Caldo Gallego – Galician Soup

by Elena on January 29, 2015



This has been the month of soups, and we have churned out many different flavors and broths from our small Queens’ kitchen. The busy season at the restaurant and in catering is over, and things are starting to slow down for myself, Jon, and everyone around me. When I come home after work I want to take advantage of this time to rest and not get overly complicated in the kitchen. I need to recharge and empty my brain as I sit on the couch with Jon and root for Thomas Shelby and the Peaky Blinders, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy both incredibly beautiful and equally creepy, while sipping on some homemade soup.

I admit that when the temperature started to drop, my Netflix binges started to rise as I hid away inside my warm apartment. The good news is between the binges and spurts of freezing weather also came the creation of some hearty soups.  Soups are warm and comforting, and in regards to preparation they are fairly hands off. Once you finish all your chopping and sauteing, you can let the soup do it’s thing on a low simmer while you listen to Pandora with your feet up. While you don’t need to constantly watch over the soup while you’re cooking it, the general rule is that a flavorful soup, in particular ones made from bone broth, take a long time to make. On the opposite side of the spectrum, vegetable soups are much faster, seeing as a vegetable stock can be made in under an hour, whereas veal stock takes about 10-11 hours. The great thing about soup however, no mater how long it takes to cook, is that you can freeze it and use it later. And that is why winter cooking is so damn wonderful. You can make a large batch of soup or stew and then quart it up and freeze it. Then you are ready for a quick meal in the future.

IMG_1448-2Caldo GallegoIMG_1447-2IMG_4436-2IMG_1044IMG_1132-2

I write a lot about Galicia because I’ve been so influenced by the region of my grandparents. My dad cooked a lot for us growing up and we also ate a lot at his restaurants. As a third grader I was eating white anchovies, sauteed chorizo and boiled potatoes with greens as much as I ate pizza. I was envious of the kids who got snack packs and luncheables while I ate sandwiches of jamon serrano and salchichon. Back then I felt cheated. Now I’ll take the jamon sandwich any day, with a smear of Dijon mustard and a slice of Manchego cheese, I’m in salty, gluten, and dairy heaven.

Galician food is very hearty because Galicia is the coldest and rainiest place in Spain, as evident by the green filled hills, as opposed to the dry plains in the middle of the country. The many stews and soups in the region reflect the cold winters, and people eat popular dishes like caldo Gallego, a white bean, collard, and chorizo soup made from salted pork bones.  This soup simmers for a couple of hours and it thickens from the starch in the beans and potatoes. In Spain they use berzas, a plant similar to the collards we have here in the States. Every home in the Galician countryside has these huge stalks growing in their yard, where they can pick from the leaves whenever it’s time for a meal. Berzas are sturdy and the crops can last longer in colder temperatures, unlike other plants that begin to die soon after a cold spurt. Even the collards my dad grows in New Jersey are the last plants standing before Winter.


Part of the reason why Caldo Gallego is full of flavor is because of all the pork. A Gallego will find any excuse to add pork to anything and this soup is extra porky. To make the broth you can use salted pork bones or a ham hock. You also add salted pork fat or unto as it is called in Spanish. To top it all off, you add chorizo at the end. That’s a lot of pork. The pork fat is used to give the soup flavor and then you remove it at the end. I think that many people are afraid of fat, but in small doses and in moderation it can provide a lot of flavor. People in Galicia have been eating like this for quite some time, in addition to a large amount of home grown vegetables of course, and it is common to see people in the old towns live to be 90 years old or above.  My great grandmother lived past 100. I can’t say that I know their health secrets, but I do know that I love their food.

Caldo Gallego 3IMG_1371-2IMG_1133-2Caldo Gallego 2Caldo Gallego 4IMG_4424

Caldo Gallego - Galician Soup
Recipe type: Soup
Cuisine: Spanish
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 3.5 quarts
For broth
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 Spanish onion, diced
  • 1 ham hock or knuckle
  • 2 oz salt pork
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 quarts (12 cups) water
For soup
  • 2 cups dried white beans (cannellini, navy, or great northern beans), soaked overnight and then drained
  • 1 pound potatoes, peeled and large dice
  • 1 pound collard greens, cut in half and thinly sliced
  • ½ pound soft chorizo, ½ inch slices
For broth
  1. In a large pot heat up the olive oil and then saute the onion, ham hock, and salt pork until the onions are soft and the ham hock starts to brown.
  2. Add the garlic and bay leaf and saute until fragrant.
  3. Add 3 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Cover pot, lower to a simmer and cook for 1 hour.
For soup
  1. Add the white beans and cook for an additional hour on a low simmer. The beans will start to get tender.
  2. At this point remove the ham hock. The meat will be falling off the bone. Shred the meat, discard the bone, and return meat to the broth.
  3. Now add the potatoes, soft chorizo, and collard greens. Cook until the potatoes and collards are tender for about an additional 30 minutes. As the potatoes and beans break down the soup will thicken.
  4. At this point remove the ham hock. The meat will be falling off the bone. Shred the meat, discard the bone, and return meat to the broth.
  5. When finished remove the salt pork and discard.



Roasting Chestnuts and Foraging in Spain

by Elena on January 12, 2015

Chestnuts and Dad

What the heck are these prickly looking things scattered all over the forest floor? Well if you must know they are the inimical outer shell of the chestnut!  I love this impromptu picture of my dad holding a bunch of chestnuts.  It reminds me of Sean Brock and his outstretched hands on the cover of his Heritage cookbook.  My dad, quite the ham, would make a great cover of a Gallego cookbook, cooking the things that grow in our backyard.

During our trip to Spain, my dad and I were on our way to pick the remaining chestnuts of the season. I hadn’t really thought about how chestnuts grow; I was too busy fancying myself Rene Redzepi, foraging the mountains behind my grandparents home. It’s funny how popular foraging has become what with  foragers showing up at the doors of restaurants all over New York City, with their spoils of morels and ramps at their feet. Chefs pay a lot of money for the trouble someone had to go through when scavenging the woods of the Northeast. In this small corner of Spain however, my family and their neighbors have foraged since they were children, eating chestnuts,walnuts, and mushrooms from the woods. Spanish hospitality is often linked to food which is why every visit to someone’s house ended with them trying to gift us some of their goods; friends shoving chestnuts, apples, and cured meats in our direction as a thank you for our visit. Even while looking for chestnut trees we passed a friend who himself forages mushrooms, something I wouldn’t dare to do with my lack of experience, especially in unfamiliar territory.  As he told us, a family closer to the city had to rush to the hospital after eating mushrooms that turned out to be poisonous.


It goes without saying that these little orbs of spikes completely threw me off.  My dad used gloves to break apart the spiky shell. I, having forgotten my gloves at home, used a very different approach and stepped on them until they split open.  We gathered bags and bags of them. I couldn’t help but think of the prices of chestnuts back home, sometimes as much as $6.99 a pound, as I scattered a multitude of chestnuts to dry out on our kitchen table. There were still many more chestnuts left behind, scattered all over the forest floor, that would sadly get moldy and saturated with water from the rainy days ahead.  However chestnuts are always in abundance in Galicia. Through the winter you can find them in every household and even in the cities vendors sell them freshly roasted on small portable grills on most busy street corners.

Holding ChestnutsIMG_4014-2

Chestnuts are not only very popular in Galicia because they are delicious; they are even linked to pagan rituals such as the coming of Autumn in a festival called Magosto, where people celebrate with food and wine and sometimes a pig slaughter to prepare for the winter. I love the mysticism of Gallego culture, the superstitions and age old traditions started who knows how long ago. Like the Celtics that settled in the Northeast of Spain, we still celebrate and commemorate the dead and we even chant spells to keep the evil spirits away during a queimada. Like most old traditions and stories, they have evolved as a form of celebration and reveling like dressing up for Halloween or leaving treats for Santa or the Easter bunny. But when you walk through the woods in Galicia you can feel the whimsy of the atmosphere like you just stepped foot in a storybook.

IMG_4344IMG_4402IMG_1048-2Chestnuts and Forest Floor

Needless to say we ate a lot of chestnuts, and even though most of the locals said that the chestnuts this season were ‘no good’ compared to other years, I enjoyed my roasted chestnuts every evening while watching Spanish television with my grandmother. We roasted them, braised them and I even made soup out of them. There was no possible way that we could eat them all so like everyone else we tried to give them away to family and friends far from the area. Back in New York I still bought some chestnuts every now and then.  I never seem to get sick of them. One day I wanted to make a dish with roasted  winter vegetables and brighten them up with pepper, lemon juice, and herb oil. I combined a lot of the winter products I had in my fridge like chestnuts, fennel, hen of the woods mushrooms, and  Jerusalem artichokes to make a roasted winter vegetable salad. To continue with my chestnut kick I retested the butternut and chestnut soup I made in Spain back in my apartment in NYC.  The chestnuts give more depth to the butternut soup and of course a nutty flavor. The chestnuts do make the soup a lot richer so I added creme fraiche as garnish to add some tartness.


Winter Vegetable Salad
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
  • 16 roasted sunchokes (see below for recipe)
  • 16 braised chestnuts (see below for recipes)
  • 2 fennel bulbs, cut into quarters lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups hen of the woods mushrooms, shredded into small smaller pieces about an inch wide
  • 2 tablespoons of herb oil
  • 1 lemon
  • Garnish with fennel fronds
  1. While the sunchokes and chestnuts are cooking (see below) take the four quarters of one fennel bulb and with each quarter slice them very thin, lengthwise with a knife of mandolin. Set aside in cold water.
  2. Take the other four quarters of one fennel bulb and cut ½ inch thick planks lengthwise. They will look like wings. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large sautepan and sear the fennel planks until soft and golden brown, about 5-7 minutes. Set aside.
  3. Wipe out the same pan. Heat up the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and sear the hen of the woods mushrooms on high heat until golden brown and tender, about 2-3 minutes.
  4. Assemble: Combine all ingredients on the plate and sprinkle with olive oil and the juice of a lemon. Garnish with herb oil, fennel fronds, fleur de sel, and aleppo pepper.


Chestnuts and SunchokesIMG_4343

Braised Chestnuts and Balsamic Glaze
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 6 servings
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 medium shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 cup red wine or port
  • 2 pounds shelled chestnuts, roasted and peeled
  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 thyme sprig
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  1. In a large saucepan melt the butter. Add the shallots and cook on a low heat until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Raise the flame until the shallot turn slightly brown, about 2 minutes.
  2. Deglaze the pan with the red wine or port and let the liquid reduce to half.
  3. Add the stock and thyme sprig and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cover the pan. Let cook until the chestnuts have absorbed most of the liquid, about 20-30 minutes.
  4. If you want to add a balsamic glaze, turn up the heat to medium, pour the balsamic and let the balsamic reduce until it creates a glaze. Be careful not to over reduce.

Roasted Sunchokes
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Sunchokes are sometimes called Jerusalem artichokes
  • 1 pound sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon aleppo pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sumac
  • Salt to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a medium bowl toss the sunchokes, olive oil, sumac, lemon juice, aleppo, and salt.
  3. Spread the sunchokes on a foil lined baking sheet and roast until tender about 25-30 minutes.


Chestnuts and Butternut

Butternut and Chestnut Soup
Recipe type: Soup
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 10-12 servings
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 leek, white part only, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 cup chestnuts, cooked and peeled and chopped
  • 3 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into large cubes
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 1 quart of water
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • Garnish with creme fraiche and roasted chestnuts
  1. In a large pot melt the butter and saute the onion, garlic, and leek over medium heat until they are soft and the onion is translucent.
  2. Add the white wine and reduce by half.
  3. Add the chestnuts and cubes of butternut squash to the pot. Add the water, chicken stock, turmeric, coriander, and nutmeg and bring them to a boil.
  4. Reduce to a simmer and cover pot. Cook until everything is tender about 30 minutes.
  5. Working in batches, blend the soup until smooth and return to the pot. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Garnish with creme fraiche and roasted chestnuts.



Roasted Chestnuts
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
  • 2 pounds chestnuts
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Make an incision on each chestnut, either a crisscross on top or a slit on the side, deep enough to get through the shell and touch the chestnut inside.
  3. Roast the chestnuts for 30-35 minutes.
Chestnuts are easier to peel when they are warm. Using gloves or a side towel gently press the chestnuts with the palm of your hand until the shells split open.



Apple Picking and English Muffins

by Elena on December 3, 2014

Apple Picking 1

It seems like every year we wait til the absolute last minute, when the trees have been stripped bare and the only apples are at the top, far far away from my outstretched short arms.  This year was even worse because of an apparent apple shortage and many orchards in the area cut the picking season short, which left us scouring the area for the few places that were still open.  We found one in the Hudson Valley and we spent the cloudy day filling up two large bags with apples, sipping hot apple cider, and eating apple cider donuts.  Sometimes I feel like the apple cider donuts alone are worth the hour drive.

Apple Cider4

After picking all day, we went home and got down to business.  We started washing, cutting, and peeling.  For a month apples were everywhere in the form of pies (I even wrote about a caramel apple pot pie on this blog), roasted in the oven, made into sauce, and despite eating an apple a day and giving away some of our apples to family and friends, we still had a huge bag of apples sitting in our kitchen untouched.  We had to do something to preserve them and I knew just what I wanted.  Apple butter.  Is there anything better than apple butter in the Fall?  Maybe just maybe a glass of apple cider, but if I had to chose I’d chose both, so we made both.  Apple butter lasts in an air tight container for a month.  If you can the apple butter, then it lasts even longer.  As for fresh, apple cider, it lasts for about two weeks or for a couple months when frozen.

Apple Picking 4013a86afd2379fd54ed0c335a354dc7b4af1e299ab

Tuesday Jon and I enjoyed some of these apple spoils from the previous month.  It was the last day of our vacation and it rained all day long which provided the perfect excuse for us to spend the day at home.  Before our movie marathon we sat at the kitchen table and ate homemade English muffins with apple butter.  Later I heated up some of the apple cider with a cinnamon stick and rum.  The comforting, hot cider helped me forget that eventually we would have to return to the real world, and our different schedules, sneaking minutes together at night when he comes home and I’m heading to bed.

IMG_3738Apple Picking 2

Making your own bread at home, especially a bread recipe as easy as English muffins, may only seem decadent and it only requires a bit of effort.  The yeast flavor and freshly cooked, warm interior makes the extra work worth it.  The recipe that I use yields a lot of muffins, more than Jon and I could hope to eat on a lazy day off, so I always freeze some in an airtight bag and they stay remarkably fresh for later use.  The key to a successful English muffin are the small nooks and crannies in each muffin, the perfect spot for butter and jam to nestle in each and every crevice.  You cook them on the stove top so they are fairly easy for anyone to try.  When I visited my grandmother in Spain this past month we made a batch of English muffin dough and kept it in the fridge.  Each morning we scooped out a few muffins and had fresh muffins for breakfast.  Years ago she lived in the United States during the years my grandfather moved here to find work, and despite her very strong cultural ties to Spain she sometimes tells me stories of the things she misses most about the US.  Pizzeria pizza doesn’t quite compare in Spain and the memory of a plain pizza pie, especially the pizza from New York and New Jersey, haunt her enough that she’s even resorted to tricking her grandchildren into getting her pizza.  “Don’t you want pizza?” she would say.  “Buy some pizza.  You like pizza, so let’s get some.”  She always enjoyed a small slice, even if it was frozen from a box from our local Spanish supermarket.  Strangely enough, despite all the delicious cheese she has to chose from back home, she also misses American muenster cheese with its bright orange exterior and soft, mild interior.  When she visited a couple years back we bought her some and she ate thin slices with much gusto.  This past trip, when I presented her with the English muffins her eyes flickered with recognition.  “I remember,” she reminisced as she took a bite covered in butter and fig jam.  We made them every morning and ate breakfast together with warm toast as she discussed what we would eat for the rest of the day.

Apple Picking 3IMG_3791

Apple Picking 5Apple Cider

Apple Cider

Apple cider is essentially raw, unfiltered apple juice made with the whole apple (including the skins).  It is extremely easy to make.  All you need is a blender or food processor and some cheesecloth.

Yields about 6 cups

15-20 apples (mix of tart and sweet varieties)

Make sure that you wash each apple carefully because you will be using the whole apple to make cider.  Wash the apples, remove the core, and cut into quarters.  Blend in a blender or food processor until smooth.  Strain the apple mixture through a fine mesh sieve covered in cheesecloth.


English Muffins

I always associated English muffins with the nooks and crannies of Thomas’ English Muffins that we had growing up.  The yeast allows for air bubbles to form when you cook the muffins on the griddle.  The muffins will rise as they cook, and tiny air pockets form the famous nooks and crannies that we all crave.

Yields about 16 muffins adapted from King Arthur Flour

1 3/4 cups lukewarm milk
3 tablespoons softened butter
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, to taste
2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
4 1/2 cups bread flour or AP flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
semolina or farina, for sprinkling the griddle or pan

Combine all ingredients, except for the semolina, in a mixing bowl.  You can mix by hand or with a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.  Mix until the dough begins to come away from the sides of the bowl.  The dough will be fairly wet compared to other bread dough recipes.  Scrape the sides of the bowl and shape the dough into a ball.  Cover the bowl and let the dough rise for about two hours, until it is light and airy.

Gently deflate the dough.  Sprinkle 1/2 cup semolina or farina onto a large plate.  Add more semolina as you need it.  Using a spoon, scoop out balls of dough and place in the semolina.  Flatten the dough balls until they are about 1/2 inch thick.  You should be able to make about 16 muffins.

Cook the muffins on a griddle or a large pan.  You don’t have to add any oil to the griddle but you will need to wipe the griddle clean after each time you use it.  Cook the muffins on a low heat for about 3 minutes on both sides.  The inside of each muffin will cook slowly as you heat up each side.  Let your muffins cool and then use a fork, working your way all around the muffin, to split them open.  The fork creates the famous nooks and crannies, a knife won’t.  Toast your muffins!


Apple Butter

Yields about 2 1/2 cups

You can make apple butter without adding extra sugar.  If you use a combination of sweet and tart apples (honey crisp, empire, macoun etc.) it may be sweet enough for your taste.  I did however include an optional 1 cup of sugar if you prefer your apple butter to be on the sweet side.

25 apples (mix of tart and sweet varieties) peeled, cored, and quartered
1 cup apple cider
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp nutmeg
(optional 1 cup sugar)

Combine all ingredients in a large heavy bottomed saucepan.  Cook on medium heat for about an hour, stirring often with a wooden spoon until the apples are broken down.  Transfer mixture to a smaller pot and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, until the apple butter is thick about 2-3 hours.  Remove from heat and cool down.

Apple Butter 1



Kabocha and Turkey Day Sides

by Elena on November 26, 2014


November is the start of the holiday season.  After Halloween and the barrage of candy that I feel is only appropriate for an adult to eat openly on this one day, stores quickly begin to put up their Christmas decorations.  Literally the next day when I was still looking for white face makeup, white string lights were on the shelves at my local Duane Reade!  I always find myself thinking that it is way to early for holiday music, but marketers have learned to get us eager consumers early.  They may forget, but there is still one more national holiday before we start putting up our Christmas trees and lighting our menorahs.  It’s Thanksgiving people!  That is why there is currently a 12 pound free turkey that I got from work taking up the bottom half of my fridge.

While I have grown to like turkey more and more each year, especially after we started sticking a mix of butter, herbs, brioche, preserved lemons, and dried apricots under the turkey skin, the real stars of the show are all the sides.  This day is where it is appropriate for adults to fill their plates with 7 or 8 different items and then cover them all with gravy or cranberry sauce.  It is the ultimate indulgence, free of guilt until you need to unbutton your pants while watching Elf on the couch.


As I said, the true stars are the side dishes and the vegetables of the season like this kabocha squash here.  The bright flesh is so beautiful and versatile that you can braise it, bake it, sear it, or make some of the most delicious fries.  It even makes a great soup if you cook it down long enough.  Since it is a little more starchy than say a butternut or acorn squash it actually feels more like a fried potato, so when you are craving some starch this guy will do the trick.  As a bonus, it is also loaded with tons of vitamins and nutrients.


The preparation for this squash can be a little daunting.  The hard outer skin can be a pain to get through.  First cut the squash in half and scoop out all the seeds.  Next I always cut the half of the squash into quarters; then peel the skin of each piece very carefully with a knife.  Once you get that hard skin off the rest of the prep is very easy.  Cut into manageable slices and you are ready to cook.

Kabocha Squash 1

So this meal came out of a cravings for something very ‘Fall like’ as well the options that I had available in my pantry and fridge.  I was craving slow-roasted squash and I had a bag of pepitas in the pantry that I’ve been munching on raw and were begging me to season and roast them.  When everything was finished the dish was complete with the crunch from the pepitas, tartness from the pickled chard stems, nuttyness (is that a word?)  from the farro, and sweetness from the queso fresco.


Kabocha Squash 2

Another perk of roasting everything for dinner is that it heats up your apartment until nice and toasty!  I was a little shocked to return from a trip to find New York City cold and dreary so soon.  At least it feels too soon for me.  All this talk of an impending snow storm combined with a couple days off all provide the perfect excuse to bunker down inside my warm home (and the homes of my family) and eat lots of Fall friendly food.


Roasted Kabocha Squash with Farro, Pickled Chard Stems, Pepitas, and Queso Fresco

1 bunch swiss chard stems (save leaves for another use)
1 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 tbs sugar
pinch salt

1 cup farro
3 cups water

1 small kabocha squash
2 tbs olive oil
1 tsp curry powder
1/4 cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt

2 cup raw pepitas (hulled green pumpkin seeds)
1 egg white
1 tsp curry powder
3 tsp sugar

1/2 cup queso fresco
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lemon

Pickled Swiss Chard Stems
Bring white balsamic vinegar, sugar, and salt to a boil.  Add the swiss chard stems and boil for thirty seconds then turn off the flame.  Cool down the stems in the pickling liquid.  Keep stems in the liquid until ready to use them.

Rinse and drain farro.  Place the farro in a pot and combine with 3 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Cook for 30 minutes.  When the farro is tender drain off any excess water.  Season with salt and pepper.

Roasted Kabocha Squash
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cut the kabocha squash in half and scoop out the seeds.  Cut each half in quarters  and peel off the skin very careful with your knife working from one end to the other.  Once the skin is off cut 1/2 inch thick slices.  Toss the squash with olive oil, curry pepper, and cayenne.  Place the kabocha squash in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet.  Roast the squash for 30 minutes, turning once, until the squash is tender and starting to brown.  Season with salt.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Beat the egg white until frothy.  Mix in the curry powder and sugar.  Toss the pepitas in the egg white mixture.  Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the egg white covered pepitas and lay them on a foil-lined baking sheet.  Bake until they are dry for about 10-15 minutes.  Store in an air tight container.

To Finish
Toss the farro and roasted squash.  Garnish with the queso fresco, pepitas, pickled chard stems, and red pepper flakes.  Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and a little squeeze of lemon.



Peruvian Ceviche and Leche de Tigre

by Elena on October 29, 2014


This week I was reminded of a trip I made a few years ago to Peru when Chef Diego Muñoz, the Chef de Cuisine at Astrid y Gastón, visited the Saveur offices and prepared a few dishes for the staff.  It was a complete surprise to me until they walked into the kitchen and I couldn’t help but smile like a silly fan girl as he and his sous chef worked around us in our kitchen.  They moved with the sense of urgency and control that you find in any fine dining restaurant.  They remained controlled even while we photographed them and followed them around the kitchen, watching their every move.  I felt a twinge of envy while I watched them grind powders, make tuiles, and plate cohesive dishes with multiple components.  I still miss plating at the pass, creating art on a plate and the surprise of melding flavors when you taste the dish all together.  I miss the small tweezers I used to plate.  I even missed, if only for a second, answering to a Chef, the person you respect and dedicate yourself to, in order to realize his or her vision.

Chef showcased Peruvian potatoes, beautiful and colorful, each prepared in a different way.  Different varieties of potatoes, were mashed, or boiled, or made into gnocchi and stuffed with meat.  One of the dishes that I didn’t get a chance to photograph, included beef tongue that was so tender after hours in the immersion circulator it almost melted on your tongue.  They paired pancetta and peanuts with a caramel tuile and it made me reevaluate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to perhaps include some kind of cured pork product.  Although I must say that my cousins and I shared a similar pairing years ago in Spain when we used to put cured pork on our Nutella sandwiches.  Don’t judge until you try it.


I went to Astrid y Gastón years ago with my friend Vipula who told me about the restaurant and her interest in Gastón Acurio, the famed Peruvian Chef who has since helped make Peruvian food well known throughout the world.  Peru was a country that I had to see.  While working in an office I had a picture of Machu Picchu as my computer background because I figured if I looked at it every day, I would work that much harder to get there.  Eventually I did get there and Peru, its people, and the food did not disappoint.  I could go on about Peru and how we hiked for 3 days to Machu Picchu and how I had to use an oxygen tank when I suffered from altitude sickness; Or how we wandered around Lima and explored its colorful streets and markets, but for the sake of this post I want to focus on the ceviche.

Peruvian ceviche is famous and beloved in this country, and as with all beloved things, there are a lot of differing and strong opinions on how to make it.  One thing people do agree on is that ceviche should be made with leche de tigre, the marinade loosely translated as the milk of the tiger.  What they don’t agree on is how you should make it.  Some people just marinade the fish, usually fluke or a related white fish, with lime juice and milk, while others make more elaborate blends of fish stock, fish trim, onions, and garlic that when blended look milky.  This video posted on Fine Dining Lovers is a funny depiction about the differing views Chef’s have regarding their cultural staples.


This picture is of ceviche that I ate in Lima made with choclo, the large, kernel corn from the Andes, and fresh seaweed.



Ceviche is a dish that has been around for perhaps thousands of years in the coastal areas of Latin America, more particularly Peru.  While you use raw fish the citrus marinade actively denatures the protein and it appears to be cooked.  It doesn’t provide the same effect as heat however, and it won’t kill bacteria, which is why you need to work with only the freshest fish.

Peruvian Potatoes-4

Peruvian potatoes brought by Corpapa and Chef Diego Muñoz

Astrid y Gaston-3

Peruvian potato with peanuts, peanut puree, caramel tuile, and pancetta by Chef Diego Muñoz.

Astrid y Gaston2-2

King crab with tomato, quail egg, and potato by Chef Diego Muñoz.

Astrid y Gaston - Diego Munoz-3

Chef Diego Muñoz preparing papa rellena (stuffed potato) with a cheese topping.

I have made this ceviche before, even making it for family meal at The Modern when we had an abundance of fresh, fluke scraps.  I play with the recipe often, adding any garnish or vegetable that I’m in the mood for that meal.  Here I used sweet potato, which is very customary for Peruvian ceviche, but I also added pieces of dragonfruit, an ingredient more reminiscent of Mexico.  I love the dichotomy of the sweet and spicy.  My suggestion would be to make the leche de tigre marinade and then add the garnishes of your choosing.  In New York City it is easy to find the Peruvian pepper called aji amarillo, in paste form or marinated, as well as choclo, but in other places people may not be as lucky.  Feel free to substitute these ingredients with similar ingredients such as serrano peppers or fresh corn.


Peruvian Ceviche with Leche de Tigre

Inspired by Gaston Acurio

Leche de Tigre Ingredients
2/3 cups fresh lime juice
1/2 cup fish stock
2 garlic cloves smashed
1/4 cup red onion thinly sliced (about 1/2 small red onion)
1 tbs. grated ginger
1 tsp. aji amarillo paste (or half a jalapeno or serrano pepper)

Ceviche Ingredients
1 small sweet potato
1/2 cup frozen choclo or hominy (or 1 ear of corn, husked and cut from cob)
1 pound flounder, fluke, or sole cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 small red onion thinly sliced
1/2 small habanero or Scotch bonnet pepper, seeded and sliced thin
1 small vine ripe tomato, small dice
1/4 dragonfruit, small dice
Cilantro garnish
Finishing oil (olive or herb)


For Leche de Tigre
Combine lime juice, fish stock, garlic, red onion, grated ginger, aji amarillo, and a couple ice cubes in a blender.  Blend until smooth.  Strain into a bowl and chill.

For Ceviche
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil.  Add the sweet potato and cook until tender and you can pierce through the potato without resistance, about 15 minutes.  Cut the potato into 1/2 inch cubes and let cool.  Bring the same pot of water to a boil and cook the frozen choclo until tender about five minutes.  (If you are cooking an ear of corn cook for 5 minutes and then cut from cob).  If you are using dried choclo you will need to soak it overnight and cook for a much longer amount of time.

Combine the leche de tigre with the white fish and let marinade for a couple of minutes.  Stir in choclo, sweet potato, red onion, habaneros, dragonfruit, and tomato.  Garnish with cilantro, season with salt, and serve cold.  Add more aji amarillo or habaneros if you want a spicy version.



Caramel Apple Pot Pie

by Elena on October 18, 2014


No one can deny the popularity of the apple.  This time of year people become obsessed, myself included.  Beach season has come to an end and maybe we all are looking for another outdoor activity to take up our weekend, and without fail people run off apple picking.  The interesting thing is that we can get apples all year round.  Apples are always a staple at every supermarket or market you go to, but those perfectly round commercial apples, usually ripened in the back of some large truck or silo, are less flavorful and more mealy that an apple you pick from its branch.  You can immediately taste the difference at the end of summer when the local orchards begin to ship their wares.  Suddenly all kinds of varietals make their way to our shelves likes Macouns, Empires, Courtland, Braeburns, and Pink Ladies.  There are many varietals but there is one apple king among them.


If you’ve tasted a Honeycrisp apple you know that it is delicious.  It’s sweet but still tart with a firm flesh and thin skin.  They are good for eating right off the branch, as well as for cooking.  The Honeycrisp has grown in popularity since its creation over thirty years ago and it seems like lots of news outlets are reporting on this popular varietal right now.  So what is all the fuss about?  These apples are marked up much higher than any other apple on the market.  While most apples cost around $1.50 to $2.00 a pound, in New York City, a Honeycrisp will cost you a pretty $4.50 a pound.  You have to ask yourself why it cost so damn much.  Honeycrisps were developed at the University of Minnesota by crossbreeding the Macoun and Honeygold apple, and now the university holds the patent for the apple.  I find it a little strange that an institution can patent something that grows in nature, but they can, and for that reason for every Honeycrisp you buy a percentage will go to the University of Minnesota.  There are other reasons why this apple is so expensive.  These finicky apples are also difficult to breed, and they require to be picked delicately by hand.  They also have a thin and easily bruised skin.  All of these factors add up to the fact that this apple is one of the most expensive apples in your supermarket, not to mention the demand for them.  As long as people want them, they can charge the higher price.

Apple Pot PieIMG_3666IMG_0131-2

I’ve been tempted a lot going to the market and I have treated myself to some Honeycrisps lately.  While I love taking a huge bite right out of the flesh, I also love using them for baking.  I find that you can even cut down the amount of sugar in your recipes because these apples are so sweet when you cook them.  When I want to cut my calories for the day, I eat one of these apples and my sweet tooth is satisfied.  On the days that I want to treat myself and indulge I make something like these caramel apple pot pies.  It is so simple to make because most of the cooking is done on the stove.  You make a caramel sauce, one of my most favorite things in the world, and you cook the apples right in the caramel.  When cooking the apples will release some juice and that juice will cook down to concentrated, caramel apple greatness.  We topped ours with French vanilla ice cream and it felt like eating a caramel apple sundae.


Caramel Apple Pot Pie

I have made puff pastry a couple of times and this may be my culinary background talking (as opposed to a pastry background) but I think it is more trouble than it is worth.  Even Michelin starred restaurants sometimes use pre-made puff pastry because the process is laborious and time consuming.   If you are so inclined to make your own, I usually to go Martha for her dough recipes.

You can use any baking apple for this recipe such as Honeycrisp, Braeburn, Granny Smith, or Red Delicious.

Makes 6

1 package frozen puff pastry (2 sheets)
1 cup sugar
3 tbs. water
2 tbs. butter
1 tbs. lemon juice
1 tbs. light corn syrup
8 apples (such as Honeycrisp or Macintosh) peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 tsp. cornstarch
1 egg, whisked with 1 tbs water

Take out the frozen puff pastry to thaw out.  Heat oven to 375 degrees.  In a large skillet combine the sugar, water, butter, lemon juice, and corn syrup.  Cook on medium high without stirring until the sugar melts.  Using a pastry brush and a small bowl of water, wet the sides of the saucepan to ensure that any sugar crystals that are stuck to the side won’t burn.  Stir occasionally and cook until the caramel is a deep amber around 7 to 10 minutes.  Add the apples and cornstarch to your caramel.  Cook the apples until they are tender and the caramel has thickened about 20 minutes.  Cook the apples fully on the stove.  Fill six 4 inch ramekins with the apple filling and place on a parchment lined half sheet tray.

Take the frozen puff pastry and roll to 1/4 in thick.  Using your ramekin as a guide and cut out circles that are 1/2 inch larger than the rim.  Use a ring cutter or carefully cut with a paring knife.  Place the circles over the top of each apple-filled ramekin.  Using your fingers press the dough over the side of each ramekin to hold it in place.  Brush the egg wash (1 egg and 1 tablespoon water) over each pie.  Bake for 20-30 minutes until the puff pastry is fully cooked and golden.

Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.



Fall Breakfast

by Elena on October 14, 2014


There was a chill in the air this weekend in the Hudson Valley.  Because of an open door that led from the kitchen to the backyard, I had never been so cold in a kitchen before.  Finally someone closed the door, no doubt pitying me after they saw me prepping while wearing my jacket over my chef whites.  By the end of Saturday I couldn’t get home fast enough to my cozy apartment and over-sized pajamas.  I spent that thrilling Saturday night wrapped up in my warm crocheted blanket.


Fall is amazing because it is also the time of year we get to celebrate the best holiday created by man, Halloween.  New York City will turn into a big costume party where everyone is forced to commute with drunken superheroes, over sized Gumbies, sexy cats, Waldo in his striped, red shirt and blue jeans, nerdy wizards with scars on their foreheads, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Some people use Halloween as an excuse to dress sexy.  Much to my boyfriend’s dismay I don’t follow such traditions, instead favoring to dress in what could only be called less than sexy.  The past couple of years I was Wednesday Adamsthen I was a green faced zombie, a hairy Frida Kahlo, and the most frightening of all…Lady Gaga.


There is a strange name for a certain weekend activity many New York women like to do in the fall.  Leaf peeping, although more suggestive of a pervy neighbor named Tom, is actually the term for when a person travels to enjoy the fall foliage.  The name itself is enough to consider abandoning this practice, but there is something so alluring about going on a leaf hunt before a day of apple and pumpkin picking.  Maybe there is a part of all of us city girls that wishes we could open our front door and see a mountain full of crimsons and gold, instead of the deli and the nail salon across the street.

This weekend you could literally smell Autumn in the air, the cool scent of falling leaves.  You could sense that the days of eating outside and having a barbecue are over until the coming year.  I had been holding on to summer a little too tightly, but this weekend it became clear it is time to switch gears.  It’s easy because I love the feel of autumn and the opportunity to unpack jackets, scarves and boots in preparation for the crisp weather.  Walking down the street, you can’t go far without seeing decorative gourds for sale.  Apple cider suddenly becomes plentiful at every supermarket and the vendors at the farmer’s market start to sell apple cider donuts.  People become obsessed with pie.  Pumpkin, sweet potato, pecan, apple pie I can taste them all.   I may have already succumbed to most of the Autumn stereotypes this weekend, but I still haven’t participated in the pumpkin spice craze, whether in a latte form or a pie form, although fall has only begun.  It is only a matter of time before I cave.



Honeycrisp Apple Griddlecakes

Adapted from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook
Makes 10 small pancakes

1 cup AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tbs sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg slightly beaten
3/4 cup whole milk
2 tbs melted butter
1 honeycrisp apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

Whisk all dry ingredients in a medium bowl.  Add the beaten egg and melted butter and mix.  Slowly add the milk and whisk until the consistency is like heavy cream.  Add the sliced apples.  Lightly butter a griddle or frying pan.  Using a small ladle add batter to the pan.  Cook on medium heat until bubbles start to form and pop.  Flip and finish cooking on the other side.


Sauteed Kale, Butternut Squash, and Cremini Mushrooms

2 tbs olive oil
3 cups kale, cleaned and sliced
1/2 butternut squash, sliced
1 cup cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 shallot, small dice
1 tbs apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper

Heat a large cast iron on medium high heat.  Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and then the butternut squash.  Cook until tender and caramelized.  Set aside.  In the same pan, working in two batches add the mushrooms and saute until golden brown.  Set aside with the squash.  Clean out the cast iron with a damp paper towel.  Add the remaining olive oil and heat on high.  Add the shallot until translucent and then add the kale.  Saute kale until tender.  Add the apple cider vinegar, squash, and mushrooms.  Season with salt and pepper


Kale and Pepper Frittata

2 tbs olive oil
2 red peppers, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 small yellow onion, small dice
8 whole eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 cups kale, shredded

Heat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large saute pan heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil on high.  Add the peppers and onion and saute until the onion is translucent and the peppers are soft.
In a medium bowl whisk the eggs and milk.  Add the cooked peppers, onion, and raw kale.  Season with salt and pepper
Using the rest of the olive oil, oil a 9 x 6 baking dish.  Pour your mixture into the pan and bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until the center is firm.



Ponzu Eggplant With Puffed Wild Rice

by Elena on October 10, 2014


There are a couple staples in our pantry that I started using after working in kitchens in NYC.  Things like soy sauce, mirin, yuzu, kombu, bonito flakes, and ponzu are ingredients that I worked with often, flavors that many Chefs in the US have incorporated into American cuisine.  They incorporate bright but subtle flavor into dishes and I find myself finishing even unlikely dishes, such as pastas and French stews, with these Japanese ingredients.  Jon loves Asian food and culture and he has taught me a lot.  He is my encyclopedia when I am curious about a new ingredient and what to do with it.  We have even toyed around with the idea of moving abroad for some time, but for now we take advantage of the availability of products we have here in New York City.  I usually take Jon with me, after all it can be very overwhelming to venture out to a Japanese market and see all of these bottles and ingredients.  Some of them are only in Japanese but you can always ask a sales person to help you.

Soy SaucesVinegars

Because of the diversity in NYC, depending on where you live, a lot of local supermarkets carry ingredients from all over the world.  I have spoken about the magic of Trade Fair and Food Bazaar out in Queens whenever I am looking for an ingredient or spice I can’t find anywhere else.  Here are a few of Japanese markets in Manhattan.  I usually go to Sunrise Mart because they have multiple locations throughout the city.

Japanese Supermarkets in Manhattan

Sunrise Mart – 29 3rd Avenue & 494 Broome Street, & 12 E. 41st Street

Katagiri – 224 E. 59th Street

Dainobu – 129 E. 47th Steet & 36 W. 56th Street

Tokyo Mart – 91 Mulberry Street


Making ponzu sauce is really easy, the only work you need to do is juice your citrus.  Ponzu is a Japanese citrus-based sauce that you can use as a dipping sauce for sushi or sashimi, a dressing for vegetables, or marinade for meats.  You can also purchase bottled ponzu but what is the fun in that?  Personally I enjoy juicing all the fresh fruit because I think it is worth it to get the flavor.  The one exception would be the yuzu.  Yuzu is a hybrid fruit that originates from East Asia.  The fruit itself is rarely eaten but the aromatic skin is used in cooking, as well as the tart juice.  Yuzu fruit is very expensive on its own and the easiest way to obtain the juice is to buy it bottled.  You can find it in a Japanese market.  Kombu is edible kelp and it is one of the ingredients the Japanese use to make dashi broth.  Kombu is rich in flavor and umami and it adds depth to the dishes you use it in.  I have used both this and this brand of kombu and I like them both.  I add kombu to just about everything, even my chicken soup when I have a cold.  I like to steep it for a couple hours and then strain it out.  Nori is seaweed that is paper-thin, much thinner than kombu.  You might recognize it as the seaweed that is used as a wrapper when making sushi.  For this recipe I use it as a garnish.

I love this eggplant dish because there is a lot of texture because of the puffed wild rice.  I have cheated before and used broken up rice cakes, but frying the wild rice yourself is so easy and assures that your puffed wild rice will be crispy.  It takes no more effort than bringing a small pot of oil to 410 degrees and dropping in your wild rice.  The wild rice will puff up almost instantly so make sure that you have a slotted spoon and paper lined plate nearby.


Wild Rice


Ponzu Eggplant With Puffed Wild Rice

serves 6 as a starter

3 Japanese eggplants split in half
2 tsp canola oil (or any neutral oil)
1 cups soy sauce
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup yuzu juice
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tbs sugar
1 tbs grated ginger
zest 1 lemon
zest 1 lime
1 sheet of kombu (edible kelp)
1/4 cup wild rice
black sesame seeds for garnish
Nori seaweed  cut into strips for garnish
1 tsp sesame oil

For Ponzu

Add all the wet ingredients soy, orange juice, lemon juice, lime juice, yuzu juice, rice wine vinegar, and sugar into a bowl and whisk.  Then add the ginger, zest, and kombu and let them steep over night and then strain.

For Eggplant
Heat your oven to 350 degrees.  Score your eggplants.  Heat a medium sized pan until hot then add your oil.  Sear your eggplants cut side down until golden brown and set aside on a foil lined sheet tray or baking dish.  Drizzle the pan with oil so they don’t stick and then add 1 tablespoon of ponzu over each eggplant, seared side up, so that the ponzu enters all the crevices of the eggplant.  Cover with foil, put in the oven and bake until your eggplant is tender and cooked through about 30-40 minutes, depending on the size of the eggplants.


For Puffed Wild Rice
Heat 1/2 in of a neutral oil in a small pot to 400 degrees.  If you don’t have a thermometer you can test one grain of rice and see if it puffs right away when you drop in the oil.  Once your oil is to temp slowly add in your rice and it will begin to puff up immediately.  Using a slotted spoon transfer your puffed rice to a paper lined plate to drain.IMG_3311

When the eggplant is finished cooking you can drizzle more ponzu and 1 tsp of sesame over top and on the plate.  Top with the puffed rice, cut nori strips, and black sesame seeds.

IMG_3326 cropped



Processed with VSCOcam with lv01 preset

In my line of work I am constantly surrounded by food.  When I’m not cooking it, I’m shopping for it, talking about it, or writing about it like I’m doing right now.  My boyfriend is a chef which only compounds the fact that food is a major part of our lives and a large part of our conversations.  It is our passion and our livelihood and sometimes it can be a burden.

Most days start with me shopping for ingredients, whether it is for the test kitchen at Saveur Magazine or testing for my own recipes on this blog.  I frequent supermarkets, spice shops, farmer’s markets, and butcher shops.  I can’t tell you how many times I’m in the midst of rush hour on the train holding bags of beef bones, sardines, or live lobsters that rustle in my bag, often piquing the curiosity of fellow subway riders.  Just last week my co-worker and I almost left two pounds of chanterelle mushrooms on a subway car, and if it weren’t for the kind-hearted man who pointed out our mistake there would have been very expensive fungi riding the uptown 6 train.

Farmer's Market 2

Most people are intrigued to learn about a career in the food industry and I admit that I have been very lucky to be around great Chefs and interesting ingredients.  Had it not been for my Chef I never would have experienced black and white truffles shaved so heavily over family meal pasta you could hardly see underneath the truffles.  We celebrated a great review in the New York Times while drinking champagne as Chef told us to “eat more, this is the good stuff” in his thick Alsatian accent.  We had caviar with crème fraîche spilling over brioche toast like it cost no more than a jar of Jiff peanut butter with Wonder bread.  I am fully aware that I was only able to eat the “good stuff” on a line cook’s salary because I was a part of this kitchen.  My life was a strange dichotomy where on the one hand I struggled to pay rent and wore jeans and a t-shirt to work every day, while on the other hand I ate caviar, foie gras, beef tenderloin, and lobster at work.  These were the perks, but there is also a burden of having too much of a good thing.

While working in the restaurant I developed a slightly warped relationship to food because even though I was always around food, I didn’t always have the time to eat it.  When my day was over I was famished and the only places open were the corner bodega or the random open restaurants you could find on Seamless.  If you didn’t properly plan your meals, the day usually ended with a large deli sandwich or a bag of chips and a pint of ice cream.  Oh and I remember that ice cream fondly.  The Modern had the most delicious and creamy ice cream I have ever tasted.  I may be so bold as to say that it was the best ice cream I’ve known and all these flavors were at my disposal every single day.  Flavors like fromage blanc with raspberry swirl or green apple basil were given to me whenever I asked and sometimes they would show up on my station even when I didn’t ask.  There were chocolate cylinders filled with cherries, chocolate cake and frozen chocolate mousse, dehydrated fruit leathers dipped in sour sugars, and chocolate chip cookies baked fresh every service.  All of these treats are the things that people usually enjoy on special occasions, only several times a year when they go out and indulge in a meal that ends with a lemon meringue custard with a graham cracker crumble.  A treat is by definition something you enjoy every once in awhile and we had them all at our fingertips every night when pastry would leave out the extra desserts they couldn’t resell the next day.  By night’s end there was a kitchen filled with hungry cooks who didn’t eat anything for dinner besides the hazelnut cake at midnight.  We mortals aren’t supposed to eat these sorts of things on a daily basis and if we do the gods will eventually punish us with weight gain, diabetes, and bad teeth.  The price is high but no one is thinking about the dentist when they put out the last piece of blueberry tart.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Farmer's Market

Even now when I am flitting about from test kitchen to catering kitchen to events, there is a lot food and therefore temptation is everywhere.  I have to remind myself that while everything is fine in moderation, I need to show more restraint than the average person.  Senior Food Editor at Bon Appetit Dawn Perry wrote about the complicated relationship between food, and the people who work with it, in this interesting article where she includes a list of all the bites she ate throughout the day for her job.  She writes ‘I have a tough time reconciling what I want to eat with what I should eat with what I have to eat because it’s “work.”

Guilt can even play a part.  When there are leftovers at an event I work for and when we can’t give the food away to soup kitchens because of New York City’s various laws, I sometimes feel guilty letting the food go to waste.  This industry gives a false impression that food is always in abundance and it is up to you to create a balance.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetIMG_3502

Balance is important because food will always be around you and it may not be the most nutritious choice to put in your body on a daily basis.  Even though you may have the best of intentions and you promised yourself that morning that you will only eat salad and fresh fruit all day sometimes the craving monster rears its ugly head.  That is exactly what happened to me one evening after a day of recipe testing.  I was trying to avoid dairy and carbohydrates which according to Murphy’s law means that I would be craving those very things.  I wanted pasta and I wanted marinara sauce and cheese.  In order to reconcile these feelings without splurging I decided to make a “vegetable lasagna” using zucchini and squash as the pasta and celery root puree as the dairy.  For me it is reminiscent of lasagna and frankly it satisfied my craving and my daily intake of vegetables were a plus.

I warn you that this recipe while easy is a little time consuming.  It can be a project because you need to slice your vegetables, cook them, and then assemble your lasagna.  Although it takes some time to put together it holds well in your fridge and you can even freeze some portions and defrost when you need them.


Vegetable Lasagna

2 medium zucchini, sliced thin
2 medium yellow squash, sliced thin
1 eggplant, sliced thin
1 celery root / celeriac, diced
water to cover
Thyme sprig
Olive oil to brush

1 yellow onion,minced
5 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine
1 28-ounce can tomato puree (preferably San Marzano)
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
handful basil

For Celery Root Puree
Put your diced celery root and thyme in a saucepan and cover with water.  Cover your pan with a lid and cook until your celery root is completely tender.  When making a puree you want to over cook your vegetables.  It makes it easier to blend them.  Remove the lid and reduce the water to almost dry.  Blend the celery root adding water slowly if the mixture won’t blend.  Add salt and pepper.

For Marinara
In a medium saucepan saute the onion in olive oil.  On a low flame cook until the onions are tender without getting any color on them.  Raise the heat to medium, add the garlic and cook for a minute the add the red wine and reduce until almost dry.  Add your tomato puree, red pepper flakes and basil.  Let simmer on a low heat for 10-15 minutes.

For Lasagna
Turn your oven to 350 degrees.  Arrange the zucchini, squash, and eggplant slices on two sheet trays.  Brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper and then roast until soft and golden about 15 minutes.  In a medium baking dish arrange the zucchini slices on the bottom of the baking dish until it is all covered.  Alternate layers of marinara and celery root puree in between the layers of zucchini, squash, and eggplant.   Heat the whole lasagna in the oven to heat through and brown the top.




Final Beach Days & Cucumbers, Radish

by Elena on September 26, 2014

Take a minute to enjoy the view.


Last weekend I worked a catering event in the Hamptons.  As expected the venue was absolutely gorgeous and right on the ocean with a private beach.  Working at a place like this makes working seem a lot less like work and just a little more like a getaway; albeit a short one where you can only steal brief moments of beach time.  I was able to slip away during a lull and follow the sound of the waves to these staircases, literally in someone’s backyard.  The sea air was a cool reminder that this may be one of my last visits to the beach in quite some time.  When I think about September I have to ask.  Where the hell did this month go?  It feels like out of every month of the year September flies by the fastest.  The beginning of Fall always sneaks up on you and then slips away before anyone can notice, like a charming party guest you may never see again.  After a long and lazy summer, people get back from vacation, work picks up, and school starts.  My freelance work slowly started to pick up as well, with more events to cater, more work in the test kitchens, and now restaurants will fill their seats.


When I think of the beach, and especially the Hamptons, I think of light and simple dishes, vegetables and summer flavors.  Cucumbers and radish both have a refreshing bite, cucumbers are more subtle and radishes are sharp and peppery.  Radishes with butter are a traditional French combination found in many a French bistro.  Chefs like Daniel Humm dip radishes in butter like you would dip strawberries into chocolate.  When combining radishes and cucumber I would use butter’s more tart cousin, crème fraîche.  It is similar to sour cream with a higher percentage of butterfat and frankly it is delicious and creamy when added to any sauce.  Crème fraîche is smooth and it gives these watery vegetables some fat and flavor.  I made this salad a lot this summer, mostly because I always seem to have cucumbers, radishes, and celery in my fridge.  The salad is also incredibly easy and with the help of my trusty mandoline I can slice any vegetable with ease.  Sprinkle with a little mint and lime juice and you get a refreshing salad.


Before heading back to the city I ran to the beach again, in my kitchen clogs, sinking into the sand with each heavy step.  I didn’t want to miss the shuttle back into the city so I eventually had to make my way back to the van.  Until next time la plage, we will meet again.


Cucumber & Radish Salad With Mint and Crème Fraîche

2 Persian cucumbers, shaved
6 radishes, shaved
1/4 cup crème fraîche or greek yogurt
handful mint, shredded
handful celery leaves
1/4 cup toasted Pepitas
Lime luice
Olive oil
White balsamic

Combine ingredients and dress with olive oil and white balsamic vinegar and lime juice.  Season with sea salt and pepper.

{ 1 comment }

Romano Beans and Garden Spoils

by Elena on September 19, 2014


I was never a picky eater as a kid.  For the most part I would willingly eat whatever my parents served my brother and me.  I’m sure I had my favorites like pizza and Carvel birthday cake, and I probably wasn’t beaming when broccoli or cod made it’s way to our dinner table, but for the most part my mom didn’t have to resort to trickery to get certain foods into my diet.  I loved to eat and I didn’t realize that other kids weren’t as enthusiastic until I saw some of my peers forced by their parents to stay seated at the dinner table until they finished their dinner.

These purplish Romano beans are called judías and every time I went to Spain as a kid they were served with what felt like every meal in the summer time.  They grew in abundance, enough to feed a houseful of Spaniards and their kids.  I didn’t hate them, but I also didn’t love them enough to eat them all the time.  When my grandmother served me, I would cover them in paprika and smash them up with my potatoes as if hiding them in my mashed potatoes would somehow make them disappear.  Today these beans grow in New Jersey in my parent’s garden  Funny enough, as I walk through the Union Square Greenmarket, I see these beans everywhere.  I can’t escape them, but I have to admit that I have grown to like them.

Romano 2Romano

The Spanish usually blanch the beans because of their thicker skin and meaty texture.  They also cook them in stews.  Since my parents gave me Romano beans by the bagful, I got tired of merely blanching them.  I started to add these beans to just about anything I had in my fridge in what I like to call my fridge leftover meals.  It starts when I look in the refrigerator and see all the vegetables peaking out of their shelf, with their sad, wilting leaves begging to be cooked before they are thrown out.  I take everything out and manage to put together a dish or a meal or a buffet for when Jon gets home from work.

And here are some sauteed Romano bean recipes I made in a fit of cleaning out my refrigerator.  One day I may mash them in to my mashed potatoes for old times’ sake.




Sauteed Romano Beans and Roasted White Beets

One day at the market when I was endlessly looking for turnip tops for the Saveur test kitchen, I was deceived by these white beets.  Late for work and wondering why it was so difficult to find turnips at a farmer’s market I ran to these beets thinking they were turnips.  I am more familiar with the more colorful beet varieties so I was curious about these white ones.  After salt roasting them I discovered that they are definitely less sweet than red and even yellow beets.  I added them to my Romano beans in a warm salad.

1 cup rock Salt
6 medium white beets
1 pound Romano beans
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup water
1 bunch purslane
3 tbs white balsamic (or to taste)
herb oil drizzled to taste
Salt and pepper
Shave Parmesan

To salt bake the beets put a 1/4 in layer of salt in a small baking dish.  Place the beets on top of the salt and add the remaining salt over the beets.  Bake until fork tender for about 45 minutes depending on the size of the beets.  When the beets are finished you can peel them with a paper towel.  Cut the beets into quarters and set aside.

In a large saute pan, saute your Romano beans with the olive oil over medium heat for 5 minutes.  Add  1/2 cup of water and cook until the water evaporates and the beans are tender.

In a bowl mix the Romano beans, purslane, beets and drizzle with white balsamic, herb oil or olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper and shaved Parmesan.

White Beats


Sauteed Romano Beans and Yellow Tomato

1 pound Romano beans
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup water

2 large yellow tomatoes, cored and cut into 1 in pieces
1 shallot, minced
1 tsp dried oregano or 1 sprig fresh oregano
pinch cumin
pinch red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

In a large saute pan, saute your Romano beans with the olive oil over medium heat for 5 minutes.  Add  1/2 cup of water and cook until the water evaporates and the beans are tender.

In a saucepan saute the shallot in olive oil over medium heat until the shallot is translucent.  Add your tomatoes, oregano, cumin, red pepper flakes and cook the tomato until it starts to break down about 3 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

Top the Romano beans with the tomatoes and drizzle with herb oil.




Queens Farm

by Elena on September 17, 2014


On this particularly gloomy day I batted my eyelashes, flashed my pearly whites, and persuaded Jon into going with me to Queens Farm to see the farm animals and buy some produce.  The farm is only 20 minutes away from our Astoria apartment and this expanse of greenery is the closest retreat from our city life that we can get to without actually leaving the city.  The farm is small but very impressive for farm here in Queens and as soon as you walk into it you feel like you’ve left the city.  It is also a museum and on the weekends they provide guided tours and soon I believe they will have hayrides, a corn maize, apple cider donuts, pie and all those other Fall activities we have all been waiting all summer for.

I sometimes have these elaborate fantasies of moving away from the city and settling down in the country à la My Name is Yeh and her move from Brooklyn to North Dakota.  I know I mention this often, but I suppose the grass is always greener on the other side, especially since there isn’t much grass where I live, that’s why I’m always on the move to look for it!  We take Oliver to Astoria Park and my favorite Socrates Park, but I can’t help but idealize how wonderful it would be to wake up in the morning and be able to have my morning coffee outside on my porch while my dogs run around in the backyard.  In this fantasy I am careful to keep Oliver away from the chickens because it is my worst nightmare that he will one day very proudly bring me back a dead animal in his mouth.  He is part sporting dog and he often gets too close to comfort to his prey when he runs after them before they fly away to safety.

Queens Farm raises sheep, cattle, pigs, hens, and goats.  They also have bees and they sell honey, not bad for a place so close to home.  For now I may still be a city girl but whenever the country may strike my fancy again, who knows where I will end up.  


Queens Farm 1IMG_2969IMG_2976IMG_2943Queens Farm 3IMG_2959IMG_2968IMG_3018Queens Farm 4IMG_3014IMG_3009

Summer is officially over and I thought that these wilted sunflowers were an eerie portrait signaling the beginning of Fall.  We went to their market and bought swiss chard, tomatoes, and eggplant but soon we can expect pumpkins and apples.  I sense a lot of apple pie and crumble testings in my future.  I’m sure Jon will be ok with it.  Nothing smells better than an apple pie baking in the oven.