Heat and Serve

The evolutionary biologist (and outspoken atheist) Richard Dawkins theorizes that the act of applying heat to food was what enabled our early ancestors to gain the nutrients to evolve. Cooking, in other words, is what makes us human.

I hadn’t thought much about this idea until a few months ago, when I found myself trying to explain the intricacies of cooking on Shabbos. I won’t go into exacting detail here; entire books have been written, and degrees have been earned, about the process. But the person I was helping was absolutely fascinated with the idea that, in according to Jewish law, applying heat to raw ingredients actually creates a new substance, which is forbidden. That’s what cooking is: the application of heat to create something new.

I roasted some root vegetables at my parents’ house earlier this week, and my mom asked what I had added to the mix. “Nothing,” I replied. “It was just olive oil and salt. And, I added heat.” I had taken raw, inedible parsnips and potatoes, added heat, and created a spectacular side dish. In college, I used to create a marinade for my roasted roots, with things like tamari and balsamic vinegar, which created a savory crust to the vegetables.

This simple recipe from Melissa Clark’s newest, Cook This Now, is the perfect example of the application of heat to create something entirely new and unexpected. A simple rutabaga, which I learned this year from Ottolenghi can be spectacular raw, has been cooked this time into a warm dish for a cold night. And it’s cheap; today at Russo’s, rutabagas were 29 cents a pound. Granted, maple syrup is expensive, but I get mine at Ocean State Job Lot for a fraction of what it would cost elsewhere.

Roasted Rutabagas with Maple Syrup and Chile from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark

Ingredients

1 ½ pounds rutabagas, peeled and cut into ¾ inch cubes

2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 Tablespoon maple syrup

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Directions

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a large bowl, combine the rutabagas, oil, maple syrup, salt and cayenne; toss well to combine. Spread the rutabagas in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Roast, tossing occasionally, until the rutabagas are tender and dark golden, about 40 minutes.

Clark adds that if you’re not a rutabaga person to feel free to use whatever root vegetables you are enjoying at the moment.

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Mac(abee) and Cheese

I am completely at ease with my age. I am not at all embarrassed to admit I just skipped my 15 year high school reunion. ($30 a ticket when Facebook is free? Pfft!) I’ll admit, it’s weird to remember things from 25 years ago so easily, but as Aleza pointed out last week, it’s pretty neat to remember history and be a part of it at the same time.

My body, however, is a different story. Things creak and crack, weight seems extremely easy to gain and much harder to lose. Last week when I bent down to pick up a boot, I pulled something in my back. I spent the work week Googling words like “lumbar support” and “yogic stretches at a desk.” I rode my bike some days, but didn’t want to push it too hard. Thursday night, after I stood by the stove frying celery root and carrot latkes, and stirring my butter and flour to make a roux for my chipotle mac and cheese, I felt it a few hours later when I was whimpering in pain at 1AM. I needed a heating pad after yesterday’s hard wooden pew at Christmas Mass, and I’m writing this not from my usual perch on the red couch, but in a chair with my own personal heating pad.

I honestly didn’t even know if I’d get up a post this week, but someone wrote me saying that she’d never fried a latke before and was surprised I didn’t have a recipe posted on Cheap Beets. Not one to leave anyone in a food-related lurch, I immediately e-mailed her my favorite go-to potato latke recipe. But I’m so mortified I’d let that important food detail slip, that I’m offering up two holiday-related recipes as penitence.

The first, a latke fried in oil, is to remind us of the miracle of the menorah. Briefly, in the 2nd century BCE, the tyrannical Greek King of Syria, Antiochus, outlawed Judaism and took over the Holy Temple of Jerusalem. A Jewish rebellion ensued, led by the Maccabees, and against all odds, the Jews reclaimed the Temple from the Greeks. The Jews had to repair and purify the Temple, but they only had one night’s supply of oil for lighting their holy menorah. Miraculously, that small amount of oil burned for eight consecutive nights, giving them just enough time to replenish their olive oil supply.

For Eastern European Jews, the potato latke is the most common fried recipe. (Israeli Jews eat sufganiyot, fried jelly doughnuts.) Now, the latke I have for you is made not with potato but with celery root and carrot. My friend Russ, who likes to keep it real and old school for the holiday, always goes potato, but hear me out. First, potatoes are a soggy drag. You have to squeeze and squeeze all the excess water out, and you’re always left with a brown puddle at the bottom of your mixing bowl. Second, how old school is it, really? Potatoes are a New World vegetable, so it looks like the potato latke tradition is only a few hundred years old, at best.

I went with carrot and celery root because my co-worker’s wife gave us another of her CSA celery root rejects on Thursday morning and I thought they’d team well with some of the remaining CSA carrots I still had in the crisper. I paired those with a dollop of cilantro and garlic yogurt, because, well, why not?

The second dish I have is to celebrate a lesser-known, but possibly even more awesome Chanukah food: cheese. The custom of cheese for Chanukah dates back to the Middle Ages, when the Book of Judith played an important role in the Chanukah narrative. Judith was a celebrated Jewish heroine who saved her village from an invading Assyrian army. Judith, a beautiful widow, plied the Assyrian army’s general with wine and salty cheese. When the general passed out drunk, Judith beheaded him with his own sword. The Israelites launched a surprise attack on the leaderless Assyrian army and emerged victorious.

Sure, the tale is hidden in the Apocrypha, but I like celebrating a strong female leader – and cheese. I actually was able to use wine in this dish too, from the same small bottle I used for our stuffed pumpkin in the fall. (What can I say, we’re not big wine drinkers.) I add chipotle to mine, riffing off an episode of Gilmore Girls I once saw where Sookie cooked up a pan of jalapeno mac and cheese for a kid’s birthday party. The kids hated it, but I kind of sat up and went “oh?” And thus, chipotle mac and cheese was born.

Celery Root and Carrot Latkes

Ingredients

1 celery root, washed and peeled

2 medium-sized carrots, peeled

½ red onion

3 eggs

1/3 cup flour

¼ teaspoon cumin

Pinch of salt

Oil to fry

Directions

Shred, with a box grater or food processor, first three ingredients. Place into a large mixing bowl, and add the next four. Heat approximately 1/3 cup oil in a large skillet (I prefer a non-stick skillet, and actually have two going at the same time for this step.) Lower the flame and space out as many tablespoons of batter as you can fit without them touching. Fry on one side for approximately four minutes until golden brown. Turn over and fry on other side for three minutes. (Uncharacteristically, I actually employ a timer for this task.)

Remove from pan and place on paper towels to drain excess oil. Continue with remaining batter, adding more oil when necessary.

Serve with the following yogurt.

Cilantro Yogurt

In a small bowl, mix together:

¾ cup Greek yogurt (I used whole-fat, but I know a reduced-fat would work well, considering all the flavor boosters in this sauce.)

½ cup chopped, fresh cilantro

1 small clove garlic, minced

Squeeze of lemon

2 teaspoons olive oil

Pinch of salt

I ended up with leftovers of this dip, and mixed it with some chickpeas I had in the fridge the next day for lunch. It was terrific.

Chipotle Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients

2 ¼ cups macaroni (really, any small pasta will work well for this)

¼ cup butter

½ cup flour

3 cups milk

½ cup dry white wine

10 oz. (1 ¼ cups) shredded cheddar cheese

1 chipotle in its adobe sauce, chopped

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350F. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package.

Meanwhile, gently melt the butter in a medium saucepan, add the flour and chipotle and cook, stirring, 1-2 minutes. (This brownish paste is called a roux, by the way.) Add the milk a little at a time, whisking vigorously after each addition. Stir in the white wine. Bring to boil. Cook, stirring continuously, until the sauce thickens, then remove from the heat.

Let's talk about the roux, just for a sec.

Add the ¾ of the cheese to the sauce. Stir well to mix in the cheeses, then taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary.

Add your well-drained pasta into the sauce, then pour everything into a 13”x9” or 2 quart baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve hot.

Silent Night

My bicycle, a 1960s English three-speed we bought for $60 at a tag sale in my hometown, lives in the front foyer from roughly mid-April to early October. It lives in the basement the rest of the year, easing access to the front hall closet for winter coats.

I’m writing this in mid-December, and my bicycle is still in the front hallway, where I put it on Friday after I rode it home from work. It’s dark by the time I leave my office, and the bike ride home along the river has become one of the most pleasurable moments of my week. There’s a stillness to the air, and no matter how many cars pass me to my left on Storrow Drive, the world seems silent.

I remark on this quietness because it’s the reverse of my morning commute, which is always cluttered by buses, cars and trucks all fighting their way to get to work on time. I plan my day on my ride in, and even before I get to the river and the safe bike path, I’ve decided on what to cook for dinner that night. But on these tranquil evening rides, my mind is as still as the chilled air, and I breathe in and out as I gaze across the river into Cambridge.  I’ve tried to remember if evening rides home in the summertime were this serene. I can’t say for certain, but there’s something so lively about a warm summer evening, when it doesn’t even get dark until long past 8PM, that leads to me to believe the answer is no.

The weather this weekend was more seasonal for Rich’s family Christmas party, and the temperature barely broke 30 today. It finally feels like December, but the forecast says it’s going to be in the 40s tomorrow. I don’t want to give up my evening ride of solitude along the river quite yet, so I’ve dug up my long johns to wear under tomorrow’s corduroys.

For dinner tonight, we are having some odds and ends in the fridge: some mustard greens and white beans, and this leftover mushroom and walnut pâté from that holiday party yesterday. This is one of those recipes I mull over during my morning ride.

Rich’s wonderful Aunt Nance, who I always look forward to visiting at family parties, asked me for the recipe just a few minutes after I’d set our offerings down on the counter. This recipe can definitely be made vegan, using olive oil, but that velvety richness that had Nance reaching for the knife was from the butter. It’s always the butter, isn’t it?

There might be a butter crisis in Norway, but there’s been a sale on it pretty regularly at the market around the corner. I can’t help but buy a box if it’s going to save me $1.77 and I know it can all be frozen until it’s needed; sorry Sven. Rich has started to complain about the 10 lbs. of butter that falls out of the freezer every time he opens it up for an ice cube (“Think of the Norwegians, Molly!”), but I’ve decided to ignore him.

The mushrooms I used in this version are crimini (aka “baby bellas”), but white button mushroom will work just as well. I clean mine by wiping them down with a barely moistened paper towel; I’m really just making sure all the dirt has been wiped away. Besides the butter, I keep my nuts, including these walnuts I bought from Ocean State Job Lot, in the freezer, as it keeps them from spoiling.

Mushroom Walnut Pâté

Ingredients

10 oz. (1 ¼ cups) chopped mushrooms

1/3 cup walnuts

7 large shallots (approximately 1/2 cup), peeled and chopped

2 teaspoons fresh thyme

Unsalted butter

Directions

Toast walnuts for 7 minutes in a 350 degree oven or toaster oven. (You can put them in while the oven is preheating)

In a medium sauté pan, melt 1 Tablespoon of butter over medium heat and add the chopped shallots. Slowly cook them until they have gone from pink to translucent to brown; about 10 minutes. Shallots crisp very quickly, so if yours hits that point, remove them immediately from the heat. But don’t worry if they do, this has not ruined the dish. At all. Remove and set aside.

(I have to grab a second skillet for this next step because my trusty sauté pan gets a little too brown too quickly, but I can’t stop using it. You should be able to do this all in one pan, but if things look like they’re heading from brown to black, grab a second pan.)

Melt 1 ½ Tablespoons of butter in a sauté pan over medium heat, then add the mushrooms. Let them cook in the butter for a few minutes without disturbing them. After about three minutes, give everything a stir. The mushrooms are going to give off a lot of moisture, and just keep on cooking them in the butter. After a few more minutes, give them another stir. In about 8 minutes in, add in a little pat of butter, about ½ Tablespoon.

Cook the mushrooms for about 5 minutes more, by which time the mushrooms will have deepened in color and begun caramelizing. This is a good thing. Once the mushrooms are a deep brown, add a pinch of salt, the roasted walnuts, thyme and shallots. Cook about 1 minute more.

Transfer contents of the pan to a food processor, and press on. While everything is whirling, drizzle in enough olive oil to make the concoction moist, about 1/4 cup. Stop machine, give a taste, add more salt if necessary. This all should take about 15 seconds.

Serve immediately on toast, bread, crackers, etc. Or, refrigerate for up to 4 days — that’s a guess, I’ve never had leftovers of this around that long!

Twists of Fate

It feels like I moved to Boston a million years ago, but it was actually the fall of 2004. Gas was $2 a gallon, the Red Sox hadn’t won a World Series since before women had the right to vote, and not many people knew what a levee was.

I had moved to town to write for a small Jewish newspaper. Which one makes no difference, really, but like so many things in life, I credit fate, some sort of divine plan that brought me here: My mom’s best friend sat next to a distant cousin at a family bar mitzvah. The long-last relative, Richard, was the editor of said Jewish newspaper, and he was on the search for a new writer. Less than two months later, Richard had hired me. I signed a lease, bought a T-pass and was on my way.

We were a small staff, but managed to create a 40-page paper every week. I averaged nine stories an issue. Richard quickly recognized our strengths and weaknesses, and knowing passion always creates a better product, I was lucky enough to interview such famous Jews as Joan Nathan, Susie Fishbein and… Joe Lieberman. (One of these things is not like the others…)

My fellow writers had their own passions: Shira focused on religion and politics, and Penny focused on education and parenting. We were a team. Richard was our coach, creating the roster and calling plays. “Frame a story,” he would tell me as he created a box with his arms at 90 degree angles.

A million years later – or, this past weekend – Richard gathered his team for a reunion potluck. We drove down to Rhode Island listening to the end of another lackluster Patriots’ game. The Pats failed to blow out their opponent, our car managed to blow out a tire on Route 95. Undeterred, we finally made it to our destination, albeit an hour late.

Richard had made big pot of winter borscht, with large chunks of root vegetables and cabbage that floated in a ruby broth. There was a salad full of fruits – pomegranate, kiwi, apple and citrus – thick bread and a bean salad. I brought this sweet potato gratin as a side and a cranberry molasses pudding (think Charles Dickens-type pudding) with a hard sauce for dessert.

going...

My gratin was a mere twist of fate – our friends Will and Gabi bequeathed their CSA last week to us, and I dug the recipe from that accidental Ottolenghi cookbook that’s turned into a tidy box full of tricks. Even trickier math was involved than last time, as I had one third less sweet potatoes the recipe, written in grams, called for. I had the heavy cream in the house because it was on sale a few weeks ago and thought that the need for heavy cream would reveal itself soon, what with all the holiday parties we were scheduled to attend.

The recipe calls for a medium-sized pan for the gratin, and I found that my medium-sized lasagna pan was perfect for the tightly-packed orange coins. I used both sage and thyme because I had both on hand; I wouldn’t worry too much about it if you only have one of the herbs. I would strongly advocate using a mandolin for this project.

going...

The pudding was even more unexpected: I was trying to come up with something for the remaining two cups of cranberries that hadn’t been strung on our tree, and I’d dug up a jar of molasses in the pantry during my clean-up a few weeks prior. I’d never steamed a cake before, and I did have to ask myself several times if I was doing it correctly. It turns out I did, although my bundt pan was a little tilted and the cake looked like it had a club foot. Don’t skip the cholesterol-laden hard sauce. It really makes the dish. I had hoped to use some more of the on-sale heavy cream for the sauce, but I opened Richard’s fridge and he magically had the half-and-half the recipe called for. Richard took out his family china for our fancy dessert. Couldn’t have planned that one better if I’d tried.

gone.

Danielle Postma’s Sweet Potato Gratin from Ottolenghi The Cookbook

This dish is simple but effective, due to the way the potatoes are arranged in the baking dish. You can prepare everything a day in advance and have it ready in the fridge to just pop in the oven. The sage can be replaced with thyme, or you could use both. Make sure you choose orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (as opposed to the paler variety).

Serves 4 – 6

Ingredients

6 medium sweet potatoes (about 1.5kg in total, about 3 lbs.)

5 Tablespoons roughly chopped sage, plus extra to garnish

6 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tsp. coarse sea salt

½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

250 ml whipping cream (About 8 oz. or 1 cup)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas Mark 6 (400 F). Wash the sweet potatoes (do not peel them) and cut them into discs 5mm thick. A mandolin is best for this job but you could use a sharp knife.
  2. In a bowl, mix together the sweet potatoes, sage, garlic, salt and pepper. Arrange the slices of sweet potato in a deep, medium-sized ovenproof dish by taking tight packs of them and standing them up next to each other. They should fit together quite tightly so you get parallel lines of sweet potato slices (skins showing) along the length or width of the dish. Throw any remaining bits of garlic or sage from the bowl over the potatoes. Cover the dish with foil, place in the oven and roast for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and pour the cream evenly over the potatoes. Roast, uncovered, for a further 25 minutes. The cream should have thickened by now. Stick a sharp knife in different places in the dish to make sure the potatoes are cooked. They should be totally soft.
  3. Serve immediately, garnished with sage, or leave to cool down. In any case, bringing the potatoes to the table in the baking dish, after scraping the outside clean, will make a strong impact.

Cranberry-Molasses Pudding with Vanilla Hard Sauce from “CottageGourmet” on Food52

Ingredients

1egg, lightly beaten

1 Tablespoon sugar (a heaping Tablespoon)

1/2 cup molasses

1/3 cup hot water

1 1/2 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups fresh cranberries, picked over, washed and drained

1 cup half and half

1 stick unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Gently fold together all of the ingredients through the cranberries in the order listed. Pour into a greased mold (I used a Bundt pan), and tightly wrap with several layers of foil so no water sneaks into the pudding.
  2. Put a steamer basket in a large pot and fill the pot with an inch or so of water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat so the water is barely simmering. Rest the pudding on top of the steamer basket and cover the pot snugly with a lid. Steam without uncovering the pot for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, until the pudding is cooked through but not totally dry. (A cake tester should come out sticky, but not wet.)
  3. To make the sauce: combine the half-and-half, butter, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar and butter are melted and the sauce is smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Serve the sauce warm over the warm pudding.

Oy, Tannenbaum

There’s a Christmas tree in my dining room. You can’t see it from the street, or even when you walk into the house, but you can smell it. In less than two weeks, that woodsy pine scent will be covered by the scent of fried latkes; perhaps we’ll do parsnip ones this year.

I put up a fight over the tree. I was worried the strings of lights would out-shine my Shabbos candles, turn the kiddush wine to eggnog and the challah into gingerbread. I wasn’t exactly on board with having one the first year we were together, even though we had agreed to share things we loved from our religions with each other. (Rich dances a very good hakafa, by the way.) But then December came. I flinched, I argued, I put up the good fight. But I wasn’t doing the sharing that we had agreed to.

I worried about my future children. Could they be good American Jews if there was a tree in the house? And what about Santa? I don’t know if I would call myself cynical about the jolly old elf, but if you asked a seven year-old me if Santa existed, I would probably have rolled my eyes. If you had asked me if it was possible for one drop of oil to last for eight days, I would have been as certain about its existence as my husband was about Kris Kringle. Not yet sure how we’re going to tackle that one, but Rich has pointed out that our children will have very well-behaved Catholic cousins who will certainly believe in Santa, and we will teach them nothing to the contrary.

The first year we had the tree, I refused to have anything to do with it. I told Rich it was entirely up to him to find it, bring it back to the house and decorate it on his own. But when I came home from work to find a tree covered in blue, silver and white tinsel, I let out a gasp. “It’s the colors of Israel!” Rich explained. “I thought you’d be happy.” Tinsel is not my style, and so, as I do with most things, I took over. Looking back, I realize I was being ungrateful, but oh Lordy, that was an ugly tree.

I was secretly happy when we skipped having a tree during Rich’s lay-off, and the next year I decided not to bring it up. Rich didn’t either, but by early February he let out a sigh and said he wished we’d had one. My good friend Shira put things in perspective: “Your husband can’t even have bacon in his own house. The Christmas tree makes him happy and reminds him of happy moments in his childhood. He needs the tree.” So this November, I found a sparkly bacon-shaped ornament and brought it home for Rich after a particularly hard week at work. “Does this mean we are having a tree?” he asked, wide-eyed. “Yes.” “Does this mean I can make bacon?” “Don’t push it.”

I told some of my friends a few weeks back that we were gearing up for our tree, and they all said the same thing: “Oh, I always wanted to trim a tree. It looks like so much fun.” And so I decided to start a new tradition: My Jews-only tree trimming party. I invited about a dozen friends, all frequent Shabbos dinner guests. (Rich was allowed one gentile guest, as if it were a birthday party for one of his younger brothers.) They were all thrilled to come, except one who explained he had no problem with a tree but didn’t like the idea of Jews feeling they missed out on something.

I plotted and planned my party. Rich was in charge of the drinks – eggnog, coffee, mulled cider and holiday beer — and I would take care of the cookies. I made whole wheat chocolate chip cookies, pumpkin whoopee pies, peanut brittle, popcorn, and some ginger snaps. I was going to make a macaroon from a recipe I found in last month’s Food and Wine, but when I ran the recipe by my classmate Joyce who is a professional baker, she shook her head. “Not enough egg whites to make a decent macaroon. They are going to be like lead.” I ended up making Molly’s macaroons – which translates to a great Pesach recipe, by the way – and Joyce gave me this recipe for fudgy cookies to use up the can of sweetened condensed milk I had purchased. (Side Note: If you’re as worried as I am about BPA, you can make your own sweetened condensed milk from scratch.) Because these cookies were so fudgy I left the ganache off the macaroons.

Our guests started trickling in after 8 last Saturday night. The table was covered in cookies. As our friend Sarah put it when she walked into the dining room: “This is the platonic ideal of what a tree trimming is supposed to be.” I smiled, happy to know I had achieved what I set out to do. Friends brought their own ornaments: Some had made their own. One friend brought a fancy glass ornament of Yoda holding a light saber. One friend brought me an ornament with a striking likeness to our cat. There was a Barack Obama ornament — “soon to be a collector’s item” Rich quipped.

One friend brought his new girlfriend who joked she thought she was going to a melavah malka – a special gathering on Saturday nights to escort the Shabbos Queen on her way out, which usually involves singing, dancing and tasty bites. We drank eggnog, and strung popcorn and cranberries. By the time everyone left, the most perfect Christmas tree that ever was stood in our dining room. Each ornament was perfectly placed, every rope of popcorn and cranberries was evenly hung.

Fudge Cookies

I actually halved this recipe and had great success with it.

Ingredients

24 oz. bittersweet chocolate

4 oz. butter

2 – 14oz. cans of sweetened condensed milk

2 tsp. vanilla (optional- could use mint or orange for the holidays)

2 cups flour

1 pound of nuts, chopped (optional as well).

Directions

Fill a saucepan halfway with water and bring to a simmer. Place a metal bowl on top, making sure the bowl does not touch the water, to create a double boiler. Melt the butter and chocolate and remove from heat. Stir in milk and flavoring, then flour and nuts. Using a small scoop, drop onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350F for 7-8 minutes.

Cookies will not look done, but take them out any way. Let cool before removing from sheet. They should be like a ball of fudge when you bite them.You can freeze these cookies for up to 3-4 months with good results, otherwise keep in air tight container.

Enjoy!

Pot of Gold

Call it kismet, call it destiny, call it Lady Luck, but there is something afoot in my kitchen. A few weeks back, as we were enjoying stuffed pumpkin at a Friday night dinner, I become just a tad wistful talking about my love of cholent, a stew prepped on Friday afternoon, put on a low-flame and cooked overnight so it’s ready the next day for Shabbat lunch. Alas, I lost my Crock-Pot sometime between moving from Harlem to Lower Allston. Such is life, I thought to myself, and helped myself to another piece of pumpkin.

The next day, I set out to take a walk down by the river to watch some of the Head of Charles (read: to eat free food samples down by the river). As I weaved my way through my neighborhood, I stumbled upon a tag sale. And there it was: a Crock-Pot! After inquiring with the Crock-Pot seller about the safety of a Crock-Pot with a $15 price tag – they had just gotten married and were selling things they had doubles of – I convinced them to set it aside.

That Monday morning my sister popped up on Gchat and randomly asked me if and when I was going to post some slow-cooker recipes. “Funny you should ask that,” I typed.

We’ve had some freakishly warm weather this fall, so I was slow to put my new find to use. This past weekend, however, I decided to get a few things in order in the kitchen. I spent an afternoon tidying my pantry by putting dried beans and grains into empty glass Bell jars. Things did look extra-spiffy at the end of my task, but my actions served a deeper purpose: to keep creepy crawling things out of my food. I also did some electronic tidying, sorting through all my emails that contained recipes — 538 to be exact, including several featuring slow cooker recipes I’d tucked away, just in case.

I’ve started digging through the myriad of Crock-Pot recipes, but I’m going to start things off with that cholent I dreamed about.

I started this project two days before. Right before I went to bed, I placed 1 and 1/2 cups of dried cranberry beans to soak overnight. (A quick word about dried beans: Given the new information about BPA levels in canned foods, I am going to now exclusively use dried beans when I cook with legumes, and you should, too. OK, enough lecturing.)

When I came home from work the next day, I assembled the rest of the cholent. I set the cooker to low and left it on overnight. When we woke up in the morning the house had the smell I’d been pining for. Or, as Rich sang, “It’s beginning to smell a lot like cholent.” I kept the pot on low and went to work. I think the cholent would have been ready by mid-morning and certainly for lunch. If I wasn’t at work, I’d most likely be eating bowls of this all day long.

You’ll notice that I’ve topped mine off with a dollop of Greek yogurt. I know some of you won’t be able to do that final step, but if you can, I promise you it’s terrific. You can also leave out the eggs and keep this dish vegan, but I love the deep flavor of the slow roasted egg. I also left salt out of the Crock-Pot and added it to taste when all was said and done.

Vegetarian Cholent with Cumin and Aleppo Pepper

Ingredients
1 and 1/2 cups of dried beans (I used cranberry, but I think chickpea would also be great in this version) soaked overnight
1/2 cup barley
1 carrot, peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 onion halved and quartered
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 large potato or 2 small potatoes, peeled, halved and chopped into quarters
1 turnip, peeled, halved and quartered (a rutabaga would also be very nice)
Approximately 2 1/2 cups water, depending on the size of your crockpot
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
2 eggs

Directions
On the night before you want to serve the cholent, place all ingredients in your Crock-Pot, except for the eggs. I prefer giving everything a stir so that the spices swirl and cover the vegetables, then place the eggs on top of everything else. Cover, turn Crock-Pot to low, and walk away. In the morning, check to see if everything is sufficiently moist. If things look dry, add a half cup water. Turn the eggs over.

For the yogurt: when ready to serve, mix 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander, 1/2 teaspoon aleppo pepper, juice of half of one lemon and a pinch of salt into 3/4 cup of Greek yogurt. I also tried a plain scoop of yogurt on top of today’s lunch. Both were delicious; it will really be up to you how much you want to explore the added spices.

The Silver Lining

This past June, on the way to my cousin’s baby shower, I got lost. Really, really lost. Like, call my parents on a Sunday morning slightly hysterical lost. Like, call Rich the morning after a bachelor party while he’s eating at IHOP lost. The worst part was I had a GPS, but the road I would have normally taken was being worked on, and every time I turned on the GPS to lead me north, it directed me back to the closed-off highway. By some miracle, I made it to the shower on-time, although I now know that GPS and cellphone reception between Lowell, MA, and southern New Hampshire is a bit spotty in places.

The silver lining to the story is that while I was in the car, NPR’s Weekend Edition introduced me to Yotam Ottolenghi, an Israeli-born chef now working in London, whose new vegetarian cookbook, Plenty, has become a smash hit this year. Vegetarian and Israeli — basically, a cookbook written for me. My friend Sara tells me that when she lived in London in 2005 she went to his restaurant all the time, but was always surprised that he had so little name recognition in the States.

As soon as I made it back from the shower, I put my name on the waiting list at the library. There were about two dozen people ahead of me, and as his recipes started popping up on blogs I read, I needed to remind myself that patience is a virtue. Last week, I received the notice that the book was waiting for me at my local branch around the corner. I was so excited. It was my turn, finally. Mine, mine, mine.

Except, not unlike the GPS debacle, the book the librarian handed me wasn’t Plenty, but his first cookbook, Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, written in 2008. Well, I told myself, a top chef still has top recipes, even if they aren’t the ones I was counting on. So I decided to make lemonade out of lemons — or, in Ottolenghi’s case, preserved lemons — and dove in.

It’s always interesting reading a cookbook from another country because it’s a reminder that there’s a whole lot of world outside of my home. I knew that courgettes were zucchini and aubergines were eggplants, but I had no idea that snow peas were called mangetout, or that I actually had a swede — aka a yellow turnip, aka a rutabaga — in my crisper. I also had celeriac, (celery root) in the house as well, a cast-off from my officemate’s CSA.

The recipe I have for you today, a celery root and rutabaga slaw, is just perfect for these late autumn/almost winter months, and makes me wish these veggies were year-round produce. I’d never considered eating rutabaga raw, as I usually roast or braise them. And boy, have I been missing out! Seriously, the dish is extraordinary. Rich said it was one of the better things I’ve made lately. Not that I’ve been serving him swill; it’s just a really amazing salad.

Here’s what Ottolenghi has to say about this dish:

It is a bit like a rémoulade in its tang, but also has multilayered sweet (dried cherries) and savoury (capers) flavours to create a magnificently intense accompaniment to fish or lamb. It will also make a great addition to a vegetarian mezze.

Variations on this dish are endless. Try using kohlrabi, beetroot, turnip, carrot or cabbage, or a combination of them for this salad. Most soft herbs would suit, and don’t forget the acidity from citrus juice or vinegar to lighten it up.

I always have capers in the house, and I keep dried cherries from Ocean State Job Lot on hand in the pantry at all times, making this a great pantry recipe. I’ve made this dish twice in a five day period, and that’s without my large food processor. If you do have a food processor, this whips up in a jiff; if you don’t, I promise you it’s worth the extra effort. I didn’t have any sunflower oil on hand, so I used olive oil exclusively for the salad. I also used regular sugar in lieu of caster sugar. The slaw was still wonderful.

Don’t be scared of the ugly celery root. Give it a rinse to get some of the dirt off, and stand it up on the cutting board and cut the skin off by slicing down the sides of the bulb with a large sharp knife. You can cut the waxy skin off the rutabaga in the same manner.

The recipe is in grams, so my digital scale got quite the workout this week. I’ve converted it into ounces and cups for a more Continental-friendly audience, but the grams are the original measure and most accurate.

Sweet and sour celeriac and swede (aka Sweet and sour celery root and rutabaga) from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook

Serves 4-6

250g (9 oz., 1 1/2 cup) celeriac, peeled and thinly shredded

250g (9 oz., 1 1/2 cup) swede, peeled and thinly shredded

4 Tablespoons roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley

4 Tablespoons roughly chopped dill

50g (2 oz., 1/3 cup) capers, drained and roughly chopped

4 Tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 large lemon)

1 teaspoon cider vinegar

4 Tablespoons olive oil

4 Tablespoons sunflower oil

3 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 teaspoons caster sugar

100g (3.5 oz., 1/2 cup) dried sour cherries

Salt and black pepper

  1. Place the shredded celeriac and swede in a mixing bowl. Add all the rest of the ingredients and use your hands to mix everything together thoroughly. ‘Massaging’ the vegetables a little will help them absorb the flavors. Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking You might also want to add some extra sugar and vinegar.
  2. Allow the salad to sit for an hour so the flavors can evolve. It will keep for up to 2 days in the fridge. Add more herbs just before serving, for a fresher look.