Sunday, September 24, 2006

Mastering the Art of Grilling Zucchini

To somewhat play off of Julia Child, I believe I have "mastered the art" of grilling zucchini. Although the concept of grilling zucchini, or any other good grilling vegetable for that matter (squash, eggplant, peppers, etc…) seems perhaps simple, finding the perfect blend of seasonings takes a bit of practice. But, as the old adage goes, practice makes perfect, or for purposes of this blog, mastery.

As you all know, I live in New York City and although I sell the dilapidated fire escape outside my living room window as "outdoor space," I don't have functional outdoor space for grilling. In fact, I don't even have a grill. So, go ahead, judge me; how can I master grilling zucchini without a barbeque…but fear not, the grilling pan is a decent substitute.

Here is the technique – or rite to mastery if you prefer. I begin this culinary journey by taking zucchinis and cutting them in half lengthwise. I assemble my halved zucchinis on a plate and drizzle them with extra-virgin olive oil. I season the zucchinis with sea salt, black pepper, garlic powder and a heavy dose of paprika. As I season my zucchinis, my grill pan is heating so when I am ready to grill, so is my pan.

The grilling process is relatively quick. I grill the zucchinis for about 6 minutes a side. If you prefer your zucchinis well-grilled, maybe grill the zucchinis for about 8-10 minutes a side. I, however, take my zucchinis on the al dente side, so 6 minutes a side does the trick! After 12 minutes of good grilling, plate and serve the zucchinis.

So that is it. Even though it is quite simple, I struggled with finding the right seasonings for a while. In my early days of zucchini grilling, I limited my spices to just salt and pepper. Admittedly, I enjoyed the crunch of a coarse sea salt, but I found the combination to be a bit boring. I then began to add basil (fresh or dried) and found that it didn't do much for the flavor. Finally, I discovered paprika – a spice that rarely gets lifted out of my spice cabinet, but is so ambiguously versatile. The paprika adds a sweet smokiness to the zucchini, which at first might be a bit mysterious to any palate that is paprika-challenged. But, upon discovery, it quickly turns any novice zucchini griller into a master zucchini griller.

From one zucchini grill master to a soon-to-be-another, marry the grilled zucchini with a parmesan encrusted grilled chicken breast and a dry white and you have yourself quite a dinner.

Until next time…

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Culinary Calm

I have been feeling like I have been in a bit of a cooking lull lately. My last few meals have been awful, I have been ordering take-out more, and my dietary habits are just abysmal. Over the last several weeks, I have developed the most unhealthy obsession with Baked Cheetos – not a proper snack whatsoever! Admittedly, the marketing is by far the most appealing aspect of the snack (Baked, not fried in a vat of nuclear waste), but why my sudden disinterest in good, tasty, and healthy food? Why the culinary calm?

To illustrate this hiatus, or perhaps minor inattentiveness, about a week ago, I decided to make a pasta dish using some aging red peppers I had in my fridge. Surprisingly, unlike cheese or wine, red peppers do not get better with age… But, committed to using them, rather than wasting them, I found a pasta recipe that called for red peppers, Fontina cheese, an assortment of wild mushrooms (porcini, oyster and cremini mushrooms) and marjoram. As an aside, oyster mushrooms are by far one of the most disgusting fungi I have ever eaten. With a taste that resembles something between sour milk and an old sink sponge, I am just not sure what role oyster mushrooms play on the food stage, or, in the very least, this pasta dish.

Anyway, so after assembling all the ingredients, including the wheelbarrow size portion of Fontina cheese, a dash too much of marjoram and the nasty oyster mushrooms (all the while thinking that there was nothing wrong with this combination), George and I sat down for what could have been our last supper. And with this Biblical reference, I only mean that we prayed we would survive the dining experience. This pasta dish was awful, my cooking was awful and the smell in the apartment was awful.

Since this experience, along with a few other unremarkable dinners, I have been a little kitchen shy. In the last few weeks I have resorted to Baked Cheetos, processed food and a bad attitude. Believing that a good diet is directly related to a good attitude (certainly medication helps too); I need to immediately reverse this culinary lull because I fear that I am falling into a bit of a gastro-depression. As an intervention is desperately needed, and knowing that only I can perform such an intervention, I am pledging that as of today, I am on the Baked Cheetos wagon and back off the (attentive) cooking wagon. Let's also hope that this little culinary hiatus was just the calm before the storm of great cooking to come!

Until next time…

Baby Steps

Due to my recent, quite moderate, successes in the kitchen, a dream has begun to percolate that I could make money creating decorated cookie designs. In my dreams, my creations look like this, but -- of course -- better:

In reality, so far I have this: close, and yet NOT so close

Monday, September 18, 2006

Vietnamese Sandwich in LES

If you want to be transported to a state of sandwich nirvana, visit Nicky's Vietnamese Sandwich Shop on 2nd St between Avenue A and B. Very small, not so pretty, but they make a mean sandwich with incredibly fresh ingredients. We tried the "classic" and the portabello. Both were on good quality, crispy french bread with pickled carrots and cucumber. The "classic" sandwich added to this a shmear of pate, ham, and cilantro. The vegetarian friendly portabello version added marinated and grilled portabello. I've already started trying to concoct a route that would get me there and back in time for my lunch hour...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Real Vermont food

Here's my first blog, about food from my weekend in Vermont. No, this is not The Tomato That Cost $4.50! :) ...These tomatoes, and beans, were picked from the overgrown-yet-still-producing garden. (The pie in the background was hand picked at a local bakery.)

....A totally free tomato, what a concept. And it was definitely organic. No pesticides were used to produce this tomato; in fact, it appeared as if nothing whatsoever was done to that garden and this tomato still grew. The whole garden in fact was quite "organic"( i.e. full of bugs).

Speaking of organic, anything you want to buy in Vermont can be had organic. Beer? Check. Coffee? Check.

We picked up the corn at the farmers market -- it was so sweet and juicy. And I love cooking corn on the "barbie" right in its own husk. Sooo yummy!

This is entertainment at the farmers market. They may in fact be the farmers.

My dad is using a starter to get the barbie going -- placed carefully and expertly RIGHT next to the all-wood house. Please note that if the can were to be blown or knocked over and the wood paneling of the house were not sufficient to instantly catch on fire, conveniently located directly below the can is a winter's worth of wood.

Cheers to real food!

P.S. If anyone would like to rent a gorgeous house in Vermont with its own name ("Windsong")(always a plus!), here it is http://

Summer Italian Feast

We had our latest meeting on a beautiful evening in Brooklyn Heights. With fresh tomatoes in abundance in September, what better way to use them up than with an Italian meal?

The host made some crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside risotto cakes.

Kendra made an attempt (successfully) with focaccia, drizzled with honey and blue cheese. She also made up for skipping our last meeting and therefore depriving us of chocolate by whipping up a chocolate ricotta pie with pine nuts and crumb crust.

Larisa brought some manicotti crepes, topped with marinara. The crepes were a perfect casing for the creamy ricotto and herbs within.

Our newbie, Brittany, supplied the group with an Italian staple - pasta with clean and fresh tasting marinara.

I baked some eggplant parmesan, thinking a little eggplant would offset the cheese and chocolate… and wine. I’ll justify our indulgence by saying that yes, yes it did.

After our fabulous meal and many important discussions, we adjourned for a quick glimpse of Andrea’s view of lower Manhattan from the promenade. Being September 11, we had an unusual scene of 2 bright lights in place of the fallen twin towers.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Proper Snack

The question of what is a proper snack has recently arisen. On my way home from work the other day, I started complaining to a friend that I was completely famished and that I couldn’t wait until dinner. My friend, who also happens to be a co-worker and coincidently a neighbor, mentioned that she had a snack-size bag of pretzels around 4pm, but she didn’t consider it to be a proper snack.

As I tend to dwell on the words people choose to describe things, I found myself deep in thought over what is a proper snack. The work “proper” threw me for a loop. Generally, I consider snacks to be either good, healthy, perhaps satisfying, but never proper. A proper snack, however, suggests something that is appropriate or suitable, or even fitting, lending a proper snack to be associated with time and substance. I enjoy snacking, and generally do so to satisfy an immediate hunger or boredom, but when presented with determining what I would consider a proper snack, I found myself a bit overwhelmed.

To alleviate this onset of improper stress, I polled a few friends and family members to get their ideas on what is considered to be their proper snacks. The results, which I found quite revealing, reflected a general understanding and appreciation for a proper snack, rather than just a short-term hunger fix. Here are the results.

Brittany: “My most appropriate snack is French bread dipped in really good olive oil…with some salt added, preferably snacked on while making dinner.”
Kristina: “McVities Hob Nobs”
Josh: “I like warm soppresetta slices with pieces of aged Romano and some crusty Italian bread.”
Dave: “Cayenne flavored pistachio nuts”
Andrew: “I find that a well-timed Green Tea suppresses hunger for a few hours until you are able to eat a ‘proper’ meal. When hungry, one should always ask themselves, ‘where would I be without my physical beauty?’ In most cases, the answer is not as appealing as the snack you are considering.”

I guess my point in this is that my friends value a proper snack. Sure we all graze and munch because we can, but if we were to carefully choose a proper snack, we would do so wisely and competently. My father’s response further solidified this perhaps innate, or more selective, characteristic we all seem to have. His response was, “I was going to choose a carrot with a slice of cheddar cheese, but then I thought, no, wait, think on this.” So did I throw people off by the term “proper,” or do we all associate a proper snack with the most perfect snack?

For me, after much polling and deliberation, I can safely say that my most proper snack is a thin rice cracker with a soft cheese, probably St. Andre, around 5:30pm before I begin to make dinner. But, to put this all in some perspective, I wouldn’t pass up a 6-foot party hoagie at 2pm if it were given to me!

Until next time…

Friday, September 01, 2006

Sausage, Peppers and Onions, Oh My!

The idea of a sausage and pepper sandwich was completely foreign to me until 2003. I had to have heard about this sandwich before then, especially since I grew up on Long Island where there is a deli on every corner, but I really don't remember ever having a run-in with a sausage and pepper sandwich until 2003. Is it an Italian sandwich, or the New York version of a Jersey Shore hoagie, or did I just grow up in a sandwich deprived household? Probably the latter, but I will mention that my father is a cheese-steak hoagie, "walk-the-boards" type of a guy.

Anyway, in 2003, while living in Albany, my good friend Maureen introduced me to the sausage and pepper sandwich. I remember the day she asked me to join her and her family for a sausage and pepper sandwich dinner. My first thought was, "oh, how plebeian," but in the interest of maintaining my friendship with Maureen and also maintaining my curiosity for all food, I agreed to join her for dinner. So, in 2003, I had my first sausage and pepper sandwich and quickly developed a deep love for the wonderful delicacy. I say delicacy, because there is nothing plebeian or street-fairish about this sandwich. It is truly a sophisticated sandwich.

I have been "on vacation" this week and have had a lot of time for the truly important things in life, i.e., cooking and eating. As Maureen has been on my mind a lot lately, I decided to make sausage and pepper sandwiches. The task presented itself as a daunting one, and I won't lie, I was a nervous wreck making them. If I were eating alone, I would be fearless , but because my dining partner, a.k.a. my boyfriend, has caste this Hester Prynnish, stigmatizing "sandwich-virgin" label on me, and it will take a light in the sky in the shape of a sandwich to erase this label, I knew that I had to succeed with this dish. Yes, my boyfriend is a sandwich guy. I know this because when I met him, he considered it a selling point that he had a deli-slicer in his kitchen. So, needless to say, I felt the pressure to make a good sausage and pepper sandwich as he is quick to judge any sandwich that comes across his plate.

I began this sandwich making adventure by slicing a Vidalia onion, mincing a few cloves of garlic, slicing some green peppers and sautéing them in a little olive oil. Maureen's recipe also calls for about a cup of red wine, cooked until it is reduced, and a can of tomato sauce. The whole mixture is seasoned with salt, pepper and oregano.

Well, of course, I didn't have the oregano so I decided to substitute it with basil. Poor choice. My red wine reduced too much, my tomato sauce tasted like ketchup and for some reason, my pepper and onion mixture didn't have that sauciness I wanted. Maureen's sausage and pepper sandwiches are juicy and the bread soaks up all that wonderful sauce so nicely. My sandwiches were dry, too basiley and dreadfully boring. George didn't say anything, but I knew that while he was eating he was recasting that ever-stigmatizing judgment that reeked of "damn your Northern European background." Well, it's true, I don't know sandwiches. But, once again, in the interest of maintaining my curiosity for all food, I plan on taking a sausage and pepper sandwich lesson from Maureen!