Archive for February, 2011

Soba noodle soup with meatballs and baby bok choy

25 February 2011

This is one of those magical recipes that just happened. I had made chicken broth and felt compelled to use it right away. (I have mentioned before that I like soups that don’t require the use of broth. It’s not because I don’t like making broth, it’s because when I do make it, I want to use it immediately, in a dish that will duly appreciate its full worth.)

That day I happened to have all the right ingredients in my kitchen – perfect cooking serendipity: broth, ground beef, baby bok choy, soba noodles. I wanted a soup that tasted zingy, comforting, fresh, far-eastern…ish. (Sadly, this is the closest I come to making anything remotely Asian. And that is one thing I hope to change.) Miraculously, the soup I hoped for was exactly what I got.

Because I liked this soup very much and had nothing else on hand I was once tempted to make it with store-bought broth – it just wasn’t the same.

***

The chicken broth

I don’t make a science out of cooking chicken broth. Whenever I roast a chicken, I throw the bones into a saucepan, cover them generously with (filtered) water, add whatever happens to be in the fridge – chunks of carrot or celery, a wedge of onion, a sprig of parsley, or just a few peppercorns, a bay leaf, and a squeeze of lemon juice (or vinegar) if that’s all there is. It boils for a couple of hours, it’s drained, and it’s done. I usually add salt to the broth just before using it – it seems to be a better way of controlling the seasoning.

*

The meatballs

1 tsp fennel seeds

2 garlic cloves

1 tsp coarse grey sea salt

1/2 onion

One handful flat-leaved parsley

1 egg

Zest from 1/2 lemon

1 lb (450 g) ground beef (or a half/half mix of beef and veal)

In a mortar, grind the fennel seeds finely and set aside, then crush the garlic together with the salt to form a paste, and combine with the ground fennel. Finely chop the onion and the parsley.

In a bowl, thoroughly mix the meat with all the other ingredients: fennel/garlic/salt mix, onion, parsley, egg, and lemon zest.

Shape the meat into small balls, no larger than 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter (will make approximately 24).

*

The soup

2 heads baby bok choy

1 small piece fresh ginger (about 1 inch – 2.5 cm)

8 cups (2 l) homemade chicken broth

About 2 dozen meatballs

200 g soba noodles

3 Tbsps garum (or other Asian fermented fish sauce)

2 Tbsps soy sauce

***

To prepare the baby bok choy, remove any damaged outer leaves, cut into 1/2 inch (1 cm) strips crosswise, and wash in cold water to remove any grit. Cut the ginger into matchstick-thin strips.

Bring broth to a lively simmer. Add ginger and cook for 1 minute. Add meatballs and cook for another minute.  Add soba noodles and cook for another 2 minutes. Add bok choy and cook for 1 final minute. **Adjust the heat throughout to make sure the broth continues to boil. The timing is important since all the ingredients overcook very quickly.**

Season with garum and soy sauce and serve immediately.

Eating out | Brunch at Blaue Gans

22 February 2011

I have a soft spot for Kurt Gutenbrunner’s restaurants. Gutenbrunner is the Austrian chef/owner of Blaue Gans, Wallsé, and Café Sabarsky in New York (as well as Upholstery Winebar and Café Kristall, which I have yet to visit). An essential part of the draw is the excellent food, which is largely Austrian with a number of nods across the German border, but the spirit is clearly more that of a Viennese Café than a Bavarian beer garden. The other thing I like so much about these restaurants is the ambience. Each has a unique atmosphere but with similar qualities: at once elegant and ever so slightly old-fashioned – a touch European in the best sense; but also laid-back and congenial.

Blaue Gans, the most casual of the lot, is great for an easy dinner with friends, a simple lunch, and particularly for brunch. It’s spacious and relaxed – exactly the kind of place you hope to stumble into on a lazy weekend morning – and the menu options span a large spectrum, so everyone is likely to find something that suits their mood, from simple pastries to a Wiener Schnitzel – why not?

There is excellent weisswurst with pretzel, and bratwurst with sauerkraut. But it’s not just the sausages. I am infatuated with the Bibb salad with radishes, pumpkin seeds, and pumpkin-seed oil (in the evening the soups are tough competition). There are perfectly soft-boiled eggs in a glass and delicious Matjes herring “Hausfrauenart” – with apples. And then there is the creamed spinach, which can now be ordered as a side, so I get it every time, regardless of what else I’ve decided to order.

Incidentally, Blaue Gans is a good place to go with young children. Ours are always excited to go and invariably very welcome. They love the weisswurst (including Louise, who is already 11 months) and won’t leave without some Kaiserschmarren, the irresistible thick Austrian pancake cut into slivers and served with seasonal fruit compotes.

***

Blaue Gans

139 Duane Street (between West Broadway and Church)
New York, NY 10013

212-571-8880

Open daily, 11am-midnight (bar until 2am)

Spiced tomato soup

16 February 2011

Traditionally for Valentine’s we invite friends over for dinner. This year I decided to make a monochrome meal. It’s frivolous – precisely. And since I was in a kitsch mood, the meal might as well be red. So on Monday I made a red meal for Valentine’s day: tomato soup, steak tartare, roasted red potatoes with pimentón, radicchio salad, mimolette and Red Leicester Sparkenhoe (orange being the closest thing we found to red cheese), and blood orange sorbet with blood orange slices.

(I first made a chromatic meal 10 years ago, a memorably fun black and white dinner that started with Sophie Calle and ended in the early morning hours with a drive out to see the sunrise on Fire Island. But that’s another story.)

Back to the soup. It was my first tomato soup. And I thought it turned out quite well. I hadn’t made tomato soup before because I don’t buy tomatoes in winter. I checked my most trusted cookbooks but all required the use of the “best, ripest” tomatoes. So I had to improvise, and find a way to make the most of the canned variety – i.e. use lots of other good flavors.

I was quite happy with the result. Thomas – less so. “The flavor of the broth is too strong.” Hmmm, this might be the opportune moment to mention that, in addition to being, in my opinion, quite good, this soup requires no broth. Granted it may have been the celery, or the cumin; Thomas wanted a tomato soup that tastes like tomatoes. For that he will have to wait until next summer.

***

Serves 6

2 x 28 oz. (1 lb) cans good whole peeled tomatoes

2 large onions

Olive oil

3 stalks celery

3 cloves garlic

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp ground coriander

1/4 tsp ground turmeric

2 bay leaves

Maldon sea salt

Cayenne pepper to taste

Crème fraîche or sour cream (optional)

***

Drain the tomatoes (reserve the juice), cut them lengthwise into strips, and set aside.

Peel, cut in half, and thinly slice the onions. Heat enough olive oil to cover the base of a large heavy saucepan. Brown onions in the oil, stirring regularly.

Thinly slice the celery stalks. Add to the onions when they start to turn golden. Continue browning, stirring regularly.

Thinly slice the garlic. When the onions and celery are deep golden (after about 10-15 minutes), add the garlic, cumin, coriander, turmeric, bay leaves, and stir well. Add the tomatoes. Cook for a few minutes over high heat. Add the tomato juice, reduce the heat, and cook at a low simmer for about 35-40 minutes. Remove bay leaves, season to taste with salt and cayenne pepper, and blend until very smooth.

Serve with a spoonful of crème fraîche or sour cream.

Banana cake

10 February 2011

I have had this recipe since I was 7 or 8 years old. I must have been in second or third grade; a friend in my class brought a banana cake to school to celebrate his birthday and offered photocopies of the recipe. I kept the photocopy, and it appears that I have collected recipes ever since. Not obsessively or excessively, but, every once in a while, I wrote down a recipe I liked.

Some years ago I copied these recipes into an orange, cloth-bound dummy book (a sample with blank pages) on the architect R.M. Schindler that I was editing at the time. The recipes compiled in the “Schindler book” (as I now very personally refer to it) are not anonymous, they are not newspaper clippings I fell across and found enticing – they are all linked to memories, and people.

This banana cake reminds me of my first school in France, of Jacob (my school friend) and his family with whom we have not completely lost touch; it evokes their music and a lemon tree in their San Francisco garden that I have seen only in photographs.

Also, it is a very good banana cake. I resisted tweaking the recipe except for the walnuts, as I seem unable to refrain from putting nuts in a cake.

***

10 Tbsps (125 g) butter

3/4 cup (150 g) brown sugar

3 eggs

3 very ripe bananas

1 lemon or orange

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups (200 g) flour (half whole wheat)

2 tsps baking powder

1 tsp sea salt

1 cup (100 g) shelled walnuts (optional)

***

Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).

In a large bowl, beat butter until creamy. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat with a wire whisk until smooth.

Mash bananas well with a fork and add to butter/egg mixture.

Grate zest and juice the lemon (or orange) and add to batter with the vanilla extract. Mix well.

Mix together flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and add to batter. Stir gently, just enough to blend everything together. Gently stir in walnuts, if using.

Line baking pan with parchment paper, butter the paper, and pour in the batter.

Into the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until a knife inserted in the middle of the cake comes out dry. (If, like me, you like the cake to be very moist, take it out of the oven a little sooner, when the tip of the knife is still wet.)

Finger food | Carrots

8 February 2011

Before I knew it, Louise started refusing food; she seals her lips and turns her head to the side. I know this happens to children, they evolve from being adorable unfussy eaters to about 18 months, when you start wondering whether you should send your toddler to bed without dinner.

But Louise is not even 1; it’s much too early for her to become picky. Until I realized it’s not the taste she is rejecting, it’s the delivery. So I let her pick at her own dinner and make a giant mess – and it works. She eats with her fingers meals she’s shunned from a spoon.

These carrots passed the finger-food test brilliantly.

***

6-8 carrots

1/2 untreated orange

Fresh thyme

***

Bring a small amount of water to the boil.

Peel and slice the carrots fairly thinly at an angle to create larger slices.

Cook the carrots in boiling water (covered) for about 10-12 minutes, until soft. Drain water and return the carrots to the pan. Grate orange zest and squeeze the juice over the carrots. Cook for another minute or so until the carrots have absorbed the juice. Sprinkle with fresh thyme.

Serve in slices, coarsely mashed up with a fork, or puréed in a food processor.


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