Monday, January 27, 2014

Prettier than a Picture

When I was young, I fancied myself to be quite the little artist. I would spend most of my time drawing with nary a blank piece of paper safe. There are two drawings that stand out in my memory. One was King Tut's sarcophagus I did in pencil. I think I was in 4th grade. I thought it kicked ass. I also thought my talent was well beyond my years—probably because that what your parents and grandparents tell you, right? 

The second was a few years later. It was a reproduction of a Cosmopolitan magazine issue with Paulina Porizkova on the cover. Mind you this was in the early 80s, so while stunning, Paulina was definitely channeling a weird mash-up of Grace Jones and Billy Ray Cyrus. Even though I'd taken some artistic license and redesigned her dress, I thought my finished piece was a kin to a photo replica. 

I could barely digest that I had drawn such an amazing piece. Well, needless to say, the Guggenheim did not come calling (but this was before answering machines so maybe they did call and no one was home). I found the drawing and literally laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of my original opinion. That drawing was about as good looking as Ric Ocasek, which further supports the proof that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. [P.S. Thanks, Mom, for keeping all my "art."]

They say you eat with your eyes, which I think by and large is true. But this is a dish that may not be the prettiest although it's definitely one of the tastiest. Actually, it isn't that it doesn't look appetizing. It's more of an issue where I couldn't figure out how to photograph it in a manner that adequately captured the yumminess. Apparently the chef who invented this had the same problem because there was no photo of this dish in his cookbook either.

It is called caponata, which is a beloved Sicilian dish best described as a sweet and sour eggplant stew. I'm not really into eggplant, but this dish is so much more than that. It's more of a hearty, savory relish with eggplant, zucchini, and peppers sweetened with caramelized onions and golden raisins. This is a sophisticated crowd pleaser, comprised of familiar ingredients with a twist. If you love ratatouille, you'll love this. It's kind of an Italian take on it with a bigger hit of acidity from red wine vinegar that I think is frankly borderline addictive. I like to serve it with grilled bread topped with a dollop of burrata cheese. But you could definitely serve it over pasta or even as an open-faced sandwich.

You can actually bang this out pretty quickly if you're a fast chopper. If not, it still comes together pretty quickly once everything is in the pot. In truth, the finished dish tastes like it took hours and hours to make. It's not something you likely see everyday so it feels a little special even though it's very rustic and comforting. 

It's typically served at room temperature which is great for entertaining but also keeps in the refrigerator for several days—if there's any leftover. So don't let my ugly photos dissuade you. This is good stuff. 

Caponata Modo Mia
from Urban Italian 

1/3 cup olive oil
1 medium inion, diced large
1 red pepper, diced large
1 yellow pepper, diced large
2 japanese eggplant, diced large
3 stalks celery, diced large
2 small zucchini, diced large
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, sliced paper thin
1/2 cup golden raisins, rehydrated in 1 cup water
1 cup tomato sauce
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1. Heat olive oil in a large sauce pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, peppers, and eggplant. When the vegetables have softened (about 5 minutes), add the celery and zucchini. Season liberally with half the salt and pepper. Mix the ingredients and continue to cook. 
2. After 10 minutes, add the red pepper flakes and garlic. Cover and reduce the heat to medium, and let the steam roast the vegetables for 5 minutes. 
3. Add the rehydrated raisins (without the water), tomato sauce and oregano. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes until the vegetables are soft but not falling apart and the sauce is well incorporated. 
4. Remove from the heat and stir in the vinegar. 
Note: This can be served hot, but I prefer it at room temperature with burrata cheese mounded on top served with grilled, sliced bread. It can definitely keep in the fridge for up to a week. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

So Let Us Begin

Hello 2014! It seems like you got here kind of fast but, whether I like it or not, I guess you've officially arrived. I welcomed you with the stomach bug, which I won't blame you for, but it wasn't exactly the way I thought I'd detox and lose some weight after ringing in the New Year. It did serve as a springboard to start in earnest to clean up my diet and get back to the gym. It seems almost impossible to avoid excess sweets and alcohol and missed gym classes over the holidays, but I do feel very ready to restart my commitment to living a healthy, active life. 

To make that work, it certainly doesn't involve steamed chicken breast and broccoli every night. It's mainly (at least for me) about making better choices. I'm always going to eat pizza at least once a week and drink one can of Coke nearly every day, but I know I have to make better choices elsewhere if I want those treats. I have learned, though, that healthy, body-nourishing food can taste good. And the more I eat it, the more I want it. And I feel better and have more energy. And then I feel more excited about creating the life I want. So let us begin anew!

Here are a few of my favorite recipes you might consider making if you too are looking for healthy, yummy food. Whether you want something fast or something impressive enough for company, you've got options. 

Pan-Seared Salmon with Warm Winter Slaw

Asparagus, Orange and Lentil Salad

Chicken and Butternut Squash Curry

And while I know it's popular to make a long list of resolutions at the beginning of a new year, for me, it's more about recommitting to a lifestyle, which is something I strive to honor on a routine basis. [Special props go out to this person who worked with me in 2013 and taught me how to make this viable.] Having said that, I do make a cooking resolution! This year, I'm going to finally try my hand at homemade gnocchi. But I don't want to make hard, rubbery gnocchi. I want to make pillowy-soft, melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi! So if you have any tips or favorite recipes, please share!

I leave you with one of my favorite quotes, which seems fitting as we set forth on a new year: 
"You are the author of your life's adventure. Weave your tale of wonder and believe in your brave heart." — Brancy Britton
Wishing you all a happy, healthy and wondrous 2014!