We May Never Know

I’m not sure why my Food & Wine ran a recipe for Escarole with Pickled Butternut Squash back in July. Of course, I only had a chance to read the magazine this past September, but I made a mental note to make the salad once the produce became available. (For the record, I am current with my Ladies Home Journal subscription; how to pose my cat for optimal cuteness? Tell me more!) So when a butternut squash, so large it towered over my cat came in the CSA last week, I thought it was time to make the salad.

Lilli at Honk!

But I still had to find the escarole. I walked to the Copley’s Farmers’ Market during my lunch break last Friday and chatted about the recipe with every farmer there. “I’m not sure why the magazine printed this recipe in July,” I would say to each as I explained my search for escarole. The last farmer scoffed, “You’re not sure why they printed the recipe in July? Well, I’m not sure why they’d write a recipe with produce that doesn’t grow at the same time!” It turns out the escarole will come once the butternut squash have all been roasted and eaten.

Deterred but not defeated, I regrouped. I still desperately wanted to make this salad. And then it occurred to me, why not use the arugula that came in the CSA alongside the butternut squash? The peppery bite of the dark lettuce would be strong like the escarole. Although I was still a little concerned about how the creamy dressing would cling to the sharp leaves, I pressed onward.

pickled squash and arugula

Well, it turns out that arugula makes a great substitute. Apparently this recipe is from all-star chef Gabriel Rucker, featured in the magazine in 2007. Sounds like a reservation at his Portland, Oregon restaurant Le Pigeon is the toughest one in town to make, but not as hard it is to find escarole at a farmers’ market in October, since that is apparently impossible.

It’s a quick pickle for the squash, and I loved the crunch and twang against the creamy, herbal dressing. For the arugula, I soaked the quarter pound that came in the CSA in three rounds of cold water. I used a quarter pound because that’s what I had on hand. For the record, I think the dressing would spread well with a half-pound of arugula, so let’s call that two bunches. I also pickled a cup’s worth of squash, rather than the half-cup the original recipe called for.  Just to have for munching.

Arugula with Pickled Butternut Squash

Ingredients

1 ¼ cups apple cider vinegar

2 Tablespoons sugar

1 Tablespoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning

6 ounces butternut squash, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice (1 cup)

3 Tablespoons mayonnaise

1 Tablespoon freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

6 large sage leaves

1 garlic clove

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (I just used a half a lemon)

1/3 cup canola oil

Freshly ground pepper

½ pound arugula

Directions

In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup of the apple cider vinegar with the sugar, 1 tablespoon of kosher salt and ¼ cup of water and bring to boil. Add the diced squash and let cool to room temperature. Drain the squash (I did this once my dressing and lettuce was ready and let the squash pickle a little bit longer.)

Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the mayonnaise with the cheese, sage, garlic, lemon juice and the remaining ¼ cup of vinegar. With the machine on, drizzle in the oil until the dressing is emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. q

In a large bowl, toss the arugula with the sage dressing. Arrange the greens on plates, top with the pickled squash and serve.

Make Ahead: The pickled squash and garlicky sage dressing can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.

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Weekend Edition

Weekday breakfasts are usually solo affairs around here. I’m not a coffee drinker, so while Rich starts his day by grinding his beans and setting up his French press, I’m usually out the door with breakfast (sometimes leftovers from dinner, lately it’s been yogurt) in my sack to be eaten at my desk while checking emails. Weekends, however, are a different matter altogether.

We have a ritual for our Sundays mornings: Rich is the official breakfast maker at our house. Sometimes he’ll pile a platter high with French toast made with challah leftover from Shabbat, sometimes there are waffles, and sometimes, like this morning, there are pancakes. We eat our breakfast at the dining room table while listening to Will Shortz’s Sunday Puzzle on NPR’s Weekend Edition. When I stop and think about it, I realize we’ve listened to hundreds of puzzles together. We’ve never sent in a postcard to play on the air, but we always listen for the piano’s notes announcing the segment, and shout, “Puzzle!” when we do hear it.

This morning I made the executive decision to add some of the blueberries from this week’s CSA box to our pancakes.  We had buttermilk in the house from making this cobbler, although we changed out the apricots, cherries and ginger for nectarines, blackberries and sage. The pancakes were something else. The heat of the griddle softened the berries into puddles of warm jam. Each bite was special.

Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes

Adapted, ever so slightly, from The Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook, by Sharon Kramis & Julie Kramis Hearne

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 Tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 eggs

2 cups buttermilk

½ cup whole milk

¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted, plush additional melted butter for serving

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more if needed

¼ cup fresh blueberries, rinsed and dried

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, buttermilk, milk, and melted butter until well blended. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and whisk just until combined. Fold in the berries.

Heat a 10-or 12-inch cast iron skillet or cast iron griddle over medium heat. Add 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil to the skillet. Pour the batter into the skillet, ¼ cup at a time, forming small pancakes. When bubbles start to form, turn the pancakes over and cook until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Continue until all the batter is used up, adding more vegetable oil as necessary. Serve with melted butter and warm maple syrup.

MC CSA

Our summer CSA started last week. While some people complain that receiving a box of predetermined vegetables every week is too limiting, I’ve really grown to love working with ours. I’m really at my happiest with our magic box of tricks on the counter. Rich jokes that if I was a rapper, my name would be MC CSA.

So far this week, the arugula has been made into a garlicky pasta topped with golden raisins. The leaves have also made their way into a salad of roasted beets (also from the box) and stinky blue cheese. Last night, we had an outstanding miso soup featuring steamed mizuna (a Japanese lettuce) and carrots, both from the CSA. To the pot I added a few pantry goodies, dried shiitake mushrooms, some absolutely ancient seaweed, and fresh matchsticks of ginger. I filled the bottom of each bowl with a ladleful of barley (pressure cooker, ‘natch) and tied it altogether with another CSA goodie, spring onion.

Which brings me to the main event. This past weekend I made spring onion and cheddar biscuits. It was Rich’s birthday, and I promised him weeks in advance I wouldn’t plan a thing. It worked out for the best because our neighbors had a BBQ featuring hours-smoked ribs. For my husband, any birthday involving pork is a good one. Given the menu, these biscuits just seemed to make sense. (I also brought the mighty bean salad.)

I did a bit of digging around for a green onion and cheddar biscuit recipe, but couldn’t come up with something that pleased me. Or, as I lamented to Aleza, “Why is there bacon in every one of these biscuit recipes?!?” She comforted me with the knowledge that people are stupid when it comes to pig, and suggested I find a biscuit recipe, add the cheese to the dry ingredients, and then add the onion when I added the cream. Simple enough. I found the recipe in The Fannie Farmer Cookbook — about as American as you can get. It’s a James Beard recipe, which to me makes perfect sense: leave it to a Southern gourmand to have a perfect biscuit recipe.

Spring Onion and Cheddar Biscuits adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook

Ingredients

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon baking powder

2 teaspoons sugar

1 cup cheddar, shredded

1 – 1 ½ cups heavy cream

½ cup chopped green onion

6 Tablespoons butter, melted

Directions

Preheat oven to 425F. Use an ungreased baking sheet.

Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, sugar and cheese in a mixing bowl. Stir the dry ingredients with a fork to blend and lighten. Slowly add 1 cup of the cream to the mixture, stirring constantly. Halfway through adding the cream, add the green onions. Stir constantly.

Gather the dough together; when it holds together and feels tender, it is ready to knead. But if it seems shaggy and pieces are dry and falling away, then slowly add enough additional cream to make the dough hold together. Place the dough on a lightly floured board and knead the dough for 1 minute.

Pat the dough into a square about ½ inch thick. Cut into twelve squares and dip each into the melted butter so all sides are coated. Place the biscuits 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes or until they are lightly browned. Serve hot.

The Missing Piece

For nearly half a year, I’ve been searching for the disc stem for my food processor. It’s in my kitchen, somewhere. I have this vague memory of me removing the stem from the disc and the processor and saying to myself, oh, I’ll just put this right here so I won’t lose it. But now I don’t know where that place was.

My friend Mike is a neuroscientist, and he hypnotizes patients for his sleep studies. I’ve asked him to hypnotize me to that moment in time when I was last with my stem. He says he’ll do it, but there’s a 50% chance he’ll make me squawk like a chicken instead. I don’t know if I can take that risk.

I’ve opened drawers and cupboards, stood on ladders, and peered into pots. Nothing. Last week, I made my friend Ben, who towers over everyone in the room at 6’5”, search the kitchen. I figured, given his bird’s eye view of the world, he could see things I cannot. He spent 45 minutes in my kitchen. Still no luck.

I’ve gone on eBay, the Black and Decker replacement parts page, and Sears and Roebuck. It turns out my processor, purchased in 2001, is a discontinued model. “Obsolete,” is the actual wording used to describe my missing stem. I prefer the term “vintage.”

The funny thing is, I didn’t even know I was in the market for a food processor when I found out I needed one. The fall after my college graduation, my boyfriend at the time and I were given the task of making the stuffing for his family’s Thanksgiving dinner. I called my mom for a recipe. “Step 1,” she said, “get out your food processor.” “But Mom,” I said, “I don’t have a food processor.” “Step  1: go to Macy’s and buy a food processor.” Off to 34th Street I went, and I have to admit, shoving two bags of celery stalks and carrots down the chute and through the grater made my life much easier.

The machine has helped me whip up countless pestos, a dead simple romesco sauce I really need to post at some point, dips, and piles of perfect bread crumbs. Heck, even Alice Waters, who abhors all sorts of things electric, has a food processor.

This summer, before I knew the predicament I was in, I made these biscuits. They were perfect.

But now we’re in November, I’ve got stuffing on my mind, and as I pointed out to Rich as I was turning over the kitchen looking for the stem yet again, I’m on a Chanukah countdown. He assures me that he will grate every potato, or onion, or parsnip, or sweet potato, or zucchini that I see fit to be fried in oil and deemed a latke, but I still want to find the missing piece.

I am relieved that although I cannot find the stem for the grater to my food processor, I can still make this apple galette recipe by Jacques Pepin. In a food processor, it takes about 15 seconds. It’s the easiest dough recipe I’ve ever used, even easier than the Dutch apple cake, and is up there as one of the most delicious things I’ve ever baked. Since it’s a Jacques Pepin recipe, you know it’s going to be perfect.

It’s such an easy recipe, in fact, that the first time I made it, I whipped up the dough and stuck it in the fridge (it’s one of those recipes where you have to put the dough in the fridge for a bit), and had Rich take it the rest of the way. He did. It was perfect. Weeks later, after I raved to someone else about the perfect galette, Rich whispered to me that he didn’t even follow the directions about decoratively arranging the apples into concentric circles. “I just kind of dumped it in the middle.” Inelegant? Yes. Perfectly delicious? Yes. Dead simple? Yes.

The dough can surround either fruits or veggies; there is so little sugar in this recipe – just a little more than a teaspoon – that I often toy with the idea of making a savory filling, maybe adding a little sage to the dough. I haven’t yet tried that, so if anyone does, I’d love to hear about the results. In the meantime, I’ll use up more of my CSA apples, and do a few more go-arounds of my kitchen in search of my disc stem.

Apple Galette

Because the pastry is free-form, it can be rolled into a circle or rectangle. Don’t worry if it’s not perfectly shaped; there’s a rustic quality to this dish which makes an uneven galette even more charming. Pepin suggests serving this as a buffet offering, slicing it into pizza-style slices to be eaten standing up.

Active Time: 30 Minute

Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Ingredients

Pastry

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

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

1/3 cup ice water

Topping

4 Golden Delicious apples (really, any apple will do)

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon honey, preferably wildflower

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Directions

PREPARE THE PASTRY In a food processor, combine the flour with the sugar, salt and butter 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.)

PREPARE THE TOPPING Peel, halve and core the apples and slice them crosswise 1/4 inch thick. Set aside the larger center slices and coarsely chop the end slices and any broken ones; about half of the slices should be chopped. In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon.

Preheat the oven to 400°. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the pastry to a 12-by-14-inch rectangle and transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet. Spread the chopped apples over the pastry to within 1 inch of the edge. Drizzle the honey over the chopped apples. Decoratively arrange the apple slices on top in concentric circles or in slightly overlapping rows. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar evenly over the apples and dot with the pieces of butter. Fold the pastry edge up and over the apples to create a 1-inch border.

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

Make Ahead: The buttery pastry can be refrigerated overnight.

(Un)seasonal

kosher vegetarian

“It was like hundreds of gunshots.” That’s how one family friend described the sound of tree branches snapping and falling to the ground last Saturday evening. Western Massachusetts’ best asset, the foliage that people travel from around the world to see, proved to be its undoing during this very early Nor’easter. My little town, Longmeadow, was hit with 12 inches of snow, which fell onto trees still wearing their autumn finest. The combined weight of snow and leaves proved too much for the branches, which took out power lines as they crashed down. Most of the town has been without power since Saturday night. My parents, who had no electricity or heat, were our houseguests until today, when they got word that their power was restored.

One friend from high school reported that her parents said it will be 100 years for our town to once again look like the town we grew up in. A century is a long time, although it’s doable for my town. Settled in 1644, we still celebrate an annual May festival on the town green, a long strip of grass on the outskirts of town that farmers would take their cattle out to pasture on. Lining the green are colonial houses, marked with stars to indicate their historic status. It is believed that John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, once lived in one of those houses. His myth continues, even if many of his trees do not.

In just a few weeks, it will be my 15 year high school reunion. I’m a little nervous to return to see a town so different than the one I left.

This simple recipe is from one of our favorite cooking shows on PBS: Caprial & John’s Kitchen. It’s not just the recipes in the show, but the chemistry this real-life married couple has on screen. Well, calling it chemistry isn’t exactly accurate; it’s more like watching a married couple who have to work, cook, and go home together. There’s a lot of correcting by Caprial to anything John does or says. Example: John will suggest a shortcut to the viewer, which Caprial will promptly veto as a terrible idea. We showed an episode to our friend Ben, a clinical psychologist, and he dubbed them the passive-aggressive chefs. But judging by this recipe, it’s working for them.

Roasted Apples with Shallots and Thyme

5 apples, peeled, cored, halved and sliced into quarters

5 shallots (about ¾ cup), peeled and halved

1/2 Tablespoon of fresh thyme (about 4 sprigs)

2 Tablespoons olive oil

Pinch of salt

Directions

Place a metal pan in the oven and preheat it to 500.

Toss apples, shallots, thyme, olive oil and salt in a bowl. Carefully pour the ingredients into the piping hot pan – it will sizzle – and close the oven door. After 5 minutes, give them a stir with a wooden spoon. Close the door, and check them again in another five minutes and give a stir. Follow up one more time, for a total of 15 cooking minutes. The apples will have softened, many will have completely lost their shape and integrity, making an herbed, savory apple dish. This will make a wonderful side dish for your Thanksgiving table.

UPDATE: I sauteed these leftovers with some frozen pierogies last night for dinner and it was really terrific.

Beet Maestro

I recently came across this essay from Chez Panisse alum Tamar Adler’s new book, An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. I think the opening line really sums up an excellent life rule: “A salad does not need to be a bowl of lettuce. It just needs to provide tonic to duller flavors, to sharpen a meal’s edge, help define where one taste stops and another begins.” The entire essay is worth reading, especially in these upcoming months when our summer tomatoes are a distant memory. Root vegetables, Ms. Adler reminds us, can do much more than serve as a warm starch on the side of a plate.

Of course, root vegetables require a little more work than summer veggies. Beet preparation in particular, I have discovered by trial and error, can be a messy, messy undertaking. As much as I love steaming, pressurizing, and grating the root, the collateral damage of peeling – garnet-stained hands – can be frustrating, especially when hosting dinner guests. As a result, roasting has become my go-to beet prep method; it is the easiest, cleanest and tastiest method. At least that’s what I’ve come to believe, anyways.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but as the Suzuki method has taught us, if I catch you early enough in your beet journey, and with constant repetition, you, too, can be a beet maestro. If you’re ever at home for more than an hour, crank up the oven to 400. Fully wrap each beet in a piece of tin foil, place them on a baking sheet to prevent drips onto your oven floor, and roast away.

Beets are very low-maintenance, so now you’re free to do whatever you want. My own tastes run towards petting the cat, reading library books, and/or catching up on the latest news via Perez Hilton – or, um, I mean, working out.

At around the 50 minute mark, test your tin-foiled beet by sliding a fork into it. If the fork does not easily slide in and out, give your beets another 10 minutes and test them again. Repeat this method until the fork pierces the beet with little to no effort, then remove from the oven. Once the beet is cool enough to handle, open the foil, head on over to the sink, stick the beet into a stream of running water and rub off the skin. It will be quick and clean, but make sure to wear an apron, just in case.

And turning your beets into an Adler-esque salad is almost as easy as roasting them. Just toss them with a quarter cup of roasted nuts and a drizzle of vinegar and olive oil. The only real work involved in this dish is making sure your nuts don’t burn. Think 325 for about seven minutes, with an eagle eye and the nose of a bloodhound.

I usually toast my nuts in the toaster oven my friend Brian bought me with his Jeopardy winnings.

(A fresh apple or two, diced into the same sizes as the beets would be a nice addition to this salad. I did not, however, add them to this salad, because fresh apples give me a bellyache, and I am going to eat this salad now that it’s been photographed.)

This blog post and ridiculously simple recipe was in support of Sweet Local Farm’s Home Grown Food Challenge.

Borei Pie HaGafen

For many American Jews, the Concord grape is synonymous with our traditions and holidays; a local ice cream chain, JP Licks, even sells a Manischewitz grape sorbet during April to celebrate Passover. In fact, when Rich and I were first dating, his Nana Parr – one of the best bakers I’ve ever met; I have the sugar cookie recipe, and will post it, promise – thoughtfully gave me a bottle of the sweet wine for the holidays. Granted, my parents were never big Concord grape wine fans – they’d be much more likely to serve a newly discovered gem from the Golan or perhaps something from Napa – but the flavor reminds me of grape juice, which was always the kiddie option at our table. The irony, of course, is that this Jewish flavor is also the most American taste out there. The grape was developed only a couple of miles from where I’m writing this, about 150 years ago.

All this is to explain why I choose to forgo bringing last year’s perfect plum cake to my parents’ for Rosh Hashana this year, and why I instead brought this Concord grape pie, made with the white grapes from my CSA. Deborah Madison writes, “This pie is truly America’s own, made from our native Concords in the northeast and Midwest, or Muscadines in the south.”

Before you scroll down to the recipe and say, “No thank you, that looks like way too much effort,” hear me out. This recipe doesn’t need to be made all at once. In fact, you’re better off doing it in separate steps. I made the ridiculously simple crust, which requires refrigeration, on Monday night, and then made the pie on Tuesday. And that part about separating the grape skins? Rich came and helped me with that step, and we were done in less than 10 minutes. And the food mill, which I know I’ve made the case for in the past, once again serves its purpose in getting rid of those pesky seeds.

We ate this pie for dessert on the second night of Rosh Hashana, after enjoying a dairy meal which was washed down with our pomegranate cocktails. My mom had the great idea to serve it with a scoop of ice cream and sprinkle berries on top. I doubt our purchase of Friendly’s granola and honey frozen yogurt is going to save the company from bankruptcy, but the flavor worked perfectly for this dish. This pie, as my friend Audrey exclaimed while enjoying the final slice, tastes like the good parts of Passover. Obviously, this recipe won’t work Pesach, let alone you’d be hard pressed to find ripe Concord grapes in April, but you can certainly make this for Succot later this month.

Concord Grape Pie from Deborah Madison’s America: The Vegetarian Table

Makes one 9-inch double crust pie; serves 6 to 8

Pie Crust

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

12 Tablespoons ( ¾ cup ) unsalted chilled butter, cut into small pieces

6 to 7 Tablespoons ice water

Filling

2 ½ pounds purple or white Concord grapes

½ to ¾ cup sugar

4 to 6 Tablespoons all-purpose flour, or 1 Tablespoon quick-cooking tapioca

Grated zest of 1 lemon

1 to 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice, to taste

1 egg, beaten with 2 Tablespoons heavy cream or milk

Directions

To make the pie crust, stir together the flour and salt in a bowl. If you have a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Without a pastry blender, using two knives or your fingers, cut the butter until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Using a fork, stir in the water one tablespoon at a time, adding only enough for the pastry to hold together when pressed. Gather the dough into a ball and divide into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

To make the filling, pluck the grapes off their stems. You should have about four cups. Pinch them out of their skins, putting the insides into a saucepan and the skins into a bowl. Put the pan over medium heat, add ½ cup sugar, and cook until the grapes turn white, about three minutes. Pass them through a food mill placed over a bowl to rid them of their seeds, then add the skins to the pulp. Taste and, if it seems sour, add the remaining sugar while the pulp is still hot. Whisk in the flour or tapioca (use the larger amount of flour if the grapes were watery) and add the lemon zest and lemon juice. Let the mixture stand while you roll out the pie.

Preheat an oven to 450 degrees F. On a lightly floured board, roll the larger piece of dough into an 11-inch round. Ease it into a 9-inch pie pan and press it gently against the sides. Add the filling and brush the edges with water. Roll the second piece into a 9-inch round, set it over the filling, and crimp the edges. Make two slashes on the top for vents, and brush with the egg mixture.

Set the pie on a baking sheet in the center of the oven. After 10 minutes, lower the heat to 350 degrees F and bake until the crust is nicely browned, about 25 minutes. Remove to a rack and cool. Serve warm.