Something like this

For whatever reason, it has become abundantly clear to me, this week, that summer is LONG gone, fall is about to wear out its welcome, and winter is fast-approaching.

Maybe in your part of the world you’re sitting out in the still-warmish sun, wearing your flippies, and still enjoying the leaves falling, changing colors. Maybe you’re wearing your jacket (the one you can barely call a jacket because it’s so damn thin), but the gloves are still packed away, and maybe you’re trying to squeeze in another grill-fest or make another batch of iced tea. Maybe your scarf is just an accessory, rather than a neccessity.

If that’s you, please shush yourself. I’m quick to report that I’d be extremely jealous, and if you were in front of me bragging about your gorgeous weather, I’d contemplate punching you in the groin, and if you were on Facebook I’d highly consider de-friending you. I’m that jealous, people. It’s weeks like this that I wonder why I don’t live back in the south, or in California, or New Mexico, or freakin’ Jamaica.

Have I told you I can be a bit dramatic? It’s not really that cold…and to be perfectly honest, what troubles me most about this weather is the fact that I’ll soon have to start wearing socks every day, and every night I go to sleep. I hate socks. I like to expose my wonky toes to the world, donning sandals and flats, and even flippies although those were put away a month ago, thank you.

Yesterday, I reached into the depths of a closet and out came one of my gramma’s handmade quilts. And even though I hated the fact that I was cold enough to need it, once I wrapped myself up in it, I sorta had a change of heart. I was warm, and I was home, and in a matter of moments I’d be gobbling up a bowl full of this soup.

This soup, I tell you. When you have flavors of curry and coconut and lime at your tongue, you realize the weather outside doesn’t matter much.  You realize that one of the many inherited blankets you have in your possession is oh so comforting, and even though the sandals are no more, the gloves much needed, and the snow not far away, it doesn’ t quite matter as long as you come home – to something like this.

Coconut Red Curry ‘Hot Pot’ w/ Braised Chicken & Mushrooms
adapted from Cooking Light, October 2010; serves 4 as main, 6 as first course

time commitment: less than 1 hour; 30 minutes active time

a traditional hot pot is an ultra hot bowl of broth where the meat is generally thinly sliced and cooked tableside in the pot. the meat here, as well as the ‘shrooms, is braised prior to serving, but the Thai flavors are still present, still tasty.

printable version

ingredients
2  14 oz cans  fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
2 stalks chopped peeled fresh lemongrass
5  (1/4-inch) slices fresh ginger
2 Thai chiles
1 1/2  T  red curry paste
1  (4-ounce) package presliced exotic mushroom blend (such as shiitake, cremini, and oyster)
8  oz  skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
1  (13.5-ounce) can light coconut milk
1  T  Thai fish sauce
2  t  brown sugar
1/3  c  thinly diagonally cut green onions
3  T  fresh lime juice
6  T  coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, divided
5  oz  uncooked wide rice noodles

instructions
Bring broth to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; stir in lemongrass, ginger, and chiles. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand 30 minutes. Strain through a sieve over a bowl; discard solids. Return broth to pan; add curry paste, stirring with a whisk. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; cook 2 minutes or until tender. Stir in chicken; cook 3 minutes or until chicken is done. Add coconut milk, stirring well to combine. Stir in fish sauce and sugar, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat; stir in onions, juice, and 1/4 cup cilantro.

Cook noodles according to package directions; drain (if your noodles are like mine and the package writing is in another language, this won’t help… rice noodles are generally soaked in water for 30 minutes, then cooked in boiling water for 3-4 minutes; cook noodles right before serving, and not in advance). Add noodles to coconut milk mixture. Ladle 1 cup soup into each of 4-6 bowls; sprinkle evenly with remaining 2 tablespoons cilantro.

Footloose & Fancy-free

I’m typically a rather organized, methodical person. Which is not to say that I’m therefore, uptight, because that’s pretty far from the truth. But I do enjoy control, order, and the usual systematic process of time. At least, from time to time I do.

I realize that often, I contradict myself. I like calendars, but I’ve never worn a watch (except when the swatch watches were in style, and I probably wore those way past their prime). I like planning vacations, but I prefer to have a “destination” and go from there, with a limited agenda (this is making the upcoming vacation tricky, I’m finding). I have a list of restaurants to go to, but I hate having to make reservations and would prefer to just show up when I want to eat there (Rick Bayless doesn’t allow that, sadly. I still haven’t planned far enough in advance to go to Frontera.). And when it comes to food, I generally use recipes, but I never measure and I won’t pretend for a second that the recipes are followed very strictly.

So when our first CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box came in last week, I was cautiously excited. I like to think of myself as an adventurous cook, but I also like to come home from work with an idea in mind of what I’m cooking for that night, and the rest of the week as well. We had a general idea of what was gonna be in the box, but just like a box of chocolates, you never really know what you’re gonna get.

At the same time, I was looking forward to ‘wingin’ it’ which, despite my culinary training, I seldom do. Though I certainly don’t adhere to the ‘anyone can follow a recipe’ mantra (believe me, it’s not true), I own so many cookbooks and read so many food magazines that I find myself feeling the need to use those recipes, at least as a guide.

Unpacking the CSA box reminded me of a story my pops told me the other day, one of many. He boasted proudly about his parents and the first few years of his life in the country, growing up on a farm and in absence of a phone, let alone electricity. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner consisted of what was available to them that day; bluntly – there was no grocery-shopping, no microwaving, and no Thomas Keller, Rick Bayless, or even Food Network to be inspired by. At first you think about how unfortunate they were to have never tasted a juicy Florida orange, a smooth and buttery California avocado, and for Pete’s sake, a bowl of those sweet Michigan cherries. But then, then, you realize how simple, how coveted, and how organic it all was.

I’ll tell you one thing: it makes that CSA box seem like one step in the right direction. Which, ironically, is backwards.

And while I won’t pretend to be hardcore when it comes to eating locally, I certainly appreciate those who do and with every season that passes and every dish I order, I am more conscious of it. My dad’s story the other day reminded me of how fortunate we are, but how forgetful we are as well.

The box and the meal that followed hit home in more ways than one. To top it all off, I reminded myself that not only can I cook, but I’m also not a bad chef either. So with that, here’s to CSA season, ‘the old days’, and cooking the way Rod Stewart might suggest: footloose and fancy-free.

In the Chicago area and wanna research CSAs? Start here. Summer CSAs are likely full or past joining times, but some have Fall sign-ups.

Linguini with Sausage, Kale, and ‘Shrooms
Inspired by the CSA box; serves 4

printable version

ingredients
8 oz whole wheat linguini*
8 oz spicy pork sausage, sliced into 1/2″ medallions
2 ‘strands’ garlic scape (or 2 garlic cloves), thinly sliced
1 T anchovy paste
8 oz shitake mushrooms, stemmed & sliced
1/2 bunch green kale, chopped
juice from 1/2 lemon
1/2 c semi-dry white wine (I used a Michigan Kerner, similar to Riesling)
1 T champagne vinegar
3 T butter
salt and pepper
2 T parmigiano-reggiano cheese

instructions
cook pasta in a large pot according to package directions and drain.

meanwhile, heat large saucepan to med-hi and cook sausage for about 5-7 minutes, flipping to cook evenly. set aside on paper towel-lined plate. in same saucepan, which will have a little oil from sausages, saute scapes with anchovy paste for 1-2 minutes. add mushrooms and most of the lemon juice and cook for about 5 minutes. add kale and cook until kale begins to wilt, about 2 more minutes. add sausage and cooked pasta to pan and toss until heated through and then move contents to large serving dish. add salt and pepper to taste.

add white wine, butter, and champagne vinegar to saucepan. let boil to remove cooked bits and incorporate into sauce. whisk until a smooth mixture forms; pour over dish. season with salt and pepper and any remaining lemon juice. top with cheese.

*can easily use gluten-free, if needed

Foodbuzz 24×24: The Last Supper

This is the post where I bash vegetarianism. But only after a night full of meatless, fishless fare, loads of wine, and 6.5 people to consume it all.

I have a horrible habit of blurting out my opinions with reckless abandon. Not thinking before I speak. I’ve been accused of having no ‘mental filter’, whatever the hell that nonsense is. And this ‘no meat’ business, it happened in much that same way: a quality i generally admire in myself (although others may not) backfired. I was the victim of my uncensored words, this time.

You see, for those of you who’ve not been reading along this month, it’s been a long month of vegetarian-occasional-pescaterian-ism in these parts, and it’s all my fault. I thought it sounded like a good “project”, and I blurted it out, and so it was. I’d made an assertion, and I’ve stuck to it.

In that respect, I’m what you might call a “sure thing”: if I tell you I’m doing something, I will do it. If I RSVP “yes”, I will be there. And by golly (I’m lame too, you see) if I say I’m going vege(pesca)tarian for a month, I’m damn well going to make sure it happens, even if the Hubs sticks his pulled pork, brisket, AND his crisp pork belly from People right underneath my nose. Come to think of it, that guy is lucky to be alive, isn’t he?!


{adventures in semi-molecular gastronomy: the making of tomato gelee}

So – longish story a wee bit shorter, but still long, that’s what this post is about. The Last Supper as a wannebee (or not) vegetarian. And yeah, I ate a little fish, I even ate a little shrimp, and I may or may not have licked the juice from the stranger’s burger last week, but this meal you see here is 100% vegetarian. I even used agar agar instead of gelatin for my fancy gelee; I’m hardcore like that. And fancy, too.

Quite honestly, I don’t see how these ‘high-end’ restaurants do these tasting menus. Well, maybe I do: they have a brigade system, for one. And Foodbuzz may offer cash incentives for their monthly hoorahs, but they don’t staff these parties… So, friends, I was chef de cuisine for the night, but I was also my own sous chef, and for the most part, my own plongeur and certainly my own pâtissier. Prep started on Wednesday when I got the urge to make caramel powder. I almost ate it all that night, but I decided to share. And Thursday involved a quick trip to Crate and Barrel for a couple of missing pieces, a Whole Foods excursion (which, why don’t I always go on weeknights? it is so very quiet there after 7), and more prep – making the base for the ice cream, cubing some bread I made a month ago and froze (not for this party, I should say, but why buy brioche when you have frozen cardamom-spiced bread that you made from scratch?!), and getting my plan of attack put together for the rest of my time before Saturday, which included a lot of research about spherification, gelees, and preparing risotto restaurant-style.

With much of the work behind me, Saturday was actually manageable. Thanks to the 3-day weekend, I skirted outta work early on Friday and prepped a bit more, and then celebrated (yeah, I really made this month a big deal, didn’t I?) with a penultimate dinner at Green Zebra (go there, even if you love meat – read about our experience here). After a trip to Green City Market for my local ingredients (‘shrooms, rhubarb, asparagus, un baguette, etc), it was prep ’til service, but in a totally unchaotic way, which is far different than I’d imagined.

Before long, I’d managed to squeeze in some quality book-reading, and then it was “go-time” once everyone arrived. Fortunately, Katherine & Brook (newlyweds – say congrats everyone!) brought apps and wine, Ryan & Caroline (along with Hudson, who I promise didn’t drink any, or not much…) brought more apps and a drink I thought only my sister drank, and I, since I volunteered, got the short end of the stick, and finished it up with 4 courses of veggie fare.

Here’s the dishes:

First Course, Savory: Tomato, Basil, Mozzarella ‘Salad’. This was my insane attempt at molecular gastronomy, and I gotta give mad props to Grant Achatz, because this shit is a lot of work, and he has 10 components on his dishes – this was supposed to be two and a half: mozzarella spheres powder, tomato gelee, and basil oil. Lesson: don’t start molecular gastronomy spherification with mozzarella; start slowly with easy liquids, and not during a dinner party :).

Second Course, Savory: Carrot-Ginger Soup with Chili Butter, Roasted Peanuts, & Crostini. This is what we’d call the ‘easy course’. I think soup is best made in advance so the flavors develop, and making it Friday, rewarming Saturday, was perfect. Plus, who doesn’t like butter in the shape of a star? I knew those ice cube trays would be used one day!

Third Course, Savory: Truffled Mushroom & Spring Vegetable Risotto with Fried Egg. Hmm… I think this was the trickiest. Risotto is best served immediately, but clearly restaurants have to have another way, or they’d have a 30-minute wait just for risotto, which would be stupid. So, you cook it 2/3’s, chill it quickly, and finish it off before service. Add a fried egg on top and you certainly don’t miss the meat. You do, however, miss the full effect of the finished product, because I was intent on getting the hot egg to the table ASAP, and sacrificed the pic to do so. So just imagine that over-easy fried egg atop.

Fourth Course, Sweet: Rhubarb-Ginger Cardamom Bread Pudding, Cardamom-Vanilla Ice Cream, and Caramel Powder. You’re gonna have to hold your horses for this one, friends, because it’s very special and in need of the spotlight. Full post (with recipe) coming soon.

—————————————————————————-

I gotta be honest here: I am so freakin’ glad this month is almost over, at which point I’ll stop whining and thinking of all the food I’ve missed out on because of my silly ideas.

But….

I have eaten (and cooked) some really good vegetarian food these last 30 days. From Korean tacos to ramp pesto pizza to Green Zebra and now this big ol’ dinner. When you’re actually eating a vegetarian meal, you don’t know what you’re missing, quite honestly. But for me, only choosing to eat vegetarian to “see if I could”, I couldn’t help thinking about what I really was missing, because many times I would have rather eaten meat.

Is it healthier to eat vegetarian? It shouldn’t even be a question. But the answer is no, and if you’re surprised, I’ll tell you why it’s not. For a typical person eating vegetarian food (and when I say typical, I’m comparing that to a vegetarian who eats salads all the time – your stereotypical vegetarian), you are drawn to the heartier recipes – which are cheese-laden and overflowing with carbohydrate – both in a meagar effort to make up for the lacking protein. On the other hand, you do eat more fruits and vegetables, which is without a doubt healthier. And certainly, a balance is probably best, at the end of the day: some meats during the week, a bunch of whole grains, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Maybe flexitarian is where it’s at.

And maybe one day I’ll consider it. But for the next few weeks, you best believe I’m loading up on pork, beef, lamb, and even chicken. Come to mama.

 The First Course:

Tomato, Basil, & Mozzarella Salad
Inspired by Alinea; makes at least 6 with extra tomatoes and oil

printable recipe

ingredients
tomato gelee (recipe below)
6 small mozzarella balls, sliced in half
basil oil (recipe below)
balsamic vinegar
Maldon sea salt

instructions
assemble each component on small plate. basil oil and balsamic vinegar first, then tomato, then mozzarella. sprinkle with a tiny bit of sea salt.

Tomato Gelee

ingredients
1 lb heirloom tomatoes
salt and pepper
1 T olive oil
drizzle of black truffle oil (optional)
agar agar (quantities below)

instructions
Blanch tomatoes (score bottom of tomatoes, boil for about 2-3 minutes, shock in ice water bath) and peel. Chop roughly and dump in food processor;  add salt, pepper, olive oil. Puree until smooth and strain. Measure liquid content, and dump in saucepan. For every 1 cup of juice, add 1 T agar agar to mixture and bring to boil; simmer for about 5 minutes. Pour into desired container (such as rubber ice cube trays). Cool until firm. Can be made 1-2 days in advance.

Basil Oil

ingredients
1 ½ c fresh basil
¾ c evoo

instructions
blanch basil for 20 seconds. rinse with cold water and pat dry. puree fresh basil and olive oil until smooth; strain. Can be made three days ahead.

The Second Course:

Carrot-Ginger Soup with Chile Butter, Roasted Peanuts, and Crostini
Adapted from Bon Appetit, May 2010 ; serves 6-8

printable version

ingredients
chile butter
1/4 c (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 T finely chopped green onions or ramps
1/2 t dried crushed red pepper

soup
2 T butter
¼ t curry powder
¼ t hot smoked paprika
¼ t cumin
1 1/2 lbs carrots, peeled, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
1 1/4 c chopped onion
5 oz taro root (~2 small, or white-skinned potato), peeled, chopped
3 1/2 T minced peeled fresh ginger
4 c vegetable broth
1 c water + more for thinning soup, if needed
2 T heavy cream
splash of balsamic vinegar
6 T unsalted roasted peanuts, finely chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
fresh baguette, sliced and toasted

instructions
For chile butter
Mix all ingredients in small bowl. Cover and chill (or pour into shaped molds and chill). Bring to room temperature before using.  

for soup
Melt 2 T butter in large pot over medium-high heat. Add carrots, onion, taro root, and ginger; sprinkle with salt and sauté until vegetables are slightly softened but not brown, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add 4 cups broth and 1 cup of water; bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly, then puree in batches in blender until smooth or all at once using an immersion blender, without leaving the pot. Return soup to same pot; if desired, add more water by 1/4 cupfuls to thin soup (I added at least 1 cup). Bring to simmer. Season with salt and black pepper and add heavy cream and a splash of balsamic vinegar at end to freshen.

The Third Course:                                                                                  

Truffled Mushroom & Veggie Risotto with Fried Eggs
serves 6-8

printable version

ingredients
5 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, divided
1 lb chopped shitake mushrooms
1 T black truffle oil
salt and pepper
1/2 lb diced trimmed asparagus
1/2 lb fennelhead ferns, cleaned well (if unavailable, use asparagus)
3/4 c chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 c carneroli (or arborio) rice
3/4 c dry white wine
4 c vegetable broth
3 c water
3/4 c 1/3-inch cubes carrots
1 c freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese plus additional for serving
1/4 c chopped fresh parsley
1 T evoo
6 large eggs (one for each person)

instructions
melt 3 T butter in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add truffle oil, simmer for about 1 minute. Season mushrooms with salt and pepper. Set aside.

meanwhile, blanch asparagus and fennelhead ferns (separately). boil asaparagus for about 2 minutes then shock in cold water; boil fennelhead for about 3. set aside.

In a saucepan, heat veggie broth and water. keep heat on low while making risotto.

melt 2 T butter in large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion; sauté until beginning to soften, 5 minutes. Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Add rice and stir for about 5 minutes. Add wine. Stir until liquid is absorbed, 1 minute. Add 1 cup broth. Simmer until broth is absorbed, stirring often, 3 to 4 minutes. Add carrots. Continue to add remaining broth/water, 1 cup at a time, until rice is just tender and mixture is creamy, stirring often and letting almost all liquid be absorbed after each addition, about 25 minutes total.

Stir 1 cup cheese, parsley, mushrooms, and blanched veggies into risotto. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook eggs, without turning, until whites are cooked through and yolks are cooked to desired doneness.

Mound 1 cup risotto on each plate. Top each with egg. Serve, passing additional cheese.

The real bacon-lover:

U2 can make soup

soup

As a result of the wonderful event that is “Spring Forward”, like most I’ve managed to begin this Sunday an hour behind. It’s almost 1 and I’m still working on coffee and am barely hungry enough to think about lunch. Fortunately breakfast consisted of cereal, so that won’t be filling my tummy for too much longer and in no time my tum will start talking to me to feed it.

In addition, it’s been raining all weekend following a lovely Friday of sun where I was of course stuck indoors at work. I apparently am destined to be inside this weekend. Good thing I was up early enough yesterday to get the grocery shopping done before the rain came down! But since I’m stuck indoors with the raining pouring outside and the house quiet except for the occasional thump of music from the upstairs neighbors, I think it’s a perfect time for – you guessed it – soup!! So don’t go too far – I have a recipe in mind that I meant to make last weekend but never got around to. If you like cauliflower this won’t disappoint. I’ll try it out and report back in a jiffy!


Alright, here it is. In about 1/2 an hour time and with the help of the new U2 album playing in the background, lunch is served. As I’m writing, the soup is already beginning to add a little coziness to the increasingly horrible rain storm. It’s practically coming down in sheets, and it’s already scared the hard to scare cat into the closet. I started the soup with a recipe and ended up with an empty fridge by using random ingredients that were begging to make their journey to my tummy through soup 🙂 I think they are happy with the result:


soup

DSC02015

 

Cauliflower-Apple soup with Roasted Red Peppers & Apple Cider Reduction
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine; serves 6

ingredients

1 cup apple cider
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon Madras curry powder
1 teaspoon Five Spice powder
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
3-4 cups cauliflower florets (1 head)
4 cups low sodium chicken or veggie broth
1 cup beef broth (or 5 cups chicken/veggie – I ran out)
2 Gala apples, peeled, cored, chopped
handful of Shitake mushrooms, chopped
1/2 roasted red pepper, chopped
1/3 cup half and half
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
salt & pepper



instructions

  1. Bring cider to boil and reduce to 1/4 cup. Cool to room temp.
  2. Heat oil in Dutch oven and add onion. Saute 3 min; add spices & garlic and saute another minute. Add cauliflower, apples, broths, peppers, shrooms; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer ~15 minutes or until cauliflower is tender.
  3. Remove from heat and cool 5 minutes. Blend with immersion blender until soup consistency. Add half and half, lemon juice, salt/pepper.
  4.  Ladle 1 cup servings into bowls. Drizzle cider reduction over top.