Friday, December 30, 2011

Jon Frankel, poet, food writer

Reposted with permission from Jon Frankel from his blog The Last Bender

We were in the city this weekend packing up the last of my mother’s stuff to bring to Ithaca. While in the city I had meant to go to Xi’an Famous Foods on 8th Street and 2nd Avenue. They have amazing hand-pulled noodles: which are served with stewed meats, especially lamb spiced with cumin, as a soup or alone. Some of the dishes are spicy, with chilies and Ma La. They also have an astringent, crunchy salad of cilantro, scallions, celery and fresh red chili dressed in sesame oil and rice vinegar, which haunts me as much as their chewy beautiful noodles. This is rib sticking soul food from western China and I pine for it frequently. Anyway, it was not to be.

On the ride up to Ithaca my oldest son (11) discussed clams, a favorite of his, and he said that what he wanted was clams, sausage, shrimp and calamari cooked in a rich tomato sauce. This is Mediterranean soul food, and we were in harmonic resonance. Monday night we unloaded the truck and I stayed home from work on Tuesday to catch up on things, which meant I had time to prepare some sort of soul food from somewhere. I decided to make a version of the Italian American Sunday dinner staple, gravy, or ragu. A ragu is cooked for hours and hours. I didn’t have hours and hours. What I had was a pound of sausage, 1 pound and a half of ground beef (both from McDonald Farm), two pounds of whole chicken legs and four thick slices of Autumn Harvest’s double smoked bacon. I started by making meatballs out of the ground beef. Normally the proportion for meatballs is 1 egg and one slice of bread (soaked in warm milk) for every pound of beef. I only had one egg, so I used 1 egg, one slice of bread, 1/3 cup finely chopped onion, 2 T of finely chopped garlic, a good pinch of salt (maybe a teaspoon) fresh ground pepper and ¼ chopped parsley, plus a shot of olive oil. I mixed it up thoroughly and rolled the balls. Then I cut up the bacon into ½ inch pieces and browned them in olive oil. Scoop out the bacon and brown the meatballs. Don’t crowd the pan, and don’t worry about doing all the sides, two hemispheres with an unbrowned tropic zone will do. While they are browning (in several batches, in the pot you are going to make the rest of the gravy in) chop about a cup of onion, and ¾ cup each of celery and carrot, and 4 or 5 cloves of garlic. Set them aside. Cut the sausage up into chunks about the size of the meatballs. Separate the chicken leg from the chicken thigh and chop the thigh in half. When the meatballs are brown, brown the sausage and then the chicken. By now the pot is full of smouldering, smoky fat and browned bits of beef, sausage and chicken skin. Pour off some of the fat, but please, leave enough for flavor! Lower the heat to medium and sauté the vegetables (add some salt and pepper to taste), scraping up from the bottom until they are soft, for a few minutes. They shouldn’t be browned. Add chopped fresh sage and some rosemary, stir to release the aroma, and then add 2-1/2 cans of whole peeled Italian plum tomatoes (our tomato plants gave up the ghost last week), crushed in your hands, about 2 cups of red wine, give or take, and a bay leaf. Stir up all the bits, add the meat (it should be covered by the sauce amply) and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat to a strong simmer and cook for at least 45 minutes. Really, it can cook longer. When the sauce is thick enough to coat pasta, the oil separates and it is sweet, it’s ready to serve. Add a ¼ cup chopped parsley, a drizzle of olive oil, a good pinch of oregano, and a splash of red wine vinegar. Check the taste. Does it need salt? More olive oil? Pepper? We may not have had any more fresh tomatoes, but we did have juicy green beans on the vine. I picked a big bowl (the last I’m afraid, tomorrow night will be in the high 20’s) and steamed them until just done. We had the gravy over whole wheat fusilli. Another family would have grated cheese over it. It was like Sunday on Tuesday and made up for the noodle deficit of the weekend. And there are a dozen variations. One of which has clams. But that will be another week.

Jon Frankel, poet

Reposted with Jon Frankel's permission from his blog The Last Bender
Lamb Shanks

I love to cook and Sunday is the one day of the week I can devote the time and energy to make a good meal without stress. Often on Monday I want to post a recipe for the Sunday meal, since cooking and food are one of my passions, and that’s what this blog is all about, the stuff I love to do that might be of interest to others.

This Sunday we ate lamb shanks with butternut squash, leaks, potatoes and barley. I make lamb shanks a few times a year. They are not terribly expensive, especially compared to veal shanks, and are delicious, with melting fat and tendons and deeply flavoured meat that retains its texture even after a 3 hour braise in the oven.

At the Ithaca farmer’s market there is a wide variety of locally raised, organic meat. Lamb does particularly well up here in our benighted tier of upstate NY. I decided on a whim to get 6 lamb shanks from the McDonald family farm, all they had left. I like to cook extra so we can eat good food with little effort during the week.

Lamb shanks are a tough cut and should be cooked for a long time at a low temperature with liquid. The lower the temperature the more tender the meat, as fat and connective tissue melt rather than toughen at lower temperatures. I cooked them at 325 because we had gone for a long walk and they wouldn’t go into the oven until 3 o’clock. Had I started earlier I would have cooked them at 300 or 275, for an hour or so longer.

Brown the shanks in an iron skillet over high heat. Don’t crowd the skillet. Be sure to season all sides generously with salt and pepper, and be sure the meat is dry. When they are good and brown on all sides transfer to a large roasting pan or Dutch oven. Lower the heat in the skillet and add 4 anchovies. When they dissolve add 2 cups of chopped onions, and 1 cup each of cubed celery and carrots, and 3-4 tablespoons of coarsely chopped garlic. Add a little salt and pepper (remember the anchovies are salty). Sautee over medium heat until soft (not browned) and add one can of whole Italian plum tomatoes, breaking the tomatoes up with your hand. Add ¼ cup fresh sage and a pinch of dried thyme, a bay leaf and half a bottle of red wine. Bring to a boil and pour over the shanks. Add enough water so that the liquid covers 2/3rds of the shanks, and seal with foil. Bake in a 325 oven for 1 hour. Turn the shanks and add diced potatoes and leeks cut into 2 inch pieces. Cover again with foil and bake another hour. Meanwhile make a small pot of barley. I used a cup I think, boiled in 3 cups water with salt until al dente. After the second hour is up remove the foil, add chunks of butternut squash, turn the shanks and add the barley. Stir the barley into the braising liquid, and cook for a 3rd hour uncovered. I served it with steamed green beans and put out rice and pasta for my kids, who wouldn’t eat the barley. Bread would go well with it too. And of course, drink the rest of the wine.

Jon Frankel

Reposted with Jon Frankel's permission from his blog The Last Bender

On a fall or winter Sunday there is nothing better than a pot of slow-cooked meat with noodles, greens and root vegetables. Yesterday I made a Chinese version with chicken. It took about two hours total and was perfect after a day of raking leaves, turning the garden beds and chopping a pile of old wood into kindling. Turning the garden beds was particularly gratifying. I have about 150 square feet of vegetable beds in front of my house with an evolving, improvised fence that manages to keep the tame deer out. I had let it go after the cucumbers and squash died. There’s a row of arugula and a few napa cabbages left but mostly it was weeds. I cleared out the old and dead plants, weeded it and turned it and then put in some organic fertilizer, peat moss and last year’s compost. The compost didn’t look like much. It had been cooking for a year though, and as I dug into it it fluffed up beautifully. This is not a great garden bed. There is an enormous white pine nearby, a weedy Norwegian maple on its north side and farther away, a black walnut whose crown is approaching the border. But I manage to eke out enough to eat from it to justify the work. I turned in the compost, fertilizer and peat moss and buried it in leaves. On the first warm day in March we’ll rake the leaves off and fertilize again, and then plant on the next warm weekend, probably after St. Patrick’s Day.

At four I was ready to quit and have a pot of green tea and read Thomas Hardy’s poems in front of the fire. But first the chicken! I chopped a 4.5 lb chicken up into pieces in this way: legs and thighs get cut into two pieces each, breasts into six pieces each (in half lengthwise and then three chops across the width). Freeze the wing tips and backs for stock. It helps to have a sharp meat cleaver. You can use bigger pieces, but this releases more flavor. The bones are important. Then chop two onions, mince 2 T of ginger and chop ¼ C. of garlic. Heat an iron pot or other heavy bottomed pot and add 3-4 T of oil (not Olive oil! Safflower is great, canola will do), then cook the onions, garlic and ginger until soft, over high heat, stir frying constantly so they don’t burn. Add the chicken pieces and cook until it changes color. Add ¼ cup of Shaoxing wine, 3 star anise, a good pinch of salt and ground black pepper, then cover with water, bring to a boil and simmer, covered, over very low heat for an hour and fifteen minutes. Then add two cups of cubed rutabaga, about ten dried shitake mushrooms with the soaking liquid and continue to cook. Put on the pasta water. Make a pound of whole wheat fettuccini. I had some napa cabbage and beet greens lying around, so I used these. Because the pot was crowded I removed the chicken (as best I could) with a slotted spoon and set it aside. I added the roughly chopped greens (any greens will do, but tougher ones need to cook longer, so plan accordingly) and after they were tender, another ¼ cup of Shaoxing wine, 2-3 T coconut vinegar (I like it vinegary, so keep tasting and adding, you can also use lime juice or other kinds of vinegar too), ¼ C fish sauce, black pepper, a small red onion sliced and chopped cilantro. Taste for salt. Serve the soup, the chicken and the noodles with chopped chilies or other hot sauce (chili oil is OK, pickled chilies, any kind of heat is good). Eat with chopsticks and watch 4 Malcolm in the Middles.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Winter's Sensory Delights

Yesterday I simmered a vat of tomato sauce all day with our garden herbs. We ate it heaped on rye crackers with freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese sprinkled on top. I made wine biscotti with cheap port and stashed them in my collection of cookie tins. They are so good with Lyons Irish breakfast tea and the flavors bloom over the week. This morning I baked the last batch of molasses, pumpkin, cashew, cranberry, raisin, oat, almond, whole wheat, sourdough holiday bread. Whew! For New Years eve I want to make tiramisu and pumpkin eggnog rum raisin ice cream and greens and beans for New Years day good luck, and one more gingerbread!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


I grew up eating this at Christmas and it is amazing.
Caponata (Incredible Sicilian Eggplant Stew)
From Jamie's Italy (Hyperion, 2006) Jamie Oliver

This is a fantastic dish from southern Italy that's eaten as a warm vegetable side dish or a cold antipasto. Sicilians are really proud that it's made with produce from their island. All the different methods of making it are more or less the same - the thing that makes it special, though, is the quality of the eggplants, tomatoes, and vinegar. Always try to get hold of nice firm eggplants with very few seeds - have a look down in your local market to see if you can find different colors. You could even ask your produce clerk to cut one open so you can check it out. Don't be tempted to cut the eggplant chunks too small or they will take on so much oil that they will become heavy. If this happens you don't get to admire the lovely creamy flavor and texture. I've eaten caponata that's been swimming in olive oil, but I much prefer mine to be less oily.

Serves 4

olive oil
2 nice large purple eggplants, cut into large chunks
1 heaping teaspoon dried oregano
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
a small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and stems finely chopped
2 tablespoons salted capers, rinsed, soaked,and drained
a handful of green olives, pits removed
2-3 tablespoons best-quality herb vinegar
5 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
optional: 2 tablespoons slivered almonds, lightly toasted

Get yourself a large pan, pour in a couple of glugs of olive oil, and place on the heat. Add your eggplant chunks and oregano, season with a little salt, and toss around so the eggplant is evenly coated by the oil. Cook on a high heat for around 4 or 5 minutes, giving the pan a shake every now and then. (Depending on the size of your pan you may need to cook the eggplant in batches.)

When the eggplants are nice and golden on each side, add the onion, garlic, and parsley stems and continue cooking for another couple of minutes. Feel free to add a little more oil to the pan if you feel it's getting too dry.

Throw in the drained capers and the olives and drizzle over the herb vinegar. When all the vinegar has evaporated, add the tomatoes and simmer for around 15 minutes or until tender.

Taste before serving and season if you need to with salt, pepper, and a little more vinegar. Drizzle with some good olive oil and serve sprinkled with the chopped parsley leaves and the almonds if you like.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Boxing Day

Lily has a brand-new red coat she got for Christmas. She is wearing it because it's so nice and cold in the house! At bedtime I'll slip between the covers wearing my big black furry Russian hat and thick wool oatmeal socks and striped Indian pajamas until the electric blanket kicks in.

For supper we sipped hot cabbage, ham, and bean soup and for dessert we ate chocolate mints with our hot black coffee. After the meal we stared at our flickering votive candles on the table. I love the bloody magical martyrs and saints. I grew up with Freud and Jung, but wrinkly old men smoking cigars are not as much fun as colorful saints.

Boxing Day Soup

Making a cabbage, carrot, yam, ham, garbanzo bean Boxing Day soup. I really love vegetables more than life itself! Lily is happy and exhausted from having been in the center of the universe.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Winter Holiday Loaves

I've mixed up a whole wheat sourdough bread batter and thown in dried cranberries, Job Lot's bargain cashew pieces, pumpkin puree, dark molasses, rolled oats, and kosher salt. The dough looks great. It will probably need 30 hours of slow cold rising before it is baked.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Jamie Sullivan at Shaw's Meats

Jamie Sullivan's home-made sausages from Shaw's Meats on North Main Street in Woonsocket are so good you'll want them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Each week Jamie makes a few varieties but they sell out fast. I recommend them all! A simple supper of toasted sourdough bread slathered with mustard with a grilled Sullivan sausage is divine.

Green Tea, Black Tea, White Tea, and Black Coffee

Lately I've been wanting my tea or coffee with nothing in it!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

James Beard

In the beginning there was James Beard . . .
-Nora Ephron.

Designing hors d’oeuvres is not different from designing sets and costumes . . . Food is very much theater.
-James Beard

We’re Americans and can do as we please.
-James Beard

When I walk into a market I may see a different cut of meat or an unusual vegetable and think, ‘I wonder how it would be if I took the recipe for that sauce I had in Provence and put the two together?’ So I go home and try it out. Sometimes my idea is a success and sometimes it is a flop, but that is how recipes are born. There really are not recipes, only millions of variations sparked by someone’s imagination and desire to be a little creative and different. American cooking is built, after all, on variations of old recipes from around the world.
-James Beard

A cookbook should reflect the personality of the author along with his or her kitchen technique. Some cookbooks are put together like paper dolls. There is no feeling of humanness in them. I write about things I like and the way I like them.
-James Beard

Hands are our earliest tools. Cooking starts with the hands which are so sensitive that when they touch something they transmit messages to your brain about texture and temperature.
-James Beard

Freshness in vegetables is more important than anything else.
-James Beard

Monday, December 19, 2011

Loving Leftovers

I am eating my beans and greens soup with yesterday's cornbread warmed. I'm enjoying hot green tea, inspired by the trip to New England Bonsai.

Wake Up!

Bill's alarm went off at 4:30 and Lily jumped on me! We woke to the smell of the breads I had baked before going to bed. I don't always get up with Bill and Lily but this morning I got up and went out in to the yard with Lily. I spotted the waning crescent moon overhead tilting on its back, and the three stars of Orion's belt were directly overhead.

I am trying to catch up with my zooming days. I am dreaming of taking my friends from Puerto Rico to Jamie's butcher shop, Fernandes' produce market, and the River Island Park ice skating rink.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Soup's On

This morning it was 20 degrees when I got up. I heard the downstairs office radiators clanking. It has to get very cold for the heat to come on by itself. We keep the thermostat at 50 all winter. We are used to being wrapped up head to toe, wearing hats, scarves, layers of colorful vests, thick wool socks, blankets and robes, looking like we live in outer Mongolia.

I decided I was ready to make a pot of oatmeal in my baby cast iron pot. I boiled the salted water and added the oats with a handful of raisins - they plump up! The oats practically cook themselves in this sturdy iron pan. I added milk and a sprinkle of salt and ate it for breakfast. I noticed when scooping out the oats from the 50 pound bag that it's almost empty. It's been occupying major real estate in our chest freezer for 11 years. I spotted a frozen gallon-container labeled Lamb Stock Feb 3, 2011. So I defrosted it and am now simmering it with a pound of freshly chopped collard greens, a pound of cooked black beans, a pound of cooked garbanzo beans, and yesterday's (burnt) jasmine basmati brown rice. I baked a big double batch of yellow cornbread in my square cast iron skillet. Bill had it for breakfast with his tea.

I am fantasizing about buying one of the small spiral-cut hams on sale at the supermarket today. Perhaps Bill and I will walk Lily over to the store and I will run in. They're only 12 dollars. I tell my friends, we use meat as a spice! A little bit of sliced ham sprinkled in my simmering soup would be just the right thing to spruce it up.

Today is our last chance to get apples this season from our favorite orchard, the Big Apple orchard in Wrentham. While we're on the road, we'll also stop by the New England Bonsai nursery before it closes for January.

A sweet Sunday.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Breakfast Corn Tortillas

I get cravings for corn! I just made corn tortillas for breakfast. They are so simple and so fast. I buy instant masa, at Stop and Shop, and keep it in the fridge for times like this. I scoop out a cup, add 3/4 cup of water, and sprinkle it with kosher salt. I form the dough into golf ball sized blobs, roll them out between 2 pieces of waxed paper or cellophane, gently scoop them with a spatula and cook them on a hot dry cast iron pan for a few minutes on each side. Butter and enjoy!

Sasha Kaplan


Friday, December 16, 2011

Local Adventure

Yesterday my pal Teddi, who runs New England Bonsai, took me on an adventure. We set out to get mat board from the lovely folks at Woodshed Gallery in Franklin. We took a detour to visit the Trappist Nuns who have their own windmill for generating electricity, and who make their own chocolate. There's a little shop on the premises filled with books and chocolate. Then we drove over to the Woodshed Gallery and admired the paintings and hand-painted silk scarves, and picked up the mat board. On the way home we stopped and had a peek into the Shire Bookshop in Franklin to browse and say howdy to Teddi's pals Jean and Jack. The whole bookshop was divinely aromatic. Jean was baking cinnamon buns in the kitchen in back. Bookstores coincidentally always make me hungry. Jean fed us warm cinnamon buns painted with Nutella, and we drank piping hot Earl Grey tea. There was even a well-loved upright piano right in the middle of the room overflowing with sheet music, ready to be played. They had a collection of big black cast-iron book presses scattered about and kitchen implements in amongst the books. I felt like I was in Heaven. This environment couldn't have been closer to my heart. I recommend a visit to all of these great spots.
Shire Bookshop
Trappist Candy
Woodshed Gallery
New England Bonsai

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Texas Pecan-Filled Fruitcake

My parents sent me a surprise - a Texas pecan-filled fruitcake from Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas. We've had a bite of Texas and it is mighty delicious! It is so amazingly good that it is nearly all gone after two days, eaten by just the two of us. It comes in a fun red tin that I will keep and refill with our home made wine biscotti.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Beef Stew Improvisation

Last night I came in the door with 2 lbs of gorgeous stew beef from Jamie Sullivan's butcher shop. I threw it in my pressure cooker and added a can of pureed tomatoes, an equal amount of water (to rinse the can), olive oil, Adobo seasoning, coarsely chopped carrots, 2 onions, 4 ribs of celery, a dash of Southern Comfort, smoky hot chipotle sauce, a few bay leaves, 2 star anise pods, salt, and a bloop of dark molasses. This was my improvisation, my animal-hunger-frenzy-in-winter-joy, dictated by memories of past stews and influenced by the full moon.

I made a pot of millet in my little cast iron pot and dinner was ready in 25 minutes just as Bill arrived home from work. The stew was unbelievable. We both ate second helpings and then leftovers as 'dessert' before bed. We slept well.

This stew can be cooked slowly all day in a 250 degree oven in a heavy iron pot with fitted lid, which is a favorite method when I am at home, or you can safely simmer it at 225 in an electric crock pot while you are out for the day.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Shaving Mug

I just found out my favorite porcelain mug was originally a shaving mug! This is exceptionally funny since my husband looks like Santa Clause --no shaving going on here.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Smoked Turkey

We cooked a 21 pound turkey on the Weber grill over 2 banked mounds of smoldering hardwood charcoal. We threw in a few hickory pieces that we had soaked in water, to add even more flavor. We basted the turkey in a solution of molasses, Vietnamese hot sauce, soy sauce, Armand's fresh oregano and rosemary, and an illegal amount of freshly chopped garlic. The turkey took three and a half hours to cook. It was so delicious because the flavors permeated the whole bird. We made sandwiches on whole wheat sourdough with sliced pepperoncini and mayo and mustard. We made a stock from the carcass that retained all of the smoky flavors. For the soup, I added 2 heads of collard greens chopped up and a pound of cooked chick peas. It was a magnificent soup.

Mint Mocha

Lately I've been having hot cocoa spiked with 2 ounces of black coffee. A perfect winter treat. I discovered backyard spearmint growing in the woodpile! I brew it and add a few ounces to the mocha mixture. Delightful!