Every year I say I’m not gonna do any baking events during the holidays.
And then every year I do a few anyway. Because, like today, sometimes you can’t say “no” to making something sweet for a good cause. Continue reading
Last April I was soaking my arthritic bones in a deep bath full of Epsom salts and essential oils, melting away the wet of Spring, with Seamus Mullen’s soon-to-be-released Hero Food cookbook. I was interviewing Chef Mullen for my column on Serious Eats NY, and the book had been messengered over for my research. As I flipped through the intro, I was flabbergasted: Seamus has rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic immune disease that manifests with symptoms and patterns similar to my own with Lyme. I jumped out of the tub, threw on a robe and, dripping, held the book up to my roommate, with a “you’ll never guess what this cookbook is about!!”
Which was an unfair proclamation.
Because while, indeed, Chef Mullen battles RA, the book isn’t about that. It’s about delicious food that also happens to be good for you.
When I was first diagnosed with Lyme Disease at 12 years old, massive amounts of antibiotics weren’t cutting it. I couldn’t walk for a long period, I couldn’t eat, I attended school sporadically when I could, and in general my brain and body were in Lala land seemingly without end. It wasn’t until my mom found a nutritionist who put me on a strict diet, lots of supplements and IV vitamin drips that my immune system got so strong that my symptoms went away – relatively speaking – even though the Lyme did not.
Growing up with Lyme – including dealing with two serious flairs again in adulthood – taught me a lot about food. There were many I had to avoid – some incredibly strictly during certain periods but in moderation in others – and some that to this day I can’t touch. But there were also some that I needed to load my diet with so that my digestive tract, immune system and joints had a bit of extra help.
Seamus calls them hero foods.
Two decades later, I’m a private chef in a household with no dietary restrictions. Actually, I call myself a “private cook”, because a chef I am not. I am adept at making delicious things and, yes, can cook without guidance. But for inspiration and to widen my skill-set I often take advantage of my job and bring favorite books I want to explore to work with me. And as my blogging time has been diminished by my cooking, interviewing and event-covering time, I figured I should let my professions overlap when possible.
Hence this new series, “Private Chef-ing By the Book”.
It’s fitting that I’m starting with Hero Food because this time of year I’m back in the tub often. My job is physical, and I have to medicate, soak and sleep more often to battle the pain it brings my joints.
Just reading through Mullen’s Spanish-based recipes brings me comfort; not only do I love the ingredients he focuses on (olive oil, almonds, anchovies, good eggs, good birds, parsley etc.), but reminding myself why they’re healing for me helps me connect more intimately with them, reminding me to give them more attention when I’m frantically cooking in someone’s kitchen.
In Hero Foods this carrot soup is made to celebrate summer, with gorgeous fresh carrots and a splash of citrus. But since it’s chilly and damp in NYC I’ve made a few tiny adjustments. In the original recipe Chef Mullen blanches the carrots: I’ve chosen to roast them. He tops his with yogurt: for my boss-family I stirred some creme fraiche in instead, and for my holiday dinner-party I’ll serve it with tangy goat yogurt so I can enjoy it too. And because it’s autumn now in New York City, I toasted some pepitas and tossed them in cinnamon and a pinch of sugar to sweeten the deal a bit. I adjusted some ingredients a tad and served the soup hot rather than chilled.
This soup is delicious. I’d never thought to add orange juice or zest to a carrot or squash soup, and it brightens and enlivens the rooty vegetables. Streaming in olive oil at the end emulsified it to a smooth cream. And not using chicken stock – which is my go-to for adding flavor and depth – really let the carrots remain the star and the gentle garlic, ginger and tumeric do the flavoring. And while I love tarragon and use it often, serving it on top rather than blending it in as I usually do helps it stand out rather than meld with a pluthera of equally-amazing flavors.
I’ve cooked from Chef Mullen’s book a few times already. And on top of the deep flavors I’ve created, it’s given me mindful time in the kitchen with ingredients that should be constantly in my rotation. Soon I’ll be pickling mushrooms to add to my cheese plate and pan-roasting Brussels sprouts with some (Portuguese… sorry Mullen) chorico for Thanksgiving. At work next week I’m going to make his tender lamb meatballs in a gentle tomato sauce and ricotta. And when the weather warms up again, I’m going to utilize the grill in my boss-family’s summer home to do more smoking, which I can’t do in my tiny NYC apartment.
But, until then…
There’s Hero Soup.
Stay warm and dry, East Coasters,
** Note: Chef Mullen is also the owner of Tertulia, in NYC. I took my friend Nikk – the chef whose job I took on – for his going away / birthday dinner. It’s one of the best meals I’ve ever had, and is one of my favorite restaurants around. If you love flavor-packed food, salty fish, cured meats, incredible cheeses, bright vegetables and potent wine, go there soon. If you don’t… um…
Based on Seamus Mullen’s Chilled Carrot Soup with Yogurt and Tarragon from Hero Food.
Serves 4-6 depending on serving sizes
2 lbs carrots, peeled and cut into 1″ chunks
1/2 cup olive oil (the book specified Arebquina, which happens to be what I had on hand!)
2 shallots, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1/4 tsp whole tumeric
Kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper
Creme fraiche, if desired, or whatever yogurt you can digest (or omit completely to make vegan)
About 4 tarragon fronds or 2 Tbsp coarsely chopped tarragon
For the Pepitas:
Note: Thanks go to Chef Anthony Ricco at The Spice Market, NYC, for this pepitas idea. He serves it on an incredible sweet butternut squash soup that I’ll be for Thanksgiving. His interview coming up in a few weeks on Serious Eats.
1/4 cup pepitas (small hulled pumpkin seeds)
1 Tbsp olive oil 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp sugar, if desired
Heat oven to 375°.
Combine carrots and about 2 Tbsp oliver oil on a large baking tray. Sprinkle with salt, cover loosely with foil, and roast for about 30 minutes, until almost steamed and completely soft, and slightly browned on bottom. Remove to cool slightly.
While the carrots are roasting, prepare the pepitas: place pepitas and olive oil in a cold skillet and place over medium/high heat. As the temperature starts to rise stir and then start tossing until they crackle, pop and expand. When they’re equally lightly browned and full in size, remove quickly to a bowl. Toss with a pinch of salt, cinnamon and sugar (if desired – you don’t need to).
Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a skillet on medium heat. Add shallots, and cook to sweat, 1-2 minutes. Add garlic and toss quickly to warm and slightly sweat, about another minute more.
Place cooked carrots, shallots, garlic, vinegar, orange juice and zest, tumeric, and ginger in a blender, food processor or large pot (and use a hand blender). Start running the blender on high and slowly add warm water until you get to the “velvety” consistency you desire, about 2 cups. Reduce the speed of your blender/mixer, and stream in about 1/2-1 cup olive oil until emulsified and gorgeously smooth.
Adjust taste with salt and pepper, and add more acid from vinegar or orange if desired.
Pour into serving bowls and top with a dallop of creme fraiche / yogurt, a few fronds of tarragon, a swirl of olive oil and some toasted pepitas.
Every now and then, someone comes into your life and you breathe a huge sigh of relief.
One of those such special people made me a Jicama and Watermelon salad on the 4th of July. It went scrumptiously alongside some huge langostines I fried up all spicy-like and some ridiculously fresh sea bass that took a mere ten minutes to broil to perfection. He was all achy and sore from a pulled back muscle. I was exhausted from long days of cooking for other people. We feasted with white wine I had been saving for over a year for a special occasion – until I grew up and realized that every good meal with a good person is a special occasion. Then we climbed onto the roof and watched NYC’s spectacular fireworks burst over the Hudson river.
Then I stole his recipe.
I adapted it slightly for the family I cook for, and set it on the pink-canopied backyard table with some of my garden chicken salad and grilled burgers. By the time I got around to snapping pictures of it 24 hours later it had faded in color but the flavors had developed even more fully.
Jicama is a root that’s a cross between a water chestnut and rhubarb, believe it or not. Watery, slightly sweet and somewhat starchy, it’s often eaten in its native Mexico with fiery spices. Because of the light sweetness and water content, it pairs extremely well with watermelon, giving a salad of both some crunch and texture. They’re found at most big grocery stores out in the east coast, but are easy to overlook.
After grunting and sweating away peeling the annoyingly large jicama, I tossed it lightly with watermelon, lime, cilantro and a bit of jalapeno for a ridiculously refreshing salad that my blew my bosses guests away.
Happy summer, happy Friday!
Serves 6 as a side
1 medium jicama, peeled and cut into thin 3″ long strips (about 3 cups)
1/4 watermelon, cut into thin 3″ long strips (about 3 cups)
1/2 jalapeno pepper, peeled, seeded and finely diced
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 cup chopped parsley or cilantro
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and chill before serving.
Hello there friends,
I had one of those mornings that tougher NYCers would laugh at but that’s left me with a scrunched up feeling in my heart.
I awoke once again just feeling off. Not full-blown sick, but really out of whack. I muscled to the living room to do a low-key Qi Gong DVD, which definitely had me slowing down, centering, focusing, and returning to somewhat a manageable plane of energy. I was feeling calmer, at least, and ready to tackle my morning.
Then the parking situation came.
In my neighborhood we have alternate side-street parking where you can’t park for 90 minute blocks certain days of the week so they can be cleaned. It’s a fun little matrix I now know well. It’s not rocket science (shout out to my friend Tim who is actually a rocket scientist), but takes some planning and moving your car quickly when the cleaning’s done on a street, so that you have a place before your time expires.
So at 10:05 I, feeling very grounded and quiet, took Mitra for a walk around the corner, stopping to tousle with her friends Scrabble and Checkers, before jumping in the car and pulling to a street a few blocks away. There, a few cars were doubled-parked on the narrow one-way street. Double parked! It normally isn’t an issue, though, because they come and move their cars when the time changes. So… you guessed it… 10:20 rolls around, usually when people are slipping in to park and waiting in their cars until go time (like yours truly and 3 other cars), and the squatters are no where to be seen. 10:30, nothing. Two of the other cars want to park and leave, which is now creating a pileup of passing cars, including a school bus that can’t get through. 10:35, still those cars and now the legally parked people are waiting, having pulled onto the curb so people can pass. By 10:38, I’ve dealt with plenty of yelling and honking people who are not happy.
So when the drivers finally come out, they’re met with grumpy people including me, who gives a lady an exasperated scrunch of the shoulders. She fires immediately, “oh, I’m 3 minutes late, kill me!” to which I respond, “actually you’re 8 minutes late and have pissed off about 20 people” to which she responds as she walks to her car “ooh, 8 whole minutes, doesn’t something ever come up for you? Welcome to New York baby, it happens” to which I go “I’ve been here ten years, no welcome necessary, it not an excuse to those 20 people backed up for you” to which she closes “I’ll tell my sick mother you said that”.
I park my car and get out to start walking before she can follow in my direction.
To most NYers, no big deal, right? Neither of us were obscene, and while she was yelling at my open window and looking very pissed off it was kept at that. It was inconvenient, and even if only for 8 minutes, those two people were basically stating that their time was more valued than others. But still, why did I have to engage? I usually assume that people are just having a bad day, or that something came up, and it’s only 8 minutes anyway. What if her mother is really sick and she was dealing with something important? What if she’s having a really low day and I made it lower?
I walked back into my building assessing my actions, not so much concerned at the severity of the situation – in reality it’s not that big a deal – but because I don’t want to present myself that way to the world. I don’t want to be a city-dweller who is insensitive to the fact that there are real people everywhere around me. I want to act respectfully first and assertively second.
Maybe I’ll go leave a note on her car. Just in case she actually cares.
So back inside, I make some coffee and start to work on this dish. A purple-ribboned aubergine called out to me at the market. I don’t normally eat eggplant (they’re a deadly nightshade vegetable and so not good for people with arthritic conditions) but in these cold winter NYC months I need smooth veggies, and lots of garlic, and my apartment smelling like cooking food and love.
To serve, I tried two ways. First, by slicing a sweet long pepper and filling each half with half of the mixture. And just because I wanted to see how it would taste as a munchie appetizer, I piped half into Tostito Scoops and topped with a bit of the chopped pepper. I’m not a huge chip / snack fan, but had some leftover corn chips from our Superbowl gathering (um, yeah Giants!). And when I do eat chips, they’re corn chips.
This plate? Yeah, gone by the time I got to typing this sentence.
The spread is both incredibly savory with a huge waft of garlic, but also sweet in the aubergine and the roasted flavor that comes from cooking the garlic in this way. It’s warm and filling without being heavy. And so full of flavor for such a small list of ingredients. I’m not a huge “party snack” fan, but this is definitely high on the list now. And I now have the rest of the head saved for something else (why do I not roast garlic more?!).
And with that, I’m going to get to some real work today. Cooking helps when mornings are cranky, and I’m fortunate to have set up my work lifestyle in such a way that I can go to the kitchen for an hour when I most need it.
Happy Thursday folks.
I don’t diet. I probably should, sometimes, but I hate any negative relationship with food, having grown up in a culture and country that over-indulges and then punishes itself on a rotating basis. And as I’ve had complications with my digestion because of Lyme Disease from the itty bitty age of 12, I embrace what foods I can eat and try to celebrate them as wholly, fully and naturally as possible.
So with the abundance of sweet things in my kitchen comes a love for incredibly clean, simple foods that are fortifying and cleansing.
Hence green soup now and then.
I love this soup. I love soup in general, but one of my favorite things about the glory of vegetables and a hand mixer is just throwing stuff together and seeing what comes up.
So, here it is, one of my favorite staples in the particularly cold months. I served this ladeled over millet and enjoyed with a hot mug of gyokuro, one of my favorite green teas.
Equipment: a hand blender. If you don’t have one, get one. Really. Worth it.