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I just got back from a few days in Austin and want to share a few photos of this live-music-playing, cowboy-boot-wearing, two-stepping, hot-hot-hot food mecca.

Have a great week, y’all!

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Happy Place

Maria

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fiddle BW base

mura twinkle

Bloody Marys

Jo’s Cafe
242 West Second Street
Austin, TX 78701
512.469.9003
And other locations

Maria’s Taco Xpess
529 S Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX 78704
512.444.0261

The Continental Club
1315 South Congress
Austin TX 78704
512.441.2441

Austin Food Trailers - all over

La Condesa
400A West 2nd Street
Austin, TX 78701
512.499.0300

Allen’s Boots - yup, I bought cowboy boots!
1522 South Congress Avenue
Austin, TX 78704
512.447.1413

good things

Hey there. It’s been a while.  All’s good, just hectic since I started my new job.

This past week was full of wonderful surprises. A call from a sorely missed friend. Last minute tickets to see Alvin Ailey. An invitation from a chef to her birthday party where I got a sneak peek at her upcoming cookbook (I’ve already pre-ordered a copy). And lots of getting-to-know-you time with a pair of babies and catching-up-with-you time with their mama.

I was on the phone with another friend who, after I bubbled over with excitement telling her about all the good things that had happened to me this week,  reminded me, “Good things are always around you. You just need to be open to them.” So, while I haven’t been able to tote  my camera around much these days, I wanted to share a few good things that I captured with my phone since January.

No recipe today, but don’t worry though, there are some lemon macaroons just around the corner.

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The mug I use in the office for tea with milk.

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Salted pumpkin caramels to fuel me through a day working from home.

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Salted pumpkin caramels, an  hour later. And yes, I’m still in my pjs.

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Biscotti and gelati day at work. There was vanilla, lemon, and peanut butter chocolate chip gelati. Lime and dried cherry cornmeal biscotti. And experimental lemon black pepper cookies.

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Passover in Miami.

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And waffles. Who doesn’t love waffles?

See you back here soon. Happy Monday, everyone.

Finally. The weekend. The end of a long terrifying week in my home town.

Friday was 70 degrees, overcast, and humid, but you barely knew it through closed windows and drawn shades. Several miles from the Watertown epicenter where I used to work, my own Cambridge neighborhood was eerily quiet. Once I turned off the barrage of breaking news reports on the TV in the background while I edited contracts, the only thing I could hear were the chirping bird sounds of spring. And an occasional siren. Stepping onto my tiny balcony for a breath or two of fresh air, I saw no one. No cars driving. No people walking. Nothing.

Yesterday was sunny, cooler. The city seemed to be waking from a deep slumber. I sat outside on that same balcony, writing this. Soothed by the slow but steady flow of traffic, joggers, and dog walkers.

Earlier in the week, after Monday’s marathon tragedy, I received an email from my friend Sarah: “I know from living in Israel through the 1990′s it isn’t easy. There were terror attacks almost every week and it took its toll.”

On Tuesday, I attended the Israeli Consulate of New England’s annual Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration. Like celebrations of Israel’s independence that I’ve attended in previous years, I knew to expect security and policemen standing out front, bag checks and metal detectors inside. But as I drove to the back parking lot, past men and women in yellow vests and bright orange wands as if directing planes on a tarmac, I was struck to see camouflage-clad military holding rifles and leaning against humvees. To me, these men and women were oddly reassuring. They made me feel safe in the face of a bittersweet celebration. Normally bittersweet because the Israeli national holiday always follows Yom Hazikaron, memorial day, a remembrance of the fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism who have given their lives for the ongoing existence and flourishing of the Israeli state. This year, palpably bittersweet.

On Thursday night, I made udon miso soup. I felt in need of comfort and the only place I could turn to was my kitchen. The soup was warm and salty, the noodles soft and slippery and slurpy. Little did I know how the next twenty-four hours would pan out and how welcome that soup would be.

The Friday night capture brought swoops and cheers and an impromptu party on Boston Common. I was relieved but couldn’t rejoice. It feels safer here but I can’t bring myself to celebrate.

It’s now the weekend. The sun is out, the air fresh, the windows open, the breeze chilly. I just finished the last of the soup and am heading out for a walk. Life is back to normal. But it’s not the same.

PS. For a powerful first-person account of this past week’s events, read this article written by a friend of a friend.

Udon miso soup

Udon miso soup

Adapted from Steamy Kitchen.

Before you add the miso, the soup will taste bland, but don’t worry because the miso is salty.  Make sure to add it to the soup after you’ve removed it from the heat. If miso gets too hot, it gets gritty.

It’s worth looking for fresh udon. You can find the most authentic of these fat white noodles in the refrigerated section of an Asian grocery store. Nasoya also makes a pretty good version and I’ve found it near the tofu. In a pinch, I’ve also have good luck with Eden dried noodles  that I frequently see  in the Asian or Japanese section of many grocery stores. Both the Nasoya and Eden noodles are certified kosher. I used Miso Master brand white miso (and you can use any extra to make one of these two slaws). Next time I make this soup, I’m going to add some small cubes of firm tofu.

Serves 4

- 3/4 pound pre-cooked (or, in a pinch, dried) wheat udon noodles

- 4 C vegetable or chicken stock (I used vegetable)

- 1 baby bok choy

- 5-7 cremini mushrooms

- 2 medium-sized carrots

- 1 large handful sugar snap peas or snow peas

- 3 T white miso

- 3 scallions

- sesame oil and hot chili sesame oil (optional)

Cook. Make the noodles according to the package instructions.

Boil. Bring the stock to a boil.

Cut. While the noodles are cooking and the stock is boiling, get to cutting. Thinly slice the bok choy, mushrooms, and carrots. I used a mandoline for the carrots. Cut the peas into 1/2-inch pieces or keep whole.

Simmer. Add the bok choy stems (not leaves) and cook for 5 minutes until they start to soften. Add the mushrooms, carrots, and peas and cook for another 3 minutes or so. Stir in the bok choy leaves and remove from heat.

Assemble. Scoop miso into a bowl and whisk with a ladle-full of broth until completely dissolved. Then stir the miso mixture back into the soup, making sure not to boil or the miso will get gritty. Distribute the noodles evenly into four bowls and then add the soup. Slice the scallions and sprinkle over the soups. Drizzle with the oils to taste.

We’re going to do things a little differently today. I’d like to introduce you to Josh Lewin, Executive Chef of Beacon Hill Bistro. We met earlier this year at a dinner he hosted in honor of Tamar Adler and her book, An Everlasting Meal (I’m a fan!). If you haven’t tried his food yet, I’d suggest heading over to Charles Street and pulling up a chair next to the window in the long and narrow, two-table deep restaurant. Josh wanted to share with you the tradition of celebrating Nowruz, Persian New Year, as one of the many ways he opens his arms to welcome Spring. At his restaurant, he hosts Passover seders and Easter brunch. With friends, he celebrates Nowruz, Persian New Year, and makes the traditional fish dish, Sabzi Polo Mahi. ~ Gayle

***

We inch toward Spring this year with baited breath as the calendar’s turn last week was sandwiched between an ice storm one day and the threat of a slushy accumulation the next. Images of green and sprouting seeds unfortunately remain strictly in our dreams.

And yet, we inch along and stubbornly prepare to celebrate, weather be damned. This year, Passover falls early and finds itself overlapping with Easter and the likely less familiar celebration of the Persian New Year, Nowruz, which always falls on the first day of Spring and for the thirteen days following. The Nowruz celebration is enjoyed by most Iranians, regardless of their religion.

Like Passover with its seder plate and Easter with its eggs and bunnies, Norwuz is a holiday steeped in symbolic tradition. The word Nowruz means “new day” and the Haft-Seen (seven S’s) table setting is part of its celebration.  These seven S’s refer to the Farsi spelling of the required items which in English include garlic, apple, sumac, bean sprouts, oleaster fruit, vinegar, and a sweet pudding made from wheat germ.  Some welcome additions to the standard list might include a mirror, a goldfish, rosewater, or even painted eggs. As on the Seder plate, each item has its purpose and is a poignant reminder of the holiday.

The Nowruz festivities start with a thorough Spring cleaning, or khouneh tekouni, which, to those of you preparing for Passover by searching for crumbs in every corner of your house, probably sounds familiar. The goal is to clear the space to make room for the hope of a happy new year. Over the course of nearly two weeks, the old is phased out and hospitality is offered to friends and family. Like the first cuttings of Spring flowers, such as hyacinth and daffodil which traditionally decorate the holiday home, a new year begins.

So, this year, as various calendars converge to celebrate Spring, I offer this love letter to a global approach to the turning season. May we all appreciate the thawing of our previous experiences, leaving us a fertile platform for a fresh start.  May we clean our homes and welcome our families. And may we celebrate each other, where we’ve been, where we hope to go.

May we set our tables with the symbols of our chosen tradition. May we see our favorite memories in them. May we create new ones. And as in the Sephardic tradition, may we be sent on our way with a bit of broken bread (afikomen) to carry with us into whatever is next, for luck, remembrance, hope.

Eid eh shomah mobarak. Chag  same’ach. Happy Spring, everyone!

***

Josh explained to me the symbolism of each element on the Haft-Seen table, which, like in his restaurant, take advantage of local produce and are prepared with patience and care.

Sabzeh. Mung bean sprouts. Symbolizes rebirth.

Samanu. A pudding made of wheat germ. Pictured here is simply wheat germ, not pudding’d. Symbolizes affluence

Senjed. A fruit called oleaster. Not thought to be common here. But it actually is a common invasive plant species called the autumn olive (or autumn berry, or russian olive). I use it at the restaurant to make a sorbet, it has a flavor similar to cranberry, but a bit sweeter. It gets the name “autumn olive” from the shape of it’s leaves. One of our farmers in South Dartmouth forages it for us. Pictured here is the pickled fruit. Traditionally it would be dried fruit.

Sir. Garlic. Symbolizing medicine. Pictured is local garlic that we cured in house.

Sib. Apple. Symbolizing beauty and health. Locally grown Cortland apple.

Somaq. Sumac. Symbolizing sunrise. Traditionally the fresh fruit would be featured. But with the slow arrival of Spring, I could not collect any fresh sumac. The dried spice is pictured. I love sumac. A lot.

Serkeh. Vinegar. Symbolizing old age, and patience. Pictured is a chardonnay vinegar in which we preserved tulsi, the holy basil of India. We made this last fall (yay, patience).

There are a number of extras sometimes included at the Haft-Seen table. I include rose water. I carefully distilled this rose water from the petals of beach (wrinkled) roses that I collected over the summer on the beach in Wesport with Eva, of Eva’s Garden in South Dartmouth.

***

Sabzi Polo Mahi

Herbed rice with fish is a traditional meal eaten early in the Nowruz celebrations. In Persian cooking, the rice would be boiled briefly and then layered and steamed with herbs, aromatic vegetables, and spices. A skilled cook, using this method, ends up with perfectly cooked and flavored rice as well as a layer of crispy cooked rice from the bottom of the pot, called tadeek. Anyone who’s eaten a properly cooked paella will be familiar with the concept.

Without a Persian mentor to teach you the technique, I suggest cooking your rice using the risotto method, which allows you to control the flavor from the beginning, and also finish with a respectable tadeek. Use freshly ground spices if at all possible, you owe yourself that.

Persian Jews are largely Sephardic, so they eat rice over Passover. If you’re Askenazi (from Eastern Europe), you can replace the rice with quinoa. As a seed, quinoa is  a great substitution for those who need one, given we are celebrating seeds and new growth anyway.  Follow the simple cooking instructions for quinoa, but rather than cooking in plain water or broth,  flavor your cooking water to mimic the Sabzi Polo by bringing your cooking liquid to a boil with  garlic, cinnamon, and herbs and steeping it for an hour.

I’ve chosen to use a fish called hake for this recipe. It is a close cousin to cod, and usually readily available in a dedicated fish market. Hake is a popular choice among Sephardic Jewish cooks in Spain, wehre they would call it merluza. Traditionally this might be a whole fried fish. 

Serves 6.

For the rice:

- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

- 2 tablespoons butter

- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

- 1/4 teaspoon ground fenugreek

- 2 cloves garlic, finely diced

- 1 cup spanish onion, finely diced

- 4 cups arborio rice

- 6 cups warm water, vegetable broth, or other cooking liquid

- 2 cups finely chopped herbs, use your favorites. dill, parsley, cilantro, chives, … as you please.

In a wide, shallow skillet with a heavy bottom, heat the oil and butter over medium high heat. Add the onion, garlic, spices, and about 2 teaspoons of salt. Cook this, gently, until vegetables are soft, but avoid any browning.

Add the rice and stir to coat, cook about 2 minutes.

Add liquid to cover and stir, continuously. As the water reduces, continue to add more until rice is fully cooked. Simple rule for when to add more liquid… when the liquid won’t immediately return to fill the space it has been stirred away from, it is time for more.  The rice will let you know when it is cooked, by sight and taste. This will take about 20 minutes.

Just before finishing the cooking. Turn the flame to high. Stir once, then resist the urge to stir again. You will smell rice toasting. Give it two minutes, quickly stir in the fresh herbs and adjust with salt and pepper if needed.  Then remove the rice on top and you’ll be left with tadeek below. Reverse them for serving, tadeek over the top!

For the fish:

- 6 5-oz portions of hake fillet

- 2 cups matzoh meal mixed with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

- olive oil for cooking

Heat a heavy bottomed pan, large enough to hold the fish without crowding, over medium high heat with the oil.

Coat the fish on both sides with the seasoned matzoh meal and add to the hot pan, cooking for about 3 minutes, then rotate 90 degrees and cook one more minute. Turn the fish and finish cooking on the second side, for 3 to 4 more minutes depending on thickness.

A week and a half into daylight savings time and just a few hours before the first official day of spring, my balcony is blanketed with a fresh coating of snow, and the white stuff keeps coming down. Before we leave behind the hardy greens and show up at the farmers market each week to greet a new crop of, well, crops – pea shoots! morels! corn! zucchini! tomatoes! strawberries! blueberries! – I have one last kale recipe to share. You know, just in case the lamb part of March doesn’t arrive on schedule.

This kale story started last week. It was one of those evenings after work when I found myself  in the kitchen, hands on hips, peering listlessly into the fridge at a container of  baby kale, a bag of carrots, a few stalks of celery, and, oh yeah, a dwindling bowl of Meyer lemons. Resisting the gelato just inches away in the freezer, I turned on my heel and climbed on the couch, plucking a cookbook off a pile en route and balancing it on my cross-legged lap.

Canal House Cooks Every Day was the book. It had been floating around my apartment for a few weeks, from bed to coffee table to chair to said pile, spine-cracked but splatter-free. At first glance, the book is daunting. No picture on the front, no dust jacket, just a big red hardback with shiny gold and blue print. I could imagine mistaking it for a law text. Nestled among the gorgeous pictures, the recipes are written in big blocks of text that reminded me of one of my first cookbooks, Fannie Farmer, which, nostalgia aside, is not the most approachable of kitchen guides.

But, and there’s always a but, in this case a fortuitous but, on that particular evening last week, I brushed my fingers over the cloth-bound cover, soft and warm to the touch, and went straight to the recipe index. There was a single recipe under kale: Barlotti beans with sauteed baby kale, page 283.

The ingredient list was short. The instructions, once you skip the part about cooking your beans from dried, were short too.

kale and beans, dinner

Less than twenty minutes later, I sat down with my bowl of beans and greens and started the book from the beginning, no longer merely skimming recipe titles. I read about how the author duo, Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirscheimer, left their commutes behind for a kitchen atelier in which to start a business, independently launching a thrice-yearly seasonal food publication. In between cooking and photographing sessions, the two women prepare lunch and other treats which turned into this cookbook, a compendium of a year’s worth of recipes. It’s what they cook every day without being everyday cooking (hence the title).

Many of the recipes in the book are simple, some more suggestion than instruction. In a less-than-stellar review of the first of the team’s seasonal series, Nora Ephron wrote, ” The cookbook has very few recipes and although many look perfectly workable, there’s almost nothing in Canal House Cooking that’s singing, Cook Me, Cook Me.  Which is one of the things I look for when I first open a cookbook.”

I’ll admit, I had the same initial impression of  Hamilton and Hirscheimer’s Every Day. Luckily I dug a little deeper to discover a gem. I suspect this first recipe will send me back to Every Day once that first spring produce arrives.

Happy end of winter, all. And good riddance.

Kale and beans

Greens and beans (or baby kale and cannellini beans)

Hamilton and Hirscheimer use borlotti beans and prepare them from dried, but I like tender, thin-skinned cannellini beans and I had a can of them just waiting in my pantry. The only thing this dish could use is a crunch. I think next time I’ll add some toasted pine nuts. 

2 servings

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet (mine is 11-inches in diameter) over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add a chopped onion and saute until brown (you’re almost stir-frying here). Lower heat and add 2 garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers. Saute until the garlic softens, but don’t let it burn. Add to the pan 3 large handfuls of baby kale (if you’re the measuring type, this is about 3 packed cups) enough to fill the pan to overflowing. Let the kale wilt, stirring periodically, until all of the kale is a bright dark green. Meanwhile, drain a 15.5-ounce can of cannellini beans and rinse a few times with cold water. Add them to the skillet and stir until warmed through. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Zest and juice a lemon over the skillet.

I realize that these scones might not look like much.

There’s no shiny glaze, no bright fruits dotting the surface, but scrolling past these unassuming little lumps of baked dough would be a mistake.

They’re the most breakfast-y of scones I’ve ever known. And though I’ve never tried hot oatmeal – there’s just something about the texture that turns me off – I imagine that anyone raised on the stuff will find a familiar cozy feeling with each nibble. The scones are grounded in a healthy dose of oats, nearly as much oat as flour, which gives them heft without density. They get their sweetness from maple syrup (it’s in season right now, so go out and grab a gallon of fresh grade B), so they taste and smell of nectar and nature. Toasted pecans lend a buttery crunch. And then there’s butter and cream to round it all out.

Also, they take just a few minutes to throw together. In the time it takes to pre-heat your oven (mind you, mine takes ten minutes), you’ll have toasted and chopped the pecans, rubbed butter into flour, whisked maple into cream, mixed wet ingredients into dry, and scooped up these unremarkable looking lumps of dough. But bake these little guys up, and you’ll believe me when I say they’re all that.

No bag of chips necessary.

oatmeal maple pecan scones

Oatmeal maple pecan scones

Adapted from Flour, but just barely. I skipped the raisins and glaze in the original recipe, and made much smaller scones which reduced the baking time from 40 minutes to 25. Make sure to toast the pecans – I scatter them on a cookie sheet and pop them in the oven while it’s heating up. As for the maple syrup, buy grade B which is darker and mapley-er than grade A. You can also freeze the unbaked scones: scoop out the dough, freeze them on a baking sheet, and wrap them well in plastic. Then bake them straight from the freezer, adding about 5 minutes to the baking time. 

Makes 2 dozen small scones

- 3/4 – 1 C pecans (I used halves, but feel free to use pre-chopped)

- 1 1/2 C flour

- 1 1/4 C old-fashioned rolled oats

- 1 1/2 t baking powder

- 1/4 t baking soda

- 1/4 t kosher salt

- 1/2 C cold unsalted butter

- 1/3 C cold heavy cream

- 1/2 C maple syrup

- 1 cold egg

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Toast. Scatter the pecans on a baking sheet and toast in the oven while it’s preheating. This should take less than 10 minutes – the pecans are done when they color slightly and you can smell their nuttiness. Once the pecans have cooled, chop them.

Mix. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, mix together the flour, oats, baking powder, and baking soda on low-speed for 10 to 15 seconds, or until just combined. Cut the cold butter into small cubes and scatter into the bowl. Mix on low-speed for about 30 seconds on low-speed, or until the butter is somewhat broken down and grape-sized pieces are still visible. (Or just dig your hands in and rub the butter into the flour with your fingers).

Whisk. In a small bowl, whisk together the cream, maple syrup, and egg until thoroughly mixed.

Mix again. On low speed, pour the cream mixture into the flour-butter mixture and mix for 20-30 seconds or just until the dough comes together. It will be fairly wet and you will still be able to see some pieces of butter. Stir in the cooled chopped pecans.

Scoop. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop dough – about 3 tablespoons per scone – onto the parchment. I used a tablespoon-sized scooper and mounded one heaping tablespoon on top of another heaping tablespoon. A regular tablespoon and a gentle nudge with your finger will work just fine here as well. At this point, I slipped half of the scooped dough onto a baking sheet and into the freezer, eventually packing them up in a few plastic bags.

oatmeal maple pecan scones, scooped and frozen, ready to be baked

Bake. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the scones are golden brown on top. If you’re taking the dough straight from the freezer, baking will take about 30 minutes.

Store. The scones are best on the day they’re baked. However, if you can’t eat every last one, wrap up the leftovers and freeze them. I love them straight from the freezer; otherwise they thaw in just a few minutes.

like her mother

Today’s recipe is dedicated to Lilli Virginia. We met the other week when I brought over dinner for her newly-minted parents, salad for Molly and meat (a turkey variation on this) for Rich.

Lilly is a stunning baby girl with a strong showing of light hair, searching blue eyes, a rosebud mouth, and ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes. Her cat Rooster seems to like her, though he does periodically get jealous and try to  commandeer her favorite chair.

Like her mother, she’s generous. Molly lent me a cookbook, and Lilli slipped her binky into my purse.

I can’t wait to watch Lilli grow.

bitter greens, butternut squash, beets with honey harissa dressing

Bitter greens salad with roasted vegetables, wheat berries, and honey harissa dressing

This recipe started with The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook‘s honey and harissa farro salad. At the end of the day, the only thing that I didn’t change around too much was the dressing, because Deb is, in my book, the queen of dressings. I replaced the farro with wheat berries, carrots and parsnips with butternut squash and beets. I skipped the mint and parsley and cheese. I added  handfuls of bitter greens. But that dressing, oh that dressing. It now has a permanent place in my fridge and I’ve thrown it on everything – a pile of greens, a fried egg, cauliflower – I’ve made all of these above.

This salad looks like a lot of work, but I tend to prepare most of the ingredients in advance so I can throw together a salad in just a few minutes. I roast beets and squash on Sunday evenings. I make more grains than I need for any particular recipe, and then freeze whatever is left over in sandwich bags. Then I defrost a bag containing a few handfuls or so, and throw into my salad. The photos contain wheat berries, but I used bulgur for Molly because it’s what I had around. 

Let’s talk a bit about grains for a bit. I‘ve provided directions for wheat berries below, though I’d suggest you follow the directions on the package of whatever grains you buy. There’s also the question of  pre-soaking. Some recipes recommend soaking the wheat berries overnight  in four times their volume of water. I’ve soaked and I’ve not soaked, and have had success both ways. I’ve also started using my pressure cooker which reduced the cooking time by about half. I’ve referenced this before, but it’s worth mentioning again – check out the “beyond rice” guide  from the January 2013 Cook’s Illustrated for more info on cooking grains.

Makes enough for 3 – 4

- 3 medium-sized beets (I used golden beets in the photos)

- 2 1/2 pounds butternut squash (~1 1/2 – 2 pounds peeled and seeded)

- 3-4 T olive oil, divided

- kosher salt and pepper

- 1/2 C uncooked or 1 1/2 C cooked wheat berries (or other grains)

-  5-6 handfuls of bitter greens: I used baby kale, arugula, and mizuna

 - honey harissa dressing (recipe below)

Prep. Preheat oven to 425ºF. Scrub beets and cut off any greens (save them to cook like chard later if you’d like). No need to peel the beets until after they’re roasted. Peel and seed the squash, and then cut it into bite-sized cubes.

Roast. Place the beets on aluminum foil, drizzle with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Wrap up the beets tightly. Line cookie sheet with aluminum foil and spread the squash in an even layer. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and a few grinds of pepper. Check the squash a few times to shake everything around. Remove the squash when it’s ready, about 45 minutes. The beets will take about an hour and a half  (or shorter/longer depending on size of the beets), so leave them in the oven until the tip of a knife pierces easily. I generally check them after an hour.

Simmer. While the vegetables are roasting, bring to a boil 2 cups water and then add the wheat berries and a pinch of salt. Lower the temperature and simmer uncovered

Peel. When the beets are cool enough to handle, don a pair of gloves (I get my doctor friends to give me surgical gloves, but dedicated dish- washing gloves are great) and peel the skin right off.

Slice. Slice the beets into cubes around the same size as the squash.

Tear. Tear the leaves into bite sized pieces.

Serve. Toss the leaves with the beets and squash and half the dressing. Add more dressing to taste.

Honey harissa dressing

Harissa is a spicy North African chili paste that you can find in Middle Eastern and kosher grocery stores. I highly recommend doubling or tripling this recipe and drizzling it over other vegetables later in the week. 

-  4 T olive oil

- 1 t harissa

- 2 t honey

- 1 lemon for  2 -3 T  juice

- 1/2 t cumin

- salt

Shake. Shake all the ingredients in a jar. Taste a green leaf dipped in the dressing and adjust as needed. I found that I needed to use at least a teaspoon of salt to counteract the honey. And if you like things spicy, add more harissa.

by my count

Look what arrived in the mail.

Picked with love from Evan and Mia

They were preceded by an email from Joanne:

“lemons arriving friday!!!!!!  organic, pesticide free, california meyer lemons picked just for you by child labor. enjoy!!!!!”

Here’s Evan.

Evan going to the post office

He and his sister Mia are the child laborers. The last time I saw Evan, he and I picked lemons together. Now he’s big enough to pack them up and take them to the post office.

Jo said he only dropped the box twice.

meyer lemon and fresh cranberry scones, ready for the oven

The lemons, all twenty-five of them, arrived swaddled in towels and perfectly intact.

Two went straight into these scones, dotted with chopped cranberries that I froze a little while ago. By my count, that leaves me with twenty-three more.

What would you make if you had a wealth of Meyer lemons? Because right now I feel like the wealthiest woman alive. Thanks Jo!

meyer lemon and fresh cranberry scones

Meyer lemon and cranberry scones

Adapted from Gourmet. I used some cranberries that I froze a few months ago (via Smitten Kitchen) and made a lemon glaze to cut the sweetness (via White on Rice Couple). Without cream on hand, I made a milk (1%) and Greek yogurt (2%) mixture. The resulting dough was more liquid-y than most scone doughs are, and they spread as they baked, but they were still delicious. I used a 1/4 cup ice cream scoop because forming by hand was too difficult. Next time, I’ll make these with blueberries (I also have a large bag in the freezer)

While I generally like to bake things that will keep for a few days, these are truly best right out of the oven and you’ll want to eat them within a day of baking. Shouldn’t be a problem, but you may need to invite a few friends over. If you think you’ll have too many, freeze half the raw dough. 

Makes 18-20 2-inch scones

- 2 Meyer lemons for zest (~2 T) and juice (~1/4 C)

- 2 1/2 C all-purpose flour

- 1/2 C plus 3 T white sugar, divided

- 1 T baking powder

- 1/2 t salt

- 1 stick (8 T or 1/4 C) cold unsalted butter

- 1 large egg

- 1 large egg yolk

- 1/2 C Greek yogurt (I used 2% fat)

- 1/2 C milk (I used 1% fat)

- 1 1/4 C fresh cranberries

- 3 – 4 T confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Pulse. In a food processor, pulse together the lemon zest, flour, 1/2 cup of white sugar, baking powder, and salt until it resembles a coarse meal. Cut the cold butter into small cubes and add to the processor bowl, pulsing a few more times.

Mix. Whisk the eggs, yogurt, and milk.

Pulse again. Add the liquid mix to the processor bowl, and pulse until the dough just comes together.

Chop. Coarsely chop the cranberries and mix with 3 tablespoons of white sugar in a bowl.

Stir. Stir the cranberries into the dough.

Scoop. Cover 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Use a 1/4-cup scoop (or a measuring cup with a spoon for nudging) to drop dough on to the parchment, leaving at least 1 inch between scone since they’ll spread a bit.

Bake. Bake the scones for 15 – 20 minutes until light golden.

Brush. While the scones are cooling, whisk together the lemon juice and confectioners sugar to make a glaze. I only used 3 tablespoons because I didn’t want the glaze to be too sweet. Brush the cooled scones with the glaze.

Last week, I wrote about winter salads for the Jerusalem Post and today, I want to share this how-to guide with you. What are your favorite ways to prepare hardy greens and root vegetables? 

As February rolls around and Punxsutawney Phil predicts mild months ahead, cravings for spring and summer produce sneak up on us. But before jumping into warm weather salads - a celebration of a ripe vegetable or two and a few delicate greens adorned with just a splash of olive oil and lemon juice – savor the lingering vestiges of winter. Though winter salads take a little extra planning and some imagination to coax out the flavors of hardier greens and root vegetables, their complexity might leave you longing for them as the first few buds push their way through the melting snow and the farmers markets reopen.

While there’s no rule that salad must contain greens, most do. Case in point, Shakespeare’s Cleopatra inextricably linked salads with the color green, reflecting on her youthful “… salad days, / When I was green in judgment, cold in blood…” Winter leaves tend to be more bitter and thicker than their summer counterparts. On first blush, this probably doesn’t sound like much of an endorsement. But winter salads were made for dressing, which, etymologically speaking, may indicate that they are closer to the origins of salad than their summer brethren: the word salad is derived from the Latin sal (salt) and refers to the salty pickling brine that dressed Roman greens. Peppery arugula, radicchio (purple, but still in the greens category) and mustard greens can stand up to a more assertive dressing with extra acid, and a little sugar can tame the piquant spice. Give anything that you’re used to seeing cooked – kale, collards, cabbage –  a little extra time to soak up the dressing in order to soften and wilt the greens. If you want to keep things basic, squeeze a lemon over the greens, and then let a fried egg do the work, its creamy yolk coating the leaves.

Winter vegetables are transformed by roasting which brings out their natural sweetness. Crank the oven above 400°F and throw in your vegetables, doused in the holy roasting trinity of olive oil, salt, and pepper and spread out on foil-covered cookie sheets. The trees – stalks of broccoli and cauliflower – take fifteen to twenty minutes. Most roots – chopped carrots, parsnips, squash, and potatoes – should roast for thirty to forty-five minutes. And tightly-wrapped parcels of beets need up to ninety minutes, depending on their size, until a sharp knife or toothpick can pierce the flesh easily. Don’t be daunted by the extra preparation time; instead, uncork some wine and pop in a movie while you roast up loads of vegetables. Then keep them in the refrigerator for three to four days, grabbing one or two for salad or to mix with pasta or to serve just as they are alongside a steak.

Cold weather salads benefit from contrast. Bright colors excite the eye and prepare the palate: think fuchsia beets and golden squash atop dark green leaves. Add unexpected texture from beans, lentils, or chewy grains such as wild rice, farro, or barley. (Check out Cook’s Illustrated‘s recently published “beyond rice” guide for helpful hints on preparing grains that you may be less familiar with.) For a burst of juice, top with pieces of apple or pear, sections of grapefruit, or pomegranate seeds. Shave or crumble come cheese, such as parmesan or feta, for added richness. And then, what truly elevates any salad is something crunchy. Toast some nuts or seeds in the oven (a toaster oven works great here too) or in a pan. And that stale bread? Chop it into cubes or grind it into coarse crumbs, season, and brown in the oven.

Before you know it, you’ll be greeted by those first fiddleheads ferns and morels and white asparagus and artichokes. But for the next few weeks, follow this basic formula for winter salads and don’t let the best of the season pass you by.

Here are a few more of my favorite winter salads:

Arugula salad with pear, goat cheese, pomegranate, and candied walnuts
Kale and pear salad with pomegranate gremolata
Kale salad with barley and beets
Kale salad with ricotta salata, walnuts, and bread crumbs
Salad with beets and ruby red grapefruit

Bitter greens with pink grapefruit and sumac

Bitter greens with pink grapefruit and sumac

This salad is adapted from a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe published earlier this year in the Guardian. You’ll probably have leftover dressing that you can store in the refrigerator.

Serves four

- 1/3 stale baguette or 3 slices of stale bread

- 5 T olive oil, divided

- 1 T sumac, divided

- ¾ C grapefruit juice (I used juice from a carton)

- 2 T sugar

- 1 t harissa

- 1 lemon for 2 T juice

- 3 pink or red grapefruits

- 1 shallot

- 4 large handfuls of bitter greens (here I used a mix of tender mizuna and arugula; kale, endive, radicchio would also work well)

- salt

Toast. Cut the stale bread into bite-sized cubes (approximately 1 cup). Toss with 1 tablespoon of oil, 1 teaspoon of sumac, and a pinch of salt and grind of pepper to taste. Spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet and toast in a 300°F oven until golden, about 10 minutes.

Simmer. Mix the grapefruit juice, sugar, and harissa in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the sauce thickens and you have about 4 tablespoons-worth of juice left – this could take up to 20 minutes. Set aside to cool down, then whisk in the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil, lemon juice, remaining 2 teaspoons of sumac and a quarter-teaspoon of salt. Dip a leaf into the dressing and adjust the seasoning.

Peel. Peel the grapefruits and separate each segment like you would with an orange. Separate the flesh from the membranes and break into a few pieces.

Cut. Slice the shallot into very thin rounds. Roughly chop the greens into bite-sized pieces

Assemble. In a large bowl, mix the grapefruit segments, shallot, and greens. Pour over ¼ cup of dressing and toss gently. Add more dressing to taste. Sprinkle with croutons and serve right before serving.

 

oh là là

Let me set the scene for you.

Me. Hair blown straight, curled at the ends. Liner and mascara framing my eyes. Black and white knit jacket, zipper on a bias, edged in soft black leather. Black pencil skirt, black tights, black boots balanced on three-inch heels. Head to toe, ready to impress.

The room. One long table in front of the window, lined with wine glasses and bottles of red and bottles of white. Ten round tables, ten plates of macarons, ten seated men. The sound of French chatter. Lots of smiles. This is speed dating at the French Library.

I walk towards the empty chair, hand plunged into the depths of my purse, feeling for … for what? a pen? my phone? a beret? I don’t remember … for whatever I’m looking for. My fingers fumble over something they don’t recognize. It’s round and plastic and squishy. Eyes locked with my first “date,” I withdraw a totoche. Lilli‘s pink pacifier weighs awkwardly in my palm. I stare down at it. I stare up the man standing in front of me.

In my mind, I explain that last night I met my friends’ newborn daughter and, oh  là!, her binky must have fallen into my bag. Out loud I merely say, oh là ! and stuff the totoche back into my bag.

I tilt my head and brush back my hair and bat my lashes and shrug. He shakes my hand and says bon soir. We sit down.

That was my Valentine’s Day. How was yours?

bulgur and chickpea salad with parsley and mint

Bulgur and chickpea salad with parsley and mint

Here’s a salad that I made for lunch a few weeks back. It has nothing to do with this story, but I’ve been meaning to share it for a while. Inspired by a pile of small cucumbers and a bouquet of herbs, I found this tabouli-inspired recipe. I added the extra step of peeling the chickpeas. This takes about 5 minutes per can and, while some might find it tedious, I find it soothing to fall into a rhythm while letting my mind wander

Makes 4 lunches

- 1 C medium or coarse bulgur (I used coarse)

- 2 C water

- 2 15-ounce can chick peas

- 25-30 sprigs fresh parsley (1/2 C finely chopped)

- 15 sprigs fresh mint (1/4 C finely chopped)

- 3 small (Persian) or 3/4 large (English) cucumbers

- 3 scallions

- 1/4 C fresh lemon juice

- 1/3 C extra virgin olive oil

- 1/2 t cumin

- salt and pepper

Simmer. For coarse bulgur: Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the bulgur and salt to taste, reduce the heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Remove from the heat, and allow to sit undisturbed for 10 minutes. For medium bulgur: Place the bulgur in a bowl with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pour on 2 cups hot or boiling water. Allow to sit for 20 to 25 minutes, until most of the water is absorbed. Drain and squeeze out the water.

Peel. Rinse and drain the chick peas and then peel them. Grasp each chickpea between your thumb and forefinger, apply a little bit of pressure, and the outer transparent skin will slip right off. Each can took me about 5 minutes.

Chop. Finely chop the parsley and mint. Cut the cucumber into approximately 1/2-inch cubes. Slice the scallions into thin rounds up until the point where the green turns dark.

Shake. Shake in a jar (or whisk in a bowl) lemon juice and olive oil with cumin. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Toss.  Mix the bulgur, chickpeas, herbs, and scallions in a bowl. Toss with half the salad dressing, adding more to taste. The salad is even better the next day.

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