Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Newfound Glory


      I was listening to Mary Oliver read from one of her poems the other day and gulped, shifting uncomfortably in my chair, when I heard her say: Do you need a little darkness to get you going?/ Let me be urgent as a knife, then, / and remind you of Keats, / so single of purpose and thinking, / for a while, / he had a lifetime.

     Thus being forced to brush up on my Romantic poetry history by recalling Keats's early death at age 25, I continued to sit, staring out the window as the breeze blew through the still-green leaves and the cicadas raged on like summer would never end, thinking about this abandoned corner of my world. There have been no shortage of discoveries on my end and yet when I sit to write about them, only sparks come from my fingertips -- never enough to get anything coherent to take flame and I think, "Oh, never mind, I'll do it later". Why do we fall silent? Why do we let our tasks and obligations rise up around our throats and keep us from singing? 

       The eggplant might have the solution. Dark purple, of all colors, and provocatively shaped, eggplants take some convincing. Eaten raw, they're an offensive offering. They require patience; when salted with foresight, the eggplant become less thirsty for the olive oil it craves and roasts with integrity of structure. With care and precision, this spongy vegetable yields to heat and becomes velvet at the final moment, making a wondrous addition to a sandwich or curry. If you find yourself lost for words, as I have over the past few months, charring an eggplant over an open flame will reveal a whole new world and leave you scrambling to your rooftop to sing about this newfound glory.

Charred Eggplant Baba Ganoush
inspired by and adapted from Judy Rodgers and Yotam Ottolenghi

      Don't hover over the eggplant if you are faint of heart -- sometimes little cracks appear that sudden steam escapes through that could cause a fright. Let it char and get black! Your whole kitchen will fill with the smokey aroma -- that's when you know you're doing it right. If you don't have a gas stove, you could also do this under the broiler of your electric stove but please don't do it atop an electrical range.


1 medium eggplant

1 clove of garlic, crushed
1/2 c full-fat Greek yogurt or Vegenaise (a bit less if you're using traditional mayonnaise or aioli)
2 T olive oil
2 t pomegranate molasses (available in Middle Eastern markets or sections of grocery stores)
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1/2 t sea salt
a few cranks/pinches of freshly cracked black pepper

a handful of fresh parsley, chopped


      Turn on one of your gas stove burners to a medium flame. Place the eggplant directly on the stove grate over the flame for about 10 to 15 minutes, rotating every few minutes with a pair of tongs. The eggplant should be blackened all over and slightly limp -- it's fine if it's releasing some liquid. Set aside to let cool.

      Meanwhile, place the remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir to combine. 

      When the eggplant is cool enough to touch, scrape out the flesh and discard the charred skin and stem -- don't worry if some of the skin has stubbornly remained -- it's safe to eat. Chop the eggplant flesh until you have almost a paste and then add it to the mixing bowl. Mix well and taste -- add more salt or a drizzle of pomegranate molasses if it needs a lift. 

      Garnish with parsley and serve with toasted pita, roasted squash, or alongside a crudité platter.

Yields: baba ganoush for 6 or 8, depending
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook (charring) time: 15 minutes

Writing and Styling by Adria Lee | Photography by Amy Pennington

Sunday, May 24, 2015

To Clasp One's Hands Together

       Like pesto or mashed potatoes, every cook has a special trick up her sleeve or specificity to her palate that makes a creation especially her own. My gastronomical pilgrimage has lead me to construct an altar around the capabilities of both buttermilk and umeboshi vinegar and a tolerance (and then unbound joy) for combinations such as a kim chi and tahini toasted sandwich. For some reason though, I never bothered to give chimichurri a try, which, if in a darker mood, would indicate that I've wasted thirty one years of my life.

      Known as the condiment for the famous Argentinian barbecue, chimichurri is my ambassador for South America. At its most basic, it is an aromatic vinegar-based sauce, mellowed by olive oil. A blackened jalapeno adds fire while the muddled pungent herbs eddy about, giving strong reason to clasp one's hands together with a sense of awe. There's no wrong pairing with it; traditionally used as a tabletop condiment or to baste grilling beef, it is a revelation folded into aioli or hot roasted potatoes, spooned over grilled asparagus or into a bowl of steaming rice.

Chimchurri Sauce
adapted from Judy Rogers

       To get the full effect, make sure that whatever food you're dressing with the chimichurri has already been salted adequately, especially meat or potatoes. The sauce will keep in the fridge for a week, although it likely won't last so long.


1 jalapeno pepper

2 t fresh oregano
2 t fresh thyme
1 t fresh rosemary

1 c extra-virgin olive oil

3 T red wine vinegar
1 T sweet paprika
1 T fresh flat-leaf- parsley, minced
3 large cloves of freshly garlic, minced
2 bay leaves, crumbled
1/2 to 3/4 t sea salt
freshly cracked black pepper


      Char the jalapeno over an open flame on your stove or on the grill. Use tongs or an appropriate kitchen tool to rotate the pepper so that all sides are blackened -- a minute or so. Leave it to cool and then remove all seeds and the stem and mince the blackened flesh.

     Roughly chop the oregano, thyme and rosemary to release the oils and provide surface area. This can also be accomplished with a mortar and pestle, if you've got them.

      In a small sauce pan, warm the olive oil over medium low heat until it is hot but not smoking. Remove from heat and immediately stir in the bruised herbs and remaining ingredients, including the minced jalapeno.

      Let sit for at least an hour before serving. You have the option of blending the chimichurri in a food processor or with an immersion blender if you prefer a less rustic sauce -- sometimes the larger pieces of bay leaf can be a bit much.

Yields: 1 cup chimichurri
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: hardly anything (but allow the sauce to rest an hour before serving)

Photography by Amy Pennington | Writing and styling by Adria Lee

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Burden of Science

      I once had a remarkable teacher who, in recounting the steps of the scientific method, stated that "the burden of science is that nothing is provable". "No theory," she continued, "is future-proof," and gave us the example of the "all swans are white" theory. In colloquial language, if someone has a theory, it means she has an intuitive hunch. In scientific language, if a theory has been established, it means that it has undergone experiments and tests in a controlled setting with both dependent and independent variables that lead scientists to widely accept that the evidence offers no better alternative than the stated hypothesis. 
      It sounds political, I know, which is why she called it a burden.

      My theory is that it will be fifty years or more before scientists will agree that most gluten free foods available on the shelves interfere dramatically with your blood sugar. Many non-Celiacs (an autoimmune disease in which there is an inflammatory response to the presence of gluten, sometimes so severe that it depletes the cilia in the small intestine) are gravitating towards gluten free foods because they believe it will aid in weight loss or help with bloating. By reading the ingredients on a loaf of gluten free bread, you'll see that it is just as energy (calorically) rich as a regular loaf of bread and, with a little math, that it has a very high glycemic index. The main ingredient in most of these products is sugar; potato starch and rice starch, processed forms of their more complex carbohydrates (sugar) starting points, are absorbed almost immediately into the blood stream, making the blood sugar content skyrocket (like with alcohol). Overtime, this can lead to any number of health issues, though best discussed away from a recipe blog.

      Indeed, you may be sensitive to gluten without having a diagnosed allergy to it but there are alternatives! Rice! Buckwheat! Millet! Sometimes though, a sandwich is necessary.

Flax Flatbread

      This was given to me by a customer at the Syracuse Real Food Coop, where I moonlight twice a week. He doesn't know where it came from, only that it's delicious and that it makes him feel good. I was sold immediately, especially after realizing the fatty acid content and the 7 grams of protein per slice.


1 cup flax meal
3/4 c chicpea (garbanzo bean) flour
1/4 c tapioca starch
1 T baking powder
1/2 T xanthan gum
2 t anise or dill seed (optional)
1 T dried minced onion (optional)
1 t sea salt
1 T olive oil
1 t molasses
3/4 c water
2 large eggs (or egg replacement equivalent)
2 T sesame seeds 


      Preheat the oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

      Combine the flax meal, chicpea flour, tapioca starch, baking powder, xanthan gum, salt, dried onion and dill or anise seeds (if using) in a large bowl.

      In a separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil, molasses, water and eggs. Add to the flour mixture and beat hard with a wooden spoon for about 30 seconds to activate the xanthan gum (this will act as a thickener). The dough will be sticky.

      Spoon two equal mounts onto the prepared baking sheet. Using a rubber spatula dipped in water, pat the mounds into two 6-inch diameter disks about 1 inch high. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake until lightly browned and firm, about 22 minutes.

      Let cool on a wire baking rack.

Yield: two flat breads, enough for 8 people
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: about 22 minutes

Writing by Adria Lee | Photography by Amy Pennington

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Austere But Impressionable

      There's a civility to cauliflower that I've only begun to appreciate. It stands proud and stout in a garden and precious in its austere but impressionable pale ivory. Like the tight layers of its relative cabbage, the florets of cauliflower seem steadfastly bound to each other, which is the certain sign that the head is a healthy and young one (older ones crumble easily and have a grainy quality once in the mouth). Its smooth flavor beckons a sharp cheddar or vibrant Indian spices like curry and garam masala in a buttermilk sauce with currants. Some even chop up raw cauliflower and call it "rice", which I find difficult to swallow as a concept but respect the attempt.

      But as a centerpiece? Oh, yes! I implore you. Boiled whole in a wine broth spiked with chili flakes and then roasted in a hot oven until crackly and charred, this dish will take you to a new place and surely impress any dinner guest.

Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Spiced Goat Cheese
 by and adapted from Alon Shaya

      I have also broken the florets into uniformed large, bite sized pieces which makes for a less visually impressive dish but an easier one to handle -- the cooking time will lessen, so just keep an alert eye out.


For the cauliflower and broth
1 whole cauliflower, leaves and stem trimmed and discarded

3 c dry white wine
6 c water
1/4 c olive oil
1/4 c salt
1 T sugar/maple syrup/honey
3 T fresh lemon juice
1 T butter (or vegan alternative)
1 T dried chili flakes
1 bay leaf

For the goat cheese

4 oz soft goat cheese/chevre (or toasted, chopped walnuts)
a couple tablespoons of yogurt or buttermilk to thin the sauce
one clove of garlic, crushed and minced
a few pinches chili flakes
1/4 t sea salt
generous amount of freshly cracked black pepper

fresh basil, dill, cilantro, parsley or sorrel, chopped for garnish (optional) 


      Preheat the oven to 475F.

      Mix the chevre, yogurt/buttermilk, garlic, chili flakes, 1/4 sea salt and black pepper in a bowl and let sit.

      Bring the wine, water, olive oil, salt, sweetener, lemon juice, butter, chili flakes and bay leaf to a hearty boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and carefully, with two slotted spoons, lower the cauliflower into the broth. Let simmer until the cauliflower is slightly tender to an inserted knife but not at all falling apart -- about 10 to 15 minutes.
      Carefully pour the broth through a mesh strainer and place the cauliflower in a roasting pan or skillet. Roast in the oven until the outside of the cauliflower has begun to brown and blacken -- 30 to 40 minutes.

      Remove from oven, sprinkle with sea salt, top with goat cheese and garnish with fresh herbs. Serve with a sharp knife and pie server.

Yields: a main or side dish for 4
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes

Writing by Adria Lee | Photography by Amy Pennington

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Such A Devoted Manner

      Is there anything more courageous than a beet? Early spring lettuce competes for the title with its delicate leaves despite the threat of freak frosts, but with its bitterness, I think it's more audacious than heroic. A beet gets to the heart of things; its mellow sweetness never surprises with hidden tastes like the pang of a turnip or rutabaga or the sometimes cloying caramel lumps that squash can become as it roasts. Beets keep feet on the ground, never allowing one to forget the place from which they came. Though the earthiness of them deters some (along with the inescapable ruby stain of the red variety), beets have as much potential as a pot of boiling water. Horseradish cream atop thinly sliced roasted beets is a revelation. Grated raw beets with ginger, sesame oil and rice vinegar are a cheerful yet soothing reminder that all is not lost. And pickled beets with allspice make me feel like I have wings.

      Though I sing their praises in such a devoted manner, please believe my sincere surprise when I came across this remarkable chocolate cake recipe that calls for these small but mighty heroes.

Chocolate Beet Cake
 by Nigel Slater

      I take zero credit for this recipe. Though I've read Slater's column in the The Guardian for years, I was turned onto a special one of his cookbooks by RB and have sat for hours thumbing through the pages, utterly captivated by the attention-turned-devotion to his vegetable patch. This recipe, though requiring both time and care, is not to be overlooked.


A digital scale is helpful but not essential. Re-read the recipe a few times to get comfortable.
8oz red beets (about three to six small beets or one cup worth, once processed) (250g)

7oz 70% dark chocolate, broken into pieces (200g)
3/4 c + 2 T unsalted butter, cut into small pieces or grated (200g)
4 T hot espresso (or strong, strong coffee)

1 c + 2 T all-purpose flour (135g)
1 heaping t baking powder
3 T cocoa powder

6 eggs, separated
1 c sugar (190g)


      Roast the beets with a bit of water in a covered dish until tender, about an hour. Let cool until touchable (or run under cold water) and then peel.  Place what you approximate to yield one cup worth and process in a food processor to a coarse puree. Save any remaining beets for later use.

      Lightly butter an 8" springform cake pan and line the bottom with a round cut piece of parchment paper. Preheat your oven to 350F.

      Bring a pot with plenty of water to a boil and reduce to a low simmer. Place a large bowl with the broken pieces of chocolate atop the pot (this is the double boiler method). Do not stir.

      Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa. Separate the eggs. Make the espresso.

      When the chocolate looks melted, pour the espresso over it and stir once. Add the butter and let it melt.

      Whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold in the sugar.

      Mix the egg yolks together.

     Remove the chocolate and butter from the double boiler and stir to combine. Let rest a few minutes to cool a bit.

      Moving efficiently but gently, add the yolks to the chocolate mixture, and mix firmly. Fold in the beets along with the egg whites with sugar. "A large metal spoon is what you want here; work in a deep, figure-eight movement but take care to not overmix."

      Finally, fold in the sifted dry ingredients.

     Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and put in the oven. Immediately reduce heat to 325F. Bake for 40 minutes.

      The edges of the cake will be set but the inner part should be wobbly and molten-like.

     Let cool for 30 minutes before loosening the edges and let cool completely before eating. The center will sink a bit.

     Nigel suggests serving it with creme fraiche and poppyseeds. And I promise that this cake gets better with time, so if you're having company, bake it the evening before.

Yields: eight servings
Prep time: an hour +
Bake time: 40 minutes

Writing and Styling by Adria Lee | Photography by Amy Pennington

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Recognize Your Luck

      Some people are die-hard meat dripping fanatics when it comes to their holiday gravy but here's something sophisticated for the more mild-mannered palates; the earthiness from the shiitakes with the sweet boozy acorn lift from the Madeira makes it nearly into a side dish of its own. In whatever nook of the world you're in, whether you like gravy or not, happy holidays -- may you all eat well and recognize your luck.

Shiitake Gravy with Madeira (or Sherry)
inspired by Amy Pennington

      I've been known to toss in some minced caramelized onions, garlic and bruised rosemary from time to time. Play!


3 c vegetable or chicken stock *
6 dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated **

3 T butter or olive oil
1/2 c chic pea flour

1/4 c Madeira (a Portuguese fortified wine similar to Sherry, which works well, too)

sea salt and black pepper to taste


      * ** To both make a quick stock and to rehydrate the dried shiitakes, bring to a active and hearty simmer 6 cups of water, half of a chopped onion, 3 cloves of smashed garlic, 4 prunes and the shiitakes with 3/4 t of sea salt. Simmer for 25 minutes or longer (but don't let it reduce by more than half). Strain the ingredients and discard everything but the shiitakes.

      Trim the stems of the soaked shiitakes and discard them (they are often too chewy to be enjoyable). Dice the mushrooms and set aside for later. Measure out all other ingredients and have them close at hand for the next step.

      In a heavy bottomed skillet or pot, melt the butter over a medium flame. Add the chic pea flour and stir constantly until the flour has a toasty aroma and is gently darkening in color -- not more than 2 minutes. Do not leave unattended.

      Slowly whisk in the stock and let it come to a simmer, gently stirring all the while. Reduce the heat to low and add the Madeira and shiitakes. Let the gravy simmer and thicken for about 5 minutes. If at any point it is looking too thick, add a bit more stock.

      Add a few generous pinches of sea salt to taste and a couple cranks from the pepper mill (and another splash of Madeira if you like a boozy taste). Keep warm until serving.

      Double or triple the recipe depending on the number of mouths gathered. This is wonderful on buttermilk mashed potatoes and roasted poultry.

Prep time: 25 minutes, including stock
Cook time: 10 minutes
Yields: gravy for 6

Writing and Styling by Adria Lee | Photography by Amy Pennington