Tastes of the Week

June 11 thru June 18, 2012 A sensational lunch at Lincoln (at Lincoln Center) prepared by chef Jonathan Benno (formerly at Per Se), sponsored by DeBragga, affectionately known as New York's Butcher. The lunch celebrated the efforts of Niman Ranch family of farmers whose community of more than 725 farmers raises their cattle, hogs, and lambs with utmost care. They have changed the standards of sustainable practice and have influenced a new generation of farming systems. The menu rocked with crispy pig trotters, "testa" (headcheese), ravioli d'agnello (lamb neck, tongue, sweetbreads, and pecorino) in a lamb sugo, 40-day dry-aged ribeye of beef, with greenmarket tomatoes, arugula and balsamico, and for dessert, something intelligently conceived and very delicious -- a triptych of chocolate torta with guanciale and sea salt, biscotti al lardo, and crostata ai frutti di bosco made with dry-aged beef fat! Fabulous! Much praise all around -- to DeBragga, Niman Ranch, the farmers, the chefs, and the beneficent earth.

Had a lovely young neighbor over for dinner. She's from South Carolina and told us about "chicken bog" (a native dish) and flounder gigging (a local past-time.) It may be time to learn more about the "low country lifestyle!" Katie's a vegetarian, though, and I made her "rutabaga steaks" while we ate my husband's ever-so-slow-cooked country ribs (smoked over charcoal and cedar).  We also enjoyed a last-minute carrot salad (julienned and lightly steamed) tossed with caramelized onions, balsamic vinegar, and slivered basil. Chicken bog, by the way, is a pilau of chicken, sausage, celery, and moist (but not soupy) rice and spices.

The most creative and best pizzas ever at the newly-decorated Keste on Bleeker Street. Imagine sinking your teeth into these:  Ricotta e Noci, made with "cream of walnut", fresh ricotta, homemade mozzarella, pecorino romano and basil, or Salsiccia e Friarielli -- made with rapini, Italian sausage, imported smoked mozzarella, and extra-virgin olive oil.  Keste has gluten-free pizzas (senza glutine), white pizzas, red pizzas, "night and day" calzone, and stuffed pizzas, too -- da morire (to die for.)

Fresh herring from Holland with Cantillon lambic beer.  A great pairing!  Thanks, Jimmy Carbone!  (As tasted on Cooking Today radio show).

Cold slow-cooked country spare ribs with roasted beets and white bean salad at home, washed down with Vinas de Balbo (bonarda-malbec blend) from Argentina.

Very good strawberries, lightly sugared and showered with slivered fresh mint from my window box. June is busting out all over.

Enjoy your own tastes of the week!

Baking with Olive Oil: Cookies, Muffins, and more

I have had the pleasure of hosting Martha Stewart's radio show "Cooking Today" this week on Sirius XM 110.  We've been covering lots of hot topics, including the new fresh extra-virgin olive oil coming from Chile. Olive oil is a sacred ingredient -- first mentioned in the Hebrew Bible in the 13th century BC, but there is evidence that it has been cultivated for the last 4000 years. So, I pay close attention to its importance. I use only two cooking oils at home -- olive oil and extra-virgin olive oil. That's it! I use one for cooking, sauteing and baking, and extra-virgin olive oil for salads, cold preparations and for "finishing dishes." Adding a sheen of extra-virgin olive oil on a bowl of soupy beans, or pasta, or a vegetable stew is like adding layers of complexity and "meatiness."  I am known to use olive oil in unusual ways, too.  I freeze it and use it instead of butter to emulsify a dish or to spoon over hot pasta for great texture; I was the first to make olive oil ice cream for the International Olive Oil Council (along with the chef from San Domenico, Odette Fada in the 1980's!), and I bake with olive oil all the time. For the recipes that follow, I use a good-quality extra-virgin olive oil if it is not too heavily flavored, regular olive oil, or a combination of both.  Baking with olive oil is quite healthy and it results in a special textured "crumb." All the recipes are adapted from my book Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs, and all use self-rising flour, so be sure to get some. This would be a great Father's Day gift from your teens to their dad and a great activity to do together: to cook the book!  Olive-Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies  These cookies look so professional -- like something you might find in an Italian bakery. The bonus is that they are much healthier than ordinary chocolate chip cookies. They are also delicious coated in sesame seeds instead of chocolate.

2 cups self-rising flour 2/3 cup sugar 2 extra-large eggs 1/2 cup olive oil 1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract 6 ounces miniature chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Put the flour and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, olive oil, and vanilla and almond extracts. Add the wet mixture to the flour mixture and mix until a smooth dough forms. The mixture will be slightly crumbly and a little oily. Knead several times on the counter. Form into 24 balls and then shape into small ovals that are 1-1/2 inches long and 3/4 inch wide.  Roll the tops and sides in miniature chocolate chips.  Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat pad. Place the cookies 1 inch apart. Bake for 25 minutes, or until firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and let cool on the pan. Remove with a spatula. Makes 24

Tender Muffins:  Country Pear, Cinnamon-Apple, or Blueberry These muffins are moist and delicate and can be made with ripe pears, tart apples, or fresh blueberries.  They are a cinch to prepare and last several days in a tightly covered tin.

1-1/2 cups self-rising flour 3/4 cup granulated sugar 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or 1-1/2 teaspoons if using apples) 1 extra-large egg 1/2 cup buttermilk 1/3 cup olive oil 1-1/4 cups diced peeled apples, or peeled ripe pears, or blueberries 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar (sugar-in-the-raw)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line 9 muffins tins with paper liners.  Stir together the flour, sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl.  In a medium bowl, beat together the egg, buttermilk, and olive oil. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and stir with a flexible rubber spatula until a batter forms. Gently stir in the fruit. Scoop the batter into the muffin tins. Sprinkle with the turbinado sugar. Bake 25 minutes or until golden and firm to the touch. Let cool. Makes 9

Very Moist Zucchini-Banana Cake You will love this cake, also called tea bread, as its mysterious flavor and moisture comes from a ripe banana and a zucchini!  Nice with a scoop of homemade ice cream for dessert, or with a cup of coffee for a mid-morning snack.

1 large zucchini, about 10 ounces 2 extra-large eggs 3/4 cup turbinado sugar (sugar-in-the-raw) 2/3 cup olive oil, plus more for greasing the pan 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 1 very ripe medium banana 1/2 cup golden raisins 1-1/2 cups self-rising flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Wash the zucchini and dry; do not peel.  Grate the zucchini on the large holes of a box grater to get 2 cups.  Using your clean hands, squeeze the zucchini dry.  In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the eggs and sugar on medium-high for 3 minutes.  Add the oil, vanilla, and cinnamon and beat for 30 seconds.  Peel the banana and break it into small pieces. Add the banana to the bowl.  Beat until the banana is incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Stir in the zucchini and raisins, then slowly add the flour and mix well.  Lightly oil a nonstick 8-x-4-inch loaf pan. Pour in the batter and bake for 55 to 60 minutes, until firm and golden. Let cool.  Serves 8

Be sure to listen to Martha Stewart Radio tomorrow at 3 p.m. or 6 p.m. on Sirius XM 110. I'll be interviewing Bob Spitz, author of "Dearie" -- Julia Child's newest biography, and will be drinking beer with Jimmy Carbone, owner of Jimmy's 43 Beer Bar and Restaurant in the East Village.