10 November 2014

Green Soup

I'll admit the title of this post sounds about as appealing as the look of the finished product itself. This is no emerald green soup, but a murky one, ready for winter. In a pinch it could also be served for any Halloween-themed parties. Despite appearances, I can share that this soup has been called "one of the top soups I've ever had" by at least one of my friends. Granted, that friend had just had a root canal, and it is possible the affects of her pain killers were slowly wearing off at the time of consumption, but still, there were other people at the table and everyone cleaned their bowls.

Beyond being deceptively delicious, this soup serves a two-fold purpose.

From time to time, I find myself lagging. Contributing factors to this general lack of zest, feeling of incessant sleepiness, and overall occassional life malaise? I blame the aging process, lack of sleep, and, when pressed, sugar.

I'm told that sugar is responsible for most or many of life's ills, or at least those related to the body and a lack of energy. That established, anyone visiting the sweets section of this blog can plainly see I am not about to give up sugar -- it is my beloved. I surely can't do anything about getting older, and with a snoring husband at my side and competing morning person/night owl schedules, sleeping is always going to be haphazard.

Enter an infusion of greens. Available winter, summer, and pretty much anytime in between, the greens in this soup are many and variable. I used copious amounts of kale and spinach, but really any mix of cookable greens will do -- collards are having a moment, so too is kale's less popular friend, chard. You could also try mustard greens or sorrell if you have them, giving the soup a bit more of a sour kick. Here we come to the soup's second purpose -- what to do with those excess amounts of greens obtained  via your weekly CSA and/or in a fit of healthfulness at the market. This soup is perfect for banging them out in one go. No more kale salads! (this week)
Green Soup
From Food 52 via Anna Thomas
Serves 4 to 6

1 bunch chard or spinach
1 bunch kale (any type)
handful of chives, cut in 1/2 inch pieces (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro, chopped roughly
1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
1 medium Yukon Gold potato (or other thin skinned, buttery potato) peeled and cut in 1/2 inch dice
1 medium yellow or sweet onion, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
Marsala or dry sherry (optional)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 1/2 - 3 cups vegetable broth
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste

Wash the greens thoroughly, trim off their stems, and chop in 1/2 inch slivers. Combine the chard/spinach, kale, chives, and cilantro in a large soup pot with 2-3 cups water and a teaspoon of salt. (I did this in two batches after the first portion of the greens wilted down, but if you have a large soup pot this won't be a problem) Add the potato to the pot. Bring the water a boil, then cover and turn the flame to low, letting the soup simmer for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet and cook the onion with a small sprinkle of salt over medium-low flame until it is golden brown and soft, up to half an hour. Stir occasionally and once the onion is caramelized add a tablespoon or less of Marsala or sherry to de-glaze the pan. Add the caramelized onion to the soup.

Put the remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil in the pan and stir the chopped garlic for just a minute or more, until it sizzles, being careful not to let it burn. Add the garlic to the pot and simmer the soup for 10 minutes more. Add the broth and puree the soup in batches in the blender, or use an immersion blender.

Return the soup to the pot, bring it back to a simmer, and taste for seasoning, adding more salt if necessary, black pepper, a pinch of cayenne, and a tablespoon of lemon juice. Stir well and taste again.  Garnish with a drizzle of fruity olive oil.

30 October 2014

David Eyre's Dutch Baby Pancake

House guests visiting New York rarely want to stay at home to eat. This is a truth universally known: hosting in a city rich with every sort of food option you could ever and never ever thought you would think of, precludes eating at home. It is my one disappointment as a hostess. But then, I figure I shouldn't complain as there isn't much in way of expectation for me to actually prepare anything, which, on the few occasions when I do get a chance to cook for visiting family and friends, provides a welcome sense of lowered expectation that weighs in my favor.

Visitors aside, I do my best to use the occasional Sunday morning as a chance to pretend I have guests willing to be fed by me. Generally this amounts to Andy and me lazing around in a battle of wills about whose turn it is to go to the bagel shop. The bagel shop is 3 blocks away, or less than a 5 minute walk. Yes, we too like to take advantage of our city options.

If it's a bagel free morning, I'll cook something. When such blissful, conflict-free domesticity occurs, I'll frequently prepare David Eyre's Dutch Pancake. This, a pot of coffee, a side of bacon, perusing the New York Times Metropolitan section Sunday Routine column -- describing how "typical" New Yorkers spend their Sunday's -- while Andy watches the Premiere League provides the start to my own typical Sunday.

The pancake is just perfect in that it gives you that satisfaction that only pancakes can depart, with very little of the guilt or carbs. Maybe this is why the Dutch are so good looking and fit? Their pancake is thin, crispy, light and slightly eggy tasting at the same time. I also think of it as a relation of the Yorkshire pudding, or in the popover family. 
David Eyre's Dutch Baby Pancake
Adapted minimally from The New York Times
Serves 2

2 eggs
½ cup flour
½ cup milk
Pinch of ground nutmeg
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
Juice of half a lemon
handful of blueberries or blackberries (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the flour, milk and nutmeg and lightly beat until blended. There may be slight lumps within the batter, don't worry.

Melt the butter in a 12-inch skillet with a heatproof handle over medium-high heat or in the heated oven for 2-3 minutes. When very hot but not brown, pour in the batter. If using berries, sprinkle them over the batter at this stage and then return to oven. Bake until the pancake is puffy and golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle with the sugar using a fine-meshed sieve. Squeeze with a wedge of lemon and serve with jam or maple syrup.

10 October 2014

Roasted Greens with Ricotta

It was meant to be the "summer of Cynthia", or so this is what I told myself, back in June as I plotted and prepared to leave my regular 9 to 5 job. I was going to re-enter the great freelancing army of New York, that along with a daily dose of human interaction teaching pilates each day at my favorite little studio in Carroll Gardens
Prying myself away from the dead-end job I'd been in for too many years ended up being a little harder and a lot more stressful than expected. As June morphed into July, and I found the need to lull myself to sleep listening to a meditation app, I finally left. Unfortunately, before I'd had a chance to breathe in the carefree summer I was faced with the hospitalization of not one, but both of my parents. They're the elderly sort of parents -- my dad just turned 80 and my mom will soon be 77. Neither of them are spring chickens, but it seemed a little too much, my dad with a serious heart condition along with newly diagnosed dementia, and mom with a less serious but more debilitating injury. My siblings and I joined the great leagues of adult children everywhere forced into making decisions for their parents.

While this put in perspective the stress-levels of my silly job, I was comforted by the knowledge that I had been initiated into a new sort of adult club as I began receiving caring and insightful emails and messages from friends who had been through similar challenges in finding themselves caring for their elderly parents and relatives.

All of this has ushered in not so much "the Autumn of Cynthia" but rather, "the Autumn of Simplicity". (I'd use the word Fall but it sounds too like the Fall of Caesar, or other such tragedies). Happily, my commute now amounts to a long walk from my bedroom to my office at the other end of my apartment. I'm persistently leading a charge of un-complicating my life. Little things like doing one thing at a time and not thinking about the future things I need or want to do while I'm mid-task, going to bed before I fall asleep on the couch, taking the laundry out before it weighs 30 pounds, de-cluttering my desk, and so on.
This recipe is placed squarely in the category my new worklife seems to dictate -- simple, homemade and barely a recipe not too dissimilar from ordering take-out in that it takes about the same amount of time and effort. I call it lunch.

Roasted Greens with Ricotta
Inspired by Sunday Suppers, via Feast Cookbook
Serves 2-4

1 bunch broccolini, cut into florets
1 bunch broccoli, also cut into florets
1 bunch Tuscan or Lacinato kale, stemmed and cut into 2-in/5-cm pieces
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
zest of 1 lemon
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Maldon sea salt or other flaky salt
6-8 oz fresh ricotta cheese or fresh Buratta
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes or Aleppo Pepper 

Preheat the broiler to high. Toss the broccolini and kale with half the garlic, lemon zest, and olive oil. On a separate tray, toss the broccoli with the remaining oil, zest, and garlic. Season both lightly with salt.  Broil each sheet, tossing halfway through cooking, until the kale is crispy and the broccoli is tender and slightly charred but still bright green, about 5 minutes.

Divide between two to four small plates and top each with a dollop of ricotta. Sprinkle the ricotta with black pepper and red pepper flakes and drizzle each plate with finishing oil. Serve warm or at room temperature, with more lemon wedges for squeezing over the top.

22 September 2014

Hazelnut Plum Tart

When life throws you lemons, make a pie out of them. Or so the saying would typically go in my house growing up, where lemon meringue pie was pretty much the standard for any pie-worthy occasion. This is to say, pies must have seemed a good deal of trouble to my mother, amid work and raising four kids. She wasn't a frequent baker or consumer of pies. They were primarily reserved for Thanksgiving, and at that she generally threw up a low-key fuss at their request, resorting to purchased pumpkin pie, the homemade lemon meringue and, a your-kids-will-throw-a-fit-if-tradition-isn't-honored-apple-pie.

Nowadays I make my own pies and dictate which ones are regulars. Unlike my mother, I love me some pie. Even better than pie, I would say, is the slightly fancier, shorter cousin of pie, the tart. Factor in a crumbly-cookie based crust which doesn't involve the use of a rolling pin, and I'm in heaven.

This Hazelnut Plum Tart reminds me of a giant thumbprint cookie, if that cookie were a hazelnut sandie (rather than pecan) and the filling were oven-melted plums (instead of strawberry-raspberry jam). Can you picture it? The tart is open to a lot of variation and I've seen a handful of versions on the internet, trading walnuts for the hazelnuts, cream cheese for the cream in the custard, and of course the fruit could vary according to season. In any case, this tart kept it's cookie crumble for several days in the fridge and so its a winner in my book on multiple fronts. 
Hazelnut Plum Tart
Adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen 

Crust and Crumb
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), chilled, cut into small pieces, plus more for pan
1/3 cup (1 3/4 ounces of 49 grams) hazelnuts
1 1/2 cups (188 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon table salt

1 pound ripe but firm plums (about 4 large plums or 10-12 smaller Italian plums)
1 tablespoon (8 grams) all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 large egg yolk
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter a 9-inch springform pan and set aside. Spread hazelnuts on a baking sheet and bake until the skins are dark brown, about 10 to 15 minutes, then let cool till you can remove the skins by rubbing them with your fingers, either on the tray or in a dishtowel. Place the de-skinned nuts in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until medium fine.

Transfer nuts to the bowl of an electric mixer and add 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; mix until just combined. Add butter, and mix on low speed until crumbs begin to stick together, about 2 to 3 minutes. Press 3 cups of crumb into the bottom and up the sides of the prepared pan to form crust. Set remaining crumb mixture (about 1 1/2 cups) aside. Transfer crust to the oven; bake until set, 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.

While the crust is cooling prepare plums. Slice plums in half and remove pits. Slice plums into eighths and arrange in the cooled crust.

Now prepare the custard. In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon flour and 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar. Whisk in egg, egg yolk, heavy cream, milk, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Pour custard over fruit; sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture. Transfer tart to the oven and bake until custard has set and is slightly golden, 45 to 50 minutes. Let rest at least 25 minutes before serving. 

15 September 2014

Pork Tonkatsu with Watermelon-Tomato Salad

There is some sort of unwritten rule that watermelon is best eaten in the heart of summer, when it is blazing hot outdoors and the cool watery fruit with just a bare hint of sweetness serves as a refreshing treat. Our summer in New York barely reached the 90's, staying cool throughout the season, enough for me to sleep with the windows open most nights, as a light breeze from Prospect Park wafted through our apartment along with the echoes of the bandshell across the street.

Celebrate Brooklyn ended in earl August and still it was never hot enough for watermelon. I then came upon this recipe which uses watermelon as a salad/condiment, joining it with its ruby sister the tomato, as a combined tart topping for a crispy cutlet of pork. 

Pork Tonkatsu, from what I can tell, is fairly identical to Pork Schnitzel. I love a good schnitzel. So much that I've recently been following the movement of Schnitzel and Things, a dedicated schnitzel food truck, here in New York. Honestly, what's better than a freshly fried, newly breaded cutlet of meat? I'll tell you what, one with a pile of salad on top of it to make you feel better about eating fried meat. That's what.    
Pork Tonkatsu with Watermelon-Tomato Salad
Adapted from Epicurious
Serves 4

2 cups watermelon cut in 1/4-inch cubes
2 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
2 cups baby arugula
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, divided
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice plus 4 lemon wedges
1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
2 large eggs
2 cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
4 4-ounce boneless center-cut pork chops, pounded to 1/8' thickness
Vegetable oil

Combine watermelon, tomatoes, and arugula in a large bowl. Whisk olive oil, 1 tablespoon mustard, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Season dressing with salt and pepper. Set salad and dressing aside.

Pork Tonkatsu: 
Whisk eggs and 1 tablespoon mustard in a medium bowl. Combine panko, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper on a large plate. Season pork lightly with salt and pepper. Dip in egg mixture, then in panko, pressing to adhere.

Working in 2 batches, heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat and cook pork until golden brown and cooked through, about 2 minutes per side, adding 1 tablespoon vegetable oil after turning. Drain on paper towels.

Toss salad with dressing; season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve pork with salad piled on top and extra lemon wedges.
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