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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Confit: from the French word confire meaning “preserved”
a confit is any type of food cooked slowly, often in fat, as a method of preservation.
If the stars align and I happen to be shopping at Costco soon after their shipment of chanterelles arrives, I am able to delight us all with something delicious using these wild mushrooms. (The Costco price, around $10 a pound, makes them irresistible.)
Some years it works out, prompting me to make the likes of chanterelle tart, risotto, and savory bread pudding. When I discovered the cache this year, I knew in an instant that I could use them on crostini for a party I was catering. (toasts, slathered with butternut squash puree, topped with simmered chanterelles and shallots.)
Um, yes. I fell off my no-catering wagon, and put together a fall-inspired menu of passed hors d’oeuvres for a fundraising event last Thursday evening. 150 guests! It was for a noble cause–Radnor Lake State Natural Area--an extraordinary 1000+ acre preserve in the heart of a Nashville suburb.
So, while I was figuring how to prepare these for the event, I wanted to learn a way to preserve the golden beauties. Add some staying power to their ephemeral nature.
We’re all familiar with duck confit; wouldn’t confit of chanterelles work?
A little interweb research confirmed my suspicions.
The Earthy Delights Blog, devoted to hard-to-find funghi, truffles and such, has an informative post about the confit in question: a slow savory meld of chanterelles, onions, garlic and dried apricots (fitting–the mushrooms themselves have a stonefruit essence) in olive oil and chicken stock.
I adapted the recipe, opting for vegetable stock instead of chicken, adding a splash of sherry vinegar and some fresh thyme. (For those of you with certain dietary concerns, my version is vegan and gluten-free.)
The result? A jammy mushroom mix that is exotic,
supple, sweet, meaty, with a little sherried vinegar tang…truly luscious.
Guests clamored for the chanterelle crostini at the Radnor Lake party. (Overall a huge success, by the way, wherein many guests asked, “Who’s the caterer?” Knowing that I was doing this as a one-time thing, my friend Bev came up with the best answer: “It’s Anonymous Catering.”)
Days later, I cooked some brown rice and ladled gently warmed confit and juices over the top for our dinner. Some still remains in my refrigerator–enough to fold into omelets, or spoon over creamy polenta, or blend with sour cream and dry mustard for a stroganoff sauce.
Refrigerated, the confit keeps a month (if it lasts that long.) You can freeze it too, for up to six months. Perhaps I’d better go back to Costco and get some more—if they’re still in stock!
CHANTERELLE CONFIT (adapted from The Earthy Delights Blog)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound fresh chanterelles, cleaned and cut (or torn) into 1/2″ strips and pieces
1 large onion, small dice
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
1 cup vegetable stock
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar
pinch crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground pepper
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the chanterelles, onions & garlic and saute until the onion becomes translucent and the mushrooms begin to soften. (15 minutes) Stir often, making sure that the ingredients cook evenly. Add the diced apricots, sugar, salt, pepper and crushed chili, then pour in the sherry vinegar and vegetable stock. Add the sprigs of thyme.
When the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low. Continue to cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced and the mixture thickens. ( 40 – 60 minutes.) Taste for seasoning and set aside to cool.
Spoon the confit into a clean glass jar and top it with a pour of olive oil. Cap it and refrigerate. This will keep for a month. You may freeze the confit for up to 6 months.
The Plus Element
That’s what my friend Maggie calls it. On any path to mastery, there’s always one more step.
I think that’s why I both enjoy and feel challenged by my kitchen calling.
Thirty plus years on this culinary path, and I am still learning.
Thirty plus years, and I am still excited about food.
Today’s post shares two of my most recent discoveries, and they couldn’t be more disparate.
The first took its inspiration from a meal at a new vegan-raw food eatery AVO.
The second was the product of a little pre-Thanksgiving research and experimentation.
I served both at our last potluck, to raves.
AVO (as in avocado) is Nashville’s first full service vegan raw food restaurant. (Nothing heated above 118 degrees, can you imagine?) I was beyond surprised by how delectable–and creative—it’s offerings are. No-bake sea salt chocolate “cheesecake” made from soaked cashews pureed with coconut milk, maple syrup, and bitter chocolate. Pad Thai noodles made from threads of zucchini, daikon, and kelp in a spicy almond-based sauce.
And a remarkable tabbouleh, made from pulverized cauliflower curds.
And while I’m less likely to attempt the mock cheesecake (despite its incredible, creamy mouthfeel, and rich, deep chocolate taste) the tabbouleh-style salad using cauliflower as its grain is nothing short of genius.
Finely chopped by hand, or pulsed in a food processor, the curds have the right appearance. The texture is a ready receptor for the lemony vinaigrette. The taste is convincing–bright, fresh, healthful and delicious. To the ever-growing repertoire of dishes where this species of Brassica oleracea mimics something else (like mashed potatoes, or piccata, or pizza crust…) add this recipe.
Isn’t cauliflower the versatile one?
My recipe takes the Middle Eastern mainstay, and flips it further. Instead of flat leaf parsley, I chopped a mound of tangy peppery arugula to fold in with the cauliflower. I “quick-pickled” thinly sliced red onions, for spark and color contrast. I added finely chopped broccoli. I even cooked up a batch of pearled couscous, to extend the salad for our group. (It didn’t need it.)
The second trial is the “Dry Brine.”
We are all familiar with brining–immersing a hunk of meat or poultry in a highly seasoned-salted bath for an extended, which acts as both marinade and tenderizer. I’ve brined pork roasts to my satisfaction, but my efforts with turkey have not entirely pleased me.
The flavor was there. The juiciness too. But the skin never got that same compelling crackle.
And the gravy–not that rich brown.
I attempted dry brining a turkey breast. So easy and less cumbersome. It was always a challenge to find a receptacle Large enough to hold the brine-and-bird, much less fit it into the fridge without making a sloshing mess.
Create your dry brine blend of salt, pepper, and herbs. Sprinkle all over the bird. Place into the refrigerator UNCOVERED for 24 hours. Remove the next day, thirty-minutes before roasting–let it lose some of the chill while you preheat the oven. Drain off any collected liquid at the bottom of the pan. Slip some pats of butter underneath the skin.
It’s a WOW.
Crisp browned skin, tender, juicy meat, wonderful infusion of seasonings. And this was for the breast—which can get dry. I’m looking forward to using this technique on a whole turkey for our grand Thanksgiving feast. Another step on the path.
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 small red onion, sliced very thinly
1 head cauliflower, washed and cored
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
1 lime, juiced
1 head broccoli, washed and stemmed
2 cups arugula, stemmed and coarsely chopped
Quick-Pickle the Red Onions: In a separate bowl, mix the red wine vinegar, salt, black pepper, and sugar together. Add the red onions. Cover and allow the mixture to soften and pickle the onions—about 15 minutes.
Break the head of cauliflower into manageable sized pieces. Finely chop the curds and stems.
If you prefer, you may use the food processor and pulse them into fine pieces. Place into a large bowl.
Add lemon and juice. Season liberally with salt and black pepper. Pour in the olive oil and stir to coat the pieces.
Fold in the arugula.
Finely chop the broccoli. Add it to the salad.
Drain the pickled red onions and fold them into the salad as well.
Taste for seasonings and serve.
Makes 6-8 servings
DRY-BRINED AND ROASTED TURKEY BREAST
8-10 pound turkey breast
4 tablespoons butter
Poultry Dry Rub:
3 tablespoons Salt
1 tablespoon Black Pepper
1 tablespoon Rosemary
1 tablespoon Thyme
1 tablespoon Ground Sage
1 teaspoon Granulated Garlic
1/4 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
The Day Before Roasting:
Rinse the turkey breast under cold water. Pat dry. Sprinkle the rub over the entire breast, pushing some underneath the skin. Place onto a baking pan and refrigerate uncovered, overnight.
Remove the turkey breast from the refrigerator. Drain off any liquid which may have collected on the bottom of the pan. Cut the butter into small pats and slip them underneath the skin.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Place the turkey breast onto the middle rack and let it roast undisturbed (and uncovered) for 1 1/2–2 hours. Check the turkey after an hour and rotate the pan.
Puttering in the garden. A dip in the pool. A day trip to the country. Stirring a pot of blackberry jam. Tomatoes, and more tomatoes, at every meal.
That’s the summer in my mind.
I’ve caught glimpses of that idyllic summer, even taken the occasional dip and day trip. For the most part, that slow carefree pace has eluded me. It’s not a complaint, don’t get me wrong. In the life of a food writer-educator-recovered caterer-grandmother, you gotta roll with whatever assignments come your way! From cooking camps to grandson care, life has been full.
But, here I am. And, I have hopes for a languid August. Beautiful produce is coming into the markets; look at that bounty. I haven’t stopped cooking. Here are a few summer dishes I’ve enjoyed.
ROASTED TOMATO-PESTO FRITTATA
Have your heard of Juliet tomatoes? They are a paste variety that look like mini-romas. I really like them for certain applications. Thick sauces. Salsa. Ketchup. And, they slow-roast into meaty ovals of sweetness.
I used them, in their slow roasted state, to make this frittata. The process started on the stovetop in my cast iron skillet, and finished in the oven.
A frittata is a fast and versatile recipe to have in your repertoire. You can find numerous variations here. I served this for an impromptu brunch for friends–it couldn’t have been simpler, and more satisfying.
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup cream (you may substitute half-and-half or whole milk if you prefer)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1 pound roma or paste tomatoes, roasted
1/2 cup fresh basil pesto
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Coat a 9 inch cast iron (or oven safe) skillet with butter.
Beat eggs, cream, salt and black pepper together until no traces of yolk can be seen.
Place skillet over medium heat.
Pour in the egg mixture.
Add the tomatoes, dollops of pesto and shredded cheese. Cook on the stovetop for about 5-7 minutes.
Place the skillet into the oven to finish—about 15 minutes.
SPICY SUMMER-YELLOW VEGETABLE SALAD
One of the teen cooking camps I taught at the food bank was all about “Street Eats.” We explored cuisines around the world, from the standpoint of what you’d buy from a street vendor, pushcart, food truck: some times the most delicious dishes ever! One day, we made Mexican fare—grilled fish tacos, pickled cabbage, churros dusted with cinnamon sugar, and elotes—those spectacular ears of grilled corn slathered with lime-and-chili spiked mayo.
We had a few extra charred ears which I brought home. They soon wound up in this salad that celebrates summer yellows: wax beans, sweet bell pepper, onion, sungold tomatoes and crookneck squash. I blanched the beans (fresh picked from a friend’s garden!) in water seasoned with garlic and bay leaf. I sauteed the peppers, onion and squash. I scraped the grilled and slathered kernels off the cob, and mixed the whole she-bang together. Finished with a scatter of sungolds, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime. Mercy. Summer in a bowl. It was so so good.
1/2 pound yellow wax beans, trimmed
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 yellow squash, cut into julienne strips
1 golden bell pepper, cut into julienne strips
1 small onion, sliced
2 ears of corn, cooked: grilled, oven roasted, boiled
1 cup sungold tomatoes, cut in half
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
Elote Dressing (recipe below)
Fill a skillet with water and place over medium heat. Add the garlic, bay leaf and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Cook the wax beans ( a few at a time–do not crowd) until tender-crisp–about 4 minutes. Remove and let cool.
Empty the skillet, dry it, and place over medium heat. Add olive oil. Add the squash, peppers and onions. Saute for about 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat.
In a large bowl, place the wax beans and sauteed vegetables. Scrape the corn kernels into the bowl. Add the sungold tomatoes, cilantro, and Elote dressing. Toss well and serve.
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/4-1/3 teaspoon cayenne
lime juice from 1 lime
pinch sea salt
1/2 cup grated cotija or parmesan cheese
Mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl until well combined.
Makes a scant cup.
MANGO BLUEBERRY LIME YOGURT PARFAIT
What do you do when you have a ripe mango, a pint of blueberries, a container of plain Greek yogurt and a lime? This is the answer. Easy-Pretty-Tasty-Healthy.
This one is barely a recipe.
2 cups plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons of your favorite honey
1 lime—juice and zest
1 pint blueberries, rinsed and stemmed
1 ripe mango, peeled and sliced
Place the yogurt into a bowl. Add lime juice, zest and honey. Stir until well combined. Taste and adjust for sweetness, if desired.
Set up 4 glasses (or whatever serving vessels you’d prefer.) Place a dollop of yoghurt in the bottom of each. Follow with a handful of berries, a few slices of mango, and repeat the layering until the glass is full. Garnish with basil or mint leaves and serve.
Welcome the return of
Neighbor Ray’s petite green beans, true haricots verts
grown in his meticulous urban backyard garden.
Sleek and delicate, just picked and crunchy sweet.
The sack still holding the day’s warmth.
A summer highlight that had gone missing for a couple of summers.
Two years ago, Ray’s crop did too poorly. Pests and such.
Last year, I was out-of-pocket. Book promotions and such.
But this year, they’re back.
And I’m back. Thank goodness.
As I’ve done in productive summers past, I’ve created a dish to celebrate them.
This time, I gleaned inspiration from a favorite local chef, Roderick Bailey of The Silly Goose, who makes a bowl of green beans and yukon gold potatoes, nestled in a pool of hazelnut romesco sauce. He finishes the dish with shavings of Manchego cheese and a flourish of paprika oil, in Spanish tapas fashion.
Now, in my pantry and fridge I had many of the ingredients to replicate. Those golden potatoes, buttery companion to the beans. I had cremini mushrooms to add to the mix, impart their own kind of meaty umami.
As for the romesco, I had ripe bell peppers. An anaheim too, for a mild kick of heat. A couple of tomatoes. Half an onion. A piece of shallot. The critical sherry vinegar.
A few missing elements, though. No hazelnuts, nor Manchego cheese. No paprika oil, either.
No matter. I could still achieve a luscious base for the dish. A simpler romesco. I even eliminated the soft breadcrumbs often used as a thickening agent in traditional preparations. Let’s keep it gluten free. The peppers, once roasted and pureed with a splash of vinegar, a teaspoon of paprika, would have rich body and deep flavor.
It all comes together with minimal work. Blanche the slender green beauties–done in just minutes. Roast potatoes and mushrooms. Roast, then puree peppers, tomatoes, onions and the like. Pool and spread the romesco. Arrange the vegetables; let them settle into the sauce.
(If you have Manchego, or toasted hazelnuts to garnish–go for it.)
Stand back and admire the brilliant composition of colors and textures.
Then, dig in.
For other ideas for preparing and serving romesco sauce, visit here.
RAY’S BEANS AND ROMESCO
1 pound haricots verts, or young thin green beans, stems removed
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into cubes
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, quartered
coarse ground black pepper
Bring a large skillet of lightly salted water to a boil. Put in the beans and cook for 3 minutes. Plunge them into an icy bath to cease the cooking and set their bright green color. Drain and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Place the cubed potatoes onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and black pepper. Toss to coat.
Place quartered mushrooms onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and black pepper. Toss to coat.
Place each pan into the oven and roast until the potatoes are crisp and lightly browned, yet have soft cooked interiors—about 20 minutes. The mushrooms will roast more quickly, about 15 minutes.
Set both aside and make the romesco sauce.
SIMPLE ROMESCO SAUCE
1 red (or yellow or orange) sweet bell pepper, cut in half, stemmed and seeded
1 Anaheim pepper, cut in half, stemmed and seeded
2 cloves garlic
2 roma tomatoes, cut in half
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon paprika
Place peppers, onion, garlic, tomatoes onto a baking sheet. Coat with olive oil and dust with salt.
Roast in the preheated 425 degree oven until the skins of the peppers are blistered—about 20 minutes.
Remove and cool. Peel and discard the skins of the peppers and tomatoes.
Place the vegetables into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.
Pulse and process.
Add the sherry vinegar and paprika.
Pulse and process until smooth. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.
Pour most of the romesco sauce onto the bottom of a shallow bowl.
Toss the green beans, potatoes and mushrooms together. Place on top of the pool of romesco.
Dot the vegetables with remaining sauce and serve.
Makes 6-8 servings
Note: This is delicious served warm or room temperature. Enjoy!
Whether we can tolerate gluten in our diet or not, there’s one thing for certain: We all have benefited from the gluten-free food revolution. The mass introduction of alternative grains has added wonderful variety to our pantry, replete with taste and nutrition. Beyond corn and rice there’s amaranth, kasha, millet, teff, and quinoa, just to name a few. And alternative flours? I can’t keep up.
We don’t have any problems with gluten in our family, thank goodness. But I’d like not to rely on wheat as much as I have. (Sorry, pasta!) Living with a vegetarian, I am always on the lookout for meat-free protein-dense recipes to satisfy a hearty appetite. Over the past months I’d noticed several dishes from Cooking Light that use a quinoa pastry crust. The idea intrigued me.
I’ve had success with cornmeal crust in the past, why not quinoa?
The folks at Cooking Light have developed 2 pastry crust recipes using the New American grain—one with already-cooked quinoa, the other with uncooked, toasted and ground. For this Southwest-inspired vegetable tart, I opted for the former. It couldn’t be easier to make–combine the grains with egg and oil, press the mixture into the pie pan and bake. (It’s a good way to use up any leftover quinoa too.)
The crust has integrity–it holds the roasted vegetables and custard while imparting its toasty nut-like flavor. We like the smoky taste of the poblanos with the other summer vegetables, a Southwest spin—but you can use your imagination and veggies at hand to create whatever filling you like. The quinoa crust is an amenable canvas.
The latter, which also has ground almond meal and cornstarch in the mix, seems like a contender for fruit pie, maybe plums—if the devil-squirrels don’t wipe out the potential bounty from my backyard tree.
QUINOA CRUST from Cooking Light
2 cups cooked quinoa
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8-1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Mix quinoa, egg, olive oil and salt together in a bowl. Press the mixture onto the bottom and sides of a pie pan.
Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.
SOUTHWESTERN VEGETABLE TART
2 yellow squashes
1/2 red bell pepper
1 medium onion
1 poblano pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup half-and-half
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup shredded cheese: combination of white cheddar and cotija
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Slice zucchini and yellow squash lengthwise. Coat with olive oil and arrange on a baking sheet.
Slice peppers (red bell and poblano) into strips, onions into thick slices. Coat with olive oil and arrange on a baking sheet. Sprinkle each pan with salt and black pepper.
Place both into the oven and roast for 15 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool.
Beat the eggs with half-and-half, salt and black pepper until no traces of yolk can be seen.
Sprinkle a little cheese over the bottom of the crust and place the first layer of roasted vegetables. Repeat until you fill the shell.
Pour the custard mixture over the vegetables. Top with remaining cheese.
Place into the oven and bake until the custard is set and the top is golden—-25-30 minutes.
Cut into wedges and serve.
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.