November 7th, 2016

In Abby’s Kitchen

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Hello Friends, I am sorry I have been out of touch the past (gasp) five months.

The sale of our house was a speed of light event this spring that left us in an odd spot. With the home we’re building not ready until late fall, and a rental market not friendly to short term leases, Bill and I were looking at being nomads. Where would we land in the interim?

While on one of their early morning hikes, Bill was lamenting our housing situation–or lack thereof–to his longtime friend Kyle. Loping the trail, Kyle didn’t miss a beat.

“You can stay with me.”

It was a generous offer from a man newly widowed. Abby, his wife of forty-four years, had grappled with cancer the last five, and succumbed in January. That left Kyle alone for the first time in the house they’d bought in 1975. It had been many years since I’d been inside the suburban ranch, but Bill assured me it could accommodate us. It had a guest bedroom and bath off the kitchen, separated from the remainder of the house.

Grateful for a place to live, we accepted.

Preparing for our gypsy time, we adopted the same attitude we did in selling and giving away our belongings to downsize for the next home. What was essential? Other than my basics— clothing, toiletries, and laptop—what would I take with me? I chose my knife set, a favorite cast-iron skillet, and my fig colored Le Creuset Dutch oven.

Of course it never plays out that simply. There were boxes of canned and dry goods from my pantry. Files from my desk. Our bicycles. Clothes and hats and shoes covering two seasons for two adults that filled two large bins. Even when you’re trying to go lean for the long haul, it still mounts up. Our stuff.

When we arrived at our new residence and began unpacking, our host became agitated. “Too much stuff,” Kyle declared.

“Don’t put that there,” he admonished Bill, who was looking for a spot to set a container of his clothes. “You’re covering an outlet.”

“Where’s all that going to go?” he bristled as I tried to unpack a bin of pantry items.

“Nancy’s going to be cooking for us,” Bill called out.

“Not for me,” Kyle responded.

Ouch. What had we done? It was as if he imagined us showing up with a pair of suitcases, like weekend guests. We were both shaken. How was this arrangement going to play out?

In the whirlwind of dissembling our home, and wrapped up in our own jumble of feelings, we hadn’t considered the impact of this move on him. It had taken a lot for Kyle to invite us into his home. Long before his wife’s death, he’d become hermetic. Sure, we would see him several times a week, meeting up for hour-long hikes in the wooded park. But that’s a far cry from meeting a person on his private, grief-filled ground.

I walked through the still house, a snapshot in time. Both living and dining rooms were museumlike, and beckoned no one. A stack of magazines, calendars, and Abby’s reading glasses laid on a side table in the den, as if awaiting her return to the easy chair beside it. In the kitchen, near-empty glass canisters of flour, sugar, and rice lined the back counter like sentinels, bearing witness to the silence. A strand of dried chilis long ago tacked over a window hung sun-bleached and coated in dust.

Into this place we entered, bringing in our energy, a clash that left me stumped: What had prompted Kyle’s invitation? Maybe there was a part of him that wanted us to be there.

I set my skillet on the stove top, my block of knives on the counter and decided that, despite his pronouncements, I would cook for him.

It began fitfully. The cooktop, an old Gaggenau with two gas burners and two electric, was cantankerous–both gas burners wouldn’t function at the same time. Click Click Click Click the automatic pilot wouldn’t fire and the sound vexed Kyle. And then I couldn’t tell if I turned on the correct electric burner—the knob positions didn’t make sense— unless I tested the hot plate with my fingertips. Nevertheless, I pushed through. I pan-seared steaks, fried potatoes with onions, and served them with a big salad, proud to use spuds and greens harvested from our vegetable garden. Score one for the Clean Plate Club! Kyle seemed to relish every bite. Maybe he’d warm to the idea that someone would be cooking him a delicious meal.

Still, it was bumpy. Some things Bill and I couldn’t do right. Latch the gate. Load the dishwasher. Leave the sponge here not there. We did too much laundry and put too many things in the refrigerator. Some days I’d wait until Kyle went out, and I’d scour the fridge or pantry for “scary foods,” items of his long-expired that I pitched into the trash. Any extra cooking–like roasting my garden tomatoes—I’d do during those times too.

For the first awkward weeks, the only place where I felt grounded was our garden, a sunny patch flourishing in the backyard of my brother’s office. Tending the tomato plants laden with plump fruit, scrutinizing the squash plants for hidden zucchinis: these acts felt familiar and comforting, and had no direct bearing to where I was or was not living.

In time, I found grounding in Abby’s kitchen.

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A kitchen is personal and I was unsure of how I, a trespasser, would be received. Even though she’d left this earthly plane, this room was her domain. In her health, Abby loved to cook. Her shelves, jammed with cookbooks spanning decades, told a story of home and family, travels and interests. Tucked among the classics Joy of Cooking and The Silver Palate, were funny dated ones like Someone’s in the Kitchen with Dinah. (Dinah Shore!) Several ring-bound regional collections spoke to her heritage: Talk About Good! from the Junior League of Lafayette. Abby had been born in Texas and raised in Louisiana.

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She also had every drawer and cabinet filled with cooking equipment: pots, pans, baking tins, casserole dishes, gadgets, utensils, measuring tools…you name it, Abby had it. Each mealtime included my stealth process of discovery, depending on what I needed at the moment.

I came to appreciate the age and quality of her things. Her first generation food processor still functioned well. While it had no pulsing mechanism, its steel blade, a heavier gauge than current models, worked its magic on my pestos and purees.

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A cache of vintage Pyrex bowls and storage containers tucked in the back of a cabinet charmed me with their turquoise imprint of a farm couple, corn stalks and roosters. I used them whenever I could. A set of stainless steel cooking tools with melamine handles in a harvest pattern became another go-to; they felt right in my hand. The prize was this Hamilton Beach stand mixer, a relic beauty complete with beaters and thick milk glass bowls, which I found just in time to make my dad’s birthday cake.

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Through July and August, I lined her windowsills over the sink with my ripening tomatoes. I found a large basket to hold our bounty of yellow squash and peppers, which I kept on the counter by Abby’s canisters. I didn’t take over her kitchen; I wouldn’t dream of it. But I was reanimating it.

Sometimes, while snapping beans or sauteing onions, I would think about Abby and what she would have been cooking. I wondered if she liked this spatula or that strainer as much as I did. I wondered if she would mind another woman in her kitchen, using her pots, standing over her stove. In a house steeped in sadness, here I tapped into her overriding spirit of generosity.

One evening, I was cooking boneless chicken breasts in fresh lemon and garlic; the heady aromatics filled the kitchen, and soon, the rest of the house. From the den, Kyle called out, his voice brimming with the excitement and urgency of a child on Christmas morning,

“Piccata!”

And then, he was in the kitchen; his flat grey eyes sparkled. A simple dish became an awakening. And triggered a flood.

He talked about garlic, how much he liked it, how Abby would cook with scads of it. How he’d grown up eating plain country food—he was just a meat-and-potatoes boy—and how Abby introduced him to the wonders of garlic and lemon and hot peppers and dirty rice. She knew how to season, kick up the heat. Pride swelled in his voice: Abby was a very good cook.

It had gotten difficult the last years, though. Pain meds had left her addled; she couldn’t remember all the elements of, say, her gumbo or chili. Food didn’t taste the same, either. She relied on Kyle to sample and advise. More thyme? Or cumin? More often than not, he’d say,

“A dash more cayenne.”

I listened, and thought about my garden, with two plants covered in red and green chilis, little electric-hot Christmas trees. I’d cook with more fire and spice.

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LOUISIANA CAYENNE PEPPER SAUCE
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, minced
1 teaspoon salt
50-60 cayenne peppers, destemmed
2 cups water
1 cup white vinegar

Note: be sure that you are working/cooking in a well-ventilated place.

Use a 2 quart saucepan placed on medium heat. Add vegetable oil.
Add garlic and onion. Saute for 2 minutes. Add salt, then stir in peppers and saute for another minute.
Pour in water, stir well and cover. Cook for 30 minutes.
Uncover and simmer for another 15 minutes—water will reduce and the peppers will become tender. Pour in the vinegar. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Use an immersion blender, or food processor fitted with a steel blade. Puree.
Pour through a strainer, discarding solids/seeds, then your sauce is ready to bottle.
Keeps, refrigerated, for 3-4 months. Makes 1 1/2 pints.

Posted in Articles, Gluten Free, Recipes, Sauces, Vegan | 39 Comments »




May 30th, 2016

Heirloom Grains, and Moving Musings

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roasted cauliflower-vidalia onion ragu over blue corn grits and
sea island peas cooked in bay laurel over carolina gold rice

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Bins, boxes, bubble wrap,
newsprint, packing tape, Sharpies.

Bit by bit, over the past weeks, moving mode has taken over, as I prepare to leave our home of sixteen years. While my mind churns, What will come with us? What will we sell? What will we give away? shelves and drawers begin to empty. Closets shed their contents. Sturdy cardboard boxes bound in wide tape line up along the walls. Bit by bit, the life force of this house ebbs away.

It’s a process, and through most of it, I’ve felt detached. It’s the best way to plow through the stuff you’ve been living with forever, all snippets of a bigger story. My friend Vicki calls it the house diary, and reviewing it can bring moments of pleasure.

One afternoon clearing out the secretary I found the menu from a little walk-up eatery in Mendocino that served the freshest tasting vegetable burrito I’d ever had. In a flash, I’m on that breezy rise overlooking the Pacific, limitless blue. Another day, a cache of my daughter’s elementary school art work surfaced, like her sweet Thanksgiving drawing of our green planet with her message “I am thankful for the world.”

Sometimes it’s caught me off guard, tapped into feelings deep within, a gush of grief, a pang of regret. Wrapping the little urn that contains photos and ashes of our cats, beloved and long deceased. Or coming across a random catering picture of me and Bill from 1993. We were so young. And I looked so pretty. Why did I not believe that about myself then?

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Sorting through the house diary also entails closing out the kitchen pantry. My mission has been to use up those ingredients in the freezer or larder. Of late, I’ve been cooking with an assortment of heirloom grains and legumes I ordered from Anson Mills of Charleston South Carolina.

Do you know about this place, its mission and its products? Since the late ’90’s, Glenn Roberts has labored to repatriate the Southern pantry with heirloom grains once prominent and –due to corporate farming practices–passed over.

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Carolina Gold rice, a specialty of the region revered for its plump texture and nutlike taste, had all but vanished. So had different strains of dent corn, which made the best tasting cornmeal and grits. On the wane, too, was the drought-resistant, protein-rich small red peas grown by the Gullah people of the Sea Islands dotting the Carolina coast. Reviving these southern foodways for us to enjoy now, and preserving them for future generations has been monumental work.

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Treat yourself (they are pricey) to these heirlooms. The rice, which I cooked in a sofrito of onion, garlic, and sweet red bell pepper and vegetable broth was addictive. Each deep-flavored grain-separate- had satisfying mouth-feel. True gold. The Sea Island red peas, cooked simply as you would other dried beans in onion, garlic and bay leaf, had a delicate savory-sweet pop. Together, they rivaled any bowl of red beans and rice I’d ever dipped my spoon into.

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As for the blue corn grits, a native American strain, I took care to follow the Anson Mills directions. The grits really benefit from a long soak and cook. Coarsely ground, my batch yielded a rich pebbled yet creamy texture. And what a color! When I topped it with the caramelized cauliflower-vidalia onion mixture—a tower of candy-sweet tastes—the result was so delicious, Bill and I could have been at Husk. Almost.

BLUE CORN GRITS WITH ROASTED CAULIFLOWER-VIDALIA ONION RAGU

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ROASTED CAULIFLOWER-VIDALIA ONION RAGU
1 head cauliflower, washed, chopped or broken into florets
2 Vidalia sweet onions, peeled and cut lengthwise into eighths
several sprigs of fresh thyme
kosher or sea salt
coarse ground black pepper
olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place cut pieces of cauliflower and onions in to a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Liberally coat with olive oil and spread out onto a baking sheet.
Place into the oven and roast for 15-20 minutes, until pieces are browned and caramelized.

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BLUE CORN GRITS (recipe adapted from Anson Mills)
1 cup Anson Mills Blue Corn Grits (or coarse grain white or yellow)
2 1/2 cups filtered water
2 cups vegetable broth
Fine sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the grits in a 3 quart heavy-bottomed saucepan and add the water. Stir well and let the grits settle for a few minutes. The chaff and hulls will rise to the surface—skim and discard. Cover and let the grits soak at least an hour–or overnight at room temperature.

Set the saucepan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 5 to 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and cover the pan. Meanwhile, warm 2 cups of broth in a small saucepan. Every 10 minutes or so, uncover the grits and stir them; each time you find them thick enough to hold the spoon upright, stir in a small amount of the hot water, adding about 1½ cups water or more in 4 or 5 additions. Cook until the grits are creamy and tender throughout, but not mushy, and hold their shape on a spoon, about 50 minutes if the grits were soaked or about 90 minutes if they weren’t. Add 1 teaspoon of salt halfway through the cooking time. To finish, season to taste with salt and pepper.

ASSEMBLY

Ladle grits into bowls. Mound each with roasted cauliflower-onion mixture. Sprinkle shredded pecorino and chives over the tops. Serves 4.

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Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Rice/Other Grains/Legumes, Vegan, Vegetarian Dishes | 26 Comments »




April 28th, 2016

Strawberry-Rhubarb Custard Cake

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It’s been a long while since I’ve made a big beautiful delicious cake, but the stars aligned last week. Gigi’s “double nickel” birthday and our “last—for a little while” community potluck fell on the same day: April 21st.

Time to celebrate changes and celebrate BIG.

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Yes, our community potluck is taking a hiatus. For almost 7 years, we’ve been gathering on the third Thursday of each month, sharing good food and fellowship. Things are changing in our household a bit faster than we anticipated. Our home of 16 years is under contract and we will soon be moving. This is not completely unexpected. We are building a smaller home (fit for our down-sized life!) and had always planned to sell.

Just not this fast.

But when the right person comes along with the right offer, well, you do the right thing.

And this means shift our gears and start packing. There’s one hitch:construction on our new home won’t be complete until late fall, like after Thanksgiving. Our plan? Put our stuff into storage and find a “Svaha” place to live.

Do you know the word “Svaha?” It’s a native American term that means the undefined place between two defined places, like what occurs between the flash of lightning and roll of thunder. The unknown in-between. Who knows where we’ll end up? Guess we’ll be gypsies.

Enough about change and moving and gypsy possibilities—let’s get to the heart of the post, this marvelous cake. The cake itself gets its richness from butter, eggs and Greek yogurt in the batter.

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You spread both custard and fruit sauce onto each layer, which seeps into the cake, making it exceptionally moist and delicious. I got the idea, and first made this confection using Florida strawberries while we were in DC for Easter. Everyone loved it.

I baked it again for our potluck-birthday-farewell feast, this time doubling the recipe for a towering dessert, and pairing local berries and rhubarb in the fruit sauce.

Raves around the table, my friends!

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If you don’t relish the puckery taste of these ruby stalks (rhubarb is actually a vegetable), try ’em with strawberries. It could change your ways.

As potlucker Rhonda noted, “I can’t believe it. I ‘m making friends with rhubarb.”

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The Cake (makes a grand 4 layer cake)
1 pound butter, softened
2 cups sugar
8 eggs
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon fiore di sicilia (optional)
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

2 10 inch cake pans (or springform pans)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the cake pans with parchment and coat with butter or baking spray.

Cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Then beat in the Greek yogurt and extracts.

In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients—flour, baking powder, soda and salt.

Beat the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, mixing into a smooth batter.
Divide the batter between the two cake pans.

Bake for 40-45 minutes–until top is golden and set.

Remove and cool on a baking rack.

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Strawberry-Rhubarb Sauce
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup water
1 pound rhubarb, washed and chopped (like celery)
1 quart strawberries, washed, capped, and coarsely chopped

Place a 2 quart saucepan on medium heat. Pour in the sugar, cornstarch and water. Stir well until sugar and cornstarch is dissolved. Add the chopped rhubarb. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Cook for about 5 minutes, then stir in the strawberries. Cook for another two minutes, stirring well.

Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble the cake. (This cane be made ahead of time.)

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Custard
1 quart half-and-half
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 tablespoons cornstarch
4 egg yolks, beaten

Pour the half-and-half into a 2-quart saucepan. Stir in the sugar, vanilla and cornstarch. Place on medium heat. Stir constantly, making sure the sugar and cornstarch are well dissolved.
When small bubbles form along the rim of the pan, remove from heat.
Add a small amount of liquid to the egg yolks and beat well.
Pour the egg yolks into the saucepan. Place on low heat. Continue stirring (I use a whisk or wooden spoon) Mixture will thicken, and coat the back of a spoon.
Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble the cake. (This can be made ahead of time.)

Chantilly Cream
3 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Place the ingredients into a chilled mixing bowl. Whip until soft peaks form. Cover and refrigerate until ready to ice the cake.

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ASSEMBLY
Split both cooled cakes in half, creating 4 layers.

Spread the first layer with strawberry-rhubarb sauce, followed by custard. Top with another cake layer and repeat this process until all four layers are spread with sauce and custard and stacked.

Place into the refrigerator for an hour to set up.

To finish the cake: cover sides and top with whipped cream. Garnish with fresh strawberries and flowers, if you like. Serves 20-25.

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Posted in Desserts, Fruit, Recipes | 19 Comments »




March 14th, 2016

Beets all the way: hummus and pesto

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Kale, Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, parsnips, beets:

After years of being forgotten, feared, distained, dismissed, each of these veggies is having its moment of redemption. They all have found their way back onto the restaurant menu and everyday dinner table, in creative delectable ways.

We’re no longer surprised by roasted Brussels sprouts, pan-seared cauliflower steaks, or parsnip puree.

I had to laugh, when I went to a modern diner that offered “The Obligatory Kale Salad.”

We’re in the midst of a vegetable renaissance.

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So, here’s my latest discovery I’d like to share: beet hummus.

(Upon viewing my gleaming magenta bowl, friend Steve jokingly declared, “There’s no such thing as beet hummus.”)

Well, yes. In part, it’s all in a name—although I have seen some recipes that puree the root vegetable with hummus essentials chick peas and tahini.

But I decided those might overshadow the earthy-sweet complexity of the beets.

Plus, by themselves, beets possess enough body to make a thick, hummus-like dip. So, I made mine in simpler fashion, relying on another middle Eastern staple, Sumac, to give it tangy depth.

(You can find sumac at most global markets and some grocery stores such as Whole Foods.)

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After you’ve cooked (you may either boil or roast ’em–whichever works for you at the moment!) and chilled your beets, you’ll pulse them in a food processor with garlic, lemon juice and zest, sumac, ginger, salt, red pepper flakes and olive oil.

Healthful and delicious and, in its way, beautiful.

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If you want add a little more pizzazz to the batch, top the ruby churn with crumbled goat cheese and chopped scallions. Or toasted walnuts. Sesame seeds. Cilantro.

Serve with crackers or pitas.

But wait, one more thing!

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Don’t pitch your beets’ leafy green tops into the compost bin. Not only delicious, beet greens are rich in vitamins and minerals. More iron than spinach. More nutritional value than the root!

You can saute them in a bit of olive oil and garlic, as you would with Swiss chard, or finely cut and marinate them for a salad, as you would kale.

The leaves make a mighty fine pesto, too. I’ve included that recipe below. Use it in any applications that call for traditional pesto. The simpler, the better: Spread over flatbread and topped with roasted vegetables or tossed over penne, coating the warm pasta with garlicky-green piquancy.

Following the way of The Third Plate, use the whole beet.

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BEETROOT HUMMUS
2-3 beets
2-3 garlic cloves
1 lemon for zest and juice
1 tablespoon sumac
1 tablespoon fresh ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4-1/3 cup olive oil

Toppings:
1-2 ounces crumbled goat cheese
1 green onion, finely chopped

Place cooked and chilled beets into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.
Add garlic cloves, lemon zest and juice, fresh ginger pieces, sumac, salt, and red pepper flakes. Pulse until the ingredients are chopped up together. Continue to pulse while pouring in the olive oil.

Taste and adjust for seasonings–for salt, citrus, and peppery heat.

Spoon into a serving bowl. Topped with crumbled goat cheese, chopped green onion, and any remaining lemon zest.

Drizzle the top with olive oil and serve with crackers, toasted flatbread, or pita chips.

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BEET GREEN PESTO
1 bundle fresh beet greens, saved from 1 bunch fresh beets–washed and dried
2 cloves garlic
1 green onion–green and white parts
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup grated pecorino romano
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup olive oil

Place all of the ingredients into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.
Pulse, occasionally scraping the sides of the bowl. Taste for salt and pepper.

Place into a clean jar. Cover and refrigerate. Makes 1 1/2 cups.

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Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 15 Comments »




February 3rd, 2016

Carrot-Cauliflower Soup with lemony cilantro oil

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I’ve never talked about it here, but one of the food hats I wear is that of restaurant critic for our newspaper, The Tennessean. For over six years, I’ve been covertly dining around town and writing columns about my experiences. “Dream job!” so many people say to me. I smile and respond, “Yes and no.” Like most jobs, it has both its up and down sides.

I enjoy being out in the community, and this work allows me to go to many many places, sampling many many dishes (some wonderful, some less so) that I would otherwise not be in a position to do. While I don’t believe that any of my negative reviews have put someone out of business, I do think that my focus on an eatery, be it brand new or one of the old and perhaps forgotten ones, can make a difference in terms of its success.

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However!
Dining out at least two times a week, eating a wide variety of foods can wreak havoc on a body. No matter if it’s high-end, chef-driven, farm-to-table, mom-and-pop, ethnic, or low brow, restaurant food simply is richer, more calorie laden than what I cook at home. (Plus I wind up eating more than I normally would.)

I’ve adopted a plan: VB6. Vegan Before 6pm It’s not new. Mark Bittman, cookbook author and former New York Times food columnist, introduced this concept a few years ago. He would eat strictly vegan–no meat, no eggs, no dairy—throughout the day. Instead, lots of fruits, veggies, and whole grains. After 6pm, he would eat, in moderation, whatever he wanted.

He found it to be effective-simple-flavorful way to shed unwanted pounds and overall improve health.

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I’m only on day 3 of this new approach. I have confidence that this will help–I’ll let you know in weeks to come. In the meantime, I wanted to share this especially delicious soup I recently made that satisfies any number of dietary criteria:

It is vegan. (No meat, eggs or dairy)
It is gluten free. (No wheat)
It is paleo. (No dairy, wheat and cereal grains, potatoes, legumes)
It is whole 30. (No meat, dairy, wheat, grain, legumes.)

Did I mention that it is truly delicious? (Smile)
and,
It is easy to make! (might be the best part.)

I found the recipe on the New York Times cooking website, and its sunny appearance appealed to me. The recipe is by the esteemed Melissa Clark, who notes that the soup’s beauty is that once you make it, you don’t need a recipe. Any number of vegetables and variations are possible.
Of course, I made a few alterations.

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Cauliflower is the versatile wonder-vegetable. Simmered and pureed, it gives the soup its velvet body. Carrots add bright sweetness; onions and garlic are ever the work horses in anchoring the soup’s foundation.

But, it’s in the layering of spices and lemony herb oil that brings true dimension to the dish, and soulful satisfaction in the eating.

Be sure to toast the coriander seeds in the skillet to release the aromatic oils before crushing them with your mortar and pestle. Lemon zest and juice stirred into the olive oil-cilantro mixture really make it sing.

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CARROT-CAULIFLOWER SOUP WITH LEMONY CILANTRO OIL
adapted from Melissa Clark, Cooking New York Times
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large onion, peeled and diced
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
1/2 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
pinch cayenne
1 quart vegetable stock
zest and juice from one lemon
½ bunch cilantro, leaves finely chopped
2 teaspoons coriander seeds

Place a large pot over medium heat. Add the oil and heat until warm. Stir in onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 7 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute. Add carrots and cauliflower. Season with salt, turmeric, and curry powder. Pour in vegetable stock. Cover and bring mixture to a simmer for 10-12 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, make the garnishes—toasted crushed coriander and cilantro pesto oil.
Recipes are below:

Remove the soup from the heat. Using an immersion blender, purée the soup until smooth. Taste for salt and adjust.

Ladle into warm soup bowls. Sprinkle toasted crushed coriander over each, then spoon and dot a little cilantro pesto oil and serve.

Makes 4 servings

cilantro oil

Crushed Coriander
In a small skillet over medium heat, toast coriander seeds until fragrant and golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a mortar and pestle and coarsely crush.

Cilantro Pesto Oil
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro leaves
zest and juice of one lemon
salt, to taste

In a small bowl, add the olive oil, cilantro, lemon zest and juice. Stir well.
Add a pinch of salt to taste. Stir well again.

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Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Soups/Stews, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 21 Comments »




January 4th, 2016

It’s a Date

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When I decided to make Maggie’s Momma’s Pinwheel cookies last month, I purchased a large bag of dried pitted dates to get the job done. Turns out, that recipe made a whopping 5 dozen cookies, (enjoyed by many in our home, including a wily three-year-old grandson, who loved reaching into the jar to snatch one or two) and required less than half the bag in the process.

What to do with the rest of those dates? It’s not that I mind storing them in my pantry; dates do keep well. But it seemed like a good opportunity to use them in other applications—and not just desserts.

Despite their dulcet nature, dates are healthful to eat, providing an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. They are fat and cholesterol free. While they may seem like sugar bombs, dates have a low glycemic index too.

It didn’t take long for me to come up with two delicious uses. In both instances, a particular spice paired with the fruit, making each dish exceptional.

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The first recipe, Jeweled Jasmine Rice, is taken from my cookbook. I made it with a variation. I used basmati—it’s what I happened to have at the time. But really, any aromatic rice would work splendidly. I warmed a trio of dried fruits–apricots, craisins, and dates, oh my–in a skillet with turmeric and pistachios. Wonderful scents filled the kitchen.

Once the rice is cooked, fold in the spiced mixture. The fruits do glisten like jewels.

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Here’s the trick to light fluffy rice–with grains separate, not clumped. Soak and rinse. My friend Muna taught me this long ago. It makes the rice more receptive to flavors, and will cook in less water.

In our mostly vegetarian household, we love this dish on its own. But it makes a terrific accompaniment to something grand and meaty.

Serve this with ginger-roasted chicken, a plank of seared salmon, roast leg of lamb, or grilled pork tenderloin and chutney.

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The second is baby spinach salad with dates and toasted almonds, adapted from the popular Jerusalem cookbook by Ottolenghi and Tamimi.

My cousin Cathy served this to me last summer and I went crazy for it. It’s unlike any salad I’ve ever had, and I didn’t immediately identify the dates in it.

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I learned that they are lightly “pickled” with red onion and a pinch of salt. A clever move: Pita bread, torn into bite sized pieces, becomes this salad’s crouton. It gets a crispy turn in the skillet with almonds and the Middle Eastern staple—sumac. It is prized for its tart, almost lemony taste and dark red color. Look for it at any global market or grocer.

Something about how the sweet and savory elements combine in this salad made me think “Bacon?” but only for a moment. What it achieves is Umami–savory deliciousness.

The salad is simple to make and a pleasure to eat.

Do you have a date recipe you’d like to share, or a recommendation? Despite making two of these salads and a big batch of rice, I still have dates-a-plenty in my pantry.

In the meantime–it’s a new year!

Here’s my wish for you:that 2016 is full of health and happiness, and, of course, good food.

Nancy

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JEWELED AROMATIC RICE adapted from Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 ½ cups aromatic rice, such as jasmine or basmati, soaked in a bowl of water for 10 minutes and rinsed
4 cups water
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup pistachios
1/3 cup pitted dates, chopped
1/3 cup dried apricots, slivered
1/3 cup raisins, craisins or currants
1 teaspoon turmeric

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add onions, garlic, and salt. Sauté until onions become translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the rinsed rice, and stir to coat the grains with other ingredients. Pour in the water and stir well. Increase heat and cover.

When the water comes to a boil, reduce heat to very low. Simmer for 5 minutes. Keep covered and remove from heat. Let the rice sit undisturbed for at least 10 minutes.

Melt butter in a skillet on medium heat. Stir in pistachios and cook for about 5 minutes, letting them “toast.” Stir in apricots, raisins and turmeric. When all of the ingredients are well combined, remove from heat.

Fluff the cooked rice with a fork. Fold in sautéed mixture and serve.

Makes 8-10 servings

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JERUSALEM SALAD adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

1 tablespoon wine vinegar (can be red or white)
½ medium red onion, thinly sliced
3 ½ ounces dates, preferably Medjool, pitted and quartered lengthwise
Salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 small pitas, roughly torn into 1 1/2 -inch pieces
½ cup whole unsalted almonds, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons sumac
½ teaspoon chile flakes
5 to 6 ounces baby spinach leaves
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Put vinegar, onion and dates in a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and mix well with your hands. Leave to marinate for 20 minutes, then drain any residual vinegar and discard.

Meanwhile, heat butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add pita and cook for 4 to 6 minutes, stirring all the time, until pita is golden. Add almonds and continue cooking until pita is crunchy and browned and almonds are toasted and fragrant, about 2 minutes more. Remove from heat and mix in sumac, chile flakes and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside to cool.

When ready to serve, toss spinach leaves with pita mix in a large mixing bowl. Add dates and red onion, remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, the lemon juice and another pinch of salt. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately.

Makes 4-6 servings

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Posted in Fruit, Recipes, Rice/Other Grains/Legumes, Salads, Vegan, Vegetarian Dishes | 19 Comments »