Author: olivetocook

For the love of peonies

It’s the beginning of Fall and I already can’t help but think about Spring.  In my 15 years living in cities (Washington DC and New York,) one of my favorites memories of Spring is walking around my neighborhood and in the distance spotting the amazing pops of fuscia and red and white and pink peonies in buckets outside of corner bodegas.  Once I was closer, the fragrance was intoxicating, better than roses.  Then I had to choose which ones to take home (because they were always pricey–2-3 stems for $15-$20 or so.)  Would I take home the ones with buds that weren’t open yet or ones that were open and full, knowing they might not last too much longer?  When I finally made my choice and brought them home, I cherished them.  So cheerful.  And just like that, they were gone from the bodegas–their season so sadly short. One of the great benefits of living in the suburbs now and with a generous yard and floral beds, I’m able to plant my own peonies.  (Have …

Braised Short Ribs with Creamy Polenta

Ahhh Fall.  Falling leaves, pumpkin-everything, hay rides, jackets, sweaters, the smell of a fireplace.  Fall means cozy to me.  What’s cozier than lovingly braised beef with creamy, warm polenta. Short ribs are quite the thing now–they’re on menu after menu in restaurants.  They can be pricey, but if you have the time, they’re so easy to prepare.  I always look for thick, meaty short ribs–they can be quite fatty and be mostly bone, so be choosy when shopping.  I recommend a nice Whole Foods or even better, a local butcher.  Always trim excess fat off, but always leave some on.  I’ve made braised short ribs a few different ways, and ideally you would make them a day ahead of time and reheat the next day.  The reason being that short ribs give off a lot of greasy fat, so if left to sit in braising liquid overnight in the fridge, the fat rises and firms at the top–making it easy to scoop off the next day.  The braising liquid also has time to thicken up …

Goat Cheese and Beet Plin with Tarragon

  My husband and I recently visited my family in Philadelphia and finally had the opportunity to visit one of Chef Marc Vetri’s restaurants, Osteria.  I have followed Vetri for a few years and own two of his cookbooks: Rustic Italian Food and Il Viaggio Di Vetri.  Everything always looks amazing in his cookbooks and on his menus.  I’m a pasta freak, especially fresh pasta, and I am actually embarrassed to admit how long it took us to finally visit one of his restaurants.  We were not disappointed.  From the bread to the salads to the pasta… the pastaaaaaa.  Glorious.  The most amazing part was that the best thing we ate at that meal was something we didn’t order–it was something that was comped to us (long story as to why.)  It was the beet and goat cheese plin with tarragon. Paper-thin pasta sheets, creamy beet filling, sweet butter sauce, salty cheese all topped with tarragon–a spice I never would have thought of–all together, heaven.  “Plin” meaning a “pinch” are the teeniest agnolotti/ravioli you can …

Upgrade your home for $12.99

Ever notice that beautiful tall green plant that seems to appear everywhere in designer mags? From Houzz to Elle Decor to Lonny Mag, the lovely Fiddle Leaf Fig tree adds instant style to any room.  The best part is that you can add one to your home for only $12.99 care of Ikea.  With a sweet basket, careful pruning, watering, and patience, your fiddle leaf fig can be standing tall in a few years.  Sadly Ikea doesn’t ship this little beauty, so you have to go to an actual Ikea location or visit your local nursery.  You can order one from Amazon.com here.

Chicken Celery Scallion and Cilantro Dumplings

Yummmmm… dumplings.  So comforting, so many flavors and textures.  Most Asian restaurants offer some sort of dumplings, some better than others, but I always feel that New York City has the best offerings.  From Dumpling Man in the East Village to Dim Sum A-Go Go in Chinatown, my mouth just dances from the salty, meaty, crispy goodness.  After reading issues of Lucky Peach and past issues of Bon Appetit, I finally got the bug to make my own.  The process was actually much easier than I thought (once I figured out how to get my dumping ‘crimps’ just right,) it just took some time and patience.  The essential way to get the crimp right is to make sure you don’t use too much filling.  In my case, I had to use pre-made wonton wrappers (trimmed to a circle shape with a biscuit cutter,) I used 1 tsp of filling for each. I started with the filling–made it up mostly with what I had on hand.  I’d encourage you to experiment.  The key is that your …

Whole Wheat Bread

Somehow I found myself with two 5-pound bags of whole wheat flour and not a speck of white flour in sight.  I went on the hunt for wheat bread recipes and sadly discovered most bread recipes contain a mixture of whole wheat and white flour.  Finally I found this super easy and quick recipe with only whole wheat flour and was delighted with the results.  After baked and thoroughly cooled uncovered at room temperature, the bread stayed moist stored in a large Ziploc bag on the counter (NOT in the fridge) and did not mold after a 4+ days (a rarity for homemade breads.) While you might be tempted to laugh at the exact baking time listed in the directions–don’t.  The bread baked perfectly. Turns out that 100% wheat flour recipes can be more challenging as the bread can turn out very dense and almost bitter.  By adding lovely sweetness from molasses and honey, this bread did not turn out bitter at all–rather it tastes homey and healthy.  The sweet-level is just enough, but it’s …

Grilled Zucchini + Lentil Quesadillas

When in the guts of Summer, when temperature highs are in the 90s (or 100s) and humidity is giving you a new hair-do, the real high points for me are AN OUTDOOR GRILL and OUTDOOR FARMERS MARKETS.  This week browsing the New York City Stuyvesant Farmers Market with my friend Sarah, the real stars were pit fruits (peaches, nectarines, plums,) tomatoes, and zucchini.  Nick and I stocked up on all of the above.  Inspired by the gorgeous yellow and green zucchini, I set out to make a vegetarian main course using this versatile vegetable.  Using what I had on hand (tortillas,) I decided to go for quesadillas.  For added protein and fiber, I added lentils.  The end result was so delicious.  You should see this recipe less as a “recipe” and more as a template.  You could easily substitute grilled eggplant or red/green peppers for the zucchini and your favorite cheese will work as long as it melts well.    An important tip: be SURE to cook your veggies first. If you don’t, they’ll put out …