An Irishman, An Italian and A Portuguese Walk Into A Kitchen…

Look at this soup, just bursting with healthfulness. Well, that and butter.

Last week, like millions of other mutts all across America, I celebrated my fractional Irish heritage (in my case, the fraction is a respectable 1/4) by cooking a corned beef and a great, warm, buttery pot of colcannon–and then foisting them on my pizza-and-hot-dog-loving family. The children loved the meat, as well as the carrots I’d cooked along with it, and Daughter Dearest even scarfed down most of her colcannon. Who says that “you can’t even TASTE the green stuff!” isn’t a ringing endorsement?

In the following days, the corned beef was put to delicious use as sandwich innards; I had a couple of butter-soaked and Bacon Salt-ed bowls of colcannon late at night, when no one was looking. Nevertheless, I was left with an awful lot of leftovers–including half a large bag of kale. There also happened to be a few cans of white beans and some lovely Yukon Golds in my pantry, so it occurred to me that I might make a batch of caldo verde, or possibly some simple beans and greens. Or–and here inspiration started to gain momentum, like a runaway go-cart headed downhill–both. Together. Beans, greens, potatoes, chicken broth, garlic. With the leftover colcannon! Perfect!

And so was born my bizarre love child stew, the offspring of an Irish side dish, an Italian side dish and a Portuguese soup. Except it’s not bizarre at all, really; it’s rather serendipitous. Greens, garlic and potatoes are all elemental foods in many cuisines, and come together deliciously. The beans add a punch of protein, and the pureed part of the soup imparts creaminess, while leaving some chunks of potato and slivers of kale whole elevates this from the realm of pabulum or sickbed food.

Now, I’m assuming that you don’t have a giant container of leftover colcannon in your fridge, so I’m going to both scale this back and adapt it for scratch cooking.

Caldo Colcannon

6 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
smidgen olive or canola oil, or butter, or bacon fat
1 quart chicken broth
1 cup milk
1 can small white beans
1 lb. Kale, washed, chopped and blanched
parsley, if you have it on hand
1 T. lemon juice

Heat the olive oil together with the minced garlic in a large pan or stockpot. When it becomes fragrant, add the onion and potatoes; cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly to ensure that the garlic doesn’t burn. Add the broth and the kale. Lower heat to medium and simmer, for 20-30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

Remove several ladlesful of the soup and puree in a blender until smooth. Return to pot. Add milk, beans and remainder of the kale. Simmer for another 5-10 minutes. Add the parsley, if using, salt and pepper to taste, and the lemon juice. If the stew seems too thick, add more milk. Remove from heat and serve. If you like, garnish with cheese (parmesan or cheddar would be nice), bacon crumbles, scallions, or all of the above. Enjoy!

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A Tale of Two Chickens

Their names are Bobby and Cissy, after the dancers on the Lawrence Welk show. Cissy is the one with the white patch on her head.

Technically, it’s four chickens–two live ones, and two chicken dishes. But “A Tale of Four Chickens” just doesn’t have the same ring to it, now, does it?

We got new chickens–chicks, really–last week. They are darling. When they cheep they sound like songbirds. They are palm-sized, so small that we don’t have anything to hold them except for a cardboard box.  At night we take them up to the attic (the only place they will be safe from the cats, one of whom has been eyeing them with obvious relish); during the day they get to roam around the backyard and eat bugs. Mmm, bugs.

It’s a little strange eating chicken dishes when we keep chickens as pets–pets with eggy benefits, as my friend Fernanda says–but we all love to eat chicken, especially when it’s coated in panko, fried, and dipped in ranch or blue cheese dressing. So we compartmentalize the meals and the backyard egg machines, and it all seems to work out fine.

We had just gotten a lovely bunch of Thai basil from the CSA (they also had purple basil, lemon basil and–get this–lime basil. Lime basil! What’s next, pomegranate basil? Chipotle basil? Cheddar basil?), so I decided to make some Thai Basil Chicken for the grownups. Of course, the grownups partook of the nuggets, too.

That place mat looks like it belongs in an ice cream parlor, doesn't it?

I make my children’s nuggets from scratch, because I find the packaged, processed ones only slightly less terrifying than the Michelin Man (who, obviously, terrifies me for reasons that I suspect have to do with my father, but that could be pure conjecture). Years ago the kids and I went to a playdate and were served a lunch of microwaved, dinosaur-shaped nuggets. It was all I could do to keep my mouth shut, let me tell you. Yes, homemade nuggets are a lot of work compared to ripping open a plastic bag, but they’re worth it. And I usually make a large batch and freeze some.

I mean, it’s not like I make my own hot dogs, for crying out loud.

Anyway, here’s how I make my nuggets:

  1. cut chicken breast into pieces
  2. coat in flour
  3. dip in egg wash–this is my one exception to my ironclad rule to never pair chicken and eggs in the same meal, which is just creepy
  4. coat in panko, which are special Japanese breadcrumbs that make things especially crispy. I don’t know how they do it, but from what I know of the Japanese, I imagine robots are involved
  5. Fry in vegetable oil until golden brown
  6. Enjoy.

I can wrap shit in lettuce just like P.F. Chang (who I suspect is fictional anyway). Where's my restaurant chain?

Thai Basil Chicken

½ pound ground chicken (I made my own, using my Vitamix. Not to brag or anything)
1 shallot or small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 T fish sauce
1 T soy sauce
1 T brown or raw sugar
minced Thai chilies*, Sriracha or hot pepper flakes, to taste
1 bunch Thai basil
cooked jasmine rice
large, wrap-like lettuce leaves

Heat coconut or olive oil in a large skillet or (preferably; ask me how I know) wok. Stir fry the onion and garlic until fragrant; add the chicken. Cook, breaking up the chicken into pieces, until the chicken is no longer pink. Add the sauces, sugar and source of hotness and stir-fry for a minute. Add the basil; stir and fry until the basil is wilted.

Serve with rice or in lettuce wraps.

*be careful with those little buggers. I mean it.

(Part of) The Legacy Lives On

fresh from the fryin' pan

Picture it: Lower Manhattan, 1988. I was a wide-eyed naif, fresh off the bus from a small Upstate town, enrolled at NYU but getting my real education on the streets of the big city. It was a year of many firsts: my first iced coffee, my first gay friends, my first VISA card, my first pair of $140 shoes, my first time doing cocaine with drag queens in the men’s room of an exclusive Manhattan nightclub.

And my first taste of falafel, late at night, from the incomparable Mahmoun’s on St. Mark’s Place. Bear in mind that I grew up eating middle-class, Midwestern food: tuna sandwiches, meatloaf, various casseroles combining chicken and Campbell’s Soups. Falafel was a revelation to me, as was Indian food, real Chinese (by “real” I mean “not canned LaChoy from the grocery store”), gyros, Ukrainian fare, and half-moon cookies from the 2nd Avenue Deli.

But, oh, that late-night falafel. We would take the plump little foil-wrapped packets back to our dorm rooms and picnic on the floor in the hallway outside our rooms. After eating, we’d smoke one last cigarette, putting them out on the carpet–the mind reels. What teenage hubris. What insufferable pricks we were! Remember when you could smoke indoors and use the floor as an ashtray?

A lot has changed since then. I don’t smoke anymore, I don’t do cocaine anymore, and I don’t do credit cards. I still have lots of gay friends and I still love falafel. Only now, living some 440 miles from Mahmoun’s, I have learned to make my own. For a while I used those boxed mixes, but I have recently discovered how crazy easy it is to make falafel from scratch, from real honest-to-goodness dried chickpeas. It helps to have a kickass blender, like my Vitamix, but a regular blender and some patience might do the trick. I don’t know; I don’t have either of those things.

Use My Favorite Falafel from Epicurious as a jumping off point, like I did. But, listen, this is so simple it’s laughable. Soak the chickpeas, drain, throw them in your blender, grind. Add some spices and a bit of flour to make a workable dough. Chill. Form into balls or patties. Bake or fry. Stuff into pitas. Devour.

Pita, or as we like to call it, "pouffy bread"--and lest you think I'm closed-minded, some of my best breads are pouffy

Yeah, I’m that kind of pretentious poseur who makes her own pita bread. Sometimes–I do also buy it in the store. But again, this is so easy it’s almost painful. If you have flour and time, you can make pita.

I got this recipe from Pete Bakes! His introductory blurb says, “Hello, my name is Pete, and I like to bake stuff.” Doesn’t that alone make you want to marry him, sight unseen?

An impossible-to-eat-daintily sandwich. But who cares?

We stuffed our homemade pita with the homemade falafel, tomato, cucumber, something called Yoga Sprouts that I bought on a whim from the co-op (and yes, I bought them because they were called Yoga Sprouts, and somewhere in the back of my mind I thought that if I ate them, I would be able to hold Tree Pose a little longer. Long-Suffering Husband doesn’t call me “Madison Avenue’s Bitch” for nothing) and tahini sauce, made from whizzing together tahini paste, some low-fat yogurt, and lemon juice. If I weren’t so exhausted from making every damn thing from scratch, I would’ve thrown some garlic in there too.

It was delicious, though. If I had closed my eyes, I might almost have imagined that I was back in the dorms at NYU, balling up my foil and napkin, inhaling the unmistakable smell of smouldering industrial carpet.

It’s Hotter Than…

It's meeellllting...

I’ll let you fill in your own metaphor. It’s too hot for me to think of anything clever.

Regardless, it is too darn hot here on the East Coast. Between our window-unit ACs, the kiddie pool in the backyard, and this ice cream, however, we get by with a minimal of heat-induced crabbiness.

This hardly qualifies as ice cream. For one thing, it’s vegan. For another, it requires no ice cream machine. Lastly, it’s the kind of thing that you can pull together after a backyard BBQ in no time flat–that is, if the kids are still in the backyard playing, and not, say, standing right behind you in the kitchen squealing, “Ice cream? you’re making ice cream? Is it ready yet? What kind of ice cream? Where’s the ice cream? Is the ice cream ready yet?”

Pestering tends to impede my progress.

I make this in my Vitamix, which is a super-expensive high-powered industrial mofo of a blender. This thing grinds grains, chops cheese, makes ice cream and hot soup, and makes the smoothest sauces this side of a chinois. Remember your grandma’s blender, with the quaint old settings like “puree” and “liquify” and “davenport”? My Vitamix could kick that blender’s ass. My Vitamix can take solids to liquid to gas and back again.

You should get one, really. It will change your life. It’s changed mine. For example, I never used to be so hostile and aggressive towards my grandma’s blender.

Anyhoo, if you have a high-powered badass blender like me (I imagine a BlendTec will work — if that thing can blend an iPad, I’m sure it can handle some frozen fruit), here is what you do:

Dump in some sliced frozen bananas.
Dump in some sliced frozen other fruit (strawberries, raspberries, peaches, blueberries, whatever is in season).
Add a splash of soy milk.
Blend, eat, enjoy.

That is it! If you like things very sweet, you may add some honey or stevia. Any leftovers can be frozen, although you’ll need to let it thaw a bit, and maybe give it a good stir.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a sad little Oster in an attic somewhere to which I owe an apology.

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