Bitter Herb

I’m tempted to start a new category on the blog: what to do with your leftover x that you bought for Passover and is still in your fridge a month and a half later. This year it was the fresh horseradish that my family always uses. Think E.T. but with a mop of curly green hair. It gets grated into the jarred stuff that is served alongside a few pieces of gefilte fish at a Saturday morning kiddush.

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The thing about the horseradish is that I can’t stand it. That entire category of foods doesn’t agree with me (Why would you ruin sushi with wasabi? And you do realize they make poison from mustard?) I debated just tossing the offending root in the trash, but that seemed like a waste. So I went to my cookbooks.

Luckily, it only took five minutes of searching until I was reading a pickled beets recipe that calls for fresh horseradish. It’s from Deborah Madison’s terrific cookbook, America: The Vegetarian Table, a book which has served me well in the past, but which I hadn’t opened in years.

The recipe calls for two tablespoons of coarsely grated fresh horseradish, which I toned down to about a teaspoon and a half. And honestly, the recipe really did benefit from the root. It gave it a little heat and was a great counter balance to the warm spices: brown sugar, fresh nutmeg, fresh ginger and whole cloves.

Madison points out that tiny garden beets, about the size of “large marbles,” are prettiest in this recipe. I used what was in my fridge, which were large ones. I simply peeled them, cut them into smaller pieces and steamed them before the pickling.

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I’ve served these alongside whatever we’re having for dinner: quinoa with arugula stirred into it; arugula sautéed with tons of garlic, strips of fresh red pepper and finished with golden raisins; roasted carrots topped with fresh dill; chunks of fresh avocado; eggs, boiled hard but with jammy yolks. Or, just grab a fork and the jar and have yourself an afternoon snack.

Pickled Beets from Deborah Madison’s America: The Vegetarian Table

Ingredients

About 3 cups of beets (20 small beets)

1 ½ cups apple cider vinegar

1 cup water

1/2 cup white or brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 scant teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 ounce fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into strips

Up to 2 Tablespoons coarsely grated fresh horseradish

7 whole cloves

Directions

Trim the beets, leaving on ½ inch of their stems, and scrub them well. Or, peel and cut larger beets into 2-inch pieces. Steam them until tender but still a little firm, about 15 minutes. Let the beets cool. If the skins are tender looking and free of roots or coarse patches, leave them unpeeled; otherwise, peel them. Fit them into a clean quart jar.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a nonreactive saucepan and bring them to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the beets, immersing them fully, Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator. They are best served after sitting for at least a day and will keep for one to two months.

 

 

Little Monsters

So so sorry for disappearing, especially after promising you all sorts of Passover recipes and Passover cookbook reviews. My little girls, blessings in my life, destroyed my laptop. It was a combination of spilled chocolate milk and frustrated little fists banging away on the keyboard. Little Monsters. (They are huge Lady Gaga fans, so it’s OK that I call them that.)

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But thanks to having an April birthday and generous family members, I bought a refurbished laptop at the computer shop in town. I even had a coupon. Rich was chagrined to discover it doesn’t have a camera, although I’m pleased that it has a disc drive, something we now know is hard to come by in newer laptops. It’s a very basic machine. To put it in perspective, we spent more on our cat today than on my “new” computer. (It was a very expensive day.)

But now it’s May, and just like everyone said would happen, the asparagus popped in my front yard — right on schedule, just as April ended and May began. We technically live in “Asparagus Valley,” which means it’s all over menus in the area, and people start complaining about there being too much of it. I personally can’t fathom there being “too much asparagus,” just as I was secretly pleased when a colleague started to complain about the rhubarb taking over her yard. (She’s bringing some in for me. Will report back with a recipe as soon as that happens.)

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But yes, I have my favorite asparagus recipe for you, but first I do want to mention the terrific pickled beets in my fridge which I’m looking forward to telling you about. Soon, my friends. Soon.

We saw this recipe on Anne Burrell’s Secrets of a Restaurant Chef what seems like a million years ago. It’s very simple to make — all you need is a sharp knife and a few ingredients: asparagus, red onion, pecorino, a touch of extra-virgin olive oil.

The key is to go small. The asparagus is raw, so it needs to be cut into very thin coins — think a couple nickels stacked. The red onion is also a teensy, teensy dice — centimeters, not inches. Once everything is cut, you need about an hour for the flavors to mingle.

Asparagus, Pecorino and Red Onion Salad by Anne Burrell

Ingredients
1 bunch pencil asparagus, tough bottoms stems removed
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 cup coarsely grated pecorino
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt

Directions
Slice the asparagus, including the tips, into very thin slices crosswise and place in a medium bowl.

Add the red onion and pecorino and toss to combine.

Dress with the vinegar, olive oil and salt and toss again. This salad should be fairly heavily dressed. The vinegar will sort of “cook” or tenderize the asparagus.

It is best to do this about an hour or so in advance to let the flavors “marry”.

Instant Karma’s gonna get you

Friends, I have a confession to make: I had some pasta in mid-February that made me so sick that I needed medical attention. The doctor instructed me to balance everything out with tons of probiotics and to avoid white flour. So I guzzled kefir like a frat boy at a kegger contemplating taking health care away from millions of Americans and ate a questionable amount of lacto-fermented sauerkraut and kimchee.

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Now, I adore cabbage and anything pickled, so that part wasn’t too much of a stretch. But the no white flour thing? Le sigh. Rich teases me and says it’s my comeuppance for mocking Paleo for so many years. Still, I like to find a silver lining to every situation, and for you that means I’ve been rocking Passover recipes for the past month.

This is another cauliflower-as-baked good recipe, just like the last recipe for turmeric and cauliflower muffins. I swear I’m not trying to ride a trend, but when you can’t eat white flour – and let’s be clear, most whole-grain breads have at least some white flour in them – you don’t have many options. One inspiration for this somewhat “healthy” cauliflower flatbread was the cauliflower grilled cheese sandwich that was floating around Facebook last month. I made that, and it was terrific, if even a little too cheesy, if that’s possible.

I hadn’t worked with riced cauliflower until very recently, and because my food processor is still missing its blade (anytime now, Cuisinart) I had to improvise. For me, that meant steaming a head of cauliflower on the stove top, then mashing it up with a potato masher. (Or, you can go to Trader Joe’s and buy a bag of frozen riced cauliflower and call it a day.)

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I made this flatbread on the tray of the toaster oven, using half a head of cauliflower. A friend mentioned she always has difficulty getting the center to brown, but mine seemed to all over on its own. I sautéed a mélange of vegetables while the “crust” baked, then topped it with the vegetables and a nice amount of cheese, then put it back into the oven for some hot melting action.

The result was terrific and extremely delicious. I’m reticent to seriously call it healthy given the amount of cheese I used, but it’s definitely a keeper for the Passover collection, even if my toaster oven will be unplugged for Passover.

Cauliflower Flatbread

Ingredients

For the flatbread

Half a cauliflower, steamed and mashed/riced or whizzed into a pulp in a food processor

Two eggs

¾ cup parmesan cheese

Pinch of salt

Pepper, to taste

For the topping: Up to you, although I used half an onion, sliced into moons; half a red pepper, half a yellow pepper, julienned; half a zucchini, quartered and cut into ½-inch pieces; a handful of mushrooms, chopped.

To finish: A gratuitous amount of shredded cheese. A cup, maybe more. If you can find it and like it, sprinkle goat cheese onto it as well.

Directions

Preheat oven to 425F

Prepare your cauliflower: I steamed a half a head in a covered saucepan that had about ¾ of an inch of water at the bottom. You can also steam it in a microwave-safe dish with a little water in it, covered tightly with Saran/Stretch-Tite, what-have-you. If you have a food processor, chop the cauliflower, then place half in a food processor and whirl it until it breaks down into small pieces.

Either mash or rice your steamed cauliflower or place your processed cauliflower into a dish towel and squeeze out all the excess moisture over the sink.

Once your cauliflower has been appropriately prepped, place it into a large bowl. To this, add the two eggs, cheese, salt and pepper. Mix with a spoon.

Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper. Evenly spread the cauliflower mixture onto the sheet and place in the preheated oven for at least 12 minutes. Keep an eye on it – you’re looking to see it nicely browned all over.

While your “bread” is baking, heat about a tablespoon and a half of olive oil in a medium-sized skillet. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook for about 10 minutes, until they have softened and started to turn golden. Add the rest of the vegetables and another pinch of salt and continue to saute. In all, the vegetable saute will probably take about 20 minutes, if you really want everything to be nicely softened and on its way to caramelized.

Once your vegetables are prepared and your flatbread is the color of butterscotch, spoon and evenly spread the vegetables onto it, then liberally sprinkle with cheese. Slide back into the oven until the cheese has melted.

Slice – I found a pizza wheel to be the best way to portion this meal – plate, and enjoy.

 

 

So Hot Right Now

Passover is almost here, but before I start sharing my growing stash of Pesach recipes, I need to talk about these spiced cauliflower muffins I became slightly obsessed with last month. I’d been looking for something interesting to bring to the Tot Shabbat potluck, and since Lilli was the cover girl in the article in the local paper about the program, I felt like I needed to bring it.

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This recipe taps into two hot food trends right now: cauliflower and turmeric. It seems 2016 was the year of the cauliflower, with recipes for its meaty “steaks” and cauliflower flatbreads. (More to come on those). But it was also the year of turmeric. I admit to being a little late to this one. My Aunt Bev brought my mom an enormous stash from her recent trip to Israel. She talked all about its healing properties, all of which I was completely unaware of. My only associations with turmeric up to that point had been stained clothes from Indian food. But then I started seeing recipes calling for it all over, and then the inevitable backlash as the wave crested. Sigh.

I made this recipe the very day I clipped it. It’s by the Israeli couple Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich, who helped Yotam Ottolenghi grow his empire and now run the bakery Honey & Co. in London. Their second cookbook Golden: Sweet and Savory Delights from the Ovens of London’s Honey & Co. reminded me that I have a sweet spot for Israeli-run bakeries, be it the Tatte empire in Boston, or Breads in New York City. The recipes, like the shops, are a mix of savory and sweet, with flavor touches like tahini and cardamom that I love.

This recipe is dead simple; no heavy equipment needed. Although the recipe calls for six enormous “trees” for six muffins, I used small florets and ended up with many more. The first time I baked these I used a mini muffin pan, and the batter was the perfect amount for all 24. I had more steamed cauliflower left after that batch, so I made a second round in regular-sized tins. That made nine perfect regularly-sized muffins.

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I ground the cumin and coriander seeds together in a spice grinder I picked up for $15 at Ocean State Job Lot a decade ago. I have the white pepper in the house specifically for hot and sour soup, so I was happy to finally have another use for it. I have seen turmeric everywhere from “international” stores, Whole Foods, and even Target. I have yet to find my pumpkin seeds since we moved, so I skipped them. The muffins were great without.

The muffin is this wonderful mix of warm spice and sweet, and then there’s the soft bite of cauliflower. I stored these in a plastic container on the counter but I have no idea how long they are good for because they fly pretty quickly when they’re around.

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Spiced Cauliflower Muffins from Golden: Sweet and Savory Baked Delights from the Ovens of London’s Honey & Co. by Itamar Srulovich & Sarit Packer.

1 small head of cauliflower
3 cups (700 grams/milliliters) water
1 teaspoon table salt

For the muffin batter
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (175 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (40 grams) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon table salt
A pinch of white pepper
4 eggs
5 ounces (150 grams) unsalted butter, melted

For topping (if you like)
3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
3 tablespoons grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese

1) Break the cauliflower into florets, making sure there are at least six large “trees.” (You will most likely have more than six; cook them all and save the unused florets to eat another time or use them for more muffins.) Put the water and salt in a large pan and boil the cauliflower in it until soft (this will take 5–10 minutes). Check to see whether it is done by inserting a knife tip into the stem; it should penetrate without resistance. Drain well and set side.

2) Preheat the oven to 375°F/350°F convection and butter six muffin molds. Mix all the dry ingredients for the batter together. Add the eggs and use a spoon or spatula to mix until combined, then slowly mix in the melted butter and fold until it has all been incorporated.

3) Place a spoonful of batter in the center of each mold and stand a whole floret stem-down in each. Cover with batter to fill the molds to the top. Mix the pumpkin seeds and cheese, if using, sprinkle on the muffins and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the tin and eat while still warm — they are best this way.

 

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.

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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.

 

Close Enough

 

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I am a bad food blogger. Let me explain. Purim’s coming up, and as I’m assembling costumes (including a fairy dress that “needs to have buttons up the back”), I realized that I never told you about last Purim, when I snuck away after Carnival for a blogger event. It was for cookbook author and chef Sara Moulton, and it was at Harvest in Harvard Square. Turns out she got her start there, so this was a very special afternoon for her. She collaborated with Harvest’s Executive Chef Tyler Kinett on a very special menu inspired her new cookbook Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better. (Well, new at the time. Like I said, bad food blogger.)

We started with a delicious Spring Pea Soup that had smoked salmon, crispy potatoes and crème fraiche on top, which was inspired by the Pea Vichyssoise with Smoked Salmon in the cookbook. Dessert was La Tulipe’s Apricot Souffle, which she adapted from her time at Gourmet Magazine (z’l). Sara actually called up someone to help her with the demo, but when I saw that the prepared menu in front of me said there was soufflé for dessert and she was holding up a whisk, I knew there was going to be an insane amount of egg whites being whipped – by hand – and I kind of hid my head as to not be noticed for that task. Someone did raise their hand to help out. I think it was a fashion blogger who didn’t see it coming, but she did a wonderful job of whisking, for nearly 10 minutes straight.

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I’m embarrassed to say I don’t remember what my actual main course was. According to the menu I saved, we had “Steak & Eggs,” which was “Braised Short Ribs, Poached Egg and Broccoli Rabe & Butterball Potatoes,” inspired by “Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs of Beef” in the book. But because I write a “mostly vegetarian food blog”, they knew to make an alternate dish for me. I’m a bit mortified to admit I can’t remember what they subbed for it. But I promise you, the soup and soufflé were so good, what came in the middle doesn’t really matter.

What did matter from that event was that Sara was darling and kind and warm and lovely. She is bite-size, super small, and her Converse All-Stars gave her no extra height. I told her how much her nacho pie recipe is enjoyed in our house, and she appreciated the sentiment, or at least seemed to.

The afternoon ended with each one of us receiving a signed copy of the cookbook, and I’ve enjoyed cooking from it these past 11 months. The Beans and Greens Gratin is just about perfect for this time of year. As Sara explains: “When you see the word gratin in the title of a recipe, it means that the dish is topped with a light brown crust usually consisting of baked breadcrumbs or grated cheese. […] Here I’ve combined two hearty ingredients: beans and greens.” It employs one of her favorite tricks for thickening bean-centric dishes, which is mashing some of them. And it works! It’s very hardy, and travels well the next day for lunch leftovers.

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I did a “close enough” version of this recently. It calls for fresh breadcrumbs, but since I’m still waiting for my replacement blade for my recalled food processor, I had to use Panko that I had. (Any time now, Cuisinart…)  I didn’t have fresh rosemary in the house, so I skipped it, and it was fine.

The recipe also survived me using a slightly smaller can of beans and a larger can of tomatoes, which is what I had on hand. I used a spoonful of Better Than Bouillon in 1 ½ cups water in lieu of Sara’s Homemade Vegetable Stock. Like I said, close enough.

Beans and Greens Gratin from Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better

 Start to Finish: 1 Hour 15 Minutes/Hands-On Time: 40 Minutes/Servings 6

 Ingredients

1 ¼ cups fresh breadcrumbs (made by pulsing 2 to 3 slices homemade-style white bread in a food processor)

3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

Kosher salt

1 cup finely chopped onion

1 Tablespoon finely minced garlic

2 Tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped

4 cups packed coarsely chopped chard, kale, mustard greens, collard leaves or a mix (tough stems removed)

2 cups cooked pinto, white, kidney, or black beans, or chickpeas; or rinsed and drained canned beans (a 19-ounce can)

1 ½ cups Homemade Vegetable Stock or store-bought vegetable broth

1 ½ ounces freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

1 cup chopped whole canned tomatoes

Freshly ground pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375F. Toss together the breadcrumbs, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the pepper flakes and salt to taste in a small bowl.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally until golden, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and rosemary and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add the greens in batches and cook until they are wilted. Mash ½ cup of the beans with a potato masher or fork and add the mashed beans along with the whole beans, stock, cheese, tomatoes, and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the crumbs evenly on top of the mixture. Bake on the upper middle shelf of the oven until the crumbs are lightly browned and the beans are bubbling, 25 to 35 minutes.

 

Snowstorms and Squash

 

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Oy, 2016. There were many moments I (we? Most everyone?) would like to forget, although I am happy that this year brought me back to Western Mass. The last week of the year, for me, at least, was really lovely. My girls and I all had off from our schools so we spent the entire week together. When Beatrix wasn’t watching Frozen (“Elsa! Elsa!”) we squeezed in a few adventures.

We explored Great Barrington in the Berkshires (only about an hour from here) in search of the best grilled cheese in the Northeast. We had fun at Forbes Library, whose cookbook and media collection continues to impress me. (More on those in upcoming posts.) We made it to two children’s museums, including a New Year’s Eve Jr. celebration that allowed Bea endless rides on the carousel.

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One of Rich’s brothers gave us a gift card for Marshall’s/TJ Maxx/Home Goods for Christmas, and Lilli was quite pleased to find both dinosaur pasta and a cookie and cupcake decorating kit in the “Home” section. The design kit came in very handy during last week’s snowstorms, again between Frozen screenings.

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That decorating kit also brings us to today’s recipe. Because one cannot decorate cupcakes without frosting, and the only frosting worth making involves cream cheese. Which means I had cream cheese in the house, and that was the one ingredient I was missing to make this twice-baked butternut squash.

I knew it was a keeper as soon as I saw it, and, given its cheesiness, it was a good addition to our Chanukah table. I served it next to potato latkes, a salad of butter lettuce, dates, slivered red onion (soaked in ice cold water to take the snap out), sprinkles of blue cheese and a balsamic brown sugar dressing. Now that I think about it, there was also a lentil stew with rutabaga and kale to start things off.

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Grandparents, don’t panic. She got a haircut soon after this photo was taken.

The recipe actually calls for the squash to first get a steam in the microwave, so it moves the process along a bit quicker than if you did everything in the oven. Ditto with the sweet potatoes, which I know you can do in a microwave, as my old co-worker reminded me every day. I don’t own a 9×13 microwavable dish, so I used a glass pie pan and the squash ends hung over the sides. It still worked. I then transferred the squash halves to a large baking sheet.

This is not an everyday recipe, although it’s not as rich as the stuffed pumpkin that makes me giddy. I hope you’ll give it a shot. It’s actually very simple to make and tastes even better than you think it will.

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Learn from my mistakes. Don’t use parchment paper to bake and broil. It burns after a certain point.

Twice-Baked Butternut Squash from “Real Simple” December 2016

Ingredients

1 (3- to 3 ½-pound) butternut squash

¼ cup water

2 (8- to 9-ounce) sweet potatoes

3 ounces cream cheese, softened

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1½ teaspoons table salt

¾ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon black pepper

3 tablespoons shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

3 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon minced fresh chives (optional – I skipped it.)

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cut squash in half lengthwise. Remove and discard seeds. Place squash halves, cut sides down, in a microwave-safe 13- x 9-inch baking dish and add ¼ cup water. Cover dish with plastic wrap and pierce 3 to 4 times with a knife. Microwave on HIGH 10 minutes. Carefully drain water out of dish. Turn squash halves over, and bake in preheated oven until tender, 35 to 40 minutes. Let stand about 5 minutes. Scoop flesh from squash, leaving a ¼-inch-thick shell and transfer to a medium bowl; reserve shells and return to baking dish.

Poke the sweet potatoes with a fork several times then microwave them on HIGH until tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Let stand until cool enough to handle, about 5 minutes. Peel potatoes and add flesh to bowl with squash along with cream cheese, butter, salt, nutmeg, and pepper; mash with a potato masher or a fork until mostly smooth.

Preheat broiler with oven rack 6 inches from heat. Scoop squash mixture into reserved squash shells and top with cheddar and Parmesan. Broil until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with chives.