Winter Meals

In the past few weeks, my writing practice has seen several false starts. I’ll get motivated to sit down and craft something delightful, and then I’ll stare blankly at my screen. My mind has been so overloaded this month that I’ve been having trouble tuning things out and focusing. This can be infuriating. I have, however, been enjoying the medium of photography, committing myself to share at least one photo a day, usually here on instagram,  out of the dozens that I snap on my walks. This is my favorite shot this week– it’s a bit of trickery. I took the photo of trees reflecting on the water of the semi-frozen Charles River, and flipped it upside down. I love how the flecks of ice look like stars.

I’d like to assure you that despite my lack of creative output, I’ve been eating well this month. Mostly. Of course there have been a few trips to Anna’s for Mexican, a couple of sushi orders, and my favorite yesterday: burgers and shakes at the Met Bar. But, I’ve spent a good amount of time at home making worthwhile meals. Here are a few of them.

One cold afternoon, I played around with Mark Bittman’s recipe for Crispy Pork Bits with Jerk Seasoning from How to Cook Everything, which slow cooks pork pieces in the oven seasoned with lots of allspice, nutmeg, coriander and lime, and makes the house smell celebratory. I tossed in a few handfuls of green beans in the last half hour of roasting.

And then there was this chicken dish, which I’ll call tomato braised curry chicken. It’s the ultimate cheater meal – I’ll season chicken thighs with curry powder and salt, and sear them for a few minutes in a little bit of coconut oil. When cooked through, I’ll pour over a jar of Rao’s marinara, bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer, cover, and let cook for about half an hour so that the chicken-y juices infuse the sauce. You can serve it over rice, or spaghetti squash, or eat it just plain in a bowl, like I do.

One night we had my childhood favorite, franks and beans, and big salads. I used to use Pearl hot dogs and the sickly sweet Campbell’s with the little pieces of salt pork like my grandfather liked, but these days I tend to use Applegate Organic hotdogs that I pick up at Trader Joes, and some sort of hippy brand of beans when I’m not making my own with Rancho Gordo’s.

There was this delightful winter lunch – a perfect steak from the butcher shop, which came in my Meat Club subscription, otherwise I’d likely never leave with something so fancy! I seasoned it with salt, pepper, and cumin, and served it with a little Moroccan carrot salad, with a cumin and preserved lemon vinaigrette, and a little handful of cured olives.

Another perfect lunch came in the form of a second childhood favorite: liver and peas. I cooked the (goat’s liver!) with a little bit of bacon, tossed in some frozen peas, and then doused it all with a good squeezing of lemon.

A quick dinner came together one night in the form of garlicky pork tenderloin, roasted green beans, and a dollop of guacamole. I like it when my meals have not one, but two shades of green. I usually parcook the green beans and then let them finish in the roasting pan with the pork.

Finally, one of my favorite meals, which we ate twice: roasted chicken thighs with potatoes, tomatoes, lemon and thyme. I love making variations on this, a fairly typically Turkish or Greek meal. I’ll season the chicken thighs with salt, pepper, and thyme, and then sear them skin side down in some melted butter. Then flip them over, and nestle them on top of a few par-cooked potatoes (in the microwave is just fine) and raw tomatoes cut into wedges. Into the oven for about an hour at 375, and the skin comes out crispy. You can also roast a few lemon wedges in there, and then squeeze out the juice onto your chicken.

And now for some wonderful news: when I returned home from a long walk this afternoon, I found a box from Le Creuset on my doorstep! My beloved 7.25 quart Dijon Dutch Oven, which had died of some fluke chipping, had been replaced! They even sent me the same color! Expect to see a good amount of braising and roasting in the coming weeks from my kitchen.

Cold Days + Simple Meals

It’s cold.

I thought I’d be used to it again, or at least tolerant by now. I was deluding myself.

One observation of the season is the ritual progression of coats. I started out with the fleece, quickly moved up to my cheerful red peacoat, and then to my more stylish puffy coat, then to my “prepared for a trek to the Arctic” puffier coat, and today I had the fleece under the puffiest puffy coat and I was still cold. Ah, New England. I remember the days where I used to wear my flip flops past first snow. What has become of me?Oh yes, I’ve become weak.

What, you ask, have I been busying myself with in this frigid weather?

School! Boston Startup School. I alluded to this a few weeks ago before I dropped of the face of the earth – it’s a six week program to sharpen your skills, network with fantastic people, and make deep connections with the Boston startup scene. It has been busy.

Spending my entire day in school has shifted my cooking schedule, so I’ve been making many meals in advance to make sure that we are well fed. I roast vegetables every week, and I always try to hard boil a dozen eggs. When I’m in the mood, I’ll bake them in the oven, but this week they went in a pot on the stove. After they were cooked, I rinsed them in cool water, dried them off, put them back into their carton, and made sure to label them! Usually they last me until the next weekend.

This week I also roasted some carrots for lunches, and steamed a pot of cauliflower which I blitzed into cauliflower mash with a large knob of butter, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.

Our dinners have been mostly simple: chicken thighs with sautéed broccoli, a pot of chili that lasts a few days as needed.

One night I roasted sausages from the butcher shop and served them with some broccoli that I steamed and finished off in the sausage pan-drippings.

Another meal was a bowl of ground beef seasoned with cumin and chili powder, sautéed spinach, salsa and avocado. Devon’s favorite meal is refried beans with all the fixins’, so he got the same dinner plus some bonus beans nestled in two grilled tortillas. I typically like serving us both the same food, but I don’t mind tweaking like this for our preferences.

Another night we had pork tenderloin seasoned with herbes de Provence, mashed sweet potato, cranberry sauce and some out of season asparagus. While I used to have panic attacks about eating out of season vegetables, I now do so unapologetically if it means something green other than leafy greens and root veg in this northern climate.

And sometimes, fatigue wins out.

Yesterday, there were these green beans which I roasted with olive oil, salt, thyme and lemon slices at 400 for about 35 minutes. I wish I could tell you I ate a rounded meal, but they ended up in a bowl with some leftover ground turkey, and a large spoonful of yogurt. It was a little weird.

Dessert was in order, and included a run to Target which involved picking up not one, but two pints of Ben and Jerry’s: Coffee Heath Bar Crunch, and the curiously good Strawberry Shortcake Greek Frozen Yogurt. Yes, I know, it isn’t health food.

Here’s one last picture for you – Boston Harbor, taken from the Waterfront by the ICA. That water is not warm.

Hope you all have a lovely Monday!

Rest Day

The rains have come. This is, I assure you, better than the snow we could be having in October. But not by much. I took advantage of the day by staying cooped up, working from home, and getting many, many errands done.

My morning coffee was Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice again, in one of my new Miya boulder mugs. I picked these up at Abodeon in Cambridge last week. I love the matte earthy tones and cozy shape of each of these mugs – they make for new happier mornings! (Miya also makes them in jewel tones here.)

Mid-morning I made breakfast. Two eggs with the leftover vegetables from my slow cooker beef stew. I was busy playing with my phone, and thus didn’t notice the eggs overcooking on the stove. Shame on me!

In the afternoon, I took out my trusty stick blender to make some of Mel’s Sunshine Sauce from her cookbook Well Fed, which I love! Think of Sunshine Sauce as peanut sauce without the peanuts. The ingredients are lime juice, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, coconut aminos, powdered ginger, rice vinegar, sunflower seed butter, cayenne and coconut milk. You blend and then you are done.

For lunch, I cooked some ground turkey and spinach, served it over the leftover spaghetti squash, and poured on a good amount of sunshine sauce. Yes, it looks odd, but again, delicious! Actually, shockingly delicious.

In the evening, I listened to podcasts and set to work building our new IKEA Expedit bookshelf in birch. This was of our IKEA pieces I was most sad to give up when we moved from San Francisco (the other being our soft and comfy Tylosand couch), and my books have been sitting in boxes for way too long. It took me about an hour and a half of slow and steady work, and I practiced my Olympic lifts by getting it upright and in the next room by myself.

For dinner, I had to figure out what to do with the tiny lean eye of round I had purchased from M.F. Dulock. When I asked what he’d do with it, the butcher replied “probably sell it to someone else“. I probably should have listened.

I seasoned it with mushroom powder, and seared it off in a hot pan. My plan of attack to was to crank up the oven to 500, cook it for about 10 minutes, then turn the heat off and let it cook in the residual heat for about 2 hours. (This wasn’t quite as foolproof as I’d have liked. At the end, terrified that I had poisoned us by not cooking it enough, I seared it off again to make sure it was cooked through.)

While resting, I cooked some shredded brussels sprouts with some pancetta, salt, pepper, and a good swig of apple cider vinegar.

When I cut the meat, I have to say I was pretty surprised at how moist it was in the center, despite a slightly dry exterior. I’ll definitely choose a fattier cut of meat next time. Devon got his with a big scoop of mashed potatoes from Whole Foods, and I got mine with some of their zucchini and tomatoes. (I have no regrets spending $5 extra on sides at Whole Foods when I’ve made a mostly home cooked meal – especially when it means that we can each have a little extra of something we want without having to cook several extra dishes!)

After dinner, I had planned all day to try one of these single serve microwave cakes all the cool kids are eating. I found a simple recipe – almond meal, cocoa powder, an egg, honey, salt and cinnamon.

You mix it all together,

Then microwave for a minute and a half.

And then pour on a splash of coconut milk (or cream if you can eat it).

And devour.

It was almost perfect.

A little too sweet (I’ll put less honey next time). A little dry (I’ll add a bit of coconut oil and maybe some coconut milk to the batter, and microwave less.)

When I perfect it, I promise I’ll share.

But after a month of nearly no dessert, it certainly hit the spot.

Under the weather.

I woke up under the weather. It was grey and raining, and I had a headache and that thing where your body says “Hey there, you better rest and take care of yourself or I’m going to make you miserable. Oh yes, you think I’m teasing you, just you wait.” I’m really, really hoping that I can shrug this before it turns into something. I’ve been resting and taking hippy remedies (spoonful of cider vinegar here and there, and crossing my fingers). In lieu of a photo of myself unwell, here is my friend Oso. This is what the morning looked like.

Very little work, movement, or life happened in the morning.

In the afternoon, I went to my kitchen to fix myself lunch. But first I set about on a little project – Nom Nom Paleo’s Magic Mushroom Powder. It’s a wonderful salt mix with porcini mushrooms and special spices, that makes things taste… magical!

I ground up a bag of dried porcini mushrooms in my spice grinder (a.k.a. coffee grinder, I swear I wash it in between uses). Then I added the special spices, and salt.

Mixed it all up, and voila! This stuff is going right next to my salt collection, and I’ll be putting it on almost everything. Chicken, pork, fish, in stews – it’s the perfect spice mix to add that umami flavor to your dishes.

I won’t post the recipe because it’s not my own to post, but you can find it on her awesome iPad app! Highly recommend it.

For lunch, I made a bowl of pork, pumpkin, and greens soup. It seemed very Southern. You may have noticed that I like soups, and I try to make them as often as possible because soup is one of the best ways to get in your nutrients, and hydrate yourself. Rather than making a big pot of soup, I can put together quick soups nearly any day of the week at lunch using a basic method that usually works.

Super basic soup for 1 or 2:

1. Season 3-6 ounces of meat with salt and pepper. Cook in a little bit of fat on the stove, until the meat is cooked through. (Or heat up some leftover meat.) Chicken, pork, cubed meat or ground all work fine. (Today I used some fresh ham with marrow bone.)

2. Add 1-2 cups of vegetables of your choice. I’ll usually use some greens (even mixed frozen greens), leftover roasted vegetables, and whatever is seasonal. (Today was a combination of greens and cooked mashed pumpkin.)

3. Top with just enough liquid to cover. You can use chicken or beef stock, or even just water! (I used water.) Season with a pinch of salt and taste. I usually like it just slightly less salty than I’d like the finished soup to be. Bring to a boil, then down to a simmer for 20-40 minutes, until your vegetables are tender, and a little longer if the flavors need to meld more.

4. Take off the heat, and gild the lily. Swirl with a little olive oil, a squirt of lemon juice if it needs a little acid, a spoonful of pesto or a grating of cheese.

In the late afternoon, I had a snack: some cooked butternut squash topped with walnuts, cinnamon and coconut butter.

Before dinner, I decided to take a very short walk to air myself out. Just for half an hour, and it felt good being outside. By dinner time, I was exhausted, so I made my best last minute comfort food “Faux-Shakshuka”. Shakshuka is a wonderful Middle Eastern dish of eggs poached in tomato sauce, usually with peppers and onions. For this dinner I opened a can of Rao’s Marinara, dumped in three eggs, and that was it. No apologies, it’s pretty much the best quick meal on the planet.

After dinner I had about a cup of pineapple, and was asleep by 10pm. Because I’m an old lady. Crossing my fingers that this’ll go away soon!

Nom Nom Paleo’s “Emergency Protein”

Last month I realized that I had spent nearly three months without doing any real exercise… at all. It happened slowly, crept up on me. First, my three mile walks to work stopped, then my 45 minute long lunch walk was traded for a meal at my desk. My weekend outdoor sojourns with my beloved RadioLab (the best!) ceased to happen. The gym? What gym. Weights? No. I had turned into a sedentary blob.

As I stopped moving, I started getting more and more tired, which of course made it so that I had no more energy to move… or read.. or write. It’s a vicious cycle. I thrive on being fit and healthy, so finally, I decided to do something about it. And that something… was CrossFit. You may have heard of it, it’s basically giving your body a beating, in order to get stronger, fitter, and awesome-er. It’s non-repetitive, challenging, and most of all a lot of fun – which is exactly what I need to stay motivated. Watching Annie Thorisdottir bring it at the CrossFit games on ESPN was pretty much the most exciting thing ever – so I’ve been trying to channel her every time I step into the gym to get my ass handed to me.

This is her doing handstand pushups. Ridiculous.

I’m… not quite there yet.

(Photo via a random tumblr on the internets – I couldn’t for the life of me find the original source. Edit: actually by Fitbomb – see below! )

The one thing that becomes clear when you are doing this type of intense exercise is that in order to sustain energy you have to clean up your diet, and clean it up fast. Many CrossFitters have jumped on the Paleo bandwagon, and while I don’t subscribe to diets that cut out major food groups, I do tend to gravitate towards an eating style that champions proteins, vegetables, and slow-burning carbs.

Recently I’ve been getting a whole bunch of culinary inspiration from my blog-crush Michelle of Nom Nom Paleo, who to my absolute delight won a Saveur Best Food Blog award this year!

Now before you get all worried that I’m obsessed with a crazy-person-woo-woo-nutrition blog, you should know that Nom Nom Paleo is first and foremost a food blog with delightful food photography – it ain’t no preachin’ blog. Michelle and her husband Fitbomb, and two adorable kiddos Lil-O and Big-O live in the Bay Area. They have a gorgeous kitchen filled with some fun toys including the Sous Vide Supreme, and some beautifully seasoned cast iron pans. By night she’s a vampire drug-pusher (she works the graveyard shift at a hospital pharmacy), and yet she still manages to make meals for herself and her family daily.

The recipes on her site are just great. Things that I’ve made and savored: her damn fine chicken which, is in fact, damn fine, her rice-less Asian cauliflower fried rice, world’s best braised cabbage (a Molly Stevens recipe, but I love her too!), and her sister’s phenomenal grilled green chicken to name a few.

She also has a well-designed iPad app that I’ve taken in the kitchen and cooked from as well – last night we had her roasted pepper salad with dinner, and her magic mushroom powder seasoning is next up on my kitchen docket.

So, today, I have a recipe for you of sorts that I’ve adapted from her blog. It’s another one of those not-quite-a-real-recipe, core concept meals that I try to use every day to feed myself when I’m not feeling very creative in the kitchen.

Nom Nom Paleo’s Emergency Protein 
Adapted from the original recipe here

1 pound organic ground meat or protein (I most often use ground turkey)
2 tablespoons delicious fat (ghee, coconut oil, lard)
½-1 cup of an allium – onions, leeks, or shallots – diced
A few handfuls of vegetables (mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots, asparagus, zucchini, etc.)
Several handfuls of leafy greens (baby spinach, kale, chard)
1-2 tablespoons coconut aminos (or Braggs, tamari, soy sauce, or dried spices)
Salt & Pepper

Here’s today’s version:

I first started by sautéing a shallot and a handful of garlic scapes in some organic ghee with a pinch of salt. Garlic scapes are some of my favorite summer vegetables that I usually make into this pesto. They are great in stir-fries because they impart a sort of sweet-garlicky flavor, and excellent crunch. If you can’t find garlic scapes, by all means use some more shallots, or an onion, or some leeks. You could also use scallions, but I find them to be a little too zippy.

I used ghee here, because it’s sweet and buttery and delicious. You could also use coconut oil, or lard, or good olive oil.

After the shallots and scapes softened, I added the longer cooking veg – in this case two chopped portobello mushroom caps  – and stirred everything around until they cooked down a bit. The mushrooms are a great addition because they add some heft and volume, and are supremely nutritious.

You can add any sort of vegetable you want to this dish. Sometimes, I’ll add carrots, or chopped tomatoes, or asparagus. I typically try to use what is in season and looks the freshest at the market.

After a few minutes of stirring, I added my ground turkey. I like using ground dark meat because it tastes better and has some more fat. Sometimes though I’ll use lamb, chicken thighs, ground beef, or bison. To season, I added a good pinch of salt, a grind of pepper, and a tablespoon of coconut aminos.

Coco-whats-ohs?? Think of these as magic seasoning liquid. Coconut aminos lend some funkiness and depth of flavor, or umami similar to fish sauce or Worcestershire (which you could use here as a substitute) but are soy-free, gluten-free, and vegan. You can pick up a bottle of the stuff at Whole Foods for about 5 bucks, and it’ll last you a while.

When the turkey was cooked through, I tasted for seasoning and opted to add a pinch of my grandmother’s Turkish spice mix she makes in the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul. It’s a combination of a million things, but the main notes are cumin, hot pepper, and oregano. Another favorite addition is taco seasoning – I have my own mix, although in a pinch the Trader Joe’s taco seasoning works well here.

Finally, after giving it a few more minutes to let the flavors meld, I turned off the heat and added several big handfuls of baby spinach. Sometimes when I make this I use kale, or swiss chard, but baby spinach is my favorite.

Let the spinach wilt down, and voila!

The great thing about this dish is that it’s easy to make, keeps for a couple of days, and is really flexible. Leftovers work great for breakfast (topped with an egg), or for lunch in your lunchbox.

I could eat a variation of this every day without getting bored.

Momofuku Bacon Dashi : A Myriad of Possibilities

bacon This week one of those hokey “name 3 things you like to eat, 3 places you’ve lived, and forward it to everyone!!!” emails circulated throughout my friends, with one noted similarity between all of our responses: It seems that we all have a voracious passion for bacon.  Clearly our love for bacon will unite us for all time in friendship, so that’s exciting. And really who can blame us? There is so much you can do with the product – one slice lends entire flavor to soups, served crisply with eggs it is a miracle, even covered in chocolate there is demand.

Zingermans Guide to Better Bacon At the bookstore we have been selling copies of “Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon”, a rousing tour of bacon’s history (which for $300 you can get yourself a pigskin bound copy), as well as the Bacon Cookbook, which should have a prominent place in every bacon lover’s kitchen. In an unscientific poll that I’ve conducted, those most likely to buy these books were in a sub-set group of customers of which I include myself: the “JPAB’s”, say it: “Jay-Pab’s” or “Jews passionate about Bacon”. Maybe being deprived of bacon as a child led to my obsession, but really I think it’s actually a mix of deprivation and a greater cultural legacy- we Jews have a penchant for perfect savory brunch food – lox, whitefish, chopped liver, cream cheese, bagels – it’s no wonder that bacon sneaks itself in somehow.

momofuku-cookbook-cover-photo (Photo Helen Rosner/Eat Me Daily)

I’m always looking for new ways to use bacon, and most recently stumbled across a miracle in my new Momofuku cookbookBacon Dashi. Dashi, a traditional japanese stock made of konbu (kelp), and bonito flakes (dried fish, which has been powdered), is a staple broth that can be used in a myriad of ways. In the Momofuku cookbook, (of which a brilliant review can be found at Eat Me Daily), David Chang substitutes more easily findable smoky bacon for bonito, to create of this ever useful base broth. I made a batch last week, and have been using it in everything.

Things to use Momofuku Bacon Dashi for:

:: As the liquid for any soup, stew, grain, rice, or polenta. ::

Or:

1. Bacon Dashi over “stuff”: Slice shiitake mushrooms and green onions (scallions) in a bowl, and some silken tofu if you have it. Ladle hot Bacon Dashi over the contents of the bowl. Sit. Drink with glee. You know, I haven’t tried this, but I bet if you were to crunch up some of those onion strings that people put in green bean casserole in the bowl as well – it would taste good too.

2. Bacon Dashi Miso Soup – use the Bacon Dashi in this perfect and easy recipe for miso soup from Maki of Just Hungry.

3. Quick Bacon and Cabbage soup: Chop one strip of thick cut bacon and cook over medium high heat in a large soup pot. Add in one chopped onion and three minced cloves of garlic, and cook for about 4 or 5 minutes until slightly tender. Add in one chopped carrot, and rip in three leaves of sage. (If you have a potato, cube it into really small pieces, and add it here). Add a tin of cannelini beans, or great northern beans. Cook for about two minutes, and add 6 cups of Bacon Dashi – or a mix of water and dashi if you don’t have enough bacon dashi because you have used most of your double batch in the past few days. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Add in a half head of cabbage, roughly chopped, and 1 tablespoon of white miso paste and simmer for 10-15 more minutes. Season with some pepper, and serve.

*If you don’t have white miso paste, you could just salt at the end, but it wont have that nice unctuousness and depth that the miso adds to the soup. Buy yourself a little tub, and use it!

Momofuku Bacon Dashi
from the Momofuku Cookbook
Makes 2 Quarts

Two 3-by-6-inch pieces konbu (kelp)
8 cups water
1/2 pound smoky bacon, preferably Benton’s

1. Rinse the konbu under running water, then combine it with the water in a medium saucepan. Bring the water to a simmer over medium heat and turn off the stove. Let steep for 10 minutes.

2. Remove the konbu from the pot and add the bacon. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down so the water simmers gently. Simmer for 30 minutes.

3. Strain the bacon from the dashi, and chill the broth until the fat separates and hardens into a solid cap on top of it. Remove and discard the fat and use the dashi or store it. Bacon dashi will keep, covered, for a few days in the refrigerator.

*Notes: All Asian grocery stores and most health food stores will carry dried konbu (kelp), although increasingly it is found in the Japanese part of the “world” section of the American supermarket. As to the bacon, I used Niman ranch thick cut apple-wood smoked bacon, and it worked out just fine.

*Also, you can half this recipe, or if you are smart, double it.

*Also, you can eat the konbu for snack instead of throwing it out. I wouldn’t advocate the same with the boiled bacon.

Other people using Bacon Dashi in creative ways:
Anticiplate: Southern Style Shrimp ‘n Grits
Inuyaki: Bacon Agedashi Tofu