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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.

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

almond cake with orange flower water

Most people are watching the Super Bowl as I type. But instead of making chili and guacamole this evening, I threw a brunch this morning. Well before Beyonce rocked the halftime show and a blackout darkened the field (Oreos anyone?), four lovely ladies knocked on my door, arms full of food.

It all started in November with crowd-sourcing recipe site Food52, their second cookbook, and a give-away. I saw an announcement that the first forty people to sign up to host potlucks celebrating the book would receive free books and some other goodies. With a guest list of cooking friends in mind, I offered up my home to other Boston-area Food52-ers and secured the freebies. Four months later, we met and we ate.

Jenn walked in first with a blue Le Creuset pot of roasted carrot soup that we set on the stove to reheat. Megan, a friend of mine from high school, showed up with a bottle of Veuve and an apology for not being able to prepare a dish. (Full time job plus working husband plus two boys? No apology necessary, Megan.) Jenn chopped up some thyme in the kitchen while I reached around her to grab silverware and dishes and glasses that Megan set out on the table. We started in on the cheese and pears.

I pulled an almond orange cake out of the oven, clipped broccoli trees for roasting, and whisked together a smoked paprika vinaigrette.

Another knock on the door, and I took coats from Christine who had driven down from Portland and her friend Elizabeth. Christine brought the nibbles – chevre devils and blue cheese savouries – and her own contribution to the cookbook – decadent salted pumpkin caramels. Elizabeth presented a pan bagnat – salade Nicoise in sandwich form.

I lit a fire and we filled our plates, sitting around my coffee table and chatting. Cheers to new friends.

almond cake with orange flower water

So, the game just ended. Let’s celebrate with cake. Let’s mourn with cake. Let’s all eat cake.

Almond cake with orange flower water

Adapted from Food 52’s second cookbook, this is a pretty classic yogurt cake, enriched with almond meal and soaked in an orange flower syrup. I made my own almond meal by pulsing almonds in a food processor. I skipped the syrup and instead added orange zest to the cake batter and replaced the vanilla with orange flower water. I used 2% Greek yogurt because it was what I had, but next time I’ll use full fat because the cake didn’t rise as much as I thought it would and was a bit crumbly. I also think I topped the batter with too many sliced almonds, weighing the cake down. No worries, I’ll be making the cake again. 

Makes one 9×5-inch loaf pan.

- 2 large eggs

- 1 C 2% plain yogurt (original recipe called for full fat)

- 1 C sugar

- 1/3 C vegetable oil

- 1 t orange flower (blossom) water

- 1 orange for zest

- 1/8 t salt

- 1 1/2 t baking powder

- 1/2 baking soda

- 1 C flour

- 1 C almond meal

- 1/3 C sliced almonds

Prep. Heat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan. I cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan to make it easier to lift out the cake.

Whisk. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, yogurt, sugar, oil, orange flower water, and orange zest.

Fold. Switch to a spatula. Mix in the salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Add the flours gradually to the wet ingredients, folding until just combined.

Sprinkle. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the sliced almonds evenly over the top.

Bake. Bake for 50 minutes (the original recipe recommends 40 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

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.

an office office

Happy 2013!

It’s been such a long time. I’ve missed this space. I’ve missed you guys. I’m back from Peru and have so much to tell you about the trip.

But first, some exciting news. I started a new job!

Maybe you prepare for a new role by self-reflecting and setting goals for success, researching the company and industry, honing skills that might need, well, honing. I did all those things, but I spent my last days of freedom figuring out how I was going to transition from a home office to an office office: I chose my first-week outfits.

And then I decided to mix and match in the kitchen too. I prepped food over the weekend so that, morning or evening, I could open my fridge and pantry like a closet, easing the scramble to pack lunch or throw together dinner. There were greens and herbs to clean, vegetables to roast, dressings and sauces to whisk, meats and grains to cook, nuts to toast.

A few rules of thumb. The vegetables last a few days, so don’t make too much. Dressings are usually good for two weeks unless they contain fresh herbs. Sauces, meat, and grains are easy to freeze, and toasted nuts stay fresh in a jar for at least a month, so make a lot and squirrel them away.

I started week one with butternut squash, using farro that I made a while back and froze.

Tomorrow is a tabouli-like bulgur salad. More on that later, but, right now the big question is … what shall I wear?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Butternut squash and farro salad with pepitas and ricotta salata

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen. Farro, wheat berries, freekeh, barley, brown rice, quinoa – use whatever grains you have around. (Yes, I know quinoa is a seed.)  I roasted the squash at a slightly higher temperature and used scallions instead of red onions. Don’t skip the pumpkin seeds, and definitely don’t skip toasting them.  The crunch is worth it. 

While you’re at it, make extra squash (keeps in the refrigerator for a few days), farro (freeze for a few weeks), and pepitas (store in a jar for a few weeks).

Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 for lunch 

- 2 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds)

- 4-5 T olive oil, divided

- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

- 1/2 C dried farro (or wheat berries, freekeh, barley, etc.)

- 1 T sherry vinegar (or white wine vinegar)

- 1 T water

- 1/2 t salt

- 1/2 t granulated sugar

- 2 scallions

- 1/3 C pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

- 3 oz ricotta salata or another salty cheese (about 3/4  C crumbled) – a dry feta would work well too

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Roast. Cut the butternut squash between the bulb and neck to make peeling easier. Spoon out the seeds. Cut the squash into pieces about 3/4-inch all around. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay the squash out in one layer. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast until pieces are browned and tender, about 30 – 40 minutes. Shake the pan once or twice during roasting.

Simmer. While the squash is roasting, make the wheat berries (or other grains or quinoa) according to the package directions and drain. If you have one, use a pressure cooker! Otherwise, this “beyond rice” guide  from the January 2013 Cook’s Illustrated is really helpful. Let the drained grains cool a bit.

Whisk. While the squash is roasting and the grains are simmering, prepare the dressing. Whisk in a small bowl or jar the vinegar, water, salt, and sugar. There will not be a lot of liquid. Thinly slice the scallions and add them to the dressing. There will be more scallion than dressing. Let the scallions mellow in the brine for at least 10 minutes.

Toast. In a small pan, toast the pepitas over medium heat, about 5 minutes. Shake the pan a few times while toasting. The seeds will color slightly, puff up, and some will even pop. Once the pepitas are ready, mix with a teaspoon of olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

Mix. In a large bowl, mix together the squash, grains, scallions and brine. Toss. Crumble half the cheese over the salad and add half the pepitas and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss again. Before serving, sprinkle with the remaining cheese and pepitas.

I’m off to Peru, friends, Peru!

I’ll be gone for a while, so it’s going to be a bit quiet around her until after the new year.

The past few months, I’ve been preparing like I’ve never prepared before. I booked my flights six months in advance. Hotels? Check. Machu Picchu? Check. Altitude medication? Check. Cooking class? Check.

I bought hiking boots two weeks ago and have been breaking them in at the gym. Which is miraculous for two reasons – first, I’ve been wearing hiking boots and second, I’ve been going to the gym.

My bedroom is covered with piles of clothing, organized into sections. There’s the wedding section (congrats, Veronica and Brian!) and the city section (Lima! Cusco! markets!) and the swimming section (pools! beaches!) and the hiking section (one of the seven wonders of the world!).

As I finish packing, I want to wish you a great last few days of 2012 and a fabulous 2013 to come. I’ll catch up with you on the other side.

***

PS I’ve been reading about Peruvian food – turns out there’s a lot more than cebiche with yams and pisco sours. Some call Peruvian cuisine the next big thing. Over a decade ago, the New York Times wrote about the melting pot that is Peruvian food, and years before that, Nobu Matsuhisa brought Japanese food with Peruvian flair to the US. Peru’s recent return to the culinary spotlight may be due to Ferran Adrià’s launching in Barcelona next month his newest venture, Patku, a restaurant dedicated to the fusion of Peruvian and Japanese ingredients and techniques referred to as Nikkei gastronomy.

Famous chefs and fancy restaurants aside, where should I eat in Lima? Cusco? What should I try? Let me know, and I’ll report back soon. 

and, lo

Welcome to the second and final installment of celebrate Hanukkah without frying (or, at least without frying in your own kitchen).

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Someone asked me yesterday which extra virgin olive oil I used for the cake, and, lo, I had forgotten to mention it in my post.

Whoopsies.

For the recipes (yes, recipes – today we get ice cream), I used a delicate Israeli oil from Havat Philip in the Negev. A more universally easy-to-find oil that would work great in these recipes is Unio, a Spanish extra virgin made from Arbequina olives with a low 0.2% acidity). It has a slightly more assertive flavor without too much kick, an olive oil that really tastes like olives.

The two other extra virgins that I mentioned buying in the grocery store felt too peppery for sweets. The first, Olympic, is made from Kalamata olives with a slightly bitterness and a peppery finish. Some people describe peppery oils as one-, two-, or three-cough oils. This one is a two-cough. The Italian, Di Molfetta Frantoiani, is very mild at first but has a real kick at the end – it’s a three-cougher. I’m saving these two for salad dressing and bread dipping.

olive oil ice cream with balsamic caramel sauce, above

olive oil ice cream with balsamic caramel sauce, side

Olive oil ice cream

This recipe is from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table. Making ice cream does require a lot of pots, bowls, spoons, and whisks, but you don’t need an ice cream maker. Instead, freeze the custard in a shallow pan for a few hours and periodically give it a whir with an immersion blender. For other tips on making ice cream by hand, check out what David Lebovitz, ice cream aficionado, has to say on the subject.

Makes 3-4 cups

- 2 C whole milk

- 1 C heavy cream

- 5 large eggs for yolks only

- 1/2 C white sugar

- pinch salt, preferably fleur de sel

-  1/2 C fruity extra virgin olive oil

- 2 t vanilla

Prep. Fill a large bowl with ice and water, and keep in the refrigerator. Set a strainer over a slightly smaller heatproof bowl (you’ll be pouring the cooked custard through the strainer). If you have a candy thermometer, this is a great time to get it out.  If you don’t have one, that’s OK too.

Boil. Bring the milk and cream to a slow boil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Once you see some bubbling around the edges, turn the heat down to medium and follow the “cook” step below.

Whisk. While the milk and cream are heating, whisk the yolks and sugar in a large bowl until very well blended and just slightly thickened. I did this by hand. Keep whisking and slowly drizzle in 1/3 of the hot liquid – you want to do this very slowly to avoid cooking the eggs. (In case some of the eggs do get cooked, you’ll strain them out later, so all is not lost.) I placed the bowl on a towel to keep it from wiggling around while I whisked with one hand and poured with the other. Once the eggs have acclimatized to the heat, you can pour the rest of the liquid in more quickly. Add the salt and whisk to incorporate.

Cook. If you have one, clip the thermometer to the side of the saucepan and pour the mix back in. Cook the custard over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, and making sure to get into corners of the pan. Stir until the custard thickens slightly and coats the back of the spoon: run your finger down the back of the spoon – if the custard does not run back into the track your finger leaves behind, it is ready. If you have a thermometer, it should reach 170°F but no more than 180°F.

Strain. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and pour the custard through the strainer into the bowl. Throw out whatever remains in the strainer.

Whisk again. Add the olive oil and vanilla and whisk vigorously.

Chill. Remember that large bowl of ice water you put in the fridge? Take it out and set the bowl of custard over the ice, making sure that no water overflows into the custard. Put the bowls in the fridge and stir the custard every half hour or so until the mix is cold (about 2 hours).

Freeze. If you have an ice cream maker, churn according to the manufacturer’s directions. If not, pour the chilled mix into a large bowl and place in the freezer (you might need to clear out some room first). It will begin to freeze from the edges. After 45 minutes, remove the bowl from the freezer and mix it with a whisk or use an immersion blender to break everything up. Repeat this every 30 minutes. It will take about two to three hours to full freeze.

Serve. Take the ice cream out of the freezer ten minutes before you plan to serve it to allow it to soften.

***

Salted balsamic caramel sauce

Of course, what goes great with olive oil ice cream? Balsamic caramel! I added two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar to a basic caramel sauce recipe from Simply Recipes. Make sure to use a large saucepan, at least 2 quarts, because when you add the butter and cream the mix will bubble vigorously and foam up to the top of the pan.

Makes about 1 cup

- 1 C sugar

- 6 T butter

- 1/2 C milk or cream (I used whole milk for a thinner sauce)

- 2 T balsamic vinegar

- large pinch salt, preferably fleur de sel

Prep. Before you get started, you should get the ingredients measured out because you don’t want to fuss with things while you have hot sugar bubbling on the stove, threatening to burn.

Melt. Over medium-high heat in a heavy large saucepan (2 quarts or larger), heat the sugar. Once it starts to melt, whisk it until all the sugar has melted, comes to a boil, and turns amber. Then add the butter and continue to whisk until all the butter has melted.

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble. Once all of the butter is mixed in, take the pan off the heat. Slowly pour the cream into the pan, continuing to whisk. This is when the mix will bubble and foam to the top of the pan, so be careful. Whisk until the caramel sauce is smooth, and then add in the balsamic and salt.

Cool. Pour into a glass jar to cool at room temperature.

Happy Hanukkah, folks. Have you had your latkes yet? Your sufganiyot?

If so, let’s try something different. Cake!

Olive oil Cointreau cake. cooling

At the Hazon Food Conference last week, my friend Leah taught a cooking class on fried Hanukkah foods from around the world. We made perashki kartoskagi (Bukharian potato turnovers) with tamat (fresh tomato sauce) and frittele de riso (Italian rice fritters). I helped man the fry station — you should have seen me trying to figure out how to use an industrial oven. We staved off the fire alarm for a full twenty minutes.

Later in the day, Leah and I sat next to each other on a food writers panel, sharing the stage with Liz Reuven, Liz Traison, and Mary MacVean from the LA Times. As we waited for the audience to trickle in, Leah whispered to me “we’re going to smell like fried for the next few days.”

I still smell like fried.

This year, I left the latkes to the experts, opting to cook and bake with olive oil rather than fry with it. Faced with which extra virgin olive oil to buy, one that would really shine in the recipe, I stood in the store for almost half an hour. I had no idea how to decide between the different varieties.

So I guessed and came home with two different bottles – a Greek one for authenticity and a well-known Italian one just in case – and set up a tasting, throwing an Israeli one from my cabinet into the mix. The Greek was too peppery, the Italian too mild, the Israeli just right.

And then I researched how to choose a good extra virgin olive oil. It’s actually much more complicated than I thought, and there is significant fraud in the industry*. The gist? That “extra virgin olive oil” you just put in your cart might not be extra virgin, and in fact might not even be olive oil at all.

In this  month’s article for the Jerusalem Post, I shared some tips on how to find a good extra virgin olive oil. Here are some of the main points:

Certification symbols are a good starting point. They indicate that an oil was properly made, for example demonstrating adherence to national or state olive oil association standards or conveying Protected Destination of Origin (“PDO,” or “DOP” in Italian) status confirmed by quality control committees overseeing production processes.  Or course, just like kosher certification agencies, the symbol is only as reliable as the organization behind it.

Second, providing notation of acidity level is another positive, even better if the acidity is well below the 0.8% standard.

Further, good olive oils report the processing or pressing and best-before dates.

Finally, always choose a dark bottle over a clear one, as light exposure causes oil to go rancid. There are several online sources listing reputable, high-quality extra virgin olive oils (links below), including some sold in mainstream grocery stores.

Once you’ve hit upon your favorite oil, you’re ready to get cooking.

Olive oil Cointreau cake, from above

Olive oil Cointreau cake, from the side

Check out Tom Mueller‘s recently published Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, discussed on NPR here, in which he explores corruption within the olive oil industry, spurred by his 2007 New Yorker article. Thanks Molly and Sara for turning me on to this guy!)

***

A few fun holiday links I think you’ll enjoy.

Traditional vs innovative latkes? Two chefs duel. I think the wrong one won.

A conversation with Max and Eli Sussman, co-authors of This is a Cookbook, including the recipe that Eli made in the video.

An electronic advent calendar with holiday cookies behind each door? Why yes! No peeking, guys, no peeking.

Olive oil Cointreau cake, sliced

Olive oil orange cake

This recipe is adapted from Food & Wine magazine and I think it is one of the best cakes I have ever made with its moist crumb, crackly top, and aflash of citrus to complement the fruity extra virgin. You can use any orange liqueur you’d like – I chose Cointreau. Or you can go the lemon route and use limoncello (replacing the orange zest with lemon and the orange blossom water with vanilla).  For a non-dairy option, substitute full fat, unflavored almond or soy milk.

The original recipe had a hefty 1 ¾ cup sugar which I reduced to 1 ¼ cup – the cake is still quite sweet. The recipe also called for a 10-inch round cake pan which I didn’t have, so I used a 9-inch round instead. The batter filled the 2-inch high pan about ¾ of the way up and rose a lot during baking, reaching the top of the pan at the edges and at least an additional inch above that in the middle. If it looks like your pan won’t be big enough for all of the batter, leave some out and make a few cupcakes.

Makes 8-10 servings                                                                                                                 

- 3 large eggs

- 1 ¼  C sugar

- 1 C extra-virgin olive oil

- 1 C whole milk

- 1 t orange blossom water or vanilla

- 1 orange for zest, about 2 t (then, eat the orange)

- ¼ C Cointreau or other orange liqueur

- 3 C flour

- 1  ½ t salt

- ½  t baking soda

- 1 t baking powder

Prep. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut a piece of parchment to fit into the bottom of a 9- or 10-inch round cake pan.

Mix. In a bowl (I use a stand mixer), whisk the eggs and sugar together until thick and yellow, 2-3 minutes. Add the oil, milk, orange blossom water, zest, and liqueur. Continue to whisk until everything is mixed. Add the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder and use a spatula to fold in the dry ingredients until just combined.

Bake. Fit the cake pan with the parchment, and lightly grease the sides. Pour the batter in the pan and bake for 1 hour or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean. (This actually took 65 minutes in my oven.)

Cool. Let the cake cool in the pan, about 30 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and then invert the cake over a rack, peeling off the parchment. Let the cake cool completely, about 2 hours.

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