Spaghetti and meatballs

I haven’t been cooking very much because I was sick through much of last week. I was well enough to go back to work last Monday but wasn’t fully well until this past weekend, and ended up doing a lot of leftovers and quick and easy things in the interim. Plus a few diner meals, though I prefer to think of that as helping to prop up the local restaurant economy. Tonight was the first new and mildly photogenic thing I’ve tried in a while: fairly easy spaghetti and meatballs.

So I started by chopping up some mushrooms, onions and parsley.

Apparently when your camera battery is close to dying it slows the exposure, so that you look like you’re chopping garlic at warp speed.

The meatballs are an adaptation of a recipe I found on Half Assed Kitchen: a pound of ground meat (I used ground bison–lean and very tasty), half a cup of bread crumbs, three-quarters of a cup of chopped parsley, and an egg, mixed together and shaped into meatballs. Again, at warp speed. (Well, hardly. This was the slowest part for me because I hadn’t chopped the parsley as finely as I should have, and I had to work a bit to make sure the bigger bits were well pressed into the meat.)

Brown them on all sides. (OK, you know what I said about pressing the parsley well enough into the meat? Forget about that–clearly my meatballs were extra leafy.)

While they brown, heat some olive oil in a dutch oven and sautee onions, mushrooms, garlic and red pepper. Season with salt and pepper, then add some dried basil, oregano and thyme.

Add a large can of crushed tomatoes and a large can of whole tomatoes, plus their juices. I like to cut the whole tomatoes into halves or quarters (depending on their size). Add a splash of red wine, and bring the mixture to a simmer.

Add the meatballs and simmer partially covered for at least 20 minutes, so that the flavors are blended and the meatballs are cooked through.

Serve over spaghetti or chunky pasta. Good stuff.

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Happy Easter

I meant to do a big post about egg recipes and thoughts in defense of eggs, but I’ve been down–and I do mean down–with a cold for the past several days. No energy, fuzzy brain; I think I spent about 7 hours awake on Thursday, not all in a row. So today I greet Easter with just a light post, and a link to “Rethinking our food priorities” by Charlotte Freeman on Culinate, which I found via @glutenfreegirl, about how these financially challenging times offer us a chance to stand up for what we believe in rather than settling for cheap-but-lesser food. She is right: Now is no time to cheat on your egg lady.

Happy Easter!

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Greenmarket, Veggie Noodle Stir-Fry, Apple Crisp

I was thinking yesterday would be the first day for the Greenmarket in my neighborhood, but that was according to last year’s calendar; this year it opens in June. That will be great, as it’s only a couple of blocks from where I live and will be very handy for Saturday morning shopping runs. But in the meantime I had been hoping to do a big post about how wonderful it is at the Greenmarket, and I suspected that photos of children running around the playground with no vegetables in sight were not going to serve the purpose. So I headed to the Greenmarket at Union Square, which is open year-round.

Union Square is almost too easy a Greenmarket to love. It’s the one that started it all, back in the 1970s; it’s open four days a week, and according to the CENYC site it draws 60,000 shoppers a day in peak season, who are usually standing between me and the tomatoes. Of course it’s far too early for tomatoes now; the fresh produce in the stalls is dominated by root vegetables, mixed greens and apples.

But there’s so much more you can get from the regional farmers. I had a lovely chat with the couple from Grazin’ Angus Acres of Ghent, N.Y., who were selling grass-fed, dry-aged beef and had well-used copies of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Raising Steaks on their table. They proudly pointed out pictures of their own Eggmobile, which readers of Omnivore’s Dilemma will recognize from Joel Salatin’s system of integrated natural agriculture, and offered samples of a truly delicious sausage. I bought a pound of ground beef, which I plan to use tomorrow night to make Mexican Meatball Soup (from Half Assed Kitchen).

There were lots of other vendors selling beef, as well as chicken, lamb, eggs, and more. For example, flowers:


Dried peppers:




And even yarn:

There are a lot more pictures to see on my Flickr page.

In addition to the ground beef I got some onions, eggs, popcorn, potatoes, apples, and the biggest carrots ever. I was planning to make a stir-fry with some soba noodles we had on hand, so I picked up a few less seasonal ingredients in my neighborhood and set to work.

I told you the carrots were huge.

Once I’d prepped my ingredients and had the noodles cooking, I put some oil in a cast-iron skillet and got started. (A wok might have been better; we used to have a good one, but it got rusty some time during our long stretch of apartments with electric burners and I think my husband tossed it during a move, so I’ll have to get another before long.) I started with the onions, then added vegetables and let them cook. Of course with the volume of food I had in the pan it got a bit too deep to really be a stir-fry; this works well for me by the time I add the broccoli because the steam coming up from the rest of the vegetables is perfect for cooking it.

Once I had most of the vegetables in I cleared some space in the center of the pan and added beaten egg,  using the wooden spatula to break it into curds as it cooked up. When the egg was fairly solid I added my flavor sauce, then tossed in the boiled soba noodles and let it all cook through for a couple of minutes.

For dessert I made apple crisp. First I put together the topping, a combination of flour, rolled oats, brown sugar and butter.

Then I sliced up some apples: a layer of Galas, a layer of Granny Smiths (for tartness) and another layer of Galas.

I topped the apples with some lemon juice and a bit of nutmeg and cinnamon, distributed the crisp topping as evenly as I could, and set it to bake at 375 for 45 minutes.

By the time we were ready to dig in my camera battery had died and was recharging, so no pictures of the cooked filling, but believe me, it was delicious.

Apple crisp goes nicely with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or (as I tried at the cafe at MoMA on Friday) mascarpone, but it also stands well on its own.

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Lest you think foodies have no sense of humor

Check out Whole Foods’ contribution to April Fool’s day.

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Chili, cupcakes

I made chili tonight, with red beans and jalapeno chicken sausage. It tasted great.

To go along with it, I made baked tortilla chips: I cut fresh corn tortillas into wedges, brushed them with oil, sprinkled on a bit of salt and baked them in a 350 oven. Crunchy and delicious.

I also made cupcakes. Why? Because when I was cleaning out the fridge I found some eggs that were nearing the end of their freshness, and cupcakes seemed like a good way to use them. I recently bought a mini muffin pan, so I used the devil’s food cake recipe from How to Cook Everything and just baked them for a shorter period–about 14 minutes.

In one bowl you beat together butter, sugar, egg yolks and vanilla.

Then you add a combination of flour, baking soda and salt, alternately with buttermilk, sour cream or yogurt. I used yogurt here.

You beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks–maybe a minute with my mixture.

Then fold that into the chocolate mixture, et voila.

The little cupcakes take about 14 minutes to bake. I was more careful not to overfill the cups than I am with standard-sized cupcakes, so I had to do a partial second batch. I made 40 wee cupcakes in all.

I made cream cheese frosting: butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla. Sifting the powdered sugar takes a bit of time, but once that step is done it could hardly be easier.

I think some of these are going to have to go in to work.

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All hail the grill pan

This weekend I bought a grill pan: a Lodge Logic Grid Iron reversible grill/griddle. It fits over two burners and enables you to make awesome food if you don’t have an outdoor grill or any likelihood of getting one in the near future. (And I don’t. I don’t have a back yard, I don’t have a balcony, and I don’t have usable space on the property that’s at least 10 feet from the house, the minimum requirement in New York and a key reason few city dwellers get to grill. Legally, anyway. Ten feet from your building, you’re probably on the sidewalk.)

I love cast iron. I’m pretty sure I’ve nattered before about how much I love cast iron, but please indulge me for a moment. It’s great stuff! It’s robust–this pan is not going to be worn out any time soon. Its solid structure enables high and steady heating, which means a good sear, good predictable cooking, and good control. It requires careful cleaning, but that’s not difficult. It’s even reputed to increase the level of iron in one’s diet, though I’ve never been especially worried about that. (But some years ago when I had an elective surgery I avoided transfusion by taking iron supplements for a period before and after the procedure, and can I just say, the digestive side effects were not enjoyable. So a pan is better.)

I tried it out tonight with chicken thighs. I rubbed them with a spice mixture, heated and lightly oiled the grill pan, and grilled them for about 15 minutes per side. YUM.

The pan was a bit messy afterward.

But it cleaned up beautifully. This picture is AFTER the mess picture, by less than five minutes.

I shredded up one of the leftover thighs to top salad for tomorrow’s lunch:

This weekend I got it into my head to make an angel food cake. I don’t really know why. And I realized, I’d never made one before; my mom used to make them often when I was young, because that was my dad’s favorite cake, but I had never followed suit. It wasn’t my favorite cake; that honor goes to devil’s food. Which I suppose tells you something about me. But this weekend it was my focus, and so I picked a recipe from How to Cook Everything, opted for the chocolate variation (substitute cocoa for a portion of the flour), bought cake flour and eggs, and set to work.

My mother used to tell us that when she and my dad first married, he begged her to make an angel food cake, and so she did. By hand. Beating the egg whites by hand. And she served it up and then told him that if he ever wanted her to make another he was going to have to buy her an electric mixer. He did. This gave me the lingering impression that beating the egg whites was time-consuming and difficult. Even with the mixer he bought her, she felt it was tricky. So I was expecting some challenge, but my own mixer, a Braun model that I picked from a Cook’s Illustrated ranking of hand mixers, was more than up to the task, and in practically no time at all I had glossy soft peaks and then slightly stiff peaks. I slid the pan carefully into the oven and said to myself, “Idiot, why didn’t you take any pictures?”

But here is the pan cooling (you cool it upside-down so that the cake’s natural inclination to fall a bit doesn’t succeed):

And here is the cake as I extricate it from the pan:

And here it is in its glory:

And here it is minus a few slices.

It tasted great.

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Short takes

A couple of little things:

  • Spotted this on the Gothamist site: NY food blog Scanwiches, which features scanned cross-sections of sandwiches. Some beautiful images, but I really hope they’ve wrapped the scanner with plastic wrap.
  • I’m very much enjoying the Food Network show “Food Detectives.” Ted Allen (whom you may remember from “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”) work with scientists, experts and a crew of Food Techs to test questions about food. Investigations probe such mysteries as whether eating spicy food shortly before eating disturbs your sleep (it does); whether cooking foods with beer, wine or liquor actually eliminates all the alcohol (no, not even close); and what home remedies are most helpful for ameliorating the effects of hangovers, indigestion, or other maladies. The Food Techs don’t get to speak, but they are certainly able to express emotion and alarm as they gulp foul-tasting hangover cures, self-induce ice cream headaches and gorge on turkey to see if it really makes you sleepy. Check it out!
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Herb-roasted chicken, roasted parsnips and Brussels sprouts, pearl couscous

I didn’t cook much this past week–between hurrying out to catch the most recent Scott Bateman Animation Show at the PIT and suffering through the last throes of my cold, I was working through leftovers for dinner. So it was nice to spend some time in the kitchen last night.

I knew I wanted to roast chicken pieces. I bought a whole chicken on special at Whole Foods and cut it up. I’m not that great at cutting up a chicken, but I’m getting better with practice. I hadn’t really cut up my own chicken by the time I became a vegetarian, and obviously I wasn’t cutting up any during those nearly 10 years. (That would be kind of twisted; “I don’t eat the meat, but I sure love to butcher the animals!” No, I think not.) Since then I’ve mostly resorted to prepackaged chicken parts, but have been trying to build my skills since you can save so much money buy cutting up your own. I read through the description in the Joy of Cooking, carefully watched a “Good Eats” episode where Alton demonstrates the technique, and even took some cues from an old episode of “Space Ghost: Coast to Coast” in which Martin Yan demonstrates how you can rotate and flex the bird’s joints to loosen them up for cutting. “So you relax the chicken!” he exclaims cheerfully, to which Zorak retorts, “The chicken is not relaxed; the chicken is dead!

What I should have done was watch a recent video on Gluten-Free Girl, in which the Chef demonstrates how to break down a chicken. (No, Scott, the answer to that is not “If you can’t send him to Guantanamo, keep him in the interrogation room and play Good Chef, Bad Chef.”) The Chef (playing Good Chef here) goes slowly enough that you can see what he’s doing, and I finally realized that part of my mistake is that I’ve been taking off the wings and legs before tackling the breast, instead of starting from the breast. I think my next effort will be easier.

I’m not complaining; I did well enough, and the thighs actually looked like thighs instead of industrial accidents, so that’s good. I rubbed the pieces with a mixture of kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, paprika, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, thyme and oregano, and roasted them in a cast-iron skillet, skin-side down for 20 minutes and then turned over to roast for another 20 minutes. The meat was juicy and delicious.

I also roasted parsnips and Brussels sprouts. I think I should have taken them out about five minutes sooner, as there were a couple little charchoal-ified parsnip sticks at the edges of the pan, but mostly they were wonderfully caramelized and savory.

And I wanted to do something with the tomatoes I had picked up at Whole Foods, so I improvised a salad of pearl couscous–the big, oversized pieces. It’s also known as Israeli couscous, though this particular package had been manufactured in Lebanon, so I guess that wouldn’t be appropriate.

Unfortunately the cooking instructions on the package were only in Lebanese, so I had to dig around to find the proper ratio of water to couscous and I’m not totally convinced I got it right. While the couscous cooked I quartered cherry tomatoes, sliced some Kalamata olives and minced some parsley, and combined them with a bit of the olive brine and some olive oil, salt and pepper.

When the couscous was done I mixed it all together, then let it sit for about 5 minutes while everything else finished cooking. If I do it again I’ll want to spend some more time confirming the correct proportion of water, and maybe add a bit of minced garlic, plus more of the olive brine. For that matter, I’d make sure I had more olives on hand.

A tasty dinner, if I may say so myself. The couscous makes good leftovers. I also made stock with the rest of the chicken carcass and some vegetable ends and trimmings I’d been keeping in the freezer for such a purpose, but that’s not a particularly photogenic process. If I could convey smell on the Internet, that would be something else again.

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Potato and Chickpea Stew

Last night I made a wonderful vegetarian stew from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Potato and Chickpea Stew obviously contains (wait for it) potatoes and chickpeas; it also features bell peppers, crushed tomatoes, onions, parsley and spices.

Doesn’t that look yummy?

I hadn’t made this in a while, and when I reviewed the recipe I noticed that Madison advises you to serve the stew with a dollop of Romesco Sauce, whose recipe is found earlier in the book. I hadn’t bothered doing that before, probably because I was lazy. I still am lazy more often than not, but I decided to make the sauce this time.

Romesco Sauce combines fried bread, hazelnuts, almonds, roasted red pepper, tomatoes, garlic and a few other odds and ends to make a yummy puree.

I had to shell and roast the hazelnuts, and I made my first attempt at roasting a pepper on my gas burner. I got some decent blistering on the pepper’s skin before it started to get so soft that I feared an epic burner disaster, so I added it to the hazelnut pan with mostly satisfactory results. (I’d throw it in a hotter oven next time.) But the flavor of the sauce was wonderful, and it was a delightful addition to the stew. I think it’d be great with pasta as well, or with vegetables. Or Kalamata olives. Oh, yeah.

That’s me, cooking with steam.

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January 2009 Dinner Spree: Asian Beef Lettuce Wraps

(originally posted to Recipes of the Damned on January 6, 2009)

Tonight was my first real weeknight on the new schedule, and I kicked it off in style with a recipe from the current issue of Everyday Food, Asian Beef Lettuce Wraps. The recipe doesn’t seem to be online yet, but keep checking the site, or buy the magazine–it will be worth it.

The recipe is fairly simple: broil some steak, prepare the vegetables that go with it (lengths of scallion, strips of mango and leaves of Boston lettuce), prepare the sauce that flavors it, and prepare some Asian noodles to go on the side.

The recipe has a lot of advantages.  It only takes about 30 minutes from start to finish, it doesn’t have to be costly (you can use pretty inexpensive meat), it’s easy to prepare, and it is damn tasty.

I started by letting the beef sit for a few minutes to take the chill off, while I rinsed 6 scallions and cut three into thirds and three into thin slices. I then chopped about 1/4 cup of cilantro (I eyeballed that), minced a clove of garlic, and started the water boiling for the noodles. I turned on the broiler, laid the steak on a baking sheet and seasoned both sides with salt and pepper, and then put it in to broil for about 6 minutes per side.

While it cooked I peeled the mango and sliced it into thin strips. (This was the task I felt least adept at; I don’t cook a lot with mangoes and I think this one was less ripe than recommended. There’s probably some nifty Alton Brown whizbang strategy for peeling, pitting and slicing a mango, but I felt clumsy about it. Didn’t affect the taste, though.)

When the steak was broiled I took it out and let it rest. This lets the juices redistribute themselves evenly so that your meat doesn’t totally dry out when you slice it. Don’t be fooled, though; it’s still going to release plenty of juice when you slice it.

While it rested, I cooked the noodles. I had bought maifun, a very thin rice noodle, because that was the only Asian noodle available at the local grocery store we shop at most often. I’ll have to go to one of the other neighborhood stores and stock up on a decent selection of Asian noodles; these were fine but I think a thicker noodle would be a better accompaniment. Anyway, when the noodles were cooked I drained them and tossed them with the sliced scallions, a bit of sesame oil and vegetable oil, and some salt and pepper. The fine noodles wanted to clump together; I used two forks to tease them apart and ensure a reasonably even distribution of scallions and oil.

The beef was nearly ready to slice. I quickly halved and juiced the lime; I meant to take it out of the fridge last night but forgot, so it was a bit cold and I didn’t get as much juice out as I might have, but I think it was enough. I mixed that with the cilantro, garlic, some more vegetable oil, and a bit of salt and pepper. Then I rinsed and blotted the Boston lettuce leaves, and I was ready to slice beef and assemble wraps.

Beef being sliced:

An assembled wrap:

These were delicious. The mix of flavors was lovely, and they were light but satisfying. If you don’t care to eat beef you could do something very similar with chicken, or with a marinated tofu. If you didn’t want to do it wrap-style, you could shred the lettuce and toss or compose this as a salad.

So, my first work-weeknight dinner in something like four years? Success! Quick of preparation and cleanup, tasty, and inexpensive (unless you really splurge on the meat). I think I’m going to like this cooking gig.

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