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trash or treasure

 

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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.

I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: I’ve never made matzah ball soup. I don’t need. Because my mom’s is the best.

One of the tricks is that she starts with a whole chicken and a ton of bones that she gets from our butcher. Then she throws in some mirepoix and enough dill to send me to heaven and lets everything simmer for hours and hours. The broth chills in the refrigerator until it gels in the best possible way. My mom even picks out the white meat chicken and saves it for my bowl because she knows that’s how I like it.

As for the matzah balls, well, they’re from a box. My mom prefers Streit’s or Manischewitz, essentially whatever she can find on the shelves in the pre-Passover frenzy. You won’t find her adding any schmaltz or seltzer either. Her secret is a very large pot. The largest pot you can find. And making the balls in several small batches to avoid over-crowding that pot. (In biological terms, consider the pot’s carrying capacity before dropping in that extra ball to avoid stunting the growth of all its neighbors. Am I the only nerd reading this blog?)

My mom has another secret weapon: my dad. In his own words, “Annie did the wonderful delicious magical details. I was only a simple assistant taking down Passover pots, buying ingredients, cutting chicken pieces in half, and cleaning the pots after some final tasting.” Sounds like a pretty good deal to me. I’d love to give someone pot washing duty!

my mom's matzah ball soup

ps – A big thanks to will.i.am. for the title of this post.

pps – You have to love living in a city where the local paper’s dining section on the day after Passover is “The Bread Issue.” We’ve got artisanal bakers, including Uri Scheft whose Bread Bakery Jerusalem baguettes are delivered daily to our restaurant. Also, nostalgia for the bread service that’s slowly disappearing. Then, rules for bread baking from Tartine Chef Chad Robertson – it all starts with patience – and a condensed version of his 38-page country bread recipe. (When I went to San Francisco a few years ago, Tartine sold out of bread by 10 am). And in case you want to bake some more, there are three additional bread recipes. After you make bread, you have to master the art of making toast. And then, figure out what to do with any leftover crumbs.

ppps – Today also marks the opening of Black Seed Bagels where Noah Bernamoff of Mile End Deli will introduce a New York-Montreal hybrid bagel.  After a decadent lunch, I swung by the shop and picked up a baker’s dozen. The thirteenth bagel is for eating on the way home, right?

Enough post-scripts. Let’s get to my mom’s soup.

Annie’s matzah ball soup

Adapted from this recipe. My mom uses soup mix or bouillon instead of salt in her recipe to enhance the chicken-y flavor – add it to taste, conservatively at first. Or use salt to taste. This is a huge batch, but it freezes well, so go ahead and make the whole thing. 

Makes at least eight quarts 

- 7 quarts water

- 1 5-lb chicken, cut into 8 (or more) pieces

- 2 lbs chicken bones from the butcher

- 1 large onion, chopped

- 1 entire head celery, chopped

- 1 lb carrots, chopped

- 1 large bunch rest dill, cut up roughly

- several tablespoons of Osem chicken soup mix (without MSG) or bouillon, or salt to taste

- 2 boxes Streit’s or Manischewitz matzah ball mix (for about 40 matzah balls) and whatever other ingredients they call for

Boil. Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Add in the chicken and bones. Skim off some fat and “scum” that rises to the top several times until no more accumulates.

Simmer. After the skimming, add in all of the vegetables, dill, and the soup mix powder to the pot. (Again, be conservative with soup mix/bouillon at first until you see how salty the broth is). Lower the temperature to a simmer and cover the pot.  Simmer for about 3 1/2 hours.  Check on the soup every half-hour and stir. When done, the vegetables should be softened and the chicken falling off the bone.

Strain. Remove all chicken pieces, bones, and most of the vegetables and let cool. Discard any dill stems. Refrigerate the soup, chicken, and vegetables overnight. The next morning, skim the fat off the top of the soup. Remove the bones from the chicken by hand, shred the chicken and put it back into the soup along with the vegetables.

Make matzah balls. Follow the package directions, along with my mom’s tips. With wet hands, roll the dough into balls about one-inch in diameter. This is important: cook the matzah balls in small batches. Use a very large pot and only add enough matzah balls to form a single layer with a fair amount of wiggle room – you don’t want to crowd the pot when they expand. Cover the pot and simmer each batch of matzah balls for at least half an hour. They’re ready when you can stick a knife into the center without hitting any resistance. Remove the balls with a slotted spoon and place them in a single layer in a flat pan and refrigerate. We like our matzah balls fluffy but firm enough that they don’t fall apart. Make sure to store the balls separately from the soup, otherwise they’ll absorb too much soup and fall apart.

Serve. Reheat the soup with snips of fresh dill, and add the matzah balls carefully with a large spoon.

the brei

I can’t remember the last time I bought matzah.

Other than the seder feast preamble Hillel sandwich with its dab of bracing horseradish and spoonful of sweet apple and nut charoset nestled between two mismatched shards or maybe a few snapped rectangles smeared with Temp Tee and draped in smoked salmon the next morning, I largely stay away from the stuff.

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Every year, as I rush from my aunt’s house where we have the seders to the car/train station/airport, I grab whatever open box of matzah is on the kitchen counter and stuff it into a bag along with leftover ribeye and a few quarts of my mom’s matzah ball soup (more on that later).

matzah brei

My first morning back in the comfort of my own kitchen where I can make as big a mess as I want, I crumble a square or two of matzah into a bowl, scattering crumbs on the floor like a culinary Hansel and Gretel. Soaked in water, mixed with vanilla, milk, and an egg, and then fried, the matzah becomes brei, Passover’s answer to French toast.

This is the breakfast that dreams are made of.

matzah brei

It’s also what leaves me every single year facing the last few days of Passover with an empty box of matzah shards and an addiction-like need to make just one more batch. Or two. Or three. It’s what sends me out, year after year, foraging the grocery shelves in the shrinking Passover section for a new, shrink-wrapped, full box. More well-hidden than the afikoman (I found ours this year under the tablecloth), the mid-holiday box of matzah is elusive, assuming you don’t want the only flavor left: wheat bran. And no one wants that wheat bran straggler.

matzah brei

Unless I can borrow a few squares from a friend or neighbor, after a breakfast or two or three, I say bye-bye to the brei. And wait for Passover next year.

matzah brei

ps – If radiology was like this, I might have stayed in medicine. 

Matzah brei

This recipe makes a brei that is is like a big pancake, rather than a matzah scramble. While some like it savory, I take my brei sweet and add a fair amount of vanilla to enhance that sweetness. I don’t have real measurements other than one square of matzah and one egg per person. 

Serves 1

Crumble a square of matzah into small, but not tiny, pieces (about ½-inch wide) and place in a small bowl. Pour boiling water over top and allow to soak until the water cools enough so you can handle it. With your hand, cover and push the matzah against one side of the bowl and drain out as much of the water as you can. Mix in a splash of milk (1-2 tablespoons), a dash of vanilla (1-2 teaspoons), a pinch of salt, a sprinkle of cinnamon (optional), and an egg. With a fork, mix everything together. Generously coat a small pan (small enough so that the brei batter will fill the entire pan, about a half-inch thick) with olive oil and heat over a high flame for a minute or two until hot, but not smoking. The hot pan will help the brei develop a Drop the batter into the hot pan and distribute it evenly. Turn the flame down to medium. Then, do not stir it. You don’t want scrambled brei – you’re aiming for a large pancake. Peek under the brei periodically until you find it nicely browned and flip-able, loosening it from the pan a little bit at a time. This will take longer than you think, probably about 7-10 minutes. Yes, that long. Carefully flip the brei in one piece and continue to cook until browned, another minute or so. Slide the brei onto a place, top with a drizzle of maple syrup and a pat of butter.

 

Still life with eggs.

still life with eggs

still life with eggs

still life with eggs

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Also known as Passover baking.

Over the past week, twenty-four eggs have passed through my hands. One made it into breakfast. The remaining twenty-three were mixed into five batches of mini chocolate cakes and three of macaroons. Those macaroons will have to wait a few days but they’ll show up here soon enough.

I thought it would be fun to talk a little bit about my kitchen. There’s a blog called a stove with a house around it – it’s been dormant for a while, but the name stays with me, and I think of my place as a kitchen with an apartment around it. One peek and I was ready to sign the lease. My apartment in Boston had a big kitchen (you can see me cooking in it here), much more than I needed as a single chick living on my own. But now that I’m back in New York, living in an apartment a third of the size of my old one, my kitchen can best be described as, well, efficient. In real estate lingo that would mean small. But in my lingo, it means small but (and!) it works really well for me.

The kitchen itself is a galley, but by far the most luxurious one I’ve ever had. With a large, even slightly over-sized, gas stove, I can fit a full sheet pan in the oven with room to spare (think twenty macaroons per pan!). Then there’s … get this … a garbage disposal. And a dishwasher.

Turn around, and you’ll bump into a narrow counter and a French door refrigerator with an ice cube maker that I spent six weeks trying to turn on. Turns out, when a fridge isn’t connected to a water supply, when there is no water supply it can be connected to, it can’t make ice. No matter how many times you press the reset button.

To the right of the fridge is a doorway. And to the left of the fridge is a doorway. What it lacks in counter space, the kitchen makes up for in open space.

When I first moved in, I was concerned about the counter situation. I dragged over a waist-high wire shelving unit for storing pots and pans and other things that I always need in easy reach, but it’s not sturdy or deep enough to chop on.

I use my pantry for dishes and appliances and baking sheets because it’s too awkwardly-shaped to stockpile cans and other staples. I use my cabinets for those staples. I store my plastic wrap, foil, parchment paper and the like in a trash bin under my sink – everything stands up and the rolls stay put. I only have three drawers, so I keep my two sets of silverware in the same one, with milk utensils facing upside up and meat ones upside down.

It took me until this week to get the hang of my kitchen and to appreciate its efficiency. All those eggs up there put my kitchen to the test and I’m pleased to say that she (he?) made it through with flying colors. One counter was the mixing station. The other, the cutting. In between photo shoots, the table served as a scooping station. And then a cooling station. With the small space, I was forced to clean up while I worked. And because it was small, it didn’t take long to clean.

A few hours ago, I left the dishwasher running and now I’m in New Jersey with family.

To those of you celebrating Passover, enjoy your seders tonight. And to everyone, happy Spring.

xo

 

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.

getting back here

Whew, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

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

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

So, about that job.

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

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

Skinned hazelnuts

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

Mini chocolate hazelnut olive oil cakes with sea salt

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

Oh boy!

Oh boy oh boy oh boy!

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

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

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

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

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Mini chocolate hazelnut olive oil cakes with sea salt 

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

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

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

Makes 2 dozen mini cakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

in which I move

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.

 

apartment 4F

It’s well past midnight and I’m sitting in a boxed-up apartment, unable to finish packing and unable to go to sleep. The bookshelf is empty, the furniture sold or given away, the art propped against the wall. It must sound funny to you that I’m about to wax nostalgic about an apartment that I’ve lived in for a mere handful of months. But I will. And I hope you’ll indulge me.

4F is Julie‘s apartment and has always been a vortex of social gathering. It’s located in a complex of buildings spanning three square blocks and surrounding an outdoor space, now more concrete than green, that we came to call Melrose Place for its centrality to dozens of friend and the high probability of running into one of them on the way home. 4F faces that urban courtyard of sorts and from its fourth floor perch, you can take in the comings and goings. Julie’s place is where we gather for shabbat. For leftovers. For birthday partying. For pre-partying. For hey-I-made-too-much-soup-so-come-over. For I’m-coming-into-town-and-need-a-place-to-crash-tomorrow.

I moved to New York after graduate school knowing no one. 4F is where I made most of my friends.

This time around, after five years in Boston, I took over Julie’s lease for a few months. That was in October. When I carted my suitcases of clothing and boxes of too-heavy pots into 4F with an air of uncertainty about the future – my future – I felt welcomed immediately by the comfort of Julie’s home.

The lease ends tomorrow and Julie came over this morning to pack up more of her stuff. In between knocks on the door and visits from neighbors, I slid a batch of granola into the oven.

Maple pecan granola

I’ve  been slow to jump on the homemade granola bandwagon. That all changed when, just a few days into the new year, I went to dinner at Eleven Madison Park – a  restaurant about as far a cry as you can get from granola’s hippy-dippy connotation of my youth – and they sent me home with a jar of their house-made cereal. The next morning, I showered EMP’s granola over plain yogurt, tasting the embodiment of hospitality as dinner extended to breakfast and the meal continued from the restaurant into my own kitchen. I was hooked.

Maple pecan granola Maple pecan granola

The scent of maple and toasted pecans linger as I continue to sit here – so well past midnight that it’s more morning than night, really. I have a jar of granola ready for Julie to pack up when she comes by tomorrow. I mean today.

As for 4F, it’ll be in good hands. My friend Jessica is moving in later this month.

The old joke goes that that Jews say goodbye without  leaving and I’m no exception, so rather than letting this elegy to an apartment go on and on, I’m gonna ghost.

Maple pecan granola

This recipe is a hybrid of  Eleven Madison Park’s granola and Megan Gordon’s general granola guidelines. The flavors are inspired by the most breakfast-y scones I’ve ever made. I recommend throwing a big handful atop a bowl of plain Greek yogurt drizzled with maple syrup. Also, it’s not so bad with vanilla ice cream. Just in case you were wondering.

There is a fair amount of salt in my granola, which may not suit everyone’s taste, so I’d suggest starting with only 1 teaspoon for your first batch. If you like your granola clumpy, don’t stir it while it’s cooking. And if you like it really clumpy, add an egg white to better bind everything together. 

Makes about 6 cups

- 3 C rolled oats

- 1 ½ C chopped pecans

- ½ C sliced almonds

- ½ C pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

- 2 T flax seeds (mix of dark and light)

- 1 – 1 ½ t salt

- ⅓ C brown sugar

- ½ C maple syrup (Grade B)

- ⅓ C olive oil

Prep. Preheat oven to 300ºF. Line a large baking sheet with parchment.

Mix. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, nuts, and seeds.

Warm. In a small saucepan set over low heat, warm the sugar, syrup and olive oil until the sugar has just dissolved, then remove from heat.

Mix again. Fold the liquids into the mixture of oats, making sure to coat the dry ingredients well.

Bake. Spread the granola in a thin layer on the baking sheet. Bake for 35-40 minutes, checking and stirring the granola every 10-15 minutes. It’s ready when the oats have darkened to a golden brown and the mixture is no longer sticky. As the granola cools, it will harden.

Store. Allow the granola to cool to room temperature and transfer to an air-tight container. It should keep for about 10 days.

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.

It’s just a day into 2014 and I already have a recipe to share. It’s a housewarming recipe, the recipe that finally helped me feel like New York was my new home. Is my new home.

Kitchen Shelves

A few months ago, I subleased my apartment in Cambridge and moved down to New York with no plan other than to follow a dream and see where it takes me. After wandering from temporary apartment to temporary apartment, I landed in a friend’s place to finish out her lease. I slowly moved in, both physically and psychologically. I needed two trips up north to fill the closets and round out the kitchen, and there is still a lot that I’ve left behind. When my father visited just before Thanksgiving, he installed shelves and I finally felt like I had a place to call my own. A place to hang my hat. Well, to hang my pots and pans at least.

I’ve slowly returned to cooking and baking, even adapting (sort of) to not having a dishwasher other than my own two chapped hands. I’ve made soups and vegetables (recipes soon, pinky swear) and have managed to take photos in the small, so very small, area between the bed and the window on a cutting board precariously perched atop a moving box.

Harissa chili

On the last Friday of the year, I invited a crowd for shabbat dinner.

I borrowed a table and extra chairs. Ran to the store for a last-minute scroll of craft paper when I couldn’t find a table cloth. Trimmed roses and, with branches of eucalyptus, arranged them in a stumpy vase. Circled the table with plates and glasses and silverware. Lit candles. And, having prepared everything the day before, relaxed for a few moments before the first knock on the door.

Within minutes, everyone arrived and I made the rounds with introductions. We poured wine, blessed bread and passed bowlfuls of steaming chili. Conversation flowed easily in every direction.

After the last hug goodbye, I sat down on the sofa and drank the last few drops of red right out of the bottle. I smiled and flopped into bed. The dishes could wait.

So long, 2013. You’ve been good to me. 2014, I can’t wait to get to know you.

morning after

Harissa chili

This recipe is adapted from the spicy chili in Einat Admony’s Balaboosta. (More on Einat and her cookbook soon.) To make my life easier, I used cans where I could: canned kidney beans instead of dried, canned tomatoes instead of fresh. I also replaced merguez sausage with lamb because it’s easier to find. The heat in the chili comes from the North African spice paste harissa. Since the spiciness of harissa can vary, use a light touch initially — you can always add more later. I like to serve this on top of wheat berries (I cook them according to these guidelines from the Kitchn), but you can use brown rice, barley, farro, or your favorite grain.

Serves 4-6

 

- 1 lb ground beef

- ½ lb ground lamb

- kosher salt

- freshly ground black pepper

- 3 T olive oil

- 1 ½ C finely chopped yellow onion (about 2 medium)

- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

- 2 T tomato paste

- 1 t sugar

- 1 28-oz can of chopped peeled tomatoes

- 2-3 T harissa (depending on how spicy it is)

- 1 t ground cumin

- ¼ t chipotle powder

- about 4 C water

- 2 15.5-ounce cans kidney beans, rinsed well and drained

- 4 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

Sauté. Heat a large heavy-bottom pot over high heat (no oil) – it’s ready when you drop a small piece of meat in and it sizzles very loudly. If the pot isn’t hot enough, you’ll end up boiling your meat instead of sautéing. Add the beef and lamb to the hot pot and sauté until browned. Season with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Drain off any excess liquid, but leave all the good browned bits. Remove the meat and set aside.

Sauté again. Heat the olive oil in the emptied pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, making sure not to burn it. Stir in the tomato paste and sugar. Add the tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons of harissa (you can add more later), cumin, chipotle, 2 tablespoons salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and water.

Simmer. Add the beans and bring the chili to a boil, then reduce the heat to very low, cover the pot, and simmer for 2 ½ to 3 hours. After the first 30 minutes, taste for spice, stirring in extra harissa if you’d like more of a kick. Check the chili periodically, and if it looks dry, add some more water.

Serve. Scoop into bowls and sprinkle with sliced scallion.

***

I’m sort of in love with these carrots and parsnips (modified from this recipe). I hope you’ll indulge me a couple of photos.

Rainbow carrots and parsnips
Pomegranate-roasted carrots and parsnips

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