Welcome to Naomi Kooker's blog.

At age 6 my mother let me into the kitchen, alone. By seventh grade I was feigning sick to stay home from school, "miraculously" feeling good enough to make baked-stuffed pork chops for dinner. My passion for cooking led me to a job as a sous chef in a Manhattan restaurant and, later, to stand quietly in the corner of (and eventually do one thing in) Restaurant Guy Savoy's kitchen in Paris. I overcame the ultimate cooking challenge when I made butter cream icing over a Bunsen burner at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. It was for a friend's wedding cake, the centerpiece at the reception the next day. It was midnight. With just hours to go, I managed to whip up the icing, then carefully place the last few candied violets onto the cake before the reception. Oh, how grateful I was for that Bunsen burner and the corner bodega that was open 24 hours.

It all worked out in the end. It always does.

Food, cooking and eating are inextricably linked to life. Life is better when good food is involved, and even better when good company is part of the eating.

Thank you for stopping in and being part of a growing dinner party of readers.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Omi's Spicy Walnuts & It's A New Day Salad

Yesterday (February 5, 2012, Super Bowl XLVI), my salad was a Super Bowl salad. Today, it’s consolation leftovers. Well, not exactly. It’s still a salad, and given it was even a surprise to most Pats fans that we (it’s still we, no divorce) even made it to the Super Bowl, I’m consoled. It’s a new day.

Take my mom, a 76-year-old woman. She was depressed for two minutes after New England lost the game. Then she went like this: " 'Demaris, what are you thinking? Football is a violent game. You just lost your husband, and you've been through two cancers. Get out of your depression,' I said something like that to myself," she told me.

"The whole thing is if you can keep a positive attitude you can get through most anything."

To help kick-start a clean slate and promote a positive attitude, I invented these spicy walnuts. I know I’m not the first person to make spiced nuts. There are many brands out there. But these are pretty kickn’ and so simple to make you barely need a recipe. Now that's positive.

Inspired by the bleu cheese/buffalo heat without-the-wings combo, these nuts are delish in the It’s A New Day Salad with Gorgonzola dressing (See recipe below) or they can disappear on their own. Warning: They can be addictive.

Omi’s Spicy Walnuts

1 cup walnut halves

1/4 cup sugar

1 heaping teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons butter, melted

Three shakes of Tabasco sauce

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F.

Toss all the ingredients in a Ziploc or other plastic bag. Shake until the nuts are well coated. Spread into a shallow pan and bake at 400 for about 8 to 10 minutes or until you start to smell the nuts. Shake them periodically and taste one (but careful, it’s hot, blow on it—I am not responsible if you burn your tongue) to make sure it’s lightly toasted. Monitor the nuts carefully as they get to the end of their baking time; they can go quickly from just rightly toasted to burnt.

Take out of the oven, cool and sprinkle over the salad or serve alone as a party snack.

It’s A New Day Salad

1 small head of iceberg lettuce, leaves washed, dried and chopped

2 handfuls baby carrots

3 celery stalks, chopped

1 pint grape tomatoes, washed & dried

1 whole red pepper, julienned

2 Tablespoons red onion, chopped

Serve with Gorgonzola or bleu cheese dressing

Omi’s spicy walnuts

Note: In Googling It’s A New Day, I discovered that I do not want to link to the Website using the same phrase; on the other hand, I do like the “clean slate” link, which talks about fulfilling career/personal goals.

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