I know that creamy cabbage soup isn’t the sexiest sounding recipe I’ve ever presented. But trust me, this cabbage soup will have you wondering how a homely cabbage can develop such complex sweetness. The answer (of course) is butter. When smart cooks sauté cabbage with copious amounts of cream and/or butter it loses all its cabbagey-ness and takes on an unexpected sweetness. Of course, peak-season farmers market cabbage helps this recipe succeed as well. And not just any cabbage but the tastiest, most prized cabbage of the entire Brassicaceae/Cruciferae family. Savoy cabbage.
The Savoy variety is a bit harder to find than your standard cabbage; and where I live it is much more seasonal. So be on the lookout, its time is now. It’s not hard to recognize. It’s a beautiful emerald green and looks like a giant corsage. A big frilly green corsage, not unlike the one that accompanied you to your senior prom!
Which means cabbage deserves better PR. Cooked low and slow with onions in a bath of butter, this soup is stupendous. A bit reminiscent of a classic Leek and Potato Soup with simple but refined flavors and textures. I cannot say enough good things about this soup. Really, even now I can’t stop. It’s that good. This soup is not only delicious but pretty to look thanks to a swirl of bright green chive oil and a penetrating top note from a scattering of freshly toasted cumin seeds.
Which brings me to this creamy cabbage soup and its most important attribute: the wow factor. Nobody expects cabbage to be anything special, so the cook’s art becomes apparent when this lowly offering shines. Serve big fat beautiful spears of asparagus, and your guests will praise the vegetable. Serve a transformative bowl of creamy cabbage soup, though, and everyone will praise the cook. GREG
It’s that rare time of year when it’s hard to find good vegetables in Los Angeles. We have a 6-week period when most of the stuff in the grocery store is imported and our Farmers’ Markets aren’t yet busting at the seams. Yet, I find myself a bit bored by carrots, parsnips, onions, and potatoes – I want green stuff. Sure, we can get winter greens like kale, chard, and spinach. And I should be grateful for that. But the truth is we’re just a few skinny weeks shy of spring here. So while I’m eating as many leafy greens as I can braise I find myself anticipating asparagus and other stars of the springtime garden.
Which is how my veggie starved eyes came upon broccolini at the market recently. Broccolini shares some genealogy as well as the same basic shape of asparagus. I bet I could get creative with broccolini. It has the further advantage of making itself available at precisely the time when the big fat spears of asparagus I love are still spindly little sprouts just beginning to poke their pointy tips from the ground.
The thing is I have a love/hate thing with broccolini. When I first saw it in stores I was baffled. It seemed more like a marketing scheme than a vegetable. But I gave it a second look and found I truly enjoy broccolini – sometimes.
I say sometimes because broccolini is more seasonal than the marketing monsters of Big Ag would have us believe. If it’s been cut and shipped more than a few days prior to purchase, those lovely sugars we expect in cruciferous vegetables will begin to revert to starch, leaving a cabbagey, bitter note. In fact, broccolini can be a bit finicky so choose your stalks wisely. It’s intolerant to extreme temperature changes. It’s more sensitive to cold temperatures than broccoli but less tolerant of hot temperatures than broccoli. Making the California coast an ideal environment. So buy it during the peak of its season, which is essentially now until early April where I live. With another good crop coming in early autumn, after one of our cool coastal summers.
So yes, I admit, I’m anxiously awaiting asparagus. But in the meantime, I’m happy to gussy up grilled seasonal broccolini with dried Rainier cherries, chile de Arbol, and feta cheese. GREG
Broccolini is actually a trademarked name for a hybrid of broccoli and Chinese kale (called gai lan). It was developed in 1993 by the Sakata Seed Company of Yokohama, Japan and brought to the United States in 1998. It’s often (confusingly) labeled baby broccoli.
Forget cooking. It’s been chilly in my corner of the world. I’d like to crank the oven and just sit in my kitchen with a good book. Because honestly, I’m having a little trouble finding my Sippity Sup mojo lately. It seems to happen to me every year just after the rush of the holidays. It’s a bit like postpartum depression I imagine. Not that a food blog is like a baby. Oh wait, what am I saying? That’s exactly what a food blog is like. Because in order to thrive, a blog takes constant care and feeding.
So I’ve decided the drab weather is Los Angeles calls for something vibrant enough to get my mojo back in line. Roast beets can provide that vivid pop of color even in the dead of winter. Just the mojo-enhancing inspiration I need. Besides, I like to roast beets. You can crank the oven on a cold day and get a lot of impact with very little effort. Roasting beets can be as simple as tossing them with olive oil, wrapping them in foil and sticking them in the oven. That’s exactly how I’ve done it for years. But is it the best way?
Sometime in our past we humans were digging around in the dirt looking for grubs and worms to eat when we hit upon the idea of eating roots. The world has been a better place ever since. There are many ways to enjoy these vegetables from the underworld, but roasting is just about my favorite. Roasting root vegetables, like beets, intensifies their flavors and brings out their distinctive, rustic charm. It actually amplifies their inherent richness and bolsters their sugars.
As I said it can be a very simple process. But the thing about simple foods is in order for them to succeed you need to be sure the simple method you choose is not just simply a short-cut, but rather the fast lane to perfection.
Lately, I’ve upped my game when I try and answer the question of how to roast beets by including simple aromatics like citrus peels, halved garlic cloves and herbs. I’ve also discovered that just a little bit of water in the pan helps cook the beets more evenly with steam heat.
Most importantly don’t just stick them in the oven and forget them. Add more water during the cooking process if needed. Beets will likely take from 40 to 60 minutes to cook properly. They’re finished cooking when they feel slightly resistant to pressure all the way through the vegetable. So make sure and poke them to the center before deciding they’re done.
Beets of different sizes and varieties may have different cooking times which means you need to be extra diligent. Even beets of different colors can cook at different rates. Start checking them about 40 minutes into the cooking process. If you wait too long, beets can begin to feel fluffy when poked which means they’re probably overcooked.
Lastly, roasted beets peel much easier than raw beets. Once the beets come out of the oven wait until they’re just cool enough to handle. Then slice off leaf end and push skins away using your thumbs. If it doesn’t easily strip off, the beets probably need more time in the oven. Try another 10 minutes.
So that how to roast beets for this simple Beets Salad with Grapefruit, Frisée and Minted Crème Fraîche. I can taste the mojo already. GREG
What could be more American than a Sloppy Joe? Sweet and tangy – a little spicy and a whole lot messy! But it’s a new year and there are ways to elevate this familiar sandwich from its mid-century America Manwich roots if you put your mind to it. Instead of settling for conventional ground beef, you could follow chef Daniel Holzman’s lead and choose ground lamb. Lamb Sloppy Joe’s! While you’re at it, why not top that Joe with something special too. Coleslaw is a good way to go. So are fried onions. Maybe even guacamole. Use your imagination.
What’s so amazing about this sandwich is the familiarity of it. Yes, I realize the Sloppy Joe sandwiches of your youth were not made from lamb. But it’s not the choice of ground protein that makes a Sloppy Joe so familiar.
It’s something more basic than that.
Some foods are memory triggers. For me, sandwiches have the ability to take me back to childhood more than any other category of food. Sloppy Joe’s are no exception. They’re like time machines transferring me back to my middle-school hot lunch line, where hair-netted lunch ladies ladle heavy spoonfuls of tomatoey meat onto sesame-studded hamburger buns.
The familiarity doesn’t stop there. At least not for me. Daniel Holzman’s Lamb Sloppy Joe’s are served very much like the lunch lady versions from my adolescence. By that I mean plain. Even in those days, I tended to personalize my food. Most of the boys scarfed these sandwiches down without even peeking under the bun. That’s because in middle-school the lunch hour is practically as competitive as P.E. class, and often just as stressful. The more aggressive boys at my table were typically in a race to see who could eat the sandwich the quickest. When that form of domination began to bore them, they’d run off to see if they could trick the lunch lady into a second sandwich – just so they could prove their superiority all over again.
Not me, I’d sit quietly (out of their peripheral vision) and lift the bun to consider how I could dress up this boy’s version of a Manwich. Potato chips, crunchy pickles, or maybe something from the salad compartment of my indented lunch tray. You just never knew how creative I could get with a Sloppy Joe. Though I admit Lamb Sloppy Joe’s were (at that point in my life) a little beyond my imagining.
Today however a Lamb Sloppy Joe feels just right to me. So I peeked under the bun of Mr. Holzman’s recipe and chose a few creative additions of my own. I don’t think he’ll mind my adaptations. Because what really matters is the place your mind goes when you pick up one of these Lamb Sloppy Joe’s and take a bite. Once you taste the crunch of cabbage and feel that slow drizzle of tomato sauce slipping down your chin, you’ll feel just like a 12-year-old trying to avoid the loud boys at lunchtime. GREG
I like to eat locally and, for me, this Crab Linguine with Meyer Lemon Sauce is about as local as you can get.
Today, as I do most days, I went for a walk in the hills near my house. I did it for exercise, sure. But I also did it because I was hungry. It’s citrus season where I live. Which doesn’t really matter all that much if I were hungry for, say, an orange – oranges are easy to find in the grocery store all year long. They also hang ripe on the tree here pretty much year-round. No, not oranges. I can have an orange pretty much any time I like.
Not so with Meyer lemons. Meyer lemons are very seasonal. Where I live Meyer lemons seem to ripen all at once and then fall from the branches. Also, Meyer lemons aren’t easy to find in the grocery store, even when they’re in season. Their thin, soft skins make them difficult to transport.
Meaning Meyer lemons are special ingredients and I try to use them in as many recipes as I can while they’re around.
I’ll tell you why. The next time you have one handy scratch the skin of a Meyer lemon and inhale its citrus aroma. I did and was inspired to make Dungeness crab linguine tossed with a special prosecco and Meyer lemon sauce. I say special because if you take another sniff of that Meyer lemon in your hand I think you’ll also notice fragrant floral notes and even some pine. Meyer lemons are perhaps the most complexly scented citrus fruit I know. Just the whiff of a Meyer lemon evokes sunny California in the wintertime.
We in California are blessed with what’s known as a Mediterranean climate. Which has a great many advantages besides mild temperatures and year-round sunshine. One of the greatest pleasures in my life is the simple act of pulling a ripe Meyer lemon off a tree branch hanging over the walkways of the streets where I live. Of course “pulling” isn’t quite the right word. The best way to harvest a thin-skinned Meyer lemon is to gently twist it off the branch. I’ve had practice, so I know.
I call this practice urban foraging. The Meyer lemon sauce in today’s crab linguine is the product of one of my foraging adventures right here in my own neighborhood.
Local Meyer lemons pair beautifully with West Coast Dungeness crab, both are in season right now, and they come together fragrantly in this simple to prepare special-occasion pasta. GREG
The Vichy Cycle cocktail is a sophisticated collaboration of French vermouth and German kümmel with a clever name. Have you ever noticed that some of the best cocktails have clever names? I suppose that’s because it’s easy to be clever when you’re drinking.
I first encountered this drink several years ago at the Zig Zag Cafe in Seattle on a rainy evening just before the holidays. I was researching drinks for my book Savory Cocktails and was smart enough to know that Zig Zag Cafe needed to be part of my research. Zig Zag Cafe is my kind of bar – first, because it’s so hard to find, and second, because once you find it you’ll never forget it. At least I didn’t. Nor did I forget the perfectly savory notes of the Vichy Cycle cocktail served to me by Erik Hakkinen. I even included the drink as conceived by Erik in my book.
The drink is defined by the super savory caraway and cumin seed kümmel liqueur. It’s a bold spirit and might be a bit challenging to many palates, but cocktail geeks love it. The past several years have seen an explosion in the popularity of funky herbal liqueurs such as Cynar, Fernet-Branca, and kümmel. They’re all relics of a time when spirits were made by monks and aristocrats and were thought to have medicinal properties.
If you’re scratching your head at every mention I make of kümmel, don’t worry. Kümmel was practically unheard of in North America until this latest cocktail revolution. However, the Brits have always enjoyed it, especially among the “upper-crust”. It seems kümmel is particularly popular with anyone who grew up in a stodgy boarding-school. It crops up in David Niven’s autobiography, The Moon’s a Balloon and Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies. It even makes an appearance in Ian Fleming’s novel Goldfinger, when “tough cheery men” quaff double kümmels after lunch. GREG
It wouldn’t be the holidays if I didn’t present something a little fancy. This Little Gem Salad with Creamy Walnut-Apple Dressing and White Cheddar Crisps fits the bill. It’s a special salad, befitting the holidays, but it’s not too difficult to pull off because everything can be made ahead. This salad features little gem lettuce which can make any salad feel special. The creamy dressing is made memorable with chunks of apple and toasted walnuts. You can see that this is shaping up to be a fancy salad. But it’s the garnish I want to discuss. This post is really about how to make cheese crisps.
I’m not talking about crackers when I say cheese crisps. I’m talking about something a bit more special. You’ve probably been to a restaurant where a salad or some other savory bite came embellished with a delicate web of crispy cheese – like a Florentine cookie, only savory. It might surprise you to know that these cheesy little discs can be made at home. It’s literally as simple as sprinkling grated cheese on a silicone mat or parchment-lined baking sheet and popping in the oven for 10 minutes.
Naturally, the first lesson on how to make cheese crisps starts with the cheese. The best cheese choices for cheese crisps are hard cheeses, like Parmesan, white Cheddar, and Manchego. From an aesthetic point of view, white cheese is better than orange cheese. Most importantly, avoid any sort of processed cheese. Even pre-grated cheese. Pre-grated cheese is mixed with a powdery substance to keep it from clumping. This powder also interferes with the process I’m about to describe.
Now, as with most “simple” things cheese crisps are only simple if you know a few quick tricks. First, you must line your baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. This trick is useful almost any time you’re baking. But it’s not merely useful when making cheese crisps; it’s crucial. If you don’t line your baking sheet with parchment, your cheese will attach itself to your cookware practically permanently.
Second, you need to fashion your piles of cheese carefully. Construct them into flat plateaus, not mounded hills. They will spread out as they bake, but they need to be delicate with some gaps between the strands of cheese, to begin with, or they’ll be burnt at the edges, gooey in the middle, and not at all lacey.
I say that the baking time is 10 minutes. But the actual time in the oven will depend on how dry the cheese is – Parmesan will cook faster than cheddar because it has less moisture. Manchego can have a little or a lot of moisture depending on how long it has been aged. The crisps are done when they’ve deepened to a uniform golden brown and have a lacy texture.
The rest of the salad takes no special skills, but I suggest you take time with the presentation. This Little Gem Salad with Creamy Walnut-Apple Dressing and White Cheddar Crisps is meant to be a fancy salad. GREG
So how do you want to finish this year? Naughty or nice? These Savory Rugelach with Blue Cheese, Dates, and Walnuts are rich and decadent and feel just a little bit naughty. So come on, you’ve been nice for months on end. Santa has already made his list (and checked it twice) he’s noticed how nice you’ve been. Nice. Nice. Nice. Besides he’s so busy this time of year I doubt he’ll even notice what you’ve been up to these last few days of 2016. So snuggle up to the appetizers this holiday season. I think you’ll find that naughty has never been more nice.
Rugelach is traditionally a Jewish “cookie” of sorts. Typically you’ll find them to be jam-filled. But nuts make an appearance just as often. Chocolate rugelach is delicious too. Technically rugelach can be filled with just about anything. So why not a savory rugelach? Because the thing that defines rugelach isn’t so much the filling as it is the pastry. Made with cream cheese, the dough is very rich and very short, meaning that it has a lot of fat: by weight, there’s almost equal amounts of cream cheese, butter, and flour.
For me, all that luscious fat deserves a special friend, and dates make succulent partners. Besides, I love dates – especially this time of year. When I was a kid I used to pop them in my mouth and wait for the explosion of honeyed sweetness. Which is something I did almost every Christmas morning of my younger years. Dates (and nuts and naval oranges) were always part of our stocking-stuffers. So naturally I like indulging in them during the holidays now that I’m an adult.
Because if there’s on thing I know about the holidays it’s this: Santa just doesn’t have the time to keep tabs on how many bite-sized snacks we’ve snuck. So roll up some rugelach, I won’t tell whether you’ve been naughty or nice. GREG
Have you ever noticed there seems to be a correlation between the holidays and cold and flu season? This is the time of year when we celebrate a little harder and sleep a lot less. It’s a particularly strenuous time of year for the cooks in the family. The gathering hordes may be heartwarming, but it’s easy to forget we have to feed the assembled generations. To those who celebrate Christmas, the three major meals of the season – Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas brunch and Christmas dinner – can quickly become a 24-hour marathon. You’re going to need a creative culinary compromise if you plan to get through without developing chronic fatigue syndrome. How about a make-ahead Cioppino elegant enough for Christmas Eve?
In my opinion, a make-ahead Cioppino is a more convenient spin on the traditionally opulent Italian celebration the Feast of the Seven Fishes. In keeping with tradition, this version is loaded with fresh seafood. It’s easy to prepare the base a couple of days in advance, then marinate the seafood in that base the night before, and then simply slide the pot into the oven about an hour before you’re ready to eat. You’ll get the satisfaction of claiming everyone’s attention as you place a jumble of crab legs and chunks of fish in a steaming red broth onto the holiday table. With an easy to amend variation of seafood, it’s a great way to tick off the required number of fishes for that time-honored Italian holiday feast. Don’t forget the crusty sourdough bread and an elegant Pinot Noir with low tannins and bright acidity.
The best news for the busy cook is there is no single recipe for Cioppino. Whether it’s brothy or saucy, spicy with peppers or sweet with fennel, cioppino is a guaranteed success for a holiday meal. A tomatoey broth and a variety of seafood are the only mandatory elements. So stay healthy and take the stress off the season. Create your own make-ahead Cioppino. GREG