Posts Tagged ‘winter’

cooking with the doctor

When I woke up this morning, there was snow on the ground. It’s all melted into rain now, thank you for asking, but this mid-April brush with winter made me all the more excited, and grateful, for the hot (in both senses!) leftovers from last night, destined for today’s lunch table: Dr. Pepper pulled pork.


Considering I hadn’t even tasted Dr. Pepper at this time last year, this dish is a big step. Considering I don’t consider myself a huge fan of spicy foods, and this dish calls for a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, this dish is an even bigger step. And yet the idea of slow-roasting pork shoulder in both for five hours caught hold of me, if only for curiosity’s sake. (Billy is so lucky, to hear entreaties like “This sounds weird. Let’s make it for dinner!) We tried it last weekend and, with some trepidation, spooned it into corn tortillas with sour cream, tomato salsa, caramelized onions and red peppers, and a little jack cheese.


It was unbelievably good. The meat was quite spicy but a little sweet, with an almost barbecued flavor, and the smooth sour cream mellowed out all that heat. Matched with the acidity of the tomatoes and the deliciously sweet onions and peppers, and the cheese — I was just done. It’s the best slow-cooked meat I’ve ever had, and definitely the best pulled pork.

We made it again last night, less than a week after its first audition. It’s that good. I know it sounds weird, and you’re likely thinking, there’s surely a reason chefs don’t regularly baste their roasts with soda . . . but try it anyway. If only for curiosity’s sake. I think you’ll be converted.

Spicy Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork
(Via the Pioneer Woman)

Enough meat for 10-12 6inch tortillas. How many that serves is between you, your guests, and your stomach.

  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 1 1/2 to 2 lbs pork shoulder (also called pork butt; you can buy the whole shoulder, about six pounds, or packaged shoulder cuts, which are just the right size for this recipe)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, or about 3 ounces
  • 1 can Dr. Pepper, more to taste

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Cut the onion into wedges and lay it at the bottom of a heavy dutch oven. Add the meat. Salt and pepper generously. Add the brown sugar and chipotle peppers, and pour the Dr. Pepper over it all.

Lid it, and cook in the oven until the meat is positively falling off the bone and pulls apart easily, about five hours. (Pictured in the photo above. If, after some preliminary fork investigation, your meat looks more like the photo at the very top of the post, it’s not ready. Return it to the oven, lidded, for another hour.) Using two forks, shred the pork, discarding big pieces of fat. Put it on the stovetop and keep warm until ready to use. Feel free to add some more Dr. Pepper at this point, just for kicks, for the meat to absorb.

N.B. Although I have not tried it this way, you could definitely adapt the recipe to a slow cooker — just cook it for longer, i.e. all day.

We love it in corn tortillas (ahem, not pictured) with salsa, sour cream, grilled onions, peppers, and cheese.

admittedly naive

Perhaps I was being optimistic to the point of foolish, but I honestly thought we were done with winter. In the past week and a half, all our snow from the Groundhog Day Blizzard melted. That’s feet and feet of snow, which usually hang about, browned with dirt and gasoline emissions, until May. We actually saw our lawn! Our green lawn! And not just us — the whole town melted. I quickly adjusted to hearing cheeping birds in the morning and to not needing gloves to drive. I guess the “record” in “record highs” should have tipped me off, though. Snow is back.

It returned on Thursday night, in powerful force as Boyfriend and I left Devotay with some out-of-town friends on a (successful!) school visit. Full of patatas bravas, zucchini and aioli, chorizo, bacon-wrapped dates, and paella, we lolled out of the restaurant into a bracing shock of freezing air and, yes, furious flurries. Boyfriend and I waited for a cab for over half an hour before finally hailing one that carved a tenuous, fish-tailing path up Burlington, over the river, and down Melrose Avenue. On Friday, the snow proceeded to melt, but then returned overnight. And I’m not going to sugar coat this, friends: I’m ready for spring! I’ve got slingbacks and sundresses and open-knit tops bookmarked on my browser and I just want to feel, you know, not ridiculous for that fact.

But today, this gray and snowy day, I am happy to hole up inside and nosh my homemade take-out. It is a great disappointment of life here that there are no good Thai restaurants in Iowa City. Chinese, yes; Indian, reportedly yes; sushi, surprisingly yes again. But the Thai food we’ve sampled has been dishearteningly bland and boring, nothing to inspire repeat visits. So I am really excited to have found an incredibly simple, tasty, and fast at-home version of that classic, pad thai.

Sure, whipping out a wok will never be quite as simple as dialing out for take-out, and I can’t promise that I’ll continue making it when I’m back in New York (for the summer, say): there are too many authentic, delicious, and reasonably healthy restaurant options in every neighborhood to send me on a hunt for rice sticks. But for now, for me — and for any of you looking to satisfy a craving that your neighborhood place cannot — it works beautifully. It’s best with shrimp, which the original recipe calls for, but I had no shrimp and extra sugar snap peas this morning, and the substitution was just dandy. Add some scrambled egg, bean sprouts, garlic, roasted peanuts and the inescapable lime quarters and you’ve got yourself a lunch, a dinner, or a movie-in-bed meal.


Pad Thai
(From Williams Sonoma’s Cooking at Home)

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 4 oz rice vermicelli (long, thin noodles like spaghetti), also called “rice sticks,” and sold in the Asian section of most grocery stores
  • 4 tbsp canola or peanut oil
  • 1/2 lb raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
  • 2 eggs, thoroughly whisked together
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 green onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tbsp coarsely chopped roasted peanuts (to roast, bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes; or, saute in a hot pan for a few minutes until charred and fragrant), divided
  • 2 limes, quartered
  • 2 tbsp cilantro, chopped

Method

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook rice noodles according to package directions. Mine take 8 minutes.

In a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat, warm 1 tbsp oil, swirling to coat bottom and sides. When very hot but not smoking, add the shrimp and stir until pink and firm, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer to bowl and set aside.

Add another tbsp oil to pan, swirling again to coat evenly. When hot, add eggs and stir until scrambled, about one minute. Add to shrimp.

Add the remaining 2 tbsp oil to the pan, again swirling to coat. When hot, add the sugar and fish sauce to pan. When the sugar dissolves, add the cooked rice noodles and toss with the sauce. Return shrimp, garlic, and eggs to pan. Add bean sprouts, red pepper flakes, green onion, and half the peanuts. Toss everything together and turn out onto a platter or individual plates. Garnish with remaining peanuts, cilantro, and lime quarters. Serve immediately and enjoy!

for what it’s worth

For what it’s worth, it’s freezing cold today. It’s the warmest part of the day (warm being a relative term, of course), and we’re still in the negative double digits with wind chill. Repeat: the negative double digits. That’s a biting Arctic blast, as the folks at Weather.com are helpfully pointing out from their tropical stronghold. The good, the bad, the deceiving thing about having feet of snow still on the ground (though mercifully off the roads) is that it makes everything so bright. It’s like a bottle of teeth whitening solution exploded over the entire town, and some people (like me! People like me!) still associate winter with dark, dreary days and summer with bright, sunny ones. So from this side of the window, it looks warm out. Rays of sunshine beam in through our curtains every morning. Driving — that is, crunching over layers of frozen snow — requires sunglasses. It is all very misleading.


There is an upside to all of this. When I came in from the cold earlier today, I had a brain wave. It began with the craving, nay, the need for soup, the absolute requirement of having a steaming bowl of thick, hot liquid to stick my face into. I remembered I had some cooked, unused cavatappi pasta curls sitting in the refrigerator from last night. I had just bought an extra can of diced tomatoes at the grocery store. You get the idea. The Heavens aligned, the sky parted, the angels sang, and I cobbled together a hearty pot of Italian Minestrone Soup for lunch.

I put more carrots than celery, and more onion than carrot, because that is my flavor preference. Most minestrone recipes include potato, but I thought the beans and pasta would make it hearty (and carb-happy!) enough on their own. And, of course, since soups are so jolly and flexible, you could add any veggies you prefer — chopped up zucchini, spinach, leeks, they’d all be great.

With soup down, there’s chili for dinner. I think we may just live to see the end of the Arctic cold front. It’s supposed to be unaccountably balmy this weekend — highs in the 40s! — and I can’t wait.

Winter Minestrone Soup
(I took from both Giada and Michael Chiarello, but tweaked a little here, a little there, and wound up with my own version)

Serves 5

Ingredients

  • 5 slices of bacon, diced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 2 stalks of celery, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed and diced
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 (15 oz) can Cannelli beans, drained and thoroughly rinsed
  • 4 cups chicken stock, more as needed
  • Bay leaf, several stalks of thyme, salt, and pepper
  • 2 oz. piece Parmesan cheese rind
  • 2 cups cooked pasta, elbow or similar

Method

Heat up a large, heavy pot (like a le Creuset) and add diced bacon. Cook until crispy and remove from pan with a slotted spoon, leaving the rendered fat behind. Add onion, carrots, and celery and cook until tender, about ten minutes. Add the garlic and pour in the can of tomatoes. Cook until the tomatoes begin to lose their shape, about ten more minutes.

Meanwhile, blitz together 3/4 cup of the beans with 1/4 cup of stock in a blender or food processor until nearly smooth. Add to the pot, along with the rest of the chicken stock, the rind of cheese, and the herbs. Salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cover. Cook 10 to 15 minutes. (If making in advance, turn of the heat and let sit until needed.)

Before serving, remove bay leaf and cheese rind. Add cooked pasta and rest of the beans. Simmer two minutes to heat through. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Top each bowl with pieces of crispy bacon and a flurry of Parmesan.

the dilema of our times

Temperatures aren’t supposed to break out of the negatives today . . .

Unless it starts to snow. Which’ll warm it up.

And I’d say, “Thank goodness for my chai lattes” . . .

But I already drank it all.

And I need more star anise and cardamom pods to make more.

To leave the house, or not to leave?

chai city

I have never had a better chai latte than at Mud Coffee, 307 East 9th Street, New York, NY. Unlike so many other vendors (Starbucks, I’m eyeing you worst of all), they don’t shy away from the strong spices, and the predominate taste isn’t milk — or rather, sweetened milk with some shy, first-time-away-from-home cinnamon and nutmeg briefly shaken in to justify the name. At Mud, there’s ginger, there’s cloves, there’s cardamom and allspice and you can taste it all, strongly.


I thought I might fare okay at Java House, the estimable local coffee shop with five locations around town, all congenial spaces (one has a fireplace!) with ample tables and couches for studying, chatting, or reveling in coffee snobbery. But alas, no. Not as bland as Starbucks, but it still left me with the usual suspects of complaints. I am truly a bore to be around. Then, a couple weeks ago, I stumbled upon a recipe promisingly entitled “Amazing Spiced Chai Concentrate.”


Well, hey! thought I, I like amazing things! And amazing chai most of all! So I gave it a whirl. I collected the spices we didn’t have on hand (anise star, cardamom) from the hippie co-op, which sells them in bulk at steeply reduced prices. I bought some run-of-the-mill black tea, figuring its lack of pedigree wouldn’t matter after all the spicing. I added all the stuff up top to a pot of boiling water, let it steep, sweetened it with brown sugar, vanilla, and honey, and strained it over a cheesecloth. A cheesecloth because I hate grit and love complicating things.


The result was fabulous, with a happy ginger finish, far and away better than the milky mugs that go for almost $4 (gasp! yes, even here). It still wasn’t as satisfyingly strong and spiced as Mud’s, though, so after coming to terms with my draconian chai taste buds, I tinkered. I nixed the black pepper grinds for allspice berries, because I think they’re wonderful. I upped the cinnamon, the nutmeg (though you need not necessarily, if you’re using freshly ground unlike my prepackaged stuff), and the final swish of vanilla. N.B.: I’m considering swapping out the extract for a bean next time, and steeping it with all the other spices. If you’re brave enough to try, please report back! Finally, I dialed back the brown sugar, because it was giving itself airs, and let the whole thing steep for longer.

And kids, this is it. I think you should try this. I think it’ll convert you. Permanently, forever and always.

Spiced Chai Concentrate
(Adapted from Tasty Kitchen)

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 1/2-inch thick coin of ginger, smashed
  • 4 whole cardamom pods
  • 1 whole star anise
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 5 allspice berries
  • 1 tsp pre-ground nutmeg (or 1/2 tsp freshly shaved)
  • 1 tsp orange peel, grated or peeled
  • 5 black tea bags
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract

Directions

Bring the water to a boil. Remove from heat and add tea bags and spices. Let steep 20 minutes. Strain and add the brown sugar, honey, and vanilla. Return to heat briefly until sugar dissolves and strain.

To make a latte, combine one part concentrate with one part hot milk. (More of one or the other to taste.) Enjoy!

because it’s winter

Because Monday was our first big snow of the year (of the season, come to think of it),

Because freshly-fallen snow actually warms up the air, which means our driveway hadn’t iced over when I went to the grocery store yesterday,

Because I have learned that, when backing out of an unshoveled driveway, you had better just take a deep breath, aim straight, and GO,

Because cold weather inevitably makes me feel like ladeling butter and/or cream into my arteries, but I am sortakinda trying to avoid this route, even though my parents just snuck a box of, I kid you not, “pure butter shortbread cookies” in my Christmas care package,

Because this recipe caught my eye the moment I saw it and contains not a whiff of butter and/or cream, merely root winter veggies, beans, and greens with a cute egg perched on top, which doesn’t exactly make it light, but could certainly be called healthy,

Because I tutor, and Boyfriend has class, until 8:00 on Tuesdays and we both required a hearty, hot, and 90% finished meal awaiting our return,

And because the world needs more stew,

I made this.

I know I say this all the time, and may be losing some credibility in the “How easy is that!?” department, but I persist: this is really easy. You gotta break down some kale and give it a quick boil. You gotta chop up veggies and soften them in olive oil, add and reduce white wine, and dump in canned beans, canned tomatoes, stock, and herbs. They hang out in the pot for a bit, and five minutes before tabletime you pop in the kale. Dress with a splash of vinegar and toasty, crusty bread. And a poached egg.

Okay, I definitely lost you on that last one.

I promise it’s easy!

This was the perfect stew to come home to. Stews are such flexible little guys: mine sat on the stove, unheated and untended, for over an hour with the patience of a rock. (But much tastier.) You can sub in onions for shallots, chopped up leeks for celery, and next time, if I’m feeling sassy, I am definitely frying up some bacon strips, using the rendered fat instead of olive oil, and topping the assembled bowl with bacon crumbles. Have fun with it.

Kale and White Bean Stew
(From the SK, with minor alterations)

Serves 4-6

What You Need

  • 1 pound kale (can substitute Swiss chard, spinach, or another heavy green), washed, ribs and stems removed
  • 3 tbsp olive oil (appx)
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup chopped shallots (about 4 large)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 14.5-oz cans of Cannellini beans, drained and rinsed thoroughly
  • 1 cup pureed tomatoes
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

For serving (technically optional, but highly recommended)

  • Crusty bread, like ciabatta, drizzled with olive oil, toasted under the broiler, and rubbed with garlic
  • A poached egg for every bowl (and here’s how!)
  • Grated Parmesan cheese

What You Do

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add kale for one minute and remove. Squeeze out as much water as possible and roughly chop. Drain water, wipe out pan, and return to medium heat.

Add olive oil. When hot, add carrots, celery, shallots, and garlic. (You don’t have to have everything perfectly prechopped. I chopped the carrots, added them, chopped the celery, added them, etc. Just makin’ it easier!) Lower heat and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add white wine, scraping up any bits clinging to the pot, and reduce by half. Add the beans, tomatoes, stock, and herbs. Cook for 20 minutes. (At this point, you can turn off the heat, lid it, and go about your day. It’ll be fine.)

Five minutes before serving, add the chopped chard. This is also when you want to toast the bread and drop those eggs into barely-simmering water.

To serve, ladle into a bowl and drizzle with red wine vinegar. Stick in a slice of garlic bread, perch the egg on top, and let it rain Parmesan cheese. Eat up!

i scream, you scream


It’s just my lot in life that my favorite ice cream is a very (like, micro-level) local affair. You can buy it at DC-area Balducci’s, the Whole Foods in Old Town, Alexandria, and exactly three farmer’s markets. That’s it. Is it madness, to stand in snow-tipped fields to buy a some more containers of frost? Perhaps. I like to think it is the very best kind of madness.

Here’s a thing that makes me sad. Desserts “à la mode” — “in the fashion”. Sure, I’ll eat ’em. I’ll gobble those vanilla-topped slices of pie with the best of ’em. But when ice cream’s a trend, it can go out of fashion. Who wants to live in a world where ice cream can become unfashionable? I certainly do not. Ice cream, that little engine that could, has such star potential, but is almost always relegated to afterthought. A garnish. Like parsley. Ice cream is the parsley of the dessert world. (N.B., I have been known know people who have polished off entire Ben & Jerry’s pints in one sitting after a pasta dinner!!!!, but I think we can all agree that this “everything but the kitchen sink” attitude to ice-cream making risks confusing the issue. The point of B&J’s, I humbly submit, is not the luscious, rich glossiness of their chocolate ice cream, but the dark fudge chunks, white fudge chunks, pecan, walnuts, and chocolate-covered almost stirred in. Name that flavor!)

Sinplicity is all about the ice cream, not the stir-ins. It’s all about restoring honor to ice cream.

Do I go too far?

It’s not just chocolate; it’s Belgian chocolate truffle with Kahlua. I don’t care about the pedigree (though have I mentioned they pasteurize their own dairy products? It’s true.) — I care about the fact that it tastes like a chocolate truffle, intense and dark with that bitter slick of coffee tang that all good chocolate carries in its back pocket. (The GOOD chocolate, amiright, Ina? Oh, let’s just pause for a minute and reflect on how great Ina is.)

The Madagascar vanilla bean ice cream, friends, is just beyond. It will forever banish the idea that vanilla is a neutral or even, gasp!, bland flavor that can be plopped atop any dessert willy-nilly. Vanilla has character. It has a warm, spicy/floral depth. You gotta think about its flavor profile, kids. I will also tell you that chocolate and vanilla go together like, well, chocolateandvanilla, but if you’ve ever thought this pairing seemed a little arbitrary, you need to swirl these two in a bowl, taste, and finally comprehend.

I cannot wait until Sinplicity begins shipping its ice cream. Their website has a hopeful “Coming Soon” sign dangling across the “Shop Now” corner, and I just hope “soon” isn’t a metaphor for “Ha, suckers, like we would trust FedEx with our in-house pasteurized premium artisan ice cream!” DC-based friends, try a scoop of their classic or seasonal offerings (listed here in PDF) immediately. Here’s hoping my stockpile doesn’t melt on the plane ride back to Iowa.

Ps. If you are far from this area and want to make your own from-scratch and comparably-luscious ice cream, I have some pretty good ideas on where you might look first.