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Archive for the ‘dairy’ Category

for snacking

Enough with the vegetables folks, let’s eat some cake.

Since it’s just me in my apartment, I’ve been making mini ones – easier to share with neighbors or freeze for cake emergencies. These are chocolate yogurt ones, not overly sweet, and the perfect size for snacking for two to three days each. Maybe even a distanced picnic, separately packaged for each friend joining so you can share dessert without it becoming a viral cesspool (appetizing, n’est-ce pas?). I make them in mini-loaf pans and they look just so cute, with their round bellies protruding.

My regular go-to cake is a French yogurt one – phenomenally moist from the dense dairy with a hint of tang and the scent of lemon. But change is good every once in a while, and I recently stumbled across a French chocolate yogurt cake which, in case you’ve noticed the photos, went from page to oven in less than an hour since I always have yogurt and chocolate on hand.

With so much indoor time, I’ve been rearranging my apartment and about a month ago, I created a reading nook. I had gotten rid of my rickety old desk last year (actually half a repurposed oval table from a friend, balanced on 2 legs and a small filing cabinet and a thick cookbook) which opened up a corner. I moved both of my bookshelves to line the walls (thanks for the idea, Robyn) and wedged in an arc lamp with the shade spotlighting my Bubbie’s rocking chair. It is a non-work zone: I call friends, read books, and sometimes eat dinner rocking away. I like to turn the chair around sometimes and face the books, imagining that I have a small library.

I rearranged my cookbooks in rainbow order, spent a few hours flipping through old favorites that had gotten buried over the years. The paperbacks were particularly well-hidden, typically slid on top of lined up heavier tomes, pushed to the back as the piles grew, under the shadow of the shelf above. David Lebovitz‘s The Sweet Life in Paris – the story of his move to Paris from California interspersed with recipes he picked up or developed along the way. Stuck midway through the book was a stainless letter opener twisted and reminiscent of a Möbius strip, prying the pages apart at bouchées chocolate au yaourt, aka chocolate yogurt snack cakes. As Lebovitz explains, “The French call things that don’t neatly fit into any other dessert category bouchées (mouthfuls), and these little cakes certainly fit that description). I didn’t make them in a cupcake tin, as you can clearly see, so I doubt you can shove one of these mini loaves into your mouth, but I wouldn’t blame you for trying.

Chocolate Yogurt Snack Cakes (bouchées chocolate au yaourt)

Adapted from David Lebovitz‘s The Sweet Life in Paris. Lebovitz makes these as cupcakes, which cuts the baking time down to 25 minutes. My mini-loaves take 35-40 minutes and a standard loaf takes 45-55 minutes. While my old stand-by yogurt cake uses only one bowl, this chocolate version requires three: one for the warm chocolate, one for mixing wet ingredients, and a third for the dry ingredients. I tried my go-to shortcut of mixing the dry ingredients in a large bowl, making a well in which to mix the liquid ingredients, and then stirring it all together, but I couldn’t mix the yogurt and eggs thoroughly enough before the flour started sliding in, resulting in some pretty major lumps. So, sorry about the dirty dishes, but these cakes more than make up for it. Light, not too sweet, and just enough to satisfy a craving without making you feel like you need to wait a few minutes to take a swim.

Makes 3 mini-loaves (5.75 X 3 inches) or 1 regular loaf (8 X 4 inches)

– 7 oz (200 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
– 1/2 C (125 ml) vegetable oil, divided
– 1/2 C (125 ml) plain, whole-milk yogurt
– 1 C (200 g) sugar
– 3 large eggs, at room temperature
– 1 t vanilla extract
– 1 1/2 C (200 g) flour
– 1 1/2 t baking powder
– 1/2 t kosher salt

Prep. Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly oil and line loaf pan(s) with parchment paper (I find a little bit of oil helps the paper stay in place).

Melt. In a double boiler (or, a metal bowl set over simmering water), melt the chocolate with 1/4 cup of the oil. Once melted and smooth, remove from the heat. (Alternately, you can do this in the microwave on high for 30 seconds, then in 15 second increments, stirring well between each until smooth.) Allow to cool slightly (but not too much – you want it to be pourable) before adding it to the rest of the batter.

Mix. In another bowl, mix the remaining 1/4 cup oil with yogurt, sugar, eggs, and vanilla.

Mix again. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the yogurt mixture. Stir lightly a couple times, then add the melted chocolate and stir until just smooth.

Bake. Divide the batter among pans (or pour all of it into a regular loaf pan) and bake 35-40 minutes (more for a loaf pan – about 45-55 minutes) or until they feel barely set in the middle and a tester or toothpick comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack before serving. If you want to freeze, allow to cool completely and then wrap in one layer of plastic wrap and another of heavy-duty foil.

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A simple warm weather soup and some photos inspired by the cover of Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy. (Last photo is bolted cilantro that I got from this year’s first CSA haul, has absolutely nothing to do with the recipe, but I felt like the image belonged.)

Happy week, all!

Creamy zucchini soup with dill and chives

Makes 2 quarts

This is a light and mild soup, perfect for warmer weather, and can be served hot or very cold. Use chive blossoms is you can find them at your farmers market to push this over the top. Not merely for adornment, these purple flowers, raw, add a subtle allium kick when you catch one in your spoon.

– 1/4 C butter, divided
– 1 T extra virgin olive oil
– 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
– Kosher salt
– 3 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
– 4 oz cauliflower rice (1 C)
– 1 medium thin skinned potato, roughly chopped
– 2.5 lbs zucchini, roughly chopped (3 large)
– 2-3 C water
– 1 T chopped fresh dill, tightly packed
– 1 T chopped fresh parsley, tightly packed
– Fistful of chives or 5 chive blossom stems, snipped into roughly 1/4-inch pieces
– 1/2 lemon, juiced (2 T)
– Optional garnish: chive blossoms, chives, fresh dill, fresh parsley

Cook. In a heavy 3-4 quart pot over medium-low heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter and olive oil. Stir in the onions, a pinch of salt, and cook very gently for 5 minutes until translucent but not browned. Add garlic, cauliflower, and potato, cooking for another 5 minutes. Taste for salt. Stir in zucchini and let it cook down for a few minutes. Add 2 cups of water to just barely cover the vegetables; pour in a more water if necessary to cover. Stir in herbs and chives.

Simmer. Turn up the heat to medium-high and being to a slow boil. Lower heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes, checking periodically to make sure the bottom isn’t burning and tasting for salt.

Puree. Using an immersion blender, puree until very smooth. Stir in lemon juice and remaining 2 tablespoons butter, and taste one more time for salt.

Serve. Either divide into bowls immediately, or allow to cool to room temperature and refrigerate for 3 hours, and then serve very cold. Garnish with some chopped dill, chopped parsley, snipped chives, or a few flowers plucked from a chive blossom ball.

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I went to Israel on Friday!

Ok, it was just an hour. And it was over Zoom. But the challah workshop I attended truly, truly transported me to Mattat in the Galilee, to the kitchen and garden of Erez Komarovsky. Guided by my friend (and Sababa author) Adeena Sussman and hosted by The Jewish Food Society, dozens of us worldwide baked wild spring challah alongside Erez, whom Adeena calls the godfather of artisanal baking in Israel.

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In his kitchen, at a stone-paved, wood-covered counter and against the soundtrack of chirping birds, Erez kneaded and rolled and braided challah, incorporating greens and herbs and roots and flowers plucked from his garden. Fittingly, he prepared two different versions – one stuffed with artichoke confit, studded with artichoke leaves and flowers and herbs, then showered in rose petals. I’ve photographed my version of the second type – infused with garlic oil, stuffed with garlic confit, and interwoven with root-to-stem strands of wild garlic, green onion, and scallions (he uses freshly dug entire garlic cloves, but I used what I was able to get at the greenmarket and grocery store).

Erez explained that moving to Mattat, just south of the Lebanese border, nearly two decades ago completely changed his life: “I improved my skills as a chef and baker because I live in nature, see seasons, grow my own vegetables.” He laments that baking has been slow to embrace the idea of cooking locally, seasonally, and with terroir. Adeena nicely summarizes that with challahs that come straight from the garden, Erez can bring the essence of nature and one’s surroundings into his bread. And, so could we.

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The virtual audience peppered him with questions to which he and Adeena responded with equal parts technical culinary knowledge, commitment to season and locale, dry humor, and near-continuous laughter.

On the mechanics of challah baking, Erez advises:

… store your yeast in the freezer, it’ll last a year, more than a year, probably longer.

… use the highest protein flour you can find. In Israel there is specialized challah flour, ground from inner part of the kernel, that is less elastic so that when you open the challah (which is how Israelis refer to rolling out the strands), they don’t spring back. Bread flour is nearly as good, AP will suffice if that’s what you have. 

… instead of whole wheat, try spelt, it’s nutty but not as coarse.

… add salt only after kneading dough for a few minutes because it slows yeast growth.

… after rolling out the strands, twist them to give them more strength.

… braid challah loosely to give it room to expand in the oven

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But more fun are his dramatic responses that demonstrate his philosophy on food and life, tempered with an understanding that we each have our own reality and we can’t (unfortunately) all live in Erez’s world:

What if  you can’t find fresh young garlic? If you can’t find fresh garlic, do not make garlic challah. 

Can you use canned artichokes instead of fresh? No. Use what’s in season. You can use mushrooms if mushrooms are in season. If you have good tomatoes, you can roast the tomatoes. Onions, onion confit. You can do peas. You can do mushrooms. You can do chicken liver. 

Do you make sweet challah? Yes, 100%! I love making sweet challah. Now is the season for apricots, so I make knoedel – marillinknoedel – an apricot dumpling. What about using jam? No, too sweet. Well, maybe you can use apricot jam. Or roast the apricots and then drain in a colander. 

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Is there a point in the process when you can freeze the challah dough, so you can bake it in the future? Freezing is good in Wyoming and for the wolves. Freezing challah, why do you have to freeze the challah? Make it fresh. I do not freeze challah. And I know, but really, you can freeze it any time you want. 

How do you store challah, how do you keep it fresh? You eat it. You don’t store it. But, if you want some for tomorrow, if you have some extra, keep it in a paper bag or wrap it in a towel overnight. 

What if  you wanted to make smaller challot? Rolls even? Sure, you can do small, very small if you are obsessive. Go ahead if you have a lot of time because you’re still in quarantine…You can do very small, you can make even microscopic challah if you’d like.

Ahem, guilty:

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And then there’s using baking to honor tradition and history.

What flavor will the rose petals add to the artichoke challah? Smell, and rose flowers do not have a lot of flavor. My grandmother used to make rose jam, so it’s memories here, and my family. 

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After leaving the loaves to rise, Erez and Adeena led us out to the garden. First stop is one of Erez’s several outdoor ovens: This was my first taboon. It’s straw and mud, like in Egypt, by our ancestors. We follow as they meander through the greenery, pausing to look at flowers, pull herbs, taste leaves, pick strawberries, sigh at the views.

Erez approaches some sunflowers: I also use sunflower leaves, and the sunflowers for baking. It’s very good, it’s kind of nose to tail baking. It’s something I don’t know why we’re not doing it. I use every part. Exhibit 1: his sunflower challah.

Adeena asks, how did you learn to grow these vegetables so well? I didn’t learn. I don’t do it so well. It’s trial and error. You just put down good earth. And give it a good compost, and a lot of sun and a lot of water. 

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I think Erez would appreciate the moniker that a new friend, Eve Sicular (bandleader of Isle of Klezbos and Metropolitan Klezmer) dubbed a photo of my challah: vilde challah*. 

Vilde challah. So perfect.

Erez Komarovsky’s Wild Spring Challah 

I’m not going to recreate Erez’s instructions here because they speak for themselves. Here is Erez’s challah recipe shared by the Jewish Food Society. If you scroll down a bit, you’ll find instructions for artichoke and garlic confits. 

However, I do have to make a confession: I used Adeena’s challah recipeYears ago, my father had lost a good amount of weight using the Diet Center meal plan; when asked by a friend whether he had added exercise to his regimen, he responded, “of course not, I didn’t want to add too many variables. I have no doubt that Erez’s base challah recipe is top notch, but as my father’s daughter, I stick with Adeena’s which has been a constant since receiving her cookbook last year. The confit and leaves and roots provided enough variables for me at one time. 

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* In Yiddish, vilde means wild, and vilde challah is a play on the phrase vilde chaya which translates to wild beast. It’s a term often used to describe a kid who is especially rambunctious. Maurice Sendak’s mother used to call him a vilde chaya, and he went on to write Where the Wild Things Are.

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You’ve heard the story of stone soup, right? A stranger comes to town, hungry, but no one will help him. So he makes a big production of scrubbing a stone and placing it in a big pot of water set over a fire. The locals watch. As the “soup” comes to a boil, the stranger dips a spoon for a taste. “It’s great, but would be even better with some potatoes.” Someone runs inside to their cellar for a few potatoes and dumps them in.

“This is delicious, but a few carrots would make it even tastier.” And a kid sneaks into his garden and yanks out a handful of carrots by their tops.

And on and on until the whole town contributes to the soup and everyone eats dinner together.

Stone soup was one of the first things I cooked. As a kid, I actually did drop a (cleaned) stone into the pot. We used V8 as a base and threw in whatever vegetables we had around.

It remains part of my winter repertoire but I’ve replaced the stone with a large chunk (or two) of Parmesan rind, taking a cue from classic minestrone. During these stay-at-home days with limited grocery runs and a need for comfort, stone soup season is still running strong. Each batch larger than the next, and I’ve finally graduated to my largest stock pot and a wooden paddle so long (18 inches!) that I feel like a witch toiling over my bubbling brew.

The majority of the soup goes straight into the freezer in quart containers and zip-top bags. And while I can’t invite people over and share in person, I’ve dropped off frozen quarts for a few friends and my sister.

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Kitchen soup (aka stone soup, vegetable soup)

I started calling this kitchen sink soup, and then I shortened it to kitchen soup. This is more guideline than recipe. The basic formula that I’ve found to work, to give me the right consistency and balance, is as follows 2:1:2:1 – vegetables : crushed tomatoes : liquid : beans

So, here are the quantities that I consider a single batch (about 4-5 quarts):

– 8 C vegetables: bite-sized pieces of onion, celery, carrot, cabbage, kale, new potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, broccoli, zucchini, spinach (in approximate order of when you should add them, with zucchini and spinach last as you can just add them in the last 30 minutes)

– 4 C crushed tomatoes (1 28-ounce can is ~3.5 C, but this is close enough)

– 8 C liquid: even mix of vegetable broth and water (1 box of broth = 4 C; 1 tomato can of water = almost 4 C)

– 4 C red kidney beans (2 15.5-oz cans = 4 C)

– Plus a stone, aka Parmesan rind (approximately 2×3 piece)

– other stuff to gather: olive oil, salt

– other stuff that’s optional: 1/2 t red pepper flakes (if you like spice), 2 T tomato paste (to deepen tomato/umami flavor)

Sauté. In a very large pot over a medium flame, heat up enough olive oil to generously coat the bottom (2-3 tablespoons, depending on the size of your pot). Stir in onion, carrot, and celery and sauté until soft but not browned, 7-10 minutes. Add tomato paste and red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring, until the tomato paste changes from a bright red to a deep maroon, about 5 minutes, turning the heat down if it starts to burn.

Deglaze. Pour in a cup of broth or water and scrape up all the bits of tomato paste.

Keep stirring. Add the Parmesan rind and a good pinch of two of salt. Stir in crushed tomatoes, the remaining vegetables (except zucchini or spinach), and drained beans.

Simmer. Add rest of liquid and bring to a slow boil, then turn the heat down to low or medium low to simmer for at least an hour, covered. Keep tasting and adjusting for salt and spicy-ness. Like tomato sauce, the longer you cook, the deeper and richer the flavor. I typically let the soup simmer for about 2 hours. If the soup comes out too thick, call it stew or add more broth. If soup is too thin, keep simmering uncovered until some of the liquid evaporates. If you’re using zucchini or spinach, add it about a half-hour before you plan to serve it.

Serve. Remove from heat and fish out the rind(s). Sprinkle with shredded Parmesan and serve with a nice hunk of bread (or matzah).

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Right in the middle of Passover, my Girl Scout cookies arrived from California. Thin Mints, and they went straight into the freezer. There’s only one sleeve left. Thank you, Mia, for sending them!

Also in the box, nestled delicately in bubble wrap, lay several stunning citrus specimens. Meyer lemons. Thin skinned, some more spherical than ovoid, smelling of sunshine. Mia’s mom Joanne – whom I’ve known since high school – really knows how to spoil me. 

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Unless you have a tree in your backyard like Mia and Joanne and Evan and Jordan do, in which case you can use them with abandon, these lemons aren’t for just any old recipe. 

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In my home – sans tree – these lemons deserve to be the main event. And so, for now, I’ve zested and juiced enough lemons for three batches of lemon curd. I’ve got just a few left, and they’ll either make their way into more curd, or lemonade, or a cake that uses peel, pith, and pulp (similar to Claudia Roden’s orange and almond cake).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMaking curd during Passover is perfectly logical because after baking macaroons and granola with egg whites, I had frozen over a dozen yolks in ice cube trays. But before we get to the recipe, we have to review a tiny bit of science so that you don’t make the same mistake I did. 

An egg yolk that has been frozen and thawed undergoes “gelation.” Essentially the water in the yolk freezes into ice crystals which causes the surrounding proteins (largely LDL) to cluster tightly into a 3-D matrix. When thawed, the proteins stay clustered and the yolk itself remains a gel, nearly solid with barely a jiggle. When you use these gel yolks for curd, you end up with a lot of small yolk chunks that don’t make it through the strainer. And your curd is a bit less silky. And straining is pretty messy. Not the end of the world, but still.

To deter ice formation, you need to add a cryoprotectant to the yolk before freezing. You can use sugar or salt. Different solutes work to varying degrees, so there’s something more than just freezing point depression. My understanding – after reading some of the scientific literature (I’m such a nerd) – is that sugar prevents denaturing (the uncoiling of long proteins which enables them to bind with other proteins and form a matrix) while salt ions prevent protein molecules from aggregating (the salt ions match up with the protein’s charge groups, blocking the proteins from hooking up). 

Conventional wisdom is that you need to create 10% sugar or salt solution with the yolks,  but despite calculating weight and volume concentrations, I can’t reconcile this with the most commonly cited recommendations (e.g., America’s Test Kitchen and the Egg Board) of 1.5 teaspoon sugar or 1/8 teaspoon salt to each 4 yolks. I’m tired, so I’m content to trust the food scientists, and call it a day. 

Now, I give you lemon curd. Thanks for attending this week’s session of food quasi-science and incomplete analysis.

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Lemon Curd

Makes approximately 1 cup

When not eating this by the spoonful, I love it layered with berries and Greek yogurt or spread on buttered, toasted bread with a sprinkle of flakey salt. 

Adapted from Glorious Treats, the recipe that Joanne sent me. 

– 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (1-2 Meyer lemons)
– 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest 
– 1/3 cup sugar
– 4 egg yolks
– 3 T butter 

Whisk. Combine all ingredients in the top of a double boiler (I use in a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water). Heat over low to medium flame, while stirring constantly with a whisk, until mixture thickens. It’s done when thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, or reaches 170F on a candy thermometer. 

Strain. Allow the curd to cool slightly and then strain it into a bowl or jar. 

Store. Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator. 

***

Freezing egg yolks

To freeze one yolk at a time, whisk it with 1/3 t sugar or a pinch of salt, and then pour into your ice cube tray. 

For bigger batches, whisk 1.5 t sugar or 1/8 t salt into 4 egg yolks. Divide equally between 4 cells of an ice cube tray (~1 tablespoon per yolk) and freeze.

Make sure to mark whether you’ve used sugar or salt. 

Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before using. 

NOTE: no special treatment is needed to freeze egg whites. 

 

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I know, soup again.

But it was dreary last Sunday night and when my sister came over to light Hanukkah candles, I gave her the option of a fresh batch of some sort of lentil/sweet potato concoction or onion soup that I’d made the prior week and frozen. She graciously chose onion, leaving me with more time on my hands but still a pile of sweet potatoes just begging to be used before I head out of town for the weekend yet again. (The tubers ended up in a slow cooker with a bunch of vegetables, pears, and lentils a few days ago.)

With no bowls able to withstand a little oven time, I improvised with a small gratin dish and made more than enough for the two of us to share, scooping hot soup and soaked bread and melty cheese into pretty but not oven-safe bowls, and peeling bits of charred Gruyère and Comte off the sides of the dish.

As for the recipe, my parameters were that it be vegetarian and use some port I found lying around. Because I wasn’t using chicken/beef/veal stock, I nearly tripled the amount of onions typically called for (which wilted down to almost nothing anyway) and added a little soy sauce at the end to give some umami oomph. As my sister said, the soup is still a tad on the sweet side – so you can add more soy sauce, and if I’d had some in my pantry I would have drizzled the soup with sherry vinegar to balance everything out.

And that’s it, folks. No fun story* or long discussion of etymology or romps down history lane or scientific explanation. Just soup. A plain old classic soup. And sometimes, on a cold drizzly Hanukkah evening, that’s all you need.

(*Well, the story – if you can call it one – is that a friend asked on FB about making onion soup in a crockpot which got the soup lodged in my brain.)

French onion soup (Soupe à l’oignon gratinée)

Adapted from the Washington Post, in consultation with Gourmet (RIP) and The Guardian. I more than doubled the amount of onions and amped up the flavor with onion powder (thank you, Leah Koenig) and added soy sauce for umami. Other umami options that I’ve seen include worchestire sauce, nam pla/fish sauce, miso (stir in at the end, soup can’t be boiling), nutritional yeast – a little bit goes a long way and while these may seem strange to add to a soup like this, they won’t add a fishy or miso-y flavor. If  you’re curious about those pretty thyme leaves – rather than buying a sad looking container of fresh-ish thyme, I picked up a thyme plant that was less expensive and still graces my windowsill. If you don’t have any sort of bowl or dish to put in the oven, you can melt the cheese on your bread and then float the cheese toast on top of the hot soup in each bowl.

Makes 10 cups (6-8 servings)

– 1/4 C olive oil (or 2 T olive oil and 2 T butter)
– 5 lbs (8 large) assorted onions, sliced into half-moons – I used a mix of yellow, red, and Vidalia
– 1 t fresh thyme leaves, plus extra for garnish
– 4 large dried bay leaves
– 1 T kosher salt
– freshly ground black pepper
– 1/3 C port
– 1 t onion powder
– 3 T flour
– 8 C vegetable broth
– 2-3 T soy sauce
– 1/2 loaf sourdough boule or baguette, sliced, stale or toasted, and broken into medium-sized pieces
– 5 oz Gruyère cheese, grated (2 C)
– 5 oz Comte cheese, grated (2 C)

Caramelize. Heat the oil (or oil and butter mix) in large, heavy bottomed pot (I used an 7.25-quart dutch oven) over a low flame. Mix in the onions, thyme, bay leaves, salt, and pepper. Spread the mixture evenly in the pan, and let sit for 10 minutes without stirring. Keep cooking for a total of 35-40 minutes, stirring periodically (every 5 minutes or so, more frequently towards the end), until the onions have turned a dark golden brown and collapsed into a heap, reduced by about a quarter. If at any time they start to burn, turn the heat down.

Deglaze. Pour in the port and scrape up all the good bits from the bottom and sides of the pot.

Make roux. Add the onion powder and flour and mix until well incorporated, still over low heat. Cook for 3-4 minutes so the flour loses its raw taste. Pour in about a half cup of broth (just eye it), and mix well until an onion-y paste forms. Pour in another cup and mix well to make sure there are no lumps. Stir in the remaining broth.

Boil. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce the heat to medium and let the soup cook, covered, for 20 minutes, adjusting the heat to keep it at a very slow boil, adding a little water if it gets too thick and uncover it it’s too liquid-y.

Toast. While the soup is gently boiling, heat your oven to 375°F. If your bread isn’t already stale or toasted, stick it right on the racks while the oven is heating up to let it dry out – 5-7 minutes.

Serve. Divide your soup into oven-safe crocks (or any sort of deep dish), filled about 3/4 of the way up, top with a few pieces of bread, sprinkle with cheese, and slide into the oven on a parchment- or foil-lined baking sheet. Cook for 4-5 minutes until the cheese has melted and is bubbling and browning on the top. If you don’t have crocks, use a small au gratin/casserole dish instead.

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Someone recently suggested that I write about protest food, as I spent a lot of time in Washington DC – on the lawn of the Capitol, on the steps of SCOTUS, roaming the halls of Hart and Dirkin – in the weeks leading up to most recent Supreme Court justice confirmation (*sigh*). But on the day of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, when a group of alumnae from her high school – my high school – gathered in the Senate building to show our support, I got through most of the day on un-toasted English muffins and apples – two of each – lukewarm Dunkin Donuts coffee provided by a friend and then by Planned Parenthood, and eventually a late afternoon trip to the Senate cafe for a soup and sandwich to eat back upstairs in a conference room that Maryland senators had reserved for the 25 or so alumnae who stuck around to watch the nominee’s testimony. I’m glad we watched it together because I could not have handled that on my own.

So, I don’t really have any protest food for you, per se, and there’s a whole book on that anyway: Julia Turshen’s Feeding the Resistance which came out just a few weeks ago, filled with recipes that are quick to prepare and easily portable, serve a crowd, nourish the soul, and replenish the energy it takes to scream in the face of patriarchy again, and again, and again, and again.

What I do have, though, is a tart of sorts that I hope will serve you well when you need to leave town without much notice (as I’ve done too many times these past few months for personal reasons) and face a fridge of produce that won’t last until your return. It’s a great option for transforming vegetables and odds and ends of cheese into an easily-transportable, as-delicious-cold-as-warm-as-hot, looks-fancier-than-it-is dish to feed friends and family when you’re on the move. Also great for an elegant brunch. Or cutting into wedges and stuffing into sandwich bags and throwing into your purse or backpack.

It started as a recreation of one of my very first recipes, a zucchini and leek tart, published when this nearly double digits blog was a wee four-month old. About six weeks ago, I went overboard with late season zucchini that I knew would be a soggy mess when I got back, so I grated it and substituted whatever I had on hand. Onion for leeks. Cheddar for Raclette. A commoner’s version of what in its original form (before it got to me) was prepared as part of a French-inspired seven-course birthday brunch to make a blogger’s daughter feel like a princess.

Zucchini onion cheddar tart

A modification of this recipe, inspired by 5-Star Foodie, a blog that unfortunately no longer exists. This follows a pretty basic formula – 3 eggs, 3 cups vegetables (cooked or raw), 1.5 cups grated cheese – that can really be fudged in any direction. I’ve played around with other flavor combinations, such as sautéed riced cauliflower, schug or harissa, and feta. 

The size of your baking dish will determine how long the tart will take to cook. This was photographed in a 10-inch solid-bottom tart pan which is approximately the same volume as a 9-inch deep dish pie plate; I’ve also made this in a springform pan and served on a platter like a savory cake. 

For the neatest slices, allow the tart to cool completely (or even refrigerate). Otherwise, eat messy slices while it’s hot. Leftovers travel very well. 

Serves 8

– 3 T butter, plus more for greasing pan
– 1 lb zucchini (1 large or 2 small zucchini), grated (2 heaping cups total)
– 1/2 t kosher salt, divided
– 2 medium onions (any type – I used one red, one white), finely chopped
– 3 eggs
– 3/4 C flour
– 1 T baking powder
– 1/2 t nutmeg
– 10 oz sharp cheddar (this is one of my favorites), grated (1½ cups)

Prep. Heat oven to 350°F.

Drain. Toss the zucchini with ¼ teaspoon salt and set it in a colander until it releases some liquid, approximately 15 minutes.

Cook. While the zucchini is draining, in a skillet over medium-low heat, melt the butter and cook the onions with ¼ teaspoon of the salt, stirring occasionally, for approximately 15 minutes until translucent but not yet browned. You don’t want these to caramelize. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Mix. Mix  the drained zucchini with the eggs, flour, baking powder, nutmeg, and cheese. Add the cooled onions (if they’re still hot, they might cook the eggs and the tart will cook up unevenly) and continue to mix until everything is evenly distributed. The batter will be very thick.

Bake. Butter a 10-inch tart pan or 9-inch deep-dish pie plate. Spread the batter into the pan and smooth out the top. Bake for 30-45 minutes, until the top is golden brown and there is just the tiniest bit of jiggle left. If you stick a toothpick in, it should come out a little bit eggy (completely dry and its overdone). Let cool 10-15 minutes before diving in.

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I just got back from vacation (more on that soon, pinky swear) and while I miss having a made-to-order omelette (tomato-mushroom-cheese, thank you very much) every morning draped over a pre-split English muffin (all I had to do was lower the halves into the toaster) and sidling up to a rainbow of orange, green, and pink melon slices, it’s still good to be back in the kitchen.

Most of my meals since coming home have been no-cook affairs, essentially lots of salads. But Sunday morning felt like pancake time and I begrudgingly fired up the stove. (My apartment layout is such that even with the a/c on full blast, the kitchen is warm and stuffy, even before I start cooking.)

In an attempt to detox after snacking on fries everyday for a week, I created a higher-ish protein breakfast, replacing buttermilk with yogurt and using a bit of garbanzo flour. I dotted the pancakes with a pint of blueberries threatening to shrivel if they sat one more day on the counter.

The result was a little less fluffy than my go-to pancakes, but otherwise a great addition to my weekend breakfast repertoire. I was feeling pretty proud of myself until I realized I had eaten half the batch. I put the remainder in a bag and in the freezer. Detox schmetox, I say.

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Blueberry yogurt (higher-ish protein) pancakes

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen. In trying to up the protein content of these, I substituted chickpea flour for rye. The batter is very thick – thicker than my normal pancake recipe – and it doesn’t bubble very much after a couple of minutes on the pan, so you’ll need to peek underneath to see when it’s time to flip. The pancakes aren’t very sweet, and I lightly sprinkle with white sugar rather than maple syrup which would hide the blueberry flavor.

Makes 12-14 4-inch pancakes

– 2 large eggs
– 1 C plain yogurt (I used 2%, a mix of regular and Greek because that’s what I had)
– 3-6 T milk
– 3T canola oil (plus extra for pan – I used a spray)
– 1/2 t vanilla extract
– 1/2 t lemon zest or 1/4 t lemon extract
– 1/2 C all-purpose flour
– 1/2 C whole wheat flour
– 1/4 C garbanzo (chickpea) flour
– 3 T sugar
– 1 T plus 1 t (i.e., 4 t) baking powder
– 1/2 t sea salt
– 1 C blueberries, rinsed and dried

Whisk. Whisk eggs and yogurt together in a medium/large bowl. If you use regular yogurt, you don’t need to add any milk; a thick Greek – add enough to thin it out to the consistency of cake batter, dripping from the whisk in a thin (not skinny) stream. Whisk in oil, vanilla, and lemon zest or extract.

Layer. Add the flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a layer over the wet ingredients. Gently stir them to mix just the dry ingredients. (Or you could dirty another bowl for the dry ingredients).

Stir. With a spatula, stir the dry into the wet only until the dry ingredients are moistened. A few lumps are ok. If you over-mix, the pancakes will be dense. The batter will be thick and when you drag your spatula through it, it will leave behind a trail of bubbles, the action of the baking powder.

Cook, flip, repeat. Heat a pan (I used a cast-iron one) over medium heat and spray sparingly with canola oil (or use whatever fat you’d like). The pan is hot enough when you flick a few drops of water on the surface and they jump around and dance. Drop a scant 1/4 cup (about 3 tablespoons) of batter at a time, leaving space between each pancake. Press a small handful of berries into the top of each pancake. When the pancakes are dry around the edges and golden brown on the bottom, about 3 to 4 minutes, flip them and cook for another 3 minutes until golden underneath as well. (Start by making one small pancake at a time so you can adjust the flame to the right temperature before making the rest of the batch. Despite what they say about the pancake, I just think of it as the cook’s treat.) Continue to adjust the heat as necessary.

Serve. Pile the pancakes high and serve with plain white sugar.

 

 

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Dorie Greenspan shared a recipe for Ispahan sablés in her New York Times column earlier this month, and it reminded me of the first time I tasted anything Ispahan almost exactly a decade ago. It was in Paris where I was spending several weeks taking dance classes and trying to figure out what to do after losing my job. While the flavor combination of rose, raspberry, and lychee is a signature of pastry chef Pierre Hermé (Dorie talks about him here), I first experienced it in the Ladurée salon on the grand Champs Elysée.

I was on a date with this guy, Reuben was his name. It wasn’t our first date, but our second.

For our first, we walked around the Latin Quarter, the Left Bank neighborhood where I had swapped apartments, checking out the Vélib’ bikes that sat dormant, ready for their grand opening the following week. We perched on the still stationary bikes and pretended to ride around town. We sat next to statues, emulating their poses. We got crêpes and I was schooled on the best way to order them: citron sucrée – a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar.

For our second date, Reuben wanted to share a classic Right Bank experience. We sat in a dim corner on a robin’s egg blue tapestry-covered banquette, voyeurs to the choreography of waiters, the bustling of the tourist-filled dining room in the Ladurée salon I mentioned earlier. Some food and a few glasses of wine in, it was time for dessert. I had never tried a macaron, so Reuben ordered what he said was the best one in the city. (Parisians are opinionated about their food, non?) It arrived: two bright pink meringues sandwiching rose cream, lychee bits, and the most perfect specimens of raspberries. This was a knife and fork kind of macaron, more cake than cookie and almost too pretty to dive into. Almost. The contrast of textures, the complement of flavors was quite possibly magical.

Reuben and I went out one more time, but then I moved on to Nice for the rest of the summer. His parting words: “I’ll always remember you as the girl who was lost in Paris.”

When I visited Paris this past June, one of my first stops was for an Ispahan macaron. It was a mini-one in a random patisserie with mere hints of rose and raspberry, mediocre at best, but the cookie is how I orient myself back to the city and it’s always on my day-one list.

My prior visit two years ago was a brief one, but I still managed to grab an Ispahan or two. I spent most of the time with Laurence and Gerald, sticking close to my Airbnb and their 17e arrondissement apartment. I was there to see them and to remind myself that I could visit the city of romance alone and do just fine.

And then this time, this summer, I made Paris my own again and could almost imagine myself living there. I stayed in Laurence and Gerald’s second bedroom in their picture-perfect Parisian apartment with floor to ceiling windows that let in dramatic shadows and sunlight, rooftop views, a strong cross breeze to cool everything down without air conditioning, shallow balconies, stairs spiraling an elevator whose door you have to push open, wrought iron everywhere, one (and only one) friendly neighbor, and one very cranky lobby attendant.

After snacking on that first mac of the trip, I made myself right at home in the city, hopping on the métro like a champ (indeed, google maps does help quite a bit), exploring parts of Paris that I know (le Marais) and those that I don’t (Montmartre, les Halles, the 11e). I joined a few food tours to get the lay of the land because the last time I really spent much time there, I wasn’t as into la cuisine as I am now.

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And yet, we didn’t eat out in many of the newer hot spots. I made it to Miznon and Fish La Boissonnerie and a neighborhood gem for couscous, but otherwise we ate at home. Gerald likes to cook – he owned a Lebanese restaurant in Strasbourg back in the day – so he treated Lau and me to dinner most nights. He even cleaned up – she’s got herself a winner, folks. Over the weekend, I popped to the outdoor market and overfilled my bag with peak fruits, croissants, and an obscene number of pastries, and we had a serious brunch before heading out to Clignancourt flea market – one of les puces – where I picked up some art and silverware and we mostly wandered through a maze of antique furniture.

It felt good. It felt comfortable. It felt normal. I felt like I could return without fanfare, without worry, without expectations. It was no longer a big deal.

Pierre Hermé’s Ispahan Sablés

This recipe comes straight from Dorie Greenspan’s in the New York Times, and I added a few small instructions based on my experience. The dough is really easy to work with. I’ve made roll and slice cookies in the past (another Dorie recipe) and ended up with holes in the middle from trapped air, but these cookies roll between your hands and the counter into perfectly solid cylinders. I wrapped the logs well and have frozen two of them when the need for a little sweetness strikes. 

There are a few ingredients that may require a special trip to the store (or Amazon). Sanding sugar is coarser than what you normally use, with crystals slightly smaller than sugar in the raw; it’s white and a little bit shimmery and often comes dyed. I dyed mine red with McCormick. Rose extract is much more intense than rose water and you need it here because sablés can’t take much moisture or they’ll lose their texture. I used Star Kay White brand – it’s pricey but you can use it in baking where you might normally use rose water, but a much, much smaller quantity. I used Whole Foods 365 freeze-dried raspberries, Dorie uses Trader Joe’s.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies

For the sugar:

– ¼ C (60 grams) sanding sugar

– ¼ t pure rose extract 

– Red liquid food coloring 

For the sablés:

– ½ C (10 grams) freeze-dried raspberries

– 1½ C (204 grams) all-purpose flour

– 11 T (155 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature

– ⅓ C (67 grams) sugar

– ½ t pure rose extract

– ¼ t fleur de sel

Color. Put the sanding sugar, extract, and 2 drops of coloring in a small zipper-lock plastic bag, seal the bag and shake until the color is even. Add more color if necessary to get to bright pink.

Crush. Put the raspberries between sheets of wax paper or in a zip-top bag, and crush them with a rolling pin or the bottom of a skillet. Don’t expect perfection — it’s fine to have mostly powder and a few small nuggets. Whisk the raspberries into the flour.

Beat. Working with a mixer, beat the butter at medium speed until it’s soft and creamy, but not airy, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar, extract, and fleur de sel, and beat 3 minutes more. Turn the mixer off, scrape down the bowl, add the flour mixture all at once and pulse the mixer on and off to begin incorporating the dry ingredients. Mix on low speed until the dough forms soft curds and then starts to clean the sides of the bowl (i.e., it wraps around the paddle and no longer sticks to the bowl). Give it a few last turns with a spatula, then scrape it out onto the counter.

Roll. Divide the dough into 4 pieces, and roll each into an 8-inch-long log. If you don’t have a ruler, use the short edge of a piece of paper (8.5 X 11 inches) as a guide.

Coat. Spread the sugar out on a piece of wax paper, and roll the logs in the sugar until they’re completely coated. Wrap each log in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to 3 days.

Prep. When you’re ready to bake, position the racks to divide the oven into thirds, and preheat it to 325ºF. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Slice. Unwrap the logs, trim the ends if they’re ragged and cut the logs into ½-inch-thick rounds. Place them on the baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between each round.

Bake. Bake the cookies for 19 to 21 minutes, rotating the sheets top to bottom and front to back after 10 minutes, or until the cookies are firm around the edges and golden brown on the bottom; the tops will remain pale. Rest the sablés for 2 minutes, then transfer to cooling racks. Serve – or pack into a container – when the cookies come to room temperature.

 

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skyrversary

I called Natasha last month to wish her a happy one-year skyrversary. On our trip to Reykjavik, we ate the thick creamy yogurt-like deliciousness at least once a day, often twice, once even thrice. Yes, it was lovely for breakfast but it really shines in dessert. Each of the restaurants we went to had a sweet skyr course, typically layered with something frozen and something crunchy. One night, blueberry sorbet and oats. Another, strawberries and green strawberry granita. And also, sorrel granita, hazelnut gelato, merengue, and blondies. I mean, seriously people, the desserts were insane.

Just a few days after returning home, I took a first step at reproducing our desserts: I pulled out Cheryl Sternman Rule‘s Yogurt Culture to start from scratch. I inoculated a heavy pot of warmed milk with a dollop of skyr starter (Icelandic Provisions because they use “heritage cultures” and I was aiming for authenticity) and let the whole mix incubate overnight in an oven warmed only by its light. (Am I sounding overly scientific with all this inoculation and Incubation? Yeah, a little. And I’m OK with that.)

In the morning, I pulled the heavy pot from its oven incubator and was pleased to see that the curds had sunk to the bottom and the liquid whey had risen to the top. My plan was to strain the curds as if I were making Greek yogurt (not that I’ve made that), and then strain them a little bit longer.

I lifted the pot and tipped it over a bowl to pour off the whey, but the curds slid out and I lost hold of the pot and the floor was soon a slick puddle of yogurt. Warm yogurt. Turns out, the scent of warm fermenting yogurt is not only unappealing but it permeates everything. After I mopped up the floor, I had to change outfits. And after a day outside, I thought I was coming home to a dairy farm.

I’d like to say I got back on the horse, but I didn’t. I just moved on. One by one, I pulled together the components for an approximation of the simplest of our skyr desserts. There were blueberries to roast. Sorbet to churn. Cookie crumbles to bake. I then layered and layered and layered to compose a ridiculously complicated dessert.

Fancypants blueberry and skyr dessert

– Skyr

– Roasted blueberry compote

– Blueberry lime sorbet

– Oatmeal cookie crumble

Layer. Fill a glass two-thirds with skyr. Cover with blueberry compote. Top with a scoop of sorbet. Sprinkle with cookie crumble. Drizzle with a few more roasted blueberries.

***

Roasted blueberry compote

Just barely adapted from Cheryl Sterman Rule‘s Yogurt Culture. This is actually the first time I’ve roasted fruit – strawberries, you’re up next! – and I like how the flavors concentrate differently than stove-top compote, making a more soup-like (as opposed to stew-like) compote. The berries wrinkle up as the oven dries them out and because they’re not crowded together in a pot, they don’t reabsorb their released juice. 

If your blueberries are tart (for example, the tiny ones from Maine), add up to a tablespoon more of sugar.

Makes 1 1/2 cups

– 2 1/2 C fresh blueberries

– 2 T white sugar

– 1 T lime juice

Roast. Heat oven to 350°F. Toss 2 cups of blueberries with the sugar and spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast for 15-20 minutes until the skins burst, the berries shrivel up a bit, and the released juices thicken and slightly caramelize.

Mix. Using a bench scraper, pull the berries and juices into the center. Carefully lift the long edges of the parchment towards the center and tip the berries and their juices into a bowl. Don’t wait too long or the juices will harden. Stir in the lime juice and let cool.

Serve. Mix with yogurt (or skyr), drizzle over ice cream, or put a jar on a cheese plate.

***

Blueberry lime sorbet

This recipe follows the guidelines for Any-Fruit Sorbet from The Kitchn. While making simple syrup is a bit fussy and not necessary for a berry sorbet, I added this step so I could infuse mint into the sugar water concentrate. Just a tiny bit of vodka helps lower the freezing point so that the sorbet doesn’t get too hard. Depending on what type of ice cream maker you have, you might need to put the canister in the freezer the night before. 

– 1/4 C sugar, plus extra if needed

– 1/2 C water

– 4 sprigs fresh mint

– 2 lbs (about 5 C) blueberries

– 1 t lime zest

– 1 T vodka

– 2 T fresh lime juice, plus extra if needed

Simmer. Make simple syrup by combining sugar, water, and mint in a pot over medium-high heat. Simmer, stirring periodically, until the sugar dissolves. This is a very concentrated 2:1 sugar syrup as I didn’t want to add too much water. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Puree. Use a blender, immersion blender, or food processor to puree the simple syrup, berries, lime zest, and vodka until smooth.

Strain. Strain mixture through a fine mesh strainer to get rid of any pesky blueberry skins and larger pieces of lemon zest.

Taste. Add the lime juice and taste the mixture for sweetness. It should be a bit sweeter than you want because the sweetness dissipates during the freezing process .(How? I have no idea.) Way too sweet? Add lime juice, teaspoon by teaspoon. Too sour? Add sugar, tablespoon by tablespoon.

Chill. Chill the base in the fridge until very cold, at least an hour.

Churn. Pour the cold base into your ice cream machine and churn until the consistency of a thick smoothie. This takes about 25 minutes in my Cuisinart.

Freeze. Transfer to a container or two, cover well, and freeze for at least four hours before serving.

***

Oatmeal cookie crumble

Makes 1 1/2 cups

– 1/2 C flour

– 1 C oats

– 1/4 C brown sugar

– 1/4 C cold butter

– 1/2 t salt

– 1 egg

Pulse. In a small food processor, pulse together all ingredients until the mix resembles cornmeal.

Bake. Spread evenly on a parchment covered baking sheet and bake in a 350ºF oven until it starts to brown, about 10 mins. Use 2 forks to break up chunks and return to oven. Bake for about 10 more minutes until golden brown, checking every 2-3 minutes to break up chunks and make sure that the pieces aren’t burnt. Once cool enough to handle, break up chunks until the size of grape nuts.

Store. Store in an airtight container.

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