An open letter to Heidi Swanson

Dear Heidi,

Not to sound like a culinary stalker or anything, but I worship the ground you cook on. Everything you do inspires me, and I find myself scouring your blog every single day for photos and recipes and other little tidbits of your soul that make me even more envious and in awe of the life you lead. Everything you touch turns to gold. Every dish you create is presented in such a beautiful and elegant fashion that you could make a simple bed of greens look like food fit for a queen. You are vegetarian, you are healthy, but you also have a kick ass recipe for some serious Scharffen Berger brownies. (I’ve still got to carve out a day where I put on my best stretch pants and make a plate of those brownies..see if I share!). You are humble and honest, and share your infinite amount of expertise and wisdom with the rest of us culinary hacks. You write posts about your travels, such as the best places to stay in Rome and Paris and include gorgeous pictures, that further reinforce the fact that I want your life . You have tips for those (like me) who want to learn more about food photography. Your book signings are communal potlucks. You even give instructions on how to build a natural foods pantry. Hell, I’m even jealous of your first name.

Though some could say that I’m not really a loyal fan as it has been 2 weeks since your cookbook “Super natural every day” came out (enough time to get on the NY Times best sellers list!), and I have yet to hold a copy in my hands. But I can promise you that after my next pay day and my finances are a little more secure, I will be purchasing two copies of your book…one for me and one for a very special woman in my life.

You love cooking, travel, photography, natural foods and making books. Guess what? So do I. So won’t you adopt me into your life and tell me how to be you?

With adoration,

J

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Simply Sunday..

After a long day of working in my backyard (raking leaves, clearing debris, pruning trees, planting flowers, wrestling with rosebushes, mending the fence) I feel like my lower back might be broken, and have been left with by far the most awkward tan  sunburn lines in the universe. Lesson learned: do not think that you can spray sunscreen on your back. Because not only do you miss most of the area you thought you were spraying, but now in addition to your bikini top lines, you have splotchy areas of un-pink skin that show where you sprayed (and obviously where you did not). Bygones though. As I was waiting for my laundry to finish drying, I eagerly read through the newest edition of Bon Appetit (the “Italy Issue”) which has left my tastebuds tingling, and my mind filled with grand delusions of packing up my belongings and moving to Italy to find some chef that will take me in and teach me everything.

Anyway, I read this great article about the new and fresh spring flavors which thus inspired me for dinner (which I was not feeling like doing much for). It was a simple recipe for toast topped with smashed avocado, soft scrambled eggs, chives and smoked salmon. Lucky for me, I had all of those ingredients in my refrigerator (except for the chives which I stole from my mom’s garden). It was divine. I had bought some dairy free, yeast free unleavened rye bread which was super thin and actually worked pretty well for this, though if I were truly to indulge, a sourdough baguette would have done the trick. The avocado I had was just about to turn, so it was the perfect softness to smash onto the toast, and the combination of chives, soft fluffy eggs and smoked salmon was simplistic perfection. Served next to a bed of sauteed baby broccoli, it was just what I needed to end a satisfying and gratifying day.

Eat your greens

I’ve always been a veggie head. Anything fresh, green and comes from the dirt and I’m all over it. For christssake I was a vegetarian for 10 years! So I know how cook the healthy green stuff, and I know how to cook it well. Furthermore, I know how to make it taste good…which at the end of the day, is what you want–a win/win situation where you actually nourish your body with healthy nutritious vegetables, but you also are eating something that you want to, not just out of obligation to getting into that swimsuit (did I mention summer is right around the corner? ugh…).

Recently I’ve taken to making hearty vegetable sides, which don’t even deserve the category of a “side dish” because I end up heaping all of it onto my plate and having it as the main course. But they are packed with either protein and delicious goodness (aka bacon) and might just make even the pickiest of eaters start to convert to the green side.

Greens and Beans:

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch of greens (I usually use dino kale or swiss chard depending on what looks good)
  • 1 can large white beans (these are larger than cannelini beans.. sometimes called “butter beans”
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic (one if you have a hot date, two if you live alone like me)
  • zest and juice from 1 small lemon
  • olive oil
  • red pepper flakes
  • grated peccorino or parmesan cheese

Method:

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan. Drain and rinse beans, saute with chopped garlic in olive oil until beans are browned slightly. Be gentle when sauteing the beans as not to smash them (though inevitably a few do). Turn off heat and set aside. Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Add in greens and boil until desired doneness. I usually only leave it in there a couple minutes…I like my veggies al dente. While most people when blanching greens immediately drain and put in an ice bath, I simply skip that last step and put the drained greens straight into the saute pan with the beans. Turn the heat back on, add a little olive oil and the lemon juice and zest, and gently combine all the elements. Add in some red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Serve with grated peccorino sprinkled on top. 

Brussels Sprouts with Carmelized Bacon and Shallots

Ingredients:

  • Brussels sprouts (bottoms cut off and halved)
  • Bacon (depending on how many brussels sprouts you are using… I tend to use 2-3 strips of good, thick bacon)
  • 1 large shallot ( sliced)
  • pinch of brown sugar

Method:

Bring large pot of water to boil. While you wait for the water to boil, heat olive oil in large saute pan. Add shallots and bacon (cut into small pieces) and saute. Add brown sugar halfway through to carmelize the shallots and bacon. When cooked, remove from heat and set aside. Once water is boiled, add the brussels sprouts and cook until desired doneness. Drain. Heat olive oil in sautee pan and brown the cooked brussels sprouts. Add bacon and shallots. Inhale aroma. Attempt to be civilized and put on a plate instead of eating right out of the pan. Impress your friends. Impress yourself. Wonder who ever gave brussels sprouts a bad rep.

MIA

Alright, it’s been awhile. And while I’m sure all my loyal followers have missed me (Hi mom), there hasn’t been too much to report back on. Why? Because for a good solid 2 weeks I lost interest in food. Gasp! I know! I was knocked flat on my ass by the semitruck of all sicknesses: walking pneumonia. I spent a good 4 days laying pathetically on my couch unable to move, while I took inventory of all my worldly possessions and started to formulate a will (Lynda gets dibbs on all my cookware). When I finally got out of the fever delusions and the haze of my daily cocktail of antibiotics, pain meds and antivirals, a week and half had gone by and my appetite was gone. However, I stole indefinitely borrowed my moms blender and started to get crafty with smoothies, and now I’m hooked. I keep it simple– some frozen fruit, a half a banana and unsweetened coconut water, and a ton of kale. I have to admit, I’ve always been weary of anything green that you can drink (besides margaritas of course!) but you honestly can’t even taste the kale in these smoothies! If I had $900 to spend on a blender, (which lets face it, if you do have that kind of money, would you really spend it on a blender?) I’d get a Vitamix, which are incredible for blending even the toughest ingredients into perfection. However, I like to think my blender keeps it real, albeit little chunky, and I am a-ok with that.

I’m still not 100% better yet, and my desire to cook is ever so slowly creeping back in, along with my stamina and my tattered immune system. I’ve been a fan of checking the local farms and roadside stands for fresh, in-season produce when the mood strikes, but I definitely went straight to quick and took a left turn at easy and put way too much money back into my company by purchasing salad bar multiple times a day. Besides being sick, I had my first real quarter life crisis (the other ones were just practice I’m sure), and so when I wasn’t watching re-runs of Ally McBeal with a pint of coconut bliss on my lap, or throwing back glasses of red wine through tears (and laughter) with my girlfriends, I really haven’t had the interest, nor desire to cook. It’s like writers block, but in the kitchen! Weird, because I seemed to not be the only one out there feeling this way. But I can assure you that I am back with vengeance, and have even in my weakest moments of dinner distraught (no food in fridge, no desire to cook), dug deep for inspiration and turned a borderline Miss Lonelyhearts Club dinner (popcorn) into something fabulous (popcorn with truffle butter, grated peccorino, salt and pepper)!

I’ve got quite a few recipes marinating (oh the culinary humor), in my mind and will be heavily experimenting in the kitchen this week, in addition to planning my garden for the backyard, and starting to use my dehydrator again. Onwards and Upwards!

Perfect Poached Eggs

I used to hate breakfast foods. Pancakes were ruined for me by too many slumber parties, I hated the crunching noise of cereal, and yogurt, cottage cheese or anything else texturized, dairy and white was out of the question. Eggs though… were a different story. However, I was afraid of the runny yoke until about 2 years ago when I finally took the plunge and stopped fearing the explosive ooze of yellow yoke consuming all the other foods on my plate. In fact, I embraced it, and I have found eggs to be one of my favorite things now. I’ll make anything into a breakfast meal by adding a couple eggs over easy.

Tonight, I braved poached eggs. Always been a fan, but have never been able to get the right consistency and the form to actually stay together. My dad loved poached eggs.. I can distinctly remember him in the kitchen, showing me how to add vinegar to the water so that the egg whites clung together, as I eagerly watched over his shoulder, and tried to memorize his steps and method. I was still never able to repeat the process. He even went as far as to buy me one of those silly poached egg pans, which has special little compartments for the eggs which leave them in a mold of sorts (always a little strange to me) but I still have that pan and it makes me smile every time I look at it.

Tonight after a long and exhausting workout, I needed some protein,  or perhaps it was that I also needed to use up the 2 dozen eggs that are in my refrigerator as a result of my brain not taking proper inventory  before I went to the market. After a failed attempt at 3 (yes, three) eggs– ( I walked away and got consumed in looking through a stack of papers before I saw the water and egg foam rising up and out of the pot), I finally got the water boiling, the vinegar and salt in the pot, and I was determined to get it right. I gently dropped in the now 4th egg and it smoothly transitioned, dancing about in the hot water. I turned down the water, still at a low boil as to keep the egg moving, and stayed with it this time in order to pull it out at the moment of perfection. I was pleasantly surprised to ladle it out of the water and see it it in perfect form! I laid it over a bed of romaine and raddichio lettuce, and the leftover golden beets, goat cheese and pumpkin seeds from last night. C’est Magnifique!

In my moment of pride over this silly accomplishment, all I could think about was my dad and how the littlest things make you miss those people who are no longer here.  But I’m sure he was watching from above and laughing, which I would expect nothing less from him. 🙂

Pic via Whats Cooking America

The way to this girls heart

Red roses? Cliche. Bacon roses? AMAZING.

Found these on My Last Bite …Surely anyone could win me over with a bouquet of these! 😉

Two Simple Sides

I’m all about simplicity and I love tasting the true flavors of the earth. Enter in kale, mushrooms and beets. Have you ever really stopped to really taste any of these? Not just eat it, but taste it?  You can’t taste the beauty and energy of the earth in a Twinkie or in a packaged meal…This is why I love cooking! Using the local flavors, the produce thats actually in season and even the delight of finding a little dirt still left on, is what makes my heart sing and my tastebuds dance in delight. Enjoy these two sides, which both take less than 30 minutes to make!

Earthy Mushroom, Kale and Asparagus Quinoa:

Ingredients:

2 packages of crimini or baby bella mushrooms, chopped

1 bunch of asparagus, cut into bite size peices

1/2 of a red onion, cut into strips

2 cups of black quinoa (you can use any kind)

4 cups of mushroom broth

1 bunch of kale, ribs removed and cut into ribbons

1 tablespoon of butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Melt butter and olive oil in deep pan and saute onions, mushrooms and asparagus until cooked through. Add salt and pepper

Bring mushroom broth to a boil and add in quinoa.

When quinoa is cooked (the little tails will come out), add in kale ribbons to the extra broth and stir until it is blanched.

Combine the sauteed veggies and quinoa and kale and serve.

Roasted Golden Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Spicy Pumpkin Seeds-

Ingredients:

2-3 large golden beets, sliced

Olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Goat cheese (I used a goat cheese that was dusted with green peppercorns)

Spicy seasoned pumpkin seeds

Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

On a baking sheet, arrange the sliced beets and drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper.

Put beets in oven for 20 minutes (or until cooked through and soft).

Arrange beets on plate, crumble on goat cheese and sprinkle pumpkin seeds on top.

Drizzle on olive oil and balsamic vinegar and serve.

(next time I would serve this on a bed of arugula or frisee.. yum!)