Meatless Manic Monday

Let’s talk about this relentless winter. Like a demanding toddler, this winter has been running around all over the country with its snow and ice, and if for one minute we seem to be forgetting about its power, it wallops us to get our attention. We have been at the mercy of frequent snow storms in the Northeast. Last week, I had not one but TWO snow days off from work. I am fortunate enough to be in a position where having a few days with the office closed doesn’t put me incredibly behind at work, nor threaten my vacation days. I’m not in danger of having a shorter summer, like the teachers, and I don’t have kids to scramble to find care for or to keep entertained myself. For me, these days can be viewed as wonderful gifts. I should be thrilled to have extra time to cook, or to take care of my task list, or take on creative projects.

The truth is, both of these days went by very quickly. The main feeling I had, by the end, was that I was cooped up in my house. I missed my routine, and felt a little lost having such open chunks of time. It is nice to have somewhere to go every day, even if you don’t necessarily love the place you’re going. I get the feeling that you all might be a little tired of these disruptions too? For some reason I wasn’t drawn to cook those days; in fact, I had a hard time pulling myself from the computer, which is dangerous because lengthy computer use can sometimes negatively affect one’s mood. I did use one of the days to leisurely prepare these chocolate hazelnut linzer heart cookies from Smitten Kitchen. It required me first to trudge around or through uncleared sidewalks and in the traffic lanes of slippery roads to the corner store for Nutella (why didn’t I have Nutella on hand? Good question.) It was worth it.

On Monday (another day with extra time because of the President’s Day holiday) I decided I wanted to prepare simple sandwiches for my husband and me. Hot paninis to be exact, because a cold sandwich never quite satisfies to the same level–my husband feels this quite strongly. A week or so earlier we had an awesome portobello mushroom panini out at dinner, so I picked up a few caps thinking I would give it a shot. It helped that, once again, we had a some of his delectable homemade bread on hand.

Grilled Portobello, Pesto, and Roasted Red Pepper Panini
Inspired by La Bottega restaurant and A Hint of Honey

2 portobello mushroom caps, stemmed and gills scraped off
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 slices hearty bread
, wheat or multigrain
2 slices of cheese – provolone, cheddar, swiss, havarti, or whatever you have
1/4 Cup basil pesto
2 slices roasted red pepper
, patted to dry slightly

This sandwich was great for using what I had hanging around, including some of a Costco-sized sliced cheese assortment.

This sandwich was great for using what I had hanging around, including some of a Costco-sized sliced cheese assortment.


Heat your grill pan. You might have a stovetop grill pan that works, or like us, a Cuisinart “Griddler” which is ideal for paninis.
A grapefruit spoon works great for de-gilling.

A grapefruit spoon works great for de-gilling.


Brush both sides of portobello caps with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place mushrooms on grill and cook on medium for several minutes on each side, until soft.
De-gilled mushroom caps on the Griddler.

De-gilled mushroom caps on the Griddler.


Top mushrooms with cheese so that it melts while the mushrooms are still over heat. Set aside on plate, temporarily.
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Meanwhile, spread about 1 Tablespoon of pesto on each slice of bread.
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Layer sandwiches grilled portobello, cheese, and roasted red pepper. Return to the grill/Griddler/panini press to further melt the cheese and toast the bread. You may want to brush a little olive oil on the surface of the bread.
You might notice that these photos look a little below par--I was so lazy that I didn't even get out my SLR camera, so I only used my iPhone.

You might notice that these photos look a little below par–I was SO lazy that I didn’t even get out my SLR camera, so these were taken on the iPhone.

Remember my urge to preserve? We are enjoying this same basil pesto from the summer! I could have made and jarred my own red bell peppers too. Now, in the middle of winter, we can enjoy a taste of summer flavors. We’ll just keep the shades closed so we aren’t so keenly aware of the mess outside.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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!

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.
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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.
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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.
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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

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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.
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Add to a large bowl with olive oil, thyme leaves, garlic, salt and pepper. Toss.
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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.
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Here’s to trying even more new things in the new year!

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
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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.
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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.
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Combine yogurt and herbs in a small bowl. Serve yogurt mixture with fritters.
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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:
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Here are some pictures:

I substituted shallots for some of the onion.

I substituted shallots for some of the onion.


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Happy Holidays!

Top Brassica

DSC_6230It’s cruciferous vegetable season. Who is excited? This is good stuff. Well, at least some of it. I don’t think all brassica (turnips, cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, etc.) are created equal in terms of flavor. But apparently some portion of the population can use genetics as an excuse for disliking the taste of these foods. Brassica plants contain something similar to the bitter compound phenylthiocarbamide (PTC), and scientists found that humans have dramatic variations in PTC sensitivity, with some people being “taste blind.”

I won’t let you use your genetics as an excuse! We humans can overcome nature when we want to.

Somewhere along the way in reading my cooking magazines, email newsletters, and online media, I came across a recipe for using cauliflower as pesto. For some reason (genetics?), I liked the idea of obliterating the cauliflower and transforming it into something mostly unrecognizable.

Part 1:
Linguine with Cauliflower Pesto
From The Washington Post

Kosher salt
6 to 8 ounces dried linguine
or other thin pasta
plus reserved pasta water
1 small (13-ounce) head cauliflower
1/2 Cup unsalted almonds
(or pine nuts)
2 or 3 dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes, coarsely chopped (I used oven-dried tomatoes from my garden that had been frozen)
1-ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or other similar hard Italian grating cheese, chopped
1 medium clove garlic
1 Tablespoon capers
, drained and rinsed
Small handful flat-leaf parsley leaves
Crushed red pepper flakes
, to taste
3-5 Tablespoons olive oil, to taste
2 to 3 teaspoons sherry vinegar, to taste

Cook linguine according to the package directions in a large pot of salted boiling water. When draining, reserve 1 cup of the pasta water. Keep pasta warm while preparing the pesto.

Cut the cauliflower into chunks, placing them in the food processor as you work.
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Stop when the bowl is about halfway full to allow space for processing (it is much easier to do this in two batches rather than forcing all the cauliflower in and having to pulse and stir repeatedly-trust me).
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Pulse until crumbs appear couscous-like. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
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DSC_6252Toast the almonds in the oven or in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat until lightly browned, paying close attention and stirring to avoid burning. Cool, then put in the food processor. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, the cheese, garlic, capers and parsley. Process to a chunky bread-crumb consistency, then add the mixture to the mixing bowl with the cauliflower in the bowl.
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Stir in the oil, 2 teaspoons of the vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and crushed red pepper flakes to form a pesto-like mixture. The yield is several cups, likely more than you need for 4 servings of pasta.

Add the pasta and toss to coat. Add as much of the reserved pasta cooking water as needed to create the desired consistency. Taste, and adjust the seasoning, adding the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar as needed. I found that the recipe needed extra oil (which could be added in an earlier step also). It may be more accurate to gauge the flavor and texture once everything is stirred in with the pasta.

Bon appétit!

Bon appétit!

Part 2:
I had all this leftover cauliflower pesto, and I didn’t want to keep eating it with pasta. Fortunately, I remembered hearing that you can use a cauliflower mixture as a pizza crust.

Cauliflower Pizza
Adapted from Quick, Cheap Kitchen

Pizza crust:
Approx. 2 Cups of my leftover cauliflower pesto mix, or just raw cauliflower ground in a food processor
1 egg
1/4 Cup shredded mozzarella
3 Tablespoons of flour

dried Italian seasonings to taste, around 1 teaspoon. I used a bread dipping seasoning mix (basil, parmesan, onion powder, garlic powder) plus oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Toppings: Whatever you want! My example:
2-3 Tablespoons prepared basil pesto
2/3 Cup swiss chard stems
Olive oil

3/4 Cup cherry or grape tomatoes
A sprinkling parmesan cheeses

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Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Microwave cauliflower in a glass bowl for about 8 minutes. Let it cool some, and then transfer to a cheese cloth or clean dish towel to squeeze out any excess water.

My cauliflower mixture was already pretty dry..

My cauliflower mixture was already pretty dry..


DSC_6287Mix together cauliflower, egg, mozzarella, herbs and spices in a large bowl. Spread the cauliflower crust out into a big pan using a rubber spatula. You can use a Silpat, parchment paper, or grease the pan and scatter with cornmeal or semolina. Bake the crust about 10-15 minutes. You will see the crust star to get very dark on the sides.
Mmm browned cheese bits.

Mmm browned cheese bits.


While the crust is browning, prepare toppings.
I sautéed my swiss chard stems in olive oil.
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And halved the tomatoes from my garden (this is the last of the ripe ones!)
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Add the pesto, swiss chard, halved tomatoes, and cheese. Lower the oven temperature to about 375 degrees and return the pizza to the oven to bake for about 10 more minutes, until the cheese is melted.
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Got it just in time.

Got it just in time.

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The result was wonderfully indulgent. There must be a significant amount of “good fats” in each serving. It’s basically eating pesto on pesto after all! I had no trouble finishing the whole pizza myself in two days. That’s pretty impressive for cauliflower.

Orange and Green, Two Ways

I’m getting nervous that my food is starting to look the same.

I was going to make my next post about pasta with cauliflower pesto. I’m putting it off because I’m afraid it will remind you of a recent post, one that happens to use the same pasta and has many of the same textures. You’d rather have some visual variety, right?

As you know, with my mostly seasonal, vegetable-based, waste-minimizing cooking, I find myself looking for recipes that use up ingredients I have on hand, ideally many at once. Through this pursuit of efficiency, I have come to learn about certain important combinations. The sweetness of dried fruits counteracts bitter greens. Earthy vegetables take well to sugar. If a vegetable has a lot of sweetness, particularly after roasting, it will benefit from a touch of acid, from vinegar, or perhaps can be enhanced by the tang of a tomato from my garden. And orange and green make a solid couple.

Sure, I could learn these lessons through broad culinary study. But it is the personal experiences that make the facts “stick.”

I prepared the below two recipes a few weeks apart, realizing their connection only afterwards. The broccoli bowl recipe is from a Smitten Kitchen blog post, and the kale dressed with roasted vegetables and tahini through a random search. Both authors suggest that sweet potato could be replaced with butternut squash, which is also in season. I’m sure the kale and broccoli could be interchanged. Whatever items you choose to pair, they will look together.

Roasted Sweet Potato and Chickpea Over Kale
From The Vegan Cookbook Aficionado adapted from Orangette

15-ounce can chickpeas (about 1 ½ cups, you can also attempt soaking and cooking from dried beans like me), drained and rinsed
2 lbs (about 3-4 medium) sweet potatoes cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
1 large garlic clove, smashed
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
4 Cups kale, washed, stems removed and roughly chopped
1/4 of a medium red onion, finely chopped
1/4 Cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

Sauce:
1 garlic clove
, finely minced with a pinch of salt
3 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 Tablespoons tahini
(be sure to stir well)
3-5 Tablespoons water
up to 1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 teaspoons maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Dry chickpeas slightly by blotting with a paper towel in a large bowl. Add cut sweet potato, garlic, allspice, cinnamon, cayenne, olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss until the sweet potato and chickpeas are evenly coated. Spread on a baking sheet, and bake for 15 to 25 minutes, mixing from time to time until the sweet potato has softened.

While the sweet potato is baking, combine the kale, onion and cilantro in a mixing bowl. Set aside.
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Make the tahini sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic and lemon juice. Add the tahini, and whisk to blend.
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Add the water and olive oil, whisk well, and taste for seasoning. The sauce should have plenty of nutty tahini flavor, but also a little kick of lemon.

Transfer roasted chickpea-sweet potato mixture to the mixing bowl with the kale. Let the mixture rest for a minute while the heat wilts the kale, and then toss gently to combine.
DSC_6226Add tahini sauce to taste, and toss carefully. If you are not serving the full recipe at once, you may want to keep the tahini sauce on the side.
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Miso Sweet Potato and Broccoli Bowl
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Grain and vegetable bowl:
1 cup dried rice* or another grain
1 to 2 large sweet potatoes (about 1.5 pounds)
1 large bundle broccoli (about 1 pound)
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
Coarse or kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoon sesame seeds, ideally a mix of black and white

Dressing:
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 Tablespoons miso**
2 Tablespoons tahini
1 Tablespoon honey
1/4 Cup rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 Tablespoons olive oil


Adaptation notes:
*The heartier the grain, the better, in my opinion. I used the deliciously nutty Trader Joe’s brown rice medley, the one used in the hummus fritters recipe.

**The original recipe (like so many I keep finding) suggested white miso, but I only had the red kind on hand, so I used that, dang it. Incidentally, when I first bought the red miso it was for a broccoli recipe. Since then, I have learned that the general rule for miso is “the lighter the color, the more mild the flavor.” Well, go bold or go home, I say.

Heat oven to 400 degrees.
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While you prep, cook rice or grain according to package directions. Peel sweet potatoes and cut into 1-inch cubes. Cut broccoli into bite-sized florets.

Coat a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil. Layer sweet potatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes, until browning underneath. Flip and toss chunks around, then add broccoli.
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Season again with salt and pepper, and roast for another 10 to 20 minutes, until broccoli is lightly charred at edges and sweet potato is soft. Check periodically to see if you need to toss the vegetables more for even cooking.

Toast sesame seeds until fragrant, either on a stovetop skillet or in the oven (being careful not to burn).

Black sesame seeds would have made this much prettier!

Black sesame seeds would have made this much prettier!


While vegetables roast, prepare dressing: Combine everything in a blender and run until smooth, scraping down sides once.
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Taste and adjust seasonings. Deb suggests that the dressing should taste more salty than sweet for this dish.

Scoop some rice into bowls and top with the roasted sweet potatoes and broccoli. Coat with a little dressing and finish with toasted sesame seeds.
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Set extra dressing on the side to add as needed.
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Harvest Muffins

Time to get grating.
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Last week was as big one for the CSA harvest, plus I couldn’t resist picking up a couple of things at a farmer’s market I was passing, so it has been a busy time of cooking and eating and trying to keep up. No ordering lunch for this gal! It has been delicious though. There was a modified sweet potato shepherd’s pie made using leftover barbecue pulled pork my sister made for a family function and sent me home with. I made scallion pancakes, butternut squash parsley penne, and slightly spicy coconut chicken bok choy soup, the latter of which went really well with an ice cold lager beer home alone watching Dancing with the Stars (I’ve accepted my occasional loneliness while my husband has volunteer fire department responsibilities).

When it looked like my meals were already covered for the rest of the week, I knew I had to take precautions against food spoilage. Fortunately Melissa Clark came to my aid. Well, SHE didn’t actually COME to my side and counsel me, but how cool would it be for her make a video in my kitchen? I came across her harvest muffin recipe.

This recipe reminds me a little bit of the sourdough carrot cake recipe from August, which led me to King Arthur Flour’s “Kitchen Sink Carrot Cake” recipe. Muffins are easier, since they can be individually frozen and thawed as desired.
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Harvest Muffins
From The New York Times

1 1/8 Cups (140 grams) whole-wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 Cup olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1/3 Cup (70 grams) packed dark brown sugar
1 small apple
, grated, and juices reserved (1/2 cup)
1/2 Cup grated carrots (or butternut squash or parsnips)
1/2 Cup grated beets (or zucchini)
1/3 Cup (55 grams) raisins
1/2 Cup (40 grams) unsweetened shredded coconut

A note on the inclusion of grams on the ingredient list above–it is a true a time saver to be able to use the kitchen scale instead of pulling out the different measuring cups and leveling them off.
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Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin tins, either mini or regular. Prepare ingredients:

I ended up using a little more than 1/2 Cup of the carrots and beets.

I ended up using a little more than 1/2 Cup of the carrots and beets.


In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.

To a large bowl, add the grated apple and juices and grated vegetables, eggs, olive oil, honey, and brown sugar.
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Combine.

Lovely!

Lovely!


Using a spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet mixture until just combined. Gently fold in the raisins and coconut.

Fill each muffin cup 3/4 of the way up.

It is hard to tell what is 3/4 of the way filled. These muffins aren't huge risers, so it wasn't a problem.

It is hard to tell what is 3/4 of the way filled. These muffins aren’t huge risers, so it wasn’t a problem.


Bake for about 15 to 18 minutes for mini-muffins and about 20 to 22 minutes for regular muffins.
8 minutes in--we're halfway there!

8 minutes in–we’re halfway there!


When an inserted toothpick comes out clean, the muffins are ready to be enjoyed.
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I know you’re wondering–the answer is yes, the muffins do taste a little like beets. You get the beet flavor when you first take a bite, but then it fades into the straightforward sweet taste you would find in any zucchini, apple, or banana bread. I will be enjoying these now until Thanksgiving!

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.”

Make it quick and make it quality

Last week I let someone else do the meal planning for me. I complained that the recipes were a bit of a hassle, and the dishes didn’t even come out that well. But the result was a balanced plate of food. This week, I challenged myself to plan a satisfying meal that would come together fairly quickly. And I would do the shopping myself.

As you should know this is not my strength: I often end up spending more than an hour, somehow, bringing together a single dish. Yet the April issue of Cooking Light was jam-packed with recipes for 80 meals under 40 minutes, and I was inspired (not so inspired that I could resist substituting in a recipe that I know would add to my clock time…but at least I acknowledge my silly ways). The meal was assembled in one hour, with only a little grilling help from my husband. So here it is! Protein (yes, fish again), vegetable and starch.

Grilled Sea Bass with Tarragon Beurre Blanc
Raw Shaved Asparagus With Lemon Dressing
Rosemary-Garlic Roasted Potatoes

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Game plan: Prepare the potatoes and garlic; preheat the oven. If you’re going to use this ambitious asparagus recipe (simpler alternative from CL: Asparagus with Lemon and Pecorino), start shaving the stalks and do about half before you put the potatoes in the oven. Finish shaving the asparagus, then preheat the grill/grill pan for the fish. Make the sauce while grilling the fish.
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Raw Shaved Asparagus With Lemon Dressing
Adapted from Jonathan Waxman’s recipe in his cookbook Italian, My Way
DSC_4533Check out my signed copy! ———->
Serves: 4 to 6

¼ cup hazelnuts, toasted and crushed
1-1 1/2 pound asparagus, ideally from a local farm
Juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, grated

Directions
Toast the hazelnuts on a baking sheet for 5–8 minutes in a preheated 350° oven; cool and then crush in a towel using a rolling pin (which helps remove the skins).

Wash and snap the asparagus spears at their base, setting bases aside for another use. Upend a small bowl, place a spear on the flat bottom and, using a vegetable peeler, gently shave long thin slices.
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Eventually, I discovered that it was easier to do my first shaves with the asparagus pressed flat against the cutting board. Once it got thinned, I moved to the bowl. Be patient and forgive yourself if you can’t get all long, perfectly thick slices.

In a separate bowl, mix the lemon juice with the olive oil and add sea salt and black pepper. When the rest of the meal is ready, toss the dressing with the hazelnuts and asparagus. Serve with Parmesan sprinkled around.

Rosemary-Garlic Roasted Potatoes
Adapted from Cooking Light
Serves: 2

several large garlic cloves
1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

14 ounces baby potatoes
1-2 small thyme sprigs
2 rosemary sprigs
1/4 teaspoon kosher or ground sea salt, divided (or to taste)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
1 tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped, if you have it

Directions
Preheat oven to 450°. If the potatoes are larger than fingerling potatoes, cut in halves or quarters. Smaller potatoes can be kept whole, but medium sized ones benefit from more surface area for crisping!

Place unpeeled garlic cloves, olive oil, potatoes, thyme sprigs, and rosemary sprigs in a large bowl; toss to coat. Arrange potato mixture on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper. Bake at 425-450° for 25 minutes, stirring halfway and then checking for doneness toward the end of cooking time. Squeeze roasted garlic cloves out of their skin and return to potato mixture. Sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt and parsley.
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Grilled Sea Bass with Tarragon Beurre Blanc
Adapted from Cooking Light again
Serves: 2

Sauce:
1/3 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons shallots, chopped
1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 large tarragon sprig
1.5 tablespoons butter
, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon fresh tarragon, chopped

Fish:
2 (6-ounce) meaty white fish fillets, without skin — The recipe suggested halibut, but my grocery store didn’t have it. It also said cod or tilapia could be substituted (and would save money), but I couldn’t imagine how those would stand up so well to grilling, which I had my mind set on. The meatiest looking fish they had was the sea bass.
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cooking spray

Combine first 4 ingredients in a small heavy saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Cook until liquid is reduced to 2 tablespoons. Remove from heat; strain through a fine sieve over a measuring cup, pressing mixture with the back of a spoon or spatula to release liquid.
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Discard solids. Return liquid to pan. Add butter, 1 piece at a time, stirring with a whisk until butter is incorporated. Stir in tarragon.

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Even at $19.95 a pound, I ended with a piece with a bunch of bones. Grrr.

Sprinkle fish evenly with salt and ground pepper. Heat a large grill pan over medium-high heat. Note: grill pans are great, but ours can be a beast to clean up. That’s why I like about the outdoor grill. It either doesn’t need cleaning…or maybe the grill fairy takes care of it?

Coat pan with cooking spray. Add fish to pan; cook 5 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Serve with sauce.

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There it is–the makings of a great meal!
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