It’s been a very long time since I’ve posted, but today I’m home sick and have no excuse. I knew I was coming down with something when I woke up yesterday and had no desire for coffee – this happens only when I’m ill or hungover. Sure enough, as the day wore on the usual cold symptoms progressed and by the end of the day I was craving herbal teas and bland soups. Being sick reminds me of how much one’s tastes for flavors and specific foods is tied to one’s general state of wellbeing.
I guess the last few weeks have finally caught up with me. Since I posted last, I moved to New York and began a new research post. Then there were three trips out of town, one to Italy for a conference, and a couple of writing deadlines. There hasn’t been much of a free moment, it seems. Today though, I plan to do nothing more than putter around the apartment and eat turnip soup with rice (laced with Sriracha) until I get better.
It’s no fun to be sick, but I can’t say I’m relieved to stay in and putter around. So far, NYC has lived up to the various expectations I had for it, including that my life here would involve more socializing outside and less staying home and cooking. As much as I love to cook, the selection of $1 oysters, paper-thin slices of pizza and brisket sandwiches with homemade pickles within walking distance is dizzying and much more tempting than grocery shopping, which can truly be a nightmare here for someone on a budget and with little time.
I am cooking at least a couple of days a week though, and I finally signed up for a weekly CSA box (!) I hope that I can get my act together in the next couple of weeks and make up for the lack of cooking-related activity around here. My recent and brief trip to Italy also served to inspire, as did reading the [recently-published correspondence of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto], which I can highly recommend to anyone who loves food.
Today I offer a recipe inspired by a dish Cesar and I tried at a local [izakaya] – a sort of Japanese tavern with small plates to accompany the drinks. The selection and quality of Japanese food in New York has been one unexpected surprise. The dish was advertised as “Kabo Sobo” and may have changed my opinion about sweet orange-colored squashes forever. Never a huge fan of these fall vegetables, I was quite partial to the Japanese method of preparation, which utilizes the salty and savory flavors of miso and bonito to temper the sweetness of the squash. Here is the imminently easy recipe, via Cesar:
“Kabo Sobo” (Kabocha squash braised in dashi stock)
1/2 a large kabocha squash (about 1 lb)
3 tbs miso
3 tbs bonito flakes
2 tbs soy sauce
1/2 lb ground beef (optional)
Salt and red chili flakes to taste
Prepare the squash by washing the outside of well and removing any rough gray scabs, but do not remove the skin. Carve out the seeds and stringy interior. Chop the squash into chunks slightly larger than bite sized, each with a bit of skin on one side. Set these aside to use later.
To make the dashi stock: Put the miso and bonito flakes into a saucepan and cover with 2 cups of water. Bring this to a boil and reduce the heat, stirring constantly to break up the miso. When the broth becomes consistent, let it simmer for a few minutes and then strain through a fine sieve into a container.
Arrange the kabocha pieces skin-side down in a wide saucepan (you want a pan wide enough so that you can place all the squash in one layer). Cover with the dashi stock and the 2 tbs of soy sauce and bring to a boil uncovered. Immediately turn the heat to low and simmer, covered, for no more than 20 minutes. After 15 minutes, test to see if the squash is done. It should be fork-tender but firm. You don’t want mushy pieces.
While the squash is simmering, brown the ground beef in a skillet, season with salt and red chili flakes and drain off any excess grease.
To serve: place several pieces of squash in small bowls with some of the stock. Garnish with a couple of tablespoons cooked ground beef and chili flakes to taste. This can be served hot or at room temp with steamed rice on the side.