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Friday, December 4, 2015

Getting into my pants...a reason to go Grain Free

Traveling for work and living in a hotel all summer means a lot of dining out - 7 days and nights a week to be exact. Dining out in Mexico is like, triple the calories and quadruple the temptation. Add in the metric system and my ability to hide behind the conversion rate of kilos to lbs (I am bilingual in denial), meant I showed no restraint, like none, like tacos 5 days a week lack of restraint. I should really have lost my gay card.

Long story short, my work environment has put me in a death match fight with my waist line. Now I admit my habits have not reverted as quickly having returned home and getting kicked off the expense account gravy train, so I guess there is some shared responsibility.

Regardless of where the blame lies, during a particularly emotional moment in my closet (not that moment, I came out a long time ago) doing battle with a pair of size 28 Levi's 511's, it became apparent that I needed to get serious, and clean up my eating act. Disclaimer, I am writing this as I eagerly await a buffalo chicken pizza and meatball nachos OrderUP delivery - yes I said meatball nachos, go ahead and judge me.

Now I normally try to maintain a gluten free diet, but I decided the lbs condition was so dire, I needed to cut out more. My crisis response has been to try to explore as many grain free dishes as possible, while still enjoying my favorite meals. This will not only help with my body image dilemma, but removing starches and grains will make me prioritize produce and protein. And what I really meant by that last line is that I will not have to give up cheese and butter (we all have priorities).

That being said, I am not willing to abandon my penchant for rich dishes and deep flavors, my pursuit of Umami. So I am pushing myself to find grain free ways to achieve the same heights of pleasure that rice, wheat or the like normally support. I'm not convinced grain-free can be totally fulfilling, but I am certainly going to give it a try.

Last week, I had met up with my friend Erin for one of our periodic date nights, which boil down to drinking wine, cooking, more wine, and then usually crying over some moderately touching movie or Elf.

Erin and I love to experiment, and we have a high success rate so I figured for my first foray in this new challenge she would be a worthy co-pilot. One fact to note is that we share a deep and abiding love for all things spicy. This has led to some interesting exploits into Asian and Latin cuisine, and I figured these routes were a good start for our grain free endeavor. Not to mention when it comes to slimming down NOTHING works like spice to ya know, move things along...

It's early fall, so cauliflower is becoming plentiful in the farmer's market. In addition to being a standout source of vitamins (C, K, B12), dietary fiber, having antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, it happens to be a great starch substitute (see prior post for use in pizza). I love the taste of cauliflower, but I know not everyone does, so I wanted to make a dish that works for everyone, the flavors would have to be deep and developed enough to both complement (for lovers) and effectively disguise. I also wanted to do something that is typically indulgent.

You see, my fear of the muffin top and general guilt around caloric consumption typically results in boughts of crash dieting. I deprive myself of all nutrients for as long as I can (or until I become dangerously hangry) and then end up binging on pizza, pasta, or a pint of Ben & Jerry's. As you might guess, this isn't super successful and I doubt it does good things for my long term health or metal stability. Soooo as I attempt to return to my former form, the most likely path for success is to FEEL like I am indulging, but not actually do it nutritionally, this avoiding the starve and stuff yo-yo.

Drawing on many a 3am wine fueled binge and equally as many sweatpant sunday take-out experiences, we landed on Fried Rice.

We grabbed some onions, cilantro, shiitake mushrooms, shishito peppers and chicken thighs to complete the dish. Side note, if I haven't already said this, I ONLY use chicken thighs because as I find chicken to be generally flavorless, the higher fat content lends a slightly less than flavorless aspect to the protein vehicle I intend it to be.

Erin started by sweating the onions and garlic in a pan, then adding the mushrooms once the onions lost their color. Meanwhile, I pulsed the cauliflower in the food processor until it looked like rice, careful not to over chop as the moisture in the vegetable when chopped too small or pulverized, can make it gloppy.


We decided to sear the chicken in a combination of Asian prepared ingredients that Erin had handy; sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, plum sauce, and garlic-chili oil. I shaved the carrots right into the nearly cooked chicken and sauce, to allow them to cook briefly. I almost always shave carrots into ribbons now. I generally prefer them slightly crunchy and normally don't have the patience or time to allow larger thicker pieces to cook. The ribbons only need a few minutes of heat to cook and add visual interest to the dish. I added beaten eggs with about a minute left to cook then threw in half the fresh cilantro at the end so while it sat, the flavors would mingle.

To make the rice, I used some of the reserved chicken sauce, added some oil and heated the wok. I stirred in the rice little by little allowing it to sear against the pan surface before turning it over and adding more, this lends the fried rice texture to the vegetable. Meanwhile, Erin heated grill pan, and charred some whole shishito peppers. Prior to serving we stirred in the chicken, chopped and added half the peppers. We used the remaining cilantro and peppers to garnish the bowls and enjoyed a rich, delicious, very spicy, and grain free meal.

Not only was it a pleasure to eat, but the fiber and shishitos made it quite the cleanse...a slightly intentional move I admit. Now, I have never been a gluten-free extremist nor dietary restriction fanatic. I am not an absolutist and have always maintained the belief that things like pasta and ciabatta will always have their place. I know there will not always been a starch alternative to every dish I enjoy and am looking to recreate. But I have to be honest, this cauliflower "rice" was better than rice. Without a doubt, it had more flavor, equivalent consistency, and is undoubtedly more nutritious than any grain that could have been in this comfort food staple. I achieved everything I desired from a taste and texture standpoint, and the ease with which I was able to slip into my skinny Levi's the next day, it made me a grain free believer. Now onto the next...


Cauliflower "Fried Rice" - Seared Chili Chicken Thighs & Blistered Shishito Peppers

The recipe can be adapted based on the ingredients you prefer, just be mindful of always looking to counter the moisture content of the cauliflower by searing it and cooking any high water content vegetables or mushrooms separately to avoid sogginess.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound chicken thighs - chopped into bite size pieces
  • 3 eggs beaten
  • 1 large head of cauliflower - pulsed into "rice" in food processor
  • 1 medium white onion - diced
  • 2 cloves garlic - minced
  • 1 1/2 cup shiitake mushrooms - chopped
  • 3 large carrots - shaved into ribbons with a peeler
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro - chopped and divided in half
  • 1/2 cup sesame oil - divided
  • 2 table spoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons plum or hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons garlic-chili oil

Directions:

Heat 1/4 cup of sesame oil in a wok. Simultaneously sweat the diced onions and minced garlic until the onions are transparent, then add the shiitakes. Cook until the mushrooms begin to crisp. In the wok, sear the chicken, adding the other liquids after 5 minutes in the sesame oil. Just before chicken is fully cooked, add the carrot ribbons, mushrooms-onion blend, half the cilantro and beaten eggs - stirring quickly as the egg cooks. Remove chicken-veggie mix with slotted spoon and reserve half the cooking liquid in the wok, pouring the rest in with chicken in a separate bowl.  Add the remaining sesame oil and turn up the heat. Once hot, slowly add the "rice" - allowing it to be coated in the sauce and sear slightly on the surface of the wok before turning over and adding more. Once all the rice is "Fried". While rice fries, place whole shishito peppers on a hot grill pan, turning every few minutes to allow them to char and develop grill marks. Chop half the peppers, combine with chicken and all the mixture to the hot rice. Serve in a large bowl, garnish with the remaining cilantro and a shishito pepper.

Enjoy!







Monday, November 30, 2015

Gaysgiving - A New Take on Traditional Flavors

So if I were a real life-style and food blogger this post would have come well before the holidays, just in time to make you feel guilty for either not planning anything fabulous or to make your traditional plans feel even more pedantic than they really are. Alas, I am not a real life-style or culinary guru, so I am writing about my Thanksgiving feats after actually having achieved them, I prefer to keep it real.

That said, let's get into it. So this season I have been overwhelmed with work, as has my boyfriend, so planning anything in advance for Thanksgiving really wasn't on the table. I was invited to several "Friendsgivings" which momentarily sparked my creative side, but ultimately I never actually RSPV’d nor attended any of those events. Long story short, I was pretty much set on not cooking at all for the holiday season.

But then, one Sunday night, after two (cough cough) glasses of wine one night, and a issue of Bon Appetit, I realized that's not me, that is not the aspiring TV personality deep down inside, that person would never let the months of November and December go by without some grand epicurean endeavor.

I checked the calendar and texted a few friends and so it was decided. I would cook a Gaysgiving. That’s a Friendsgiving with all your gays, in case anyone was wondering –picture picky eaters, lots of shade and way too much wine…

I originally thought about hosting the affair in my home. I got lost in the idea of an autumnal tablescape with eclectic dishes, jewel tone glassware, and a lush flower and foliage arrangement… you know, the usual. Sadly, my dreams were not to be this year as my dining room tops out at 6 guests and I had at least 10 on the invite list for this last minute dinner. You see, after a 2013 personal life meltdown, a crisis if you will, I was taken in by a group of gays here in Baltimore who really have no peers. Without these folks I would never have made it through as fabulously as I did, and I would never have met the love of my life but for two of them in particular. I could wax poetic for about the quality of my gays, but I'll spare you for the moment. The point is, these people are everything to me, they are my family, and so I wanted nothing but to cook an amazing dinner of Thanks for them, ALL of them. Fortunately, Mama, the matriarch of the group, has a lot more space and conveniently, lacks entirely in culinary skill. Perfect match, my food, his house, done deal.

Unfortunately, my boyfriend would be out of town, which meant two things; dealing with his FOMO (he has insane fear of missing out) and I had a lot more free time in the kitchen in the week leading up. If I planned it right I could do everything in advance making game-time prep a breeze. I hit up the market on Sunday morning, and ended up with far too much produce...this was a good start. With the dinner scheduled for Wednesday night, an intentional pre-game to the biggest night out of the year, I dedicated Tuesday evening to the majority prep work. The first thing I had to do was plan the meal.

I had already ruled out the idea of doing a turkey simply because of time constraints. Further, stuffing and gravy were out of the question as they contain gluten and I need to be on a beach in a tiny speedo in less than a month, so just, no. With the restrictions piling on I decided I needed to approach Gaysgiving strategically. How was I going make 8 hungry, cultured, opinionated, and slightly tipsy gays happy with meal rooted in such a a specific cultural tradition like Thanksgiving?



I quickly decided I was going to honor Thanksgiving, check the cultural boxes, achieve the flavor heights and meet  health conscious requirements of my guests by approaching things a little differently. I would use traditional flavors, in non-traditional dishes, and avoid gluten and grain altogether. Instead of mashed potatoes and gravy, I would do a buttery spud concoction with the additional of ample cheese and seasonal vegetables. Instead of stuffing (no self-respecting gay has had stuffing in like 5 years) I would do a squash hash with sausage, checking the autumnal box several times. Instead of bland roasted veggies I would make them savory, sweet, or creamy. And the coup de grâce? Instead of turkey and cranberry sauce I would do pork chops with a cranberry-black pepper glaze. In the end, I designed a meal that would taste like Thanksgiving, but look nothing like it.

My Tuesday prep was successful; I left work eagerly on Wednesday with plenty of time to prepare for transport and was in the host's house by 6:30. The guests arrived and we enjoyed a spirited, well lubricated, and satisfying meal celebrating our gratitude for having each other.

Obviously the night continued with a living room Adele sing-along (Hello), an uber ride to Steam Punk Ally, and a few hours dancing in Grand Central…but where else would you expect Gaysgiving to end up.

Lesson Learned? Don't drink wine on an empty stomach while cooking, and don't be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to holiday cooking.

Disclaime:, I was preoccupied with my prep and my company so I did not take the same care with pictures this time.

Enjoy!


Gaysgiving Recipes:

Cayenne Roasted Rainbow Carrots:

This dish is the embodiment of flavorful juxtaposition pairing the sweet and earthy carrots with the spicy and floral glaze, a study in contrast if you will...

Ingredients:

2lbs carrots - tops trimmed, cut in half, and then halved lengthwise
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 table spoons honey
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Preparation:

Pre-heat oven to 400F. Place carrots in oven safe roasting pan. Combine cayenne, honey and evoo in a microwave safe mug. Microwave for 1 minute. Stir to ensure evenly combined. Brush carrots with liquid solution and roast for 40 minutes, tossing and brushing every 10 minutes until tender and crisping at the ends.

Sage Sausage & Butternut Hash

It was a risk to remove stuffing from the table this year, but I got lucky with this dish and it received the most rave reviews. Both sweet and savory in the same bite, it has all the feel-good fall flavors with the added richness of the pork sausage. I’ll be doing versions of this throughout the season.

Ingredients:

3 small or 2 medium/large squash - peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes
3 onions - diced
1 tablespoon ground sage
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
1 lb ground pork sausage
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Preparation:

In a large sauté pan over medium to high heat, warm olive oil and cook onions until caramelized. Once translucent, add the sausage, breaking it up with a spatula, and cook until browned. Once cooked, remove from pan, leaving the sausage oil in the pan. Turn up heat, add the squash, dust with the garlic and ground sage, and sear the squash in the oil until soft and crisp on the edges. Remove from heat. Combine browned sausage and fried squash in large mixing bowl.

Mashed Redskin Potatoes with Cheddar & Charred Leeks

I was doing away with so many of the Thanksgiving staples, and I was eliminating grain entirely, so I needed to keep at least one white starch in play. That being said, I am a sucker for butter, and what better vehicle than mashed potatoes? Added the red skin variety, shard cheddar cheese, and charred leeks lent great depth of flavor to this indulgent classic.

Ingredients:

6 red skin potatoes
12 russet potatoes (or other waxy types)
2 whole leeks - cleaned and sliced into rounds, separated
1/2 lb sharp cheddar cheese - cut into small chucks
2 sticks of butter - room temp
1 1/2 cups heavy cream - room temp
Sea salt to taste

Preparation:

Peel the russet potatoes. Cut red potatoes and russet potatoes into even size pieces. Place in cold, salted water in a large pot over high heat. Bring to a boil and cook until fork tender. While the potatoes come to a boil, heat some evoo in a sauté pan. Once hot, throw in sliced leeks and cook until they begin to burn. Once the potatoes are tender, strain and return to boiling bot. Add cream, butter, and cheese, and mash with a fork or potato masher. Once smooth (or as rough as you like it) add the charred leeks. Serve immediately.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Lemon-Herb Aioli

I recently made a delightful discovery that livened up one of my already favorite vegetables. We recently had dinner in NY at a Spanish place that served Brussels Sprouts tossed with sundried tomatoes and a paprika aioli. It was brilliant, the use of mayo as a vehicle for moisture and flavor was incredible. This technique avoid olive oil which can burn in a hot oven, can make the leaves soggy (you roast bare in this case), and ultimately, is less “sticky” and doesn’t help the flavor remain on the vegetables all that well. Mayo holds herbs and seasonings well, is savory as a base requiring no additional salt, and can be adapted to fit any cuisine – just toss in whatever you like once you’ve roasted and done!

Ingredients:

2lbs Brussels Sprouts - trimmed, halved, and washed
3/4 cup mayonnaise
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoon dry herb mix - basil, oregano, tarragon, fennel seed, thyme

Preparation:

Pre-heat oven to 400F. Place sprouts on non-stick tray (with parchment or foil depending on your tray). Roast for 2 minutes until "al dente" or cooked to your taste. Meanwhile, combine mayo, lemon juice and herbs in the bottom of a large bowl. Once sprouts are finished, add to the mayo mixture, and toss until evening coated. Serve immediately.


Cranberry Glazed Pork Chops

This dish was born out of necessity. Due to my work schedule I simply did not have time to cook a turkey, not to mention I don’t really even like it. For this meal I decided to substitute Pork for Turkey, and skipped the traditional cranberry sauce all together, opting to use it in the preparation of the protein instead. Not only did this meet my time constraints, but it also kept things lively on the table, and no one had to pretend to enjoy the bitter, and brightly colored jelly of years past. Brining the pork in garlic and herbs lent a familiar note to the meat, and ensured it would be fork tender when cooked. I reduced dried, sweetened cranberries in red wine and balsamic vinegar, then pureed them with a healthy dose of black pepper, thus achieving a risk and unique, savor and sweet flavor with which to glaze the pork.

Ingredients:

4 bone-in porterhouse pork chops
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon garlic pepper
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon juniper berries
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
2 cups (approx.) water
1 cup dried sweetened cranberries
½ cup red wine
2 table spoons balsamic vinegar

Preparation:

Do ahead:
In a large freezer bag, combine rosemary, juniper berries, salt, and garlic pepper. Add the pork chops and fill with water (roughly two cups until the chops are immersed but the bag is not overflowing. Shake gently to mix herb and salt solution creating a brine. Place in a large plastic bowl and keep in refrigerator overnight.
Once ready to prepare, remove chops from brine, pat dry, place on a place and allow to come to room temperature while you pre-heat and prepare the glaze. Preheat oven to 400F.

While oven heats, and chops come to temperature, place wine, balsamic and cranberries in a small sauce pan. Cook over medium/high heat (careful not to scorch so STIR!!!) for 15 minutes until reduced by half. Put in a blender, or use an immersion blender and puree while you add the black pepper. Return to warm pan while you wait to glaze.

When oven is hot, sear the chops in a hot sauté pan with EVOO over medium heat until just browned on each side. Place in oven safe casserole and brush the top side with cranberry glaze. Cook uncovered for 15 minutes. Using tongs, turn over and glaze the other side, return to oven and cook for 15 additional minutes until the internal temperature is at least 145F, or more to your taste.
Serve immediately







Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Obligatory Traditions

This last weekend, Mark and I went home to PA to visit with my family and honor some autumn traditions. For a few years now, my siblings and I have ritualized the practice of heading to the local (Bucks County, PA) orchard, sneaking in some cider or whisky, geting a slight midday buzz, and take high fashion editorial style Instagram photos of our apple picking adventures which we review over a family feast that follows in my parents' home. Yes, we have a sibling fall editorial tradition centering around the fall harvest, but what incredibly generic suburban family doesn't?

So I love the fall family photoshoot tradition, but the truth is, I don't love apples and to be honest, they make me insanely bloated and uncomfortable. I always end up eating cider doughnuts, drinking cider, and taking home a dozen apples I end up throwing away. Faced with the desire to introduce Mark to this family tradition and somehow not perpetuate the tradition of waste or bloat, I questioned the value of the orchard trip in its entirety. 3 of my brothers would not be present, the weather had taken a gloomy turn, and Mark is averse to most anything sweet (except me...), was this even worth it? Despite my doubts, I convinced Mark to get in the car at 7:30am on a Saturday and head up 95 to enjoy a day of fall activities with my family.

After a pit stop at the local pizzeria, and an oh so necessary nap in my parent's home, we embarked on the task of locating my father who had gone out on one of his seemingly unending bike rides. Having confirmed my sister Rosemary's departure from work, through a series of dropped pins and GPS creativity, I picked up my father at a remote trail head and we were on our way.

We arrived at Solebury Orchards to gray skies, gusty winds, with my father in biking tights and a go-pro on his helmet, not the vision of fall chicness of years past that I had been looking for. Rosemary showed up just in time to assist in creating the human wall to allow my father to change our of his biking tights in the parking lot and avoid being charged with a lewd act in front of children, welcome to the family Mark...

We first approached the farmhouse and bought some hot cider, my dad bought the doughnuts and did not share, and I desperately looked around for the perfect autumnal setting for the initial apple picking selfie. Then we headed to the orchard... As we arrived amongst the trees, and the guide explained the difference between the good baking and the great eating apples, and then the great baking apples and the good eating apples, we erupted in laughter at the absurdity of it all. Rose and I had heard this same spiel a millions times before, and even in his first time hearing it, Mark could tell that each and every apple had inconsequential sweet, sour, eating and baking qualities...they are all F-ing apples after all.

Once we reached the ripe row I promptly added the Jack Daniel's to my hot apple cider, instantly livening the mood, it had severely lacking due to the weather. We made our way down the rows of Staymen-winesap (great for baking), stopping amid verdant branches and deep red fruit to take quintessential boyfriend and awkward sibling portraits. We moved on to Suncrisp, some golden-green colored hybrid and grabbed a few of the most "eatable "apples we had ever seen (can you taste the sarcasm?). A few more awkward Dad photos, some "hiking" in off limit orchards, and we had enough of the cold and headed home.

We left with what I knew was going to be more apples than we would ever use, once again our annual tradition resulting in waste...As you might imagine I was feeling less than fulfilled and suddenly slightly under the weather.

That night, my mother, and brother Nathaniel had planned a special "bring you boyfriend home for dinner" autumn meal. This is where things began to turn around. We sat down to delicious cheese, courtesy of my sister the cheesemonger for Whole Foods. Dinner consisted of glazed and grilled chickens, roasted vegetables and mushrooms, prosciutto wrapped sweet potatoes with walnut-gorgonzola spread and a delicious Texas pecan pie. Side note: my mother has become an award winning pie maker unbeknownst to me, taking second prize recently at a local country fair, who knew...

Now, Mark has already been to a half dozen family dinners at my Grandmother's house in Baltimore, but this was different. He was in my childhood home, a place I rarely venture, mush less bring love interests. Within minutes of sitting down we were deeply engaged in (dorky) discussions with my Dad, laughing along with my brother and sister (albiet at the dorkiness of my Dad). I'm gushing, but as I looked around at their faces, it felt perfect. We missed my absent brothers, but they were there in spirit, and would certainly have perpetuated all the jokes we kicked off at that table. It was my sister's Birthday that Monday prior, so we concluded the meal with a delicious cake that was nearly enough to make it impossible for us to to stand up and hit the road.

I went home with 4 pounds of apples, determined to bookend this orchard tradition by making good use of the fruits of our labor. Conveniently, we arrived home with tremendous head colds and were resolute in our decision to spend Sunday in the house. I putzed around for a few hours pondering what I could do with the apples.... What do you with apples when you don't bake, don't eat gluten and most importantly, don't like dessert?

I started tearing apart my pantry looking for anything that might put me on a path to using these apples...Amid corn meal from 2012 or flour from 2013 (I am my Grandmother's child #foodhoarder) I encountered a box of gluten free flour purchased (relatively) recently. Ok, this was a start, now what to make with it... I started looking at pie pans and baking sheets and was delighted to rediscovered the set of 4 insanely cute cast iron baking ramekins I had received from my friend Erin last Christmas. They are rustic-chic-baking vessel perfection, a gay food blog goldmine in their simplicity and photogenic properties.

This was the sign I needed! I googled a few recipes for inspiration and was off! I was going to make a gluten free apple crisp with my spin on spice and flavor. As making a dessert was inevitable, I decided to look at it as a challenge. A challenge to achieve a result the elevated the ho-hum "Apple Pie" to new heights of complexity and richness....

The aforementioned head cold meant leaving the house was not an option, which in turn meant pulling together ingredients from I already had only heightened the challenge. So while Mark watched hours of Harry Potter and toiled away on his laptop, I tore apart my kitchen looking for potential components for the perfect crisp topping. Fortunately, I must have had some kind of aneurysm in the bulk goods aisle at Whole Foods at some point because I had a inexplicably huge bag of walnuts in the freezer. I have no idea what my original intentions had been for this purchase, so I had no qualms about using them for my attempt at autumnal baking.

I decided I wanted the crust and the apples to be co-stars in the dish, neither one overshadowing the other. Since apples are inherently sweet, I decided I needed the crust to be more savory leaning, more umami if you will... I decided that using generous amounts of sea salt and exotic cardamom would lend a salty and luxurious aspect to the rich walnut base. I pulsed the walnuts in the blender, combined with 3/4 cups of GF flour, 7 tablespoons butter and added my seasoning...it still wasn't right...salty, fragrant, nutty indeed, but just not right. I thought about what I love about crumb topping; the buttery, caramelized, molassasy (is that a word?) richness with a crunch. In my attempt to avoid overwhelming sweetness I had forgotten the key ingredient to that crumb topping goodness, brown sugar. So I added a generous amount to the mix knowing it would achieve the depth that my prior concoction would not, yet avoid competing with the sweet apple foundation.

With the crust out of the way it was time to figure out how to make the apple more than an apple. Raisins, dried fruit would have been easy ways to begin, but who really likes those shriveled fiber bombs anyway? I tossed the apples with the requisite cinnamon, nutmeg, a bit of cardamom and granulated sugar to get to get the base flavors down. Then I started in my spice cabinet. Could I do a little heat with cayenne? No, I ruled that out since I had the savory crust down. My thoughts then went to all-spice, no, that would be too pumpkin-pie like for this effort, so basic, if you will... Then I remembered I had star anise and cloves from my various mulled wine endeavors over past holidays. I love these flavors, but they can be overwhelming so in the interest of maintaining apple and crust flavor equilibrium, I decided I needed to temper their presence in the dish. I pulled out the mortar and pestal and ground up a few of each. I steeped the crushed spices for 30 mins in hot lemon juice, while I joined Mark on the sofa and feigned interest in the goings-on at Hogwart's (he is going to kill me). I strained out the solids and took a big whiff of the final ingredient. It was perfect; fragrant, acidic, fresh, all of the delicacy of the anise and clove and none of the weight. I added this to the apple mix just prior to baking. This is important. Citrus is often added to apple desserts to brighten the flavor, but all too often the fruit is exposed to the acid far to early in the process. This means the fruit can begin to breakdown, and by the time you are done prepping and making you have a mushy filling with none of the appealing original texture of the fruit. So, I added at the end, took a final taste assuring myself of my imminent success, and prepared the ramekins.

I could barely contain my excitement as I overfilled the adorable cast iron crocks, I must have looked like an idiot grinning ear to ear in domesticated self satisfaction. Prior to placing them in the oven I took the requisite bakers dozen photos, in hope of the perfect "before" Instagram post. As they went in, I gave Mark a dramatic account of the culinary process described int this point, hoping to pique his interest in the victory I was about to achieve. He muttered something back in support, but it was clear there was something grave happening with Snape, and he might even have been holding back tears...

30 mins later, the crocks were bubbling and the house smelled incredible. I removed the crisps gingerly from the oven, and immediately drizzled them with some of the delicious Cajeta (dulce de leche) I had brought home from Mexico. Then my neuroses kicked in, and as he is quite used to it by now, Mark didn't even bat an eye as I frantically moved the crocks all around the house in various setting trying to find the perfect light for the finished product postable picture. If he ever videoed me during this part of meal prep, he would have embarrassing social media fodder for days...I hope he isn't reading this...

Once I had my pic, and I posted it with the perfect (#superfluous) amount of culinary hash tags, timed it right across Instagram, Twitter and finally Facebook...I took a break and let them cool so I could eventually do what dessert is meant for... to eat it.

It was delicious! I don't mean to brag, but for someone who admittedly can not bake, I did a bang up job on this dessert. The crisp tasted like a grown-up version of the ubiquitous Entemann's crumb cake topping, it was texturally perfect, and the caramel and cardamom shown through, complemented by the nutty walnuts and punctuated by subtle presence of sea salt. The apple foundation was equally successful, and co-stardom was achieved. The apples played perfectly with their usual counterparts in nutmeg and cinnamon, but it was the barely detectable hint of citrus and the unctuous yet subtle notes of anise and clove that kept me coming back for more. Simultaneously this both embodied "american as apple pie" and yet was something completely different, almost exotic. It was simple and yet complex. It tasted like something I knew, but was having for the first time. I took a tradition, and made something new of it.

In writing this post I realized this crisp was kind of a metaphor. Traditions are traditions for a reason., they are customs or rituals that honor or invoke positive memory and experience. But there can tend to be so many throughout the year, and in our daily lives that they lose significane and begin to feel obligatory. Whether it's arduous holiday travel, mandatory gift exchanges, or coercive turkey consumption, traditions get stale and lose their lustre. And then there is the hype factor. I often find myself getting so caught up in minutia of recreating holiday traditions, satisfying all the environmental conditions and replicating the events and emotions, that I am overcome by anxiety, crippled by disappointment, and in the end it all loses it's meaning.

This Fall-Family Weekend is one such tradition vulnerable to fatigue. It is one that has happened so many times, in so many iterations; from haunted hayrides at Kohler Farms as toddlers, to backyard pumpkin patches in elementary school, pumpkin carving parties as teens, and the orchard libations as young adults, we have always gotten together to celebrate autumn. The cast of characters have changed over the years, the activities have varied but the heart of it has never changed, enjoying this time together. Fall food has always played a big part in these traditions, bringing siblings and partners scattered near and far to the same table, yet it too has seen changes. As my sister and I started developing epicurean interest we began to take the lead, often collaborating on meal planning and execution. Now my brother Nathaniel has the culinary the bug, and this past family dinner was all his creation; roasted baby bok choy and fig glazed chickens were both new to the table. Maybe this is being too cerebral, but in honoring our fall traditions this weekend, and bringing new roles, activities, dishes, and Mark into it, we did what I did with the crisp, made an old tradition new again. I have to admit, getting up early on a Saturday, driving 2+ hours up 95 and coordinating all family members originally felt like it was going to be a chore. But on Sunday, when it was all said and done, and I was sitting there eating my nouveau apple crisp, leaning up against Mark coughing and blowing our noses, laughing over my family's idiosyncrasies and weekend antics, I realized that it what it was all about. Honoring and reliving memories by making new ones, keeping traditions alive by making them our own.

I'm looking forward to the holidays and making many more....

Spiced Apple Crisp


Ingredients:

Crumb:

  • 3/4 cup Gluten Free Flour
  • 1/2 Cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts (finely)
  • 7 table spoons salted butter - softened
  • 1 tablespoon cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 cup caramel sauce


Apples:

  • 2 lbs apples - sliced to 1/8" thick pieces
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 5 cloves
  • 2 star anise
  • 2 table spoons cold butter - cut into small pieces


Directions

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 
  • Place a small piece of cold butter in the bottom of each baking ramekin, or several in the bottom of your pie pan.
  • Heat lemon juice, do not boil.
  • Grind clove and anise and add to hot lemon juice - allow to steep for 30 minutes
  • In a large bowl combine "Crumb" ingredients, mixing using a pastry knife, until there are pea size pieces and it is slightly sticky (not wet) - add more butter if needed
  • In a large bowl combine apples, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
  • Once lemon juice is steeped, strain it, and toss with apple mixture just prior to baking
  • Fill ramekins or pie pans, placing apples in even layers, and top generously with Crumb
  • Bake for 20 to 30 minutes until you being to see bubbling and the topping browns
  • Remove from oven and drizzle immediately with caramel sauce
  • Top with Ice cream and serve immediately OR allow to cool 30 mins and serve with whipped cream


Enjoy!












Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Normal Life & Alternative Pizza - Back in Pursuit

I haven’t written this blog in a while. I think there are a lot of reasons, but it’s probably due in most part to the fact that I have spent the majority of the last 12 months living and working in Guadalajara, Mexico. No, this is not the only reason for not writing, nor is my return some impetus to begin again. I just have been involved in a rather consuming process of finding myself again, which may or may not have involved eating a LOT of tacos along the way. Regardless, I am back in Baltimore, back in my city, back to running my favorite streets and trails, back with my friends and family, back in my home, and back to life.

I originally started this blog as a way to share my passion for food and cooking and find a creative outlet through writing. This was to be a bridge to balance between my highly qualitative (arguably soulless) 9 to 5 preoccupations and my culinary and lifestyle aspirations (read: proletariat flights of fancy). Well, turns out Mexico called, and the 9 to 5 got the best of me for a bit. I was honestly lacking the inspiration and direction in my personal life (the modicum that existed outside my projects and time in transit), so this blog completely fell off the map. I thought about writing about my time in Mexico, and I promise I will, but it just didn’t feel right, I didn’t have a strong enough narrative to justify a return. What was it then that made me want to write again?

Normal life, I am back to normal life. I came home (for the 5th time), the dust settled, I have an incredible boyfriend, social and family network, amazing city and wonderful home, I fell back in love with my normal life and I am ready to start chasing umami once again.

So, as one might imagine, Mexico was a calorie heavy experience. The inherent nature of the cuisine combined with my expense account empowered dining ability have led me to a place where I am forced to be carbohydrate conscious, at least until I can put on my size 29”'s without swearing in Spanish.

That said, I do have a man to dote on, and that man has a well-documented obsession with pizza. Naturally, my carb conscious orientation is in direct conflict with my romantic intentions, quite the conundrum.

The solution – find an alternative to pizza crust. Unfortunately, this "Alternative" pizza is typically abroad category of gummy root vegetable or trendy (cardboard-esque) grain based imposters that generally suck. So to make my pizza lover happy, and keep myself from succumbing to caloric guilt, I realized it would take some creativity to do this right.

In a grand culinary gesture I decided I would attempt a cauliflower crust pizza in an attempt to liven up a dull work night dinner. I had done a little research, determined it was the best among poor choices, and theorized I would just prepare enough vegetable toppings that even if the crust failed we could sustain ourselves on a plethora of eggplants, peppers etc….admittedly I have never been good at culinary contingency planning.

I got up early the Sunday prior, hopped out of bed eagerly, ready to hit the Jones Falls Farmer’s market with all the vigor of a suburban homemaker on their weekly urban forage.

The end of Summer, September into the beginning of October, is the best time at the farmer's market. You can find fresh beans, peppers, eggplants, broccoli, squash, beets, and in later weeks Brussels sprouts and cauliflower all in one place. You can also people watch, as the county hoards flood the aisles with cumbersome baby strollers and contraband pets, eyeing up produce but clearly going to end up in the impossibly long lines for prepared items – it's an Onion editorial waiting to happen... Anyway, this last Sunday I managed a good haul; heirloom tomatoes at their peak, plump eggplants, brilliant bell peppers and a bag full of uncharacteristically spicy and beautifully deep green poblano peppers. Due to seasonal timing, I was forced to buy a head of cauliflower from the supermarket, this was a key ingredient for my potential love note of a pizza, so I had no choice.

Tuesday night rolled around, the week was already dragging, and I was ready to give this long shot a chance. I broke out my previously unused food processor, a gift upon one of my returns from Mexico, and gave it a go. I started reading several touchy-feely and overly prescriptive “alternative crust” recipes for inspiration, and through the murk discovered a common theme. Cheese.

Cheese is my religion, so in no time I decided to use grated parimigiano reggiano for flavor and for its advantages as a binding agent in the absence of gluten. As I strategized, my stomach began to growl and my boyfriend affirmed of his lack of work day sustenance in a whiny tone that grated on my hangry ears. It was becoming apparent this crust HAD to work… if only avoid putting my relationship at risk.

With the added pressure, I decided to abandon my previous (perhaps foolhardy) hope of a grain free crust, and use some cooked quinoa for extra structure (and fiber). I excused it as a carb-based insurance policy.

Once I prepared the “dough” my hopes began to fade, despite my drying attempts on the cauliflower, the combination was very wet. I spread it on my pizza stone anyway, and threw it in the oven.  I thought I was witnessing the realization of my worst fears as it baked. Like a nervous parent, I watched it take on an eggy, almost spongy aspect, something many an aspiring health food recipe reviewer had warned about. It was too late to turn back, at this point I was well over 30 minutes in and aside from a last ditch tacos order (NO MORE TACOS) I had no other choice but to see this through to avoid mutual hypoglycemic meltdowns.

About 45 minutes into the baking process, I began to see the light as the crust started to harden. I had spent the entire meantime successfully prepping my toppings so I could now give the pizza base my full attention. Faced with a moderately hard but disturbingly quiche like crust, I decided to turn up the heat, hoping the last minute surge might help achieve the browning and crispness I needed to achieve the ultimate alternative pizza success – pick-up-ability.

Apparently I still have good instincts, because 15 mins later I pulled out a browned, crispy, sufficiently rigid, and thankfully un-quiche-like pizza crust.

I topped the crust, first with the feta cheese so the moisture therein would flavor the base as it went back in for final cooking, then layered grilled eggplant, poblano, bell peppers all brushed with garlic-herb oil, then fresh heirloom tomatoes in various hues (because it has to look good for Instagram) and finally dusted it off with more parmigiano (because, well, cheese). Back in the oven for 15 minutes and then the final test – dinner with the pizza fanatic. How did it turn out you ask?

Well, we are still together, my Instagram had enough likes not to be taken down, and I didn’t feel like I broke any carbohydrate rules – win win win. In all reality, it was delicious, and totally pick-up-able. Admittedly the crust was super time intensive, but if planned right, the baking time can easily be used for even more elaborate topping prep, like searing steak tips for a chimichurri pizza or even grilled shrimp for scampi iteration. There are a lot of possibilities that will come out of this crust, which bodes well for me in many ways. That said, I probably won’t blog about pizza again for a while, I am ready to get back in the kitchen and back in the pages of magazines looking for the next challenge or fantasy. I am happy to be once again Chasing Umami!

Enjoy:

Harvest Pizza – Cauliflower-Quinoa Crust with Grilled Eggplant, Peppers & Heirloom Tomatoes

This recipe is the perfect way to savor the end of the summer produce and celebrate the beginning of fall favorites! Featuring juicy heirloom tomatoes, vibrant eggplant , crispy bell and spicy poblano peppers, and as well as the autumn hallmark cauliflower, this pizza is the perfect bridge meal to enjoy as the seasons change and the local market offerings reach their peak. The pizza crust is gluten free, and the toppings can be varied based on what you find in your local market. As the crust takes a while to bake, use this time, to prepare your ingredients, if the weather permits you can enjoy the outdoors by grilling these summer and fall staples.

Ingredients:
  • 1 large head of cauliflower (rough chop into similarly sized florets)
  • 1 ½ cups cooked quinoa (cook ahead and chill)
  • 1 ½ cup grated parmigiano reggiano
  • ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • 1 medium eggplant
  • 3 heirloom tomatoes – sliced horizontally
  • 1 poblano pepper, halved and seeded
  • 1 red bell pepper, halved and seeded
  • Evoo
  • Dried oregano, basil, ground black pepper, garlic powder, and crushed red pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • Sea Salt to taste
  • Preparation


The Crust:
Pre-heat oven to 400F, then in a food processor, pulse cauliflower until it is rice or breadcrumb sized. Boil in salted water for about 4 minutes, and strain in a fine mesh strainer or extra fine colander. Place in the center of a large clean kitchen towel. Gather the corners together securely, and twist over the sink to remove as much water as possible, you want the “cauliflower crumbs” to be as dry as possible. In a large bowl, combine 1 cup parmigiano reggiano, garlic powder, eggs, and “cauliflower crumbs” until evenly incorporated. Form a large ball and place in the center of your pizza stone or baking try on parchment paper. Using your hands, or placing another piece of parchment on top, form the ball into the desired circle or rectangle shape. Take care not to allow any very thin spots or holes in the crust to form. Pinch up the sides to form a crust edge. Bake for 45 mins at 40, then turn up to 450 for another 15 until browning, and using a spatula you confirm the crust is crisp and rigid enough to be picked up.

The Toppings

While the crust bakes…. Slice the eggplant into ½” thick rounds, score each side in a cross hatch pattern, lightly salt and allow to sit in the open air for 15 mins. This allows the excess moisture in the eggplant to come to the surface and evaporate, making cooking faster and flavor richer. After 15 mins, brush off salt and eggplant “sweat” over the sink to prepare for cooking. I prefer to use a grill with these ingredients, but you can easily prepare your toppings on a stove top, just be aware that sautéing eggplant can be an evoo heavy endeavor as they tend to absurd a lot of oil as they cook. Please note, you can follow similar steps adding sweet onions or zucchini cut on a bias if you have those items available.

Heat grill to medium and place eggplant and pepper halves on the grilling surface. Combine ½ cup evoo with your dried seasonings and carefully brush the top side of each vegetable. Flip the vegetables every 5 minutes, brushing the top side accordingly, until the peppers are soft and get a slight char, remove them from heat. Eggplant will require more time, and a few more flips/brushings. You may want to use tongs to press some of the additional water content out of the eggplant, the more tender and cooked the better the flavor. After 20-25 minutes remove from heat. Once peppers have cooled slightly, remove as much of the outer skin as possible by hand. Slice thin lengthwise. Once eggplant has cooled, cut each round in half.

Once crust is crispy, you can add your toppings.  First, place feta crumbles directly on the crust. The little bit of moisture they will release during cooking will flavor the crust and help retain a bit of tenderness. Then place the eggplant, peppers and tomatoes evenly on top. Use the remaining ½ cup of grated parmigiano to dust the entire pizza. Finish with spicy crushed red pepper and/or dried oregano to taste. Place in oven at 450 for 10-15 minutes until the feta has melted and the parmigiano begins to brown. Allow to cool just 5 minutes before cutting and serving.



Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Over it…and on to Mac & Cheese



Once in a while I get home from work and it’s just been one of  those days when it is all I can do within my power not to rip open a box of Kraft Mac & Cheese and gorg myself on all that I feel is unholy about food – don’t even ask me why I have it in my home…
 

This happened this past Monday due to a combination of not enough sleep over the weekend, a call out at work, bad brow day, and general malaise about the 9 to 5 life, also known as “The Usual”.


After a series of “I’m over it…” and “I am so out of sh*ts to give already” text conversations with various friends, I had pushed my dietary neuroses aside and decided something gluteny, cheesy, and most likely artificially flavored was definitely on the dinner horizon.  My 8:45pm office departure time only exacerbated the issue so as I bolted through the office doors I had accepted my fate, and already moved onto the caloric denial phase that usually hits the next morning.


I’m not sure if it was the few lingering joggers I passed on the walk home, or a second wind of self-discipline that overcame me as I pranced along to Rihanna Pandora, but by the time I reached my front door I had decided to do battle against the Mac & Cheese urge. I am never really one to indulge emotional extremes (cough, cough).


I chose my weapons carefully; red wine (obviously) to clear the mind, cheese to feed the demon inside, cauliflower to fill the starchy void, and finally prosciutto…just because. In other words, I would recreate Mac & Cheese, less the guilt. I used a combination of parmigano for the piquancy and salt, mozzarella for the goo factor, and taleggio for the earthy, meaty flavor it imparts. Adding rosemary, just because of how well it plays with pork, added the level of sophistication and flavor balance that I just wasn’t willing to let go. The result, while not pretty, was indulgent, satisfying, and exactly what I needed to put this Monday to bed.


While this dish will never really replace Kraft Mac & Cheese, it can fill that emotional void and allows me to maintain my culinary pride and dietary compulsions despite trying circumstances. Cauliflower is one of my favorite late season vegetables with which to work and I have no doubt this dish will repeat throughout the fall and winter, at least as long as there are days like Monday.


Cauliflower & Prosciutto – “Mac & Cheese”


Ingredients:

  • 1 large head of cauliflower – chopped into uniform 1-1 ½ in pieces
  • 3 oz taleggio – chopped into ½ in cubes
  • 4 oz shredded mozzarella
  • 3 oz grated parmigiano
  • 3 oz prosciutto di parma "San Daniele" – chopped or torn into bite-size pieces
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

  • Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • In a small baking dish combine cauliflower, mozzarella, prosciutto, olive oil and rosemary, using a large spoon mix so ingredients are even distributed, adding salt and pepper to taste.
    • Tip: If you want to reduce cooking time, cook the cauliflower for 7 mins in boiling salted water, drain, and then put in the oven, I do this in a time crunch but find it can compromise the flavor.
  • Bake for 20 mins, remove from oven and carefully drain excess moisture that may have drained from the mozzarella.
  • Add taleggio evenly across the top, and cover in parmigiano, bake for an additional 20 mins until cheese is browned and cauliflower is tender.
  • Serve in a colorful bowl!


Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Holiday Table - Baltimore Style

Baltimore Magazine recently featured this blog as a part of their 2013 Holiday Entertaining Guide.

I am both honored and humbled to have been a part of the feature, so a big thank you is in order for everyone at BMag!

To make a long story short, I was asked to put together a holiday inspired menu as well as entertaining ‘tips and tricks’ to be featured on a thematic tablescape designed by the magazine's stylists.


 


Needless to say I was instantly channeling my inner gay, teutonic, Giada DiLaurentiis and whipping myself into an Ina Garten style domestic frenzy, but I had to answer a few questions first… 

I’m including my responses here because I think it gives good insight into why I’m writing this blog and explains the persistent afterglow having cooked for this piece.


What is your background in?

    • I work in finance, however, I spent 10 years in various roles in the hospitality industry from marketing to floor management. It was during this time, under some inspiring talents, that I developed my interest in and appreciation for food and wine. I was also fortunate to do several stints studying abroad, during which I acquired my love for travel and the exploration of diverse locales and cultures. These experiences combined to give me an insatiable curiosity centered on the food, wine, and culinary traditions around the world, and it’s through my own cooking and travel that I get to satisfy those urges, this is my creative and sensory outlet in my 9 to 5 world.

What brings you to Baltimore?

    • I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, most of my childhood and adolescence spent as a figure skater. After my career as an athlete ended, I was drawn to Baltimore for college at Loyola University where I studied International Business. My father's family is quite large and has been in Baltimore for a many years and I had spent a good deal of time here growing up, so therefore, I felt at home right away. Through the years I forged a deeper connection with the city and the people in it, falling in love with so many things, and decided to stay after graduating. Here I am now, enjoying life in Upper Fells Point.

How would you describe your blog?

    • This blog is my way to share my experience; cooking, dining, living my day-to-day as a member of the 'Aspirational Proletariat' to which so many of us belong. It’s a personal account, a real-life version of the high-gloss images and scintillating tales of transcendent meals and cultural adventures that inspire me in print, television, and daily life, all experienced within the confines of my 9 to 5 reality.

How long have you been blogging?

    • I started blogging at the beginning of 2013, but I have to admit I’ve been writing amateur restaurant reviews and travel stories since I was 10, I hope no one ever reads those…

What do you love about holiday cooking?

    • I love that the holidays are a chance to go over the top with everything you do. Whether it’s décor, the variety of your spread, or even the richness of the dishes you prepare. No one will fault you for a little excess during the holidays. It is a perfect chance to try new things and really indulge your guests, family, friends, and ultimately yourself.

What’s your favorite holiday and why?

    • Thanksgiving, hands down. For me, it’s the perfect holiday, family and friends gathering around food, what could be better.? I also happen to love cooking during this season, fall flavors and produce like sage, chestnuts, pumpkin, and cauliflower are some of my favorites with which to work. I guess it doesn’t hurt that my absolute favorite wines, Amarone and Valpolicella Ripasso, are arguably some of the best to pair with turkey!

The Menu


My favorite culinary traditions are those of Italy and southern Germany, perhaps because of my travel experience and my personal heritage. Therefore, this is instantly where my mind goes when I think of a holiday menu. Glühwein, rich savory Casunsei (Ravioli), an abundance of seafood, decadent Pork roasts with root vegetables, and sweet delicate desserts like vanillekipferl or pfeffernuss are those items that make this type of cooking the highlight of the year.

For the purposes of the article I focused my menu on side dishes that capture iconic flavors and items I knew would be vibrant in photographs. 

My choices of the spiced wine, vibrant nutty salad, sweet and spicy carrots, simple grilled fish, and the savory and sweet custard are all nods to these traditions in some way but also come from my personal taste. Chilies from New Mexico, piquant blue cheese, and rich caramel are all some of my favorite flavors and things that I look forward to during the holidays and all year long. These recipes are simple and can easily be modified to fit any occasion.


Menu 


 Beverages:

·         Spiced Wine – Glühwein – I make mine with typical mulling spices of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and cloves, adding cardamom and black peppercorns for a deeper flavor and aromatics, finishing off with orange rind and brandy, then cooking on very low heat for an hour before serving. I serve in a large glass punch bowl and garnish each glass or mug with a cinnamon stick.

Food:

·         Finger Foods:

o    Fennel ‘Fries’

·         Sides:

o    Warm Radicchio, Cayenne-Candied Walnut, and Gorgonzola Piccante Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette

o    Roasted Red Chili Glazed Rainbow Carrots with Toasted Pine Nuts

o    Harissa Grilled Makerels on Grilled Bread

·         Dessert

o    Salted Carmel & Spiced Rum Custard with Fresh Whipped Cream



Recipes can be found online by clicking HERE


Holiday Entertaining Strategies


Entertaining on any scale, whether I host a friend for dinner or throw a neighborhood cocktail party, is my absolute favorite thing to do. Cooking and hosting have become my creative outlets and I live for the chance to welcome people into my home and share this part of my world. I take much of my inspiration from what I see in print and on TV, and I try to make it my own whether it be a recipe or a decorating idea. It’s my way of living those dreamlike images within the confines of my 9 to 5 life.

So as far as the entertaining ‘tips & tricks’ go, I consulted some close, like-minded friends, and really just reflected on the types of things I give myself as ‘to-dos’ whenever I entertain. Whether it's a small dinner party or an all day brunch, these are simple dishes or strategies I have found particularly successful.


·         Make a Savory Statement - Inspired by a designer friend known for her stunning plates, I've always liked to have a beautiful 'statement' charcuterie and cheese platter for guests to enjoy throughout any event. I try to use slightly unexpected items like autumn leaves, fresh flowers, crispy fennel, pickled okra, or even some candied bacon just to keep things visually interesting and to highlight the headlining meats and cheeses.


·         Add Some Flavor to Your Table Use colorful and unique ramekins for salt, pepper and other seasonings that you want on your table rather than the usual (and often mundane) shakers one might normally find. This adds visual interest to the tablescape in subtle and unexpected ways.


·         Mix & Match – Use vintage and mismatched glassware for pre-dinner cocktails and antique tea cups for dessert or coffee service. Each one can be a conversation starter while the meal begins and ends. I love collecting these pieces whenever I travel and it’s fun to tell friends about the process.


·         Spread the Spread - Placing food and beverage stations in various locations throughout the home or entertaining space rather than all in one central 'buffet & bar' location creates natural flow and allows guests to mingle more freely. This is especially important in smaller homes or compact urban environments (like my Baltimore row home) where one might even consider putting certain items outdoors to expand the entertaining space.


·         Local Color! – When possible, source all flower arrangements locally, the Fells Point Farmers Market or Ellen Frost at Local Color Flowers is my Go-Tos! By doing so, one can naturally lend an authentic seasonality to the table top or display.


·         Start from Scratch Make at least one item completely from scratch. Whether it is pasta, bread, pickles or even a cocktail infusion, creating something entirely your own puts your personal stamp on the entire event. 


·         Get that Feeling Choose your menu and decor carefully, giving it a cohesive, consistent, and thematic ‘Feeling’. Plan how you want your guests to think and feel when they enter the home or room, and develop that idea in everything you serve. I try to select a theme that is a nod to the season or a particular cultural culinary tradition, that way the décor and dishes relate naturally to each other and are all relevant to the whole of the experience, i.e  ‘Alpine Christmas’ dinner or ‘A Springtime in Italy’ Brunch.

·         Have Plan and Hire Help – Make sure you have thought through every stage or step of your event so as to avoid unexpected surprises during service. No one likes a harried host, so whether it’s hiring a professional or a begging a good friend, always designate someone to help with the minutia of execution and clean up.



Overall, this was an incredible experience and everyone should go pick up the magazine!


It made very clear to me what I love about food and entertaining, inspired my creativity, distilled my passion, and I am left feeling even more dedicated to building on this part of my life, my pursuit of umami.