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Archive for the ‘salad’ Category

I opened my mailbox last night to one of my favorite sights. A food magazine,  its precious pages protected in a plastic sleeve. Last night it was July’s Bon Appétit. Last week, it was June’s Food&Wine. Sometimes I tear the plastic off right away and curl up with the latest issue and a glass of wine, tearing through it in an evening, dog-earing recipes. Other times, I savor the issue, reading it in bed over several nights, a bedtime story that leaves me with sweet (or savory) dreams. Stacked next to my bed is half a year’s worth of cooking magazines.

But sometimes, I find the magazine, still enrobed in plastic, a month later. (Issues with celebrity actors turned cookbook authors are prime candidates for staying under wraps. <sigh>)

An ex-boyfriend got me started on cooking magazines almost a decade ago. He’s also the one who inspired me to get a Kitchenaid mixer. While our relationship was transient, his influence was not. Well, at least as far as cooking was concerned. He pushed my food boundaries. I owe him a lot.

Even though I turn to the web or a cookbook when searching for a recipe, I still like flipping through the magazines. The best, of course, is when you find a recipe that is just perfect immediately. That night. You have the ingredients hanging out in your kitchen, just waiting to be put to good use.

Back in February, I tore open my Bon Appétit and consumed it. My version of the cover brownies is on it’s way, but today we’re here to talk about slaw. I had a friend staying over and I barely heard a thing she said until I finished making an Asian winter slaw, staining the pristine pages with miso and rice vinegar. As we caught up on the year we had spent in different cities, I didn’t even make it to the table – I just ate the entire slaw out of the bowl sitting on the kitchen counter. Luckily, I have an open kitchen. Luckily, she had already eaten. Lucikly, there was no need to share.

Miso brocco-slaw

The original recipe calls for ginger, but I left it out because it molds too easily and I rarely have it in my fridge (when I remember, I do freeze it). I adjusted the proportions and added soy sauce and sesame oil. The recipe works equally well with cabbage.

Enough for 2, if you’re willing to share.

- 2 T rice vinegar

- 1 T white miso

- 3 T vegetable oil

- 2 t soy sauce

- 1 t sesame oil

- 1 16-ounce bag broccoli slaw

- small handful cilantro, chopped (~1/4 C)

- sesame seeds

Make dressing. Whisk together vinegar, miso, oils, and soy sauce.

Make salad. Put slaw and cilantro in a bowl. Toss with dressing. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

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yank the covers off

Summer came early this year. And Winter left late.

One morning, the sun burst into my room at 6 am. No warning. No hiding behind a few lazy clouds. No snooze button. No climbing back under the sheets. This was a yank-the-covers-off, dive-into-the-cold-pool hello! Goodbye, five-plus months of Winter. Goodbye, snow storms that shut down the airports. Goodbye, two straight weeks of rain. And then, hello, tornado. Hello, full-blown hazy hot humid Summer.

And I’m excited to be here. In Summer.

But I missed Spring. I’m the kind of girl who likes to crawl back under the covers for just a few more minutes of sleep. So, a few weeks ago, when it should have been spring, I was invited to a friend’s for dinner and I made the kind of salad that celebrated the season even if the weather wasn’t cooperating. A verdant salad just waiting for the colorful blossoms of summer to peek out.

Well, Summer, on your first official day, here I am. Armed with flip-flops. Armed with picnic blankets for long lazy days. Armed with a nylon bag in my purse in case I snag some corn ears, heirloom tomatoes, or pea shoots at a farmers market on my way home from work. Hello! I’m looking forward to some good times with you.

Green green salad

The genesis of this salad is an herb salad that I adapted to be entirely green. It’s an assortment of different leaves and herbs, cucumbers, jicama or apple, and avocado. I love using pea shoots when I can find them and you might remember seeing them here before. If your pea shoots are really young, you can just chop them up and throw them in the mix. If the stems are a bit tougher, I recommend tearing off the leaves, tendrils, and blossoms for the salad and then chopping and sautéing the remaining tougher stems with some garlic. The dressing is a basic lemon-olive oil mix with a bit of cayenne pepper for a kick.

For the salad:

If you’re going to use jicama, cut it first into small cubes or matchsticks and toss with some lime juice, salt, and cilantro. Let marinate while you’re preparing the rest of the salad.

Into a bowl, throw  your favorite greens and herbs. I use a double handful each of arugula, pea shoots, and baby spinach and then a few large pinches of freshly chopped cilantro, mint, and sometimes basil. Lightly dress (see below) and toss the greens and herbs.

Arrange over the greens thinly-sliced cucumber (I use a mandoline to slice baby Persian cucumbers – they’re smaller and sweeter than regular cucumbers), jicama or green apple matchsticks, and avocado. Add extra dressing if necessary and toasted pistachios if desired.

For the dressing: Whisk together lemon juice and olive oil in a 1:1.5 ratio and add salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste.

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613

seeds

One year in elementary school, we had a “Mitzvah Fair.” Sort of like a Science Fair, but fewer experiments.

We had learned in Hebrew class that there were 613 seeds in a pomegranate, supposedly corresponding to the number of mitzvot — commandments or good deeds (depending on the context) — in the Torah. So, I paired up with a friend and we counted the number of seeds. Well, we tried to.  We bought two fruits, trying to make this project as scientific as possible, but weren’t able to count beyond about 400 per pomegranate. And, we did count the ones we ate.

That was the first time that I had ever seen or tasted a pomegranate and to my pre-teen self, the fruit was the epitome of exotic. My friend and I had no idea how to remove the seeds. We cut the fruit in quarters, losing many seeds in the process, and then plucked the remaining seeds out by brute force with our less-than-nimble fingers. Perhaps that’s why we didn’t get close to the expected 613.

Now pomegranates seem fairly common, and the juice is ubiquitous. And, thanks to a tip from my Atlanta family, I now know that the easiest way to remove pomegranate seeds is to carefully slice through the skin, gently pry open the fruit, and submerge it in a bowl of water. The water helps loosen the seeds (called “arils”) and they sink to the bottom while the membrane floats. You can then roll remaining seeds out of the fruit, re-submerging the clustered seeds periodically to help separate them from the membrane.

pomegranate

Our pomegranate experiment less than successful, my friend and I parted ways. Instead, I recorded myself as G-d giving the Ten Commandments to Moses.

Talk about hubris!

I found the room in the house with the best acoustics – the bathroom – and sat in the tub with a “boom box” taping my forced deep voice, enumerating each commandment and explaining it to the best of my nine year old abilities. To this day, I remember saying, “Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife” and explaining, “for she is your neighbor’s and not yours.” Yes, I really said “for” in lieu of “because.”

Pomegranate Chicken

pomegranate chicken

Adapted from Ethel Hofman’s Everyday Cooking for the Jewish Home. I doubled the recipe (and have included that doubling here) and used mostly boneless skinless chicken breasts. Essentially, you poach the chicken in olive oil which keeps the meat moist and the chicken can be easily reheated without fear of drying out. The original recipe calls for making juice from pomegranate seeds, but I take a shortcut, using either pomegranate juice of concentrate (which is just a juice reduction available in many Middle Eastern grocery stores).  Pomegranates are traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashana as a reminder of the commandments that we have kept over the past year, as we pray in synagogue for our merits to be counted. I have made this dish the past two years as part of my family’s Rosh Hashana meal.

Serves 8-10

- 1/3 – 1/2 C olive oil

- 4 T minced garlic

- 2 (3 1/2 to 4-pound) chickens, quartered or 8 boneless skinless chicken breasts or a mix

- 1/2 C pomegranate juice or 1/4 C pomegranate concentrate

- 1/2 C dry white wine (I used Beckett’s Flat 2004 Reserve Chardonnay)

- Juice of 2 lemons (~ 1/4 C)

- 1 T cinnamon

- 1 T sugar

- Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375º F.

Bake chicken. Spread chicken pieces in a pan in a single layer. Cover with minced garlic, salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil. The recipe calls for 1/4 C oil per whole chicken, but this seemed like a little too much to me, so I cut the oil down a bit; use your judgment — there should be approximately 1-inch of oil in the tightly-packed pan . You could also toss the chicken, oil, and garlic in a ziplock bag and then spread the chicken in the pan. Bake in oven, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Baste every 10 minutes or so with the pan juices. My chicken did not brown at all.

Prepare sauce. Bring to boil pomegranate juice or concentrate, white wine, lemon juice, cinnamon and sugar. Lower heat for 5 minutes. The sauce should reduce to about 3/4.

Finish chicken. Drain excess oil from chicken. Pierce each chicken piece several times and pour sauce over chicken. Continue baking chicken with sauce for 10-15 minutes.

This chicken is great served at room temperature and on salads. If you have a pomegranate, sprinkle some of seeds on as garnish.

spinach and chicken salad with pomegranate dressing

Pomegranate Salad Dressing

pom seeds with lemon

Using virtually the same flavor combination as the pomegranate sauce, I created a salad dressing to complement the chicken that I cut up and threw on a bed of baby spinach.

- 1/2 C pomegranate seeds

- 1/4 C olive oil

- 2 T pomegranate concentrate

- Juice of 1 lemon (~2 T)

- 1 t cinnamon (optional)

- 1 t sugar

- salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and let the flavors mingle for at least 20 minutes.

Toss liberally over salad greens and sliced pomegranate chicken.

pomegranate dressing

pomegranate

That was the first time that I had ever seen or tasted a pomegranate and the fruit was extraordinarily exotic to me. We had no idea how to remove the seeds and did it by brute force, plucking each seed out with our less-than-nimble fingers, crushing many in the process. Perhaps that’s why we didn’t get close to the expected 613.

Now pomegranates seem fairly common, and the juice is

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composed

At the farmers market yesterday, I picked up some smoked fish – cold smoked and hot smoked wild tuna – from Nantucket Wild Gourmet. I had bought some of their sable and bluefish in the past at Copley and was excited to see them just a few blocks from my home (plus, their products are certified kosher – VHK – and hahal).

Nantucket's hot- and cold-smoked wild tuna

I dove right in to the hot-smoked chunk, cutting it up into slices to try …

hot-smoked tuna, sliced

… when my cat, Prescott Winslow III, hopped onto the counter to grab his own piece, gobbling it quickly on the floor and running to hide because he knew he had been very very naughty. I later found him sitting calmly on my bed as if he had done nothing wrong.

insouciant

My tasting notes: the hot-smoked tuna is a bit dry and, as cliche as it sounds, looks and tastes like chicken. It would benefit from a little dressing (read on…), and the cold-smoked fishes (I’ve tried tuna and sable) retain more oil. PWIII’s tasting notes (based on his fierce meowing and tail wagging): “worth risking life and limb to jump on the counter for … definitely better than the tuna juice ima/maman (PWIII speaks Hebrew and French) sometimes gives me … infinitely better than my regular dry food.”

Salade Composée Niçoise-esque

Still reveling in yesterday’s local bounty, I made a salade composée inspired by a salade niçoise. Using 2 handfuls of pea shoots/tendrils to stand in for the haricots verts, 8-10 red and yellow cherry tomatoes quartered, 2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped, and the hot-smoked wild tuna (2-3 oz), I placed all the ingredients as aftfuly as possible.

art?

Lightly dress with a dijon vinaigrette (this makes double the amount necessary): shake in a jar 1.5 t moutard à l’ancienne (whole grain mustard – you can see the large mustard seeds), 1 T white wine vinegar, 2 T extra virgin olive oil, 2 pinches kosher salt, 1 pinch white pepper. Drizzle over the salad.

dressed

forkful

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getting fresh and staying local

pea shoots

Locavores scare me. So do über-environmentalists. Those people who are obsessed with getting all their food from local farmers, who eschew trucks that bring bottled water from natural sources (Fiji?), and pineapples grown in Costa Rica. Because, let’s face it, despite now living in crunchy crunchy Cantabrigia where people recycle like mad and have compost pails in their kitchens and backyards (I don’t), I like my meat and cheese from France, and regularly carry home or import food from around the world.

I first experienced really local food when my family would pick surplus berries and tomatoes at our friend’s farm in the boonies of Maryland. My mom always made tomato sauce to freeze for the rest of the year. In the summer, we used to stop at roadside stands for corn-on-the-cob.

When I moved to New York after college, I discovered the the Union Square Greenmarket a few blocks from my first “suit job.” I used to wander around during my lunch break, but rarely made a purchase. When I returned to New York after graduate school, I often bought apples the growing number of farm stands at the 76th and Columbus Sunday flea market. And when the weather was good, I used to buy most of my produce from the corner fruit and vegetable guys on the Upper West Side (save for trips to Fairway). This past week visiting NY was not much different as I found some not-so fancy, but all-the-same lovely berries and peaches for my morning breakfast while staying at my friend Meira’s (who was characteristically generous in offering her home while out of town).

fruit at Meira's

Despite my growing dependence on outdoor markets for some produce, I had forgotten that greens don’t always arrive triple-washed in a plastic bag.

And then I moved north. And Cantabrigia is rubbing off on me. If you’re been on this little food journey with me for a while, I’m sure you know that I joined a CSA. Weekly or bi-weekly, I receive vegetables and some fruit and herbs from a nearby farm. Over the past few weeks, I’ve figured out how to prepare chard and hakurei turnips, garlic scape pesto, and no-cook collards. And we can’t forget the kale that started it all.

This summer, as a true Cantabrigian, I’ve been dining on a fair amount of rabbit fare – fresh romaine, red and green leaf lettuce. I don’t bother to put away my large stainless bowl in which I dunk the greens in wash after wash of fresh cold water, gently agitating to remove any clinging grit and soil. I even bought a salad spinner (also stainless) to facilitate my new salad habit.

One of the first things I did upon returning from New York was to hit up my local farmers market and pick up some greens and fill up my stainless  bowl.

It feels good to be home.

Super fresh salad of pea shoots, tomatoes, and corn

farm-fresh ingredients

Inspired by what I found at my local farmers market and some of my sister’s favorite flavors (corn is her favorite salad add-in), this salad tastes incredibly fresh due to the pea shoots. I once had pea shoots in a restaurant and was excited when I saw them with one of the vendors in the market. Pea shoots are also sometimes called pea tendrils; there may be blossoms on the stems that are edible (and lovely). They taste like sugar snap peas in leaf form.The dressing for this salad, like most of my summer staples, is a simple splash of oil, a tiny bit of acid (lemon juice or white wine vinegar) and salt and pepper. Just enough to wet the ingredients without overpowering the natural flavors.

There are no measurements for this salad – it’s sort of come as you go. This is how much I make for a single serving.

Prepare the pea shoots: rinse in cold water and drain. They will last a loosely covered bowl in the fridge for 3-4 days (if you don’t eat them first). Grab 1-2 handfuls of pea shoots per person and tear into good-sized bowl. If you’d like, add a handful of farm-fresh greens, also rinsed, any dirt removed, and torn into the bowl.

Slice a handful of cherry tomatoes (5-8) in half and add to the shoots.

Grill or roast one ear of corn. Cut kernels off of cob into the bowl.

Add a splash of extra virgin olive oil (~1T), a squeeze of lemon or a few drops of white wine vinegar (1-2 t to taste), a pinch or two of kosher salt, and a few grinds of pepper.

Toss and savor the flavors of summer.

pea shoots, tomato, and corn off the cob

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uncommonly good

Watermelon Feta Salad close-up

On Thursday night, some friends organized an evening picnic on Boston Common to watch a little Shakespeare. The Commonwealth Shakespeare Company was putting on Comedy of Errors. Having spent at least a half-dozen summers in Manhattan and never making it to see Shakespeare in the Park (despite living anywhere from a few steps to a few blocks from said Park), I was very excited to finally partake in a little outdoor drama.

And of course friends, good food, and wine.

Our hosts, Noam and Tammie, invited picnic contributions, quoting the first Shakespeare play that I had ever read (and whose prologue I still have memorized), “Tis an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers” (Romeo and Juliet, 4.2).

Well, lick we did…read on, my friends.

Having been privy to some little cherry tomatoes from my CSA (they called them pear tomatoes, but they were more globular than narrow) and a few tiny fruits from my tomato plant, I wanted to incorporate these precious beauties, especially rare this summer due to the blight, into a salad.

CSA tomatoes and a few tiny ones from my window sill garden

CSA tomatoes and a few tiny ones from my windowsill garden

I picked up a beautiful seedless watermelon and made what is a very common salad in Israel and the Mediterranean but whose mix of salty and sweet caused several of my friends to look at me somewhat askance when I announced, “Voilà, watermelon-feta salad!” as I unpacked my  savory-sweet delight.  Of course, Noam, the Israeli in our crowd, came to my defense when no one wanted to try the salad, saying (my apologies for paraphrasing), “This is a classic salad in Israel, but we tend to make it with Bulgarian cheese. It’s a great combination.” I dressed the salad and served up bowls with an encouraging smile during the intermission. By the end of the play, we were picking out the last bits of watermelon flecked with feta and basil ribbons, licking our fingers (well, that might have only been the cook, er, me).

And the salad was so good, I made it the next night too.

Watermelon-Feta-Tomato Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

salad with red leaf lettuce

I first heard of and tried this seemingly strange and uncommon combination in Israel and wanted to get some background on why is so popular there. A source on Wikipedia suggests that watermelon originated in the Nile valley. Add this fruit that is 92% water to some sweltering heat, described by a favorite food blogger as “wading through warm honey,” in a Mediterranean area known for salty semi-firm yet crumbly cheese, and the experimental combination seems inevitable. Once tried, the desire to repeat the experiment is nothing short of addictive. The juxtaposition of textures – the creamy saltiness of the feta, the crisp sweet chill of the watermelon – play off one another nicely. I added the crunch of fresh-from-the-farm tomatoes and added some basil from my windowsill garden. There are so many variations and I’ve made a bunch of suggestions at the end. This salad is best served cold; make sure to add the dressing no more than 20 minutes before serving, as you don’t want the watermelon to lose its turgor.

Serves 6-8 people.

4-5 handfuls of spinach (1/2 a 10 oz bag…i.e, 5 oz) or a head of red leaf lettuce or other leafy greens.

10-12 pear tomatoes

- 1/4 of a seedless watermelon

- ~ 1/4 C feta — I use Israeli goat milk feta that is softer and more like Bulgarian cheese than a hard Greek-style feta (the brand is Pastures of Eden and I buy it at Trader Joe’s; I like it because it is not too salty; I found a nice review about it in the San Fran Chronicle). It is best to keep the store the feta in water and change the water every few days.

- white wine vinegar – 2 T

- extra virgin olive oil – 5 T

- basil (20 leaves)

- salt and pepper

Assemble salad: Rinse and spin the spinach or greens and rip into bite-sized pieces. Quarter the tomatoes. Cut the watermelon into ~1-inch cubes. Crumble feta over the salad.

feta crumbled over spinach

Make dressing: Chiffonade the basil and put into a small bottle (I use an empty spice container).

- 003 (2) crop

The dressing is a standard vinaigrette (typically 3:1 oil: vinegar) that’s just a tiny bit lighter on oil – add oil, vinegar, a few grinds of pepper and a pinch of salt. Shake up to emulsify. Dip a green leaf into dressing to taste for salt and adjust seasoning for taste.

dressing

Chill salad until ready to serve. Dress ~ 15-20 minutes before serving.

chilled, dressing on the side

This is such a versatile salad and there are so many variations you can play around with:

- Shake up the greens – mild greens work here as do those that are more bitter (like arugula)

- Add more salt with capers or olives

- Add some bite with thinly sliced or chopped red onions (I like to quick pickle them in a little white vinegar to cut some of the raw onion’s sharpness, described here) or spring onion

- Use a different acid in the dressing: instead of white wine vinegar, use a sweet balsamic or lime or lemon juice

- Try different herbs: mint, cilantro instead of basil

- Add some heat to the dressing with peppers

Here are a few more recipe ideas I found when looking around the web, one from Janna Gur for Watermelon Cubes with Salty Cheese and Capers and another Ynet article including a salad from Erez Komorovsky that adds blackberries and red onion to the mix.

watermelon-feta salad with spinach


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a fine mess

“But I have never tasted meat,

Nor cabbage, corn nor beans, / Nor fluid food one half as sweet

As that first mess of greens”

- James T. Cotton Noe*

collard slaw from above

My CSA is yet again challenging my taste buds and culinary prowess.

I received collards last week. I associate these hardy greens with the South, and though I grew up in a border state and affect an accent and a “y’all” when it suits me, I’m pretty Northern and city to the core. In looking around for some collard recipes I could relate to, I learned a bit about the history of collards but came up with very little that I could actually envision cooking eating because most recipes call for hamhock or fatback, neither of which fit into my kosher cooking repertoire.

While these greens were imported from Europe, they became part of Southern “soul food” in the 1800s as they were quite prolific and cooked with other kitchen extras using a long simmering method from Africa. These greens cook down quite a bit, not unlike bok choy, kale, or spinach, and the phrase “a mess of greens” usually refers to a whole lot of southern collards that reduce down to a hearty dark green, somewhat stinky (even though I do go for stinky sometimes) slightly slimy in my book, beloved-by-Southerners delectable dish. The better part of the poem that supposedly popularized, or at least codified, this phrase is copied at the end of the this post.

As true Northern folk (and with apologies to my dear dear “Atlanta family”) I just couldn’t bear to cook down a mess of collards. So I sought out alternatives. I found a collard green slaw recipe – bingo! No cooking means no stink. And no pork. I’m no raw food vegan, but I guess this fits the bill if you’re into that. The one thing I can say is that when you eat this slaw, it tastes like you’re eating something healthy. But in a good way.

Collard Slaw

016 sharp crop square

The inspiration for this no-cook salad came from Red Menace over at A Chow Life. Check out her beautiful blog for great ideas and lovely photography. While I didn’t use her sweet slaw recipe, I did filch the idea of marinating the collards in a vinegar to break down some of the fibrous bitterness in the raw greens. I followed my more savory, Asian-inspired slaw recipe that I use for other cruciferous greens- cabbage, broccoli – rummaging through what was handy in my cupboard. This was great after about 30 minutes of flavor mingling and even better the next day when a bit less crisp, but more intensely flavored.  After 18-24 hours, your greens will reduce by about about half, so you still need to start with “a good mess.”

This recipe doesn’t really have exact quantities, but I’ll do my best. I prepared enough for 3-4 small side salads.

- A mess of collards – I received about 20-25 medium-sized leaves from my CSA share

- 2 carrots

- rice vinegar (~2T)

- toasted sesame oil (~1 T)

- hot pepper sesame oil (~ 1-2 t)

- salt or soy sauce (a pinch or 1/2 t to taste, I used pink salt)

- sugar (a pinch or two to cut the bitterness)

- sesame seeds

Soak and gently agitate collards in a big bowl of cold water several times until the water runs clear.

Pat collards dry and chiffonade: roll up 5-6 leaves at a time lengthwise. Because the leaves are pretty wide, I made a cut on each side of the stem. I kept the stem intact because the collards I had were pretty young, but if yours are really fibrous feel free to discard. Then slice widthwise into thin (~1/4 in) strips.

Peel the carrots and julienne them. I used my julienne peeler which made this pretty easy. You could use a food processor, but what a pain to clean (plus, I don’t have one).

Mix the greens and carrots and add the the vinegar, oils, and a little bit of salt and sugar to taste. Start with just a little bit of salt and sugar (and spicy) because you can always add more later. The sugar is important to cut the bitterness of the greens. The salt draws out some of the flavor. Add a few pinches of sesame seeds for taste, texture, and looks.

Let marinate for at least 30 minutes for a crunchier salad, or overnight for a softer slaw. The spiciness does intensify with time.

Variations: if you don’t have hot pepper sesame oil, leave it out, or add some red pepper flakes. Try peanut oil instead sesame oil.

bowl o greens

* THE FIRST MESS OF GREENS

… to me the woods a-ringin’

With the notes of happy birds / When the April buds is springin’

Is a song too sweet for words: / And the beautifullest, since you ask it,

In art or nature’s scenes, / Is Kate with knife and basket,

A-getherin’ of greens.

It pears to lift the veil of years / And opens up to view,

A scene that brings me soothin’ tears

As sweet as tender dew / To grass that suns have withered dry :

I can see her jist as plain, / Though Father Time has dimmed my eye,

And ricollect the pain, / I suffered while she paused a-thinkin’

What such an answer means; / And the “Stay and help us, John,” a-winkin’

“Eat our first mess of greens.”

But I have never tasted meat, ‘

Nor cabbage, corn nor beans, / Nor fluid food one half as sweet

As that first mess of greens.

It’s not the pictur near as much

As the thoughts that gethers round, / That always gives the paintin’ such

Distinction and renown. / There’s nothin’ in a grassy knoll

So beautiful to see, / And yit I think within my soul

It beats a flowery lea. / And oh, I git Munkasket,

If I only had the means, / To paint me Kate with basket

A-getherin’ of greens.

- James T. Cotton Noe (1864-1953), American writer and poet,

from the Loom of Life

close-up

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Modern conveniences make our lives easier, no doubt. I remember when we got our first car phone. It actually had to be attached TO the car. And when my dad went out grocery shopping and my mom forgot to put something on the list, she could call to remind him not to forget the OJ. What a revolution. I remember remarking, “what did we do before car phones???” Now, I travel almost everywhere with a cell phone, a BlackBerry (my “BB”), my tiny Nikon digital camera, an iPod, and if I’m going somewhere for more than 3 days, my computer – because I never know when there might be a blogortunity.

The same holds true for me in the kitchen. I never thought I needed a mixer, but now I can barely fathom making a cake without mine. (And I recall when a newly smug married entered my apartment and exclaimed, “Zahavah, you have a Kitchen Aid, you don’t need to get married!”…I just looked at her husband and could not utter the pitying comment that I would not come up with until hours later.) Even in my 6X6 Manhattan kitchen (and now in a larger, newer Boston abode), my “work space” was somewhat cluttered with a mini food processor, blender and multiple immersion blenders, crepe maker, waffle iron, and George Foreman grill, and don’t forget the 3 sets of pots and pans. Yes… in addition to basari (meat) and chalavi (dairy), I have a small collection of parve (neutral) batterie de sine (Ok, it’s not really batterie de cuisine, but after finishing Julia Child’s My Life in France this weekend and visiting The Breakers and The Elms in Newport, RI last week, I have decided to adopt this terminology. And, anyway, a girl can dream!)

outside the Elks, reminded me of Rimini (unable to capture the extensive batterie de cuisine inside)

Outside the Elms. The juxtaposition of stone and sea reminded me of Rimini (unable to capture the extensive copper batterie de cuisine inside the massive kitchen)

But every once in a while, it’s refreshing to leave a lot of the fancy things behind and keep things (relatively) simple.

This weekend, I visited the condo in Sunny Isles, Florida that my snowbird grandparents (whom you met briefly; I have referred to my grandmother as “Grapefruit Bubbie” because we always had a grapefruit half waiting on each plate before dinner) left to my mother after their passing, and that my parents just finished gutting and renovating. While this was normally our winter get-away, my sister and I joined my parents to toast our new southern abode this past weekend.

My job was to start to outfit the kitchen and my sister, the architect, is in charge of any design decisions that have yet to be made.

a simple lunch as we take a break from unpacking and escape the August sun at high noon

a simple lunch as we take a break from unpacking and escape the August sun at high noon

Since no one will be living here full-time, we’re really trying to keep things pretty basic. We’ve thrown out a lot of things,  but have kept some stuff worth saving. Starting from the beginning means I’m out buying measuring cups, cookie sheets, and salt (and parchment paper and Callebaut chocolate…maybe you see where this is going…) and making do with some oldies but goodies, like Teflon pots and pans that were probably bought when Teflon was a novelty and are still in their original boxes.

Being here in the heat of August that does not let out even in the evenings means that I am barely in the mood to cook. We do a lot of take-out from the local kosher markets – my favorite is Sarah’s Tent in the Waterways.

But there are just a few things that no one can make for me, and that I made with the most basic of equipment. Fresh iced tea from tea bags seeped in a Corning Ware percolator, voided of its percolating bits. Lemon balm-infused simple syrup to sweeten said iced-tea. Salad with marinated zucchini and other veggies, some of which, like the lemon balm, are from my CSA and I could not bear to leave to languish in my fridge.

one last pot of fresh iced tea, seeping at 6 am before I caught my flight (excuse the flash)

making an early morning pot of fresh iced tea for the day (excuse the flash)

lemon balm-infused simple syrup

lemon balm-infused simple syrup

And of course, a family favorite – chocolate chunk cookies (with only chocolate chunks, no nuts). I meant to bring down a jar of almond butter, but in my rush to catch my flight, I grabbed peanut butter instead. I hoped the recipe would be pretty adaptable and my father had been talking about these cookies for over a week (I made them for  him for father’s day and he and my mother have been asking for another batch since then.) For the past few days, in between dealing with plumbing problems, last minute meetings with the contractor, and the-ever-important few hours in the late afternoon sun, I’ve been amassing ingredients in the store. After lunch today, I grabbed a few old school bowls, measured out my dry ingredients, let the margarine get to room temperature, measured out the peanut butter, and chopped up the Callebaut chocolate with a Ginsu knife (remember those? Yup, Bubbie had one!).

pouring the PB

The first step: “Using electric mixer, beat butter/margarine, almond butter, and both sugars in large bowl until light and fluffy.”  Hmm, I have never done this without a mixer. Ok…well, back to good old-fashioned elbow grease. I grabbed a spatula and set to work, first just beating together the butters. So far so good. A nice even creamy mix. OK, I was ready to add in the sugar. And I set to work with the same intensity as before.

Crack.

The first kitchen casualty.

kitchen casualty

Without missing a beat (well, I did snap a few photos), I pulled a big spoon from the drawer and finished up the dough, adding in the chocolate chunks and then throwing the dough in the fridge to cool before running out to the pool for a few late afternoon rays.

if you look real close, you can see the reflection of my flip flop in the bowl

if you look real close, you can see the reflection of my flip flop in the bowl

After returning from the pool where I finally caught up on my New Yorkers (funniest line in the 8/3 issue: “You know who looks fabulous in a bathing suit? A mannequin. Also, a hanger.”), my sister arrived, we grabbed a quick dinner and then toasted our new apartment with some sparkling wine and peanut butter cookies.

In my opinion, they are not as good as the original recipe, too crispy where the others have the perfect chewy bite,  but my family seemed to like them, because when I woke up this morning for my early flight home, there seem to have been a few cookie monsters in the middle of the night.

the cookie monsters attacked overnight

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sneak peek

Vic's olivey Israeli-style salad

I am no good at surprises. I come home from a trip with presents for family and friends, and I can barely get off the plane before I’m calling them up to say, “I’m home, guess what I brought you…No, don’t guess, let me tell you!” I have blown surprise parties. For real. Just don’t tell me about them. Or if you do, make sure I know it’s a surprise. And remind me that means I’m not supposed to tell the guest of honor. And that it means I have to show up on time (or in my case, early…or very very very late to avoid walking in with the guest of honor and saying something like, “How fun, I’m so excited for your birthday party…” as s/he reaches for the doorknob).

Yes. I’m that bad.

So, since I’m making dinner tonight for a friend, I can’t resist. Here’s the menu. And a sneak peek at one of the dishes since I made a test run earlier this week and I liked it so much, I’m repeating it. And, oh guest of honor, if you happen to check out my blog today, well, the surprise is ruined!

Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread, as reported by Mark Bittman in the NYT and as brought to my attention by Jess at Sweet Amandine

Unió olive oil for dipping — this stuff is good enough plain (there’s a pic of it in my kibbutz herb salad)

Roasted garlic

Warm za’atar olives

Spicy carrot tortellini

Bean and walnut paté

Vic’s salad: Israeli-style salad with olives (see below)

Green salad (maybe)

Spoon lamb – a sneak peek, after braising, before sauce: "falling off the bone"

Couscous

Roasted asparagus

Blueberries and golden raspberries with mint simple syrup (or a splash of lemon juice + mint)

If I have time: Almond butter cookies with just almonds (no chocolate chunks)

Just in case: a slice of apple strudel and min fruit tart from Catering by Andrew (the only place I know of here to pick up good kosher patisserie)

Vic’s Salad

Vic's Salad

Vic and Joe (and the adorable Jackito) were my gracious and amazing hosts during most of my time in Panama City. Not only did Vic make a decadent “chocolate explosion cake” that we took on our Santa Clara private beach picnic, but she shared this version of an Israeli salad of tiny chopped tomato and cucumber, salted with olive juice and seasoned with parsley. It became an instant favorite and I’ve been making it since I came home.

Makes 3-4 servings

- 2 tomatoes

- 2 small kirby cucumbers

- 3 scallions

- 10-15 kalamata olives (pre-pitted is easier), liquid reserved (don’t throw it out!)

- flat leaf parsley, chopped

- 1 lemon

- 2-3 T olive oil (to taste)

- freshly ground pepper to taste

Finely chop tomatoes and drain some of liquid in colander while chopping remainder of vegetables. Finely chop cucumbers (some remove seeds and peel, but I don’t bother). Slice white and light green parts of scallions. Slice  olives into ~4 pieces each.

Mix vegetables together and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Veggies, olives, and parsley

Season salad with juice of 1 lemon, 3-4 T of olive juice, 2-3 T olive oil (I used Unió — this oil really tastes like olives!).

Serve right away.

***

And of course, as I’ve been cooking, I’ve been listening to tons of music, including a favorite artist that I happened upon about a year ago: Hadar Manor, an Israeli who found her way to London and began busking in the Underground. I bought her eponymous demo CD that arrived over the Atlantic with a handwritten note and demos for her upcoming album, “Crossing London” which has recently been released. Some of my favorite songs, such as “Ir Miklat” didn’t make it to the album, so I feel like I have a secret stash, and other faves like “Cook a Man” did. One that I don’t (yet) have and would like to share with you is called “Queen of the Underground.”

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csa lunch box

Marinated white turnip and lemon balm over romaine

After a bit of hemming and hawing over the winter, I took the plunge and went with a CSA for the summer. I picked up my first share last week and it included several vegetables that were a bit foreign to me.

Heaven's Harvest CSA share

According to the Heaven’s Harvest website, the share this week consisted of: scallions, Hakurei turnips, summer squash, sweet potatoes, red chard, romaine lettuce, baby bok choi, collards, lemon balm, chives (boo – no chives for me!), and strawberries.

As I was heading down to New York for the weekend, I prepared a little lunchbox for my trip using the fresh bounty that I had.

I researched the white hakurei turnips and learned that they don’t require peeling. Recalling the first time that I made jicama cilantro slaw and inadvertently bought a large turnip (yes, this was well before I had developed into the sophisticate that I am today…I kept exclaiming, “my, this tastes quite earthy!”), I figured a modified slaw would work well with the delicate turnips. So, I did a quick 45-minute marinade of julienned turnips in lemon juice, salt, pepper, extra-virgin, and chiffonaded lemon balm, and then threw the mix over hearty romaine lettuce.

marinated white Hakurei turnips with lemon balm, romaine lettuce


I next prepared some chard, also chiffonaded, and then quickly sautéed in olive oil with salt and thrown atop a whole wheat wrap slathered in hummus.

sauteed chard with hummus on ww wrap


Finally, I rinsed and dried the strawberries and repacked them in their container.

And then I threw everything into an old salad greens container next to a bottle of water, and rushed off to South Station.

lunch box for my trip to NY

As I was heading down to New York, I prepared a little lunchbox for my trip using the fresh bounty that I had.I researched the white _____ turnips and learned that they don’t require peeling. Recalling the first time that I made jicama cilantro slaw and inadvertently bought a large turnip (yes, this was well before I had developed into the sophisticate that I am today…I kept exclaiming, “my, this tastes quite earthy!”), I figured a modified slaw would work well with the delicate turnips. So, I did a quick 45-minute marinade of julienned turnips in lemon juice, salt, pepper, extra-virgin, and chiffonaded lemon balm, and then threw the mix over hearty romaine lettuce.

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