Dinner for Two: Buttery-Garlicky-Spicy Calamari with Israeli CousCous

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I must credit two people for introducing me to what has become my favorite special-occasion-feeling fast-food meal. The first is Melissa Clark, who wrote the recipe for the dish you see above, and the second is my dear friend, Tracie, who gifted me Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now, the book that contains said recipe.

I adore Melissa Clark because she takes dishes that seem complicated and makes them super simple and un-intimidating (like this one). And then once you make the dish, stand back and admire your work, you feel like a superhero / star chef. I love that feeling.

I grew up eating a lot of calamari, usually fried. It was a staple of our Christmas Eve menu as well as our Good Friday one. Good ol’ Italian Catholics and their affinity for seafood. My mother makes the lightest fried calamari you’ve ever tasted. It’s never greasy or rubbery or heavy or fishy, probably because my mom knows how to buy seafood, and she knows how to fry. I’ve become comfortable cooking fish fillets in the last six months, and while I can do a lot with shrimp and I’ve finally figured out how to sear scallops (hot pan! hot pan!), I have stayed away from squid. A—I don’t fry food, and B—I had distinct memories or seeing it inky, sandy and slippery on the kitchen counter from my childhood. Gross.

Ms. Clark introduced me to buying cleaned squid and sauteing it in butter and olive oil. Life-changing, let me tell you! Cleaned squid, tentacles and all, takes minutes to prepare. You cut the bodies into half-inch rings and leave them on paper towels to dry, then pat dry again. Leave the tentacles whole, unless they’re huge, in which case you just split them in half with your knife. It’s totally not gross. Also, something my mother taught me—fresh seafood doesn’t smell fishy. It smells like the sea. So if you get home and unwrap your squid and it stinks, wrap it back up and take it back to your fish dealer. Get a refund, and don’t buy from them again.

Israeli couscous is a great partner for the squid here – it’s light and creamy yet still has some bite, it absorbs the sauce well, and if you get the tri-color kind like I did, it certainly looks pretty. I found some beautiful snap peas at the market, so I served them steamed with the squid & couscous. You could substitute broccoli or baby spinach as well.

One word of note: This dish takes ten minutes to prepare, but to achieve greatness in those 10 minutes, have all your ingredients ready and the table set. You and your sweetie will be treated to an amazing meal, I promise.

RECIPE:

Buttery-Garlicky-Spicy Calamari with Israeli CousCous

adapted from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cooking time: 10 minutes
  • Serves: 2

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup stock (chicken or vegetable)
  • pinch of salt
  • 2/3 cup Israeli (pearl) couscous
  • 2 tsbp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 pound fresh raw squid, bodies cut into 1/2 rings, plus the tentacles, patted dry
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 basil leaves, cut into ribbons
  • handful of parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • quarter of a lemon (to squeeze)

Method:

  • Add broth & pinch of salt to a 1.5 or 2 quart saucepan, then bring to a boil. Add the couscous, return to a boil, then cover and turn the heat to its lowest setting. Set your timer for 10 minutes.
  • This would be a good time to prep a vegetable for steaming in the microwave. Or, you could whip a green salad together. Just sayin’.
  • When the couscous has 5 minutes to go, heat a large skillet (not non-stick) over high heat. After a couple a minutes, add the butter and olive oil. Once the butter is melted and the foam subsides, add the squid and stand back (there may be some sputters and pops – careful!). Be patient and don’t poke the squid for a solid minute.
  • Add the garlic, basil, parsley and pepper flakes and stir everything together. You’ll see some sear marks on the squid (this is good), and you want to cook it till its just opaque throughout, which is really easy to see. Sprinkle salt and pepper on top and remove from heat.
  • Stir in the couscous till its coated with the sauce, then squeeze the lemon over the mixture (watch out for pits!) and stir again. Serve immediately with a nutritious green vegetable and a glass of something light and crisp, like a Grüner Vetliner.

Cheesy Butternut Mac

I had another financially-related freakout this afternoon. A little free time at work afforded me the opportunity to do something I have long procrastinated doing: shopping around for health insurance. Freelance producing is nice work if you can get it—and I am very thankful to be employed—but one of the major costs of any freelance work is having to pay for your health insurance. Adding insult to my non-existent injury, the options for remotely decent health insurance at a reasonable cost are few. I compared five plans and did the requisite calculations. So many digits! My eyes are exhausted from popping out of their sockets.

I avoided making any decisions, electing instead to ponder my dinner—and I needed a dinner to be excited about. It’s been a long week, and I’ve behaved very well with my diet. I didn’t want to blow all that effort, but I wanted to eat something other than fruit and Greek yogurt.

I’m getting really tired of non-fat Greek yogurt.

I looked through my basket of old issues of Cooking Light, and found a potential dinner on the cover of the September issue, 2011: the creamiest-ever mac & cheese.

I’ve never made mac & cheese myself, but I know what the real thing tastes like. I’ve had it once—just once. I watched my friend Pam make it for Easter years ago. I remember a towering heap of shredded cheddar cheese, a carton of half & half, and (at least) a half pound of butter. I remember the bubbling goo at the edge of the pan, the crispy tips of the slightly charred ziti, and each piece underneath coated with just the right amount of cheese, buttery sauce.

I also remember a lot of bad mac & cheese. And I’m not talking about the stuff from the box. I have a soft spot for the nuclear-orange stovetop mac & cheese that I prepared on a two burner stove in college, while the pre-fab fish sticks crisped in the shoebox-sized oven below.  I haven’t eaten boxed mac & cheese in over ten years, but in that time I’ve had lots of bad baked mac & cheese. It’s a mainstay at catered parties, hospital cafeterias, and at video shoots (on the rare chance hot food is provided). You know the kind—It’s in a giant aluminum pan that’s been perched atop a sterno for 8 hours at a minimum. And you know that because the macaroni falls apart as you spoon it onto your plate. The sauce is the right color, but it’s thin and watery. And something that may have once been cheese clings to the macaroni like the last bits of yogurt at the bottom of a plastic cup. Not exactly “Mmm, mmm…good!”, is it?

So you can imagine how, in spite of my excitement over the sight of mac & cheese on a magazine cover, I was dubious about Cooking Light’s claim that this recipe was the “creamiest-ever”.

While I have my doubts about makeovers of traditionally decadent, calorie-loaded food (and with good reason—light ice cream is light years from the real thing), I had a good feeling about this recipe. The base of the cheese sauce is not actually butter or bechamel, but butternut squash, cooked with milk and chicken stock, then pureed.  You obviously can’t claim the title of “creamiest-ever mac & cheese” without cheese, and this recipe called for a good amount of gruyere, romano, and parmesan. I had all those, plus some leftover shredded cheddar from the chili I made last week.

The trick to making a lightened up version of a heavy dish is to keep your expectations in check. A sauce made with butternut squash, milk, yogurt and a limited amount of shredded cheese is not going to taste like one made with butter, cream, and massive amounts of cheddar. All you can hope is that what you ultimately make tastes good, if not very good, and that the calories you’ve saved will be spent on the day when nothing but the real thing will do.

So here’s the recipe.  I made half, and followed the instructions pretty closely, BUT I added two ingredients to amp up the flavor of the sauce: old bay seasoning and smoked chicken sausage, which I happened to have in the fridge. The verdict: Yes, the sauce is most definitely creamy. But if I were me two hours ago, I would have added more cheese. Do that, and you’ve got yourself a better-than-good—dare I say, damn fine—dinner on the table.

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).

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.

Stracciatella Alla Romana, Plus a Step-by-Step Guide to Making Your Own Chicken Stock

I saw this recipe in The New York Times Dining Section last weekend.  Stracciatella alla Romana, otherwise known as Roman Egg Drop Soup, is the perfect dinner for a chilly spring evening.

Forgive my shadow that's cast over “i straccetti,” or the savory, eggy little rags floating in this delicious, simple soup.

It’s not only a pretty dish; it’s light, feathery texture, robust flavor and ever-so-slightly spicy warmth will make you feel happy, snuggly, and satisfied.  And it’s a dish that comes together in 20 minutes, provided you have one ingredient on hand: homemade chicken stock.

If you do have homemade stock on hand, go forth, make the recipe and let me know what you think. I was lucky enough to have farm fresh eggs on hand for the Stracciatella, so I used more than were called for. It was not a mistake.

But in the event you don’t have homemade stock on hand— fret not, friends!  Save the soup recipe to make another night.

I have two approaches to making chicken stock, and both are equally simple. There’s the quick method, which takes about 2 hours of largely unattended time and can be done after work on a weeknight, or whenever you can eke out 2 hours from your day.   Then there’s the brown stock method, which takes anywhere from 6 to 8 hours of largely unattended time—perfect for a lazy or busy day spent at home. Either way you choose, you’ll still end up with a stock that’s better than anything you can get out of a carton or a can, and ultimately much less expensive.

And if you don’t eat meat, proceed without the chicken and make vegetable stock. Cut the simmering time by half, and you’ll still end up with amaaaazing stock.

What you need to make chicken stock:

  • One roasted chicken carcass (details below)
  • 2-3 carrots
  • 2-3 stalks of celery
  • 1-2 parsnips (if you can’t get them, it’s not a big loss)
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 head of garlic
  • fresh herbs (rosemary, parsley and thyme are essential, sage is a nice addition, but anything else may alter the flavor of the stock)
  • black peppercorns
  • A large stockpot
  • A jelly-roll pan or rimmed cookie sheet, or a roasting pan
  • Cheesecloth (totally optional)
  • A mesh strainer (preferably a large one)

 How to make Brown Stock:

First ingredient: the carcass! If you’ve just made a roasted chicken, or roasted one a week ago and froze the bones, you’re ready to go. The important thing is that the chicken has already been cooked, and that some meat (preferably the wings) is still clinging to the bones. If you’re starting from scratch, get a raw, preferably organic, 3 -4 pound chicken. Rub some some butter on its skin, sprinkle salt and pepper all over it, and bake it at 400 degrees for an 1 hour. Then, carve the chicken, eat the meat or save it for some other use, and save the carcass for the stock.

A lot of chefs recommend using the neck bones and giblets, which you can do, but I don’t and my stock still tastes great. Generally speaking, you don’t want to include the heart or the liver—these organs are filled with blood, and blood will make your stock bitter. We want none of that.

Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees. Make sure your veggies are washed, but it’s not necessary to peel them. Cut the onion in half or into quarters. Slice the top off the head of garlic so the tops of the cloves are exposed. If your carrots, celery and parsnips are large, you can cut them in half across the middle. Next, lay your vegetables on the rimmed baking sheet or pan, making sure there’s some breathing room in between each piece—you want them to roast, not steam. Suppress the temptation to add oil or salt. They are not invited to the party tonight.

Let the vegetables roast 35-40 minutes. Check them out. Are they browning?  If yes, take them out. If not, leave them in until your see some brown. Remove the veggies, turn off your oven, and add the veggies and your chicken carcass to the stockpot. (If you are using a carcass that was previously frozen, make sure it is fully defrosted.)

Add enough cold water to the pot so that the carcass and vegetables are fully submerged, and then some more. Bring the mixture to a simmer. This will take a while, so in the meantime, let’s tend to the other ingredients.

Get about 1 tablespoon of peppercorns, 2-3 sprigs of rosemary, and 6-8 sprigs of thyme. You can put all of this in a cheesecloth pouch and tie it with butcher’s twine, or you can leave it loose—either way, you’re going to have to strain the stock anyway. Get a bunch of parsley and trim the stems.

An hour after the stock has been simmering—and it’s really important that it simmers and doesn’t boil—add the herbs, give the stock a stir, and find something to do for the next 45 minutes.  Check on the stock periodically over the next 5-7 hours and do the following:

  • Make sure the mixture is at a simmer
  • Skim off any foam that rises to the top
  • As water evaporates, add more. How much? Enough to cover everything in the pot.

As time passes, after the housework is done, or you’ve watched the Lord of the Rings series, or read Great Expectations, your stock will have turned a rich brown color, and the entire house will smell fragrant and delicious. You will attract neighbors and potentially some stray cats. The aroma is impossible to ignore. Inhale with pride.

Then turn off the heat and get an apron. Now it gets a little messy.

Get a large bowl and your strainer, and then using using tongs or a serving spoon, remove the veggies and chicken parts (which by now have nearly melted away), and place them in the strainer, pushing gently to extract as much liquid as possible. Then, discard the solids.

Pour the remaining stock in the pan through the strainer.  You may see some bits of herb and veggies; that’s okay. If you want a clear stock, strain again through a piece of cheesecloth over the strainer. Divide the stock into containers, allow to cool for an hour, and refrigerate anywhere from 4 hours to overnight.  The fat will congeal and rise to the top. Skim off, and then use the stock or freeze indefinitely.  Ultimately, you’ll end up with about four quarts of stock, which you can use for soups, sauces, or to add flavor to just about anything.

How to make quick stock:

You’ll still need a roasted chicken carcass (as described), but in this method, skip roasting the vegetables—just wash them, leave them unpeeled, cut as described in the previous steps and put in a stockpot with the carcass. Add cold water so that everything is submerged, bring the mixture to a simmer, add the herbs and peppercorns, and let simmer for 90 minutes to 2 hours. Strain as described. The stock will be much lighter in color, but still very rich in flavor, and especially useful as a base for lighter soups, stews and sauces.

 Why I don’t add oil or salt:

Stock is the base for a lot of recipes, and since it doesn’t require sautéing, no oil is required. Salt is generally added while preparing a recipe, or for finishing, so you don’t want to start with a salty base.

The Weekend In Food: Culinary Experiments, Momofuku Noodle Bar, and Death by Doughnut Plant

Oh, for the love of doughnuts! Wanna get one of these? Keep reading...

It’s been a busy weekend—working from home, running errands & catching up on some housework. I’m gearing up for an even busier week ahead, so I took a little time yesterday to prep some meals for the week…

It started as black bean soup...

I’ve never made black bean soup the same way twice. Basic semi-pureed black bean soup is a little boring to me, so I usually vary it with different vegetables & spices, leaning on chunky rather than smooth texture.  The only consistency of the mix-ins is that they depend entirely on what I have in the house. Yesterday, it was yellow bell pepper, shallots, chopped tomato, and a late edition of chopped zucchini (which is best added in the last 15 minutes of cooking since it can get mushy if cooked longer). I added unmeasured shakes, sprinkles and dashes of cumin, coriander, garlic powder, black pepper, smoked paprika and chipotle pepper, plus a whole dried chili for more heat.  The result is a smoky, hearty & nutrient packed hot mess of deliciousness.  Plus, it’s Boyfriend-approved.

For tips on cooking black beans, check out this post from EmmyCooks.  Check out her other posts, too – it’s a fantastic blog.

Gotta keep 'em separated...

While the soup was cooking, I made a few other things—roasted beets, jasmine rice, and roasted cauliflower.  I am nothing if not a multi-tasker.

For the rice…Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Measure out a cup of rice and put it in a casserole dish (ceramic or glass).  Add a tablespoon of oil or butter, plus 2 cups boiling water and a dash of salt.  If your baking dish comes with an oven-safe cover, awesome, but if not, cover the dish with aluminum foil. Place in the oven, set your timer for 45 minutes, and find something to do. When the timer goes off, you have a dish of perfectly cooked rice. Fluff with a fork and serve immediately, or allow it to cool before refrigerating in the same container. Mess-free!

For the cauliflower…If you saw my post on pasta recipes the other day, take another look at the Roasted Cauliflower Pasta recipe.  Cauliflower is one of those veggies that gets much better with company—it’s very friendly with parmesan and panko, a real treat when it’s battered and fried, and it’s really special when paired with something briny, like Spanish olives in this recipe.  First tossed in a hot pan with olive oil, butter and shallots, the cauliflower then roasts for 10 minutes at 450 degrees.  Next, we invite salt, red pepper flakes, crushes garlic cloves and the olives to the party, toss again, and continue roasting for another 8 minutes. The pan comes out of the oven, the cauliflower are browned and tender, and everyone is looking beautiful and shiny in the sizzling pan. This mixture is a great topper or mix-in with rice or pasta. I will definitely make this again.

Here’s a close-up:

Cauliflower and friends

So Saturday was Cooking Day. Today I got a few hours reprieve from work and made my first trip to Momofuku Noodle Bar with friends.  I’m not really caught up in the ramen trend, but I appreciate good noodles and I love pork buns. And I have been told Noodle Bar has some of the best pork buns in the city. Now, while I normally report on my own cooking exclusively, I feel it is my duty to share my experience of this inspiring and incredible meal, and to tell you that if you are a resident of this great city or just visiting for a day, a weekend or longer, YOU MUST EAT AT MOMOFUKU NOODLE BAR. Yes! It’s so important I have to put it in caps. Don’t believe me?  Get a look at some of the great stuff they’re serving…

That is a Spicy Chicken Ramen noodle bowl. And it’s what my boyfriend and our friends Nat and Mike ordered. I tried some, and it was incredible: the chicken is crispy-spicy-smoky-tender-awesome, the egg is perfectly poached, the bok choy is pickled and sweet, and the nori (seaweed) adds a whole other dimension—salty, a touch fishy, a little earthy. The noodles strike a perfect balance between tender and chewy, and the broth brings all the elements together into a cohesive, incredibly flavorful and beautiful soup.

But wait! Here’s what I had…

This is Kimchi Stew.  Under the bubbling red-orange I discovered delicious pulled pork and the most tender rice cakes I’ve ever had the pleasure to try.  No ramen here, but I didn’t miss it. I love kimchi, and were it not for the fact that it’s really stinky and time-consuming to make, I’d have it for dinner every day. And since I don’t, I welcome the opportunity to have the homemade stuff at restaurants whenever I can.

We also ordered pork buns (made with delicious fatty pork belly and a ridiculously amazing hoisin sauce), shrimp buns (equally awesome), and Nat and Mike ordered the winter special, ham buns (flavored with apple cider and cabbage). Unfortunately I don’t have pictures of these because we were too busy inhaling them.

I kicked off my meal with this ginger beer, which I’m determined to find and buy by the case:

You would think after such an incredible meal at Noodle Bar that we’d be done eating, but somehow the four of us managed to walk (very slowly at first) through the East Village and south to the Lower East Side. Destination: Doughnut Plant, a magical place I’ve been reading about for a couple years and purposely avoiding. I am not a Doughnut Person, mostly because the alternative to a warm, fresh doughnut is gross, dry, and thoroughly unsatisfactory. But when faced with high-quality fresh doughnuts, like the kind you can get at The Vanderbilt and Doughnut Plant, I can’t stop myself.

After waiting on a long but quickly-moving line, I ordered not one but two doughnuts: Coconut Creme, and Peanut Butter Jam.  I have no other word to describe these doughnuts than Perfect. Perfect with a capital P!  Perfect texture (crisp and sticky on the outside, light and chewy on the inside, Perfectly balanced (just sweet enough so that all the flavors shine through, and Perfectly fresh.  And because these doughnuts are so amazing and addictive, I am going to actively avoid them as long as humanly possible.

Peanut Butter Jelly Time! Peanut Butter Jelly Time!

Finally, I am full, after eating a pork bun, a shrimp bun, a bowl of kimchi stew, and two ginormous doughnuts. I’m skipping dinner and going back to work.

Have a great week!

Simple, Fast, Delicious: 15-minute Fish Stew

Yum.

I’ve been wanting to make cioppino for awhile. It’s a hearty fish stew that is typically thought to be of Italian origin, but it actually comes from the great American city of San Francisco.  Traditionally, cioppino is made with several kinds of fresh seafood cooked in a tomato-white wine broth, and always accompanied by hot, crusty bread—usually sourdough or a baguette.

This recipe is a simplified version of cioppino, courtesy of Mark Bittman.  It requires about a pound and a half of fish (any combination you like), fish stock and a pinch of saffron—an expensive ingredient, yes, but a little really does go along way. Once you’ve prepped your ingredients, the dish takes about 15 minutes to cook (which is probably why he calls his recipe Lightning-Quick Fish Soup).  I made it using two fish I had on hand: shrimp and cod, which not only work fabulously but are also reasonably priced.

Be sure to work with fresh or fully defrosted fish (you don’t want to work with anything pre-cooked or frozen).  If you don’t have saffron, you can always add some more smoked paprika for a flavor boost—though it is worth pointing out that nothing flavors like saffron except saffron. It is that special.

Recipe: 15-minute Fish Stew

Adapted from Mark Bittman’s “Lightning-Quick Fish Soup”

from How to Cook Everything, 2008

Ingredients:

  • 2 tsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped fire-roasted tomatoes, with their juices (I’m a big fan of the Trader Joe’s Fire Roasted tomatoes)
  • 1 quart seafood stock (Kitchen Basics is terrific if you haven’t made your own)
  • Pinch saffron threads
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 3/4 pound raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 3/4 pound cod filet, deboned and cut into 2″ chunks
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • Parsley, for garnish
  • Toasted bread (baguette, sourdough or ciabatta) for serving

Method:

Set a large, deep pot over medium high heat; add olive oil & swirl to coat.  Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes.  Turn the heat down if you notice the garlic browning. Add the chopped tomato, a dash of salt and pepper and cook another minute.

Add the stock, paprikas, and saffron and turn the heat up to high. Cover and bring to a boil.

Remove cover, reduce the heat to a steady simmer and let cook for 5 minutes.

Add the fish, stirring, until it cooks through—about 5 minutes.

Garnish with the parsley and drizzle just a touch of oil over each bowl of stew. Serve with freshly toasted bread.

Should you have leftovers…

  • This soup will keep up to 2 days in the fridge. Reheat on the stove over low heat and let it simmer for 3-5 minutes before serving.