Tag Archives: onion

Harissa-Spiced Cassoulet

L1040015If anyone had told my younger self that I would go through menopause in my late thirties, I probably would have shrugged and went on with my life.   Back then, I thought menopause would merely be a ceasing of menstruation and maybe a year of hot flashes.  However, I’m learning that the experience of menopause is a heck of a lot more than that, and it’s a really difficult transition.  Just the other day I was so frustrated and disheartened that I thought to myself, Why aren’t there menopause support groups the way that there are AA meetings?  The thought kind of made me laugh, but then I soberly wondered if any actually exist.
L1040007It wasn’t until recently that I came to the conclusion that all of my ailments were due to my hormones being out of whack due to menopause.  It’s pretty amazing how much control our hormones have over how our body functions; they control everything!  They’re like the lobbyists of the U.S. political system.  (Ok, I won’t get political…but isn’t that a good analogy?!)

I am trying to remain patient and maintain some sense of normalcy with this transitional phase of my life, but it has been a struggle the last few months as my symptoms become more acute.  Yoga definitely helps.  And I’ve started training for the half-marathon that I will be running in April.  Every little thing helps.  I just hope that I am one of the more fortunate women for whom menopause lasts two years instead of ten.  Gulp.
L1040004This was my first time making a cassoulet.  I came across this recipe in Food & Wine, where a Minneapolis chef was sharing riffs-on-casserole recipes.  If you haven’t ever made one, they are as easy as a casserole, and even more delicious.  And this particular cassoulet is perfect for hunkering down on a cold winter’s night.  It’s almost March, people!
L1040013Harissa-Spiced Cassoulet
Adapted from Food & Wine

Yield:  10-12 servings

1/2 pound thick-cut bacon, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely diced
1 celery rib, finely diced
2 medium carrots, finely diced, plus 2 large carrots, cut into 2 1/2-inch lengths
14 oz. can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Sea salt
Black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Four 6-ounce chicken sausages, sliced into 1/2-inch thick rounds
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2 1/2-inch pieces
3 turnips, peeled and cut into 2 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
4 ounces rustic peasant bread, crusts removed, bread cut into 1/4-inch dice (2 cups)
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

  1. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, cook the bacon over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the fat is rendered. Add the onion, celery and diced carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning 
to soften, about 8 minutes.  Add the beans and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°. In a small skillet, toast the cumin, coriander and mustard seeds over moderate heat, shaking the pan, until fragrant and the mustard seeds begin to pop, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer 
to a spice grinder and let cool. Add the smoked paprika and crushed red pepper and grind the harissa blend into a powder.
  3. Wipe out the casserole and heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in it. Add the sausages and cook over moderate heat, until lightly browned all over, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Do not wipe out the casserole.
  4. Add the sweet potatoes, turnips and large carrots to the casserole. Season with salt and black pepper and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, 5 minutes.  Add the harissa spice blend and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  5. Stir in the bean mixture and the chicken broth and bring just to a simmer.  Cover and bake the 
cassoulet for about 1 hour, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Remove from the oven and uncover the cassoulet.  Mix in the sausages.
  6. Preheat the broiler. In a bowl, toss the bread, parsley, lemon zest and the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil; season with salt and black pepper. Sprinkle the bread over the cassoulet and broil until golden and crisp. Let the cassoulet stand for 10 minutes before serving.

 

 

 

 

Roasted Tomato Croques

DSC_5061I can still remember the sublime experience of eating a Croque Monsieur for the first time.  A friend and I were on holiday traveling through Europe while studying abroad in England.  We took the Chunnel from London to Paris, where we made romantic plans to meet some other friends at the top of the Eiffel Tower.  I knew nothing about serious traveling, let alone traveling with a large backpack the size of another human strapped to your back.  In my 20-year old naiveté, I had no hesitations about traveling through 6 countries in a span of 3 weeks—none of which were English-speaking countries.  I bought my Berkeley Guide Europe ’97 (which still sits proudly on my bookshelf), tightened my rose-colored glasses, and away we went.
DSC_5032I think back on my time traveling around Europe from time and time, and am astounded at how casually I approached everything.  My friend and I arrived in Paris and thought it made the most sense to try and find lodging for the night.  I can’t imagine traveling anywhere in today’s world without first researching prices, neighborhoods, etc., and then BOOKING A PLACE TO STAY.  We nonchalantly began calling hostels listed in our guide from the Paris train station, and eventually found one within our price range.  After a decent night’s sleep (with my passport tied around my neck and tucked into my pajamas), we headed out to explore the City of Lights.
DSC_5040Of course, I was a poor student back then and didn’t really care that I had very little money to spend while traveling.  The important thing was the opportunity to be able to travel to these incredible countries, and not so much what we would be able to afford and not afford to do once we arrived.  My friend and I agreed that since we were on a limited budget, we would stick to eating fruit, baguettes and jam for the majority of our meals—all of which were extremely cheap at any market—and then treat ourselves to one meal per city (roughly every 2-3 days).  Again, for my 20-year-old self, this did not feel like a huge sacrifice.  And it had a huge upside!  Every REAL meal we ate tasted like manna from heaven.  Which brings me to my meal in Paris.  We had been walking around all day, seeing the sights and taking in the sounds while a light mist engulfed the city.  By dinnertime, we were wet, tired and hungry.  We had no idea where to go for a reasonably priced dinner in Paris.  We eventually stumbled upon a brasserie that looked warm, inviting, and best of all, cheap.  I ordered a Croque Monsieur, not because I knew what it was, but because I remember the description mentioning ham and cheese, which sounded familiar to my Midwestern palate.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with this dish, it is essentially a ham and cheese (usually Emmental or Gruyère) sandwich on white bread.  However, what makes this dish stand out is the béchamel sauce that is added to the sandwich, as well as the extra cheese that is sprinkled on top.  The entire sandwich is then broiled for a minute or two to create a beautifully golden, crunchy crust.  I’m salivating just thinking about it.
DSC_5048I saw this recipe for Roasted Tomato Croques in a recent issue of Food & Wine and immediately tore it out to add to my recipe file.  I’m going to go ahead and call it a summer version of the original, and I really like the fact that it’s an open-face sandwich.  I think open-face sandwiches have virtue, if only because they better highlight the sandwich ingredients instead of hiding them between two pieces of bread.  The original recipe calls for straining the béchamel sauce, but I love onions, thyme, and rosemary, so I decided to leave them in for added flavor.  It also called for pickled peppers, which I did not have on hand (I’m no Peter Piper…sorry—had to), so I simply added a few splashes of balsamic vinegar to each slice of bread before roasting and it did the trick.  I took a bite of these beauties fresh out of the oven and was immediately transported back to that Paris brasserie.  Cue the Edith Piaf….
DSC_5049Roasted Tomato Croques
Adapted from Food & Wine

Yield: 15 open-face sandwiches

5 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 small thyme sprigs, plus 1 Tbsp. thyme leaves
1 Tbsp. rosemary leaves
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
sea salt
black pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk (I used almond milk)
2 lbs. heirloom cherry tomatoes, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
15 1/2-inch thick slices of sourdough bread
1/2 lb. Gruyère cheese, shredded

1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  In a medium saucepan, melt the butter.  Add the onion, thyme sprigs, rosemary, mustard and a generous pinch each of salt and pepper and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and just starting to brown, about 7 minutes.
2.  Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until light golden, about 3 minutes.  Gradually whisk in the milk until incorporated and bring to a boil.  Simmer the sauce over moderately low heat, stirring, until thickened and no floury taste remains, 7 to 10 minutes.
3.  On a large rimmed baking sheet, arrange the tomato slices in a single layer.  Brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Bake for about 15 minutes, until softened and just starting to brown.
4.  Set a rack on another large rimmed baking sheet.  Arrange the bread in a single layer on the rack and top the slices evenly with the béchamel.  Using a spatula, lay the tomatoes on the béchamel.  Sprinkle with the Gruyère and thyme leaves.  Bake the croques for about 20 minutes, until the tops are browned and the bottoms are crisp.  Transfer to plates and serve hot.

Peas with Bacon and Thyme

DSC_3809 I had a phone date Sunday night with my dear friend Jo who lives in San Francisco.  We don’t get to see each other much, maybe once a year, so I cherish our phone calls.  We met 8 years ago while working at a non-profit.  I still remember her standing in my office doorway as someone introduced us.  She was a breath of fresh air in an often times stale work environment.  Over the years, she has been someone I look up to and lean on for support.  And oh how she makes me laugh.  She has listened to me speak about my struggles with depression and lack of self-worth.  And even though she herself does not suffer from this affliction, she always conveys a sense of empathy and compassion.  Being able to share my feelings with Jo without her becoming squeamish is a really nice feeling of validation.  It usually takes me a long time of knowing someone before I completely open up and share my inner demons.  It is getting easier to share now that I’m in my late 30’s.  I still care what other people think of me, just not as much as I used to.

DSC_3803 Seeing as that it is like Antarctica in NYC this week (not overly dramatic at all), I wanted to make a warm, comforting dish that was still healthy.  I know, I know.  Many of you are tired of seeing bacon included in almost everything these days.  I do think the line needs to be drawn somewhere.  Perhaps somewhere near bacon cupcakes.  But you know how bacon and brussels sprouts are a fantastic combo?  Well, it turns out bacon and peas are another great combo.  The bacon gives this dish a nice smoky richness, and the aromatic thyme is a perfect complement.

This recipe is inspired by a pizza I had years ago at a restaurant in the Meatpacking District.  It’s strange to think that I once ate in the Meatpacking District.  The neighborhood seems to have an imaginary red velvet rope around it now, allowing only beautiful Millennials into its vicinity.  Ah, youth.  So this pizza: it was hands-down one of the best gourmet pizzas I had ever tasted.  It had bacon, thyme, Gruyére, cipollini onions, and garlic.  I became obsessed with it for an entire year after tasting it.  I started making it anytime I had friends over.  This is a much healthier version of that pizza.  Even with no bread and cheese, it still has the flavor profile of my former obsession.  I’m sure you could swap in any other vegetable if you are not a pea fan.  Cauliflower or brussels sprouts come to mind as an easy alternative.  You could also substitute rosemary, dill or tarragon if you don’t have any thyme in your kitchen. DSC_3807

Peas With Bacon and Thyme
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine

Serves 4 to 6

6 thick bacon slices, cut in half lengthwise, and again crosswise into ¼-inch pieces
1 small onion, chopped
2 (10 oz.) packages frozen peas, not thawed
½ cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

  1. Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 5 minutes.
  2. Spoon off half of bacon fat, then add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to soften, 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Add peas, water, salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon thyme and cook, covered, stirring occasionally until peas are tender, 5 to 8 minutes.  Stir in butter and remaining tablespoon thyme.