Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In the Diminutive

There's something strangely bewitching to me about really tiny things. I recall devouring The Littles book series as a kid, drawn to their little world. Thumbalina? Loved her and her walnut shell bed. One of my favorite pastimes was playing with my dollhouse. You see, Barbies were too big.

My dollhouse was beautiful, a two-story masterpiece. It was handmade by an old carpenter in Kansas City. It was a gift for my fourth birthday and the last dollhouse he ever built, as he died shortly after he completed mine. That dollhouse was the center of much of the entertainment in my childhood. I would play with it for hours and hours, but there are other funny memories, including a broken window from an unauthorized game of indoor baseball and a Playboy stashed by the neighborhood kids under the removable roof.

I still have it. The dollhouse, I mean. Well, it's at my parent's house in South Carolina and my niece now plays with it. But each time I'm back for a visit and walk by the dollhouse, I find myself drawn to it. I kneel down, open up one of the petite doors and feel pure wonderment pulsing through my veins. There are so many captivating — and tiny — delights inside. I was particularly fond of the kitchen and dining room areas, endlessly organizing the canned goods in the pantry or setting the table for a formal dinner party. Upon reflection, I guess I was a bit of a foodie even when I was four.

It makes sense that this enchantment with all things miniature has transferred to the food world as well. I mean what is cuter than baby corn? Well, I can tell you. It's baby carrots. Not the machine-formed orange nubs we get in the grocery store, but authentically diminutive carrots. I saw a bunch at the Farmers Market last weekend and couldn't resist snapping them up. All these recipe ideas began jumping through my mind. I wanted to showcase these beauties though. In the end, a simple roasted dish won out and I must say did one fine job of presenting these Lilliputian veggies. While they may be small in stature, they're big on flavor and simply irresistible.

Roasted Baby Carrots with Za'atar
by Food Network Magazine

2 lbs fresh baby carrots
Extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
2 tsp za'atar (create your own with 1/3 cup dried thyme and 3 Tbsp roasted sesame seeds)
3 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 lemon, juiced

Preheat over to 450 degrees. Toss carrots with olive oil to coat lightly and salt and pepper. Roast until browned, 15 - 20 minutes. Toss with za'atar, parsley and lemon juice and serve. Yields: Serves 4 as a side dish.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Spring Has (Re)Sprung!

A perfect Spring day? That would be today.

After a rainy and downright cold Easter of 63 degrees, today's upper 70s, blue skies and glorious sun were definitely celebrated. Everyone — kids, adults, animals, and even the ice cream man — was out and about just soaking it up.

The only issue was that it was nearly impossible to work inside. I found a nice, sunny spot on my patio and meticulously read a 248-page market research report on laparoscopic surgery trends, when normally I would've scanned maybe 40 pages of from my desktop (most likely while multi-tasking on a conference call). Oh well, I got some soul-lifting Vitamin D in addition to a keen knowledge of the compounded annual growth rate and market drivers for laparoscopic bowel resections through 2014. For the denouement, I thought it only fitting to eat something very Spring-like for dinner.

I suffer from a terrible condition called "recipe ripping," which means I'm constantly ripping recipes out of the dozen of cooking magazines I subscribe to each month. While that in of itself is not terrible, it's the fact that the clipped recipes go into a big, fat stack of recipe rippings which then accumulate for months, even years, begging to be cooked. Luckily I possess a bizarre talent of recalling many of the recipes I pull. So today, I was like, "Hey, I think I remember a recipe for a chicken, green bean, corn and farro salad with goat cheese that sounds perfect for today." Sadly I must confess my pseudo-photographic memory is not good for remembering cerebral data like the periodic table or how to conjugate Spanish verbs in the subjunctive tense. No, no, it's limited to recipes, what I was wearing when, and song lyrics.

The good news is that when I go looking for a recipe, I only have to look in one place — even though it may take me an hour to thumb through my entire stack of ripped recipes. Eventually I found said salad and was pleased to further my time outside of the office by running to the grocery store to buy the necessary ingredients. The salad actually comes together really rather effortlessly, although farro takes at least 30 minutes to cook. But you're getting a bonus whole grain that's packed with protein, fiber, magnesium, and vitamins A, B, C and E. And oh how I love foods that make me feel like I'm eating carbs when I'm really eating protein.

The end-product really did capture the essence of Spring. The tender, succulent roasted chicken (can I get an Amen for ready-to-buy rotisserie chicken?!), the crispy green beans, the sweet, crunchy, raw corn, the nutty, chewy farro, and the tangy marjoram-mustard vinaigrette to pull it all together. But of course, we all need a smidge of indulgence in a salad no matter what the weather's like. The crumbled goat cheese really adds a dose of pizzaz and creaminess that elevates the salad to a main course star.

All I can say is don't be like me and wait a year to make this delicious, healthy, Spring-worthy salad. It definitely deserves to be on the "must make now" list.

Chicken, Green Bean, Corn and Farro Salad with Goat Cheese
from Bon Appetit

1/2 cup semi-pearled farro or spelt berries
8 - 12 oz rotisserie chicken, shredded
12 oz green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups fresh corn kernels (cut from 2 to 3 ears of corn)
3 green onions, thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)
1 Tbsp fresh marjoram, minced
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp coarse salt
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp shallots, minced
1 tsp Dijon mustard
4 oz goat cheese, crumbled (about 1 1/4 cups)

Cook farro in medium saucepan of boiling water until just tender, approximately 25 - 30 minutes. Drain and cool.
Meanwhile, cook green beans in large saucepan of boiling water until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes (or cook in the microwave about 2 minutes). Drain and rinse under cold water to cool. Transfer beans to a kitchen towel and pat dry. Mix farro, chicken and green beans in a large bowl; add corn and green onions.
Combine olive oil, marjoram and 1/2 tsp coarse salt in small bowl. Press with back of spoon to release flavor. Whisk in vinegar, shallot and mustard. Pour over salad in bowl and toss to coat. Fold in goat cheese and season with salt and pepper to taste. Yields: 4 servings

Note: Farro may not be found in your standard grocery store — unless you live in California. : ) Try a health foods store, Whole Foods, or you can get some online here (seriously, what can't you buy on Amazon these days?!). This salad can be made 1 day ahead and stored covered in the refrigerator.

Monday, April 5, 2010

2nd Annual Easter Peeps Regatta

Easter means many things to me. There is the ushering in of warmer days, tulips, dyed eggs, chocolate bunnies and . . . the annual Peeps Regatta!

Despite the cool, gray weather, a small group gathered for an Easter brunch and the 2nd Annual Peeps Regatta.

Last year's winner, Sam, was not there to defend his title, so it was anyone's game. Even though it was a breezy day, the winds didn't seem to translate into a significant pool current, so Bret graciously offered to "aid" the competitors by swirling the water with the pool net. Even still, the peeps were off to a rather slow pace with a few peeps even grossly off-course, hanging out in the middle of the pool.

In the end, the winning trophy went to the Samantha. Although a rookie, she didn't seem intimidated by her older competitors.

For the rest of us, we've got an entire year to work out our strategy for the next regatta. And we can now confidently rule out adding toothpicks or jelly beans to your peep as a winning tactic.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Rugelach Virgin

I don't know where you stand on jelly-filled doughnuts, but I'm firmly on the "not down with it" side. Jelly-filled danish? Don't get it. I mean, wouldn't you just rather have a croissant? In fact the only place I think jelly should really be found is on toast. Or I used to. Until I discovered rugelach. I know that sounds so random (as if the opening declaration didn't already).

I'm definitely not a seasoned rugelach eater. Actually, I think I was a rugelach virgin until I made some for a recent Oscar party. I needed something "Jewish" and matzo ball soup wasn't calling my name so I found a recipe for rugelach. Even though I don't like jelly-filled stuff, I've ben known to make dishes I won't eat for parties, especially if it's in keeping with a theme. That's right, I'd rather go hungry than stray from a theme. It's a ridiculous affliction, I know. Anywho. . . I went through the motions of making the cream-cheese pastry for the rugelach and shook my head thinking, "What's wrong with people that makes them want to eat pastry stuffed with jelly?!"

I believe there are many variations on rugelach filling, but I decided to go with the straightforward apricot jelly, golden raisins and chopped walnuts, mainly because I had all of those ingredients on hand. I found a very handy tip on Food Network for cutting and rolling the dough, which smacked of cutting pizza, my very favorite food, which made the process quite fun. And since I don't possess the patience or confidence to attack a complicated dessert, anything fast and simple gets high marks in my book. OK, it does require you to chill your dough in advance but even the making of the dough was very elementary. It's like pastry for dummies. No measuring grams of ingredients or use of a kitchen scale. And did I mention you douse the jelly-filled rugelach in cinnamon sugar before baking? I figured it's like soy sauce and sushi. Use enough of it and it'll mask anything undesirable you're trying to ingest.

But now I have to eat crow because those darn jelly-filled rugelach were delicious! I found the fluffy little sweet and crunchy packets just delightful. I must have thrown back at least half a dozen as I attempted to get them onto a serving platter. I think they'd be a wonderful addition to an Easter brunch menu if you're hosting or attending one this weekend.

So for the record I must agree that jelly belongs on more places than toast. Although I wouldn't hold your breath to see me eat a danish anytime soon. I still have my jelly limits!

By Gourmet

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup plus 4 tsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup apricot preserves
1 cup loosely packed golden raisins, chopped
1 1/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped
Milk for brushing cookies

Whisk together flour and salt in a small bowl. Beat together butter and cream cheese in a large bowl in an electric mixer until combined well. Add flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until a soft dough forms. Gather dough into a ball and cut into four disks, each approximately 4 - 5 inches, and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill until firm, 8 - 24 hours.
Put over rack in middle position and preheat over to 350 degrees. Line bottom of a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Take one ball of dough at a time and roll out into a 10 - 12 inch circle, like a pizza crust. [Note: I had to let the dough soften slightly before I could really start to handle it but it can get soft quickly so beware.] Spread 1/4 of the jam onto the dough with an off-set spatula, then sprinkle with nuts and raisins. Finish with a good sprinkle of cinnamon sugar (at least 2 Tbsp for each batch).
Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough like spokes of a wheel into 12 portions. Starting from the outside, roll each wedge or "slice" inward like a crescent. Curve slightly and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet . Brush tops with milk and sprinkle with more cinnamon sugar. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes, depending of the size of each piece. Remove pieces to cooling rack. Yields: 45 - 60 pieces, but I halved recipe as written with no problem.