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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.

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?

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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.

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