Salad of avocado, bacon, grilled peaches, and sweet onions

June 18, 2012 § 26 Comments

We stole away to New York City for the weekend.  Just a day and a half.  A hiccup of a trip lengthwise, but packed full enough to have been a long happy sigh.

Two of our dear, dear Boston friends are natives of the place – well, one is a true native, but the other did live there for a long enough sojourn to have gone native – and basically ever since we’ve known them we’ve been trying to plan a time for this jaunt.

It became an imperative to fit it in this weekend, though, before we must part ways.  At least for now.

The two of them are as excited about sharing beautiful, delicious, made-with-care food as we are, so our day and a half was structured almost entirely around that.

We visited as many of their favorite places and tasted as many of their favorite foods as could be squeezed into our packed agenda.  We ranged around every corner of Manhattan and tried a little of Brooklyn on for size as well. « Read the rest of this entry »

Lemony risotto with shrimp and peas

June 12, 2012 § 13 Comments

Do you all already love risotto?  I feel like most people do.  Like it usually comes naturally.  I’m pretty sure I’m the odd duck in this one, but for me, well, it took me a while to hit my risotto stride.

When I first heard of risotto back who knows when at this point, I was immediately enticed by it.  It looked like the rice version of creamy macaroni and cheese or maybe the rice version of pasta Alfredo.  My impression of it was that it was a bowl of super cheesy, creamy rice.  And how could that be anything but delightful?  Right?

The first time I ever actually tried risotto was at the dinner we went to to celebrate my college graduation.  It is a well known fact that a college graduation merits a celebratory dinner at a snazzy Italian restaurant wherein the graduate also gets to choose the wine.  At least, I felt it ought to be a well known fact, and made sure our plans reflected this.

I wasn’t actually the one who ordered the risotto.  I ordered lobster ravioli because at that time lobster ravioli was my culinary grail.  The ultimate in fancy food (I don’t think I’d ever actually had lobster before that, come to think of it.  What a dinner of firsts!).  It was one of my best friends who came along and who ordered a vegetable risotto (she was being vegetarian at the time, I believe).  I was delighted with her choice because it meant I could steal a few forkfuls.

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Spaghetti squash with cauliflower, anchovies, pine nuts, and currants

May 10, 2012 § 14 Comments

For much of my adult life (starting, even, when I was more adult-ish, than adult), I’ve wanted to have a restaurant or cafe where I was recognized.  All Cheers-like, where everybody – or, more realistically, at least somebody – would know my name, and I would know theirs.  I’d be a regular.

Perhaps it comes from my small-town girl core, which craves to be situated in a community small enough where you can’t help but bump into someone you know on every grocery store visit.  Perhaps it comes from the more universal human desire to belong, to be part of something, to be known.  Either way, it’s been a borderline compulsion for years, but mostly just an internal one.  I’ve never really intentionally played it out.  Either my tendency to explore and try new places would thwart my quest to become a regular, or a high turnover rate in the staff would.  (Technically with the latter, I guess I still was a regular, but it doesn’t count if there is no one that greets you with that smile of the eyes that says, ‘hey, I know you! I’m glad you’re back. How’s the family/kids/dog…?’)

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Mango, avocado, and crab spring rolls

May 7, 2012 § 141 Comments

When you think about it, it’s remarkable, really, just how many opportunities we have every day to do something new.  Much of the time it doesn’t feel like it.  Our days follow patterns.  We have baskets full of habits and well-worn ruts that we comfortably cruise along in.

And actually, a certain amount of repetition and stability in your life turns out to be really important and healthy.  Which makes perfect sense.  Nature is full of rhythms and patterns.  We reside within them, and if completely rhythmless we feel jostled and jarred and seriously uncomfortable.

But if we don’t keep our eyes open to all the myriad of tiny dips and swerves within the patterns, it can be easy to feel trapped in some sort of mold that looks a lot like same-old-same-old.

I forget sometimes, that I’m the one making the decision to walk down the exact same street to get to the subway every time I go, when in reality, there are dozens of paths that run there.  The destination is the same – rhythm – but I can switch the route up – discovery!

Same with cooking.  We need to eat.  Pretty darn regularly, in fact!  And it’s easy to find ourselves making the same things over and over again.  Of course, I’ll be the first person to sing the praises of old weeknight standbys (did somebody say spaghetti?!).  They’re lifesavers.  But, it’s also remarkable to me just how very many things I’ve never made before, or techniques I haven’t tried.  Even with a decent number of years of cooking under my belt. « Read the rest of this entry »

Corn and tomato salad with smoked trout

July 29, 2011 § 6 Comments

We were just talking about drinking, so I figured it was time to move on to smoking, right?  (And then we can talk about the really interesting vices…joke.)  There’s only one type of smoking I can get behind, and that is the smoking of meats.  Fish in particular.  I don’t know how to do it myself, and therefore I choose to picture it as an esoteric mystical practice, kind of like a druidic rite, in which slippery pieces of fresh fish are enveloped in wafting clouds of smoke, amidst some hand waving and muttered incantation, and then they come out rich and flakey and salty and as delicious as candy (if candy were rich and flakey and salty, which, perhaps, more of it ought to be).

I have met a man who owns a shop that sells smoked meat and fish, I’ll call him ‘Eric the smoker’, and he makes the most unbelievable smoked salmon and whitefish.  It’s pretty hard to believe anything that good could be legal.  (His pate is in a class of its own as well.  Mine is not bad, though.)  At his shop they also sell posters with heavy woodblock prints and funny slogans.  My favorite is “Fish: The healthy smoke.”  (My other favorite is “Cheese: the adult form of milk.”  I own both.)

Admittedly, some nutritionists may argue that smoked food is not good for you.  Smoking meat can produce some carcinogens that you then ingest.  But, allow me to go on a little scientific rampage tangent, and just point out that these carcinogens have only been shown to be carcinogenic in lab animals.  Now, if a chemical that you apply to skin or something of that sort is carcinogenic in lab animals, we should take it seriously.  And, we should take it seriously for food too, but with a caveat.  You see, these carcinogens are produced by the cooking process, and humans are the only animals that naturally eat their food cooked.  Growing evidence points to the possibility that we’ve been doing so for a loooooooong time.  In fact, it may be what allowed us to evolve into humans!

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Extremely green peas

July 12, 2011 § 17 Comments

That’s peas with an A.  An A, so you can stop your sniggering, you. 🙂 (or am I the only one here who still has a third grade sense of humor in this regard?)

Anyway…The farm we get our vegetable share from offers pick-your-own _____ several times during the course of the season for a small variety of vegetables and fruits.  Just a little while back, we scurried out there to catch the tail end of strawberry picking.

The very tail end.  I don’t know if strawberries can ever be considered dregs – they’re so precious! – but there was not much left out there in the fields.  We spent a couple of hours on our hands and knees, scrabbling and rummaging and getting excited over every single non-moldy find, trying to fill up our baskets.

The peas, though, were another story entirely.  After we grew too weary to reach for any more low-lying strawberries, we mosied over to the pea patch to see what we could see.  What we saw was a wild jungle of tangled pea tendrils, cascading with dangling pods, so pudgy they looked fit to burst.

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Marinated beef kebabs with salsa verde

June 28, 2011 § 7 Comments

Having lots of pots of herbs growing on our little balcony has allowed me to develop another brand new obsession.  Salsa verde.  I’m telling you people, this stuff is magical.

Imagine someone walking out to a lushly growing herb garden and snipping a bountiful spray of fresh herbs from each patch.  Then, grinding them all together into an emerald green paste, with some garlic, capers, and anchovies because, you know, why not?!

The result is a massive wave that breaks over your taste buds in a spray of woodsy, grassy, briny, garlicky flavor.  I’ve been racking my brain, and I don’t think I can think of anything else I’ve had in quite a while that packs so much beautifully blended and balanced flavor into even a tiny bite.

I discovered salsa verde when making a riff off of the summer squash gratin from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, by Suzanne Goin.  My mother and I cooked it up while I was at home, with a few tweaks and the addition of a hefty amount of extremely good Italian sausage.  It was seriously delicious (though it had too much bread-crumb action sprinkled throughout for my taste).

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Fingerling potato salad with chard and bacon

June 23, 2011 § 21 Comments

Duluth, Minnesota, my hometown, and where I was last week, is a very cool city.  (Both figuratively and literally – given that even in mid-June the high temperature during the middle of the day most days last week was 52F and in the winter it can easily be 40 below.  You can actually get t-shirts that say, “Duluth is a cool town.”  I can’t decide whether they’re dorky or cute.)

It’s small but it has some splashy things going on in the art and music world.  There’s tons of untamed outdoor space – you can barely walk without stumbling into the woods (I think that’s a good thing).  People there seem to be on the forefront of the barefoot running movement.  The town is participating in the ‘One book, One community” campaign, a movement (started by the Chicago Public Library system if I remember correctly) that aims to bring communities together in dialogue by sharing the experience of reading the same book.

And, now Duluth has also started participating in “One vegetable: one community,” trying to get everyone to eat more kale this year.

I think this is hilarious.  And distinctly awesome.

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Grilled asparagus with lemon anchovy vinaigrette

May 29, 2011 § 11 Comments

Grill baby grill!

You can really tell it’s Memorial Day weekend around here.  Firstly, three-quarters of the city is gone, probably to the Cape or up to New Hampshire, which makes it feel exponentially more relaxed and sane around here.  (And makes the roads much more conducive to my continuing driving practice as I finally learn how to drive a stick shift.) And secondly, the smell of grilling is permeating every square inch of the air.  From every porch and backyard in the area, the scent of charcoal and meat and sauces is wafting, pretty much around the clock.  It means my mouth is doomed to be continually watering, all weekend.

And, whoever is in charge of the weather took the whole ‘Memorial Day is the start of summer’ thing very seriously.  It’s like they ran into a back room and flipped the summer switch because, where one week ago I was putting on fleeces and wrapping an afghan around myself while sitting at home reading, now I suddenly find myself wandering about the apartment in a featherweight sundress and kind of wishing I could just go naked.  I can’t.  We have guests.  Also neighbors.  And a dearth of curtains.

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Pea soup with coconut and ginger

May 19, 2011 § 12 Comments

Alright, so since we’re talking about favorite children’s books (or at least, I am, and I really do think you should be too), let’s talk about peas shall we?  If there is any better vegetable for a snippet of action in a children’s book to center around, I’m sure I can’t tell you what it is.  Peas have it all.  They have a funny name.  They look funny, all green and rotund.  They come in pods…It’s the ultimate trifecta of catchy vegetable characteristics!  Of course, mostly peas are the subject of disgust in children’s books, especially if they’re in soup form.  Though, I distinctly recall that the girls in the Little House books loved peas porridge (hot or cold!).

But, when I think of fresh spring peas, I think of a scene from one of my all time favorite books, The Ordinary Princess.  In this scene, having run away because she hated how boringly proper she had to be as a princess, Princess Amy is hiding and has gotten work as an assistant kitchen maid in the kitchen of the royal palace of the neighboring kingdom.  Amy and her friend Belinda (who really is a kitchen maid – rather than a princess pretending to be a kitchen maid, you see) are sitting shelling peas for a royal banquet and discussing what it might be like to be a princess.  Wonderful situational irony.  All the while Belinda keeps absent-mindedly popping peas into her mouth as they shell them and talking in a thick dialect.  When she gets excited, she drops her Hs.

Anyway, it was this jolly image that I had in my mind as I prepared the peas for this soup, listening to the pop, pop, plop, plop of them tumbling into a bowl.  I had peas leftover from making my spring vegetable jumble, and I had quite simply fixated on making a soup of them.  I wanted to keep it light and fresh and was at first planning to let the flavor of  the little peas carry the dish. But, then I remembered that I had some leftover coconut milk from the sauce for the lamb.  Waste not, want not!  Why shouldn’t this work just as well as cream for stirring into the soup for body and depth and, well, creaminess?

The coconut milk then compelled me (perhaps compelled is a bit strong, but it did drop a rather strong hint) to grate in just a little gnarly knob of ginger to tie the pea and coconut flavors together.

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