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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Here’s a thought: the days after Thanksgiving are just as exciting as the day of. When else during the year are leftovers so exciting? I loved our Thanksgiving dinner, but I might remember even more fondly the flautas with turkey and salad we had on Saturday with hot cocoa. Then there were days-after-Thanksgivings long ago with Turkey-salad sandwiches and glasses of champaign with family friends.

Even after the sandwiches, there’s more enjoyment to be had. If I had made my own this year (I didn’t) I’d have made a light soup out of the carcass like I do sometimes with leftover roast chicken.

 

After you make sandwiches or flautas or whatever with the choice meat of your bird, cut up the carcass  into several large pieces. In a large pot, bring a couple of tablespoons of olive oil up to heat, and cook the pieces of bird until fragrant. If you have an onion and celery you can add these too, but if not that’s fine. Fill the pot with water so that it almost but not quite covers the solids, add lots of salt and a handful of peppercorns and bring to low boil. Then simmer for an hour and a half or so. Remove the solid pieces and let them cool.

Meanwhile, make long-grain rice with a few ladles of the now chickeny broth.

After the pieces of chicken/turkey are cooled, strip off any remaining large chunks of meat and throw it back in the pot. They should really fall right off the bones by this point, and there will be more than you thought. Let all of it simmer while the rice cooks. Serve the hot broth with a few pieces of meat over the rice. Garnish with more salt and olive oil.

Food isn’t the only thing I look forward to in the time surrounding but not on Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving nights and following afternoons I like long walks in the cold and look to see who has put up lights already. Or just enjoy the cold.

 

The Friday after is always a great night for drinking. And for karaoke.

What do you do on the Days After?

This week I was reminded how much I love to read cookbooks. It is a simple but deep pleasure that has been consistent since as long as I can remember.

My parents had a good many cookbooks. There was a shelf in our kitchen, and the bottom two racks were occupied with cookbooks. A large number of them were part of a series titled The Good Cook published by [ Time Life in the 70s and 80s ]. Each volume (I seem to remember there being around 20?) was dedicated to a specific food group – cheese, poultry, eggs, wine, etc. How many a Saturday afternoon did I spend thumbing through the pages of those books, wondering at the still-life-like images of cheese boards, all labeled meticulously, or photographs of aspics studded with hard cooked eggs, ham and pickles, like savory loaves of bread from an another planet.

There must have been recipes that we actually made from these books, but I mostly remember the experience of looking at them resolutely, over and over.

Nothing satisfies me more than acquiring and thumbing through an old fashioned cookbook. These are the only books I still buy in paper-and-binding form, in fact. Everything else- from fiction to the purely academic- is alright scanned or downloadable.

The problem is that throughout my adult life, I have never allowed myself to actually enjoy reading cookbooks. Sure, I have quite a few and I do read them and use them, but there’s a voice in the back of my head telling me I should be doing something more productive. This week it dawned on me as I was thumbing through a new cookbook with my morning coffee that maybe these pleasures are more productive than I previously thought. Sometimes I feel a glaring disconnect between what I do for most of the day and what I love to do – I assume most people do. What if that gap could be shortened? How to go about doing so?

This month I bought two cookbooks that I had been wanting to read for a long while. It’s great to have them and they have made my mornings and evenings a great deal more pleasant.

The first was The Canal House Cooks Everyday, by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer, of the [ Canal House ]. Just like their photo-blog, “The Canal House Cooks Lunch,” these women present straightforward cooking with just the right amount of elegance and indulgence. It gets me excited about a lunch of tomato sandwiches but also encourages me to invest in a good bottle of wine every now and then. I plan to make their chestnut and pearl onion stuffing tomorrow for Thanksgiving. My mouth waters just thinking about it.

The second was Tamar Adler’s [ An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace ]. So far, this has been worth every cent. I don’t remember reading a cookbook with so many ideas packed into each page or that made me more excited about using what I have in my fridge. There are relatively few full recipes and no pictures in this book (at least in my paperback version), and yet I’ve made more use of it than most of my favorite recipe-and-picture cookbooks. The underlying message is that great cooking can be very simple and frugal and that the best meals begin “on the tails” of the last. It’s a waste-not want-not approach to truly eating and living well, and I highly recommend it.

Last week’s CSA delivery seems to have been cosmically aligned to respond to my mini-epiphany that I should indulge my cook-bookery. More squash and root veg arrived, including Jerusalem artichokes, which gave me the opportunity to turn to the books to figure out what to make.

Until very recently, I have to admit that I thought a Jerusalem artichokes were regular globe artichokes  pickled in brine and sold in a jar. I think somehow my wires got crossed, and I mapped “Jerusalem” onto canned artichoke hearts of the Mount Olive Brand (because the Mount of Olives is in Jerusalem?). I had the Mount Olive logo in my mind, but had replaced the words with “Jerusalem.” Every once and a while, a touch of Alabama rears its head in ways I can’t suppress.

Anyway, as I’m sure you all know, Jerusalem artichokes aren’t artichokes and they aren’t pickled. They are delicious, however, and do taste strangely of artichoke. Ever since I read Nigel Slater on the subject, I’d been wanting to cook them, but I just never got around to buying them. Slater’s book is another cookbook that I turn to again and again just to read. I was inspired by a recipe in Tender for braised Jerusalem artichokes with onions and sausages, which I modified slightly to suit what I had around:

1 large onion

3-4 hands-full Jerusalem artichokes, chopped in half

1 lemon, cut into thick wedges

4 pork sausages – mine included fennel seed, which Slater’s recipe called for

Olive oil

A bunch of parsley, leaves removed from stems and stems saved

Salt and Pepper to taste

Brown the sausages in a large dutch oven and then remove, leaving behind a couple of tbs of grease. Meanwhile, chop the onion in medium to large dice – think caramelized bratwurst onions – you want them to keep their shape. Then cook the onions in the grease and some olive oil over low heat until they caramelize and can be smashed with a wooden spoon. Salt and pepper them. Then add the halved Jerusalem artichokes and stir around until they’re coated with the onions. Add sausages and lemons, and enough water to cover. Bring to a simmer, taste for salt and pepper again, and then cook until the artichokes are soft enough so they almost melt in your mouth, add parsley, stir a few times and serve.

Delicious, but not photogenic, so I do not include a picture here.

Following the advice of Adler, I used the leftovers from this dish to make a quick sandwich that I ate on my way out the door to LGA- she recommends this for any leftovers of roasted vegetables. I used the parsley stems and onion husks to make a vegetable stock. I also got 4 full meals out of my squash by making her end-of-the-week vegetable curry. I’m a convert.

This week I was late to pick up my CSA, but it went to a food pantry and I’m in Chicago anyway, so it’s all good.

Happy thanksgiving to everyone.

The first week’s produce from our fall CSA is officially used up – I’m very pleased that we went through all of it. The peppers and eggs mostly went to make omelets. We ate the small turnips raw, cut up in a salad with raw kale massaged with avocado in a dressing of soy sauce, olive oil, lemon juice and salt. The rutabaga and sweet potatoes were used in a soup flavored with leeks, garlic olive oil, salt, red chile flakes and some very dry white wine that was pretty good but needs further experimentation.

I think the most memorable recipe this week was the squash. First of all, they were just nice to look at.

I wanted to do something different than I usually would, so I searched around for polenta and squash recipes. I found this one from [ Food and Wine ]. I halved the recipe. I  substituted my squash (a carnival squash – about 1 lb), left out the pine nuts and sage (too fussy) and substituted the Gouda style cheese for a Cheddar style (I used 1/4 pound of Cheddar and Parmesan). It turned out great – actually like a less mushy version of the squash casseroles I remember from my childhood. And it makes great leftovers.

Baked polenta with winter squash and salty cheese (adapted from http://www.foodandwine.com)

Ingredients

1 lb winter squash (butternut, acorn, carnival, etc.)

1/2 a large onion

2 cups polenta (dry)

A good deal of butter (3-4 tbs)

1/4 lb Parmesan-style cheese

1/4 lb aged Cheddar-style cheese

Salt and red chile flakes to taste

Directions

This is a bit fussy, but it’s best if you plan a few hours for this and take it step by step – otherwise you’ll be caught stirring the polenta and peeling the hot squash at the same time like I was, and that is no fun. It’s mostly low maintenance so put on a podcast and make an afternoon of it.

Step one: prepare and the squash and onions. Preheat oven to 375 F. Cut the squash in half, remove the seeds and stringy interior and then chop into fourths. Put these on a baking sheet and splash with olive oil, salt and red chile flakes. Bake until completely soft, at least 30 minutes if not more. When the squash is done, remove it and let cool.

While the squash is cooling, sweat and brown the onions in butter over medium heat until caramelized and fragrant. Take off the heat and set aside. When the squash is cooled, scoop out the flesh, discarding the skins, and set aside as well.

Step two: cook the polenta. First, butter a mid-sized pyrex or ceramic casserole and set aside. In a large saucepan, heat 6 cups of water. When almost boiling, add salt and taste (it should be flavorful). Then add the 2 cups polenta. For the next 15-20 minutes, watch the mixture and stir frequently so that the polenta doesn’t stick to the bottom and burn. When it starts to get thick, add 2 tbs or so of butter. Continue stirring until the mixture is relatively thick.

When thick but still not too hard to stir, add the onions and squash and stir until evenly mixed. Next, grate in the two cheese and stir until evenly mixed. When cheese, squash and onions are incorporated, take the mixture off the heat and poor it into the buttered casserole/pyrex. Let this set in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Step three: bake the dish: Bring the oven back to 375. Put the casserole into the oven and let cook for around half an hour until the top is browned. You can add extra cheese and butter to the top if you’d like before you put it in the oven.

To serve, slice into wedges. It is excellent with sauteed broccoli rabe, collards or any other bitter green with vinegar and chile.

Yesterday a nor’easter came to town, covering everything in a premature swath of snow. I left the museum early, with the second head-cold I’ve had in so many weeks, hoping to get back to my apartment before the bad weather really hit. I didn’t quite make it and got stuck waiting for a crosstown bus as the snow started to really come down. The view from my window back at home says it all:

Image

Yesterday also brought the first shipment of a CSA Cesar and I joined. I was very excited to get it. I’ve never joined one before and always depended on a mix of produce from farmers’ markets, supermarkets and corner stores to get through the week. The decision to join was an ethical and financial experiment: would receiving a weekly shipment of produce (and in our case eggs and cheese) force us to cook more seasonally, and would it end up saving money? Only time will tell: the weekly cost of this CSA is $18 for each of us (a half share of veg, a dozen eggs and 1 lb of cheese). Not exactly cheap, but I could easily spend that amount on a trip to Mr. Melon to buy chips, sparkling water and broccolini (at $3.99 a head, those greens are neither cost effective nor local).

And now for the first shipment: this week’s share was 1 carnival squash, a bag of sweet potatoes, turnips, a large rutabaga, a romanesco cauliflower, and a bag of small, sweet peppers.

The produce does look lovely, and so far it tastes good too, especially the eggs, which are rich and yolky in comparison to the ones we buy at the supermarket. I’m thinking up dishes as I type. Tonight I’m hoping to use the carnival squash and have something decent to report back about – something with cheese and hot red chili pepper. The sweet potatoes will be more of a challenge: I never loved them as a child, but I recently tasted a sweet-potato dish (in Berlin of all places) that made me want to revisit this one.

Eggs “CSA”

I still have my cold today so I’m staying in and avoiding the snowy outside. This morning, after reading for pleasure for several hours, I went for a second helping of our CSA eggs. The best way to use up stray vegetables (or CSA vegetables you have no other plan for) is in an egg dish. I like to cook eggs in the form of a thin pancake, so that both sides cook but aren’t folded over like an omelette:

First, I browned a quarter of a sweet onion in a cast-iron skillet with olive oil over low-med heat. Then I chopped up and cored several of the sweet peppers that came with this week’s share. I added these to the skillet and let them cook until just soft. Meanwhile, I whisked two eggs together with salt and red chili. I poured these over the cooking vegetables, turning the pan around so that the eggs slid across every inch of the hot surface. Every now and again as the bottom cooked through, I lifted an edge with a spatula and tilted the pan toward me so that the runny egg on top would slide into the crevices and cook. When I could do this no more, I turned off the heat and covered the skillet with a tight-fitting lid and let the eggs “steam” for 3 minutes or so, until they were cooked through but not browned. 

Today I biked to work (in Manhattan) for the first time since last week, before the storm hit town. It was the most memorable ride I’ve had since I’ve been here and I wanted to put it out there in the ether, to make sure also that I don’t forget.

It sounds truly awful to wax poetic about seeing the entire lower end of Manhattan pitch black so let me explain myself: there’s nothing nice or beautiful or cool about hundreds of thousands living without power, heat and telephone service. It would be especially lame for me to say that, since I’m sitting in a well-lit apartment now typing away just across the river, barely affected by the whole thing. But what was striking to me was that the city seemed so malleable and adaptable on my commute today – a place where people are set on moving forward despite the setbacks.

Some sights were encouraging, like the hundreds of bikes streaming over the bridges from Brooklyn and Queens and down the arterial avenues. In the morning, there was a group handing out coffee, and in the evening, Second Avenue was flickering with hundreds of tail lights as commuters pedaled themselves home.

It’s nice to know that so many people are willing and able to bike, even if it takes partially suspended subway service to make it happen. Maybe this will encourage more people to do it on a regular basis.

Some sights were  jarring: old women in Chinatown filling large plastic buckets of water at public fountains to carry them up flights of stairs for cooking or cleaning. All of this blocks away from the world’s financial center. First Avenue and Grand with barely any cars to block the way, most shops closed.

In the evening, crossing 34th street and going in a second from the usual bright lights to a dim world, and experiencing the opposite half way over Manhattan Bridge, where the uphill from Canal Street was pitch black and the downhill to Sands Street in Brooklyn was brightly lit.

Then there was the awe-factor. There was the eerie flicker of the flairs lit by traffic control guards on the corners of major intersections as the sun was going down in lower Manhattan. Rows of completely darkened buildings and hundreds shadows milling about on the sidewalks.

But the most memorable thing to me was seeing how the food service industry was dealing with the situation. Most restaurants and groceries of course had to shut their doors, but on many corners portable food carts – some that I had never seen before- had their generators running and were dishing out coffee, kebabs and stir-fries to eager customers.

 

And every few blocks, there was one bar or local restaurant that had managed somehow, whether through a generator or just with a few old fashioned candles, to keep its doors open for people to eat, read, and sit and talk.

It’s a determined and inventive group of people that can make such an awful situation seem not as awful as you initially thought.

 

Greetings from the aftermath of Sandy.

We on my street were very lucky compared to others in NYC and NJ who experienced flooding, fires and blackouts. The worst that happened in my area were a few fallen trees and the inconvenience of having so subway for a few days.

Since it has been impossible to leave the borough, I’ve been stationed at my apartment since Sunday, and this is the longest stretch of time I’ve had at home since arriving here. For me, that’s meant a lot of dissertation writing (I have no books handy and so can do no research) and a good deal of cooking and coffee-making. I find that those three things go together.

Luckily, we did get out and about over the weekend before the rain started, and traipsed about Manhattan.

In honor of Halloween, there were haunted buildings.

 

There was also a great deal of fall foliage.

Some very good chicken and rice.

And coffee in the park.

Then on Monday morning, the rest of Clinton Hill and I were at Mr. Melon, buying whatever we could carry. We got a pumpkin and decided to make dinner out of it.

 

Actually, I had been wanting to cook this pumpkin-centric dish since I returned from Italy. That trip really deserves a post unto itself – there was a great deal good food in Florence, and a reconnection with a friend I hadn’t seen in 17 years in Pisa.

Let me tell you about the pumpkin though. This recipe is something so simple and yet I have never encountered it beyond Italian soil. It’s called Parmigiana di Zucca – Pumpkin Parmesan.

It it sounds silly in English, like a knockoff of Eggplant Parmesan, but don’t be fooled. It has none of the mushiness of eggplant parmesan, a dish that I have never liked and never will. Pieces of pumpkin seem to hold up better in tomato and cheese sauce than eggplant, I guess. It’s a savory version of pumkpin that has a perfect texture.

The only problem is carving up the pumpkin, which is time consuming, but ’tis the season…

Happy Halloween to all.

Parmigiana di Zucca

*Note: the recipe I adapted (from [this website]), calls for Provola affumiciata, a soft smoked cheese. I used mozzarella because I was in a pinch. It worked fine but something closer to the smoked style called for above would have been more interesting. When I had it in Italy, there was no soft white cheese included, just the parmesan-style cheese. The recipe also calls for flouring the pumpkin pieces to pan fry them first. I skipped this, and the pieces were a bit softer than I wanted, but were still fine. You just need to brown the pieces slightly, not overcook them in the pan.

1 small pumpkin (see pic above)

750 g canned whole tomatoes

200 g Parmigiano Reggiano or other Grana-style cheese

200 g Smoked provola or other white melting cheese (e.g. mozzarella)

1 clove garlic

Olive oil

Oil for frying (e.g. canola or safflower)

Salt and red chili flakes to taste

Directions

Prepare the pumpkin by halving it, scooping out the interior stringy flesh and seeds completely, and peeling off the hard orange skin. Save the seeds if you wish and [ roast them ]. I find that cutting the flesh (with skin still on) into cantaloupe-style slices and then *carefully* edging the knife along the skin to peel worked relatively easily. When the pumpkin is peeled, slice the flesh into 1/4-inch thick pieces – the closest analogy I can come to for how you want these pieces to look is the thickness and width of [ fried green plantains ].

Preheat the oven to 350 F

Heat some olive oil in a saucepan and fry the garlic clove until fragrant. Remove the clove and then pour in the  can of tomatoes, crushing the tomatoes until they form a consistent, chunky sauce. Stir, salt to taste, and then simmer for 25 minutes to slightly reduce the sauce.

Meanwhile, pan-fry the pumpkin pieces in another shallow pan: heat the frying oil until quite hot, and then fry the pieces in batches just until they are browned on the outside – you don’t want to overcook them at this stage. As they are done, transfer to a plate with a paper towel to absorb excess grease.

When the sauce has reduced remove it from the heat and let cool a few minutes. In a small baking dish about 2 inches deep, arrange half of the pumpkin pieces in a single layer. Then add sauce and grated parmesan cheese, followed by another layer of the same. On the top, shred or cube rounds of provola or mozzarella.

Bake in the oven for around 30 minutes, or until the cheese on top is melted but not browned and pumpkin is just tender.