A Poohism and soup for a blustery day

Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.”
— A.A. Milne (Winnie-the-Pooh)

 

Last week, we had a few rather blustery days here in New York. I feel very Pooh-esque for having said that. But that’s the exact thought that crowded my mind those days as I walked around in the quiet yet crowded streets of NYC, inside-out umbrellas, plastic-bag tumbleweeds and all. They were bad days for women in skirts and hair not close-cropped or pony-tailed. And as luck would have it on one particularly windy day, I was two for two.  Oh, bother.   All the while I tugged at my peacoat and wrestled with my unruly hair, as ominous clouds loomed above and stray raindrops hit my forehead, I thought longingly of the warm stovestop and shiny stainless soup pot that beckoned me from home. If only I could race there to sweatpants and a hair tie, to have no responsibility for the day other than a pot of soup to tend to. Wouldn’t that be nice?

In previous winters and near-springs, when I needed the down-comforter equivalent of a meal, I’d turn to a classic tomato soup studded with cheesey croutons, spicy chicken tortilla soup that sings with a hint of lime and cilantro or even a bowl of ramen straight from its crinkly little package. But this season, on another random blustery day (blustery in the wintry kind of way) ruled by accumulating snow and a very sparse pantry, I gathered some cupboard staples and let them soften and simmer and mingle all in one big pot. A new favorite was born.

First, there was the papery onions and garlic that reside in my Nana’s fruit bowl. What’s soup without these aromatics? Then there was the giant can of cannelini beans, the one tucked into the far right corner of my top-most cabinet that I almost couldn’t reach. There was a bit of chicken stock, because there always is, which I stretched with equal parts water. There was one last piney stalk of rosemary left from roasted potatoes or herb-rubbed chicken or something of that sort, a few spices from the cabinet and the remnants of my fresh-grated cheese containers, both pecorino romano and parmesan. And then that half lemon–thank goodness!–that lemon wrapped up in cling wrap on the verge of becoming trash, that saved my soup when I thought it was a dud. Those precious few tablespoons of acidity that left no trace of puckery juice, just dazzling vivid flavor that tied it all together.

I wizzed it around in the blender in three batches for a silky smooth consistency and sprinkled it with smoked paprika and drizzled it with olive oil.   It was a lovely creamy color, like the falling flakes outside, and it went down ever so nicely on that very blustery day.

White Bean Soup

Ingredients

1 large onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 15 oz. cans cannelinie beans, drained and rinsed (also called northern beans, white kidney beans)
2 cups chicken stock (homemade if you have it)
2 cups water
1 tsp white pepper
1 stalk fresh rosemary

½ lemon, squeezed (or more to taste)
1/4 Romano cheese, freshly grated
1/4 cup parmasan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil (optional, for garnish)

smoked paprika (optional for garnish)

Cook onion and garlic over medium heat in a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Sprinkle with a little sea salt *salt will both help to soften the onions by drawing out the water, and serve as the first base of flavor.  It is better to season as you go along than in one fell swoop at the end.  Food needs time to absorb the flavor–think salting pasta water.* Cook until softened, not browned, about 5-10 minutes.

Add beans (drained and rinsed!), stock, water, rosemary, white pepper, and a pinch of salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer.  Cover pot and allow to simmer for about 40 minutes or until beans are soft and soup is fragrant.

Remove from heat and discard rosemary stalk.  Add cheese and stir until incorparated.

For the next part, you will need a blender or food processor.  In small batches, add soup to the blender and puree until completely smooth.   Working with small batches is important unless you want hot soup splatters all over your kitchen! 

Ladel into individual bowls and garnish with smoked paprika and olive or anything else that you like.

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On following recipes and a wintry salad

Last week, I took a peek back at the last few recipes I posted, and—oh my!—was totally surprised that they were all of the sweet and sugary variety. Where were all the dinners I enjoy cooking or savory appetizers? I don’t want to give the wrong impression, I am innately magnetized to anything involving chocolate and I’ve been known to dive into almost any fresh-out-of-the-oven baked good with reckless abandon, (even the most mundane chocolate chip cookie perks up when it’s warm!), but really, I’m more of a savory kind of eater. The problem, I think, is that I’m not much of a recipe follower when it comes to the savory stuff. I grew up watching my family cook by memory, by intuition, and most importantly, by taste. My Nana taught me, by example, that the most important tool in the kitchen, by far, is a wooden spoon—for tasting, for perfecting the art of whatever lies simmering or sautéing in the pan below.

When I’m not cooking on my own, and am instead, preparing a specific recipe, I’ll read through it a few times, and then run out and buy every. single. ingredient on the list. Even when it’s an obscure spice that costs more than all other items in my basket combined and will most likely grow sad and stale in the back of my cabinet before I have the opportunity to use it again. Why? Because the recipe said so. But strangely, my by-the-cookbook mentality ends there. When that pesky part back home pops up—measuring—I’d say I’m an estimator at best. I taste and tinker, maybe add an ingredient or two not listed, leave out something I morally object to—like dried oregano—and before I know it, am I even eating what the recipe writer intended? How much of what did I use? Most likely I wouldn’t be able to answer those questions after a day or two. And it feels like cheating to endorse a recipe that I didn’t really follow or make up arbitrary measurements for the sake of a blog post.

Baking on the other hand, with texture and structure and flavor being delicately intertwined with hard chemistry is not as easy to mess around with. Perhaps some day I’ll accrue enough pastry-arts knowledge, the luxury of infallibility that would enable me to experiment whole-heartedly with known baking proportions. But for now, I leave it to the masters. While it is easy to default to following an exact pastry recipe, I will try my very best to be more aware and deliberate when I’m cooking on the stovetop. Isn’t that one of the challenges I set out for myself after all? This being the last day of January, *oh I really had meant to get this post up that day!*, I think I’m allowed to add this one last resolution to the list. And so I solemnly promise to keep a notebook by the stove and try to properly document the goings-on of my kitchen for mutual benefit.

To properly challenge myself and truly measure and follow a recipe, I thought I would start with a definite challenge: a salad. A salad is the easiest thing to not follow a recipe for. I mean it’s greens and stuff, right? Challenge accepted. Lora Zarubin, chef, and author of one of my very favorite cookbooks, I’m Almost Always Hungry, has never steered me wrong, before, so I put my foodie faith completely in her hands, down to the measure of salt, something I am very particular about.

It felt strange to measure out olive oil instead of whisking in a steady stream straight from the bottle until the vinaigrette looked viscous and smooth. It felt stranger still to measure salt with a spoon instead of the palm of my hand. But for the sake of this post, and my point to myself, I did it. And the salad was delicious. Perfect in its simplicity. With toasted hazelnuts and Pecorino cheese, I ate two large helping for a hearty lunch while I watched the snow fly out my window, and finished off what was left once it was too dark to see, measuring each time, I promise.

Arugula with Toasted Hazelnuts and Pecorino Cheese
From Lora Zarubin in I’m Almost Always Hungry

Ingredients
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black peppercorns to taste
¼ pound arugula leaves, washed and dried
½ cup hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
2 ounces Pecorino cheese, thinly shaved

In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, salt and pepper together. Drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly until incorporated.
In a large bowl, toss the arugula with the dressing. Divide among for plates and top each plate with ¼ off the hazelnut pieces and cheese.

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Some sunshine for my plate

I love snow. I wished for snow. I was elated this past Tuesday as I sat in cozy restaurant watching it fall in a fluffy torrent that would rival even the most plotted and staged feather pillow fight on TV. I relished in the cold flakes that whipped at my face and clung to my hatless head on the walk home. But now, as I slosh around in the dirty slush that inevitably follows a New York City snowfall, I feel a little cheated. What was once pristine and wondrous has melted into salty pools of sludge that stain my boots and seep through to my socks (I should really invest in a good pair of rainboots; these just aren’t cutting it anymore).

In an effort to dodge my post-blizzard blues, I trudged through said slush to the market and did what any cabin-fevered city soul would do when faced with cloudy skies and the dire remnants of a wintry produce aisle: I bought citrus. A whole heck of a lot of it. In the absence of pretty berries and delicate beans, asparagus, and baby lettuces, flanked on all sides by the pathetic taupes and beiges of root vegetables and onions, citrus is the saving grace. I bought massive grapefruits–whites and ruby reds–blood oranges, meyer lemons and some special variety of naval orange that boasted pink flesh and raspberry overtones.

I ate warm brûléed grapefruit (slice in half, sprinkle with dark brown sugar, and throw under the broiler for a few) and drank fresh squeezed orange juice for breakfast three days in a row. I ate an entire meyer lemon straight from the rind. It’s been lovely to see those sunny colors and taste the fresh promise of warmer days, regardless of how far off they may be. Today I decided I should probably cook something with those colorful orbs, both to share the wealth and to make a dent in this citrus stockpile. I ate the last grapefruit yesterday, and am still cleaning up blood orange stains from my counter, so lemon it is!

I’ve never actually cooked with Meyer lemons before, though they are a long-standing culinary buzzword and I find recipes often that require their sweet, less-tart lemony goodness. With their smooth supple rinds accurately described as the color of egg yolks, and their sweet, fragrant juice, it should not come as a shocker that Meyer lemons are actually a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. That bumpy thick skin and sour pucker of a regular lemon? Non-existent. How else would I have been able to eat one straight, no chasers? I was amazed at the amount of juice one lemon yielded without much coaxing from me. And the fragrance was overwhelming–almost floral, or perhaps herbal, a little like thyme–and lingered in the kitchen all the while I prepped lemon curd for a delicious lemony tart courtesy of the famed David Leibovitz.

This tart was a cinch to come together, especially after reading about David’s quickie tart dough discovery which required no pastry blender, messy fingers, or freezing. You simply combine butter, sugar, water and oil in an ovenproof dish, place it in a piping hot oven until it’s brown and bubbly–oh the heavenly aroma of browned butter–then whisk in a healthy cup of flour, watching with satisfaction as a perfect ball of dough springs to life from the foamy slurry. It’s much like the beginning process for making pâte à chou, come to think of it, the dough used for cream puffs and eclairs and such. And that’s it! When it’s cool enough to handle, mold it to your tart pan and pop it back in the oven for about 15 minutes until golden.

And what about the lemon curd? Not so bad either, my friends. As I mentioned before, juicing the Meyer lemons is a breeze—I needed only about four to yield ½ cup of juice. It is combined with sugar, butter and zest from one of those beautiful lemons over a low flame just until the butter melts. In the meantime, you whisk together a couple of eggs and yolks, temper them by adding some of the hot lemon butter mixture so you don’t end up with lemony scrambled eggs, and that’s pretty much it. A sieve, a spatula and five minutes in the oven finishes it off.

This sunny yellow tart is a simple thing of beauty and will certainly stave off the wintry blues. Hang in there, fellow east coasters. The sun will shine again (and melt that yucky snow).


Meyer Lemon tart from the kitchen of David Leibovitz

Find his tarte crust recipe here.

*I’m sorry, but not surprised to say that my finished tart did not turn out with the same glorious perfection that David’s did, but I blame that mostly on the fact that I mistook my 10 ¼ in tart pan for a 9 incher, not the fact that I am not, as David is, a celebrated pastry chef, and an award-winning cookbook writer and blogger who now resides in the culinary capital of the world. Subtle differences, really. Just be sure to use a 9 inch pan OR make a double batch of dough. The remainder will freeze nicely.

½ cup freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
Zest from 1 lemon
1/3 cup sugar (If you choose to use regular lemons, up the sugar to ½ cup)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in small cubes
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
Tart shell

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium saucepan, heat lemon juice, zest, sugar and butter over a low flame. Keep a close eye on this mixture, it should not bubble or boil.

In a small bowl, beat together eggs and yolks. As soon as the butter has melted, slowly whisk a small amount of this mixture into the eggs, stirring constantly, to warm them. Be careful: Adding too much too fast will result in scrambled eggs! Scrape the whole mix back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens; it should nicely coat the back of a spoon. Again, do not let the mixture bubble.

Remove from heat and immediately pour the lemon curd through a fine mesh strainer directly into the pre-baked tart shell, using a spatula to push the mixture through.

Spread the mixture evenly with your spatula and place in the oven for about 5 minutes, just long enough to let it set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Once cool, place in the refrigerator to chill. Serve plain or with fresh whipped cream or raspberries, etc.

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Ginger and Spice: That’s what memories are made of

I realize with the holiday season coming to a screeching halt and the healthier eating pledges being instated for the beginning of 2011, writing about cookies may be a bit taboo on day four of the new year. But I am going to talk about them anyway, specifically the gingerbread cookies I baked for Christmas (served up alongside my holiday cookie mainstay, cranberry noels*). The ones whose appearance in my kitchen was urged by a twinge of nostalgia.

When you think of gingerbread, you probably have visions of confectionary cut outs with chocolate buttons and plump marachino pouts dancing in your head. Or perhaps you see dark, spicy planks of it glued together with frosting and gumdrops. In any case, I’m sure your think of Christmas–the time of year when sugar and spice is glorified in cookie tins and on holiday tables. One whif of that ginger and molasses, however, and I see something a little different: I see a white-haired man with sparkling green eyes, and no, I’m not speaking of the jolly old man in a big red suit. I’m talking about my Dada and his ever-present box of gingernsnaps.

He was something of a gingersnap hoarder, my grandfather, along with Little Debbie brownies and those crimson pistachios that brought new meaning to the term “red-handed.” He never seemed to be without them. It could have been the middle of an August heat wave, popsicles melting, feet scorching on hot sand, and he would still be extending a full box of those spicy wafers in my direction. And although I love the way that little cookie sounds–gingersnap–so sassy–I never did like them very much. They were too hard, seemingly unbreakable, too biting and aggressive for my childish taste. I wanted chocolate and sugar, thank you, not some inedible wafer that smelled of musty old spice cabinets. But I always managed to choke one down, for him, at least.

We did that a lot. Humored each other, I mean. He was a good sport when I wanted to sit behind him on the couch and twist and spike and pony-tail his typically flawless 60s-style waves and I accepted copious amounts of Juicy Fruit on long road trips, even if it meant hiding the unwanted foils in the back of the his seat. He didn’t get too grumpy when I filled in his lotto tickets to create arbitrary numbers and letters or asked him to eat my sorry attempts at “food” I cooked up as a child; the least I could do was accept a musty cookie once in awhile and pretend I liked it.

Fueled mostly by the fact that I miss my grandfather terribly, I’ve found myself softening to gingersnaps in recent years. I’ve found that dunked in hot tea or a cold glass of milk, they actually become something I kind of enjoy eating. I even bought a box of my very own before Thanksgiving and they worked out nicely as both a crumb bottom for pumpkin cheesecakes and a special crust for my holiday pumpkin pie. The reincarnation of that cookie intrigued me enough to want to make my own, perhaps a bit easier on the teeth and with a little less fire.

I decided on this recipe which I found tucked inside my 2009 Food and Wine holiday issue. Spiced Ginger cookies didn’t sound quite as fun or catchy as gingersnaps, but I thought they still deserved a chance what with their sparkling holiday coat of sugar crystals. My first batch came out thicker and more crumbly than you would expect from a gingersnap. Their color was softer, like raw honey, and the flavor was muted, though still spiked with white peppery heat. Instead of an explosion of spice and tingle, these sparklers create a slow burn that rises from the back of the throat onto your tongue. A heat that sort of lingers for a moment before being doused with sweeter flavors of sugar and cinnamon. The demerra sugar coating offered the crunch or “snap” that would otherwise be missed in this version, as the inside was deliciously buttery and buckled easily beneath my teeth.

I did attempt a second batch, leaving them in the oven longer until the snow-white discs turnedf a deep burnished gold and they fanned out into thinner crunchier versions of the previous batch. They did look and crunch more like gingersnaps which is probably why I didn’t enjoy them as much. You can make them as you like: plump and crumbly or compact and crunchy. I know you might be cookied-out from the holiday, but why don’t you humor me and my grandfather, and make your own batch of these little gems.

*I sub pistachios for walnuts in the cranberry noels–very Christmas-sy! And, I am after all, my grandfather’s granddaughter.

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The Pie Parade, Parts 2 & 3

I’m not sure if it was naïveté, wishful thinking, or just plain delirium that gave me the idea that I could brave the ravenous pre-T-day crowds at the supermarket, overhaul the apartment with a good cleaning, wait out the Macy’s day parade from 6 am, cook a scratch Thanksgiving feast and have time to blog about it before the turkey hit the table, but my lofty delusions came to a screeching halt last week. I know it’s belated, but here is a peek at the making of the lovely pies I promised to send your way.

Pumpkin pie may only have its place at a Thanksgiving table, but this silky smooth sweet potato pie with its toasted marshmallow meringue topping brings about a nostalgia for campfires and smore-making that I think can wiggle its way into other parts of the year (still have leftover mashed sweets?). This recipe had been burning a hole in my back pocket for the better part of two years and I used the opportunity while visiting my sister last weekend to bake its debut. It was fun cooking in her kitchen with all the fancy cooking gadgets she received for her wedding last year and her beautiful KitchenAid mixer which whipped up the egg whites in a flash. Plus, she receives such lovely light to her kitchen windowsill, a pretty luxury after being subjected to the stingy, insipid glow that barely makes its way to my sun-starved sills at home.

This sweet potoato filling would be a cinch to make in the food processor, though I just used a standard potato masher. A squeeze of lemon and a dousing of spices makes the filling just right, keeping it from being too cloying or bland. The sticky marshmallow cream does take a little cohersion to come together with the delicate whipped egg whites, but when I saw and smelled that toasty, swirly crust, it was worth the extra effort. It would make such a pretty centerpiece at a holiday table what with it’s puffy cloud of meringue and sunset orange center.*

My one confession, although I’m sure you’ve already spied my secret, is that I used a store-bought graham cracker crust. My sister does not own a pie dish (hmm, Christmas present?), but I made up for my cheating with a homemade pecan-studded crust for my pecan pie and gingersnap tart dought that I made for my classic pumpkin custard. And by classic, I mean I took the recipe off the side of the condensed milk can, which has probably been there since pearls and beehives ruled the kitchen. I spruced up this tasty standby with a spicy gingersnap crust that I molded to a tart pan to make–voilà!–pumpkin tart.

And then because I can’t have a holiday, or a day, really, without chocolate, I made a chocolate bourbon pecan pie. Which really is just as heavenly as it sounds. Chocolate. Bourbon. Pecans. All melted and married together in one amazing pie. I never really liked pecan pie before working at a Cajun/Creole byob while in college. It was one of our signature desserts and I snuck a piece on break one day to see what all the fuss was about. Well, one bite of that pie, with its buttery crust, rich syrupy filling and toasty pecans and I was hooked. I know you’re supposed to serve pecan pie at room temperature and not stone cold, but I love to eat mine chilled. When its cold, the flaky crust shatters like phyllo dough in your mouth and the filling is like sticky toffee candy, a nightmare for any dentist, but a dream for me. Once in awhile, the pastry chef at the restaurant would thrown in some chocolate chips for a little intrigue and I quickly searched high and low for a copycat recipe. That’s when I stumbled upon this one from Tyler Florence. It’s infinitely better even than the one we served, spiked with a slosh of bourbon and with chocolate swirled throughout. This winner has graced my table before and I’m sure it will be making an appearance at Christmastime, as well.

Well that about wraps it up for the pies. Now that the Christmas season has officially started, I’ll be off and running with cookie baking. Stay tuned…

Recipe for Sweet Potato Pie with Marshmallow Meringue found here.
Recipe for Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie found here.

*Unfortunately, the sweet potatoes I chose did not have the warm orange hue as seen in the picture from Bon Appetit magazine. Although there was no reduction in sweet potato flavor, I’ll definitely be on the lookout for darker sweets when I make this again, if only for presentation.

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The Pie Parade, Part I

I was just writing about Halloween and now, somehow, it is dangerously close to Thanksgiving. How on earth have I not yet written about pie?? Aside from the turkey and stuffing, it is the quintessential Thanksgiving food. Pumpkin, pecan, apple, sweet potato: the list could go on and on. And in my family, it does. My aunt who hosts the turkey holiday each year is a whiz with a spatula. I have never tasted better cheesecake, even since moving to the city that famously bears its name. Rich chocolate brownies, almost indistinguishable from fudge, and spiced pumpkin cheesecake, are among my favorites that she serves up for the holidays (or any day, really). Add pumpkin pie, Tollhouse pie and chocolate bourbon pecan pie (that I started making a few years ago) and I think we’ve only covered a portion of the dessert menu.

This year, my Thanksgiving will be far away from my Aunt’s idyllic woodsy home and welcome parade of pies and goodies. I’ll be watching a parade of different sorts amidst 2 1/2 million faces, towering skyscrapers and floating cartoon heads. I know I’ll miss my family and the slow pace of home, but I hope to whip up enough confections that I won’t be suffering from sugar withdrawal here in the Big Apple. I’ll be starting the baking marathon this weekend and hopefully have enough steam to share some of the goods with you in time for the big day. Until then, you can enjoy this savory pot pie that I made on a cool weekend evening, the kind that made me wish I could curl up and sip hot cocoa in front of a fireplace that isn’t merely decorative.

The recipe came from The Newlywed Kitchen a fun and romantic cookbook I discovered via this blog and is something I like to gift to my newly-wedded friends (I’ve stolen a few recipes here or there along the way). Part recipe collection, part love story, it is packed with delicious anecdotes from newly married or long-time married folks, many of them professional chefs, all of them passionate about food and each other. The combination of two is so addictive that I just may have to nab myself a copy one of these days. So today, I present to you a little twist on a classic from the author: Chicken Pot Pie with Cheddar Thyme Crust.

My version varies slightly from hers. I would like to say my reasoning behind certain ingredients being swapped or left out all together (read: bacon) stems from my desire to create a more heart healthy version. But I know that wouldn’t be true. One, because anything involving puff pastry really can’t be healthy no matter how many vegetables you throw at it, and two, because I know the truth of the matter is that I just didn’t feel like running out for more ingredients I didn’t have. So if you want the bacon in yours, be my guest. The original recipe calls for 3 slices, chopped, to be browned and crisped before adding the onions and olive oil. Minus the meat, I still wanted my pot pie to have a bit of a smoky flavor, to distinguish it from your run-of-the-mill homey dish. And so I substituted smoked paprkika for plain. Again, you may do as you like. I also swapped light cream for heavy, chopped haricot vert and broccoli for a quantity of the frozen peas. There’s something about those little green orbs that has never quite grown on me. Of course, the boy loves peas, so I had to include a few…that I strategically scattered in his portion of the filling.

The puffed pastry crust thats sits atop the pie is a nice addition, hovering, unscathed, above the bubbling filling. Speckled with cheddar and thyme, brown and flaky and crisp, it is so unlike the usual gummy gravy-soaked pie crust that accompanies the dish. With a mix of different herbs, the pie is more fragrant and flavorful than most. It was a welcome change, a dish I plan to make again soon–perhaps even for the upcoming holiday. A 20-lb bird is an awfully daunting feat for five people and a little kitchen in the big city.

Chicken Pot Pie with Cheddar Thyme Crust
Adapted from The Newlywed Kitchen

For the Filling
3/4 cup onion, diced
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup carrots, diced
3/4 cup (about 2 1/2 ounces) cremini mushrooms, diced
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp dried marjoram
1/2 tsp fresh chopped rosemary leaves
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp flour
1/3 cup light cream
1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
1 1/2 cup pulled rotisserie chicken
1/4 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup chopped frozen green beans (haricot vert is preferred)
1/2 cup broccoli, chopped

For the crust
1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp milk
1/4 cup sharp cheddar, grated
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Add onions and oil to a large skillet and cook over medium high heat for 8 to 9 minutes, or until they are golden brown. Add the carrots, mushrooms and broccoli and cook for 4 minutes. Stir in the salt, pepper, marjoram, rosemary, and paprika. Add the butter. When the butter melts, stir in the flour. Add the cream and chicken stock, and let the liquids simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, until they reduce slightly. Add the chicken and the frozen peas and green beans, and turn off the heat.

Transfer the filling into a small casserole dish or individual ramekins. Unfold the puff pastry sheet, place it over the ramekins and trim any overhang.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolk and milk to combine. Lightly brush the top of each pot pie with a bit of the beaten egg mixture. With a knife, cut a few vents in the puff pastry to let the steam escape.

In another bowl, mix the cheddar, pepper, and thyme. Distribute the cheddar mixture evenly over the top of each pot pie. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet.

Bake the pot pies for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and the filling is bubbling.

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Who needs Halloween?

Halloween escaped me this year. I’m normally the first one vying for a pumpkin to carve or dreaming up my costume. Last year I proudly crossed town in my mustard yellow tights and matching ballet flats, white skirt and orange tank as none other than Halloween’s hallmark treat, candy corn. I’ve also been known to don toilet paper rolls (sans paper) in my hair to help replicate princess Jasmine’s voluminous hairstyle. I was in fourth grade and man, was I proud of that costume. I’m typically a sucker for the costumes and candy, but somehow, this one creeped up on me and stealthily slithered beneath my radar. And I have to admit, I was a little disappointed.

That’s not to say I’ve skipped out on Fall decorations, alltogether. My fireplace is swathed in crimson, green and gold leaf garland, wonderfully lumpy goards and a few stems of those delicate orange plant pods I believe are known as japanese lanterns. A row of baby pumpkins proudly marches across my coffee table and a pile of speckled Indian corn, papery husks and all, graces my window sill. The whole scene is so lovely, I couldn’t bear to disturb it by butchering my tall twisty-stemmed pumpkin to craft a jack-o-lantern. And so the holiday went by without so much as a flickering spooky face, which also means I can’t serve up the recipe for candied pepitas (pumpkin seeds) I had planned for this week. Don’t worry, though, I candy walnuts in much the same way for a tasty salad of apples, pears and blue cheese that I will share with you in the weeks to come.

In the absense of those little pepitas, I will offer you, instead, some lovely views of Central Park, alive and beginning its Autum blaze. That, and a shot of the most delicious waffle I have ever tasted. Seriously. Better even than the mile-high malted belgian waffle that I thought was the best kept secret of a little coffee shop back home. Even piled high with fresh fruit and real whipped cream, it doesn’t hold a candle to the one I had last weekend.

Have you ever had a real Belgian waffle? I thought I had–dusted in powdered sugar and served to me in cracked vinyl booths alongside small pitchers of hot syrup. Little did I know that there is nothing really Belgian about those sugar-soaked confections, tasty as they may be. Enter: Wafels and Dinges, the waffle truck that changed my waffle perception forever during a random stroll in Central Park.

Apparently, there are two types of truly “Belgian” waffles–referred to as the Brussels and the Liege, named for their city of origin. You can read more about their distinctions, here; I am sticking to the Liege waffle since that’s what Wafels and Dinges serves up. While the Belgian waffles we are accustomed to here in the States are thick, fluffy and deliberatly shaped, a Liege waffle is thinner and sort of mishappen with a surprisingly hearty chew and a distinctive springiness not unlike a good raised donut. The outside is cripsy and studded with tiny pockets of caramelized pearl sugar, the sweet charcteristic of this Belgian snackfood.

As for toppings? No syrup or whipped cream for me, thank you. I’m a speculoos girl, now. And if you taste this creamy spread that “looks like peanut butter and tastes like graham crackers and ginger” (according to friendly Wafels & Dinges Dude), you’ll be converted, as well. There’s really no other way to describe it–he hit the flavor profile right on the money. With my new favorite waffle slathered in spice, a rocky seat in Central Park and the boy at my side, I couldn’t have asked for a nicer Sunday. Hallo-what?

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