Parsnip & Pear Soup | Also, How to be a Better/More Efficient Soup Maker This Winter

pear and parsnip soup

Let’s get right down to business: soup season has officially arrived, bringing with it bowls of warm, comforting goodness, smells that permeate the house, the nourishment we crave on chilly days, and blisters to our little, out-of-practice fingers.

Whenever I make soup, I immediately think back to my time at Fork, when I spent the better part of a year prepping carrots, parsnips, onions and celery, the four vegetables that went into every hot soup chef Thien made. Almost every other morning began with soup making, with the stovetop lined with cauldrons, with a constant sprint up and down the basement stairs, in and out of the walk-in, a large aluminum bowl in hand, hours of peeling and chopping before me. The blisters made haste, but soon calloused, making the work less painful, physically if not mentally.

So many soups require a lot of chopping, but the time dedicated to the process almost always pays off: quantities that feed a crowd often at little cost. Thien liked to remind me that soup was how restaurants made money.

OK, in an effort to make soup season go a little more smoothly, I’ve compiled a few thoughts below: Continue reading

Nigella Lawson’s Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake with Booze and Coffee, Plus Two Fair Trade Giveaways

Nigella Lawson's dense chocolate loaf cake with brandy and coffee

Nigella Lawson’s recipe for dense chocolate loaf cafe, well traversed in the blogosphere, needs no tinkering. Moist, rich, tender, chocolatey — what’s to improve?

Well, when my box of Fair Trade treats arrived, and I saw the bag of coffee and chocolate nestled together, I couldn’t help think that coffee, known to heighten the flavor of chocolate without imparting much coffee flavor at all, might make a subtle difference. And because a splash of booze is often a nice addition to quick breads/loaf cakes, what would be the harm in replacing the final two tablespoons of water with brandy? And because every cake needs a pinch of salt, a pinch of salt would be added, too.

The result? Intense chocolate, subtle coffee and booze, perfect sweetness, complete deliciousness. This cake gets better by the day and is as impossible to resist with morning coffee as with postprandial cordials. Coffee, booze, salt — somehow I think you (and Nigella) would approve. Continue reading

Buttermilk Biscuits with Maple & Sea Salt | Also, Tips from Joanne Chang on Biscuit Making

just-baked buttermilk biscuits

Last month I traveled to a wedding in Boston via a Greyhound bus, which dropped me off with hours to spare before the big event (so considerately deciding not to break down till the trip home), affording me the chance to have lunch at Flour Bakery.

I arrived just as the last sticky bun got snatched up, which in hindsight was a blessing, because had it still been around, I never would have discovered the best BLT in the world — seriously, the best — and I most likely wouldn’t have grabbed a brown butter rice krispie treat (also incredibly delicious) on the way out the door. I’ve read about Joanne Chang in blogs and magazines for years, watched her beat Bobby Flay in a sticky bun throwdown, drooled over both of her cookbooks at the library, but for reasons I can’t explain had never made any of her recipes until a few days ago.

The recipe, buttermilk biscuits with maple and black pepper, is in Dana Cowin’s new cookbook, Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen. Many of you likely know Dana as the Editor in Chief of Food and Wine magazine, as someone who knows food better than anyone, as someone who wouldn’t make too many mistakes in the kitchen, or who would be an unlikely person to admit to them.

Well, the secret’s out: Continue reading

Roasted Acorn Squash with Maple Butter | New York

roasted acorn squash

The only thing I love more than roasted acorn squash is …

…stumbling upon Roberta’s at something called Madison Square Eats just minutes after emerging from Penn Station:
Roberta's at Madison Square Eats

…eating beet-cured lox and cream cheese on Black Seed everything bagels followed by kouign amann from Dominique Ansel:
Black Seed Bagels and Kouign Amann

…meeting a dear high school friend for dinner at a place called Ichabod’s that serves the most unbelievable squash dumplings with brown butter, sage, and truffle oil (not pictured), flowering kale caesar (not pictured), duck breast with dirty wild freekah (not pictured), Old Bay chips (pictured! addictive!) and …
Ichabod's menu & Old Bay chips

…the most unbelievable ice cream sundae: homemade vanilla ice cream, salted caramel sauce, pretzel bits and roasted marshmallow! It’s the only dessert on the menu. I can’t stop thinking about it:
Ichabod's ice cream sunday

There is never enough time in New York. Continue reading

The Crispiest Oven Fries

crispy oven fries

Before I started paying attention to local food and to cooking with seasonal ingredients, I would have categorized potatoes as a winter vegetable, miraculously growing in the frozen solid earth, harvested by farmers through layers of snow.

I never would have guessed that a potato’s peak season in colder climates is actually midsummer through late fall, and that during these months, never do potatoes taste so good. Every summer, when the potatoes start arriving in our CSA, I am blown away by their flavor, by how they need nothing more than olive oil and salt, by how many potatoes we consume as a family each week. I’ve been on such a potato bender recently I’ve had to supplement our supply at the farmers’ market, and when I was there last, I asked the woman at the Barber’s Farm table why the summer potatoes were so good. She responded: “Because they’re fresh!”

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Crispy Eggplant Rounds & Eggplant Parmesan

crispy eggplant rounds

A few weeks ago, as I stood at the counter flouring, egg dipping, and breading two pounds of eggplant rounds, a little dolly screaming at my feet wanting nothing more than to be held at the height of this witching hour, I found myself asking “WHY?!” I know better than to make this sort of thing at this sort of hour. I shouldn’t be so stubborn. But a craving for eggplant parmesan left me inflexible, and I pushed on until crumbs and parmesan covered every slice, trying to stay composed through every piercing cry. Oiy.

But as soon as those rounds entered the oven, I relaxed. And this is the beauty of The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook eggplant parmesan recipe. Once the breading is done, the hard work is over — there is no standing at the oven, frying the eggplant in batch after batch. The Test Kitchen’s recipe calls for baking the eggplant on preheated baking sheets, a technique they developed to solve the oil-laden, pan-fried eggplant problem that leads to heavy, greasy eggplant parmesan. Oven-frying saves time to boot.

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Roasted Poblano, Onion, and Jack Quesadilla & A Favorite Drink

roasted poblano, onion & Jack quesadilla

I had one goal in mind when setting out to the farmers’ market this weekend: return with shishito peppers. I keep reading about them, and every time I do, I am reminded of a lovely dinner years ago at Casa Mono, where I sat at the bar with two friends, popping blistered, salty padrón peppers one after another, watching as the cooks worked with intense focus. Of all the delicious bites we sampled that evening, those charred peppers were the unanimous favorite. We ordered two plates.

I have been on the search ever since for padrón peppers and, more recently, shishito and fushimi peppers, which I understand are all similar — small, green and thin walled — and take well to high heat, fast cooking and showers of salt.

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German Peach Pie with Brown Butter & Walnuts

german peach pie and ice cream

A few weeks ago, in the daily cooking newsletter from the NY Times, Kim Severson discussed the joys of cooking with friends, the benefits of learning from others, the potential discoveries that might be made, such as peach and blackberry crisp, “whose luscious secret, borrowed from the pastry chef Nancy Silverton, [is] four tablespoons of butter browned in a saucepan with a vanilla bean poured over the fruit before the sugar and nut topping [goes] on.”

No recipe was provided, and I couldn’t find an exact match with my googling, but I think the point is that you don’t need a recipe here. Every bubbling-fruit, crumb-topped concoction you make can be adapted to have vanilla bean-flecked brown butter.

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Roasted Tomato and Bread Soup

roasted-tomato bread soup

In April of last year, Vince Vaughn hosted SNL, and delivered a hilarious, wise and insightful monologue. After acknowledging the importance of the audience’s role in the success of an SNL show, he ventured off stage, engaged a few of the audience members, and confiscated a cell phone, noting he “believe[s] sometimes it’s better to take the memories with our hearts and minds.” He then turned to the camera to say: “That’s for all you kids out there tonight. It’s OK to put down the phone and be a part of the memory. That lasts a lifetime as well.”

I’ve thought about this monologue often since seeing that SNL episode but never so much as last week, when three hours after arriving in Minneapolis en route to a cabin in Wisconsin, I realized I had left my camera on the plane and that all of the moments I had looked forward to capturing in billions of pixels during the week with friends and family would by necessity be cemented solely into my heart and mind. I know a camera is just a thing, and I shouldn’t fret — we have our health! and happiness! — but I still have a pit in my stomach. New camera arriving tomorrow. Yay.

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Swiss Chard Salad with Lemon, Parmesan & Breadcrumbs

swiss chard salad

I have been eating raw kale salads for four years now. I remember the first one I had. I was in California, shocker, with my aunt, enjoying lunch at a place called, wait for it, True Food Kitchen. We loved the Tuscan kale salad so much that we asked the server for some details. We learned, if I remember correctly, that the kale had marinated in lemon and olive oil before it was tossed with breadcrumbs and parmesan. In 2010, eating kale raw (for many of us) was revolutionary.

I have eaten and prepared many many many raw kale salads since, and yet, not once — not once! — has it occurred to me to try treating Swiss chard, a green I seem to have on hand at all times, in the same manner. For whatever reason, I have relegated chard to the vegetables-that-require-cooking family, and just last week I learned that this placement was seriously misguided.

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