Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Apple Crisp

This is the final recipe from last week's Community Green dinner. Served with a scoop of vegan ice cream, it's heaven on a plate. Go out of your way to seek out fantastic apples for this recipe. New Jersey grows over 30 varieties, so you shouldn't have a problem doing so. My favorite variety, the Winesap, has been grown in New Jersey since the 1700s. When I have time to get out of the area and visit my favorite orchard in New Paltz, I make this with a combination of Ida Red and Northern Spy apples, and nothing tastes better. Experiment and find your own favorite - see my note below for suggested varieties.

For apple filling:
3 lbs. mixed seasonal apples*, peeled, cored and sliced
Juice of ½ lemon
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour

For crisp topping:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 ¼ cups brown sugar
2 ¼ cup rolled oats
3 teaspoons cinnamon
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
12 oz. Earth Balance butter substitute, well-chilled

Prepare apple filling: Toss peeled, cored and sliced apples with lemon juice, brown sugar and flour. Set aside.

Prepare crisp topping:
Combine flour, brown sugar, oats, cinnamon and sea salt in a large bowl. Stir to combine. Add the Earth Balance all at once in small pieces. Rub mixture together with your hands until it resembles coarse crumbs.

Place apple filling in a well-greased 9x11” baking dish. Top with crisp topping. Bake at 325 degrees for about 35-40 minutes, until filling is bubbly and crisp topping is golden.

Serve warm with ice cream.

*Suggested apple varieties: A mixture of any of the following: Winesap, Stayman, Ida Red, Northern Spy, Empire, Jonagold, Jonathan.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Roasted Beet Carpaccio with Toasted Walnuts, Microgreens and Lemon Vinaigrette

Here is another fancy little number from our Community Green dinner. This one looks simply ravishing on the plate, and, in my humble little opinion, blows the raw beef version right out of the water. If you want to go nuts with it, a little shaved fennel would not be amiss here in place of or in addition to the microgreens. Most of your time will be spent slicing the beets, so if you're making this for a crowd, set aside a little extra time. For a family supper, you can skip this step and just use your knife, but I recommend trying it my way if you have the time. Sometimes beauty is worth the price.

Serves Eight.
Beet Carpaccio:
4 large beets
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup shelled walnuts
1 cup microgreens

Lemon Vinaigrette:
¼ cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 shallot, finely minced
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup finest-quality extra virgin olive oil

Scrub beets but do not peel. Remove the very top and bottom of each beet. Place in a double thickness of aluminum foil, top with olive oil, and wrap tightly. Roast in a 400 degree oven for 30-40 minutes, until tender when pricked with a fork but not soft. Set aside to cool.

While beets are roasting, chop walnuts and roast for 10 minutes in the oven with the beets. Set aside to cool.

Prepare lemon vinaigrette: Combine lemon juice, lemon zest, Dijon mustard, shallot, salt and pepper. Whisk to combine. Whisk in olive oil, drop by drop, using all. Taste and adjust salt and pepper if necessary. You want a very bright, acidic flavor to counter the sweetness of the beets and the toasty flavor of the almonds. Set aside.

When beets are cool enough to handle, peel carefully, then slice very thinly using a mandoline slicer. Aim for slices thin enough to see through. Unless you want pink fingers for a few days, you may wish to wear gloves.

To plate: Toss microgreens with a teaspoon of dressing. Lay beets down center of plate, overlapping slightly. Sprinkle with toasted walnuts. Top with microgreens, and drizzle each plate with a little dressing.

Celery Root and Potato Soup with Chestnut Foam and Parsley Croutons

This recipe continues those served at last weekend's Community Green dinner. I meant to get them up sooner, but with Mom (and our beloved family dog Chloe) here recovering from surgery (just Mom, not our Dear Chloe), I haven't had a minute to breathe, let alone write! Now that she's doing great and I've packed her off to her own home, I can get back to business.

This is a grand special occasion soup, although none of the components take very long to prepare. You can make the stock and soup in advance, and prepare the chestnut foam up to the point where it comes out of the blender. Then just finish your foam, reheat the soup, and make the croutons. It would make a lovely first course for Thanksgiving, and is the perfect cool-weather weekend supper with some good bread, a salad, and a fresh fruit dessert.

You will need a whip with CO2 chargers to make the foam. If you don't have one, you can skip the foam and it will be simpler but still quite yummy, but if you are up to the investment, it's a great little product that will also make all kinds of cool dessert items.

Serves six to eight as a first course, or four heartier portions .
For Light Vegetable Stock:
8 cups water
3 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 ribs celery, sliced
3 shallots, halved, skin left on
Peels from 4 Yukon Gold potatoes
1 bouquet garni: 1 bay leaf, 3 or 4 sprigs of fresh thyme, 8 black peppercorns, 1 small bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley

For Soup:
¼ cup olive oil
2 cups sliced leeks, white and light green parts only
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 large celery root (celeriac), peeled and diced
4 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced
8 cups light vegetable stock 1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon fine sea salt, divided
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
½ cup dry white wine
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh lemon juice, to taste
Cayenne pepper hot sauce, to taste

For Chestnut Foam:
1 cup peeled, roasted chestnuts
1 cup light vegetable stock
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
A pinch of cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon agar agar

For Parsley Croutons:
2 cups crusty French bread, cut into ½” cubes
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons Earth Balance spread, melted
½ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Prepare vegetable stock: Add all ingredients to a medium sauce pan. Simmer for about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare soup and foam ingredients and Parsley Croutons.

Prepare Chestnut Foam:
Roast, peel and chop chestnuts (make an “x” in the bottom of each chestnut with a sharp knife. Roast at 400 degrees for about 35 minutes, or until peels begin to come away. Bottled unsweetened chestnuts may be substituted if necessary.) Combine chestnuts and 1 cup vegetable stock. Simmer for 25 minutes. Puree mixture in a blender on high setting. Strain with a fine mesh strainer, and return to sauce pan. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of cayenne. Heat to a boil, add agar agar, and whisk to combine thoroughly. Chill mixture completely. Set aside in refrigerator. When ready to serve soup, add to a whip fitted with a CO2 charger to make foam.

Prepare soup:
Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium heat; add leeks and a pinch of sea salt. Cook leeks for about 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute more. Add celery root, potatoes, vegetable stock and remaining salt. Simmer for 25 minutes, or until ingredients are soft. Run soup through a food mill into a large bowl. Wipe sauce pan clean and return to the pot. Add almond milk, white wine and a liberal grinding of fresh pepper. Simmer for five minutes. Taste, and adjust acidity and flavor with fresh lemon juice and hot sauce. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Prepare Parsley Croutons:
Combine all ingredients. Spread on a heavy sheet pan and bake at 400 degrees, stirring frequently, until golden and crispy. Keep warm.

To serve soup:

Plate each individual portion. Top with chestnut foam and parsley croutons. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Vanilla-Ginger Chip Ice Cream

This ice cream, based on Priscilla Feral's Vanilla Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream from The Best of Vegan Cooking, is simply delicious. I made a few small changes to the recipe, but the technique remains the same - soy creamer is sweetened with agave nectar, flavored, thickened with cornstarch, and enriched with coconut milk. If you haven't tried vegan ice cream, or if you have only tasted the commercially prepared stuff, this luscious frozen treat will make a believer out of you.

I served this ice cream at this past Saturday's vegan dinner fundraiser for Community Green, with a warm apple crisp (recipe to follow). Although I love to introduce vegan and vegetarian cuisine to those who have never tried it before, cooking for a group of environmentalists, animal rights activists, and other like-minded people energizes and inspires me. Sometimes it's fun to skip the "why" of fabulous vegan cuisine, and and just teach delicious food and advanced techniques to people who don't need to be convinced. Thanks to all who came to eat and learn, and for those who didn't, try the recipes at home and join us next time!

You will need an ice cream maker. I used a Cuisinart, which does a fine job, but any kind will do - just make sure your mixture is well-chilled before you begin churning to ensure a smooth and creamy consistency.

2 cups French Vanilla soy creamer
1 vanilla bean
1/2 cup agave nectar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold water
1 cup light coconut milk
1/2 cup organic candied ginger bits

In a medium sauce pan, heat soy creamer and salt over medium-high heat. Cut vanilla bean in half and scrape the pulp into the pan as well. Reserve vanilla bean pod for another use. Whisk mixture frequently, and bring to a boil.

Mix cornstarch with 2 tablespoons cold water; whisk until smooth.

Add cornstarch mixture and agave nectar to sauce pan and reduce heat to medium. Whisk constantly until slightly thickened, about four minutes. Stir in coconut milk.

Make an ice bath: Fill a large bowl with ice and a little cold water. Transfer ice cream mixture to a slightly smaller bowl. Set bowl in the ice bath to cool the mixture rapidly, stirring frequently. When it has cooled, transfer ice cream bowl to refrigerator and chill until very cold, about another hour.

Process in an ice cream machine (mine took about 25 minutes), adding ginger chips during the last five minutes of churning. Transfer to a container and freeze.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Nummy Apple Oatmeal

When The Muffin likes something, it is declared to be "nummy". If it's really good, it's "nummy nummy", but that is reserved for such delicacies as fries dipped in copious amounts of ketchup, or muffins (natch). During our morning visit today, I stirred up a big batch of apple and cinnamon oatmeal to celebrate the start of autumn. The apples came in our CSA share this week, and are a little bit tart and very delicious, a wonderful counterpoint to creamy oatmeal. Since The Muffin liked it, I hope you will, too.

I make a big batch of this oatmeal, and freeze it in little containers. Popped into a lunch bag and reheated in the microwave, it's a nutritious and fiber-rich breakfast. Cinnamon provides anti-inflammatory properties, and a touch of fortified organic soy or rice milk rounds it out with protein.

Heat four cups of water, and one cup of organic soy or rice milk. While you wait for it to come up to a simmer, peel and chop one or two apples. When the water/milk mixture is simmering, add one cup each of rolled oats and steel-cut Irish oats, the apple chunks, a teaspoon of cinnamon (more if you are as crazy for cinnamon as I am), and about 1/4 cup of organic sugar or agave nectar. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, stirring frequently, for about 20-30 minutes. Eat all you like, and freeze the rest (The Ball Mason Jar company makes a great freezer container that holds about a half cup and doesn't spill in your lunch bag - great for pesto, sauces and oatmeal!). If you like, you can pour over a little more milk, a drizzle of agave nectar or honey, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Trust me, you'll think it's nummy, too.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Spinach Soup

We’re officially nine days away from our move, and I feel as though I am living in a forest of cardboard. I’m having trouble remembering what and when we’ve eaten, which is very unlike me. I observed to a friend the other day that our meals have begun to resemble those eaten in college days, with random soup from the freezer poured over rice, or a sad veggie burger heated up in the microwave.

Most of my cookware has been bubble-wrapped and packed, but I still have a soup pot at the ready, and I am determined that the next week will include good food that is good for us.

Craving antioxidants, clean flavors and some low-fat goodness, I pulled this recipe out of my archive this morning to make for tonight’s dinner. This spinach soup is velvety, nutritious, and lovely served hot or cold. Garnish it simply with minced chives, or make it special with a tiny dollop of tofu sour cream stirred together with finely minced parsley and tarragon and a drop of lemon juice. This makes a beautiful and simple passed hors d’oeuvre when served in a demitasse or sake cup, and is highly restorative when eaten by the large bowlful.

Spinach Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 yukon gold potato, peeled and finely chopped
4 cups light vegetable stock
½ cup Italian parsley, leaves only, packed
1 ½ lbs. fresh spinach, tough ribs removed
Lemon juice, hot sauce, salt and pepper

Wash parsley and spinach well in several changes of cold water. Drain, roughly chop spinach, and set both aside.

In a large sauce pan over medium heat, heat olive oil. Add the onion, garlic and carrot, and sauté until soft and translucent. Add vegetable stock and potato, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.

Add spinach and parsley to pot, and return to a boil. Turn off heat, cover, and allow to stand for five minutes. Puree the soup, either using an immersion blender, or in batches in your blender (do be careful when using the blender – fill no more than halfway, remove the center piece of the lid, and top with a heavy towel. You don’t want a hot soup explosion!).

Taste soup, and adjust seasoning with a bit of lemon juice and hot sauce. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. If you are looking for perfect texture, you may wish to run the soup through a chinois or a fine mesh strainer at this point.

Serve immediately, or, to serve chilled, pour into a bowl set in an ice bath, stir until cool, and refrigerate until cold.

Serves 4-6.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

French Green Beans at Richfield Farms

I stopped into Richfield Farms this morning, not really needing anything, but with a feeling that something good was waiting for me. I was right! The French green beans (haricots verts if you’re feeling fancy) are in. They were the highlight of the local growing season for me last year, and I served them constantly during the few weeks that they were available.

These are not just any string bean. They are tender, flavorful and organically grown. I am heading into the kitchen right this very minute to pop them into the steam oven, and then toss them with sliced shallots, good olive oil, a little vinegar, and some sweet and delicious tomatoes, also grown at the farm.

Richfield Farms is truly my favorite farm, and one of the only things I am going to miss about living in our Clifton neighborhood. Luckily, it will still be an easy drive from our new house, so I’ll continue to visit frequently. They have everything you need for your garden, including organic supplies and advice, awesome locally grown produce, really nice people, and some of the friendliest dogs you will ever meet, including a tireless border collie who would really, really, really like you to throw a stick for him to fetch. I love this place. I hope you will, too.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Preserves from the Edible Garden

This summer has been particularly enjoyable thanks to the opportunity to participate in The Edible Garden at the New York Botanical Garden. This Wednesday, July 29th, check out my blog post on Plant Talk, detailing my recent visit to the Garden’s Greenmarket, with a recipe for a deliciously different spiced tomato pickle.

I spent a gorgeous July morning at the Greenmarket, eating, talking to farmers, and visiting with some of the delightful people responsible for the Edible Garden exhibit. As I headed back from my trip, the river sparkled a beautiful blue-green, the usual New York City traffic was nowhere to be found, and I had some time to imagine the possibilities for the produce chilling in its refrigerated bag on the car seat beside me.

This preserve is one of those “one time only” products, born of late-night creativity and a little bit of the “why not?” sensibility that I feel is necessary for wonderful cooking. It features late-season blueberries, early-season Empire apples, and a memento of a happy family vacation from many years ago, an aged Barbardos rum with hints of vanilla, nutmeg, smoke and sunshine. I chose to add blackberries and a bit of organic applesauce because of their high pectin content – I wanted a good “jell”, but didn’t want to add powdered pectin to this beautiful, organic work of culinary art. Tasting as I went along, I decided that a little balsamic vinegar would not be amiss. I finished with a tiny grating of fresh nutmeg and just a pinch of cinnamon.

This recipe made three 12 oz. jars of finished preserves, plus a small bowlful that I put into the fridge so everyone could taste it. It’s amazing on toast, spread on pound cake, or perhaps just eaten from a spoon while standing in front of the refrigerator.

I’ll be back at the Edible Garden one more time this summer, on Saturday, August 8th. Our topic will be Home Canning, and I’ll be showing you how to preserve the bounty of your garden or local farmers’ market. I hope to see you there!

Blueberry and Empire Apple Preserves

2 pints blueberries, carefully washed and picked over
3 Empire apples, peeled and finely chopped
4 oz. blackberries
2 cups sugar
¼ cup aged Barbados rum
Juice of 2 lemons
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
¾ cup prepared applesauce
A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
A pinch of cinnamon
Bottled lemon juice, about 1 tablespoon per jar

Place blueberries, apples, blackberries, sugar, rum, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar and applesauce in a heavy, non-reactive pot. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, for 35 minutes. Add cinnamon and nutmeg, and cook for about 10 minutes more. You will know it’s done because it will be thick and delicious, and it will look like preserves. This recipe is high in natural pectin thanks to the apples, applesauce and blackberries, so it will jell a bit more upon standing.

Ladle into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 “ headspace. Top each jar with enough bottled lemon juice to leave ¼” headspace, about 1 tablespoon. Place lids on jars, and screw bands to “fingertip tightness”. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

This preserve will keep in a cool, dark cupboard for up to a year. Any leftover jam that doesn’t make it into a jar will keep, well-covered, in your refrigerator for 2 weeks.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Survival Food

My mother has but two rules for a quick "comfort food" supper. It must be hot, and it must be brown. To this, I add that it must be nutritious, and should include a vegetable of some sort.

My sister and I were discussing food yesterday morning, as usual, while The Muffin ran wild playing with my grandfather (nothing is cuter, but I digress) - specifically, what to do with all of the chard in her CSA share. As I am in the middle of packing my entire life to move to a new home and have zero motivation left by the time I realize that we're starving and must eat NOW, I suggested lentils and rice, which is the official fast food of my household.

Lentils and rice can be made in many ways, with as few or as many ingredients as you like. My husband will eat it every day. It takes less than 45 minutes to cook, and will taste good no matter what you do to it. It is beyond inexpensive, and packed with nutrients, fiber and all kinds of other good things (particularly rich in B vitamins and iron, so my fellow veggies need to eat this once a week). Feel free to add more or less olive oil, fancy it up with carrots and celery, throw in cumin or chile flakes or oregano or fresh parsley, chervil, tarragon - whatever, really, and it will be good. And hot. And brown. Sometimes, that's all you need.

Lentils and Rice:

Make some rice. Or buy some from your local Chinese restaurant. Brown rice, white rice. It's all good. My sister, more virtuous than I, was planning to use quinoa, but went with Chinese food brown rice at the last minute. We had basmati.

Gather the following:
1/2 lb. lentils
olive oil
1 small onion
1 big, fat clove of garlic (more if you like)
a bay leaf
a branch or two of thyme (optional but yummy)
a splash of white wine, sherry or vermouth
4 cups vegetable stock (The kind in a box is fine. I won't tell.)
a bunch of chard. or spinach. or whatever greens you have lying about.
a little balsamic vinegar and lemon juice

Rinse and pick over lentils. Chop onion and garlic. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Saute onion with a little pinch of salt until it softens; add garlic and saute another minute or two. Add lentils, stir, then add a splash of white wine or sherry. Add the vegetable stock all at once with thyme and bay leaf, and simmer for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, slice chard into a thin chiffonade. Add chard to lentils, season with salt and pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar, and cook until lentils are done (they will take 30-40 minutes from start to finish). Taste and adjust seasoning with lemon juice and more salt and pepper if needed. Serve hot over rice.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

"These are the last of the North Jersey blueberries."

I hated hearing those words today at Richfield Farms (on Van Houten Ave in Clifton - go there and check it out!), where I purchased six quarts of the berries in question, as well at the earliest of their field-grown organic tomatoes, a cabbage, some sweet onions, and (confession) two quarts of California strawberries that I could not resist. The strawberry season was cut short before I could even begin to enjoy it, and now blueberries? If you love blueberries, I suggest that you go get some. Now.

I decided to drive to Richfield today, since my back was a bit achey from carrying The Muffin around all evening (the word of the day was "up!", and woe to she who does not immediately comply) and a long and solitary walk in the mid-day sun was not terribly appealing. I also wanted to stop by Ploch's Farm.

I can never find Ploch's Farm on the first try. You Clifton natives can draw me as many maps as you like, or use very small words while trying to explain it to me, but the way Grove Street and Broad Street twist around, merge and whatever else is happening there will never, ever make sense to me. The inevitable detour did allow for some really dramatic car-singing, though, and I was having a very good time with The Cure (embarassing but true; I really do need to get an ipod adapter for my car) until I pulled up at Plochs.

No one was there! The sign reading "fresh fruits and vegetables since 1867" was behind a closed gate. I did see a few veggies in a field, and I hope they're just closed for the holiday weekend. Their website is up and running, so I will try again during the week.

I'm going to spend this afternoon freezing and baking with blueberries, making big batches of vegetable soup for us and the grandparents, and hoping that the rest of our local crops fare better than the spring crop.

Note: South Jersey blueberries are still available at Richfield, Farms View, and other local farms!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Come see me at The Edible Garden!

This summer, stay local. The Edible Garden is the New York Botanical Garden’s summer-long celebration of growing and eating fresh, locally grown food. Learn to grow and prepare delicious garden produce, meet celebrity chefs and gardeners, and spend time with family and friends exploring our many summer exhibits all within the garden’s spectacular 250-acre landscape, just minutes from Manhattan, the boroughs, Bergen County and Westchester.

I’ll be appearing at the Edible Garden twice this summer, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. I had the pleasure of attending the opening of the exhibit last weekend. The gardens could not be lovelier. I particularly enjoyed our tour of the Family Garden, where education programs teach New York City children to grow, eat and enjoy their veggies, and families tend plots together. The staff is amazing and knowledgeable, and the setting is perfect for strolling, contemplating, and enjoying nature in all of its splendor.

On July 11th at 3pm, come to the Conservatory Kitchen for Summer Salads from the Grill. Using the freshest local produce, I’ll be demonstrating Roasted Tomato Gazpacho, Grilled Corn and Black-Eyed Pea Salad (featured in The Best of Vegan Cooking), and a fabulous Grilled Panzanella.

On August 8th, I’ll return to the Conservatory Kitchen at 1pm and 3pm for Home Canning. We’ll discuss methods for preserving the bounty of your garden or local farmers’ market, and I’ll show you how to make tomato sauce and fruit preserves.

For more information and discounted tickets, visit www.nybg.org/promo. Choose: Friends Ticket Buy 1 Adult get 1 half price, and enter code: EGDIG09.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette

Will the sun ever come out? I am beginning to think not, but fresh produce and herbs have provided a ray of sunshine in an otherwise dreary season. My sister was washing and storing her CSA share this past week while I sat at her kitchen table playing with my niece, The Muffin, when she asked, "What am I going to do with all this cilantro?". Here's what I did. Thanks, Krissi, for sharing the bounty with me.

Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette

Juice of three limes
1 small shallot, finely minced
1 tablespoon agave nectar
1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
A dash of green chile hot sauce
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Whisk all ingredients together, or shake them in a jar. We enjoyed this with a well-chilled salad of freshly picked lettuce, radishes, carrots and avocado.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

April, and soup.

Is April the cruelest month? I can never remember. It seemed so this year, though, with never-ending grey skies and rain, the unexpected and untimely death of a dear old friend, Gram’s continued slow decline, and a work schedule that just doesn’t quit.

Of course, this all shall pass, and wonderful things are on the horizon. The sun even came out for an hour today, and plans are in the works for a vegan dinner to benefit Community Green (last year’s was an amazing experience, so save the date for June 27th), as well as summertime cooking demonstrations at the New York Botanical Garden.

Of course, the most thrilling news this spring was the publication of The Best of Vegan Cooking. I was honored to be invited to contribute to this book, and am so pleased that the proceeds benefit Friends of Animals. My heartfelt thanks to Priscilla Feral and Lee Hall for involving me in this project, and inspiring me to be a better chef and a better human being. Read an interview with Priscilla about the book here.

Now, let’s talk about what I’ve been cooking. Pressed for time and, quite honestly, feeling a bit down, the watchword in our kitchen at home has been comfort, and I’ve tried to make do with as few ingredients as possible. Although it is officially spring, winter foods are still in abundance, and none of the local markets have opened yet. Soup dominates my home menus year round, and soup it has been, on a near-daily basis. Here are two.

A definite favorite has been sweetpotato and kale soup, inspired by several sweetpotatoes that sat forlornly next to Rebecca’s high chair in my sister’s kitchen until I forced her to make this yummy and fortifying concoction.

I am also making lots of roasted tomato and chile soup, born of necessity and made from whatever I had in the pantry. It’s a little spicy, a lot delicious, and easily made by anyone. Yes, anyone. Recipes follow.

Sweetpotato and Kale soup:
Peel and dice two large sweetpotatoes (yes, it really is one word. Look it up.). Chop a large bunch of kale and a few cloves of garlic (I like two or three, you might like as many as six or seven. It’s your choice.). Open a can of cannelini beans and a box of organic vegetable stock (4 cups if you’re using fresh).
Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a large sauce pan. Sauté garlic briefly, then add kale and a pinch of salt. Cook kale over medium heat for two or three minutes, then add vegetable stock, sweetpotatoes, and about a teaspoon of Italian seasoning. Simmer until sweetpotatoes are tender. Drain and rinse beans, add to soup and heat through. Season with salt, pepper, and a little hot sauce and fresh lemon juice. Serve with hot bread. Eaten from a big bowl, on the couch in your pajamas or at the kitchen table, it is nourishment for body and soul.

Roasted Tomato and Chile soup:
I love Muir Glen tomatoes, especially once I have run out of my homegrown, canned tomatoes (this happened in February, so Muir Glen is really getting my business this year). The Fire Roasted variety add great flavor to soups and chili.
Go get yourself a big can (28 oz.) of Fire Roasted Tomatoes, and a little can of diced green chiles (a pantry staple, surely you have some!). Chop a large yellow onion and a clove of garlic. You will also need 4 cups of vegetable stock.
Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Sauté onions with a little salt until soft but not browned, about 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for one minute more. Add chiles, tomatoes and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then simmer for half an hour. Taste and adjust with freshly ground pepper, lemon juice, hot sauce and a little agave nectar if you feel it needs sweetness. Serve hot in a great big mug. If you want to get crazy, garnish with sliced scallions, chopped avocado, or tortilla chips.

Here’s hoping that May will bring flowers (and fewer showers!), hope, happiness and good food to all.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Whole Wheat Linguine with Cauliflower and Tomato Sauce

This is a hearty, satisfying and almost meaty-textured dish. It's inexpensive, incredibly nutritious, and full of fiber.

Cauliflower is a true "superfood" - rich in folate (for cell growth and replication, especially important for women of child-bearing age), selenium (for immune system support), and allicin (for heart health). Cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli and brussels sprouts have been shown to prevent certain cancers.

Tomatoes are also fantastic for your body - one serving provides almost half of your RDA of Vitamin C, as well as lycopene, a powerful antioxidant. They are also rich in Vitamin A, iron and potassium.

Toss together a crisp green salad loaded with fresh raw vegetables to serve with your pasta, and you'll have an incredibly healthy, cholesterol-reducing dinner on the table in about 20 minutes!

You will need:
1 head cauliflower, broken into florets
1 pound whole wheat linguine
2 1/2 cups tomato sauce
olive oil
fresh (or slightly stale) bread crumbs, tossed with olive oil and toasted in a hot oven
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions. (Whole wheat pastas vary wildly in cooking times. I am a fan of DiCecco, as well as BioNaturae brand whole wheat pastas.)

Meanwhile, steam cauliflower florets until tender. Remove from steamer and chop finely. Heat cauliflower in a large sauce pan with tomato sauce.

Stir chopped parsley into bread crumbs and set aside.

Save a little pasta cooking water, then drain well. Add pasta to the tomato sauce and cauliflower mixture, and toss over medium heat for a minute or two. If it seems dry, add a little of the pasta cooking water. Turn off the heat, and drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil. Season to taste with salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper.

Serve in heated bowls, garnished with parsley-bread crumb mixture.

Depending on your appetite, this dish will serve four to six.

Tomorrow: focaccia pizza.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Tomato Sauce Manifesto

It seems to me that for many years, our mainstream culture has shunned foods that are simple and economical in favor of that which is “gourmet”. Lately, though, economic necessity has brought cheap eating to the forefront of our consciousness, and I, for one, could not be happier.
I was talking to my childhood BFF Denise the other night. She had decided to write down recipes for things she cooks without really thinking about it, and we had a lively discussion of tomato sauce and its many variables.
For me, there is nothing more versatile and inexpensive than a large pot of tomato sauce, which can be turned into many different, nutritious meals. As children, we ate “macaroni” several times a week. Served with a salad, it was a nutritious way to feed three kids with enormous appetites without spending a fortune on groceries. We will focus this week on making a good sauce, and using it in a variety of ways.
First, though, let’s clarify a few things for all you Tony Soprano wannabes out there. First, there is no such thing as one true and correct Italian tomato sauce. Italian cuisine has many tomato sauces, each tailored to the ingredients it will be served with, the region it is prepared in, and the whims of the cook. Second, “marinara” is strictly an Italian-American invention. If you visit Italy and ask for pasta with marinara, you will likely get a strange look and a plate full of pasta with seafood in it. Finally, and I am going to apologize to my fellow Belleville, New Jersey natives here, “gravy” is brown, and it’s made from meat drippings. There is a tendency among the children of southern Italian immigrants to the Newark and Brooklyn areas during the 20th century to use the term “gravy” to refer to tomato sauce cooked with meat, but, again, it’s not Italian, and it certainly isn’t gravy.
It is also interesting to note here that my grandfather Angelo, born in the northern mountains of the Veneto, never tasted tomato sauce until he emigrated to Newark in the 1930s. For him, real Italian food was polenta, cheese, and plenty of fresh vegetables, preferably fresh from the garden. It was his landlady Mrs. Nisovoccia, as well as my grandmother Josephine, a fantastic Italian-American cook who was born in Newark to parents who emigrated from Emilia Romagna, who introduced him to the food that, in our part of New Jersey, is considered “real” Italian food.
With my rantings about what is correct out of the way, we will proceed to the recipe for our basic sauce. We will be making “sugo”, a long-cooked tomato sauce that provides excellent flavor even when using canned tomatoes. Of course, if you have put up your own jars of tomatoes and still have them at this time of year (we don’t, as I used my last jar to brighten a dark and miserable February day), all the better.
This recipe will yield about seven pints of sauce, enough for six or seven meals. It freezes well, and can be used in a variety of ways, which we will explore over the next few days.
Gather the following:
4 28 oz. cans of tomatoes, preferably your own, or a San Marzano variety (make sure the jar says D.O.P, a designation that indicates real Italian San Marzano tomatoes), or Redpack, a very decent-tasting canned tomato from California
1 small onion, minced very fine (I mean it, no big chunks!)
2 ribs of celery (don’t use the tough outer ribs for this, or they won’t disappear into your sauce), minced very fine
1 carrot, minced very fine
3 cloves of garlic, run through a garlic press, minced very fine, or, if you really want to get into the spirit of the thing, sliced very thinly with a razor blade (We do this once a year, during a garlic slicing contest at our annual “Goodfellas” dinner and movie screening that becomes dangerously competitive. ).
¼ cup of good extra-virgin olive oil (if you say “EVOO”, I’ll have to slap you around, so don’t).
A pinch each of dried oregano and dried marjoram. Just a pinch. Please. You want to taste the tomatoes here.
½ cup dry white wine
Pepper, to taste.
A handful of fresh basil, torn into smaller pieces.
In a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat for a minute or two. Add the onions, and immediately salt them. Adding salt right away will ensure that the onions release their liquid and break down in the sauce. There is nothing worse than biting into a piece of onion that still has some crunch to it. Both of my parents were guilty of this sin (as well as the sin of using too many herbs). It’s one of the reasons I learned to cook when I was very young – self-defense.
Stir the onions constantly, until they begin to lose their color and become soft and opaque. Do not let them brown. Add the carrots and celery, and immediately add a little more salt. Cook for about five minutes, then increase the heat to medium-high and add the garlic with a little more salt. Stir for about another minute, and add your tomatoes all at once. It’s up to you whether you use whole or crushed, or how much you break them up (my husband likes a very smooth tomato sauce, so I usually run the tomatoes through a food mill). Bring to a boil, add the dried herbs and reduce the heat to low. Cook for an hour or two, stirring frequently, until the vegetables in the sauce have broken down completely and the whole house smells like Sunday morning at Grandma’s.
I like to skim any foamy orange “scum” that rises to the top of the sauce occasionally, being careful to leave behind the delicious onion and garlic flavored olive oil immediately below.
Add the wine, a little fresh pepper, and a handful of torn basil leaves, and cook for another five minutes or so. Take it off the heat, and finish with another drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, as you want to taste it in the finished sauce.
Notice that I’m not specifying a quantity of salt. Canned tomatoes contain varying amounts of sodium, and you need to taste and let your palate be your guide.
Cool your sauce, and pack whatever will not be used within the next day or so into freezer-suitable pint and quart containers.
For dinner, have spaghetti! (Or, if Denise is here, have linguine, since it’s her favorite.) Cook your pasta, and heat your sauce (I like about 2 cups for a pound of pasta, although varying shapes use varying amounts of sauce, so use your judgment) in a large sauce pan. When your pasta is cooked but still al dente (firm to the bite) save a cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain it quickly. Add your pasta to the bubbling sauce and toss for a minute or two. If it looks dry, add a little of the pasta cooking water that you saved (you did save it, right?). This method, called ripassatura, ensures that the pasta absorbs some of the sauce. Remember, you don’t want to drown your pasta in sauce. The sauce is a condiment to the pasta, not the whole dish.
Remove from the heat, drizzle with a little more extra-virgin olive oil and grind a little fresh pepper. If you like, toss in a little more torn basil. Serve immediately in heated bowls, with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, or, if your diet is pure vegan, fresh bread crumbs that you have tossed with a little extra-virgin olive oil and toasted in the oven until crunchy.
Tomorrow: Six pints of sauce to go. We’ll be making whole wheat pasta with cauliflower and tomato sauce.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Roasted Cauliflower with Walnuts

Let me first say, yum! You need to eat this!

Many vegetarians don't get enough Omega-3 fatty acids, and tend to rely on pre-packaged convenience foods when strapped for time and ideas on a weeknight. And I don't know many people, veg or otherwise, who eat what I would consider to be an adequate amount of fiber. Add the cancer-fighting benefits of cruciferous vegetables, and you have a nutritional powerhouse on your plate.

This simple dish is good for your heart, perfect for those following an anti-inflammatory diet, and easy to throw together for a weeknight dinner. It's also very savory, filling, and just plain delicious. I served it with lentil stew (from the freezer) and brown rice, for a "30 minute meal" without all the fat, hot dogs and stupid catch-phrases.

This will serve four as a side dish if you have a reasonable appetite. The two of us ate all of it, and after dinner, I scurried back into the kitchen to scrape what was left from the sheet pan onto a spoon.

1 small head cauliflower, cored and roughly chopped into florets
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss all ingredients on a large sheet pan, and roast for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower begins to brown and is cooked the way you like it. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Linguine with Mushrooms

I guess I should preface this by saying that one could make this dish much more decadent, if that were necessary. Feel free to squander all of your dried porcini, truffle oil or whatever else you have lying about if you must. But there are times when it's not in the cards to spend $25 or two hours on a plate of pasta with mushrooms. Sometimes you just need dinner, now.

I think many people labor under the delusion that everything a chef makes is going to be luxe, full of expensive ingredients and hours of work. I, for one, don't believe that gluttony makes me a good citizen of this planet, and so on most days, we eat very simply, but very well. Next time you are pressed for time and beaten down by the universe, try this quick and easy dinner. Served with a salad (I love arugula, which, believe it or not, we found a winter crop of in the back of the garden last week!) and a glass of red wine, or eaten directly from the pan while standing over the stove, it is delicous, cheap and comforting - three things I think we could all use right about now.

Gather the following:

1/2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in:
1 cup very hot vegetable stock (water will do as well)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
10 oz. baby bella or white button mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced or run through a garlic press
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley
salt and pepper

1 lb. linguine, cooked al dente

While your dried mushrooms are soaking, slice the fresh mushrooms, chop your parsley, and put a large pot of water on to boil for your pasta. Have ready a large saute pan that will accommodate your mushrooms as well as all of the pasta.

Heat the saute pan over medium-high to high heat (it really depends on your stove), then begin adding the fresh mushrooms, a handful at a time. This is the one part of the recipe that you want to take your time with - if you add all of the mushrooms at once, they will steam rather than saute, and you will not develop any flavor. Add a little extra olive oil if you need to. Once the mushrooms are becoming nice and brown and sizzly, add the garlic and saute for another minute or two. Drain your porcini mushrooms, reserving the liquid, and chop. Add them to the pan, too. Deglaze with 1/4 cup dry white wine, and cook until the liquid evaporates. Add the reserved stock that you soaked the mushrooms in, as well as the parsley, and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Reduce the heat to low.

By now, your pasta water should be boiling. Salt it generously, and cook your pasta until done, but a litte firm to the bite. Reserve about 1/2 cup of cooking liquid from the pasta. Now drain the pasta, turn your saute pan heat to high, and add all at once to the mushroom mixture. Toss well for about a minute. If it looks dry, add a little of the pasta water and toss again. Remove from heat and toss with a little more olive oil and freshly ground pepper.

If you do the cheese thing, here's where you'll want to add a little freshly grated Parmigiano. If you do the vegan thing, add some fresh bread crumbs tossed with olive oil and toasted in a 400 degree oven. If you're fancying it up for a dinner party, increase the amount of dried porcini to a full ounce, drizzle a few drops of truffle oil over the finished product, make a batch of fresh fettucine instead of using dried pasta, or seek out some fresh wild mushrooms.