high dive

what to do with an endive? i usually encounter them in the grocery store, looking wan and sad in a small pile along side other less popular vegetables. but i've always liked the look of endive - smooth and sleek, like little white torpedoes with elegant green tips.

endive (a member of the daisy family, i just learned), have only really functioned for me heretofore as edible cups for dips and appetizers. and who doesn't love an edible cup? cones (for ice cream), taco shells, wontons - even tomatoes and cucumbers hollowed out can become edible vessels for dips and salads. but is this all the lonely endive is good for? relegated to a life of bland transport?

in the february issue of food & wine magazine, my eye was caught by a simple and genius mode of endive preparation, conceived by tory miller, chef at l'etoile in madison, wisconsin. the article itself was totally adorable, about how as a way to bust the seasonal boredom, chef miller and his restaurant staff play broom hockey and then eat amazing wintry meals together. the meal highlighted in f&w had a "winter white" theme. when i saw the technique for braising endives in gin and orange juice, i wrote right on the magazine page in an excited scrawl "want to try this!" and stalked my neighborhood grocery stores until i found endives that seemed acceptable. perhaps a bit over zealous, i also splurged on high quality, local gin and organic fresh oranges.
there are very few dishes that i ever have, or ever will, refer to as "gorgeous." or "sensuous" or "voluptuous," or any of those over wrought food writer words that seem to convey more the party in your pants than the one in your mouth. and so, i struggle to find a way to describe this vegetable side that doesn't rely on those silly tropes. i will just say, before sharing this gem of a recipe: while eating the finished dish, i sat alone in my kitchen, uncontrollably exclaiming out loud to the universe, "holy shit, this is so GOOD!" it may be one of the best things i've ever made. the caramelized, tender leaves of the endives, dry juniper berry zing of the gin, and tart sugars of the orange juice are fast friends. however, the finishing sauce is what really takes this to a gourmet level, and is a sophisticated, awesome technique i am sure i'll employ a thousand times to come.

Gin & Juice Braised Endives
adapted from the February 2011 issue of Food & Wine magazine
~serves two as a side, or one hungry person who doesn't want to share~
~takes 30 minutes~

1 tblsp extra-virgin olive oil
5 belgian endives, halved lenghtwise
1/4 cup good quality gin
salt & pepper
1/2 cup (maybe a little less) fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons margarine or butter
2 tablespoons agave nectar, brown rice syrup, or honey
1 scallion, white and light green parts only, sliced (optional)
1 tablespoon roasted pumpkin seeds (optional)
balsamic vinegar, for drizzling

- heat the oil in a large, non-stick or well seasoned cast iron skillet. add the endive halves, cut side down, and cook over medium heat until nicely browned, about 5 minutes.

- slowly pour the gin over the pan and let cook until reduced by half. flip the endives over, season with salt and pepper (less salt if you plan on using margarine later), and add the OJ.

- lower the heat and cover. cook for about 15 minutes, turning the endives back over one time, about 10 minutes through.

- once the endives are tender, transfer them to a plate using a slotted spoon. add the margarine or butter to the remaining liquid in the plan, then swirl in the agave or honey. bring this radiant sauce to a quick boil, stirring gently with a spatula. when it's nice and syrupy (only about 2 minutes are needed), season with more pepper. this makes your kitchen smell amazing.

- pour the sauce over the endives, and garnish with the scallion and pepitas. i didn't have either of these things on hand, and trust me, it did not matter one bit.

- drizzle the plate with a tiny bit of balsamic vinegar, and serve.

for even further decadence, enjoy this dish with an ice cold gin martini

try to take your time with this heady, wonderful dish. your impulse will be to inhale them all at once in a fit of pleasure, but it's really worth it to savor each small bite, letting all the distinct but harmonious flavors and textures dance through your mind.




just a quick little note about a special kind of beverage lauren, alex and i recently encountered. guess what - it's not beer! fooled ya. it's good old fashioned soda pop! which is a genre of drink we rarely tango with. sure, an ice cold diet coke from a gas station in ohio in the middle of a summer road trip is one thing. there too is a time and a place for a big splash of ginger ale to mellow out some whiskey. but when it comes to non-beer bubbles, the sisters kovach almost religiously drink seltzer (add some juice, it's called "so-jay") and not much else. i kind of like to think about seltzer like regular soda with all its make up scrubbed off.

so then why, the other week, did we order 2 bottles of soda pop alongside our slices of succulent vegan pizza at blackbird? well, we're suckers for great packaging and wacky flavors, and that about explains it:

DRY soda, a relatively new small company based in seattle, cranks out beautiful, clear, sparkling beverages in lovely bottles, infused with unconventional and creative flavors. each bottle contains only 45-70 calories, and between 11-19 grams of cane sugar. this is just a fraction of what is in "regular" soda. so despite our normal FU attitude towards pop, i ordered the cucumber, and lauren got lavender, though our other choices included blood orange, rhubarb, vanilla bean, and more. although still a bit sweet for my taste, the flavors harnessed in these sodas were amazing! the cuke was dry and smooth, and the lavender was floral and light, but not in a soapy or overtly fragrance-y ways.

DRY really gives a shit about its shit. even the briefest perusal of their website will prove as much. each soda flavor has its own page describing the flavor profile, food pairing ideas, and cocktail recipes. while i'm still a major proponent of making your own simple syrup or liquor infusions, all the DRY flavors would be out-of-control good in a boozy drink. might not buy this stuff by the case, but for a treat once in awhile, i'll totally go for it.

bonus- a few photos of blackbird's sexy za, best vegan pie in the city:

mushroom & potato

alright, stop drooling! if you haven't been to blackbird yet, the time is now. i think they even deliver...



morning, sunshine

after nearly an entire year of eating the same thing for breakfast every weekday morning, i'm switching it up! don't worry, i haven't gone all eggs and bacon on you. in fact, to the naked eye, these changes won't seem like much at all. but look little closer, and you'll see that these changes are indeed significant: oatmeal and quinoa porridge replaced the granola, muffins replaced the toast, coffee replaced tea. the old yogurt and granola routine was good, but the deep winter calls for more substantial, fortifying fare.

the porridge is a really rad technique that i learned from the candle cafe cookbook. basically, before you go to bed one night, measure out a cup each of irish steel cut oats and quinoa. put them in a pot and cover with water and add a pinch of salt. let them soak all night while you're dreaming of intergalactic adventures, and in the morning, turn the heat on while you're preparing your lunch for the day. once it comes to a boil, bring it back down to a simmer, stirring occasionally with a spatula. you might need to add some more liquid - stirring in some soy or almond milk instead of water really lends a rich, silky quality to the porridge. coconut milk would be truly luxurious. after about 15 minutes of simmering, it should be ready! scoop some in a bowl, top with yogurt, chopped nuts and fruits, and a drizzle of agave nectar or a little scoop of brown sugar.

i used to think that steel cut oats took, like, an hour to cook, but the overnight soak shaves off well over half the time. it's really worth it to think just a little bit ahead and treat your body to the higher protein experience of steel cut oats. they beat the nutritional pants off their rolled or quick-cooking counterparts. i think they taste a lot better, too. if you do start with a whole cup of each grain, you'll have lots of leftovers, which makes the next few day's worth of breakfasts a snap!

sort of looks like the cat is wearing a big top hat!

the tea-to-coffee upgrade has come courtesy of my favorite new little kitchen gadget: a manual one-cup coffee maker, which is about as awesomely low-technology as it gets. sure, the plastic kind (as shown above) is not as sexy as the porcelain type i've been seeing around, but it cost $2 and gets the job done. some people claim that the one-cup drip method develops the deepest, best flavor, better even than the beloved french press, but i haven't noticed any huge improvement. it's just fast and easy, as all things in the morning should be, takes one second to clean, and always makes me feel like a cool bachelor.

finally, the muffins - which are probably the healthiest thing i've ever baked EVER - come from a vegan cookbook i checked out of the library, ripe from around here, by jae steele. the book, while a tad on the hippie dippy side for my taste, is pretty solid. the author, a cute canadian who also maintains a food/health & wellness blog, is very interested in eating locally and sustainably, tailoring diet toward the season, avoiding refined foods and animal products...you know, all that vegan stuff. she manages to do this mostly without seeming preachy or dogmatic, though she almost lost me in the segment where she suggests giving up bananas because of their politically fraught past and the carbon footprint they create. are you rolling your eyes a little bit, too?

anyway, the cookbook includes some old standards (stir fries, pancakes, etc.) and some more interesting stuff, too (homemade oat milk, creamy kale soup, blueberry lavender ice cream). these muffins really caught my eye because they just looks so insanely healthy and simple. carrots, raisins, dates and seeds make these like a complete meal unto themselves. indeed, every morning when i eat one, i feel the vitamins and minerals coursing through me!

Morning Glory Muffins
adapted from "ripe from around here" by jae steele
~makes 12-18 muffins~
~takes about 50 minutes, including baking time~

2 cups spelt flour (i actually didn't cheat and use all purpose, but it'd be fine if you did)
1/4 rolled oats
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 & 1/2 cups grated carrots (the grating attachment on the food processor is a real hero, here)
3/4 cups raisins or currants
1/3 cup pumpkin or sunflower seeds
1 cup packed, chopped and pitted dates, soaked in very hot water for at least 20 minutes
1/2 cup safflower oil
1 cup apple cider (or apple or orange juice - or all three!)
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

- preheat the oven to 375F and prepare a muffin tin with liners.

- boil water to pour over the dates. let them soak while you're getting everything else together.

- stir together the flour, oats, baking soda and powder, spices and salt in a large bowl. add the carrots, currants and seeds, and stir it up, making sure all the little bits get coated in flour.

- put the softened dates and the water they soaked in in a food processor and blend until smooth. while it's running, slowly pour in the oil, and then the apple cider or orange juice.

- scrape this mixture into the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. add the vinegar and stir just a bit more to make sure all the flour is absorbed. overmixing can make the muffins too tough!

- pour the batter into the muffin tin. she claims that this makes 12 muffins, but i ended up with enough batter to make 18. maybe i didn't fill the tins up enough? anyway, it all worked out in the end.

- bake for 22-25 minutes, til a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. let them cool for a few minutes in the pans, then move to a cooling rack.

- her recipe says they only keep for 2 days unless refrigerated, but i've been chipping away at the batch i made for at least a week, and after a few minutes in the toaster they're almost good as new.



thanks for the dranks

even though we've been back from Houston for over 3 weeks now, i can't stop reminiscing about our adventures there. maybe it's because philadelphia has been getting pelted with all manner of frozen precipitation ever since our return, and i long to go back to that sunny patio where we sat and drank iced coffee. maybe it's because seeing our dear mary was a sharp reminder of how intensely she is missed here. or maybe it's that the routine of working, schlepping home on the septa bus, and "being cozy" (that is, staying in to avoid the cold) is making me long for another vacation.

regardless, one facet of the houston trip that has stayed with me is the creative, lovely cocktails that we sipped at a few places across town. at home, i'm rarely drawn to bars that offer the new class of craft or pre-prohibition mixed drinks. the steep price tags and my unyielding love of beer may be to blame. chick's is just a block away from my house, and i've stopped in a few times, but with no real regularity. the wonderful southwark, too, is just a stone's throw away from my abode, but i like to reserve my trips there for special occasions. the thing about vacations is, is that every day is a special occasion! especially when you're cavorting around with three of your best lady friends, it doesn't take much convincing to order a fancy drink once the sun has gone down.

while on the plane en route to texas, lauren and i took turns thumbing through the most recent issue of saveur. in their "top 100" feature, the head chef at dolce vita was quoted about some crazy salad they serve, and we said, almost simultaneously, "we should totally go there!" and so, we did. the food turned out being great, and the drinks fully held up their side of things. we ordered these appertifs before our antipasti arrived, and they primed our palates for the delicious food to come.

vodka cocktail, with lemon and basil

negroni with a big splash of prosecco

anvil, a "bar + refuge" (oh geez), located on a jumping strip of westheimer, was packed out on a friday night, and the skilled fleet of bartenders were moving like soldiers on a mission. and while the bar had some pretty whimsical and weird drinks on its menu, it was what i would consider a serious place. once you placed your order, the bartender would literally fly into action, never needing to so much as glance at a recipe or menu to double check one of the eight obscure ingredients. they poured, stirred, shook, and served with absolute precision.

mix master
the diplomat
"the diplomat:" gin, bonal, curacao, maraschino, orange bitters

halimah and i fought our way through the yuppie crowd and both ordered the diplomat, a heady and strong cocktail which i assume earned its namesake from the around-the-world nature of its ingredient: gin (england/the netherlands), bonal (france), curacao (the caribbean), maraschino (italy) and bitters (well, i guess those could be made anywhere). i loved the delicate glasses they were served in, which inspired me to buy a few of my own on a recent thrifting binge:
the cheapest happy hour: a homemade vodka martini

another stand out drink i had was at a funny joint, beavers, which involved lemon and marigold infused vodka, made with flowers right from the restaurant's garden. i didn't get to snap a photo of this drink, but it was a perfect balance of floral (not soapy, just fresh), citrusy, and dry. like summertime in a cup. just thinking about that little glass of joy makes me smile, and helps me to remember that there is a light at the end of this wintry tunnel.