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.
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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.
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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?
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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

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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.
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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.
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In another bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking powder.

In a stand mixer, whip the egg for about 30 seconds.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Italian-American Wedding Soup

This recipe is brought to you by the letter E…for escarole. Escarole, that vegetable that makes me groan, because it tastes so bitter raw. Which means I have to make an E for effort to cook it, and when I do, I always feel the need to do something complicated instead of simply sautéing it. Yes, I know this is MY problem.

I was surprised to discover that escarole is a fairly normal ingredient to add to Italian Wedding Soup. The Italian-Style Wedding Soup flavor of Campbell’s used to be one of my favorites as a kid. Yet I’m not sure I have had soup by the same name since then, and I had never made it at home. Of course, it is just a name, and there’s a good chance I have had a chicken-broth-based-vegetable-soup-with-meat-and-sometimes-pasta. Did you know that “wedding soup” was a mistranslation, and the original Italian phrase actually meant “married soup,” because of how well meats and green vegetables marry together? Now you know.

I really enjoyed how this came out using the slow cooker. The meatballs were so tender. Each vegetable added something interesting to the overall flavor. And with the chicken broth base, it definitely came out tasting like comfort food.

Italian Wedding Soup with Escarole
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

DSC_6095Because I only had 1 pound of ground beef instead of 1.5, I scaled most of the entire recipe down by 25%–including using 3/4 of my 2 beaten eggs. I’ll spare you that silly instruction on the ingredient list (I probably could have gotten by with just 1 egg).

Besides keeping close to recommended ratios for keeping meatballs together, the recipe is, of course, flexible. If you increase the greens, like I did, be sure to compensate with added broth.

2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/3 cup fine dry bread crumbs (I used panko run through the food processor, but it would have probably worked in its original form)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
(I used 1 pound, as mentioned earlier)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
8 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
(I used 6)
3 large carrots, chopped (I used 3/4 Cup)
2 pieces of celery, chopped (I used 1/2 Cup)
1/2 onion, chopped (I used 1/4 Cup)
2 tablespoons snipped fresh oregano or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, crushed (I used 1 tsp dried)
3/4 teaspoon dried basil (I used 1/2 tsp)
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder (I used 1/2 tsp)
2 bay leaves (I used 2 small Long Island bay leaves collected during a foraging tour with Wildman Steve Brill)
1 small head escarole (8 ounces), trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch strips (I used 6 ounces sliced escarole and 3.5 ounces of a mysterious green from my CSA I believe was mustard greens)
1 cup small pasta (I used whole wheat orzo because I had it – 3/4 Cup)
Fresh oregano sprigs (optional)

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Escarole

Escarole

Mustard greens?

Mustard greens?


In a large bowl, combine eggs, onion, bread crumbs, cheese, parsley, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper.
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Add ground beef; mix well.
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Shape mixture into about forty 1-1/4-inch meatballs.
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Now it is time to choose your method for browning the meatballs. One possibility is to use a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil, and brown meatballs, half at a time, draining on paper towels. I tried this for the first half, and turning the meatballs was a challenge. It was much easier to bake them in oven at 350, turning once, for 10-15 min total.

In a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine broth, carrots, dried herbs and spices, if using (oregano, basil, garlic powder etc.) the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Gently add meatballs.
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Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 6 hours, or on high-heat setting for 3 hours, stirring in fresh oregano (if using), pasta, and greens during the last 20 minutes of cooking.
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Ladle into bowls. Garnish if desired. Sit back and enjoy.
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Eat Ugly Food

Among the list of small contributions individuals can make to reduce food waste is to eat ugly food. Fight that primal, biological tendency to select only the most pristine pepper, the flawless fennel, the pure potato, the cleanest cucumber, or the blemish-free blueberry batch.

As I address this topic, let me pause to say that I struggle to walk the walk. The last time I went to the grocery store for produce, I scrutinized nearly every batch of cilantro on display before selecting what I felt was the perkiest. I am part of the problem.

Of course, as I sort through the bins, what I’m trying to do is get the best bang for my buck. At the end of the day, grocery stores probably throw out that slightly marred mango that keeps getting left behind. They are part of the problem, too. What if they charged a premium for perfect produce? With ugly items available, but at an irresistible price? Maybe someone would pay a lesser price. Maybe that lesser price makes the item fit into someone’s budget. Maybe for once healthy produce could be as affordable as junk!

Apples are in prime season right now. I heard a story on NPR the other day in which apple farmers talked about the fact that big box stores stipulate circumference requirements, and offer only 1/2 inch leeway. Read about the high standards of beauty that have been regulated in the U.S. (the links to the U.S.D.A. within this article work again, yay). I remember apple-picking a couple of years ago at a large orchard in Connecticut. There were apples all over the ground, tons of them, bruised and smashed or half-eaten and tossed to the side. Some were probably in fairly good shape, but people kicked them to the side. Of course no one wanted them–they wanted to spot their perfect apple and pick it from the tree. I was saddened by the prospect that these apples weren’t used at all.

My sister-in-law Maggie brought me back a ton of apples from picking this year, and they were all beautiful except for this one!

My sister-in-law Maggie brought me back a ton of apples from her own picking excursion this year. Here’s the only funny-looking one I found!

A UK study found that the amount thrown away due to “ugliness” amounted to 40% of fruits and vegetables, and the article made a point that this is particularly tragic considering that one in eight people worldwide are hungry. UntitledThe UN has taken notice of these shameful facts, and started a Think.Eat.Save campaign. It seems fairly recent. Apparently World Food Day was October 16, though the media I consume did not pick this up.

On a lighter note, I want to talk about a vegetable that is ugly even when it is looking its best–celeriac, or celery root. Like most root vegetables, celeriac works well roasted or mashed and can be very satisfying. Also like most root vegetables, it keeps for some time. I picked up celeriac as one of my CSA items a couple weeks ago and hadn’t gotten around to cooking it. Randomly, when I opened up my new momofuku milk bar cookbook the other day, the page that faced me was the recipe for celery root ganache.
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A friend recently brought over the cookbook for me as a wonderfully thoughtful gift. She reads my blog, and said that the author, chef Christina Tosi, uses leftover crumbs and components from various desserts in other concoctions at the restaurant, so she thought it might fit in with my philosophy. Of course, the ingredients lying around a restaurant kitchen are much different from a home kitchen’s. That’s OK–it’s still fun. If you have ever had a momofuku milk bar dessert, you understand that it might be worth it.

Adapted dish: Celery Root Ganache with Strawberry Sorbet and Ritz Crunch

Part 1
Recipe 1:
Celery Root Ganache

from the momofuku milk bar cookbook
makes 1.5 cups, which is a lot

1 medium celery root, peeled and cut into chunks
1 Tablespoon grapeseed oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
, freshly ground
milk if needed

5.25 ounces white chocolate
3 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons corn syrup or glucose
1/4 Cup cold heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Equipment needed: blender or food processor, mesh strainer or food mill (optional?), immersion blender

Preheat the oven to 325.
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On a large sheet of aluminum foil, toss the celery root chunks with oil, salt and pepper. Fold up to enclose and place on a baking sheet. Roast in oven until celery root is mushy, and hopefully caramelized. The cookbook says 30-60 minutes, but I wasn’t satisfied with the mushiness until around 90 minutes.
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Use a blender to puree the celery root. Add milk if needed to get a smoother puree.
DSC_5988Then press through a fine-mesh strainer, or perhaps a food mill, to get a baby-food like texture. You will need 1/2 Cup.
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This is where I started to wonder if this was worth it. I was pressing and pressing and not getting enough squeezed out of my mesh strainer. I had already added a good amount of milk at the blender stage so I didn’t want to thin it out too much. I spent a lot of time to get just a few tablespoons of smooth puree, so I eventually gave up and decided to accept a grainier texture.

In a microwave-safe dish, combine the white chocolate and butter and heat at 15-second bursts in the microwave, stirring in between. The mixture should come together but be barely warm, not hot.

Transfer chocolate mixture to a tall, narrow container like a quart deli container.
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In another bowl, microwave corn syrup for 15 seconds and then add to the chocolate mixture. Use immersion blender to combine. Then stream in heavy cream with blender running and buzz until it comes together in a silky, smooth texture.
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Add to celery root puree to this along with the extra salt.
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Taste to see if it needs any additional salt. What will it taste like? I will tell you what I thought: yogurt-covered pretzel, all the way.

Ganache should be chilled in fridge for at least 4 hours to firm and can be stored there long-term, in an airtight container.

Part 2
Recipe 2:
Ritz Crunch

Makes about 2 Cups, which is dangerous

1 sleeve Ritz crackers (110g)
1/2 Cup sugar
1/4 Cup milk powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
7 Tablespoons butter
, melted

Heat the oven to 275.
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Crush crackers with your hands in a medium bowl. Add the milk powder, sugar and salt and toss. Add melted butter; toss to coat.

Spread on parchment or Silpat-lined sheet pan.
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Bake for 20-25 minutes. It will be done when the clusters are slightly more golden and feel a little crispy.
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Cool completely before storing, in an airtight container. They can be stored at room temperature, in fridge, or in freezer.

Part 3
Strawberry Sorbet

This I purchased, on a late-season visit to Ralph’s Italian Ice.

To bring the parts together:
Shmear cold ganache across small desert plate. Scatter the Ritz crunch around. Place a generous scoop of strawberry sorbet at center.
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Yes, even when shortcuts and substitutes, this dessert took me a couple of days and generated infinite dirty dishes. When I tasted the final product–with the icy cold, sweet but fruity-tart sorbet, the delightfully salty ganache, and the buttery Ritz crunch–my main thought was “wow.” Also, “Christina Tosi is a genius.”

The Cucumber Conundrum

I am learning how different two years can be for vegetable crops!

I was wrong about getting lots of radishes and turnips. The zucchini hasn’t buried me. And my tomato crops, while not barren, haven’t produced so much that I have many to give away. As promised, here is the “after” picture.

I realize that it looks a little silly for my sunflowers to tower over the Japanese maple tree.

I realize that it looks a little silly for my sunflowers to tower over the Japanese maple tree.

And before.
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On the other hand, there has been SO MUCH cucumber from the farm share. It’s a tough one to keep fresh and interesting. Cucumber is eaten almost exclusively cold; you can’t generally preserve it by, say, drying it out (Googling to check…oh wait of course you can), and freezing it messes with the texture, right? The most common thing to do is make pickles. And I don’t love pickles! (Another problem that reduced my pickling motivation: I have managed to kill two dill plants before I had a chance to use them. Are they a tricky plant?)

So far, I have made a warm cucumber soup and some tomato cucumber salads. This week, I branched out and made cucumber sorbet!

Simple Mojito Cucumber Sorbet

From Vegetariantimes.com

3.4 – 1 Cup sugar
1 ½ cups mint leaves
2-3 medium cucumbers
, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
¼ Cup lime juice
2 oz. rum
, optional

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Naked cucumber

Naked cucumber

Side note: this is an awesome peeler.

Side note: this is an awesome peeler.

Bring sugar and 1/2 cup water to a boil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Boil 1 minute, or until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, and add mint leaves. Cover, and cool.

Riley wants to know what I'm up to.

Riley wants to know what I’m up to.


Transfer mint syrup to blender or food processor, and process until mint leaves are finely chopped.
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Add cucumber chunks, and blend until very smooth.
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Chill in refrigerator until cold. Remove from fridge and stir lime juice and rum (if using).
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Churn in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions.
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Just getting started

Just getting started


I think we are there!

I think we are there!

Transfer to container and freeze.
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Note: Numerous variations on the theme of cucumber sorbet/ice cream can be found online. Many steep the mint leaves instead of blending them in, like this does. Most also strain out the solids from the cucumber as well. I can see the benefit of a smoother texture. However, I think the chewiness of this recipe made it feel especially icy-cold and refreshing.

This was served in place of a pre-dinner cocktail on a warm night.
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