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Archive for the ‘parve’ Category

Well. Where were we? Oh yeah, so after I met Dorie (!), my sister and I went to Norway and Spain, and then I moved from Boston.

Wait, you say. What? you think. Didn’t you just move? you shake your head. Well, yes. Yes, I did just move. But it’s been a complicated multi-stage move and I’ve had a hard time cutting the cord. I sublet a place in Brooklyn for three weeks and then went back to Boston. I returned to Brooklyn to another apartment, for 5 weeks this time. Then I took over a friend’s lease in my old Upper West Side neighborhood, happily living mere blocks from my support system of friends. That lasted four months. The apartment, not the friends. And finally I moved to my current place. And earlier this month, I let go of my lease in Boston and transported the remainder of my belongings – furniture, books, pots and pans, scuba gear, and all – into my place in New York.

In case you’re counting, it’s been a year since I made those first tentative steps away from one career towards the uncertainty of another.

Uncertainty. It’s hard for most people. It’s terrifying to me.

For most of my life, I’ve known what I was going to do next. There was always another school. A better job. A promotion. And now, I’m starting from scratch and for the first time ever, I don’t know what’s coming next. I don’t yet know what exactly my long term goal is. Open a cafe? Write a cookbook? Work on the corporate side in a large restaurant group? Teach the principles of hospitality to other industries (healthcare, I’m looking at you!)? Cook for my family? There are all things I’m considering. And in the end, it will probably be a combination of several of these options. Which ones? I have no idea.

I met with a colleague and mentor the other day and we spoke about uncertainty. She encouraged me to just be. Or, in her words, to “grow where you’re planted.” I find myself repeating this phrase to myself multiple times a day. When I question what I’m doing. When other people question what I’m doing.

So, I’m going to make a deal with you. For a little while, I’m going to just be. To grow where I’m planted. To be OK with it. To be happy with it. Now here’s where you come in. Please believe me when I say that I’m happy being where I am right now. Please trust me when I say that I don’t yet have a clear vision for where I’m headed but that everything will work out. Please gently push me out of my comfort zone. And with your help, I’ll believe in myself and trust my instincts and push my own limits.

And in return, I will give you the gazpacho recipe I picked up in Barcelona. How’s that for a win-win?

gazpacho

In Barcelona, my sister was in charge of directions and getting us where we wanted to go, and I was in charge of food. We saw a lot of Gaudí, ate ice cream at least once a day, and took a cable car across the port. We took the elevator to the top of Sagrada Família and wound our way down a narrow seashell staircase. We spent a day at a beach just a half hour outside Barcelona by train. We spent evenings by the pool on the roof of the hotel that we splurged on.

The only traditional tapas bar I went to was on a food tour the first night. The tour was enjoyable if unremarkable until I asked our guide for his favorite place to eat gazpacho. With this question, his eyes lit up. I make the best gazpacho, he said. Before I could ask him for his recipe, he started enumerating on his fingers. Take four tomatoes – make sure they’re really ripe. And then one cucumber. Remove the peel and the seeds. One pepper. Red. Or green. But red is best for the color. Use red. Then one onion, about this size, holding up a clenched fist. And garlic. One or two cloves. Maybe three. Yes, three. And one-third of a baguette. Or half of a small one. It should be the size of the cucumber. Put it all in a blender. Add olive oil and vinegar. Sherry vinegar, of course. But the secret, he leaned in for effect. The secret, he beckoned, is cumin.

Just two days after returning from Spain, I gathered gazpacho ingredients, threw them in a blender, measured and tweaked and substituted. I stuck a pitcher in the fridge, and then I left to pack up the apartment in Boston that I had called home for five years. When I returned to New York, furniture and books and pots and pans and scuba gear in tow, the gazpacho was waiting for me.

Gazpacho

This recipe is based on the one given to me by my tapas tour guide in Barcelona. Here I use cucumbers with thick waxy skin as he recommended. You can use “seedless” Persian or English cucumbers if you prefer. The raw onion and garlic give the soup quite a bite, but it does mellow out after a day or two. Make sure to serve the soup with some chopped vegetables and croutons for garnish and crunch. 

Makes approximately 2 quarts

- 3 lbs ripe tomatoes

- 2 cucumbers, peeled, seeds removed

- 1 1/2 red pepper, seeds removed

- 1 small yellow or red onion

- 3 cloves garlic

- 1/2 stale baguette (approximately the same length as the cucumbers laid end to end)

- 1/4 C olive oil, preferably arbequina

- 2 T sherry vinegar

- 1 T cumin

- salt

- Optional garnish: diced tomato, cucumber, and pepper; small croutons

Chop. Roughly chop all the vegetables.

Soak. Tear the baguette in small pieces and cover with warm water until very soggy.

Blend. Add all of the vegetables to your blender and go to town until very smooth. Drain the water from the bread, reserving it for later. Add the bread and continue to blend until very smooth. Add oil, vinegar, cumin. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and then keep adding it by the teaspoonful until the gazpacho tastes good to you. If the soup is too thick, thin it out with the reserved bread water.

Strain. If you want your gazpacho to be silky smooth, do like most restaurants and push it through a cheesecloth lined strainer. I don’t bother.

Chill. Let the gazpacho chill for at least 2 hours or ideally overnight.

Serve. Serve in wide bowls with small plates of diced tomato, cucumber, pepper, and croutons. Drizzle with olive oil.

***

Here are some of the restaurants that my sister and I enjoyed in Barcelona. I tried gazpacho at nearly every single one of them.

Bar Mut
Sam (the General Manager at USC and my boss) sent me here, referring to it as Balthazar meets tapas bar and recommending we show up in the late afternoon after the lunch rush. Beneath a  an unassuming corner in what can only be described as the urban equivalent of the middle of nowhere (particularly in comparison to the bustle of las Ramblas), Bar Mut is truly a hidden gem. There are no menu. The website is little more than an address, a phone number, and a 17 minute video called Intereses Mundanos (Mundane Interests) that gives the restaurant an air of mystery. Daily specials are scrawled on a blackboard above the bar,  but the best way to order is to engage your server in a dialogue about your hunger, mood, likes and dislikes, and let him guide you. Some of the fish entrees can get quite pricey.
Address: Carrer de Pau Claris, 192 (at Diagonal)
Area: Eixample

Cornelia and Co.
Cornelia and Co is part restaurant, part gourmet take-away.
Address: Carrer de València, 225
Area: Eixample

Els Quartre Gats (4 Gats)
Go here for the art work and history as a modernist salon of sorts. The food is decent enough, but overpriced. That said, I had amazing pan con tomato.
Address: Carrer de Montsió, 3
Area: Barri Gòtic

Teresa Carles
Just a few blocks from La Rambla and on a quiet pedestrian street, this vegetarian restaurant is a nice break from meat-heavy menus. You can design your own salads and get a juice fix. My sister particularly enjoyed the seitan and tofu sliders.
Address: Jovellanos, 2
Area: Las Ramblas

Torre d’Alta Mar
This restaurant can be a bit confusing to find. It’s located at the top of the tower from which the Telefèric del Port cable car launches. While quite pricey, we had some of the best and most interesting food of our trip here and the view of the port is spectacular. 
Address: Passeig Joan de Borbó, 88 (take the elevator up)
Area: Barceloneta

 

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rhubarb thyme muffins

Once my maitre d’ trail was complete, I found my way back to the kitchen where my refrigerator was overflowing with greenmarket treasures. The crimson celery-like stalks of rhubarb beckoned.

rhubarb

Now, rhubarb and I don’t have much history. I’m not a fan of cooked berries unless they’re blue or come from a bog, so classic strawberry rhubarb pie, and, by association, rhubarb on its own, and I aren’t the best of friends. We don’t dislike each other; we just don’t run in the same circles.

We tried once to hang out – last year when I clipped a Saveur article and drooled over an upside down cake where rhubarb played the starring role. I read the reviews but never made it to the theater of my oven to see diva rhubarb on stage. She waited for me in the cold backstage of my fridge until she went sad and limp. This year, though, I made it my business to rekindle (or is it kindle?) a friendship. So, I got chopping, which I realize is where this little anthropomorphism should probably cease.

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I cooked down the rhubarb in a few generous pats of butter and a pile of sugar, more mountain than molehill. I looked for caramelization as the recipe suggested, but found only stringy mush in a pool of buttery syrup, more lake than puddle. With a combination of dismay (the rhubarb was, um, interesting looking) and intrigue (but its sweet and tart flavor was swoon-worthy), I persevered. I prepared a cake batter, covered the mess of rhubarb, slid the pan into the oven, and then pulled it out.

rhubarb upside down cake, downside up

The flip was a bit less than successful, so there’s no photo of a cake tinged pink. And with rhubarb mush, there was definitely no chance of a lovely cake covered in still discernable rhubarb pieces, flecked with crunchy caramelization. It tasted good enough, but when half of the cake remained after I brought it to family meal at the restaurant, I decided the recipe wasn’t worth a second try.

Nonetheless, it left me with a glimmer of hope. The next day, I went back to the market, brought home even more rhubarb, and sweated it out. Literally. It was one of those days when I had to close all of my window shades at high noon to keep the temperature in my apartment manageable even before I fired up the oven. And once the oven began its steady preheating climb, I had to turn on the air conditioning. But the rhubarb made me do it, and so do it I did.

My plan: muffins. While the oven was preheating, I made rhubarb compote. I diced the rhubarb and threw in some thyme…


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…then loaded it up with sugar and lemon…

rhubarb, thyme, lemon, sugar

…and melted it down…

rhubarb thyme compote

… to a silky compote. Looks a little like cranberry applesauce, no?

I threw together the cake batter I had used earlier, reducing the sugar and adding thyme to keep the muffins more breakfast than dessert. I scooped the batter into muffin tins, dotted with compote, and added another light blanket of batter.

rhubarb thyme muffins

Into the oven, and out of that oven, and off went the oven, and on stayed the air conditioning.

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Rhubarb thyme muffins

This recipe is inspired by a rhubarb upside-down cake in last year’s Saveur. I modified the caramelized rhubarb (which turned into mush, for me at least) into a lush not-too-sweet, still-somewhat-tart compote to which I added thyme based on this recipe. I used thyme because 1) I had it and 2) to keep this muffins out of cupcake territory. You’ll have about 1/2 – 3/4 cup extra compote – it’s fabulous spooned over Greek yogurt with a few clusters of granola. I also added some raw rhubarb to the batter – it cooks up nicely and gives some extra texture and a burst of tartness to the muffins. If I do try to make another rhubarb upside-down cake (and I have another pound-plus of stalks in my fridge), I’m going to go with raw rhubarb on the bottom, à la Melissa Clark’s recipe (read her notes here). 

You’ll need a total of 1 1/4 pounds of rhubarb to yield 4 cups chopped. 

Makes 16 muffins

For the compote:

- 3 C diced rhubarb

- 1/2 C sugar

- 1/4 t dried thyme

- 1 lemon for zest and juice

- pinch salt

For the muffin batter:

-  2 C flour

-  1 C sugar

-  4 eggs

-  1 C canola oil

-  2 t baking powder

- 1 t salt

-  1 t vanilla

- 1 C diced rhubarb

Prep. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease a muffin pan.

Simmer. Stir together the compote ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium-high and continue to simmer until the rhubarb cooks down to the consistency of applesauce, about 15 minutes. Let cool.

Mix. Meanwhile, mix together the batter ingredients. You can mix this all by hand in less time than it takes to drag your stand mixer out of the cabinet.

Arrange. Fill each muffin cup with a scant 1/4 cup of batter. Top with 2 teaspoons of compote and an additional tablespoon of batter per muffin cup.

Bake. Bake the muffins for 20 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.

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It’s been over a month since I’ve found my way back to this place. During that time I’ve been preoccupied with a promotion to maitre d’ (!) and completion of my “trail.” Restaurant speak for training, the trail was harder and longer than I expected.

When my manager approached me about the MD role (double entendre duly noted), he warned me that it is one of the most difficult jobs in a restaurant. On par with expediting, he said, it’s crucial for ensuring a great experience for guests and for the team. I laughed off his warning, mostly because of the uncomfortable audacity of accepting a role that was acknowledged by him as one of the most important in the place.

But I was also lulled into a false sense of confidence by the ease and grace with which the other MDs did their jobs – they remind me of dancers who seem to effortlessly float midair while leaping – and by my own hubris that the job would come naturally.

A few trails in, I realized that it didn’t come naturally. I had memorized “the book” – the rules for organizing the dining room and reservations as well as the exceptions to those rules – but I wasn’t sufficiently comfortable with my level of knowledge. And it showed.

One afternoon when a large crowd descended upon the restaurant at noon, hungry for lunch and intent on sitting down immediately, I froze. Afraid to make a mistake, I was afraid to do anything. In a moment of panic, I viewed our guests as the enemy and wanted to duck behind the podium to shield myself from their bullets of inquiries, requests, and expectations. But I put on my best forced smile and welcomed them through the doors with the sole intent of getting them into the dining room and away from me as quickly as possible. There I stood, in the bastion of hospitality, praying that everyone would just go away so that I could breathe. After the first rush, I escaped to the coatroom for a few moments of quiet. I muddled through the rest of the afternoon and somehow finished out the service, ego bruised but otherwise unscathed.

I was embarrassed then, and I’m embarrassed now as I write this. Luckily, there’s a happy ending.

asparagus picklesd

To build back my confidence, I hunkered down and studied my job as if I were in school. Just as my father solidified my knowledge of math by pushing me to derive formulas from first principles rather than merely memorizing them, I dissected the book and figured out how and why it was set up the way it was, approaching it as if I were building it from scratch.

A visual person by nature, I drew out a timeline of each lunch and dinner service, each table and when it turned for the next, how many people could sit down in the restaurant at each fifteen-minute interval in a way that wouldn’t overload the servers and kitchen. I made a Gantt chart of each activity an MD needs to accomplish by what time and the activities of other team members that are dependent on those milestones. In other words, I geeked out.

Like a consultant, I spoke with servers to find out the best way to handle different situations, for example, when I might need to double-seat them – should I try to provide at least a five-minute buffer interval? Give them a heads up? Ask the host to provide a menu? – yes, yes, and maybe. I wrote long lists of useful phrases – how to explain to guests if we were running behind, if we couldn’t seat them at a seemingly available table, if there was a waitlist for the bar.

As you might have guessed, my approach worked and I started having fun in the restaurant again. I’m now officially an MD (our general manager calls me MD2 ), still building up my muscle memory, but approaching the job with confidence and a genuine smile.

While all of this has been going on, the greenmarkets have exploded and my earlier MD schedule (I finish at 3 pm when I work lunch) has allowed me to wander through an expanding and bustling Union Square each market day. The market now snakes around the north end of the square in two parallel rows that span about three blocks.

While I rejoiced in new produce – asparagusfiddleheads! rhubarb! strawberries! – and filled my fridge with color, MD trailing left me with no mental energy to cook. The result? These quick pickled asparagus – a good snack after a stressful shift. Or at least a way to get in a few vegetables before sticking a spoon into a pint of ice cream.

I’m back in the kitchen these days, so next up: rhubarb muffins! See you back here soon.

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Asparagus pickles

Adapted from Food & Wine. The pickles take just moments to prepare and are ready after a night in the fridge. They’re sharp and spicy and their flavor intensifies the longer they sit in their vinegar bath.

- 3/4 – 1 lb asparagus

- 10 sprigs dill

- 1 C white vinegar

- 1 C water

- 1 T kosher salt

- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

- 1 t black peppercorns

- 1/2 t red pepper flakes

Fill. Snap the woody ends off the asparagus and trim them so that they will fit into a wide-mouth 1-quart jar. Fill the jar with the asparagus and dill.

Heat. Heat the vinegar, water, salt, garlic, and peppers until the salt dissolves. Allow to cool.

Pour. Once the vinegar mix is lukewarm, pour it in the jar. Top off with a 1-to-1 mix of vinegar and water to cover.

Chill. Refrigerate overnight and eat within three days.

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Whew, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

It sure has been hectic on my end. Between a new apartment and a new job and a whole bunch of travel and an asthma-inducing sleep-interrupting cold, I’ve had a hard time getting back here. While out of site (get it?), this little place was never out of mind. Don’t worry – I’ve finally organized my kitchen and I have a queue of recipes and photos just waiting to flit across these pages. The next few pre-Passover days should make up for lost time.

Mini chocolate hazelnut olive oil cakes with sea salt , ready for the oven

So, about that job.

Earlier this year, I started working front of house at Union Square Cafe. Learning in the restaurant that anchors all of Danny Meyer‘s work is a phenomenal experience and I’m punch drunk on the “enlightened hospitality” kool-aid. Perhaps it’s the novelty of a new direction for my life, but even aching feet after long hours in the dining room can’t dampen my spirit, particularly now that I re-invested in what I used to call hospital shoes.

Drop by, say hi. I’ll probably be there welcoming you into what has increasingly become my second home.

Skinned hazelnuts

Eventually, I’m hoping to do a mini-trail in the kitchen, but for now I just pepper Chef Carmen and pastry Chef Sunny with questions. Case in point: this year I’m in charge of our Passover seder desserts. In the past, I’ve made Jess’s chocolate hazelnut mini cakes, substituting margarine for the butter. One year I made a quadruple batch which yielded eleven dozen one-bite cakes. That’s 132 bites that disappeared over the span of a few short days. Wanting to avoid margarine this year, mostly because my restaurant schedule makes it difficult to get to a kosher grocery store, I picked Sunny’s brain for some suggestions. I was thinking coconut oil, but she suggested grapeseed or olive oil. And while we were on the topic, she mentioned that she’ll be making dairy-free, gluten-free macarons and macaroons in the restaurant over Passover. We chatted about different flavors – pistachio? citrus with jam filling? – and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with. More on that when I get the intel.

Mini chocolate hazelnut olive oil cakes with sea salt

I channeled a little Sunny today and tested Jess’s mini-cake recipe with olive oil.

Oh boy!

Oh boy oh boy oh boy!

The olive oil has a more complementary flavor than margarine, letting the dark dark chocolate shine and keeping the bites dense without heft. The hazelnut enhances the chocolate instead of turning the cakes into nutella wannabes, and the sprinkle of salt – well, you can’t go wrong with a little salt. I’ll see what Sunny has to say tomorrow when I bring them in for her to try.

Good night, all. See you back here real soon.

Update 4/9/14: Success – Sunny likes them!

Update 4/12/14: These work with almonds as well, though they’re a little less rich. See below for recipe modification tips.

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Mini chocolate hazelnut olive oil cakes with sea salt 

Adapted from Jess over at Sweet Amandine who turned a flourless chocolate cake from Gourmet into mini cakes. In order to make these non-dairy, I substituted 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil for 1/4 cup butter. Use a mild olive oil – no need for the fancy stuff here – and splurge on chocolate and cocoa. I normally use Callebaut (a mix of 65% and 70%) and on Passover I lean towards Swiss brands – Camille Bloch or Schmerling’s; I heard that Equal Exchange is making fair trade kosher for Passover chocolate bars this year and I plan to seek them out. I used Cacao Barry extra brute (dutched) cocoa (Cacao Barry and Callebaut are marks of the Barry Callebaut company); any high quality 100% pure, unsweetened cocoa powder will do (and doesn’t require special Passover certification).

Jess recommends using a mini muffin pan, but I only one with medium-sized cups (i.e., regular-sized in this day of mega everything). I filled each cup with approximately 2 tablespoons of batter. The cakes freeze well and Jess actually prefers their consistency when frozen and thawed – I agree, so you can prepare these well advance. 

Update 4/12/18: These work with almonds as well, though they’re a little less rich. If you are going to use pre-ground almond (or hazelnut for that matter) flour, measure out 60g which is the same weight as 1/2 cup of whole nuts. If you only have volume measurements, it will be a bit difficult to do this conversion, but I found that if you fluff up the nut flour with a fork, it’s just under 1/2 cup. If you compress the nut flour, it’s a little over 1/4 cup. 

Makes 2 dozen mini cakes

- 6 T olive oil plus extra for greasing
– ½ C unsweetened cocoa powder plus extra for dusting
– ½ C hazelnuts
– 4 oz high quality bittersweet chocolate
– ¾ C sugar
– 3 large eggs
– coarsely ground sea salt or fleur de sel

Prep. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Generously oil a 24-cup mini muffin pan or two 12-cup regular muffin pans. Dust with cocoa powder, tapping the pan to coat all surfaces, and then shake out any excess.

Skin. Toast the hazelnuts in the oven for about 8-10 minutes until fragrant and slightly darkened. Pour them into a container, cover, and shake (see the second photo above) – the agitation will help remove the loose skins. Hold the top on because it may pop off due to the heat of the nuts. Separate the nuts from the skins and allow them to cool fully (I put them in the refrigerator).

Grind. Once they have cooled, grind the hazelnuts in a food processor until fine. Make sure to use quick pulses to avoid making hazelnut butter.

Melt. Chop the chocolate into small pieces and melt it together with the oil in a large bowl placed over a pot of barely simmering water. Stir until smooth and remove the mixture from the heat.

Whisk. Whisk in the sugar – it will be a little bit grainy. Allow the mixture to cool for a few minutes and then add the eggs and whisk well. Sprinkle the cocoa powder and the ground hazelnuts over the chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined.

Sprinkle. Pour the batter into the pans, 2 tablespoons per muffin cup, and tap on the counter to remove any air bubbles. Sprinkle with salt.

Bake. Bake for approximately 12 minutes until the cakes have puffed up and the tops have formed a thin crust. Start checking at 10 minutes. Cool in the pans on a rack for five minutes. Slide a thin knife (I use a narrow offset spatula) around each cake to help nudge them out of the pan. As they cool, the cakes will fall a little bit. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

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Today, we’re taking a short trip back in time. And forward in time.

When I made my first tentative steps towards moving back to New York, I spent a lot of time feeling around. Where did I want to live? Two short Brooklyn sublets and I decided to return to my trusty old Upper West Side neighborhood. (Exploring Park Slope and the neighborhood was fun, but I just felt too far from my posse of friends). Where did I want to work? What did I want to do? Those questions are much harder and I’m still working them out.

But one of the best experiences I’m having is working with Einat Admony, chef and owner of Balaboosta and Taïm. I first saw Einat on Chopped years ago and a few months later found myself spending a lot of time in the West Village just a few blocks from her first falafel bar. Aside from the crispy green falafel repeatedly voted as best of New York, Taïm’s fries with saffron aioli are divine. Fast forward to last year, right around this time, when I finally met Einat at a cooking class up in Boston. When she asked for volunteers, I (of course) jumped in to help grill and dress and plate. We chatted after class and a few months later she invited me to her birthday party.

Not surprisingly, when I moved to New York, she was one of the first people I called as I was getting my bearings. I started working alongside her, writing and photographing recipes (like this grilled eggplant with Asian tahini sauce) and completing other special projects.

Einat typically works out of the restaurant, riding in from Brooklyn on her pink Vespa. A white helmet parked on the windowsill is a sure sign that she or her husband and business partner Stefan is inside. The round table in the back is where we set up camp. It’s typically scattered with Macs, papers, and menus. Guy, Balaboosta’s Executive Chef and Einat’s close friend, might bring out 3 spoons and a small bowl filled with sauce, the spoons superfluous as we each stick in a pinky to taste. It needs something – more anchovy? a squeeze of lemon? And then we improve it until it’s just right.

I love spending full days observing and sometimes participating in the lifecycle of a day in a restaurant from pre-service to post-service and everything in between. My favorite part of those days is seeing the goings on behind the scenes.

Bala chairs in the morning

Bala Einat phone tryptich

Taim Mobile 2

On Mondays, someone climbs up the ladder to write the weekly specials in chalk on the blackboard. Then the team, forks in hands, gathers around that table in the back and we’re introduced to these seasonal dishes developed in the kitchen only hours earlier. Chef presents each dish and explains its ingredients and preparation. We dig in, some scooping up a bit of everything in one bite, others dissecting piece by piece to better understand how everything fits together. We discuss how it tastes, what drinks would pair well, how to describe it to diners.

I treasure these restaurant days and I think this is the direction my new life might be headed.

So, it’s fitting that the first real thing I cooked when I came to New York was a soup from Einat’s cookbook Balaboosta: Bold Mediterranean Recipes to Feed the People You Love, released late last year. I cherish this cookbook – you can read more about it here – and have been cooking my way through it, recreate some of my restaurant favorites. When a particularly cold spell drifted through the air in mid-October, I made soup.

Butternut squash and saffron soup (Einat Admony/Balaboosta)

No surprise that it’s a butternut squash soup – I tend to make a new one each winter (well, except for the winter of 2010/2011 which had a lot of travel and only one soup, mushroom). This one starts with a classic mirepoix of carrots, onions, and celery and is flavored with saffron and thyme. What really makes it special though is a dollop of thickened yogurt sprinkled with za’atar, a spice mix containing hyssop, wild relative of thyme. These finishing touches really bring everything together.

Butternut squash and saffron soup (Einat Admony/Balaboosta)

Before we get to the recipe, here are a few articles that I’ve recently read that I think you might enjoy.

Artisanal toast? Yes, according to this article. Less about food, more about people.

From the first of the year, Jacques Pépin’s recipe for onion soup without beef stock, a sure hangover cure.

For once, the hospital industry may be a model for Wall Street as companies start to limit working hours. But the “I worked that many hours, so you should work that many hours” mentality is hard to break down no matter where you are.

Also, here’s a glimpse of the area between my bed and the window that I use for photo shoots. So you can have a behind-the-scene glimpse at my work too.

Butternut squash and saffron soup (Einat Admony/Balaboosta) - taking a step back

Butternut Squash and Saffron Soup with Za’atar

Adapted from Einat Admon’s Balaboosta: Bold Mediterranean Recipes to Feed the People You Love. Einat calls this soup “marak ketumim,” orange soup. Don’s skip the Greek yogurt (though you can use sour cream instead) and za’atar which contains hyssop and complements the thyme in the soup.

Serves 8 – 10

- 1 medium yellow onion

- 1 large leek

- 8 cloves garlic

- 5 pounds butternut squash

- 5 large carrots

- 5 celery ribs

- 1/4 C olive oil

- 1/4 C sugar

- 1 T kosher salt

- 2 t freshly ground pepper

- 8-10 C water

- 3 fresh thyme sprigs

- 1 fresh rosemary sprig

- pinch of saffron threads

- Greek yogurt

- Za’atar seasoning

Prep. Finely chop the onion, leek, garlic. Peel the squash and cut into 1/2-inch chunks. Peel the carrots and cut them and the celery into 1/4-inch pieces.

Saute. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until golden brown, about 7 minutes. If the edges of the onion turn deep brown, no worries  – it will give the soup even more flavor. Add the leek and garlic and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add the squash, carrots, and celery. Place a lid on the pot and allow the vegetables to cook for 20 minutes.

Stir. Add the sugar, salt, pepper, 8 cups of water, thyme, rosemary, and saffron. Stir to combine all the seasonings and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat and simmer until all the vegetables are so soft that you can press down on them with a spoon, about 30 minutes. If the soup is too thick, add up to 2 more cups of water as it cooks.

Puree. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the soup to cool for 10 minutes. Remove the stems from the thyme and rosemary. Puree the soup directly in the pot using an immersion blender or in small batches in a blender.

Serve. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then transfer the soup to another pot and reheat slowly before serving. Ladle the soup into individual serving bowls and add a dollop of Greek yogurt on top and a generous sprinkling of za’atar.

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stuffing

How was your Thanksgiving? Your Hanukkah?

This Thanksgiving, with nine of us around the table, we kept things low-key and didn’t go crazy with the food. I mean, we didn’t even have potatoes, sweet or otherwise.

Now, even with a more streamlined menu, there was still that last-minute scramble as we pulled the turkey out of the oven and realized that we hadn’t cooked the broccoli and brussels sprouts. Actually, we hadn’t even decided how to cook those vegetables. While we let the turkey rest, my mom and I rapidly sliced off florets and halved sprouts, spread them on a few baking sheets, doused with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and popped them into the hot oven. You can’t go wrong with roasting.

We started dinner with soup served in mugs. The mugs don’t match the plates. They don’t even match each other. And not in that hip casual-chic kind of way. I love that we start dinner in mugs. It’s cozy – you can’t help but wrap your hands around the warm ceramic, raise it to your face, and blow on the steaming  soup until it’s cool enough to sip, spoons reserved for scraping out the last few drops.

After the salad was passed around, my cousin Ben slipped out to carve the turkey (he’s a turkey-carving whiz) and I grabbed the vegetables and stuffing out of the oven.

We took a dishwashing break before dessert.

The next day, we had turkey for lunch and dinner.

Cornbread stuffing, apple, celery, herbs

Before we get to the stuffing (you know, just in time to start planning next Thanksgiving), here are a few links and thoughts for the week.

Ever put maple syrup in your coffee? Try it. Thanks for the tip, Adeena.

Paula Wolfert – queen of Mediterranean, Moroccan, and clay pot cooking – talks about Alzheimer’s and staving off its progression with cooking. On starting off every morning  with a hulk-green smoothie, filled with anti-oxidants and ingredients purported to improve cognition, she says, “It is tough going because it’s not delicious, it’s nutritious.  My grandmother told me, during the second world war, we were sitting in the vegetable garden: If you want to win a war, you’ve got to be willing to fight.”

A new-to-me blog, Apt. 2B Baking Co. More photos than words, Yossy Arefi, makes cakes and cookies that make me want to go out and buy pounds and pounds of butter. How about a meyer lemon and grapefruit bundt? Yes, please.

And now, the stuffing.

Cornbread apple stuffing

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Apple and Herb Stuffing for All Seasons. I substituted corn bread (this recipe, which is based on Elisha’s recipe) for the hearty white bread that Deb recommended. I doubled this recipe for Thanksgiving, and our family of nine had enough leftovers for days.  When I reheat the stuffing, I sometimes pour a little liquid over top – water works just fine – to keep it from drying out in the oven (or microwave). 

Make or buy cornbread a day or two in advance if possible so you can pull it apart and dry it out; otherwise, toast it in the oven for 10-15 minutes. If you do want to make your own cornbread, I’ve modified my go-to recipe to reflect the quantities for this stuffing. 

Serves 8-10

- 1 recipe cornbread (below) or 6 cups of cornbread cut or torn into cubes and crumbs (approximately an 8X8 pan)
- 1 large yellow onion
- 2 large stalks celery
– 1 large or 2 small firm, tart tart apples, such as Granny Smith
– 5 T olive oil, divided
- 1 t chopped fresh thyme leaves
- ½ t kosher salt, plus more to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ C roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 3 sage leaves, minced
- 1-2 C turkey, chicken or vegetable stock or broth
- 1 large egg

Dry. Cut or tear the cornbread into small cubes or crumble into large crumbs. Let the bread dry out for a day or two before proceeding, or spread it out in a single layer on a large baking sheet and bake at 350°F for 10-15 minutes until pale golden. Keep your oven on.

Sauté. Finely chop the onion, celery, and apple. Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, thyme, salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add celery and cook for 2 more minutes. Then add apple and sauté until a bit tender, another 5 minutes.

Mix. Place dried-out cornbread in a large mixing bowl and scrape contents of the skillet on top. Whisk together egg and 1 cup broth and pour over. Stir in parsley and sage. Dig your hands in and mix everything together. The bread should hold its shape but be wet enough to squish when you squeeze it. If the bread seems a bit dry, pour another half cup of broth over it. If it’s still dry, pour in the last half cup. Let the bread soak for half an hour in the refrigerator.

Bake. Use the last tablespoon of oil to grease a 9-inch square baking dish (or another equivalent pan) . Spoon the bread mix into the dish. If  you toasted the bread earlier, your oven should already be at 350°F; otherwise, turn it on. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until brown on top and no liquid appears if you insert a knife vertically into the center of the stuffing pan and turn it slightly. Serve immediately, or reheat as needed. If you do reheat, you might need to add some extra liquid before popping into the oven for 10-15 minutes. 

(Non-dairy) skillet cornbread

Slightly modified from this recipe, which is based on this recipe

Serves 6-8

- 1 ½ C flour
- 1 ½ C fine cornmeal
- 2 T sugar
- 1 ½ t salt
- 1 ½ t baking powder
¾ C corn kernels (I use frozen and thaw them before use)
- 1 ¼ C water
– 4 T oil (canola or olive), divided
– 2 eggs

Preheat oven to 450ºF. Place a large oven-proof cast-iron skillet on the middle rack.

Mix. In a large bowl, mix together flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

Purée. Place the corn, water and 2 tablespoons of oil into a blender (or food processor) and puree for about 2 minutes until it’s smooth and no corn pieces remain. Add the eggs and continue to blend everything together. You’ll end up with a light yellow liquid that’s a bit thicker than whole milk.

Wait. Wait until the oven is hot before adding the wet ingredients to the dry.

Stir. Add the wet ingredients to the dry. Stir until all the ingredients are incorporated (don’t over-mix), scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl to make sure you don’t miss any flour.

Swirl. Take the skillet out of the oven (it will be very hot) and pour in the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, swirling so that it coats the bottom and sides of the skillet. Pour the batter into the skillet – is should sizzle as it hits the hot pan.

Bake. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Serve warm right out of the pan. If you’re making stuffing, let the cornbread completely cool, then cut or crumble into pieces and allow to dry out overnight or in the oven, as detailed above.

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By the time Hanukkah rolled around last year, I was all fried out. But when asked to teach a Hanukkah cooking class this year, I just couldn’t say no to latkes.

My friend Frances offered up her large kitchen, so last night I rolled a suitcase filled with ingredients  and utensils and lots of oil into her apartment. While Frances’ daughters finished homework and practiced violin, I got organized. Within minutes, my stand mixer took its place on one end of the black granite counter separating the kitchen from dining room  On the other end, three peelers alongside a bowl filled with apples every hue from green to red. In the middle, a box grater in front of another bowl of only green apples and onions.

One of Frances’ PJ-clad daughters took up residence on a stool and asked me what we were making. Her eyes grew wide when she heard about the cake and applesauce. I thought I’d impress her by saying that the applesauce was going to be pink, but she was decidedly not into that. I want applesauce that’s yellow. Like in the refrigerator. Ok, I said, I’ll make a special plain batch just for you.

As the dozen “students” trickled in, I set them to work peeling apples. Ok, everyone, wash your hands. We’re cooking a lot tonight, and we’re gonna get dirty.

We started with an olive oil cake. We whipped eggs and sugar, measured out olive oil and milk and then a flurry of dry ingredients. I say a flurry, because a handful of us got a dusting of flour. We talked about why we zest citrus (it contains essential oils to flavor the cake), what to do with  orange blossom water (put it in everything!), and what other flavor combinations might be good (lemon zest and limoncello? apple slices with brandy?).

Cake mixed and in the oven, we cut those peeled apples into chunks and picked through a big bag of cranberries, removing any bad ones and dropping only a bouncy few on the floor. We filled a large pot with the pink applesauce ingredients and set it on a burner over medium heat. The last two apples made their way into a smaller pot without cranberries for the yellow applesauce.

Latkes were up. We grated. First skin-on apples, then onions. (Is it a bad sign when  half the class cries? Just checking.) We wrapped the apples and onions in towels, twisting until they released half their weight in liquid. We found the two biggest bowls in the house and filled them with the apples and onions, then topped with grated sweet potato that I had already shredded at home in my food professor. A few eggs, some panko crumbs, thinly-sliced sage, salt and pepper, and two lucky participants dug in elbow deep to mix.

The cake timer went off. A peek at the cake – jiggly in the middle – nope, not ready yet. A quick stir of the sauce on the stove top, the apples had begun to break down, but the berries were still holding their shape.

It was time for the fry. I placed a heavy-bottomed pan on the stove and watched as someone else poured in oil. A thin slick barely coating the pan. Keep going. More? Yes, keep going. More? Yup. Really? Yes. I stuck my finger in the (cold) pan, and the oil reached my first knuckle. Ok, stop. Perfect. We cranked up the heat, and waited.

I tossed  in a few shreds of vegetables that sank to the bottom. Not hot enough. A few minutes later, a few more shreds. A few bubbles. Still not hot enough. A few minutes more, a few more shreds. A burst of  bubbles lifted the shreds to the top where they started to brown. Bingo.

We started a production line. One team shaped the batter into patties, squeezing out any remaining liquid. Another team carefully slid the patties off the edge of a spatula into the splattering oil. I manned the fry station to get things started. Just like pancakes and crepes, the first few latkes were sacrificed as canaries in the  mine of scalding oil until we were able to truly regulate the temperature.

The applesauce was ready – off the stove to cool. The cake was still jiggly – back into the oven.

The latke station was on auto pilot and I finally had a chance to sit, but the natives were getting restless (and my own stomach was grumbling). I pulled out the cake stunt double I had prepared earlier in the day and got slicing. A dollop of cranberry applesauce on the side did the trick.

By then, we had a steady stream of latkes making their way to the table, dodging sneaky fingers.

The cake finally jiggled its last jiggle and was ready to come out. It too disappeared quickly.

Happy Holidays, all!

Sweet potato and apple latkes (Amy Traverso)

***

Still planning your Thanksgiving/Hanukkah menu? I’ve got you covered. How about some sufganiyot? Olive oil gelato? My family will start our meal with spicy butternut squash soup that we sip out of mugs. And this year, I’m making a stuffing using this cornbread and some sort of apple-celery-sage concoction that is still up in the air (maybe something like this?).

And, finally a little reading for those long plane-train-car(-boat?) rides, airport delays, traffic, and times you need to hide from your family.

Did you read the New Yorker’s food issue earlier this month? If not, it’s worth it. Particularly Adam Gopnik on bread and women and Gabrielle Hamilton on family meal.

This video of April Bloomfield making veal shank with the late Marcella Hazan. At 2:47, April says “I like Italian food, Marcella, because it’s so simple,” to which Marcella responds, “Well, we never use too many ingredients.” This reminds me of her famous tomato sauce.

This gave me goose bumps.

And I’d love to find a way to get involved with this.

***

Sweet potato and apple latkes

Adapted from Amy Traverso’s recipe in Leite’s Culinaria. Soft and creamy inside, crispy on the outside, these are my new go-to latkes. 

Make sure to remove as much liquid as possible from the grated ingredients. Roll the grated apple and onion in a kitchen towel (I like flour sack towels) and twist, twist, twist until they are dry. If you were using regular potatoes, you’d wring them out as well, but sweet potatoes have lower moisture content and it’s not necessary.

Regulating the temperature of the frying oil is the moist difficult part. Expect to sacrifice your first few attempts and only make one at a time until you get to the temperature right. 

If you want to make the latkes in advance, cool them to room temperature, then stack them in single layers between sheets of parchment or wax paper, and freeze them in a resealable plastic bags. Crisp in a 325°F oven for 15 to 20 minutes before serving. Top with cranberry applesauce

Makes 25-30 latkes

- 2 pounds garnet or jewel yams or sweet potatoes, peeled
– 3 large (about 1 1/2 pounds total) firm-tart apples such as Granny Smith
– 2 medium onions
– 8-10 leaves sage
– 6 large eggs, lightly beaten
– 1 cup panko – check
– 1 T coarse kosher salt
– 1 t freshly ground black pepper
– Vegetable or peanut oil, for frying

Prep. Preheat the oven to 200°F. Peel the sweet potatoes. Cut the apples into quarters (don’t peel them). Thinly slice the sage. Line a plate with paper towels

Grate. Using the coarse side of a box grater or a food processor fitted with a medium grating disk, grate the potatoes and scoop into a large bowl. Grate the apple and onion and then roll in a kitchen towel and twist, twist, twist until dry. Add the apple and onion to the bowl and toss everything together. Add the beaten eggs, panko, salt, and pepper and toss to mix well.

Fry. Using your hands, make small patties about ¼-inch thick, squeezing out any remaining moisture. Pour ½-¾ inch oil into a skillet over medium-high heat. The oil is ready when the temperature reaches 370°F. If you don’t have a thermometer, drop a small pinch of the latke mix into the oil – if the oil sizzles and bubbles up, it’s ready to start the trial-and-error process of getting the oil just right. Your first few latkes will be failures as you make small adjustments to the oil temperature.  Once you find the your groove, cook 3 or 4 pancakes at a time (do not crowd the pan) until the edges are crisp and well browned and the undersides are golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Gently turn and cook until the other side is golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes longer.

Warm. Transfer the pancakes to paper towels to drain briefly, then arrange in a single layer on 2 baking sheets. Keep the latkes warm in the oven while you cook the remaining pancakes.

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As the calendar page turns from September to October, here’s a recipe I made in August. It’s farmers market fare and there’s still time to get in on it before most of our carrots are plucked from cold storage.

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Roasted carrots with carrot top hazelnut pesto

Adapted from Bon Appétit. Carrot tops are the earthier, more bitter cousins of their roots. Which I realize doesn’t sound particularly appetizing. But bear with me here. To mellow the bitterness of the pesto, I added one of the carrots and lemon juice. Rather than using pine nuts as in the original recipe, I chose hazelnuts since I like how well carrots and the Egyptian spice and nut (usually hazelnut) mix called dukkah go together. The leftover pesto is great on vegetables that sweeten with roasting – cauliflower, beets, parsnips, even Brussels sprouts.

Serves 4 as a side dish

- 2 pounds carrots (about a dozen medium) with tops attached

- 2 T + ¼ C olive oil, divided

- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

- ½ garlic clove

- ¼ C hazelnuts, toasted and peeled

- ¼ C parsley leaves, coarsely chopped

- 2-3 T lemon juice

Prep. Heat oven to 400°F. Peel and trim the carrots, leaving short stems attached. Set aside one carrot and all the leafy tops. Was the tops really well to remove any dirt.

Roast. Cover a baking sheet with parchment. Toss carrots (except for the one you put aside) with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, a few pinches of salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Roast, tossing occasionally until carrots are golden brown and tender, 35-45 minutes for full sized carrots (less time for smaller carrots).

Crush. Pulse garlic and nuts in a food processor until a coarse paste forms. Add 1 cup of the carrot tops, the carrot you set aside, and parsley; process until a coarse purée forms. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil and lemon juice and pulse until combined; season with salt and pepper.

Serve. Serve carrots drizzled with pesto.

Store. The pesto will last up to 2 weeks in a jar in the refrigerator. It should also freeze well.

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And, just like that, it’s September. 

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That was the opening line I planned to use as I scrambled to get this post out before sunset last Wednesday as Rosh Hashanah rushed in. Instead, I used those last few hours to curl up with a good book (well, two good books) and enter the Jewish New Year calmly and with anticipation rather than racing the clock with rushed dread of not finishing and disappointing. Disappointing whom? I guess myself.

Now, ten days later, I finish this post minutes before Yom Kippur begins because after some time for reflection, this is how I want to start my new year. Right. Now.

***

In the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah, I thought about the secular new year, eight months ago, when newlyweds Veronica and Brian and nearly a hundred friends and family members and I took plane, train, and automobile to reach Sacred Valley, Peru.

Mere days before the wedding ceremony, I met most of the guests in Lima at the rooftop cocktail reception that started our ten-day wedding extravaganza. While in the capital, we toured the city, tested the choppy Pacific waters, bought more alpaca gifts than any sane person should, and ate and drank.

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Each evening brought a party and each party brought music and dancing. There was a rocking ukulele at the rehearsal dinner. And the dance floor at the wedding opened with Veronica and Brian’s first dance (with a well-rehearsed lift) and ended with la hora loca, the “crazy hour” that went on well into the morning, leaving everyone covered in confetti, dressed in flowered necklaces and Incan headdresses, and dancing with human-sized furry cuy – guinea pigs – that, when not entertaining, serve as traditional Andean dinner rather than childhood pet. 

After the four days of wedding festivities, the adventure began with that plane-train-automobile trip to Sacred Valley, not too far from the Incan capital of Cusco.

After settling in to our new digs, we started up the New Year’s Eve party, complete with beer and wine and coca tea, with streamers and sparklers and silly hats (and a certain bride wearing traditional yellow underwear). We barely made it to midnight before we started dropping off like flies, mumbling something about setting a 5 am alarm and where’d I put that raincoat and will they have breakfast for us.

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The next morning, I dragged my groggy self out of bed, tied on my just-barely-broken-in hiking books, and surrendered to a backpack filled with every possible item I just might need. Bug spray and sunscreen. Poncho. Protein bars. Water. More water. T-shirt. Long-sleeved shirt. Hat. Change of socks. Flashlight.

A short bus ride, and we walked past a flurry of retail activity to get to the train that would get us to the Inca trail. Along that short walk, hawkers cried out their wares. Good hat to protect from sun! Coca gum for altitude! Umbrella! Hiking stick!

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The train dropped us off at KM104 and we started out the first day of the New Year under a brilliant sun.

From this side of the mountain, eight months later, the details are a blessed blur. There were ups and downs, zigs and zags, slippery rocks, narrow cliffs, rain and wind, and never enough water. The poncho went on and off and on again as the weather changed moods like Mercury himself.

By the end of the first mile, I was falling back. By the end of the second mile, I was holding up the caboose. There were a few of us back there, pacing ourselves, enjoying the view, breathing the air. Or, perhaps merely catching our breath. Or, many breaths. We crawled up the nearly vertical “gringo killer” stairs, and caught a few more breaths. We climbed the just-100-more, I-mean-200-more , I-mean-350-more, see-you’re-almost-there steps. Guides can be cruel like that.

And then, we really were almost there. We reached Intipunkuthe Sun Gate. As the clouds parted and the fog lifted and we shed our rain gear, we shared a clear view of Machu Picchu that those who had rushed ahead of us missed.

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We all made it up. We all made it down. We all returned to explore Machu Picchu the next day.

Which, strangely enough, brings us back to that fish photographed up top.

On Rosh Hashanah, we decorate our table with fish or lambs’ heads, or just a whole roasted fish. We make a blessing that we be like the head, and not the tail. A leader, and not a follower. And not someone who falls behind.

Earlier this summer, in June, I bought paiche, a sustainable Peruvian fish because it was on sale and its thick, firm fillets looked like they would cook perfectly evenly. No head. No tail. Just the good stuff in the middle. I asked Facebook whether anyone had ideas about how to cook the fish, and continued to haphazardly throw items in my basket. Brian, now settled into Lima, and waiting for Veronica to join him, embraced his new heritage and suggested that I “cook it in some banana leaves! Amazon style.”

I looked in my pantry, and just could not find any banana leaves. Crazy, that. No banana leaves. But I tucked the idea away for another day.

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I did however remember a spicy fish dish that I had I had dogeared in Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem months prior. I skimmed through the recipe and it looked pretty simple. Pan fry some fish, add a few pantry staples, and voilà, a quick dinner. Or so I thought.

Had I read the instructions top to bottom, I might have realized that this was no quick dish. Three hours of well-past-prime-time-TV marinating and pan frying and stirring and simmering and saucing on a night when I had wanted to eat minutes after key in door, I was annoyed. I finally sat down with fork and knife at 11 pm.

I stayed annoyed until the next afternoon, when, over a lunch of leftover paiche and couscous, I read my friend Leah‘s blog post entitled “Are we being held hostage by the 30-minute meal?“. Leah is writing her second cookbook (you might recognize a few recipes from here in her first!) and was testing time-intensive chocolate babka after time-intensive chocolate babka after time-intensive chocolate babka until she got the recipe just right. During these hours upon hours of kneading, rising, waiting, twisting, baking, cooling , Leah found herself considering quick, get-it-on-the-table cooking versus the attention and time for reflection afforded by more complex recipes.

“When we allow everyday cooking to be the only cooking we do,” Leah says, “I think we ultimately lose out. By elevating and idealizing the 30-minute meal, we inherently discredit any recipe that takes longer to make. We abandon the deeper pleasure of tackling a difficult recipe head-on and emerging on the other side, battle-scarred but victorious. “

I realized the next day that I had indeed gone to bed victorious. emerging with merely a small battle-scar burn on my finger. Because, man, that fish was good. And the prior evening was calm, the work sometimes complex, sometimes messy, sometimes slow. Once I realized that this was going to be an evening project, I got there on my own pace. I breathed. And then breathed again.

Reflecting on the my Peruvian New Year, and my Brooklyn Rosh Hashanah, and my Brooklyn Yom Kippur, I wish for me and for you the ability to lead well and follow well, to slow down and watch the fog clear, to enjoy the quiet moments, to accept the scars, and to just get through it however you do.

This year in particular is one of new beginnings for me, and I hope to embrace each experience and learn from it. Before I get all hokey on you, l’m going to escape to light some candles. Let’s hope I don’t burn myself on the match.

L’shana tova and G’mar chatima tova. Let each and every one of us have a good year, a safe, easy, and meaningful fast, and a year of beautiful moments.

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Pan-fried paiche with harissa and rose

The original recipe in Jerusalem calls for sea bass, but I figured that any firm white fish would be a good substitute. I found paiche, a South American fish, on sale and it worked perfectly. I suspect halibut or snapper would be great too. I left out the currants. This fish is spicy. Really spicy. I made the recipe with a full 3 tablespoons of harissa and next time I’ll only use 2 tablespoons. I had to serve it with couscous to counteract the spiciness. I happened to have some dried rosebuds tucked away in the back of my pantry, originally purchased as tea infusions. I’d say they’re completely optional, but are lovely for color if you have them. 

The longest part of this recipe is marinating for 2 hours, and then cooking takes about 45 minutes. I don’t think the recipe will suffer if you marinate it in the morning and leave it, covered, in the refrigerator, until evening or if you give it a quick 30-minute counter top marinate.

Serves 3-4

- 2-3T harissa, divided in half for marinade and sauce

-1 t ground cumin

- 1 lb firm white fish, skin removed (paiche, sea bass, snapper, halibut, etc.)

- all purpose flour, for dusting

- 2 medium onions

- 2 T olive oil

- 6.5 T red wine vinegar (~1/3 C plus 1 T)

- 1 t ground cinnamon

- scant 1 C water

- 1.5 t honey

- 1 T rose water

- 1 T mint leaves (optional)

- 1 t dried edible rose petals (optional)

- salt and pepper

Marinate. Cut the fish into 3 or 4 pieces. Mix together half the harissa (1-1.5 T, depending on how spicy you like things), cumin, and a few pinches of salt in a bowl. Pat the fish dry and then coat with the marinade on all sides. Place the fish on a plate and let marinate for 2 hours in the fridge. While I normally marinate meat in a plastic bag, fish is too delicate and might fall apart.

Slice. Slice the onions into half moons. The original recipe calls for finely chopping the onion, but I like the longer strips.

Fry. Spread a handful of flour onto another plate. Dredge the marinated fish fillets through the flour and gently shake off the excess. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and fry the fish for two minutes on each side. Remove the fish, but keep the oil in the pan.

Cook. Now that the fish is out of the pan, add the sliced onions and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring, until the onions are golden. Add the remaining harissa (1-1.5 T), vinegar, cinnamon, a few pinches of salt, and several grinds of pepper.

Simmer. Pour in the water, lower the heat, and let the sauce simmer gently for 10-15 minutes, until quite thick. Add the honey and rose water to the pan, and simmer gently for another 5 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning and salt. Return the fish fillets to the pan. Spoon sauce over the fish as it warms up in the simmering sauce. This should take about 3 minutes. If the sauce gets too thick, add a few tablespoons of water.

Sprinkle. Serve the fish warm or at room temperature with some couscous. Sprinkle with torn mint leaves and crumbled rose petals. Keep the couscous and a glass of water nearby.

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The first time I liked eggplant was in London. Until then, I was one of the many eggplant haters. The flesh too bitter, too slimy. The skin too rubbery. My mouth too itchy with each bite.

Babaghanoush? No thank you. Eggplant parm? Nope, I make it with zucchini. Ratatouille? I’ll pass.

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And then, sitting in the Japanese restaurant  a block from her flat, Lau ordered the aubergine that changed my hating ways.

Lau and I worked at the same company, me in New York, her in London. We first met when she was on secondment to our New York office, and I lived a dozen blocks uptown from her, and after late nights in the office, we used to share a taxi home.

Around the time she returned to the UK, I started working with a client in Germany. I’d bookend every trip with a few days in London. You know, to make sure I wasn’t jetlagged for client meetings. Once my project was over, I took advantage of our cross-Atlantic company and worked out of our UK office every few months. I’d stay on Lau’s orange pull-out couch. Each time I visited, there was more framed art on the wall. They were mostly Lau’s paintings. And there was that five-foot piece she’d managed to get past security and onto a plane as her carry-on.

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We made good roommates. I’d stock her fridge with groceries and make dinner with her limited appliances. (She had no oven. For real. No oven. I had my work cut out for me.) She’d order in sushi from the place down the street. The same place every time. We’d eat on our laps on that orange couch. After dinner, Lau would make a pot of milky tea. And then usually we’d have to pull out our laptops and work.

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For a few years, I thought that the sushi place was take-out/delivery only. When we walked past it on the way to the tube every morning, I never noticed that there were seats inside. One night, with bags slung over our shoulders, we walked in. The little sushi place was long and narrow, at least twenty tables between the street and the kitchen hidden away behind a red and black curtain.

We ordered more sushi than two people should ever eat in one sitting. Those paper lists with the check boxes and the little nubby pencil, they get me every time. Just as the waiter was about to turn away, long list triumphantly in hand, Lau gestured him back. “Oh, and can we have the aubergine?” He nodded.

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I looked at Lau head tilted, brows furrowed. “You’ll love it, trust me.” And that was that.

The waiter set on our table two golden sticky eggplant halves, mirror images of each other. Lau scooped out the flesh and took a bite. I scooped out the flesh and took a sniff.  Sweet, and a little smoky. I raised fork to mouth and took a nibble. Sweet, salty, smooth, silky. Several scoops later, there was only thin crispy skin left. And there there was just a plate with a few golden brown sticky pools where eggplant had sat just a few minutes earlier.

I turned into an eggplant lover. I’ve never turned back.

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Nasu dengaku

I have dreamed about this caramelized salty sweet miso-glazed eggplant since the day I had it years ago, and after a few tries, I got the recipe right. I used the eggplant roasting technique from Ottolenghi’s Plenty and the miso glaze recipe from Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy.  Make sure to cross hatch the flesh so the eggplant cooks quickly and evenly, and the glaze seeps into the flesh during the second roasting. You’ll have some extra sauce which would be great on roasted vegetables or with tofu. I’ve been able to find miso in Whole Foods and health food stores. 

Serves 2 as a side dish or starter. 

- 2 thin-skinned eggplants (small Italian or long thin Japanese)

- 3 T olive oil

- 2 1/2  T sesame oil, divided (1 T for the eggplant and 1 1/2 T for the miso dressing)

- salt and pepper

- 2 T white miso

- 1 t mirin

- 1/2 t white sugar

- 3-4 T warm water

- 2 green onions

- 2 T sesame seeds

Prep. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Put one rack in the middle of the oven and another just under the broiler. Line a baking sheet with parchment or aluminum foil.

Cut. Slice the eggplants in half lengthwise through the green stalk. Use a small sharp knife to cross-hatch the flesh without cutting through the skin.

Roast. Arrange the eggplant halves, cut side up, on the lined baking sheet. Mix the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of sesame oil in a small bowl. Brush the eggplant flesh with the oil mixture, and keep brushing until all of the oil has been absorbed. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Go light on the salt because the miso is pretty salty itself. Roast the eggplant for about 20 minutes. They’re ready when they start to brown and the softened flesh pulls away from the cross-hatch cuts. 

Whisk. While the eggplant is roasting, whisk the miso, mirin, and sugar into a paste. Stir in enough warm water (I needed 3 tablespoons) to thin the mix to a smooth consistency.

Slice and toast. Thinly slice the green onions on a bias. Spill the sesame seeds into a small pan over medium-high heat. Shake the pan occasionally and remove from the burner when the seeds are golden brown and smell nutty (about 5 minutes). Watch closely so that the sesame seeds don’t burn.

Broil. Remove the eggplant and brush with the miso glaze. Turn on the broiler. Place the eggplant on the top rack and watch carefully. Within about a minute, the glaze will start to bubble and caramelize. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before eating.

Serve. Sprinkle the eggplant with the green onion and toasted sesame seeds.

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