In agrodolce

Have you all read the most recent Saveur? The feature on cooks in Rome, Eternal Pleasures, makes me want to literally bathe in agrodolce.

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And I’ll admit I came pretty close on Monday. Maiale in agrodolce. Cipolline in agrodolce. Together with some garlicky broccoli. It was pure bliss. Worth running out of the office to go home and make right now. Make some excuse. Tell your boss it’s an emergency. Maybe your kitten is stuck up a tree? It would be worth it, really, if you called your neighbor and asked if they would please stick your kitten (any kitten) up a tree so you could go home. Really.

cippolini onions

Worth it, even, if you don’t think you’re a fan of the sweet and savory combination.  I’ve learned that, in culinary terms, there’s nothing I’m not a fan of — if it’s the right recipe, that is. I mean, I really, really, really dislike foie gras if it’s not done right. But, recently, I licked my foie gras plate clean at Town House in Chilhowie. Oysters will make me gag on most occasions, but I’ve twice gobbled up my fair share, in the Outer Banks, and at Town House, too.  I don’t even like sweet and savory combined in most recipes, and yet here I am, raving about two agrodolce preparations, one for onions, one for pork. Remember when I mentioned that I could bathe in agrodolce? Just ask me if I was kidding.

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The “agro” in both is balsamic vinegar. I used a cheap one, so that it wouldn’t be too sweet on its own. For the onions, the “dolce” is regular white sugar and hydrated raisins; for the pork, it’s honey. Despite the similarities, the two agrodolces have their own flavors. Honey, butter, and rosemary create a round flavor, while the olive oil, sugar and raisins have a sweet tartness. The agrodolce sauce is a bit jumpier on the onions. Perfectly so, especially when you mix just a little bit of it into the honey-butter-rosemary agrodolce marinade you’ve made for the pork.

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You certainly don’t have to make the pork and onions for the same meal, but I thought they worked magic together. Add in this broccoli, and I would say it all works symphonically, if that didn’t risk revealing my extreme dorktitude. But I guess I already did that with the whole bathing in agrodolce thing…

Totally worth it.

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Sweet and Sour Glazed Pork Chops

Printable Recipe

from Saveur Magazine, Issue #128

serves 4

4 10-oz. bone-in pork chops
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1⁄3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. honey
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 sprig fresh rosemary, torn into 1″ pieces

Put pork chops on a plate; drizzle with oil; season generously with salt and pepper; let sit for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to medium-high heat. Combine vinegar and honey in a 1-qt. saucepan and cook over medium heat until reduced to 1⁄4 cup. Stir in butter and rosemary and set aside.

Put pork chops on grill and cook, occasionally turning and basting with balsamic mixture, until browned and cooked through, 12–14 minutes. Transfer to a platter and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Sweet and Sour Onions

Printable Recipe

from Saveur Magazine, Issue #128

serves 4

1⁄2 cup raisins
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 1⁄2 lbs. cipolline onions, peeled
1⁄4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 1⁄2 tbsp. sugar
Kosher salt, to taste

Put raisins into a small bowl; cover with hot water and let soften for 30 minutes.

Heat oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until golden brown, 8–10 minutes; pour off oil. Drain raisins. Add raisins, vinegar, and sugar and season with salt. Cook, stirring, until sauce thickens, 2–3 minutes.

Salmon & Scallop Sashimi

Jim and I celebrated our fourth anniversary this past weekend. It’s the last one before we get hitched and our first-date anniversary falls by the wayside. Sadly, it wasn’t filled with dancing, or wining and dining somewhere fancy, but with a movie that I could hardly sit through because of back pain, and a few ice-packs and a stint on the couch.

Organic Scottish salmon

But luckily, there’s not much that could deter Jim and me from romance. It’s the reason, really, why we’re marrying this fall. Now, a year’s-running back injury isn’t an aphrodisiac, but lightly pounded sustainably raised organic Scottish salmon, served raw with a sprinkling of chives and Thai basil, and a drizzle of hot oil, can overcome the worst pain if you’re in the right company, landing you both in the romantic spirit.

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My love affair with raw seafood rivals (not really) my passion for Jim. Granted, my relationship with raw seafood has more ups and downs than my relationship with Jim. He’s never left me staring into the abyss of a toilet bowl. But, when you find the perfect scallop, buttery and sweet and needing just a sprinkling of kosher salt, a grinding of black pepper, and a few healthy drops of fruity olive oil, you realize that it would be silly to judge all seafood based on a few bad experiences. It helps, though, to go about your seafood seriously.

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So, these recipes (if you can call them that) won’t work for everyone. First off, you’ll need to have access to great seafood.  It’s not an easy thing.  You’ll need a seafood market, or a very trustworthy guy at your local grocery. Even if you go to a stand-alone seafood market, you’ll need to get to know your fishmongers. You’ll need to express your interest in fish. You’ll need them to know you’re serious and you want serious quality. You’ll also need them to like you. And you’ll absolutely need to tell them that you’ll be eating the fish raw.

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You may not be able to get sashimi-making fish just when you want it. I almost always give at least one day’s notice. And, for a special occasion, it’s good to give as much notice as possible. Or you can just wait around, ask what’s good each time you go to the market, and drop whatever you’ve got planned whenever your fish monger is really excited about something. When we go to the market, and they hold out a scallop, asking us to try it, beaming from ear to ear, we immediately forget whatever we’d planned to eat that night, and buy some for sashimi (or to barely cook them and serve over a tomato compote). And, I’ll say it again, always be nice to your fish monger. I’ve learned to put away my pride when I step into my favorite fish joints. I’m at their mercy, and I’m rewarded with salmon sashimi, cut from a fatty section, on my anniversary, with my soon-to-be husband feeding it to me with chopsticks. Results may vary, but if you can find yourself some great seafood, I imagine they’ll be nothing short of spectacular.

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Organic Scottish Salmon Sashimi

serves 2

I get my salmon from Metropolitan Seafood in Clinton, New Jersey.  You want to make sure it comes from a sustainable farm; otherwise buy wild salmon (it won’t be as fatty, but will still be good).

1 4 oz. center cut piece of salmon, skin off
a small handful of chives
a few leaves of Thai basil
soy sauce
fresh black pepper
kosher salt, preferably David’s brand
fruity, high quality olive oil
dried red chili flakes

Place the salmon on a piece of parchment paper. Cover the salmon with another piece of parchment paper. Using a rolling pin or other blunt object, tap the salmon until it flattens out. It’s okay if it breaks apart some — you want it to be in bite-size pieces.

Place flattened salmon on a plate.  Sprinkle with chives, basil, and a few splashes of soy sauce.  Grind on some black pepper and season with salt.

Heat oil with chili flakes in a small saucepan until it is just about to smoke.  Drizzle hot oil (without any chili flakes) over salmon, and serve with chopsticks.

Raw Sea Scallops with Olive Oil

serves 2

4 medium sized buttery, sweet sea scallops
kosher salt, preferably David’s brand
fresh black pepper
fruity, high quality olive oil

Remove the abductor muscle from the side of the scallop if it isn’t already removed.  Sit the scallop upright on its side and, with a very sharp pairing knife, cut the scallop lengthwise into thirds.  Arrange scallops on a plate in a flower pattern.  Sprinkle on a good amount of salt, freshly ground black pepper, and few glugs of olive oil.  Serve with chopsticks and some soy sauce on the side.


Brown Butter Soda Bread

I had planned to bring with me today an authentic Irish Soda Bread. I had done some research.  I could’ve told you that soda bread first appeared in Ireland in the 19th century, when baking soda was invented; that caraway seeds are strictly optional; that raisins make traditional Irish Soda Bread more Americanized; that sometimes, when raisins are added, the bread is called “Spotted Dog”; and that the cross you slash into the bread before baking is really less of a religious symbol than a handy outline for portioning the loaf once it’s baked.

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But at some point, deep in my research, I came across Brown Butter Soda Bread. Now.  Brown butter can stop me in my tracks, but when I clicked the link and read the recipe—Rosemary! Black Pepper! Oats!—I remembered the complicated relationship I’d had with Irish Soda Bread as a child, loving the taste but also being just the tiniest bit disgusted by the combination of raisins and caraway. Maybe I overdid it one time and swore I would never eat Irish soda bread again or something; not that I remember anything like that ever happening…

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But I’m getting away with myself. I said Rosemary! Black Pepper! Oats! and left you in the lurch. I’m sorry. Back to the bread. It’s got the fluffy, moist, biscuit-like texture that soda bread is known for. It’s a snap to put together, like all soda breads. And, unlike the raisin and caraway version (which is more of a breakfast or tea bread), it can easily stand up to dinner.

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The rosemary flavor is subtle, but the fragrance wafts from the loaf as you break it apart, inviting you—No, when you smell this rosemary, buttermilk scented bread, it demands you dig in; it holds you hostage, helpless, because it knows you have no power to resist.

Then there’s the black pepper. If you’re not a fan of the spice, you could always reduce the amount, or omit it altogether, and I think you’d still have a great bread; but to me, the black pepper is icing on the cake. A heaping spoonful to the dough, plus a sprinkling on top, provides heat throughout, allowing every bite a peppery pop. With the proper Irish “lashing” of good butter slathered onto each slice, it’s the perfect combination of rich and spicy.

I may make another soda bread for St. Patrick’s Day this year, one that’s more authentic, sans rosemary, oats, and pepper (though I’ll probably be the American that I am and add raisins), but this will be the soda bread that I continue to bake all year long. I’ll bet you do too.

brown butter soda bread

Rosemary Brown Butter Soda Bread

from Bon Appétit, February 2006

makes 2 loaves

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper plus additional for topping
1 3/4 cups buttermilk

1 egg white, beaten to blend

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Stir butter in heavy small saucepan over medium heat until melted and golden brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Stir flour, oats, sugar, rosemary, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper in large bowl to blend. Pour buttermilk and melted browned butter over flour mixture; stir with fork until flour mixture is moistened.

Turn dough out onto floured work surface. Knead gently until dough comes together, about 7 turns. Divide in half. Shape each half into ball; flatten each into 6-inch round. Place rounds on ungreased baking sheet, spacing 5 inches apart. Brush tops with beaten egg white. Sprinkle lightly with ground black pepper. Using small sharp knife, cut 1/2-inch-deep X in top of each dough round.

Bake breads until deep golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool breads on rack at least 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Baker’s Wisdom:
You’ll get the most tender soda bread by kneading the dough gently and briefly, just until it comes together, so the gluten is minimally developed.

Printable Recipe

Saffron Cauliflower Soup

Life doesn’t seem to understand that my head is still on vacation. I keep telling Life, over and over, that I’m still in Savannah or soaking in the tub at the Riverstead, and Life just puts his fingers in his ears and ignores me. He tells me I’ve been home for almost a month, and that I need to get back to cooking, and blogging about my meals, and to quit thinking I’m some kind of restaurant blogger now.


Writing about restaurants here and over at my new second-blog-home, Jersey Bites, helps me pretend I’m still on vacation. I went out to brunch last week and had two cocktails. I went out to lunch the next day. Then Jim and I ordered wood-oven pizzas two nights in a row. Then back out to dinner the next day. Hey Life, that sounds like a vacation to me. It’s all amazing fun.

But honestly, Life is right. I need to get back to cooking more regularly. I made a soup this morning and it felt so good to be standing over the stove, chopping onions, sneaking tastes here and there before the soup was finished. It even felt strangely good to be cleaning up the dishes later, swiping my favorite cutting board clean, drying off the blender. And finally, after almost a month back from vacation, I felt like I was me again: home in my kitchen, slurping up this creamy, salty soup, flavored boldly but not overwhelming with saffron, and topped with chive oil and fat snips of chives.

Soup is me. I need to remember that when I’m feeling out of sorts. I love making soups in the middle of a Saturday morning. No one else in the kitchen. No rush to get dinner on the table. I putt around. Listen to an episode of The Splendid Table. Cut the onions with precision, even though I don’t need to. And then, after the dishes are done and the table is cleared, I can sit down next to the tulips and have a proper lunch.

My favorite soup for this kind of proper lunch, on a Saturday with flowers on the table, is a pureed vegetable soup. This one, cauliflower, is just right: velvety with a bit of cream; very smooth after a long twist in the blender. It’s fancier than your typical clean-out-the-fridge pot of soup, so you can have a bowl for lunch and then serve the rest at a dinner party. The chives this time of the year are a little less than bright and cheery, so I pureed them with some nice olive oil for drizzling.

But the saffron is what really makes it special. Saffron is the long satin glove of the spice wardrobe. Delicate, fancy, and exotic, it lends a very-slightly bitter taste, almost of iodine, to the creamy soup—a flavor that can’t be mimicked. And the way you cook with it, lifting the little threads of out of their tiny bag, your soft, nimble fingers crushing it, measuring it out just right (because too much saffron is more like big, burly snow gloves), before you finally let it steep in the broth—it’s all very satisfying. With this soup, in my own home, I’m not missing vacation at all.

Saffron Cauliflower Soup

serves 6

adapted from Bon Appetit, January 2003

2 cups water
2 cups chicken stock
1/8 teaspoon coarsely crumbled saffron threads

3 tablespoons butter
2 cups chopped onions
1 1/2 pounds cauliflower, cut into1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces
1/4 cup heavy cream, or more to taste

1 small bunch chives
1/3 cup olive oil
Thinly sliced fresh chives

Combine 2 cups water and 2 cups low-salt chicken broth in medium saucepan. Bring mixture just to simmer. Remove from heat. Add saffron threads. Cover and steep 20 minutes.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in heavy medium pot over medium-low heat. Add chopped onions and sauté until very tender but not brown, about 10 minutes. Add cauliflower pieces; stir to coat. Add saffron broth. Bring to simmer over high heat. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until cauliflower pieces are tender, about 20 minutes.

Working in batches, puree cauliflower mixture in a blender until smooth. Transfer cauliflower puree to large saucepan. Stir in half and half and bring to simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to simmer before serving.)

Put chives into cleaned blender.  Pulse for 1 minutes.  Add oil in a steady steam and blend for 1-2 minutes more, or until chive oil is smooth.

Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with chive oil and a few sliced fresh chives and serve.

Printable Recipe

Elements, Princeton

My fiance, Jim, grew up in Princeton. So when six months into our relationship I packed up all my things and moved from North Jersey to a tiny apartment in Princeton Junction, I figured he’d know where to get a good Sunday brunch. I was wrong. It’s been a sore spot in the otherwise loving affair, but thankfully, with six months to go before our wedding day, the situation has been rectified.

French toast; Egg with Brioche, Bacon Custard, Maple Foam

Elements is the place to go for brunch in Princeton; the place, also, to go for lunch, or dinner, or a fine round of drinks. …You can read the rest of this post on JerseyBites.