Friday, December 30, 2011

Mashed Celeriac and Potatoes

Meet the celeriac root, the Charlie Brown tree of winter root vegetables.  He has a gnarly body and is covered in brown splotches.  Given his burly demeanor, it only seems fitting I refer to him as a male.  He's also a bit hairy, so that about seals the deal.  Always one to root for the underdog, I picked him up out of curiosity.  Celeriac is not actually the root of celery as one might think, but a close relative.  I learned this when I first inquired about celeriac from a grower at a farmers' market.  It's here I learn the tricks for working the unrecognizable, foreign, and sometimes scary into my meals.  I appreciate the encouragement and can-do-it- attitude that's exchanged with the passing over of a vegetable.  So, on this particular day when having an exchange over celeriac root, I gratefully accepted the tip to mash it with potatoes.  There's a first time for everything. Later that day, I found myself armed with my vegetable peeler, having flashbacks to this day.  It proved to be fairly effortless, as Mr. Celeriac was much more compliant than the cushaw squash.  Once I sliced him open, an ivory flesh appeared.  It reminded me of a potato, so it made sense to combine the two together.  

Celeriac tastes like a milder version of celery, almost nutty in flavor.  It's all the creamy goodness of mashed potatoes with a surprise flavor lingering at the end.  It's as if your mashed potatoes traveled abroad and returned with a French accent, an air of sophistication, and somehow became impeccably chic.  If mashed potatoes could wear a beret, these would be the ones to do it.  Oooh la la.  I used a hand masher because I prefer a more rustic consistency.  And please, don't leave out the shallot.  I beg you.  It's a little extra step that's worth the effort.  Merci beaucoup.  Have a Happy New Year friends.  Enjoy the night.  I'll meet you back here in the New Year with a healthy new recipe to kick it off.

~Mashed Celeriac and Potatoes Recipe~

1 celeriac root, peeled and cut into 2" cubes
2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2" cubes
1/4 cup milk
1 tbsp butter
3 scallions, chopped
sea salt and pepper
1 shallot sliced
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Add celeriac root and potatoes to a large pot of water.  Bring to a boil.  While you are waiting, fry the shallot over medium  heat in olive oil until crispy.  It will take just a few minutes.   Cook celeriac and potatoes approximately 20 minutes, until both  are fork tender.  Drain.  Return to pot.  Add in milk, butter, and scallions.  Mash with a hand held masher.  Use your eye.  Based on how large your celeriac and potatoes happen to be, you may need more or less milk depending.  Also, this recipe could easily be adapted to a vegan version.  Just substitute vegetable stock for milk and olive oil for butter.  Once mashed, transfer to a serving bowl.  Top with crispy shallots.  Serves 2 generously, as a side.  

Monday, December 26, 2011

Roasted Rainbow Carrots

Hello friends.  Welcome back.  I hope Santa was good to you.  I've been perpetually full for days now.  I'm sure you can relate.  Have you had enough chocolate and cookies for now?  I thought so.  Let's move onto something healthier, shall we? I'm really excited about these beautiful carrots at the moment.  After picking up a bunch at a winter farmers' market, I've had what could only be described as a carrot epiphany, a carrot ah-ha moment, if you will.  I tossed a bunch in some good olive oil and roasted them off one night for dinner.  I was heavily rewarded for such minimal effort.  I felt so sneaky.  They are easily the best tasting carrots I've ever had.  Ever.  That's no exaggeration.  If I had a blue ribbon, I would have pinned them down and made it official, complete with an award ceremony and photos to share with you.  I feel as though I've been spoiled, and will never again eat a whittled down bagged baby carrot with any sense of enjoyment.  I now know there is something better out there.  These carrots are my new gold standard.  The bar has been raised.  

I drove thirty minutes to pick up another bundle the following week, and truth be told, would have driven much further.  They are a gorgeous lot.  The yellow are thick and hearty, but yield the sweetest flavor.  The white and purple, slender and lady like, taste clean and earthy. 

I peeled and cut them in no particular order.  I cut them lengthwise, in half, into thick slices resembling fries.  It didn't matter to me whether or not their shapes were perfect and uniform.  They were so beautiful in fact that I didn't want to discard the shavings.  I sliced up an onion and promptly roasted up another batch.  The onions started to wilt, turning brown and crispy around the edges.  The carrots were transforming in the heat, the purple ones curling up at the ends. With a turning from my spatula, a purple hue bled across the pan, staining everything in its path.  I couldn't help but peer through the oven window in anticipation.  It was worth the drive and worth the wait.  I ate these sweeties right off the pan, scraping up the blackened crispy slivers of onions, leaving not a trace behind.  They are better than candy.  I never lie.

~Roasted Rainbow Carrot Recipe~

large bunch of carrots (6-7 of various varieties)
1 large onion sliced thinly
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Peel and slice carrots into pieces resembling thick fries.  Place the carrots and onions onto a large baking sheet.  Drizzle oil over the top and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper.  Using your hands, combine and coat the carrots with the oil.  Roast in the oven for one hour.  Turn halfway through the cooking process.  Serves 4 as a side.

~To get your hands on Michael's carrots from Winter Moon Roots of Hadley, MA, stop by the Somerville Winter Market at the Armory on Saturdays, or head to the Wayland Winter Market at the Russel Garden Center starting in January.~

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tamari Roasted Seeds

Christmas is just three days away, and in the spirit of giving, I have a gift for all of you.  It's a recipe for what could quite possibly be THE most addictive snack I make, not to mention one of the easiest.  I apologize for keeping it from you for so long.  Sunflower and pumpkin seeds are tossed with tamari and roasted in the oven, resulting in a salty, tangy, nutty and crunchy snack I adore.  I almost always have these three ingredients in my kitchen and it's a snap to whip them up.  They're ideal for soup and salad toppings, and could easily brighten up any number of dishes.  I often top rice, quinoa, and stir-fry plates with these guys.  Store them in a glass jar and I'm positive you'll find endless ways of incorporating them into meals, but only if you can stop yourself from gobbling them all up first.  Decorated simply in a glass jar, they also make a great last minute gift for a foodie friend or hostess.  Later tonight I'll start my wrapping.  These seeds, and a glass of wine, will be by my side.  Wrap, snack, sip, repeat.  Wrap, snack, sip, repeat.  I'm sensing a pattern.  Happy Holidays my greenthyme readers.  Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season filled with family, friends, food, and laughter. 

~Tamari Roasted Seeds Recipe~

1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup pumpkin seeds
2 tbsp tamari

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  In a small bowl, mix sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds with tamari until well combined.  Spread in a single layer onto parchment paper.  Bake for 20 minutes, at which point the tamari will have just about evaporated.  I ear on the side of caution and toss them every 5 minutes or so.  Remove from the oven, and transfer seeds to a plate so they do not continue roasting.  Let cool and store in an airtight container.  They will keep for about two weeks (although they never last that long around here).  

Monday, December 19, 2011

Watermelon Radish Salad

I've managed to find a little slice of summer amid the chilliest of December days.  Have you ever seen a watermelon radish?  The exterior doesn't look all that enticing.  It's a pale shade of muted green and could easily be overlooked as a ho-hum turnip.  The magic of this little wonder however, lies on the inside.  Once you slice into this radish, a smashing and vibrant magenta appears, radiating from the inside out, resembling...well, a watermelon.  It's an ugly duckling turned beautiful swan situation, kind of like the summer you got your braces off and figured out how to tame your wild frizzy mane with hair products...or was that just me?

I scored this ugly-duckling-turned swan at a winter farmer's market, the only thing that will detangle me from my oversized blankets early Saturday morning.  While it does involve stepping out into the icy cold weather (nineteen degrees yesterday!), I'm just a hop, skip, and a jump away from blasting my heated car seats, which I'm not ashamed to say, will remain on notch five until April.  I pay no attention to the red splotches that have formed on my lower back en route to the market.  To those who ride their bikes there, you are braver than I.  The market, although indoor, is reminiscent of my summer farmers' market trips, and for a moment, I forget we are in the throes of the cruelest season.  I grab a cup of kombucha, listen to the echoes of a guitar playing overhead, and start perusing the goods.  If the smell of fresh baked bread doesn't warm you from the inside out, I don't know what will.  The thrill of the unexpected find at a farmers' market is a feeling that can't be rivaled by a weekly trip to the supermarket.  There was a great article in yesterday's Boston Globe and another in this month's Edible Boston about the surge of these winter markets, both with local listings if you happen to live in the area.  And even if you don't live in the area, they are popping up in cities across the country.

I chose to create a simple crunchy salad with my watermelon radish.  Despite its appearance, it's not fruity and sweet like it should seem to be.  It is a radish after all, with a lingering peppery kick.  Judging by the table at Winter Moon Farm, there is certainly a fan base following.  Like most of my recipes, I wanted to keep it basic and chose to pair the watermelon radish with a cucumber, the cool guy that would mellow out the radish.  I tossed in a few thinly sliced shallots with olive oil and lemon juice, and there you have it.   Watermelon radishes have such a distinct flavor and taste; I wanted to let them do their own thing.  A little of this goes a long way.  It's great as a starter, served with crackers and cheese or hummus.  It's also great served on top of a buttered crusty baguette.  A goat cheese baguette works too.  If you come across a watermelon radish, I hope you'll give them a chance, and keep this recipe on file for when you do.  In any case, enjoy the photos.  This one is a beauty.  Isn't nature clever? 

~Watermelon Radish Salad Recipe~

1 watermelon radish
1/2 large European cucumber, sliced
1 large shallot, sliced
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
few grinds from a pepper mill
sprinkle of sea salt

Cut off the top and bottom of the radish.  If you have a mandolin, use it to make thin slices.  From there, you can cut the slices into wedges.  Otherwise, use a knife to thinly slice it. Combine watermelon radish, cucumber, and shallot in a bowl and drizzle with a mixture of lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper.   Serves 4-6.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Raw Cashew Cheese

I recently found a café north of Boston specializing in raw, vegan cuisine.  There's really nothing else like it around these parts.  It makes me swoon.  I suppose if you live in California, places like these are a dime a dozen.  I've never been to the West Coast, but I envision cafés of this sort filled with sun kissed faces, basking in the land of eternal sunshine.  I also picture people rollerblading up and down boardwalks.  Do people even roller blade anymore?  Probably not since spandex and the Discman went hand in hand.  For obvious reasons, we are better off without the two.   It appears my only frame of reference for my trite perception of California is a few teen movies I'll withhold the names of.  If you live in California, set me straight or send along some restaurant recommendations for my someday trip, because on a more serious note, Yosemite National Park looks breathtaking, and the thought of sipping wine in Sonoma Valley is mighty alluring.  Before sitting down to write this, I blasted the heat and peered outside at a looming gray sky, foreshadowing the rain that will likely follow.  You can see how this might be appealing.  

I have a friend who keeps what she calls 'magical itineraries', printouts and clippings stashed away in folders for trips she dreams of taking.  My approach is a bit less systematic and involves googling last minute airfare to remote islands I've just witnessed on the travel channel.  Surely, this is nonsense.  There are things like vacation time to consider, obligations, ever-dwindling funds; but always a dreamer, I get swept up and carried away.  My husband, (who I will now refer to as Donny from here on out, because we've gotten to know each other and you should be on a first name basis with him too), intentionally avoids the travel channel for this very reason.  Nevertheless, I'm going to get another trip jar going and see where it takes me someday.  But in the meantime, I'm here to tell you about something else I've gotten carried away with; cashew cheese.

The café I mentioned is where I first encountered cashew cheese.  I religiously order a bagel smeared with it each time I visit.  It's light and creamy, without the heavy, dense feeling dairy cream cheese has.  I've been using nuts to make milk, and recently used cashews to make a dairy free cheesecake.  The idea of making cheese with cashews seemed to follow suit with my endeavors as of late.  I've gone nutty.  Join me.  I made a handful of batches recently; the first for the purpose of recreating those bagels, then to make a gorgeous appetizer for no apparent reason.  With no party to go to, no gathering of any kind, I had the plate all to myself.  And for the record, whisper thin slices of raw beets topped with cashew cheese and a sprinkle of thyme is heavenly.  Finally, I made eggplant, stacking baked layers with cashew cheese and covering them in a cascade of tomato sauce.  I hope you'll give this new cashew cheese thing a whirl.  Pun intended.  Now excuse me while I attempt to shake California Girls out of my head and dig the loose change out of my couch to start that trip jar.

~Raw Cashew Cheese Recipe~
Adapted from Real Food Daily via Chocolate and Zucchini

1 1/2 cups raw cashews (be sure they are unsalted and not roasted)
1/4 cup vegetable stock/broth
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp chopped onion
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
3-4 grinds from pepper mill

Soak cashew overnight in enough water to ensure they are covered.  Drain soaked nuts and rinse in fresh water in the morning.  Add cashews to the food processor first, letting it go for a few minutes to really break them down.  Add vegetable stock, olive oil, and lemon juice.  Give it another whirl, scraping down the sides if necessary.  Add chopped onion, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, sea salt, and pepper.  Give one last whirl until all the ingredients are combined.  It should resemble the texture of ricotta cheese.  Transfer to your fridge for a few hours so the flavors have a chance to come together.  I like this best served cold.  Use some of the ideas above as inspiration, or serve it on top of veggie burgers, in wraps and sandwiches, or with crackers or crudités.  Serves 4.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Magical Bean Soup

I hoped to test out holiday cookie recipes, intending to share a healthier version or two.  I envisioned cranberry pistachio biscotti perhaps, coconut snowflakes, gingerbread men lined in a row. But suddenly, December started flying by.  As I glanced at the date on the calendar, I thought, could that be right?  Are we less than two weeks away from Christmas?  My decorations were still sitting in boxes in our basement and we had yet to bring home a tree. Our windowsills were bare, without the usual glow illuminating from the candlestick lights in each window.  I began to feel a pang of jealousy at the beautifully decorated houses I passed each night driving home from work.  Not a single Christmas present bought, not a card mailed, nor a stocking hung by the chimney with care.  How did this happen?  I am by no means a procrastinator.  am the girl who prided herself on completing her fourth grade science fair project the same day it was assigned, puffy painted poster and all.  Sadly, it was definitely not beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here.  I was lacking a sense of Christmas urgency. I hadn't felt it, really felt it yet.

Then something wonderful happened, a small gesture that kicked off a Christmas domino effect.  My mother dropped off a beautiful handmade floral arrangement on my front steps.  I promptly began blasting Christmas carols and set out to find a perfect tree; not too big, not too small, and hopefully not requiring tree trunk mutilation.  Snow globes made their way to end tables and pinecones garnished the mantle. Red and green sprinkled the house like fairy dust.  With a pine needle woodsy aroma enveloping our living room later that day, I couldn't help but smile as I unwrapped my favorite childhood ornament; a ceramic ballerina dressed in a silver tutu.  

The real magic happened the following day as my mother and I sat inside the Boston Opera House, watching the real Nutcracker unfold.  Little girls in velvet and satin dresses held their mothers hands waiting in anticipation for the show to start.  I've wanted to see it since I was a little girl myself.  Sparkle, glitter, snow, elaborate costumes, and an endless barrage of was magical.  There is nothing quite like watching a story unfold before a live orchestra.  I felt a bit transformed by the overdose of Christmas cheer.  In my mesmerized state of mind, I sat in my seat giving second thought to my dreams of one day becoming a real ballerina.  I should mention my ballet "career" was short lived and never extended beyond fifth grade.  While I do regret quitting before ever tying on Pointe shoes, I reminded myself that a.) I am just shy of six feet tall, b.) there are men in tights with more beautiful legs than me, and c.) I have stage fright.  A girl can dream.  My mother leaned over as the curtain fell and said, "I think you enjoyed this more at 29 than you would have at 7."  She was right.  She always is.  I walked through the door of my house later that night to a brightly lit Christmas tree and my new nutcracker ornament found its place next to the ballerina.  I finally felt that feeling I was missing.  I caught the Christmas bug.  I knew it would happen.

While I've yet to turn out a single batch of cookies, I have been turning out batches of this bean soup I thought I'd share.  I've gushed over the Nutcracker and left little time for a proper description of it, so bear with me, assuming you're still with me.  I've made consecutive batches of it over the past few weeks and have yet to tire of it.  Its straightforward and unpretentious, but feels healing and nourishing.  It's chock full of a variety of beans, edamame, and tempeh, and simmered in a vegetable tomato broth.  It's warm, hearty, and in my Nutcracker delirium, I'll go off on the deep end and say it's magical.  'Tis the season.

~Magical Bean Soup~

1 cup dried sixteen-mix beans, cooked * (this will yield 2 1/2 cups cooked)
1 cup frozen edamame beans
4 oz. crumbled tempeh
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme
1/2 tsp dried oregano
6 cups vegetable stock
14.5 oz can or jarred diced tomatoes in their juices
sea salt and pepper to taste

Cook beans if you have not already done so.  See directions below.*

In a large pot, add olive oil over medium heat.  Saute garlic, onion, celery, carrot, oregano and thyme for about five minutes, stirring often, until vegetables start to soften.  Add in vegetable stock and diced tomatoes in their juices and cook for a few minutes more.  Add beans and edamame.  Bring just up to a bubble and then reduce heat, simmering for 15-20 minutes.  Crumble in tempeh with your fingers.  Season with sea salt and pepper to your liking.  Serves 6-8.

*Rinse and sort through your beans.  Soak overnight covered in water.  In the morning, drain beans and place in a large saucepan and cover with water.  I add in a small piece of kombu (dried seaweed), to help tenderize the beans.  Bring the beans to a boil (skim off the foam that immediately forms) and simmer until the beans are cooked through and tender.  The process will typically take anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours, even longer.  With the sixteen bean mix, the process takes me about two hours.  Remove from heat, strain, and discard kombu.  I typically cook big batches of beans ahead of time to make soups like this one.  You can keep the beans refrigerated or freeze them in bags too.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Winter Fruit Salad

I wouldn't mind enlisting a shovel for this one.  I can't get enough of it.  A clash between the exotic and everyday, it's an unexpected and interesting take on a summer favorite.  This salad is my attempt at utilizing the last of the season's fruit as we transition from autumn into winter.  After all, strawberries and watermelon just don't seem fitting this time of year.  And there's good reason for that.  A few years ago, I made a conscious decision to start eating seasonally whenever possible.  There's something very Zen about nourishing your body throughout the year.  There's a reason we eat blueberries in the summer and root vegetables in the winter.  Mother nature knows best.  Eating this way keeps me in sync; and eating this salad, keeps me happy.

This stunning festive winter salad is a heartier sort, with crunchy textures and sweet flavors.  It includes a honey crisp apple and yellow shinseiki pear, an Asian variety, that yields a very crisp and mildly sweet bite.  I highly recommend them if you see them in your travels.  The beautiful super fruit of the moment, the pomegranate, although not local, is my exotic ingredient.  The fruit is tossed with plump currants and pecans, a handful of fresh parsley, and light splash of balsamic-honey dressing.  I'm filing it under my breakfast category, but that's not to say it wouldn't make an interesting dessert as well.

The fun, or the challenge, depending on your viewpoint, is extracting the seeds from a pomegranate.  If you accomplish this without your kitchen looking like a crime scene, I'll be impressed.  Mess aside; I've grown to love pomegranates, having first encountered them on a trip in Turkey, where clumps of this softball sized fruit grew plentifully on small trees the size of shrubs.  Reveled for its beauty and recognized as a fertility symbol, I learned of its lengthy history from our tour guide.  She was a glamorous woman about my own age, with dark skin and beautiful shiny hair.  Ironically, she commented on how exotic I looked.  As a pale girl with blue eyes and freckled skin, it was the first time anyone had ever mentioned the word exotic in my presence.  Me, exotic, in Turkey.  I was flattered.  Truth be told, I'm more of the plain, vanilla, apple variety.

Pomegranates make me think of this memory and the days I spent there.  To this day, when I spot those plump beauties glistening in the store, they certainly do strike me as an exotic species sitting next to a bin of apples.  I pulled out my album and reminisced, thumbing through photos of ancient ruins, stunning backdrops of red poppy flowers, and flying storks.  Food will do that to me.  Fond memories triggered of my best friend and I in Ephesus, taking in spectacular views with our mothers.  I enjoyed a few bowls of this fruit salad with a cup of tea, nestled someone between ordinary and exotic.

~Winter Fruit Salad Recipe~

1 pomegranate, seeds extracted
1 large apple, chopped
1 large pear, chopped
3/4 cup pecans
1/3 cup currants
handful fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

For the dressing:
2 tsp honey
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar

In a large bowl, combine pomegranate seeds, chopped apple, pear, currants, pecans, and parsley.  In a small bowl, whisk together honey, lemon juice, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar to create the dressing.  Pour the dressing over the fruit salad and toss until well combined.  Serve immediately.  You can make it up to a few hours ahead of time, but no more than that.  It's best fresh.  Serves 6.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Bark

Tomorrow, I will turn 29 years old.  I am officially entering the last year of my twenties (sigh).  My father is reading this at his desk this morning wondering where the time went.  It wasn't all that long ago we danced together in the living room to Elton John's Tiny Dancer.  I would stand on top of his feet in my slippers, moving whichever way his feet shifted to the music.  It wasn't a serious dance, but a playful one.  The kind of dance where we belted out lyrics and stumbled around furniture.  I called my father at work on my tenth birthday, declaring I would never again be a single digit.  It would be double digits from here on out, until of course, I reached one hundred.  If only we could be so lucky.  This past year, my father walked me down the aisle, my slippers having been replaced with white satin heels, each adorned with three tiny buttons from my grandmother's wedding dress.  This time, to the sounds of a harp.  Twenty-eight was pretty remarkable.

In honor of twenty eight's closure, and twenty-nine's arrival; I decided to make something special just for me.  Only one thing would do.  Chocolate.  I used to have quite an attachment to Ritter Sport, the square bar made of milk chocolate garishly enveloping plump hazelnuts.  I tried it for the first time in Germany and it became my daily snack during a summer trip in college.  Yes, I said snack.  In fact, it was even washed down with a few beers on occasion.  Classy.  When I realized I could find this candy bar back home, it turned into a full-blown obsession.  I found myself driving out of my way to the few specialty stores that carried it, stocking up my emergency stash like a squirrel on the brink of winter.  I hid it in my nightstand drawer, which was odd.  No one was searching for it.  Chocolate paranoia.  I get this from my grandmother.  She stores boxes of truffles under her bed.  Ironically, no one is looking for her chocolate either.

I'd like to think my diet has changed for the better since my teenage years.  And while I no longer make a meal out of chocolate and beer, I'll still be indulging in a healthier...make that classier, version.  Dark chocolate.  Red wine perhaps.  It's so 29.  I'm just oozing with sophistication.  I've developed a deep love, or might I say passion, for dark chocolate.  If you are a milk chocolate person, give dark chocolate a try.  Its potent antioxidants are an added bonus, as is the euphoria that ensues.  I believe it's referred to as 'mood enhancing.'  I refer to it as 'necessary.'  

A no-bake dark chocolate bark studded with whole hazelnuts that comes together in a matter of minutes.  It takes only three ingredients, and clean up is a breeze.  Perfect.  Nobody wants to spend a birthday in the kitchen.  I'd like to think my eighteen-year-old self would also approve of this concoction.  I think it goes without saying that you could take this in any direction you choose.  Pick your favorite nuts, dried fruit, ginger, or orange zest.  Design it any way you like, but don't forget the sea salt.  Let it cool in the fridge and then break it apart.  It's that easy.  Don't worry about how your pieces break.  It's meant to look rustic and homemade.  You can't mess it up.  I suspect twenty-nine will be just as sweet as twenty-eight.  Who knows what's in store for this next year, but in the meantime, I'll be engrossed in dark chocolate bark, trying not to over think it.  Here's to twenty-nine.  

~Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Bark~
Adapted from Whole Living, November

2 (3.5 oz) 70% dark chocolate bars, broken apart or chopped
1/2 cup hazelnuts, whole or roughly chopped
sprinkle of coarse sea salt

Line a baking sheet pan with parchment paper.  Melt chocolate in a double-boiler, or as I did with a bowl placed over a pan of boiling water.  Pour the melted chocolate onto the sheet pan.  Use a spatula to spread into a thin, rectangular shape.  Sprinkle with hazelnuts and sea salt.  Place the sheet in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or until it has hardened.  Use your hands to break the bark into rough pieces, any size you like.  These would make a nice hostess or holiday gift.  Bag a few pieces of bark and tie them off with bows. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Rummaging for Recipes

We took a drive up to Maine on Saturday for a change of scenery.  Snacks were packed, windows rolled down, with a quiet Yager snoozing in the backseat.  I needed to breathe in some fresh ocean air.  We walked along the rocky beach at high tide before deciding on lunch at my favorite diner.  I happily devoured breakfast for lunch; two poached eggs sitting on top of a bed of spinach with a side of home fries.  It was a good day.  We popped into a few antique stores along old route one and lost track of time, wandering among the aisles and rummaging through stacks of books.  I'm no stranger to this activity.  

As a kid I went to more yard sales and antique stores than any child should have to endure.  My mother and grandmother were forever on the lookout for Depression glass, the translucent pieces bought inexpensively during the Great Depression.  We were searching for that one particular piece they needed to complete a set; a pale pink opaque cake plate perhaps, or a green bowl with scalloped edges.  I can picture my grandmother's present collection in the tall hutch in her dining room.  It's grouped together like a museum exhibit; pinks, yellows, and greens, sitting underneath the lights.  I can't remember a time it was ever used.  Much of what she has is from her own mothers' collection.  It's one of her most prized possessions.  More than just aesthetic glasses and bowls, her collection represents something deeper; the ability to overcome, prevail, and to recover. 

I'm always fascinated each time I step foot into an antique shop.  I equate it to being transported to a scene in an old black and white movie.  I find the clothing and hats irresistible, wondering what it was like when people got dressed, really dressed, before stepping outside.  I love the collections of jars, bottles, milk jugs, and vintage spice tins.  I love to see how products were marketed, taking in their colorful worn labels and 'modern' promises.  It's no surprise that I'm drawn to cookbooks, collections sitting in a cloud of dust.  Some of the cookbooks I found dated back as early as the 40's and 50's.  I especially love the ones that combine cooking, cleaning, and housewifery.  Housewifery.  Imagine that.  I decided on Marye Dahnke's Salad Book from 1954, which cost me a whopping $1.65.  Considering it went for 35 cents at the time of it's publication, it's not such a bad markup.  

I told my husband I was planning on choosing a recipe from this book to make for the blog, a fun throwback of sorts.  I began reading it as we drove back home.  It's absolutely hysterical.  Not only could I not find a single salad recipe that didn't involve flavored gelatin or mayonnaise, the combinations are enough to make your stomach turn.  Each recipe was more gruesome than the next.  It made for an entertaining ride home.  Allow me to give you a little taste.  There's the 'Hostess Salad,' a lemon gelatin mold, complete with hard-boiled eggs, stuffed olives, and mayonnaise.  Tempting, I know.  For the more health conscious, there's the 'Slenderella Salad Dressing," made with Worcestershire sauce and corn syrup.  Last but not least, the 'Cinnamon Apple Salad,' which requires melting down cinnamon candies with sugar before adding cream cheese and apples.  However, all is not lost.  There are step-by-step illustrations for making tomato flowers and tomato roses.  This might come in handy some day.  So, sorry Marye, I'm sure you were a lovely woman, but I won't be making one of your distinctive and delicious salads.  I understand you had more than thirty years of experience as a home economist, but I don't do gelatin.  I think you'll be happy I passed.

I did however, call my grandmother; first to ask her if she consumed copious amounts of gelatin molds and secondly, to give her a good laugh.  While she does remember lots of gelatin showing up at parties and get togethers, she also remembers dishes made from scratch; pie crusts, crumbles, and casseroles.  There were no pre-made packages and she was lucky enough to buy the few ingredients she needed for a recipe, most of which she clipped from the Boston Sunday Globe and Ladies Home Journal.  In those days, you got a recipe from a friend, a neighbor, or from the spiral bound cookbook the church put out.  Times were tough and families were looking for ways to stretch their money and their meals.  Yes, gelatin was used, and canned fruit was a treat, but people made do with what they had.  We spoke about her Depression glass collection, her mother having received the pieces in her cereal boxes and for purchasing a ten-cent ticket at the local cinema.  She talked about her favorite piece, her mother's amber pitcher with a bright blue handle.  Mostly, we reminisced, and for that I was grateful.  We laughed about the flop of a salad book, and she promised to dig out some old recipes for me; gelatin-free.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Harvest Salad

It's 6 am as I write this.  Thanksgiving morning.  It will be the first time my husband and I are hosting.  My mother and I have done more cooking over the past few days than I ever thought possible, and we've honestly enjoyed every minute of it. We shopped for special ingredients, laughed at a few cooking mishaps, and could barely contain our excitement following this creation.  I wish I could tell you I took photographs of all the dishes we'll be including on our menu, but it down poured all day yesterday, and the truth is, I'm just not that savvy.  I am however, including this picture of my table all set, just as dawn starts to break.  I'm sitting here with my cup of tea, writing in this quiet moment, proudly admiring the hard work I've put in.  I have a huge pot of butternut squash soup resting in my crock-pot.  My fancy stemware that never sees the light of day is sitting on the dining room table, and I've somehow managed to fill two refrigerators full of food.  Our entire menu is organic, a feat that makes me almost as proud as my contribution to this.  Many of the vegetables I'll be serving, including turnips and parsnips, are from local farms in Massachusetts.  What could be better than sharing good food with the people you love?  And for all of you, I'm sharing a recipe today I've aptly named 'harvest salad.'

It's become a favorite of mine.  I took a chance at combining some odd pairings from what I had in my fridge and pantry one afternoon last week.  As it turned out, my kitchen was bursting with some pretty interesting fall flavors: leftover butternut squash, kale, dried cranberries, pistachios, feta, and diced red onions.  This salad is a beauty to take in and tastes as appealing as it looks.  Part of its charm, aside from its vibrant color palette, is the sweet and salty duo; sweet butternut squash and cranberries contrast beautifully with salty bites of feta and pistachios.  When I create salad recipes, I always think about color appeal and variety of textures.  This harvest salad meets both criteria.  The base of it is a grain mix I recently came across that included a combination of red and gold quinoa, wild and brown rice, and amaranth.  I would imagine you could use any grain you like, although I seem to be partial to quinoa these days.  It comes together with a simple olive oil and red wine vinegar dressing.  

I should warn you, this salad takes a little of love.  And by a little of love, I mean a little time.  Mostly I mean a few pans.  Maybe after all the dishes Thanksgiving will entail, it will seem like a breeze.  You could always cook your grain ahead of time to save yourself an extra step.  I've even made it with leftover brown rice from the night before.  This is the type of thing I like to make on a Sunday and eat for lunch all week long.  Because this salad is served cold, it packs and transports well.  Its very satisfying.  Show yourself a little love and make it sometime after you've recovered from the holiday.  Or, make it to help fuel your Black Friday shopping.  I'll be in the former category.  I still haven't gotten over the year my brother dragged me out of bed at 3 am.  We arrived in our pajamas to buy a TV that was already gone before we stepped in the store.  Happy Thanksgiving my dear readers.

~Harvest Salad Recipe~

3 cups cooked harvest grain blend, quinoa, or grain of choice
2 cups roasted butternut squash
5-6 large kale stalks, stems removed, chopped
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/3 cup roasted pistachios
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/4 cup vegetable stock
2 tbsp finely diced red onion
3 tsp extra virgin olive oil (for roasting)

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp red wine vinegar
sea salt and pepper to taste

After cooking grains, place in a large bowl to cool.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut butternut squash into 3/4"-1" cubes, yielding 2 cups.  Drizzle with a tsp of olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and roast for about 30 minutes.  Remove pistachios from shells.  Drizzle with a tsp of olive oil and roast at the same temperature for about 8 minutes.  Once they are cool enough to handle, give them a good chop.  In a large saute pan, add the final tsp of olive oil and garlic over medium heat.  Cook for about a minute or two, until the garlic becomes fragrant.  Add your chopped kale and let it wilt down for a few seconds.  Pour the vegetable stock into the pan, and let the kale continue to cook until all the liquid is absorbed.  Set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing: olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper.  Once everything has cooled, you can move forward.  To the large bowl of the grains, add kale, pistachios, dried cranberries, and feta cheese.  Pour the dressing over the salad and toss.  Add in the butternut squash last, carefully folding.  Alternatively, you can place the butternut squash on top of the salad.  It's a safer bet.  Serve at room temperature or cold.  Serves 4-6.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Savory Mushroom Bread Pudding Smothered with Portobello Gravy

If you love mushrooms, you will love this recipe.  I promised a more uplifting holiday post after my Halloween rant, and here it is.  I'm smiling as I write this, see?  You'll have to take my word for it.  Perhaps my festive photos below will persuade you of my current Thanksgiving-is-upon-us elation.  This year, I wanted to create something a little out of the ordinary that could double as a main dish for any vegetarians in the crowd, but also function as a side dish for the whole gang.  It could even, dare I say, take the place of stuffing, but I'll leave that up to you.  If an image of revolting family members armed with utensils comes to mind, you might want to make this in addition to your traditional stuffing.  Heck, you could even just call it stuffing, because this new stuffing will be the stuffing everyone wants seconds of.

Bread puddings don't have to be sweet.  They can be savory too.  Remember the blueberry buttermilk bread pudding I made over the summer?  I took a little inspiration from that post and tweaked it with some holiday flavors.  For me, that involves beefy mushrooms, garlic, onions, and thyme.  As soon as these hit the pan and start working together, I'm immediately transported to Thanksgiving bliss.  This savory version is made much the same way as a dessert style bread pudding, but without the soaking time typically involved.  I got my hands on a loaf of day-old rosemary olive oil bread.  If you can find something in that ballpark with herbs or garlic, that should work out just fine, as would a loaf of sourdough or multigrain.  I layered the mushroom mixture over the bread pudding and sprinkled Gruyere down as the final top layer.  A tip on the Gruyere: don't get distracted and start grating up the bright blue 'Switzerland' rind.  This may or may not have happened to me.  

The bread pudding bakes up to a custardy, springy texture, perfect for smothering on gravy.  Portobello's are earthy, flavorful, and work wonders in vegetarian gravy.  Don't be put off by the lumpier texture.  I think it contrasts well with the pudding.  If however, a smoother gravy is more your thing, you might want to forgo this version.  Gravy is personal.  No hard feelings.  However, in using the portobello's, I've managed a lighter version, but still plenty flavorful, with just a smidgen of butter.  There's no rue involved and much of the flavor comes together with vegetable stock and cooked onions.  Cooking the onions longer than you might suspect makes all the difference in this gravy.  You have my word.  This dish, by no means elegant, is indeed decadent and comforting.  It will be making an appearance on my Thanksgiving table this year, most likely sitting next to our traditional stuffing.  I don't want any uprisings either.  Go ahead.  Stuff yourself with stuffing and savory bread pudding.  Transport yourself to Thanksgiving bliss.

~Savory Mushroom Bread Pudding Recipe~

1 lb crusty bread, cubed
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
12 oz container button mushrooms, sliced
1 large Portobello, cut into cubes
4 sprigs fresh thyme leaves
3 cups whole milk
4 eggs
1/4 tsp sea salt
few grinds of pepper
2 cups grated gruyere cheese
butter for greasing pan

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease a 13 x 9 pan with butter.  In a large sauté pan, add onions, mushrooms, and thyme to extra virgin olive oil.  Cook down for about five minutes over medium heat.  Remove and set aside.   Place cubed bread in a large bowl.  In an additional large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, salt and pepper.  Pour this mixture over your bowl of cubed bread, using your hands to submerge the pieces.  Pour the bread and egg mixture into your greased pan, again using your fingers to press the bread into the wet mixture.  Top your bread pudding with the mushrooms and onions and sprinkle with Gruyere cheese.  Place aluminum foil over the pan.  I also inserted a toothpick into the center to prevent the cheese from sticking to the inside of the foil.  Bake for 30 minutes covered.  Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.  Serve with portobello gravy if you're feeling ambitious.  The bread pudding is great on it's own too.  Serves 8.   

~Portobello Gravy Recipe~
1 large onion, diced
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp butter
2 Portobello mushrooms, chopped
3 cups vegetable stock
2 tsp tamari
sea salt and pepper to taste

In a large sauté pan, add onions to olive oil and butter over medium heat.  Cook the onions for 10-12 minutes until they start to caramelize.  Add 1 cup of vegetable stock, releasing and scraping up the brown bits at the bottom of the pan.  Add the portobello's and cook for about 5 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed.  Remove from heat.  In a blender, blend the mushroom mixture with remaining 2 cups of vegetable stock.  Return gravy to your pan.  Add tamari and sea salt and pepper.  Check your seasonings.  At this point, you can also play around with the consistency of your gravy, adding additional vegetable stock if you choose.  Serve over bread pudding.  Makes 3 cups.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hot Apple Cider and Bittersweet Vines

Earlier sunsets aside, November is shaping up to be pretty spectacular in my opinion.  We are in the midst of some unseasonably warm weather, and after October's snowstorm, I'm embracing it with open arms.  I've been spending much of my time outdoors; lazy walks with my dog, hikes through the woods, and a visit to a nearby farm.  Some of these excursions have been taking place in the city I grew up in, which lucky for me is just a short drive down the road.  There's a bike path there that stretches a few miles across neighboring towns.  It was my destination of choice one morning last week when temperatures started climbing.  We passed rows and rows of trees with yellow leaves, laden with brown splotches, barely hanging on.  Many leaves were making their spiral decent through the sunshine.  This one tree in particular caught my eye.

While it's hard to compete with the autumn foliage, there's another contender that stole my heart that morning.  Bittersweet vines.  The trail was sprinkled with them; their vines twisting and climbing upwards, reaching for sunlight, wrapped around fences and fallen limbs.  It's a show few other plants can rival this time of year.  The yellow skins of the berries burst open, exposing a hidden deep orange-red gem.  Never without her gardening clippers for occasions such as this, my mother, who joined me on my walk, collected the delicate vines.  By the end of the walk, we had a beautiful bunch of draping bittersweet vines I plan to hang on my front door.  What could be better than immersing yourself in nature and bringing a little piece of it back home?  I often do the same with seashells at the beach in the summer.

My autumn delight continued with a visit to Brooksby Farm, the place where I bought our very first Christmas tree a few years back.  I spent the afternoon walking the grounds and photographing farm animals basking in the sun.  If you've never seen a pair of pigs ankle deep in mud, feasting on butternut squash, it's safe to say it will warm your heart a little.  Although the weather might be unseasonably warm, it didn't stop us from getting our hot apple cider fix in the farm store, which just so happens to turn out the best apple cider donuts.  Hands down.  It's safe to say I am deeply embracing the autumn season and it's mild weather.  Either that, or I'm on the brinks of an apple cider donut coma, which I'll gladly blame on the hypnotizing deep fried cinnamon smell.  Inspired by my bittersweet vines and trip to the farm, I decided to turn out my own hot apple cider later that day.  

My mother used to make something similar to this recipe when we were growing up.  I can't recall it's exact ingredients, but this is my take on it.  It's spiked with cinnamon sticks, cloves, and orange and lemon slices.  She'd keep a pot of this on the stove around the holidays and serve it to anyone who stopped by; family, friends, neighbors.  It was always served in Irish coffee mugs and garnished with cinnamon sticks.  I've done the same.  If you're hosting Thanksgiving this year, why not welcome guests into your home with a warm mug of this?  And lucky for you, it also doubles as instant kitchen fragrance.  I made another quick batch of these to go along with my cup that afternoon, something else I can't seem to get enough of at the moment.  Get a pot of this going and embrace the season before it comes to a bittersweet close.

~Hot Apple Cider Recipe~

1/2 gallon apple cider
3 orange slices
4 lemon slices
2 cinnamon sticks, plus additional for garnishing
3 cloves 
pinch of nutmeg

Pour apple cider into a large saucepan.  Push cloves into the center of each orange slice.  Add into the pan, along with lemon slices, cinnamon sticks, and nutmeg.  Bring the cider up to medium heat, but do not let it boil.  It will take about 5-6 minutes to get it going.  Reduce heat and let it simmer for at least 30 minutes.  You can also leave the cider on low until you are ready to serve.  Discard the fruit slices.  Ladle into mugs and serve with a cinnamon stick and garnish with extra orange or lemon slices.  Serves 8.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Spinach Tortellini Soup in Lemon Broth

I've yet to mention my job in a previous post, but there's a connection as to why I refer to it today.  Usually work and this blog don't collide, but here we are.  While I'd certainly like nothing more than to delve into free writing and cook food all day long (maybe someday!), I do in fact have a day job working with children.  As anyone who works with children knows, it's pretty impossible to keep yourself germ-free in a world where sleeves are used as tissues.  It's enough to make me want to (lovingly) hose them all down with disinfectant, although I'm pretty sure there are laws against that.  There are many other unsightly details I'll spare you from since this is a food blog after all, and I don't want to ruin your appetite for what I'm about to share.  It came to being last week following a lingering cough I couldn't shake.  I listened to my body, which declared it wanted the following: a thick lemony soup with tortellini and spinach.  

I envisioned it following the succession of a coughing fit on a rainy afternoon.  Since I wasn't feeling myself, I wanted a big pot of comfort I could pull off quickly and easily with serious payoff.  This one delivers.  I got my veggies, garlic, and thyme sautéing in a little oil, added in some great quality stock for slow cooked flavor, and plopped in the tortellini.  That's the beauty of a good stock.  It gives off that aura that you've been cooking all day without breaking a sweat.  From there, I temper the eggs to thicken the soup, a trick I learned while in Greece.  It changes the texture to a creamier and thicker base that elevates this soup a notch in my opinion.  Every spoonful ends with a fresh zesty lemon finish.  Since going vegetarian, I've declared it my new chicken noodle soup.  Comforting, nourishing, and just what my body ordered...along with an oversized down comforter, copious amounts of herbal tea, and TV reruns from the couch.  

~Spinach Tortellini Soup in Lemon Broth Recipe~

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
8 cups vegetable stock
9 oz. fresh good quality tortellini
6 cups fresh baby spinach
2 eggs
juice of 1 lemon
sea salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, add olive oil and adjust the temperature to a medium-high heat.  Add in onion, celery, carrot, garlic, and thyme.  Cook down for about five minutes.  Add in vegetable stock.  Bring to a boil.  Add in fresh tortellini and cook for about two minutes, until they float to the top.  Remove from heat. 

Next, you'll want to temper the eggs.  Tempering is the process of blending ingredients of different temperatures.  We're going to do this with the hot broth and eggs.  Using a ladle, remove a scoop of the broth from the pot and place it in a small bowl.  Let the temperature of the broth come down a little.  In another small bowl, juice your lemon and add in the two eggs, whisking together.  Check the temperature of your reserved broth.  If it's too hot, you will scramble your eggs.  When it's come down to a warm temperature, add in the lemon and eggs, whisking continuously to combine. 

Once the broth, lemon and eggs are incorporated, add into the pot of soup.  You'll see it transform into a thick and cloudy broth.  Stir continuously to incorporate it together.  Add in the spinach, allowing it to barely wilt down.  Check your seasonings and add sea salt and pepper to your liking.  Serves 6.

Update: my cough is finally gone and so is the soup.