Creamy Potato Chowder with Watercress

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I had scant awareness of family meal before becoming a cook. When I worked in a pizza joint in high school there was no such thing as family meal. I’m not certain that anyone working knew about the concept. We could make ourselves iceberg lettuce salads, or eat the “mess up” pizzas that the management didn’t pitch. Or we could buy our dinner, something the servers often did and no one else would.

On the other end of the family meal continuum are those you see in movies about fancy restaurants. There, everyone- cooks, servers, dishwashers- sits down before service. It’s served family style and there’s wine involved. It’s sophisticated and elegant and elastic. Whenever I see those films I dream of their family meals.

Family meal where I work is something different. It happens during service. We all eat standing up, clustered around our chest freezer. Front of the house eats in shifts. Back of the house eats between tickets. And the food is wildly variable. There are days we need to use up those luxury products and so we end up eating foie gras pancakes. On the other hand I’ve eaten burgers and gyros more times than I can count. Some times it’s collaborative, with everyone creating a component. Other times one person takes charge and spends most of their free time pulling it together.

Some meals are excellent. Homemade pasta, ramen, and pizza have all graced our chest freezer. Other day we end up devouring scrambled eggs and leftover biscuits because we didn’t plan ahead. And some meals barely get eaten. A bad family meal is unfortunate, but the only unforgivable family meal is an omitted one. Not feeding your people is one of the rudest things possible in restaurant.

I’ve made an absurd amount of salads for family meal- they’re delicious, adaptable, and I am always happy to eat a salad. But family meals offers a challenge to step out of my comfort zone and use up product that I don’t often turn to.

This potato chowder is loosely inspired by a recent family meal. We had a large amount of cauliflower scraps and gallons of very fatty smoked pork broth that both needed use, and I paired them up in a soup. And it was fine. I wasn’t happy with it but we have to feed our people. But even unfortunate meals can grow into good ones, if only the idea of them. Some times good things can come from mistakes.

Here, you gently cook celery and onions until they’ve softened and just started to take on color. Dried sage and smoked paprika add depth and a faint hint of smokiness. Vegetable stock is less heavy and fatty than pork broth, and allows the creamy softness of potato to shine. Some heavy cream gives the soup body, and watercress brings a bright, peppery bite. It’s the kind of soup I like to eat as winter starts to break- warm but not heavy, comforting but fresh.

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Creamy Potato Chowder with Watercress

If you can’t find watercress, roughly chopped spinach would be a fine substitute. I would add a bit more pepper in that case.

serves 4

2 tablespoons butter
3 stalks celery, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 tablespoon dried sage
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
salt
2 pounds yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
8 cups vegetable broth
1 cup heavy cream
a good handful of cleaned and roughly chopped watercress

to serve

oyster crackers
watercress
scallions, finely sliced on the bias

In a large soup pan melt the butter over medium-low heat. When the butter is frothing, add the celery and onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and starting to take on some color, about 8 minutes. Add the sage, paprika, white pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Cook for a minute, until the spices are fragrant. Add the potatoes, and stir to coat. Add the vegetable broth, scrapping the bottom with a wooden spoon as you pour the vegetable broth in, and bring to a boil. Reduce the soup to a simmer, then simmer for 30 minutes, until the potatoes are almost falling apart.

Use an immersion blender to blend the soup to a chunky-creamy consistency or an upright blender to puree half of the soup. Stir in the cream, and taste for seasonings. Add more salt and pepper as necessary. Stir the watercress into the warm soup.

To serve, top with oyster crackers, watercress, and scallions.  Eat warm.

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Miso Popcorn with Aleppo Pepper

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A few weeks ago Aaron and I went to get a cocktail before dinner at a new restaurant near our apartment. Because we had worked with about half of the front of house staff, that cocktail turned to two, turned to dinner, turned to taking a drunken tour of the kitchen and pinky swearing with the chef. When we got home, I realized I was very intoxicated and needed something to soak up all the booze. And so I drunkenly made miso popcorn- salty, buttery, and addictive- as a midnight snack.

Of course, the story continues with my darling husband taking a video of drunk me and then SENDING IT TO MY BOSS. Highlights of the video include me hitting the phone out of his hands, responding “f*** you” and laughing when he asks me what I’m eating, and telling him I made the popcorn with booze. I’m still getting flack at work for that one. Aaron’s lucky he’s cute.

I’ve been holding onto this recipe for at least a year. I make it often- sometimes once a week- but it’s always been a bit too weird, a bit too approximate to share here. When I make it for other people there’s an even 50/50 split of people who devour it and people who politely take one taste and then not another.

So, you may love this. Or you may not. I think it all depends on how you like your popcorn. If you’re someone who prefers your popcorn dry, sprinkled with only with salt, this isn’t your recipe. (But you should still try this proportion of oil to popcorn while cooking, because it makes the most even and fluffy popcorn that I’ve found.) But if you’re like me and grew up popcorn drenched in butter, this might just be your jam. If you’re into strongly flavored popcorn that’s not airy and crispy, but has soaked up all the buttery flavor, you should make this. While it makes an excellent drunk snack, it’s even better when you’re sober and can taste the nuance- earthy and savory and salty and spicy and just slightly sweet.

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Miso Popcorn

You could play with the toppings here. Sesame seeds would be fantastic, as would any other number of spices. If you can’t find Aleppo pepper (Penzeys has it, as does the spice shop I wish Minneapolis had), I would substitute in chili powder or omit it entirely. My beloved crushed red pepper flakes would do more harm than good here.If you use a dark miso, it will still be delicious, but I would start with less salt and adjust as you desire.

Makes about 6 cups

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup yellow popcorn kernels
1 1/2 tablespoons light miso
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a medium, heavy bottomed pan with a tightly fitting lid warm the olive oil. Drop a few kernels of popcorn into the oil. Once they’ve popped, add the rest of the popcorn and place the lid on the pot. Cook, shaking the pot often, as the popcorn pops quite aggressively. Once the popcorn has expanded to the volume of the pot and the popping slows, turn out into a large bowl. If there are more kernels on the bottom of the pot, return the pot to heat and cover again and let the final kernels pop.

In a small pot add the miso with 1 tablespoon of water. Use a spoon to mix together, making sure that the miso and the water are very well combined. You don’t want any chunks of miso in this- just a smooth paste. Place the pot over low heat and add the butter. Use your spoon to stir constantly as the butter melts- you want this to be well emulsified and smooth. You’re essentially making miso beurre. It will not take long.

Pour the miso beurre over the popcorn. Sprinkle the nutritional yeast, Aleppo, and salt over the beurre. Toss the popcorn well, making sure everything is evenly coated. Eat immediately.

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Galentine’s Day Buckwheat Waffles with Chocolate Sauce and Orange Whipped Cream

These waffles were photographed in my dear friend Danielle‘s kitchen. Danielle and I met the first day of college. We lived directly across the hall from each other which made it quite convenient that we saw each other a lot. She was the person who told me to read Virginia Woolf for the first time, who started a poetry club called Dead Poet’s Society our sophomore year (we would go and read poetry outside), who describes her fashion sense as “third grade cool”, who still goes by the nickname Dani Unicorn, and who broke her promise to Aaron by telling me he liked me when we were freshman. She’s a model for showing up every day with creative work and the most Gryffindor person I know. When we got married the only reason she wasn’t a bridesmaid is that she couldn’t get away from her Peace Corps service. And she saw nothing weird or abnormal with me asking her to text me a picture of her kitchen table on a whim.

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Leslie Knope (#Knope2020) from Parks and Recreation created Galentine’s Day to celebrate all the awesome ladies in her life. Galentine’s Day is for the women you call “beautiful and poetic land mermaids” and “strong, sensative musk oxes” and such. Female friendships are such a valuable thing, and I like that there’s a holiday, no matter how fictitious, to celebrate them. For a long time I didn’t feel like I understood friendship, not really. It was always difficult to make friends. Finding your place, especially as a kid, is scary and difficult, but when you find the right people? It’s perfect. Why wouldn’t you celebrate that?

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In honor of Galentine’s Day we have waffles. Buckwheat waffles, because I love the earthy, almost beer-y flavor of the buckwheat and all my favorite baked goods have some interesting flours. Whipped cream and chocolate sauce, because Leslie wouldn’t have them any other way. Orange segments for the reassurance that we’re eating fruit at breakfast (and because orange, chocolate, and buckwheat are as good friends as Leslie and Ann), and chocolate shavings because if there’s ever a time to eat chocolate for breakfast, it’s Galentine’s Day.

Danielle, you beautiful minx, thank you for letting me invade your home and morning. Happy Galentine’s Day. Love you girl.

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Buckwheat Waffles with Chocolate Sauce and Orange Whipped Cream

This batter will look quite wet, which is a good thing as buckwheat flour is dryer than all-purpose flour. Because the egg whites are folded in the batter should be made into waffles immediately. If you delay, the batter will fall and that would make sad waffles. These keep well frozen, and can easily be warmed back up in a toaster oven. I’ve learned two tricks to make these waffles crisp and caramelized and fantastic. The first is to cook them on high- preferably the highest setting your waffle maker can handle. And second is to brush the waffle iron with melted butter in between waffles, even if the waffle iron is non-stick. Those two tricks taken together make for crispy edges and a soft interior, and that contrast is what truly makes waffles great.

Makes about 6 waffles

1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (65 grams) buckwheat flour
1 teaspoon (4 grams) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) sea salt
2 eggs, separated
1 cup (250 milliliters) whole milk
1/2 cup (120 grams) whole yogurt
1/4 cup (60 milliliters) maple syrup
2 tablespoons (25 grams) butter, melted, plus more for the waffle iron
1 tablespoon (15 grams) cane sugar

To serve:

Orange Whipped cream (recipe below)
Chocolate sauce (recipe below)
Orange segments
Shaved dark chocolate (use a vegetable peeler to shave the chocolate)

In a large bowl combine the all-purpose flour, buckwheat flour, baking powder, and salt. Whisk together, and set aside.

In a medium bowl whisk together the egg yolks, milk, yogurt, maple syrup, and butter until smooth. Add to the dry mixture, and whisk until smooth.

In another medium bowl place the egg whites. Use a whisk attachment to beat the egg whites at medium-high speed to medium peaks. Once the egg whites keep their shape but the tips flop over when the beater (turned off!) is lifted, sprinkle in the sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy. Fold the stiff beaks into the rest of the batter with a rubber spatula, being careful to only stir as much as necessary and no more.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Place a cookie sheet with a cooling rack on top inside of the oven.

Heat your waffle iron on the highest setting. Once it’s nice and hot brush the iron with melted butter, and then scoop the batter into the iron and press. Every iron is different- mine works best with 1/2 a cup of batter, but play with yours to find your ideal amount. Cook the waffle until it smells toasty and golden. For me, that’s longer than when my waffle iron says it’s finished. Place on the rack in the oven to keep warm, and repeat with remaining batter.

Serve waffles warm, topped with orange whipped cream, chocolate sauce, orange segments, and chocolate shavings.

Orange whipped cream

If you’d like a stronger flavor, you could add in a hit of orange juice or orange liquor.

1 cup (250 milliliters) heavy cream
zest of 1 orange
1 tablespoon (15 grams) cane sugar

In a medium bowl beat everything together on medium-high speed using a hand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat until the cream is softly whipped, when the cream balls together but is still loose.

Chocolate Sauce

This chocolate sauce is just a thin chocolate ganache. And now that you know how to make it, you can play with all sort of ratios to turn into fillings for chocolate, frostings, and sauces. This is texturally the best the day it’s made,  but it makes a very good hot chocolate. (Just warm your desired amount with your milk of choice.)

1 cup (250 milliliters) heavy cream
4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) maple syrup
1/4 heaping teaspoons (1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon) sea salt

Place the cream into a small pot. Bring the cream to a simmer, then remove from heat.

Place the chopped chocolate in a small bowl. Pour the warm cream over the chopped chocolate, then use a whisk to quickly stir the cream and chocolate together. Don’t stop whisking until the chocolate is all melted and the sauce is smooth and emulsified. Stir in the maple syrup and salt. Taste for seasonings, and adjust as necessary.

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Lavender Sablés

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Let’s talk about cookies.

Cookies are joy incarnate. Some of them are homey, like a perfectly underbaked chocolate chip cookie. Some are more exuberant, such as the circa 2004 the iced monster cookies. Some cookies veer just to the edge of healthy, such as an oatmeal raisin. And some cookies are elegant, the macaroons and financiers.

No matter the identity a cookie comes in, they have several advantages over other desserts. A cookie always feels appropriate, whether eaten with coffee or at the end of a formal dinner. Cookies are small in size. Now, this may not sound like an advantage. But there are circumstances in which one wishes to have just a bite of a sweet treat and other circumstances when one wishes to (perhaps stress) eat a lot of things. The small size of cookies lends them perfectly to both circumstances. Cookies can be baked by the dozen and then given as gifts, and there’s no awkwardness of giving someone half a cake.

And trust me, it’s quite awkward. I once gave my friend Elliott two-thirds of a pie when he moved into a new apartment. As appreciative as he was, I still wince when remembering that gift. Cookies would have been a much more appropriate.

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I appreciate all manners of cookies, and these lavender sablés are my current crush. Sablés are the French answer to shortbread, buttery and sandy but a bit less dense with the addition of egg yolks. Sablés are elegant, the sort of cookie that would fit on a china saucer or a dessert plate after a long meal, but they are dead easy. The lavender adds a subtle floral note, present enough to note but light enough that the sablés tastes clean instead of heavy. They take no great skill and only a little patience to make, and the result is lovely. The most difficult part is waiting for the dough to chill before baking.

And that comes to the final advantage of cookies. Cookies are simple in a way that other baked goods are not. These sablés spend about 5 minutes in a mixer, then are shaped into logs, chilled, rolled in sugar, and baked. There’s no mixing pie crusts or waiting for cakes to cool. Cookies may never be as over the top as cupcakes can get, and they may not get internet-famous as a result, but cookies are better for that. There’s no gimmicks when it comes to cookies- they’re simple, and simply good.

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Lavender Sablés

Makes between 30-40 cookies

adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Sablés would take all manner of flavors easily- I could imagine these with lemon zest, coco nibs, or even thyme if lavender isn’t your thing. Be certain to use food grade lavender buds- I found them with the dried herbs in my local grocery store, but if that’s not your reality it’s an easy thing to find through spice shops and online. Finally, the baking time might vary depending on how thick you’ve rolled your cookies. Just be careful to watch them and pull them once the edges are golden.

1 tablespoon dried lavender
8 ounces butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (100 grams) cane sugar
1/4 cup (30 grams) confectioner’s sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon dried lavender
1/4 cup (45 grams) turbinado sugar
1 egg yolk

Place the dried lavender in the bowl of a mortar and pestle. Bash it until its light and powdered, then set aside.

In a large bowl use a hand mixer to beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the bowl as necessary. When the butter is smooth, add in the lavender, the sugars, and the salt and turn down the mixer speed. Stir, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until the butter and sugar is well-mixed but not fluffy, about a minute. Add the egg yolks and beat until just combined.

Turn the mixer down as low as it will go and add the flour. Mix just until the flour is absorbed by the dough. At this point I finished the dough bringing it into a ball using my hands, and stirring in any flour in the bottom corners manually. Divide the ball of dough in half.

Place a piece of plastic wrap about 18 inches long on a clean surface. Place one of the balls onto the plastic wrap, and cover with plastic wrap. Use the plastic wrap to shape the ball into a rectangle at least 9 inches long by evenly pressing the dough out, then roll the wrapped dough to create a cylinder. Repeat with another piece of plastic wrap and the second ball. Store both pieces of dough in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or up to 3 days.

When you are ready to bake your cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl mix the lavender and the turbinado sugar. Spread the mixture out onto a piece of parchment paper or a Silpat. Remove your dough from the refrigerator, and unwrap it. Brush the log all around with the egg yolk, then roll in the lavender sugar. Press more sugar onto the edges as necessary. Cut the logs into 3/4 inch slices, trimming the edges as necessary. Transfer to cookie sheets lined with parchment paper.

Bake for 14 minutes, rotating halfway, until the edges are golden and the centers are just set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the cookie sheets. The cookies will keep in an airtight container for a few days.

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