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

Newfangled Vichysoisse

Like my musical appetite, my tastes in food are quite varied. I do my best to at least try everything once–quite an accomplishment given my vegetarian roots. Most things I like enough to try again. But there are a few dishes that just do not work for me.

I have an aversion to the knish, which is tragic given that I lived around the corner from Yonah Schimmel for a good chunk of my 20s. It is the rare gnocchi that turns my crank. The joy of a tamale has also proven elusive, though I did have one last year that made me rethink this stance. (It hailed from East Williamsburg and was stuffed with a generous portion of spicy cheese.)

I am not a big fan of starchy things, it seems. And if you must be starchy, you best not be bland.

CSA season is off to a slow start–no surprise given the miserable winter we had. The Sunday before last, in anticipation of my first pickup, I giddily cleared out my crisper by whipping up a massive batch of potato salad. Two days later, I collected lettuce, asparagus, leeks, beets, carrots, scallions and…more potatoes. Tonight’s share felt more springlike, with cucumber, cilantro, baby bok choy and sugar snap peas joining the asparagus, lettuce and leeks.

As I loaded my vegetables into the crisper, I was ashamed to realize that I hadn’t made a dent in last week’s storage crops. Compounding matters, I now had four giant leeks taking up the space normally reserved for beer.

Potatoes and leeks. The obvious choice is vichysoisse. But, being starchy and not particularly flavorful, this cold potato and leek soup doesn’t hold much allure for me. To quote Kanye: “We can make it better.”

Newfangled Vichysoisse

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 large leeks, white and light green portions chopped and thoroughly rinsed
  • 2 garlic scapes, sliced
  • 4 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 8 cubes frozen concentrated chicken stock or 1 quart chicken stock of your choice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 pinch nutmeg
  • 3 tablespoons absinthe 
  • 1 cup good quality whole milk yogurt
  • salt
  • black and white pepper
  • chives for garnish
  1. Bring a large pot up to medium-low heat. Add the butter. When the foaming subsides, add the leeks and cook stirring regularly until limp and translucent (about 10 minutes), taking care not to let them brown. Add the scapes and cook for a few more minutes. Add the potatoes and continue to cook for a few more minutes. 
  2. Add the chicken stock, bay leaf and enough water to just cover the potatoes. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, pop a lid on and allow to simmer for 30 minutes or so until the vegetables are quite tender. 
  3. Fish out the bay leaf. Add the absinthe, nutmeg, a generous pinch of salt, and plenty of black and white pepper. Pop the lid back on and simmer for another 5-10 minutes. 
  4. Remove from heat and add several ice cubes to cool your soup down and thin it out a bit. When cool enough that you are unlikely to cause injury, add the yogurt and purée using an immersion blender or in batches in a standard blender. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional salt and pepper.

If lunch is a distant memory, you can eat your Newfangled Vichysoisse lukewarm or even hot, but this soup really shines when served cold. (Just remember that, as with most cold foods, it may need more salt.) Either way, be sure to garnish with a generous sprinkle of snipped chives. I bet some rye croutons would be awesome too.

Newfangled Vichysoisse

Miso-Spinach Matzo Balls

On Sunday I hosted a potluck dinner for some of the amazing women I met/got to know a whole lot better during last summer’s two-week Paris study trip.

As expected, the menu was eclectic, seasonal and delicious. We had deviled eggs, cucumber salad, carrots and radicchio roasted with raisins and balsamic vinegar, a soba noodle salad, roasted fennel, and an array of not-kosher-for-Passover bread products. Camille, who came straight from her job at Threes Brewing, contributed to the chametz situation with a nice growler of IPA.

I’m still working my way through the potatoes from my winter CSA share, so I whipped up a batch of caramelized leek and cheddar potato skins. And, despite my indulgence in all manners of leavened grains, I felt compelled to make up for not having attended a seder this year by making matzo ball soup–albeit a vegetarian and Asian-inspired version.

Miso-Spinach Matzo Balls 

  • 1 large bunch spinach
  • 6 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons red miso paste
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups matzo meal
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 leek, minced
  • 1 bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons salt
  • pepper
  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and quickly blanch the spinach. Strain into a sieve, pressing hard with a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. (Squeezing the spinach into a tight ball with your fist is also an effective strategy.) Chop finely.
  2. Melt the coconut oil and miso in a small pan, stirring with a fork to combine.
  3. Whisk the eggs in a medium mixing bowl. Stir in the matzo meal, water, miso oil, leek, parsley, a couple of teaspoons of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes.
  4. Bring a large pot of water plus 2 tablespoons of salt to a boil. Wet your hands and form the matzo mixture into smooth balls about the size of a large gumball, dropping them into the water as you go. You’ll need to rinse your hands every so often when they get too gummy.This recipe should yield around 40 matzo balls. If you’re a patient person, you might do these in two batches. Alternately, you could just cram them in like I did. Maintain a vigorous simmer for 25 minutes or so, during which time the matzo balls will twirl and plump. Miso-Spinach Matzo Balls
  5. OK, that was shockingly easy. Now one last step, courtesy of my mom, who swears by this technique. Scoop the matzo balls into a container, cover with the salted water, and store overnight in the fridge.

I worried that the soak would lead to a container of starchy mush. But these matzo balls hold beautifully, requiring nothing but a quick simmer in the broth of your choosing the next day. I went with a hot and sour tom yum-style vegetable broth with lots of fresh ginger and lemongrass, garnished with shiitake mushrooms and cilantro. The resulting dish was complex in flavor yet familiar enough in texture to evoke memories of the Maxwell House Haggadah and Manischewitz. Fortunately, Sari brought better wine.

Spinach-Miso Matzo Balls

Croque-MaDAMN

This was a very, very long week. I left the office late on Friday and met up with a friend for dinner, drinks and some mutual commiseration. I was feeling a bit better after shrimp-stuffed bacon-wrapped jalapeño peppers and a couple of mezcal, Campari and red vermouth concoctions. We headed down to Film Forum for the late showing of Vertigo. The theater was mysteriously empty, so I did not feel compelled to jab Louis when he started to snore softly next to me. Like I said, it was a rough week.

We emerged a couple of hours later into what felt alarmingly like winter. Louis walked me to the subway station. Two hours, three trains and a walk across Lower Manhattan later (I do not recommend taking the 2/3 this weekend), I arrived home, filled the humidifier and burrowed under the covers. I should be catching up on work emails. I should be completing the work from my summer course. I should be hauling the compost to the farmers’ market. I should be cleaning my apartment.

Instead, I made breakfast.

Kale & Leek Croque-Madame

  • 1/2 tablespoon butter plus enough to fry an egg
  • 2 heaping tablespoons minced leek
  • 1/2 tablespoon flour
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 pinch nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped kale (You could blanch this first, but I like my greens toothsome and a bit bitter.)
  • 2 pieces bread (I went with a nice, hearty whole grain.)
  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper
  1. Melt the butter in a small pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the flour and whisk continuously for a minute or two. Add the milk, mustard and nutmeg and bring to a simmer, whisking frequently. Gradually add the kale and keep whisking. Let cook for five minutes or so until the mixture thickens to a paste and the kale has wilted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Toast the bread under the broiler. Divide your kale-leek béchamel (that’s right, you just made a béchamel!) evenly between the two pieces of bread and pop under the broiler for a couple of minutes while you fry an egg. Place the egg on top of your béchamel-slathered toast and you’re good to go.

Kale Leek Croque Madame

If I accomplish nothing else, I will still consider today a success.

Butternut Mac and Cheese with Winter Greens

I’m headed out of town for a mid-Atlantic tour visiting friends and family. Between finishing up the semester, spearheading the year-end fundraising push at my job, and planning and attending various holiday events, my apartment has become something of a way station. Snow boots and shoes litter the floor. Root vegetables, fondue forks and half-unpacked boxes are stacked on the dining table. The bench in my bedroom is piled high with clothing of indeterminate cleanliness. But it’s the refrigerator that calls out for my attention.

As thanks for his services, I’ve invited my cat sitter over for dinner along with a few friends. (Dinner parties are way more fun than packing.) I will be gone for nine days and there are lots of odds and ends to use up before then. For breakfast, I had a fried egg atop pan-fried butternut squash, onions and fennel. But that still left a couple of pounds of cheese lifted from my office holiday party, two giant leeks left over from last weekend’s oyster extravaganza, an assortment of winter greens from my CSA share, dairy products of assorted “sell by” dates and more butternut squash.

A few months ago, I took my mom to Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster, where we had his sinfully tasty Mac & Greens. A childhood friend has long touted the delight of macaroni and cheese with butternut squash. And so this dish was born.

Butternut Mac and Cheese with Winter Greens

  • 1 large butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large leeks, whites and greens slice and rinsed thoroughly
  • 6-8 cups chopped winter greens (kale, collards, spinach, chard, mustard greens, etc.)
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1.5 pounds elbow noodles (You could use shells but, for macaroni and cheese, I am uncharacteristically a traditionalist.)
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 1.5 cups whole milk and/or heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 3 tablespoons mustard powder
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1.5 pounds assorted cheese, shredded (Judging from my taste tests, I’m pretty sure I used white cheddar, gouda and Gruyère. But just about any cheese that melts well will work here.)
  • 1 cup bread crumbs (I used some I’d made from the remnants of a whole wheat sourdough loaf and then frozen a while back, but store bought are cool too.)
  • salt and pepper
  1. Toss the butternut squash with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and cook in a 425-degree oven until tender and just starting to brown. Puree in the food processor, adding a small amount of water if needed. Set aside.
  2. Bring the rest of the oil to medium-low heat in a large heavy-bottomed pot. Add the leeks and cook stirring frequently until they are soft. Stir in the red pepper flakes and chopped greens. Place a lid on and let cook for 10 minutes. Remove the lid, turn up to medium-high heat and cook stirring frequently until all liquid is gone. Set aside in separate bowl.
  3. Give your pot a quick rinse, fill with cold water, add some salt, and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook about halfway. Strain and set aside.
  4. Give your pot another quick rinse, add the butter and bring up to medium-low heat. Add the shallot, cook for a few minutes and then add the garlic. Cook for another couple of minutes before whisking in the flour. Your mixture should turn gummy and blonde. Whisk in the milk and/or cream plus the nutmeg, cayenne, mustard, mustard powder, a good pinch of salt and lots of pepper. When the mixture starts to thicken, whisk in the cheese in batches, reserving a cup or two for your topping. Once the cheese has melted, stir in the pureed squash, taste your mixture and add additional seasoning if needed.
  5. Stir the pasta and greens into your cheese mixture and then pour into a greased baking dish. Mix the reserved cheese with the breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Sprinkle the mixture over the top, set aside and go about your business.
  6. About an hour before you are ready to eat, preheat the oven to 375. Bake for 30-40 minutes until your casserole is bubbling and your one-bedroom apartment is engulfed in the heady smell of melted cheese. If you want to get fancy, run it under the broiler for a couple of minutes to brown your crust. Let stand for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Butternut Mac and Cheese with Winter Greens

This paired nicely with a spinach and red onion salad with a Dijon and red wine vinaigrette. The recipe makes enough that five grown people can go back for seconds–and you’ll still have enough leftovers for your cat sitter to enjoy a home cooked lunch for another four or five days. As if hanging out with this adorableness wasn’t reward enough.

Oona

What the Duck?

On Saturday I took a break from schoolwork to meet up with a friend for brunch (shakshuka for me, a tuna melt for my date) followed by manicures and pedicures (swimming pool blue and fire engine red for me, sunset orange for her).

Afterwards, we swung by the Fort Greene Park Greenmarket where I thought I might pick up something for dinner. I had a guest due at 8:00 and a mountain of reading to get through, so I was looking for a dish that could cook in the oven without much tending. On a whim, I bought a 4.5-pound whole Moulard duck from Hudson Valley Duck Farm.

I arrived home to find my neighbor Chris planting daffodils and pansies in the planters outside our apartment buildings. As we chatted, I set down my heavy tote bag and mentioned the duck inside. Chris, who is no slouch in the cooking department (he had made Momfuku’s Korean pork for a work potluck just the day before), wished me luck, noting that he had never cooked a whole duck. Come to think of it, neither had I.

Back in my apartment, none of the cookbooks included recipes for a whole duck. I flipped through some online recipes, each with more elaborate preparations than the last. It seemed that I should have started preparing my duck a couple of days ago. Then I remembered that the woman working the stand had encouraged me to check out Melissa Clark’s video on The New York Times website. Three and a half minutes later, I was good to go. Clark provides a simple, straightforward technique that you can riff on in an endless number of ways–the ideal recipe, in my book.

I rinsed the bird, hacked off the neck, made small incisions all over the skin (taking care not to nick the flesh), and rubbed it down with salt, pepper, cayenne powder, and some Chinese five-spice powder that I had on hand. Then I set it in the refrigerator uncovered and got down to my reading.Rubbed Duck

A few hours later, I removed the duck and let it come to room temperature while I preheated the oven. I stuffed the bird with large hunks of fresh ginger and garlic and half a lemon left over from a previous meal. At the last minute, I decided to drizzle the duck with a bit of soy sauce and honey.

Aside from some temperature adjustments and one flip, the duck took care of itself for the next couple of hours. As the heady scent filled my apartment, I realized that none of the wines I had in the house would hold up to the bold flavors, so I ran to the wine shop four blocks away. The shopkeeper could smell the duck and spices on me and, after some consideration, we settled on a Riesling and an Old Vine Zinfandel.

The duck rested draped lightly in tinfoil while I prepared rice and purple kale with leeks, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar.

Five-Spice Duck

The duck was excellent–so much so that, by the time we had finished picking, there was nothing left but the carcass and half a breast.

Duck Carcass

I awoke this morning feeling better than expected given how much wine we drank. I was determined to get as much as I could out of my duck. I was also determined to procrastinate on the day’s schoolwork. I made some coffee and got to work.

First up, I chopped the leftover meat and rendered it in a small skillet over medium heat before adding some finely sliced mustard greens. Once the greens had wilted, I added a bit of soy sauce and rice wine vinegar. Breakfast was served.

Duck with Mustard Greens

Following instructions I found online, I put some water in a small pan, added the excess fat and skin that I had trimmed from the duck prior to roasting, and brought it to a simmer over medium heat. An hour or so later, I poured the concoction through a fine mesh sieve and into a gravy separator which I stuck it in the fridge. Once the fat had congealed, I poured off the residual water and was left with some truly glorious looking duck fat. I imagine I’ll use it to pan fry some potatoes and as the foundation for a roux.

Duck Fat - After

While my duck fat rendered, I preheated the oven to 400. I broke the duck carcass into as many pieces as I could manage (really must get a cleaver) and added it to a roasting pan along with the trimmings from last night’s leeks, a bunch of bedraggled scallions I found in the crisper, a few carrots, some celery, and some roughly chopped garlic. I drizzled this with a tablespoon or so of duck fat I had spooned out of the roasting pan last night and popped it in the oven for an hour.

Duck Stock Fixings

The roasted bones and vegetables then went into a medium-sized pot along with a bay leaf, several whole black peppercorns, a pinch of dried thyme, and enough water to cover. This simmered over medium-low heat while I continued studying.

Duck Stock - Before

After a couple of hours, the liquid was a rich brown color and my apartment smelled unbelievable.

Duck Stock - After

I strained the broth into a bowl and stuck it in the fridge. After an hour, I scraped off the fat that had accumulated on the surface and poured the stock through a fine mesh sieve into a container that I stuck in the freezer. I see some killer gumbo in my future.

Provencal Roast Chicken

I adopted Jezebel around 1999. She was so small that I quite reasonably assumed she was a kitten. But the vet put her at about three years old. Jezebel remains a delightful companion, despite her recent propensity for late night yowling. (The internet suggests that dementia is likely.) As you can see, whatever’s happening in her brain, she’s managed to hold onto her good looks.

As tiny as she was when she found me, Jezebel is now down under five pounds, so I tend to feed her whatever she wants. She and I only made our way through a small bit of this truly scrumptious Provencal-style roast chicken tonight, but I am confident that it will be just as good throughout the week.

While I once confined myself to white meat off the bone (a holdover from my vegetarian upbringing and subsequent squeamishness), I love roasting a whole chicken. The smell permeates the house. It’s economical. It leaves you with bones to make stock. And a whole chicken can be communal–even when it’s just you and your cat.

Roast Chicken with Porcini, Leeks and Root Vegetables

  • One whole chicken (5-7 pounds), rinsed and patted dry
  • 1.5 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 lemon
  • kosher salt
  • black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Herbes de Provence (lavender, savory, fennel, thyme and rosemary or some combination thereof)
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large leeks, white and light green portions sliced and rinsed thoroughly
  • 4 cups of chopped root vegetables (turnips, carrots, parsnips, beets, potatoes, etc.)
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bring a cup of water to a boil and pour over the dried porcini.
  2. Slice the ends off of the lemon, score the sides and stuff it inside the bird. Combine a tablespoon of kosher salt, a good amount of freshly-ground pepper and a tablespoon of the Herbes de Provence in a small dish. Rub this all over the bird, being sure to get under the skin to massage it into the breast meat. If you’ve got some kitchen twine and you can find a way to access it while your hands are covered in raw chicken, truss the legs. If not, whatever.
  3. Set the bird in a roasting pan breast-side down, drizzle some olive oil over the top and pop it in the oven. After 30 minutes or so, flip the bird over and baste with the pan juices. If the bird hasn’t released much fat, you can use a little more olive oil. You might also sprinkle the top with additional salt, pepper and herbs if you like.
  4. After another 30 minutes, slide the bird to the side and add your leeks and root vegetables. (I went with turnips, carrots, beets and potatoes because that’s what I had on hand.) Stir these with the pan juices and then add 1/2 tablespoon of the Herbes de Provence, salt, pepper and the porcini along with their liquid. Mound the vegetables in the center, flip your chicken so that it is once again breast-side down and place it on top of the vegetables.
  5. Continue cooking, basting the bird with the juices approximately every fifteen minutes and stirring the vegetables if needed. It should take roughly 20 minutes total cooking time per pound, but start checking your chicken whenever you get anxious or when the aroma starts to make you dizzy. I recommend ignoring whatever guidelines your thermometer may suggest and, instead, aim for getting the deepest part of the thigh up around 165 degrees. Be sure to let it rest for about five minutes out of the oven. If you’re worried about the bird getting cold, tent it very loosely–lest you steam that beautiful, crisp skin–with foil.

Were I serving this to a crowd, I would have placed the chicken on a platter, mounded the vegetables around it, and carved at the table. Instead, I hacked off of a leg and got to work.