Monthly Archives: April 2014

Veal Meatballs with Mustard Greens

DSC_4869I was chosen for jury duty this week.  I feel like you can bring up jury duty to almost any New Yorker and they will tell you their story of having to serve on a jury.  I’m kind of surprised that it’s taken 11 years for me to do my time on a jury, although I’ve been called up numerous times over the years.

Since the case is not yet over, I can’t say anything about it other than that it is a criminal trial—one that I have to travel 4 hours round-trip to get to every day.  It’s kind of ironic that I’m complaining about having to travel, when the reason for the traveling is to decide the fate of another human being’s life.  Ohhhhhh, my privileged life.

And that is exactly what I have been trying to focus on this week as I sit in a courtroom day after day listening to stories of how numerous crimes were committed.  I am trying not to focus on the awful things I am hearing each day when I step into that courtroom, but rather on how beautiful my life is:  how fortunate I have been throughout my life, the opportunities that have come my way, the never-ending support from friends and family, and the love.  It really does make a difference in the outcome of one’s life.
DSC_4859As the days progressed this week, I felt the need to connect.  I wanted to call my friends and family on my lunch hour and express how much I value them and how important they are to me.  Our daily reality is just that; it belongs to no one else.  At some point, I stopped complaining about the long commute to the courthouse each day.  Instead, I am choosing to find meaning in this experience.

Meatballs.  Who doesn’t love a good meatball??  Except for, well, maybe vegetarians.  But I bet they eat their fair share of soy and seitan meatballs.  Gross.  Sorry vegetarians.  I have to confess that meatballs are yet another item that I had never made before.   I think it was simply another intimidation situation.   But I love the fact that these meatballs were my first.  They are juicy and full of flavor—exactly the way any good meatball should taste.  And the mustard greens are the perfect bitter complement to the sweetness of the meatballs.  Of course, you can toss them into a plate of pasta if this recipe isn’t hearty enough on its own.  But this dish definitely doesn’t need a starch to accompany it.  My only suggestion is to speak like Tony Soprano when you take your first bite.
DSC_4868Veal Meatballs with Mustard Greens
Adapted from Food and Wine

Yield:  4 servings

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup minced onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon chipotle or other smoked chile powder
1 pound ground veal
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 pound mustard greens, thick stems discarded and leaves chopped
1/3 cup chicken stock or low-sodium broth

1.  In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil until shimmering.
2.  Add the minced onion and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and starting to brown, 5 minutes.
3. Stir in the minced garlic, the fennel seeds, mustard powder crushed red pepper, coriander and chile powder and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes; let cool.
4.  In a large bowl, mix the cooled onion mixture with the veal, bread crumbs, cream, egg and salt.
5.  Form into 11/2-inch meatballs and transfer to a rimmed baking sheet.
6.  In a large skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering.  Add the meatballs and cook over moderately high heat, turning until browned all over, 5 minutes.
7.  Gently push the meatballs to one side of the skillet.  Spoon off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pan, then add the mustard greens and stock.
8.  Cover and cook over moderate heat until the greens are wilted, 4 minutes.  Spoon the meatballs and greens into bowls and serve.

Savory Ham and Gruyère Muffins

DSC_4211I’m enjoying silence more.  Just a few months ago, the thought of sitting alone with my thoughts scared the living daylight out of me.  I was the person who constantly had a podcast going, music on, or the television on at any given time when I wasn’t working.  I was desperate to constantly distract myself because the fear of listening to the negative self-talk in my brain was just too painful.  At some point, I think I just decided that the constant distraction was exhausting in and of itself, and I found myself wanting to sit quietly with my thoughts and see if I could learn to not beat myself up.

I have been allowing myself to do more things around the apartment without distractions.  I get ready in the morning in silence, I wash the dishes steeped in quietness, and I cook quietly more times than not, encouraging myself to enjoy my own company.  Does that sounds strange?  Maybe it does for those of you who are fortunate enough to not know what it’s like to have a ruthless foe in your head.  But I think most people can relate.  We are our toughest critics, and sitting alone with my thoughts used to feel daunting.
DSC_4187I feel like I’ve taken a giant leap forward.  Of course, I’m sure at some point I will take two steps back.  But knowing I don’t have to have my nose buried in a book or have ear buds in my ears at all times feels very liberating.

I’ve been eating a lot of salads lately and so I figured it was time to add some carbs to my plate.  I’m a sucker for ham & cheese melts/paninis, so I thought this would be a good recipe to try to change things up a bit.  Although they are technically muffins, I would label them as a cross between biscuits and muffins.  They would make a great accompaniment to any soup or salad.  It’s a dreary rainy day here in NYC today, so treat yourself to a warm savory ham and Gruyere muffin.
DSC_4188Savory Ham and Gruyère Muffins
Adapted from The New York Times

Yield: 12-15 muffins

Unsalted butter, softened, for brushing pan
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 large eggs
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup olive oil
6 ounces baked ham, cut into 1/4-inch dice
6 ounces Gruyère, coarsely grated (about 1 1/2 cups)

1.  Center a rack in the oven and heat to 350 degrees.  Generously brush a muffin pan with butter.
2.  In a large bowl, whisk flour with baking powder, salt and pepper.
3.  In a medium bowl, lightly whisk eggs, then whisk in milk and olive oil.
4.  Using a rubber spatula, fold wet ingredients into dry until barely mixed.  Fold in ham and cheese.
5.  Using large cookie scoop, place a scoop of batter into each muffin cup.
6.  Bake until golden, about 15 minutes,  and a toothpick inserted in center comes out with a few crumbs attached.
7.  Transfer to a rack to cool in pan for 5 minutes.  Release muffins from pan to continue cooling.

Soba Noodles with Miso-Roasted Tomatoes

DSC_4854My food cravings are slowly disappearing.  I have had a sweet tooth ever since I can remember.  Along with that, I am someone who thinks about food constantly.  This is all wrapped up into my love/hate relationship with food.  I love it because it brings me so much pleasure to eat.  The unhealthy side of this is that I, for most of my life, have been an emotional eater.  So while food might give me pleasure while I’m eating, as soon as the meal is over, the pleasure evaporates into nothingness.  I am usually left with feelings of guilt and lots of critical analysis as to how healthy what I just ate is and what it could potentially do to my body.

Layered on top of this is my love of cooking and baking.  As I stated in one of my early blog posts, being in the kitchen is like therapy for me.  I love the challenge of trying a new recipe, the smells that emanate from the kitchen and waft throughout my home, and the anticipation of tasting what I created.  However, if I am baking, I often times have to wrestle with myself to not eat too much of what I’ve just baked.  If I do, it will eradicate all of the good feelings that I associate with baking and I will end up feeling defeated by my own self-loathing.  It’s a slippery slope.
DSC_4838A few weeks ago I decided to try something new.  I recently read a book called Grain Brain.  The author’s hypothesis is that gluten (and carbohydrates in general) is not only bad for our bodies, but bad for our brains.  People with gluten sensitivity are more prone to dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other mental health issues.  This information jolted me into action.  I decided I was going to try and cut out 80% of the carbs in my diet and see how I felt.  If it helped assuage my anxiety in any noticeable way, I figured it would be worth it.

Since then, I have noticed significant changes in my thought patterns.  I feel calmer overall, and not nearly as anxious about things that might have created a non-stop loop of negative self-talk in my mind just a few weeks ago.  But the most surprising thing has been my diminished cravings for carbs, sugar in particular.  I noticed this the other night when Mr. K and I were sitting on the couch after dinner watching television.  For the last few years, I was in a bad habit of eating dessert several nights a week.  It was such an automatic behavior that NOT having dessert would feel like deprivation.  However, the other night I noticed that I had absolutely no cravings for dessert.  In fact, it didn’t even sound appealing to me.  Who am I?  I thought to myself.  This is a completely new feeling.  But you better believe the feeling made me smile.
DSC_4833One of my goals in the cooking realm of this blog was to cook more Asian food.  I love most Asian cuisines but I haven’t cooked many recipes that hail from this part of the world.  I think my biggest obstacle was a feeling of intimidation due to the fact that I had never used many of the ingredients.  I have made a couple of Asian dishes over recent months, and I love the way they have all turned out.  This recipe falls under that umbrella.  The miso and sesame oil give the dish that familiar umami quality that is associated with so much of Asian fare.  Although it’s a noodle dish, it doesn’t taste or feel heavy at all.  As we were eating it for dinner last night, Mr. K and I agreed that it was yet another perfect meal for spring; it’s light and yet very satisfying.  Of course, if you can’t find soba noodles at your local market, whole wheat spaghetti noodles would make a perfectly fine substitute.
DSC_4847Soba Noodles with Miso-Roasted Tomatoes
Adapted from Food and Wine

1/3 cup canola oil
3 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons light yellow miso
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons finely grated lime zest
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
sea salt
2 pints cherry tomatoes
8 ounces soba noodles
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

1.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  In a bowl, whisk the canola oil, vinegar, miso, ginger, sesame oil, honey, lime zest and lime juice until smooth.  Season with salt.
2.  On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the tomatoes with 3 tablespoons of the miso dressing and season with salt.
3.  Roast for 20 minutes, stirring, until the tomatoes are charred in spots.  Scrape into a large bowl.
4.  Cook the soba in soiling water just until al dente, 4 minutes.
5.  Drain and cool under cold running water.
6.  Add the soba, scallions and half of the remaining dressing to the tomatoes and toss well.  Season with salt.
7.  Transfer to a platter and garnish with the sesame seeds.  Serve with the remaining dressing.

 

Warm Green Snap Beans in Bacon Vinaigrette

DSC_4641I was feeling very rushed yesterday.  I had a doctor’s appointment in the morning, and by the time I returned home I felt like I was racing against time trying to finish my to-do list before going to work.  I am hosting my monthly book club tonight, so the passion fruit cheesecake(!!) had to be made yesterday.  Even though I love entertaining and hosting, it can easily turn into a nerve-racking situation if I allow it.  It must stem from the part of my ego that needs other people’s approval.  What starts off as excitement about choosing recipes, selecting a playlist, and fantasizing about drinking good wine over stimulating conversation can quickly turn to panic.

The day before hosting, I turn into my own worst enemy creating endless to-do lists and noticing everything that is wrong with our apartment.  We still haven’t hung up that shelf!  Why doesn’t our living room get more light?  I wish we could hire a decorator so I could truly enjoy our home.  However, I caught myself in the midst of these thoughts yesterday.  I allowed myself to sit still (my acupuncturist finds it curious that I usually frame it as, “I forced myself to sit still.”) for a few minutes, took some deep breaths, and tried to quiet the loud voice that was trying to put a negative spin on an experience that brings me a lot of joy.  When I woke up this morning, I told myself I was going to approach the remainder of my to-do list with gratitude:

How fortunate am I that I get to have friends over to discuss a novel that I really enjoyed (we read The Orphan Master’s Son for anyone who is curious)? 

I get to cook and bake delicious food for my friends. 

I am able to drink wine and connect with other women who I respect and appreciate. 

I can buy a beautiful bouquet of flowers to celebrate the arrival of spring.
DSC_4633And I’ll be doing all of the above tonight.  Speaking of spring, I made this salad last week because I needed an easy yet healthy lunch to take to work.  It’s a warm salad, so it’s perfect for this time of year when the days can fluctuate between a balmy 50 degrees during the day and a much chillier evening.  It reminded me of a tangy, rustic French salad with the green beans, tomatoes, and shallots.  I just realized that I’ve been to France twice and both visits were in the spring.  They do seem to compliment each other well.  Isn’t there a classic song called “April in Paris”?  [End of tangent.]  This salad is light yet filling, and very satisfying with the bacon and olive oil so you don’t feel deprived whatsoever. 

DSC_4638

Warm Green Snap Beans in Bacon Vinaigrette
Adapted from Food and Wine 

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

2 lbs. green snap beans, trimmed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces thickly sliced bacon, cut into lardons (1 cup)
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
10 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
1 small shallot, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/3 cup chopped basil
salt and freshly ground pepper

1.  Cook the beans in a large pot of salted boiling water until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.
2.  Drain the beans and cool them under cold running water.  Drain well and pat dry; transfer the beans to a large bowl.
3.  In a large skillet, heat the olive oil.  Add the bacon and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until golden, 7 to 8 minutes.
4.  Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the vinegar, tomatoes, shallot, garlic and basil.  Scrape the bacon vinaigrette over the beans, season with salt and pepper and toss to evenly coat.  Serve warm.