I was born and raised in Kansas and learned to cook alongside my mother. Now, along with my wonderful husband, I have taken the plunge into the city life in New York. These are my food adventures: in my own tiny kitchen, and in the many restaurants of the city.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Tribute (and Hasselback Potatoes)

There are the teachers that stand out during the course of our educations. Those that make an impact in our minds, our growth, and stick in our memories. Then there are those that rise above even this by somehow transcending what it means to educate and find their way into our hearts.

Dr. Dan Davy was one of these teachers. He was a professor of Theatre History at Kansas State University. He was one of the smartest men I've ever met. His mind was deep and full of layers upon layers of knowledge yet his classes were never dry or boring. His passion for the subject helped to rise above even the difficult scripts we studied. He made it fascinating to delve deep into discussion over Greek dramas or modern comedies. Despite his genius Davy never made it intimidating to speak up in class with your thoughts or opinions. He encouraged us to speak our minds, to even challenge his ideas. It felt like a badge of honor to receive praise from him for a well-constructed thought during a lecture.

Dr. Davy also had an energy about him that I've never encountered anywhere else. When excited by an idea he would hop, or run around the room, crawl on the floor, flip the light switches on and off, run out of the room and slam the door behind him. You were sure to pay attention when he spoke. Something about the way he could turn a phrase was awe-inspiring. It was not uncommon for those in his classes to spend more time writing out his quirky quotes in the margins of their pages than to take detailed notes on the test-worthy information he was giving out. But if you were really listening you wouldn't need those notes to study anyways. You understood the material and the concepts deeply because he taught it so well. He always told us we should know the info "Bob's Diner well" which meant that if we were at Bob's Diner at 2:30am (meaning we had just left the bars and been drinking) we would still remember it. To this day, over 10 years after taking his classes, I still have discussions with my husband and friends over things we covered then. My whole concept of theatre was formed and shaped by this man, and I am far from alone in saying so.

He was kind and obviously loved what he did and loved his students too. I always remember him stopping by to say hello when I was working at Dillons and he and his wife would come in to shop. He gave freely to so many advice on careers and life. He was far more than just our professor.


We lost Dr. Davy unexpectedly this past weekend. It seems so strange that he would be gone--somehow I had the sense that he has always been and would always be. An everlasting force in the world, much like something from some of those ancient plays he taught us. Yet if I consider it, I believe each of us who passed through his classroom holds a bit of his knowledge, his heart, his passion within us. We carry it out to the world, to the art we create, to the students some of us teach. With this, his legacy does, and will, continue on.

Rest in peace, dear Dr. Davy. You are dearly missed.


Hasselback Potatoes
It seems odd to try to blend saying goodbye with a recipe. In a way, though, there are similarities between this dish and Dr. Davy: the layers, the sense of complexity, yet in actuality they are quite approachable. And though I never shared a meal with him, I have a feeling that Davy relished good food and good conversation, and these are definitely the first and invoke the second. Share them with those you love and be sure to tell them how you feel, because you never know if you'll get another chance.


10 small potatoes (about 2" long)
4 TB butter, melted
2 t. fresh rosemary, chopped
1 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper

Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
Scrub the potatoes clean and pat dry. Take a thin slice out of the back of each of the potatoes along the length so they lie straight without rolling. Take a pair of wooden chopsticks and place one on either side of the potato (this will help keep you from slicing all the way through). Cut many thin slices along the width of the potato and then pull them slightly to spread the slices out. Place on a baking sheet.
Mix together the melted butter and rosemary and baste this over all of the potatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until slightly browned and tender, about 40-45 minutes, basting with the butter from the bottom of the pan every 10 minutes or so. Serve immediately.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Comfort in a Pot of Beans

It is no surprise that I love to cook and spending hours in the kitchen working on a complex recipe is one of my favorite ways to pass a day. Yet there are times when I am awed by the power of a simple recipe. A pot of beans is just a few minutes of mis en place plus some wait and a soulful dinner is on the table. There's something reassuring knowing I can throw a handful of ingredients into a pot and churn out a hearty meal that costs only a few dollars.


Yes cooking dried beans does take time. Yet it is time where the beans themselves are doing most of the work, leaving you to clean the house, play a game, catch up on your DVR, read a book. There's no need to hover over the pan as it cooks, though you may want to with the scents that waft around as it bubbles away. Dishing up and tucking into your bowl feels wholesome, hearkening back to days of our parents' and grandparents' meals and seems something to be passed on to generations ahead.

It doesn't take a master in the kitchen to conjure a delicious meal out of dried beans. This is a recipe a novice can, and should, make. It is an entree in its own right but can take on countless iterations: burritos, dips, soups, cassoulet, etc. with just a few adjustments. A large enough pot can make a variety of dinners for a whole week. If you can get your hands on heirloom  beans they may cost a few more dollars but pack an even larger punch of flavor (I highly recommend any from Rancho Gordo. I'm not receiving any compensation or product from them, they are just that good that I really can't help but promote them).

Winter is obviously not done with us yet. As the cold, snowy winds blow outside, keep yourself indoors and put a pot of these on the stove. Add a pan of cornbread and a meal of endless comfort is complete.

Cooking Dried Beans
4-6 servings as an entree

1 lb. dried beans (Jacob's cattle, cannellini, pinto, etc.)
2 TB extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 t. salt

Soak the beans. If you have enough foresight to know the day before or early in the morning the day you will eat them, place them in a large bowl and cover with 2 inches of water. Soak for around 6-8 hours. If you haven't anticipated this wait (as I never do), place the beans in a large bowl and cover with 2 inches of boiling water. Let these sit for 1 hour. Many people will tell you to drain the water after soaking, but I feel that this takes away some of their flavor and some studies are actually showing that this drains away some of their nutrients as well.

Heat a large pot over medium with the extra virgin olive oil. Add the onion and carrots and cook until tender, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for about 30 seconds or so, until fragrant. Pour the beans and their soaking liquid into the pan. The beans should be just covered with water--if not add some more to top off. Add the bay leaf. Bring the water to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer.

Here is another area where opinions differ on method: some say to cover the pot and others leave uncovered. My understanding is that a covered pot will cut out a bit of time but will make for beans that are a bit mushier (great if you are making a dip or refried beans). An uncovered pan will yield beans with a bit more structure but may take a bit longer (better for soups). Both have their uses, so consider how you will utilize the beans when making your call here.

The time it takes to cook the beans varies thanks to many factors: type of bean, freshness, how long they were soaked. After about 45 minutes start testing the texture. You want them to be soft enough to eat but not to totally break apart into mush. Certain varieties may be ready after 45 minutes, others may need 2 hours. The more you cook beans the more familiar you will get with their specific cook times. I like to add salt when the beans aren't quite finished yet--when they have about 15 minutes or so left to go (when you test them and feel they are soft but could use just a bit more time). It does take some time for the beans to soak up the salt so give them a few before tasting and adding more.

Once perfectly tender remove the bay leaf and remove from the heat. You can serve the beans right away or now use in another recipe. If there is a bit of broth leftover go ahead and put it in your soups or stews--it is full of flavor.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

One Day Cassoulet

The snow falls as the day opens and on until its close. Soft at times, swirling and heavy at others. I spy some girls making a snowman on the roof of the building next door. Hear the snow plows grind down the street. I go out to buy a few things for dinner and to stock up on wine and I see home owners, supers and those trying to make a few bucks with shovels in hand, breath puffing like smoke as they push the piles from sidewalk to street, making a slight dent before more falls in its place. How lucky I am to head home and hunker down in the warmth of my cozy apartment.

I imagine inviting all of those hard workers in from the cold and sharing a huge pot of this cassoulet with them. It takes a good chunk of a day to make this version (although traditional ones take a few days to do properly, so this is a compromise) but once you dig in to the rich interior hid under a layer of crispy breadcrumbs you will forget any effort you put forth. Hearty and layered with flavors, I can think of nothing more comforting after a slog through the icy streets. Take a snow day or a Sunday and spend that extra energy, then invite over a gaggle of friends to tuck in and savor this filling French casserole with a few bottles of red wine. It is sure to warm  your body and your soul.


One Day Cassoulet
When hibernation mode tries to set in during the coldest months, I crave dishes that are hearty and allow me to spend some extra time in the warm kitchen. This dish delivers while surprising your tongue with many layers of flavors. It is well worth the time spent to cook but save a bit during prep by cutting the onion, carrots, garlic, and thyme for both the beans and the broth up front and then dividing. 
Serves 8

16 oz. cassoulet beans (I recommend the ones from Rancho Gordo)
6 slices bacon
1/2 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 t. fresh thyme, chopped
1 bay leaf

2 legs duck confit
2 large sausages
1/2 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 t. fresh thyme, chopped
1 (14.5 oz) can tomatoes
2 c. chicken stock

1 c. panko breadcrumbs

Place the beans in a large, heat-proof bowl. Cover with boiling water by about two inches and soak for one hour.
Cook the bacon in a large Dutch oven. Once crispy, remove from the pan and set aside (leaving bacon grease in pan). Add the onion and carrot and cook until tender. Stir in the garlic and thyme. Add the beans and their soaking liquid to the pan, along with the bay leaf and 3 slices of the cooked bacon, crumbled. There should be about one inch of water covering the beans: if not add more to the pan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover, and simmer until the beans are tender (about 1-1 1/2 hours). Remove the bay leaf when finished cooking.



Meanwhile, prepare the "broth." Scrape most of the fat off of the duck legs and reserve. Heat a heavy skillet over medium high and sear the duck legs on both sides. Remove from the pan and set aside. Sear the sausages on all sides and remove and set aside. Add the onion and carrot to the pan and saute until tender. Stir in the garlic and thyme for about 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes and chicken stock, bring to a boil, and cook until mixture has reduced and thickened slightly, about 15 minutes.

Pull the crispy skin from the duck legs and chop and set aside. Shred the duck meat and discard the bones. Chop the sausages into about 4 pieces each.

Heat oven to 350.

When the beans are cooked stir into the tomato broth. Stir in the duck meat, the sausage pieces, and the remaining 3 slices of bacon, crumbled. Top the mixture with the breadcrumbs and the crispy duck skin. Drizzle the duck fat over top. Bake until the mixture is bubbling and thickened and the breadcrumbs are browned and crispy, about 1-1.5 hours. Allow to set for about 10 minutes before serving.