Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cooking Makes Me Happy

I had a crap week. One of the worst in a long time. No one died, no one is terminally ill and compared to a lot of folks out there it probably wasn't that bad. But for me, it sucked. There was a lot of crying hysterically in both public and private places. There were a lot of demons dealt with and sadness about the past. There was not a lot of cooking, or eating. Not once time during this suck of a week did I even think about cooking something for myself, let alone eating anything. But tonight I realized, I not only like to cook. I love to cook. And cooking makes me happy. And so I forced myself to cook something tonight. It wasn't the most creative or intricate thing I've ever done. But I made myself do it, I enjoyed the process and for the first time since last Tuesday, I ate a delicious meal that I WANTED to eat. And I ate all of it.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, follow your happiness, whatever it is, even if you have to force yourself to do it. And to everyone who has lent their words of support this past week, thank you. You make me happy too.

In case you're wondering, that's a parmesan crusted pork chop, roasted white and sweet potatoes with sage and slaw. It was awesome.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Potato and Onion Cakes for Share Our Strength

While we were always lucky enough as children to have three squares a day, there are many kids (17 million in fact) in this, the wealthiest nation on earth, who shockingly do not. There is an organization many of you have probably heard of called Share Our Strength, which has a simple mission - to end childhood hunger in America. We are very happy to be participating in their Share Our Holiday Table blog event, to help spread the word and raise money and awareness for this important issue.

Our contribution to the virtual potluck is a "gourmet" side dish (because we are oh so gourmet) and we decided to do one which we made for Christmas a few years ago, but wanted to tweak a little bit: Potato and Onion Cakes. They're fairly easy to make, but result in lovely individual servings (they get baked in a muffin tin) to go with your Roast Beast (or what have you).

Potato and Onion Cakes
modified slightly from Martha Stewart Living
makes 12

4 tbsp unsalted butter, plus more for tin
salt and pepper
brown sugar
balsamic vinegar
white wine vinegar (or red wine, whatever you have)
whole sage leaves, 12 for garnish
2 small red onions, sliced into 12 1/4 inch thick slices (to fit into the bottom of
1 heaping tbsp chopped herbs - we used a mix of thyme, sage, and rosemary from my garden
6 medium potatoes (some red, some white)
2 small-ish sweet potatoes
4 eggs
1/2 cup shredded gruyere
1/4 finely grated parmesan
1/2 cup finely ground fresh breadcrumbs

Preheat your oven to 400.

Shred the potatoes (we had small red and white ones, and also a couple sweet potatoes from the CSA). We used the shredding function on the food processor, one of the world's greatest inventions. You could also use a box grater, if you like to shred a little skin into your meal. Just kidding. Allow the shredded potatoes to drain in a colander.

Meanwhile, prepare your muffin tin (this recipe makes 12). You'll need to HEAVILY butter the bottom and sides of each cup, so use softened butter, which slathers easier. Do not skimp. Sprinkle each cup generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then sprinkle into each cup 1/4 tsp brown sugar. Lay a sage leaf (pretty side down) in the center of each cup on top of the sugar. Place a round of red onion on top of that and press down. Finally, each cup needs 1/4 tsp balsamic vinegar, and 1/4 tsp white wine vinegar on top of the onion.

Now for the potato mixture: In a large bowl beat 2 eggs lightly, add the chopped herbs and salt and pepper to taste. Squeeze as much liquid as you can from your shredded potatoes (I did it a handful at a time) and add them to the egg mixture. Add the cheeses and the breadcrumbs and stir gently but thoroughly until combined.

Heap the potato mixture onto each onion round in the muffin tin, packing it down lightly and smoothing the top flat.

Cut the 4 tbsp butter into 12 equal pieces, and dot the tops of each potato cake with its fair share of butter.

Pop the tin into the oven and bake (on the bottom rack) for 30-40 minutes - the cakes should be deep brown around the edges.

Take the tin out and let the cakes rest in the pan for 5 minutes, then slide a knife around the edges to loosen. To turn them all out at once, we put a sheet of wax paper on top of the muffin tin, then an inverted baking sheet on top of that, and flipped them all over. Full disclosure - some of the onion rounds stuck and needed to be coaxed out. But that was easy to do. And they still looked pretty.

To learn more about Share Our Strength, and to find out what you can do this holiday season, please visit The Share Our Holiday Table Donation Page.

Here's a short video about the No Kid Hungry Campaign (and who doesn't love the Dude?):

And please take a minute to check out the Share Our Strength site:

Finally, here are some other blogs participating in Share Our Holiday Table, please visit them!

December 10: Entrees


Family Friendly


Gluten Free

December 9: Soup


Family Friendly


Gluten Free

December 8: Salads


Family Friendly


Gluten Free

December 7: Drinks


Family Friendly


Gluten Free

December 6: Appetizers


Family Friendly


Gluten Free

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

pasta with swiss chard ragu

A couple weeks ago, I had two vegetarian friends (Phil from NYC and Reba from Maine) coming for dinner (plus Axel F of course), so it seemed like a perfect time to try out this intriguing recipe (Pennette with Swiss Chard Ragu) I read in a Mario Batali cookbook that our friends Keith and Heather gave us for a wedding present. The cookbook is really fantastic - it's the kind of Italian cooking where there are about 4 ingredients, and the preparation is pretty simple, but the flavor is great. I had a beautiful bunch of chard from the winter CSA, so it was perfect. Sorry - only one (rather poor) photo taken when Phil was having seconds and suggested I should blog it...

You'll see, this is another one of those nearly-no-ingredients meals, but it was so so good. Plus the extra beauty of this recipe is that you can make the ragu ahead of time - which was great since I was teaching late that night (our friends and I were converging on my house all at the same time). So I made the ragu the night before, and kept it in the fridge, then all I had to do when we all got to my house was boil pasta and reheat the chard and toast some breadcrumbs.

Pasta with Swiss Chard Ragu

adapted from Mario Batali's Molto Gusto

serves 6

Ingredients (I'll put my changes and additions in brackets):

-1/4 c extra virgin olive oil [I probably added a bit more than this during the cooking process]
-1 small white onion, halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick
-3 [or 4] garlic cloves, smashed and peeled [and coarsely chopped]
-1 pound Swiss Chard, trimmed and sliced 1/4 inch thick [I chopped up the stems separately into a pretty small dice, and just did the leaves in 1/4 inch ribbons]
-4 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
-salt and pepper [Batali lists salt twice, first Maldon salt or other flaky sea salt, which at something like $80/lb, I have never tried... I'm sure flaky salt is miraculously wonderful and all... but I just used regular kosher salt, which he also calls for later in the ingredient list. I think we can just use one kind of salt and still live with ourselves]
-1 pound pennette [I used spaghetti instead, it was really nice actually]
-3/4 c freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra for serving
-1/2 c coarse fresh bread crumbs [plus another crushed garlic clove and some crushed red pepper flakes]
-[I also roasted some grape tomatoes to toss in, see below]

How I did it:

Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a large, wide bottomed pot. Add the garlic, onions a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes if you want, and the chard stems - they ought to cook a little before you add the leaves, since they're tougher. Stir it all around and season with salt to help the onions and the stems soften. After a minute or so, add the chard leaves, a little more salt, and some freshly ground pepper, and let cook another 5 minutes or so, stirring occasionally to encourage the chard to wilt down. Then add 1/4 c of water and cover and reduce the heat to low. Let it cook another 20 minutes or so, until it is very soft (continue to stir occasionally).

Now in the recipe, he adds the butter chunks, stirs till they melt, and then he says you can stop here, set the ragu aside to cool and store in the fridge for up to 2 days. I left the butter step till later - because I felt like something special probably happens when the cold butter emulsifies into the hot chard juices, so I wanted to do that right before serving. So I stored it pre-butter.

When you're ready to eat, put a big pot of water on for the pasta (once it's at a full boil add a generous amount of salt and the pasta and stir around), put the ragu in a very large, deep saucepan (big enough to hold the addition of the cooked pound of pasta when the time comes), and warm the ragu gently - when it's hot is when I would stir in the 4 tbsp of butter.

For the breadcrumbs, I ground up in the food processor about 3 slices of some bread I had made that was a few days old, and good only for toasted breadcrumbs by then. I been baking earlier in the morning, so I took the opportunity to put the breadcrumbs on a baking sheet (tossed them thoroughly with a few tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper) and put them into a 350 oven for about ten minutes. I set it aside, on the pan, while I left for the day to teach. When I was back home and the pasta was boiling, I turned on the broiler and put them under the broiler and kept pretty constant watch over them, stirring a couple of times so they didn't burn.

You could also do them in one step, in a non-stick frying pan: heat 2 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter, a peeled and crushed clove of garlic, and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, add in the breadcrumbs, toss around thoroughly to get all the oil distributed among the bread evenly, and fry, stirring semi-constantly, until they start to turn golden and sound dry in the pan.

Either way set the breadcrumbs (once golden) aside in a bowl to keep them from over-browning.

When the pasta is al dente, drain (saving a little pasta water) and add it to the chard ragu along with 1/4 cup of the pasta water, and toss the pasta with the ragu over medium heat until the pasta looks evenly coated with the chard sauce. Add more pasta water if things look dry. Add the cheese and toss around to combine. As the pasta water heats, the starch in it thickens and turns silky - yum.

OH YES, the tomatoes! I had some grape tomatoes (one of those rectangular packages, not the small square ones) - I had roasted them ahead of time with olive oil, salt and pepper, at 350 for 30 or 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they looked collapsed and a little golden. I tossed these with the finished pasta. They made for a nice bright contrast to the deep dark ragu flavor. Consider this an optional addition, but it was darn good.

Serve the pasta with the breadcrumbs and additional cheese on the side.