Monday, November 24, 2008

The New Classic

My colleagues and I are pretty regular customers at the Chock Full o'Nuts on 23rd Street, between Park and Lex. We stop in once or twice a week for mid-morning coffees, often adding a Chock Classic to our order. A classic indeed (my dad has apparently been a fan of the CC for years and loves it), the CC is a sandwich made from two slices of date nut bread spread with cream cheese. Sounds good, right? My friends and I have shared many a Chock Classic, and with a hot cup of coffee, it makes a fun snack. Here's the thing, though. The Chock Classic is kind of treacly. Really sweet. And they always put on too much cream cheese. And the bread is cold. We want to love the Chock Classic, but we're always a little disappointed.

So this weekend I took matters into my own hands. I went back to a recipe for Date & Walnut Bread that Patricia Wells had contributed to Runner's World a few years ago when she was training for a marathon. I've made the bread before and it's terrific. I substitute whole wheat flour for half the all-purpose flour, and there's no sugar (only honey), plus plenty of chopped dates and toasted walnuts. Once the bread had cooled, I cut a slice, spread a little cream cheese on it and... heaven! Not too sweet, just hearty enough, with the perfect balance of smoothness and crunch. Thank you, Chock Full O' Nuts, for the inspiration.--S

Date and Walnut Bread

1 t walnut [or other] oil
1 1/2 c dates [about 12], pitted and cubed
1/2 c walnut halves, toasted and coarsely chopped
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t fine sea salt
1/2 c honey
3/4 c hottest possible tap water
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 t vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour [I substitute 3/4 c whole wheat flour]

1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Coat a nonstick one quart rectangular bread pan with walnut oil. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, combine dates, walnuts, baking soda, salt and honey. Add hot water and stir to blend. Add eggs and vanilla to the date mixture and blend thoroughly. Slowly add flour; blend well. The batter will be fairly thick.
3. Pour batter into pan, evening out the top with a spatula. Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes.
4. Remove from the pan and let cool for at least an hour. Bread can be stored for up to three days, tightly wrapped in plastic.

Recipe courtesy of Runner's World

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Viva Espana

In honor of my sister's homecoming (four years in Spain, home FOR GOOD on Friday!), here is a delicious Spanish stew from the effusive, inimitable Jose Garces. I made this tonight, in between a meeting with our wedding photographer and the premiere of season 5 of Top Chef, with plenty of time to spare. It's easy, uses totally accessible ingredients, and is hearty and so flavorful.

The fancy way to make Ham, Escarole and Bean Stew is to slowly simmer white beans in a rich pork stock, and then combine them with cooked pork butt. I am sure that is quite tasty, but a little unrealistic for a Wednesday evening. The easy way to make this dish, and the one I highly recommend you go with, is to substitute bacon and smoked ham for the cooked pork butt, and canned white beans for dried ones. Next time I might sprinkle in some Spanish paprika, but even without, this stew has a delicious, deep flavor. Great texture, too, with crispy bacon, soft potatoes and beans, and slippery bits of ham and escarole.

Spain in a bowl!--S

Ham, Escarole and Bean Stew

6 ounces lean slab bacon, sliced 1/4" thick and cut into 1/4" dice
1 T extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Yukon Gold potato (8 ounces), cut into 1/2" dice
3 c chicken or beef stock or low-sodium broth
6 ounces smoked ham, shredded (1 c)
One 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained
1/2 small head of escarole, cut into 1/2" ribbons (2 packed c)
Freshly ground pepper

1. In a saucepan, fry the bacon in the 1 tablespoon of olive oil over moderately high heat until browned, about 6 minutes. Spoon off all but 1 T of the fat. Add the onion and garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the potato and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the stock and boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to moderate and cook until the potato is tender, about 15 minutes.
2. Add the ham, beans and escarole and season with pepper. Cook over moderately high heat until the escarole is tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer to bowls, drizzle with olive oil and serve.

Recipe courtesy of Food & Wine

Saturday, November 08, 2008

A Simple Soup

Next time you want to make soup but don't feel like soaking beans overnight or building a soup base from scratch, I recommend checking out this excellent soup from the new Bon Appetit book, Fast Easy Fresh. It's Chicken and Escarole Soup with Fennel, and it's delicious.

I wanted a hearty soup to bring to my friends Deena and Matt, who just had a baby. But I didn't have tons of time. This soup was just the thing. Cutting boneless chicken thighs into cubes was about as labor-intensive as it got (and I do suggest going with thighs; they're much more flavorful than breast meat). And I guess you could say washing and chopping a head of escarole is kind of a pain... um... not really. Honestly, this soup is a cinch.

And it's so tasty. The fennel taste is really subtle; don't shy away from this if you're not wild about fennel. The escarole wilts nicely, swirled amid bits of tomato, onion, celery and chicken. Simply great, really.--S

Chicken and Escarole Soup with Fennel

1/4 c olive oil
1 1/2 lbs skinless boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 T dried oregano
2 c chopped onions
4 celery stalks, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 t fennel seeds
1 14- to 15-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
8 c low-salt chicken broth
1 head of escarole, cut into wide strips
Grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1. Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add chicken; sprinkle with salt, pepper and oregano. Mix in onions, celery, garlic, and fennel seeds. Sauté until vegetables begin to soften, about 4 minutes.
2. Stir in tomatoes. Add broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer until vegetables and chicken are tender, about 15 minutes.
3. Add escarole; simmer until wilted, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. 4. Ladle into bowls. Serve, passing cheese separately.

Recipe courtesy of The Bon Appetit Fast Easy Fresh Cookbook