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 »




September 13th, 2012

A Perfect Apple Tart, and a Peek into Luisa Weiss’s Berlin Kitchen

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These cool September mornings have me thinking about transitions. Soon, the fall harvests, and bushels of apples picked from area orchards will be arriving at the markets. Red and Golden Delicious, Pink Ladys and Granny Smiths, Winesaps and Arkansas Blacks. Beautiful varieties, each with a distinct taste and culinary use.

I welcome this time of year. It ushers in another wave of foods and festivities that bring people together.

From my office perch looking out into the backyard, I see signs of a season in shift. Leaves getting tinged with yellow. Persimmons ripening on the rugged tree by the alley. Hummingbirds gorging on nectar before making their migration further south. I’ve lived in middle Tennessee for a long time, lived out many long hot summers. Autumn always invigorates me with its crisp clear air and blaze of color. I relish the changes of the seasons. Although anything can happen, I feel like I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

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A sense of place. That gets entwined with many things, especially in a transient society. Where we were born, where we grew up, where we went to school, where we work, all play a part in grounding us, informing that deepest part of us about where we belong. We all have the right place to be.

It’s a potent and poignant theme that Luisa Weiss explores in her food memoir, My Berlin Kitchen. Known to many as The Wednesday Chef, Luisa tells her story of finding that sense of place. A confluence of cultures is at the heart of her journey.

In 1977, she was born to an Italian mother and an American father in West Berlin. At age three, her parents divorced and she moved to Boston with her father. She grew up, traveling back and forth, straddling two homes, two worlds. Her divided life, in a way, paralleled Berlin of the Cold War.

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As a young adult living in New York, Luisa worked as a cookbook editor. A touchstone to memory, an anchor for comfort, food and cooking became central in her life. In 2005, she launched her blog, initially as a way to plow through the scads of recipes she’d clipped and saved. The Wednesday Chef became more than a food blog; readers worldwide followed her journal as she came to grips with the feeling that her life in New York, ideal as it appeared with a terrific job, fiance, and circle of friends, was not where she belonged.

My Berlin Kitchen chronicles that larger arc of self-discovery, and courage to make bold change. It is a love story, sprinkled with delectable recipes, gleaned from her world travels. Many have an intriguing, decidedly Berliner bent. Roast goose, braised red cabbage, poppyseed whirligig buns, white asparagus salad, spiced plum butter…

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I enjoyed reading her story, and found real inspiration in her recipes. Today, I made her Apple Tart.

I call it a Perfect Apple Tart, for it truly honors the apple, in all its crisp sweet-tart glory. In Luisa’s words, ” This tart is about the pure, clear taste of apples, sugar, and a little bit of butter. There are no spices to muddle the flavors.”

And, its crust—the crust could be reason alone to make the tart: thin and golden, immeasurably buttery and flaky.

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She credits her recipe to four culinary luminaries: Jacques Pepin, who originally conceived it; Alice Waters, who has kept it a constant offering at Chez Panisse; Deb Perelman, who brought it out into the wide world through her blog, Smitten Kitchen; and Melissa Clark, whose New York Times pastry-making video showed that leaving the butter in larger, lima bean (rather than pea) sized pieces in the dough insured a richer, flakier crust.

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Of course, your tart will only be as wonderful as your apples. Select firm ones. Luisa recommends Golden Delicious. I chose Ginger Golds, an early harvest variety with a spicy-tart finish. They are good to eat out of hand, and bake into pies or cakes.

As we come into apple season, you’ll no doubt find other varieties that will appeal to you.

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Here’s the tart’s magic. You peel and core the apples before slicing them. Then, you immerse those trimmings in water with sugar, and cook them down. After straining, you reduce the apple-infused liquid to a marvelous syrupy glaze.

After baking and cooling, you brush the tart–apples and crust– with apple syrup. Oh, my!

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Apple-Apple-Apple! The tart is all about the apples, not-too-sweet, baked tender in a butter-crisp rustic crust:

From Jacques Pepin to Alice Waters, Deb Perelman to Melissa Clarke, from Luisa Weiss to me, and now to you.

Wishing you contentment wherever you are, Nancy

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A PERFECT APPLE TART from My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss

The Crust
1 cup All-Purpose Flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon Sugar
1/8 teaspoon Salt
6 tablespoons well-chilled unsalted Butter, cut into 1″ pieces
3 1/2 tablespoons icy water

food processor fitted with pastry cutter

Place flour, sugar, and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter. Pulse until the butter is broken down into lima bean shaped pieces. Pulse in water, a spoonful at a time, until dough comes together.

Dump out onto lightly floured work surface and gather it together, flattening into 4″ wide disc. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate the dough for a minimum of 30 minutes. (or up to 3 days)

The Apple Filling
2 lbs. crisp firm Apples (I used Ginger Gold) peeled, cored. and thinly sliced–Save the peels and cores
2 tablespoons unsalted Butter, melted
3-5 tablespoons Sugar (I used 4 tablespoons)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (375 degrees, if using a convection oven).

Remove pastry dough from the refrigerator. Unwrap and roll out onto a flour-dusted work counter.
Rolling and rotating the dough, dust with more flour to prevent sticking. Continue rolling until you’ve made a 14″-16″ thin round.

Line a baking sheet with parchment and place the rolled dough round on it.

Place the apple slices in overlapping circles on the dough, leaving a 2″ border. Crowd as many apple slices as possible.
They will cook down in the oven.

Fold the edges of the crust over the tart, creating a rustic look, leaving the center of the tart exposed.
Brush melted butter over the apples and onto the crust. Sprinkle the sugar over the crust and apples as well.

Bake in the center of the oven for 45 minutes, rotating the tart after 20-22 minutes.
The crust will become golden brown, as will the edges of the apples.

While the tart bakes, make the apple syrup. (recipe below)
Remove the baked tart and let it cool for 15 minutes before brushing the apples and crust with apple syrup.

Serve warm or room temperature. Makes 8 servings.

The Apple Syrup
Reserved Apple Cores and Peels
1/2 cup Sugar

Put cores and peels into a saucepan along with sugar. Pour in water–enough to cover.
Bring to a boil, them simmer for 30 minutes.
Strain the liquid; discard the apple trimmings, and return liquid to saucepan.
Reduce on low heat for another 10-15 minutes, until it becomes thickened and syrupy.

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Posted in Articles, Desserts, Fruit, Recipes | 25 Comments »




October 26th, 2009

An Apple Appetizer

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Do you have a favorite apple?

With all the tempting varieties showing up at our farmer’s market this week, I would be hard pressed to give an answer. And, some apples are better suited for baking, others for simple out-of-hand eating. Pairing apple types–say, your sweet Jonah Gold with a tart Honeycrisp in a salad or green Granny Smith with an Arkansas Black layered in a Tarte Tatin–adds surprising complexity to a dish. Maybe it’s better to have Favorites, with the notion that the next best ones have yet to be sampled…

Last week I was in Manchester, Tennessee, talking to the ladies of the garden club about Food. That’s broad, I know. And, I can hold forth on any of the myriad aspects: growing and preserving, cooking techniques and recipes, health concerns and education, community…It’s one of our common denominators; a conversation about food can lead anywhere!

We discussed hunger and food security issues, and the importance of supporting our local food producers when and where we can. Being ladies who have long been cultivating beautiful living things, they well understood what it means to eat seasonally.

Maybe that’s when the topic of apples came up. There’s a wonderful orchard not too far from them in Pikeville, Tennessee. (That’s about 140 miles southeast of Nashville, as the crow flies.) Up on Walden Ridge, the Oren Wooden Apple Farm grows 18 varieties, with the Pink Lady Apples–crisp, sweet beauties that are remarkably versatile–being the most prized.

Serendipity! This led to a quick recipe demonstration I had already planned to give, one that would benefit from being prepared with the prized Pink Lady.

simple ingredients

This delicious appetizer requires nothing more than the right ingredients, plus a knife and bowl. I used a Gala and a Jonah Gold. Try the recipe with your favorite crisp “eating” apples and a fruity extra-virgin olive oil. Toasted almonds or walnuts work equally well in the recipe–you make the choice. Mild goat cheese creams and coats the apples as you toss the ingredients. Bright green onion, salt and pepper balance the sweetness, give it edge.

In under fifteen minutes, you’ll have a fall appetizer,
ready to enjoy with a glass of Riesling.

Belgian endive leaves provide totally edible support. And, the floral mandala makes a knock-out presentation. Perfect for my garden club friends.

Update! An email from Manchester just alerted me to the coming Pink Lady harvest at Wooden’s. Fantastic! A box of these lovelies could be coming my way soon.

chopped up

mixed up ready

Belgian Endive stuffed with Honeycrisp Apples, Goat Cheese, and Walnuts
4 firm heads of Belgian Endive
2 Apples, (try Honeycrisp, Gala, Pink Lady)washed, cored, diced into small pieces
4 oz. plain Chevre log, crumbled
3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Orange Zest
1 Tablespoon fresh Orange Juice
2 Green Onions, tops included, finely sliced
½ cup Walnuts or Almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
¼ cup dried cranberries
¼ teaspoon Sea Salt
A few grindings of Black Pepper
Balsamic Vinegar for drizzling

Rinse and dry endives, trim the bottom (root end) to separate leaves. Set aside.
In a bowl, toss diced apples and crumbled goat cheese with extra virgin olive oil and orange juice until lightly coated. Add green onions, nuts, dried cranberries, salt and black pepper. Stir gently until all the ingredients are evenly incorporated in the mixture. The goat cheese will cream slightly and coat the apples. Place a small spoonful at the base of the endive leaf–enough for one bite–and lay the leaf on a plate. Continue, placing each leaf in a circular pattern on the plate. Then, drizzle a small amount of balsamic vinegar onto each mound of apple-goat cheese-nut salad. Serve. Makes about 48 leaves.

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Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Fruit, Recipes | 13 Comments »