I Didn’t Share

Of all the things I gained during my pregnancy – I mean besides 65 lbs. – the strangest of all was an appreciation for Thai food. Most people like Thai food, at least in my circles, but I have never cared for it. I tried to like it, really I did, but the flavors never meshed for me. Something about the sweet and salty, and the spice – especially the spice – didn’t work for me. Love Vietnamese food, but Thai food, not so much. But then I became pregnant, and it was as if a switch was flipped.

Chopsticks

My enjoyment of Thai food became so strong that this year I used a birthday Barnes and Noble gift card to buy Pok Pok by Andy Ricker. Ricker spent years in Thailand learning the cuisine and now has a burgeoning Thai restaurant empire in Portland, Oregon, and New York. He won the James Beard Award Best Chef in the Northwest in 2011. This guy knows his Thai.

So when a handful of kind-of-sad-looking Japanese eggplant came in the CSA a few weeks back, I grabbed Ricker’s cookbook and set out to make grilled eggplant salad. Although the recipe strongly suggested a charcoal grill, I used my oven’s broiler to blacken them. As I assembled the salad, I remembered that my friend Caitlyn, also living in Portland, also a Thai-o-phile, taught me all about this salad when she visited last summer. She even went so far as to find a video of some famous Thai chef making this recipe. “Just skip the step with the shrimp,” she said to me. So I did. And so can you.

A few things about this recipe: Apparently there are dozens of types of eggplants out there, and Caitlyn taught me that small green eggplants are traditionally used in this recipe. That wasn’t an option in my CSA, but the recipe turned out fine. I skipped the fried garlic, only because it called for using thirty cloves and, well, I didn’t have that many in my kitchen. I used the option of red onions rather than shallots because that, along with the chiles and cilantro, came in the CSA. I’m still a wimp about a ton of spice, so even though the recipe calls for 2 chiles, I think I used half of one. I had palm sugar in the house because I found a bag of it in the Gourmet Foods section at TJ Maxx, or maybe it was Home Goods. (One of those two; definitely check out that section if you have the chance. That’s where I’ve found whole vanilla beans for a buck or two.) If you don’t have palm sugar in the house, I think brown sugar will be a decent substitute. I broiled the eggplant one day but only had a chance to make the rest of the salad the following day. I simply heated the pieces of eggplant in a skillet on the stovetop.

I loved this salad. Not sure how many it is supposed to serve, but it served me, and me alone. Rich didn’t even know this salad existed until he edited this post.

Yam Makheua Yao (Grilled Eggplant Salad) from Pok Pok by Andy Ricker

Ingredients

12 ounces long Asian eggplants (2 or 3), preferably green

1 egg, at room temperature

1 ½ Tablespoons lime juice

1 ½ Tablespoons Naam Cheuam Naam Taan Piip (Palm sugar simple syrup – recipe to follow)

1 Tablespoon Thai fish sauce

2 grams fresh Thai chiles, preferably green, thinly sliced (or to taste)

14 grams peeled small shallots, preferably Asian, or very small red onions, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced with the grain (about 2 Tablespoons)

2 Tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro (thin stems and leaves), lightly packed

Directions

Clean, peel and cut the eggplants

Cook the eggplants either on the grill (highly recommended) or in the oven.

  • On the grill: Prepare a charcoal grill and ignite the coals. Once the coals have begun to turn gray but are still flaming, grill the eggplants directly on the coals, turning frequently, until the skin has almost completely blackened and the flesh is very soft (it should meet with almost no resistance when you poke it with a sharp knife), about 4 minutes. The goal is to fully char the skin before the flesh gets mushy.
  • In the Oven: Preheat the boiler to high and position a rack as close as you can to the heat source. Put the eggplants on a baking tray lined with aluminum foil (or, even better, on a wire rack on the baking tray) and broil, turning them over once, until the skin has blistered and mostly blackened and the flesh is very soft (it should meet with almost no resistance when you poke it with a sharp knife) but not mushy, about 6 to 12 minutes total, depending on the size of the eggplants and the distance from the heat source.

Let the eggplants cool for 10 minutes or so. This will make them easier to peel and allow the flesh to firm up slightly. Use your fingers to peel off the skin (don’t go crazy removing every last bit), trying your best to keep the flesh intact. Do not run the eggplant under water. Cut the eggplant crosswise (on the diagonal, if you’re feeling fancy) into 2-inch slices and arrange them on a serving plate.

Cook the Egg: Prepare a bowl of ice water. Bring a small pot of water to a full boil, gently add the whole egg, and cook for 10 minutes. Your goal is a fully cooked egg whose yolk hasn’t become dry and powdery. Transfer the egg to the ice water and once the egg is cool to the touch, peel and coarsely chop the white and yolk into small pieces.

Assemble the Salad: Combine the lime juice, simple syrup, fish sauce, and chiles in a small saucepan or wok, set it over medium heat, and heat the mixture just until it’s warm to the touch, 15 seconds or so. Pour the warm mixture over the eggplant. Sprinkle on the egg, shallot, and finally, cilantro.

Naam Cheuam Naam Taan Piip – Palm Sugar Simple Syrup

Ingredients

2 ½ ounces palm sugar, coarsely chopped

¼ cup plus 1 Tablespoon water

Directions

Combine the sugar and the water in a very small pot or pan. Set it over medium heat and cook, stirring and breaking up the sugar as it softens, just until the sugar has completely dissolved. If the water begins to bubble before the sugar has completely dissolved, turn off the heat and let it finish dissolving in the hot liquid.

Let it cool before storing. The syrup keeps in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

 

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As Tends To Happen

in the trees

My office is close enough to the Watertown Free Public Library that I can spend my lunch break there and know I can make it back to my desk with time to spare. It’s a great library – full of sunlight and helpful librarians. The children’s department looks massive and I keep on meaning to take Lilli there on the off chance we get to spend the day together. Best of all, it’s part of the Minuteman Library system, a consortium of more than 30 local towns’ libraries. So if for some reason the Boston Public Library – a place that a librarian friend calls a library “on steroids” – doesn’t have what I’m looking for, I have 30 more chances that the book, or movie, or album, can be found.

This past summer I went in search of travel books to Montreal. I remembered that Watertown’s collection was more up-to-date than the BPL’s when I planned our trip to Europe a few years ago. And as tends to happen, I found myself in the cookbook section where I was excited to find The Mile End cookbook, the cookbook of the deli in Brooklyn founded by Montrealers who missed their hometown’s smoked meat.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, the cookbook also featured a walking map of their favorite food joints in the Mile End. And this was on top of a book devoted to smoked and pickled things, two of my favorite ways of preparing foods. I bookmarked and Xeroxed recipes that piqued my interest. There’s an olive oil cake recipe I plan on baking for Chanukah, but first up is this honey cake.

picking

This honey cake is divine. It’s moist. It’s warm and spiced up because it is by their parents’ old neighbor, baker extraordinaire Marcy Goldman, who based it on a gingerbread recipe. It calls for a cup of honey, which sounds like a lot, but the bear on my counter still has honey in his belly. I only had dark brown sugar in the house, which gives it an extra nice molasses feel.

The first step is something I’ve never done before, which is combine orange juice and honey in a saucepan then add baking soda to it. It fizzles and bubbles like a fourth grader’s volcano, and it gets set aside. I actually baked this cake in a number of steps, in between dinner, bath time and post-bedtime, so I can confidently say it’s OK if you set aside the saucepan for an hour to tend to something. This recipe is machine-free, just calling for some whisking and stirring. Place your eggs in a bowl of warm water if you forget to take them out ahead of time.

bent

Two caveats with this recipe: I’ve baked it twice and can report that the bake times the recipe calls for need to be just about doubled, at least with my oven. Also, I’ve oiled and floured the Bundt pan very well, but this cake does not flop out when flipped. Just cut out the pieces to serve. It still tastes delicious.

Best wishes for a sweet and happy new year. L’Shana Tova Umetukah!

Honey Cake from the Mile End Cookbook: Redefining Jewish Comfort Food from Hash to Hamentaschen by Noah Bernamoff and Rae Bernamoff

Ingredients

1 cup orange juice

1 cup honey, plus more for drizzling

½ teaspoon baking soda

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup (packed) brown sugar

1 cup sugar

¾ cup canola oil

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoons ground cloves

1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Toasted almonds (optional)

Powdered sugar (optional)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350F. Combine the orange juice and honey in a large saucepan. Place it over medium-low heat, bring it to a simmer, and simmer until the liquids have come together and you can no longer feel any honey sticking to the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the baking soda; stir to combine, then set the pan aside.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs and sugars and whisk vigorously until smooth. Then add the oil and whisk until the mixture is completely emulsified and smooth. Pour the reserved orange juice mixture into the egg mixture and whisk for a few seconds to combine.

In another large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt; mix together with a spatula. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients and whisk, scraping down the sides with a spatula, until any lumps are eliminated, 10 to 15 seconds.

Grease a Bundt pan with oil or cooking spray and dust the pan liberally with flour, tapping out any excess. Pour the batter into the pan and bake on the middle rack of the oven until the surface starts turning a golden brown about 15 minutes. (Or longer, depending on how badly your oven needs to be recalibrated.) Rotate the pan 180 degrees and tent it lightly with aluminum foil. Continue baking until a thermometer inserted reads 200F and a knife comes clean. Another 20 to 25 minutes. (Or more, depending on how badly your oven needs to be recalibrated.) Cool the cake completely on a wire rack. Invert it onto a serving plate and drizzle it with honey. Top with toasted almonds and powdered sugar, if you like.

 

 

 

 

 

You’ll Thank Me

I was so busy kvetching about my CSA last week that I forgot to tell you about our summer vacation. We drove to Montreal. To eat. The trip was inspired by Save the Deli, by David Sax. It’s a book about the slow death of the Jewish deli, and Sax devotes an entire chapter on eating in Montreal. I was sold. So when Lilli’s caretaker had her vacation, we took ours up north.

maison publique

It wasn’t the first time we’d been to Canada – Rich and I actually spent our honeymoon in Halifax. This time we stayed in a lovely AirBnB in Le Petite Laurier, a neighborhood most easily described as Park Slope-esque. I had actually done a bit of research before our trip – more than just reading Eater – and it turns out Montreal is very child-friendly. There’s the Biodome, and there are lots of playgrounds and splash parks, although they could use a little help in the stroller accessibility department. I’m now very impressed with the People with Disabilities Act in our country. Rich was impressed with the hundreds of cyclists that rolled by us every day on cycle tracks and bike boulevards.

mushrooms

And we ate. We ate everything: St. Viateur bagels, smoked meat at Schwartz’s (do the takeout window), poutine at La Banquise. Our first night in town we had an extraordinary meal at small, hip neighborhood place. Even Lilli enjoyed the tomato leaf papardelle with veal ragu. It turned out the place, Maison Publique, is one of the best new restaurants in all of Montreal – the chef was trained by Jamie Oliver. I went back on my own the last night we were in town to try a few other things on the menu, like green beans with anchovies and chile, and the sockeye salmon with peas and chanterelles.

berries

Like we do on all my vacations, we visited the public markets. Our first official day there we met up with friends in Little Italy, and they took us over to Jean-Talon, one of the largest outdoor covered markets in all of North America. I bought a basket of ground cherries as I roamed the stalls, snapping photos of the mushrooms and berries for sale. I enjoyed a balsamic macaron as I drooled over the hundreds of unpasteurized cheeses available, contraband back home. We walked about 10 miles that first day, down from Little Italy into the Mile End and Le Plateau.

peppers

Following our trip up North we drove down to Western Mass for a family bar mitzvah. That Saturday night my parents were kind enough to watch Lilli while Rich and I had a date in Northampton. We went to a new favorite of ours, The Dirty Truth, and ended the night at The Haymarket Café. Haymarket was founded when I was in high school in the 1990s as a bit of an anarchist’s bookstore and coffee shop. You had to go through the back parking lot, behind Main Street. Today Haymarket has a front door, as well as a second floor, and it serves dinner and dessert as well. I distracted myself from feeling very, very old by sharing a piece of lavender blueberry pie and this salted chocolate rye cookie.

I recognized the cookie as soon as I read the sign. It’s from Tartine Book No. 3, a cookbook which came out last year. (It was actually delayed three times; I know this because Sara is a Tartine junkie and was beside herself with every delay.) I had a version of it from Tasting Table in my recipe folder in my email. The cookie is extraordinary, definitely worth going out and buying rye flour at Whole Foods for it. Rich thinks they have a bit of spice to them, like a rye ale, while Mike said they were veering into brownie territory. I’ll tell you that they are a baked cookie with a center that remains soft on the inside. I brought some of these cookies along when Lilli, Rich and I joined Cara, Rosie and Ben for berry picking. Of course, I failed at packing an actual lunch for Lilli, but we did have these amazing cookies.

berry picking

The recipe calls for 1 pound chopped bittersweet chocolate (70%), preferably Valrhona, making it both a chocolatey and expensive dessert. Given the amount of chocolate I needed, I went to Target and bought several bags of Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips. They worked fine. The four eggs need to be at room temperature, but if you can’t wait, set them in a bowl of warm water. The dough does need some chilling to make it firm enough to scoop. I set the dough back in the fridge in between batches.

The one real change I made to the recipe was changing the muscavado sugar into dark brown sugar, making it a bit more affordable. The recipe says to bake them for between 8 and 10 minutes; in my oven it took 10 minutes to 13 minutes. This is a very good cookie. Please go make it. You’ll thank me.

Salted Chocolate-Rye Cookies Adapted from Tartine Book No. 3: A Modern Ancient Classic Whole

Ingredients

2 2/3 cups (1 pound) chopped bittersweet chocolate or (good quality chocolate chips)

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter

¾ cup whole-grain dark rye flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon fine salt

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1 ½ cups dark brown sugar

1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

Good quality flaky sea salt, such as Maldon or fleur de sel, for topping

Directions

Place a saucepan filled with 1 inch of water over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Set a heatproof bowl over the simmering water, taking care that the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water, and melt the chocolate and butter together, stirring occasionally. Once melted remove from heat and let cool slightly.

In a small bowl, whisk together the rye flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

Place the eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment. Whip on medium-high speed, adding the sugar a little bit at a time, until all the sugar is incorporated. Turn the mixer to high and whip until the eggs have nearly tripled in volume, about 6 minutes.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the melted chocolate-butter mixture and the vanilla. Mix to combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, then add in the flour mixture just until combined. At this point the dough will be very soft and loose, which is normal; it will firm up as it chills.

Refrigerate the dough until it is just firm to the touch, about 30 minutes, (The longer you chill the dough it’s harder to scoop.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove the dough from the fridge and scoop with a rounded tablespoon onto the baking sheets, shaping the balls of dough into rounds and spacing them 2 inches apart. Top each mound of dough with a few flakes of sea salt, pressing gently so it adheres.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the cookies have completely puffed up and have a smooth bottom and rounded top. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and let cool slightly (the cookies may flatten a bit), then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. The cookies will keep up to 3 days in an airtight container, although we moved ours into the fridge at that point and enjoyed them over a week.

Do Yourself A Favor

I’ll be frank: I’ve been very disappointed with this summer’s CSA. We used a different farm this year because my new job meant saying goodbye to the Thursday boxes from Ward’s Berry Farm. I had thought my blogging would continue at its normal pace and even spent the past year stockpiling zucchini recipes in anticipation of the summer deluge. As it turned out, our share had four of the fruits the entire summer. And don’t even get me started on the lack of corn.

Eetch

The saving grace of our summer table was the fact that I was a harvester for the horticulture program at my new job at Perkins. With the students away, a few of us year-round staff volunteered to make sure the plants were tended to. This meant I spent every other lunch break picking what was ripe, which translated into pounds of cherry tomatoes, piles of cucumbers and mounds of fresh basil. And that’s basically what we ate all summer long.

Armenian food has also become a regular feature of my lunches this summer. Perkins is in Watertown, which has one of the oldest and largest Armenian communities in all of North America. (Thankfully, it seems to be a Kardashian-free zone.) I’d poke around the shops on my lunch break, refreshing my stash of Aleppo pepper and sampling the different salads. There was one salad in particular that I kept on going back to, called eetch. It took me a few weeks to figure out that what I was enjoying so much was bulgur, or cracked dried wheat.

Lilli in August 2

Smell ya’ later, paleo, I’ve got a new grain in town, and it’s full of gluten. In fact, it is gluten. And it’s great! I went to Whole Foods last month in search of bulgur, and the fellow I asked for help lit up when I requested it. It was like I had spoken the secret password to him and he was able to share how great wheat is. If you don’t have celiac and aren’t gluten intolerant, like my poor Italian co-worker, do yourself a favor and go eat some bulgur. It’s cheap, it’s filling, and it’s incredibly delicious.

This recipe is an original of mine. I started poking around online and read a whole bunch of eetch recipes. It turns out it’s sometimes called a tomato tabouli, a set-it-and-forget-it recipe. Most recipes called for an onion and a fresh green pepper, both of which have become regular features in my lackluster CSA.

The result is so good. It’s vegan, it makes a lot and travels well, so get out your Tupperware and go to town.

Eetch –Armenian Tomato Bulgur Salad

1 medium onion, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

1 Tablespoon tomato paste (Save the rest of it in a baggie and toss it into the freezer.)

½ cup olive oil

1 8 oz. can of tomato sauce

8 oz. can of water (just fill the tomato sauce can)

1 ½ cups bulgur

Directions

In a large saucepan, cook the tomato paste, chopped pepper and onion with a very hefty pinch of kosher salt in the olive oil over a medium heat. Cook this down for about a half hour.

When everything has softened, add the can of tomato sauce and the can of water. Bring to a boil. When the mixture is boiling, add the bulgur. Mix everything together until everything is incorporated. Turn off heat and let sit, covered, for 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes the bulgur should have absorbed all the liquid and filled the entire pot.

Fluff with a fork then dig in.