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Archive for the ‘parve’ Category

open all hours

I woke up to a white sky this morning and, while it will no doubt further complicate my travel plans above and beyond the usual pre-holiday Manhattan exodus traffic, I just love the first snow of the season. I trekked through the light storm, one that fluctuated between gentle flakes and stinging hail, to Adeena‘s place to pick up peanut butter brownies to support Sharsheret‘s annual Pies for Prevention sale. (Check out this post for a bit more about the pie sale, Adeena’s mom Steffi, and a recipe for pumpkin cranberry bread.)

I felt a little sheepish showing up in Adeena’s apartment where nearly every surface was covered with pumpkin or pecan or chocolate chip pie having just outed myself as a pie hater. But I brought a piece of cake as a peace offering.

The cake is an Italian olive oil cake strewn with shredded pumpkin (or in this case, kabocha squash) and studded with toasted cashews. I recently transferred from Union Square Cafe to Marta — the newest restaurant in our family and inspired by the uber-thin crust Roman pizza — and was editing our menu a few weeks ago when I noticed a new dolci item: torta di zucca. I snagged a slice, downed it a few bites, and started to plot a way to get the (parve!) recipe.

Plotting wasn’t really necessary as all I had to do was ask our head baker, Chef Pat Clark. We chatted for a bit in the prep kitchen while he stirred a huge pot of marmalade over a low flame, and then he emailed me the directions he wrote out for his team.

all manner of pumpkin

I spent a day tweaking the recipe, converting the gram measurements to cups, trying a few different winter squashes, testing different-sized pans, and tracking oven time like a hawk. By evening, I had reproduced the torta in my own kitchen.

The torta bakes up tall and proud. Due to its long time in the oven, the edges are thick and golden brown — a crust that pie wishes it had. The cake interior has a tight crumb punctuated by delicate squash ribbons and cashew nubbins. Its top is slick with a burst of citrus. Day two cake can stand on its own, but throw a slice in the toaster and smear it with a little butter or marmalade for a real breakfast treat. The freezer is kind to this cake, so, please, double the recipe. Or triple it.

Marta's torta di zucca

Now, earlier this month after a particularly bad day, I was speaking to my aunt Leslie, the one who always hosts Thanksgiving. Sessie is a great listener and had some helpful advice and when I thanked her, she said, “call me any time. As Bubbie used to say, ‘open all hours.’”

As I walked home from Adeena’s today, ducking beneath the shelter of scaffolding wherever I could and ticking off a mental packing list, that refrain kept interrupting my thoughts. Open all hours.

So, as we approach Thanksgiving and we get together with people we love, people we like, people we like a little less, people who drive us crazy, people we’re crazy for, I consider myself blessed to have a handful of people in my life who are open all hours for me. They live in my neighborhood and downtown, have moved away or have been far away for years, reside in the US and out. Luckily, they understand when I only bring three-quarters of a cake to dinner.

Marta's torta di zucca

Here are a few more stories of Thanksgivings past

2013: Cornbread apple stuffing

2012: Applesauce (with our without cranberries)

2011: Pumpkin cranberry bread

2010: Chocolate chip pound cake and wild mushroom soup

And now, the recipe.

Marta's torta di zucca

Marta’s Torta di Zucca (Roasted Pumpkin and Cashew Olive Oil Cake)

Adapted from Marta’s Torta di Zucca by Chef Pat Clark.

I tested this cake with kobucha squash and butternut squash, and both worked well. A 1 ½ pound gourd has about 1 pound of usable squash which, shredded, yields 2 ¼ very tightly packed cups. Use what every squash you like, just make sure to watch carefully while it roasts so that it doesn’t burn. You can substitute any nut for the cashews – I think almonds or pecans would work nicely. While Clark’s original recipe called for hand-grating the squash, I used my food processor which yielded slightly thicker pieces of squash.

The bake time for this cake is quite long and will vary depending on your oven and the type of pan that you use. I used a 9-inch round springform pan with high sides and the total bake time was one hour and ten minutes. For the first 30 minutes or so, cover the pan with aluminum foil that you’ve poked holes in – this will allow the cake to bake without letting the top burn. The holes prevent the cake from steaming.

The cake will indeed soak up all of the lemon-orange glaze, just keep at it. 

Serves 8 to 10

For the cake

- 1 ½ lb kobucha squash (or 1 lb pre-peeled and cut butternut squash)

- ¾ C cashews

- 2 ½ C all-purpose flour, plus extra for preparing the pan

- 1 t baking powder

- ½ t baking soda

- 1 ½ t kosher salt

- 3 large eggs

- 1 ¾ C white sugar

- 1 C less 1 T extra-virgin olive oil

- 2 t vanilla extract

For the citrus glaze

- ½ C orange juice

- ¼ C lemon juice

- ¼ C sugar

- ¾ C confectioner’s sugar

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Grate. Cut the squash into quarters. Remove the stringy bits and seeds. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the outer layer of your squash. Grate the squash using the large holes on a box grater or a food processor.

Dry. Spread the grated squash out on a baking tray and flash in the oven for 8-10 minutes to remove excess moisture from the squash (a little color is okay, but don’t let the squash burn).

Toast. Turn the oven down to 350° F. Toast the cashews for about 5 minutes until just slightly browned. Allow the nuts to cool and then coarsely chop.

Spray and dust. Prepare a 9-inch springform pan with high sides by lightly spraying with oil. Dust the greased pan with flour, covering all surfaces and tapping out the excess flour.

Sift. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Mix. With a stand mixer on medium to medium-high, paddle together the eggs, sugar, olive oil, and vanilla until light and creamy. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula.

Mix, more gently this time. Add the dry ingredients all at once. Mix on low until just together. Use a rubber spatula and scrape down the mixing bowl again. Add the squash and toasted nuts all at once, mixing on low until just incorporated. Don’t overmix.

Bake. Poke a few holes in a piece of aluminum foil large enough to cover your cake. Lightly tent the top of the cake, leaving room so it won’t touch the surface of the cake as it rises. Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil tent, rotate cake, and bake for 35-45 more minutes. Toothpick test the dead center to make sure your cake is fully baked.

Whisk. While the cake is baking, whisk together the citrus glaze ingredients and leave on top of the stove to fully dissolve sugar. Whisk again prior to use.

Brush. Cool for 15-20 minutes and de-pan onto a cooling rack. Immediately use a pastry brush to coat the top and sides with glaze, making sure to use all the glaze. You will think it’s too much, but it’s not. Allow the cake to completely cool before cutting.

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I never expected to publish this chili.

Vegetarian chili

It’s the clear-out-the-cupboard no-recipe recipe I’ve been making for years. You know the kind. Its starts like any soup or stew with the holy carrot-celery-onion mirepoix trinity softening and slumping in a slick of oil. The vegetables dance with a handful of spices, swim in a tomato sea, and cozy up to some beans. A sprinkle of cheese and you’re ready to face the cold.

Back when I was just starting to cook, I was pretty timid with my chili: the spices came pre-mixed in a seasoning envelope. Gaining confidence, I started to doctor the mix. A little extra chili powder. A sprinkle of coriander. Ooooh, red pepper flakes.

Pretty soon I did away with the mix altogether. There were failures, one so spicy it left me crying but, too stubborn to throw away the batch, I ate the whole pot, tears and all. There were success. But most of all, there were decent versions, good enough for sustenance and warmth against a winter’s day, but nothing particularly remarkable. With each batch, I dutifully jotted down my steps, my ingredients, my quantities. And then that sheet of paper sat on my desk or my coffee table or my kitchen counter, eventually drowning under a pile of other recipes that were more likely to make it onto the blog.

But this year, just as the November air grew brisk and I switched over my closet, I happened upon a spice combination that made this memorable enough that I wanted to remember it. The scribbled notes stayed at the top of the pile. And then I made it exactly the same way a week later. There are three different heats – chipotle in adobo sauce, cayenne, and hot paprika – that build on one another. With a nod towards the Middle East I added sumac, which gives the chili a sourness to counteract the sweetness of the tomatoes. While we’re on the topic of tomatoes, don’t skip the tomato paste. Its concentrated flavor adds a meaty, or dare I say umami, quality to the chili, especially if you add it early on with all the spices and allow it to cook for a few minutes before adding the liquid ingredients.

Two hours later (most of the time is simmering), you have a simple, but perfectly simple dinner. And lunch. And lunch again. And dinner the next night.

Vegetarian two-bean chili

The starting point for this chili was a recipe from Whole Foods. It’s worth it to buy a whole can of chipotles in adobo sauce – chop up the whole can and then freeze in ice cube trays whatever you have left over. I do the same with tomato paste. I like to serve this chili over brown rice or whatever grain I have in my pantry (these days I’m into freeke), and to top it with aged cheddar. This recipe makes a lot of chili, but it freezes really nicely. 

Makes approximately 12 cups

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium yellow onion, chopped

2 large carrot, chopped

3 stalk celery, chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 T finely chopped chipotles in adobo sauce

2 T tomato paste

2 t ground cumin

1 t chili powder (I used cayenne)

1 t hot paprika

1 t sumac

1 1/2 t salt

1 can (28-ounce) diced tomatoes, with their liquid

2 cans (15.5-ounce each) red kidney beans, drained

2 cans (15.5-ounce each) black beans, drained

Stir. Heat the oil until shimmering in a medium heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and cook until soft, stirring, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for 2 more minutes, being careful not to let the garlic  burn. Add tomato paste, chipotle, spices, and salt and stir to blend, cooking for another few minutes.

Simmer. Quickly pour in the tomatoes and then one tomato can of water. Using a wooden spoon to scrape up any bits and pieces stuck to the bottom of the pot. Simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Add beans and continue to simmer for another 30 minutes. If the chili gets too thick, add some extra water and cover the pot.

Serve. Serve over rice or another grain (I used freekeh) and top with shredded aged cheddar.

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I am a very, very lucky girl. Remember when I spent a day with Dorie Greenspan? Well, I met up with her again and then I wrote about it for The Forward.

See, she just published a cookbook, Baking Chez Moi, and kicked off  her book tour at the 92nd Street Y where we were able to gab for a bit before she climbed onto a tall stool (she’s quite petite, so it was a bit of a climb) and chatted with Julia Moskin from the New York Times in front of a packed room.

Dressed in a royal blue tunic with black leggings and ballet flats, her bright scarf draped loosely around her neck, Dorie greeted me with one of her fabulously warm hugs.

Here are a few of my favorite Dorie-isms.

Dorie defined quality in baking as “ingredients and the care with which you make things.”

When asked whether she believes in such a thing as a “white thumb” for pastry, she responded with a resounding no. “My father couldn’t even find the kitchen and my mother made shopping lists instead of dinner. [Dorie’s father owned a supermarket in Brooklyn, and her mother would organized her grocery list by aisle]. Baking is like playing piano. At first you just make noise. But you work on it every day and you see yourself getting better. I taught myself to bake from books, learned that it takes desire to do it.”

On baking versus cooking: “I love baking. I always return to it when I’m stressed out. It’s the process, the ingredients, getting dirty, everything under my nails. I love the magic of it… You cook for yourself and other people, but when you bake, you don’t bake for yourself, you bake to share. You bake for love and for people you love.”

Reflecting on her entertaining style, Dorie said,  “I’m a higgledy piggledy, loosey goosey cook at home and I think that’s how you should be!” She likes to invite people over on the spur of the moment, and even on New Year’s Eve, she rarely finalizes a menu until the day before.

I found this wildly reassuring and, when a friend told me she’d be in town visiting, I offered up chez moi for a spur-of-the-moment potluck lunch with a couple of our friends. Though my Manhattan apartment is small, can feel cramped when my hair frizzes up, and never seems tidy enough for company, I decided to make one of Dorie’s treats to share. I baked a batch of fruit-and-nut croquants, adding a handful of chocolate chips to these mandelbread-like cookies for good measure. One friend brought wine and challah. Another made meatballs. I tossed together a few small salads. We whiled away the cold rainy afternoon, catching up, sipping tea and nibbling on croquants.

Dorie Greenspan's fruit and nut croquets

I’ve copied from Baking Chez Moi Dorie’s recipe for Fruit and Nut Croquants, but have a few notes of my own. First, I skipped all of the optional flavors, so no almond extract, orange zest, nutmeg, or cloves. I made two batches and forgot to sprinkle the second pair of loaves with sugar – no biggie. I couldn’t resist a little chocolate, so for the 8 ounces of fruit and nut mixture, I used 4 ounces whole almonds, 2 ounces dried tart cherries, and 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips.

Dorie Greenspan’s fruit and nut croquants

The word croquant can be both an adjective and a noun. As an adjective, it’s easy: It means “crunchy.” As a noun, it can be confusing: It usually refers to a cookie, but there are bunches of cookies that carry the appellation and, depending on who’s making them and where, the cookies can vary in size, shape, flavor and degree of croquant-ness. Say croquant, and most French cookie lovers think of the ones from the south of France, which are usually studded with whole almonds and flavored with orange-flower water

However, the croquants that really caught my attention came from a small bakery in Lyon. The Lyonnaise cookies weren’t flavored with orange-flower water — in fact, I didn’t detect any flavoring at all — and in addition to lots of almonds, they had other nuts and dried fruits. They looked similar to biscotti or mandelbrot, the Eastern European version of the double-baked sweet, and while they were called croquant, they didn’t quite live up to their name (or their nickname: casse-dents, which means “tooth breakers”) — they were crunchy on the outside and just a little softer and chewier on the inside.

I’ve flavored these with vanilla, but if a whiff of orange-flower water appeals to you, go ahead and add it. When I’ve got oranges in the house or, better yet, tangerines or clementines, I add some grated zest whether I’m using vanilla or orange-flower water, or a combination of both. As for the nuts and dried fruits, I leave their selection up to you, although I think you should go heavier on the nuts than the fruit. For sure you should have whole almonds (preferably with their skins on), but you can also use cashews, walnuts, (skinned) hazelnuts, macadamias or pistachios. Similarly, while I often add golden raisins, there’s no reason not to consider dried cherries, pieces of dried apricots or even slim wedges of dried figs.

Makes about 30 cookies

2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg white, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon pure almond extract (optional)
Finely grated zest of 1 tangerine or orange (optional)
¾ cup (150 grams) sugar
2 cups (272 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
Pinch of ground cloves (optional)
8 ounces (227 grams) dried fruits and whole nuts (see above)
Sugar, for sprinkling

1) Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

2) Put the eggs and egg white in a liquid measuring cup, add the vanilla and the almond extract, if you’re using it, and beat the eggs lightly with a fork, just until they’re foamy.

3) If you’re using grated zest, put it in the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl in which you can use a hand mixer. Add the sugar and, using your fingertips, rub the sugar and zest together until the sugar is moist and fragrant (or just add the sugar to the bowl). Add the flour, baking powder, salt and spices, if you’re using them. Fit the stand mixer with the paddle attachment, set the bowl on the stand and turn the mixer to low, just to blend the ingredients. If you’re using a hand mixer, just use a whisk to combine the ingredients.

4) With the mixer on low, steadily pour in the eggs. Once the dough starts to come together, add the dried fruits and nuts and keep mixing until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl. You’ll probably have dry ingredients in the bottom of the bowl; use a flexible spatula to stir them into the sticky dough.

5) Spoon half the dough onto the lined baking sheet a few inches away from one of the long sides, and use your fingers and the spatula to cajole the dough into a log that’s 10 to 12 inches long and 2 to 2½ inches wide. The log will be rectangular, not domed, and pretty rough and ragged. Shape a second log with the remaining dough on the other side of the baking sheet. Leave space between the logs — they will spread as they bake. Sprinkle the logs with sugar.

Dorie Greenspan's fruit and nut croquants

6) Bake the logs for 45 to 50 minutes, or until browned and firm to the touch. (If you want the croquants to be softer and chewier, bake them for 40 minutes.) Place each log on a cutting board, wait 5 minutes and then, using a serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, cut into slices about ½-inch thick. Transfer the slices to a rack and allow them to cool to room temperature.

Dorie Greenspan's fruit and nut croquants

Serving: It’s hard to resist dunking these cookies, so don’t. They’re great with coffee, tea, red wine or dessert wine.

Dorie Greenspan's fruit and nut croquets

Storing: Moisture and crunch don’t mix, so find a dry place for these; a cookie jar, tin or storage tub works well, but because they’re meant to be hard, I just keep them in an uncovered bowl or basket. Yes, they get firmer, but I’m fine with that. If your cookies lose their crunch, heat them in a 350˚ F oven for about 10 minutes.

Dorie Greenspan's fruit and nut croquets

 

 

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This year has felt like a series of beginnings. New city, new apartment, new job, another new apartment. So I’m especially excited to spend Rosh Hashanah with Meira, who herself is having a year of beginnings. An engagement, a wedding, an expanded family, a house. I’ve often celebrated holidays and shabbat with her family in Atlanta. I  believe this will be Meira’s first time hosting Rosh Hashanah outside of Atlanta, and I’m thrilled to be starting off the new year with her and Alan, Alexa, Samantha, and my sister Robyn.

I’m picking up challah from Breads and will be baking apfelstrudel with the girls. Robyn is in charge of selecting a few new fruits.

I decided to also bake something special to commemorate this year. I wanted to come up with a new recipe rather than relying on my tried and true honey cake or apple cake. Because while there’s comfort in the familiar, we’re all navigating uncharted territory these days and I wanted to come up with a treat that would reflect that.

At 8:32 am on Tuesday, I sent Meira a text: “I just had an ammmmmmmaaaaaaaazzzzzzzzzing idea. Honey. Coconut. Macaroons.” My mind was made up. This would be the new dessert for 5775.

honey macaroonns

Note, however, that Meira didn’t actually say she thought honey coconut macaroons were an amazing idea. Nor did she say they weren’t. So, I went ahead and made them and am keeping my fingers crossed that she likes them.

I came across a few recipes online for paleo macaroons that replace all the refined sugar with honey. And I did some reading about how to substitute honey for sugar in baking. Here are the basics:

1) Most sources claim you can substitute one cup of honey for the first cup of sugar. After the first cup, you should use a 1/2 to 3/4 cup honey for each cup sugar.

2) For each cup of honey you use, reduce the liquids in the batter by 1/4 cup. Unfortunately this becomes impossible when the only liquid in your recipe is 1/4 cup of egg whites which is the binder keeping everything together.

3) Honey browns faster than sugar. To avoid burning, lower the oven temperature by 25ºF and reduce baking time.

4) Honey is acidic. To counteract the acidity, add 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (a base) for each cup of honey.

For my first batch, I used this macaroon recipe as a base since it has always served me well. I replaced all the sugar with honey, increased the amount of coconut to counteract the additional moisture in the honey, and added some baking soda. The batter never really came together. It had the strange quality of sticking to everything else except itself. I did what I could to gather the coconut bits into a scoop, pack them in really tight, and then drop them onto parchment paper. I wet my fingertips to wrangle each scoop into a manageable clump. In the oven, out of the oven, and the macaroons never set, they just fell into a sweet soggy mess with browned edges.

Luckily I had a few pounds of coconut in my pantry, so I started over. I used the same base recipe, but this time only replaced some of the sugar with honey and used less total sweetener. I added just a half-cup extra coconut to counter the honey’s moisture. And, as before, I added a smidge of baking soda. The macaroons scooped out nicely, just as they have in the past. They baked up crispy on the outside, moist on the inside. They are a little more delicate than their all-sugar cousins. They brown more quickly, so you need to keep a close eye on them. And because of the moisture added by the honey, they do soften a few hours  out of the oven.

I can’t wait to bring them to Meira’s.

honey coconut macaroons

I always feel the need to offer up some sort of benediction before Rosh Hashanah, maybe some words of wisdom for the new year, perhaps a reflection on the previous year, if only because on the best of days, one could call this medium a publication and on that same best of days, one could call me a writer.

So here goes. 5775, the new year, is a palindrome. I find it soothing – the knowledge that we’ll live day to day, month to month, season to season, and eventually be welcomed back by something familiar. They say that you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone in order to grow. This year I feel confident that when I’m out of my comfort zone, when I’m growing, when I’m unsteady on my feet, I’ll always have something, someone, some place familiar to keep me grounded. And I wish the same for you.

L’shanah tovah u’metukah! Have a wonderful and sweet new year!

Honey macaroons

I modified this tried and true macaroon recipe, reducing the sugar and adding honey at the end. Since the honey is the whole point of these macaroons, use something at least one step up from the squeezie bear. Here I used sunflower honey. Orange blossom honey would be amazing as well. I’d stay away from darker honeys such as buckwheat. 

Out of the oven, the macaroons have a lovely crisp shell, but they do soften after a few hours. I recommend storing them in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer  (keep them cold so they don’t squish), and then popping them in a 300ºF oven (or a toaster) to crisp them back up before serving.

On a related note, I’m looking forward to Joanne Chang‘s next cookbook about baking with less sugar and hope she has an all honey macaroon to try.

Makes 4 dozen

- 3 1/2 C unsweetened shredded coconut

- 3/4 C sugar

 – 5 egg whites

- 1/4 t baking soda

- pinch salt

- 1/2 C honey

Heat. In a heavy-bottomed pot (I use a Le Creuset; you can use a double boiler if you think your pot won’t be thick enough), combine all of the ingredients except the honey.  Stir with a silicone spatula over low heat, scraping the bottom to prevent burning. Continue to stir for about 5-7 minutes until it’s very hot to the touch. Remove from the heat and stir in the honey.

Cool. Refrigerate the mix until cold, approximately 30 minutes.

Prep. Preheat the oven to 300ºF. Line a cookie sheet with parchment.

Scoop. Once the mixture is cooled, scoop level tablespoons of  it onto the parchment, leaving about an inch between (they won’t spread). If you want your macaroons to be smooth, you can roll the spoonfuls into balls, but I prefer to leave them a little shaggy.

Bake.  Bake for 20 minutes until the coconut toasts and turns a golden brown. Take a peek at 10 and 15 minutes to make sure they’re not browning too quickly, particularly around the edges. When you take the macaroons out, they should still be a little soft. As they cool, they’ll harden a bit.

Store. Keep the macaroons in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer. They’ll soften a bit, but you can perk them up with a few minutes in a 300ºF oven – let them toast and then they’ll harden as they cool, good as if just baked.

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Well. Where were we? Oh yeah, so after I met Dorie (!), my sister and I went to Norway and Spain, and then I moved from Boston.

Wait, you say. What? you think. Didn’t you just move? you shake your head. Well, yes. Yes, I did just move. But it’s been a complicated multi-stage move and I’ve had a hard time cutting the cord. I sublet a place in Brooklyn for three weeks and then went back to Boston. I returned to Brooklyn to another apartment, for 5 weeks this time. Then I took over a friend’s lease in my old Upper West Side neighborhood, happily living mere blocks from my support system of friends. That lasted four months. The apartment, not the friends. And finally I moved to my current place. And earlier this month, I let go of my lease in Boston and transported the remainder of my belongings – furniture, books, pots and pans, scuba gear, and all – into my place in New York.

In case you’re counting, it’s been a year since I made those first tentative steps away from one career towards the uncertainty of another.

For most of my life, I’ve known what I was going to do next. There was always another school. A better job. A promotion. And now, I’m starting from scratch and for the first time ever, I don’t know what’s coming next. Will I eventually open a cafe? Write a cookbook? Work on the corporate side in a large restaurant group? Teach the principles of hospitality to other industries (healthcare, I’m looking at you!)? Cook for my family? There are all things I’m considering. And in the end, it will probably be a combination of several of these options. Which ones? I have no idea.

I met with a colleague and mentor the other day and we spoke about uncertainty. She encouraged me to just be. Or, in her words, to “grow where you’re planted.” I find myself repeating this phrase to myself multiple times a day. When I question what I’m doing. When other people question what I’m doing.

So, I’m going to make a deal with you. For a little while, I’m going to just be. To grow where I’m planted. To be OK with it. To be happy with it. Now here’s where you come in. Please believe me when I say that I’m happy being where I am right now. Please trust me when I say that I don’t yet have a clear vision for where I’m headed but that everything will work out. Please gently push me out of my comfort zone. And with your help, I’ll continue to believe in myself and trust my instincts and push my own limits.

And in return, I will give you the gazpacho recipe I picked up in Barcelona. How’s that for a win-win?

gazpacho

In Barcelona, my sister was in charge of directions and getting us where we wanted to go, and I was in charge of food. We saw a lot of Gaudí, ate ice cream at least once a day, and took a cable car across the port. We took the elevator to the top of Sagrada Família and wound our way down a narrow seashell staircase. We spent a day at a beach just a half hour outside Barcelona by train. We spent evenings by the pool on the roof of the hotel that we splurged on.

The only traditional tapas bar I went to was on a food tour the first night. The tour was enjoyable if unremarkable until I asked our guide for his favorite place to eat gazpacho. With this question, his eyes lit up. I make the best gazpacho, he said. Before I could ask him for his recipe, he started enumerating on his fingers. Take four tomatoes – make sure they’re really ripe. And then one cucumber. Remove the peel and the seeds. One pepper. Red. Or green. But red is best for the color. Use red. Then one onion, about this size, holding up a clenched fist. And garlic. One or two cloves. Maybe three. Yes, three. And one-third of a baguette. Or half of a small one. It should be the size of the cucumber. Put it all in a blender. Add olive oil and vinegar. Sherry vinegar, of course. But the secret, he leaned in for effect. The secret, he beckoned, is cumin.

Just two days after returning from Spain, I gathered gazpacho ingredients, threw them in a blender, measured and tweaked and substituted. I stuck a pitcher in the fridge, and then I left to pack up the apartment in Boston that I had called home for five years. When I returned to New York, furniture and books and pots and pans and scuba gear in tow, the gazpacho was waiting for me.

Gazpacho

This recipe is based on the one given to me by my tapas tour guide in Barcelona. Here I use cucumbers with thick waxy skin as he recommended. You can use “seedless” Persian or English cucumbers if you prefer. The raw onion and garlic give the soup quite a bite, but it does mellow out after a day or two. Make sure to serve the soup with some chopped vegetables and croutons for garnish and crunch. 

Makes approximately 2 quarts

- 3 lbs ripe tomatoes

- 2 cucumbers, peeled, seeds removed

- 1 1/2 red pepper, seeds removed

- 1 small yellow or red onion

- 3 cloves garlic

- 1/2 stale baguette (approximately the same length as the cucumbers laid end to end)

- 1/4 C olive oil, preferably arbequina

- 2 T sherry vinegar

- 1 T cumin

- salt

- Optional garnish: diced tomato, cucumber, and pepper; small croutons

Chop. Roughly chop all the vegetables.

Soak. Tear the baguette in small pieces and cover with warm water until very soggy.

Blend. Add all of the vegetables to your blender and go to town until very smooth. Drain the water from the bread, reserving it for later. Add the bread and continue to blend until very smooth. Add oil, vinegar, cumin. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and then keep adding it by the teaspoonful until the gazpacho tastes good to you. If the soup is too thick, thin it out with the reserved bread water.

Strain. If you want your gazpacho to be silky smooth, do like most restaurants and push it through a cheesecloth lined strainer. I don’t bother.

Chill. Let the gazpacho chill for at least 2 hours or ideally overnight.

Serve. Serve in wide bowls with small plates of diced tomato, cucumber, pepper, and croutons. Drizzle with olive oil.

***

Here are some of the restaurants that my sister and I enjoyed in Barcelona. I tried gazpacho at nearly every single one of them.

Bar Mut
Sam (the General Manager at USC and my boss) sent me here, referring to it as Balthazar meets tapas bar and recommending we show up in the late afternoon after the lunch rush. Beneath a  an unassuming corner in what can only be described as the urban equivalent of the middle of nowhere (particularly in comparison to the bustle of las Ramblas), Bar Mut is truly a hidden gem. There are no menu. The website is little more than an address, a phone number, and a 17 minute video called Intereses Mundanos (Mundane Interests) that gives the restaurant an air of mystery. Daily specials are scrawled on a blackboard above the bar,  but the best way to order is to engage your server in a dialogue about your hunger, mood, likes and dislikes, and let him guide you. Some of the fish entrees can get quite pricey.
Address: Carrer de Pau Claris, 192 (at Diagonal)
Area: Eixample

Cornelia and Co.
Cornelia and Co is part restaurant, part gourmet take-away.
Address: Carrer de València, 225
Area: Eixample

Els Quartre Gats (4 Gats)
Go here for the art work and history as a modernist salon of sorts. The food is decent enough, but overpriced. That said, I had amazing pan con tomato.
Address: Carrer de Montsió, 3
Area: Barri Gòtic

Teresa Carles
Just a few blocks from La Rambla and on a quiet pedestrian street, this vegetarian restaurant is a nice break from meat-heavy menus. You can design your own salads and get a juice fix. My sister particularly enjoyed the seitan and tofu sliders.
Address: Jovellanos, 2
Area: Las Ramblas

Torre d’Alta Mar
This restaurant can be a bit confusing to find. It’s located at the top of the tower from which the Telefèric del Port cable car launches. While quite pricey, we had some of the best and most interesting food of our trip here and the view of the port is spectacular. 
Address: Passeig Joan de Borbó, 88 (take the elevator up)
Area: Barceloneta

 

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rhubarb thyme muffins

Once my maitre d’ trail was complete, I found my way back to the kitchen where my refrigerator was overflowing with greenmarket treasures. The crimson celery-like stalks of rhubarb beckoned.

rhubarb

Now, rhubarb and I don’t have much history. I’m not a fan of cooked berries unless they’re blue or come from a bog, so classic strawberry rhubarb pie, and, by association, rhubarb on its own, and I aren’t the best of friends. We don’t dislike each other; we just don’t run in the same circles.

We tried once to hang out – last year when I clipped a Saveur article and drooled over an upside down cake where rhubarb played the starring role. I read the reviews but never made it to the theater of my oven to see diva rhubarb on stage. She waited for me in the cold backstage of my fridge until she went sad and limp. This year, though, I made it my business to rekindle (or is it kindle?) a friendship. So, I got chopping, which I realize is where this little anthropomorphism should probably cease.

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I cooked down the rhubarb in a few generous pats of butter and a pile of sugar, more mountain than molehill. I looked for caramelization as the recipe suggested, but found only stringy mush in a pool of buttery syrup, more lake than puddle. With a combination of dismay (the rhubarb was, um, interesting looking) and intrigue (but its sweet and tart flavor was swoon-worthy), I persevered. I prepared a cake batter, covered the mess of rhubarb, slid the pan into the oven, and then pulled it out.

rhubarb upside down cake, downside up

The flip was a bit less than successful, so there’s no photo of a cake tinged pink. And with rhubarb mush, there was definitely no chance of a lovely cake covered in still discernable rhubarb pieces, flecked with crunchy caramelization. It tasted good enough, but when half of the cake remained after I brought it to family meal at the restaurant, I decided the recipe wasn’t worth a second try.

Nonetheless, it left me with a glimmer of hope. The next day, I went back to the market, brought home even more rhubarb, and sweated it out. Literally. It was one of those days when I had to close all of my window shades at high noon to keep the temperature in my apartment manageable even before I fired up the oven. And once the oven began its steady preheating climb, I had to turn on the air conditioning. But the rhubarb made me do it, and so do it I did.

My plan: muffins. While the oven was preheating, I made rhubarb compote. I diced the rhubarb and threw in some thyme…


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…then loaded it up with sugar and lemon…

rhubarb, thyme, lemon, sugar

…and melted it down…

rhubarb thyme compote

… to a silky compote. Looks a little like cranberry applesauce, no?

I threw together the cake batter I had used earlier, reducing the sugar and adding thyme to keep the muffins more breakfast than dessert. I scooped the batter into muffin tins, dotted with compote, and added another light blanket of batter.

rhubarb thyme muffins

Into the oven, and out of that oven, and off went the oven, and on stayed the air conditioning.

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Rhubarb thyme muffins

This recipe is inspired by a rhubarb upside-down cake in last year’s Saveur. I modified the caramelized rhubarb (which turned into mush, for me at least) into a lush not-too-sweet, still-somewhat-tart compote to which I added thyme based on this recipe. I used thyme because 1) I had it and 2) to keep this muffins out of cupcake territory. You’ll have about 1/2 – 3/4 cup extra compote – it’s fabulous spooned over Greek yogurt with a few clusters of granola. I also added some raw rhubarb to the batter – it cooks up nicely and gives some extra texture and a burst of tartness to the muffins. If I do try to make another rhubarb upside-down cake (and I have another pound-plus of stalks in my fridge), I’m going to go with raw rhubarb on the bottom, à la Melissa Clark’s recipe (read her notes here). 

You’ll need a total of 1 1/4 pounds of rhubarb to yield 4 cups chopped. 

Makes 16 muffins

For the compote:

- 3 C diced rhubarb

- 1/2 C sugar

- 1/4 t dried thyme

- 1 lemon for zest and juice

- pinch salt

For the muffin batter:

-  2 C flour

-  1 C sugar

-  4 eggs

-  1 C canola oil

-  2 t baking powder

- 1 t salt

-  1 t vanilla

- 1 C diced rhubarb

Prep. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease a muffin pan.

Simmer. Stir together the compote ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium-high and continue to simmer until the rhubarb cooks down to the consistency of applesauce, about 15 minutes. Let cool.

Mix. Meanwhile, mix together the batter ingredients. You can mix this all by hand in less time than it takes to drag your stand mixer out of the cabinet.

Arrange. Fill each muffin cup with a scant 1/4 cup of batter. Top with 2 teaspoons of compote and an additional tablespoon of batter per muffin cup.

Bake. Bake the muffins for 20 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.

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It’s been over a month since I’ve found my way back to this place. During that time I’ve been preoccupied with a promotion to maitre d’ (!) and completion of my “trail.” Restaurant speak for training, the trail was harder and longer than I expected.

When my manager approached me about the MD role (double entendre duly noted), he warned me that it is one of the most difficult jobs in a restaurant. On par with expediting, he said, it’s crucial for ensuring a great experience for guests and for the team. I laughed off his warning, mostly because of the uncomfortable audacity of accepting a role that was acknowledged by him as one of the most important in the place.

But I was also lulled into a false sense of confidence by the ease and grace with which the other MDs did their jobs – they remind me of dancers who seem to effortlessly float midair while leaping – and by my own hubris that the job would come naturally.

A few trails in, I realized that it didn’t come naturally. I had memorized “the book” – the rules for organizing the dining room and reservations as well as the exceptions to those rules – but I wasn’t sufficiently comfortable with my level of knowledge. And it showed.

One afternoon when a large crowd descended upon the restaurant at noon, hungry for lunch and intent on sitting down immediately, I froze. Afraid to make a mistake, I was afraid to do anything. In a moment of panic, I viewed our guests as the enemy and wanted to duck behind the podium to shield myself from their bullets of inquiries, requests, and expectations. But I put on my best forced smile and welcomed them through the doors with the sole intent of getting them into the dining room and away from me as quickly as possible. There I stood, in the bastion of hospitality, praying that everyone would just go away so that I could breathe. After the first rush, I escaped to the coatroom for a few moments of quiet. I muddled through the rest of the afternoon and somehow finished out the service, ego bruised but otherwise unscathed.

I was embarrassed then, and I’m embarrassed now as I write this. Luckily, there’s a happy ending.

asparagus picklesd

To build back my confidence, I hunkered down and studied my job as if I were in school. Just as my father solidified my knowledge of math by pushing me to derive formulas from first principles rather than merely memorizing them, I dissected the book and figured out how and why it was set up the way it was, approaching it as if I were building it from scratch.

A visual person by nature, I drew out a timeline of each lunch and dinner service, each table and when it turned for the next, how many people could sit down in the restaurant at each fifteen-minute interval in a way that wouldn’t overload the servers and kitchen. I made a Gantt chart of each activity an MD needs to accomplish by what time and the activities of other team members that are dependent on those milestones. In other words, I geeked out.

Like a consultant, I spoke with servers to find out the best way to handle different situations, for example, when I might need to double-seat them – should I try to provide at least a five-minute buffer interval? Give them a heads up? Ask the host to provide a menu? – yes, yes, and maybe. I wrote long lists of useful phrases – how to explain to guests if we were running behind, if we couldn’t seat them at a seemingly available table, if there was a waitlist for the bar.

As you might have guessed, my approach worked and I started having fun in the restaurant again. I’m now officially an MD (our general manager calls me MD2 ), still building up my muscle memory, but approaching the job with confidence and a genuine smile.

While all of this has been going on, the greenmarkets have exploded and my earlier MD schedule (I finish at 3 pm when I work lunch) has allowed me to wander through an expanding and bustling Union Square each market day. The market now snakes around the north end of the square in two parallel rows that span about three blocks.

While I rejoiced in new produce – asparagusfiddleheads! rhubarb! strawberries! – and filled my fridge with color, MD trailing left me with no mental energy to cook. The result? These quick pickled asparagus – a good snack after a stressful shift. Or at least a way to get in a few vegetables before sticking a spoon into a pint of ice cream.

I’m back in the kitchen these days, so next up: rhubarb muffins! See you back here soon.

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Asparagus pickles

Adapted from Food & Wine. The pickles take just moments to prepare and are ready after a night in the fridge. They’re sharp and spicy and their flavor intensifies the longer they sit in their vinegar bath.

- 3/4 – 1 lb asparagus

- 10 sprigs dill

- 1 C white vinegar

- 1 C water

- 1 T kosher salt

- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

- 1 t black peppercorns

- 1/2 t red pepper flakes

Fill. Snap the woody ends off the asparagus and trim them so that they will fit into a wide-mouth 1-quart jar. Fill the jar with the asparagus and dill.

Heat. Heat the vinegar, water, salt, garlic, and peppers until the salt dissolves. Allow to cool.

Pour. Once the vinegar mix is lukewarm, pour it in the jar. Top off with a 1-to-1 mix of vinegar and water to cover.

Chill. Refrigerate overnight and eat within three days.

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Whew, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

It sure has been hectic on my end. Between a new apartment and a new job and a whole bunch of travel and an asthma-inducing sleep-interrupting cold, I’ve had a hard time getting back here. While out of site (get it?), this little place was never out of mind. Don’t worry – I’ve finally organized my kitchen and I have a queue of recipes and photos just waiting to flit across these pages. The next few pre-Passover days should make up for lost time.

Mini chocolate hazelnut olive oil cakes with sea salt , ready for the oven

So, about that job.

Earlier this year, I started working front of house at Union Square Cafe. Learning in the restaurant that anchors all of Danny Meyer‘s work is a phenomenal experience and I’m punch drunk on the “enlightened hospitality” kool-aid. Perhaps it’s the novelty of a new direction for my life, but even aching feet after long hours in the dining room can’t dampen my spirit, particularly now that I re-invested in what I used to call hospital shoes.

Drop by, say hi. I’ll probably be there welcoming you into what has increasingly become my second home.

Skinned hazelnuts

Eventually, I’m hoping to do a mini-trail in the kitchen, but for now I just pepper Chef Carmen and pastry Chef Sunny with questions. Case in point: this year I’m in charge of our Passover seder desserts. In the past, I’ve made Jess’s chocolate hazelnut mini cakes, substituting margarine for the butter. One year I made a quadruple batch which yielded eleven dozen one-bite cakes. That’s 132 bites that disappeared over the span of a few short days. Wanting to avoid margarine this year, mostly because my restaurant schedule makes it difficult to get to a kosher grocery store, I picked Sunny’s brain for some suggestions. I was thinking coconut oil, but she suggested grapeseed or olive oil. And while we were on the topic, she mentioned that she’ll be making dairy-free, gluten-free macarons and macaroons in the restaurant over Passover. We chatted about different flavors – pistachio? citrus with jam filling? – and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with. More on that when I get the intel.

Mini chocolate hazelnut olive oil cakes with sea salt

I channeled a little Sunny today and tested Jess’s mini-cake recipe with olive oil.

Oh boy!

Oh boy oh boy oh boy!

The olive oil has a more complementary flavor than margarine, letting the dark dark chocolate shine and keeping the bites dense without heft. The hazelnut enhances the chocolate instead of turning the cakes into nutella wannabes, and the sprinkle of salt – well, you can’t go wrong with a little salt. I’ll see what Sunny has to say tomorrow when I bring them in for her to try.

Good night, all. See you back here real soon.

Update 4/9/14: Success – Sunny likes them!

Update 4/12/14: These work with almonds as well, though they’re a little less rich. See below for recipe modification tips.

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Mini chocolate hazelnut olive oil cakes with sea salt 

Adapted from Jess over at Sweet Amandine who turned a flourless chocolate cake from Gourmet into mini cakes. In order to make these non-dairy, I substituted 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil for 1/4 cup butter. Use a mild olive oil – no need for the fancy stuff here – and splurge on chocolate and cocoa. I normally use Callebaut (a mix of 65% and 70%) and on Passover I lean towards Swiss brands – Camille Bloch or Schmerling’s; I heard that Equal Exchange is making fair trade kosher for Passover chocolate bars this year and I plan to seek them out. I used Cacao Barry extra brute (dutched) cocoa (Cacao Barry and Callebaut are marks of the Barry Callebaut company); any high quality 100% pure, unsweetened cocoa powder will do (and doesn’t require special Passover certification).

Jess recommends using a mini muffin pan, but I only one with medium-sized cups (i.e., regular-sized in this day of mega everything). I filled each cup with approximately 2 tablespoons of batter. The cakes freeze well and Jess actually prefers their consistency when frozen and thawed – I agree, so you can prepare these well advance. 

Update 4/12/18: These work with almonds as well, though they’re a little less rich. If you are going to use pre-ground almond (or hazelnut for that matter) flour, measure out 60g which is the same weight as 1/2 cup of whole nuts. If you only have volume measurements, it will be a bit difficult to do this conversion, but I found that if you fluff up the nut flour with a fork, it’s just under 1/2 cup. If you compress the nut flour, it’s a little over 1/4 cup. 

Makes 2 dozen mini cakes

- 6 T olive oil plus extra for greasing
– ½ C unsweetened cocoa powder plus extra for dusting
– ½ C hazelnuts
– 4 oz high quality bittersweet chocolate
– ¾ C sugar
– 3 large eggs
– coarsely ground sea salt or fleur de sel

Prep. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Generously oil a 24-cup mini muffin pan or two 12-cup regular muffin pans. Dust with cocoa powder, tapping the pan to coat all surfaces, and then shake out any excess.

Skin. Toast the hazelnuts in the oven for about 8-10 minutes until fragrant and slightly darkened. Pour them into a container, cover, and shake (see the second photo above) – the agitation will help remove the loose skins. Hold the top on because it may pop off due to the heat of the nuts. Separate the nuts from the skins and allow them to cool fully (I put them in the refrigerator).

Grind. Once they have cooled, grind the hazelnuts in a food processor until fine. Make sure to use quick pulses to avoid making hazelnut butter.

Melt. Chop the chocolate into small pieces and melt it together with the oil in a large bowl placed over a pot of barely simmering water. Stir until smooth and remove the mixture from the heat.

Whisk. Whisk in the sugar – it will be a little bit grainy. Allow the mixture to cool for a few minutes and then add the eggs and whisk well. Sprinkle the cocoa powder and the ground hazelnuts over the chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined.

Sprinkle. Pour the batter into the pans, 2 tablespoons per muffin cup, and tap on the counter to remove any air bubbles. Sprinkle with salt.

Bake. Bake for approximately 12 minutes until the cakes have puffed up and the tops have formed a thin crust. Start checking at 10 minutes. Cool in the pans on a rack for five minutes. Slide a thin knife (I use a narrow offset spatula) around each cake to help nudge them out of the pan. As they cool, the cakes will fall a little bit. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

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Today, we’re taking a short trip back in time. And forward in time.

When I made my first tentative steps towards moving back to New York, I spent a lot of time feeling around. Where did I want to live? Two short Brooklyn sublets and I decided to return to my trusty old Upper West Side neighborhood. (Exploring Park Slope and the neighborhood was fun, but I just felt too far from my posse of friends). Where did I want to work? What did I want to do? Those questions are much harder and I’m still working them out.

But one of the best experiences I’m having is working with Einat Admony, chef and owner of Balaboosta and Taïm. I first saw Einat on Chopped years ago and a few months later found myself spending a lot of time in the West Village just a few blocks from her first falafel bar. Aside from the crispy green falafel repeatedly voted as best of New York, Taïm’s fries with saffron aioli are divine. Fast forward to last year, right around this time, when I finally met Einat at a cooking class up in Boston. When she asked for volunteers, I (of course) jumped in to help grill and dress and plate. We chatted after class and a few months later she invited me to her birthday party.

Not surprisingly, when I moved to New York, she was one of the first people I called as I was getting my bearings. I started working alongside her, writing and photographing recipes (like this grilled eggplant with Asian tahini sauce) and completing other special projects.

Einat typically works out of the restaurant, riding in from Brooklyn on her pink Vespa. A white helmet parked on the windowsill is a sure sign that she or her husband and business partner Stefan is inside. The round table in the back is where we set up camp. It’s typically scattered with Macs, papers, and menus. Guy, Balaboosta’s Executive Chef and Einat’s close friend, might bring out 3 spoons and a small bowl filled with sauce, the spoons superfluous as we each stick in a pinky to taste. It needs something – more anchovy? a squeeze of lemon? And then we improve it until it’s just right.

I love spending full days observing and sometimes participating in the lifecycle of a day in a restaurant from pre-service to post-service and everything in between. My favorite part of those days is seeing the goings on behind the scenes.

Bala chairs in the morning

Bala Einat phone tryptich

Taim Mobile 2

On Mondays, someone climbs up the ladder to write the weekly specials in chalk on the blackboard. Then the team, forks in hands, gathers around that table in the back and we’re introduced to these seasonal dishes developed in the kitchen only hours earlier. Chef presents each dish and explains its ingredients and preparation. We dig in, some scooping up a bit of everything in one bite, others dissecting piece by piece to better understand how everything fits together. We discuss how it tastes, what drinks would pair well, how to describe it to diners.

I treasure these restaurant days and I think this is the direction my new life might be headed.

So, it’s fitting that the first real thing I cooked when I came to New York was a soup from Einat’s cookbook Balaboosta: Bold Mediterranean Recipes to Feed the People You Love, released late last year. I cherish this cookbook – you can read more about it here – and have been cooking my way through it, recreate some of my restaurant favorites. When a particularly cold spell drifted through the air in mid-October, I made soup.

Butternut squash and saffron soup (Einat Admony/Balaboosta)

No surprise that it’s a butternut squash soup – I tend to make a new one each winter (well, except for the winter of 2010/2011 which had a lot of travel and only one soup, mushroom). This one starts with a classic mirepoix of carrots, onions, and celery and is flavored with saffron and thyme. What really makes it special though is a dollop of thickened yogurt sprinkled with za’atar, a spice mix containing hyssop, wild relative of thyme. These finishing touches really bring everything together.

Butternut squash and saffron soup (Einat Admony/Balaboosta)

Before we get to the recipe, here are a few articles that I’ve recently read that I think you might enjoy.

Artisanal toast? Yes, according to this article. Less about food, more about people.

From the first of the year, Jacques Pépin’s recipe for onion soup without beef stock, a sure hangover cure.

For once, the hospital industry may be a model for Wall Street as companies start to limit working hours. But the “I worked that many hours, so you should work that many hours” mentality is hard to break down no matter where you are.

Also, here’s a glimpse of the area between my bed and the window that I use for photo shoots. So you can have a behind-the-scene glimpse at my work too.

Butternut squash and saffron soup (Einat Admony/Balaboosta) - taking a step back

Butternut Squash and Saffron Soup with Za’atar

Adapted from Einat Admon’s Balaboosta: Bold Mediterranean Recipes to Feed the People You Love. Einat calls this soup “marak ketumim,” orange soup. Don’s skip the Greek yogurt (though you can use sour cream instead) and za’atar which contains hyssop and complements the thyme in the soup.

Serves 8 – 10

- 1 medium yellow onion

- 1 large leek

- 8 cloves garlic

- 5 pounds butternut squash

- 5 large carrots

- 5 celery ribs

- 1/4 C olive oil

- 1/4 C sugar

- 1 T kosher salt

- 2 t freshly ground pepper

- 8-10 C water

- 3 fresh thyme sprigs

- 1 fresh rosemary sprig

- pinch of saffron threads

- Greek yogurt

- Za’atar seasoning

Prep. Finely chop the onion, leek, garlic. Peel the squash and cut into 1/2-inch chunks. Peel the carrots and cut them and the celery into 1/4-inch pieces.

Saute. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until golden brown, about 7 minutes. If the edges of the onion turn deep brown, no worries  – it will give the soup even more flavor. Add the leek and garlic and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add the squash, carrots, and celery. Place a lid on the pot and allow the vegetables to cook for 20 minutes.

Stir. Add the sugar, salt, pepper, 8 cups of water, thyme, rosemary, and saffron. Stir to combine all the seasonings and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat and simmer until all the vegetables are so soft that you can press down on them with a spoon, about 30 minutes. If the soup is too thick, add up to 2 more cups of water as it cooks.

Puree. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the soup to cool for 10 minutes. Remove the stems from the thyme and rosemary. Puree the soup directly in the pot using an immersion blender or in small batches in a blender.

Serve. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then transfer the soup to another pot and reheat slowly before serving. Ladle the soup into individual serving bowls and add a dollop of Greek yogurt on top and a generous sprinkling of za’atar.

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stuffing

How was your Thanksgiving? Your Hanukkah?

This Thanksgiving, with nine of us around the table, we kept things low-key and didn’t go crazy with the food. I mean, we didn’t even have potatoes, sweet or otherwise.

Now, even with a more streamlined menu, there was still that last-minute scramble as we pulled the turkey out of the oven and realized that we hadn’t cooked the broccoli and brussels sprouts. Actually, we hadn’t even decided how to cook those vegetables. While we let the turkey rest, my mom and I rapidly sliced off florets and halved sprouts, spread them on a few baking sheets, doused with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and popped them into the hot oven. You can’t go wrong with roasting.

We started dinner with soup served in mugs. The mugs don’t match the plates. They don’t even match each other. And not in that hip casual-chic kind of way. I love that we start dinner in mugs. It’s cozy – you can’t help but wrap your hands around the warm ceramic, raise it to your face, and blow on the steaming  soup until it’s cool enough to sip, spoons reserved for scraping out the last few drops.

After the salad was passed around, my cousin Ben slipped out to carve the turkey (he’s a turkey-carving whiz) and I grabbed the vegetables and stuffing out of the oven.

We took a dishwashing break before dessert.

The next day, we had turkey for lunch and dinner.

Cornbread stuffing, apple, celery, herbs

Before we get to the stuffing (you know, just in time to start planning next Thanksgiving), here are a few links and thoughts for the week.

Ever put maple syrup in your coffee? Try it. Thanks for the tip, Adeena.

Paula Wolfert – queen of Mediterranean, Moroccan, and clay pot cooking – talks about Alzheimer’s and staving off its progression with cooking. On starting off every morning  with a hulk-green smoothie, filled with anti-oxidants and ingredients purported to improve cognition, she says, “It is tough going because it’s not delicious, it’s nutritious.  My grandmother told me, during the second world war, we were sitting in the vegetable garden: If you want to win a war, you’ve got to be willing to fight.”

A new-to-me blog, Apt. 2B Baking Co. More photos than words, Yossy Arefi, makes cakes and cookies that make me want to go out and buy pounds and pounds of butter. How about a meyer lemon and grapefruit bundt? Yes, please.

And now, the stuffing.

Cornbread apple stuffing

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Apple and Herb Stuffing for All Seasons. I substituted corn bread (this recipe, which is based on Elisha’s recipe) for the hearty white bread that Deb recommended. I doubled this recipe for Thanksgiving, and our family of nine had enough leftovers for days.  When I reheat the stuffing, I sometimes pour a little liquid over top – water works just fine – to keep it from drying out in the oven (or microwave). 

Make or buy cornbread a day or two in advance if possible so you can pull it apart and dry it out; otherwise, toast it in the oven for 10-15 minutes. If you do want to make your own cornbread, I’ve modified my go-to recipe to reflect the quantities for this stuffing. 

Serves 8-10

- 1 recipe cornbread (below) or 6 cups of cornbread cut or torn into cubes and crumbs (approximately an 8X8 pan)
- 1 large yellow onion
- 2 large stalks celery
– 1 large or 2 small firm, tart tart apples, such as Granny Smith
– 5 T olive oil, divided
- 1 t chopped fresh thyme leaves
- ½ t kosher salt, plus more to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ C roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 3 sage leaves, minced
- 1-2 C turkey, chicken or vegetable stock or broth
- 1 large egg

Dry. Cut or tear the cornbread into small cubes or crumble into large crumbs. Let the bread dry out for a day or two before proceeding, or spread it out in a single layer on a large baking sheet and bake at 350°F for 10-15 minutes until pale golden. Keep your oven on.

Sauté. Finely chop the onion, celery, and apple. Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, thyme, salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add celery and cook for 2 more minutes. Then add apple and sauté until a bit tender, another 5 minutes.

Mix. Place dried-out cornbread in a large mixing bowl and scrape contents of the skillet on top. Whisk together egg and 1 cup broth and pour over. Stir in parsley and sage. Dig your hands in and mix everything together. The bread should hold its shape but be wet enough to squish when you squeeze it. If the bread seems a bit dry, pour another half cup of broth over it. If it’s still dry, pour in the last half cup. Let the bread soak for half an hour in the refrigerator.

Bake. Use the last tablespoon of oil to grease a 9-inch square baking dish (or another equivalent pan) . Spoon the bread mix into the dish. If  you toasted the bread earlier, your oven should already be at 350°F; otherwise, turn it on. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until brown on top and no liquid appears if you insert a knife vertically into the center of the stuffing pan and turn it slightly. Serve immediately, or reheat as needed. If you do reheat, you might need to add some extra liquid before popping into the oven for 10-15 minutes. 

(Non-dairy) skillet cornbread

Slightly modified from this recipe, which is based on this recipe

Serves 6-8

- 1 ½ C flour
- 1 ½ C fine cornmeal
- 2 T sugar
- 1 ½ t salt
- 1 ½ t baking powder
¾ C corn kernels (I use frozen and thaw them before use)
- 1 ¼ C water
– 4 T oil (canola or olive), divided
– 2 eggs

Preheat oven to 450ºF. Place a large oven-proof cast-iron skillet on the middle rack.

Mix. In a large bowl, mix together flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

Purée. Place the corn, water and 2 tablespoons of oil into a blender (or food processor) and puree for about 2 minutes until it’s smooth and no corn pieces remain. Add the eggs and continue to blend everything together. You’ll end up with a light yellow liquid that’s a bit thicker than whole milk.

Wait. Wait until the oven is hot before adding the wet ingredients to the dry.

Stir. Add the wet ingredients to the dry. Stir until all the ingredients are incorporated (don’t over-mix), scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl to make sure you don’t miss any flour.

Swirl. Take the skillet out of the oven (it will be very hot) and pour in the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, swirling so that it coats the bottom and sides of the skillet. Pour the batter into the skillet – is should sizzle as it hits the hot pan.

Bake. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Serve warm right out of the pan. If you’re making stuffing, let the cornbread completely cool, then cut or crumble into pieces and allow to dry out overnight or in the oven, as detailed above.

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