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If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler


Not long ago, I enjoyed a particularly fantastic supper at Woodberry Kitchen which consisted of navy beans, torn bread, kale, turnips, and smoked red chile, all baked up in a petite cast iron pan and garnished with fresh pea shoots. It was delicious top to bottom, but those torn bread chunks studding the dish–so crisp, so well seasoned, so tasty–have haunted me ever since.

Though I have no wood-fired brick oven here at home, nor any cast iron pans for baking such a dish, I decided to try for an approximation with the ingredients I had on hand.

The stew I came up with was hearty and comforting, but it was ultimately a dish quite unlike the original, of course. It was plenty tasty, sure, but disappointment encroached at the dinner table. I had failed to capture the bread–both in texture and taste. It was good, but it wasn’t that bread. How did they do it?

So it’s back to the drawing board on that part. I’m not even sure what I’m looking for exactly–more of a crouton, perhaps? even drier and spicier than what I made?–but I’ll let you know when I find it.

Meanwhile, this is a dish that would warm and welcome any visitor arriving at your door on a cold night.

Traveler's Stew: Process

Traveler’s Stew

1 1/2 cups crowder peas, cooked
4 T olive oil, divided
1 sprig rosemary
1 small red onion, chopped
2 cups mushrooms, cubed
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
28 oz can diced San Marzano tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine
2 tsp. garam masala
1 tsp paprika
2-3 cups swiss chard, de-ribbed and chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
Several slices of crusty bread, cubed (an 8-inch portion of stale baguette works especially well here)
1/4 cup parsley, chopped

Traveler's Stew: Process

In a 4 qt. oven-safe pot, heat 2 T olive oil and sizzle rosemary to infuse. Add onion and saute until softened, then stir in mushrooms and continue cooking until they release their juices. Remove and discard the rosemary and add the carrots, celery, beans, tomatoes (with their juice), wine and spices to the pot, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes, until the carrots have softened. Add the swiss chard, and continue cooking 10-15 minutes more, until greens are wilted and flavors well merged. Season with salt as needed.

While you wait for the greens to cook down, preheat the broiler and heat the remaining 2T olive oil in a skillet. Add the garlic to infuse the oil and then add the bread cubes, tossing to coat with the oil. Continue to toast them in the pan, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, until the cubes are golden, about 7 minutes.

When ready to serve, layer the bread on top of the stew. I decided to push the chunks down into the liquid just slightly to soak them into the tomato broth somewhat, then I placed the pot under the broiler for a few minute to recrisp the bread and actually burn it just a bit (personal preference).

Remove from oven and garnish with parsley. Serve piping hot.

Traveler's Stew

There’s Nothing To Eat (Holiday Prep Edition)


In the days running up to Christmas, my mother would traditionally take masking tape and affix dire “Do Not Eat!!” warnings to all of the food she had prepped and packed into the refrigerator. Then, she would express exasperation when my father and I would complain that we were starving. What were we talking about? She had been cooking for days!

Now that I find myself in my mother’s shoes, I can completely empathize. There is perhaps nothing more vexing than being tired and hungry and elbow deep in fancy food preparations, and realizing you’re at a complete loss as far as how to subsist until the festivities begin (unless you just keep sneaking cookies out of the freezer!). With that in mind, I actually planned (just a little!) this year and made up some quick items that I knew would reheat well and fuel me throughout the week while I took care of other business. Here are a few ideas.

How are you feeding your house before the holiday?

cream of mushroom soup

Cream of Mushroom Soup
Adapted for health and speed from this stellar Balthazar Cream of Mushroom Soup recipe. The full fat/fresh herb version is even tastier, as you might imagine, but I was going for convenience as much as gourmet points this round.

.5 ounces dried mushrooms
3-4 T olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. Herbs de Provence, crushed
1 pound mixed mushrooms, cleaned and roughly sliced (I used a 50/50 mix of shitake and portobello from my farmers market stand)
3 cups stock
1/2-1 cup milk
1 T unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste


Soak the dried mushrooms in a cup of warm water to reconstitute.

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot and sauté the onion, garlic, and dried herbs until softened. Raise the heat and add the mushrooms, stirring occasionally as they give off their juices. After about 10 minutes, add the stock, the dried mushrooms, and their soaking liquid (strain liquid through a coffee filter to remove sediment if needed). Lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes, then add milk, butter, salt, and pepper to taste, and puree until smooth.

Adjust seasonings and thin with additional milk or broth as needed.

Brussels Sprouts

Baked Brussels Sprouts in Balsamic Vinegar

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

Clean and halve the Brussels sprouts and place them in a casserole dish (for a softer, more steamed version) or on a roasting pan (for a crisper, more caramelized version). Sprinkle generously with Balsamic vinegar and a few glugs of good olive oil, plus salt and pepper to your taste. Toss well to coat (and cover, if using a casserole) and place in the oven. Re-toss every 15 minutes or so to re-coat vegetables with dressing and to assess doneness. Mine take about 40 minutes in the casserole, less if using a the roasting pan (you want to achieve caramelized sprouts, not burnt little cabbages, but even a pretty toasted Brussels sprout is tasty!).

sweet potatoes

Hasselback Sweet Potatoes

Honestly, I wasn’t sure this would work, but I had seen white potatoes roasted in this fashion and they were so pretty that I really wanted to try them out. In the interest of time, I simply peeled and sliced the sweet potatoes, coated them with olive oil, and sprinkled each with salt and some of the Vindaloo seasoning that I had on hand. They went into the oven with the sprouts outlined above at 425°F for about 45 minutes. They came out tasty but a little dry. Next time, I think I’ll make a juicy stuffing like this one.

Making the Connections


I opened the refrigerator in search of dinner last night and was confronted by leftover portions of ingredients that seemed anxious to be combined together into one epic dish. Seasonal produce conveniently seems to work that way, doesn’t it? As I pulled various items out onto the counter–half an onion, some mushrooms, half a box of spinach–a dish started to materialize in my mind. The freezer coughed up half a bag of frozen sweet potato cubes and the pantry matched that with half a pound of whole wheat pasta. I was itching to stir.

I should pause here to point out that while I’m no slave to a recipe or a measuring spoon, when I try to cook completely without a net, well, result may vary. But I was feeling bold, plus I was home alone, so I just kept crashing forward. The cat looked worried, but I figured I could cook the various pieces and then pull the dish together with a little cream and butter. In the end, I was mostly hoping it looked good enough for me to plate it and try out my new photo lighting system.

Though I was nagged by the thought that this impulse I was following was completely ignoring some essential thing that I would only realize once the meal was prepared and I tried to actually eat it, no drama ensued. I just ended up with a nice autumn pasta dish that effectively consumed all my leftovers into something classy. Mission accomplished.

Considering how the dish was made, there are obviously no hard and fast ingredients or proportions. However, this was my approach:

Autumn Pasta with Mushrooms, Sweet Potatoes, and Greens

1 T olive oil
1/2 cup chopped white onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pint cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 cup frozen sweet potato cubes
4 cups spinach or leafy greens of your choice
1/2 cup vegetable broth

1/2 lb. whole wheat pasta

4 T butter
1 cup heavy cream
2 tsp chopped sage
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté onion until softened and translucent. Add garlic and mushrooms and continue cooking until mushrooms release their juices. Add sweet potatoes, greens, and broth to the pan and, without stirring, place lid over top and allow vegetables to steam for six minutes. At this point, the greens should have begun to wilt and the potatoes to soften. Toss the vegetables and continue cooking until potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, cook pasta according to package directions. When complete, drain and return to pot, adding the cooked vegetables and any cooking liquid in the pan. Stir to prevent pasta from sticking together.

In your (now empty) saute pan, melt the butter and add the sage, cooking for a minute or two. Add the cream and cheese and stir until melted and heated through. Return pasta and vegetables to the pan and toss to coat with the sauce and rewarm the pasta. Season with salt and pepper to taste as needed. Garnish with a few chopped nuts (I had a few toasted hazelnuts on hand–leftover, of course) and enjoy.