Caramelized Onion Miso Stew

Restaurant week. Customers love it- two courses for twenty five dollars. Three courses for thirty. They come for the bargains, for the chance to try the restaurant that always sat in the someday list without the someday price tag. It’s raucous and frantic and your server doesn’t linger because someone else needs bread, or water, or dessert hands. For a certain type of customer it’s the ideal.

Perhaps restaurant week is also the ideal for a certain type of cook, but I am not that cook. Restaurant week is coming in early and staying late, and coming home too exhausted to read but too wired to sleep. It’s plating desserts in flights, of four chocolate, five chocolate, six chocolate coming in all at once, and putting tickets after that on hold. It’s washing my hands every fifteen minutes because no matter how careful I am they’re always coating in sugar and caramel. It’s trying to shout to servers “Dessert hands please” in a way that’s both urgent, because this ice cream is going to melt and soon, and polite, because they also have a difficult job and we work best together when we’re being respectful. It’s plating a hundred plus desserts a night as efficient as a robot but as careful as a painter. It’s not having time for dinner and stealing pieces of bread and cheese for sustenance. It’s hell. It’s a rush.

In the past, I would have tried to survive restaurant week or other times like this with a mess of my comfort food- mac and cheese, popcorn, pizza, pasta. Carbs and cheese are my weaknesses. These foods all satisfy me emotionally, and there’s space for that. But as I’ve grown up a little bit I’ve realized that eating only emotionally during hectic times speeds my crashes, rather than preventing them. During busy times I need vegetables.

I made this caramelized onion miso stew together for lunch before work earlier this week, and when I finished my last restaurant week shift all I wanted to eat was the leftovers. It’s easy as anything. You slice yellow onions into thin moons and slowly cook them, caramelizing the sugars, in olive oil. Once they’re at the level of caramelization you want you add in water and miso paste, a handful of greens, and some somen noodles. A few more minutes cooking and you’re done. The result is a thick, noodle-y stew that’s sweet from the caramelized onions, nutty and salty from the miso, and filling from the noodles.

I can imagine making this over and over, changing out the greens for whatever other vegetables I have on hand (cooked sweet potatoes! mushrooms!), adding aromatics (ginger! garlic! chilis!), and toppings (chili oil! a 7 minute egg! cilantro and scallions!). It’s my favorite kind of back pocket meal- endlessly adaptable, and deliciously easy.

Caramelized Onion Miso Stew

Serves 2

Miso paste and somen noodles should both be available at a well-stocked supermarket. If you can’t find somen, you could substitute another noodle of choice. In that case, just be careful to follow the packaged cooking directions for said noodles.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
4 cups water
3 tablespoons miso paste (I used a mellow brown rice miso)
handful of spring mix lettuce, or other soft green (optional)
4 ounces somen noodles

In a heavy bottomed pot such as a dutch oven, warm the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt. Stir well. Cook the onions over medium heat, stirring well every few minutes, until the onions are caramelized. They should darken and taste sweet but not burned. This will take somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes.

Stir in the water, being careful to scrape up any brown bits on the bottom. These are where all the flavors live, and you want them. Bring the water to a simmer, and whisk in the miso paste. Be sure to taste as you go, as different brands of miso have different strengths. 3 tablespoons was perfect for mine, but yours may vary. Add the greens if using, and the somen noodles. Simmer until the greens have collapsed and the somen noodles are tender, about three minutes. Serve.


 Power Oatmeal

I told a friend the other day that I was trying out a yoga streaming site I found on Gwenyth Paltrow’s blog, Goop.

“Does it require you to buy a gold plated yoga mat?” she quipped.

It’s a fair point. Paltrow has a reputation for catering to the one percent. Goop is filled with beautiful things that I can’t imagine affording. And she’s been accused of pandering to the masses before. A few years ago an article came out claiming that following her recipes would cost a family $300 a day.

But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have worth. (And for the record, that $300 a day figure doesn’t add up.) I’ve had her book, It’s All Good, recommended to me a few times by people who I know watch their grocery budget. And when I was looking through her book I could see why. There’s an emphasis on whole foods, simply prepared that appeals to me. While flipping through the copy I took out from the library I found some inspiration.

Like this oatmeal. I think breakfast is wonderful, but I’m much more likely to eat toast with peanut butter most mornings than whip something up while still half asleep. But I work some crazy long hours on weekends,without promised meal breaks (see here) and I need something with sustenance to stay on my feet. I’ve started making this oatmeal during the week and microwaving it for breakfast.

The textural difference is key here, I think. The rolled oats meld into a custard, where the steel cut oats (or barley, if you’re feeling adventurous) soften but stay close to al dente. It’s filled with fiber, which keeps me full and kicking for hours. I love it topped with maple syrup and walnuts, but the possibilities are endless.

It’s a simple, satisfying breakfast from a slightly surprising source. If you try it, I’d love to how you top it.

Power Oatmeal

Adapted from It’s All Good by Gwenyth Paltrow

To make this oatmeal a la GP, replace the steel cut oats with rolled barley, and replace replace the liquid with 3/4 cup almond milk and 3/4 water. She also tops her oatmeal with flax and sesame seeds. If you’d like to make breakfast ahead of time, this doubles well.

1/4 cup steel cut oats
1/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup water
pinch salt

to serve:
maple syrup
chopped walnuts

In a saucepan combine both oats, the milk, the water, and salt. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Simmer, stirring every so often, until the liquid has reduced and the oats are tender, about twenty minutes. The whole thing should be custardy in texture.

To serve, drizzle with maple syrup and sprinkle with chopped walnuts.


Kale Stuffed Double Baked Potatoes

Growing up in the Midwest, celebrations meant going out to the steakhouse. In my family, that meant going to one in particular. Cousins in town? 50th anniversary? Funeral luncheon? It was always Syl’s. Syl’s was my grandparent’s steakhouse of choice, a restaurant founded in the 40s and that, save the clothing choices of some patrons, could have passed for being in the 40s still. It was at Syl’s where I would order the fillet mignon with mushrooms, unaware of its extravagance and without my parents correcting me. It was at Syl’s when Abby daringly tried frog’s legs and declared after careful chewing that they tasted just like chicken. It was at Syl’s where my Grandpa  and Uncles would order rounds of Manhattans, and where as a legal adult I disappointed them all by ordering an Old Fashioned.

It was a magical place, old fashioned and jovial. It left me with a serious appreciation for steak, the only meat that I craved during two separate bouts of vegetarianism. It was my template for what an grown-up restaurant was until I was well into college. And it fed me on a steady diet of potatoes.

Syl’s, like any good steakhouse, was serious about their potatoes. They came as a side for any steak in a list of magical variety. Whipped! Garlic mashed! Baked! And the king of it all, double baked potatoes. Even if I hadn’t gained a taste for steak, I would have still ordered it to get that side of potatoes.The potatoes were the main event. The steak was only a very tasty accompaniment.

I was evangelical about my potatoes. And double baked have long been one of my favorites. My aunt would bring them for Christmas, filled with cheddar and sprinkled with bright red paprika. I would gobble up so many my mom would shoot me a look across the room. My parents would buy them frozen from the bulk store and I would eat them for many dinners, mostly satisfied with their buttery flavor and smooth filling contrasted with tough skins. They were on the menu at Syl’s, beautifully piped. And double baked potatoes were on the menu of the first meal I tried to make my family. (Along with potato skins and gnocchi. Like I said, I have a thing for potatoes.)

Like so many things from my childhood- Applebee’s spinach artichoke dip, cinnamon toast crunch for breakfast, Dannon peach yogurt- double baked potatoes haven’t had a place in my life for a long time. The older I get, the more the double baked potato- white potatoes drowning in dairy- seems resigned to the list of food I can’t feel good about eating anymore. But when I was making a list of things I wanted to make double baked potatoes kept popping up. And I realized that I don’t have to slavishly recreate my nostalgic double baked potatoes. I can smarten up my childhood love for me to enjoy now.

These double baked potatoes are a stunner. They’re stuffed with kale and shallots and bound together with a tart helping of Greek yogurt with a little bit of milk for moisture. The goat cheese is for a grown up palate, and the dusting of smoked paprika is a twist of smart nostalgia. They are satisfying and hearty. If you eat meat, they’d be stunning with steak and if you don’t, they make a beautiful meal on their own. They are not the recreation of my childhood love, but rather the heir to its legacy. They’re what I love about where I was, and what I crave where I am.


Kale Stuffed Double Baked Potatoes

Serves 4

4 medium Yukon gold potatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large bunch of Dino kale, centers removed, thinly sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
Smoked paprika, to sprinkle

Preheat the oven to 400. Prick each potato in several places with a fork. Place the potatoes in the preheated oven and roast, for about an hour, until the potatoes are cooked through and give a bit when squeezed. Remove from the oven and set aside until you can comfortably touch them, about ten to fifteen minutes.

In a skillet warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the kale, shallots, and a sprinkle of salt and stir well. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the kale has cooked down and the shallots have softened. Sprinkle the two tablespoons of vinegar over the kale and continue to sauté for about another minute. The kale should be tender.  Remove from pan and set aside.

Slice the potatoes in half. Using a large spoon, scoop out the insides of the potato and place in a large bowl. Be careful to leave a ring of potato around the edges- you’ll need a bit for structure. Use a potato masher or an electric mixer to smooth the potatoes.

Combine the potatoes with the kale-shallot combination, the yogurt, the milk, and the nutmeg. Mix well add the goat cheese and mix again. Taste the poatao filling, and add salt as necessary.

Evenly divide the filling between the empty potato skins. Sprinkle with the smoked paprika. Place on a tray, and bake until the edges are crispy, about 30 minutes.