Archive for the 'one dish meal' Category

not quite jambalaya

Saturday, January 14th, 2012
not quite jambalaya

I bought some house-made smoked andouille sausage from the butcher last week. I think I’ve only eaten andouille sausage once or twice, probably in a jambalaya which I imagine I must have tasted off my husband’s plate. It’s not a dish I tend to order, for some reason, and, to be fair, Cajun cuisine isn’t really popular around these parts. The andouille appealed as it was house-made (they know their way around pork), smoked (mmm), and I’d never cooked with it before.

To be honest, I know very little about Cajun food, having never lived in nor visited an area populated by people of that particular heritage. As a result, I’ve only ever sampled what I assume are vague approximations of Cajun cuisine. I do know it’s a complex cuisine, with French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Caribbean, and African heritage, and that its holy trinity is onions, peppers, and celery. And I had a pot of rice just waiting to turn into breakfast. So I threw together this thing that isn’t really jambalaya at all, just a combination of flavors that I thought might combine well, while highlighting the smoky flavor of the fatty sausage. It is reminiscent of the abstract idea of jambalaya, as imagined by a hungry Californian on a Saturday morning. The result is just a little fiery, a little smokey, and deliciously redolent of paprika. The texture is very satisfying, combining soft scrambled eggs, bite-size sausage pieces, and warm, filling rice. If you have any shrimp, by all means, toss them in. They add yet another dimension of texture and the taste of the ocean.

not quite jambalaya

I didn’t have a green bell pepper, otherwise I would have included it in this dish. Bell pepper is an important ingredient in the Cajun “holy trinity”, which also includes onion and celery. The dish was quite good without it, but I think it would have been even better with some diced bell pepper. As I often do, I used ingredients that I had on hand. You can do the same.

2 TBS butter
1 TBS olive oil
1 small leek (both white and green parts), 1 carrot, 1 stalk celery, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 smoked andouille sausage, cut into quarters lengthwise and diced
sweet paprika, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, ground cumin, Mexican oregano, allspice, salt and pepper
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups cooked rice
a handful of thin slices of Spanish chorizo, cut into ribbons
1/2 bunch broccoli rabe (or other greens), chopped
1 tomato, diced
1/2 lime

  1. Place a large skillet or wok over medium heat.
  2. Melt the butter in the skillet along with the olive oil.
  3. Add the leek, carrot, and celery to the pan. Fry the vegetables until they are golden.
  4. Add in the sausage and stir. Season to taste with the spices. I used a relatively large amount of sweet paprika, at least 1-2 teaspoons, and smaller amounts of the other spices, and just a dash of allspice.
  5. Stir the vegetables to coat them well with the spices.
  6. Push the vegetables to the side and add more olive oil or butter if the skillet looks dry. When the fat is hot, slowly add the beaten eggs and scramble them.
  7. When the eggs are scrambled, combine them with the vegetable mixture.
  8. Add in the rice and combine with the eggs, vegetables, and sausage.
  9. Add the chorizo ribbons and toss to combine.
  10. Add the chopped broccoli rabe or greens. When they begin to wilt, combine them with the rice mixture.
  11. Add the diced tomato and combine.
  12. Cook until the greens are bright green and wilted.
  13. Squeeze over some of the juice of half a lime and turn off the flame.

Serves 3-4.

vegan tea-smoked tofu and almond stir fry

Saturday, August 27th, 2011
vegan tea-smoked almond stir fry

(Not winning any beauty contests, but pleasing to the palate.)

Warning: this recipe is neither authentically Chinese in any way, nor is it pretty. It does, however, taste good. Feeling peckish and rather surly on a cold, grey Saturday morning, I threw this together using whatever fresh vegetables I had on hand.

The idea here is to create a dish with a pleasing array of textures—soft, crunchy, crisp, chewy—and flavors—the usual hot, sour, salty, sweet, umami. I served the dish rather heretically on a bed of steamed jasmine rice and macaroni. (In Chinese cuisine, rice is typically eaten on its own, as Westerners might nibble on some bread while enjoying the main course. Of course, macaroni does not belong in a pot of steamed rice. Don’t ask me why I put it there, I suppose I wanted to see what it would taste like.) I think this dish is actually best served as a sort of dry ho fun, that is, combined with the wide rice noodles known as ho fun. You could also add in another source of protein, such as seitan (HAIL SEITAN!) or tempeh for texture and variety.

Alternatively, you could add in some egg ribbons for a vegetarian version of this dish (which I did for the husband, but not for myself). These are easily prepared by beating a couple of eggs and cooking them in a well oiled wok, taking care to turn the wok in order to better distribute the egg mixture into a sort of flat pancake. Slice into ribbons as the egg hardens, sprinkle these on top of your stir fry. C’est tout.

vegan tea-smoked tofu and almond stir fry

If you have fresh ginger and green onions on hand, do use them in this recipe. I did not, so I made due with powdered ginger and just the shallot. I used the wonderful tea-smoked tofu made by Hodo Soy Beanery as my tofu base for this dish. You can use any other smoked, baked or savory flavored tofu, or just plain tofu if you prefer. You may need to adjust the seasoning if using plain tofu. As with any stir fry, prepare all ingredients before cooking, arrange them in order of use and then cook everything very quickly so as to retain the freshness and crunch of the vegetables.

1-2 tsp Jamaican or other yellow curry powder
coconut oil
1 Japanese eggplant, cubed
vermouth
1 shallot, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
6oz./170gr tea-smoked tofu, or other savory cooked tofu
2 cups snap peas, trimmed and sliced in half on the diagonal
1 carrot, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 stalk celery, chopped into bite-size pieces
1-2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 handfuls almonds
soy sauce
1/2 fresh lime or lime juice
powdered ginger
Sriracha or other hot sauce
Toasted sesame oil

  1. In a wok on high heat, melt some coconut oil taking care not to let it smoke.
  2. Fry the eggplant until the wok is almost dry, then splash in just a little vermouth. The eggplant absorbs the wine, keeping it from sticking to the wok and filling it with flavor.
  3. When the eggplant cubes have softened and colored a bit, remove and set aside.
  4. Melt some more coconut oil in the wok, about 1 tablespoon.
  5. Add the shallot slices and stir. When the shallots begin to color, add the curry powder and tofu. Stir.
  6. When the tofu has browned, add in the snap peas and stir. When these are bright green, add in the carrots, celery and garlic. Stir.
  7. Throw in the almonds, then season with one or two splashes of soy sauce, the juice of half a lime, a little ginger powder and hot sauce. Stir to combine the flavors and turn off the heat. Plate immediately.
  8. Season to taste with toasted sesame seed oil.

If serving with wide rice noodles, prepare the noodles as instructed on the package (they’re usually soaked in hot or warm water). Combine the noodles with the stir fry in the wok during the last minute of cooking. Add more soy sauce and sesame oil if necessary.

dinner in twenty minutes

Friday, February 15th, 2008

spinach pasta

People often lament their lack of time to cook a nice meal for dinner, opting for takeout instead. Lord knows, I’ve been known to do the same. When you come home from work at 7:oo or later, cooking is the last thing on your mind. My first instinct is to curl up on the couch and watch a silly science fiction show with my husband and dog, munching on whatever happens to be in the refrigerator or whatever we can get from the local tacqueria without waiting in line with the rest of the neighborhood. Other times I look at the beautiful vegetables I bought at the farmers’ market and think it would be a shame for them to go to waste. I mean look at that chard… its succulent, deep green leaves, its sturdy stalk. Can’t you just feel its crunch between your teeth? Can’t you taste the garlic clove in the butter in which you’ll wilt it? How long would it really take to turn that beauty into dinner? It’s that moment when I change my mind and get to cooking something fast.

Here’s a little something I threw together the other night. I’m not sure whether it took me twenty minutes, as I spent some time perusing the fridge and cobbling together the shape of the meal. The base is pasta, with a sauce of spinach and goat cheese and a bit of ground cayenne pepper to liven it up.

quick pasta with spinach goat cheese sauce

I used savoy, or curly leaf spinach for this pasta dish. The leaves are small, curly and somewhat more waxy than ordinary spinach. As a result, it releases less moisture during cooking and wilts a little less. It also has a slightly nutty flavor which goes nicely with the pine nuts. You could use ordinary fresh spinach just as well, but you’ll probably have to add back less or none of the pasta water. I used goat butter to go with the goat cheese, but that’s because I had it on hand. Feel free to use any butter you like. As usual, measurements are approximate.

short pasta, enough for 2 (about 1/2 lb or 250 g usually works, including leftovers)
olive oil and butter
1-2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 red pepper
1 lb or 1/2 kg savoy spinach
3-5 oz. fresh chèvre
handful of pine nuts
salt and pepper
ground cayenne pepper

  1. Cook the pasta in salted water according to the instructions on the package. Drain the pasta, reserving some of the water. An easy way to do this is to place your pasta colander in a large bowl in the sink and pour your pasta into the colander. You’ll have plenty of leftover pasta water in the bowl beneath the colander. Be sure to move the colander elsewhere so that the pasta stops cooking. Dress the pasta with a little olive oil to keep it from sticking.
  2. In a pot or large pan over a low to medium flame, melt some butter with olive oil. As it heats, coarsely chop the garlic and finely chop the red pepper.
  3. When the oil and butter are hot, add the garlic and stir. When the garlic is almost golden, add the red pepper and stir. Let the pepper cook for a minute or two.
  4. Add the spinach a few handfuls at a time and stir. Let it cook down a bit (say for a minute or two), then add the goat cheese in pieces.
  5. Stir the mixture so that the goat cheese melds with the liquids in the pan. If the sauce is a bit dry, add in a little reserved pasta water. It can be as creamy or thin as you like.
  6. Add the pine nuts. Alternatively, you can toast the pine nuts briefly in another pan, and then add them.
  7. Add some of the pasta back into the pan and mix with sauce. (I served this sauce on top of the pasta, instead of mixing it back in. But I think it might be better mixed in the pan.)
  8. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper. Taste and correct seasoning.

Serves 2, with a little leftover for lunch the next day.

comfort food

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

As a child, I craved macaroni and cheese from the box. So do most kids, I guess. But I had an unusual palate. Whenever we had Hershey’s miniatures for a special occasion at school, I’d trade any of the milk chocolate flavors just to get all the “Special Dark” bars. I loved the frozen spinach my mother would steam for dinner, flaky, plain croissants, and crusty European bread, a scarcity in the San Francisco peninsula back then. But the first time I tried that bright orange stuff from the box, I was hooked.

In our health-conscious household, there was precious little junk food. My first opportunity to eat the verboten dish arose at my friend’s house, naturally. I was mesmerized by the oozing, creamy sauce that so thoroughly enveloped the pasta elbows as to drench them. I savored the feel of the pasta between my teeth as I chewed it, and the tangy saltiness of the sauce. I enjoyed the accumulating warmth in my belly as I swallowed each bite.

Even more than a hot bowl of mac and cheese, I loved the cold leftovers with their slightly more al dente pasta and the clumps of sauce, the salty tang emboldened by a rest in the fridge. I knew this was gross, probably worse than my younger brother’s revolting habit of dousing ketchup all over our father’s perfectly cooked spaghetti. But I didn’t care. It tasted that good to me.

At home, I made my own version of cold mac and cheese with leftover pasta and cottage cheese. The tiny squeak of the curds between my teeth was almost as satisfying as the weird orange sauce. The combination of salty, creamy curds and dense pasta was delicious in its own right.

Pasta and cottage cheese—or its sophisticated sister, ricotta—is still one of my favorite comfort foods. It’s the kind of dish you make in a cereal bowl for one.

Climb into your favorite upholstered chair and take a bite. Close your eyes and taste it, familiar as a hug. Smile and remember.

pasta with cottage cheese and spinach for one

This a slightly dressier version of the simple dish, including greens and herbs for a nostalgic one-dish dinner for one.

pasta, cooked, any kind
butter, olive oil
2 handfuls fresh spinach, chopped
half a handful parsley leaves, chopped
1 green garlic leaf (only one piece of the long green part), chopped
good cottage cheese (preferably not nonfat)
salt and pepper

  • In the pot you used to cook the pasta, melt some butter with olive oil.
  • Cook the spinach until nearly wilted, then add the parsley and garlic greens. Stir.
  • Add the pasta, then some of the cottage cheese and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Remove from flame and pour into a bowl. Add more cottage cheese and mix to combine.
  • Settle into a comfy spot and eat.

Serves 1

meyer lemon pasta with fennel and artichokes

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

This weekend, I went to the local farmers mark in Berkeley. The poor California farmers have taken quite a beating. Many farmers brought their citrus fruits to market. Stand after stand of forlorn oranges, tangerines, and clementines were mottled with grey grime and lumpy with frostbitten flesh. Some farmers offered samples, others didn’t bother, choosing instead to sell whatever fruit they could in sealed bulk bags. Seeing the sad bins of damaged fruit, and the worried farmers, I felt compelled to buy as many citrus fruit as I imagined we could eat in a week. I managed to find some tasty Washington navel oranges as well as some decent paige mandarins.

The key to finding good citrus is, of course, tasting before you buy. And if no samples are available, ask the farmer if you can sample a piece of fruit. Segments with dry, fibrous bits of flesh have been damaged by frost. Once you’ve found some fruit you like, look for firm fruit without a lot of blemishes or great differences in firmness. Once you’ve selected your fruit, be prepared to pay more than usual to help the farmers make up for their losses.

All citrus woes aside, I was pleased to see green garlic and green onions at the farmers market. These goodies generally appear in the spring, so I was pleasantly surprised to find them at the market in January. The delicate flavor of green garlic is a boon to any dish, particularly when cooked in butter. The piquant freshness of green onion adds a little kick in the pants to most dishes. When I spied the meyer lemon fettuccine at Phoenix Pastificio, my mental image of dinner was vibrant enough to be smell-o-vision: meyer lemon pasta with green garlic and onions, the artichokes and fennel I had at home, the curd I picked up at the Spring Hill Cheese stand, all fragrant and moist with meyer lemon juice and butter.

You could make this dish with regular pasta, but fresh meyer lemon pasta adds another dimension of citrus that complements the other ingredients well. If you don’t have lemon pasta, and don’t feel like making any (who can blame you?), ordinary fresh or dry pasta would work, and spinach pasta might be good as well. If you’re using regular pasta, you might want to zest a lemon and use the zest in the sauce. To make this a more citrusy dish, you could try adding fillets of blood orange, clementine, or half a pomelo. I haven’t tried this variation, but fennel and citrus always make a happy couple.

meyer lemon pasta with fennel artichoke sauce

340 gr fresh meyer lemon pasta, or regular pasta, fresh or dry
butter and olive oil
2 cooked artichoke hearts with stems, cleaned and trimmed
1 fennel, cored
1 stalk of green garlic
1 stalk of green onion
1 small lemon (a meyer lemon if available)
1-2 handfuls of curd, haloumi, or mozzarella
salt and pepper

  • Boil water for the pasta in a large covered pot. If using dry pasta, cook it now. If using fresh pasta, boil the water now and cook the pasta while preparing the sauce.
  • Chop the fennel and artichoke hearts and stems into thick matchsticks. You want to match the size of the vegetables with your pasta. For example, if you’re using fettuccine, make thicker matchsticks. If you’re using angel hair pasta, julienne the vegetables.
  • If you’re using regular pasta, zest the lemon.
  • Slice the lemon in half and squeeze the juice over the artichoke pieces to prevent discoloration.
  • Chop the whites of the garlic and onion.
  • Chop the green parts of the green onion stalks into matchsticks.
  • Place a large pan on a medium flame and melt some butter in olive oil.
  • Saute the garlic, then the fennel, then add the artichoke pieces along with the lemon juice.
  • If using fresh pasta, cook the pasta as directed (typically about 3 minutes for fresh pasta).
  • Toss in the onion greens and rip in some fennel fronds. If using regular pasta, add in the lemon zest.
  • Throw in the cheese and turn off the flame.
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper, and squeeze in the juice of half a lemon.
  • Toss and correct seasoning. Add a little of the pasta water to the vegetables and toss with the pasta.

Serves 2

all about cholent

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

There’s been a cold spell out here in California. You can see your breath in the morning, and the cars are covered with a thin layer of frost. Lawns gleam and sparkle with frozen dew, and my dog—who goes into fits of ecstatic anticipation at the sight of a leash—is quite eager to shorten her morning walks. It’s cold, perfect weather for a good stew.

One of my favorite stews is cholent, a traditional Jewish stew cooked very slowly in an oven. Cholent is traditionally eaten as a Sabbath meal as it is well suited to the rules regarding Sabbath food preparation. Religious Jews are prohibited from cooking food on the Sabbath. But food may be kept warm on a pre-existing flame. By starting the cooking process on Friday morning or afternoon, the cholent cooks by sundown—the beginning of the Sabbath. The stew continues to simmer on a very low heat overnight. The oven is not quite hot enough to change the state of the food (the Talmudic definition of “cooking”), but the long, slow heat is enough to build layer upon layer of subtle flavors. Deeply caramelized onions soften into gravy, the meat falls off the bone and infuses the beans and grain with its flavor, while chunks of waxy potato take on an almost smoky flavor.

In the old days, Jewish women would bring their cholent to the village bakery where the pots were kept warm for the Sabbath. On Saturday afternoon, they would gather at the bakery to fetch their pots, bringing home a filling and tasty Sabbath lunch to their families.

Jews the world over made their own style of cholent, with ingedients varying from region to region. Typical ingredients of Eastern European cholent are potatoes, barley, beans, and meat on the bone. (More meat if you could afford it, more bone if you couldn’t.) Sephardi cholent is called hamin, and often includes eggs in their shells. Huevos haminados, as they’re called, turn brown and creamy after a long night of cooking. Iraqi and Kurdish Jews make a version with chicken and rice, called t’bit. North African Jews make a stew called dafeena, with copious amounts of North African spices and often featuring garbanzo beans.

The crown jewel of any cholent is the dumpling or homemade sausage that cooks on top of the stew. The North African dumpling is called kokla, a slightly richer and more savory version of a matzah ball. The Eastern European version is called kishkeh, a sort of poor man’s sausage. Instead of meat, Kishkeh is made of whatever a poor family might have in the larder: an onion, a carrot, some chicken fat, some breadcrumbs or matzah meal. These are grated, mixed, and seasoned simply with salt, pepper, and a little paprika. The mixture is then stuffed into a clean section of beef intestine, or “kishkeh,” loosely translated as gut. When stuffed into the skin of a chicken neck—sewn shut on each end with a needle and thread—this treat is called helzel, or by its typically Yiddish diminuitive, helzeleh.

To the modern, western palate, kishkeh and helzel might sound, well, unpalatable. We’re not used to consuming offal. For many of us, a filet mignon induces an immediate Pavlovian response while the thought of eating intestine triggers a gag reflex. Historically, however, the less desirable parts of the animal were the only parts most folks could afford to eat. This is particularly true for Jewish culinary traditions that feature such delicacies as chopped liver and jellied calf’s foot. And so they should. Ask any Jew of Eastern European descent what they ate at their grandmother’s house, they’ll likely describe bubby’s ethereal chopped liver—neither creamy, nor chunky, and with just the right amount of carmelized onion—on matzah or a slice of warm, toasted challah.

But the beauty of cholent is you don’t have to make yours the way your bubby did. Cholent is infinitely expandable—use garbanzo beans instead of navy beans, steel cut oats instead of barley, osso bucco instead of a large roast. Or try one of the many ethnic varieties of the dish. And leave the window open after dinner.

This post is part of the Waiter, there’s something in my stew! event hosted by Andy of Spitoon extra. Check out Andy’s site for the roundup of stews.

cholent

I used steel cut oats instead of barley. Barley tends to plump nicely and thicken the gravy somewhat. Oats tend to disappear a bit more into the sauce. Millet might work, although I haven’t tried it. I used a combination of new and old world beans, but just about any beans will do. You might want to try using different sizes of beans to achieve a varied texture.
oil for frying
2-3 large veal osso bucco
3-4 potatoes
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3-4 cloves garlic
1 TBS sweet paprika
1/2 TBS smoked paprika
pepper to taste
1 1/2 c mixed beans, soaked overnight
3/4 c grain, such as barley or oatmeal
4-8 washed raw eggs in their shells

for later:

1 kishkeh (recipe to follow)
1 TBS salt

  • Preheat the oven to 200° F (about 93.33° C).
  • Heat some oil in a large, heavy frying pan and brown the osso bucco on both sides. Meanwhile, slice a potato into 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick rounds. Use these slices to cover the bottom of your pot. Double up if you still have slices leftover after covering the bottom of the pot.
  • Remove the osso bucco from the pot and place on top of the potato slices.
  • Add more oil to the pan if necessary, and brown the onions. Season with both paprikas and freshly ground pepper. Press the garlic cloves into the onion mixture and continue frying until the onions are fragrant and have softened.
  • While the onions are cooking, coarsely chop the remaining potatoes into large chunks.
  • Drain the beans and layer the beans with the onion mixture in the pot. Sprinkle over grains. Add the potatoes and pour over water to cover.
  • Carefully nestle the eggs in various nooks and crannies of the uncooked stew.
  • Cover and bake in the oven overnight. Before going to bed, check to make sure the stew has enough water. If not, add some hot water, cover, and put back in the oven.
  • In the morning, see if the stew needs any more water. Add hot water if necessary. Taste a few beans. If they’ve softened, season the cholent with salt. If they haven’t softened, your beans are too old or you added salt at the beginning of cooking. Start over!
  • Place the kishkeh on top of the cholent and continue baking. If the cholent is too liquidy, leave the top off so some of the water can evaporate. Otherwise, cover the cholent.
  • After 18 to 24 hours, remove the cholent from the oven. Serve each diner some potatoes, beans, grains, meat, and a chunk of kishkeh. Peel the eggs and serve as an appetizer with challah, chopped liver, and pickles, or eat with the cholent.

Serves 8-10

kishkeh

Rather than buying pre-made frozen kishkeh, you can pretty easily make your own. I love the sweet, salty taste of kishkeh, and the textural contrast between the soft filling and the crisp edges of the sausage.

1 large onion
1 large carrot, or 3 small ones
1 large potato boiled and peeled
1/2 c bread crumbs or matzah meal
1/4 c schmaltz or rendered goose or duck fat
1 TBS salt
1 TBS paprika
freshly ground pepper to taste
2 ft (61 cm) sausage casing

  • Grate the onion, carrot, and potato into a medium bowl. Alternatively, process the onion and carrot in a food processor.
  • Melt the schmaltz.
  • Add the breadcrumbs or matzah meal, the schmaltz, and the spices. Mix to combine.
  • Cut the casing in half to make it easier to work with. You’ll end up with two kishkehs, one for now, one you can freeze for later. (You could just as well cook them both.)
  • Rinse the casing and tie a knot at one end. Use a sausage funnel, or your fingers, to stuff the casing. (This is a bit messy, but it works.)
  • Use your thumb and forefinger to find the opening of the casing. Insert one finger into the opening, then another. Pull your fingers apart slightly, forming an upside down peace sign. Use this space to force stuffing down the casing with your other hand. When you’ve got a lump of stuffing in the casing, carefully push it down towards the knotted end by wrapping your hand around the tube. If air bubbles form, push the stuffing up a bit to let the air out, then back down.
  • Continue stuffing the casing and letting out air bubbles. Stop when you have an inch or two of empty casing left. Let out any last air bubbles and knot the casing tightly.
  • Repeat with the other casing.
  • To cook kishkeh, do any one of the following:
    • Poke holes in the casing and fry.
    • Poke holes in the casing and fry. Slice into rounds and fry until crisp on both sides.
    • Poke holes in the casing. Cook on top of cholent.

Makes 2 kishkehs

mac and cheese, louise

Friday, January 5th, 2007

Ever get an idea that sounds really interesting in theory but turns out to be, well, a bit strange in practice? I like to expand my ideas about foods that complement each other by trying new combinations, often using whatever fresh produce I have in the fridge. That’s what I tried to do when I prepared my version of macaroni and cheese for the Mac and Cheese Off. The idea was intriguing, the results—less so.

A bag of Italian faro (spelt) penne caught my eye while browsing around my local gourmet shop. The pasta was a light brown color, and one of the store employees said it had a nutty flavor. “Hmmm,” I thought. “This could be an interesting base for my mac and cheese.” Think bechamel with nutmeg on a nutty pasta. Sounds good, doesn’t it? I bought a half gallon of whole milk and a tub of terrific French butter. My refrigerator was already stocked with an array of cheeses, so I was all set for the mac and cheese challenge.

I cooked a simple bechamel, and grated copious amounts of cheese: grana padana, raw milk cheddar, petite basque, and manchego. As I prefer creamy stovetop mac and cheese, I poured the bechamel over the pre-cooked pasta, letting simmer. I then added washed and drained baby bok choy leaves and the mix of grated cheeses.

The bok choy, pasta, and cheese sauce were tasty. Jut not all together. I rather like the idea of bok choy in a creamy cheese sauce. But the spelt pasta was all wrong. Spelt pasta is indeed nutty, but also very slightly bitter, like the aftertaste you get when you eat wheat germ. This flavor clashes harshly with the cheese sauce, throwing off the entire dish. Each ingredient sings a different tune and the result is like listening to the Star Spangled Banner, La Marseillaise, and God Save the Queen at the same time. Worse, the pasta was the wrong size, a factor I should have anticipated. Penne is fine for baking in a cheese sauce, but it doesn’t work very well in a creamy cheese sauce on the stove. I had wanted the cheese sauce to envelope the pasta in its creaminess. This doesn’t happen with penne. The cheese sauce sort of stuck to the penne in an eery looking glaze (see photo).

Oh well. I still think bok choy with mac and cheese is an interesting idea. I’ll have to try again, only this time with actual macaroni.

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pasta with creamy bacon chanterelle sauce with bok choy and apples

Wednesday, December 27th, 2006

creamy_bacon_apple_chanterelle

This little number was fun to cook, as it’s basically a combination of star ingredients—ingredients that, on their own, would be the crowning glory or surprise element of any given dish. Combining apples with greens is a facile yet tasty trick that offers a sweet-tart crisp foil to the dense iron flavor of greens. Bok choy, with its clean, simple flavor and versatility is one of my favorite greens. And bacon and chanterelles, well they brighten just about anything, don’t they?

I don’t generally enjoy creamy pasta sauces, they tend to be too heavy for my palate. But the smoky bacon and earthy chanterelles call out for a smooth, creamy bechamel. If bacon and chanterelle are Romeo and Juliet, bechamel is Verona, for what good is a well-acted play without context?

creamy bacon chanterelle sauce with bok choy and apples

cooked pasta (I used spaghetti, but a small pasta shape or fettuccine might be fun)
2 c simple bechamel sauce (I used 2 TBS flour to 2 TBS butter)
3 rashers good bacon
1 medium shallot, minced
1/2 lb chanterelles, chopped
1 small apple, finely chopped
1 medium bok choy, steamed, leaves separated, chopped
1-2 TBS chopped, fresh parsley
sherry

  • Prepare the bechamel sauce and set aside.
  • In a large pan, fry the bacon until crisp, and set aside. Pour off most of the bacon fat, leaving only a small amount in the pan. You can pour the bacon grease into a heat-proof container and refrigerate it for a later use.
  • Place the pan on medium heat and add the chopped shallot, stirring frequently.
  • Add the chanterelles and stir. Let simmer for a minute or two.
  • Add the apple and stir, then add the chopped bok choy and parsley.
  • Stir in a splash of sherry followed by the bechamel. Pour in a little more sherry to thin the sauce a bit.
  • Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Toss pasta with sauce and serve.

Serves 2-3

smoked duck breast with savoy cabbage and apples

Thursday, December 14th, 2006

This dish seemed to create itself when I brought home the main ingredients. Cabbage and apple were meant to be together, and smoked duck breast is the sultry femme fatale. Who knew that food could have a ménage à trois?

Those little specks of red are not paprika, but rather sumac, a tart spice made of dried sumac berries. Typically used in Middle Eastarn cuisine, sumac lends an exotic flavor to this Hungarian-inspired dish. Its bright sourness is a foil to the sweetness of the cabbage and apples, and the fatty duck.

smoked duck breast with savoy cabbage and apples

bacon fat
1/2 large or 1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced into crescents
1 savoy cabbage, sliced into thin ribbons
1 medium apple, any kind, but preferably a little tart, cored and thinly sliced
1 smoked duck breast, thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste
garnish: sumac (or lemon juice), and parsley

  • Place a large skillet or wok on a medium to low flame, place some bacon fat into the pan.
  • Sauté the onions in the skillet. Meanwhile, place a smaller cast-iron skillet on a medium high flame. Melt some bacon fat in the skillet.
  • Fry the apple slices in the smaller skillet until golden brown on both sides. You’ll want to fry the apples in batches so as not to crowd the pan.
  • Once the onions have turned golden, add a handful or two of cabbage and stir. Cook for a minute and stir again. Then add another handful or two and repeat. Continue until all the cabbage has been added. You want to incorporate the cabbage with the onions and bacon fat without lowering the overall temperature of the cooking vegetables too much. This will also result in varying textures in the cabbage, some will turn out a little more crunchy, and some a little softer. If the pan starts to get dry, add more bacon fat.
  • As the apples finish cooking, add them to the cabbage onion mixture. Turn off the flame if most of the cabbage has just turned bright green. You want at least some of the cabbage to be somewhat al dente.
  • Fry the sliced duck breast in the skillet in which you fried the apples. Both sides should be slightly carmelized at the edges. Turn off the flame and add duck breast to cabbage mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Serve with buttered broad noodles or fettuccine.

Serves 3-4

white beet sorrel potato soup

Tuesday, December 12th, 2006

I once ate white borsch at a friend’s house as a teenager. It was a clear broth with potatoes and green leafies of some sort, and I loved it. This soup was a revelation for me, as my previous encounters with borsch had been entirely unpleasant. The only borsch I had growing up in California came in mass-produced jars bought from the local kosher food store. The jars of purple juice with spherical lumps looked like alien amniotic fluid, and taste about the same. As a result, I had always stayed away from anything that called itself borsch (or borscht), or anything with beets in it, for that matter. That bowl of white borsch opened up a whole new world to me. So this was borsch! It was good, honest traditional food with a harmony of textures.

My second revelation happened at college. My Moscovite friend Ariella had just prepared a fresh pot of red beet borsch, and offered me a bowl. “Oh, I don’t really like borsch, thanks,” I said foolishly. “Just taste a little,” she replied, undeterred. And so I did. It was tart and sweet, warm and delicious. I gladly ate an entire bowl. After that, it was a small leap to beets with goat cheese or gorgonzola and walnuts on a bed of greens.

My eternal thanks to Ariella for re-introducing me to fresh beets.

This soup combines the tart freshness of sorrel with the sweetness of white beets. Potatoes ground the soup with their earthy flavor and dense, creamy texture. I didn’t bother peeling the potatoes, you don’t notice the skins when the soup is blended.

white beet sorrel potato soup

butter and olive oil
1/2 large or 1 small onion, chopped
4 medium potatoes, chopped
4 medium white or golden beets, peeled and chopped
stock and/or water
2/3 lb sorrel, washed, drained, stems removed
salt and white pepper

  • Melt the butter and olive oil in a large pot on medium heat. Add the onions and stir.
  • When the onions are nearly golden, stir in the potatoes, then the beets.
  • Cook for a few minutes, then pour in stock or water to cover. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer for about 15-20 minutes, or until the potatoes and beets have softened.
  • Meanwhile, coarsely chop the sorrel. Stir in the sorrel and simmer until the sorrel begins to change color. Turn off the flame.
  • Using an immersion blender, blend the soup to a thick, creamy consistency. You can leave the soup a little chunky or blend it until it’s very smooth. I like it a little chunky.
  • Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Taste and correct seasoning.
  • Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream, or a splash of whole milk stirred in.

Serves 4-6

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