Archive for the ‘vegetables’ Category

I don’t have much time today because the sun is fading and I’m on my way out to dinner with a bag full of jars, a bowl, and a box. No mystery here, it’s food for tonight’s shabbat dinner. It might be cuatro de Mayo, but we’re celebrating cinco de Mayo tonight with margaritas, guacamole, steak with fruit salsa, spicy cinnamon brownies, and margaritas.

Before I head out, I wanted to jot down recipes for the dishes I’m bringing because there are so few Mexican recipes out there that do not revolve around corn, avocado, and black beans. I spent hours thumbing through a half-dozen cookbooks and my favorite online sites. And then I just made up two recipes. First I grilled the freshest spring vegetables I could find and made a sauce from smokey chipotle peppers to drizzle on top. Then I  toasted pepitas and roasted tomatillos and jalapenos and chopped up a salad inspired  by the produce I remember from my last visit to Mexico City.

So here you go. Two Mexican recipes, just under the wire, and ready for you to throw together for your own fiesta.

Happy weekend!

Grilled vegetables with chipotle sauce

Grill vegetables. Slice 2 zucchini and 2 yellow squash on a bias (about 1/3-inch thick). Break the woody ends off of a bunch of thick asparagus (about 20 stalks). Slice one red onion into rings. Place each vegetable in a separate bag or bowl and let marinate in olive oil, salt, and pepper for about 30 minutes. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat – it’s ready when a drop of water sizzles the second it hits the pan. Make sure to turn on your exhaust because it will start to get smokey. Grill each vegetable for approximately 4-6 minutes per side. When they start to release from the pan, they’re ready – I found that I did need to do a little work to release the zucchini and squash as they were still sticking a bit when they were fully cooked.

Make sauce. In a food processor, mix the following: 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (there are usually 5-6 peppers in a can), 1 tomato, juice of 2 limes, 1/4 C olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Add a little bit of water to thin everything out if necessary.

Drizzle. Arrange vegetables on a platter, squeeze another lime over top, and drizzle with sauce.

Chopped salad with tomatillo cilantro dressing

Make salad. Pickle half a red onion: slice it very thin and marinate for at least 30 minutes in 3 T red wine or apple cider vinegar, 1/4 C warm water, 1/2 t sugar, and salt to taste. Dry toast a handful of pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds) in a small pan – keep shaking the pan to move the seeds around and when the turn slightly golden and start to pop, take them off the heat and let them cool. Chop into bite-sized pieces 2 romaine hearts, 2 C arugula, and a yellow pepper. Slice 3 radishes very thin (I use my cheap mandoline). Peel and chop a medium-sized jicama into approximately 1/2 inch cubes.

Make dressing. Remove the husks from 2-3 tomatillos and rinse off the sticky residue. Under a broiler, roast the tomatillos and 2 jalapeno peppers on aluminum foil. When the skins blacken and blister, take out of oven and wrap then up in the foil so that they will steam. Once they are cool enough to handle, peel off the skins. Remove the seeds from the peppers. Put them into the bowl of a food processor with about 1 cup cilantro, juice of 2-3 limes, and 2 T honey. Process until smooth. Slowly add 1/4 C olive oil and process until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. Add more lime juice if the dressing needs a little more acid (or water and oil if it needs less).

Toss. Mix all the vegetables and then sprinkle with pepitas and drizzle with dressing right before serving.

Read Full Post »

I’d like to tell you the tale of my week in San Francisco. It was intrinsically tied to a book. No, not a cook book, but a book book.

The book is Ruth Reichl‘s Comfort Me with Apples. This is the second of her memoirs, and the third of her books that I’ve read.

Before we can fly out West, though, there’s a little history we need to get through.

Reichl and I met in 2001, the year I returned to medical school after a several year hiatus in the “real world,” also known as corporate America (I’m not sure that that’s the real world, but anything felt more real than my 17th year sitting in classrooms). We were introduced by my boyfriend at the time – he bought me a subscription to the now sadly out of print Gourmet magazine and inspired my purchase of a stand mixer (Kitchenaid, just like his). The mixer lasted until last year, its life much longer than the relationship, but its end no less tragic.

For eight years, I awaited Reichl’s monthly arrival in my mailbox, her letter from the editor the start to a cozy night or two, snuggled up under the covers and cradling my Gourmet by the light of my bedside lamp, folding over page after page of recipes to try. She wrote (well, still writes) with an ease that reminded me that with good food, everything would turn out all right. In an effort to rid my apartment of clutter (an ongoing battle), I purged all my food magazines. Only one Gourmet survived – April 2009 – and as I wrote this, I reread her letter to see what Reichl had to say almost exactly three years ago.

“Because that is what spring is all about: hope, possibility, and our endless capacity to rejoice in what nature has given us.”

A nice sentiment as the weather warms and I am in the very (very) early stages of contemplating a big change.

On a particularly sunny Sunday in March, I found myself sifting through cardboard boxes of books lining the sidewalk in front of the post office mere steps from my apartment. Wedged between a carpentry manual and Chemistry text in the last  box, I saw a blue book with Reichl’s name peeking out at me. Three dollars and it was mine.

As night fell, I curled up with Garlic and Sapphires, glad for a reunion. I devoured Reichl’s pre-Gourmet tales of visiting and reviewing the full spectrum of New York restaurants for the Times. In anticipation of this rising star Bay Area critic arriving in New York, chefs pasted pictures of Reichl in their kitchens so that staff could recognize and alert the team to her wielding  pen. As a result, Reichl often dressed in disguise amd adopted different personas to avoid special treatment.

Two nights later,  I ordered Tender at the Bone, Reichl’s first memoir. At some point – between stories of her childhood, stories of her move to Berkeley where she cooked for everyone from housemates to the now defunct Swallow Restaurant Collective, and stories of her early days as a restaurant critic – we became friends and I called her Ruth.

She flew out to San Francisco with me. We shared a cramped middle seat. I forced myself to watch a movie destined for a captive audience so that we wouldn’t have to part ways at wheels down.

Once in the Bay Area, I savored my time with Ruth, only allowing myself to read one or two chapters per day.

We spent the whole week together.

She accompanied me from Oakland to San Francisco to Half Moon Bay to Berkeley. She sat with me in cafes in between meetings. She joined me at the bar for dinner. She was the last person to speak to me before I fell asleep.

In between meetings, I thought of little other than food. Where would I eat next? Where might Ruth go? What disguise might she have worn and persona might she have assumed? What would she think of the food the atmosphere the service? How does the staff treat someone eating solo? Do they give you looks when its crowded and you alone linger at a table meant for two?

I wanted to taste everything. At dinner, I always started with a glass of wine and ended with a desssert and coffee. And there were one or two courses in between. One morning at breakfast, I sat down with a coffee (of course!), a tartine with butter, a croissant, and an orange-flecked breakfast bun. I’m not sure what I was thinking.

But what I had hoped would be the highlight of our time together didn’t go quite as planned. My Berkeley food crawl with my friend and expert eater, Joanne, was almost cancelled when she and her kids got sick. But Ruth and I soldiered on. We crossed the Bay Bridge, just the two of us, intent on exploring her old haunts. We drove past Channing Way where Ruth reminded me she had lived in a communal house (more like a commune) in the 70s. We arrived at Shattuck Avenue — “gourmet ghetto” central — and quickly found parking. I knew that Chez Panisse would be closed on Sunday, but didn’t expect its across-the-street neighbor, The Cheese Board Collective, to be closed as well. I saw the two landmarks, peered in from the outside, left fingerprints on the windows, and then sought out food (and, of course, coffee). A few frantic text messages to Joanne and a charming little cupcake was in my hand. Another hour or two and we headed back.

The next day, Ruth and I said goodbye at the airport on my way back to Boston.

It was a great week.

It was a hard week.

It was a long week.

It was a coffee-filled week.

It was a delicious week.

Fettuccine with asparagus, lemon, mascarpone, and almonds

I would never have come up with this dish had I not been traveling in San Francisco with Ruth. It was inspired by “Danny’s Lemon Pasta” – fresh fettuccine with a cream and lemon sauce - published in Ruth Reichl’s Comfort Me with Apples, the book I carried around with me from cafe to restaurant to cafe . Having just read the recipe, and dining alone perched on a stool at the bar at A16, I pounced on the restaurant’s fregula with asparagus, mascarpone, meyer lemon, toasted almonds and pecorino riserva. With this ingredient list and Reichl’s directions, I developed this fresh, summery, nutty pasta. The sauce just barely coats the pasta, so if you like more sauce, adjust accordingly. Before draining the pasta, scoop out a cup of pasta water in case you want to thin the sauce. It’s best to have all your ingredients prepped and on hand because the recipe goes by pretty quickly and can be on your table within 15 minutes. This recipe serves 2 hungry people.

- 1/4 C sliced almonds

- 3/4 lb fresh fettuccine (or other shape)

- 1 large bunch of asparagus; thick or thin stalks work fine, but a thicker stalk will require an extra mintue or two of cooking.

- 2 T butter

- One lemon (for zest and juice)

- 1/3 C mascarpone

- salt and pepper

Toast. In a skillet over medium heat, toast the almonds, shaking the pan to avoid burning. This shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes. Once you start to smell the almonds, they’re done. It’s best to stay nearby because nuts can turn from golden to black in just a few seconds.

Slice. Cut off the woody ends of the asparagus and then slice in 1 – 1 1/2 inch the remaining stalks.

Boil. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add salt and bring back to a boil. If you are using fresh pasta, drop in the pasta and asparagus together at the same time. This should talk about 3-4 minutes to cook through. If you are going to use dried pasta, follow the cooking directions and then 3-4 minutes before you plan to remove the pasta, drop the asparagus into the pot. When both the pasta and asparagus are ready, scoop out a cup or so of pasta water, and then drain everything in a colander.

Whisk. While the pasta and asparagus is boiling, melt butter in a large pan (that will fit all of the pasta). Zest the lemon into the hot butter. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in mascarpone until smooth. If you’d like a richer sauce, whisk in extra mascarpone. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Toss. Pour the drained pasta and asparagus into the pan and toss everything to coat the pasta with sauce. If the sauce is too thick, add some pasta water to get it to your desired consistency.

Squeeze. Squeeze the juice of half the lemon over the pasta.

Sprinkle. Sprinkle the toasted almonds over the pasta.


PS – Here’s where I ate.

Oakland and Berkeley:

Jack London Square
55 Webster Street
Oakland, CA 94607
Happy hour menu before 6 pm (great when you’ve just arrived from the East Coast)

Miette (additional locations in San Francisco)
85 Webster Street
Oakland, CA 94607
Try the chocolate sables, shortbread (lemon and lavender are my favorites), and pot de crème

Caffe 817
817 Washington Street
Oakland, CA 94607
Get anything with a poached egg

Love at First Bite Bakery
1510 Walnut Street, Suite G
Berkeley, CA 94709
The “pretty in pink” cupcake has just the right ratio of strawberry buttercream to not-too-sweet strawberry cake

San Francisco

La Boulange Bakery
All over San Francisco and the Bay area
This small chain has great pastries and breakfast (think egg on a croissant), and people were lined up outside the Marina location when it opened at 7 am

Tartine Bakery
600 Guerrero Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Skip the tartine – thick toasted slabs of levain soudough - and go straight for the croissants: buttery and extra flakey, leaving a trail of shattered crumbs all  over the table and down your shirt

780 Cafe
780 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Huge space, great coffee, free wifi, tons of outlets, well-worn sofas; if you don’t have an Apple, you will be out of place

2355 Chestnut Street
San Francisco, California 94123
Ask for a few extra pieces of salted hazelnut brittle with your coffee (I thought it was better than my actual dessert)

Zaré at Fly Trap
606 Folsom St. (at Second Street)
San Francisco, CA 94107
If they have it, get the pistachio crepes with pistachio ice cream; the owner will probably stop by your table to say hi

3 locations in San Francisco
Try the albacore tuna tostadas

Read Full Post »


Have you met Farro?

In case you haven’t, he’s a lovely fellow.

I ran into him at the cafe in my office. It’s a fancy cafe, serving things like duck confit on a regular Tuesday. Farro and I got to the line at the same time and did that little awkward dance: you go first, no after you, well thank you. We struck up a conversation.

He speaks with a slight Italian accent and if you lean real close, you might pick up a Middle Eastern lilt. When I asked where he was from, he proudly traced his roots back to the Fertile Crescent. He spoke like a DAR whose family fought in the American Revolution and came over on the Mayflower.

We sat down together with a group of colleagues, and the subject turned to dating. Farro was having a rough time of it. He had only recently moved to Boston and didn’t know where to meet people. So I invited him to shabbat dinner. I thought he might really get along with my friend Tabouli.

Tabouli’s family is also from the Fertile Cresent area and her parents moved to the US from Syria and Lebanon by way of Israel. Her best friend is Parsley and she often hangs out with Cucumber, Tomato, Scallion, and Mint. They used to go to mixers together, when mixers were the place to be seen, and picked up Lemon and Olive Oil, welcoming them into their crew. Tabouli had been in a bit of a funk after she and her boyfriend Bulghur broke up. He was a bit of a bully and she needs someone more soft and inviting.

I was thrilled to play matchmaker. I didn’t tell either of them about the other. I wanted to see  how they would get along at dinner. They sat next to each other. So far, so good. Farro’s hand grazed against Tabouli’s arm when he reached for the water pitcher. Tabouli giggled. She batted her long eyelashes. Farro shared his nutty sense of humor with jokes that Tabouli laughed at while the rest of us forced grins. So far, so very good.

After dessert was served and tea was drunk, Farro offered to walk Tabouli home. She demurred, saying she was going in the opposite direction. In the end, she relented.

Weeks and months passed in their whirlwind romance and I wasn’t surprised to quickly see a ring on Tabouli’s finger. They moved away to the West coast and bought a house.

A year later, they returned to Cambridge – Farro was interviewing for a job. I again invited them to dinner. As the summer sun set, they arrived with a sleeping bundle. She was beautiful with a shock of light blown hair and long eyelashes and cherry tomato cheeks. She wore a green onesie that Aunt Parsley gave her.

She was so cute, I could just eat her up!

Farro tabouli

Farro is s a nutty whole grain that is chewy and firm. It absorbs the flavors around it and is the perfect base for tabouli – a Middle Eastern salad whose star is pasley, providing a bit more bite and substance than more traditional bulghur. I based this recipe on one in Food & Wine and another provided by Anson Mills, a retailer of heirloom grains. If you want more farro ideas, check out a recent article in Saveur written by Leah Koenig (who wrote a cookbook that included a few of my own recipes).

This recipe makes enough for 4-6 as a side dish and would be great for Passover with quinoa.

- 1 C uncooked farro

- 3-4 handfuls small (cherry, pear) tomatoes, about 1 C chopped

- 3-4 small seedless cucumers (sometimes called “Persian” or “mediterranean”) or 1/2 – 3/4 of a large seedless cucumber, about 1 C chopped

- 4 scallions

- 1 large bunch parsley, enough for 1 C finely chopped

- 1 C lightly packed mint leaves, enough for  1/3 C finely chopped

- 3 lemons, for 5 – 6 T  juice

- 4-5 T olive oil

- salt and pepper

Cook. Prepare the farro according to package. Most directions call for a quick rinse before cooking, and some suggest pre-soaking. Don’t overcook the farro  or it will get mushy. I usually remove the farro from the heat a few minutes shy of the time recommended time. The grains will soak up additional liquid from the rest of the ingredients.

Cut. Chop the tomatoes and cucumbers into small cubes (1/4 – 1/3 inch per side, but don’t worry about being exact). Thinly slice the white and light green parts of the scallions. Finely chop the parsley (removing any tough stems) and mint leaves.

Squeeze. Juice the lemons, making sure to strain out the seeds. I usually squeeze each lemon half over my hand and catch the seeds as they fall.

Mix. Mix in a large bowl the farro, vegetables, and herbs. Season with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper, tasting as you go.

Read Full Post »

low and slow

How was your Thanksgiving? Are you all turkeyed out? After our dinner (do you call it dinner when you start eating at 4:30?), I made stock from our carcass – it’s nice and jiggly and nestled in the freezer, waiting for a starring role in my next soup.

I’m a little behind in updating you on my cooking techniques course, so get ready because here we go. After knives and eggs and soups, we braised.

The only rule in braising is to go low and slow. With a little (a lot of) patience, even the toughest cuts of meat end up spoon tender. In my former life as a medical student, the mantra “low and slow” referred to correcting a patient’s sodium when you’re in the hospital — too fast and you risk central nerve damage and lots of bad stuff. Good thing I left that world…these days if (when?) I’m impatient, I just end up with tough meat.

The basic techniques are (in approximate chronological order):

1) Sear the meat in a big cast iron pot (like an enamel-coated dutch oven, or, in French, a cocotte) – this seals the juices inside.

2) Deglaze – after taking the seared meat out, scrape up all the good stuff with liquid (wine, stock, etc.).

3) Add the meat back to the pot with the liquid and the “fond de braise” – aromatics (usually mirepoix vegetables, i.e., onion, celery, carrot) and herbs.

4) “Swiss” with tomato paste - swissing is a fancy way to say tenderizing, and the acid in tomato paste helps break down the meat.

5) Cover the pot tightly with “the inverted lid of foil” – in case you’ve never heard that term (I sure hadn’t), you first lay a large sheet of parchment directly on the food, letting the ends drape over the edges of the pot. Then put a large sheet of aluminum foil right on top of the parchment, again draping the ends over the edges. Then place a heavy lid over the layers of parchment and foil. Be sure not to place the foil directly on the food because it will galvanize (forget the science…the foil corrodes onto the food…not so appetizing).

6) Braise in a low set at 300°F – 325°F (you can also braise on low heat on the stove top, but using the oven allows for more even heating).

7) The meat is ready when it slides easily off a wooden skewer or toothpick; if it sticks, it’s not ready yet.

8 ) If you are thickening liquid for gravy by adding flour, make sure to boil the mixture so that the flour can expand, resulting in a smooth gravy.

Well, lesson done, let’s get on to the recipes Four recipes in fact. Short ribs. Ossobucco. Sea bass with fennel. And cabbage.

Cabbage? you ask. Yes, cabbage. You’ll see.

Braised shortribs with sour cherries

- 16 2-inch long pieces of beef short ribs (~5 lbs) – get ones with a nice amount of meat on them

- 1/4 C extra virgin olive oil (or enough to cover the bottom of your pot)

- 1 1/2 C red wine – Côtes du Rhône or Cab

- 1/4 C flour

- 1 quart chicken stock

- 1 1/2 t salt (to taste)

- 8 garlic cloves

- 8 large shallots

- 1 1/4 C dried sour cherries

Prep. Preheat oven to 325ºF. Bring ribs to room temperature and season with salt and pepper on all sides. Peel garlic and shallots.

Sear. Heat oil in a cocotte over medium-high heat. In batches, sear the seasoned ribs on all sides. Remove meat and pour remaining oil out of the cocotte.

Deglaze. Add wine to the cocotte and scrape up all the browned bits with a wooden spoon, Don’t forget the sides of the pot. Reduce wine by a half down to 3/4 C.

Thicken. Add flour to the wine and stir to make a paste. Then add stock and bring to a boil, whisking until smooth.

Braise. Add ribs, meat side down into the pot. Cover with an inverted lid of foil (i.e., parchment and foil, as above) and then the pot cover. Bring to a simmer and then transfer to oven. Cook for 1 1/2 hours.

Add more stuff. Add salt, garlic cloves, and shallots, cover, and return to the oven. Cook for another 1/2 hour or so.

Add a bit more stuff. Add the cherries, partially cover (you can remove the inverted lid of foil and just use the pot’s cover), and braise another 15-20 minutes until a skewer inserted into the meat comes out with no resistance.

Serve. Arrange ribs on a plate. Strain the liquid and reduce it to concentrate the flavors if you’d like (we didn’t because we ran out of time). Cover the ribs with cherries, garlic, and shallots. Use a turkey baster to draw liquid from the bottom (leaving the layer of fat on the top) and drizzle the liquid over the top.

Ossobuco alla Milanese

For veal:

- 8 veal shanks

- 1/4 C flour

- 6 T extra virgin olive oil, divided

- 1 carrot

- 1 onion

- 1 clove garlic

- 1/2 C dry white wine

- 1 28-ounce canned tomatoes

- 1 strip orange rind

- pinch saffron

- 1 1/2 t dried basil

- 1/4 C parsley (flat leaf, not curly)

- 2 C chicken or veal stock

- salt and pepper, to taste

- orange and lemon for garnish (optional)

For gremolata:

- 1 clove garlic

- 2 t parsley

- 1 lemon

- 1 anchovy (optional)

Prep. Heat oven to 325ºF. Finely chop the carrot and onion. Mince the garlic. Finely chop the parsley leaves. Remove a wide, thin strip of orange rind. For the garnish, remove rind from 1 oranges and 1 lemon and julienne. There should be no bitter white pith on the rinds.

Sear. Lightly flour the veal shanks. Heat 3 T olive oil (or enough to cover the bottom of the pot) and brown the shanks on all sides. Remove the shanks and pour off any remaining oil.

Saute. Return pot to stove, cover bottom with the remaining 3 T oil. Saute the carrot and onion until soft. Add garlic and cook 1-2 more minutes (garlic can burn easily, so don’t add it until the end).

Deglaze. Add wine, scrape up the good stuff, and boil over high heat until reduced by half. Add tomatoes, slice of orange rind, saffron, basil, chopped parsley, and stock. Season with salt and pepper, and then return shanks to the pot.

Braise. Cover pot with an inverted lid of foil (including the parchment first, as above) and lid, and  braise for 1 – 1 1/2 hours until skewer slides out of the meat easily.

Make gremolata. Finely chop garlic, parsley, and anchovy (or use anchovy paste). Zest half the lemon. Mix garlic, parsley, anchovy, and lemon zest.

Serve. Remove the shanks for the liquid and place in a shallow bowl. Reduce the cooking juices until thickened. Add half the gremolata and simmer for a minute. Pour reduced juices over the shanks. Sprinkle with remaining gremolata and with citrus julienne rinds. Don’t forget to dig into the marrow.

Sea bass over braised fennel

I am an anti-licorice kinda gal. I don’t like tarragon, strong basil, arak, or fennel. That said, this is the second fennel recipe that I’ve discovered that I actually like. Braising the fennel sweetens the bulb and removes some of that anise flavor.

- 2 large fennel bulbs (including fronds)

- 1 large onion

- 1/2 t anchovy paste

- 4 T extra-virgin olive oil, divided

- 1 C chicken, fish, or vegetable broth

- 1/4 – 1/2 t dried red chili pepper flakes

- 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes

- 4 5-ounce skinless sea bass fillets (3/4 inch thick),  bones removed

Prep. Preheat oven to 450ºF. Cut fronds (the green dill-looking ends) and stalks off of bulb. Throw out stalks. Quarter fennel bulbs lengthwise and cut into 1/4 inch slices. Chop fennel fronds until you have about 2T (these will be for garnish). Cut the onion two different ways (you’ll be using it in two different parts of the dish: cut half into 1/4-inch slices, and finely chop the other half. Ideally, buy the fish already skinned. If you buy it with the skin and want to do it the hard way, place the fish skin-side down on a cutting board, slide a filleting knife (very thin and flexible) just above the skin and peel off a skin tag long enough to grasp. Hold on to the skin and slide your knife between the skin and flesh at a 45° angle to the board, almost scraping off the skin. Maintain the tension to help separate the planes. I wish you good luck – I’m not brave enough to try it!

Braise. In a skillet, stir fennel and onion slices and anchovy paste in 2 T oil over moderate heat for about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper, add broth, and braise covered until vegetables are covered, about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Uncover and  boil. When the fennel is tender, uncover and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until liquid has evaporated — about 10 more minutes. Transfer fennel mixture to a shallow baking dish (ceramic or glass).

Saute in parallel. While the fennel is braising, cook the chopped onion, red pepper flakes, and salt with remaining 2T oil in another skillet over moderate heat. Stir occasionally and cook until onion softens, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and simmer, stirring occasionally, until very thick. This should take another 10-15 minutes.

Bake. Arrange fish fillets on top of the fennel mixture in baking dish. Spoon tomato sauce over fish. Cover with a sheet of parchment paper, and then cover baking dish tightly with foil. Bake until fish is just cooked through (falls off a skewer) – about 20-25 minutes. Garnish with fennel fronds.

Braised red cabbage

- 2 large onions

- 1 medium head red cabbage

-2-3 T unsalted butter

- 2  red wine

- 3 T brown sugar

- 2 C orange juice (ideally, freshly squeezed…but, really, who are we kidding?)

- salt and pepper

Prep. Quarter, core, and shred the cabbage. Julienne the onions.

Cook. Melt butter over medium heat and cook onions until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes.

Braise. Stir in cabbage, wine, sugar, orange juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer covered, stirring occasionally, until tender – about 45-60 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Read Full Post »

I failed my first test today.

Not the first one in my life, of course. Just the first one of my cooking techniques course.

Today was knife skills. After waking up at 8 am (on a Sunday!) and fortifying myself for the drive through the first inches of snow on the ground (in October!) with a strong cup of coffee and over easy egg on toast, I sat myself down on a little chair with a little arm desk attached. I felt like I was back in high school.

Sitting in these little chairs, we learned the anatomy of a knife from tang to tip. How to hold a chef’s knife. How to sharpen a knife. How to test the sharpness of a knife by slicing right through a piece of paper.

We learned knife etiquette. Keep knives sharp. Always cut away from yourself. Never hand a knife to another chef; place it on the table and let him pick it up himself. Walk with your knife pointed downward. “A falling knife has no handle; do not attempt to catch it.” Clean and dry your knives as quickly as possible. Never put your knives in a dishwasher. Keep knives sharp.

We chose our knives and made our way over to a large stainless steel table set with a pile of vegetables at each of a dozen stations. We wrapped an apron around our waists and tucked a towel in the ties. I positioned myself in front of the stove and salamander to keep warm. We set our cutting boards down on a cloth so they wouldn’t move, placed a dough scraper under the right side of the board.

We practiced holding our knives: choke up on the bolster, just in front of the handle. We practiced our “claw” hand – curling our left fingers under and our thumbs in to hold our vegetables without slicing off a finger.

And then we set to work. We cried our way through a fine chop of an onion. We minced garlic and turned it into a paste with the tip of our knives.

We made batonnets from potatoes – just a fancy name for cutting them into french fry shapes. Then we diced cubes of all sizes. We medium diced zucchini (1/2 inch all around). We seeded peppers and tomatoes and cut them into a small dice (1/4 inch). We julienned carrots and bruniosed – cut them into teeny tiny cubes (officially 1/8 inch). I quickly learned that uniformity will be my struggle.

Next we sliced. Carrots into rondelles (coins), half moons and quarter moons. Celery into diagonal/bias cuts. Fennel shaved as thin as possible (mandoline optional).

Herbs followed. A few quick chifonnades of parsley and we had a nice fine chop without bruithsing the leaves and losing the flavors onto the board. Tiny slices of chives – as thin as possible. Rosemary chopped super fine. Get the picture with herbs? Teeny teeny tiny.

We also suprêmed oranges. I ate mine.

Finally we got cooking. Vegetables into some olive oil with canned tomatoes. Pasta into a huge pot of boiling salted water, and then into the vegetables. Parsley, chives, and garlic paste into melted butter, then butter brushed onto a split baguette and tucked into the oven. Potatoes soaking in water dried off and dropped into hot oil. And then tossed with parmesan and rosemary.

And then we dined.

When I got home, I tested my knives. I held up in front of me a piece of paper between two fingers. I held my favorite knife above the edge of the  paper and slowly lowered it, waiting for the swift swoosh of a nice long cut. Instead, barely a crinkle. The paper buckled under the weight of the knife, crunched a bit, and remained intact. I honed the knife and tried again. Crunch. Second knife. Crunch. Third. Crunch. Fourth. Crunch.


But after failure, success.

Using some of my new techniques and holding my (dull) knife correctly for once, I rough chopped many of the same ingredients from the morning into a stew for the week.

Moroccan beef and chickpea tagine.

I’m working on one pot meals. This is my first. And it’s good enough for company. Especially in front of a fireplace.

A tagine is a north African stew made in a dish called a tagine with a tight-fitting, pointy domed top. It is traditionally served over couscous. The inspiration for this recipe comes from my friend Sarah at FoodBridge (she actually made couscous from scratch!) and Deb at Smitten Kitchen and I used what I could find in my fridge. Butternut squash would be a great addition. When I made this, I made two versions – one with meat and one veggie. For the veggie version, I added extra chickpeas and made the stew in pretty much the exact same way. My friend Ilana told me that her Moroccan friends use really large chunks – whole carrots, potatoes and zucchini cut in half – and each person cuts off a few pieces of what they want. I’m going to try that next time.

If  you don’t want to use canned chick peas, you’ll need prepare dried chickpeas a day in advance. Sort through the dried chickpeas to remove any black ones or little stones. Soak them in at least three times the amount of water overnight (~10-12 hours) with a large pinch of baking soda. Rinse them off the next day and pour into at least double the amount of boiling water. Reduce to a simmer and cover for about 1.5  hours until tender but not falling apart. Drain and add to stew.

- 2-3 pounds of stew meat

- olive oil

- spices to taste (I like a lot of spice, and have provided approximate measurements):

- cumin (1-2 T)

- cinnamon (1/2 – 1 T)

- nutmeg (pinch)

- dried coriander (1/2 – 1T)

- turmeric (1/4 t)

- ginger powder (1/2 t)

- several saffron strands seeped 5 minutes in hot water)

- 8-10 C water

- 1 large onion

- 3-4 large carrots (or 2 large handfuls of baby carrots)

- 3-4  celery stalks

- 3-4 thin-skinned potatoes

- 2 large zucchini

- 3-4 C chickpeas

- salt and pepper

Braise. Heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a large heavy pan (I used a large 6 3/4 quart cocotte) until it glistens. Cut meat into smaller pieces (3/4 to 1-inch cubes) and brown with half the spices. Add the water and bring to a boil. Scrape up the good bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Turn down the heat and simmer, covered, for 30-40 minutes until the meat starts to get tender.

Prep the vegetables. Rough chop onions into large pieces. Cut baby carrots in half or peel and cut carrots into 1-inch pieces. Cut celery into 1-inch pieces. Scrub the potatoes and dice into 1-inch cubes. Cut zucchini into large half moons.

Simmer. When meat is tender, add harder vegetables – onions, carrots, potatoes – and the rest of the spices, salt, and pepper. Simmer, covered, for another 30-40 minutes until vegetables are tender. Add zucchini and simmer for another 20 minutes. Add chickpeas in the last 10 minutes.

Serve. Pour meat, vegetables, and broth over couscous (or Israeli couscous, sometimes called p’titim in Hebrew or acini de pepe in Italian)


Read Full Post »

I woke up the other day and made lunch. I ate it for breakfast.

Because I knew I wouldn’t be able to grab lunch later in the day.

See, I was flying down to Philadelphia for a conference.

With the CEO of my company.

On our teeny tiny corporate plane.

So petite, that you can’t stand up in the cabin. You have to crouch.

Especially when you’re wearing 4-inch heels.

Flying south, we saw the entire island of Manhattan and I could almost make out my old apartment building on the edge of Central Park at the 86th Street transverse.

Flying north, I dreamt of dinner.

Mac and cheese, to be exact.

From a box.

Salmon en papillote with tomatoes and basil

With some cilantro on its last leg and a filet of coho salmon in the fridge, I decided to make Mexican-inspired salmon en papillote a few weeks ago. I piled salmon, cilantro, olive oil, lime juice and a splash of tequila on a sheet of parchment paper and wrapped it up like a package. I couldn’t remember how long to cook the salmon for, and while flipping through recipes, I stumbled upon Dorie Greenspan‘s salmon and tomatoes en papillote. Turns out it takes about 10 minutes at a high temperature. My original cilantro salmon was good. Dorie’s salmon in a parchment cocoon is fabulous.

I like to make my salmon in individual packages, but if you’re serving a crowd, you can make an entire filet wrapped in a very big sheet of parchment (or aluminum foil). There are lots of great flavor combinations – try cilantro/lime/tequila or thyme/skinny asparagus/white wine or ginger/sesame oil/soy sauce/spring onions. You get the picture.

Preheat oven to 475ºF. Throw a handful of small tomatoes (cherry, pear, etc.) into a pan with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and sauté until they start to blister and brown. Pat salmon filets dry with a paper towel and place them on a rectangle of parchment (about 4 times as large as the filet). Crush a few leaves of basil in your hand and lay them on top of the fish. Top with a slice or two of lemon and a few squeezes of lemon juice. Add a nice drizzle or two of olive oil and dust with salt and pepper. Surround the fish with the tomatoes.

Fold the parchment around the fish into an airtight envelope (or something resembling an airtight envelope). Tie with kitchen twine. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes, depending on how well done you like your salmon.

Cut open the packet and eat.

Read Full Post »

my fair share

Welcome to 5772. It’s a great year so far and it’s only going to get better. I can feel it. If you didn’t celebrate Rosh Hashanah last week, I still wish you a shana tova u’metuka — a good and sweet new  year.

But, who wants just a sweet new year? As as a slight break with tradition, I also wish you a spicy year with  my favorite butternut squash soup. Sugar and spice and everything nice – that sounds like a great recipe for a new year.

Squash is one of the symbolic foods eaten during Rosh Hashana. So are carrots.

Over the holiday, I cooked and ate my fair share of both.

Squash mash with balsamic onions

I found this recipe in the Williams Sonoma Southwest cookbook when I was planning the menu for a Mexican/Tex-Mex dinner, complete with vegetarian empanadas, guacamole, and salpicon. The original recipe calls for whole squash, but it’s a lot easier with pre-cut and peeled squash chunks. I made enough for 10 as a side dish but this recipe is just a guideline - make as much as you want. If you have an immersion blender, this is the time to take it out. I unfortunately no longer have one: midway through this squash, mine hit its inevitable fate when the motor stripped the internal plastic gear. I had to complete the recipe by hand. And that’s why it’s called a “mash” rather than a purée.

- 3-4 lbs butternut squash chunks or 2 good sized butternut squashes

- 3 heads garlic

- 1 red onion

- 3T + 1T + 3T olive oil

- salt and pepper

- 3 T balsamic vinegar (or to taste)

Prep. Preheat oven to 375ºF. If using whole squashes, cut them in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, drizzle with the first 3T olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place, cut side up on a parchment-covered cookie sheet . If using pre-cut squash, toss in a big bowl with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Slice the tops off of the garlic, drizzle with 1T olive oil and salt, and wrap in aluminum foil. Also, cut the onion into about 6 chunks and separate the layers. Mix onions with balsamic vinegar and the last 3T olive oil. Set aside.

Roast. Put the squash and garlic in the oven. Roast the squash until soft, about an hour  (sometimes more) for a whole squash and about 45 minutes for squash chunks. The garlic takes about 30-45 minutes. Check both every 15 minutes or so, especially the garlic because it’s pretty easy for it to burn.

Keep roasting. Around the time you take the garlic out of the oven, put the onions on a second parchment-covered cookie sheet and put them in oven. Roast for about 15 minutes until the onions start to brown and crisp up. If you can time it right, they should come out around the same time as the squash. But that’s a big if.

Purée (or mash!). Get your immersion blender ready. If you roasted the squash whole, scoop it out of the skin into a bowl. If you used pre-cut squash, also scoop it into a bowl. Squeeze the roasted garlic from its skin and add it to the squash. Use your immersion blender to purée the squash and garlic. If your immersion blender decides to poop out just before using it, a potato masher works almost as well, but it won’t be as smooth.

Mix it up. Add the onions and any remaining balsamic and stir with the squash.

Eat. Serve warm.

Cumin-roasted carrots

I’m a little embarrassed to call these carrots a recipe,  but they’re just too good to not share. It’s all about the cumin.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss baby carrots with olive oil, salt, and cumin. You could also cut regular carrots into diagonal chunks – just be sure to  Be generous with the olive oil. And the cumin. Roast for 30-45 minutes until the carrots turn brown and a little wrinkly. Well, a lot wrinkly.

Read Full Post »

Just a quick hello and recipe.

I  bought a few cool colored veggies a few days ago at the farmers market. Green zebra tomatoes. Purple beans.

Granted, the star here really was the corn. You might need to click on the link to see the beads of steam clinging to the kernels after a quick oven roast.

The purple beans were the coolest part. A quick online search for recipes ended in disappointment. These beauties turn a dull green with cooking. Boo! A bit more digging, mystery solved, and a potential solution discovered.

Are you ready for your science lesson? Don’t remember too much plant biology? Don’t worry, I’ll be gentle.

Purple beans, like other purple veggies contain anthocyanins, a water soluble vacuolar pigment. Vacuoles are organelles that “eat” proteins and are responsible for maintaining the acidic pH in plant cells. Anyway, anthocyanins in vacuoles give color to different berries and vegetables (beets, red cabbage, eggplant). Anthocyanins are very pH sensitive and require an acidic environment to maintain their purple color. Raise the pH (more basic), and they disappear along with their color. Heat breaks down anthocyanins directly and bursts the plant cells apart, diluting the acidity of the beans. The green, previously masked by the anthocyanin, emerges and takes over. Dull green beans.

I like a challenge. I read about cold shocking to keep the purple beans purple. About cooking in vinegar to raise the acidicty. About butter braising. Better yet, a butter bath. It’s unclear to me how the butter helps, but seriously, pamper the purple pods in a bubbling bath of butter? What could be bad about that?

I decided to start with a lemon juice dunk followed by the butter bath. I watched the beans carefully and the second they started to turn color, I poured them in a bowl and stuck them into the freezer. Ice water shock? I don’t think so. I wan’t about to throw out the beans babies let alone the bath butter!

As I finish typing up this recipe, the purple beans slowly turn green. A reminder that my little break is over and it’s time to turn back to work.

Summer succotash

Remove silks from an ear of corn and rewrap it in its husk. Throw it right onto the rack of a hot oven and cook until the husks start to brown and and the scent of corn fills the air (less than 10 minutes). Meanwhile, rinse and trim a handful of purple beans and douse with a few tablespoons of lemon juice in a bowl. Let the beans sit for about 5 minutes. Heat a few pats of butter in a skillet until bubbling. Pour the beans and juice into the bubble, er, butter, bath. Quickly sauté beans, moving pan constantly over the heat. Did you know that the French verb, sauter, means to jump? Keep those babies jumping back and forth in the pan. At the first sign of green, pour the beans, juice, and  butter back into the bowl and race it over to the freezer. Shave corn kernels off the cob, and toss them with two tomatoes, coarsely chopped. Pour the now chilled green beans mixture on top and be sure to scoop out all that butter and lemon juice as a vinaigrette. A few pinches of salt and toss. Eat quickly. Write a blog post.

Read Full Post »

oh my, indeed!

As I write this, I’m snacking on a handful of blueberries fresh from this Monday’s farmers market. It’s where I get most of my food these days. I’ve stocked up on berries and plums (remember this? have you made it yet?) and greens, oh my! Heirloom tomatoes, spring onions, oh my! Green beans and pea shoots and mint, oh my! 

Oh my, indeed!

But oy my … the past two Mondays, I’ve gotten drenched in massive downpours. And the weather has been so chilly and rainy that I could swear it was Fall. I’ve been turning on my oven and stove far too much for a summer day in August. Chard. Roasted corn and roasted zucchini.  Schnitzel. Muffins.

And then today arrived. Bienvenue le soleil. Bienvenue les ciels bleus. Bienvenue la chaleur. Au revoir le four!

Unable to fathom turning on the oven in this gorgeous heat, I turned to a no-cook salad with the zucchini in my fridge.

Oh my, indeed!

 Zucchini ribbon salad with Middle Eastern spices

Admittedly, long strands of shaved zucchini are impressive to look out, but difficult to eat. I’d say definitely not first date material! I used an inexpensive mandoline to shave the zucchini, but I’ve heard you can also use a vegetable peeler. This recipe is similar to another favorite zucchini recipe – I used the same spice mixture and added labne to the dressing for a nice creaminess. If you want to be really fancy, make a zucchini cage over baby arugula — I’ll show you how at the end of the recipe.

- 1 medium to large sized zucchini

- 1 lemon

- 2-3 T olive oil

- good pinch of cumin

- small pinch of aleppo (or cayenne) pepper flakes

- 1T labne (Middle Eastern savory yogurt)

- salt and pepper

Shave. Using a mandoline or vegetable peeler, shave zucchini lengthwise to make long thin ribbons. Arrange ribbons on a plate.

Whisk. Zest and juice the lemon into a bowl. Add olive oil, cumin, aleppo and whisk. Then add the labne and whisk until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pour. Drizzle dressing over the zucchini ribbons. Let the zucchini marinate for a few minutes before serving.

Get a little fancy. When you really want to dress to impress, here’s what you do. Weave a cage of zucchini and serve with arugula. Cut the zucchini ribbons in half. Create a basket weave in a cereal-sized bowl – starting in the middle, weave the zucchini strips under and over each other. Cut the ends with scissors around the edge of the bowl. Fill the bowl with baby arugula and place a plate upside down over the bowl. Flip. Suround with arugula to cover up any imperfect spots. Drizzle dressing over the top. Await oohs and aahs.

Read Full Post »

I’ve got a lot of stuff. I’m convinced it’s hereditary (that way, I have someone else to blame).

My Bubbie used to say, “even my dishes have dishes.”

See her waving there in front of the hutch? She’s the one in the frilly apron. The hutch is that huge piece of furniture piled with three tea and coffee pots. And a pile of mismatched tea cups. Yeah, that’s the one. With all of her dishes and her dishes’ dishes.    And see me having a very important conversation with Poppie? Same hutch of course. Not entirely sure why I’m wearing PJs to dinner.Here I am at Bubbie’s Rosh Hashana table. She really liked napkin rings. At least this time I dressed for the occasion.

Over the past few weeks and under Meira‘s tutelage, I’ve started implementing the “one in one out” rule, starting of course with one out. Well, more like 8 bags of clothing out. 2 bags of shoes out. 2 boxes of dishes out.

Those dishes, they were my Bubbie’s dishes (no, not the good china … the set she received as a gift for opening a bank account). I did keep one teacup and saucer from the set. I think Bubbie would have been proud.

There are some obvious benefits of the purge. Emptying my closet of clothing that no longer fits. Donating the dishes I always hated for their gold painted rims that could never be microwaved. Smiling every time I can reheat a piece of chicken without turning on the oven (except of course for schnitzel - that is best thrown right onto an over rack to crisp back up in about 10 minutes).

I’m already hard at work on one wrap dress in. One pair of python heels in. One set of new dishes in. A second set of new dishes. A black bustle pencil skirt in.

I’m good at the in.

Another benefit was that I unearthed a light-filled corner of my desk, previously covered in piles of files and books, that is a great canvas for photography. No more chasing the sun and hopping around shadows on my big wood table. This is a whole new playing field.

Check it out.

Oh yeah! Notice also, the  all-white, unrimmed plate.

There was one glitch. The other night, some uninvited visitors tried to help, cleaning out my place on their own. All of the photos I have taken since May have disappeared along with my laptop. The one picture I had uploaded only an hour before leaving for dinner is the photo above. I guess we can call these green beans the silver lining.  

At least they didn’t wipe out the fridge.

Green beans with mustard seed vinaigrette

Rachela made this recipe from Gourmet 2001 for dinner a few weeks ago and I just had to replicate it for myself. The steps are a little fussy, but the fuss elevates the green beans beyond the everyday. The most cumbersome step is cooking the mustard seeds which have potential for major mess – they’re squirrely little rascals that roll all over if you drop them and cook very fast, so  you need to keep a close eye on them. Rachela skipped the mustard seeds and used moutard à l’ancienne (a dijon mustard with whole mustard seeds that you can see) for a similar flavor and visual effect. You can make extra vinaigrette and keep it in the refrigerator for the next time you want a few green beans.

- 3 T olive oil, divided

- 2 T mustard seeds

- 1/3 C red wine vinegar

- 1 T sugar

- 1 medium or 1/2 large onion (red or white)

- 1 1/2 lb green beans

Pop. Heat 1 T of the oil in a skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Add the mustard seeds and stir. Quickly cover the skillet – a glass lid, plate, or splatter screen works great. In less than a minute, the seeds will start to pop. Like popcorn. Really. They will also turn slightly darker. Remove the skillet from the heat after 1-2 minutes. Try not to let the seeds get too dark. Pour seeds and oil into a large bowl.

Simmer. Simmer vinegar and sugar in saucepan stirring, until sugar is dissolved. When heated, the vinegar lets off a strong vapor that may bother your nose and eyes if you catch a whiff – be forewarned not to lean over the pan as the mix is simmering. Let cool 5 minutes in the pan.

Saute. Heat the remaining 2 T oil in the skillet you used for the mustard seeds over moderate high heat until hot but not smoking. Slice onion thinly. Saute the onion, stirring, until golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Mix. Add vinegar mixture to the onions in the skillet. Then add this mix to the large bowl with the mustard seeds and oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Boil. Set a pot of water to boil. Trim ends of beans (if you want to be French, take off the little tails too). When water has boiled, add a generous pinch of salt and add green beans. Prepare a large bowl of ice water. Cook beans for about 5 minutes until they are tender but still crisp. Drain and plunge into ice water to stop cooking. Drain well.

Mix it all up. Toss beans with vinaigrette. Serve at room temperature.

Variation. Throw dressed beans on top of oil-packed tuna for a light lunch.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 168 other followers

%d bloggers like this: