Category Archives: Recipes

Sweet Beets

Nigella Lawson’s recipes have a beautifully generous quality about them. She often references “Lawson portions” (i.e. BIG), which gets me very excited. Although I can’t enjoy the generous portions I used to (office job! slow metabolism!) — I get very excited about the idea of large portions. I’d give anything for my 19-year-old appetite. It was fun.

 


 
Which is why I was drawn to her beet soup recipe. It’s clean and sprightly, with Dijon mustard and balsamic vinegar foiling the sweet beets. It’s found in her book, “How to Eat“. If there’s anyone I’m willing to let dictate how I eat, it’s undoubtedly Ms. Lawson. She with her butterscotch cake that made a former colleague nearly weep with joy. All the same, she has a way with brussels sprouts that makes me nearly weep. (The secret is bacon, of course.) She’s the queen of both sweet and savory.
 
Back to the soup. The biggest task is boiling and peeling the beets, but it can be done days ahead. Once that’s done, it’s a matter of putting them in the blender with water, dijon mustard, and balsamic vinegar. Pour the puree in a pan, add more water until it’s the consistency you like, and heat until desired. Note that the soup will thicken as it sits in the fridge; you’ll want to add more water upon reheating. Also, don’t wear white when you make this.

 

Trust me.

 

 

Beet Soup
“How to Eat” by Nigella Lawson
 
Ingredients
2 large or 4 small beets (about 1.5 lbs)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
buttermilk or yogurt (optional)
 
Instructions
Put the beets in a large pot, cover with cold water, bring to a boil, and boil for 2 hours or until tender. (Less, if they’re small.) Slip a knife in one to test doneness; it should insert easily. Remove the cooked beets (retaining the cooking liquid) and slip their skins off under running cold water. This step can be done days ahead.
 
Put beets in a food processor or blender together with the mustard and balsamic vinegar. Puree, adding the cooking liquid until the texture is as you like it. (Mine was a bit thick.) The soup will thicken as it sits in the fridge, so you’ll want to add a little more water each time as you reheat. Add buttermilk, yogurt, or sour cream if desired. Snipped chives are nice, too.

A Unique Month

When the wind snaps and the snow falls, nothing offers more comfort than a hardy stew. But January is a unique month. Its chill echos December’s call to hibernate, yet January offers suggestions to mend. Stews can be too much, too heavy. I want food that offers both substance and succor.
 

It calls itself a ragout. Page 289 of Amanda Hesser’s “The Essential New York Times Cookbook” offers a Roasted Carrot and Red Lentil Ragout. The roasted carrots are deep and sweet. The lentils are impartial, but the heat is deft. Listed in the cookbook’s index under the “Dinner on a Moment’s Notice” section, it’s a cinch to make.

 

It’s no beauty queen, but makes up in practicality for what it lacks in eye appeal. The recipe is forgiving. Add as much or little chile powder to suit your taste. I will use less next time, as well as more roasted carrots. The ragout is happy atop rice or alongside boiled potatoes, and takes a liking to a dollop of yogurt or sour cream when eaten by itself. The rich-sweet smell of roasting carrots will have you thinking of this ragout long after your bowl is empty.
 

 
Roasted Carrot and Red Lentil Ragout
 
Ingredients
1.5 lbs carrots, peeled
5 Tbs. olive oil
2.5 tsp kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
3/4 tsp ancho chile powder
3/4 tsp chipotle chile powder
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup red lentils, rinsed and picked over
5 cups chicken broth
 
Instructions
1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Lay the carrots in a roasting pan or a baking sheet and toss with 3 Tbs oil. Season with 1.5 tsp salt and a few grinds of pepper. Roast for 20 minutes.

2. Turn the carrots, add the onion, and roast for 15 minutes, or until the carrots are brown and tender. Remove from the oven.

3. When the carrots are cool enough, cut them into 1/4 inch dice.

4. Heat the remaining 2 Tbs oil in a large saucepan. Add the carrots and onions, chile powder, and cayenne pepper, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the lentils, add the broth, and bring to a simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 25 minutes, until the lentils are falling apart. Season with the remaining 1 tsp salt and pepper to taste.

Buckwheat Loves Chocolate

 

In honor of our upcoming trip to Belarus (i.e. Meeting The Boyfriend’s Family For The First Time) my attention for all-things baking has centered around buckwheat. (Eastern Europeans eat buckwheat like Americans eat Cheerios.) If there’s one book on my shelf that saves the day when a random sack of flour (buckwheat, teff, spelt) is found in the cupboard, its Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain. And she had just the thing – Chocolate Buckwheat Muffins.

 

 

 

Boyce’s recipe actually calls for persimmons, but that is not in on the regular rotation of our fruit bowl, so it got left out of the fun. The muffins were delicious nonetheless. Every time a baking recipe works out for me, I have to say I’m a bit shocked. I’m not a baker by nature. I like to improvise, I’m okay with ambiguity, and I can be found to have little patience in the kitchen. But my ever-piqued curiosity wouldn’t let me take another pass at the bag of buckwheat without giving this recipe a shot.

 

And I’m telling you, buckwheat loves chocolate. Both are sweet yet bitter, and something about the depth of the chocolate made buckwheat immensely interesting, giving it almost a nutty quality.

Now that I know how nicely these once-miscellaneous bags of random flours play with the more extolled items in my larder, I’ll be grabbing for them more often. (Recipe can be found here.)

It’s Quite Something

When it comes to winter, I’m torn. On one hand it’s an excuse to stay in on the weekends and work my way through this behemoth, revisit music from college, cook next week’s dinners, and go on an occasional drive when the sun eventually shines its face.

 

On the other hand, it means the vegetable scene is a bit grim. Which is why, during these months, soup is the mainstay of this apartment.

 

That we have beans and legumes to sustain us during these barren months, I will forever be grateful. Red lentil soup with lemons is reminiscent of tomatoes; green lentil soup with bacon could pass as, well, green lentil soup with bacon. (I tried.) And then there’s the split pea family – yellow and green. God bless them. They could almost get by being called a vegetable.

 

To say that the only good thing these months offer is pea soup would be a grave disservice to this most-peaceful of seasons. Despite the complaints above, I couldn’t get on without this rest. It’s quiet, and I like that.

 

As our ever-changing landscape of technology can be noisy and distracting, quietness is a great ally for me. In last week’s New Yorker, Adam Gopnik wrote an essay reviewing books about how technology is changing us. Although this topic has been written about ad nauseum, Gopnik hit it spot on when he said, “Once it [technology] is not everything, it can be merely something.”

 

The latter part is how I feel about winter’s limited food selection. It’s no bounty, but it’s certainly quite something in its quietness.

 

Yellow Split Pea Soup with Frankfurters
From ‘The Book of Jewish Food’
 
This is the next soup recipe on my list, found in Claudia Roden’s Book of Jewish Food. Although I’m as WASP-y is they come and Jewish food isn’t a regular occurrence around here (but it soon may be), I can’t resist an approach to frankfurters that does not involve a white bun.

 

Roden suggests butter beans or red lentils could also be used here. Also, consider halving the recipe. (It serves 10.) I like split peas, but everything has its limits.

 

Ingredients
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, sliced
3 Tbs light vegetable oil
1 lb. yellow split peas, soaked overnight
13 cups chicken or beef stock (or 2 bouillon cubes)
A bunch of celery leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper
2 bay leaves
3/4 lb. skinless frankfurters or wurst sausages, sliced
Juice of 1/2 lemon or more to taste
 
Instructions
In a large pan, gently fry the onion and carrots in the oil till they soften. Add the drained yellow peas and about 2/3 of the stock and bring to a boil. Remove the ‘scum’, add the celery leaves, and simmer, covered on very low heat for about 1 hour, or until the peas are soft. Liquefy the soup in a blender or food processor and return it to the pan.

 

Add salt and pepper, the bay leaves, and the rest of the stock-the amount depends on the consistency that you prefer. (Author’s Note: The reason for adding it at this stage is to make blending easier with less liquid.) Cook 1/2 hour longer. Add the sausages and lemon juice, and a little water if necessary, and cook a few minutes more. Serve very hot.

Lemon Love

If I had it my way, it wouldn’t be lemonade that one supposedly should make when life hands them lemons, but lemon curd.

 

Luckily, the only lemons in my life are these beautiful golden jewels below, which are like globes of sunshine in this tiny apartment. The thing about lemon curd is that it isn’t too much of any single sensation (tart, sweet, rich, light), but is the quiet sum of them all. I like to call it ‘Lemon Love’. The other thing it has against lemonade is that it’s spreadable, and who doesn’t love slathering a layer of a delicious-anything over buttered toast in these chilly months?

 

 

 

This curd’s uses are endless: spread on toast, top a pancake, layer a cake, dollop on ice cream, stir into yogurt. Heck, I’ve even stirred it into Earl Grey tea to both sweeten the tea and give it a kick of lemon. Why not?

 

This recipe is actually adapted from a lime curd recipe, and I substituted the lime juice for the same amount of lemon juice. Also, vanilla was a last-minute addition to warm up the flavor.

 

It must be noted that the cookbook this recipe came from, Nigella Lawson’s ‘How to be a Domestic Goddess‘, is divine. As with many of Lawson’s books, its pages are filled with wit, luscious photography, and style – the type of cookbook that easily passes for bedtime reading. Tea, toast, and lemon curd are sometimes required.

 

Lemon Curd
Adapted from ‘How to Be A Domestic Goddess’

 

Ingredients
6 Tbs unsalted butter
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice (about 4 lemons)
1 tsp vanilla, optional
zest of 1 lemon

 

Instructions
Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan, add all the other ingredients and whisk to a custard over a gentle heat. Let cool before filling a jar – or a cake – with it. Keep it in the refrigerator. Makes about 1 3/4 cups.

Almond Cake

Although it may take a lot to ruffle my feathers, it doesn’t take much to tickle my fancy. Take almond cake, for example.

 

We’re talking four ingredients here: almonds, sugar, eggs, and flour. That’s it.* These four ingredients, thanks to Marcella Hazan, provide me a path to autumnal bliss. I wouldn’t be the first to exalt Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, nor will I be the last.

 
That said, I may be one of the few Hazan devotees who speaks of her as though Hazan has been working in-flesh with me in the kitchen. After the boyfriend comments on the deliciousness of the cake, I proceed to explain how Hazan “had me whip the egg whites until they formed stiff peaks.” He looked at me as though I had been talking to dead people. Hazan is like that, she’ll jump right out of the page and ensure your egg whites have the stiffest of peaks, and that your cake is the most delicious of desserts.
 
Hazan aside, who can resist nuts? Not me, in any case. On any given day, it could very well be that 1/3 of my caloric sustenance comes from nuts. I’m nuts about nuts, so it only makes sense to sneak them into a cake. Plus, when you bake with nuts, it eliminates the need for any other fat. Take this recipe for an example, you won’t see any butter, oil, or egg yolks. It’s just nuts.
 

 
*In full disclosure, I did omit the mention of a pinch of salt and grated lemon. The lemon is optional (yet highly encouraged), but the salt actually has a pragmatic role in getting the egg whites to stiffen.
 
Almond Cake
Marcella Hazan
 
Ingredients
10 ounces shelled, unpeeled almonds, about 2 cups
1-1/3 cups granulated sugar
8 egg whites (keep the yolks, be creative with them)
Salt
The peel of one lemon, grated without digging into the white pith beneath
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
An 8-or 9-inch springform pan
Butter for greasing the pan
 
Instructions
 
Preheat the oven to 350.
 
Place the almonds and sugar in a blender or food processor and grind to a fine consistency, turning the motor on and off. Don’t let them turn to a paste. (Then you’ve got almond butter, which is great too!)
 
Beat the egg whites together with 1/2 teaspoon salt until they form stiff peaks.
 
Add the ground almonds and the grated lemon peel to the egg whites, a little bit at a time, folding them in gently, but thoroughly. The whites may deflate a bit, but if you mix carefully there should be no significant loss of volume.
 
Add the flour, shaking a little of it at a time through a strainer and again, mixing gently.
 
Thickly smear the pan with butter. Put the cake batter into the pan, shaking the pan to level it off. Place the pan in the middle level of the pre-heated oven and bake for 1 hour. Before taking it out of the oven, test the center of the cake by piercing it with a toothpick. If it comes out dry, the cake is done. If it doesn’t, look a bit longer.
 
When done, unlock the pan and remove the hoop. When the cake has cooled somewhat, and it is just lukewarm, loosen it from the bottom of the pan. Serve when it is completely cold. It will keep a while if wrapped well.

Simple Things

 
Carrots. I don’t know how — but they manage to make it in our grocery cart every week. Without fail. I don’t love them or hate them – they’re just always there. (Like the all-too-familiar characters on my bus.) Carrots are pennies, they give you an excuse to eat orange food that’s not processed, and they’re good for your eyes. (Or is it nails? Can’t keep it straight.) If I don’t find a way to cook with them, they get chomped while checking email, reading a magazine, or tossed in a salad. They’re not fussy, and I like that. I’m not too fussy either — so we make a good match that way.

 
Potatoes and I, on the other hand, have a much different relationship. A few of you may recall a potato thrashing I had a few months back. Well, dear friends, I’ve come around. Potatoes, the humble tubers that they are, have surprised me as of late — crusted with paprika at Portage Bay Cafe, wedged and roasted, or smashed with buttermilk in Zuni Cafe fashion. These things are stunners. The potatoes are what I really wanted to talk about.

 

These lowly vegetables have done more than give me physical sustenance. These things keep me grounded. Their simplicity remind me of the “less is more” mantra that older sisters tell you about makeup and mothers tell you about life. Nothing gives my mind a break better than slicing carrots or scrubbing potatoes. Call me crazy, but these simple things are what I consider real riches.

 
Classic Roasted Potatoes
(this isn’t so much a recipe as it is a method)

 
Ingredients
Potatoes (I prefer baby reds or fingerlings)
olive oil
sea salt
pepper
 
Instructions
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Clean the potatoes (peel if you like) and cut them into the shape you prefer. I like to wedge mine. In the pan you’ll be roasting the potatoes, toss them with enough olive oil to lightly coat and add salt/pepper to your liking. Roast in oven until your preferred doneness is reached. (To move this process along more quickly, I sometimes boil the potatoes for 5-10 minutes before wedging and roasting.) Regarding ‘doneness’ – the picture above is what I consider the ‘bruised and blistered doneness’ — you may not want to take them that far.