Monday, December 26, 2011

More Than Soup

The Tuesday after the holiday of Sukkot, there were no fresh vegetables in the kitchen. Coming off of a week-long vacation, there had been no time to make an order and stock the pantry shelves. Now generally, our daily menu includes a protein, a carbohydrate and a vegetable. Serving a vegetable is a little difficult when you have no fresh vegetables available. Luckily, we have a freezer and that freezer is often stocked with frozen vegetables-peas and carrots and corn and such. We didn't have enough to serve the frozen vegetables as a dish on their own, but we threw the veggies into a big pot and cooked them to death (which is how the head of the kitchen likes them- don't know why, don't ask questions) and then mixed them with potatoes to supplement. So, lunch was a bit carb heavy that day. It could be worse. In fact I find the combination of potatoes, peas and carrots to be quite comforting. It reminds me of my mother.
My mother is a child psychologist and works more than pretty much any other person I know (with the possible exception of my sister who has inherited her workaholic tendencies). She (my mother, that is) has a small office in the back of the house, and many of my memories from childhood involve running from the top floor (family zone), passed the closed doors of her office to the kitchen (family zone) as quickly and as quietly as I could so as not to disturb her patients. But no matter how busy my mother was, no matter how many patients she was seeing that day, she always made dinner. Somehow, she always found time to put something up in between clients, and we always found time to sit down together. Sometimes she made broiled chicken, sometimes, when she had more time, we ate shnitzel, or a lasagna she had thrown together earlier in the day and sometimes, when she was really busy, we used to eat mashed potatoes with peas and carrots. Much like we do in the kitchen, she would boil some potatoes and then throw in some frozen peas and carrots and mash. Only, unlike in the kitchen, she would add a nice pat of butter into the mix and I am convinced that this is what made the dish. It was one of my favorite suppers. During the cold and dark Chicago winters there was nothing quite like a warm bowl of mushy carbohydrate, rich with butter.
My parents have been visiting for the past week and half and it has been lovely. However, that also means that a) I have been a bit MIA (meant to comment on your post, Molly. Sorry!) and b) that I haven't been cooking much. Mostly it has been restaurant, eat with friends, restaurant, friends, etc. It's nice to get a small break from the kitchen. But, one evening, my parents were off doing something with my sister and I had an order to fill, so I found myself alone in my kitchen, hungry, but with not much time to prepare dinner. What I did have was a few small turnips and some really good bread. So I winged it. Earlier that day I had seen a recipe for Turnip Puree on Food52 and was inspired. I didn't really follow checker's recipe, but I did get the idea from her. I diced the turnips, smashed a few cloves of garlic and then just let them hang out over a low flame with some melted butter, salt and pepper. When they were soft, I added a dash of ground mustard and mashed. I ate the mash warm, slathered over good, fresh crusty bread and it was good. Very good. Just as good as potatoes with peas and carrots. The turnips were somehow simultaneously sweet and bitter, nicely offset by the richness of the butter and the tang of mustard. Later my mother stopped by and had a taste. I'm proud to say she liked it too.

Turnip Mash
Inspired by checker's Turnip Puree on Food52

3 smallish turnips, diced
2 cloves garlic, smashed
a pat of butter
salt, pepper
a dash of ground mustard
good, crusty bread

1. Put the pat of butter is a small saucepan over low heat. When melted, add the turnips, garlic and some salt and pepper. Cover the saucepan.
2. Cook, covered, over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the turnips look like they are getting dry, add a bit more butter. This is not likely as turnips release quite a bit of water.
3. When the turnips are soft, add a dash of ground mustard. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Mash roughly with a fork. It's ok if there are bits of whole turnip or garlic. It builds character, as my dad might say.
4. Eat over good bread.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mango Muffins

Mango muffins are done for the year. Keep an eye on the menu. Replacement flavor to come soon,

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Fennel Musings

I love fennel. There I've said it. After years of hating it, I am now overcome with joy at the prospect of fennel season. I walked into the kitchen a few weeks ago, a little late and shaking off the cold and the rain. I was greeted by the mellow smell of steaming fennel and zucchini. I immediately knew it was going to be a good day. Fennel was back. And it was a good day. Nothing extraordinary happened. It was just a good day. There's something about fennel that lends an elegance and warmth to things, so the whole day felt warm and elegant. It felt good to be serving it- like I was at some fancy restaurant, and I could say, "Here, ma'am, you must try the fennel." It made me cheerful.

I didn't find the following recipe at a  fancy restaurant-but I could have. It's the type of recipe that, theoretically one would taste in a restaurant and say- hey, I want to make that- and then adapt for the home kitchen, except in this case the "restaurant" is Food52. Food52 is an awesome website/database of community sourced recipes run by Amanda Hesser and Merril Stubbs. It really has become the first place I look when I am looking for a recipe. singing_baker's recipe for Roasted Fennel and White Bean Dip  on the sight caught my eye a while ago. It's a great elegant party dish. Roasted fennel is pureed with cannelli beans, lightly roasted garlic, lemon and rosemary and then placed in a baking dish, topped with Parmesan and baked until golden and bubbly. It is pure wonderfulness. But sometimes, its Friday, and you're rushing around as you are wont to do, and you realize that a) you have no white beans in the house and b) you don't have time for the last baking step. So this is what you do. You grab a can of chickpeas and throw them in the food processor with some roasted fennel, garlic, rosemary and lemon. You dump the whole mixture in a tupperware, mix in some grated Parmesan, run into the shower, light  Shabbat candles and sprint out of the house. (What? Doesn't everybody have Fridays like that?) Then, you present the dish to your hosts, slightly breathlessly (because you are late), sans white beans and sans bubbly cheese. And it is delicious.

So, first of all, I implore you, check out Food52 and singing-baker's original recipe. Then, when you are rushed, or slightly lazy and want to skip a step, make this.

Roasted Fennel and Bean Dip
Adapted from singing_baker at Food52

Notes: I use canned chickpeas because that's what I usually have on hand. If you have canned, frozen or cooked white beans, please, go ahead and use them. For that matter, if you have frozen or cooked chickpeas you can use those as well.

For the roasted fennel:
1 large, or 2 small bulbs of fennel, cut into 1 inch pieces
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
salt, pepper

For the beans:
3/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chickpeas, or white beans (canned is fine)
1 tablespoon rosemary, chopped
1 tablespoon  freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated.

1. Roast the fennel: Preheat the oven to 400 F. Toss fennel and garlic with olive oil, salt and pepper and spread on a baking sheet. Roast for 30-40 minutes, tossing occasionally. Remove from oven and let cool. Once cool, squeeze the cloves of garlic out of their skins. This step can be done ahead.

2. Heat 1/2 cup of olive oil in a pan. Add the garlic and cook until lightly golden. Add the rosemary and beans and cook one minute more.

3. Combine roasted fennel, bean mixture, lemon juice and remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil. Puree until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and mix in cheese. Serve.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Since the King James Bible

I was caramelizing onions in the kitchen one week when I realized that there was a huge, gaping hole in my blog. There was a salad; a salad that had been bugging me since Passover and I still hadn't figured it out well enough to post about it. What salad, you may ask. THE salad. The Passover salad. The spinach and caramelized onion salad. The "tastes-like-steak/best-thing-done-by-committee-since-the-King-James-Bible" salad. Let me explain. No, there's too much. Let me sum up.
One of the many Passover traditions in my parents house is this-on the last night of Passover, after we've eaten way too many amazingly gluttonous meals, we go light. We eat salad and fish and matzoh brie. (Granted, that's not so light, but relative to what we spend the rest of the week eating, its light). So on the last night of Passover this past year, we shooed my mom out of the kitchen, and we second generation cooks went to work. I busied myself with Jamie Oliver's Trout with Horseradish, Creme fraiche and Potatoes (which is wonderful, let me tell you, but not the subject of this post), while my sister, sister in law, and non-biological kinda sister huddled up to make the salad. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw them caramelizing onions and washing spinach. They toasted some pine nuts and sliced tomatoes. Some sort of vinaigrette was whipped together. We sat down to eat.
"Tastes like steak", my brother said, his mouth full of spinach. My father, a bit more eloquent, deemed it the best thing done by committee since the King James Bible. The salad was, simply put, out of this world. The caramelized onions had sort of melted and sunk into the slightly wilted spinach, lending a sweetness, and yet, at the same time bringing out the rich, iron, meatiness of the greens.  The tomatoes were a bright compliment, as tomatoes would be on a steak sandwich, and the pine nuts gave it all a woodsy tinge. And coating it all was a perfectly paired vinaigrette, highlighting every flavor.
It was excellent, and also, it seems, utterly unreproduceable. For reasons unknown to anybody, nobody wrote down the recipe after the holiday. So, as I embarked on the project of writing about the salad for the blog, I was thwarted by quite a large roadblock. I consulted my sister, my sister in law and non-biological kinda sister. They remembered the ingredients of the salad-spinach, caramelized onions, tomatoes and pine nuts- but not one of them could remember what went into that vinaigrette. The only ingredient identified was balsamic vinegar. Everything else was a blank.
So here is a challenge for you, dear readers and friends. Let's find this vinaigrette. This is what I know about it. It contained balsamic vinegar. When I tried to reproduce the salad in my own I used a simple vinaigrette of balsamic, olive oil, a drop of brown sugar, salt and pepper, but that was not it either. So, maybe no olive oil, or maybe I just got the proportions wrong. Also, because it was Passover, there are a number of things we can rule out- being Ashkenazi Jews, we don't use any soy sauce, mustard or corn oil-so none of those either. Possibly there was honey. Maybe walnut oil was involved. I just don't know. You experiment and I'll experiment and somehow we'll get it. Great food is like great art, you'll know when you see it. Write to me, or even better, leave a comment and let me know what you come up with. The best thing done by a committee since the King James Bible deserves a recipe.

Wilted Spinach Salad with Caramelized Onions, Tomatoes and Pine Nuts (with mystery vinaigrette)

1 bunch of spinach, washed, dried, etc etc
olive oil
salt, pepper
2-3 onions, halved and thinly sliced
A nice, red tomato, sliced
A handful, or so of pine nuts.
mystery vinaigrette

1. Heat a heavy bottomed skillet, or frying pan over medium heat. Put the pine nuts in the hot pan, and toast, shaking the pan occasionally. Keep an eye on them as pine nuts go from nicely toasted to burnt in the blink of an eye. Once brown, remove from pan and set aside.

2. Add a few glugs of olive oil to the pan. When it the oil is warm add the onions and turn the heat down to medium low, or low. Season with salt and pepper, give the onions a good stir and then walk away. Slice the tomatoes. Think about the vinaigrette. Put away your groceries. Have a cup of coffee. Read the newspaper. Make vinaigrette. Have a peak at the onions. Give em a stir. Walk away again. Take a shower. Do some work. Put the spinach in a serving bowl.  Caramelizing onions is an exercise in patience. When the onions are soft and golden and melty,(this may take up to 45 minutes) remove from heat and immediately scatter over the spinach.

3. Place the tomatoes over the spinach and onions and drizzle a bit of vinaigrette over the salad. Taste, adding more vinaigrette as needed. Top with toasted pine nuts.