I had forgotten how it is, when I travel by car for any length of time. In mere days, the rhythm of the road takes over as the rhythm of life, marked off in mile posts and fuel stops, Best Western Motels and Starbucks coffees, paced by the hospitality of friends and family along the way.
Thoughts and cares of my own home fade. What is present becomes my focus–the endless flat stretches of highway through Kansas prairie, the shifting views of snow-capped Rockies in mist, the blue skies over Utah, wide and deep, dotted with lolling cotton clouds, the pink and white oleanders, heavy in bloom, spilling over the median on the California freeway.
Driving away from the day-to-day takes you to new places in the mind. For me, it brings up the curious mix of lives not claimed, and yet, the pervasive connection of all life.
What if the barren high desert of Nevada was the place I called home? Can I imagine life on a lone ranch, miles from neighbors? “Choosing this life sends out roads to earn their way without us.”
And then there’s the wonder of connection. My cousins and I see one other rarely, and yet the warm familial love doesn’t care about the years. It time jumps. Hanging out in the kitchen, making food for the book event, talking and laughing…we’ve never been apart.
Here’s another one: On the morning of the book signing, my cousin Jeanne got an email from a woman named Nancy H. Turns out she used to play bridge with my aunt, AND she is a long-time follower of my blog. It wasn’t until she read my last post with the invitation that she made the connection. She came to book signing, and we got to meet. How amazing is that?
That theme continued on our journey. In Berkeley, a friend from high school days–again someone I’ve seen little of over 40 years– helped me get ready for the signing at Pegasus Books. We shopped at the Berkeley Bowl together. I made Cornbread Panzanella in her kitchen.
And, at the Pegasus signing itself: Gerlinde of Sunny Cove Chef took the sweet notion to drive up from Santa Cruz to attend. We’ve virtually met through our blogs, now we’ve really met. The power of the web. The power of connections.
Five thousand miles, and we’re back home. Bill and I thought that everything looked fine, but felt different. We wandered from room to room, detached from our place. We’d taken up the gypsy life and hadn’t switched back into our old and familiar ways.
There’s nothing like preparing a meal in your own kitchen, sharing it with friends, to get you grounded. I’m getting there.
For today’s dish, I rummaged the fridge and pantry—found viable potatoes, beets,and green onions…green peas in the freezer. I snipped arugula and thyme from the yard.
It was kind of a throw-together, but it worked. Roasting the veggies, coating them in mustardy sweet-sour marinade, pulsing tangy arugula into the vinaigrette combined to make a delicious late spring salad.
LATE SPRING POTATO-PEA SALAD WITH ARUGULA-THYME VINAIGRETTE
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, washed and cut into 1/2 ” slices
3 medium beets, cleaned
1 cup olive oil, divided
kosher or sea salt
2 cups small green peas, frozen
1 bundle green onions, divided
8 ounces fresh arugula
1/2 cup, divided white balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup coarse grain mustard
1 bunch fresh thyme
3-4 strips crumbled bacon (optional)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. On one sheet pan, place the sliced potatoes. Pour about 1/4 cup oil over the slices, and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.
One another sheet pan lined with foil or parchment, place the beets. Coat with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and place into the preheated 425 degree oven to roast for 25-30 minutes.
Place the peas into a saucepan. Add 1/4 cup water and bring to a simmer on low heat, cooking the peas until tender, but still with bright green pop. Remove from heat, drain and cool.
Chop two greens onions and pick 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves. Stir into the peas and set aside.
Remove potatoes from baking pan. Deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar and 2 tablespoons coarse grain mustard. Stir up any crusty bits into the sauce. Pour over the potatoes.
Remove the beets and allow to cool. Peel and slice into rounds. Splash with 1 tablespoon vinegar and set aside.
Make the Arugula Thyme Vinaigrette:
In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, place 3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon coarse grain mustard, 3 chopped green onions, 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, and 1 cup arugula leaves. Pulse until chopped together, then process, pouring in the 1/2 cup olive oil, a little at a time.
Season with salt and black pepper to taste.
Place a bed of arugula onto the base of the salad bowl. Place a ring of marinated potato slices, followed by a ring of sliced pickled beets, finished with a mound of peas. Dot the salad with little pours of the green vinaigrette. Sprinkle bacon bits over the salad if desired.
In a couple of days, Bill and I will be headed out west. I have a cookbook signing in Erie Colorado, hosted by my fabulous cousins on Saturday May the 9th. On the 13th, I’m honored to be presenting alongside Chef Tanya Holland, at Pegasus Books in Berkeley California. I’ve included invitations to both events in this post. If you’re in the area, and take the notion, please c’mon by. Great food, drink and conversation awaits!
We decided to make the long drive, since I’ll have books and knives and whisks and bowls in tow. We don’t mind–we usually relish a road trip and we haven’t made the westward journey in many years.
Ten years ago, Bill and I took our first out west adventure.
We traveled for most of a month, taking in parts of New Mexico–White Sands Desert, Santa Fe and Taos. We stayed with friends in Flagstaff Arizona, a great base of operations for exploring Walnut Canyon, Wupatki and Sunset Crater National Monuments, and the Grand Canyon–of course. We made side trips to Sedona and the curious mining-now-crafts town, Jerome.
We spent a lot of time barreling down the highways and by-ways. The western landscape is vast and open, rugged and wild, such a contrast from the lush green of the South. I recall stretches when we saw no one, anywhere, for miles.
We listened to audiobooks. Fitting–I brought along Kerouac’s On the Road. As we made our great loop west, all the way to San Francisco, returning on the northerly route through Wyoming and Colorado, we laughed, as our journey often paralleled that of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarity.
I had a cooler packed with bread, cheese, fruits and water. I also made this kick-ass trail mix, stored in ziplock bags, which powered us through the day. I toasted the almonds, pecans, and walnuts. I had abundant dried fruits: apricots, golden raisins, cranberries, and cherries. I added slivers of candied ginger for the occasional breathy spark. And the crowning touch—roasted and salted pumpkin seeds. That salt, interspersed throughout, made the mix exceptional.
I haven’t made it since—until now. Bill asked if we could have that good road trip mix again.
So, I made a big batch.
THE GOOD ROAD TRIP MIX
3 cups whole almonds, toasted
3 cups walnuts, toasted
3 cups pecans, toasted
2 cups cashews, toasted
3 cups chopped dried apricots
3 cups golden raisins
3 cups craisins
2 cups dried cherries
1 cup slivered candied ginger
1 cup roasted and salted pumpkin seeds
Note: Times vary for toasting different nuts. Here’s a great video from Cooking Light on how best to do this.
Make sure that the nuts are all cool before mixing them with the dried fruits.
Combine all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Stir until the fruit and nuts are well-jumbled together. Put into ziplock bags and hit the road.
Makes 24 cups
Last month, my friend Irene Emory, owner of Crossroads Cafe in Sewanee Tennessee, was planning a Chinese New Year Celebration Dinner in 8 courses, to be served Friday and Saturday evening. She needed some more hands in the kitchen. We talked, and I decided I could–for the weekend–come out of catering retirement. I packed up my favorite knives and motored south to Monteagle Mountain.
She had designed an ambitious menu: a vegetarian Eight Treasures Soup; steamed Shrimp dumplings–beguiling in their shiny almost translucent wraps; tender Pork Dumplings; Fish steamed in ginger, scallions and mirin; the ever-favorite vegetable stir-fry, Buddha’s Delight; Longevity Noodles topped with exotic mushroom-bok choy; Garlic Chive-Ginger Shrimp; Roast Duck in hoisin plum sauce, and finally, pineapple tarts with fresh fruit salad.
Irene has a fabulous gas wok stove. We could stand, side by side, each with our own huge wok to prepare our dishes. While I stir-fried vegetables, Irene simmered pork dumplings. We both prepared batches of garlic chive shrimp. The kitchen filled with heady aromatics. More wok-work: Irene made luscious bok choy. I tended to the soba noodles, in this case a quick boil then plunge into ice water: the trick to keep them from getting sticky.
There’s faucet connected to the stove. The long spigot can swing across the top, which makes refilling vessels a breeze, as water boils and evaporates. Adding a splash of water to the stir-fry created a beneficial sizzle and steam. When the cooking was complete, we could dump the water right onto the rangetop, which was at a slight angle. All the liquid disappeared down a drain. So cool!
It was fun to cook on that stove–a new experience for me. But what impressed me more was Irene’s cooking: her use of fresh garlic and ginger. Several stir-fries began with a squirt of oil and generous dollops of each ingredient, finely minced. Together, the two pungent tastes imparted this marvelous depth of flavor.
G&G, I thought. I’d put that to use.
Weather that weekend was berserk. The day was overcast, for my Friday morning drive, and a moderate 40 degrees. Most of the ice and snow from the storm earlier in the week had vanished. Things shifted later in the day. Right before our first dinner service, fat snowflakes began to cloak the mountain in white–3 inches! Late into the night, the snow turned into freezing rain.
By morning, everything was covered in a deceptive icy glaze. I hadn’t seen this since I was a child in New York—it stirred a memory of my siblings and I lacing up our ice skates, and gliding from neighboring yard to yard over ice-glazed snow.
Despite the wintery precip, both dinners proceeded as planned, with surprisingly few cancellations. Guests enjoyed all of the courses, and appreciated Irene’s gifts of mandarins and gold coins for abundance and good luck in the new year.
After a weekend of so much cooking, it was time to drive back home. On Sunday morning, the temperature had warmed again. The treacherous ice-glazed snow had melted. It was replaced by a blanket of fog, so thick I could barely see a few feet of the road in front of me. It was spooky. I drove onto the wrong highway ramp. After a panicked moment, I turned around, and got behind a big truck. I used him as my guide to descend the mountain.
Soon, the fog was above me. The world cleared. I’d be home soon, armed with new cooking inspiration.
GARLIC-GINGER PORK TENDERLOIN adapted from Cooking Light
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 heaping tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon red chile flakes
2 pounds pork tenderloin
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup plum preserves
Place all of the ingredients, except for the pork, into a bowl. Whisk together. Place the pork into the mixture and rotate it so that the marinade coats the meat on all sides. Place the pork into a zip lock bag. Seal and refrigerate, allowing the meat to marinate for 2-4 hours.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the pork pieces from the marinade and place them onto a baking pan.
Roast for approximately 20-25 minutes. The meat will be slightly pink–do not overcook; the meat will get dry. Remove and let the meat rest 10 minutes while you prepare the glaze.
Place the hoisin and plum preserves into a small pot. Stir together for 5 minutes over medium heat.
Spoon the glaze over the cooling pork before slicing.
Makes 8 servings.
CONFETTI CASHEW RICE
2 tablespoons peanut oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
1 leek, washed and chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1 cup red cabbage, cut into shreds
1 pound sugar snap peas, cut on the diagonal
2 cups cooked and cooled jasmine rice
1/2 cup chopped cashews
Using a wok or deep skillet:
Place on medium high heat. Add peanut oil, then the garlic and ginger. With a wooden spoon, vigorously stir the two together for 30 seconds. Add the chopped leeks and red bell peppers. Stir fry for about two minutes. Add the red onion. Continue to stir fry, pushing the cooked leeks and peppers to the side of the wok or skillet. Add the red cabbage–cook for another minute. Finally add the sugar snap peas. It’s okay to add a splash of water to the mixture.
Reduce the heat.
Fold in the rice, a cup at a time. When it is well-incorporated, remove from heat.
Fold in the chopped cashews and serve.
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.
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.
Simply put, it is vegetables and broth, simmered and pureed.
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.
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…
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)
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:
For more tips on roasting cauliflower, with corresponding recipes, visit Cooking Light’s healthy makeovers here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
KOREAN STYLE BRAISED BEEF SHORT RIB TACOS
3 pounds boneless beef short ribs
marinade and braising mixture
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
I also grated some fresh nutmeg over the surface. Be sure to take in the aromatics before you stir it into the foamy mixture.
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.
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.
PEAR ALMOND CLAFOUTIS
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1/2 cup ground almonds
2-3 firm but ripe pears
3/4 cup brown sugar
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.
To my Good Food Matters friends in the Washington DC area!
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.
Even though the days have been heating up, nights have ushered in a welcome cool here in Nashville. Not quite sweater or jacket weather—but soon. Autumn officially began last week, and you can sense the shift. Clear dry air, different quality of light, and just yesterday I noticed the tinge of orange and yellow on the maple trees. I’m ready.
With the onset of fall, I’ve been prompted to clean and declutter. Part of my “As above, So below” philosophy: straightening out a crammed closet, getting rid of unused stuff, doing that “deep cleaning” and organizing. When I bring order externally, it brings order within. It also sheds what I call “psychic dead weight.” Those two bundles of clothes I took to Goodwill? Ah, already I feel lighter.
You gotta keep the path clear for creativity’s flow!
And in the kitchen, I’ve been embracing the braise. Beef brisket for potluck. Cider pork shoulder for a cooking class. And today, chicken breasts in beer with apples, pears, and shallots.
The style of cooking suits not only the season, but also my temperament these busy workdays. Take a meat and brown it, building a foundation of flavor in a heavy duty Dutch oven. Cover it, and let it simmer, undisturbed, into succulence, while you go about the affairs of the day.
The beauty of this chicken dish is that, unlike big roasts, it doesn’t take hours to braise. Less than one hour, really. Inspired by a recipe on Cooking Light, I used beer as the braising liquid. I don’t drink beer, but I always seem to have a random bottle or two in my fridge, leftover from one of our potluck gatherings.
Add in shallots, coarse grain Dijon mustard, sliced apples and pears, and you have a luscious dish that makes me think of Belgian farmhouse cooking. As the beer simmers and reduces, it tenderizes the chicken. It melds with the fruit and mustard, transforming into a sauce imbued with the ale’s malt and hops.
There are a number of sides that would be excellent with this. Roasted root vegetables. Creamy polenta. Wild rice. You want an accompaniment that will capture all the savory juices.
I chose to make pearl couscous folded with chopped arugula. It is fast and easy—ten minutes of cooking—something you can throw together right before dinner. I relish the bitter edge imparted by the arugula. Use any type of green that you happen to enjoy, or have on hand.
Here’s to a new season of cooking, eating and sharing.
BEER BRAISED CHICKEN WITH APPLES AND PEARS adapted from Cooking Light
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 Chicken Breasts
3 tablespoons Coarse Grain Dijon Mustard, divided
1/2 cup sliced shallots
1 Gala apple, sliced
1 Red pear, sliced
6 ounces beer
1 tablespoon honey
Place a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add olive oil. Liberally coat the chicken breasts with coarse grain mustard, then sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Place into the Dutch oven, skin side down first, and allow the chicken to brown on one side–about 5 minutes.
Flip the chicken. Add the shallots and cook for 1 minute. Add the apples and pears. Stir.
Mix the honey into the beer and pour over the chicken.
Cover and braise for 15-20 minutes. Check for doneness. Stir and scrape up any browned bits.
Place chicken on bed of couscous. Spoon over apples and pears and drench the chicken in the savory juices.
TRI-COLOR PEARL COUSCOUS with BITTER GREENS
1 cup tri-color pearl (Israeli) couscous
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped arugula, or kale, or mustards
1 tablespoon olive oil
Fill a saucepan with 1 quart water. Season with salt. Bring to a boil over high heat.
Pour in couscous and cook according to package directions–about 10 minutes.
Drain and set aside.
Put chopped greens into the saucepan. Pour cooked couscous over the greens.
Add olive oil and stir over very low heat, stirring until the green collapse and wilt in the couscous.
Divide between 2 bowls. Top with chicken, fruits, and braising juices.
It’s been hard for me to take a restorative day, the kind where I drive out to my friend Maggie’s place in the country, hang out and cook. We have a tradition of selecting a recipe or technique that has piqued our interest, and embarking on a day-long kitchen adventure. A couple of weeks ago, I found the time, and we had a project: mozzarella.
Or so we thought. Mozzarella making is both easy, and not.
To begin, you must have some key ingredients that are likely not in your pantry: citric acid and vegetable rennet. Easily remedied: visit a cheesemaking shop, or order from an online source. I went to a local shop.
Critical, too, is organic milk that has NOT been ultra-pasteurized. Here’s where plans went awry. Maggie’s co-op, which sells raw milk (for pets, wink-wink) couldn’t fill her order. When Maggie texted me: “Can you bring the milk?” I didn’t pay attention to our book’s instructions that ultra-pasteurized would not work. (The curds won’t properly form and separate from the whey.) On my way to Maggies, I purchased a gallon of the “ultra” whole milk from the market.
Instead of heating milk, separating curds and stretching cheese, we sat on her front porch. We watched the territorial hummingbirds buzz one another away from the feeder. We chatted, mused and caught up. Over coffee, and toast spread with her homemade raspberry jelly, we plotted our next kitchen adventure. We would not be thwarted again.
At our following get-together, we made up for lost kitchen time. In addition to the homemade mozzarella project, we added Farinata and Onion Jam. An ambitious roster, no?
Today I am going to share with you two of the three. The mozzarella deserves its own post. And, while we were fairly successful, Maggie and I both agreed that making mozzarella is like baking bread or making pasta. They are all very basic, yet at the same time require practice. It is not so much the recipe, but the technique that makes the difference. In this case, it’s in heating the milk to the right temperature(s) straining the curds, getting the right feel for the heating and stretching the cheese. We did well–but believe we could do better.
However, the other recipes were simply done and absolutely delicious. And, I am confident in sharing them with you now.
The first is called Farinata. It is a rustic savory pancake originating from Liguria Italy, and uses 4 basic ingredients, 1 optional:
Garbanzo Bean (chickpea) Flour
I call it a deceptive recipe because of its simplicity. You cannot believe how tasty this is, from such spare and humble ingredients. There is not much of a technique either. You can whip up it in a snap, and bake in a hot-hot-hot oven–best in a cast-iron skillet.
The texture of the pancake is so pleasing–a golden toothsome crust with a custardlike interior. The chickpea flour lends a slightly sweet somewhat nutty taste. Use your best olive oil, as the farinata provides a fine canvas for it.
In places like Genoa, farinata is sold in pizzerias and bakeries, and is best eaten fresh and hot, with a generous grinding of black pepper over the top. Along the Cote d’Azur, it is known as Socca, and served as street food. The Italians will sometimes add fresh finely chopped rosemary to the farinata. The French often prefer a pinch of cumin.
Either way, it is a protein-rich dish that will please anyone, with any dietary preference. Gluten free-check. Vegan–check. Truly Delicious–check! And, you can add other vegetables, and make it a one-dish meal. Check out this example Asparagus, Tomato, and Onion Farinata on Cooking Light. Creative. Seasonal. Gorgeous.
The second is Onion Jam. We all love the caramel sweetness of onions long simmered in a skillet. This recipe carries it just a little further, with salt, turbinado sugar, white balsamic vinegar and a petite bouquet garni of fresh thyme and chives.
It’s one of those recipes that needs little tending–saute the onions; mix in the remaining ingredients; cover and cook on low. Yes, you’ll want to check on it occasionally, give a stir—make sure nothing is sticking. You could also process the onion jam in a hot water bath, just as you would fruit preserves.
Maggie and I relished a dollop of onion jam with the farinata. I can well imagine it with steak or on a grilled burger, or spread over a round of Camembert.
And, yes, I promise to post about the mozzarella. We did enjoy eating it. And we’ll make it again, only better. Soon!
FARINATA adapted from Food Wishes
1 1/2 cups Garbanzo Bean Flour (also called chickpea flour)
2 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
fresh ground black pepper
cast-iron skillet (or any oven-safe skillet)
Place flour into a medium bowl, and whisk in the water. When the batter is smooth, cover it with a plate and set it aside for about an hour, room temperature. After an hour, skim off any accumulated foam off of the top and discard.
Place your skillet into the oven and preheat to 500 degrees.
Whisk salt, 2 tablespoons olive oil and finely chopped rosemary into the batter. Let the batter sit for about 10 minutes.
When the oven is preheated and the skillet “smokin’ hot” add 3 tablespoons olive oil to the skillet. When that hot sheen forms over the pan, pour in the batter. Carefully place the skillet onto the middle rack in the center of the oven.
Bake for 25-30 minutes. The farinata will have a beautiful browned crust, and a yellow, almost custardlike center.
Serve immediately, cutting into wedges. Grind fresh black pepper over the top.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large yellow or white onions (4 medium) coarsely chopped
1/4-1/2 cup turbinado sugar*
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 bundle fresh thyme
*start with 1/4 cup if the onions are sweet. Increase to 1/2 cup if they are not.
Heat a large skillet on medium. Add the olive oil, then the chopped onions. Stir, to coat the onions. Cover and cook undisturbed for 10 minutes.
Uncover, and stir in the sugar, vinegar, and salt. Add the bundle of thyme. Cover and continue cooking for another 15 minutes.
Uncover and reduce heat to low. Continue cooking until the onions are dark caramel colored, very soft and jammy.
Makes a pint