Adventures in Ayurveda

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My kitchen journey took a right turn this past weekend when I reconnected with an old high school acquaintance. Susan is a certified Ayurvedic consultant with a fascinating story. After many years of living and working in the Middle East, she resettled … Continue reading

A Pot of Love

It’s February and it’s cold. Dinner begs to be made. What’s a nice Jewish girl to do but prepare a traditional, one-pot corned beef and cabbage dinner, just like the Irish ancestors she never had used to make?

Seriously, it’s an interesting thing about that corned beef and cabbage; it was actually one of the more memorable dishes my mother prepared for us as kids. And I don’t mean just in March, either. No disrespect to my mother, she had many perfectly good meals in her dinner time repertoire, but for some odd reason, her corned beef and cabbage has always ranked as one of my favorites.

As for one-pot meals, I have to admit that since I’ve begun pursuing my culinary interests in earnest, I’ve steered clear of the old slow cooker. Somehow, it seemed like cheating to me. And after my terrific but humbling experience in the kitchens of the Culinary Institute of America (see Never Too Late Risotto), I was almost embarrassed to use it.

Silly, I know. Slow cooking has been around for centuries.  It is the quintessential cook’s tool, one that predates most if not all cooking methods we rely on today. Long before the Crock Pot debuted in American kitchens in the early 1970s, home cooks were tending to pots of slow simmering meats over an open flame for hours on end.  Consider this recipe for “Brisket of Beef, a la Flamande,” from Isabella Beeton‘s The Campaign for Domestic Happiness, originally published in 1860:

Choose the portion of the brisket which contains the gristle, trim it, and put it into a stewpan with the slices of bacon, which should be put under and over the meat.  Add the vegetables, herbs, spices, and seasoning, and cover with a little weak stock or water, close the stewpan as hermetically as possible, and simmer very gently for four hours.  Strain the liquor, reserve a portion of it for sauce, and the remainder boil quickly over a sharp fire until reduced to a glaze….Garnish the dish with scooped carrots and turnips, and when liked, a little cabbage…

Sounds like a precursor to slow-cooked corned beef and cabbage to me!

Putting all nostalgia and historical context aside, one-pot meals serve an even more important role in the kitchen. They bring people together, much like I imagine Ms. Beeton’s Brisket of Beef, a la Flamande did. Gathered around a steaming vessel of aromatic mystery, friends, family, even neighbors cannot resist the temptation of what is surely to follow.

One-Pot Corned Beef

I took my cues for this dish from a beautiful blog, Recipes for Our Daily Bread. The author transformed her CB into a mouth-watering Reuben Sandwich, as well as Corned Beef Hash. Both wonderful ideas. I served it traditional Irish-style, with boiled parsley potatoes and buttery steamed cabbage on the side.

Ingredients:
1 3-4 lb. corned beef brisket
1 large sweet onion, diced
Approximately 2 c. of water (just enough to cover the top of the meat; do not add too much liquid)
1/2 c. brown sugar
1-1/2 T. yellow mustard
2 T. whole peppercorns
1-1/2 T. dried thyme
1 t. allspice
1 t. cumin
2 t. Simply Organic all-purpose seasoning

Place the brisket in the slow-cooker and add onion, water, brown sugar, mustard and all of the remaining ingredients. Cook on low setting for 8 hours. Remove brisket to a cutting board and allow to cool for approximately 30 minutes before slicing. Trim any excess fat before slicing the meat. Strain the marinade using a fine-mesh strainer or cheesecloth, discard the solids, and reserve the liquid to pour over the meat and cabbage.

Corned beef in the slow cooker.

We are All Here

Life is fragile, unpredictable, precious, a gift.  Instinctively we know this, but in our day-to-day existence, we tend to forget. Fortunately, there are reminders: birth, death, illness, celebration, and other life milestones.

A few days ago, for my family, it was a near tragedy that turned the light bulb back on.  A few days ago, my daughter’s dog was hit by a car.  It happened so quickly–a split second decision to take off his leash before he was fully in the house. Something out of the corner of his eye caught his attention and this rambunctious puppy was out the door and in the street in no time. He survived, albeit bruised and bleeding. This poor creature, abused as a puppy and shuttled from shelter to shelter until, miraculously, the universe saw fit to bring him to us, has once again had to prove his mettle. But he is strong and he is loved–more than he ever could have imagined–and he will survive.

So now we transition to recovery mode.  Our maternal instincts will kick into overdrive and we will nurse this pup back to health until he is good as new. But for my daughter, who has learned a powerful lesson on love and loyalty, and for the rest of us, for whom those few seconds of sickening fear will forever remain frozen in time, life, in all its imperfection, has become dearer.

To celebrate life and to just plain help us all to feel better, here is an updated spin on the ultimate comfort food, courtesy of Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell, aka The Fabulous Beekman Boys.  Their book, The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook, is all about embracing cherished moments with family and friends through food.  I have taken some liberties with their “Macaroni and Cheese with Mushrooms and Kale” to suit my family’s personal tastes.  Plain, sophisticated, out of a box (though not my personal preference), it really does not matter — as long as you enjoy with those you love most.

Macaroni and Cheese (adapted from The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook)
This rustic version of the tried-and-true classic includes heart-healthy greens, robust mushrooms, and a hint of earthiness from the thyme and paprika.  I added some smokiness by including about a cup of smoked gouda cheese.

Ingredients:
3/4 lb. kale or other green leafy vegetable
8 oz. elbow macaroni
3 T. olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. cremini or other mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/4 t. dried thyme
1/4 c. flour
1/2 c. low sodium chicken stock
2 c. milk
1-1/2 t. paprika
1 t. salt
1-1/2 c. sharp cheddar, shredded
1 c. smoked gouda, shredded
2 T. butter
1/2 c. panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook the kale in a large pot of boiling salted water for about 5 minutes.  Remove the kale, drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.  Drain again, squeeze to remove excess water, roughly chop and set aside.  Meanwhile, add macaroni to same pot of boiling water and cook according to package instructions.  Drain.

In a dutch oven or other large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic and cook about 1 minute until aromatic.  Add the mushrooms and thyme and cook, stirring occasionally for about 2 minutes until the mushrooms wilt and begin to release their juices.  Stir in the flour and cook until well blended with mushroom mixture.  Add about half of the stock (more as needed) and continue cooking for another minute.  Add remaining stock, milk, paprika and salt and cook, stirring occasionally until mixture has thickened.  Remove from heat and stir in the cheese until melted.  Add the macaroni and kale and toss to coat.

Transfer mixture to a glass 9 x 13 dish or individual ramekins.

In a small skillet, melt the butter and add panko, stirring until bread crumbs are fully coated.  Sprinkle over top of the mac and cheese and bake for approximately 30 minutes until golden brown.

Set aside a cheesy elbow or two for your pet!