Brunch of Love

Posted: June 13, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

I love Brunch. The best thing, I think, about living in New York City is that brunch is a real meal. On Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 4pm, you can go to a restaurant and get foods that are neither on the breakfast nor the dinner menu – and drinks that you would never order if it was dinner.
My favorite place to get brunch is Essex, in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Essex serves som great brunch fare – excellent eggs benedict, a cubano that makes even this skeptic’s mouth water. Their Bloody Marys are spicy and strong, and the waitresses walk around with pitchers of mimosas, and up until recently, they didn’t keep count, so your 3 free mimosas were more like “3″ free mimosas.
Shamefully, even though I always say that I’m going to branch out and try some of their other wondrous things, I always end up getting one of 2 things; I love the Southern – biscuits and sausage gravy with fried eggs – and I love love the Mexican Matzo Brei – basically migas, with black beans and chunky guacamole.
I’ve tried a couple of their other offerings, but sadly I was disappointed – I always come back to the two faves, and my absolute favorite is the Mexican Matzo Brei. I generally don’t try to replicate restaurant favorites at home, instead leaving them to the experts. I believe that if you can do something perfectly, I should pay you for that.

However, a few weeks ago I was motivated to attempt to make Mexican Matzo Brei in my own kitchen. I blame the Pioneer Woman, mostly. She had a recipe in her cookbook for Migas, which I decided I would hack, because I didn’t have the patience to fry my own tortillas, and I don’t do cilantro. As I was reading it over, I realized with a start that here was the thing I’d been hoping for all my life! A recipe for Essex’s Mexican Matzo Brei!! I ran to assemble the ingredients, and started cooking.

adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks and Essex restaurant

1. Assemble your cast of characters: 1 bag of tortilla chips, 6 eggs, Shredded “taco” cheese, 1 red bell pepper, 1 jalapeno pepper, 1 fryer pepper(aka cubanelle), 1 tomato, 1 red onion.

2. Dice 1/2 the red onion, 1 red bell pepper, and 1/2 the fryer pepper very finely and evenly. Heat up 1-2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet over medium-high heat, and add the red onion and peppers. Cook until they are brown, but NOT sweated- we want crunch, not mush.

3. Beat the eggs with  1/4-1/2 cup of milk, salt, and pepper. Crush 2-3 big handfuls of tortilla chips until they’re roughly 1/2 inch squares, not to powder.

4. Chop up 1 tomato and 1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed (unless you want the heat) and add the tortilla chips and jalapenos to the skillet. Stir, cook for about 30 seconds, and add the tomatoes.

5. Add the eggs, folding gently to cook the eggs without smashing things up or turning them to mush. When they’re mostly set to your liking (I like mine pretty soft), sprinkle with shredded cheese and try not to drool.

I also served these with some Tasty Black Beans, which I’m premiering later this week on this blog, and some chunky guacamole. While it’s no replacement for Essex, and I’d rather go drink mimosas and not have to wash the dishes after, (not to mention eating a pre-brunch cupcake if the line is long at Essex), I really enjoy knowing that I can have Mexican Matzo-Brei anytime my little heart desires!

Try this, and tell me about YOUR favorite brunch dishes! Maybe we can have an at-home brunch revolution!

Fresh From the Farm

Posted: June 2, 2010 | Author: Rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

As a pretty-much vegetarian most of my grocery bill goes to fresh produce. Gush over Trader Joe’s as much as you want but I’ll never be much of a fan as long as they offer scant veggies and fruit — almost none of it organic at that! Previously I mentioned that I am joining a CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture, where us city (and suburban) folk buy shares of wares fresh from the farm. There are lots of advantages to this for both sides but I’m mainly excited for the guaranteed weekly vegetables. Now I can splurge on fancy stuff at the grocery store since the CSA is paid for in advance! Yeah, I’m looking at you, skyr.

Yesterday was the very first day of my CSA‘s pickup and my fellow foodies and I were quite impressed by the haul:

Now, I have a half-share, so everything listed on the sign is halved and split with my partner, some guy the coordinators paired me randomly with. While this is a cool way to meet new people in the CSA community, the guy never answered my email when I asked a logistical question and he hadn’t shown by the time I arrived. Not sure what’s up with that. A generous afterthought is that any leftover shares goes to the synagogue that hosts this CSA’s homeless shelter kitchen, so they will have fresh veggies themselves. Maybe that’s where this guy’s stuff will end up.

I eagerly carried my swag back home and cleaned them all now so I won’t have to waste time doing so later this week. Vegetables have to be koshered too: rinse or swish them in water three times, no more, no less. This is to assure that there are no insects hiding underneath leaves and one of the most forbidden things Jews can eat are insects. This took a long time!

Helpfully, the CSA sent out a newsletter the day before indicating what we’d be receiving along with a recipe, because I sure don’t know what do to with all of these greens. This week it was for a mango salsa and it contains cilantro:

Mango-Cilantro Salsa
Serves 3
Recipe by Maryellen Driscoll

1 heaping cup chopped mango (thawed, frozen mango works fine)
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons mild-flavored oil, such as peanut, walnut or grapeseed
Large pinch of red pepper flakes (or minced fresh jalapeño, amount to your liking)

Combine all of the above ingredients in a small bowl. Season with kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste. Let sit, refrigerated, for up to 4 hours before serving.

Luckily I happened to have mango and limes on hand, but not peanut oil, so I just used olive oil. I also spiced it up with pepper and chilli powder but it remained pretty mild. I was considering eating it for dessert but I think I will let it set in the fridge and marinate it on some fish tomorrow.

Mostly I was dreaming about eating bok choy but now that I think about it I have no idea how to prepare it! Instead I made a giant-ass salad and used maybe 1/8 of this week’s veggie haul. Bok choy will require some research.

In this salad is romaine, mixed greens, arugula, sliced radishes, a couple of stalks of green onions, half of a plum tomato, a handful of pumpkin seeds (raw), chickpeas, one beet, broccoli florets, 3 cloves garlic and dried raisins, cranberries and a couple of pecans. The dressing is a spiced olive oil/red wine vinegar/honey mix.

From the first bite you could tell these greens were fresh from the farm. The leaves are bigger, the texture silkier — especially the mixed greens, and all in all they were more flavorful too. This was picked THIS morning! Isn’t it amazing? And isn’t it furthermore amazing that people have so lost touch with the land and what they choose to consume that it’s novel, almost revolutionary, to buy food from farmers? Wow. I wish more people were able to experience this, especially for those that vegetables at all are considered a luxury.

On the other hand, this is a ton of food. Not sure how I’m going to use it all up every week, especially if earlier in the season means less items. Does this mean this is the least amount of stuff I’m going to receive for the next 21 weeks?? Eek. Weekly dinner parties at Rita’s?


Posted: January 25, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments »

One of my major concerns when I started training for my upcoming half-marathon was nutrition. I didn’t want to sacrifice delicious food for concerns about calorie counts, grams of fiber, and all the other things that runners worry about. I also didn’t want to make food that would be healthy for someone burning a ton of calories, but not so healthy for say, Jesse, who isn’t experience a sudden upswing in number of calories burned.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been just trying to cook like normal, adding in breakfast every day and making darn sure that I pack my lunch if at all possible; but in the back of my mind has been the concern that I’m going to have to start thinking about this shit soon. And that, my darlings, is where this soup comes in:

This is a runner’s minestrone. And it’s equally delicious if you think running is crap. Or if thinking about running makes you tired. Vegetarian? Check! Protein? Chock-full-of beans – Check! Carbohydrates? Tiny pasta pearls – Check! And the bonus? It’s just darn delicious.

Runner’s Minestrone
1. Put a large soup pot on the stove, over medium heat. Throw in a tablespoon each of butter and olive oil. Meanwhile, dice an onion, chop 2 or 3 celery stalks, and 2 or so carrots (mine were no-joke-jumbo carrots). Basically you want equal volumes and sizes for onion, celery and carrot, although if the carrot pieces are bigger, there is no problem.
Put the mirepoix in with the butter and oil, add a sprinkling of salt, and let the veggies start to get coated in the fat and release all their delicious juices.
2. Open and sorta-drain a can of beans. I had ecuadorean beans on hand, which are basically just small red beans. But cannelini beans, black beans, kidney beans, or heck, even chickpeas, would be great here. Add the beans to the veggies once they’re starting to soften, along with a good pinch of red pepper flake, and some oregano if you’re fancy. Stir, and let the starchy bean liquid bind together everything already in the pot.
3. Pour in a can of crushed fire-roasted tomatoes, and stir. Then, add 4 cups of vegetable stock, and 2 cups of water. Bring the pot to a simmer, and let the flavors become friendly.

4. This is where you can get creative. I had curly kale, zucchini, and green beans on hand, as well as acini di pepe, which are the little teeny pasta pearls. Acini Di Pepe means peppercorns, basically, in Italian. You could use ditalini, or pastina (the little stars) or even some other shape, as long as they’re SMALL. You want the veggies to be the stars here. Chop up basically any veggies you like and have on hand. Put them in the pot, and once the soup has regained its simmer, throw in a few handfuls of pasta. I probably used between a quarter and half a cup of acini di pepe, which are super tiny.
5. Let things simmer away until the pasta is cooked. Serve with a solid grating of some parmesan cheese, and you have a beautiful, beautiful thing.
This soup kept me full and full of energy and ready to go through my whole Saturday long run. It was delicious. And I foresee a LOT of this in my future.
I’m going to be adding a new tag called “Run Fuel”, full of my finds and foibles in a search for good running fuel that is also delicious and healthy to feed to Jesse. It’ll be an adventure. :)

Running and relationships

Posted: December 14, 2009 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

A few months ago, I took up running. It seemed like everybody I knew was doing it in some way, and some of my friends were doing amazing things, like running half-marathons for cancer research, and running the whole damn NYC Marathon with a bum knee. Around the same time, my dear friend Bakezilla made some cookies for a guy on a first date.
The running has continued. I’ve run in several races.
Bakezilla’s thing with her guy has also continued, and a few weeks ago the time came for us to meet this boy, so that Bakezilla could see whether he meshed with her friends, and I could scope him out and tell her if I got the serial killer vibe from him.

SPOILER ALERT: He’s not a serial killer. Not even the slightest hint of anything but nice guy.

In any event. After one Sunday morning of running in a race, Jesse and I were at a diner, sharing our post-race traditional brunch (corned beef hash, what what) and I realized that I had no real plan for the dinner I was cooking that night for Bakezilla and Boy. Risotto had been suggested, which is always a good move for me, because it’s such a one-pot favorite, and because it’s so easy to make while still interacting with guests.
While discussing the dinner and what I’d make, my brain’s tumblers clicked into place and I came up with a hearty, delicious offering that would also be interesting and vegetarian:

Risotto and Green beans

Pumpkin-Sage Risotto with Brown Butter

This dish has a lot of advantages. #1, it gives you a chance to roll your eyes and mutter under your breath that I must be at least half starch at this point, since I make risotto and blog about it so much. #2, it gives you a chance to put your dinner where your mouth is, and use the techniques that I talk about all the time. And #3, it gives you one more dish in your arsenal for vegetarians, for pumpkin-fiends, and for people who you want to like you, as much as you want to like them.
I make this in my Le Creuset braiser, because it has a flat bottom, shallow sides, and lots of area for the rice to suck up broth. I’d recommend a similar pan, if you can find one, or a big, straight-sided skillet.
You start this like any other risotto, sauteing an onion in butter, adding the rice and sauteing it, and then working the salt and stock in. In this case, I used vegetable stock. Near the end of cooking, add about half a cup of canned pumpkin, and 3 tablespoons of browned butter. You can adjust this to taste, especially if you’re making this for a crowd. I ended up with about 3/4 cup of pumpkin, I think. The browned butter is pretty crucial, as it lends a nice nuttiness to the risotto.

To brown butter, you put it in a pan over low heat. First, it will melt. Then, it will foam. Then, the foam will disappear. At this point, don’t walk away, because the butter will begin to smell nutty. As soon as you get the faintest whiff of nuttiness, TAKE THE BUTTER OFF THE HEAT. Browned butter becomes Burned butter in a matter of seconds, and the pan stays hot after you take it off the heat, thanks to the wonders of carryover heat. So please, I’m begging you. Don’t burn your butter, and then blame my risotto. It’s just not fair.

I put chopped sage leaves in with the butter while it was browning, and sprinkled more throughout the dish right before I served it. The sage meshed well with the brown butter and pumpkin, and the parmesan that I always add to the tail end of risotto echoed the nutiness of the brown butter. I served this with my typical green beans: blanched for 2 minutes, shocked in ice water, sauteed with shallots and lemon zest.

I can confidently say that it’s delicious. And that Bakezilla’s Boy is a win. I mean, anyone who eats 3 helpings of my cooking, picks out a great wine, AND helps make a pie? He’s a keeper. :)

Sunday Brunch, Anyday

Posted: November 14, 2009 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: brunch, Johanna, Make-Ahead, Monthly Mingle, vegetarian | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

One of my favorite bloggers recently posted a recipe for Saffron shortbread cookies. And she posted it as a participant in something called the Monthly Mingle. The internet is full of blog events, from Novel Food to Daring Bakers to the BBA Challenge.

This month’s Mingle theme is brunch recipes. Now, I love me some brunch, so I decided that a heck of a time to start participating would be with brunch. So….. away we go!
Breakfast Bread PuddingWhile I love french toast or a good stack of pancakes as much as anybody, I’m much happier to put my energies into a savory brunch, and similarly much happier to eat it. Plus, it’s difficult for me to make a brunch decision out at a restaurant that doesn’t involve cheese or eggs in some way. Unless it’s corned beef hash. And honestly, cheese on corned beef hash would be delicious, but overly decadent.
And yet I digress.
We were out at a party the night before our at-home brunch, and I knew that I would be up early the following morning to go for a run (4.5 miles. ughhh). So, when we got home from the party, I threw together a Breakfast Bread Pudding, which much like a strata, can be left in the fridge overnight, fully assembled, and baked the next morning.
Breakfast Bread Pudding
1. Butter a baking dish. It can be round or oval or rectangular, 9×13 or smaller, or possibly bigger if you scale up. I used a smaller one than I planned, but any baking dish will do, as long as it has 2-inch or higher sides.
2. Tear up half a loaf of crusty bread. We used Pan Paesano from Whole Foods, which has a delicious cornmeal crust, but please feel free to leave whatever loaf of bread you want out on the counter all day, so you can tear it up at night. Rip it into bite-sized pieces, and scatter them evenly over the bottom of the dish.
3. Dice 1 small onion and 1 clove of garlic, and saute in 1 tablespoon of butter until soft. Add roughly 8 ounces of chopped crimini mushrooms, and cook until softened and starting to color. Add a pinch of salt, and season with pepper. While the mushrooms and onions cook, halve 3/4 of a pint of grape tomatoes and reserve.
4. Whisk together 6 eggs and 1 cup of milk, and season with salt and pepper. Raid your cheese selection to see what you have left in the fridge. Grate whatever looks good — in our case some leftover Madrigal baby swiss that was used in several recipes, most notably the Most Amazing Mushroom Risotto EVER.  Grate 2/3 of a cup of cheese.
5. When the mushrooms are cooked, sprinkle the mushroom-onion mixture, as well as the tomatoes, over the bread chunks. Sprinkle with half the cheese. Pour in the egg mixture, and press everything down into the bottom of the baking dish. This is literally the most disgusting combination of sound and feeling ever, but persevere. Top with the rest of the cheese.
6. At this point, you could cover the bread pudding, and stick it in the fridge overnight. Otherwise, you could put it directly into a 350-degree oven for 1 hour.

You bring the champagne. I'll bring this.Call your friends up, and tell them to bring the mimosas.

Or, y’know, change out of your sweaty running clothes, thank the heavens for boyfriends who remember to put the food in the oven, and settle down on the couch with a plate of this and a cup of coffee. Your house will smell gorgeous and you will be eating a delicious meal. I suppose there might be more to life, but around 11am, I couldn’t think of a darn thing.

Alex Runs, Joh Cooks, pt.3!!!

Posted: November 1, 2009 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Alex Runs Joh Cooks, cheap, Johanna, vegetarian | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Just when you thought it was safe….. here comes another awesome and delicious vegetarian recipe, designed to help Alex run better, help her eat better, and help us fight cancer better. Please remember that for every comment with at least a name (that’s right, you can leave me the word “yum” and I’ll take it), I will donate to Alex’s cause. Her Half Marathon is coming up VERY SOON so we’re going to have a small blitz of recipes to keep her full and focused, and try to raise the donation total.

Vegetable Quinoa Salad I get really, really fired up about grains. I love them, and I love when they surprise me. Sometimes you read things about brown rice that surprise you. Sometimes, I order Barilla Plus multigrain pasta and it turns out to be the most delicious thing ever.

And then….. there’s quinoa.

Quinoa is basically a superduper grain. It’s high in fiber, it’s high in protein, it’s gluten-free, and it’s basically remarkable. The only thing you really need to know about it is that in order to get the most out of it, you need to soak it for a few hours in some water before you cook it. Otherwise, it’s easier and quicker to cook than rice, better for you than couscous (which is really just tiny pasta crumbs), more balanced than polenta, and delicious! Plus, it has a very interesting texture, and it’s super versatile.

To wit: I made Vegetable Quinoa salad. This isn’t really a hard-and-fast recipe, because you can change this up to fit what’s in season, what looks good, what you want to put in your vinaigrette, etc. Play around with it.

1 cup quinoa, soaked in cold water, and rinsed thoroughy
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 butternut squash, cut into cubes, sprinkled with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted at 375 until soft
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup kalamata olives (or other salty black olives) pitted and chopped
1/4 cup golden raisins
Olive Oil
Balsamic vinegar (I used some lovely blackcurrant balsamic that I spent a fortune on but any type is fine)

Bring the quinoa and stock to a boil (covered). Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.

Combine olive oil and vinegar in the bottom of a large bowl, season to taste, until you have a vinaigrette. You’re going to need to make a lot, because Quinoa will absorb a TON of dressing. Add in the squash, tomatoes, olives, and golden raisins. Season with salt and pepper.
When the quinoa has finished cooking, let it cool a little, and then toss it with a fork like you would couscous. Add the quinoa to the bowl with the veggies and vinaigrette, and stir to combine. Eat. Enjoy.

This is great with the quinoa still warm and the veggies all cool. It’s great with everything cold. It’s good to add to, because if you realize you need to use up your slivered almonds before they go bad, they’ll taste great in here. Have some steamed or sauteed kale or chard left over?? Toss it in, and enjoy. Like tofu or want some extra protein? Throw it in!

This makes a TON, and you can eat it for several days by fixing things. Plus,it feels light, so if you’re tapering you’re not going to feel guilty because you have a lead weight in your stomach.
The things I do for you…..
Comments = Dollars for Cancer Research!!! Hit it up!

Johanna: The Improviser

Never quite follows the recipe. Doesn't really measure. Tastes with her fingers. Somehow, it always works.

Alyssa: The Triple Threat

Can do it all. And modest to boot.

Bakezilla: We Use Mixers Too

She likes to bake. Actually, baking is the only thing she does. It's a passion.

Rita: The Kosher Chick

Restrictions have nothing on her.