Monthly Archives: September 2012

A Big Empty House and Early Grey Tea

I grew up in one house for pretty much most of my childhood.

When I was about 4 years old, my family bought a piece of property in CT consisting of a one-bedroom cottage and a lot of trees. Tucked into the corner of a small state park, wild violets would blanket the small yard in the summer and I recall my older sister Jessica once dragging me up the steep driveway after school one snowy day on a sled. We lived in that cottage – my parents, my three siblings, our two dogs and I – while my dad built on that land what would be our home.

For years trees fell, foundation was poured, sheetrock went up. My younger days were spent climbing up and down piles of various rocks, dirt and gravel with our neighbors; over a dozen of us around the same age would ramble between our houses, connected by paths through the woods and across our small suburban street. We would pretend we that we were Indians (nowadays we would politically-correctly say we were playing we were Native Americans),building sets of dishes out of bits of slate and wood, barefoot in the yard while rain poured down, trying to be at one with nature.

In the house that would become our home we picked our bedrooms, painted them the colors we wanted, each connectedto a sibling by a shared bathroom. We picked out spots at the kitchen table in the now huge kitchen. My parents bought a baby grand piano for the music room, and we would practice while sound echoed throughout the space etched out by high ceilings and open doorways. My sister would later get her PhD in music, and the sound of various instruments would be our soundtrack over the years.

In the house that was our home we held Sweet 16s, several weddings (though none for my siblings and I – us girls will always remember the dream of walking down the winding center staircase in white) baby showers (one only months ago for my best childhood friend, who is now the mother to a beautiful baby girl), around 15 years of fancy New Years Eve parties that welcomed often over a hundred people, clambakes, post-prom parties, and closing night bashes of casts from high school shows through when I was producing professionally as an adult.

My father’s mother spent her last years and last days in a bedroom off of the kitchen, and where my father rebuilt the guest bathroom with handicapped access for her. I can’t count how many cousins and friends lived with us over the years. My parents we never the kind to turn away someone without a home.

I’ve spent every holiday of my life but one in that house at some point throughout the day. I’ve picked dozens of daffodils, my favorite flower, from the hundreds upon hundreds my parents planted in the now open yards. When I’ve been very, very sick with my Lyme disease, I wandered the gardens slowly and sat in the shade, letting the peaceful energy of the house just hold me while I waited to heal.

The house grew over the years, and seemed to ebb and flow with people and sentimental items. When my mom moved out a few years ago the dynamic changed and my family shifted a bit. But my father and two sisters were still there, and other family members came and went, and my brother still worked in the office every day. So whenever I came home chances were we’d all still be together, even if in between transit to somewhere else.

My sisters recently moved out – both in the same week – and today is the first time I’ve been back to feel the absence. My dad is gone for the weekend, my brother taking a much-deserved day off, my mother (who now lives a mile away) is on the other coast, and a man who works for my father and lives here a few months of the year just left for the airport to fly back to Poland for the winter. Now, at this moment, I’m home to work in the office a bit. When I got here I put on the kettle and grabbed a tea bag from my stash in the pantry. I poured hot water over it into the yellow British teapot that I bought to leave here. The house is quiet. Too quiet. And I start to roam.

I walk through Lil Sis’ empty in-law apartment. To the library where Jess taught private flute lessons. Up to my room and through our shared bathroom, which is now empty and set up with guest towels and packaged toothbrushes. Through to her room, which echoes. Mitra pads along behind me, and I set her food and water down where I set Rusty’s before her, and Heidi’s before his. We walk outside and I look up at a tall pine tree, now 30 feet high, and remember when my dad planted it for Lil Sis after one Christmas, where she had decorated it at 2 feet tall, its roots nestled into a wrapped paper tub. Back inside, I sing while washing my teapot out, and the space feels wrong. I look past the kitchen table through the dining room and into the now-empty library. I feel my grandmother not being in the guest room off the kitchen, where she had been every single day until a few years ago. The kitchen where I’ve made countless gluten-free pies and cookies, and prepared meals for my family, is practically bare. I was told to lock up all the doors around the house, and its large emptiness seems, more and more… less like my home.

When did life speed up so fast?

Earl Gray Tea

Place one tea bag in a large mug or pot. Pour just-boiling water over it. Steep for 3-5 minutes to desired strength.

Sip while breathing deeply, giving thanks, being present, and letting go.

Female Chefs join to Benefit SHARE, a breast and ovarian cancer organization

Chefs Gabrielle Hamilton, Sue Torres, Anita Lo, Amanda Freitag and Elizabeth Faulkner. Photo Kym Fajardo.

“Pathology’s benign – just have to repeat the test in 6 months. Thx for all your love + support.”

That is exactly the kind of text you want to receive from a good friend, especially when a long day is going to be celebrated by covering a benefit for breast and ovarian cancer. I got off the subway to find it flashing triumphantly on my phone yesterday, and almost cried out in relief. I know these kinds of texts are going to change the older we get, but I really wasn’t ready for hearing the opposite. I know – we never are. But I’ll push off that moment as long as possible.

Yet, when it comes, at least I know there’s a community of love and support waiting. The world surrounding breast and ovarian cancer support has grown dramatically in my lifetime, and continues to thrive today. Last night I attended A Second Helping of Life, an event bringing together some of New York City’s best female chefs to benefit SHARE, a breast and ovarian cancer support organization. It brings together survivors and their families, offering education, a forum to discuss, and community.

It was a beautiful event, and I was psyched to see so many of the chefs I’ve interviewed there and make connections withe more to come. And, of course, it was just delicious.

Head on over to Serious Eats NY for the full coverage.

Gluten-Free Chicken Fingers for Krissy’s Virtual “Baby Shower”!

Gluten-Free Chicken Fingers – Baby Shower and Kid Perfect!

Congratulations Krissy!

Krissy of Krissy’s Creations – photo by Jackie Wonders

This gorgeous mama-to-be is Krissy of the blog Krissy’s Creations. We met baking our way together with a small group of (incredible) bloggers through the Milk Bar cookbook we call Milk Bar Mondays. Together we’ve made some killer desserts, including Confetti Cookies, Apple Pie Layer Cake, Chocolate Chocolate Cookies and Carrot Cake Truffles. I’m always bowled over by Krissy’s creations. Seriously. Check out her Milk Bar Birthday Layer Cake. Her recipes are always featured in such gorgeous colors that befit how beautiful her blog is. She’s so inspiring – I’m wowed by her and can’t wait to see what yumminess will continue to come out of her kitchen.

But today’s a special occasion because a group of Krissy’s blogging friends are throwing her a virtual baby shower! She’s expecting her first child, baby Ezekiel, any day now! Check out her latest post at 36 weeks! The shower today is a surprise, so…

Surprise Krissy!

I’m so excited for you on this next stage of life!

Check out our virtual baby shower feast!

Audra of The Baker Chick | <Mini Salted Caramel Brownie Pies
Averie of Averie Cooks | Cinnamon Oatmeal Date Bars with Chocolate Ganache
Cassie of Bake Your Day | Red Bell Pepper &amp; Ranch Cheese Dip
Erin of Big Fat Baker | Blueberry Punch
Lauren of Keep It Sweet | Baby Blue Cake Pops From Scratch
Nicole of Sweet Peony Blog | Roasted Blueberry Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Don’t they all look just delicious?!?

Most of the bloggers brought a dessert to the table. I was totally on board with that. But then I started mulling on a few things…

…any kitchen-savvy mom should have a good chicken finger recipe under her belt…

…I make chicken fingers twice a week for the 13-year old in the family I work as a private cook for…

…I have yet to make myself a gluten-free chicken finger…

…adults like chicken fingers too…

…her husband is a professional baseball player… yup, makes me think of stadium food…

…Krissy loves Sex and the City. At Miranda’s baby shower, her one food request is fried chicken…

…(and, yes, I knew that without having to look it up or even think on it for more than ten seconds)…

Voilà!

I tried this version simply replacing regular Progresso bread crumbs that I use at work with a gluten-free bread crumb I found at the market. But a) not everyone can get them easily and b) they just didn’t kill it for me. I wanted a lighter, crispier crumb. So I found a gluten-free cracklebread that totally did the trick:

Light and airy, it pulsed to a good-sized crumb that didn’t dissolve when the egg-battered chicken was dredged in it, but it wasn’t so fine that it completely coated and crusted on the fry. I bought the tomato version simply because it was on sale. And gluten-free aint cheap.

Adding some basic Italian herbs to the crushed box (which resulted in the perfect amount of crumbs for 1.5lbs of chicken breast), I simply went through the basic steps I use at work and can now do, start-to-finish, in about 20 minutes: remove tenderloin from chicken breast, slice into “fingers”, dredge in (rice) flour, dunk in beaten egg, dredge in crumbs, fry on medium in canola or safflower oil, devour with ketchup and mustard. I originally made chicken cutlets for the kid this way, but was psyched when she bought the finger version – more chicken = more protein = less breading and oil.

So, perfect for a home-made replacement for fast-food chicken fingers, right? I so missed having these that I couldn’t help but snack as I shot. They will be gone by the time this post goes live.

So, congratulations, Krissy. I’m cheers-ing to baby Ezekiel with this kid-friendly classic. And while I hope he never has to deal with gluten intolerance issues, here’s a recipe to have on hand just in case you ever need it.

Gluten-Free Chicken Fingers

Makes about 16

Notes: You can substitute any light gluten-free cracker for this cracklebread – I recommend it over toasting and crumbing an actual bread. Play around with the spices as you see fit.

Ingredients:

  • 1.5lbs skinless chicken breast (there about… about 3 large breasts)
  • 3 large eggs, beaten together in a low, wide bowl
  • 1 cup of white rice flour, in a low, wide bowl
  • About 100g of a gluten-free cracker or cracklebread
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 cup (or so) pure canola or safflower oil (or another light oil)

Directions:

In a food processor, pulse cracklebread until it makes a small but not too-fine crumb. Place in a shallow, wide bowl and whisk in salt, basil, oregano and garlic.

Open the chicken breasts to expose the small tenderloin on the side. Slip a filet, boning or chef knife through this tissue to remove the tenderloin. Cut remaining breast into about 4 spears, following cut of meat for easiest shaping. Note: it takes time to get this quickly. Just go with it. It’s just chicken. Make it look like a finger. The size and shape of the chicken breast (often determined by the quality of the chicken) will give you a varied amount. What’s most important is to get the fingers as consistent in thickness as possible so that they cook evenly.

Pour oil into a medium pan (enough to fit 4-5 with space), about 3/4″ high. Put over a medium heat and heat until it just bubbles when you drop a droplet of water on it.

Dredge each chicken piece in rice flour, then egg, then crumb and place on a cookie sheet. (I find it’s easiest to do the flour and egg with one hand and then toss into the crumb with the other, to reduce caking on real human fingers and repeated hand-washing). Repeat with remaining chicken.

Cook each piece in bubbling oil for about 3-4 minutes a side. This will vary depending on how thick your pieces are and how hot the oil is. You want the oil on the low side of bubbling so that the chicken finger has enough time to cook through without getting too dark. Check for doneness by pressing with a spatula – if it’s firm or near to it, it’s done.

Drain on paper towels and serve hot.

Yum!

Flat-bread pulsed into in a small crumb.

Chicken. Fingered.

My childhood given back to me at 31-years old.

I Chat With: Chef Jim Botsacos of Molyvos and Abboccato

Chef Jim Botsacos at Molyvos, NYC. Photo Brent Herrig.

There’s something about an Italian chef.

And there’s something about a Greek chef.

Jim Botsacos is both Italian and Greek.

He had a lot to talk about.

Today on Serious Eats NY I chat with Chef Jim Botsacos of Molyvos and Abboccato restaurants in Manhattan. It was a truly delightful interview. For he talked mostly on family, and food, and culture. On how we inherit food traditions from our elders and how to bequeath them to the younger generations.

Chef Jim’s eyes light up when he talks about dishes and methods and ingredients to the point that both of our mouths were watering and he had to punctuate his sentence with a hand-gesture or a “boom” or “pop” vocally. His “tutti mangiare”, “shit, man” and “amazing” made him sound so New York City. He pulled out pictures of his kids. I walked away with tips on making meatballs incredibly fluffy and how to bake eggplant down to buttery, soft deliciousness.

And then there were things, as someone who also comes from very food-centered Mediterranean roots, just really hit home:

“Over the course of time you lose the language and people change, but you still have a close connection with the food.”

“Instinctively I gravitated towards the food of my culture. It’s imbedded in me. Family dynamics change, but no one can take food away from you.”

The interview is up today on Serious Eats NY.

Check it out.

Tutti mangiare!

Scallops with Bacon, Grapefruit and Pomegranate over Fancy-Pants Pasta and On Quiet in the Kitchen

Yesterday I got into the kitchen at work and didn’t put WNYC in my earbuds. I didn’t polish silver while watching Downtown Abbey on my iPad (yes, I sometimes do this at work). I didn’t let my phone shuffle my music.

I just cooked, and listened.

After a frantic summer of cooking in the Hamptons, where my days stretched for 14 hours and I had very little – if any – privacy, coming home to cook in New York City has been a gift. Waking up in my bed, doing yoga on my floor, taking Mitra for a long walk, and jumping on the subway to go to work has taken completely new significance.

The transitions are not going unnoticed.

On September 11th, part of my job was taking my boss’ cat across town to the dentist. Yes. The animal hospital was a block from where I lived my first year in NYC, straight out of college, back in 2003. Walking by it again I found my breath catch. On this beautiful, solemn day in the city I love so much, I was given the chance to reflect on my 9 years in NYC, who I am now versus then. Back then I was an actor hungry for the stage. I lived in that 10×30 apartment with three guy-friends from college. We loved it. We worked (sorta) hard and partied (maybe too much). We had fun. We’re still all good friends. How rich and full of love and hardship my time has been since then, now a calm and seasoned 31 New Yorker.

The transitions are not going unnoticed.

On Wednesday I got a heart-wrenching phone call from a favorite friend – the kind women want to push off as long as we can. The kind where you’re immediate reaction is, “we’re too young to be having this conversation!!!”. The kind where you cry, and pray, and carry about your day with a rock in your stomach and a flutter in your heart. We talked through it, we continue to talk through it, and we’ll deal with whatever comes of it. But we’re now at that age where these conversations happen.

The transitions are not going unnoticed.

I made a lot of food in the kitchen yesterday for the family I work for, and as all this reflection was bubbling away I really let myself listen to my movements and what they created: the sound of my knife slicing through parsnips; the sizzle of slab bacon; the rush of water going into the pasta pot; the click of the dishwasher; the clang of a plate on the marble counter.

I thought of my city, my dearest friend, the person I was almost ten years ago, the cook I am after a long summer in the Hamptons.

And I made this. It’s based on a recipe in the current issue of Food and Wine. It’s sweet and salty. It’s colorful. It pops in the pan. It brings a little fun into the kitchen as you teach the 13-yr old in the house the joy of opening a fresh pomegranate and finding the seeds hidden in the pockets of the coral-like fruit. It encourages several moments of praise from your boss. It’s comforting to make in a quiet kitchen when there’s a lot on your mind.

Scallops with Bacon, Grapefruit and Pomegranate over Squid Ink Spaghetti

Serves 2

Notes: I realize squid ink spaghetti is not easily found on a grocery store shelf. I was lucky to stumble upon it and snatched it up, as I love the deep color. When I recreated this dish for myself I used a gluten-free pasta from DeBoles I had around, and it was tasty. I would suggest, however, using as fresh a pasta as you can (find dried ones in specialty markets that take 3-4 minutes to cook) as they retain a bit of texture while weighted foods are placed upon them.

Ingredients:

8-10 large sea scallops
1-2 strips of slab bacon (depending on how salty / meaty you want the dish
1 large shallot, sliced thin
1 large grapefruit, peel and all white pith removed and split into segments
1/4 cup grapefruit juice
1/2 cup light and fruity white wine, like a Sauvignon Blanc or light Reisling
2 Tbsp caper
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 Tbsp pomegranate seeds
Your choice of cooked pasta for two, al dente

Directions

Note: the scallops take about 15-20 minutes to cook, so prepare pasta accordingly.

In a large skillet, cook bacon on medium/high until crispy. Remove to a plate.

Season scallops with salt and pepper and sear on one side for 3 minutes. Flip and sear another minute. Add shallots and toss bacon fat, scallops and shallots together. Cook for another 2 minutes, or until scallops are cooked to your preference.

Remove scallops with slotted spoon to a plate or bowl.

Add grapefruit juice and wine and cook, scraping up browned bits, for about 2 minutes. Strain grit and onions, and return to pan. Add butter and capers and cook, shaking the pan to thicken the juices. Toss scallops back in with bacon and pomegranates, and shake the pan to coat completely.

Remove from heat. Add grapefruit segments.

Serve over pasta.

Gluten-Free Pork Rind Compost Cookies – A Recipe Swap

North Carolina Pork Compost Cookies

I had two things to accomplish with only a few hours in my kitchen; bringing a gluten-free sweet treat to my sister’s going-away picnic (she’s moving to North Carolina AND THAT DOES NOT MAKE ME HAPPY) and a take on this recipe:

Christianna over at the Burwell General Store really threw me for a loop with this one. Every month for over a year now (in my case) she’s zipped along a vintage recipe to a group of bloggers that I adore. I try to stick relatively close to the original recipe, keeping it in line with the kind of dish (savory, sweet, breakfast etc.) and keeping the prominent flavors included somehow.

But… pork, fruit and cake?!?!

I stewed for a few days and, in Dusty fashion, left this to be done the day before posting with only a couple of hours in my kitchen. But I awoke that morning with a revelation:

It was time to call in a Compost Cookie.

I trotted over to the corner store with Mitra and started grabbing gluten-free snacks and… pork rinds.

At home I opened the bag and – tentatively –  ate one.

Um… I’m not quite sure I get the allure. But they totally worked in the cookies, subtly adding some earthy saltiness and helping to balance a bit of sweet. I used dried dark cherries as my fruit and starting tossing other corner-store finds and pantry staples: chocolate chips, slivered almonds, coffee, oatmeal, potato chips, kettle corn, frozen leftover chocolate cake crumb (from Chocolate Chocolate Cookies).

They were polished off at the picnic. My family indulged, my gentleman friend ate three, and they really satiated sweet/salty cravings. They’re intense – I could only have a few bites. But once again I’ve found the basic Compost Cookie recipe to be a winner.

And the best thing about Compost Cookies are they’re really a grab-and-go experience in your pantry. So take the gluten-free cookie base and weight proportions and go hog wild*!

(*couldn’t help myself)

Check out the takes on the recipe from the group by clicking on the little froggy!

Gluten-Free Pork Rind Compost Cookies

Built around the Compost Cookie by Christina Tosi
Makes about 20-24 cookies

I both weigh and measure my ingredients, based on which is necessary or more accurate.

Ingredients:

  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup white sugar (I used palm sugar)
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp corn syrup
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 75 g brown rice flour
  • 75g arrowroot starch (or tapioca starch)
  • 50g millet flour
  • 25g white rice flour
  • 3/4 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt

Compost Ingredients (totaling 475 grams)

  • 150g chocolate chips
  • 100g slivered
  • 40g gluten-free old fashioned oats
  • 5g decaf coffee / espresso grounds
  • 40g potato chips
  • 60g chocolate cake crumb (like a crushed chocolate cookie or brownie)
  • 25g kettle corn
  • 30g dried cherries, chopped
  • 25g pork rinds, crushed to various sizes

Directions

In the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugars and corn syrup for 2-3 minutes. Scrape bowl.

Add egg and vanilla and beat on medium/high speed for 7-8 minutes. This step is vital in getting the sugars and fat to combine ideally, and will help the cookies not over-spread.

Meanwhile, weigh out flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk together.

Turn mixer on low and add flour mixture until just incorporated, under a minute.

Add all compost ingredients on low except for potato chips, and mix until just combined. Fold in potato chips, trying not to break them.

Roll out onto parchment or Silpat lined sheets. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (this, again, is vital to them not spreading too much).

Heat oven to 375°. Bake each sheet individually for 18 minutes, or until the outsides are just starting to brown but the middles are soft. Cool on pan for a few minutes before removing to rack to cool completely.

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