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cruciferous comfort

By on Sep 22, 2011 in dinner, for one, love | 0 comments

A dark cold mood swirls in the air. Warm, soft, creamy polenta pools warmly on the plate. A charming bit of cippolini onion, thinly wedged and cooked until it goes weak as its sugars swoon outwards, joins thick, meaty slices of mushrooms made bright with a hit of lemon juice and nestle into the soft yellow mass. Brussel sprouts turned a brilliant crisp green tumble over the top of the earthily fragrant pile. As the fork spears the bright cruciferous gems, the dark cold mood begins to slip out the door. By the time the polenta makes it to the tongue, the mood has managed to skulk down the alley and pester a squirrel. Mood-dissipating Polenta (serves 1, with a lot of leftover polenta)   The polenta (this is a method from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Suppers, which is divine for nights you don’t want to stand over a pot stirring, but as a forewarning, it will take over an hour) 1 quart water 1 cup coarse cornmeal 1 1/2 tsp. sea salt 2 Tbsp. butter (she calls for 1 Tbsp. and 1/2 c grated parmesan, but this evening I just took out the cheese and put in a pat more butter, because it’s BUTTER, one of the finer substances on this earth)   If you have a double boiler, this is a piece of cake. If you do not, which I did not until recently, you can jury rig a metal bowl over another pot, but it is… quite the balancing act. Bring a few inches of water to simmer in the bottom part of the double boiler. Directly over heat, bring the quart of water to a boil the top part of the double boiler. Add the salt and the cornmeal in a steady stream, whisking constantly until it becomes a uniform consistency and stir for a couple of minutes. Place the lid on it, remove from heat and place inside the bottom double boiler pan. Every twenty minutes or so, stir it up. This will take about 1 1/4 hours to reach the right consistency. Since I am usually eating solo, I serve up my serving, then butter a baking dish and pour the rest in to firm up so I can cut it out and fry it later. It makes enough for quite a few solo meals.   The veggies (serves 1) 8 small Brussel sprouts 1/2 cippolini onion (or other small white onion) 10 creimini mushrooms 1 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil a few squeezes of lemon juice salt and pepper to taste parmesan cheese   Trim the stem off the sprouts and slice in half lengthwise. Cut the half onion into medium-thin wedges. Thickly slice the mushrooms. Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over low heat. Add the onions and cook until they wilt and turn brown. Add the mushrooms and turn up the heat. Sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper over them at this point, and cook until the mushrooms start to brown. I like to add a few squeezes of lemon juice here. Cook for a few more minutes, until the mushrooms are still firm but juicy. Remember that small pot of salted water? Is it boiling? Good. Throw the sprouts in, spare leaves and all, and cook just until tender, about 4 minutes. Drain immediately.   Find a lovely plate, one that makes you happy, pool a bit of the polenta on it. Add the mushrooms and onions, and perch the Brussel sprouts on top. Take a moment to enjoy the brilliant green of the sprouts. Squirt a little more lemon juice over it all. A grind or two of black pepper. Shave a few bits of parmesan. Find a cozy spot and a good fork, and enjoy.  ...

the slightly sullied fig

By on Sep 17, 2011 in dessert, for one | 0 comments

The fig. So many vegetables have insinuatingly seductive associations, but I dare say the fig tops them all out. The fig leaf is traditionally used to cover the immodest parts of classical Western art, but you never see the tempting fruit. It is a flirtatious mistress for those living far from the warm climes in which it can grow. As our growing season ends, plump and delicately curvaceous Mission figs arrive from California. Who could avoid such succulent temptation? The delicate flesh slices easily, the complex and enticing rosy innards revealed. A small dab of butter is melted and mixed with honey, then slowly drizzled over the awaiting fig. A quick round in a hot oven and soon the butter and honey, before a pale yellow, emerges blushing from intertwining with the juices of the cooking fig. And so the feast begins, with simple flavors twirling in a complex round of textures. The crunch of the seeds that hide in the smooth pulp of the flesh, the smooth skin that yields swiftly to the tooth, heightened by the faint creamy salt of the butter and the floral sweet of the honey, a heady experience overall that leaves you dragging your fingers across the plate, hoping to get every last juicy bit. Roasted Mission Figs (a very small variation on the recipe given by Deborah Madison in her cookbook Seasonal Desserts, which I highly recommend serves 1 generously 4 ripe Mission figs about 3/4 tsp butter (in other words, a small pat) a tiny pinch of salt a scant tsp honey   Preheat the oven to 400° (Ms. Madison says 425°, but I was preheating for bread, so I just kept it at 400). Gently wash and pat dry the figs. Cut off the top stem, then slice down the middle, leaving them still connected on the bottom. Place in a baking dish (glass or ceramic) they fit snugly in (4 figs fits nicely in a single-serving souffle dish). Melt the butter and mix with the honey and salt. Drizzle over the figs. Roast for 15 minutes, or until the syrup has gone all bubbly. Serve...

savory billowy heights

By on Jul 24, 2011 in baking, for one | 0 comments

There is wonder in magic in the simplest of cooking chemistry. Some, unfortunately, is generally relegated to the fancy dinner parties of yore, or for the patient cooks of today with many to feed, who impress with a towering souffle. For those lone diners out there, however, there is a way to capture some of the  elegant magic of that chemistry with the simplest of mixtures. A single egg, a bit of flour, a generous splash of milk, a pinch of salt, two buttered ramekins and a hot oven, and voila! An airy concoction that explodes out of a scant bit of batter that had previously been lying limp in its ceramic recliner. It towers above the rim, only to collapse on itself upon leaving the hot oven, but the impatient cook willing to sacrifice a few nerve endings can jimmy it forth and tear it open, releasing a cloud of fresh steam, and marvel and the large crevices of air that have carved a carbohydrate canyon through the batter. Alone it is a vehicle for butter and jam. With a bit of forethought one could, say…. cook up a slice or two of smoky sweet bacon, that most magnificent and irresistible of cured meats. The sultry saltiness of a cooked piece crumbles neatly into the batter. A few green onions sound like a fresh counterpoint, so they are minced and added. And finally, that surest of partners to bacon, cheese, is shredded in. An extra sharp cheddar, perhaps. Something with enough bite to stand alongside the bacon. A few simple ingredients, whisked and crumbled together, and you, the sly magician, have created the illusion of culinary elegance.   Two Popovers, any way you like (based on the recipe from Judith Jones’ “The Pleasures of Cooking For One”) Two ramekins, buttered 1 egg, lightly beaten 1/3 cup flour 1/3 cup milk pinch salt Whatever you would like to put in (optional) The pictured above involved: 1 1/2 slices thick-cut smoked bacon, cooked, drained, and cut into dense crumbles 1 scallion, minced 1/4 extra sharp cheddar cheese   Preheat the oven to 425º. Generously butter two ramekins. If adding stuff in, prepare the extra ingredients now, and set aside. In a small bowl, whisk the egg, flour, milk, and salt together until you have a uniform smooth batter. If not adding anything else, pour evenly between the two ramekins. This really will only fill them about 1/3 of the way. Patience. The magic is coming. If adding other tasty morsels, pour a scant bit into each base, sprinkle the extra ingredients in between the two, then divide the rest of the batter evenly over top the two. For ease of handling, I recommend placing the ramekins on a larger baking sheet. Slide into the waiting hot oven, and let bake for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Look in on them through the window (avoid opening the oven for these) at about 20 minutes. They will actually expand to about 2″ above the lip of the ramekin. Once golden brown, remove from the oven. These will deflate almost immediately. Run a knife around the edge of the ramekins and either tempt fate and burned fingertips by pulling them directly out, or try to grab them with a potholder and tip them out onto a plate. I like to rip them open right away, but BE CAREFUL. They release a ridiculously hot cloud of steam.   Note: it could be that I’m doing this wrong, and maybe they shouldn’t deflate. But I still find it delicious....

mac and cheese… for one

By on Jun 23, 2011 in dinner, for one | 0 comments

Summer keeps yearning to break through the grey cool weather, and manages in fits and starts, one day bursting forth with thick humid air that demands slow movement and ice cold gin drinks, the next demanding jackets and hot cocoa. On one of the cool nights, a craving for mac and cheese arises, twining warmly around the crinkles in your brain, softly whispering promises of creamy saltiness. But this is one night, and the weather the next day might shift, leaving the leftovers to solidify into a semi-gelatinous curdling cold mass in the fridge. So make only one. One generous serving that stays hot and creamy, bread crumbs maintaining a crisp and staid counterpoint through the whole delectable experience. Begin with the simplest of all things. A pot of salted boiling water. Dry noodles slide smoothly into the bubbling depths. Another small pat of butter melts in the bottom of another pot, slowly frothing and bubbling. A bit of white flour drifts down and melds in, soaking up the unctuous creamy bubbling mass. Milk is whisked in quickly, the whole mass slowly thickening into a rich sauce. Salt, white pepper, dry mustard, paprika, all dive in, ready to support the main star of this whole concoction… the cheese. A small blend, both impossibly sharp and soothingly smooth, gets tossed into the hot bubbling base,  gratefully melting in. The noodles have reached al dente. They are swiftly drained and tossed into the hot cheese, the sauce sliding into every nook and cranny. Another quick transfer to a small baking dish, a sprinkle of crisp breadcrumbs, and the whole is ready to slide into the waiting dark depths of the oven. Twenty minutes later… crispy cheesy perfection.   Mac and Cheese for One (definitely not low fat, but ridiculously cheesy and creamy… the proportions shift a little every time I do this, this is just to the best of my memory from the last time) 3 oz. dry macaroni noodles 1 1/2 Tbsp. buter 2 Tbsp. flour 2/3 c. milk (preferably hot to begin with, but OK if not) salt to taste dash white pepper, paprika, and dry mustard 1 c. shredded cheese (preferably a blend, last time I used sharp cheddar and colby jack) 3 Tbsp. panko bread crumbs 4 oz. souffle dish for baking, lightly buttered   Preheat oven to 350°. Bring pot of salted water to boil for pasta. While the pasta is cooking, put the butter in another saucepan over medium-low heat. Heat until the butter has melted and the bubbles have just started to subside. Add the flour in and stir constantly for about 2-3 minutes, never allowing it to brown. Remove from heat, add all the milk in at once, whisking vigorously until combined. It will likely look a bit lumpy, but keep whisking, it will smooth out. Place back on the heat and cook until the sauce has begun to thicken. When it reaches a creamy consistency, remove from heat and add in seasonings. Stir in cheese until all the cheese has melted into the sauce. Taste for salt. When the noodles are done, drain them and add to the sauce, stir to combine thoroughly. Transfer into the souffle dish and sprinkle the bread crumbs over top. It occurs to me they’d probably be even BETTER lightly sauteed in butter first, but I can never bring myself to do it after observing the amount of butter and cheese going into the sauce. Shove the whole lot in the oven (I like to put the souffle dish on a larger pan to make it easier to handle) and bake for 20-25 minutes. Pull out of oven, try very very hard to wait for five minutes, then tuck in. Leave no noodle behind.      ...

greens ‘n’ beans (and a little polenta)

By on Apr 9, 2011 in dinner, experimenting, for one | 0 comments

The polenta was lonely, so it went swimming with the spinach in the soupy white beans. At least, this is how a tired and addled brain views dinner, viewed through the haze of intended recipes that only promise more and more pots to wash. Cooking planned days in advance gets waylaid, ingredients pile in the fridge, gorgonzola cheese quietly threatens to become the inedible type of mold,  greens tremble, wary of a rotting end, their final tomb being a flimsy plastic bin. And so one day… is all just comes together. Gorgonzola-laced Polenta topped with White Beans and Spinach – Initially for One, With a Bunch of Leftovers At some point in advance… an imprecise boiling of dry beans 1 cup dried small white beans large amount of water table salt More water 1 bay leaf 1/2 large white onion, quartered Soak the beans overnight in a solution of about 1 qt. water to 3 tsp. salt. Rinse thoroughly. Place in a large soup pot, cover with several inches of water, drop in the bay leaf and onion, bring to a simmer, and simmer for about an hour. Taste to see if they are almost done. Discover they are not, begin to lose patience. Let boil another half hour. Test again. Nada. Abandon original recipe plans. Another 15 minutes. Close enough. Throw in a couple of teaspoons of salt, let simmer for 20 more minutes. Remove bay leaf, scoop WITH liquid into storage container. Refrigerate. A couple of days later… 1 cup polenta (coarse cornmeal) 4 cups water 1 1/2 tsp. salt 4 oz. gorgonzola cheese If you have a double boiler, do this in a double boiler. If you don’t, like me, do a jury rig as such… bring a couple of inches of water to a boil in a saucepan. Place a non-reactive bowl big enough to sit on top without sinking in and touching the water (I use a stainless mixing bowl). Find a lid big enough to cover it all. In another saucepace, bring polenta, water and salt to a boil and whisk thoroughly for three minutes, just until it starts to thicken. (If you have a real double boiler, just do this step in the top of the double boiler and skip the next transfer step.) Transfer the polenta mixture to the bowl that is making the top of your double boiler. Keep the water below at a simmer, place the lid on top, and let slowly cook for 1 1/4 hours, stirring every 15 minutes. This usually makes a lovely polenta. Once the polenta has finished, mix in 2 Tbsp. butter and the gorgonzola until thoroughly mixed. Portion out some into a waiting bowl. Spread the rest into a buttered baking dish to cool. (You can slice it up and broil the leftovers) Near the last 20 minutes of the polenta cooking… 1/2 large white onion, diced fine 2 garlic cloves, minced The white beans you cooked earlier (or 2-14 oz. canned, with liquid, if you haven’t) Olive oil Several large handfuls of baby spinach Heat up a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Once warmed, add in onion. Cook for 3-5 minutes, or until translucent. Add garlic, cook for 30 seconds more, just until the garlic is fragrant. Add in the cooked beans with all of its liquid. Let simmer together for a few minutes. Scoop out all but about 3/4 cup of this mixture, leaving some liquid in the pan, returning the scooped out bits to a storage container. Add in a generous few handfuls of baby spinach, cooking just until beginning to wilt. Add this mixture to the top of the waiting polenta serving. Sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper. Later on, just reheat some polenta and beans, cooking the spinach in the beans in the same way, and enjoy. This round my polenta ended up staying resolutely soupy, but it still reheated fine. If yours firms up, it’s delightful...

spring steak salad

By on Mar 26, 2011 in for one, love | 0 comments

After weeks of long hours and take out, the body cries out for actual vegetables. Giant piles you could ski down, and yet still have some substantial warm hit to take the edge off the unusually cold weather. Greens tumble into a bowl, smelling like a fresh lawn on a hot August afternoon, a long ago memory on a cold March day. Steak is quickly seared and thinly sliced, a quick vinaigrette made in the hot pan, a few pickly capers thrown in for good measure. Salt. Pepper. The dressing dances over the greens, embracing the smooth dandelion and softly prickly endive. Steak nestles in, bathing in what bits of dressing it encounters. Here’s hoping this is a cure for what ails the chef, desperate for actual spring. Spring Steak Salad 5-6 big leaves of endive 5-6 dandelion greens 1/4 lb. strip steak 1 Tbsp olive oil Juice from 1/2 a lime (optional) 1 tsp. butter 3 Tbsp. white wine vinegar 1/2 tsp. capers kosher salt black pepper probably some more olive oil If you have time, combine the olive oil and lime juice in a bowl large enough to contain the steak. Coat steak thoroughly in this mix, and let marinate in the bowl  for at least an hour. If you don’t have time for this step, as it is the only time consuming part, skip. The lime just tenderizes the meat a bit more. Shred the greens roughly by hand and set in a salad spinner to soak for a few minutes. Agitate thoroughly, rinse again, and spin dry. Heat the butter and olive oil (if you have marinated, use a fresh Tbsp. of olive oil) in a skillet over medium high heat, just until the foam from the butter subsides. Gently place the steak in the pan, let cook on one side for 3-4 minutes, flip and cook on the other side for 3-4 more minutes. Remove from heat to cutting board, season with salt and pepper. When I first made this I threw the vinegar in to deglaze, which clearly was a horrendous idea. An enormous smoke cloud billowed out from the vaporized vinegar that left me coughing. But it did warm the capers nicely, and after I threw more olive oil in, things calmed down. My next experiment will be to deglaze with the white wine and capers, and use that as a base of the vinaigrette. Otherwise I would recommend briefly warming the capers in the hot pan, whisk together the vinegar with 3 Tbsp. of olive oil in a separate bowl, and add the capers into the mix. Drizzle over the salad greens. Thinly slice the steak against the grain into whatever size you like, and arrange over the greens. Sprinkle a little more salt and pepper over the top, and...