This week, it’s a menu for winter doldrums. I’m nursing a light cold with some chicken soup–and adding chipotle chiles and garlic for extra health-giving kick. On the side: a baked sweet potato, packed with vitamin C.

 

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Shopping list

    2 chicken thighs, bone-in
    2 cups chicken stock
    Pasta (or pearl couscous or rice)
    Flour or corn tortillas
    Cashews
    Sweet potatoes
    2 carrots
    Celery (optional)
    Grape tomatoes
    Small bunch cilantro
    1 lime
    1 onion
    5 cloves garlic
    Butter
    Olive oil

Chicken Noodle Soup with Chipotle Pesto

chixsoup 027This is basically a very generic chicken noodle soup, but with a handful of details that make it super-flavorful: with the fresh chicken and the toasted pasta (you could also use pearl couscous, orzo or even rice), it’s a lot richer than a soup made from just canned broth. All the trimmings (cilantro, the chipotle pesto on top, a squeeze of lime) make it semi-Mexican, but you can adapt the basic soup any way you like–take out the tomatoes, add different herbs and spices, mix up a different sort of pesto to dab on top…

serves 2
2 chicken thighs, bone-in
Drizzle olive oil
1 onion
Salt
5 cloves garlic
2 cups chicken stock
2 carrots
2 ribs celery (optional)
Large handful grape tomatoes
1/2 avocado
Large handful noodles of your choice (elbows, etc.)
2 chipotle chiles in adobo
Small handful cashews
1 lime
Small bunch cilantro
Flour or corn tortillas

Chop one chicken thigh up roughly into 4 or 5 pieces, cutting through the bone if possible. Set a heavy soup pot on medium heat; add a small drizzle of oil, just to coat the bottom. Add both chicken thighs (the cut-up one and the whole one, skin-side down) and let brown.

Chop the onion into rough slices and add to pot with chicken, alongside. Sprinkle a bit of salt over the onions and the chicken. Peel and chop the garlic coarsely.

When the chicken is somewhat browned and no longer shows any pink, remove the whole chicken thigh and set it aside; leave the remaining pieces of chicken in the pot. Add the garlic to the onions and stir and fry briefly. Put the lid on the pot, turn the heat to low and let the chicken, onions and garlic steam for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

chixsoup 032Peel your carrots and slice them into half-inch chunks. (If using celery, cut into quarter-inch rings.) Slice the grape tomatoes in half (using this genius method). Cut the avocado into cubes (as at left) and set in your serving bowls.

Check on your chicken in the pot–when the onions are soft, and the chicken has given off a little liquid, add the chicken stock, scraping up any browned bits off the bottom of the pan as you stir the mixture together. Turn the heat up to medium-low and toss in the carrots. Also remove the skin from the whole chicken thigh and return the meat to the pot.

Set a heavy skillet over medium-high heat and add a tiny drizzle of oil. Add the dry pasta, stirring well to coat each piece with oil. Fry, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is toasted and brown, 3 or 4 minutes. Immediately remove the pasta to a small bowl, to keep it from browning further in the pan.

chixsoup 033Make the chipotle pesto: Chop the chiles fine (scrape seeds out if you want less heat), along with the garlic and cashews. Add a generous squeeze of lime and extra adobo from the chipotle can to make a loose paste. Also rinse the cilantro and pick the leaves off the stems.

After the carrots have been in the soup for about 5 minutes, add the tomatoes and the pasta. Let simmer until the pasta is al dente and the carrots are soft. Remove the thigh bone and the whole chicken thigh from the soup and let cool briefly; remove the meat and return it to the soup.

Just before serving, heat up your tortillas: fry them briefly in a dry skillet (or the one you did the pasta in, with the extra oil wiped out), until they have a few brown spots and puff up (flour ones do this more).

To serve the soup, ladle it over the avocado pieces. Top with a small dollop of the chipotle pesto, and a small handful of cilantro. Add another spritz of lime and enjoy with hot tortillas on the side. (They’re also good with honey for dessert…)

Whole Baked Sweet Potatoes

chixsoup 024This is a cinch. The only trick is remembering to put the sweet potatoes in the oven very first thing when you start cooking, so they have time to finish while you do the rest of the meal. Set your oven to 350 degrees. Rinse your sweet potato(es), scraping off any obvious chunks of dirt, but don’t sweat it too much. Poke each sweet potato 5 or 6 times with a fork. Stick ‘em in the oven, and let bake for 35-40 minutes, until they’re nice and soft. Slice open and eat like a regular baked potato, with a dab of butter, and maybe some salt and pepper.

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This week, we cook a little risotto–it’s not as complicated or as fussy as you think. And it’s a very adaptable dish. On the side, we roast up some wee brussels sprouts and douse them in garlic and anchovies–what’s not to love?

 

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Shopping list

    1 slice bacon
    2 or 3 anchovy filets
    1 small butternut, kabocha or acorn squash
    1 pint brussels sprouts
    Sage (fresh or dried)
    2 or 3 cloves garlic
    1 small onion
    1/2 cup short-grain rice
    Olive oil
    Parmesan cheese
    1/4 cup almonds
    1 tablespoon butter

Butternut-Squash Risotto

squash 024Learn to make risotto, and you’ve got an immensely versatile dish under your belt–you can throw just about anything in. This combination capitalizes on fall flavors–squash and sage, with a boost of bacon (though that’s optional). The nuts on top (almonds here, but you could use hazelnuts or even pecans) add a little extra protein, as well as essential crunch–it’s the variety of textures that take this from gooey side dish to main-meal material.

Serves 2 generously
1 small winter squash or pumpkin (see note)
Olive oil
Salt
1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 slice thick-cut bacon
1 small onion
2 large pinches dried sage (or 10-12 leaves fresh, chopped fine)
1/2 cup short-grain rice (see note)
Parmesan
1 tablespoon butter
Large handful (1/4 cup or so) almonds

Preheat oven to 400. Slice squash into large wedges, scrape out seeds then cut off peel with a sharp knife. Cut squash into small pieces–1/2-inch square or so, though irregular sizes are fine, and even a bonus here, as the smallest ones will get quite soft and blend in with the risotto, and others will stay firmer and whole. Toss the pieces with a drizzle or two of olive oil, just to coat, and lay the pieces out on a baking sheet or (if not too crowded) a heavy skillet. Sprinkle with a bit of salt. Place in oven and roast for about 30 minutes, until the squash is soft all the way through.

squash 026

Pour broth into a small saucepan and set on a back burner on low heat to warm. Cut bacon into 1/4-inch pieces and set to fry over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan–this is the pan you’ll be making your risotto in.

Cut onion into thin slices. When the bacon is half-crispy, add the onions to the pan, along with a pinch of salt, and stir and fry. Add the sage and continue to cook, until the sage is fragrant and the onions are translucent and soft–this can take 5 minutes or so. When the onions are ready, add the rice. Stir and fry until the rice is coated with oil and somewhat translucent.

Add a couple of ladlesful of warm stock and stir thoroughly to combine. If you have nothing else to do in the kitchen, continue to stir. (If you do have other tasks, you can leave the risotto unattended until you hear the liquid cooking away.) Continue to stir and add stock, ladleful by ladleful, as the rice absorbs the liquid and a velvety sauce forms around the rice. Depending on your rice, you may or may not use all of the stock–I usually wind up just adding everything I’ve heated up, and it usually turns out fine.

When rice is al dente–it still has a bit of firmness to it–and the mixture is fairly loose (it will thicken as it sits), turn off the heat. Grate in a generous amount of Parmesan cheese, and stir in the butter. Put the lid on the pan and let the risotto sit for about 5 minutes.

During this time, roughly chop your almonds and toast them in a dry skillet over high heat, just until lightly browned. Remove them from the hot skillet as soon as they’re browned to your liking.

Stir the roasted squash into the thickened risotto, squishing up some of the smaller pieces. (How much squash you add depends on your taste–you might have some squash left over.) Place in serving bowls and sprinkle over the toasted almonds, along with a bit more grated Parmesan.

Notes:
Squash: You can use butternut, kabocha or acorn squash–anything that’s firm, orange and a bit sweet. In the podcast, I use a wedge of calabaza–a kind of pumpkin that’s used in Latin America and the Caribbean. Butternut squash is by far the most common, but it’s hard to find small enough squash so that you won’t be overwhelmed with it when cooking for just a couple of people–but leftover roast squash is not a bad thing to have around. (And please avoid that precut squash! Who knows how many days/weeks it’s been sitting around! Really, it takes very little time to peel and prep a squash.)

Rice: Classic risotto recipes call for arborio rice, an Italian grain that’s hard to find and expensive when you do. I have found that Japanese sushi rice works quite well too–it happens to be much easier for me to buy, and it’s significantly cheaper. But any short-grain rice will work reasonably well.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Anchovies and Garlic

squash 016As I say in the podcast, when in doubt with vegetables, roast them. Brussels sprouts roast up particularly well, getting a nice crunchy outside and sweetening a bit in the process. Even if you think you don’t like brussels sprouts, try them once this way–I think you’ll change your mind. Dousing them in anchovies and garlic (skip the anchovies if you’re veg, obviously–it will still be tasty) makes them incredibly savory, and a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the squash in the risotto.

Serves 2
1 pint brussels sprouts
Olive oil
Salt
2 or 3 cloves garlic
2 or 3 anchovy filets

Preheat oven to 400. Trim bottom ends of brussels sprouts and slice in half lengthwise. Drizzle a bit of olive oil on a baking sheet, then lay out the sprouts, cut side down, rubbing each one in oil. Drizzle a bit of oil over the tops of the sprouts as well, and sprinkle with salt. Roast until the cut sides are nicely browned, about 30 minutes.

Set a small saucepan over medium heat. Pour in a glug of olive oil. While it’s warming, chop your garlic cloves fine or squeeze them through a press. When the oil is hot, add the anchovy filets, mashing them with the side of your spoon, so they melt into small pieces. Add the garlic and stir and fry until fragrant.

Put the roasted sprouts in a serving bowl, then pour the hot anchovy-garlic mixture over them and toss lightly.

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This week, it’s a really tasty version of the much-maligned meatloaf, along with some delicate little potatoes and some sturdy greens. It’s a very meat-and-potatoes kind of dinner, but satisfying nonetheless. And you can make a delicious cold meatloaf sandwich with the leftovers.

 

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Shopping list

    1 pound mixed ground beef, pork and veal, sometimes labeled “meatloaf mix” in stores (or just all ground beef)
    2 slices of bacon
    1 egg
    Yogurt or milk
    Butter
    Gruyere, sharp white cheddar or parmesan
    1 small onion
    Half a head of garlic
    1 lemon
    Small bunch “sweet” dandelion greens
    2 Russet (baking) potatoes
    Ketchup
    Brown sugar
    Cider vinegar
    Mustard
    Worcestershire sauce
    Dried thyme
    Panko, fresh bread slices or bread crumbs
    Olive oil

Meatloaf (Mmmm….Loaf!)

meatloaf 017The French call it pate, and it sounds so much nicer! But plain old American meatloaf should not be looked down on. It’s great for dinner, but also for lunch, in a sandwich on buttered bread with extra ketchup. Use a standard 9 by 12 baking pan even for this small amount–you don’t want the meatloaf swimming in its own grease.

Serves 2 with leftovers
2 slices bacon (optional)
Olive oil
Butter
1 small onion
2 small cloves garlic
1 egg
heaping 1/2 cup bread crumbs (see note)
Large pinch dried thyme
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Big pinch salt
Black pepper
1 tablespoon yogurt or milk
1 pound mix of ground pork, veal and beef (or all beef)

For optional glaze:
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon cider or red-wine vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

If using the bacon, cook it over low heat in a heavy skillet until about halfway done–it should not be crispy. Remove it from the pan and set aside.

Chop onions in small pieces, and slice the garlic fine. Set the skillet (can be the same one you did the bacon in, and you don’t even need to clean it out) over medium-high heat and add a small glug of olive oil and about half a tablespoon of butter. When it’s warm, add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions are translucent and the garlic is fragrant, just a couple of minutes. Turn off the heat.

In a medium bowl, combine the egg, bread crumbs, thyme, Worcestershire sauce and mustard. Add a large pinch of salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper. Whisk in the yogurt or milk with a fork, and stir everything well. Add the meat and stir with a fork, combining everything well but not working the meat too aggressively. If the meat is sticking to the sides of the bowl, add another tablespoon of milk or yogurt. Finally, stir in the onions and garlic.

Place the meat in a baking pan, shaping it by hand or with a spoon into an even loaf shape, only about 1 1/2 inches thick.

Whisk together the ingredients for the glaze, then spoon this evenly over the top of the meatloaf. If you’re using the bacon slices, lay them over the top of the meatloaf. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 45 minutes or so, until the glaze is dark and bubbly and the meat is cooked through (160 degrees on a meat thermometer). Let rest about 10 minutes before serving.

Note: For bread crumbs, one of the best options is Japanese panko, because they’re both crunchy and fluffy. You can also make bread crumbs yourself, by whizzing a slice or two of bread up in the blender (tear it into a few pieces first), then optionally laying them out on a baking sheet and toasting them for about 10 minutes in the oven to dry them out. Store-bought bread crumbs are not ideal, as they tend to yield a gummier texture, but they’re not a disaster. You can also crush up a bunch of saltine crackers. If you need a gluten-free binder, quinoa sounds totally crunchy-granola, but is actually pretty good–it needs to be cooked before adding to the recipe, and use a bit less.

Pan-Roasted Half-Potatoes

meatloaf 014These delicate little potato halves are a neat trick, creating a texture that’s crispy on the outside and fluffy within. They don’t take much effort at all (except for peeling the potatoes), but they have a slightly fancy appearance.

For 2 servings
2 medium baking potatoes
Butter
Salt
Pepper (optional)

meatloaf 004Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel your potatoes and slice them in half lengthwise on the wider axis, so the potato halves will be as flat as possible. Toss half a tablespoon of butter in a heavy baking pan (metal yields browner potatoes than Pyrex; a cast iron skillet is good too) and slide the pan in the oven to let the butter melt. When it’s foaming and sizzling, pull it out and add the potatoes: Coat them on both sides with the butter, then set them in the pan cut-side down (as at left). Sprinkle with salt, and grind over a bit of salt if you like.

Bake until the undersides are nicely brown and the insides are fluffy, usually about 45 minutes. Serve with the pretty browned cut side facing up, poked open with a knife and with an additional dab of butter, if you like.

Pan-Fried Dandelion Greens with Cheese

meatloaf 009This uses the same technique as the Wilted Arugula in Episode 15, but takes a couple of minutes longer to cook because the dandelions are tougher. When buying greens, look for those labeled “sweet”–they’re not actually sweet, just less bitter than the standard dandelion greens; you want the ones that a bright green, not dark green, and avoid ones with reddish stems (these are so bitter that they must be boiled first). If you can’t find dandelions, use escarole instead.

Serves 2 generously
Half bunch of “sweet” dandelion greens
3 medium cloves garlic
Olive oil
Salt
Gruyere, sharp white cheddar or parmesan
Half a lemon

Rinse greens thoroughly in several batches of cold water; no need to dry. Chop garlic coarsely.

meatloaf 006Set a heavy skillet over high heat and add a glug of olive oil. When it shimmers, toss in the garlic and stir just until fragrant. Add about half the greens (stand back, as the oil may spatter), stir briefly and put a lid on the skillet. After about 30 seconds, take the lid off and add the remaining greens, stirring a bit; add a pinch of salt. If the pan is looking dry, add a couple of tabelspoons more water. Put the lid back on and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the greens are cooking, cut your gruyere or cheddar into paper-thin slices, or grate your parmesan. When the greens are tender (check the stems), remove them from the heat and arrange in a shallow pile on a plate. Squeeze a bit of lemon juice over, then lay the cheese slices over the hot greens and serve immediately. (If you’re using grated parmesan, you have a bit more leeway, as this cheese doesn’t congeal when cool, and the greens themselves are fine even when they’re not piping hot.)

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This week, I make a hearty soup that mixes kale, sweet potatoes and sausage–interesting spices give it a semi-Caribbean flavor. On the side, celery root and apple–both in season now–make an easy, refreshing slaw.

 

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Shopping list

    Andouille sausage (12 oz.)
    Brown lentils (1/2 cup)
    Chicken stock (at least 3 cups)
    1 small celery root
    1 medium apple
    1 orange
    Bunch fresh parsley
    1 medium sweet potato
    1 small bunch collard greens, kale or mustard greens
    1 medium onion
    4 or 5 cloves garlic
    Ground allspice
    Ground cumin
    Apple cider vinegar

Allegedly Cuban Sweet-Potato Soup

soup 108The original recipe for this soup, which my mom got from a friend, who got it from some Mayo Clinic cookbook (not promising–but proof you can find good recipes almost anywhere), says this is a Cuban concoction. The allspice definitely has a Caribbean vibe, and the orange peel at the end brightens everything up in a surprising way. I’ve strayed from the original recipe–less meat, for one thing, and I leave out the tomato puree, which is, ironically, the one ingredient my expert source says is intrinsic to Cuban cooking.

The lesson, of course, is that this soup is very flexible–actually a nice characteristic of most soups, especially chunkier ones where each bite will be a little different. You can use almost any kind of greens, as well as whatever sausage you like, and the proportions can vary according to your cravings. These proportions, for instance, are heavy on the greens and sausage, but light on lentils and sweet potatoes.

Makes 4-6 servings
Olive oil
1 medium onion
Salt
4 or 5 medium cloves garlic
1/2 cup brown lentils
3-4 cups chicken stock
1 medium sweet potato
Half a bunch collard greens (see note)
12 oz. andouille sausage (see note)
Heaping 1/4 tsp ground allspice
Heaping 1/2 tsp ground cumin
Black pepper
Zest from one orange

Drizzle a bit of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot and set to warm over medium heat. (As I describe in the podcast, alternatively at this point, if you’re not in a hurry, you can slice up the sausage, as below, and fry it while you slice up the onions; leave the sausage in the pan as you proceed with the rest of the recipe.)

Roughly chop the onion into 1/2-inch pieces and add to the pot. Stir and add a pinch of salt. While onions are softening, peel, crush and roughly chop the garlic; add to the onions and stir and fry until fragrant.

soup 095Rinse the lentils and add them to the pot, along with the chicken stock. Place the lid on the pot and let simmer. Peel the sweet potato and cut it into 3/4-inch pieces (roughly), and add this to the pot. Trim and clean the collard greens, then cut them crosswise into large pieces–roughly 3 inches across, or two or three cuts across the leaf, depending on its size. Add these to the pot and stir well to cover all with the stock–it will seem like quite a lot of greens to start with (as at left), but they will soon wilt. Put the lid on the pot and turn the heat to low.

Preheat a small, heavy skillet over medium heat while you cut the sausage into 1/2-inch slices. Fry these in the hot skillet until nicely browned, then add them to the soup. Add a couple of tablespoons of liquid to the hot pan to deglaze it: scrape all the browned bits from the bottom of the skillet into the soup pot.

Add the pepper, allspice and cumin, stir well and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes or so. Just before serving, grate in the orange zest and stir well.

This soup freezes well.

Notes:
Greens: Mustard greens are also tasty (a little spicy), and they take a bit less time to cook than collards. You can also use frozen collards or mustard greens–one of the 10 oz. boxes is about the same amount as a small bunch. Just add them directly to the soup pot, still frozen.

Sausage: Andouille sausage is great because it’s a little spicy as well as smoky. The smokiness adds instant depth to the soup, and the other spices (and the heat) go well with the other flavors in the soup. You could use any kind of sausage (fresh or cured), though spices/herbs like fennel (found in a lot of Italian sausages) and sage don’t go quite so well with the allspice and cumin.

Celery Root and Apple Slaw

soup 102This incredibly simple winter salad doesn’t even use oil. It’s crunchy, clean-tasting and refreshing, making it a nice counterpoint to the rich, spicy-hot soup, or any other long-stewed dish with strong meaty flavors. If you want to tinker with it, you could add a small amount of crumbled blue cheese and/or a drizzle of walnut oil. Tarragon is another fresh herb that goes well with celery root.

As I say in the podcast, grating celery root on a box grater can be folly–it is very dense and hard to grate. Either run it through a food processor or slice it by hand.

For 2 generous servings
1 small celery root (see note)
1 medium apple
Apple cider vinegar
Salt
Small handful fresh parsley

soup 098Peel the celery root and cut off the knotty root ends. Cut into matchstick slices (as at left) or run through the grater of a food processor. Slice or grate the apple (no need to peel)–roughly the same amount as the celery root. Combine in a bowl and sprinkle both with apple cider vinegar and a large pinch of salt; toss well to combine. Rinse the parsley and chop it coarsely, then toss it with the celery root and apple. Serve within an hour or so, as it can lose its crispness.

celeriacNote: If you’re making the salad for only a couple of people but can find only a larger celery root (they’re usually about the size of medium grapefruit), cut off only as much as you need and slice only that. Wrap the remaining intact root in plastic wrap and store it in the fridge. It should stay crisp for at least a week.

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This week, I make perhaps my most standard standby pasta, a mix of onions, tomatoes and bacon–great year-round, and totally doable with just pantry items. On the side, I boil a bit of kale and dress it up with chili flakes and vinegar.

 

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Shopping list

    Bacon
    Pasta: spaghetti, bucatini, linguine
    Tomatoes: best-quality canned or fresh (grape tomatoes for best flavor)
    Onions
    Kale
    Red-wine vinegar
    Olive oil
    Chili pepper flakes
    Pecorino romano or good-quality parmesan

Sorta-Pasta all’Amatriciana

amatriciana 018This is a great dish to cook any time of year, as well as an excellent emergency pantry-only kind of dish–as long as you start considering bacon a pantry ingredient (it does keep in your fridge for a couple of weeks, or in your freezer forever). But as I say in the podcast, this is hardly an “authentic” recipe for many reasons, so maybe it’s more honest just to call it pasta with onions, tomatoes and bacon. Some recipes also call for chili pepper and/or garlic, but I don’t find this is necessary–and then you have some room to make your side dish spicy and/or garlicky.

I use canned Muir Glen or San Marzano tomatoes, or good ripe grape tomatoes, and thick-cut bacon yields chunks with a little bit more texture (Niman Ranch, for instance–I don’t like it just to eat straight, but it has a good flavor for cooking). As for pasta, bucatini–like thick spaghetti, but hollow–is traditional, but hard to find, and also hard to eat because you can’t slurp it up. Standard spaghetti works fine, as does linguine.

Serves 2
Salt
4 thick slices bacon
2 medium onions
Glug olive oil
5 or 6 canned tomatoes, or the better part of a pint of grape tomatoes
1/2 lb. bucatini, spaghetti or linguine
1/2-inch wedge or so pecorino romano or good-quality parmesan cheese

Put on a pot of water to boil, and salt it generously.

amatriciana 007Slice raw bacon into 1/2- or 1/4-inch pieces, then cook in a heavy skillet on low heat, stirring occasionally. Some pieces will be crispy, and some will be chewier–this is fine. Remove from the skillet and drain on a paper towel. Pour off all but about 1 tbsp of the bacon grease.

Slice onions in 1/4-inch slices. Cook on medium heat in the pan with the bacon grease and an extra glug or so of olive oil. (If you’re in a hurry, as I am in the podcast, you can get the onions going in a separate pan, with just olive oil, then move them over to the bacon-greased pan when the bacon is out.) Sprinkle on some salt–this helps the onions soften up. Moderate the heat so the onions get soft, but don’t get crispy brown spots. (See Episode #2 for tips–no need to caramelize the onions so extremely for this, though.)

When the onions are thoroughly soft, add the tomatoes and crush them up with the back of your spoon. Let this mixture simmer 10-15 minutes–the tomato juices should thicken up but not cook away entirely. During this time, you can get your pasta boiling, according to the package directions (although check it early, because sometimes those directions are wrong–in the podcast, my so-called 11-minute pasta was done in about 7 minutes). Also grate your cheese–you want a couple of big handfuls.

Add the bacon back to the tomato-onion mixture and stir well. When the pasta is al dente, drain it, reserving a mugful of pasta water. Toss the pasta in with the tomato sauce, adding a bit of pasta water if necessary to make a more liquid sauce. Toss in a handful of the cheese and stir to combine. Serve the pasta in bowls, topped with the remaining cheese.

Quickest Kale

amatriciana 012Kale is one of those workhorses of winter, sturdy and good for you. The easiest way to prepare it is simply to boil it briefly, then sprinkle it with vinegar and chili. As I say in the podcast, you could also wilt it in a pan–see Episode #15′s Wilted Arugula with Pine Nuts, but cook it for several minutes longer, until the stems are tender. Curly kale tends to have smaller stems and cook a little faster–and looks nicer on the plate–but regular kale is fine too. Beet greens will also work nicely.

Serves 2
Salt
Medium bunch kale, curly or otherwise
Red-wine vinegar
Crushed red chili (Aleppo pepper is nice)
Salt

Set a large pot of salted water to boil (as in the podcast, you can use the same water you’re boiling for pasta). Rinse kale well and trim off any parts of the stem that look ragged or split.

Drop the kale in the boiling water, in a steamer basket, if you have one. Poke the kale a bit to make sure it’s all submerged. Boil until the stems are tender–this could be as little as 3 minutes, or quite a bit longer. In any case, you want to try to get the kale out of the water before it loses its bright-green color and turns a duller olive green.

Drain the kale well and spread the leaves out on a serving plate. Sprinkle with vinegar, salt and red chili flakes. You can serve it hot, but it’s also satisfying closer to room temperature.

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This week, I make a fish tagine–essentially, fish cooked in a stewpot–with spices from a favorite Indian recipe. On the side: carrots with cinnamon, honey and red pepper…and some potatoes that take a damn long time to cook.

 

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Shopping list

    Fillet of white fish (tilapia, cod, etc)
    Carrots
    Grape tomatoes
    Whole lemon
    Cilantro (optional)
    Garlic
    Ginger
    Fennel seeds
    Coriander seeds
    Cumin seeds
    Whole cinnamon stick
    Aleppo or other red pepper
    Honey
    Rice, couscous, orzo, potatoes–your choice

Indian-Spiced Fish Tagine

tagine 015A tagine is a Moroccan cooking pot with a cone-shaped lid. The cone-shaped lid helps condense the steam created in cooking and keeps the food moist. But, happily, you don’t actually need a tagine to make this–any heavy cooking pot with a good lid will do. (Here’s an example–Cathy puts her pot in the oven, but you can just as easily keep it on the stovetop.) For more on tagines, see the note at the end of the recipe.

Tagine is also the word for the stew cooked in one of these cone-shaped pots. But the spice combo here is from a great Indian recipe for eggplant, so, really, if you don’t use a tagine to cook it, and it’s not a Moroccan spice mix…I guess you can’t exactly call it a tagine at all. But it’s delicious regardless, and the basic technique is a great one to know because it’s so versatile.

You can serve this fish with virtually any kind of starch. In the podcast, I boil some potatoes because I happen to have them, but couscous is of course good, as is rice or even orzo (rice-shaped) pasta. So as not to repeat my blunder in the podcast, you may want to start cooking whatever starch you prefer before you embark on the fish.

Serves 2 modest portions
1-inch chunk fresh ginger root
3 or 4 cloves garlic
2/3 pint (or so) grape tomatoes
Olive oil
About 1 tbsp whole fennel seeds
About 1/2 tbsp each whole cumin and whole coriander seeds
1 large filet tilapia or other mild white fish
1/2 tbsp butter
Salt
Zest from 1/2 lemon
Fresh cilantro, for garnish (optional)

Slice ginger into 1/4-inch-thick rounds–3 or 4 slices. Peel and roughly crush or chop garlic cloves. Slice tomatoes in half (use this technique).

Place your tagine (or heavy pot) over medium heat. Drizzle in a bit of olive oil, to coat the bottom of the pan. When oil is hot and shimmery, add the whole fennel, cumin and coriander and immediately stir to coat in oil. Continue stirring until they are fragrant, usually only a few seconds. If you’re afraid your spices might burn, feel free to yank the pan off the heat. Otherwise, quickly add the ginger and garlic–this will help lower the temperature of the oil–and turn down the heat to low. Stir the garlic to coat in oil, then add the tomatoes and stir everything to mix well, along with a big pinch of salt.

tagine 004Lay the fish fillet over the tomatoes, and scoop a bit of the oil and a few tomatoes over the fish–but make sure there’s a good cushion of tomatoes for the fish to rest on. You don’t want the fish to actually touch the bottom of the pan and cook via direct heat. Put the dab of butter on top of the fish, and grate the lemon zest over it.

Put the lid on the tagine and cook, on low heat, for about 10 minutes, or until the fish just flakes when you poke it with a fork. If the rest of your dinner isn’t quite done yet, just turn off the heat and keep the lid on.

Garnish with chopped fresh cilantro, if you like.

taginecreusetNote: I have a yuppified tagine, from Le Creuset (shown here). It’s a coated cast-iron base and a clay top. Because the base is so sturdy, I can put it directly on the flame on medium heat. But if you’re using a traditional tagine, with a clay base, you should prep all your ingredients in a separate skillet, which you can crank the heat on with no risk, and then transfer everything to the tagine, lay in the fish, and set it to cook on a low flame.

Sweet-Hot Carrots

tagine 005Carrots and cinnamon are a common Moroccan combination, and a dab of honey only enhances the sweet fragrance of the mix. But to balance out the sweetness, I always add a bit of hot pepper. These carrots cook up quickly in a covered pan on the stovetop–the tiny bit of liquid cooks away and leaves a nice glaze of spices and honey. I tend to think the butter adds a nice bit of richness, but it’s entirely optional.

Serves 2, with leftovers
3 large carrots
Olive oil
Dab butter (optional)
1 whole cinnamon stick
Squeeze of fresh lemon or (better) orange juice
Very small spoonful honey
Salt
Large pinch Aleppo pepper, or smaller pinch of cayenne or crushed red chile
Generous grind of black pepper

Peel carrots and slice into 1/4-inch rounds. Place heavy pan (it should have a lid) over medium-high heat. Drizzle oil in, just enough to coat the bottom, and add a dab of butter. When the oil is hot, add the whole cinnamon stick and stir, then add the carrots and stir to coat with oil. Squeeze in the citrus juice and add a pinch of salt.

Cover the pan and turn heat to low. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes, until carrots are tender and liquid has cooked away to leave a glaze. If the carrots are tender, but there’s still a bit of liquid, remove the lid and turn the heat up to medium to make the liquid boil away.

Near the end, add the red and black pepper and stir well. Remove the whole cinnamon stick before serving.

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This week, I talk about ways to get motivated for cooking in the fall. And I discuss my new cookbook, Forking Fantastic: Put the Party back in Dinner Party.

 

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Fall means back to school…so get back in the kitchen, you summer slackers! In this podcast, I talk about a few ways to get back in the habit of cooking.

ffOne of the best ways is to invite someone over for dinner. But if that gives you palpitations, then please check out Forking Fantastic! Put the Party back in Dinner Party, my new cookbook with Tamara Reynolds. It’s due out October 6, and you can preorder it at Amazon and other online booksellers.

Finally, it’s official–Cooking in Real Time is scaling back to once every two weeks. I will be busy promoting the cookbook, and I want to be able to concentrate just on the cooking segments, and not so much on the recipe decoders, etc.

And I would greatly appreciate positive reviews of the podcast on iTunes, and any word you can spread on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Thanks so much for listening, and keep the requests and questions coming!

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This week, I put together a very quick late-summer meal: Maryland-style crab cakes, sliced tomatoes and corn on the cob with butter. (For more on how I got this crab-cake recipe, visit my food blog.)

 

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Shopping list

    Lump crab meat, 1 cup or so (about 1/3 or 1/2 pound)
    Egg
    Mayonnaise
    Dijon mustard
    Old Bay
    Bread crumbs or saltine crackers
    Baking powder
    Ripest, juiciest tomato you can find
    Corn on the cob
    Butter

Baltimore-style Crab Cakes

crab-cakes-009First, a disclaimer: the ingredients here are all Maryland, but the actual shape of the crab cake is not. (I guess I instinctively replicate the salmon cakes my mom used to make for dinner.) For a more authentically Baltimorean look, see the note and the photo at the end of the recipe, provided by Peter.

Now let me just say: there is nothing better than a really simple crab cake with very good crab. So, while there are some varieties of canned crab that are passable, most of them are awful, and you should make an effort to get fresh (or at least pasteurized) crab meat–see the note at the end of the recipe for more details.

Serve with sliced ripe tomatoes, generously salted, and corn on the cob, boiled in salty water for just a couple of minutes. In the podcast, I drain the water off the corn, then toss a bit of butter into the pot with the hot corn and shake it around to coat everything–much easier than trying to smear butter on at the table. Be sure to drizzle any remaining butter-and-corn-water over the corn and tomatoes when you put it on your plates.

Serves 2 with summer (ie, somewhat light) appetites
1 egg
1 cup lump crab meat (about 1/3 pound; see note)
Large dollop mayonnaise (about 1 tbsp)
Small dollop Dijon mustard (about 1 tsp)
Old Bay, to taste
1/4 tsp baking powder
1-2 tbsp bread crumbs or crushed saltine crackers (see note)
1 tbsp butter

Whisk the egg up in a small bowl until the white and yolk are well blended. Place the crab meat in a larger bowl, then drizzle in about half of the whisked egg. Add the mayonnaise, mustard, Old Bay (start with about 1/2 teaspoon; add more if you like spicy, or if your Old Bay is showing its age) and baking powder and mix well. The mix will likely be beige-orange from the Old Bay, and fairly wet. Add the bread crumbs, starting with 1 tablespoon, and adding a bit more if the mix still looks like it won’t hold its shape when scooped with a spoon. (If you’re making the mix in advance, don’t add any extra crumbs–as the mix sits, the crumbs will absorb more of the moisture.)

crab-cakes-001Shape the mix into two crab cakes, as in the photo (or see the more traditional method in the notes below). Melt the butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat. When the butter is bubbling, slide the crab cakes into the skillet and turn the heat to medium-low. Place a lid over the skillet for about 2 minutes to cook through to the center of crab cake. When the bottom is nicely browned, after about 4 minutes, flip it and brown the other side. The crab cakes are done when they’re nicely browned and moist but not oozing liquid inside.

Notes:
Crab: If you live on the East Coast, you can probably get fresh, cooked lump crab meat from a good fish store. Backfin crab meat is good too–a little more shredded, and so a little cheaper, but also often tastier, and a fine texture for the crab cakes. Elsewhere in the country, whatever crab meat you get will be pasteurized, and not quite as tasty, but not bad. Marylanders of course use blue crab only, but king crab meat (from Alaska) is also delicious, though Dungeness crab doesn’t (in my mind) have quite the same sweetness. I did once use a passable brand of canned crab, but I have not been able to find it again–if I do, I’ll post the details here.

Bread crumbs: In the podcast, I use panko, or super-crispy Japanese-style bread crumbs. This is very handy to have around the house, and it lasts forever. Look for it at Asian stores. You can of course make your own bread crumbs, but avoid the supermarket-standard bread crumbs, especially any with any kind of seasoning, as they tend to glom together too much. It’s traditional in Maryland to use crushed-up saltine crackers, though I can’t say for certain whether they’re better or worse than the other options.

crab-cakes-012Shaping your crab cakes: Peter bit into these crab cakes and said, “I’m torn between saying how delicious they are and criticizing them.” He objects to the shape. It’s true, they ought to be more rounded, as in the photo–and it is quite nice to have some little shaggy bits of crab sticking out to get more browned than the rest. And Peter also prefers to broil his crab cakes, for about 4 minutes on a side directly under the broiler (use a heavy skillet, so they’re easy to rotate around under the heat if necessary). If you take the broiler approach, cut the butter into four pieces, then put a dab on top of each crab cake when you slide it under the broiler; then, when you flip them, add another dab. Really, a little butter makes all the difference.

Crab Cake on FoodistaCrab Cake

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Vacation

August 16, 2009

Calling summer hours again… Relax and enjoy something cool and refreshing, and I’ll be back next week.

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This week, I explain some of the most common mistakes new cooks make–and how you can fix them. It’s surprisingly easy.

 

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ffcoverThere are a handful of very simple-to-correct mistakes that novice cooks make. In this episode of the podcast, I discuss seven common blunders. They’re taken from a cookbook I’ve written with Tamara Reynolds, called Forking Fantastic! Put the Party Back in Dinner Party. It will be released October 6, 2009. And although the book focuses on parties–unlike Cooking in Real Time–there’s still a lot of great advice that new cooks will find helpful, as well as a lot of very accessible recipes.

One of the blunders is using the wrong knife for the job. Many new cooks are a bit scared of big knives, but they’re really the only good way to get the job done. Big knives can also be scary because they’re expensive! Victorinox, though, makes a very good starter knife that’s lightweight but sturdy, and easy to care for. It’s an easy investment in vastly improved cooking!

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