Today was a special day. A rare event. A momentous occasion.

Today I used compost in my garden for the first time.

I know what you’re thinking: I’m being overdramatic. I’m exaggerating. I don’t think so. This compost came from my backyard rotating composter, which is made up of kitchen scraps and plant debris that had been deposited over three years. Ever since I received the Envirocycle off my wedding registry from my sister Brenda, I had been transferring to the bin my egg shells, kale stems, potato peelings, onion skins, broccoli stalks (when I don’t use them for a soup), etc., through the spring rains and winter snows. I kept telling myself, one of these days I’m going to have to use some of this stuff. I honestly thought it might become urgent, because the bin would become too full to spin and mix. But that’s what is amazing about the biodegradation process: the mass kept shrinking down!
The composter is one of those things I have to put very little effort into. The one stipulation, which I didn’t follow religiously, is that you are supposed to maintain a ratio of 50% “green” (the kitchen scraps) and 50% “brown” (dry leaves, grass, sawdust). Perhaps that is why my compost was so wet. Still, I am confident that composting has made a significant different in reducing the garbage output of my house. It is something I recommend to anyone–anyone, of course, with a house and a little yard space (though I suppose it is possible to store one on an apartment deck or patio. There are also places, like Greenmarket in NYC, that take your food scraps and compost them for you).

I decided that this spring, the second one at our house, would be the time to harvest at least some of the rich, fertile matter. So today I attempted to “sift” out some usable dirt. Here it is, eggshells and all!

And here is my tomato garden as of May 27, 2013. Just you wait until the picture from August 27!


Make it quick and make it quality

Last week I let someone else do the meal planning for me. I complained that the recipes were a bit of a hassle, and the dishes didn’t even come out that well. But the result was a balanced plate of food. This week, I challenged myself to plan a satisfying meal that would come together fairly quickly. And I would do the shopping myself.

As you should know this is not my strength: I often end up spending more than an hour, somehow, bringing together a single dish. Yet the April issue of Cooking Light was jam-packed with recipes for 80 meals under 40 minutes, and I was inspired (not so inspired that I could resist substituting in a recipe that I know would add to my clock time…but at least I acknowledge my silly ways). The meal was assembled in one hour, with only a little grilling help from my husband. So here it is! Protein (yes, fish again), vegetable and starch.

Grilled Sea Bass with Tarragon Beurre Blanc
Raw Shaved Asparagus With Lemon Dressing
Rosemary-Garlic Roasted Potatoes


Game plan: Prepare the potatoes and garlic; preheat the oven. If you’re going to use this ambitious asparagus recipe (simpler alternative from CL: Asparagus with Lemon and Pecorino), start shaving the stalks and do about half before you put the potatoes in the oven. Finish shaving the asparagus, then preheat the grill/grill pan for the fish. Make the sauce while grilling the fish.

Raw Shaved Asparagus With Lemon Dressing
Adapted from Jonathan Waxman’s recipe in his cookbook Italian, My Way
DSC_4533Check out my signed copy! ———->
Serves: 4 to 6

¼ cup hazelnuts, toasted and crushed
1-1 1/2 pound asparagus, ideally from a local farm
Juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, grated

Toast the hazelnuts on a baking sheet for 5–8 minutes in a preheated 350° oven; cool and then crush in a towel using a rolling pin (which helps remove the skins).

Wash and snap the asparagus spears at their base, setting bases aside for another use. Upend a small bowl, place a spear on the flat bottom and, using a vegetable peeler, gently shave long thin slices.
Eventually, I discovered that it was easier to do my first shaves with the asparagus pressed flat against the cutting board. Once it got thinned, I moved to the bowl. Be patient and forgive yourself if you can’t get all long, perfectly thick slices.

In a separate bowl, mix the lemon juice with the olive oil and add sea salt and black pepper. When the rest of the meal is ready, toss the dressing with the hazelnuts and asparagus. Serve with Parmesan sprinkled around.

Rosemary-Garlic Roasted Potatoes
Adapted from Cooking Light
Serves: 2

several large garlic cloves
1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

14 ounces baby potatoes
1-2 small thyme sprigs
2 rosemary sprigs
1/4 teaspoon kosher or ground sea salt, divided (or to taste)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
1 tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped, if you have it

Preheat oven to 450°. If the potatoes are larger than fingerling potatoes, cut in halves or quarters. Smaller potatoes can be kept whole, but medium sized ones benefit from more surface area for crisping!

Place unpeeled garlic cloves, olive oil, potatoes, thyme sprigs, and rosemary sprigs in a large bowl; toss to coat. Arrange potato mixture on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper. Bake at 425-450° for 25 minutes, stirring halfway and then checking for doneness toward the end of cooking time. Squeeze roasted garlic cloves out of their skin and return to potato mixture. Sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt and parsley.

Grilled Sea Bass with Tarragon Beurre Blanc
Adapted from Cooking Light again
Serves: 2

1/3 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons shallots, chopped
1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 large tarragon sprig
1.5 tablespoons butter
, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon fresh tarragon, chopped

2 (6-ounce) meaty white fish fillets, without skin — The recipe suggested halibut, but my grocery store didn’t have it. It also said cod or tilapia could be substituted (and would save money), but I couldn’t imagine how those would stand up so well to grilling, which I had my mind set on. The meatiest looking fish they had was the sea bass.
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cooking spray

Combine first 4 ingredients in a small heavy saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Cook until liquid is reduced to 2 tablespoons. Remove from heat; strain through a fine sieve over a measuring cup, pressing mixture with the back of a spoon or spatula to release liquid.
Discard solids. Return liquid to pan. Add butter, 1 piece at a time, stirring with a whisk until butter is incorporated. Stir in tarragon.


Even at $19.95 a pound, I ended with a piece with a bunch of bones. Grrr.

Sprinkle fish evenly with salt and ground pepper. Heat a large grill pan over medium-high heat. Note: grill pans are great, but ours can be a beast to clean up. That’s why I like about the outdoor grill. It either doesn’t need cleaning…or maybe the grill fairy takes care of it?

Coat pan with cooking spray. Add fish to pan; cook 5 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Serve with sauce.


There it is–the makings of a great meal!

A taste of childhood

After eating some of the leftovers with my lunch at work on two occasions, I still had some of the rice and sweet potato in my fridge.

Then it dawned on me: make rice pudding. That’s what my dad would do.

My dad isn’t much of a cook, and never has been. He has gotten by the past 30 years, showering my mom with praises for her cooking, and cleaning up after meals. When my mom was was taking night seminary classes for a few years during my childhood, we mainly ate fast food.

But my dad has a sweet tooth to challenge the best of ’em.  This sweet tooth has been a motivating factor for him to dabble in the area of baking.  I remember him baking rice pudding quite regularly.  I think he secretly added extra rice to the pot during dinner prep so there would be enough left over! Because rice pudding can take a long time to bake, sometimes it would be still be baking well into my bedtime, intoxicating the house with its delicious scent.  Those were the nights my dad and I brushed our teeth twice.

My rice was made with a chicken broth substitute, so that savory aspect had to be dealt with. I hadn’t added too much salt and pepper to the dish as a whole, so that allowed for flexibility. I incorporated some other leftovers I had lying around — some of my raisins and cinnamon came from leftover rugelach filling (there always seems to be leftover filling, no matter what you’re making). I researched a few online versions of the recipe (like Paula Dean’s) and decided to follow one that involved some precooking of the custard on the stovetop, which meant that the pudding baked for around 30 minutes instead of an hour and a half.

Leftover Rice Pudding
adapted from Jolinda Hacket’s post

2 Cups milk (I used a combination of 1/2 Cup half and half and 1.5 Cups skim milk)
1 cup leftover pre-cooked rice
(even one that had been cooked in broth with sweet potatoes a little salt added worked OK!)
2 eggs
1/4 cup+ granulated sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon,
1/3 cup raisins
dash of nutmeg

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a medium saucepan, heat the milk and rice, stirring frequently so the milk doesn’t burn. Bring to a slow simmer. This takes at least 5 minutes.
In a separate large bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla, raisins, and 1/4 tsp of cinnamon.

Add egg mixture to the milk and rice and allow to cook for just a few minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pour into casserole or baking dish. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 tsp of cinnamon and dash of nutmeg on top of the custard.


Not-so-evenly sprinkled cinnamon.

Bake for 20-30 minutes – 28 for my oven. If you can wait, allow to cool slightly before serving.


Not too fancy, but comforting. Can be served hot or cold. But in case you’re wondering, my dad always eats it hot.

Hello fresh – hello leftovers!?

The business of meal home delivery service seems to be thriving. Public interest in food is ever-growing, and while that is often manifested by people eating out or watching others cook on TV, some are genuinely interested in getting their hands dirty. And sometimes they just don’t know where to start. This seems to have fueled the creation of a number of new companies that deliver hand-picked weekly recipes along with nearly all the required ingredients for several home-cooked meals.  Do you have trouble keeping your pantry, fridge and freezer consistently stocked? Have you discovered at times that you have four different types of bread but no protein? Overwhelmed by all the choices in the supermarket? Feel stumped by the 15 steps of instructions in a recipe? No worries, we have it all worked out for you.

I may not fall precisely within their target audience, as I do plan ahead for meals, I love grocery shopping, and I have binders and bookcases full of recipes to serve as starting points.  But listen to what they are promising – proper quantities of produce, meat, grains, etc. to create precisely 3 meals for precisely two people (or 4 people, or 6 people)  per meal – sounds efficient, right?  Fits right in with my philosophy, right? So, when the opportunity came to try HelloFresh at a discounted price (AmazonLocal deal), I decided it was my duty to give it a try.


Special delivery!


These plastic bags are solid–I tried and failed to rip them open by hand. Only scissors would do.









My three meals were Sautéed Trout with Radicchio & Oranges, Beef and Noodle Soup in Soy Sauce Broth, and Creamy Penne with Edamame, Chicken and Crimini Mushrooms.  Since fresh fish spoils the fastest, I decided to start with that.

Sauteed Trout with Radicchio & Oranges
adapted from HelloFresh
Serves: more than 2!

2 trout fillets
Salt and peper

Radicchio & Oranges:
2 oranges
1 small head radicchio, thinly sliced
1 oz pecan halves, toasted
2 oz goat cheese
1 Tablesoon olive oil

Rice & Sweet Potato:
1 chicken stock cube and 2 Cups of water,
OR 2 Cups chicken stock
(would taste better)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Cup basmati rice
Salt and pepper

Finish touches:
2 Tablespoons of chives, finely chopped

Begin preparing the rice, before all the chopping: take 2 medium saucepans. In one, put the stock cube into a pot with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and dissolve the cube. Or, heat 2 cups chicken stock. Heat the second pan over medium-high heat and toast the pecans, shaking frequently, about 5 minutes until fragrant. This can also be done in a oven at 350 degrees, if watching very carefully. Remove pecans and chop when cool. Set aside.

Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and add rice, cooking for 1 minute over medium heat. Add stock to the pan with the rice with a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook, covered, for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, get those sweet potatoes, radicchio and chives chopped.


Doesn't it look like I have way more radicchio and chives than I need? Also, in their picture on the recipe, it all fit on one cutting board.. mine is running out of space!

Doesn’t it look like I have way more radicchio and chives than I need? Also, in their picture on the recipe, it all fit on one cutting board.. mine is running out of space!

After 5 minutes, add the chopped sweet potato to the rice and cook, covered, for 10 more minutes.
Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes with the lid on.

Prepare the radicchio and orange: slice the ends (the poles) off of 1 orange. Carefully follow the curve of the fruit to cut away the peel and white pith. While holding the orange over a medium bowl, cut along both sides of each membrane to remove the segments into the bowl. Juice the other orange into the bowl. Add the radicchio, crumbled goat cheese, toasted chopped pecans, and 1 Tablesoon of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Season the trout with salt and pepper. Heat 1 Tablespoon of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. When hot, cook the trout, skin-side down, 3-4 minutes until golden brown. Don’t try to turn it early or disaster will ensue! Carefully flip and cook the other side for less than 3 minutes, until the trout is cooked through and flakes easily.

Do you see how much trout this is?

Do you see how much trout this is?

On the plate, either place the radicchio salad underneath or on top of the trout fillets (it is supposed to be trout THEN vegetables…whoops I, I misread that). Sprinkle with chives. Fluff the rice with a fork and serve on the side.

Looking back, I'm pretty embarrassed about the appearance of my chives in this picture. To be fair, later in the week I realized that my knife was in desperate need of honing (it makes a big difference) Also, this is what happens when you are rushing and trying to use only the corner of space left on the cutting board!

Looking back, I’m pretty embarrassed about the appearance of my chives in this picture. To be fair, later in the week I realized that my knife was in desperate need of honing (it makes a big difference) Also, this is what happens when you are rushing and trying to use only the corner of space left on the cutting board!

I prepared this dish on a time crunch, somewhat intentionally, because I thought that the prearrangement of ingredients would translate to speedier prep. Unfortunately, the chopping took quite some time. I had my plate of food ready in 45 minutes.

I love trout. I don’t love bitter radicchio, but it is more than tolerable with delicious goat cheese, sweet orange, and crunchy pecan–indeed, I have taken this approach before when radicchio appeared in my farm share. The rice was very blah and boring. It tasted like the salt and pepper I added to it–not impressive. I encourage creative additions….cumin, cinnamon, cayenne pepper perhaps? Not only did I have bland rice, but I had CUPS of leftover bland rice, after serving two people dinner! There was also radicchio salad a-plenty (of course, my husband doesn’t eat that).

Let’s evaluate HelloFresh overall. First of all, I have serious questions about their process for testing recipes. Every recipe I received was far from fool-proof. For example, the quantities of the ingredients they gave me for the Beef and Noodle Soup were way off. Though the recipe simply said to use “one thumb of ginger,” the hunk of ginger they provided was clearly too much for a recipe for two, so I guessed about a tablespoon and a half; also, there was almost no broth once everything was added together so I had to add water. Yet, even with my tweaks, the resulting dish had a pretty interesting and complex flavor, with the different components. The creamy pasta was delicious, though simple. Cooking the chicken was time-consuming — I would have been happy to have it as a vegetarian meal. As for value: the full price comes to about $11.50 per meal. I don’t think that is exorbitant, because quality meat and fish like this are expensive. It’s true, one would have a hard time finding a complete and filling meal made from such “fresh” ingredients at $11.50. However, it required me to do all of the work, and all the dishes too. Moreover, I was misled to believe that the food I was making would feed two people – no waste.

I’m encouraged by this idea of ingredients portioned for recipes. It looks like for now, though, I’m going to stick toI prefer shopping for myself and buying the quantities available in stores, and discovering creative ways to use everything up.

Hello Fresh Rating (sample size of 1, on a scale of 1-5):
Ordering: 4
Packaging: 3
Ingredients (freshness): 4
Recipe accuracy (quantities, ratios): 2
Instructions: 4
Recipe uniqueness: 4
Accuracy of portion sizing: 2
Taste: 3.5

Taking ramps and getting on the bandwagon

Have you heard the rage about ramps? Those bunches of mildly pungent spring onions that pop out for a short time, to the delight of foodies? It has been called a “Mania” by more than one source, with Eater and Grub Street tracking the appearance of ramps on restaurant menus. My interest was first piqued this spring 2013 either when I came across the ad for Ramp Fest in Hudson, NY (decided it would be wasteful to drive through NYC-area traffic, by myself, to partake), or when I saw Smitten Kitchen’s latest post. I had never cooked ramps, but I was pretty sure I had eaten them before, in a restaurant dish (apparently chefs hoard them).


I learned that my friend Kelly is part of this cult. We were attending a mushroom-themed lecture and dinner, organized by our Cornell alma mater, when she brought up ramps, so I suppose that makes sense. She asked if I had had some yet this year. I lamented about western Long Island’s lack of good spring farmer’s markets, and told her I had not once seen them in ANY of my local grocery stores, but I didn’t feel the need to go out of my way when there are so many other vegetables to make use of. Then she offered to get me some, at the farmer’s market she walks by on her way to work at Columbia. Now was my chance! Who knows how long they will last?! I suggested we cook them together at her place that weekend.

Of course, I wanted to use the ramps at LEAST two ways. So here it goes.

Chimichurri Ramps Bread with Lemon Thyme Butter
discovered through Pinterest, on

1 bunch of ramps
(about 10 stalks)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 red pepper flakes
dash of pepper

For the bread:
1 cup warm water
2 teaspoons yeast
1 cup whole wheat flour

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup parmesan, shredded (apparently optional! Since we forgot to add it and it was still delicious)

For the butter:
6 Tablespoons butter
, softened
2 heaping teaspoons fresh thyme, minced
Half of a lemon’s worth of zest – wash lemon well to remove any wax

To make the bread: Combine the warm water and yeast in the large mixing bowl. Let sit for 5 minutes or until it becomes frothy. Add in the flours, salt, and olive oil and mix until combined. Knead dough in a stand mixer with hook attachment until smooth and elastic. If you don’t have a mixer, turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead by hand for ten minutes. If you are at Kelly and Kevin’s house, this floured surface is their cleaned off dining table. Hey, it worked! Transfer kneaded dough to an oiled bowl and cover with a clean dish towel. Let rise in a warm place for an hour.

While the bread is rising, make the butter: mash the lemon zest, softened butter, and thyme together. Depending on much your butter softened, wrap in parchment paper and place in the fridge until firm.

And make the chimmichurri: Rinse the ramps and cut off the roots and any rough tips. Slice into big chunks. Place all ingredients in a food processor (or blender) until a smooth paste forms. Taste for additional seasoning, and try not to eat it all right out of the container.
Next, turn the dough out onto floured surface and roll into a rectangle, about 18 by 12 inches. Top with the chimichurri. At this point, you could add half of the shredded parmesan cheese too.
Roll the long side of the dough towards you (jelly roll style, like you would for roulades or cinnamon rolls) and pinch the ends closed.

This next instruction is a little messy: slice down the middle lengthwise, twist both pieces, and use the two parts to bread the bread by twirling around each other. (When I first saw this instruction, I pictured disaster. But with Kelly’s encouragement, I managed to keep most of the filling inside).

Transfer to a greased baking sheet…

This whopper required four hands.

This whopper required four hands.

and let rise for another 30 minutes.  Preheat oven to 425.  Add the rest of the shredded Parmesan, and bake for roughly 25 minutes or until golden on top.

Ramp Risotto
Serves: 4

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 ramps
1 small shallot
, finely chopped
Pinch of red-pepper flakes
1 cup arborio or other fancy risotto rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups chicken broth,
simmering in separate pot on stove
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
, grated
Kosher salt to taste

In a wide, heavy-bottom saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Finely chop ramp greens and stalks, reserving greens for later.

Kelly's husband Kevin working the slice.

Kelly’s husband Kevin working the slice.


Add shallot, ramp stalks, and pepper flakes, and stir until the shallot is translucent, about two minutes.
Add rice to pot and cook over medium heat for two minutes, stirring to coat rice with oil. Pour in 1/4 cup of the wine and boil until almost absorbed. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of hot broth at a time, stirring the rice constantly until almost all of the liquid is absorbed. Add another 1/4 cup of stock, the remaining wine, and a tablespoon of olive oil, continuing to stir.
Add the ramp greens and more stock as needed and continue cooking and stirring until the risotto looks creamy but is still al dente, about 18 to 22 minutes.

Remove from heat and let the risotto stand for about 30 seconds. Add a drizzle of olive oil, butter, and cheese; stir until well combined. Season with salt.

What a ramptastic meal!

What a ramptastic meal!

In the end, I can understand the obsession with ramps. They are lovely. Their roots have a stronger flavor than leeks, more subtle than green onions, and more complex than yellow onions, with a slight flavor of garlic. And they are so easy to prepare! In spite of the fact that I have gotten pretty good at dicing onions, I don’t always enjoy the mess it makes with the little pieces going everywhere. The leaves wilt nicely too, retaining a bright green punch. If you like the idea of these recipes but can’t find ramps (surprise surprise) I will share Smitten Kitchen Deb’s suggestion of using a combination of green onions and a few spinach leaves, some pretty standard ingredients to have hanging around (or growing in a garden later in the summer). I’ll have to try this someday soon and let you know how it goes!

Kelly and me

Kelly and me