Down the Barley Soup Rabbit Hole

I’m late! I’m late! I’m late, for a very important date. Though I don’t have much time, I have enough to say that I think we are on the cusp of a rabbit explosion. Wait. Don’t go. Rabbits are not that scary: I promise. They’ve been, ahem, popping up all over the place. So go ahead, jump down the rabbit hole.

On the other side, you’ll find the likes of many notable Bostonians. Edible Boston recently ran a rabbit-friendly story. Barbara Lynch makes a braised rabbit pasta dish with olives and rosemary at Sportello. Toro serves up rabbit paté stuffed with pistachios. And Stoddard’s even does rabbit mousse.

While I realize this is not the context to convert the weary, I can say that rabbit tastes like the dark meat of chicken, but a little more of the earth. Consequently, it’s also less taxing on the environment. And though it was once considered peasant food, it ain’t cheap today. In fact, my rabbit cost me over 40 shekels, the beast. I scored some from Stillman’s Farm at the winter farmers' market in Somerville: it was worth every penny. The meals it made practically fell into my kitchen.

I decided to braise this rabbit similarly to the way I braise short ribs, mainly because I had some leftover port. So after I had a nice crust on the meat, into the pot went diced carrots, tomatoes, garlic, onions, fresh oregano, rosemary and port. A few hours later, some low and slow cooking turned out braised rabbit that fell nicely off the bone. The saucy rabbit then made for a wonderful base, atop a whole wheat pizza crust, with fresh mozzarella from Fiore Di Nonno (also from the winter market) and ricotta, along with some more fresh oregano. Next, came a stock out of the rabbit carcass, in the exact fashion of making chicken stock, and voilà: rabbit soup.

Down, down, down the rabbit hole I went. And I don’t think I’ll be coming back. Turns out, rabbit is as versatile as it is fecund.

So, in typical fashion (oh my ears and whiskers!), the rabbit is at it again. Prolifically giving life to many dishes and rapidly spreading throughout the menus of Boston, as well as becoming a welcome addition to my kitchen.

Rabbit Barley Soup

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 carrots, peeled and diced
8 cups rabbit stock (or chicken stock; both can be made with the carcass, in the same manner)
~1 sprig rosemary
~2 sprigs oregano
Salt and pepper
14 oz can chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup uncooked barley

Saute the onion, garlic and carrots with olive oil in a large stock pot. Add in stock and herbs. Season with salt and pepper. Let simmer about 20 minutes. Add tomatoes and uncooked barley and cook for about 60 minutes more, or until barley is fully cooked. Adjust for seasoning, as needed.

Makes ~ 2 quarts

-This is a great leftover dish if you have some remaining rabbit to use up. I added ~1 cup braised rabbit meat to the soup and and am happily awaiting rabbit soup leftovers in my freezer.

-This is a recipe open to interpretation. It can easily be substituted for chicken.


Yogurt Seduced By Chocolate

Life is full of the unexpected. It’s lovely when you peel off the sunset tangerine skin of an orange to reveal deep garnet flesh, signaling that your fruit is actually a blood orange. Pulling off your covers at 6 am to reveal that your apartment is 53 degrees and has an improperly working shower water heater is not the stuff of sunsets and gemstones. But that's life. I try not to dwell.

I’ve grown accustom to this dichotomy and have developed, what some may deem, an unusual sense of humor because of it. This week, I chuckled when I noticed my grocery shopping list included bittersweet chocolate, cocoa powder, and Draino. Revealing that I am either a woman on the verge—deciding whether to turn towards cacao or sodium hypochlorite—or a lady with a clogged drain that loves chocolate. Luckily, today I am the latter.

Which leads me to the ultimate unexpected chocolate delicacy: chocolate yogurt. I've made it many times and it never ceases to impress and delight. It's really more like chocolate pudding masquerading as yogurt. You could even go so far as to say it is a yogurt that’s been sexed up, like it’s wearing strands of pearls and red panties.

It could be argued this yogurt comes to the table with its seductive accessories a few days late, given that we’ve passed Valentine’s Day. But even if you think you've had your fill of cacao (mon dieu!), the chocolate in this yogurt is subtle, light, and refreshing.

At the moment, I can’t think of anything quite like making homemade chocolate sauce to fold into milk and then warm overnight into yogurt. The yogurt sets to pale brown, with a luscious cream layer on top and a thicker chocolate layer at the bottom. And just like red panties—really now—is there ever actually a bad time for chocolate? Especially when it’s not expected.

Chocolate Yogurt

3 3/4 cups 2% milk
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup half and half
1/3 cup coffee
6 oz 2% Greek yogurt
1/4 cup maple syrup, or more to taste

Heat milk in a medium saucepan until it boils, whisking occasionally. Remove from heat and let cool until lukewarm (about 90 degrees). In another pan, while milk is heating, combine cocoa, sugar, half and half and coffee and whisk on medium heat until smooth and glossy (it will look like chocolate syrup). Set aside until milk has cooled. If the chocolate sauce sits too long and starts to harden, simply warm it slightly again, though you don't want the sauce to be too hot because you'll eventually be adding it to your yogurt and your lukewarm milk.

Whisk the Greek yogurt into your chocolate sauce and then add to your milk. Add maple syrup and whisk until combined. At this stage, you may want to taste to make sure your yogurt is sweet enough; simply add more maple syrup as needed.

Pour the yogurt mixture into 6 oz glass jars (without their tops) and then into a yogurt maker for 12 hours (it will look soupy). Refrigerate before eating.

Makes about 7-6 oz jars.

-Alas, you need a yogurt maker for this. While not normally a fan of specialty gadgets (one has to be choosy when living in a studio apartment), I love my yogurt maker and use it more than I ever thought I would. It's from Williams-Sonoma (and Euro Cuisine is the brand).

-Yes, technically you are using yogurt to make yogurt. But you need to get your cultures somehow (and this is the easy way). Greek yogurt adds nice body. Having a little fat helps too.

-I've used honey instead of maple syrup and it also works well.

-This does require some planning. I usually try to make it a few hours before I go to bed.

-I like the intense chocolate flavor non-alkalized cocoa powder provides, so that's what I tend to use.


The Adult Side of Molasses Cookies

Ah the classic comfort of cookies and … a good beer. In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger: “milk is for babies, when you grow up you have to drink beer.” And with that, I suppose I should start from the beginning …

I am always in search of good recipes from local restaurants. And Maura Kilpatrick, pastry chef of Oleana and Sofra Bakery and Cafe, has yet to let me down. Consequently, her spicy molasses cookies are perfection. They are crispy and chewy, with enough spice to remind you that the molasses cookie is a cookie that means business.

I'm quite serious when it comes to molasses. I like to use blackstrap; it’s earthy and slightly bitter. It's also a good source of iron. (Try to rationalize yourself out of a cookie that will make you stronger the more you eat it: I dare you.) Perhaps it’s the 80 year-old woman in me, but I love molasses cookies; they seem equal parts medicinal and decadent. But whereas grandma might pour you a nice glass of milk to wash yours down, I’ll offer up beer instead.

It may sound like an odd combination but these spicy, saucy little numbers can take the booze. And while I don’t tend to keep gallons of milk in my fridge, I do keep beer. And I did have a growler of Harpoon UFO in there. (A gal’s gotta have a port in the storm.) So Sunday I took my—not for the meek—molasses cookies and my handle of beer and headed off to a Super Bowl party. (When you are up against hot wings, you really have to bring it.) The citrusy orange notes in the UFO worked off the spices in the cookie. As did the fruitiness of the Magic Hat #9, that followed.

I thought I was really on to something. It turns out, this combination of beer and molasses is not a new one. The sticky stuff actually landed itself in George Washington's beer making recipe. Our first President was really on to something, apparently.

So, will I go out on a ledge and say that beer compliments molasses cookies better than milk? Yes, I think I will. Especially, if I am in the company of one beer-swilling Washington. This is a grownup molasses cookie that needs something adult to hang with. This is a cookie with personality, perhaps the Schwarzenegger of cookies. They are not to be missed. You might even find yourself echoing, “I’ll be back.” Especially, if there is a good beer involved.

Spiced Molasses Cookies with Candied Ginger
Adapted from Sofra Bakery & Cafe

2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated if possible
1/2 tsp cloves, freshly ground if possible
pinch of ground ginger
3/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
1 cup sugar, plus an additional ~1/4 cup before the cookies are baked
1 large egg
~3 tbsp finely diced candied ginger

Combine flour, baking soda, salt and spices in a bowl. In the bowl of a mixer, combine oil, molasses, sugar and egg and beat with paddle attachment for about 15-20 seconds, until well combined, but not too airy. Slowly add dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Mix in candied ginger by hand (this also helps to ensure the dry and wet ingredients are fully combined).

Chill the dough for 2 hours and allow to come to room temperature before baking. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Use a small ice cream scoop or melon baller to scoop the dough (about 1 tbsp or so) and then roll dough into a small ball with you hands and lightly coat about about 1/2 of the ball by rolling it in a bowl with ~1/4 cup sugar.

Place onto a cookie sheet and bake for about 12 minutes. (They will appear undercooked, but will continue to set as they cool).

Makes about 3 dozen

-I am a sucker for cloves, and I ground them with a mortar and pestle just before adding them in. Just lovely.

-In addition to iron, blackstrap molasses also has calcium, potassium and magnesium. Oh, and it's delicious.

-These cookies will really spread as they cook, so be sure to space them far enough apart on your cookie sheet, between 9-12 cookies per sheet worked for me.


The Certainty of Mac and Cheese

Some days I realize I have it pretty good, like when I have to buy cheese—a fair amount of it—“in the name of research.” There are also days when my life has me scratching my head: like when “taking a break from work” on Sunday meant doing my taxes. But let’s not talk W-2s. Let’s talk cheese.

This week, I wrote a food column about mac and cheese for South End News. The South End in Boston has a jewel of a food shop, South End Formaggio, with some (read: a lot of) impressive cheeses. My favorite from the weekend’s cheese jaunt was a local blue cheese from Jasper Hill Creamery called Baley Hazen Blue, named after an old military road in Vermont that George Washington authorized the building of.

The process of making Baley Hazen Blue starts off by milking cows first thing in the morning, when the milk has a lower fat content. After getting milked, the cows get to graze on green pasture (in the spring and summer, mind you: they live in Vermont). In the winter, they are fed hay and listen to jazz music. I am not kidding. Whether it’s their diet or their musical snack, this grassy blue cheese has a silky texture reminiscent of a chocolate truffle (and Chet Baker?).

I also bought a smoky raw milk toma, similar to a comté; and after a taste of the cheese and a look at Betty Sue and Lee Robie at their 6th generation farm in Piermont, NH, I was ready to rent a car and drive straight to the Robie Farm (especially because they also make ice cream, which not only features the milk from their happy cows but eggs from local chickens). While there was no specific mention of jazz, they did stress the importance of kindly treated animals.

So these cheeses, along with an emmentaler, made for quite a special mac and cheese: a dish that I’ve oddly developed quite strong views about. It should be made with at least two different kinds of cheese. Baked with buttery breadcrumbs. And while slices of tomato bruléed on top would be okay, I prefer that bacon, sausage, or any otherwise pleasant, yet debaucherous meats be left out of the equation on this one. For me, this dish is all about the cheese. And an elusive, corkscrew noodle called cavatappi: I will rarely make mac and cheese without it.

I suppose I should also now confess that I have a strong distrust of elbow macaroni. I’d like to say it was from the mac and cheese my mom served us growing up, made by melting Velveeta cheese with skim milk in the microwave. Truthfully, I don’t even remember if it was elbow macaroni that she used. Also, it was the 80’s. And I remember liking her mac and cheese; the memory makes me smile. I guess I'll still be scratching my head about this one too.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s hard to find bad mac and cheese, as long as you put some heart into it (and perhaps some jazz). I do think the local cheeses added a little extra oomph, though I can’t say for certain. As it is said, nothing is certain but death and taxes, though I’ll take mac and cheese in the meantime.

Three Cheese Mac and Cheese a la Formaggio

6 tbsp butter, divided
2 tbsp flour
2 cups whole milk
Pinch red chili flakes
Pinch nutmeg
1/2 pound macaroni
1/3 cup bread crumbs, fresh if possible
1 clove garlic, minced
2.5 cups grated cheese, variety (I used 1/4 blue cheese and the rest equal parts swiss and smoked toma)
2 tbsp parmesan cheese
Kosher salt

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Melt 4 tbsp butter in a large pot and add flour. Cook for about 5 minutes on medium heat, careful not to burn the roux (flour and butter mixture); then add your milk, season with salt, pepper, chili flakes and nutmeg, and stir occasionally until mixture starts to thicken. Meanwhile, start to boil water in another pan for the pasta. Season pasta water with salt. When your water is boiling, add pasta and cook about 2 minutes less than the package states. While you are cooking your pasta, add your remaining 2 tbsp butter to a saute pan and add your garlic and saute about 2-3 minutes and then add bread crumbs, season with salt and pepper, and cook until your bread crumbs turn golden and crispy, about 3-4 minutes, set aside.

When your pasta is cooked, drain the water. Add your grated cheese to your thickened milk mixture (you've just made a bechamel sauce: ta-da!); toss in pasta and stir until well combined with sauce. Pour into a casserole pan, top with parmesan cheese and bread crumbs and bake until golden and bubbly, about 20 minutes or so.

Makes about 4 cups

-I usually like a swiss, blue and cheddar cheese (or a "guest" cheese) when I'm making mac. The smoky toma did wonders and I'll be coming back for more.

-Pair this with a side salad of peppery arugula tossed in a mustardy vinaigrette and I'm a happy camper. (South End Formaggio had some tasty looking arugula too.)

-According to the Robie Farm website, South End Formaggio is the only place you can get their goods in Massachusetts.