Everything Beer Cheese Bread and Beer Poached Shrimp with Fennel

I’m not always great with decisions. Ceramic, porcelain or stone tile for the bathroom floor? Buy the 2 year or 5 year extended warranty? What color fireplace stone and curtains will match our current living room? Should I get a green or a blue sweater; which do I have more of in my closet? Should I spend the next 45 minutes of free time cleaning the kitchen floor or filing the office receipts?

You can imagine that restaurant ordering presents a challenge for me. The worst (or best) example of a paralyzing menu is from Shopsin’s, known for a menu like none other. Ooh boy, I feel a twinge of anxiety coming. Can’t I have an extra stomach, available to access on the special occasions when I know I’ll never again get the chance to taste this particular preparation of food? I like to believe that my difficulties stem from some kind of advanced analytical ability, i.e. my brain is processing the complexities of the situation and considering all angles before reaching the best conclusion (not likely). The problem is, most of the time the choice is no big deal! Take my cooking choices: these are by no means life or death. Yet there are times I wish someone else would tell me, outright, exactly what to do with ingredient X, Y, Z.

That’s how I was feeling last week when I put a query out on Facebook, asking what to do with the leftover beer cans in our fridge.
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I explained that I had no intention of drinking the beer plain, now six months past its purchase date (as if I ever choose to drink it “fresh”). I expected to catch a little more flack, since it sounds a bit snobbish. Indeed, I came home last Friday to find that my father, who was visiting for the weekend, had cracked one open to sample. My dad is no elitist. Born on a farm during the Great Depression, I can always count on him to check food for spoilage–allowing great leeway, of course. He consumes leftovers with a gusto. In other words, he’s great to have around.

People were quick to respond to my poll. Beer batter, fondue, brats, soup, and “target practice” were among the answers. The most popular idea, by far, was beer can chicken. Beer chicken wasn’t something I was tempted to make at the time, but the idea of using beer to cook shellfish was spot-on. Also, the runner-up response, beer bread, caught my eye. I knew adding cheese was an option. In fact, I could really add anything to the bread that pairs well with beer, which meant tapping into the CSA vegetable share. An oniony, starchy, gooey, boozy concoction was on its way.

In case you’re counting, six cans remained after my Dad’s refreshment. Two cans went into dinner on Saturday night, for Beer Cheese Bread with Everything Bagel Topping and Warm Beer Poached Shrimp and Fennel Salad. Two recipes for the price of one in this week’s post!

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Beer Poached Shrimp and Fennel Salad
From Bryan Miller in The New York Times

Vinaigrette:
1 teaspoon fresh dill or fennel fronds, chopped
1½ teaspoons mustard, preferably spicy
6 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper
, to taste

Poached Shrimp:
12 ounces of light beer
2 cloves garlic
, peeled and smashed
5 sprigs fresh dill or a combination of dill and fennel frondsDSC_9511
1 pound shrimp, peeled
Salt and pepper, to taste

Fennel, etc.:
3 Tablespoons olive oil
3 fennel bulbs
, cored, sliced thin and cut into bite-size pieces
Salt and pepper, to taste
Additional dill or fennel fronds for garnish

Prepare vinaigrette. You will need to adjust seasoning according to your mustard. I used a combination of Dijon and coarse stone-ground mustard, enhanced with a touch of pepper. Fennel fronds made up a good portion of the herbs for my vinaigrette. I should have had plenty of dill, since I planted it in my garden this spring, but it went mostly to seed before I got the chance to use it!
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In a deep saucepan (with lid reserved), pour beer and add garlic, dill sprigs/fennel fronds, and some salt and pepper. At medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a boil before lowering the heat and allowing it to simmer for ten minutes.
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Meanwhile, take a separate skillet/saute pan and heat the olive over medium heat. Stir in your bite-sized fennel pieces and cook until they are starting to soften. Remove from stove. You can place the fennel on the serving plate, but keep warm.
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In the saucepan with the beer, drop the shrimp. Turn heat up, cover with lid and cook for about a minute. Turn off heat and remove lid.
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Use a slotted spoon to remove and drain the shrimp. Arrange shrimp over the fennel. Pour vinaigrette over the salad and add more salt and pepper if needed. Garnish with fresh dill or fennel fronds.

The quantity shown here is a scaled down portion of the full recipe.

The quantity shown here is a scaled down portion of the full recipe.

 


 

As I mentioned earlier, the beer cheese bread recipe is highly adaptable. The recipe on myrecipes.com includes several suggestions. I used shallots and scallions because I had some, already pre-chopped from other recipes. The scallions got me thinking of my favorite bagel spread, scallion cream cheese, which got me thinking about bagels, which reminded me of the Everything Bagel Topping I purchased from good ol’ King Arthur Flour. Of course, you can replicate everything bagel topping with the requisite individual ingredients of onion, sesame, poppy seed, garlic and salt. I thought all of this would pair well with cheddar cheese, a type I always have on hand, in place of the Monterey Jack cheese specified in the original recipe. What a delicious brainstorm. I imagine being asked at a restaurant if I would like something from the beer, cheese, or bread section of the menu. Easy answer: “Yes, please.”
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Beer Cheese Bread with Everything Bagel Topping
Adapted from Cooking Light’s recipe on myrecipes.com

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/4 Cup shallot
, finely chopped
1/4 Cup scallions, sliced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove
, minced
13.5 ounces all-purpose flour (about 3 Cups)
3 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 Cup (4 ounces) cheddar cheese
, shredded
12 ounces bottle light lager beer
Cooking spray
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
, melted
2-3 Tablespoons Everything Bagel topping

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Preheat oven to 375°.

In a small skillet set on medium-low, heat the olive oil. Add shallots and green onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until just starting to caramelize (about 7 minutes).
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Add pepper and garlic, stir to incorporate for 1 minute.

Measure flour and combine with sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Stir with a whisk.
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Make a well in the center of the dry mixture for adding the onion mixture, cheese, and beer. Stir to moisten the batter completely. Lumps are OK.

Coat a loaf pan with cooking spray. Pour batter in and drizzle 1 Tablespoon of melted butter. Sprinkle with the everything bagel topping.
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Bake at 375° for about 45 minutes or until golden brown. After about 30 minutes, you could drizzle additional butter on top.

Pay no attention to the beat-up oven mitts!

Pay no attention to the beat-up oven mitts!


Cool for a few minutes, and then turn loaf out of pan to cool completely. I took my bread out of the oven a little early, so it was still very moist in the center. This gave it a deliciously tender, cake-like quality. If you want it more toasty, leave it in longer.
It's hard to resist this bread, even under-done.

It’s hard to resist this bread, even under-done.


Try your best not to consume the whole loaf right away. As expected, it makes a wonderful breakfast. Haven’t you always wanted to have beer for breakfast? Breakfast of champions. Enjoy!

Green Tomato and Swiss Chard Gratin

The summer has been much cooler than previous summers, which has been refreshing. Lower energy bills are a perk, and subway and walking commutes are much less sticky. But the lower temperatures mean that my tomatoes have been pokey about ripening. I’m getting impatient! Chances are, as always, as soon as a couple of fruits start ripening, too many will, and I will be scrambling. Before that happens, I stole a few unripened tomatoes from the plant to make this dish.
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This is the first time I have tapped into the green tomatoes so early. There are usually some left over on the plant when the first frost creeps in, and I snatch them before my garden is winterized.

I make fried green tomatoes at least once every year. They keep me in touch with my southern roots. Buttermilk dressings and remoulade sauce make excellent pairings. In this recipe, lightly fried tomatoes make the topping of the gratin. It seems to me more like a crustless quiche of Swiss chard and Gruyère cheese with a green tomato topping.
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I hope you’re not getting sick of me posting about chard. Remember, you can substitute pretty much any hearty green..spinach, kale, collards, mustard greens, etc. I just happen to have chard again!
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Green Tomato and Swiss Chard Gratin
Reproduced from Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe in The New York Times

1 bunch Swiss chard, stems separated from the leaves
1 lb green tomatoes, sliced a little less than 1/2 inch thick
1/2-3/4 Cup cornmeal for dredging, as needed
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 onion
, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 Cup milk
Approx 1/2 Cup or 2-3 ounces Gruyère cheese
, grated

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Prepare your 2-quart baking dish by spraying it with cooking spray or olive oil.

To blanch the swiss chard leaves, fill a large pot with salted water and bring to a boil. Fill a bowl with ice water. While the water heats, dice the swiss chard stems and set aside to be combined with the chopped onion.

Taste the rainbow.

Taste the rainbow.


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Once boiling, drop the chard leaves in the water and blanch for about 1 minute.
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Lift out of the water and transfer to the ice water to stop the cooking. Put the leaves in a colander to drain excess water. Chop and set aside.

Slice your green tomatoes. This is a little tedious with the plum tomatoes–ideally you have abundant round beefsteak or big boys. Season the slices with a little salt and pepper, and add a little salt and pepper to the cornmeal as well.
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Dredge the tomatoes in the cornmeal.
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Glug 2 Tablespoons of the olive oil in a heavy nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Pan-fry the tomatoes for about two minutes each side, until they are just starting to turn golden. A narrow flexible spatula, like the type used for fish, is helpful for turning over the slippery suckers. When done, transfer to a plate and set aside.
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While frying the tomatoes, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Add more olive oil to the now-empty pan and pour in the onion and chopped chard stems. Saute for about 5 minutes, until the vegetables soften. Add a pinch of salt, some grinds of pepper, and your minced garlic.
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Cook for about a minute, and then finally add the thyme and chopped chard. Stir everything together over medium heat for another minute. Good luck keeping it in the pan as your stir! Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, whisk the 3 eggs with a generous pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Pour in the milk, stir, and then add the cheese and chard and stir. Pour into your baking dish.
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Layer the tomatoes over the top.
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Transfer to the oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes. The gratin is done when the eggs are set and it is beginning to brown.

Could be browner.

Could be browner.


This makes a generous 6 servings, so I will be enjoying it all week!
Chow down!

Chow down!

Cucumber Berry Smoothie

It’s about time I mention that cucumbers are in season again! They are accumulated from personal gardens, farmer’s markets, CSAs, or generous neighbors, and they sit around, patiently waiting to be consumed. You can put them in pitas or add them to salads like this one or this one. But don’t forget about them! I learned the hard way, one rotten-cucumber-pulled-out-of-the-fridge-drawer later, that a local garden fresh cucumber doesn’t necessarily keep as long as the supermarket, shrink-wrapped, hot house type.

This weekend, I had a plan. I would use one whole cucumber for a healthy breakfast smoothie that would help make up for my excessive noshing at parties over the past couple of weeks. (I love summer, but it sure is hard to stay disciplined, isn’ t it?) Joy the Baker provided the inspiration. I threw together the rest.

My plan happened to include consuming the breakfast after sleeping late. However, someone in my neighborhood was violating local sound ordinances (yes, I looked it up) by weed-whacking prior to 10 a.m. (prior to 9:00 a.m., in fact). I’ll hand it to him, it was a beautiful morning to be in the yard. With a cucumber smoothie.
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Cucumber Berry Smoothie
Adapted from Joy the Baker
1 serving

1 small garden cucumber, peeled and de-seeded
a little less than 1 cup frozen blueberries, strawberries or other berries you have available
2/3 Tablespoon of honey, more to taste
2 Tablespoons of plain greek yogurt
1/3 Cup milk
, cow or almond, soy or rice – Joy called for almond milk, which helps add sweetness
a touch of lemon juice, to taste
1/3 Cup orange juice or apple juice, to taste

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Smoothie recipes are the type that are wide open for interpretation and tweaking. Even I rarely follow exactly what is suggested, and I usually pay close attention to recipes. Cucumber gives smoothies a refreshing touch, as well as some texture, and you can combine it with any number of fruits. You’ll have to adjust the sweetness accordingly. I happened to have a little bottle of leftover orange juice in my fridge, and when I tasted the smoothie and felt the honey didn’t add the right amount of sweetness, the juice fit the bill. Strawberries may be a sweeter choice; I used mostly blueberries. When I had pulled out my container of frozen strawberries, there were only two left, somehow! If your berries aren’t frozen, you will want to blend in some ice, to get the mixture nice and cold and refreshing.
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Prep your cucumber: peel and de-seed, and then cut into chunks.
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Add everything to the blender and whir away. Taste and make adjustments as needed.
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Pour into a glass. Sit back, relax, and enjoy your cucumber smoothie.
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Swiss Chard and Prosciutto over Polenta

I’m due for a follow up on the last post, Chard Stem Hummus! What did I make with the de-stemmed leaves? Something unbelievably easy. Swiss Chard and Prosciutto over Polenta.
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You probably already know that the chard leaves lend themselves to a wide range of recipes. The leaves show up in recipes calling for some tomato here, a few dried fruits and nuts there, a touch of vinegar, or perhaps a little cheese. Last week I enjoyed Chard, Caramelized Onion, and Gruyère Crepes; also easy and delicious. I recently finished skimming through the expansive the book Vegetable Literacy, by Deborah Madison. Deborah lists the following as good companions for chard:DSC_9290

  • olive oil, butter, sesame oil
  • quinoa, rice, potatoes, white beans, lentils, chickpeas, pasta
  • garlic, thyme, cilantro, basil, cumin, saffron, nutmeg
  • fresh lemon, aged red wine vinegars
  • eggs, cream, Gruyère, Parmesan cheese, tahini
  • My selected recipe is spot on with several of the recommendations. As for eggs, I’m not one of those people who thinks to reach for eggs as a dinner ingredient (besides in crepe and other batters or dough). However, in this recipe I can easily imagine the soft polenta replaced with soft scrambled eggs, served with some rustic toast on the side.

    Swiss Chard and Prosciutto over Polenta
    Adapted from Cooking Light on myrecipes.com
    Scaled to serve 2

    IngredientsDSC_9287
    a few slices prosciutto or pancetta
    , about 1 ounce, cut or torn into 1/4-inch pieces
    Cooking spray
    1 Tablespoon garlic
    , minced
    3/4 Cup low-sodium chicken broth
    1/2 Tablespoon fresh thyme
    , chopped
    4 Cups Swiss chard leaves, coarsely chopped
    1/8 teaspoon sea salt
    1/8 teaspoon black pepper
    1 Cup prepared polenta
    , cooked from yellow cornmeal by following this recipe (scale down by at least half if feeding only 2 people) or freshly made instant polenta cooked according to package directions
    1/8 cup (.5 ounce) Parmesan cheese, shaved

    Head a large skillet over medium heat and spray with cooking spray or olive oil. Cook prosciutto about 10 minutes, until crisped. Removed the crispy pieces from pan and set aside.

    I love the flavor added with this step, but it sure makes a mess of the stovetop!

    I love the flavor added with this step, but it sure makes a mess of the stovetop!


    Add garlic and stir into the drippings in the pan for about 30 seconds. Pour in broth and add thyme. Raise the stove temperature to bring the mixture to a boil. Allow to boil for about 5 minutes to reduce by half.

    Add chard, salt, and pepper. Toss to incorporate.
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    Cover the pan. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook until chard is tender, about 3 minutes.

    Spoon over polenta and top with prosciutto and Parmesan shavings.
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    Chard Stem Hummus

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    I made a cooked vegetable dish this weekend that I fully intended to share on the blog. It displayed a medley of farm-sourced ingredients and required quite a bit of time to stir and cook. When it finally finished, I sat down and ate it…and didn’t like the flavor. One of the vegetables I incorporated was kohlrabi, and I think it was too dominant in the dish. More importantly, the vegetables were supposed to soften after pan frying for so long, and the kohlrabi didn’t. It stood out. It may have even been burnt–I couldn’t tell. The dish was edible, but it needed a lot of tweaking before sharing. Fortunately, it wasn’t served to guests–only to my husband, who years ago would have run away if I tried serving him a dish with kohlrabi. He didn’t love it either, but he ate it. I’m so proud of how far he has come.

    It got me thinking about the people, young and old, who won’t eat vegetables, and their noble partners who, out of concern for the health and well-being of loved ones, find ways of sneaking in nutrition. Do you know one of those people? Maybe YOU are a sneaker. You probably use up even more of the vegetables you buy than I do, because you plan to throw them into a food processor to make a secret sauce, or soup, or dressing. In my ongoing search for recipes that use the Swiss chard stems, I found this recipe for a chickpea, tahini, and yogurt dip with hidden Swiss chard stalks. Last summer I pickled some stems, which was great for preserving, but I rarely reached for them in the fridge. When I tried this grilled Swiss chard stem recipe, I didn’t seem to have enough stems to make it substantial…and then some of them even blew off of the grill while they were being cooked! When tasting the hummus recipe I made this Monday, one would never guess it has Swiss chard. What a difference from that weekend vegetable medley! Are there those with the opposite view of a stealthy vegetable cook, who insist that each vegetable be featured prominently and celebrated, who are less than impressed with this approach? Perhaps. But this dip is undeniably delicious, and I do give the Swiss chard stems some of the credit.

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    Chard Stem Hummus
    From Martha Rose Shulman of The New York Times

    4-5 ounces pound Swiss chard stalks, from about 1/2 pound bunch, sliced
    Salt to taste
    2 garlic cloves
    (to taste), peeled
    heaping 3/4 Cup cooked chickpeas (about half a small can), drained and rinsed
    2.5 Tablespoons stirred sesame tahini
    4 Tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
    2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
    , to taste
    1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds, lightly toasted on the stovetop
    1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

    Steam chard stalks over 1 inch water until tender when pierced with a fork, 15 to 20 minutes.
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    Collect the rest of your ingredients.
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    Drain the Swiss chard stems well, about 10 minutes. Add to a food processor along with your chickpeas.
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    Purée, stopping the machine from time to time to scrape down the sides.

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    Using a mortar and pestle, mash garlic with 1/2 teaspoon salt until you have a smooth paste. Add to chard stalks and chickpeas. Process until smooth.

    After the first whirring...

    After the first whirring…


    Wipe out the same mortar to grind your toasted cumin seeds.

    Add to processor along with tahini and yogurt and run the machine until smooth once again.

    With machine running, add lemon juice, olive oil and a touch of salt to taste. Test the dip for seasoning, and then transfer to a bowl.

    The final product!

    The final product!


    Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley, for garnish, and serve with crudités, along with some wonderful homemade whole wheat pitas.
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    Stay tuned for what I made with the leaves this time!
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    Salted-Chocolate Rye Cookies

    “You don’t post much about sweets, do you?”

    I contemplated Matt’s question. He was digging into a ramekin of bittersweet chocolate mousse I had made, and I had just told him I didn’t make it for the blog. You see, I took no particular twist on the recipe, and the heavy cream and eggs I used for it had been bought specifically for the mint chocolate cookie ice cream I made the previous week. Mousse and ice cream aren’t the kinds of dishes you make to use up leftovers, usually. He was right, I could expand on the number of dessert recipes on the site.

    I opted to make a dessert for the first of many upcoming summer potlucks. I saved a recent Tasting Table recipe for Salted-Chocolate Rye Cookies. It was adapted from a recipe in a cookbook out of the reputable Tartine Bakery & Cafe series. It looked rich and delicious. So many times when I tell people that the recipe I plan to make for an event or dinner is one I’ve never tried before, I get reactions of shock and horror. But this recipe calls for one pound of bittersweet chocolate. How bad can it be? I figure as long as I don’t burn the chocolate, the cookies will be enjoyed by most party guests.

    The main draw of the recipe was that it calls for whole grain rye flour, an ingredient I was having trouble getting through after buying from a King Arthur Flour sale.

    On a side note, I am such a King Arthur Flour super-fan. I frequently look for excuses to shop their website. I have gone out of my way driving through Vermont to stop at its bakery and storefront. If one of their recipes told me to climb a cliff to bake the muffins, I would seriously consider it. (Guess what, today they announced another sale! I swear they aren’t paying me to say this.)
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    Salted Chocolate-Rye Cookies
    From Tasting Table

    2⅔ Cups (1 pound) bittersweet chocolate (63-72% cacao), chopped or in chip form
    4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
    ¾ Cup whole-grain rye flour
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    ½ teaspoon fine salt
    4 large eggs
    , at room temperature
    1½ Cups muscovado, natural cane sugar, or light brown sugar
    1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
    Sea salt
    , preferably flaky, for topping

    Prepare a small saucepan filled with about 1 inch of water and heat over medium to bring water to a simmer. Add chocolate and butter to a heatproof bowl that can hover over the simmering water without touching. Place bowl over the water and melt the chocolate and butter together.
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    Stir occasionally with a heatproof spatula, taking care to check the bottom of the bowl. The chocolate and butter may take several minutes to melt.

    Once melted, remove from the heat.
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    In a small bowl, add the rye flour, baking powder, and salt and whisk together.

    In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the eggs.

    There’s a little piece of advice cooks like to give about cracking eggs for baking: never crack the egg directly over your bowl of ingredients. Instead, crack eggs one at a time into a small bowl, and then pour from that bowl to the mixing bowl. This is to prevent you from getting shards of eggshell hopelessly buried in your dough or batter. When you are terrible at cracking eggs, like me, this is good advice. It’s advice I don’t always follow. This time, I made the right choice, and you can see why:
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    I used organic natural cane sugar from my pantry.

    I used organic natural cane sugar from my pantry.

    Using the whisk attachment on your stand mixer, begin to whip the eggs on medium high. Add the sugar gradually, and mix until incorporated. Turn up the mixer and whip until the eggs increased in volume nearly 3x (about 6 minutes).
    Before whipping

    Before whipping


    After whipping

    After whipping

    DSC_9154Lower the mixer speed and add the melted chocolate-butter mixture and the vanilla, stirring until fully combined. Add in the flour mixture and stir just until combined. A spatula attachment or manual stirring would be best at this point. The dough will be soft, almost like brownie batter.

    Refrigerate dough until firm, at least 30 minutes. If you leave it in the fridge longer, it will have to warm up for a little bit before you can scoop it easily.

    Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.
    Take dough from fridge and scoop rounded tablespoons onto the baking sheets, spacing the balls about 2 inches apart.
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    Top with a few flakes of sea salt.
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    Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, until the cookies have completely puffed up. They should have a smooth bottom and rounded tops.

    Almost there!

    Almost there!


    Remove the cookies from the oven and let cool slightly on the baking sheets. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Enjoy within a few days.
    Dense, fudgy, salty goodness.

    Dense, fudgy, salty goodness.


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

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

    Chicken Thighs with Caramelized Fennel

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    Once upon a time, I disliked fennel. When people are introduced to fennel for the first time, often they are told it tastes like black licorice, something people generally love or hate. Am I the only one who thinks it is sad that people are more familiar with the taste of a candy than of a vegetable? Anyway, I always hated black licorice. But with enough exposure to fennel, I love it! When generously dressed with olive oil and fresh lemon, it makes a great raw salad. It pairs well with cheese (shaved Pecorino Toscano or Parmesan Reggiano in particular), takes on a pleasant sweetness when partnered with other roasting vegetables, and complements braised chicken and simmered seafood. I challenge naysayers to keep trying. Hey, even I eat brussel sprouts (blech) if I perceive they have been prepared well.

    I’ve been perusing the new cooking site on nytimes.com. So far, I’m a big fan. You can do a recipe search based on (single) ingredients, and many of the recipes are straightforward. A search of “fennel” led me to this Braised Chicken Thighs With Caramelized Fennel recipe, a near perfect match with my pantry, fridge, and CSA box. This recipe is particularly appealing because it creatively uses the fennel fronds as well as the bulbs, and even calls for fennel seeds. It is simple and delicious. The hardest part is slicing your fennel thinly. Fortunately, the caramelization process is forgiving of imperfect technique.
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    Braised Chicken Thighs With Caramelized Fennel
    adapted from Andrew Scrivani of the The New York Times
    Makes 4 servings

    For the fennel frond puree:
    1 large or 3 small cloves garlic, roughly chopped
    ½ teaspoon lemon zest, grated
    1 teaspoon kosher salt
    ⅓ Cup extra virgin olive oil
    1/2 Cup fennel fronds
    from 2 large fennel bulbs

    For the braised chicken and caramelized fennel:
    2 Tablespoons vegetable oil, such as sunflower, grapeseed, or canola
    4 bone-in chicken thighs (about 2 pounds)
    ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
    2 large fennel bulbs
    , thinly sliced
    1 onion, thinly sliced
    ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
    1 Tablespoon white wine, liquor, or beer
    1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

    Trim fennel bulbs, separating fronds for the purée.
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    Combine about 1/2 cup fronds, chopped garlic, lemon zest and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a blender or food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add 1/3 cup extra virgin oil and purée.
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    DSC_9050Halve fennel bulbs lengthwise. Carefully slice with a mandoline or sharp knife into thin slices. I’m not convinced mandoline is the way to go, because it struggles with the tougher leaves. Also, it would have been easier if my fennel bulbs were slightly larger.

    Prepare chicken by seasoning with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. In a large skillet over high heat, heat 2 Tablespoons of vegetable oil. With high heat, you need an oil with a high smoke point. The original recipe called for extra virgin olive oil, but I always burn that. I pulled out sunflower oil for this.
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    DSC_9049Add chicken and brown until skin is crisp, about 8 minutes.
    Transfer to a plate – it will be finished later on alongside the caramelized vegetables. You’ll be reusing pan with drippings for the vegetables. I transferred my chicken to a baking sheet and put it to the oven temporarily, because I thought it would need extra time being bone-in. Turns out it didn’t need that much time before it reached 165 F.
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    Add fennel seeds to skillet and stir. After 30 seconds, add fennel and onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

    I should note that my since my fennel bulbs and onion were rather small, you may want to scale up if you are looking to satisfy four people for a meal, rather than two people plus leftovers.

    I should note that my since my fennel bulbs and onion were rather small, you may want to scale up if you are looking to satisfy four people for a meal, rather than two people plus leftovers.


    Reduce heat to medium and let the vegetables go until they are caramelized, stirring occasionally (about 15 minutes). Add liquor (I used white wine, which was open) to deglaze the bottom of the skillet; cook until liquid has evaporated, about 1 minute.
    About halfway there.

    About halfway there.


    Place chicken on top of the fennel-onion mixture. Pour a little water into the pan and cover. Reduce heat to medium-low and and cook until chicken is up to temperature. If there is any excess liquid, let it simmer off with the pan uncovered at the end. Stir in lemon juice.
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    Plate chicken atop vegetables and pour over the fennel frond purée.
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    Kitty outtake:
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    Spring Vegetable Ramen

    Viki collageIt’s no big secret that I’m a big fan of vegetables in the garlic and onion family, also known as Allium vegetables. I haven’t yet gone to the trouble of calculating, but Allium species ingredients may be in 95% of my recipes on this blog! allium Onions, garlic, scallions, shallots, chives–I love ’em all. One of my favorite bulbs that blooms in spring happens to be named Allium as well! Those flowers peaked weeks ago. The time for ramps has passed. Summer officially began last Saturday, and what do we have now? Garlic scapes. Those are the antennae in the goofy photo above.

    I found an exciting way to use my scapes among Blue Apron’s weekly meal offerings. I like that they publish recipes on their website without requiring you to purchase the boxes, like I did recently. I’ll be honest, the recipe probably caught my eye because of the prominence of a slightly soft egg yolk in the picture. Also, it’s about time I join in on the country’s enthusiasm for ramen (though I refuse to make it with American cheese).
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    As a soup, you can really design this dish however you want. I chose to shop for a few items (mushrooms, peas, nori, and ramen noodles), and I had the rest ready to go.

    Spring Vegetable Ramen
    with Garlic Scapes, Shiitake Mushrooms and Egg

    Adapted from Blue Apron

    5 ounces fresh english peas, shelled
    4 ounces sliced shiitake mushroom caps
    2 eggs
    2 garlic scapes
    , thinly sliced
    2 scallion, white and green parts thinly sliced separately
    1 1-Inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
    1 lemon
    1 sheet nori
    (dried seaweed)
    4 Cups vegetable broth or stock
    2 Tablespoons soy sauce
    12 ounces ramen noodles
    2 ounces arugula
    Plenty of salt and pepper to taste
    , which will depend greatly on the seasoning in your broth

    I thawed a chunk of homemade (chicken) broth I had stowed away in the freezer for something like this. You really can use any broth, but you'll need vegetable if you're keeping it vegetarian, of course.

    I thawed a chunk of homemade [chicken] broth I had stowed away in the freezer for something like this. You really can use any broth, but obviously you’ll need vegetable if you’re keeping it vegetarian.

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    Take out all your ingredients for preparation, including the eggs. The eggs should come to room temperature before cooking. I was particularly nervous about this step because when I attempted to make hard-boiled eggs last week, I followed Martha Stewart’s instructions here, and it was a major failure.

    Set a pot of salted water over high heat and bring to a boil while you prep all of the vegetables.

    Tip: you can use one prep bowl for your sliced garlic scapes, the whites of your scallions, and the minced ginger. The green parts of the scallions should have their own bowl. The shelled peas have their own bowl.
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    Remove some of the yellow rind of the lemon with a peeler. Avoid the white pith. Mince the rind finely. Measure 2 teaspoons and set aside. Quarter the lemon, remove its seeds, and set aside.

    Make thin strips of nori with a knife or scissors (one of my favorite kitchen tools!).
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    Carefully add the room-temperature eggs to the boiling water and set a timer for exactly 7 minutes. Then drain and rinse under cold water for about a minute to prevent them from cooking further.

    In the same pot in which you boiled the eggs, set some more salted water to boil (yay less dishes!).
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    In a second, larger pot, add about 2 teaspoons of olive oil and heat over medium heat.

    Pour in the ingredients in your one bowl of scapes, green onion, and minced ginger. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté for a minute or two until slightly softened.

    Add the mushrooms and cook for about a minute more. Then pour in the vegetable broth, soy sauce, and lemon zest. Squeeze in the juice from two of the lemon wedges, to start.
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    Increase the heat to bring the broth to a boil. Then lower the heat so the mixture simmers; let it go for 8-10 minutes.

    Moment of truth: while the broth simmers, peel the eggs and cut them in half lengthwise. (SUCCESS! Solid whites and slightly gooey yolk.)

    Squeeze lemon juice over the arugula and toss. Add salt and pepper.

    When the broth is about ready, stir in the peas, season with more salt and pepper, and remove from heat. Leave lid on to keep warm while you cook the noodles.

    Add the noodles to your pot of boiling water, stirring to separate. Cook according to package directions. Drain rinse with warm water.

    In two large bowls, divide the noodles.
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    Pour broth in bowls. Garnish with the dressed arugula, scallions greens, nori strips, and eggs. Add a bit more lemon juice if needed.
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    That's what I'm talking about.

    That’s what I’m talking about.

    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.
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    Joy the Baker inspired me to use the baby kale in her Tuna, Kale, and Egg Salad recipe.
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    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.

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    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

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    *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.
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    Toss the chopped kale, chopped herbs, and the walnuts together.
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    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.
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    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.
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