Thursday, October 7, 2021

I guess I'm back?


It's been a while.  I've been gone a while.  Not intentional, but I'm not sure I knew what to say.  It's been a long, weird 20 months, and I've been trying to find my footing in this new world.  Some days I feel like a newborn giraffe, trying to figure out how to stand on my own.  What does the world look like for me, someone in their mid-thirties, in a post (?) pandemic world.  A lot has changed.  Cooking's evolved, I've evolved.  For a while I wasn't sure if I had anything to say so I stayed quiet. 

I've been working, reading, trying to be creative in many different ways.  I've been cooking and baking and pushing myself, challenging myself but it some ways it also feels like I've been trying to convince myself to not stop moving.  If I stop, what do I have to show for myself?  What did I do with my time if I don't spend it making 3 kinds of jam, a pot of beans, a cheese danish, a freezer full of fresh tomato sauce.  Did I accomplish anything?  

Cooking I've come to realize serves a lot of purposes.  Sure, it' feeds me and Tyler but it also is something I use to keep myself busy.  It's a way to pass my time in a tangible way.  Cooking says "Look what I did! Can you believe it?".  But the question I've been wrestling with is why do I feel like I need to prove to everyone I'm always doing something? I think the pandemic in some ways gave us all this time - less commuting, less ability to leave the home, and you had to show you did something with it.  Did you start a business? Figure out how to run a sub 7 minute mile?  Can you plank for 2 minutes? Did you write a book? As a woman, with no kids, I felt like I needed to prove myself even more. It was exhausting in a lot of ways and I'm starting to push back on my inner voice. You don't need to do everything to show you did something. You also don't need to prove anything to anyone.

With all that being said, I have been cooking.  A lot.  More then I've ever cooked.  I've made some amazing things.  Things that 2 years ago I would never think I could do.  I've made laminated pastry, perfect pots of beans, scones for every season. I've done it all in a tiny kitchen with minimal counterspace.    I feel ready to come back here because I feel like I'm coming back for myself - not to prove anything but because I like talking about food and the things I make.  I will probably not come back with any regularity because life has a way of getting in the way but I'll be here, sharing random thoughts, things that taste good, and maybe other things.  

Friday, May 8, 2020

pizza. a love letter to new york.

Pizza.  Not a whole pie but the quintessential slice - one that's just crispy enough that you get the satisfying crack as you fold it in half.  It should be a little too big for the plate, with red pepper flakes that you shake on it from the communal (god, remember communal things) shaker and the right amount of oily cheese. Pizza slices eaten on street corners or stoops or while speed walking to catch a train.  This is what I miss.  At the start of quarantine, eating meals at a leisurely pace with cloth napkins, on real plates, in a silent room, while reading the latest issue of NYMag felt like the luxury I've always wanted.  But now, 6 weeks in, I long to consume something pulled directly from a paper bag, piping hot, surrounded by strangers.   I miss snippets of conversations.  I miss burning my tongue in a rush to eat.  I miss flimsy paper napkins that barely absorb anything despite being giving a stack 1/2 inch high but no one complains because they satisfy a need.  I miss taking all of 3 minutes to eat, looking down and saying a silent thank you to the gods that I didn't manage to get a fleck of tomato sauce on my shirt, and then, finding a trash can to throw away the grease soaked paper plate before rushing off.   

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

one-pot chicken with dates and caramelized lemon.

The thing I find most amazing about life during a pandemic is how often your emotions ebb and flow.  Two weeks ago was a mess.  It felt long and hard and like the movie Groundhogs Day.  Last week felt remarkably easier.  This week has been a toss-up.  I think it has something do with the fact that the new routines don't feel so new anymore.  I know what my day is going to look and feel like - I'm starting to feel comfortable?  Ok with? Understanding of? my new life.  It's not great but it could look a lot worse.  

For me, I've been looking for some kind of purpose during this crisis.  Sure I'm doing whats required of me but can I also do more?  Can I make an impact? Help people out?  With food, and good wholesome food, as the thing everyone is looking for, I thought about how I could help bring that to the people while supporting a farm I hold near and dear to my heart.  This is how I've found myself in the position of organizing a CSA with the farm that's part of the Saturday morning farmers market at the park near me.   Organizing this has left me feeling excited and positive.  It makes me feel hopeful and that spring, despite the circumstances in the world, is coming.  There will be green things and rhubarb and all the other things I find you in.  I'm feeling happy.   

I continue to cook a lot (and experiment a lot!).  It brings me joy during the day but also provides me with a way to break-up the day.   I step away from the computer at lunchtime, some thing I've never done before.  It's a nice respite in the middle of the day.  I've had a hard time getting into books but I've had an easy time getting into cookbooks so I've been reading them like novels.  It provides a lot of inspiration.  

This recipe came from one of my latest cookbook reading binges.  Alison Roman is everywhere and I know people love her or hate her but regardless on how you feel about her, her recipes are always fantastic.  Bold, flavorful, the kind of things you want to eat while stuck at home in the pandemic.  This chicken recipe is fantastic.  Makes excellent leftovers and tastes far more labor intensive than it really is.   

One-Pot Chicken with Dates and Caramelized Lemon
Recipe from Nothing Fancy by Alison Roman

3 1/2-4 pound chicken (or skin-on bone-in chicken thighs/legs which is what I used)
Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
4 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 lemon, cut into thick slices crosswise, seeds removed
2 shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise
4-6 medjool dates, pitted (1 per person to be served in my opinion)
4 sprigs fresh thyme plus more for serving
1 cup water
2 teaspoons ground Urfa chile or 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Flaky sea salt for serving

Preheat oven to 425 degrees with rack in the middle.

Season chicken all over (top and bottom) with kosher salt and black pepper. Heat 2 Tablespoons oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat (I used a 7.25 quart size which is the smallest you can do with this recipe). Place the chicken in the post breast side up, and using your tongs or hands (be careful!), press lightly to make sure the skin comes into even contact with the pot bottom. This is your chance to brown the legs and render that's excess fat! It's rarely offered in whole-chicken recipes, so take advantage.

Cook, without moving, until the chicken is nice and browned, about 5-8 minutes. Seriously, no peeking! Nothing exciting will happen before 5 minutes, I promise you.

Add the lemon slices and shallot, maneuvering the chicken however you need so that the slices come into contact with the bottom of the pot. Don't worry about smooshing the lemons. Let everything sizzle in the chicken fat until lightly caramelized, about 2 minutes.

Add the dates, thyme sprigs and water. Sprinkle red pepper over chicken if using; cover. Roast in oven until dates are plump and chicken is well under way with its cooking, 20-25 minutes.

Uncover the pot and drizzle the chicken with the remaining 2 Tablespoons of oil. Return to the oven and bake, uncovered until liquid has reduce by half, and chicken is golden brown, 20-30 minutes. A thermometer should register 160 degrees when inserted into the breast, if using.

Let chicken rest in the pot for 10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and carve. Sprinkle with thyme leaves, flaky salt and serve with roasted shallots, lemon slices, dates and the luscious sauce at the bottom of the pan. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

apple-honey-pecan muffins.

Last night, after shutting down my laptop for the night, I threw on a Spotify playlist and had a one woman dance party while Tyler and Jackson looked on with bemused looks on their face.  To be fair, Tyler nodded his head a couple of times.  Jackson on the other hand barely looked up even while i was serenading him with Queens "Somebody to Love".  This is how we end the work-day.  

This social-isolation thing does weird things to people.  I feel like my emotions ping pong every which way a thousand times a day.  Sometimes I want to scream into the abyss, other times I feel like I could do this for weeks and be OK.  Am I slowly going insane or am I slowly adjusting to a new normal?  One where pants are optional, make-up is non existent, and homemade lunches are how you find ways to break-up the day?  How does your relationship change when the only person you can really interact with is the person you're married to and is sitting 20 feet from you at all times?   

Honestly, outside of Tyler's need to snack when I know he isn't really hungry, it's kind of like he isn't really here.  I realized the other day that both of us are similar with regards to our work style.  When we are in something we are really in something and whatever is happening around us is like the noise coming out of a sound machine - there but we don't really notice it.   I find that I can more easily disengage myself when the day is over, he on the other hand needs someone to say close the computer.  It's interesting when you realize you know a person so well, but aspects of them you don't know because you've really never been privy to them before.   

I think the thing I've learned from all of this is that you have to figure out a way to make some kind of joy each day.  For me that joy comes from food and eating and I've been using this time to try all of the recipes I never would have time to try.  Things I've had bookmarked for a year are now finally being made.  Sunday morning breakfasts that used to be simple meals are now (slightly) over the top -  homemade muffins.  Fresh granola.  Things like that.  It's fun to try new things.   

I made these muffins this past Sunday.  They were a real delight.  I especially liked the fact that you could make the batter and apples up to 2 days earlier.  On Sunday morning I simply assembled them as instructed and baked them up.  We both eat 2 while watching a couple of episodes of Shitt's Creek.  It made for a fantastic distraction.   

Apple-Honey-Pecan Muffins
Recipe from Ochre Bakery via Bon Appetit 

Feel free to sub the pecans for hazlenuts or another favorite nut! 

2 medium Pink Lady or Jonagold apples
⅔ cup (75 g) pecans
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. honey
Flaky sea salt
¾ cup (100 g) all-purpose flour
½ cup (60 g) spelt flour or all-purpose flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. kosher salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
¾ cup (150 g) granulated sugar
¾ cup plus 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup buttermilk
Raw sugar or granulated sugar (for sprinkling)

Place a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 350°. Lightly coat flat top of a standard 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick spray (this will prevent muffins from gluing themselves to the pan). Line cups with double layers of muffin liners. Cut apples into quarters; remove cores. Cut each quarter into 4 wedges; set aside.

Pulse pecans in a food processor until you have a fine meal with a bit of texture, like coarse sand. Heat a large skillet over medium-high, then add pecans and toast, stirring, until darkened and very fragrant (it’s okay if they’re even a tiny bit burnt in spots), about 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool slightly.

Wipe out skillet and return to medium-high heat. Melt butter, swirling pan so that it’s evenly coated, until foaming, then add reserved apples. Drizzle with honey and generously sprinkle with sea salt. Cook, tossing often, until apples are tender and deep golden brown and glazed with honey, about 5 minutes. Scrape into a medium bowl and let cool.

Add all-purpose flour, spelt flour, baking powder, baking soda, and kosher salt to nuts; whisk to combine. Beat eggs and granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on high speed until mixture is thick, pale, and tripled in volume, 8–10 minutes.

Combine oil and buttermilk in a measuring glass. With motor running, gradually pour into egg mixture, stopping as soon as incorporated to prevent eggs from deflating. Scrape into bowl with dry ingredients and fold until just combined (be careful not to overmix). Scoop about 2 Tbsp. batter into each muffin cup and place an apple slice on top. Divide remaining batter among muffin cups, filling until just below the top (you may have a spoonful or two of batter left over). Place 1 apple slice on top of each, then spoon any glaze left in the bowl on top. (You’ll have a few leftover apple slices; eat them.) Sprinkle each muffin with some raw sugar and a pinch of sea salt.

Bake muffins until golden brown all over, rotating pan halfway through, 22–28 minutes. Let cool in pan 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

Do Ahead: Batter can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

caramelized shallot pasta.

Strange times we're in.  

This morning I woke up in bed next to Tyler with Jackson nestled in between us and I thought that with these two, a cooking imagination that has no barriers, and more then enough food and books and puzzles (+ The Office) it will be possible to survive.  That maybe at the end of all of this I'll realize i don't need much.  

But I don't think that's the case (though the above things will get me very far in this and in life!).  

As humans, we are who we are because of the things around us.  They tell a story; they make us feel complete.  I'm not dressing how I would for work but I'm still trying to be me.  Wearing earrings.  Nice sweaters.  But with leggings and sparkly socks.   I'm trying to still feel like myself every day.  I still need things to make me feel like myself.     

The thing I really long for is the rituals and collective energy of the people I would encounter and speak with each and every day.  My favorite barista at Cafe Grumpy.  The kind people at Leo Sourdough that always set aside for me one of there pepita loaves so I can pick them up later in the day.  The farmers at Lani's farm who always point me in the direction of what greens are the best that week.  In preparation  (though if we are being honest I do this even when we aren't in the midst of a pandemic) I stocked up on the things I love.  Right now, a room over from where I am sitting, I have a freezer full of pastries and bread and produce that make me me.  They are the memories and moments and adventures I've had over the past weeks and months locked away in an ice chest until i need to break out a reminder of what the world is like outside of this new normal.  I'm worried about all the people and places I hold a connection with.  Where will they be on the other side of this?  How can I help them survive?  Because without those things, who wants to live here?   

As a glass half full kind of person, I'm done my best to seek out the positives that come from this experience.  I now get to take multiple walks with Tyler and Jackson each day.  I can cook myself lunch!  I can read books and do puzzles instead of scrolling through websites when I need a break.  I can run!  I can labor over cooking projects since I'm here all day (will I finally make croissants??).   

At some point it will be summer and I keep telling myself that it will be the sweetest summer ever.  But until then, hunker down, cook, draw, move, and dream about life on the other side.  Do what you can to help the things and people you love.   

Caramelized Shallot Pasta
Recipe via the NYTimes

This sauce is BANANAS good.  It keeps in the fridge for over a week.  You can make it with pantry staples!  I like it on pasta but i really love it tossed with beans on a piece of garlic rubbed bread.  

¼ cup olive oil
6 large shallots, very thinly sliced
5 garlic cloves, 4 thinly sliced, 1 finely chopped
 Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes, plus more to taste
1 (2-ounce) can anchovy fillets (about 12), drained
1 (4.5-ounce) tube or (6-ounce) can of tomato paste (about 1/2 to 3/4 cup)
10 ounces pasta
1 cup parsley, leaves and tender stems, finely chopped
 Flaky sea salt

Heat olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium high. Add shallots and thinly sliced garlic, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots have become totally softened and caramelized with golden-brown fried edges, 15 to 20 minutes.
Add red-pepper flakes and anchovies. (No need to chop the anchovies; they will dissolve on their own.) Stir to melt the anchovies into the shallots, about 2 minutes.

Add tomato paste and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly to prevent any scorching, until the tomato paste has started to cook in the oil a bit, caramelizing at the edges and going from bright red to a deeper brick red color, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer about half the mixture to a resealable container, leaving the rest behind. (These are your leftovers to be used elsewhere: in another batch of pasta or smeared onto roasted vegetables, spooned over fried eggs or spread underneath crispy chicken thighs.)

To serve, cook pasta according to package instructions in a large pot of salted boiling water until very al dente (perhaps more al dente than usual). Transfer to Dutch oven with remaining shallot mixture (or a skillet if you are using the leftover portion) and 1 cup pasta water. Cook over medium-high heat, swirling the skillet to coat each piece of pasta, using a wooden spoon or spatula to scrape up any bits on the bottom, until pasta is thick and sauce has reduced and is sticky, but not saucy, 3 to 5 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine parsley and finely chopped garlic clove, and season with flaky salt and pepper. Divide pasta among bowls, or transfer to one large serving bowl, and top with parsley mixture and a bit more red-pepper flakes, if you like.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

creamy braised white beans.

Back in October of last year, I signed up for the Rancho Gordo Bean club.  If you’re not familiar with Rancho Gordo, they are an heirloom dried bean company based in California that works with farmers to grow long-forgotten or previously hard to find varieties of beans (along with more common bean types).  Their beans are a real game changer – super beautiful, incredibly flavorful, and very fresh -  the beans cook up far faster than anything you can buy in a supermarket.  I honestly think signing up for this bean club is the best thing I’ve done in a while. 

As you can imagine, we are now eating a lot of beans which is both good for us and good for the environment.  Since joining, I’ve been cooking a pound of beans every weekend and then pushing myself to come up with new recipes/ways to eat them (though if we are being honest, my preferred meal is a simple bowl of beans in served with a little bean broth, olive oil, and a piece of really good bread).  It’s been fun.  It’s also nice coming home and having one meal component done and then just figuring out how to toss it all together.

I’ve been cooking a LOT of different recipes (and experimenting with homemade bean burgers) but so far, the best thing I’ve made, and the dish I keep coming back to is this Creamy Braised White beans.   This is pure comfort food and the kind of thing I feel like I could eat daily if you let me.  It’s easily adaptable – I’ve thrown spinach or arugula into it.  I’ve been known to top it with comte instead of parmesan.  I’ve made it with a couple of different vartities of white beans and all of them are great.   The original recipe calls for canned  but it is so much better with the real deal beans.   

I just wrote 325 words on beans and I think I could still write 500 more.  

Creamy Braised White Beans
Recipe Adapted from the NYTimes

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 head garlic, halved crosswise
1 cup whole milk
30 ounces white beans (any kind or a combination of 2 kinds) + ¾ - 1 cup bean broth (though you may decide you want additional broth)
1 thyme sprig, 2 sage leaves or 1 bay leaf
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg, allspice or garam masala
Kosher salt and black pepper
4 slices crusty bread or thick toast
Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving
Freshly grated Parmesan, comte, or another favorite cheese, for serving
Aleppo pepper or red-pepper flakes, for serving

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, cut side down, and cook until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the milk, beans and their liquid, thyme and nutmeg and stir to combine. Season generously with salt and pepper. When the mixture begins to bubble around the edges of the pan (you don’t want it to come to a full boil), reduce the heat to low and let it simmer, stirring occasionally, until it has thickened and tastes great to you, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Use a fork to remove the garlic halves from the beans. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then use the fork to remove the cloves from the skins. Spread the cloves on bread or toast.

If you would like the beans to be more stew-like, mash some of the beans using a potato masher or the back of a spoon. Serve beans and milk in bowls. Garnish as you wish, with a drizzle of oil, a sprinkle of Parmesan and a pinch of Aleppo pepper and black pepper. Serve with the bread alongside for dipping.