Roasted Mushroom Grilled Cheese with Cheddar + Chèvre

I’ve started to notice the mushroom man at the market again, with his practical windbreaker and earnest smile. He looks misty-forest ready, as if he arrived at the market by way of a foraging expedition. He must be pedaling something magic, I think, because his line is five shoppers deep at the market on Sundays. Or maybe it’s just that time of year.

The Frenchman has been away for two weeks now, and I am melancholy. But, there is just enough of a chill in the air to encourage me to turn on the oven. While I don’t feel inclined to make a production out of dinner for one, I do find that chopping vegetables, and then watching them transform at the oven door like a child at the aquarium, acts as a temporary nostrum. This recipe is a simple supper, a satisfying lunch. Plus, the Frenchman loves this combination of roasted mushrooms, onions, and potatoes. I cook it and pretend as though he is here. Read more »

Korean-ish Short Rib Sandwich

Last weekend, the Frenchman and I journeyed to Charleston, South Carolina, and it was delightful. It felt like a proper break, a real disengagement from the ho-hum of everyday, and there is nothing I adore more than traveling avec mon amour. The monsieur travels to Atlanta for work on the regular, but I had never been to the south before.

I loved the narrow houses of Charleston, the skinny side porches, some adorned with hanging plants or wind chimes, some old and listing like a tipsy uncle. I loved the real gas lamps burning, picturesque but inexplicable, in the light and heat of a May day. I loved the properties overlaid with vines, such bombastic vegetation and the smell of honeysuckle everywhere.

I loved the drive to Sullivan’s Island, across the long, modern bridge; rising with airs over the flat brown water and the skeletons of industrial machinery. I loved the walk across the packed, wavy, clay sand, to the receding line of the water where we found razor clam shells as long as a witch’s fingernail.

I loved the heat, thick enough to jar and only May, and the soundtrack of bug callings, and the line of oaks as old as this county: Imagine! they will outlive us all. I loved the weeping tree by the lagoon, the branches so thick and so low they meant to scoop us up and carry us off to who knows where. And then the lick of poppies, in front of the old house and beside the pecan tree, so loud and red and unembarrassed. Read more »

Rigatoni with Fennel and Veal Sausage

fennel and veal sausage rigatoni

How much fennel can be worked into one plate of pasta? Quite a lot, actually. I like this dish, because it utilizes every bit of the fennel, with not an ounce of waste. It’s also easy and inexpensive to make, but tastes like a million bucks.

This pasta works well for the weather, too: the sweet-anise notes of fennel suggest spring, while the presence of pecorino and veal sausage remind me that it’s still gray and chilly outside. (Hopefully not interminably, although it’s starting to feel that way.)

Plus, it’s adaptable: the flavors are sophisticated enough to serve as the first course of a spring dinner party (serves 6-8). But it’s also a crowd-pleaser–spoon some right out of the pot for a family-style meal (serves 4). Read more »

Chocolate-Banana “Piñatas”

chocolate-banana "piñata"

When I was very young, my father owned a Tex-Mex restaurant. (Apparently, one of the first of its kind in the New York area.) What I remember best are the cowhide booths; soft swirls of brown and white I could trace with my fingers. I remember fresh tortilla chips and runny, spiced salsa. I think I ate swordfish every time we visited, which was often.

And then dessert. There was, on the menu, something dubbed the “piñata”: an oblong ceramic dish, a mess of bananas and chocolate chips baked under what must have been sweet empenada dough. It arrived piping hot, a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting over the top. Even though there could not be a less fancy dessert, I have never forgotten it. Read more »

Fennel, Merguez, and Preserved Meyer Lemon Braise

Here is the thing about trying to recreate childhood dishes for the Frenchman: it is invariably a petit désastre. I have tried my hand at lentils, white beans, croque-monsieur. It’s not that my attempts are bad per se (well, except for the beans. I am bean-impaired), but they simply don’t live up to expectation; they aren’t the same. What can I say? Childhood memory is a cruel competitor, particularly in the kitchen.

The following “braise” was one such attempt. The Frenchman lived in Tunisia for six years as a kid, so the man knows his way around a couscous. He loves couscous. I, on the other hand, am quite new to the dish.

I did some research, but mostly I relied on techniques I was already familiar with (to me, winter is spelled b-r-a-i-s-e), and employed ingredients I thought made sense together. I even bought couscous imported from Tunisia, which I hoped might add some authenticity to the proceedings.

When the dish came out of the oven, I though it tasted really good: the vegetables were soft, and flavored with pan juices. The sauce itself was complex and spiced, a little spicy, but not overwhelmingly so. The couscous was downy, and tasted ever so slightly of the good olive oil I stirred into it. Read more »

Lamb Ragu with Pappardelle

lamb ragu header 3

A few weeks ago, I tagged along on a road trip to Kinderhook Farm, located a few hours north of New York City in Ghent, New York. The animals who live there are extremely well cared for. The visit was excellent for several reasons.

The farm is gorgeous: a mosaic of red barns, a trail of low wooden fences, bold against the white snow that currently covers the pastures. Heritage breed chickens roam where they will, producing eggs in shades of blue, pink, green, and beige. I was introduced to Luci the dairy cow, the only dairy cow on the farm and apparently a bit of a diva for it. (I also met Apple, poor Apple, Luci’s somewhat abused sidekick; it’s a love-hate relationship between the two of them.) A sea of sheep spreads across a field, guarded by a pair of Italian herding dogs, both animal’s coats the white of snow.

The farmers who operate Kinderhook are impossibly friendly, gracious hosts. After touring us around the farm, we were invited into the kitchen for warm cookies, milk (courtesy of Luci, I cannot begin to tell you how tasty this milk is), and grilled cheese sandwiches. The kitchen’s bay windows look out past the barns and across the fields, over small hills dotted with trees that rise and fall as far as the eye can see.

If it feels like I am romanticizing this farm, I’m sorry, but it’s no exaggeration. It was bucolically beautiful, beautifully bucolic, and the animals Disney-esque in their loveliness. The clean and quiet air proved an invigorating change from the city. Read more »

Butternut, Apple, and Parsnip Soup with Smoked Duck

Hello/Bonjour! Long time no see. My self-imposed winter break lasted a little longer than I originally intended, but now I am back and raring to go.

Let’s get right to this soup. It is perfect in every way you hope a January soup will be. It is oh so easy to make (like, actually easy), and quite economical too. If you make it a day ahead, it will only taste better upon reheating. It freezes beautifully. (Make a double batch to tuck into the freezer for some other night.)

The squash, apple, and parsnip balance together famously. The soup itself is a little sweet, a little sharp, and incredibly rich in flavor, while low in calories. (You know I don’t normally care about such things, but what with January being a month of resolutions, I figured it was worth mentioning.)

The only bad part about this soup is peeling the butternut squash. I abhor peeling butternut squash. Alas, we can’t have everything in life. Read more »

Oven-Soft Apples and Pears

pears and apples, final 2

Dilemma: I made these apples and pears expressly for an ice cream I plan to churn up over the weekend (vanilla, bourbon, crème fraîche… you’ll likely read more about it soon), but then they turned out so unexpectedly delicious on their own, I can’t stop devouring them right off the baking sheet.

These fruit slices, baked with just a suggestion of butter, brown sugar, vanilla, and nutmeg, are cooked low and slow until they’re only partially dried. The results are soft bursts of concentrated flavor, and the occasional crunch from bits of caramelized brown sugar.

It doesn’t matter too much which varieties of apple or pear you use; I tried Bartlett, D’Anjou, and Bosc pears, and all came out well. Do use firm fruit though.

I promise, if you set out a bowl of these at your next holiday party, or bring a tin for the host or hostess, they will disappear quickly. You can also eat them with ice cream or yogurt, with oatmeal or waffles, or as a decorative top to a cake. Read more »