Tag Archives: healthy recipes

Fall’s Harvest: Carrot and Turnip Soup & Pumpkin Pilaf

24 Oct

Cascade Farm School, my new veggie source

From the beginning, we’re all searching for our happy. We look for it from our parents, then our teachers and friends and finally, the razzle dazzle of the world outside. Almost inevitably, we all decide that we need more things, shinier baubles, glitzier clothes, bigger digs to get to the happy place we see glistening in glossy magazines and on TV shows.

So we go to law school, or go for our MBA, or just dive into 70-hour work weeks, a slave to our smartphones, just so we can hope to someday afford to buy a bigger apartment into which we can place more impressive works of Bauhaus furniture, complicated post-modern artwork that we don’t understand or like but feel we should, closets full of designer goodies.

But somehow, the constant striving becomes our lives, and suddenly … all of the energy we’re expending to stock up future parcels of happiness is wiping out any chance of happiness in the here and now. Stressful days and nights turn into bad weeks, terrible months, years that streak by in blurs under florescent lights.

When I got into a bad car accident more than a year ago, Stephen and I totally reassessed our lives, where we were going, how we lived, what we wanted. Recovering from the accident was (and still is) one of the hardest things I’ve done, but it’s given us a rare opportunity to live day-to-day, to try to focus on the little, silly things in front of us, instead of the improbable goals we had when we first got married, like retiring to Tahiti at 50 to sell smoothies out of a truck on the beach (it could happen!).

We closed the door on New York City and decided to move to the country. So far, so good.

Living closer to the natural rhythms of the earth, and ignoring the glittering distractions of la vida loca seems so much easier out here. Surrounded by towering evergreens, chittering squirrels, howling coyotes, packs of deer and hordes of field mice and frogs (and that’s just in our backyard), living and eating seasonally and locally seem obvious, instead of the intellectual / analytical project it became while we were living in Brooklyn, and even White Plains.

Penny checking out the fish and frogs

It has its downside too though — it’s Fall, so all kinds of critters are attempting to hole up in our house. On Saturday, Stephen bludgeoned two invading field mice to death with a shovel – that’s the kind of environmental stewardship and locavore spirit I knew I married him for. I’m looking forward to his next business trip, when Penny and I will be forced to deal with Franny the Field Mouse, Sammy the Salamander and Sonya the Squirrel by ourselves.

This is when the gun my Uncle Tom offered me would have come in handy. (Thoughts on mouse confit? Mouse mousse? Mouse stew? That has a nice ring to it…)

As the leaves fall, our view of the neighbor's rather interesting landscape choices, is enhanced

The family we bought our place from has been amazingly helpful in getting us situated; from the horror stories I heard, I was mentally prepared for a set of nine-headed monsters to emerge at the house closing, dragging primordial ooze in their wake. But instead, I got a giant packet of invaluable tips, a map of trails around the home and about a dozen contacts for a dog walker, a veterinarian, oil guy, chimney sweep, you name it.

Stephen and I are still waiting to find a pile of bodies buried in the basement or a forgotten stash of used torture devices. In the meantime, I’m going to keep enjoying the goodwill they showered us with.

These days, instead of staring at the shining windows at Saks that house a bunch of stuff that I’ll never be able to afford (and somehow makes me feel incompetent because I can’t) on the way to work, I’ve put heading over to the farm and picking up a few boxes of just-cut produce with tiny clods of dirt still clinging to their roots on my agenda.

Per the former house-owners tip, I bought into a CSA over at Cascade Farm School. I am spending less than I would at Whole Foods, but getting more organic, sustainably grown produce than I know what to do with (literally).

Happier than a ...

This week, I got about a dozen different vegetables, including carrots, herbs, a cooking pumpkin and a bunch of gorgeously colorful turnips.

Into the soup

I wasn’t sure what to do with the pumpkin, and I didn’t feel like making a pie, so I decided … pilaf. The pumpkin was much easier to peel and chop than butternut squash, and sweeter too. Who knew? Click on for my Carrot and Turnip Soup and Pumpkin Pilaf recipes.

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Foreign Made Familiar: Stephen’s Rice and Beans & Kathleen’s Black Bean Salad

2 May

Our new favorite recipe for Chicken Croquetas, courtesy of Tasting Table

There’s something at once heartbreaking and wonderful about a dish, steeped in a history and a culture, that is snatched away from its roots and planted in foreign soil. Whenever something leaves its home terroir, it abandons some of its essence. Deposited in a new soil, it finds new fodder on which to feed, a different quality of sunlight shining down on its leaves and new bees and birds supping on their nectar. And when it blossoms anew, we often find new colors, flavors and textures vying for our attention.

In every city we’ve lived, from every lover we’ve embraced, from the mothers and grandmothers’ hands who nourished us in our youths, we’ve borrowed, begged and stolen dishes, recipes and tastes. Some are simple and prosaic, like buttered noodles with fresh chopped parsley (my roommate Amy from our days in Providence), others are complex, unctuous and expensive (my Mom’s cassoulet that she perfected when we were in Munich), while others have to be tasted to be desired (my dad’s delicious peanut butter, bacon and mayo sandwich that he grew up on as a kid in Chicago).

Every time we recreate a dish from our past, we’re not just throwing together ingredients, we’re magicians, conjuring up fragments of memories, symphonies of senses, the warm touches of departed love ones. We’re repainting classical pieces of art, acts of innocuous transgression. Ultimately, the final dish incorporates different ingredients and techniques and is cooked at different temperatures in different equipment; it’s never the same.

Entire cuisines, most notably Italian and Chinese, went through this process of assimilation in America. Entire systems of preparation were transformed in the hands of immigrants who found totally foreign ingredients and palates stateside — but still craved the same basics they grew up on.

Julia Child, James Beard and Alice Waters paved the way for home gourmands by tweaking and reinterpreting classical cuisine, often with the use of simple, humble, seasonal ingredients. They made welling up over a saucepan of roux that reminds you of Grandma’s farm in Indiana seem vaguely less than clinically insane; they made sipping wine while vigorously whisking said roux seem de rigueur; they elevated a simply prepared macaroni dish to a transcendental experience worthy of pathos, Strauss and hours of Freudian analysis.

Below, check out Stephen’s recipe for Rice and Beans — one of our all-time Willcox-Repsher classics. The dish is inspired by his late mother, who made a ridiculously rich and delicious Chicken Divan when he was growing up. He loved it so much, it eventually supplanted even pizza on his all-time birthday dinner request list as a kid. When he went to law school and I was attempting to support us on my laughable salary, we spent a lot of our time eating this delicious, but decidedly less rich and expensive (goodbye boneless chicken breast, cream of mushroom soup, cream of chicken soup, wads of cheese, cups of mayo) but equally delicious (hello kidney beans, dark raisins, fresh dill, lime juice, mere cup or so of mayo) version. I also threw in my favorite Black Bean recipe, which reminds me of all of the church picnics I went to growing up; it’s highly tweakable depending on your mood and the season and the exact number of hours you think it’s going to spend sweating in the sun. Oh, and here’s a link to the recipe for Chicken Croquetas (it’s Joshua Whigman’s recipe).

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Festival Umami: Marco Canora’s Lasagna Verde & Sausage and White Bean “Salad”

28 Mar

Everyone fails to do something that may at first glance seem minor, but in practice, proves to handicap them in a rather alarming manner. Casual observers can’t help but notice the dazzling spectacle of omission. The vibrating white space, the shimmering hole in their life.

My wash n’ wear bush of befrizzed, ragged red hair is the most visible mascot of my strict stance of non-embellishment and unfussy-ness, but quieter signs are everywhere. (Hello, half-tucked shirts, unshined shoes, mascara-less eyelashes, handbag that’s needed a replacement for 3.5 years!)

Most of the time, I get away with my carefully cultivated carelessness. But every area of my life occasionally feels the sting of my slap and dash modus operandi. Without a scrupulously annotated calendar, birthdays can be overlooked, appointments occasionally neglected and deadlines elided.

And mis en place? Too often, I fuhgedaboudet, only to find myself diving for the spice cabinet for a dash of nutmeg, while hysterically screeching and demanding that Stephen drop everything to rummage through my disorganized kitchen tool drawer for a whisk, like, pronto.

Aside from the obvious, ubiquitous fallout the Faustian Bargain I struck with Father Time has wrought, I find that sometimes my need for speed even impedes even the simplest recipe — if I only took that extra step, or spent those extra 20 minutes carefully, meticulously, anal-y fussing, my food would taste pretty darn good, instead of just pretty good.

So, I have decided to attempt to embrace my (very) inner accountant, and take all of the time I need to really cook a dish beautifully. To maintain my sanity, I am simultaneously embracing my (much less inner) carni — because cooking should be raucous and fun and if I have to stand over pots and pans with measuring spoons and an egg timer, I may as well also have some taste bud trickery up my sleeve to entertain myself with too.

The trickery, in a word: umami.

Umami was “discovered” in the mid-1800’s, separately by Kikunae Ikeda and Karl Ritthausenm, who identified glutamic acid, the amino acid responsible for the savory, multi-dimensional, mouth-watering sensation and “fifth taste” all the foodie hipsters and indie chefs have been touting with such uncharacteristically unironic, veritably histrionic levels of enthusiasm of late. 

David Chang, everyone’s favorite Harvard-lecturer/crazy NYC chef employs umami the way Lady Gaga employs crystal-studded platform pumps — without ’em, their products would still be good, they just wouldn’t assault you with the ol’ razzle dazzle, the ol’ flim flam flummox, you wouldn’t stagger away with sequins in your eyes, sated by their sorcery.

Chang’s go-to umami receptacle is dried shiitake mushrooms, a magical, cheftastic ingredient that automatically imbues everything it is scattered upon with an upgrade of deliciousness. It will never avert catastrophe, and I wouldn’t just throw it in a chocolate chip cookie recipe, but a deft touch here and there — with some added fussing — has helped me karate kick my cooking up a notch.

Below, check out umami-infused recipes for Marco Canora’s Lasagna Verde and Sausage and White Bean “Salad”, with pictures.

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