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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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.