Tag Archives: Family Meals

My Friends are Talented

My food photos are, well, lacking.

However, I have friends who are talented.

Although the Third Annual Indian Summer Picnic is a distant memory and the recaps are [finally] done, there are still photos to remember it by.

Feast your eyes on them…

.then give me some ideas of what I should add to the menu next year.

To access all of the recipes, click here.

All photos courtesy of Michael Landry


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A Small Bite

I have to admit something. Don’t be alarmed—it’s not that that kind of confession. It’s just that I’m never quite sure what to tell my guests to bring when I’m hosting an event.

I think a lot of this comes from going to poorly planned dinners—you know the kind, where you’re being served Eggplant Parmesan with a side of samosas and stir fried vegetables? Where everything is cooked well but the sum simply detracts from it’s parts?

It’s true that I get unnaturally excited about menu planning, but perhaps it’s from the aforementioned dinner misses. At least I’d like to think so. Regardless, I’m a firm believer that the best meals are the ones where the flavors play off each other, with one course building upon the next. So, when I saw this recipe as I planned for the Third Annual Indian Summer Picnic, I knew I had to make it. The flavors were all there—echoing the spices from the pork. Plus, with the protein, it seemed a good bet that, if I couldn’t get the pulled pork out on time, this would hold everyone’s hunger at bay.

I’m hoping to get to the rest of the recaps from that long ago Third Annual Indian Summer Picnic as time allows. But, until then, consider this an appetizer to keep your appetite in check as well.

honeyed nuts

Honey Glazed Almonds
Recipe Courtesy of MyRecipes.com

1 1/2 cups raw, unblanched almonds
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chile powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Place the almonds in a medium nonstick skillet; cook over medium heat for 6 minutes or until lightly toasted, shaking pan frequently. Combine the remaining ingredients in a 2-cup glass measure. Microwave at HIGH for 30 seconds. Add honey mixture to pan, and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Arrange almond mixture on prepared baking sheet in a single layer; let stand 10 minutes. Break apart any clusters.

Photo courtesy of Michael Landry

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In case you were wondering…

.this is what I look like at my most relaxed.

There’s that moment in cooking process when you’re no longer focused on the mechanics of cooking, you’re just doing.

corned beef

Sort of.

If I’m being completely honest, about two hours before this photo, I was on the phone with my mother asking for more precise instructions. I had never cooked corned beef before, and I was hours away from hosting a crowd of fifteen. The chicken soup you see off to the side was my Plan B.

I should know better.

After all, this isn’t the first time, I’ve done such a thing. So, rather than cooking as a form of meditation, this was baptism by fire. Wait—that’s a poor choice of words.

Moving on.

I’d say there’s not much to it—and to a certain degree, that’s true. But, I think that has to do with good instruction. With having someone to guide you. Largely the point for me of cooking the nostalgic foods, in fact.

Really, though, there isn’t much to making corned beef well. Just two essential steps: the first boil, designed to get rid of a lot of the impurities, and the final bake, which gives a nice crust. Then, there’s the waiting. It’s worth it, not least if you have a crowd of fifteen waiting hungrily to eat…

Corned Beef

1 beef brisket, fat trimmed (4-6 pounds)
pickling spices (if you buy packaged corning beef, use what’s included. Otherwise, you should use a combination of red pepper flakes, mustard seeds, garlic, and black peppercorns)
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup grainy mustard

Place the beef brisked in a large pot and fill it with water. Bring to a boil. Once the water is at a rolling boil, strain the corned beef from the pot, rinsing it off. Refill the pot with water and corned beef, adding in the picking spices and bay leaves. Boil for 2-3 hours depending on the size of the beef.

In the last half hour of boiling, preheat an oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix the honey and mustard together.

Remove the beef from the pot, pat dry and place in a baking dish, fat side down. Using a pastry brush, cover the corned beef with the honey mustard mixture. Bake 20-25 minutes, until a crust has formed. Allow the meat to rest for ten minutes before slicing.

Serve with rye bread and mustard.

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So we beat on, boats against the current

There’s new scaffolding up by the New York Life building. This time it’s far more imposing and permanent.  Walking home late the other night, I noticed it and that it half obstructs the old “Interboro Subway Line” sign. A relic of the past, certainly, but a personal anchor, nonetheless.

At the very least, I liked seeing it.

Thankfully the neon glasses on 27th street are still there, bright as ever, reminding me at of Dr.T. J. Eckleburg.

Even so, there’s no doubt about it—the neighborhood is changing, again. If you can even call it a neighborhood, which I don’t suppose you can, since it’s mostly hotels and office buildings, but it suits me. And, it’s home.

You can’t stop progress.

I’ve been meaning to tell you about this cake and the story behind it for more than a month now.

Time gets away from me.

And, so, to go back to December 2011—each year, I cook my mother an elaborate birthday dinner. I’ve talked about it here before. It’s an all day affair. Think: cosmopolitans with freshly squeezed key lime juice, risotto, any manner of dessert, well, you get the idea. This year, however, owing to a new job with a different vacation policy, I only had a few days off around the end of the year which, among other things, meant less time visiting my family and by extension, less time to cook.

I suppose, then, my mother can be forgiven for suggesting that I make her birthday cake from boxed mix. Yes, boxed mix. I was incredulous—definitely not a good way to start a birthday meal. I couldn’t help it, for a birthday it seemed to defeat the whole purpose.

For me, cooking, opening up my table, is an act of respect and affection. The whole point is taking the time out, of telling someone that they’re worth the extra time and steps it takes to make something from scratch. So, a boxed mix simply wouldn’t do. Not for the occasion and certainly for my mother. After all, she was the woman who taught that baking was a meditation of sorts. To this day, when things get stressful, she takes out her measuring cups.

It’s getting cold here and the work shows no signs of abating. I’ve taken to leaving my own measuring cups on the counter, rather than putting them away.

Make of that what you will.

Chocolate Fudge Cake
Adapted from here

For the Cake
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
3 cups sugar
3 eggs
3 tsp vanilla extract, divided
4 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted
3 cups flour
3 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/3 cup boiling water

For the ganache
18 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tbsp butter, cut up
1 tsp vanilla

To Make the Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 (9-inch) round cake pans. Dust with flour, tap out excess.

In a large bowl, beat together 3/4 cup butter and sugar with electric mixer or medium speed until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Add eggs and 2 teaspoons vanilla and beat until well blended. Add melted chocolate and beat 1-2 minutes; set aside.

Mix together flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to chocolate mixture in two additions alternately with buttermilk. Beat until well blended. With mixer on low speed, add boiling water and beat until smooth (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake 35-40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in pans 10 minutes, then unmold onto racks and let cool completely.

To Make the Chocolate Ganache:
In a 2 quart glass measure, combine chocolate chips and heavy cream. Heat in a microwave oven on HIGH 3 minutes or until melted and smooth when stirred. Stir in 2 tablespoons butter and remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour, or until ganache holds its shape and is thick enough to spread on cake.

To Assemble the Cake:
Cover a cake layer with a little more than 1/3 of chocolate ganache. Set second layer on top. Frost top and sides of cake with remaining ganache. Refrigerate cake 3-4 hours, or until ganache is firm, before serving.

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Guest Post: A Visit from the Pacific Northwest

After months of telling you how busy I’ve been and that it’s been a challenge to find time to write, I’ve taken to outsourcing my posts.

Ok, fine, that’s not quite true. Here’s what is: when my friend Jared proposed that we host a dinner party together, I proposed that he write something here. Shockingly he said yes. I’ll admit that, after confessing about my quirks in the kitchen (namely, my epic emails with menu plans and inability to give up even an inch of space, I was worried he would expose me as the crazy person I am. Instead, as he’s pointed out, he visited, we cooked, we ate well, and all was right with the world. what follows are his musings and recipes.

No one is more pleased that me, not least because Jared left me with a huge tub of miso and I can now make his miso cod which was, by far, one of the best cod dishes I’ve ever had the privileged of eating. It’s not quite the same has having him cook it for me, while he insisted that I drink my beer, but it’ll have to do.

Take note, too, of the first photo featured, taken my my friend Mark—which explains why it actually looks good. You’ll notice in the recap posts from this series that there aren’t many photos—we were too busy catching up to be bothered with such things—the few that he good did the food justice. And, now, onto the post:

What does a great visit to NY look like? For me, it’s not just experiencing the bright lights of the big city, but rather seeing how the people I care about interact with those bright lights and myriad buildings; it’s about connecting with friends in a way phone, email and third-hand conjecture doesn’t do justice. Having moved away from NY 7 years ago, what I like most about NY is seeing my friends’ love of the city and trying to grab whatever reflection I can from their interactions with a place that carries such a strong sense of place.

During this last visit I was able to share in a remarkable amount of those moments, doing some of the things I used to do with friends when I lived in NY and seeing the things they now do since I left. One of the things in that latter category was dinner at Hillary’s, something I’d only previously experienced as a reader. And so it was that I invited myself over with an offer to cook.

A few notable hitches up front:

  • I’m pretty sure Hillary had never tasted anything I’ve ever cooked. Ever. Was she really about to hand over her kitchen?
  • I don’t eat meat

Add the fact that I’m not what you would call a “planner” and that I’m used to a kitchen best described as suburban in size and this was going to go off like gangbusters. Obviously I played down any concerns to Hillary; I just told her it would all work itself out and then I promptly proceeded to avoid the first two of Hillary’s tips for a successful hosting. Luckily, I’ve found you can compensate with the final remaining four: drinks, assistance, focus on fun, and drinks.

In this case, I knew I also had a few tricks up my sleeve:

  • I figured my friends rarely ate home cooked Asian food, so I had novelty on my side
  • I cook dinner for an omnivore virtually every night—as they say, “practice makes edible”
  • Backup plan: restaurants are open late in NY No fear

As it turned out, everything was delicious, Hillary’s apartment is still standing and she’s still talking to me.


Now on to the recipes—

Miso Glazed Cod

We used these in the tacos, but they’re great over a bowl of sushi rice, too. I consider all the ingredients pretty much to taste—if you like the marinade, you’ll probably like the finished product.

Soy sauce
Grated fresh ginger
Garlic paste
Cayenne pepper
Miso paste
A white fish like cod
Olive oil, Salt, Pepper
Green Onion
Sake (optional)

Combine soy sauce, ginger, garlic, a pinch or two of cayenne pepper, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Mix in a few tbsps miso paste until the marinade thickens up—I find it easiest to use a whisk. Toss the fish in the marinade and let sit for 30 min.

Heat a few tbsps oil over med heat in a wide shallow pan. Drop in the fish and let it cook—try not to play around with it too much. Once it has a little color on the cooking side, about 5 mins, flip it over—it’s done when it starts to flake. Toss in some chopped green onion and squeeze in a bit of lemon just before removing from the heat, then add a bunch more when plating.

Cabbage Slaw

I don’t remember everything I put in the slaw and I never make it the same way twice, but the basics are red cabbage and rice wine vinegar (red wine vinegar will work as well). I usually add mirin, whatever citrus juice is around, and if I add anything else I just start playing around with other ingredients I think will taste ‘fresh.’ For those who feel slaw must have some creaminess, feel free to add a tsp of mayo, but if you’re serving it with the cod you’ll want to keep it fairly runny/vinegary. Either way, salt and pepper to taste.

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Filed under Fish, Vegetables

One more confession

In my previous post I confessed of a tendency to plan elaborate events the minute I’ve had a drink. I’d like to think that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it’s lead to some great events.

This next confession: far less charming. When it comes to sharing, where my kitchen is concerned, I’m firmly in the does not play well with others category. Mostly, what it comes down to is that I’m a control freak, plain and simple. When I’m hosting, I typically have a clear vision of the menu in mind—infused vodka!, rainbow cakes!—most of the time, it’s about the challenge. Think Dinner Impossible: The home version where nothing is camera ready.

All of which is to say that when my friend Jared was visiting from Seattle and suggested we host a dinner together, I’m fairly certain he had no idea what he was getting into.

Here’s how the planning went down:

Jared mentioned Asian inspired dishes.
I came back with the idea of Asian and Mexican fusion… Because I had an event title that I thought would be funny.
I started highlighting recipes. Jared told me I should relax. Things would come together, and we could just have someone bring dessert. I started looking for dessert recipes with a vengeance, ultimately settling on sweet potato ice cream. If Jared thought this was odd, he did not say so. I sent a suggested menu plan. Jared told me he would take care of everything, and he figured that I could just relax and drink a beer while he cooked. I sighed. One of our mutual friends, upon hearing this, guffawed. I bought groceries. Jared bought groceries.
We cooked in the same kitchen. At the same time. No small feat, given that my kitchen is generously 10′ x 10′.

And, everything did come together, and, I did have a beer while Jared cooked, in case you were wondering. But I finished about a third before getting back to my own cooking because, after all, I had a standard to maintain.

Here’s the menu:

The East Meets [South] West Coast Dinner

Salsa Cruda
Roasted Tomato Salsa

Chicken Tacos
Miso Glazed Cod Tacos

Stewed Black Beans (this recipe, but with half of the beans blended for better texture)
Lime Rice
Pickled Watermelon Radishes
Red Cabbage Slaw

Sweet Potato Ice Cream
Spiced Chocolate Cake

Stay tuned for a flurry of recaps.


Filed under Etc.

Wherein I reveal a little more about myself.

Remember how smug I was when it came to baking extra cake for the New Year, Same Us brunch?

About that. I think it’s time I come clean, lest you think that I’m completely insufferable.

There’s something very important that you should know about me. Once I’ve had a few drinks, I begin planning elaborate events. And, so, although I had toyed with the idea of hosting a New Year’s Day brunch for a few weeks before making any sort of decision, it was only two days before that I was willing to commit. I was at another party that I had helped plan and keeping track of my wine glasses solely by the charms on them.

I’m reminded here of that famous Mark Twain quote, Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That’ll teach you to keep your mouth shut.

I’m overstating here, as I was making plans and really just looking for a reason to take the leap. If you’ve been reading along here, I’m sure that my love of brunch is apparent. But, I knew that hosting one on New Year’s Day would mean waking up early to make sure that everything was just so because who wants to start their year off with lukewarm eggs and soggy bacon? And, I wasn’t confident in my ability to do so—on most weekends I’m not. It seemed wise that I should plan for any and all contingencies. And, so: strada.

Do you know about this? It’s essentially a savory bread pudding. It’s rich although adaptable—you can make it with milk if heavy cream seems a bit much. It’s infinitely adaptable and—mind you, this is the best part—it needs to be made at least eight hours ahead. In other words, this is the ultimate brunch dish. On the day of, all you need to do is let it warm to room temperature while your oven is heating. Then you can enjoy it with your guests. And, isn’t that the whole point of brunch, anyway?

Acorn Squash and Kale Strada

3 cups kale, with stems removed
1 acorn squash, diced
1 large onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp thyme
1/4 cup water
3 TBS olive oil, plus an additional 1 tsp reserved for greasing the baking dish
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 cups french bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 cups grated sharp cheddar
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
8 large eggs
salt and pepper to taste

The night before:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss the acorn squash with 2 TBS olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake until the pieces are beginning to get soft and brown, 30-45 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.

While the squash is baking, place a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 TBS olive oil. Once it was warmed, add in the onion and the thyme and saute until the onion is translucent, approximately 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Add in the kale and stir. Add 1/4 water to the skillet and allow the kale to steam until it has wilted, covering as necessary, and stirring occasionally. This should take approximately 5 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, milk, heavy cream, and nutmeg, whisking until the eggs have all been combined. Set aside.

Using the remaining oil, butter a shallow oven safe baking dish. Spread one third of the bread cubes at the bottom of the baking dish. Top evenly with one third of the kale, one third of the acorn squash, and one third of the grated cheddar. Repeat the process twice, ending with the cheese. Pour the egg mixture over evenly over the layered bread and vegetables and cover the baking dish with plastic wrap. Chill for at least eight ours.

Day Of
30 minutes before you are ready to bake the strada, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and remove the strada from the refrigerator. Let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. Remove the plastic wrap and bake, uncovered, in the middle rack of your oven until the strada has turned golden brown, puffed up and cooked completely through. This will take 45-55 minutes. Allow the strada to stand at room temperature for 5 minutes before serving.

Serves twelve


Filed under Brunch, Starch & Grains, Vegetables