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Archive for October, 2012

Last night as the wind whistled outside my window and the city prepared for Sandy to blow through, I flopped into bed and flipped open Tamar Adler‘s book which I’ve been slowly devouring. The bookmark was stuck between pages 198 and 199. The book opened to Chapter 17, fittingly called “How to Weather a Storm.” (Fair warning: this post might read like a dissertation with its quotes galore, but the passages I cite are too good, their sentiment too true, for any clumsy paraphrasing. I hope you’ll understand.)

Right up front in the introduction to her book, Adler explains that she modeled An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace after MFK Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf. She describes her inspiration as “a book about cooking defiantly, amid the mess of war and the pains of bare pantries.” There’s no war around here, but there is a mess outside. The pantry may not be bare, at least not in my kitchen, but there’s nothing like a hurricane to make  you think about what might happen if  you have to subsist on whatever you have on hand with little hope of rapid replenishment.

Reading Adler’s chapter on eating out of cans in the face of little, I was reminded of my favorite chapter in Luisa Weiss‘s first book, My Berlin Kitchen, another recent bedtime companion. The chapter is called “Depression Stew” and the way I read it, it’s about the loneliness of Paris. I couldn’t help but relate to Luisa’s story (we met a few weeks ago, so I think it’s OK for us to be on a first name basis) of living in Paris and wanting to be an insider, wanting to have someone to share the city with. She writes, “I went to classes by day and walked the streets alone in the evening, sometimes ducking into one of the city’s myriad one-room movie theaters tucked away in small side streets to escape the increasing seclusion I felt.”  I too spent time in Paris, often alone, often lonely. One summer, I too took (dance) classes and wandered the streets on my own.  And while I did go on a few dates with a guy, when it was quickly clear that there was no future for us, he said, “I’ll never forget you as the girl who was lost in Paris.”

Reading Luisa contemplate the “Depression Stew” she made in her barely-wingspan Parisian kitchen felt familiar to me. Luisa had learned to make Depression Stew from her father who liked to think of it as “the kind of food  you’d eat during a financial depression, cheap and filling and healthy.” When she made it that year in Paris, she felt  that the stew could also serve as “a remedy for more personal lows.” Even though I preferred to eat out with a book that summer rather than cooking anything in the similarly tiny kitchen of my one-room rented Left Bank apartment, I knew what she was talking about.

When I first bookmarked Luisa’s stew, I thought I’d make it when I was feeling a bit blue and I’d write about being lost in Paris. But after reading Adler’s Chapter 17 last night and watching reports of the strengthening storm and its havoc this morning, it seemed more fitting to write about the stew’s humble beginnings.

I imagine Adler would approve heartily of Depression Stew. She recommends that you “get out a pot and a pan, and decide that no matter how hard the wind is whipping at the windows, you will be well fed through the storm.” She talks a lot about canned tomatoes and canned beans. The latter she says need a good long simmer in olive oil to “become really likable.” Even better if you cook them up with onion and garlic. And that’s where Luisa’s stew begins. And then Luisa fills out the aromatics with whatever is in the fridge – carrot, potato, zucchini – and a can of tomatoes. Luckily I had everything I needed for Depression Stew. A couple of carrots that were a bit droopy, a handful of potatoes a bit soft, half a baguette a bit stale — food that might otherwise be headed for the garbage had this stew not saved them.

I’m weathering hurricane Sandy just fine so far. Thanks, ladies, for keeping me company. I’m very lucky.

PS – a quick thank you to What’s Cookin for sharing my blog with their readers

Hurricane Stew

This is one of those clean-out-the-fridge-and-pantry recipes. Use whatever vegetables you have on hand, just make sure to add the harder ones (e.g., carrots, parsnips) early and the more delicate ones (e.g., potatoes, zucchini) later. If you have a bit of stale (or fresh) baguette on hand, cut it into thin slices and make garlic toasts to float on top of the stew. If you have lemon and parsley lying around, a quick squeeze and a sprinkle really brightens up the dish. 

Serves 2-3

- 3 T olive oil, and more for drizzling

- 1 medium yellow onion

- 4 cloves garlic, divided

- 2 carrots

- 5-6  baby Dutch yellow potatoes (or 1-2 large potatoes; any thin-skinned potatoes will do)

- 1 28-oz can peeled plum tomatoes

- salt

- red pepper flakes/crushed red pepper

- 1 15.5-oz can Roman beans (also called cranberry beans and barlotti beans)

- stale baguette

- lemon

- parsley

Heat. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.

Dice. While the oil is heating, dice the onion and mince three cloves of garlic.

Cook. Add the onion and garlic and cook,  stirring every once in a while, for about five minutes until the onion is soft and translucent. If the onion starts to brown, turn down the heat.

Dice again and keep cooking. While the onion is cooking, dice the carrots and potatoes. Add them to the pan and keep cooking for another five minutes or so. Continue to stir every once in a while.

Squish and keep cooking. This is the really fun part. Pour the tomatoes in a large bowl and squish the tomatoes  between your fingers, squeezing to break them up into small pieces. If there are any cores that feel rough, throw them out.  Add the tomatoes, salt to taste, and a shake or two of red pepper flakes to the pot. Continue to cook for another five minutes. And continue to stir periodically.

Drain and keep cooking. Drain the beans and rinse in cold water several times. Add them to the pot, stir gently, and bring the whole thing to a simmer. Turn the heat to low and keep the stew at a slow simmer for about 30 minutes. Cover the pot and add extra water if the stew gets too thick.

Toast. Slice the stale baguette – you’ll want two pieces per person. Cut the last garlic clove in half and rub the cut edge on the baguette slices. Then drizzle or brush each slice with olive oil. Pop the baguette slices on a piece of aluminum foil and into a toaster (or regular) oven set to 350ºF. Toast for a few minutes on each side until the baguette starts to brown.

Serve. Squeeze lemon juice over the stew right before serving. Spoon into a bowl, sprinkle with minced parsley, and float a couple of pieces of toast  on top.

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in focus

She stopped, mid-snap, lens nearly abutting the plate. My camera broke, she said.

Your camera broke? he said.

I don’t know. Yes. Maybe. Do you hear this? It clicks when it’s supposed to focus.

Nah, I don’t hear anything.

She twisted off the lens and twisted on another one. Please focus, please focus, please focus, she whispered.

It focused. OK, she announced, it’s not the camera, it’s the lens.

The lens? he said.

The lens.

How’d it break? he said.

I don’t know.

Are you sure it’s the lens?

Yes.

She pointed the camera out the window and depressed the button halfway. With a whirring sound, the lens zoomed forward and back. Hear that? she said. See that? It made a zooming sound. It moved.

Yes.

OK, let’s try the other lens, the one that didn’t work a few seconds ago.

She twisted off the lens and twisted on the first one. Please focus, please focus, please focus, she whispered.

She pointed the camera down the hall and depressed the button halfway. Click. The lens stayed put.

OK, it’s definitely the lens which is good. But, she said looking at him, this is the lens. The darling of all food bloggers lens. The lens.

She twisted off the lens. Squinting, she held it up to her eye and moved it forward and back until his face came into focus. Upside-down, but in focus.

You have manual override on the lens? he asked.

Yes, on the camera.

On the lens?

No, on the camera. I think. I don’t know. Maybe I should get the manual. Maybe I should read the manual, she muttered.

He took the lens. He turned it around in his hands. He fiddled with the rings, the ones that spin, the ones that don’t budge. He pulled, he prodded. The lens didn’t move.

She turned away to tap on her computer, downloading the manual.

He tapped her shoulder. I think I got it.

Really?

Yeah.

Really?

Try it.

She twisted the lens back on. She took a few steps back and pointed the camera at his hands. She half  pressed the button. His hands came into focus. She exhaled and smiled. She turned the camera away from her face, pointed to the right and pushed the button again, watching the lens move forward and back.

You fixed it!

Yeah, I fix shit. Can we eat now?

Tortilla española

As I mentioned in my last post, tortilla española is a Spanish potato omelette, similar to an Italian frittata. I adapted Mark Bittman’s recipe in How to Cook Everything (the yellow cover).  My tortilla differs from the traditional Spanish dish in a few ways. In Spain, the tortilla is more egg than potato, is very light in color, and is flipped over onto a plate so that it looks like a thin, slightly domed cake. I brown my potatoes, add parsley, and serve my tortilla right out of the skillet. Recipes generally either call for russet (“Idaho”) or thin-skinned potatoes – I tried both and preferred the russets (over fingerlings). 

While we’re talking about following recipes (or, more accurately, not following recipes), check out this recent NYTimes article about Chris Kimball of Cook’s Illustrated and his philosophy of the art vs science of cooking. If you want an authentic tortilla española and are good at following recipes, check out my friend Molly’s recipe or a couple of others I found online here and here

Serves 4, at least.

- 2 – 3 medium-sized russet potatoes

- salt and pepper, to taste

- 1/3 C olive oil

- 1 large onion

- 2 cloves garlic

- 6 eggs (or more, depending on how much potato you have)

- 1 bunch parsley

- 1 t hot paprika

Slice.  Cut the potatoes width-wise into 1/8-inch slices (don’t bother peeling them). I use a mandoline on the 3-mm setting. If you don’t have one, get out a sharp knife and a cutting board and slice the potatoes as thinly as you can.

Cook. Over medium-high, heat the oil in a large skillet (I used a 10-inch one; non-stick is best) until shimmering. Pile the potatoes into the skillet – it’ll be pretty crowded. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Every few minutes, turn the potatoes over carefully, bringing some of the top layer down to the bottom, and trying not to break them (too much), until the potatoes soften and start to brown. This should take about 20 minutes. Traditional recipes suggest that you not brown the potatoes, but I prefer them a bit crispy, almost like hash browns. If you notice your potatoes browning, and you want to make a tortilla that could be served in a tapas bar, turn down the heat.

Slice again. While the potatoes are cooking, use your mandoline/knife to slice the onion into very thin half-moons. Mince the garlic.

Preheat.  Around now, you’ll want to turn on your oven to 375°F.

Keep cooking. Add the onions to the potatoes, continuing to turn everything over every few minutes, and cook for another 10 minutes. Then add the garlic and mix everything together again, cooking for another 2 minutes. If you’re counting, that’s 32 minutes on the stove top.

NOTE. The original recipe suggests that you take the potatoes out of the skillet and cook the onions and garlic on their own. I didn’t want to dirty another bowl, but it probably would have made my life easier. If you are going to do that, here’s the deal: After cooking the potatoes for 20 minutes, transfer them to a bowl. Pour a bit more oil into the skillet and cook the onions for about 10 minutes. Then add the garlic and continue cooking for another 2 minutes. Then, add back the potatoes and mix everything together, letting it cook together for another 5 minutes.

Beat. In a bowl, beat the eggs. Finely chop the parsley and add 1/2 cup of it to the eggs along with the paprika.

Shake. Once the potatoes are tender – try one, it should taste good – turn the heat to low and pour the egg into the skillet. Shake the skillet around to distribute the eggs. (If it looks like you don’t have enough egg, quickly beat another one or two with the parsley left in the bowl, and pour it into the skillet.) Gently lift the potatoes here and there so that the egg can get into all the nooks and crannies. Then let everything cook for about 5 minutes until the edges of the eggs begin to set.

Bake. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the eggs are set, around 10 more minutes.

Serve. Let the tortilla cool to room temperature. I like to slice up the tortilla right in the pan.

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It all started with apples.

Poor apples. They’ve had a rough go at it this year, and I missed apple picking. Unless you were on the ball, you probably missed apple picking around here too. Luckily, two of the farms at my Monday market still proudly display a full range of red and green and yellow beauties. I buy them in twos and threes and they hold me over until the next week.

My favorite varieties are Jonagold and Honeycrisp. In the afternoon, I pull out a paring knife and balance the dull side of its blade against my thumb, pushing through the rough, unwaxed skin and covering a plate with apple slivers. I pair the slices with a spoonful of sweet creamy peanut butter. Sometimes two spoonfuls.

Last week, I barely saw home, and the apples piled up. I had enough for a tarte tatin. But a tarte tatin can’t be eaten alone, so I invited a group over for dinner.

The group grew to ten, the tarte grew to two, and the apples, well, I no longer had enough of them. A quick run to the store for a few more apples, and dinner was on the way.

The guests arrived and we crowded around the table for eight set for ten.

It was a simple dinner. We started with soup. Next up, a kale salad with roasted beets and orange. Another salad brought by a friend. And a tortilla española* that was a last-minute addition when I realized soup and salad might not be enough.

Shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip, we drank wine and prosecco out of tumblers.

Ten soup bowls were swiped with bread, ten plates were scraped with knives. When I rose for seconds, I found on the buffet (also known as a microwave cart hastily cleared moments before everyone arrived) a few kale leaves swimming in a large bowl, a cube of avocado embracing a spoon, and a Molly scratching the last few dark bits of egg and potato stuck to a 14-inch (!) pan.

“Did I not make enough?” I whispered. Molly solemnly nodded.

I looked around. My guests were sprawled on the sofa, chairs, and floor.

Retreating to the kitchen, I pulled out the tarte tatins, apples still tucked under crusts whose edges were tinged with sticky scarlet pomegranate caramel. I covered each pan – first the blue skillet, then the orange – with a plate and flipped. I expected an apple or two to latch on to the skillets. I didn’t expect some of the apples to have turned into circles of mush. I guess a few of my mismatched apples** were better for sauce than pie.

I hid in the kitchen for a few moments, thinking. I spooned the clinging apples and mush from the skillets and arranged them as artfully as I could.

A smile on my face and a Times article in my head, I emerged with a tarte in each hand. “Pomegranate applesauce tarte tatin for dessert!”

* The tortilla española. A tortilla española is a Spanish potato omelette, similar to an Italian frittata. I followed Mark Bittman’s recipe from How to Cook Everything (the yellow cover).  For the recipe from the updated version of Bittman’s book of the same name (the red cover) , check out Molly’s story of her trip to Spain. Let me know if you’re interested in the version I made – I’ll gladly whip another tortilla and report back to you.

** The apples. I used a mix of market- and store-bought apples that included Mutsu, Jonagold, Honeycrisp, Gala, and Granny Smith. I did a  bit of research and I think the Honeycrisps were the sauce culprits.

Pomegranate apple(sauce) tarte tatin

Tarte tatin is a traditional French upside-down caramelized apple tart. Still obsessed with pomegranate, I found a recipe that combines this tart fruit with this sweet tarte (hehe!). I cut the sugar down to 1/2 cup and the tarte was still plenty sweet. I know that the recipe might seem daunting – make caramel? flip over a burning hot skillet?  – but if I can do it, so can you. I’ve made tarte tatins with pears and tomatoes, and there are a bunch of things I’ve picked up along the way.

First, the caramel. It’s pretty easy to burn the caramel, so you need to watch it closely. If you’re afraid the caramel is starting to burn, take the skillet off the heat immediately and assess the situation: let things cool down a bit, dip a fork in the caramelizing syrup, and carefully taste it. Carefully because you don’t want to burn your tongue. A slight burnt flavor – think crême brulée – is fine, but if you taste smoke, start over.

Then, the flip. The tarte will be prettier if you flip it just out of the oven. Get out your oven mitts and extra kitchen towels. Place a plate on top of the pan and cover the plate with a towel. Grasp the pan-plate-towel pile with oven mitted-hands, hold your breath for a moment, and turn the whole thing over. Some caramel might spill out onto the towel, but you’ll be fine because your hands will be protected. If you want to wait until the tarte cools, it will turn out almost as pretty, but a few apples will probably stick to the skillet. Just scoop them off and put them back on the tarte. 

1 pie crust or puff pastry (I make this sweet pâte sucrée or pâte brisée, or just buy puff pastry)

- 1 1/2 C pomegranate juice or 1/2 C pomegranate molasses/pomegranate syrup (thickened pure pomegranate juice; don’t bother with the ones that add sugar)

- 4-8 of  your favorite baking apples, depending on size (you want enough to fit tightly into your skillet); for me, the most reliable are Granny Smith

- 1/4 C (1/2 stick) butter (or margarine for a non-dairy tarte)

- 1/2 C sugar

- large pinch kosher salt

Prep. Preheat oven to 400ºF and let pie crust/puff pastry come to room temperature.

Reduce. Bring the pomegranate juice to a boil until it reduces by a third (down to 1/2 cup ) into a thick syrup. If you use purchased pomegranate molasses/syrup, you don’t need to boil anything.

Slice. Peel and core the apples, then slice into halves or quarters. I like halves, but you can fit more apples in if you use quarters.

Caramelize. Melt butter in a heavy oven proof 9- or 10-inch skillet and then sprinkle evenly with sugar. Cook over medium heat without stirring until the mixture begins to bubble all over and turns lightly golden. This should take about 3 minutes. Remove from  heat.

Cook. Tightly fill the skillet with apples, cut side up,  and sprinkle with salt. Keep in mind, the apples will shrink as they cook and you might be able to slip  in a few more slices midway. Return the skillet to medium heat and cook the apples without stirring  until a thick, deep amber syrup bubbles up between the fruit. (OK, even though you’re supposed to leave the caramel alone to do its thing, I usually flip the apples once or twice to make sure they soak up the caramel evenly. Just make sure to leave the cut ends up because when you flip the tart, you’ll want the rounded sides facing the top.) This will take about 20 minutes. Pour the pomegranate syrup over the apples – the mixture will bubble up. Cook until the juices further thicken. The apples will be a deep burgundy color. Remove from heat. With a spatula, make sure that the apples are tightly packed.

Tuck. Roll out the crust between two sheets of wax paper into a circle one inch larger than the skillet (i.e., leave an extra inch all around). Slide the crust over the skillet and tuck it in around the apples and at the edges of the skillet. The crust doesn’t have to be perfect because you’re going to flip it over anyway. Cut a few slits in the crust to let air escape.

Bake. Bake the tarte until the crust browns and the juices at the edge are thick and scarlet in color. This takes 25-30 minutes. Remove the skillet from the oven and let cool for five minutes minute. (If you let the tarte cool for too long, the caramel will thicken and the apples are more likely to stick to the pan. But if you’re nervous, just flip it later.)

Flip. Place a large plate over the skillet. Using oven mitts and kitchen towels, hold the skillet and plate together and carefully flip over the tarte. Lift the skillet — if any apples are stuck to the skillet, just put them back into place on the crust. Let the tarte cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

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turn to a can

My farmers market has a few last heirloom tomatoes, but their supply is dwindling and the market itself will soon close shop for the winter. (Winter? Yeah, winter tends to come early and stay late in my neighborhood.)

So, while you hunt from market to market, farmer to farmer, for the last of the season, eaten like an apple with a sprinkle of salt, I have some ideas for tomatoes during the winter.

Skip the tomatoes that look like they might be good – the uniform red tomatoes on the vine – and go for the ugly and the small, things that will cook up well. Anything that makes you think of basil when you take a sniff. Earlier in the summer, I used baby/cherry/pear/whatever-you-call-them tomatoes to make tarte tatins. Like the classic French dessert, traditionally made with apples, you caramelize the fruit, cover it in puff pastry, bake, and flip. The small tomatoes, the most reliably sweet winter orbs, concentrate their flavors in the oven, especially when bathed in tangy flavors – balsamic vinegar or pomegranate syrup. (And, Edible Boston just featured one of my caramelized tarte tatin (Creative Director Michael Piazza’s professional photo here) in The Tomato story (PDF here) of their fall 2012 issue. Woohoo!!!)

What else can you cook with tomatoes in the winter? Well, there’s always tomato sauce. Grab a bunch of plum tomatoes, also a decent option when the weather turns chilly, and get peeling. I’ve always found tomato peeling a  bit fussy – boiling water, slicing an X in the tomato’s bottom, dropping it in the water, waiting a few seconds, fishing it out, plunging it into ice water, waiting for it to cool, and then peeling the slippery fella.

Lucky for you, I found a tomato trick: freeze the tomatoes until hard (a few hours), take them out and let them defrost until  you can handle them (about 10 minutes) and the skins just slip off. When frozen, the liquid in the tomatoes expands (like an ice cube) — you can actually see the tomato skin stretch until it splits — and then contracts as it warms, leaving behind wrinkly skin too big for the shrinking tomato. Cool, no?

Of course, when your grocery store fails you, just turn to a can. In this realm, San Marzano tomatoes are the best for whatever you want to make.

And if it’s tomato sauce you’re after, Marcella Hazan’s recipe is the way to to. It has been circulating for years; I only discovered it last week — I’ve missed a few other bandwagons in my time — but I’ve been making up for lost time here, with three batches already under my belt.

Here’s the deal. Crack open a can of tomatoes. Empty it into a saucepan with an onion and a few pats of butter. Simmer for nearly an hour. When fat droplets form at the surface, it’s ready.

Fish out the onion and eat it if you’d like. Sprinkle the sauce with salt to taste, but don’t taste your way to the bottom of the pan. A little pepper, maybe a dust of parmesan, a scatter of basil, and you’re ready to top (drown?) some pasta.

If you have any sauce left, store it in the fridge. It’ll be gone in a few days.

PS – for some grilling ideas, head over to my latest Come to the Table article in JPost, “Grilling Time, Come Rain or Shine.”

Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce

This recipe is all over the internet – the version I used is on Food52. The butter in the sauce provides just the right amount of indulgent cream and sweetness. 

Serves 4-6 (enough for about 1 pound of pasta)

- 1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes (whole); or 2 lb fresh tomatoes, peeled

- 1 onion

- 5 T butter (unsalted)

- salt and pepper to taste

- basil, parmesan, etc.

Crush. With your hands, crush the tomatoes into small chunks.

Simmer. Peel the onion and cut it in half. Mix in a saucepan the crushed tomatoes, onion, and butter, and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer over low heat, stirring every once in a while and breaking up any remaining large tomato chunks into bite-sized bits with the back of a wooden spoon. The sauce is ready when bright red fat droplets rise to the surface.

Taste. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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