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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.

Hey there! Today we’re having soup.

tomato couscous soup

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

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

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

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

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

Tomato couscous soup

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

Makes about 3 quarts

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

- 1 medium onion

- 2 stalks celery

- 3 T olive oil

- 1 T cumin

- 2 t coriander

- 1 t thyme

- 1 1/2 t sweet paprika

- 2 T tomato paste

- 1 28-oz canned whole peeled tomatoes

- salt and pepper

- 7 C water

- 1 1/2 t sugar

- 1 lemon for juice

- Greek yogurt (optional)

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

Chop. Finely chop the onion and celery.

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Lahey's  no-knead bread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Lahey's no-knead bread, the aftermath

Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread

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

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

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

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

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

Makes one 1½-pound loaf.

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

-1/2 teaspoon instant yeast

- 2 t salt

- 1 5/8 C warm water

- Cornmeal (or wheat bran)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

hands down

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

kale and pear salad with pomegranate gremolata

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

kale and pear salad with pomegranate gremolata

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

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

- 3 Bosc pears

- Pomegranate vinaigrette (recipe below)

- Pomegranate gremolata (recipe below)

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

***

Pomegranate molasses vinaigrette

- 1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil

- 2 T pomegranate molasses

- 2 T apple cider vinegar

- 1 T honey

- 1 T Dijon mustard

- salt and pepper

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

***

Pomegranate gremolata

- 1 pomegranate for 3/4 C arils/seeds

- about 20 stems flat-leaf (Italian) parsley

- 1 shallot

- 1 orange for zest

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

November 30

It’s the last day of November, which means it’s the last day of NaBloPoMo. Let’s take a quick look back at the month.

There were twenty-six blog posts. Seven sweets. Three salads. Three soups. Four other assorted vegetables. I bought a pressure cooker and am still trying to figure out how to use it. I got raw kale to finally work for me. I tortured you with the study of words and the study of microbes. I gushed about two inspiring chefs*. I traveled to Philadelphia and thought about The Netherlands and Miami.

Writing every day has been invigorating. More food has come out of my kitchen in the past month that any other month ever. Many nights I couldn’t fall asleep because I was too excited about what I wanted to write the next day. And some days it was a struggle. I let you in. And you, probably for the first time, got a glimpse of how I was feeling.

To top it all off, today I made bread. There’s a little more to that story, but for now, just a picture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s been quite a month. Thanks for joining me for the ride. See you in December.

* For more on Ottolenghi, check out Jane Kramer‘s article in this week’s New Yorker (December 3, 2012). You can’t access the full article unless you’re a subscriber, but I’d actually argue that this issue — the food issue — is worth the price of the entire subscription. Good reading, folks. Good reading.

snowbird

Monday was salad. Tuesday was cookies. Wednesday was salad. Thursday is…

Oh, and these are not just any cookies. They’re chocolate-covered graham crackers. Let me say that again, for full effect. They’re graham crackers that I made (!), that I covered with chocolate (!), and that I didn’t eat all in one sitting (!). I will admit, however, that I also didn’t share them.

I’ve been slow to jump on the DIY food bandwagon (actually, I’m generally slow with these bandwagon things), but I’ve made an exception for graham crackers.

Because  when the holiday lights and decorations come out of storage, and the carols play on every radio station, I think of  chocolate covered grahams, pink grapefruit, and Chinese food.

My mother’s mother was a snowbird, leaving her Manhattan home every October to spend the coldest months in Miami. Each December when my sister and I were kids, our parents drove us down from Maryland to the tip of Florida for two weeks of sun.  As we pulled up to the building, no matter what time of night, Bubbie would be sitting in the lobby, perched between a twinkling plastic pine tree and an over-sized candelabra. Riding up the elevator, luggage still in the car, Bubbie would hand my father a list of chores – hang a picture, re-wire a lamp, fix a television.

When the elevator door opened, my sister and I would grab the key and race down the hall, bursting into the apartment and making a beeline to the kitchen. In the middle of the table, next to a bowl of the pink grapefruits that Bubbie sliced and sectioned before every dinner, sat a plate of chocolate-covered graham crackers and two glasses of milk.

We knew the deal. No milk, no sweets. We drank a lot of milk during those two weeks.

The highlight of each visit was going to the kosher Chinese restaurant on Christmas eve. We’d order the usual – egg drop soup, mu shu chicken, beef with broccoli, and Kung Pao chicken. And a steak. Bubbie figured that if we were going out, she was going to go all out. I don’t like Chinese food, she would say. So we’d order the steak.

The waiter would pile all the dishes on a lazy Susan in the middle of the table, and pass around plates. My grandmother would hand back her empty plate and place her steak plate in front of her. We’d spin the Susan to the pancakes, pass hoisin sauce under Bubbie’s nose, and then spin the Susan  back to the mu shu. And Bubbie would smile and slice into her steak. Soon, she would sneak a fork into the mu shu. Then into the beef. She’d make room on her plate for rice, pushing the steak aside. It’s too tough, she’d say. We’d pass her the Kung Pao. My dad would finish the steak.

Maybe one day I’ll bribe my own kids with some chocolate covered grahams. And then my grandkids. For now, though, they’re all for me to nibble with my coffee. Sorry Bubbie. I still don’t like to drink milk.

Chocolate covered graham crackers

I adapted Alton Brown’s graham cracker recipe, and frequently consulted Joanne Chang’s recipe in Flour (Thanks, Molly, for lending me your extra copy). You’ll need to give yourself enough time to chill the dough for 30 minutes before you can roll it out.

Makes over 3 dozen cookies

- 6 T unsalted butter
– 1 1/2 C T graham flour
– 5 T  all-purpose flour
– 5 T packed dark brown sugar
– 3/4 t aluminum-free baking powder
– 1/2 t baking soda
– 1/2 t kosher salt
– 1/2 t ground cinnamon
– 3 heaping T dark molasses or honey (I used 1 tablespoon of molasses, 2 of honey)
– 2 T low-fat or whole milk
– 1/2 t vanilla extract
– 1/4 – 1/2  lb  dark or milk chocolate (If you plan to drizzle, use less; if you plan to dip, use more)

Chill. Cut the butter into 1/4-inch cubes and place in freezer while preparing the other ingredients.

Pulse. Place in the bowl of a food processor both flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Pulse several times to combine. Then add the butter and continue to pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Add molasses/honey, milk, and vanilla and process for about a minute until the dough forms a ball.

Chill again. Press the ball into a 1/2-inch thick disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Roll. Remove the chilled dough and divide it in half. Return the other half to the fridge. Roll the dough out between two sheets of parchment until it is 1/8-inch thick .

Slice. Remove the top sheet of parchment and slide the other sheet onto a cookie sheet. You want to cut the dough into squares – a traditional graham cracker is 2 X 2 – but I made mine about 1.5 X 1.5 or so (I skipped the ruler). Use a pizza cutter and straightedge to make vertical and horizontal cuts all the way across the dough. Don’t trim the excess! (You’ll see why in a moment.) Use a fork to make holes in the crackers in whatever pattern you’d like. Don’t separate the crackers.

Bake. Bake the crackers in the middle of the oven for 25 minutes until the edges just start to darken (luckily, you kept on the extra dough and these jagged edges get too dark, leaving all the crackers perfectly golden.)

Cool. Remove from oven, set the sheet pan with the crackers on a cooling rack and allow to cool completely. As the crackers cool, they’ll harden.

Break. Once the crackers are completely cool (20-30 minutes), break them up.

Temper. Fill a small pot with 1/2-inch of water and bring to a slow simmer. Chop the chocolate into small chunks and place half of them in a large metal or glass bowl. Place the bowl over the simmering water, making sure that the water doesn’t touch the bowl. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, mix the chocolate until it melts. Take the bowl off the pot and wipe away any moisture from the bottom. Slowly add the remaining chocolate pieces, continuing to stir until each small addition melts, and then add another pinch or two. The chocolate will start to get glossy. The more you stir, the glossier your chocolate will be. If you have a candy thermometer, keep stirring until the chocolate reaches 90ºF. No thermometer? No problem. Keep stirring and after about 15 minutes, dip a metal spoon in the chocolate, and then stick it in the refrigerator for 2 minutes for dark, 5 for milk. If it comes out set and glossy and not tacky to the touch, it’s perfect. If it’s still sticky – it’s not cool enough, and not tempered, so keep mixing and add any remaining chocolate pieces.

Drizzle. Lay the cooled crackers in a cooling rack. Drizzle the chocolate in a crisscross pattern over the crackers. Let the chocolate harden.

Dip. Dip each cracker in the tempered chocolate, coating half of each side. Lay the dipped crackers directly on parchment.

Eat. Don’t forget the glass of milk. 

Store. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

with a vengeance

Today was a salad-for-breakfast kind of day. And a salad-for-lunch-kind of day. And a salad-for-dinner kind of day. Not only that, it was a kale-salad-for-breakfast-lunch-dinner kind of day.

I was pretty late to the kale game. My first ever taste was nearly four years ago when I bought a big bunch of kale to help me decide whether to join a CSA. I had heard that in bad years, even in good years, you can go weeks on end with little more than kale and a few carrots in your weekly vegetable box. So I made a kale soup. I did end up buying into CSA, but the soup was decidedly on the con list, despite what may have I told you at the time).

And then for years, kale disappeared from my blog. It disappeared from my kitchen. It even disappeared from my CSA box (every week, I found some pour soul to trade their tomatoes/chard/potatoes/tomatoes for the prized kale; yeah, you never want to share food with me).

But it’s back, my friends. Kale is back. And with a vengeance. Three times this month. Thrice!

I took baby steps at first, using delicate tender baby kale leaves in a salad and a soup. And then, I dove right in. I skipped over the mild lacinato (dinosaur) variety and went straight for the red Russian. Imagine biting into curly parsley when you’re expecting Italian flat-leaf. That’s the difference between red Russian and baby kale.

But mix some kale with a little oil, a little acid, a little salt, and we’re in business. The leaves wilt just enough to become not merely palatable, but delicious. They absorb the flavors and then hold them in while resisting the wilt that their less hardy brethren are so prone to.

Dress it today, eat it tomorrow. Or, if you’re like me, dress it today, eat it this morning, this afternoon, and this evening.

Kale salad with ricotta salata, walnuts, and bread crumbs

I started this salad with Kim Severson‘s version (also reprinted in the New York Times where Mark Bittman called it The Kale and Ricotta Salata Salad, as if it were the only one worth knowing!) and then added parsley for its fresh flavor and toasted bread crumbs and walnuts for some crunch. Ricotta salata is ricotta cheese that has been pressed, aged, and dried. It is solid, but can crumble. If you can’t find it, a sheep’s milk feta could substitute (I like Pastures of Eden brand). 

Serves 4 (or just 1 over the span of a day)

- 3-4 slices stale baguette (for 1/2 C crumbs)

- 1/2 C walnuts

- 1 t + 1/4 C olive oil, divided

- kosher salt and pepper

- 1 large shallot

- 1 lemon for juice (~2 T)

- 1 large bunch red Russian kale (approximately 6 C shredded and loosely packed)

- 8-10 parsley stems

- 1/4 lb (4 ounces) ricotta salata (1/2 C shredded)

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Blitz. Break the bread into pieces, including the crust, and then blitz in food processor or blender until you get large crumbs. If your bread isn’t stale, dry it out by placing it in the oven with the walnuts for about 5 minutes.

Toast. Spread the  walnuts and bread crumbs out separate baking sheets and toast for about 10 minutes until fragrant and slightly golden. Drizzle the tablespoon of olive oil over the bread crumbs, sprinkle with salt, and mix with your hands.

Whisk or shake. Cut the shallot into several large pieces and mince it in a garlic press (or chop it very fine) into a bottle or bowl. Add the 1/4 cup oil and the juice of the lemon with a large pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Shake or whisk until emulsified.

Slice. Trim the leaves of the kale above where the stems become thick. Stack the leaves in a pile, roll them like a cigar, and slice it thin crosswise. Chop the parsley.

Assemble. Scoop the kale and parsley into a large bowl and add the dressing (this recipe makes the right amount of dressing for the salad, so no worries about over-dressing). Dig your hands in and toss the leaves with the dressing, and let the salad sit for about a half hour. At this point you can also leave the dressed leaves (and only the leaves) in the fridge overnight – they’ll continue to soften, but are hardy enough not to get soggy.   Before serving, sprinkle with the toasted breadcrumbs and walnuts and shave  the ricotta salata over the salad. Give a quick toss and serve.

good stuff

I normally read my magazines from front to back. I might sneak a peek at the New Yorker’s cartoon contest on the last page, but for the most part, I’m a cover-to-cover gal.

But when I pulled the plastic off of this month’s Bon Appétit, I jumped right to page 96 for Dorie Greenspan‘s cover recipe. She made speculoos.

I first encountered speculoos on a flight to California. This was back in the days when you not only got stuff on airplanes, you got good stuff. Around this time, Belgian cookie maker Lotus contracted with airline food suppliers and literally flew their cookies into the US to expand their market from Europe . As we boarded that plane and struggled with our luggage, the crew handed out two thin little rectangular cookies wrapped in red cellophane. One pack per passenger. This cookie  hooked me in just one bite (well, maybe two, then three, then … I stole my sister’s pack of cookies). They were crispy and delicate and caramel-y and just a little spicy and they managed to melt away in my mouth.

If I first encountered speculoos on a plane, I first truly experienced these cookies visiting my friends Janouk and Regina in the Netherlands. In light of that, I’m going to refer to these cookies as the Dutch do — speculaas (pron: spek/you/lahs) — going forward.

I met Janouk and Regina during the summer of 2006 while we were taking a stage – a dance workshop – in Nice. We danced for 3-5 hours a day and then relaxed together afterwards — sitting on the pebbly beach, grabbing a bite (and we ate a lot more than salade Niçoise), and walking back through vieille ville, the old part of town, to our rented apartments.

So, the following year at just around this time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I flew out to Den Haag for a few days en route to Belgium. I stayed with Janouk (then a student, now a teacher), toured around a bit, shopped more than a bit, and spent a day in the dance studio, taking a few hours of class with Regina, the owner. After class, we climbed the stairs to Regina’s home above the studio and hung out like we had in Nice. But this time, we ate Dutch food. Regina set out a few beers and tossed a big red bag to me. I caught it and tore it open, finding small button-shaped cookies inside. Regina said not to bother putting them in a bowl as they’d disappear before long. Those little quarter-sized nubbins were called kruidnoten (“spice nuts”) and had a taste very similar to that of speculaas. But they’re more fun that speculaas (and more dangerous) because you can wrap your fingers around about a half-dozen and pop them in your mouth as if they were seedless grapes. 

Janouk and Regina gave me a little history lesson about these cookies and Sinterklaas‘ holiday. As they tell it, Sinterklaas travels by boat from Spain (where he lives the rest of the year) to the Netherlands with several short black Zwart Pieten child servants*. They arrive on the evening of December 5th and Zwart Pieten give out candies and kruidnoten to good children. Judging by the bag we finished in one evening, we must have been very good girls that year.

As I made Dorie’s speculoos  buttons, I fashioned them closer to kruidnoten, a little smaller in diameter, a little higher in height. I wanted to make sure that I could grab a  nice handful at once.

* There is some controversy about these characters and their costumes, but that’s a topic I’d prefer not to discuss here.

Kruidnoten (or speculoos/speculaas buttons)

I adapted this recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s speculoos buttons recipe in Bon Appetit (December 2012). I skipped her glaze and colorful decorations, opting instead for a very humble looking cookie that really lets the spices and caramel flavor shine. I also made mine slightly smaller (diameter 1.25 – 1.5 inches) and thicker than recommended, so my yield was a bit lower than Dorie’s expected 90 cookies. I’ve kept the original directions. The main difference is that I rolled the logs a little bit longer and thinner (about 9 inches each instead of 8) and made slightly thicker cuts (on the liberal side of 1/4-inch). I might make them even smaller and thicker next time.

Makes 90 small cookies (with my modifications, I only made 70)

- 2 C all-purpose flour

- 1 T ground cinnamon

- 3/4 t ground (dried) ginger

- 1/2 t fine sea salt

- 1/2  t freshly grated nutmeg

- 1/8 t ground cloves

- 1/2 C (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

- 1/2 C  (packed) light brown sugar

- 1/4 cup sugar

- 1 T dark blackstrap molasses

- 1 T honey

- 1 large egg, room temperature

- 1 t vanilla extract

- 1 large egg white

- Sanding or other decorative sugar – I used raw sugar

Whisk. Whisk first 6 ingredients in a medium bowl; set aside.

Beat. Using an electric mixer at medium speed, beat butter in a medium bowl until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add both sugars, molasses and honey; continue to beat until mixture is smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg and vanilla; mix for 2 minutes.

Mix. Reduce speed to low; add dry ingredients and mix to blend well.

Shape. Scrape dough from bowl and divide into thirds. Using your palms, roll each piece of dough into an 8-inch log. Wrap logs tightly in plastic or parchment paper.

Chill. Freeze the logs for at least 3 hours. (For neater edges, remove logs from freezer after 1 hour and roll on counter.)  Dough can be made up to 2 months ahead, just keep it frozen.

Preheat. At least 30 minutes before you’re ready to bake, arrange racks in top and bottom thirds of oven and preheat to 375°. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Cut. Whisk egg white in a small bowl to loosen; lightly brush all over 1 log. Roll in sanding or raw sugar. Using a long, slender knife, slice off a sliver of dough from each end of log to make ends flat. Cut log into 1/4 inch-thick rounds. Transfer to a baking sheet, spacing 1/2 inch apart; place in freezer while you cut the next log. (The cookies hold their shape better if you bake when dough is cold.) Repeat with remaining dough.

Bake. Bake 2 sheets of cookies, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back after 6 minutes, until tops are golden brown and centers are almost firm, 11-13 minutes.

Cool. Transfer cookies to wire racks and let cool. Repeat with third sheet of cookies. Cookies can be baked 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

Hi there!  It’s so good to be back after a few days off.

How was your Thanksgiving?

My family and I gathered right outside of Philadelphia. We ate a lot (I’m sure you did too) and then the next morning, we ate some more. We stopped by Reading Terminal Market for a non-turkey lunch and a little bit of shopping. And then we had turkey leftovers for dinner. 

I took a camera break which was nice, though I did miss the chance to capture the trees dressed in bright red, the oak leaves nearly as large as our thirteen-pound turkey.

But now life is back to normal, and today I’ve made a salad.

Well, it’s a slaw really. It’s from the Deb Perelman’s The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. It may seem odd that the first recipe I sample from a new cookbook would be a coleslaw, but this lady knows a thing or two about slaw. The cookbook itself has three slaws – one cabbage-cucumber-dill, one broccoli-almond-cranberry*, and the one I made today. Deb actually calls this one a salad — sugar snap salad with miso dressing — I suspect because half its bulk comes from sugar snaps (“mangetout”). The other half, though, is cabbage which in my mind fits it squarely into the slaw category.

The word coleslaw comes from the Dutch koolsla (kool = cabbage, sla, short for salade = salad) which comes from the Latin caulis (cauliflower stem). Slaw has been around since ancient Rome and was brought to America by the Dutch who planted cauliflower seeds in New York along the Hudson. (As I write, I can’t help but hum a little ditty.) Coleslaw started out as a vinegar-based salad of raw cabbage; the use of mayonnaise is a more recent modification. Let your coleslaw sit for too long (especially out of the fridge), and you’ll be gradually approaching the fermented territory of sauerkraut and kimchi.

While we’re on food history and etymology, the word salad is an interesting one too. It comes from the Latin sal (salt) and refers to dressing, which early on was a salty mild pickling brine. So, salad in essence was defined by its dressing.

Which brings me to back to Deb’s salad, er slaw, and its defining dressing. This miso-sesame dressing is magical and you don’t want to tinker with it. I reproduced it verbatim, and you should too.

The miso gives the dressing depth, earthiness, and a little sweetness – that umami that everyone’s always talking about. Did you know that both umami and miso share the Japanese root mi (味), taste or flavor? (I didn’t.)

Coincidentally**, I went to a lecture tonight entitled Microbes, Miso, and Olives where David Chang and Carles Tejedor talked about fermentation and how microbes create flavor. In addition to tasting Tejedor’s spherified yogurt and olive oil gel, we tried some of the latest goodies coming out of the Momofuku fermentation lab — cashew miso and olive tamari. There was a formula involving refractive index to explain why vinaigrette emulsions are cloudy. A few diagrams of chemical reactions producing glutamate (the main amino acid responsible for the umami flavor). Photos of Aspergillus oryzae (a fungus native to various parts of Asia and used in soy fermentation) under the microscope. And even a joke about a Microbiology lab at Harvard (“we send some of our creations to the professionals to sequence any microorganisms and to make sure nothing will kill us”). But in the end, Chang said he created his lab to “learn how to make things delicious through a study of umami.”

Which gets us (finally) back to the slaw and the dressing. On top of the miso and its umami, there is a double dose of sesame here from both tahina and toasted sesame oil. Make that a triple dose when you sprinkle the whole thing with toasted sesame seeds. The dressing is creamy and light, sticking to the cabbage, but not drenching it. It has the prefect amount of saltiness that mainly comes from the miso (no salt or soy sauce added). Dress everything a few hours in advance so the cabbage can wilt a bit as the miso and vinegar give it a quick pickle. I ate it for dinner, then lunch, then dinner again, polishing off half a cabbage in a day’s time. That’s a lot of cabbage. That’s how good the slaw is.

Deb, if you can make humble slaw shine, I can’t wait to try your flat roasted chicken. And your honey and harissa farro salad. And your red wine velvet cake. Your cookbook is already floating in a sea of yellow stickies.

And you, my friends, to reward you for slogging through this long (though I think fascinating) study of etymology with a side order of science, tomorrow we’ll eat some cookies.

*You can argue with Deb about whether broccoli can technically be a slaw, but let’s give her a little wiggle room here. It is her book. And despite the etymology, I too have used the term slaw to refer to broccoli (and even to collards).

** Seriously, it was a coincidence. I thought the lecture was going to be about dessert. Boy, was I ever wrong.

Cabbage slaw with miso-sesame dressing

I adapted this recipe from the sugar snap salad with miso dressing in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. I skipped the sugar snaps and traded carrots for radishes, but kept the dressing in pristine condition (though you could add a few drops of hot sesame oil to finish things off).  Dress the salad lightly a few hours before serving to allow the cabbage to wilt and soak up all the dressing, then add more dressing if necessary. I used regular green cabbage, which needs a bit more time to wilt; if you want to use the more tender varieties such as savoy or napa, dress the salad only thirty minutes before serving.

Serves 4

For slaw

- 1/2 large green cabbage

- 2 scallions

- 3 carrots

- 3 T sesame seeds

For dressing:

- 1 T minced fresh ginger

- 2 large garlic cloves, minced

- 2 T white miso (I use Miso Master brand)

- 2 T tahina

- 1 T honey

- 1/4 C rice vinegar

- 2 T vegetable oil

- 2 T toasted sesame oil

Slice. Slice the cabbage, scallions, and carrots as thinly as you can with a knife or mandoline (I used a knife for the cabbage and scallions, a mandoline for the cabbage).

Toast. Toast the sesame seeds for 5-8 minutes in a 300ºF oven.

Shake. Mix the dressing ingredients in a jar, cover, and shake well to combine. You may need to add a little water to loosen up the dressing as the tahina has a tendency to thicken, especially as it gets cold. The consistency should be similar to a thick honey.

Eat. Dress the salad a few  hours before serving and toss. If using more tender cabbages (savoy, napa), you’ll only need to do this about a half-hour in advance. Just before serving, sprinkle the slaw with the toasted sesame seeds.

turkey day

We don’t have much time to chat today because I’ve got a date with an oven and a family to catch up with.

Here are a few articles that I read while waiting in the airport this morning that I thought you might enjoy during your own travels.

Eight Thanksgiving stories by some great food writers.

Elissa Altman on being OK with change on Thanksgiving.

Michael Chabon on embracing change on Thanksgiving.

Fast Company on the origins of Thanksgiving and the importance of  harvest.

Ruth Reichl on her five favorite food books.

And now, our menu.

Nibbles: edamame, tabouli, hummus, guacamole, baby carrots, pita chip

Spicy butternut squash soup

Spinach and endive salad with toasted slivered almonds, cucumber, and strawberries, with balsamic dressing

Roasted turkey with oranges and onion

Cornbread stuffing with onion, mushroom, and apple

Crispy lemon roasted Brussels sprouts

Roasted sweet potatoes with brown sugar and pineapple

Pumpkin-cranberry bread

Cranberry relish with orange and pineapple

Applesauce (classiccranberry)

A little red, a little white (that my aunt Linda picked up at Sonoma County Grape Camp)

Pumpkin pie

Chocolate chip cookie dough pie

Pumpkin seed and spice biscotti

Fruit

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Let the eating begin!

I’ll be taking off the next few days. See you back here on Monday.

 

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