Bacon & Onion Bulgur Salad

Today is my first day off in almost a month. It’s been so long since I had a day to myself that I’m a bit paralyzed by the possibilities. I am also seemingly incapable of sleeping in despite being physically and mentally exhausted. By 11:00am I had done a sinkful of dishes, dealt with the alarming garbage and compost situation, tried (and failed) not to check my work email, made and consumed a cup of coffee, watched the final episode of House of Cards, spent an hour or so attempting to identify a movie that would hold my attention, given the cat some much-needed affection, and contemplated a shower.

I also found time to make myself a lovely lunch with whatever ingredients I happened to have on hand.

Bacon & Onion Bulgur Salad

  • 3 strips good quality bacon, diced
  • 1 red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 cup coarse/large bulgur wheat
  • 1 bunch parsley, chopped
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • salt and pepper
  • splash red wine vinegar (optional)

Render the bacon in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Scoop your homemade bacon bits into a bowl, leaving as much fat as possible in the pan. Add the onion and cook stirring frequently until soft and starting to caramelize. Scoop the onion into your bowl, add the bulgur to the pan and cook stirring constantly for a couple of minutes. The goal here it to toast your grains in all of that delicious bacon fat. Add a cup and a half of water and bring to a boil for 5 minutes. Switch off the heat and pop a lid on. After 20 minutes, remove the lid, stir and let sit for another 5 minutes or so until the water is absorbed. Stir in the bacon, onions, scallions and parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Bacon and Onion Bulgur Salad

If you have somehow managed not to consume all of the delicious pickled watermelon radishes that a friend brought over a couple of weeks ago, they would make a great accompaniment. If not, you might want to add a little splash of red wine vinegar to balance the flavors.

Next up for my day of rest? A shower, a pedicure and a long walk capped off with a fancy dinner at Semilla. Tomorrow it’s back to the grindstone.

EAT THIS: Bacon, Kale & Avocado Sandwich

Bacon Kale and Avocado Sandwich

When last night’s birthday dinner somehow morphed into dancing until 4:00am but you still have to get up at a reasonable hour and put in a full day of work (yes, on a Sunday), consider bacon, kale sautéed in the bacon grease and slices of ripe avocado sandwiched between toasted sourdough bread slathered in mayonnaise and harissa

Indian Make-In

A sore throat and persistent headache sent me home early today. I had a hunch I might not be leaving my house for a day or so. On my way home I swung by the grocer to grab ginger, chicken broth, chicken thighs, escarole and milk for tomorrow’s coffee.

For lunch I whipped up a quick soup by simmering the chicken in broth along with some chopped ginger. When the chicken was cooked through, I pulled it out and added soba noodles. Just before serving, I added the meat (now shredded) along with escarole, soy sauce, scallions, cayenne pepper, cilantro and a few drops of sesame oil.

Chicken Soba Soup

For a brief moment I could breathe clearly and my throat did not ache.

I spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on email and dialing in to various meetings. At some point I managed to knock a nearly full bottle of red wine from the kitchen counter while attempting to make myself a cup of tea.

Red WIne Carnage

Naturally, I did not have any paper towels in the house. Cleanup was quite a chore, as was extracting the glass shard that lodged itself under my pinky nail.

By the time I finished, my stomach was growling. I was craving something spicy that would again offer temporary relief from what I am praying is just a cold. I debated making another bowl of soup, but then I flashed on Friday’s late night Indian takeout, which was truly awful. I swear one of the dishes was a can of chickpeas with some curry powder and vegetable oil stirred in and then heated in the microwave.

Surely I could do better with whatever ingredients I had on hand.

Indian Make-In

  • 1/2 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
  • 1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 1 knob ginger (about the size of your thumb, unless you have monster hands), chopped
  • juice of 1 lime (or a Meyer lemon if that’s what you happen to have on hand)
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 tablespoon ghee (or butter or vegetable oil of some sort)
  • 1 bunch kale, large stems stripped, roughly chopped
  • 1 pinch sugar
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced pole to pole
  • cilantro (if you got it)
  1. Toast the cumin and coriander in a dry cast iron skillet, shaking frequently, until they give off an earthy aroma and darken a bit. Add these along with the yogurt, cayenne, garam masala, turmeric, garlic, ginger, lime juice, a healthy pinch of salt and some black pepper to the small work bowl of your food processor and let run for several minutes. Stir this in with the chicken thighs in a bowl, cover and refrigerate until you decide that you really need to eat. (Overnight would be awesome, but mine sat for about an hour and it was still damn tasty.)
  2. Bring a cast iron skillet up to medium-high heat with the ghee. Fish the chicken thighs out with a fork, allowing the excess marinade to fall back into the bowl before you place them in the skillet. When the thighs begin to brown, flip them over and baste with the pan juices. Flip back and forth a couple of times continuing to baste. Don’t worry too much about the crust that’s forming (provided your pan is well seasoned). 
  3. Meanwhile, scrape the leftover marinade into a small saucepan and bring up to medium-high heat. Add the kale in batches, along with a cup or so of water and a pinch of sugar. Let this continue to boil, adding water if needed. (You’re aiming for something approximating spicy creamed spinach.) You may opt to add additional salt, pepper or cayenne as indicated.
  4. When the chicken thighs are done, set them aside and give the pan a good scrape, transferring the crusty bits to your simmering kale. Add the red onion to your skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until limp and nicely charred in spots. Cilantro would be awesome to finish the dish. Alas, I tossed it all into my chicken soup.

Indian Make-In

If I were serving this for company, I would have made a pot of Basmati rice. Instead, I packed half away for tomorrow and added a dollop of mango chutney.

You know what would have been good with this meal? A nice glass of red wine. Sigh.

Braised Cannellini & Kale

Sunday was my final day of a much-needed break. After four months of going hard at my new job, I was desperate for a little physical and mental recovery time. I took a few long walks, drank more than my fair share of a wide variety of adult beverages, watched some movies, caught up with dear friends, halfheartedly read a book, organized my apartment, did a little yoga, cooked and was cooked for, and generally tried to live a life of leisure. Needless to say it all went by a little faster than expected.

I spent my last day of vacation reading, napping and making a big vat of beans and greens to get me through what was promising to be a long, dark and cold workweek.

Braised Kale & Cannellini

  • 1 pound cannellini, soaked overnight and for up to two days
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 ounces guanciale, cubed
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 4 cubes frozen chicken stock
  • 4 carrots, diced
  • 1 parmesan or romano rind (optional, but oh so good)
  • 3 sprigs rosemary
  • 6 sprigs thyme
  • 1 large bunch kale, roughly chopped
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  1. Bring the olive oil up to medium heat in a large dutch oven. Add the guanciale and cook stirring frequently until it is partially rendered. Add the onions and continue stirring until the onions are nicely browned. Add the red pepper flakes and garlic and cook for another minute or two.
  2. Add the wine, chicken stock, carrots, cheese rind, fresh herbs and enough water to cover the beans. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Let this go for an hour or so while you take a nap with the cat. Give it a stir, add a little water if needed, and let it go for at least another hour, during which time you might consider another nap.
  3. When the beans are cooked but still a little al dente, add the kale, red wine vinegar and a generous portion of salt and pepper. Pop the lid on and cook for at least another half hour, but no harm in letting it go quite a bit longer given the toothsome nature of winter kale. (A third nap would be excessive, right?) Season with additional salt, pepper or red wine vinegar as you see fit.

I ended up serving this to my travel-weary sister Hannah and her husband Rick along with thick slices of whole wheat sourdough toasted in a generous pour of olive oil–an ideal vehicle for soaking up the rich broth. I finally persuaded my nephew to try one of the beans. Let’s just say that Wally was not a fan.

Later we all piled into the car to travel the mile and a half to where Hannah and Rick would be spending the very first night in their new house. While his parents struggled to make the place habitable, Wally and I read stories amidst the cardboard boxes in his new bedroom and played a modified version of beer pong using a tape ball left by the painting crew.

Wally and Auntie Jaz

At some point, Wally dragged a pillow into the middle of the living room and curled up with his blanket.

Sleepy Boy

I knew just how he felt. I got home just in time to pack up the leftover food and climb into bed. Come Monday, this hearty stew made for a nice lunch whilst hunkered over my keyboard desperately trying to get a series of spreadsheets to bend to my will. Yep, vacation is over.

Braised Kale and Cannellini

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

A Leap of Faith: Beef, Shiitake & Celeriac Stew

As 2014 barrels to a close, I find myself pondering leaps of faith…and making beef stew.

The past few months have brought some major, and for the most part self-initiated, life changes. I’m beginning to settle in, but have yet to really find my new rhythm. Or, rather, just when I think I have, the song changes. I’ve been impressed by my brain’s capacity to synthesize and adapt to new information (and have been killing the Times crossword puzzle as of late). But I’d be lying if I said these changes aren’t physically and mentally exhausting.

Early in adulthood I was faced with a major decision. A mentor and dear friend, noting my distress, observed that there were no right or wrong choices, merely different paths. I have shared this advice with countless people over the years and have taken great comfort in it myself. But, deep down, I’m still convinced that, with enough effort, I can analyze my way into the right choice.

There was a distinct moment in my late 20s when I realized that there was no answer key to life and that everyone is just making it up as they go along. Being an adult doesn’t mean knowing what to do in every situation. We learn from trial and error. We get better at selecting those we ask for advice. We learn to accept that things may not turn out as hoped. We also learn that things continue to evolve and, at some point, it’s bound to get better.

As hard as I am working to make the right choices, there are moments when I realize that what I’ve set in motion involves forces well beyond my control. Try as we might to reason our way through, our life choices are, ultimately, leaps of faith.

Stew, too, is an act of faith. You take a cheap cut of meat, sear it in some fat, and then braise it in liquid. About an hour into this process, the meat will be alarmingly tough and the surrounding gravy won’t taste like much. But keep the faith. Let it go another hour or two (each pot of stew having its own internal timeline) and you will find yourself with a tender and savory dish. It may not always be quite what you set out to make, but it will be good and nourishing. And it will get better with age; consider making your stew the day before, chilling overnight, and then reheating.

Mushrooms and Onions

Beef, Shiitake & Celeriac Stew

  •  3 tablespoons beef fat (or butter)
  • 2 pounds beef stew meat (chuck, sirloin or whatever else the butcher recommends)
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large onions
  • 4 large carrots
  • 1 baseball-sized bulb celeriac
  • 1 pound shiitake (pr plain old button) mushrooms 
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 8 anchovies in oil
  • 2/3 bottle red wine
  • 1 quart beef stock
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 1 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • salt and pepper
  1. Melt fat or butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Toss meat with flour and a healthy pinch of salt. Brown meat in batches so as not to crowd the pan, allowing a nice dark crust to form. Set aside.Seared Beef
  2. If your fat is all gone, add the olive oil. Add the sliced onions and cook, stirring frequently, scraping up the dark bits at the bottom of the pan with the juices released by the onions. When the onions are soft and browned, add the carrots, celeriac, mushrooms and red pepper flakes. Cook until the vegetables begin to soften. Clear a spot in the pot and add the tomato paste and anchovies. Cook for a minute or two, stirring constantly to avoid burning. Deglaze the pan with a bit of the red wine, then add the rest of the wine plus the beef stock, herbs and sugar.
  3. Bring the stew up to a boil, pop a lid on, and turn the heat down low. You’re aiming for a slow simmer. Now is a fine time to take your compost to the farmers’ market. You may purchase a hot apple cider for the walk home but do no under any circumstances buy more vegetables given that you are leaving town in four days and still have the bulk of last week’s CSA share stashed in your refrigerator.
  4. After about an hour of cooking, remove the lid so that your sauce begins to thicken. Add a healthy dose of salt and pepper. Continue to simmer for one to two additional hours until your meat is fork-tender (but not complete mush) and the surrounding liquid is the consistency of a hearty gravy.

Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?

Beef Stew

Guy Lon & Cumin Lamb Stir-Fry

As regular readers know, I am quite devoted to Farmer Ted and the whole Windflower Farm crew.

But this week I had occasion to check out another CSA. My coworker and I visited Crown Heights Farm Share to learn about some of the innovative strategies they are using to recruit and retain low-income residents. From what I observed, the folks in Crown Heights have built a remarkable sense of community. They also have some remarkable vegetables courtesy of Sang Lee Farms, located on the North Fork of Long Island. One of the coordinators we met with was kind enough to send me into the night with a lovely bouquet of guy lon, also known as Chinese broccoli.

Guy Lon

I made it to my own CSA, which is five blocks away, just before closing time. Good thing I did as, in addition to a delightful selection of vegetables, I picked up a pound of ground lamb that I had ordered during a bout of insomnia the week before and promptly forgotten about.

Guy Lon & Cumin Lamb Stir-Fry

  • 1 cup long grain white rice, rinsed 
  • 2 tablespoons whole cumin seed
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 4 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns, ground 
  • black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons safflower or other neutral cooking oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced pole to pole
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 jalapeño pepper (or to taste), minced
  • 1 large bunch guy lon (Chinese broccoli), leaves, flowers and thin stems roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 2 scallions, sliced on the bias into 1/4″ pieces
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro
  1. Bring two cups of water to boil in a medium pot. Add the rice, stir, cover, and reduce heat to low. Let simmer for 20 minutes, turn off the heat and let stand for another 5 minutes before serving. (This should be just enough time to prep and cook the rest of the dish.)
  2. Toast the cumin seeds in a dry cast iron skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly, until they release their aroma and turn a few shades darker. Gently mix the lamb with the cumin, Szechuan peppercorns, tamari or soy sauce, and a good amount of freshly ground black pepper in a bowl and set aside.
  3. Pour 2 tablespoons of oil into the skillet and bring it up to medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until they are limp and charred in places. Add the red and jalapeño peppers, allowing these to brown and go limp. Empty the contents of the pan into a bowl.
  4. Place the skillet back on the heat and pour in another tablespoon of oil. Add the guy lon stems and let these cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently. Add the flowers and leaves and cook stirring constantly until the stems are bright green and the leaves are wilted. Dump the guy lon on top of the onions and peppers.
  5. Place the skillet back on the heat and pour in the last tablespoon of oil, followed by the lamb, garlic and rice wine vinegar. Cook stirring frequently for 10 minutes or so until the lamb has released and then reabsorbed most of its juices. Stir the cooked vegetables and the scallions in, and let cook for a couple more minutes. Add the cilantro off the heat. Serve over rice, which should be done right about now.

Guy Lon and Cumin Lamb Stir-Fry