Saturday, February 27, 2010


Spring will be here soon.

I should be excited. Asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, peas!

And the promise of summer and tomatoes to come.

Best of all, a break from root vegetables. Everyone keeps talking about how they're sick to death of root vegetables right now.

Granted, I might feel differently about bidding goodbye to winter if I lived in the frozen, snow-blanketed East.

But the truth is, I'm not that eager for spring. I'm kind of enjoying hanging out with all these root vegetables, and I'm not really looking forward to leaving them behind. Not now when I feel like I'm just getting to know them.

I guess I've developed a strange new ambition--I'd like to become a maven of unpopular vegetables.

See how pretty they can be?

Here's a simple preparation for those rutabagas above. The recipe is from a January New York Times article by Melissa Clark. She describes cooking rutabagas for the first time, roasting them, and writes that they were "so good, in fact, that I couldn’t stop eating the cubes straight from the pan."

I read that and I thought: Sign me up!

Clark combines her rutabagas with farro and ricotta salata cheese for a hearty winter salad. Which sounds fantastic and is on my list to try--but I just roasted them up and put them over some pan-fried cakes made from leftover pilaf (I'll have that recipe for you soon as well).

Or you could just eat the rutabaga straight from the pan. Roasted, it's sweet and soft, with just enough bite underneath to remind you you're not eating dessert.

Roasted Rutabagas
Recipe from Melissa Clark

1 1/2 lb rutabagas
2 tsp olive oil
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper

Turn on the oven to 400 F. While the oven heats, peel the rutabagas and cut them into 3/4-inch cubes. In a large baking dish, toss the rutabaga pieces with the remaining ingredients. Put them in the oven and roast, stirring once or twice, until they are caramelized in spots and very soft, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Serves 4 as a side dish.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

egg-free apple muffins and a love letter to my mother

Way back when, I promised you that I'd post about what I cook for and with Monkey, and I figured it was time to finally deliver just a little bit. The bonus is that these apple muffins (which are also great with pear or Asian pear) also more or less fit the seasonal produce theme.

We took a batch of these muffins to a playdate last Friday. In fact, I'd asked Monkey on Thursday night what she wanted to do on Friday and she said, "Go to T.'s house and eat muffins." Awww, so sweet, right? She really likes her friend T.!

Except that I'm pretty sure the truth is that T. is great and all but what she really likes  are the muffins.

I don't know where the recipe originally came from; my mom used to make them a lot when I was a kid and they were a fixture of college care packages (and post-college care packages. Okay, my mom still sends me care packages--and that's just how I like it).

We made this batch without eggs, because Monkey has an egg allergy that was diagnosed when she was a little over a year old.

Yeah. So my best advice if you want to know how to prevent food allergies is don't rant on the Internet about how overblown they are.

Anyway, adapting baked goods to be egg-free has actually been relatively easy, thanks to this substitution trick that, again, comes from my mom. You see, my little sister was vegan for a while (then she was freegan, and now she's just a vegetarian like a normal person), and my mom wasn't going to let a little thing like veganism stand in the way of sending care packages.

The trick is this: for each egg, substitute 1 Tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 Tablespoon water. That's it.

No really, that's it. That's pretty much the only egg substitution trick I know. I mean sure, I've heard about flax and tapioca flour, but I've never tried them. Recently another mom with an egg-allergic kid asked me what I thought about that Ener-G egg replacer and I said, "Ummmmm." I live under a rock. But next time I went to the store I checked it out and was very gratified to see that the stuff is mostly cornstarch, plus a few additives, for $6 a box. I'm sticking with cornstarch from the bulk bins.

That said, I'm not going to lie to you: recipes often don't turn out exactly the same with cornstarch as they do with eggs. But this apple muffin recipe works particularly well with the cornstarch substitution, so it's become a go-to recipe for us. I mean, look at these beauties! You wouldn't guess they were egg-free, would you?

Egg-Free Apple Muffins

1 3/4 C flour
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp baking soda
4 Tbsp softened butter
1/2 C granulated sugar
1/4 C brown sugar
1 Tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 1 Tbsp water (or, of course, 1 egg)
1 C buttermilk (I usually use milk soured with a little lemon juice and left a few minutes to thicken*)
1 large apple, cut into 1/2 inch chunks

Preheat oven to 400 F. (While the oven is preheating you can soften the butter by putting it in a large bowl and sticking it in the oven for a minute or two.) Spray muffin tin or fill cups with paper liners.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, spices, and baking soda.

In a separate bowl, cream together the butter and sugars. Stir in the cornstarch-water mixture. Quickly fold in the buttermilk or soured milk. Do not overmix or the batter will curdle.

Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, making sure there are no lumps, but mixing no more than necessary. Fold in the apple chunks. Divide batter into muffin tins and bake 15 minutes.

Makes 1 dozen.

*I learned just yesterday as I was writing up this post--crazy coincidence, right?--that this is called "clabbered" milk. Or more precisely, it's a quick version of clabbered milk, which traditionally is made by letting milk sour and then putting it in a warm spot to let good bacteria grow, which in turn prevents bad bacteria from growing. Hey, come to think of it, that process sounds exactly like making creme fraiche. Hmm, how did human beings come up with all this stuff? Anyway, "clabbered." Good word.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

sunday morning breakfast links, 2/21/10

Two blogs I've recently added to my reader:

Edible Geography - Gorgeous (and information-rich) images, thoughtful commentary on the structure behind how our food is grown, transported, stored, and eaten. Catnip for nerds.
Feeding Little Foodies - This is exactly what I originally wanted to do with this blog, and never got it together.

Food for thought:

How to start a food lit/cookbook book club (The Kitchn) - I kind of want to do this, but I know that's insane.
How the beverage industry is fighting a proposed tax on soda -  Impressive investigative piece from the L.A. Times (h/t Accidental Hedonist)
How a teacher would fix school lunches (Fed Up)

Menu planning? Here are some recipes that use vegetables currently in season (I haven't made any of them but they look good; tell me if you try any!):

Cauliflower and Caramelized Onion Tart (Smitten Kitchen)
Miso Slaw (The Kitchn)
Thai Red Curry with Root Vegetables (Sassy Radish)
Kabocha French Lentil Soup (101 Cookbooks)
Cream Cheese Spread with Beetroot and Horseradish (Nami-Nami) - and much more from the blogosphere's queen of beets

Thursday, February 18, 2010

also, something different with broccoli

This recipe comes from The Hungry Tiger, who got it from Alice Waters's The Art of Simple Food. In the past few weeks I have bookmarked at least four recipes on various blogs that are originally from The Art of Simple Food. Hmm, this makes me wonder if Alice Waters has already done my project for me.

That darn Alice Waters. Always getting there first.

Anyway, long-cooked broccoli intrigued me because it's so different from the usual crisp-tender approach to this vegetable. I think the soft texture makes it more accessible to wee ones' palates as well; Monkey really liked this, even though it's quite lemony.

The Hungry Tiger served the broccoli over pilaf, and that's what I tried first too. (I'll have the pilaf recipe for you a little later, because it's a good staple.) But I felt like there wasn't enough texture contrast between the broccoli and the grains, so when I heated up the leftovers I put it over toasted bread and served it with a poached egg. (The poached egg is becoming a major culinary crutch in our house. On Valentine's Day I even told my husband he was my poached egg on toast, and I really meant it too.)  I liked that setup better, the contrast between the meltingly tender broccoli and the crisp toast, and the runny egg yolk there pulling everything together. So those are the instructions I've given you here.

One note of caution: Don't go overboard with mashing up the broccoli. I think I did, either that or I cut it up into too-small florets to begin with, and I ended up wishing that the dish had just a little big more texture. Let yourself be guided more by what looks good to you than by the recipe (and find some way of getting out your frustrations besides the potato masher, okay?).

Long-Cooked Broccoli with Eggs and Garlic Toast

A big bunch of broccoli (about 1.5 lbs.)
1/4 C olive oil
6 cloves garlic (really)
Big pinch of salt
1 C water
1 lemon
Red pepper flakes
Parmesan or similar cheese

Eggs (1 per person)
2 Tbsp white vinegar

Thick slices of good crusty bread (1 or 2 per person)
1 smallish garlic clove

Cut the broccoli heads into smallish florets. Trim the stems, peel, and cut into 1/4-inch slices. Peel the garlic.

Heat the oil in a large heavy pan over medium heat. Add the broccoli, press the garlic into the pan, add the salt, and saute for a few minutes. (If you don't have little ones at your table, you can also add the red pepper flakes at this point--I wait and add them to each serving at the end.) Add the water and bring to a boil.

Turn the heat down very low and cover the pot. Cook until the broccoli is very, very tender, almost melting--the recipe I have says 30 to 40 minutes and it was closer to 30 minutes for me, so check and keep an eye on it.

After the broccoli has been cooking for about 15 or 20 minutes, fill a large skillet with water. Add the vinegar and a big pinch of salt, cover and turn the heat on high to bring it to a boil. Crack each egg into a small bowl. When the water boils, slide each egg into the water, quickly turn off the heat (if you are on an electric stove remove the pan from the burner) and cover the pan. Let the eggs poach in the residual heat for 3 minutes, then remove them from the water with a slotted spoon.

When the broccoli is done, uncover the pan and use a wooden spoon or a potato masher to break up the broccoli a little bit.  If there's too much water turn the heat up for a few minutes to boil it off. Grate the zest of the lemon into the pan and squeeze its juice in too.

Meanwhile toast the bread. Peel the last clove of garlic. When the bread is done, rub each slice of toast with the garlic clove--just hard enough to start to grate the garlic so that little bits of garlic come off on the bread. (I never believed that this would work until I tried it, but it really does.)

To serve, place a piece or two of toast on a plate, spoon a generous amount of the broccoli over top, sprinkle with a little bit of crushed red pepper, then add a poached egg, and grate a big flurry of Parmesan cheese over top.

Makes 3 or 4 servings.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

and now for something completely different...with beets

Are you in a pancake stupor? I have an antidote for you: a light, piquant, but earthy-tasting dish featuring chopped beets, walnuts, and ground coriander seed.

Sounds different from the beet recipes you're used to seeing, right? (I guess that makes it...offbeet. Yeah. Sorry. I'm not giving up bad puns for Lent.) That's exactly why I clipped the recipe from an issue of Cooking Light a while back.

The original name, "Beets with Walnut-Garlic Sauce," is a little bit misleading--I didn't really get a sauce out of the walnut-garlic mixture, so I ended up turning it into a spread or maybe a hearty dip. The notes to the recipe say that this dish is made throughout the Balkans, Russia, and Turkey, and it would be a great addition to a mezze table.

I served it at a recent brunch-time playdate with two girls about Monkey's age and their families, and it was a big hit at least among the adults. (I also served this goat cheese, walnut, and date spread, which is dangerously tasty.) What you think of it will depend on how you feel about raw alliums. Personally, I am a delicate flower, with a palate to match, and even though I significantly cut the amount of onion called for I still found it very sharp at first. After a day or two it was much mellower, but still, I'll probably omit the onions next time. Raw garlic is enough for one dish.

Maybe if my guests are reading they can tell you if they really did love it as-is, or if they would have liked a little less onion. Or a lot less onion, actually. Or if they didn't like it at all and they were just being polite. (I hope it's not that last one! A food blogger would rather have honesty than politeness, I think.)

Anyway. Tread carefully.

I liked the beets on top of cream cheese on a bagel. I liked them even more in a sandwich--two slices of whole grain bread, toasted and spread thickly with cream cheese, then a generous layer of beets, a sliced hard-boiled egg, and some lettuce leaves.

Beet Spread with Walnuts and Garlic (Pkhali)

To roast beets, wash them, trim stems, and cut into roughly equal-sized chunks. Place on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan and toss with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast at 425 F until tender, about 45 minutes (depending on the size of your chunks). Let cool and then remove skins.

1/4 C chopped onion (optional)
1/4 C walnuts, toasted
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
3/4 tsp salt
Pinch to 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ground coriander seed
1 garlic clove
3 C roasted beets

Combine first seven ingredients in a food processor; process until smooth. Roughly chop the roasted beets, add them to the food processor, and process until you have an even, finely chopped spread.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

you, too, can enjoy parsnips

This recipe comes from Faye Levy's International Vegetable Cookbook, which is a real workhorse where learning what to do with new and unfamiliar vegetables is concerned. This book not only taught me how to make parsnips palatable, it also taught me what to do with daikon, and red cabbage too. And I still have a ton of other recipes marked to try.

For this dish, you boil some parsnips, then swathe them in a creamy yogurt sauce spiked with garlic, sweet paprika, and dill. When I put it that way it sounds kind of busy, but it's a great combination. Somehow the other sharp flavors--dill, garlic, tangy yogurt--help balance out and tone down the sharpness of the parsnips.

Levy's notes say that this sauce is also good with potatoes or carrots. I imagine so, but I've never tried it--because, hey, how awesome is it to have something to do with parsnips! If there's a better vegetable out there to enrobe in this sauce, I kind of don't want to know about it.

Last time I made this recipe, I was trying to figure out how to simplify and streamline it. I thought I could cook the parsnips in a big pot of water, scoop them out (along with a bit of cooking liquid to make the sauce), and then cook the noodles in the same pot of water while I made the sauce. But I'm going to be honest with you: my parsnips--due to my own laziness, not any fault of their own--were kind of, well, marginal by the time I got around to cooking them. And that cooking water smelled really, really bitter. So I just tossed it and started over with fresh water--and the parsnips themselves were delicious, tender and sweet. Crisis averted, but the point is, if you're a better, less lazy person than I am and are therefore working with fresher parsnips you might be able to save a little water and a little time here.

The one quibble that I have with Levy's cookbook is that a lot of the dishes seem like sides, and it can be difficult to figure out how to turn them into a vegetarian main course. With this recipe, I had the idea to serve the parsnips over buttered egg noodles, which seemed consistent with the Central/Eastern European origins of the dish.

My mom's vintage salt and pepper shakers--a couple of guys who look like they know a thing or two about goulash and the like--seem to approve.

Parsnips with Bulgarian Yogurt-Dill Sauce

1/2 C plain yogurt (full-fat is best, I think)
1 pound parsnips
1 C water or vegetable stock (or cooking liquid from the parsnips)
8 oz. dried egg noodles
1 medium garlic clove
2 1/2 Tbsp butter, divided
2 Tbsp flour
1tsp sweet paprika
1 Tbsp chopped fresh dill or 1 tsp dried
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

First, get the yogurt out of the refrigerator and put it in a medium bowl (you want it to be at room temperature by the time you add it to the sauce); stir until smooth.

Put a large pot of water on to boil with a pinch of salt. Wash and peel the parsnips, and cut into 2-inch lengths. Quarter any thick pieces (larger than 3/4 inch in diameter) lengthwise. Trim any woody centers (I find this instruction kind of confusing--I'm never sure how to distinguish between a woody center and a not-woody one--so I tend to err on the side of trimming them out).

When the water boils, add the parsnips to the pan, cover, and simmer over medium-low heat until tender, about 15-20 minutes. If it seems like a good idea, remove the parsnips from the pan with a slotted spoon and scoop out 1 Cup of the cooking liquid, setting both of these aside. Otherwise, just drain the parsnips and put on a new pot of water for the noodles.

When the water for the noodles boils, add them to the pot. Peel the garlic.

Then, in a large skillet, melt 1 1/2 Tbsp butter. Add the flour and paprika to the melted butter, and cook over low heat, whisking, about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the water/stock/cooking liquid. Put the pan back on the heat and bring to a boil, whisking. Press the garlic into the pan and cook over low heat, whisking often, about 2 minutes.

Take the pan off the heat again and gradually stir the sauce into the bowl with the yogurt. Return to pan and whisk until smooth. Gently heat through; do not boil. Stir in dill. Add parsnips and heat through without boiling. Taste and adjust seasoning.

The noodles should be done now; drain them. Return them to the pan, add the remaining 1 Tbsp butter, and toss to coat the noodles with butter. Put the buttered noodles on a plate and the parsnips on top. Serve hot.

Makes 3 servings.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

sunday morning breakfast links, 2/6/10

A couple of notes on that carrot soup I posted about the other day (which I made again for dinner tonight):
  • A big fat onion instead of the leeks? Sour cream in place of the creme fraiche? Totally, totally fine.
  • No really, simmer it for an hour and a half. I know it sounds over the top but the flavor just gets crazy rich that way.
I wanted to link to this month's Gourmet, unbound roundup of recipes. I think I mentioned before that this is a project in which people are cooking through the Gourmet magazine archives month by month (so recipes from February are posted in February, and so on) to keep the spirit of that magazine alive. The rap on Gourmet, after its demise, was that it had gotten--or maybe always was--too fancy and out of touch. That's one reason I decided to participate--I thought it would be an interesting challenge to see if I could find recipes relevant to my project of simple, seasonal cooking for a busy working parent. Could Gourmet keep it real? Well, in a word, yes--I've had a lot of trouble narrowing things down to just one (or two, in February's case) recipe for the month.

It's also interesting to see what the other cooks participating in the project come up with. Some folks go all out with, yes, fancy and complex creations--I love reading about them but when it comes to my own kitchen I have to admit I think: No way. Other participants though have found some simple and accessible stunners. Here are a few that stood out to me this month, all featuring seasonal produce:
 More goodness from the Interwebs:
And finally:
  • I really hate how bulleted lists look in this template. Sorry folks.

    Friday, February 5, 2010

    soup by-the-seat-of-the-pants

    We ate this carrot soup on Christmas Eve. It was a big hit, which was especially gratifying because the cooking was totally fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants.

    I had originally planned to make a roasted squash soup, and had gathered these two recipes from Melissa's Produce and a blog called Seed to Table. Then the Mr. (who also snapped the photo for this post--thanks hon!) reminded me that we had a bunch of carrots in the garden that needed to be used, so I switched gears a bit. Just a little bit--I basically combined the two recipes, and substituted carrots for the squash. To simplify things, I decided to just simmer the carrots on the stove rather than roasting them.

    So the carrots for the soup were hyper-local, but the chestnuts, of course, were quite the opposite. Despite their hefty tally of food miles, I was curious to try cooking with chestnuts, which just seem like a quintessential luxurious winter ingredient to me. And indeed, they gave the soup a gorgeous velvety texture.  Hopefully soon, those of us in North America will have access to closer-to-local chestnuts again.

    This soup is not particularly quick--it takes a long, slow simmer--but it is very easy. Just a few minutes at the beginning chopping vegetables and tossing them into the pot, and a quick whiz in the blender at the end.  Dinner practically makes itself.

    The soup is garnished with a dollop of chipotle creme fraiche, which makes a nice contrast to the creamy, slightly sweet vegetable puree. You will probably end up with a little bit of extra chipotle creme fraiche. It would be good in an omelet, in a buckwheat crepe, spread thinly on a sandwich, or even just smeared on a cracker and topped with a bit of fresh chevre. Not that I have extensive personal experience with that last option or anything.

    Carrot, Leek, and Chestnut Soup with Chipotle Cream

    2 Tbsp. butter
    2 leeks
    2 lb. carrots
    4-oz. package shelled chestnuts
    1 tsp salt
    freshly ground black pepper to taste
    4 C vegetable broth or water

    1/2 C creme fraiche
    2 tsp tomato paste
    1/4-1/2 tsp chipotle chili powder, or to taste

    Heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Meanwhile, wash the leeks and cut them (white parts only--reserve the green parts for another use) into 1-inch chunks. Add the leeks to the pan and saute, stirring occasionally. Wash, peel, and roughly chop the carrots, and add them to the pan. Then add the chestnuts, salt, pepper, and liquid. Bring to a boil then turn the heat down and simmer, covered, until carrots and leeks are very, very tender--at least an hour, and an hour and a half doesn't hurt.

    Meanwhile, stir together the creme fraiche, tomato paste, and chipotle powder. Refrigerate until needed.

    When the vegetables are done, remove the soup from the heat. Puree in batches in a blender--be careful not to fill the blender too full, so that it does not spatter. Return the soup to the pan and heat gently.

    For each serving, stir a dollop of the chipotle creme fraiche into the bowl.

    Makes about 5 servings.

    Monday, February 1, 2010

    a contradictory combination

    Here are two recipes I chose for my February Gourmet, Unbound submission. Both are from a menu of Algerian dishes put together by Farid Zadi for the February 2008 issue.

    So the two recipes--Braised Turnips with Poppy Seed Bread Crumbs, and Fennel and Carrot Slaw with Olive Dressing--are meant to be eaten together, yet I'm calling them a contradictory combination. That's not because of the flavors or textures--the two dishes are a great balance to each other in that sense--but because of timing. The salad really needs to be made way ahead, but the turnips are best right away. (Actually, come to think of it, that makes them a convenient combination for busy parents, since you don't have to do all the cooking at once.)

    The turnip recipe needs a little tweaking, I think. First, there is just no way you need a cup and a half of braising liquid (I'd say a scant half-cup should do it). Second, the turnips really don't need to cook for a full hour. Mine were done after half an hour--then I started trying to boil down the excess liquid, realized it would take forever and result in overcooked turnips, and finally just fished the turnips out of the broth, tragically leaving all that delicious butter behind. There's got to be a better way. So I'm just going to link to the original recipe for now; I'll post it in full once I've made it my own.

    Ignoring my quibbles with the method, the result is fantastic. The turnips end up meltingly soft, but retain just enough of their mustard-y bite. Some of the bread crumbs fall down into the braising liquid on your serving platter and get pleasantly soggy, while others perch on top of the turnips and stay delicately crisp--the combination is just perfect. (And it's this combination that doesn't keep--the leftovers are tasty, but the contrast of textures is lost.) The poppy seeds are, surprisingly, a key element of the dish, adding a nice nutty flavor--but I recommend that you go out and buy some fresh ones; admit it, your current stash has been hanging around your spice cabinet since 2003.

    On to the salad. I've been looking for winter salads--something crisp and astringent to pair with those soft, long-cooked winter main dishes. And this one is definitely a good option. With one caveat. The original recipe says to refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to let the flavors blend, but I found that even after an hour or so the fennel was overpowering and the rest of the salad was kind of blah. But after sitting overnight--oh my goodness. The dressing made things all briny and savory, and the fennel retreated to become a grace note rather than a bazooka (yeah, yeah, mixed metaphors--so sue me). I've made a couple modifications to the original recipe, so my version appears below.

    Fennel and Carrot Slaw with Olive Dressing
    Adapted from Gourmet, February 2008

    If you can't find fennel, I think this recipe would also be great with cabbage or grated radishes in place of the fennel, or even carrots alone. 

    Juice of half a lemon
    1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
    3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
    3/4 teaspoon dried Aleppo chile or Espelette pepper flakes
    1/2 tsp salt
    1 medium fennel bulb with fronds
    5 carrots
    1/4 cup Spanish green olives
    2 Tbsp finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil
    2 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

    Place the first five ingredients--lemon juice through salt--in a medium serving bowl.

    Chop enough fennel fronds to measure 3 tablespoons and reserve. Discard remaining fronds and stalks. Quarter the fennel bulb and cut each quarter into very thin crosswise slices. Peel and grate the carrots. Remove the pits from the olives (if necessary) and finely chop.

    In the bowl, whisk together the dressing. Add the fennel fronds, fennel, carrots, olives, tomatoes, and parsley. Fold together to combine thoroughly. Refrigerate 8 hours or overnight to let the flavors blend.

    Makes 5 servings.