Instant Karma’s gonna get you

Friends, I have a confession to make: I had some pasta in mid-February that made me so sick that I needed medical attention. The doctor instructed me to balance everything out with tons of probiotics and to avoid white flour. So I guzzled kefir like a frat boy at a kegger contemplating taking health care away from millions of Americans and ate a questionable amount of lacto-fermented sauerkraut and kimchee.

IMG_20170319_133610764

Now, I adore cabbage and anything pickled, so that part wasn’t too much of a stretch. But the no white flour thing? Le sigh. Rich teases me and says it’s my comeuppance for mocking Paleo for so many years. Still, I like to find a silver lining to every situation, and for you that means I’ve been rocking Passover recipes for the past month.

This is another cauliflower-as-baked good recipe, just like the last recipe for turmeric and cauliflower muffins. I swear I’m not trying to ride a trend, but when you can’t eat white flour – and let’s be clear, most whole-grain breads have at least some white flour in them – you don’t have many options. One inspiration for this somewhat “healthy” cauliflower flatbread was the cauliflower grilled cheese sandwich that was floating around Facebook last month. I made that, and it was terrific, if even a little too cheesy, if that’s possible.

I hadn’t worked with riced cauliflower until very recently, and because my food processor is still missing its blade (anytime now, Cuisinart) I had to improvise. For me, that meant steaming a head of cauliflower on the stove top, then mashing it up with a potato masher. (Or, you can go to Trader Joe’s and buy a bag of frozen riced cauliflower and call it a day.)

20170314_150746

I made this flatbread on the tray of the toaster oven, using half a head of cauliflower. A friend mentioned she always has difficulty getting the center to brown, but mine seemed to all over on its own. I sautéed a mélange of vegetables while the “crust” baked, then topped it with the vegetables and a nice amount of cheese, then put it back into the oven for some hot melting action.

The result was terrific and extremely delicious. I’m reticent to seriously call it healthy given the amount of cheese I used, but it’s definitely a keeper for the Passover collection, even if my toaster oven will be unplugged for Passover.

Cauliflower Flatbread

Ingredients

For the flatbread

Half a cauliflower, steamed and mashed/riced or whizzed into a pulp in a food processor

Two eggs

¾ cup parmesan cheese

Pinch of salt

Pepper, to taste

For the topping: Up to you, although I used half an onion, sliced into moons; half a red pepper, half a yellow pepper, julienned; half a zucchini, quartered and cut into ½-inch pieces; a handful of mushrooms, chopped.

To finish: A gratuitous amount of shredded cheese. A cup, maybe more. If you can find it and like it, sprinkle goat cheese onto it as well.

Directions

Preheat oven to 425F

Prepare your cauliflower: I steamed a half a head in a covered saucepan that had about ¾ of an inch of water at the bottom. You can also steam it in a microwave-safe dish with a little water in it, covered tightly with Saran/Stretch-Tite, what-have-you. If you have a food processor, chop the cauliflower, then place half in a food processor and whirl it until it breaks down into small pieces.

Either mash or rice your steamed cauliflower or place your processed cauliflower into a dish towel and squeeze out all the excess moisture over the sink.

Once your cauliflower has been appropriately prepped, place it into a large bowl. To this, add the two eggs, cheese, salt and pepper. Mix with a spoon.

Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper. Evenly spread the cauliflower mixture onto the sheet and place in the preheated oven for at least 12 minutes. Keep an eye on it – you’re looking to see it nicely browned all over.

While your “bread” is baking, heat about a tablespoon and a half of olive oil in a medium-sized skillet. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook for about 10 minutes, until they have softened and started to turn golden. Add the rest of the vegetables and another pinch of salt and continue to saute. In all, the vegetable saute will probably take about 20 minutes, if you really want everything to be nicely softened and on its way to caramelized.

Once your vegetables are prepared and your flatbread is the color of butterscotch, spoon and evenly spread the vegetables onto it, then liberally sprinkle with cheese. Slide back into the oven until the cheese has melted.

Slice – I found a pizza wheel to be the best way to portion this meal – plate, and enjoy.

 

 

Eating My Words

This week I did something I’m not proud of: I flipped through Jessica Seinfeld’s cookbook Deceptively Delicious in the cookbook section of my local library. When her book came out not quite 10 years ago, I scoffed at its premise. Hiding vegetables in foods? I shook my head at parents who served their children pizza and chicken fingers for dinner. Just feed them what you eat; enough with the coddling of palates.

Of course, now I look back at the childless me and shake my head at my ignorance and naiveté. My toddler subsists on a diet of Cheerios, fruit, yogurt, cake, cheese, pizza, fish, rice, farro (?!), and plain pasta. It has to be plain: last week Rich deigned to put a pat of butter on her noodles and Lilli promptly announced it was now “garbage.”

mac and cheese

Oh look, a toddler eating mac and cheese.

I asked the pediatrician for advice. And you know what she said? Make sauces of things and hide them in foods she will eat. So there I stood in the library, looking through Mrs. Seinfeld’s cookbook. Let me be clear: Lilli loves helping out in the kitchen. She loves going to the grocery store with me and requesting mushrooms and broccoli and carrots. She loves choosing cookbooks off the shelf and bringing me photos of recipes that look good to her. She loves pulling up her Kitchen Helper to watch me slice summer squash and helps move it into a bowl. She just won’t eat what we cook.

But then it occurred to me: She loves learning about new foods, loves preparing vegetables and adores baking. Why not combine those things into one dish? And that’s how I found myself having her press the “on” button on my food processor as we grated zucchini for a very nice chocolate zucchini cake.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: is chocolate cake really the right sort of thing to be sneaking veggies into? But my approach was validated this week by our Shabbos dinner guests. Ellie, a very bright political science student at UMass, exclaimed that her mother Deborah used to do the exact same thing when she was a kid. Considering that Ellie seems poised to run the government some day, I think I might be on to something.

We found our recipe in Marcel Desaulniers Death by Chocolate Cakes: An Astonishing Array of Chocolate Enchantments. This book was handed off to me by my friend Gayle, who, if I’m not mistaken, just posted a recipe for chocolate zucchini cake on her own blog. I’d never heard of this baker, but Rich tells me there used to be a television show with the same name.

touchdown!

The recipe is called Mimi Montano’s Chocolate Zucchini Cake, and it is pretty simple to throw together, although you have to wait a bit for it to cool down. Although the recipe says to bake for about an hour and 50 minutes, I found it was done in about an hour. I suspect it meant to say bake for 50 minutes to an hour. Whenever I see the direction to sift dry ingredients, I always whisk them in a bowl a few times. Works like a charm every time. I melt by chocolate in a glass in the microwave in 20 second spurts. If you use Earth Balance instead of butter this recipe can be parve.

And did it work? Did we succeed in Lilli eating food with zucchini folded into it? Not really, and really chocolate cake is not a healthy vehicle for even the most virtuous of vegetables. But Rich and I enjoyed slices for breakfast, trimmed slices whenever we walked by it in the kitchen, and were also happy to have it on hand when friends stopped by unexpectedly.

If you don’t need to sneak any vegetables, consider this a recipe to get rid of some of the zucchini your neighbors have been leaving on your front porch.

Mimi Montano’s Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Ingredients

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 large zucchini (about ¾ pound), washed and stem removed

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

4 large eggs

1 ½ cup vegetable oil

3 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, coarsely chopped and melted

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (one 12-ounce package)

Directions

Preheat oven to 325F. Liberally coat the inside of a 9 ½ x 4-inch nonstick Bundt pan with the 1 tablespoon melted butter. Set aside.

In a sifter combine 3 cups of flour, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon salt. Sift onto a large piece of parchment paper (or wax paper) and set aside until needed. (Or, just mix all these ingredients in a bowl and stir with a whisk a few times.)

Grate 1 large zucchini in a food processor fitted with a medium grating disk (or use a box grater). Set aside.

Place 1 ½ cups sugar and 4 eggs in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle. Beat on medium-high speed for 2 minutes until light in color and thickened; then use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Operate the mixer on medium while slowly adding 1 ½ cups vegetable oil in a steady stream (it’s a good idea to use a pouring shield attachment or to cover the top of the mixer and sides of the bowl with a towel or plastic wrap to avoid splattering oil outside of the mixing bowl). Combine to mix until the batter is yellow in color and thick, about 1 ½ minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the melted chocolate and mix for 30 seconds on medium speed.

Continue to operate the mixer on medium speed and slowly add the sifted dry ingredients. Mix until incorporated, about 1 minute. Add the grated zucchini and mix on low for 15 seconds. Add 2 cups chocolate chips and mix on low for another 15 seconds. Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a rubber spatula to finish mixing the batter until thoroughly combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared Bundt cake pan, using a rubber spatula and spreading evenly.

Place the pan onto a baking sheet with sides on the center rack in the preheated oven. Bake until a wooden skewer inserted, between 50 minutes and an hour. Remove the cake from the oven and cool in the pan for 30 minutes at room temperature. Unmold the cake from the pan. Place the cake, baked top facing up, on a cake circle (or onto a cake plate) and cool at room temperature for 1 additional hour before slicing.

To Serve: Heat the blade of a serrated slicer under hot running water and wipe the blade dry before cutting each slice. Serve immediately, or wrap in plastic wrap and take a piece or two of cake along for the ride.

 

A Summer Rain

Occasionally my cookbook habit (some would say “problem”) has proven extremely helpful outside of the kitchen. To wit: last week, Rich went and nearly ruined his shoes riding his bike home in the pouring rain. This was entirely preventable, since I had announced to him that morning that I was taking the bus and leaving my bike at home due to the forecast. But, he, and nearly everyone I talked to that day, sniffed at the idea that it could rain like that in August, especially after the steamy July we’d just been through.  But rain it did, buckets and buckets. And that night, while Rich stuffed crumpled grocery circulars into his shoes, I curled up on the couch with the cookbook that had given me the heads up.

I found The Old-Time New England Cookbook in a box labeled $1 at a gastronomy event last year. It’s seasonal and local with a certain Yankee particularity; think of the Farmer’s Almanac but with recipes. The book breaks down the New England year not into four seasons, but rather nine. Instead of summer, we have early summer, regular summer and the end of summer, which as it turns out, runs from August 2 to September  9. The opening sentence of that chapter provided my meteorological tip-off: “The rainy spell you may be complaining about in August lasts longer than most people believe it should.”

The next sentence has proven equally uncanny in predicting the bounty of my CSA this month: “As August gets on a bit, however, there will be corn and tomatoes, beans, swiss chard, spinach, summer squash, young potatoes, and all sorts of wonderful fresh vegetables in the back-yard garden.  The worst of it is, of course, that when these vegetables do start showing up there is always an oversupply. Can or freeze, we say, and this rainy spell in August is just the time to do it.”

As if on cue, so far this month we’ve received pounds of summer squash and piles of corn. I’m not complaining, and neither is Rich. We’ve become very fond of this dish, eating it roughly twice a week for three weeks now. But the last time I made this, for last week’s Shabbat dinner, it was something particularly special.

kosher vegetarian

After much thought, I’ve come to understand there are two things happening in this dish. The first is tarragon, the herb which has reigned supreme in the Parr household since early last summer. It usually shows up in my beans; Rich likes to use it when he cooks chicken and fish. In this dish, tarragon’s sweet licorice flavor coaxes out the squash’s inherent sweetness – the word caramel comes to mind whenever I take a bite.

The second thing happening here is taking the time needed to cook the onions. I must cook them down for about 45 minutes, until they’ve basically melted, before I could even think about adding the squash.  I think in other dishes there’s more wriggle room, but here the onions really need the extra time.

As you can see from the photos, the squash I used this time around was made with globe squash, but rest assured this is a catch-all summer squash recipe: yellow straight neck, crookneck and zucchini are also more than welcome to join the party. In all honesty, I’ve never tried this with a pattypan, so if someone ends up getting some in the next few weeks, could you please let me know how it turns out?

Summer Squash with Tarragon and Whole Wheat Pasta

Ingredients

2 cups summer squash, cut into 1½-inch pieces

½ onion, diced – any onion will work well with this dish

1½ Tablespoons tarragon, chopped

Enough oil to cover the pan

Kosher salt

½ pound of whole wheat pasta (I prefer linguine for this dish)

Directions

Set a large pot of water, salted like the sea, to boil on a back burner. On a front burner, heat enough olive oil to coat a pan on medium heat. Give it a minute or two to heat up, then add the onions and a nice-sized pinch of kosher salt. Turn the flame down and let the onions slowly cook and melt down. This should take about 45 minutes. Every four minutes or so, stir them with a wooden spoon.

When your onions have finally broken down – I’m talking a browned, soft puddle of onions – add the squash and a second pinch of salt. Cook the squash for about 10 minutes, stirring every three or so with the wooden spoon. Please don’t get nervous about the texture of the squash. Many people complain about its wet, squishy quality, but I promise that the strength of the pasta balances it.

At this point, your pasta water is roiling. Add the pasta, and cook it for approximately three minutes less than the suggested cooking time.

At that three minute point, use tongs to transfer the hot pasta into your pan of onions and squash. Add a ladleful of pasta water to the pan, and the tarragon, and cook everything together for a good three minutes or so, until the pasta has finished cooking. (Taste it before you turn the flame off to make sure it’s softened. Add more pasta water as necessary.)

Wednesday Morning

At 7:53 Wednesday morning, I took the photo over here on the left. I’ve read that many bloggers prefer taking their pictures in the morning light, but I must admit that I wasn’t thinking about the sunlight. All I could think about was my lunch. It had been the third day in a row of the exact same thing and I could have eaten it all week. The day before, my lunch only lasted in the work fridge until 10:30, then I had to go and get it. So I’ve decided it’s time for a new category on Cheap Beets: My Lunchbox.

Lately, I’ve fallen into bean salads. I soak a cup of beans overnight in a bowl on the counter, cook them in the pressure cooker, and once they’ve cooled down, store them in the fridge until I need them. Of course, you could just open a can of white beans and be done with it.

That cup of beans was enough for three separate lunches for me, so whenever you are ready to make this — it can be packed the night before — I’d suggest using about six ounces of beans.

To those beans, depending on the season, toss in what veggies you have lying around, about a quarter of a cup. Maybe some halved cherry tomatoes, chopped cucumbers, or some steamed broccoli. On top of that I added about a quarter of a red onion which I toasted in the toaster oven at 400F for 8 or so minutes, as I’d learned from Abby’s amazing Tarragon bean salad.

But on top of all that — and what had me digging out the camera at that hour — I draped these zucchini pickles. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with these when I saw the recipe, but I knew they had to be made. Sweet, sour and salty, these chartreuse pickles would work well on a burger, meat or veggie. I had seen these tossed by their creator, Jason Neroni of L.A.’s Osteria La Buca, with radicchio (which he soaked to take out some of the bite), mint, parsley, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and olives.

The dressing for the whole bean, veggie and roasted onion salad was a very simple vinaigrette, two parts olive oil to one part red wine vinegar, a chopped clove of garlic, pinch of salt, teaspoon of agave nectar, shaken with a dash of mustard to emulsify.

Bread and Butter Zucchini Pickles

From The Tasting Table, which adapted this recipe from Jason Neroni of L.A.’s Osteria La Buca


1 zucchini, sliced into 1/8 inch-thick discs (a mandolin works best for this)

1 cup white wine vinegar

1/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon turmeric

1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds

1/4 cup salt

Place the zucchini in a heat-proof, lidded container (I use a cleaned out pickle jar, as a matter of fact)

In a medium saucepan, combine the white wine vinegar, sugar, 1/4 cup salt, turmeric and mustard seeds and bring to a boil. Pour the hot mixture over the zucchini slices. Cover the container and refrigerate the pickles overnight.

(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!