Asparagus, Bacon, and Gruyere Frittata | Cooking With Bells On

My First CSA + Asparagus, Bacon, and Gruyère Frittata

A strange dichotomy has taken root within me lately. It has been nearly a year and a half since I moved to New York, a city I love without rival and have dreamed of living in since the first time I read Catcher in The Rye. Yet, despite the fact that I now call this urban capital home, my values are shifting in a decidedly rural direction. I live in the city that never sleeps, but I generally don’t stay up much past sunset and wake with the crack of dawn; outside my front door is nothing but concrete for miles in each direction, but I yammer on about needing to go to the park just so I can dig my toes into the grass; this city grants me access to any ingredient in the world, but I still dream of having a garden of my own to grow fresh, unadulterated produce.

My shifting values don’t imply that I’m leaving New York any time soon – I still am in love with this city and all its diversity and opportunity – but they do increasingly require that I make a special effort to integrate my fantasy of living off in the mountains with the reality of city life. To that end, I’m making a habit of early weekend morning trips to Prospect Park, where I can let my dog off leash to chase squirrels with abandon as I relax to the soundtrack of chirp-inflected silence. Critically, I also try to get my food from local farms (and ranches, and fisheries) as much as possible.*

Farmer’s markets are a good way begin sourcing food locally, but recently I decided to deepen my commitment by joining a CSA. A CSA, short for Community Supported Agriculture, is basically a co-op that you can buy into wherein you become a shareholder in a farm (or community of farms) for a season. You generally pay up front, helping to finance the farm, and collect dividends weekly or biweekly as the produce is harvested.** The benefits to this sort of arrangement are many. With our CSA, we get a weekly delivery of vegetables (sometimes so many that we have to preserve some for future use), the assortment of which is more diverse than can be found in most grocery stores. The vegetables are incredibly fresh, bright in color and crisp in texture. And, top top it all off, our CSA saves us money. Though the $750 charge up front is a hard pill to swallow, spread out over the 25 weeks we’ll be receiving a produce box from now until November, it has actually cut our produce bill down to only $30 a week.

Interesting as this all is (to me, and only me, right?), I know you all really just want to know about that tasty frittata from the picture I teased you with up at the top. Okay, fair enough. That particular dish came together the night I brought my first CSA box home. In the basket, along with mountains of fresh greens and rhubarb, was a bundle of beautiful purple asparagus and a few green stalks they were calling “walking Egyptian onion”. I rummaged around the freezer to find some bacon, and called the boyfriend to pick up some eggs and Gruyère cheese on his way home from work. Served alongside some salad (with radishes also from our CSA), the frittata made a quick and satisfying dinner. I’m giving you this recipe on a Friday so that you can dazzle your guests (or hung-over roommates) with it for brunch this weekend.

Tweet: This Asparagus, Bacon, and Gruyere Frittata from #cookingwithbellson looks perfect for brunch! via @kemayell http://ctt.ec/v42cN+
Tweet: This Asparagus, Bacon, and Gruyere Frittata from #cookingwithbellson looks perfect for brunch! via @kemayell http://ctt.ec/v42cN+

*I’m sure some of this sounds super bourgeois, but my intentions are serious and humble. Locally sourced ingredients will have been pulled from the ground more recently, meaning that they’ve lost fewer of their nutrients on the way to my plate. The mustard greens I buy in the spring from a farmer in New Jersey will be fresher than those I buy in the winter from a farmer in Chile, so they’ll taste better, too.

**Or isn’t harvested – if the farm fails that season due to drought or flood, you take a loss on your investment.

Asparagus, Bacon, and Gruyère Frittata

Serves 2

Frittatas are extremely versatile. Feel free to substitute whatever looks good at your farmer’s market or grocery store. Swap out the asparagus for spinach, fresh or frozen peas, kale, or basil, and toss in some peppers or tomatoes if you like. The spring onions can be exchanged for yellow onions, shallots, or thinly sliced leeks. I love asparagus and Gruyère together, but Parmesan, feta, or even cheddar would work equally well. Have fun getting creative and let me know how you make your frittata in the comments!

Ingredients:

4 slices bacon, cut into roughly 1/3″ pieces

2 tbsp butter

2 spring onions or 1 shallot, thinly sliced

large handful asparagus, trimmed then sliced into 1/2″ pieces

1/4 cup water

5 eggs, beaten and seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper

2 oz Gruyère cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350°

Render the bacon: Heat a nonstick pan over high heat until water dropped on the surface of water evaporates on contact. Fry the bacon until crisp, 2-3 minutes. Pour off the excess fat (you can reserve it for a later use like I do) and wipe the pan clean with a paper towel.

Cook the vegetables: Place the pan back on medium high heat and add the butter and onions. Saute for 2 minutes or so until the onions are translucent and a bit brown around the edges. Add the asparagus and the water, then bring the water to a simmer to blanch the asparagus. When most of the water has cooked off, add the bacon back to the pan.

Add the eggs and bake: Pour the beaten eggs over the vegetables and bacon, then scatter the grated cheese over-top the eggs. You want to set about 70% of the eggs here, so occasionally tuck your spoon under the bottom of the eggs and tilt the pan, letting the uncooked eggs run to the bottom of the pan. After about 3 minutes, move the pan to the oven. Cook for 5 minutes.

Serve: Carefully (that pan is hot!) remove the pan from the oven. The eggs should be thoroughly opaque and a little puffier than you last saw them. Allow the pan to cool for one to two minutes to finish setting the eggs. Run a spatula around and under the eggs to release the frittata from the pan, then slide the frittata onto a large plate. Slice into wedges and serve.

 

 

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Smoky Lentil Soup | Cooking With Bells On

Smoky Lentil Soup

Given the name of my website, I hope the fact that I love cooking is self-evident. I love that name I came up with, Cooking with Bells On. I love the exuberance and integrity that it implies, as well as the allusions that the distinctly British phrase draws to my heritage. Most of all, I love that the title emphasizes the act of cooking, rather than the food I cook, as the process is for me just as important as the product it bears forth.

What the moniker doesn’t covey is that my love for cooking reaches out past my own kitchen. Sure, the photos I post here are, for the time being, shot in my own apartment, and the ingredients are prepared by my own hands. But what really gets me excited isn’t my own cooking that I document here – it’s the cooking that I might enable you to do on your own. Every time I hear that one of you has learned a new technique through one of my recipes, or simplified your cooking using one of my kitchen hacks, I get a little thrill.

Selfishly, I want to keep having those thrilling moments of shared kitchen success, and so whenever possible I try and ask my friends and family for blog post ideas that would be helpful to them. To make this easier for all the rest of you, I’ve built a suggestion box into the website. Look up to the top of your page – there it is, hanging up over the title banner! Of course, you can continue to bounce ideas off of me on Facebook or Twitter, but now you also have the option of submitting ideas or questions to me directly on this website.

This post came from a conversation with my amazing friend Sarah, who was thinking about making lentil soup for dinner with a friend. Upon her suggestion, I was instantly reminded of the lentil soup I had made a few weeks ago. When I made that last batch, I was inspired by Southwestern flavors – flavors that remind me of home – and so I used smoky bacon, earthy charred poblanos, and toasty ground cumin. Feel free to incorporate your own inspiration into this recipe, which is a wonderful canvas to explore different flavor profiles. Substitute celery for the poblanos and add thyme and tomatoes for a Mediterranean take, or add some chipotles in adobo for a spicier flavor.

Tweet: I can't wait to try the Smoky Lentil Soup on #cookingwithbellson! via @kemayell  http://ctt.ec/VD879+Tweet: I can’t wait to try the Smoky Lentil Soup on #cookingwithbellson! via @kemayell http://ctt.ec/VD879+

Smoky Lentil Soup

Serves 6

This recipe makes a lot of soup, as I believe all soup recipes should. Making a giant pot of soup that you can enjoy over the course of several days makes dinner so much easier for the nights that follow. At home, I like to vary the garnishes night by night. We might have avocado and salsa over the soup one night, yogurt and cilantro the next, and eggs (poached in the soup) the last.

You could make this recipe vegan by skipping the bacon (substitute 2 tsp coconut or olive oil to cook the vegetables in) and using a good quality vegetable stock.

Ingredients:

2 poblano peppers

4 strips bacon, cut into 1/4″-1/2″ peices

2 large carrots, peeled, 1/4″ dice

1 large onion, 1/4″ dice

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 tsp ground cumin (or 1 tbsp whole cumin seeds, toasted and ground)

3 cups lentils, preferably French green lentils (de Puy)

2 bay leaves

1 quart chicken stock + 2 cups water

1 tsp apple cider vinegar (or other vinegar of choice):

olive oil, for garnish

minced cilantro, for garnish

Char the poblanos: Turn the gas flame on your stove up to high heat. Using tongs, place one poblano pepper over the flames and allow to char. Rotate as each side blackens until the entire pepper has charred, about 5 minutes. Remove to a tinfoil-lined baking sheet and wrap the pepper in the foil to steam. Repeat with second pepper. Rinse the charred peppers under water to remove the blackened skin. Dice the peppers to approximately the same size as the carrots and onions (discarding seeds and stem).

Render the bacon: Heat a large dutch oven or pot over high heat. Add the bacon and cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon to a paper towel and reserve for garnish.

Sweat the vegetables: Turn the heat down to medium-high and add the diced carrots, onion, and poblano. Season liberally with salt and pepper, and add the cumin. Sweat* the vegetables until they begin to soften (3-5 minutes), then add the lentils, bay leaves, chicken stock, and water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes, until the lentils are cooked through but not mushy.

Blend the lentils: Using a stick blender, blend the lentils for about 30 seconds. Most of the lentils will be left intact, but the ones that have been blended will thicken the soup and give it body. Alternatively, process 1/3 of the cooked lentils in a conventional blender or food processor until smooth, then return to the pot.

Finish the soup: Add the vinegar at the end of the cooking process, then taste and reseason if necessary (I added more salt at the end). Serve the soup and garnish with olive oil, cilantro, and the reserved bacon.

*To sweat vegetables is essentially to sauté them without allowing them to take on any color. It is important that the vegetables be well salted, so that they shed enough water to avoid caramelization. If you find that your vegetables are beginning to color more than you would like, put a lid on the pot and let them steam a bit.

 

 

Coffee-Chipotle Braised Beef Shanks | Cooking With Bells On

Coffee-Chipotle Braised Beef Shanks

This is a post that’s been a long time coming. Months ago, back in the dreaded polar vortex of winter, I made up a recipe for braised beef shanks that was a total home run. Unbelievably tender, falling-off-the-bone meat stewed in a spicy broth redolent of molé was, at the time, a seasonally appropriate alternative to my weekly batches of chili. The recipe was so good it caught me off guard, prompting me to send shamelessly bragging photos to my family back in Texas. When those photos went viral within our small text-message clan, I knew I had a winner on my hands.

Both my father and my younger sister’s boyfriend begged me for the recipe. I managed to walk my Dad through the process over the phone, and his version – substituting short ribs for the shanks – just about knocked his loafers off. As for my sister’s boyfriend, well, I promised I would get him the recipe, swore I would put it up on the blog. But then winter turned to spring, and soon enough braised beef shanks just seemed to be a bit much for the evenings following short-sleeved afternoons.

Last week I finally decided that it was about time I got this recipe up on the blog – it would be unfair to continue to keep it to myself. Excited though I was to share it, I was sort of dreading the process of making the dish. Somehow, with several months’ passing since the last time I’d created the dish, I arranged the idea of the recipe to be quite complicated in my head. When I got to work making the dish for dinner on Saturday, though, I found myself caught off guard again. The recipe, to my delight, was so much simpler than I had recalled, requiring only 10 minutes by the oven and an absolute minimum of chopping up front, followed by several hours of deep involvement with my latest novel as the beef simmered and stewed away.

As easy and tasty as this dinner was, I have to admit that dinner the following night was even easier, and just as good – these braised beef shanks are so genius when it comes to leftovers. Sunday night I reheated the beef and shredded it to serve inside little lettuce-cup tacos. Alongside some pico de gallo, guacamole, and sour cream, this made for an amazing dinner that required very little work. As an alternative, you could further reduce the braising liquid to a rich and sticky sauce, coat the shredded beef shanks in it, and serve the messy concoction on top of some potato buns. Actually, I think I might make this dish again next week so I can do just that.

Coffee-Chipotle Braised Beef Shanks

Serves 4-6

If you like to make use of a slow cooker to prepare simple dinners during the day, consider this recipe your new best friend. After broiling the beef shanks, combine all the ingredients in your slow cooker and set on low to cook while you are gone for the day.

Oh, and if you liked this recipe for beef shanks, you might want to check out my recipe for lamb shanks as well!

Ingredients:

4 lbs. beef shanks

1 yellow onion, sliced into half-moons

1/2 cup water

1/2 pot (about 1 cup) strongly-brewed coffee

3-4 garlic cloves, chopped

3 dried chipotles, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes and chopped

1 tbsp lime juice

2 tbsp fish sauce (substitute Worcestershire sauce)

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp butter

Broil the beef shanks: Arrange beef shanks on a foil-lined baking sheet and season liberally with salt. Place sheet on the highest rack in your oven and broil for 7 minutes. Remove the baking sheet, carefully flip the shanks, and season the fresh side. Return to oven and broil for another 5 minutes. Scatter the onions across the bottom of a dutch oven (or other large oven-safe dish with a lid/foil) and add the 1/2 cup water.

Make the braising liquid: In a blender, combine the coffee, garlic, chipotles, lime juice, fish sauce, soy sauce, and olive oil. Blend until smooth.

Braise: Preheat the oven to 300ºF. Place the beef shanks over-top the onions in the dutch oven. Don’t worry if they will not fit perfectly – as the dish cooks they will break down and all find a place eventually. Pour the sauce over the shanks, and place the dish in the oven. Cook for 2 hours, turning the beef shanks every half hour or so. After the two hours have passed, turn the oven down to 200ºF and continue to braise for about another 1.5 hours, until the beef is very tender and easily falls away from the bone. (Note: If you are cooking early in the day, you can instead turn your oven down to its lowest heat setting and let the beef shanks hang out there all day.)

Reduce the sauce: Remove the shanks and place on a baking sheet in the oven to keep warm. Place the dutch oven over high heat on the stove and bring to a boil. Continue to boil until the braising liquid has reduced to a thicker sauce, adding the butter at the end to finish. Strain the sauce (optional) and serve over the shanks.