Last week I met a very dear friend for lunch downtown in Boston. We hadn’t seen each other in a good while, and like two typical “city mice” we played a bunch of phone tag until our schedules finally married up and we could manage a workday lunch date. She suggested we meet at a fairly new place called The Blue Glass Cafe in the Hancock Tower. I had never been there before, but it very much reminded me of the Reykjavik airport in Iceland; a modern, sun-lit cafeteria….very bright and cheerful. I ordered soup at the Pho Bar (yeah I know – a pho bar!) and she grabbed a really tasty-looking chicken sandwich. We sat at a little white table and caught up on our families, our futures, and of course….food! We both love to cook and share recipes, so I made a point to tell her about my latest go-to meal concoction. This dish has been a large part of my recent effort to make more hot meals with leafy greens. This one’s star is Bok Choy, which packs almost all the Vitamin A, C & K you need in a day. I also added nuts to the dish which help maximize nutrient absorption from the greens. (My friend will have to weigh in on that one…she’s actually a fitness & nutrition pro in real life). When lunch ended, Tara promised to come to my Christmas party and I promised to send her this recipe…so behold! I give you the Greenie Bowl. Super healthy and super satisfying, below are all the ingredients you need to whip up a steaming bowl of asian style greens in less than 15 minutes…..
SIMPLE HOT GREENIE BOWL – start to finish, about 12 minutes.
2 kinds of greens (I used dinosaur kale and bok choy) | Bragg’s liquid aminos | Wan Ja Shan Dumpling Sauce | 1 piece of fresh ginger (about the size of a cube of cheese) | fresh garlic (about 2 cloves) | nuts (cashews, almonds, or peanuts) | a heavy drizzle (a little more than a tablespoon) of any medium-to-high-heat oil (I suggest canola, but you could also try coconut or peanut)
Start by taking the greens (bunched and unwashed as you bought them) and chop the whole bundle into bite sized strips. Place them in a large bowl and fill with water, sloshing them around to loosen any dirt or sediment. Squeeze the greens with one hand against the side of the bowl while you dump the water and refill with fresh, repeating about 3 times or until everything is clean and no dirt collects at the bottom of the bowl. Set the damp greens aside to drain but do not spin them completely dry (you actually want some of that residual moisture to help steam them in the pan).
Next, drizzle the oil into a hot pan on medium heat. Use a microplane or cheese-grater to quickly grate the garlic and ginger directly into the hot oil. Mix this in the pan to incorporate for just a few moments until you can smell the aromas, then quickly toss the greens in on top before the garlic has a chance to brown. Use tongs or a spoon to toss the greens around in the hot oil. I usually grab the greens and use them to “mop” the garlic + ginger around to keep it from sticking to the edges of the pan. The water on the vegetables should sizzle and everything should begin to turn bright green after about a minute or two. At this point, you can cover the pan for another minute to allow the greens to steam. Then take the lid off, stir again, and give the pan a few splashes of the liquid aminos & dumpling sauce. Continue to stir, adjusting the seasonings to taste. Add more aminos if you think it needs saltiness. Add more dumpling sauce if it needs a sweet tang. Once the liquid starts to cook off, toss in the nuts and stir. If the nuts have been grated very fine, they will help thicken the sauce and make it creamy, which I love.
Serve the greens in a bowl with chop sticks. Lunch is now ready!
…or should I say, Autumn hah-vest? (Couldn’t resist a nod to Beantown this week.)
When K and I talk about eventually moving out of Boston and into the suburbs, there is usually some discussion around property “must-haves.” We each have our own list; for example, his includes “ample storage space” and mine includes “wood-burning fireplace.” (Big mystery there on who’s the voice of reason in the relationship!) Still, one must-have that both our lists share is a suitable outdoor space for a big garden.
Earlier this fall, after some volunteer work out in Worcester, one of my co-workers invited us over for afternoon refreshments and a special peek at her family’s garden, which I was secretly dying to see. Over the summer, Anne had spoiled me on several occasions with samples of her fresh eggs, heady herbs, and juicy tomatoes. There were always little anecdotes that accompanied the goody-bag; maybe something funny with the chickens – “the girls” as she calls them. Every gift from the garden was truly a treat, and tasted that much better knowing it came from the carefully tended earth in Anne’s backyard.
Though I mention Anne’s name several times above, she’d be quick to interrupt here and point out that her husband, Jerome, should be credited for most things cultivated on their little micro-farm in Rochdale. In addition to raising three chickens and a bountiful veggie garden, the two also keep honeybees and maintain an impressive solar panel grid which powers their home. (100% of their electricity comes from the panels pictured below.) While we walked the property, Anne talked about how much research went into the strategic positioning of the panels so to maximize their output. She shared that a personal point of pride for Jerome was a few weeks post-construction when the solar company actually called the house and asked, “What’s your secret???” Apparently their performance was tracking above average, which sparked some interest with the solar techs. When I asked if they had determined what was driving the high output, Jerome smiled and shrugged modestly before saying, “I do get up there and clean them.” Talk about dedication.
Pretty soon the sun got low in the sky. We said our goodbyes and K loaded up the car with our goody-bags of produce that Anne insisted we take home with us. “We have so much,” she said, “we’re going to wind up donating a lot of it.” Needless to say, I’ve since been experimenting with a number of squash recipes which I’ll save for a future post.
Below are a few photo highlights from Anne & Jerome’s fall harvest. If you’re like me, this will inspire your “must-have” garden for seasons to come.
A couple weeks ago, I went with my neighbor and a friend to pick berries on the north shore at Russell’s Orchard in Essex. This was my third year visiting Russell’s for the berry harvest, which you may remember from this 2011 post. The 3 of us met there late morning on a saturday and picked blackberries and blueberries to our heart’s content. It was the perfect summer day: not too hot, not too buggy, and a bright blue sky. We celebrated our berry bounty afterwards with fried seafood & beer at Woodman’s of Essex – per the recommendation of a friend. Needless to say, I returned home in Boston with a full belly and grand plans for a number of fabulous baked goods.
The truth is – the baking never happened. Work got crazy. I got lazy. My sister was coming into town for The Timberman and I didn’t feel like cleaning up a “royal flour-ing” of the kitchen. The berries sat on my counter for 2 days, and then I got worried about fruit flies so I put them in the fridge. A few days after that, I pulled them out, frowned at them, and decided to go the simple route…so jam it was going to be.
I pulled up some recipes online and decided pretty quickly that I didn’t need as much sugar as many called for. I also decided that I didn’t really need a recipe. It’s fruit and sugar, people. So what I did was throw all of my berries (about 4 pints of blackberries) into my sauce pot with about 1/4 c sugar (to start) and thought I would just see what happened. As they cooked down, I gradually added more sugar to the berries until it tasted right and coated the spoon. My conclusion is that nobody needs a recipe for jam. Just cook them down with sugar, starting with a little bit and adding more as needed..feel your way through it until it tastes good to you, then spread it on something nice. The first thing I made was a grilled PB&J for my husband – pictured below. I also made a second batch, with the most adorable little strawberries from Connecticut (check out the image with the Quarter, for a little perspective). They were so cute!
*Jam should keep in the fridge for up to 2 months.
My sister’s boyfriend, Steve, is a cocktail aficionado. Anytime we go to visit them in Brooklyn, what I often look forward to the most is the time we spend at night just sitting in their kitchen talking, while he shakes up all kinds of interesting libations with unlikely flavor combinations that just somehow WORK….magically. Two Christmases ago, he gave us the best Christmas gift ever: a batch of homemade hot pepper syrup for mixing our own fun drinks at home.
We monitored our ration of syrup like it was gold. “You only used a tablespoon, right!?”…. “Go easy, there’s not that much left!!!” Steve, modestly, kept reminding me how easy it was to make. It wasn’t until we finally used the last few drips in the bottle that I decided to try and whip up a quick batch. He was right…. super simple:
JALAPENO COCKTAIL SYRUP
ratio: 1.5 : 1, sugar to water
– 2 cups water
– 3 cups sugar
– 4 to 6 jalapeno peppers, sliced & stems removed
Bring water to a boil. Toss in sliced peppers, reduce heat to medium and allow peppers to steep in the water for 3-5 minutes. Use a potato masher to crush the peppers and seeds while everything cooks. Strain into a bowl – discard solids. Return the jalapeno water to the stove and return to a boil. Add sugar and stir until totally dissolved. Store in a mason jar or an old glass bottle, corked. If you like spicy, add a drizzle of this awesomely green elixir to any margarita for a kick!
A few years back I got a great deal on a Staub Cocotte through Rue La La. I was so happy with my find! It’s such handsome cookware and typically so expensive…there was no way I could pass up the deal – I had to have one. Of course, I never use it.
Let’s switch gears for a minute: Tonight I was at Whole Foods doing my weekly grocery shop, when I happened upon the seafood counter and spotted some shiny black mussels hanging out in an ice crate by my feet. “Jones,” my trusted fishmonger noticed I was eyeing them and insisted on fetching me a fresh bag from the back. I obliged. Jones knows his seafood.
While I walked home I tried to remember where I put an old recipe I printed off the NPR website back when I lived in Chicago. I was convinced I was going to use this recipe until I actually found it in my recipe box and realized I was missing a crucial ingredient (bacon). Not that big of a deal… just another night winging it in our kitchen.
I have always had this theory about steamed mussels – that they can’t be all that hard to master – because so many restaurants do them well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ordered mussels out, and while placing the order I go ahead and ask for extra bread because I’m making an early bet the broth is going to be dunk-worthy and amazing. Looking back on countless orders, I’ve come to learn that a good batch almost always includes the following: 1) tons and tons of garlic and parsley, 2) a balanced combination of white wine and fish or chicken stock, and 3) a touch of cream.
Here’s what I threw into mine tonight:
STEAMED MUSSELS WITH FENNEL & CREAMY TOMATO BROTH
1 head garlic, coarsely chopped | 1 handful parsley, coarsely chopped | 1 heavy drizzle olive oil | 2lbs fresh mussels, beards removed | 1 soup ladle-full Rao’s Classic Marinara sauce (because Rao’s goes in everything) | 1 tsp Better Than Bouillon chicken concentrate (or 1 bouillon cube) | 1 c water | 2 c white wine | 1 fennel bulb, sliced finely | heavy cream – a splash or to taste
Saute the garlic, fennel and marinara sauce in the olive oil on medium heat. Once the liquid from the marinara is cooked-off, add the white wine. While the wine is reducing, add the bouillon and water. Cook on high until bouillon is thoroughly dissolved and liquid has reduced by 1/3rd. At this point, toss the cleaned mussels into the broth and cover. Check the mussels every minute or so until the majority have opened. When most have opened, remove with a slotted spoon and place in serving platter. Set burner to high and add the heavy cream. As liquid simmers, taste-test with a spoon until you have a desired thickness/consistency. Add parsley, salt and pepper to taste. Pour broth over mussels and serve immediately with toasted bread.
Sometimes when I’ve had a long exhausting workday, it feels all to easy to just reach for my trusty refridgerator magnets…ultimately leading me down a path towards a big, cheesy pizza. I love pizza – don’t get me wrong – but I’m making a concerted effort to cook healthier more frequently…which means coming up with faster recipes that after a long day will entice me back into my own kitchen with the promise of – not instant, but speedy gratification.
My recipe below is for a super-quick and super-healthy weeknight meal of perfectly flaky white fish, served over tender beans & garlicky kale. (I used flounder for this one, but you could also use tilapia, sole or even thin fillets of hake). Start to finish, the fish takes less than 10 minutes to prepare. The beans take more like 30 minutes (I start with dry beans), but if you wanted to cut down on that time too I don’t see why you couldn’t sub-in some canned small white beans instead. Just make sure you rinse them really well first.
I have to mention here that the success of the entire recipe hinges on a single, crucial ingredient – which is very high quality tomato sauce. I’m sorry guys, but Prego or Ragu won’t cut it here…you have to splurge and buy the good stuff. Rao’s, shown below, is my absolute favorite. Other good options include Monte Bene or Scarpetta – both great brands. Essentially, the fish is poached in the sauce and then finished under the broiler. The only other ingredients for the fish are garlic salt, paprika, and a small pad of butter (there isn’t much else to it…hence why the sauce has to be top notch).
POACHED BROILED FISH OVER BLACK EYED PEAS & KALE
1/2lb (half the bag) dry black eyed peas | 3-4 c water | vegetable stock | 5 cloves garlic, chopped | 4-5 large leaves kale, chopped & ribs removed | 1 & 1/2 c good tomato sauce | spices: garlic salt, paprika, pepper
Begin by rinsing the beans clean in a strainer. Add to pot cold and boil in the 4c water for 20 minutes. If liquid reduced too much, add a splash of the vegetable stock. After 20 minutes, reduce heat to a simmer. Skim off & discard any grey residue that has collected on the water’s surface from the beans. Add the chopped garlic & 1/2c tomato sauce to the beans and stir. Continue to let the beans simmer and soften. You want the liquid to become “saucy,” so keep adding vegetable stock as the water cooks off. After another 10-15 minutes, add the kale and stir. Season with salt and pepper, lid the pot and set to low while you cook the fish.
Start by pouring enough sauce (the remaining cup) into a skillet to coat the bottom of the pan. On high, wait for the sauce to begin bubbling around the edges. Once that happens, lay your fresh fish fillets right on top of the sauce and nestle them in, using a spatula or tongs. Allow the fish to cook for just a minute or two, until the fish begins to turn opaque and white along the edges.
At this point, lightly sprinkle the fish with garlic salt and paprika. Then place a small pad of butter on top of each fillet. Set broiler to high. Place the pan in the oven on the top rack, directly under the flame or element. (Stay close & don’t walk away!) The butter will melt over the fish and sizzle, browning ever-so-slightly to form a thin, golden crust. After just a minute or two, the fish is done.
Stir the bean mixture, adjusting with seasonings as needed. Serve with the beans mounded in the center of the plate, with a fish fillet on top.
One sunday afternoon over the summer I had the pleasure of discovering Grillo’s pickles at at food stand inside the SOWA Market in the South End. Can I tell you? What a treat. It may have begun as a snarky chuckle over the idea of “gourmet pickles,” but my attitude changed as I sent a toothpick through the series of flavors to sample; each of them crunchy and salty and tangy and satisfying.
Boston-based Travis Grillo started his pickle company in 2008, and since then Beantown locals have been raving about his spears all over the interwebs. The pickles – now widely distributed in these parts – are available at City Feed, Whole Foods, and few other food retailers for around 7 bucks. I of course found them and bought them immediately.
Long after K and I finished our container, the empty jar of juice sat in our fridge for weeks. We’d toss anything into it, hoping to stretch the pickle-y goodness a little farther. I threw in more sliced cucumber, carrots, cauliflower…you name it. When we finally tossed the jar, I felt satisfied knowing I got the most out of my $7 pickles.
Then a couple days ago while running a quick errand at Stop & Shop, I did a quick sweep of the promo-aisle and grimaced for moment at a giant endcap of $3.00 Mt Olive pickle chips. I was remembering Mr. Grillo and thought to myself that I could really jazz them up…so I did.
A few sliced cloves of garlic and one heavy squeeze of Sriracha was all it took to make these puppies worlds better. Now they’re a far more worthy accompaniment to a casual meal at home… with a giant Reuben, or grilled cheese…or whatever. Try it out and let me know what you think. Just one small warning…these are HOT. Enjoy.