Adzuki, I’m so glad I ate you.

I’m sure you’ve all been in this situation.  You go to the market.  You see something new and exciting you’ve never eaten.  You buy it, sure that you’ll go home and promptly find exactly what to do with it.  And then you do go home, throw it onto your bean shelf in the bedroom (you all don’t have those? …Weird) and then promptly forget about it.

But thank goodness for the internet, specifically the group of uber-talented, delicious people who write food blogs. Like constant motivation, the food blog world weekly slaps me about the head and reminds me to get in the kitchen.  And it daily (hourly!) lends me ideas.  Heidi from 101 Cookbooks recently posted an adzuki bean and butternut squash soup and I remembered I had unused adzuki beans on my bean shelf in the bedroom (yes, I’m totally crazy and have no design skills.)  I’d imagined they would go in a soup when I bought them but of course forgot everything by the time I got home.  But now here was the perfect soup, on my screen.

It’s got lots of butternut squash and just enough chipotle to make you sweat.  Onions and tomatoes and 6 cloves of garlic.  And ground cinnamon, of which you’d hardly know it was there, but would miss it if left out.  I added some kale because I had some.  A little cumin because I love some.  [And meatballs because we’d been at the butcher and who doesn’t leave their favorite butcher without some ground meat?  Sadly, though, the soup was made and photographed the day before, sans meatballs, and I was too hungry the next day to stop and do anything other than eat my meal as soon as it was done.  Another time, maybe. And you don’t need the meatballs, anyway, I loved it just the same without.]

It was spicy and a little sweet and wholesome and comforting and whoo-damn it was good.  Jim deemed it the best soup we’ve ever made, and I was hard-pressed to disagree.  Adzuki, I’m so glad I (finally) ate you.

Adzuki Butternut Squash Soup Recipe

serves 6-8, adapted from 101 Cookbooks

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 generous teaspoons finely chopped chipotle pepper (from can, or rehydrated from dried chile)
  • 2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt
  • 2 medium-large onions
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 5 – 6 cups water
  • 5 whole canned tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 bunch lacinato kale
  • 4 cups cooked or canned adzuki beans
  • chopped cilantro for serving

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the cinnamon, coriander, chipotle and salt and saute for a minute or two – until aromatic. Add the onions and saute for about 10 minutes, until they are soft and beginning to brown.  Add the garlic and butternut squash and cook for another 5 minutes. Add 5 cups of water. Increase the heat to bring to a boil, and once boiling, reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the squash begins to soften, 15-20 minutes or so.

Once the squash has softened, break up some pieces with the back of your spoon (it should be soft enough for you to do this relatively easily). Add the tomatoes, and cook a couple more minutes before adding the kale and beans. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and the cilantro.
Heidi’s recipe was adapted from Jae Steele’s Get It Ripe: A Fresh Take on Vegan Cooking and Living (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2008)

Comfort and a butternut squash.

I’d planned to be right back to tell you about my cilantro-laced dinner.  You still have some oil, don’t you?  Good; now get yourself a butternut squash.

Some of you may have noticed this soup in last month’s Gourmet.  February was The Comfort Food Issue and, of course, I am going to make everything in it.  Because who doesn’t need comfort in the middle of February, whether it comes from your valentine, or your soup spoon, or (preferably) both?

The soup was a curried butternut squash and red lentil soup and it wasn’t supposed to be pureed, but I left it on the stove just a wee too long and the lentils were too soft.  I was happy for this mistake in the end, though, because after a few post-mistake tweaks the soup really shone.  A pinch of saffron, a dash of smoked paprika, and a little extra salt—what couldn’t be better for it?

The end result was a smooth yet full-bodied soup; you could taste the lentils and their earthy note while the complex sweetness of the squash and all the curried spices lingered.  The cilantro oil added an extra green pop—taste-wise and aesthetically. The look of this soup—bright warm yellow and stark green swirls—is enough to make it tasty.  But thankfully, the flavors don’t disappoint.

Curried-Squash and Red-Lentil Soup

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 pound butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 celery rib, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced peeled ginger
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder (preferably Madras)
  • 1 cup red lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 2 quarts water
  • pinch of saffron
  • scant 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
  • black pepper

Heat oil with butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat until foam subsides, then cook squash, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, ginger, and 1 teaspoon salt, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and beginning to brown, 15 to 20 minutes.

Stir in curry powder and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring frequently, 2 minutes.

Add lentils and water and simmer, covered, until lentils are tender, 25 to 40 minutes. Puree soup with an immersion blender or in batches in a stand blender.  Add saffron, paprika, and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve drizzled with cilantro oil.

Cilantro Oil

Have I ever told you that I have a thing for cilantro?  Oh, I have? Well, you can see what a dunce I’ve been then: A professed cilantro-lover, who’s never made cilantro oil before.  Bows head in shame.

The thing was, I never had even thought of cilantro oil before.  I add lots of cilantro to lots of things and it is a total-pain-in-the-ass to go out to the store solely for cilantro on a cold, wintery night but I never thought of another option.  Then finally, over the weekend I made cilantro oil and—while it’s not quite the real thing, less pungent—now I can unabashedly put it on anything (well, almost).

I’ll be showing you the reason why I made the cilantro oil (can you guess it? hint: it slurps) in a few days, though I’ve got to admit that my favorite use is drizzled over some of the ah-maze-ing bread I’ve been baking from this book.  So go ahead, make this cilantro oil before I let you in on its partner-in-recipe; I’m sure you’ll find some use for it.

Cilantro oil

  • 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 cup safflower oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Purée cilantro, oil, and salt in cleaned blender (or with immersion blender), scraping down sides of blender (or bowl) several times. Pour oil into a jar or bottle and use within a few days or a week.  You can also strain out the solids for a smoother oil.

Chocolate in the morning.

I’m guessing that no one needs another post about Molly’s french chocolate granola—the recipe that spread like wildfire through the blogging world last spring.  I remember reading it and thinking—oh, my, god—and promptly bookmarking it.  Then, as these things do, I forgot all about it and continued to make do with store-bought granola.

But this weekend, with quitting my job and the consequential worrying about money, store-bought granola suddenly seems an extravagance, as well as (so I’ve learned) down-right silly.  Store-bought granola doesn’t hold a candle to homemade, especially when it’s made with high-quality chocolate.  This chocolate granola, adapted just slightly from Molly’s, makes the perfect breakfast; it’s hardly sweet, with an undercurrent of bittersweet chocolate that echoes caffeine.  It calls to me wake up while at the same time rubbing my back, soothingly, telling me to pamper myself, to eat chocolate in the morning.

So that’s my plan.  I’m going to eat chocolate, in the form of granola, every day while I am in this transition period—while I sort out a few things and decide what’s on my horizon.  But to be honest, I don’t think I’ll stop eating it… ever.

Molly’s Chocolate Granola

adapted from Orangette

  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • ½ cup raw almonds
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ½ cup, or more, finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
  • Pinch of salt
  • 6 Tbsp. mild honey
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, almonds, raisins, chocolate, and salt. Stir well to blend.

In a small saucepan, warm the honey and oil over low heat, whisking occasionally  until the honey is loose. Pour over the dry ingredients, and stir to combine well.

Spread the mixture evenly on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden. Set a timer to go off halfway through the baking time, so that you can give the granola a good stir; this helps it to cook evenly. When it’s ready, remove the pan from the oven, stir well – this will keep it from cooling into a hard, solid sheet – and cool completely.

When cool, transfer the granola to a large bowl, storage jar, or zipper-lock plastic bag.

Comfort food #2.

Last post, I gave you vanilla, so today is comfort food #2: roast chicken.  Specifically, roast chicken with buttery gold potatoes, cremini mushrooms, and slab bacon.  Like a warm blanket on a snowy night.

If you’ve never roasted a naturally-raised, organic-fed chicken before, you don’t know what you’re missing.  Unlike the bland, big-breasted counterparts of the Purdue variety, organic or natural chicken (preferably from a local farm, though I know I’m pushin’ it) isn’t bred solely for its breasts—which leaves the chicken unhappy and anxiety-ridden throughout her life, most of the times unable to walk on her overburdened legs.  Because an animal’s mental state has more to do with how tasty the meat is than how you cook it, happy animals yield well-flavored, moist meat, while factory one easily, almost unavoidably dry out.

If you are looking to switch to farm-raised chickens, you’ll need to know how to roast.  Most chickens that are raised humanely, at local farms (or in your backyard), are only profitable if sold whole.  And while it’s a good idea to buy in bulk and break down some into packages of thighs, breasts, and legs for later, I hardly ever think that far in advance.  Since I am lucky enough to live down the road from a great chicken farm, I just drop in and pick one up for the night’s dinner.

So I’ve fallen in love with roast chickens.  A 3.5 pound bird is perfect for two lovebir—erm, people—and could even do for a family of three. A cinch to put together, leaving time to clean up while it’s in the oven; a dinner that invites after-dinner canoodling, or comfy family time.  A Sunday roast dinner even, especially when it’s cold and snowy outside.

This roast chicken, cooked atop a bed of cremini mushrooms, bacon, and gold potatoes, is my favorite roast to date.  Since the new year, Jim and I have made it again and again; it’s our go-to comfort dish.  It’s not too bad for you—just bad enough really—while still tasting full and homey and lovely. The creminis add a down-home foresty feeling, the potatoes are creamy inside and crisp out, and the bacon warrants time spent fishing out each piece.  Because of all the accoutrements, this roast could certainly feed 3 (dare I say 4), though there might be a fight for the oysters. On New Year’s Day, Jim and I made this dish with black truffles, chanterelles, and shiitakes but found the lower-cost version just as good (maybe even better).  If you’d like the real-deal, the recipe is here.

Roast chicken with mushrooms and potatoes

serves 2-3

  • 1 3- to 4-pound roasting chicken
  • handful of herbs, especially thyme and rosemary if you have them
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly smashed
  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold or Buttercream potatoes, peeled, halved or quartered (depending on the size)
  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms, stemmed, halved
  • 3-4 thick bacon slices, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons on olive oil, divided
  • vermouth, optional

Wash off your chicken, salt (kosher, preferably) and pepper generously inside and out, top and bottom.  Stuff 6 peeled cloves of garlic and a handful or herbs, if you have them, inside.

Put potatoes, mushrooms, and bacon together in a bowl and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Stir to combine.

If you have it, take a length of tin foil and crumple it into a coil large enough to hold the chicken.  Place that in the bottom of a roasting pan.  Place chicken on top.  Scatter potatoes, mushrooms, and bacon all around the chicken.  If you have it, add a couple splashes of white wine or vermouth.  Drizzle the other tablespoon of olive oil over everything.  With your hands, rub the oil into the chicken skin and all over the vegetables to coat.  Salt and pepper a little more.

With your oven on a 450F, roast chicken for 30-40 minutes or until it’s about 155-160F. Take out the chicken and the foil, place on a platter or cutting board and cover with the unrolled foil. The vegetables won’t be done yet.  Mix them all up, getting chicken fat over everything, and send back in the oven and roast at 450F for another 15-25 minutes, or until they are totally tender and the potatoes getting very browned.  Carve up your bird, arrange on a platter and spoon the vegetables over.

If you like, take two cups of chicken stock and add 4 minced shallots and bring to a boil.  After it boils, bring down to a soft simmer and add 2-3 tablespoons of butter.  Pour this sauce over everything.

Black-eyed peas.

A while back, when I decided not to be religious, I realized superstitions wouldn’t jibe with my newfound atheism.  I had, afterall, never quite believed in throwing salt over your shoulder (it made such a mess) or not letting a black cat cross your path (I had one named Midnight); it had all felt very half-hearted.  Nonetheless, there are a few superstitions that stuck with me; I’ll always take a sip after a cheers, I tend to knock on wood—and I eat black-eyed peas for the New Year.

Not quite on the New Year however; I can’t seem to get myself to eat beans on a day that I associate with my last holiday calorie-filled hurrah.  I’ll buy the peas for New Years, sometimes with an honest intent to make them, but never do, giving in to roast chicken and potatoes, or braised pork.  I’m weak-willed.

Though when New Year’s Day is over and the diet begins, black-eyed peas help me with the transition.  They remind me that fat- and carbo-loading isn’t the only way towards delicious.  Especially this recipe, coming from Daniel Boulud, which pairs the earthy peas with (the herb I now consider its true love) dried oregano.  Bacon is added because, come on, it’s a transition to health—not a nosedive.  And finally, most importantly, a good dose of hot sauce keeps things exciting.  Without that, you’re just full of beans.

Southern-style Black-eyed Peas with Bacon

from Daniel Boulud’s Braise

makes 4 servings

  • 1 pound dried black-eyed peas
  • 5 ounces slab bacon, cut into cubes
  • 2 red onions, peeled and sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons Tabasco or other hot sauce
  • Fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, for garnish

The day before you plan to serve this dish, put the peas in a bowl, cover with water by at least 2 inches, and refrigerate.  The next day, drain well before using.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 275ºF.

Place the bacon in a small cast-iron pot of Dutch oven over medium-high heat and cook until it renders its fat, about 5 minutes.

Add the onions, garlic, oregano, and black pepper and cook, stirring, for 8 minutes.  Add the drained peas, bay leaves, salt, and 6 cups water.  Bring to a simmer, cover, and transfer to the oven.

Braise until the peas are tender, about 1 hour 15 minutes*. Stir in the Tabasco, sprinkle with the parsley, and serve.

*For my taste, it was closer to an hour and forty-five minutes.

Making love to your taste buds.

Brown butter is a labor of love. It takes time and a keen eye and practically continuous stirring to get it right. It can go from perfection to disaster in mere seconds. But, if you are able to bring the butter right to the edge of Blackened-Butter Abyss, when it’s exquisitely nutty and a rich brown, whatever you are serving will benefit from it in scores. Because we all know butter is tasty.  But when you times it by ten (which is how I rate brown butter), it’s not just tasty, it’s sexy, it’s… making love to your taste buds.

And, though every browned butter recipe is special, this one is even more so.  It takes dainty (otherwise a bit boring) broccolini and envelopes it in a luscious shallot-garlic-and-pecan brown butter sauce. Yes. Pecan brown butter.  And yes, it is as good as you can imagine.  The whole dish is nutty and buttery and garlicky.  And it’s down-right pretty on the plate—make sure not to take off too much of the slender broccolini stems, those long legs look (and taste) beautiful.

I found the recipe in the latest Bon Appetit (I’ve had some great luck with Bon Appetit recipes in the past few months—though it may be Gourmet’s red-headed stepchild) and served it at Thanksgiving.  It can be made hours ahead and re-heated on the stove-top when you are about to eat—so if you were thinking of not serving this for the holidays, think again.  I’ll be remaking it for Christmas… and New Year’s… and President’s Day… and whenever I can find the excuse.

Broccolini with Pecan Brown Butter

adapted from Bon Appetit, December 2008

serves 6

If you are nervous about making brown butter, here is a good color guide for you.

  • 5 bunches broccolini, cut off at the very bottom, hard part of the stems
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter + 1 tablespoon if making ahead and reheating
  • 5 shallots, minced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup pecans, crushed
  • kosher salt

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add broccolini and cook for about 3-4 minutes.  Drain and put in ice water.

In a large skillet, add butter and melt.  Add shallots, garlic, pecans and cook until shallots are soft.  Turn the burner to medium-high and begin to brown the butter, stirring constantly, until it turns a rich brown color and has a nutty aroma (this is a little hard to figure because of the pecans).  When you are there, add the broccolini, reduce the heat, and toss gently until heated through and done to your liking.  Salt generously with kosher salt.  Serve hot.  If reheating later, leave broccoli in the skillet you used, then heat it up over a low heat with the extra butter until hot—about 15 minutes.

More love… coleslaw love.

I made this coleslaw the other day—with grainy mustard and red wine vinegar—and Jim surprised me with an unknown fact. He never used to eat coleslaw before he met me. OK, not never, but he wasn’t a coleslaw aficionado, as we are now. It was shocking news. I had thought he loved coleslaw because, in fact, I wasn’t accustomed to eating coleslaw before I met Jim. I had thought he just really liked it, so I went along. Turns out he did the same for me.

I’ve tracked it down to one day, earlier in our relationship, when we were first forming our ritual grocery-shopping routine where we spend hours shopping, trying samples, and kissing in the produce section. We were going to make hamburgers and wanted a side. I enthusiastically asked if he wanted coleslaw, thinking it was a smart thing for me to suggest. He enthusiastically agreed. We both took one another’s enthusiasm to mean a fervent fondness for coleslaw. Since that day, whenever we’ve made anything that could go well with coleslaw, one of us goes out to get, or makes, coleslaw and proudly presents it to the other. The other will make a show of giddiness to make his or her partner feel that being obsessed with coleslaw is okay.

Somewhere down the line though, after all the great coleslaws (and all the bad), after all the discussion of what makes a good coleslaw and all the bonding that we were trying to do, we both began to love coleslaw. I think really, our love for coleslaw came into play right around our first verbal “I love you’s.”

And it’s only gotten better from there—on both accounts. Today’s coleslaw is the perfect example of a nurtured love of coleslaw. It’s got flavorings, but none that muck up a good coleslaw taste. The grainy mustard wards off the too-sweetness that carrots can pack, and the red wine vinegar keeps everything alive. There’s lots and lots of cabbage, and nothing is too wet or soggy. It’s great taco-coleslaw, or on-the-burger coleslaw; it doesn’t taste overly mayonnaissed or—worse—like there’s too much sour cream. And it went perfectly with….

Well, you’ll find out what goes with this coleslaw next post. See you then.

Coleslaw with Grainy Mustard

adapted from Tyler Florence

You can easily double this recipe.  Add salt at the last minute so your coleslaw won’t get all watery and gross.

  • 1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 head savoy cabbage finely sliced
  • 1/2 head purple cabbage, finely sliced
  • 2 carrots, sliced on mandoline
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine the mustard, mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice, vinegar and sugar. Mix well and add finely sliced savoy cabbage, purple cabbage, green onions and carrots. Season with pepper, to taste, cover with plastic wrap and set aside in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve. About 1/2 hour before you want to serve, add salt to taste.

Red, round, and crunchy.

Red, round, and crunchy: I’m having a love affair with radishes. Especially the ones available now. They’re crisp, slightly sweet, and mild with the touch of heat you expect of radishes. I’ve always heard, “the hotter the soil, the spicier the radish” and while I’m not sure if this is true, all my radishes have been mellow and delicate lately.

These radishes make their way into all kinds of dishes but, sometimes, the little red orb can take second fiddle—all too often falling into the “garnish” category. So, even though this recipe is hardly one—not even close to a meal, hardly a side dish, and less than a salad—it’s the recipe that’s got me ga-ga for radish. And now that I’ve learned how good radish-lovin’ can be, I’m never letting go.

I simply make a very mustardy vinaigrette to coat the radish slices. Radish is, afterall, in the mustard family; so I’m not surprised that the combination works so well. A good, aged balsamic vinegar levels the mustard’s bite. My balsamic’s aged 15 years and I got it on sale. But ever since my first sweet-tangy taste of it, I knew I’d spend anything—sale or no—for this stuff. Trust me, it’s nothing like supermarket balsamic, closer to a good port wine. And well… I think that balsamic may have played matchmaker between me and my radish.

It may not be much… but eating these radishes—picking them out of the bowl with my fingers—made my day yesterday, just when I was feeling my worst.  There’s something about the spicy mustard, the snappy vinegar, and the crunchy radish that makes eating out of hand–and licking your fingers—invigorating.  The perfect bit of bite.

Radish in Mustard and Vinegar

serves 1-2 for a snack

The mustard taste is strong here.  If you aren’t a total mustard fan, start with 1 tsp and add more to taste.

  • 1 bunch red radishes
  • 2 tsp good balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 small shallot, grated
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil

Slice radishes thinly.

In a small bowl, add balsamic, mustard, shallot, and mix.  While stirring, drizzle in oil.  Stir until completely combined. Season with salt and pepper.

Stir in radishes.  Eat immediately or let marinate for up to 4 hours.  Serve alone or with crusty bread.

How to cook when you can’t.

As you know, I’ve been out-of-sorts lately.  I’m having back problems and, no matter how much I want to, I can’t spend hours in the kitchen cooking the dishes that I most like to cook.  In honesty, more than 20 minutes in the kitchen is liable to have me cursing myself the next day.  But I’m determined, doggedly determined, not to eat take-out and frozen foods throughout my recovery.  No more pizza!  No more subs! No more sushi… okay, a little more sushi.

Not about to let my bad back bring me—or this blog—down, I’m planning to showcase a few super-easy, hardly-active dishes.  For those of us too sick, or hurting, or just too lazy out there, food doesn’t have to take much to taste good. This cauliflower saute proves that rule.  Cauliflower is the miracle vegetable for good reason, no? And this version’s creamy and very barely sweet.  Like hash without the trouble of corning your own beef a few days earlier— and don’t worry, I make up for the loss of fatty corned beef with a whole stick of butter.  Yes.  A stick.  Because quick food shouldn’t have to taste healthy, either.

Cauliflower, Carrots, and Cashews

serves 4

Three C’s makes the ingredients in this dish quite easy to remember.  Another trick to cooking when you can’t. (heh.)

  • 1 stick (8 tbsp) butter, divided
  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 5 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon tumeric
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine, optional
  • 1 teaspoon salt, more to taste
  • 1/2 cup cashews

Add 4 tablespoons butter into a large pan over medium.  Once melted, add cauliflower and carrots.  Stir to coat evenly. Add tumeric and cover.  Go lie down and leave pan to cook 15 minutes.

Uncover pan, add white wine and raise temperature a bit.  Let wine cook off, then add rest of butter, salt, and cashews, stirring.  Cook until everything is tender to your liking.  Go back to the couch and serve coffee-tableside.