November 21, 2016
I’ve been wanting comfort food, well, all week, to be perfectly honest. And then I stepped off the subway tonight into the first snowfall of the year.
Climate change doesn’t quite have us yet, I told myself.
I have one pork chop, and I just dredge it in flour, salt, and pepper like I usually do, along with the whole rest of a bottle of oregano I’ve been trying to use up, and pan fry it in a little butter and a dash of olive oil. (The mother of one of my college roommates was the person who I first saw use butter and olive oil together for really good pan frying.)
With the pork chop done, I deglazed the pan with a dash of (really cheap) white wine, and when it mostly quit bubbling, just poured the result over the pork chop. (There’s probably a cooking term for what I did wrong there, but I don’t know what it is.) I added some more butter to the pan (I don’t know how much, sorry. Some more), and cooked about half a sliced plain yellow onion and half a thinly sliced pear in the butter and browned bits, with some crushed dried rosemary, and about two dashes of cinnamon, until it was all soft and slightly caramelized.
And ate the whole mess with a glass of the cheap wine and some Doctor Who, whose writing quality has really recovered well in season 9.
(I forgot to take a picture of the food like a proper blogger or a Millennial, but it tasted prettier than it looked.)
“The Zygon Inversion” feels particularly important this week.
10/10 stars, would recommend.
July 23, 2014
When I was in college in Athens, GA, there was absolutely nothing as good, when you were sick or sad or cold, as a cup of the chicken and dumplings for $3.00 at Five Star Day Cafe. One of the drawbacks of having lived there is that when you’re hit with a craving for Athens food, there’s precious little you can do about it if you are anywhere else in the world. (Buttermilk feta dressing for French fries? Forget it.)
I spent several years pining for chicken and dumplings before it hit me that I could probably make them, and that as my roommate Emily #2 is a southerner, there were probably multiple recipes already in our apartment. I tried a few.
But no dumpling recipe approximated the Five Star Day dumplings, which, being the first and only dumplings I had ever had, represented the quintessential ideal of dumplings in my head. And they were doughy and filling…every dumpling from a recipe I tried turned out like some kind of fluffy bread on top of the soup, which to my mind was not the point at all.
I don’t make it back to Athens often, but at least, I thought, I could get a bowl on my next visit.
And then last spring, Five Star Day closed, not even a week before a planned visit to a friend, and on top of all kinds of layers of indignation and grief over the loss of that place, I despaired of ever not eating inferior dumplings.
Then this week I had a frozen chicken carcass I’d been meaning to turn into a summery chicken soup with mushrooms and green beans (I’d actually wanted asparagus, but asparagus is expensive this late in the summer). I was looking for a dumpling recipe I’d used before involving an egg, but couldn’t find it. (The recipe, not the egg.) The Better Homes and Gardens recipe I vaguely remembered as being inferior, but I had everything in it except for like six herbs that I never actually have on hand (my herb of choice is thyme, and I use it gratuitously, in everything).
I was in a fuck measuring mood so I wasn’t leveling off measuring cups or spoons. I was trying to get soup finished and eaten before my call time that night, so I wasn’t being careful at all.
So I was flabbergasted when I took a bite, and…that was the flavor of the Five Star Day dumplings.
To the best of my recollection, this is what I did:
-2/3 cup of flour, plus a little more, because fuck measuring.
-1 teaspoon baking powder, plus a little more, because fuck measuring.
-1/4 cup milk
-2 tablespoons cooking oil
-Large pinch of dried thyme (LARGE. I’m not kidding.)
-1/8 teaspoon salt
-Lots of pepper
I think part of the secret is in sinus-clearing, heart-warming quantities of pepper. The texture is still not the same, but now I have ideas about that, too. Anyone who’s had any further success at recreating Five Star Day-style chicken dumplings, hit me up.
Addendum: Hopefully obviously, but I can promise no equivalent results. It was an accident. I more or less did it again yesterday, but tried again this afternoon and the dumplings practically fell apart in the soup. Could be the heat? (Yes, I’m the kind of person who eats soup when it’s 90 degrees outside.) I made the mistake once of refrigerating dumpling dough and that was the biggest soup disaster I’ve ever caused… Anyway. I wish you luck.
July 7, 2013
A lot of times in the summer, the heat makes me too lethargic to eat, or at least to do the work required to eat, much more than cereal with blueberries. (And I go through blueberries like I’ll never see them again in the summertime.) But tonight I was feeling a little creative and decided to make up a real meal.
This is actually only a slight variation on a sauce I’ve made before, and the thing I like about it is that it’s hard to overcook. You probably could…but I haven’t managed yet.
About 1/3 stick of butter
About 1/4 cup heavy cream
About 1/3 cup white wine (I used Chardonnay, because that’s what Whole Foods had for $2.99 a bottle.)
3-4 baby bella mushrooms, sliced
Half of 1 large shallot, sliced
Pinch of cardamom
Dash of salt
A few leaves of fresh basil
Melt the butter slowly over low heat and add the shallots. Cook till softening and fragrant, and add the mushrooms, and cook they’re soft and fragrant, too. Add wine, stir it well into the butter, and one or two of the basil leaves, and cook till they’re wilted.
Add the cream, stir well into the winey butteriness, and cook and stir gently until it’s thick and bubbly. Add a pinch of cardamom, just a dash of salt, and as much black pepper as you want. (I like black pepper…a lot.)
(This is also where I stirred in about a tablespoon of flour to get it to thicken up a bit.)
I poured it over a pork chop and halved zucchini that I had grilled on our grill pan, and garnished with the remainder of the basil leaves.
And then I sat down to start watching Community…only to find that it is not available on Netflix instant. Bad planning on my part. But the saucey pork chop was just as good with Supernatural. I have leftover wine and cream, and am contemplating something similar but involving walnuts and berries later this week….
December 12, 2012
I last baked bread for myself sometime in elementary or middle school…about 20 years ago, unbelievably. (The church I grew up in used to be small enough that we always had homemade bread for communion, which I made once, and also once or twice for school projects.) But somehow I’ve kept finding myself badly craving the feeling of kneading bread dough, or the need to make something incredibly intense with my hands, the past couple weeks. So with an unexpected whole day off today, I made some bread.
It felt as incredibly good as I’d been missing. I’d also forgotten how much I love the smell of the yeast in rising dough.
I made some thyme butter to go with it. The second loaf is going to make incredible French toast next week.
I fear I could get addicted to this.
November 19, 2012
I’m blushing a bit that this was the hit that apparently it was at last night’s Harvest Celebration potluck. A few people asked me for the recipe, so here it is! (Not being a closely guarded national secret or anything.)
2 tablespoons butter*
4 smallish apples, sliced
1 bag cranberries (12-16 ounces)
1 cup liquid (I used a mix of water and some pomegranate juice drink I wouldn’t normally have bought, but had leftover from Hurricane Sandy preparations.)**
2/3 cup sugar
Spices (cardamom, cinnamon, Chinese Five Spice, black pepper)
Wash the cranberries and pick out the bad ones. In a saucepan, melt the butter over low-medium heat. Add apples and cook till fairly tender, but not falling apart. Add water and bring to a low boil. Add sugar slowly and stir till dissolved. Add cranberries. When the liquid returns to a low boil, the cranberries will start to pop, and the apple slices are probably starting to fall apart by this time, too. Continue simmering and stirring until liquid is mostly cooked off and cranberries are all exploded. Spice as desired. (I used a dash of cinnamon, about 1/2 teaspoon cardamom, 1/2 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice, and a lot of black pepper. I don’t know how much, but I like black pepper.) Let stand and cool for about half an hour.
And even though I ate so much last night that it literally hurt to breathe, I am now going to make another batch of this just for me.
*This recipe is not vegan but could easily be made so. I think the butter adds a depth of flavor that I like, but you could probably use olive oil, grapeseed oil, or vegan butter substitute with good results.
**I wish I could tell you that it’s worth using wine in place of water for the liquid in this recipe…but it’s pretty much not. I’ve tried with both red and white. Most of the liquid boils off in cooking, and the flavor is really lost under the intensity of the cranberries. Save your wine for making other recipes inappropriately boozy.
October 19, 2012
The end of actual summer tends to be slightly preceded every year by me getting literally bored of eating summer fruits and vegetables, falling into a malaise in which I can’t even figure out what to eat, and then developing a craving for large, serious squash.
I was inspired to try this for the first time last year, when I was in a similar mood and craving a hot, thick soup, and thought first that I’d try my hand at potato soup or potato chowder. I can’t say where the inspiration came from to make it pumpkin instead, but I thought of Barbara Kingsolver’s lamentation in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, that in most recipes involving pumpkin these days, the recipe will call for one 15-ounce can of pumpkin. No one knows how to hack up a large vegetable to eat rather than use for decoration anymore.
I asked advice of a couple friends, followed some of it, and setting forth without recipe, hacked up a pumpkin.
We’ve been enjoying a crisp, lovely fall in NYC, and so I made this for the second time last week, refining my technique slightly from my first experience. (Protip: using the food processor for this is not worth it.)
You will need:
A large stock pot
One smallish cooking pumpkin
One or two large onions, sliced
One large white potato, or 3 or 4 small red potatoes, diced
About 4 cups chicken stock (I make a batch from the leftovers every time I roast a chicken, so I always have some in the freezer and don’t have to buy it.)
Half a stick or so of butter. Or more. Usually more, in my case.
A couple tablespoons olive oil
A couple tablespoons flour
About half a pint of half and half or heavy cream
1. Preheat the oven to 400. With a sharp, sturdy knife, cut the pumpkin in half. Scoop out the seeds, and cut the halves in half again.
I always forget how long that part takes.
2. Put the quartered pumpkin sections on a baking sheet and rub with olive oil.
And put into the oven. Roast till tender and starting to caramelize, probably around an hour.
3. When the pumpkin is cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh out of the skins and shred well with a fork. It should be soft enough that this is fairly easy. (This is where I discarded advice to use a food processor, which I tried my first time through, and made a mess.)
5. In the stock pot, melt the butter, and sauté about half the onions until tender. Move the onions off to one side, add the flour to the butter, and whisk until it’s incorporated. This creates a roux that will help the soup thicken later.
6. Now add the chicken stock and bring to a low boil. Add the diced potatoes and cook till those are tender.
And now start adding the pumpkin, in small amounts at a time, cooking till each addition is incorporated. It’ll disintegrate a good bit as it cooks, but I like it to keep some of its rough, shredded texture. I’ve wound up only using about half the cooked pumpkin in the chowder, and saving the other half for use in other delicious baked things.
Add the rest of the sliced onions, and cook till tender. Add salt to taste.
7. Turn the heat down so the pumpkin-y broth at this point is just simmering, and slowly add and stir in the cream. Cook on low heat–don’t boil–until the chowder is heated through. More salt and pepper to taste.
And I garnished mine with fresh thyme.
It’s fabulous with some toasted crusty bread and glass of white wine, and presidential debates or Doctor Who on television.
December 18, 2011
Dear friends and readers,
A friend of mine, Salvador Speights, who might be the most brilliant person where food is concerned that I know, is in the beginning processes of launching a podcast project based on food culture and politics, and we are seeking all sorts of people who might be interested in lending a hand, but most importantly at the moment, a website designer. Read more:
I am creating a podcast with the ultimate goal of transitioning to radio. I am looking for creative, passionate people to help lift this project off the ground. We currently have a budget of $200 dollars, but we will be actively fundraising. I need people who are willing to invest their time into the project to build it up to a place where we can start to earn money. Until then, this project will operate on a volunteer basis. I need sound engineers, writers, producers, and web designers. The podcasts will explore contemporary issues regarding food stories. For example, the first podcast will be titled First Meal and it will be discussing the importance of milk, the issues evolving around industrial dairy farming verses alternative dairy, as well as investigating the raw milk debate. We will host interviews with new and expectant mothers regarding breast feeding and the emotional connection created with their child via mother’s milk. Other podcasts will include, but are not limited to, politics, economics, popular culture – how do these transitory climates interact with our permanent necessity for food and sustenance? Each individual podcast will explore topics of food regulation and legislation, agriculture, personal stories and more. If you fit the creative, passionate, food lover we represent.
If anyone’s interested in getting involved (particularly with website design/building!), or knows someone who might be, please get in touch with me, or the Facebook page of the Alvarado School for Sustainability and Community Development.
Thanks, and hope you all are having a happy holiday season!
October 6, 2011
I’ve been looking forward to fall and winter this year. I’ve been craving cool, damp, blustery weather.
I love it when the nighttime temperatures start dipping low enough, usually in October, to justify making my favorite warm and filling wintertime meal: stuffed acorn squash. This year it happened about a week ago, right before I started tech rehearsal for the current show, so I got one last decent meal before my week of 13-hour days started.
Take an acorn squash and use a heavy knife to knock off the stem and cut it in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds. Turn the halves upside down in a shallow pan with about 1/8-1/4″ water in the bottom. Roast in the oven at 350° for about 45 minutes; they’re done when tender enough that you can fairly easily stick a fork through the outer skin.
It’s good if it starts to caramelize a little bit around the edges.
While the squash is roasting, slice up an apple and a small onion. In a skillet, melt butter and sauté one or two links of sweet Italian sausage, crumbled out of its casing. When the sausage is almost cooked through, add the onions and apples and cook until tender.
Turn the cooked squash halves right side up and shred the flesh inwards with a fork. Season with salt and pepper. Fill the hollows to overflowing with the sausage/apple mixture, and spice with cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom.
Enjoy, and stay warm.
June 14, 2011
I got home from a short trip to Chicago last week to find this in one of my railing planters.
It’s my very first ripe strawberry of the season that the pigeons didn’t get. It had a much subtler sweet flavor than grocery store strawberries, a little watery, but with a sour note that I was fond of.
Hopefully many more to come!
July 12, 2010
In late March/early April this year, I was overjoyed to see little strong dark green shoots of peppermint starting to come up in my railing box from last year. Even though I know that mint is a perennial, and an invasive one at that, the ability of such seemingly tender and vulnerable living things to thrive in a city like this never ceases to take my breath away. Though there were a couple cold snaps, we were having a much warmer early spring than last year, and I was excited to try to grow a few more things out on the fire escape. In the box of herbs, last year’s peppermint, English thyme, and basil. In the next box, arugula/mixed baby greens, and strawberries.
And then the pigeons struck.
I had taken the boxes inside for a few days during a cold spell; the peppermint especially liked the warmth inside, and in a few days, the box was nearly filled with bright green stems a few inches tall. I put them back outside when it was warmer again, came home from rehearsal one day, and to my horror, found almost all of them tattered, harassed-looking, or snipped off almost completely at the soil line. The strawberry had been putting out a couple of huge brand new leaves, which were gone, and the arugula had been practically uprooted and looked battered within an inch of its life.
The pigeons didn’t do this last year…and I still can’t understand why this year. When I first put in plants last summer, they did nip at them mildly for a few days, but then stopped. So I was frustrated, but figured that they’d get bored of it this year as they had last year and stop. I replaced the first arugula, which did soon perish, with four more robust looking plantings of baby greens. The mint started to regrow, and I put everything back outside again.
And they did it again. The greens just vanished, not pecked at but uprooted entirely, and the mint got bitten back down again, many of the remaining shoots tattered and broken. The basil was picked at, too, but not damaged nearly so badly.
The one thing that pigeons don’t seem to enjoy is thyme. It was not touched.
A confession here: Yes, I could get metal wire cages, or one of those plastic decoy owls…but, being usually pretty broke, I was reluctantly unwilling to spend far more money protecting these plants than I spent on the plants themselves, or the value that I was ever likely to get from them in harvest. Looking online for cost-effective solutions, I found that supposedly, there is no natural pigeon repellent. At all.
Unwilling to accept this, I thought “I’ll bet I could download an owl,” and sure enough, some Googling found several solid black owl silhouettes. I printed one out and blew it up a little, cut it out and taped it to the window in front of the planters.
It looks really good, a little bit sinister, from inside–and even frightened one of my roommates one night. And I held out hope for a few days that it was sort of working; I wanted to believe I was seeing less pecking damage over the next few days.
But from outside the window, I could tell that it was so much dimmer inside than out that this black silhouette was not very scary looking. Still, I hoped that pigeons were more innately owl-aware, and this vague shadow might prove dissuasive.
Then my other roommate caught sight of this thing one morning while working at home. She said this pigeon was the size of a chicken, and not apparently afraid of anything. Shadow-owl fail. My best option was starting to seem like catching this monster pigeon and wringing its neck.
The next thing I tried was a simple physical barrier–we have lots of clear plastic salad containers, so I set a few over the newly recovering shoots, in a way that would allow them both light and a little air.
This did prove a little more effective. The covers proved just enough of a hassle to the pigeon hoards that they must’ve judged that the food value they were getting for the effort wasn’t worth it. They could push them around, but after a couple of weeks, it looked like they’d actually gotten bored and more or less given up. And the new shoots were getting too tall to be smushed under the covers.
But I was disheartened. The thrice-destroyed mint was growing back much more slowly than at the beginning of the spring, I had one remaining little salad plant, and it looked so lonely that I couldn’t bear to eat it. The strawberry has shown not one flower; I think I will probably not get a single berry this summer.
And then I made a pot of black-eyed peas one weekend. I’d been craving them. I soaked the pot overnight, as per package directions. But it was a hot night in June, and in the morning, the whole pot of beans was not just softened, but sprouted. Feeling like a gleefully experimental kindergartner, I took three of them, while I boiled the rest, and planted them in a little glass pot outside. They grew so fast, the white shoots turning green in the sunlight and then flourishing unbelievably-sized leaves for such a short time, that I had to transplant them within a couple of days. Within 48 hours, I couldn’t believe that these things had been dry peas in a plastic bag in the grocery store barely a couple days ago.
I have no idea what the time to maturity of peas is, but they’re now little bushes and still rapidly growing.
Figuring I better get something to salvage the rest of the space in box number 2, I finally got a tomato plant, whose pungent and toxic leaves I thought would be less likely to be found acceptable food by the pigeons (I admit, the smell of tomato plants has always been one of my favorite smells). So far, so good; they don’t seem interested. The variety is “Mr. Stripey,” which I’ve never heard of before; I’m sort of excited to see how they’ll come out.
So it’s been an experimental but not very productive summer. Since most of my now-successful plants went in so late due to false starts, I don’t know how much if anything I’ll get by fall–maybe a few handfuls of peas and tomatoes. Maybe enough mint for a cocktail; it’s all grown back again, but nowhere near as tall and robust as it should’ve been by this time of year. The basil is just starting to get bushy, so I’ll have it with some pasta or eggplant. The thyme alone is doing wonderfully. I like snipping it over grilled lamb or pork chops, or just on tomatoes with a little salt. I had good results earlier this year with a rosemary-infused simple syrup I devised, which I think I’ll try next with thyme, to use in some kind of drink with Hendricks gin and berry herb iced tea.
That sounds like a good plan for August, no?