Jan 31, 2010

Curried Caramelized Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup – a Vegan Cream Dream!

Garnished with a dollop of coconut cream and parsley, this soup is super healthy, surprisingly hearty, and really really good!  

You need:
4 large carrots
3 large or 4 medium sweet potatoes
1 medium onion
2 stalks of celery
3 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon curry powder
olive oil
1 tablespoon concentrated vegetable stock
1 can of coconut milk (Goya is the best! Chaokoh tastes like soap.)

Start by caramelizing the carrots and potatoes:
preheat oven to 400 degrees

4 large carrots
3 large or 4 medium sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil

Peel carrots and sweet potatoes and cut into large chunks, about an inch thick.  Toss with olive oil and spread out on a baking sheet. Bake for about 1 hour at 400 degrees, maybe longer.  You want to see some oozy browning around the veggies, while avoiding blackening (not pretty in the blended soup).

 While the carrots and potatoes are baking, prepare the soup base:
1 medium onion, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
3 cloves of garlic, chopped or smashed
1 – 2 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon concentrated vegetable stock (or chicken bouillon)

In a large pot:  sauté the onion, celery and garlic in olive oil until soft, about 10 minutes.  Add 1 tablespoon of curry powder and cook for another minute, stirring constantly.  Add 6 cups of water plus the vegetable stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until the carrots and sweet potatoes come out of the oven. 

Combine soup base and caramelized vegetables:
Add the baked carrots and potatoes to the soup base and stir.  The vegetables should be falling apart at this point.  If they aren’t, then continue to simmer until everything is soft.  Remove from heat and let cool for at least 10 minutes.  Puree with a hand blender or do batches in conventional blender.  

Open a can of coconut milk and skim the cream off the top and set aside.  Add the remaining coconut milk to the soup and stir. 

Serve the soup with a dollop of the reserved coconut cream and a garnish of cilantro or parsley. 

*this soup is terrific even without coconut milk. 

Jan 30, 2010

Rosemary, Heaven Restores You in Life

That's an Interpol lyric.  This is a rosemary loaf.  To make your own bread like this at home, first watch my bread making video: frankie's bread making video on youtube.  Then, add the following step: fold in 2 - 3 tablespoons of minced fresh rosemary at the point in the video where I have my dough on a floured surface and am folding the dough over on itself. you can fold the dough as many times as you like to incorporate the rosemary. it won't affect the bread!  you can add all kinds of goodies if you're not into rosemary:  roasted garlic, olives, bacon, cheese...

Jan 29, 2010

Oregon Elk Steak with Green Peppercorn Sauce

My brother Eli gave me some samples of the Oregon Elk his ladyfriend shot this season.  I agonized over how to cook it, because I’ve never made a great steak (it’s on my short list) I’ve never had elk, and one steak equals one chance to prepare it.  So I asked my brother Andy for advice and read a bunch of stuff online.  The consensus was that grilling is THE way to prepare steak. 

It’s sixteen degrees in upstate new york today, and our grill is hibernating under a few inches of snow.  Grilling was not going to happen.  But the elk steak was thawed and had to be cooked.  I thought to myself: out of all the recipes I read, which one would most closely mimic my brother Andy’s grilling technique?  I went with Alton Brown’s “pan seared rib eye” which involves a cast iron skillet, a 500 degree oven, and a range top on high heat.  It created so much smoke, I may as well have brought the grill indoors!  But it worked like a charm, and I didn’t ruin the elk. 

Here’s the elk steak with wilted kale, roasted garlic sweet potato mash, and a green peppercorn sauce.  Awesome!  (Thanks to the brothers Kimm.) 

Jan 28, 2010

Today's Failure: low fat low sugar lemon pound cake

I love lemon flavored desserts.  And I love pretty much any kind of cake.  Problem is, all that sugar makes me feel kinda wacko like jacko.  And who needs any extra fat?  So I'm working on a relatively low fat low sugar lemon cake recipe.  This was my first try.  I cut both the sugar and fat by nearly half.  It looked perfect when I took it out of the oven.  I was like, "it's just that easy?".  Not.  The cake fell a few minutes later and ended up being slightly rubbery in texture.  It tasted great - my husband and I ate half of it as soon as I was done taking it's picture.  Still, I want to figure out how to prevent it from falling -  I'll address the textural issue at that point.  I hate to waste eggs yolks, but a lot of recipes I read called for extra egg whites.  I also read that cream of tartar helps stabilize eggs.  I'll give it a scientific go and post my results - and hopefully a good recipe.

Jan 27, 2010

Brown Butter Sage Sauce with Optional Walnut Add-In

The first time I made a brown butter sauce was only a few months ago – and it was a bit of a revelation.  I wanted a sauce for home made pasta that wouldn’t be overpowering in the way that a tomato based sauce can.  So I found a Mario Batali recipe online that called for simply butter, sage, and lemon.  I was kinda skeptical about the lemon, but Mario was right.  This simple sauce is so pleasing…it’s perfect for a dish in which you want the pasta to get a little bit of the attention.  I have added chopped walnuts to the recipe, but it's good enough without.  

To see the full instructional photo album, go to: frankie makes brown butter sage sauce on facebook

Here’s how I make enough sauce for two:

Half a stick of salted butter
2 tablespoons of chopped fresh sage
1/3 cup of chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice

the exact amount of each of the ingredients doesn’t matter too much.  It’s just an approximation.

Brown the butter:  melt the butter on medium heat and cook it until you see a brown sediment begin to form. 

Throw in the sage, walnuts and lemon juice.  Cook for another minute or so.

Done!  Delicious! 

Jan 25, 2010

Harvesting Black Walnuts

We used to collect and dry walnuts when I was a kid in Oregon.  The streets were littered with their blackening husks every fall.  My mom would leave our harvest of raw nuts on the hearth, while me and my siblings tried to be patient until they were ready eat.  As soon as my mom said the word, we’d crack ‘em and eat ‘em next to the fire. [Man, this is making my childhood sound idyllic!] 

There is a bounty of free walnuts to be collected here in New York too, but they’re a different variety from those in Oregon  - the exotic Black Walnut.  They’re smaller and the shells are thicker and really friggin’ hard.  You pretty much have to totally shatter the nut in order to pick out the pieces of flesh.  It’s a lot of work but it’s worth it.  The black walnut has an intense, rather tannic flavor.  It’s surprising that it also a sweet aroma, reminiscent of maple syrup or the smell of a baking cake.  I’m struggling to describe the black walnut here – it’s rather distinctive.  I decided to try some of the nuts I harvested to make “gnocchi with brown butter sage and toasted black walnut sauce”.  I feel like a real gourmand!

To see the full photo album, go to:  frankie harvesting black walnuts on facebook 

Jan 23, 2010

Carrots! Apples! Walnuts! Raisins! It's Complicated and Worth It.

Generally speaking, I like to promote recipes or techniques that have a high rewards-to-effort ratio.  This isn’t one of them.  The cake came out really really good, but it contains about a bezillion ingredients, took half the day to make, and created a mountain of dishes for me to wash.  But I had to get the urge to make a carrot cake out of my system.  This is how I did it:

To see the full instructional photo album go to: frankie makes crazy cake on facebook

Bowl #1:
2.5 cups of whole wheat flour.  white is ok
1.5 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cloves

Bowl #2:
1 cup veggie oil
1/3 cup milk.  high fat, lowfat, nonfat, soy, whatever
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Bowl #3:
¾ cup raisins
1 cup toasted walnuts
2 cups grated carrots
1.5 cups cooked apples
*coconut would be great in this cake, too.  My husband is not a fan. 

Bowl #4: Frosting (make after cakes have cooled to room temp):
2 packages cream cheese.  I used one regular, one non fat
half a stick of soft butter
3 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

The Procedure: 
Prepare ingredients in bowls #1 and #2.

Bowl # 3 takes some prep:
1.   Raisins:  any kind.  Don’t like ‘em?  Don’t use ‘em.
2.   Walnuts:  is toasting really necessary?  Maybe not.  But when I tasted the cake batter before baking, I was most impressed with the toasty walnut flavor that permeated the mix.  To toast:  toss a cup or so of walnuts into a dry pan, cook on medium high heat, turning frequently, for a few minutes.  It’s pretty obvious when they’re done.  Chop the toasted nuts.   
3.   Apples.  Most carrot cake recipes call for a can of crushed pineapple.  I wanted apples.  So I peeled, sliced and cooked a similar volume of them in a half a cup of orange juice on medium high heat just until soft.  I poured off the OJ and used only the apples in the batter. 
4.   Grate about 2 cups of carrots

Mix the ingredients in bowl #1

Mix then beat ingredients in bowl #2

Add bowl #1 to bowl #2 and mix or beat until well blended 

Finally, add the raisins, nuts, apples, and carrots in bowl #3 and mix

Butter and flour two cake pans.  there is enough batter to do three cake pans if you like. 

Place cakes on the center rack in oven and bake at 350 for 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick, skewer, or wood chopstick comes out clean when you poke the cake with it. 

Let those babies cool down to room temperature before frosting. 

Bowl #4:  Frosting.  Put 2 packages of cream cheese, half a stick of soft butter, a teaspoon of vanilla, and about 3 cups of powdered sugar into the bowl and blend with a spoon until you can use the electric mixer. 

To frost the cake:  turn the lower layer upside down so that the two layers fit together nicely. 


Jan 22, 2010

Second Attempt to Sculpt a Wax Model for a Platinum and Diamond Engagement Ring

I'm making a platinum and diamond engagement ring for a friend.  The first wax model I sculpted snapped when I was pretty far along in the process.  my second try went a lot better.  it's been a few years since I've sculpted a wax model of a ring.  I kinda forgot what order to do things in.  I realized I needed to sculpt the seat for the diamond first, leaving the shank bulky so that it wouldn't break under the pressure needed to carve out the setting.  once the stone setting was created, then I could file the ring shank down into the somewhat delicate shape you see here.  suddenly, I have this strange craving for a diamond ring...weird.

Jan 20, 2010

Lentil Soup with Braised Ham Hock and Whole Wheat Country Bread

I don't look at food blogs (or any blogs for that matter) regularly, but I recently came across Foodwishes.blogspot.com and am mildly obsessed.  That's a contradictory pairing of words, eh?  Anyway, this guy - Chef John he calls himself - posts a new cooking video, along with the recipe and terrific photos, every friggin' day!  He does it all himself, and he makes cooking great food totally accessible.  Chef John is my new hero.

To make the best lentil soup I've ever made, I pretty much followed chef john's recipe, with the addition of garlic and kale.  See his video on his awesome blog: lentil soup on foodwishes.com.  The whole wheat country loaf is made by following my white country loaf method, replacing two of the cups of white flour with whole wheat flour.  See my bread making video on youtube: frankie's bread making video.

Mid Winter Hike in Upstate New York

I'm really into spending time outdoors.   I go hiking or jogging almost every day.  A sense of beauty coupled with runner's high - that's when I'm living in the present!  There's one other activity I can think of that induces a similar joy for me:  playing music with other people.  oh, and dancing.  and eating good food with good friends, and any time I'm in or on water, and...

Jan 19, 2010

Grand Central Wonderland

I know I gripe about new york a lot (that makes me a real new yorker, right?) but there are some things about the city that I love - like Grand Central Station. It is truly grand. Not only is it incredibly beautiful and alight with a warm glow that calms the frazzled nerves, it also works better as a hub of mass transit than any other in the city. And last but far from least, it houses Grand Central Market. This is where I spend extra time waiting for my train, ogling and sighing, sighing and ogling.

to see my full photo album of grand central station, go to: frankie's grand central wonderland on facebook

Jan 18, 2010

Today's Failure: making a platinum and diamond engagement ring

My ambitions sometimes outstrip my abilities, but that never seems to stop me.  I'm trying to make a platinum and diamond engagement ring for a friend.  today's work was a bust.  I mean the wax model busted open!  oh well, my design concept was rather vague anyway.  back to the sketchbook.

Jan 17, 2010

Experiments in Pasta Production, One Question at a Time

First question:  what’s the difference between pasta made with semolina flour versus all purpose flour?  To answer the question, I made three batches of pasta using the following recipe and varying the proportions thus:  only semolina flour, half semolina flour and half all purpose flour, and only all purpose flour. 

Basic pasta recipe:
1 cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon olive oil

in one bowl, mix together flour(s) and salt
in a second bowl, beat the egg and olive oil together
combine wet and dry ingredients
knead until elastic, working in flour (takes 2 – 3 minutes)
let dough rest about 20 minutes at room temperature
use pasta machine to shape dough into pasta
boil pasta for 2 minutes

There were two major aspects to today’s exercise:  how easy the dough was to work with, and how the pasta tasted in the end.  To my minor disappointment, I found these two aspects of pasta making in direction opposition to one another.  That is to say that the semolina flour only dough was the easiest to work with but made the least pleasing pasta, and the all purpose flour only dough was a pain to work with, but resulted in a pasta that I preferred.  The half and half dough was…well, right in between.  I’ll go into more detail. 

Semolina only experiment:  semolina flour is a courser than all purpose flour.  It’s similar to fine corn meal in appearance and texture.  It was surprisingly easy to make into a dough.  I guess I thought it wouldn’t have enough gluten in it to become elastic, but it did, though it took maybe a minute more or so of kneading than the other two doughs I made.  It was easy to run through the pasta machine, and didn’t stick to itself.  It made beautifully separated fettucine and spaghetti noodles.  The noodles sat in a pile at room temperature for an hour or so and when I cooked them – they stayed separated.  As far as making great looking pasta, the full semolina won hands down.  As for the weight and texture of the semolina pasta:  the pasta was the lightest of the three I made. The texture was a bit mealy and ever so slightly rubbery.  I’d say that if you like a light and bouncy pasta, go with all semolina flour.  It’s a joy to work with.  However, my personal preference is pasta that is smooth, heavy, and bordering on gummy. 

All purpose flour only experiment:  the dough was soft and sticky.  I tried rolling it out to various thicknesses in preparation for the spaghetti and fettucine rollers, but it didn’t seem to matter.  Even when heavily floured, the noodles did not separate as they emerged from the machine.  It was not a pretty pasta.  Sad part is, I liked the all purpose flour noodles the best because they were smooth and dense, with that little bit of that stick-to-your-teeth quality that I long for in a winter pasta. 

A happy compromise - half semolina flour and half all purpose flour experiment:  This dough was almost as easy to work with as the semolina only dough.  The finicky part is that the dough had to be rolled out to a specific thickness in order for the noodles to come out well separated (number 5 on my machine).  My husband thought these noodles were the best in terms of weight and texture.  I agree, they were great noodles, and I would use this recipe in the future. 

Jan 16, 2010

Thai Style Broiled Pork Chops

My sister first began cooking at the age of fifteen, when she was living with her cambodian baby daddy.  He taught her how to prepare authentic southeast asian food - which she is teaching me, and which I am bastardizing for you! 
I don't know if this marinade is Cambodian, Thai, Vietnamese or Laotian; maybe it's all of the above.  In any case, it's my favorite way to prepare beef, pork, or chicken for summertime grilling or wintertime broiling.  
To see the full instructional photo album, go to: frankie's thai style broiled chops on facebook 

Thick cut pork chops – bone in or boneless.  Doesn’t matter. 
Soy sauce
Oyster sauce
To make the marinade:  dice about 2 tablespoons each of garlic, ginger and lemon grass.  Pulverize with a mortar and pestle.  Add 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 2 tablespoons oyster sauce, and 1 to 2 tablespoons honey.  Mix.  There’s your marinade! 
Coat chops and let marinate for at least 2 hours. 
Line a baking pan with aluminum foil.  The foil makes clean up easy.  Don’t use it if you’re afraid it causes Alzheimer’s.   
Place an oven rack five to six inches from the heating element.  Turn oven on to broil (“high broil” if you have the option). 
Broil each side for about 6 minutes.
If you don’t get some blackening in 6 minutes, try putting the rack closer to the element rather than cooking longer.  The idea is to achieve the beginning of charring without drying out the meat.    

Shiny New Toy or Let the Pasta Games begin

A friend gave me this lovely contraption for christmas. now I have to learn to make pasta.  all purpose flour or semolina flour?  the fork and well method or a food processor?  lots of egg or little egg?  oil or no oil?  mario batali says kneading is essential.  mark bittman doesn't knead.  what I can say about myself is that I like cooking to be as quick and easy as it can possibly be without compromising the quality of the resulting product.  I have a pre-conceived notion of how I'd like my pasta to turn out, though I am open to other possibilities.  I'm going to do some experiments and will let inform you of my findings...

Jan 12, 2010

A Tragically Comical Moment with Close Friends

My husband and I are in therapy and it’s great.  Definitely one of the most meaningful experiences of my life thus far.  My husband is changing.  I am changing.  I recently attempted to characterize some of these changes for a small group of my closest friends in New York City.   I described how, for the first time since I’ve know the guy, instead of going into his room and suffering alone in silence, my husband came to me to talk about something that was bothering him.  He came to me.  To talk.  And I listened.  For the first time, I didn’t interrupt and I didn’t offer twenty seven possible courses of action he could take solve the problem.  My husband came to me in a way that he had not before, and I was there for him in a way that I had not been before.  I’m telling you, therapy is great. 

I’ve had a major breakthrough of my own.  And now I really wish I was a writer, because this is some deep shit that could make you cry if I were Mikal Gilmore or Stephen King. 

Here’s what  happened:  Our therapist suggested that the ongoing the dialogue between my husband and I concerning where to live (New York or Portland) is really about each of us asking how important we are to the other person.  I didn’t get it at first, and said that I didn’t expect my husband to give up his career in New York and move to Portland just to make me happy. “Why?” the therapist says.  And then I replied with some stuff about how I think that for most men, career is the most important thing, how they define themselves, etcetera, and that I can accept that.  The therapist repeated herself, “Why?”  Because I want my husband to be happy, right?  But our therapist wasn’t satisfied, so then she said, “Is it possible that what you really want is for your husband to make you the most important thing in his life?”  Chuh!  As if!  I’d never expect something so ludicrous of anyone!  My reaction was just this side of flabbergasted.  Which was the whole point.  The therapist got me.  Oh, she got me good and she friggin’ made me cry again.  How deeply sad and truly liberating to admit that as much as I have longed to be the most important thing in someone else’s life, I have never believed myself entitled to that kind of love, much less asked someone for it!  What a tragic imbalance I have perpetuated without even knowing it. 

I recounted the incident to three of my closest friends and then said to them, “Did you know that you can ask to be the most important thing in someone else’s life?”  The blank expression that fell across each of their faces was the semi-hilarious but ultimately heartbreaking answer…none of my friends had ever asked anyone for that kind of love.  In that moment, I could see each of my friends silently asking his or her self, “Am I entitled to it?” Yes dear friends, you are

Jan 10, 2010

Making coconut sticky rice and Thai desserts

I have no idea how authentic my versions of these desserts are.  I've been to Thailand a couple times and I ate there many times.  As many times as I could.  I made these recipes up based on my memory of what the food was like there.  Oh sweet Thailand!  Have you seen the movie LA Story?  There's a scene in which Steve Martin and his leading lady fall in love and are both transformed into  children again.  All Mr. Martin can say is, "wonderful, wonderful, wonderful..."  That's how I feel about Thailand.  

To see more photos of how to make coconut sticky rice and Thai desserts, go to:  frankie makes coconut sticky rice on facebook

To make coconut sticky rice:   
1 can of coconut milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar

Pour the coconut milk, salt and sugar into a mason jar, and shake it like a polaroid picture.  
To your freshly steamed, still hot sticky rice, add about 1/3 cup of the seasoned coconut milk per two cups of cooked rice.  Mix, cover, and let the rice absorb the coconut milk for a few minutes.  That’s it!  You’ve made coconut sticky rice. 

So what to do with all that luscious leftover salty sweet coconut milk?  A couple traditional Thai desserts come to mind:  mango sticky rice and bananas in coconut milk. 

To make mango sticky rice with coconut cream sauce:  you will thicken the coconut milk into a sauce.  Add about a tablespoon of flour per cup of coconut milk left in the mason jar and shake like mad.  Heat the mixture in a saucepan over medium/high heat, stirring constantly until thickened - maybe five minutes.  Pour the coconut sauce over sticky rice and fresh mango slices.   

To make bananas with coconut cream sauce:  made the sauce as above, then add sliced bananas to it and cook for about two minutes.  Serve with sticky rice.  

Jan 9, 2010

How To Make Thai Sticky Rice


To see more photos of how to make thai sticky rice, go to: frankie makes thai sticky rice on facebook.  

Thai sticky rice is a specific type of rice, but the packaging rarely designates it as such.  It usually says “glutinous” or "sweet rice", and invariably features an animal on the bag.  Okay, I don't really know if that's true.  Anyway, sticky rice is steamed rather than boiled, so you'll need a rice steaming pot and basket.  You can find an apparatus specifically for this purpose for under ten dollars at an asian grocery.  Rinse the rice and soak it for at least two hours.  You can soak it all day or even overnight if you like, but you shouldn’t soak it for less than a couple hours.  When you’re ready to cook the rice, add about an inch of water to the boiling pot and transfer the soaked rice to the basket.  Find a lid that fits inside the basket to cover the rice.  Place the basket of rice over the boiling pot and onto the stovetop.  Once the water comes to a boil, let rice steam for about 5 minutes.  Remove the lid, pick up the rice basket and shake it to flip the cooking rice over.  If the rice doesn’t ball up so that you can flip it over as a single mass, then it’s not ready and needs to steam a little longer.  After flipping the rice, put the lid back on and steam it for another five minutes.  Transfer the finished rice to a bowl or serving basket and cover until you’re ready to eat.  Timing is approximate here, because it’s pretty hard to over steam sticky rice.  Don’t worry about it!  Something I really dig about this rice is that you can easily reanimate leftovers by popping the old rice back in the steamer for a couple minutes.

A simple dipping sauce: 

1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar1 minced thai chili peppers - careful with those, they're super hot! 

*note:  sticky rice is meant to be eaten with your hands.  When properly cooked, you should be able to pick up a wad and press it into a ball for dipping.