Chorizo, Chickpeas, Clams & Potatoes

Time is galloping. My thesis is plodding.

I have two days left in which to spit it all out on paper–or, rather, onto the screen. This is an internal deadline, but one that is crucial to my mental health. I have promised myself that, if I can bang out a serviceable rough draft by the time I make my presentation on Tuesday, I can take a couple of days off to reconnect with the world before I buckle down and finish my damn degree.

I started this blog five years (minus six days) ago, when I had been admitted into the master’s degree program in Food Studies at NYU. I was giddy, impatient and somewhat terrified at the prospect of being back in the classroom after 16 years. Would I be the oldest one there? Did I remember how to write an academic paper? How would I find my classroom? Had my study skills miraculously improved over the past couple of decades? Did I need a new set of crayons and a protractor? Would I ever figure out the newfangled computer systems?

It’s strange to look back at those first entries and glimpse an earlier version of myself. A lot has happened in the intervening years. I passed 40 and kept right on aging. I left my job as Executive Director of one nonprofit organization in order to lead another. I left that organization and struck out on my own as a consultant and teacher. I lost the tiny and impossibly sweet cat that had been with me since my early years in New York City and gained a bolder, fluffier model. I wrote a lot of papers. I took an unexpected departure into art and performance. I chalked up more than my fair share of learning experiences on the romantic front. I overcame my fear of public speaking. I learned that I could, in fact, love a second nephew just as much as I love the first. I broke an ankle and an indeterminate number of toes. I raised upwards of five million dollars. I made lifelong friends who may actually be more food obsessed than I am. I read so many books that the wall nearest my dining table is an endlessly rotating literary staging area. I took a few epic trips–to Argentina, to Paris, to India, and to Nahunta, Georgia to see a man about a grill. I finally mastered the poached egg.

Tonight I declared the research phase of my thesis over and got serious about writing. But first, I made dinner.

Chorizo, Chickpeas, Clams & Potatoes

  • 24 small clams
  • 12 new potatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil.
  • 2 links fresh chorizo, uncased
  • 1 large leek, rinsed and chopped
  • four cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon hot paprika
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas (If you didn’t happen to reserve some chickpeas from the massive batch of hummus you made this afternoon, canned will suffice.)
  • 1 cup white wine or rose
  • 1 handful flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper (maybe)
  1. Sort through your clams, making sure that any that are open close back up when tapped. Give them a rinse and place in a bowl covered with cold water for at least 20 minutes. I added some cornmeal and a hefty dose of sea salt, but suspect neither is actually necessary to the purging process. The goal here is to get the clams to spit out any sand they may be harboring.
  2. Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil and toss the potatoes in. Cook just until tender and then drain.
  3. Bring a large cast iron skillet up to medium heat. Add a tablespoon of olive oil. Then add the chorizo, breaking it into chunks with a wooden spoon. Stir frequently. When the sausage has started to give up its fat, add the leek and continue to stir frequently. After a couple of minutes, add the garlic. If the pan gets dry, add some more olive oil. When the leeks have softened but aren’t yet brown, add the paprika, thyme and potatoes. Stir to combine, positioning as many of the potatoes as you can cut-side down. Cook without stirring until the potatoes start to brown. Stir in the chickpeas and wine. 
  4. Rinse the clams under cold water, taking care not to stir up any of the sediment at the bottom of the bowl. Nestle the clams in the pan and cover. If you don’t have a lid that fits, foil will work just fine. Check them after five minutes, giving a quick stir to move any that haven’t opened toward the boiling spots. When all of the clams have opened (or you’ve given up and discarded that stubborn one), remove from the heat.
  5. Give it a taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with some crusty bread to soak up the juices.

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Anchovy, Ramp & Arugula Egg on a Roll

I missed the farmers’ market last Saturday. Instead, the morning found me traipsing around the city with a weekend bag full of sweatpants and vegetables, a backpack full of library books, and a giant platter from Murray’s Cheese. The schlep was well worth it, as it meant having the opportunity to attend a workshop with the luminous Sarah Owens, who just won a James Beard Award for her new book, Sourdough.

Sarah Owens Sourdough

(As should be evident, I did not make this.)

After class, I headed up to Grand Central to hop the train to Cold Spring. Beth was out of town for a few days and had graciously offered up her lovely home as a writer’s retreat. I was bound and determined to finish up my final paper of the semester.

Things got off to a slow start, owing to exhaustion and, possibly, the basil gin and tonic I whipped up with herbs from Beth’s kitchen garden.

Basil Gin and Tonic

Mercifully, Sunday was cold and drizzly, leaving me with nothing to do but plug away at my paper…

A Room with a View

…with occasional breaks to feed myself…

…and Oscar, who apparently likes cheese as much as I do.

Oscar the Hamster

By Monday afternoon I had a serviceable first draft and was headed back to the city. I spent Tuesday fine tuning my paper and was back at work Wednesday morning with a worrisome twinge in my lower back. By Friday the pain was hard to ignore. I knocked off early and headed to the acupuncturist.

Sixteen needles and seven small and rather tortuous cups later, my back was starting to release. Steve slapped a couple of giant stickers that smell like a combination of tea tree oil and Bengay on and sent me on my way with instructions for gentle stretching and heat.

Cups.jpg

And so last night was an uncharacteristically low-key one. I met Sari for a lovely and light early dinner and spent the remainder of the night getting intimate with my heating pad.

This morning found me back at the farmers’ market loading my bag with more goodies than someone with a bad back should reasonably carry. I returned home to a breakfast of ibuprofen and an egg sandwich.

I have written about the wonder that is the New York City egg and cheese on a roll. More than once, in fact. While there is a beauty in the simplicity of this sandwich, today’s haul called for something a little more upscale. (The fact that I capped last night’s cocktail consumption at two undoubtedly helped in this regard.)

Anchovy, Ramp & Arugula Egg on a Roll

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 anchovy filets
  • 1 small pinch red pepper flakes
  • 6 ramps
  • 1 ciabatta or other soft roll
  • 1 egg
  • handful of arugula
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
  • pepper

Bring a small cast iron (or nonstick) skillet up to medium-low heat with the butter. Add the anchovies and smash with the back of a spoon until they begin to dissolve into the butter. Add the red pepper flakes. Finely mince the bulbs of the ramps and add these. Sauté, stirring frequently, until soft. Roughly chop the ramp greens and add these plus some black pepper. After a minute or two, you should have a coarse paste. Take off the heat and fold in the lemon zest. Slather onto both sides of a halved and toasted roll. Fry an egg over easy in the lingering ramp butter and layer it onto your sandwich. Top with arugula and the other half of your roll.

Anchovy Ramp and Arugula Egg on a Roll

This sandwich is best enjoyed from the comfort of your heating pad.

Beer-Braised Red Curry Mussels with Leeks

I have worked 26 of the 28 days thus far in March. Needless to say, my diet has suffered a bit. There have been meals at home, but they’ve hewed toward quick salads or scrambled eggs shoved inside a couple of corn tortillas with whatever else I have on hand.

The season isn’t helping much. My last winter CSA pickup was in early February. And, while the forsythia, magnolias, daffodils and cherry blossoms are all in bloom, it’s still winter at the farmers’ market. When I can get there, it’s mainly to buy hunks of cured pork, storage crops and kale that only a mother could love.

I hopped off the B train just before 8:00 tonight, allowing me to pick up a pound of mussels at Mermaid’s Garden. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with them but, after yesterday’s dim sum brunch, afternoon beers and Easter ham supper, I was looking to switch it up. “Lemon or lime?” inquired the man behind the counter. “Lemon,” I replied, as I always do. And then, a moment later, “actually, I’d like the lime.”

There’s a wind advisory in effect tonight. I walked home listening to the gusts tear through the new blossoms while mentally reviewing my pantry. There were leeks and cilantro that had been in the crisper for way too long. There was some red curry paste purchased on a whim a few months ago. If I was lucky, there would be the usual can of coconut milk stashed somewhere behind the dry goods. There was beer. Of that I was sure.

Beer-Braised Red Curry Mussels with Leeks

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 large leek, halved, rinsed and sliced thinly
  • 1 tablespoon red curry paste
  • 3 small dried red chili peppers (or as much cayenne as you can stand)
  • 3 tablespoons minced cilantro (stems are fine, which is pretty much all I had left)
  • 1/2 lime, zest and juice
  • 1/3 cup coconut milk (the internet tells me you can freeze the rest!)
  • 1/3 of that beer you’re guzzling
  • 1/2 tablespoon fish sauce
  • pinch sugar
  • 1 pound mussels

Bring the oil up to medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add the leeks and cook, stirring regularly, until soft but not yet brown. Add the curry paste, chilis, cilantro and lime zest and cook for a couple of additional minutes, stirring constantly. Add the coconut milk, beer, fish sauce and sugar. Let simmer for a few minutes, give a quick taste, and adjust seasoning with additional fish sauce, sugar or hot pepper. Give the mussels a quick rinse, discarding any that do not shut. Gently stir them into your broth and pop a lid on. After a couple of minutes, given them another gentle stir and replace the lid. Keep doing this until all of the mussels have opened. Stir in the lime juice and enjoy with whatever is left of your beer while fending off the cat.

Beer-Braised Red Curry Mussels

Kale & Smoked Salmon Nicoise Salad

My last day off was in February. I am told that yesterday’s conference was a big success, but it’s a bit hard to hear through the haze of exhaustion. I slept 9 1/2 hours last night and woke up achy and somewhat remorseful for last night’s lackluster takeout nachos.

There’s a steady rain thrumming against the window air conditioning unit, making me thankful to be holed up in my apartment in my favorite sweatpants, The Smiths on the stereo and a neglected cat by my side. Lunch was clearly going to have to be assembled from ingredients I had on hand.

Kale & Smoked Salmon Nicoise Salad

  1. Hard boil an egg according to your preferred method–or mine. (While you’re at it, why not boil a few more for mid-week breakfasts?) 
  2. Boil a handful of small potatoes in salted water until a butter knife slides in easily.
  3. Rinse and dry a few of handfuls of kale
  4. Whisk the juice of half a lemon with a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, a healthy pinch of salt, a small pinch of sugar and plenty of black pepper. Gradually whisk in a couple of tablespoons of good quality olive oil. Mince a shallot and add this as well.
  5. Toss the kale with your dressing and let stand while your egg and potatoes cool. (If you don’t have a nasty cut on your forefinger from god-only-knows-what, you might consider using your hands to really massage the dressing into the kale. I opted to use the back of a spoon to get the job done.)
  6. Top the kale with halved potatoes, quartered eggs, an ounce or two of smoked salmon and those olives that have been lurking in the fridge since your blizzard dinner party.

Kale Smoked Salmon Nicoise

Dandelion Pasta with Anchovies & Ricotta

With school back in session, Wednesdays are once again a haze. I had hoped to wrap up my budgeting work before leaving the office, but was waylaid by other tasks. I made it home from class around 7:30, my head full of feminist theory and my stomach running on empty. Fortunately, I had a nice bunch of dandelion greens and a well stocked pantry.

This meal paired nicely with the dregs of Saturday’s Cabernet Sauvignon, which had thankfully not turned to vinegar on the kitchen counter. More importantly, it came together in 22 minutes flat, leaving me with enough time to catch up with my sister Upstate and finish those pesky spreadsheets.

Dandelion Pasta with Anchovies & Ricotta

Set a pot of salted water to boil. Bring a couple of tablespoons of olive oil up to medium heat in a large sauté pan. Peel and thinly slice a few cloves of garlic. Rinse and coarsely chop the dandelion greens, removing the ends if they are twiggy. If you aren’t that into bitter things, wait until the water boils and blanch the greens for a couple of minutes. (But, really, why in the world are you eating dandelion greens if you’re not down?) Once the oil is hot enough that droplets of water sizzle, add a few anchovies from your emergency jar and four or five of those small dried chiles that you bought at the fancy cheese shop on a whim (or a healthy pinch of red pepper flakes, which are probably the same thing at a quarter of the price). Stir constantly for a couple of minutes, add the garlic and continue stirring for one more minute. Add the greens to your pan and half a bag of penne to your pot. Stir both occasionally. Grind some black pepper into the greens. When the pasta is just shy of done, scoop it into the pan, allowing some of the water to migrate along with it. Cook for another minute or so and remove from the heat. Give it a quick taste and add salt if needed. (The anchovies may have done the trick.) Top each serving with a heaping spoonful of ricotta, a little lemon zest and juice, and a drizzle of olive oil.

Dandelion Green Penne with Anchovies and Ricotta

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

Roasted Monkfish with Braised Red Cabbage

There are days when I feel like a pinball ricocheting around the city. Today was one of those days.

I started with some early morning emailing from home before dropping my compost off and hopping the B train for an emergency visit to the endotontist in Gramercy. (Friday’s root canal seems to have set off a painful chain reaction.) Armed with a little less tooth and a lot more ibuprofen, I made my way across town in search of Wifi. I spent lunch catching up on emails, mapping an outline for a talk, and chewing with a great deal of care.

Then it was an hour uptown to Teachers College. The 1 train was mercifully uncrowded, so I was able to use the time to put the finishing touches on a paper. It was my last Nutritional Ecology class. While I’m looking forward to a little pleasure reading, I will truly miss the opportunity to study with Joan Dye Gussow, who the New York Times dubbed the “matriarch of the eat-locally-think-globally food movement.” (Please, nobody tell Joan that, for the past semester, my Wednesday lunches have consisted of a boxed sandwich wolfed down on the train while rushing to her class.) Afterwards, I descended Morningside Park’s many steps to meet a donor for a drink and some more food talk.

Another hour on the B train and I was back home in Brooklyn and deserving of a treat. I walked into Mermaid’s Garden just before closing and secured a pound of monkfish, which I thought would hold up well against the red cabbage left from last month’s CSA share. I’d never made monkfish before, but the lovely guy behind the counter assured me that it was almost impossible to overcook. We agreed that I would aim for a quick pan sear and then finish it off in the oven.

Roasted Monkfish with Braised Red Cabbage

  • 1 ounce smoked hog jowl (or bacon), cubed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 red onion, sliced pole to pole
  • 1/2 head red cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice (about 8 whole berries)
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup apple cider that you tragically failed to drink before it started to turn
  • salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 450. Bring a large skillet up to medium heat with the pork and olive oil. When the pork is rendered but not yet crispy, add the onion and cook until soft and browned around the edges. Add the cabbage, allspice, red pepper and a healthy dose of salt and pepper. Cook stirring regularly until the cabbage is wilted. Add the cider and vinegar, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and put a lid on it. Continue cooking, stirring every so often, while you turn your attention to the fish.

  • 1 pound monkfish, trimmed
  • 1 tablespoon horseradish
  • 1 tablespoon panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • salt and pepper

Bring a skillet up to medium heat. Season the fish liberally on both sides with salt and pepper. Combine the horseradish, breadcrumbs and mustard in a small bowl, adding water if needed to form a paste. Press this mixture onto one side of the fish. Add butter to the pan, swirling to coat. Carefully place the fish in the pan with the crust down. Cook for a few minutes until the crust has browned and then gently flip. (If your crust falls off, just stick it back on.) Cook for another couple of minutes and then pop the whole pan in the oven for about 15 minutes. By the time your fish is done, your cabbage should be good to go.

Roasted Monkfish with Braised Red Cabbage

WARNING: Your cat will think you made this for her. She is wrong, but she will not let up until you finish your meal, pack the leftovers away for tomorrow’s lunch, and scrub all of the dishes.