Monday, March 16, 2015

Cardamom Spiced Almond Milk

I have always loved juice. Every morning from kindergarten through twelfth grade my mother would pour me a large glass of orange juice to start the day. On photo shoots, while everyone else stirs cream into their coffee I'm the only one tapping into that jug of fresh OJ caterers always provide with the breakfast spread. 

I used to bug my mom to buy my a juicer when I was a kid, so I suppose it's pretty predictable that when the fresh pressed juice craze hit New York I couldn't resist the allure of those overpriced little shops with their 8 dollar bottles of exotic delights. Pineapple, wheatgrass, kale, and mint- how do such disparate flavors come together so well?!  It was at a juice shop (Juice Press) that I first discovered almond milk drinks. Mint-Matcha almond milk, creamy berry, vanilla latte, sweet pea- I discovered a whole world of almond milk drinks. A whole new realm of juice-like drinks! One day I spotted an almond drink on the shelf that was clearly designed just for me: Cardamom Milk.  

It was an almond milk made with coconut water and flavored with vanilla, sea salt, and of course cardamom. I love cardamom. I love just about anything with cardamom in it. I had to try it. I cracked it open there in the store and before the bottle reached my lips I could smell the cardamom and vanilla mingling and I knew I had found a little bottle of creamy heaven. 

So understandably when Juice Press discontinued Cardamom Milk about six months ago I was bummed out. No other juice place made anything similar and I felt betrayed by my beloved Juice Press. I switched to the vanilla-y Black Label drink but it wasn't the same. Then a few weeks ago I was reading about how easy homemade almond milk is when it occurred to me that I was being ridiculous mourning the cardamom milk. Obviously I could make it at home. I could probably make it even better! All I needed were some ingredients and a nut milk bag. I live in downtown Manhattan, I thought, how hard could a nutmilk bag be to find in SoHo?

Impossibly hard, it turns out. After failing to find one at Sur La Table, Crate & Barrel, Bed Bath & Beyond, and all the chinese kitchen stores on the Bowery, I resigned myself to the idea of using a clean kitchen towel instead, and you know what, it worked perfectly. Turns out there's no need to waste money on a nutmilk bag. My ikea kitchen towel produced an even 3.5 cups of delicious and perfect almond milk. 

This cardamom almond milk is truly heavenly. It tastes like a melted spiced vanilla almond milkshake, or sweet spiced chai without any tea. Chilled, creamy, a tiny bit sweet, and delightfully spiced- I like to drink it plain on it's own as an afternoon pick-me-up, but it would certainly be delicious pour over cereal, mixed into coffee, or whipped up into a smoothie. Enjoy!

Cardamom Spiced Almond Milk

1 C almonds 
3.5 C coconut water
2 soaked dates
1 soaked vanilla bean
1 tsp cardamom
1 vanilla bean

Place the almonds in tupperware that can hold at least 4.5 Cups. Add the coconut water, cover, and allow to soak for 8-10 hours. I soaked mine overnight. 

If your dates or vanilla bean are hard and dry, pit the dates and cut the vanilla bean into 1 inch pieces, then allow them to soak along with the almonds for the last 2 hours. 

Add all ingredients to a blender (make sure you pit the dates!), and blend on high for about 2 minutes. Put an open nutmilk bag in a large bowl, or place a strainer over the bowl, and line that with a clean kitchen towel or washcloth. Pour blended mixture into towel-lined strainer or the almond milk bag. If using kitchen towel wrap towel around the almond mixture. Squeeze the bag or towel, squeezing all the almond milk out of the mixture. This may take several minutes, and I find it easier to do in stages, about 1/3 of the mixture at a time. Squeeze until the almond pulp left behind is dry.

Once all the almond meal in the bag/towel is dry you should have about 3.5 Cups of almond milk. Store in fridge until you're ready to use it, and use within 3-5 days. Almond milk will separate in your fridge so always shake up the jar before using. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Pappa Al Pomodoro- Tomato & Bread Soup.

This post is devoted to one of the most stereotypically "grown up" parts of my life, takeout lunch at work. I have three main jobs, I work freelance as a photo and food styling assistant, I shoot product and event photography, but the job I spend most of an average week doing is studio managing for a photographer (the lovely and talented Jayne Wexler). 

In high school, when I wasn't sure what I was going to do when I grew up, I used to read a lot of books about working in the fashion and magazine industry (in other words, everything by Lauren Weisberger, Plum Sykes, and Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus), all of which would talk about lunch at work. Publishing company cafeterias, fancy restaurants like Cipriani, halal carts, takeout chopped salad, these were all things I had never experienced in suburban Ohio. My parents were teachers, their work lunches consisted of lunch boxes with contents not too dissimilar from my own. Perhaps because of my love of eating, I remember the descriptions of the Conde Nast-ish cafeteria even more clearly than I remember the infamous Blue Sweater rant from The Devil Wears Prada. 

When I graduated from college and got my first job in the city working for the same photographer I work for now, I experienced my first real grown up working lunches. I started out as an intern, and got to be the one to go out and pick up lunch- I thought this was pretty wonderful, in fact I felt quite a bit like Emily in The Devil Wears Prada, except my boss was cool instead of terrifying! I was picking up lunch in Manhattan and eating it at my job in a photo studio! This was frankly pretty remarkable to 22 year old me. 

We even ate things I'd read about in books! Sandwiches from delis and falafel pitas, delivery thai, and even delicious lunch specials from Balthazar! Many aspects of working in photography are pretty atypical when compared to an office job. I don't have a fixed schedule, sometimes I'm in the office, sometimes I'm on location. Sometimes I'll work freelance almost all week and only go in once or twice. Sometimes I retouch all day, sometimes I'm on set photo assisting, sometimes I balance the bank account, sometimes I spend part of the day picking up equipment or scouting studios. So the things that are typical and office-like stick out to me as fun and different. Takeout lunch in the studio, getting a cup of water in from the water cooler in the reception area, our new location in an office building with a doorman and an elevator that comes when you push a brass button, an elevator that I don't drive to our floor myself with a big lever. I like the blend of artsy-unstructured and office work. 

So, this soup then. Nearby to our new studio location we have discovered an Italian takeout place that makes the most heavenly soups. Never mind that they're actually called Sandwich House because the soup is really the star here. Every day they have three different offerings, and on Wednesdays one of the choices is Pappa Al Pomodoro. 

I had never heard of Pappa Al Pomodoro when I first saw it on the flimsy paper takeout menu, but I like Italian soup, and I know pomodoro means tomato, and I love tomato soup, so I decided to give it a try. I was not disappointed.  I had never seen a broth-y, chunky tomato soup before, and I loved the soft, broth-filled chunks of bread. 

Pappa Al Pomodoro has become a bit of a wednesday tradition for me, so I decided perhaps I better try my hand at making it. I knew I wanted to add cheese, as Sandwich House does not add cheese and I've always thought this was a serious error on their part, and I decided to roast the tomatoes because I love them roasted, and S was out of the city for the day and he doesn't like roasted tomatoes. 

One of my biggest concerns was that I did not want this to taste like marinara sauce in any way. I absolutely despise tomato soups that taste like eating a big bowl of pasta sauce. When I began researching recipes for inspiration many of them called for simply stewing the tomatoes in water, but I wasn't having that. I knew I wanted to use chicken broth, to avoid going in that dreaded marinara direction.

The result was lovely. The roasted, slightly blackened tomatoes provide a wonderful blend of bright acid-y tomato and dark-earthy-caramelized burnt (in the best way) flavor. The bread becomes beautiful and soft, the zing of the basil leaves is mellowed by their slow cooking in the broth, and the cheese is of course delightful- melty and gooey and blending with everything perfectly. A step or two above my takeout Pappa Al Pomodoro for sure, though it won't make me love work lunches any less. 

Pappa Al Pomodoro

3lbs Roasted tomatoes
32 oz Chicken broth
2 tbsp Tomato paste
3 C Water
3 Garlic cloves 
1 Small red onion
2 C Cubed peasant bread (approx 1/2" cubes)
1/2 tsp Fennel seeds
4oz Mozzarella cheese
4 Sprigs fresh basil
Salt & Pepper

Preheat oven to 450F. Toss tomatoes with 2 tbsp olive oil and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Roast for 30-35 Minutes, until Tomatoes are beginning to blacken. Remove pan from oven, remove tomatoes from pan and pop them on a bowl or plate and set aside.  (You could do this a day or even two before and store them in the fridge to make a quick weeknight dinner).

Finely chop the onion and garlic, and add to a soup pot, along with 2 tbsp olive oil, a hearty pinch of both salt and pepper, and the fennel seeds. Cook over medium-low heat until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. 

Add the roasted tomatoes, chicken broth, water, tomato paste, and basil leaves, and bring to a boil. Once the soup boils, add the cubed bread and reduce to a simmer. Simmer about 20 minutes, until broth is reddish and flavorful. 

Ladle into bowls and top with grated mozzarella, and more fresh basil if desired.