The Middle

Wait a sec, where did July go? July is the cream in the center of the summer cookie, and it seems I’ve licked it clean. It’s been a tasty month, not to worry. July started with a few days up in York Harbor, Maine, at Sylvie’s in-laws, where we spent the mornings tag-teaming crossword puzzles, eating cherries, and vying for the best reading seats on the wraparound porch.

Mid-month, some friends went out of town, and we jumped at the chance to enjoy their CSA share for that week. I’m used to my share coming in a box, but theirs, through Red Fire Farms, is set up is like a mini-farmer’s market: you pick your own veggies to match the allotment for the week. The produce was really exquisite, and, as a Western Mass native, I was delighted to learn their farms are located in Granby and Montague. I advised the two women running the stand to make sure to get to Montague this summer, even if to take an afternoon off for lunch and a visit to The Book Mill.

So we started the month out of town and with an empty fridge and ended up with a bounty. Pounds of carrots filled my crispers, and beets and their thick green leaves poked out of my middle shelves whenever I opened the door. My cupboard barely shut with the piles of potatoes July was offering us. I panicked for just a second, not knowing what to do with all the vegetables. But then it dawned on me that I had all the ingredients for my very favorite beet salad, a salad, I realized with some embarrassment, that I had never shared on this blog.

Beet vinaigrette, along with Salad Olivier, is a Russian salad I enjoyed at my best friend’s house growing up. (Sure, she’s originally from Latvia, but this seems to be a catch-all Baltic dish. At some point I’ll get Salad Olivier up on the blog. Love that salad. Love it, love it.) The recipe I use, and the one my mom uses, is from Spice and Spirit cookbook, that purple cookbook with the perfect hamentashen dough recipe. The authors note that this salad is often served “as a side dish at a Kiddush” which makes sense because it’s a cold dish that can be made ahead or assembled from ingredients cooked before Shabbos.

Sure, boiling potatoes and cooking beets takes some time, but I prepped all the vegetables for this salad over a few days. Although the recipe calls for boiling the beets, potatoes and carrots all in one pot, a few days ago I grabbed the beets that were in the fridge, cut off the greens (and set them aside for some nice sautés with garlic, maybe some ginger) gave them a rinse, and placed them into a lasagna pan (something that had sides). I filled the pan with about a half inch of water, covered and sealed the entire pan with foil, and tossed it all in a 400 degree heated oven for an hour or so. I knew they were done when a fork easily slid in and out of them. When the beets were cooled down, I tossed them into a bowl, covered them, and put them in the fridge. For the past few days, I’ve grabbed a beet or two, run them under cold water which allowed their skin to easily slip away, and added them to salads and dishes. Couldn’t be easier.

Last night I peeled some potatoes and carrots and set them in a large pot of water that I brought to a boil as I sat and watched the Olympics in the other room. Again, couldn’t be easier. So even though the beets, carrots and potatoes had to be cooked beforehand, the actual assembling of this salad took just a minute or two. I have a friend whose Mom is Hungarian, and I’ve noticed that she tends to keep boiled potatoes on-hand in the fridge at all times. It really does make putting together a meal a snap.

Classic Beet Vinaigrette

The amount here is massive and can feed a dozen. Feel free to halve, or even quarter, this recipe. I also tend to always have red onion on-hand, so I usually sub that in for the scallions, making this a pretty dandy pantry recipe for the summer or winter.

Ingredients

8 medium potatoes

3 carrots

6 medium beets

4 scallions (or a quarter of a red onion)

3 sour pickles (I actually prefer dill in this recipe)

Dressing

1 Tablespoon salt

3 Tablespoons sugar

1/3 cup vinegar or lemon juice (I enjoy balsamic in this recipe)

¼ cup oil

¼ tsp. pepper

Directions

Scrub potatoes, carrots, and beets and place in a 4-quart pot. Cover vegetables with water and cook until soft. Potatoes and carrots will become tender before the beets. Remove them and continue to cook beets.

Let vegetables cool, and peel; cut potatoes and beets into cubes. Peel and dice carrots, scallions and pickles and then mix all vegetables together in a large mixing bowl.

Mix together dressing ingredients, add to vegetables and toss well. Potatoes will take on red appearance. Chill and serve.

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Pot of Gold

Call it kismet, call it destiny, call it Lady Luck, but there is something afoot in my kitchen. A few weeks back, as we were enjoying stuffed pumpkin at a Friday night dinner, I become just a tad wistful talking about my love of cholent, a stew prepped on Friday afternoon, put on a low-flame and cooked overnight so it’s ready the next day for Shabbat lunch. Alas, I lost my Crock-Pot sometime between moving from Harlem to Lower Allston. Such is life, I thought to myself, and helped myself to another piece of pumpkin.

The next day, I set out to take a walk down by the river to watch some of the Head of Charles (read: to eat free food samples down by the river). As I weaved my way through my neighborhood, I stumbled upon a tag sale. And there it was: a Crock-Pot! After inquiring with the Crock-Pot seller about the safety of a Crock-Pot with a $15 price tag – they had just gotten married and were selling things they had doubles of – I convinced them to set it aside.

That Monday morning my sister popped up on Gchat and randomly asked me if and when I was going to post some slow-cooker recipes. “Funny you should ask that,” I typed.

We’ve had some freakishly warm weather this fall, so I was slow to put my new find to use. This past weekend, however, I decided to get a few things in order in the kitchen. I spent an afternoon tidying my pantry by putting dried beans and grains into empty glass Bell jars. Things did look extra-spiffy at the end of my task, but my actions served a deeper purpose: to keep creepy crawling things out of my food. I also did some electronic tidying, sorting through all my emails that contained recipes — 538 to be exact, including several featuring slow cooker recipes I’d tucked away, just in case.

I’ve started digging through the myriad of Crock-Pot recipes, but I’m going to start things off with that cholent I dreamed about.

I started this project two days before. Right before I went to bed, I placed 1 and 1/2 cups of dried cranberry beans to soak overnight. (A quick word about dried beans: Given the new information about BPA levels in canned foods, I am going to now exclusively use dried beans when I cook with legumes, and you should, too. OK, enough lecturing.)

When I came home from work the next day, I assembled the rest of the cholent. I set the cooker to low and left it on overnight. When we woke up in the morning the house had the smell I’d been pining for. Or, as Rich sang, “It’s beginning to smell a lot like cholent.” I kept the pot on low and went to work. I think the cholent would have been ready by mid-morning and certainly for lunch. If I wasn’t at work, I’d most likely be eating bowls of this all day long.

You’ll notice that I’ve topped mine off with a dollop of Greek yogurt. I know some of you won’t be able to do that final step, but if you can, I promise you it’s terrific. You can also leave out the eggs and keep this dish vegan, but I love the deep flavor of the slow roasted egg. I also left salt out of the Crock-Pot and added it to taste when all was said and done.

Vegetarian Cholent with Cumin and Aleppo Pepper

Ingredients
1 and 1/2 cups of dried beans (I used cranberry, but I think chickpea would also be great in this version) soaked overnight
1/2 cup barley
1 carrot, peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 onion halved and quartered
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 large potato or 2 small potatoes, peeled, halved and chopped into quarters
1 turnip, peeled, halved and quartered (a rutabaga would also be very nice)
Approximately 2 1/2 cups water, depending on the size of your crockpot
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
2 eggs

Directions
On the night before you want to serve the cholent, place all ingredients in your Crock-Pot, except for the eggs. I prefer giving everything a stir so that the spices swirl and cover the vegetables, then place the eggs on top of everything else. Cover, turn Crock-Pot to low, and walk away. In the morning, check to see if everything is sufficiently moist. If things look dry, add a half cup water. Turn the eggs over.

For the yogurt: when ready to serve, mix 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander, 1/2 teaspoon aleppo pepper, juice of half of one lemon and a pinch of salt into 3/4 cup of Greek yogurt. I also tried a plain scoop of yogurt on top of today’s lunch. Both were delicious; it will really be up to you how much you want to explore the added spices.

Sophomore Slump

One hundred posts in, and I’m still making the same rookie mistake: I haven’t yet learned I need to photograph all my cooking and baking projects, and not just ones I aim to post on this here blog. And what’s even sillier on my part is the fact that I’ll sometimes be dining with other people who do photograph everything they’re about consume, like my friend Rachel who took some really beautiful photographs of every dish of our dinner on Saturday night. (Quick review: extremely affordable, very tasty, and terrible service. I’ll probably be back.)

I think I’ve just committed the most egregious example of this mistake with this savory tart filled with roasted vegetables, caramelized onions and smoked mozzarella. I had no plans to make this, nor blog about it. Nope, had no dreams about how well the sweetness of the onions would bounce off the smoky cheese that had melted in between the layers autumn vegetables that had been wrapped in a savory, flakey crust. Nope, not a thought.

What I had planned on taking a picture of was the butternut squash. Not because I wanted to do anything with it for the blog, but because I wanted to document its size. It was the largest squash I’d ever seen — my guess is one and a half feet high and about 15 pounds. It was roughly as tall as my cat, but clearly outweighed him by five or so pounds. I had wanted to photograph the cat standing next to the squash, but I totally forgot to do it until I had cut off the top of the squash on Sunday night in order to whip together some butternut squash risotto. After I had cleaned and cubed the chunk of squash – there is still a chunk of squash in the fridge that hasn’t been touched, about the size of a regular butternut squash – I realized I had way too much squash on hand. So I decided to roast the leftover squash, and while I was at it, I might as well toss in some other roots I had hanging around my crisper. So out came some beets, a few carrots, and a handful of red potatoes from the cupboard. I did call Rich in at one point to take a photo of the striped Chioggia beet because I was so taken by its beauty. Can you believe this came out of dirt? I asked him.

So I peeled and cubed my root veggies, tossed them altogether in a bowl with a few glugs of olive oil and a healthy pinch (make that two pinches) of salt, and dumped it all in a large lasagna pan. I decided at the last minute to lay down a few sprigs of thyme on top. My goodness, I said to myself, all those colors, it’s as pretty as a picture.  I then covered it with foil, and tossed the pan into a 400 degree oven. I know, ridiculous, right? To see it, say it, and then do nothing about it. So silly!

About 20 minutes in, I checked the veggies, gave them a stir, and then 25 minutes after that, I removed the foil, gave everything a stir, turned the oven down to 350, and baked them for about 15 minutes more. I then removed the pan from the oven, admired how all the pinks and oranges looked like a sunset, and then taste-tested a few of the different veggies to make sure they had all softened sufficiently. Once they cooled, I moved them to some Tupperware and put them in the fridge.

This next part is something that I often grapple with on this blog: using ingredients that aren’t exactly inexpensive. Last week I was poking around the cheese case at the market around the block when I stumbled upon a very nice hunk of smoked mozzarella. It was some sort of Manager’s Special that day, and was discounted $3. I bought the cheese – I mean, wouldn’t you? – but figured I wouldn’t mention it on the blog because I couldn’t very well go and expect people to go and buy a pricey bit of cheese for something, even though I bought it at a discount.

So, I was sitting at my desk at work thinking about my ball of cheese and my roasted vegetables when it occurred to me that those two things might taste very good together. But I didn’t want to mash them into a sort of hash and put them in a pie dish and melt the cheese on top. And that’s when it dawned on me: this would be the perfect opportunity to try out a savory version of Jacques Pepin’s apple galette with some fresh herbs added to the dough. And, I asked myself, wouldn’t the tart be so much better if some caramelized onions were involved?

And that’s when I kicked myself for not photographing my roasted root veggie prep. I did not know any of it was going to end up on Cheap Beets, but now it has, if but with a truncated version of the photography. Sure, some of you might take note that this is the third version of some sort of rustic tart on my blog – in a row, no less. Some of you might even call it cheating. But I don’t think you’ll really mind.

Rustic Roasted Root Vegetable Tart with Caramelized Onions and Smoked Mozzarella.

This is four separate recipes in one, just as the roasted pear and cranberry crostata was. I followed my own advice this time and made each part on a different night. Of course, I hadn’t actually planned it that way, but tarts really are what happen to you while you’re busy making other plans.

Part One: Roast approximately three cups of root vegetables – I suggest butternut squash, beets, carrots and potatoes – according to the description above.

Part Two: Make the savory crust

Crust Ingredients

1½ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 stick plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1/3 cup ice water

1 teaspoon fresh sage, ripped into small pieces

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

Directions

In a food processor, combine the flour with the salt, butter and fresh herbs and process for about 5 seconds. Sprinkle the ice water over the flour mixture and process until the pastry just begins to come together, about 10 seconds; you should still be able to see small pieces of butter in it. Transfer the pastry to a work surface, gather it together and pat into a disk. Wrap the pastry in plastic or wax paper and refrigerate until chilled. (You can also roll out the pastry and use it right away.)

Part Three: Caramelizing the onions

Ingredients

3 red onions, cut in half, laid flat, then sliced into ¼ inch thick half moons

Olive oil

Salt

Directions

Place the onions in a deep 4-quart saucepan and drizzle and toss with olive oil to coat, about ¼ cup. Set over medium heat and, shimmying the pan occasionally, cook until the onions are slightly golden on the edges. Stir occasionally – it might take as long as 25 minutes of slow, slow cooking — then stir in a few pinches of salt. Stew, stirring occasionally, until the onions are amber colored and tender but not mushy, another 20 minutes or so. If at any point the onions look as if they may dry out, cover them to trap some of the moisture in the pan. Taste for salt. You should get about 1 cup cooked onions.

Part Four: Assembling the Tart

All of the previous ingredients can be made beforehand and refrigerated for approximately three days.

Ingredients

¾ cup smoked mozzarella, cut into ½ inch pieces

Savory dough

Caramelized onions

Roasted root vegetables

1 egg, lightly beaten

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the pastry to a circle and transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet.

In the center of the pastry, lay out all but one quarter of the caramelized onions.

Lay two thirds of the mozzarella on top of the onions.

Using a spoon, gently place all of the root veggies on top of the cheese.

Distribute the remaining onions and pieces of cheese on top of the vegetables.

Fold the pastry edge up and over the vegetables to create a 2-inch border.

Brush the folds of the crust with the beaten egg.

Bake the tart for about 1 hour, until the pastry is nicely browned and crisp. Transfer the pan to a rack and let the tart cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

(Nothing But) Flowers

Tulips

People have been asking us what we saw that was really great on our trip to Spain and The Netherlands. Well, at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, we saw the artist’s dozens of variations of Velazquez’s Las Meninas, and then saw the actual Las Meninas at the Prado in Madrid.  While in Madrid, we also saw Guernica, which has its own room at the Museo Reina Sofia. And when we got to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, we could only laugh when we saw the Picasso in Paris exhibit and half wondered if he had been following us.

Yes, we saw some of the true masterpieces of Western Art, but those paintings weren’t the most amazing things we saw on our trip. That honor goes to the day we spent on rented bicycles (3 Euros!) with our American friends Mel and Cullen, who are doing their neuroscience post-docs in Rotterdam.

The Bicycling Party

The four of us biked about 30 km (around 18 miles), from Leiden to Lisse, on our quest for blooming tulips. As it turns out, tulip season was just beginning, but daffodil and hyacinth season was in full swing.

This was not a bad thing, not at all. In fact, I’ll never forget the scent wafting from the fields of hyacinths as we biked by.

We were starving by the time we got the the Keukenhof Castle, and had a wonderful picnic on the grounds. Cullen had packed a 30 year-old chunk of Gouda, speckled with  crystals, from which he scraped delicate shavings with a cheese plane. We ate that with baguettes that Mel had heated in the oven and wrapped in dish towels to keep warm. The Dutch like to spread a little mustard in between their bread and cheese, and Rich and Cullen enjoyed some thin pieces of rare roast beef with theirs.

Picnic food

It was sitting on our rain jackets — which we didn’t need to use a single day on our trip, it turns out — that I fell for this this potato salad. Its origins were modest enough; I found it in the prepared salad section of the Albert Heijn grocery store near Mel and Cullen’s place.

The original had pieces of chicken but I’ve omitted them from my version, making it vegan. (It’s also kosher for Passover.) The Dutch have a very bland palate, so I’ve gussied this up a bit with some fresh herbs and slices of green olive. I think the potatoes in the original had been boiled, but I steamed mine. I also roasted the zucchini after I tossed it with some chopped garlic and olive oil. Nothing here is paper thin, no mandolin required. Everything, including the radishes, is about 1/4 inch thick.

Potato, Zucchini and Radish Salad

About 1 pound of small, new potatoes, scrubbed, unpeeled, halved lengthwise and chopped into 1/4 inch wide half moons. Steamed.

1 Zucchini, halved lengthwise, chopped into 1/4 inch wide half moons, tossed with about 1.5 tablespoons olive oil, one clove of chopped garlic, and roasted for about 20 minutes. If you have red chili flakes, now would be a good place to use a few, if that’s your thing. Keep an eye on the squash; zucchini has a way of getting mushy fast.

About 6 radishes, sliced into 1/4 inch wide discs

1/4 cup of green olives, sliced

A handful of parsley, chopped

5 green onions, chopped

1 shallot, chopped

Juice of 1 lemon

About 2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt to taste

Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl. Warm potatoes have a way of sucking up oil, so you might need to add a few more glugs worth to get it to a moistness that suits you. Enjoy!

Sketches of Spain

“I don’t think you realize just how hard it’s going to be for you to eat,” numerous friends had warned me when they heard about our plans to visit Spain. Several thoughtful vegetarians warned me to stay away from the croissants, anything flaky, and to be wary of fried things. After a certain point, I began to imagine the country as a Homer Simpson-meets-Salvador Dali dream sequence: window shades made of thin slices of Iberian jamon and unicyclists juggling ham hocks in town plazas.

From a food studies perspective, I was fascinated by the idea of a food culture shaped through politics and religion. As a Jew, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from a country that had pretty successfully removed my people from their midst.

As it turns out, I ate like a pig (tee hee) and enjoyed some tasty, tasty tapas in Spain. I’ll admit, it helps that I eat fish, but some of the veggie-friendly tapas I enjoyed included pimientos de Padrón (fried little green peppers dusted with salt flakes) patatas bravas (crispy fried potatoes served with a fiery paprika sauce), fried Camembert served with a berry sauce, and piles and piles of olives.

In Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, I fell in love with the simple pa amb tomaquet: thick slices of rustic toast rubbed with garlic, then tomato, then drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt. (If that doesn’t look like Spanish to you, it’s because it’s Catalan, which is somewhere between French and Spanish.) I’m already counting down the days until August and its lovely tomatoes to make that one. And I was tickled to find tons of “Russian Salad” a type of potato salad I ate buckets of as a kid at my best friend’s house, who is originally from Latvia.

But what really made Spain a joy for me was the fish. I couldn’t stop eating boquerones, marinated white anchovies. (Note to self: Next time I go to Spain, make sure to TRIPLE wrap the glass jars from Barcelona’s La Boqueria market, so as to avoid another oily/fishy suitcase situation. Fortunately, the fish survived the trip, and the cats have been all over the suitcases since we got back. Everyone wins!)

When I wasn’t scarfing boquerones, I was enjoying other fishy delights. Anchovies were common, either on toast, wrapped around bright Spanish olives skewered by toothpicks, or fried. In Barcelona, I enjoyed a tapa of baccaloa (salt-cured codfish) stuffed into sweet red peppers, and I had an absolutely gorgeous, perfectly fried piece at a cafe on the Plaza Mayor in Madrid.

I am very mindful of my tuna intake — that whole mercury and child-bearing age thing — but I definitely had more than one dill pickle that had been sliced open and stuffed with the pink fish and roasted red pepper, then skewered shut with toothpicks holding olives and cocktail onions.

For 1.5 Euros, this pickle racecar can be yours.

It’s hard to say whether I preferred the Catalonian foods of Barcelona or the tapas of Madrid. Although we were armed with some top restaurant suggestions, every decent bar in Madrid will serve you a tapa with your drink order: Manchego cheese, La Tortilla Espanola and tuna shmeared on baguettes. But overall, I think my favorite small bites were from El Mercado San Miguel in Madrid. Think of a glass-enclosed, very high-end Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, full of food vendors selling everything from thin slices of Iberian ham on crispy baguettes to spicy chorizo, fried croquettes of spinach and cheese, cups of gazpacho, and creamy salt cod on baguettes.

And the sweets in Spain! Chocolate, nuts, marzipan and ice cream.

And the churros! My goodness, how could I forget about the churros!

(And of course, Rich got his jamon jam on. Witness for example, El Museo del Jamon, a popular Madrid chain.)

So yes, I ate well in Spain. But I was still a little uneasy being a Jew in Spain. One of the big sites in Madrid, La Plaza Mayor, was the site of executions during the Inquisition. The bases of the lampposts in the square memorialize some of the victims. It’s not that the Spanish are overtly anti-semitic so much that they did such a good job of purging the Jews centuries ago that there’s barely any Jewish community there today. Currently, there are barely 50,000 Jews in all of Spain; in the 14th century, there were about 500,000.

We were in Madrid for Friday night, and part of me wanted to find a place for Shabbat services. In case that I had forgotten for one minute that I married the most amazing man I have ever met, without any prompting, Rich removed the worry for me by researching, locating and writing in Spanish a synagogue he knew I would feel comfortable praying at. The congregation Rich tracked down for me was teensy, having been founded by 80 families, mostly from Argentina. To put it in perspective, there are 5 million people living in metropolitan Madrid today.

Lest you think we did not actually visit any sites: La Sagrada Familia

On that very warm Friday night, we rode the subway from our hotel in the heart of Madrid to the very outskirts of the city. We walked and walked until we finally reached the right street and the right number, but had a little trouble finding the congregation. Eventually we found them, about 55 altogether, in a sweltering recessed side room of an apartment complex. They weren’t exactly hidden, but I was still reminded of the morranos during Queen Isabella’s reign.

I barely speak Spanish but had no trouble following the service. That Friday night, thousands of miles from my little home in Boston, I read and spoke the same language as everyone else in the room. I knew when to sit, when to stand, and when to bow. I recited some of the most magnificent poems the Jewish civilization has ever produced in the country where they were written. The prayer book was translated, from Hebrew to Spanish, and every so often, Rich would nudge me, excited that he was finally making use of the Spanish component of his comp lit degree. “Honey,” I whispered softly, “you don’t have to translate for me here. I can understand the Hebrew. My parents made sure I learned it when learned my ABCs.” After the service, there was a kiddush or, as Rich called it, Jewish tapas.

Absinthe tastes like licorice. Delicious.

For me, Judaism is about being a part of a civilization. That Friday night, I was proud, and I must admit, a little weepy, to participate in its rituals in a country that did everything it could to eradicate it.

This weekend, I will be performing the same rituals that my little band of survivors will be doing all over the world. I will remove all unleavened foods, pots, pans and utensils from my kitchen, clean the condo from top to bottom, and drag up my entire Passover kitchen from the basement. For the next eight days I will not eat anything that contains chametz or has come into contact with it, as consumption of virtually all grains –including wheat, barley, spelt and rye — is prohibited in the Ashkenazi tradition.

Cooking on Passover is a challenge, but I assure you, we eat like Ferdinand and Isabella, minus the pig. To kick off Passover and commemorate the Spanish leg of our European adventure, here’s a recipe of Tortilla Espanola, a traditional and ubiquitous Spanish dish that also happens to be kosher for Passover. Eggs are a go-to Passover ingredient; I know I will have at least one asparagus frittata in the next week.

Can you imagine waking up and seeing that in the morning? Gaudi did.

I’m using Mark Bittman’s recipe as it’s pretty much flawless. He calls for any waxy potato; I used Yukon Gold and was quite pleased with the results. If you are using a mandolin, 1/8 inch is the way to go. I don’t have a kosher-for-Passover mandolin, so don’t worry if you don’t either. If you do have a kosher for Passover mandolin, can I come over and play in your kitchen? And don’t worry about all the olive oil; a lot will be poured off. As Bittman writes, “Save it in the fridge if you like: It’s delicious and good for sauteing virtually anything.”

My one tip about the eggs: According to the laws of kashrut, Jews are forbidden to eat blood. As a result, we check eggs for blood spots in a separate dish. I also like this step as insurance against eggshells getting in places where they’re not supposed to be.

Spanish Tortilla from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything

Makes: 4 to 6 servings

Time: About 40 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 1/4 pounds waxy potatoes, 3 to 4 medium, peeled and thinly sliced

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 to 8 eggs

1. Put the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. About 3 minutes later, add a slice of potato; if bubbles appear, the oil is ready. Add all the potatoes and onion and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn the potato mixture in the oil with a wooden spoon and adjust the heat so that the oil bubbles lazily.

2. Cook, turning the potato mixture gently every few minutes and adjusting the heat so the potatoes do not brown, until they are tender when pierced with the tip of a small knife. Meanwhile, beat the eggs with some salt and pepper in a large bowl.

3. Drain the potato mixture in a colander placed over a large bowl to reserve the oil. Wipe out the skillet, return it to medium heat, and add 2 tablespoons of the reserved oil. Combine the potato mixture with the eggs and add them to the skillet. As soon as the edges firm up — this will only take a minute or so — reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, undisturbed, for 5 minutes.

4. Insert a rubber spatula all around the edges of the cake to make sure it will slide from the pan. Carefully slide it out — the top will still be quite runny — onto a plate. Cover with another plate and, holding the plates tightly, invert them. Add another tablespoon of oil to the skillet and use a rubber spatula to coax the cake back in. Cook for another 5 minutes, then slide the cake from the skillet to a plate. (Or you can finish the cooking by putting the tortilla in a 350F oven for about 10 minutes.)

The tortilla can be served as a main dish, with, perhaps a side salad, or as a side to a larger dish. Serve warm (not hot) or at room temperature. Do not refrigerate.

Like a giant delicious Pac Man.

Ummmmami

Not the prettiest of dishes, but I get giddy when I think about how it tastes.

In kindergarten I learned that I had four different taste buds on my tongue, and to prove it, Mrs. S. put salt, sugar and lemon juice on their designated spots on the front and sides. I must have blocked out what we used to taste bitter, and maybe that’s why, on some level, I’ve never gotten used to bitter things like hops and mustard.

That lesson in tastes stuck with me for the next 20 years, and I would dance salty, sweet and sour foods into their “sweet spots” in my mouth. Well, usually. I always did have a little trouble deciding where to roll a Sour Patch Kid. And then, everything changed.  Even though it had been discovered nearly 100 years ago, Umami, roughly translated from the Japanese to mean “meaty” or “savory,” started making headlines about three years ago. Umami occurs naturally in foods like meat, parmesan cheese, soy, red wine, MSG, anchovies and mushrooms. And it is this taste sensation that has me loving this dish.

I make up excuses to cook this stew. We would eat it every week if I didn’t think Rich would mind. The potatoes always get cooked to a perfect velvety texture, and the mushrooms, cooked in the soy and sherry, feel as rich as meat on my tongue. I’ve actually recently read about a new taste, Kokumi,  but I’ll hold onto my umami and savor this dish.

This Chinese vegetable stew is hearty, and I’ll admit, not the prettiest of dishes. The vegetables don’t retain any of their crispness or their color. They turn soft from the slow cooking and get quite dark from the soy sauce. But did I mention how delicious this stew is? Try and keep potatoes on hand at all times, stored in dark cool place, and far away from onions, which will spoil the potatoes more quickly. Although I’ve stuck to button mushrooms for this recipe, dried shiitake mushrooms (which can be found at OSJL for $2 a package) will work great.

Potato Stew from Madhur Jaffrey’s World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking(serves 4-6)

Two notes about this recipe:

  1. Although it calls for carrots, I leave them out because they hurt my tummy. I am sure they taste delicious in this recipe.
  2. I don’t actually have sherry on hand, but have used sherry vinegar and am delighted with the results.

Ingredients

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed

2 quarter-sized slices of fresh ginger, lightly crushed (I use my frozen ginger root, and just take it out of the freezer for about 10 minutes before I cut off the slices)

3/4 pound boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths

Cook's Illustrated Tip: Line up your green beans and you'll only need one cut

2 carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into 1 1/2 inch-long segments

6 ounces mushrooms (if possible, with approximately 1 1/2-inch caps)

1/4 cup Chinese dark soy sauce

2 cups water

4 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons shaohsing wine or dry sherry (or sherry vinegar)

Heat the oil in an 8-inch-wide, heavy-bottomed pot over a medium-high flame. When hot, put in the garlic and ginger. Stir and fry for 15 seconds. Add the potatoes, beans and carrots. Stir and fry for 1 minute. Add the mushrooms. Stir and fry for another minute. Now put in 2 cups water, the soy sauce, sugar and wine. Bring to boil.

Cover, lower heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes or until potatoes are just tender. Remove cover and turn heat to high. Boil away most of the liquid.

You should have about 1/8 inch of sauce left at the bottom of the pot. Stir the vegetables gently as you boil the liquid down. Remove the ginger and garlic, if you like.