Monday, December 31, 2012


Several days ago, I made this French Onion Soup. It was delicious. It was so yummy I decided to use some of the leftovers as a basis for a hearty Ribbolita. Ribbolita is a thick, hearty Tuscan vegetable soup, rife with vegetables. Perfect with rustic, thick bread. 

There are tons of Ribbolita recipes on the web. Here's a good one to start with: Bon Appetit Ribollita. I barely followed this recipe, since I had slightly different vegetables (celery, kale, carrots, potatoes, butternut squash, tomatoes, canellini beans). I went heavy on the spices (thyme, basil, garlic, salt, pepper, oregano). And I added liberal amounts of red wine. And of course, all that is in addition to the French Onion soup base. 

The verdict? YUM. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Snow Day: Whole Wheat Baguettes and French Onion Soup

This year's Christmas gifts included two new cookbooks, baguette bread pans, a pizza stone, and a gift certificate for the Artisanal Bread class at the Culinary Institute of America. Since we are (still!) snowed in on the east coast, I decided not to waste a minute and put the bread pans and cookbooks to good use. This is what we're making:

Whole Wheat Baguettes

2 cups (500 ml) warm water (110 F/43 C)
1 teaspoon sugar
3 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
5 to 5 1/2 cups (780 to 860 g) all-purpose flour. I substituted whole wheat flour for 25% of this total amount.
2 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg white, lightly beaten with a pinch of salt

  • In a bowl, combine the warm water and sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves.
  • Add the yeast and stir gently to mix. 
  • Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with dough hook, combine 4 cups (625 g) of the flour and salt and bean on low speed just until combined. 
  • Slowly add yeast mixture and beat on low until incorporated. 
  • Increase the speed to medium low and beat for 10 minutes, adding more flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough is elastic and pulls away from the side of the bowl. 
  • Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 1 minute. 
  • Form into a ball, dust with flour. 
  • Sprinkle a little flour into a bowl. Set the dough into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (45 to 60 minutes).
  • Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few seconds. 
  • Form the dough into a ball and return it to the bowl. 
  • Cover with plastic. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (25 to 30 minutes).
  • Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. 
  • Cut into two equal pieces and shape each into a ball.
  • Let rest for 5 minutes.
  • Line French Bread pans with a kitchen towel and lightly flour the towel.
  • Roll each ball into a log, about as long as the bread pan.
  • Place each into the bread pan and cover with the edges of the towel.
  • Let rise in a warm place for 20 minutes.
  • Position rack in lower 1/3 o oven.
  • Place a shallow baking dish filled with boiling water on oven floor.
  • Preheat oven to 425 F (220 C).
  • Gently lift the towel holding the loaves out of the bread pan, being careful to not to let them touch each other. 
  • Spray pan with non-stick cooking spray.
  • Lay each loaf into the bread pan.
  • Using a sharp blade, score the loaves on the diagonal.
  • Brush with egg mixture.
  • Bake until the bread sounds hollow when tapped, 30-35 minutes.
  • Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the bread cool in the pan to room temperature.

Meanwhile, while the dough is proofing...there were all these onions laying about...

French Onion Soup

8 tablespoons of butter
1/4 cup olive oil
2 lbs yellow onions, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon sugar
sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoon flour
8 cups of stock - the recipe called for beef stock, but I substituted vegetable stock instead
1 cup dry white wine
Several thick slices of course country bread
2 cups shredded Emmentaler cheese

  • Melt the butter with the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  • Stir in the onions and saute until translucent (4-5 minutes).
  • Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the onions are lightly golden (about 15 minutes).
  • Uncover and sprinkle with the sugar and salt. 
  • Raise heat back to medium and cook uncovered, stirring often, until the onions are deep golden brown (30-40 minutes)
  • Sprinkle the flour over the caramelized onions and cook, stirring until flour is lightly browned. 
  • Don't worry if the flour sticks to the pan - that is "free flavor"!
  • Slowly add the stock, stirring constantly. 
  • Raise the heat to high, and bring to boil.
  • Add the wine, and 1 teaspoon of black pepper.
  • Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until onions begin to fall apart (45 minutes).

Because I have no oven-proof bowls, I improvised the next steps:

  • Place the fresh baked whole wheat baguette bread slices on a broiling pan, and top with cheese.
  • Broil in the oven or toaster oven until the cheese bubbles.
  • Ladle hot soup into bowls.
  • Place the toasted bread with melted cheese onto the soup.
  • Add additional shredded cheese to the hot soup. 
  • Serve at once. 

Mmmmm, melty goodness:

Melty goodness with fresh whole wheat baguettes, sea-salted olive oil for dipping, and a nice pinot grigio. Perfect meal for a cold, snowy evening!

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Traditional Christmas Eve Taco Salad

This is a variation on Mama Bish's Taco Salad (thanks, Mary!) that we've adapted as a multi-purpose flexitarian meal. This is suitable for meals where different people like different combinations of veggies and flavors. 

1 box Zatarain's Red Beans and Rice
1 head romain lettuce, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeƱo pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 avocado, chopped
1 pound ground turkey
1 package taco seasoning
1 cup Mozzarella cheese, shredded
your favorite salsa
Taco shells

Start with three things on the stovetop: 

1. Cook a box of Zatarains Red Beans and Rice. Follow the directions on the package.

2. Saute an onion, a red bell pepper, a green bell pepper, a jalapeno pepper and two cloves of garlic in one pan. Cook till the onions are translucent.

3. In another pan, brown one pound of ground turkey. Cook till it starts to brown, then add one packet of your favorite taco seasoning and a half cup of water. Mix, and cook till the meat is throughly cooked and the water has evaporated.

4. For people who like tacos in taco shells, they can add ingredients as desired.
5. For people who like salad, you can mix all the ingredients in a large bowl.
6. Toss the romain lettuce, avocado, red and green pepper.

7. Add shredded mozzarella and salsa.

8. Add the ground turkey.

9. Mix well and serve.

10. Enjoy!

Tut, Tut, It Looks Like Rain

Earlier this year, we were fortunate to be able to spend 8 glorious days in the United Kingdom.  While food is not typically what England is known for, we completely enjoyed partaking of a number of typical British culinary experiences. First, afternoon tea:

 Bruce does the honors in Manchester.

Then, pub chow in London. First, pot pies and boiled vegetables.
 Then, fish and chips with mushy peas!
Although our waistlines would never allow this type of cuisine all the time, we enjoyed the exploration.

Catching Up...

So, anyway, I went to China a few times this year. 6, in fact. A total of 16 weeks. I'm back now and still catching up on all sorts of things including remembering how to cook for myself and how to eat something other than rice. It's a long story. 

Meanwhile, I'm on a mission. While I was gone, riding out a Category 5 Typhoon from the 20th floor of my 4 star hotel (see, I *told* you it was a long story!), my husband was weathering a 4-day power outage and trying to save the summer's worth of meals I had cooked and stored in our second freezer. Luckily he was successful. He also ate well whilst I was gone and I'm now on a mission to restock our freezer for the winter. Since there is no snow yet, ski season has not come into full swing, I'm back in the kitchen wreaking havoc. 

AND, I have new inspiration!! Mary gave me this for my birthday: 

It's a collection of recipes from 7 different areas of the world, all vegetarian and all can be done in the crock pot. And, well, if you're going to get out the cutting board and the good knife, you might as well chop everything you can get your hands on. Right now, the Lebanese Eggplant Stew is simmering in the crock pot. Recipe below.

And my own bastardization version of the Potatoes and Peas in Red Curry Sauce is on the stove. As you can see in the picture below, there are no peas, and the curry is Yellow. Ok, so I improvised. Recipe below. 

Lebanese Eggplant Stew

1 eggplant, cubed
1 zucchini, cubed
3 tomatoes, quartered
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt to taste
1 cup Aunt Tobi's homemade tomato sauce, or water

  • Combine all ingredients in slow cooker, mix well, cover and cook on low for 3-4 hours. 

Potato and Chick Pea Yellow Curry

1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 inches of ginger root, minced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cans chickpeas, not drained
2 cups carrots, chopped
2 cups celery, chopped
2 cups potatoes, cubed
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil

1 can coconut milk
1 large sweet potato, baked, then mashed
2 heaping tablespoons Yellow Curry Paste
1 teaspoon cumin
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped

  • In large pot, heat olive oil, onions, garlic, ginger root and peppers. Saute till onions become translucent. Add small amount of salt. 
  • Add potatoes, carrots and celery. Mix well and turn heat to low. 
  • Add chickpeas. Stir.
  • In separate bowl, combine coconut milk, mashed sweet potato, cumin and yellow curry paste. Stir till well-mixed and smooth. 
  • Add curry mixture to vegetables. Stir well to mix.
  • Add chopped cilantro.  
  • Cover and cook on low till potatoes are soft. Stir occasionally. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Eating In Shanghai

I really wish that this post was a first-hand review of traditional Shanghai cuisine with details on local specialties and unusual culinary experiences.  However, when I travel for work, eating is a haphazard affair driven by unbelievably long work hours, dietary requirements of a globally diverse team, and proximity. So, I offer you the following smorgasbord of business-travel eating. Bon Appetite!
Room Service Roasted Chicken
When I’m travelling and jet lagged, sometimes plain uncomplicated food is helpful to settle my stomach and help me sleep. This thyme-roasted chicken with steamed rice and asparagus from the room service menu was perfect as a first-night-in-town meal in my room before passing out from the 24 hour journey.

October Mid-Autumn Festival
This latest trip coincided with the Mid-Autumn Festival in China. This is one of the most important holidays in China and is associated with the legend of Houyi, and eating Mooncakes. Mooncakes are offered between friends or on family gatherings while celebrating the festival.
Wikipedia describes mooncakes as “round or rectangular pastries, measuring about 10 cm in diameter and 4–5 cm thick. A rich thick filling usually made from red bean or lotus seed paste is surrounded by a thin (2–3 mm) crust and may contain yolks from salted duck eggs. Mooncakes are usually eaten in small wedges accompanied by Chinese tea. Today, it is customary for businessmen and families to present them to their clients or relatives as presents, helping to fuel a demand for high-end mooncake styles. The caloric content of a mooncake is approximately 1,000 calories (for a cake measuring 10 centimeters (3.9 in), but energy content varies with filling and size.” 
I found them to be very, very heavy eating, with the red bean variety having a flavor similar to fig newtons, minus the fig seeds.

Hello Kitty Coffee
Starbucks is ubiquitous in Shanghai. There is a Starbucks on-site at the office complex, and even though I don’t drink Starbucks coffee at home, it’s the best available. We drink a LOT of coffee when we’re working in Shanghai, thanks to jet lag and long hours. And yes, I did actually stir my coffee with my Hello Kitty pencil. I know.

How to stock a mini-bar:
Because the cafeteria at the office serves local style food of questionable provenance, and breakfast in the hotel is expensive, I’ve mastered the art of stocking the mini bar with groceries.
Yogurt, fruit, raw vegetables and diet soda take precedence over the standard mini-bar fare.  

Indian food with the Indians.

Chinese cuisine is not kind to vegetarians. On this trip, our team discovered India Kitchen, a local indian restaurant that delivers. The team has taken great pride in in ordering lunch every day…and single-handedly employing an entire fleet of delivery scooters.

Upscale Groceries - the Shanghai version of Whole Foods...
...If Whole Foods sold SPAM.
Bakery section

 Produce section

 Red bean granola

And there you have it…the business travellers tour of eating in Shanghai.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Yes, Chef: Discovering Marcus Samuelsson, and other Musings

As so often happens when I walk through a real bricks-and-mortar bookstore, a book cover jumped off the shelf and into my hands. The cover of "Yes, Chef" by Marcus Samuelsson was unique to see in the cooking section...usually cookbooks have lovely pictures of food and lots of greenery or other images that evoke fresh food. This book has a dark, firey cover with a mysterious ochre-orange-terracotta powder spread across a black background. It cried out to be picked up off of the shelf.

This is a memoir of Marcus Samuelsson, who was born and orphaned in Ethiopia in the early 1970's, adopted by a family in Sweden and had his first introduction to cooking at the elbow of his Swedish grandmother. His culinary education and evolution reads like a career in the United Nations and present day finds him living and working in NYC's Harlem, running a number of restaurants, TV shows, books, and other culinary pursuits. It is an interesting and inspiring read.

I had never heard of him, but I did eat at Aquavit during his tenure there, during my NYC consulting days pre-September 11.

So my musings this morning are thus:

Bruce and I often comment on sub-cultures...the convergence of like-minded people who gather themselves around common interests...who are completely invisible to the larger community until one day, without preamble, a book jumps into our hands. Or we wander into a store we've never seen, as happened when we stepped into the Dragon's Den in Poughkeepsie - a store entirely dedicated to the Dungeons and Dragons gaming community. Or the Song of the Sea in Bar Harbor which launched our return to the world of music.

This blog is about all things culinary, but it is also about exploration. In the past two weeks, I've been introduced to Yotum Ottolenghi, Nigel Slater, and now Marcus Samuelsson...each with a story to tell through food. What a big, wonderful world we live in.

Knife Training at the CIA

Earlier this season, before the CSA started up, I took the CIA (that's Culinary Institute of America, not the other one) course on Knife Handling. This one-day course was really useful, starting with a classroom discussion on the construction of knives and the various types of typical kitchen cutlery. We then moved into the teaching kitchen and spent the day learning a variety of techniques while simultaneously preparing vegetables for the dining hall's lunch menu. Here's the instructor's youtube video, demonstrating a smattering of what we learned in class.

 Beautiful windows in the CIA dining hall.

Set up at the chopping block. You will not see any photos of me in the chef hat. Just sayin'.

Chef demonstrates how to fry-cut potatoes:

Chef demonstrates how to peel kiwi:

Knife sharpening 101:

The day started with a classroom discussion of how knives are made, general knife handling and kitchen etiquette, and video of the instructor's favorite chef. We then moved to the kitchen and our individual stations. We moved through a series of tutorials, each designed to practice a new knife technique using our large, incredibly sharp CIA Chef's knifes.

By the end of the day, my hands were exhausted and I was bushed from standing all day, but my knife skills had taken a huge step forward. With constant practice through a summer of CSA vegetables, I can now chop 15-20 pounds of vegetables in about an hour. That seems like a dubious skill for someone who makes her living in a corporate setting, but given our family focus on healthy eating and a largely vegetarian lifestyle, this has definitely proved valuable. I've chopped, cooked and prepared vegetarian meals that fill our second freezer - and preserved our significant weight loss! There is something to be said for learning proper technique, whether it's on the violin, the QWERTY keyboard, or in the kitchen.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Ripe: Nigel Slater's Rhapsody on Fruit

Last weekend, I was wandering about at Williams-Sonoma. I enjoy savoring the feeling of endless possibilities that swirl about in cooking stores. I have the same experience at hardware stores...endless possibilities in all those bins of bolts and wing nuts. I digress.

I found Nigel Slater's hefty book: "Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard" and the vibrant photo on the cover drew me right in. Its not often that a three inch thick, hardcover cookbook turns out to be a page-turner, but this, my friends, this book...this is a book you can read.

Ripe is a rhapsody on fruit, and not just any fruit. Mr. Slater has an orchard planted in his small city garden. Each chapter is dedicated to a specific fruit, and starts with an eloquent and passionate ode, which makes me want to run to my nearest farm stand and bury myself in apples.  He goes on to describe different varieties of each fruit, including a notation about what can be found in the US, as well as in the UK. And before launching into a full chapter of recipes that highlight the fruit-of-the-moment, he provides his view of "pairings" in which he lists other foods that pair well with the highlighted soloist. This section alone is worth the price of the book...because it is here that the imagination begins to run wild.

I knew nothing of Mr. Slater prior to this. As it turns out, he has been the food critic for The Observer for 20 years, has written a dozen books, and hosts a show on BBC1 called Simple Cooking. 

Mr. Slater's website describes him as a cook who can write. I don't know if he can cook or not, having not yet tried his recipes, but write, he certainly can.

I've just ordered "Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch."

Corn Pie (otherwise known as Verrill Farm's Famous Corn & Tomato Tart)

Here is the recipe (Verrill Farm's Famous Corn & Tomato Tart) I use as the basis for Andrews Family Corn Pie. I've made the recipe exactly as listed, but over time, I've made some modifications.

For example, I use mozzarella instead of cheddar & egg whites instead of whole eggs. I find the cheddar too strong and the eggs too quiche-like. This recipe is all about the CORN. This time, I had an extra bunch of cilantro, and some red peppers, but no chives, so I substituted accordingly. Oh, and fat free 1/2 and 1/2 instead of heavy cream.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Taming the Freezer

A well timed power outage put the nail in the coffin of our second refrigerator and after some deliberation, we decided to replace it with a stand-up freezer. I'm so glad we did. Despite a schizophrenic summer of hot, dry, soaking, cool weather, our CSA has been pumping out produce as though our very lives depended on it.

Knowing that we needed a way to organize the freezer contents for the long haul, I employed some standard design principles and I think I've got this puppy into shape. Here's what I did:

  • Label everything - All containers are clearly labeled.
  • Stack Like with Like - All the sauce is in one place, all the chili is in another.
  • Make it Easy to Find - All shelves have labels, so even if you can't see what's in the back, you have a reference of what's there.
  • Use Standard Sizes - For the most part, I have banished non-matching plastic containers. Standardizing sizes and shapes means better use of storage.
  • Keep the Ice Cream easily accessible - Ok, this is not actually a design principle. But we sure do like our ice cream!

Here's what the fridge looks like today...and we're only halfway through CSA season!!

  • Top Shelf: tomato sauce, lobster sauce, and pesto (4 rows deep)
  • Next Shelf: Single Serving Entrees including chili, spicy chick peas, corn pie, ratatouille, stir fry, roasted vegetables, butternut squash quiche...and more (3 rows deep)
  • Next Shelf: Soups of various types
  • Bottom Drawer: Sweet Potato and Apricot Hand pies, Fruit pies
  • On the Door: Ice Cream

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi

I picked up two new cookbooks at Williams-Sonoma last night. This is one of them: "Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi". Yotam Ottolenghi is both the author, and the owner of several restaurants in London. I had never heard of him before, but I liked the cover, browsed the recipes in the store, and made the purchase.

Today, I picked up vegetables at the CSA and was faced with the need to do something with eggplant, peppers and several types of squash. Rather than return to my standby ratatouille, I instead found this recipe: "Very Full Tart: A fantastic Mediterranean feast, full to the brim with roasted vegetables."

I had to substitute several of the ingredients from the original recipe, based on what I had available. Butternut squash instead of sweet potato, delicata squash instead of zucchini, and baby mozzerella instead of ricotta.

First, to roast the vegetables. Two kinds of peppers on the top shelf. Eggplant, butternut and delicata sqhash on second shelf. Tossed with olive oil and sea salt.

Onions sauted in olive oil with bay leaves till they get soft and brown.
Heirloom tomatos
I made this with no crust because we're watching our carbohydrates. This is really more of a crustless quiche than a true tart.

All assembled and ready for the oven. Onions on the bottom, then roasted vegetables, tomatos and mozzerella. Finally, thyme to taste, two eggs (I used egg beaters) and some heavy cream (for which I substituted fat free half and half).

35 minutes in the oven and look what we have here: A Very Full Crust-less Quiche-like Mediterranean Feast!