saffron shakshouka

saffron shakshouka // brooklyn supperWhile complicated techniques, all-day cooking, and special ingredients can make for some fantastic meals, good pantry meals are essential to eating well. Because you need something economical and easy for those nights when your kitchen fantasies are disrupted by your actual life.

Shakshouka has been a favorite family dish for a few years now, and I’m always enchanted by it’s mix of smoky peppers, slowly building heat, rich tomatoes, and of course, poached eggs. [Read more…]

fennel, beet, and blood orange salad

blood orange, beet and fennel salad
This rainy, mild winter reminds me of being a kid: sitting in the back of my family station wagon, listening to rain drops on the roof and the squeak of the windshield wipers with the easy listening sounds of Carole King on the radio. Remember when the backseat could be the safest, coziest place in the world? What a bummer that grown-ups don’t really get to snuggle in the back seat very often.

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braised country-style ribs with cippolini

country-style ribs

At the butcher, I felt a little embarrassed that I’d never heard of country-style ribs, given that I come from what is arguably “the country.” And even if you’re not willing to concede my particular home-census-tract is rural enough, it is, at a minimum, part of a country. Also, I really like ribs. So how had I not heard of country-style ribs? [Read more…]

simple roast tomato soup

roast tomato soup

For the first few months of summer I take all the fresh stuff for granted–I’m nonchalant about abundant berries and corn. But come September I start to panic, which leads rather quickly to panic fruit-buying. For instance, two weeks ago I dragged the whole family to Union Square farmers market and bought 20 pounds of peaches, 6 pints of blueberries, 3 pints of blackberries, and 1 pint of raspberries. Let’s just say we’re all set in the jam department. Also the pie department. This week I made a reservation for 40 pounds of tomatoes. Gulp. I’ll be canning the tomatoes for sure, but I might also have to make this soup again.

Now that it really is fall you pretty much have to make soup, too. This one is has big tomato flavor with smoky notes and hints of fragrant herbs. It’s exactly what you want to be eating as the first leaves of fall flutter by. [Read more…]

lamb ragù over polenta

Lamb ragu with broccoli rabeThere’s something undeniably wonderful about having a fragrant, slow-simmered ragù on the stovetop for an entire Sunday. The richness permeates the air and gives the entire day a slow and luxurious feel. Languorous weekends have been in short supply for us lately, so smelling this ragù all day almost felt decadent.

Lamb is a favorite in this apartment, doubly so for stews and slow sauces. The heartiness of lamb shoulder and neck (the cuts we used here) is just unsurpassable. To keep the richness and fattiness of the lamb from being overwhelming, we use red wine and red wine vinegar to give the dish a little bracing edge, which is tempered by the sweetness of tomato paste. The trio of carrots, onion, and celery give it a classic feel, while the garlic and bay leaves keep it from being a staid dish even if it doesn’t have any unusual ingredients.

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feels like it’s raining all over the world

On rainy California days in elementary school we’d all pile into the cafeteria, the air damp and slightly smelly, and watch Dr. Seuss films. Waiting for the reel to load the humid air would be electric with anticipation. Mostly, we watched the Lorax, or the Cat in the Hat, a rainy day tale itself.

At lunch, we’d have french fries which were soggy on a dry day and more so on a rainy one. But they were comforting. Maybe that’s why this tortilla soup with its soggy strips of corn tortilla is so good on a rainy day. Much better than rehydrated potatoes, for comfort and taste, it is warming with a nice tooth and varied texture. Filling enough to be a solid half of dinner, and easily a whole lunch, consider it an inoculation against the pervading gloom.

This recipe is adapted from the highly recommended Lee Brothers Southern Cookbook. These guys have a developed and tolerant palate for heat, whereas I am what you would call a wimp. I’ve made a few adaptations to the recipe to cater to my heat tolerance and understocked pantry.

Tortilla Soup (adapted for The Lee Brothers Southern Cookbook)
(serves 5 or 6)

6 cups good broth, in my case 3 cups homemade vegetable and 3 cups homemade pork broth
28oz. can of whole tomatoes in their juice
1-2 jalepeno peppers, seeded and cut into halves
1-2 serrano peppers, seeded and cut into halves
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed and diced
salt (not much)
1 cup neutral oil
4 small, whole corn tortillas
4 small corn tortillas cut into strips

In a flat-bottomed skillet heat 2 cups of the oil over medium heat; you want the oil to be hot, but not smoking. Gently place the peppers into the oil and fry for not even a minute, just to soften them, and set aside in a bowl. Next, fry up the whole tortillas one at a time, and then fry the strips. Place on a pile of paper towels and lightly blot to soak up the extra oil. I also took this opportunity to fry some tortilla triangles to accompany a small bowl of guacamole. Discard the oil.

In a large, non-reactive pot, combine the broth, the canned tomatoes (squishing the whole tomatoes with you hand), the peppers, and the garlic, and bring to a boil. Break up the whole tortillas and add them to the soup. Turn the heat down to a rolling simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Check the salt.

Working in small batches, puree the soup. Don’t go to far, leave some texture, but try to get all of the large chunks.

Serve in big bowls with tortilla strips, sliced avocados, and large drops of crema or diluted sour cream. Because I had a little lying around, I diced up a teaspoon or two of preserved lemon and whisked that into my sour cream mixture.