Chicken artichoke stew.

I’ve never met a vegetable more frustrating than the artichoke.  You spend too much time on them, getting poked by little pricks in doing so, risking slicing off your palm with your sharpest knife, and possibly (if you are as clumsy as me) peeling off a fingernail or two with your peeler.  All for a teeny tiny little stub.

But damn it if that stub aint worth it.  I’ve never met a vegetable more frustrating that the artichoke but I’m also hard-pressed to name one more complex and delicious.  The texture of a cooked artichoke is like a cross between a squash and an avocado and the flavor is intensely earthy and bold; it leaves a clean, mellow taste on your tongue and, because of a compound called cynarin, makes anything you eat with it taste a touch sweeter—not good when pairing with expensive wine, but fabulous for sauteing with garlic.

Most of the time, I like to drop prepped artichokes in a bowl of lime-water so that their color stays as bright as possible.  I usually find that lemon-water will overpower the flavor of artichokes but lime won’t interfere.  I would’ve loved to show you a video of how to prep the artichokes, but thought I would save you from the barage of bad language and mini-tanrums.  For a great, frustratingly calm slide-show, click here.

I used hot-house tomatoes, peeled and seeded, because canned tomatoes would be too sweet for the sweetening effect of artichokes, and a whole chicken cut into eight pieces (you can have the butcher do this for you instead of buying chicken pieces, you get a much better quality buying whole).  Past all the prep work, this dish is simple as pie (simpler, even): throw everything in a pot with some wine and then have a glass while you wait for your fabulous dinner.

A dinner that will be amazingly good, too; one that transports you to another place, an Italian countryside maybe, where you eat while the wind whips at your hair and the wine intoxicates you.  One where you feel no embarrassment at sucking the chicken bones dry, one where that is considered flattering.  One where, even, there’s a nice man playing footsy with you under the table while you give him your come-hither eyes as you slop up the sauce with some warm, crusty bread.

Artichoke and Chicken Stew

adapted from Bon Appetit, April 1998

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces, preferably farm-raised
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 6 medium artichokes, trimmed, halved, chokes removed 
  • 3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped, preferably hot-house unless in-season
  • 2 cups chicken broth

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until golden, about 8 minutes. Transfer onions to bowl.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in same pot over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Add to pot and cook until golden on all sides, about 10 minutes. Pour off excess fat from pot. Sprinkle flour over chicken in pot; turn chicken over. Cook until flour browns lightly, about 2 minutes. Add sautéed onions, white wine and garlic to chicken. Reduce heat; simmer until wine is reduced by half, about 5 minutes.

Drain artichoke halves. Add to chicken. Add tomatoes and broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until chicken is cooked through and artichokes are tender, about 30 minutes. Spoon off any fat from surface of stew. Using slotted spoon, transfer chicken and artichokes to large platter; tent with foil. Boil sauce in pot until slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over chicken and artichokes.

Almond Olive Oil Cake

Something happened last week that made me literally forget about everything, and move on up to live in a cloud for a few days.  Jim asked me to marry him and as much as I didn’t think I could get any higher over it, you all pushed me further up. Thank you for all the congratulations!  We had no idea that so many of you had been following out little love affair over the past years and were so elated over the response from our engagement post. Thank you!

I hope I can repay you for such goodness with this almond olive oil cake.  It’s not mine, as Gina DePalma created it, and Sassy Radish posted it (and urged me to try) a few weeks back.  And while I can’t actually give it to you, unless you live in the tri-state area and would like to come over for a cup of tea while I bake us one, it’s so easy to make you may be able to do it quickly enough to think it was somebody else working, and not you.  It’s worth the 10 or 15 minutes of prep that you’ll put into it, and then some.  It’s also worth finding some natural almond flour (or making your own) to use in it.

Natural almond flour is almost coarse grain, with specks of almond skins and a nutty, intensely almond aroma.  It brings a great deal to the cake, even unglazed.  Though when the cake is topped with nutty browned butter, the almond flavor is heightened right up onto the cloud with me.  After one bite (and before the many, many bites that followed) I had already deemed this cake my favorite cake, one that may even end up served to a few of my closest family and friends in a year or so, on some certain day.

If you make this cake, don’t skip the browned butter, or the toasted almonds on top.  Besides the natural almond flour, the topping is what turns this cake into a favorite cake.  It’s rich and intensely flavorful, toasty and warm.  The zests add a bright contrast to what can be too much nuttiness otherwise.  I baked mine in a 9 inch spring-form, but I’m sure you could do it in a bundt for an even prettier presentation.  Because for as easy as it is to make, it’s a celebration cake, a wow factor cake, and of course, a thank you for your kindness cake.

[Editor’s Note:  I’ve made this cake again since this post, and the glaze turned out much thinner and soaked into the cake more—something I prefer.  Not sure why the glaze turned out like this in the picture the first time I made it, maybe I let it cool too long or something, but don’t be worried if yours looks different.  And either way, it’s delicious.]

Almond Olive Oil Cake

by Gina DePalma on Serious Eats, via Sassy Radish

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup blanched or natural almond flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • Grated zest of 1 medium lemon or 1/4 a medium orange
  • 1/2 cup orange juice

For the Glaze:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk
  • A few drops of fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup sliced, blanched almonds, toasted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or springform pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, almond flour, baking powder and salt to thoroughly combine them and set aside.

Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl and whisk them lightly to break up the yolks. Add the sugar to the bowl and whisk it in thoroughly in both directions for about 30 seconds. Add the olive oil and whisk until the mixture is a bit lighter in color and has thickened slightly, about 45 seconds. Whisk in the extracts and zest, followed by the orange juice.

Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and whisk until they are thoroughly combined; continue whisking until you have a smooth, emulsified batter, about 30 more seconds.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake the cake for 30 to 45 minutes, rotating the cake pan halfway through the cooking time to ensure even browning. The cake is done when it has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan, springs back lightly when touched, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow the cake to cool for ten minutes in the pan, then gently remove it from the pan and allow it cool completely on a rack.

While the cake cools, make the glaze. Melt the butter over medium heat in a small, heavy saucepan. When the bubbles subside, lower the heat and watch the butter carefully, swirling it in the pan occasionally to distribute the heat. When the butter begins to turn a light tan color and smells slightly nutty, turn off the heat and let the butter sit. It will continue to darken as it sits.

While the butter cools, sift the confectioner’s sugar into a medium bowl. Whisk in the milk until completely smooth but thick, then slowly whisk in the butter. Taste the glaze and add a few drops of lemon juice to balance the sweetness. Stir in the toasted almonds. Spread the almonds and glaze onto the top and sides of the cake and let it sit until set and dry.

Big news.

I have big news!  Jim and I got engaged.  Engaged!  On a walk along the Delaware River (I told you we felt love-y on the river); I was walking ahead with Champ and turned around to see Jim, looking just a little stricken, kneeling as he pulled out a gorgeous, brushed-metal gold ring, and asked if I would marry him.  I said yes, yes!, and as soon as I started marveling at how cool and composed I was, I got a bit nauseous and we stumbled over to a rock to sit down a minute, and then, appropriately, kissed like never before, and stared into each other’s eyes, and then out at the river, and then gave each other a high-five.

I had no idea how much the news would affect me.  After the short bout of nausea, I was elated—elated—to be getting engaged to Jim.  I’m head-over-heels in love with him, and said yes instantly.  We walked around some more, stopped by the shop that sold Jim the ring and gushed, made our calls, ate a lazy lunch (letting everyone at the shop know we just got engaged), and went to the butchers.  Like any old day, really, except we were grinning from ear to ear, and a little bleary-eyed over the excitement.  Excitement for the engagement, of course — and for the meal to come.

Jim and I rarely eat expensive cuts of meat.  We spend enough money buying the best meat from local sources around us, and if we bought the best cuts from them, well, our landlord wouldn’t be too happy at the end of the month.  But engagement celebrations?  Splurge!  We would’ve bought the whole beast if we didn’t keep reminding ourselves of our lunch at Le Bernardin the next day, so we settled on a big hunk of rib-eye.

Jim is really the mastermind behind this steak.  He marinates it and cooks it without a hint or comment from me, as I busy myself with the sides (roasted potatoes, sauteed kale, balsamic onion confit, and a green salad).  The marinade, he tells me, is garlic, thyme, salt, and oil, with a sprig of rosemary to rest on top.  This sits for a few hours while you dance to Love Me Tenderly by the Felice Brothers with your fiancee.  You cook by searing the meat on all sides, and then finishing in the oven at about 400F or somewhere around there, depending on your steak.

The steak was fabulous, every side worked, and the overall dinner was only heightened by the fact that we were staring googly-eyed at one another.  Afterwards, as we ate Hostess-style cupcakes from the local startup sweet shop, Annie’s Ice Box, and watched Eastbound & Down, nothing could’ve been more right about the day, the dinner, the everything. I’m a big, happy, ball of mush. With a ring on her finger.

Rib-eye à la James Salant

  • Two-pound rib-eye
  • 4-6 Cloves garlics, minced
  • 6-8 Stems Thyme, minced
  • Salt, lots
  • Pepper, lots
  • Olive oil (4-6 tablespoons)
  • 1 big Sprig Rosemary

Salt generously the night before. Coat with garlic, thyme, and olive oil some hours before cooking, laying sprig of rosemary on top. Sear aggressively on all sides, especially the fatty ones. Roast for 15-20min at 400F.

Celery Root and Okra Dal.

I’ve been hiding a recipe from you.  This is my second year of making it too, and I’ve made it more times than I can remember.  Dal.  Or I suppose that’s what it is, though I’m a real amateur at Indian cooking and I’ve never had an aficionado give me the thumbs up on whether this constitutes a real dal.

I’m not sure it’s authentic. I’m slowly turning away from the pursuit of authenticity, anyway.  I know I love this celery root and okra dal and that’s enough for me.  And I know that celery root is the star here, whether it belongs or not; it’s the reason why everyone I serve this to loves it so much.  It’s less bracing than celery stalks, brighter and fresher tasting—which is a lot to say, since it’s stewed for quite a while.  Sitting in a bowl with earthy, dense lentils, sticky okra, and cooked-down tomatoes, a fresh, bright component like celery root really does a lot.

Which is not to say the other players don’t matter.  If celery root is Michael Jordan, then okra is Scottie Pippen (Jim just gave me that metaphor, and I’m trusting him on it.)  If okra is Scottie Pippen, then the tomatoes are a player that none of us remember but who was actually quite a lot of help to the team.  Red lentils also made a few baskets.  Even the mire-poix of onions, peppers, and carrots can play a good defense.  I’ve taken this metaphor too far.

But you know what I’m saying.  My dal is the perfect balance, at least in my eyes.  Spicy, filling, a touch sweet, bright, with a lovely scent of garam masala.  Perfect on its own atop basmati rice.  Perfecter with a fried egg on top.  Great for vegetarians, but you’d be downright dumb not to serve this to anyone who likes food.

I like to slice up my okra—which is a bit of a slimy mess—and combine them in a bowl with diced tomatoes, some spices and white vinegar, and after it sits for 15-20 minutes, add it to the dal.  Pressed for time or energy, though, you could just add the okra and tomatoes straight to the dal with a splash of vinegar.

Celery Root and Okra Dal

Season to your tastes at the end.  Add more spices, more jalapeno, some hot sauce, whatever suits you.  The good part of throwing authenticity to the wind is you never need to sacrifice your tastes.

  • 3 tablespoons ghee, butter, or olive oil (or a combination)
  • 1 celery root, diced
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 1/2 cups red lentils, washed and picked over
  • 6 cups water or vegetable stock (1 cube vegetable boullion if using water)
  • 1/2 pound okra, sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 3-4 small hothouse tomatoes, diced
  • cilantro

Heat ghee, butter, or oil in 6 quart dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat.  Once melted, add celery root, onions, green pepper, carrots, jalapeno, and garlic.  Cook for 10-15 minutes, or until softening and beginning to brown.  Add garam masala, salt, and cumin and cook a few minutes more, stirring.  Add red lentils, stirring to mix, and then the water or stock.  Lower heat and cook, halfway covered, for about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, add okra and tomatoes.  Mix in garam masala, paprika, vinegar, and sugar.  Let marinate in the fridge until the lentils are cooked.

When lentils are done to your liking, add okra mixture and heat through.  Serve on basmati rice with lots of cilantro, a drizzle of olive oil, and maybe a fried egg on top.  Since it gets better with age, try to leave some leftovers for lunch.

Happy, warm, and hungry. Baby potatoes with tarragon.

This is a hardly a recipe; it’s more of a warning:  If you do not make these potatoes, your life will have a teeny-tiny potato void in it, halfway between your heart and your stomach.  It might not seem like much, being so teeny-tiny and all, but I assure you, it will sting.

I didn’t even know I had this void before last night; it was, I’ll admit, easily filled with all the other potatoes that I had braised for countless dinners before.  Those potatoes, with their crispy, browned skins and mashed-potato-y white interiors, are enough to please.  It’s easy not to go looking for more when you already have such a good thing.

Thankfully, more found me yesterday afternoon, in one of my favorite places (second only to my screened-in third-floor porch on the first warm day, when winter seems behind me), my butcher’s.  Just thinking about my butcher’s, which has been written up twice by the New York Times, makes me feel happy, warm, and hungry.  The two butchers, Emil and Joe, may seem stand-offish at first, but ask them about their meat, or tell them the recipe that you’re planning, and let them lead the way for you, and they soften right up.  Become a loyal customer, and you get smiles and jokes and that happy, warm feeling I’m talking about. (You also get a bit of a panicky, distressed feeling because they are pretty old and may be retiring and you don’t know what you would do without them.)  They always know the best cut to use, and their meat is the best.  They’ve got eggs from their farm and hand-picked grocery items.  And yesterday, they had teeny-tiny baby potatoes with yellow flesh that proved beyond creamy, with soft, thin skins.

We bought almost all of them—leaving only about half a pound, because I felt guilty and another customer was leaning menacingly over my shoulder as I pillaged the goods.  I had already decided to braise them on the stove-top, in a little olive oil and tarragon, before we left the shop.  I didn’t yet know how good they’d be.

The braising method, it turned out, was fantastic.  I’m sure it’s the best method to cook these young, creamy potatoes; they brown a little but are left mostly unadulterated.  I’ll never be certain if it’s the best method, however, because I’m sure I’ll never try them another way.  They were perfect.  The tarragon braises down and imparts a nutty—not anise-y as it does raw—flavor.  The result is not quite crispy but brown on the outside, a little nutty, and oh so, ohso solidly creamy and buttery and golden on the inside.  We ate them with our fingers, alongside seared scallops and arugula, and it was one of the best meals we had ever had.  Just thinking about it, I feel happy, and warm, and hungry.

Braised Potatoes with Tarragon

serves 2 to be honest, 4 if there’s a lot of will-power involved

If you can find teeny-tiny baby potatoes, which look a lot like fingerlings, use those.

  • 2 pounds of the teeny-tiniest potatoes you can get your hands on
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • about 10-15 leaves of tarragon, chopped or torn up
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • water

In a (preferably nonstick) pan, warm your olive oil over medium heat.  Scatter your potatoes, the pan should be big enough that you don’t need to overcrowd, with the potatoes hardly overlapping (a little is ok).  Throw your tarragon, salt and pepper in.  Add enough water to come halfway up the sides of the potatoes.  Cover the pan and cook for about 20-25 minutes, until the potatoes are tender, checking at about 15 minutes in case they’ve cooked quickly.  Take the lid off the pan and cook until the water evaporates, stirring very gently with a spoon or silicone spatula so that the potatoes brown on all sides.  Serve hot, with a drizzle of olive oil.

Butterscotch pudding.

I’m not sure why I’m in love with butterscotch pudding.  There’s the deliciousness, there’s that, but I thinks there’s something more to it.  I’m drawn to butterscotch pudding, I feel it in my soul.  It’s as if I grew up with the fondest memories of butterscotch pudding, which I hardly ever had (don’t remember ever having.)  Maybe I wish I did.  Maybe it’s those Werther Original’s commercials, where the old man shares a Werther’s with his grandson, off in his own little world of memory and happiness.

And I’m not sure I even love the taste; good as it is—sweet, buttery—it’s almost too much.  I feel almost too much like a kid eating it.  With some whipped cream on top, a good blanket to snuggle into, and a good book to read, it’s almost too sweet, too much, this butterscotch pudding.

Which isn’t to say your shouldn’t try it.  Especially with a few big spoonfuls of lightly whipped cream. Especially if you have fond memories of butterscotch—real or televisionary—that you’d like to revisit.  You don’t need to add whiskey into it—the origin of the scotch part of the word butterscotch is murky—but if you happen to have a bottle of Balvenie 10, you’d be crazy not to use it.  The spicy, vanilla notes of this scotch were simply made for brown sugar and butter.  It adds a hint of warmth, an extra jolt of comfort.  Whatever you do though, make sure you have the whipped cream, the blanket and a comfy couch, and preferably a good book.  Maybe even a tumbler filled with whiskey on the side table, like I did, to, you know, remind myself that I’m all grown up.

Butterscotch Pudding

adapted from Gourmet

  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon of non-peaty scotch-whiskey
  • lightly sweetened whipped cream

Whisk together brown sugar, cornstarch, and 1/4 tsp salt in a heavy medium saucepan, then whisk in milk and cream. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking frequently, then boil, whisking, 1 minute. Remove from heat and whisk in butter, vanilla, and scotch. Pour into a bowl, then cover surface with buttered wax paper and chill until cold, at least 1 1/2 hours.

25 Random Things.

This morning, I sat down to write the 25 Random Things About Me thingy that’s been rollicking around the Facebook world.  I wasn’t expecting to post it, or even finish it, but since I did finish, I figured I’d let you see.  It’s mostly boring, and not all that much about food; it’s 25 random things about me.

1.  I have a poster I made in preschool that says I love ladybugs.

2.  I hate ladybugs.

3.  I’m a dreadful liar, except for, I guess, when I was in preschool.

4.  I had an octopus salad with oven-roasted tomatoes and lemon at Saul in Brooklyn the other day and it was once of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

5.  Other than the smoked-beet and halibut dish that I had at Saul a year ago.

6.  I like magic realism.

7.  I can’t do math.  At all.  I took elementary math in college and realized that I had been multipling in a very strange way since grade school.

8.  I was a different person before meeting Jim.  I didn’t read the New York Review of Books.  Or go to fancy restaurants.  I drank at punk-rock bars, worked at a bookstore, and thought of myself as “Indie.”

9.  I never think I’m good enough.  And I’ve learned that it’s actually a good thing.  Motivating even, if a little scary.

10. I met my first boyfriend on vacation in Florida.  I had a black bathing suit that made me look gorgeous (for an 11 year old).  My dad did not like my super-cool 14-year old Florida boyfriend, Nate.  Nate wrote me a letter saying “I’m sorry your dad doesn’t like me.  I wish he would.  Because I love you so much Robbin.” He spelled my name wrong. He was preoccupied with the bathing suit.  On the day we left for home, he gave me a peck on the lips (!) before riding off on his bicycle.  I sat down dreamily on the grass and played Boyz 2 Men loudly on my walkman, planning out my future of going to college in Florida, meeting him by chance on campus, reigniting our love, and getting married on the beach.  My mom and I still refer to it as “the summer of the black bathing suit.”

11. I can roast a mean piece of meat.

12. Jim and I fell in love in a little beach shack behind his grandmother’s house in Amagensett, New York.  The house has since been sold.  Everytime I drive by it now, I’d like to sneak back to the shack and smile at it.

13. We fell in love all over again in a cabana on the beach in Hatteras Village.

14. We’re believers that bodies of water make falling in love easy.

15. We live on the Delaware River.

16. And fall in love every time we swim in it.

17. I often grocery shop by making stops at the local butcher, the small farms, the farm markets, and the apple orchard.  In the summer I go down the street to put money in a jar and pick vegetables from the baskets in my neighbor’s shed.

18. I haven’t had a supermarket egg in over a year.

19. The difference between a heirloom carrot and a Cal-Organic carrot is astonishing.

20. Jim is obsessed with language and these blogs.  I never thought I would have a boyfriend who ignored me when there was a good linguist discussion on the internet, rather than a game on the television.  Though he’ll often be just as absorbed in basketball.  He says it’s silly that I chose my favorite basketball players by how nice they seem, or if they dance during their intro at the All-Star Basketball game.  I like Dwight Howard.  He did that Superman thing at the All-Star Basketball game last year. He seems nice.  And has really big shoulders.  So big really, they’re pretty funny to look at, so he’s my favorite.  I hate the players that wear those goggles because then I can’t see their eyes and judge their emotions on the floor.  And that’s the point of basketball, right?

21. I often wish I lived in the Bay Area, so that I could be in the in-crowd of food bloggers. (I assume they’d take me in.)

22. Though I’m content to share meals with them when they visit.

23. I turn 25 this year.

24. And I’m a little scared.

25. Even though I know that’s silly.