Lip Singe Challenge

I am not usually a fan of spicy foods, but I do make exceptions. One of them is green papaya salad, which I will order whenever I see it on a menu at a Thai restaurant. Green papaya salad is one of the reasons I keep coming back to the Lowell Folk Festival, although the last time we were there it was too spicy for me. Our friend Dan ended up eating it. He’s spent years in Southeast Asia and didn’t think it was spicy. He was less prepared for two straight hours of whining from Beatrix about a balloon, which somehow didn’t phase us! Amazing what you get used to.

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I haven’t posted a green papaya salad in large part because green papaya can be hard to come by, and I try to post things with accessible ingredients. But as luck would have it, there is a pounded green papaya salad recipe in Chrissy Teigen’s cookbook Cravings, which I borrowed from the library during my prep-athon last week, and she includes an adaptation that substitutes green beans for papaya. And I had just panic-bought two pounds of green beans on the same trip!

I’ve actually modified this recipe down to the lowest level of spicy. That also makes it a pantry recipe for me, because I have dried hot peppers from the Winter CSA; just use a pinch of red chili flakes if you don’t. You need an entire lime for this one, and you must eat it with rice to calm your face down. If fish sauce isn’t your thing, this recipe is not for you. But, boy, are you missing out. 

It works best if you have a mortar and pestle for the pounding, but if you don’t, Teigen suggests using a muddler. I ended up splitting the difference, using a pestle in a metal bowl once all the green beans were added in. 

I flippin’ love this recipe so much. Thank you, Chrissy Teigen. If you don’t have green beans or a green papaya, it’ll also work with shredded cucumber. 

Pounded Thai Green Bean Salad from Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings

Ingredients 

1 lime, halved

1 dried red chile pepper

2 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons palm, raw or light brown sugar

10 cherry tomatoes, halved

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 pound green beans

3 tablespoons chopped unsalted roasted peanuts (optional)

Rice, for serving 

Special Equipment

Large mortar and pestle (or you can fake it; see recipe) 

Directions 

Cut one-half of the lime into small wedges and place in a large mortar along with the dried chile, garlic and sugar. Crush with the pestle until the chile is mashed and bruised but not totally pulverized and the sugar is dissolved. Add the tomatoes and pound a few times to bruise the tomates. (You can also accomplish this with a plain old bowl and a round-ended cocktail muddler. Or you can chop the garlic first and just mix and mash everything in a mixing bowl. Squeeze the juice from the remaining  lime half (about 1 tablespoon) into the mortar and stir in the fish sauce. 

Trim and cut the green beans into 2-inch lengths. You should have about 4 cups of beans. 

Add the green beans to the mortar and mash and toss lightly. Divide the salad among bowls. If desired, top with peanuts. Serve with rice. 

 

There’s a Horse… in the Hospital

“Are you reusing a tea bag?” Rich just asked me as I poured hot water into a mug. Indeed, I am. That’s a trick I picked up from my stepdad Max, one of many food hoarding behaviors I realized recently trace back to him. A lot of them stem from the fact that he, and my mom, were both children of Holocaust survivors. Max’s parents met and married in a displaced person camp. My mom was born on a farm in Provence, where her family was in hiding after fleeing Germany in the 30s. 

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Being raised by Children of Survivors means I’ve been practicing for unprecedented events like this my whole life. My pantry is fully stocked, and I panicked shopped three weeks ago, so my freezer downstairs and mini-fridge are in good shape. Rich was perplexed, and a bit annoyed, that I brought home extra toilet paper in February when he had just bought some, but I told him it was for later. 

Still, with all my extra-preparedness, I can’t help but worry for people who don’t have the economic ability to fill up a freezer in the basement, or even afford an extra package of toilet paper. All of us Parrs will be telecommuting from home for the foreseeable future, Lilli included, although Bea may never learn what letter comes after R at this rate.

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Bea’s purim costume from last weekend.

My hope is to get back to updating this site more frequently. But I will remind you right now that Cheap Beets already has a ton of pantry-friendly recipes. And of course I will keep posting meals on my Instagram feed, which has become my default way of getting food ideas out there.

The recipe I have for you today is one we’ve been making all winter. It’s a pantry recipe, meaning it doesn’t involve lots of fresh things, save for a chopped carrot, but chances are you have that in your fridge. I’m also guessing you have a big can of tomatoes, an onion, some bouillon or stock in the pantry, and a touch of sugar. 

If you have tomato paste, all the better – once I open my small can of it, I put the rest of it into a Ziploc bag in the freezer so I can break off tablespoons at a time for little flavor boosts with soups and sauces. 

Bea’s a big fan of this soup, and loves slurping it alongside her grilled cheeses

Now back to my tea.

Tomato Soup

Ingredients 

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 large onion, sliced

1 carrot, peeled and diced

1 28 oz, can of tomatoes (chopped, diced, pureed – it doesn’t really matter for this one)

2 to 3 cups stock (or water or water with bouillon) 

2 teaspoons brown sugar (use white if that’s all you have) 

Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions

Pour the oil into a large, deep pot over medium heat. When hot, add the tomato paste and let it cook for a minute, then add the onion and carrot. Sprinkle with salt and cook, stirring until the onion begins to soften, about 7 minutes. 

Add the canned tomato and cook, stirring occasionally until the tomatoes break up, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the stock or water, stir, then bring to a boil. Adjust the heat and simmer long enough for the flavors to mingle, about 10 minutes.  

When the soup is done, puree it carefully in a blender or with an immersion blender. 

Serve hot, preferably with a grilled cheese sandwich. 

When I dip you dip we dip

The new year has come and gone, and so has Chanukah and Christmas, two holidays that filled our house with guests and lots of gifts for the girls. We had our bathroom floor replaced before the break, and now we, and the contractors know, that the pipes are in the wall, rather than the floor. Live and learn. 

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We hosted a latke bash for the last night of Chanukah, and served latkes made with veggies from our winter CSA: sweet potato, potato, and celery root and carrot. We also used potatoes Lilli planted with her kindergarten at the farm at her school last year. They weeded and composted, and cared for the potatoes since last April. 

We served the latkes with your choice of sour cream or apple sauce. For those wanting to guild the lily, you could also have creme fraiche, chives and caviar I found in my pantry when we were cleaning up from the aforementioned bathroom floor incident.

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I also made a gluten-free mac and cheese, with local milk, cheese and butter. (At Sylvie’s suggestion, I used corn starch in the roux; it was very easy to work with.) We had a big Greek salad, and this spinach and artichoke dip. 

I’ve been serving this dip for years, and it’s always a hit. Apologies for not sharing it sooner. The combo of fresh spinach and garlic, chopped artichoke hearts, cream cheese, cheese, a touch of mayo, and more cheese on top, is a winner, regardless of the gathering. 

It has about a pound of fresh spinach in it. That may seem like a lot, but as we say in this house, spinach is a lie. Plus, when you realize how much dairy the recipe calls for, the spinach seems to shrink even more than it has already. 

I tend to make this and bake it hours before serving, and then pop it into a hot oven for a brown crust on top right before serving. 

Amazingly, we had some left over from the party, and this weekend Rich put it in the waffle iron with batter for breakfast. Proof that you really can waffle anything!
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Spinach and Artichoke Dip 

Ingredients

1 lb. fresh spinach, cleaned

2 cloves garlic, slivered

1 can, chopped artichoke hearts

⅓ cup mayonnaise 

1 package cream cheese, softened

2 cups shredded cheese (think mozzarella or provolone)

1.5 cups shredded parmesan 

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F

In a very large pot, heat a tablespoon of olive oil. Add garlic, and a pinch of kosher salt. Add the spinach, in batches if you have to. Cook it down – add a little water to help it cook down. This should take about seven minutes.

While the spinach cooks, chop your artichoke hearts and cut up the cream cheese. 

Once the spinach has shrunk, add the artichoke hearts and cook for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and add the rest of the ingredients, except for the parmesan. Stir until everything is combined and soft. 

Pour mixture into a lasagna pan and bake in the 350F oven for 20 minutes. 

Before serving, raise the temperature of the oven to 400, sprinkle the parmesan on top, and bake until golden and bubbly. 

Serve with tortilla chips, pita chips, or cut up vegetables. Up to you, really. 

Snack-O-Lantern

Rich and the girls went on a corn maze adventure last Sunday, and somehow brought home EIGHT pumpkins at the end of the day. Two were painted by the girls, and we’re halfway through carving the two big ones into jack-o-lanterns:

But the small sugar pumpkin, whose stem Lilli accidentally broke off, was roasted immediately and is now pumpkin pudding. I suggest you do the same with your sugar pumpkins. 

To rescue the broken pumpkin, we cut it in half lengthwise and removed the seeds and stringy guts with an ice cream scoop. Then we roasted the pumpkin, cut-side down and brushed with olive oil in a 400F oven, for about 50 minutes.

The recipe couldn’t be simpler; everything goes into a blender. The cookbook – The L.L. Bean Book of New New England Cookery, by Judith and Evan Jones – was inherited from Nana Parr. A friend commented on the photo of the pudding, noting how she also had inherited cookbooks and recipes. “It’s so special to pass on that love.”

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As for this recipe, I skipped the amaretto liqueur. I know a cup is a lot of honey. I personally made a point not to use the expensive kind I own for this recipe. I used golden raisins for my raisins. I find the pudding tastier a little warm, so I’ve been scooping myself servings, then heating it up in the microwave for about a minute before serving. This would be great with whipped cream, although we have been enjoying it with plain yogurt with a little maple syrup drizzled in. This is a pumpkin pudding that tastes like autumn without tasting anything like pumpkin spice. 

Put your kettle on for the water bath before you start making the pudding; it comes together that quickly.

Pumpkin Pudding from The L. L. Bean Book of New New England Cookery by Judith and Evan Jones 

Ingredients 

2 cups pumpkin puree 

4 eggs

½ cup water

1 cup honey

½ cup raisins

½ cup currants

4 Tablespoons flour 

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350F. Heat a kettle of water. 

Put all the ingredients in a food processor or blender and mix thoroughly. 

Pour the batter in a shallow, lightly buttered baking dish, and place the dish in a pan containing about 1 inch of hot water.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for 50 to 60 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature. 

Serves 6 to 8.

Magic Tofu

I did a quick glance through the past few posts that I managed to get up on this site, and I’m slightly embarrassed to realize they are all desserts. And what’s more, I came to tell you about our local and sustainable Rosh Hashana, with a recipe for a scrumptious carrot cake. 

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Lest you think we eat dessert all day long, I will instead share a recipe I’ve been meaning to post for months now. It’s actually a recipe that I’ve already shared, but with enough tweaks that it is a completely different beast. It’s now the best darn tofu I’ve had in my life. 

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Remember the special, special tofu that people flipped for last year? Well, I’ve made it better. And instead of a three-day marinade, this is now a less-than 20 minutes from start to finish recipe. First you’re going to blot dry your tofu, then cut it up, toss it with some corn starch, then fry it in a nonstick pan. Flip it, fry the other side, pour the sauce on top of your golden, crisped up tofu. Soon enough, you’ll be looking at the prettiest, glossiest tofu. And it tastes even better than it looks. 

There is one thing about this recipe that has stopped me from posting: It tastes best right out of the pan. I can’t figure out how to reheat the leftovers, so you’ll need enough people to eat all the tofu. Unless you want to stuff yourself, but please don’t do that!

The Best Tofu You’ve Had in Your Life, adapted from Saladish by Ilene Rosen

Ingredients 

1 (14 oz [400 g]) block extra-firm tofu 

2 to 3 Tablespoons (16 to 24 g) cornstarch

1 Tablespoon  (15 ml) oil, for pan

Sauce

2 Tablespoons mirin

3 Tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar

4 ½ teaspoons flavorless vegetable oil

1 Tablespoon Tamari

1 Tablespoon honey 

Directions

Drain the tofu and squeeze it between your hands over the sink to get the excess water out. Slice it into cubes, or slabs. Sprinkle 1 heaping Tablespoon (about 8 to 12g) cornstarch into a large container, add the tofu in a single layer , then sprinkle another heaping tablespoon (8 to 12g) of cornstarch. If you can, cover the container and shake to coat the tofu with cornstarch.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the tofu in a single layer and fry, flipping once when golden, until crispy on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. (While the tofu is frying, prepare the sauce.) Lower the heat to medium and pour in the sauce. Let the sauce simmer and thicken for a couple of minutes, flipping to tofu to coat it on both sides. 

Serve immediately. 

 

Island Born and Unicorns

The heat was on us like five bullies, even in the shade of the tree in the front yard. But the line-up of little sluggers didn’t seem to care. They were waiting to take their swings at the unicorn piñata hanging from the lowest branch. As the final blow spilled erasers, glow sticks, kazoos, and temporary tattoos onto the lawn, one of the grown-ups yelled out, “Call Alex Cora, we have a new slugger the Sox need!”

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But let’s back up a month, when our younger daughter, Beatrix, turned 4. June is a crazy month for us, full of birthdays, Father’s Days, and our anniversary. So the 4th birthday party was put off to mid-July. Little did we know it was going to be in the middle of the first heat wave of the summer.

It’s actually fitting that it was so hot that day because the theme for the party was inspired by Bea’s favorite book, Island Born by Junot Diaz. It’s a beautiful book about a little girl named Lola who goes to a school where all the students are from somewhere else.

Lola’s class assignment is to draw a picture of where they are originally from. Lola is from “the Island” (the Dominican Republic) but left before she could remember. She goes through her neighborhood asking everyone what they remember. She discovers the sun “can be as hot as five bullies.” She eats crispy empanadas and waxes poetic about mangoes. She learns about the music, the vivid colors, and finally, why her family left the Island.

I took the idea of a Dominican-themed birthday party as a challenge. I convinced a local restaurant to fry up a batch of crispy, vegetarian empanadas. I’m not sure Big Papi would have approved, but they were quite delicious even without meat. Dominican mangoes were magically on sale at the international store this week. We also served agua de cocoa, agua fresca, and pizza for the kids.

It wasn’t all on theme. Using this week’s CSA I made a massaged kale salad with grated carrot, dried cherries, sunflower seeds, and cucumber, and dressed it with a fresh lemon thyme dressing. I also made a corn salad that was more Mexican than Dominican, with pickled onions, grape tomatoes, avocadoes, radish, topped with Cotija cheese, and dressed with a cumin lime dressing.

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At some point in the home stretch the party morphed slightly with some last minute rainbow-unicorn purchases: a massive balloon, wading pool, and the aforementioned piñata. The pool paired nicely with the used bouncy castle I found online for a hundred bucks late this spring. When they weren’t hiding from the heat in the house, the kids dashed between the pool and the bounce house.

But really, I’m here to talk about the dessert bar Bea and I devised. Rich says now that if he knew what I was up to, he would have put a stop to it, or at least thrown himself in front of the train. But last week I received an offer I couldn’t refuse. Nellie’s Free Range Eggs reached out to me and asked if I wanted to try out their products. Even better, they offered me a gift card to help pay for the groceries.

I try to eat local eggs and dairy, so the first thing I checked was where these eggs were coming from. New Hampshire is close enough for me. Then I learned the hens live on free-range, small family-run farms, and are Certified Humane. This was just what I needed, especially because my colleague who I usually get my eggs from is on vacation this month.

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For the dessert bar I baked:

(When I type it out in bullets, it does seem like a bit much.)

These blondies were inspired by a recipe I made a few weeks back for blondies with rhubarb and white chips. I had read about a recipe from Sister Pie, which we got to visit last summer when we went to Detroit. I don’t actually own that cookbook, so I used my own blondie recipe and enhanced it. Those blondies are great, but I’m guessing most of you don’t have a pound of rhubarb squirreled away in your downstairs freezer like I do. On the other hand, it is cherry season right now.

Whether you use rhubarb or cherries, the secret to this recipe browning the butter, which lends a butterscotch flavor to the final blondies. It takes just a few more minutes than if you’re melting a stick of butter in a small saucepan. Stand by it and watch as it goes from yellow to brown but make sure to stop it before it burns. I timed it, and it took about 7 minutes to brown on my induction stove.

Rich bought me an olive pitter years ago that does double duty during cherry season. I still pit my girls’ cherries before I serve them. It also came in handy for a clafloutis that I made last week. If you don’t have one, you can just halve the cherries to de-pit them, or just squeeze the pits out by hand if you don’t mind getting cherry-stained fingers.

Brown Butter Blondies with Fresh Cherries and White Chocolate Chips

Ingredients

½ cup melted butter

1 cup dark brown sugar

1 cup light brown sugar

2 eggs, preferably Nellie’s Free Range Eggs

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2  cup fresh cherries, pitted and quartered

1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Butter a 9×13-inch cake pan.

Melt a half cup (one stick) of butter in a small saucepan. In about seven minutes, the yellow butter will develop brown spots as it turns from frothy to brown. Watch carefully to make sure it doesn’t burn.

Mix all of the ingredients together, in order of appearance in the recipe, combining them well. Spread in the pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until dry on top and almost firm to the touch. Let cool for 10-15 minutes, then cut into small squares.

This post was in part sponsored by Nellie’s Free Range Eggs, now in partnership with the Boston Red Sox!

Rings a Bell

It was a Baker’s Dozen at our house for first night seder. I recently eliminated fish from my diet, making this year’s seder completely vegetarian. For those curious, I served quinoa stuffed mushrooms; this mushroom and spinach egg bake; beet, orange and pickled fennel salad; roasted asparagus; roasted Japanese yams with an herby yogurt sauce; and matzo pizza for the kids. My parents brought a broccoli kugel and roasted potatoes to round out the meal.

But I’m not here to talk about dinner. Nope, we’re going to focus on the gluten-free dairy dessert that was a big hit at dinner, and on the Internet, this weekend.

 

20190419_194511.jpgSometime last month I decided on doing a pavlova: a bed of airy meringue, topped with fresh whipped cream with fresh berries piled on top. This gave me ample time to find a good recipe. I cruised the Internet to find a reliable kosher-for-Passover pavlova recipe. I settled on one from Jamie Geller’s The Joy of Kosher. I made her tahini halvah brownies back in January, and they were superb.

As a lucky bonus to my quest for the perfect pavlova, this week I caught an episode of Simply Ming on PBS Create, in which he made pavlovas with Joanne Chang of flour bakery fame. I watched it carefully, taking notes as to how, why, and when Joanne added her sugar to the egg whites a spoonful at a time, and how long she cooled her meringue after it baked in a very low oven.

The big changes for a kosher-for-Passover pavlova were using potato starch instead of cornstarch and adding a smidge of vinegar; this helps with drying the meringue out. Although this recipe isn’t such a big deal to put together, you do need time. I did this at night so I could let the meringue dry out overnight in the oven as it cooled. I’d suggest you do the same.

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The hardest part of this recipe is separating five egg whites, but then your machine does the rest of the work. Although I have hand-held egg beaters for Passover, it took me until this year to realize my Kitchen-Aid Mixer’s attachments are metal and could easily be kashered with some boiling water. If you can chill your bowl and whisk ahead of time, so much the better. The eggs are supposed to be cold, as well, so they can come right out of the fridge.

I made this Thursday night and whipped up the cream Friday midday, stuck that in the fridge, and put the dessert together during the seder. The whole process was simple and fuss-free. The results were no less than spectacular.

Mixed Berry Pavlova, adapted from Jamie Geller

Ingredients

For the Pavlova

5 cold egg whites

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons potato starch

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

Whipped Cream (recipe follows)

Garnish: Mixed Berries  (I used blueberries, raspberries and blackberries)

Directions

Preheat oven to 250°F. Using a dinner plate, trace a 9-inch circle on a piece of parchment paper. Flip the paper so ink does not get on the meringue and set aside.

Whip whites, salt, and vanilla on high in a mixer until firm. With the motor running, add sugar, a spoonful at a time, until whites are glossy and very stiff.

Gently fold potato starch and vinegar into meringue with a spatula.

Transfer meringue to prepared parchment paper. Form meringue into a rustic bowl. It’s not necessary to make it perfect. Just be sure to make the center thick enough to support the filling.

Bake pavlova at 250°F for 1 ½ hours. Turn off the oven and do not open the door for at least 6 hours or, better yet, overnight. The residual heat will crisp up the meringue and keep humidity out.

Place pavlova on a serving platter. Pile whipped cream on pavlova. Add berries.

WHIPPED CREAM

With a mixer, or by hand, whip cream and sugar in a chilled bowl will chilled beater until soft folds form.

Whip until soft peaks form.