Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Best Things in Life are the Simple Ones

It is no mystery why we all love citrus at this time of year. It counterbalances the often bitter cold of the outdoors. It elevates any dish and lends itself to simple, fresh recipes. It livens up and offers a bit of sunshine to the table right when we need it most. 

In this post, I am including three recipes that I tried and fell in love with. I could eat the kale salad everyday- which would not be a bad thing, since it is so healthy. The pasta dish, which is a variation of a traditional Roman recipe, is an unexpected mingling of three main ingredients- sharp Italian cheese, spicy cracked pepper, and Meyer lemon zest. I never thought I would season pasta with that much pepper, but offset with the brightness of the lemon it was a very pleasant surprise. And I suspect that if you could eat a cloud, it would taste like the light fluffy coconut vanilla bean cream that I paired with slices of sun kissed Cara Cara oranges. It is revealing to know that even if a recipe is not complex, the outcome of several simple flavors combined can be extremely satisfying. 

Overall January was actually quite warm and pleasant where I live. Last Saturday after the conclusion of a rare rainstorm, the sky became ablaze with vivid, deep colors and magnificent clouds. The following day, my family went to hike around the Seven Sisters, a string of small extinct volcanoes on the rim of the city rising unexpectedly from the vast desert plains.

It could not have been a more perfect day, for despite it being a very gentle climb to the top of each volcano,   it felt as if we were walking among the low hanging clouds. 

I thought about my grandpa a lot that day, as I know I always will when I travel to places of a similar nature. Nearly his entire life he worked as a geologist, and it was his appreciation for natural beauty that brought him from his childhood in the Bronx to the "wild West." 

To learn of the hardships and losses he endured in his early life always surprised me, for in the short part of his life that I knew him, he was always the man with a genuine sense of humor, who loved being a geologist, insisting he drive to work in his 80's. The man who filled up old coffee cans with sunflower seeds and made sugar water every morning to give to the birds. The man who made little metal Roswell aliens to place in the yard beside the cactus plants, who deep down liked being a native New Yorker, and wearing his Yankees baseball cap. The man who would never kill a daddy long leg. 

I used to think that I wanted to be a geologist like him. I loved to scavenge for rocks in the driveway to ask him their scientific names. I was convinced that all of the quartz crystals I found were actually diamonds. 

I remember my grandpa taking us grand kids to the museum once and showing us how every mountain has a history, how each one is made up many layers. The first layer sets the foundation of the mountain, and although it gets covered up and buried under all of the layers that come after it, it influences the way the mountain forms. 

It may sound cliche, but I believe my grandpa is like the heart of the mountain. In his life he influenced all who knew him to appreciate the beauty of nature, life and simplicity. And I know this appreciation is something that will survive for generations because of all the people that were lucky enough to know him and be inspired by all he did and cared about.

Curly Kale and Blood Orange Salad
serves 8

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 pound curly kale, torn
1/4 cup slivered toasted almonds
3 blood oranges, peeled, sliced, and halved

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, shallot, sea salt, and chili flakes.
2. Place the kale in the bowl on top of the dressing, and toss to coat. Toss in about half of the toasted almonds and half of the blood orange segments.
3. Let sit in the fridge for at least 1 hour to marinate.
4. Top salad with remaining almonds and blood oranges just before serving.

Cacio e Pepe with Lemon
Serves 2 to 4

The recipe I used for this variation of Cacio e Pepe from Martha Stewart Living suggests using (non- gluten free) bucatini. Traditionally, a thinner pasta like spaghetti is used. So on my first attempt I used brown rice capellini. Even though it tasted great, I found that it broke apart very easily and was not too photogenic. If you can find gluten free bucatini, I suggest using it. I don’t suggest ordering it however, because speaking from experience the shipping cost is more than the cost of the pasta itself :)

Coarse salt
8 ounces gluten free bucatini or spaghetti
1/4 cup butter or butter substitute (I used Melt)
1 cup grated Grana Padano or Parmesan Reggiano
2 teaspoons freshly cracked pepper
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano
1 small Myer lemon
Extra-virgin olive oil

1. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add pasta, and cook until very al dente, about 2 minutes. Reserve 1 cup pasta water before draining.
2. Transfer pasta to a 12 inch skillet. Add butter and 1/2 cup pasta water. Reduce heat to low, and mix in Grana Padano and cracked pepper.
3. Toss pasta with tongs to thoroughly coat it with sauce. Keep everything at a gentle simmer just until cheese melts and sauce thickens slightly, about 1 minute.
4. Remove from heat, then stir in Pecorino Romano. Zest lemon over the pasta. If the pasta looks dry, toss it with a bit more pasta water. Drizzle with oil and lemon juice, garnish with more cracked pepper. 

Recipe from Martha Stewart Living February 2013

Cara Cara Oranges with Honey and Coconut Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream
Serves  4

3 Cara Cara Oranges
Zest of 1 orange
2 tablespoons cherry honey
1 can whole fat coconut milk
½ vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
2 tablespoons powdered sugar

1. Place the can of coconut milk in the refrigerator to sit overnight. Peel and slice 2 oranges crosswise, making sure to remove all of the pith. Zest and juice the third orange. Whisk the honey into the orange juice to make a syrup, set aside.
2. Remove the can of coconut milk from the refrigerator and take off the lid. Carefully spoon the thick opaque coconut from the top half of the can and transfer to a mixing bowl. Reserve coconut water in bottom half of can for another use. Add the sugar and scrape the vanilla seeds into the bowl with the coconut. Whip on high speed until soft peaks form.
3. Arrange several orange slices on each serving plate and drizzle with honey syrup. Place a dollop of whipped coconut cream beside the oranges and sprinkle all with zest.

Recipe inspired by Whole Living January/ February 2013


  1. I LOVED that salad you made for the Edible dinner -- so glad you posted a recipe here! I will make it soon. Nice to see you a few weeks ago, Lauren. Hope to see you at the next dinner, before you jet off to Italy!