Friday, January 13, 2017


Just about four years ago, an acupuncturist ordered me to make myself a pot of oxtail soup. I was about to bring my third child into the world, and I was tired. Every part of me ached, my winter coat no longer zipped over my belly, and the big, wise boy I was carrying was doing everything he could to avoid January in New York City; he stayed put for two extra weeks. I never did make that oxtail soup, but I always meant to, and there have been plenty of times when I could've used a bowl. The recipe Nana described to me was dead simple: simmer the oxtails gently for an extended period and season minimally at the end. That was it.

Recently, I asked my friend Min—who, like Nana, is from Korea—if she had a similar version. Turns out, she does, and she was just about to make some. To my text query she replied: “Oxtail soup recipe is really simple but your house will smell like a 🐮.” Later, she sent me a video of the brew bubbling away furiously on her stove like a jacuzzi. 

Min begins by soaking the oxtail to leech out the blood, then simmers the soup for two days, pausing overnight and adding back water to offset evaporation. The resulting broth is rich, milky, restorative. She seasons it with just salt, pepper, and scallions and uses the base for dumpling soup or ramen.

The excellent cookbook A New Way to Dinner, from the Food 52 team, contains an oxtail stew recipe of a more Italian flavor. As I set about cooking my first oxtails, I contemplated which route I wanted to take. 
I liked the purity and simplicity of Min’s and Nana’s version, the notion of allowing only time and hot water to coax the flavor and nutrients out of the meat and bones. When making stews, I usually take a rustic French approach, building flavor with lots of vegetables and aromatics and wine, the result being thick, dark, rich, and just a bit tomato-y. In the end I hewed to the familiar, because I wanted a heartier meal, one whose leftovers might be made into pasta sauce the next night.  

I started with meat from my favorite butcher, Fleishers, which sources humanely raised animals from New York State and can typically supply any part of the beast you'd like. At many good butchers, Fleishers included, you'll probably need to order the oxtail ahead of time; ask the butcher to cut the tail into segments along the joints. 

The size of the oxtail pieces will vary widely—just imagine a cow's tail (or don't) and you'll see why. Some were quite large, almost like osso buco. I recommend soaking them for a little over an hour to leach out impurities and blood. Be patient with the browning process, because it really does make a huge difference, and at the end of your long, slow braise you'll have intense flavor and richness. This is the sort of dish that benefits from a couple of days' rest in the refrigerator so the flavors meld together and the meat is truly falling off the bone. Don't be alarmed by the way the liquid congeals when it's cold, either—this is due to all the good gelatin and collagen that have infused the broth, and which will lend it a silky consistency. 

We'll enjoy this in Vermont this weekend as we build a fire with friends, play in the snow, and purposefully tune out current events. It's comfort in a bowl. 

Braised Oxtails 
Serves around 8 

  • 5-6 lbs. oxtails, cut into their natural segments
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 TBS olive oil
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 2"-3" batons
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped into small pieces
  • 2 leeks, white and pale green parts only, sliced thin
  • 1 small onion, chopped into small pieces
  • 3 parsnips, peeled and cut into 2"-3" batons
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 1 cup chicken, beef, or vegetable stock (water will do in a pinch)
  • Several rosemary sprigs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Several parsley stems
  • Several thyme sprigs (optional)
  • 2 TBS tomato paste
  • Rind of 1 orange cut into large swaths, white pith removed
  1. Put oxtails in a bowl and cover with cold salted water. Let soak in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours. Once soaked, remove them from water and dry each piece thoroughly and sprinkle the surface with salt and pepper. Using kitchen twine, make a little bundle with the rosemary, bay leaf, parsley stems, and thyme if using. Tie securely.
  2. Preheat oven to 325°. In a larch dutch oven or heavy pot, heat the olive oil and brown the meat on all sides, taking care not to crowd the pot (pieces should not touch) or burn the bottom. As each piece is browned, remove it to a platter. 
  3. Once you've browned the meat, pour off all but a couple tablespoons of the fat (there may be quite a bit). Put chopped leeks and onions into the pot and sauté them for a few minutes, until they're starting to wilt, then add carrots and cook for a few more minutes. Remove vegetables to a bowl—you will add them back, along with the parsnips (which soften faster), later in the cooking. 
  4. Return meat and juices, plus the herb bundle you made, to the pot and pour the wine and stock over it. Meat will most likely not be fully covered. Bring the liquid up to a boil, lower to a simmer, and allow to simmer uncovered for 10 minutes or so. Put the top on and transfer to the oven. Every 30 minutes or so, turn and rearrange the meat so all surfaces get a chance to be submerged. After about an hour, add the vegetables, including the parsnips and garlic, into the pot. Stir in the tomato paste. 
  5. Continue to cook in the oven, rotating meat and vegetables occasionally, for a total of around 3½ hours. Add the orange rind in the last hour or so of cooking. Once it's done and fork tender, taste the broth and add more salt, if it needs it. Either serve immediately or allow to cool somewhat at room temperature before transferring to a storage container and putting in the fridge to serve later. The oxtails can be refrigerated for up to four days, benefitting from the rest, and also freeze nicely. When chilled the fat will rise to the top, where it is easily scraped off and discarded. Before serving, remove herb bundle and orange rind. You can serve meat right on the bone or shred it and serve it with broth and vegetables. 
  6. Serve hot over egg noodles or on its own with good, crusty bread. 
Optional: make a gremolata with chopped parsley, minced garlic, and lemon zest, and salt to taste; sprinkle on top just before serving.


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Rustic Apple Strudel

A couple of weekends ago, we ushered in fall in upper Vermont and could have continued on to Canada if we’d wanted to, just to say we’d done it…but we didn’t. The leaves where we stayed in Warren were pretty much at peak, and the ferns along the mountain trails stood out green and electric against the changing maples. The air smelled like wood smoke at night, and there were ominous frost warnings, but we got a trace of sunburn during the day.

Ben will always be a sucker for the mountains of Vermont, since his family once had a farm up there. Five of them—six if you counted the dog—would pile into their wood-sided Wagoneer most Fridays and power up from Westchester; bathroom stops may or may not have been permitted. I would not have wanted to be in that car for anything, based on the fate of his sister's Teddy Ruxpin one particularly fraught trip (I think animatronic toys were banned from the car thereafter). The Sunday night returns were no doubt more subdued, after they’d tired themselves out running or skiing through the mountains, tearing along trails on their four-wheelers, helping their neighbor on his Christmas tree farm.

Naturally, since we were in the neighborhood of the old farm, we couldn't not pop in for a visit; it had been over 15 years since Ben had set foot on the soil there. So our family of five drove down the winding roads, along the Mad River for a stretch; past the old garage that he remembered new but which now looked all weathered and decrepit; past Farmer Frank’s ramshackle cabin. All the while we saw hand-painted signs pointing the way to Megan and John’s wedding…which, as fate would have it, was going down right on his family’s former property. I won’t get into too many details, but my children are forever scarred by the experience of crashing a stranger’s nuptials, and were plastered to the floor of the back seat as we rolled up to the upper field—just in time to see Megan, in crinoline and cowboy boots, emerge from the barn on her father’s arm. 

The next day turned colder, a bracing wind sluicing off of Lake Champlain down from Canada, and we went apple picking at the excellent Shelburne Orchards, in view of the lake. We bagged close to 40 pounds of fruit—about the same poundage as the 3 year old—as we shivered in our inadequate fleeces. We’re working our way through it, still. 

If Mari, our excellent au pair and friend from Germany, were still living with us, we’d have made greater progress by now. There are a lot of things we miss about Mari, and her apple strudel is one of them. Sometimes, on dark winter mornings, we would haul ourselves down to the kitchen to discover she’d baked us a surprise the night before, and suddenly the morning was more of a gift; that’s the kind of person she is. Fortunately, she hand-penned the recipe for me before she left. It comes by way of her friend Andrea, so it got translated from Czech to German and then to English by the time it reached my hands, and it virtually lacked instructions. I’ve had to hit Mari up for crucial details but haven’t had to change much. 

This is not one of your fancy apple strudels, which require lots of rolling and stretching of dough and turn out worthy of a window display in a Viennese bakery. This is one you can throw together with minimal ingredients one night when you have some extra apples and the oven already hot from dinner—and have a wonderful, quick breakfast the next morning. You can even make it with no sugar at all and substitute half whole wheat flour, and it's relatively healthy.   

This dough is forgiving to the extreme. I have a feeling the quantity of vinegar is somewhat responsible for this; it may seem like a lot, but trust me, this pastry works—it comes out light and flaky but still manages to hold the apples in securely. Sometimes when I make this, it’s a downright hideous, lumpen mass—the Jabba the Hutt of pastries. But somehow, after baking, it all seems to come together and the finished product is lovely in its rustic way. If only the world worked like this pastry does, we could solve a lot of problems. 

Rustic Apple Strudel
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour 
  • 1 stick cold butter (4 oz.), cut into small cubes

  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 4 medium apples 
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ⅓ cup slivered almonds or chopped walnuts
  • optional:   cup raisins, soaked for a few hours    

  1. In a food processor or by hand, cut the flour, butter, and salt together until it has a sandy consistency with some larger (lentil-sized) chunks of butter still in. 
  2. Whisk together egg and apple cider and quickly mix into the flour mixture until it just comes together; if it seems to dry, add a few drops of cold water. Shape into an oblong disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and allow to rest in the refrigerator at least an hour. 
  3. Preheat oven to 375. Peel apples and grate them, using the coarse holes on a grater, down to the cores (discard cores). Stir in sugar (omit if you prefer) and cinnamon. Before you transfer apple mixture to the dough, you’ll want to squeeze it lightly in your hands to remove excess liquid. 
  4. On a floured surface roll out the dough into an oblong rectangle/oval shape, using as much flour as it takes to keep the dough from sticking. Dough should be about ¼ inch thick, and rough edges are OK. 
  5. Carefully move the dough to a parchment- or silpat-lined baking tray. Working lengthwise, line up the apple mixture along one side of the dough, allowing a 1-inch margin. Fold the long side over until the edges meet, and then pinch or twist them together, empanada-style. If any holes spring up, just patch them shut with an extra scrap of dough. Place tray in the center rack of the oven and bake for around 40 minutes, or until the crust is nice and golden. Cool for a few minutes before cutting. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream, or nothing at all. 

Other things: 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Winter Survival

It's the little things that get us through winters like this, when the predominant sound some nights is the rumble and scrape of snowplows, and morning brings the shriek of car wheels spinning in icy parking spots. During blizzards, I've found myself looking forward to watching our neighbor's late-night shoveling routine, which involves pushing every flake of snow away from his house, off the curb, past the gutter, and all the way out into the middle of the street, where he deposits it into staggered piles reaching almost to the supermarket up the next block. After each heave, he stops to lean on his shovel and re-adjusts the old-fashioned cap balanced atop his head. Depending on how persistent the storm is, he might repeat this process several times in a night. For him, nearly getting whacked by speeding delivery men on mopeds is better than ending up with a permanent, trash-studded snow bank like the rest of the block. 

Being from parts farther south, I find that diversions such as these keep me going when those days in the minuses have knocked the breath out of me. There are other bright spots: the total makeover our brown and grey neighborhood undergoes with the first blanket of snow, and pouring a glass of big red wine as the sky goes dark and the flakes swirl in the streetlights. Slow braises, coffee with friends, root soup, warm boots, and, on the weekends, a trusty wood stove. Skiing with my girls and husband, and curling up to read "Busy Busy Town" with the warm two-year old. The weather forces us to huddle indoors together, bickering and joking our way through cabin fever but also sharing simple meals, 80's movies, and never-ending games of Monopoly. 

Lately, I’ve needed something not so seasonal and not so local to break me out of my winter torpor. And that something, very often, turns out to be as simple as a salad. It started with an obsessive stockpiling of avocados in all shades of ripeness, from impossibly hard and green in the fruit bowl, to nearly-there, to ebony outside/buttery inside in a special corner of the refrigerator. I’ve been dreaming about perfectly ripe avocados all winter, and of citrus fruits. And so they often find themselves tossed together in the salad bowl, tumbling around with a juicy dressing and handfuls of strong, dark greens, scattered with some toasted nuts and flaky sea salt. Give me your kale/Brooklyn jokes, but what I keep coming back to for this salad is finely sliced, raw lacinato (Tuscan) kale. Also good are arugula (but not the wimpy packaged kind) or watercress. You can use any good orange you happen to have, but a blood orange and a meyer lemon together are so much better. This duo, I’ve found, gives greater complexity of flavor than just a regular orange, and the taste is subtly different with each bite. Meyer lemons (which are sweeter than regular lemons) add surprising little bursts of tartness, and blood oranges have a hint of bitterness and greater depth of flavor that makes them more interesting than their paler cousins. All this brightness plays nicely against the suavity of the avocado, and for the crunch you can try toasted handfuls of sliced almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or pine nuts. 

Soup is nice, but this pop of color — and vitamins — is sometimes the strongest medicine on the bleakest days. 
Winter Rescue Salad
Serves 2


  • 1 medium-sized blood orange (or any other orange)
  • 1 small meyer lemon
  • 1 avocado, ripe but still firm
  • 2 fistfuls of dark, sturdy greens such as watercress or finely-chopped lacinato kale
  • 1 endive, thinly sliced, base and core removed
  • ¼ cup sliced almonds or pine nuts, lightly toasted in a skillet or oven
  • ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon white or red wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup grapeseed or extra-virgin olive oil
  • Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)
  • Freshly ground pepper
Instructions: 1. Prepare citrus: “Supreme” segments of orange and/or meyer lemon by first cutting off ends, then standing on one of the flat ends. Using a sharp knife, cut down and around to remove all the skin, including the bitter white layer. Now, holding the orange in hand, cut into the segments along the dividing membranes, to release them. Reserve supremed segments and pith, separately. If you're using meyer lemons, cut the segments into smaller pieces. (here's a video if you're confused)

"Supreming" citrus

2. Squeeze the leftover membrane into a small bowl to capture all the juice. Whisk in mustard and vinegar. Whisk in oil, gradually, until incorporated. Taste, and add more oil if you think dressing needs it — which will depend on the tartness of your fruit and how much juice it yields. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

3. Slice or dice avocado. If using lacinato (Tuscan) kale, cut it into very thin ribbons crosswise. You can include the stalk. Put greens and citrus segments together in a salad bowl. Drizzle the dressing over gradually, not using it all at once, so you can control the amount — you may have some left over. For sturdier greens, you can let the salad marinate in its dressing for a few minutes, up to a half hour. Next, add the avocado and endive and toss gently. Add a little more dressing if you wish. Serve on plates or in bowls, scattering nuts and flaky salt over top of the salad at the last minute.