Motorcrash.

Last Monday I got hit by a car; I survived.

Bruised and thoroughly shaken up, I insisted on making dinner the next night, much to Keith’s annoyance.  I could’ve cooked something, he said.  You should be resting.

He’s right — I should’ve been resting, and the short amount of prep time our meal took left me sore, aching and in desperate need of my prescribed Percocet.  That said, the recipe I’d chosen couldn’t have been any simpler.  I like to think I would’ve been able to manage it even if I had been seriously injured, something I hope I never have to put to the test.

Pork Noodle Soup w. Cinnamon + Star Anise -- 10thirty

The beauty of this soup is that you literally throw the majority of the ingredients into a pot, slap on its lid, and walk away.  Soon thereafter, doped up on painkillers or not, you’ll smell the most amazing fragrances emerging from your kitchen.  If you happen to be doped up on painkillers, these alluring aromas will likely have the power to lift you up off of the sofa and gently waft you towards the pot, much like the sweet perfume of a blueberry pie cooling on a windowsill in an old Merrie Melodies cartoon.

When I was younger, my mother frequently made a chicken noodle soup that I now realize must have been inspired by Vietnamese phở; at the time, I just thought it was delicious, though the skinny, silvery noodles my mom used were too squirrely to catch on a spoon.  Later I learned these were cellophane noodles, also called vermicelli or bean thread noodles, but when I was growing up I called them “swimming noodles,” since they too often slid off of my cutlery and back into the broth as smoothly as a fish.

To avoid frustration while eating this soup, I recommend using both spoon and fork, something that is only tricky if your head is cloudy with narcotics and acetaminophen.

Pork Noodle Soup with Cinnamon + Anise, from Gourmet
Makes four to six portions

2 ½ pounds country-style pork ribs
6 cups water
2/3 cup soy sauce
2/3 cup Chinese Shaoxing wine or medium-dry Sherry
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
1 head garlic, halved crosswise
3 3-inch cinnamon sticks
1 whole star anise (I used two)
5 ½ ounces cellophane noodles
Chopped cilantro and sliced scallions for garnish

  1. Gently simmer all ingredients except noodles in a 6-quart heavy pot, covered, skimming as needed, until pork is very tender, 1 ½ to 2 hours.
  2. Transfer pork to a bowl. Discard bones, spices, and garlic. Coarsely shred meat. Skim fat from broth, then return meat and bring to a simmer. Rinse noodles, then stir into broth and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until noodles are translucent and tender, about 6 minutes.
Motorcrash” by The Sugarcubes.
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Chocolate City.

I am completely behind on most things in my life, so it makes complete sense to me that I would be writing about Thanksgiving almost two weeks later.  Time may have passed, but I’m still feeling the impact of my contribution to the table.  I’m aware of how obnoxious that comes across but I don’t care.  I don’t care because it’s true.  Besides, it’s not as if I invented the recipe; that credit goes to the lovely people of the much-mourned Gourmet.  It’s just a damn good recipe, it makes a damn good tart, and I’m damn well going to take the credit.

This tart is as incredibly easy make as it is incredibly easy it is to eat — as long as the eater has plenty of milk to wash it down with.  It is a very rich tart, this unassuming wedge of chocolate, and the type of chocolate used makes all the difference.  I personally prefer a darker chocolate; the tart is very dense, and a sweeter chocolate here quickly becomes cloying.

Chocolate Truffle Tart from Gourmet
Makes ten portions

for the crust
28 chocolate wafers such as Nabisco Famous, finely ground in a food processor (1 ½ cups)
¾ stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled completely

for the filling
½ pound fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), coarsely chopped
¾ stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

optional garnish
unsweetened cocoa powder for sprinkling (I skipped this)

special equipment
an 8-inch (20-cm) round springform pan

  1. Make the crust.  Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°. Wrap a sheet of foil over bottom of springform pan (in case of leaks). Lightly butter side of pan.
  2. Stir together ground wafers and butter in a bowl until combined, then pat mixture evenly onto bottom of pan and 1 ½ inches up side. Bake until crust is slightly puffed, about ten minutes, then cool completely in pan on a rack, about fifteen minutes. Leave oven on.
  3. Make the filling while crust cools.  Melt chocolate and butter in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring until smooth, then remove from heat and cool five minutes.
  4. Whisk together eggs, cream, sugar, salt, and vanilla in a bowl. Whisk chocolate mixture into egg mixture until combined well.
  5. Assemble and bake tart. Pour filling into cooled crust and rap pan once on counter to eliminate any air bubbles. Bake until filling one inch from edge is set and slightly puffed but center trembles slightly when pan is gently shaken, twenty to twenty-five minutes. (Center will continue to set as it cools.)
  6. Cool tart completely in pan on a rack, about two hours. Chill, uncovered, until center is firm, about four hours. Remove side of pan and sprinkle with cocoa to serve.

Cooks’ notes:

  • Tart can be chilled up to three days. Cover loosely after tart is completely chilled (covering before may cause condensation).
  • Crust, without filling, can be made one day ahead and kept, covered, at room temperature.
Chocolate City” by Parliament.

Three Seasonal Recipes.

Okay, I’ll ‘fess up.  I kind of slacked off on the CSA-writing around here, and for that I’m sorry.  In an act of contrition and apology, I offer you these three much-loved autumnal recipes, at least one of which I hope will rewarm your heart to me.

Are we friends again?

Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash + Shallots, from Cooking Light
Makes four portions

3 cups peeled butternut squash, diced into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
8 shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise
1 tablespoon chopped fresh or 1 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
4 ounces uncooked pappardelle (I prefer something like campanelle, as it’s similar in size to the cubed squash)
¼ cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 475°.  Combine the squash, sugar, 2 ½ teaspoons oil, salt, pepper, and shallots in a jelly roll pan; toss well. Bake at 475° for twenty minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in sage.
  2. While the squash mixture bakes, cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain. Place cooked pasta in a bowl. Add two teaspoons oil; toss well. Serve the squash mixture over pasta. Sprinkle with cheese.

Sausage + Lentils with Fennel, from Gourmet*
Makes four portions

1 cup dried lentils
4 ½ cups cold water
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 medium (¾-pound) fennel bulb, stalks discarded, reserving fronds
3 ½ tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, cut into ¼-inch dice
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
1 ¼ pounds sweet Italian sausage links
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar, or to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling

  1. Bring lentils, water, and ½ teaspoon salt to a boil in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until lentils are just tender but not falling apart, 12 to 25 minutes.
  2. While lentils simmer, cut fennel bulb into ¼-inch dice and chop enough fennel fronds to measure 2 tablespoons. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then stir in onion, carrot, fennel bulb, fennel seeds, and remaining teaspoon salt. Cover pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender, about 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, lightly prick sausages in a couple of places with tip of a sharp knife, then cook sausages in remaining ½ tablespoon oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat, turning occasionally, until golden brown and cooked through, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board.
  4. Drain cooked lentils in a sieve set over a bowl and reserve cooking water. Stir lentils into vegetables with enough cooking water to moisten (¼ to ½ cup) and cook over moderate heat until heated through. Stir in parsley, pepper, 1 tablespoon vinegar, and 1 tablespoon fennel fronds. Season with vinegar and salt.
  5. Cut sausages diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Serve lentils topped with sausage and sprinkled with remaining tablespoon fennel fronds. Drizzle all over with extra-virgin olive oil.

Cream-Braised Green Cabbage, from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
Makes four to six portions

1 small green cabbage (about 1 ½ pounds)
3 tablespoons (1 ½ ounces) unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

  1. First, prepare the cabbage. Pull away any bruised leaves, and trim its root end to remove any dirt. Cut the cabbage into quarters, and then cut each quarter in half lengthwise, taking care to keep a little bit of the core in each wedge. (The core will help to hold the wedge intact, so that it doesn’t fall apart in the pan.) You should wind up with 8 wedges of equal size.
  2. In a large (12-inch) skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat.  Add the cabbage wedges, arranging them in a single crowded layer with one of the cut sides down. Allow them to cook, undisturbed, until the downward facing side is nicely browned and caramelized, 5 to 8 minutes. Then, using a pair of tongs, gently turn the wedges onto their other cut side. When the second side has browned, sprinkle the salt over the wedges, and add the cream. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid, and reduce the heat so that the liquid stays at a slow, gentle simmer.  Cook for 20 minutes, then remove the lid and gently, using tongs, flip the wedges, Cook for another 20 minutes, or until the cabbage is very tender and yields easily when pierced with a thin, sharp knife. Add the lemon juice, and shake the pan to distribute it evenly.
  3. Simmer, uncovered, for a few minutes more to thicken the cream to a glaze that loosely coats the cabbage. Serve immediately, with additional salt at the table.
* RIP.

Christmas Brunch + Happy New Year.

Ack, here I am on January first, having not written you all in quite some time.  I wish I had some sort of glamorous reason why — A surprise trip to Bonaire!  An unexpected delivery of Vizsla puppies!  A new pair of Frye boots to break in! — but the sad truth is that I was just plain sick (though I did recently get those boots and love them).  Keith and I spent Christmas Eve at his brother’s, and come the day after Christmas, six out of the nine guests were moaning on their respective sofas.  We were two of them.

Instead of telling you how I felt during the three days immediately thereafter (unhappy, unwell, unpleasant), I thought you’d rather hear about the Christmas brunch I put together before the sickness set in. Unfortunately I’ve got zero photographic documentation, so please just take my word on how great everything turned out.

Brunch, or breakfast, is a meal I’m pleased to say I can turn out both really quickly and really well, something I fully credit book group with as we mostly meet up at brunchy times.  In fact, I recycled two successful recipes from some of those get-togethers — a jam crumb cake and a citrus salad — that are easy to throw together.  They also seem more impressive than they are, and are definite crowd pleasers.

Since I like to have something savory at breakfast, I decided to also make a quiche.  I didn’t think it would be cheating per se to use a premade crust especially since I was extremely limited on time, but I wanted to make up for it by choosing a recipe full of decadent ingredients.  A trio of cheeses, chopped leeks, strips of double-smoked bacon and a more than generous dollop of crème fraîche fit the bill exactly.

In spite of my morning preferences, I knew that my guests tended to lean more towards the sweet; for that reason I chose to do a baked French toast.  When you’ve a group of people coming over for breakfast, the last thing you’ll want to do is stand over the stove, mechanically flipping slices of bread — it’s no fun for you and besides, your friends came over to see you, not your back at the cooktop.  I don’t care if your back is particularly lovely, or if you’ve got a spectacular neck tattoo you’re dying to share — I prefer having my conversations face-to-face, and that is why a baked French toast is perfect.  All you have to do is arrange your bread in an oven-proof dish, douse it with custard, refrigerate overnight and slide the whole thing in the oven about thirty minutes before you plan to eat.  It couldn’t be any simpler, and it will most certainly be a hit with those craving something sweet.  And best of all, you’ll be able to spend time with your friends.

Speaking of friends, I wanted to take a moment to thank you all for reading my sometimes rambling messages.  I really appreciate it, and am wishing you all the best year yet.

Jam Crumb Cake, from Gourmet
Makes six to eight portions.

For cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 ¾ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ stick unsalted butter, melted
½ cup milk
1 large egg
½ cup raspberry jam or preserves

For crumb topping
¾ stick unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  1. Preheat oven to 400° with rack in middle. Generously butter a 9-inch square or round cake pan.  Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Whisk together butter, milk, and egg in a large bowl, then whisk in flour mixture until just combined. Pour batter into cake pan. Dollop jam all over surface, then swirl into batter with spoon.
  2. Whisk together butter, sugars, cinnamon, and salt until smooth. Stir in flour, then blend with your fingertips until incorporated. Sprinkle crumbs in large clumps over top of cake.
  3. Bake cake until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean and sides begin to pull away from pan, about 25 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes.

Note:  I’ve only got a ten-inch round cake pan, so I double the cake recipe but prepare just one recipe’s worth of crumb topping.  The cake then takes about thirty to forty minutes in the oven.

Boozy Baked French Toast, from Smitten Kitchen
Makes six to eight portions.

1 loaf  Challah bread cut into 1-inch slices
3 cups whole milk
3 eggs
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons Grand Marnier
zest of one orange

  1. Generously grease a 9×13-inch baking dish with butter.  Arrange bread into two tightly-packed layers in the pan.  Reserve one slice of bread to cut into smaller pieces to fill in gaps.
  2. Whisk milk, eggs, sugar, salt,  Grand Marnier and zest and pour over the bread.   Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The bread will absorb all of the milk custard while you sleep.
  3. Bake at 425° for 30 minutes, or until puffed and golden. This will take longer if you have additional layers.  Cut into generous squares and serve with maple syrup, fresh fruit, powdered sugar or all of the above.

Note:  I used a deep 9×5 baking dish, so I made this with three layers of bread.  It still took only thirty minutes in the oven until the bread inflated and turned gold.

Citrus Salad with Mint Sugar, Bon Appétit.
Makes six to eight portions.

2 white grapefruits
2 pink grapefruits
6 large navel oranges
½ cup fresh mint leaves
¼ cup sugar

Cut peel and white pith from grapefruits and oranges. Cut between membranes to release segments. Combine fruit in large shallow bowl. (Fruit can be segmented 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)  Place mint and sugar in processor. Using on/off turns, blend until mint is finely chopped, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl. Sprinkle mint sugar over fruit; serve.

Note:  There were some really gorgeous-looking blood oranges at Whole Foods, so I decided to use 4 ruby red grapefruits, 3 large navel oranges and 4 good-sized blood oranges.  The combination of colors was fantastically pretty.

Ham, Leek + Three-Cheese Quiche, from Gourmet.
Makes six to eight portions.

1 round of refrigerated pie dough for a 9-inch pie (from a 15-oz package; not a preshaped frozen pie shell)
¾ pounds leeks (about 3 medium; white and pale green parts only)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ pound thinly sliced smoked ham
3 ounces Gruyère, coarsely grated (1 cup)
3 ounces Italian Fontina, coarsely grated (1 cup)
3 ounces whole-milk mozzarella, coarsely grated (1 cup)
3 large eggs
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 ¾ cups crème fraîche (from two 8 ounces containers)

  1. Prebake pie dough in pie plate according to package instructions, then remove from oven and reduce temperature to 350°.  Meanwhile, halve leeks lengthwise and cut crosswise into ½ inch pieces, then wash well in a bowl of cold water, agitating leeks. Lift out and drain leeks in a colander and pat dry. Melt butter in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderately low heat and cook leeks, stirring occasionally, until very tender, 8 to 10 minutes.
  2. Line warm pie shell with sliced ham, overlapping layers as necessary to cover bottom and side of pie shell completely. Toss cheeses together and sprinkle evenly into pie shell (do not pack cheese), then spread leeks evenly on top of cheese. Whisk together eggs, nutmeg, and pepper until combined well, then whisk in crème fraîche until smooth.
  3. Carefully pour half of custard on top of pie filling, gently moving cheese with a spoon to help custard disperse evenly. Slowly add remaining custard in same manner. Cover pie loosely with foil, gently folding edges over crust (keep foil from touching top of cheese mixture) and transfer to a baking sheet.
  4. Bake until center of filling is puffed and set (center will be slightly wobbly but not liquid), about 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours. Cool on a rack at least 20 to 30 minutes before serving (filling will continue to set as it cools). Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note:  I’m not a fan of ham, so I was really pleased to see a double-smoked bacon in the case at Formaggio Kitchen.  I mean, honestly — who doesn’t prefer bacon?

CSA 2008, Week Twenty-One.

My friend Ben lives in LA; if the time difference wasn’t trouble enough, our schedules are so vastly different that we have monthly phone dates scheduled in order to keep in touch.  We talk about not only what’s going on in our lives, but also what we’ve been reading, what we’ve been watching and what and where we’ve been eating.  It doesn’t matter that it will most likely be years before I’ll be able to go to Akasha or Pizzeria Mozza, and we both know that Ben won’t be dropping into Hungry Mother or Picco any time soon — we both simply enjoy discussing food.  In fact, I was on the phone with Ben when I walked into my kitchen to see this week’s box from The Food Project sitting on the counter…  including two long green branches.

“Oh my god,” I said, interrupting Ben mid-sentence.  “There are these things next to the stove.  They’re supposed to be Brussels sprouts but —”

“—They’re boughs,” Ben said.

Two feet long and covered with sprout pompoms, they were most definitely boughs.  And I had no idea what to do with them, so I turned to the rest of the box for ideas:

  • Beets
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Butternut squash
  • Carrots
  • Celeriac
  • Chard
  • Garlic
  • Kale
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Rutabaga
  • Scallions

brussels-carrots-1Apparently, when I was younger I used to love Brussels sprouts; regardless of that, I wasn’t being struck with recipe intervention, so I turned to my magazine collection for help.

I’ve always had a thing for cooked carrots, since something happens when they meet heat  — their  flavor intensifies in such a way that I literally have to hold myself back from eating them all.  Carrots and sprouts make a lovely combination, since the richly sweet carrots compliment the bitter green sprouts perfectly.  The shallots, of course, add a mild oniony flavor, the butter a welcome luxury and the cider a pleasant tang.  It’s a dish whose simplicity is its high point.

Carrots and Brussels Sprouts, from Gourmet
Makes 6 servings

2 tablespoons chopped shallot (from 1 medium)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 pound carrots, cut diagonally into ½-inch-thick pieces
1 pound Brussels sprouts, halved lengthwise
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon cider vinegar

  1. Cook shallot in 2 tablespoons butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add carrots, Brussels sprouts, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to brown, three to four minutes.
  2. Add water and cover skillet, then cook over medium-high heat until vegetables are tender, five to eight minutes. Stir in vinegar, remaining tablespoon butter, and salt and pepper to taste.

CSA 2008, Week Nineteen.

Since I refuse to turn on the heat quite yet, I’ve been shuffling around the apartment in a highly stylish toga I’ve fashioned out of a quilt I made years ago.  (It’s a glamorous look, one I highly recommend, though I must add that it’s hard to pull off.)  As I considered adding a cashmere scarf to increase my sartorial credibility, I realized that the contents of this week’s CSA box could warm me up in a far more satisfying way.  My list of possible components for a comforting, cold-weather meal included:

  • Acorn squash
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Collard greens
  • Daikon radish
  • Delicata winter squash
  • Fennel
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Potatoes
  • Purple-top turnips
  • Onions
  • Salad greens

The first thing that came to mind was, of course, mashed potatoes — a classic, yes?  Regardless of its time-honored standing, I wanted more out of a meal than just a couple smashed tubers mixed up with a shake of salt and a sprinkle of milk.  The temperature outside is resolutely giving up its battle with frost; I knew I needed something more than the norm to warm me, so I decided to do a little research.  I spent a good portion of the afternoon nestled amongst pillows on the sofa — toga, scarf and all — cookbooks and magazines strewn about me, until I came upon a recipe for colcannon.  A traditional Irish dish, it’s mashed potatoes dialed to eleven with the inclusion of steamed cabbage, leeks and bacon.

While I could have easily made a dinner out of colcannon alone, the turnips were calling my name relentlessly from the fridge, taunting me with their swirly purple skins.  I didn’t want to do anything too complicated — the turnip is already a but under-appreciated, as vegetables go, and the last thing I wanted to do was bury their subdued bitterness.  The recipe I chose is a winner not only for its featured ingredient, but also for its completely foolproof nature.  The most difficulty I faced was in keeping my patience under control while my oven did all of the work caramelizing the turnips.  Well, that, and peeling the purple of off the turnips themselves; more than anything it felt almost like a sin, getting rid of that wonderful color.  But let me tell you, it was worth ever scrape of my peeler…

Colcannon, adapted from Gourmet
Makes four portions.

2 ½ pounds baking potatoes
1 cabbage, thinly sliced
1 cup milk, scalded
½ pound bacon, cooked and chopped
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits and softened
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Peel the potatoes and cut them into one-inch pieces. In a saucepan cover the potatoes with salted water and simmer them, covered, for fifteen minutes, or until they are tender.
  2. While the potatoes are simmering, in a steamer set over boiling water steam the cabbage and the leeks for five minutes, or until tender.
  3. Drain the potatoes in a colander, force them through a ricer or the medium disk of a food mill into a bowl, and stir in milk, butter, cabbage, leeks and bacon.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Caramelized Turnips, from Chez Panisse Vegetables

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°.  Turnips that are sufficiently young and tender need only be rinsed and dried before cooking; older purple-top turnips will need to be peeled.  Cut the turnips into halves, or quarters if they are small.  Big ones should be cut in half lengthwise and the halves sliced into wedges.
  2. Toss the turnips in a bowl with a generous splash of olive oil and salt and pepper.  Spread them out in an even layer on a baking sheet and roast them for about ten minutes, then toss them once (if tossed or turned more frequently, they tend to break apart as they become tender).
  3. Rose for about five minutes more and check for doneness — depending on the water content of the turnips, they can take from fifteen to thirty minutes.  The turnips are done when they are fork tender and nicely caramelized.

In Memoriam.

On Monday, my friend Ben sent me a link to what might possibly be the most annotated and footnoted piece of writing ever penned on lobster.  It also happens to be by the late David Foster Wallace, who died this past Friday at the age of forty-six.  I can’t claim to be overly familiar with Wallace’s work, but I can say that I have depthless respect for those who are able to write both passionately and compassionately, particularly when the topic at hand is the fishing, consumption and debate surrounding seafaring crustaceans.

Wallace wrote the piece, which is entitled “Consider the Lobster,” for Gourmet in August of 2004.  The magazine’s website is also featuring the essay on their home page, in remembrance.