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September 2008
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November 2008

Where I've Been

Lest you think I have been sitting around on my hands all week or have simply evaporated off this earth, I wanted to let you know that I am, in fact, still alive, and quite well, even. However, what concerns my blog cooking (and yes, I do call it that sometimes), it has been an abysmal week. I made no less than three (3!) recipes only to have them all be rather middling to faintly offensive and I simply haven't had the stomach to tell you about them.

My mother was in town and when I wasn't trying on wedding dresses and attempting not to dissolve in a fit of giggles at seeing myself in some floor-length (with train!) gown, I was spending an alarming amount of time here and here and oh, what the hell, here. I can't seem to think about anything - anything - else and no amount of Concord grape flat bread, parsnip soup with mustard or curried fish will change that until after next Tuesday.

On the plus side, my father brought a bag of basmati rice, chana dal and tamarind paste when he came to visit us this weekend and I'm anticipating lots of good things to come out of those three new additions to our kitchen cabinets. Particularly with regards to the last two, do you have any recipes you'd like to tell me about?

So that's the state of things right now: my cuticles, not to mention my nerves, are in shambles thanks to the election, I'm trying to distract myself with Indian lentils to no great success, I am definitely not wearing a floor-length gown to my wedding, I'm toying with the madness that is committing to posting every day in November (yay or nay, readers?) and I have no recipe to give you tonight. Forgive me! I'm agitating for a new world next week.

Auguste Escoffier's Peppers for Cold Meats



Cranberry sauce is all well and good. Chutney serves a purpose or two. But peppers for cold meats? Well, welcome to your new obsession. You can thank me later. But wait, can I tell you how good this stuff is? So good that I went out and bought a two-pound pork loin, just so that I could use it as a vehicle for more peppers for cold meats. It's true.

I suppose it should come as no surprise - the recipe is none other than Auguste Escoffier's, published in a Thanksgiving leftover story by the L.A. Times a few years ago. Though I dare say that this will become a staple in your home, not only for Thanksgiving, but every time you roast a piece of meat, period. I admit leeriness when it comes to historical recipes, but this recipe has passed the test of time with flying colors.

What you do is cook together an onion and some red peppers, along with a few warm spices and some salt. In go a handful of raisins, some tomatoes for juice and body, and a goodly amount of sugar and vinegar. After a period of slow-cooking on the stove, what comes together is a thick, sweetly spicy, appealingly vinegary sauce. Leave it to cool overnight and the flavors develop, the raisins plump up, and you find yourself dreaming up ways to consume it.


We're all about leftovers these days; it's my attempt to save money and waste less food. It makes me feel virtuous and housewifely to scrounge up things for our lunches or make dinner from the bits and pieces lurking in the kitchen. (Like this, for example, if only I were organized enough.) Having this savory compote in the fridge as a secret weapon made life a little easier last week, as I served it willy-nilly with a number of different things and it just got better each day.

We ate it one night, dolloped alongside crispy-skinned roast chicken, and the next day, mixed with the leftover shredded chicken over rice. We ate it another night, served with juicy roast pork hot from the oven, and made sandwiches the next day, layering appealingly pink slices of leftover pork with the cold, sludgy peppers. Next up, I'm dreaming of some sharp cheddar on good country bread, with the last spoonful of piments on top.

Turkey, look out.

Peppers for Cold Meats (Piments pour viandes froides)
Makes 4 cups

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion
1 pound red sweet peppers, washed, cored, seeds removed, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon mixed spices (allspice, nutmeg)
1 lb ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped (I drained a 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes and used 3/4 of them)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup red wine vinegar

1. Put the oil in a saucepan. Chop the onion very fine, add to the pan and fry over low heat until softened. Add the peppers, salt, ginger and mixed spices, and cook for 10 minutes.

2. Stir in the tomatoes, garlic, raisins and sugar. Add the vinegar; cook over very lot heat, covered, for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover the pot and cook with the lid off for 5 to 10 more minutes.

Cafe Lago's Roasted Tomato Pasta


I told you all I was holding on to my last tomatoes from the farmer's market with white knuckled panic. Well, I wasn't kidding. Every morning, I'd wake up and pad into the kitchen, caress their soft little skins, cradle them in my cupped palm and sniff their herbal, earthy selves. It pained me to use them up, so I did so sparingly - one tomato here, another one there. But I'd bought six pounds and after two weeks I realized that I was headed towards a mound of ruined rot if I didn't accept the fact that cooking and eating my little friends was their God-given fate.

But what to make? Canned tomatoes, tomato jam, conserva, roasted tomatoes - I needed 30 pounds, not six! In the end, Molly won out - I saw a little corner of an empty plate with seasoned oil in one of her photos and when she told me that tomatoes had once swum in that oil, I was sorta, kinda hooked. I'm easy that way, you know.

So last week I set about sacrificing those last tomatoes of 2008, cutting them in half, ridding them carefully of their seeds, nestling them in a pan of olive oil and seasoning them with my Sicilian oregano, salt and a bit of sugar. Into a slow oven they went, and what torture that was. I'm not ashamed to admit that clock watching ensued. I've got a one-track mind when it comes to tomatoes.


Instead of serving the tomatoes with toasted baguette and Bucheron, I boiled a box of pasta and tossed half the tomatoes, gently chopped, with the hot pasta - the warmth opening up the flavor of the raw garlic and parsley. I normally am not a fan of raw garlic, but here it sharpened and brightened the softer, rounded flavors of the tomatoes that concentrated in the slow heat of the oven, gave a little edge to the sweetness. It was delicious.

The benefit of this preparation was that I had half the tomatoes left over, to be plopped on bread with some cheese for lunch, or served with fried eggs for dinner. Or, and this was really the best, to be popped in my mouth while I stood at the counter, thinking about the seasons changing and the things I have to look forward to as fall comes in. Letting go can be pretty simple when you've got roasted tomatoes to ease the way.

And, bless her heart, Molly says this works pretty well with canned tomatoes, too. What a relief!

Roasted Tomato Pasta
4 to 6

1 cups (or more) olive oil, divided
pounds plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise, seeded
1 1/2
teaspoons dried oregano
teaspoon sugar (I used less sugar, a little less than 1/2 teaspoon)
teaspoon salt
1 t
o 2 garlic cloves, minced
teaspoons minced fresh Italian parsley
1 pound penne
Parmigiano, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 250°F. Pour 1/2 cup oil into 13x9x2-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Arrange tomatoes in dish, cut side up. Drizzle with remaining 1/2 cup oil. Sprinkle with oregano, sugar, and salt. Bake 1 hour. Using tongs, turn tomatoes over. Bake 1 hour longer. Turn tomatoes over again. Bake until deep red and very tender, transferring tomatoes to plate when soft (time will vary, depending on ripeness of tomatoes), about 15 to 45 minutes longer.

2. When the tomatoes have cooled somewhat, gently pull off their peels. Transfer half of the tomatoes and some of the oil to a serving bowl and gently chop with a dull knife in the bowl. Add the garlic and parsley to the tomatoes and mix. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the penne until al dente. Drain, reserving some of the starchy, salted pasta water. Add the pasta to the tomatoes in the serving dish and add pasta water, as needed, to loosen the sauce. Grate some Parmigiano on top and serve immediately. Refrigerate the rest of the tomatoes in the oil for up to 5 days.

Russ Parsons's Soup with Winter Greens and Chickpeas


Well! It's been quite a few weeks, hasn't it? Markets are crashing, our people in Washington and on Wall Street have crazed looks in their eyes, political campaigns are turning unbelievably ugly, and it's all I can do from crawling under the covers and screaming "time out!" It's the crazy season alright, suffused with fear and desperation and anger and shock. Couldn't we all use a bowl of hot soup?

After all, one bright spot in these days is that we are finally, thrillingly, in soup territory. Yes, I'm still nursing a tiny grudge towards the final days of warm weather that seem to have skipped out so eagerly, and I'm hanging on with white knuckles to the last of the blood-red tomatoes I bought at the farmer's market two weeks ago. But mostly I just want to cut coupons, turn the stove down low, and eat soup.

Who better to inaugurate the autumn soup season than Russ Parsons? After all, no one keeps us better fed. And it has been, if my research is correct, a whopping eleven months since I made one of his recipes. (Eleven months. How is that possible? It simply can't be. Russ! Forgive me!) High time, then, to get cracking again. This time with a homey, homely, Italianate minestra that draws its flavor from a few aromatic vegetables, some pungent greens, and a bit of rosemary.


This soup is simple and soothing, and best of all, cheap. It keeps well in the freezer and stretches well, too. It's not very fancy, there's not even chicken broth. But the toasted bread that softens and swells in the soup and the richness of the Parmigiano give it a little luster, dressing up the plain Jane vegetables that gave up their essence to the flavor of the soup.

I twisted in a few grinds of hot red pepper flakes for some added warmth, and next time I might rub the toasts gently with raw garlic before dousing them with soup. And instead of grating the cheese into the soup, I'll definitely plop one of my reserved Parmigiano rinds in at the beginning of the simmer and let it ooze out all its flavor.

Make yourself a bowl of this, turn off the television and the internet, throw away the newspaper with its jarring graphs and large headlines, and try to think about other things: the promise of apple-picking in a few weeks, the giggle of the baby living next door, the color of the leaves on the tree across the street. We'll get through this, too. We will. We will.

Soup with Winter Greens and Chickpeas        
Serves 4 to 6

1/4 cup olive oil
2 carrots, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 onion, diced
1 turnip, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound chopped mixed greens (mustard, kale, turnip, etc.)
1/2 teaspoon minced rosemary
1 (16-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, or more, to taste plus additional to pass at the table
16 slices baguette, toasted
Freshly ground pepper (I used red pepper flakes)

1. In a heavy soup pot, warm the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the carrots, celery, onion and turnip, cover and cook until they have softened and become aromatic, about 20 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, 2 or 3 minutes.

2. Add the mixed greens, a big handful at a time, stirring and giving them time to soften and shrink before adding the next handful.

3. When all of the greens have cooked, add 8 cups of water, one-half teaspoon salt, the rosemary and chickpeas. If you have a rind of Parmesan cheese lurking in your freezer, add it now. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat; cover and lower the flame to maintain a simmer. Cook until the broth is deeply flavored, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

4. When ready to serve, stir in one-third cup Parmigiano-Reggiano (taste and see if the rind did its job - you can eschew the grated cheese here, if you like) and season to taste with salt and pepper. Arrange two toast slices (rubbed with garlic) in the bottom of each warm soup bowl and ladle the soup over the top. Sprinkle with more cheese to taste. Serve immediately, passing a bowl of cheese to be added at the table.

Mark Bittman's Hainanese Chicken with Rice


Thank you all, you big sweethearts, for your congratulations and good wishes and love. I'm basking in it all - we are, I should say - and I don't want this feeling to ever end. I knew people liked romance, but I didn't know how much! It feels a little anti-climactic to write this next post about food again: "I just got engaged! Now let me tell you about this toast." But we keep eating and I keep writing and so it goes, just with a bigger grin these days.

* * *

I am, in a word, a sucker for Chinese food. It's become a full-blown obsession of mine, in fact. Perhaps it's fed by the fact that Ben dislikes it and we've moved to a neighborhood where there's no good Chinese food in walking distance (O, Manhattan, this is what I miss!), I don't know, but I do spend an inordinate amount of time thinking of ways I can eat more of it.

(A few times after the New York Times published this map, I'd get in the car and drive to Flushing, where I'd scurry into the subterranean warren of food stands where no one speaks any English and the food seems as cheap and authentic as I imagine it to be in China itself. Five minutes later, with hot, porky, chili-oil-slicked noodles packed into a plastic take-away box and wrapped in a plastic bag dangling from my wrist, I'd dash out, hop in the car and speed home to eat noodles in blissful, mouth-tingling silence. The fly-by-night nature of the operation almost made it seem like I was conducting an illicit affair. My darling had plans after work and I dallied with translucent-skinned dumplings and fragrant soups. My sweetheart had to go into the city on a Saturday and I schemed to eat hand-pulled noodles and let Sichuan peppercorns numb my lips. Hoo, I get sweaty just thinking about it.)

But for some reason, I'm still a little scared of making Chinese food at home. Yes, I'm daunted by the long ingredient lists. Also, I don't own a wok or have the pleasure of a dining companion willing to ingest copious amounts of ground pork at every meal. Is that enough reason to keep myself from making the food I currently love the most? Absolutely not. Do I jump with glee every time one of the newspapers publishes a Chinese recipe, just because then it feels like a challenge that I have to complete? Yes, indeed.


Mark Bittman's Hainanese chicken has quite a bit going for it. First of all, it makes A Lot of Food. Enough to feed a family of four or six, I'd say, or two with leftovers for lunch for at least a couple of days. Second of all, you'll get a few quarts of chicken stock - lovely, ginger-and-garlic scented chicken stock - out of it, perfect for freezing and drinking in times of sickness or for cooking rice. I'm trying my hardest right now to economize and find meals where I didn't before (but spending a few extra dollars on an organic, free-ranging chicken seems worth it, nevertheless). Third of all, in the annals of Chinese recipes, it is so easy you could almost do it with your eyes closed, which is what I find most appealing, of course.

You boil a chicken with ginger and garlic for 10 minutes, then turn off the flame and let the chicken sit in hot broth for almost an hour. Then you use the hot broth to cook the rice. It's a one-dish meal, with cucumbers and tomatoes and chopped scallions all arranged right on top of the chicken and rice and served at the table with a dipping sauce.

The dipping sauce is the one problem with this whole recipe. It's basically just oil mixed with ginger and chopped scallions and it feels a little odd, to be dipping chunks of chicken into oil (I halved the amount of oil called for, but still). The next time I make this, I'll simply toss the chicken with the ginger, scallions and sesame oil and then pile the whole lot on top of the rice.

For someone who professes to dislike Chinese food, Ben had an awful lot of this at dinner. It's not takeout from Flushing, no, and it's not nearly hot and funky enough for my tastes, but I'm counting it as a minor success. Besides, now I've got the goods for homemade fried rice - my first ever - and that's cause for celebration!

Hainanese Chicken with Rice
Serves 4 to 6

Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 whole (3- to 4-pound) chicken, trimmed of excess fat
Several cloves smashed garlic, plus 1 teaspoon minced garlic
Several slices fresh ginger, plus 1 tablespoon minced ginger
4 tablespoons peanut oil, or neutral oil, like corn or canola
3 shallots, roughly chopped, or a small onion
2 cups long-grain rice
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1/2 cup minced scallions
2 cucumbers, peeled and sliced
2 tomatoes, sliced
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Add chicken to pot along with smashed garlic and sliced ginger. Bird should be completely submerged, but only just. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let bird remain in water for 45 minutes to an hour, covered, or until it is cooked through.

2. Remove chicken from pot, reserve stock, and let bird cool to room temperature. Put 4 tablespoons peanut oil in a skillet over medium heat; you may add trimmed chicken fat to this also. When oil is hot, add remaining garlic, along with shallots; cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring, until glossy. Add 4 cups reserved chicken stock and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cover; cook for about 20 minutes, until rice has absorbed all liquid. Stir in salt and pepper to taste.

3. Combine the sesame oil, ginger, half the scallions and a large pinch of salt.

4. Shred or chop chicken, discarding skin. Toss the chicken with the sesame oil mixture. Put rice on a large platter and mound chicken on top of it; decorate platter with cucumbers, tomatoes and cilantro, and serve.