Category Archives: I cook

Soup for the blizzard that wasn’t

Earlier this week, the denizens of New York City were warned that a blizzard of historic proportions was on its way. Like everyone else, I stocked up on enough food to keep us going for a few days if we couldn’t get out of the house, including the ingredients for this soup. Rob had been feeling a little under the weather, so I’d been thinking about making a pot of chicken soup anyway. I figured I’d deviate from my standard formula and add a healthy dose of ginger and leave out the dairy I generally add. Plus, a good dose of heat is always good for a cold. All of this got me thinking along the lines of Thai chicken coconut soup tom kha kai. This is sort of a simplified, Americanized version, the kind of thing you can make with ingredients from whatever downmarket grocery store has the shortest lines the day before the blizzard that’ll kill us all, especially if you keep decent-quality chicken thighs in your freezer.


The “blizzard” ended up not being much more than a decent snowstorm (6-8″ or so), but this soup is a keeper. It came together very quickly and is one of the tastier things I’ve made in a long time.

Spicy Coconut Chicken Soup
feeds two for dinner with leftovers for the next day’s lunch

1 onion
4-5 cloves of garlic
1 jalepeno pepper
1 hunk of ginger roughly the size of your palm
1-2 Tbsp. soy sauce
3-4 oz. shitake mushrooms, sliced
1.5 lbs. chicken thighs
4 c. chicken broth
1 c. peeled, chopped carrots
juice and zest of 2 limes
1 can coconut milk
Cooked rice

Put the onion, garlic, ginger, and jalapeno in a food processor and pulse until you have a uniform puree, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Heat a bit of olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat and add the puree, along with a teaspoon or so of salt. Cook, stirring regularly for a few minutes. Add soy sauce and mushrooms and continue to stir until the mushrooms soften a bit. Add the chicken, chicken broth, and carrots. Turn the heat up to medium-high and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat and simmer for half an hour or until the chicken is cooked through. Take the chicken out and shred or chop roughly. Add the chicken back to the pot, along with the lime juice and zest and coconut milk. Heat through and serve over rice.


Making jam on a perfect summer weekend

It’s a tricky thing, wanting to make jam when you live in New York City. Good fruit in jammable quantities is expensive, far more expensive than buying an equivalent amount of really good jam. But without a car, you can’t get anywhere to pick your own. And we don’t have a car. So I go on wistfully reading preserving sites and books and continue to buy the jam we eat.

But this weekend the stars aligned. A vacationing friend lent us his car for a week, the weather was gorgeous, and it’s peak strawberry season in New Jersey. Using this site, I found a place about an hour away (Sunhaven Farm, Hillsborough; no website) that seemed to function exclusively as a farm, rather than an activity-packed family fun day destination. I get why those places exist, but I don’t need to pay the bouncy-castle surcharge when I just want to breeze in, get my berries, and GTFO.
20140623-071140.jpgWe brought home just under eight pounds.
20140623-071150.jpgSince we had the car, we took a little detour to Princeton so one of us could pay homage at the Record Exchange and the other could indulge at The Bent Spoon (blood orange sorbet and sour cream ice cream = best creamsicle ever).
20140623-071202.jpgI washed and prepped all the berries when we got home, setting about ten cups aside for jam, and leaving the rest for eating. Then we headed up to Prospect Park, where Dum Dum Girls were playing a free show. One of my favorite neighborhood restaurants, The Farm on Adderley, has the concession at the park’s free music series, so I was able to get some really good food, which I needed pretty badly at that point, having had mostly strawberries and ice cream so far that day: a codfish sandwich and crisp-tender garlicky broccoli.
20140623-071212.jpgI made the jam Sunday morning. It was my first time using Pomona’s pectin, and I’m converted. The amount of sugar you have to use with traditional pectin is just staggering, typically equal to the amount of fruit. Pomona’s jelling isn’t sugar-dependent, so I just used 2.5 cups with 10 cups of fruit and it was plenty sweet.
20140623-071228.jpgI got five and a half pints in the end.

20140623-071243.jpgSomewhere recently, I saw someone mention throwing their strawberries tops in a pitcher and steeping them with water. Turns out, it’s delicious, especially when you mix the strawberry water with a splash of elderflower cordial for the summeriest drink possible.
Sunday afternoon, while the jam was cooling, we took a quick trip to the beach at Jacob Riis Park and were back in time to watch the USA v. Portugal match with some friends.

Elderflower cordial, or, I know what I’m drinking this summer

When I was in the park last weekend, I was excited to realize that both the elderflowers were in bloom AND that I had a bag with me in which I could carry some home with me. They were everywhere; even just taking a couple from each tree I passed, I ended up almost filling this bag.
20140620-072515.jpgI’ve made Leda Meredith’s elderflower champagne in previous years and it’s good [note from that link: the period when elderflowers are in bloom is known as the elderblow–how great is that?], but this year I decided to give The Wednesday Chef’s elderflower cordial a go instead. I had enough of the flowers to make a double batch, which has been sitting on the back of my stove all week until this morning when I strained it…
20140620-072530.jpg…and filled whatever jars and bottles were within reach.
20140620-072544.jpgConsidering that you only need about a tablespoon in a glass of water, I think I–and maybe everyone I know–are pretty much set for the summer. I had some in seltzer, which was lovely, but to my surprise, I actually preferred the cordial in a glass of very cold still water. The floral flavor really shines through without anything getting in the way. I imagine I’ll still manage to choke it down in a glass of prosecco though.

One note: I forgot to get citric acid, so couldn’t do the last step. Therefore, I’m considering my cordial to not be shelf stable and will be keeping all of it in the fridge.

Sunday productive Sunday

P1090128Now that the weather is warming up, my craft focus has started to shift back to spinning and sewing. I’ve been carding the Gotland fleece I got at Rhinebeck last year with some hand-dyed mohair top I’ve had since before I moved to New York, so 1999? 2000? I know I bought it on eBay from a seller whose name I can’t remember who sold different base fibers dyed in the same range of colorways and that this one was called Vienna Woods. I bought the plain wool and the mohair, spun them separately, plied them together, and knit an oversized seamless raglan cardigan out of the yarn. I’m not sure what happened to the sweater. Maybe I gave it to my mom at some point?

Anyway. I had close to a pound of the mohair left over and it’s been sitting in my stash, moving with me [counts] either seven or eight times, depending on where I was living upstate when I bought it, and I’m delighted that I’m finally doing something with it. My original plan was to ply this blended single with a plain Gotland single for yarn for a big, wild, wooly pullover. I may still do that, but I think I’ll have enough of the blend to ply on itself and still have sufficient yardage for a big, wild, wooly pullover.

I had my favorite kind of day yesterday, the kind where I spend my time moving from project to project, making demonstrable progress on a number of things. I made a batch of spicy peanut sauce to have with noodles and vegetables for dinner and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies for a work party today. I worked on my cashmere/merino cabled cardigan (the back, two fronts, and one sleeve down; the last sleeve, assembly, collar, and ribbing left to go), the scrap chevron afghan I’m crocheting, and the handspun log cabin blanket I’m knitting. I made a batch of soap (scented with orange, clove, and cinnamon) and cut out fabric for a Scout tee. I got caught up on The Americans (I really like the show, but have kind of forgotten what Larrick’s damage is in the first place, so I’m not as fully invested in what’s going on as I could be), watched an episode of the original Swedish The Bridge, and listened to a fair chunk of The Alienist audiobook. Looking at my calendar for the next couple of months, I’m not sure when I’m going to have another full day just for puttering, so I’m glad I put that one to good use.

Black bean burgers and spicy sweet potato oven fries

There are a lot of feral cats in this neighborhood and most of them seem to be in heat at the moment. This wouldn’t be a big deal–I never noticed it other years–except that it’s turning poor, simple Fuzz Ferdinand into a desperate, manic creature who races around the apartment in the wee hours, back and forth between the office, where there’s an open window whose ledge he can get onto, and our room, which is at the back of the building and therefore closer to those yowling temptresses just begging for a man like him. (He’s neutered, but apparently not immune to the charms of a strong, horny yowl.) He jumps up on the bed, generally my side since I’m closer to the door, generally on me, runs to the other side of the bed, which is closer to the window, pauses breathlessly, then realizes he could actually hear them better (and possibly even smell them) in the other room, so he jumps down and tears ass back to the office, where he sits for a minute and realizes that he’d be closer to them if he were in our room. Back and forth. Over and over. He really is a Cat of Little Brain, but he’s sweet and he’s handsome and I assume the feral cats will all get knocked up and stop begging for it outside our window every night. At that point, he’ll forget all about being lovelorn and I’ll be able to do what passes for sleeping through the night for me again.

I suppose this would be a good time to make a donation to that one-woman neighborhood TNR (trap, neuter, release) effort. First though, the best veggie burger I’ve ever had.

I’ve made these a few times, enough that they’re becoming a staple around here, using Kenji “New York’s Christopher Kimball” Lopez-Alt’s recipe as a basic guideline. In truth, though, once you’ve run through it the process once, it’s not really something you need a recipe for. I combine two cans of drained, rinsed black beans, one pureed, one coarsely mashed with a fork; a couple of minced chipotle peppers in adobo (I buy a big can a couple times a year and freeze the peppers individually with a dollop of sauce, so I always have them onhand); a big handful of coarsely chopped raw cashews, and a another handful or so of grated cotija cheese. Now that I’m looking at the menu, I see that Kenji adds caramelized onions too, which is a step I’ve always managed to miss, but they’d be a great addition. I also haven’t taken the time to roast the beans first, but again I’m sure the burgers would be the better for it. Then I add a few spoonfuls of yogurt and an egg and mix in cracker or panko crumbs until the mixture holds together. And that’s it. Form into patties and cook in the oil of your choice (I use either bacon fat or coconut oil) for four minutes on each side. They’ll get a nice crust and make for a thoroughly satisfying dinner, especially with cheese and a strip of bacon or two.
20140514-083859.jpgI get eight patties out of the recipe and freeze the extra, which means four dinners for a minimum of effort, especially since they’ll defrost and then cook in almost the exact amount of time it takes to make a fresh batch of spicy sweet potato oven fries, which are the perfect side.20140514-084008.jpg

Spicy sweet potato oven fries
serves 2

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into fry-sized pieces
2 tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp garam masala or other sweet curry powder
1 tsp smoked paprika

Heat oven to 400. Put coconut oil in a small, oven-safe dish and put in the oven until it’s melted. Mix the spices into the oil. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil, spread the sweet potato pieces out, and pour the spice mixture over them. Toss to coat. Spread the sweet potato pieces out as evenly as possible, trying to have them all touching the backing sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, flip them over, and bake another 20 minutes.

They’re flavorful enough to eat on their own, but I’m partial to thick yogurt with sriracha and a bit of salt stirred in as a dipping sauce.


Five for Friday


1. I made Mark Bittman’s recipe for tofu jerky this week (the miso variation, more or less) and it’s really good. It’s basically just semi-dehydrated tofu used as the vehicle for savory flavor. It took a fair amount of work–careful slicing, frequently turning the pieces over in the oven and brushing them with the sauce–for how long they lasted, but as healthful, relatively inexpensive snacks go, they’re a keeper.

2. I can’t stop thinking about a documentary I watched last night, The Elephant in the Living Room. It’s about people who keep exotic animals as pets, yes, but mostly from the point of view of one man, Tim Harrison, who gets called in when they escape or hurt someone or aren’t being cared for properly. Absolutely fascinating.

3. I only have a single sweater project on the needles at the moment, which isn’t like me at all. I’m kind of enjoying the experience of being single-minded in this way though. Maybe knitting the wedding dress last summer broke me or something something monogamy.

4. I actually did win part of the pot at my mother-in-law’s Derby party last weekend, since California Chrome was one of the names I drew out of the pot. I had to split the money five ways, but we got a night’s worth of Tibetan takeout earlier in the week and some tacos last night and still have enough left over to order a pizza or two at some point. Apparently found money = takeout money around here.

5. This week I learned that C.S. Lewis had a fondness for the whip, which came up during a very interesting conversation I had on Twitter yesterday with a former coworker and a few librarians. There’s some about it in this New Yorker profile, in The Magician’s Book by Laura Miller (who also weighed in on Twitter), and in A.N Wilson’s biography of him. As my friend Molly pointed out, it does add some texture to the character of Jadis and how easily Uncle Andrew is in thrall to her.

A spring salad


It may not look like much, but this salmon is easily the best fish I’ve ever cooked. I used Nigella Lawson’s recipe here  as a template, changing the marinade recipe a little bit (miso, maple, and soy sauce), but following her directions for the process and timing. It helps that I bought a nice piece of fish to start with, but the real trick is that I managed to avoid overcooking it and ended up with two portions of perfectly medium-rare, flaky salmon.

20140331-083955.jpgThen I made a salad of anything salad-y in the fridge: baby kale, chopped snap peas, roasted potatoes and tomatoes, chopped baby bok choy, a bit of avocado, and the last little bit of vinaigrette in the jar. It was flavorful and substantial but still light, and something I’d love to eat at least once a week for the next few months.

Late winter supper: spicy pork and mustard greens soup

This is an easy and tasty one that’s perfect for these waning days of winter: still warming and spicy and filling, but packed with the kind of flavorful, nutrient-dense greens that will be shooting up soon.

Other than not grinding the spices myself, I followed Bon Appetit’s recipe more or less to the letter. It’s fast, tasty, and a perfect balance between indulgent and healthful. It’s a keeper.

Turkey and spinach meatballs in tomato sauce

These were a mostly just a way to use up a lot of stuff we had hanging around in the fridge (spinach a day or so from dissolving into a mush, one random stale english muffin, a block of weird cheese from a Hickory Farms basket my mother sent us home with after Christmas), but they turned out to be delicious. I think there just isn’t a way to go wrong with seasoned meat cooked in tomato sauce.

1 lb. ground turkey
8 oz. baby spinach, lightly steamed and chopped, divided about in half
1 tbsp. Penzey’s Italian seasoning
6 oz. mild cheddar with vegetable bits, grated (any mild cheese would be fine)
one english muffin, blitzed into crumbs in the food processor (maybe 1/2 cup?)
salt and pepper

Mix the turkey, about half of the spinach, the cheese, and seasonings together, using a spatula or your hands. Add the crumbs gradually until the mixture holds together. Form into 1″ balls and brown in a bit of oil in whatever pan you’re going to use for the sauce. Work in batches to avoid crowding the pan and set aside.

Tomato sauce
2 small or 1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 large cans whole tomatoes in juice
2 tbsp. Penzey’s Italian seasoning
salt and pepper
Sweat the onion and garlic in olive oil. If the meatballs left a lot of browned bits in the bottom of the pan, you may want to add a bit of wine or water to help scrape that up first. Don’t discard it though; it’ll add a lot of flavor. Just push it to the side of the pan while the onions cook. Add the tomatoes, squishing them through your fingers to help break them up, and the seasoning. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn it to medium-low and add the browned meatballs to the pot. Let the sauce simmer, stirring occasionally, until it’s thickened a bit and the meatballs are cooked. Add the remaining spinach to the pot and allow it to heat through. Eat over pasta or polenta.

Life hack: frozen oatmeal


I took a page from Dinner with Julie‘s book and have started making a huge pot of oatmeal every few weeks. I freeze it in muffin tins, then pop the portions into freezer bags.

I’m something of a maximalist when it comes to oatmeal, so the ingredient list is long, but it would work just as well made plain. I use mostly steel-cut oats with some regular rolled oats (which basically dissolve during the long cooking time, adding a nice creaminess) and a bit of another grain or too–barley and/or quinoa, generally. Unsweetened dried coconut, two grated apples, a couple handfuls each of chopped dried apricots and whatever other dried fruit I have around (here, it’s a berry mix from Trader Joe’s with dried cherries, blueberries, and golden raisins). A bit of cinnamon, cardamom, and allspice. Chia seeds on top of each portion before they go into the freezer.

Then every day I take one (or two, if I know I won’t be able to eat lunch until late), put it in a wide-mouth mason jar with a drizzle of boiled cider, a splash of milk, and some frozen fruit, and take it to work. Using a jar means it doesn’t leak, and as long as I take the lid off, it’s microwave safe. It’s made my mornings run much more smoothly and I’m spending a lot less money buying breakfast that wouldn’t be nearly as good for me. I haven’t gotten sick of it yet, but I think switching up the fruits and spices and add-ins would help if I ever get to that point.