With A Little Help From My Friends

When Sylvie was in college, she was co-founder and president of her house’s fruit club. I’m not sure if they had to officially apply to be fully recognized by the administration, but I do know they held their meetings following the house’s Friday afternoon wine and cheese hour, which followed the Friday afternoon tea. (And we wonder why college costs $55,000 a year.)

Because they went through the bother of founding a fruit club, she and her co-members steered away from eating the everyday apples and bananas. They enjoyed some fruits one usually reads about in Saveur magazine, like the Asian mangosteen and the New World custard apple, which has quite a striking resemblance to an artichoke if I do say so.

They also loved enjoying fruit that was complicated in its preparation, like the pineapple, the pomegranate and the pomelo. I’m going to assume you’ve probably heard of the first two, but chances are you might be unfamiliar with the third. The pomelo is a rather large citrus fruit from Asia, and oftentimes Israel. (You can find it locally at Russo’s.) Sometimes its skin is green, sometimes it’s more yellow, and it looks like a grapefruit on steroids.

However, if you picked up this mammoth citrus fruit, you’d be very surprised as to how light it is. The actual amount of fruit in a pomelo is more akin to a clementine or maybe a tangerine. And it takes a good 10 minutes to actually get to the fruit. First there’s the thick skin to cut through. Then there’s an almost impenetrable bitter pith that surrounds the fruit. I hope I haven’t scared you away from trying a pomelo, I promise you it’s a very nice refreshing fruit when you finally get to it.

That fruit, in particular, creates a lot of refuse. As Syl likes to kid, “If it wasn’t all compostable, I’d call the EPA about it.” But my friend Sara came up with a wonderful solution: candying it. Using a Martha Stewart recipe meant for the common orange, or maybe a grapefruit, Sara had the genius and foresight to do the same with the pomelo skin. I thought I would then dip the candied citrus in a ganache and make a pomellete (orangette, but with pomelo) but, honestly, it’s great as is.

Full disclosure: This was all Sara. She did all the legwork on this one, from coming up with the idea, to patiently paring away the thick pith, to taking the photographs. I’m just not up to doing the standing that’s necessary to get a good angle on paring away the pith. Sara’s also got infinite amounts of patience for other extremely time-consuming, detailed tasks, like making blood orange marmalade or cultivating her own yogurt or baking sourdough bread from scratch every week. Oh, and being a lawyer and a mommy.

Don’t worry, I reciprocated as best I could this weekend, hosting her boys to enjoy some cupcakes I’d won off a blog contest. As you can see, H really enjoyed his.

Candied Pomelo Peels, adapted from Martha Stewart Living December 2008

Please Note: Sure, you could also use this recipe for grapefruit or oranges, but try and find a pomelo. If you ask me, there’s nothing more exciting than trying a new food.

Ingredients

One pomelo (two grapefruits or three oranges or four lemons)

4 cups sugar, plus more for rolling

4 cups water

Directions

Using a paring knife, make 6 slits along curve from top to bottom of the pomelo, cutting through peel but not into fruit. Using your fingers, gently remove peel. Reserve fruit for another use. Slice each piece of peel lengthwise into 1/4-inch-wide strips. Using a paring knife, remove excess pith from each strip and discard.

Place strips in a large saucepan, and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then drain. Repeat twice.

Bring sugar and water to a boil, stirring occasionally until sugar dissolves, then stop. Wash sides of pan with a wet pastry brush to prevent sugar crystals from forming. Add strips to boiling syrup, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer gently until strips are translucent, about 1 hour. Remove from heat, and let strips cool in syrup. (Strips in syrup will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 3 weeks.)

Using a slotted spoon, transfer strips to a wire rack placed on a rimmed baking sheet. Wipe off excess syrup with paper towels, then roll strips in sugar. Arrange in a single layer on a wire rack, and let dry for at least 30 minutes.

Balancing Act

I was almost punched last week at the acupuncturist. Not by the acupuncturist — they use needles and not fists — but by another patient in the office who thought I had snatched her appointment. No fists were thrown and everything was sorted out, and the woman in charge of the calendar apologized profusely for the mix-up. It turns out the woman I’d been seeing is a coveted appointment. I had no idea but did know I’d been feeling much better and not nearly in as much pain as I could be.

Two weeks ago she instructed me to only have warm things to balance out my qi (pronounced chi), my life force. Rich, as you can imagine, thinks it’s a bunch of hooey, but I’ve taken her advice to heart and have avoided anything straight from the fridge, although it’s been a little challenging finding sweet, warm snacks that are low in fat (to not upset the reflux). My drink of choice has become hot water and honey — it’s really delicious — and was quite pleased with myself when I realized a baked (or, in a pinch, microwaved) sweet potato would do the trick when I’ve wanted a little something to munch.

All this qi balancing doesn’t mean that I’ve ignored my other responsibilities. Last week, when my boss announced an ice cream sundae party, I did not neglect my duties, even though I didn’t partake.

This peanut butter cup ice cream is a riff off a Ben & Jerry’s peanut butter ice cream recipe. Adding the peanut butter cups just seemed like a no-brainer. We used dark chocolate peanut butter cups because they were there and sounded like they’d be delicious. The ice cream was received to great reviews, but I have to admit I haven’t had a taste.

Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream adapted from Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream & Dessert Cookbook

Ingredients
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy or whipping cream
1 cup milk
1/3 cup smooth peanut butter

1 cup Reese’s mini peanut butter cups, quartered

Directions
Place the chopped peanut butter cups into the freezer while you prepare the ice cream

Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.Whisk in the sugar, a little at a time, then continue whisking until completely blended, about 1 minute more. Pour in the cream and milk and whisk to blend.

Pour about 1 cup of the cream base into a separate bowl and whisk in the peanut butter, a little at a time. Return the peanut butter mixture to the remaining cream base and stir until well blended.

Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and freeze following the manufacturer’s instructions.

After the ice cream stiffens (about 2 minutes before it is done), add the candy, then continue freezing until the ice cream is ready.

Move the prepared ice cream into a 1-quart container and freeze for 2 hours before serving.

Dinner At The Palm

I know I’m about four years late to the party, but I’ve just discovered Mad Men. I mean, I knew about the show, but hadn’t had the chance to watch it and enjoy not only the storylines (although Season 4 is rather dark) but also the clothing and the sets. And, since I took that Food and the Visual Arts class last fall, I’ve learned to pay close attention to the foods cooked, ordered or, in the case of Don Draper and his co-workers, drunk. My reflux prevents me from posting about my favorite cocktail, so instead I’m going to write about one of my favorite salad ingredients: hearts of palm.

Don seems to be a fan of the curious vegetable, ordering it at Sardi’s in Season 2, and Trudy Campbell serves a salad of them to Pete in Season 3. Literally cut from the hearts of palm trees, the vegetable came into vogue as post-war Americans became more affluent and more adventurous in their eating (think Polynesian/Chinese food).

Hearts of palm and I have a bit of a history. About 10 years ago, Sylvie and I went on a bit of a hearts of palm binge. (Side note: How is it possible I only started talking about Syl a month ago? Clearly we spend a great deal of our time together talking about food.) We had gone through all the hearts of palm my mom had purchased for Passover, but we wanted more. We scoured the shelves at the Big Y in the center of town, and even tracked down the manager. He had never heard of the vegetable, but assured us he would order a case. A few weeks later we got the call: our hearts of palm had arrived, an entire case of them. It turned out the manager ordered a case for the store, and an entire case just for us.  We stood there for a second, and then nodded together, in that way that siblings are able to have entire discussions with each other without saying a word, said thank you, and went home with our bounty.

Our go-to application was usually a salad with chopped avocado, halved grape tomatoes and a vibrant vinaigrette. Since it’s February and tomatoes are a no-no in my kitchen, I’ve pulled up a recipe for a hearts of palm salad from the upcoming Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook, which is coming out in March. (Turns out I’m not the only one out there with a food and drink fixation of the show. The cookbook is based on a blog.)

Now, this “Sardi’s Hearts of Palm Salad” is a pantry recipe for me. Granted, it’s kind of ridiculous I have pimentos on hand, and if you don’t, I would suggest opening a jar of roasted red peppers and adding them to the vinegar-onion mixture as you chop the rest of the dressing ingredients. In the course of making this salad I also discovered I have three separate jars of capers in the fridge, but as I’ve mentioned in the past, I have a predilection for pickled things.

I minced the onions and added them to the vinegar before I chopped anything else so they’d have less of a bite by the time the salad was ready to be served. I’ve ignored the recipe’s instructions regarding the lettuce leaves and sprigs of watercress because I am far less likely to have those items reliably in the fridge. For those nervous about using canned hearts of palm, they can also be found in glass jars.

Quick tip for hard-boiling the eggs: I take a note from Alton Brown for this one, and cook my eggs in my plug-in kettle I keep on the counter (or kum-kum for those reading this in Israel). After the kettle boils and pops, let them rest in the pot for 10 minutes, and you’ll have perfectly boiled eggs.

Sardi’s Hearts of Palm Salad (from The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook)

Ingredients

1 can hearts of palm

6 thin slices pimento

4 Tablespoons vinaigrette dressing (see recipe below)

Vinaigrette Dressing

1 Tablespoon finely chopped onion

¼ cup white wine vinegar

½ dill pickle

1 teaspoon capers, finely chopped

1 Tablespoon finely chopped parsley

1 Tablespoon finely chopped pimento

1 teaspoon finely chopped hard-boiled egg white

1 teaspoon salt

¼ olive oil

Directions

Place the finely chopped onion in a small bowl and add the vinegar.

Chop the rest of the ingredients and add them to the small bowl. Sprinkle with salt and add the olive oil, Stir thoroughly. Keep in refrigerator. Always stir before using.

Slice the hearts of palm into ¼ inch round slices. Place in a serving bowl. Stir in two tablespoons of the vinaigrette. Taste and add more dressing if necessary.

Mea Culpa

Forget Wes “Butterfingers” Welker, forget Gisele. It’s my fault the Patriots lost the Super Bowl. But I promise you I didn’t mean it.

Rich and I thought we were doing our fellow party-goers a favor by sharing this lemony olive oil banana bread that we’d whipped up that morning. But when we announced the addition of banana bread to the table of delights, Sarah and Mike both let out a yelp. They’d just returned from a trip to New Orleans where they been told, randomly enough, that it’s bad luck to bring banana bread on a shrimp boat – and by extension, naturally, to a Super Bowl party.

We didn’t even know we’d be bringing the banana bread to the party, because we didn’t even know we’d be baking it that morning. But when the bananas, which Rich had picked up for me in an attempt to find something sweet, nutritious and low in acid, began to look like giraffe necks, I knew it was time to try out this recipe in Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now. And you know how I am about Melissa Clark recipes.

Sure, I’ve already posted a banana bread recipe, but really, you can’t have enough banana bread recipes.  We switched things up a little bit with this one, trading out reflux-inducing chocolate chips for walnuts. I think pecans would also be nice. The result is moist, almost fruity because of the olive oil, but all that gets wiped away in the most pleasant of ways by the terrific lemony glaze.

My apologies to the fans of New England. And, to all the Giants fans out there (and I know some of you reading this are – Hi Russ!) you’re welcome. Next time you have a Super Bowl party bring some banana bread. Apparently it’s good luck, for the G-men, anyhow.

Lemony Olive Oil Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips (or nuts) from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now

Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

¾ cup dark brown sugar

¾ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate (or walnuts)

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 ½ cups mashed, VERY ripe bananas (3 to 4 bananas)

¼ cup sour cream or plain whole milk yogurt

1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For The Glaze

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

4 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt Add the chocolate pieces (or nuts) and combine well.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil, eggs, mashed bananas, sour cream or yogurt, lemon zest, and vanilla. Pour the banana mixture into the flour mixture and fold with a spatula until just combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until golden brown and a tester inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean, 50 minutes to 1 hour.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn the loaf out of the pan to cool completely.

While the cake is almost cool, prepare the glaze. In a large bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Drizzle the glaze on top of the cake, spreading with a spatula to cover.

An Eight-Dollar Salad

“Let me tell you about this $8 salad I made,” has been sister-speak with Sylvie and me for years. I asked her this week how long we’d been using that term, and we realized that those were long-distance calls we were making to talk about our salads. (I know, I can almost taste the irony.) This was before everyone could take photos with their phones, or post it to Facebook. Heck there was no Facebook, and people rarely had cellphones. These were landline phone calls. And even the price of the salad is an indication of how long ago it was. The idea of a salad costing $8 gave us pause and sounded as absurd as a year of private college costing $55,000 a year, or paying a babysitter $20 for an hour of work.

And last week, when I made this $8 salad, I almost took a photo on my new Android phone and sent it to her, Facebook, and the Twitter universe. But I stopped myself and decided to share this salad with you for Tu B’Shvat which is on Wednesday, February 8th this year.

It is quite common for people to hold a Tu B’Shvat seder, which is kind of like the seder we have on Passover, but not exactly. Sure, there four cups of wine drunk at both, but a Tu B’Shvat seder is kabbalistic in nature, meaning it’s mystical in its origins and philosophy. (Although I honestly don’t know if Madonna goes to a Tu B’Shvat seder. She probably does, come to think of it.) At Passover we discuss God liberating us from being slaves in Egypt and the Exodus. We have a seder plate full of symbolic foods that help us tell the story of our Exodus, and eat reclining as free people would.  At Tu B’Shvat we talk about God’s metaphoric relationship to the spiritual and physical worlds. And we try to eat the seven species of foods from Israel that the Bible praises: wheat, barley, figs, dates, pomegranates, olives, and grapes. Almonds are also commonly eaten as almond tree blossoms are a harbinger of spring, and since Tu B’Shvat is the new year for the tree, it makes perfect sense. (Also, who doesn’t love marzipan or a nice piece of mandelbroit?)

Tu B’Shvat is also the new year for the trees, and the seder usually touches on the ecological aspects of Judaism. The concept of ecology, Jewish thought and food will be explored much more deeply in the first ever Boston Jewish Food Conference which is being held on  April 22 — Earth Day — at Hebrew College. I’m running the workshop on the Healthy Jewish Diet. (End of shameless plug. Let’s continue, shall we?)

This salad uses dates that have been sautéed in butter that I first read about here, although we discovered it makes much more sense to remove the pits before you sauté the dates. If you swap out the butter with a mild olive oil, you not only make this dish vegan, but you also end up using another one of the seven Tu B’Shvat foods. The grapes are roasted with rosemary and balsamic vinegar, turning their acidic bite warm and mellow. I use walnuts, but if you’re deathly allergic to them like Sylvie is, it might be better to use almonds. Although I use a brown sugar balsamic dressing for this salad, my friend Sara whipped up a tangy pomegranate molasses dressing last week which would incorporate yet another species into the salad,

A composed salad for Tu B’Shvat

Ingredients

1 head of wintry lettuce, cleaned and ripped into bite-sized pieces

1 roasted beet, the pieces should be cubed to about the size of a grape

1 cup red seedless grapes, washed and dried

1 teaspoon rosemary, chopped

1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar

¼ cup walnuts

6 dates

1 Tablespoon butter

Directions

Preheat toaster oven 350. Prep the toaster oven tray with foil and toast the walnuts for 7 to 8 minutes.

While the walnuts are toasting, in a small bowl toss together the grapes, rosemary, balsamic vinegar and a glug of olive oil. Once the walnuts have finished toasting, raise the toaster oven to 400 degrees and bake the grape and rosemary concoction for approximately 20 minutes.

While the grapes are roasting, melt about a tablespoon of butter in a small pan over medium heat, slit open the dates and remove their pits. Add the dates to the pan. Cook for about 1 minute, then flip and cook the other side. They should get nicely caramelized.  Remove from pan. Quarter the fruit on a cutting board. (I actually have a separate fruit cutting board so the taste of garlic or onions will never interfere with a sweet piece of fruit.)

Place the lettuce on a large platter, and assemble the beets, grapes, walnuts and dates on top.

Dressing

In a small jar, place:

1/8 or so teaspoon mustard

2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Teensy pinch of salt

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 very very very small garlic clove, minced.

Then add 4 Tablespoons olive oil

Give a shake and taste. Is it very puckery? Then add another half teaspoon of brown sugar. You want it to be a soft balsamic dressing with the acid cut by the sweet.