Wednesday, December 23, 2015

SEASONAL INGREDIENT: Cranberries

I've always loved the taste of cranberries. At the age of 6, I was a precocious little thing, turning my nose up at orange juice (what kid doesn't like OJ?) and requesting cranberry juice of my inevitably surprised servers at diners and delis everywhere. Our family vacation destination each August for my entire childhood was Cape Cod, and I think I especially loved our time there because cranberry products were everywhere: cranberry juice was de rigeur at pancake houses all along the Massachusetts coast, and cranberry fudge was a local delicacy we could really only find on the Cape. And speaking of Cape Cod, when I got older (though let's be clear, not old enough), cranberry juice was my mixer of choice with vodka, for a Cape Cod or a Sea Breeze.
Then, a few years after I became of legal drinking age, Sex and the City hit New York and the world, and you can bet I was slugging down Cosmopolitans in 1999! I even brought the drink to Rome, where I taught bartender friends how to make the perfect Cosmo -- though it was a challenge at the time. You had to really hunt to find two of the key ingredients: cranberry juice and limes (times have really changed in Rome since then -- I like to think I had a hand in the availability of cranberries and limes thanks to my persistent bugging of market owners all over Rome's center!).

It's back in America where cranberries have a real history. They're a perennial holiday favorite, starting off the season with cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving -- and they've been around for centuries. In the 1672 book New England Rarities Discovered, cranberries are described as a "sauce for the Pilgrims, cranberry or bearberry" (bearberry because bears ate the berries)..."that grows in salt marshes that are overgrown with moss. The berries are of a pale yellow color, afterwards red, as big as a cherry...with sower [sic] astringent taste...They are excellent against the Scurvy...The Indians and English use them mush, boyling [sic] them with sugar for sauce to eat with their meat..." And so not much has changed since then. The classic sauce is wonderful -- simply the berries cooked with sugar until they burst. I sometimes like to add orange zest and a little port to add a sophisticated touch to my sauce, but for the most part I like the cranberries to speak for themselves. 

In 1787, James Madison wrote to Thomas Jefferson while he was stationed in France, asking for background information on constitutional government to use at the Constitutional Convention. Jefferson obliged, sending Madison several books on the subject and asked in return for distinctly American gifts that he missed (foodie that Jefferson was): apples, pecans, and yes, cranberries.
In the U.S., Wisconsin is the leading producer of cranberries, with over half of American production. And yes, Massachusetts is number two. My native New Jersey is number three in the country (making NJ not just the garden state, but also the bog state, apparently!). Small volume production occurs in Argentina, Chile, and the Netherlands, in the "old world." 1816 marked the first commercially grown cranberries in the States in East Dennis, Massachusetts on Cape Cod. When cultivated, cranberries are grown on low trailing vines atop great sandy bogs.

Nutritionally speaking? Raw cranberries have plenty of vitamin C, dietary fiber, and the essential mineral manganese. They're also a source of polyphenols, currently under active research for their cardiovascular benefits, their cancer-fighting agents, and their capacity to bolster the immune system. Cranberries have been valued for decades for their ability to help prevent and treat urinary tract infections. Recent studies have also suggested that this powerful berry may promote gastrointestinal and oral health: its phytonutrients are effective in lowering unwanted inflammation, and this extends specifically to the stomach, colon, and the mouth and gums. This miraculous little native American berry may even help aid in recovery from stroke, and lower LDL and raise HDL (good) cholesterol. Clearly, the cranberry packs a powerful, healthful punch!

So, let's discuss cranberries in the present tense. They're easy to ingest through juice (organic, sugar-free juice is best -- cut with a little seltzer, it can be a very refreshing thirst-quencher). They're a natural accompaniment to holiday meals in the form of cranberry sauce. And they're an excellent mixer in cocktails, particularly for the holidays: the juice's bright garnet color adds a tart, festive dimension to drinks and punches. But there are so many great different ways to utilize these healthy red berries: they're an excellent marinade or accompaniment to grilled meats and roasts throughout the seasons. Dried, they're excellent in salads and with cheeses (I always add dried cranberries to the mix to top off my famous brie en croute, a puff pastry-wrapped wheel of brie served with crusty breads and topped with various nuts, dried fruits, and honey -- a winter party favorite). I even add the berries to my beautiful, red-and-green holiday brittle, using shelled pistachios and dried cranberries as the chewy, crunchy bright spots in the caramelized sweetness of the brittle itself. What's most important? Get creative! Use cranberries where you might have used raisins, cherries, pomegranate, figs, nuts, marmalade, maple syrup, orange or apple juice...the possibilities are practically endless. I've known since the age of 6 that cranberries are delicious -- and now I know, we know, that they're also a smart food choice. Eat, drink, and be berry!




Monday, December 14, 2015

ESCAPES: Santa Fe Eats

I wanted somewhere different -- at least from what I'm used to. I wanted to get away before my birthday, a brief respite so I could relax, get a little bit of my zen on, and of course, eat well. After a few weeks of internet searches and flight pricing, I realized I'd never been to New Mexico, that I'd always heard how amazing Santa Fe was as a small city, and that I have a dear friend in nearby Albuquerque. Why not?

Upon arrival, I quickly realized that I was not in New York City anymore. This landscape was so different, vast, its colors a pastel wash of sky, and earthen umber shades of mountain and desert. On the hour-long drive from the airport to Santa Fe, my friend Michelle and I started to catch up on each other's lives of late, and she briefed me on what to expect of Santa Fe. We arrived at our hotel, The Inn and Spa at Loretto, just before dusk on a Friday. We unpacked in our room and showered and changed for dinner: our first dilemma was where to eat during a busy weekend (there was a sold-out food festival in town, and things were hopping in Santa Fe at this time of year).
We chose a classic, Coyote Cafe, just down the street from our hotel. Chef Mark Miller was the original chef-owner who opened the restaurant back in 1987, and who made a name for gourmet Southwestern cuisine over the course of more than 30 years. He sold the place to his manager and a new chef in 2008 and the kitchen is turning out food as delicious as ever. Once we arrived, a snafu in the reservation system meant our drinks at the bar waiting for our table turned into dinner at the bar -- which we really didn't mind after all. We had lots to talk about over some delicious red wine (Michelle) and a spicy cocktail or two (me), and we enjoyed the bold, delicious flavor combinations like my grilled fiery hot and sweet tiger prawns, served on soft sesame polenta with baby bok choy and Maui pineapple salsa.

The next day we woke up and headed straight for brunch at the famous Cafe Pasqual's. There's usually a wait for a table here, and most definitely on weekends, but we were seated fairly quickly at the large central communal table. It's a social spot and the waiters and waitresses seem to know a majority of the clientele. Upon recommendation, we got egg dishes, including my delicious poached eggs on red chile with fresh corn. I had been eyeing a lunch special on the menu that sounded so enticing, I'd eventually return during the week to get it: a half sandwich of turkey with thick cut bacon, lettuce, and tomato with a cup of avocado soup and a shredded kale salad. Perfect. After filling up on a great southwestern brunch, we were energized for exploring the town, shopping, and hitting the Georgia O'Keefe Museum, which, as a fan of her art, I've been wanting to visit for many years. It's small but full of some of her most famous pieces, and the short film on her life, narrated by Santa Fe resident Gene Hackman, is informative and beautiful. And the gift shop is fab! We did some window shopping and some actual shopping around town afterwards, and I struggled to not purchase every gorgeous piece of turquoise jewelry we saw. I knew I'd treat myself to something, but I wanted to "do the rounds" first and see everything I could. I was here for another few days, after all, so I could take my time and scan the stores for the best offerings. We did, however, make a happy impulse purchase at Chocolate Smith. At this small outpost inside one of the malls lining the main plaza in town, glorious iterations of chocolate with a southwestern kick are on display, and it's really pointless to avoid the temptation. I bought plenty of chocolates and truffles and the usual dark chocolate suspects...but I also purchased plenty of the unique assortment of chocolate barks they create. This includes a very New Mexican dark chocolate-green chile-pistachio bark, and "Mountain Bark" -- a mixed bag of chocolate bark with marinated cherries, coconut, homemade English toffee, white chocolate bits and toasted almonds. They managed to combine everything good in one bark!

We returned to the hotel late afternoon, in time for me to book a relaxing facial at the spa downstairs, which was luxurious and complete with aromatherapeutic oils. We'd booked dinner at the charming Santacafe, a petite dining spot that's a favorite among locals for continental fare using regional ingredients with a Santa Fe twist (which seems to go without saying here). 
A delicious seasonal salad, of arugula, grilled peaches, candied spiced pecans, and crispy fried goat cheese was a great opener, alongside a spicy jalapeno-lime vodka cocktail. A main course of a perfectly-cooked beef fillet with a red wine sauce, haricot vert, and shoestring fries, was a great high-low balance on one plate -- and hit the spot. Drinks after dinner were in order, though places in Santa Fe close much earlier than expected (and certainly wayyy earlier than we were used to in our days hanging out in Manhattan until the wee hours!) -- midnight seemed to be the cut-off point for a majority of spots. But the drinks were delicious, the setting beautiful, and the crowd fun and just rowdy enough at Secreto Lounge at the Hotel St. Francis. It was better that we hit the hay early, anyway.

Sunday morning in Santa Fe was sunny and mild, and we made a beeline to an old breakfast favorite on the plaza, Plaza Cafe. I'd categorize this as a diner-plus, with a large menu that includes all of the diner staples, but really focuses on -- what else? -- Southwestern favorites like breakfast burritos and enchiladas. I decided to go for "Christmas," as it's called in these parts: both green and red chile sauces with my breakfast enchiladas. This also included a warm container of homemade flour tortillas, guac and sour cream, beans, and a side of bacon. I ordered a homemade cactus pear lemonade, a first for me, and out came a gorgeous tall glass of fuchsia-colored citrus deliciousness! What a great way to start our day. We wandered along the plaza again, and things started to get a little strange. We'd spotted a few random celebrities in restaurants and outside over the weekend, TV actors and the like. But as we were strolling along the plaza looking at local Native American-made jewelry, my friend and I, both tall women, almost literally ran over...Dr. Ruth Westheimer. She was so small, and just as we were trying not to crush her, one of the jewelry makers asked for a photo with her. As this was happening, a thin woman with short salt-and-pepper hair ran up to Dr. Ruth, who was beside us at this point, and screamed "Dr. Ruth!" It was Jamie Lee Curtis. They embraced and my friend and I, wondering what was going on this weekend with the celebrities, asked Dr Ruth, who said there was a health conference in town, and lots of celebrities were in attendance. So there was that. We continued on our way, and I was making mental notes of all of the gorgeous turquoise jewelry I wanted to buy before leaving town.

La Posada's art-filled lobby
Sadly, my friend Michelle had to head back to Albuquerque for the start of the work week. And I switched hotels and checked into the swank La Posada Resort and Spa. I had my own little adobe-hut on the property, with a wood burning fireplace and other cozy essentials. What I no longer had was a dining partner, but I was determined to make my solo dining experience an adventure. All I needed was my palate, my camera, and a good book -- I was prepared! The first night, I decided to head to The Inn at Anasazi's Restaurant, on the ground floor of a cozy Rosewood Resort with a Native American, log cabin-in-the-woods feel (albeit a luxurious log cabin). The staff, to a person, was accommodating and kind, the best sort of place for a solo dining experience. I enjoyed a delicious tamale appetizer with a mole sauce to start off. The main event was a roasted salmon fillet, done in true southwestern style with a spicy, smoky glaze and served with asparagus, artichokes, and mushrooms. This was accompanied by some delicious pinot noir, and of course my book. But the servers also chatted me up, and upon discovering I was a chef, decided to treat "their own" to a little extra special service, as restaurant industry people are known to do. They sent the chef out to say hello to me, gave me some excellent food and tourist recos for Santa Fe, and just generally made me feel special and welcome. Dessert was, for me, an obligatory chocolate experience: mousse, ice cream, dark chocolate cookie crumbles and white chocolate and caramel sauces. I left feeling pleasantly full, happy, and taken care of -- exactly what anyone really looks for in a restaurant experience.

The next afternoon, I enjoyed a light lunch at La Casa Sena, a gorgeous outdoor spot in an interior courtyard plaza off the main square. Delicious blue corn muffins with sweet butter and a southwestern grilled chicken salad hit the spot, and it was perfect weather to lounge al fresco and read in the shade. Later that day, I enjoyed some spa treatments back at La Posada's spa. I was even able to sneak in some lounging at the pool in the afternoon sun.  And of course I circled back and checked out some more jewelry shops for some of that gorgeous turquoise sold all over town. For dinner that night? Geronimo, a well-regarded fine dining establishment on the gallery-lined Canyon Road.This time, I got a few looks from couples out on romantic dinner dates, but I didn't care. I was there to enjoy beautifully-presented dishes like the sushi grade tuna appetizer, served seared and tartare with little buckwheat blini, wasabi, teriyaki, and spicy pepper sauces. My main course was a house specialty, and falls under the "when in Rome" menu choice category: peppery elk tenderloin with applewood smoked bacon, fork-smashed potatoes, sugar snap peas, and a brandied mushroom sauce. The dish was, I admit, decadent and damned delicious. I splurged and went for dessert, but kept it to a minimal plate of "mignardises": fruit squares, toffee, truffles, macarons, and brittle. It was a delicate and perfect finish to a rich, languid meal in posh surroundings. It really put me in the mood to go back to the hotel, make a fire in my fireplace, and write. And then, to crawl under the covers with a good book, as the embers of the fire smoldered.  Southwestern solitude: perfection.

The next day was my last in Santa Fe before heading back to Albuquerque, so I was intent on enjoying it. I woke up at La Posada and decided to indulge in breakfast in bed -- or at least in my adobe New Mexicans do not mess around with breakfast: I ordered a breakfast burrito with red chile sauce, and it came with beans anpotatoes on the side, topped with cheese and lettuce and sour cream for the full burrito experience. Of course, this was a full on meal that provided me energy for the entire day, so I was good to go tooling around town. It also took a while to digest, so I was *forced* to sit by the pool and catch up on reading some of my favorite magazines in the sun. No complaints. And I finally decided on the store that had the best selection of turquoise jewelry for me to choose from and purchase (it was a birthday gift to myself). I was sad to learn about so many different varieties of American turquoise that are no longer found in these parts -- many of the pieces used stones that had last been mined in the '60s and '70s. But they were gorgeous, and I went home happy with turquoise of various colors and personalities. I did indulge in a late afternoon snack -- the breakfast burrito effect had started to wear off! -- so I tried a bowl of local New Mexico chili, made with pork and served with a little shredded cheese and some tortilla chips (okay, and a side of queso fundido I may have ordered). I sat on the upstairs balcony of Thunderbird Bar and Grill on the Plaza, and just people-watched as locals and visitors strolled through the square, and tourists sipped oversized margaritas in the bar around me. It was a little cheesy, but I didn't want to leave Santa Fe without having had the chili experience. It was tasty and hit the spot as the sun set and the high-altitude air cooled, easing into evening. I walked the gorgeous streets of Santa Fe one last time, until I made my way back to La Posada. The resort's grounds are so beautiful that a leisurely walk around them is a simple pleasure. And, since the next day would be a very early morning, heading back to ABQ, drinks at the hotel bar and a light dinner was just the ticket. It was my first adventure in Santa Fe, but I vowed it would not be my last. And with this thought, I toasted my trip to New Mexico with a glass of its finest sparkling wine. Yes, you read that correctly. And the bubbly? It's delicious.



The Inn and Spa at Loretto
211 Old Santa Fe Trail
(800) 727.5531
www.innatloretto.com

La Posada de Santa Fe Resort + Spa 
330 East Palace Avenue
(505) 986.0000
www.laposadadesantafe.com
Julia Restaurant + The Patio

Coyote Cafe
132 West Water Street
(505) 983.1615
 www.coyotecafe.com

Cafe Pasqual's
121 Don Gaspar Avenue
(505) 983.9340
www.pasquals.com

Santacafe
231 Washington Avenue 
(505) 984.1788

Chocolate Smith
851A Cerrillos Road
(505) 473-2111
www.chocolatesmith.com

Anasazi Restaurant at Rosewood's The Inn at Anasaz
113 Washington Avenue
(505) 988.3030
www.rosewoodhotels.com/en/inn-of-the-anasazi-santa-fe/dining/anasazi-restaurant

Geronimo
724 Canyon Road
(505) 982.1500
www.geronimorestaurant.com

La Casa Sena
125 East Palace Avenue 
(505) 988.9232
www.lacasasena.com

Luminaria Restaurant + Patio
The Inn at Loretto
211 Old Santa Fe Trail
(505) 984.7915

Plaza Cafe
54 Lincoln Avenue
(505) 982.1664
www.

Secreto Lounge in the Hotel St. Francis
210 Don Gaspar Avenue
(505) 983.5700

Thunderbird Bar and Grill on the Plaza
50 Lincoln Avenue
(505) 490.6550
www.thunderbirdsantafe.com

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

RECIPE: Thai-Inflected Turkey Curry Soup

   

There are thousands of recipes for what to make with the leftovers after a big Thanksgiving feast. I always love to make stock with the bones left from the main feast, and I use it to make a collection of turkey broth-based soups that are perfect for lunches and dinners in the days following "turkey day." One of the wonderful things about soup is that it freezes so well; when you get sick of seeing turkey anything, freeze the soup and take it out when it entices again (or when you're feeling lazy and don't feel like cooking yet another meal!).

In this recipe, I've gone in a very different direction from good old American turkey noodle soup. In fact, I've taken Thai spices and flavorings and made a soup that can be anywhere from "lightly Asian-inspired" to full-on Thai spicy goodness. Based on the ingredients you have on hand, and your mood, you decide. Enjoy!


THAI-INFLECTED TURKEY CURRY SOUP
Serves 6-8

2 TBS. peanut or olive oil
8 cups turkey stock
2 cups shredded turkey meat
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced carrots
3 TBSP. Thai red curry paste
1 stalk fresh lemongrass, thinly sliced into rounds
1 kaffir lime leaf 
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
16 oz. unsweetened coconut milk 
2 red bell peppers, thinly sliced
1-2 cups haricot vert, trimmed and chopped into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 cup roasted salted peanuts
2 TBSP fish sauce, optional
1 bunch cilantro, roughly minced
Fresh limes

- In a large pot, warm the oil until it shimmers, then add the diced carrots, celery, and onion. Sweat these vegetables over low heat for about 5 minutes, until they begin to soften. 
- Add the red curry paste, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaf, and stir over medium-high heat until fragrant, about one minute. Add the rice wine vinegar and cook for about 2 minutes.
- Add the turkey broth and the coconut milk, and bring the soup to a boil.
- Once boiling, turn the heat down to medium-low. Add the red peppers and the haricot vert, and the shredded turkey meat, and let the flavors meld, pot covered, for about 10 minutes.
- Taste and adjust for flavor and seasoning, adding fish sauce if it needs salt (alternatively just add salt).
- Just before serving, add the cilantro and the juice of one lime, and serve topped with peanuts and a lime wedge.