November 25th, 2013

Grateful for Autumn Greens

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Light. This is the challenge, this time of year.

Daily, my work alternates from the kitchen to my home office perch; each space has walls of windows to keep me in tune with the rhythm of the day. Lately I’ve been caught off guard, absorbed by testing recipes, cooking meals, or writing articles, only to look up and find myself shrouded in darkness. The hours move so rapidly, yet I think I’m keeping up.

Suddenly, the curtain drops. Night is here. At 4:45!

Some days I fret at my missed opportunities of sunlight, the better photographs, the lifted spirits. I tell myself–tomorrow, tomorrow—although we know, headed into winter, that each tomorrow means even less.

Moving deeper into the season, I have to capture that light in other ways.

Some mornings Bill and I rise very early, drive to Warner Park, and hike the 2 1/2 mile trail that loops around the wooded hills. Wearing headlamps, we begin in pre-dawn darkness, and find our way along the craggy path. Sometimes I’ll hear the who-who of owls call, or the rustle of a wild turkey flock on its own forest trek. Sometimes I’ll see a set of headlamps on the trail ahead of me, only to realize that it is a set of glowing eyes. A deer!

After thirty minutes of so, we turn off our headlamps. The world is dim, almost colorless, but visible. And then, sunrise.
Ah! Surrounded by hickory and beech trees, their leaves already yellow, we become enveloped in shimmering gold light.

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Light and Balance. We need these in the food we eat too.

Today I am sharing two light and leafy recipes–one is a salad, the other cooked greens. Both autumn dishes help to balance out the heavy, hearty fare that defines the approaching holiday season.

I have been relishing fennel, its crunch and lively anise flavor enmeshed in a salad of Honeycrisp apples and clementines. My new favorite! This is a salad of fresh contrasts, melding sweet, peppery, citric, licorice and pungent tastes, with no cooking required. Just skilled prep—apples cut into thin batons, clementines peeled, sectioned and sliced, fennel and red onion almost shaved. Liberally season with salt and black pepper, which will help each element release its juices. Add salted Marcona almonds and your choice of a salty blue (gorgonzola, maytag, danish…)

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The dressing is basic. Use a good olive oil—this beauty is from my friends’ biodynamic farm in Tuscany near the Tyrrhennian Sea—and a shake of white balsamic vinegar. As I have learned from Rachel in measuring this, use the Italian sensibility: “q.b.” quanto basto-–what is enough—in other words, use your good judgment.

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A member of the chicory family, escarole is a beautiful and mildly bitter green that resembles leafy lettuce. Its core leaves, small and delicate, are ideal in a salad. But the whole head, sliced into ribbons, yields to heat readily, collapsing into a great delectable sopping mound. It makes a sumptuous side dish on its own, or can be spooned over rice or pasta. Served with beans or cornbread, it becomes an Italian dish that has migrated to the South.

In this pot, reds complement the greens. Red onion, red wine vinegar, and a handful of currants to bring pops of sweetness to the dish. You may use golden raisins in place of the currants; either dried fruit will gain a jewel-like glisten in the saute.

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HAPPY THANKSGIVING.

I could tell you, “Be grateful for your greens!”–because I am really reminding myself of the same.
Enjoy them chilled crisp in the salad bowl, or braised supple in the Dutch oven.
Enjoy your time with loved ones.
In this season of indulgence, enjoy some time of light and balance.

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HONEYCRISP APPLE-CLEMENTINE-FENNEL SALAD
1 Honeycrisp apple, cut into small batons
3-4 clementines, peeled, sectioned, and cut into pieces
1 fennel bulb , shaved or sliced thinly
1/2 medium red onion, sliced thinly
1/2 cup Marcona almonds
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/2 pound mixed leaf lettuces

Place the prepared apples, clementines, fennel, and red onion into a large chilled bowl. Add the almonds and blue cheese crumbles.
Sprinkle the salt and black pepper over the salad ingredients, followed by the olive oil and white balsamic vinegar. Top with mixed lettuces.

Toss the salad gently but thoroughly, so that the myriad ingredients are well-dispersed and the lightly coated with the oil and vinegar. Taste and adjust for seasonings.

Makes 8-10 servings

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WILTED ESCAROLE WITH RED ONION, GARLIC, AND CURRANTS
adapted from Cooking Light
5-6 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup sliced red onion
3 cloves minced garlic
2-3 dried red chiles
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3-1/2 cup dried currants
1 large head of escarole, leaves washed and sliced into 1/2 ” thick ribbons
2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Place a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the olive oil. Stir in the red onion, garlic, and dried red peppers. Season with salt and saute the mixture for 2 minutes. The red onion will become translucent. Add the dried currants and saute for another minute.

Add the escarole ribbons. Stir and fold them in the red onion mixture. The heat will cause the escarole leaves to collapse and wilt. Add the red wine vinegar. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Allow the escarole to braise for 5 minutes.

Makes 8 servings

Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Salads, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 20 Comments »




February 19th, 2013

Cauliflower Love

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Cauliflower Cauliflower Cauliflower
Everywhere, Cauliflower.

Lately this cruciferous vegetable, a beautiful mind, a compact head of rumbled white curd, has been The Thing
The Veggie King !

Raw, roasted, boiled, steamed, sauteed,
it has turned up in all kinds of dishes that I have eaten at restaurants, or read about in blogs, or cooked at home.

What was once commonly boiled into oblivion and buttered, or chopped into florets and tossed onto a tray with other crudites and dip, has taken on new respect and new dimension.

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At Etch, a forward restaurant in our downtown area, chef Deb Paquette makes magic with that vegetable. A recent lunch special featured a riff on an egg salad sandwich–using blanched cauliflower. The components–aioli, mustard, capers, onions, celery, and olives–all cloaked the “curd” in what had the feel and flavor of egg salad,

but no eggs.

Trust me, it was an improvement over an egg salad sandwich.

She also serves raw cauliflower curds broken into granules and folded with creamy feta to spread on a crostini. Incredible.

Our food blogging friends have made terrific contributions of late, as well.
Check ‘em out:

Rachel made a lush casserole, “cauli-cheese” where the florets melt under a blanket of perfectly made bechamel.

Faith roasted a head generously doused in her “bloomin” Indian spices.

Over at Food 52, the editors highlighted slabs of cauliflower, grilled like steaks.

It’s a testament to good change, creativity,
And the versatile meaty nature of this vegetable.

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I have one to toss into the fray: roasted cauliflower with sweet red pepper sauce over vegetarian brown rice, dusted with buttery Marcona almonds, and chopped scallions.

The recipe is simple–and points more to technique than ingredients. But it yields a delicious main-dish meal that satisfies many dietary concerns.

Not only vegetarian, it is vegan AND gluten-free.

But “meaty” enough to make us omnivores happy too.

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The recipe is in three parts, but easily accomplished in about the same time. (it won’t challenge your multi-tasking too much!)

While you’re roasting the grand florets, simply brushed with good olive oil and sea salt, you can also roast red bell peppers, onions, and garlic on a separate tray. As the nubbed edges of curd get that compelling brown crisp, red bells and company get charred and candied.

Caramel sweetness all around.

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Meanwhile, make the brown rice.

I admit; I have shunned brown rice, and wrongly so. It stuck in my mind that it takes too long to cook. I also believe that I had one too many dishes of it, improperly prepared. You’ve probably experienced it too–either undercooked and waaaaay too chewy, or underseasoned and overcooked: gummy and insipid.

This recipe is more about technique. When you soak and rinse the brown rice and “scrub” the grains between your fingers, it helps to soften the outer husk. Cooking in vegetable broth helps infuse more flavor. I discovered that it takes less liquid and less time to cook, and yields savory rice, not clumpy, but plump nutlike grains.

This rice, which we know is better for you, is now a pleasure to eat.

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CAULIFLOWER WITH ROASTED RED PEPPER PUREE, BROWN RICE, MARCONA ALMONDS

THE CAULIFLOWER
1 large head cauliflower, cleaned, and cut into large florets
olive oil, to brush over florets
salt and black pepper to sprinkle over florets

to garnish later:
1/2 cup Marcona almonds
1/4 cup chopped scallions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Place cauliflower pieces onto a baking sheet and brush with olive oil.
Sprinkle salt and black pepper over the pieces.
Roast until caramelized, about 15 minutes.
Keep cauliflower warm in the oven (set on 200) until time to assemble the dish.

ROASTED SWEET RED BELL PEPPER SAUCE
2 red bell peppers, cut in half, seeded
½ medium onion, cut into chunks
3 cloves garlic
olive oil
salt and black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Brush red pepper halves with olive oil and place on baking sheet.
Brush onion chunks with olive oil and place next to pepper halves.
Coat garlic cloves with olive oil and place underneath pepper halves.
Sprinkle with salt and black pepper.
Roast until the pepper skins get blackened and blistered—about 15 minutes.
Cool and remove skins.
Place roasted peppers, onions, garlic, and any residual oil into a food processor fitted with a swivel blade.
Add ¼ teaspoon (or less) of cayenne, if desired.
Process until smooth.
Keep sauce warm in a saucepan on the stovetop.

SAVORY BROWN RICE IN VEGETABLE BROTH

1 1/4 cups brown rice
2 cups vegetable stock

Place rice in a large bowl and cover with water. Let this sit for 5-10 minutes.
Stir the grains around in the bowl—you’ll notice that the water has become cloudy.
Drain well.
Return the rice to the bowl and cover with fresh water.
Dip your hand into the bowl, and rub the grains between your thumb and fingers, “scrubbing” the grains. Drain.

Place rice in a large saucepan. Stir in vegetable stock. Bring to a boil.
Cover and simmer for 25 minutes. Turn off heat and let the rice sit and steam for another 10 minutes.
Fluff with a fork and serve.

Makes 2 1/2 cups cooked rice

ASSEMBLY
Place a layer of cooked brown rice on the bottom of a casserole or baking dish. Nap a layer of roasted red pepper sauce over the rice, and nestle the roasted cauliflower pieces into the sauce. Dot remaining sauce over the cauliflower, garnish with marcona almonds and cilantro.

Serves 4

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POST SCRIPT: Several of you have been very kind to check on me, in my blogging absence. I’m happy to report that I am making excellent progress on the cookbook, which has taken so much of my attention. I’m seeing an end point–and ahead of my May deadline. So, with luck, I’ll be around here a bit more. Nancy

Posted in Casseroles, Gluten Free, Recipes, Rice/Other Grains/Legumes, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 25 Comments »




January 13th, 2013

Sweet Potato Trio

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Longtime readers of this blog may recall me writing about my friend Gigi, her Wedgewood Urban Gardens, and our monthly collaborative efforts to host the Third Thursday Community Potluck.

What started out in the summer of 2009 as an experiment to foster community and share good food has continued to bring together 25 or so folks and their delectable contributions—- now going on 4 years. In fact, we’ll be gathering at Gigi’s next week, making it our 40th feast, since inception.

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Our group has been fairly fluid. We have the stalwarts, potluckers who would never miss coming, unless some dire circumstance arose. Others attend multiple times a year, and there are a few whose smiling faces we see only now and then. People have rotated in and out; big change, be it marriage, divorce, job transfer, graduate school, health issues, new baby—Life—is mirrored in that rotation.

And, new people, enthusiastic about cooking and sharing, continue to join in the fun.

Over the years, we’ve made many friends and had terrific meals. We kept a loose journal, a place where each month, guests would sign in and write down the name of their dish. It didn’t take long for us to see what was happening. So many fresh, creative, seasonal contributions, running the gamut of salads, soups, entrees, hors d’oeuvres, casseroles, desserts, and cocktails showed up at the table. In the quest for good food and community, I think we achieved Gigi’s intention.

And, an unintended result: a cookbook deal.

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I am happy to report that The Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook is slated to be published by Thomas Nelson in Spring 2014. (Thomas Nelson is a local publishing house acquired last summer by Harper Collins.) It will have a collection of stories and recipes that elevate the potluck dinner from ordinary to extraordinary.

I am the cookbook’s author. I am ecstatic.

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For quite some time now, I have been busy collecting the recipes, testing and editing them, and writing the accompanying headnotes, tips, and stories. My deadline is May 21st–just a little over 4 months to complete and deliver the manuscript.

I’m making good, steady progress. I am not panicked. Yet.

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However, those demands have placed some restraints on the time that I have to spend with you here.

No worries, I’ll still be around, checking in, reading your posts and giving you updates on my cooking world, be it in or outside the cookbook.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share a recipe that I recently recreated for the book.

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I say “recreated” because the person who conceived the dish and brought it to potluck doesn’t remember exactly how she made it. She just relayed the ingredient list and general instructions to me. What I remembered was that it was a delicious dish using three types of sweet potato. Like many of our potluck offerings, it was a little step up and away from the usual–always welcome—and therefore worth pursuing.

There are so many kinds of sweet potatoes available at the market these days, sporting peels and flesh of different hues, with names like Jewel, Garnet, Boniato, Star Leaf, or Beauregard. While they all cook in about the same amount of time, they vary in taste and texture.

The orange Beaureguard from Louisiana tastes a little sweeter than the creamy white Star Leaf. The Star Leaf and Boniato have firmer, drier texture, reminiscent of regular potatoes. The Garnet has a beautiful deep red exterior.

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It’s fun and flavorful to use a trio in a dish.

Roasted together they make a simple, savory ensemble, appealing both to eye and palate. And, this glaze melding dried apricots, leeks, and balsamic vinegar painted over the planks brings a bit more excitement: that step up and away from the usual we all relish.

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SWEET POTATO TRIO WITH DRIED APRICOT-LEEK-BALSAMIC GLAZE
2 each: Garnet, Jewel, Boniato sweet potatoes (about 5 lbs.)
olive oil
kosher salt

½ cup dried apricots, cut into slivers
¼ cup balsamic vinegar

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 leek, cleaned and cut into ½ “ pieces
½ cup flat leaf parsley, chopped, plus some for garnishing
salt
coarse ground black pepper

Scrub and rinse the sweet potatoes. Cut into planks or wedges, like steak fries. Toss in olive oil and lay out on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with kosher salt and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven until tender with crispy browned edges—about 25 minutes.

Heat balsamic vinegar and pour over slivered apricots in a bowl.

Heat a skillet on medium and add olive oil. Put in leeks and sauté until softened and somewhat translucent—about 4 minutes. Stir in ½ cup parsley, and then apricots in balsamic. Remove from heat.

Arrange roasted sweet potato planks in layered circular fashion, mandala-like, in a round baking dish. Spoon apricot-leek-balsamic glaze over the layers and top. Garnish with chopped parsley. Serve warm or room temperature.

Serves 10

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Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 28 Comments »




November 8th, 2012

An Edible Mosaic: Faith’s Middle Eastern Flair

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Faith Gorsky, author of the widely-read blog, An Edible Mosaic, is celebrating the release of her first cookbook, with a virtual launch party.

It is a wonderful moment, when a food writer makes the leap from blog to book. As a follower and supporter, I applaud her achievement. I am also pleased to take part in the launch.

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Her book, An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair, compiles over 100 recipes that come from the region known as The Levant, (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine,) where Faith has both traveled and lived.

Not only does Faith have a love for the cuisine, she also has an inside track to its traditions. Her Syrian mother-in-law, Sahar, has guided her on authentic recipes and techniques. Faith has put this knowledge into practice, and created recipes that are enticing but not overwhelming to the novice cook.

Her book is an excellent introduction to this healthful, flavorful cooking. And, her photographs are beautiful.

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The recipe that she asked me to share is a fragrant rice dish, flecked with onion, sultanas, and pine nuts. It is uncomplicated to prepare, yet possesses complex tastes. Basmati rice alone has a wonderful nutlike flavor; the other ingredients bring toasted notes, sweetness, and a hint of pungent spice.

The original recipe calls for saffron, those delicate, heady, and costly stigmas collected from a type of crocus. If you don’t have saffron in your pantry, Faith writes that turmeric is an acceptable (and widely used) substitute. The result will be less sophisticated, but delicious, nonetheless.

Either way, the rice has versatile applications, and, by virtue of being vegan and gluten-free friendly, universal appeal.

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The trick to making the grains light and separate is by rinsing them in warm water. (This could be a wide-spread regional technique-my friend Muna from Iraq insists that the rice be rinsed 3 times–until the water is clear!)

This releases the starches that can cause clumpy-sticky rice. This also serves to soften the grains, thereby lessening the amount of water needed in the actual cooking.

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Another trick is sauteing the rice before adding the liquid. First, Faith pan-toasts the pine nuts in oil. After removing the golden bits, she stirs the onions and ultimately the rice in the now-toasty oil. When you add the water, you’ll notice that it is at a much smaller ratio than, say, conventional recipes that call for 2:1. This is almost 1:1.

Covered, the rice absorbs all the flavor, and steams into a savory dish, ready for any accompaniment. Faith recommends a shrimp-tomato dish, also featured in her book.

For my meal, I marinated and pan-grilled thick lamb chops in a piquant blend of coriander, cumin, and cayenne. The marinade quickly infuses that lamb with flavor, and grills to a nice charry crust. You can use this for cubes of kebab meat, too, with great success. It’s a recipe that we teach our young chefs in Teen Cooking Camp.

Be sure to visit Faith’s website for special book-launch giveaways–and convey her your best wishes. An Edible Mosaic can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your local bookstore.

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SAFFRON RICE WITH GOLDEN RAISINS AND PINE NUTS
ROZ MLOW’WAN

Recipe courtesy of An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair by Faith Gorsky (Tuttle Publishing; Nov. 2012); reprinted with permission.

Serves 4 to 6
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes, plus 15 minutes to let the rice sit after cooking

1½ cups (325 g) basmati rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1 onion, finely diced
4 tablespoons sultanas (golden raisins)
1¾ cups (425 ml) boiling water
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon saffron threads (or ½ teaspoon turmeric)

1. Soak the rice in tepid water for 10 minutes; drain. While the rice is soaking, put half a kettle of water on to boil.
2. Add the oil to a medium, thick-bottomed lidded saucepan over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and cook until golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Transfer the pine nuts to a small bowl and set aside.
3. Add the onion to the saucepan in which you cooked the pine nuts. Cook until softened and just starting to brown, about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the rice and cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the sultanas, boiling water, salt, and saffron (or turmeric), turn the heat up to high, and bring it to a rolling boil.
4. Give the rice a stir, then cover the saucepan, turn the heat down to very low, and cook until tender, about 10 minutes (do not open the lid during this time). Turn the heat off and let the rice sit (covered) 15 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
5. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle the toasted pine nuts on top; serve.

OPTIONAL Add two pods of cardamom, two whole cloves, and one 2-inch (5 cm) piece of cinnamon stick at the same time that you add the rice.

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CORIANDER-SPICED LAMB CHOPS
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon salt

2- 1″ thick lamb chops
Whisk the ingredients together in a medium bowl.
Add the lamb. Toss to evenly coat. Marinate 10-15 minutes.
Skillet-sear on medium heat, 4-5 minutes per side, until the meat is crusty brown but still pink inside.

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Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Rice/Other Grains/Legumes, Vegan | 23 Comments »




September 6th, 2012

Silken Tomato Soup

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Sungolds, Black Cherokees, Sweet Millions: these three varieties of cherry tomatoes showed up unannounced in my garden. Volunteers!

Make no mistake, I’ve been thrilled with their appearance, and their profusion of tangy-sweet yellow, orange, and dark red-green fruit.
(no doubt my most successful crop!)

When we haven’t been popping them into our mouths for snacks, I’ve been finding other ways to use them.

Easy–I’ve cut them in half and strewn them over salad greens.

Crafty–I’ve hollowed them out, and piped pesto cream cheese into little tomato cups. (Makes nice, kinda fancy hors d’oeuvres.)

A little different– I slow-cooked a few handfuls with a dab of honey into tomato jam. (tasty with cured meats on a sandwich)

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But now, faced with an overwhelming number of them
(don’t they look like candy?)
I’ve surrendered.

The best thing, I decided, would be to toss them into a big pot and turn them into soup.

I know–tomato soup. How mundane is that?

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But, wait. Let me tell you, this one surprised me. The taste is so pure, so bright and intensely tomato.
It reveals what a true summer tomato soup can be.

Cherry tomatoes, olive oil, salt-n-pepper, a few sprigs of thyme:
There are so few ingredients that it is barely a recipe. More of a technique, really.

The first part is laissez-faire.

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Once you toss your little truckload into the soup pot, let it simmer, covered, for thirty minutes, or so. You can practically forget the pot while you tend to other things.

Meanwhile, all the little globes collapse and release their juices.

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The second part is where the magic happens: with the food mill.

I discovered that milling twice—once with the coarse grinding disc, once with the fine sieve—is the key to making silken full-bodied soup.

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The first pass really crushes the pulp, and removes some of the peel, and few of the seeds.

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It’s the second pass through the mill that extracts all the remaining juices, and that intense flavor. I’ve read that the most acidic part of the tomato (which gives its sweetness dimension) is in the gel that surrounds the seeds. In this second pass, you get that essence, and leave the seeds behind.

There’s no added water. There’s no cream, and yet it seems creamy.
It’s All Tomato.

Dress it up, like I have here, with a scoop of arborio rice and diced roasted veggies–a late summer meal in a bowl.
Or enjoy it for its acid-sweet goodness alone…
Or with a grilled cheese?

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SILKEN TOMATO SOUP
6 pints assorted Cherry Tomatoes, washed
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 teaspoons Salt
2 teaspoons fresh Thyme leaves
1 teaspoon Black Pepper

Food Mill

Place all the ingredients into a large heavy duty soup pot on medium heat.
Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Occasionally stir, mashing the tomatoes to release their juices.

Remove from heat.

Set food mill fitted with coarse grinder over a 4 qt. bowl. Run all of cooked tomatoes and juices through it. The mixture will contain a fair amount of seeds and peels. Discard peels and seeds that remain in the mill.

Rinse off the food mill and fit it with a fine grinder. Place it back over the soup pot and churn the tomato mixture through the it.
This time, the soup will be velvet smooth, with scant seeds.

Warm the soup, tasting and adjusting for salt. Makes 4-6 servings.

Serve simply by itself, or make it heartier with the following enhancements:

ENHANCEMENTS

Diced Roasted Summer Squashes

Sticky Rice–spoon in a mound of arborio, or another favorite short grain rice

Fruity Olive Oil–a zigzag pour over the top

Shredded White Cheddar

Pesto

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Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Soups/Stews, Vegan, Vegetarian Dishes | 22 Comments »




July 13th, 2012

Chocolate Sorbet

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The first time I tasted Chocolate Sorbet, it spun me into a state of denial. I could not believe that this creamy-dreamy, deepest-darkest chocolate confection had no cream, no milk, no eggs, nada.

“It’s basically chocolate and water, ” the waiter informed with a shrug.

“Impossible,” I muttered, and then dipped my spoon in for another bite. Firm yet silken, ice cold yet melty, the sorbet dissolved on my tongue, cloaking it in über-rich layers of flavor. Hints of cinnamon, butter, berry, coffee, and caramel emerged. And lingered. I looked over at my friend Wendy, who was having a St. Teresa of Avila moment. Ecstasy.

“This is the best dessert I’ve ever put in my mouth,” she finally spoke.

We were guests at a fundraising dinner held at a fine restaurant. The dessert course, two bourbon-pecan squares sidled by this sublime scoop, was the highlight of the evening. That was almost two years ago. I filed the experience away as one to revisit and, with luck, recreate.

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So you can imagine my excitement when I came across this Chocolate Sorbet recipe last month. Created by ice cream maven and Parisian food writer, David Lebovitz, it is the ne plus ultra of frozen chocolate treats. The concise list of ingredients aligned with the information from that waiter:

Water-Sugar-Cocoa Powder-Chocolate,
pinch of salt, drop of vanilla.

Yep,
This had to be it.

I had everything in my pantry.
Well, almost.
No ice cream maker.

I dashed out to buy one.

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I located a small (one quart) and cheap ($22.) machine. As soon as I got home, I put its inner canister into my freezer to get super-cold. The next day was Father’s Day, and I had planned a food gift for my dad. At 85, he doesn’t need or want any thing, but a special meal always pleases him. Especially when chocolate is involved. The sorbet would be the pinnacle for the chocoholic.

Manufacturer’s directions recommend a 24 hour freezing period. We didn’t have that full cycle; 16 hours would have to suffice.

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Like anything you cook, the quality of the ingredients is key to success. When faced with such a terse ingredient list, that axiom becomes all the more crucial. Your sorbet will only be wonderful as your bittersweet chocolate and cocoa powder. I had two bars of 70% Scharfen Berger artisan chocolate and a container of Ghirardelli premium unsweetened cocoa.

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I’ve made the sorbet three times now. The first time, for my dad, yielded rich and creamy results—yet it was soupy. The canister needs the full 24 hour deep-freeze time prior to churning. My dad didn’t mind. He ate a bowl of sorbet soup and moaned. “This is too good. Maybe the best.” he said. “The chocolate just stays in your mouth.”

He was right. There is something so pure, so direct and immediate about the sorbet experience–an intense chocolate delivery system!

He let the rest harden overnight in his freezer, and blissfully devoured it within a couple of days.

The second time I was over-anxious, and forgot a critical step: the hand-held blender part, where the mix is initially whirred and frothed before cooling. It was still a delicious batch, but denser.

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Third time’s a charm: I followed all the steps, and modified the recipe slightly. I substituted Turbinado sugar for 1/2 of the sugar requirement, and increased the vanilla. Incredible, I tell you.

I also learned that regardless of freezer time, the sorbet has a high meltdown factor, once scooped.

No matter. You’ll not be able to let this pure chocolate delight languish in a bowl for any time, at all.

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CHOCOLATE SORBET, adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

2 1/4 c. Water, divided ( 1 1/2 c. and 3/4 cup)
3/4 c. Cocoa
1/2 c. Sugar
1/2 c. Turbinado Sugar
pinch of Salt
6 oz. high-quality bittersweet Chocolate, chopped
1 t. Vanilla

Whisk together 1 1/2 cups of water, cocoa powder, sugar, and salt in a 2 quart saucepan set on medium heat. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Let it boil for almost one minute, while you continue to whisk.

Remove from heat, and pour into mixing bowl. Add chopped chocolate, stirring until melted throughout.
Whisk in vanilla and remaining 3/4 cup water.
Pour into a blender, or use your hand-held blender, and mix for 30 seconds.
Place into the refrigerator and allow to cool completely. Mixture will be thick.
Place mixture into frozen canister and churn for at least 20 minutes.
Return canister to the freezer and let set.

Scoop and enjoy immediately.

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Posted in Desserts, Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegan | 28 Comments »




May 22nd, 2012

(Surprisingly Wondrous) Zucchini Sauce, pasta, peppery watercress pesto

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I wish that I had a clever name for this dish.

Pasta with Zucchini Sauce seems rather lackluster, a ho-hum title that belies its subtle garden-green flavors, its whipped up creamy texture–with nary a trace of cream!–and its overall brilliant use of the soon-to-be ubiquitous squash, which are already starting to show up at our farmers’ markets.

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Rachel Roddy, a British ex-pat living in Rome for the last 7 years, and author of the splendid blog, Rachel Eats, deserves the kudos for this recipe, about which she posted in beguiling style here.

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It is tribute to the Roman zukes, zucchine romanesche, whose appearance she likens to little zeppelins, or twee fluted Corinthian columns. Prepared in umpteen delectable ways–sauteed with tomatoes, stuffed with orzo, grilled and folded into a frittata, cut into batons and fried like pomme frites–the zucchini is prized in Roman cuisine for its versatility and taste.

While I am familiar with many of these preparations, I had never tasted, seen, even imagined zucchini braised in olive oil with garlic, and pureed into a lush green sauce for pasta.

With our community potluck looming, it seemed to be the perfect time to make it.

I followed Rachel’s lead–assembling the first of the summer green squashes. In place of garlic cloves, I substituted a bundle of spring garlic scapes, those delicious curly-ques clipped from forming bulbs. Beyond that, the list of ingredients is short–olive oil, a bit of butter, salt, pepper, water and white wine.

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Plus, the pasta. Really, any shape you’d like will work.

Gigi had been praising Cipriani’s Tagliardi–imported, small, super-thin egg pasta rectangles that come boxed like some fabulous gift—so that’s what we chose as a base for the sauce. If you can find–try it. It is very very good.

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Young zucchinis cut into rounds are piled into a heavy duty pot with the scapes; all are tossed well in olive oil, salt, and a dash of pepper. A small amount of butter—a knob, as Rachel likes to say—along with a slow braise, helps to coax out the zucchinis’ savory-sweetness.

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It doesn’t take long for the squashes to release their inherent water. White wine simmered into the “soup” (indeed, this would be a terrific soup) adds depth, and a tinge of acidic bite. It’s important to check for salt—it is key in balancing the delicate taste.

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An immersion blender handily whips this into a supple, somewhat airy sauce that still retains integrity. There are lively bits of squash flecked throughout. The color—ah. Beautiful, don’t you think? And the taste–surprisingly wondrous.

I hasten to add: In lieu of passing a few grindings of cracked black pepper over the pasta, I dotted the dish with Watercress Pesto. It is simply watercress, good olive oil, and salt. Another vibrant green, it adds a fresh peppery finish to the dish.

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SURPRISINGLY WONDROUS ZUCCHINI SAUCE
½ c. Olive Oil
4 T. Butter
10 c. sliced Zucchini (5 lbs.)
1 c. chopped Garlic Scapes (1 bundle)
1 T. Sea Salt
1 c. White Wine
1 c. Water

immersion blender

1 lb. Tagliardi Pasta (or pasta of choice)

In a large (5-6qt. size) stock pot, heat olive oil and butter on medium. Add zucchini and garlic. Season with salt. Stir, coating the vegetables well. Saute for 5-7 minutes, as vegetables begin to soften.
Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Zucchini will collapse and release its liquid—becoming “soupy.” Add water and wine, and continue cooking uncovered for another 7 minutes. Remove from heat and puree the mixture with an immersion blender. Taste for salt.

In a separate large pot, cook pasta of choice according to package directions. (Tagliardi, thin egg pasta squares, require 4 minutes cooking time.)

Drain and return to pot. Spoon warm sauce over pasta, and fold throughout—gently coating the squares. Dot with peppery watercress pesto oil. Dust with cheese: parmesan or pecorino.

Serves a crowd at potluck!–or makes 8-10 generous servings

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Not always easy to find at the grocer (but easily foraged in some creeks and riverbeds) watercress is crisp and peppery.
You could make an arugula pesto instead, if you are unable to locate the cress.

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WATERCRESS PESTO
1 bundle fresh Watercress
1 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
pinch Sea Salt

Place all ingredients into a food processor fitted with the swivel blade and pulse until watercress is ground fine. The infused olive oil will be bright green. Keeps for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.

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Posted in Pastas, Recipes, Vegan, Vegetables | 36 Comments »




November 9th, 2011

Maggie’s Fruit-n-Granola Bread

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She’s at it again. Friend Maggie has become quite the baker, and during our visit last week, she showed me how to make her latest favorite: a delicious—and easy— granola bread.

Doesn’t it look tempting?

It’s chock full of dried fruits, almonds, and honeyed grains. The dough itself is barely sweetened; the abundance of jewel-like fruits provides bursts of sweetness throughout the loaf.

If she could, Maggie would have you over right now, for “a set” on her porch in the country. We’d savor the fall afternoon with a buttery slice and cup of coffee. Lining the front of her yard are the shrubs called burning bush–at this moment in their brilliant red blaze. We’d watch the flurry of chickadees, snatching and storing seeds for the coming winter. We’d talk about oddities we experienced gardening this year–how the tomatoes put more of their energy into vines than fruit, and did you know that groundhogs could climb a fence and eat green beans?

Instead, we’ll have to do the next best thing, and show you how it’s done…

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What a fetching assembly of ingredients!

You could make this bread with just raisins and granola, if you prefer. And, if you’d rather put in pecans instead of almonds, you’d be well-pleased with the results.

Maggie had all kinds of dried fruits–apricots, blueberries, cherries, cranberries—in her pantry, so we took the “more is better” approach. For this bread, it proves to be the right one!

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Yes, it’s a kneaded, yeasted bread, but don’t be dismayed. Remember, Bread=Time. And most of that time means leaving the dough alone. (after a vigorous kneading!)

This recipe calls for one major rising, followed by a brief one, once the loaves are formed.

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The holidays are drawing near. Wrapped up in festive packaging, her fruit-n-granola bread would make a much appreciated gift.

Even better though, would be to have a loaf on hand to serve guests, sliced and smeared with soft butter. Served alongside a cup of hot coffee or tea—ah, I can’t think of a more pleasant way to share a chilly afternoon visiting with friends.

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MAGGIE’S FRUIT-N-GRANOLA BREAD

1/3 cup Rolled Oats (not the “quick” kind)
1 1/2 cups Dried Fruit (use a variety & dice if necessary)
1 tablespoon Unsalted Butter (substitute vegetable oil for vegan)
2 tablespoons Honey
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 cup boiling Water
1 cup Granola (chop into coarse crumbs if necessary)
1 cup lukewarm Water
1 pkg. Active Dry Yeast
2 1/2 cups Unbleached All-purpose Flour
1/2 cup Almonds, roughly chopped

In a large bowl, combine oats, 1/2 cup of the dried fruits, butter, honey, and salt. Add boiling water, mix well. Stir in granola and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine yeast and lukewarm water. Cover bowl with a dish towel and set aside to ferment.

When granola mixture has cooled down to lukewarm, stir in yeast mixture.

Stir in flour, 1 cup at a time. Stir in the remaining dried fruit and almonds. The dough will be fairly sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Flour your hands, and adding flour as needed. knead the dough for about 8 minutes, or until it’s smooth and no longer sticky.

Place dough into an oiled bowl, making sure to coat all over. Cover bowl with a dish towel and place in a warm area – the oven with light on is a great place. Let rise until it’s doubled in size – 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Punch dough down. Cut in half and shape into two slightly oval balls. Place on an oiled sheet pan. Cover with a dish towel and let rise for 15 – 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375F. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes. It should have a golden brown crust and sound slightly hollow when tapped. Foolproof test is 190F on an instant read thermometer. Let cool on a wire rack.

Let cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing! (Gives you time to brew up that pot of coffee-)

Makes two small round loaves.

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Posted in Breads, Recipes, Vegan | 33 Comments »




November 1st, 2011

The Sides Have It

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The first of November! The lure of the Feast!

A couple of years ago, Kim Severson and Julia Moskin, food writers at the New York Times, staged a battle: Turkey vs. Sides. Which brought more happiness to the Thanksgiving table, the noble bird or its myriad accompaniments?

Now I ‘m not one to take sides; I want ‘em all. One is incomplete without the others. But, if pressed to choose, I must say that I’d rather have a table full of exciting side dishes than a roast turkey. And, for the vegetarian in our household, there’s no contest. The sides have it.

With the onset of each holiday season, I know that there will be constants–certain beloved dishes that appear during this time, and vanish until the next. (Like Cornbread Dressing. Cranberry-Walnut Relish. Pumpkin Pie. )

But I like change. With side dishes, those supporting players to the Big Feast, there’s the opportunity to introduce variety. It’s good to bring something new to the table, while still upholding treasured traditions.

Today I’m sharing two terrific side dishes that I made recently for our potluck. I want to put them out there early, for your consideration. Both use lesser known, seasonal ingredients. Either would bring happiness to the holiday table.

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First up: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Red Pear, Shallots, Sage, and Hazelnuts. I have Gigi to thank for this one. Adding Red Pear to the mix is pure inspiration, a wonderful flavor balance, and color-wise, a true holiday beauty.

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I’ve roasted and sauteed everything in olive oil. You could make this with butter–which would become brown butter—and I wouldn’t blame you for that. Brown butter!

But, the shallots, toasty hazelnuts, sage, and fragrant pear bites bring a rich harmony of flavors to the brussels, in a more healthful way.

I know what you’re thinking. For a long time, I wasn’t crazy about brussels sprouts either. This dish could change your mind. Even those who usually turn their noses up at the very thought of “little cabbages” relished the savory-sweet combination.

Next up: Roasted Baby Yukon Potatoes, Harukei Turnips, and Thyme

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It’s been a while since I’ve written about these remarkable turnips that Tally grows each year. Petite, white, and earthy-sweet, they defy all my former notions and experiences with the lowly turnip. ( I have bitter, bitter associations with ill-prepared gratins from my youth.)

Harukeis are naturally mild and sweet. Roasting only coaxes that out all the more. And they pair beautifully with potatoes.

When simply roasted in a little olive oil with buttery yukon golds and fresh thyme, the turnips burst with juicy sweetness.

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I first made this dish for the Fretboard Journal Local Farm Feast last month. Another time, I added roasted cauliflower and onions to the batch. This made a very tasty melange, and visually worked as an “all white” vegetable dish.

In the process, I realized that I liked the roasted harukei turnips better than the potatoes. Kind of shocking, I know. I wished I had included more of them in the dish, and fewer spuds. That’s how delicious they are.

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BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH RED PEAR, SHALLOTS, HAZELNUTS, AND SAGE

1 lb. fresh Brussels Sprouts, washed, dried, ends trimmed
1 large Red Pear, firm but ripe–cored (not peeled) and diced medium
2 medium, (or 1 large) Shallots, diced small
1/2 cup chopped Hazelnuts
1 bundle fresh Sage leaves
Olive oil
Salt-n-Peppa

Place brussels sprouts on a baking pan and lightly coat with olive oil.
Season with salt and pepper and place in a preheated 325 degree. Allow to slow roast for about 25 minutes. Outer leaves will get crispy-brown, and the interior will be firm but tender.

In a deep saucepan set on medium heat, saute shallots in olive oil ( 2-3 T) until translucent—about 2 minutes. Stir in hazelnuts and sage leaves and saute a couple of minutes longer. Add diced pear, and gently stir. The pear will break down slightly, and get coated with the shallot-hazelnut mixture.

When the sprouts are roasted, remove from the oven and add to the saucepan. Stir in, combining all the elements well. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

Serves 6-8

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ROASTED BABY YUKON POTATOES, HARUKEI TURNIPS, AND THYME

2 lbs. small Yukon Gold Potatoes
1 bunch Harukei Turnips
several sprigs Fresh Thyme
Olive Oil
Salt-n-Peppa

Because these yukons were small, I was able to roast the turnips and potatoes together. But it is also fine to roast them on separate sheet pans, and then combine, post-roast.

Place turnips and potatoes on a sheet pan, and lightly coat them with olive oil. Season them with salt, black pepper, and the leaves from several sprigs of fresh thyme.

Place in a preheated 375 degree oven and roast for 40 minutes. Check on them, about half-way, shaking them in the pan, and rotating in the oven. Test for doneness.

Serves 8

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Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 27 Comments »




October 12th, 2011

Butternut Squash-Heirloom Bean Chili, olive oil cornbread

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How strange to think of giving up all ambition!
Suddenly, I see with such clear eyes
The white flake of snow
That has fallen in the horse’s mane.

I found this Robert Bly poem, “Watering the Horse” tucked in the back of a mottled recipe notebook, long untouched. It was on a sheet of mimeographed paper, that odd purplish ink, the public school printing method of long ago.

I still love this poem today, perhaps more than when I was a teen–the notion of ambition having altered with experience. At the other end of child-rearing and career building, I call it into question: what I embrace; what I give up; what has meaning.

And then I cook.

One clear ambition, I tell myself, is that each autumn, I seek out alternative ways to prepare butternut squash.

You may recall, in seasons past, that we’ve cooked up Butternut Lasagna layered with leek bechamel, swiss chard-butternut gratin, flan-like timbales with walnut pesto, and savory bread pudding , served with vegetable veloute, perfect for the holiday dinner table.

Each recipe, a tasty vehicle for this versatile gourd.

Now, that ambition could run wild: this being the first year that I tried my hand at growing our favored winter squash—and harvested a healthy basketful.

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All sizes and shapes!

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This morning, a cushy blanket of fog cloaked our neighborhood. Emerging colors of yellow, gold and burgundy fairly glowed as the fog gave way to an overcast day. I love how brilliant colors come forward in that kind of dull, diffuse light.

The air was cool, too. Chili weather! And then, it occurred to me that the meaty nature of the orange-hued squash would work well in a vegetarian chili.

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I decided to give it a go. With Rancho Gordo beans in my pantry, assorted peppers: poblano, banana, jalapenos along with a few stray tomatoes from the garden, garlic, onions, and spices, I had the foundation for a hearty batch.

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While the beans began their long simmer, I roasted the diced butternut pieces along with the poblanos. I let them get a little caramel crust, and set them aside to cool. Not wanting the squash to break down in the chili, I would add the chunks towards the end of the cooking cycle, to meld with the “pot liquor” the sauce made by the beans as they cook. I turned my attention to bread–cornbread.

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My go-to recipe uses 12 tablespoons of melted butter–an ingredient I lacked. My friend Maggie has a skillet cornbread recipe that uses canola oil–another ingredient missing at the moment in my pantry. What if I made the cornbread with olive oil?

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What if, indeed!

I hand whisked the batter. It came together quickly-easily, and went into the cast iron skillet, into the oven.

It baked into a firm but tender crumb, the olive oil imparting depth, an Old World sense to a New World dish.

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I know I’ve mentioned this before, but the Rancho Gordo Beans (used in this recipe: “Good Mother Stallards” but other beans would also be delicious) are remarkable for their richness. Meaty beans make mighty good chili.

The butternuts proved their mettle in the mix, too. Slightly sweet, they latched on to the layers of peppery heat. A little allspice and cumin, perfect with this squash, added intrigue. It’s a worthy veggie chili, complex with minimal ingredients, hearty, full-bodied, aand satisfying on a gray autumn day.

And, not at all ambitious to make.

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BUTTERNUT SQUASH-HEIRLOOM BEAN CHILI
3 cups chopped (large dice) Butternut Squash (I used 2 small butternuts for this)
1 large or 2 medium Poblano Peppers
Olive Oil
1 heaping cup of dry Beans ( I used Rancho Gordo’s Good Mother Stallards. But, use a good bean of your choice. This recipe would work with black beans, too.)
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 medium Onion, chopped
2 Banana Peppers, chopped
1 Jalapeno, sliced thin
Salt
Black Pepper
2 t. Allspice
1 t. Cumin

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Spread diced butternut squash and halved poblano peppers on a baking sheet pan. Coat with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for about 20 minutes. The squash will roast and caramelize. Pepper skins will blister—peel, chop and set aside separately.

In a large saucepan on medium heat, saute diced onion, banana peppers, and garlic in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, and cook until onion is translucent. Add dry beans, and stir until they are coated with the olive oil-onion mix. Pour in water, covering the beans by at least 2 inches. Add roasted poblano pieces.

Simmer until beans are tender ( at least 2 hours), adding more liquid as necessary. When the beans are “soupy” and yield tender flesh, add the roasted butternut. Season with allspice and cumin. Taste for salt, and spicy heat.

Serve alone, or over rice. Dollop with sour cream, garnish with green onion, if you like. Enjoy with cornbread.

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OLIVE OIL CORNBREAD

1 1/2 cups Cornmeal
1 cup All Purpose Flour
1 T. Sugar
1 T. Baking Powder
1/2 t. Salt
2 Eggs
12 T. Olive Oil
1 1/2 cups Milk
1 cup corn kernels (optional)
1/2 cup shredded white cheddar (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Sift the dry ingredients together. Beat the eggs, oil, and milk together lightly, then beat into the bowl of dry ingredients. Fold in corn kernels, shredded white cheddar.
Pour into an oiled cast-iron skillet (or bread pan.)

Bake for 20-25 minutes. Test for doneness. Cool slightly, cut into wedges and serve right out of the skillet.

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Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Rice/Other Grains/Legumes, Soups/Stews, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 30 Comments »