Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I Love the Fall: Potato and Leek Soup

It's fall, and I had a hankering last week for soup. I made a ton of stock, froze most of it, and used the rest, thinning it with some water, to make the Leek and Potato Soup from HTCE. This is such a simple soup, but just three ingredients make a hearty and rich broth. It's easily going to become something I make all the time.


Potatoes (preferably a starchy kind, since you want them to thicken the broth), leeks, olive oil go into a large pot and cooked until they soften. In goes stock or water (or a combination) to cover. You bring that to a boil and let it simmer until the potatoes are breaking up and getting really soft. At this point, you're pretty much done. I pureed the soup at this point, but it's not necessary, I just prefer it that way.


Oh, and I added sausage. That move, while perfectly alright, didn't really add much to the soup, and I'd probably leave it out next time.


Served it with some homemade croutons (i.e. a piece of toast I cut up), salad with ricotta salata on the side. Delicious.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Staple: Cooked Beans

Part of the idea of the Ben Cooks Everything project is to see what's worth making from scratch. Some things, I've found, are totally worth it, save you money and store in the freezer for reheating at the perfect time (chicken stock, pesto, tomato sauce). Some of them aren't worth it at all, I've always thought.


Take beans. Canned beans are fine! Bittman himself has said so, and every bean recipe in the book can work either with cooked-from-scratch beans or canned beans.

They're certainly cheaper than canned beans--a pound of uncooked black beans cost me $1.86 and yielded 4 cups of cooked beans. And if you store them with some of the cooking liquid, they freeze and keep just as well as canned, but presumably, they taste better. I don't know, I've never cooked my own.

To cook them, Bittman provides three methods: Quick-Soak (boil, turn off heat, let soak 2 hrs, return to heat, simmer til done), No-Soak (boil then simmer, til done), and Long-Soak (soak in cold water for 6-12 hrs, drain, simmer til done). Regardless of the method you use, the type of bean makes the cooking time vary greatly. I opted for Quick-Soak, Bittman's favorite: place beans in water to cover, bring water to a boil, turn the heat off, let sit covered for 2 hours. This is the soak part of the recipe (I suppose the idea of "quick" is relative). Then you add a bit of salt, pepper, and let the beans simmer, tasting every 15 minutes until they are done. I also added a bit of stock to the cooking liquid as the water evaporated, after one of Bittman's suggestions. It took over 2 hours for the beans to finish cooking, but most of them went into the freezer with cooking liquid to cover so that they'll be ready to go when I need them down the line.

So, what does everyone think I should do with the beans now that they're done?

P.S. Bittman's list of 5 beans to always keep on hand (p. 413): white beans, black beans, pinto/kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils.

Friday, September 25, 2009

If You Think We're Turning On The Oven You're Crazy: Bean Salad, Tomato Mozzarella and Basil Salad, Chicken Salad with Olive Oil and Fresh Herbs, and Fennel and Plum Salad

So, this dinner was held at my parents' last month, during the hottest days of August, when we really didn't want to turn on the oven. So, salad party! With an essential assist from Sullivan Street Bakery's pizza bianca.

First up was the Bean Salad. At first glance, it's not the most exciting recipe in the world. Sitting there on p. 215, it's just onion, salt, pepper, cooked or canned beans, olive oil, vinegar (or lemon juice) and some parsley. There's a list following, "7 Simple Last-Minute Additions to Bean Salads" that has some good ideas. But it's not until you make your way to p. 216 that the variability really hits you: here we have a full-page chart of variations (eight in all) of Bean Salad. You think you can go either way on bean salads, but what about a Spicy Black Bean Salad? Chickpea Salad w/ Chutney? Meditteranean Stlye White Bean Salad? Yeah, I thought so.

Salad - Bean Salad.jpg

The latter is what Mom decided on: white beans with tomato, cucumber, a bit of shallot, and lemon juice for the acid. This salad was delicious and I imagine the leftovers tasted even better after the additional soak time.

Next up was Tomato, Mozzarella, and Basil Salad, also known as the Caprese salad. This is one of those recipes that is so simple it's almost sitting there on the page, mocking you. "You really need me, asshole?" it seems to taunt, complaining to its recipe friends what an idiot you are.

Salad - Caprese.jpg

Cut up some tomatoes (using good ones is important). Cut up a ball of mozzarella. Tear up some basil leaves. Layer it all on one plate. Salt, pepper, drizzle with olive oil (I like a splash of balsamic, too, though Bittman omits this). Done. A combination that's as common as PB&J, and with good reason.

Next up was Bittman's Chicken Salad with Olive Oil and Fresh Herbs, a lighter alternative to the usual mayo-heavy chicken salad. This recipe is free of any mayo--it's just shredded chicken, shallot, olives, lemon juice and zest, and a whole lot of any type of herbs you like (fresh, not dried, if possible). You can also add a bunch of torn greens, though we declined to do so.

Salad - Chicken.jpg

This recipe, like the Bean Salad, is really just a matter of throwing everything into a bowl and mixing it up. It's delicious, and it's nice to not have all that mayo--makes the salad a lot more chickeny.

Finally, we made a salad not from How to Cook Everything, but rather from Bittman's list of 101 simple salads for the summer. This one (#48!) was simply sliced fennel and plums (hello food processor!) tossed with a cider-ginger vinaigrette. Simple, interesting, refreshing, this may have been the star of the table.

Salad - Fennel Plum.jpg

It may have been, if we hadn't served it all with the Sullivan Street Bakery's pizza bianca, which very well may be the most delicious bread in the world. This meal was one of the best of the project so far. Salads: who knew?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Shellfish Unleashed: Steamed Clams and Traditional Focaccia

I've done the steamed clams thing before, and it's becoming something that gets easier and tastes better every time.


In Bittman's recipe, you just sautee some shallots in olive oil, add the clams and some beer, white wine, or water. The clams do all the work from there, releasing their juices into the delicious broth until all of them are open. Then you're done. This time, I used wine instead of beer, and I added leeks and celery to the shallots. Although I think I like the dish better steamed in beer, I will say that I was drinking the broth from the serving bowl by the end of dinner. My guests were horrified and amused, respectively.

Another recipe that's become a new favorite is pizza dough. I've made pizza twice already, and I decided I'd try out the rosemary focaccia recipe, which is basically the same as the pizza dough, but you let it rise in a pan and drizzle it with olive oil, salt, and rosemary (some olives would work, too). Then you just bake it until it's golden brown. It's really good.


And Bittman says it freezes well--wrap the finished focaccia in plastic wrap, then a layer of tin foil, and then just reheat in the oven wrapped in another sheet of tin foil (after you remove the plastic wrap, of course).

Also, for no other reason than they were super cheap at Fairway, we enjoyed a pre-dinner snack of fresh green figs topped with a soft goat cheese.


Not something I necessarily got from Bittman, but I'm sure he'd approve.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Talking Some Sense: Michael Pollan in the Times

This blog is first and foremost about cooking, and I would never try to make it a soapbox. But sometimes, politics and food intersect in ways that are hard to overlook. What we eat is often a more political issue than we care or wish to consider.

Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma (which everyone should pick up and read, stat), has an op-ed in today's New York Times about the link between healthcare and big agriculture, and how the healthcare reforms currently being debated can, if they make it through congress intact, have a huge effect on the industrial food industry.
The moment these new rules take effect, health insurance companies will promptly discover they have a powerful interest in reducing rates of obesity and chronic diseases linked to diet. A patient with Type 2 diabetes incurs additional health care costs of more than $6,600 a year; over a lifetime, that can come to more than $400,000. Insurers will quickly figure out that every case of Type 2 diabetes they can prevent adds $400,000 to their bottom line. Suddenly, every can of soda or Happy Meal or chicken nugget on a school lunch menu will look like a threat to future profits.

When health insurers can no longer evade much of the cost of treating the collateral damage of the American diet, the movement to reform the food system — everything from farm policy to food marketing and school lunches — will acquire a powerful and wealthy ally, something it hasn’t really ever had before.

Yet another reason we need healthcare reform so badly.

Big Food vs. Big Insurance [nytimes op-ed]

Sweet and Summery: Corn Salsa

This one's a variation on Bittman's Fresh Tomatillo Salsa recipe, where you replace the tomatillos with 2 cups of fresh corn kernels, roasted quickly with a bit of olive oil (two recipes with one stone!).


I used four ears of corn for this, roasted them briefly in the oven and then cut the kernels off the cob. To that, you add some fresh green chiles, chopped scallions, and minced garlic (I just threw all of this in the food processor and let it do the hard work for me), plus some chopped cilantro leaves and lime juice. I added some chipotle and ancho chili powder for good measure. This stuff is delicious, and it's one of those dishes that gets tastier the longer it sits in your fridge--this definitely peaked on day three. Next time, I'm making this for taco night.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Didn't Photograph Well: Peanut Sauce

This looked like a yellowish goopy mess, so I'm sparing you the pictures. It's pretty easy--chiles, garlic, shallots, turmeric, and secret weapon lemongrass get pureed in the food processor. Then that puree gets sauteed in a bit of hot oil and mixed with peanut butter, lime juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, and a good amount of coconut milk. That's pretty much it.

I served this on Chinese egg noodles, which was pretty good, but I think it'd be better on meat. Slathered on a broiled or grilled chicken would be pretty good, I bet.