Category Archives: Slow

This meal should be made on the weekend

Curried Cubanos with mojo, baby

What should be done with leftover curried roast chicken?  I’m still not sure why the answer turned out to be Curried Cubanos. I know, it should have been velvet butter chicken, but we have had a glut of curried chicken in the past few weeks. I was sick of chicken leftovers in quesadillas and chicken salad and even though I love chicken enchiladas, there is way too much prep to build them on a Tuesday night. Considering that the chicken was, in fact, curried, almost anything not Indian would be weird.  I was in the mood for a Cubano with Mojo* anyway. Even one with an incongruous Indian accent.

Cubanos with Mojo? (I have to say that looks really funny to me. I can’t write about mojo and not think of Austin Powers – even if they aren’t actually pronounced the same way) Anyway, this recipe for pork Cubano sandwiches from Fine Cooking uses a mojo to perk up the flavor. Although I have to say, that the curry from the leftover roast chicken probably contributed more mojo than the actual mojo did.  Which is not to say that the curry worked brilliantly – I kept thinking: Curried Cubanos…really?! I don’t know…as I was eating them, not ever being entirely convinced. Still, the kids liked them; we liked them. In terms of whether or not I might make them again, and for whom, well, I might serve them to my sister but never to her husband. I just don’t think he would approve.

With the Cubanos we had Black Bean Soup.   It has been at least a year since the last time I made Black Bean Soup. I had been following the recipe from Cook’s Illustrated’s The New Best Recipe.  I often turn to this book, especially for basic renditions of ethnic foods. They do a pretty good job of transforming supermarket fundamentals into things like pho and pappa al pomodoro which are a lot more fun than macaroni and cheese or broiled chicken breasts as midweek fare.

That being said, their black bean soup recipe stinks. Really. Their recipe stopped me from making Black Bean Soup at all. For a while, I couldn’t figure out why it was so terrible. They start with all the right ingredients. First, they cook the beans with a ham hock. Then, adding soffrito with red pepper, garlic and herbs. The weird part is that they finish the soup with this cornstarch slurry, promising to keep the soup nice and black and thickening without pureeing too many of the beans. It doesn’t work at all and there were a lot of extra steps.

What I realized when I went back to look at the recipe though, is that they expect the soup to be done in just 2 1/2 hours!  And that’s without soaking the beans.  No way is that going to work. What I have come to realize is you just can’t rush beans. Not black beans anyway. Thickening the soup with cornstarch is a cheater’s method. Black bean soup should be basic and easy going. It requires nothing more than a little planning.  10-15 minutes worth of work will give you back three days of deliciousness.  You don’t want to go messing around with a 3 part recipe to get an inferior soup with a lot of extra work. No. Soak your beans ahead of time and this soup materializes practically out of thin air! I read a bunch of recipes and cobbled this recipe together. This black bean soup is the color of the deepest chocolate. It has a velvety consistency and a gentle, easy, burn. You won’t break a sweat pulling it together.  Count on at least 3 hours of simmering though and on soaking the beans.

Black Bean Soup

  • 1 lb black beans, picked over and soaked overnight in a large bowl. The water should cover the beans by at least 2 inches
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • A 2 inch chunk of salt pork
  • 1 quart chicken broth, boxed is fine – I like Pacific brand
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 28 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, drained of their juice and cut up.  (I like to do this right in the can with my kitchen scissors as I learned from Laurie Colwin in her book Home Cooking, which I love)
  • 1 heaping tsp ground cumin
  • 2 or more minced cloves garlic
  • 1/8-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp of salt, more to taste

Grated cheese, chopped green or red onion, sour cream or greek yogurt for garnish

  1. 3 hours before dinner Put the chopped onion, the olive oil and the piece of salt pork in a large enameled cast iron pot or a heavy bottomed soup pot and turn on the heat to low.  Put the lid on the pot and cook 12-15 minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times.  You don’t want the mixture to get crisp or brown, just to gently soften.
  2. Add the beans, the stock and the water and simmer for an hour or so until the beans are soft.
  3. 2 hours before dinner Add the tomatoes, cumin, garlic,chili flakes and salt.
  4. Leave to very gently simmer for a long long time – about 2 hours.  If you put it on a flame tamer and you are feeling brave you can run an errand or pick up the kids from school.  This makes me a little nervous but I still do it.  I would use a flame tamer though.  It would be very sad to scorch this wonderful soup.

Curried Cubanos

If you have leftover roast pork in the fridge, use that and you won’t have to make excuses about the curry.

Mojo

  • 1 medium clove of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tbsp fresh cilantro
  1. Mash salt into the garlic with the back of your chef’s knife or a mortar and pestle.
  2. Transfer to a small bowl and add the rest of the ingredients.  Let sit for at least 5 minutes

The sandwiches

  • 4 oval shaped subs or bulky rolls, split, not too crusty
  • 3 tbsp grainy mustard
  • 6 oz leftover curried chicken
  • 1/4 lb thinly sliced ham
  • 4 slices swiss cheese
  • 2 dill pickles, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  1. Heat a sandwich press or use a grill pan heated over medium heat.
  2. Brush the inside of the rolls with the mojo and mustard.
  3. Stack the bottom part with equal amounts of pork, ham cheese and pickles.
  4. Top each sandwich with upper half and brush top with the butter
  5. Place in press or on grill pan.  If using grill pan, weight sandwiches with a plate with cans set on top.  Flip sandwich when bottom side is browned. Brown each side and let the cheese melt.

Since I had leftover chicken anyway, this menu was a breeze.  I soaked the beans after dinner the night before and started the soup at about 1:30 pm the following day, when the little guy started his nap.  I spent about 15 minutes on it, about 5 of those minutes at 1:30 and 10 at 2:30.  I didn’t do anything else with dinner until 5:15.  We were eating by 5:45, and that included heating up the panini press.

*Mojo: In Cuban cooking mojo applies to any sauce that is made with garlic, olive oil and a citrus juice, traditionally sour orange juice. It is used to marinate roast pork or plantains.

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The Big Bolognese

Sometimes I have an urge to spend a few hours in the kitchen with something big simmering gently on the stove. When I do, I often turn to the Bolognese Meat Sauce from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.  As you can see in my copy, p.204-5 is where the book has split into 2 pieces, from overuse.

Although it’s not overuse. Because anyone who tastes this incredible (and time intensive) sauce will kiss the ground you walk on.  So it’s worth it.

What is it about this sauce?  Is it because I spent a semester in Rome as a student? Or the memory of my mom’s big spaghetti night? My grandfather’s garlic bread? I think its a little of all those things.  I really like that this is an “authentic” recipe. The meat is gently simmered in milk before the wine is added and then it all has to evaporate before adding the tomatoes.  Only then can the three hour marathon of true simmering begin.  Gauging the heat carefully so that there are several seconds between the bubbles breaking through the surface of the sauce allows the sauce to reduce slowly and maintains the utter tenderness of the meat. The result is nothing like the typical American recipe, those chewy bits of ground beef and soupy-sauce tomatoes drowning long strands of spaghetti. This Marcella Bolognese is the essence of something. I am not sure exactly what.

As Marcella writes “There is no more perfect union in all gastronomy than the marriage of Bolognese ragu with homemade Bolognese tagliatelle.”  Wow.  It’s hard to mess with that.  But I do – mess with that. Despite the fact that I love the long involved traditional process, I serve this sauce American style. The accompaniments are always the same: a big mixed salad and garlic bread made by slathering a split French batard with melted butter and minced garlic and tossing it, wrapped in foil into the oven.  I wouldn’t serve it with spaghetti though, the way my parents (and everybody else) did in the 70’s.  I like a short tube or trumpet shaped pasta that cradles the sauce. And I don’t use parmesan from a green cylindrical shaker.  A real reggiano parmesan is the only way to go.

And so what if the sauce takes 4 hours. While the sauce bubbled away on the stove, I put the little guy to bed, folded a load of laundry, started a book that I’d gotten for Christmas and fell asleep on the couch with Max, my cat. When I woke up, there was the scent of dinner: very homey and purely delicious. January is way too gloomy in Seattle. Making bolognese all afternoon is the perfect antidote. Initially there is some minor chopping. MINOR. A carrot, some celery, a little yellow onion. Everything else is pour, mash, stir.  No big deal.  And the simmering part is easy. You don’t have to stand there. If your kids don’t think you walk on water for making this incredible meal, that’s ok. You just open a nice Montepulciano,  pour yourself a glass and revel in a job well done.

Saturday Menu

(I won’t lie to you, this menu takes minimum of 4 hours start to finish.  However – there are 3 hours of downtime!)

  • Cavatappi with Bolognese Meat Sauce
  • Green Salad Vinaigrette
  • Garlic Bread
  • Mint Chip Ice Cream with Chocolate Sauce.

Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese Meat Sauce and a few pointers

  • I always double the recipe so I can freeze half, but I am reproducing it here in the proportion for 1 – 1 1/4 pounds of pasta.  This makes very slightly more than the original recipe.  Still, you might find that this makes less sauce than you are used to eating with pasta.  In Italy they think of sauce as something more akin to a condiment.  When you serve, put a tablespoon of butter on the hot pasta before adding the sauce.  Dust each plate with freshly grated Parmesan.  It makes all the difference – you won’t miss the pasta taking a overly deep bath in sauce.
  • Use an enamel pot, such as Le Creuset or Lodge for even heat and slow, slow simmer.   I use a wide, fairly shallow one.
  • Add salt as soon as you add the meat to extract the most flavor.
  • This is NOT the time for a lean cut of meat.  Ground chuck is what you want.
  • Cook, uncovered, at a bare simmer for at least three hours.  I mean one bubble, wait several seconds, another bubble, and so on.
  • For speed I would do all chopping in the food processor – pulsing  – so as not to overdo it

This makes 2 heaping cups of sauce.  Marcella says for 1 1/2 pounds of pasta.  I usually make a generous pound.

  • 1 tbsp mild olive oil
  • 3 tbsp butter plus 1 for tossing with the pasta
  • 1/2 cup onion (I use 1/2 of one 3″ in diameter)
  • 2/3 cup celery (I use 2-3 stalks)
  • 2/3 cup carrots ( I use 1 large)
  • 1 pound of ground chuck (if you like, use 1/3 pork; I do.)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • Freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 28 ounce can whole Italian plum tomatoes, drained of juice then chopped
  • 1 1/4 pounds dry pasta (or if you are ambitious – homemade fresh tagliatelle)
  • Freshly grated parmesan at the table.
  1. Put the oil, butter and chopped onion in the pot and turn on the heat to medium.  Cook and stir the onion until it has become translucent – I do 8-10 minutes.  Then add chopped carrot and celery.  Cook for two more minutes, stirring to coat them with the oil and butter.
  2. Add the ground beef, a large pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper.  Crumble the meat with a wooden spoon, stir well and cook until no longer red.
  3. Add the milk and let it simmer gently, stirring until it has bubbled away completely.  There will be clear liquid left.  Add about an 1/8th teaspoon grated nutmeg.
  4. Add the wine, and simmer again until evaporated.
  5. Add the tomatoes and stir until thoroughly coated.  When the tomatoes begin to bubble, turn down the heat to a very slow simmer – barely bubbling.  Cook this way for at least three hours.  You might have to add a little water to prevent sticking.  At the end there will be no liquid left, the fat will separate from the sauce.  Add salt to taste.
  6. Toss with cooked drained pasta, adding a tbsp of butter and serve with Parmesan.

Garlic Bread

Start 1/2 hour before you eat.

Preheat oven to 200F

  • 1 baguette or batard, cut into three pieces and split lengthwise
  • 2-3 fat cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 pound butter

Melt the butter and add the garlic and stir.  Paint onto the inside of the bread with a pastry brush. Wrap tightly in foil and pop in the oven until dinner time.

Green Salad Method

Start this just after you put the bread in the oven.

I am not going to give a recipe for this – but this is what I do:

I like 3 tbsp of spicy green olive oil and 1 – 1 1/2 tbsp of red wine vinegar, a generous pinch of salt and pepper tossing each ingredient separately and in that order on to freshly washed and torn lettuce, seeded and sliced cucumber, sliced red pepper, halved cherry tomatoes and grated carrots.  Some people might think this sounds like an institutional salad but if everything is very fresh and crunchy it is a good counterpoint to the melting richness of the sauce and pasta.

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Crazy Thursday = Braised Lamb Shanks? What?!

Thursday is too crazy. Volunteer work in the morning, multiple kid commitments in the afternoon – all overlapping of course, sometimes all of us five plus my dad for dinner, sometimes only half the family. So why would I decide to braise lamb shanks on a day when it really should be quesadillas and guacamole? I don’t know. I bought them on the weekend and the thought of them 2 days after the Thanksgiving gourmet gauntlet kind of put me over the edge so I tossed them, already seasoned with s & p into the freezer. But there they sat niggling at me. I thought I might forget about them there and that I would come across them in May under a thick coating of freezer burn. So I pulled them out of the freezer and now find myself on crazy Thursday with a braise and gremolata to play with. Also, my father-in-law brought a bottle of St. Germain home and I’ve been DYING to try some, so I popped a bottle of champagne in the fridge as a mixer for drinks before dinner. What’s going on? I don’t drink drinks before dinner – not on crazy Thursday.

I was wrong to be overwrought about this. Stew – which I love – drives me nuts; getting the deep caramelized browning on all those pieces of meat without steaming them (by overcrowding the pan in the zeal to complete the task), or the possibility of burning the fond because of the desire for deep browning. Also there is a fair amount of chopping involved. Carrots, potatoes, onions. I love stew but I rarely make it Monday-Thursday.

The shanks turned out to be a lot easier! They’re large and I’m making 6 so I did have to do two batches, but because they’re big it’s actually hard to crowd them into the pan. You wouldn’t want to prop them up on each other. The entire side of each shank should lay flat on the bottom of the pot, maximizing the area to be browned. Twelve minutes of browning for each batch with very little attention from me seems reasonable. While they were browning, the peeling and rough chopping of carrots, onions and a head of garlic (whacked in half) was very straight forward. With the addition of a can of peeled tomatoes, a little wine and chicken stock, the whole thing came together in less than half an hour. Not too bad. The cooking time is long, plan on 2 1/2 -3 hours. There is about 10 minutes of work on the serving end, skimming off the fat and straining the sauce, making the gremolata. But, I can see myself – elderflower scented champagne glass in hand – blithely chopping parsley, garlic and lemon rind. I hope I don’t chop one of my fingers off.

Braised Lamb Shanks

  • 4 lamb shanks trimmed of excess fat
  • Salt and Freshly ground pepper
  • Olive Oil
  • 2 onions. peeled and cut into 1/8ths
  • 2 carrots – peeled and cut in 1″ pieces
  • 1 head of garlic, cut in half
  • 1 small dried chile pepper
  • 4 black peppercorns
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • a bay leaf
  • 3/4 cup white wine
  • 1/2 can of whole peeled tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 cups chicken broth

Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper. Best if you can do this the night before, leaving them covered with parchment in the refrigerator overnight.

Generously cover the bottom of your dutch oven with the olive oil and heat on medium high. When the olive oil shimmers add the 4 shanks – if they fit flat on the bottom of the pan; if not, do them in two batches. Brown them well on all sides – this will take about 12 minutes. If you know your pan and your stove, don’t hang about watching them brown, get chopping! This will be over very quickly if the vegetables are ready. When they are deeply browned, remove them from the pan and pour off the fat. If the residue in the pan is blackened or bitter smelling, wipe the inside of the pan carefully before continuing with the recipe.

Add more olive oil to the pan, and again over medium high heat add the onions, carrots, garlic, chile pepper, peppercorns, rosemary and bay. Cook until the vegetables are slightly soft, about 3 or 4 minutes, then add the wine and tomatoes. Turn up the heat to high.

When the wine has reduced by half, put the lamb shanks back into the pot and add the chicken broth, arranging the shanks so that they are mostly covered by liquid. Bring to a boil and pop the whole thing into the oven at 325 for 2 1/2-3 hours. Remove the cover during the last 20 minutes of braising to allow the lamb to brown a little.

When the lamb is very tender and is falling away from the bones, take the meat out of the liquid and put on a plate. Skim off all the fat with a flat serving spoon. The clear, viscous liquid on the surface of the braise is what you are looking for. Skim it all off! It won’t add to the finished dish. Take the remaining skimmed liquid and put it and all the vegetables through a food mill – it will catch any rough pieces of the garlic, bay and chiles and turn the vegetables into a beautiful smooth sauce. You may need to thin it with a little more broth. Taste, then add the lamb back to the sauce.

Gremolata

Near the end of cooking time, you will need to make gremolata.

  • parsley
  • lemon
  • garlic

Get out a chopping board and a sharp chef’s knife.

Chop washed and carefully dried parsley to make 3 tbsp then chop one clove of garlic. With a microplane grater, take the rind from an organic lemon. Mix it all up and you’re good to go.

The shanks go nicely with polenta or mashed potatoes, but because it’s crazy Thursday I am making buttered egg noodles and calling it a day. Steamed broccoli rabe on the side.

My house smells inviting and deliciously wintery. I, on the other hand, smell like browned lamb shanks, which is weird but worth it. For this recipe I have to thank Alice Waters again and The Art of Simple Food.

P.S. It is worth noting that Crazy Thursday might not be the best time to introduce an unfamiliar dish to kids. Thursday is over-programmed enough at our house without adding meltingly tender and flavorful meat that has, unfortunately (for them), a modicum of visually-unappealing-to-kids-connective-tissue and fat on it. The little guy didn’t eat one bite and the biggest one was coerced into three. If she hadn’t been so tired I really believe she would have eaten the whole thing though…I really do.

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Craving Soup: one easy method

I was totally let down by Marcella (Hazan) last week. Even though I have never met her and probably never will, I always think of her as a good friend. I can’t help it. It’s the way she writes – as if she were peering into your pot over your shoulder, watching you screw up. Her tone is so authoritative that I would try anything she says is delicious. Sometimes blindly following her lead doesn’t work out too well.

In the recipe for Barley Soup in the Style of Trent she promised: “…exceptional appeal from successive layers of flavor laid down by sauteed onion and ham, by rosemary and parsley and the diced potato and carrot, which [should have!] provided the ideal base for the wonderfully fortifying quality of barley itself.” Whatever, Marcella! It sounded so good but it tasted like watery gruel with bacon bits. We all hated it – the whole family. I couldn’t even imagine eating some for lunch the next day so I ran it all down the disposal. I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to admit to that. Oh well.

Here’s a soup that DID work well. Very well. And it’s so handy to have a recipe where you don’t actually have to have stock stored in the freezer. Although I have to say, I do – Marcella whipped me into shape on that one. As she so witheringly puts it:”…for the sake of practicality, alternatives are given for homemade meat broth, the hope here is that you ignore them, relying instead on the supply of good frozen broth you try always to have on hand”. Ouch. We can discuss broth later, I love to make chicken stock and it’s not a huge deal.

Bean and Pasta Soup, a recipe from Alice Waters in her book The Art of Simple Food, is easy, it makes your house smell good and it’s not asking too much to get a kid to try some. I like this recipe because, as I said, you don’t have to have any stock on hand and with her excellent exhortations on when and how to salt and taste, you can really mess around with it. Just follow the directions the first few times and then you can add other things, like kale or green beans or butternut squash or potatoes!

The original recipe calls for fresh shelling beans and the first few times I went out of my way to get some. They were delicious but dragging my kids down to Pike Place Market at what was either the very beginning or the tail end of the cranberry bean season (the classic bean to use for this soup) for limp scraggly looking specimens was a big pain and I don’t have time to consider if it’s bean season or not. Dried beans are very nice. Ms. Water’s suggested variation is to use a cup of dried beans and I always have a lot of cannellini in the cupboard anyway. You could use dried cranberry though – they’re easy to find in the bulk section.

Bean and Pasta Soup, 4-6 servings

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup finely diced red onion ( I use about 1/3 of a red onion – the behemoth type typical of grocery stores – use a whole one if you have a coddled, lovely, farmer’s market onion)
  • 1/4 cup finely diced carrot (I use about 2/3 of a medium carrot)
  • 1/4 cup finely diced celery (I use 2 stalks)
  • a pinch of dried chile flakes
  • 2 tsp coarsely chopped fresh sage. (get a plant and grow this somewhere in your yard, parking strip, whatever, you’ll make good use of it)

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. (I use a 7+ quart Le Creuset which is about right)

Add the vegetables, chiles and sage. Cook until soft, stirring now and then. Cook for 12 minutes. Set a timer. I do.

Now add:

  • 4 peeled and roughly chopped garlic cloves
  • Sea Salt

Cook for 2-3 minutes

Now TASTE. This is important. This is the thing I learned from Alice Waters. And it seems so simple and obvious now. Starting with a 1/2 teaspoon of salt – sea salt – add it and stir. Take a small spoon and taste the soffrito (which is what you call onions, carrot, celery etc). Is it good? Does it taste like you want to eat more of it? If not, add another 1/2 teaspoon. Maybe take it off the heat while you think about it so you don’t burn your carefully softened vegetables. As you make more soup, you won’t have to do this as often. But the first two or three times, taste very carefully every time before you add the next layer of flavor.

Add

  • (1) 12 ounce can of whole tomatoes, drained of their liquid and chopped (add the liquid that comes out of the chopped tomatoes though)

Cook for 5 more minutes. Then add your beans.

  • 1 cup cannellini beans soaked and cooked with a few crushed garlic cloves, peppercorns and a bay leaf, broth reserved
  • Sea Salt

I use a slotted spoon to scoop the beans out of the pot and then ladle their broth into the soup pot until everything is covered up by about a 1/2 inch. Simmer over low heat, stirring sometimes. 15 minutes more or less. The soup is complete now except for the pasta. You could stop here and serve it tomorrow. But if you are going to do that, don’t add the pasta until just before you eat.

Cook 1/4 pound of tiny pasta, ditalini, orzo – that’s what I like – in salted water. When they are done, drain and add to the HOT soup. (If you are reheating don’t add pasta until the soup is good and hot – pasta will soak up all the nice broth and you will have a large bowl of stodge)

If you have a large wide soup plate, now would be the time to use it.

Garnish with:

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Parmesan cheese, freshly grated.

I like the California olive oil in the tall skinny green bottle from Trader Joe’s for this. It’s got a taste like artichokes and a nice peppery finish.

* I really hope you won’t resort to canned beans for this recipe – did you know they are cooked right in the can!?!?! At least that’s what I heard. There’s nothing wrong with canned beans per se. It’s just that you won’t get any of the good bean broth that way – only that sticky nasty stuff.

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