Purple Balloons and Pickled Onions

And then in a blink of an eye, my baby turned two! For Beatrix Louise’s second birthday party we filled the playroom with two dozen purple balloons to match the purple balloons on the invitation, and set up tables topped with play dough and oodles of stickers. I served the kids pizza and a massive pot of boxed macaroni and cheese.

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My father came in from Jerusalem to see his grandchildren. So, in addition to Bea’s friends and family, we also had over some of our older relatives, including Aunt Sydney, who I’ve mentioned is basically our grande doyenne when it comes to food. Although my cousins assured me I could definitely serve her pizza, I took this as an opportunity to make a spread worthy of a small bat mitzvah. We had:

It was from his weekly column in The Guardian; this one focused on quick pickled onions. I actually didn’t use his pickled onion recipe – I love my own too much to cheat on it – but followed the rest of his recipe, coated with allspice and sugar, roasted, and topped with cilantro lime salsa and goat cheese. I kept the almonds on the side, as per Aleza and Sylvie’s suggestion. Nut allergies are no joke.

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The amount of cilantro salsa is small, and he recommends doing it in a spice grinder. My own grinder – a coffee grinder I picked up for $15 at Ocean State Job Lot years ago – is used so much for cumin that it reeks of the spice. To clean it, I used a trick I just read about (but can’t for the life of me remember where): grind up a piece of bread. And it worked!

For dessert we made a Princess Leia cake, per the birthday girl’s request, plus the frozen banana peanut butter pie, and Needhams, a chocolate-coconut treat from Maine that’s a little bit like a Mounds Bar. But that’s another recipe for another day. Definitely before the third birthday!

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Roast sweet potatoes with pickled onions, coriander and goat’s cheese

Ingredients

Pickled Onions
2 tsp sugar
Salt and black pepper
5-6 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into roughly 5cm x 3cm chunks
1/3 cup olive oil
½ tsp ground allspice
¼ cup cilantro leaves
¾ cup soft mild rindless goat’s cheese, broken into rough 2cm pieces
1/3 cup roasted salted almonds, coarsely chopped

Directions

Heat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. In a large bowl, combine the sweet potatoes with three tablespoons of oil, the allspice, the two teaspoons of sugar, half a teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper. Transfer to a large oven tray lined with parchment paper, and make sure the sweet potato chunks are spaced apart. Roast for 20 minutes, until crisp and golden-brown, then toss in any oil left on the tray and leave to cool.

While the sweet potatoes are cooking, blitz the coriander [cilantro], grated lime zest, the remaining three tablespoons of oil and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt to a smooth, bright green salsa. Use a spice grinder to do this (don’t use a food processor – the quantities involved are too small); if you don’t have one, very finely chop the coriander and mix the salsa by hand.

Once the sweet potatoes have cooled, arrange them on a platter and dot evenly with the pieces of cheese. Drain the pickled onions, and scatter on top. Finish with a drizzle of salsa and a sprinkle of almonds.

 

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Salt of the Earth

Lately I’ve been appreciating my college classmates. They are all such good people. If they’re a lawyer, chances are it’s at Legal Aid. If they’re a therapist, they dropped everything and moved to New Orleans to counsel child Katrina victims. Heck, even my horrible ex-boyfriend of whom I have nothing kind to say about has somehow ended up working at Habitat for Humanity for years.

tacos

I have been thinking about this because a few weeks ago, a classmate of mine was killed in a car crash in Baltimore. Her name was Neely, and she was one of the best out of a group of wonderful classmates. She had devoted her career to informal Jewish education, including founding an LGBT program for Jewish teens in Baltimore.  She leaves behind her husband – another classmate of ours who’s now a rabbi – and three little girls.

I went to Seminary for college. We also attended secular university and learned words like hegemony and read The Iliad. But mostly, it was Seminary, so yes, I also have classmates who are now rabbis, Jewish camp directors and teachers. With everyone earning two degrees – some days started with Hebrew at 7:45AM and didn’t end til Music Humanities at 9PM – we weren’t on a meal plan. We had kitchens and cooked all our own meals. So when my college friends Carly and Mike (now married) came for a visit last week, Carly remarked, as I greeted her wearing an apron, that it seemed like not much had changed at all.

corn and mushroom and fixins

I was hosting during my first week back to work, so I wanted to make it really easy on myself. I served fish and vegetarian tacos. Whenever we have fish tacos it’s always the right choice, and they’re not a ton of work, either. The vegetarian tacos were a recipe from Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes & Customs for Today’s Kitchen by Leah Koenig, given to me by my dad this past birthday. I’d had my eye on it, and had really come to enjoy Leah’s recipes found in many publications. It’s actually really strange that I don’t know her, as we have nearly 20 friends in common on Facebook, and a couple of her recipe testers for this cookbook are good, good friends of ours. People who show up on my blog are good friends with her.

As with most cookbooks, I’ve stuck to the vegetable recipes. I enjoyed the miso roasted asparagus back in April, as well as the garlic marinated zucchini and the roasted broccoli with shallots and lemon. I am strongly considering the potato leek kugel for Rosh Hashana. I also have my eye on the black bean and sweet potato chili. Some of her recipes are inspired by the cuisine of the Roman Jewish community, and she helpfully labels dishes for Shabbat dinner, Rosh Hashana and other holidays.

fish taco fixins

The vegetarian tacos in question comprised balsamic roasted mushrooms and corn, which could be a great side dish but served as a main dish when I followed Leah’s suggestion to wrap it in a warm tortilla and top it with “a little grated cheese, fresh baby spinach and sliced avocado.”

Dinner was delicious, but Lilli seemed a little off during the meal. Rich took her temperature and found she’d spiked a fever. As I flitted about, taking care of Bea, Mike and Carly silently got up and cleared the table. Mike stood and washed every single dish and pot and pan and loaded the dishwasher as Carly rummaged in my Tupperware cabinet and put away leftovers. She also offered to fold any laundry if I needed any help. We ended the meal with treats from Mike’s Pastry, which they’d picked up in Harvard Square.

Like I said, I went to college with great people.

Balsamic-Roasted Mushrooms and Corn from Modern Jewish Cooking by Leah Koenig

Leah compares the partnership of balsamic vinegar and cremini mushrooms to the one of peas and carrots: They just work well together. I love that they use fresh late summer corn. “Earthy and deeply flavored, with a hint of sweetness from the honey and roasted red onion, this dish makes a great side for steak, chicken or tofu.” Or, as I mentioned earlier, do as we did, and wrap it in a warm tortilla and top it with a little grated cheese, fresh baby spinach, and sliced avocado.

Although Leah has you drizzle the balsamic mixture on top of the vegetables, as written here, I just tossed everything in an enormous mixing bowl with my hands.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

1/3 cup/80ml balsamic vinegar

1/3 cup/80ml soy sauce or tamari

1/3 cup/80ml extra-virgin olive oil

2 Tablespoons honey

4 garlic cloves, minced or pushed through a press

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 ½ lb/680 g cremini mushrooms, stemmed and halved or quartered (if large)

2 small red onions, halved through the root and cut into ¼-in/6mm slices

2 ears sweet corn, kernels removed, or 1 ¼ cups/205 g thawed frozen corn kernels

Freshly ground black pepper

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh mint or flat-leaf parsley (I skipped both these herbs, given the components of the rest of the meal)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400F/200C and line two large rimmed baking sheets with aluminum foil.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, soy sauce, olive oil, honey, garlic and cayenne.

Divide the mushrooms, onions, and corn evenly between the prepared baking sheets. Drizzle each vegetable mixture with half of the vinegar mixture and gently toss with tongs to coat. Season with pepper. Roast, stirring once, until soft and tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Using tongs (I used a slotted spoon) transfer the vegetables to a serving platter or bowl; pour over 1 to 2 tablespoons of the cooking liquid and discard the rest. While still warm, toss with the mint and serve.

Notes on our fish tacos

The reason this is such a fast weeknight meal is because all of the ingredients pull together quickly and can also be made beforehand.

Shredded cabbage

Thin discs of radish

Sprigs of cilantro

Pickled onions from Ultimate Nachos by Lee Frank & Rachel Anderson

And crema, also from Ultimate Nachos – I halved the entire recipes

Basic Crema

1 cup sour cream

1 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon salt

In a small bowl, mix all of the ingredients together.

Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit at room temperature for about 1 hour.

If not using right away, keep the crema covered and store in the refrigerator. Crema will keep for as long as the expiration dates stated on the back of the sour cream and heavy cream. Before using it, bring the crema back to room temperature.

I actually  have a trick for the fish which works reasonably well. I grab a few frozen fillets of cod from Costco that I keep on hand, fill a sided pan with water, and poach the frozen fish in the pan for about 10 minutes. Because you’re going to be shredding the fish, it doesn’t have to be pretty at all. Remove the fish using a slotted spoon.

To serve, place fish, shredded cabbage, radish discs, pickled onion, drizzled with crema and sprigs of cilantro in a small tortilla. If you have limes, slice and serve on the side.