Sunday, August 31, 2008

the sky is falling

Apparently it's raining apples.

And really, I'm terribly excited about this. I'm ready for Fall. I wasn't sure at first since this summer has been unseasonably cool and just gorgeous, but the apples are here. And you can't argue with them. They smell like autumn. Their colors mimic the turning leaves: green, gold, pink, and red. The crack of the first bite is as eye-opening as that first cold morning after a long, sticky summer. So when I'm given a shopping bag full of rosy, sweet, free, orchard apples I know that cool weather, and hot tea is just around the corner and that sometimes the best accompaniment to a brisk day and a hot cup of tea is a sweet and flaky piece of warm apple strudel...

Simple Apple Strudel with Cardamom


12 sheets of Phyllo dough, thawed overnight in its packaging in the refrigerator

(When working with Phyllo dough, I thaw the entire package - any leftover dough can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and placed back in the freezer for later use)
1/2 stick plus 2 Tb. butter, melted (more, if needed)
1 1/2 Lbs. apples (approximately 6 medium), peeled, cored, quartered, and sliced*
1/3 cup plus 2 Tb. granulated sugar
1 Tb. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom (grind whole green cardamom pods in a spice or coffee grinder for the best flavor)
pinch of salt
whole green cardamom pods

freshly ground cardamom
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine apples, 1/3 cup of sugar, cornstarch, cardamom, and salt in a large bowl, cover with a towel and set aside.

On a clean work surface, place one sheet of the thawed Phyllo dough. Cover the remaining sheets with a clean, damp cloth. Lightly brush the single sheet with a bit of the melted butter and layer on another sheet of dough. Lightly brush the second sheet with a bit of the melted butter. Continue to layer the sheets of dough, brushing each layer with butter before adding the next until you have used all 12 sheets (don't butter the final sheet). Gently spoon the apple mixture into the center of the layered dough, leaving a border of 2 1/2 - 3 inches on each side and a border of 4 1/2 - 5 inches on the top and bottom:

Carefully fold each side in over the apple mixture, then bring up the bottom edge to cover. Brush the top of the folded bottom edge with some of the remaining butter and fold the top edge over the bottom to cover the apple filling completely. Press together gently. Place strudel seam-side down on a silpat (or parchment) lined baking sheet. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter, sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, and make 3 slits in the top. Bake strudel for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until top is golden.

Remove pastry to a wire rack to cool, slightly. Serve warm with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, if desired.
*Any type of firm-fleshed apple is suitable here. I used a fairly sweet variety, but a tart variety is always a good choice for baking. Depending on the sweetness of your apples, you may want to add more or use less sugar.

Friday, August 22, 2008

the omnivore's hundred

Because I'm a sucker for these things...

This is a little game offered by Andrew of Here's how to play:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at linking to your results.

(Forgive me - I have no idea how to electronically 'cross things out'...)

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison (not my cup of tea, I probably will never try this)
2. Nettle tea (why I've never tried this I just don't know - I'm sure I'll encounter it one day)
3. Huevos rancheros (in the past, when I used to eat eggs for breakfast I often made them with cheese and salsa - does that count?)
4. Steak tartare (raw beef? or worse yet, horse meat? again, not my cup of tea)
5. Crocodile (alligator I've eaten several times, remarkably, it tastes like chicken...)
6. Black pudding (not too excited about that one either)
7. Cheese fondue (cheese and wine = yummy)
8. Carp (I'm relatively sure I've had carp, but apparently it wasn't memorable)
9. Borscht (I know there must be better versions than the last borscht I made - I'll keep looking... Roasted beets, though, I find delicious)
10. Baba ghanoush (a very nice way to eat eggplant)
11. Calamari (when not over-cooked, I like it very much)
12. Pho (I've had several types - I adore soups, however, I'm not so adventurous with the variety of cuts of meat, marrow, and tendon - I often stick with chicken)
13. PB&J sandwich (well, of course. in fact, I still eat them on occasion, though now my jams and jellies are a bit nicer and my peanut butter is less sugary)
14. Aloo gobi (a favorite)
15. Hot dog from a street cart (when in New York...)
16. Epoisses (new to me - have not tried this one)
17. Black truffle (I've had tiny amounts of white truffles and truffle oil, but I don't think I've come across black truffle just yet)
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes (oh, goodness! most recently it was blackberry - a house-warming gift. it made a nice spritzer with a bit of seltzer (champagne would have been nicer, though))
19. Steamed pork buns (I don't eat much pork, but I have tried these - they looked too good to pass up)
20. Pistachio ice cream (I can't believe I didn't try this sooner! It's a new favorite, though I prefer the gelato over the ice cream)
21. Heirloom tomatoes (I'm currently inundated with these beauties. there's nothing like a real, ripe tomato)
22. Fresh wild berries (I'm lucky enough to have wild raspberries, blackberries and mulberries on my property - they're wonderful (and free!); as a child on vacation in Maine I used to pick wild blueberries to have with breakfast - I miss those...)
23. Foie gras (not for me)
24. Rice and beans (in sooooooo many variations! this is a truly satisfying combination)
25. Brawn, or head cheese (again, not for me)
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper (hot! but a necessity when making jerk)
27. Dulce de leche (heavenly!)
28. Oysters (not my favorite)
29. Baklava (classic - honey, nuts and butter - mmmmmmmmm.)
30. Bagna cauda (if it comes my way - I'll eat it)
31. Wasabi peas (I've had these, but I prefer wasabi edamame)
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl (not a fan of clams, but soup in a sourdough bread bowl is a mighty good meal)
33. Salted lassi (mango lassis are an old favorite - I prefer sweet to salty here)
34. Sauerkraut (of course! though it took me years to learn to love it - fresh and homemade is the way to go for me)
35. Root beer float (still a nice treat)
36. Cognac with a fat cigar (that's quite sexy - I'd do it)
37. Clotted cream tea (tea is dear to me; pastries also...)
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O (jello-shooters we call them... if you've never had one, don't worry, I've had enough for us both...)
39. Gumbo (recipe coming soon to figsandtwigs... possibly. nothing brings back memories of New Orleans in the same way)
40. Oxtail (eh, not too excited to try that)
41. Curried goat (I've heard it's wonderful, but I'm not a fan of goat)
42. Whole insects (well, I'm not rushing out to buy a bag...)
43. Phaal (sounds scary - I've never seen it on a menu around these parts... I'd take a taste, though)
44. Goat’s milk (I don't drink much milk (I prefer soy, most times), but I did make a very nice ice cream with goat's milk a while back - supposedly easier to digest - goat's milk)
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more (I have a taste for whisky - though I prefer whiskey (bourbon)...)
46. Fugu (I don't trust my luck with this one)
47. Chicken tikka masala (mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm...)
48. Eel (on sushi - I don't like eel. I decided.)
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut (I don't understand all the fuss; I've had much better...)
50. Sea urchin (I don't wanna - you can't make me...)
51. Prickly pear (I brought back cactus candy from Las Vegas - it was prickly pear flavor - yummy. I think I've also had a prickly pear margarita - do those count?)
52. Umeboshi (I'll try it if I come across it)
53. Abalone (maybe, one day)
54. Paneer (I need to try to make this again - the first time it didn't work; delicious dish, though)
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (I've had my fair share (more, probably - it's hard to avoid, sometimes) but never the Big Mac)
56. Spaetzle (homemade is the best)
57. Dirty gin martini (I like my olives black and my martinis 'clean' (?) - just some gin and a tiny bit of vermouth - actually, I prefer bourbon - didn't we cover that???)
58. Beer above 8% ABV (those crafty Belgians...)
59. Poutine (that doesn't look appealing)
60. Carob chips (uh, yes - I don't recommend them)
61. S’mores (last year's round of backyard happy hours all ended with s'mores made over the coals on the grill - why? they sure were good though...)
62. Sweetbreads (I can't see them in my future)
63. Kaolin (I probably ate a lot of dirt as a child - does that count?)
64. Currywurst (nope - never tried it)
65. Durian (hmm... maybe if I hold my nose, I could manage a taste?)
66. Frogs’ legs (what do they do with the rest of the frog?)
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake (all of them, beignets and elephant ears are especially seductive to me)
68. Haggis (nope and I have no plans to try it - when I was in Scotland I saw canned haggis in a tourist shop - good grief!)
69. Fried plantain (goes quite nicely with the aforementioned beans and rice - Cuban style)
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette (I don't think I'd eat the chitterlings, and I'm not sure what andouillette is, but I have had andouille - thank you New Orleans)
71. Gazpacho (it's cold soup - I need mine hot)
72. Caviar and blini (blini - yes, caviar - no; how about those beluga lentils??? yum.)
73. Louche absinthe (tasty and very, very strong)
74. Gjetost, or brunost (have not come across this one)
75. Roadkill (why?!?! we make jokes here all the time, but really - why?!?!)
76. Baijiu (I'll be looking for this)
77. Hostess Fruit Pie (a few...)
78. Snail (I've tried the broth, but couldn't convince myself to actually eat one of the critters)
79. Lapsang souchong (I want to love this tea, but it's just soooooo smokey)
80. Bellini (yes, please - another round!)
81. Tom yum (thank's Tom - your soup is really good...)
82. Eggs Benedict (not for me)
83. Pocky (I remember this)
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant. (not yet - if given the opportunity - of course!)
85. Kobe beef (no, I might take a tiny taste if offered)
86. Hare (same as rabbit? not my favorite)
87. Goulash (well, my relatives are Hungarian... ask me about my paprikosh...)
88. Flowers (nasturtiums, marigolds, lavender, jasmine, rose, hibiscus, chrysanthemum... I grow them and add them to salads)
89. Horse (never. ever.)
90. Criollo chocolate (if it's chocolate, I'll take two)
91. Spam (I regret this)
92. Soft shell crab (I was born in Maryland, but I still can't eat a crab with its shell, but pass the Old Bay, please)
93. Rose harissa (I'm dying to try this)
94. Catfish (many times - a southern staple; fried in cornmeal and served with okra - alllllllllllright)
95. Mole poblano (it's becoming more and more common here)
96. Bagel and lox (I love a good bagel - no lox, please)
97. Lobster Thermidor (is there really any reason to eat a lobster any other way than steamed with drawn butter??? I ask you. Really. Sheesh.)
98. Polenta (I love polenta! and grits (with cheese)...)
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee (wasted on me, I'm sure, as I'm no coffee connoisseur)
100. Snake (it's surprisingly good...and...tastes like chicken...)

Monday, August 18, 2008

spicy. sweet. sour.

I may never master living 'in the moment.' I can hardly bear to be idle. My hands must always be at work, making, preparing, fixing, creating something - anything - that will prove useful in the future or that will serve as a memento of the past. One eye on the horizon and one on the sunset, I suppose. While I admire those who can find balance between the two, I know my mind prefers to wander, waver, speculate, and reminisce, constantly preparing to make perfect memories. And I have, much to my delight, created a vast trove of such memories - each growing more golden with time.

One occasion that has become such a giddy recollection is that of one friend's September birthday several years ago. I remember, with a smile, our night of Salsa dancing and bar hopping in Morgantown (I remember, with a headache, the next morning...). I remember, also, our 'welcome' dinner on her front porch, girls gathered around, laughing in the twilight, drinking West Virginia wine and eating such a feast of eggplant, tofu and hot and sour soup made lovingly by the birthday girl herself.

Jenny C. - I'll see you soon!

Szechuan Eggplant and Tofu with Brown Rice* *adapted from Mollie Katzen’s ‘Szechwan Eggplant & Tofu’ from The New Moosewood Cookbook

For the rice:

2 Cups water
1 Cup long-grain brown rice

Bring the water to a boil. Add the rice, cover and reduce heat to the lowest setting. Cook for 45 minutes.

While rice cooks, prepare the eggplant and tofu.


2 Tbs. peanut or grape seed oil
1 medium red onion, trimmed, peeled and sliced thinly
2 small eggplants, trimmed and sliced into 1 1/2 to 2-inch strips
3/4 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. garlic, minced
2 tsp. ground red cherry peppers
1 – 16oz. package of extra firm tofu, drained, patted dry, and cut into 1 1/2 to 2-inch strips
Chopped scallions (optional)

For the sauce:

1/4 C. Sherry
3 Tbs. Tamari sauce
1 Tbs. cider vinegar
1 Tbs. brown sugar
3 Tbs. cornstarch

Make the sauce:

In a liquid measuring cup combine the Sherry, Tamari, vinegar, and sugar. Add enough water to equal 1 cup. In a separate small bowl, measure the cornstarch. Pour the liquids over the cornstarch and whisk to combine. Set aside, keeping the whisk handy.

Begin the stir-fry:

Heat a large wok or skillet over high heat. Add the oil and when hot, add the onion. Cook, stirring, for 1 – 2 minutes. Add the eggplant and salt and continue to stir-fry for another 8-10 minutes, or until eggplant softens. Add the garlic and ground red cherry peppers and cook 30 seconds. Add the tofu. Give the sauce a quick whisk to re-incorporate and add to the eggplant and tofu mixture. Continue cooking until the sauce begins to bubble and thickens – just a minute or two more (more water may be added for a thinner consistency). Remove from heat, scatter with scallions (if using) and serve with brown rice.

For maximum enjoyment, eat while sitting outside, laughing with friends, and drinking plenty of a light and cool summer wine.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

the herbs

In all the years I never had the space for a proper garden, I always managed to have a sweet little herb bed to cultivate and nurture along - well, inasmuch as one can nurture an herb bed... They require little to no support whatsoever - just some sun and a few kind words (lucky for me!). So, this spring when I found myself in a new home with scads of earth to fill, one of the first things I undertook was the herb bed:

I'm so, so happy I did.

Now we're in the height of summer (fading oh, so quickly) and it's time to save what I can from this verdant and intoxicatingly fragrant plot of earth.
So, today I have two recipes for making the most of a variety of herbs.

First, the butters:
Chive-Parsley and Rosemary-Tarragon Butters

Really, just about any herb works well here - variations abound*


For the Chive-Parsley Butter:

1 stick butter (salted or unsalted - your preference), softened
1 small bunch fresh chives, chopped
1 large handful fresh parsley, coarsely chopped

For the Rosemary-Tarragon Butter:

1 stick butter (salted or unsalted - your preference), softened
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves stripped from stems
1 very large sprig fresh tarragon, leaves stripped from stems

For each butter, combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse to combine; continue to run machine until herbs are finely chopped and incorporated into the butter (cleaning the machine before making a butter using different herbs).

At this point, the butter may be used immediately, refrigerated or frozen for future use: using a rubber spatula, remove the herbed butter and place on a piece of waxed (or parchment) paper, using the paper, roll the softened butter into a small log, wrap tightly and freeze or refrigerate (if you're lucky enough to own a decorative butter mold, I think that would make a very nice presentation). I've been freezing mine to use in the winter when a bit of butter is a warming addition to hot-from-the-oven bread and just the ticket for rubbing under the skin of a chicken to be roasted.

*I also often mix thyme or lemon thyme in with a bit of butter for roasting chicken. These butters are also very nice additions to steamed or sauteed vegetables, corn on the cob, roasted potatoes, etc. I think it would be interesting to try making a lavender butter to use in a shortbread or oatmeal cookie recipe, too - maybe I'll try that one next... Of course, then there's cinnamon and honey butter...

Then, there's the basil...

Basic Pesto

I know pesto is about as common as salsa these days, but it's still a good pantry staple in my household - I make a batch or two each summer and then freeze them to be added a chunk at a time to minestrone's and other soups for a bit of summer in the depths of winter. Also, this recipe is quite adaptable to variations.


1/4 Cup pine nuts, toasted
3 Cups packed fresh basil leaves
1/4 Cup grated Parmesan cheese
3-4 cloves of garlic
1/4 Cup good olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Add the pine nuts, basil, cheese and garlic to the bowl of a food processor. Start the machine and when the contents have just started to come together, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream through the feed. If a looser consistency is desired, more olive oil may be added. When incorporated, turn off the machine and season with salt and pepper (sometimes a pinch or two of red pepper flakes is a nice addition too). At this point I transfer the pesto to a freezer-safe container, layer a piece of plastic-wrap over the surface, put the lid on, and freeze it for future use. This year, I decided to try putting the pesto into ice cube trays and then transferring the cubes to a zip-lock bag for freezing - we'll see if this really is more convenient...
Of course, it is always tempting to eat it straight out of the bowl on a cracker...

Sunday, August 3, 2008


Sometimes you don't even need a recipe.
Heirloom Tomatoes with Asiago Fresco on Toasted Semolina Bread