Dead Easy Steak Marinade

grilled grass-fed t-bone steak

It’s always nice when dead easy produces damn delicious. This little marinade — equal parts Worcestershire sauce and olive oil combined with a healthy sprinkling of lemon pepper — is a good one to have on hand this time of year. While you’re busy scraping off your grill grates, refueling your propane tank, perusing your various grill-time-cooking guides, worry not about how you’re going to add flavor to those steaks. This marinade is it. What’s more, it produces just about the best tasting leftovers, though I can’t promise there will be any.

steaks from our "cowpool" cow

Above: T-Bone steaks from our “cowpool” cow (steer, actually). If you’re interested in joining a cowpool check out this site: Eat Well Guide. Type “cowpool” into the keyword search box. If you can’t find what you’re looking for there, try Eat Wild.

marinade ingredients

steak covered in lemon pepper

marinating t-bone

Dead Easy Steak Marinade

Note: Adjust the quantities based on how many steaks you are cooking. The below quantities yield enough marinade roughly for 2 t-bones, ribeyes, New York strips, etc. or for a large flank steak or for a couple of skirt steaks.

for the marinade:
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt-free lemon pepper*

just before grilling:
kosher salt

* Salt-free lemon pepper can be hard to find. If you only can find the lemon-pepper containing salt, don’t add it to the steaks until just before grilling. And omit the kosher salt (see steps below).
* You can always make your own lemon pepper, too: For 1 teaspoon lemon pepper substitute 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest + 1/8 teaspoon fine ground pepper

1. Whisk together Worcestershire sauce and olive oil in a bowl or in a vessel in which you plan on using to marinate the steaks. (Alternatively, pour ingredients into a ziplock bag.) Liberally sprinkle steaks on both sides with salt-free lemon pepper. (Note: If you are using lemon-pepper containing salt, do not add any during the marinating process.) Place steaks into bowl with marinade or into ziplock bag and submerge with marinade. Let sit for 20 minutes and up to 24 hours.

2. Just before grilling, remove steaks from marinade and place on a plate. Discard marinade. Season steaks on both sides lightly with kosher salt — Worcestershire sauce is salty, so you just need a light sprinkling here. (Note: If you are using the lemon-pepper containing salt, season steaks with it on both sides in this step and don’t add any kosher salt.)

3. That’s it. Fire up that grill.

Falafel with Lima Bean Salad

falafel, just fried

When you live in a land where your best options for ethnic food reside in the hot-food buffet line at Wegmans, you have to take matters into your own hands. Several days ago, after finding myself pedalling to Christos’ falafel cart in a daydream, I hopped off my bike, pulled out my “bean” file, and thumbed to a Bittman recipe I’ve been meaning to make for five years now:
For the Best Falafel, Do it All Yourself.

And so I did. And now I’m kicking myself for having waited so long. Especially when, as it turns out, there is nothing tricky about making falafel.

A few notes: 1. Plan ahead — dried chickpeas or fava beans have to soak for 24 hours. 2. A food processor (or a good blender) is essential. 3. Deep frying is required, but don’t be scared — falafel, as Bittman says, “is perfect for novice deep-fryers.” If you’re at all wary, watch Bittman’s falafel-making video — it gave me just the boost of confidence I needed before game-time.

Falafel is delicious. Also, filling. You won’t miss the meat. With some pita or naan (store-bought naan is quite delicious these days), a few chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, and some sort of spicy sauce (recipe below), you have a meal. I made a lima bean salad but any green or chopped vegetable salad would complement the falafel nicely.

A note on this lima bean salad: Last fall, I received an incredible package in the mail. It was filled with Rancho Gordo beans. I ate those beans for months and then ordered some more, including some large white limas, the foundation for one of my favorite dishes at Amada, a fava and lima bean salad, served warm swimming in olive oil aside toasted bread. It is delicious. Elements from the Amada salad — roasted red peppers, sliced red onion, fresh fava beans (or frozen edamame in a pinch) — have inspired the lima bean salad featured here.

A note on Rancho Gordo beans: I’ve made this salad several times now and must say that while Rancho Gordo beans (or any heirloom beans) are not essential, they do make a mighty tasty salad. My dear friend’s mother, Ruth, a bean connoisseur, said it best: “I like beans when they’ve cooked enough to start creating their own sauce rather than clinking around together in the water.” We had been discussing beans over email and analyzing the differences between heirloom beans and standard super market beans. For Ruth, the biggest difference comes down to texture: the RG beans are able to maintain their integrity — their skin provides just a bit of resistance before giving into the tooth — while still creating a creamy sauce. I couldn’t agree more.

One final note: Sike. So many notes here! No more notes. I promise.

bite of falafel

lima bean and roasted red pepper salad

falafel mix

Apparently in Egypt, falafel is more often made with fava beans than with chickpeas.
fava beans

falafel ingredients

falafel ingredients in cuisinart

falafel ingredients in cuisinart

falafel, with lima bean salad

roasted red peppers, red onions, scallions

lima bean and roasted red pepper salad

lima bean and roasted red pepper salad

Homemade Falafel
Source: Mark Bittman and the New York Times
Watch Bittman prepare the recipe here.

1¾ cup dried chickpeas or fava beans (I used favas)
2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
1 small onion, quartered
1 teaspoon ground coriander*
1 tablespoon ground cumin*
Scant teaspoon cayenne pepper (I used espelette, so crushed chili flakes will work, too)
1 cup chopped parsley or cilantro (I used a mix of both and probably triple the amount)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn, for frying

*I was feeling ambitious and toasted the cumin and coriander seeds before grinding them. Just a thought if you feel like taking the extra step.

For serving:
pita bread or naan bread (I used Wegman’s brand naan — delicious)
chopped tomatoes, cucumbers or lettuce (optional, especially if you’re serving a salad on the side)
spicy dipping sauce (recipe below) or Sriracha

1. Put beans in a large bowl and cover with water by 3 or 4 inches; they will triple in volume. Soak for 24 hours, adding water if needed to keep the beans submerged.

2. Drain beans well (reserve soaking water) and transfer to a food processor. Add remaining ingredients except oil; pulse until minced but not puréed, scraping sides of bowl down; add soaking water if necessary to allow machine to do its work, but no more than 1 or 2 tablespoons. (Note: I did add the 2 tablespoons of soaking water, but I might not have needed to had I been more patient. Try to be patient and scrape down the sides of the machine several times before adding the liquid. You might not need it.) Keep pulsing until mixture comes together. Taste, adding salt, pepper, cayenne or lemon juice to taste. (Note: I didn’t adjust the seasoning at all.)

3. Put oil in a large, deep saucepan to a depth of at least 2 inches; more is better. The narrower the saucepan the less oil you need, but the more oil you use the more patties you can cook at a time. Turn heat to medium-high and heat oil to about 350ºF (a pinch of batter will sizzle immediately). Note: My deep-fry thermometer (mind you, probably the least reliable kitchen gadget I own) read 300ºF when the falafel sizzled immediately signaling the oil was ready for action.

4. Scoop heaping tablespoons of batter and shape into balls or small patties. Fry in batches, without crowding, until nicely browned, turning as necessary; total cooking time will be less than 5 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature. (Note: As Bittman notes in the video, the whole process will take less than 10 minutes — that means frying all of the falafel takes less than 10 minutes. I found that each individual ball cooked in about 1 minute total, and I felt comfortable cooking no more than five at a time.)

Lima Bean Salad
Serves 4

1 cup dried lima beans or any dried bean you like — you need about 2 cups cooked beans
kosher salt
roasted red peppers, cut into strips (about a cup)
red onion, thinly sliced (about a 1/2 cup)
4 scallions, thinly sliced, white and light green parts
1 cup cooked shelled edamame or cooked fresh fava beans
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar

1. Cook lima beans: I did not soak my beans. I followed the “quick-soak” method on the bag, which called for boiling the beans for two minutes, then letting them sit for an hour. Then I simmered the beans until they were tender, about 40 minutes, and then let them cool completely in their cooking liquid. Once I turned the burner off, I added a big pinch of kosher salt.

2. When the beans are cooled, make the salad: Drain the beans and place in a large bowl. Season with a large pinch of kosher salt. Add the roasted red peppers, red onion, scallions and edamame to the bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil and vinegar and toss. Taste, adjusting seasoning as necessary with more salt, oil, vinegar, or pepper if desired.

Roasted Red Pepper – Yogurt – Sriracha Sauce

This is just a super simple sauce you can whip up to your liking. Finely chop 2 (or more) roasted red peppers (to yield about 1/4 cup) and place in a bowl. Add in a few heaping spoonfuls of Greek yogurt (about 1/4 cup as well). Season with kosher salt. Splash with Sriracha or the hot sauce of your liking. Stir to combine. A food processor or blender will produce a smooth sauce, but then you have to clean them. Your call.

roasted red pepper, Sriracha & Greek yogurt sauce

Orecchiette Carbonara with Asparagus — 2nd Easiest Weeknight Dinner

orecchiette carbonara with asparagus

Hello there. Just a quick midweek post here. Thought I’d share with you all how I’ve made my favorite easy weeknight dinner both more and less involved.

Let me explain. Adding asparagus to pasta carbonara adds about a minute more to your prep time but precludes the need to make any other sort of vegetable side dish — 3/4 of a pound of asparagus, for me at least, is enough roughage for one evening.

So there you have it. Fry some bacon. Sauté some onions. Cook some pasta. Blanch some asparagus. Whisk some eggs. Zest a lemon. Toss it all together, and watch how a no-cream light-on-the-cheese sauce transforms a simple pasta into a creamy-tasting, vegetable-loaded, one-dish dinner. Yum.

orecchiette and eggs

drained asparagus and orecchiette

carbonara in bowl

carbonara in pan

Pasta Carbonara
Source: Everyday Food

Coarse salt and ground pepper
6 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
4 leeks* (white and light-green parts only) or spring onions*, halved lengthwise, rinsed well, and thinly sliced
3/4 pound short pasta, such as campanelle or orecchiette
3/4 pound of asparagus, ends trimmed
2 large eggs
1/2 ounce Parmesan, grated (1/4 cup), plus more for serving (optional)
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest, plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, coarsely chopped (optional — I didn’t use them this time around)

*If you don’t have leeks or onions, any onion will do — finely chop about a half cup or more of whatever onion you have on hand.

1. Set a large pot of salted water to boil. In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from skillet. (I did not pour off any fat… it looked too good to discard.) Add leeks, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often, until leeks are golden brown, about 10 minutes.

2. Add pasta to pot and cook according to package instructions. Meanwhile, cut asparagus into 1.5- to 2-inch long pieces. In the last three minutes of the pasta cooking time, drop the asparagus into the pot of water. Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking liquid.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, Parmesan, and lemon zest and juice. Whisk 1/4 cup pasta water into egg mixture.

4. Drain pasta and asparagus and immediately add to egg mixture, along with bacon, leeks, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Sprinkle with more cheese if desired and serve immediately. Note: If you’re nervous about the egg not cooking, just throw the whole mixture back into a large skillet over medium heat for a minute or two.

orecchiette carbonara with asparagus

Keftedes (lamb meatballs) & Roasted Cabbage

lamb meatballs, just broiled

It had been a successful week in the kitchen. Lamb meatballs, loaded with mint and parsley, broiled and sprinkled with vinegar, tasted as yummy as ever; olive bread, a two-day labor of love, proved as it always does, a worthwhile effort; and tiropitas (cheese-stuffed fillo triangles), irresistibly delicious, burned my tongue far too many times.

My Easter menu was all but finalized. I was feeling really good. And then I called my mother.

We chatted about meatballs, a wheat berry cake she’s been eyeing, and some other Easter menu ideas, and then she asked: “Are you planning on making a salad?”

“No,” I replied, “I’ve discovered roasted cabbage. It is so delicious and so easy. We have been devouring heads of it in single sittings.”

“Mmm hmm,” my mother responded.

Now, let me explain something. “Mmm hmm,” in my family is code for, “I don’t like what I’m hearing.”

What?! I wanted to scream, but before I could, my mother explained: “Well, you never make cabbage for company. Your whole house will smell of it.”

I did not know this. Did you?

I protested. I insisted there could be no possible way a few roasted cabbage wedges could overpower the smells of olive bread baking and of layers of fillo crisping and of lamb meatballs broiling. I affirmed, cabbage it would be.

“Sounds wonderful,” she replied. We said our goodbyes.

Of course I crossed cabbage off my grocery list upon hanging up the phone. Even if my suspicions are correct — that if the smells of bread and pita and lamb do in fact mask the cabbage — how could I possibly make it? Why add another worry to the list? Why tempt my guests to whisper on their ways home, “Great party, but boy, what was she simmering on that stove? Cat food?” I couldn’t take the risk.

A Greek salad it would be. Oh, mothers. Mother! I love you.

lamb meatballs

Keftedes
Yield = 23 to 25 small or 12 to 14 large

1 lb. ground lamb*
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon oregano plus more for sprinkling
1 small red onion, finely minced (about 1/3 cup or more to taste)
2 heaping tablespoons mint, chopped
2 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoons olive oil
2 slices of white bread**, crusts removed
2 tablespoons red wine
1 eggs, lightly beaten
red wine vinegar for sprinkling (optional)

* If you can’t find ground lamb, buy a piece of lamb (shoulder is nice) and grind it yourself or have the butcher grind it for you at the market.
** We always use white sandwich bread (not Wonderbread) but you probably could use a bakery-style loaf of white bread, too.

1. Put the ground lamb in a large bowl and spread out to create a thin layer. Season all over with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the onion over the meat. Top with the herbs and the olive oil.

2. Meanwhile, toast the bread so it’s just dried out — not browned. (If you plan ahead, you can leave a few slices of bread out for a few hours. You also could dry out the bread in a 300ºF oven for 10 to 15 minutes.) Crumble bread slices into a separate bowl. Moisten with the wine, then add to the meat bowl. Add the egg to the meat bowl and then gently mix all of the ingredients together being careful not to over mix.

OK, it’s time to test your mixture. Preheat the broiler. Using a tablespoon (a measuring tablespoon), scoop out a level spoonful and roll it into a ball with your hands. If it holds together, you’re good to go. If it doesn’t hold together, toast another slice of bread, crumble it up, soak it in a tablespoon more of wine, and add it to the mixture. When the consistency is such that a ball holds together, place it on a sheetpan. Season with a pinch more salt, pepper and oregano. Broil 4 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool, then taste it. Adjust meat mixture accordingly with more salt, pepper, oregano, onion or herbs. Broil another one, taste it, etc. — repeat process until you’re happy with the flavors. Chill your meatball mixture for at least an hour. This mixture can be made up to a day in advance, too.

3. Preheat the broiler. Coat a sheetpan very lightly in olive oil. Shape your meatballs again using a tablespoon as a measure and place them on the prepared sheetpan as you go. Season with a pinch more salt, pepper and oregano. Broil 4 minutes or until done. (Note: You can make the meatballs any size you wish. Just adjust the time accordingly. My mother makes larger meatballs and broils them for 4 minutes a side.)

This might be a Greek tradition, but we sprinkle the just-broiled meatballs with a little bit of vinegar. Try it. You might like it, too.

Roasted Cabbage

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Toss cabbage wedges with olive oil and kosher salt on a sheetpan. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes. Test with a knife — they should be tender.

Spanakopita Strudels

spanakopita streudel

I am Greek. I did not, however, grow up in a family like the one portrayed in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. My mother did not pack me “mouss-ka-ka” for lunch. My aunt never chased me around with a roasted lamb’s eyeball. And I never felt pressure to marry a nice Greek boy nor to become a Greek baby-breeding machine.

But I do have about 50 uncles named Nicky. And my aunt’s vegetarian chili does contain lamb. And many family celebrations do culminate in circular dances stepped to the rhythm of Macedonian folk music. And every woman in my family does make it her mission to feed everyone around her till the day she dies.

Greek food is comfort food for me, and yet, if you searched the recipe archive of my blog, you’d never know it. You’d never know that before my mother comes to visit, I request she make a spanakopita, and that once she’s here, keftedes (lamb meatballs), and that before she departs, kourabiedes (powdered-sugar almond cookies).

In preparation for Easter, I’ve started brushing up on a few of my favorite Greek recipes, starting with spanakopita. Here I’ve halved my family’s recipe, which fills a 10×13-inch roasting pan with enough spanakopita to feed a large family for weeks, and made 10 strudels instead — isn’t everything more delicious when baked in small packages? In strudel form, spanakopita assumes an almost breakfast croissant-like character, a perfect bundle of flaky pastry, egg, cheese, and greens. Yum.

Over the next few weeks, as my Easter menu — spanakopita, keftedes, tzatziki, and olive bread — comes together, I hope the all-but-absent Greek category on this blog starts gaining a presence. I’ll be sure to keep you posted. Happy spring everyone.

spanakopita streudel

spanakopita ingredients

filling

When making spanakopita, don’t be tempted to brush each layer with butter. If you spoon a few teaspoons of butter over each layer, the resulting pastry will be lighter and flakier.
spanakopita assembly

streudels, unbaked

Spanakopita Strudels
Yield = 9 to 10

10oz. baby spinach
8 oz. cottage cheese (small curd)
12 oz. feta
5 eggs, beaten

1 box fillo dough,* thawed (I let mine sit out at room temperature for a few hours, but you could thaw this in the fridge overnight as well.)

1 1/2 sticks butter (gasp! melted)

*Fillo comes in all shapes and sizes these days. The variety I can find, Athens brand, weighs 1 pound and contains two 8-oz bags of 20 sheets each measuring 9 x 14-inches. This size sheet is perfect for strudels. If your fillo comes in the larger sheets, cut it in half so that it’s roughly 9 x 14-inches. (Don’t cut the fillo until you’re ready to assemble. See step 4 below.) If you’re making a large pan of spanakopita, this small size of fillo is kind of pain — use two sheets per layer.

1. In three batches, place spinach in food process and pulse until just roughly chopped. Place in a large bowl.

2. Add cottage cheese, feta cheese (break this into pieces as you add it to the bowl) and eggs. Use a spatula to stir it all up.

3. Set up your work station: A large cutting board is helpful (see picture below). I use a 1/2 cup measuring cup to measure out the filling. You need a teaspoon (like one you eat cereal with not a measuring teaspoon) to spoon butter onto the fillo dough and you need a brush to brush butter onto the assembled strudels. Line a sheetpan with parchment paper and set aside.

4. Open up the box of fillo. If your fillo is like mine — in that it comes in two sealed bags — open up one bag and unroll it. Place it next to your cutting board. Fillo dries out quickly, so if you need to step away from your assembly process, be sure to gently re-roll it or fold it up and place it in a ziplock bag. If you are working with the larger sheets, cut them in half to roughly measure 9 x 14-inches. Place half (about 20 sheets) in a ziplock bag.

5. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Place one sheet of fillo on your cutting board or work surface. Spoon three teaspoons (again, an eating spoon vs. a measuring spoon) of the melted butter over the layer of fillo (see picture above in the upper-left corner of the montage). Note: You do not have to brush it or make sure that every bit of the dough is covered with butter. The finished spanakopita is actually lighter when you don’t brush the dough with butter. Top with another layer of fillo. Spoon three more teaspoons of butter over the areas of this layer that were not covered in the previous. Top with one more layer of fillo and again spoon over three teaspoons of butter.

6. Using your 1/2-cup measuring cup, scoop out a level 1/2-cup filling and place on fillo about 2-inches from the bottom (see photo above). Pull bottom of fillo overtop of this filling. Fold sides in. Then, fold this bottom portion up and over itself and keep folding till you’ve made a little parcel. Place this parcel seam side down on your parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush top with butter. Repeat with remaining fillo and filling.

Note: I made 9 strudels, but I think I could get 10 next time around if I portion out a scant 1/2-cup versus a level 1/2-cup. Unfortunately, I had to open up my second bag of fillo and only used half of the sheets. I re-froze (not sure if this is a good idea) the remaining sheets for a future use, but if you’re feeling creative, you might be able to find a fun use for these remaining sheets. If I come up with something, I will report back.

7. Bake strudels for 30 to 45 minutes or until nice and golden brown on top. Mine baked for a little over 40 minutes but I started checking them at the 30-minute mark. Cool briefly and serve.

spanakopita assembly

Update: 7-17-2012: Full-size spanakopita for your reference. This was from this past Easter:
full-size spanakopita

full-size spanakopita

Large Spanakopita

2 10oz. pkg of baby spinach or 3 6oz pkgs (about 20 oz total)
16 oz. cottage cheese (small curd)
3 8-oz. pkgs feta (24 oz. total)
10 eggs (well beaten)

1 pkg fillo dough (20-28 layers)

3 sticks butter (gasp! melted)

1. Chop up baby spinach — you can do this very quickly in the food processor. Just do a rough chop.

2. In a large bowl, combine the spinach, cottage cheese, feta cheese (break this into pieces) and eggs. You can whisk this all together or use a spatula.

3. Butter the bottom and sides of a large roasting pan. Use about two sheets of fillo per layer — they’ll overlap a little bit, but you need about two to cover the surface of the pan. In between each layer, spoon three teaspoons (an eating spoon vs. a measuring spoon) of the butter over the layer of fillo. You don’t have to brush it or make sure that every bit of the dough is covered with butter. The finished spanakopita is actually lighter when you don’t brush the dough with butter. Depending on how many layers of dough your box of fillo has, layer half of the number of sheets in the pan to form the bottom layer of the spanakopita. Pour the filling over top. Repeat layering the fillo dough on top of the filling with butter in between each layer until you are out of dough. Brush the top layer with butter. Bake at 350ºF for 1 hour.

Crustless Quiche, Loaded with Kale

crustless quiche, loaded with kale

I was so lazy this week. Looking to add a little more roughage to my diet, I piled a whole head of barely chopped kale into a pie dish, submerged it with custard, and threw it in the oven.

I suspected it would be good. I make crustless quiche nearly once a week, always with uncooked greens, always with fresh thyme, always with crème fraîche, always following the Tartine recipe. But I worried a bit about the quantity of greens this time. It was a little absurd.

The result, however, couldn’t have made me happier. My crustless quiche had in fact become crusty, thanks to the upper most layer of leaves poking though the custard surface, which, having cooked for 40 minutes unprotected by the custard, had essentially crisped into a layer of kale chips. Yum.

That said, I felt fortunate to have been cooking for one that evening. The quiche was impossible to cut — the knife snagged greens from right and left at every stroke — and it looked like total slop on the plate. Perfect for me — I love slop — not so perfect for company, not so perfect for sharing with all of you.

Aesthetics asides, I love the flavor of loads of raw greens in quiche. And so I made another one, this time with just a few fewer greens, which I chopped just ever so coarsely. The result? A delectable balance of roughage and custard, suitable even for company.

Without a crust in the equation (a traditional crust that is), this sort of quiche is effortless to whip up for a weeknight dinner. It still takes time, however — 40 minutes in the oven and an essential 20 minutes of resting, which allows its light and creamy texture to set. But if you’re looking to make the whole shebang, here’s Tartine’s quiche recipe in its entirety.

kale

crustless quiche loaded with kale

crustless quiche loaded with kale

Crustless Quiche, Loaded (or not) with Kale

5 large eggs
3 T. all-purpose flour
1 cup crème fraîche (see recipe below)
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 T. fresh thyme*, finely chopped
1 to 3 cups** uncooked coarsely chopped kale or chard or mustard greens, etc

* Thyme is amazing (seriously, so good), but tarragon, chives, basil, really whatever herb you like will work.
** Aesthetically, 1 cup is perhaps the ideal amount, but if you’re looking to add some more roughage to your diet, 2.5 to 3 cups will do the trick. Definitely give it at least a rough chop.

1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF.

2. Place 1 egg and the flour in a large bowl and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the remaining 4 eggs until blended.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk the crème fraîche until smooth. Whisk in the milk. Pour the egg mixture through a fine mesh sieve held over the milk mixture. Whisk in the salt, pepper and thyme (or other herb).

4. Pile your greens into a pie plate. Pour the egg mixture over the greens, then press the greens down with a spatula so they are submerged in the custard. Place in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 325ºF and bake until the filling is just set, about 30 minutes longer. The center of the quiche should still feel slightly firm, rather than liquidy, when touched. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes to allow the custard to set up, so that it will slice neatly. It can be served warm or at room temperature. To serve a fully cooled quiche warm, cover it with aluminum foil and reheat it in a 325ºF for about 15 minutes.

* To make crème fraîche, place 2 cups heavy cream in bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of yogurt or 2 tablespoons of buttermilk. Stir to combine. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. Stir. Mixture will be nice and thick. Store in the fridge until ready to use.

This is how I chopped the greens second time around — the smaller pieces make for a slightly nicer eating experience.

chopped kale

Turnip & Apple Purée, Venison Backstrap, A Jean-Georges Chocolate Tart & A Valentine’s Day Recap

Venison Backstrap with Apple & Turnip Purée and wilted Watercress

Am I becoming too predictable? Are you sick of seeing vegetables puréed with apples? Do you think I should perhaps explore a cookbook other than this one and this one?

I hope not, because I’m really loving this latest variation on the vegetable-and-apple-cooked-in-milk-with-a-small-amount-of-starch technique. Similar to the cauliflower purée, the inclusion of an apple in this purée enhances the sweetness of the main vegetable — here turnips — and a small amount of starch — this time white rice — ensures a silky smooth purée, tasting as if it has lots of cream and butter, when it in fact has neither. Sally Schneider credits the technique to chef Michel Guerard and notes that celery root, carrots, rutabaga or beets — any watery or fibrous root vegetable really — could replace the turnips. I love the idea of a beet purée.

While it’s delicious on its own — I ate nearly all of it at lunch — this purée becomes exceptionally tasty aside any sort of meat, where it can sop up all of the juices pooling around its base. A drizzling of port wine reduction doesn’t hurt either, and together, the meat drippings, mash and sauce just beg to be mopped up by a slice of warm, crusty bread.

So, a Valentine’s Day dinner did in fact materialize at our house on Tuesday evening. Dessert happened, too, after a craving for something chocolaty and Valentinesy, something like the beautiful cocoa-powdered topped tart I watched Jean-Georges Vongerichten bake on tv that morning, sent me straight into the kitchen. In this tart, whipped egg whites lighten a fudgy base of dark chocolate, melted butter and egg yolks. Almond flour provides nearly all of the structure as well as a wonderful flavor, and confectioners’ sugar sweetens it ever so slightly. It’s simple to whip up, bakes for 17 minutes, and tastes just as lovely as it looks. Light and rich at the same time, it demands a dollop of homemade whipped cream. It’s not Valentine’s Day without some sort of chocolate indulgence, and this tart couldn’t be more perfect for the occasion… something to keep in mind for next year I suppose.

Beautiful turnips from our Olin-Fox Farms CSA:

On Black Friday, Ben and I bought a free-standing freezer. Shortly thereafter, Ben started hunting. And before too long, our freezer was filled to the gills with duck and deer. He cleaned one deer himself, but for the rest of the season, let a butcher in Fredericksburg handle the cleaning and portioning. I never imagined eating deer burger on a regular basis, but oh my it is delicious.
Ben, carving up a deer

free standing freezer

This is a deer backstrap (an enormous one) marinating in olive oil, garlic, thyme and sliced onions. Backstrap is a very tender cut — perhaps the most tender after the tenderloin — and extremely flavorful. It tastes best (to us at least) on the rare side. We’ve been cutting the backstrap into medallions and searing them for just one to two minutes a side. When we haven’t made our favorite sauce, we simply deglaze the pan with a little tawny port and let it reduce till it’s slightly thickened.
venison backstrap, marinating

On Tuesday morning’s Martha Stewart Show, Jean-Georges Vongerichten whipped up a beautiful, nearly flourless, chocolate cake, a recipe from his latest book Home Cooking with Jean-Georges. Watch the video here.

Jean-Georges chocolate cake

Jean-Georges chocolate cake

Jean-Georges chocolate cake

Turnip and Apple Purée
Source: Sally Schneider’s A New Way to Cook
Serves 4

1 pound turnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
3 cups low-fat (1 or 2%) milk* (2 cups will be left over for another use)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 tablespoons white rice
1 apple, peeled, cored, and quartered
2 teaspoons unsalted butter (optional — I tasted it at the end and thought adding butter seemed unnecessary, so I didn’t.)

* I used only 2 cups of milk because I was feeling guilty about using 3. It worked just fine.

1. Place the turnips in a medium saucepan, add the milk, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and a grinding or two of pepper, and bring to a boil over moderate heat. Stir in the rice, lower the heat, partially cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the apples and simmer for 10 minutes longer, or until the turnips are very tender. (The milk will curdle, but the curds will be incorporated when the turnips are pureed.) Drain the mixture in a colander set over a bowl; save the cooking liquid.

2. In a food processor, puree the turnip mixture for 1 to 2 minutes, until perfectly smooth, adding a tablespoon or two of cooking liquid if necessary. (Save the remaining flavorful liquid for soup; it can be frozen.) Process for several minutes more, scraping down the sides several times, until you have a fine puree. Season with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Taste and add the butter if you wish — I didn’t think it needed any.

3. You can make the puree several hours ahead and reheat it (or keep it warm), stirring frequently, in a covered double boiler.

Chocolate Tart
Source: Jean-Georges Vongerichten via Martha Stewart
Serves 6

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, preferably cultured, plus more for pan
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
3 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
3 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (66% cacao), chopped
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup almond flour
Dutch-process cocoa powder, for dusting (optional)

homemade whipped cream for topping (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour an 8-inch round fluted tart pan with a removable bottom or a springform pan, tapping out excess.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk together egg whites and sugar until medium-stiff peaks form.

3. Meanwhile, melt chocolate and butter in a large heatproof bowl set over (but not touching) simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat.

4. Add 1 yolk to chocolate mixture and beat to combine. Add remaining yolks and mix to combine. Add confectioners’ sugar, almond flour, and all-purpose flour; mix until combined. Add 1/3 of the egg white mixture and mix to loosen chocolate mixture. Gently fold in remaining egg white mixture.

5. Transfer to prepared cake pan and evenly spread. Transfer cake pan to oven and bake until puffed and knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 17 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool 10 minutes. Invert cake onto wire rack. Carefully re-invert and let cool completely. Dust with cocoa powder, if desired.

WARNING: Ridiculously cheesy Valentine’s Day snapshots lie ahead.
card front

I used this template for the birds. I know, I know. Totally ridiculous.
card inside

Some snapshots from the evening:
Valentine's Day

A Second Marcella Hazan Tomato Sauce + Hot Italian Sausage + Gragnano Pasta = Utter Deliciousness

Gragnana Vesuvio Pasta with Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce

It’s only February 2nd, and already I’m dreaming about Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce — you know, the one and only most delicious tomato sauce in the world. I won’t belabor my love for that sauce a sentence more, but I’d like to share with you a second Hazan tomato sauce I recently discovered.

You see, while the famed Hazan tomato sauce can indeed be made with canned San Marzano tomatoes — I’ve made it several times, and it’s very good — I find it leaves me wanting. In this other Hazan sauce recipe, from Marcella Cucina, canned tomatoes are brightened by olive oil and sautéed onions, a few cloves of crushed garlic, a little white wine, some chopped fresh parsley, and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes. After about 20 minutes of simmering, it’s done. And it’s delicious.

While making this sauce, I learned something, too, from a note in the book:

As tomatoes cook down and their watery part evaporates, the fat you have used begins to run clear. When you skim the surface of the sauce with the side of a wooden spoon, or wipe away the sauce with the spoon from the bottom of the skillet, you see clear fat following the spoon’s trail, an indication that the tomato sauce is done.

It’s hard to envision this occurrence — clear fat trailing the path of your wooden spoon — but it happens, and when it does, your sauce is done. Cool, right? That Marcella, she knows her stuff.

I admit, this sauce doesn’t compare to the Hazan tomato sauce — what sauce does? — but it doesn’t leave me wanting. And it just might help these months leading up to tomato season pass a wee more quickly.

ingredients for pasta sauce

This is by far the best pasta I have ever tasted. I have a dear friend in NYC to thank for introducing it to me. It’s dry pasta from the Gragnano region of Italy, and my friend finds it at Eataly, a spot I have yet to explore, but which I hear I might like. The pasta hardly needs a sauce — it tastes delectable on its own with butter and Parmigiano Reggiano — but its shape is ideal for catching all of the goodies in any sauce, especially this one. It’s a real treat. Unfortunately, I cannot find an online source for this pasta. If any of you out there know of one, please let me know. I will be forever grateful! Eataly and Po Valley Foods now sell this pasta online.
dry Gragnano pasta from Eataly

Gragnano pasta from Eataly

Afeltra pasta from Eataly

Parmigiano Reggiano

I found a link to this Saveur video — How to Peel a Head of Garlic in Less than 10 seconds — on Food52. Totally amazing. It really works!
garlic, peeled after watching an incredible video

tomato sauce, just finished stewing

Ella, such a little helper

Browned hot Italian venison sausage… the husband has been hunting again. Venison, by the way, is so delicious. More on that soon.
venison sausage

Pasta with Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce & Hot Italian Sausage
Adapted from Marcella Cucina
Yield = enough for about 1/2 lb. to 3/4 lb. pasta depending on how saucy you like your pasta

For the tomato sauce:
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cups finely chopped white or yellow onion
3 cloves garlic, minced, be sure to watch this video
1/3 cup finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup white wine (I made this with Sherry once, too, and really liked it)
1 28-oz can of peeled whole San Marzano tomatoes,* crushed
crushed chili flakes
kosher salt

* I saw this trick on the Martha Stewart Show: Empty your can of tomatoes into a large bowl. Use scissors to cut the tomatoes into smallish pieces. Normally, I just get my hands in the bowl and squish the tomatoes to break them up, but this is really messy. If you are messy-averse, try the scissor method.

For the pasta dish:

1/2 lb. hot Italian sausage* (or more or less to taste)
1/2 to 3/4 lb. pasta**
freshly chopped parsley***
freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano to taste

* Optional — The sauce is flavorful enough without sausage, but if you’re looking to add a little protein to the dish, sausage is a good fit. I used hot Italian venison sausage, but any hot Italian sausage will be delicious. In Hazan’s book, the sauce is paired with lobster.

** New Yorkers — If you can get a hold of some Gragnana Vesuvio Pasta from Eataly, use it. It’s unbelievably delicious. I imagine it is available in other places as well, but I’m just not sure where — I can’t find an online source for it in the states. Eataly and Po Valley Foods now sell this pasta online. When I run out of my stash of the good stuff, I’ll return to using my favorites from my local supermarket — Barilla or DeCecco gemelli or orecchiette.

*** Optional — this is merely to add some color to the finished dish. The sauce is flavorful enough without the additional parsley

1. Place the olive oil in a medium-sized saucepan with the onions and sauté on medium until pale gold — you’re not trying to brown the onions here; you just want to sweat the onions.

2. Add the garlic and cook just a few seconds until you smell its aroma.

3. Add the parsley, stir once or twice, and then add the wine. Let it simmer for a couple of minutes until the alcohol smell dissipates.

4. Add the tomatoes, the crushed chili flakes and a generous pinch of salt, and cook at a steady simmer, until the fat begins to separate from the sauce (see note below*), about 20 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, brown the sausage in a large skillet until cooked through.

6. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook your pasta al dente. Drain, reserving some of the pasta cooking liquid only if you’ve made the sauce in advance and are reheating it to toss with pasta.

7. Place pasta in a large serving bowl. Toss with enough sauce to coat. Fold in sausage (if using). Sprinkle with some more parsley (optional). Pass cheese on the side.

*Hazan’s note: As tomatoes cook down and their watery part evaporates, the fat you have used begins to run clear. When you skim the surface of the sauce with the side of a wooden spoon, or wipe away the sauce from the spoon from the bottom of the skillet, you see clear fat following the spoon’s trail, an indication that the tomato sauce is done.

**My note: The sauce can be made ahead and heated as needed. It will definitely thicken up as it sits (especially in the fridge), so you might want to reserve some pasta cooking liquid to thin it out when you reheat it. It’s not necessary, but I’ve found this to be helpful.

Gragnana Vesuvio Pasta with Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce

Date Night at Home? Seared Duck Breast with Port Wine Reduction; Duck Hunting at Pine Island in Louisiana

seared and sauced duck breast

Seared Duck Breast with Port Wine Reduction — it’s a dish fit for a bistro menu. Truly, the sauce tastes as if it took hours to prepare, as if pans loaded with veal bones had to be roasted, as if those bones then had to simmer into a rich stock, and as if that stock had to reduce to a syrup. It’s the sort of sauce that elicits comments such as, “I could bathe in this.” I promise you, anyone could make this sauce. It’s foolproof.

The sauce, incredibly, has only three ingredients — port wine, shallots and chicken stock. Admittedly, a 750-ml bottle of port — cheap port but port nonetheless — gets reduced by more than half. And making it does require a bit of love, by which I mean time, about an hour total. This is not a sauce you want to casually dip your grilled burger into (as fantastic as that sounds). It’s a sauce you want to reserve for a special occasion, perhaps a date night at home?

It’s certainly a good recipe to have in your repertoire. It comes from Sally Schneider’s A New Way to Cook, one of my all-time favorite cookbooks. The spice rub recipe, a mixture of orange zest, thyme, salt, pepper and sugar, is a must-know as well. It’s simple yet critical for tenderizing the meat and imparting a subtle orange flavor, which complements duck so well.

Until about a month ago, when my husband returned from a duck hunting trip at Pine Island in Louisiana, I hadn’t cooked a duck breast in years. Duck is so yummy! I had forgotten. It has been such a treat having such incredibly tasty meat on hand. And while these breasts hardly need additional seasoning, the spice rub and sauce transform a simple seared piece of meat into a bistro-style entrée.

Unfortunately, I can’t prescribe a foolproof method for cooking the duck breasts. With a poor ventilation system and a smoke detector located just inches from our kitchen, we’ve developed a cooking method that foremost prevents the house from burning down. We start the breasts stovetop in a cast iron skillet and finish them in a 450ºF oven, flipping them once, cooking them no more than five minutes total. When the breasts are resting, we finish reducing the sauce, pour some wine, and prepare for date night at home. It’s fun. I think you’d enjoy it, too.

seared and sauced duck breast

Bags of cryovaced duck breast from Pine Island Hunting Camp.
duck breasts from Pine Island Hunting Camp in Louisiana

The husband, surrounded by dogs, never happier:
the husband, with dogs, never happier

morning at Pine Island Hunting Camp

Pine Island Lodge

Some good southern cooking — fried soft shell crabs, fried oysters, fried shrimp. Apparently there were some incredible biscuits, too. I’m just a little jealous.

some good southern cooking

The rub — a mix of orange zest, thyme, salt, pepper and sugar — for the duck breasts.
the rub — orange zest, thyme, salt, pepper and sugar

the rub — orange zest, thyme, salt, pepper and sugar

breasts with rub

breasts with rub

shallots and port wine reduction sauce

Duck Breast with Port Wine Sauce
Source: Sally Schneider’s A New Way to Cook

Notes: I cannot give you a foolproof way of cooking your duck breasts. I’ve described what we do below to yield a perfectly medium-rare duck breast from our kitchen, but every piece of meat is different, every oven is different, every pan is different, etc. There are so many factors and truthfully, we ruined several duck breasts before we figured out just how to get it right. The rub and the sauce recipes below, however, are simple and foolproof.

The Rub

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper (Schneider does a mix of 1/4 tsp each of black and white peppercorns)
4 allspice berries (I didn’t have any so didn’t use any)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest (I used the zest of one whole orange)
1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

2 duck breasts*

Port wine sauce (recipe below)

*Schneider recommends boneless Moulard or Muscovy duck breast halves (3/4 to 1 pound each) or 4 boneless Pekin duck breast halves (about 6 ounces each). She also recommends removing the fat, which I have to disagree with — I think the fat adds nice flavor and helps protect the meat during the cooking process.

1. Schneider’s recipe calls for a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder because she started with whole peppercorns and allspice berries. I simply stirred my salt, freshly ground pepper, sugar, zest and thyme in a small bowl. It worked just fine. The mixture should look like sand.

2. Place the duck breasts on a platter and rub the spice mixture into them. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. About 20 minutes before cooking, remove the duck breasts from the refrigerator and return to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Pat dry with paper towels. With a paring knife, remove the tenderloin, the thin strip of meat that runs lengthwise down the underside of each breast.

3. Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat. When the pan is hot — it doesn’t have to be smoking — put the duck breasts in fat side down. Let the breasts sizzle for about a minute (or longer if your kitchen isn’t getting too smoky) or a minute and a half, then place the pan in the oven. After two and half minutes total have passed, open the oven, flip the breasts over, close the oven and cook for another two to two and a half minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, transfer the breasts to a platter, and let rest for five minutes. Turn your oven off.

4. While the breasts are resting, finish reducing the sauce. (See my notes below with the sauce recipe — I make the sauce a day in advance, and then heat as much as I think we need for the two of us while the breasts are resting.) Place your sauce in a small sauce pan or frying pan and heat over medium-high heat. In no time, the sauce should start to thicken up, at which point you should remove the pan from the stovetop. Slice the breasts, if desired, and pour your beautiful sauce over top. (Or, don’t slice the breasts, just pour the sauce over top.)

Port Wine Sauce
Yield = 1/2 to 2/3 cup, about 4 to 6 servings

Notes: I make the sauce a day in advance and in the final reducing phase, I only reduce it to about a cup versus a half cup. Then, when I am serving the duck, since it is usually just for my husband and me, I pour about a half cup of the sauce into a sauce pan and reduce that amount to a syrup, which is more than enough for two servings. And then, on a subsequent night, I have more sauce with which to do the same thing. Am I making sense? Please contact me if you have questions.

One 750-millilter bottle Ruby Port (I couldn’t find Ruby Port, so I just bought the cheapest port I could find at the grocery store.)
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1/2 cup unsalted homemade or canned low-sodium chicken stock

In a heavy medium saucepan, combine the port and shallots and bring to a gentle boil over moderately low heat. Cook until the port has reduced to 1 cup, about 30 minutes.

Strain into a small saucepan and add the chicken stock. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook until reduced to about 1/2 to 2/3 cup, about 15 minutes longer. Serve hot.

The sauce will keep up to 1 month refrigerated in a tightly closed jar.

The duck, pre saucing:
seared duck breast

Pasta Carbonara — Easiest Weeknight Dinner

pasta carbonara

I know what you’re thinking. Pasta carbonara? The week after Thanksgiving? Who needs it? But, and forgive me if I’m wrong, I think you might be thinking of an entirely different dish, one containing cream and butter and vast amounts of cheese?

I had misconceptions, too. But true pasta carbonara is in fact light, containing no cream at all. And this recipe, from Everyday Food, calls for sautéed leeks, grated lemon zest and freshly squeezed lemon juice, flavors that make this carbonara preparation particularly fresh and light. What I love most about this dish is the sauce, made with two whisked eggs, 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking liquid, and 1/4 cup of grated Parmigiano Reggiano, an incredibly creamy mixture (despite containing no cream at all) that coats the pasta so well, making every bite especially tasty. Oddly, it tastes not the least bit eggy. Just creamy and delicious. Yum.

With bacon and eggs on hand, dinner can be assembled in a flash. I’ve made this dish once a week since my Everyday Food magazine arrived in mid-October. Nothing makes me happier than whisking that pasta cooking liquid with the eggs and cheese, watching it transform into a magically flavorful sauce, and throwing dinner on the table. I think you’ll enjoy it, too.

pasta carbonara

bacon, lemon & leeks

When my dear auntie was visiting last week, she brought me some goodies — eggs, bacon, sausage and chicken — from Kinderhook Farm in New York. Oh my gosh, what a treat! With the chicken — one of the best chickens I’ve ever tasted — we made Zuni Cafe’s roast chicken and bread salad; with the eggs and bacon, we made several batches of pasta carbonara (in addition to enjoying them on their own for breakfast); and with the sausage — so peppery and delicious — we made breakfast sandwiches on English muffins. Yum yum yum. Thank you Auntie!

eggs from Kinderhook Farm

Pasta Carbonara

Source: Everyday Food

Coarse salt and ground pepper
6 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
4 leeks (white and light-green parts only), halved lengthwise, rinsed well, and thinly sliced
3/4 pound short pasta, such as campanelle or orecchiette (I used gemelli and more like 1/2 lb.)
2 large eggs
1/2 ounce Parmesan, grated (1/4 cup), plus more for serving (optional)
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest, plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, coarsely chopped (optional)

1. Set a large pot of salted water to boil. In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from skillet. (I did not pour off any fat… it looked too good to discard.) Add leeks, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often, until leeks are golden brown, about 10 minutes.

2. Add pasta to pot and cook according to package instructions. Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking liquid. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, Parmesan, and lemon zest and juice. Whisk 1/4 cup pasta water into egg mixture.

3. Drain pasta and immediately add to egg mixture, along with bacon, leeks, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Sprinkle with more cheese if desired and serve immediately.

Beautiful eggs from Kinderhook Farm:
eggs from Kinderhook farm