Beer-Baked White Beans with Bacon and Rosemary

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White beans are one of my favorite things to eat. Whether they are Cannellini or Navy or Great Northern, I love them all. Up to now, I’ve always made them the simple way my mom always has. I soak them overnight and then boil them gently in water, adding carrot and potato chunks during the last 20 minutes of cooking. Steve and I have always loved eating big bowlfuls of them, generously drizzled with olive oil and with ample amounts of freshly squeezed lemon juice. We both love the broth that the beans make when they cook, as it mixes with the olive oil, lemon juice and salt in our bowls. We always drink it all up after finishing our beans. When I told my mom, who always serves the cooked beans drained from their broth, that we love to drink it she was surprised. “But it smells like farts!” she said with a disgust in her voice. DSC05293

But now I have a new favorite way to cook beans: baking them in beer. I’ve had this recipe for beer-baked beans bookmarked for a long time but I didn’t get around to trying it out until a couple of weeks ago. The beans cook in the oven in a covered pot, along with onions and garlic that have been sautéed in bacon fat, some rosemary, mustard, and honey. The result is a pot of beans that are cooked beautifully and with amazing complexity in flavor. There’s the bacon fat of course, which adds saltiness and plenty of umami, but also the mustard and honey that counterbalance each other (much like in honey mustard), and the rosemary to give it an herbal kick. Topping the bowl of beans with the crisp pieces of bacon that were used to render the bacon fat for the onions and garlic is the final touch that rounds everything out in both flavor and texture. And this bean broth is irresistible (it definitely smells nothing like farts mom!), the result of beer, chicken stock, and bacon coming together. DSC05299

Beer-Baked White Beans with Bacon and Rosemary – Slightly adapted from Martha Stewart

Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients:

6 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
1 yellow onion, diced small
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1-2 sprigs rosemary
1 pound dried white beans, such as Great Northern or cannellini, picked over, soaked overnight, and drained
2 bottles Belgian-style white ale (12 ounces each), such as Blue Moon or Hoegaarden
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons cider vinegar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350º F. In a large Dutch oven or heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid, cook bacon over medium heat until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp and browned, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Increase heat to medium-high; add onion and garlic to pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, about 4 minutes. Add mustard and honey; stir and cook 1 minute. Add rosemary, beans, beer, and broth; season with salt and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil; cover and transfer to oven.

Bake until beans are tender and most of liquid is absorbed, about 1½-2 hours. Season to taste with vinegar, salt, and pepper. To serve, stir in reserved cooked bacon.

 

Corpse Reviver No. 2

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At the New York Botanical Garden this week, a corpse flower that is ten years in the making has finally begun to bloom. Scientifically known as amorphophallus titanum (translated as “giant shapeless phallus” – stop giggling!), the corpse flower is fascinating. It can reach over 3 meters in height and when it blooms it looks magnificent, with a single, giant spathe (petal) that is green on the outside and deep burgundy red on the inside, wrapped around a core (spadix) that looks like an enormous loaf of french bread or a huge, misshapen penis. The flower takes 7-10 years before it blooms for the first time and when it does, it remains open for only 24-48 hours. Even more amazingly, the blooming flower smells like rotting animal flesh (hence its name), in order to attract carrion beetles and flies that help it pollinate.

So, in celebration of the New York Botanical Garden’s corpse flower blooming as I write this, pull out the cocktail shaker and make yourself a Corpse Reviver No. 2. I don’t know what happened to No. 1 (did it ironically die?) but this drink is everything I love in a cocktail. Bracingly sour, not too strong but strong enough to give you a pleasant buzz after just one, and very refreshing. Cheers!

Corpse Reviver No. 2

Makes one drink

Ingredients:

1 oz. gin
1 oz. Cointreau
1 oz. Cocchi Americano or Lillet Blanc
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 dash absinthe or ouzo or Piccard

Directions:

Put all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice and shake until outside of shaker is frosty 15-20 seconds. Strain in chilled martini or coupe glass and garnish with sprig of thyme.

Blueberry Lemon Muffins

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One of the most common questions people ask me when I tell them that I love to cook is “what type of food do you like to cook the most?” I am always flummoxed by the question. There were times in the past when I would have been easily able to answer it, like the time in my life when I was obsessed with Chinese food or the period when I explored French cooking. But the truth is, I no longer have a favorite type of food or cuisine that I enjoy the most. I usually choose what to make based on a few simple guidelines. Sometimes, I try a new recipe because I am intrigued by its ingredients or because it uses a method I’ve not used before. Other times, I cook or bake something that I am craving, like passion fruit ice cream because I really want its mysterious tropical flavor, or my mom’s pastitsio because I miss the flavors of my childhood.DSC05179

But most often, I really like to cook with what’s in season. After all, there’s no better time for squash soup than the fall and no better time for peach pie braided bread than late summer. When it comes to berries, fortunately the season lasts a long time. Though it’s supposed to be over by early summer, we still have delicious blueberries and raspberries for sale. And nothing goes better with blueberries than lemon. These muffins are perfect for breakfast. They are mildly sweet and a little tart. The addition of cornmeal makes them hearty and less cake-like. And of course, there are the blueberries. You could make these muffins with frozen blueberries any time of year, but take advantage of the fresh ones out now. They make the muffins so much better.DSC05187

Blueberry Lemon Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients:

1½ cups all purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar
1 lemon
1 cup milk
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon vanilla
turbinado sugar, optional; for topping

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 425°F. Lightly grease the cups of a standard 12-cup muffin pan. Or line the cups with muffin papers.

Whisk together the flours, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Add the blueberries and gently mix with a spoon. This will prevent the blueberries from sinking to the bottom of the muffins.

Place the sugar in a large bowl and using a microplane, zest the lemon over the sugar. Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until combined. Add milk, oil, eggs, lemon juice, and vanilla and whisk together until thoroughly combined.

Dump the dry ingredients over the wet ingredients. Gently fold together with a spatula. Careful not to overmix. The batter will be lumpy with a few streaks of flour left.

Fill the cups of the muffin pan three-quarters full. Sprinkle tops with turbinado sugar, if desired.

Bake the muffins for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of one of the center muffins comes out clean. Remove them from the oven, and as soon as you can handle them turn them out of the pan onto a rack to cool.

Spaghetti with Tuna and Capers

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When I was in college, my friend Todd and I both played the guitar and sang a little (not very well, but we were young and didn’t care). So we decided to try and take our act public. We booked a night at the student-run coffeeshop in the basement of one of the dorms and started practicing. This was the early 90s so our repertoire included songs by Pearl Jam, Lenny Kravitz, and Sting, among others. About a week before our debut, I got a phone call from the coffeeshop. They were going to print flyers to advertise the night around campus and needed to know the name of our band.

We didn’t have one.

In a panic, I told them I’d call them right back. Since this was way before the age of cell phones, I couldn’t reach Todd so I realized I had to take matters into my own hands. I picked up my pocket dictionary, opened it at a random page and pointed to a random word. Then I did it again. I decided that those two words would be our band name.

We were going to be called Mystic Rain. DSC05152

A few hours later I saw Todd at the cafeteria and I told him about the phone call. When I got to the point where I announced our new band name, Todd’s face collapsed. Here was my grunge-loving, REM-worshiping, Nirvana-fanatic friend Todd being told he was now part of a band called Mystic Rain. When I saw his reaction I realized what I’d done. We ran out of there and called the coffeeshop and thankfully, they hadn’t printed the flyers yet. When they finally did, we were billed simply as Todd and Marios.

Randomness isn’t always kind. But for every Mystic Rain disaster there’s a spaghetti with tuna and capers success. I made this dish for the first time many years ago when I was living alone and had to eat something quickly. I picked the random ingredients I could find in my kitchen and came up with this dish. I’ve made it countless times since then, for many friends, all of whom have loved it. It’s simple, but the combination of mustard, tuna, capers, and onions is a real hit. Much to the horror of my Italian friend Simona, for whom I made this once, I like to grate Parmesan cheese on top before eating it. Apparently, Italians never put cheese on seafood pasta, but call me a rebel, I love it.DSC05173

Spaghetti with Tuna and Capers

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients:

1/2 lb (250g) spaghetti
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small onion or three large shallots, chopped
2 5oz (142g) cans of tuna (preferably solid white albacore), drained
2 tablespoons wholegrain dijon mustard
2 tablespoons capers in brine, drained
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Cook spaghetti in a large pot in well-salted water until al dente. Before draining the pasta, reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water.

Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, cook the onions or shallots in the 1/4 cup of olive oil over medium high heat until just starting to turn golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the mustard and stir to combine. Add the tuna (breaking up any big pieces with a spatula), capers, and reserved pasta water and stir to combine. Bring to a low simmer and keep warm.

Drain spaghetti and return to pot. Scrape the tuna and caper mixture over the spaghetti and using kitchen tongs, toss well.

Serve with plenty of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Cornmeal Cake with Apricots

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We landed in Paris on the first day of the Euro 2016 soccer championship. The violent clashes between fans were still a day or two away. The water on the Seine was down from the historic flood levels of the week before, though still high enough to lap at the edge of the road. The bad weather, however, wasn’t over. Daily rain, sometimes heavy, and temperatures cool enough that we needed a jacket in late June. As we left the Rodin museum on Monday afternoon, we saw cars at a standstill for blocks and blocks, the result of a violent demonstration at the Montparnasse against the new employment law being passed by the Hollande government. Walking around the same neighborhood a few days later, we saw the results: store after store with their glass fronts shattered. And the constant sight of soldiers in full gear and police in bullet-proof vests throughout the city made it clear that the country was (and is) still in a state of emergency. We were too, always on alert (we hate to admit it), scanning the faces of the passengers in the Metro, ready to make a quick exit, or choosing seats facing the street on the cafe terraces, not wanting to have our backs to the street.DSC04196

But also, there were our dear friends and many nights eating and drinking with them, laughing uncontrollably at our inside jokes, shaking our heads in disbelief at the state of the world. When Orlando happened, they were as devastated as we were, their own wounds still fresh from last November. Despite the floods and the soldiers on the streets, the hooligans and the damp weather, the angry strikers and the swollen rivers, this was still the same old Paris, with its charming streets and fairytale-like center, its daily markets and boisterous nights, its bizarre fascinations (this year it’s all about bagels, everywhere you look) and its amazing food. We ate many amazing meals, but we still remember the simple fruit we bought from the neighborhood primeur on the day that we arrived. The mara de bois strawberries smelled like a flower-strewn valley and tasted like roses. The cherries were firm and deeply red, achingly sweet and just tangy enough to make us pronounce them the best cherries we’d ever eaten. And the apricots were honeyed and juicy, with whispers of mango and coconut.
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Cornmeal Cake with Apricots – Inspired by a recipe at David Lebovitz

Ingredients:

2 ounces (56g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup (150g) sugar, plus 1 tablespoon sugar for topping
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons brandy or cognac (use apple juice or orange juice if you are avoiding alcohol)
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
3/4 cup (125g) finely ground cornmeal
2 cups (215g) almond flour/almond meal
6 tablespoons (55g) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
10-12 ripe apricots, pitted and halved

Directions:

Lightly grease a 9-inch springform cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC).

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, almond flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt, until there are no lumps. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the 3/4 cup of sugar with the oil at medium-high speed for about 1 minute. Add the melted butter and beat for another 2 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating each egg into the mixture. After adding the third egg, beat the mixture for 3 minutes at high speed until it thickens and lightens in color. Mix in the brandy and almond extract.

Add the dry ingredients into the oil and sugar mixture in three installments. After each addition of the dry ingredients mix at low speed for only a few seconds, just until most of the cornmeal mixture is incorporated. You can also do this by hand with a spatula. After the third and final addition of the dry ingredients, use a spatula to make sure the mixture is well-combined. Do not overmix.

Scrape the batter into the pan, smooth the top, and add the apricot halves, skin side up, to cover the cake’s surface. Sprinkle one tablespoon of sugar on top of the cake and bake until it is light golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out almost clean, 55-60 minutes. Let cool on a rack for about 30 minutes, then run a knife along the outside of the cake before you remove it. Let cake cool completely before serving.

Red Curry with Fish

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It was my first year out of college and I was in the process of coming out to all of my friends. It was exciting and exhilarating but also a little terrifying, like a roller coaster ride. Every time I told someone I was gay, I felt my lungs expand, my heart beat stronger. Beyond the emotional changes I felt physical ones too. I slept better than ever and had a voracious appetite. I was ready to eat the world.DSC05134

When I came out to my college friend Linda over the phone she suggested I come to Chicago, where she lived at the time, to visit her. I booked my flight as soon as I could. The first night there, she took me to a local Thai restaurant for dinner. I hadn’t really experienced Thai food before. There weren’t any Thai restaurants in Philadelphia where I lived for four years and I didn’t know of any in New Jersey either, where I lived at the time. I ordered some kind of curry and I fell in love. The flavors were classic: coconut, peanut, chilies, and lime. But to me they were magical. The constant back and forth between sweet and spicy, salty and sour, made me feel like a kid with ADD, not knowing which to experience first. I couldn’t wait for the next bite.

The following night Linda asked me if I had any requests on where to eat. “Let’s go back to the Thai place,” I said immediately. It didn’t matter that I was in Chicago, a city with amazing food. I wanted to eat Thai food again.
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Since then, I have eaten a lot of Thai food. In New York city there are countless Thai restaurants, some right next to each other, but much like the equally countless Chinese restaurants here, most of them make terrible food. Overly sweet or watery, loaded with cheap bell peppers or drowning in cloying sauces. Some friends told us to always ask for our food “Thai style” when we order it, but it doesn’t seem to make a big difference. At least not for us.

This recipe may not have its origins from a remote region of Thailand or be the dish Thai mothers make for their children, but it’s simple and adaptable and very flavorful. It’s quick to make and does not require any special expertise or equipment. You might even like it enough to make it two nights in a row.DSC05151

Red Curry with Fish – Adapted from Bon Appétit

Ingredients:

1 large shallot
6 garlic cloves
1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons red curry paste
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1½ cups whole peeled tomatoes, plus juices from one 15-ounce can
1 13.5-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
1 tablespoon sugar
4 kaffir lime leaves (if not available, substitute with three strips of lime peel, using a vegetable peeler)
Kosher salt
1 pound carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 large shallots, peeled, edges trimmed, and halved lengthwise
1 pound firm white fish (such as halibut or cod), skin removed, cut into 2-inch pieces

Directions:

Pulse shallot, garlic, and ginger in a food processor to finely chop. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium. Add shallot mixture and cook, stirring often, until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Add curry paste and turmeric; cook, stirring, until paste is darkened in color and mixture starts to stick to pan, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, breaking up with your hands, then juices. Cook, stirring often and scraping up browned bits, until tomatoes start to break down and stick to pot, about 5 minutes.

Stir in coconut milk, sugar, and kaffir lime leaves (or lime peel) and taste, then season with salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until mixture is slightly thickened and flavors meld, 8–10 minutes. Add carrots and shallots and pour in enough water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are crisp-tender, 10-15 minutes.

Season fish all over with salt and nestle into curry (add a little more water if it’s very thick). Return to a simmer and cook just until fish is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove kaffir lime leaves (or lime peel).

Spoon curry over plain white rice and serve with a lime wedge to be squeezed over curry before eating.

Almond Flour Brownies (Gluten Free)

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Back in February, when the weather was still cold and snowy, we decided to throw a winter chili party. We figured that it would be a great way to get everyone together and shake away the winter blues with some warm chili and lots of wine. We invited our friends who live in the city and made two big batches of chili: a Moroccan beef chili with raisins (that I will share with you at some point) and Steve’s vegetable chili. As always we made too much and had chili in the freezer for weeks afterwards. But it was worth it. The party was a hit. Everyone loved the food and, more importantly, the chance to hang out with everyone and catch up (or in some cases, meet for the first time).DSC05126

When it came time for dessert, I wanted to give people a couple of options. So, I made my mom’s pasta flora and for the second option, I decided to try a recipe I had bookmarked months before and was always curious about. It’s a recipe for brownies that uses only ground almonds and no flour at all (so it’s naturally gluten free). I’ll be honest, I didn’t think they would come out that great but I was really wrong. More than one person at the party (including myself) proclaimed them some of the best brownies they’ve ever had. They have a deeply rich chocolate taste and they’re chewy with a crackly top. The almond flour gives them a pretty unique texture that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced in a brownie before. And the best part? They are made in a single bowl with just a wooden spoon (or sturdy spatula). DSC04984

Almond Flour Brownies (Gluten Free) – Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Makes 9 large or 12-16 smaller brownies

Note: This recipe is all about the cocoa you use. Choose a good brand (like Valrhona) of  cocoa.

Ingredients:

1 3/4 cups sugar
5 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup cocoa powder, Dutch-process or natural
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups almond flour
3 large eggs
Flaky sea salt for topping (optional)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8″ square pan or 9″ round pan; either should be at least 2″ deep. Place parchment paper in the pan, letting it overhang on both sides, to make it easier to remove brownies.

Place the sugar, butter, and salt in a large microwave-safe bowl. Heat on high for about 2 minutes, stopping it every 30 seconds and mixing it with a wooden spoon or a very sturdy spatula.

Add the vanilla and cocoa to the sugar mixture and using the wooden spoon or sturdy spatula, mix them well. Add the baking powder and almond flour and mix with the spoon/spatula until thoroughly combined. The mixture will be getting quite thick.

In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork. Add the eggs to the sugar/cocoa/butter mixture and use the spoon/spatula to mix them until the batter becomes looser and shiny.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it to the edges. Sprinkle a few flakes of flaky sea salt on top (optional).

Bake the brownies for 35 to 40 minutes, until the top is set and the middle still feels a little wobbly when you touch it (the edges will be more set). A cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center will come out with wet crumbs.

Remove the brownies from the oven and cool them for about 15 minutes before cutting. Once the brownies are cool, cover them tightly with plastic. Store at room temperature for several days or freeze for longer storage (they are delicious straight out of the freezer).