Aleppian Stew with Dried Figs and Apricots

Aleppian Stew with Dried Figs and Apricots

When I don’t want to make Syrian stuffed grape leaves but still want the sweet and tangy tamarind flavors that are smothered all over them, this is my go-to. Let me tell you: it is DEC-A-dent. You can serve it with rice and lentils, a generous amount of salad, or even some of my spring greens kibbeh (Autumn coming soon *wigglingeyebrows*).

Aleppian Stew with Dried Figs and Apricots

-2 lbs oxtails or short ribs
-1 heaping tsp tomato paste
-3 garlic cloves, chopped
-2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
-6 pearl onions (optional)
-10 dried mission figs, 8 dried California apricots
-1 bay leaf
-1 1/4 tsp allspice
-1 tsp ground cumin
-1 tsp aleppo pepper
-pinch or 2 of cinnamon
-3-4 tbs tamarind concentrate*
-water, enough to cover a quarter of the way
-medium sweet potato, peeled and diced
-salt and pepper, to taste

Using a dutch oven drizzled with a little oil, you’ll want to brown your meat in batches under med-high heat.

Stir the tomato paste into a pool of oil left in the pot, being sure to caramelize it for about a minute. Add all spices, carrots, garlic, onions if using, and 3 tbs of tamarind. Stir together, then cover with water.

Allow it to lazily simmer for at least 1 hour on the stove-top with lid on before adding the sweet potatoes and dried fruit. While it simmers, preheat oven to 350. Taste it when the hour is up. If it’s not tangy enough for you, add another tbs of tamarind.

Pop it in the oven for another 45 minutes, uncovered. The meat should be very tender, and sticky with all that tangy goodness.

Fig and Orange Chicketta

Fig and Orange Chicketta

The problem I’m having nowadays with my market haul? I want to serve every sunchoke, beet, radish, asparagus, artichoke, and green alongside my Chicketta. Think about it. Chicken that’s marinated in fresh lemon juice, olive oil, with a fig-orange jam whisked in. Then more fig-orange jam brushed on top as it roasts in the oven as if it were BBQ sauce…chicken that’s stuffed with a layer of roasted garlic, basil, pancetta (or prosciutto!), mozz…then served with all the spring things I CAN’T EVEN.

Here’s a spring thing for you: braised baby artichokes.

Purple baby artichokes. Lavender nearest to their hearts. You asked for the recipe, but sadly, I did not write a single thing down as I made it (I will some day!) but if you ever make a lemon-wine sauce, let’s consider that a seriously good start. Sear them, then braise them in that lemony goodness.

But if you’re not in the mood to get all fancy, even a spring pilaf or a salad will do. Chicketta don’t ask for much.

Porchetta-style chicken is where simple meets elegance, and I would gladly serve it during the holidays coming up. The stuffing variations could be endless. Leave it in the hands of your current season. Mix up the herbs, and the jam. Use fresh or store-bought. A variety of veggies. Maybe smoked mozzarella next time. Or just honey with extra red pepper.

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It’s got sweetness from the jam, earthiness from the rosemary, heat from the generous amount of red pepper, and very fresh ingredients layered up inside. Cheese oozes out of it in a classy fashion, and you seriously can’t dislike something that has roasted garlic inside of it…can you?

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You cannot. When roasted for over 40 minutes, it becomes nutty and sweet. My hands end up smelling of the stubborn cloves I squeeze out of their tiny homes and, guys, I ain’t mad at it.

CHICKETTA (PORCHETTA-STYLE CHICKEN)

  • large head of garlic, roasted
  • 2 boneless chicken breasts*, butterflied, pounded semi-thin
  • 1 sprig rosemary, leaves only, minced
  • juice of 1 large lemon or 1/2 cup white wine
  • few TBS good quality olive oil
  • 1 heaping TBS fig-orange jam or honey
  • salt and generous amount of red pepper
  • about 10 fresh basil leaves
  • 6-8 thin slices of prosciutto or pancetta
  • thin slices of fresh mozzarella, about 4 oz
  • kitchen twine, for tying
  • more jam to brush on top

*If you can find the chicken breasts with skin-on, even better! I usually ask the butcher for boneless two breasts attached with skin-on, but I know pre-packaged is easier for everyone to get.

1. Place chicken in a ziplock bag or medium bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the lemon juice (or wine), olive oil, rosemary, jam (or honey), salt, and pepper. Pour the marinade into the bag or bowl, moving the marinade around so that the chicken is well coated. Seal/cover and let it marinate for 30 minutes. Any longer and things might get weird.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lay one butterflied chicken on a working surface and pat dry. Rub half of the roasted garlic paste onto the entire length of the chicken, then add a layer of basil leaves, a layer of pancetta, and a layer of cheese. From one long side, roll the chicken nice and snug and secure it tightly with kitchen twine. Repeat for the next butterflied chicken.

3. Sear both sides in a cast iron grill or skillet for about 3 minutes on each side. Brush more jam on top, maybe even add more red pepper. Roast in the oven for about 35-40 minutes. Let it sit for a few before slicing them into semi-thin pieces.

Serve with all the spring goods.

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citrus green bean salad & Tuscan-style beans

citrus green bean salad & Tuscan-style beans

If you can find me competing with squirrels for my neighbor’s figs, then you best believe I was found, on vacation, taking the neighborhood’s oranges from trees bustling with these thick-skinned globes.

As if I didn’t have enough of them, I purchased honeybells, meyer lemons, and tasted a variety of oranges at the farmers market. They made a wonderful addition to a refreshing green bean salad that I made not once, but twice.



Inspired by a meal I shared with Victoria Anzalone in Astoria at Milkflower right before heading to Englewood, Florida, I fell in love with it’s simplicity. The green beans were kept crisp, tossed in a vinaigrette, and topped with sharp cheese, orange segments, slivered almonds, and quick-pickled radicchio. That’s it.

Mine was inspired by Florida and everything I fell in love with at Englewood Farmers Market.

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Wild orange roasted nuts, which were handed to Dan and I with the promise that we’d pay this kind man a week later because we ran out of cash. We paid Ashley Gray, suitcases in tow, an hour before hopping on the plane heading to NY. The cheese we used was a creamy asiago aged with raspberry ale from Stamper Cheese Company. The oranges were sorta-kinda stolen, and used for a citrus vinaigrette to toss the beans with.

Citrus Green Bean Salad

Directions:

We’re using a pound of green beans, trimmed, boiled in salted water for 2 minutes, placed in ice water, then drained. The color of your beans should be bright and glorious. Toss them with a citrus vinaigrette (juice from half a small orange, couple of splashes of apple cider vinegar or rice wine vinegar, little bit of olive oil, salt and black or red pepper.) Keep in fridge marinating in this dressing for at least 30 minutes before serving. Plate the beans, top them with orange segments, crushed nuts of your choosing, your favorite sharp cheese.

I love seeing them on the plate. When I returned home, I made this again but with blood oranges, feta, no nuts, and golden raisins. The dressing was a fig balsamic. Use what you got, I always say!

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I served this with brothy, Tuscan-inspired beans with greens. A beautiful lunch made with ingredients I bought from a Korean farmer at Fresh Harvest who is head-over-heels in love with everything she grew. She handed me the perfect cherry tomatoes, long beans, chinese broccoli. The leafy broccoli and colorful tomatoes were perfect for this.

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Ingredients


for the beans
– 1 cup dried baby lima beans, soaked over night
– 1 large garlic clove, smashed gently
– half a small onion
– bay leaf or sprig of rosemary
for the “soup”
– 4 garlic cloves, chopped
– 1 small onion, diced
– 1 large carrot, diced
– cherry tomatoes, chopped
– fresh thyme
– dash of white wine or rose, optional
– parmesan rind
– 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
– 1 cup variety of greens (parsley, chinese broccoli)

Directions

In the morning, drain beans after it’s over night soak, cover with fresh water in a medium saucepan along with 1 garlic clove, half onion, and bay leaf. Let simmer for 2 hours or til tender. Time varies. In a pot, drizzle olive oil and saute garlic, onion, carrot, tomatoes and thyme for a few minutes. Add the cooked beans and everything but the greens. Cook for 30 minutes more and then add your greens. Simmer for 5 more minutes. Serve with garlic crostinis and salad.

New Years celebration involved a cheese platter with everything from the market, including a Pear Habanero Jam and a Strawberry Chocolate jam. I smuggled these onto the plane and have been using them like crazy.

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Dessert was kept simple, thanks to Jamie Oliver’s New Years advice: frozen grapes with chocolate bark. 

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2019 started off beautifully and, I might say this every year, but I think it’s going to be a good one. I’m moving out next month. I’m getting a shout-out in Edible Queens magazine for the Swedish Meatballs I recently shared on my Instagram. My friendships and family remain fiercely solid. I’m going to live about 30 minutes away from my job, which gives me more time in the kitchen and even more time to do personal chef side jobs in the summer. I’m finally listening to Danny: no more maybes, much more doing, a whole lot less self-induced anxieties. I hope your year started off on a good note as well. We need a good one, don’t we? 

 

A Recipe for (Almost) Forgotten Beets and Radishes

A Recipe for (Almost) Forgotten Beets and Radishes

If you’re anything like me, then you, too, got overly excited to see many of your favorite greenmarkets return, selling many of your springtime favorites.

This means you purchased everything (beets, radishes, asparagus, ramps, chives, thyme, rhubarb, tomatoes, lemons, the list goes on) for ONE MEAL. I did this for Mother’s Day. Mom deserves it all, amiright? Even fava beans! Which I walked to 4 stores to find them and took 20 minutes to shell them (worth it), just to make the Spring Pilaf she requested. The prep work itself was a meditation. I missed it.

But let’s just say not everything made it to the table. Yes, I slow roasted cherry tomatoes again, to accompany Branzino.

Yes, the Spring Pilaf was a thousand times Spring in taste AND color. (Always add shredded carrot, maybe shredded purple cabbage, and ALL the greens you can stand).

Yes, I threw baby potatoes, chunks of purple cabbage, ramps, asparagus, slices of lemon, chives into a cast iron and roasted it all with two, lightly seasoned branzinos right on top. But where the hell are my beets? My radishes!?


So two days later, this very simple, very earthy, very spring soup happened. Cooked gently in your favorite stock with thyme, ramps, ginger, garlic, and chives, it’s sunshine broth will make you feel good.

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Ingredients

  • drizzle of coconut oil or olive oil
  • 3-4 thyme sprigs
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-inch knob of ginger, grated
  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 4 small golden beets, halved and sliced
  • 5 radishes, halved and sliced
  • 4 whole ramps
  • chives, finely chopped

Directions

In a heated pot with oil, add thyme, onion, garlic, and ginger. Sautee for a few minutes. Add your stock and bring to a light boil. Add beets and let it do its thing for about 20 minutes. Then add your radishes and ramps. Cook another 8 minutes. Add salt and pepper and any fresh herbs/greens you’d like. I used chives. I imagine dill would be beautiful here. Enjoy warm or even chilled!

I can’t wait for more spring cooking (and cleaning! and gardening!), though I have a feeling summer will arrive much sooner than scheduled. Hit your local market and/or farm ASAP! Let me know what you come home with ❤ I’ll be trying this recipe again when my own variety of beets start growing. Or sooner!

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HELLO, DOT COM!

HELLO, DOT COM!

So here’s the thing about having expectations during a planned trip, or, hey, even a planned blog.

Don’t have them.

For our third Glasbern Inn visit, we were expecting a snow storm that would want us to cozy on up to the fireplace for the totality of our time there. We got spring instead. We got more spring than actual spring right now. Mid-60-degree weather in February. It’s April 12th and I’ve yet to feel such a warmth as that.

We were also expecting our usual breakfast and dinner prepared by the chef we fell in love with a few years ago. Instead, we got ourselves a new chef. With new (affordable!?) prices to match. Hello, Executive Chef Ralph Edmonds! Mornings are still precious. We sit by sunlight and firelight, basking in both. And the food? Still farm fresh and locally sourced so, still pretty amazing.

The unexpected warm weather led to long walks, greeting the new calf, and a spontaneous winery visit where I could sit with my love, celebrating the moment I purchased this blog. HELLO, DOT COM!

We had Vyncrest Winery to ourselves and it easily became one I’d love to return to. After 12 free tastings (what!?) and the purchase of a bottle of their traminette, Dan asked me what I want others to get out of this blog. The truest answer I can come up with is this: to have you not follow my recipes so closely, eventually. They are ideas and contain flavor combinations I’d love for you to toy with in your own way, differently during each season. I want you to get to know an ingredient so intimately that you’ll find ways to use them creatively. If you ever do choose to use them, I’ll always encourage you to do so loosely (unless it’s baked goods, in which case you should follow loosely after following it the first or second time–just in case!).

Many people already view recipes this way. I have a binder full of them and they are mainly there for inspiration. In all honesty, having to write down “exact” amounts of everything is a struggle for me. I don’t cook this way. A part of me wants to tell you I sprinkled this and that into a pot and threw in a few orange peels and hoped for the best. Which would be true. But then I still am asked for exact measurements and I do want to be able to give you those answers. Which I happily will continue to do so! Just a little differently, and in a way that I am comfortable with.

From here on out, recipes I share will contain a variations section. Just quick notes on what other ingredients and spices work well with the main recipe. And each recipe will finally be printable! But this is as far as planning as I’ll go, for now. I’m still trying to redesign. Create a logo and header. Work on bio. Edit past recipes. Create a recipe index. I expected all of this to be done before reintroducing the site, but, having that expectation has honestly prevented me from actually working on this entirely. This is a journey I’m on and I think I’d rather you see the process and the changes as they come, instead of something close to “perfection”, which is an expectation I’d rather not have! There will still be photos, of course. Like of cows.

I’m still experimenting in the kitchen and learning new things about me in relation to food. I’m even spending a lot of time learning about flour and having a silly relationship with my first ever sourdough starter. (More to come on that). I don’t think Cook on Your Nerve will solely be a recipe-sharing home for me. I’m eager to cook more seasonally, be more hands-on in the garden and at farms, and even more eager to explore the politics of food itself. Who knows what this will become. I just know it will become, and currently is, exactly what it is in this very moment–a Home, where many things can happen. And that’s perfectly okay. This trip, and this guy, helped me to see this. And if anyone ever wonders why this our go-to destination, it’s really because it clears the mind and fills the heart. And tummy.

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Back to Basics

Back to Basics

When the new year arrived, I didn’t do the things I’d normally do, or the things I intended on doing. No lists. No thought-out resolution. In fact, while Danny and I were with his family waiting patiently for the countdown to reach midnight, like we always do! someone glanced at their phone and noticed it was thirty seconds past. We were watching a recording of the countdown happen. We all laughed, calling it a typical Frank Pizzarelli moment, but I do think it meant something.

We spent a lot of our time in New Paltz at his aunt’s beautiful home, nearby this castle. The day we were supposed to leave ended up being a snow day, one of my favorite days out of our vacation. After walking to the castle and working up an appetite, Dan and I made reservations at A Tavola Trattoria, an Italian farm-to-table that reminded me there’s a reason why Glasbern Inn’s farm food made me cry with pure joy: there is nothing better than a locally sourced meal. Nothing. There is nothing more passionate than how it is sourced, prepped, cooked, and delivered to the table. It’s all done lovingly; full of an awareness you can only get from such a place. And to share that with my best friend is beyond words. BTW: citrus-marinated olives, pickled watermelon rind arugula salad, charred brussels sprouts, and this crostini with house-made ricotta, rosemary salt, and truffle orange honey was a beautiful way to start this meal.

We weren’t charged for our cocktails (courtesy Aunt Donna and Uncle Richie, who called in from Florida to let them know two kids in love with food would be there), and they tasted of summer, garden days. Hints of cucumber, mint, house-made pineapple jam to be spooned into gin. Dan and I toasted to the year we were about to leave, and being hopeful about the one we were about to enter.

Donna recommended their Chicken Under a Brick and I can see why. Served with fingerling potatoes that were clearly roasted with the chicken, and charred escarole, we were in heaven. The lemon flavors popped. I was obsessed with the charred greens soaked in all that lemony goodness from the beautifully cooked chicken.

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The town itself seemed as if it was tailored to my dream lifestyle and dream kitchen. There’s a Handmade shop that has beautiful wooden spoons, cheeseboards, handpainted pottery BRIE BOWLS, Y’ALL. I could cry just thinking about all the things I could’ve gotten, but didn’t, simply because I don’t have my own space to fill in such a way that is Me. But I will get there, of course. This year, I’m carving out the path that will get me closer to home.

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In the meantime, we are hoping to return between our birthdays, just in time for strawberry season and spring blooms and spring menus. I’d love to visit the local farms, and spend the warmer months hiking. All we can think about is eating in New Paltz again. At this farm-to-table and their one-and-only Indian restaurant I wrote about in a previous recipe post.

Much gratitude to this beautiful family who I love making cheese platters for BTW. As soon as we arrived, Frank said, “you doing a cheese thing with some meat and maybe a tomatuh?”

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One thing I know for sure for 2018–there will be plenty of cheese, bread, and jam. Strawberry jam from what we pick with our own hands in New Paltz. Fig jam for Aunt Donna, as a thank you for the warm stay but also an apology for devouring the fig jam she left in her fridge. There will also be way more bread and other baked goods.

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I started reading from this recipe book I purchased from our trip when we got back, and that’s when I decided that I must begin the new year by strengthening my relationship to flour and the preservation of every season, with the intent of eating better and feeling better. I also need to drink way more water. Basically, I need to go back to basics. Take a tiny step back in order to move forward more fluidly.

The first thing I baked this month were these Orange Cardamom Crumb Muffins, inspired by a recipe in Toast & Jam.

I paired them with a fig and orange jam Lori bought me from New Paltz. It’s the most delicious thing EVER. The next day I toasted them, buttered them, added more jam and ate them with chunks of cheese. They are wholesome. My favorite thing about these muffins was watching my young niece work a bite of one in her mouth. She looked unsure. But then she said, more, after a brave gulp and I knew I made a worthy muffin.

Indian-Spiced Roast Chicken

Indian-Spiced Roast Chicken

When winter comes, I crave the warm, heart-reaching spices. Garam masala is made with my mortar and pestle. The bright reds of cayenne, chili, and paprikas are used more often to paint every dish. Pinches of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg in almost everything, from home-cooked meals to all baked goods. This isn’t to say I don’t welcome them during the warmer months; I do. This is to say I celebrate the hell out of them when trees loosen up and we find ourselves bundled up, head-to-toe.

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When we spent our first cold and snow-filled week at New Paltz, we ate plenty. But when we ordered take-out from their one-and-only Indian restaurant, Dan and I ate, like, well, animals, according to his father. It was a feast of chicken tikka masala, masoor dal, chana dal, chicken and vegetable biryani, meat and potato samosas, naan, sauces–one a very bright green which reminded me of pandan, something Tory and I discovered while eating Kaya Toast. This feast was everything we NEEDED, and some. It was the best we’ve ever tasted, too.

When we returned to the city, I have not stopped using the spices that filled us that night. I’ve made masoor dal (as usual), Orange Cardamom Crumb muffins, chana dal, and this Indian-spiced roasted chicken. Once in my dutch oven on a bed of scalloped potatoes, and again in an aluminum roasting pan.

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In truth, I was never a fan of the colder months til I fell in love with these spices, especially what they can do when they find themselves together as a rub, marinade, or in soups, stews, pilafs, and baked goods. For this roast chicken, I, unsurprisingly, made a marinade using the juice of an orange and it’s zest. My brother said to me yesterday, “whenever you use an orange in your cooking, it’s damn good.” I use an orange in almost all my cooking these days, so that’s a major compliment coming from someone who has given me a total of 3 within the last 20-something years. Thanks, Bruh.

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Marinade for 3.5-4 pound chicken:

1 sm orange, juice & zest
1 tbsp olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, paste or grated
1 inch ginger, paste or grated
2 tsp garam masala, preferably homemade
1 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/4 tsp red chili powder, or cayenne/Hungarian paprika
cinnamon, couple of pinches
salt, to taste

Combine all in a small bowl, whisk marinade thoroughly. Clean chicken, pat dry. Generously salt your chicken inside and out. Rub marinade under skin, in cavity, as well as all over. Refrigerate in a sealed container overnight or up to 24 hours. Day of roasting, oil your dutch oven or roasting pan. Heat oven to 375. Depending on your seasoning/heat tolerance, I sprinkle some more chili powder and garam masala before putting it in. Cover tightly and leave covered for 1 hour. Uncover for next 20-30 minutes, til crisp.

Everyone’s got their favorite way to roast a chicken. Sometimes I like to begin with it roasting breast-side down, then flip it over after about 30 minutes. Sometimes I leave it uncovered at all times. But I am currently in love with my dutch oven. It kept mine very tender, and soaked the potatoes in its spicy goodness.

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Next roast, I’ll use similar spices but create the marinade out of yogurt, which is more traditional to Indian cooking, and usually how I go about making Butter Chicken. On the top of my list of recipes to test out is Chicken Biryani. I have a feeling it’s going to be a favorite of ours.

 

Not Your Average Carrot Soup

Not Your Average Carrot Soup

I’ve been on-and-off sick. Everything from cold to major aches. But on the day my throat couldn’t handle most things, I made my favorite, simple, ginger-y soup. And then I made it 4 times more, and again today. Telling Connie I was making this for the blog was really my way of saying, let me feed you. She had two bowls of it and told me there’s lovely balance between contrasting flavors and textures; they meld. That’s exactly what I was going for here. What you see aren’t just pretty garnishes. They are what completes this soup. Crispy chickpeas, crispy slivers of ginger, on top of silky carrot soup that has been simmered with orange peels and cumin seeds and more ginger. Yes, yes, and yes.


Carrot Soup W/ Orange and Ginger

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

    -olive oil, enough to coat pot
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (or 1 leek, sliced)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • inch of fresh turmeric, grated (optional)
  • 4 cups carrots, diced (about 3 large)
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and diced
  • 1/4 tsp cumin powder
  • 5-6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • orange peels, few strips
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Heat olive oil and stir in cumin seeds. After a minute, add onions til translucent. Stir in ginger, garlic, and turmeric if using. Then add your carrots and potatoes. After a few minutes you’ll want to add your stock (enough to cover your veggies plus a little more) cumin powder, orange peels. Simmer for about 20 minutes, or until veggies are tender. Take out peels. Using an immersion blender, blend til it reaches the texture you prefer. I like mine to have some chunky pieces of carrot left. Then add your fresh orange juice. Salt and pepper to taste. Add freshly grated ginger if you want more of it.

I garnished with fresh slices of jalapeño, cilantro, crispy ginger, and crispy chickpeas. You don’t need them to enjoy the carrot soup, but you totally won’t regret doing this. Sometimes I just add the crispy ginger.

Take a knob of ginger, thinly slice into matchsticks, and fry in vegetable oil til golden.

Toss canned chickpeas (after draining) in olive oil, cumin, garam masala, hungarian (hot) paprika, garlic powder. Roast for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees, or just til crispy.

I served this with my favorite roasted cauliflower which has jalapeños and sliced garlic, seasoned with turmeric, plus more of the roasted, crispy chickpeas.

Here’s a soup with a texture you can kiss. Enjoy, loves.

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butternut squash chana dal got me like

butternut squash chana dal got me like

After a couple of days of takeout for lunch and dinner (I was cat-sitting for a friend after work, don’t judge), I got home needing a home-cooked meal like never before. I stopped by the farmers market to get butternut squash, wild-looking leeks, heirloom tomatoes, garlic and ginger. You all have been killing me with your butternut squash Instagram photos so there was no way I was not coming home with one. I didn’t have a plan but knew I’ve been craving dal for weeks now. I checked the cabinets for red lentils but found only split chickpeas. I knew the dal would be heartier and for some reason, I wanted the heartiest thing I could make. Hence throwing in some butternut squash. It was a last minute decision that reminded me why it’s best to cook on your nerve.

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Butternut Squash Chana Dal

coconut oil (or olive oil, or ghee)
1/2 tbsp cumin seeds
1 small onion, chopped
2 sm tomatoes, diced
ginger, thumb-size, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 jalapeno, diced
1/2 tsp turmeric powder or fresh
1/2 tsp garam masala, more or less to taste
1/2 cinnamon stick, or couple of dashes of powder
3 whole cloves, fished out later or ground
1 large bay leaf
1/2 cup dry split chickpeas (chana dal, soaked 1 1/2 HR)
butternut squash, medium, cubed
3 cup chicken or vegetable stock plus water, enough to cover everything
cilantro, to garnish

Heat oil and add cumin seeds. Once the seeds sizzle, add your onion and stir. After a couple of minutes, add tomatoes, ginger, garlic, jalapeno, turmeric and garam masala. Definitely let the spices become aromatic with a little time. Stir in chickpeas and butternut squash. Add stock, water, bay leaf, cloves, cinnamon, some cilantro. Cook on med-low heat, stirring occasionally. It’s done when chickpeas and squash have softened. Salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with more cilantro.

It’s autumn and this screams it. Should you ever be in the mood for something sweet and spicy and savory all at once, let this be it. It comes together quickly. The outcome is the warmest of hugs. Enjoy that hug. I have a feeling a lot of us could use one today.

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When Friends Ask You to Pick Up Their CSA Share (Part 2)

When Friends Ask You to Pick Up Their CSA Share (Part 2)

You wonder if there is a poem out there that celebrates this moment. Between friends and between yourself and all the veggies, is there a poem? If not, perhaps you could write one, in the same breath as Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, about every saturated-in-color vegetable and fruit that comes home with you on the first Saturday of September–this year and last.

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But if there is a chance you’ve been feeling less like a poet these days, meaning, you haven’t broken a line in a long while for the sake of sound, silence, and meaning, then you become–you are–a poet in your kitchen, roasting tomatoes with whole cloves of garlic. The woody scent of thyme and rosemary from your garden when met with high heat can make you long for the long, deliberate drizzle of rosemary-infused olive oil, and flaky salt, which you know your tomatoes love. You’ve a mind and heart towards Tory and Jon, who shared their share with you as they made their big move into Corona. Think of all the dinner parties and PICNICS, and sneak peaks into their first garden out back.

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Your first thought, after all this gratitude and daydreaming, was roasted tomato sauce, which you learned to make in Valerie’s kitchen a couple of summers ago. This is the way you will make sauce forever. The flavor is tomato multiplied by tomato, on the savory-sweet side. But as you peel each one, you begin to crave soup.

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You never made tomato bisque. I don’t think you ever had tomato bisque so you’re not entirely sure where to begin, but to begin. It started as your favorite sauce, with the addition of chicken stock, cream, carrot and celery, pureed til silky. Doesn’t the same happen in writing a poem? You never know how a poem will end til it begins to unfold itself, line by line, and if it ends on bisque with warm slices of bread instead of tomato sauce, then you take slices of your warm, roasted garlic ciabatta and you dip dip dip it into the creamy broth.

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It almost looks like your favorite carrot soup, which you’ll write about another day. The local farm feta, and micro-cilantro which was part of the share, didn’t just provide this bisque with good looks. It went amazingly well together. Having had Brooklyn Grange’s micro-greens quite a few times, you think you’ll just start picking your cilantro from the garden earlier than usual, because after a week, you honestly want to give up with their eagerness to bolt.

Then there is the tenderness of toy choi, which you just discover and are fond of.

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But with something so tender, you need to put it to use almost immediately. By 9PM the first day, they were wilting. So the next morning, without getting all fancy and having a panic, you whip up a fine breakfast in which you sauteed their small, cabbage leaves, along with their flowers, with smoked kielbasa and red onion. Served it with egg, heirloom tomato salad with local feta, and a blueberry muffin your mom made.

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Everything else will come together, slowly, as the week goes by. You’ll think Jen was making use of the fairytale eggplants because the bowl was getting emptier and emptier as days went by. You’ll soon find one in almost every corner of the house, courtesy your cat, Loonz.

You’ll take what’s left of their most adorable selves (you make a note that you’ll grow them next year, seriously this time), and you roast them with warm spices (garam masala) and garlic.

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You’ll want to stuff the beautiful, red peppers but never find the time to, so you add them in salads and stews. You do the same with the two onions.

You’ll blister shishito peppers, finishing them with smoked salt.

You’ll share arugula with mom, because everything about this is about sharing.

You’ll eventually find the time to write it all down. You’ll feel exactly as you feel when a poem has ended. Which is the same feeling you’ll get when every tomato, herb, oil and cream came together in your pot one afternoon, and again when the last bit of bisque is gone.

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a summer harvest put-together

a summer harvest put-together

I am found in the kitchen most mornings, no later than 9AM. Not only because I get home pretty late from work (8:30-9PM!), but it’s truly my favorite way to spend any morning. The house is quiet. I water my lucky cross tomatoes, a bi-colored beauty which grew slowly from seed (in a 20-gallon grow bag, mind you) but sadly only had a chance to produce a single, blushing fruit. There were a few green ones, but end-rot took over. When your babies become calcium deficient, you begin to question your parenting, eh? I consider every season a learning season, and next year I’ll have plenty to share with friends, you just watch.

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When I get to watering my Sicilian eggplants, which are still producing, I stare alarmingly long at their bashful flowers. That is what you do when your favorite color on earth is found, growing happily in a container. Dan told me he’s only growing eggplants and tomatoes next year. A whole lot of them. I can’t say I blame him.

I harvest what’s ready. Usually thyme and basil, as well as arugula, is waiting to be clipped more than anything else. I toss the harvest in a pan. If my garden wasn’t plentiful this summer, Dan’s was (still is!), and he always made sure I went home with the day’s harvest in my tote. Gratitude for every cherry and roma tomato that entered my kitchen, and for every eggplant my cast iron enjoyed. Zucchini, large and small–thank you.

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I want to highlight one of my morning put-togethers because it has been the most satisfying to me. One evening, Dan handed me two, long Italian eggplants, two zucchinis, and cherry tomatoes. Next morning, I took out my cast iron and wooden spoon and got to work. This meal was so simple and true, I will make this many times more. Dice eggplants and salt them for about a half hour. On high heat I sauteed the eggplant and zucchini, along with thyme from my garden, in the pan with very good olive oil, salt and red pepper. I added the tomatoes and put dollops of ricotta on top with some of my basil, drizzled a little more olive oil, then popped it in the oven for about 20 minutes til the tomatoes were about to burst. I tossed some with pasta that night, and next day I spread the rest on bread. It was beautiful.

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I made this again once I got home from Florida, but this time I added green beans. I also added a little bit of chicken broth and it came out even better. I am obsessed with cooking with thyme and broth these days. Almost as obsessed as I am with Dan’s cherry tomatoes which, kissed by Brooklyn sun, tastes loudly of savory and sweet. This meal was featured on Edible Queens’ Insta BTW! What!?!? That made me super happy because within the next few months, I hope to be submitting some work their way.

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One thing I know I’ll be growing again next year is arugula. Mine tastes like GARLIC and pepper. I ended up putting them in everything, from scrambled eggs, to stirfrys. I dressed them with fig balsamic and sicilian lemons for salads to sweeten up their spice. It grows very quickly from seed and thrives most in cooler weather. Next year, I’ll be growing at least 6 herbs, more lettuces, and I need to get my hand on some fairytale eggplant seeds! They are super container-friendly. I’ll leave all the bigger plants to Dan.

I also grew curly kale, no longer with me as bugs took a liking to them. But before bugs, it was strong and plentiful, and the best thing I did with it was put their chopped leaves in a white bean parmesan soup. The broth was delicate and nutty, entirely healing. The one thing that’s gotten me super excited about Autumn is all the soups and stews I plan on making.

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Most of September was warm. Cool weather has finally reached us and you know that it has because I came home yesterday with a 1/2 bushel of apples and zero plans for them (send me your favorite apple recipes?) Even Loonz wants to know what I’ve gotten myself into. 

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Happy Autumn, everyone! Let’s welcome all the warm spices into our homes, make soups that are the tightest of hugs.

ode to the wooden spoon

ode to the wooden spoon

I am enamored by the deep quiet of a wooden spoon. It holds like a tongue some keep-it-on-a-hush family recipe. It doesn’t matter where I am. At home. In my love’s home. At mom’s. In Englewood, Florida (where I started writing this, having put his parents’ spoon down which has stirred a pot of my famous beans. It may live on with the stain or scent of cumin and oranges.) Also, this was the first time I ever put orange peels into a pot of my beans and I had a serious OH WOW moment right in their kitchen that I will never forget.

I went orange-crazy here in Florida. I marinated chicken breasts with freshly squeezed oranges, olive oil, garlic, cumin, fresh thyme and basil. The heirloom tomato salad with feta had a light orange-basil dressing. The beans the beans the beans! Dan made his fried shrimp and it completed the small feast. A dinner to show my gratitude for this 10-day vacation with my love and his family, two days which were spent in Orlando celebrating my inner-child (and challenging my fear of heights, y’all.) The view from our balcony was so very beautiful. Everything was magic.

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I come from a Russian Puerto Rican household, and wood wasn’t a thing for cooking. Mom loved her rubber and plastic spatulas up until maybe a few years ago when wood entered our lives. When I told Danny this, he said, “I don’t get it. A wooden spoon is everything.” I’ve come to learn that a wooden spoon is story, is history, is amazing love. It is all-around gentle. Kind to your pots and pans as well as to what’s simmering long inside.

I learned a lot from his Italian-Syrian family. For instance, you’re supposed to be woken up not by the smell of coffee (okay, sometimes by the smell of coffee), but by tomato sauce simmering in a pot, stuffed artichokes in the oven, maybe baked meatballs, quite possibly Lori’s famous pecan pie or pinwheel knishes, rose-scented baklava or spinach pies, whole roasted chicken, the sweet and sour of yebre–stuffed grape leaves I plan on making very soon, and usually soups like split pea made with leftover ham, chicken with rice, and my favorite of hers: Italian Wedding. It’s never one of these things. It’s about two and something different, and always of course, seasonal. Right now it’s all about working meals around Danny’s garden. The best eggplant parmesan comes out of their kitchen during this time. Everything I love about summer comes from the garden.

While here in Englewood, Florida, after closely inspecting the wooden spoons I found in a drawer, I grew very comfortable in the kitchen. Knowing that everything in the fridge would have to go before we leave, we wanted to use up everything we had, especially the beautiful produce from Sunfresh!

Many cheese plates were made. All the fruit was cut up. I used their local butter for bread and lemon chicken. I made a watermelon salad with feta, thinking about the very one Tory made me recently, scattered lovingly with mint. Dan requested my guacamole and I requested his garlic bread for summery bruschetta. The peaches were so sweet. The hot capicola was beautiful, and hot. My view from a cheese plate? Even more beautiful, and hot.

I thought I hated beaches. For 28 years I did not care for them. Turns out I’m not into the ones found in NY, as they are cold and mostly dirty. But this beach? I never felt water so warm, waves so gentle, sand so clean. Dan and I watched the sun set together and I never wanted to leave. Thankfully we had this chance, as it rained heavily the next 3 days and the waves grew wicked due to Hurricane Harvey’s wind.

I had ice cream BTW that blew my mind. I think it was the first time I tasted ice cream the way it should be tasted and I easily became obsessed. I liked it so much I told everyone that we’re going back to A Better Scoop Ice Cream Shoppe the next day–my treat. Their Dark Cherry was everything dark cherry should be. Simple. I’ve had this flavor at other places and it always came with chocolate, but it’s not even necessary when it’s this creamy and rich.

One afternoon, while browsing their local supermarket (Publix), they were giving out samples of lemon chicken made on the premises. Everyone loved it, so I decided to make this for our next dinner. It was my first time ever making it and loved it as much as I love chicken marsala. The white wine, chicken broth, lemon, capers, thyme, cream…so so good. Always serve this with any kind of broccoli you love. It’s the perfect green.

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It took me awhile to get back to writing this post. Hurricane Irma threatened their home, a home I quickly fell in love with. I became on edge for them, having been around when superstorm Sandy hit them in Brooklyn. I am relieved very minor damage was done by Irma but I feel horrible about the damage being done by all these recent hurricanes and earthquakes. I may no longer have a home to visit in Puerto Rico and many do not have one to live in. The writing stopped when the storms started but I felt like I wanted to say so much. Earth is saying so much. While we were in Florida, we were getting rains and wind from Hurricane Harvey and already witnessed the sort of potential flooding if it had hit us directly. Trees were trees in a foot of water. Most of their seeds on the ground.

I can’t say why I felt the need to write about my love of wooden spoons, only that I feel most comfortable with one in my hand. If you find yourself in a kitchen you’ve never been in, spot the wooden spoon and you’ll immediately know what to do. These ten days brought me so much peace. To wake up and enjoy a cup of coffee with this view, with people I love, is nothing short of amazing.