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Archive for the ‘vegetables’ Category

In case you’re wondering, no, I’m not ripping apart pieces of cold roast chicken and dipping them into a jar of mustard vinaigrette, licking my fingers before swiping them on my pants and reaching for another key stroke. No. No, I’m not.

Ok, I am.

But hear me out. It all started with a date that never was.  It was a blind one, and we had planned to meet at Buvette for coffee. I waded through the humidity from Union Square, and just a few blocks from the gastrothèque, I received this text: “This is too far west. Can we meet at Starbucks in Union Square instead?” Um, no. And I politely replied, “Let’s do it another day.” We rescheduled.

By this time, I was at Buvette’s door and, date or not, I wasn’t going to pass it up. Taking refuge from the swamp called July in New York, I pulled myself up to the bar for a glass of bibonade, Jody Williams’ rosé infused with fruit – in this case plums – poured over ice and topped with champagne. As I tried to find a comfortable perch on the wobbly wooden stool, a plate of bread doused in olive oil was placed in front of me followed by a fresh salad of lettuces, watercress, radishes, cucumbers, potatoes, and thin haricot verts (both ends snipped as only the French do) liberally drizzled with a mustard vinaigrette.

I set to work on the salad, pushing vegetables onto the oyster fork-sized fork with the butter knife-sized knife. Everything is diminutive at Buvette, from the name itself to the menu booklets that fit in your palm to the tables for two that encourage knee bumping and hand grazing. (I’ll have to come back with a date who actually shows up.)

The heavy cooking takes place downstairs, and as the menu shifted from lunch to dinner around 4 pm, a parade of aprons ascended with large bowls of prepared ingredients that were passed over the bar to white oxford-clad ladies and gents. As I nibbled with abandon with my mini-silverware, I watched servers thinly slice piles of translucent Prosciutto onto toast, grill croques of all types, and scoop lightly marinated shredded carrots onto a plate.

There was no dessert menu – just a glistening tarte tatin and a bowl of chocolate mousse. I love a good tatin (be it apple or pear or tomato or, well, tomato), but some days, only chocolate will do. Amidst the silver platters, below the pressed iron ceiling times, just a little too close to my neighbors, I nursed my coffee along with a plate of nearly-noir haphazardly-heaped mousse topped with whipped cream. As I lingered, I flipped through a copy of the Buvette cookbook and within minutes, had it added to my bill, paying extra for the immediacy, a signature, a hole drilled through the nearly 300 pages, and a leather strap laced through.

On my way out the door, I said au revoir to no one in particular. A bientôt. I’ll be back soon. 

Inspired by my visit, I invited friends over for dinner later in that week. On Friday afternoon after work, I filled my canvas bag with greenmarket goodies, stopped by Breads, and felt like a Frenchie with the crisp pointed edges of a pair of baguettes threatening to poke someone if I turned around too quickly. I snapped off a quignon as I walked to the subway, gnawing away at the crust as I dug for my metrocard. When I got home, I roasted the chicken that the night before I had seasoned with herbs and salt, washed some leaves, sliced some vegetables, grated some carrots, and rolled out dough for a rhubarb galette (based loosely on Alice Water’s recipe). We drank a delicate rosé from France (Olga Raffoult Chinon Rosé). And then a more assertive one from South Africa (Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé).

And I left the dishes for the morning and the bottles on the table, and I ate leftover salad for breakfast in the middle of the mess.

Buvette Roast Chicken Salad with haricots certs and mustard vinaigrette

If you want to hear Jody Williams speak about her cookbook and restaurants (she opened a Buvette in Paris too!), listen to her interview on Radio Cherry Bombe. And just a few days ago, Sam Sifton published in the New York Times a few more recipes from the cookbook – here you go. You’re welcome!

Roast chicken salad and haricots verts with mustard vinaigrette

Adapted from Jody Williams’ Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food. The only change I made was to add cucumbers (the photo above doesn’t have potatoes). I used a variety of lettuces that I found at the greenmarket – I think that a little endive or radicchio would be really nice too.

Serves 4 (you may have some leftover chicken)

- 8 small waxy potatoes

- coarse salt

- 3/4 lb haricots verts or regular green beans, both ends trimmed

- 4 large handfuls of salad greens – I used Boston/bibb, red leaf, and some watercress micro greens

- freshly ground pepper

- 1/2 C mustard vinaigrette (recipe below)

- 3 Persian cucumbers or one large English seedless cucumber, thinly sliced

- 4 radishes, thinly sliced

- 1 small roast chicken, still warm (recipe below)

Boil. Place the potatoes in a saucepan, cover with cold water, and add a spoonful of salt. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are tender, around 20 minutes. Check for done-ness with the tip of a sharp knife. Using a slotted spoon, remove the potatoes from the cooking water and set them aside to cool. Keep the cooking water at a boil for the haricots (see below). When cool enough to handle, break the potatoes in half and set them aside.

Blanche. Add the green beans and boil until they are just tender, about 5 minutes. Drain them and transfer to a bowl to cool.

Put it all together. Arrange the greens on a large platter and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Drizzle the greens with one-third of the dressing. Toss the potatoes and green beans with another third of the dressing and lay them on top of the dressed greens. Tear all of the meat and skin from the chicken in largish pieces and scatter over the vegetables. Drizzle the whole thing with the remaining dressing, scatter the cucumbers and radishes over the top, and serve immediately.

***

Poulet rôti (roasted chicken)

Adapted from Jody Williams’ Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food. This is the simplest way I have ever made a chicken and the last three sentences of the recipe capture the essence of the process: “No need to truss, baste, anything. Just season and cook. End of story.” Just make sure to leave enough time for the salt and seasoning to really sink into your chicken – I rubbed my chicken down on Thursday evening and let it sit in the fridge for about 16 hours before bringing it to room temperature for an hour and then roasting. 

- 1 T herbes de Provence

- 1 T coarse salt

- 1 3- to 4-lb chicken, patted dry with paper towels

Pound. With a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder, coarsely grind the herbs de Provence and salt.

Season. Evenly season the chicken with the mixture, inside and out, really massaging it into all the crevices. Let the chicken sit for at least one our at room temperature or in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Roast. If you have refrigerated your chicken, take it out and let it sit, uncovered, at room temperature for about an hour. When you are ready to cook the chicken, preheat the oven to 425ºF. Place the room temperature chicken in a skillet or a roasting dish and set it in the oven. Roast until the thigh registers 165ºF on a meat thermometer, about 1 hour and 15 inures. Let the chicken rest at least 10 minutes before carving (ripping) and eating it.

***

Buvette mustard vinaigrette

Mustard vinaigrette

From Jody Williams’ Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food. OK, so this vinaigrette makes everything taste French. And by French, I mean good. And by good, I mean dip a piece of chicken in it and lick your fingers good. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

- 2 large shallots, peeled and very finely chopped

- 1 t fresh thyme, finely chopped

- 1 small garlic clove, finely grated on a Microplane grater

- 3 T sherry vinegar

- 1/3 C extra-virgin olive oil

- 1 T water

- 2 T smooth Dijon or whole-grain mustard

- pinch sugar

- 1/2 t coarse salt

- a few grinds freshly ground pepper

Mix. Shake all the ingredients in a jar until they’re well combined. Store in the refrigerator for up to a month.

 

 

 

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our recipe

You won’t find any vapors, gels, or foams at Union Square Café. What you will find on the white-clad tables and dark wood bar are dishes that come straight from the Greenmarket just steps from the restaurant. Repeated each year when the produce is at its peak, some dishes have developed a cult-like following that prompt phone calls and conversations that go something like this: “Is the BLT back on the menu yet?” No, the tomatoes aren’t quite ready yet. “I was here last week and need to have the snap pea salad again. It’s still on the menu, right?” Yes, for as long as we can find great peas.

Amazing sugar snap peas are all over the markets these days and the price has thankfully dropped from $7 a pound to a more modest $5, at least here in Manhattan. And so, until you have a chance to visit and experience the real thing, I give you our recipe.

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USC sugar snap pea salad

USC Sugar Snap Pea Salad

Union Square Cafe Sugar Snap Pea Salad 

Adapted ever so slightly from the recipe provided by Union Square Café. When peas are the star, it pays to take the time to choose them carefully. I see a lot of people grabbing up the beauties by the handful, but I actually pick them one by one, making sure each pod is unblemished, fat and taut. Make sure that the peas only get a quick dip in the boiling water for a very light blanche so that they keep their crunch.

- 1 T kosher salt

- 1 lb sugar snap peas, trimmed at each end

- ¼ C sliced spring onions (about 5-6)

- 2 T lemon juice

- 2 T Champagne or white wine vinegar

- ½ C extra virgin olive oil

- 2-3 T finely sliced mint

- 5 T grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese

- 2-3 t fleur de sel

- 1 t freshly ground black pepper

Plunge. Bring 3 quarts water to a boil in a large pot and add the kosher salt. Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath, filling a large bowl with ice and water. Cook the peas in the water for just 10 seconds. Drain the peas in a colander and immediately add them to the ice water. Remove the peas from the ice water after about 2 minutes. Drain well in the colander and gently pat dry with a paper towel.

Slice. Julienne the peas by cutting them on a sharp diagonal. Watch out for runaway peas.

Mix. Place the spring onions in a non-reactive bowl (I used glass) large enough to mix the pea salad. Pour in the lemon juice, vinegar, and olive oil. Add the peas, mint, 4 tablespoons of cheese, fleur de sel, and black pepper. Mix the salad, taste, and adjust the seasoning to your liking. Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of cheese, and serve.

 

 

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I have a quick little soup for you today and it’ll take me longer to tell you about it than it will for  you to make it. So gather round for a brief chat and then grab your blender and a handful of ingredients and get going.

cucumber avocado soup

It’s a chilled soup – you might even be tempted to call it a gazpacho, but I’d advise against it because it’s unbelievable creamy. While I haven’t (yet) posted a true tomato and cucumber gazpacho on the site, you might want to check out salmorejo, a Spanish tomato soup I first tried in Seville, or cucumber mint gazpacho adapted from Ten Tables in Provincetown.

But back to today’s recipe. I came across the it when Rivka mentioned that it was time for  one of her oft-repeated cold summer soups. As I’ve been forced to close my window shades from dusk until dawn when I’m not home and crank up the air conditioning while I sleep, it’s a welcome reprieve with a some jalapeño heat – but not enough to get you sweating again – requiring the same amount of effort as cleaning your blender when you’re done.

It does greatly benefit from a little bit of crunch to balance out the creaminess, so I toasted up some lavash chips. The  lavash itself has a little story, one that left me and my colleagues in a fit of giggles. Friday morning, I was greeted in the restaurant office by the following note perched upon a 4-inch stack of wraps, tortillas, and lavash.

A guest last night left this for you: endless possibilities… Some guests palm a hundred for a table. Others shower you in flatbread, I guess.

The prior evening, a bakery owner had stopped in for dinner and when we were chatting about his work, he said he’d leave me a few samples from his bakery. I schlepped the breads home, toasted it up with a spray of olive oil and a sprinkle of fleur de sel, and served it next to the soup. Luckily I have enough lavash to for an entire summer’s worth of chilled soup.

cucumber avocado soup

Cucumber Avocado Soup

Adapted from Not Derby Pie’s recipe. This is one of those recipes where you barely chop the ingredients, throw them into a blender, and press a button. One minute later, maybe two, you have soup. It is quite thick and creamy – if you’d like, add additional cucumbers and extra water to thin it out a bit. Top with something crunchy for a little texture – I used toasted lavash, but pita or tortilla chips would be great too. 

Update 6/23/14: To thin the soup out a bit, I doubled the cucumbers, and then added a bit extra salt. Excellent!

Makes approximately 6 cups

- 3 avocados, preferably Hass, halved and roughly chopped

- 3/4 lb seedless cucumbers (I used 5 large Persian cucumbers), roughly chopped

- 2 pickled jarred jalapeño peppers, chopped (with seeds), more to taste

- 1 1/4 cup yogurt (I used Greek; if you use regular yogurt, the soup might be a little bit thinner – not necessarily a bad thing in my book)

- 20 fresh chives, roughly chopped

- 20 mint leaves

- 2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

- salt and pepper to taste

Blend. Combine all ingredients in a blender, starting with half of the jalapeño and reserving 4-5 sprigs chives. Add 1/4 cup water to get the blending started, then blend on medium until completely smooth. Taste, and add salt, pepper, and more jalapeno to taste. Thin out with extra water to get the texture that you want.

Chill. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Ladle. Fill bowls and garnish with chives, minced jalapeño,  and/or mint. Serve with something crunchy.

 

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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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Ramps are here. Get them now. Enough said.

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Also, asparagus!

Fried eggs and ramps on a bagel

Just barely adapted from this recipe and this article.

Serves 1

Rinse a half-dozen ramps in cold water, removing any dirt and snipping off the hairy ends. Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat and add about 1 tablespoon olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the ramps and season with salt and pepper. Drop half a bagel into the toaster. When the leaves begin to wilt (1-2 minutes), push the ramps to the side and crack an egg into the hot pan. Sprinkle with salt and a pinch of red pepper flakes and cook sunny-side up until the whites set and the yolk stays runny, about 2-3 minutes. Top the bagel with ramps and the egg. As you eat, this will make a mess – each bite I took dragged a ramp or two out from under the egg. It’s all good. Eat up!

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People always say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and nowhere is this more true than in Manhattan. You might cringe to learn that I once pocketed a slightly distressed but relatively clean Longchamp bag sitting on top of (not inside) a garbage can in the stairwell of my apartment building. A frequent carry-on and beach tote, these days I use it to to store my camera equipment.

It should therefore be no surprise that when I spied a slab of white and brown marble peeking out from under a huge pile of black trash bags, I had to investigate. I pushed aside the bags to find a jagged 3-foot square-ish piece of table top (the wooden frame was precariously perched a few feet away). Score! I brushed off the monstrosity, balanced it against my hip, and teetered on home.

marble

After weighing the marble at home (28.8 pounds!), I inspected my find. Jagged edges that can be smoothed out with a little clear nail polish. A few knife marks. Some crayon drawings. A little scrubbing and a dip in the bath tub later and the slab was gleaming. Or at least as gleaming as a chunk of marble salvaged from the maws of a garbage truck can be.

This morning I recruited my treasure for a photo shoot of an unassuming cucumber salad.

quick cucumber dill pickles

The salad actually started as ice water. During yesterday’s busy brunch, there were no extra glasses for staff, so I grabbed a quart container from the dishwasher. I filled it with ice and flooded it with water and carried it with me the rest of the day. I joked with one of our managers that I felt like a true restaurant person drinking from it like I’d seen all the cooks do and she warned me to always sniff a container before taking a swig to make sure it doesn’t smell like onions.

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When I got home, I rummaged through my drawers and found my own stack of quart containers. I sniffed one – all clear. I grabbed an onion, a handful of cucumbers, and the last vestiges of dill hanging out in my refrigerator. A few swipes over the mandoline and the container smelled like onions.

After an overnight vinegary bath, the cucumbers were ready for prime time. I piled them onto a cream-cheese smeared bagel, and sat down to breakfast. I drank my coffee out of a mug. Because I don’t go back to the restaurant until Wednesday.

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Cucumber salad

This salad is a quick overnight pickle that won’t last much longer than a few days in the fridge. Layered on sandwiches, piled atop greens, or just stabbed with a fork, these cukes are refreshing, light, and ready for a picnic. 

- 6 Persian cucumbers or 1 English cucumber

- 1 medium red onion

- 1/2 bunch dill

- 1 C water

- 1 C white vinegar

- 1 T salt

- 1 T sugar

Slice the cucumbers and red onion as thinly as you can – I used a mandoline. Layer them in a quart container with the dill fronds. In a covered pint container, shake together the remaining ingredients until the salt and sugar dissolve. Pour the liquid on top of the vegetables, cover, jiggle, and refrigerate overnight.

Dutchmill daffodils

ps – I’m loving these daffodils from Dutchmill Gardens at the Union Square Greenmarket. Also, blue-tinged tulips.

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I sit down

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I don’t work on Tuesdays or Wednesday mornings. Which means that after a few double shifts landing me in bed no earlier than 1 am, I let myself indulge in a more leisurely morning or two: I sit down to a hot breakfast.

Not since my medical school days of 4-hour vascular surgeries have I so valued sitting down. One of the central tenets of being in the hospital was “sit when you can, eat when you can, sleep when you can.” (Another was that when your attending/chief/resident tells you to leave, you don’t ask questions, you don’t dawdle, you just get the hell out of there before there’s a reason for someone to call you back. I have to say, there are a lot of parallels between restaurant life and medical training.)

This past Wednesday, I woke up and did a little not-yet-ready-to-wear-my-glasses-or-contacts bleary-eyed on-my-phone reading, coming across this article about Mitchell Davis. Executive Vice President of the James Beard Foundation and host of Heritage Radio Network‘s Taste Matters, Davis makes the matzah ball soup for the James Beard House’s annual seder. The finishing touch to his recipe is dill.

Dill is the smell of Passover in my book. My Bubbie used to order our entire seder feast from a caterer, but she made the matzah ball soup her own by dropping in a fistful of dill, stems and fronds and all, as she reheated it. When I was tall enough to reach the stove, she periodically let me escape from our round robin hagaddah reading to stir the soup. Scampering to stand on the pink plastic-upholstered seat of a black wrought iron kitchen chair, Bubbie protectively behind me, I’d remove the lid and breathe in the first rush of dill-tinged facial-strength pore-opening steam.

I must have had Passover on the brain when, Sunday night after a double shift, I popped into a grocery store at a few minutes before midnight to pick up some greens. As an afterthought, I grabbed a fat bundle of dill. Home, I stuck the bouquet of dill into a glass of water and placed it in the fridge door. Fast forward to to Wednesday morning: me, lying in bed with my phone mere inches from my trying-to-focus eyes, reading the article about Davis’s soup. I plucked my glasses off the nightstand and stumbled towards my brewing coffee. (Thank god my coffee maker has a timer.) As I pulled open the fridge to grab the carton of milk, the dill brushed my arm and I caught a whiff. I spied some leftovers and, a few slurps of coffee under my belt, I channeled my inner Tamar Adler into a breakfast bowl. I had made a kale and freekeh* salad the day before, so I scooped up the kale ribs that I had set aside and threw them into a pan with some oil and a rough chop of dill. I mixed together some freekek and kale leaves with the sautéed ribs, slid an egg on top, and showered the whole thing with more dill.

And then I sat down.

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Kale, freekeh, and dill breakfast bowl

My basic breakfast bowl combo is an egg perched atop a pile of cooked or raw greens, grains, and herbs – pretty much whatever you have lying around. Swiss chard and arugula are some of my other go-to greens, and you can’t beat parsley or cilantro to top everything off.

Rescue kale ribs from your most recent salad. Saute them with a large pinch of fresh dill in a little bit of olive oil for a few minutes, then cover the pan to allow the tough stems to steam a bit. When the ribs are tender and the greens are a little browned, season with a sprinkle of salt and a squeeze of lemon. Move the kale ribs to a bowl. Crack an egg in the same pan and cook it however you like. I fry my egg up so the edges are are frilly and browned and the yolk stays liquid. While the egg is frying, mix the warm kale stems with a few spoonfuls of leftover freekeh and a handful of shredded kale leaves. Top with the egg and some more dill.

Sit down and enjoy, even for a few minutes.

***

* OK, let’s talk about freekeh, folks. Some couples have a song. My friend Molly and I have a grain. I met Molly at a cooking demonstration where she was the only person who could identify the picture of a pile of green grains. We instantly bonded. Common throughout the Middle East, freekeh is an immature (“green”) wheat harvested early when still soft, then dried and set afire in a controlled blaze, lending a smoky flavor to the wheat. It’s name comes from the Arabic farik – rubbed – because after the grains are roasted, they’re thrashed together to separate them from the burnt chaff. Feekeh has an earthy, grassy flavor that I think needs to be tempered a bit with a little lemon juice; it smells a little bit like green tea. For more info and ideas on cooking with freekeh, I’d head on over to Maria Speck‘s Ancient Grains for Modern Meals.

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Tulips br

Things you don’t want to hear on the day of  your move:

It’s snowing.

Our truck was hit by a car.

The move ahead of you has the elevator and is running late. And you both must be out by 5 pm. 

new view

Luckily, everything went well and no one was injured in that snow-and-ice-induced fender bender.

I’ve mostly unpacked and am figuring out where everything goes in the kitchen. Also, how the oven – my first convection oven – works. I don’t yet have a place to store my pots and pans, and most of them are piled on my desk which is actually in the kitchen. Which means I’m typing on the sofa. Cooking has been pretty simple. The first non-delivery dinner I “made” was defrosting some lentil soup I had made last month in my own place.

new kitchen

Soon, I hope to be cooking and baking for real. Until then, I give you kale apple salad. On my kitchen counter.

Kale apple salad with cheddar and pecans

Kale apple salad with cheddar and pecans 

Not really a recipe, but one of many variations on the kale/fruit/cheese/nut winning salad combo.

Serves 1

Tear several handfuls of kale (I used curly kale) into bite-sized pieces, discarding the thick ribs (or put them aside to sauté). Use your hands to toss the kale with olive oil and let sit for about an hour until the kale softens and wilts a bit. Lacinato kale will wilt faster. If you don’t have time to wait, microwave the oil-slicked kale for 30 – 60 seconds until bright green.  Slice half an apple into thick julienne slices. Cut aged cheddar into cubes. Toast a handful of chopped pecans. Mix the apple and cheddar with the kale. Add lemon juice (about half the amount of olive oil) and salt. You may need to add a bit more oil. Sprinkle with torn parsley leaves and pecans.

 

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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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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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