Thursday, December 19, 2013

I'm really thrilled that one of my recipes was selected by food52 to be a finalist in their current contest!  This is my smoked trout pate, which I have shared on the blog before, and it's as easy as can be to make and surprisingly delicious to eat.  I often make this for large gatherings for these reasons.  I like to serve it with thinly sliced baguette, but little packaged toasts and mild crackers are good too.

I'd love if you checked out the contest and voted!!  There are lots of great recipes on the site if you've never been before and many great hors d'oeuvres to choose from!

I'm hoping this link below will take you right to the voting page, but do take a moment to explore.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Vegetarian Chili with a Little Something Extra

The other night I made my usual chili (without the corn), but did my little two pot dance wherein I produce an omnivorous dish and its vegetarian counterpart, side by side, on the same stove, at the same time!  I feel like I should add "with two hands tied behind my back,"  but that would not be true.

I browned some ground chicken thigh meat in a skillet and started my chili in a Dutch oven.  Once I had added everything except the meat (and vinegar, which is almost a garnish, added at the very end), I pulled out a smaller pot and ladled about one-third of the chili into it.  I then put the chicken into the mix in the bigger pot and added a little already cooked and frozen quinoa into Maddy's vegetarian version.  The spirit had moved me earlier in Mom's to buy some frozen butternut squash, an item I have never before purchased, and I added that to the pots proportionally, as well.  I let them simmer a little more just to let the chicken incorporate and the butternut squash thaw and warm.  Too long and the squash would just puree.

I feel certain that this sounds much more complicated than it is!  If you too have a mixed family, give it a whirl.

I made this again with ground turkey and decided that the combination of turkey and butternut squash is a perfect fall nod to Thanksgiving.  This is also the recipe that won in the Greater DC Whole Foods Market cooking contest for best chili.  You can link to the full recipe here!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Thanksgiving Post Mortem or What to Keep for Next Time

How is it possible that we have no photos from Thanksgiving?  No photos of food preparation, no photos of finished dishes, no photos of GORGEOUS dry brined and maple glazed turkey, and no photos of happy friends and family spending time together and feasting semi-healthfully.  Might be in part due the theft of Maddy's camera, but still, we all have iPhones!

I planned a vegetable heavy meal, with every dish vegetarian, except for the turkey.  We did not make any weird, faux turkey vegetarian product.  Maddy never liked turkey, anyway, and doesn't miss it.

This was the menu:

Hors D'oeuvres: cheeses, carrot sticks, olives and Marcona almonds, mini sweet potato latkes with both cranberry-apple and Fuji applesauces in a nod to Thanksgivukkah, smoked salmon canap├ęs on cucumber slices with a (very) small dollop of creme fraiche and a little dill.

Seated dinner for 18: I thought the hors d'oeuvres selection was heavy enough that I opted to skip an appetizer course at the table.  That way we saved one plate which reduced dishwashing and meant we could dig right into the main event.  We had turkey, challah stuffing, green beans roasted with fennel and shallot, butternut squash and parsnip puree, cranberry sauce, roasted brussels sprouts, salad (thank you Karen), and store bought rolls.

For dessert, we had Paula's delicious brownies and sugar cookies, fresh fruit salad (thanks Wendy) and a crumb top apple pie from Jennycakes in Kensington.  The piece de resistance, though, was Maddy's vegan pumpkin pie.  Her crust was ground speculoos cookie with coconut oil and was stunning.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Fall Musings

                                                                                              Photo: Jan Pappalardo  

This has been an unusual fall in many ways.  We've had a few cold days here in the DC area, but not consistently.  Last Saturday morning we woke up in nearby West Virginia to a very brisk 28 degrees.  Nonetheless, we explored Charles Town and shopped at their small, but wonderfully stocked farmer's market, enjoying some warming and free (!) coffee from a local roaster, gathering supplies for an impromptu picnic of cheese, bread, guacamole and chips, and happening upon the most delicious thin green beans of which I bought enough for a dinner during the week as well as some to blanch and individually quick freeze.

On Sunday, when we returned, I quickly started cooking and made the hummus from the cookbook Jerusalem as well as some pumpkin bread, using my basic banana oat bread recipe, substituting pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie spice for the banana and cinnamon.  I also added a splash of maple syrup.  I kept the oven going for a while, roasting some eggplant to eat with the hummus.  The warm oven gently reheated the chilly house, and we drank tea and relaxed and I started planning some pureed butternut squash soup that never did materialize.  Or rather, I ran out of steam in the late afternoon and never made the soup.

By mid week, however, thoughts of soup couldn't have been further from my mind as the weather warmed up again to the mid sixties, with an overlay of warm, humid air reminiscent of late spring and not at all evocative of November, even in DC.  Halloween eve, itself, was warm and a little rainy, which I don't remember happening for years.  Earlier that day, I had just noticed the array of colors finally painted across the tree tops while walking in the park.  Yellow, orange, rust, red, and the merlot color of some of the maples.  

As I was leaving the house the next morning in the pouring rain, I noticed that the deluge had washed most of the leaves on the street under Maddy's car and covered the drainage sluice along the curb, stopping up the rain water rushing down the hill, and cascading a wall of water about three feet high over the tail end of her car and onto the sidewalk.  Although I was already late for an appointment, I felt compelled to redirect the flow.  So, in my raincoat with hood on (at least the hood on looks better.  Maddy says that I look like a turtle with the hood hanging down my back), armed with an ancient wooden handled golf club that Teddy bought at the Next to New Sale for $1 and that we inexplicably leave in the umbrella stand by the front door, I went out and scooped and "chipped" the leaves out of the way of the drainage area.  Once I had the water flowing steadily down the street, I then tried to clear beneath the back of the car just a little, until I realized that Maddy was still asleep in bed and was probably not going anywhere in the car for hours.  

Yesterday, we were lucky enough to be invited out to Sycamore Island for some canoeing on the Potomac in the late afternoon, on what we figured might be the last warm day.  It turned a little windy, but the colors and the light as the sun dropped were breathtaking.  Paul and I have a little work to do on rowing in the same boat, but we did pretty well once we got out of the shallow, rocky area.  I did not grow up with canoes, as Paul did, and my more recent, limited experience on the water has been in single person kayaks where there is no need to communicate with anyone else to maneuver.  

And now, as I write this at the new 8 am after changing the clocks, I feel a chill in my toes and nose and I can tell that the weather has changed again.  Maybe tonight I will make that butternut squash soup.   

Friday, October 25, 2013

Pomegranate and Feta Tabbouleh Style Salad

Maddy and I joined the crowd at Sixth and I earlier this week to see Yottam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, authors of the cookbooks Jerusalem and Ottolenghi, and co-owners of the Ottolenghi shops in London.  This was a stop on their book tour sponsored by Politics and Prose.  They've just released the American version of Ottolenghi (which was originally released in the UK), although it was actually their first book and predates even Ottolenghi's own book Plenty, which is a compilation of vegetarian recipes culled from his column for the Guardian newspaper.

I wrote about them here, and included a link to the recipe for their fabulous beet puree from Jerusalem.

And so, continuing on my Middle-Eastern kick, I recently prepared this feta and pomegranate "tabbouleh" salad. I've been making this for several years and pulled it off of a sweet, small-ish blog called What's for Lunch, Dot.  I haven't adapted it as it's great as is, and recommend that you give it a try right now while pomegranates are in the stores.

I seed the pomegranate by breaking it apart in a bowl of water in the sink, and pulling out the seeds or arils from each section into the water.  Once you've emptied the pomegranate of its arils, you'll be left with just the skin and some pith to compost or otherwise dispose of.  The arils themselves will sink to the bottom of the water filled bowl and the stray bits of yellow pith will float so you can discard them.  I  then pick through and get rid of the little white arils keeping only the wine red, plump ones.

Also, to my family's taste, I cut back a little on the parsley and use a milder feta - one that is not too, too strong or salty.   Those marked "Israeli" feta often fit the bill if you'd like to do the same.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Zuppa di Broccoli e Patate

Marcella Hazan was the queen of Italian cooking and in memoriam (she died this week at 89) many are honoring her with cooking from her cookbooks books and with mention of their favorite recipes from her cookbooks. Many people go back to the '70s with Marcella, but I only found her soon after I really started cooking in the '90s.  I worked backward, first acquiring Marcella Cucina in the remainder room in a cavernous bookstore in Vero Beach, Florida, and only later getting a used copy of The Classic Italian Cookbook at Second Story Books.  It is this book that caused people to liken her to the Italian Julia Child. I have to admit I've never made her famous tomato, onion, butter sauce because a stick of butter is not a good thing for me, but have been hearing about many people substituting olive oil so I might try that soon.  But, I am a great fan of many other of her fine recipes.

One that I love is her pesto in which you don't add Parmesan or Pecorino, but instead use goat cheese (Pesto al Caprino).  It produces a wonderful, creamy sauce that coats the pasta in a completely different way and instead of the saltiness of the Parmigiano, adds a smoother, lighter yet tangy touch.  It's such a small change, yet it yields a subtle but appealing difference to a common dish.

Another favorite is a rustic soup, Zuppa di Broccoli e Patate, the origins of which were simply the avoidance of waste. This soup uses broccoli florets, which Marcella explains, her husband and collaborator, Victor, didn't enjoy eating plain.  He much preferred the stalks, considering the florets "an accident of nature."

This is the perfect time of year to make this soup, at least in the mid-Atlantic, as for a brief time, we have both basil and broccoli growing at the same time.  Later on, if hothouse basil is not available, a small swirl of pesto sauce actually works quite well.

I've adapted this recipe a bit over the years, in part to streamline and in part to reduce butter.  From what I've read of her nature, these changes would probably cause Marcella to glare at me if she were here, so if you are interested in the original version, it is in her book Marcella Cucina.

Broccoli and Potato Soup (Zuppa di Broccoli e Patate)

(adapted from Marcella Hazan in Marcella Cucina)

serves about 4 as meal or 6 or more as a soup course

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced

pinch of salt

a few grinds of black pepper

1 fat clove of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

About 2 pounds of broccoli, from which you'll use just the florets.  If I find broccoli crowns without much stalk, I use about a pound and a quarter.

2 medium sized russet potatoes or if using the smaller Yukons instead, use 3 - 4, depending on size, peeled and cut into a small dice.

1 quart low sodium or homemade chicken or vegetable broth (for a packaged vegetable broth, I've been liking Imagine's "No-Chicken").

1 tablespoon of butter

1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

a handful of basil leaves gently torn into small pieces (can use a tablespoon or two of pesto sauce instead)

1.  Heat a Dutch oven or small soup pot over medium heat and when heated up add the olive oil and onion slices.  Sprinkle a few pinches of salt and a few grinds of black pepper over top.  After a few minutes, mix, cover and lower heat to medium low, checking from time to time that the onions are softening and and only slightly coloring, but not burning or crisping.

2.  While the onions are cooking, break the broccoli tops apart into smaller florets, reserving the stalks for another use.

3.  Once the onions are softened and lightly browned, add the garlic and let cook for a few minutes.

4.  Add in the broccoli florets and another pinch of salt and grind of pepper.  Let them cook for a few minutes tossing them in with the onions.

5.  Add in the potato and toss again.  Add the broth and bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer.  Let the soup cook at a high simmer until the potatoes soften enough to crush if gently pressed against the side of the pot with the back of the spoon.  Marcella does not tell us how long this step will take, as all potatoes, stoves, dices, etc. are different, but I've found that it can take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes for the potatoes to get to that perfect state of creaminess.

6.  Crush about 75 percent of the potatoes gently against the side of the pot to break them up.  Mix well.  If the soup is too thick, add a little more broth or water.  It should be, as Marcella says "loosely creamy, runny, rather than thick."

7.  Take off the heat and swirl in the butter and cheese and taste for salt and pepper.  Add more to your taste.  Sprinkle the basil on top and serve.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Kale Macaroni and Cheese

An early summer dinner at Woodberry Kitchen included a delicious vegetable laced mac ' n cheese.  Not too creamy, yet not too dry.  Not too, too cheesy and not spoiled by too much kale.  Just enough crispy topping without overdoing the top layer of noodles.  In all ways, a perfect balance.

I wanted to recreate that dish at home for my family to enjoy.  This is not an everyday dinner, but a special comfort food treat, made just slightly lighter.  I made this when a college age son of friends, home alone for a week, came for dinner, and I made it again when Ted and Maddy were both here at the same time at the end of the summer.

As Woodberry Kitchen does, I went with a rustic presentation,  using either the No. 9 (11 inch?) Griswold cast iron rescued from my parents' house or my Le Creuset cafe pan which is a little lower and wider.

Kale Mac 'n Cheese in Homage to Woodberry Kitchen

(serves 4 - 6, depending on appetite, 8 as a side dish)

1 bunch Lacinato or Toscano kale
1 pound thin penne rigate
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk
15 - 20 ounces shredded cheese (I use a mix of mild and sharp cheddar and asiago)
1/2 cup bread crumbs (I like a mix of whole wheat and panko)
1/2 cup grated or ground Pecorino Romano cheese

1.  Heat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Blanch, drain and chop the kale.  This requires a large pot of boiling water, into which you drop the kale, scoop it out into a strainer set over a bowl of ice water.  Let cool, squeeze out all the water and then chop.  You can also thaw about a half bag of frozen kale in a strainer and then squeeze out the water.  I like to use my pasta pot for this step and then use it for cooking the penne.

3.  Bring the water in the pot back to a boil and add the penne and cook to just under al dente. The pasta is going to be baked also, so you want it to be just under cooked at this stage.

4.  In a sauce pan, melt the butter and olive oil until butter starts to foam and then whisk in the flour and whisk mixture for a few minutes.  Add the milk slowly and whisk continuously to make sure there are no lumps.  Once you have a smooth texture, turn off the heat and add the cheese.  Mix well until the cheese is melted and then add the kale, making sure it doesn't stay in clumps.

5.  If the sauce pan is large enough, add the pasta into the cheese sauce, otherwise add the pasta and the cheesy kale mixture back into the pasta pot and mix well.

6.  Place into an 11 or 12 inch cast iron pan (though mine is well seasoned, I do hit it with a coating of cooking spray).  Sprinkle the bread crumbs and then the Pecorino cheese over the top.

7.  Bake for about 35 - 40 minutes until bubbling and the top starts to brown.  If after 40 minutes this has not happened, raise heat to 400 degrees and check again after 5 minutes. Let stand for a few minutes before serving.

Photo: Maddy Bazil

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Trying to Stay Healthy is Hard

Some years ago I lost some weight and improved my cholesterol numbers using basic healthier eating habits: substituting whole grains for white, eating more vegetables and fruit, eating less high fat animal protein, and watching my salt intake just for good measure.  These habits have become second nature, not just to me, but to my family as well.

While my cholesterol levels were never dangerous, they were higher than doctors wanted for me with my family history of heart disease.  Several months ago, although I hadn't gained weight and still follow my healthier eating methods, some of my numbers were surprisingly closer to the danger zone than I and my internist were comfortable with.  Attribute it to mid-life?  Approaching diabetes? Eating less meat so too many carbs?  Whatever the reason, I knew I had no choice but to take action.

The next most obvious step to take was to simply try to lose a little weight and see if that changed anything.  I stuck with my basic eating habits, but tried to cut back portion sizes a little and began keeping a food diary once again.  I also ramped up the exercise as much as my beleaguered feet could handle (this required new running shoes as well as new insoles within them).

After three months, I have lost about 9 pounds and had my blood rechecked and found that my numbers are back closer to the range where we want them to be.  No medication necessary yet!!

This is both empowering and completely terrifying at the same time.  The fact that I can objectively and measurably improve my health by tweaking my diet is comforting.  However, what happens if I can't exercise for a while or slip into larger portions over time?  I had healthy eating habits for years. This heightened vigilance is intense and relentless, and as I age, it looks like it will only get harder to maintain and is not something that I can afford to neglect without repercussions.

Jane Brody's column in today's New York Times has some relevant tidbits that mirror what I've been doing.  While the column overall is a distillation of the Center for Science in the Public Interest's (CSPI) "report card" on the state of the American diet, one line jumped out at me.  Brody quotes Bonnie Liebman, the nutritionist who collated the information for CSPI. "It would not be great to simply replace refined grains like white flour and white rice with whole grains.  We need to cut back on grains, period."

I'm not advocating or practicing a carb free diet by any means, but I am limiting my portions of brown rice and whole wheat pasta a little.  Vegetables still form the basis of our meals and I try to choose whole grains with more fiber and protein such as barley, bulgar and farro.  I'm also paying extra attention to portion sizes of healthy vegetable fats such as avocado, nuts and olive oil.  I continue to eat them all, but am more conscious of how small a serving of each actually is.

The hardest part of portion control remains restaurants.  I am, and have been for years, a big proponent of home cooking.  We don't eat too many meals outside the house, but with my renewed efforts at portion control I've been playing around with some more tricks while out.  Again, coinciding with what I've been doing, Ms. Liebman also says "if you eat what restaurants serve, you will end up like two-thirds of Americans, overweight or obese.  People should assume that restaurants serve double what you should be eating...."  Wow!

If you have any great tips on healthier restaurant eating, please consider sharing them in the comment section!  Sometimes it just comes down to eating less of everything, I guess.

How Beet!

Yottam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's cookbooks are all the rage these days, and with good cause.  There is even a Facebook page devoted to "cooking the book" Jerusalem.  I've had Plenty and Jerusalem since each was published here and both are filled with wonderful recipes and photos that leap into your kitchen and make you want to eat everything in them.  Now, their first book, called simply, Ottolenghi, has just been released in this country with American style measurements. I received my copy yesterday!

This beet puree of Ottolenghi's is surprisingly wonderful and easy to make.  I found it in his cookbook, Jerusalem, but this version is his submission to Food & Wine magazine.  There are a few differences between the two versions.  The main one, though, is that in the book, Ottolenghi calls for date syrup while in the magazine he substitutes in the same amount of maple syrup.  Maple syrup is widely available and most people keep it handy so I suspect this is a change that he felt would make the recipe more accessible, but really, if you have sourced za'atar, it's possible that you've been in a store that also carries date syrup.  I've also read online that people have substituted pomegranate molasses.

A second difference is in the method of cooking the beets.  I'm really not sure why he's changed this out as either method works just fine.

I skipped the goat cheese and just garnished with the hazelnuts and scallions.  Pistachios would also be delicious.

And for any interested locals, Ottolenghi and Tamimi will be speaking with Joan Nathan as moderator, at the 6th and I Synagogue in October.  Just check the Politics and Prose schedule for details!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

No Crust Quiche-Like Food

I have read many a kale recipe over the last few years, and many an article in a food publication touting kale as not only a superfood but one that any proper food lover should embrace.  In my house, however, we simply call this dish "no-crust quiche," because, really, despite all its hype and hoopla, most people still turn their noses up and their taste buds off at the sound of the dreaded "K word." My husband is a perfect example of such a person.  I have served kale in all its varieties and all its splendor and blogged about it several times.  However, my unscientific tests have shown that if I say a dish has kale in it, it receives a much frostier response than it would if the taster thought the green bits were something other... say, spinach, maybe.  Not that anyone is actually fooled, but at least I don't have to see sad faces at the beginning of dinner.

So, in order to ensure that this dish got its fair shot (I won't even address the quinoa issue), I renamed it for my family's purposes.  In actuality, this is Hilarybee's famous Quinoa and Kale Crustless Quiche from food52, and there is a reason that so many love it.

I recommend it highly, for those times when you think you'd like a quiche-y kind of eggy thing without all the fat.  Don't get me wrong, this is not completely virtuous, what with some cream cheese and cheddar, but it's got all the satisfaction of a full-on quiche without the crust, many fewer eggs, and no cream.

I use 1/3 less fat cream cheese with no loss of creaminess and I also like to grate a little cheddar over top to brown.  Last time I made this, I used Cotswold cheddar, the one with the bits of chives in it, and it was delicious.  I like to use lacinato kale (also known as Tuscan kale) for this.  You can even use frozen kale, just thaw it in a strainer and then press out all the water.

A couple of other tips: first, don't skimp on the onions (in fact, add more if you like them); and, second, make extra quinoa to keep in your refrigerator for a quick salad later in the week.  Although Hilarybee recommends this be served hot or room temperature, I much prefer it hot out of the oven, when the cream cheese is oozy and, well, creamy.  Leftovers are delicious microwaved to that same state of creaminess.

Many thanks, Maddy, for the beautiful photos!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Crispy Lentils with Lamb

The combination of lamb and lentils is not one I would have easily come up with, but I love cumin so when I saw this featured on food52, I immediately tried it.  I've made this dish now several times and have adapted it to suit our family composition of two omnivores and one vegetarian (although Maddy has asked that I no longer refer to her as Veggie Girl, the moniker remains oh-so-fitting).  It's an easy weeknight dinner and even possible to make, as I do, in two pans simultaneously.  I will explain how I do that below, for any of you likewise mixed families.

But first, a couple of tips.  This dish is equally tasty made with ground beef, and, I have to come clean, with pre-coooked lentils from Trader Joe's refrigerated section.  When I used the pre-cooked lentils, I deglazed the pan with white wine left over in the fridge instead of the lentil water called for.  I serve with large leaves of lettuce in which to wrap a few spoonfuls of the mix and with some warm pita and yogurt or labne (please, please try Rivka's which is delicious and save for a little advance planning, incredibly simple to make.  I use 2% Greek yogurt for this).  For a vegetable side dish, roast some cauliflower  or diced eggplant on an oiled pan in a 425 degree oven for about 30 minutes or so.

I make this in one larger pan and one smaller one, using the smaller one for a lentil only version.  In the smaller pan, I skip the lamb and just put the lentils in with a little olive oil.  I use about 1/3 of the lentils for the vegetarian version and 2/3 for the one with lamb.  In step 2, I add the spices and garlic and wine proportionally to the two pans and watch and stir both.  Both versions taste great!

Photo credits: Maddy Bazil