Archive for October, 2010

Have a cold? Try Soto Ayam!

Don’t be fooled by the balmy weather, cold & flu season is upon us!   When the temperature drops and noses start to run, I am a big fan of soups and stews. As much as I like matzo ball and chicken noodle soups when under the weather, after a few months of winter they can seem a bit uninspired.  So, I was curious about Soto Ayam when I read about it in the NYTimes almost two years ago. Promising rapture, I couldn’t resist making it that very same day and now it is regular rotation around here.  Soto Ayam is a spicy chicken soup originating in Southeast Asia and flavored with aromatics.  Turmeric gives it a bright yellow color and you can add endless variations of condiments.  While I am sure that one can probably find better, more authentic versions of this soup somewhere in Queens, this does the trick for me and lasts for days.  You can put it over noodles or change it up with rice, even adding an egg if you’re into that.   Below is the recipe adapted from the cookbook, “Cradle of Flavor” and printed in the Times:

SOTO AYAM (Indonesian chicken soup with noodles and aromatics)

Adapted from “Cradle of Flavor” by James Oseland (W. W. Norton, 2006).

Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

1 free-range chicken, about 3 pounds, quartered

2 stalks fresh lemon grass, bruised with the handle of a heavy knife and tied in a knot

6 kaffir lime leaves, fresh or frozen (optional)

1 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

5 shallots, peeled and halved

3 cloves garlic, peeled

2 teaspoons finely minced fresh turmeric, or 1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric

2 tablespoons finely minced ginger

3 tablespoons peanut oil

4 ounces glass noodles or thin dried rice noodles, called vermicelli, bihun or bun

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons chopped celery leaves, mint, Thai basil or cilantro leaves

2 shallots, thinly sliced and fried in vegetable oil until brown (optional)

Quartered limes and chili paste (such as sambal) for serving

Cooked white rice (optional).

1. Place chicken in a medium pot with lemon grass, lime leaves (if using), salt and 2 quarts water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Skim off any foam and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer until chicken is tender, about 45 minutes, skimming as needed to make a clear broth. Remove chicken pieces from broth and set aside. Remove and discard lemon grass and lime leaves; reserve stock in pot. When chicken is cool enough to handle, discard skin and bones and shred meat into bite-size pieces.

2. Meanwhile, combine peppercorns, coriander seeds and cumin seeds in a small food processor. Pulse until ground. Add halved shallots, garlic, turmeric and ginger and pulse to a thick paste. (Add a little water if needed.)

3. Heat peanut oil in a medium saucepan over high heat. When very hot, add spice paste and cook, stirring until paste is cooked and beginning to separate from the oil, about 5 minutes.

4. Add cooked spice paste and chicken meat to stock. Bring to a simmer and cook 10 minutes.

5. Cook noodles according to package directions.

6. Turn off heat under soup and stir in lime juice. Taste for salt.

7. To serve, divide noodles in large soup bowls. Ladle chicken pieces and soup on top and sprinkle with celery leaves or herbs, and fried shallots, if using. Pass lime and sambal at the table.

8. Eat from soup bowl, or serve a scoop of rice on a side plate, sprinkled with more shallots, and put a mouthful of noodles and chicken on rice. Combine on a spoon, dab with sambal, and eat.

Yield: 4 servings.

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Sheep + Wool = Fall

Last weekend, we made our annual pilgrimage to the Dutchess County Fairgrounds in Rhinbeck, NY for the annual Sheep & Wool Festival.  We first came up a few years ago with our dear friends who have a house in the area, and it has quickly become a tradition.  It is sort of like the state fair, but smaller and craftier.  Every kind of fiber-bearing animal is here: sheep (so many different kinds!), llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, angora rabbits, you name it. There are sheep dog trials and sheep shearing contests.  Many of the food booths –  not a strong point of the festival –  serve lamb,  which I find decidedly unappetizing in this context.  But, there are caramel apples, artistic pumpkin carving, and a bizarre display of exotic animals (lemurs, kangaroos, Capuchin monkeys, an alligator) to make up for the mediocre food stalls.  The fairway consists of a bouncy house, a big slide, a small carousel and a funny habitrail type contraption on the back of a truck.  All around, people are knitting and carding and spinning.  Being the novice knitter that I am, I actually feel like an outsider here, but I love walking around and looking at all of the random booths with every kind of wool and yarn and fiber arts supply you could imagine.  Usually, I buy something  with the optimistic hope that I will actually complete a project, but this year I am midway through making hats and scarves for my daughters – not to mention that I have a whole bunch of beautifully unused yarn from last year – so I mostly contented myself with taking photos instead.  The stalls are a funny mix of old-time country (felted garden gnomes anyone?) and crafty hipster.  My favorite vendor this year was Go Monkey Design.  They make beautiful knitting supply cases and cool bags out of amazing fabrics.  I purchased a beautiful fabric case for my growing collection of  unused needles and you can, too, if you visit their Etsy store.

This year, however,  it was clear that the hottest items were fair-trade woven baskets from Africa.  Gradually, I noticed that every third person was walking around with one and when I finally found the booth, I couldn’t resist either.

After the fair, we made our way back to my absolute favorite place in the Hudson Valley, our friends’ house in Elizaville (but more on that later) for our annual fall dinner.  This year, the menu was roast beef in a mustard herb crust with roasted root vegetables, spinach salad and cheddar biscuits.  Dessert was milk and cookies along with a viewing of Mildred Pierce.  The next day, we made pot pie with the leftovers. What could be better? It is now officially fall.

What are your fall traditions?

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The secret life of wallpaper.

During the 70’s, we had a bathroom that was wallpapered in an ornate pattern of red flocking that would not have been out of place in a bordello.  In fact, almost every room in our house had some kind of pattern on the wall, as was all the rage in the suburban Midwest circa 1977.  Every so often, I come across a wallpaper design that would have fit right into my parents house and it has the same effect as Proust’s madeleine: suddenly I am  awash in random memories of childhood.  After what seems to have been a long hiatus (or perhaps I have just been living in white-walled rental apartments for too long), wallpaper is having a resurgence.  Ever wonder about it’s history?  Check out this week’s Retrospect column on Apartment Therapy for a concise outline of the last 2,000 years in wall decor.

What kind of wallpaper did you have growing up?  What covers your walls now?

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In Praise of the Chemex Coffee Pot

I know I keep bringing up that MOMA show, Counter Space, and I must admit it is the only museum exhibition I have seen this fall.  Nevertheless, there is much to discuss.  Besides the Frankfurt Kitchen, there is an impressive display of over 300 iconic kitchen tools from the last century.   I visited the show with my mother-in-law and we both admired the Chemex coffee pot which she remembered her mother using.  Patented in 1941 by German inventor, Peter Schlumbohm, this simple glass coffeepot was designed to evoke the tools of chemistry (the Erlenmeyer flask and the beaker) in the service of making the perfect cup of coffee. Each glass pot has a small bubble on the base that tells you when it is half full and the pouring spout acts as an air chamber, releasing steam during the brewing process.  The handle is indicated by a wooden collar with a leather tie and wooden bead.  This Bauhaus-inspired coffee maker was purchased by the Museum of Modern Art in 1943 and featured on the cover of their bulletin on “Useful objects in Wartime”.  It’s streamlined design was popular during this era and its use of glass (rather than aluminum or steel, which were rationed) made it downright patriotic.  In 1959, the Illinois Institute of Technology named it one of the “100 best designed products of modern times”.

That very same evening as our visit to MOMA, my mother-in-law treated us to a lovely dinner at Eleven Madison Park.  When the dessert menus were presented, there were two types of coffee services offered: the Chemex and the Siphon.  Although I am still intrigued by the vacuum coffee makers – having recently seen one at Intelligentsia – we couldn’t resist ordering the Chemex.  Minutes later, a rolling cart appeared tableside with a set-up that looked like a culinary chemistry set.  The coffee grounds were passed around to smell, the water heated to 200° and then very slowly poured into the paper filter.  Of course, the coffee was delicious.

A few days later, a box arrived in the mail and we opened it to find that my dear mother-in-law had sent us (you guessed it) a Chemex coffee pot!  Complete with the wooden collar and  little leather necklace – the design hasn’t changed since 1941.  The Chemex is easy to use, just insert the paper filter designed for it, add your grounds and pour the water slowly.  It takes awhile to figure out the right ratio and the process is on the slow side.  While we are still using the old programmable Mr. Coffee on “school days”,  the ceremony of it makes it perfect for weekend afternoons, preferably paired with babka.  It’s relatively inexpensive and easy to buy (even on Amazon), I predict it will be the holiday gift of the season.

Are you experiencing a Chemex revival? How do you take your coffee these days? Do tell!



How are you observing National School Lunch Week?


photo by Ben+Sam via Flickr


Despite having a 2nd-grader in public school, I had no idea it was National School Lunch Week until I read the latest post on Marion Nestle’s blog, Food Politics.  We are lucky to be part of a public school with an active parent body that includes a chef who is working to change the way our kids eat.  That said, I was amazed to walk into the lunch room when my daughter started school to find that it hadn’t changed much since I stood in the lunch line 30 years ago.  So what is a parent to do?  Well, The Center for Ecoliteracy has published a 2nd edition of their guide, “Rethinking School Lunch” which offers a useful framework for how schools can provide healthier meals.  It’s easy to download and my goal is to read it through by the end of the week.

In the meantime, we have taken to packing lunches for our two children which can be a challenge.  Some days are dismal failures and I know immediately when I take the lunch box out of the backpack and it weighs the same as it did that morning.  Sometimes they eat every last morsel.  For the most part, we pack the same snacks and side dishes:  string cheese, squeeze yogurt, fruit, veggies (almost never eaten), raisins… but we try to change up the main course.  One daughter won’t touch sandwiches, the other we can’t trust with soups. But here is a general list of what goes in each week:

  • Cream cheese with cucumber sandwich (or jam)
  • Miso Soup (oddly, our oldest daughter would eat this every day) and rice
  • Matzo ball soup
  • Pasta Fagioli
  • Pasta with pesto or tomato sauce
  • Quesadillas (I don’t think these hold up very well)
  • Beans + Rice

Peanut butter is out, of course, as are other nuts that would be good snacks.  We are starting to get the timing down – heating up the food right before walking out the door with the vague hope that it will still be hot and appetizing by lunchtime.  But we are looking for new ideas – what foods do you send to school with your child?  Any triumphs? Humiliations?  Please share!



Foodzie is Etsy for Food!

My friend, Anne, just told me about Foodzie, the Etsy of food!  A place where small producers can sell their products online.  At first glance, it looks amazing – although a few things seem to be more appropriate for the Regretsy of food (does such a site even exist?).  Have any of you bought anything on Foodzie? If so, I would love to hear about it.  In the meantime, I am browsing the cheeses and will let you know what I select. 

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CSA Challenge: Delicata Squash

Suddenly, it was Thursday again and with it came another large basket of produce!  So what did we eat last week?  Well,  here it is:

  • Friday we had steak with roasted potatoes, broccoli (the girls) and brussel sprouts (us)
  • Saturday we ate as many pears as we could and cooked up a big batch of Bolognese with the tomatoes and used the carrots and onions in chicken stock.
  • Sunday was pizza and salad for lunch, and pasta fagioli for dinner with a delicious side of braising greens.
  • Monday I made Soto Ayam (more on that later) which used some cilantro and the chicken stock.
  • Tuesday dinner never happened. sigh.
  • Wednesday: orrecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe.
  • Thursday – random leftovers.

So, by Thursday we still had some braising greens and broccoli rabe which we used on Friday night and a few tomatoes.  The incoming list was:

  • Delicata squash – we have been collecting these over the past few weeks and are looking for something to make with them – help!
  • Sweet potatoes
  • 2 heads of garlic
  • 2 red onions
  • a quart of tomatoes
  • 4 roma tomatoes
  • braising greens
  • Spinach
  • Salad greens
  • more cilantro
  • broccoli
  • Cauliflower

With our abundance of tomatoes, we decided to take my friend Karyn’s advice and stuff them.  But with what?  After looking around online, I had mostly found unappetizing recipes for stuffing tomatoes (tuna and goat cheese anyone?), I was inspired by this recipe which called for baking eggs inside of a tomato (genius!) from the blog, We are Not Martha, which was a perfect Sunday breakfast.

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