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Archive for June, 2015

I woke up this morning well before my alarm. I forgot to close my curtains last night and the sun, as it rises over the city, pokes around the neighboring building and eventually finds my face. I thought about burrowing under the covers to hide, but instead I just let the sun shine bright, my eyes squinting in protest.

I’ve been leaving a notebook by my bed for morning pages, so I shimmy to a sitting position, pulling an extra pillow behind my back, and reach for my pen. The window is open and the fan is on, my hair blowing before I tie it back into a knot. My phone is already pre-set with a twelve-minute timer. Ready? Start.

I write about how overcast it’s been and how nice it is to feel the burn of sun on my skin again. I shift on the mattress and angle myself so that my face hides in the shade of one of the narrow window panes. The shadow of my pen, tall like a skyscraper, drags across the paper, its point meets my script with the beginning of each word. I work out the exact angle to hold the notebook, the pen so that the shadow lifts and creeps back on to the page. I write really small and the shadow stays nearly still, a silent ventriloquist. Then, with a sweeping gesture, the shadow flies across the paper.

These are the shadows I avoid in photos, I write, but I think this morning that it might be fun to use them.

hot silane on feta toast, in the shadows

Breakfast was feta on rye toast with silan, also known as date honey. Less cloying than the bee-made stuff but with a similar viscosity, silan is a commonly-used sweetener in Israel and I’ve been playing around with it of late. A few weeks ago, a bunch of us from the restaurant did a pizza crawl that started at Rubirosa in Little Italy and ended in Brooklyn at Paulie Gee’s where I tried hot honey for the first time. A few days after I got back from Italy, I decided to try my hand at making my own version of this sticky spicy mess.

The impetus was laundry avoidance, an upcoming barbecue, and a large bag of tiny dried peppers. I had picked up the peperoncino piccante intero at a grocery story in an effort to use up my last few euro coins before heading to the Palermo airport. Given how small the peppers were, ranging in size from a half- to a full inch, I figured they’d be mighty spicy. But a tablespoon scooped into a pot of simmering silan barely registered as heat on my tongue. So I kept adding and tasting, adding and tasting, until I landed on a sweet mixture with a slow tingling burn that builds in the back of your mouth.

I’ve mostly been eating it as you can see in the photos, drizzled on salty cheese. I’ll be bringing some to Meira‘s this weekend and I imagine it’ll end up getting splashed into a drink or two, perhaps with some lime and gin.

Here are a few more photos, out of the shadows this time.

hot silan

hot silan

Spicy silan

I reviewed a few recipes (here, here, here, and here) and came up with some tips for making my own hot honey. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Temperature. You want to get the silan/honey hot enough that the peppers will infuse their heat without burning the sugars. Several recipes using actual honey recommend keeping the temperature under 150°F to maintain the health benefits of raw honey, so I pulled out my candy thermometer to see what was going on. Since i’m not concerned about honey as a healing food and I was using silan anyway, I ignored the 150-mark and focused more on making sure that it didn’t exceed the boiling point of water (212°F) at which point evaporation would begin (resulting in a change in the consistency – I didn’t want to make candy) and above which the sugars themselves would eventually burn (starting at about 230°F). Essentially, if the mix starts to bubble and froth, turn the heat down. If you’ve got a candy thermometer, try to keep the temperature around a safe180-200°F. 

Spiciness. The commercial hot honeys i’ve tried are really hot. Really hot. I believe they use fresh chili peppers and may add vinegar. Mine is more of a medium hot.  I’ve tried this recipe with both silan and honey, with small whole dried peppers and with pepper flakes. As I’m sure you know, the smaller the pepper, the spicier, so use your judgment. Start with 1 or 2 teaspoons pepper, especially if you’re using flakes and taste as you go. 

Tasting. After each addition, let the peppers simmer in the honey for 10 minutes before tasting. To taste, drip a little honey onto a plate and let it cool down for at least 30 seconds before tasting. You do not want to put nearly boiling sugar anywhere near your body.

Makes 1 1/2 cups

– 1 1/2 C silan (or honey)

– 3-4 T dried red chili peppers or 1-2 T crushed red pepper

Heat. Bring silan and 1 tablespoon peppers to a simmer (180 – 200°F) in a medium-sized pot. After 15 minutes, taste for spiciness (see note). Add more pepper and continue simmering until you reach the heat level you want.

Filter. Allow the silan to cool for at least 5 minutes. Pour the cooled silan through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean jar.

Store. Store at room temperature.

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I just got back from that big trip I mentioned a few weeks back. I started with two days in Paris. Then, Sicily where I spent a week at Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school for a food writing course taught by Luisa Weiss and Rachel Roddy and rounded out the rest of my trip with a few beach days in Cefalu on the northern coast of the island. There’s so much to process and write about the past two weeks – in short it was vacation far dreamier than I could have imagined – but for now, you can check out my Instagram for some photos. Here’s one of my favorites.

aprons

I came home yesterday to bagels and lox. My parents had been in town while I was gone and spent their last night at my place, so when I walked into my apartment with my suitcase on its last legs, er wheels, my mom was there with a true New York welcome. There were also some take-out leftovers, including a container of rice.

Fridays are greenmarket day in my neighborhood and I went a little overboard with all the goodies that hadn’t been in season when I left: zucchini, cherries, garlic scapes! There will probably be a raw summer squash something coming out of my kitchen in the next day or two; the Short Stack that arrived before I headed out should come in handy right about now.

Until then, there’s soup. Yes, it’s summer. But while we were in Sicily at Case Vecchie (the name of the courtyard where the school is located), we ate soup several times, including a smooth fava bean concoction called macco and a more rustic minestra di tennerumi made from the tender vines of long cucuzzo squashes. So, back in my kitchen, I got my cooking sea legs back with a simple soup of rice leftovers and canned tomatoes and not much more.

No food photo today, though. One of things we discussed during the course was morning pages, a discipline of writing every morning – before coffee, before checking any technology – on paper, and for 12 minutes. We did a lot of timed writing exercises and I found I enjoyed writing in concentrated spurts. So now, as I settle back into real life, I’m committed to doing morning pages. I’ve set a notebook and pen by my bed and started this morning. As an extension of that, I’d like to do some more spontaneous writing here. That will probably mean more posts and recipes with fewer photos, but I think that’s a fair trade.

PS – I’ll probably take some photos tomorrow and post them after the recipe. Some habits are hard to break, but this way I’ll at least get things on proverbial paper rather than waiting for the right light and perfect angle.

Tomato rice soup

Adapted from Mark Bitman’s recipe in the New York Times. The wine is optional, but this soup was good enough reason to uncork a red; a big (but not huge) California cabernet worked well here. Feel free to play around with herbs (cilantro or parsley would be nice) and spices (I’m thinking cumin, or thyme). Or keep the soup as is and top with a sprinkling of parmesan. Or not. This soup is lovely in its utter simplicity. 

UPDATE 6/27: Last night, I ate the soup with shredded parmesan, but this morning I buzzed it with an immersion blender and sprinkled some fresh cilantro. Today’s version feels a bit fancier and could be served as a non-dairy cream of tomato soup. Yes, I ate it for breakfast with my coffee. The soup does thicken overnight as the rice absorbs more liquid, so I’ve modified the below recipe to increase the amount of water. 

Makes about 1o cups

– 2 T olive oil

– 1 onion, chopped

– 2 cloves garlic, minced

– 2 T tomato paste

– 1/3 C dry red wine

– 2 C cooked rice

– 4 C water

–  1 28-oz can (about 3 C) chopped tomatoes

– sea salt, to taste

Cook. Heat olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook until softened and golden, about 8-10 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another 2 minutes – lower the heat if the garlic starts to brown too much. Add the tomato paste and cook for another 5 minutes. By this point, the bottom of your pot should be nice and brown.

Pour. Deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping up all those brown bits.

Stir. Add the cooked rice and a generous pinch of salt. Stir to break up the rice. Taste, adding a bit more salt if necessary.

Simmer. Add the water and chopped tomatoes. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat. Simmer for 10 minutes until the rice is heated through. Add more water to get the soup the consistency you’d like. Optional: buzz with an immersion blender.

UPDATE 6/27: a photo!

tomato rice soup

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The jar that I’ve just filled with dressing and covered with a twist of my wrist slips from my fingers and onto the floor. The glass splinters in half, the bottom still cradling a tablespoon or so of the golden liquid, the top still wound to the lid. It has splattered on my bare feet and up my legs.

I crouch to collect shards of glass, dropping them into a paper bag filled with the week’s recycling. I wipe up the dressing with a towel, leaving oily streaks on the floor, on the fridge, on the oven, on the cabinet, under the fridge, under the oven, under the cabinet.

***

It was three weeks ago yesterday that I learned the news. The news itself isn’t important and it wasn’t really new news, but old news just in a different way.

I found myself in the kitchen with a mortar on the counter and a pestle in my hand. I pounded anchovies – they smelled of the sea, and of briny tears – into cloves of raw garlic, pungent and stinging my eyes. A spoonful of Dijon, tempered with lemon, rounded out with a whisk of olive oil. In the oven toasted a pile of crumbs, rubbed from the heel of day-old baguette against the largest holes of my box grater.

Even as I was, I managed to iron a linen and flatten it on a large cutting board by the window. The mortar in the middle, the pestle just so, surrounded by empty lemon halves and a glass canister of fish filets. I crushed fleur de sel to complete the tableau.

Snap. A photo from the side.

I drizzled dressing over a pile of arugula littered with bread crumbs and Parmesan shavings.

Snap, snap. A few photos standing on a ladder.

I jarred the rest and labeled it with green painters’ tape and a sharpie: “anchovy dressing 5/28”.

You know what happened next.

***

At first, I tread carefully in the kitchen to avoid stepping on any last few glass splinters. I need to wear shoes when cooking. Then flip-flops. And now, I’m back to socks or nothing at all. Every once in a while, I find a speck of glass. I lift my foot to see a dot of blood. With the flick of a nail, I nudge out the chip and go about my day.

anchovy dressing

Anchovy dressing

 Adapted from Melissa Clark’s New York Times recipe for red and green salad with anchovy mustard vinaigrette. I’ve increased the amount of lemon juice to balance out the saltiness; depending on how juicy your lemons are, you may need up to two. Use a decent brand of anchovies packed in oil, but don’t go overboard on the fancy stuff.

I like to use a mortar and pestle – mostly because I have a few and a pestle has a nice heft to it. That said, you can do your smashing with a fork in a bowl. If you want a really smooth dressing, you can even use a small food processor or an immersion blender. 

I serve this with peppery arugula; other bitter greens such as radicchio or endive would be nice as well. Add crunch with toasted bread crumbs (use a box grater to make crumbs out of stale baguette, drizzle with olive oil, and toast in a 350°F oven until very brown). Shave some parmesan over the top. Eat immediately.

Makes about ¾ cup

– 6 anchovy fillets

– 2 garlic cloves, minced

– 1 T Dijon mustard

– ¼ C fresh lemon juice, more to taste

– ½ C extra-virgin olive oil

– Kosher salt and black pepper, as needed

Smash. Line the bottom of a mortar or bowl with anchovies. Add the minced garlic and using a pestle or fork, smash the fish and garlic into a paste. It’s OK if there are bits of anchovy still peeking out. Stir in the mustard.

Whisk. Drizzle in the olive oil slowly while whisking until combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste, adding a bit more lemon juice as necessary to balance everything out if it’s too salty for your liking.

arugula with anchovy dressing

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Ok, so this little salad may not have much going for it in the looks department, but I had to share because it’s such a simple idea that I couldn’t not let you in on it.

cucumber avocado salad with schug

I’m in kitchen scrounging mode as I try to empty my fridge before I head out on a little trip (ok, a big trip; more on that to come), and made a list on a pink sticky of things to use up before I go: 1 zucchini, 2 stalks rhubarb, 1/2 bunch kale, 1/2 cucumber, 2 avocados, 2 cheeses (Consider Bardwell Farm’s Danby goat’s milk cheese and a sheep’s feta), yogurt, and 4 lemons.

I had bookmarked Deb’s obsessively good avocado cucumber salad a while back and was excited that I had the two key ingredients in the title. I started chopping things into cubes before I bothered to read the rest of the list. Here’s how that went (I’m sure you’ve been here too):

Mayo. Nope.

Lime. Nope.

Hot sauce. Yup, several.

Cilantro or parsley. Nope, nope.

I craved the combination of creamy – spicy – fresh and I needed to do some major substitutions fast. Yogurt for mayo. Lemon for lime. I had Sriracha, which is what Deb recommends,  but I was getting caught up in wanting herbs. I almost, almost, ran out to buy some parsley. And then, I remembered I had schug.

Earlier this year, my friend Adeena had given me a jar of this Yemenite hot sauce, green with cilantro and little peppers, piquant with garlic, cumin, and a dash of cardamom.  The recipe is Gil Hovav’s – he’s an Israeli chef and writer and all-around fun character – and he made a huge batch in Adeena’s kitchen a few months ago when they had a series of Yemenite pop-up dinners. (The recipe says you can store schug refrigerated up to 3 weeks, but I’ve had mine for months with no sign of spoilage.  Use that information as you will.)

I’d eaten schug before, typically in Israel where it and Moroccan harissa are served alongside falafel. Both are referred to by the generic Hebrew word harif – spicy – and I like to dribble a little of each into a hummus- and salad-filled pita. Halfway through my sandwich, I would go back for more. It never occurred to me to use it in other ways until Adeena served it alongside an ooze-y round of brie and a scattering of super thin crackers. I repeated this cheese plate combo at my own birthday celebration.

Thinking about how well the schug went with dairy, it seemed a good option to mix with yogurt in my salad, with the added benefit of well preserved, once fresh herbs. So, I scooped out some Greek yogurt, stirred in a timid dash of schug and a pinch of salt, thinned it out with lemon juice and olive oil, and then, after tasting, added another good dollop of schug – just enough to set my tongue tingling but not so much that it would overtake the cooling cucumber and velvety avocado.

cucumber avocado salad with schug

PS – Schug is great smeared on bread and topped with a fried egg. Mmmm….

PPS – I’ve used up the rhubarb too with these little rhubarb almond cakes. I followed the recipe more or less as is, using almond flour instead of grinding my own and reducing the baking time to 45 minutes or so for a dozen 4-inch little tart pans.

rhubarb almond cakes

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