Thursday, November 8, 2012

Autumn, in images

Autumn has brought with it a host of harvest hubbub. Tuesday’s Presidential Election rounded out a season that began with me making Thanksgiving Dinner on set for the McCormick web campaign I shot in Tasting Table’s Test Kitchen, and ended with a haunted tour through a Halloween corn maze, a return trip to Maine for Mr. Mix’s birthday getaway, three weddings and a hurricane.

Grateful and humbled, I was never more relieved then when the power went back on in my West Village abode last weekend. Helping to re-elect President Obama and returning to Maine to explore its “lobstervore” mid-coast were decided highlights both, but watching my bestie walk down the aisle to marry the man she’s loved with her whole heart for seven whole years was a show-stopper. I was never more honored to stand up for a wedding than I was hers, and I was never more nervous delivering a speech than I was as her Maid of Honor!

To sneak a peek into my autumnal adventures, watch the slideshow above with wedding photography courtesy of Rowan Imagery, or download my free Fall Recipe eBook to try your hand at my homemade harvest recipes. Brussels sprouts, squash, beets, grapes, carrots, pears, apples and pumpkins are at their seasonal best, begging to be transformed into apple tartlets a la mode or an earthen risotto served inside a sugar pie pumpkin. With turkey time right around the corner, falling leaves and wafts of crackling firewood remind us to be thankful for the full spectrum of life’s many and mixed blessings, and there’s no better tribute to the harvest season than to Eat it Up!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Green Tomato & Yuzu Marmalade

Happy Food Day, Food Mavens! For those of you arriving late to the party, Food Day is a nationwide celebration and a movement for healthy, affordable, sustainable food. It’s a day to celebrate the achievements we’ve made as a country in pushing forward a whole foods agenda (lowercase W, lowercase F), and to reflect upon what more we can each do to make sure that in the fine words of Alice Waters, “good food is a right, not a privilege.”

Last night I was lucky enough to be invited to a full day of food-forward events hosted by Food Sol at Babson College. Entrepreneur-in-residence Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods fame, was the MC for an afternoon filled with engaging panel discussions lead by local chefs and thought leaders committed to the sustainable food movement. Inspiring stories of volunteerism from The Food Project and The Greater Boston Food Bank, shared the spotlight with chef testimonials from some of the very best restaurants in town: O Ya, Toro, Coppa, and a favorite I’ve written about in these pages before, Island Creek Oyster Bar.

Later that evening Food Sol sponsored a chef’s dinner at Volante Farms. All seven chefs contributed to a sustainable meal that featured memorable dishes like bacon brittle, za’atar spiced goat sausage, kale ice cream, and of course, those scrumptious Island Creek Oysters that made an East Coast oyster believer out of me.

After digesting the feast and all the finer points of food activism that were brought to bear at Babson last night, I sat in my kitchen staring down a still too full bowl of green tomatoes–some of which are actually starting to redden. My garden has born many fruits this first year of home growing, but as I’m still new to gardening and the quirks of planning a seed planting schedule, too many of my tomatoes failed to ripen before the first frost. I collected them last week and started trolling the internet for ideas for what to do with all my heirloom bounty. Since then I’ve made salsa verde for fish tacos, fried green tomatoes with a four-herb buttermilk dressing, canned jars of melted tomato & butter marinara sauce I’ll be grateful for once winter rolls around, and filled six mason jars full of green tomato & yuzu marmalade. Surprisingly, it was the exotic citrus jam that got all the recipe requests when I shared photos of my adventures in preserving on Facebook.

I built my marmalade around a recipe first published in The New York Times back in 2007. Substituting yuzu for lemon and adjusting the cooking times and sugar ratios accordingly, I came up with a citrus-spiked sweet and sour concoction that offers the signature taste of yuzu and uses up the dozens of green tomatoes I could no longer stomach in their fried and tortilla dipped variations. In true waste not/want not Food Day style, this is snout to tail–or in this case, seed to stem–cooking at its best.

There’s still time to get a real foods dinner on the table tonight and toast to a campaign for social justice that is equal parts delicious and nutritious. If you’re looking for autumnal menu inspiration, check out my Fall Recipe eBook, or dig into what may be my last taste of summer with my green tomato & yuzu marmalade recipe. Mason jars filled with homemade pickles, jams and chutneys make excellent edible party favors this time of year and offer Food Day flare that is as perfectly apropos today as it will be for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. I’m planning to offer my marmalade as take-away treats for the guests sitting around my table next month for my annual Friends Thanksgiving fête. I encourage you to try your hand at canning a homemade party favor this holiday season, and Eat it Up!

Green Tomato & Yuzu Marmalade
(fills 6 small mason jars as party favors)

• 2 Yuzu (thinly sliced & seeded)
• 5 lbs Green Tomatoes (thinly sliced & cored)
• 5 cups Sugar
• 4 TB Yuzu Juice
• 1 t  Yuzu Salt
• ¼ cup Water
* 6 six-ounce Mason Jars

Using a sharp knife or mandoline, thinly slice, then deseed your yuzu slices; I used a mandoline to make quick work of this task, and that of slicing all the tomatoes too. Just be sure to core your tomatoes before slicing! Then rough chop both the seeded yuzu and cored tomato slices into smaller bits. The Times article skipped this step, and I ended up with a marmalade chock-full of long strips of tomato skin and whole lemon wedges…not ideal for spreading on toast or serving with cheese and biscuits.

Next up, bring your yuzu slices to a boil in a large stockpot of water and drain. Then dump the yuzu back into the pot along with the rest of your ingredients: tomatoes, sugar, yuzu juice, yuzu salt and water. I found my yuzu products at the Sunshine Mart Japanese specialty store in NYC. I used to two whole yuzu fruits and a bottle of fresh yuzu juice to make the marmalade. If you cannot find yuzu, you can substitute with lemon, lime or sea salt, but of course, you’ll miss that distinctively yuzu-licious flavor.

Bring the mixture to a slow simmer, stirring often, first to dissolve the sugar, then to test how thick the marmalade has become. Cook like this until the tomatoes and yuzu slices are translucent and the syrup thickens. The Times predicted this step to take 20-30 minutes, but in my experience, it has taken a solid 2-3 hours on the stove before my mixture resembled anything like marmalade. I’d love to know how this worked out on your end!

Cool completely, fill mason jars and store in the refrigerator; like any jar of jam, these pots de marmalade will last you at least a month in the fridge. Of course, you could go through the extra step of heat-sealing your jars such they will not require refrigeration and can be preserved for up to a year, but I’m giving mine away next week at a dinner party and won’t have any trouble finishing the jar I’m holding onto to turn everyday bagels into a gourmet breakfast.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mayan Voyage

Last March Mr. Mix and I voyaged across the high seas of The Mayan Riviera on our first-ever sailing adventure. With plenty of moonlit seascapes, margaritas and mole to share, I promised to publish a feature-length telling of our Mexican tale, and this month my article hit newsstands from Mumbai to Manhattan in Spice magazine. You can sample the first few paragraphs below, and follow the link at the bottom of the post to read more:

On our first night at sea, the infinite expanse of sky above us burst from our water-colored imaginations into neon brilliance. Begonia pink clouds lay scattered among the mandarin orange streaked sky, hushed only by shadows that waltzed across the waves.

Sailing across The Riviera Maya in a private yacht chartered for two, we watched the curtains close on the painted sunset that had held our gaze in wonder before it gave way to yet another sublime vista visible only from sea. The stars lit up the night sky into a spectacle of constellations that found reflection in the warm Caribbean waters below.

It was just us, the expanse of sea, and our ship; there were no other boats, no land, no people, and no noise, save the turning of the tide. That moment was lettered in time as we took in the romantic vista from the cushy deck of our 44-foot catamaran–freshly salted mango margaritas in hand…

To read the full length article that was published this month in Spice magazine, click here and Eat it Up!

Monday, September 24, 2012

5 Years…5% Off the Top

Today marks the 5th anniversary of this blog! Over the years I have tested and trialed dozens of recipes for writing a food blog that best reflects my interests in real food. To date, I have written restaurant reviews, published links to my professional food writing, shared adventures with my Tribe of foodie friends, written seasonal recipes and stories about farmers’ market fare, self-published four Season-a-Belle recipe eBooks and filmed countless video webisodes documenting the story of my journey toward becoming a professional foodie.

This month also commemorates my 5th anniversary as a caterer. From humble beginnings, The Dinner Belle got our start serving a single dish–artichoke-tomato marmalade–at the humbling United Nations. We followed that up with the launch party for the New York chapter of the London-based networking society, The Supper Club. Soon thereafter, holiday parties started rolling in, spring launch events took us up to the Mansion on Sugar Hill in Harlem and down to the grand opening of Topshop in Soho, challenging us all the while to do more than we ever thought possible (7,000 cookies more). By the following summer, I was ready to walk away from my tenure-track job as a writing professor to take on the challenges of a becoming a full-time Food Maven.

To celebrate our success, The Dinner Belle is offering a 5% discount off all catering costs to anyone booking a holiday party in the month of December. It’s not too early to allow visions of sugar plums to dance alongside the Monday Night Football plans you’re already conjuring up in your head. From gala corporate cocktail parties in decked out office digs or rented penthouses, to private plated feasts with family and friends seated around your dining room table, The Dinner Belles are experience makers who will custom-tailor all the scrumptious details for your December soiree. Just ring our belle to get the ball rolling on your be-here-before-you-know-it holiday bash.

Over these last five years, my life as a blogging chef has taken turns every which way. Today I find myself in the cozy comforts of my Boston bungalow, hungry for new opportunities that lie around the corner. As Erbear ventures off to get married next month, and Mr. Mix and I prepare to celebrate our third Thanksgiving together this November, the promise of change and growth and new possibilities has never been brighter. As I look forward to the next five years and the many new horizons they will no doubt bring, I cannot help but feel a nagging nostalgia for the memories made that have got me this far.

Thank you for reading and raising a glass to all that I’ve accomplished alongside your support these last five years. It would have been a far lonelier adventure to have risen these entrepreneurial ranks without you. As my blogging and catering future continues to unfold, I hope you will stay tuned to taste all of what’s on the menu at Cheers!


Friday, September 7, 2012

Reflections, between seasons

Photo Courtesy of Rowan Imagery

On occasion, life’s plans have a tendency to overwhelm life’s possibilities. In the month of August I fell victim to that double-edged claim. Overloaded and overjoyed with vacation agendas, catering gigs, wedding celebrations and bonding time with my bestie who is about to become a bride, the myriad possibilities I imagined for timely blog posts escaped me. So did housework for that matter.

My luggage remained permanently packed with summer costumes of every shape (i.e. camping chic, boozy bachlorette and professional chef). Crammed inside a suitcase small enough to shove overhead, but large enough to pack my knives, tasting salts and the two pounds of Dickson’s bacon I brought back to Mr. Mix as a tempting treat for keeping the home fires burning, I squarely packed my sanity alongside increasingly less  folded piles of t-shirts. With my A-type organizational skills put to the test, I count myself lucky that lost socks and wrinkled memories turned out to be the only casualties among my August adventures.

Between social calls, The Dinner Belle managed to cater a well-to-do wedding at The Park Avenue Armory and a Real Housewife’s facial yoga brand launch in Naeem Khan’s glittering showroom. Getting back behind the stove always feels like a purposeful place to land when life moves at such a frenetic pace, though building some 800-odd canapés isn’t exactly what I’d call relaxing.

I’m approaching my 5th anniversary as a blogging chef, and as so often happens when the summer winds start to cool and the kids (and Mr. Mix!) go back to school, I find myself in a rather reflective mood. Beach bound weekends filled with carefree wanderings are about to be exchanged for highly scheduled Saturdays and studiously spent Sundays. Instead of leaping from one outdoor adventure to the next, we’ll be closing windows, turning on the heat and turning over the soil to shutter our East Coast gardens. But I’m getting ahead of myself; before the frost we’ll feast upon the harvest!

Our little patch of green still boasts hard tomatoes that are yet to ripen, teeny-weeny jalapeño peppers that are yet to burst with fiery flavor, mammoth zucchini and delicate squash blossoms I have yet to fill with oozing ricotta cheese and fry to golden crispness, and a promising bed of dinosaur kale that should stick around long after the rest of our harvest bounty has withered up.

Holding onto that promise of a homegrown vision for backyard-to-table kale salads, chips and smoothies well into scarf-wearing weather, I find comfort in the seasonal changes that so aptly reflect the mood of the moment both on my plate and in my heart. As summer’s blueberry nights begin to slip away and I catch myself mourning the passage of time, it helps to remember that change begets new challenges from which new rewards–like pumpkin risotto and concord grape sorbet–are born.

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