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collard greens

Shelter from the storm

PlatedSupper

I felt like cooking tonight. I’ve felt like cooking more lately, but haven’t had a lot of time. Still on a heavy schedule of work and travel, with little energy or time left at the end of the day. It’s not smart, because I enjoy cooking and get frustrated and guilt-ridden when I don’t do it. I haven’t been completely idle, but didn’t feel like going to the trouble of photographing old standards and improvisations when I made time for them among the takeout. Tonight, though, I thought I should make time for a post as well as for a home-cooked dinner.

JustOutofOven

You may have heard that a major storm blew through the New York metropolitan area on Monday night. New Jersey took the brunt of former-hurricane Sandy, but New York suffered quite a hit as well. Here at our house, we were fine; we suffered no structural damage, never lost electricity or cable, and simply had to sit through a windy night at home. The next morning, while others not far away were sorting through burned remains of houses or walking scores of blocks to find a place with electricity to charge phones and check in with loved ones, I was logged on to work from my home office and Scott was walking through the neighborhood taking pictures of downed trees.

Collards

We were lucky, and we were a bit stunned. It felt a bit like we’d just had a major explosion blow past us — we were safe but we couldn’t shake the idea that more shrapnel was going to fly through, and we couldn’t stop looking at the footage of those who had suffered enormous losses. We were taking phone calls from a friend who lived just inside the Manhattan “dead zone” without power or heat, helpless to go fetch her because public transportation was suspended while the tunnels were pumped dry of the floodwater that had filled them. We were watching our East Coast friends update Facebook — “Still no electricity, going to stay with a friend in Brooklyn.” “Waited 2 hours in line for gas.” “Still no email at the office, call me at home.” — while at the same time our friends in other parts of the country posted updates on Halloween parties, going to see movies, the mundane things of life. It was surreal to try to keep on working at my normal job, from home — something I’ve done hundreds of times, only now I was doing it because I wasn’t willing to wait 2 hours for a bus into the city, not because I had a vet appointment at midday.

BrowningGarlic

A couple of nights this week we got takeout or went out to eat, partly to support the neighborhood economy, partly because by the time I was done with my work I was ravenous and too impatient to run out for groceries and then cook. But tonight I wanted to make something comforting, something that felt more like normal life. Today was the closest to normal that we’ve had all weel. My Manhattan friend got her electricity back last night (or this morning if you’re picky, 1 a.m.). Our subway line was back in service as if nothing had ever gone wrong. It seemed time to reclaim the normal and everyday. So I made macaroni and cheese and collard greens.

MacAndGooeyCheese

The mac and cheese is a Martha Stewart recipe I’ve made many times before (though I’m a little irritated at Martha’s company right now for sacking the Everyday Food crew, including a friend — but it’s still the best recipe I have). I didn’t have enough whole milk so thinned it out with water. Voila, skim milk, but I didn’t cook the white sauce quite as long as I should have to let it thicken, so the resulting baked dish was a bit liquidy but will set up more as it cools, and will reheat beautifully. And with plenty of cheese, it still tasted fantastic.

CookedCollards2

The collard greens are a simple braise, with garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and were a nice complement to the rich and gooey mac and cheese.

PlatedSupper2

If you’d like to help out the Sandy recovery efforts, here are some links. There’s a lot that still needs to be done before residents of the area will be back to normal, especially those in the hard-hit areas of the Rockaways, Staten Island, Lower Manhattan, New Jersey and Long Island.

Mujadarah, Slap Chop, and a question for you

PlatingCloseUp

Still not back in the groove of trying new recipes yet, but I am cooking. Tonight was mujadarah, with collard greens on the side.

AddingRedLentils

I used red lentils this time, which makes for a slightly creamier and smoother dish. Green lentils keep their shape and texture more distinctly; red lentils melt in a bit.

AddingToRice

I’ve started using whole allspice, cloves and cumin seeds as well as a cinnamon stick. I got curious about how well it would work, and I have all these allspice berries. It can be a bit tricky to dig out the whole spices before serving, but the cloves are the only ones reliably hard to find, and they’re not going to hurt your teeth if you bite down on one.

OnionsInOven

I’ve also taken to using a lot less olive oil for the onions than the original recipe calls for. They still roast quite well. I start out with this amount of onion:

SlicedOnions

And end up with this much at the end.

RoastedOnions

For a green vegetable accompaniment I made collard greens. I start by sauteeing chopped garlic in olive oil, then adding a bit of kosher salt and red pepper flakes. Then I toss in the chopped collard leaves and toss to coat with the oil and mix in the flavorings; after a few minutes of that I add a little bit of water, put on the lid, turn down the heat, and let it steam for about 15 minutes, more or less.

CollardsToSteam

I thought this might be a good opportunity to try out the Slap Chop, which I received at the office holiday white elephant gift party. (I was only a little bitter about losing out on the bottle of Brooklyn bourbon.) I was pretty skeptical about the merits of this device. I’m kind of in Alton Brown‘s camp here: if it isn’t a multitasker, I’m not sure there’s room for it in my kitchen. And he has a WAY bigger kitchen than I do.

SlapChop

The Slap Chop promises to be “your all purpose chopper for all your chopping needs.” This is only true if all the items you need to chop can fit beneath the blades — about a two-inch clearance. So if you have something larger to chop, like an onion, you have to cut it down to size, which means for a lot of food you’re already going to have to get out a regular knife.

SlapChop

I decided to try it on some garlic, four cloves of which fit easily within the chopper lid. (You don’t need to use the lid; you could place it right on the cutting board, so you could chop things that are broader than the base of the device but not taller.) I pushed the plunger several times and ended up with well-chopped garlic, not perfectly uniform — but no worse than I usually get it with a knife.

GarlicAfterSlapChop

I think the garlic chopping went more quickly than if I’d used a knife. Of course, then I had to disassemble it to wash. It’s not especially difficult to wash, and I wouldn’t say it’s any less safe to handle than a sharp chef’s knife, but it does take up a lot more space. And a chef’s knife can also be used for chopping larger items, slicing, peeling (well, you do have to be careful with that, other knives are better but it can be done), smashing a clove of garlic, and doing more precise cuts. The Slap Chop can’t do any of that. So if you really like to have lots of gadgets around, you may like this one, but if your space or funds are limited I’d recommend investing in a good kitchen knife and the time it takes to learn to use it skillfully.

SlapChopInDrainer

Anyway, this is a nice hearty meal for a cold night, and it’s totally vegan. Which means you can either enjoy it as part of a vegan lifestyle, or feel virtuous enough to eat half a pint of Ben & Jerry’s for dessert later. Not that I am talking about anybody in particular.

PlatedMujadarah2

So now I have a question for you. Just because I think the Slap Chop is a little silly, that doesn’t mean all kitchen gadgets and tools are silly. In a few months I’ll receive my “Jeopardy!” winnings, and should have a little bit left over from taxes and paying debts to have a little fun. What are your favorite kitchen tools and gadgets? If you had an extra few dollars in your budget — maybe even $100 or $200 — what’s the next kitchen item you’d buy, and why? Please share your ideas in the comments section.