Kitchen Helper

“What’s your house like?” asked a little girl Lilli was on a playdate with. “It’s…messy. Really messy.” I’d actually found myself in a similar conversation with a rabbi I’m working with days before. There are always projects going on — not renovations, more like this morning’s empty milk carton is about to become a robot’s head. And used toilet paper and paper towel rolls are clearly supposed to be arms and legs of figurines waiting to be made. Empty pizza boxes are dragons’ mouths; close your eyes and you can practically already see their teeth.

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And then, of course, are the kitchen projects. Nowadays Lilli is always by my side, armed with a butter knife, ready to cut anything soft enough. Ripe stone fruit work. So do tomatoes and some cheeses. And then there is the veggie sausage she cut for the vegan jambalaya, made with the okra Lilli and I would hand pick at the farm each week. That sausage came from a Western Mass company called LightLife, which invited me to enjoy some of their vegan sausages and hot dogs this summer.

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They also sent us a cute little portable grill, with a case that doubles as a cooler; a very handsome set of grilling tools, and Sir Kensington condiments. Beatrix, as it turned out, is a Lightlife hot dog fanatic. She gobbles them up, then asks for more while smashing her hands to sign “more” to hammer home the message. I ended up sending cut up pieces of the fake dogs in her lunch box this summer.

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I can report that Rich grilled the hot dogs successfully on the tiny grill, though he felt slight ridiculous with his Weber kettle standing at the ready. But let’s talk about this jambalaya recipe I developed this summer and love making. It starts with New Orleans Holy Trinity flavor base of onions, green peppers and celery. I add a healthy dose of tomato paste, which I keep flattened in a plastic Zip Loc in the freezer, to bolster the flavor.

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Once the veggies are softened, I browned the sausage, then added the okra, a small can of tomato sauce, then stock or water. My personal choice is water and the vegetarian Better Than Bouillon. To keep things simple, I use a can of black beans, drained. And instead of rice, which is totally fine to use, I tend to reach for the 10 Minute Farro from Trader Joe’s. That really cuts down on the prep time, making this an easy weeknight dinner. Because there is always squash in the fridge, I’ll sometimes quarter one and add it to the pot when I add the okra.

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This makes an immense amount of food. It can serve four adults as a main, with leftovers for days. It also freezes well; I have some in the freezer now.

Vegan Jambalaya

Ingredients

1 package Lightlife sausages, cut into ½ inch pieces

1 green pepper, seeded and chopped

1 small white onion, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

8 fresh okra, chopped or 1 cup frozen

1 small yellow summer squash, quartered

1 8 oz. can of tomato sauce

1 14.5 oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup Trader Joe’s 10 minute farro or 1 cup brown rice

2 cups vegetable stock (I use Better Than Bouillon)

Salt

Directions:

In a very large, lidded skillet with sides, soften the pepper, onion and celery in the tomato paste. Sprinkle liberally with Kosher salt.

Once softened, add the chopped sausage; brown it. Add the okra and summer squash; cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, black beans, farro and stock. Stir and salt. Bring to boil. Reduce to simmer.

Cook the stew until the farro or brown rice has softened. If you’re using the Farro, check it in 15 minutes. If you’re using the brown rice, it will be closer to an hour.

Check to see if the farro has cooked. Serve.

This post was sponsored by Lightlife. Opinions are my own.

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Couldn’t Help Myself

Now that my CSA nightmare has ended, I’m back in charge of deciding what ends up in my crisper and root cellar. I hit up Russo’s on my lunch break this week and piled my basket high with butternut squash, kale and red potatoes. There were also two eggplants, which I wasn’t going to mention because I bought them sort of off-season, but these eggplants were just so gorgeous and on sale that I couldn’t help myself.

Again, I wasn’t going to say anything, but I ended up using this recipe twice in a four-day period, and then this afternoon I found myself reciting it out loud to a complete stranger at a friend’s house who agreed it sounded fantastic.

Lilli and panda at Harvard

It’s called Eggplant with Capers, although I cut down on the amount of capers the recipe called for. (Four tablespoons sounded like too many for one eggplant.) I also skipped the green olives, but that was only because I couldn’t find the enormous jar of them we bought at Costco this summer. How one loses a gallon of olives is beyond me, but I’ll just accept it and move on.

The recipe is from The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas, and according to its cover, I bought it at The Strand in August 2001. The cookbook is so 1970’s, with its browned cover with green and orange accents. It reminds me of Moosewood Cookbook in a lot of ways: cover design, illustrations, an emphasis on eggs and cheese. There’s also a crepe and pancake section, so who am I to judge?

Don’t flinch at using just a tablespoon of tomato sauce – use the rest of the can for a bowl of eetch and all of a sudden you’ll have a very nice meal. As for warming the vinegar and sugar, I heated it for about 15 seconds in a glass in the microwave, or just do it in a small saucepan on the stove. The first round of this eggplant was eaten with starches we had in the fridge – leftover brown rice one night, on top of leftover soba noodles the next day at lunch. The second time I made it, we served it at a dinner party on top of some crusty bread that had dried cranberries, dried figs and sunflower seeds baked into it, also from Russo’s.

I’m treating it like a caponata, because it really is one. It’s vegan, and great hot or cold. Seriously, go make this dish, or at least bookmark it to serve on Thanksgiving.

Eggplant with Capers from The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas

Ingredients

1 large eggplant, cut up in small cubes

3 Tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, mined

1 onion, quartered and thinly sliced

½ to ¾ cup chopped celery

1 Tablespoon tomato sauce

Water, as required

2 Tablespoons capers

12 black pitted olives

3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 Tablespoon sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Lemon slices (optional)

Directions

A large, nonstick skillet with a cover is best for this.

Saute the eggplant in 2 Tablespoons of the olive oil. When it begins to get soft, remove from the pan, and put it aside. Add the third tablespoon of olive oil and saute the garlic and onion until the onion is golden. Then add the celery, the tomato sauce and a few tablespoons of water. Cover, and let this steam for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a little water if necessary.

Now, return the eggplant to the pan, add the capers, chop and add the olives. Heat the vinegar with the sugar and add that also. Salt and pepper to taste, and let simmer gently for another 10 to 15 minutes, being careful not to let it burn.

Serve it hot or cold, with slices of lemon.

 

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.”

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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.

Cough, Cough

Five years ago, right around this time, I started coughing. I coughed in the morning, I coughed in the afternoon, I coughed in the evening, and when I put my head down at the end of the day, I coughed even more. Nothing seemed to help; in fact, lozenges, hot tea, and sips of water only seemed to aggravate it. Some doctors thought I had asthma and began treating me with steroids. Others suspected it was a nervous cough that would go away once I got married that June. But after our wedding day, while we were on the cruise ship for our honeymoon, the coughing seemed to be even worse.

In August of that year, after enjoying a rich meal at the French restaurant Sel De La Terre during Restaurant Week, my cough was worse than usual. “You know,” Rich began, “I don’t think you have asthma. I think eating is making you sick.” And he was right. It turned out I had severe acid reflux – Gastroesophogeal Reflux Disease or GERD, to be more precise. Basically, the coughing was me choking on stomach acid. I know, gross.

Having figured out what was wrong meant I could start treatment and get better, but we soon discovered just how sick I was. Nearly everything I ate ended with me coughing. And I started to cut back on foods that made me sick, which, as it turned out, was pretty much everything I put in my mouth. Sure, there are certain trigger foods – chocolate, citrus, mint, spicy foods, alcohol, pickled things, caffeine and fat — but most fruits, and even many vegetables, were making me cough.

I settled into a diet of plain rice, grilled fish or grilled chicken, sashimi, rice cakes with a shmear of jam, pretzels, and because they were fat-free, jelly beans and black licorice. I saw a nutritionist who recommended quinoa and amaranth, grains that would keep me healthy and wouldn’t irritate my stomach. But overall, my diminished options led to me losing a lot of weight. On June 24, 2007, my wedding gown was a size 10. By January 2008, I was a size 4. I was thin, but I was absolutely miserable.

Slowly, I began adding foods back into my diet and gained back some weight. But by February 2009, the coughing came back and was even worse than before. I went back to my horrible diet, and again lost a ton of weight. Things seemed to have found a proper balance for the next two years, but by August 2011, I was coughing again. I ignored it as best I could, but my coughing was once again being disruptive.

I finally saw my ear nose and throat doctor on Thursday afternoon who informed me my throat was as irritated as it was the first time she met me in 2007. “I know what to do,” I sighed. “But I really don’t want to. I have a food blog. What’s the point of a food blog if I can’t eat food?” My plan was to keep on cooking food and to pretend I wasn’t sick. But since this is going to impact what I’m able to eat (and cook), I’ve decided to come clean.

Hi, I’m Molly Parr, and I have acid reflux so bad, that there are times in my life I can’t eat. I don’t want to stop eating through this newest course of treatment, so you’re coming on the journey with me. I might offer a recipe with notes suggesting how a dash of Aleppo or Srichacha can kick things up a notch, but I will most likely ignore my own advice.

I told my doctor how the winter time, with all its low-acid roots, would make things less difficult this time. But then I remembered all the nice citrus that brightens cold January mornings and I started to get whiny.

It will definitely be a fine line at times. A mellow garlic in a soup will probably not irritate me as much as a garlicky dressing brightening up a raw kale salad would. There will be more grains this year, harkening back to the nutritionist’s advice of an ancient grain diet. This past weekend I made a dish of a parboiled onion, chickpeas and boiled turnips and carrots which was all tossed together with some low-fat Greek yogurt. I ended up having to pick out all the onions because they were too pungent for me. This isn’t going to be easy, I know that for certain, but it will be an adventure. I entertained while I was sick and plan on continuing to do so. I think there will be more braises and stews in my future, which is just fine for January.

This recipe from Cook This Now, the newest cookbook by Melissa Clark (she of the stuffed pumpkin fame), is the perfect example of a dish that can be altered to combat reflux. One can skip the minced raw garlic step as well as ignore the suggestion of sprinkling Aleppo when serving. We decided to throw caution to the wind tonight and added the minced garlic: the result was extraordinary. We had a slew of Parmesan rinds in the fridge which we added to our pot, but if you skip the cheese, this dish is vegan.

White Bean Stew with Rosemary, Garlic and Farro

Ingredients

1 pound dried cannellini beans

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, more for drizzling

5 garlic cloves, peeled

1 celery stalk, cut in half crosswise (reserve celery leaves for garnishing)

1 large onion halved lengthwise from root to stem so it holds together

1 whole clove (stick in the onion half)

2 rosemary sprigs

2 thyme sprigs

1 bay leaf

Piece of Parmesan rind, if you like

2 ½ teaspoons kosher or coarse sea salt, more to taste

1 cup faro, rinsed (We used wheat berries which I first soaked and then cooked for 30 minutes in the pressure cooker)

Flaky salt, such as Maldon or fleur de sel

¼ teaspoon Turkish or Syrian red pepper such as Urfa, Maras or Aleppo

Chopped celery or parsley leaves, for garnish (optional)

Lemon juice and/or Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

Directions

If you have the time and would like to soak your beans ahead, this will shorten your cooking time. Put the beans in a large bowl and cover with several inches of water. Let soak for as long as you can. Overnight is optimal but even a few hours will hasten the cooking.

When ready to cook, drain the beans and place them along with the oil, 3 of the garlic cloves, the celery, and the onion in a large pot over medium-heat. Bundle the rosemary, thyme, and bay leaf together, tie securely with kitchen twine, and throw it into the pot (or just throw the untied herbs into the pot, though you will have to fish them out later). Add the Parmesan rind, if using. Cover everything with water and stir in the salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and allow to simmer, partially covered, until the beans are soft. This can take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours, depending on how long (if at all) you soaked your beans and how old your dried beans were when you go them.

A test of doneness is to place a bean in your palm and blow on it (the natural thing to do since it will be hot). If the skin breaks, it’s ready. Of course, tasting is a better way to tell. If your bean pot starts to look dry before the beans finish cooking, add more water as needed. At the end of cooking, the water should not quite cover the beans. (If it’s too liquidy, ladle the extra out and discard.)

Meanwhile, while the beans are cooking, prepare the farro. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the farro, pasta style, until softened. This could take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, depending upon what kind you use. Drain well.

Mince the remaining 2 garlic cloves

When the beans are cooked, remove and discard the onion, celery, herbs, and Parmesan ride if you used it (you can leave the garlic cloves in the pot; they are yummy). Ladle half of the beans into a food processor or blender, add the minced raw garlic, and puree. Return the bean puree to the pot. (You can skip this step and just stir in the minced garlic; the broth will be thinner but just as tasty).

Serve the beans over the farro, drizzle each portion with plenty of olive oil, then sprinkle with good flaky salt, red pepper, and celery leaves or parsley. If the stew tastes a bit flat, swirl in some lemon juice at the end to perk up the flavors. Grated Parmesan cheese on top is also nice. But make sure not to skimp on the oil, salt and red pepper when serving, unless you have reflux.

  • You can really substitute any dried bean you like for the cannellini beans. This basic bean recipe will work with any of them, though cooking times will vary.
  • Look for semi-pearled farro. It cooks more quickly than whole farro – 20 minutes instead of an hour.  If you can’t find farro, you can substitute wheat berries.
  • To add some color and turn this into more of a whole meal, add a bunch or package of spinach, or a small bunch of kale (torn into pieces). Simmer until the greens wilt before serving.