Beet Carpaccio Salad with Goat Cheese, Proscuitto, and Candied Walnuts

Isn’t it ironic that the most delicious, comforting foods can look ugly in photographs. while cold, bland dishes appear stunning? (I checked to make sure that I am using the word “ironic” correctly, especially after watching Weird Al’s music video this week). We live in a world where it can’t be true that you ate good food unless you got a good picture. I can be reluctant to post certain recipes on this blog because they look unimpressive in my pictures.

I’m not going to dwell on these facts, because today I have a recipe for you that is delicious for the eyes and the mouth. Hooray!
DSC_9116
When you receive something as visually lively as red and white candy cane beets in your farm share, you have to show them off. If you have one red beet leftover from the previous week, even better! Throw in some salt, some sugar, and some fresh herbs, and some creamy and crunchy texture, and you have a delightful dish.

Beet Carpaccio Salad with Goat Cheese, Prosciutto, and Candied Walnuts
Inspired by this, this, and this

About 3 medium-large beets, of various colors – such as 1 red and 2 Chioggia
For the dressing:
1 Tablespoon of fresh basil
, chopped
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 Tablespoon red onion
or shallot, minced
juice from 1 lemon
5 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

To top it off:
about 2 ounces crumbled goat cheese
, to taste
about 2 teaspoons capers, to taste
1 piece of proscuitto, chopped into bite-sized pieces, to taste
about 3 Tablespoons candied walnuts, chopped (see below for instructions), to taste

You can roast the beets and glaze the walnuts for this recipe the day or even days before, which eases the pressure of completing it for dinner guests.

Burnt edges but still edible!

Burnt edges but still edible!

I thought I would take a shortcut and use a microwave method for combining the sugar and walnuts. Not a good idea–even at 2 minute intervals, they started burning and sticking before they were supposed to be done. As a result, I don’t advise following this recipe. Anyway, I used 1 Cup walnut halves and 1/3 Cup sugar plus 2 Tablespoons of water. Using these quantities and caramelizing on the stovetop with a little more water would probably be fine. Once they are coated in melted sugar, pour onto a sheet to cool. Transfer to an airtight container and use for any and all salads. Or snacking.

For roasting the beets, heat the oven to 350F. Trim the beets before roasting.
DSC_9098
Wrap in an aluminum foil packet with a little sprinkle of water. Place on a roasting pan and cook until tender when pierced with a fork (check at 45 minutes). Once done and cool, they should be easy to peel.

The chioggia beets remind me of a beautiful sunset...

The chioggia beets remind me of a beautiful sunset…

Slice the beets thinly and layer on a white dish, alternating colors.
DSC_9103

Prepare the dressing ingredients: lemon, basil, onion, and olive oil.
DSC_9108
You could add a pinch of sugar or a drop of honey if you want more sweetness.

Drizzle dressing evenly over the beets.
DSC_9114

Top with crumbled goat cheese, walnuts, prosciutto slices, and capers.
DSC_9115
The assembled salad keeps well and develops more flavor in the refrigerator.
DSC_9120
Because it looks so beautiful, you won’t hesitate to reach for any leftovers!

Kale and Mint Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing

A haiku:

‘Tis salad season
What came in this week’s farm share?
Yes, lettuce again.

It is the time of year to have greens on the brain. My Golden Earthworm Organic Farm CSA started distributing its shares just three weeks ago, and I am already racing to keep up. I don’t to come across as complaining–this is some of the freshest, most nutritious food I can eat. And remember Crystal’s experiment? You might be interested in catching up with her here. Sounds like she might enjoy salad right now.

I used recipes from all different sources for my weeks’ inspiration. There was the Warm Orzo Salad with radishes and Dijon vinaigrette, from Good Housekeeping magazine, which I ate spooned over mixed greens. I cracked open Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food II to mix it up and make Red Romaine Salad with Sherry Vinegar and Garlic.
IMG_0699
Joy the Baker inspired me to use the baby kale in her Tuna, Kale, and Egg Salad recipe.
IMG_0692
A real highlight, these strawberries arrived in last week’s share. Eating them sliced over arugula with balsamic glaze drizzle was almost as good as dessert, and I didn’t even add the usual goat cheese!

One particular kale salad I made last week was special. It was a rock star salad; it rocked with flavor. Since kale is so hip, perhaps I should call it a pop star salad? If so, it would compare to those pop stars you think of and say, “he’s so famous, he can’t be any good,” and then you end up being impressed by his talent.

Once again, this salad has an Asian flair–the soy sauce, the spice, the peanut butter. It reminded me of the flavors I loved so much at a restaurant named Chin Chin, in Melbourne, Australia. It’s the kind of heat that makes your nose run a little, but you don’t feel like you’re dying.

DSC_8736
Kale and Mint Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing
from Food52 user dymnyno

Salad*:
1 large bunch lacinato kale, chopped very small
1 Cup fresh mint, minced, or a combination of fresh mint and fresh cilantro
1 Cup walnuts, chopped

Dressing:
3 Tablespoons smooth peanut butter
3 Tablespoons warm water
3 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon fresh garlic
, minced
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes

DSC_8727
*These quantities aren’t meant to be precise. I realize that a “large” bunch is very subjective–usually one of my pet peeves in recipes, so I should have given you a weight by ounces. But the idea is to vary the ratios based on your taste preferences and what you have at home. In my case, I had leftover cilantro, a herb that would sensibly fit in with this flavor profile.

DSC_8726Mint was one of the first plants to assert itself in my garden this spring. Some people consider them weeds, they take over so much. If you have to pull some up, try to use it in a salad before tossing the rest!

When you are prepping the salad, the step of mincing the kale makes such a big difference in the texture. Kale can be tough, and this method helps tenderize the leaves without pre-cooking them. I found that the most efficient way to mince the kale was to remove the stems, stack and leaves, roll them up, and slice, using the chiffonade method. See below.
DSC_8729
DSC_8730
DSC_8732
DSC_8733
DSC_8735

Toss the chopped kale, chopped herbs, and the walnuts together.
DSC_8737
DSC_8741To a blender or food processor, add the peanut butter, warm water, garlic, rice wine vinegar, pomegranate molasses, soy sauce, minced ginger, sesame oil and red chili flakes. Mix at high speed until everything is smooth. So easy.

Since every bunch of kale is a different size, and every salad is going to be a different size, pour just some of the dressing into the salad at first. Add more as you go until you feel it is adequately dressed, and save the rest for another salad.
DSC_8747
I see more rock star salads like this in my future. But the next batch of green lettuce I get? I think I’ll put some on a burger.
DSC_8751

Tuscan Soup

It has been two weeks since we returned from our vacation to Italy and France, and I haven’t yet recovered from withdrawal. I long to return to days of wandering through historic cities in the spring sunshine. The jet lag lasted about five days before dissipating, but these cravings have lingered.

Italy was a feast. My main impression of the food is that people love meat, based on the abundance of meats we tried and encountered. Cured meats and sausage and porchetta. Yes, there was some excellent pasta (mostly enjoyed in a meat sauce), one excellent roasted shrimp “secondi” and two times I ordered a market-fresh (but not necessarily stellar) Mediterranean fish. I should have sought out vegetables more often. In Florence, I enjoyed one outstanding, flavorful chickpea soup, where some of the chickpeas had been blended to create a thickened, creamy base. Sadly, it was served at a restaurant where there service was so poor that I left fuming–we were treated almost as if we were invisible. Later that week, I had a lentil soup as part of a no-nonsense, prixe-fixe lunch at a restaurant frequented by locals, and it was terribly bland and uninteresting–clearly reflecting its place as part of a “value” lunch.

I don’t want to sound unimpressed with the trip; we loved the vibe of Italy, and savored numerous inspiring dishes. Here’s a small sample of our photos. Hover your mouse over each picture and click to view full captions.


It was rather timely to come across this Tuscan vegetable-based soup recipe last week, on the website Blue Apron, a grocery subscription service. The less fortunate part was that I couldn’t find toscano (also known as lacinato) kale! Tuscan kale is darker green and flatter, without the curly edges, and I really wanted to use it. After trying four stores, I resigned myself to a fact I already knew, that toscano kale is woefully out of season here right now, so I shouldn’t be using it anyway! Regular kale it is.

I will admit that a big part of the recipe’s draw for me was the soft-boiled egg on top–I am such a sucker for a runny egg. Drool. On a side note, is there anything more disappointing in life than when you expect the egg yolk you are being served at a restaurant will be runny and it’s not?

I have made poached eggs many times (they don’t always turn out great) but for some reason, I never made soft-boiled an egg. What an epiphany! It’s a much less messy-and still healthy-way to enjoy the liquid yolk.
DSC_8451
Tuscan Ribollita Soup with Soft Boiled Egg
From Blue Apron
2-4 servings

Part 1 ingredients:
1 onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
salt and pepper to taste

Part 2 ingredients:
about 8 ounces kale (any type)
1 14.5 ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3.5 Cups vegetable broth

salt and pepper to taste

Part 3 ingredients:
2 slices sourdough bread
, or 1 large sourdough roll, cut into bite sized pieces
1/2 Cup parsley, coarsely chopped
1/2 Cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 eggs (or more for additional servings)
salt and pepper to taste

DSC_8428
The reason I divided the ingredients into three parts is that you can use your time more efficiently by prepping the ingredients for each part while the previous set of ingredients are cooking. I did all my mise en place at first, which took quite some time, and then I was less occupied during the cooking stages. One could do dishes during those down times, of course.

Firstly, take your eggs out of the refrigerator to come to room temperature. Perhaps you are one of those lucky ones who has such fresh eggs you don’t need to refrigerate them in the first place? I envy you. Fill a small saucepan with some water and a pinch of salt and set aside for later.
DSC_8432

In a large pot, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil on medium. Add the onion and garlic and cook 2 to 3 minutes, until softened. Add carrots and a little bit of salt and pepper. Cook the mixture for a few minutes, until the carrots have softened.
DSC_8438
Put the small saucepan over heat so it comes to a boil.

To your large pot, add all of the Part 2 ingredients (beans, diced tomatoes, kale, vegetable broth, and crushed red pepper flakes).

See why you need a large pot?

See why you need a large pot?


Season with salt and pepper. Increase the heat to bring the soup to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium and simmer 6 to 8 minutes, smelling and tasting to see if the flavors have come together enough for your liking.
DSC_8444
Add the bread cubes, half the parsley, and half of the Parmesan cheese to the soup and stir.
DSC_8443
DSC_8446
If you feel there is not enough liquid, it is fine to add a little water (especially if you are using a rich vegetable stock). Let the soup cook, without stirring, for 5 to 7 minutes, or until thickened. Add even more salt and pepper to taste!
DSC_8448
While the soup is simmering, gently place the eggs in the saucepan of boiling water. Cook for exactly 5 minutes. Have a small bowl of cold water ready, and transfer the eggs into the bowl with a slotted spoon. Then run the eggs under more cold water for 30 seconds. Gently peel the eggs (be careful) and set aside.

Fill two bowls with soup and place one soft-boiled egg in each. Garnish with Parmesan cheese and parsley.
DSC_8453
That’s what I’m talking about!

Spicy Potato and Cheese Galette

Don’t you love it when things come together? When what you are looking for falls right into your lap? When everything clicks?

I wish I had this experience for something other than cooking inspiration.
In the past week or so, I have been very strict about not purchasing groceries, so that I really focus on using what I have. The reason is that I will be taking a brief hiatus from cooking. I will be otherwise occupied in the coming weeks. You can expect some kind of report afterwards. Let’s just say it is for a fun reason. And I will still be eating well. And let’s also say that I may be enlarging my ecological footprint by taking a plane. OK, OK, so I’m going on vacation! To ITALY and FRANCE! *Excuse me while I daydream*

This has gone OK, this grocery abstinence. One of that last perishable items I faced was a leftover bag of russet potatoes. I should note that I know these take a long time to “perish,” so while I wouldn’t necessarily need to worry about a couple of weeks for potatoes, these have been diminishing for awhile.

Back to talking about how things work out: I popped over to Joy the Baker‘s blog, and what do I see but “Roasted Potato Galette with cheddar and chives.” She made it look and sound delicious…and the fact that she made a Jack Bauer reference hooked me even more. I had been considering homemade knishes, but I felt lazy about mashing the potatoes (if I was truly lazy, I would have avoided a recipe that involved pastry!)

Spicy Potato and Cheese Galette
Adapted from Joy the Baker

For the Crust:
1 1/4 Cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 Cup/1 stick cold unsalted butter
scant 1/3 cup cold buttermilk

    OR

in my case, 2 heaping tablespoons of plain yogurt mixed with 4 tablespoons of nonfat milk to start. Make a splash extra for times like now when we are still suffering through winter’s dry air which leads to extra dry flour

For the Filling:
2 russet potatoes, mostly peeled and sliced into 1/4″ rounds (plus 1 extra for snacking)
2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
1-2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning
(to taste)
1/2 Cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
3 Tablespoons chives, finely chopped
1 large egg, beaten

Make the crust, which needs resting time.

    Cheater method

:
Cube your butter and then pop it into the freezer to keep it extra cold.
DSC_6820
In the bowl of a food processor, process flour, sugar and salt. Take butter out of freezer and add to processor, pulsing until the butter is distributed throughout the flour in pebbles.

Pour into a bowl. Create a well in the mixture and pour in milk mixture.
DSC_6825
Use a fork to bring together, distributing the moisture throughout the flour. If it’s not coming together, add a little extra milk/yogurt.

Is your lightly floured work surface ready?
DSC_6823
Dump out the shaggy dough mixture. Press it into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
DSC_6827
Make the filling:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Move the top rack to the upper third of the oven.
Peel and slice your potatoes.
DSC_6828
Place rounds on the sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle on Old Bay Seasoning and toss to coat evenly. Spread the potatoes to minimize overlap as much as possible.
DSC_6830
Bake until tender and delicious, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven.

To assemble the galette:
Beat the egg and set aside. Line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper with a little oil added and set aside.

Roll the dough into a rough circle about 1/4″-thickness. By no means do the edges need to be perfect. Move the dough to the center of the prepared baking sheet.

Lightly brush the middle of the the crust with egg.
DSC_6834
Add a layer of cooked (and slightly cooled) potato slices to the center of the pie crust, leaving about 2-inches of pie crust surrounding on all sides. Scatter shredded cheddar cheese and chives. (I may have only had freeze dried chives. I hope you can forgive that.) Repeating, adding a second layer of potato slices and cheese and chives. Add more potato slices until it looks about right–remember if you made extra potato like me some will stay out) top with the final portion of cheese and chives.
DSC_6835
Trim edges that are super uneven from the crust, leaving about 1 1/2-inches on all sides. Brush the edges with egg wash. Fold the sides up against the potato stack and gently press to seal. Brush the outside of the pie crust edges with egg wash.

Bake until golden brown and bubbling. Joy said it would take 15 minutes for this–for some reason it took mine about 25. Remove from the oven and observe the bubbling buttery beauty. Dig in.
DSC_6838

Green Cake

St. Patrick’s Day was last Monday. I enjoy the holiday, but it’s not because I am one-eighth Irish (in fact, I have very little personal connection to my European roots). It’s because I love the color green! Green holds a very close second place position to my favorite color, cornelian red (Let’s Go Red!). Green and brown were my main wedding colors (see below). And we all can agree that green has a positive connotation, especially this time of year.
IMG_3370
When I came across a recipe for a naturally green cake, on a new site I’ve been following, I couldn’t resist. It used up parsley I had been working through, and made a dent in a leftover package of mint. These herbs are frequently called for in the Mediterranean dishes I’ve been craving. Specifically, the first part of the mint was used in mint and pistachio tabbouleh I served alongside Red Pepper and Lamb Pita sandwiches.
DSC_6783
I was very intrigued by the recipe. The cake has an added benefit of freshening one’s breath. You can’t say that about just any dessert or breakfast item, can you?
DSC_6794
I didn’t have enough of the herbs for a full-sized cake, so I scaled it down to 1/4 of the original recipe. It is fairly easy to do if you have a kitchen scale and you can figure out divisions in your head, or, like me, you have a nerdy husband (or calculator) nearby.

For those of you without a kitchen scale, I tried to closely translate the ratios into measuring cups and spoons.

If I needed another reason to try it out, I saw that this recipe was adapted from a recipe in the cookbook from Roberta’s, a well-known restaurant in Brooklyn. I’ve only visited the restaurant once so far, and I can report only positive things about the food.

Roberta’s Parsley Cake
Adapted from Food 52’s Adaptation and scaled down by 75% to fit one 8″ cake pan (a smaller pan would work too)

1 Cup parsley leaves, tightly packed
1/4 Cup mint leaves, tightly packed
41 grams (3/16 Cup, or a little more than 1/8 Cup) olive oil, plus oil for the pan
72.5 grams (a little over 1/2 Cup) all-purpose flour
3.75 grams (1 1/4 teaspoons) cornstarch
1.75 grams
(a little over 1/2 teaspoon) kosher salt
2 grams
(about 1/3 teaspoon) baking powder
1 large egg
, at room temperature
82 grams (a little less than 1/2 Cup) sugar

DSC_6786
First, make the herb-oil mixture. Add parsley and mint to a blender or food processor, and process at low speed. You may need to stop from time to time to stir the herbs into the blade.
DSC_6788
Increase the speed to medium and add the olive oil, a little at a time, until mixture is fully combined. The recipe says to keep the mixture a little stringy rather than obliterating it. Use a rubber spatula to scrape all of the parsley mixture out of the processor/blender and into a bowl, and refrigerate until ready to use.
DSC_6793
In another bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking powder.

In a stand mixer, whip the egg for about 30 seconds.
DSC_6795
Add the sugar and turn up speed to high, running until the mixture is very thick and turns a pale yellow color, a few minutes.

Turn the mixer speed down to low and add the herb-oil mixture.
DSC_6797
With the machine on low, carefully add the dry mixture and mix until just combined.

Refrigerate the mixture for at least 6 and up to 24 hours. This apparently develops the color. I transferred the mixture right away to my cake pan, which is lined with parchment paper and oiled, but you can also use a different container for the cake-batter-resting stage.
DSC_6799

How nice, my silicone lily pad lid fits perfectly!

How nice, my silicone lily pad lid fits perfectly!


Time to bake! Preheat the oven to 340°F. Bake time will vary significantly 12-20 minutes, so be sure to use a toothpick or cake tester to check for doneness. Rotate the cake at about 8 minutes. The top should only brown slightly; turn the heat down if it becomes too brown.
DSC_6806
Let cake cool in the pan. To serve, make serving-size squares or wedges of cake. The cake may be delicious with vanilla ice cream and lemon zest. Mine was enjoyed warm with butter.
DSC_6818
The cake was excellent, particularly the texture. I must have enjoyed olive oil cakes in restaurants before, but I don’t think I ever made it at home. This cake also had a wonderful herbal aroma–honestly, the best way to describe it is a mojito smell! I was skeptical about the cake’s appeal, and wondered if the color would be “too much” for some people. One of my favorite ways to keep food from being wasted is to share it with others, so I brought several plain pieces to test on–I mean, offer to– my church bells choir-mates at rehearsal.

As it turned out, no one even hesitated to try the cake. Everyone liked it. I would like to believe it was not only because they were in a festive St. Patty’s Day mood.
DSC_6816

Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai

I have not cooked nearly enough squash this winter, and I love squash. Squash can be used to create some very interesting combinations. Dishes made with squash can be lower-calorie without feeling like spa food. You see, I have returned to the lighter side, once again.

Spaghetti squash is particularly unique. Whoever opened a spaghetti squash up for the first time and cooked it must have been quite surprised by the noodle-like texture.

I’m sure you all are familiar with spaghetti squash. It does share similarities with noodles (thin rice noodles or vermicelli maybe), but no one is going to get the two confused. The texture is much wetter, even with straining, but the flavor is pretty mild so that it can take on whatever you use for a sauce. I liked the idea of using squash as the noodle for a pad thai preparation. For the record, I looked it up and calling it Pad Thai is not a misnomer–according to Merriam Webster online the literal translation is “Thai stir-fried mixture.” It doesn’t have to have rice noodles to be called pad thai.

In fact, pad thai can incorporate a variety of vegetables. You may see in the original recipe that it called for a red pepper, which I didn’t have, so I left that out. I think the key ingredients here are the bean sprouts, green onion, cilantro, lime, and egg. I love peanuts and enjoy them in pad thai, but I’m not sure they are even required. What do you think “makes” pad thai?

Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai
From A Couple Cooks
Make 4 generous servings

1 large spaghetti squash
1 bunch green onions
½ Cup fresh cilantro
, chopped
3-4 small carrots, fewer if they are large
4 cloves garlic
2 whole eggs
1.5 Cups bean sprouts, divided
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
, preferably peanut
3 Tablespoons sweet chili sauce
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 lime
Sriracha to taste
(I don’t suggest leaving it out!)
½ Cup roasted salted peanuts, chopped

Preheat to 400°F. Cut the spaghetti squash in half carefully–you’ll need a large, sharp knife. Scrape out the seeds and guts. Drizzle olive oil over cut sides and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place the squash cut side down on a baking sheet and cook until tender and easily pierced with a knife, about 45 minutes.
DSC_6635
When the squash is done, scrape out the flesh of each half. Place the “noodles” in a colander to drain out some of the liquid for at least 10 minutes or as long as you are finishing other prep.
DSC_6640
Meanwhile, get lots of prep bowls ready to facilitate mise en place.
Peel and shred carrots. Mince garlic. Thinly slice green onions and add to bowl with garlic, reserving about 1 green onion’s worth in a different bowl. Chop the cilantro and set aside in its own bowl, or combine with reserved green onions.
DSC_6644
In a small bowl, beat together two eggs.

In another small bowl, mix together the sauce: 3 tablespoons sweet chili sauce, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, juice of ½ lime, a few squirts of sriracha.

So many bowls.

So many bowls.


Next, heat 2 Tablespoons oil over medium high heat in a large skillet. Add the garlic and green onions and cook about 45 seconds, until fragrant. Pour in the eggs and scramble until almost cooked.
DSC_6650
Add the crunchy vegetables (carrots and 1 Cup of the bean sprouts in this case) and squash noodles. Add 3 pinches kosher salt and toss together. Add the sauce and stir to combine.
DSC_6652
Cook until the vegetables are heated through, about 5 minutes.

Garnish with plenty of crushed peanuts, fresh bean sprouts, and chopped cilantro and green onion.
DSC_6653

It struck me as ironic that the week after a “Bacon Optional” post, I cooked something vegetarian and almost vegan, minus the eggs. I swear it wasn’t intentional!

Also, I was very surprised to find my husband was interested in eating this. Have I not yet divulged his history of reluctance toward fruits and vegetables? Well, when I told him I was planning to make this vegetable-heavy dish for dinner later that night, I totally assumed he would opt to eat something else, but instead he said “I’ll eat that.”

“Even the bean sprouts,” I asked? Yes, even the bean sprouts. But don’t ask him to eat an orange. Ugh.

Small vegetable victories!

Small vegetable victories!

Having a (meat)ball

I keep having to remind myself to actively rotate through my pantry Asian ingredients. Sometimes I’m tempted to launch some kind of elaborate system for tracking how often I use certain items. Something that goes beyond the blue tape on the utensils and more closely resembles those charts in gas station bathrooms, where workers record the date and time it was last cleaned. I do think that keeping a rough inventory of pantry items is useful for reducing waste (and critical in professional kitchens), but perhaps this idea is a bit extreme for my two-person household. Either way, last week I decided it was time to use Asian ingredients again. I had set aside a recent Cooking Light magazine recipe that utilized a lot of what I had on hand. It also happened to be a meat dish, which I hadn’t cooked lately.

DSC_6562
Japanese Meatballs or “Tsukune”
From Cooking Light

Meatballs:
2 teaspoons sesame oil
3 ounces sliced shiitake mushroom caps
1 Tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
, divided
1 Tablespoons minced garlic, divided
1.5 Tablespoons dry sherry
1.5 teaspoons red miso
1 pound ground chicken or turkey*
(or pork, probably)
1/3 Cup panko
1.5 teaspoons cornstarch
scant 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
, to taste
scant 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1-2 green onions
, thinly sliced
1 medium egg white**

Sauce:
3 Tablespoons mirin (sweet rice wine)
3 Tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce
1 Tablespoon dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1 Tablespoon lime juice
2 teaspoons fresh ginger
, peeled and grated
1 chile, such as serrano, thinly sliced
Other ingredients:
Cooking spray
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

**1 large egg white was called for in the original recipe, which called for 50% more meat. I only purchased 1 pound, so I scaled everything back, but I didn’t use less than the 1 egg white. The meatballs were a little wetter and harder to keep together as a result, so I would suggest using less than 1 full egg white for 1 pound meat.

For the meatballs, first prepare to sauté the vegetables by prepping the first four ingredients.
DSC_6549
DSC_6573
Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Once heated, add oil and swirl to coat.
Add mushrooms, 1.5 teaspoons minced ginger, and 1.5 teaspoons garlic; cook 2 minutes. Add sherry and cook until liquid evaporates and mushrooms are tender, about 3 minutes.
DSC_6564
Remove from heat and allow to cool while you chop and measure the remaining meatball ingredients. In a mini food processor, place mushroom mixture along with the red miso. Pulse until very finely chopped, scraping down as needed.
DSC_6574
Combine mushroom mixture, remaining 1.5 teaspoons minced ginger, remaining 1.5 teaspoons garlic, meat, and remaining meatball ingredients (through egg white) in a bowl. Shape mixture into 1 inch meatballs–approximately 24. At this point, if your meatballs are staying together well, you could skewer them onto 6 inch bamboo skewers so that they could be grilled on the stick. I did not do any threading (nor did other reviewers) and I don’t think it’s necessary.
DSC_6576
Chill for 30 minutes.

To prepare sauce, add mirin, soy sauce, sugar, and vinegar to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until slightly thickened (this took at least 5 minutes for me).
DSC_6582
Remove from heat. After sauce has cooled slightly, stir in juice, 2 teaspoons grated ginger, and chile. Split the sauce into two bowls, saving anywhere from 2-4 Tablespoons to serve with the finished meatballs.

This chile pepper from my garden might have had a real kick when it was fresh, but after drying out for so long it mellowed out too much! Definitely use a pepper with some heat; it's a crucial part of rounding out the dish.

This chile pepper from my garden might have had a kick with fresh, but after drying out for so long it mellowed out too much! Definitely use a pepper with some heat; it’s a crucial part of rounding out the dish.


Heat a grill pan or a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Coat pan with cooking spray or oil of choice. Place half the meatballs in the pan, as will fit, and cook until brown on all sides and 165 degrees F at the center, which should take about 10 minutes. Remove from pan and brush over with some of the sauce. Repeat with remaining meatballs.
DSC_6583
Serve sprinkle with sesame seeds and reserved 2 sauce on the side–the sauce really makes the dish. In fact, I don’t think it would hurt to double or 1.5x the sauce portion of the recipe.

*While delicious, when using turkey in these meatballs instead of chicken I found the turkey flavor to be more pronounced that I would have liked. For my husband and me, turkey brings to mind flavors of Thanksgiving, such as sage and thyme, even when those ingredients aren’t present! Sage and thyme certainly don’t mesh with the other ingredients in this recipe. Use ground chicken instead if you can.

DSC_6560
I continue to make the effort to thumb through recipes from my cookbook collection. This time I sought out Alice Waters’ suggestions for preparing bok choy, which I thought would be an excellent Asian side. I had purchased her newest book in conjunction with a talk she gave at my college’s club. I hadn’t heard her speak at length before, and it was clear that she has unshakeable vision and hope for the future of our food and eating. She is particularly driven, and amazingly optimistic, about things we can do to improve school meals.

Bok Choy Sautéed with Ginger and Garlic
From The Art of Simple Food II by Alice Waters

1 bunch of bok choy or 2-3 bunches of baby bok choy
2 teaspoons olive, coconut or other vegetable oil
4 garlic gloves, smashed
2 1-inch slices of ginger, peeled and smashed
Salt to taste
A splash of fish sauce

Remove blemished leaves from bok choy plants. Slice a small amount off the base and half, quarter, or leave whole, depending on the size. Soak in a bowl of water to loosen grit, rinse, and drain.

Heat a wok or heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil, then garlic and ginger. Cook until the garlic starts to darken in color and then add bok choy. Cook for several minutes, stirring and tossing, until it reaches your preferred level of tenderness.
DSC_6585
Season with a splash of fish sauce and a smidge of salt.

DSC_6588

New Ideas

Many people may be ramping up their cooking as part of the new year, whether the reason is to be healthier, to reign in food spending, or, like me, to enjoy new cookbooks that were acquired as part of the holiday season.

Matt’s cousin, an impressive cook and founder of Cooking with Kyler, along with his wife, gifted us with the Ottelenghi: The Cookbook. I had been meaning for a long time to borrow the much-talked-about Jerusalem cookbook from my library, so this was a nice treat to experience Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s style of cooking.
DSC_6544

It seems to me that many of these restaurant-chef authored books incorporate more of those hard-to-find or very recipe-specific ingredients, a lot of homemade components, and frequent scratch-based instructions in their recipes (i.e. home pickling, stocks, and doughs). I have yet to fully commit myself to such an approach. I don’t strive for perfect authenticity. Especially when becoming introduced to a new cookbook, I gravitate toward the recipes that require minimal advance preparation.

Ottolenghi and Tamimi start the book by listing some of their favorite ingredients, many of which I’m on board with but some that I won’t rush to acquire (rose water) or to which am not ready to commit (sumac). I love their #8 item, pomegranate. The first recipe I prepared from the book was a fennel salad with beautiful pomegranate seeds and lemon dressing (I left out the sumac that was listed) as part of a New Year’s Eve meal for two. I had a fennel bulb left over, so that drove my decision to make the below recipe.
DSC_6530
Fennel, Cherry Tomato, and Crumble Gratin
Adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook
Scaled down to about 2 servings from the original 6-8

Crumble ingredients:
Makes about 10 ounces

150 grams (a little over 1.5 Cups) all-purpose flour
50 grams/1/4 Cup “superfine” sugar (I used regular sugar and whizzed it in the food processor)
100 grams/6.5 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

If starting from a stick of butter, I recommend cutting it into the small cubes and then returning those cubes to the refrigerator or freezer to ensure they are very cold when added to your mixer or food processor.

Put the flour, sugar, and butter in a bowl to mix with your hands, or in an electric stand mixer, or, like me, in a food processor to work into uniform read crumb consistency. Transfer to a container. You’ll use about 2/3 of it if making a smaller portion of the vegetables like below. The rest can be kept in the freezer for a later date.
DSC_6537
Gratin:
9 ounce fennel bulb
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 tsp thyme leaves
, plus a few whole sprigs
1 clove garlic
, crushed
1 tsp course salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/3 Cup milk or cream
(I used 2%)
2/3 recipe of Crumble from above
a little over 1 ounce/33 grams Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Approximately 1/2 Cup/150 grams (but this is really to taste) cherry tomatoes, preferably on the vine
a sprinkling of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

DSC_6532
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Trim along the top and the base of the fennel stalks. Cut the bulb in half lengthwise, and slice each half into pieces about 2/3 inch thick.
DSC_6533
Add to a large bowl with olive oil, thyme leaves, garlic, salt and pepper. Toss.
DSC_6535
Pour into an ovenproof dish and pour milk/cream over the mixture. Mix the Crumble and the Parmesan and sprinkle on top. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for about 45 minutes.

I forgot to add the milk until partway through the cooking time. Fortunately, it turned out OK!

I forgot to add the milk until partway through the cooking time. Fortunately, it turned out OK!


Remove the dish from the oven and remove the aluminum. Add the tomatoes on top, and scatter some thyme springs on top of that.
How about an extra sprinkling of cheese for good measure?

How about an extra sprinkling of cheese for good measure?


Here’s another reason this recipe caught my attention, and how I was resourceful–these off-season tomatoes actually came from my garden. I think they were one of the the last batches picked from my plants back in November, and they didn’t look especially appealing to eat raw so I roasted them. Then I froze them because I wasn’t feeling the urge to eat them at the time. Since this recipe called for roasting as well, I was happy to use them.

Return the dish to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes, approximately. You want to be able to poke through the fennel easily and ideally achieve a golden color. Allow the dish to rest out of the oven for a few minutes before sprinkling with parsley.

I was able to pull a few last acceptable-looking leaves from this plant before I laid it to rest for good.

I was able to pull the last acceptable-looking leaves from this plant before I laid it to rest for good.


As usual, I forgot to add the parsley until after the photos.

As usual, I forgot to add the parsley until after the photos.


Now I want to eat these tomatoes! The sugar and butter in the Crumble make the dish fairly indulgent. I will have to see what the rest of that Crumble can do for other roasted vegetables, perhaps ones I don’t especially like.
DSC_6557
Here’s to trying even more new things in the new year!

Cop Out

I had a mini epiphany the other night, over a copper pan.
DSC_6453
I was about to execute a simple chicken piccata recipe in the short period of time I had before leaving for choir rehearsal. It called for one of those shiny stainless steel pans that conduct heat very well (read: All-Clad, or in my case, Costco All-Clad knockoff), because you sear the meat and then boil liquid to make a sauce scraping up the brown bits. But the four chicken cutlets I had weren’t going to really fit in any of the sizes of Kirkland sauté pans. I had two choices: cook them in two batches in the proper style pan, or cook them in a large nonstick pan that wouldn’t brown the meat nicely. Actually, I had another choice. That beautiful, shiny, glamorous, high-quality copper pan, which we received as a wedding gift more than three years ago and have never used, is the perfect size for browning four chicken cutlets in a pan. So I did it.

I have complaints about certain other people, who refuse to make a decision or take action on a matter and resist discussion because they say they are behind on so many other important responsibilities that need addressing first. Yet I witness them succumb to so many other distractions. Then days, weeks, months go by. I can’t help but wonder how hard it would be to devote 30 minutes to the subject in question?

But I was acting like one of those people. I thought to myself, once I have a weekend night set aside for cooking a fancy glorious feast, perhaps involving lobster and scallops and truffle oil, then I will ceremoniously take the copper pan from its throne, and actually cook with it.

Right then and there, I decided that I want to change my outlook in the new year. I want to tackle my “tasks” and projects head-on. If I call these “goals,” what is a goal without a timeline? If it was for paid work, I would have a deadline, or at least try to set one for myself. At home, there are a handful of piles scattered about, having to do with projects that aren’t even necessarily that important, in the grand scheme of things, but they have been hanging over my head for a while; I’m talking well before the holiday season (so feel free to call me out when I use that excuse in public). At some point, I need to set aside 30 minutes for the project, or ditch it all together (ideally the materials can be donated rather than trashed).

There is the tray full of 200+ chopsticks I rescued from disposal and imagined that they would be perfect for something crafty. There is the manilla envelope messily stuffed with wedding cards we received, again, three years ago, which I hoped to re-read, sort through to preserve perhaps some of the most precious, and recycle the rest. There’s the junk mail I collected last May and June so that I could submit the information to DMAchoice.org and reduce the quantity we receive. And there is the small stack of books for recreational reading that I have barely dented. I can do better at managing these personal things. I could also change my approach to things like the copper pot, which I was “saving for a special occasion,” and remember that life is short–you never know exactly how short it is.

The year started out well. Matt and I were hanging out with some friends on New Year’s Day when the topic come up of our wine collection. Matt observed that there must be several wines we’ve had on hand for quite some time, including a 1995 Red Bordeaux blend, and we’re not sure when they are supposed to be consumed. So I decided to pull that wine out, to move it to the top of our queue of wines to drink. Then, I Googled the wine for its recommended drinking dates/years, and found it should be consumed through 2013. Only 1 day late! We opened it then and there and enjoyed it with friends over a game of cards.

Oh, and here’s the chicken picatta recipe, in case you’re interested. It’s one of those simple and delicious recipes that can usually be made with what you have on hand.

Chicken Piccata
Adapted from Cooking Light Magazine, which published it as a Turkey Piccata recipe

4 thin chicken breast halves (about 1 pound), either purchased as cutlets or from splitting whole breasts
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon olive oil
, divided
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/4 Cup shallots, chopped
1 Tablespoon garlic, sliced
3/4 Cup dry white wine
1/2 Cup unsalted chicken stock
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 Tablespoons capers
, drained
2 Tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped, for garnish

Sprinkle cutlets with salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons oil and turn to coat pan.
IMG_0153IMG_0152
Add 4 cutlets, brown and cook 2 minutes on each side or until done (instant read thermometer reads 165 degrees F). Remove cutlets from pan; keep warm.

Add 1 Tablespoon butter to pan to melt. Sauté shallots and garlic in pan for 1 minute. Increase heat, add wine, bring to a boil, and cook 2 minutes, scraping pan to loosen browned bits.

Use a whisk to thoroughly combine chicken stock and flour. Add stock mixture to pan, and return to a boil. Cook 5 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half. Remove from heat; stir in remaining 1 Tablespoon butter, juice, and capers. Pour over cutlets. Garnish with parsley.

IMG_0157

This is post-washing and returning to display. I think it still looks great, don't you?

Here’s the pan after it has been used and washed. I think it still looks great, don’t you?

TGIF

Thank goodness it’s Fry-day!

Got you. Were you wondering why I wrote this on a Wednesday? It’s because I went on a frying kick on Monday night.

I found a recipe that uses broccoli and carrots, which had been flowing in from my farm share, in fritter form. And then I thought that I should make some latkes. It was the 5th night of Hanukkah, after all.

So I put on sweatpants and a sweatshirt, turned on the TV to have A Charlie Brown Christmas in the background, and got to it. (Can I just pause for a second and note how depressing that special is? And Peanuts in general. Poor Charlie Brown. Perhaps I should also pause to acknowledge the irony that I just mentioned making latkes for Hanukkah while watching a Christmas special.)

Broccoli Carrot Fritters
Adapted from Cooking Light Magazine

4 Cups water
2 Cups broccoli florets
1 Cup carrots
, matchstick-cut
2.25 ounces/1/2 Cup all-purpose flour
1.5 ounces/1/3 Cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/4 Cup something in the onion family
(green onions, white onions, leeks), chopped
1 large egg, add more egg as needed
2+ Tablespoons olive oil
1 Cup plain yogurt
2 teaspoons fresh dill (optional)
, or fennel fronds in my case (I knew saving them would come in handy!), chopped
DSC_6308
DSC_6310
If using leeks, or if you are using white onion and want to make the flavor more mild, sauté them in your saucepan in a little olive oil first and set aside.

Leftover leeks, waiting to be consumed!

Leftover leeks, waiting to be consumed!


After your chopping and slicing is done, place water, broccoli, and carrots in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, cook about 4 minutes to get the broccoli tender. Drain. Pat broccoli mixture dry with a clean dish towel or paper towels and chop as finely as you’d like.
DSC_6316
Place broccoli mixture and flour in a large bowl; stir to coat. Add cheese, salt, pepper, onions, and egg to broccoli mixture and stir to combine. If the mixture isn’t wet enough, you may need to add another egg or some egg white–I had to do this because I didn’t really measure the broccoli carefully so I think I had more than 2 Cups.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil and swirl to coat. Spoon 1/4 cup broccoli mixture into a dry measuring cup. Plop pile into pan and press down with a spatula to flatten slightly. Repeat in your pan as space allows (I recommend trying to go in a clockwise circle so you know which ones hit the pan first). Cook 4 minutes on each side or until golden brown.
DSC_6319
DSC_6321
Combine yogurt and herbs in a small bowl. Serve yogurt mixture with fritters.
DSC_6322

Regarding the latkes. I have no grounds for giving you a recipe because I clearly have a long way to go to master the potato pancake. I learned my lesson that the step instructing me to squeeze the liquid out of the shredded potatoes should be taken seriously, and if, after mixing, it seems like the mixture isn’t holding together, I should definitely fix it BEFORE adding to the pan. I may have been losing patience at this point. Something about the fact that I was in such cozy clothing, and, oh yeah, I had just been to the dentist to have a major filling and the anesthesia was wearing off…

I based my pancake ingredients on this recipe, which uses sage (still alive in the garden!). I even had the clarified butter from a rare impulse buy at Trader Joe’s:
DSC_6325
Here are some pictures:

I substituted shallots for some of the onion.

I substituted shallots for some of the onion.


DSC_6327
DSC_6328
Happy Holidays!