Eat Me. Drink Me.

Why We Eat. Why We Drink. Why We Write.

Tag: recipe

Living Well on Yoga Stretches and a $5 Bill

by lyzpfister

“Well,” I said, “I can sit and watch you eat.”

He looked at me as if to say, Really, Lyz?  Don’t be dumb.

So I said, “Or… we can make pasta?”

And that’s how we ended up taking the train back to Bushwick, stopping at Associated to pick up spinach and beer, and carting our yoga’d out bodies into my apartment, where the temperature was miraculously above 50 degrees.

I’d been thinking about this pasta all day.  I’d had a sweet potato for lunch and wanted to do something more interesting with it than just heat it up with butter and brown sugar.  So I posted my dilemma on twitter, and just moments later received a lovely suggestion to make ravioli.  I had a pasta roller I hadn’t used yet and a self-imposed rule to spend no more than $5 on food and now, a friend with which to eat: oh yes, the stars had aligned.

Sweet Potato and Spinach Ravioli

For pasta:
2 cups flour
3 eggs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp olive oil

For filling:
1 yellow onion
1 large clove garlic
1 bunch of spinach
½ roasted sweet potato
¾ cups ricotta cheese
fresh grated nutmeg to taste
salt and pepper to taste

On a clean, dry surface, make a volcano-like mound of flour.  In the crater, crack three eggs; add salt and olive oil.  With a fork, scramble the eggs and blend with the flour.  If the dough is dry, add a few drops of water until you find yourself kneading a smooth, elastic ball of dough.  (Conversely, if the dough is too sticky, add more flour.)  Knead the dough for about ten minutes.  Let the dough rest while you prepare your filling.

Finely chop onion and garlic and sauté in a healthy amount of olive oil until the onions are translucent.  Add washed spinach.  When the spinach is completely tender, scrape the mixture into a food processor and blend until smooth; add sweet potato and ricotta and puree again.  Season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

With a pasta machine, rip off chunks of dough and feed it through the machine, starting at the largest setting and folding the dough in half before dropping the setting each run-through.

If you don’t have a pasta machine, you’ll need to roll out your pasta dough by hand.  Separate the dough into four equal pieces.  Lightly flour a large, clean surface and roll out the dough in a circular pattern with a rolling pin.  The finished dough should be extremely thin – you should be able to see your hand through it.

To make the ravioli, cut the pasta strips into squares and drop about a teaspoonful of filling in the center.  Brush the edges of the pasta with a beaten egg and then tightly squeeze the edges shut.  Boil the ravioli in salted water for four minutes, or until done.  Fresh pasta cooks much faster than dried pasta, so make sure to keep an eye on it.  A watched pot might never boil, but unwatched pasta turns to mush.

This ravioli is deliciously sweet and savory, and pairs well with most tomato or white sauces.  Either way, the sauce should be simple, because there’s so much flavor in the ravioli themselves.  I made a basic white sauce deepened with tomato paste: Melt two tablespoons butter in a skillet on low heat; when the butter is melted, add a little bit of milk, making sure not to scald it.  Add a few tablespoons of flour and whisk constantly.  Add a teaspoon of tomato paste and a healthy pinch each of salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  Continue to whisk, slowly adding milk until the sauce reaches a silky consistency.  Finish ravioli with sauce and freshly grated parmesan.

Even the Novelists Must Eat

by lyzpfister

I may have mentioned that I’m writing a novel.  I thought I’d challenge myself and participate in the November national write a novel in a month thing.  It’s painstaking.  So far I have seventeen pages of what will undoubtedly be the next great American novel, and each paragraph is a tortuous crawl towards some enlightened end – that has as of yet not been revealed to me.  I decided today that someone’s going to die, definitely.  But maybe not until, like, page ninety.  Which means I only have seventy more pages to fill with something that resembles plot.  Even a goal of three pages a day is killing me.  (And, do the math,  seventeen pages on November 9th equals clearly failing.)

When I write, I writhe.  I sit in my desk chair with my sweatshirt hood pulled over my head and moan.  I write a sentence, I delete it, I change the POV ten times, I do a series of gymnastic exercises in an effort to find a position in which I can write something I actually like.  After every paragraph, I mumble, “Novels are haaaaaard,” and slump further in my chair before I can start another sentence.

I had to laugh today at the grocery store as I bought lunch for myself:  two $1 frozen Celeste personal cheese pizza and a cherry Pepsi.  I was still wearing my yoga pants, hoodie with the hood up, puff vest, and moccasins.  I looked like a total dirty bum, and definitely not like the person who was writing what would (undoubtedly) be the next great American novel.

So I wrote and writhed and ate pizza and finished up seven (!) whole pages.  When I was done, when I’d picked the person who was going to die and felt like there might be a story, I realized I was hungry.  I almost warmed up the second Celeste pizza for dinner – and then I remembered those clunky nubs of sunchokes from the farmer’s market and the parsley, the bacon, the greens, and felt, in good conscience that I couldn’t put a frozen pizza in the microwave two times in one day.  And, as the next great American author (undoubtedly), I had to atone for the poor PR generated at the grocery store earlier in the day.  No seriously, I watched the guy in line behind me judge.

Anyway, I am just so excited about this food.  It’s fresh and easy, and I love how green it is for November.  This is my first time eating sunchokes and I love the center’s nutty, creamy taste complimented by the crunch of the outer edges.  I know it looks a lot like my last meal, but it tastes so remarkably different: smooth and warm and gentle with whipping cream and fried eggs instead of vinegar’s tang.  And it’s so beautiful to look at.  I think I make a better cook than novelist.

And on that note, I’m going to wash the dishes before my roommates come home and kill me and my novel is never finished.

Market Dinner for One
Sunchokes in Cream and Greens with Cheese and Egg:
Fry three slices of bacon; when almost crisp, set aside.  Reserve bacon drippings in skillet.  Scrub and wash a handful of Sunchokes (also known as Jerusalem artichokes), then slice them thinly.  In the meantime, heat bacon drippings with a splash of olive oil.  When warm add chopped shallot and two chopped garden onions or half of a yellow onion; sauté until translucent.  Add sliced sunchokes and sauté until tender, about seven minutes.  Add a splash of heavy whipping cream and chicken stock, salt and pepper to taste, and ½ tablespoon butter and turn heat to low for another five minutes until sauce reduces.  In another skillet, melt ½ tablespoon butter.  Add washed and coarsely chopped greens and chopped bacon.  Sauté for two minutes until limp; move to plate and cover.  Fry an over-easy egg, making sure to leave the yolk runny.  Flip the egg on the greens and top with crumbled goat cheese.  Add sunchokes to plate and garnish with chopped parsley.

Comfort Food and Pumpkin Things

by lyzpfister

I haven’t written about comfort food in a while.  Although this is probably entirely untrue, since I was once accused of describing all foods as comfort foods, after which point I decided that food, for me, is comfort.

I wasn’t even going to make dinner tonight and just settle for the baguette with brie and a cappuccino that I snacked on a while ago while writing an article.  But I got some bad news today, and bad news always makes me crave tomatoes.  And, oh, the news is so tedious and repetitive (let’s just say it involves creepy crawlies…) that I don’t want to talk about it.  But I do want to talk about this brilliant little tomato and pumpkin pasta.

We’ve been having a lot of fun with pumpkins here on Starr St.  I bought a misshapen monstrosity at the grocery store the other night and scooped out all the flesh and Anette carved a very Matisse-esque design in the shell which lasted one whole candle-lit evening before the morning evinced a crumpled pumpkin looking like nothing so much as the old woman without teeth who sits on the stoop down the street.  I made a pumpkin curry and pumpkin pie and roasted pumpkin seeds, and I still have enough pumpkin to last through the winter.  One pumpkin is a lot of pumpkin.

So tonight, I made a pasta sauce with pumpkin, whole peeled tomatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, oregano, basil, salt, and pepper.  Served over angel hair pasta and topped with chunks of black peppercorn-encrusted creamy parmesan cheese.

Things are looking up already.

Frühstück and Vespern

by lyzpfister

My verbal skills are now thoroughly mangled.  I’m thinking in three languages, navigating through two cultures, and working my way through something like six time zones.  So I’m confused, mostly.  All I can say for certain is that my family is keeping me regularly caffeinated and fed (and caffeinated) and that they forgive me for whatever errors my German may contain.

Since joining up with them in the rural south of Germany, I’ve been playing a fun game called, “Can I Say This in Schwäbisch,” in which I say a sentence out loud and then in my head try to sound it out in the garbled southern dialect (the aforementioned third language) my family speaks.  Say: Meine Sprache ist ganz durch einander.  Think: Moi Sprach ist hey. The result is that I speak a very strange German:  either correct, crisp high-German pronunciation with a rolling Southern inflection or the reverse – as if an inhabitant from the Pacific northwest were to cleanly articulate the sentence, “That ain’t nohow the way to go ‘bout it.”

As I speak and eat my way through the week, I’m working out a theory that culturally, the difference between Americans and Germans is a principle of curves and edges.  Lets assume that we evolve angularly against our environments in order to navigate them, that in the yin-yang of the universe, there must always be a balance between curves and lines.  In this sense, the Americans are outwardly round and inwardly straight and the Germans are outwardly straight and inwardly round.

Pretend I’m not totally jet-lagged and work with me.  American culture is loud and big and comfortable.  Americans are easy to get to know, are chatty and open.  Advertising is seductive and billboards are filled with colors, scripted font, pictures, and sequins.  Yet Americans themselves are inwardly direct and goal-oriented, good at general friendships but wary of vulnerability, in relationships less earnest than flippant.  Germans, on the other hand, must navigate a squarely-cut culture, where you absolutely must wait for the light to turn green before you cross the street even when there are no cars, where you must separate trash, where this is done and that is done, where signs are two-toned, two-dimensional, and direct.  It is not easy to even get to know a German, but once you’ve entered into a pact of friendship, there is what I can only describe as … roundness.

Of course there are exceptions.  And as a disclaimer, I’d like to say that this is not a studied, anthropologically measured dissertation, but rather the way I feel, as a German American, navigating my way between these two cultures.  It’s the cultural equivalent of synesthesia, where if I close my eyes, I see the color yellow and think of the number five.

As if in mimesis of my theory of roundness, Germans bookend their days with Frühstück and Vespern – breakfast and “dinner.”  I say “dinner,” because Vespern isn’t actually dinner, it’s a light evening meal of cold cuts, cheese, bread, and whatever happens to be in the house that doesn’t need to be cooked.  I just finished a Frühstück with my aunt in which, for two people, we laid out rolls, soft pretzels, butter, three types of cheese, lax, apple-onion spread, nutella, marmalade, honey, jelly, cereal, banana juice, mineral water, and coffee.  Not that we ate all of it or even had a little of everything, just that if, in case we wanted it, it was there.

And the other night, at another aunt and uncle’s house, we finished afternoon coffee and chatted until it was almost dark and then my uncle said, “I’ll just go ahead and make a Fleischtsalat.”  (Meat salad is probably a bad translation… you’ll just have to look at the recipe at the end of the blog.)  And instead of just a Fleischsalat, there was a plate of cold cuts and salami, a loaf of whole grain bread, olives, pepperoncinis, spreadable cheese, and cold bottles of hefeweizen.

What vespern and Frühstück have to do with my theory of roundness is that if you have already made it inside a German’s house, of course everything will be laid out for you.

I don’t want to confuse roundness with generosity.  The symbolism I see in these two meals isn’t about emphatic giving, although that certainly is a part.  The roundness comes rather from the time spent gathering everything together and the time spent eating and talking.  Every meal is somehow languid.

Now it’s noon; Frühstück is still on the table and I’m eyeing a pretzel, the butter, some lax.  I’ve spent the morning drinking espresso and writing – my favorite kind of morning – and thinking about how to reconcile the best of both my cultures within myself.  The edges are important too – lists and goals and drive – and I am American, after all.  But my meals, at least, I want them round.

Friedel’s Fleischsalat

Thinly slice into strips: cold cuts of Lyoner or leberkäse, emmenthaler, red pepper, yellow onion, and pickles or cornichons.  Douse with vinegar, vegetable oil, and a little water until contents are coated.  Season to taste (aka liberally) with pepper, salt, salad seasoning (a mix of herbs and dried veggies ground into a powder), and Maggi (a seasoning sauce).



by lyzpfister

Finally, a beginning.

Last night, I was talking with my roommate about the bedbugs.  It’s still almost shameful to say, even though they are an epidemic in New York – apparently the whole country.  The people I tell, I laugh and say, Oh, it’s fine, I’m just spending a fortune in laundry.  But the bedbugs have brought out the worst in us.  They have robbed us of our time and stolen our sanity.  We bicker over little things and act selfishly because we can’t think otherwise.  But mostly, we haven’t made our new apartment home.  And somehow, it’s worse to expresses these fears than to suffer them in silence.  But now you know.

We were in the kitchen, and I don’t remember why, but I wanted to know the secrets of making rice.  My attempts always leave a thin burned layer of grains stuck to the bottom of the pot.  I think of them as sacrificial grains.

Eulas started telling me his method for cooking rice – water to just cover the rice, cooked to boiling, heat turned low and covered while the steam works.  Then Sarah – I’ve perfected my rice recipe.  You need lots of time, at least 45 minutes.  We debated rice cooking methods, discussed the merit of steam, water to rice ratios, pot types, rice types, and lids for half an hour.  As the last few words were said, we began to separate; silence pushing us back to our rooms.  We could make rice now, Sarah said.  I’ll make beans, Eulas said, and with relief we drew together again in the kitchen.

We cooked and talked – about something, I don’t even remember – as the music of cars and neighborhood children clashed outside our window.  The redolent smell of cumin and pepper and the kitchen’s warm lights.

We ate rice and chickpeas at the table that still only has two chairs – I brought out the desk chair from my room.  Then we thanked each other and went to bed, since it was already eleven o’clock.

Reclaim the space, I keep saying.  Make it home, and they will go away.  (Also, spray a lot of poison and they will go away.)  I didn’t sleep much last night, waking up with phantom itches and fears, but my kitchen is christened.  And the bedbugs, they too shall pass.

Sarah’s Rice
1 cup brown rice
2 1/3 cups water
¼ bouillon cube

Place rice and water in a small pot and bring to a boil.  When water boils, turn heat as low as it will go and cover with a lid.  Cook 45 minutes or until grains are tender.

Eulas’ Chickpeas
1 can garbanzo beans
½ red pepper
handful cilantro sprigs
½ yellow onion
1 garlic clove
¼ + cups water
black pepper
cayenne pepper
white pepper

Simmer everything together in a covered skillet over medium heat until tender and water is evaporated.  You may use a plate to cover your skillet if you don’t have a lid.

Serve chickpeas over rice.

Summer Lunch

by lyzpfister

Partly because it’s unbearably hot everywhere in New York and partly because I’ve been ridiculously busy, I haven’t really been cooking much, writing much, or even eating much.  I’ve made pilgrimages to my favorites, Roberta’s and the Tortilleria, tried out new places like Taïm for falafels and the Shake Shack (more on that lovely experience later) for burgers and concretes, but for the most part, I’m living on ice pops, toast, and cold beer.

But since it’s only 88 today in Brooklyn and because I want to celebrate the lease I just signed, I decided to make a sandwich.  A sandwich is very rarely inappropriate.  There are sandwiches bursting with lettuce and avocados for summer or fresh paninis with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil.  For winter, there are concoctions of melted cheese and sweet onions.  Olives, feta, roast beef, eggplant, actually anything can find a home between two slices of bread.  Bread like a blanket.  Bread like your mother’s arms or puppies or unexpected gifts.  Bread the panacea.

I find a nub of cabbage in the fridge.  I think it’s over a month old, but with the outer layer cut off, it’s still crisp and fresh inside.  Cabbage, hardworking and versatile, resilient, maligned as famine food, but good in times of plenty, also.  I dress it with tahini, peanut butter, soy sauce, and lime, drape it over two slices of toast and top with slivers of chicken breast.  I wish I had better bread, but a sandwich is still good on Arnold’s whole wheat pre-sliced loaf, especially when the dressing is nutty, sweet, spicy, salty, and when there is cabbage to promise that under summer’s lethargy and sweat is something fresh and full of potential waiting to be revealed.

Summer Lunch Sandwich
1 nub of green cabbage, slivered
½ carrot, ribboned
1 green onion, diced
generous splash of rice wine vinegar
1 tsp tahini
1 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
½ tsp soy sauce
¼ tsp sriracha
juice of ½ lime
1 small clove garlic
freshly ground black pepper
½ chicken breast
1 tsp safflower oil
dash of sesame seeds

Toss cabbage, carrots, and green onions together and douse with a generous splash of rice wine vinegar.  For the dressing, mix tahini, peanut butter, soy sauce, lime, sriracha, garlic, salt, and pepper until smooth.  Blend into cabbage.  Toast two slices of bread.  Thinly slice chicken breast and sauté in safflower oil until golden.  Assemble sandwich: bread, slaw, chicken, sesame seeds, bread.

Buttermilk in Your Eye is Not Pleasant, but Buttermilk Cookies Are Awesome

by lyzpfister

Josh, you have inspired me to bake.  Well, Josh, it’s a toss-up between you and the barely used carton of buttermilk in the fridge.  (Remember those deep-fried eggs?…)  I feel like buttermilk often has this effect on people.

This project was miraculous for two reasons.  One:  I don’t bake.  And two:  I did my dirty dishes right after cooking.  As for the first reason, I simply find that my temperament is not suited to baking.  Baking is too mathematical, precise, and often unforgiving.  I don’t even own a set of measuring spoons.  And I cook very much by trial and error.  And I am extremely bad at reading recipes.  As for the second, that is probably truly the miracle.

My friend Brittany (or rather, Brittany’s mom) used to make these buttermilk cookies around Christmas time (I think – it was back in high school), and they were the best cookies ever.  I finally asked for the recipe when we were about to graduate, then managed to make them – never.  Lucky for me and the buttermilk in the fridge, I had just been looking through my recipe collection and had just those cookies in the back of my mind.

As with the measuring spoons, I don’t own a handheld mixer.  So I creamed butter, eggs, and sugar by hand.  Josh, here you were again inspiring.

I discovered, after I got this far, that I didn’t have any flour.  So, leaving my pre-pubescent dough on the counter, I threw on a coat and some boots over my pajamas and ran to Bravo to pick up supplies so I could finish baking.

Back to work with flour and buttermilk, at which point the dough began to take on a sour twang that cut nicely through the sugar.  I slipped little teaspoons of dough onto my baking stone and let the oven work its magic.

Meanwhile, I tried to decipher the icing instructions, which called for a box of 10x sugar (if this is a sugar brand, it is beyond me to know it) and an unspecified amount of an unspecified milk.  So I made up an icing recipe.  Which I think was a success.

When the cookies, like little muffin tops, came out of the oven, I drizzled them with my cream cheese and buttermilk icing and ate them hot.

Buttermilk Cookies

For the cookies:
1 cup sugar
2 sticks butter
3 eggs
3 ½ cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
1 cup buttermilk

Cream sugar, butter, and eggs, then add flour baking soda and baking powder.  Mix well.  Slowly add buttermilk.  Drop by teaspoonful and bake at 350 for 10 minutes.

For the icing:
Keep in mind that I kind of made this up – so feel free to mess around with proportions.
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
1 stick butter
3 oz. cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup buttermilk

Mix all ingredients except buttermilk until smooth.  Add buttermilk until icing reaches desired consistency.

The Man for Me (a post by Lyz)

by lyzpfister

“An ox tongue in brine […] or a bucket of cabbage salting in the corner of your kitchen, what could be more reassuring?” says Fergus Henderson, author of The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating.  My new culinary grail is a celebration of all those animal bits that are so often overlooked in the western kitchen like tripe, ears, feet, tongue, and brains.  Seeing as unusual cuts of meat have been on my mind lately and since they are so conveniently sold at my local grocery store (and my new best friend the butcher’s place), this book came along at a time in my life when there were too many trotters and not enough recipes for them.

I never read recipes.  This has gotten me into a lot of trouble on occasion.  For instance, when halfway through making dinner, I get to the part of the recipe that says, “chill overnight.”  Or when I’m canning zucchini and see the words “mix” and “rest for ten hours,” I assume, foolishly, that the recipe means mix all the ingredients and not just the zucchini and salt, at which point I must cancel dinner with my friends to make zucchini relish out of a bowl of sloppy zucchini mess.  Even when I read through my food magazines, I read the headnotes to recipes but leave the recipe to skim only if I end up cooking the dish.  Reading recipes seems so boring.

But not with Fergus.

With Fergus, each recipe is lovingly related, as if we were old friends cooking side by side in a small, stone kitchen somewhere in the English countryside.  For example, in his recipe for Saddle of Rabbit, he writes:  “Serve the rolls with a salad that captures the spirit of the garden, made up from, for example, scallions, baby carrots, radishes, peas, fava beans (if in season), rocket (arugula), and chopped parsley (and a subliminal caper if you feel so inclined—I do!).  dress with Vinaigrette and eat with the succulent rabbit.”

This excerpt also happens to capture the other thing I love about Fergus, namely the lack of prescription in his recipes.  For Fergus, there are no absolutes.  Cooking is about taste and feeling and improvisation.  In a recipe for Salt Cod, Potato, and Tomato, he asks you to cook potatoes, tomatoes, and garlic until they’re “ready.”  Or in this recipe for Stake, Capers, and Bread: “Add the lemon juice, allow it to sizzle and turn brown, and add the capers.  At the last minute add the parsley and straightaway pour over the fish.”  There’s something refreshing about a recipe that doesn’t rely on minutes, but on the senses.  And learning to rely on yourself rather than a “rule” in a book is what turns a competent cook into an intuitive one.

My first foray into The Whole Beast was a recipe for Boiled Belly and Lentils, whose headnote reads: “This dish celebrates the not quite meat, not quite fat, quality of pork belly.  There’s nothing like a pork belly to steady the nerves.”  The recipe calls for brining a slab of pork belly for ten days, then cooking it slowly over low heat in a broth of vegetables and pepper and serving it with garlickly lentils.

Ten days is a long time to prepare for a dish.  It’s a long time to be unsure about whether or not you’ve brined something correctly – whether the piece of pork belly you got from your local butcher (the store is called “Meats” with Bushwick’s usual candor) is even good – and whether it’s going to matter that you couldn’t find juniper berries and caster sugar.  (The story with the caster sugar:  In the ingredients list, Fergus calls for “2 cups superfine (caster) sugar (many suggest brown sugar, but not me),” so I figured that the mere mention of the possibility of using brown sugar was really his backhanded way of saying, “If you must, you can use brown sugar,” which I proceeded to do.)

For ten days, as I prepared other dinners, I had my brining pork belly in my mind.  Every time I opened the fridge, I wondered what magic was happening in that lidded Tupperware.  And on the tenth day, I rinsed the residual salt from my brined belly and put it in a pot to cook.  A beatific moment to be sure.

Nothing was quite so nice as to slice up chunks of pork belly, the salty, rich meat complimented by fat so tender it absolutely melted in my mouth.  Of my own volition, I would never have eaten the fat, but Fergus, dear Fergus said, “Encourage your dining companions to eat the fat and all.”  And I thank him for that, because I would have missed a most amazing thing.  Pork belly fat doesn’t taste like other fat, which can be chewy and leave a behind terrible residue.  Brined pork belly fat, especially with a spoonful of staid lentils, is soft and flavorful and wonderful to eat.

Even after cutting the recipe in half, I still had belly and lentils for a few days afterward, but it’s just one of those things that keeps getting better with time.  I guess, when food sits in brine for ten days, it learns patience.  It learns to not reveal its secrets too soon, to wait until its “ready.”

What’s next for me and Fergus?  Bone marrow?  Blood cakes?  I don’t know what it will be, but I think I’ll know when the time is right.

Boiled Belly and Lentils (adapted from The Whole Beast)
Serves 2 (with lentils left over for days)
Fergus has this to say about pork belly:  “Pork belly is a wonderful thing.  It’s onomatopoeic, belly is like it sounds – reassuring, steadying, and splendid to cook due to its fatty nature.  It’s not a cut of meat to rush; with that, a certain calm is imbued in the belly.”  I’m not sure how verbatim I can copy this recipe, but I’ll try to leave as much Fergus in there as I can.  Quantities are adjusted to the amounts I used and I’ve mentioned some of my techniques.  But I think Fergus would be ok with a little improvisation.

The Brine
1 cup brown sugar
1 ¼ cups coarse sea salt
8 cloves
8 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 quarts of water (enough to cover the belly)

The Boiled Belly
2 lb piece of pork belly with skin and bones
1 carrot, peeled
1 onion, peeled and stuck with 8 cloves
1 leek, cleaned
1 stalk celery
1 head garlic, skin on
dried thyme and rosemary
black peppercorns

The Lentils
Extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped into thin slices
1 leek, cleaned and chopped into thin slices
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 pound lentils
bundle of thyme and parsley
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
handful of chopped curly parsley

Combine all the brine ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil so the sugar and salt melt.  Decant into your brining pot (made of a non-corrodible material – I used a large Tupperware container with a lid, Fergus recommends a bucket) and cool.  When cold, add meat and leave it in the fridge for “a nice 10 days.”

Remove and rinse your meat.  Place the pork belly and all other ingredients in a pan and cover with water.  Bring to a boil, skim (if any fat rises to the surface), reduce to a gentle simmer with the water barely moving, and cook for three and a half hours, “until the flesh is soft and giving, but not collapsing.”

While your belly is cooking, start on the lentils.  Cover the bottom of a large pan with olive oil and sweat the chopped vegetables.  When they have just started to soften, but not color, add the lentils and stir for a few minutes to coat.  Cover with water and “nestle in the thyme and parsley bundle.”  Reduce the heat to low and stir infrequently.  “You want the lentils soft but not squidgy, so that they have reserved their lentil integrity, but are not still individual hard nuts.”  The cook time should be about forty minutes – add more water if they start to dry out but are not done.

“Now season, which, particularly with lentils, is a very exciting moment.  It is amazing what simple salt and pepper do to the flavor of lentils – they make lentils of them.”  Stir in chopped parsley and a splash of olive oil just before serving, which will “give a shine to your lentils, as they can veer to the dull side.”

Remove the pork belly from the water, slice, and serve with lentils.  “Encourage your dining companions to eat the fat and all.  With the rich and fatty belly you want quite dour lentils.”

Something From Nothing (a post by Lyz)

by lyzpfister

I wish there was a tiny chorus of approving gourmands that lived over my left shoulder and gave me a round of applause and a miniature pat on the back from each of their sprinkle-sized hands every time I verged on the brink of culinary genius.  Like when, after two months of mediocre results, I finally manage to make perfect foam with my espresso machine for four days in a row (right now!  I’m drinking perfect foam!  Isn’t it exciting?).  Or when, on the spur of the moment, I add a layer of strawberry jam between two layers of ordinary yellow cake with vanilla frosting.  Or when, coming home after a long day of work, I despondently shrug my shoulders at the mismatched food in my pantry, only to throw the mess together into something delicious half an hour later.

But there are no invisible gourmands.  It’s just me and my mouth and occasionally my roommates, who I make eat bites of my food as they walk past on their ways to something probably very interesting.

Can I clap for myself?

Luckily, I have a partner in crime – the other half to my half-full pantry – and together, we are very good at making something out of nothing.  The other day, we were sitting around, kvetching, drinking green tea with ginger and honey, and realized that it was dark (no hard feat in winter Brooklyn) and we were hungry.  This is kind of how the conversation went:

Me: “I’m hungry.”
Her: “Let’s make food.”
Me: “I don’t have anything.”
Her: “Me either.”
Me: “I have potatoes and blue cheese.”
Her: “I have lettuce.”
Me: “Ok, we’ll figure it out.”

The result being that we scrounged up a salad with peppery greens, blue cheese, canned beets, almonds, and a dressing of oil, cherry flavored balsamic vinegar, lemon, Dijon mustard, and honey.  We found a can of tuna and so made a tuna salad which we ate on the last slice of a dense, whole grain bread, split in two.  We didn’t even eat my potatoes.

The moral of that story is: there’s never really nothing, unless of course, there’s really nothing.

I believe I’ve made this point before, but not everything one cooks will be a success.  Not even everything will be good.  I’ve made horrible mistakes.  Ruining stir fry with too much ginger, underestimating the potency of fenugreek (never, ever underestimate the potency of fenugreek), attempting to make blue cheese and bruschetta work (it just sounds like it does).  But for all of those failures, there will be amazing wins.  And the wins are so much better because you figured them out yourself.  It isn’t some recipe Martha Stewart’s food lackeys have tested hundreds of times to find just the right ratio of cumin to salt.  It is one shot at something good, it’s Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star.

So shoulder gourmands or no, I will continue to experiment, to resist having to walk in the cold to the grocery store, to finally use the jar of brined lemons, the fennel bulb, the semolina flour, and the tamarind paste.  But maybe not together.

Pasta with Caramelized Onions and Tomatoes

This is one of those come-home-late-hungry-want-food-now dishes that I threw together a few nights ago.  Super easy, super good.

Melt a healthy chunk of butter in a saucepan and when melted, toss in one yellow onion, slivered, and oh, one or two tablespoons of brown sugar.  Stir the onion slivers around until they’re past translucent and at some point add one finely chopped clove of garlic.  In the mean time, put on a pot of water to boil and salt it if you’d like.  After the water has boiled, add a handful of linguine and set the timer for ten minutes.  After five minutes have passed, add a chopped tomato, basil leaves, and a dash of oregano to the onions and stir it around pleasantly.  Season with salt and pepper.  When your linguine is done cooking, drain it and rinse it with cold water, then add it to your onions and tomatoes.  Toss everything thoroughly and maybe add a dash of olive oil to bring it all together.

Better With Butter (a post by Lyz)

by lyzpfister

The first thing I said when I woke up this morning was: “No more butter.  Please don’t make me eat any more butter.”  And then, because there was nothing else to eat for breakfast, I stuck a square of macaroni and cheese topped with a dollop of tomato puddin’ in the microwave.

If you’re unfamiliar with tomato puddin’, let me enlighten you on how it’s made.  Two cans of chopped tomatoes are mashed with five pieces of white bread and one cup – yes, one cup of sugar.  This concoction is then baked until all the natural health benefits of the tomatoes have been removed.  Also good to know is that according to my family, this dish counts as a vegetable.  Just some trivia.

Christmas in my family is predominantly loud.  This year, though the pair of almost-octogenarians presided over only two braches of the family tree – my mother, father, me, my two brothers, my aunt, her husband, her two daughters, one daughter’s husband, his two children, her three children, and a dog – the decibel level was impressive.  Everybody’s stories needed to be told at the same time, their recipes recounted in maniacal tones.  The children seemed unable to have as much fun if someone wasn’t screaming and the camera’s shutter clicked so often the room began to resemble a disco rave.

I love my family very much.  But I am a quiet person, and it takes a little time adjusting to the chaos of the (almost) entire Cohen clan.  Fighting passionately about the rules of Mexican Train dominoes, telling the story (again) about that embarrassing thing you did at your baptism (like poop your baptismal dress) when you were a few months old, or belittle other family members’ sports teams as creatively as possible.  It’s very Norman Rockwell, but a little louder and with less pastel.  I like to think that since the other half of my family is so very German, my American family is so very American just to balance out my genetic chi.

Before we eat Christmas Dinner, the whole gaggle circles around the table to bless the food.  I figure that the food needs all the blessings it can get if it’s going to nourish my body, rather than just the cellulite on my thighs.  I’ve already oogled the food – two roast turkeys and gravy, stuffing, sweet potatoes drenched in brown sugar, greens, sweet corn puddin’ (the lack of ‘g’ is not optional), tomato puddin’, biscuits, mountains of mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and for dessert two pecan pies, apple crumble, and my aunt’s justly famous banana cream pie.  As if chanted by a Greek Comedy’s chorus, the words “butter” and “sugar” jingle through my mind.

It’s Christmas, so I take some of everything, and it’s not really until the reality of post-holiday leftovers sets in that I regret my family’s liberal use of fat.  But it’s ok.  I’ll take some long walks on the beach, stretch my legs as I watch another season of Dexter from the couch, and keep my mind sharp on card games and dominoes.  And I’ll store up an extra layer of blubber to last for the rest of winter.  I hear it’s cold in New York.

Aunt Lynda’s Corn Puddin’
It took quite a bit of work to track down this recipe.  But I got it.  And you should make it – when it’s cold outside and you’re in need of some comfort food.  Or you’re feeling particularly skinny.

3 cups canned corn, drained
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp flour
2 cups milk
1/3 stick butter, melted

Beat together the eggs until they’re light and fluffy, then gradually add the sugar so that it doesn’t form lumps.  Add the salt, flour, and corn, milk, and butter – mix well.  Grease an oblong pan, pour mixture into it.  Bake uncovered for 45 minutes to an hour in a 350 degree oven until firm and golden brown.