February 26th, 2015

Grapefruit Cake, at last

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Soft chiffon crumb, fragrant with zest, dotted with bittersweet syrup, coated in cream cheese icing…

Before I tell you more about this “at last” cake, I need to tell you its backstory,
which curiously begins with cornbread.

Recently I was invited to participate in “Dirty Pages,” a photo and story-telling exhibit about Nashville women and their storied recipes. Each person was asked to submit a favored recipe, one whose splattered, ringed and tattered page demonstrated not only its much-loved use, but told its tale of food–family–community.

I knew immediately where I’d find mine, inside Recipes from Foods of the World. My first cookbook, it was a gift from my soon-to-be mother-in-law, presented on the eve of my wedding in 1974. The marriage didn’t last—but the cookbook is still with me.

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The recipe I had in mind was “Leola’s Cornbread.” Over the years, especially during my catering career, it was a workhorse. My staff and I tweaked and modified the recipe, cut back on the sugar, increased the butter, deleted the margarine, even created a version with buttermilk. We baked it into countless loaves, muffins, hoecakes, croutons, and stuffings. We sparked it with chilis, cheeses, pimentos and scallions.

The recipe became encrusted with cornmeal.

I smile poring over the page: A mess of meal and flour, the blurred notes in the margins jotted by my cohorts Wendy and Tonya, the release of a musty, almost rancid scent from smears of batter, set in now for decades. A veritable “Dirty Page” from my life.

But the cookbook holds other treasures.

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Turning pages, stirring memories–look at that picture of the Grapefruit Cake! When I first saw this as a young cook, I was enchanted by the look of it. I loved the campy tropical staging. But, in my early twenties, I wasn’t crazy about grapefruit, so I didn’t make it. (I know–silly youth.)

My tastes matured, thank goodness. Whenever I–the older, more sophisticated caterer and chef—would peruse the cookbook and land on that page I’d think, “I’d really like to make that cake. I bet it’s delicious.”

I never got to it. Until last week, I had forgotten about it.

Everything in its time, they say. A prompt to review the past, through all my “dirty pages,” and I decided it would be different this time. I was going to make this beauty.

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It took me almost forty one years. But I’ve made it, Amen, at last.

GRAPEFRUIT CAKE WITH CREAM CHEESE FROSTING AND CANDIED GRAPEFRUIT PEEL
adapted from Recipes from Foods of the World published by Time/Life books, 1972

THE CAKE
2 tablespoons soft butter
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup fresh squeezed and strained grapefruit juice
1/3 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, separated
1 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon fresh grated grapefruit zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat the sides and bottom of cake pan(s) with softened butter, then dust with flour.

Sift cake flour, baking flour, and salt together in a bowl. Set aside.
Pour grapefruit juice and oil into a measuring cup. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the 4 egg whites with cream of tartar until they form stiff, unwavering peaks. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat the 4 yolks with 1 cup sugar for 4-5 minutes. Mixture will become thick and light yellow.

Beat in 1/2 cup of the flour mixture, followed by 1/4 cup of the juice-oil mixture. Repeat this process until the batter is well incorporated. Beat in the grapefruit zest.

Fold in the egg whites gently but thoroughly. Pour the batter into the cake pan(s); smooth the tops, and place into the preheated oven.

Bake for 25-30 minutes. Check with a toothpick or cake tester for doneness. Remove and cool on a rack for 5 minutes before inverting.

Invert cakes onto racks and remove pans. Allow to completely cool before frosting.

makes a 2-layer 9″cakes, or one 11″ springform round, split

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THE CANDIED PEEL
1 grapefruit
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water

Carefully peel the rind of the grapefruit into long strips. Place the strips into a saucepan. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Drain, add fresh water to cover and repeat. Drain and add 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water, stirring to dissolve.
Cover and place on medium heat. Simmer for 12-15 minutes.

Remove the strips, now supple and glazy, and lay them out on a rack to dry, reserving the syrup.

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CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
1 pound cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
1 tablespoon grapefruit zest
2 teaspoons grapefruit syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup powdered sugar

Beat the cream cheese and butter together until fluffy. Beat in the zest, syrup and vanilla.
Beat in the powdered sugar, tasting for desired sweetness.

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ASSEMBLY

If you baked the cake in one large (10-11 inch) springform pan, split the cool layer in half.
Dot one layer with reserved syrup from making the candied peel. Spread a layer of frosting and place the other half (or other layer) on top.

Coat the top and sides with frosting.

Decorate the sides with candied peel. Cut the zested grapefruit into supremes–slices or sections without the pith or membrane. Arrange the slices on top of the cake.

Serves 12-16

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Posted in Desserts, Recipes | 12 Comments »




February 10th, 2015

A Celebratory Soup!

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This week, my mom Joanie passed a milestone birthday–85 years on the planet. Jumpin’ Jive, Joanie’s 85! With the exception of some minor aches and pains, she is blessed with good health and a sharp mind. She and my dad (a robust 88!) live on their own, and go about their day-to-day with enthusiasm and gratitude.

Five years ago, she celebrated her 80th with a big hullabaloo. This anniversary, however, she decided to observe on the down-low.

From me, she requested an afternoon of my cooking and company, with time reserved to solve the Sunday NYTimes crossword. Preparing a special meal, dining together, and then escaping with our erasable ink pens into the world of cleverly constructed words: That’s a gift I am happy to provide.

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For our lunch, I made three dishes–puree of cauliflower soup, grilled strip steak smothered in sherried mushrooms, and chocolate pudding parfaits. All three were delicious, but it’s the soup I want to tell you about today.

It is lush and creamy, without a speck of cream. No roux or other thickening agents either. A couple of potatoes, an onion, a parsnip or heirloom yellow carrot work together with the cauliflower to give the soup its silken body.

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Simply put, it is vegetables and broth, simmered and pureed.

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And, with a modicum of embellishments, it elevates to a soup for celebrations.

About those embellishments:
I reserve a handful of cauliflower curds, which I oven roast to crispness and drop into the soup, like croutons. Then I sprinkle in crumbles of gorgonzola–or any blue, which slightly melt into the soup where they fall, supplying little knobs of pungency in select spoonfuls.

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To finish it: A whirl of chili oil–for a brilliant streak of heat, a scatter of sliced green onions for a hit of brightness and fresh taste. (Green onions are a gift. What savory thing isn’t improved upon with a bit of fresh green?)

Joanie and I loved the soup. I was happy, because it was beautiful to serve, delectable to eat and easy to make. The fact that it is gluten free, vegetarian, (and if you omit the gorgonzola, vegan and dairy-free) makes it one that I’ll keep in my repertoire, knowing that I can serve any guest with any dietary preference with confidence.

Now, back to puzzling…got to figure out 94 Down, site of ancient Greek Olympics…four letters beginning with E…

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PUREE OF CAULIFLOWER SOUP WITH CAULIFLOWER CROUTONS
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 parsnip or heirloom yellow carrot, peeled and sliced
2 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
1 large head cauliflower, washed, cored and chopped, 1 1/2 cups of curds reserved
1 quart vegetable broth
salt and black pepper, to taste
2-3 green onions, finely chopped
4-5 tablespoons crumbled gorgonzola (or blue cheese)
chili oil

Place a large pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil.
Add onions, carrot or parsnip, and potatoes. Saute for five minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the chopped cauliflower and continue sauteeing for another five minutes.
Pour in the broth. Stir well. Cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender–12 minutes.

Remove from heat.

Blend until smooth—I use an immersion blender to puree the soup, but you may use a food processor or regular blender if that’s what you have.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with roasted cauliflower “croutons,” crumbled gorgonzola, green onion, and chili oil, if desired.

Makes 6 servings

Roast the cauliflower curds:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Toss the cauliflower in a tablespoon of olive oil.
Spread over a baking sheet and place into the oven.
Roast until golden brown and slightly crispy, about 15 minutes.

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Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Soups/Stews, Vegetarian Dishes | 16 Comments »




January 26th, 2015

Korean-style Beef Short Rib Tacos

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I don’t know too much about Korean food, but on the rare occasions that I dine on dishes like Bibimbap or Galbi Jjim at one of the homespun Korean eateries here in Nashville, I always experience this brilliant palate awakening. The spices, sugar and chili pepper heat, fermented vegetables and grilled meat hit on all the taste buds: Sweet-salty-sour-bitter-umami.

Envigorating!

And I chide myself: Why don’t I eat here more often? Why don’t I try to cook like this?

The truth is, I tend to cook in my culture-comfort zone–which is a mish-mash of Italian-French-Southern-New American whatever! But today’s post reflects a little expansion beyond that zone.

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It’s not authentic Korean, to be sure. The seasoning of the meat–soy-ginger-garlic-sesame—falls in line. Lashing it with the sweet-sour crunch of pickled red cabbage and grassy fresh cilantro fits too–although it’s much tamer than traditional Kim-chi. And, eating it wrapped in a griddled corn tortilla makes it more like Mexi-Korean fusion.

No matter. The result is simply delicious.

Kogi BBQ, a food truck in the Los Angeles area, gets the credit for originating the cleverly filled tacos over 6 years ago. It’s an idea that has caught on across the country–and inspired all manner of taco fusion treats.

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My prompt started back in December, when I had purchased–and overbought– some boneless beef short rib for a big family meal. (which was a classic French preparation.) I put the extra meat into the freezer, knowing that I’d soon have the chance to use it in a different flavor profile:

Tacos inspired by Kogi, for our community potluck.

I did a little research, and put together my plan.

First: the marinade. Easy to make–what is key is allowing enough time for it to permeate the meat. Six to eight hours, if you start in the morning. A 12 hour-overnight would be even better. Don’t worry if you can’t locate an Asian pear. I used an apple that I already had! The texture and mild sweet fruit taste gets communicated into the mix.

Note: if you cannot, for whatever reason, get short rib then I recommend flank steak. These Korean-style beef tacos at Cooking Light use it to great advantage—marinated and grilled.

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Next: The Sear and the Braise. It’s important to get a nice rich brown finish on the beef. The marinade goes far in that regard, caramelizing as you sear the meat. Once you’ve accomplished that, you smother the strips in deglazed juices from the pan, along with the remaining marinade.

Cover and place into a low oven and forget about the meat for the next two to three hours.

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What emerges, after that time, is succulent beef, steeped in garlicky gingery tastes.
You really don’t need a knife to shred the meat for the filling–pick it apart with a fork.
Save all those braising juices, too.

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I didn’t have the time needed to make Kimchi, which is about a week. Instead, I whipped up a quick pickled slaw, using red cabbage and red onion. In short order, it provided a snappy sweet-sour topping.

Finish the taco with some cilantro and a stripe of Sriracha sauce.

Gosh, these were good.

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KOREAN STYLE BRAISED BEEF SHORT RIB TACOS
3 pounds boneless beef short ribs
marinade and braising mixture
vegetable oil

The Marinade:
1 Gala apple or Asian Pear, cored and chopped
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
4-6 cloves garlic, peeled
2 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
3/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons sesame oil
a few pinches red pepper flakes

Place the apple, onion, garlic, and ginger into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse the ingredients together.

Add the soy sauce, mirin, brown sugar, water, and sesame oil. Process until smooth.

Place the meat into a non-reactive bowl or container. Pour about 1/2 of the marinade over the meat (reserving the rest for later use in the recipe.) Make sure the meat is well coated. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes. Cover and refrigerate–marinating overnight is best.

The Braise:
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Place a large skillet or pot on medium heat. Add 2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil.
Remove the beef from the marinade and brown the pieces a few minutes on each side.
Place the browned pieces into a shallow baking dish.
Pour remaining marinade over the beef.
Cover with aluminum foil and oven-braise for 3 hours.
When done, the meat will be juicy and fork-tender.

When the meat is cool enough to handle, break it up into small pieces for the tacos. Pour braising juices over the meat. Keep warm until ready to assemble the tacos.

Makes 2 dozen 6 inch tacos

“PICKLED RED” RED CABBAGE AND RED ONION SLAW
1/2 head red cabbage
1/2 large red onion
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Slice the cabbage as thinly as possible and place into a mixing bowl.
Slice the onion as thinly as possible and add to the cabbage.
In a separate bowl, whisk the vinegar, sugar, and salt together.
Pour over the slaw and let marinate for 20 minutes.

TACO ASSEMBLY
warm beef in braising juices
pickled red slaw
1 bunch fresh cilantro, leaves picked and coarsely chopped
24 6 inch corn tortillas
Sriracha hot sauce

Place a skillet on medium heat. Brown the tortillas on both sides–about 1 minute a side.
Spoon in the beef. Top with pickled red slaw, fresh cilantro, and a squirt of Sriracha hot sauce.

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Posted in Gluten Free, Meats/Poultry, Recipes, Sandwiches | 15 Comments »




January 18th, 2015

Roasted Cauliflower Za’atar

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Happy 2015, friends! I have begun this year in focused down-sizing mode. After living in a wonderful old–and large– house for fifteen years, Bill and I have decided that it is time for a change. Simplify. This calls for a smaller home, more efficient living, in space that better meets our needs.

Before we can make that kind of move, we must start where we are. When you live in the same place for many years, stuff accumulates. You don’t even see it! (so much crammed into drawers and closets!) And if you are planning to live in a third less space—-well—it’s easy to figure out. A third of your things gotta go–at the very least.

It’s imperative to adopt a detached point of view. I find myself in this sort of mental dialogue: Is this something that I have used in the past year? 2 years? More? Probably don’t need it, right? Is this something that I want to pack up and move to the next place? No? The response is simple: Say bye-bye.

It is a gratifying process, this letting go of stuff. Home furnishings, kitchen goods, books, clothing, electronics. We have made countless trips already to the Goodwill and recycling centers. We’re not into selling the stuff–just give it away, right now. (Except for a tandem ocean touring kayak. I know, beyond ironic for life in land-locked middle Tennessee —Bill needs to find a buyer for it!)

With the lightening of our home comes a lightening of spirit. What an uplift. Shedding these often unseen, all unused items also sheds psychic dead weight.

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And now, for a lightening of another kind. After such fun feast-filled holidays, my body could use a little down-sizing too! Today’s recipe fits the bill, for just about anyone. With cauliflower as its centerpiece, it’s vegan, gluten-free, yet meaty and satisfying.

In recent years, cauliflower has demonstrated its versatility, in soups and purees, mimicking chicken piccata, egg salad, rice… This preparation uses just three ingredients. But what fantastic, complex flavors, thanks to za’atar.

Do you know about this seasoning, used throughout the Middle East?

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The word za’atar is Arabic for wild thyme.
But that’s just one of the elements. Crushed sumac, toasted sesame seeds, oregano, salt, and sometimes cumin combine to make a beguiling blend that you can stir into plain yogurt, (terrific dip or marinade) or extend with olive oil to brush onto grilled flatbread.

I read here that some consider Za’atar brain food. In which case, it seems all the more fitting to have it roasted onto the brainlike round of cauliflower.

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I’ve made this dish twice this year–to rave reviews. The rumpled curd becomes crispy, the za’atar mixture caramelizes onto the cauliflower as it roasts. Redolent spices fill the kitchen!

The first time, I served it as a side dish. Another time, I cut the roasted head into florets and cast them over a salad, dressed with citrus fruits and pistachios. Lovely.

If you cannot find za’atar at your global market or specialty spice shop, you can make it yourself. Here’s the recipe.

Here’s to being lighter.

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ROASTED CAULIFLOWER ZA’ATAR
2 tablespoons Za’atar
4 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 head cauliflower, washed, leaves removed, head left intact

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a small bowl, place the za’atar spice blend. Add the olive oil and stir. Let it sit for about five minutes.

Place the cleaned head of cauliflower onto a baking sheet.
Brush the entire surface with the za’atar-olive oil mixture.

Place into the oven and roast for an hour.

Makes 4-6 servings

Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 19 Comments »




December 31st, 2014

Lobster Rolls, Gratitude, and Farewell 2014

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I haven’t gone out for New Year’s Eve–not for many years now. It’s become tradition for friends to come to our place. We cook something extraordinary, something de luxe; then we feast, tell stories, play games, reflect on the year, our moments of gratitude, and talk about what might be in store in the months to come.

Lobster has often figured into the mix.

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For many NYEs, we’d have a community lobster pot. I’d make a spicy-winey poaching bath, and everyone would bring their own lobster tails, ready to take the savory plunge. We’d serve that luscious meat with lemon butter as part of a 4 course seated dinner. It’s very fun, very delicious,

also very laborious.

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So we changed things up.

Now everyone brings an appetizer or two to share. The buffet table fills up quickly with delectables such as Vietnamese Summer Rolls, Fig-filled Brie in Puff Pastry, Bibb Lettuce Cups with grapefruit and avocado, “Cowboy Caviar” (gotta start eating those black-eyed peas!) and baby crabcakes with citrus remoulade.

This year, lobster is part of the scenario, in a more casual–yet still luxurious, way. I decided to make little lobster rolls—of the buttery yeasty Parker House type– flecked with sea salt, then stuffed with lobster salad. I make the same spicy-winey bath to cook them–recipe to follow–so that if you take the notion to just eat lots of poached lobster and drawn butter–well, here ya go.

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For the salad, the meat is lightly dressed. You don’t want to mask that sweet lobster taste. Lemon, green onion, red bell pepper, celery, and a little Sriracha lend it the right crunch and zing.

Notes about the Parker House style rolls: My recipe uses sourdough starter along with a boost of dry active yeast. If you don’t have the starter, no worries. Use 2 packages of yeast, also increasing the amount of flour (add 2 cups) and milk (2 cups) I also use honey instead of sugar.

Recipes for this kind of roll abound on the webs. The main thing to remember about these rolls—which are buttery and rich, yet light as the ethers—is that milk, butter, and an egg are key to making the dough supple and elastic.

If you don’t have time to make the rolls, Cooking Light offers an easy-peasy solution here:
Lobster Roll recipe, using hot dog buns

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LOBSTER SALAD
Spicy-Winey Bath: (for 6 Lobster tails)
6 cups water
2 cups White Wine
1 Lemon, cut in half
2 Celery Ribs and leaves, chopped
1 small Onion, quartered
2 cloves Garlic
1 Bay Leaf
2 teaspoons Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon Celery Seed
1/2 teaspoon Mustard Seed
1/2 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes

Place all these ingredients into a large covered stockpot and simmer until onions are softened–about 25 minutes. (this will accommodate up 6-8 lobster tails)

Prepare the lobster tails for their bath: Using kitchen shears, cut up the center of the thin cartilage underside of the tail and snip off the sundry flippers. Gently crack the base of the tail backwards to make it easier to remove meat after poaching. Rinse well.

Plunge the lobster into the gently rolling bath and poach for five-seven minutes. Remove the now bright orange-red tails from the bath. Allow to cool.

Remove the cooked meat. Discard the shells.

The Lobster Salad:
2-3 ribs of celery, finely chopped
3-4 green onions, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, minced
1/2 cup good mayonnaise (such as Hellman’s or Duke’s)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons Sriracha hot sauce
Cooked lobster tail meat, cut or pulled into bite-sized pieces

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SOURDOUGH PARKER HOUSE ROLLS
1 cup “fed” sourdough starter mixed with 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1 cup water
1 cup lowfat milk
1/2 pound butter, divided
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 package dry active yeast
1 egg
4 cups all-purpose flour

The night before: mix your starter in a bowl with flour and water. Stir well. Cover with plastic and leave at room temperature for an hour. Then refrigerate.

Ready to make the rolls:
Remove the sourdough mixture from the refrigerator.

Warm the milk on low heat, add 1/4 pound (one stick) butter, then the honey and salt. Stir until the butter is melted. Remove from heat. When the mixture feels tepid, stir in the package of dry active yeast.

Pour into a large mixing bowl. Add the sourdough mixture.

Using a dough hook, begin to mix, adding the egg, and the flour, a cup at a time.
Knead until the dough comes together into soft elastic mass. Cover and allow the dough to double in size—about 1 1/2 hours.

Melt the remaining 1/4 pound butter in a saucepan set on low heat.

When dough is doubled in size, turn it out onto the work counter that has been dusted with flour. Divide the dough ball in half, setting one piece aside.

Brush baking sheets with butter. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Roll out the dough into a rectangle, about 1/2 inch thick. Brush with melted butter and cut into squares. You should get 16-20 pieces. Roll each piece around your finger and place onto the buttered baking sheet. Leave 1/2 inch space between each roll.

Brush their tops with melted butter and sprinkle with coarse sea salt.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, until rolls are light and golden. Cool on a rack before slicing and stuffing with lobster salad (and a piece of leaf lettuce, if you like.)

TWO GRATITUDE MOMENTS FROM 2014

This year has been rich and full of wonder. The launching of my cookbook, Third Thursday Community Potluck, features high on my list, to be sure. I am so pleased with the result. The book is beautiful. I couldn’t have imagined anything finer. I am so grateful for this accomplishment, at this stage of my life.

Nichole, Domenica, Nancy and Tracy

I am also so grateful for all of the support I’ve received from family and friends for this effort. Here are three blogging friends who came to my book signing in the Washington DC area last month. We knew one another from our blogs, but this was the first time that we met in person. Big hugs to Tracy of Amuse-Bouche for Two, Nichole of And Baby Cakes Three, and Domenica of Domenica Cooks and American Food Roots. Y’all rock! The connections that we make through our blogging, sharing our mutual love of food and community, is what it’s all about.

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Last, and best is grandson Zachary. Bill and I, aka Pops and Nanaroo, enjoyed a wonderful Christmas visit with him. The boy loves food! And he knows that nothing compares to licking the beater.

Happy New Year, Everyone. All best wishes for love peace health and prosperity in 2015.

Nancy

Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Breads, Fish/Seafood, Recipes, Sandwiches | 21 Comments »




December 15th, 2014

Great GREENS

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My friend Heather had overbought produce for an event, and found her fridge bursting with 12 bunches of assorted winter greens–curly kale, lacinato kale, and great fronds of Swiss chard. She called me, wondering, what could she do? They were becoming limp, and it would be a shame for them to be fodder for the compost.

We talked about some ideas—making kale pesto and kale chips, blanching and freezing chard, when I said, “I’ll take some off your hands. I’ll make some dishes with them. Then, come to dinner.”

Later that day, she arrived at my door, arms laden with grocery bags, a jumble of green leaves, bright and dark, veined and rumpled, some sturdy and sweeping, some starting to look a bit weary.

Great greens, girl. Gotta get to work.

Before I could figure out their destiny, I had to assess their condition. I trimmed their stems, and plunged them in tubs of fresh water to rehydrate. Within an hour, most of the greens had perked up. The chard plumped and straightened, out of the tub. The rumpled kale regained its bounce.

Now, what to make?

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The thing with greens—any sort really—is that what starts out as monumental quickly cooks down to manageable. Nonetheless, I had enough chard to make a great pot of stewy-soup, and plenty of lacinato kale to make this beguiling recipe I’d just discovered on Food 52.

Both are simple wintertime recipes, hearty and delicious. Most of work is in prepping the greens–cleaning, deribbing, tearing, chopping.

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You begin this soup the way you do most soups: You build a foundation. Saute hunks of portabello mushrooms with diced onions and carrots to get a meaty base before adding vegetable broth and tomato paste. The mushrooms and tomato are the powerhouse duo, making the sienna-colored broth in which the chard simmers a veritable umami-bomb of flavor.

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And this kale gratin? Ridiculously easy. Only 6 ingredients, 3 of them being salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Everything gets tossed into a baking dish and then placed into the oven. That’s it!

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I made two modifications.

The original recipe calls for 3 cups of Cream. I know. So rich, so luxurious, so over-the-top—but I couldn’t bring myself to go there. And, I already had a quart of half-and-half in the fridge. I dialed it back a bit–and substituted the half and half for cream. Instead of placing slabs of sharp cheddar over the top of the casserole, I shredded the cheese–4 ounces each of New York yellow and Vermont white—to generously sprinkle over the mass, the pieces nestling in and around the greens.

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Don’t worry about the tower of kale in your baking dish–it cooks down in that hot oven. Some of the leaves get dry and crispy on the top—and boy, is that ever a boon. (Kale chips!) The cheese, as it bubbles and melts, forms a savory caramel crust too. Scoop through that layer of crunch into this compelling press of green, cooked to tenderness, the kale absorbing the nutmeg-scented dairy in the process–a perfect balance of bitter and sweet.

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I cannot overstate the absolute wonder and earthy delectability of this dish. If it’s this marvelous with half-and-half, the cream version must be Heaven. I just want to be a little mindful of my heart, and not get there too soon.

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SWISS CHARD-PORTABELLO MUSHROOM SOUP
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
4 carrots, peeled and diced
1 pound portabello mushrooms, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 quart vegetable stock
1 small can tomato paste
2-3 bunches Swiss chard, stemmed, leaves cut into ribbons

Place a 6 quart pot over medium heat. When warm, add the olive oil. Then add the onions, sauteing them until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the carrots and continue to stir and saute for another three minutes. Increase the heat to medium high, and add the mushrooms.
Season with salt, black pepper, and thyme. Stir. The mushrooms may stick to the bottom, but don’t worry–that will add to the flavor of the base.

Pour in the vegetable stock. Add the tomato paste and a cup of water. Stir well.
Add the Swiss chard, folding into the broth. It will collapse as it cooks. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes. Taste for seasonings.

Serve over hot cooked rice.
Makes 10-12 servings

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LACINATO KALE GRATIN adapted from Food 52 and Renee Erickson/A Boat, A Whale, and a Walrus
2-3 bunches lacinato kale (a.k.a. black Tuscan or dinosaur kale)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
3 cups Half-and-Half
1/2 pound shredded sharp cheddar (can be a combination of yellow and white sharps)

Preheat oven to 350 convection or 375 conventional.

Remove the kale ribs and tear the leaves into pieces. Place into a large bowl. Sprinkle the leaves with salt, black pepper and nutmeg and toss. Heap the seasoned kale into a 9 inch by 13 inch baking dish. Pour the half-and-half over the kale, taking care that it doesn’t spill over the sides. Top with shredded cheddar, tucking some of the shreds underneath some leaves.

Place into the oven, middle rack, and bake for 45 minutes (convection) or an hour (conventional)

Let cool for 5 minutes and serve.

Makes 8 servings

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Posted in Casseroles, Gluten Free, Recipes, Soups/Stews, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 15 Comments »




December 11th, 2014

Rugelach! candied ginger-apricot-almond and garam masala-chocolate-cherry twirls

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I first encountered these engaging little confections in a now long-extinct bakery in Nashville called Bokay’s. Its owners were Hungarian, and they specialized in towering, elaborately decorated wedding cakes, the sort that made children stop at the display window and gape with longing.

It was a bakery of celebrations. In the springtime, I can remember finding braided egg bread challahs, and coffeecakes in a cunning Easter Bunny shape. In December, Black Forest cakes and stollen took the fore. And these twisted cream cheese pastries, Rugelach, filled variously with cinnamon sugar and walnuts, chocolate, apricot or raspberry jam.

Something betwixt a cookie and a pastry, they were delicious-bite sized treats.

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The origin of the word is interesting: It is Yiddish for “twists” and resembles (and likely influenced) the Polish word for “horn.” In either case, these little crescents are rich, yet light and flaky, its dough layered with equal parts of butter and cream cheese.

The dough is easy to make, and not dissimiliar from these crescents that I made a few Decembers ago. What is especially appealing about them—-outside of their delicate size and their flaky, not-too-sweet taste—-is that they lend themselves to a spectacular array of fillings.

That dough makes one terrific pastry canvas.

Rummaging through my pantry, I found candied ginger, dried apricots, a handful of dried cherries, some dark cocoa, a small bag of chocolate chips, almonds. Ideas began taking shape.

Ginger-apricot-almond came together readily. I plumped the ginger and fruit in a simple syrup bath, and ground the toasted almonds.

Chocolate and cherry make ideal partners too. I wanted to add a little something different to that canvas. Rather than use the more traditional cinnamon, I thought it would be fun—and flavorful—to sprinkle Garam Masala spice blend.

Enjoy them this holiday season with a cup of coffee or pot of hot tea, shared with friends or family.

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BASIC RUGELACH DOUGH
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound cream cheese, cut into pieces
1/2 pound chilled butter, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg yolk
1 cup powdered sugar—for dusting and rolling pastry

Place the flour and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Briefly pulse.
Then add the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and egg yolk.
Pulse and process until the ingredients are well incorporated and the dough comes together as a mass.
Remove the dough and form into 2 separate discs. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate until well-chilled—at least one hour, although overnight is better! The dough will keep refrigerated for 3 days, or may be frozen for up to 2 months. Thaw any frozen dough in the refrigerator before using.

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CANDIED GINGER-APRICOT-ALMOND FILLING
1/4-1/3 cup candied ginger, cut into slivers
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup almonds

Place all of the ingredients into a medium saucepan set on low heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Increase the heat to medium, cover and allow the mixture to soften, thicken and simmer.
Cool and process to spreading consistency (using either an immersion blender or a food processor.)

Meanwhile, spread the almonds onto a baking sheet. Place into a preheated 375 degree oven and toast for 10-12 minutes. Cool and finely chop (or pulse in the processor to fine)

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To assemble:
Sprinkle the work counter with powdered sugar. Remove one disc of dough from the refrigerator, unwrap, and roll out to a 15 inch circle. If the dough gets sticky, sprinkle more powdered sugar.

Place 1/2 cup glob of ginger-apricot mixture in the center of the dough circle. Using a spatula, spread the mixture evenly across the surface to the edges of the circle. Add more fruit mixture as needed.

Sprinkle the top of the fruit mixture with the finely chopped almonds.
Cut the dough into quarters, then eighths, then sixteenths, then thirty-seconds.
Roll each piece up from the exterior to the inner point and place onto a parchment-lined (or sil-pat lined baking sheet) Keep the pieces about an inch apart.

Bake for approximately 15 minutes in a pre-heated 375 degree oven, until the rugelaches are puffed and golden brown.

Allow to cool on a rack for 10 minutes before removing.

Makes 32 pieces.

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GARAM-MASALA-CHOCOLATE-CHERRY FILLING
1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa
1-2 teaspoons garam masala spice blend
4 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup dried dark sweet cherries
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

Have all of these ingredients assembled separately for your mise-en-place.

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To Assemble
Sprinkle the work counter with powdered sugar.
Unwrap one disc of dough and roll it out on the dusted surface into a 15″ circle.
Cover the top with cocoa, followed by
Cut into quarters, then eighths, then sixteenths, then thirty-seconds.
Roll each elongated triangle from the outside to the point and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake for approximately 15 minutes in a preheated 375 degree oven.

Makes 32 pieces

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Posted in Breakfast, Chocolate, Desserts, Fruit, Recipes | 10 Comments »




November 30th, 2014

Holiday Trio: winter jewel salad with roasted shallot dressing, “stamppot,” balsamic vinegar pot roast

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It is the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and the last day of November. It’s overcast this afternoon, and oddly quiet in my neighborhood–perhaps the clouds have muffled the usual sounds of busy-ness. Perhaps everyone is just laying low, passing a restful time, post-feasting.

Poised as we are on the brink of December, I call this little respite the calm before the fury: Holidays, families, friends, parties and travels; trees and wreaths and lights, cooking and baking, shopping and wrapping…

Maybe it doesn’t have to be a mad dash, a stress-filled careen through the remaining 31 days of 2014. What if it’s simply fun? I’m looking for that. Fun, with an accent on simple.

In that spirit, I’ve assembled a trio of delicious dishes, for your pleasure. They fall into that simple category, to be sure, but they each share qualities that make them seem more complex, like you’d spent overwrought time on them.

But we don’t want to do that. We want to have fun.

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Start with this Winter Jewel Salad, so-called because of its scatter of pomegranate seeds,that glisten like little rubies on this composed salad of mixed greens, citrus fruits, avocados and gorgonzola. As delectable as it is pretty on the holiday dinner table! I serve it with a whip of honey-roasted shallot vinaigrette on the side. Yes, there are flecks of green–fresh thyme leaves–in it. Savory-sweet.

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When I lived in The Netherlands many years ago, I ate potatoes every day—like most Dutch. One of my favorite preparations was Stamppot–a boiled potato-vegetable mash. Sometimes it’s made with carrots and onions that are mashed and mixed with the “apples of the earth.” Other times, spinach or endive are folded into the puree. I could count on stamppot, in either root vegetables or bitter green version, to be hearty, tasty, and satisfying.

Recently, I made a Down-South variation of this rustic Dutch mainstay. I used Yukon gold potatoes, carrots, and onions—which follow tradition. But, I changed things up by adding parsnips–of which I’ve become very fond–and buttermilk.

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I have found my favorite, a whole buttermilk from JD Country Farms in Russellville Kentucky. It is thick and luscious. It reminds me more of kefir or yogurt. I could drink it! It adds wonderful body and tang to the dish.

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Last, but not least is this Beef Roast, braised to tenderness in balsamic vinegar. Back in my catering days, when I would make pot roast dinners for 50, 100, 250 people, and therefore would wield great rounds of beef, I made my “balsamic vinegar discovery.” I didn’t have any red wine on hand to flavor the meat, so I tried using the vinegar instead. I was really happy with the result. Marinated and braised into the meat, it imbued a caramel-wine sweetness, while insuring fork-tender bites. (I have since discovered the marinating power of balsamic in other dishes, such as this Grilled Balsamic Skirt Steak from Cooking Light.)

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WINTER JEWEL SALAD WITH HONEY-ROASTED SHALLOT VINAIGRETTE
1/4 pound Arugula
1/4 pound Baby Spinach
Citrus Fruits: 1 grapefruit, 3 tangerines, peeled and cut into slices
Avocado, sliced
1/2 pound sugar snap peas, (or asparagus spears) blanched and chilled
2 ounces gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1 cup pomegranate seeds

After you gather your salad ingredients, assemble them in a large shallow (rather than deep) bowl–it is easier to compose the salad. Start with a foundation of greens, and then arrange the citrus, avocado, sugar snaps (or asparagus, cut into thirds) Add the gorgonzola crumbles.
Finish with a generous spray of pomegranate seeds, which look like pretty jewels on the salad.

Cover and chill until ready to serve. Make the vinaigrette to serve alongside.

Makes 8 servings

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HONEY-ROASTED SHALLOT VINAIGRETTE
1 large shallot, roasted
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
12 tablespoons olive oil

Halve or quarter the roasted shallot and place into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the remaining ingredients EXCEPT for the olive oil. Pulse until rough chopped and somewhat combined.

Process, adding the olive oil, one tablespoon at a time.

Makes one cup.

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“DOWN-SOUTH” STAMPPOT
3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and cut into 2″ chunks
1/2 pound carrots, scrubbed and cut into 2″ lengths
1/2 pound parsnips, scrubbed and cut into 2″ lengths
2 medium onions, peeled and cut into eighths
1 stick butter
salt to taste
black pepper to taste
1 cup buttermilk

Place all of the vegetables into a large pot. Fill with cool water to cover.
Sprinkle in a teaspoon of salt. Cover with the lid and place on medium high heat. Bring to a boil and cook until the vegetables are tender—18-20 minutes.

Drain the vegetables and return them to the pot, set on low heat. Shake the pot so that any excess water will cook off. Cut up a stick of butter into the mixture. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Coarsely mash the vegetables together.

Pour in the buttermilk and continue to mash. Taste for seasonings, adjust and serve.

Makes 8-10 servings

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BEEF ROAST BRAISED IN BALSAMIC
1 cup balsamic vinegar, divided
1/4 cup red wine (optional)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 red onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
4 pounds boneless beef chuck roast
2 bay leaves
1 bunch fresh thyme
1/4 cup all purpose flour

Make an overnight marinade for the beef:
Mix 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar with red wine, 1/4 cup olive oil, Worcestershire sauce. Stir in chopped onion and minced garlic, salt and black pepper. Place the beef into a non-reactive container and pour over the marinade. Turn the beef a few times to make sure it is well covered. Cover and refrigerate.

To braise:
Heat a Dutch oven on medium. Add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Remove the beef from the marinade and begin browning the meat on all sides. It will take about 5 minutes a side.

Add water, about 1 1/2 cups, just enough to cover the meat. Add bay leaves and fresh thyme.
Cover and reduce the heat to low. Braise the beef for 2 hours. Uncover, flip, and continue braising for another hour.

In a small bowl, mix the remaining 3/4 balsamic vinegar with the flour to make a smooth paste.

When the beef is fork tender, remove from the Dutch oven. Discard bay lleaves and thyme. Stir in the balsamic-flour paste to the juices in the pot. Cook on low to make a thin rich gravy.

Carve the roast into thin slices, trimming any fat. Return the slices to the gravy.
Simmer. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.

Serves 10

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Posted in Meats/Poultry, Recipes, Salads, Vegetables | 15 Comments »




November 12th, 2014

Pear-Almond Clafoutis (with almond milk) and an invitation

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We’ve all passed that bin or cart at the grocery store filled with discontinued or out-of-season products. I’ll stop and cast a cursory glance over the array, before moving on. Typically a bust, the cart brims with items that I would never use: cans of cartoon-shaped Spaghetti-O’s, infant formula, or leftover bags of Halloween candy.

But this time, I was surprised to find real treasure, a baker’s bonanza: blocks of white and dark chocolate, bags of semi-sweet chips, brown sugar, and cartons of almond milk. I didn’t need any of them, but at half-price, I’d snap up the bargains–certain that I would use the sugar and chocolate during the holidays.

The almond milk was another matter. I’d never tasted it, nor cooked with it, but at half-off, it was a good opportunity to experiment with it. I bought one quart, stashed it in my pantry, and would wait for the right inspiration.

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With pear season upon us, I didn’t wait long.

Baked into cakes and tarts, pears and almonds make happy companions, but that wouldn’t put the almond milk to much use. A clafoutis, that curious French confection that relies on a blend of eggs, milk, sugar and flour for its thin batter, could be an ideal candidate.

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A rustic fruit dessert originally made with cherries, it affords some variables that you can play on. Pears? Of course. Sliced thinly, firm but ripe Red Anjous and Barletts would be delicious baked into the clafoutis.

How about using brown sugar instead of white granulated? Yes.

I did a little research and found that almond milk and cow’s milk could be interchangeable; the same holds true with almond flour and all-purpose. So, those of you desiring to be dairy and/or gluten-free, this dessert is for you.

The rest of us are going to be mighty pleased with it as well.

Wanting to accentuate the almond theme, I coarsely ground a cup of whole almonds to cover the bottom and sides of my buttered baking dish. I thought that they might add a crunchy crustlike element to the clafoutis.

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I also grated some fresh nutmeg over the surface. Be sure to take in the aromatics before you stir it into the foamy mixture.

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The clafoutis is ready for the oven. I really packed it with pears, tucking in a few unpeeled Red Anjou slices around the top.

It baked beautifully, with a smooth custard, soft, luscious pears, and nice almond crunch. I don’t think you’d know what sort of milk went into its baking.

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I’m in agreement with Molly of Orangette : Fresh out of the oven, it is fragrant and delicious. But, tomorrow it will taste even better. Overnight in the fridge, the flavors will settle in, and a chilled slice with cup of coffee sounds like a fine way to start a fall morning.

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PEAR ALMOND CLAFOUTIS
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1/2 cup ground almonds
2-3 firm but ripe pears
3/4 cup brown sugar
4 eggs
1/2 cup almond flour (or all-purpose, if you like)
1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk (you may use whole milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Coat a baking dish, bottom and sides, with butter. Sprinkle the ground almonds evenly to cover, reserving a couple of tablespoons, and set aside.

Peel, halve lengthwise, and core the pears. Cutting across the body of the pear, slice into thin pieces.

Using an electric beater (or immersion blender or food processor,) blend the brown sugar and eggs together. Then, add the flour, beating until smooth, followed by the almond milk, followed by the vanilla. The mixture will be frothy.

Grate the nutmeg over the mixture and stir. Ladle it into the baking dish to cover the bottom.
Arrange the sliced pears on top. Pour the remaining mixture over the pears. Sprinkle the rest of the ground almonds around the perimeter of the dish.

Place onto the middle rack and bake for 65-70 minutes–until the top becomes golden brown and custardy batter is set. Allow to cool on a rack.

Makes 8-10 servings

Want to make your own almond milk? Cooking Light offers an easy-peasy recipe right here.

INVITATION

To my Good Food Matters friends in the Washington DC area!

book signing evite(2)

I will presenting my cookbook at Vigilante Coffee Roastery and Cafe on Sunday November 23rd. Check out the invite for details.

Of course, I’ll be serving some goodies of the season from the book, and barista-extraordinaire Chris Vigilante will be making some luscious coffees to pair with them.

I’m thrilled to be trekking out of Tennessee with Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbooks in tow, and would love it if you could come by.

Posted in Desserts, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Fruit, Gluten Free, Recipes | 23 Comments »




October 29th, 2014

Beautiful Inside

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A few years ago, farmer and friend Tallahassee May introduced me to this vibrant root vegetable, the Watermelon Radish. An apt name, I thought, for this member of the daikon family. It grows rather large–its size and heft ranging from golf ball to soft ball. A slice through the outer mottled green peel reveals a shock of magenta ringed in white.

I later learned that this heirloom is a native of China, and the Chinese have given it a better name: Xin Li Mei, which means Beautiful Inside.

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Sometimes our challenges in the kitchen mirror those in the world: how to uncover that inner beauty so often hidden?

Unlike other radishes—such as cherry bombs, white icicles and French Breakfasts, which have a bright snap and crunch—the slower-growing watermelon radish can be a bit on the tough side.

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I discovered this the first time I made a snack with them. Prepared in the French manner, it was a simple tartine: salted radish slice over soft butter on toasted bread. The big brilliant coins curled up on the open face sandwich, their earthy taste buffeted by leathery texture.

This time, I thought that the radishes might benefit from some “down time,” relaxing in a light vinaigrette before I’d place them on the rounds of bread.

I used avocado oil–clear, clean, slightly nutty in taste–to cloak them, (although a favored olive oil would work well too.) followed by a generous frill of grapefruit zest, a squeeze of the tart juice for acidic counterbalance, and scatter of coarse sea salt.

I covered the gleaming coins in plastic wrap. An afterthought (after I’d set aside the camera too), I placed a tea kettle, as a weight, on top, and left them alone for about an hour at room temperature.

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Meanwhile I sliced a crusty baguette, slathering each piece with creamy chevre.
Then, lifted the kettle and peeled back the plastic.

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Fragrant.

Time in the marinade, under the kettle’s weight infused a delightful citrus essence into the radish slices. Salting tenderized. Avocado oil made them glossy.

One by one, I placed the watermelon jewels onto the smeared bread rounds. Then took a bite.

Hmmm. Beautiful, inside and out.

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Call them Watermelon Radishes or Chinese Red-Meat …they are delicious marinated like a crudo in this recipe, or oven roasted in lemon and brown butter.

MACERATED WATERMELON RADISH-CHEVRE CROSTINI

1 pound watermelon radishes
coarse sea salt
4 tablespoons avocado oil
zest from one grapefruit
1-2 tablespoons grapefruit juice
12 ounces chevre, softened
1 crusty baguette, sliced 1/4 inch thick, toasted if desired
small bundle fresh chives, optional for garnish

Wash, peel and slice the watermelon radishes into thin rounds. Arrange the rounds on a plate or platter and sprinkle coarse sea salt over them. Drizzle avocado oil over the radishes, followed by sprinkles of grapefruit zest. Squeeze some grapefruit juice over the radishes too.
(Eat the grapefruit–or keep to slice on a salad!)

Cover with plastic wrap. Place a weight (like a tea kettle!) on top and allow the liquids to macerate the radishes, for about an hour.

Spread the softened chevre over the baguette slices. Uncover the platter of radishes, and place a macerated round on top of each slice. Garnish with chives.

Makes 3-4 dozen.

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Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Recipes, Sandwiches, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 13 Comments »