Easy Peasy

that's my girl!

It’s CSA season again, and while I love getting my produce straight from the farmer, this year I have come to appreciate the best feature of getting my week’s veggies in one box: I don’t have to schlep baby to go grocery shopping. No car seat, no stroller, no grocery bags hanging from the stroller handle by a Mommy Hook, no figuring out how to fit baby and produce into our tiny car. Easy peasy.

Convenience and time saving also led me to bite the bullet and buy a new food processor this week. I use my food processors a lot in tandem with the CSA. I used my mini one to whirl up the caper and anchovy dressing for my radish and white bean salad. I used my 12-year-old Black & Decker to whip up a romesco sauce to go with grilled spring onions, a Catalonian classic I got from Garum Factory.

make this. right now.

Unfortunately, the Black & Decker is still missing the spindle for the slicing and grating blades. I’ve made do for a while, but this week, when I found myself standing at my counter, grating the potatoes and zucchini for these latke waffles my friend Cara invented, I’d had enough. And so, using an Amazon gift card JewishBoston gave me a gift card for a job well done, I bought an 11-cup Cuisinart food processor. It even has a dough setting! It’s shiny and pretty and now lives on my counter.

And so, armed with my new toy, I took on this Ottolenghi recipe, which is the best thing I’ve ever done with fresh peas. (I’m sure it will be excellent with frozen peas in the winter, as well.) He explains this recipe was inspired by the Palestinian classic shishbarak – ravioli-like dumplings stuff with meat, topped with a hot yogurt sauce.

Unfortunately, fancy as it is, my new device doesn’t have a “shell peas” setting, so took a looong time to shell two pounds of fresh peas. At least I was able to do that at the table with Lilli. It will be awhile before Lilli can shell anything; for now she’s working on petting the cat.

Lilli and Rooster

Minus the pea shelling, this recipe came together in less than 20 minutes, including waiting for the pasta water to boil. Mark this another one for working parents, and people who are short on time in general.

Even though his recipes are generally perfection, I did change a few things. I substituted pistachios for the pine nuts, only because I couldn’t find any pine nuts in the house. It worked out great. To save time, I cooked the peas in the same water I used for the pasta. Ottolenghi calls for conchiglie, which are shells, but I had fusilli in the house, so that was that. And, just to be clear, use Aleppo pepper when he calls for a Syrian pepper. The two pounds of peas became 14 ounces post-shelling, which I decided that was close enough to the one pound this recipe calls for.

Fusilli (or shells, or bow ties) with yogurt, peas and chile from Yottam Ottohlenghi’s Jerusalem

Ingredients

2 ½ cups/ 500 grams Greek yogurt

2/3 cup/ 150 ml olive oil

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 lb/500 g fresh or thawed frozen peas

Scant ½ cup/ 60 g shelled pistachios (or pine nuts in the original recipe)

1 lb/500 g pasta shells, bowties or fusilli

2 tsp. Aleppo pepper

1 2/3 cups/40 g basil leaves, coarsely torn

8 oz/240 g feta cheese, broken into chunks

Salt and white pepper

Directions

Put a large pot of water, salted heavily, on to boil.

Put the yogurt, 6 tablespoons/90 ml of the olive oil, the garlic, and 2/3 cup/100 g of the peas in a food processor. Blitz to a uniform pale green sauce and transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Cook the pasta until al dente. As the pasta cooks, heat the remaining olive oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the nuts and Aleppo pepper and fry for 4 minutes, until the oil is deep red. (If you are using pine nuts, the nuts will be golden.) When your pasta has 5 minutes left of cooking, add the rest of the peas to the water.

Drain the cooked pasta and peas into a colander, shake well to get rid of the water, and add the pasta and cooked peas gradually to the yogurt sauce; add it all at once may cause the yogurt to split. Add the basil, feta, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon white pepper. Toss gently, transfer to individual bowls, and spoon the nuts and their oil.

Serves 6.

Mac(abee) and Cheese

I am completely at ease with my age. I am not at all embarrassed to admit I just skipped my 15 year high school reunion. ($30 a ticket when Facebook is free? Pfft!) I’ll admit, it’s weird to remember things from 25 years ago so easily, but as Aleza pointed out last week, it’s pretty neat to remember history and be a part of it at the same time.

My body, however, is a different story. Things creak and crack, weight seems extremely easy to gain and much harder to lose. Last week when I bent down to pick up a boot, I pulled something in my back. I spent the work week Googling words like “lumbar support” and “yogic stretches at a desk.” I rode my bike some days, but didn’t want to push it too hard. Thursday night, after I stood by the stove frying celery root and carrot latkes, and stirring my butter and flour to make a roux for my chipotle mac and cheese, I felt it a few hours later when I was whimpering in pain at 1AM. I needed a heating pad after yesterday’s hard wooden pew at Christmas Mass, and I’m writing this not from my usual perch on the red couch, but in a chair with my own personal heating pad.

I honestly didn’t even know if I’d get up a post this week, but someone wrote me saying that she’d never fried a latke before and was surprised I didn’t have a recipe posted on Cheap Beets. Not one to leave anyone in a food-related lurch, I immediately e-mailed her my favorite go-to potato latke recipe. But I’m so mortified I’d let that important food detail slip, that I’m offering up two holiday-related recipes as penitence.

The first, a latke fried in oil, is to remind us of the miracle of the menorah. Briefly, in the 2nd century BCE, the tyrannical Greek King of Syria, Antiochus, outlawed Judaism and took over the Holy Temple of Jerusalem. A Jewish rebellion ensued, led by the Maccabees, and against all odds, the Jews reclaimed the Temple from the Greeks. The Jews had to repair and purify the Temple, but they only had one night’s supply of oil for lighting their holy menorah. Miraculously, that small amount of oil burned for eight consecutive nights, giving them just enough time to replenish their olive oil supply.

For Eastern European Jews, the potato latke is the most common fried recipe. (Israeli Jews eat sufganiyot, fried jelly doughnuts.) Now, the latke I have for you is made not with potato but with celery root and carrot. My friend Russ, who likes to keep it real and old school for the holiday, always goes potato, but hear me out. First, potatoes are a soggy drag. You have to squeeze and squeeze all the excess water out, and you’re always left with a brown puddle at the bottom of your mixing bowl. Second, how old school is it, really? Potatoes are a New World vegetable, so it looks like the potato latke tradition is only a few hundred years old, at best.

I went with carrot and celery root because my co-worker’s wife gave us another of her CSA celery root rejects on Thursday morning and I thought they’d team well with some of the remaining CSA carrots I still had in the crisper. I paired those with a dollop of cilantro and garlic yogurt, because, well, why not?

The second dish I have is to celebrate a lesser-known, but possibly even more awesome Chanukah food: cheese. The custom of cheese for Chanukah dates back to the Middle Ages, when the Book of Judith played an important role in the Chanukah narrative. Judith was a celebrated Jewish heroine who saved her village from an invading Assyrian army. Judith, a beautiful widow, plied the Assyrian army’s general with wine and salty cheese. When the general passed out drunk, Judith beheaded him with his own sword. The Israelites launched a surprise attack on the leaderless Assyrian army and emerged victorious.

Sure, the tale is hidden in the Apocrypha, but I like celebrating a strong female leader – and cheese. I actually was able to use wine in this dish too, from the same small bottle I used for our stuffed pumpkin in the fall. (What can I say, we’re not big wine drinkers.) I add chipotle to mine, riffing off an episode of Gilmore Girls I once saw where Sookie cooked up a pan of jalapeno mac and cheese for a kid’s birthday party. The kids hated it, but I kind of sat up and went “oh?” And thus, chipotle mac and cheese was born.

Celery Root and Carrot Latkes

Ingredients

1 celery root, washed and peeled

2 medium-sized carrots, peeled

½ red onion

3 eggs

1/3 cup flour

¼ teaspoon cumin

Pinch of salt

Oil to fry

Directions

Shred, with a box grater or food processor, first three ingredients. Place into a large mixing bowl, and add the next four. Heat approximately 1/3 cup oil in a large skillet (I prefer a non-stick skillet, and actually have two going at the same time for this step.) Lower the flame and space out as many tablespoons of batter as you can fit without them touching. Fry on one side for approximately four minutes until golden brown. Turn over and fry on other side for three minutes. (Uncharacteristically, I actually employ a timer for this task.)

Remove from pan and place on paper towels to drain excess oil. Continue with remaining batter, adding more oil when necessary.

Serve with the following yogurt.

Cilantro Yogurt

In a small bowl, mix together:

¾ cup Greek yogurt (I used whole-fat, but I know a reduced-fat would work well, considering all the flavor boosters in this sauce.)

½ cup chopped, fresh cilantro

1 small clove garlic, minced

Squeeze of lemon

2 teaspoons olive oil

Pinch of salt

I ended up with leftovers of this dip, and mixed it with some chickpeas I had in the fridge the next day for lunch. It was terrific.

Chipotle Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients

2 ¼ cups macaroni (really, any small pasta will work well for this)

¼ cup butter

½ cup flour

3 cups milk

½ cup dry white wine

10 oz. (1 ¼ cups) shredded cheddar cheese

1 chipotle in its adobe sauce, chopped

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350F. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package.

Meanwhile, gently melt the butter in a medium saucepan, add the flour and chipotle and cook, stirring, 1-2 minutes. (This brownish paste is called a roux, by the way.) Add the milk a little at a time, whisking vigorously after each addition. Stir in the white wine. Bring to boil. Cook, stirring continuously, until the sauce thickens, then remove from the heat.

Let's talk about the roux, just for a sec.

Add the ¾ of the cheese to the sauce. Stir well to mix in the cheeses, then taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary.

Add your well-drained pasta into the sauce, then pour everything into a 13”x9” or 2 quart baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve hot.

Ba-na-na-na

Last week, I bought bananas. As a general rule, I don’t buy the yellow fruit. I used to buy them for Rich so he could enjoy them with his bowl of cereal in the morning, but at some point last year he let me know that he actually doesn’t care much for them. I like them well enough, but it really does bother me to eat a piece of food that’s traveled such a long distance to get to me. You know how I am about even the delicious mango. And then there’s the socio-economic issues: low wages and heavy chemical use in the industry, to say nothing of the history monopolies, colonialism and union busting. (If you’re interested in learning more about it, Peter Chapman wrote a very good book about the history of the United Fruit Company, the largest banana supplier in the world.) And don’t even get me started on the waning Cavendish.

But last week was my mom’s birthday, and this past summer I discovered a banana bread she absolutely adores. She, like me and my sister, doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth; we’re much happier eating baba ghanoush on challah for breakfast than challah French toast. So when I took my parents to Flour bakery for a little snack after a visit to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum over the summer, Mom ordered the banana bread, noting it was one of her favorite baked goods — sweet but not too sweet, moist and soft but still sturdy. And she loved it, proclaiming it the best banana bread she’d ever had. A perfect afternoon snack, — or, in my mom’s case, a perfect birthday cake.

So on Sunday, I bought yellow bananas. I set them on the counter until they ripened to mottled, baked-good-worthy status by Wednesday night, just in time to make the bread and mail it for Mom’s birthday on Monday.

This recipe calls for a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. I had two slightly smaller sized loaf pans, so I filled one pan about ¾ high, and baked the leftover ¼ in the other loaf pan for us to munch on. Side by side, they reminded me of the movie Twins; mom got the Arnold loaf and we kept Danny DeVito to munch on.

Although the recipe calls for two tablespoons of sour cream or crème fraîche, I used Greek yogurt instead. I toasted the nuts for about 8 minutes in my toaster oven set at 350 degrees. Keep an eye on the nuts as they go from perfectly toasted to burnt in a matter of 30 seconds.

Special note: My friend Tania tipped me off to these equal exchange bananas so I don’t have to fret about my bananas when I do buy them.

Flour’s Famous Banana Bread from Joanne Chang’sflour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe

Makes one 9-inch loaf

Ingredients

1 ½ cups (210 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons (230 grams) sugar

2 eggs

½ cup (100 grams) canola oil

3 ½ very ripe, medium bananas, peeled and mashed (1 1/3 cups mashed/about 340 grams)

2 Tablespoons crème fraîche or sour cream (I used Greek yogurt and had no ill-effects)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¾ cup (75 grams) walnut halves, toasted and chopped

Directions

Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.

In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment (or a handheld mixer), beat together the sugar and eggs on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. (If you use a handheld mixer, this same step will take about 8 minutes.)

On a low speed, slowly drizzle in the oil. Don’t pour the oil in all at once. Add it slowly so it has time to incorporate into the eggs and doesn’t deflate the air you have just beaten into the batter. Adding it should take about 1 minute. Add the bananas, crème fraîche, and vanilla and continue to mix on low speed just until combined.

Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture and the nuts just until thoroughly combined. No flour streaks should be visible, and the nuts should be evenly distributed. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top.

Bake for 1 to 1 ¼ hours, or until golden brown on top and the center springs back when you press it. If your finger sinks when you poke the bread, it needs to bake a little longer. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes, and then pop it out of the pan to finish cooling.

The banana bread can be stored tightly wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 3 days. Or, it can be well wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to 2 weeks; thaw overnight at room temperature for serving.

Breakfast of Champions

kosher vegetarianI am not a breakfast food person. Not that I don’t eat breakfast — it is, of course, the most important meal of the day. But I am not one for cereal, omelettes, waffles or pancakes. Today I had leftovers from last night, tamari and mirin roasted vegetables on top of soba noodles. Yesterday was eggplant salad with a side of pita and hummus. My stepdad used to come down the stairs in the morning, spy the food on the plate in front of me and exclaim, “Soup, it’s not just for breakfast anymore!”

I’ve tried, really, I have. This past June, when Whole Foods put large containers of Fage yogurt on sale, I thought it was the perfect opportunity for me to get more into breakfast. I’ll have some in the morning with a teaspoon or two of jam, maybe a nice bit of honey swirled in, I told myself. After taking a look at the expiration date – all the way in August! – I bought several containers, assuring myself that this would be the perfect way to start my breakfast quest.

Well, it didn’t work. The yogurt got eaten, all right, just not for breakfast. I used it in Ana Sortun’s beet tzaziki (I’ll post the recipe soon, Scout’s Honor), to cool down curries and dress up dressings. And then there were these paletas.

This is a riff on another one of Fany Gerson’s ice pops. She makes hers with blackberries; I thought this was the perfect opportunity to use the pint of blueberries from my CSA. She suggests using the berries whole, or, if they are too big (a problem I can’t possibly imagine) to slice them in half. I tried her method but soon discovered the pop stick could not be inserted properly. Instead, I used the blender to whirl it all together.

A lovely byproduct of making the lemon simple syrup for this dish is candied lemon peel. As I munched on mine, I pondered what other things would be nice candied. More on that one in a later post, I hope.

And if you ask me, these would make a perfectly suitable breakfast.

Yogurt Blueberry Ice Pops – adapted from Fany Gerson’s Paletas

1 lemon

½ cup water

½ cup sugar

1 ½ cups plain unsweetened Greek-style yogurt

2 Tablespoons honey

2 cups fresh blueberries

Directions

Rinse the lemon, then peel it. (This recipe uses only the peel, so save the lemon for a different use.) Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil and the sugar has dissolved. Add the lemon peel, lower the heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. Strain the syrup through a fine-mesh sieve, then refrigerate until chilled.

Put the yogurt and honey in a blender, add the chilled syrup and blend to combine.

Put the berries in the blender and whirl.

Pour the mixture into the molds.

If using conventional molds, snap on the lid and freeze until solid, 3 to 4 hours. If using glasses or other unconventional molds, freeze until the pops are beginning to set (45 minutes to 1 hour), then insert the sticks and freeze until solid, 3 to 4 hours.