Tag Archives: cook

supper club: a seasonal spring dinner

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

While summer may be the pinnacle of fresh produce, spring is the season I love the most. It’s the season of bitter vegetables, detox from our hearty winter stews, casseroles and soups. From artichokes to asparagus, fiddleheads to ramps, this is the season of green—and I’m just eating it up.

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To share my enthusiasm for the budding flavors of this season, I invited a dozen of my nearest and dearest, including my favorite Brooklyn baker: Molly Marzalek-Kelly. I met Molly through my very first supper club, as she was a good friend of the dinner’s host (I was freshly moved into my BK apartment, and had barely unpacked). When I luke-warmly accepted his invitation to have someone else bake, I had no idea that I would be meeting such an incredible talent. Molly is even sweeter than her baked treats (which I love, because I prefer my desserts on the less-than-tooth-decaying end of the spectrum). Her attention to detail and instinct for fresh flavors is admirable, and I can’t recommend enough that you all take a trip to visit her at BAKED in Red Hook.

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Anyway, back to the menu:

Sourdough Miche and Sunflower-Rye Loaves from Bien Cuit Bakery

Flaky Ramp Tart

Mixed Baby Green Salad with Candied Walnuts and Broccoli Raab Flowers

Roasted Tarragon and Preserved Lemon Chicken 

Thyme and Garlic Roasted Carrots

Grilled Vegetables: Radicchio, Asparagus, Favas, Baby Garlic

Dessert: Lemon Curd Meringues, Rhubarb Pie and Rich Chocolate Tart
(paired with Grapefruit-Champagne Sorbet, Fresh Mint Ice Cream & Orange Cardamom Sorbet)

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catch of the day: elephantine

Being more of a wordsmith myself, I always am impressed with blogs that effortlessly tell stories through images. I discovered Elephantine through the author’s kitchen shop, Mignon Kitchen Co, and was instantly attracted to her foodie (and seemingly francophile) style.

What I like best about Elephantine is its not-entirely-posed aesthetic. Dishes are shot in preparation; mouthfuls, just moments before being consumed.

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Rachel’s training in design and appreciation of simple, grey days (influenced, I’m sure, by her Seattle stomping-grounds) pervades her motley assortment of posts – which feature far more than food. The vibe is more calm “staycation” than ravenous world traveler – a visual (re)treat in the truest sense.

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ingredient: garlic scapes

Late spring/early summer is – by far – my favorite time at the market. It’s the season for all things green, a brief window before the multi-hued produce of summer hits stands. It’s also a time when I’m likely to find ingredients I’ve never seen before – which is exactly what occurred at the Union Square Greenmarket, when I fell upon garlic scapes.

Garlic Scapes; Photo Credit: Umamigirl.com

I discovered these vibrant green coils between a barrel of string beans and a pile of shallots. Loving all things garlic, I grabbed a few fistfuls and hurried home to do some  research. Apparently, scapes are the flowering stalks of garlic plants, which must be trimmed to allow the bulbs to grow firm and plump. They should be trimmed before they coil more than once, or else they become too fibrous  and spicy.

My first experiment with the scapes involved chopping them into little segments and stir-frying them with baby bok choy. They certainly imparted a pleasant, spicy flavor and crunch, but I didn’t feel they were being used to their best advantage. Next up, I threw them into the pickling brew for a bunch of purple carrots. Again, they served their purpose, but regular garlic might have been better.

Finally, I recalled a video recipe by Kinfolk for ribboned asparagus salad.

At the time, I thought it a beautiful (if slightly tedious) way to prepare asparagus, and mentally filed it away for some special occasion. Upon shredding my first scape ribbon, the kitchen filled with a potent, invigorating garlic odor – and I knew I was onto something.

“Deconstructed Pesto” a la garlic scape and broccoli rabe

You could certainly stop there and serve the pan-fried scape ribbons over pasta, but I was more interested in coupling them with other vegetables. Pesto is one of the more common uses for scapes, which made me think of my pesto-loving father, whose favorite food is broccoli rabe. The final product thus became a sort of deconstructed-pesto dish – beautiful, delicious and surprisingly simple for how fancy it looks.

Garlic Scape Ribbons & Broccoli Rabe

Ingredients
  • 8-10 garlic scapes
  • 1 bunch broccoli rabe
  • 5/6 anchovies
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts
  • olive oil
  • grated cheese (optional)
  • lemon (optional)
Instructions
  1. Wash garlic scapes and cut them in half. Using a vegetable peeler, shred the scapes into long ribbons.
  2. Wash broccoli rabe and cut into small pieces. (Only use the parts of the stalk that have leaves/florets).
  3. Heat olive oil in a large pan or wok. Add anchovies to pan.
  4. When oil is hot, add broccoli rabe and garlic scapes. Stir periodically.
  5. After about a minute, toss in the chopped walnuts.
  6. Cook until greens are tender, but the scapes should still be al dente.
  7. Remove from heat, dress with grated parmesan and lemon juice to taste.

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behind the knives: meat scientist, dr. phil

Dr. Phil Bass, Meat Scientist (photo provided by Certified Angus Beef)

In this emerging age of nose-to-tail butchery, pigs’ accessible size has them hogging much of the attention. Breaking down a side of beef intimidates most professional chefs, let alone amateur cooks. Enter Dr. Phil, the eccentric Meat Scientist behind Certified Angus Beef.

With a Ph.D in Meat Science, his own tagline – “Holy Cows!” – and a zany enthusiasm for all things meat, Phil Bass is the consummate instructor for Beef Butchery 101. This month, I was lucky enough to throw on a hairnet, grab a handsaw and pull out my “Texas butter knife” for his hands-on butchery course at CAB’s brand new Education & Culinary Center in rural Ohio. From measuring meat quality to cooking each cut, Dr. Phil explained beef production from farm to plate. I sat down with him after class to capture his essential insight and advice for home cooks.

What inspired your passion for meat science/beef butchery?

Ever since I could reach the meat-cutting table in my grandmother’s garage, (to help butcher the cattle, sheep and hogs that my family harvested) I have had a passion and fascination for the meat cutting craft.  Butchery is an art that is slowly being revived, and I am proud to have the basic knowledge and skill to identify and isolate both classic and contemporary beef cuts.

What are some of the newest trends in beef butchery that we should keep an eye out for?

Like the old saying goes, “hang on to something long enough and it will become cool again.” Old-fashioned, bone-in versions of cuts – from “cowboy” steaks to tenderloin and chuck short ribs – are very much en vogue. The Slow Food movement has sparked an interest in the nostalgic butcher’s market, including these bone-in cuts that younger generations have never really seen.

Are there any cheaper, lesser-known cuts that you feel are underutilized?

There are several cuts on the cusp of making it big. In reality, they have been around for several years, but it takes time for “new” beef cuts to make it to mainstream consumers.

Tri-tip is a tender, extremely flavorful roast cut from the bottom sirloin, which is perfect for grilling season. Growing up in California, Tri-tip was a regional favorite, but it is only now gaining traction in other areas.

Two other noteworthy contemporary cuts are the Ranch steak and the Denver steak.  The lean Ranch steak comes from the “chuck”  (outside shoulder) and is similar in tenderness to our top sirloin. It is currently part of the Arm Roast or English Roast that you’d find at your retailer, but with a little training, mainstream meat cutters could easily produce it as a grill-able item.

The Denver steak is cut from the inner shoulder and offers an extremely robust beef flavor. Traditionally, it would be ground or used for short ribs, but it also makes a great steak if aged appropriately for about 28 days.  On a plate, it looks similar to New York strip steak, and has great potential as a price-conscious cut if it makes it to mainstream consumers.

I know your favorite cut of beef is the spinalis muscle. Can you describe why you prefer this cut and tell me if it is available in restaurants or butcher shops?

The spinalis, for lack of a better term, is the cap on the ribeye steak – the beautifully tender and extremely flavorful crescent on the outside of a ribeye that just screams “EAT ME!”  This muscle obtains its tenderness in two ways: (1) due to its location on the cattle, it does very little work, and (2) it tends to have a large amount of marbling (flecks of fat in the lean meat), which imparts magnificent flavor. It is not readily available in the meat case, but nearly every meat counter in the country does have it.

To obtain the spinalis, ask your butcher to “seam out” the muscles of the prime rib, thus producing three cuts: the ribeye, the chuckeye (shaped like a small pork tenderloin) and the spinalis (which looks like a salmon filet in the raw).  For the ideal eating experience, ask your butcher cut off all of the “silver skin” (connective tissue) on the spinalis and either grill it, roll it up and roast it, or use it in a roulade (I prefer a spinach-stuffed roulade).

What are 2-3 things a total novice should know about judging the quality of meat?

Marbling is hands-down the most important thing to look for when purchasing a cut of beef.  It is the top contributor of flavor, tenderness and juiciness.  Novice meat buyers should not balk at the sight of the little flecks of fat in the meat, but rather embrace it and become excited when it is present.

Next up is color: on freshly cut beef, the color of the lean meat should be a bright cherry red.  Darker lean meat, although safe and wholesome, may pose some less than desirable eating attributes.

Finally, “Know Thy Cuts.”  Different cuts require different cooking techniques – you don’t want to slow braise a grill cut or vice versa!  A great resource on how to use different cuts is the “Beef Cuts” link on www.certifiedangusbeef.com, which provides pictures and cooking techniques for almost any cut you can find in a grocery store.

Dr. Phil demonstrates how to handle the handsaw (Photo: Certified Angus Beef)

Are there any misconceptions about butchery you would like to address?

Butchery, fabrication, meat cutting, – whatever you call it – all results in a product produced by human hands.  The craft itself is ancient. Ever since the first caveman cut up a wooly mammoth, the animals themselves have not changed all that much. Whether a consumer purchases their meat from a local neighborhood butcher or a national grocery chain, the harvesting and fabrication process is the same (albeit streamlined in some cases, depending on the source of the product).

Meat cutters at packing houses use the same knives, saws, and techniques as the small-town butcher, just on a much grander scale.  In both cases, the quality of the meat itself will be biggest contributor to your eating experience -not who or how the meat was cut.

Moreover, food safety, cleanliness and wholesomeness are paramount for everyone in the meat (and food) communities. Outside of these parameters, it doesn’t really matter how high quality the meat is. Food safety is first and foremost; flavor is second.

How has the increased consumer interest in where food comes from affected your work?

Consumers have become “hyper-conscientious” about their food and this surge of interest has made us in the food industry extremely busy – in a good way!  As their palates become more discerning, we are finding that people will pay more for a satisfying experience.  Flavor, tenderness, juiciness and aroma are the traits that contribute to “taste,” which is the measure of this satisfaction and value. High quality meats – especially beef – are driving the animal agriculture industry to focus on quality rather than just quantity – which, in my opinion, is a really good thing.

See the original post at HonestCooking.com

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au marché: haven’s kitchen

Setting aside some sweet treats for an evening event

For most people (in fact, a growing percentage of modern society), the kitchen has become a scary place. Far from the comforting 1950s symbol of domestic bliss, it has become the most intimidating room in the home – a sort of torture chamber, in which fearful instruments of various sizes and unknown purpose await.

Allison Schneider, the founder of Haven’s Kitchen – the recently opened cooking school, retail shop and event space in Chelsea – does not suffer from kitchen-phobia. On the contrary, she has worked at GrowNYC, established CSAs at her children’s schools and is currently finishing a Masters Degree in Food Studies at New York University. But that doesn’t mean she’s forgotten the fearful masses. In fact, she designed Haven’s Kitchen to be a literal safe haven for the famished in body and soul.

The homey accents of HK's shop

The evening I visited Haven’s Kitchen, Allison was preparing to teach a handful of students how to make gnocchi by hand. Even though I had only stopped by for a quick tour, Allison invited me to sit in on the class. After a warm welcome and the requisite hand-washing, she mentally prepped the class with a brief overview of gnocchi history, economics and culture. Needless to say, this is not your ordinary cooking school.

The class quickly continued with a quick overview of gnocchi cooking methods, led by Katie Carey, Haven’s Kitchen’s sous chef, and former head chef at Casellula Cheese & Wine Café . As Katie encouraged the students to start chopping potatoes, Allison jumped in with some kitchen science – explaining that it’s important to start boiling your potatoes in cold water, rather than hot (for the record – it heats the potato slowly, so that it cooks more evenly).

Local purveyors fill the shelves of the shop.

In addition to this multidiscliplinary approach to cooking, the mission to support sustainable, local food production distinguishes Haven’s Kitchen from the city’s other cooking schools. The message pervades the decisions made by the staff on a daily level. For example, Katie selected one of the sauces for the gnocchi because there was leftover basil from a summer- themed photo shoot that morning. And the tarts baked for said photo shoot? They were up for sale at the coffee bar.

Which brings me to the retail shop. When I first approached the entrance of Haven’s Kitchen, I couldn’t help but notice the constant stream of turning heads – neighborhood regulars curious to catch a glimpse of the elegant newcomer on the block. From behind the glass, artisanal goods from a carefully curated crop of local purveyors beckon – Bellocq Atelier’s artisanal tea, Old Field Farm’s raw honey and maple syrup, and Salvatore Brooklyn’s ricotta, to name a few – as well as Haven Kitchen’s house granola and pancake mix. The shop also sells books by modern sustainable chefs like Yotam Ottolenghi and Tamar Adler. And the aforementioned coffee bar sits just behind a friendly communal table, bedecked with a gleaming refurbished espresso maker that serves up coffee from La Colombe.

The curved staircase leads to homey, intimate event space.

Beyond the retail shop is a winding wooden staircase to the second floor event space (to be expanded in the future with a third floor and rooftop garden). The stairwell is hung with vintage Parisian prints and movie posters, as well as an eclectic, minimalist “chandelier”. The upstairs cocktail area continues this aesthetic, with homey accents and a mildly mod, Parisian flair, while the dining room has a cleaner palate and features a kitchen for on-site food preparation. It’s easy to imagine you are a guest in a very chic friend’s apartment, which is exactly how events team, wants it. “The goal is to make Haven’s Kitchen feel like you’re in your own home – complete with a kitchen, dining room, and living room. We want to help throw your dream party minus the stress.” I could easily envision planning a birthday, office party or even a wedding in the charming space.

A sampling of the organic staples on HK's shelves

The overarching result is an inviting escape from the city streets – in large part due to frequent French accents, hand-selected by Allison at Parisian flea markets. The black, white, yellow and wood accents (the gorgeous floors, by the way, are originals that were discovered during the renovation) are stylish, yet subtle, and the staff is equally chic and nonchalant, happy to answer questions or pause for a chat. In fact, there’s nothing dogmatic or overdone about Haven’s Kitchen, right down to the understated, hand- scrawled manifesto:

It's all in the details. Unique linens are hand-tied with a HK card.

“Food : Buy it with thought;
Cook it with care;
Serve just enough;
Save what will keep;
Eat what would spoil;
Home grown is best;
Don’t waste it”.

Haven’s Kitchen
109 West 17th Street
(212) 929-7900
http://havenskitchen.com/

 

*Article originally published in Müdd Magazine

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recipes: cooking with tea

The food-pairing trend may have started with wine and cheese, but in recent years has burgeoned into a full-blown industry, with events featuring products from whisky to kimchi. Tea pairing has become an increasingly popular alternative to alcoholic pairings, inspiring a tangential interest in culinary uses for tea.  At the forefront of this movement is French tea brand, Le Palais des Thés, which recently launched an online US store and has plans for a New York storefront in the coming years.  I sat down with Aurélie Bessière, president of the company’s American branch, to learn more.

I recently learned that tea was actually introduced into France more than thirty years before coffee and made popular by Cardinal Mazarin and Louis XIV.  Can you speak a bit about the French tea tradition?

The French tea tradition, introduced in the 17th century, was always less popular than coffee, but has grown. In France, we always look for the best quality and taste [in food], and it is the same with tea. We want to find the freshest and most interesting product available.

What distinguishes Le Palais des Thés from other French tea brands?

Le Palais des Thés was founded when my uncle, François-Xavier Delmas, first discovered a passion for tea. He opened the first store in Paris and quickly decided to go to the plantations in Asia to select the leaves himself, to pursue the best quality. This was and still is unusual, as tea companies tend to go through intermediaries. He then opened a tea school in Paris, the only institution of its kind in Europe. Students learn about blends, regions and crus, as well as tea ceremonies and food pairing. The most popular class is tea and cheese pairing – very French!

Have you noticed any difference in American tea culture vs. French tea culture?

We didn’t expect this, but in the US there are more male customers (30%) than in France (25%). What remains consistent is that our customers tend to be loyal tea drinkers and that the most popular teas are our signature creations (such as Thé du Hammam, Thé des Moines, and Thé des Lords) and grands crus (such as our Darjeeling first flushes and Korean Jukro.).

Has the growing interest in tea pairing affected your production style?

The growing interest in tea pairings has not changed our philosophy. Our focus is on quality and rarity first. Then, of course, we take an interest in how we can use the teas in cooking and pairings – we’re French after all! What is different is that we have begun to use the teas in more interesting ways, and we now provide suggestions for pairings.

In what ways have you collaborated with other culinary professionals to explore the tea pairing trend?

We have a history of collaborating with chefs in France, most notably on a tea-based cookbook, which is currently only available in French, but will be available in English in the future. We have also partnered with chefs for events. For example, in New York City, we organized a class with the French Culinary Institute and chef Melanie Franks about tea pairings and tea-based cooking. We are also the proud House Purveyor of tea for the James Beard Foundation for all events at their House in New York.

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ingredient: cephalopods

I’ve always had a certain fondness for creatures of the deep.  This isn’t entirely unexpected, as I grew up by the water and my grammar school had its own private beach.  I can still toss marine biological tidbits into normal conversation – about the sex lives of slipper limpets, for example, (they’re hemaphrodites of the “sequential” variety) or how to decipher the gender of a crab.  Heck, I summer-camped on a historic schooner, my favorite beany baby was “Inky” the octopus, and even my college application essay began with the phrase “I love tunafish”.  But at a certain point, my affection for all the fishies-in-the-sea became a hierarchy, in which the cephalopod was king.

Random shot from a Parisian photo gallery - I call it "cephalopod clothesline".

Squid, octopus, cuttlefish and their ilk make up the class “cephalopoda”.  They are perhaps some of the most “alien” underwater creatures known to man – inspiring everything from childhood curiosity to intense fear (Note to self: do not watch late-night Discovery Channel features on the legend of giant squid.)  So odd are they in form and fashion that, for most, nothing about them inspires hunger.  That is, until you eat them.

For me it started very simply – fried calamari.  By the age of 13, I was a fried calamari authority, preferring the legs to the body and a light tempura-y batter to a greasy, dense crunch.

Yet, for many years, “calamar” (as my American-Italian-ish peers would say) was my only cephalopod exposure.  That is, until the summer before college, when my family boarded a sailboat from Istanbul to the Greek isles.

"Dinner!", as they say in Oia.

It was on the beach in Oia, on the island of Santorini – largely considered the most photographed place in Greece – that I first was inspired to eat octopus.  As I lay tanning, a beautifully bronzed man with a snorkel mask splashed around in the waves.  Just as I was dozing off, he lept – victorious – from under the waves, exclaiming (in Greek) what I can only imagine was “DINNER!” – for there in his hands was an aubergine, writhing octopus.  After the commotion died down (and my sister got over the fact that she was just swimming around with such creatures), we jumped back on our 4x4s and raced off to eat our own little lunch.  It was that day, in a shack teetering off the cliffs, that I first sampled fresh, grill-blackened octopus.

From there on, calamari took a back seat to its larger, wilder cousin.  From baby octopus slow-roasted in sauce (Trattoria Il Panino, Boston) to refreshing octopus salad (Otto, New York), I preached the octopus gospel high and low, to any fellow eater who would listen.

"Pouple en promotion" (Octopus on sale)

And then I moved to Paris.  It was there, for the first time, that I saw an octopus for sale.  But during those first six months of study-abroad, I was too intimidated by the prospect of de-scaling or de-shelling fresh-caught seafood (let alone butchering and cleaning an octopus) to purchase a single item from a poissonerie.  But the following year, when I returned to study food culture (and had learned that the poissonier would clean and prep your fish for you), I finally attempted to cook my favorite edible beast.  (Click here for more on my octopus-cooking adventure).

Yet octopus was not to be my ultimate cephalopod obsession.  It was on my 21st birthday, in Venice, that I first discovered my true cephalopod love, the cuttlefish.  And in particular, cuttlefish ink.

In the United States, it is often possible (in high-end Italian groceries) to buy dried black pasta.  This pasta is dyed with cuttlefish ink, an ingredient you’ll be hard-pressed to find sold independent of the dyed-pasta format.  But in Venice, nero di seppia runs through the restaurants like water through the canals.  From risotto to spaghetti – if there is a pasta product in sight, it can be spruced up with this dark and mysterious sauce.   It was in a little trattoria off the Campo San Leonardo that I first tried this truly unique Venetian delight.  I can still remember the lighting, where I sat at the table, the way the parsley decorated the plate.  This was a truly incomparable flavor – like none I had tasted before or would ever taste again after.

Spaghetti al nero di seppia (Venice)

Luckily, in Paris, fishmongers sell miniature packets of l’encre de seiche, perfect for a plate of risotto for two.  I seduced all my friends and lovers with black risotto for months on end, excited to introduce them to the little-known ingredient.

It soon dawned on me, upon moving to New York, that I had left my steady supply of cheap, perfectly-sized packets of cuttlefish ink behind.  And for a time, I could not find cuttlefish ink at all, let alone in a cheap or convenient format.  And then came Eataly.  On a whim, I asked if they sold nero di seppia, and the fishmonger looked at me as if I had 5 heads.  But upon consulting with an Italian colleague, he brought me a small (and expensive) jar from the storage room.  It almost seemed a black market for black ink– but I eagerly paid the steep price.  (Note: these days, you can find cuttlefish ink just sitting out by the anchovies and other pre-portioned fish products at Eataly).

And so my days of black risotto, paella, and pasta entertaining resumed.  But my American comrades were less adventurous eaters than my Parisian pals (and more likely to be strict vegetarians), and eventually, my zeal for serving ink-sauce entrees waned to an infrequent whim.

There were glimmers of hope of course.  A squid-ink soup at Kin Shop.  A particularly lovely paella negra dinner party.  Then finally, a particularly unappetizing plate of spaghetti al nero di seppia (in Venice of all places) abruptly brought my affair with cuttlefish to an unexpected end.

Salt and Pepper Cuttlefish, Taste of China

That is, until this weekend.  I was in Connecticut, visiting my parents for a day or two, when they suggested we try out a new “authentic” Chinese restaurant, Taste of China.  Given my previous experience with “authentic” ethnic food in suburbia, I was just hoping for a less-greasy plate of General Tso’s chicken.   And then I saw the menu.  “Salt and Pepper Cuttlefish” – it was too good to be true! For despite my love of cuttlefish ink, I had never actually eaten (but a morsel of) the beast itself.

My mother laughed when it came to table.  Nubby little fried bits of perfectly seasoned cephalopod.  Resistant, but far from rubbery, and served atop a refreshing shaved salad – it was everything I could have ever hoped the little bugger would turn out to be.

So now, a new cephalopod adventure: learn to cook and clean a fresh-caught cuttlefish.  Perhaps by the end of 2013?  I dare say this one might require some traveling…

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catch of the day: honest fare

Warm Endive & Fennel Salad, Honest Fare

In the blogosphere, I find there are two main types of websites: (1) that we like to peruse and (2) that we actually use.  This seems especially true with cooking – as everyone-and-their-mother vies to be bookmarked in the limited attention span of the public’s food-porn reel.

I’m a total peruser.  I can spend hours on TasteSpotting, tagging photos linked to recipes – sometimes in languages I don’t even understand – that I would never in my wildest dreams actually want to cook.  Part of this stems from the fact that, in reality, I don’t even like recipes.  I tend to use them as inspiration, rather than actual instructions.  But every once-in-a-while, I fall upon a website that straddles the two worlds – fun to peruse and practical to use.

I discovered Honest Fare the week that Hurricane Irene was heading toward NYC.  My photographer sister and I decided that if we had to hunker down for a few days, we might as well dine like kings.  After a cyclone of a shopping trip through Eataly (there were literally women buying shopping carts full of high-end water bottles), we cooked our first apocalypse-worthy supper : my grandmother’s anchovy/walnut pasta & a warm endive and fennel salad from Honest Fare.

"Favorite Little Lunch" Tartine, Honest Fare

On Saturday, friends living in the flood zone came to join our Midtown camp-out.  Again, we turned to Honest Fare, this time to an easy-to-assemble vegetarian tartine.

From there, we drank wine, sang songs, watched reruns and tried to remain sane.  Irene never (really) came, but we had still feasted like gourmet peasants –  upon the fresh, simple (and well, honest) food of Honest Fare.

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cuisine à la carly: leafy greens

Greens Braised in Chicken Stock with Garlic and Sundried Tomatoes

As an avid cook and culinary experimenter, a question I get asked often is “how do you find the time to cook?

The answer isn’t exactly simple.  Like all projects worth doing – cooking starts with a considerable investment of time and effort (namely, familiarizing yourself with different techniques and buying good equipment).  But once you’ve put in that initial chunk of time, day-to-day cooking becomes fairly easy – it’s just variations on a theme.

That said, I know the question people really want answered is : “What is a  short-cut to healthy, home-cooked meals?  And while most people will tell you no such thing exists, I disagree.   The answer is leafy greens.

Leafy greens are great for detoxification, extremely versatile, and fast to cook.  The vast majority of my warm weeknight meals are based off these nutritious plants (kale, mustard greens, collard greens, spinach, turnip greens…) and fall into one of two easy variants : braised and soup(‘ed).

Braised Greens:

Kale is a great green for braising

Ingredients: greens, garlic (onion/shallot), olive oil, salt, water/stock (+ optional extras)

1) Heat up olive oil in a pan.
2) Slice 1-2 cloves of garlic (and/or you can use shallots, red onion, etc.) and add them to the pan.  Note: if you use both an onion/shallot and garlic, add the onion first and then the garlic, as garlic burns very quickly and the onion will need to soften.
3) Wash your greens and chop into inch-wide ribbons.  Note: Do not dry the greens after washing, the residual moisture will help them wilt.
4) Add greens to pan with a pinch of salt and cover.  Note: be careful of splattering, as wet greens and hot oil can create a “spitting pan” situation.  Keep an eye on the pan.  Add extra water or stock as necessary to wilt greens without drying them out.
5) Spruce it up:

  • Catalan Greens: add golden raisins to pan (at same time you add spinach so that they plump up a bit) as well as chick peas or nuts.  Optional: squeeze of lemon or splash of balsamic vinegarNote : Chick peas can be added at same time as raisins, for nuts : add slivered almonds, toasted pine nuts, or soy nuts 1-2 minutes before you remove the greens from the pan.
  • Simple Greens: Dress with a squeeze of lemon or a tsp of balsamic vinegar.  Note : add vinegar while still over flame, so it caramelizes a bit as it cooks down.
  • Indian Greens: add curry or an Indian spice mix to the pan at the same time as the greens.  Note: you may want to add a splash of extra water to help create a “sauce” of sorts.  You can also add golden raisins and nuts, as with the Catalan version.

6) When greens are wilted and all other ingredients heated through, remove from heat and serve promptly.

Escarole is wonderful in soups, but must be washed well. Just float the leaves in water to wash off all the sand.

Soup’ed Greens:

Ingredients: 1 bunch of greens, olive oil, garlic (onion/shallot), chicken (or other) stock (+ optional extras)

1) Heat up a small amount of olive oil in a pot.
2) Slice up 2-3 cloves of garlic (as well as some shallots/onions if you like).
3) When garlic is slightly browned, add 4 cups of chicken (or other) stock.
4) Wash and cut greens into inch-wide ribbons.
5) When stock has reached a gentle simmer, add greens, cook for 15-20 minutes.
6) Spruce it up:

  • During cooking:
    • add fresh diced tomatoes or chopped sundried tomatoes
    • add herbs and spices, such as rosemary, thyme or bay leaf or spicy red pepper flakes
    • add legumes, like white beans (northern beans, cannelloni beans) chick peas, or lentils
  • After cooking:
    • toast stale bread and add small cubes to soup
    • grate Parmesan cheese over finished soup

Once you master these two classics, you may feel inclined to add some new leafy green recipes to your regimen, so check out this list of 246 cheap, healthy leafy green recipes.

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