Category Archives: I cook

My New 52: Strozzapreti with Sausage, Grapes, and Red Wine

I have access to a lot of new cookbooks as part of my job. It’s a pretty fantastic perk, really, but the growing stack on top of my fridge is starting to stress me out a little. There’s so much good stuff in there just going to waste. So, in the flush of excitement at the beginning of a new year and my desire to be better about producing new content here, I’ve decided on a new project for 2013: every week, I’ll cook something I haven’t made before and write about it. I cook a lot and generally like what I make, but I return to the same well more often than I’d like and I want to stretch myself a bit. It can be a recipe I haven’t made before, utilize an ingredient I haven’t worked with before, a new-to-me technique, a piece of equipment I haven’t played with. I’ve started putting together a preliminary list of ingredients and techniques I’d likely to knock off my list of never-dones and I’m pretty excited. Some of the recipes in consideration are things that I can see becoming regulars in the easy-dinner rotation, some are serious projects I’ll have to tackle over a couple of days, a couple of things I’ve never tasted and am curious to try. I’m calling the series My New 52.

The first one up is a recipe I printed from Serious Eats and have had in my recipe binder for since October 2010: Andrew Carmellini’s Strozzapreti with Sausage, Grapes, and Red Wine. Andrew Carmellini is behind two of my favorite restaurants in New York, Locanda Verde and The Dutch, and I was interested to see how his recipes worked at home. There were a couple of clues to the fact that this is a chef’s recipe and not one from the kind of knowledgeable home cooks I usually draw from: he doesn’t have you drain off any of the sausage grease and you add two tablespoons of butter at the end.

I have no doubt that both of those things contributed to the dish being delicious, despite a couple of things in my version being different from his. First, I don’t think I reduced the wine mixture enough, so when I added it to the sausage mixture, the meat turned magenta. Also, my grapes broke down somewhere in the cooking process and disappeared into the sauce. It tasted great, but I was looking forward to those little pops of tart sweetness.

I used some naturally colored fancy pasta I had around, which is why there are dark pieces in there that look like green beans or mushrooms.

So. Would I make it again? Maybe. It was definitely tasty; Rob and I both had two big bowls and I’m looking forward to the leftovers. It was a little more work than I’m generally interested in for an everyday meal at home though and I don’t necessarily want to serve purple meat to company. You have to start marinating the grapes at least eight hours before you start cooking, and the cooking process takes three different pots and pans, though it does come together pretty quickly once you get started. And a modified version wouldn’t be especially different from pasta dishes I make already, so it’s unlikely I’ll be reaching for this one again in a hurry. I’m keeping it in the recipe binder though. Just in case.

Andrew Carmellini’s Strozzapreti with Sausage, Grapes, and Red Wine
recipe from Serious Eats

  • 1 cup seedless red grapes
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 lbs Italian sausage (about 4 links)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 10 sage leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 lb strozzapreti pasta
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese (about 1 ounce), plus more for serving
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley
  1. Cut the grapes in half lengthwise. Combine the grapes, wine, sugar, and vinegar and put in a covered container in the fridge overnight (at least 8 hours).
  2. In a medium saucepot, bring the grape mixture to a boil over high heat. Cook at a boil until the liquid has reduced by half, about 10 minutes, then remove from heat.
  3. Cut the sausage casings open and remove the meat. Discard casings. Put a large pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat until shimmering. Add the meat and brown, stirring and breaking up the meat as you go, about 5 minutes.
  4. When the meat has begun to brown, add the onion and continue cooking, stirring well, until sausage is well browned and onions have softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the sage leaves and stir to combine. Add the grape mixture and stir well.
  5. When the water comes to a boil, cook the pasta until just al dente (subtract one minute from the directions on the package). Drain but do not rinse, reserving a few tablespoons of pasta water. Add the pasta to the sausage mixture and stir for 1 minute, adding a tablespoon of pasta water at a time to just moisten. Turn the heat off, add butter, cheese, and black pepper, stirring well. Add the parsley and serve immediately, topped with additional cheese.

Beef Lettuce Rolls

This is a current favorite dinner around here, spicy ground beef wrapped up in lettuce. I know I started with a recipe for these at one point, but I’m honestly not sure anymore where it came from anymore and it’s more of a loose outline than a recipe anyway.

For two people, you start with a pound of ground beef. When it’s about halfway browned, I throw in a chopped jalapeno and a couple of minced garlic cloves. If I have a jar of Mrs. Kim’s Soy-Pickled Vegetables onhand, I’ll use a jalapeno and some garlic out of there. (It’s one of my favorite products I’ve discovered through my column, very spicy but with excellent flavor. Their kimchi is delicious too.) If the meat is giving off a lot of fat, spoon it off. If I have some leftover vegetables that I want to use up, this is where I’ll add them, finely chopped, to the pan.

Once it’s browned, season with soy sauce, siracha, and a little bit of fish sauce, maybe a tiny bit of sesame oil, then simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed or evaporates. Turn off the heat and stir in the zest and juice of one lime, plus a handful of chopped cilantro. And that’s it. Divide the meat between two bowls and serve it alongside a bowl of crisp, cold lettuce, any kind that will hold its shape. I’m using romaine here, but iceberg or butter lettuce works too. If you use a small amount of meat per roll (two tablespoons, maybe?), you end up eating roughly a salad’s worth of lettuce.

What’s been cooking: a few highlights

This Brazilian fish stew, moqueca, was absolutely delicious:  tomatoes, peppers, coconut milk, onion, and citrus. The fish is marinated in lime juice before being cooked and I remember thinking that was strange, since it would be ceviche-ified before it was cooked, but it ended up making perfect sense; “cooking” it a little beforehand helped keep it from falling apart in the liquid.

I used salmon instead of a white fish, since I had some nice wild salmon in my freezer, and doubled all of the vegetables so the final product was more stew-like than the original. It’s actually been a while since I made this, but I do remember it being extraordinarily easy, since all of the ingredients are coarsely chopped, layered in a pan, then left alone until everything cooks through.

 Everything layered in the pan.

The somewhat lurid finished product. Recommended.

It’s getting a little past prime grilling season, but these salt and vinegar grilled potatoes could be done on a grill pan or under the broiler easily enough.

You take some potatoes, cut them lengthwise, simmer them in white vinegar until almost done, and grill them. I thought that cooking them in straight vinegar would be a little much of a muchness and used half water/half vinegar for the cooking liquid, but they really were milder than I would have liked. Original recipe here.

And, finally, a recipe that’s going to see a lot of play this fall and winter for its ease of preparation, inexpensive ingredients, reasonably healthful qualities, and general deliciousness: Kenji’s Pasta e Fagioli.

Watermelon rind pickles

I’ve been eating a lot of watermelon this summer. It’s never really blown my skirt up in years past, but for some reason I just can’t get enough of it now. Cold, sweet, juicy watermelon is exactly what I want on these hot, sticky days.

Going through a watermelon a week or so piles up a lot of rind and I figured I’d try my hand at pickling it. I’d had watermelon rind pickles before and though they look more or less like squares of snot, I really like the sweet-spicy tang of them and the odd, gelatinous-crisp texture. I’ve been using this recipe from Epicurious, though I’ll probably try a few others and see if the technique or proportions are any different. It takes a few days to make a batch, but it’s all pretty hands off.

For what it’s worth, a roll of painter’s tape and a Sharpie are two of the most useful tools in my kitchen, a tip I think I picked up from an interview with one of the kitchen guys at Per Se. They cut the edge of the tape very precisely to 90-degree angles and had rules about where on the container the tape had to be placed, but I have my limits.

My favorite potato salad

Now that we live somewhere with a little outdoor space (a sweet little tiled deck), Rob and I have joined the ranks of People Who Grill. I’ve always been envious of people with grills, not least because all of the food magazines and websites are filled with grilling recipes and ideas and how-to articles starting in April or so and continuing all through the summer.

But one cannot live on grilled food alone, though lord knows some people try. I’ve been making a lot of this potato salad, since it goes with everything, can be made well in advance or right before you eat, is easy to throw together even if you’re distracted by a kitchen full of guests, is good hot, cold, or room temperature, is delicious the next day on a pile of arugula, and, since it doesn’t use mayonnaise, can be left out of the counter for hours or taken to picnics or the beach without risk of food poisoning. And it’s easy to scale up or down, depending on how many people you need to feed.

I’ve made a variation of this dish for years (inspired, most likely, by something Laurie Colwin wrote about), but this year I’ve started adding basil.Initially it was because I have some basil in my little container garden and I’m in a race to use it before the snails eat all of it, but I also really like the basil with the lemon and mustard.

A couple of tomato plants, lacinato kale, basil, mint, rosemary, lavender, and one lettuce that I need to repot before it keels over entirely

Mustard Potato Salad

  • potatoes, at least one large per person, scrubbed and cut into even chunks; I don’t bother peeling
  • grainy mustard, one heaping spoonful for every three people
  • juice of one lemon, plus the zest if you’re organized
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • handful of basil, chiffonaded

Put the potatoes on to boil. In a large bowl, whisk the mustard and lemon juice/zest together, then continue to whisk while adding olive oil in a thin stream until the dressing is the consistency you like. I like a high mustard-to-oil ratio; you may not. Salt to taste.

When the potatoes are done to your liking, drain them and add to the dressing. Stir to coat all of the pieces. Stir in the basil. Let sit for a few minutes to soak in the dressing.

Green Chili With Pork

This is not, admittedly, beautiful food. It is, however, spicy and delicious and comforting and filling and has been appearing in my kitchen on a fairly regular basis over the last few months. The original recipe is here, but I’ve posted my version with some tweaks below. I followed the recipe pretty exactly the first time I made it, and it was way too Bowl o’ Meat for my tastes. But bulking it out a bit with some brown rice and carrots, plus extra broth, made it more of a one-dish meal and somewhat closer to nutritionally sound. Other vegetables would be good too–I can see zucchini, red pepper, maybe some greens. The trick is just making sure to chop them finely; the soup cooks for a relatively short period of time, so the vegetables need to be small to avoid staying too crunchy.

Green Chili With Pork

  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • 2 (3- to 4-inch) fresh jalapeño chiles, stemmed and quartered, including seeds
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 medium carrots, minced
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (14- to 15-oz) can white hominy (also called pozole), rinsed and drained
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

Accompaniments: toasted hulled (green) pumpkin seeds; crumbled queso fresco or ricotta salata, sour cream, brown rice

Purée onion, chiles, and garlic with 1/2 cup chicken broth in a blender. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 4-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown pork, stirring and breaking up clumps with a fork, just until no longer pink, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from pot. Add remaining 3 tablespoons oil to pot and heat over moderately high heat until hot, then carefully add purée (it will spatter), cumin, and salt. Add carrots to the pot. Cook, stirring frequently, until mixture is thickened and most of liquid is evaporated, about 10 minutes. Add pork, hominy, cilantro, and remaining broth and simmer gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes. Serve chili over brown rice, sprinkled with pumpkin seeds, sour cream, and/or cheese.

Simple geometrics

Inspired by these coasters, I used some fabric I had around to make a bunch of light/dark squares. The red/white floral was a piece of flocked cotton, maybe half a yard, that came into my hands when my favorite cousin bought a house that had previously been owned by a hoarder. There was other fabric and yarn, but most of it had been gnawed on by little beasties, both winged and naked-tailed, and wasn’t usable. I’d wanted to use it for something special and had almost given up hope when I hit upon this idea. The plan is to put them together for cushion covers, but I haven’t quite nailed down which configurations I like best. I think these two may be the winners though. I like the strong graphic quality of the patterns and the contrast between the small pieces and the large motifs.
But there are almost limitless other combinations, not to mention the fact that I made a bunch of squares using the same striped fabric and a darker red silk paisley that used to be one of my favorites dresses in the late 90s, so that increases the combinations exponentially.
I have a crafting date with some friends this weekend, so I may pull them all out and see how everyone else puts them together.

Other things that have happened since I last posted:

  • I moved in with my boyfriend. We have the first floor of a rambling old house, complete with a deck, a bathroom that’s tiled on the ceiling, a sort of North African … mirror installation in the living room, and some truly ghastly 1980s wallpaper in the kitchen. The latter is not long for this world, but the rest of it is thoroughly charming.
  • I became obsessed with Homeland.
  • I became obsessed with Gillian Flynn’s latest book, Gone Girl. I actually almost regret reading it because it means I can never read it again for the first time.
  • I became obsessed with Draw Something.
  • I made this, possibly my favorite salad ever.
  • Knitting-wise, I’m plodding away on Effortless and Folded.

On balance. And cleaning out cabinets.

I recently sent someone a link to Gretchen Rubin‘s post on what she calls “spending out,” the idea of using your good stuff instead of saving it for some mythical future time and thereby wasting your most valued ideas and possessions. To me, this means wearing the gorgeous boots, even though I’ll scuff them up, since they don’t do any good in the closet. Hanging up old family photos, even though they might fade in the light. Drinking out of my grandmother’s teacups, even though I might break them. Eating the expensive artisan jams and caramel sauces and pickles I buy for my column instead of keeping them, prettily, in the cabinet. Rereading the post inspired me to take a look around my kitchen this weekend to see what I’m unconsciously hoarding and use it up. The stuff I came up with wasn’t necessarily anything special, it was just all stuff that would be better put to use than not: some overripe bananas I’d stashed in the freezer, a hunk of milk chocolate, a bag of hazelnuts, some red lentils, odds and ends of rice and grain mixtures, a couple of sweet potatoes, homemade stock.

I remember reading an Anne Tyler novel when I was in high school, the one with the albino-ish guy who falls in love with one of his boarders*, and there’s a point when another character muses that if someone woke her up in the middle of night and told her — quick! — to name the most important thing in the world, she would say privacy. Poor 15-year-old Stephanie read that and was genuinely concerned that she didn’t know what her most important thing in the world was, young Stephanie being a bit of a worrier. But I’ve done and growed up and I know my answer now: balance. I need to be involved in a lot of different projects at different stages. When I’ve been around other people, I need a goodly bit of time alone. I need to do work that’s challenging, but not all the time. And when I’ve been eating either an insanely decadent banana bread made with browned butter and chocolate and toasted hazelnuts or a relatively plain, vegetable-rich lentil and brown rice soup, I need plenty of the other to balance it out.

For the banana bread, I combined recipes from the Moosewood cookbook and Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess. The Moosewood one is terrific and usually my go-to, but it makes two loaves and I didn’t want that much nor to do any math, however simple (this looks like the recipe here). I do like that it has you steep the mashed bananas in some coffee, so I started there. I had to melt the butter anyway, so I figured I might as well brown it while I was at it. And I didn’t have any white sugar, so used brown. Nigella mentions that you can add some chocolate and swap out 2T of flour for cocoa if you want. That seemed like a good idea. (Her original is here, complete with the addition of raisins, the devil’s snack) I had a hunk of chocolate around that I chopped up, which I like because then some of the fine shards melt into the batter, but you still get some chunks. Chocolate chips would work though.

I’d been writing my gift guide for Serious Eats right before I started baking, so I had Granola Lab‘s Activation Energy granola, which is made with coffee and chocolate and whole hazelnuts, on my mind. The bread already had coffee and chocolate and I had some hazelnuts on hand, so that was a natural fit. The bread turned out to be utterly delicious, not too sweet, with the banana and chocolate flavors perfectly balanced. I’m not sure the browned butter added much, what with everything else going on, but it certainly didn’t hurt anything (learn how here). I did find it a little too moist to eat easily by hand, since I’d added some liquid to the mix, so I changed the amount of flour below to help out with that.

Chocolate Hazelnut Banana Bread
adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook and Nigella Lawson, with an assist from Granola Lab

4 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup cold coffee
1/2 cup unsalted butter, browned and cooled slightly
1/2 c. dark brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
3 oz milk or dark chocolate, chopped

Combine the bananas and coffee in a large mixing bowl, set aside. Preheat the oven to 325F. Butter a 9×5″ loaf pan. Add butter and sugar to the banana mixture, then add the eggs and vanilla, mixing well. Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl, the stir gently into the batter. Fold in nuts and chocolate. Scrape into the loaf pan and bake in the middle of the oven for 1 – 1 1/4 hours, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Leave the pan on a rack to cool.

The soup recipe below combines this one from Heidi Swanson and this one from the Times. It’s wholesome and delicious and makes a week’s worth of lunches for pennies. I don’t really measure anything when I put a pot of soup together, so this recipe has more of a narrative quality, than a reproducible list of ingredients and instructions, but there’s enough information there to follow along, if you’re interested.

Red Lentil Soup With Lemon, Sweet Potato and Brown Rice
Chop and onion and several cloves of garlic; soften in olive oil. Add a spoonful of cumin, two spoonsful of tomato paste (I keep a tube in my fridge: best thing ever), and a pinch of cayenne; stir for a minute. Add a finely chopped large carrot, two finely chopped sweet potatoes, a cup and a half of red lentils and a cup of mixed brown rice and any other grains. Cover with water or stock by two inches, bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until lentils, vegetables, and rice are cooked through. Salt to taste and stir in the juice of one lemon. Serve as is, or fully or partially puree for a smoother soup.


*FINE. I looked it up. It was Celestial Navigation.

Pumpkin smoothie

I’ve been wanting to try Brett Bara’s pumpkin smoothie recipe since I first saw it. I finally got all of the ingredients this week and can report that it’s delicious, creamy and sweet and the tiniest bit tart from the cider. Measuring all of the ingredients was a little fiddly, but I have a good enough sense of the proportions now to wing it going forward.


Homemade Butterfingers

Recently, I somehow found my way to this post, in which I learned that a mysterious alchemy ensues when one combines candy corn and peanut butter, yielding something similar to the crunchy peanut filling of a Butterfinger bar. I have a deep and sincere love for mysterious kitchen alchemy, especially when candy is involved. Plus, I had some peanut butter left over from making noodles over the weekend, the Rite Aid near my office has candy corn on sale for $1, and I’m midway through a very enjoyable re-listen of the audiobook of Tana French’s Faithful Place. So, last night, I took to the kitchen.

If I owned a microwave, this project would have been even more of a doddle. It was still super easy, just more time consuming than I was expecting. I don’t have a microwave, so I set a pyrex bowl over a pot of boiling water instead. I had 6.5 ounces of natural peanut butter on hand, added the same amount by weight of candy corn, and (slowly) melted them together.
Children have grown old, civilizations have risen and fallen, the candy corn have begun to melt:
When the candy was clearly all softened but hadn’t fully incorporated, I took the mixture off the heat and mashed it with a fork.
Then I dumped it on some parchment paper and spread it out until it was roughly 1/4″ thick.
I scored it and cut it into pieces while it was still warm, since I wasn’t sure how hard it was going to get when it cooled. After it came more or less to room temperature, I stuck it in the fridge.

I melted some bittersweet chocolate that I had in the fridge (maybe 2 oz.? it was a chunk roughly the size of a deck of cards.) and stirred in about a tablespoon of vegetable oil.
I dipped each piece in the chocolate, lifting them out with a fork to let as much excess run off as possible.
Early on in the dipping process, they were gorgeous!
As the chocolate level in the dipping bowl dwindled, they started looking a little … sadder.
But they ended up tasting delicious and, yes, creepily similar to your standard-issue Butterfinger, though thanks to the no-sugar peanut butter and bittersweet chocolate, definitely less sweet.
Would I make them again? For sure. It’s a super easy project and reasonably impressive, provided you don’t tell your co-workers exactly how to make them before they take their first bite. If I do holiday cookie/candy gifts this year, it would be a fun addition to the more traditional offerings. In an ideal world, I’d love to ramp up the peanut flavor some, but I think changing the proportions too much would have a negative effect on the texture. And they’re perfectly tasty as is. I probably will make the filling thicker (1/2 – 3/4″ or so) going forward and maybe use a less-dark chocolate. I love dark, dark chocolate as much as the next girl, but I don’t think it’s always the best match for peanut butter.