I love slow-cooked dishes—their tenderness, their depth of flavor, the hominess of it all—but in many ways I’m not a slow-cooker kind of girl. For one thing, I’m impatient. For another, I’m not the best planner. With slow cooking, as with traditional long braising, you need to start the meal well before you actually want to eat it, and that’s where I tend to have trouble. I like to walk in the door a little before dinnertime, decide I want something that should have been cooking all day, and have it on the table an hour later.
That’s where my pressure cooker comes in. I use this wondrous tool to make beef stew, chicken or lamb tagine, braised pork, and soup. When I read in The New York Times that you could make black bean soup using dried, unsoaked beans—and that it would cook in 30 minutes—I had to try it. I was delighted with the result. I’m going to serve this spicy, chorizo-laced brew to a stressed-out houseguest and hope it has the desired comforting effect. (It sounds obvious, but soup is a terrific thing to make in bulk when people are staying with you. They can ladle up a bowl and heat it in the microwave whenever they’re hungry, so you never have to worry about them.)
The soup was adapted by Mark Bittman from a recipe by Lorna Sass from her book Pressure Perfect. The only thing I did differently was to partially purée mine for a somewhat smoother consistency, and serve it over rice with a dollop of cooling sour cream. My chili powder was particularly hot. If yours is mild and you like heat, I suggest adding some in the form of chili flakes, a pepper, or some hot sauce. Also, my beans were old and therefore very dry, so 30 minutes wasn’t enough. Still, there was no soaking, and I made the soup from start to finish in under an hour.
I use my pressure cooker to make a lot of stewed chicken dishes with a Moroccan influence. Spices vary depending on my mood and what I have around. Often I cook the chicken on the bone; sometimes off. Usually I use whole pieces; occasionally, bite-size chunks. If I have dried dates, I put them in. If I have apricots, I use those. Same goes for olives—black or green; big or small. If I have a lot of mouths to feed, I’ll bolster the dish with chickpeas. If i have preserved lemons, I’ll use them; if not, I’ll add lemon zest. I usually finish with a sprinkle of toasted almonds, but if I have shelled pistachios, I might use them instead.
Here’s a recent version, which was quite delicious:
Chicken Tagine with Olives and Figs, For the Time Pressed
I’m not going to encourage you to whip this up on a work night. The prep takes about 45 minutes and is followed by 30 minutes of pressure-cooking time. But if you’re interested in making what tastes like a proper slow-cooked tagine—a spicy, complex North African-inspired stew with meat that’s moist and tender—in a fraction of the time it would normally take, I encourage you to try this. And if you don’t have a pressure cooker, go ahead and simmer the stew on the stovetop in a heavy pot, covered, for an hour or so.
- 1 medium onion, very roughly chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, very roughly chopped
- 1 bell pepper, very roughly chopped
- 2 carrots, very roughly chopped
- 1 2-inch piece of fresh ginger
- 3 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil, divided
- 4 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 2 teaspoons Chinese 5-spice powder
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 32 ounces low-sodium chicken broth or stock, divided
- 2 15.5-ounce cans of chickpeas, rinsed
- 8 dried figs, quartered
- 1 preserved lemon, rinsed, pulp removed, and diced
- ½ cup pitted olives, such as calamata (green olives are good here too)
- 1 cup diced tomatoes
- Chopped parsley or cilantro for garnish
- Toasted slivered almonds for garnish
- Place the first five ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until medium-fine. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium-low heat and add the vegetables. Cook, stirring, about 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat oil in pressure cooker pot over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with the 5 spice, turmeric, cayenne, and salt and pepper and brown, in batches, until golden brown.
- When all the chicken has browned, remove from pot and add the wine and one cup of the broth broth and scrape up all the brown bits stuck to the pot. Return chicken and add vegetable mixture, along with chickpeas, figs, preserved lemon, and olives.
- Add remaining broth and the tomatoes, secure the lid, and cook on high pressure for 25 minutes. Turn off heat and let pressure subside naturally. When pressure has been released, remove lid, spoon chicken and sauce over rice, couscous, or quinoa and garnish with herbs and almonds.
Sitting in a café on the Upper West Side, having peeled off enough layers of clothing to create a small mountain on the chair beside me (but barely enough to insulate me from the polar vortex outside), I sighed heavily when my friend Judy asked whether we had travel plans for the boys’ spring break. This was yet another thing I’d allowed to fall by the wayside in the busy blur between the holidays and the present, and I was kicking myself.
“I’m going to solve this one for you right now,” Judy said. Judy is an opera director and the president of the PTA at her son’s high school. She’s masterful at solving problems. “Tulum,” Judy said. “It’s beautiful, it’s not terribly expensive, and it’s a short nonstop plane ride.”
I went home and booked the trip. And now, sitting at the kitchen table staring out my garden doors at over a foot of snow, as Mark shovels the sidewalk in front of our house for the third time today, I just can’t wait.
I did have a little taste of Mexico last weekend, and it was delicious.
My friend Victoria Behm, an amazing artist who’s currently having a show at 440 Gallery in Park Slope (a couple of her drawings are at left), and who makes art in Mexico every summer, asked me to do an event at the gallery: I’d demonstrate how to make salsas and guacamole, then read a little from the book I’m working on. Vicki supplied a highly capable helper by the name of Briana, a 10-year-old who’s one of Vicki’s Studio-in-a-School students and an avid cook. (Her favorite things to make are apple pie and pizza.) Another dexterous 10-year-old, my son Teddy, was my second sous chef. Both kids chopped and sliced and diced; no one lost a finger; and we produced some delicious dips.
We served them with tortilla chips, but it occurred to me that the mango salsa in particular would be an incredible accompaniment to grilled fish, chicken, or pork. The next day I reproduced them at home, made some pork chops and tested my theory. I was right.
This is a bright, sunny dish to serve on a cold, snowy night.
Pork Chops with Salsa
I used bone-in pork chops from two New York farms: Northwind Farms in Tivoli and Sir William Angus, in Cranyville. I got them from my CSA, Farmigo. Look for the best bone-in loin chops you can find. The more marbled they are, the juicier they’ll be. (And the longer you marinate them, the more tender they’ll be.)
- Juice of one tangerine
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ½ teaspoon hot red chili flakes
- ½ teaspoon chili powder
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 1-inch-thick bone-in pork chops
- Combine first five ingredients in a baking dish or other shallow container large enough to hold all the chops in one layer. Stir, then add the pork, turning in the marinade to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to grill, from 30 minutes to overnight.
- Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat and oil it lightly. Pat the chops dry and place on grill pan. Cook four to five minutes per side then check for doneness, either by slicing into a chop or testing with a meat thermometer. (Cook until internal temperature reaches 145 degrees F, or until just barely pink inside—or really, whatever you’re comfortable with.) Let rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. (The internal temperature will rise while resting.)
- Top each chop with mango salsa (see recipe below) and serve.
If using as a chip dip, dice the mangos very fine. This is also fabulous over grilled fish, chicken, or pork.
- 2 mangoes, finely diced
- ¼ red bell pepper, finely diced
- ½ jalapeño pepper, minced (or to taste)
- Juice of 1 lime
- ¼ teaspoon salt or to taste
Stir ingredients together and serve. (If you have time, let the salsa sit before serving to allow the flavors to meld.)
Pico de Gallo
The heat of jalapeños varies wildly. Start with a little, taste, and add more as needed. This salsa serves as a major ingredient in the guacamole below.
- ½ pound tomatoes, diced
- ¼ cup minced onion
- ¼ cup minced cilantro
- ½ jalapeño, finely diced (or to taste)
- Juice of 2 limes
- ¼ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
Stir ingredients together and serve. (If you have time, let the salsa sit before serving to allow the flavors to meld.)
This is so easy to make once you’ve made the pico de gallo, but if you’re starting from scratch, try this recipe instead. (Add jalapeño and a teaspoon or so of minced onion if you like.)
- 2 ripe avocadoes
- 2 tablespoons of Pico de Gallo
- ½ teaspoon minced garlic or to taste
Combine ingredients in a bowl and mash with a fork, leaving the avocado a little chunky. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and minced jalapeño as needed.
After a bit of a hiatus, the blog is back. I’ve missed the writing and the recipes, the responses from readers and the energy the whole enterprise lends my daily cooking. Christmas Eve seemed like a fine time to offer up a new post—and festive, delicious cookies seemed like an appropriate topic to inspire you as you gather in the coming week with family and friends to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s.
This time last winter, I was invited to join a holiday cookie swap and had to overcome some serious insecurity—I don’t think of myself as much of a baker, and the other people in the group are all top notch. After much deliberation, I ended up making hazelnut-chocolate sandwich cookies, the recipe for which I discovered on David Lebovitz’s terrific blog. (You can read about that particular culinary adventure here.)
The cookies turned out to be excellent and I was asked back this year, so I decided to stick with David, whose baking instincts seem as close to perfect as you can get. He’d recently traveled to Sicily and written about the amaretti cookies he’d eaten there—simple ovals that are soft in the middle and crunchy on the outside, rolled in slivered almonds or pine nuts.
One of the things I love about this cookie is that it contains almond meal instead of wheat flour, which I’ve been trying to avoid (though not religiously).
Another is the dollop of apricot jam in the batter, which is undetectable to the taste but contributes to the cookie’s terrific chewy texture.
One Passover recently I decided to try my hand at chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons, which my mom always served as part of dessert at the seder. I found them both ridiculously easy and incredibly delicious, so for the cookie exchange I decided to make both types of cookie.
I used a macaroon recipe that didn’t contain flour, but I suspect they’d hold together a bit better if you used one that did, like this one from Real Simple:
Merry Christmas, everyone, and here’s to a happy, healthy, peaceful, and delicious 2014.
Everyone and everything seems to be gluten-free these days.
I would roll my eyes, except for one thing: As much as I adore bread and pasta, I’ve noticed lately that bread and pasta don’t seem to love me. So I did a little experiment over the past few weeks, eliminating them along with other foods that contained wheat, and I have to say: I’ve never felt better. I don’t plan to be religious about this in any way — I’m not going to reject the crusty loaves of artisanal bread my friend Monica brings over from her fabulous Grandaisy Bakery, and if I’m faced with a lovely homemade pasta dinner at our neighbors’, I’m going to eat that too—and love it.
But for everyday, I’m finding plenty of alternatives to wheat: yogurt and fruit—maybe a hard-boiled egg—for breakfast; a big salad topped with crumbled goat cheese and sunflower seeds or sliced chicken for lunch; and masses of sweet roasted veggies for dinner with some kind of lean protein. My stomach is flat and my head is clear.
For a second I wondered how to reconcile this realization with my desire to make the incredible pork ragu I discovered last fall in the fabulous Dinner: A Love Story blog and book. I wrote about this particular sauce last year, and it was just as delectable when I made it again Friday night. Only this time, instead of serving mine over the pappardelle I gave everyone else, I ladled it into half of a roasted acorn squash. (Drizzle the squash with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper; and roast on 425 until soft.)
I first experienced this touch of brilliance at a dinner years ago cooked by our old friend Pat Clinton, who simmered a Mexican-style pork stew and served it up in small pumpkins. I found the combination and the presentation revelatory. What could be better for the Halloween/Thanksgiving season? So, wheat-sensitive or not, why not use this sweet, edible vessel for soup, stew, or meat sauce? Guaranteed, you won’t miss the pasta.
On a long and very steamy day last summer, I shot a series of ten cooking videos for ehow.com. I didn’t link to them because I didn’t love them (they’re too long and my hair is awful), but last week I defrosted a soup I made that day on camera, and it was so good I thought I should share it with you.
The recipe is for an Italian-style Lentil Soup. I’ve already posted one lentil soup in these pages—a spicy version that I adore. Whereas that one is rather beguiling, with garam masala and sherry, this one is straightforward—intensified with tomato paste and a splash of good balsamic vinegar. It’s rich and very flavorful, and absolutely right this time of year. Plus, it’s a snap—particularly with the ehow.com step-by step.
Italian-Style Lentil Soup
- 1 small onion, finely chopped (about ¾ cup)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 2 cups lentils, preferably the small dark green ones like lentils de puys
- 5 cups water
- 8 ounces beer or an additonal cup of water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons good quality aged balsamic vinegar
- In a large pot over low heat, cook the onion in the olive oil until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 2 minutes more. Add the thyme and tomato paste and cook, stirring, for a minute or so.
- Add the lentils, water, salt and pepper, cover and cook 30-40 minutes, until the lentils are soft but not mushy. Turn off the heat and add two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. Drizzled each portion with a touch more before serving.
After making the ratatouille last week I was left with most of a bag of dried cranberries. I sometimes use them in orange-cranberry scones, but that’s for another day. This week, I concocted such a delicious salad that I ended up making it for lunch three times. As I was eating it today it occurred to me that it would be great with Thanksgiving dinner (or, really, as part of any fall menu).
Autumn Arugula Salad
This recipe serves one as a main-course lunch. Multiply the quantities depending on how many you’re serving. Also, I dress my salad very lightly. Use more oil and vinegar if you like.
- 1 tablespoon slivered almonds
- 2 cups baby arugula
- 1 tablespoon dried cranberries
- 1 ounce soft goat cheese
- 1 teaspoon good-quality balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon walnut oil (or olive oil if you prefer)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Toast the almonds in a dry pan or toaster oven until lightly golden. Combine arugula, almonds, cranberries, goat cheese. Drizzle with vinegar and oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss, taste for seasoning, and serve.
I went to the farmer’s market with my friend Judy Weinstein yesterday, as I often do on Fridays. The rain held off all morning, then started to come down just as we began to weave our way through stalls laden with autumn’s bounty. Somehow, the drizzle and dull gray light made the colors of the fat, shiny eggplants, deep green zucchini, and bright red and yellow bell peppers all the more resplendent.
I saw that there was just one thing to do: make ratatouille.
I use a recipe I got five years ago from Vicki Behm, a great artist and cook. Of all the wonderful dinners at her house, the one where Vicki made this is the most memorable and most delicious, because it was the first time she had cooked for us after going through aggressive treatment for breast cancer—a long period where she’d all but stopped entertaining (though she still had me over for long Balducci-bought lunches in her garden). The dinner invitation meant that she was well.
Vicki’s ratatouille, which she first ate at a dinner cooked by a friend of hers, chef Joe Ouellette, is superior to any I’ve had or made because in addition to the usual eggplant, summer squash, and bell-pepper combo, it calls for dried cranberries soaked in white wine vinegar, pitted olives, capers, fresh mint, and toasted pine nuts. The result is a bright, complex dish with a sweet and briny kick that tastes like something whipped up in a Sicilian kitchen. Vicki served her ratatouille with two roasted pork tenderloins wrapped in bacon and scattered with fresh thyme and rosemary. It was heavenly.
I wanted to pick up some pork from Bradley Farm—or as I always think of them, the two bearded guys at the farmer’s market with the beautiful herbs and baby lettuces. They always have a small selection of meat, and hang a big blackboard on the side of their truck that lists what’s in stock each week. I didn’t see pork loin or tenderloin, so I asked.
“Nope,” said Ray Bradley, who’s a former big-time chef.
“Chops?” I asked hopefully. Ray shook his head.
It was hard to read the blackboard, with its smudged scribbles and sweeping, casual erasures. Ray gestured to a big chicken, ensconsed in a clear plastic bag, sitting on a scale. “Killed it this week,” he said. I took it, but not for tonight’s ratatouille meal. Instead I roasted it for dinner last night on a bed of chopped leeks and lemon slices, in celebration of Teddy’s homecoming after three days away on the 5th grade class trip. That was one kick-ass chicken.
After the farmer’s market, I popped into Whole Foods and bought a few pork tenderloins. Cecile Bazelon—another great artist and cook— is coming to dinner, and I don’t know how many other people I’ll be feeding as Rex has a friend sleeping over for the three-day weekend. I don’t know who’s eating with us and who’s not, but I like to be prepared.
This morning I made the ratatouille. It’s so pretty before it’s had a chance to really stew – the colors of the vegetables are spectacular.
Tonight it will become a bed for the pork tenderloin, and what’s left will be lunch all week.
As I stirred this beautiful, fragrant vegetable stew I recalled another day, several years ago, when I made the same recipe. It was a few months into my mom’s illness and I remember dividing the ratatouille up into plastic containers, intending to give one to mom and maybe one to someone else—probably Judy. I mentioned it to my mother on the phone that day and was surprised when she said, “I don’t like ratatouille.”
“Really?” I asked.
“I don’t like eggplant.”
Huh. Who knew? Well I love it—and hopefully Cecile does too…
When Vicki emailed me the recipe she called it Joe’s Ratatouille, but it’s hers to me. Eat this on its own or over rice, or as a bed for roasted fish filets or pork tenderloin.
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- ¼ cup white wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 large eggplants, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
- 4 to 5 zucchini and/or yellow summer squash, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 yellow or red bell peppers, ribs and seeds removed, 3/4 inch cubes
- 1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
- ½ cup pitted green olives
- 2 tablespoons capers
- ¼ cup pignoli nuts, toasted
- ½ cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
- Soak cranberries in vinegar and set aside.
- In heavy pan over medium-low heat, cook the onions in the oil until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook one minute, stirring. Add eggplant, zucchini, salt, pepper, and 3/4 cup water, and simmer 5 minutes. Add bell peppers and cook 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and thyme.
- Simmer, partly covered, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain cranberries and add to pot along with olives and capers. Simmer 15 minutes more and serve topped with pine nuts and mint.
Over the summer, on our way up to Maine or Vermont or the Adirondacks (I forget which—there was a lot of traveling), we stopped for lunch at a roadside chain restaurant that wasn’t a fast-food place but more like a Houlihan’s (it might have been a Houlihan’s), and I ordered the Mexican Tortilla Soup. Teddy took a taste and fell madly and deeply in love. (He ended up ordering his own bowl, for “dessert.”)
Last week I was inspired to try my hand at Teddy’s new favorite dish, and he seemed to approve. (The Modelo pictured above was for me.)
I realize the last recipe I gave you was also a spicy, tomato-y soup, but then again, what’s better than a tomato-y, spicy soup?
Spicy Chicken-Tortilla Soup
The heat of jalapeños varies wildly, so taste for spice and adjust your quantities accordingly.
- ½ medium onion, finely diced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- 12 ounces diced canned (or boxed) tomatoes
- 6 cups chicken stock
- 2 chicken breasts, cut or shredded into bite-size pieces
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Hot sauce, if desired
- 1 avocado, cut into thin slices
- ½ cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
- 1 lime, cut into wedges
- Shredded Mexican blend or Jack cheese
- 1 cup restaurant-style tortilla chips, lightly crushed
- In a large pot, cook the onion in the oil over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, jalapeño, and cumin and cook for 2 minutes more.
- Add the tomatoes and cook and raise the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring, for a few minutes before adding the stock, chicken, and salt and pepper. Lower the heat and simmer gently about 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding additional salt and pepper if needed.
- Ladle into shallow bowls and arrange garnishes on top. Serve with hot sauce on the side.
I love being a dinner guest. Eating at other people’s houses is very relaxing for me. I don’t have to do any planning or cooking, and I’m always interested in—and inspired by—other people’s food. I don’t think I’ve ever had a meal at a friends’ that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed.
I have, personally, served up my share of duds. (Remember the disastrous attempt at Nobu’s Miso Cod, Dan and Tia?)
And yet it is my dawning understanding that having me over for dinner isn’t always relaxing for my hosts.
It’s not that I’m a bad guest. I bring wine. I like to help. I run out of steam on the early side, so I don’t usually outstay my welcome. But apparently, some of my friends feel a little pressure and anxiety at the prospect of cooking for me.
Case in point: We had a brilliant meal at our friends’ Alex and Elizabeth’s last Friday. Intoxicating aromas greeted us the moment Alex opened the front door.
“Something smells amazing,” I said as I gave Liz a hug.
“Oh good. I feel a little intimidated cooking for you,” she said—or she said something to that effect.
I’ll tell you what I told her. Her cooking always delights me no end. I remember exactly what I ate at her table five years ago, because it was so memorably delicious. (Yes, I do have that kind of memory. I can’t remember the names of the people I met last week, but ask me what we ate…)
Liz handed me a glass of cold white wine in the kitchen, where a gorgeous, rustic-looking crumble was cooling on the counter. Pork tenderloins were marinating in a flavorful mixture, awaiting the grill. There was a big bowl of some kind of Morroccan-inspired orzo with chickpeas, chopped veggies, seeds, and aromatic spices.
It was the first chilly night of late summer, and Liz dug a cozy shawl out of the hall closet for me. Out in the garden, we sat at a big round table. Little girls with corkscrew curls sold us make-believe ice cream for the cost of a clothespin or a few colorful blocks. It had been a challenging summer for Alex and Elizabeth, yet here they were, cooking for old friends and toasting our time together.
Liz ladled deep-red soup from a stoneware pitcher into mugs, and it was astounding. Spicy, bright, and complex, it contained chunks of silky avocado and savory shrimp, along with layers and layers of flavor.
“You’ll never guess what the base of this soup is,” she challenged when we dug in. “Clamato.”
“What?” I said.
“Huh?” Mark said.
Neither of us had ever tasted Clamato juice. It was something we were only vaguely aware of, sitting there on supermarket shelves next to the tomato juice and V-8. But Mark wasn’t at all surprised when I sent him out for some two days later. We were having our next-door neighbors to dinner, and I didn’t have Elizabeth’s recipe. If she wasn’t on a weekend camping trip with her family in the wilds of Delaware, I would have called. Instead, I winged it.
The recipe below is my version of Elizabeth’s soup. I kid you not, it is awesome.
Don’t be afraid of the Clamato. And don’t be afraid to cook for me.
Or for anyone.
Gazpacho with Shrimp & Avocado
Substitute lumb crab meat for the shrimp if you like.
- ¼ cup finely diced red or white onion
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped (seeded) jalapeno, or to taste
- ½ cup finely chopped cilantro (or, for the cilantro averse, flatleaf parsley)
- 2 ripe avocados cut into 1/2-inch chunks
- ½ pound cooked shrimp cut into ½-inch chunks
- 32 ounces Clamato Juice
- Juice of a lime
- 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- 10 drops of Tabasco
- ½ teaspoon Worchestershire sauce
- Fresh black pepper
- Combine the first five ingredients in a pitcher. (You may want to add half the jalapeno, taste, and then add more as desired.) Pour the juice over it. Stir and taste for seasoning. Add black pepper to taste.
- Chill at least an hour before serving.