Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Ruby Port Cocktail for Your Winter Doldrums

I often create recipes that are inspired by something I’ve enjoyed in a restaurant. The Spaghetti Squash With Sauteed Shiitakes and Greens from my last post is one such dish. My favorite Arugula Fennel Salad with Pistachio & Toasted Breadcrumbs was inspired by a similar salad I had at the Zuni Café in San Francisco last summer, and I made it for myself practically every day this fall, emotionally transporting myself back to Northern California with just a few tantalizing bites. The refreshing Limoncello Floats may not always be on the summer menu here at Cookshop the way they were in 2006, but at least I can recreate them for myself at any time. However, my new Ruby Port Cocktail falls into a new category, for its inspiration was a drink I’d only heard about but never actually sampled the original myself!

A few months ago, my friend Lorra told me about this marvelous Tawny Port Cocktail that she’d recently enjoyed at Picholine. It never occurred to me to serve port over ice, much less combine it with fresh lime and a splash of ginger ale, but it started to sound like an interesting idea the more Lorra talked about it. We kept making tentative plans to enjoy port cocktails and appetizers at the bar on a night when we were both in the Lincoln Center area.

Unfortunately that never quite happened as my social life had to be put on pause last month. If you’ve read this blog in the last few weeks, you know that I was knee-deep in chocolate truffles all December long whenever I wasn’t gigging. Since I was frantically chocolatizing till the last possible minute before jumping into a cab to make my 8 pm curtain night after night, I knew I would have to wait for a calmer period before I could rendezvous with Lorra at Picholine.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Spaghetti Squash To Comfort and Energize You

My brain has been on serious overdrive lately. Among other projects, I’m now preparing for a solo recital here in town at the end of the month, and I am really excited about it. After a month of intense chocolate making, I am thrilled to switch gears and spend concentrated time with my violin. It feels great to work hard, submerging myself in these incredible unaccompanied works of Bach and Ysaye, reminding myself of why I truly love playing the violin.

However, I do feel a bit spanked at the end of each long practice day, having exerted a lot of mental and physical energy preparing this 90-minute program of solo violin music. As a result, I’ve been craving comfort food that is warming yet isn’t overly starchy. That is how I’ve come to add Spaghetti Squash with Sautéed Shiitake Mushrooms and Greens to my culinary repertoire in these last few weeks. Unlike a big bowl of mashed potatoes or a dish of mac-and-cheese that would send me straight into carb coma hell, this squash dish is well balanced and gives me energy so that I can keep working well after dinner.

Spaghetti squash is currently in season, and I’ve enjoyed reconnecting to one of my childhood favorite vegetables. It couldn’t be easier to prepare, because all you have to do is throw the whole squash into the oven on a baking sheet. Be sure to prick it all over with the tines of a fork so it doesn’t explode. (The thought of cleaning strands of exploded spaghetti squash from the insides of the oven is not very appealing!) After about an hour, you can slice the squash in half, scoop out the large seeds, and use a fork to scrape the squash flesh into individual spaghetti-like strands. It will cooperate quite nicely, I promise.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Scallops With Lychees and Champagne (Who Knew?)

“Louise! I just made these scallops that were absolutely SPECTACULAR!” my dad said to me by way of greeting on the phone. “The sauce is to die for! It’s so easy but you can’t even believe how good it is. I’ve already made it three times this week, and I’m sending you the recipe because you HAVE to try this!”

After making this dish myself twice in less than 24 hours and devouring it enthusiastically, I might add, I would be remiss if I I didn't pass this recipe on to you. Tonight’s magical combination of Scallops with Lychees and Champagne Sauce (who knew?!) is courtesy of Ming Tsai by way of my dad who has been cooking up a storm these past few months. Dad was on sabbatical this fall, having a well-deserved break from teaching cello lessons and music history classes as well as conducting his university orchestra. While I know he’s been working on various music-related projects during his time off, I think he truly has relished this opportunity to hone his cooking skills!

My mom was always the cook in our family when I was growing up, and I loved being her little helper from an early age. But whenever Dad would make the occasional foray into the kitchen, he’d throw himself into it wholeheartedly, whipping up killer omelets or a fabulous seafood salad for us. I have this clear memory of him being very focused and precise in his prep work but then growing incredibly enthusiastic once the actual cooking was underway. It always reminded me of a musician practicing daily scales in order to build a good technical foundation so that the real music-making happens effortlessly. It’s the same thing in cooking, for once the ingredients are prepped and the building blocks are in place, then the real fun can begin.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Winter Fruit Salad To Welcome A New Year

Happy 2010!

I’m always hyper-aware of the FIRSTS of any new year, hoping that these choices will somehow set a good tone for a new year. The first music I listened to was Renee Fleming singing the glorious “Four Last Songs” by Richard Strauss, and my first beverage consumed in 2010 was a delightful Nicolas Feuillatte champagne, enjoyed on my roof exactly at midnight while watching the fireworks display over Central Park. And I must share the first new recipe I tried this year, for I know you are going to love this Winter Fruit Salad.

This is not your ordinary fruit salad, with random bits of chopped-up fruit indiscriminately thrown together. Instead, this is a beautiful bowlful of thin slices of crisp pears and tart apples mingling with dried apricots and figs, bathed in a fragrant syrup perfumed with vanilla bean, fresh ginger and star anise. I am so happy I stumbled across this recipe last week on Smitten Kitchen, one of my favorite food blogs, and I know I will be recreating this many times this winter.