's blog, but I was having trouble tracking down ginger beer. Further disclosure: I didn't know what the difference was between ginger ale and ginger beer. The internet tells me that ginger beer is more gingery than ginger ale--like ginger ale with a kick. So I went to the Gourmet Garage near my work and dished out $1.99 for a 12 oz. bottle. That extra ginger kick isn't cheap.

Dark 'n' Stormy
adapted from Gosling's Rum
-2 oz. dark rum
-ginger beer (5-6 oz. give or take)
-lime wedge for garnish

In a tall glass filled with ice, add rum. Top with ginger beer. Garnish with lime wedge.

Presto. Yet another exciting and yet refreshing summer cocktail. And I would recommend springing for the ginger beer because it makes the drink taste better. My opinion might be slightly biased because I'm not the biggest fan of ginger ale.

Heather and I both felt that the Dark 'n' Stormy was like a more sophisticated version of a rum and coke. It makes sense if you think about it. Both cocktails are comprised of rum, a sugary effervescent beverage, and a lime wedge. But the deepness and spice of the dark rum and the bite of the ginger give it a nice savory quality that would make me want to pay more for it in a bar than a rum and coke. I hate to admit it, but part of the satisfaction of crafting cocktails yourself is knowing that somewhere in this world, some poor schmuck is paying top dollar for the thing you're drinking on the cheap. I never said that smugness wasn't one of my motives.