Cassoulet of Anger and Acceptance

Lots of emotion went into this dish.

Anger (This weather is pissing me right off.)

Hope (Something comfort food-y would give The Finger to this snow!)

Dejection (But said snow has made it impossible to drive to the store.)

Acceptance (Maybe I’m stuck, but there must be odds and ends around here that’ll do.)

That’s really the four-stage story behind this cassoulet — the product of snow and laziness.

Looking around the general kitchen area, I spied with my little eye:
lamb shoulder cubes
1 beef shin bone
Rancho Gordo flageolet beans
World Spice Merchants‘ Herbes de Provence (with lavender)
…and enough tomatoes, onions, garlic and beef stock to fill in the blanks

And that was it. I called it cassoulet, though I make no claims to authenticity.

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Hard to believe that in just a few months we’ll go from this…

to this…

Spring can’t get here fast enough. I’ll even leave behind my precious cassoulet for it.

recipe after the jump

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A Very Special Mid-Week Post

aka, the ass-kicker

< cue swelling strings > OK, it’s not really special at all — just a garden-variety post — but if you’ve been here before, you’ll know I only update once a week at most. This is me trying to be better about that sort of thing.

Another change for the better? Instead of my annual satisfying-yet-ineffective tactic of resisting the return to fall, I’m embracing it with open arms this year. No, seriously: I didn’t whine even a little bit about the annual closet switchout, dutifully donned a hat and jacket when morning temperatures and the Hudson Hawk made my walk too brisk for bareness and have sucked it up about not seeing my house in daylight during the week. Just trying to Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive here, and the easiest way I know to do that is through cooking, focusing on seasonal goodness.

Gil can attest to my current pumpkin/winter squash obsession. (We’ll be attending castings for Jersey Shore if I don’t cut it out. Coming soon to a boardwalk near you: Amy “The Back End” and Gil “The Incident” Roth.) I’ve been roasting pumpkin like crazy for custards, puddings and mashes, but my favorite use so far has been for soup. What you see in the picture above isn’t revolutionary and won’t set the world on fire, but it’s thoroughly delicious and feels rich and indulgent even though it’s (gasp) vegan. It’s a lush pumpkin soup flavored with roasted garlic, coconut milk and Singapore curry — a lovely, light spice blend that doesn’t overwhelm any other components of the dish.

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I jumped feet-first into serious cold-weather cooking last weekend to satisfy a craving for chickpea soup (pasta e ceci, minus the pasta this time around). To make it gluten-free, I substituted ribbons of rainbow chard for the pasta, adding them to the soup just before serving so they wilted just enough to turn silky but still provided some texture with each bite. It’s a different animal than the original, to be sure, but the chard really added a nice dimension to the soup and I figure extra servings of greens are always a good thing.

When I was doing my grad school stint in St. Louis, one of the guys in my program announced to the office, “I can always tell who the Southerners are when it gets cold. You people bitch all winter long.” So yeah, I’m sure I’ll change my tune once we get deeper into the season, but for now, I’m happy enough not to fight Mother Nature. Wow, can roasted root vegetables be far behind?

recipes after the jump

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Redo weekend

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Sometimes it’s a good idea to revisit old favorites. I’ve been really blah with overtones of meh lately about pretty much everything including preparing meals. Like Milli Vanilli, I’ll blame it on the rain, but that doesn’t make the prospect of cooking any more exciting. So what’s a girl to do when her hair is permanently frizzy, she hasn’t seen the sun in days and can’t be bothered to update her cooking blog? Declare a Redo Weekend!

The day started with an update to the cornmeal blueberry pancakes I first tried last summer. With so many gorgeous berries at the market right now, it seemed a shame to limit the pancakes to blueberries, so I halved the batch and did a strawberry version as well. Couldn’t decide which I liked more, so I just alternated them on the plate and doused the stack with maple syrup.

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Cut to two hours later.

After waking from my sugar coma, I got to work on another old favorite: tongue tacos and refried beans. Mmmmm-hmmmm. I’d picked up a three-pound behemoth at the Snoep Winkle Farm booth a week earlier and it had been weighing heavily on my mind. I tweaked the old recipe pretty heavily, doubling the beer in the braising liquid and adding hefty amounts of toasted cumin and coriander seeds.

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After braising, I set the tongue aside to cool. Then came the peeling, which didn’t skeeve me out nearly as much this time around.

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It still wasn’t pleasant, mind you, but my toes didn’t curl at all. PROGRESS!

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While my hands were still covered in tongue juices (am I not the most enchanting creature ever?), I shredded the meat before cooking it down a second time with onions, additional spices and even more beer.

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The tongue tasted heavily of beef as you’d expect, but turned silky and tender in a way no other cut can. We had the tacos with and without salsa because, again, it was too hard to decide which way was better.

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No picture of the refried beans because I’m just not that good of a photographer, but they were creamy and delicious. I used borlotti beans (an odd choice, I’ll admit) from Rancho Gordo cooked in the usual way — onions, garlic, cumin, beer, beef broth, salt & pepper — until they were soft, then fried them with some bacon fat and onion, mashing them down as they simmered. It might be too soon for another Redo Weekend, but I’m really tempted to do this again for the 4th.

Inspiration has been peeking around the corners for me this week, so I hope to have something new for you soon. But in the meantime, enjoy the weekend and try a redo if you need to.

new post

Hey, all. I owe you a big wrap-up of our last week or so, but my mind is elsewhere today. Ru was attacked by a neighbor’s dog yesterday on his afternoon stroll with the dog walker and is at the animal hospital awaiting surgery this morning. Gil’s out of town until tomorrow, so I’m just waiting by the phone and cleaning the house from top to bottom to keep busy.

The situation is especially infuriating because this same dog (a husky) broke through his electric fence and attacked another dog just two weeks ago and it seems the owners didn’t do enough to make sure it couldn’t happen again. So our boy has a big chunk of his haunch missing and needs one surgery today to install a rubber drain and another in a month or so to remove the drain and close the wound. (Ru’s vet took plenty of pictures of the wounds and his office notified the police department, so thank goodness that was taken care of before I even got there.)

So I rushed home from work and got to the animal hospital in time to see him before they closed for the evening.

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He was even more pitiful than this when I first saw him, but at least his bed made him comfortable.

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There was some panting, but he was loopy from the pain meds, so he wasn’t in a bad mood at all. I think he enjoyed the dirty t-shirt I brought for him, too.

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But even getting his favorite new toy (John Calamari or Squid Vicious, depending on which one of us you ask) didn’t stop him from accusing me with his eyes when I was ready to go.

a week’s wrap-up after the jump

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Something old, something new


This isn’t your halmoni’s yuk gae jang.

I’ve been in love with Korean cooking for years, ever since I dated a Korean cowboy-type from Tulsa during my days of indentured servitude in grad school. He came from a family of amazing cooks and it really showed. Being me, I learned everything I could from him and then some, with the help of a basic, but now out-of-print cookbook.

The dishes that probably spring to mind when you think of Korean food are kimchi, savory-sweet bulgogi or my entry in the grilled-meats-that-can-make-you-weep contest galbee, but my favorite has always been yuk gae jang. It’s a beef soup so spicy with hot pepper paste it’ll turn your tongue inside-out. And I’m a fire eater, so you know, be careful if you order this in a restaurant.

Traditional versions of this soup still crop up in my kitchen from time to time, but over the years I’ve bastardized the recipe to make it more veg friendly. It’s meat-free, not vegetarian, but it’d be easy enough to substitute a mushroomy vegetable broth if you want to avoid animal products entirely.


Can you handle the heat?

I tweaked the basic recipe I last posted by making the stock with roasted meaty marrow bones to deepen the beef flavor. To increase the umami even more, I sautéed porcini mushrooms until they’d caramelized, then added them to the pot along with thinly sliced portobellos. It was just what I wanted that evening to warm my bones after the long greyhound hike, but was even better two days later when I stirred a couple of beaten eggs into the leftovers as they were reheating.

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But I’m always on the lookout for something new, as my overfilled bookmarks folder and Google docs will confirm. One of the more recent entries was a truly vegetarian option from 101 Cookbooks, Giant Chipotle White Beans. It was a last-minute decision, so I didn’t have time to soak any of my Rancho Gordo selections; instead, I cracked open the two cans of beans we had in the pantry — cannellinis and garbanzos. It wasn’t as weird as you’d think when all was said and done, but I’d probably stick to just cannellinis in the future.

But I’m here to testify about the sauce, which was the star of the show — beautifully balanced, smoky and deceptively rich, and dead simple to make. (I doubled the sauce recipe so I could use the other half on pizza later in the week and think that was one of my better food decisions in a while. Truly spectacular.) The beans were topped with some Bulgarian feta I’ve had marinating downstairs for a couple of months, and even with the canned bean melange, the dish was a home run. We nearly ate it all in one sitting, but just managed to save enough for me to bring to work as leftovers. Yes, leftovers. Holy schmoley, this was good stuff.

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Real Kitchens 101: Your weekend lagniappe.

Happy 2009

We sprang out of bed at the crack of mid-morning today, and after a strong cup of coffee, I got started on the traditional new year’s day meal of black-eyed peas and greens (turnip, this year).

Carefully sorting through the beans, I searched for rocks and discarded the misshapen beans, then chopped the other ingredients according to my all-time favorite recipe from The Prudhomme Family Cookbook.

The greens are more intuitive. I never make them the same way twice, but they always start with stemming, chopping and a vigorous washing before I even think of cooking them.

This time around, I chopped the 1/4 pound of tasso leftover from the beans and halved a small piece of salt pork, then covered the meat with water in a large pot. I brought it to a boil, then lowered the heat to simmer for about 30 minutes to create a flavorful cooking liquid for the greens. At that point, I added some chopped onions, cayenne pepper, a little bit of salt and the greens. They simmered for about 20 minutes, though you can certainly cook them longer; I just prefer greens when they have a little bit of bite to them.

I cooked the beans at a lower temperature than usual, so they were more of a soup than side dish, but still just as delicious as I remember from last year. The greens held their own when topped with cider vinegar, so I thought an extra helping couldn’t hurt, especially in these tough economic times. Call it an edible insurance policy.

Thank you for visiting last year, keeping up with my infrequent food and Rufus postings. I’ve loved hearing from everyone and wish y’all a happy and safe 2009, filled with friends and food and many, many naps.

recipe after the jump

Continue reading “Happy 2009”

Anything I call this post will sound gross

I don’t think I’m being especially controversial by saying our food preferences are largely culturally-influenced. My dad traveled to China on business quite a bit during his career, and came back with stories of food that often sounded delicious, but also occasionally made my toes curl. Being raised on alligator (usually dry, stringy and flavorless), frog legs (pretty darned good, if a little tough), and boudin (head cheese and rice stuffed into a sausage casing, and slap-yo-mama-good), I’ve had my share of strange looks when talking about meals that aren’t so popular outside of Louisiana. Yet the very same people who introduced me to those foods somehow make the poo-face at tongue, a meat popular at both hole-in-the-wall taquerias and Jewish delis in this part of the country.

Boggles the mind.


OK, maybe not so mind-boggling when I put it that way. Check out the underside.

But the gross-out factor aside, tongue is damned good eating — rich, moist, tender, and so, so flavorful. I realize I tend to wax rhapsodic about certain things, but I fell in love with this cut of meat probably 20 years ago and that’s a long time to go without shouting it from the mountaintop. Those were the years before Food Network, so I was still in my PBS cooking show phase; one of the many programs in the rotation was The Frugal Gourmet. Not my favorite by a long shot, I watched mostly to see how badly Jeff Smith would treat his poor assistant, Craig; I found it fascinating that someone so prickly could’ve been both a minister and a successful TV host. And it was on one of his shows that I was introduced to the wonders of the tongue taco. If you remember his enthusiastic proclamations at all, you’ll understand why I sought it out at the earliest opportunity — at Taqueria Corona in New Orleans. Those tacos never disappointed, and I even managed to turn on a few of my more adventurously-paletted friends to their charms.

But oddly enough, I’ve had trouble finding an equally good version here in New York (in Chelsea, specifically, since I don’t have much time for lunch). Sure, there’s a decent place across 6th Avenue, but the meat is too gamey for my taste. So when I saw tongue for sale at the Snoep Winkel Farm booth at the farmers’ market, I picked some up to try my hand at recreating the experience.

After exhaustively researching the topic, I decided on a simple approach — braising the tongue for four hours on the stove, cooling it overnight in its cooking liquid, then baking it in the oven for another hour the next day. That protracted cooking time is magical, so just step back and get ready for an experience you won’t forget.

To serve, I heated some corn tortillas in a cast iron skillet until they were lightly charred, then topped the tongue with a mixture of onion, cilantro, and lime juice, a sliver of avocado, shredded lettuce, and copious amounts of Cholula hot sauce. We had it for lunch and dinner yesterday, which should tell you how good it was.

And Santa Maria Pinquito beans were the perfect accompaniment, though I didn’t do anything special to them. After an overnight soak, I cooked them for a couple of hours with the usual cast of characters — beer, bay leaf, jalapenos, onions, garlic, and a smoked pork hock. At that point, I added cumin, paprika, chile powder, and salt and let everything simmer for another hour.

So if you’ve never tried tongue and don’t feel comfortable doing so, please give it a shot. For me? Pretty please? You won’t regret it.

recipe after the jump

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Once de Mayo

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter P. You may recognize it from such words as Parsley, Pecorino, and my favorite word of late, Procrastination.

Last weekend’s kitchen adventures were spent in the service of Cinco de Mayo with a chicken and hominy soup and a recipe for beans that took the better part of a day to make, but were worth every last stinkin’ second.

But by the time the fifth rolled around, I just couldn’t bring myself to post anything about it.

What’s that word again? Oh yeah, Procrastination.

Which brings us to today.


The aforementioned soup.

Continue reading “Once de Mayo”

Bellybellybelly

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lf you’ve spent any time at all around these parts, you’ll know that I haven’t historically concerned myself with superspecial high-end ingredients. I do what I can, but if it’s a question of getting in the car and driving to Whole Foods in north Jersey traffic for something decent or just down the street for passable, I’ll admit to the laziness that so grips me.

But. During my dinner with Claudia of cook eat FRET fame, we discussed this very thing and I realized there’s absolutely no reason for me to live this way. I’m a food (for the most part) blogger, found my first NYC apartment online, met my roommates that way, and even met my husband online ferpete’ssake! Why wouldn‘t I think to order better-quality ingredients online? Clearly, I have a brain defect.

So order online I did. Looking for organic meat purveyors in the area, I found Fossil Farms and sat drooling as I clicked on page after page of meats both exotic and commonplace. They don’t have a store front, but that didn’t deter me; I contacted their customer service department and was assured we could pick up our order at their office, which just happens to be over the mountain, one town away. Yippee! After much deliberation, I chose a variety of their best offerings, but was most excited about the pork belly.

Obviously.

I’ve had pork belly in restaurants, sighed over countless versions on any number of blogs and pined for it incessantly, unable to find it in stores nearby. But now, I have a pork belly of my very own. And I will love him, and pet him, and name him George.

So let’s just take a moment to meditate on the porkly pleasures that await from this lovely 8-10 pound specimen of loveliness. That knife is there for scale: it’s about a foot long.

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I quartered it, vacuum sealed three of the portions for the freezer, and set about preparing the fourth, which was still at least 2 pounds.

Witness the Stack o’ belly:

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Indeed, it was a Great Wall of Belly — the only man-made porcine structure visible from space!

So again to teh interweb I turned. I didn’t want to waste this little bit of heaven on some crackpot idea of mine, but knew I wanted to use soy, brown sugar, and star anise in the braising liquid, so I entered my search terms and off I went down the google slide. It led me in short order to Gastronomy Domine, run by Liz Upton, who loves her pork perhaps even more than I do. Her recipe for braised belly had me licking my screen, so I knew it would be the perfect thing for my first adventure.

And here we go. After cutting the belly into 3/4-inch strips, it marinates for an hour in a mixture of soy, honey, and five spice powder.

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Stir fry the aromatics and brown sugar until they turn golden.

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The pork and its marinade go in next and get tossed about until they’re beginning to brown. It doesn’t look like much at this point, but the smell was maddening and had Rufus pacing the kitchen, hoping for a handout. He didn’t get it, but still pined for the next two hours while the pork braised.

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You’ll find this nigh-impossible to believe, but we waited until the next day to dine! Not that I didn’t nibble. I mean, quality control, right? I would’ve been too alarmed to even think of having some of that fatty sauce with the belly (which, I’ll admit, is mostly fat anyway).

After refrigerating the sauce overnight, we were left with a fat mantle thicker than the antarctic ice shelf.

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But let me take a moment to reflect on another web purchase that completed the meal. I first read about Rancho Gordo at Last Night’s Dinner and wondered how much better heirloom beans could be than the regular dried stuff you buy at the store. Then they got a mention at cook eat FRET, and then seemingly everyone else in the known universe picked up on the idea, so I knew I had to place an order. And oh, let me tell you, if you haven’t tried them already, you must. They’ll change your life.

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I cooked a half pound of marrow beans very simply, with onion, garlic, and bay leaf in water, adding salt near the end. They were a great complement to the belly, especially topped with some of the braising liquid.

To serve the belly, I just crisped it up in a frying pan for a few minutes before topping it with braising liquid for serving. It isn’t beautiful, but the the aroma, taste, and simple texture of the dish more than made up for any lackluster visual.

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recipe after the jump

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