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.

 

 

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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.

 

Hipster, Meet Toddler

For the past dozen years I’ve lived in a neighborhood in Boston called Allston. Think Venice Beach, with maybe a touch of St. Mark’s Place. It’s full of students, mustachioed, tattooed hipsters riding bicycles, and there are still punks leftover from the 80s. This year a civic board I sit on for the community built a pop up skate park/vintage market/bike co-op/event space. It’s as weird and wonderful as it sounds.

bea, eating grilled cheese

Being the student enclave, Allston is where you go for cheap eats and to find food from around the world: Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Taiwanese, hot pot, Venezuelan, Honduran, Korean, Burmese, Vietnamese, ramen, Lebanese and Indian. It’s got some of the best beer bars in Boston, and a thriving vegan scene. The girls’ day care is also in the neighborhood, in a building just behind some of the best restaurants in all of Allston. There’s Lone Star Taco, where I get my amazing nachos. Deep Ellum, which shares a kitchen and an owner with Lone Star, has incredible beer, remarkable cocktails and it cures its own lox. You’ll never have vegan ice cream like they sell at FoMu any place else. Whole Heart Provisions does this thing with a seared avocado and crispy lentils and za’atar that’s just… wow.

And then there’s Lilli’s favorite restaurant, Roxy’s Grilled Cheese. The restaurant started as a food truck; they still are on the road and share the parking lot with Lilli’s daycare. We passed one of the trucks leaving the lot today, and she pointed and said, “Grilled cheese truck!” You can get a cup of tomato soup with your sandwich, or some poutine, or even grab a burger and a nice beer. There’s also an old school Ms. Pac-Man to play, along with a pinball machine.

grilled cheese

As you can imagine, getting out at all is tricky with a toddler and a baby, but I am here to report that, after close observation at Roxy’s, as well as making dozens of them in my own kitchen, I have perfected the grilled cheese sandwich. It’s kind of like America’s Test Kitchen around here, but for grilled cheese. (Rich could write much the same for French toast: frequently requested, hardly ever “actually” eaten, to use the toddler’s new favorite word.)

First haircut

Today I offer tips and tricks from extensive research, rather than a definitive recipe. This is not cave-aged gruyere on artisanal sourdough. My kid eats provolone (“circle cheese”) on challah or white bread. To my own taste, there’s something to be said for rye with a nice, sharp cheese. A college classmate of mine who’s now a junior doctor in London (damn you, Jeremy Hunt!) swears by Munster cheese, although she says it’s impossible to find over there. I know people enjoy caramelized onions, or maybe some mushrooms or sautéed greens. All are good.

On Making A Grilled Cheese Sandwich

I prefer non-stick and Rich prefers his cast iron. Whichever you do, go you low and slow. Put your stove top on medium, then turn it just a touch towards low. Your sandwich might take about 15 minutes to make, but it’s worth the time.

Here’s the big reveal: Instead of buttering the outsides of your bread, use a thin layer of mayo. (Hellman’s if you’re on the East Coast, Best if you’re out West.) Over the past few weeks I’ve tried to measure out how much that would be – a teaspoon? Two teaspoons? A tablespoon? — but I’ve realized it will really depend on what size bread you’re using. But the mayo is what makes the bread that deep brown, and greasy in the best way possible.

I also don’t assemble my sandwich on the counter. Once my bread is shmeared, I turn to my heated skillet, add a generous tablespoon of butter, watch it melt, then put a slice of bread down. Then I add my cheese – at least two slices – then top it with the second piece of bread. Fry that sucker for a good six minutes, then gently lift up a corner and admire how nice and golden it’s turned. Flip with a spatula, slide a second pat of butter on the pan, then cook until golden and gooey.

Finally, and this is key, once you’ve finished making your grilled cheese, quickly remove it from the pan, slice it in half, then prop the two pieces on their side on a cutting board. This will cool it down enough to eat, and will prevent the bread from getting soggy. Then you can proceed to cut it into toddler-sized triangles, or squares, or “squares and triangles” as has been the request this week. (The geometry on that one took me back to high school math.)

on its side

So, yes, fried, mayonnaise-slathered, grilled cheese, for the toddler. Judge away. She’s so tiny that she needs the calories however we can get them in her. And she barely eats half of what we give her, anyhow. Which means we (mostly Rich) gets to eat a lot of grilled cheese. And French toast.

 

A New Favorite

We’ve had so much snow here in Boston that we’re now using sports figures as units of measurement. For those keeping track, we’re up to nearly a Gronk of snow. That’s about six and a half feet in less than two weeks. There’ve been multiple weekly school cancellations; the T, our mass transit system, has completely shut down several times; sidewalks are nearly impossible to navigate; parking etiquette has devolved to Lord of Flies level. We’re really lucky to own a driveway, although we’ve barely shoveled out room for our car, so no visitors, please.

do you want to build a snow man

The Super Bowl party we were invited to was canceled due to lack of parking, so we threw together our own party and hosted close friends who live around the block. We had leftovers for a few days, including a half-eaten bag of tortilla chips. But that’s OK, because it means I get to make my new favorite go-to weeknight dinner: Nacho Pie.

Found the culprit

I saw this recipe on an episode of Sara Moulton’s Weeknight Meals I had on in the background one weekend this fall. When she opened the show by saying the episode was devoted to pantry meals, she had my attention. The first dish was a pasta with beans and Kalamata olives. I have no recollection what the third dish was because all I could think about was the Nacho Pie in the middle.

You probably have everything on hand in your pantry already: can of black beans, can of corn, jar of your favorite salsa, an onion, and the dregs at the bottom of a bag of tortilla chips. In terms of fresh things, you’ll need a chopped up green pepper and some shredded cheese. There was once a time when I groaned when all I had in the house was a green pepper. But now that means I can make shakshuka, eetch or nacho pie, all terrific pantry meals.

You can gussy it up with other things on hand. I bought a pile of avocados which were on super sale for $0.88 cents each for the Super Bowl. I threw them in the refrigerator when they were perfectly ripe and we’ve been working our way through them these past few weeks. Add a dollop of sour cream or yogurt, and maybe a squeeze of fresh lime to perk it up.

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This is a great weeknight meal that travels well the next day as leftovers. It’s vegetarian and cheap. I think you’ll love it as much as we do.

Nacho Pie

Ingredients

One medium onion, chopped

One green pepper, chopped

One can of black beans, drained and rinsed

One can of corn, drained and rinsed

One jar of your favorite salsa

Two cups of tortilla chips, divided

Two cups shredded cheese, divided

Enough oil to cover a skillet

Directions

Preheat oven to 400F

Heat oil in a large skillet on medium heat. When hot, add onions. Sprinkle a pinch of salt to help them sweat, and cook them on medium heat for about six minutes.  When they start to soften and become clear, add the green pepper to the onion and continue to soften them for about three minutes more.

While the peppers and onions cook on the stovetop, drain the cans of corn and beans in a colander. Give them a good shake and add them to the skillet. Stir to incorporate. Add the jar of salsa to the mixture and cook it for about one minute more.

In the bottom of an oven-proof dish – I use a soufflé dish – lay a cup of tortilla chips on its bottom. Pile about ¾ cup of shredded cheese on top of the chips. Next, pour the contents of the skillet on top of the cheese and chips. Finish the dish with the remaining chips and the rest of thecheese. Slide into the oven for about 20 minutes.

The crust will get nice and bubbly. Remove from the oven and enjoy.

I Remembered In Time

About two days before my birthday this year, Sylvie popped up online. “Do you already own this cookbook?” she asked, sending me a link. I told her I didn’t but that it looked promising. She was pleased and apologized for being so blunt. The next day, the cookbook arrived.

The Passover recipes – more than 45, the front cover boasted – looked great. Literally — I must have flipped to the recipe for the lemon tart with basil nut crust and gazed at the photo every night for about a week. Alas, the recipe called for a candy thermometer, and I didn’t own one that is kosher for Passover. Also, I don’t have time to stir a lemon cream for 30 minutes. Maybe when Lilli is 6.

Cheese Babka

But while I had the cookbook out, I figured it made sense to check out the Shavuot recipes, as that was the next holiday to think about. I settled on the cheese babka, and then promptly forgot about it until last week, when I started poking around my cookbooks for cheesecake recipes. You’ll be pleased to know I remembered this recipe in time, and, actually put it together this morning while Lilli and I hung out. If I’m going to be up before 6AM on a Sunday, I might as well get a babka out of it.

Now, you’re probably wondering, if she doesn’t have time for a lemon tart, why would she make a babka, which calls for yeast? I’ve discovered that yeasted things are actually a safe bet because it’s just a matter of putting together a dough and then literally walking away for at least an hour to do what needs to be done. In our house, that probably means watching Cookie Monster on Youtube.

I have to say, this recipe is flawed. Things like what sort of pan to bake the pastry on were flat out missing from the instructions. As I tested the recipe I kept thinking I wasn’t going to actually end up talking about it. But then I removed a golden ring of light, sweet pastry from the oven and all was forgiven.

I’m posting this up tonight in hopes you’ll get a chance to make it in time for the start of Shavuot on Tuesday night. I had everything already in the house. I hope you do too.

A few things about the recipe: My dough did not rise after 45 minutes so I turned my oven on to 275F and placed the metal bowl on top of the stove for another 45 minutes. If it had been winter, I would have just put it over the heating grate; that always works. My cream cheese filling did not come together the way it was supposed to, but I’ve had that problem before when baking with cream cheese. I ended up putting the wet mess of cheese in the freezer while I made the topping and the dough continued to rise. But the results were great, and I’m sure your cream cheese mixture will be just fine.

Cheese Babka from The Holiday Kosher Baker by Paula Shoyer

Dough

1/3 cup (80 ml) milk

¼ ounce (1 envelope; 7g) dry yeast

¼ cup (50g) plus 1 teaspoon sugar, divided

2 ½ cups (315g) all-purpose flour, plus one tablespoon, if needed, plus extra for dusting

½ cup (1 stick; 113g) unsalted butter, at room temperature 30 minutes

1 large egg plus 1 white (reserve yolk for glazing)

Filling

8 ounces (230g) cream cheese (not whipped)

½ cup (100g) sugar

1 large egg, divided

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Crumbs

½ cup (65g) all-purpose flour

1/3 cup (75g) light brown sugar, packed (I only had dark and had no complaints)

½ teaspoon cinnamon

4 tablespoons (57g) unsalted butter

To make the dough

Heat the milk over the stovetop or in a microwave oven until warm, not boiling. Pour the milk into a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar and let the mixture sit for 10 minutes, until thick. Add the remaining ¼ cup (50g) sugar, 2 ½ cups (315g) flour, butter, and egg plus one white. Combine the ingredients with a wooden spoon or with a dough hook in a stand mixer on low speed until they are all mixed together. If the dough sticks to the bowl, add the additional tablespoon of flour and mix it in; the dough should come together into a ball. Cover the bowl with plastic and let the dough rise for one hour.

To make the filling

MEANWHILE, remove the cream cheese from the fridge and put it in a medium bowl. Let the cream cheese soften for 45 minutes. Add the sugar, egg, and vanilla and combine using an electric mixer. (I moved the dough to another large metal bowl, washed the mixing bowl and used it for this part of the recipe.) Cover and place in the fridge until the dough is ready.

To make the crumbs and bake the babka

MIX THE FLOUR , brown sugar, and cinnamon together in a medium bowl. Add the butter and rub the mixture between your fingers until you have small clumps. Set the bowl aside.

PREHEAT OVEN to 375F (190C). Sprinkle a 12×14-inch (30×36-cm) piece of parchment paper with flour. Roll the dough on top of the parchment paper until you have a 12×14 inch (30×36-cn) rectangle. Sprinkle more flour on the parchment paper if the dough sticks to the rolling pin. Remove the filling from the fridge and use a silicone spatula to spread it evenly over the dough. Roll the dough up the long way. Bring the ends together into a large ring, and press them together. Use a sharp knife to make cuts in the dough, every inch or so, on the outside of the ring, but cut only about three-quarters of the way into the ring, not all the way through. After you have made all the cuts, pull the slices apart slightly and turn each one so the swirl part is facing the next slice, partly facing up. Repeat all the way around.

The recipe falters here, but I moved the ring to large rimmed baking sheet covered with a silpat liner. If you can manage to get that piece of parchment paper you’re working on on to a rimmed baking sheet that will also work.

BRUSH THE DOUGH all over with the remaining egg yolk mixed with a teaspoon of water. Sprinkle with the crumbs. Bake for 35 minutes or until golden. Let it cool for about 20 minutes. Store covered at room temperature for up to three days or freeze for up to three months. Reheat to serve.

An Apple (Cake) a Day

Last week the acupuncturist told me that apples are full of qi and that I should be eating one every single day. “Oh, that’s not a problem at all,” I quickly replied. “The CSA gives us pounds of apples every week, and I’ve been baking apple cakes pretty constantly this year.”

“We really need to work on your filter,” Rich observed, not for the first time, when I recounted the conversation. But it’s true, I’ve been on a bit of an apple cake tear. This gingerbread upside down cake with apples and bourbon cream by Sally Pasley Vargas might be the best apple cake I’ve ever had. Jess’ Teddie’s was another good one; we loved the walnut crunch. We each made a set of these apple chunk breakfast loaves from Liz. The second round was brought to my parents for Rosh Hashana for a nice breakfast cake. I think the apples she found at her shuk in Israel are much smaller than my stateside apples, because I could only squeeze in two per recipe, as opposed to her four. This one, also by Sally, was pretty good, although I think I’d reduce the cinnamon in the topping the next time. And this Dutch Apple Cake from last year is always a fine treat.

But I digress. Anyways, I’ve been following the acupuncturist’s advice all year long, and I’ve been feeling great, so I figured it’s best to do what she says.  I’ve incorporated a peeled apple (sans skin; better for my tummy) with some peanut butter in its core as part of my breakfast on most mornings, although I’m still on a constant lookout for new apple recipes.

So when the good people at Knopf asked me if I was interested in checking out Lidia Bastianich’s new cookbook that she wrote with her daughter, Tanya Bastianich Manuali, I immediately said yes. I think I’ve mentioned in the past how much I adore Lidia – her show on WGBH Create is one of the few cooking shows I watch, and I am a big fan of her Lidia’s Italy cookbook. Although, looking through my archives right now, I don’t think I’ve ever shared a recipe of hers with you. Strange, because I’m a huge fan.

When the new cookbook arrived, I did a quick read of the introduction and looked over the “100 Foolproof Italian Dishes, from Basic Sauces to Irresistible Entrées” in hopes of a new apple cake recipe to use up the bowlful on my counter. Sure, there was a strudel, and a roasted beet and beet greens salad with goat cheese, but the recipe that caught my eye was like none I’d ever heard of before: Spaghetti in Tomato Apple Sauce. We actually don’t eat a lot of pasta in this house, but the acupuncturist also did encourage the eating of deep red and colorful fruits and vegetables, so a dish involving bright red tomatoes and apples piqued my interest.

Lidia does note in the introduction to this recipe that the combination of the two might sound “odd,” but apparently in Tretino-Alto Adige, one of the most northerly regions of Italy which is known for its apples, this recipe wouldn’t be too surprising.

My back was feeling a bit cranky, so I assigned Rich the task of putting together this dish. (This actually served the dual purpose of keeping me off my feet, and seeing how well-written the recipe works for the kitchen novice.) The result? It was incredible. Honestly, one of the better pasta dishes I’ve had in my life.

We continued to cook our way through the CSA with this cookbook, enjoying the butternut squash in the marinated winter squash, and the chard melted ever so nicely when I braised it with tomatoes and cannellini beans. I think tonight I’m going to try out the Brussels Sprouts braised with vinegar for a new take on a beloved vegetable. (At least it is in our house.)

Spaghetti In Tomato Apple Sauce from Lidia’s Favorite Recipes: 100 Foolproof Italian Dishes, from Basic Sauces to Irresistible Entrees

One thing I noticed about this recipe was that it called for a food processor or blender to purée the tomatoes. I’m a big believer in the food mill, but it looks like Lidia has acknowledged that there is more likely a chance of a home cook having one of those two machines than an old-fashioned food mill. This shouldn’t stop you from purchasing a food mill. It’s almost winter time, and the persimmon pudding won’t make itself!

I would also suggest putting the pasta water on to boil before starting on the sauce. Big pots of water take a while to boil, even if you’re not watching them.

Ingredients

3 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)

6 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 large stalks celery, cut into 1/4 –inch dice (about 1 cup)

1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the pasta pot

1 pound tart and firm apples, such as Granny Smith

1 pound spaghetti

1 cup freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, plus more for passing

Directions

Pour the canned tomatoes into a food processor or blender, and purée until smooth.

Pour 4 tablespoons of the olive oil into a skillet, set it over medium heat, and strew the celery and onion in the pan. Cook and stir the vegetables for about 5 minutes, until they wilt and start to caramelize. (Rich says this took a lot longer than 5 minutes.)

Stir in the puréed tomatoes, season with the salt, and heat to a bubbling simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or so. As the tomatoes perk, peel and core the apples, and remove the seeds. Shred them, using the coarse holes of a shredder or grater.

When the tomatoes have cooked about 5 minutes, stir the apples into the sauce. Bring the skillet back to a simmer, and cook the sauce, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, stirring now and then, until it has reduced and thickened and the apple shreds are cooked and tender.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil, drop in the spaghetti, and cook until just al dente. Lift the spaghetti from the water, let drain for a moment, and drop it into the warm sauce. (Reheat if necessary.)

Toss the pasta with the sauce for a minute or two, until all the strands are coated and perfectly al dente. Turn off the heat, sprinkle the grated cheese over the pasta, and toss well. Drizzle over it the remaining olive oil, toss once again, and heap the pasta in warm bowls. Serve immediately, passing more cheese at the table.

Letting Go

I believe in leftovers and packing lunch, which means I have a cupboard that is jammed with Tupperware, Gladware, and well-washed yogurt containers. About once a year I sit on the floor of the kitchen and empty it out, marry each container with its lid, purge singletons, and neatly stack all parts back on the shelves. Things remain tidy for about three weeks, but before long, plastic containers throw themselves to the floor when I open the cupboard door.

We’ve had one container in particular that’s been in our collection for years. It’s a huge yellow tub that once held peanut butter, and, until recently, served as the perfect vessel for our homemade ice creams. Whenever we’d whip up a batch of peach basil, or maybe some Turkish Delight, I knew I could count on the plastic tub to be just the right size for our new flavor. Until last week, that is.

Last week was our friends’ 7th annual beer and cheese party. Last year Rich and I went local, bringing both beer and cheddar that was made nearby. I simmered up a pear chutney to keep things interesting, and it went over very well. This year, due to the impending birth of the hosts’ second child, the party was moved up from the fall to August, which meant a pear chutney was out of the question. To keep things interesting, we didn’t bring a cheese, but homemade cheese crackers, which we paired with a selection of local German-style lagers by Jack’s Abby brewery in Framingham. The crackers are a Melissa Clark recipe (I know, I know, what can I say, I just can’t quit her), and they taste like a healthy Cheez-it, or a Goldfish cracker you wouldn’t mind feeding your little one. The hostess noted they were a bit like a whole wheat shortbread.

The crackers went over well, but we left the party early for a dinner party. Not all the crackers had been eaten when it was time for us to leave, so Rich left the container on the table and walked away. Which container? My beloved yellow tub. I didn’t realize until we were about 10 minutes from the party that we’d left it behind. “My container!” I whelped. “Let it go,” Rich said. “But! But!” I responded. “Let it go. Just let it go.”

Healthy Homemade Cheddar Crisps from In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite by Melissa Clark

We actually used a combo of leftover cheese bits that were in the fridge: fontina, cheddar and Parm. I say use whatever cheese or cheeses you have that you’d like. It’s your palate, after all.

Ingredients

1 cup whole wheat flour

¼ teaspoon baking powder

4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

½ teaspoon kosher salt

Pinch cayenne (optional)

1 ½ cup (6 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese

Directions

In a small bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. In a food processor or electric mixer with a paddle attachment, mix the butter, salt and cayenne until creamy. Add 1 cup (4 ounces) of the cheese and mix until thoroughly combined. Gradually add the flour mixture and run the food processor or beat with the paddle until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and starts to form a ball, about 7 minutes. Wrap the dough in plastic, and roll into a log about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour or up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350F and line two sheet pans with parchment. Unwrap the log of dough and slice into rounds 3/16 inch thick. Arrange the rounds on the prepared baking sheets and place a generous pinch of the remaining ½ cup cheese on each cracker. Bake until the crackers are golden brown, about 12 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the crackers to crisp for an additional 5 minutes. Transfer the crackers to a wire rack to cool.

Clark points out that you can also place the dough between 2 sheets of plastic and roll into a rectangle 1/8 inch thick. Using a small (1 ½-to 2-inch) heart-or-fish-shaped cookie cutter, cut out the crackers and place them on the prepared sheet pans. Press the remaining scraps of dough together, reroll, and cut out additional crackers, then bake as directed.