A Well Seasoned Wok!

Spicy Soba Noodles with Ginger Chicken, Broccoli and Peanuts

The other day, after dropping off some soup for a friend that is recovering from an illness, we were looking for a short walk and decided to head towards the Wethersfield Estate and Gardens in Amenia, New York. We knew that the gardens were probably closed for the season, but the area around the estate is beautiful. We parked our car at the beginning of Pugsley Road, close to the entrance to the gardens and were treated to expansive views of the surrounding hills and farmland. With all of the leaves down, the sky is open and the patterns of the bare branches are intricate and mesmerizing. I love observing the subtle combination of browns and tans with the contrast of purple and red berries.

It was a brisk and windy day-after we returned home we treated ourselves to hot chocolate made with unsweetened almond milk, cocoa powder, a few chunks of dark chocolate and a pinch of monk fruit sweetener. Paul made steamed almond milk to go on top with a dusting of cinnamon and nutmeg.

For dinner that evening, I took out my trusty and very well seasoned wok; checked available ingredients and decided to make Spicy Soba Noodles with Ginger Chicken, Broccoli and Peanuts.

Many years ago, I took a Szechuan Chinese cooking class at the New School in New York City. I still use not only the same wok that I bought in Chinatown, but also many of the cooking techniques taught by a wonderful instructor, Norman Weinstein. I had no idea at the time that Norman would become one of the most beloved cooking instructors and knife sharpening and technique experts in the city! After each class, we would gather around a big table to share the food that we had learned about and prepared. Paul and I had recently started living together on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He very sweetly offered to accompany me home and would arrive to each class with impeccable timing just as the food was set out!

I recently read about a technique called “velveting” chicken, pork or seafood that creates a soft tender texture. This works! I thinly sliced 2 boneless chicken breasts and marinated them briefly with tamari, sesame oil, brown rice vinegar and a few drops of hot sesame chili oil. I made a slurry with some cornstarch and water and mixed it with the chicken mixture. I gathered together the rest of my ingredients; finely chopped ginger and garlic, broccoli that was steamed and cooled in an ice bath, cooked and drained soba noodles and the final sauce of more tamari, brown rice vinegar, chili oil and sesame oil. The French call this mise en place. Once you actually start to cook the dish, all goes quickly!

One of the most important tips that I remember is how to heat the wok before starting to cook. Over a high heat, place the wok and heat until it starts to smoke. After this, add a small amount of canola or peanut oil and heat that until it starts to almost smoke; now you are ready! Add the chopped ginger and garlic and cook it stirring with 2 wide spatulas in a circular motion for a few seconds- it’s important to keep everything moving so it does not burn. Then add the chicken and marinade mixture and continue to cook the same way until the chicken is cooked through. Add the broccoli, stir well for a minute or so and then add the soba noodles, peanuts; stir briefly and add the final sauce along the edges of the wok. Adding the sauce this way utilizes the heat of the wok to bring out the best flavor.

Spicy Soba Noodles with Ginger Chicken, Broccoli, and Peanuts

Ingredients:

2 boneless chicken breasts thinly sliced (the chicken was still a bit frozen and this made it easier to slice thinly)

1 medium broccoli crown- steamed until crisp tender. Remove from heat and quickly rinse with very cold water or place in an ice bath. This will retain the bright green color and texture.

1 package soba noodles- cooked and drained.

1/2 cup (or more to taste) roasted peanuts

2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

Marinade:

2 tablespoons tamari

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar

1 teaspoon hot chili oil (or more to taste)

Cornstarch slurry:

2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with water to make a smooth paste

Sauce:

2 tablespoons tamari

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar

1 teaspoon (or to taste) hot chili oil

To prepare:

Heat wok as described above

Add oil bring back to high heat. Add ginger and garlic and cook briefly.

Add chicken and cook until done. You can cut a small piece with your spatula to check if the inside is not pink and it slices easily.

Add broccoli and stir briefly.

Add soba noodles and peanuts and stir together for about a minute.

Add sauce alongside the wok and stir all together briefly.

Enjoy!!

The good news is that as I am writing this blog, our new stove is being installed. I will now have an oven!! The kind technicians are masked safely up and the windows are all open for maximum air circulation. I can think ahead for plans for our small Thanksgiving feast this year!

Here is the menu plan so far: A Turkey Breast Roulade based on a NY Times recipe by Ina Garten, (but mine will also have a sour dough bread stuffing with shallots, pecans and mushrooms), braised greens, steamed cauliflower with lemon, garlic, olive oil and capers, and a nod to past Italian American Thanksgiving feasts; Broken Oven Zucchini Lasagna, that I wrote about in a recent blog! Dessert will be a sugar free Apple Pie. We will look forward to ZOOM meetings with our daughter and her partner Katie’s family and with Paul’s brother. And, as some people are suggesting, maybe next summer we can all meet together and hug as much as we want!!

Here is my “Tree of the Week”

“Oh my”- maybe this week he will finally go away!!”

Happy Thanksgiving- please stay safe!

Apple Valley Overlook

Spicy Shrimp with Roasted Green Beans

The day after we tried to visit the Keystone Arch Bridges Trail, we made another attempt, but still no luck! The parking area was even more crowded and there were way too many people. So, continuing our “going with the flow” theme, we ended up taking a beautiful walk at the Apple Valley Overlook in nearby Ashfield, Massachusetts. The day was cold and so clear that we could see the mountains of Vermont in the distance! This was a few weeks before the election and as we walked we discussed possible outcomes, never imagining the challenges to our democracy that would occur after Biden became President elect!

Even though it was cold and quite windy, I was inspired to play a (chilly) improvisation on my recorder, although this might be the last one until spring!

Before heading home, we made one last quick visit to the William Cullen Bryant Homestead in Cummington, Massachusetts- the woods were getting ready to be tucked in for the winter!


We first discovered the site this past summer totally by accident. A copy of the New Yorker magazine was almost about to join an anonymous pile of books and other old magazines. Luckily, Paul picked up the May 25th issue and read about a writer named Alan Weisman who has taken refuge at his rural Massachusetts home during the pandemic. He is the author of the 2007 best seller, “The World Without Us”. In the book, all life on earth has vanished, a bit too apropos for our time! In the article, Weisman shows the interviewer the lovely wooded trails on the Bryant Homestead property. The William Cullen Bryant Homestead has become a special place for us and we have made many return trips.

We had just gotten back into the car when a bald eagle flew overhead, so close that we could see the eagle’s beak; it hovered over us for a few seconds, swaying gently back and forth on a current of air with it’s enormous wing spread. I felt an immediate sense of calm and resoluteness; perhaps this was a sign that all will be well with our democracy!

When we got home, I did a quick search in the refrigerator and found a red onion, a few shrimp, a handful of green beans and a bit of feta cheese. I marinated the shrimp for a bit with a few cloves of garlic minced with a tablespoon of salt, olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, cayenne, red pepper flakes, and smoked Spanish paprika. In a small oval shaped cast iron pan I caramelized the red onion. I heated the broiler to high, added the green beans (which I had steamed), placed the shrimp and the marinade on top and broiled the mixture until the shrimp and green beans were crisp and lightly charred. I added a bit of feta and broiled it until the feta was bubbly and browned on top. Served with crusty bread or brown rice; or better yet both, this will help to fortify us for the next coming weeks!

Spicy Shrimp

AND, here is the tree of the week!

Title: “What are we gonna do now??”

Please stay safe!!

Taproot Commons Farm

Broken Oven Zucchini Lasagna

My Recorder was safely stowed away in my husband Paul’s backpack along with snacks, water, a tree book and a new railroad cap prop. I had several melodies ready for improvisation, circa 1830’s Early Americana style and was eagerly looking forward to our visit to the Keystone Arch Bridges Rail Trail in Chester, Massachusetts. Nestled in the woods are several architectural wonders-stone railroad bridges perched on steep hillsides that were constructed in the 1830’s. The day was cloudy, misty, a bit humid and I thought that the trail would not be too busy.

SADLY, when we arrived after an hour and twenty minute drive, the parking lot was full and there was no place to park along the steep roadside. Besides, a state trooper was right behind us…. so, no KAB Rail Trail for that day! I complained a bit and swallowed my disappointment and luckily Paul, who has become something of a map and hiking genius, found a trail with a small waterfall in Cummington, MA about twenty minutes away! We went with the flow and took a circuitous route to find the trail. At the top of a steep road, we saw that we had come to Jameson’s high Meadow Farm, where we pick blueberries in the summer; a bit of serendipity to find ourselves at this beautiful spot. The farm was established in 1955 by Craig and Brenda Jameson and it luckily has been passed on to the next generation.

We drove through the quaint village of Worthington, MA and were heartened to see early voting taking place in the Town Hall. Across the street was a beautiful old church; maybe a good spot for a concert after the pandemic is over!

Taproot Commons Farm (formally Warner Farm) is a 131-acre privately-owned property in Cummington, Massachusetts, with an active maple sugaring farm.

The Taproot Commons Farm Waterfall Trail leads to a small waterfall on Tower Brook. Although the land remains in private ownership, the landowners allow hikers to use the trail. It was great fun to duck under and cross over a maze of maple sugaring lines!

It has been a dry season; the waterfall was a gentle stream, a lovely spot to make a video using my circa 1830’s aforementioned Early Americana theme!

Part of the day’s plan was to go one of our favorite cafe and lunch spots; The Woodstar Cafe in Northampton, and here, everything went as planned. Our pre-ordered curbside pick up was ready at 2:00 and we eagerly devoured our custom made sandwiches on crusty homemade multi grain bread with turkey, horse radish cheddar, pesto, red onion, tomato and sliced pickles. No pics, the sandwiches disappeared too quickly! I treated myself to spicy iced chai tea with oat milk and a vegan peanut butter cookie made with maple syrup, ground flax seed, peanut butter and almond flour. They are delicious and addicting with a soft chewy interior and crispy on the outside. I am going to try to duplicate these cookies, but our oven recently gave up the ghost! Results and a recipe will follow in a future blog!

Our oven may be broken but the stove top and broiler still work. I wanted to make a zucchini lasagna and the theme of adapting and “going with the flow” worked well. SO, here is “Broken Oven Zucchini Lasagna“!

Ingredients:

2 or 3 large zucchini thinly sliced lengthwise

5 or 6 turkey meatballs (recipe below)

1/4 cup finely grated pecorino cheese

2 cups tomato sauce (that the meatballs were simmered in- recipe below)

1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese

Equipment: medium cast iron pan

Turkey Meatballs

I learned to make meatballs from my Italian American mother in-law. When we first met many years ago, I encountered a proud strong woman. As she sized me up with sharp judgement on her face, she surprisingly said, “you have beautiful eyes”! Over the years, in what was sometimes a difficult relationship, what brought us closest together was our mutual love of food and family culture- this did the trick! I loved to listen as she described her family when they lived in Brooklyn and the dishes that her mother and grandmother made. I had the opportunity to peer over my mother in-law’s shoulder as she made her famous meatballs and sauce and I carefully observed the many things she did to bring out the best flavor. In her later years, as her eye sight started to fail, she would come to our house for holiday meals and I would describe the food that I had made to her. She would smile appreciatively and her face would light up with joy to be surrounded by her family. The “food” mantle was almost passed to me!

Turkey Meatball Ingredients:

1 pound ground turkey (use freshly ground turkey from dark meat) *see note

2 large garlic cloves finely chopped

1 egg

1/2 cup breadcrumbs (you may need to add more if mixture is too soft- I like to use whole wheat breadcrumbs)

1/4 cup finely chopped kale

1/4 cup finely grated parmesan or pecorino cheese

salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon each of dried basil, thyme and oregano

Tomato Sauce:

1 large can pureed tomatoes

2 cloves garlic

1 small onion finely chopped

1 teaspoon each of dried basil, thyme and oregano

1 large bay leaf

a good glug of red wine!

To make tomato sauce:

Heat 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a large heavy pot

Add chopped onions and saute over medium heat until onions soften slightly.

Add pureed tomatoes and aprox. 1 can full of water- you can always add more later.

Peel and lightly smash the garlic cloves and add to pot.

Add rest of ingredients and bring to a boil- lower heat to a simmer.

To make meatballs:

Place ground turkey in a large bowl.

Add rest of ingerdients and mix thoroughly with a fork.

Heat 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a large non-stick pan and turn heat to high.

Wet hands with cold water and very loosely form into balls, dropping into pan as each ball is formed.

Let brown completely on all sides- turning with a spatula.

Place in tomato sauce

Put a bit of water in pan the meatballs were sauteed in and scrape up browned bits. Add this to the tomato sauce.

Add red wine and bring to a boil- reduce to a simmer and cover.

Cook over low heat for about 2 hours, checking a few times to see if sauce has become too thick, or if it seems to thin, move cover over halfway to reduce sauce a bit.

Check seasoning and add more salt and pepper if desired.

The meatballs can be used immediately, but the flavor will continue to develop overnight!

Enjoy!!

* My mother in-law used ground beef. I like the texture of ground turkey more and I add chopped kale. I also add red wine to my sauce.

I end with hopes for the election results and peace for our divided country. I am finishing this blog on Election Eve to distract myself; one tree that I encountered in the woods the other day expressed my emotions very well!

Hidden Treasures in the Woods

Salmon Cakes

The woods of New England are filled with old stone walls & foundations of long deserted homes and farms. I often feel that I am on a treasure hunt or an archeological exploration and I wonder what the houses, fields and farms looked like a few hundred years ago. All of the trees would have been cut down and instead of quiet woods, there would be bustling activity all around.

Recently on a walk at the Goodnow Preservation, part of the New Marlborough Land Trust, we discovered the site of an old paper mill; The Lower Carrol Mill. According to the New Marlborough Land Trust; using local wood pulp, the mill made newsprint and manila paper for the New York City market from 1855-1887. As we walked down a path towards the Konkapot River, the late afternoon sun filtered through the trees.

Through a light mist we could see remnants of the old paper mill; moss covered stones were stacked haphazardly on top of each other-time stood still. On a small knoll a lone piece of rusty machinery stood by itself. I imagined how the mill would have looked and sounded in the 1860’s with the tremendous noise of the machinery and sawdust flying as local wood was turned into pulp. The Carrol Mill, operated by water power, was one of nearly a dozen small industries on the Konkapot River.

Just a mile down the road from The Goodnow Preserve is another treasure; the Joffe Nature Sanctuary, also run by the New Marlborough Land Trust. It includes a lovely short walk that loops around a peaceful marsh.

There are several wooden benches throughout the trail- a perfect place to bring a book!

On one of our walks, I brought along my oboe. The previous day I had listened to a virtual online concert of Bach Cantata BWV 199 that our daughter, the singer Alicia DePaolo had just presented. It was a beautiful performance; the cantata is emotionally stirring and deeply satisfying on so many levels. It gave me the inspiration for this improvisation:

Joffe Nature Sanctuary

Since the pandemic started and we have been fortunate to spend more time in nature, I have felt myself becoming more attuned to the surroundings. I have come to appreciate the intricate patterns and designs in the trees, plants, roots, water and sky.

I see abstract images that often remind me of the Austrian painter, Egon Schiele.

“A Tree in Late Autumn”-Egon Schiele

This is the week of “Salmon Three Ways” from a mistakenly large order of salmon. So far, we have had Asian Soba Noodles with Crispy Salmon, Salmon Cakes and we are supposed to have Tandoori Salmon tonight. But, truth be told, both Paul and I are more than a bit tired of salmon! The Tandoori Salmon will be frozen and we are going to have Swedish Meatballs! Yes, there is a Swedish Meatball story, but it will be saved for another blog!

Asian Soba Noodles with Crispy Salmon
Salmon Cakes
Tandoori Salmon

Salmon Cakes

Ingredients:

1/2 to 3/4 pound salmon fillet

1 egg

1/4 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs

1 teaspoon sesame oil

few drops of hot chili oil

1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger root

1 large garlic clove finely chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Prepare Salmon Cakes:

Remove skin from salmon and cut fish into a few pieces.

Add all other ingredients into the bowl of a food processor.

Blend until mixed, don’t over process.

Form mixture into four salmon cakes. The mixture is quite sticky. I line a large plate with wax paper and drop spoonfuls onto the plate. Form the patties with a small spatula.

Chill until firm.

Heat medium size cast iron pan or non-stick skillet.

Add a tablespoon of olive oil.

Brown on one side and flip over. Cook a few minutes more.

Sauce:

2 tablespoons Veganaise

1 teaspoon dijon mustard

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Mix ingredients together in a small bowl.

Serve with lemon slices and sauce

ENJOY!!

Update: Autumn at Bryant Homestead

Asian Soba Noodles with Crispy Salmon

This weekend my husband and I decided to visit one of our favorite places, The William Cullen Bryant Preserve in Cummington, Massachusetts. I wrote a recent blog about our visits this past summer: https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/musicianstravels.com/146

It was a perfect fall day with a chill in the air. As we drove up to the homestead, the sun was shining on a field near the old barn on the estate- a lovely spot to play my recorder!

https://youtu.be/E945Xy-AvMw

From the meadow, we stepped onto the trail that winds through the woods. As we looked up, the late afternoon sun filtered through a canopy of leaves and we both felt a familiar sense of comfort and tranquility.

The woods were noticeably quiet-no chirping of birds; only the small gurgle of the rivulet stream; a few chipmunks and squirrels scurried across the path carrying nuts in their mouths.

I looked down on the forest floor and saw a perfectly composed still life; a pine cone perched on a mushroom next to to tiny red leaf.

On the way back home, we stopped at a store in Great Barrington to pick up a food order. When we got back to our house, I saw that we were mistakenly given a very large piece of salmon. SO, this week there will be “Salmon Three Ways”. Tonight, it’s Asian Soba Noodles topped with chunks of crispy broiled salmon, ginger, sliced cucumber, julienned carrots and chopped peanuts. More recipes to follow for Tandoori Salmon and Salmon Cakes!

Asian Soba Noodles with Crispy Salmon

Serves: 2

Ingredients:

1/2 to 3/4 pound salmon fillet seasoned with salt, pepper and sprinkled with dried thyme

1 package buckwheat soba noodles

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger root

1 small cucumber peeled and julienned

1 small carrot peeled and julienned

Ingredients for Sauce:

2 tablespoons tamari

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar

few drops of hot sesame oil to taste

1/3 cup finely chopped salted peanuts

Instructions:

Preheat broiler

Broil salmon until crispy on top and it is just done- do not overcook.

Let cool slightly and cut into small pieces- discard skin.

Bring a medium pot of water to boil and cook soba noodles until done.

Drain and rinse thoroughly with cold water.

Place in medium bowl and stir in 1 teaspoon of the sesame oil, so the noodles do not stick together.

Stir in chopped ginger- you can also add chopped scallions if desired.

Make sauce:

Mix together tamari, brown rice vinegar, remaining sesame oil and hot sesame oil.

Pour over noodles and stir.

Add julienned cucumber and carrot to noodles.

Place salmon pieces on top.

Garnish with chopped peanuts.

Enjoy!!