Vegetables and Sides

Oyster Mushrooms!

My new love - Oyster Mushrooms

I fully blame (thank) Jacques Pépin for my new intrigue (obsession) with mushroom. I’m about to finish up his memoir, The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen.  I won’t begin to go into all the things I love about Pépin and highly recommend the book.

But throughout it’s meaty pages he often talks about foraging for mushrooms, first with his father throughout France as his family relocated to open restaurants, and then when he bought a house with his wife near chef friends in upstate NY.  While there are many culinary explorations I’m dying to try (owning chickens!!!), I’ll leave the foraging for experts – though I’ll jump on tagging along any chance I get.

I grew up not eating mushrooms; I have an arthritic condition as a result of years of Lyme Disease, so anything that’s moldy has been off the table since I was young (aged cheeses, peanuts, potato and carrot skins etc.).  But recently I’ve been nagged by this absence, and have slowly been tossing mushrooms into food with wild, happy abandon.

So today in Fairway I noticed these gorgeous little gems at about $3.80 for 3.3 ounces and, oops, they fell into my basket!  It wasn’t until I got home that I fell completely in love.

The mushrooms on their "shell"

The little things came on their stem, very much like a shell, and were so delicate and dainty that I almost dared not to touch them!  But then, of course, I did, to pop one raw into my mouth.

They are so delightful!  Delicate, subtle.  The texture is gentle – they’re not at all chewy or rough, but rather silky and smooth.  Their taste has an almost floral hint, though many have written that they taste like the sea mollusk of which they’re named.

Pretty much all the sites I looked at said to sauté them with butter before adding them to soup, but I didn’t want any butter in the Chicken Coconut Soup recipe I was building, so I simply chopped them up and threw them in (saving a few to top the soup with raw).  They absorbed the flavors of the soup perfectly and didn’t lose their tiny shapes.

Oh, happy day!  Thanks, Jacques!

The little darlings!

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Ralph Macchio Dancing Potatoes (Perfect Roasted Potatoes)

Ralph Macchio Dancing Potatoes

Disclaimer:  I do not, actually, have a crush on my boyfriend’s friend, who we’ll call Ralph Macchio.  The real Ralph Macchio is on my mind because I want him to win the crap out of Dancing With the Stars next season – though I’ve never seen an episode.  But really.  The Karate Kid?! My Cousin Vinny?  Heck, he was even adorable on Ugly Betty!  Let’s go Macchio!

Anyway, the pseudo Ralph Macchio has excellent taste in colorful shirts.  And despite my incredible desire to be lazy on Sunday we enjoyed 90 minutes of YogaX together, where I melted into several Warrior series and cursed the phrase “Yoga Belly” before we went out in the rain for sake and sushi. Ralph can cook, and (possibly to appease my desire to have a partner in the kitchen) my boyfriend put us together a few weeks ago when he was visiting to make brunch for some friends.  And in single moment of delicious, crisp, buttery potato perfection, Ralph reminded me of the state of bliss potatoes reach when you’ve taken the time to par-boil them properly before roasting.

So I made them tonight to go along with Phat Tuesday dinner after a long day.  And my little sis wanted the recipe.  And so I reminded her that I have a blog for that purpose.  Then she remarked that my holiday header is gone… showing that she hasn’t actually been on this site since Christmas.

Family is awesome! Truly.  It was a delightful night of food and conversation, and sinfully crispy potatoes.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 Yukon Gold or white potatoes per person
  • scarily delicious olive oil
  • freshly cracked sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • your combination of any of the following: garlic powder, onion powder, crushed red pepper flakes, dried basil, dried oregano, white pepper, dried lemon etc.

Directions

  • Peel and cut your potatoes into wedges about 1 – 1 1/2 inches big.  While doing so, place a large pot of water on to boil with a good amount of salt (I used about a tablespoon) and preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • When the water is at a good boil, drop potatoes in and cook about 5 minutes, until a fork just pierces into them but they’re still very firm.  Immediately strain and allow all water to fall off.
  • Coat a medium baking dish (I used a classic Pyrex glass dish) with about 3 Tbsp Olive Oil (one that rocks your world) and toss potatoes in to coat.
  • Add freshly cracked salt, pepper and seasonings to taste.  If you’re not sure what to try, I recommend grabbing a premixed spice blend – they’re easily available now and usually mixed pretty classic-ly.
  • Roast in preheated oven for approximately 25 minutes, tossing occasionally.
  • Turn heat up to a broil and broil for 5-8 minutes until golden.

Eat the crap out of them.

Kamui Den Cold Asparagus Salad

Kamui Den Cold Asparagus Salad

It was a long weekend, full of way too much fun with good people and delicious food.  And at the end of an exhausting Sunday, where I had gotten drenched by the NYC rain too many times, sort-of enjoyed THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU and muscled my way through YogaX (the yoga version of P90X a visiting friend shames us by doing daily),  I wanted to “eat the crap out of some sushi”.

Enter Kamui Den.  The best thing about eating sushi there is that the sushi is not the best thing on the menu.  It is delicious – buttery soft with lots of ginger and mild wasabi on the site – but it’s the appetizers that win.  Lotus Root salad, picked vegetables, tempura so light you can see the texture of the vegetables before you bite into them.  And a simple cold asparagus salad that my boyfriend boldly proclaimed to be the best asparagus he’s ever had.

Thank god it’s a simple dish.  The boyfriend can’t cook to save his life (sadly I think that’s a completely true statement) but the visiting friend (Tim) is an extremely able man in the kitchen.  We agreed that the most likely way to replicate the dish is to flash boil the asparagus and then douse it in a cold water bath before drizzling on the simple sauce of lemon, oil, salt and pepper.  Tim also pointed out to salt the crap out of the water – literally, so that it tasted like the Arctic.  I knew it would help bring out the color of the asparagus, but didn’t know how much salt it takes to season vegetables in the boiling state.

This morning I hit the train to Connecticut and stopped by my brother’s place, where he left me some Brussels sprouts and asparagus in exchange for checking in on his cat (it’s sort of endearing that he knows leaving me his unused vegetables does really make it that much easier to get a favor out of me).  While my laziness enticed me to stick to my millet/lentil/get-my-tush-in-the-office plan, the desire to learn how to make this for someone I care about won over.

And it’s really simple.  Really.  As in, he can make it.

Maybe.

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch of asparagus
  • salt (table salt for boiling and I used rock sea salt for flavoring)
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • olive oil
  • lemon juice (fresh preferred)

Directions

Plain old asparagus, sorta green and full of potential

Trim the ends off of each spear and then cut in half, so that your pieces are about 3″ long.  Bring a medium pot of water to a boil with a lot of salt… I estimate that I used about 2 tablespoons.  While waiting for the water to boil, prepare an ice-water bath and make sure you have a colander ready.  When at a roiling boil, drop in asparagus and cook for 1 1/2 – 2 minutes, until the thickest spear is soft enough to easily pierce with a fork but the pieces still have a lot of firmness to them.

The vibrant green after boiling

Quickly drain and toss in the ice-water bath, swirling the asparagus to make sure they’re all submerged.

While the asparagus chills, whisk together 2 Tbsp very good virgin or extra-virgin olive oil, 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice, and freshly cracked salt and pepper to taste.  Toss the cold asparagus in and then drain as much of the oil off as possible.  Use excess oil for drizzling

Enjoy!

Kamui Den Cold Asparagus Salad

 

Sweet and Savory Sprouts (of the Brussels Persuasion)

Brussels sprouts have gotten a bad rep and that makes me cranky.  They are, without a doubt, my favorite vegetable.  I roast the dickens out of them with whatever other veggies I have around, doused in olive oil and salt.  I saute them with bacon or in duck fat.  I even nuke frozen ones and toss them with ghee and spices when I’m lazy and needing something cleansing.  So I’m serious, here, people.

For Christmas my mother gave me a Cuisinart food processor, the kind that’s compact and also a blender – which in itself is a blessing for small NYC apartments that are already overstuffed with cooking equipment.  The addition of a crazy-awesome slicer into my kitchen has made me a little slicing-crazy, so the other night I decided it was time for the tiny organic Brussels sprouts I had picked up after my restorative yoga class (om, delicious) to face the wrath of my new friend.

The convenient thing about shredding sprouts is that they cook relatively faster and you can get a nice even coating of flavor.  They also crisp better, and while I love the texture of a crispy outside and soft inside of a sprout cooked whole, this is a delectable contrast.

Now I kept this batch rather middling on the whole savory-vs-sweet line.  I didn’t want too much maple flavor – that I reserve for Thanksgiving when all hands are on deck.  This was meant to be a healthy side that would taste great with my soup that night and my eggs the next morning.  And I’m trying to cut back on my salt intake – I usually pour that glorious stuff with abandon, as I have really low blood pressure and it helps curb induced headaches.  But I’m definitely not getting any younger and will take anything that will help me feel less puffy, so salt is simmering in quantity in my kitchen.

The result?  My favorite veggie just topped itself as my “ultimate, never-to-be-beaten, will-write-love-sonnets-to-them” veggie.  For these Brussels sprouts I would become a poet.

Oh, and in writing this entry I went back to my fridge and proceeded to heat and eat the last of the bunch – though I ate my second portion with lunch not an hour before.  Well played, watering mouth, well played.

Ingredients

  • 20-25 small Brussels sprouts, scrubbed
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 12 dried apricots, chopped into small pieces (I recommend naturally-dried fruits without sulfates)
  • 1/2 cup raw, unsalted walnuts, chopped into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup pure Maple syrup (please don’t hurt your sprouts’ feelings by using pancake syrup)
  • sea salt and cracked pepper to taste

Directions

  • Heat olive oil on medium heat in a large saute pan
  • Meanwhile, run the sprouts through your slicer / shredder, or shred by hand if necessary
  • Add to pan and stir thoroughly to coat with oil, than cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sprouts soften.
  • Add salt to taste (this will pull a little moisture out, which you want at this point)
  • Turn heat up to high and quickly stir until sprouts are browned.
  • Turn heat to low and add apricots, nuts and then maple syrup, and stir thoroughly to coat.
  • Cook for five to ten minutes more on low until at desired softness.  Adjust salt and add pepper to taste.
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