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Archive for the ‘parve’ Category

that upstairs

You might notice that things look a little bit different here today. That there? That’s a little glimpse of my office.

CroutonsEvery morning, after the frenzy of coats and hats and scarves come off,  I drop my purse on the floor and my lunch, when I remember to pack it, on my desk. Eventually lunch makes its way into the fridge on my first trip upstairs to the kitchen for tea.

And let’s talk about that upstairs.  It’s where the printer is. It’s where the engineers sit. It’s where the real work gets done. It’s where the couches are. It’s where we gather for lunch.

Today I brought in a jar of soup. It was leftover roasted carrot from Sunday’s brunch (thanks Jenn!). And I topped it with croutons, and that’s what I want to quickly chat about today.

Yup, we’re going to talk about stale bread. There’s so much you can do with stale bread that I sometimes buy a loaf hoping I won’t be able to eat the whole thing before it dries out.

Looking back, I’ve used stale bread quite a bit around here. It’s the star of a salad. Ground into crumbs over another salad. Pureed to thicken cold soups. Rubbed with garlic and floated on a hot soup.

Today’s stale bread works equally well in soups or salads. The trick is to cut it into small cubes, no more than a half-inch on each side. I like to use baguette or a nice boule; you don’t want anything too airy. Toss the cubes with a nice drizzle of olive oil and a few pinches of salt and a few grinds of pepper, maybe even some spices. Throw them on a cookie sheet and into the oven at 300° – 350°F for about ten minutes until they start to color. Or toast them up in a pan on the stove for about five minutes.

Once they cool, they go into a bag and into my office and onto my desk and up the stairs and into a jar and onto a couch and into my belly.

croutons

And in case you want a closer look at the soup, here’s a quick picture that I snapped as I packed my lunch in the morning.

roasted carrot soup

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Today I have a special treat for you.

I spoke with Michael Leviton, chef and owner of Lumière and Area Four, last weekend in anticipation of tonight’s fourth annual Beyond Bubbie’s Kitchen event.

BBK is just what it sounds like: local chefs, Jewish or not, reinterpreting Jewish culinary traditions. Past years have featured duck pastrami sandwiches and a towering croquembouche of cream puffs covered in caramel, a nod to the sticky, honey-soaked teiglach dessert served on Rosh Hashanah. While neither pork nor shellfish will make an appearance, the event is not strictly kosher.

Leviton is no stranger to turning traditional food on its head. For the past two years, he has hosted Passover seders, and just a month ago he initiated at Lumière Chinese food and a movie on Christmas Eve, an institution in many Jewish households, including his own (and mine). Does he have plans to celebrate other Jewish holiday at the restaurant? “Not really. I think [Passover and Christmas] are sort of the biggies. I think those are also the best tie in with non-Jewish things as well. Our seder is very inclusive and very interfaith. Obviously Chinese food and a movie is on Christmas Eve and the rest of that menu has latkes and some Christmas-y food – it really runs the gamut.” As a rule of thumb for how he develops these menus and dishes, Leviton explains, “From my standpoint, what I do with [these meals] is because of the training I’ve had. It’s not just enough to have the technical training, but you have to combine that with a cultural understanding of food and where it comes from.”

That technical training and cultural understanding began in high school when Leviton  worked in several delis in Newton, MA, though at that point, Leviton muses, “I thought I would never want to do this.” But the energy of the kitchen lured him back in: “I took some time off from college and had a desk job, but found that I really couldn’t sit still. So I took a job in a kitchen. I was a prep cook in a Souper Salad…Then I cooked the next few summers and as soon as I graduated, I left for San Francisco where I was very fortunate to meet the right people very early on.”

Leviton’s early mentors read like a who’s who of the restaurant world with chef after chef referring him to others who could help him hone his craft. I suspect playing “chef geography” in such a tight-knit community might be just as entertaining as “Jewish geography.” Leviton’s first restaurant job was with Joyce Goldstein at the now-closed Square One restaurant. A prolific cookbook author (I have Cucina Ebraica and Saffron Shores), it’s not surprising that Leviton characterizes his time working with Goldstein as “a very formative experience.” He then left for France where he picked up “a level of attention to detail and finesse” and returned to San Francisco to work with recent French transplant,  Alain Rodelli. A few years later, Rondelli introduced Leviton to Daniel Boulud, helping him land a job at Le Cirque in New York. Then a few years later, Rondelli asked him to fly back to San Francisco as sous chef of his new eponymous restaurant.

After shuttling from coast to coast, Leviton returned to New England in the mid-90s, first as Executive Chef at Upstairs at the Pudding (now Upstairs on the Square) and then opening Lumière in 1999 and the more casual Area Four less than two years ago.

On keeping with the BBK theme, I asked Leviton whether his own grandmothers influenced his cooking. Leviton chuckled. “Not at all. One I can’t ever really remember cooking and then the other one was not a particularly good cook. She cooked the crap out of everything. My dad will talk about his maternal grandmother being a very good cook. And that’s sort of about it. I was fortunate enough growing up because my mom wrote a low cholesterol kosher cookbook. So I was exposed to a lot of cooking, not all of it stuff you’d necessarily want to eat, but I was exposed to the idea of cooking and the process throughout my childhood…My kids like to cook a little bit, but my [10-year old] daughter will definitely work the front of the house. She’s a pro.”

Though his family is Ashkenazi, hailing from “the lands of potatoes and cabbage,” Leviton explains, “my palate definitely runs more towards Sephardic. And especially around Passover, we become Sephardic for a week. Then we eat rice. Also, the  flavors are so much more exciting.”

This mix of Ashkenazi and Sephardic cultures is reflected in Lumière’s seder courses. “I don’t know if you’ve seen the seder menu,” Leviton says, “but even there we’re trying to take some ideas from a variety of different cultures in the context of Jewish. It’s always trying to look at it through a slightly different lens, take a look at these classic ideas and re-frame them a little bit. We make a Persian  charoset recipe which I love because it’s not apples and cinnamon. It’s dates and almonds and raisins and orange and a pinch of cayenne. It’s a completely different palette of flavors. What I loved about it is if you think about where this holiday comes from initially, it’s from a desert climate. It’s from the Middle East and you have to figure they were celebrating their own foods back then. They weren’t using cinnamon and apples and walnuts. It was dates and almonds and things like that and to me, it made a lot more sense. We still make my Aunt Sharon’s charoset, but the one that everyone eats is the Persian one.”

As in years past, Leviton and Area Four pastry chef Katie Kimball will prepare a dessert for BBK. With Purim less than a month away, Leviton and Kimball are planning to make tri-cornered hamantashen cookies with sweet sesame filling and sesame candy on top, a break from the traditional poppy seed “mun” filling. Last year, they used that mun filling to make their own version of oreos.  And the year before that were alcoholic milkshakes. No doubt, the lines at their station will be snaking around the room.

Thanks so much, Michael. I can’t wait to meet you and Katie tonight and sample your creations!

Maple-Mustard Glazed Smoked Sable with Beets and Horseradish Vinaigrette

Michael Leviton’s Maple-Mustard Glazed Smoked Sable with Beets and Horseradish Vinaigrette (works well on chicken too)

Leviton explains, “I developed this recipe a number of years ago for something that I did for Myra Kraft’s. I took the idea of gefilte fish and turned it on its ear. For me, the best part of gefilte fish is the beets and horseradish. So we did a beet tartare with a horseradish vinaigrette and then a maple mustard glazed sable.”

I made a few adaptions to the recipe, replacing difficult-to-find smoked sable with smoked haddock. I served the fish atop a pile of baby arugula. I also changed the order of the ingredients slightly to reflect the order in which I made each component. Any modifications I made I have italicized.

The maple mustard marinade is quite intense, more mustard than maple with a good amount of spice (I used Maille brand mustard). I used the leftovers for boneless skinless chicken breasts that I cooked in a pan on the stovetop – incredible! I think this would work with a mild white fish as well. 

Serves 4 as an appetizer

For the seasoned white wine vinegar (you can skip if you have Japanese seasoned rice wine vinegar in your pantry)

- 1 cup white wine vinegar

- 1 cup sugar

- 2 teaspoons kosher salt

For the beets

- 4 small red beets – tops removed

- 4 tablespoons seasoned white wine vinegar (recipe above) - I used a Japanese seasoned rice wine vinegar

- 4 tablespoons water

For the fish

- 4 two ounce pieces of smoked sable (the more cube-like, the better) – I was only able to find a half-pound of smoked haddock

- 2 ounces maple syrup - make sure to use the richer Grade B

- 7 tablespoons Dijon mustard - I used a blend of regular and whole seed (“moutarde a l’ancienne”) Dijon

- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

- 1 tablespoon canola oil

For the vinaigrette

- ¼ cup seasoned white wine vinegar

- ¼ extra virgin olive oil

- Freshly grated (or prepared) horseradish – I grated fresh horseradish root with a lemon zester and added a tablespoon (I like things spicy)

- 1 tablespoon minced chives

Preheat the oven to 450ºF.

Season the vinegar. Combine the white wine vinegar, sugar and salt in a non-reactive pan and heat until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Cool to room temperature.

Roast. Wash the beets and place on a 12 inch by 12 inch square of aluminum foil. Fold up the sides and pour in the water and vinegar. Seal the top by folding over the edges of the foil. Place the foil package in a sauté pan (I placed my foil packet on a cookie sheet) and bake in the oven for about 1 hour or until easily pierced with the tip of a knife. (If your beets are larger, they may take up to 90 minutes to roast.)  Remove the beets from the foil package and, when cool enough to handle, peel. 

Puree. Coarsely chop the beets and puree in a food processor. The puree will not get very smooth. This is not a problem. Remove the puree from the processor and reserve.

Marinate. Combine the maple syrup, mustard and sherry vinegar and whisk well. Place the smoked sable in the glaze and let marinate for about 10 minutes.

Glaze. Heat a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add the canola oil and then the smoked sable portions (excess glaze removed). Cook for about one minute or until the glaze caramelizes. Flip the fish over and cook for another minute or so, until the sable is warmed through.

Whisk. To make the vinaigrette, combine the seasoned vinegar and extra virgin olive oil in a mixing bowl and whisk well. Add the horseradish to taste, Right before service, add the chives and mix well.

Assemble. Meanwhile, heat the beet puree in a small sauté or sauce pan. Add the chives to the vinaigrette. Place a spoonful of the puree in the center of each of four plates. Top with the sable and drizzle the vinaigrette around.

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Hey there! Today we’re having soup.

tomato couscous soup

It’s a simple tomato soup thickened with couscous, spiked with spices, dolloped with yogurt.

I’m going to level with you – the first bowl didn’t wow me. It was too thin. The couscous seemed like an afterthought. The cumin and thyme competed with one another. So I left the pot on the counter to cool and went out to work on breaking in my new hiking boots (Machu Picchu, here I come!).

But a few hours later, I stuck a spoon in the now cold soup to see if maybe I had missed something. Wow! While it sat, the couscous did its thing. As it absorbed the liquid, it thickened the broth, it united the spices.

I should have known it would all come together. Yotam Ottolenghi wrote the recipe.

And, no, I didn’t forget that it’s the fourth night of Hanukkah. I have two brand new recipes for you to open as you light candles five and six. Here’s a hint – neither of them is fried. (If, however, you can’t wait and do want to fry, check out last year’s sufganiyot.)

Tomato couscous soup

Adapted from Yotam Ottolengi’s Plenty. I replaced the semolina with  cooked couscous because I had some left over after making a tagine. If you don’t want to make couscous separately, I suspect that you can add uncooked couscous during the last ten minutes of cooking (which is how the recipe directs you to add semolina). 

Makes about 3 quarts

- 1 1/2 C cooked couscous (about 3/4 C uncooked)

- 1 medium onion

- 2 stalks celery

- 3 T olive oil

- 1 T cumin

- 2 t coriander

- 1 t thyme

- 1 1/2 t sweet paprika

- 2 T tomato paste

- 1 28-oz canned whole peeled tomatoes

- salt and pepper

- 7 C water

- 1 1/2 t sugar

- 1 lemon for juice

- Greek yogurt (optional)

Make couscous. I’ve had good luck with this method, or just follow the directions on the package. Or add uncooked couscous later.

Chop. Finely chop the onion and celery.

Sauté. Heat the olive oil in a medium pot (I used a 4-quart). Add the onion and celery, and sauté over medium heat until the onion is golden and soft, about 8 minutes. Stir in spices and tomato paste until incorporated.

Crush. Crush the tomatoes between your fingers into bite sized pieces and add to the pot. Stir and season with salt and pepper.

Simmer. Add the water and sugar and bring to a boil. Then turn the heat down and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Stir in the cooked (or uncooked) couscous and simmer for another 10 minutes. Cover the pot at this point if you opted for the uncooked couscous. The couscous will absorb some of the liquid, so don’t worry if it starts out looking thin. If the soup gets too thick (more likely if you added uncooked couscous), add water until you get the right consistency.

Serve. Squeeze in the lemon juice and taste for salt and pepper again (I found the soup needed quite a bit of salt). Ladle into bowls and spoon some Greek yogurt on top. Sprinkle with cumin.

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I’m still savoring the New Yorker December 3, 2012 food issue, nursing it like a café au lait in a bowl so large you get to warm up both hands as you lift it to your lips. The issue itself is comforting, inviting, lingering-inducing. You may have caught a glimpse of it sprawling across my table next to my salad earlier this week.

Jim Lahey's  no-knead bread

The article that’s on my mind now is one about young French female CEO Apollonia Poilâne, her business, her traditions, and her bread. Of course, it’s not really her bread, but her family’s bread, a legacy started eighty years ago in Paris by her grandfather Pierre Poilâne and their first eponymous bakery. And, one might argue that it’s not really her family’s bread, but France’s bread. Poilâne‘s signature miche, a 4-pound round loaf with a mild sourdough flavor, is often sold by the half, sliced in long tranches for tartines (open-faced sandwiches). In fact, the term pain Poilâne has become synonymous with sandwich bread (like the British term Hoover for vacuum).

Jim Lahey's no-knead bread, the process: first rise, 15-minute rest, second rise, out of the oven

Apollonia Poilâne has several ideas about the eating of bread, including:

  1. Bread should not steal the quality of the meal.
  2. I don’t believe in making bread at home.
  3. It’s terribly wrong to eat bread while it’s still cooling.

Jim Lahey's no-knead bread, getting ready to slice

And yet, I broke every single one of those rules last week when I made Jim Lahey’s game-changing bread recipe.  After two prior failed attempts, I was inspired to try baking this bread one more time after reading Tamar Adler‘s “How to Have Balance” chapter in which she says “Bread can be the thing you’re eating, not a prelude to the meal, or an afterthought.” 

Jim Lahey's no-knead bread, the first slice

And so I planned a meal in which the bread was the centerpiece, placed squarely in the middle of the plate with just a few adornments. Butter, honey, Chevrot, olive oil, salt.

Jim Lahey's no-knead bread, a few tranches

When we took the bread out of the oven, flipping it from the pot to the cutting board, we leaned in to hear the murmuring of the crust – microscopic cracks forming as the bread cooled and contracted. In Appolonia’s words, ça chante, it sings. We couldn’t wait for the bread to cool, and as we made the first cuts, the steam filled our noses, the rich scent of … bread, but really the feeling of home. We tore the first naked slice in half, chewing it, thoughtfully, entranced.

Jim Lahey's no-knead bread, the aftermath

Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread

There are two very similar versions of the recipe – the one on the Sullivan Street Bakery site and the one that Mark Bittman published in the New York Times. I added a little extra yeast and salt – next time I’d add more salt. While there is very little work that goes into making the bread, it does require a lot of time, so you do need to plan in advance. The whole process from start to finish – mixing, two rises, baking – takes 15 – 21 hours. I like to start the dough the afternoon before, give it an 18-hour first rise, and then bake the bread around 11 am in time for lunch. If you want to cut down on time, check out this video that recommends adding red wine vinegar (!) to the mix.

Here are a few lessons that I learned along the way.

Make sure you have a heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid. I use a Le Creuset cocotte (French oven). The standard black knob that comes with the pot can’t sustain the high heat required; either replace it with a stainless one or remove the knob and fill the hole with some aluminum foil. The first time I made the bread, I used a covered tagine whose loose-fitting top not only let the steam out, but cracked when I removed it from the oven.

Don’t fuss with the dough. Refrain from peeking at it, lifting the plastic, kneading, or poking too much to check its rise. I put the bowl on top of the refrigerator to help me resist temptation.

The most difficult part of the whole recipe is transferring the dough into the hot pot. You want to do this quickly so you can cover the pot and get it back into the oven as fast as possible. I found that this was easiest when I placed the tea towel holding the dough on a cookie sheet so that I could let the dough tumble into the pot.

Makes one 1½-pound loaf.

- 3 cups all-purpose (or bread) flour, more for dusting

-1/2 teaspoon instant yeast

- 2 t salt

- 1 5/8 C warm water

- Cornmeal (or wheat bran)

Stir. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add water, and use your hands to stir everything around until blended. The dough will be very wet and sticky and will look shaggy – messy and scruffy and unkempt.

Rise. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees. The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles.

Rest. Lightly flour your counter and roll the dough out on it in a jiggly mass. Sprinkle the dough with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap (right on the counter) and let it rest for 15 minutes.

Rise again. Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape the dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with cornmeal (or flour or wheat bran). Put the dough seam side down on the towel and dust with more cornmeal (or flour or wheat bran). Cover the dough with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, the  dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger. I placed the dough and towels on a cookie sheet and placed the whole thing on top of my refrigerator.

Heat. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat the oven to 450ºF. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex, or ceramic) in oven as it heats. If you’re not sure which of your pots to use, go with the larger one – the bread is beautiful when it’s shaped free form.

Transfer. When the dough is ready, grab your oven mitts and carefully remove the pot from oven. Slide your hand under the towel and turn the dough over into the pot, seam side up. There will be some cornmeal on what is now the top. It will look like a mess, but that’s OK. Shake the pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.

Bake. Cover with lid and bake for 30 minutes, and then remove the lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is browned.

Cool. Cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes. The cooler the bread, the easier it will be to cut. If you can wait that long.

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hands down

Hi there. Just a quick hello and a recipe today. Last week, I promised you bread. Um, here’s some salad.

kale and pear salad with pomegranate gremolata

It looks a little like this salad. And, well, this salad too. I made it for a friend’s birthday and after we ate dessert as our first course (hey, it’s a birthday!) it was, hands down, everyone’s favorite dish. More on that dinner and that first course cake soon. But for now, again and from a different angle, here’s some salad.

kale and pear salad with pomegranate gremolata

Kale and pear salad with pomegranate gremolata This salad is based on an arugula and watercress salad in last month’s Food & Wine.  It’s a great combination of bitter, sweet, and sour. And a great combination of textures – the crisp juicy pears, the pop of the pomegranate arils, the chewy kale. Make sure to toss the greens with half the vinaigrette about 30 minutes before serving so that it will start to wilt and absorb the flavors. You probably will have some leftover vinaigrette.  Gremolata is an herb mix, usually lemon zest, garlic, and parsley, and traditionally sprinkled over osso bucco. The zest and parsley give any dish a really bright flavor; I like  how Food Lover’s Companion puts it: “It’s sprinkled over … dishes to add a fresh sprightly flavor.” Sprightly, yeah, that nails it. If you don’t want to dirty another bowl, feel free to sprinkle the gremolata ingredients over the salad after you’ve dressed the greens rather than mixing everything separately. Next time, I’ll peel and segment the oranges and add them to the salad too.

- 2 larges bunch kale (approximately 1 1/2 pounds or 6 C shredded and loosely packed) – I tried this with dinosaur and curly kale, and preferred the slightly tougher curly variety

- 3 Bosc pears

- Pomegranate vinaigrette (recipe below)

- Pomegranate gremolata (recipe below)

Slice. Fold each kale leaf in half and cut away the stems. Working in batches of several leaves, stack the leaves in a pile, roll them like a cigar, and slice the leaves crosswise into thin ribbons. Cut the pear into bite-sized pieces.  Assemble. Scoop the kale into a large bowl and add half the dressing. Toss the leaves and let them sit for a half-hour. Right before serving, sprinkle with the pears and gremolata. Drizzle with more dressing to taste.

***

Pomegranate molasses vinaigrette

- 1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil

- 2 T pomegranate molasses

- 2 T apple cider vinegar

- 1 T honey

- 1 T Dijon mustard

- salt and pepper

Whisk or shake. In a bowl or jar, add all the ingredients and whisk or shake to emulsify. Add salt and pepper to taste.

***

Pomegranate gremolata

- 1 pomegranate for 3/4 C arils/seeds

- about 20 stems flat-leaf (Italian) parsley

- 1 shallot

- 1 orange for zest

Seed. Remove the arils/seeds from the pomegranate. I usually cut the pomegranate in half and tap the skin with a wooden spoon over a bowl of water (the seeds sink and any white pith floats to the top) but if you want to get every last seed, check out these detailed instructions. Chop. Finely chop the parsley leaves. Mince the shallot. Mix. In a small bowl, mix together the pomegranate seeds, parsley, and shallot. Zest the orange into the bowl and toss again.

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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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