Planes, Trains, Bourbon & Brisket

I am supposed to be in Wisconsin right now.

Three years ago, I spent Rosh Hashanah with Juliet, Phil and their son. It was a lovely visit that ended with promises to do it again next year. Alas, life and a brand new job got in the way, so the past two years’ celebrations have consisted of an apple dipped in honey at my kitchen counter.

Two months ago I purchased a plane ticket. On Friday I awoke early to pack. I hauled a suitcase, an overstuffed purse, and a backpack full of schoolwork (plus some work work) through morning rush hour. The B train was mysteriously out of commission, necessitating two transfers and a whole lot of stairs to get to my meeting near Columbus Circle. I cut out half an hour early and flagged down a taxi to LaGuardia.

Two hours, $100, and a fair amount of screaming later, I found myself at Delta’s Special Services desk shaking with a mixture of frustration, rage, and a very full bladder. There was no way I was making my flight to Madison, though they could get me into Milwaukee for a mere $1,000 change fee. I appealed to the agent’s sense of rationality, explaining that the Grand Central Parkway had been shut down and that my driver refused to listen to my directions. Nothing. I played the damsel in distress. Nada. I pulled a diva trip. This man was a brick wall. Then I did the only other thing I could think of. I hauled my bags to a corner, sat on the floor, and commenced crying. Nobody even noticed.

Half an hour and a couple of weepy phone calls later, I had a plan. I would head upstate for a night or two with Beth and her boys.

It’s a straight shot on the M60 bus to Metro North’s Harlem-125th Street Station. Under normal circumstances, the trip takes about 25 minutes. But, as even the casual reader must know by now, this was no ordinary day. I couldn’t even squeeze onto the first bus that arrived. I boarded at the back of the next bus, which filled up quickly. We inched our way to Manhattan. At each stop, more people clambered aboard. Tensions were high. More than one person screamed obscenities. A fist fight very nearly broke out. The trip lasted 90 minutes.

I managed to squeeze myself and my bags–which seemed to get heavier and heavier–off of the bus when we hit Second Avenue and found the nearest liquor store. I was going to need a little something to take the edge off during the next leg of my journey. I hauled my bags up what I thought would be the final flight of stairs and boarded the 6:22 to Poughkeepsie.

As we pulled out of the station, the conductor announced that the train was an express and that the first stop would be Beacon–the stop after my intended destination. At this point, I decided to skip the plastic cup and swig my wine straight from the bottle.

Jasmine and the Bottle

Seventy minutes later, I lugged my bags up one staircase and down another before tossing them into the back of a taxi that, naturally, had to drop two other people off before delivering me. I arrived at Beth’s doorstep just before 8:30pm. In the time it takes to fly to London, I had managed to make it 55 miles from my starting point.

By 8:45 I was halfway through a Negroni. By two in the morning we’d polished off our second bottle of Prosecco and were headed to bed.

Somehow Beth wrangled the boys and made it to soccer by 9:00am, which is about the time I opened my eyes. I stumbled down the stairs feeling a little worse for the wear. A cup of coffee and two large glasses of water gave me the strength to make breakfast: scrambled eggs, toast, and a glorious orange tomato from Fishkill Farms, where Beth gets her CSA share.

Then I threw on some clothes, grabbed a bag, and headed up the road to the Cold Spring Farmers’ Market. I was eager to see what the Hudson Valley had to offer–and hopeful that I might stumble on a brisket to take the sting out of the previous day’s travel debacle. I picked up purple potatoes, fennel salami, parsley, and canoodling carrots.

Kale Potatoes Carrots

I was about to give up on my brisket plan when I spotted Full Moon Farm‘s stand. Three pounds of grass-fed beef and my backpack was about as heavy as I could conceive given the 30-minute walk back to town. But first, I took a quick stroll through the grounds at Boscobel to admire the view of the Hudson Highlands.

Hudson Highlands

Beth and the boys arrived home a little after me. We spent the early afternoon hydrating and threatening to nap while the brisket defrosted in a bowl of water. Around 2:00 I set to work.

Braised Brisket, More or Less

  1. Get a good piece of meat. Make sure it’s defrosted. Sprinkle with a generous dose of salt and pepper.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 325.
  3. Bring a large dutch oven up to medium heat with some vegetable oil. Sear the brisket until you get some nice color on it. (Depending on the size of your pot and the size of your brisket, this may require some finagling.)
  4. Remove the meat and add a couple of chopped onions. Cook until soft and starting to color. Add a few cloves of chopped garlic and cook for a couple more minutes.
  5. Ransack the spice cabinet and add whatever strikes your fancy. I went with ginger, fennel, brown mustard seeds, thyme and some other stuff I can’t recall. Allow the spices to toast in the fat for a few minutes.
  6. Add a small can of tomato paste and whatever leftover booze you can dig up. A Stella Artois worked just fine for this brisket, but you could do something darker. Red wine is always nice.
  7. Got some chili paste in the fridge? Go for it. Just about any condiment you’re looking to use up will do here. Dried fruit is also awesome.
  8. Bring the pot up to a boil, pop a lid on, and stick it in the oven. Ideally, the meat will be submerged in the liquid, but not to worry if the ends are sticking out.
  9. Now would be a good time for a nap. Or maybe a shower.
  10. After a couple of hours, give the sauce a taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper and perhaps a pinch of sugar. Flip the meat and return to the oven. Repeat in another hour or so. 
  11. Some people like to pull the meat out while it is still firm, slice it against the grain, layer it into a pan, cover with the sauce, and continue to cook. This is handy if you’re serving a large crowd or are aiming for something a little more photogenic. Personally, I like to leave the meat whole and continue to simmer until it is pull-apart tender. (Go past this point and you basically have the best beef stew you’ve ever experienced.) A little fresh flat leaf parsley is a nice touch at the end.

Braised Brisket

Cocktail time!

The End of Summer

Add a few cubes of ice to a rocks glass. Slosh in a stiff pour of bourbon. Top with ginger ale. Using a microplane, grate a little fresh ginger in. Garnish with a wheel of lemon. Toast to the end of summer and spend the next couple of rounds reminiscing about sandy sheets and outdoor showers.

Bourbon Ginger Cocktail

Thomas and his two kids joined us for dinner. Dylan and Benjamin concocted an elaborate fantasy involving costumes and camping gear while the older boys disappeared upstairs.

Around 6:00 we sat down to the brisket, accompanied by grilled potatoes and carrots and a kale and pear salad with a maple dijon vinaigrette.

Grilled Carrots and Potatoes

Kale and Pear Salad

In truth, most of the kids had plain tomatoes and hot dogs. But Benjamin, always the iconoclast, embraced this new meat swimming in its mysterious and murky sauce. He ate heartily and then quietly disappeared from the table. A couple of minutes later, he reclaimed his seat and passed me this missive.

I Love Brisket

It was an unconventional Rosh Hashanah, to be sure. But it was also a lovely one. Next year in Madison!

Shrimp Tacos with Kale & Avocado Slaw

I got back late last night from my annual trek down to Baltimore for Beth and Don’s (in)famous Memorial Day BBQ. It was, as always, great fun. And I served up some damn fine brisket, if I do say so myself.

Jasmine and Brisket

But three days of hauling coolers, rubbing meat, and tending the coals will wear a girl–and her manicure–out.

Dirty Fingernails

I helped cook and serve everything from sweetbreads and pork belly to elk and musk ox. (I managed to stagger my grill shifts so as to steer clear of the whole raccoon.) Needless to say, meat is not so appealing to me at the moment. Luckily, a swing through my local sustainable seafood shop and the dregs in my refrigerator combined forces for a quick and lovely pescatarian meal.

Shrimp Tacos with Kale & Avocado Slaw

  • 1/2 bunch Lacinato kale, shredded
  • 4 scallions, minced
  • 1 lime, juiced (plus another for your margarita)
  • 1/2 avocado, diced
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 pound shrimp, peeled
  • 1 pinch sugar
  • 1/4 cup salsa
  • 3 corn tortillas
  • salt and pepper

Toss the kale and scallions with the lime juice and a pinch of salt in a medium bowl. After a few minutes, mix in the avocado and 1/2 tablespoon of oil. Stir occasionally so that everything comes together while you continue on with you dinner preparations. Bring a small skillet up to medium-high heat and a cast iron skillet up to medium heat. Add the remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil and the butter to the small skillet. Toss the shrimp with salt, pepper and sugar in a small bowl. Make a margarita. Add the onion to the small skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until nicely browned. Scoot the onions to the side and add the shrimp. Cook for a couple of minutes, and then flip. Add the salsa and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced. Heat the tortillas in the cast iron skillet, about a minute per side. Assemble your tortillas, topping them with the shrimp, onions and a nice pile of slaw. 

Shrimp Tacos with Kale and Avocado Slaw

White Bean & Winter Vegetable Stew

We’re getting down to the dregs in terms of seasonal eating. My last CSA pickup was over a month ago. The green things at my local farmers’ market dwindled down to hearty spinach before drying up completely sometime in the middle of February. And so I have turned my attention to beans and storage vegetables (plus a little store-bought kale–hey, a girl’s gotta get her greens).

White Bean & Winter Vegetable Stew

  • 1 pound dried navy beans, soaked overnight and drained
  • 1 onion, peeled and halved
  • 2 large carrots, cut into large chunks
  • 2 celery stalks, cut into large chunks
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
  • 1 teaspoon sage
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary
  • 1-2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 ounce guanciale, cubed
  • 1 large butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1 large bulb celeriac, peeled and cubed
  • 1 parmesan cheese rind
  • 1 Meyer lemon, skin and all, finely chopped
  • 1 large bunch kale, stemmed and roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper

Add the beans, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, guanciale, herbs and spices to a large Dutch oven along with enough water to cover by a couple of inches. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let cook for an hour or more, until the beans are tender. Fish out the celery, carrots and bay leaves. Add the squash, celeriac, cheese rind and lemon, and top with enough water to just cover everything. Bring back to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. When the vegetables have softened (about 15 minutes), stir in the kale along with plenty of salt and pepper. Cook until the kale is wilted. 

White Bean and Winter Vegetable Stew

It’s going to be another long and strenuous workweek. At least I’ve packed my lunch.

Packed Lunch

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

Blood Orange & Miso-Glazed Salmon

Every once in a while, generally in the dead of winter, I get an unbearable craving for salmon. Today was one of those days. Despite working late, I was determined to cook myself a nice piece of fish. Were it not for the brown rice that accompanied it, this meal could have been ready in about 30 minutes.

Blood Orange & Miso-Glazed Salmon

  • 1 blood orange, zest and juice
  • 1 tablespoon red miso
  • 1 large marble-sized knob of ginger, grated
  • 1/2 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon Sriracha 
  • black pepper
  • 1 12-ounce salmon filet (or two smaller pieces)

Preheat the over to 325. Combine the first six ingredients in a small bowl. Lay a piece of parchment paper in a baking dish,being sure to trim the sides if the piece is too big. (Trust me on this one; my dinner nearly went up in flames!) Rinse the salmon, pat dry and place skin side down on the parchment paper. Drizzle with half the glaze, letting it ooze over the sides, and pop it in the oven. After 10 minutes (less if it’s a thin filet), remove the pan, layer the salmon with the remaining glaze and pop it under the broiler. (Hint: you’ll know a few minutes in whether you did a good job of trimming the parchment.) Broil for 4-5 minutes until the glaze starts to caramelize but the fish is still very tender. 

This pairs beautifully with sautéed shiitake mushrooms, purple kale and swiss chard. Add sliced garlic, slivered ginger and chopped scallions for the last few minutes of cooking and then drizzle with soy sauce and sesame oil just before serving.

Blood Orange and Miso-Glazed Salmon

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.

Pasta with Lacinato Kale & Creamy Delicata Squash

Yesterday morning I met a film crew at Walt L. Shamel Community Garden to discuss the future of food and the importance of community self-determination.

Jasmine Interviewing

There aren’t enough layers in the world to make two hours of standing around in 10-degree weather pleasant. A full 36 hours later, I was still craving something warm and comforting. As luck would have it, my evening meeting was canceled, affording me my first night at home in over a week. Even better, kale and squash from Saturday’s CSA share were waiting for me.

Pasta with Lacinato Kale & Creamy Delicata Squash

  • 1 delicata squash
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 refreshing beer of your choice
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons crème fraîche (or sour cream or whatever other recently expired dairy products you have on hand)
  • 1/2 tablespoon honey vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 ounces spaghetti or any other pasta that suits your fancy
  • 1 large handful lacinato kale, stripped of its stems
  1. Set the oven to 450. Cut off the tips of your squash, slice it down the middle and scoop out the innards. Toss this in a baking dish along with a sliced red onion. Drizzle on a tablespoon or two of olive oil and pop it in the oven. (Sure, you could wait for the oven to properly pre-heat but, let’s face it, you’re hungry in the way one can only be in the depths of winter.)
  2. Crack open a beer, change into some sweatpants, and search online for a recap of Season Four of Downton Abbey because, damn, you can’t seem to remember a thing.
  3. After 15 minutes or so, strip the rosemary and stir the needles in with the onions, give the whole pan a good shake, and pop it back in the oven. Now would be a good time to set a pot of salted water to boil.
  4. When the squash is tender, pop it into the small work bowl of your food processor along with the crème fraîche, nutmeg, vinegar and a good dose of salt and pepper. Run the food processor, scraping down the sides and adding a little water if needed, while you tend to the rest of your meal.
  5. When the water boils, add the pasta. Scoop the onions and rosemary into the food processor and run a couple more minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with additional salt and pepper. A few minutes before your pasta is done, add the kale to the boiling water.
  6. Scoop the squash mixture into a small mixing bowl, add the kale and pasta along with a bit of the cooking water, and toss to combine. 

Half an hour after you walked in the door, you’ll be sitting down to a healthy, hearty and seasonal meal…and Season Five of Downton Abbey.

Pasta with Lacinato Kale and Creamy Delicata Squash