Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Harvest on Hudson

As a child, growing up in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, I was familiar with a steady, yearlong rainy season. Aside from the short summer, maybe two weeks in the beginning of August when the temperature would reach the high 70’s, the seasons were not marked by any discernible landscape change. Moving to the Central Coast of California as a teenager my weather simply improved by an average of 25-30 degrees with still no distinction of actualizing the seasons. Fast forward to now... a change of locale as drastic as West Coast to East Coast, and the New York weather will not disappoint me when it comes to experiencing the seasons.

In an attempt at seeing the leaves changing, a friend and I rented a car and headed up the Hudson. Guided only by our trusty iPhones, we followed the river until our attention was grabbed by an open space just outside the Hudson River Museum. The parking lot lined with a glowing, warm palette of foliage overlooking the water set ablaze by a scorching sunset.

Our excursion continued up the watercourse leading us to the fantastically inviting dining room of Harvest on Hudson, a grandiose space in Mediterranean style that allows for large family gatherings as well as relaxed mingling by the bar. We were in the mood for a little ‘nosh and ‘tail so we laid claim to a comfy settee and began to quiz our wonderfully accommodating server to the details of the menu. Starting with a taste test of a couple of wines featured, my friend and I actually ended up choosing the wine the other had requested. A flavorful 2009 Rosé, Sables d’Azur, (Côtes de Provence, France with a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault) surprised me with an aroma of bubblegum (which anyone close to me will attest I have a nostalgic affection for). Furthering the exploratory theme for the day we sampled and shared from the menu a variety of dishes that tempted us. A simmering offering of Brick Oven Baked Garlic Shrimp, the house made Pork Sausage with Broccoli Rabe and Sweet Peppers, a perfectly pounded "Sashimi Style" Tuna with Lemon, Olive Oil and Sea Salt and a lusciously hearty serving of Risotto with Granny Smith Apple & Frisee flavored with Harvest garden thyme, marjoram and grated parmesan. Every nibble more scrumptious than the last!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

For the Love of Cookbooks

Where do you go to find the perfect recipe? Do you reach for the latest in modern cuisine in a shiny magazine? Or maybe a classic cookbook handed down from your grandmother, filled with notes and recipes that include ingredients rarely seen in the last three decades? How about the easy route? Click over to epicurious, type in an ingredient and just like that, the recipe that will impress even the pickiest of eaters at your table appears. Wherever you choose to do your recipe mining, keep in mind, that recipe in your hand or on your screen is simply a starting point.

A few years ago I was given a copy of
Cooking with Friends in part because I enjoyed cooking, and also since I was one of the millions of devoted fans of Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Chandler, Joey and Ross. I thought “how silly”, recipes inspired by the show and all the preposterous situations the characters found themselves in. Well, that kitsch volume of memorabilia has since led me to some of my favorite go-to recipes beloved by my friends. I admit I may add a few key ingredients that make my versions of the recipes mine, but I am always amused when I reach for that cookbook knowing it was probably never intended to be the culinary resource it has become for me when comfort food is what’s needed. Not to knock the impressive new culinary memoir of Jacques Pépin, Essential Pépin, it has a valuable place in the canon... but you never know where you’ll find your taste inspirations.

Every holiday season I make a tasty variation of Cappuccino Biscotti with Chocolate Chips. I often create batches of Blueberry Muffins (with lemon zest) or Sour Cream Cake with Cinnamon Swirl for my morning treat to go with my coffee. When making a quiche I start with the Spinach Savory Pie tossing in a little of what I’m craving. And when it comes to chili, I HAVE to make the Flirting with Firemen Firehouse Chili to warm me up and fill my place with the smells of simmering tomatoes and spices.

I’ve added a few more fresh ingredients to the original pot and topped it off with a tangy cheddar cheese for added yumminess.

3 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
1 pablano pepper, finely diced (optional)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds of lean ground beef or ground turkey
2 tablespoons Tomato Paste
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
2 cups beef broth or chicken broth (if using ground turkey)
1 Tablespoon chili powder, or to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and well-drained
1 15-ounce can of black beans, rinsed and well-drained
1/2 cup Corn Kernels (from 1 ear, or frozen and thawed)
1/2 cup Cheddar Cheese, grated
2 scallions, sliced

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, and onions, cook for about 6 minutes then toss in the pablano pepper and garlic cooking for another 2 minutes.

Add the ground beef or turkey and cook, breaking it up with a spoon, until it is no longer pink.

Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until it is slightly darkened but careful not to burn. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and broth, chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper.

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer gently until the liquid thickens and flavors are blended-about 2 hours.

Stir in the beans and corn, continue to simmer until the beans are heated through. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

To serve, ladle into warm soup bowls topping with grated cheese and sliced scallions.

This chili is particularly cozy when spooned over an earthy wild rice accompanied by warm, sweet corn bread.

Make Ahead: You can cook the chili in advance and refrigerate it for up to 3 days or freeze it for up to 3 months.