Saturday, April 12, 2014

Enduring Assurance


      Like the vegetable stock I made with roasted sweet potato skins, onion tops, a clove of smashed garlic, thyme and three prunes the other day, there are times at the stove when frugality reaps revelatory rewards. So many of my discoveries as both a cook and an eater have been because of sheer will -- the determination to create and enjoy something delicious with the ingredients on hand. I suppose it takes being alert, too -- recognizing how flavors and textures work together and having the wherewithal to remember how to recreate it. The potatoes I found tucked in the back of the fridge and the sack of arugula that promised good news called out to me with a memory of a person from ages ago with a long white braid and an astounding work ethic.

      I'm convinced that the only reason I've been ambivalent about potatoes in the past is because they were never prepared in a very delicious way; too often they were waterlogged or too dry or under salted or just b-o-r-i-n-g (and I do subscribe to the idea that only boring people find things boring so this is a statement). Everyone has their own set of tricks up their sleeves and I'm sure that mine sound like a lot of Irish grandmothers but hear me: if you boil potatoes in salted water and toss them in a dressing that has some degree of sour while they are still hot-hot-hot, you will experience enduring assurance that a delicious meal is never far from you.

Hot Potatoes with Arugula and Pepita Pesto
inspired by Tish McKlevey

       Read this: It is essential to boil the potatoes in salted water and even more essential to toss them immediately in the pesto (or any sauce that you use) while they are still hot so that their cells and pores can absorb optimally. Pepitas (pumpkin seeds) are great to eat in the spring (so is arugula) but other nuts are fine substitutions, so long as they're toasted. For the non-vegans: Amy and I folded leftovers into an omelette and had an utter feast.

Ingredients

3/4 c olive oil
1 clove of garlic 
3/4 t sea salt
the juice from one lemon

3 c arugula
1/2 c basil leaves

3/4 t maple syrup
1/2 c toasted pepitas (or almonds or walnuts or pine nuts) 

1/2 c of buttermilk or a few splashes of rice vinegar (very optional but very delicious)

8 whole small-medium potatoes, scrubbed and unpeeled

chives, sorrel or basil for garnish

Process

      Make the pesto first so that you can be sensible about the taste without feeling rushed by the cooking potatoes. 

      In a food processor, combine the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and some salt and mix until pulverized. Add the arugula and basil and spin until there are no big pieces or stems. Add the toasted pepitas and maple syrup and mix until the seeds are well-ground. Now taste -- there should be an explosion of peppery green but with the soothing balance of the sweetness from the maple syrup. Wait to add any more lemon juice until you've folded the pesto into the potatoes.

      Bring a pot of water to a boil and then add enough salt so that when you taste the cooking water it has the salt consistency of chicken noodle soup broth. Reduce the heat to a hearty simmer and add the potatoes. Cook them until penetrable with a fork or knife -- about 20 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes, and drain well.

      In a separate large bowl, add most of the pesto to the hot potatoes and start mixing, pressing down with the spoon to break the potatoes into (at least) bite sized pieces -- more surface area means more opportunity for flavor permeation. Taste. Adjust for salt and sour (by adding more lemon, vinegar or buttermilk). Garnish with the remaining pesto or some roughly chopped basil, chives or sorrel.

Yields: a meal for 2 or a side dish for 6
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes (inactive)

Writing and Styling by Adria Lee | Photography by Amy Pennington

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Mitigating Any Heavy Load

      
      
      Though I'm dubious to say so: Winter may have abated in our neck of the woods. If this is the case, it's high time that we give our livers a little bit of love with the sweet and sour flavors that are available. Though today's recipe calls to fry, these little fritters are light and possess pungent herbs, mitigating any heavy load that a traditional potato pancake carries. And while you're at it: mix a teaspoon of raw honey (detoxifying) and a teaspoon of unpasteurized apple cider vinegar (alkalizing and also detoxifying) into a cup of warm water and have yourself a Springtime tonic!

Roasted Sweet Potato Pancakes w/ Cilantro and Lime Cream
inspired (again) by Yotam Ottolenghi

Ingredients

For the pancakes

6 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed
3 green onions/scallions, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 thai chili, seeded and minced (optional)
2 t tamari (or other soy sauce)
1/4 t sea salt

3/4 c chic pea flour (or regular wheat flour for those carefree about gluten)

oil or butter for frying

For the sauce:

a handful of fresh cilantro, finely chopped
a clove of garlic, minced (or pushed through a garlic press)
1/2 c buttermilk (or soy milk with a splash of rice vinegar)
2 T of something aioli-like -- Veganaise is the best though regular mayonnaise works too
a gentle squeeze of lime
2 pinches of sea salt
4 cranks from the peppermill
1/2 t maple syrup (or honey or sugar)
lime zest, for garnish

Process

      Preheat the oven to 350F. Place the whole sweet potatoes in a skillet and roast until penetrable with a fork; the skins should be leathery and pulling away from the flesh -- about 45 minutes to an hour.

      Meanwhile, make the sauce by whisking together all of the ingredients and tasting for balance -- the longer you let it rest, the more saturated with flavor it will be.

      When the potatoes have finished roasting and are cool enough to touch, peel and discard the skins (or make a vegetable stock with them). Add the minced green onions, garlic, chili, tamari and sea salt and mix so that there are no large chunks. Sprinkle in the flour and mix until incorporated. Refrigerate until you are ready to use (this will also firm up the batter).

      Melt the oil or butter in a skillet over medium high heat and form little pancakes with the batter -- no more than 1/2" tall. Fry them about four minutes on each side and keep them warm in the oven until you are ready to eat, which should be soon. Garnish with the sauce, a touch of lime zest and serve with a side salad or soup.

Yields: about 18 little pancakes
Prep time: an hour (includes inactive roasting time)
Cook time: 15 minutes

Writing and Styling by Adria Lee | Photography by Amy Pennington

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Daring but Caring

      

      Many gifts have been bequeathed to me in this lifetime. Along with having all of my muscles and organs in functioning shape and order, I experienced a serious illness when I was younger, so my health is given thanksgiving in an informed way. My immediate and extended family are people with whom I enjoy spending my time and who I hold with great admiration. And, Lord, do I have friends.

      There's one in particular from middle school that I've been thinking of lately with more affection than usual. I remember meeting my mother at the end of a school day in the autumn of our first year in the town we had just moved to (where my folks still live). As I buckled my seat belt, I looked out the passenger window and I remember seeing my to-be friend, Liz, walking down the sidewalk. She was wearing blue jeans and a grey t-shirt with maroon lettering on it and was tucking her dark blond hair behind her left ear. I was flooded with, what I recognize now as, love.

      Have you ever met someone and understood straight away that you've known them before? Like déjà vu, I couldn't put my finger on it, but there was a recognition -- a feeling that I had watched her tuck her hair behind her ear a thousand times before. I have a loose set of spiritual beliefs that before we come into our physical bodies, we make agreements with other spirits to meet them down the road for any host of reasons -- to learn patience, forgiveness, generosity, how to have fun. Through Liz, I learned about cooperation (three-legged races), restraint (love and writing), the deliciousness of reading a thoughtful Christmas gift (MFK Fisher's How To Cook A Wolf) from a dear friend, still together after all of this time.

      Fisher makes classy, sassy and bold statements about food in times of both war and peace throughout the pages, including in the chapter "How to Boil Water", in which she ventures to say that minestrone "is the most satisfying soup for people who are hungry, as well as for those who are tired or worried or in debt or in a moderate amount of pain or in love or in robust health or any kind of business huggermuggery." She recalls a friend, Mrs. Mazza, once writing, "A plate of this pottage...with grated Romano, served with crisp garlicked sour-dough bread, a salad and a glass of wine, and I have dined."

      With the lingering and wearisome snow, orchestrating a cozy minestrone-inspired Italian stew to simmer on the stove this past Sunday afternoon seemed appropriate. A glorious sweetness was achieved by allowing the stew to leisurely reduce and the fennel added a pervasive liquorish whisper without the weightiness of Italian sausage (which you can certainly go ahead and add if you'd like). Like the spirits with whom we are to engage during a lifetime, there are a host of ingredients that can carry this stew to special places -- be daring but caring.

Tuscan Tomato, Chic Pea, Fennel and Toasted Bread Stew with Rustic Sage Pesto
inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi

      Stay away from broccoli or cabbage but anything else is fair game. I especially encourage torn bread that's been toasted -- but cooked rice or noodles, added at the last minute, are wonderful, too. Sage pesto can be made if you have the ingredients on hand but store bought, jarred basil pesto with a few chopped sage leaves thrown in is just as good and more reminiscent of the warmer months.

Ingredients

 4 c of torn bread
1/2 t dried oregano
1/2 t dried sage

1 large onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 fennel bulb, halved lengthwise and cut into 1" cubes
1/2 c olive oil
1 large carrot, sliced at a diagonal
3 celery stalks, sliced at a diagonal
1/4 t sea salt

3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 T tomato paste
1 c white wine (dry is best)
1 32 oz can of whole tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 t cane sugar (or sucanant or maple syrup)

4 1/2 c lightly salted vegetable stock (or chicken or beef)
3/4 t sea salt
6 cranks from the peppermill
2 c cooked chic peas (fresh or rinsed if from a can)

sage pesto for garnish, of 1/2 clove garlic, 1/2 c toasted nut, 4 T fresh sage or 1 T dried sage, 1/2 t maple syrup, 1/4 sea salt *

Process

     Preheat the oven to 325F and toss the bread in 3 T olive oil, a pinch of salt, oregano and dried sage. Place in the oven for 20 minutes or until mostly dry.

     Meanwhile over medium heat, add the remaining oil to a heavy bottomed pot along with the onions. Let them begin to caramelize for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally, before adding the fennel. Stir to coat with the olive oil and let cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the carrots and celery and let cook for another 5 minutes.

      Remove the toasted bread from the oven (turn it off, too) and set aside for future use.

      Add the garlic, tomato paste, white wine, chopped tomatoes along with their juices and sweetener. Bring to a cheerful simmer for 3 minutes before adding the stock. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a gentle simmer for 30 minutes.

     As the stew simmers, have a hand at the pesto. If it's jarred you can fiddle with it by adding more herbs, a squeeze of lemon, more garlic or a smidge of maple syrup. If you're making it from scratch, just mash up the ingredients with a mortar and pestle or a sharp knife and a cutting board, until moderately smooth in texture, tasting until you're satisfied with the flavors.*

      When you're ready to serve the stew, add the toasted bread and simmer for few minutes before ladling the stew into bowls and garnishing with the sage pesto. And Mrs. Mazza is right about the glass of wine and a side salad.

Yields: dinner for 4
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes

Writing and Styling by Adria Lee | Photography by Amy Pennington

Saturday, March 15, 2014

He Never Banished Any Snakes

    
      The only issue with leaving one's elder sister in charge of taking the Irish soda bread out of the oven when the younger leaves to buy mustard from the grocery store is that upon her return, a chunk of the freshly baked bread from the lower right quadrant is missing. After 30 years of this, you'd think I'd know better. 

      After the hour it takes for this bread to come together, you'll know better than to try for any other recipe. Happy St. Patrick's Day (turns out he never banished any snakes from Ireland after all and prior to becoming a saint, he was an atheist and enslaved by pirates for six years)!

Irish Soda Bread with Buttermilk, Currants and Caraway
 adapted from my mom's 1964 edition of The Joy of Cooking

      This is a great bread served along side the ubiquitous corned beef this time of year but for the vegans -- consider making baked red beans in a porter and mustard sauce. And braised cabbage is always a gift to our palates.

Ingredients

2 c AP flour
3/4 t baking soda
1 t salt
2 T cane sugar

6 T chilled butter, cut into cubes (or vegan replacement)

3/4 c currants (or raisins)
1 T caraway seeds

1 c buttermilk (or rice/grain milk with a splash of rice vinegar)

Process

     Preheat the oven to 375F and grease a small 10 inch pie plate (or whatever you have -- it's a rustic loaf so it doesn't really matter).

       Sift or whisk together the dry ingredients.

      Cut the butter into the sifted dry ingredients (with a food processor, pastry blade, or with two forks) until the mixture resembles coarse corn meal.

      Stir in the currants and caraway seeds.

      Gradually add the buttermilk, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon (just so it doesn't make an annoying noise). The batter should not dry. Knead a a couple of times and shape into a round loaf.

      Place in the greased pie plate and cut a bold X across the top, from side to side so that the bread will not crack while it bakes.

      Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until the top has glazed. Let cool a bit before jumping up and down with glee.

Yields: enough for 6
Prep time: 10 minutes
Bake time: 40 - 50 minutes

Writing and Styling by Adria Lee | Photography by Amy Pennington

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Proof is in the Pantry

      
      I consider it a great feat of foresight to buy a quart of milk prior to the one in the fridge running dry. The same goes for coffee and tea, brown rice, olive oil, popcorn, toothpaste and deodorant. I created a new standard a few months ago (forgotten until today) when I bought a large stalk of lemongrass and a hearty knob of Thai ginger, sliced them and put them in the freezer for later use. Might the root of wisdom rest in the daydreaming of recipes and the utilization of retrospective memory regarding the contents of a pantry?

      It's a stretch to venture so far to say that this dish was the result of such a mighty word but it was an emotionally satisfying meal that reminded me of cold nights waitressing at a beloved Thai restaurant in the Fingerlakes and insufferably hot days in South East Asia with two dear friends. It's also a recipe that shows the distance that a stocked pantry or freezer can carry a meal, even if the ingredients are forgotten about or rarely utilized.

Lemongrass, Thai Ginger and Turmeric Fried Rice w/ Cucumber and Red Onion Relish
inspired by a memories and Saveur's Chicken Biriyani

      Do not be disuaded from this recipe by the list of ingredients -- they are avaiable in the Asian section of most grocery stores or at Asian specialty markets. And you will have a well-stocked pantry as a result. If you have chicken thighs and want to use them, please do! Toss them in the spice paste, some extra salt and let them marinate for at least an hour or up to a day in the fridge. Brown them in a bit of canola or peanut oil with the rest of the spice mix before adding the rice and kale (10 minutes extra, flipping once).

Ingredients

For the spice paste:

5 T freshly chopped lemongrass
2 inch piece of Thai ginger/galangal, sliced
5 cloves of freshly peeled garlic
2 shallots, chopped (or 1/4 yellow onion)
1 Thai chili, chopped
1/2 c fresh cilantro, washed (the roots are terrific if you can find bunches with them attatched)
2 t cumin powder
1/2  t tumeric powder
1 1/2 t curry powder
1 T brown sugar
3 T fish sauce (or tamari for the vegans)
3 T canola or peanut oil

For the rest

3 T canola or peanut oil
2 c jasmine rice, rinsed
3 c chopped kale

4 c water

3/4 t salt, or to taste

For the relish (optional but very encouraged)

1/2 cucumber, peeled if waxed, quartered and chopped
1/4 red onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 t brown sugar 
1 T cilantro, minced
the juice of 1 lime
1/2 t salt or fish sauce

Process

      Have your rice, kale and water measured, rinsed and ready.

      Blend all of the spice paste ingredients together so that the mixture is pulverized and no threads of lemongrass stalk remains (depending on the sharpness of your blade, this could take up to 2 minutes).

      Over a medium flame, heat 3 T oil and add the spice paste, stirring it constantly (but gently) until it becomes aromatic and slightly carmelized -- about 2 minutes. Add the rice and kale and stir to coat; let the rice get hot and toast for about 3 minutes before adding the water and salt. Cover with a lid, bring to a simmer, reduce to very low and let cook until the water is absorbed -- about 30 minutes.

      While the rice is cooking, mix the relish ingredients together and let rest until the rice is served.

      Once the rice is done, give it a taste and add more salt or a splash of water if it needs it. Top with cilantro and garnish with the relish before serving.

Yields: four meals worth
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes (30 minutes inactive)

Writing, Styling and Photography by Adria Lee (Amy is at work)

Friday, March 7, 2014

Dream Motivated


From Amy:

      I recently awoke recalling one of those dreams that feels symbolic, like a message being sent to me from a higher power. In this particular one, I was sitting in front of a bearded, cross-legged medicine man who was holding a miniature Zen garden. I watched as he deliberately raked the sand around and hummed a soothing melody. I looked at him and the sand and waited, mesmerized, wondering why he was in front of me. Then he looked up at me for the first and only time and said, “You should be baking.”

       His words were a metaphor for a lot of other things in my contemporary life, as well as the inspiration for my cookie making experiments (the recipe below was my third attempt). The ginger is soothing for the stomach and the turmeric and cinnamon have anti-inflammatory properties. The dream motivated me at the perfect time too; it was recently my mom’s birthday and these made for the best gift.

Medicine Cookies 
adapted from Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks

Ingredients

1 stick room temperature butter, cut in pieces (or canola or coconut oil)
2 ½ T fresh grated ginger
zest of 2 lemons
zest of ½ orange
1/3 c brown sugar
2 T raw sugar

1 egg (or egg replacement)

1 ½ cups of WW pastry flour
1 t baking soda
½ t salt
¾ t cinnamon
½ t turmeric
2 T powdered ginger

Process

       Preheat the oven to 350F.

       Sift together the dry ingredients.

       Add your wet ingredients (excluding the egg) into a saucepan on very low heat until the butter has just melted.

       Remove from the heat and gently whisk your egg into the mixture. Add the sifted dry ingredients and mix to combine. You should have non-sticky but moist dough.

       Form into small ping pong size balls. They won’t expand too much so you can place them about 1 ½ in apart on a cookie sheet. Place in the oven on the middle rack. Cook for 8 minutes. The cookies should be slightly tanned and cracked on top. Move to a cooling rack.

Prep time: 15 minutes
Bake time: 8 minutes
Yields: about 2 dozen

Writing, Styling and Photography by Amy Pennington