Rhubarb & Kale Tart

Today was the launch of CSA season. For the next 22 weeks, I will swing by the artists’ studio/garage that serves as home to the Prospect Park CSA each Tuesday night, gleefully anticipating my allotment from Farmer Ted. This week brought green leaf lettuce, Red Russian kale, Happy Rich, Koji, scallions, breakfast radishes and a small pot of Genovese basil (which, my track record notwithstanding, I hope to keep alive long enough to make a few rounds of pesto).

Armed with the knowledge that such a bounty was just three days away, a sensible person would have spent Saturday morning sleeping off Friday night’s rooftop rosé and squid ink pasta with mussels and calamari. Instead, I awoke early and hit the farmers’ market. I told myself that, at the very least, I had to drop off the compost that was making it difficult to shut the freezer.

Squid Ink Pasta with Mussels and Calamari

Naturally, I forgot the compost, leaving plenty of room in my bag for a pound of bacon, half a loaf of French sourdough, a bunch of kale, some collard greens, a handful of garlic scapes, and a whole mess of rhubarb. (This is my version of restraint.)

June Farmers Market Haul

I hoisted my bag over my shoulder and headed toward home, pausing to say hi to Cathy, a fellow food blogger, and her food photographer friend. They asked what I had in mind for the rhubarb protruding awkwardly from my bag. Great question. I mumbled something about a rhubarb vinaigrette or a simple syrup for cocktails, both of which are fine, if limited, applications. But I had clearly purchased A LOT of rhubarb. We bonded over our mutual love or savory over sweet until I felt the siren song of my couch—and the leftover seafood pasta.

That evening found me babysitting my nephews, Wally and Hugo. Wally and I collaborated on a self-portrait, after which he demanded that I document his belly. (Oh, to be four.)

Bedtime was uncharacteristically easy, leaving me with a few hours to explore my sister’s snacks, my brother-in-law’s IPA stash, and the wonders of cable television. It was a lovely way to spend a Saturday night, but did nothing to remedy my looming vegetable crisis.

Fortunately, Louis was due for Sunday supper and Monica, Sara and I had failed to polish off that hunk of cheese on Friday night…

Kale and Rhubarb.jpg

Rhubarb & Kale Tart

  • 1 1/3 cups flour
  • heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • heaping 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 stick butter
  • 3-5 tablespoons ice water
  • 6 big stalks rhubarb
  • 1-3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 bunch Red Russian kale, stemmed and roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 ounces Saint-André, brie or other soft, rich cheese
  • 1/2 egg
  1. Fill a cup with water and a few ice cubes. Combine the flour, salt and sugar in a medium bowl. Cut the butter into small cubes and work it in with a pastry cutter if you have one. (Rumor has it you can use two knives. I made do with a mezzaluna, cleaning it out with a chopstick periodically. A pinching motion with your fingers should also do the trick. The goal here is a pea-sized crumble.) Gradually add the water, mixing the dough with your hands until is just comes together but is not sticky. Scatter some flour onto the counter, work the dough into a ball, and the press it into a disc using the palms of your hands. Wrap in plastic wrap and place it in the fridge for at least an hour.
  2. Toss the rhubarb with a tablespoon of sugar. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook stirring regularly until they are soft and caramel colored. Taste the rhubarb and, if it seems excessively sour, add a little more sugar. Add the thyme and red pepper flakes to your onions, cook for a couple of minutes, and then stir in the rhubarb and vinegar. Let simmer, stirring regularly, until the rhubarb begins to fall apart and take on a chutney consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Scrape the onions and rhubarb into a bowl, bring the heat up to medium, and add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add the kale in batches and cook until just wilted. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. Now would be a fine time for a nap.
  4. An hour out from dinner, preheat the oven to 400. Lightly flour the counter and rolling-pin. Roll the dough, flipping and dusting with flour as needed, until it’s the size of a small pizza. (You’re aiming for as thin as will reasonably hold together.) This may seem impossible at first, but give the dough some firm thwacks with the rolling pin and it will start to ease up. Gently transfer to a parchment-lined cookie sheet and return to the refrigerator until your dinner date confirms that he just got off the subway. 
  5. Combine the rhubarb and kale and slather over the dough, leaving an inch or so around the edges. Fold the edges in. (You can get fancy with this by trimming and then crimping, but it won’t taste any different and, if you’re honest with yourself, you’re not a particularly patient person.) Scatter hunks of cheese over the top. Lightly beat the egg and brush it on the exposed dough. Pop this into the oven just as the buzzer sounds.
  6. Crack open a bottle of bubbly. By the time you finish the second glass, the crust should be golden brown. Let stand for 10 minutes or so and then use the parchment to gently slide the tart onto a serving platter.

Time to open that second bottle…

Kale and Rhubarb Tart.jpg

Smoked Salmon & Potato Croquettes

It’s been a roller coaster of a week.

The snow picked up late Friday night, right about the time my dinner guests were stumbling home sated with wine, cheese, lentil soup, apple crisp and whiskey.

Lentil Soup

By the time I came to Saturday morning, the blizzard was on. Oona and I whiled away most of the day watching René Clément’s excellent Purple Noon (an adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel); idly reading Patti Smith’s latest book; catching up with friends from afar; and, of course, napping. It was just what I needed at the end of a shockingly long four-day workweek.

Circle of Cat

Around about 4:00pm, I was beginning to worry that I might be stuck to my couch, so I turned my attention to cooking. One of my coworkers recently shared her January resolution: to eat her freezer. Inspired by her practicality, I dug out a few pounds of bone-in short ribs from the excellent Lewis Waite Farm and set them in the sink with some cold water to defrost.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who was getting antsy after a day of watching the snow fall from the comfort of my apartment. Just as I had finished searing the short ribs and begun to sweat my root vegetables, Monica texted that she had hiked over from Fort Greene.

Seared Short Ribs.jpg

Sweating Root Vegetables

Half an hour later, the short ribs were in the oven and we were sitting down to the dregs of last night’s cheese and some whiskey cocktails. At some point I succeeded in catching my pinky toe on the edge of the new scratching post in which Oona shows zero interest.

But, with whiskey, all things are possible. And so I turned the short ribs down to low, shoved my feet into a pair of boots and joined Monica for a magical bar crawl through empty, snow-blanketed streets.

Snowy Crown Heights.JPG

You have not lived until you’ve enjoyed beer and oysters and highbrow conversation about art in front of a corner window as the mother of all blizzards rages outside. For an hour or two (or maybe three), Monica and I existed in the the most fabulous snow globe that ever was.

I awoke Sunday morning to a throbbing pinky toe that resembled a very small eggplant in both color and shape. I grabbed some coffee and an ice pack and settled in to watch The Talented Mr. Ripley, Anthony Minghella’s 1999 adaptation of the same Patricia Highsmith novel. I must confess, it was much better than I recalled and definitely worth revisiting. In the afternoon, I buckled down and did some work.

That evening, Sharon agreed to help me with those short ribs (which I had miraculously packed into the fridge before turning in the night before). I skimmed off the fat before simmered them for another 45 minutes or so while I whipped up a quick batch of mashed potatoes. Sharon arrived with a lovely Cabernet Sauvignon and a bag of watercress. Dressed simply with a Dijon and white wine vinaigrette, the sharpness of the greens provided a nice counterpoint to the rich meat.

I awoke Monday feeling well fed and well rested. This was going to be a good day, I thought. (Actually, I probably said this out loud, because that’s what you do when you live alone.) And then I went to put on my snow boots and nearly threw up from the pain. Pulling myself together, I limped down the two flights of stairs and gingerly picked my way through the snow and ice. The pain was more than I could bear. Halfway down my very long block, I thought better of the whole thing and headed home to my icepack.

I worked from home on Monday, doing my best to ignore the strange feelings in my stomach. The nausea was so bad during my last call of the day that I had to take it lying down. Around 8:00 that evening, having writhed on the couch for a couple of hours, I evacuated the contents of my stomach and promptly spiked a fever.

I took the nine (yes, nine) meetings I has scheduled for Tuesday by phone, gradually reincorporating solid foods into my diet when I had a free moment. By Wednesday I was back at the office. My stomach felt good enough to revisit Friday’s lentil soup and my toe was fine once it swelled and numbed up inside my boot. My recovery came just in time, as yesterday was also the start of my new semester. I darted down to NYU around 4:30 and then headed home for a few more hours of budgeting spreadsheets before bed.

I am a bit obsessive about not wasting food. I sent Friday’s guests home with takeout containers of lentil soup and finished the rest off for lunch today. But, delicious as they were, I could not bring myself to eat the rest of the short ribs. My money is on a bad oyster, as Sharon suffered no ill consequences after joining me for dinner. But the short ribs were guilty by association.

Leftover mashed potatoes, on the other hand, can always be put to good use…

Smoked Salmon & Potato Croquettes

  • 1 cup or so leftover mashed potatoes (Mine were skin-on, because that’s how I like them, though my Mom vehemently disagrees, which makes for a fun pre-Thanksgiving argument basically every year.)
  • 2-3 ounces smoked salmon (that you had planned to have for breakfast before contracting food poisoning), flaked
  • 1 spoonful mayonnaise
  • 1 spoonful Dijon mustard
  • 3-4 scallions, minced
  • lots of black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs (or whatever is left in that bag you couldn’t bring yourself to throw away)
  • vegetable oil for frying

Coat a cast iron skillet with oil and bring up to medium heat. Smash the remaining ingredients, save for the breadcrumbs, together with a fork until you have a lumpy paste. Wet your hands and form small patties. Lightly coat these with the breadcrumbs and place them in the skillet. Cook until a nice brown crust forms, flip and repeat. 

These would be nice topped with a fried egg, sandwiched into a bun or perched atop a bed of greens. I kept it simple and made a quick sauce of Greek yogurt, mayonnaise, Tabasco, capers and pickle relish (because I’m dirty like that). I suspect that I’ll have the last one cold tomorrow morning before dashing off to work.

Smoked Salmon and Mashed Potato Croquettes

(Last Night’s) Bluefish Cakes

One of my coworkers spent Wednesday with his dad and brother on a boat off the coast of Sandy Hook, New Jersey. It turned out to be a great day for fishing. Jorge returned with more bluefish than any one or two or ten people can reasonably consume. And so he spread the wealth.

Bluefish Filets

I left work last night with two very large bluefish filets tucked into my tote bag. As luck would have it, Rachel was available on short notice. We caught up over a few bottles of wine, the rest of my Newfangled Vichysoisse, and bluefish baked in foil packets with sugar snap peas, asparagus, chives, butter, lemon and a splash of wine.

Baked Bluefish

Despite our best efforts, I was left with quite a bit of bluefish. Not a problem.

(Last Night’s) Bluefish Cakes

  • 1 filet (about the size of a piece of Texas toast) cooked bluefish (or whatever other leftover fish you happen to have)
  • 1/2 jalapeño, seeded and minced
  • 1 small bunch chives (or scallions or plain old onion), minced
  • 1 small bunch minced fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, etc.)
  • 2 big spoonfuls mayonnaise
  • 1 spoon dijon mustard
  • a few shakes of panko or other breadcrumbs or crushed up crackers if that’s what you got
  • salt, pepper, cayenne, paprika and/or whatever else you heart desires
  • enough oil to coat your cast iron skillet

Bring the oil up to medium heat in a large cast iron skillet. Flake the fish into a small bowl. If a little bit of that delicious butter, wine and lemon sauce slips in, so much the better. Stir in the rest of the ingredients, taste and adjust seasoning to your preference. You want a somewhat gummy texture so that the cakes will hold together. (An egg would probably help with this, but I opted to serve my lone egg fried on top of the cakes.) Use a serving spoon to drop large patties into the pan. Cook swirling occasionally to make sure the oil is distributed evenly and the cakes aren’t sticking. When a nice brown crust is formed on the bottom, flip and repeat.

Bluefish Cakes

Apple Cider-Braised Mussels with Kale & Bacon

Try as I might to plow through Saturday’s beef stew (including toting a container to a holiday party, which made for a rather unconventional hostess gift), I still have two servings left. It is delicious, but I am over it. As luck would have it, the seafood shop in my neighborhood decided to open on a Monday to accommodate holiday shoppers–and those of us that just needed a boost at the end of a cold, dark and drizzly day.

Apple Cider-Braised Mussels with Kale & Bacon

  • 1 slice good quality smoky bacon, diced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 small red onion, sliced
  • 1 small pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 small bunch kale, stemmed and roughly chopped
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 pound mussels
  • salt and pepper

Bring a large pot that has a matching lid up to medium heat. Add the bacon and cook stirring frequently, until mostly rendered but not yet crispy. Add the butter, stir until melted, and then add the onion and red pepper flakes. Continue to cook for five minutes or so, allowing the onions to soften and brown in places. Stir the kale in until wilted. Turn heat to high. Add the cider, vinegar, a good pinch of salt and plenty of black pepper. Bring to a boil. Add the mussels, top with the lid and let cook for four minutes. Remove the lid and give a stir. If some of the mussels are still closed, leave the lid off and let boil for a minute or two longer.

Apple Cider-Braised Mussels with Kale & Bacon

Serve this in a low bowl with a hunk of Runner & Stone‘s crusty baguette to soak up the luscious broth. Be prepared to fight your increasingly aggressive cat for the last mussel.

Oona the Eater

Chopped Turkey Liver with Cremini Mushrooms

Seven adults, an almost three-year-old, an almost two-year-old, and a baby born just six days ago are descending on my 600-square-foot apartment this afternoon. I spent the past week gathering ingredients from far and wide. I take a certain amount of pride in noting that nothing on today’s Thanksgiving table was sourced from a large grocery chain. I take a little less pride in the fact that I bought cheese in three different stores because I failed to actually make any sort of shopping list.

Our 17-pound turkey hails from Vermont and was procured through my CSA. It has been soaking up its dry brine since Tuesday night.

Turkey in Dry Brine

Last night was time for more prep work. I transformed a loaf of bread into rustic croutons. I made a slow-simmered turkey stock using the neck and a few other odds and ends, along with a little pancetta. I baked sweet and spicy candied pecans. I cooked up a batch of cranberry, apple and caramelized onion chutney. I did my best to tidy up the apartment.

Over the years, I have developed a system for helping myself stay on track when preparing an elaborate meal. Today’s game plan will continue to evolve throughout the day, but this is the general direction.

Thanksgiving Game Plan

I inexplicably awoke at 7:00am, leaving me with more time than anticipated. It was too early to pull the bird out of the fridge. And, until I remove the bird, there’s pretty much no room for anything else I manage to prep ahead of schedule.

Packed Thanksgiving Fridge

I pondered this dilemma over a cup of coffee until I remembered that turkey liver I had shoved in a bowl and stuck next to the mushrooms for the ciabatta, sausage, fennel and cremini stuffing. Suddenly I had a vision of the amazing chopped liver made by Maison David’s Michel Kailfa that I had the chance to sample during June’s study trip to Paris. Frenchmen don’t get much more charming that Michel. And chopped liver doesn’t get tastier than his.

But I would do my best.

Chopped Turkey Liver with Cremini Mushrooms

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 turkey liver
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme, leaves stripped
  • 1 small pinch red pepper flakes
  • 4 cremini mushrooms
  • 3 tablespoons madeira
  • 1 small handful flat leaf Italian parsley
  • salt and pepper
  1. Bring half the oil up to medium heat in a small pan. Add the liver and sear, rotating as it browns, for approximately five minutes.) You’re aiming for something like a medium-rare steak.) Remove the liver to a small bowl and add the rest of the oil.
  2. Add the onion and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until they are nicely browned and limp. (I have a hunch that Michel takes his onions past this point, which may make all the difference.) Add the mushrooms, thyme leaves and red pepper. Continue cooking, stirring frequently. The mushrooms will soak up the remaining fat and then gradually release liquid. Once they have done so, add the madeira and cook stirring continuously and scraping the bottom of the pan until mostly evaporated. 
  3. Dump the liver, onions and mushrooms, and parsley into the small bowl of your food processor and purée for a few minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Chopped Turkey Liver with Cremini Mushrooms

Liver is packed full of good nutrients, including iron–which is good for those of us that tend towards the anemic. A smear of this on a cracker is a great way to get your strength up for a long day of cooking.

Wajeedah’s Black Bean & Corn Salsa Verde

Friday morning found me trekking to South Jamaica, Queens to meet Wajeedah Anderson-Beyah at McKinley Children’s Garden. The garden is named for Wajeedah’s late husband, an urban farmer and community activist who grew up in nearby public housing and attended P.S. 40 just across the street. McKinley envisioned a space where neighborhood kids could learn about gardening and connect to nature.

I am here to attest that McKinley Children’s Garden is also an oasis for overworked grownups. An hour of chatting about the garden’s educational programs, munching cherry tomatoes fresh from the vine, and learning about different techniques for container gardening did wonders for my frazzled mental state. I would have loved to have spent the day.

South Jamaica Sunflowers

Alas, I was due back on the 15th floor of a Midtown high-rise. Before my departure, Wajeedah tasked me with picking black beans while she gathered sunflowers and lemon balm for me to take home. While I am a serious lover of all manners of beans, it turns out that I didn’t have a clue about how they are grown. These particular beans grow in long thin pods that fade from a lovely eggplant color to white as they dry. Once dry, the pods are easily plucked from the vine.

Black Beans in Pod

And, as I learned later that night, the small, inky beans are easy to pop out of their shell–even after several glasses of wine followed by a long and sleepy subway ride.

Friday at last.

 Wajeedah’s Black Bean & Corn Salsa Verde

Turn the oven up as high as it will go and get to work on the beans.

  • 1/4 cup dried black beans
  • 1 tablespoon bacon grease (optional)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1″ piece of jalapeno or other hot pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 large pinch salt

Add ingredients above plus 3/4 cup water to a small pot, bring to a boil and then reduce heat. Let simmer for one hour or until beans are tender but still toothsome, adding small amounts of water as needed.

  • 6 tomatillos, halved
  • 1 large onion, trimmed and halved
  • 5 mild peppers (bell, Poblano, etc.), seeded and halved
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and halved
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Drizzle one tablespoon olive oil into a roasting pan, arrange the vegetables cut side down in a single layer, drizzle with the remaining oil, and pop into your pre-heated oven. Cook undisturbed until you have some nice charred bits, by which time your tomatillos will likely have collapsed into a mush. Finely mince the jalapeno, roughly chop everything else, and add the vegetables plus any remaining juice to a mixing bowl.

  • 2 cobs of corn, niblets sliced off and cobs reserved for stock
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, finely minced
  • juice of 1 lime
  • salt and pepper

Stir in the remaining ingredients, including a generous amount of pepper and salt to taste. Let sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour. (Overnight is fine.)

Black Bean and Corn Salsa Verde

Serve this as you would any salsa–as a dip with tortilla chips, as a condiment with grilled fish or meat, etc. I ate some with scrambled eggs nestled inside corn tortillas.

Breakfast Tacos

Ratatouille Three Ways

This isn’t so much a recipe as a concept–one that employs the summer’s bounty and yields a nice supper, brunch for two, and an afternoon snack, all with minimal effort.

Make Ahead: 1) Crank the oven up to 400 and chop up whatever summer vegetables you have on hand. I used zucchini, yellow squash, fairy tale eggplant, and the roots and bulb of a bunch of baby fennel (which, YUM). 2) Toss the vegetables with a good quantity of olive oil, salt and pepper in a large roasting pan and pop it in the oven. 3) Let cook until you start to smell something really good. Give the vegetables a good stir and return to the oven until they are soft and nicely browned. This can be done a day ahead of time.

Summer Vegetables for Roasting

For Dinner: 1) sauté onion, garlic and red pepper flakes in some olive oil. 2) Add some chopped fresh tomato and cook just briefly before adding some of your roasted vegetables. 3) Stir in some freshly boiled al dente pasta, allowing a little of the pasta water to form a loose sauce. (I was feeding a friend who avoids gluten, so I went with a brown rice pasta, which was surprisingly tasty and toothsome.) 4) Cook for a minute or so, remove from heat, and toss with some fresh basil. 5) Serve with a nice dollop of ricotta cheese.

For Brunch the Next Day: 1) Set the oven to 400 and repeat steps one and two above, adding in all of your leftover roasted vegetables and substituting a fresh jalapeño for the red pepper flakes if you happen to have one on hand. 2) Stir in some fresh basil. 3) Reserve about a third of the mixture and spoon the rest into individual baking dishes, forming a hollow in the center. Crack a couple of eggs into each dish and pop into the oven until the eggs are just set.

Ratatouille Shirred Eggs Before

Ratatouille Shirred Eggs

For an Afternoon Snack: 1) Toast some nice bread in a dry cast iron skillet over medium heat. 2) Top with the last of your ratatouille.

Ratatouille Bruschetta

And that, my friends, is how you consume two zucchini, two yellow squash, a large bunch of baby fennel, half a pound of eggplant, three onions, a head of garlic, a bouquet of purple basil, and one jalapeño pepper in 24 hours.