Monday, March 15, 2010

Sunny Day Salad

Today was a day where my two loves of sunny, warm weather and good food collided. Whenever these two things happen simultaneously, I have a hard time expressing my happiness and excitement of what is occurring in the moment. I'm either so engrossed in the moment that I can't speak, or you can't shut me up since I keep repeating how amazing the weather is and how delicious the food tastes. My mantra usually consists of phrases like "I live for this..." or "Where else would you rather be?" or "Could you ask for anything more right now? No!" over and over again. My friends have learned to smile and nod, but I have to say most of the time they agree.

Today was one of the warmest days we've had recently, and it convinced me that spring, even summer!, is truly on the horizon. The morning was cloudy, but the afternoon sun came out just in time for lunch. I crouched down and stuck my hand in the fridge hoping to scrummage around for something decent enough to call lunch. An almost empty bag of spinach...the last of a bunch of kale...a red pepper...some grated carrots...oh! watercress! Things were looking up.

I started adding things to a large salad bowl, looking forward to the fresh tastes in my future. I knew though that I would need something more to really round out the meal, and remembered that there were some leftover roasted veggies from last night's dinner still in the fridge. Baby yukon and red potatoes, parsnips, and carrots, all roasted to crisp-on-the-outside-soft-and-smooth-on-the-inside perfection with hints of fresh thyme and rosemary. After a quick reheat in the toaster-oven they were tossed in the bowl as well, with their heat slightly wilting the greens.

I could barely resist eating the whole thing at the counter with my fingers. I restrained myself though, knowing that a salad of this stature deserved a worthy vinaigrette. I quickly whisked together my favorite dressing to make, mustard based of course, and perked it up with freshly chopped thyme - again, left over from the night before. It always fascinates me how oddly satisfying it is to efficiently use leftovers.

One final toss in the bowl after the vinaigrette drizzle and I hustled to the patio. I sat down and felt the warm sun on my shoulders. Ahh, oh so nice. For some reason I always close my eyes when warm sun first hits me...maybe my body's convinced that it feels even warmer that way. When I opened my eyes I looked down to my lunch and the same sunlight was perfectly highlighting every bursting color in my bowl. I'm pretty sure I started talking to the bowl at this point..."You are stunning!" I of course ran back into the house to grab my camera. Looking back, maybe it was a good thing I was alone.

My first few bites were even more satisfying than I anticipated. Flavors were pronounced and mingling perfectly; the spiciness of the dijon in the background of the dressing against the peppery watercress, the woodsy thyme with the hearty greens, the raw refreshment of the peppers and carrots balancing the savory cooked root veggies. This is the only way to enjoy food, I thought. No distractions, no rushing, a peaceful setting where you are actually able to taste every part of what youre eating, and realize why it tastes the way it does and why youre enjoying it so much. Of course, we all don't have sunny patios available for us at every meal we eat. But, I do believe making a moment free of 'world static' dedicated to enjoying your food makes a world of a difference. We all have to eat, so why not give food the same attention we give to other life essentials? After all, if you respect your food, it will respect you back.

Here is the recipe for the vinaigrette, so you can enjoy a similar experience on your next sunny lunch.

1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Whisk all ingredients except oil together in a bowl. Then slowly pour the oil into the bowl, vigorously whisking at the same time so the vinaigrette emulsifies and combines evenly.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Roasted Red Peppers

I recently wrote this article for the website Local In Season. It's a great organization that I will be continuing to write for, so be sure to check it out! My first write up for them, 'The Good Cheese', is also on there too.


Roasted Red Peppers

An unexpected gathering; a stormy New England day; the looming question of ‘What’s for dinner?’ after a long day at work; a sudden surge of hunger that cannot be ignored...we’ve all been there. We’ve all had those days when we need to whip up something fast without major planning or a trip to the grocery store. Although these situations can quickly turn into culinary nightmares, the solution starts within the walls of your kitchen. If I’ve learned anything about managing my own kitchen at home, one resurfacing truth has always been this: a well stocked pantry means a well prepared cook. No matter the source of pressure, it is aways comforting to know that our favorite backbone ingredients will be there for us upon opening the cabinet doors in times of need.

I can tell you a few of my own pantry staples that I know are sitting there right at this moment: chicken stock, canned tomatoes, black beans, bread crumbs, jarred salsa...the eclectic list could go on. When I’m pressed for time, they pull through tremendously, and I am very thankful for that. But for the sake of time and convenience, flavor and quality are often sacrificed.The other afternoon this pantry characteristic came to my attention upon opening a jar of roasted red peppers. Being a lover of the uniquely sweet flavor of red bell peppers, I was disappointed by the bitter, preservative aftertaste with every bite. Even the peppers themselves seem ashamed of their lackluster and subpar qualities with their limp texture and color. I reluctantly added them to my sandwich.

Sure, they did fine in a pinch, but was this really the best I was going to get every time I wanted a roasted red pepper at home without paying an arm and a leg for them at a store or restaurant? I certainly hoped not! That’s when I learned the art of roasting peppers at home, and boy I will tell you, it’s hard to ever go back. The texture is fantastic, the flavor unbeatable, and they are without a doubt worth the extra ‘effort’ in the kitchen. I say effort loosely here, since roasting your own peppers at home is as easy as turning on your broiler. And, in my opinion, any recipe that asks you to deeply char your food is not something to pass up. With this newfound culinary technique, you will be able to call upon it for future peppers and beyond, just as you call upon your pantry to find your go-to, reliable ingredients. Because a well prepared cook doesn’t always just have her staple ingredients at her back, but her best culinary tricks too.

Once you get a hang of the technique, make sure to try bell peppers of all colors. Red, yellow, orange, green...even poblano or anaheim peppers too!


2-4 Red Bell Peppers


Move your oven rack to the highest position, with enough room left between it and the top of the oven to fit a sheet pan covered in bell peppers. Preheat the broiler to high.

Wash the peppers and completely dry them with paper towels. Slice each pepper in half lengthwise. Remove the stem, core, and any white ribs inside.

Place each pepper-half cut-side down on a sheet pan lined with tin foil. Place the pan in the
oven on set rack and broil for anywhere from 8-12 minutes (depending on the strength of your broiler), or until the peppers’ skins are deeply charred and blistered. You may need to rotate the pan half way through to promote even charring.

Take the sheet pan out from under the broiler. Carefully remove the hot, blackened pepper halves from the pan and place in them in a large bowl. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap (make sure the seal is secure) and let steam, undisturbed, for at least 15 minutes. (Alternatively, you can use a ziploc bag with a sturdy, fully sealable zip-top to steam the peppers) Remove the plastic wrap from the bowl. Peel off and discard the charred skins from each pepper half. The skin should separate from the flesh with ease.

They will be ready for you to slice, add to a recipe, or just plain eat, right then and there! Add to salads and sandwiches, homemade hummus or quesadillas, or wow your guests by adding them to an antipasto platter. The sky’s the limit.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Love, Loss, and What I Ate

A few weekends ago, seven McCarron women (3 aunties and 2 cousins by car, 1 cousin by train, and 1 surprise cousin by plane!) took a road trip to the Big Apple, where another cousin - the sole male - awaited us in the heart of Queens. Once in the car with the trip officially underway, the already coined phrase surfaced describing whenever a group of McCarron women were all gathered in once place: "Hold on to your hats!" But, as Gigi was informing (warning?) Johnny of our ETA, a newly coined, next generation version of the phrase manifested: "Hold on to your hats! ...And maybe pop some valium..."
Needless to say we were excited and enthusiastic about our weekend ahead, full of fun, laughs, sightseeing, and...of course...eating.

On the first night there we all went to see a show called "Love, Loss, and What I Wore". It was a unique portrayal of a woman's life narrated by 5 actresses seated in chairs at the front of the stage. Very simple, yet very effective. The storyline revolved around the protagonist's life trials and tribulations of being a woman. Each story was associated with some article of clothing she had owned, and the memories and feelings that surfaced when she thought about such clothes.

As I was sitting there hearing these narratives, I thought about how I would write my own story if I was up there at center stage. Hmm...uhh... My mind strained to crank through my memory files. Being one of the more lackluster 'fashionistas' I know, I could only recall a handful of memories that were sparked by references to clothes. My ballet costume when I hit my head on the bar during the recital? The green corduroys that split right down the seam between the butt pockets during a classroom play in kindergarten? (I was dressed as a bottle of ginger ale). Although classics, clothes memories like these were few and far between.

Then I thought of the pages in my journal. If someone were to ever come upon it wanting to uncover juicy details about my life, relationships, deep dark secrets...theyd be in no such luck. All of the juiciness they would really get would be about moist roasted pork. The relationships would be about attachment with vats of peach jam, and the deep dark secrets would reveal ingredients and methods of recipes I would only share with a piece of paper.

The same theory could be applied to my camera. You can scroll through a series of photos of a trip to Italy expecting to see monuments and art pieces from thousands of years ago, only to be presented with photos of carts of fruits and vegetables and plates of antipasti. That's when I realized, sitting there in my chair in the audience of a broadway theater, that my life story wouldnt be told through what hung in my closet, but what was served on my plate.

So here are a few of the many photos taken during our three wonderful days in NYC. Perfect weather, great walks, and delicious bites. ( And no valium necessary :c) )

Cheese walrus.

Cupcakes at 10:30AM are that much more tasty.

Bologna disguised as salami...Balami.

Honey roasted peanuts and fresh pretzels in Central Park. Important fuel for power walking.

A second trip to Billy's was a must.

My barbie cake to Tori was almost identical...ha!

All cake and frosting, I swear.

For Molly. (I'll be cookie monster)

Overwhelmed by smells and choices.

The BEST blue cheese from Chelsea Market.

Cornmeal, golden raisins, fennel seed...amazing flavor combination all rolled into a fresh loaf.

Pumpernickel baguette, why dont you exist more often?

A spreadable treat and a handy 15 lb dumbbell all in one. Thanks Nutella!