thai beef stir-fry with chiles and basil

dishes like these are magic. when you’re uncomfortably wedged between a pressing to-do list and an ominous tummy-rumble, recipes that come together this quickly are a lifesaver. just like this one and this one, they prove that fresh, wholesome, delicious food is possible even on a deadline. it’s fast food, no drive-through window necessary. 

the list of ingredients is mighty short but still somehow creates a bowlful of savory, flavorful comfort food. like i said: magic.

Thai Beef Stir-Fry with Chiles and Basil
Adapted from Orangette
Makes 2-3 servings 

4 large garlic cloves, chopped
4 to 5 Thai (aka bird’s eye) or serrano chiles, sliced
pinch of salt
1 Tbsp. oil
6 to 8 oz. ground beef
1 Tbsp. fish sauce, or more to taste
pinch of sugar
¼ cup chicken stock or water
2 large handfuls of basil leaves
jasmine rice, fried eggs, and lime wedges, to serve

  1. Stir together the garlic, chiles, and salt. Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat, add 1 tablespoon oil, and add the garlic, chiles, and salt. Stir-fry for a few seconds until fragrant; then add the beef. Continue to cook, stirring, until the beef is cooked through and just starting to brown. Add 1 tablespoon fish sauce and the sugar. Add the basil and stock or water, and stir just until the basil is wilted. Remove from the heat. 
  2. Scoop the rice into bowls, and then divide the beef and its juices over the top. Crown with the fried eggs. Serve immediately, with a good squeeze of lime.
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ugly egg salad

egg salad is not, even in its traditional form, particularly attractive. or even appetizing, necessarily. there is a curried one they serve in finger sandwiches at a tea shop near my house that is quite nice, and i’m sure i’ve had others along the way that aren’t offensive, but by and large i think of egg salad as a squidgy, gloppy mess you might find in a sandwich at the bottom of your lunchbag, smushed and probably a little stinky.


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but this one’s different! i promise.

first of all, it’s uglier.

secondly, it’s mixed in to the brim with a bunch of beautiful-tasting things: sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions, fresh dill, kicky dijon mustard, a squeeze of lemon.

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the play of flavors is so fun to eat. the textures of the mushrooms and the hard-boiled eggs mimic each other, there are soft pockets of sweetly browned onion bits, and the dill and lemon brighten everything up. piled on a soft slice of deep dark rye bread, or sandwiched between two, you’ve got the perfect one-handed meal. it’s just the thing to pack up for a springtime picnic, along with a jug of ice-cold sweet tea maybe, and a box of fried chicken. it’s also perfectly wonderful to eat while sitting barefoot on the porch, with a book in the other hand and soaking in the warm sunshine that has gleefully made its return.

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Russian Egg and Mushroom Salad
Adapted from Saveur, via Orangette
Makes about 2 cups, or enough for 3 to 4 sandwiches

5 Tbsp. canola oil
1 lb. white button mushrooms, roughly chopped
½ medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
1/3 cup fresh dill, finely chopped (I bought a 1 oz. package and used all of it)
4 hard-boiled eggs, roughly chopped
¾ cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

  1. Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a 10” or 12” skillet over medium-high heat, and add the mushrooms. Cook, stirring often, until lightly browned, 14-16 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl, and set aside. Wipe out the skillet.
  2. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in the skillet over medium-high heat, and add the onion. Cook, stirring often, until the onions begin to soften; then reduce the heat to low and continue to cook until lightly caramelized, 10-15 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the mushrooms. Add the dill and eggs, and stir to mix.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, and lemon juice. Add about half of the dressing to the mushroom mixture, and toss until evenly combined. Taste, and add more dressing as needed. Season with salt and pepper and more lemon juice, if desired.

shots of the season

NEW YORK –

during the holidays, walking among the crowds in manhattan doesn’t feel as much like madness as it does christmas camaraderie. the shop windows are dressed up in their finest, and we all walk around with our eyes up and twinkling.

 

one day i’ll lace up some skates and carve lines in the ice here, but that night it was enough to stop by for just a few minutes and look down at the skaters on the rink – before cutting across times square to the theater to watch a broadway musical: my first.

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BOSTON –

twinkle lights wrapped the trees all up newbury street, making this lane of little brick storefronts all the more charming as we walked on through in the twilight. we had gone into a very fancy store and i had bought a headband lined with pretty green feathers, which the clerk carefully wrapped in tissue and placed into a little bag. i swung that bag the whole walk back like a little kid with a new favorite thing.


CANADA –

on the day my plane landed, flakes were coming down in the softest whispers. by the time we arrived on the street where my friend lived, everything had gotten a powdered sugar dusting of snow.


there is nothing like sunlight on freshly fallen snow.


SANTA MONICA –

on somewhat of a whim, i met some friends at montana avenue on a friday night, when they were having their now-annual holiday walk.

 

in between free samples of cake and tiny cups of prosecco, we stopped in some of the most beautifully curated home decor stores i’ve ever seen.

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LOS ANGELES –

and a bit closer to home, we are in the middle of a week of rain. but it is so much sweeter when downtown paints the showers in christmas lights.

the view is most charming from the doorway of pete’s café, where all our closest friends had gathered for a cozy dinner and a couple orders of caramel bread pudding, shared across the table.


the weather here is mild – it always is, relative to everywhere i’ve been – but it’s still cold enough for the kind of cooking that steams up the kitchen windows: mushrooms and garlic in the oven, coq au vin burbling on the stove, my favorite mashed potatoes, and a cranberry-caramel tart i carried over to a friend’s house – i’ve been busy this week.


and this morning i still had room for these nutmeg doughnut muffins.

there won’t be snow here this christmas, but there is always a way to arrange one’s own powdered sugar dusting.

 

soft lemon-buttermilk cookies

sometimes i wonder what i’d lay out behind the glass of a display case, if i ever got lucky enough to run my own bakery. they’d be delicious little things, of course; but more than that – they’d have to be lovely. the kind of thing you’d want to tuck into a pretty paper box and tote home or take away on a plate to the sunniest window seat. i’ve started a little mental project of collecting recipes that would be worthy of a spot in one’s professional repertoire. so far i’ve only come up with a handful – and that’s part of the fun for now – but i can already see these lemon-buttermilk cookies piled up in rows by the bakery counter.


these cookies are charming: delightfully round, soft in the mouth, and with a thin little cap of icing – they’re just bound to disappear if you leave them out for long enough. the lemon is there, as is the faint creaminess of the buttermilk, but it’s the texture especially that makes these addictively fun to eat.

maybe someday i’ll sell these in boxes by the dozen, sheets of crisp parchment gently lining each, but for now i am happy to bring them into the office on a work day and watch them disappear from the conference room table, only crumbs and post-it notes that say “yum” left behind in their wake.


Buttermilk Cookies with Lemon Zest

recipe from Gourmet, January 2008, as adapted by Orangette
Makes about 2 dozen small cookies

For the cookies:
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. (3 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup well-shaken buttermilk

For the glaze:
¾ cup confectioners sugar, sifted
1 ½ Tbsp. well-shaken buttermilk
¼ tsp. vanilla extract

  1. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, zest, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large mixing bowl, if you’re going to use a handheld mixer), beat the butter briefly, until creamy. Add the sugar, and beat until pale and fluffy. Add the egg, and beat well to mix. Add the vanilla, and beat briefly again. Mix in the flour mixture and the buttermilk in batches at low speed, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. The finished dough should be smooth and pale yellow.
  4. Drop the dough by level tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 1 ½ inches between each cookie. (If you have a very small ice cream scoop, one with a capacity of about 1 tablespoon, it’s perfect for this job.) Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until the cookies are puffed and their edges are golden, about 11 to 15 minutes per batch. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 1 minute; then transfer them to a wire rack.
  5. To prepare the glaze, whisk together the sifted confectioners sugar, buttermilk, and vanilla. The mixture should be very smooth, with no lumps of sugar visible. Brush or spoon the glaze onto the warm cookies. Allow cookies to sit on the rack until they are fully cooled and the glaze is set.

clear as day

in between some this american life and pop songs i will never admit to listening to (okay, not really: it was this one and this one)

in the midst of remembering an epic conversation last night and thinking ahead to a friend’s return home next week

between creaming butter and sugar to make this tart and zesting lemons to bake into a set of these cookies

to bring along to a dinner with friends tonight

i am remembering that life is good, life is good.

and sometimes even in a way that i can see.