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Friday, November 5, 2010

Mark Bittman's Kimchi Rice with Beef

Remember that cold I told you about in my last post? Well, it turned out to be bronchitis. I've spent the better part of three weeks coughing incessantly, which, by the way, has really helped with the healing from the back surgery. It's been a lot of fun. Ahem.

Luckily, most of that is behind me and I'm finally starting to feel pretty good again. I'm doing everything in moderation, and it's nice.

All this downtime has given me a chance to catch up on my reading. Wes recently gave me Mark Bittman's new book: The Food Matters Cook Book: 500 Revolutionary Recipes for Better Living.

I've read and enjoyed Bittman for years in the New York Times, have a couple of his earlier cookbooks, and read his original Food Matters book.

Bittman is a voice of reason in the firestorm and confusion surrounding food and food politics. A few years ago his doctor told him his blood pressure and cholesterol were high, and despite decades as an avid runner, years of living the rich, food-writer lifestyle had taken a toll.

So, he made some changes. He now eats vegan until dinnertime, most days, and has created a collection of recipes that focus mostly on vegetables, with meat in a supporting role. He's lost 35 pounds and his medical numbers are back to healthy levels.

While I don't see myself going vegan, even part-time, I can relate to the idea of eating less meat, less often. I'm comfortable with treating it more like a condiment or side dish than a main course.

And I already limit my dairy intake to yogurt and cheese, since I don't tolerate milk or certain other dairy products particularly well.

But what I like about Bittman's book is he doesn't approach it as an activist -- he doesn't insist you adopt his lifestyle, or anyone else's. It's about getting educated and making your own choices -- doing what works for you.

He offers common-sense advice, stuff we all know: reduce animal products, enjoy plants "with abandon," add more beans and whole grains, avoid processed foods and make room for treats. Don't deprive yourself, just don't go overboard.

With this in mind, the book even contains beef recipes, including this one that instantly appealed to me: Kimchi Rice with Beef. It's so simple, even a sick, injured person can manage it, and so satisfying you'll come back to it again and again.

I adapted the recipe: I used a very good quality cole slaw mix from my local independently owned market instead of a whole cabbage, added a couple of handfuls of shredded carrot, upped the ginger by a tablespoon, reduced the red chile flakes by half a tablespoon, used reduced-sodium soy sauce and added 4 extra ounces of flank steak.

I know what you're thinking, I missed the whole point by adding extra meat. But, again, it's about choices and even with the added amount, the recipe yielded about 3 ounces of meat per person. Moderation, right?

Kimchi Rice with Beef
Adapted from Mark Bittman, serves 4

12 ounces coleslaw mix (or one head of cabbage, shredded)
1 cup shredded carrots

6 scallions, chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced ginger
1/2 tablespoon red chile flakes
1 tablespoon sugar (I used sugar in the raw, aka Demerera sugar)
2 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
12 ounces beef flank or skirt steak, very thinly sliced
2 cups cooked short- or long-grain brown rice

Put the cabbage and carrots in a colander and toss well with two tablespoons of salt. Let it sit over a bowl until it wilts at least two hours. Rinse the mixture well and pat dry.

Combine scallions, garlic, ginger, chile flakes sugar and soy sauce in a large bowl. Mix, then toss in cabbage. Allow to sit another two hours.

When the kimchi is ready, put a large, deep skillet over high heat until it begins to smoke, about 3-4 minutes. Swirl in 2 tablespoons of the oil, add the beef, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is seared but still pink inside, 2-3 minutes. Remove the beef from the skillet.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet, swirl it around, and begin to add the rice a bit at a time, breaking up any clumps and stirring into the oil. When all the rice is added, cook, stirring frequently, until the rice becomes nice and crisp, 3-5 minutes. Return the beef to the pan and stir in the kimchi. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Five Stages of Healing and Homemade Chicken Stock

After you've had surgery, you have a lot of time to think. Or, as some might say, over-think. I've thus decided there are five stages of healing -- stages injured people must endure before they make a full and complete recovery. These are mine. Your mileage may vary.

Stage 1: Pain. With surgery, comes pain. A lot of pain. Did I mention a lot? And with pain comes apathy, in that you really don't care much what's happening around you. Sunny and beautiful out? Oh well, the sun will rise again tomorrow. Maybe then I'll care. Your friends are headed out for a fun night on the town? Whatev. It's time for my nap. Thomas Keller wants to make a special tasting menu designed just for me? Eh, I'm really not that hungry anyway.

Stage 2: Frustration. After a while, the pain eases up enough so your mind can focus on other things. The things you like to do, whether it's cooking, running, skydiving or sailing. But here's the catch: you can't do any of it. Nope. No fun for you. You notice that everyone around you actually has a life, in which they partake in enjoyable activities and accomplish things. The world is moving, and, well, you are not. And, because you're literally not moving, you feel achy in all sorts of other places that never ached before, and this is annoying on top of frustrating.

Stage 3: Glee. This is the fun part -- when you start feeling well enough to actually DO something. You can tie your shoes without help. You choose to wear jeans instead of ratty sweats or PJs. You realize you're not planning your day around your pain meds. You shower and apply makeup just because. The mere act of stepping outside your home is a revelation.

Every bit of progress feels like a major victory -- you cheer yourself on the way we applaud for a toddler when she takes her first step or finishes his broccoli. You feel gratitude, satisfaction and a little bit giddy. In other words, you're no longer a complete hot mess. Squee!

Stage 4: Deflation. This stage tends to accompany a setback in your healing. You've overdone it, or suffered a re-injury. Me, I got hit with a horrific chest cold.

Now, I know, for most people, a cold is no big deal. They accept it like adults and move on. But, apparently for me, it involves melodrama and a hit to my pride. You see, in my mind, I have a natural and superior immunity against the rhinovirus. Uh-huh. I've been crumpled up into a grumpy, whiny, pity-partying gal who can out-hack a lifelong smoker.

Stage 5: Who knows? I'm firmly stuck in stage 4. But it'd better be good. : )

Homemade Chicken Stock

They say homemade chicken soup can cure all ills. While I think that's a gross exaggeration, I do know making your own stock will make your cooking infinitely better. If you're really organized, you'll save and freeze the carcasses and bones from your roasted and baked chickens, as well as vegetable scraps. If you're like me, you'll improvise and use what you have on hand. You'll also ask your husband to make this for you, and you'll fail to get a decent photo (see Stage 2). Resist the temptation to use old, wilted veggies -- it's just not respectful, nor will it make for a tasty stock. Freeze the stock in large or small plastic bags, label them, and use it as the base for soups, add a splash to enrich sauces, or ladle a cupful for the drama queen in your life. Trust me, you'll both feel better.


1 whole chicken, 3.5-4 pounds
2 large onions, quartered
4 large carrots, halved
4 stalks celery, halved
6 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
20 sprigs fresh parsley, with stems
15 sprigs fresh thyme, with stems
5 sprigs fresh basil, with stems
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon crushed peppercorns

Place all ingredients in a large stockpot over high heat. Add enough water to just cover the contents of the pot. Simmer, uncovered, for 3-4 hours, skimming the scum and froth occasionally. Allow to cool slightly. Strain stock through a cheesecloth-lined colander into a large bowl or container. Refrigerate stock overnight, then remove the congealed fat. Use immediately or freeze for about three months.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Irony and Roasted Tomatoes

It's been four weeks since my back surgery, and I'm stiff, sore and tired. Exactly where I should be. The procedure, though more extensive and invasive than originally planned, went very well.

Having surgery gives a gal a lot of time to think. My mind is filled with gratitude. I'm grateful for family and friends who sent flowers, food and thoughtfully written cards. For those who called, stopped by and sent little "checking on you" notes electronically. And for my husband and mom, who have been more helpful and supportive then they could ever know.

Having surgery, aside from the pain, the limping, the endless fatigue, the wicked drug-induced side effects and the stunning shock to your system, is really pretty fascinating.

I can't remember a time in my adult life when I've had a singular focus. My job is to heal. Sounds simple, and in some ways it is. Walk a little every day. Slowly. Then, rest, relax, and rest some more. Read, rest, and read some more. Nap.

For years, my multi-tasking mind and body has yearned for time to simply slow down. And I'm grateful in more ways than I can express for this time. I can't imagine doing anything else right now.

But, honestly, it can also be frustrating. My mind wants to do things my body can't do. Yoga, for example. For years, I've wanted to start a daily morning yoga practice. Perfect timing, right? Um, nope. I mean, shouldn't I be using this time to write, create, cook, DO something? Anything?

Sorry, not happening. Because even my brain is off. Fuzzy, off-kilter, reaching for words. I've been trying to write this post for two weeks and could hardly string a sentence together.

Meantime, the rest of the world continues to move full-tilt. It feels strange, sitting on the sidelines. I feel a little left out. Yet, the thought of re-entering my old world and my former pace feels overwhelming.

And then there's my kitchen. It taunts me. I'm aching to start cooking again. I've worked full time for my entire adult life, and have never had the kind of time I'd like to devote to cooking. Now I have the time, but not the ability. Yet.

Well, I can make little things. Grilled cheese, roasted tomatoes, simple salads.

But I want to be making homemade bread. Pie crust from scratch. Braises and soups and glorious fall dishes. I want to be canning the last of the Roma tomatoes from my garden.

Not that I really even want to eat what I hypothetically could cook. My appetite is weak and my digestion is battered.

In the meantime, I've shifted into planning mode: scouring magazines, cookbooks and blogs for inspiration, developing recipes on paper, and making a list of dishes to whip up once I'm ready.

By the time I can really get cooking again, I suspect I'll be back to work and my chaotic schedule. Ironic, I know.

Roasted Tomatoes

This is hardly a recipe; it's really more of a technique. But it is a staple of my kitchen, a good way to use up some of summer's bounty, and even allows you to enjoy tomatoes in the middle of winter, when they're out of season. I add them to pastas, soups, salads, side dishes and to other vegetables. They're delicious plain. Feel free to play with the seasonings -- you can add crushed red pepper, smoked paprika, lemon zest -- the tomatoes are a blank canvas. Sorry, no photo this time -- that would require a level of organization and coordination that just doesn't exist at the moment.

1 package cherry or grape tomatoes, whole or halved, or plum tomatoes sliced medium-thick
Good olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh basil or thyme
Freshly grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place sliced tomatoes on cookie sheets lined with a Silpat, parchment paper or foil. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and combine well with hands. Arrange on the cookie sheet -- give them some room to breathe. Pop in the oven and cook until the skins are wrinkled and lightly browned and the tomatoes begin to collapse, about 15-20 minutes. Remove and sprinkle with fresh herbs and cheese.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Me: Under the Knife

This post isn’t about food. So if you’re looking for an early fall recipe or cheery write-up of last night’s dinner, feel free to search elsewhere.

You see, I’m getting my back fixed tomorrow. Disk surgery. A seemingly innocent injury has, over time, flared up into an angry mass of pain that can no longer withstand the rigors of everyday life.

Apparently, this disk wants out. So I will let it go.

I’ve done my homework. Sought multiple opinions. Bought cute pajamas and amassed a stack of reading material.

The logical part of me knows that this is one of those times in life when you simply need to dig up your courage and deal. So that’s what I’m doing.

The other part of me, though, cringes at the thought of a surgeon that I met for all of 30 minutes slicing into my lower back, digging into my spine and grinding off bone. Even if he is the best at what he does, a perfectionist by all accounts.

But, the day has now arrived, and at this point, I’m as prepared as I can be.

I’m ready to be better. Ready to again be the person I used to be: the one who ran half marathons, who lifted weights and joyfully practiced yoga. The one who reveled in the flowers and vegetables in my garden and could tend to them without paying for it later. The one who could pick up my three-year old nephew and carry him around, even as he wriggles away.

And, yes, the one who cooked. Because my cooking has suffered as well.

Which brings me to this blog. I’m not sure where I will take Fresh Eats for the next couple of months. It could become a blog about healing, about cooking while recovering, or it could go silent for a bit. But this much I know, I will be back, and I hope you’ll be there with me.

See you on the flip side.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

IFBC: What More is There to Say?

A pretty little burger at the IFBC food truck event

I recently returned from the International Food Bloggers Conference in Seattle.

If you attended the event or followed the
#IFBC Twitter stream, you already know that for many this was more than a conference. It was, at times, inspiring, exhilarating, overwhelming and exhausting. Meaningful and memorable. Humbling and hilarious.

I went to IFBC in part to meet several lovely women I “knew” online, like
Merry-Jennifer and Mardi, and along the way met so many more fabulous people.

Me, Mardi, Jen, Marie and Kelly

I went because of their inspiring speaker lineup, and found them gracious, warm and friendly. People like Dianne Jacob and Kristine Kidd, who reinforced yet again that good writing and recipe developing is at the soul of all good food blogs.

Kat Flinn (a former Michigan gal), who reminded me to use all five of my senses when I write. Shauna James Ahern, who "writes from joy" and inspires me to do the same.

Merry-Jennifer and Shauna

James Oseland, editor-in-chief of Saveur, who after his sensational keynote, told ME that my job sounds fascinating. Can you imagine?

And, the mesmerizing
Penny De Los Santos, who, when viewing the world through her camera, follows her instincts, waits
for the moment, then snaps it with eloquence and generous spirit. Her mantra of making photos remains etched in my mind.

They reminded me yet again that writing a blog is about capturing moments. It’s not just about the food. It’s about telling stories, sharing your self and allowing your voice to emerge.

Because, you know, I also went to Seattle to try to reconcile myself with my blog: why I do it, where to go with it, and how much of my time and heart to invest in it.

This summer, I pulled back. The chaos of life interfered. This blogging thing; it’s complicated and competitive. It’s a commitment. There’s so much I still don’t know. But what I do know, and what was reinforced to me this weekend at IFBC, is right now for me the most rewarding part of blogging is the sharing, the friendships and the community.

I also know that we all need to set our terms – our personal terms, not just SEO or CPMs or price per recipe, as important as they might be – and respect them.

So, I ask myself, where do I fit into the blogosphere? And, should I care? These are questions I’d hoped to answer at IFBC, and while I’m still in the process of setting my terms, I’m gaining clarity.

I started this blog as an outlet for my creativity and anxiety when my city and world seemed to be collapsing around me. The blog became a resting point, a haven of peace.

I went in with no expectations, and gained so much. I’ve met some beautiful, talented people that I hope will be in my life for years to come. Fresh Eats has been a window of friendship and opportunity in so many ways. Where it will take me remains to be seen. And that's ok.

My goal was, and is, to share my love of fresh home cooking, and hopefully inspire others to love it too. Creating stories, making photos, building a collection of memories. Works for me.

Note: A new, redesigned version of Fresh Eats is coming soon!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Bringing Order to Chaos

This post isn't really about food. In fact, for the first time in a long time, food hasn't been a primary focus in my life. Fact is, it's been the summer of chaos in my household. It's nothing earth-shattering -- really just all areas of life peaking at once. Among other things, we sent our daughter off to college, we had family in the hospital, I'm set to have back surgery in September, I've been traveling a lot, and work has been hectic.

The result is I've had very little time to plan, shop, cook and write. My meals have been simple and not particularly blog-worthy. And that was ok. Life happens.

But now, it's time to change all that. Today I'm headed to Seattle for the International Food Bloggers Conference (IFBC), where I'm going to meet some fellow food writers and bloggers, sit in on some great sessions and re-energize my blog mojo. Wish me luck!

By the way, Fresh Eats is also undergoing some changes -- I'll be launching a redesigned version soon, so keep an eye out.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Chicken Meatball Sub with Gobs of Fresh Mozzarella

Before we go too far, let me just say that when my husband first tasted this dish, he exclaimed: "Oh my gosh, this is good." And he's right.

It was Sunday night. We'd just finished a relaxing, refreshing week off work, and were looking for a comforting meal to ease us back into the real world. You know how that goes.

Chicken Meatball Sub with Gobs of Fresh Mozzarella fit the bill. This creamy, toasty sandwich delivers layer upon layer of assertive flavor and texture, elevating the meatball sub to something substantially more sophisticated.

I tested this recipe, created by apartmentcooker, a recent culinary grad, as an Editors' Pick for food52. While I typically follow these recipes to the letter, this time I subbed ground turkey, used an Italian seasoning blend with rosemary, sage, marjoram, oregano and basil instead of plain dried oregano, and deglazed the meatball pan with white wine and added the bits to the tomato sauce. I did all this because it was what I had, or could easily find, and because my tomato sauces usually taste bland (yes, I know, I'm Italian, but apparently I didn't inherit THAT gene).

I also altered the method slightly, using a great trick from Giada DeLaurentiis, which is to mix all the meatball ingredients thoroughly before adding the meat, which helps assure the end result is tender and soft.

No matter, this recipe would be terrific as written. The meatballs are intensely flavorful, the sauce turned out perfectly and the fresh mozzarella adds a silky, luxurious touch.

This isn't a quick cooking meal, but it won't take you all afternoon, either. And, it's versatile -- my daughter ate the leftover meatballs and sauce for dinner the next night. I think it's a great dish for casual entertaining -- say, a football party, or a group of teens, especially since you can make the meatballs and sauce in advance.

I've become a fan of apartmentcooker's style. I recently tested her amazing Leek, Prosciutto and Egg pizza, and find she has a knack for taking seemingly simple comfort food and making it shine. Check her out and give her recipes a try.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Cake Post: Double Chocolate Cake for T. And me.

I’ve come to the conclusion that if I’m going to be a serious home cook, it’s time to learn to bake. It's time to become a person who can bake a nice, comforting loaf of bread, a batch of great cookies, or a birthday cake.

But here’s the thing: I don’t bake. I flip past the breads and desserts in cookbooks and cooking magazines. I didn’t even have an Easy-Bake oven as a girl. This is one life skill I haven't yet mastered.

So, I bought an excellent cookbook on breadmaking, made homemade pizza dough, and –drum roll– bought a Kitchen-Aid mixer. I’m quite sure this is a rite of passage that I missed along the way, because no other single act has made me feel more like an adult in the kitchen.

In another rite of passage, my stepson T. turned 13 last weekend. I couldn’t think of a better occasion to bake a cake – a genuine made-with-love-from-scratch cake. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have a whole lot of time for such endeavors at that moment. Or that I’ve been fighting excruciating back pain for the last month (much better now, thanks for asking).

And, between you and me, T. really isn’t even a huge fan of cake. He’d rather have a cookie or some ice cream. But, I was not to be stopped. It was the principle of the thing, and it was time to bake.

Choosing the recipe was simple. I’ve had my eye on
Kelsey The Naptime Chef’s award-winning Chocolate Bundt Cake. And I paired it with the frosting from Chocolate Dump-it Cake, by Amanda Hesser’s mother.

I stocked up on fresh baking powder and soda, bought gourmet cocoa powder and put out two eggs to come to room temperature (this much I know). Then, at the last second, we ran out to buy a bundt pan, because as a non-baker, of course I didn’t have one. Next, Wes brewed some coffee – decaf, for the recipe, and we poured a glass of wine for ourselves. And set out to make some cake.

I sifted the dry ingredients into a bowl, then added the sour milk (one cup of room-temperature whole milk mixed with one teaspoon white vinegar; allow to sit for 10 minutes), the coffee and the other wet ingredients into the Kitchen-Aid. So far so good. I combined the dry ingredients slowly into the mixer, like all the recipes recommend, enjoying the hum of the machine, watching for it to turn into a smooth, glossy batter.

It worked! Yes, it took me 40 minutes to get the batter in the oven – twice as long as it should have, and, yes, I was completely wiped out when we were done, but that’s not the point. I wondered what took me so long.

The next day, we threw a little surprise party for T, and my little guy, who stole my heart from day one – was suitably surprised.

The cake? Sophisticated, dense and deeply chocolately, with a soft blanket of tangy, sweet icing. Pretty sure it was a hit. Try it yourself and tell me what you think.

So now, the boy is a teenager. And I’m on my way to becoming a baker.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Clean Eating Magazine Reader Recipe Testing

As you might have read here, I recently started serving as a reader recipe tester for Clean Eating magazine. I really like this publication. Their editors are committed to healthy eats, but still love good cooking and good food.

A few months back, I tested about five recipes, and they used one of my comments on their web site. Check it out!

If you're into healthy eating, or just want to learn more, I highly encourage you to pick up the May/June issue and try a few recipes yourself. Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Life on a Plate: Recipe Testing -- Risotto

A few weeks ago, food52 started giving its community cooks the opportunity to test a selection of recipes as potential Editors' Picks. An Editors' Pick is considered an honorable mention, and I've been fortunate enough to have a few recipes selected as EPs.

Amanda and Merrill, who founded food52, test a lot of recipes each week, but they're not always able to test every Editors' Pick, relying instead on their well-honed instincts. So, since they prefer to have all the recipes curated, they've given us, the cooks, a chance to participate in the process.

The lovely risotto, made by food52 cook kristalberg, ended up as an Editors' Pick -- take a look to hear more about this great dish. In fact, we've really enjoyed testing and eating all the dishes.

Testing these recipes and serving them to my family has been an inspiring endeavor. It feels more personal than preparing a recipe from a cookbook or magazine. As I cook, I can't help but imagine the people who developed the recipes -- people I "know" from the site but have never met -- and then wonder if these are heirloom recipes, family favorites or if they were created specifically for food52.

Every recipe has a story -- whether it's a celebration, joyful memory or simple, satisfying moment -- in the end, it all adds up to life on a plate.

Barramundi with Lemon, Garlic and White Wine Sauce

So, it's been a while. Quite a long while, actually. It's a little embarrassing. 

And yes, the usual excuses apply. Long work days, business travel, no time to plan, shop or cook -- much less photograph, write and post. When I've found my way to the kitchen, I've relied on standbys -- meals you've read about here, or, frankly, meals that just aren't blog-worthy. 

I've learned that for me, blogging is a little like exercising: when I drift away from my routine, I have to really push myself to get out there again. So, I'm pushing. Easing back into the kitchen, trying to get creative, planning menus.

I started slowly. You know, walking before I run. And, honestly, since my actual exercise routine has also been somewhat neglected these past weeks, I was thinking about something light. Something spring-like.

At first, I was thinking salmon. But then, at my local market, I saw something new to me: Barramundi. A sturdy white fish that apparently boasts as many Omega-3 fatty acids as salmon. Or so says Dr. Oz. And my fishmonger.

I was intrigued. At home, I unwrapped my catch, sprinkled on some sea salt and freshly crushed black pepper, and allowed it to sit for a bit. Meanwhile, Wes prepped a green salad and some roasted grape tomatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper and a bit of grated parmesan. 

I poured olive oil into an enamelled cast iron skillet, patiently waited it for it to get hot, and slid in the fillets. It sizzled comfortingly, a familiar, welcome sound. About five minutes later, as the sides of the fish began to whiten more brightly and I could tell they wouldn't stick to the pan, I flipped and waited another few minutes. 

Then, I slipped the fillets onto a platter, tucked a minced garlic clove, a tablespoon of chopped lemon thyme and the zest and juice of a Meyer lemon into the pan, and deglazed with a big splash of dry white wine. Another satisfying sizzle. A final step: a small pat of butter, enough to give the sauce a little depth and a silky finish. Swirled it around a few times -- done.

I plated, drizzled some sauce atop the fillets and tried my new find. Barramundi is mild and meaty, with a texture and flavor resembling halibut. I learned it should be well seasoned and can stand up to strong, hearty ingredients and sauces. And I discovered a new find for my repertoire.

Truly, a simple dish. But a great start. I think I'm finding my stride again. Next up, that nice long run...

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Silky Shallot Soup with Crispy Pancetta

For the last few years, I have been engaged in a wonderful relationship with shallots. I've found their sweet, sophisticated flavor has improved my cooking immensely, and they have, in many cases, replaced onions in my kitchen.

When food52 recently chose onion or garlic soup for one of its contests, I considered French onion soup, a garlic chorizo soup (need to pursue this idea one day), but then, it became apparent that I needed to create a shallot soup. It's unique -- certainly not something I've seen in cookbooks or restaurant menus -- and it fits my cooking sensibility right now.

This light-bodied soup contrasts the delicate profile of shallots with earthy rosemary and a touch of cream for a velvety texture. Top with pancetta and frizzled shallots for a burst of salty crispness and to echo the soup's essence. The end result is a subtle, yet intensely flavored dish.

Serve this silky brew as a first course for beef or chicken dishes, or as a main course with the obligatory crisp green salad and crusty bread.

Note: this recipe was a food52 Editors' Pick.

Silky Shallot Soup with Crispy Pancetta

Serves 4-6
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
5 cups shallots, thinly sliced, plus a half cup
Salt, pepper and crushed red pepper, to taste
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tablespoon rosemary, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
20 ounces good quality chicken stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
5 1/2 inch slices pancetta, cubed

Heat olive oil and butter in a large soup pot over medium, add 5 cups shallots, sweat until soft for several minutes.

Add salt, pepper, crushed red pepper and bay leaf. Cook until golden and beginning to caramelize, stirring often, about 20 minutes. Add garlic and rosemary.

After another five minutes or so, deglaze with wine and reduce. Add chicken stock and simmer for at least 10 minutes, longer if you have the time. Remove bay leaf.

Meantime, saute pancetta in a stainless steel pan until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Add remaining 1/2 cup shallots to pancetta fat and cook until crisp. Place on paper towels.

Remove soup from heat and puree with an immersion blender or in a food processor. Stir in cream and serve, topped with pancetta and frizzled shallots.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Gingery Turkey Meatball Soup with Spinach and Tomatoes

When it's cold and blustery, as it is just about all over the country these days, I head to the kitchen to fire up a big pot of soup. Warming, soothing and comforting, a steamy bowl of soup eases the indignity of winter's grey, sodden days.

This rendition blends the concept of Italian Wedding Soup with Asian flavors such as ginger, sesame oil and spicy sriracha, to create an entirely new dish. The result is an assertive, vegetable laden broth with a burst of citrus and a streak of heat, studded with savory, tender meatballs. 

Gingery Turkey Meatball Soup with Spinach and Tomatoes
Serves 8-10

For Soup:
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 large carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 heaping cup of shallots, sliced thinly
4 cloves garlic, minced
Sea or Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon sriracha
1/4 cup fresh basil, minced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced
64 ounces good quality chicken stock
Zest of half a lime
Zest of half a lemon, preferably Meyer
5 oz. baby spinach leaves
1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half

For Meatballs:
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
1/2 teaspoon sriracha
2 teaspoons sesame oil
3 tablespoons fresh basil, minced
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced
Zest of half a lime
Zest of half a lemon, preferably Meyer
3/4 cup bread crumbs (I used whole wheat)
1.25 pounds ground turkey

1/2 pound ditalini, cooked al dente

For soup: In a large stock or soup pot, saute celery and carrots over medium heat for about five minutes. Add shallots and continue to cook, until vegetables begin to soften. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add garlic, stirring often.

After another 10 minutes, add ginger, sriracha, basil and cilantro. Combine well and add stock. Allow to simmer while you prepare meatballs. 

For meatballs: In a large bowl, add ginger, garlic, shallot, sriracha, sesame oil, basil, cilantro, lime and lemon zest. Combine well, then stir in breadcrumbs. Add ground turkey and fold until combined. Shape into 1.5-inch meatballs and drop into soup.

Gently stir in tomatoes and spinach and let soup to simmer until meatballs are cooked, about 20 minutes. Just before serving, add lime and lemon zest. 

In the meantime, cook ditalini in boiling salted water until very al dente, usually at least three minutes less then the package calls for, and add a small handful of pasta to each bowl when serving. Store leftover pasta separately from soup to preserve texture.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

It's a Winner -- Roasted Bagna Cauda Broccoli on food52!!

I'm thrilled to report that my Roasted Bagna Cauda Broccoli was the Week 31 winner on food52. The recipe will be included in the upcoming food52 cookbook, and has been featured on the site. Thank you to everyone who voted, made the recipe or otherwise showed their support. And, of course, thank you Amanda and Merrill for creating this fabulous site, and to the food52 community for cooking up such wonderful recipes week after week.

And, in other terrific news, my friend Abbie's Barbacoa Beef Check Tacos have been selected as this week's finalist -- so please go vote for her terrific dish. 

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Finalist on food52!

photo by Sarah Shatz

If you regularly read this blog, surely you've heard me talk about food52, the great community that's creating a crowd-sourced cookbook. Well, I'm excited to report that my recipe for Roasted Bagna Cauda Broccoli is a finalist on the site this week! If it wins, the recipe will appear in the upcoming food52 cookbook.

Roasted Bagna Cauda Broccoli combines the nutty toasty flavor of roasted broccoli with the complex flavors of anchovies, garlic, butter, olive oil, fresh lemon juice parmesan, and toasted almonds. Don't let the anchovies scare you -- they melt into the sauce and offer rich depth of flavor.

So, if the spirit moves, take a look at food52, and if you like the recipe, vote for it. Check out the slide show and video of site founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs cooking the recipe.

And, even if you don't vote, stay a while and check out the site -- and maybe you'll be inspired to enter a recipe!

Thanks, A&M!

Monday, January 18, 2010

food52 Editors' Pick -- Antipasto Couscous Cakes

Recently, food52, one of my all-time favorite food sites, selected couscous for one of their weekly contest ingredients.

I've enjoyed many couscous dishes over the years, but thought it was time for me to try something a little different. So, I decided to take the best components of an antipasto platter, mix in a little couscous and fry them up into little crispy cakes. I used kalamata olives, parmesan cheese, roasted tomatoes and sopressata, toasted pine nuts and, the kicker, red wine vinegar. The strong, salty flavors mingle with the mellow cheese, and the red wine vinegar adds a tangy bite. You can serve these Antipasto Couscous Cakes as appetizers, on top of salads or as a main dish.

I was pleased and excited to see that the dish was an Editors' Pick on the site, which is kind of like an honorable mention. Thanks, Amanda and Merrill!

Even better, my friend Abbie's recipe for Cedar Plank Grilled Loup De Mer is a finalist on the site this week! If she wins, her great dish will be featured in the food52 cookbook. So, please take a moment to go to the site and if you like her recipe, and I think you will, vote for her! Abbie is an excellent, creative cook and never fails to inspire me.

Antipasto Couscous Cakes

Serves 8-10

1 cup grape tomatoes
2 cups couscous, cooked and chilled (I prefer whole wheat couscous)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup diced sopressata
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup kalamata olives, sliced
1.5 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper, to taste
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
2.5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
olive oil, for frying

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place tomatoes into a large plastic freezer bag, drizzle in olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, then arrange tomatoes on a parchment or Silpat-lined cookie sheet, and roast for 20-30 minutes. Cool and slice in half.

Toast pine nuts over medium heat in a small pan, then cool.

Put couscous into a large bowl. Mix in garlic, sopressata, parmesan, olives, roasted tomatoes, red wine vinegar, pine nuts, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper.

Beat egg and egg yolk with a fork, the fold into couscous mixture. Gently add basil and sprinkle in flour, stirring until well combined.

Chill couscous for at least 30 minutes. Heat a large skillet over medium flame and add enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom. Scoop couscous with a 1/4 cup measure, press firmly into cup, then tap gently into your hand and mold into cakes with your hands. Place carefully into oil.

Repeat. Add more oil only if needed.

Fry couscous cakes until golden and crisp on both sides, drain on paper towels, let cool a few moments and serve. These are tasty at room temperature, as well.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Dinner at El Barzon

So we had dinner at El Barzon the other night, and my lingering thought is this place is Detroit's best-kept secret.

El Barzon, on Junction, just south of Michigan Ave., is owned by Norberto and Silvia Garita. Norberto spent eight years at Il Posto in Southfield, perfecting pastas and other Italian specialties. Silvia focuses on the traditional recipes of their native Puebla, Mexico. The couple has been in the States for 30 years, much of that time working at restaurants in New York.

The secret to El Barzon is everything is made from scratch, and the Garitas' source many ingredients locally. The simple, unassuming atmosphere is casual and comforting. Come as you are, feel free to bring the family, and relax.

On our menu:

-Housemade tortilla chips with spicy, fire-roasted red and creamy, cilantro infused green salsa. Best chips and salsa in town. Pair with a Mexican beer.

-Perfectly cooked crisp calamari with zucchini strips and tomato sauce. The zucchini strips are a thoughtful touch, and the sauce is spiked with herbs, olive oil and a touch of garlic. So flavorful.

-Veal chop stuffed with prosciutto and cheese, topped with a truffle sauce; potato gratin and sauteed spinach. A decadent, gorgeous dish. Truly memorable.

-Squid ink linguine with shrimp, crab and red sauce. Sweet and savory all at once.

The veal and linguine were specials, but the regular menu is vast and tempting. The portions are generous -- we ate half of everything and brought the rest home -- and the prices modest. For more on El Barzon, see Nicole Ray's piece in the fall issue of edibleWOW (the story's not online, sorry).

If you haven't been to El Barzon yet, I encourage you to go. Soon. Let's not keep this secret to ourselves any longer.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Short Ribs over Pappardelle

If you're looking for a special, decadent meal, look no further than these short ribs over pappardelle. We welcomed 2010 with this meal on New Year's Day, and found it the perfect way to mark a new decade.

Beef short ribs are a tender, succulent cut that lend themselves to long, slow cooking. They are versatile and adaptable -- you can infuse them with all manner of flavors, including French, Korean and Italian.

We went Italian this time, adapting Giada De Laurentiis' recipe. It combines rich, savory flavors like pancetta, rosemary and red wine with onion, garlic, carrot, beef broth and more.

This recipe calls for braising, a simple technique that coaxes maximum flavor and tenderness out of any cut. You brown the meat in a big pot, add your aromatics, herbs and braising liquid -- usually wine and/or stock) and then leave it alone for a few hours to work its magic. The result is meltingly soft and silky.

I started by crisping up some chopped pancetta, then removing it from the pot. Next, I seasoned the short ribs with salt and pepper, dredged them lightly in flour and browned over medium heat on all sides.

Meantime, I pulsed onion, carrot, garlic, tomato paste and tomatoes in a food processor until finely minced. I love this technique -- it made the sauce smooth and intensely flavorful. Once the short ribs are browned, you add the vegetable mixture back into the pot, add the pancetta, season with salt, pepper and various herbs, beef broth and wine. Cover the pot and go do other things for 75 minutes.

Then, remove the lid and stir occasionally for another 90 minutes. Remove the short ribs, shred the meat and return back to the pot. Cook up your pasta al dente and you're done. You can also let the shredded meat chill overnight and reheat the next day for even more flavor. We were supposed to grate a bit of dark chocolate over the finished dish -- chocolate intensifies the flavor of beef -- but we forgot. Next time.

This is rustic comfort food at its best, suitable for entertaining and great for a family Sunday supper. It was also one of the best things to come out of my kitchen in a long time -- this recipe really works.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Pasta with Lamb Sauce

When it comes to lamb, I've arrived to the party fashionably late. I've really only grown to appreciate it in the last 10 years. But today, I adore lamb chops, roast lamb, lamb ragu, and my latest concoction: pasta with lamb sauce.

Pasta with lamb sauce is really a simpler, cleaner tasting ragu -- I omit the tomatoes, celery and carrots. The end result is essentially pasta with ground meat, but it's so much more than that.

Lamb's rustic assertiveness, combined with the sweet shallot and earthy rosemary, makes this a flavorful dish I crave regularly. Its simplicity is its beauty; as much as I love a ragu, I find the tomatoes can mute the aromatics, herbs and the lamb, and lend a certain heaviness. With this version, every flavor bursts through brightly. Give it a try.

Pasta with Lamb Sauce

2 T olive oil
1 cup thinly sliced shallots
4 cloves minced garlic
Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and crushed red pepper to taste
2 T minced fresh rosemary
1.25 pounds ground lamb
1/2 cup dry white wine
Pasta cooking water, if needed
Freshly grated parmesan
3/4 pounds short-cut pasta, such as penne or fusilli (plain, whole wheat or brown rice)

Boil pasta in salted water to al dente. Drain and save up to 1 cup pasta water. Meantime, heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium. Add shallots, cook for several minutes until soft, then add garlic. Continue to saute a few more minutes until shallots are lightly browned; add rosemary and stir well to combine.

Add ground lamb and break up to combine. Turn up flame to medium high. When the lamb is slightly pink, deglaze with white wine and allow to reduce for a few minutes. If pan seems dry, add a little pasta water. Add cooked pasta to lamb and combine well. Serve with freshly grated parmesan, a glass of red and a vegetable such as broccoli or asparagus.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Look what was under the tree on Christmas day -- a giant basket of fabulous goodies I'll use all year long. Inside, a collection of staples every cook needs -- extra virgin olive oil, specialty salts and peppercorns, spicy paprika, gorgeous bowtie pasta, a curry blend, and much more. Plus, a beautiful basket perfect for storing cooking magazines. These kinds of gifts are so thoughtful and meaningful -- not to mention useful. Thanks, Halina!