Vegetarian

Onion and Thyme Soup and Living with Lyme Disease

Lyme Disease is a bacterial infection. I got it when I was around 12 years old. We don’t exactly know when I got it, because it was months after I started feeling ill that we got a diagnosis. This was in the early nineties, when Lyme’s existence in the medical field was only about 20 years old and not nearly as quantifiable as it is today (though many aspects of it are still incredibly difficult and under-researched). I’ve had serious flares 3 times (meaning periods when I’ve been so ill I’ve been unable to work and merely “waited” out courses of antibiotics and immune building until my list of symptoms abated). During my “recessive” periods, I still battle digestive issues, joint pain, feelings of paralysis on one side of my face, sleep problems… symptoms that come and go and can be light or severe, depending on many factors.

Since my last serious flare, which ended around 3 years ago, I’ve had a good run.

But now things are changing again, I can feel it. And it’s scary. My body hurts, on a daily basis. Lights seem harsher, sounds seem louder, the world seems to be pulsing at a higher speed.

I can feel my body screaming, “stop, pause, rest, be still. And I’m trying to slow it down. But when you have a day-job that pays so well you can actually see yourself clearing up that medical debt (I’m definitely pro Obamacare) and writing work that is soclose to being enough to sustain you financially, it’s hard to know what to give up. I work in a kitchen. I interview chefs for a weekly column. I review food events. I’ve got a crazy/awesome month of giveaways and features set for the Easy Eats blog. I go to CT to help out in my family office. I (attempt to) keep this blog going because I enjoy it. I love what I get to do. But once again I’m worried that my body can’t keep up with the “if you can make it there…” pace in the city I love so much.

This post may seem gratuitous the week of Thanksgiving, but it’s because of giving thanks and the joy of the holidays (that I adore and which give me so much inspiration) that I wanted to express this. This blog was inspired by my history with Lyme, but the past few years my symptoms have been a regular but manageable part of my life, so Lyme’s presence here has been relatively absent. Now it’s taking a bit more of my thoughts. I am so thankful for my health, especially for my ability to walk from A to B after not having been able to during my first bout as a child. But there are so many symptoms and ins-and-outs of living for so long with an intricate, changeable and painful illness. I want people to talk with about it. Because when we talk we process, and share ways to help, and ways to move forward.

Saturday I spent 7 beautiful hours talking through things with a good friend with Crohn’s. Yesterday I got a wonderful/heartbreaking email from someone reaching out about her 19-year old son dealing with his third year of Lyme. It’s important that those of us with chronic but not overtly visible illnesses have people to talk with. So please, if you know someone with Lyme, R.A., Crohn’s or similar immune illnesses and they need an ear, send em my way.

This soup I made at work a few weeks ago, in love with the idea of making something simple and warming with only a few ingredients. It’s incredibly basic: yellow onions, chicken broth, garlic, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper. I love it. I made it at home again recently as it doesn’t threaten the stomach and got my body warm again, inside and out.

Stay warm, and thankful.

Thanks for reading,

- Jacqueline

Onion and Thyme Soup

Feeds 4-6

The key to this soup is slicing the onions into thin strips and cooking them low and slow until they practically melt. Then just fill with broth and season with some fresh thyme and salt and pepper!

3 large yellow or Spanish onions
4 tbsp unsalted butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups chicken stock or broth, or more to desired liquid level
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme, plus more for garnish
Cut the onions into quarters and then thinly slice.

In a large pot over medium heat, melt butter. Add onions and toss to coat. Add around 1 tsp salt, garlic and thyme, a toss to coat. Reduce heat to low, cover, and let cook until soft (stirring occasionally), about 30 minutes or more, until they practically melt with pressure from a spatula.

Fill with broth until it just covers the onions. Bring up to a simmer and simmer around 30 minutes, until the onions have softened into the soup completely. Taste and season with salt, pepper and more thyme as desired.

Carrot Soup with Tarragon, Ginger and Toasted Pepitas: Private Chef-ing By the Book with Seamus Mullen

Funny story:

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,

- Jacqueline

** 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…

Carrot Soup with Tarragon, Ginger and Toasted Pepitas

Based on Seamus Mullen’s Chilled Carrot Soup with Yogurt and Tarragon from Hero Food.
Serves 4-6 depending on serving sizes

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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.

Summer of Salads: Jicama and Watermelon

Jicama and Watermelon Salad

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!

- Jacqueline

Jicama and Watermelon Salad


Jicama and Watermelon Salad

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.

Pastel Tea Eggs

I admit to throwing in a little red food coloring in my red velvet creations.

Frosting? Yup, the rainbow reduced to little plastic squeeze bottles goes in there too.

But there always seemed something so off about dying eggs for Easter in such a way.  Though I’m neither a Christian nor a Jew, I grew up Catholic and have many beloved Jewish friends (and the culinary traditions are stellar).  So the holidays of this time of year still mean, to me, a bit of a fresh start.  The earth is starting to pour out beautiful things for us to eat again, and animals are popping out little ones by the baaa’ful (or neigh-ful or whatever).  It’s a time of cleansing and self-reflection.

So, I set to making an Easter egg that not only looks beautiful and delicate and natural, but actually has some flavor benefit as well.  Because why dye the outside of the egg if, when putting together a holiday plate, you can color the part that you eat and infuse some new flavors too?  My mind quickly turned to… tea.

Clockwise from top: chamomile, burdock, hibiscus and raspberry Earl Grey teas.

I drink a lot of tea.  I own several items in which to brew it.  I drink it by the potful as I type.  One whole shelf of my (teeny tiny) pantry is devoted to it.  I throw it into scones, cookies, cakes… delightfulness.

But can it dye eggs?

Various hues from the different teas.

Yes, it can.  Much more subtly (in the cracked, stain-glass versions) than bright pigments.  But the colors are so soft and delicate and would seem perfectly at home nestled in baskets on raffia amongst dark-chocolate bunnies (or whatever your tradition may be).

Perfectly cooked and colored.

My favorite (color-wise): Hibiscus

Tea Eggs

I doubled each amount of tea and let the teas sit for 20 minutes, covered, to make sure they were at full strength.

Burdock: I was disappointed that this didn’t do too much in the color department, but the deep, smoky flavor was quite lovely.  Would probably work best with completely shelled eggs rather than the cracked version I tried.

Hibiscus: Turned the shelled egg to a glorious purpley-red, and gave the cracked one dark purple/blue lines.  I wonder how it would have been had I soaked it longer…?

Raspberry Earl Grey: Gave clear, dark blue lines and an awesome flavor.  Would be great to use on a salad with slivered almonds.

Chamomile: I was surprised that it made the egg as yellow as it did! And the flavor was truly beautiful… fragrant and slightly sweet, like springtime!

Perfectly Cooked Hard Boiled Eggs

Place eggs in a pot and fill with water until it covers the eggs over by at least one inch.  Bring up to a boil, then remove from heat, cover and let sit for 12 minutes.  Immediately rinse eggs and run with cold water.

To Color Eggs

The eggs can be put directly in the cooled tea once they’ve been strained and slightly cool.  If made in a large enough mug, you can color three eggs at a time.  Play around with shelling them completely or cracking them thoroughly to give the stained-glass-window affect.  I let my eggs sit for about 75 minutes, but the longer they sit obviously the more they’ll color up.  Occasionally stir them around for even coverage.

Happy Easter!

Gluten-Free Pastry Puff Party!

photo Brent Herrig

I’ve been obsessed with a gluten-free cream puff recipe.

Having gone without gluten for almost twenty years (minus the occasional succumbing to a bowl of homemade pasta passed to me or the gloriousness of a chewy piece of bread on my family’s island in Portugal just last week), delicate, precious things like filled pastry puffs had long been far from my food thoughts.

But when I sourced a bakery for gluten-free Easy Eats magazine’s Sweet Surprise column in our most recent issue, those thoughts shifted.  As I assisted the food stylist on the shoot I fell enamored of the smooth, thick dough that puffed into crackly rounds.  I was amazed by how such seemingly simple ingredients and a rather quick process could make something so delightful.

So my proposal for FoodBuzz’s 24×24 dinner party – where 24 bloggers from around the world host and post on the same day – quickly centered around the thought: how much can I play with this in one meal?  The owner of the bakery and creator of the recipe, Geri Peacock, had mentioned that, growing up as a child, her mother and grandmother filled the shells with things both savory and sweet.  It was a bit of her heritage that she had adapted for the gluten-free community years later.

So I rounded up some friends, checked in about their dietary issues and cultural backgrounds, and set them in the living room with some cocktails and a really random mix of music, and got to stuffing.

The pastry recipe is below, with my thoughts about how to make each batch spot on.  Click on the images for links to the other recipes.

And please check out Easy Eats magazine for the original recipe and other beautiful gluten-free recipes, lifestyle tips and stunning photos – and my most recent feature of five gluten free pasta recipes! Oh, and coming out in May, my feature of six top-notch chefs give us their own food thoughts and easy-to-execute classic recipes made gluten free (two of the chefs even put gluten-free options on their menus after!).

Oh, and mucho thanks to my photographer, Brent Herrig, for plating and snapping away.  All images are his.

Brent Herrig © 2012

Gluten-Free Pastry Puffs

Makes about 36 puffs, depending on size

The original pastry recipe took a teeny tiny bit of playing with – things like the position of the oven rack and sheets used made a huge difference in how one sheet would either rise and become too thin or remain deliciously eggy but too dense.  Luckily they are rather quick to whip up, and once you get the hang of it you can start swapping flours and fats with relative ease.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, Earth Balance or lard
  • 2 cups Cherbourg Bakery flour blend
  • 8 large eggs, at room temperature
  • dash of salt

Method:

Heat oven to 400° with rack in the center / one notch down from center.  Line 3 baking sheets with Silpat (the original recipe says ungreased cookie sheets but mine continually stuck that way – could be my ancient oven).

In a small pot on high heat, bring the water and butter (once it’s melted) to a full boil.  Lower the heat, add the flour all at once, and mix thoroughly, using a combination of smearing together and folding to completely incorporate the flour into the liquid.  Cook until a smooth ball forms.  Immediately transfer to a standing mixer with the paddle attachment.  Beat in eggs one at a time, starting on a low setting then raising to incorporate.  About halfway through, beat until smooth, and then continue with the rest of the eggs.  Once all are in, beat for about one minute on medium-high speed.

Drop on sheets in smooth lumps, about one tablespoon for smaller puffs (what I used for dessert) and twice the size for larger ones.  Bake one at a time for 30 minutes (I was lucky to use a neighbor’s oven as well).  Once you put the puffs in, don’t open the oven for a good 25 minutes to check – they need the heat to rise properly.  Cool for a few minutes before removing to cooling rack.

Depending on the sturdiness of the puffs, I cut out small tops and filled them or sliced them in half and used them in a slider-type of way.  As they’re light, eggy and rather flavor-neutral, they worked well with strong savory and sweet flavors equally.

Puff Pastry Party Menu

Piri Shrimp

This is the one dish for which I’m not posting a recipe, because I totally cheated and just threw 1 pound of ethically caught shrimp (as in not from Thailand and labeled with certain standards) with 1 bottle of Very Peri Mild (I was sent some to test out and it’s quite delightful).  I marinated it overnight and then threw them in a hot pan with the juice of one fresh lemon.  YUM!

Lamb Stew

Garden Chicken Salad

Jerusalem Artichoke and Kohlrabi

Mini Banana Split with Dairy-Free Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Mini Strawberry Shortcakes with Dairy-Free Liquid Cheesecake


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