Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Butter-Basted One-Pan Green Beans

They don't look like much, but they are perfection. 
 I feel like there’s kind of a backlash against the crisp-tender vegetables we all learned to love in the 1990s, when we were recovering from the grey-mushy vegetables of our 1970s childhoods. Living on our own, we learned to undercook our vegetables, and it was a revelation: bright broccoli that resisted your fork; green green beans that squeaked under your molars; crisp asparagus that had shared only a whispered moment with steam; planks of eggplant zebra-striped from the grill (ew, my least favorite). Vegetables were colorful and crunchy, and we loved them like that! Until we didn’t. Until, at some Ma and Pa Greek place, we ordered the long-braised green beans in a pool of oily tomato sauce and thought, “Yum.” Overcooked was the new undercooked! We learned to roast broccoli until it went black and soft. We learned to braise it “forever” in a salty bath of olive oil. We learned to make hollandaise sauce for our asparagus, as if we held in our buttery hands the first edition of the Joy of Cooking. Fat was the new fat-free! (Although my philosophy has always been that fat in the service of vegetables is a fine thing.)

And it was good.

I mean, I still don’t want to be served grey peas or stinking boiled cauliflower. I still want my sugar-snaps raw or just barelybrightened in the steamer. And I still only briefly cook green beans if I’m serving them with dip. But this recipe turns out the most perfectly tender, perfectly buttery beans you can imagine. Basically, by the time the water’s gone, they’re cooked through (But you can adapt this to make them how you like.) I make them like this all the time now, using cheater pre-prepped beans from Trader Joe's. And even our Ben, who has some sort of bean-squeaking ISSUE, loves these beans. And I love that they’re pan-to-table—no colander, no serving dish. Because I am the laziest person who ever lived.

Cheater beans. You'll need two bags of these. I promise I'll switch to local and organic when the season changes.

Long live the just-right vegetable! Just don’t be shy with the butter or salt. But you knew I was going to say that.

p.s. Book news! Please come to one of these Catastrophic Happiness readings, if you can! All free and open to the public.
4/7 8:00 p.m. Amherst Books Amherst, MA
4/10 7:00 p.m. Book Court Brooklyn, NY
4/28 8:00 p.m. The Ashfield Lake House Ashfield, MA

Butter-Basted One-Pan Green Beans
Serves 4. It should serve 6, but we always eat them all.

Adapted from this genius Food52 Genius Recipe. They use stock instead of water and (even) more butter. Feel free! Also, they recommend optional parmesan for serving, and how could that be bad?

1 ½ pounds haricot verts or regular green beans, stem ends pinched off if they’re still on
3-4 tablespoons butter
¼ cup water
2 cloves crushed garlic, peeled
¾ teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
Lemon juice and zest, to taste (optional)
Snipped dill, chives, or tarragon to taste (optional)

Put everything but the lemon and herbs in a very large, lidded skilled over medium-high heat, and cover it. Once the mixture comes to a boil, turn the heat down so that it simmers steadily, and use tongs to mix the green beans around occasionally, so that everyone gets a chance to be where the butter is. Eventually, the liquid will evaporate and the beans will be buttery and done—start checking them at around 8 minutes and turn the heat off when they’re cooked to your liking. Add a squeeze of lemon, a scraping of lemon zest, and/or herbs, if you’re using them, and taste the beans for salt and other seasonings. Serve right away, or at room temperat

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Green, Green Pea Soup with Ginger and Cilantro

Spring! After a disturbingly anticlimactic winter that never quite fully arrived, the season of the long evenings is upon us. It is the best. As I've doubtless mentioned a million times, my favorite time of the week is Thursday night--everything stretched deliciously out ahead still, not one second of weekend yet passed by--which makes early spring my favorite time of the year. As soon as the trees blossom, I turn into the gloomy, dying Romantic poet version of myself: "Why hath lilac's bloom so short a moment when no sooner doth it unfurl in all its perfumed purpleness already the brown scent of decay is upon us! Oh death! Oh fleeting beauty!" And everyone has to be like, "Shut up and enjoy the fucking flowers." And I can, but only kind of. Because Ben is driving. He is practically packing up the car, waving merrily in the rear view mirror. "Bye, Ma! Thanks for the childhood!"Oh fleeting beauty! 

A dear friend of Birdy's slept over, and brought with him a dear friend of Strawberry's: Piggy the Pig-Shaped Pig.
Wait. Existential detour. Where was I headed? Pea soup. But seriously. Your kids are all driving too, doubtless, and/or turning thirteen, sixteen, bending to kiss your forehead consolingly on their way out the literal and metaphorical door. Who even knows what they're up to, these large and fragrant people. A friend and I were talking recently about our kids and sex and the internet, wondering if there was a website of kind of gentle, realistic, feminist beginner porn--more curiosity and exploration than normative grossness--you know, for the young people. (I'm reminding myself now of when the kids were little and debilitated by narrative tension, and I just wanted videos for them where nothing actually happened: like, a kid goes to a birthday party, gets a goody bag, and happily eats a piece of cake. The end.) Um, there's not. And I have regretted our Google search ever since. 

Sorry. An inside joke for longtime readers. (Ben's. . . fifth?. . . birthday pinata. It was shaped like a heart.)
Anyhoo. Pea soup. Because despite the feeling of spring, you still have to cheat on the produce for a while, unless what you're really craving is one-inch chives. That I can help you with. But otherwise, frozen peas are easy and delicious and they have a spring feeling about them, even though you can get and eat them all day long. Besides, though, some of the days are still cold and rainy--like today, for instance--and soup is a welcome thing. Especially this nice, easy one, with its velvety, aromatic deliciousness.

Green, Green Pea Soup with Ginger and Cilantro
Serves 4

Mint is the customary companion to peas, but this bright green soup is scented with ginger and cilantro instead. And a swirl of creamy-rich coconut milk boosts the yumminess even higher. Frozen peas are easy, good, and reliable.

2 tablespoons butter
1 smallish yellow onion, chopped
1 teaspoon each finely chopped ginger and garlic
Kosher salt
3 large sprigs cilantro (plus more for garnish)
1 fist-sized potato, peeled and diced
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth (I like Rapunzel Vegetable Bouillon cubes, the plain sea-salt kind)
1 (16-ounce) bag of frozen petite peas
1 cup coconut milk or cream, shaken (plus more for drizzling)
Lime wedges for serving

Heat the butter in a soup pot over medium-low heat and sauté the onion, ginger, and garlic until the onion is just getting translucent, around 3 minutes. Add the cilantro, potato, and broth, bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the potato is tender, around 20 minutes.

Add the peas and cook for another 6 or 7 minutes, until the peas are bright green and tender, then stir in the coconut milk (save a few whole peas for garnish, if you like). Puree the soup with a stick blender or in batches, very carefully, in a blender (for a silky-smooth texture, you can pass it through a food mill). Taste the soup for salt and serve, garnished with the reserved peas, a few cilantro leaves and a drizzle of coconut milk. If the flavor needs punching up (it may well not), a squeeze of lime is a nice way to do it.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Book, other books and things, and even a video game!

Did you want to see the spiffy new blurb by CLAIRE MESSUD that's right on the front cover? Well. You know what you have to do. (CLAIRE MESSUD! Right?)
So. This book comes out in one month. I know you know this, but preordering a book sends a message to the sales team. And that message is: People have preordered the book! Which means that they won't remainder it before it even gets published. I want to say you should buy it because you will love it! And you might. I really, really hope you do! But really, you should buy it to spare me the aching, squirrely humiliation of it not getting bought. Is that wrong to say? Please preorder it, and please bribe your friends to do the same. (A nice bottle of Pinot, I'm thinking, or some Fiddle Faddle.) Also, please ask your local booksellers about it! But if they don't carry it or plan to, and won't even deign to order it for you, and are like, "Catastrophic what?" you totally don't need to leave a message on my answering machine about that! Even if you think it might be helpful! Just saying. 

Also? I did the audio recording. Which gave me and the audio producer a great new get-rich-quick idea: Jews Read Your Favorite Books on Tape. Harry Potter, for example, but nasal, with a New York accent, and interrupted by laughing at my own jokes! You will love it.
This book is so dear and so funny that after I went to Cammie's reading, she sent me an email thanking me for laughing so much, and I had to resist the urge to interpret it as asking "What on earth is your problem?"
Okay, but enough about my book (which you have now pre-ordered, no?). Because my friend and neighbor Cammie's middle-grade book is out now, and Birdy and I love it immeasurably much. Just My Luck. The downtrodden main character is so utterly, heartbreakingly lovable that all I could say when I was done with the book was, "Promise me this will be a series." Also, because I have a hard time with the concept of fiction, and because there are three sons including one with autism, like there is in their very own family, I have a hard time not asking after things that are in the book that are not from real life. "How's your head injury?" I ask her husband Mike, every time I see him, and he indulges me by nodding slowly. "Better."

You should also read this book (I could not stop reading aloud from it) and this book (crushingly beautiful) and this book (a short, gorgeous, slow-paced stunner) and this book (which Birdy loved, and which was written by one of our friends from this very blog!).

Also, weirdly, I'm recommending this video game, Monument Valley, which we saw a little display about at the fantastic Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York, and which Ben is now obsessed with. He says this: "It's very M.C. Escher-y. You have to be able to manipulate the perspective in different landscapes to move your character along. And there's also kind of a storyline, but it's not super plot-driven, it's more design-driven, and each level has its own aesthetic theme that carries throughout. It's easily the nicest game I've ever played, visually." Ben actually even paid for higher levels, even though he's notoriously cheap, so there you go.


Birdy turned 13. WTF?

And finally? This. Lest you think it's all Martha Stewart all the time around here. Also, as a local friend asked out, when I posted this on Facebook, "Aren't there supposed to be *six* donuts in an Atkins bag?" Yeah, well. We call that the "finder's fee."