You Don’t Have to Take My Word for It

Do you ever come across a recipe that haunts you until you make it? It doesn’t happen to me that often, but it’s happened a few times in the past couple of weeks with one cookbook in particular, Diana Henry’s latest, Simple: Effortless Food, Big Flavors.

lilli-at-eric-carle-museum

The cookbook is outstanding, but with blurbs from Nigella Lawson and Yottam Ottolenghi, you don’t have to take my word for it. Henry seems like a pretty big deal in England: a weekly newspaper column, a broadcast on the BBC, and numerous awards, and I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve barely heard of her on this side of the ocean. Hopefully after this book she’ll become a household name, because it’s smashing.

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I’m posting these Persian-Inspired Eggs with Dates and Chili because it’s almost Purim and Mordechai, Esther, Achashverosh and Steve Bannon all live in Sushan, in the Kingdom of Persia. Diana says she first had a similar recipe in the Iranian food shop Persepolis in south London, served to her by the owner Sally Butcher. The café had it as a breakfast, but Diana added some greens and onions to it to make it into a more substantial lunch.

We had it for dinner last week when I felt pressed for time. I doubled the recipe and left out the chili, in hopes the girls would eat it. Bea had some, but Lilli was not keen on it. But the grown-ups loved it. It was easy to put together and just marvelous, even without the chili.

Persian-Inspired Eggs with Dates and Chili from Simple by Diana Henry

Ingredients

½ tablespoon olive oil

½ onion, finely sliced

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

¼ teaspoon chili flakes

Handful of baby spinach

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Salt and pepper

2 soft dates (such as Medjool), pitted and coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon coarsely chopped cilantro leaves

Greek yogurt and flatbread (pita), to serve (optional)

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a small skillet and add the onion. Cook over medium heat until it is golden and soft. Add the cumin and chili flakes and cook for another 30 seconds or so, then add the spinach. Keep turning the leaves over in the heat so they wilt and the moisture that comes out of them evaporates, then reduce the heat and add the eggs, seasoning and dates.

Cook quite gently, just as you would if you were making creamy scrambled eggs; the mixture should be soft set. Finally scatter the cilantro. Serve immediately, with a little yogurt on the side (if you’ve made quite a spicy plateful you’ll need it) and flatbread, if you want.

 

Semi-homemade

Has anyone else noticed that a head of cauliflower now costs $6? I’m not sure when it happened, and the truth is, that’s what it should cost. It’s winter. Wherever it was grown and picked – most likely by someone being paid a disturbingly low wage – it had to be transported here. Cheap gas or not, fresh produce is getting more expensive.

I mention this because it gets to the whole premise of my blog, which is that eating a vegetable-based diet is more affordable. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what that exactly means, especially considering that I don’t get to come by this space very often these days. For the past few weeks, I’ve been cooking with what I’ve found to be the most affordable foods I can find at the grocery store: frozen vegetables and canned beans.

girls on couch

I’ve used frozen cauliflower, frozen broccoli, frozen peppers, frozen leeks and frozen spinach. I’ve found all these things at Stop & Shop, Trader Joe’s, and even Target. There are still some things that are more affordable fresh. A two-pound rutabaga is more affordable than a one-pound bag of frozen rutabaga. Ditto for butternut squash and sweet potatoes. Frozen zucchini makes for a kind of soggy dish, but so does fresh zucchini.

A few weeks ago we had a wonderful green curry made with frozen spinach and frozen fish from Costco. Sitting on rice noodles I can buy for a couple of dollars at the Asian super market, the whole meal cost less than $6 to produce.

Of course, starting with dried beans is an even more affordable way to go, but my pressure cooker is broken, and I have no idea where to get it repaired. And honestly, I can buy a can of chickpeas at Stop & Shop for 79 cents. (I think it’s 89 cents at Trader Joe’s, but I’ve had a heck of a time opening their cans. Has that happened to anyone else? Impossible to open cans from Trader Joe’s?)

A lot of this has been going into soups: butternut squash with miso and coconut milk; sweet potato with a can of black beans and a bag of frozen corn. Tonight I made a green soup with frozen broccoli and frozen spinach. For Rich’s I added a dollop of plain whole yogurt and a swirl of jarred pesto I had in the fridge. One of the main reasons I’ve been making all the soups is for Bea who loves eating but isn’t yet very good at it.

The recipe I have for you today came via a mommy blog I get updates from, even though I don’t remember signing up for them. It’s for a chocolate cake made with black beans. The original recipe called for a can of chickpeas, but Lilli always breaks out in a rash whenever she eats hummus. I guess this is another trick to hide something healthy, like the chocolate zucchini cake from this summer, although the flavor is even more subtle here. I made some guests I had over for Chanukah sample the cake, and they described it as “very creamy.”

It’s a dead simple recipe – you dump the ingredients into a blender and press the button – so it’s very kid friendly. Instead of making a loaf, I make these in mini muffin tins, perfect for lunch sacks. It’s gluten free, and since the Conservative Movement announced that kitniyot (beans, rice and corn) are now permissible to eat, it’s now kosher for Passover. But you don’t have to wait until April to give this one a try.

Flourless Black Bean Chocolate Cakes

Ingredients
1 14 oz. can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 tablespoons of canola oil
Dash of cinnamon
1/4 cup of milk
1/2 cup mini chips

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a mini muffin pan.

In a blender, blend all the ingredients, except for the mini chocolate chips, until smooth. If necessary add more milk one teaspoon at a time.

Pour batter into the prepared muffin pan.

Sprinkle chips evenly on top of the pan.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Make sure to let the muffins cool completely before you remove them.

There Is No Wrong Answer

Growing up, Passover was the special time of year when my mom let us eat junk food. Looking back, I realize that had a lot to do with the availability of kosher junk food. The stores only stocked it at Passover, which meant it was the one time of year we got to have marshmallows or sugary rainbow fruit jells. Now that I’m a mom, I realize I’ve developed the same sort of habit in my own house. I lay low on rainbow hued candies, but Lilli is enjoying chocolate and Bissli, my favorite of the Israeli junk foods.

Lilli at zoo

As a general rule, I don’t serve matzo at my table; not worth the stomach ache. We do enjoy Tam Tams, and lucky for us, we haven’t had to convince Lilli to eat dried fruit alongside her crackers. She ate seven prunes in a row this weekend, and calls dried apples “apple candy.”

For the past few years I have purchased one box of matzo for the entire holiday, and it’s to fuel my Passover junk food tradition. Matzo crack, or matzo toffee if you’re feeling fancy, is pretty much the best thing you can do to matzo. Even better than shmearing it with Temp Tee whipped cream cheese and topping it with cherry preserves. I swear.

Research has told me that variations of this recipe have been floating around since 1985, which is the year that Marcy Goldman – she of the divine honey cakedeveloped this one. Now, I’ve seen many versions: Salted butter, unsalted butter, margarine. Sprinkled with salt (unnecessary if using salted butter),topped with nuts. White sugar, brown sugar. Let me be clear: IT’S ALL DELICIOUS. My recommendation is to trust your own palate and go with what suits you. There is no wrong answer for this one.

I saw a recipe earlier today that called for 2 cups, or 12 ounces of chocolate chips. Tonight I noticed that the Liebers’ bag of chocolate chips I always use is actually 9 ounces, and it works perfectly. This year I got all fancy and purchased a whisk and an offset spatula. But a fork to stir the sugar and butter into toffee and a butter knife to spread the chocolate works perfectly fine.

Matzo Crack

Ingredients

3 or 4 pieces of matzo, broken into large and small pieces to fit the pan

¾ cup or (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, cubed

1 cup packed brown sugar (white sugar is fine if that’s what you have)

1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 275F.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Place matzos in an even layer on the baking sheet. You will need to break the pieces of matzo to fit the pan. I find four pieces is generally how many it takes to fill the entire pan.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add sugar and immediately reduce the temperature to low. Cook, stirring until the sugar has completely dissolved, thickens and begins to bubble.

Drizzle the now-toffee over the matzo and spread it to cover using a butter knife, spatula or offset spatula.

Transfer the pan to the preheated oven and bake until the toffee gets shiny, which should take about 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and evenly sprinkle the entire pan with the chocolate chips. Let stand for five minutes. The heat of the toffee will have begun to melt the chocolate; spread the chips across the matzos with an offset spatula, spatula or butter knife. If you’re using, sprinkle with salt and/or nuts.

Transfer the entire pan of matzo crack to the fridge and chill it for at least two hours.

Break the chilled matzo crack into pieces. Best to keep it stored in the refrigerator, although you probably won’t have leftovers.

Cottage Industry

Like many of you reading this, I bought a tub of cottage cheese about two months ago for Passover. I did not, however, open the tub of curds during the holiday, or in the following weeks. (I was basically vegan for the holiday, save the butter for the mandatory matzo crack.) But about six weeks after Passover ended, I decided it was time to do something with the cottage cheese, lest it rot and end up in the trash.

cheese patties

With a little tinkering, I made some very tasty sweet cheese pancakes, with a hint of vanilla. We ate all of them for dinner, and, as we were cleaning up, Rich said, “Those were really good. Were you recipe testing for Shavuot next week?” Nope, I responded, just trying to do something with the cottage cheese from April. “Do you think you could do a savory version of them?” he asked.

I was surprised, given Rich’s sweet tooth, to hear him ask for savory. But I accepted the challenge and came up with this recipe for savory cheese pancakes a few days later, in time for Shavuot. (We’re calling them pancakes, although we think we can say latke as well.) They were such a smash that we had them a few nights later for Shabbat dinner.

The key for me was bright, fresh green herbs that are such a welcome taste after this dreadful winter. I used piles of fresh basil, parsley and scallions. If you wanted to do some tinkering on your own with other herbs, I would encourage you to keep a light tone – tarragon, although I love it, sounds off to me here.

Although I served these for a holiday and Shabbat, they are actually a terrific choice for a quick weeknight meal. The batter pulls together in seconds. The thing that takes the longest is cleaning the herbs. My trick is soaking them in large bowls of cold water and letting the dirt and grit fall to the bottom of the bowl. You can even clean your herbs a few days before you use them; I keep them wrapped in a paper towel in the fridge for an easy reach when I’m cooking.

I don’t have a preferred brand of cottage cheese –I used Stop & Shop brand the first time, only because it was kosher for Passover. The second time I used Star Market’s store brand. Aleza swears by Friendship brand dairy products. I actually had salted butter in the house (from the matzo crack) which added a nice layer of flavor to the patty. If you use unsalted, be sure to adjust the seasonings.

I’m also including the sweet version of this patty just because it was a nice treat. I’m also making sure to include a photo of Lilli in this blog post because I received some complaints, offline, that she was missed in the past few posts. For all the Lilli junkies out there, feel free to follow Cheapbeets on Instagram.

Next Passover, swap out the flour for potato starch and you’re good to go.

Savory Cheese Pancakes

Ingredients

One tub cottage cheese

Three heaping tablespoons chopped basil and parsley

Three chopped scallions

½ cup flour

1 egg

Pinch salt

A few grinds of fresh black pepper

Directions

In a medium sized bowl, crack egg and whisk it. (Or do it with a fork. It doesn’t really matter.) Add the rest of the ingredients. Using both your freshly washed hands, mix everything together.

Heat a tablespoon butter (salted if you have it) in a non-stick skillet. Using your hands, grab about a golf sized ball of batter, flatten it a bit in the palms of your hands, and add it to the hot melted butter in the skillet. Fry the patty for about three minutes on each side – do not move it around or flip it for at least three minutes – give the patty the time to make a brown crust. About three minutes in, flip the pancake and fry the other side of the patty.

You should get six patties with the tub of cottage cheese. They are great warm, fresh from the pan, but also make a quick cold breakfast the next day.

For the sweet version, eliminate the herbs and salt, and add one teaspoon vanilla and no more than a tablespoon of sugar. Honey would probably be nice as well.

 

L’Chaim!

In the Hebrew alphabet, each letter is assigned a numeric value. Aleph is one, bet is two, and so on. All words have values too, based on the sum of their letters. One of the big words is chai, which means life, as in “L’chaim!” My Hebrew name is Chaya, which is derived from it. The two letters that spell that spell chai add up to 18, and so it’s traditional for Jews to give charity and gifts in increments of 18: 36, 54, 72 etc.

I’m telling you all this because today I turned 36. Now, for some that might mean I’m on the back end of my 30’s, only a few years from 40. But I am viewing my birthday as double chai, and I feel pretty good about that.

Riding a panda

It’s not that uncommon for my birthday to fall during Passover, which meant growing up I often didn’t have a proper birthday cake. I have many childhood memories of my mom sticking candles in a watermelon and telling me to make a wish. I honestly don’t know if I ever wished for real cake, because I’m actually a huge watermelon fan. But for a few years, a bakery that only opened during Passover (I guess we’d call it a “pop-up” these days) sold these incredible flourless chocolate brownies and an outstanding flourless chocolate cake. It was so extraordinary and beautiful the shop called it “the Robert Redford cake.” Oh, Hubbell.

I have no watermelon in the house right now, but I did have all the ingredients to make myself a flourless chocolate cake for my birthday. So I did.

As you know, I take Passover pretty seriously, so every year my beleaguered Catholic husband lugs an entire set of pots, pans, utensils and dishes up from the cellar. My Passover kitchen is a work in progress, and every year the same thing happens: I go to cook or bake something and realize that I’m missing a certain piece of kitchen equipment. This year I learned I need to buy a whisk and an offset spatula for next year.

It turns out, though, that I don’t need to buy a cake pan. I just used my go-to, glass-lidded non-stick Passover pan, which has been with me as long as I’ve been cooking on my own. It’s deep enough to cook 2 cups of quinoa, and has a metal handle that can go in the oven (ideal for fritatta making). It’s not quite the Jews wandering in the desert, but making do with only a few kitchen tools does evoke the spirit of the holiday for me.

So, whisk-less, I mixed this simple batter with a fork, poured it into my trusty pan and stuck that into the oven. Because the pan is a little larger than the 8-inch pan the recipe called for, I reduced the baking time from 25 minutes to 20 minutes. Instead of fancy chocolate, I used kosher-for-Passover chocolate chips. There was a half an orange in the fridge leftover from Lilli’s breakfast, so I had Rich zest it. (For some reason, I have a Passover zester but not a whisk. Go figure.) I don’t have a kosher-for-Passover sifter, so I just stirred the cocoa powder with a fork and carried on.

We ate this tonight with dollops of fresh whipped cream, or schlag as my German mother would call it. It now occurs to me that I could have used the hand mixer I used to whip the cream for the batter, but no matter. There’s always next year. L’chaim!

Flourless Chocolate Cake, adapted, ever so slightly, from Gourmet, November 1997

Ingredients

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened)

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

¾ cup sugar

3 large eggs

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder plus additional for sprinkling (which I did not do)

1 teaspoon fresh orange zest

Directions

Preheat oven to 375F and butter an 8-inch round baking pan. Line the bottom with a round of buttered wax paper (I used parchment paper).

Chop chocolate into small pieces. In a double boiler or metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, melt chocolate with butter, stirring until smooth. Remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat and whisk sugar into chocolate mixture. Add eggs and whisk well. Sift ½ cup cocoa powder over chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. Stir in the orange zest.

Pour batter into pan and bake in middle of oven for 25 minutes, or until top has formed a thin crust. Cool cake in pan on a rack for 5 minutes and invert onto a serving plate.

Not necessary step: Dust cake with additional cocoa powder and serve with sorbet or whipped cream if desired. (Cake keeps, after being cooled completely, in an airtight container.)

Ants on a Log, All Grown Up

The origin of my new favorite potluck salad is very simple: I was at Star Market the morning of the neighborhood vegetarian potluck, and celery was on sale for 99 cents a bunch. All I could think was, “Wow, that would be so Cheap Beets if I could make a vegetable side dish for a dollar.”

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I knew I had seen a celery side dish somewhere, so I started flipping through the mental Rolodex as I picked up the things that were on my actual shopping list. When I got home I checked my Mario and Lidia cookbooks and then the rest of the Mediterranean shelf in my cookbook collection. Coming up short, I did what I always do when in doubt and I need a solid recipe: I looked to Melissa Clark. And there it was, a celery salad recipe. I actually checked online, and Clark has a similar recipe to which she adds dates. Obviously, there was no question about their inclusion.

So I made the salad for the potluck, and again this week for a potluck in my office I had organized. It’s pretty basic stuff: Celery, nuts, and dried fruit. It’s ants on a log, basically, but for grown-ups.

I’ve adapted Clark’s recipe ever so slightly, but it is indeed her recipe. Just as I’ve adapted hers, feel free to adapt as you need to. Clark notes that if you don’t have Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, “any aged cheese, such as Cheddar, Gouda, or manchego, can stand in very nicely.” If you are leaving out the cheese altogether, skip the dates, and “throw a handful of drained capers or chop an anchovy into the vinaigrette to give the salad a saline kick.”

lilli emma

I like the crisp crunch of celery against the sweet chew of the date. This would be a great side dish for Thanksgiving. It’s a good chaser in between bites of roasted roots and heavy stuffing.

Celery Salad with Walnuts, Parmesan and Dates

Ingredients

1 cup walnuts

1 ½ Tablespoons red wine vinegar

½ teaspoon kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

8 large celery stalks with leaves, thinly sliced

2 ounces good Parmesan cheese, shaved or grated – whatever is easier for you

12 dates, chopped

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F. Spread the walnuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast, tossing halfway through, until the nuts are golden, 7 to 10 minutes. Cool and coarsely chop.

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, salt, and pepper; whisk in the oil. Combine the walnuts, celery and leaves, cheese and dates in a large salad bowl. Add the vinaigrette and toss gently to combine.

‘Shrooms on a Plane

I’ve been meaning to tell you about these mushrooms. I totally forgot about them until I rediscovered them on my phone. I was scrolling through Lilli photos at my desk at work and came across these. The first time I made them was when we were on lockdown. That’s probably why I forgot to talk about them.

Taste of Allston

I found the recipe in the strangest of ways: On an airplane, on our return flight from Spain and The Netherlands. I was delighted to discover that one of the channels on my personal television included some cooking shows. While I’m not a fan of The Food Network, it’s hard not to love Jamie Oliver. I actually couldn’t find my headphones, so I just watched Jamie make these mushrooms. They looked great and I put them on my to-do list, but I never had all the ingredients in the house at the same time until this past April.

It turns out these mushrooms are fantastic, and I ended up making them three more times in quick succession. They use a hot pepper, so get out your rubber gloves if you’re going to be handling babies in the near future.

mushrooms to be roasted

Since I didn’t actually hear this recipe on the plane, I’ve tried to get this as close to a recipe as possible. These mushrooms now take their place in the category of foods that I haven’t actually served because I eat them at the stove top. (This includes a humdinger of a kohlrabi recipe from summer CSAs past.)

The measurement of 10 oz. of mushrooms is based solely on the fact that that is the amount in the containers sold in grocery stores. The truth is, if you want enough to serve anyone apart from yourself over the stove, I’d recommend preparing 20 ounces of mushrooms. I will leave the amount of hot pepper up to your own personal tastes, but please don’t skip it.

Roasted Mushrooms adapted from Jamie Oliver

Ingredients

10 ounces of mushrooms, rubbed clean and quartered

2 cloves or 1 Tablespoon of fresh chopped garlic

Up to one small red hot chili pepper, minced

1 Tablespoon fresh chopped parsley

1 very large pinch of kosher salt

2 Tablespoons olive oil (This is a guess. I honestly just pour until its moist enough to toss)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

Place all the ingredients in a large bowl. Using your hands, toss to combine. Don’t be scared to get your hands dirty.

Pour all ingredients into a small roasting dish, making sure to scrape in all the good stuff that is sticking to the sides of the bowl.

Roast the mushrooms for approximately 25 minutes. You’ll know to remove them when the mushrooms are  deep brown and the garlic will have begun to caramelize.

Try and get them into a serving bowl, but I won’t blame you if they don’t make it onto the table.