Food To Warm Your Bones: Soup, Pizza, Bread, and Brownies

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Soup, pizza, bread, and brownies. With a seemingly never-ending blizzard going on outside, really—what more do you need?

(Please don’t say bourbon or wine or a Dark & Stormy, because I’m on Day 23 of Sober January, and I am determined to make it to Day 31.)

Anyway, back to the food. When I asked my husband if he wanted me to make anything special for blizzard weekend, he replied with an enthusiastic “Bread! Make bread! Please please please!”

The bread he’s referring to is this, a perfectly round boule with a dense, crisp crust and soft, chewy interior. Hot out of the oven, it is exactly what you want when you’re trying to defrost yourself after several hours of shoveling. The dough is actually the easiest thing to put together, and takes about five minutes since there’s no kneading involved. As I was gathering the flour, yeast and salt, I figured I might as well make pizza dough. Bring on the carbs!

The pizza dough requires minimal kneading, and it also takes almost no time to prepare—if you have a food processor.  I highly recommend that you use bread flour if you’re making pizza or bread. You get a much crisper crust and a wonderfully airy, chewy center.

Making pizza from scratch is like creating a blank canvas on which to paint your dinner. You could go traditional and use tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, or your could try something different. My best pizzas have been inspired by the leftovers in my fridge.

That pizza you see in the picture?  I cooked a batch of beans in my slow cooker last Sunday and had about a cup left in the refrigerator. Beans on a pizza? I’ve heard weirder. Herbed, creamy white beans are a natural fit with garlic, so I lopped the tops off two bulbs, roasted them, then mashed the cloves into a paste. As for cheese, I had three to choose from: chevre, Pecorino and mozzarella. Pecorino has the salty-tangy-pow of flavor that really punches up the beans and garlic. I finished with a generous drizzle of olive oil and a smattering of kosher salt. Voi-la: a classy, photogenic and mostly importantly DELICIOUS dinner. This is a pizza you can have on its own, or if you’re feeling more virtuous you can have a slice with a green salad or bowl of soup…

Soup! Of course—what could be more perfect on a cold, blustery, blizzardy day?  This one was entirely improvised, and I built the recipe around two ingredients: beluga lentils and lascinato kale.  What’s funny is that both these foods sound so much fancier than they actually are. Beluga lentils are petite black lentils that, like the French green lentils, maintain their shape and texture well in soups. Bonus: they don’t require nearly as long to cook. Lascinato kale, (or Dinosaur kale, or black kale) is my favorite of the kales. It has this unique pebbly texture, it keeps in the fridge for weeks, and the leaves are so versatile. I find they’re more tender than regular curly kale, so they work equally well in salads, soups and sautes.

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Here’s the recipe for the soup. Keep in mind I used the seasonings and vegetables I had on hand, but you can use whatever you like. Cumin, coriander and garam masala lean on the earthier side of the spice spectrum. You could add more heat, or flavor the soup with herbs instead.

Recipe: Lentil Kale Soup

Time: 90 minutes, prep to table
Serves: 4

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp oregano
scant 1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp aleppo pepper
1/2 large vidalia onion, finely diced
1 shallot, chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
2 small parsnips, peeled, cored and chopped
5 ribs celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 cup beluga (black) lentils
1 cup beef stock
4 cups water
1 bunch Lascinato kale (AKA black kale or dinosaur kale), washed, trimmed of stems and cut into 1” ribbons
4 sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat for 2 minutes. Add oil, swirl to coat pan. Add all the spices (cumin through the aleppo pepper), and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. The mixture will be dark and fragrant.

Add the next six ingredients (onion through garlic), and stir to coat with the spice mixture. Lower the heat to medium-low, add a dash of salt, and let the vegetables cook undisturbed for about 10 minutes, until they soften.

Add the lentils and stir, raising the heat back to medium high. Add the beef stock and the water. Allow the mixture to come to a boil.

Once it starts boils, reduce to a simmer and let cook for ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add the kale, stirring it into the mixture. You may have to reduce the heat, but you want to keep the soup at a steady simmer for about 35-40 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.

Turn off the heat, add salt and pepper to your taste, and sprinkle the the thyme leaves over the soup. Stir and serve immediately, or allow to cool completely before portioning. Refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze up to 3 months.

I didn’t forget the brownies, by the way. Here’s a recipe for fudgy brownies that has all the flavor and a little less guilt than standard recipes. And here’s a tip: If you want to amp up the chocolate flavor, add a teaspoon of instant espresso to the dry ingredients, and a tablespoon of chocolate liquor to the wet ingredients. Your inner chocaholic will thank you.

 

Put an Egg on It


Tuesday night dinner: Brussel sprouts, butternut squash & parsnips roasted with olive oil and thyme, on a bed of farro with mushrooms, topped with an egg (that’s sunny side up, not fried).

Roasted veggies and cooked grains are side dishes by themselves. But put an egg on your plate and you have dinner. Or even brunch. Either way, this is a colorful, satisfying and super-nutritious meal.

For my WW friends, this plate is 9 Smart Points, ready in 35 minutes.

Breakdown:

3 SP = 1.5 cups roasted vegetables with olive oil

4 SP = .5 cup Farro with mushrooms

2 SP = one egg, cooked in a non-stick pan with just a spray of olive oil

 

Bringing A Taste of The Vineyard Home to Brooklyn

On Monday, I returned from a wonderful yet all too short trip to Martha’s Vineyard.  This is the second summer I’ve made the trip—my boyyfriend’s family spends time there each every summer, and it’s easy to see why. The Vineyard is a magical place—the vibe is relaxed, the landscape is picturesque, and there is good food to be had everywhere. I don’t mean restaurant food—I mean fresh food, particularly fish and produce. On Saturday evening my boyfriend and I joined his parents, aunts and uncles for a delightful homemade dinner of Portuguese kale soup with Linguiça sausage, grilled striped bass with pesto, and so many sides of farmers market vegetables that I can’t even remember how many or what they were . I just remember them being delicious. And while the striped bass was perfectly cooked, moist and tender to the bite, the standout of this meal was the soup.

I had never had Linguiça sausage—it’s similar to chorizo in its smokiness, but it’s leaner, and flavored with a different blend of spices, including oregano and cinnamon among others. It adds an incredible flavor to the soup’s base of chicken broth. And without the Linguiça, I would never have been interested in a soup that featured kale, potatoes and kidney beans. Luckily, all those ingredients benefit from some smoke and pork fat.

I was still full from dinner when I awoke the next morning and hurriedly got myself together for the West Tisbury Book Fair. Sunday is half-price day, so our troop (my boyfriend, his uncle and I) arrived at 8:50am so that we might secure the best books once the fair opened at 9. I gave myself a cap of 2 books, knowing I had to fly home and had limited luggage space. I walked away with 5 cookbooks for $5.25, and I was so excited by my good fortune that I temporarily forgot how I would get the books back to Brooklyn.

One of my glorious finds was Molly O’Neill’s A Well-Seasoned Appetite, published in 1995. I remembered reading O’Neill’s columns in The New York Times Magazine growing up, back before Mark Bittman dominated the recipe columns of the newspaper and the Magazine.  Like Bittman’s recipes, O’Neill’s are most appealing in their simplicity—she focuses on seasonal foods and preparations that make them shine with the least amount of effort. Molly O’Neill’s recipes make me want to get in the kitchen; her prose made me want to read the book in a single sitting.

As I combed through each section, looking for inspiration to make some new dishes once I returned home, I found a recipe for Kale Soup with Potatoes and Sausage. It was the first thing I made when I got home.

RECIPE:

Kale Soup With Potatoes and Sausage
adapted from A Well-Seasoned Appetite, by Molly O’Neill

Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Total hands on time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 3 strips bacon
  • 2 links of chorizo sausage (about 3-4 inches in length; Goya or Tropical sell them in a package)
  • 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled or scrubbed, then cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 head of kale (standard curly)
  • 4 cups (1 quart) chicken stock (homemade or canned low-sodium)
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 can red kidney beans (14 oz, preferably low sodium), rinsed and drained
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Prep:
A couple more things in addition to the washing/draining/chopping listed above… Remove casing from the sausage links. Cut each link into quarters (lengthwise), then slice each log into 1/8 inch-thick pieces. Set aside. Chop the stems off the kale, then rinse the leaves thoroughly. Drain. Then cut into 1″ strips & set aside.

Method:
In a large stockpot over medium heat, cook the bacon until the fat has rendered. Remove bacon from the pot, then drain and either discard (for shame!) or use it for something else. Lower the heat and add the chorizo pieces, cooking for 2-3 minutes until the fat in the pan has increased and turned a golden-orange color. Next, add the chopped onions, and cook for two minutes. Then add the potato and garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the kale and cook, stirring constantly, for another 2-3 minutes.

Next, stir in the broth, vinegar and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer. Allow mixture to gently simmer for 30 minutes, then add beans and the water. (Tip: if the water is already hot or even boiling, you won’t have to adjust the heat under the pot to bring it back to a simmer). Allow the mixture to continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes, until the kale and potatoes are tender to the bite. Remove from heat.

Ladle soup into bowls and top with freshly ground pepper. A slight drizzle of extra virgin olive oil doesn’t hurt, either.

This soup with serve 8 as a first course, or 5-6 as a light meal. Molly O’Neill says the recipe will feed 4 as a meal, but assume those portions are huge.  If you don’t plan to serve all the soup at once, freeze some in a large container, or in individual portions. It will keep in the fridge up to 4 days, and will always taste better the day after you make it, once all the flavors from the vegetables and the chorizo have a chance to get to know each other better.

Notes:
 I took a few liberties in this recipe in my adaptation—for one thing, I couldn’t find Linguiça sausage in my neighborhood grocery store, but I did find chorizo.  I didn’t buy the pound that was called for in the recipe, as it would have been too expensive, but I still needed more pork flavor—and fat—than two links of chorizo would yield. Enter bacon, which I already had in my freezer (conveniently frozen in packs of 3 strips each). I skipped the tomatoes O’Neill calls for in favor of the kidney beans, which were a key ingredient in the Portuguese kale soup I enjoy so much at Martha’s Vineyard. I think the soup is better without the addition of tomatoes. Finally, if you are tempted to skip the balsamic vinegar, as I initially was, don’t. One tablespoon goes a long way, and it adds just the right amount of sweetness to the soup without calling attention to itself (as balsamic has a tendency to do).

Sunday Cooking: Get Your Grill on Without Leaving the Comfort of A/C

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but it’s hot. Almost too hot to cook.

I’ve spent the last few weeks eating more salads than I can count, and while the bounty of summer vegetables provides me with crisp, crunchy, and cold salad ingredients, there is also an abundance of veggies I love that demand cooking.

Like our friends from the squash family: zucchini and eggplant. Some people get tired of these vegetables by mid-summer – you can find loads of them at supermarkets and farmers markets, and if you belong to a CSA like my friend Tracie, you’ll be sick of zucchini before the end of July.

But it’s cheap and versatile, and I like that. I like zucchini ribbons, zucchini fritters, zucchini sticks and zucchini bread. But my favorite way to eat zucchini in the summer months? Grilled.  I was too hot (and quite frankly, too lazy) to hoof it up to my roof to use the charcoal grill, so instead I went to the cupboard and pulled out a little number I scored for Christmas.

Le Grille Pan (post-grilling, pre-cleaning).

Armed with 2 large zucchinis and a ripe eggplant, I set about the business of slicing and marinating – olive oil, balsamic (a light touch), salt and pepper. While the veggies marinated, I heated the grill pan (coated with olive oil spray) for 5 minutes at medium high heat.

I cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch thick slices; the zucchini into 1/4-inch slices.  At this width, the eggplant are perfect when cooked 4-5 minutes on each side, and I like to rotate the slices as they cook to get these pretty grill marks.

Since the zucchini are sliced thinner, they only need to cook about 3 minutes on each side. And 2 zucchini yielded enough slices to serve 4 as an appetizer.

I still had another eggplant and 2 more zucchini in my fridge, plus some leftover tomato sauce (thank you, Mommy!). That gave me another idea: sauce—but a sauce that would be delicious hot on pasta, cold as a dip, or room temperature to enjoy with cheese and bread.

This sauce gets its punch from lots of chopped garlic (seven cloves!) and hot pepper flakes. Yum yum yum.

This dish came together in under a half hour. First, peel and chop some garlic cloves (however many you like). Then cut the eggplant (1) into 1″ cubes. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add olive oil to the pan. Give it a minute or two, and then add the garlic. Let the garlic cook for a couple minutes before adding the eggplant, about a teaspoon of kosher salt and 2 tablespoons of water. Stir everything together, reduce heat to medium and cover. Cut the zucchini (2)into 1″ chunks, and add to mixture once eggplant has started to soften and release liquid. Stir and cover again. Cook for another 6-8 minutes. Once the zucchini has begun to soften a little (but still retain its bite), add tomato sauce—I had about 3/4 of a cup—and stir.  Add a pinch each of the following: hot pepper flakes, dried oregano and basil, plus salt and black pepper to your taste. Allow the mixture to cook uncovered at medium heat for another 2-3 minutes, and then that’s it. You’re done.

The last thing I made today was a fruit crumble (You can find my method for how to make one here).  As I’ve said before, fruit crumbles are endlessly adaptable—which I’ve learned from making a new every Sunday for the last month, each time with a different combination of fruits. Today I used a pear, a peach, a pint of blueberries and a half-pound of strawberries. I also added a new element to the crumble topping: chopping candied ginger.  I’ll post a picture of how this baby looks when it’s served properly (a juicy mess in a bowl, topped with ice cream), but here’s what it looked like right out of the oven.

Again, only Smell-O-Vision would do this thing justice.

Happy Summer!

Pasta with Pan-Seared Asparagus & Pancetta

I usually do a lot of cooking on Sunday—I’ll make a big midday meal for my boyfriend and I, and sometimes our friends, and usually I’ll do what my mother calls “cooking for the week”.  Sometimes I’ll prepare a big pot of soup, roast some vegetables, make a big pot of rice or farro.  I portion everything out into plastic containers, and then I’m good to go—until Thursday night, when I’ve either run out of cooked food, or I’ve grown tired of leftovers.

Last night, a quick glance of my unusually empty refrigerator gave me two ingredients: asparagus and zucchini. I couldn’t really make a meal of just those, so I went to the pantry. Behold! Pasta. On the counter, garlic. In the spice cabinet: red pepper flakes, black pepper, salt. Then I went back to the fridge, directly to the cheese drawer for some parmesan, and lo—I found an unopened package of chopped pancetta. I grabbed the asparagus and left the zucchini behind for another meal.

There’s really no trick to this dinner—while the water boils, clean the asparagus and snap off the tough ends. Grate some cheese, chop some garlic. Once the pasta starts cooking, you can prepare the asparagus any way you like—steamed, sauteed, grilled or roasted. I’ve taken to pan-searing asparagus in my cast iron skillet. The method is simple, quick, and leaves the asparagus bright green and crisp-tender, with just a bit of char. I sear the asparagus spears whole, then chop into pieces.

In another pan I cooked the pancetta (about 3 tablespoons) with the garlic and olive oil, adding just a splash of red wine to de-glaze the pan. Once the pasta was done cooking, I drained it and threw it in with the pancetta, added the asparagus, a bit more oil and then the cheese. A couple stirs, and I was done. Dinner for the evening, and enough to enjoy for lunch the next day.

From Market to Table: Homemade Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

You really need smell-o-vision for this.

At around midnight last night, when I finally had a chance to catch up on The New York Times Dining & Wine section, I watched a video of Melissa Clark making fresh rhubarb compote. It looked so pretty. And easy. And more importantly—delicious.

I woke up with rhubarb on the brain.

After I picked up my morning coffee I ambled over to the Grand Army Plaza farmers market to check out spring’s latest local offerings. It was about 40 degrees this morning here in Brooklyn, and the air didn’t feel so springy. But upon entering the market, I caught sight of a crate of rhubarb stalks priced at $3.50/pound.

If you live in New York, you understand what a bargain this is. Even in season, most supermarkets sell rhubarb for about $7 per pound, which makes it cost-prohibitive for a cook like me who relies more on trial & error than published & tested recipes.

Bag of rhubarb in hand, I stopped at the grocery store to get strawberries (still too early in the season to get local ones here). Once home, I re-reviewed Clark’s video and got to work.

RECIPE:

Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

Inspired by Melissa Clark’s Rhubarb Compote, from The New York Times

Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 3-4 cups

Ingredients:

  • One pound rhubarb stalks
  • One pound strawberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Juice from half a large lemon

Method:

Begin by giving the rhubarb a good rinse and trimming the ends. FYI – The leaves on the rhubarb plant are poisonous.  Next, wash and hull the strawberries. Cut the rhubarb into 1″ pieces. Leave the strawberries whole if they’re small, or cut them into quarters if they are larger.

Combine the strawberries, rhubarb, sugar and lemon juice in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir to coat the fruit with the sugar. The mixture will come to what looks like a boil, and the fruits will start releasing their juices.  When you start to see a fair amount of liquid build, reduce the heat so that the mixture cooks at a steady simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Stir occasionally.

You’re done when the fruit is fork-tender and the liquid is at a syrupy consistency. Transfer mixture to a bowl and allow it to cool for about 15 minutes. Then you can store it away in a jar (it’ll keep for at least a week in the fridge), or serve heaping spoonfuls of this red goodness on any of the following:

  • toast
  • yogurt
  • pancakes
  • french toast
  • pound cake
  • sponge cake
  • granola
  • ice cream
  • corn bread or muffins

 

Happy Weekend, all!

Getting To The Heart of The Artichoke


Look closer.

That came from nature. The tough outer leaves, the bulbous shape, the furry choke, the tender heart—I am in awe of the artichoke for all these things.  I love to eat artichokes because they’re so versatile: steamed, stuffed, fried, braised, sautéed, with chicken or pasta or in a risotto.  Oh! I’m forgetting roasted, grilled, and marinated (the hearts, of course).

One of the reasons I look forward to fresh artichokes every spring is that I don’t cook them. Few foods inspire such anxiety in me as the artichoke.

It’ll be too hard, I think. They turn brown too fast. All that peeling! What if I don’t remove the choke correctly and I end up choking? Or worse, what if my terrible choke-removing results in a gasping dinner guest? Or boyfriend?  Yikes.  It’s so pretty, I don’t want to cut it wrong. How would I cook it? What if I overcook it?  Oh, look! There’s a zucchini. I’ll just cook that.

So goes my thinking process whenever I am faced with an artichoke in the grocery store. Well, no longer.  After going to six gourmet grocery stores in Manhattan on Friday evening and coming up empty on baby artichokes, Saturday I found myself a beautiful, round and full globe artichoke at Trader Joe’s for $1.29.   It was time to consult the interwebs, cookbooks and magazines about proper care and preparation.  I was already settled on cooking method—steaming—a simple and straightforward approach that would really showcase the gentle sweetness of the artichoke, and also how fun it is to pull apart and eat leaf by leaf. A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil helps.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.  Our story begins with one medium-large artichoke.

Prepare a bowl of cold, acidulated water. In English, this means get a bowl of cold water, then cut a lemon in quarters, squeeze some juice into the water, and drop the lemon pieces in the bowl.

Using a serrated knife (and yes, a bread knife will do), saw about an inch off the top of the artichoke. Then, remove the tough outer leaves along the stem.


Next, rub one of the lemon pieces all over the artichoke.  (This and the lemon water are essential since artichokes are super-sensitive to browning. And we don’t want brown veggies.) Get a pair of kitchen shears and cut about a quarter inch off the top of each of the exposed leaves. Rub the artichoke again with the lemon.

Using a paring knife, peel the stem. The outer layer is thick, so make sure you remove it completely.

Next, use a big, strong and especially sharp knife to cut the artichoke in half.  Put one half of the artichoke into the bowl of lemon-water. Take a piece of lemon and rub it all over the half you’re working with.

Moment of truth: time to remove the choke. I know it doesn’t look very threatening. It looks soft and furry, not sharp and thorny.  But you have to remove the choke, and it’s better to do it before you cook the artichoke.

So, grab a ginger peeler, or in the absence of the ginger peeler, a spoon and paring knife will do. Trace along the edge of the fur, scooping out the furry bits and scraping along the flesh so that none are left.  You will be left with a vacancy in the middle of your artichoke, like so:

Put the cleaned half in the water, and repeat the choke-removing process with the other half.

Once both halves are cleaned and resting happily in the lemon-water, get a medium saucepan (about 3 quarts or more).  Put in some cold water, about an inch high in the pot, and add a smashed garlic clove. Set the steamer basket in the pot, cover, and turn the heat to medium-high.  When the water boils, transfer your artichokes from the lemon water to the steamer basket and cover the pot immediately. Steam for 30 minutes, checking on the artichoke halves periodically to make sure there’s still some water in the pot.  You’ll know they’re done when the centers are pierced easily with the tip of a knife.

Remove the artichoke carefully from the steamer basket and transfer to a plate.  You can do what I did—sprinkle some kosher salt on it & then drizzle with olive oil. Or, you could go with my boyfriend’s preferred drizzling solution: melted butter.

To eat, scrape the flesh off the leaves with your teeth, discarding the tough part of the leaves.  You can eat the whole heart and the stem.  Savor them, and you’ll taste spring.