Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Fennel with White wine and Cherry Tomatoes

I love fennel. It's crispy crunch when it's raw. Its delicate scent and smell differentiate it from its seemingly related cousin, celery. I like that it's not celery, which isn't one of my favorite vegetables although an admittedly important element of stocks and soups. Fennel is more of a chameleon though - roast it and bring out it's sweetness, braise it and it becomes tender and delightful and reminiscent of artichoke. Saute it and add it to soup and it melts into the background, providing mild flavor and aromatics.

Usually, we roast it, slicing in to cross sections, topping it with maldon salt and a drizzle of chili oil and a sprinkle of paprika. It's lovely that way but I was looking for something new. A braised dish where the fennel could present itself in a different way. I've made this every weekend for the past month, with a recent reinvention of the basic recipe with a mustard dressing with red wine but that's another story. Let me know what you think.

6-8 Fennel - halved top down. If it's a big bulb, cut it again in 1/2. This so you have enough surface area of the vegetable to brown. If a few outer leaves fall off that look good, cut them into think slices and add them into the pan with the peppers.
Olive oil (a bit of butter could be lovely as well)
Salt and pepper
White wine - about 1 cup
12-15 cherry tomatoes, halved.
Red peppers - 2, chopped.

Heat a heavy frying pan (or 2). I like cast iron for this recipe. Add a nice dollop of olive oil and lay the fennel in so that it can brown on one side. Wait about 5 minutes until they're nicely browned and turn the fennel and wait for them to brown on the other side.

Add the chopped pepper on top of the fennel, then the tomatoes and deglaze with the wine (which will make a nice sizzly noise when you add it in). If you need a bit more liquid, add a splash of either apple juice or water. Salt and pepper generously and cover tightly. Lower the heat and braise for about 10-15 minutes until the fennel is completely tender. Uncover and let the liquids cook out a bit - about another 5 minutes. Delish.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Weekend Menu Planning

Weekend Menu – January 9th, 2010.
This post was delayed or rather, it was lost and it took me a few depressed days before I had the time to recreate it. But here it is, useful for you perhaps for this weekend.

Friday Night - Dramatis Personae:
Just the family. It had been a busy week. As usual, we contemplated purchasing food but opted for vegetables. Gabe commented after the meal - that it was perfect, just what he liked.

Starter: Kept it simple with fresh sourdough rye and whole wheat breads and the usual spreads - humus, Turkish salad, olives and pickles. Will have to blog on our bread baking but essentially with use of the bread machine have demystified bread baking for every member of the family. Our breads are natural sourdough - thank you Iris Katzner for the starter - and we use 100% whole wheat flour in almost all of our breads. The dough is done in the machine, aged overnight in the fridge (it sweetens and develops the taste of the bread) and baked the following day after a short knead, warm up on the counter and quick rise. Each dough is divided so that we end up with 4 smallish loaves which are perfect for almost every meal of about 10-12 eaters. This week, the whole wheat bread was crusted with a grainy, fleur de sel sea salt for a nice, briny taste with every bite.

Main Course: Given that I'm not a bread eater, I was champing at the bit. The meal was simple and satisfying. Broccoli sauteed with ginger and garlic - ample amounts - and served atop of a bed of rice noodles with  peanut sauce. We like Jack Bishop's Black Sesame Noodles from his A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen. The recipe is easily tinkered with - different vegetables can be added - and it has the requisite peanutty taste with the necessary acid punch of vinegar and soy sauce.  Sauteed zucchini on the side - cubed and combined with sliced, rounds of hot pepper and lots of garlic and tempered with a splash of coconut milk. Make sure to saute the zucchini until lightly browned before adding the milk.

Dessert: Chocolate sorbet made by Natan. He's working his way through David Liebovitz's The Perfect Scoop, which in his mind is the perfect guide to the making of frozen desserts. The combination of cocoa and melted chocolate and just the right amount of sweetener makes for a great sorbet. Almond-flour based ginger cookies, adapted from Elana's Pantry. My changes? Add a nice hearty teaspoon or so of freshly, grated ginger and cut the oil to 1/4 cup and the sweeteners (I used only honey) to about 1/3 of a cup or more to taste. The cookies were firmer and crunchier this time, although they burned easily - the honey, I think - so make sure to rotate the sheets in the oven and take them out as they begin to brown around the edges. Don't wait for them to crackle - they won't, or at least mine didn't.

Saturday Lunch - Dramatis Personae:
Family.  Henoch's - 4 (the kids really don't eat). Gabe's friend's, Zach and Steven. Natan's friend, Avital.

Starter: Bread and spreads. In this country, bread reigns supreme mostly likely from the days where it was about all anyone had to eat. Had a nice wedge of semi-soft, creamy cheese not well-ripened to go along with the bread. Nobody seemed to mind that it was too cold and not soft enough except for me. Had a nice, green salad with avocado, cherry tomatoes and pomelit - a sweeter and juicier cousin of the Pomelo. The dressing was sharp and tangy - balsamic vinegar based, according to Natan's taste buds. The rye bread, complete with a sprinkling of caraway seeds was a hit, although the kids tended to gravitate to the plain whole wheat bread.

Main: A mix. Mona made 2 zucchini/onion quiches - straightforward and dairy filled with a nicely browned crust, they were enjoyed by all. I made a kale and pumpkin tart with an almond crust that was really successful. We've had a real yen for Indian food recently - probably because we went for Indian food in Ramle and it was truly ho hum, even the Alu Gobi, and how do you ruin that? We've been using Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian, for a nice array of Indian recipes from all over India, in addition to other places where spicy foods abound. Made a pumpkin/cauliflower dish that was good and great curried mushrooms spiced with cumin, turmeric and coriander and thickened with grated tomatoes. Served over brown rice, it's simple, good stuff.

Almond-crusted Vegetable Pie: 
(Note: My nice pics of the pie won't load. Sorry, I'll get better at this)
1.5-2 lbs pumpkin, peeled and cubed.
1-2 bunches of kale, sliced thinly, stems reserved.
Onion - halved and sliced.
Garlie - 4-5 cloves, peeled and chopped.
White wine for splashing in the pan. Apple juice or water and lemon can be used in lieu of the wine.
Salt & Pepper
Thyme - fresh or dried

Custard: 2 eggs and one white, lightly mixed. Add some S&P and a scraping of nutmeg.
1 cup of soft-white cheese, or Greek yogurt (you choose the fat level) or quark style cheese, whisked in to the eggs until reasonably lump free.  (If you don’t eat dairy, substitute in rice or soy milk for a nice milky quality, about 1/3 of a cup).
2-4 tbsp of Dijon style mustard for the crust (before adding the filling)
½ cup of grated, dry hard cheese – Asiago or Parmesan or Manchego would all be nice options.  (You could leave out the dairy if you prefer.)

Egg Free/Sugar Free/SavoryCrust: (Adapted from the SCD Site)
Ingredients - this made enough to generously line a 10" round pan.
2 1/2 cups almond flour
3 -4 tablespoons butter*, cold and cut into pieces
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tsp dried thyme
*you may substitute coconut oil for butter or use a bit of both for a bit of butter taste with the good health benefits of the coconut oil.

1. Mix ingredients, and flatten the dough into a round disk between two pieces of plastic wrap. Gently roll out the dough to an 11 inch round. 2. Put the dough on a baking sheet and refrigerate till firm.  This really helps strengthen the dough for maneuvering it into the pan. 3. Invert it onto a pie pan and press in place. It may crack a bit, just pat it and patch it and don’t worry, it’ll taste just fine. 4. Bake for 10 minutes at 300 degrees F. (this might need adjusting if using coconut) until light brown in color. 5. Cool, then fill.

Smear Dijon mustard on the base of the crust. Let it cool for a minute before you do this as the hot crust will still be soft and won’t stay in place. Spoon the filling in with a slotted spoon so that it’s not too wet. Pour the custard on top, making sure to make it into the nooks and crannies. It’s not a lot of custard, it won’t fill everything. Top with grated cheese. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes until lightly browned. 

Dessert: A lovely, raw Orange ‘Cheesecake’ with a chocolate crust and Natan’s piece de resistance, Roquefort Honey Ice cream from David Liebovitz’s aforementioned book. Quite the show stopper and really very tasty, especially with a drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar syrup – boil a cup down slowly and carefully to about 1/3 of cup.  It keeps forever, make a few cups and use a pedestrian vinegar – not the fancy bottle.

As to the cake, my only comments are that the crust took about ½ cup or so of dates to get it to come together and that the filling needed a bit more punch – I added the juice of a lemon and sweetened with honey and used ½ cup of coconut oil which was enough in my book and make it in an 8” spring form pan which made the cake a tad more shallow then what’s pictured on the post but rich enough for all of us eaters.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Food Discoveries

Yes, I know it’s been a while since I’ve updated my food blog. I’ve all that new energy that comes with a new year, or just a desire to share all my food adventures of late.

In brief, my biggest discovery for 2009 has been raw desserts – pies, cakes and other confections – that all share one major component they are not baked. I know this may sound more than just odd to many but it has been a boon for me and surprisingly enough, the whole family as well as various outsiders who’ve tasted some of our treats.

Raw desserts do what they need to do – they’re sweet, tasty and provide that punch of ‘fat’ and ‘sugar’ that make dessert eating so dear to many.  I have found that eating raw treats has helped me tame my considerable sweet tooth and that I don’t desire the more typical sweets that are served to me – that I generally can’t eat anyway because of the gluten or various other ingredients that don’t suit me well.

Ah, you say, she’s one of those ‘I don’t eat this and that.’ Yes, it’s true; I am one of those and have been in one way or another for many years. The good news is that I’m at peace with it.  I went predominantly raw after last Passover for about 4 months. I stuck with fruits, salads and a bit of cooked vegetable dishes. I tried not to go to wild with nuts and dried fruits – they don’t always agree with me. I felt okay but not great. In July, I started an unusual diet that should be better known for my gut – always my Achilles heel. Called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet or the SCD diet for those in the know, it essentially rules out all complex carbohydrates – like grains, potatoes, sweet potatoes, milk (although fermented products like homemade yogurts or Kefir are allowed as well as some hard cheeses), and all sweeteners except for honey which rates as a simple carbohydrate.  The diet, which has lots of interesting science behind it, is considered quite effective for people with Crohn’s, Colitis, Celiac and gluten issues as well as all sorts of IBD problems. Of course, it tends not to be recommended by mainstream doctors – big surprise – and yet, you read positive story after story on the website, including fairly impressive ones from families with kids with Autism who adopted the diet and found their children’s issues greatly reduced and their overall health greatly improved.

It sounds horrible, right? No grains, no bread, no nothing. But there’s a lot left to eat once you settle in to the regimen; veggies, proteins (no tofu, sorry), fruits and nuts. I became very skilled at a host of nut breads and muffins (check out this blog for excellent recipes). My stomach calmed down – almost completely. Certain things still gave me pause – too many nuts (I cut back on the baked nut treats), too much raw stuff at times. I had to find balance.

And making raw treat after raw treat made me happy and reduced any real feelings of unhappiness. As long as I had something sweet to eat during the day – and I’ve found that I prefer my dessert these days earlier in the day during that mid afternoon energy lull, that I’m content. I’ve cut back and late night snacks – can’t digest ‘em and I suspect that many of us feel that way and anyway, I eat dinner too late to really have time to snack as well. I’ve kept dinners really simple since we eat late. The end result? I feel so much better. And that is truly something.

I’ll post some recipes over the next few weeks.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Meringues - Fluff n' Stuff

It's been meringue season around here. Given that I try to limit my gluten intake - makes my belly happier - I'm always looking for good dessert options. When Ira and I were in Stowe together back in February - ah, the memories, the snow, the margaritas, the time alone - we found these great meringue cookies in the local store. They had a great crunch and taste, punctuated by sweet, chewy raisins, nuts, and tart cranberries. And they were basically a meringue base although they had a nice cookie-like feeling. After much meringue baking these past few months - and let's not forget Pesach baking (okay, not for some time thankfully), it's become clear to me that's it's all about the baking time and what you fold into your cookies that will determine their texture and crunch. If you want a drier meringue, bake them in a low, slow oven and wait for them to dry out. If you like the bit of 'marshmallow' inside to your meringue, bake them less time and make them bigger so there's more of a gooey pocket inside.

I can add a new note to the baking process. We have a new oven - I am deeply thankful about this, in particular to our friends Robert and Mona, who in arriving in Israel with their worldly goods in tow, shlepped in said oven. Our last batch baked up...perfectly. They baked properly and with only a hint of brown to their white exteriors. They were, in a word, glorious. An airy pocket of sweetness with just a hint of softness inside. It's amazing what a well-calibrated oven will do for you. Thank you American Range.

As for the biggest problem with meringues, the leftover yolks, I no longer obsess about it. I often combine them with a few whole eggs for a dinner frittata or accept the loss or make these nut cookies (read the article and look all the way at the bottom to the last paragraph for these simple cookies) with them.

Recipe (adapted from Viana La Place's Dessert and Sweet Snacks):
3 egg whites
1 tbsp white vinegar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2lb coarsely ground or chopped toasted almonds
1/2lb coarsely ground or chopped bittersweet chocolate

We always double or even triple this recipe. We usually use chocolate chips because they are lighter and easier to combine in chip form but chopped chocolate is always lovely.
I usually combine 1 cup of ground toasted nuts along with 1/2-1 cup sliced toasted almonds. I also like toasting a cup of flaked, unsweetened coconut and grinding that along with the toasted almonds and/or hazelnuts. (To toast nuts, lay them on a baking pan and roast at 350 for 5-8 minutes, tossing them around every 2-3 minutes and sniffing in order to avoid burning them. Coconut will go quickly.)
1/2-1 cup cranberries are great along with the nuts and chocolate. Swapping in raisins or chopped apricots in part or whole for the cranberries also works just fine.

Preheat the oven to 250.
Beat the egg whites with the vinegar and salt until stiff but not dry. Meaning, they'll look fluffy like snow and have soft drifts in the bowl but not stand up at attention. Very gradually, add in the sugar and continue to beat until meringue forms stiff peaks. It will look like a craggy pile of marshmallow in the bowl - shiny and irresistible but you wouldn't really want to eat it. Gently fold in vanilla, nuts, chocolate, etc.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper and drop mixture by teaspoonfuls about 1" apart on the prepared pans. Bake until firm, without browning significantly, about 45 min. Cool and remove to cooling rack. Store in an airtight tin - don't put them away until they're really cool and if the day is humid, don't cover tightly as they'll get stickyish. Not that you can't eat them this way, but I like them dry.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Gracious Gratin

This is an older post that I just rediscovered I had been in the middle of writing. I have to find a way to write regularly. I'm still cooking but life has made posting hard - I will endeavor because I like thinking about what I've been cooking and what's been working and what is seasonally interesting.

So, from April:
It's been a busy bunch of weeks and yet, Shabbat still shows up with regularity, complete with hungry guests and family members eager for that nice meal that they've been denied all week (as if I don't feed them anyway). My recent 'go to dish' has been a vegetable gratin - a simple saute of greens and peppers, or mushrooms and greens, or white beans, greens and whatever else catches my eye, bound together with a bit of tasty cheese (I have a large and lovely hunk of parm from Rome that I'm using judiciously), topped with some fresh bread crumbs and baked briefly in the oven to toast the crumbs and set the gratin.

Last week, along with a light soup - carmelized leek soup (nice this time of year) - fresh, crusty bread, a few spreads and side salads, it was a relatively easy meal. (If you make the soup, I don't use chicken broth, I fiddle with wine, veg broth and water as needed. Do use the butter, but you can combine it with olive oil.)

Master Recipe:
1 large onion, chopped
2-4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 bunches of cooking greens - Kale, Collards, Chard. Trim the stems and cut the stems off by the beginning of the leaf. Clean and chop the stems as if you were preparing celery and keep them separate from the leaves. Chop the leaves (I stack them and slice down the middle and then across and rough chop them further) and place them in a bowl with water to soak.
1-2 red peppers, chopped
10 oz sliced mushrooms, optional but tasty
1/2 cup grated hard cheese, like parmesan or manchego.
1 cup of fresh bread crumbs. Add 1-2tbsp of olive oil and season with salt, pepper and thyme.
(Toast the crumbs in the oven, spread on a baking sheet for about 3-5 minutes. Keep an eye on them but you do want them to lightly brown.)

Saute the onion and garlic, seasoning with salt and pepper, red pepper flakes and some fresh or dried thyme. Let the onions color a bit and begin to carmelize, 5-7 minutes. If things seem to dry in the pan, add a splash of white wine, water or apple juice/water and a squeeze of lemon (which is an old veg tip for the non-alcohol cookers). Add the stems and chopped pepper, stir a bit and let that cook a bit further. Another good way of adding some liquid is simply to cover and let the veggies soften and steam and then uncover to get some browning happening.

Add the chopped greens, lifting them out of the water and shaking lightly before adding to the pan. This way, the greens arrive with some water clinging to their leaves which helps things soften and cook down nicely. Even if it seems like too many greens for the pot, shove them in and cover them and let them cook down and soften but not turn to mush, stirring occasionally as they begin to collapse and fit into the pan better - about 7-8 minutes.

Strain the vegetables and add some cheese. You can add about 1/2 cup shredded parmesan and I recommend a dry and crumbly kind of parmesan to add lots of flavor in that 1/2 cup. You could go with a soft cheese and crumble in about 3-4 oz of soft goat cheese. Or, choose a hard cheese of your liking - smoked gouda or manchego, for example. The cheese is enough to bind this lightly without adding egg but you could add an egg or 2 mixed with a spot of milk for a more 'bound' gratin but that's more like a quiche and I wasn't looking for that.

Spread the gratin into a large baking pan - 9x13 or thereabouts. Top with toasted crumbs and bake just to combine everything and melt the cheese and further brown the crumbs - about 20 minutes tops.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Fete du Kale

Food in Israel is grand. Produce is local and fresh. The organic marketplace is growing and developing but the cooking greens leave a bit to be desired. The spinach is tasty but not delicate enough and the beet greens/mangold, are the only cooking greens regularly available. They're a bit like chard, without the lemony flavor, and while hearty and tasty, we all grow tired of them. I pine for collards and kale. Once last year, I caught someone who posted on Janglo, the local listserv of all that interesting and available, that they had a glut of kale in their garden. I went over immediately to investigate and found a rather unusual kind of guy, who had a massive garden in what was basically an empty and untended lot next to his garden apartment and who had ton of kale - curly and flat leaved varieties growing. I bought up 2 bags and went home and cooked and spent the rest of the year remembering the experience fondly.

I've asked Meir of Hachavah Haorganit a few times about varieties of greens and he's assured me that his growers are hoping to offer some alternatives. Two weeks ago, the kale arrived. Beautiful, flat-leaved and purple veined, Red Russian variety, kale. I practically swooned with pleasure. I had ordered 3 bunches of Kale along with 2 bunches of mangold and was ready to have my calcium and vitamin C raised along with my tastebuds.

Kale is lovely steamed and dressed or sauteed simply with or without onion and garlic and chopped red pepper, let's say, and then eaten (once it's been lightly salted and peppered and splashed with lemon juice). It's good roasted - develops and intensifies the flavors and yet sweetens the result through the roasting process. It's great, a la Marion Stein, sauteed - first saute onion and garlic, salt and pepper, then the kale stems, then add cubed new potatoes and stir-fry. Cover and let them cook for a bit, adding a bit of liquid as necessary - like white wine, or water as well. As the potatoes get a bit more tender, add the chopped kale and saute some more. Cover and cook until potatoes are fully cooked. Stir together, adding salt and pepper to taste and a squeeze of lemon juice and eat - either plain, or on pasta but I like it plain. Hearty and good.

Kale is great in soup and that's what I did with it over the past 2 weeks. It was chopped and added into a fish soup, then a veg soup and then my favorite - Sweet potato and Kale Soup.

Sweet potatoes - 3-4 chopped. (You could also use winter squash)
Carrots - 3-4 diced.
Celery - 2 ribs sliced.
Onion - 2 medium, diced.
Garlic - 3-4 cloves, chopped.
1 bunch Kale - Trim ends, chop stems and wash, reserving to saute with celery. Chop greens and soak in water, changing as needed if very dirty.
Water - 8-10 cups
Bay leaves, salt and pepper
Lemon juice - 1 lemon
Miso - mellow white or light colored variety (you can make the soup without this but it does give a lovely flavor and is quite good for you).

Warm olive oil. Saute onion for a few minutes, then add garlic. Stir fry for 2 minutes, not letting it brown. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Add carrot, celery and kale stems and saute for 3-5 minutes letting them soften slightly. Add sweet potatoes (or winter squash) and cook, stirring frequently for another 5-8 minutes. Add kale and cook, stirring until greens are semi-wilted, 3-5 minutes. Add water to cover, stirring as you add - you should be able to stir the veggies but still sense a chunky and not thin mixture. Add 2 bay leaves. Bring to boil and let cook until sweet potatoes are tender, 15-20 minutes.

Dip a cup of hot soup broth out of the pot and add 2 tbsps miso, stirring the miso up and pressing it against the cup to combine it with the liquid. Add the lemon juice and pour the mixture back into the pot. Taste soup. If you like it more miso'y, do process again - it's not necessary to add more lemon juice.

(If you're not doing miso, add some white wine when you add the broth water or puree a can of white beans - strained and rinsed - and add them to the pot for body and taste with some lemon juice and be prepared to add more salt and pepper as well).

This is a lovely soup and it ages well, too. Heat it up and add some noodles or cooked rice for some extra body as well.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Celeriac Salad

Another misunderstood vegetable, unless you're French of course and have grown up eating it as celeriac remoulade - a light and tangy salad of shoestrings of celeriac dressed with a mayonaise-mustard sauce. Actually, a traditional remoulade is an offshoot of the ingredients that it takes to make an aoli or mayonaise, with boiled egg yolk added to thicken the texture and often combined with lemon juice, mustard and something to cream it up, like mayo or in a nod to modernity, creme fraiche or even yogurt which could be enriched with a few tablespoons of heavy cream for improved taste and texture without too much extra calories. Celeriac is great mashed, especially when combined with potatoes to help 'cream' up the texture, or with other root veggies in combination. It's flavor is most definitely celery-like as opposed to fennel which always surprises with it's clean crunch and flavor.

Courtesy of vegetable man Meir Todress, we had celeriac last week and it was a real cause for celebration along with the gorgeous kale!!! and fresh bulbs of garlic that arrived in our box. We cooked and enjoyed these late winter early spring offerings - kale in soup and sauteed with other veggies (I'll write about kale shortly).

Ira and I admired the celeriac and while I considered the various options, he decided that a salad was the best option and the most obvious choice. He proceeded to start julienning. If someone wants to julienne veggies, you don't argue, you make the dressing. I like blanching the veggies before dressing them but Ira wanted it raw.

Before you shy away from julienning - and everyone should own a good mandoline (we need a better one as it just doesn't julienne well). We tried upgrading to the Oxo one which was $75 and discovered that it just wasn't worth it. So, it's clear that it's a $150 investment for a European one or bust. Then again, there's always the knife.

Celeriac Remoulade a la Beth and Ira
1. Pare and Slice the celeriac as thinly as possible. You'll feel like you're cutting away a lot of the veggie as it's a fairly gnarly looking root veg but persevere, there will still be veg left for the salad.
2. Optional: Bring a pot of salted water to boil and blanch for about 2 minutes, just taking the 'rawness' out of the veg. Given that it's julienned you don't need to do anymore than that.
3. Whisk together mustard, mayonaise, lemon juice, salt and pepper, apple juice/water/honey (according to taste and how loose or thick you want the dressing). Dress the salad.
4. Finely mince fresh parsley (dill could be nice as well) and add in some capers (you can use their liquid as your acid instead of lemon juice or in combo if you wish). Mix. Let it sit for a bit before eating and enjoy.

Some variations that seemed respectable.
http://www.elise.com/recipes/archives/000990celery_root_salad.php. With shredded apple/
http://thestonesoup.com/blog/2006/05/one-for-the-ladies/. Using creme fraiche.
http://www.greenchronicle.com/valentines_recipes/celeriac_salad_recipe.htm - the egg yolk method.
http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/11069. Nice looking option, no apple.