soupy.

Both of my children suffer from nightmares.

They wake up terrified, crying out for help. When I wrap my arms around my trembling son he struggles, still in the grip of the bad dream, unable to recognize me; I have to wait for him to surface, to stop thrashing and take what comfort I can offer with hugs and soothing sounds.

My daughter, once her tears have subsided, is more analytical. Mournful and perplexed, she won’t rest until she finds out why she’s been dreaming about such unhappy-making things.

I wish I had an answer for her.

Instead, I hold her close and we talk about all of the things that bring her joy: our recent trip to Mexico; riding her scooter; my parents’ dog; the bunk beds at the cottage last summer; waking up early enough to see the sun come up.

We hold each other tight in the dark and whisper about all of these things, and I tell her that enough happy thoughts will push the dark ones aside, at least temporarily, long enough for her to get back to sleep.

IMG_3768

I realized the other morning, as I ran through the park on yet another dull, chilly uninspiring day, that I would do well to take my own advice.

The ponds and puddles were all soupy, filled with icy slush that leaked into my shoes, and the swans wouldn’t lift their heads from under their wings. Nary a bud nor a sliver of spring green was in sight. It was windy, and the forecast was for flurries.

To say that I am sick of this weather would be understating the case enormously.

And yet.

We just celebrated seven years in this city, and things are getting better all the time. It feels like only moments ago that I was, literally, sitting on my empty kitchen floor on a March day, dreaming about the future.

I have work that is thrilling and a business that keeps both my husband and me inspired and involved in our amazing community.

I’ve begun driving, and loving every minute of it.

I have friends who are there for me whether I am seized with despair or not, a small posse of caring, fierce, intelligent women who will shop or run or drink with me, and who will listen while I rattle on about paint chips and food and shoes and furniture.

So really, this is the life.

And these endless, not-yet-spring doldrums? It’s time to shake them off.

Onward!

 
Roasted Cauliflower and Garlic Soup

What to cook when the need for hibernation-friendly (read: hot and comforting) foods has passed, but not the desire? This soup. Hearty, rich, and healthy, I have been eating more than my fair share of it lately.

5 cups chicken broth
2 whole star anise
a 1-inch knob of ginger, peeled and smashed with a heavy knife
1 large head cauliflower, cut into small florets (to make about 8 cups)
6 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tbsp olive oil
sea salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Combine broth, anise, and ginger in a large pot; bring to the boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer.

In a large bowl, toss together cauliflower pieces, garlic, and olive oil. Place on one or two metal baking pans, whatever you need to ensure that there is just one layer of veggies and that they are not too crowded.

Roast in middle of oven until golden, 20-25 minutes – don’t let the garlic burn!

Remove baking pan (s) and use a rubber spatula to tip vegetables and oil into the pot of simmering broth. Simmer until cauliflower is very tender, about 20 minutes. Fish out star anise and ginger.

Puree soup in batches in a blender until very smooth and velvety, then return to the pot and reheat over moderate heat until piping hot. Taste for seasoning and add sea salt, if desired.

Makes about 8 cups.


fresh.

 

I tend to greet the first month of the year less than enthusiastically.

I am wont to feel a little bitter about the end of the holidays and the return to routine (as a friend recently said on a Tuesday morning, “where are my pancakes? Where is my bacon?”) and I cringe at the thought of dark mornings and foul weather stretching out two or three more months.

But, now that we’re well into February, I have to tell you that the last day of January this year filled me with nearly as much hopeful enthusiasm as I felt for the first. And the seasonal ennui that usually causes my body to demand bread and butter and cheese, in such quantities that every meal feels like a battle of wills, has been largely absent.

I know that this is at least partly because the temperatures in our city have regularly crept nearly into the double digits (that’s above zero), accompanied occasionally, if bizarrely, by enough snow for my children to get their 45-minute fill of snow-angel-making and snowman-building. I went running outdoors last week in cropped pants, and left my coat open on an afternoon walk with my husband.

So the weather has helped.

But the first several weeks of 2012 have also flown by very quickly, a fact for which I am extremely grateful.

I can actually barely remember the first 14 days or so, which were taken up by my attempt at a January cleanse.

(I have nothing good to say about that experience, unsurprisingly, except that now that I am back to eating and drinking normally, if not with abandon, each meal seems to bring with it a fresh opportunity to consume something delicious.)

But aside from that brief donning of the proverbial hair shirt, my resolutions for the new year have taken a while to take hold, as they usually do.

And I know you know me well enough by now that, despite its title, you aren’t expecting any kind of crisp, leafy goodness from this post

(indeed, you could be forgiven if you are not welling up with enthusiasm for the dish you see photographed here. The ravenous hordes – my husband and I – had been waiting for it to come out of the oven for what felt like far too long for me to do its gloriousness any kind of photographic justice last night, and to be fair, it actually didn’t look any better the next day when I put slightly more effort into trying again.

And if all of that doesn’t make you want to spring into action, I understand completely, but I will still heartily encourage you to make this dish. It’s that good, if not that pretty).

What I can offer up is winter comfort food at its finest, a little bit lavish but not enough to irrevocably derail any food-related resolutions you may, like me,  have high-mindedly made a few weeks ago.

A kind of quasi-fresh start, if you will.

Onward, February!


Mediterranean Deep Dish

I have to stop short of calling this a pizza, but pizza is what I had in mind when making it. I was in a rush, though, so needed to rethink the crust completely, which led me to a lovely old stand-by dish of Nigella’s called Supper Onion Pie.

For the filling:

3 tbsp olive oil
2 small onions, finely chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
425g lean ground lamb
1 yellow pepper, finely chopped
a handful (about a cup) of fresh baby spinach leaves
3-4 tbsp sundried tomato pesto
salt and pepper, to taste
225g soft goat cheese

For the crust:

1 2/3c whole spelt flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
scant 1/2c milk
1/4c olive oil or melted butter
1 egg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium – high heat. Add onions and saute until softened, then add garlic. Cook, stirring, until garlic is fragrant, just a minute or two; then add lamb to the pan. Cook, stirring, until lamb is no longer pink. Transfer lamb mixture and any accumulated juices to a bowl and set aside.

Add pepper to pan and cook, stirring, 2-3 minutes, until slightly tender. Transfer to bowl with lamb mixture; add spinach leaves and toss gently. Add pesto and toss well to combine. Taste for salt and pepper and season accordingly.

Spread this filling into a 10-inch cast iron skillet or deep-dish pie plate. Top with goat cheese.

Now, onto the crust. I made mine in the food processor because I was feeling very pressed for time, but mixing it by hand would also be no trouble at all. Sift together the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Combine remaining ingredients in a smaller bowl and whisk well to combine. Stir wet ingredients into dry, just until a firm but sticky dough forms.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a round roughly the same size as your pan. Gently transfer dough onto filling and press firmly on the edges to seal.

Bake in 400 degree oven 10 minutes, then turn heat down to 350 degrees and cook a further 10-15 minutes, until crust is golden and firm.

Remove from oven and let stand 5-10 minutes before inverting onto a serving plate.


p.s. the best.

You’ll have to forgive the questionable photo – it was late and there was no light save the horrifying (in this context) task lighting in our kitchen.

But I find myself needing to tell you about this hyperbole-worthy steak.

I used the same method I have employed for cooking steak my entire adult life, but with the crucial basting step taken directly from our friends at momofuku. It’s the basting that takes this steak over the top, so all credit goes to genius David Chang.

Here’s what you need:

2 ribeye steaks, about 375g each and 2″ (or so) thick (and get the best “happy meat,” ie. local, grain-fed etc., that you can afford)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4c unsalted butter
4 fat cloves garlic, cut lengthwise into quarters

Remove steaks from the fridge at least an hour before cooking, if possible.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Set a large cast iron or other very heavy skillet on a burner set to medium-high heat.

Turn on an extractor fan, if you have one, or open a window.

When oven has preheated and pan is very very hot, generously salt and pepper both sides of both steaks. Place steaks in pan and cook, without moving them, for two minutes. Flip steaks and cook another two minutes.

Transfer steaks, in their pan, to the hot oven and cook 2 minutes.

Return pan to stove and immediately reduce heat. Throw butter and garlic in the pan and, holding the pan at a 45-degree angle, baste steaks constantly for two minutes.

Remove steaks to a warm plate to rest until ready to serve, 5-8 minutes. Remove pan from heat, leaving garlic and butter and steak juices right where they are.

(I used the steak resting time to cook some green beans, light some candles, and open some wine, but of course what you do in those 5-8 minutes is up to you.)

Just before serving, pour pan contents over steaks.

Serves two.


you lucky people.

Just wait until you try this sauce.

A couple of months ago, things around here had begun to go so wildly awry that my husband was moved to ask me incredulously, as I struggled to pull a one-inch splinter out of the bottom of my foot using a sewing needle and a pair of tweezers, “how could you possibly have so much bad karma?”

It’s a question to which there is no real suitable answer.

Still, because I take deep solace in food during times of adversity, that period was one in which many great meals were consumed in my house.

And a fair number of them involved this sauce.

It started out its life as a component of what I would loosely define as an Andean-ish potato dish, but I had far more sauce than potatoes on that particular late-spring evening, so it morphed into the kind of catch-all condiment that could improve the (forgive me) karma of just about anything that was thrown its way.

Almost an entire season later, it is still in heavy rotation.


In the photo you see above, I tossed it with some sauteed peppers, but that was just because they were what happened to be laying about. I would highly recommend it with the little local potatoes that my husband keeps bringing home by the basketful, and I can’t even tell you how blissfully it pairs with corn on the cob.

(I have mentioned before, probably at just about this time of year, that I do not find summertime cooking to be especially inspiring: the grill and I don’t have a relationship to speak of, and I am largely fine with that. There are a lot of fun things that happen outdoors at this time of year, but for me, cooking is not one of them. I like my kitchen.

Still, I bet you could slather this sauce on whatever thing you just pulled off the barbeque, and it would redeem even that.)

What can I tell you? It’s just that good.

A Sauce to Redeem (Almost) Anything
adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian

1 egg yolk*
1c whole milk
500g feta cheese, crumbled
1/2c olive oil (not extra virgin)
2 fresh hot yellow or green chilies, de-seeded and de-veined and finely chopped (leave in a few seeds for a spicier sauce)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp flour
* I would consider the egg yolk optional if you are feeding a pregnant woman, young children or anyone whose health may be compromised. If you opt not to use the yolk, increase the flour slightly.

Combine egg yolk, milk, and feta in a blender and blend until smooth. Leave in blender.

Place olive oil in a heavy saute pan set over medium heat. When oil is hot, add chilies, garlic, and turmeric to the pan, and saute, stirring frequently, until softened and slightly golden, about 2 minutes. Add flour to pan and stir well. Reduce heat to low and add feta mixture from blender to the pan. Cook, stirring, until sauce is thick. Using a rubber spatula, pour and scrape sauce back into the blender and blend until smooth.

Add a little milk, if necessary; sauce should be the consistency of heavy cream.

Makes about 2 cups, enough to dress about a pound of cooked baby potatoes and still have plenty left over. Refrigerate leftovers promptly.


lucky.

(soup tureen courtesy of mrs. huizenga)

Our house is in chaos at the moment.

Having just said goodbye to the last guest we will have at this address, we have begun to dismantle our life here. It’s not the most fun process, partly because of the emotional weight attached to what we are doing – but also partly due to the fact that it is an extremely messy undertaking.

Simply put, there is crap everywhere.

How is it that we’ve managed to accumulate so much in the three short years we have lived here?

When did I, formerly known to my friends as the compulsive minimalist, become the kind of person who has boxes and bags and bins of excess to cart to the Goodwill every day?

For every box I pack, there is another filled with things we no longer need – if indeed we ever needed them in the first place.

Going through our things, I’m half fascinated and half horrified by the pile-up; but when I manage to shift my eyes from the miasma I feel terribly lucky.

Lucky that we’re in the privileged position of having more crap than we know what to do with.

And lucky that we are moving on.

Happiness Soup
adapted from Nigella Lawson

The great thing about this easy-going soup is that it works hot, warm, or even tepid. I have never tried it fridge-cold, but at room temperature it’s great.

1/4c olive oil
3 medium yellow zucchini, finely diced
1 clove garlic, smashed
zest and juice of a lemon
1 tsp tumeric
4c (1 litre) chicken broth
1/2c basmati rice
4-5 large basil leaves
1 ball of mozzarella (about 325g), cut into small cubes

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add zucchini pieces and cook, stirring gently, about 5 minutes, until slightly softened.

Add garlic and tumeric and stir; then add lemon juice and zest, broth, and rice.

Cook, uncovered, about 20 minutes, until rice is cooked and zucchini is tender. Add basil leaves and remove from heat. Puree soup in batches.

Serve warm, but not necessarily hot; garnish each bowl with a handful of mozzarella.

Serves 4-6.


change.

I was doing a bit of optimistic almost-spring cleaning the other day when I came across this envelope, crammed full of hand-written recipes on bits and pieces of paper in various states of disrepair.

It was like finding buried treasure or reading a diary, all of these food-related memories linking me instantly to the moments when they were created; and, as is so often the case with this kind of thing, reading them left me in a bittersweet mood, nostalgic for some aspects of my old life, and fiercely grateful for who I am and where I am now.

I am not the only one in my circle of friends who has a move planned in the not-too-distant future, so I know I am not alone in my looking backwards with mixed emotions while contemplating a leap forward into the unknown.

We’re all trepidatious, optimistic, and sad. We all want to embrace what’s coming wholeheartedly, but are reluctant to leave behind the joy of the here and now.

We’ve all done it before, and we will all do it again.

The good news is that with every move, with every shift, comes the chance to lighten our load a little, and to distill the current chapter of our lives down to its essence before starting anew.

This recipe is one of the treasures that I carry with me move after move.

It was a go-to dinner during a phase in my life when several dear friends and I were utterly heartbroken yet managed to eat incredibly well. It isn’t much to look at, but it’s the kind of dish that you have to serve and get out of the way so as not to be trampled by people scrapping for seconds; and, although I am not a savoury breakfast person, I have been known on a certain kind of morning to eat this by the spoonful, straight from the pan.

“Pork and Beans”
adapted from Nathalie Senecal

5 tbsp vegetable oil
10 cloves garlic, minced
500 g lean ground pork
1 tsp Thai green curry paste, or to taste
350 g green beans, chopped
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp brown sugar
3 tbsp fish sauce
1c water or coconut milk

Heat oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until golden.

Add pork and curry paste and cook, stirring, until pork is no longer pink.

Add beans, paprika, sugar, fish sauce and water or coconut milk. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until beans are cooked and much of water is absorbed, 8-10 minutes or so.

Serve with steamed jasmine rice.


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