I was born and raised in Kansas and learned to cook alongside my mother. Now, along with my wonderful husband, I have taken the plunge into the city life in New York. These are my food adventures: in my own tiny kitchen, and in the many restaurants of the city.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ceviche on the Beach

Last month Joe and I took a trip to Yelapa, Mexico for my best friend's wedding. Yelapa is at the southern end of Banderas Bay, a boatride away from Puerto Vallarta. And it is one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

Yelapa is a small town. There are no regular roads because there are no cars (you have to take a boat to get there). There are, however, mules, horses and a few four-wheelers. There's also incredibly friendly people and seriously some of the best food I've had in a long time. I'm especially fond of Tacos y Mas (even though the Mas is pretty darn good, eat the tacos. Never had any better. Oh, and the margaritas are huge and fabulous.) and El Manguito, which is a bit of a trek from the center of town but completely worth it. At one meal here we had venison that was hunted that morning out in the surrounding jungle. The local "moonshine" called racilla is strong, but smoky and great when sipped alongside some uber-fresh guacamole and seafood. And for dessert (or breakfast...) find The Pie Lady walking up and down the beach selling slices of pie from tuperware on top of her head. I'm especially partial to the coconut.

If you want to go to Mexico and lay on the beach but also experience some true culture and Mexican life, stay away from Puerto Vallarta and its all-inclusive resorts and head instead to Yelapa. My friend even has some beautiful rooms you can rent :) : MiraMar Condos.  I know I can't wait to go back.

One of the highlights of the trip was our trip out to Marietta Islands. These islands are not inhabited by humans and are a wildlife sanctuary where you can see the Blue Footed Booby, crabs, eels (ew.) and more. After the hour long boat ride there (along with whale sightings) we pulled up onto the beach and swam, relaxed and played in the sand as our guides prepared an incredibly fresh ceviche. It was crisp with cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, peppers and tuna. One of the guides had gone out that morning and caught the fish they were using. It was delicious, and you can't really get a better setting for eating ceviche and guac than a gorgeous beach filled with only your friends.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Whole Roasted Branzino

I always have had a fear of cooking seafood. I don't really know why. Maybe growing up so far from the ocean and never having it fresh made it seem difficult and scary. But it is seriously one of the easiest things to do, it looks impressive when you do it, and it is hard to make it taste bad unless you overcook it.
I had it in my head that I was ready to cook a whole fish. I got out of bed early one morning after a late night at work and walked to the greenmarket in temps that felt around 0 degrees to pick something up from the regular fishmonger. Who wasn't there. I was sad (and freezing) but still determined to cook a whole fish so decided this time around I'd go to a local market that carries really fresh, nice looking seafood and give it a go. They had a beautiful branzino (sea bass) that was just over 1 pound, perfect for a nice entree for Joe and I. I took it home and within half an hour had the dish ready to go. Simple and fast. And yummy. I can't wait for the fishmonger to come back to the market so I can try this again, maybe with some different stuffings and different fish.

Whole Roasted Branzino
2 servings
3 TB olive oil, divided
1 1-1 1/2 lb. whole branzino, cleaned and scaled
fresh ground pepper
3-4 thin slices of lemon
3 sprigs rosemary
3 sprigs thyme
3 cloves garlic, lightly crushed

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Heat a large skillet over high heat with 1 TB of the olive oil. Prepare a sheet pan by topping with a sheet of parchment paper. Rub the branzino all over, inside and out, with the remaining olive oil. Then sprinkle generously inside and out with salt and pepper. Stuff the inside of the branzino with the lemon, rosemary, thyme and garlic cloves.
Once the skillet is hot but the oil is not quite smoking, sear the branzino on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Carefully transfer the fish to the prepared sheet pan and place in the preheated oven. Roast until the fish is cooked through and the flesh is flaky, about 10 minutes. Fillet the fish and serve half to each person, or serve the fish whole at the table and pick it apart together.

Optional: Serve lemon wedges alongside to squeeze over top of the finished fish. Or drizzle the fish fillets with high quality extra virgin olive oil.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tomato Soup and Gruyere Grilled Cheese

It is a-snowin' out there. Even though it is coming down fairly hard we have been pretty lucky here in Brooklyn and haven't been hit as bad as many other places along the East Coast lately. Regardless, I still just want to curl up inside the apartment with comforting, warming food. Of which I believe the ultimate is creamy tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.

The great thing about this tomato soup recipe is that it uses many things that you probably keep on hand in your pantry/fridge. Which means no unnecessary trips out int the blustery weather for extra ingredients. It is also very easy to substitute or change around the ingredients depending on what you have. As for the grilled cheese, it isn't anything complicated but it is made special with cave aged gruyere (which has a wonderful deep flavor that holds up well to the tomato soup) and crusty, but soft, Pugliese bread. The loaf I bought (from Bklyn Larder, my new favorite specialty food store in my neighborhood) was baked at Grandaisy Bakery. They make damn fine bread, maybe some of my favorite I've had in the city. And this particular loaf becomes perfectly crunchy and flavorful when cooked in a good quantity of butter in a skillet.

As the snow continues to fall whip up a batch of this soup and sandwiches, curl up on the couch with some good wine and good company, and stay warm!

Tomato Soup
5 servings
1 carrot
2 stalks celery
1/2 onion
3 cloves garlic
2 t. fresh thyme
3 TB olive oil
1 can (28oz.) San Marzano tomatoes
1 can (14.5 oz) vegetable stock
1 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
3 TB butter
1/4 c. cream

Finely chop the carrots, celery, onion and garlic into uniform pieces. Coarsely chop the thyme. In a dutch oven or soup pot heat the olive oil over medium heat. Once hot add the carrots, celery, onion, garlic and thyme to the pan. Turn down the heat to medium-low and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the can of tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook for another 10-15 minutes. Stir in the vegetable broth, cook for another 5 minutes, and then remove the pot from heat. Use an immersion blender to puree all of the tomatoes and vegetables. Once the soup is smooth, return to the stovetop over medium-low heat. Stir in salt and pepper, butter and cream. Taste to check seasoning and adjust as necessary. Serve once soup is heated through.

Gruyere Grilled Cheese
4 sandwiches
1/3 lb. cave-aged gruyere cheese
8 slices (3/4" thick) of Pugliese Bread or country bread
4 TB butter

Grate the gruyere cheese. Divide the cheese onto 4 slices of the bread and top with remaining 4 slices. Heat a large skillet over medium heat with 2 TB of butter. Once the butter has melted place the sandwiches on the skillet and cook until toasted on one side, about 3-4 minutes. Remove the sandwiches to a plate. Add the remaining 2 TB butter to the skillet and allow to melt. Return the sandwiches to the skillet, non-toasted sides down. Toast this side of the sandwich, again about 3-4 minutes. Remove from the skillet and serve immediately.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Tried and True

As much as I enjoy creating my own recipes or only using others' recipes as jumping-off points when I cook sometimes there is nothing so nice as having a recipe that is already there in front of you to use. Especially one you know works. It takes away any guesswork and any stress that may come from off-the-cuff cooking. I want to share a few recipes that I have found around the web lately that I love and will be returning to again and again.

From Serious Eats: Quick Poached Asian Pears

From Baked Perfection: S'more Cookie Bars

From Vanilla Sugar (and maybe one of my favorite things I've eaten this winter): Mushroom Bisque with Crispy Shallots

From Saveur: Sauteed Ramps and Bacon

From Jaime Oliver via The Kitchn: Milk Braised Chicken

From Furey and the Feast (seriously, wow): Gorgonzola and Leek Creme Brulee

From Giada de Laurentiis: Chicken Piccata