Monthly Archives: November 2013

Ginger-Squash Cake with White Chocolate Frosting

DSC_3830When I first moved in with my husband (who was my boyfriend at the time), I remember being very excited to cook for him.  Before I moved in, I had been living out in Park Slope with a nice roommate found on Craigslist.  We never ate meals together since we had completely opposite schedules, and I rarely cooked since cooking for one is no pleasure at all.  I ate a lot of hummus, salsa and egg salad on rice cakes.  Looking back, I don’t know how I went without a hot meal for so long.  I’m going to chalk it up to the fact that I was in love, and hot meals were a very low priority at the time.  I’m still in love with my husband but hot meals have moved up the priority list since then.

DSC_3812 After getting settled into Mr. K’s apartment, I started to cook up a storm.  I remember feeling like I wanted to really impress him with my cooking skills.  I had made a couple of meals for him out in Park Slope, but I was going to blow him away with my talent.  He was going to feel so loved and nurtured by my cooking.  He would become so appreciative of having a girlfriend that could not only cook but could BAKE that he would be walking around in a constant state of bliss.  We were going to have long, leisurely conversations as we ate our home-cooked meals at the table.  Well, it didn’t really happen that way.  To begin with, I noticed that he would stop talking the minute food was put in front of him.  He also ate his food extremely fast.  In addition, he had become used to eating in front of the television after several years of living solo.   I wanted to have a conversation with him about food.  More specifically, what food meant, means, to me.  For me, food is pleasure, comfort, gratification, and satisfaction.  I feel nurtured when someone makes a home-cooked meal for me.  Likewise, I cook for people to show them that they are important to me.  When I shared this with him, I asked him if he felt the same way.  Turns out, we approach food differently.  He, like me, loves to eat but he doesn’t look at it as a way of nurturing himself.  Rather, it is something to simply be enjoyed.  Throughout our 4-1/2 years together, he has cooked approximately 6 meals for me.  It would be a lot easier for me to accept the fact that he does not enjoy cooking if he were, in fact, a horrible cook.  But he is a fantastic cook!  Everything he makes is exquisite, and it only makes me wish that he cooked more often.  Even better, there is real entertainment value in watching him make a meal.  He’s like a mad scientist in the kitchen.  He tapes his recipe to the cupboard, and not only am I not allowed in the kitchen, but I am not allowed to speak to him while he is cooking lest he lose his concentration.  After we eat the delicious meal he prepared, I step into the kitchen where it looks like it has been ransacked by wolves.  He hasn’t quite gotten the art of cleaning up as he goes.  But I’m confident he’ll figure it out eventually.

DSC_3822 I haven’t made a cake in a very long time.  This recipe is the perfect gateway to bigger and fancier cakes.  It is very simple but still fulfills your cake craving.  The squash adds moisture, much like zucchini does in zucchini bread.  The pecans are in the cake as well as sprinkled on top so you get some crunch.  But I think the highlight of this recipe is the ginger.  I fell in love with ginger a couple of years ago.  I don’t think it’s used enough, especially in baking.  Most recipes call for dried ginger, but I say go ahead and add freshly grated ginger whenever possible.  It really does make a difference.  The white chocolate frosting is a very thin layer.  If you like a sweeter cake, double the frosting recipe.  If you are someone like me who loves baked goods with fall spices this time of year, try this recipe.  And because of the squash, you will be eating your vegetables along with the cake.

DSC_3837Ginger-Squash Cake with White Chocolate Frosting
Adapted from Bon Appétit Magazine

Yield:  8 servings

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup finely shredded peeled butternut squash
3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg
2 tablespoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1-1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
3/4 cup chopped toasted pecans, divided

3 tablespoons whipping cream
3 ounces high-quality white chocolate (such as Lindt or Perugina)

1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.  Spray 9x9x2-inch metal baking pan with nonstick spray.
2.  Whisk flour and next 6 ingredients in medium bowl.
3.  Using an electric mixer, beat squash, brown sugar, butter, egg, ginger, and 1 teaspoon vanilla in large bowl to blend.
4.  Fold in flour mixture and 1/2 cup pecans.  Transfer to pan, spreading to edges (layer will be thin).  Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 30 minutes.  Cool.
5.  Bring cream just to boil in small saucepan over medium heat.  Remove from heat.
6.  Add white chocolate and remaining 1/4 teaspoon vanilla; whisk until smooth.
7.  Let stand at room temperature until thick enough to spread, about 20 minutes.  Spread over cake.  Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup nuts over cake.

Peas with Bacon and Thyme

DSC_3809 I had a phone date Sunday night with my dear friend Jo who lives in San Francisco.  We don’t get to see each other much, maybe once a year, so I cherish our phone calls.  We met 8 years ago while working at a non-profit.  I still remember her standing in my office doorway as someone introduced us.  She was a breath of fresh air in an often times stale work environment.  Over the years, she has been someone I look up to and lean on for support.  And oh how she makes me laugh.  She has listened to me speak about my struggles with depression and lack of self-worth.  And even though she herself does not suffer from this affliction, she always conveys a sense of empathy and compassion.  Being able to share my feelings with Jo without her becoming squeamish is a really nice feeling of validation.  It usually takes me a long time of knowing someone before I completely open up and share my inner demons.  It is getting easier to share now that I’m in my late 30’s.  I still care what other people think of me, just not as much as I used to.

DSC_3803 Seeing as that it is like Antarctica in NYC this week (not overly dramatic at all), I wanted to make a warm, comforting dish that was still healthy.  I know, I know.  Many of you are tired of seeing bacon included in almost everything these days.  I do think the line needs to be drawn somewhere.  Perhaps somewhere near bacon cupcakes.  But you know how bacon and brussels sprouts are a fantastic combo?  Well, it turns out bacon and peas are another great combo.  The bacon gives this dish a nice smoky richness, and the aromatic thyme is a perfect complement.

This recipe is inspired by a pizza I had years ago at a restaurant in the Meatpacking District.  It’s strange to think that I once ate in the Meatpacking District.  The neighborhood seems to have an imaginary red velvet rope around it now, allowing only beautiful Millennials into its vicinity.  Ah, youth.  So this pizza: it was hands-down one of the best gourmet pizzas I had ever tasted.  It had bacon, thyme, Gruyére, cipollini onions, and garlic.  I became obsessed with it for an entire year after tasting it.  I started making it anytime I had friends over.  This is a much healthier version of that pizza.  Even with no bread and cheese, it still has the flavor profile of my former obsession.  I’m sure you could swap in any other vegetable if you are not a pea fan.  Cauliflower or brussels sprouts come to mind as an easy alternative.  You could also substitute rosemary, dill or tarragon if you don’t have any thyme in your kitchen. DSC_3807

Peas With Bacon and Thyme
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine

Serves 4 to 6

6 thick bacon slices, cut in half lengthwise, and again crosswise into ¼-inch pieces
1 small onion, chopped
2 (10 oz.) packages frozen peas, not thawed
½ cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

  1. Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 5 minutes.
  2. Spoon off half of bacon fat, then add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to soften, 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Add peas, water, salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon thyme and cook, covered, stirring occasionally until peas are tender, 5 to 8 minutes.  Stir in butter and remaining tablespoon thyme.

Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Arugula, Walnuts and Manchego

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I love the smell of roasted cauliflower.  I am writing this while sitting on the futon in our guest bedroom with the sun streaming in.  I feel like a cat sitting on a windowsill.  (Why don’t I have a cat?  Oh, right:  I’m allergic.)  My husband and I moved out to Astoria over a year ago.  We upgraded to a 3-bedroom from our 1-bedroom in Manhattan and get this…we are paying less in rent!  Oh Manhattan, I would have stayed with you if you didn’t make it so goddamn hard to afford you.  It only took us 10 months to completely unpack and settle in to our new place.  Between my chocolate business stuff and my husband not liking to get rid of things, we had a lot of boxes to go through.  Living out of boxes for 10 months can put a strain on a marriage, especially if one of you (moi) is a bit of a control freak.  But one of the things I’ve learned about marriage is that the ugly times don’t have to just be ugly.  They can actually be a stepping stone to get to the next level of a lasting marriage.   Even though whenever we have an issue my body is taken over with panic and dread at the thought of having to discuss it, I always feel elated after we talk through something.  Happy endorphins rush through my brain like a leprochaun sliding down a rainbow.  I think it’s partly due to the fact that for a short period of time I don’t feel anxious, but also knowing that we came out of it even stronger is an emotion that I cherish every time. DSCF2860

Cauliflower is one of those foods that I don’t care for raw but I absolutely love roasted.  In fact, I think I love any vegetable that has been roasted.  It completely transforms the flavor of food, especially raw veggies.   I made this dish while my mom and stepdad were visiting last week and we all agreed that it was a keeper.  Everyone had two servings and bypassed the pork tenderloin completely.  Now that’s some good cauliflower.   The arugula adds a nice bitter, peppery flavor while the toasted walnuts and Manchego add some nuttiness and creaminess to the dish.  You could probably substitute any other nut if you’re not a fan of walnuts.  If you have another nutty cheese on hand, like Gruyére, that would work just fine too.  It’s also a very pretty salad that would go nicely on your Thanksgiving table if you want to forego that green bean casserole this year.  Sacrilege!  Ok, make it in addition to the casserole.

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This salad is best served warm.  The cauliflower can be roasted one day ahead.   Just slip the roasted florets back into the oven for 15 minutes or so right before serving.  Assemble the salad, dress it, and let your guests swoon over it.

Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Arugula, Walnuts and Manchego
Adapted from A Good Appetite, a New York Times column

Yield:  4-6 servings

1 head cauliflower, but into bite-size florets
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
¾ teaspoons black pepper
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
5 oz. arugula
1 cup Manchego, grated
2/3 cup toasted walnuts

  1. Heat the oven to 400°F.  In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.  Spread the cauliflower on a baking sheet in a single layer.  Roast, tossing every 10 minutes, until golden, 30 to 40 minutes.  Let cool for 10 minutes.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar with the remaining salt and pepper, and then whisk in the remaining oil.
  3. In a salad bowl, toss the arugula, cheese, nuts and warm cauliflower.  Pour the vinaigrette over the salad and toss until well combined.

 

Salmon with Mustard Dill Sauce

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I am getting better at confronting the negative voices in my head, but some days it still takes all of my energy to challenge those thoughts and force the rational side of my brain to take the wheel.  Living with chronic depression is no walk in the park, but my therapist has been extremely helpful in teaching me how to manage it.  I am also an anxious person and I admittedly care too much about what others think of me.   Oh, and did I mention I have social anxiety?  I will often cancel on people if I’m not in a good headspace.  My thinking is, “Why should I have dinner with Theresa if I’m not going to be good company?”  This usually snowballs into beating myself up for allowing my state of mind to determine my social life.

I invited my mom and stepdad to come out for a visit while my husband was away for a couple of weeks.  The first few days without him went ok, but after awhile the days seemed to be getting longer instead of shorter.  But you know what helped?   Watching season one of Designing Women.  Ordering a Petey Melt.  Going to see Maria Bamford perform with a girlfriend.  Eating Ethiopian food.  Counting the days until my mom arrived.  There is something so innately comforting about having my mom around.  She was the first person to ever show me unconditional love, and I can’t remember her ever criticizing me.  Ever.  And I’ve made plenty of bad decisions in my life.  She has always been extremely supportive and is always sitting in the front row of my cheering section.  Having my mom here while my husband was in Europe kept the darkness at bay.  We ate lots of fantastic food, saw The Rockettes, and did a lot of walking around the city.
DSCF2831My parents left earlier this week and my husband has returned.  Seeing that he was in Geneva part of the time, he plied me with Swiss chocolates, naturally.   There were pralines, chocolate-covered almonds, marzipan, and bon bons to boot.  Oh how I love my husband.  Now back to reality.

I often make this salmon dish when I want something quick and easy.  I love mustard and I think it complements salmon beautifully.  The sauce is nice and tangy with a hint of spice from the mustard and garlic, which is the perfect foil for a fatty piece of fish.

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Salmon with Mustard-Dill Sauce
Adapted from Bon Appétit

Yield:  4 to 6 servings

Ingredients:
1 cup 2% greek yogurt
1 teaspoon dried dill
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
4- 6 oz. salmon fillets with skin
1 clove garlic, minced

Preparation:
Whisk yogurt, dill, onion, mustard, salt and pepper in small bowl to blend.  Let stand at room temperature 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Place parchment paper on baking sheet.  Place salmon, skin side down, on prepared sheet.  Sprinkle with garlic, salt and pepper; spread with 1/3 cup sauce.  Bake salmon until just opaque in center, about 20 minutes.  Serve with remaining sauce.