WARM BODIES AND SPICY MEATBALLS or SOLVING FOR HUH???

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Spicy meatball tacos

Where food is concerned , one crazy-long-flight-delay plus three-weary-travelers-with-empty-stomachs ordinarily equals low expectations: “Mom, just fill my belly, please!” But add me to that equation and it all gets exponentially more complicated—it’s no longer simple arithmetic.

Maternal imperative (M) multiplied by, parenthetically, longing (l) plus guilt (g), PLUS the need to Gratify (G), multiplied by, parenthetically, the need to impress (i), divided by effort (e), equals irrationally high expectations (on my part) It looks something like this, algebraically:

[M(l+g) ]+ [G(i/e)] = HUH???

My family, having finally landed in Birmingham with their luggage in hand, was grateful that the trip to my apartment was the most painless leg of their journey. I had the answer to my question, “Want to take the scenic route or the highw…?” before it passed my lips. We were “home” in 20 minutes.

I was so proud and eager to have my family in my apartment. I prepared the nest—two rooms were treated to bold, beautiful accent walls (coincidentally named pumpkin spice and spud) and the spare bedroom (my office) got a fresh coat of bright white (a huge improvement from the soul-crushing, institutional beige painted throughout).  I left Valentine’s candy hearts on their beds (3 days late, but hey, V-day has no end date for my kids) and made sure there was plenty of wine, beer, Fresca and snacks. I made granola for breakfast and spicy Mexican meatballs for dinner. And don’t forget that Mixed Berry Galette for dessert, as well. (This is where those irrationally high expectations are planted)

“Should we go out for our first dinner or stay in?” My family was divided but I made an executive decision to stay put.  We had the whole week ahead of us to experience the glory of traditional southern cooking. Besides, I’d waited a long time to see my lovelies, didn’t want to share them with anyone else, and I’d prepared a very special menu.  (This is where those irrationally high expectations take root)

So far so good. That is until I tripped over the first misplaced shoe, swept up crumbs from the couch, put a coaster under a water glass, picked up a soaking wet towel from the floor and had to shout over the TV—all in the first day. The advice, lovingly delivered, “Pick your battles” unfortunately, went unheeded more often than not. (This is where those irrationally high expectations choke out the indigenous plants)

I anticipated making some adjustment to having people in my space but these were my children and my husband, after all and I missed them terribly.  All I wanted was to have a nice time with my family and I was blowing it in a very, very big way.

As if it couldn’t have gotten any worse, my son came down with a violent, nasty stomach virus and spent all night doubled over the toilet.  Two days later, both my daughter and my husband followed suit. Oddly, that’s exactly the time I relaxed and let go of the control-freak, nit-picking. The 2 sleeves worth of saltine cracker crumbs all over my couch meant that my daughter was finally able to hold something down. And the cold wet towels on the floor were a necessary evil to soothe a throbbing headache. I believe what I really craved in the end was to be a mother, wife and care-giver once again, for more than a stray weekend here and there. I needed to be needed and I realized exactly what was missing from the equation:  generosity.

Albondinga Tacos (Spicy Pork Meatball) Tacos

1 tablespoon canola oil

2 chorizo (fresh) @ 4 ounces

1 medium red onion, chopped

2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 scallions thinly sliced

4 teaspoons ground cumin

1 ½ teaspoons chopped chipotle in adobo (optional)

1 teaspoon salt or to taste

½ cup finely crushed tortilla chips

½ cup finely crumbled queso fresco

1 large egg

1 ½ pounds ground pork

Hard shell tacos, warm soft tortillas, salsa, sour cream, shredded lettuce, chopped onions, cilantro and crumbled queso for serving

  1. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet. Add the chorizo, breaking it up with a spoon along with the onion, jalapenos, garlic and scallions and cook over moderate heat until lightly browned and tender, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add cumin and chipotle and cook 1 minute longer. Stir in the tortilla chips, season with salt and transfer to a bowl to cool. Stir in the queso fresco, egg and ground pork and knead gently until evenly combined.
  2. Preheat the oven to 425° and line a baking sheet with foil or parchment. Using lightly moistened hands, roll the mixture into 1 ½-inch balls and arrange them on the baking sheet. Bake in the upper third of the oven until firm and cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes. Turn on the broiler and broil until browned and crusty,  1 to 2 minutes, shifting the pan to avoid black spots.
  3. Transfer the albondigas to a platter and serve with all the fixings. Make ahead: the meatballs can be refrigerated for up to 4 days. Reheat before serving.

MIXED BERRY GALETTE–VALENTINE’S DAY DO-OVER

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Strawberries, blueberries and blackberries baked in an all-butter super flaky crust

 

 

All week long I’ve been anxiously awaiting my family’s arrival this Thursday night, perfect timing for Valentine’s Day. Not to mention I miss them terribly and haven’t seen them for 2 weeks. I’d planned a super nice menu and had a whole host of activities scheduled (and booked). Snow storms in New York AND Birmingham (2 @ 10-inches and 1 @ 2-inches, respectively), plus the threat of freezing rain down here has had me on pins and needles for days. The big storm  this Thursday up north threw air travel into a tizzy and my guys have been rescheduled three times now due to cancellations and over-booking. Thanks, Delta! So glad I’m a frequent flyer with you! It’s Sunday and I’ve just heard they won’t make it in now until later this evening.  So much for planning. My poor guys will be sitting in the airport for hours after getting there at the crack of dawn to be on time! That’s all the more reason to have a special treat for them when they get here.  

The threat of ice and snow this week brought the Birmingham school system to a grinding halt, so for 3 days my test kitchen and photo sets were operating at a diminished capacity and consequently there was a good deal of un-used, just-this-side-of-rotting produce. I found myself with a ton of strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries. My husband and kids love fruit pies, especially with ice cream or whipped cream and I had all the raw materials to make something yummy. In fact, for a book-cover photo shoot that I actually got to style (yay!) I’d made an extra batch of pie pastry that I didn’t need (3 pies a charm!) and found it in the fridge. 

I’m including the pastry recipe here to make it more convenient for you to find. And in case of a dessert emergency (don’t we all have them occasionally? I know I do), the recipe below makes enough pastry for 2 galettes–1 for now and 1 for the freezer. It’s all so super easy and something you can throw together pretty quickly–especially since it’s kind of amazing warm. I’d show you a cut piece, but my family still isn’t here yet… In fact, if you make yours now, you’ll probably be eating it before us.  

MIXED BERRY GALETTE

Makes One 10-inch Galette

4 cups sliced strawberries

1 cup blueberries

1 cup blackberries 

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, plus more for sprinkling 

1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

Pinch of salt

1 disc Flaky All-Butter Crust (1/2 recipe) (chilled but pliable)

 

1. Preheat the oven to 375° and arrange a rack in the center of the oven. In a large bowl, gently toss the berries with the lemon juice, 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/4 cup flour and the salt and let sit for 10 minutes, until the juices just begin to run.

2. On a floured board, roll the pastry to a neat (-ish) 13-inch round and ease it into a 9-inch pie dish or oven proof skillet (I used a non-stick skillet, so be sure to use a plastic knife and pie server to cut). Scrape the fruit and any accumulated juices into the pastry and spread into an even layer. Fold the sides up over the filling and brush with water. Sprinkle with sugar. If so desired, and you don’t mind using some of the 2nd pastry disc, roll out a small bit and stamp out a shape to place on top. (Just be sure with the next galette you use a smaller baking dish and 1 cup less filling). Brush it with water, sprinkle with sugar and place it over the fruit. Bake the galette until golden and bubbling for about 50 minutes. Let cool slightly, then cut into wedges and serve with vanilla ice cream, creme fraiche or sweetened whipped cream. 

FLAKY ALL-BUTTER CRUST

Makes 2 (9 to 10-inch) Single OR 1 Double crust  

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, chilled

1/2 cup ice water

 

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour and salt. Add the cubed butter and pulse in 1 second bursts 5 times. The butter should be the size of small peas. Lift the lid, pour in the water and pulse 5 or 6 times, just until the dough is moistened, but doesn’t form a ball. Turn the crumbs onto a work surface,  and gather into a ball. Divide the dough into 2 parts.  Flatten each into a disc, wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

 

Building a North-South Alliance…One Bowl at a Time

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Stracciatella with Chicken and Collards

As I settle in and make my house a home here in Birmingham (part-time, anyway) I’m reminded, daily, of the differences between my two poles–B’klyn and B-ham. First, there’s the driving…everywhere, then the pace…slow (except in cars) and then the diversity (or lack thereof, so it seems) My beloved Brooklyn (accessible almost entirely by public transportation–and quickly) is home to dozens of cultures, each neighborhood boasting foods, languages and customs from their beloved homes. I long for japchae from Koreatown, babka from Greenpoint, goat roti from Crown Heights and arepas from Red Hook’s soccer fields.  Certainly, there must be some outposts here but I haven’t ventured out far enough yet. Gotta git in ma car! 

But what I have found are friendly people (polite people!) with ready appetites and some decent markets stocked with cool regional ingredients. Obvious are the umpteen brands of bacon, grits/cornmeal products and biscuit mixes. What surprised me, however, was the variety of ready-to-use bagged greens: turnip, mustard, kale, beet, chard, and my favorite, collards.

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pre-washed, chopped and bagged collards

 

I’d ordinarily use escarole in this kind of soup, but a lovely bag of collards, (stemmed and chopped!) was too good to pass up. Like any true immigrant, I make my favorite foods with what’s available. (My grandma used Carolina rice in her arancini) It’s traditional to cook the green right out of greens down here and it’s definitely delicious that way–especially with some smoky pork product. But, and remember I’m an immigrant here, I much prefer my greens green (yet tender) This stracciatella is relatively quick (thanks, B’klyn) and highly nutritious. It fed my soul as much as it did my body. Now all I have to do is figure out how to cook for one! 

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Big ol’ mess of greens–Italian style

STRACCIATELLA WITH COLLARDS AND CHICKEN

Active: 20 min; Total: 40 min

Makes 4 to 6 Servings

 

1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 small sweet onion, finely chopped 

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 jalapeño, seeded and minced

1 rotisserie chicken, skinned, meat pulled into shreds, carcass reserved

1 quart low sodium chicken broth

2 cups water

4 cups stemmed chopped collard greens (or turnip, mustard, kale)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 eggs

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano, plus more for serving

 

1. In a large pot, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion, garlic and jalapeño and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the reserved chicken bones and cook 2 to 3 minutes longer. Add the broth and water, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Pick out and discard the bones. Stir in the collard greens and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over moderately low heat, stirring once or twice, until tender, 10 to 12 minutes. 

2. Meanwhile in a small bowl, beat the eggs with the flour and parmesan to form a thick batter and season with salt. Drizzle the mixture into the pot, cover and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until nearly set. Gently stir once or twice to break the dough into lumps. Fold in the chicken, cover and cook just until heated through, about 2 minutes. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with olive oil and grated parmesan. Serve with crusty bread and enjoy!

 

BISCUITS IN BIRMINGHAM

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First, let me offer sincerest apologies for my absence from this blog to the three people (you know who you are) who may or may not actually have wondered where in God’s name I’ve been these past few months.
Second, let me come clean. Back in June 2013, I launched Tales of a Recipe Goddess as a response to being laid off from Food & Wine Magazine, where I worked in the test kitchen for nearly 20 years. Recipe Goddess was my F&W twitter handle and a little cringe-provoking for me, but it was not completely inaccurate and so, it sort of took roots. There, I wrote dozens and dozens of stories, developed thousands of recipes and tested many thousands more. Recipe Goddess or Recipe Workhorse? The latter doesn’t sound nearly as nice…
Out of some sense of embarrassment or lack of courage or more likely the fear that without F&W I’d lose my credibility as a chef and food writer, I purposely left my employment status more than a bit ambiguous. How could I let on that I’d been EX-ed out of the very institution that I lovingly helped build and that helped build me? I remember the giddy sense of pride in seeing my name on the mast head for the very first time. I also remember the crushing sense of failure and disappointment when I realized September would be my last.
See, that’s the problem with growing up in a job—it’s not like graduating from college and being faced with a rosy, bright future. When it’s over, you find yourself middle aged, wondering “What the Hell am I going to do now?”. When you’re 25, the long hard slog is a journey, full of interesting and inspiring detours, but when you’re 52—without the luxury of time, that long hard slog is just that. A long…hard…slog.
Unless of course you can find a way to embrace that change, take a deep breath and  look at your new status as a blank slate—a sort of liberation from who you thought you were and what you thought you could or couldn’t do. More than that, develop an almost militant drive to do exactly what you really, really want to do.
Taking stock is a lot harder and more time consuming than making stock, and it doesn’t happen overnight. For me, it took months and months, but it led me to a few revelations—not bad for an old broad. Revelation #1: Ambition is not a bad thing when used without sabotage. Revelation #2: There’s plenty to go around—even in this economy. Revelation #3: Openness sparks opportunity and opportunity sparks options and options are a very good thing.
Which leads me to why i’ve been so blog-negligent since October. Re-invention is a process and every aspect of my career needed some re-evaluation. Food styling was how I initially came to F&W and it was something I loved to do, but my styling book was a little out-dated. So, in order to modernize it, I began testing with photographers, which led to several styling jobs.
Re-establishing old and building new work relationships took considerable time and effort. Gradually, through those efforts as well as recommendations from others (greatly appreciated!), I’d been contracted to write articles for a number of very popular national magazines and websites. Maybe I didn’t lose much credibility post F&W, after all. And then, in early October, I was approached by the producers of IFC’s hit show, Portlandia, to create the recipes for a Portland-focussed cookbook, centered around key episodes from the show. Like all of publishing, the turn-around on the book was INSANE and so I buried my head and knives into the project.  It was by far the funnest project I’ve ever worked on and until now, I couldn’t share it with you. It’s slated for a fall release, and as the date nears, I’ll keep you posted.
Till then, remember some key phrases: “Cacao!” and “Is it local?”
At that time, I was also recruited by Oxmoor House, Time Inc.’s Lifestyles Books division to lead their test kitchen and food styling teams to help create a new paradigm in their food department. It’s so exciting I can barely contain myself! I start on Monday and am ready to dive in head first. Located in Birmingham, Alabama, needless to say, this dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker will be learning a few new tricks—never a bad thing for any one of any age. But with my lovelies back home, I’ll be flying back and forth to Brooklyn weekly. So, yes, I’ve been a little busy (and will continue to be so) and my blog-life has suffered. But not for long—I imagine there’ll be tons of material here! When life throws you a curve ball, make biscuits—and if you’re in the South, they damn well better be good.
Buttermilk Biscuits
makes  twelve 2 1/2-inch biscuits
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for sprinkling
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and chilled
3/4 cup buttermilk, plus more for brushing
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°. In  a large bowl whisk the flour with the baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the butter and using 2 table knives or a pastry blender, cut in the butter until it is the size of small peas. Add the buttermilk and stir just until moistened.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead 2 or 3 times, just until it comes together. Pat or roll the dough 1/2-inch thick and using a 2 1/2-inch round cutter, stamp out as many biscuits as possible. Gather the scraps and cut out more biscuits. Arrange them on a large baking sheet and brush the tops with buttermilk. Sprinkle with salt and bake in the center of the oven until risen and golden, 16 to 18 minutes.

APPLE PIE AD INFINITUM

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Lattice Top Apple Pie

 

Before my kids were born, neither my in-laws nor my mother was particularly insistent that  we join them for Thanksgiving. For them, Christmas Eve with my mom and Christmas Day with my in-laws was sufficient. After my kids were born, however…well that was entirely different. With the pressure on, we had to choose whom we’d visit and it was inevitable that someone would feel slighted. The only obvious solution was to take it over myself and host both sides of the family. Now the onus was on them to see their grandchildren. Sorry, no grumbling.

Along with a strong background in catering, I had quite a few years of “hosting” Thanksgiving in the Food & Wine test kitchen and so it seemed like a breeze to cook for 15 or so people.  The only problem was that all my experience was in a controlled environment—a professional kitchen, during the workday. Two little kids, a full time job and no time to prep made it a bit more challenging on my own. But I was, after all,  my mother’s daughter and I wasn’t going to let a little thing like chaos deter me. When guests, politely and genuinely asked if they could bring something my answer was always, “Oh, I don’t know, how about a bottle of Pinot Noir.” But after the 2nd or 3rd  year, my exhaustion level rising in direct proportion to my ego relaxing, the answer became “Oh, lovely! How about a green vegetable? Or a potato gratin? Or the first course?”

But NEVER dessert. That is where I drew the line…eventually. Yes, my mom was an impressive cook and cookie baker, but her pie making skills were less than stellar. Her pies looked beautiful but they were almost always undercooked. The bottom crust was pale and soggy and the fruit inside was crunchy. All my suggestions to bake it longer were ignored. I know my standards are ridiculously high, but that’s because I am the reigning champ of pies or so I’ve been told.

Handing out an assignment to my brother Frank, one year, he asked what our mother was bringing and I made the mistake of saying  “I don’t care as long as it’s not a pie.” Naturally, he relayed that to my mom in their conversation.  It was years before I lived that one down and yet, her pies remained under-baked. I miss her so much, I’d gladly endure one today and I wouldn’t even say a word.

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A mix of apples makes the best pie

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Roll the bottom crust

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Just a hit of lemon, sugar and cinnamon

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Irregular strips makes a beautiful lattice crust

 

Check out this fun video shot by Lucy Schaeffer

DEEP DISH APPLE PIE

 

ACTIVE: 30 MIN TOTAL: 2 1/2 HRS PLUS COOLING

 

8 SERVINGS

 

FILLING:

6 large apples (3 pounds) such as 2 Granny Smith, 2 golden delicious, and 2 Pink Lady, peeled, cored and cut into 3/4-inch chunks

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon minced crystallized ginger (optional)

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into cubes

FLAKY ALL-BUTTER CRUST, recipe follows

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°. In a bowl, combine the apples and lemon juice. Add the sugar, flour, ginger and cinnamon and stir to combine.
  2. On a lightly floured surface, roll one disc of the dough to a 13-inch round and ease it into a 10-inch deep dish glass pie plate.  Roll the 2nd disc to a 12-inch round, being sure to keep each cold. Add the filling to the pie plate and dot with the butter. Brush the rim with water and center the top crust over the apples. Press the edges together and trim the overhanging dough  to a scant 1-inch. Fold under and crimp decoratively. Cut a few vents in the top crust.
  3. Bake the pie in the center of the oven, placing a baking sheet on the bottom rack to catch any spills, until the top and bottom is golden and the filling is bubbling through the vents, about 70 minutes. Cover the edges of the crust if they brown too quickly. Cool on a wire rack at least 4 hours before serving.

 

FLAKY ALL-BUTTER CRUST

 

MAKES A 9 TO 10-INCH DOUBLE CRUST

 

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, chilled

1/2 cup ice water

 

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour and salt. Add the cubed butter and pulse in 1 second bursts 5 times. The butter should be the size of small peas. Lift the lid, pour in the water and pulse 5 or 6 times, just until the dough is moistened, but doesn’t form a ball. Turn the crumbs onto a work surface,  and gather into a ball. Divide the dough into 2 parts.  Flatten each into a disc, wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

 

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Last piece for me