The Newest Year

Happy Inauguration Day! It feels like New Year’s Day, for real this time. This is the newest year we’ve had in a decade, maybe more. So in honor of this fresh start, I cooked up a quick (gotta have time to watch all the coverage) and cheap (economy won’t recover overnight) meal full of luck-bringing foods.

This quick semi-stir-fry has all the beans, greens, and pork of a traditional New Year’s feast, and using dried chickpeas and frozen spinach makes it affordable and healthy – not to mention delicious.

What are you up to on this historic day?

Inauguration Beans

  • 1 small Mexican chorizo, (about 3oz) casing removed, crumbled
  • 1 cup chickpeas, cooked and drained (canned is ok)
  • 1 cup frozen chopped spinach (or fresh if it’s handy)
  • 1 Tbs snipped fresh basil

Sautee the chorizo over medium high heat about 4 minutes. Drain as much of the fat as you can, probably about 2 Tbs. Stir in the chickpeas and cook 3 minutes. Add the spinach and cook a few more minutes, until heated all the way through. Turn off the heat. Snip the basil over the spinach and stir in. Serves 2 as a side, can be multiplied indefinitely.

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Filed under Main Dish, Pantry, Recipe, Vegetables

Cheater’s Pizza

There’s been some talk on the internet about what it takes to make great pizza at home, and all the fussy preparation it entails. I’m here to tell you that great pizza takes about an hour and as much effort as you can spare between reading blogs and posting photos. You just need dough ingredients, toppings you like and have on hand, and about an hour of non-consecutive prep time. Some might consider this cheating, but I think that makes it all the more exciting. After all, it’s food, not taxes, so the important point is that you enjoy the end result. No one’s going to judge you for what you cook and devour late at night, honest.

Cheater’s Pizza - Serves 1

  • 1 cup flour (I mixed bread flour and AP)
  • 1 tsp white sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp yeast
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 c water
  • Toppings

Put everything except water in a medium bowl – I’m pretty good at eyeballing amounts, so the only thing I measured was the yeast. Measure everything if you need to, there’s no shame.  Add half the water and stir with a wooden spoon, adding more water as needed. The dough should be soft and stick to the sides of the bowl, but it shouldn’t puddle. If it gets too thin, add a bit more flour. Stir until the dough is stretchy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover, and walk away. You probably have to organize iTunes or something.

In about 15 minutes, preheat the oven to 450 F. Put the bowl on top of the oven to speed proofing. Take a 10 minute break to check your newsfeeds.

When you get back to the kitchen, make sure the oven is up to temperature. Then put a baking sheet in the oven while you prep your toppings. I used olive oil, 2 Tbsp minced onion, and 2 oz goat cheese, so I just got those things out. I also trimmed my basil windowbox (the one in my header – it’s grown so much since then!) and got about 2 Tbsp for the pizza. This would also be great with tomato sauce, bits of pre-cooked meat and vegetable, or whatever you have on hand.

Flour your counter and scrape the dough out of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Dust the dough with flour and using a rolling pin, get it as thin as you can. Take the baking sheet out of the oven, transfer the dough to it. Cover the dough with toppings and return to the oven as quickly as you can. Bake 10-15 minutes, until risen and golden. Update your Facebook status while you’re waiting, so all your friends know you’re making super easy pizza from scratch.

Remove from oven, and immediately place basil leaves on top and drizzle with a bit more olive oil. Let cool as long as it takes to load a DVD, eat with your hands.

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Deskmates 4: Winter Bounty

Winter fruit is like a secret treasure. Of course, in September the locavore in me is all set to eat nothing but storage apples and berry preserves through the colder months. But by December, I give in and buy the glowing clementines and persimmons that have traveled from warmer latitudes just to brighten my winter. I love walking through Chinatown and looking at all the streetside fruit vendors, and I can never resist taking home a few fat persimmons. Usually I buy the fuyu variety since they can be eaten when firm, and I don’t want to wait for their taller cousins the hachiyas to ripen. To remember which is which, I just repeat to myself “short and sweet” as I choose my fruit.

I count myself among the lucky since I have convenient access to the best greenmarket in the city. Even when the farmers are down to the same sturdy storage apples, greens, roots, and squash, I still walk through knowing I’m in the presence of greatness. I roasted a kabocha and sauteed some kale with garlic, and ate them together for days. Can you believe such delicious things are just out there, growing from the ground?

Another of my new favorite apple varities is the Winter Banana. I first read of it in Martha Stewart’s Pies and Tarts book, and I was intrigued by the name and description. It’s a lovely pale yellow with a slight blush, and tastes warm and fruity like a golden delicious (one of my least-liked apples), but has a saving tartness that keeps me coming back.

And just to give the reins fully to my apple obsession, here’s a picture of another very special winter banana. I’m a sucker for fruit with leaves attached, especially when said leaf has left a rub mark on the fruit under it. I’m all out of apples at the moment, but it’s Wednesday and I know Union Square has bushels of them, so I’ll have to make time to adopt a few more.

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Votemeal Cookies

Today’s the day! If you’re reading this, take a break and go vote. If you’ve already voted, great! You may continue reading for a truly inspirational cookie recipe.

I’m presenting friends, family, coworkers, and you, dear reader, with these delicious oatmeal chocolate cookies to say thanks for voting. There are few things as important to the health of our nation, and few things can make you feel as much a part of the community. Even if you don’t consider yourself especially political, the simple act of casting a ballot renews your stake in the country. It’s the clearest way to say, yes, I am part of this community and my opinion matters.

It’s especially important to vote if you feel ignored or cheated by the government, if your values are under-represented, if you disagree with the laws being passed and the way those laws are enforced. This is a duty to the country, but it is also a duty to yourself. If you take part in choosing who represents you, then they are accountable to you. So thank you for voting, and making sure the people in office are the ones we choose.

This is my tried-and-true oatmeal cookie recipe, a combination of my favorite cookie characteristics. So these cookies are not dense and cakey, thin and crunchy, or soft and soggy – they’re crisp on the outside and soft inside with bursts of chocolate and cinnamon. I’m also including Ian’s recipe for spicy cinnamon glaze, which makes the cookies unforgettable.

Here’s hoping we’re about to start four years of responsible, accountable, trustworthy leadership. And delicious cookies, of course.

Votemeal Cookies

  • 1 stick of butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

Preheat oven to 325. Beat butter and sugar together in a stand mixer or with a wooden spoon until smooth. Stir in cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Beat in egg and vanilla. Gently stir in flour until there are just a few white streaks, then mix in oats. Stir in chocolate chips. Form tablespoon-sized balls of dough on baking sheets, and bake 8-10 minutes, rotating trays halfway through. When completely cool, drizzle cookies with glaze. Serve to fellow voters, and make sure to eat two or three yourself to keep up your strength for the long night of poll-watching ahead. Makes 24 cookies, can be doubled and still fit comfortably in a KitchenAid.

Ian’s Cinnamon Cider Glaze

  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tbs apple cider

Stir all ingredients together until smooth. You may need a tiny bit more cider, so increase the liquid 1/2 tsp at a time. This is enough glaze for a judicious drizzle on each cookie, but if you want to slather your cookies, by all means, double the recipe.

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Filed under Baked, Recipe, Sweets

Deskmates 3: Early Harvest

Every fall, Angel and I await the return of The Grapes. Their name is always capitalized because they’re good enough to merit it. Officially, they’re a variety called Reliance, but that doesn’t quite cover how great they are. They’re not just any juicy red grapes, they’re bursting with the tangy grape-y flavor of Concords, though seedless and not quite as tannic. (I also love Concords, both the seedless and seeded varieties.) We first came across The Grapes at farm stands in upstate New York a few years ago, and ever since, we’ve hunted them down in the city greenmarkets.

One of my new favorite apple varieties is the Spitzenburg, and I’m in good company because apparently it was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple. I’m not quite sure where that bit of trivia comes from, unless there’s a piece of vellum somewhere listing Teenbeat-style likes and dislikes of the hunky 3rd president. Anyway, the Spitzenburg is firm and juicy, with light cider and lemon notes. I always choose apples that still have leaves attached. It gives them so much more character, don’t you think? This particular apple was doubly attractive because in addition to its two perky leaves, it also has three dried flower buds. It was the only blossom among its four branchmates to survive into applehood.

It’s a well-known fact that I am partial to purple vegetables. But really, I could take or leave any of the other purple vegetables (potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, onions, kale) – as long as I could still have their paler siblings, of course. These purple carrots are the ones I really love. It just makes me so happy to slice one open and see its bright orange heart and little orange veins poking through the purple layer. One of my long-held food theories is that colors affect taste (really, if you ate a spinach leaf or a raspberry blindfolded, you’d know what color it was). I think these have a slight bittersweet edge and a hint of fruit flavor. They can keep their color if cooked carefully, but more often than not, they just dye the rest of the food they touch.

The dusky apple in the foreground is an experimental hybrid called NY 428. (Behind it is a Honeycrisp, the indie darling of the apple world). According to its label at the greenmarket, the NY 428 has excellent flavor but does not last long in storage, so it never got a real name. It does indeed have good flavor; it’s fruity, tart, and slightly vinuous. I don’t remember its parentage, but it has some of the qualities of Winesap and Macoun apples. It would make a killer pie, I think, and I’m hoping to test it soon.

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Filed under Deskmates, Fruit, Things I Did Not Cook, Vegetables, Work Lunch

Cider Season

During an early fall picnic in Prospect Park, this honeybee was attracted by the first spiced cider of the season and fell into a cup. I scooped her out, and once dry she helped clean up the droplets left in the cup. She was not, however, much help with the crossword.

I share the bee’s enthusiasm for warm cider fragrant with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, though I have yet to tumble into a cup of it. (Maybe I just need to find bigger cups.) Once the weather cools down and the greenmarkets fill with apples, I start lugging home cider to mull, drink cold, and use in other recipes.

The credit for this recipe goes to Ian, who loves cider more than any person or bee I’ve met. I usually just toss everything into a pot and strain it out, but he’s devoted enough to tie whole spices in cheesecloth and carefully crush them to extract more flavor.

Mulled Cider

  • 1/2 gallon apple cider, non-pasteurized
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 8 cloves
  • 1 whole nutmeg
  • Cheesecloth
  • Cotton twine

Cut a 6 inch square of cheesecloth, double thickness. Place all the spices in a ziploc bag and smash with a meat mallet, steel travel mug, or whatever you have handy. Transfer the spices to the center of the cheesecloth square, gather the corners, and tie with a piece of twine. Pour the cider into a large nonreactive pot and add the spice bundle. Bring almost to a boil over high heat, then when the cider steams, reduce heat to low and simmer at least 15 minutes. The spices will continue to infuse the cider the longer it sits. If you like, you can add a 2-inch strip of lemon rind (bright part only) to the spice bundle. Don’t add any additional sweetener, since the cider is sweet enough on its own.

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It takes two

Two people in search of dessert. Two ice cream add-ins. Two tries to get the custard right. Two spoons for digging in.

Ian and I were in the mood for ice cream this weekend, and as we walked through my neighborhood supermarket, we tried to think of what kind of ice cream we’d like to make. We were in the cookie aisle when he suggested cinnamon graham crackers. Of course, only the regular kind was in stock, so I suggested we make a quick batch of our own cinnamon grahams.

I’ve been eager to try this particular recipe for a while, especially since it’s been years since I last made graham crackers at home. I just needed a reason, and I think we can all agree that ice cream is one of the best reasons to do anything. The homemade graham crackers are really the star of the show, at least in my opinion, but it’s thanks to the supporting actors, spiced chocolate and turbinado custard, that they work so well. Graham crackers fresh from the oven and dusted with cinnamon sugar are so sensual a pleasure that it’s hard to believe they were invented to staunch unhealty carnal urges. But then, the Victorians were occasionally mistaken on other topics as well.

When we were planning the ice cream, we’d talked about chocolate and cookies, but I got so swept away by the idea of making those graham crackers that I forgot about the chocolate part of the plan until after we made the custard. Luckily, I have a stash of mysterious Valhrona cinnamon-chili chocolate balls, and they turned out to be the perfect match for this recipe. Any cinnamon spiced chocolate would be great here, though, or you could just use your favorite non-spiced chocolate and increase the cinnamon in the custard to 1/2 tsp and add a pinch of cayenne.

Spiced Chocolate Graham Cracker Crunch Ice Cream

  • 2 1/2 c milk
  • 4 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 c turbinado sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 c chopped chocolate bits (I used cinnamon-chili dark chocolate balls from Valrhona)
  • 1c broken graham cracker bits (I made the Nancy Silverton recipe listed on 101 Cookbooks)

In a small sturdy pot, whisk the cornstarch and sugar together. Stir in 2c milk. Turn the heat to medium high until the mixture boils and foams, whisking all the while. Turn the heat to low and cook 1 minute to thicken and get rid of the raw cornstarch taste. Remove from heat and whisk in the cinnamon, vanilla, and remaining 1/2 c milk. Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate at least 4 hours or until the custard is thoroughly chilled.

Pour the chilled custard into your ice cream maker. When it’s pretty much done churning, stir in the chocolate and graham cracker bits by hand. Plop into storage containers and freeze at least 2 hours to firm up before scooping.

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Filed under Recipe, Sweets