BagelsinAugust

summer spaghetti

Jul
10

We often return to what we know, when ill or simply unsure of how to proceed. Familiarity breeds a certain comfort, a known amongst the unknown. In this warmth, we can sigh and let our walls down. So let me make a confession. I am a voyeur, especially when I go on evening walks, hoping to find something interesting when glancing in open windows. A sort of theatre on display, because it is new to me, and not my own.
There is one house on the way where a middle aged man prepares sandwiches without a shirt on, his kitchen at street level, curtains drawn open. The light coming through the window creates a glow on the sidewalk, which is otherwise lit by a lackluster street lamp. One wall prominently displays copies of Cooks Illustrated on each of the three magazine rows hanging up, while other titles are hidden in the background. Every time I pass by, I find him at his task, mise en place for the sandwiches.

Spaghetti is my sandwich equivalent. Every time I am thinking about dinner with a sense of panic, spaghetti emerges from the cabinet, quietly yet brilliantly. Long, frustrating days lead to spaghetti dressed simply with grated cheese. Cold weather means spaghetti with meatballs in red sauce. Warm weather means chilled spaghetti with lightly cooked vegetables. Dinner parties are spaghetti with seafood, or demanding sauces. The joys never cease. And though it seems demure, especially in the presence of showier relatives like farfalle or fusilli, simple spaghetti in a plastic bag delivers the pomp and circumstance I am looking for every single time.

This summer recipe relies on the balance of sweet and acidic tomatoes, smokey grilled corn, and peppery aromatic basil. These flavors remind me of summer, and yet make the meal light. This is by no means the stick to your ribs spaghetti reserved for winter time. The affair here is a reflection of what you want to feel when the sun is warm, shining longer into the evenings. Omit the chicken, if you’d like, but don’t forego finding the best tomatoes and a nice ear of corn for this meal. Best of all, it comes together in about twenty minutes, with plenty of time left for an after dinner stroll.

Summer Spaghetti with Corn and Tomatoes

summer spaghetti with corn and tomatoes

Ingredients (serves two – with plenty of leftovers, or four, accompanied by a salad): 
half a pound of spaghetti
salt
one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
half of a large onion (white or yellow), diced
a hefty garlic clove, diced or sliced
dried basil, if fresh is not available (though I advocate for fresh whenever possible)
five small tomatoes
an ear of corn, with husk
6 ounces of rotisserie or pre-cooked chicken, cut into bite size pieces
one tablespoon + heavy cream, at room temperature
lemon juice from half of a small lemon
salt & pepper
fresh basil, five to six leaves, if you are using it

Steps:
1) Start cooking the spaghetti by following the directions on the package. Since half a pound is usually half the package, simply cut the water needed in half, and add a palmful (about a tablespoon) of salt. While the water is boiling, place the olive oil in a pan or pot on medium heat, and once heated add your onion. Leave the onion alone for a couple of minutes, and once it starts becoming translucent, add the garlic, and stirring often so that the garlic does not burn. Lower the heat if needed.
2) Once the water has come to a rolling boil, add the spaghetti. Make sure to cook al dente, meaning a minute or two less than the directions on the package (i.e. 7 minutes if it says ready in 9 minutes). If using dried basil, grind it lightly between your palms, over the pot, and stir it into your onion mixture. Lower the heat.
3) Cross the bottom of your tomatoes, and cover them with water in a bowl or container. Place the tomatoes and corn in the microwave for two minutes. Yes, the corn with the husk in place. After about two minutes, the corn should be ready, but your tomatoes might need more time to blanch, so give them thirty second in intervals until you can begin to see the skin on the bottom peeling back slightly. Take out the tomatoes, and place them in an ice water bath, or simply on the counter, to cool down. Let the corn cool down if it is too hot to handle, but otherwise remove the husk and silk.
4) If your pasta is done by now, drain it, reserving about a quarter cup of water. Leave it to the side, while you work on peeling the tomatoes, and chopping them. Add the tomatoes and juices to the onion mixture. Cut the corn in half, and place one half on the stove top to grill (alternatively, a grill would be helpful here). Aim for slightly grilled, so that the kernels are blistered, but not blackened all the way. Once the corn is grilled, cut off the kernels by slicing down with a knife. Add these to the pot or pan as well. Add the chicken, and let everything cook for about five to six minutes, so that the water content of the tomatoes is almost gone. Don’t stir too often.
5) Once the mixture seems as if it drying, add the heavy cream. Stir, then squeeze the lemon juice into the pan. Stir until incorporated, and if everything seems dry still, add some pasta water that you reserved. Start with one tablespoon at a time, adding as needed. Leave to cook for a couple of minutes, while you chiffonade the fresh basil. Add the spaghetti to the pot, grind some pepper, taste for salt (and adjust as needed), and toss to make sure the spaghetti is evenly covered in the sauce and chicken. Add the basil at the end, or simply on top when plating.

summer spaghetti with tomatoes and corn

tonight’s tabbouleh

Aug
15

My tabbouleh recipe is the trial-and-error type, tested over many dinners, with improvements occurring all the time. I do not have one single recipe, as it is a work in progress, developed to my taste, but I do have two beliefs about tabbouleh that I try to stick to.

The herbs are the best part of this salad, so both the parsley and mint need to be thoroughly cleaned, or otherwise you end up biting into bits of sand/dirt. You can wash the parsley and mint by dunking it in a bowl of water several times (and changing the water as needed). You can gently pat the herbs by laying them on a towel, or leave them on the counter to dry. The herbs are less mushy, more crisp, if revived with a quick water bath and left to dry.

The next thing most tabboulehs contain is a grain, or filler of some sort, if you will. Bulgur is the traditional go-to.  In the recipe below, you will see I use bulgur #1, the finest, smallest grain. I have found it in the international aisles of grocery stores, in natural food stores, and also in specialty markets. Other types, or grades, of bulgur or dried cracked wheat that you may find in stores work, too, but the size of the grains will affect how much water you use, and overall consistency. If you cannot find bulgur, or do not eat wheat, quinoa and couscous are fine substitutes.

Tonight’s Tabbouleh
tabbouleh
Ingredients (serves four as a small salad or two generous servings for dinner):
1/2 cup bulgur #1/ bulgur fine
1/2-1 teaspoon ground sumac
1/4+ teaspoon garlic powder, adjust to your preference
one pint of cherry tomatoes
pinch of salt
1 lemon
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup+ of water
one large bunch of washed parsley (see note above about washing)
half a smallish bunch of washed mint
small bunch of scallions (about 5-6, depending on size), finely sliced
one Persian cucumber, peeled and diced
about two tablespoons of red wine vinegar
additional extra virgin olive oil, optional

Steps:
1) I begin by cutting the tomatoes in half, or quarters, depending on the size. Place the bulgur in a glass bowl, add the ground sumac and powdered garlic, and mix. Instead of leaving the tomato juice on the board, put it in with the bulgur. Also, put the chopped cherry tomatoes in a colander over the bulgur, and toss with a smallish pinch of salt. Let the tomato juice drain over the bulgur for a couple of minutes.
2) Meanwhile, cut the lemon, and squeeze half of the juice on the bulgur in the bowl. Put the bulgur with the juices and a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in the microwave for one minute, stopping halfway to fluff with a fork. The grain will start to slightly sizzle, so keep an eye on it.
3) Take the bulgur out of the microwave, and it will smell like it is lightly toasted (the liquid is absorbed, and color has changed to a darker shade). Immediately add the water and squeeze the other half of the lemon into the bowl. The bulgur will absorb the liquids quickly, so stir a few times, before placing in the microwave for another two minutes, checking halfway again. Taste at the one minute mark to make sure the bulgur is not too hard, but also not mushy. The consistency you are aiming for is al dente, or slightly underdone. Adjust for more water, if needed. Take out of the microwave, fluff with your fork, and leave to cool down.
4) To chop the parsley, cut off as much of the stems as possible, or pinch the leaves from the stems. Don’t discard the stems though, as they can be added to broths. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but the less coarse stems, the better the taste. Chop the parsley, aiming for medium to fine. You can make sure no large pieces or leaves are left, or just call it done. Place on a plate, bowl, side of the board…just not in the bulgur yet, as it may be hot, but, if your bulgur has cooled down, then by all means add the parsley in.
5) Pinch the mint leaves from the stems, as you did with the parsley. Here you want to take care to remove the leaves completely as the stems tend to be too large and woody to eat. Mint stems make great mint tea, so these don’t need to be tossed either. Chop the mint finely, and add to the bowl, along with the scallions and cucumber.
6) Add the red wine vinegar, and combine. Taste to see if you would like more olive oil, or salt. I usually add just a little of both, adjusting as needed. You can refrigerate the tabbouleh for a day or more, but I like to serve it immediately, with toasted pita bread. For dinner, stuffed pita pockets with hummus, tabbouleh, and yogurt or tzatziki are my favorite. When it comes to meat, lamb is a good accompaniment to this salad.

calm mornings

Jun
08

When I have the chance, I like to eat sit-down breakfasts. They’re not grand affairs, nor composed of contents from a box hurriedly dumped into a bowl and splashed with milk. I think of each breakfast as a calm beginning for whatever the day ahead will present. It is a ritual that makes me feel as if I have already accomplished one task from my list.

One of my favorite breakfasts is made with muesli. What is muesli? It is similar to granola, but made with raw rolled oats (granola is made with baked oats). Like granola, muesli usually contains dried fruits, nuts, or seeds. Unlike granola, there is no baking involved, or sitting by the stove the entire time making sure you don’t burn anything. Muesli is forgiving; all you have to do is shop for the ingredients, if you don’t already have them, and toss them together. The combinations are manifold, which gives my creativity plenty of exercise. What I enjoy most about muesli is that it comes together quickly, and lasts a while. I recently chose to make a batch of muesli with some of the ingredients I already had in my pantry, the jars that are almost-but-not-quite empty, taking up space with ten pieces of something inside.

Below, I offer some of my favorite muesli combinations with the fruit that is in season now. I promise that they do not take more than five minutes to prepare, from gathering the ingredients to arranging in a bowl. Muesli can be made to accommodate all allergy symptoms. Oats don’t sit well with you? Try adding puffed quinoa or toasted buckwheat instead. Dealing with picky eaters? Try adding some of their favorite dried fruits or nuts to the mix. If you don’t like yogurt, try kefir or your preferred type of milk or milk substitute instead. Most of all, spend a few minutes with yourself, not Buzzfeed or your phone.

 

Muesli Mix Ratio*
-40% rolled oats

-20% other grain (puffed rice)
-40% dried fruits and nuts (10% almonds, 10% dried blueberries, 10% dried raisins, 10% date pellets)
-a handful of seeds (sunflower)
-pinch of salt

*I use this ratio for all the muesli I make. In parentheses you will find the ingredients for the blueberry muesli I mention in the recipes below.

 

Strawberry and Banana Muesli with Hemp Seeds
strawberry and banana muesli Ingredients (measurements are suggestions, adjust to your liking):
-generous quarter cup of plain yogurt
-two heaping tablespoons of blueberry muesli
-half a banana, peeled & sliced
-six strawberries, washed and sliced
-one teaspoon hemp seeds (hemp seeds are full of easily digestible protein, various vitamins, iron…the list goes on)
-half a teaspoon of poppy seeds (not pictured)
-less than one tablespoon wildflower honey

To arrange: 
1) First place the yogurt in a bowl (mine is from Crate & Barrel), and top with the muesli. Continue layering with the fruit, and then seeds. Drizzle honey on top.

 

Mixed Cherries and Strawberry Muesli with Almonds
mixed cherries and strawberry muesli with almondsIngredients (measurements are suggestions, adjust to your liking):
-generous quarter cup of plain yogurt
-two heaping tablespoons of blueberry muesli
-dozen cherries, washed and pitted, then sliced in half
-eight strawberries, washed and sliced
-about 15 almonds (almonds are high in calcium and fiber) 
-less than one tablespoon of orange blossom honey

To arrange: 
1) First place the yogurt in a bowl, and top with the muesli. Continue layering with the fruit, and then almonds. Drizzle honey on top.

 

Orange-Banana-Cherry Muesli with Chia Seeds (aka sunshine on a cloudy day)Orange-Banana-Cherry Muesli with Chia Seeds (aka sunshine on a cloudy day)

Ingredients (measurements are suggestions, adjust to your liking):
-generous quarter cup of plain yogurt
-two heaping tablespoons of blueberry muesli
-half a banana, peeled and sliced
-half an orange, slices or supremes
-about two teaspoons of chia seeds (chia seeds are a good source of B vitamins, magnesium, and phosphorus)
-4 cherries, washed and pitted, then sliced
-half an apricot, sliced
-about 20 goji berries (goji berries are high in antioxidants) 
-7 pistachios, shelled
-a light drizzle of wildflower honey, optional 

To arrange: 
1) Place the yogurt in a bowl, spread on the bottom, and top with the muesli. Arrange the banana slices on the outer side, and the orange supremes on top of the muesli in a flower/clock/circular pattern. Sprinkle the chia seeds between the spaces of the orange supremes. Layer the sliced cherries in between the orange supremes, finishing with the apricot slices, goji berries, and pistachios. Drizzle lightly with honey on top. This is optional, as the bowl is already a sweet from all of the fruits.

 

Kiwi Muesli with Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote and Poppy Seeds
Kiwi Muesli with Rhubarb-Strawberry "Jam" and Poppy Seeds

Ingredients (measurements are suggestions, adjust to your liking):
-generous quarter cup of plain yogurt
-two heaping tablespoons of blueberry muesli
-one kiwi fruit, peeled and sliced
-one tablespoon of rhubarb-strawberry “jam”, directions below
-about two teaspoons of poppy seeds

To arrange: 
1) Place the yogurt in a bowl, spread on the bottom, leaving some “gaps” for the muesli. Place the muesli in the “gaps”, and add the kiwi fruit around the edges. Place the rhubarb-strawberry jam on the yogurt, and top off with poppy seeds.

For the Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote: 
1) First things first, this is not a traditional jam, but a looser version. Now that this is out of the way, take one washed and dried medium sized rhubarb stalk, cut into two inch pieces, and 12 medium sized, halved strawberries, and toss in a bowl with juice from half a lemon, and two tablespoons of sugar. The sugar amount you use will be more or less depending on how tart your rhubarb is, or how sweet your strawberries are. Let the mixture sit until a good amount of juice has been extracted (15-30 minutes).
Note – I do not recommend honey, or other sweeteners, when making this mixture because both fruits are low in pectin, and too tart to use with citrus juices alone (the pectin in citrus would gel the mixture, but my results were too tart in previous trials). The sugar here acts as a binding/gelling agent, and honey/agave both proved to be too watery to use. The process took much longer, with diminished results. 
2) Then, place the contents of your bowl into a stainless steel or copper pot, and turn the heat on high. You want to keep the mixture from sticking, so stirring with a rubber spatula is important. As the mixture begins to boil (it will rise, bubble, and foam), reduce the heat to medium, and continue stirring.
Note – You can remove the top of the foam at this stage, or wait until the end. Removing the foam only produces a clearer set, so if this is not a problem, then move along swimmingly.
3) You want to make sure that the contents are breaking down, so if 5 minutes or so have passed and you still have large chunks of fruit, feel free to gently mash them with your spatula against the sides of the pot (not the bottom, because they may stick due to the pressure you are applying). The consistency will become a little thicker, and the bubbles will appear smaller in size. Keep stirring.

4) The desired consistency is up to you, but I measure mine by the drips falling from the spatula when I hold it up straight (horizontal) over the pot. If the drips are very rapid, that means it needs a little more time to thicken. When the drips take a second or two to come down, almost like they want to fall but have to think about it, then I turn off the heat. (And sometimes, when I haven’t been paying attention, and the drips almost seem to unite to form one larger drop, then it is closer to traditional jam (ie thicker) than I want it. You can add some water or juice to loosen a thick set jam, and boil a minute or so more.)
5) I pour the hot compote into clean jars, immediately after turning the heat off, seal and turn the jars upside down until cool, and then refrigerate. These jars sometimes seal, sometimes they do not, which is why I put them in the fridge, and eat the contents in about a week. If you would like to process this mixture, make sure to follow the USDA recommended canning instructions.

a bright squash soup

Mar
24

I often say that I find things on this blog, which may seem peculiar. Or perhaps you have come to believe that I tend to lose many items. This is not always the case. I like to think of these events as discoveries, much like a squirrel who stores for winter, and then is delighted to be reunited with the food in spring. Just as I was lamenting the passing of squash season last week, and not being able to cook more soups and desserts this winter, I found two small butternut squash gems in my storage closet, along with a kabocha squash (or Japanese pumpkin). Interestingly, the kabocha squash was introduced in Japan in the 1540’s by way of Portuguese sailors, who had originally found it in Cambodia (hence the Portuguese name of the squash being Cambodia abobora), and this squash has been favored since then by the Japanese for its sweet texture.

I decided to prepare it in the most traditional way I could think of, in a coconut soup with curry powder and other spices. Bright and yellow, like the weather we have been having, this soup can be served warm or chilled, and accompanies not just rice, but meat (lamb!) as well. I finished the soup off with some ground pink peppercorns, which have a heat that most closely reminds me of chilies rather than black pepper. These berries are actually not related to peppercorns, and although the taste is initially peppery, the flavor that follows is sweet. Since pink peppercorns are very soft, they can be easily smashed with the back of a spoon or knife, or in a mortar and pestle. There is no need to grind them very finely, as the taste is not too spicy, and lends itself beautifully for a delicate balance with the other flavors of this soup.

Butternut & Kabocha Squash Coconut Soup with Curry Powder

coconut squash soup with curry
Ingredients (for four small or two very large servings):
~3 lbs. of squash (butternut or kabocha, or a combination of whatever you have around – acorn and pie pumpkin could work as well)
2-3 tbs. coconut oil
2 tbs. butter, sliced or diced
brown sugar (I used about three tablespoons)
pinch of salt (less than 1 tsp.)
1 can coconut cream (you can find it at Trader Joe’s, thicker than coconut milk), 2 tbs. reserved
1/4-1 cup of water, or coconut milk
1 teaspoon curry powder (my mix has coriander, fenugreek, nutmeg, ginger, fennel, cinnamon, black and white pepper, cardamom, cumin, turmeric, cloves, and cayenne pepper, mace, bay leaf)
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated turmeric (1/4 tsp. if using dried)
juice of 1/2 lime or lemon
1 tsp. pink peppercorns, freshly ground (optional)
cilantro (for garnish, optional)

Steps:
1) Preheat oven at 350, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Wash the squash if dirty, then cut into halves or portions that are of similar size. Season each half with the coconut oil so that the entire inside (you can cook with the seeds, or remove the seeds) is covered. combine salt and brown sugar, and sprinkle on each squash. Add the diced butter around the edges, and put on the baking sheet. It will depend on the variety you use, but the squash should be done in about 45-60 minutes (the best test is to see if it easily gives way when poked with a toothpick/knife/fork). Take it out, and let it slightly cool.
2) Once the squash is cool enough to handle, remove the seeds (if you left them in), and peel squash away from the skin. I find the best way to do this is by using a grapefruit spoon around the stubborn/awkward edges. Discard the skin, but if you like the seeds, keep them. You can eat them, or roast them a little longer, and season them with allspice and salt for a delicious snack.
3) At this point, you can either smash the squash with a potato masher (thick consistency) or add it in a blender (I opted for the latter). Add the coconut cream, water/broth/milk, and blend. If the consistency is too thin or thick, adjust, and incorporate the curry powder, garam masala, and turmeric. Note: If your curry and garam masala powders are old, you can increase the amount you add slightly (no more than 1/2 tsp. of both). If you are blending the soup, it will become very aerated (and will solidify when placed in the fridge).
4) Squeeze some lime or lemon juice, and garnish with some freshly ground pink peppercorns or cilantro, and the remaining coconut cream. Serve hot with meats, enjoy chilled on a hot day with a light salad and some bread for dipping. Delicious any way you have it.

farewell to winter salad

Mar
14

The sun wakes us up early with a glow that creeps in through the openings of the brown curtains, and remains throughout the day, growing brighter and warmer. A small breeze is a welcome relief on my way to work. The weather brings forth spring produce, and green is seen all around. I received some wonderful citrus this week, juicy and heavy from a long rest on the trees all winter. I gathered it along with the last fennel bulb in the refrigerator, and a can of chickpeas. In about three minutes, I had a lunch that paid tribute to the passing of winter, but was bursting with the brightness of spring.

Chickpea Salad with Orange and Fennel

chickpea salad with oranges and fennel
Ingredients (for one): 
1/2 can of chickpeas, drained and thoroughly rinsed
1 medium orange, peeled and sliced (or one large orange, half peeled and sliced, and use the other half to squeeze over the salad)
1 very small fennel bulb, or a couple of layers, sliced
one sage stem (about 20 small leaves), chop if using larger leaves of sage
1/2 teaspoon champagne vinegar
1/2 teaspoon mushroom and sage olive oil (or extra virgin olive oil)
salt

Steps: 
1) Combine the chickpeas and fennel, toss with vinegar and olive oil. Gently incorporate your orange slices, and use some of the liquid from the bottom of the dish/bowl to soak them. You don’t want the slices to break apart, nor be drenched in oil or vinegar.
2) Add the salt, and adjust to your taste. Finish with the sage leaves, and enjoy.

how to make pot pie without a recipe

Feb
05

Pretty bold statement, I know. Lately I find myself with lots of leftovers, or only an hour to make dinner, or both situations at once. I wanted to solve the puzzle of how to avoid eating pulled pork sliders for the third day in a row, and what to do with one random potato. I have made pot pies before, but they were the stuff of nightmares: grey clouds of liquid with lost pieces of vegetables, always too dry, or super soggy. I know that there are personal preferences for this dish, and mine rest in just the right proportion of vegetables and liquid, which is enriched with butter, wine, and broth.

With this in mind, I wanted a master recipe where I could deviate in the meat selection available (or lack thereof), and vegetables used at my discrepancy. Working on the proportions resulted in some rather large dishes, some very dry ones, and a particular dinner that yielded no takers even among the most courageous. The final recipe is a simple, forgiving one for whatever you want to use in the mixture.

The most important thing is that you want to have are vegetables, meat or no meat. I really like the mixed bag of carrots, peas, lima beans, green beans, and corn that most stores have in the frozen section. Although I can easily pull together these ingredients, if I am in a hurry, popping these in a pot really cuts down the time I need to spend on dinner, and most importantly, they are reminiscent of the pot pies from my childhood. I like to use fresh vegetables when available: celery is a great example, especially if you want to keep it as a last minute addition for the crunch. Potatoes are another great choice, as they will help things come together, and sweet potatoes are great with pork or chicken. Root vegetables such as sunchokes, turnips, or beets are wonderful and complimentary additions, but take care not to add too many. A fine balance of meat and vegetables is ideal, and even when making a vegetarian version, the ingredients should get along together. Mushrooms are a great alternative to meat, especially a variety, will produce that meaty taste.

Herbs are a great way to transform what may have been fennel crusted pork into thyme scented pork for a pot pie. I enjoy using the basic herbs with pot pies, because they are already on hand, and are familiar flavors. This recipe is about comfort for me, as you can tell. Thyme is great with all meats and vegetables, basil too. I like sage for chicken or turkey, oregano for beef or lamb, and juniper berries for the venison or more game-y meats. Rosemary, crushed red pepper, garlic and onion powders, fennel, and cumin are some other favorites. A slight addition of grated citrus can elevate the dish. Think simple if in a hurry though – fresh chopped parsley or cilantro can be added before transferring to a baking dish.

Meat is great. If you don’t eat meat though, you can always substitute the meat half with more vegetables, this is actually where I would recommend potatoes or turnips, the roots shine through. I offer the meal from last night as an example of what you can pull together in less than 60 minutes, start to finish.

Pork Pot Pie

pork pot pie

Ingredients (for four servings): 
two tablespoons olive oil
four tablespoons butter, divided into two tbs. each
one medium sweet potato (I used a purple sweet potato), peeled and cubed (about 1/2 in.)
one shallot, diced
about one tablespoon of dried thyme, use your judgement
about one teaspoon of dried Italian herb mix (mine is from Oaktown Spice Shop)
1/4 cup or more of dry white wine
1/2 lb. of mixed vegetables (if frozen, thaw for a few minutes in water)
salt
one tablespoon of all purpose flour
1/2 cup of milk or half-and-half, warmed if possible
1/2 lb. of meat (mine was pulled pork)
1+ cups of pork broth (or chicken, vegetable, etc.) – you want to have at least two cups on hand, warmed if possible
a few sprigs of chopped parsley
one sheet of puff pastry, thawed (my favorite quick recipe is from here)
one egg, slightly beaten in a ramekin or small container, with a couple of drops of water added to it

Steps:
1) Turn your oven on to 375 F. Place your olive oil and two tablespoons of butter in a pan, over medium heat, until butter begins to slightly sizzle, then add the cubed potato. Cook for about 5-7 minutes, until the potato begins to slightly soften and get a golden hue. (If using other roots, or fresh carrots, they would be added along with the potato, as they need more time to cook.) Add the shallot, and cook for another 1-2 minutes, until it begins to soften. Add the thyme and Italian herb mix, and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes. The shallots will be translucent by now.
2) Add the dry white wine (or red wine for beef or lamb), and cook until half of the liquid has evaporated. Then add the other vegetables (if making a vegetarian version, then add about one pound of vegetables all at one go now). It’s okay if they are not fully thawed, as you can finish the thawing in the pot at this time. Also, the other two tablespoons of butter need to be added now. Leave the vegetables to get a nice color, about 2-3 minutes, depending if they are thawed or not. Salt.
3) Meanwhile, if not already done, pull your pork apart. This is easier if the meat is slightly warm (but don’t burn yourself). Set the meat aside. Return to the pot, give it a good stir, and add the flour. You want to distribute the flour among all of the vegetables, so keep going until you see it is so, as you don’t want clumps of flour. The butter will help cook some of the flour, so leave the mixture alone for a minute or so, before adding the milk. Once the milk is added, stir (or whisk) away. Taste, and salt if needed.
4) Add the meat, if using. I like to cook the pork in the milk mixture to see how much liquid it will soak up. You can add the broth at this time, or with the milk above. Either way, let the mixture cook over medium heat for a couple of minutes. Although it may seem like a lot of liquid, this will quickly evaporate once in the oven.
5) Add the chopped parsley, and transfer the meat and vegetables into a baking dish (oval 11 in. worked for me). Stretch out the puff pastry about half to one inch longer than the length of your dish, you want the pastry to create a warm little oven for the meat and vegetables, and let it hang over the sides slightly. Brush the egg mixture over the pastry, getting underneath the pieces hanging from the edge of the dish. Bake for about 35-40 minutes, until the puff pastry is a rich golden color. Rest a few minutes before serving.

vegetables and pork

winter soup with lentils and sausage

Dec
03

The relaxation that comes after a Thanksgiving cooking storm is much needed, but dinner following dinner (and some lunches too!) of leftovers becomes old very fast. It is nice to have a full refrigerator of food, but I start to miss cooking, and variety.
In an effort to return to the kitchen, ever so slowly and wearily (the dishes finally are all clean!), I made a delicious lentil and sausage soup with a lot of broth. Something flavorful, but light. The spices and herbs are just the beginning, and another layer of immense flavor is added by the Nduja sausage (I got mine from Boccalone).
The Nduja is a very soft and spreadable sausage of delicious pork parts all jammed and ground together, roasted peppers, and a mixture of herbs and spices. A native of Calabria, the southern region that is the end of the boot, the sausage is a representation of the culinary impacts throughout the areas’ history. The Oscan tribes first settled here (including the Itali!), but were overrun by Greeks, and later Romans. Arabs and Normans also ruled for periods of time. A variety of cultures, which all brought with them diverse cuisines. How lucky, to have such influences be integrated in ones’ cooking.

Winter Soup with Lentils and Nduja Sausage

lentil soup

Ingredients (for four servings):
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 large red onion, finely chopped
2 celery sticks, thinly chopped
1 bell pepper, medium chopped
1/2 teaspoon Spanish (smoked) paprika
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly toasted and ground
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, ground (or alternatively about one tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely minced)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 cup lentils (I used Puy), picked through and rinsed
kosher salt
4+ cups pork broth (or vegetable)
about 2 ounces of Nduja salami, broken up/ sliced
1 cup+ tomato sauce or pasta sauce (when making pasta sauce, stop at step 5)
half of a small lemon, juiced (or ~ 1 tablespoon of citrus marmalade)
3 small tomatoes, diced
1 medium potato, peeled and cut into 1 in. cubes
tomato jam, optional
sherry vinegar, a splash
freshly ground black pepper
Italian (flat leaf) parsley, for garnish

Steps:
1) First, and most important, gather everything. It may seem trivial, but there are a lot of ingredients here, so preparing all of them is a bit time consuming.
2) Over medium heat, add the extra virgin olive oil and butter to a large stockpot. Toss in the garlic and onion, and cook until the onion begins to soften, about 3-4 minutes.
3) Add the celery, bell pepper, paprika, fennel, rosemary, and oregano to the pot. Cook for another 2-3 minutes, until you can smell the spices, and then add the rinsed lentils and Nduja salami. Stir a couple of times, to make sure everything is incorporated, then add a little salt, and finally the pork broth. If your broth has salt, adjust kosher salt additions accordingly, as the salami usually has a significant amount of salt. You may find you don’t even need the additional salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, and simmer for about 10-12 minutes.
4) Once the lentils begin to soften, add the tomato or pasta sauce, the lemon juice (or citrus marmalade), tomatoes, and the potato. Cover and cook for another 15-20 minutes. Check to see if potato is breaking apart, the goal is to retain the shape of the cubes. The lentils will be soft when done.
5) You can add some tomato paste or tomato jam towards the end, but this is optional. The tomato will add a sweetness to the soup, as well as thicken.
6) Splash some sherry vinegar as soon as you turn off the heat, and grind some black pepper too.
7) Ladle into bowls, serving warm, and garnish with chopped parsley. Rustic breads (toasted and buttered ciabatta) go well with the soup, but I prefer oyster crackers.

vegetable orzo with roasted poblano peppers

Nov
12

Sunny weather is my favorite cooking weather, it is an extra boost of encouragement to get me in the kitchen to experiment. Today I located a half empty bag of orzo in the back of the cabinet. Perplexed at first, I quickly looked around the kitchen, and found a couple of “pasilla” peppers on the counter. I place pasilla in quotes because it is technically a dried chili pepper. However, in California, a heart shaped, dark green, and shiny pepper that is about three to six inches in length is called pasilla, when it is really a poblano. The poblano, which is what I used, is a slightly spicy pepper (bonus fact: dried poblano peppers are called ancho chili). When used in cooking, the heat is significantly reduced, to just a mild flavor. The skin is thin, not even close to a bell pepper, so when roasting or cooking, I just keep it on as I like the extra boost of the smoky flavor. So I built the dish around these two ingredients.

Vegetable Orzo with Roasted Poblano Peppers

orzo with poblano peppers and other vegetables

Ingredients (for two servings):
2 Poblano (sometimes labeled pasilla) peppers
two tablespoons of butter (or olive oil)
half an onion, sliced in medium half moons
1/3 cup of corn kernels (frozen is fine, mine were frozen from earlier this summer)
pinch of salt (~1/4 teaspoon)
1/2 cup of pasta sauce (omit garlic and basil, you want tomato/butter/onion in a watery mixture)
3-4 cups of chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
2 handfuls of orzo (about 4 ounces)
black pepper, freshly ground
a couple of cilantro sprigs (or parsley)

Steps:
1) Wash and dry the peppers. I roast mine stove top, but you can also place them on a grill, or alternatively in your oven (turn on the broiler and coat with a heat resistant oil, keep turning every 2-3 minutes, until skin is thoroughly blistered all over). I like to take the hot peppers and place them in some aluminum paper for about 10-15 minutes, to sweat, and cool down.
2) Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, and add the sliced onions. Let the onions sweat a little, about 2-3 minutes (they will become slightly transparent around the outside edges), and then add the corn kernels. Mix everything, add some salt, and leave it alone for 4-5 minutes. The onions will get the slightest caramel color, and the corn will lose its water content from the freezer.
3) Slice the cooled peppers in quarters, remove the step and seeds, and cut into thick (width wide) slices (you can choose to remove the outer skin, I did not). Toss in with the onion and corn, and cook for about 3-4 minutes.
4) Add the pasta sauce, a little at a time, making sure to mix the vegetables after each addition. Cook for 6-8 minutes to reduce some of the water.
5) Add the chicken or vegetable stock, and bring to a boil as if you are cooking pasta – which you are! Once the stock is at a full boil, add the orzo, and reduce heat to medium/medium high. Cook for about 8-9 minutes.
6) Once the orzo is cooked (taste it!), you can reduce the water content by keeping the heat on medium for a few more minutes. I like cooking the pasta with the vegetables because it thickens the remaining sauce, which becomes more like a risotto.
7) When finished, add some freshly ground pepper, and garnish with roughly chopped cilantro or parsley leaves.

weeknight pasta sauce

Sep
20

I know it will be an easy dinner on a weeknight when I have some tomatoes and a couple of basil leaves on hand. I make this sauce at least a couple of times a month, because all I have to do is watch it for the last few minutes. I sometimes blitz it quickly in a blender for a smoother texture, or add some heavy cream, and call it a soup!

Weeknight Pasta Sauce

dinner and dessert

Ingredients (for two servings):
3 large tomatoes (FYI mine were heirloom, but they were watery, and prolonged the reduction time – choose Early Girl or San Marzano, if possible)
4 tablespoons of butter (Earth Balance works as well, if you want this to be dairy free)
2 garlic cloves, smashed and roughly chopped – optional
half of a small red onion, cut in half or quarters
a few basil leaves
pepper
a few parsley sprigs (flat leaf preferably)
salt
toppings of your choice: Parmesan and roasted corn featured, you can add peppers or capers

Steps: 
1) Fill a pan with water that can fit your tomatoes comfortably, and bring to a rolling boil. Meanwhile, wash your tomatoes, then cut a small “x” at the bottom, and when the water is ready, pop them in. Depending on the ripeness of your fruit, this can take 30 seconds to a minute. You can start to see the skin peeling away from the fruit. Scoop them out, and place them in an ice water bath (mostly ice, with some water). Leave them to cool.
2) Clean the pan, and if using garlic, heat about a tablespoon of butter on medium low, and slightly brown the garlic to release some of the flavor.
3) Once the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, peel the skin, and either chop the tomatoes, or smash them by hand (so relaxing!). You want the pieces to be small, and the liquid to escape.
4) Place the tomatoes in the pan, add the butter (if you roasted garlic, just add the tomatoes on top, and the remaining butter), and pop in the quartered or halved onion. Add a couple of good pinches of salt and give it a good stir. Keep the heat on medium to medium low, and walk away. You can clean your basil leaves, and chiffonade them at this time. You can roast some corn.
5) Check on the sauce every 5-7 minutes, and give the pot a stir every so often so the tomatoes don’t stick to the bottom. Depending on your tomatoes, the reducing can take anywhere between 20 minutes to 45 minutes. Your sauce will thicken, and the bubbles will be popping almost like a volcano. Stir, stir, stir when this happens. Your sauce is almost done. Alternatively, if you don’t have time, you can always add some tomato paste, or a little bit of flour to quicken the process. 
6) Start the pasta water at this time. Add the basil leaves and pepper to the sauce, and leave it on for another minute or two. Taste for salt, and if needed, add more.
7) While the sauce cools, make your pasta, and cut the parsley. You can combine the sauce with the finished pasta in a pan, if you don’t want to pile up too many pots. If your sauce is too chunky, you can also put it in the blender for a quick whirl. Plate, and top off with some Parmesan, and toppings of your choice.

heirloom tomatoes