Easy Does It

We’ve been enjoying the sunny weather, which means there are some days – and even some weeks during the summer – when the stove and oven go untouched. Rich is in his element in the heat, enjoying the Weber Grill my parents and I gave him a few years back.

Sure, I’m always happy to bring a salad to these meals — and trust me, there are dozens to talk about — but given the chance, Rich will snatch the vegetables off the counter and cook them over the coals. I can’t complain too loudly about someone being helpful and taking responsibilities off my plate. And this weekend, when I was feeling a bit under the weather, it was nice and reassuring that I didn’t have to worry about our next meal.

I did bring dessert, though, and it couldn’t have been simpler. It’s this time of year that fool recipes – a simple British summer dessert consisting of stiffed whipped cream and berries – start to crop up. And why not? There’re always berries on sale at the market, and the oven stays off, keeping the kitchen cool.

I made our version in an extremely lazy way, mashing berries I had macerated for about an hour. If you have the gumption, I’d say turn on the stove and cook down the berries even more, or get out your step stool and get down the blender and give the berries a whirl. It’s up to you, of course.

The recipe I used for the berries comes from a strawberry shortcake recipe from a Bon Appetit from last summer. If memory serves, it was a dead simple biscuit recipe and the results were superb. But skip the biscuit and just make this. It’s so easy and so so delicious.

Strawberry Fool

Ingredients

2 pounds fresh strawberries (about 8 cups), hulled, quartered if small, sliced if large

6 Tablespoons sugar, divided

3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 large pinch of freshly ground black pepper

1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Mix strawberries, 5 tablespoons sugar, vinegar, and black pepper in a medium bowl. Let macerate an hour, stirring occasionally. At the end of an hour, use a potato masher to break down the berries even more. Alternatively, puree the macerated berries in a blender for 30 seconds.

Using an electric mixer, beat cream, vanilla, and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in another medium bowl until peaks form.

Assemble the fool: Fold berries, its juices, and the cream together. Serve in a tall glass, if you have one.  In fact, you can assemble the fool and serve it from the same glass.

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Sunday Lunch

Rich had an early morning meeting this week, which meant I had an early morning this week. He feels terrible if he wakes me, but on the bright side, it meant I had the time to make myself a nice breakfast — instead of what I usually do, which is sit at my desk and eat leftovers or a microwaved bowl of Cream of Wheat. Mind you, I have no complaints about my usual breakfast, but it really was nice eating something fresh and warm. On the weekends, Rich usually makes us challah French toast or waffles, but I lean towards savory when I’m on my own. So savory breakfast it was.

Breakfast was really based on what was in the fridge, which is how I suspect most people make their meals. I had fresh tarragon in the house because I made my favorite bean salad for Suzie and JoJo’s Jewish wedding potluck. I know, I know, you’re probably confused because we already went to their potluck wedding, but this was the Jewish wedding. (You may have seen the Instagrams of them under the chuppah – I was one of many posting in real time.)

But back to the tarragon, which I decided at that ungodly hour would be a great addition to scrambled eggs. I feel a little silly writing down a recipe for some scrambled eggs, but the breakfast was good enough to repeat in the same week, so I thought it worth mentioning here. In my defense, I scooped the eggs on top of some lentils that I had cooked up earlier in the week. They were done in my pressure cooker and took all of 10 minutes to do, and I’ve been adding them to salads since. If you have a pressure cooker, I suggest you do the same right now. But honestly, even if you don’t, go and put some lentils on. They’re a great legume because they need zero soaking, so you can cook up a pot of them in less than an hour. And they taste really good just plain.

I was so impressed with my creation that by the end of the day I had told both Sara and Sylvie. They both agreed it sounded delcious, but Sylvie thought that scrambled eggs with tarragon and lentils made more sense as a lunch, “with a nice green salad on the side.”

(Quick note: Shavuot, the holiday of dairy is at the end of the week, and my apologies for not posting the savory cheesecake I baked once upon a time with hopes of sharing, or the dulce de leche tapioca pudding I just came across. I just really liked this meal and wanted to share it with you.)

Scrambled Eggs with Tarragon and Lentils

Ingredients

1 cup dried lentils, rinsed and picked over

2 cups water

4 eggs

2 scant teaspoons fresh tarragon, chopped

2 pinches kosher salt

2 Tablespoons milk

2 Tablespoons cheese (Really, whatever you have on hand. I had some yogurt cheese that I tore into bits the first time I made this, and grated Manchego for the second time.)

Directions

Cook lentils according to your pressure cooker’s instructions. Mine take 10 minutes. Or, cook them this way.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the eggs, tarragon, salt and milk. Heat a nonstick sauté pan on a medium flame. Because the pan is non-stick, I didn’t use added fat. But if you feel more comfortable adding fat, then melt a half tablespoon of butter in the heated pan. Once your pan is heated, and/or your butter has melted, pour the whisked egg mixture to the pan. Let the eggs heat in the pan for about 1 minute. Don’t touch them during this time. Let them do a little cooking. Once you see the sides start to firm up, use a heat-resistant rubber spatula to push the sides of the egg mixture towards the center of the pan. The eggs will start to firm during this time. Use the spatula to push the eggs from all sides of the pan towards the center. The cooking of the eggs will probably take no more than 3 minutes. As the eggs firm up into a fluffy mass, add the cheese to the pile and allow it to melt. Once the cheese has melted, remove the pan from the heat.

Place two-thirds cup of heated lentils into a smaller bowl. Top the lentils with half the eggs. Enjoy with a nice piece of toast, and, if it’s lunch time, a small green salad.

Serves two.

Le Tour de Cookie

I’m not sure when it started, but I have developed quite the sweet tooth of late. There isn’t a bakery I can walk by without popping in for a granola bar, a piece of rugelach, or an apple turnover. In fact, when Hi-Rise Bakery opened up a new location on Mass. Ave, I declared my new mission was to sample each and every baked good in their case (save the ham-filled things, of course.) I actually spent most of the winter working my way through the cookie shelf – my Tour de Cookie, as Rich put it. Just last week I raised my hands in triumph as I completed the last lap. “Did you win the chocolate chip jersey?” Rich asked. For the record, their best cookie is not the chocolate chip but the cherry oat one. (Don’t bother with the molasses.)

All this desserting led Rich to observe that I have fully become a Parr, since his family is much more about sweet than savory. This tendency starts with the matriarch, Nana Parr, who is a baker extraordinaire. When I first met Rich, he was excited to introduce me to Nana’s sugar cookies. They’re actually butter cookies, but they get their name from the sprinkling of sugar on top. They’re almost impossibly thin and crisp, not unlike a sugary Pringle. And yes, it’s impossible to eat just one. As Rich put it, they’re like crack.

Over the past seven years, I’ve probably munched on hundreds of Nana Parr sugar cookies. Last fall, at my request, Nana brought me into her kitchen sanctum and showed me how to make them. And for Mother’s Day, I tried as best I could to recreate her cookies as a present for her.

I still need a little kitchen help from Rich.

Nana introduced me to a pastry cloth, which I’d never seen before. It’s a thin, almost gauzy cloth that she layers between the dough and the rolling pin, and it’s what aids her in getting the dough almost paper-thin. Nana also tells me the cloth is ideal for rolling out pie dough. You can buy pastry cloth, which comes with a matching sock for the rolling pin (think Red Hot Chili Peppers), online at Williams Sonoma. I struck out buying it at the actual store, so I found mine at KitchenWares on Newbury Street for $6.

Nana also had a special sugar shaker, akin to a Parmesan shaker at a House of Pizza — I told you, sweet tooth — but we used a sieve for the same effect. Some of my cookies weren’t as thin as hers, and I have to admit that they do taste better thinner. Although the recipe card I have from Nana calls for baking the cookie sheets for six minutes, then a turn in the oven for another six minutes, the cookies are a much darker brown than hers. Hers actually don’t brown at all, and stay the lightest of yellows. I think the tan ones actually have a bit more body to them, but I have to be clear that that isn’t a genuine Nana Parr cookie.

Nana Parr Cookies

Ingredients

1 cup butter

1 ½ cups sifted confectioner’s sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 ½ cups sifted flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

¼ teaspoon salt

Flour for the pastry cloth

Granulated sugar for topping

Directions

Using an electric stand mixer, cream the butter and confectioner’s sugar.

Add egg and vanilla.

Stir in dry ingredients and mix well.

Chill dough for at least 30 minutes.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375F.

Sprinkle about a 1/3 cup of flour on the pastry cloth. Roll out the dough quite thin. Cut into shapes. Using a spatula, lay cookies on ungreased cookie sheets. Sprinkle granulated sugar on top of the cookies. Bake for 6 minutes (or 4 or 5, depending on your cookie preference and oven), turn the sheets 180 degrees, and bake for another 6 minutes. Remove the cookies from the sheets and set them on cooling racks.
Makes about 6 dozen cookies.

Store in an air-tight container. I have learned from Nana that these cookies stay fresh in the refrigerator and freeze well.

Lunch Break

In all the news that’s fit to eat, this springtime has brought us sun, rain and food trucks. More specifically, the new Boston food truck schedule includes a rotating list of five trucks parked directly across from my office building. Although my co-workers would be the first to tell you that I’m a lunch packer, in the name of research, I have found myself grabbing my hat and scarf and venturing across Commonwealth Avenue to inspect the goods.

There are a few vegetarian options out there, including one of the pioneer food trucks here in Boston, Clover Food Lab. Clover, which now has brick-and-mortar restaurants in Harvard and Inman Squares, offers up some pretty decent $5 pita sandwiches, including a BBQ seitan, a soy BLT, a chickpea fritter (read: falafel), an egg and eggplant, and a rotating seasonal sandwich. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve had there, but I usually walk away saying to myself, “I could have totally made that,” and then go home and make it, or a variation on it.

The latest seasonal sandwich I’ve enjoyed at Clover (back in April) was a steamed sweet potato that had been tossed with cinnamon, dabbed with cilantro sauce, and then topped with a spicy jicama slaw.

I actually recreated the sandwich more or less, sans pita, during Passover, and it’s the inspiration for the sweet potato and cilantro pesto salad below. (Although now I’m realizing that I’ve enjoyed the sweet potato and cilantro combination in the past.) During Pesach I used walnuts, but I ordinarily make it with pepitas, (Spanish for pumpkin seeds). The nice thing about pestos are that they’re very forgiving and can be endlessly tweaked. I know there are some cilantro-haters out there reading this, but I’ve read that one can actually train the palate to enjoy the ruffled herb.

This can be made without cheese to keep it vegan and, depending on if you like spice, with or without chile pepper, although I would strongly support keeping it. Add a can of black beans to make this heartier. A little tip for cleaning the cilantro: soak the leaves, head first, in bowl of cold water, for 15 minutes. The dirt and grit will fall to the bottom of the bowl. I tend to do two rounds of this hands-free cleansing. This can be done as soon you bring the herbs home from the market. Store them in the fridge standing upright in a glass container filled with water.

Sweet Potato and Cilantro Pesto Salad

Ingredients

1 lb. sweet potatoes (approximately 2 medium-sized potatoes)

1 bunch cilantro

1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped

2 Tablespoons pepitas

1 chile pepper, chopped

1/4 cup hard cheese, such as Parmesan, finely grated (completely optional)

1 squeeze of lime juice

1 pinch of salt

Olive oil

Direct

Choose a pot that’s large enough to hold the sweet potatoes without crowding them. Fill the pot about 3/4 of the way with water and add several large pinches of salt. Bring to a boil.

While the water is heating, peel the sweet potatoes. Slice them in half, lengthwise, then slice those halves lengthwise. Depending on the size of the potato, cut those into three or four 1-inch cubes.

Add the sweet potatoes to the boiling water. Cover the pot and cook the potatoes for about 12 minutes, until just tender, but resistant in the middle if poked with a fork. When tender, carefully pour the pot of hot water and sweet potatoes into a colander in the sink. Set the potatoes aside and let them cool off a little bit.

Into the bowl of a food processor, place the remainder of the ingredients, except the olive oil. While the machine is running, pour the olive oil down the chute. Process for about 35 seconds. I don’t measure the amount of oil I use – my guess is half a cup – but I look for the pesto to turn to a smooth paste that will toss and coat things nicely. Of course, if you like your pesto a little on the chunky side, run the machine for about 20 seconds.

Once the sweet potatoes have cooled down, gently toss them with the pesto in a large bowl.

Common Scents

It goes without saying that what I miss the most about my time in New York City are the wonderful friends I made and left behind. We snuck into the city for a long weekend last week, and I’m still a little embarrassed to have not seen everyone there that I love. At one point I found myself drinking an almond butter vegan smoothie on the Lower East Side debating if I could make it to the Upper East Side, Fort Greene and onto a barbeque in Williamsburg by 5PM. (Fort Greene and a visit with Aleza won out, and the passion fruit and cocoa nibs doughnut  convinced me I made the right decision.) We also managed to see the Cindy Sherman exhibit at the MoMA and watched my Cousin David give his first improv performance at a club in Long Island City. (He was far and away the best on the stage. Rich says I’m not allowed to say anything negative about his fellow performers, so I’ll leave it at that.)

There is one other thing I really miss about the city. It’s a little strange to say, but I miss the smell – in particular, the smell of candied nuts being peddled on every corner from the top of Manhattan to the bottom of the island. There’s a kiosk or two down by Downtown Crossing, but nothing compares to the sugared perfume found on every street corner midtown. I’ve thought about lobbying Yankee Candle to capture the scent in wax.

I managed to abstain in the city, but tonight I made these. (It’s a reprise of a dish from my birthday party; my father-in-law took quite a liking to them.) It’s a riff off a smitten kitchen recipe that Deb had also riffed off of. I changed the cayenne pepper to ancho chile powder. If that’s not in your spice cabinet, no need to go to the market. You can always use cayenne, or even smoked paprika. Although nuts can get expensive, I bought this can of cashews at Ocean State Job Lot for $3. I’ve noticed Trader Joe’s tends to have a good price on nuts as well. The choice of nut is entirely up to you.

And yes, your house will smell like New York City. That’s a good thing.

Sugar-and-Spice Candied Nuts Adapted from smitten kitchen who adapted from Elizabeth Karmel of Hill Country

Karmel says: “A mason jar full of nuts and a pretty ceramic bowl is my favorite gift. If you bring these to a party, tell the host or hostess to hide them, or they will disappear.”

Ingredients

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

2/3 cup white granulated sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Generous pinch ancho chile powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 pound nuts – cashews, walnuts, pecan halves – this is entirely up to you

1 egg white, room temperature

1 Tablespoon water

Directions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Mix sugars, salt, chile powder, and cinnamon, making sure there are no lumps; set aside. Beat egg white and water until frothy but not stiff. Add nuts, and stir to coat evenly. Sprinkle nuts with sugar mixture, and toss until evenly coated. Spread sugared nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet fitted with parchment paper. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Remove from oven, and separate nuts as they cool. When completely cool, pour the nuts into a bowl, breaking up any that stick together.