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Archive for January, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bala chairs in the morning

Bala Einat phone tryptich

Taim Mobile 2

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

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

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

Butternut squash and saffron soup (Einat Admony/Balaboosta)

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

Butternut squash and saffron soup (Einat Admony/Balaboosta)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Butternut Squash and Saffron Soup with Za’atar

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

Serves 8 – 10

- 1 medium yellow onion

- 1 large leek

- 8 cloves garlic

- 5 pounds butternut squash

- 5 large carrots

- 5 celery ribs

- 1/4 C olive oil

- 1/4 C sugar

- 1 T kosher salt

- 2 t freshly ground pepper

- 8-10 C water

- 3 fresh thyme sprigs

- 1 fresh rosemary sprig

- pinch of saffron threads

- Greek yogurt

- Za’atar seasoning

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

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

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

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

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

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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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