Posts tagged New York Times

Shrimp and the Future

The BP oil spill has been spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico for about a month now, with no end in sight. As oil and chemicals drift towards the Louisiana coast, it’s easy to imagine the destruction being inflicted on these fishing grounds and the people who make their livings from them. This article from the New York Times addresses the issues straight-on, explaining how the majority of our domestic seafood comes from either Louisiana or Alaska, and how this spill will likely cause seafood shortages from the Gulf. It makes me wonder, between E-coli laced meat and toxic seafood, what will be left for us to eat?

One of the many reasons why I feel so sad about the BP situation is because in the past few years, I had recently renewed my love for shrimp. It all started with my first trip to Disneyworld as a child—whenever I think about it, I don’t remember the exhilarating curves and dips of Space Mountain or the sentimental sweetness of the It’s a Small World ride. No, my most vivid memory is of sitting at a white-clothed table with my parents and younger sister in front of a tall, narrow glass filled with my first shrimp cocktail. After my initial bites of those cold boiled shrimp dipped in their deliciously zesty tarter sauce, I couldn’t get enough, and I think I had a shrimp cocktail every night for the rest of that week. Mickey Mouse and Goofy just couldn’t compete.

But something changed in my early twenties, and for a long while I couldn’t stand the sight of shrimp. It had something to do with the texture, and I didn’t touch them for years. But in an effort to partake of their health benefits, I started eating and enjoying them again a few years ago. Their mild flavor works well in a variety of recipes, from Italian to Asian and everything else in between.

Currently my favorite shrimp dish is this recipe from the New York Times, published over a year ago. From the moment it appeared, these roasted, lemon-infused shrimp and smoky, cumin- and coriander-accented broccoli took the blogging world by storm, and with good reason. Served with brown or white rice, they form an easy and healthy meal, packed with a unique and addictive combination of flavors. I’ve been making it at least once a month for the past year, and I haven’t tired of it yet.

Jim and I recently tried a Thai-inspired recipe from Food & Wine as well, an intriguing mix of grilled shrimp, garlic, cilantro, shallots, red pepper, and soba noodles, mixed with various Asian seasonings. Jim loved the spicy combination of flavors with the buckwheat noodles, and I expect this recipe to enter our regular dinner rotation as well. We slurped up every bite in one sitting.

I don’t mean to minimize the oil spill in the Gulf with petty talk about my favorite shrimp recipes; there are so many huge ramifications of this catastrophic event that it depresses me just to read about them. But talking about the impact of this spill on my daily life in Brooklyn, miles away from where it is actually happening, reminds me that I’m really not so distant from it at all. These disasters, both natural and man-made, impact us all in one way or another. Shrimp dinners are just the beginning.

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Snow Day

Last Wednesday morning I shuffled to the window in my robe and slippers, took one look at the fat, drippy snowflakes swirling around outside, and immediately gave myself a snow day. It was the morning after my birthday, after all, and as a child of February I figured I deserved it. So while thick piles of snow quickly covered the brownstones, trees, and sidewalks outside my Brooklyn apartment, I huddled under a blanket inside. I passed the hours drinking tea, watching Lost, and checking my work email here and there. When I finally finished lazing around on the couch, I made my way over to the kitchen and started cooking.

Cold, snowy days call for slow-cooked comfort food, and as soon as I heard the weather reports earlier in the week I began planning the perfect snow day dinner. I wanted something warm and rustic, a dish to make us forget the chilling winds and falling flakes outside. Florence Fabricant’s Chicken Baked with Lentils, a recipe I had saved for just such an occasion, came to mind immediately, and I made sure I had all the ingredients on hand before the snow started falling.

In this recipe, chicken thighs are nestled in an earthy cloud of cumin-spiced lentils, pancetta, radicchio, and chicken stock. Piled into a baking dish or casserole, the mixture cooks away for a tranquil hour in the oven, the liquid slowly reducing into a saucelike consistency. Soon enough, the comforting aroma of baked chicken infused my apartment, and the snow seemed very far away indeed.

When finally pulled from the oven, the spicy lentils become a complex mix of smoky (provided by the pancetta), tangy (from the radicchio), and sweet (the onions), while the chicken remains moist and tender, absorbing the essence of the lentils in a more subtle way. Dominating this dish in terms of both flavor and quantity, the legumes retain a hint of firmness, and provide a supportive bed for the meaty chicken thighs. Together they’re a hearty, one-pot wonder of a meal, and if we’re lucky enough to have another snow day, I may even have to make this again.

Chicken Baked with Lentils (adapted from Florence Fabricant’s recipe in the New York Times)

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 thin slice of pancetta (less than 1/4 lb)
  • 4 chicken thighs, patted dry
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup of finely chopped onions
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped celery
  • 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 cup finely chopped radicchio
  • 1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
  • 1 cup of French green lentils
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup water*

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a Dutch oven or another ovenproof casserole dish. Add the pancetta and cook on medium heat until golden. Remove the pancetta and set aside. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and add them to the pot, skin side down. Sear until golden on medium-high heat. Remove from the pan and set aside. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Remove one tablespoon of fat from the pan and set aside. Pour out the rest of the fat and discard. Return the tablespoon of fat to the pan.

Add onions, celery, and garlic. Cook on medium until soft and translucent, about 10-15 minutes. Stir in the cumin. Add the radicchio, vinegar, and sage. Sauté briefly. Add lentils, stock, water, and cooked pancetta.

*I used 1 cup chicken stock plus 1/2 cup water because I cheated and used prepared chicken stock from a box. When I use commercial stock I like to dilute it a little bit with water. If you are using homemade chicken stock, feel free to use 1 1/2 cups chicken stock and disregard the water.

Return the chicken to the pan, bring to a simmer, cover, and place in the oven. Cook for about an hour, checking on the lentils occasionally. Cook until the lentils are tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Lentils should be saucelike, but not soupy. Add more stock if necessary. Add more salt and pepper if necessary, then serve. Recipe serves 3 to 4 people, or 2 to 3 people with leftovers. Enjoy!

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Frank Bruni’s Born Round

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When I first started taking food-writing classes, my instructors explained that in order to write well, we students had to read. We needed to consume as much food writing as possible, including a range of books from the likes of M.F.K. Fisher and Anthony Bourdain, as well as the weekly New York Times Dining Section. “Anything written by Frank Bruni,” the Times’s restaurant critic, was required reading. Lucky for me, I was already a fan, eagerly turning the pages of the paper each Wednesday to see what Bruni had to say about the city’s newest restaurants.

But after five years of witty and intelligent reviews, Bruni is stepping down from his post. With the end of his tenure in this position, he has written Born Round, a memoir of his secret and not-so-secret struggles with overeating and weight control. There has already been a ton of press covering the release of this book, so I’ll give you just a quick summary: Basically, after being born in a large Italian American family with what he describes as an oversized appetite, Bruni wrestled with his weight throughout his childhood and adulthood. A confusing relationship with food dominated much of his life, as he experimented with fad diets, binge eating, and vomiting, never finding a proper balance with food until a few pivotal events jolted him into realizing how self-destructive his situation had become.

What was most interesting to me—apart from his loving relationship with his family (especially his mother) and its influence on his eating habits—was how Bruni succeeded professionally while enduring such personal torment. A scholarship to the University of North Carolina led to internships at Newsweek and later, various positions at the Times, where he eventually shadowed George W. Bush during his first presidential campaign. All the while, Bruni was obsessed with food, eating huge portions during the middle of the night and through the day, tracking his waist size through his pants that grew ever more snug with time. He led an essentially celibate life for years, lacking the confidence in his appearance to reveal himself to other men. While achieving such professional success, Bruni was still emotionally miserable, as well as unhealthy and overweight.

When Bruni finally devotes himself to turning his body—and personal happiness—around, it reads as an inspiring transformation. Exercise becomes the key, as the success he once found through childhood swimming reasserts itself with his new physical trainer. A position at the Times’s Rome bureau further helps Bruni learn about portion control, and teaches him how to actually enjoy food. By the time Bruni accepts the job of the Times’s restaurant critic near the end of the book, he has all the tools he needs to maintain control over food and his life. 

Born Round is proof that you never know how hard a person is struggling, no matter how successful they seem on the outside. It’s a brave as well as funny book, full of personal revelations and insecurities, as Bruni shows that the possibility for growth and change is always present. Whether you’re a fan of Bruni’s column or not, I recommend this book for anyone who is interested in food and our relationship with it. And while I am happy that Bruni has conquered his personal demons, I will miss him every Wednesday; the Times Dining Section just won’t be the same without him. 

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Martha Rose Shulman’s Mediterranean Vegetable Pies

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I’m starting to think of Martha Rose Shulman as my personal hero. Those may be strong words to describe the author of the Recipes for Health section of the New York Times, but Shulman’s seasonal and healthy recipes—which often focus on one ingredient per week, prepared in myriad ways—never fail to inspire me. I’ve been hooked ever since I tried her sweet potato and butternut squash soup over the winter, and then her light and healthy Swiss chard lasagna a month later. Now I check out her column eagerly, every week, just to see what she’s up to.

A few weeks ago, Shulman published an article about Mediterranean vegetable pies. She describes these pies, which stuff seasonal produce, eggs, and cheese into pastry shells or phyllo dough, as wonderful ways to utilize seasonal produce in vegetarian main dishes. In addition to providing a recipe for an intriguing whole wheat pastry dough, she lists four different pie variations. I printed out every recipe, and couldn’t wait for an opportunity to try them. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait very long.

Last weekend I came home from my CSA pick-up overloaded with greens. I had piles of spinach, kale, and bok choy, as well as two small zucchini, snow peas, and garlic scapes. I always fear that the vegetables I receive from my CSA will wilt before I have a chance to use them, so I decided to cook as many as possible into one of Shulman’s vegetable pies. And although the recipes didn’t address all my ingredients specifically, I hoped that they were flexible enough to accommodate some variations. Using Shulman’s recipe for a Provençal zucchini and Swiss chard tart as my guide, I combined the spinach, kale, and zucchini with Gruyère cheese and fresh eggs that I had picked up at the farmers’ market.

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As Shulman had claimed, the pie was indeed a bit time-consuming to make, but it was totally worth the effort. I rolled out the pliable whole wheat dough easily, which created a light and crumbly base for my egg and vegetable mixture. When I pulled the tart from the oven an hour later, flecks of rustic greens were supported by a sea of brilliant yellow eggs, presenting a farm-fresh meal that I couldn’t get enough of. Hot from the oven, the pie was an airy and gently tasty main dish. I brought slices of it to work for lunch all week, eating it at room temperature and almost enjoying it more that way.

So do you see why Martha Rose Shulman is my hero? I don’t need her to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but now I rely on her for delicious recipes that also happen to be healthy. It’s a lot of pressure for one person, but I am sure she can handle it.

Recipe for Spinach, Kale, and Zucchini Tart (adapted from Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe for a Provençal Zucchini and Swiss Chard Tart in the New York Times Recipes for Health section)

  • 1 lb of spinach, washed
  • 1/2 lb kale, washed, leaves picked off from the stems and thick ribs cut out
  • salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 small zucchini, cut into a small dice
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Gruyère cheese, grated
  • 3 large eggs
  • freshly ground pepper

While the dough is rising, prepare the vegetables. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Fill a separate bowl full of ice water. When the water in the pot reaches a rolling boil, add salt and the kale leaves. After 30 seconds or so, add the spinach leaves. Blanch for 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the greens to the ice water, then drain. Squeeze out excess water from the greens and chop them. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender, stirring, for about five minutes. Stir in the zucchini and season to taste with salt. Cook until just tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and thyme. Cook everything together until the garlic is fragrant, about one or two minutes. Stir in the greens, toss everything together, and remove the pan from the heat. Season with salt and pepper.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt (to taste), the greens and zucchini mixture, and the cheese. Mix together and add a bit of pepper for seasoning.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Oil a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Roll out two-thirds of the dough very thin, and line the pan, with the edges of the dough overhanging. Freeze the leftover dough. Fill the dough shell with the greens and zucchini mixture. Pinch the edges of the dough along the rim of the pan. Place in the oven and bake for 50 minutes, until the mixture is set and beginning to color. Allow to rest for at least 15 minutes before serving. This tart can also be served at room temperature. Serves 8 to 10 people. Enjoy!

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More Chard

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I may have to change the name of this blog from Artichoke Heart to Swiss Chard of My Heart (or something along those lines.) Lately I can’t get enough of this leafy green. That Swiss chard, cannellini bean, and barley soup should have kept me satisfied for at least a few weeks, but last weekend Jim and I returned for more, making a meatless lasagna layered with tomatoes, ricotta cheese, and yes, more chard.

The more I cook with Swiss chard, the more I realize how versatile it is. I first discovered it last summer when I made chard leaves stuffed with lemon rice, and since then I’ve tried to cook with it whenever possible. With its mild flavor—it’s not one of those bitter greens like escarole or broccoli rabe—and its sturdy, almost elastic texture, it holds its own in a variety of recipes. And as stated here and here by the New York Times, chard is one of the healthiest foods you could possibly eat, full of calcium, potassium, and vitamins C and A.

I should confess that I had never actually made lasagna before this past weekend. But with the help of this recipe, I got the hang of things quickly. I infused the tomato sauce with onions instead of garlic—I just happen to prefer my tomato sauces this way—and Jim and I used no-boil lasagna noodles. The result was wonderful: a light, healthy pasta dish where the sweet tomato sauce and ricotta cheese were perfectly complemented by the gentle chard. I’ll be honest, I didn’t miss the meat at all. I’m just trying to figure out what to make with the next batch of Swiss chard.

Recipe for Lasagna with Swiss Chard, Tomato Sauce, and Ricotta (Adapted from the New York Times’s Recipes for Health section. Tips on preparing no-boil lasagna noodles adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine.)

  • 1 large batch of Swiss chard, washed thoroughly
  • salt
  • 1/2 pound no-boil lasagna noodles
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 5-6 leaves of basil
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Put a large pot of generously salted water over high heat. While you wait for the water to boil, make your tomato sauce. Add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil to a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the chopped onion to the pot and cook, stirring, until soft. This should take about 5 minutes. Remove the onions from the oil and discard. Add the tomatoes, sugar, basil, and a pinch of salt and bring to a simmer. Stir often, until the sauce thickens, about 30 to 40 minutes. When finished, remove the basil leaves and discard. Set the pot to the side and turn to the Swiss chard.

Fill a bowl with ice water. Cut the Swiss chard leaves away from the stems. Discard the stems or save them for another use. When the water in the large pot is boiling, add the Swiss chard. Boil for 1 minute (from the time the water comes back to a boil). You want the leaves to be tender but still bright green; do not overcook. Remove the leaves from the water with a slotted spoon and add them to the ice water; this stops them from cooking further. Drain and squeeze out excess water. Chop the leaves coarsely. Put the tomato sauce back over low heat, stir in the Swiss chard, and set the pot aside again.

Prepare the lasagna noodles. Fill an oblong baking dish with hot tap water. Add the noodles and soak for 10 minutes, shaking the dish often to keep the noodles from sticking together. Remove the noodles to clean dishcloths and dab excess water.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Add a thin layer of tomato sauce to the bottom of a rectangular baking dish. Add a layer of lasagna noodles. Spread half the ricotta over the noodles and half the tomato-chard sauce over the ricotta. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of Parmesan over the tomato-chard sauce. Add another layer of noodles and top them with the rest of the ricotta, sauce, and 2 tablespoons of Parmesan. Finish with a layer of noodles and the remaining Parmesan. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the top of the lasagna. Cover tightly with foil. Bake for 30 minutes. If you like, finish the lasagna under the broiler for 3 minutes, uncovered, until top is browned. Let the lasagna rest for 5 minutes. Serves 4. Enjoy!

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