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Archive for the ‘parve’ Category

she got to me

My friend Molly knows a thing or two about cooking. Point to a pile of green-tinged rough-hewn grains with a tilt of the head and furrow of the brow? It’s freekeh, she’ll say, and then recommend a great book about it. Need to borrow a cookbook? She probably has an extra copy of the one you want. And she’ll deliver it to your door when she’s passing through your neighborhood. Curious about the origin of that cake you’ve been making for years that seems to have come out of thin air? She’ll know.

So when she suggests you buy a six-quart pot even though you already have twenty-three pots and pans for the stove top alone (eleven pots, twelve pans; I counted), your ears perk up.

It all began when I made wheat berries last Monday. I asked for advice on how to cook the grains so that they wouldn’t split. Within minutes of my hitting publish, Molly responded:

Two words: Pressure cooker. Sure, you’ll still have to soak them for a good long while, but cooking them will take a total of 20 minutes. And, they’ll look like wheat berries when all is said and done. Twenty. Minutes. Same goes for farro and barley.

The next morning’s email, from Molly, when I mentioned a pressure cooker:

Pressure cooker is clutch…I have a Fagor one…It is, hands down, my favorite kitchen tool. What I can say is that you should get a  stove top one, and not one that plugs in.

There was also a lot more chit-chat in between the pressure cooker dialogue, but I’m sparing you that.

A few days later, we met up for a Boston Globe food and wine event. During the Q&A portion of the afternoon, I asked the Globe’s food editor, Sheryl Julian, how I could cook wheat berries (and farro and barley) without splitting. The first words out of her mouth?

Pressure cooker. I have four.

Molly and the Globe food editor? A few hours later, I was in a store. I bought a pot-bellied Fagor.

And then I made soup. In a regular pot. Moments later, another comment from Molly:

This soup in a pressure cooker? Six minutes.

My response:

I bought the pressure cooker! I may be indebted to you for life.

Then, I announced on Facebook (where all important life announcements should be made):

“Molly – I’m ready to change my life…I break out the pressure cooker tomorrow!

To which, Molly’s friend Sara responded:

“Oh no. She GOT TO YOU!”

Yes, Molly got to me. It seems she also got to Sara. (Addendum 11/21/2012: It turns out Sara does not have a pressure cooker. Molly, your work is not done yet.)

Today was the big day. I opened my pressure cooker. I marveled at the fact that it’s called a cooker, sounding much more powerful than a mere pot. I read the instruction manual (which I still haven’t done for my camera). I familiarized myself with the parts.

My goal was apple sauce. Had Molly ever made it in the cooker?

Yup.  It takes about three minutes once the pot begins to pressurize. Place all ingredients in the pot — your apples and spices — add enough water and pressurize. Like I said, it should take about three minutes.

A quick check of the manual:

Apples, sliced or in pieces: 2-3 minutes

I was ready. I peeled and I chopped apples. I filled the cooker. I twisted the lid and flipped the lock and turned the valve. I set the whole thing on a burner, turned up the heat, and watched. There was steam and gurgling and more steam, but the yellow indicator never popped up. The cooker never pressurized. Ten minutes. Twenty minutes. No pop. I released the steam and unlocked the top, peering into a pile of mushy apples. I starting from scratch. Re-twist and re-lock top, re-twist indicator, heat back on. Ten more minutes. No pop.

I again released and unlocked and peered. Thirty minutes in, the apples were nearly sauce. I pretended my cooker was a mere pot and finished off the apples.

During this entire time, I was emailing Molly as if she were the Butterball Thanksgiving hotline. As the story unfolded and the sauce was finished, she wrote:

If only I was there to see what was actually happening in your kitchen with the pressure cooker. Don’t give up!

Don’t worry, Molly I won’t.

Tomorrow I’m trying again. But for now, here’s how to make applesauce on your stove top in a mere pot.

Applesauce

I first tried homemade applesauce at Jess‘s and Eli’s annual Hanukkah party. I’ve provided the ingredients for classic applesauce and cranberry applesauce, using Jess’s cranberry applesauce recipe as a guide, but significantly reduced the sugar, added a little lemon juice, and added some water because I don’t like my applesauce too thick. I made both of these versions today. The classic in the cooker took half an hour over medium-high heat; the cranberry in a Dutch oven took 45 minutes over medium-low heat. I was clearly doing something wrong with the pressure cooker!

Applesauce is good cold, but great warmed up a bit. 

For classic applesauce:

Makes about 3 1/2 cups

- 4 lbs apples (approximately 8 medium) – I used a mix of Fuji, Gala, Braeburn, and Granny Smith

- 2 T sugar

- 1/2 lemon for juice (2 T)

- 1 C water

For cranberry applesauce:

Makes about 4 1/2 cups

- 4 lbs apples (approximately 8 medium) – I used a mix of Fuji, Gala, Braeburn, and Granny Smith

- 2 C fresh or frozen cranberries

- 1/4 C sugar

- 1/2 lemon for juice (2 T)

- 1 C water

Chop. Peel and chop the apples into approximately 1-inch pieces.

Simmer. Add all the ingredients to a large heavy pot (I used a Dutch oven). Cover and turn the heat to medium-low. Simmer for approximately 35-45 minutes, stirring every once in a while, until the fruit is very tender and starts to break down into sauce.

Mash. With a slotted spoon or potato masher, break down the larger pieces of apple into small chunks. You can also puree or press through a sieve for a smoother sauce.

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Soup is back, and with a vengeance, people. If you include the batch that I took out of my freezer earlier in the month, I’ve eaten four different soups (well, one is officially a stew) in fewer than four weeks. And it’s not even Thanksgiving yet.

Also, butternut squash is back, at least in my kitchen, and probably in yours.

So, it might seem that a butternut squash soup would be on the agenda. And, that would seem to be correct.

Normally around this time of year, I turn to my tried-and-true spicy butternut squash soup. I’ve been making it since grad school and this is the one I pull out of my back pocket any time someone asks for an simple soup recommendation, the one that I know by heart. My sister asks for it, my mother makes it, my new friends learn it, my old friends get tired of it. When Meira asked me for a soup recommendation a few weeks back, she audibly yawned when I suggested my old standby: I know that soup. I make it all the time. I need something new. I offered her last year’s Thanksgiving soup instead.

I guess after ten years of old standby, it was time to come up with a new simple squash soup. Different enough from the first, but just as easy. Throw together in minutes, slurp in less than an hour. And spicy, it had to be spicy; I don’t do sweet squash. When a friend and her husband mumbled something about a soup made with squash and apples and curry and stuff, I went home and got to work. I peeled and chopped and stirred and sniffed. The basic formula is one squash, one onion, two apples, loads of spice. Pour an inch of stock over the vegetables, simmer for 20 minutes, whiz with a blender and you’re done.

I recommend making this soup on the thinner side so you can pour it in a mug, wrap your hands around the warm vessel, inhale the steam, and let the soup coat your mouth with no interfering spoon. The spice will catch you by surprise. It will start in the back of your throat and slowly inch forward. By the time you’re tipping the mug to get the last drops, your lips will be tingling.

Spicy butternut squash and apple soup with cumin and curry

This is a make-it-up-as-you-go kind of recipe that I based off of these three recipesUse whatever spices you like, and if you don’t have time to experiment, just use curry powder- I’d start with 2 tablespoons and then adjust as needed. If you accidentally over-spice the soup, add 1-2  halved potatoes and then remove them before blending/serving — they’ll absorb some of the excess spice.  After a day or two in the fridge, the soup will thicken slightly and the spice will intensify. If you’d like, swirl in a spoonful of Greek yogurt.

Makes about 4 quarts (16 cups)

Heat 3-4 T olive oil in a large pot (I used a 7 1/4 dutch oven) until shimmering (medium heat). Rough chop 2 onions and sauté for 8-10 minutes until the onions soften and become transparent, stirring every once in a while. Mince 4 garlic cloves into the pot and keep stirring for another 2 minutes. At this point, add whatever spices you’d like and mix with the onions and garlic. Here’s what I used: 1 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon coriander, 2 tablespoons cumin, 1 tablespoon curry powder, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. The mix should quickly turn a mustard-y yellow (from the turmeric in the curry). Add 1 cup water and scrape the bottom to free up all the spices.

Peel and seed 2 large or 3 medium butternut squash (about 4 pounds) or 3 pounds pre-peeled/seeded squash. Rough chop the squash and add it to the pot, stirring  to distribute the spices. While the squash is starting to cook, peel and rough chop 4 medium apples, add to the pot and stir. Then add about 8 cups of vegetable (or chicken) stock. You want the liquid to reach about 1 inch above the level of the squash. Add more stock (or water) if you need it. Allow the soup to simmer for about 20 minutes until the squash and apples are soft. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup. You can also do this in a regular blender in several batches. Taste for seasoning, and make sure to add enough salt. If the soup seems too thick, add a bit of water; too thin, simmer for a few more minutes.

Serve in mugs with a sprinkle of cinnamon or other spice.

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Just a quick post (and recipe) tonight because I’m running out the door and I’m already late for a party.

This butternut squash dish is the second recipe that I made from Yotam Ottolenghi‘s and Sami Tamimi‘s newest cookbook, Jerusalem. (You may have already seen the recipe in this article).

I fashioned the photographs after the ones in the cookbook to reflect the authors’ cooking philosophy. In their first cookbook collaboration, Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, the pair explains, “Like the market vendor, we make the best of what we have and don’t interfere with it too much. We keep foods as natural as possible, deliberately avoiding complicated cooking methods.” Their cooking technique keeps ingredients close to their origins; for example, they eschew tiny brunoise dicing in favor of bite-sized chunks to allow each individual element to shine.

I suspect this approach to food, the analogy to the market vendor displaying his wares, is very much informed by their childhoods in a country where markets remain a significant part of cultural and daily life. We can talk more about this, but I’ve got a birthday to celebrate (not mine – that’s in a few weeks).

See you back here tomorrow morning. Well, actually probably more like afternoon.

Roasted butternut squash and red onion with tahina and za’atar

Adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook. The combination of roasting and za’atar give the dish a smoky flavor. Feel free to experiment with other types of squash and pumpkin – just adjust the roasting time accordingly. You probably won’t need all of the tahina sauce – just drizzle lightly and add more if necessary. 

Serves 4 as a side dish

- 1 large butternut squash (about 2 – 2 ½ lbs)

- 2 red onions

- 4 T olive oil, divided

- 3 heaping T tahina

- 1 lemon for juice (approximately 2-3 T, depending on your lemon)

- 1 T water

- 1 clove garlic

- 3 T pine nuts

- 1 T za’atar

- 1 T coarsely chopped parsley (optional)

- Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 475˚F.

Cut. Peel and seed squash, and cut into thin (3/4–inch) wedges approximately 2-inches long. Cut the onions into 1-inch wedges.

Mix. In a large bowl, toss the squash and onions with 3 tablespoons of oil, and  sprinkle with a few pinches of salt and a few grinds of pepper.

Roast. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Spread the vegetables on the sheet and roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes. They’re ready when they start to brown and are tender. The onions will probably cook faster than the squash, so check and remove them early if necessary so they don’t burn.

Whisk. While the vegetables are roasting, place in a bowl the tahina, 1½ tablespoon lemon juice, water, and minced garlic. Whisk until the sauce is the consistency of honey, adding water or tehina if necessary. Taste for seasoning and add salt, pepper, and more lemon juice if you’d like.

Toast. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a small pan over medium-low heat. Add the pine nuts with a pinch of salt and cook for 2-3 minutes until the nuts start to brown. Remove from the heat and transfer the nuts into a small bowl to stop the cooking.

Serve. To serve, spread the vegetables on a platter, drizzle with tahina (you probably won’t need all of it), and sprinkle with za’atar, pine nuts, and parsley (if using). I like to eat this at room temperature.

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the rest

I’m catching up on my NPR over here, this time a Splendid Table broadcast from a few weeks ago. (Listen to the first 9 minutes or read the transcript here.) It’s a conversation with Penny De Los Santos, photographer extraordinaire. I almost wrote food photographer, but, when you hear her talking, you realize that she doesn’t just photograph food, she captures moments and feelings.

So I flipped through the pages of this blog. I’d say I mostly shot food. Nice food, but food nonetheless. I take pictures I think are pretty, that demonstrate a method, that show you what your breakfast-lunch-dinner-snack-dessert might look like if you try out a recipe. The blog is largely recipes with a little life thrown in. Often I struggle with talking about that life. Or photographing it.

I do sometimes photograph moments. A shared lunch, a week on another coast, a long day. But the majority of my photos feel like this, inside:

I’m standing on a chair, alone in my apartment, taking pictures of something I’ve made.

Most of the time, you’ll see a single piece of something that I’m eating. Alone.

Usually, I’m bringing the rest to friends.

So, today I tried to focus on the rest. The best part.

Not that cooking – the tap-tap as you chop potatoes, the tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap as you chop herbs, the rising of a cake, the wiping your hands on a towel (or, if you’re me, on your jeans), the digging your hands in — isn’t the best. But it’s not enough. And I’d like my pictures to express that more.

So, as I try to write in a different way, I’ll also experiment with photographing in a different way.

(Non-dairy) skillet cornbread with cayenne

I was searching for a non-dairy cornbread to bring’s to a friend’s dinner, and Elisha came to the rescue with a recipe that doesn’t require milk substitutes or margarine.

(A few other people suggested using coconut oil. Barella, a high school classmate, even offered to send me a recipe for a “vegan butter spread made with coconut oil, flax oil, and agave nectar among other things”. Clearly she remembers me from my overly ambitions teen years.)

There’s a little bit of magic in this recipe. You purée the corn with oil and water and eggs, which creates a creamy replacement for the milk or buttermilk that most recipes use. You don’t miss the buttery taste because the corn taste is nice as strong. I don’t like whole corn kernels in my cornbread, but if you do, feel free to throw an extra cup or so into the batter. I also added a bit of cayenne for a little heat at the end of each bite. I increased the recipe by half because I only had a large (11-inch skillet); the original calls for a 9-inch skillet, so check out Elisha’s blog for the right measurements if you have that size.

Finally, I have a few words on technique. It will probably take your oven a while to heat. You might be tempted to mix all of the ingredients together and then wait. Do the opposite – wait until the oven reaches the right temperature, and then blend everything together. Cornbread is a quick bread and it rises due the chemical reaction of baking powder and liquid (and eggs). Once you mix the wet and dry ingredients, you’ll notice bubbles. You don’t want all the bubbles to form and break before they hit the oven of you’ll get a flat dense bread. (Ever tried to make pancakes from yesterday’s batter? They’re thin and tough. Same reason). So, mix up the dry ingredients, puree the corn with the wet ingredients and just barely stir everything together right before you pour it into the skillet.

Now, about that pan. You want the pan to be really hot before you add the batter so you’ll get a nice sizzle. Keep in in the oven while it’s heating up. Then take it out (oven mitts, don’t forget oven mitts), grease with a little oil and add the batter. I let my pan cool down a bit too long, so I stuck the filled pan on a burner for a few minutes to make sure the bottom would get nice and crisp.

Ok, finally, on to the recipe. It’s much easier than the length of my notes would have you believe.

Serves 8-10

- 2 1/2 C flour

- 1 3/4 C fine cornmeal

- 1/2 C coarse cornmeal

- 1/4 C sugar

- 2 t salt

- 2 t baking powder

- 1/2 t cayenne pepper

- 1 C corn kernels (I used frozen and thawed them before use)

- 2 C less 2 T water

- 5 T oil (I used canola), divided

- 3 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, both cornmeals, sugar, salt, baking powder, and cayenne. Set aside.

Purée. Place the corn, water and 3 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.

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 (don’t forget the oven mitts!) 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. I broiled it for the last few minutes to get a golden brown top. Serve warm right out of the pan. Again, oven mitts. Don’t forget the oven mitts.

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Lunch today was not pretty, folks. Oh, it was good, but it wasn’t much of a looker. That’s why I don’t have any pictures for you.

It was one of those clear-out-the-fridge-to-make-room-for-new-groceries lunches. You might also call it an eat-before-going-shopping-to-buy-said-groceries-so-you-don’t-buy-out-the-store lunch. The two clearly go together. And you can probably guess how I spent the afternoon.

Lunch started with a bowl of wheat berries. Wheat berries are one of those ancient grains that seem to be the newest thing these days. Or maybe it was the newest thing a few years ago. Which would make ancient grains old news. Which, I suppose they are. Anyway, wheat berries surpass barley and farro along the firm and chewy spectrum. They’re a little nutty, but not crazy nutty.

Getting back to lunch, I cooked up some wheat berries and piled them into a bowl. Then I sautéed some onion and lots of garlic, added some vegetables (whatever is lurking in your fridge), sprinkled  some spices, and heaped everything on top of the wheat berries.

Finally, empty fridge and full belly, I was ready to go shopping.

A few hours later, full fridge, still-full belly, I started making soup for the week. More on that, pictures and all, tomorrow. See you then.

Wheat berries with greens and tomatoes

Serves 1

Make 1/4 cup hard wheat berries,  Follow the directions on your wheat berries package. The brand I bought is parboiled, so it only took about 15 minutes to make). Most recipes, such as this one, suggest first rinsing the grains, then simmering them in water (3:1 ratio) for about an hour.

While the wheat berries are simmering, prep your vegetables. Dice 1/2 an onion. Mince 3 cloves of garlic. Roughly chop 2 medium tomatoes and 3 handfuls of hearty greens. I used baby kale and arugula; plain leaved or lacinato kale, chard or spinach should work really well too; if you’re using any of these larger greens, remove the leaves from the ribs first.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pan over medium. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the onion  and sauté for 3-4 minutes until soft and translucent, stirring so it doesn’t brown. Add the rest of the ingredients in the following order and keep sautéeing and stirring: garlic for 1 minute, then the tomatoes, a pinch of cayenne, and a few pinches of baharat*. Keep stirring over heat for 5 more minutes until the tomatoes to break down. Taste for salt. Add the greens and stir until they wilt.

Drain the wheat  berries (1/4 cup should yield about 1/2 cup) and scoop into a bowl. Surround with the vegetables. Eat and go grocery shopping.

* If you don’t have baharat, you can substitute a mixture of cumin and cinnamon.

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Some things get easier as we get older. But making new friends is not one of them. Sure, we make acquaintances. We have people to go out to dinner with. And brunch. We befriend the parents of our kids’ friends based on play dates and carpools and school projects. But friends who know you like your high school and college friends do? Those are few and far between, and they get fewer and farther between as time goes by.

When my parents moved out to Palo Alto over a decade ago, they were in a bind. New coast, new city, new life. They knew no one. They were, to some extent, starting over. They quickly joined a synagogue, but lived several miles away, too far to walk to shabbat services as the congregation was wont to do. So they stayed in a nearby hotel on many Friday nights and relied on the community’s hospitality for shabbat dinners and lunches. It’s a hard position to be in, not being able to reciprocate.

One of my mother’s first friends in California was Stephanie. In a recent email, my mother described Stephanie as “the quintessential Palo Alto hostess … If there was an extra person or two in synagogue who needed hospitality, she could always stretch a meal to accommodate them and no one knew it was a stretch.  That was definitely a talent.” It may sound strange to think of people “needing” to be fed, but on shabbat, one of the main tenets, at least my favorite one, is eating with family and community. While she started by welcoming my parents to the community, Stephanie quickly became family. She and my mom spoke nearly every night. They even shared a birthday – February 12 – and my parents threw Stephanie a celebratory brunch when she hit a big something-oh.

Stephanie and her mother both died of ovarian cancer a few years back. In their matriarchs’ honor, the family started the Stephanie Sussman and Ann Nadrich Memorial Fund through Sharsheret, an organization that supports Jewish women facing breast and ovarian cancer. Soon Stephanie’s  daughters, Adeena and Sharon, started the Pies for Prevention Thanksgiving bake sale to raise ovarian cancer awareness and to support Sharsheret’s Ovarian Cancer Program. The bake sale has grown, gained press coverage and, now in its fourth year, you can buy pies (and breads) in eight cities across the nation, including up here in the Boston area (more on that later).

(Stephanie was clearly beautiful on the inside, and her daughters are testament to how stunning she was on the outside.)

When my family crowded around our Thanksgiving table last year, drowsy from too much turkey, we greeted our pies with greedy eyes and large plates that were soon crumb-covered. Our bellies were full, and so were our hearts.

If you’re in the Boston area and would like to order some goodies but can’t make it out to Sharon to pick them up, I’m going to be making a pie and bread run so you can grab their orders from my place the two evenings  before the holiday.

Pumpkin-Cranberry Bread

Adeena Sussman shared this recipe with me. She’s a great chef and food writer, and this quick bread is a good example of her talent for recipe development.  When we ate it last year, we couldn’t figure out whether to serve it with the meal or for dessert. If you can, hide a few leftover slices, then toast them up and slather them with butter for breakfast the next morning. You can always go to the gym next week.

Makes two 9-inch loaves or three 8-inch loaves  

- One 15 oz can solid-pack pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)

- 4 eggs

- 1 cup vegetable oil

- 2/3 cup water

- 2 cups white sugar

- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

- 2 teaspoons baking soda

- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

- 1 1/2 cup fresh cranberries

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch or three 8-inch loaf pans and reserve.

In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger.

Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Gently stir in cranberries. Pour into the prepared pans.

Bake for 60-65 minutes in the preheated oven. Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

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I’ve been seeing all these signs for NaBloPoMo and thought I was in New York looking for a newly-named-by-a-realtor neighborhood somewhere between TriBeCa and DUMBO. But no, I’m safely back in Boston. The portmanteau (oooh, getting fancy!) stands for National Blog Posting Month and is a challenge to bloggers to write one post per day in November. People have been doing it for years. When Jess brought it to my attention, I figured, why not do it this year? This is just the type of challenge that I need to push my writing in new directions and to experiment.

What if I write a post without a picture? What if I have pictures without words? How many different voices can I adopt (I already have the he-said-she-said down pat)? The opportunity to play during a condensed timeline, especially in a month so filled with cooking and preparation and family and craziness, will be an adventure. There’s definitely value in keeping up with the Joneses on this one.

Wanna join me?

If don’t have a blog, but do have a Y chromosome, why not take up the Movember challenge instead? Grow a mustache, raise awareness about men’s health issues such as prostate and testicular cancers, and encourage donations to fund education, outreach, and research.

And with that public service announcement, I’ll begin my catch-up NaBloPoMo

Let’s talk a little bit about yesterday, November 2. A friend recently challenged me to make dinner for four in under an hour (in desperation, I can have 90 minutes). I invited three friends over, and made just two simple, well-balanced dishes that seemed like they could be made in an hour. I decided to make a chicken and a kale barley beet salad. And for dessert, some biscotti I had made the day before.

I skimmed the recipes and figured I’d be able to make the chicken and the salad in parallel. Not quite. The chicken needed time in the oven at 425ºF. The beets at 375ºF. The beets took longer than expected. The barley took longer than expected. And then I read that the kale had to sit in dressing for 3 hours to wilt.

New challenge: read recipes from start to finish. And then let’s see how this 60-minute dinner for four thing unfolds.

Nonetheless, the chicken was great, the salad was great, the biscotti were great.

As for those  biscotti, that brings me to the day before yesterday, November 1, when I baked them.

They were my third attempt at some sort of cornmeal biscotti. The first attempt was tart cherry lime – hard as a rock, gritty, and too sweet. The second, blueberry lime – too dry and brittle. Then lucky number three, cranberry almond lime – crispy, crunchy, sweet, nutty, with a hint of lime. Exactly what I’ve been looking for. Another time, we can discuss the science behind my adjustments and how I carefully calculated the exact chemistry for (stumbled upon?) the right recipe. We’ll have loads of time for that this month.

For now though, let’s just stick with the kale salad.

Kale and barley salad with beets

The original recipe was a barley salad with kale, but I wanted more of a kale salad with barley. I cut the barley nearly in half and reduced the amount of beets as well. This salad would be great with feta, as the original indicates. Make sure to give yourself enough prep time. There’s only a little bit of chopping and prepping you need to do, but you do need to spend a fair amount of time watching – checking the beets, checking the barley, giving the kale a few hours to wilt. If you’re really organized, make the barley, beets, and dressing in advance. Chop and dress the kale in the morning – it won’t get soggy. Then toss everything together while your chicken is roasting. One hour after you’ve draped your coat over a chair, dinner can be on the table. In theory. This month, I’m going to try to make that happen. 

Serves 4

- 1/4 C olive oil

- 2 T unseasoned rice vinegar

- 2 t light brown sugar

- 1 orange for zest

- 1 shallot

- 1 big bunch of Tuscan kale (also called lacinato or dinosaur kale) or 5 oz (3 big handfuls) baby kale

- 2 medium beets, trimmed

- 3/4 C pearl barley

Preheat oven to 375ºF

Make dressing. In a glass jar, shake together the  olive oil, vinegar, sugar, and orange zest (set aside a pinch or two of zest to sprinkle on the assembled salad). Adjust for salt and pepper. Very thinly slice shallots into rings. Add them to the jar and keep shaking.

Wilt.  If you’re using large kale, separate leaves from ribs and cut the leaves into bite sized pieces. If you’re using the baby kale, rough chop the leaves, also into bite-sized-pieces. Add half the dressing (including some of the shallots), and massage it into the kale. Let sit for three hours until the leaves start to wilt and  become tender.

Roast. By now the oven should be hot. Wash and dry the beets, put them in a small baking dish, drizzle them with oil, and then roll them around so they’re coated with oil. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil. Roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour 15 minutes. Start checking around 45 minutes – the beets are done when a sharp knife can easily pierce through to the center without hitting much resistance. If the beets are large, or aren’t roasting fast enough for you, cut them in half and roast another 10 minutes and check again. Keep checking until they’re ready. Take them out of the oven, making sure that they foil is still tightly covering the beets. Let them cool covered before handling them. When you can touch them, use a peeler, a paring knife, or your fingers to peel off the skin. Cut the beets into 1/2-inch cubes.

Simmer. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (at least 4 cups). Salt the boiling water and then add the barley. Stir once and then reduce the heat to a medium simmer (there should be a few bubbles every second, but you don’t want a full on violently roll). Cook for 45 minutes to an hour. The barley is ready when it is al dente – just barely tender. If the barley feels like it has a little hard grain inside, it’s not quite ready yet.

Dry. Drain the barley and spread it onto a cookie sheet to dry out and cool.

Assemble. Gently toss the wilted kale with the barley and another tablespoon of dressing, or to taste. Top with beets and the reserved orange zest.

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Last night as the wind whistled outside my window and the city prepared for Sandy to blow through, I flopped into bed and flipped open Tamar Adler‘s book which I’ve been slowly devouring. The bookmark was stuck between pages 198 and 199. The book opened to Chapter 17, fittingly called “How to Weather a Storm.” (Fair warning: this post might read like a dissertation with its quotes galore, but the passages I cite are too good, their sentiment too true, for any clumsy paraphrasing. I hope you’ll understand.)

Right up front in the introduction to her book, Adler explains that she modeled An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace after MFK Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf. She describes her inspiration as “a book about cooking defiantly, amid the mess of war and the pains of bare pantries.” There’s no war around here, but there is a mess outside. The pantry may not be bare, at least not in my kitchen, but there’s nothing like a hurricane to make  you think about what might happen if  you have to subsist on whatever you have on hand with little hope of rapid replenishment.

Reading Adler’s chapter on eating out of cans in the face of little, I was reminded of my favorite chapter in Luisa Weiss‘s first book, My Berlin Kitchen, another recent bedtime companion. The chapter is called “Depression Stew” and the way I read it, it’s about the loneliness of Paris. I couldn’t help but relate to Luisa’s story (we met a few weeks ago, so I think it’s OK for us to be on a first name basis) of living in Paris and wanting to be an insider, wanting to have someone to share the city with. She writes, “I went to classes by day and walked the streets alone in the evening, sometimes ducking into one of the city’s myriad one-room movie theaters tucked away in small side streets to escape the increasing seclusion I felt.”  I too spent time in Paris, often alone, often lonely. One summer, I too took (dance) classes and wandered the streets on my own.  And while I did go on a few dates with a guy, when it was quickly clear that there was no future for us, he said, “I’ll never forget you as the girl who was lost in Paris.”

Reading Luisa contemplate the “Depression Stew” she made in her barely-wingspan Parisian kitchen felt familiar to me. Luisa had learned to make Depression Stew from her father who liked to think of it as “the kind of food  you’d eat during a financial depression, cheap and filling and healthy.” When she made it that year in Paris, she felt  that the stew could also serve as “a remedy for more personal lows.” Even though I preferred to eat out with a book that summer rather than cooking anything in the similarly tiny kitchen of my one-room rented Left Bank apartment, I knew what she was talking about.

When I first bookmarked Luisa’s stew, I thought I’d make it when I was feeling a bit blue and I’d write about being lost in Paris. But after reading Adler’s Chapter 17 last night and watching reports of the strengthening storm and its havoc this morning, it seemed more fitting to write about the stew’s humble beginnings.

I imagine Adler would approve heartily of Depression Stew. She recommends that you “get out a pot and a pan, and decide that no matter how hard the wind is whipping at the windows, you will be well fed through the storm.” She talks a lot about canned tomatoes and canned beans. The latter she says need a good long simmer in olive oil to “become really likable.” Even better if you cook them up with onion and garlic. And that’s where Luisa’s stew begins. And then Luisa fills out the aromatics with whatever is in the fridge – carrot, potato, zucchini – and a can of tomatoes. Luckily I had everything I needed for Depression Stew. A couple of carrots that were a bit droopy, a handful of potatoes a bit soft, half a baguette a bit stale — food that might otherwise be headed for the garbage had this stew not saved them.

I’m weathering hurricane Sandy just fine so far. Thanks, ladies, for keeping me company. I’m very lucky.

PS – a quick thank you to What’s Cookin for sharing my blog with their readers

Hurricane Stew

This is one of those clean-out-the-fridge-and-pantry recipes. Use whatever vegetables you have on hand, just make sure to add the harder ones (e.g., carrots, parsnips) early and the more delicate ones (e.g., potatoes, zucchini) later. If you have a bit of stale (or fresh) baguette on hand, cut it into thin slices and make garlic toasts to float on top of the stew. If you have lemon and parsley lying around, a quick squeeze and a sprinkle really brightens up the dish. 

Serves 2-3

- 3 T olive oil, and more for drizzling

- 1 medium yellow onion

- 4 cloves garlic, divided

- 2 carrots

- 5-6  baby Dutch yellow potatoes (or 1-2 large potatoes; any thin-skinned potatoes will do)

- 1 28-oz can peeled plum tomatoes

- salt

- red pepper flakes/crushed red pepper

- 1 15.5-oz can Roman beans (also called cranberry beans and barlotti beans)

- stale baguette

- lemon

- parsley

Heat. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.

Dice. While the oil is heating, dice the onion and mince three cloves of garlic.

Cook. Add the onion and garlic and cook,  stirring every once in a while, for about five minutes until the onion is soft and translucent. If the onion starts to brown, turn down the heat.

Dice again and keep cooking. While the onion is cooking, dice the carrots and potatoes. Add them to the pan and keep cooking for another five minutes or so. Continue to stir every once in a while.

Squish and keep cooking. This is the really fun part. Pour the tomatoes in a large bowl and squish the tomatoes  between your fingers, squeezing to break them up into small pieces. If there are any cores that feel rough, throw them out.  Add the tomatoes, salt to taste, and a shake or two of red pepper flakes to the pot. Continue to cook for another five minutes. And continue to stir periodically.

Drain and keep cooking. Drain the beans and rinse in cold water several times. Add them to the pot, stir gently, and bring the whole thing to a simmer. Turn the heat to low and keep the stew at a slow simmer for about 30 minutes. Cover the pot and add extra water if the stew gets too thick.

Toast. Slice the stale baguette – you’ll want two pieces per person. Cut the last garlic clove in half and rub the cut edge on the baguette slices. Then drizzle or brush each slice with olive oil. Pop the baguette slices on a piece of aluminum foil and into a toaster (or regular) oven set to 350ºF. Toast for a few minutes on each side until the baguette starts to brown.

Serve. Squeeze lemon juice over the stew right before serving. Spoon into a bowl, sprinkle with minced parsley, and float a couple of pieces of toast  on top.

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in focus

She stopped, mid-snap, lens nearly abutting the plate. My camera broke, she said.

Your camera broke? he said.

I don’t know. Yes. Maybe. Do you hear this? It clicks when it’s supposed to focus.

Nah, I don’t hear anything.

She twisted off the lens and twisted on another one. Please focus, please focus, please focus, she whispered.

It focused. OK, she announced, it’s not the camera, it’s the lens.

The lens? he said.

The lens.

How’d it break? he said.

I don’t know.

Are you sure it’s the lens?

Yes.

She pointed the camera out the window and depressed the button halfway. With a whirring sound, the lens zoomed forward and back. Hear that? she said. See that? It made a zooming sound. It moved.

Yes.

OK, let’s try the other lens, the one that didn’t work a few seconds ago.

She twisted off the lens and twisted on the first one. Please focus, please focus, please focus, she whispered.

She pointed the camera down the hall and depressed the button halfway. Click. The lens stayed put.

OK, it’s definitely the lens which is good. But, she said looking at him, this is the lens. The darling of all food bloggers lens. The lens.

She twisted off the lens. Squinting, she held it up to her eye and moved it forward and back until his face came into focus. Upside-down, but in focus.

You have manual override on the lens? he asked.

Yes, on the camera.

On the lens?

No, on the camera. I think. I don’t know. Maybe I should get the manual. Maybe I should read the manual, she muttered.

He took the lens. He turned it around in his hands. He fiddled with the rings, the ones that spin, the ones that don’t budge. He pulled, he prodded. The lens didn’t move.

She turned away to tap on her computer, downloading the manual.

He tapped her shoulder. I think I got it.

Really?

Yeah.

Really?

Try it.

She twisted the lens back on. She took a few steps back and pointed the camera at his hands. She half  pressed the button. His hands came into focus. She exhaled and smiled. She turned the camera away from her face, pointed to the right and pushed the button again, watching the lens move forward and back.

You fixed it!

Yeah, I fix shit. Can we eat now?

Tortilla española

As I mentioned in my last post, tortilla española is a Spanish potato omelette, similar to an Italian frittata. I adapted Mark Bittman’s recipe in How to Cook Everything (the yellow cover).  My tortilla differs from the traditional Spanish dish in a few ways. In Spain, the tortilla is more egg than potato, is very light in color, and is flipped over onto a plate so that it looks like a thin, slightly domed cake. I brown my potatoes, add parsley, and serve my tortilla right out of the skillet. Recipes generally either call for russet (“Idaho”) or thin-skinned potatoes – I tried both and preferred the russets (over fingerlings). 

While we’re talking about following recipes (or, more accurately, not following recipes), check out this recent NYTimes article about Chris Kimball of Cook’s Illustrated and his philosophy of the art vs science of cooking. If you want an authentic tortilla española and are good at following recipes, check out my friend Molly’s recipe or a couple of others I found online here and here

Serves 4, at least.

- 2 – 3 medium-sized russet potatoes

- salt and pepper, to taste

- 1/3 C olive oil

- 1 large onion

- 2 cloves garlic

- 6 eggs (or more, depending on how much potato you have)

- 1 bunch parsley

- 1 t hot paprika

Slice.  Cut the potatoes width-wise into 1/8-inch slices (don’t bother peeling them). I use a mandoline on the 3-mm setting. If you don’t have one, get out a sharp knife and a cutting board and slice the potatoes as thinly as you can.

Cook. Over medium-high, heat the oil in a large skillet (I used a 10-inch one; non-stick is best) until shimmering. Pile the potatoes into the skillet – it’ll be pretty crowded. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Every few minutes, turn the potatoes over carefully, bringing some of the top layer down to the bottom, and trying not to break them (too much), until the potatoes soften and start to brown. This should take about 20 minutes. Traditional recipes suggest that you not brown the potatoes, but I prefer them a bit crispy, almost like hash browns. If you notice your potatoes browning, and you want to make a tortilla that could be served in a tapas bar, turn down the heat.

Slice again. While the potatoes are cooking, use your mandoline/knife to slice the onion into very thin half-moons. Mince the garlic.

Preheat.  Around now, you’ll want to turn on your oven to 375°F.

Keep cooking. Add the onions to the potatoes, continuing to turn everything over every few minutes, and cook for another 10 minutes. Then add the garlic and mix everything together again, cooking for another 2 minutes. If you’re counting, that’s 32 minutes on the stove top.

NOTE. The original recipe suggests that you take the potatoes out of the skillet and cook the onions and garlic on their own. I didn’t want to dirty another bowl, but it probably would have made my life easier. If you are going to do that, here’s the deal: After cooking the potatoes for 20 minutes, transfer them to a bowl. Pour a bit more oil into the skillet and cook the onions for about 10 minutes. Then add the garlic and continue cooking for another 2 minutes. Then, add back the potatoes and mix everything together, letting it cook together for another 5 minutes.

Beat. In a bowl, beat the eggs. Finely chop the parsley and add 1/2 cup of it to the eggs along with the paprika.

Shake. Once the potatoes are tender – try one, it should taste good – turn the heat to low and pour the egg into the skillet. Shake the skillet around to distribute the eggs. (If it looks like you don’t have enough egg, quickly beat another one or two with the parsley left in the bowl, and pour it into the skillet.) Gently lift the potatoes here and there so that the egg can get into all the nooks and crannies. Then let everything cook for about 5 minutes until the edges of the eggs begin to set.

Bake. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the eggs are set, around 10 more minutes.

Serve. Let the tortilla cool to room temperature. I like to slice up the tortilla right in the pan.

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It all started with apples.

Poor apples. They’ve had a rough go at it this year, and I missed apple picking. Unless you were on the ball, you probably missed apple picking around here too. Luckily, two of the farms at my Monday market still proudly display a full range of red and green and yellow beauties. I buy them in twos and threes and they hold me over until the next week.

My favorite varieties are Jonagold and Honeycrisp. In the afternoon, I pull out a paring knife and balance the dull side of its blade against my thumb, pushing through the rough, unwaxed skin and covering a plate with apple slivers. I pair the slices with a spoonful of sweet creamy peanut butter. Sometimes two spoonfuls.

Last week, I barely saw home, and the apples piled up. I had enough for a tarte tatin. But a tarte tatin can’t be eaten alone, so I invited a group over for dinner.

The group grew to ten, the tarte grew to two, and the apples, well, I no longer had enough of them. A quick run to the store for a few more apples, and dinner was on the way.

The guests arrived and we crowded around the table for eight set for ten.

It was a simple dinner. We started with soup. Next up, a kale salad with roasted beets and orange. Another salad brought by a friend. And a tortilla española* that was a last-minute addition when I realized soup and salad might not be enough.

Shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip, we drank wine and prosecco out of tumblers.

Ten soup bowls were swiped with bread, ten plates were scraped with knives. When I rose for seconds, I found on the buffet (also known as a microwave cart hastily cleared moments before everyone arrived) a few kale leaves swimming in a large bowl, a cube of avocado embracing a spoon, and a Molly scratching the last few dark bits of egg and potato stuck to a 14-inch (!) pan.

“Did I not make enough?” I whispered. Molly solemnly nodded.

I looked around. My guests were sprawled on the sofa, chairs, and floor.

Retreating to the kitchen, I pulled out the tarte tatins, apples still tucked under crusts whose edges were tinged with sticky scarlet pomegranate caramel. I covered each pan – first the blue skillet, then the orange – with a plate and flipped. I expected an apple or two to latch on to the skillets. I didn’t expect some of the apples to have turned into circles of mush. I guess a few of my mismatched apples** were better for sauce than pie.

I hid in the kitchen for a few moments, thinking. I spooned the clinging apples and mush from the skillets and arranged them as artfully as I could.

A smile on my face and a Times article in my head, I emerged with a tarte in each hand. “Pomegranate applesauce tarte tatin for dessert!”

* The tortilla española. A tortilla española is a Spanish potato omelette, similar to an Italian frittata. I followed Mark Bittman’s recipe from How to Cook Everything (the yellow cover).  For the recipe from the updated version of Bittman’s book of the same name (the red cover) , check out Molly’s story of her trip to Spain. Let me know if you’re interested in the version I made – I’ll gladly whip another tortilla and report back to you.

** The apples. I used a mix of market- and store-bought apples that included Mutsu, Jonagold, Honeycrisp, Gala, and Granny Smith. I did a  bit of research and I think the Honeycrisps were the sauce culprits.

Pomegranate apple(sauce) tarte tatin

Tarte tatin is a traditional French upside-down caramelized apple tart. Still obsessed with pomegranate, I found a recipe that combines this tart fruit with this sweet tarte (hehe!). I cut the sugar down to 1/2 cup and the tarte was still plenty sweet. I know that the recipe might seem daunting – make caramel? flip over a burning hot skillet?  - but if I can do it, so can you. I’ve made tarte tatins with pears and tomatoes, and there are a bunch of things I’ve picked up along the way.

First, the caramel. It’s pretty easy to burn the caramel, so you need to watch it closely. If you’re afraid the caramel is starting to burn, take the skillet off the heat immediately and assess the situation: let things cool down a bit, dip a fork in the caramelizing syrup, and carefully taste it. Carefully because you don’t want to burn your tongue. A slight burnt flavor – think crême brulée – is fine, but if you taste smoke, start over.

Then, the flip. The tarte will be prettier if you flip it just out of the oven. Get out your oven mitts and extra kitchen towels. Place a plate on top of the pan and cover the plate with a towel. Grasp the pan-plate-towel pile with oven mitted-hands, hold your breath for a moment, and turn the whole thing over. Some caramel might spill out onto the towel, but you’ll be fine because your hands will be protected. If you want to wait until the tarte cools, it will turn out almost as pretty, but a few apples will probably stick to the skillet. Just scoop them off and put them back on the tarte. 

1 pie crust or puff pastry (I make this sweet pâte sucrée or pâte brisée, or just buy puff pastry)

- 1 1/2 C pomegranate juice or 1/2 C pomegranate molasses/pomegranate syrup (thickened pure pomegranate juice; don’t bother with the ones that add sugar)

- 4-8 of  your favorite baking apples, depending on size (you want enough to fit tightly into your skillet); for me, the most reliable are Granny Smith

- 1/4 C (1/2 stick) butter (or margarine for a non-dairy tarte)

- 1/2 C sugar

- large pinch kosher salt

Prep. Preheat oven to 400ºF and let pie crust/puff pastry come to room temperature.

Reduce. Bring the pomegranate juice to a boil until it reduces by a third (down to 1/2 cup ) into a thick syrup. If you use purchased pomegranate molasses/syrup, you don’t need to boil anything.

Slice. Peel and core the apples, then slice into halves or quarters. I like halves, but you can fit more apples in if you use quarters.

Caramelize. Melt butter in a heavy oven proof 9- or 10-inch skillet and then sprinkle evenly with sugar. Cook over medium heat without stirring until the mixture begins to bubble all over and turns lightly golden. This should take about 3 minutes. Remove from  heat.

Cook. Tightly fill the skillet with apples, cut side up,  and sprinkle with salt. Keep in mind, the apples will shrink as they cook and you might be able to slip  in a few more slices midway. Return the skillet to medium heat and cook the apples without stirring  until a thick, deep amber syrup bubbles up between the fruit. (OK, even though you’re supposed to leave the caramel alone to do its thing, I usually flip the apples once or twice to make sure they soak up the caramel evenly. Just make sure to leave the cut ends up because when you flip the tart, you’ll want the rounded sides facing the top.) This will take about 20 minutes. Pour the pomegranate syrup over the apples – the mixture will bubble up. Cook until the juices further thicken. The apples will be a deep burgundy color. Remove from heat. With a spatula, make sure that the apples are tightly packed.

Tuck. Roll out the crust between two sheets of wax paper into a circle one inch larger than the skillet (i.e., leave an extra inch all around). Slide the crust over the skillet and tuck it in around the apples and at the edges of the skillet. The crust doesn’t have to be perfect because you’re going to flip it over anyway. Cut a few slits in the crust to let air escape.

Bake. Bake the tarte until the crust browns and the juices at the edge are thick and scarlet in color. This takes 25-30 minutes. Remove the skillet from the oven and let cool for five minutes minute. (If you let the tarte cool for too long, the caramel will thicken and the apples are more likely to stick to the pan. But if you’re nervous, just flip it later.)

Flip. Place a large plate over the skillet. Using oven mitts and kitchen towels, hold the skillet and plate together and carefully flip over the tarte. Lift the skillet — if any apples are stuck to the skillet, just put them back into place on the crust. Let the tarte cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

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