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.

 

 

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.

 

Spring Cleaning

The door of my fridge is home to at least two dozen condiments: Heinz ketchup, Hellman’s mayo, grainy mustard, soy sauce, sesame oil, sauerkraut, pickled sugar snap peas, sriracha, ghee, olives, Branston pickle, tamarind paste, and more. (Truth be told, the ketchup and mayo are the least used and are more on-hand for guests.) Six weeks ago I counted no less than three separate jars of capers.

This past weekend I added to the collection working on a review of a healthy Passover cookbook for Jewish Boston.com. One recipe I tested called for two tablespoons of light sour cream, and a second recipe called for ¼ cup of apricot jam. Having neither of these products in my kitchen meant I had to pick them up, and so onto the fridge door they went. This is usually not a problem, and in the big picture it really isn’t, but Passover is two weeks away and I have same major purging to do.

We’ve also been working our way through the flours and grains in the pantry as best we can. The whole wheat and saffron waffles from Maria Speck’s Ancient Grains for Modern Meals cookbookwere glorious but barely put a dent in the flour. It was pretty clear by Sunday morning my fate would involve a day of baking, and so, with a very pleasurable Prairie Home Companion that kind of made me miss New York City in the background, I got to work.

I found an apricot bar recipe from my ancient Common Ground Dessert Cookbookthat called for whole wheat flour, oats and maple syrup. Instead of making the apricot jam by soaking dried apricots the way these granola bars had me do, I took the liberty of using most of the new apricot jam for the filling. But I’d feel so lame if I gave you a granola bar recipe so soon after that one, like in November when I shared Jacque’s Pepin’s apple galette, Joanne Chang’s pear and cranberry crostata and then my own take on the pastry. (And don’t even mention the dueling banana breads.)

Coffee cake was a natural first use for the sour cream, but then I found this recipe for sour cream spice cake. The cookbook included a “sweet tip”: “This cake is tasty with a little warm apricot or cherry jam. Some have been known to eat it toasted and spread with butter.” Sold.

The recipe is from a cookbook written by two local women – sisters, actually. Marilyn and Sheila Brass live in Cambridge and wrote this cookbook a few years ago. They both worked at WGBH when Rich was there, and he was lucky enough to enjoy their goodies as they tweaked the recipes they’d written and other ones they’d discovered in family journals and were testing. The station also produced a really lovely cooking show with the sisters where the viewer journeyed with them to their local butcher, cheese monger, and into their kitchen and dining room.

Whenever I think about this cookbook, I always smile at the memory of one very stressful time during the layoff. As I left for work one morning, I asked Rich if he could find a zucchini bread recipe in one of my cookbooks, in hopes of saving the three squash in the fridge. I came home to find a very proud Rich putting the final glaze on a Mexican Devil’s Food Cake with Butter-Fried Pine Nuts. (Yes, there was a half pound of zucchini in there, too.) Not at all what I was expecting, but was surprised and delighted with the offering. Never a slacker, my husband, even when he was without a job.

According to the sisters, this recipe is from the 1950s and was “a favorite of The Harmony Club, the select group of women from the Sisterhood at Temple Tiferith Abraham who made up their mother’s bridge group. The twelve women met frequently to play bridge, lend each other support, and go on educational field trips. Unfortunately, The Harmony Club later broke up because the members couldn’t get along!”

Sour Cream Spice Cake from Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters

Ingredients

2 cups flour, divided

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup raisins

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup sour cream

Directions

Set the oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line the bottom and ends of a 9-inch by 5-inch by 3-inch loaf pan with a single strip of wax paper. Coat the pan and wax paper liner with vegetable spray. Dust pan with flour and tap out the excess.

Sift together 1 ¾ cups of the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and baking soda. Toss remaining ¼ cup flour with raisins.

Place butter and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream until soft and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and mix well. Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with sour cream. Fold in raisins.

Pour batter into loaf pan. Bake approximately 1 hour, or until tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Cool on a rack 20 minutes before removing from pan. Store loosely covered with wax paper in the refrigerator.

Worth the Wait

Writing this blog, I sometimes feels like an air traffic controller: clearing some recipes I like for a safe landing, putting others in a holding pattern while I tinker with them, and turning away others altogether. I sift through magazines, cookbooks, food blogs and the hundreds of recipes that are emailed to me in hopes to bring you something good. Sometimes I can’t tell by reading it if it’s going to work, and the only thing to do is to give it a shot. I can report that celery root and vanilla soup tastes as peculiar as it sounds, so I’ll spare you that one.

I try to keep my recipes seasonal, meaning sometimes I’ll have to flag recipes and remember them months later. That’s what happened with this recipe for spiced kumquats, which I came across in November when I reviewed The New Complete International Jewish Cookbook for JewishBoston.com. The recipe I tested at the time, a butternut squash soup with lime and ginger, was very good, but I had to, had to, bookmark a recipe that described the unpeeled fruit as becoming “translucent and tender. The flavour is superb.”

This particular cookbook is 632 pages long, and I read every word of it. This was the only time the author described a dish as “superb.” So I bookmarked the recipe for December, when kumquats would be everywhere, and made the recipe then, and stuck the jar in the back of my fridge and let the spicing begin.

Turns out Ms. Rose was correct; the flavour is indeed superb. In this instance, I navigated and translated this British recipe. Since most American spice cabinets don’t have mace, I learned that nutmeg is grown on the same tree as mace, and have substituted a few scrapes of it instead.

Spiced Kumquats from The New Complete International Jewish Cookbook by Evelyn Rose

This recipe halves beautifully.

You need to make this at least 3 weeks before serving, and they keep in the fridge for at least 3 months.

Ingredients 

2 lb. fresh kumquats

2 1/2 cups sugar

1 stick cinnamon

6 cloves

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

2 cardamom pods

1 cup cider vinegar
Directions

Place the kumquats in a saucepan, barely cover with water and simmer covered for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, dissolve the sugar with the spices in the vinegar. Bring to boil and cook for 5 minutes.

Drain the kumquats and reserve the cooking liquid. Place them in the spiced syrup and, if necessary, add some of the reserved liquid so that the fruit is barely covered. Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave uncovered for 24 hours, turning in the syrup once or twice.

The next day bring it back to a boil, drain the fruit and pack in jars prepped for jamming. Bring the syrup back to boil and boil it hard to thicken slightly. Pour over the kumquats with the spices. Cover and refrigerate.

Off The Chain

In July, as I was savoring peaches whose juices dripped down my wrist and fresh corn on the cob that required a good flossing after munching, I started wishing it was October. It was in July that I found a recipe in Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with A Good Appetitefor a pumpkin whose empty shell had been thoughtfully stuffed with alternating layers of toasted baguette, Gruyère, and a sauce of heavy cream and white wine steeped with sage and nutmeg. “I found this recipe,” I would say to Rich, my sister, friends, the cat – really, anyone in ear shot — “that is going to be off the chain. Off. The. Chain.”

Well, it’s finally October, which means some of the best foods of the whole year – butternut squash, beets, arugula, cauliflower and, wait for it, pumpkins – have started to appear at markets and in CSA boxes around town.  Two weeks ago, my weekly CSA list noted an inclusion of a sugar pumpkin, which meant I was this close to fulfilling my stuffed pumpkin dream.

When I arrived at the student union for my usual Thursday pick up, there was a new girl checking off names. It was obvious there was no pumpkin in my box, and, even more frustrating, there was an enormous pile of sugar pumpkins on display right next to her. Rather than putting her on the spot, I thanked her for my pumpkinless box and brought it back to my office. Naturally, the only thing to do was call the farm and see how I could go about getting my rightful pumpkin at the next week’s pickup. They were totally cool about it; apparently I was the only person who either did not get their promised pumpkin – or who was crazy enough to actually call them about it. “There’s a pumpkin shortage this year!” I tried to explain to Rich.

Well, this week I received my promised pumpkin, as well as a new pumpkin in my box. So now, I can either make this dish twice, or use the second one for a terrific pumpkin pudding recipe I stumbled upon last year around this time.

Friday night we finally had the pumpkin of my dreams. It was everything I hoped it would be: the perfect combination of softened sweet squash mixed with the savory notes of the cheese, cream and sage. It may have been one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, and I eat a lot. Our dinner guest thought the pumpkin tasted like pumpkin pizza, minus the sauce.  He suggested rather than me choosing between making this recipe a second time or making the pumpkin pudding, that I should go and find more pumpkins and make this again and again. Like I said: Off. The. Chain.

Given the cost of the Gruyère, I wouldn’t break the bank on a good one. Trader Joe’s carries reasonably priced cheeses. We’re not really big wine drinkers; lucky for us, the liquor store now carries teensy little bottles of wine.  Mine cost $1.99, and I am pretty sure I can get three more pumpkins out of it. My point is: don’t break out the good stuff for this dish. We’re lucky enough to have a sage bush growing in front of our house; please feel free to stop by and pluck some leaves if that’s the only thing stopping you from making this dish.

Cheesy Baked Pumpkin with Gruyère Fondue from Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite

I think I’m a little late to the Melissa Clark fan club, as she has written and co-written dozens of cookbooks. In the Kitchen is how I imagine a good cookbook to be: excellent writing and tales followed by superb recipes. I had this book for less than five hours when I decided that we needed to have the baked flounder and eggs for dinner that night. Clark actually suggests it as a breakfast, which sounds amazing to me. And I’ve made her green goddess dressing three days in a row. She has a new book out this week, and I cannot wait to get my hands on it.

Ingredients

6 (1-inch) slices baguette

½ cup heavy cream

½ cup dry white wine

¼ cup milk

1 large garlic clove, peeled and smashed

3 fresh sage leaves

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 (3-4 pound) sugar pumpkin, well-scrubbed

5 ounces grated Gruyère cheese (1 ¼ cups)

1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

•           Preheat oven to 425. Cut the baguette slices in half lengthwise and place on a baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes.

•           In a medium saucepan, bring the cream, wine, milk, garlic, and sage to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Take the mixture off the heat and discard the garlic and sage. Stir in ½ teaspoon of salt, the nutmeg, and the pepper.

•           Cut the top off the pumpkin and scoop out the pulp and seeds. (If you want to toast your own pumpkin seeds, and I always do, see the Note below.) Set the pumpkin in a baking dish. Place a layer of bread in the bottom, followed by a layer of the cheese. Poor in a third of the cream mixture. Repeat for 2 more layers and replace the pumpkin lid. Using your fingers, rub the oil all over the outside of the pumpkin and sprinkle on additional salt.

•           Bake the pumpkin until the skin blisters and the flesh is fork-tender, about 1 ¼ hours. Allow to cool in the pan slightly, then slice to serve.

NOTE: I saw this method for toasting squash seeds on Jody Adams and her husband’s new blog The Garum Factory. Like everything Jody does involving food, it’s pretty much perfect.

BONUS TOASTED PUMPKIN SEEDS RECIPE FROM THE GARUM FACTORY: Put the mass of pumpkin pulp and seeds in a large bowl and fill it three-quarters full with water. Work the pulp with your fingers to release the seeds from the fibers. The seeds will float. Skim the seeds and spread them on a sheet pan. Bake in the oven for 3-4 minutes or until dry. Remove the tray from the oven, drizzle a Tablespoon of oil over them, then season with salt, smoked paprika and a pinch of sugar. Smear everything about, then return the pan to the oven. Roast until the seeds are golden brown and crisp, about 8 more minutes.   Use as a garnish, or eat like popcorn with a great beer.

Bonus Cat Photo

The Last Hurrah

Rich heard the clanging and crashing from the back room and came running. My guess is he was worried that a plate had fallen to the floor, or maybe a pot had slipped from its hook off the rack on the wall. The noise turned out to be the sound of a serving spoon scraping the last bits of the buttermilk dressing off the serving dish directly into my mouth.

“Oof. Yuuwersppdtuseethif,” I said by way of explanation. (For those of you who don’t ordinarily deal with people talking with serving spoons and platters in their mouths, what I said was “Oops. You weren’t supposed to see this.”) I swallowed, licked the spoon, and put the dish back on the table.

I couldn’t help myself. Really, I couldn’t. I saw this dinner as a final farewell for my tomatoes and peaches. Sure, I knew there’d be a few more to come in next week’s CSA box, but something had happened overnight in Boston. As soon as we’d turned the page on Labor Day, the sky grew dark, the temperature dropped about 20 degrees, and a near-constant rain started to fall. Summer, the clouds seemed to say, is definitely over.  All I had left to remind me of the season were some ripe tomatoes and peaches. These needed to be treated with utmost respect; something special for their last hurrah.

I’m not sure if it was the storm or a dream, but the night before I sat straight up in bed and whispered “buttermilk,” which had taken on a kind of reverence that perhaps someone’s childhood sled name whispered by a fireside might. The thought of buttermilk haunted me the next day, its creaminess, its twang. I wanted it to bathe my tomatoes in it. And, if I was lucky and found the right recipe, my peaches could enjoy a buttermilk treatment as well.

I found the dressing recipe I was looking for via Deb, who found hers via Gourmet. I changed mine up a little bit, using a summer sweet Vidalia onion instead of a shallot. I have leftovers of the dressing, and I plan on drizzling it on top of every vegetable in my crisper, then perhaps going out to the market and buying a plain old head of iceberg lettuce to continue the dressing-fest.

The peach cake came via the food community Food52, which was founded by Amanda Hesser, a food writer for the New York Times, and Merrill Stubs, a freelance food writer and recipe tester. The site’s first project was a crowd-sourced cookbook, and this recipe was one of their first contests winners: You submit a recipe, readers vote, and each week the winning recipe makes it into a cookbook, hence the name Food52. I think the tasting notes on this one sum it up:

The cake is chock full of juicy summer peaches, and the addition of ground almonds sets it apart from other simple butter cakes. It’s luscious and a bit custardy in the areas surrounding the peaches — a texture that works when the cake is either warm or at room temperature. Don’t be alarmed if the batter seems to curdle when you add the buttermilk, as it will come together again once you mix in the dry ingredients.

If you’re on the fence about purchasing an entire bottle of buttermilk, add 1 teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of milk. In five minutes, you’ll have enough buttermilk for both these recipes.

Buttermilk Dressing

Ingredients

1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk

2 Tablespoons mayonnaise

2 Tablespoons cider vinegar

2 Tablespoons minced Vidalia onion

1 Tablespoon sugar

3 Tablespoons finely chopped chives

Directions

Whisk together buttermilk, mayonnaise, vinegar, onion, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl until sugar has dissolved, then whisk in chives.

Simple Summer Peach Cake

Ingredients

3 ripe peaches

3/4 teaspoons freshly ground nutmeg

1 cup sugar

6 Tablespoons softened unsalted butter

1 large egg

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup almond flour (or finely ground almonds)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Turbinado sugar

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan.

Cut the peaches into bite sized pieces. Toss the peaches with nutmeg and 2 tablespoons sugar. Set aside.

Cream together the butter and remaining sugar with a wooden spoon or spatula. Add the egg, buttermilk and extracts, and stir to combine.

Combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add this flour mixture to the butter mixture, mix until smooth (some lumps may remain). Pour into the prepared pan.

Press the peaches into the top of the cake. They can be nicely arranged, but it made more sense to cram as many peaches as possible into the cake. Sprinkle Turbinado sugar over the top.