One Year Later

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been a year since Brian’s fire. I’m relieved to report that everyone is doing well. Except for some scars on Brian’s neck where they did the skin grafting, you’d have no idea that he’d been on fire. As for his friend, Eric aka Jellyboy the Clown, he toured the world this year, performing in Europe and Asia. And, in recognition for his bravery and heroism, Captain James F. Hay of Ladder Company 163 was awarded the M. J. Delehanty Medal by the New York City Fire Department this past spring.

Still, the anniversary (or “burniversary” as Rich has taken to calling it) brings me back to the days after the fire. We heard the news on July 3 and spent July 4 driving down to New York to the hospital. There are little things about visiting people on a burn unit you don’t know about until you get there. Before going into any rooms, you have to cover yourself, head to toe, in hospital gowns and cap, to prevent infection. If you want to leave the room and go to the bathroom, you have to remove the gown and cap, put them into the laundry, and put on a new gown and cap before reentering the room.

Even though the burn unit preferred to keep the visitors down to one or two at a time, there were some afternoons where I’d find myself dragging chairs in from up and down the hallway to provide seats to the piles of people who wanted to see Brian. Someone even asked one of the annoyed nurses if Brian was the most popular person they’d ever had on the unit. She thought about it for a second, then responded that the Shah had had more guests.

There were a few quiet moments when I would sit in a chair by Brian’s bedside, reading, and he’d get to rest in between the afternoon rush of visitors. I found this recipe in the July 11, 2011, issue of New York Magazine. I had my fingers pinched and was about to rip it out but stopped myself. “Brian?” I whispered quietly. “Yes, darling?” he answered, with his eyes still closed. “There’s this recipe in this magazine. Do you think it’d be OK if I clipped it? I mean, I don’t want to take it if…” Brian laughed: “Well, since most of the fire was in the kitchen, oh, and because I burned down my entire apartment, I don’t think I’ll be doing any cooking anytime soon.”

The recipe calls for Panisse Lettuce, which it describes as “frilly lime-green” and “an oak-leaf and a butterhead…with a tender but sturdy-enough leaves and a bittersweet flavor that fairly cries out for a zingy dressing like the pistachio vinaigrette Greenmarket guru Dan Kluger has concocted over at ABC Kitchen.” I know, pistachio vinaigrette? How could I leave that behind?

When I went to the farmer’s market this afternoon, I was told panisse lettuce wouldn’t be available for another week or two. She suggested I substitute a deer head lettuce for something a little different, which I gladly did. It cost me a dollar. I don’t own Champagne vinegar and just used red wine. It was still very delicious. The radishes I had on hand are the ones that came in last week’s CSA; I don’t think you need to go out of your way to find French breakfast ones. And I always keep the garlicky lemon green olives from Whole Foods in my fridge, but if you come across the Sevillano or Manzanilla olives, then definitely use those.

Dan Kluger’s Panisse Lettuce with Pistachio Vinaigrette

Ingredients

For the dressing:

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

¼ cup + 2 Tablespoons raw pistachios

½ Thai chile, seeded and minced

4 teaspoons lemon juice

3 Tablespoons Champagne vinegar

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

For the salad:

2 heads panisse lettuce (or Boston, or Bibb, or Butter)

2 Tablespoons chives, finely chopped

2 Tablespoons oregano, finely chopped

2 Tablespoons mint, finely chopped

2 Tablespoons tarragon, finely chopped

8 French breakfast radishes, thinly sliced into rounds

½ cup Sevillano or Manzanilla olives, pitted and chopped

Directions

For the dressing: In a small pot, heat olive oil and pistachios together over a low flame until warm. Place warm pistachios in food processor and pulse until roughly chopped. Immediately pour pistachio mixture into bowl with Thai chile, and let sit for ten minutes. Add lemon juice, Champagnes vinegar, kosher salt and ground pepper.

For the salad: Honestly, I find lettuce from the farmer’s market incredibly gritty, so I’m not going to give you the directions provided about slicing the heads in half. Clean the lettuce leaves by soaking them in a large bowl of cold water. Change the water if you think the lettuce still looks a little gritty. Remove the leaves from the bowl and spin dry in a salad spinner. Rip the leaves and place them on a platter. Sprinkle with the radish and olives. Spoon vinaigrette on top of platter. Make sure to bring the dressing to the table so people may apply more if they really like it.

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Sunday Lunch

Rich had an early morning meeting this week, which meant I had an early morning this week. He feels terrible if he wakes me, but on the bright side, it meant I had the time to make myself a nice breakfast — instead of what I usually do, which is sit at my desk and eat leftovers or a microwaved bowl of Cream of Wheat. Mind you, I have no complaints about my usual breakfast, but it really was nice eating something fresh and warm. On the weekends, Rich usually makes us challah French toast or waffles, but I lean towards savory when I’m on my own. So savory breakfast it was.

Breakfast was really based on what was in the fridge, which is how I suspect most people make their meals. I had fresh tarragon in the house because I made my favorite bean salad for Suzie and JoJo’s Jewish wedding potluck. I know, I know, you’re probably confused because we already went to their potluck wedding, but this was the Jewish wedding. (You may have seen the Instagrams of them under the chuppah – I was one of many posting in real time.)

But back to the tarragon, which I decided at that ungodly hour would be a great addition to scrambled eggs. I feel a little silly writing down a recipe for some scrambled eggs, but the breakfast was good enough to repeat in the same week, so I thought it worth mentioning here. In my defense, I scooped the eggs on top of some lentils that I had cooked up earlier in the week. They were done in my pressure cooker and took all of 10 minutes to do, and I’ve been adding them to salads since. If you have a pressure cooker, I suggest you do the same right now. But honestly, even if you don’t, go and put some lentils on. They’re a great legume because they need zero soaking, so you can cook up a pot of them in less than an hour. And they taste really good just plain.

I was so impressed with my creation that by the end of the day I had told both Sara and Sylvie. They both agreed it sounded delcious, but Sylvie thought that scrambled eggs with tarragon and lentils made more sense as a lunch, “with a nice green salad on the side.”

(Quick note: Shavuot, the holiday of dairy is at the end of the week, and my apologies for not posting the savory cheesecake I baked once upon a time with hopes of sharing, or the dulce de leche tapioca pudding I just came across. I just really liked this meal and wanted to share it with you.)

Scrambled Eggs with Tarragon and Lentils

Ingredients

1 cup dried lentils, rinsed and picked over

2 cups water

4 eggs

2 scant teaspoons fresh tarragon, chopped

2 pinches kosher salt

2 Tablespoons milk

2 Tablespoons cheese (Really, whatever you have on hand. I had some yogurt cheese that I tore into bits the first time I made this, and grated Manchego for the second time.)

Directions

Cook lentils according to your pressure cooker’s instructions. Mine take 10 minutes. Or, cook them this way.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the eggs, tarragon, salt and milk. Heat a nonstick sauté pan on a medium flame. Because the pan is non-stick, I didn’t use added fat. But if you feel more comfortable adding fat, then melt a half tablespoon of butter in the heated pan. Once your pan is heated, and/or your butter has melted, pour the whisked egg mixture to the pan. Let the eggs heat in the pan for about 1 minute. Don’t touch them during this time. Let them do a little cooking. Once you see the sides start to firm up, use a heat-resistant rubber spatula to push the sides of the egg mixture towards the center of the pan. The eggs will start to firm during this time. Use the spatula to push the eggs from all sides of the pan towards the center. The cooking of the eggs will probably take no more than 3 minutes. As the eggs firm up into a fluffy mass, add the cheese to the pile and allow it to melt. Once the cheese has melted, remove the pan from the heat.

Place two-thirds cup of heated lentils into a smaller bowl. Top the lentils with half the eggs. Enjoy with a nice piece of toast, and, if it’s lunch time, a small green salad.

Serves two.

A Summer Rain

Occasionally my cookbook habit (some would say “problem”) has proven extremely helpful outside of the kitchen. To wit: last week, Rich went and nearly ruined his shoes riding his bike home in the pouring rain. This was entirely preventable, since I had announced to him that morning that I was taking the bus and leaving my bike at home due to the forecast. But, he, and nearly everyone I talked to that day, sniffed at the idea that it could rain like that in August, especially after the steamy July we’d just been through.  But rain it did, buckets and buckets. And that night, while Rich stuffed crumpled grocery circulars into his shoes, I curled up on the couch with the cookbook that had given me the heads up.

I found The Old-Time New England Cookbook in a box labeled $1 at a gastronomy event last year. It’s seasonal and local with a certain Yankee particularity; think of the Farmer’s Almanac but with recipes. The book breaks down the New England year not into four seasons, but rather nine. Instead of summer, we have early summer, regular summer and the end of summer, which as it turns out, runs from August 2 to September  9. The opening sentence of that chapter provided my meteorological tip-off: “The rainy spell you may be complaining about in August lasts longer than most people believe it should.”

The next sentence has proven equally uncanny in predicting the bounty of my CSA this month: “As August gets on a bit, however, there will be corn and tomatoes, beans, swiss chard, spinach, summer squash, young potatoes, and all sorts of wonderful fresh vegetables in the back-yard garden.  The worst of it is, of course, that when these vegetables do start showing up there is always an oversupply. Can or freeze, we say, and this rainy spell in August is just the time to do it.”

As if on cue, so far this month we’ve received pounds of summer squash and piles of corn. I’m not complaining, and neither is Rich. We’ve become very fond of this dish, eating it roughly twice a week for three weeks now. But the last time I made this, for last week’s Shabbat dinner, it was something particularly special.

kosher vegetarian

After much thought, I’ve come to understand there are two things happening in this dish. The first is tarragon, the herb which has reigned supreme in the Parr household since early last summer. It usually shows up in my beans; Rich likes to use it when he cooks chicken and fish. In this dish, tarragon’s sweet licorice flavor coaxes out the squash’s inherent sweetness – the word caramel comes to mind whenever I take a bite.

The second thing happening here is taking the time needed to cook the onions. I must cook them down for about 45 minutes, until they’ve basically melted, before I could even think about adding the squash.  I think in other dishes there’s more wriggle room, but here the onions really need the extra time.

As you can see from the photos, the squash I used this time around was made with globe squash, but rest assured this is a catch-all summer squash recipe: yellow straight neck, crookneck and zucchini are also more than welcome to join the party. In all honesty, I’ve never tried this with a pattypan, so if someone ends up getting some in the next few weeks, could you please let me know how it turns out?

Summer Squash with Tarragon and Whole Wheat Pasta

Ingredients

2 cups summer squash, cut into 1½-inch pieces

½ onion, diced – any onion will work well with this dish

1½ Tablespoons tarragon, chopped

Enough oil to cover the pan

Kosher salt

½ pound of whole wheat pasta (I prefer linguine for this dish)

Directions

Set a large pot of water, salted like the sea, to boil on a back burner. On a front burner, heat enough olive oil to coat a pan on medium heat. Give it a minute or two to heat up, then add the onions and a nice-sized pinch of kosher salt. Turn the flame down and let the onions slowly cook and melt down. This should take about 45 minutes. Every four minutes or so, stir them with a wooden spoon.

When your onions have finally broken down – I’m talking a browned, soft puddle of onions – add the squash and a second pinch of salt. Cook the squash for about 10 minutes, stirring every three or so with the wooden spoon. Please don’t get nervous about the texture of the squash. Many people complain about its wet, squishy quality, but I promise that the strength of the pasta balances it.

At this point, your pasta water is roiling. Add the pasta, and cook it for approximately three minutes less than the suggested cooking time.

At that three minute point, use tongs to transfer the hot pasta into your pan of onions and squash. Add a ladleful of pasta water to the pan, and the tarragon, and cook everything together for a good three minutes or so, until the pasta has finished cooking. (Taste it before you turn the flame off to make sure it’s softened. Add more pasta water as necessary.)

The Georgian Feast

Rich lost his kitchen privileges. The ban was imposed after I came home to a flooded kitchen last Thursday. At first, I wasn’t sure where it was coming from, but soon enough it became clear that the leak was coming from a broken garbage disposal. I can only assume the culprit was the once-lost pestle (as in mortar and), discovered by Rich when it was chewed up by the garbage disposal the previous week. Good news: I now have a new garbage disposal; thanks, Chief Parr! Bad news: I still have a mortar minus a pestle.

Fast forward to Tuesday night, when I attended a Georgian Feast. No, it was not an evening of peaches and pecans, but a dinner and lecture about the Republic of Georgia, which I learned is really a crossroads between Eastern Europe and Western Asia. It was one of several seminars in food, wine and the arts my school is offering this semester, and for which I used my student discount to its full advantage. The lecturer was Darra Goldstein, professor of Russian at Williams College and author of The Vegetarian Hearth, from which the terrific lentils and leeks recipe comes. But most importantly, Dr. Goldstein is the founder and editor-in-chief of the phenomenal scholarly food magazine Gastronomica, which was recently awarded Best Food Magazine of 2010 at the Gourmand Awards.

According to one Georgian legend, God took a supper break while creating the world. He became so involved with his meal that he inadvertently tripped over the high peaks of the Caucasus, spilling his food onto the land below. The land blessed by Heaven’s table scraps was Georgia.

This feast was the second of a two-night event. The previous night was a lecture about sustainable caviar, which, according to one of the women at my table, also involved six separate shots of vodka. Our outstanding dinner, which was prepared by the students in the culinary arts program, also involved alcohol. Keith Johnsen of Daqopa Brands flew in from Washington State to serve us six wines, three white and three red. Actually, I may have enjoyed more than my six. When the slender, young African American man wearing a dark suit and gold bow tie sat down at my table, I leaned over and asked “is it safe to assume you won’t be drinking your wine this evening?” He smiled and confirmed my guess. “I know all about food restrictions, I grew up kosher. I completely understand. I also wrote a 20 page paper last semester analyzing the show Man vs. Food and the perpetuation of food waste in American culture. Religiously speaking, it would be an affront to God to have that wine poured down the drain.” He laughed and passed me his wine.

And the feast itself? We started with khachapuri, a buttery bread full of salty cheese, which we enjoyed while Goldstein demonstrated the preparation of in the front of the room. Tabaka, flattened chicken traditionally eaten with one’s hands to get every bit of meat, was served with niortskali, a garlic sauce, drizzled on top. On the side were mtsvane lobios borani, spiced green beans with a garlicky yogurt dressing, and charkhlis, a beet puree full of coriander and walnuts. For dessert, we had purple pelamushi, grape juice and cornmeal squares, and fresh fruit. All the recipes can be found in Goldstein’s The Georgian Feast, winner of the 1994 Julia Child Book of the Year Award, which all attendees received.

We drank a 2001 Brut Vintage Reserve Bagrationi, a 2007 Mildiani Katstieli, a 2008 Pheasant’s Tears Rkatsiteli, a 2007 Saperavi Kondoli Vineyards, a 2006 Mukazani Teliani Valley and a 2009 Khvanchkara Racha. Were I more sophisticated (and had I been more sober) I would be able to tell you which we had with each course. My favorite was the Pheasant’s Tears, which was very sweet and honey-colored.

The green beans were so splendid that I actually opened the book to page 153 so I could read the recipe at the table. I happened to have both yogurt and green beans in the house this week, so I got very excited. And then I came to the line where I was supposed to use my mortar and pestle to pound my clove of garlic with salt to a paste. “Argh!,” I shrieked, possibly a little too loud for the room. (I blame it on the Pheasant’s Tears. I’m a sympathetic crier.)

I did make these green beans tonight, and tried to create the same effect by mincing my garlic with salt into a paste on a cutting board. It took quite a few minutes to do, and would have been a breeze with a mortar and pestle. This dish was so delicious, I think Rich will be replacing mine sometime this weekend.

Green Beans with Yogurt (Mtsvane Lobios Borani)

From The Georgian Feast by Darra Goldstein

Goldstein writes, “Borani refers to a dish of boiled vegetables to which yogurt is added; an elaborate version calls for the addition of fried chicken as well. Georgian borani is similar to the Persian borani-e or Indian boorani, all legacies of Mongol influence.”

Serves 4 to 6.

Ingredients

1 pound green beans, trimmed

1 onion, peeled and minced

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of ground cloves

Freshly ground black pepper

1 small garlic clove, peeled and roughly chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup plain yogurt

1/4 cup ice water

1/2 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs (basil, tarragon, cilantro, parsley, dill, summer savory) — I actually only used tarragon tonight, and it was fantastic. Georgian food is full of cilantro, so if you want to be the most authentic, that’s the way to go.

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint (optional)

In a large pot of boiling water, parboil the beans for 4 to 5 minutes, until crisp-tender. Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, saute the onion in 4 tablespoons of butter until soft.

Drain the beans and chop coarsely (each bean should be in 2 to 3 pieces). Add the beans to the onion along with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Stir in the cinnamon, cloves and pepper. Cook, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes, until the beans are very soft.

In a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic with salt to a paste. Whip the yogurt with the ice water and add it to the pounded garlic.

Stir the fresh herbs into the beans and cook for 1 minute more, then turn out onto a plate. Pour the yogurt over the beans and garnish with fresh mint, if desired.

I ended up drizzling the yogurt sauce on everything on my dinner plate tonight, the cabbage and cous cous. I think you’ll be wanting to do the same.

Tarragon, where have you bean all my life?

i’m obsessed with this bean salad.

I’ll be the first to admit that as much as I love cooking with fresh veggies and herbs, there’s tons for me to still learn. It wasn’t too many years back that my entire trivia team was stumped by the question “What herb is the basis of a bearnaise sauce?” There were actually a few “foodies” on the team, so my embarrassment was mitigated some. The star of bearnaise sauce, it turned out, was tarragon, and I chalked that up to it being one of those herbs that’s used to flavor things like chicken, eggs, fish and steak. Stuff truly out of my repertoire

This past summer however, all that changed. I was at my friend Mel’s graduation party — Ph.D. in neuroscience, no less — which was hosted by another friend, Abby. And, boy, what a spread! Platters full of salads, grilled things and cupcakes completely covered an enormous dining room table. And it was there that I came face to face with the bean salad THAT CHANGED MY LIFE.

A new day, a fresh bowl of bean salad

Seriously, I kind of sat and ate and moaned at a table in the yard. “What is this? Tell me everything!” I begged my hostess. Abby just kind of shrugged, saying it was the simplest of salads, just stuff from her pantry. “But what is it I’m tasting?” I asked when not moaning and stuffing my face.

“Just a vinaigrette with some fresh tarragon.” Tarragon, that devilish herb, my trivia team’s downfall, had come back to haunt me. And thus began my love affair — really, lust affair — with this aromatic “King of herbs.” I got hold of a bunch of tarragon and no joke, made this salad no less than nine times in a six week period. This is one of those salads that tastes great on the third day, as the anise undertones of the tarragon really seep into the beans.

Rich used the tarragon in a marinade for the trout and fennel he grilled.

The bean salad I’m obsessed with. (Abby tells me that it’s Fosters Market in Chapel Hill, NC, that really deserves the credit for this one.)

I think the thing that I love most about this salad, I mean, aside from it being so so so delicious, is that it is made of things that I always have on hand in my pantry. Some might find my own version too full of its ingredients, so I actively encourage you to experiment until you find amounts that suit your palate best.

Ingredients

One can of little white beans (Or a cup of dried beans, soaked overnight)

Half a red onion, sliced into rings and roasted*

*Abby also introduced me to another fantastic idea, which is roasting the onions to take the bite out of them. I’ve found my happy medium tossing them into my toaster oven set at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes. Feel free to play with times for that as well.

Before…

… and after

Half a can of artichoke hearts

Five pepperocini

For the Tarragon Vinaigrette

Four tablespoons olive oil

Two tablespoons red wine vinegar

A clove of garlic, minced

1/8 teaspoon jarred mustard (for emulsifying)

Two heaping tablespoons tarragon

Pinch of salt

Directions

Open can of beans, pour into a colander, and give them a good rinse (or cook beans according to package — it should take about 7 minutes in a pressure cooker)

Slice the half onion and roast in oven for 10 or so minutes

Quarter the artichoke hearts

Slice up the pepperocini into rings

Toss all together in a bowl

Place all dressing ingredients in small glass jar, give it a shake, and pour it on the bean salad

I clean out jam jars and use them for dressings

Yes, that’s all.

Do you have a favorite recipe for tarragon?