Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Great White Bean

One of my favorite soups to make is so not fancy. But it's so tasty. It's a kind of spin on escarole and bean soup (or "schcadole" and bean soup, if you're around my family), beefed up with sausage and finished with a drizzle of red wine vinegar. This last touch might suggest fanciness, but I don't buy it.

The recipe is for White Bean Soup with Sausage and Collards, but I substitute chopped spinach for the collards. Escarole would work, too. Best eaten with some crusty bread, the soup is easy to make and freezes well. And you can keep almost all the ingredients in your freezer, making this dish a primo candidate for bad weather when you don't feel like going to the store. Fork and I like it very much and eat it about once a month in the fall and winter. Make some today and save your fancy food for another night.--S

White Bean Soup with Sausage and Collards

serves 4

1 package (12 oz) frozen bulk sausage, thawed and crumbled
1 medium onion, chopped
2 packages (10 oz each) frozen chopped collard greens, unthawed
2 cans (15.5 oz each) cannellini beans, drained, rinsed, and slightly mashed
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 T red-wine vinegar (optional)
Slices of toasted French bread (optional)

1. Cook sausage and onion in a large saucepan over medium heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until fat renders, 8 to 10 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until browned, 5 to 7 minutes more. (If bottom of pan starts to burn in spots, sprinkle with water and scrape up blackened bits.)
2. Add greens, beans, and 4 cups water; season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until soup is slightly thickened, 5 to 7 minutes. Adjust consistency of soup with water, if necessary. Stir in red-wine vinegar, and serve with toasted bread slices, if desired.

Recipe courtesy of Everyday Food

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Super Power

Go ahead and roll your eyes: I made my own granola bars. Do-It-Yourself Power Bars, actually. I need to find something to do with my time now that I'm in the dreaded taper period of marathon training. And while I'll gladly tear into a PowerBar after an 18-mile run, the fact remains: they taste like crap.

Not so for these delicious homemade treats. The recipe is from Heidi Swanson's beautiful Super Natural Cooking, and calls for tasty ingredients like dried cranberries, toasted walnuts and candied ginger. The method is easy and similar to making granola. You stir together all the dry ingredients, simmer the liquid ones, and then mix the two.

I will not be making my own Gatorade or knitting my own running socks anytime soon, but could somebody hand me one of these DIY Power Bars somewhere along 1st Avenue?--S

Do-It-Yourself Power Bars

1 T coconut oil (I used grapeseed oil; it's just to grease the pan)
1 1/4 c rolled oats
1 1/4 c walnuts (toasted and chopped)
1/2 c oat bran
1 1/2 c crisped brown rice cereal
1 c dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
3 T finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 c brown rice syrup
1/4 c unrefined cane sugar
1 t pure vanilla extract
1/2 t fine grain sea salt

1. Grease a 9" x 13" baking pan with the oil (I used an 8" x 8" pan so I'd have thicker bars).
2. In a bowl gather the next seven dry ingredients.
3. In a small saucepan stir together the remaining ingredients over a medium heat until they start to bubble and boil and thicken slightly (about 4 min.).
4. Pour the hot liquid in with the dry ingredients and mix until they are fully coated in the syrup.
5. Press down the mixture in the baking pan and leave to cool. (I coated a spatula with nonstick spray to pat down the mixture because it's very sticky.)
6. Cut into bars before serving

Recipe courtesy of Super Natural Cooking

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

He's Still an Asshole, but...

Gordon Ramsay has been a guilty pleasure of mine ever since my friend (and my drummer's best friend) Jess Cabo, a superstar in her own right, made it deep into the first season of Hell's Kitchen. Ramsay has made a living out of being an asshole...and I dig it! I especially love Kitchen Nightmares on BBC America, where I saw Ramsay make this simple Broccoli Soup using just broccoli, water and a bit of salt. Being a man of odd tastes (broccoli, Gordon Ramsay, need I say more?) I mentioned it to Spoon, who whipped it up tonight, dressing it, at Ramsay's suggestion, with a dollop of goat cheese.--F

I was a little skeptical--I like broccoli and am all for healthy soups, but broccoli soup? Cream of Broccoli, ok, but this sounded like a broccoli dish that backfired. But I love Fork a lot so I figured what the heck, worst case scenario we order Chinese and he does the dishes. Well, after making the soup and wiping a big bowl of it clean, we should rename this dish, because the ho-hum moniker really does not do it justice. It had the perfect consistency, and if you follow Ramsay's instructions--salt the water, salt the broccoli once it's in the water, and check for possible resalting once it's blended, the result is nicely seasoned and flavorful. And it's so simple. Three ingredients at its most basic, and that's including water and salt. With a new name, this soup might just make take off into more people's regular rotation.

Fork suggested we name it in honor of Ramsay himself: Asshole Soup. I think not.--S

Broccoli Soup

2 heads of very fresh broccoli
Kosher salt to taste
Olive oil, for garnish (optional)
Goat cheese, for garnish (optional)

1. Cut the florets off the heads of broccoli. Cut the stems into similarly sized pieces. Add all of the broccoli--florets and stems--into a large pot of rapidly boiling, salted water (2 tablespoons salt in 5 quarts of water). Cover and cook 3 1/2 to 4 minutes.
2. Using a slotted spoon, put the cooked broccoli pieces into a blender. Fill blender about halfway with cooking liquid. Blend carefully since it's hot. Add more cooking liquid as necessary to achieve the desired consistency. Check seasonings.
3. If desired, add cheese (goat cheese or cheddar cheese) to the bottom of the bowl before pouring the soup in. Serve, drizzled with olive oil if you would like.

Recipe courtesy of Gordon Ramsay

Sunday, October 14, 2007

What Workers Want

Yesterday's 20-mile run signaled the beginning of the end of my marathon training, and I've decided to spend much of the next three low(er)-mileage weeks baking goodies for the generous people I work with who've made donations on my behalf to Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. People don't necessarily like parting with their hard-earned cash, but give them a worthy cause and the promise of homemade cookies, and watch how quickly they whip out their checkbooks.

Today I made three different cookies to stash in my freezer until I bring them to work the day after the marathon: Lenox Almond Biscotti from Dorie Greenspan's Baking, Flourless Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookies from The Bon Appetit Cookbook, and Chocolate Toffee Butter Cookies from Cook's Country by way of Aunt Betty.

The biscotti and peanut butter cookies are part of my standard baking repertoire. I call on Greenspan's biscotti recipe when I want a light, crispy biscotti--the addition of cornmeal gives them a fabulous crunch. They're for the dieters in the office, as well as those who aren't big on sweet stuff. The peanut butter cookies are rich and delicious. Enhanced by a glass of milk, they are no-brainers for the traditionalists.

But with their impressive chocolate-nut covering, the Chocolate Toffee Butter Cookies will probably be the crowd pleasers. People love gooey stuff. However, these are no mere gloppy squares. The pecans on top are toasted, to intensify their flavor. The cookie dough is enriched with Heath toffee bits, which add additional crunch and boost the flavor of the dough's brown sugar. And they've got pretty drizzled patterns on top.

My money's on the toffee cookies to be the first to go.--S

Chocolate Toffee Butter Cookies

makes 5 dozen cookies

2 1/3 c all-purpose flour
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
16 T (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened by still cool
1 c packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 t vanilla extract
1 c Health Toffee Bits (without chocolate)
1 1/2 c semisweet chocolate chips
1 T vegetable oil
2/3 c pecans, toasted and chopped fine

1. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together. With electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and beat until combined, about 30 seconds. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture in two batches, and mix until incorporated. Stir in toffee bits. Divide dough in half and roll each piece into log about 9 in. long and 1 1/2 in. in diameter. Flatten logs until 2 1/2 in. wide. Wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 1 1/2 hrs.
2. Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
3. Using chef's knife, cut dough into 1/2-in. slices; transfer to baking sheets, spacing 1 in. apart. Bake until just browned around edges, 10 to 12 minutes, rotating rack position and direction of baking sheets halfway through baking time. Cool cookies completely on baking sheets. Use remaining dough to make second batch of cookies.
4. Transfer baked cookies to wire rack set in baking sheet. Melt chocolate and mix with oil in bowl until smooth. Dip part of each cookie into melted chocolate or drizzle chocolate over cookies with spoon. Sprinkle pecans over cookies. Don't touch until chocolate sets, about 1 hr.

Recipe courtesy of Cook's Country

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Sum of Its Parts

5 East Broadway
New York, NY 10038
Tel 212.732.0797


Dim Sum Go Go may not have the signature clattering carts or raucous atmosphere of a typical New York dim sum restaurant, but it's no less of an authentic experience. It's Chinatown's first nouvelle dim sum joint, with a hip-minimalist dining room, helpful service, and some amazing dumplings. So that's where we headed when my mom--who can make a marinara sauce in her sleep and assists chefs at cooking classes in her free time--told me she wanted to have dim sum for her birthday.

Our waiter led us through the paper menu, helping me tick off two of these and two of that with a stubby little pencil. Within minutes, Mom, Dad, Aunt Ann, Uncle Roly, Fork and I were enjoying Tsingtao beers and watching the staff carry towers of bamboo steamer baskets filled with delicious dim sum to our table. The pork buns landed first, and we all bit in to our own simultaneously, oohs and aahs erupting: the hot, baked buns filled with roasted pork were "a home run," my dad declared.

Next, fried rolls containing shrimp and mango, light and fresh. And then, the dumplings, beautiful little rounds bursting with flavor. The meat offerings included shredded duck with ginger, pork and shrimp mixed together, shrimp and chive (a crowd favorite), seafood dotted with black sesame seeds, and crabmeat wrapped in green spinach dough. On the vegetarian side there were Jade Dumplings, stuffed with asparagus and ginger; and Abbot's Delight, with shredded carrot, jicama and cabbage. We dipped these delicacies in a variety of tasty sauces: wine vinegar-garlic, chili, and ginger-scallion. By this point, we were in full-on dim sum mode. Forget our initial plan to start with dim sum and move to traditional entrees. More dumplings! We stopped momentarily to contemplate how wonderful and non-greasy everything was, and then consulted with our waiter for round two.

This time we sampled little meatballs and pork wrapped in bean curd. Both were excellent. We also tried the pumpkin cake (our waiter's favorite dish), which added a delightfully sweet note to the savory menu; and the chicken and sticky rice in lotus leaf, which wins the evening's Most Dramatic Presentation award. After unwrapping two layers of leaves, we found a rectangle of very sticky rice. Tucked in the middle of the rice: a bundle of richly-flavored roasted chicken.

The dumplings' paper-thin skins meant you ate more filling than doughy exterior, and the fresh flavors and lack of heavy MSG left us feeling sated but not stuffed. So go, go to Dim Sum Go Go!--S

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Baaaat's a Great Burger

I may have grown up in a food-centric household, but there were some common things we just didn't eat, including meatloaf and lamb. I've since learned to make a mean meatloaf (thanks Mom), and in the past few months, have been perfecting a dish that's fast become part of the regular rotation around here: Lamb Burgers with Feta Sauce and Cucumbers.

Lamb burgers taste lighter, more tender and more flavorful than beef burgers, and flat out tastier than turkey burgers. They're not greasy, since lamb has less marbling than other meats, but still juicy. The recipe I use comes from Everyday Food, and comes together in about 20 minutes. It's a Mediterranean take on the classic burger, with curry and scallions mixed in to the meat. Instead of melting a slice of American cheese or cheddar on top, you spread on a blend of feta, yogurt and more scallions. And standing in for lettuce and tomato: ribbons of cucumber, sliced with a vegetable peeler--groundbreaking!

Every time we eat these burgers, my mind goes to its default question of "how could I make this better?" But with this dish, the answer's always absolutely nothing. This is just a great burger. And I'll leave it at that.--S

Lamb Burgers with Feta Sauce and Cucumbers

serves 4

1 1/2 lbs ground lamb
2 t curry powder
3 scallions, thinly sliced
Coarse salt & ground pepper
1 T olive oil
4 oz feta cheese, crumbled
2 T plain yogurt
8 slices country bread or rolls, toasted if you want
1 kirby cucumber, cut lengthwise into ribbons with a vegetable peeler

1. In a medium bowl, combine lamb, curry powder, and 2 sliced scallions; season generously with salt and pepper. Mix gently with a fork (don't overmix); form into 4 oval patties to fit on bread (each 1 inch thick). [As you can see in the photo, my burgers are a bit, um, supersized.]

2. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high. Season patties with salt and pepper. Cook until browned and just cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes per side (reduce heat if browning too quickly).

3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix feta, yogurt, and remaining scallion, mashing cheese gently to combine; season with salt and pepper.

4. Spread 4 slices of bread with feat mixture; top with cucumbers, lamb patties, and remaining bread.

Recipe courtesy of Everyday Food