January 13th, 2014

Pan-seared Potato Gnocchi with parsnips

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In the case of potato gnocchi, I have felt like I’m on a quest for something elusive. Once, a long time ago at a restaurant that no longer exists, I had a sumptuous plate of hand-formed dumplings, pillowy-light bites cloaked in garlicky brown butter sauce: a pleasure to eat. In the wake of that ethereal meal, I would often order potato gnocchi when I’d find it on a menu. Just as often, I would wind up disappointed. The dough was either gummy, or the restaurant had used something pre-fab, vacuum-sealed in a box, a factory line of same-shaped dumplings that cooked up rather dense and chewy. Blecch. No, thank you.

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This fall, I had lunch at an eatery in downtown Franklin called Gray’s on Main. They offered a potato gnocchi dish where the dumplings were tumbled with Brussels sprouts, parsnips, and pancetta in a butter sauce. Ah! These cushions of potato had golden butter-crisp exteriors gleaned from a final spin in the skillet. That contrast made them exceptional. At last, I had found the elusive!

Before it vanished.

Their house gnocchi plate is no longer on the menu.

The solution: it’s time to learn to make them myself.

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There’s an aspect of gnocchi-making that reminds me of biscuit-making. With a terse list of ingredients, it is not just the quantities of potato, flour, salt and pepper, eggs–or no eggs—that distinguishes the outcome. It’s the process–the light hand in forming the dough. Fluffy biscuits and pillowy gnocchi have this in common. You want to mix and fold the dough deftly, quickly, but not handle it too much. Overworking is what causes that unpalatable toughness.

Indeed, it a matter of practice: Learning the feel of the dough, that “right discrimination” that informs your hands and brain that, yes! this it. This has the right consistency.

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The kind of potato you use is critical. Waxy reds or new potatoes won’t work. The humble Russet, boiled in its jacket, peeled and run through a ricer or food mill is The Way. Eggs or no eggs? I have found recipes espousing either. Rachel writes that the Romans prefer the dough with: sturdier in the boil and pan. Head north of The Eternal City, and gnocchi di patate are made without.

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While I was mixing up the riced potatoes with flour, I could feel how an eggless dough would work. But I ultimately added the eggs.
It makes a richer dough. And, as I wanted to finish the gnocchi in the skillet–get that lovely crust—using eggs made good sense.

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Divide the dough into quarters, rolling each one into a ropey length. After you cut them into little pieces, you’ll roll and press each one with a fork. My gnocchi look a little wonky, I know. No worries. They still tasted delicious. I’ll get better at forming them, with practice.

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There is little doubt when they are done—the dumplings will rise to the surface after a couple of minutes in the rolling boil.

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Look at these plump dumplings! At this point, they would be delectable, plunked into a red sauce. We are taking it another step:
Pan-seared in a skillet with a saute of shallots and parsnips in butter, topped with a few curls of shaved Parmegianno-Reggiano.

Elusive no more.

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PAN-SEARED POTATO GNOCCHI WITH PARSNIPS
adapted from Julianna Grimes at Cooking Light
4 medium Russet potatoes, scrubbed
2 medium parsnips, peeled
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting, rolling out dough
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4-5 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup diced shallots
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/3 cup shaved Parmegianno-Reggiano
2 green onions, finely sliced for garnish

Place potatoes and parsnips into a large saucepan and cover with water. Place over medium high heat. Cover and bring to a boil. After 12-15 minutes, remove the parsnips, which should be tender but still firm. Set them aside on a plate to cool.
Continue boiling the potatoes until they yield to a fork–another 15 minutes. Drain and allow the potatoes to cool. Peel them and run them through a potato ricer or food mill (with a shredder-ricer blade) into a large bowl. Season the riced potatoes with salt and black pepper.

Sprinkle the flour over the potatoes and rapidly mix by hand. Add the lightly beaten eggs. Mix well to incorporate the eggs into the mixture, but do not overwork the dough–otherwise it will become dense and tough. The dough will actually have a light airy feel to it.

Dust your work table with flour. Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope. If the dough becomes too sticky, dust it with a bit more flour. Cut the rope into bite-sized pieces. You may then roll each piece gently with the tines of a fork to make the distinctive indentations—but you don’t have to.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil on medium high heat. Drop the gnocchi in, a dozen or so pieces at a time. You don’t want to overcrowd them. Gently swirl them around in the boiling water so that they don’t stick to the bottom. They will cook quickly.
After a minute or so, they will rise to the surface. Allow them to cook another minute, and then scoop them out with a slotted spoon or skimmer. Place the cooked gnocchi in a large bowl.

Slice the cooled parsnips into bite size pieces.

In a large skillet set on medium heat, melt the butter. Saute the diced shallots until translucent. Add the parsnips and thyme. Continue to saute for 2-3 minutes. Remove the mixture. Increase the heat to medium high and add a layer of gnocchi to the skillet. Sear the gnocchi until they are nicely browned on one side and remove. When all of the gnocchi are browned, toss them with the parsnip-shallot mixture until well combined.

Portion into warm bowls. Sprinkle each with shaved Parmeggiano-Reggiano and sliced green onions.

Serves 4 as main dishes, 6 appetizer/first course

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Posted in Pastas, Recipes, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 17 Comments »




December 16th, 2013

Funky Kitchen Karma and Yummy Eggplant “Lasagna”

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It was more than my hope, it was my intention to have numerous posts this month. The kitchen muse thought otherwise. What a spate of not-quite wonderful dishes and complete duds the past two weeks!

The first was the worst: my glaceed chestnuts. Mealy and a misery. Ugh. A chuck into the trash bin was all they deserved, with no looking back.

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Next up, Maggie and I made panettones. What an involved fun project! We ordered the special baking forms and Fiori di Sicilia extract. I candied orange, grapefruit, and clementine peels. Maggie made the Biga, or starter.

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As the breads baked, they imparted incredible aromatics but they lacked the distinctive soft, spongy texture that makes them a pleasure to eat. Maggie and I both plan on turning that misfortune into panettone bread pudding.

More yolks? A better rise? I will rework the recipe, and try it again. Practice! Failing that, I will respect that most Italian households with accomplished cooks in the kitchen still purchase their Christmas panettones from their local bakers.

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And lastly, something went awry with the beautiful Linzer cookie recipe that I found here. The crumbly dough would not roll out. I’ve since figured out what I did wrong.(I used frozen raw egg yolks—but I should have added 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar to the 4 yolks before I froze them. Then, they wouldn’t have been gummy.) I rescued that though, by baking the cookies in individual petite tins in a variety of shapes, and filling them with raspberry preserves.

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Okay, The power of threes–three up, three strikes, three outs. Let’s hope this spell of funky kitchen karma is over.

In the meantime, I want to share a successful recipe that you’d be pleased to serve during the holidays. It’s vegetarian; it’s gluten free, and will serve a crowd. It’s even got the Christmas colors going for it: roasted tomato-sweet red pepper sauce and fresh spinach-laced ricotta are spread between thick roasted slabs of eggplant. It is not eggplant parmesan. It’s not lasagna either. There’s no pasta–the eggplant takes the place of the noodles. The best part: it is simply delicious.

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I’ll be back soon, with other good things, I promise.
I wish you beneficent times in the kitchen. May the muse smile upon your efforts.

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ROASTED EGGPLANT “LASAGNA”

Like most lasagna recipes, there are 3 easy steps to the recipe, before you assemble the layers.

RED SAUCE: Sweet Red Pepper-Tomato

4 large red bell peppers, each cut in half, stemmed and seeded
2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt and black pepper to sprinkle over the vegetables
28 oz can whole plum tomatoes and sauce

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the red bell pepper halves and onion quarters onto a baking sheet. Coat with olive oil (about 3 tablespoons) and sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Place the canned plum tomatoes and their sauce onto a separate baking sheet. Drizzle with remaining oil. Season with salt and black pepper. Place both baking sheets into the oven. Roast for 15-20 minutes, until the red bell pepper skins are blackened and blistered. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. When cool enough to handle, peel the pepper skins and discard.

Combine the roasted red bell peppers and onions with the roasted tomatoes into a large saucepan. Using an immersion blender, puree them together until smooth. You may add a little water–start with 1/2 cup—-if the mixture is too thick. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.

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“GREEN CHEESE” Spinach Ricotta
1/4 pound fresh spinach leaves
1 pound whole milk ricotta
1 egg
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic

Place all of the ingredients into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse until all of the spinach is finely chopped and incorporated into the ricotta. The mixture will be creamy green.

ROASTED EGGPLANT
3 large eggplants
kosher salt
olive oil

2 cups shredded cheese: 1 cup mozzarella, 1 cup sharp white cheddar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Slice the eggplants lengthwise, about 1/2 inch-3/4 inch thick. Lay the pieces onto a baking sheet and sprinkle with kosher salt.
Allow them to “sweat”—about 15 minutes—-then gently dab the water droplets with a paper towel.

Drizzle both sides of the eggplant with olive oil and place back onto the baking sheet. Place into the oven and roast for 15 minutes.
Remove, and using a metal spatula, flip the eggplant. Roast for another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Keep the shredded cheese handy for the assembly.

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ASSEMBLY

Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Coat the bottom and sides of 2 casserole pans with olive oil. Ladle a generous spoonful of red sauce onto the bottom. Cover the sauce with a layer of eggplant, followed by a layer of spinach-ricotta, and a sprinkle of shredded cheese. Repeat the process: red sauce, eggplant, ricotta, shredded cheese.

Baked uncovered for 25-30 minutes, until the casserole is bubbling hot. Let the eggplant lasagna sit undisturbed for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 15-20

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Posted in Casseroles, Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegetarian Dishes | 19 Comments »




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 »




October 30th, 2013

Chanterelle Bread Pudding

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Hail Cantharellus cibarius!

Yes, it is that time of year again, when chanterelles, those golden hued beauties of the forest make their appearance at the market. I’ve been keeping a watchful eye out for them–their beguiling apricot color and scent, curious funnel-shaped stems, and soft gill-like ridges that stretch up to frilled caps. Trumpets of delectability!

So infrequently do I cook with them, that I want make the most of the occasion. Because of their nature, their keen readiness to yield into a silken umami state when sauteed in butter–I don’t want to do too much.

In the past, I’ve paired them nicely with caramelized onions in this tart, and made them the foundation and star of this spoon-creamy risotto. Today, I’ve folded them with cubed bread, eggs, cheeses, and an herb-infused milk, baked into a sumptuous Chanterelle Bread Pudding.

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A pile of chanterelles looks formidable at purchase, but reduces quickly in the skillet, so be sure to indulge in a full pound of them.
They’ll retain their meatiness and won’t get lost in the mix. Cleaning them can be a bit of a chore however most necessary; click here for Cooking Light’s foolproof guide to a proper prep. The cleaning may be the most time-consuming part of the recipe!

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For the rest of the process, it moves along simply, with simple ingredients. Likely you already have them in your pantry. Stale crusts of bread, eggs, some nutlike cheeses, a little onion and carrot to chop into a mirepoix to add to the base.

What makes this pudding exceptional—besides the grand chanterelles, of course— is the warmed half-and-half, with its plunge of fresh rosemary, thyme, and sage. That trio muddles in the rich milk, infusing it with woodsy herbal notes.

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I saute the chopped chanterelle stems with carrot and onion in a nob of Kerrygold butter. After a few minutes, I toss in the mushroom caps, which I prefer to tear into pieces, rather than attack with a knife. In no time, they release their essence–both peppery and fruity– and become lustrous as they simmer. You could add a splash of white wine or sherry at this point—-chanterelles like a nip of the grape—-but it is not essential.

Once they are cooked, the rest is basically a mixing thing. Add your herbed-up half-and-half, shredded cheese (a combination of parmesan and gruyere is quite nice) beaten eggs and cubed bread.

I keep a bag of leftover bread–nubs, scraps, and pieces—in my freezer. Recipes like this one make me glad that I do.

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The pudding puffs as it bakes. The interior sides and rumpled top become wonderfully brown and crusty, while the interior maintains its rich creaminess. Tasting the dish–which made a great meal with a green salad—reminded me of big holiday feasts on the horizon. And I realized that this would make an elegant side dish, or dressing. Some of my friends always make Oyster Dressing for Thanksgiving. I think this Chanterelle Bread Pudding rivals that.

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CHANTERELLE BREAD PUDDING
1 pound chanterelle mushrooms, carefully cleaned
2 cups half-and-half
2 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
4-5 sage leaves
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
6 cups cubed sturdy stale bread
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese–combination of Parmesan and Gruyere
4 eggs, lightly beaten

1- 8 cup baking or souffle dish, coated with butter

Cut the stems from the chanterelles, setting aside the caps to work with later. Finely chop the stems.

Pour the half-and-half into a small saucepan. Add fresh herbs and place on medium low heat. When bubbles begin to form on the pan’s edge of the liquid, remove from heat. Let the mixture cool as the herbs infuse the half-and-half.

Melt the butter in a large skillet or pot placed on medium heat. Add the chopped chanterelle stems, carrots, and onions. Season with salt and black pepper. Saute for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Chop, or tear by hand, the chanterelle caps into bite sized pieces. Add to the vegetable mixture. Stir gently as the mushroom caps soften and collapse in the saute. This should take about 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

Discard the herbs and pour the infused half-and-half into the pot with the mushrooms. Stir in the bread cubes and cheese.
Finally–and quickly—stir in the beaten eggs. When all of the ingredients are well-combined, pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. You may place a sprig of rosemary ( or sage, or thyme) on the top.

Allow the bread pudding to sit for at least an hour (or several hours—you may cover and refrigerate this overnight and bake the following day.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the casserole on the middle oven shelf and bake for 35 minutes.

Serves 6-8

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Posted in Casseroles, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Recipes, Vegetarian Dishes | 20 Comments »




August 28th, 2013

Summer’s End Vegetable Pot Pie

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How has your summer been?

It’s hard for me to accept that September is almost here, and the moments of leisure, like dips in the pool, are vanishing.

As August wanes, I’m reminded that soon we will be transitioning. Daylight hours will visibly shorten; leaves will begin to turn; sweaters will be pulled out from the back of the closet; and heartier foods will be prepared in the kitchen.

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Already, the bounty of the garden is shifting, as heirloom tomatoes dwindle, and winter squashes–acorn, butternut–appear ready to harvest.

You might find, as I did, a handful of summer stragglers. An ear of corn or two, a big red bell pepper, a few squashes, a fistful of green beans.

Each, on its own, is not enough to make much of a meal.

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But combined, have the ability to make something great.

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Inspired by the summer stragglers, this vegetarian pot pie fits right into this time of transition. Pot pies–in their best form–embody comfort and offer one-dish ease. We often think of chicken or beef as being the central ingredient, but roasted vegetables can make a rich and satisfying filling on their own.

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Roasting, of course, brings out all the caramel sweetness of the veggies. The other key is making a rich veloute for the filling. For a vegetarian version, I started with a saute of onions and garlic, and made a simple roux. Lightly browning the flour-butter mixture helps to bring a deeper layer of flavor to the sauce. Vegetable stock (store-bought is fine) heightened with a splash of white wine makes a fine base, especially enhanced with the onion-garlic roux. I finish the sauce with some fresh thyme leaves.

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The other important element is the pot pie topping. Crust or biscuits–which do you prefer? I like both, but the biscuit topped pie ( made with chicken) that I saw in the September issue of Cooking Light really appealed this time.

In the time it takes for the veggies to roast, you can put together the biscuit dough. Here’s a couple of biscuit-making tips:

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Start with very cold butter, cut into small cubes, to blend into the flour-soda mixture. If you don’t have a pastry blender, use two knives. You can also rub the butter into the flour by hand. It should resemble coarse meal.

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After you add the buttermilk, work quickly. The dough will start out being sticky, but soon will come together into a ball.

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You want a light touch, rolling out the dough, and cutting out the biscuit shapes. Overworked dough toughens–beware!

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The buttermilk biscuit recipe is very easy to put together, roll out and shape.

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The biscuits puff and brown beautifully, encasing the savory vegetable filling. As you scoop up a serving, you’ll notice how the veloute has baked into the bottoms of the biscuits. Mercy.

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SUMMER VEGETABLE POT PIE
2 yellow squashes, diced
2 zucchini, diced
1 red bell pepper, large dice
1 jalapeno or cayenne pepper, small dice
1/2 pound green snap beans or pole beans, cut into 1/2 pieces
1-2 ears corn, cut off the cob
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt

2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup white wine (optional)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place chopped vegetables on a baking sheet and toss in olive oil. Lightly sprinkle with sea salt and place in the oven to roast for about 12 minutes. Remove from oven.

In a 2 quart saucepan set on medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and saute for 2 minutes, then add the garlic and continue to saute for 2 more minutes.

Stir in the flour, coating the onions and garlic. Continue stirring, cooking the flour to make a light roux. Pour in the vegetable broth and wine, stirring all the while. The mixture will begin to thicken. When it looks like it has nice sheen, remove from heat.

Coat a 2 quart casserole round with butter or pan spray. Add the roasted vegetables, and then pour the sauce over them. Stir to coat all the vegetables.

Make the biscuits (recipe follows).
Arrange the biscuits over the top of the casserole. Dot with butter and sprinkle with paprika, if you like.
Place into the oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes–until the biscuit tops are browned and the filling is bubbly.

Serves 4

BISCUITS FOR POT PIE TOPPING from Cooking Light
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt
4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into cubes
1/3 cup buttermilk

Place a level cup of flour (4.5 ounces, by weight) into a medium bowl. Mix in the baking soda and salt.
Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles a coarse meal.
Stir in the buttermilk.
Form a doughball and gently knead 5-6 times. It is important to NOT overwork the dough.
Roll into a circle–about 9 inches round. Use a 2 inch biscuit cutter, ( or a flour-dusted glass of approximate size) and cut the biscuits.
Arrange them over the top of the pot pie.

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Posted in Casseroles, Recipes, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 19 Comments »




June 27th, 2013

Pasta “Lecce”

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When Bill and I were in Rome last month, the weather–by Roman claims–was unseasonably cool and somewhat rainy. We decided, at a certain point, to rent a car and follow the sun. That trip took us first down to the Sorrento Peninsula, to a sleepy cliff town called Vico Equense. Brilliant sun, a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean, Mount Vesuvius looming in the distance–it was a lovely place to be. After two days, the rains came, so we headed east over the Apennines and then south—way south—to the heel of the boot.

We ended up in Lecce, a beautiful city sometimes called “The Florence of the South.” Particular to the region is a sandstone that is easily carved when first quarried, yet hardens over time. Lecce is replete with its own form of Baroque architecture made from this stone. The structures, churches and building facades, exhibit a more refined sensibility in their exuberant ornateness.

Ten kilometers inland from the Adriatic, Lecce also has a wilder feel to it–and I mean this in the sense of less traveled, less touristy, less sophisticated. Maybe bohemian is the right word. The pace is very laid back. The vibe is very friendly and welcoming. Perhaps because of its proximity to Greece and North Africa, it benefits from a confluence of cultures.

We became quickly captivated by the place and the people. We stayed in the centro storico-historic city center, in a flat on the Piazza Sant’Oronzo. Within the piazza confines is an amphitheater, circa 200 A.D. On the perimeters are numerous coffee bars, gelateria, and eateries with outdoor dining, where you could just sit in the breezy sunshine and soak up the beauty.

Cars are not permitted in the center; we could walk the maze of cobbled streets and discover what the old city had to offer.

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In our meander, we found a restaurant that we loved: i merli
Contemporary in look, intimate in size, fresh and seasonal in menu offerings–it suited us. We snacked on delicious fritto misto di verdure–tempura-like fried vegetables, including the delicate zucchini blossoms—and petite mussels with pungent aioli. Bill enjoyed a risotto, creamy green with fresh asparagus, but we were both crazy for my pasta dish–a housemade tagliatelle tossed in good olive oil, sweet Sicilian cherry tomatoes, zucchini, mint, and ricotta salata.

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All of the ingredients tasted so fresh, prepared with such care and immediacy, that it was a pleasure to eat. It was that touch of mint that elevated the dish from something predictably good to something unexpected and wonderful. I knew that I would try to recreate it after I returned home.

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Rounding up the right ingredients would not be a problem: John and Tally at Fresh Harvest Co-op have their terrific Sun Gold cherry tomatoes and Zephyr squash, and fresh mint is everywhere! I located ricotta salata, the aged, salted, and pressed version of ricotta at Whole Foods.

But, making fresh egg pasta was another key piece.

I experimented with a couple of fresh pasta dough recipes–seeking that golden yellow I had been served on countless occasions.
In my research I found a winner by Lydia Bastianich, made—improbably–in the food processor.

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She calls it “Rich Man’s Golden Pasta.” Five egg yolks whipped with olive oil and water are poured into the processor already filled with flour and salt. I was skeptical–shouldn’t the dough be diligently hand-kneaded for at least 8 minutes?

But Ms. Bastianich knows her pastas.

The dough comes together in a blink.

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After you remove the doughball from the processor, just lightly dust it with flour, knead it 5 times, form a disc and seal it in plastic wrap. The dough should rest a minimum of thirty minutes at room temperature–and if it rests longer, so much the better.

I rolled the dough seven times—through settings 1-7 on my machine—before rolling it through the ribbon cut. The dough remained supple and elastic. It was easy to make, and easy to cook: scarcely two minutes in the boiling water.

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The flavor of the pasta alone was incredible, and the texture light. Yet, it stood up well in the toss of vegetables, mint and cheese.

The recipe makes a big batch of pasta–enough for 8. You can cut the dough into half, reserving the other piece for another pasta dish, if you like.

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“RICH MAN’S GOLDEN PASTA” from Lydia Bastianich, for Cooking Light
2 level cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 egg yolks
6 tablespoons water
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Place flour and salt into food processor fitted with the swivel blade and briefly pulse, mixing the two together.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks with the water and olive oil.

Turn on food processor, and slowly pour, in a steady stream, the egg yolk mixture into the flour. As the flour absorbs the egg yolks, it will begin to form a ball. Once the ball is formed, cease processing. Remove and gently knead ( 30 seconds, that’s all) forming the dough into a disc shape. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough sit for a minimum of 30 minutes.

When you are ready to roll, remove the plastic wrap and cut the dough into quarters. Dust with flour, and run each piece through the pasta machine, starting with notch 1–and go through notch 7 before using the fettuccine slicer. Don’t be afraid to use a bit of flour to dust the dough as you work with it. You don’t want it to get sticky!

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PASTA LECCE
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 lb. “Zephyr” summer squash (zucchini works well too) cut into julienned strips
3/4 pint “Sungold” cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 handful fresh mint, finely chopped
1/2 cup ricotta salata, shaved or cut into thin batons
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and black pepper, to taste

Heat a large pot or saucepan on medium and add olive oil. Add julienned squash and saute for 2-3 minutes. Stir in halved cherry tomatoes and mint. Cook for another couple of minutes and remove from heat.

Bring lightly salted water to a rolling boil and cook the pasta. The strands should only take a minute or two to cook.
Drain, reserving some of the starchy water.

Toss the pasta into the pot with the vegetables. Season with salt and black pepper, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Pour in the pasta water, tossing and folding, so that the squash strips become enlaced with the pasta ribbons. Sprinkle in the ricotta salata as you fold.

Mound into bowls. Garnish with extra cheese and mint. Makes 2 huge bowls, or 4 small bowls.

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Posted in Pastas, Recipes, Vegetarian Dishes | 22 Comments »




June 11th, 2013

Garlic Scape Pesto, and first impressions of Rome

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Overseas flights haven’t gotten any easier over time and experience. On our overnight to Rome I slept a little. But I was ill-prepared for the shock of day as we emerged out of straight-jacket seats, stumbling bleary-eyed through the terminal, baggage and customs, and into a van that carted us off to our friends’ home in the north part of the city.

What I remember about those first few hours:

Poppies. So many poppies. Hosts of bright red growing wild along shoulders of highways, dotting fields, saturating hillside patches in scarlet brilliance.

Cooler springtime air. Blue sky jockeyed by dark clouds and a rumble of thunder, spit of rain.

Ancient pines trimmed and sculpted to make towering umbrellas. The surprise of tropicals: palms, lemon and orange trees.

Lush jasmine-like honeysuckle vines, tiny white blooms in thick patches of green that climbed up buildings, tumbled over balconies, made elegant trails from large stone urns.

Espresso. Dark with airy crema top, the sign of a proper pull. Smooth, with a slight bitter edge.

Taralli. ring-shaped fennel crackers from Puglia. Our friend Heather kept bags of these distinctive, delicious crisps around for snacking.

And, pasta. Oh, my. Our first lunch. Plates of fat rigatoni. Tagliatelle. Spaghetti. Bucatini. All fresh made egg pastas that were impossibly, deeply yellow in color. The type of flour, no doubt, and rich golden egg yolks must be the reason.

Over two weeks time, we ate a lot of pasta.

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There are the Roman classics, such as
Cacio e Pepe–strands tumbled and coated in a generous shower of piquant Roman cacio cheese and black pepper–seductive and complex in its simplicity.
Spaghetti Carbonara–laced with guanciale and egg beaten so creamy that it both sauces and binds.
Bucatini all’Amatriciana—guanciale and tomato, (pork and tomato–wow) sparked with peppercino, and pecorino
Tonnarelli alle Vedure–a squared-off Roman spaghetti tossed in green: both light sauce and an array of springtime vegetables. (Artichokes, if you are lucky!)

I tried the tonnarelli with green at three different eateries over my two week adventure. The first was at De Cesare on Via del Casaletto, where I met Rachel and Luca for lunch. The Vignarola had braised spring onions, fava beans, artichokes, and peas. You could order it with guanciale or senza–without. It was divine.

Subsequent samplings yielded different but no less delicious results.

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When I returned home, I vowed that I would try to replicate that deep yellow egg pasta and the fennel-flecked rings from Puglia. A little research–and I’ll get back with you on those projects.

In the meantime, I got a hold of an early June treat: Garlic Scapes.

You can find these fabulous loops at the farmers markets now. Tally May of Fresh Harvest Co-op is offering them now. They have a vibrant–but not sharp—garlicky taste. Think green garlic. The stem makes a marvelous pesto for dipping crudite, or swirling into a batch of hot pasta and spring vegetables.

The recipe has some other elements to boost its green nature, give it texture and body–and increased nutrition. I used a mix of arugula and spinach leaves, (but you may use one or the other) toasted walnuts, and cannellini beans. It’s a thick pesto, creamy and luscious.

As a dip or a green “vedure” like sauce, we have loved it both ways.

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GARLIC SCAPE PESTO
8-10 scapes, bloom cut off and discarded, cut into 2″ pieces
1 cup arugula leaves or baby spinach leaves, packed
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
3/4 cup cooked cannellini beans
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place scapes, walnuts, arugula, and cannellinis into a food processor bowl, fitted with the swivel blade. Pulse, chopping the scapes together with the other ingredients. Add lemon juice, salt and red pepper flakes. Pulse. Slowly pour in the olive oil as you continue pulsing. The pesto will become a lush creamy green, with nice texture from the walnuts. Taste for salt.

Scrape pesto into a clean lidded jar and refrigerate. Flavors will develop and intensify over a few hours. Makes about 2 cups.

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PASTA WITH SPRING VEGETABLES AND GARLIC SCAPE PESTO (inspired by numerous “tonnarelli alle vedure” dishes dined on in Roma)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-3 green onions, chopped
4 young carrots, peeled and cut into 2″ pieces
1 bundle asparagus spears, cut into 2″ diagonal pieces
1/3 lb. sugar snap peas, strung

1/2 lb. paparadelle or linguine
1 + cup reserved pasta water
Recipe garlic scape pesto (1 1/2 cups at least)

Warm olive oil in a large deep skillet. Saute green onions, carrots, asparagus pieces and sugar snaps, cooking each vegetable for a couple of minutes as it becomes “tender-crisp” yet retains a bright color. Remove each successive saute from the pan.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a rolling boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, but set aside at least 1 cup of pasta water.

Add pasta water and garlic scape pesto to the skillet. Add all the vegetables and toss to coat. Add the pasta and continue tossing to coat all the strands. Add more pesto if you like.

Mound into warm bowls. Dollop with more pesto and serve. Makes 2 large or 4 regular servings.

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The view from Heather’s kitchen window–honeysuckle vines, palm tree…

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The Colosseum, one moment stormy, one moment blue.

Posted in Pastas, Recipes, Sauces, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 18 Comments »




April 8th, 2013

A Place at the Table

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What would you eat, if you only had a budget of $4.00 a day?

It’s not an easy question to answer. Now, figure in these other complicated overlays:

There are no grocery stores within a 3 mile radius of your home.
You have no car.
Your kitchen is outfitted with an apartment sized refrigerator, a hot plate, and a small microwave.

The possibilities become even narrower, don’t they?

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For 50 million Americans, that question, with or without those other complications, is an everyday reality.
Out of our population of 300 million, that means 1 in 6 of us faces the challenges of inadequate food access on a daily basis.
And, 17 million are children.

I’m writing about this today, in solidarity with The Giving Table, and a host of concerned food bloggers

Together, we are shining the light on the grim facts to spread the awareness that hunger is your neighbor.

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After I sold my catering company in 2005, I turned my attention to food activism. What does that mean?

We look at our food system in these areas: how to make good food accessible and affordable, how to support our local farmers and producers, and how to effectively solve the problems of hunger and food insecurity.

I volunteer at our food bank, teach healthy cooking classes; I worked at community gardens and farmers markets. Over time, I have seen a dramatic shift in the collective consciousness:

People want to know and support local farmers. They want to know where their food comes from.
People recognize a crisis of obesity in our nation. Poverty, processed foods, and obesity are all interlocked.
People understand the need to eradicate “food deserts.”
People believe that having access to basic good healthy food is a fundamental human right.

No one wants anyone to go hungry.

And yet, the numbers of those who suffer from hunger and food insecurity have Not dwindled. Sadly, the opposite is true. Why?

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Directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush tackle the complex problem with clarity in the documentary, A Place at the Table. The film follows three families who come from diverse backgrounds and live in different parts of the country–in rural and urban settings.

What they share is a struggle to put food on the table everyday.

The film examines the many contributing factors of our ever-widening food gap: a stagnant economy, huge government subsidies of Corn, Wheat, and Soy (which have made Processed Foods very cheap-a core piece of the poverty-obesity epidemic) while ignoring fresh vegetables and fruits, and a shift away from government assistance to private charities.

Since 1980, food banks across our nation have grown from 40 to 40,000. Without question, they help, but what they do is not enough. Jacobson and Silverbush make the case that while the food system is broken, the hunger issue is solvable. We have solved it before. It takes the will of the people.

Below you’ll find links to more information.

Meanwhile: Consider what would you eat if you had only $4.00 a day?
I gave it a lot of thought. Here are three healthy recipes that are inexpensive to make.

When I was shopping for this post, I kept in mind that if I were in the shoes of 50 million of my fellow citizens, I might have a limited pantry. I might not have olive oil, or a wealth of herbs and spices. I might not have a freezer to store food in bulk, which is cheaper. I might not have access to fresh produce. So, I shopped lean. All three dishes could be made “better” with more and costlier ingredients, such as cheese. Or meat.

But, as they are, they are tasty and nutritious.

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SWEET POTATOES RANCHERO
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large sweet potato, cubed–2 cups sweet potatoes
1 can tomatoes with chilis (Ro-tel brand makes several–get the spice level you like)
1 handful fresh greens (collards or mustards, kale or chard), finely chopped
1/2 cup rice
4 corn tortillas
2 eggs
2 green onions, chopped
salt and pepper

Toss cubed sweet potatoes in oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and spread out on a baking sheet. Roast in a hot (400 degree) oven for 15 minutes, until cubes have crisp brown edges and cooked interiors.

Simmer chopped greens of choice with diced tomato-chili blend.
Cook rice. (1/2 cup rice with 1 cup lightly salted water: bring to boil, then simmer, covered for 12 minutes.
Warm tortillas in the oven.
Fry two eggs.

Assemble the Ranchero:
Place 2 tortillas on each plate. Spoon rice over tortillas. Spoon wilted spiced greens-tomatoes over rice.
Place sweet potato cubes over the spiced greens layer.
Top each with a fried egg.

Serves 2 generously.
Cost of the entire dish: $3.45 ($1.73 each)

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RED LENTIL-COCONUT MILK SOUP
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon curry powder ( or make own blend of cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup red lentils, rinsed
1- 14 oz can coconut milk

Place a large pot on medium heat. Add vegetable oil (or olive oil.) Stir in onions, garlic, and carrots and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add curry powder (or 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon turmeric, 1 teaspoon ginger) Allow spices to bloom in the heat of the mixture.

Add lentils and 3 cups of water. Simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.
Stir in coconut milk. Cover and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Makes 1 1/2 quarts (6- 1 cup servings)
cost of the entire dish approx. $3.00 $.50 per serving

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BASIC PASTA E FAGIOLI
1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
2 cloves garlic, slivered
1/2 cup diced onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup dried white beans, soaked overnight, or 1 15 oz. can cannellini beans
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes (I found “Italian style” which already had some herbed seasoning—otherwise, season with your own
blend of dried herbs—oregano, basil, thyme
1/2 cup ditalini pasta

Place a large saucepan on medium heat. Add oil, then garlic and onions. Stir in salt and red pepper flakes. When onions are translucent, stir in beans. If using dried beans, add 3 cups of water and simmer, uncovered for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
When beans are cooked (they will be firm, with soft interiors) add the canned diced tomatoes and juice. Fill the can with water and pour into the pot.

If using canned beans, drain and rinse the beans and add to the garlic-onion saute. Simmer for 10 minutes, then add the canned diced tomatoes and juice. Fill the can with water and pour into the pot. Stir, and continue simmering.

In a separate pot, bring lightly salted water to boil and cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water. Stir cooked pasta and pasta water into bean-tomato mix. Taste and adjust for seasonings.

Serves 4
cost of entire dish approx. $2.75 ($. 71 per serving)

WHAT CAN WE DO?
Education and Advocacy: sharing recipes and knowledge, spreading awareness, contacting your elected representatives on local, state, and national levels are all ways to get involved to promote change and help end hunger.

HEALTHY AFFORDABLE RECIPE ROUND-UP:
Share your ideas and recipes in your comments to this blog below, or post them on The Giving Table’s Facebook page. To see the other food blogger’s contributions, go to The Giving Table’s Pinterest Board: Food Bloggers Against Hunger

SEE THE FILM/REQUEST A SCREENING
Those who see A Place at the Table cannot help but be moved by the stories.

If you haven’t seen the documentary, look for it at your local theater. You can request through iTunes, or On Demand. Here’s a preview.

If you live in the Nashville area:
On Monday, April 29th, at 6:00 pm there will be a special screening of A Place at the Table at the
Downtown Presbyterian Church, 154 5th Avenue North hosted by Nashville Food Bloggers

There will be a healthy affordable meal prepared by local chefs, and the opportunity for Q&A with leaders from the Community Food Advocates.

CALL TO ACTION
I encourage you, my readers who live in the U.S., to follow this link to advocate for change. We want to flood Congress with thousands of messages that we the people have the will to solve the problem of hunger and food insecurity in the United States. Now, they must show the political will. Cutting SNAP benefits to those in need is a criminal act. In our own state: linking those benefits with children’s good grades puts a family responsibility on the backs of children. It is not only wrong and counterproductive, it is diabolical.

We want to make a place for everyone at the table.

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Posted in Articles, Recipes, Vegetarian Dishes | 29 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 »