Wednesday, June 1, 2011

complete overhaul

I have news.

Rue le Sel is getting an update. And a new name. And a new space.

It's been a few years here, and though it tried not to, this little space began to feel a little tired, its wrinkles started to set in. And since we (read: I) are a big proponent of change around here, I thought a complete overhaul would only be appropriate.

It's still unfinished; there's a temporary header, and a whole lot of kinks to work out with formatting, but I figured, as long as I'm posting, you may as well be reading.

The blog and I can now be found, disguised entirely under a new name and look, here. You'll recognize us, though. We're still, in spirit anyway, the same old blog.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A month

I am having a month. Is that an expression? It’s like, oh, I am having a day, one of those days. Except for it’s a month.

Here’s a good example: this morning I walked outside, and my car was gone. Just not there, at all. And then I realized, after many moments of reflection, that I had almost certainly parked directly in front of someone else's driveway. Smack in the middle, blocking any hope of them leaving this morning, unless their car was actually a plane.

I would have towed my car too.

And that's what I feel like these days; to be honest I wasn’t even surprised that I had done that. I’m having a month, my brain is having difficulty perceiving driveways, and I’m going around parking right in front of them, without even asking.

The details of the month are better left glazed over, like most root vegetables, and in fact, I would like to pretend - at least here, in this little space - that I went on a lovely little vacation. These days I’ve been enamored with the idea of Northern California, so let’s settle on that, shall we?

I had a splendid time, beautiful weather, many, many hikes and too many avocados to count. But now I’m back, and am faced with not only the reality of my month (as we shall refer to it), but also the reality that there are many things we still have not covered on this little site. Beets, for instance. How have we not gone over beets? They are a lovely root, beets, and I (surprise surprise) have a lot to say about them and their beety ways.

As soon as I retrieve my car from the impound lot, I will have my camera, and will make photographing beets my first order of business. I already have the beets. Soon, you will too.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

No known segue

So, meatballs. There is really no known segue for them, and I have tried to think of one, believe me. My best attempts were a clever introduction involving recollections of Lady and the Tramp, or somehow working with cloudy with a chance of. Having failed with the segue business and with no other graceful way to launch into this:


Well, chicken meatballs, if that makes it any more interesting.

There’s nothing terribly romantic about ground meat. We still eat it, quite a bit: burgers, meatloaf, pate, yet meatballs often come up last in that race. Or at least are never talked about in any real, laudatory way. They are the creamed spinach of ground meats: traditional, old even, liked by everyone - but no one wants to really admit it. They’re silent members of the recipe box, tucked away as some kind of 1950s peasant food.

But I will say, we all can’t roast whole chickens every night, or stir risottos, and if you’ve got a box of pasta and the ingredients lying around (which you probably do), this won’t even seem like a second-best dinner once you’re finished.

I left out the pancetta in this recipe, simply because I didn’t have it. Do not do as I did. These were good, but would infinitely benefit from some salty fat, as most things do. We ate these with just some roasted vegetables and a salad, but they would be great with pasta; you could do as lady and the tramp do, with a rogue version of spaghetti and meatballs.

Chicken Meatballs
(Adapted from Gourmet)

The original recipe called for three ounces of pancetta, chopped, which you render with the onion and garlic in the first step. I would strongly advise (nudge, urge) you to do that.

I cup Italian bread, torn into small bits
1/3 cup milk
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large egg
1 pound ground chicken
2 tablespoons tomato paste, divided

Preheat oven to 400°F with a rack in the upper third of the oven. Soak bread in milk in a small bowl until softened, about four minutes.
Cook onion, and garlic in one tablespoon of oil with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large skillet over medium heat until onion is softened, about 6 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

Squeeze bread to remove excess milk, discard milk. Lightly beat egg in a large bowl and combine with chicken, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, onion mixture and bread. Form 12 meatballs and arrange in another 4-sided sheet pan.

Stir together remaining tablespoons of tomato paste and oil and brush over meatballs then bake in upper third of oven until meatballs are just cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Get in the kitchen already

I’ve been thinking about the art of repetition lately, of routine, about how it is less than an art sometimes.

Or, about how if it was an art, it would be akin to medieval madonna and childs, the ones that dominated thirteenth century Christian art with reds, and yellows, and the hard lines like Modigliani’s, but less inspiring and about 800 years older. And it would be the Madonna by the guy who was only copying the important guy who painted it first.

In short, we’ve seen it before, and it has its place, but it’s not really worth a special trip, at least not once you’ve seen it before.

Every morning, I shuffle to the coffee machine and fill it, my eyelids still half-mast and my hair settling into its three new cowlicks. (Now, this is an art. The cowlicks and the blind coffee-making both.) I let Luke out, feed him, sit down at my computer: email, times, orangette, smitten kitchen, the wednesday chef, maybe npr, maybe eater.


Lately, this routine has grown to include peanut butter sandwiches and other simple (read: boring) foods. Eaten invariably between noon and one, with water from the mason jar with the star on it, the sandwiches are the very definition of routine: bland, boring, same.

Do you see where I’m going? Routine can be a lovely, comforting thing, certainly if there is peanut butter involved. At least in respect to my morning coffee, I rely on it heavily every day. But when it leads you to contemplate a peanut butter sandwich for dinner on your night off, when you have a full fridge, well then, then it has betrayed you, gravely.

And so it was last night, while I was talking about which peanut varietal would suit twelve grain bread most favorably, I met a demand, a sharp Kenzi, go cook something, cook something now.

Because the people who love us know us best, right? They know that even at the risk of sounding chauvinistic and slandering women everywhere, sometimes the right thing to do is to tell me to just get in the kitchen already. Sternly. I was nearly yelled at.

I am very thankful for that. After some vague, mumbling comments about how there was nothing to cook, I found myself soon slinging pots, pans, chickpeas, spinach. I made two lovely olive oil fried eggs. I roasted potatoes, rosemary, Vidalia onions. And I felt so much better.

This surely doesn’t need to be your breakthrough recipe after a stint out of the kitchen, but it was mine. For your sake I hope you’ve been in the kitchen all along. This can just be your next one.

Spinach and Chickpeas

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Note: This recipe is very adaptable, which is fun. Feel free to play with the spices, depending on what you have on hand. Use a little less spinach, a little more. It’s up to you.

½ pound dried chickpeas, cooked until soft and tender or two 15 oz cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
6 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound spinach, washed
½ cup diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 ½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
Salt, black pepper

Place a large saucepan over medium heat and add half the olive oil. When it is hot, add the spinach with a pinch of salt and stir well. Remove when the leaves are tender, drain in a colander and set aside.

Heat remaining olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Saute garlic, cumin and red pepper. Cook for 1 minute more or until the garlic is nutty brown. Add the chickpeas, tomato sauce and paste. Stir until the chickpeas have absorbed the flavors and are hot. Season with salt, pepper, and vinegar.

Add the spinach and cook until it is hot. Check for seasoning and serve with paprika on top, with crusty bread. An egg on top is also excellent.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The love affair

This food is the holy grail of food. It’s almost like the culinary world’s femme fatale, disguised neatly in a power business suit.

But then, then you look down, and there are red, six-inch heels. Bright red. Just the perfect amount of flair to make it no longer just neat and professional and technically executed, but creative, slightly mysterious. And suddenly, the food has the power to make you do strange things, like buy a twenty-six dollar glass of sparkling wine.

Does that make any sense? Probably not. It’s all to say, really that the food at this place is unreal. In the way that makes you try and compare it to high-powered businesswomen with red stilettos - because in reality, there aren’t many other words fit to describe it. In the way that makes you think you may as well stop cooking now, and resign yourself to meals of potato chips and frozen pizza, because once you’ve tasted this, everything else will drastically pale in comparison.

And when they take you back into the kitchen (the kitchen!) for reasons unknown - to see the chefs and make you edible Old Fashioneds (edible old fashioneds!) – the whole experience just gets better, crazier, even harder to describe.

And so the love affair with New York continues.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Me and this little site

I suppose this took long enough.

(Drum Roll)

Rue le Sel now has an about / FAQ page.

(Cymbal crash)

Just in case anyone reading is not my mother, or father, or brother, or another such close blood relative, you can learn all about me and this little site. You might even learn about things painted on my bathroom wall.

It's over there (Right now I'm pointing to the right side of your browser), listed with the Recipe Index. Check it out.

Have a lovely evening, and talk to you soon.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A little of this

So I got this new job. Same field. Only now, instead of research about confit, and Black Prince tomatoes, and saddles of rabbit and what have you, the focus has switched.

Now, it’s all about copper stills, and distillation proofs, and bisongrass versus Russian standard, and things the likes of which I’m not even legally allowed to be well-versed in, since my age is somewhat limiting in that particular, alcoholic field.

I’ve been feeling slightly inspired by all of this cocktail business, and so tonight, I started juicing my own citrus and pouring it all into my little-used shaker. It was reminiscent of my childhood concoctions, minus the booze: a little of this, a little of that, a lot of ambivalence and mostly no idea what I was doing.

It wasn’t half bad. I’m sure my new boss would have his own opinions; I’ve probably messed infinitely with the balance of spirit to bitter, sweet to rounder. Either way, here it is:

Equal parts vodka*: cointreau
1 oz. each lemon juice, grapefruit juice
splash simple syrup

and remember,

I have no idea what alcohol tastes like. (Read: I might have an idea.)

*If I’ve learned anything so far, I think I’m supposed to tell you that a vodka like bisongrass mixes very well with fruit juices, so that would be the best choice here.

Also, I have a feeling this drink would be awesome with a heat component – jalepeno infused something? Chili flakes? I’m still learning.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hop on over here

This is potentially shameless. I am aware.

But, in an effort to equalize the disadvantage that our small-town chefs have, I'm posting this everywhere possible. I would paint it on my building, if I had paint, or if I wouldn't get evicted for doing it. Hop on over here:

to vote

for Kara Brooks - for Food and Wine's People's Best New Chef - my wonderful boss and the executive chef of Still River Cafe.

Then hop on another computer, and do it again.

(Kidding. Maybe.)

Thanks so much to all of you who vote, I'll keep you updated!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A bunch of extra carrots

I have this book sitting on my kitchen counter, as though, in a pinch, I could open it to help me find that one missing step from my torchon of foies gras, or my locally foraged hearts of palm dish.

It’s a beautiful, beautiful book, but I always think of the recipes within as being so complicated, so finicky in that lovely French Laundry way, that I forget those little anecdotes written before the hearts of palm and after the torchon - the ones that are applicable to all normal ingredients, locally foraged or otherwise.

In these interim pages, the little intermissions before the real recipes begin again, Keller offers simple advice over and over again: how to big-pot blanch correctly, “the importance of hollandaise,” how to make the best soups.

For soups, verbatim: “identify your ingredient, cook it perfectly, and adjust the consistency.” So, if you happen to have a bunch of extra carrots lying around, as I did: carrots, glazed, adjust consistency with chicken stock. (Remember when I talked about the glory of not following recipes and ignoring finicky baking? This is it, in it’s finest.)

I added ginger, and a bit of onion, because I’m into being rogue when I make soup. Now I probably can’t call it something like essence of carrot, fit for the vegetable tasting at the French laundry, but it’s still lovely, every bit as warming and carroty as a winter carrot soup should be.

Below is an approximation of the recipe, but again, adjust it to your liking: more liquid, less, wing it if you’re feeling into that; this soup is very forgiving. In that way this recipe, or the rough blueprint of it, is a great confidence builder. Oh yeah, and buy this book, if you ignored my first urging.

Carrot and Ginger Soup

3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
¼ cup peeled and finely chopped ginger root
6 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
Salt & ground pepper

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onion and ginger; saute for five to ten minutes until softened and fragrant. Set aside. Warm stock in a saucepan over low heat.

In a large pot of salted boiling water, blanch the carrots until tender, about ten minutes. Drain and shock in ice water to stop the cooking process and retain their color.

Puree the blanched carrots with the onion and ginger with an immersion blender or in batches in a blender or food processor, adding liquid to your desired consistency. You’ll need six cups of stock if you like your soup still fairly liquid, but if you like a thicker soup, use less. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

This soup refrigerates and freezes well, and is even better on the second day. Serve with crusty bread, if you can.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Mental kryptonite

I’ve lost all ability to euphemize snow. The first snowflakes were fun, nostalgic even, New England’s frosty reminder that the next months ahead were going to be a little colder, a little whiter.

Four (five? six?) feet later, I am experiencing a vast change of heart. I curse the stuff. It’s likely the only weather pattern that, to date, has had the ability to seriously screw with my head. Snow, in these proportions, is some kind of sick, mental, kryptonite.

It’s given me a lot of opportunity for potential stove-front time, yes, but even that I can’t properly appreciate. Butchering my first rabbit became an experience slightly jaded by the fact that I was inside again that day. And then it was soured by the fact that a rabbit ragu was even seasonally appropriate. Because that meant it was cold outside. Then I went outside, and it was actually freezing, not just cold. Later that night it sleeted for six hours.

See what I mean? This much snow is terrible for the mind. And also for the windshield wipers, which by this point I’m pretty sure are permanently frozen.

All I’m saying is that I’ve had enough of winter, and that there becomes a real problem when even rabbit ragu can’t make me feel better. (That’s backwards, right?) I hope it works for you.

**Thanks to my mother for this picture, taken at the house where I grew up.

Rabbit Ragu

Adapted from Gourmet

Note: I made polenta with this, which worked really nicely, but have also been eating leftovers with pasta, and even spaghetti squash. I also substituted bacon for the pancetta and it came out just fine, so feel free to do that as well.

¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 (1/4-lb) piece pancetta cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 (3-lb) boned, butchered, cut into 1-inch pieces (1 1/2 lb boned)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 cup light dry red wine
1 14-oz can diced Italian tomatoes
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet (2 inches deep) over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then add pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes. Add sage and rosemary and cook, stirring, 30 seconds.

Add rabbit and cook, stirring occasionally, until rabbit is no longer pink on outside, 2 to 3 minutes. Add onion and carrot and continue to cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add wine and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced to about 1 cup, 10 to 15 minutes.

Add tomatoes, sea salt, and pepper and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened, 5 to 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Plain Jane

I haven’t been cooking a lot lately. The idea is, presumably, if you're the kind of person with a recipe-centric blog, that the recipes you share ought to be good, intricate, impressive. The idea is also that you should be cooking these, often.

Do I have the wrong idea?

Clearly, when I make something that fits into the above criteria, I want to share it with you. But what about everything else? I do tend to eat more than once a week.

Today I made an awesome kale salad, made more complex with a kick from lemon juice and crispness from apples, and for once eating raw kale didn’t feel like the meal was better suited for a grain bin, or a troth, or a pasture.

Tonight I made risotto with poached eggs, but forgot I didn’t have any stock on hand, so I just used water. It was a little bland, not my best.

During the down time in between the rice absorbing liquid and the mushrooms browning, I looked out my kitchen window at the apartment building next to mine. My window matches up with another one, shrouded in lace curtains and giving a near perfect view of the stove. My neighbor, whoever she is, was cooking too, bouncing between three different pots on her stove. Stir one, put lid on, check the next, adjust the heat.

We stood there, in separate buildings, stirring and checking and adjusting in what felt like some kind of weird, Hartford-apartment-harmony, and it occurred to me that a lot of people make dinner, often. And what we make, what is permanently in our repertoire (for better or for chickpea-spaghetti-worse), shouldn’t be skipped over because it isn’t grandiose, labor-intensive, blog-worthy.

And so it is that I tell you about my kale salad, involving only five ingredients, tasting like it involves more. I tell you about my boring lunches and bland dinners, bulked up by whole foods bread that I didn’t even close to make, but still enjoyed just as much. Another confession: I ate boxed cereal for breakfast. (The horror.) My food is, for the most part, normal, even plain Jane, and I don’t care who knows it.

Kale Salad with Apple and Red Onion

Note: This is even better with avocado, but you don’t need it. Which is to say this salad is flexible, a kind of culinary free-for-all. Be creative. Also, the ingredients listed here is to serve only one, but I would just eyeball everything based on how much kale is enough kale for you.

2 large leaves kale, washed and ribs removed
1 lemon wedge
1 teaspoon olive oil
A few rings of red onion, diced
1 tart apple, sliced very thinly

Coarsely rip the kale into strips. Squeeze lemon wedge over, and add olive oil. Here’s the important part: massage the oil and lemon into the kale for a few minutes; enough to kind of break down the kale a bit. It will reduce quite a bit in size. (If you can, do this step early, as the kale is best after it has sat for twenty minutes or so.) Gently fold in apples and red onion, and serve.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Caution to the wind, potato chips in your cookies

Christina Tosi is brilliant. This is a fact, of course, that has long been established. I’m saying it again though, compost cookie in hand, just as you would if this cookie was in your hand.

One cookie, all of your favorite snack foods. Imagine. (If you haven’t already gotten one at milk bar.) It may not be the healthiest snack in the book, but in my opinion, if you’re making cookies, especially birthday cookies, you might as well go balls to the cookie wall. By which I mean include potato chips, and pretzels, and popcorn, and mostly anything else you have. This cookie can handle it.

I can think up the process of creating these devilishly good cookies: snacking on potato chips, pretzels, throwing caution to the proverbial wind, throwing a handful into the dough for good measure. It is the recipe that conjures up all childhood memories, mad scientist experiments, potions, and all. It's the one baking recipe to which you can add in a little of this, a little of that, recklessly concoct, and the result will still be successful. Wildly successful. It is the cookie recipe to end all cookie recipes, to make a convert of all self-professed baking-haters.

It seems that the compost cookie is an exercise only in channeling your inner child, but it really all makes sense: sugar with salt, savory with sweet, all muted slightly by the standard slurry of flour and butter. And even better, the recipe never has to be the same twice. If you really wanted to, you could switch up the add-ins every time. Which makes this not only as brilliantly successful as a cookie can be, but also ever-changing, adaptable, never boring.

Go on, empty your pantry into cookie dough. It’ll be wonderful, I promise.

The Momofuku Milk Bar Compost Cookie

recipe by Christina Tosi

Note: The only thing I left out here was the corn syrup (to be precise, one tablespoon of it), because I didn't have it. The cookies still came out great, but adding it in is up to you.

1 cup butter (two sticks, unsalted)
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 1/2 cups your favorite baking ingredients, crushed if too large (I used chocolate chips, chocolate covered pretzels, some shredded coconut)
1 1/2 cups your favorite snack foods, crushed (I used potato chips and smartfood)

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream butter, sugars and corn syrup on medium high for two to three minutes until fluffy and pale yellow in color. Scrape down the sides with a spatula. Add eggs and vanilla to incorporate slowly.

Increase mixing speed to medium-high and set a timer for 10 minutes. The mixture will become an almost pale white color and will double in size; this is what you want.

On a lower speed, add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix 45 - 60 seconds just until your dough comes together and all remnants of dry ingredients have been mixed in. Be careful not to over beat the dough, and scrape down the side of the bowl every once in a while.

On the same low speed, add in the hodgepodge of your favorite baking ingredients and mix for 30 - 45 seconds until they evenly mix into the dough. Repeat this with the snack food ingredients.

Portion cookie dough onto a parchment lined sheetpan. (The original recipe calls for a 6 oz. scoop, but I just eyeballed it.) Wrap scooped cookie dough tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of one hour or up to 1 week - You'll need the dough to be chilled in order for the cookies to hold their shape when baked off.

Heat the oven to 400 F. Take the plastic off your cookies and bake 9 to 11 minutes, or until browned on the edges and barely beginning to brown in the center.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Indication of greatness

There I was, writing you last week’s post, talking wistfully about high oven heat and the wonders it works on root vegetables, and then, without warning or permission, I went ahead and took a wildly sentimental turn.

That doesn’t seem quite fair.

Lucky for you, I find that one of the best things to do after such emotional matters is eat to bread pudding. Well, make it. Then eat it.

I made this a little while back, and then two days after that, I made it again. Which normally isn’t saying much, but if you know me, you know that in matters of making new recipes, to repeat one is to be missing out on another, newer one, entirely. There are just too many things out there I have yet to try.

So take that as an indication of this recipe’s greatness, and then try not to pay much mind to the amounts of egg yolks and cream. It is bread pudding, after all. If it helps, you can blame it all on me – things just got a little too heavy, and sad, and well, the only sensible cure at this juncture is a cream-laden savory bread pudding. Totally understandable.

I will gladly take the blame.

Mushroom Bread Pudding

Adapted from

1 loaf crusty country-style white bread
1/4 cup olive oil
4 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 large garlic clove, minced

6 tablespoons butter
1 pound assorted fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced celery
1 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

3 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
8 large eggs
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Cut bottom crust and short ends off bread and discard, or use for toast. Cut remaining bread with crust into 1-inch cubes (about 10 cups loosely packed). Place cubes in very large bowl. Add oil, thyme, and garlic; toss to coat. Spread cubes out on large rimmed baking sheet and season with salt and pepper. Bake until golden and slightly crunchy, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes, depending on your oven. Return toasted bread cubes to same very large bowl.

Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, onion, celery, and bell pepper. Sauté until soft and juices have evaporated, about 15 minutes. Add sautéed vegetables and parsley to bread cubes and lightly mix.

Whisk heavy cream, eggs, salt, and ground pepper in large bowl. Mix custard into bread and vegetables. Transfer stuffing to prepared dish. Sprinkle cheese over.

Bake stuffing at 350, uncovered, until set and top is golden, about 1 hour. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.