For those who love to cook, there is possibly no outing quite as enjoyable as a trip to the farmers’ market. Getting to see what’s at its peak and speak with the people who grew it feels like a privilege in comparison to shopping at the grocery store.
I like to go without a plan, grab whatever looks best and then spend my walk home daydreaming about what I can make. While I have a terrible memory when it comes to things like names, my brain has a crystal clear index of every recipe I’ve ever read, most of the ingredients within it and where I can find it. It also catalogs all food images from places like Instagram and food magazines.
This week, when I scored the most beautiful, deeply purple eggplants with taut, shiny skin and cherry tomatoes so sweet I could have popped an entire pint as if they were berries, I was reminded of a picture I’d seen on Canal House’s Instagram feed.
These days, I prefer to cook from pictures rather than recipes. The former allows for creativity and spontaneity, while the latter is time consuming (re-referring to the written word) and/or disappointing (I usually know how to produce the flavors I prefer). As the famous Italian chef Lidia Bastianich said in a recent interview, “Release yourself from the recipe!”
So, with that in mind, I hit my kitchen to make a braised eggplant dish sweet with cherry tomatoes, rich with olive oil, and spicy with garlic and red pepper flakes. Chris and I sat down to dinner with the dutch oven between us, a fresh ball of burrata cheese, sliced crosswise and drizzled with our best Italian extra virgin olive oil, and pan-fried and garlic-rubbed peasant bread to serve as a bed for it all. I also made a shaved fennel and arugula salad showered with plenty of lemon juice and more olive oil because I always like to have something bright to cut through something so rich.
This is the rustic fair that dreams are made of.
EGGPLANT BRAISED WITH CHERRY TOMATOES AND GARLIC
2 small to medium eggplant
4 cloved garlic, thinly sliced
¼ tsp red chile flakes
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 pints cherry tomatoes, left whole
Several handfuls of basil, torn
1 ball burrata or a couple of balls of fresh mozzarella (optional)
Grilled or pan-fried and bread rubbed with garlic (peasant loaf, ciabatta, or any other bread you like)
Salt and pepper
Prep the eggplant: Peel long strips down the eggplant from stem to end, leaving them with a zebra print. Next, make a partial slit lengthwise down the center of the eggplant but try not to cut all the way through. This is just so the flavorful broth has an easier time penetrating the eggplant. Season them lightly with salt and freshly ground pepper, massaging them into the eggplant a bit.
Preheat a braising pot over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Once hot, pan fry the eggplants, turning them every two minutes until they are well-browned on all sides. Remove them to a plate.
Add remaining two tablespoons olive oil and add 4 thinly sliced garlic cloves and a generous pinch of red pepper flakes. Once garlic is very lightly golden, add in the 2 pint whole cherry tomatoes, a generous pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper, and stir to combine. Place top on braising pot and let it do its thing over medium-low heat.
After about 20 minutes, most of the cherry tomatoes will have popped open, producing a juicy liquid. Taste it and correct seasoning with more salt if necessary. Carefully add the eggplant into the juicy tomatoes, slit side up and ladle a little of the braising liquid inside the eggplant. Add a sprig of basil, pushing it into the liquid, cover and continue to braise for 20 minutes. At this point, the eggplant will be meltingly tender and flavorful.
To serve, remove the sprig of basil and add a fresh shower of leaves over the braise. Present the whole pot on the table with several spoons to dig in, grilled garlic-rubbed bread and burrata or sliced fresh mozzarella. Enjoy!
Serves 4 (Any leftovers can be smashed into a delicious pasta sauce for later in the week!)
A few weeks back I missed a flight home after a weekend well spent at my alma mater in Boulder, Colorado. I made the conscious decision to revive my long lost laid-back identity and set my New York City chaotic mind aside. I got so wrapped up in my go-with-the flow itinerary that I thought my flight was some arbitrary time like 6pm when it was actually at 12:25pm and I didn’t even stop to double check. So, when I finally figured it out in an awkward, tearful phone call with a JetBlue customer service representative I got that feeling like my throat was going to close up and my emotions were a rapid tornado of frustration, shame and dread. Those long Colorado days spent worshiping the sun and dipping my toes in creeks sent down the drain. Not to mention the major emotional melt-down that occurred in my boyfriend, Peter’s, rental car, his best friend in the back seat and my lack of composure totally hijacking what should have been an enthusiastic sendoff to their pending backpacking trip, Peter’s, parting words “this is why you should always check in to your flight 24 hours before” taunting my self-esteem. I was stranded in Colorado with the thought of cooking straight after a three-hour red-eye weighing heavily. In situations such as this I usually find myself eating a gas station snickers bar or binge watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians on my phone, but I couldn’t let this annoying miscalculation send me into an even deeper spiral of shame. Instead, I would hold onto my final hours in Colorado and meditate like any ex-boulderite would do.
Yes, I’m going to talk about meditation. Flashback to freshman year of college at the University of Colorado when I got college credit for two meditation classes held in my dorm. I know what you’re thinking, only in Boulder. At first, I must admit, I was most excited about getting credit for a class centered around something not far from napping (sleep is my favorite part of my day apart from food). But after a few classes I was amazed by how fascinated and inspired the course made me. One of the fundamental practices in meditation is mindfulness. This is ultimately what my Colorado retreat was lacking, but how fitting was it to be in Colorado and have this realization, some might even call it destiny…
I wiped my tears, took lots of loud breaths and found an impromptu free yoga class around the corner. And then as if Gandhi himself was reincarnated into my yoga instructor, she starts on a monologue about losing her wedding ring. We all know this feeling and at this moment in my life so many things feel uncertain and overwhelming that it’s easy to lose sight of the day to day. It’s especially true living in a gigantic city with so many jobs to do, errands to run, groceries to carry, people to see, places to eat that just stopping for a second to reflect feels like an inconvenience. So, if there was any way to reflect (meditate) but not waste any valuable time, mindfulness is the answer! And if you were wondering how this all tied into food, here it is: mindful eating is the best way to do this.
I couldn’t believe I ever let this practice go. So, after my yoga class I wandered to a bar down the street called Linger, an aptly named bar for my current situation, to consciously eat alone.
For people that love to eat, mindful eating is simple but you have to put your phone away, shut your computer, turn off your T.V. and sit down. It’s about looking at your food, tasting each ingredient and thinking about how you’re feeding your body in that moment. It sounds gushy, but it’s truly the easiest way to decompress and as my mediation teacher would say, south your soul. AND studies have actually proven that people who exercise mindful eating actually tend to eat less. There I was eating Pad Thai, completely at ease, thinking about nothing more than the breeze trickling into an open bar, the taste of my ice-cold draft beer and the tangy combination of lime and cilantro marinating on my tongue.
Signed your hippie-dippy foodie, Charlotte <3
I can’t think of a single smoky-flavored food I don’t love. Smoked salmon and trout, all manner of BBQ, bacon…but living in Brooklyn with outdoor cooking prohibited and a sensitive fire alarm makes achieving that flavor with fire nearly impossible. Enter: smoked paprika.
I first added this spice into my culinary repertoire about five years ago when making David Tanis’ Pimenton Roast Chicken with Crispy Potatoes. To be honest, before this recipe I shied away from most dishes with paprika. I’m not sure why exactly. Probably because the only paprika I tasted growing up was a generic supermarket brand that had been sitting in the back of my parents’ spice drawer for years. I thought paprika was a spice that added a red hue but not much else to a dish. Boy, was I wrong.
Tanis’ crisp-skinned roast chicken had a depth of flavor I didn’t know was possible without open-fire cooking. It was garlicky, a little bit spicy and with a deep smoky aroma. With the success of this recipe, smoked paprika quickly inherited valuable real estate in my spice rack.
This spice is made most often in Spain where ripe red chile peppers are dried slowly over smoldering oak for up to two weeks before being ground into the powder we find on market shelves. Other aliases include pimenton, smoked pimenton, and Spanish paprika. The second you take a whiff, you’ll know you have the right spice. You can also find it at varying levels of heat, from sweet (dulce) to spicy (picante). I like all of them so that’s just a matter of personal preference.
Below are several favorite ways to use smoked paprika in cooking. This is a spice you can be quite heavy handed with, so don’t be shy. Give one or two of them a try and I promise you’ll be hooked.
On vegetables – sprinkle over roasted or grilled corn, cauliflower, sweet potatoes,
In vinaigrettes – add a pinch or two to a mix 50/50 mix of lime/olive oil (add a touch of honey or agave too, and of course salt and pepper to taste)
On proteins – sprinkle over fried eggs, season a mild white fish like halibut with it for fish tacos (use cumin too), use it on any poultry, or even use it as your secret ingredient in burgers
On pepitas – when toasted pumpkin seeds on the stovetop, add a little olive oil, salt, and smoked paprika for the last few minutes of toasting
On legumes – fry chickpeas in olive oil on the stovetop for about 10-15 minutes until crispy, adding a generous pinch of smoked paprika for the last few minutes and then finishing the whole thing with a squeeze of lime juice
With love always, Laura
Nothing says great 4th of July party like a busy grill, packed to maximum capacity with juicy burgers, hot dogs and their ever-so-slightly burnt accompanying buns.
It’s festive, it’s fun and it’s worth it. It’s red meat, gluten, dairy and beer. It’s a whole bunch of condiments made who knows when, containing who knows what. And you know what? That’s okay! It’s important to make room for moments like these.
But just because there’s red meat and gluten on your plate doesn’t mean there’s not room for veggies, too. A healthy lifestyle is just that; a lifestyle. It’s sustainable, balanced living.
Besides, it’s summer! The beginning of the season marks an exciting turning point in our food lives, and it’s not only because of cold beers and burgers.
Suddenly, we’re going to the local green market and filling our totes to the brim with corn, arugula and strawberries, munching as we go. Packing picnics consisting of nothing but heirloom tomatoes, butter and bread, and loving every bite. Enjoying perfectly ripe and juicy stone fruit at pretty much every moment possible.
In other words, we’re beginning to enjoy a whole lot of healthy, raw fruits and vegetables. Our gravitational pull towards the stovetop is less strong; we crave chilled soups, made in the Vitamix and served straight out the refrigerator. We become reacquainted with big salads full of shaved veggies and herbs.
When we do cook, we try to do it outdoors, at night and with a cold glass of rose in hand. And the shopping list is often minimal. A good selection of vegetables and a few cuts of meat is all we need to entertain our palettes, as well as those of our friends.
So, this 4th of July, let’s not forget how lucky we are to be enjoying this new crop of ingredients. There’s so much to work with, and the list of possibilities extends far beyond holiday classics like corn on the cob, potato salads and slaws.
If you’re going to a party or throwing one of your own, why not try to add some umph to the selection of vegetable sides and salads? It doesn’t need to overshadow the other fun stuff, but we think it deserves some love, too!
Not sure what to make? We’ve left you with some loose inspiration below.
Corn and Nectarine Salad
Toss grilled corn with fresh nectarines, some torn basil and a bit of goat or Cojita cheese. I think this would be delicious tossed with lime juice and olive oil, but Bon Appetit makes it with a toasted spiced vinaigrette. I have to admit, it looks absolutely delicious!
Take grilled asparagus one step further by tossing it with some olive oil, lemon juice and minced garlic. And we doubt anyone would complain if you topped it with some shaved parmesan, too.
Tomato and Peach Salad
Toss heirloom and cherry tomatoes with peaches. Add a bit of torn basil and thinly sliced red onion into the mix, and dress well with olive oil and sherry vinegar. Optionally, top with crumbled feta, torn mozzarella or goat cheese.
Cold Pasta Salad with Edible Flowers, Veggies and Herbs
Make summer produce the star of your pasta salad by adding lots of fresh, raw veggies, herbs and edible flowers into the mix. Almost anything goes here! My mom used to make this with tortellini, bell peppers of every color, whatever herbs she was growing (usually tons of basil, parsley and chives) and nasturtiums. It was totally simple, but always a big hit! The key here is a heavy hand with the produce. And don’t forget to dress well with a good glug of olive oil and some red wine vinegar.
And don’t miss our Grilled Corn, Quinoa and Halloumi Salad (Pictured Above)