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Saturday, March 19, 2011

broccoli soup

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St. Patrick’s Day Soup

I get to go in and volunteer in Meredith’s kindergarten class on Thursday mornings. Last Thursday was, of course, St. Patrick’s Day. Meredith wore as much green as she could—lime-green t-shirt and leggings, and a leaf-green polar fleece sweater. She looked like a pea pod. Her winter jacket is also green, and her watch has green alligators on it. I figured she’d be just about the greenest kid in her class—and wondered how many other kids would remember to wear green. So I was completely unprepared for the sight that met my eyes when I arrived at her class to help. Just about everyone was wearing some green, but not just green regular clothes: there were sparkly shamrock necklaces, a huge striped green hat that looked like something the Cat in the Hat might wear, sequined hats and faux red-haired braids, shamrocks painted on faces, and shiny green dresses. Luckily I, too, was heavily be-greened—my green polar fleece sweater, green earrings and green snakeskin clogs assured me that I wouldn’t get pinched.

When I got home, I was so inspired by all that green that I figured it was a good day to make broccoli soup. I was influenced by the recent (March & April 2011) issue of Cook’s Illustrated, which had a recipe for a broccoli-cheese soup, but I wanted to make it without the cheese.  Here’s what I came up with!

 

broccoli soup

This recipe is inspired by a broccoli-cheese soup in Cook’s Illustrated, but doesn’t have any cheese. I like their method for cooking the broccoli until very soft to get more flavor out of the vegetable, and using a little baking soda to help the broccoli break down faster. I used broccoli that I had already blanched and frozen, but I’m giving you the recipe to make it with fresh broccoli. If you use frozen and thawed broccoli, it will take less time to cook down completely.

You can serve the soup with garlicky croutons, a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, or just eat it plain like I did—it’s delicious!

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds broccoli , florets roughly chopped into 1-inch pieces, stems trimmed, peeled, and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 large onion , roughly chopped
2 medium garlic cloves , minced
1 to 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
pinch cayenne pepper
kosher or sea salt to taste
3 to 4 cups water
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 cups vegetable broth
freshly-ground black pepper
—————————————————————-
optional garnishes:
fresh-grated Parmesan cheese
garlicky croutons (recipe follows)

1. Heat oil in large heavy soup pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add onion and 1 teaspoon salt and sauté until the onion begins to brown. Add broccoli, garlic, mustard, and cayenne. Cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is fragrant, about 3 more minutes. Add 1 cup water and baking soda. Bring to simmer, cover, and cook until broccoli is very soft, about 20 minutes, stirring once during cooking.
2. Add broth and 2 cups water and increase heat to medium-high to bring up to a simmer. Taste the broth for salt and mustard, and add more as you like. Turn off the heat and let the soup cool for a bit, until you can comfortably transfer the soup, in batches, into a blender. Process the soup until smooth, about 1 minute for each batch. Return soup to pot.
3. If you want to serve the soup with croutons, make them now.
4. When you’re ready to eat, place the soup over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Adjust consistency of soup with more broth or water as desired. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve, passing croutons at the table as a garnish, or Parmesan cheese if you like (although I didn’t think it needed the cheese).

garlicky croutons
5 slices hearty whole-grain bread
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed in a garlic press
¼ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Mash the garlic with the salt in the bottom of a medium-sized bowl. Stir in the olive oil. Cut the slices of bread into ½” cubes and toss them in the garlicky oil until the oil is thoroughly absorbed and distributed.
2. Spread the bread cubes out on a baking sheet and bake for 15-25 minutes, until the croutons are crispy and golden-brown.

 


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Thursday, December 02, 2010

roasted green beans with lemon and pine nuts

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the advent calendar

When I was a kid, every November my grandma would send my brother and I each a cardboard advent calendar. We LOVED those calendars—every morning bouncing out of bed to search for the correct number, and then prying open the little cardboard door to find a picture of a sugarplum, or a tiny angel, or an elf, or a reindeer. What IS it about those advent calendars that is so enticing? Aren’t they so much fun?

It’s funny, because I always got the impression that advent calendars were to help us kids understand how many more days until Christmas. Now that I’m a grownup, and am responsible not only for holiday traditions and festivities, but also big holiday bread bakery orders, I don’t exactly yearn for Christmas to hurry up and be here. The twenty-fifth seems to race up on me like a freight train. But even so, I love opening those little calendar doors—or, even better, watching Meredith open them.

Meredith is just like I was: the suspense, the thrill of the chase… and then the joy of opening the door and finding that tiny picture. My friend Georgie and her two boys, Henry and Calvin, sent Meredith an awesome little advent calendar Christmas card. Yesterday’s door was a tiny donkey, and today’s miniature was a row of stockings, definitely hung by the chimney with care.

But that’s not Meredith’s only advent calendar—is she a lucky girl, or what? Her other calendar came from her grandma a few years ago, and is a lot more elaborate. It’s made out of fabric, and has twenty-five little pockets with numbers on them, and each pocket gets filled with a tiny treat, so that each day she can take down a pocket, get the goodie inside, and see what the picture is behind the pocket. To her credit, she actually seems almost as excited by what the picture is behind the pocket than by the treat inside. Yesterday was a gingerbread house; today was an ornament.

You can guess which jolly soul gets to fill those twenty-five tiny pockets. Yes… that would be me. Luckily I actually remembered the thing this year—last year was a bust, but I had a regular cardboard advent calendar for Meredith and I to celebrate each day, so we were fine. But this big calendar with the treats: the challenge is that the pockets are pretty small, and they are flat. You know, rather than being like a little grocery bag with pleats, they are like a teensy felt Ziploc with a string handle. So it’s actually kind of hard to find things that are tiny enough to fit, and then to get them all hung up on their buttons. So I brought one of the pockets with me when I went to Summit Spice & Tea Co. and Over the Rainbow Toys, to make sure the little things would fit inside. I didn’t find twenty-five things, but managed to scrounge up enough Christmasy stickers when I got home to fill the remaining pockets. Phew. It felt like a huge victory to get it all filled and set up for her on December 1st. I only dropped it once getting it hung up—and had to re-hang all the little pockets on their tiny buttons. But I remained jolly!

In the spirit of the holidays, I was testing this green bean recipe to see whether I might want to serve it for our Christmas Eve dinner. It is SO GOOD—especially if you use the fresh green beans from Costco. I don’t think I’ll use this recipe for Christmas Eve, though, because the beans are so amazingly good right when they come out of the oven—crispy and hot and perfect, and I don’t want to be messing around with things right at the last minute. But for a regular dinner anytime? Try them—you will LOVE them!

 

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roasted green beans with lemon and pine nuts

This recipe is based on one by Ris Lacoste in a Cooks Illustrated magazine. I used a small fraction of the oil she called for, and it was still plenty rich and VERY delicious! She calls for roasting chunks of garlic with the green beans, but I used garlic oil (already in my ‘fridge—see recipe options below) because I didn’t want to deal with chunks of burned or raw garlic. Garlic always seems to roast faster than the other veggies when I try it. However, if you are reluctant to make the garlic oil (either variation), just use regular olive oil.

And if you want to try roasting the garlic like she recommends (but I didn’t try this), Ms. Lacoste says to take a whole head of garlic, peel the cloves, quarter each clove lengthwise (if the cloves are small, halve them), and add them to the green beans before roasting, and toss them with the olive oil.

Adding the Parmesan cheese is delicious, but it’s kind of like gilding the lily, these beans are so good even without it—the lemon zest and pine nuts are wonderful with the crispy but tender beans.

2 pounds fresh green beans, rinsed well, stem ends trimmed
3 tablespoons garlic oil (see recipes, below) or olive oil
about 3 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (from 3 medium lemons), plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
kosher salt
¼ cup pine nuts
2 to 4 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

1. Heat the oven to 450°F. Put the beans in a large bowl. Toss the beans with the garlic oil, about 2 tablespoons of the lemon zest (use about 2/3 of the amount you have), and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
2. Coat two or three rimmed baking sheets with cooking spray, and then spread the beans on the sheets and roast in the oven for 10 minutes. Stir the beans with a spatula and continue roasting until they are lightly browned and tender throughout, another 10 to 15 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, spread the pine nuts out on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the bottom of the oven until just golden, about 5 minutes. Watch them carefully, and stir them around as necessary to keep them from burning. (They go from pale to burnt in a micro-second.)
4. Transfer the beans to a shallow bowl and dress with the lemon juice and the remaining lemon zest. Toss gently to coat. Sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese, if you decide to use it, while the beans are still nice and hot so the cheese melts. Serve hot or at room temperature.

the easiest garlic oil:
Mash or mince 3 or 4 garlic cloves and cover with ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil. Let steep for 30 minutes if you have time. Strain out the garlic and store the oil in the refrigerator.

olive oil infused with roasted garlic:

This is a recipe for the olive oil that I bring to the market to sell when I’ve just made the Alaskan cheese & roasted garlic bread. It’s the leftover garlic oil that we use to roast the garlic—actually, the garlic is slowly poached in the oil, but it tastes so much like roasted garlic that I call it roasted. The garlic is sweet and soft and luscious, and the resulting oil has wonderful, mellow flavor that is intensely garlicky at the same time. Keep it refrigerated. It’ll solidify in the refrigerator, but just scoop out a spoonful and let it come to room temperature, and it’ll be perfectly good. It’s great for roasting just about any vegetable. Or you can dunk your toast in it!

You might be wondering what do you do with the garlic? Well, just use it in anything that calls for roasted garlic! Spread it on toast, put it in salad dressings, or mash it with a fork and add it to a soup or a stew that needs a little perking up. I keep it in a pint jar in the freezer or refrigerator, ready to use any time!

several heads of garlic, cloves peeled
olive oil (you don’t need extra-virgin olive oil for this—the garlic imparts so much flavor that you can use regular olive oil)

1. Put all the whole peeled garlic cloves in a heavy pot. Cover the garlic cloves completely with olive oil.
2. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Give the garlic a stir, and then turn the heat down to the absolute lowest possible heat, cover the pot, and simmer just at a bare bubble. Stir the garlic occasionally and continue to cook until the garlic cloves are completely soft and tender, and you can easily squish them against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. This will probably take an hour or more, but check after 45 minutes.
3. Uncover the pot and let cool. Strain the garlic from the oil. This garlic can be used in any recipe that calls for roasted garlic. You can freeze the garlic indefinitely (I keep it in pint-sized canning jars in the freezer), and just take


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Saturday, November 27, 2010

acorn squash with sage, parsley and walnut pesto

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Junior Nordic

Junior Nordic started two weeks ago, and this is the first year that Meredith is old enough to join the herd of cross-country skiing kids, age six to fourteen. The kids are divided up into different groups based on age and ability—they are Polar Cubs, Otters, Wolverines, and Hawks. Meredith, being six, is of course a Polar Cub. All the kids get the cool hat and the cool jacket, so that when Meredith is skiing in her group, it is well-nigh impossible to find her in the mass of identically-dressed children. But I’m sure that’s handy for the coaches trying to keep track of their charges. And I’m all about that!

The coaches are amazing—Meredith came home the first day of regular practice and was totally jazzed up about it. I was SO relieved and happy that she enjoyed it—because first off, she gets home from Junior Nordic after her regular bedtime, and I was afraid she might be worn out and cranky. The other reason I was especially thrilled was that she doesn’t always enjoy our family skiing expeditions. I mean, there are always fun parts to our outings (the downhills, especially), but sometimes it can be a bit of a frustrating experience—for both of us.

The whole Junior Nordic program is sort of mind-boggling. A huge number of coaches is organized each day to coach the many different groups of kids, and then parents are mobilized to volunteer and ski along with the groups. And mostly this happens at night, from 6:15 to 7:30, in the DARK. Yeah, yeah, the trails are lighted, but it’s still pretty dark and a little confusing. That first night when I was skiing around with the Polar Cubs, I was trying to keep track of my group, but my kids looked just like all the rest of the Junior Nordickers out there. And then there were lots of other folks out skiing, too—serious training groups like WinterStars and the APU team, plus people going skiing after work… it was pretty crazy. But the Junior Nordic coaches are totally on top of it! Somehow they keep tabs on the kids and know what’s going on.

We are signed up for the Tuesday & Thursday evening sessions, and then the kids do longer ski tours on Saturday mornings. On Tuesdays and Thursdays Dan and I ski with a group as parent volunteers (but not with Meredith’s group, to discourage whining). And then on Saturday mornings the kids go on a 1½ hour tour! And the Polar Cubs get hot chocolate and cookies—isn’t that cool? But here’s the coolest thing about the Saturday tour. Last weekend, Dan and I asked Coach Dan (the one with the hot chocolate and cookies) if it was OK if we went out and skied on our own, instead of skiing with the group. And he was totally fine with it! So Dan and I got to zip out for our own 1½ hour tour together while Meredith was skiing and having a blast with the awesome, amazing, wonderful coaches and the other groovy little Polar Cubs.

acorn squash with sage, parsley and walnut pesto

This recipe is based on one from Eating Well magazine, and I LOVE IT! The sage with the squash is so perfect, but the parsley cuts the strength of the sage so it’s not overpowering. When you spoon the pesto into the hot acorn squash, the heat of the squash releases the most incredible aroma of the sage, garlic, and parsley… it’s really fantastic!

I’ve scaled the pesto recipe to fit the amount you can make from one little plastic clamshell package of sage from the grocery store. If you have leftover pesto (I’d be surprised if you do), just freeze it flat in a ziploc bag until the next time you bake a squash.

squash

3 acorn squash, (1 to 1 ¼ pounds each)
1 teaspoon olive oil
salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

pesto

3 cloves garlic, peeled
3 to 4 cups fresh Italian (flat-leaved) parsley leaves (2 bunches)
½ cup (more or less) fresh sage leaves (about one clamshell package)
1/3 cup walnut pieces, toasted in the oven for 15 minutes at 350 degrees
½ to 1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
¼ cup water
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. Cut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Brush cut sides of the squash with oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the squash, cut-side down, on the prepared baking sheet, and roast until tender, 35 to 45 minutes.
2. To make pesto: With the motor running, drop garlic into a food processor; process until finely chopped. Add parsley, sage, walnuts, salt and pepper; process until the herbs are finely chopped. Once again with the motor running, drizzle in broth and olive oil; process until the pesto is starting to get a little bit of a creamy consistency, scraping down the sides of the workbowl once or twice. It doesn’t get as creamy as a basil pesto—the parsley is too tough for that. Just get it as smooth as you can—it’ll taste good no matter what.
3. When the squash is tender, spoon a spoonful of the pesto into each piping hot squash half and serve, passing the remaining pesto separately.

 


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Friday, November 12, 2010

black bean soup with sweet potatoes

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trick-or-treat soup

Since Meredith started understanding what Halloween was all about, we’ve done a little trick-or-treating in our neighborhood. Unfortunately for her, the houses in our neighborhood are relatively few and far between. Luckily, Meredith has never trick-or-treated in a more densely populated area, so she just takes it for granted that she has to walk quite a distance for her meager quota of candy. Not that we have ever visited very many houses—she usually poops out and gets cold after five or six stops.

But this year was different. First off, our neighborhood has really come together this year because now that we have kindergartners, we parents have been spending a lot of time together at the bus stop. So several of our families decided to go trick-or-treating together! A pack of our little hoodlums would be roaming the streets together, with a rearguard of parents (dads drinking beers, moms chatting. Second, Meredith has been walking to and from the bus stop every day (it’s only uphill one way, but still, it’s almost a mile), and her walking muscles are stronger than ever. So with other kids to draw her along, plus greater endurance, we went to many more houses than before.

You might think that we collected quite a pile of Halloween candy, but it didn’t really work out that way. Despite visiting twenty houses or so (which seemed like a lot in the cold and icy road conditions), we caught a lot of folks off-guard. I don’t blame them—they kept saying “We’ve NEVER had any trick-or-treaters! I’m so sorry, I don’t have anything!” Sometimes they would give us something creative; Meredith collected a large and heavy bottle of juice and a homemade oatmeal cookie. But some just didn’t have anything to hand out. At every house that came up empty, I would explain to the homeowner “Well, you DO get to choose—a trick or a treat. We’ll come back later with the toilet paper.” They would look at me for a second, wondering whether I was serious… “Just kidding!” I would say. “But consider yourself warned for next year!” They promised to be ready for us next year! 

If this isn’t a Halloweeny soup, I don’t know what is. I spotted it in an email from FineCooking.com, and I made my version ahead of time to eat after trick-or-treating on Halloween night. But don’t wait for next October to make it! It’s really good—perfect for any chilly night.

 

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black bean soup with sweet potatoes

I made this soup based on recipe by Lori Longbotham, in an email from Fine Cooking. But instead of just cooking the sweet potatoes in the soup, as she recommends, I roasted slices of sweet potatoes and added them as a garnish at the end. Also I used home-cooked black beans instead of canned ones, so I didn’t have to use stock, as her recipe called for. But you could substitute canned beans and stock if you like, instead of cooking your own beans and using the bean cooking liquid. 

As Ms. Longbotham pointed out in her recipe, “The sweet potatoes in this soup contrast nicely with the tang of the yogurt and the tartness of the lime. Aniseed lends an unusual hint of licorice flavor.”

If you have time, cook the beans and make the soup ahead of time, like the day before, and then roast the sweet potatoes just before dinner. Or you can roast the sweet potatoes ahead, too, and just reheat everything when you’re ready to eat. This soup freezes wonderfully, too.

Oh, and one more thing—about the sweet potatoes. First, let’s make sure we’re talking about the right vegetable. Sweet potatoes like the ones I’ve used in this recipe are usually called yams in the grocery store—for example, garnet yams. Use the really orange ones.

The Beans

4 cups black beans, soaked for 4 hours or overnight
1 onion, peeled and quartered
4 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
kosher salt or sea salt

Drain the soaked beans, rinse them, and then put them in a large pot and cover with cold water by a couple of inches. Add the quartered onion and garlic and make sure the water covers the onions. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the beans are tender. This could take 45 minutes to 1 ½ hours, depending on the size of the beans and how old they are. When the beans are tender enough to easily squish between your tongue and the roof of your mouth, turn the heat off. If you have time, let the beans sit in their liquid with the aromatics until cool. Remove the quartered onions and whole garlic and discard. Add salt to the beans to taste.

The Soup

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 yellow onions, chopped
6 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
¼ teaspoon aniseed
Freshly-ground black pepper
kosher salt or sea salt

Warm the olive oil in a large, heavy soup pot. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until the onion is soft and golden brown, 8 to 12 minutes. Add the garlic, coriander, cumin, aniseed, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the beans and broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 15 or 20 minutes. Taste the soup and add salt I f needed, stir well, and set aside until an hour and a half before dinnertime.

While you’re roasting the sweet potatoes, and/or when the soup is cool enough to handle without burning yourself, using a slotted spoon, set aside 2 or 3 cups of the beans and onions. Puree the remaining soup in batches in a blender. Return the solids to the soup, and when you’re ready to eat, reheat over gentle heat, stirring often (Don’t burn the beans!) and season to taste with salt, pepper and a little lime juice.

The Sweet Potatoes

4 medium sweet potatoes (called yams at the grocery store—get Garnet Yams, or something similar), peeled and sliced into ¾-inch thick rounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt

My method for roasting these is from Cook’s Illustrated. The reason for all the shenanigans with the foil at the beginning is that starting the sweet potatoes in a cold oven keeps the temperature lower at first, to allow more of the starches in the sweet potatoes to convert to sugars. Then the 425-degree final temperature browns and caramelizes them. If you prefer not to peel the potatoes, just scrub them well before cutting.

1. Toss sweet potatoes in large bowl with oil and salt until evenly coated. Grease one or two large rimmed baking sheets with olive oil or cooking spray.
2. Arrange sweet potatoes in single layer on baking sheet(s) and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Adjust oven rack to middle position and place yams in COLD OVEN. Turn oven on to 425 degrees and cook sweet potatoes 20 to 30 minutes, until they are starting to get tender.
3. Carefully remove foil, and return sweet potatoes to oven and cook until bottom edges of yams are golden brown, 15 to 25 minutes. If they are very tender and brown, they are already done! (Whether they are done or not will depend on how fast your oven heats up.) If not tender yet, go to Step 4.
4. Use a spatula to flip slices over. Continue to roast until bottom edges of sweet potatoes are golden brown, and they are quite soft in the center, 10 to 20 minutes longer.
5. Remove from oven; let them cool for a bit, and then cut some of them into small pieces to sprinkle on top of your soup.

The Other Garnishes
½ cup plain yogurt, salted to your taste (optional—I actually liked it better without the yogurt)
fresh lime juice, or wedges or slices of lime

Serve each bowl of soup topped with sweet potato cubes and, if desired, a dollop of yogurt, and a squeeze more lime juice if it needs it.


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Sunday, October 31, 2010

cabbage salad with apples and spiced pecans

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written while avoiding eye contact with stacks of photos

Now that the farmers market is over and we’re back to our wintertime bakery routine (baking bread to order through our website), we’re baking much less than we do in the summer. It’s lovely to have this kind of seasonal shift, and I really appreciate the less intense baking schedule before holiday baking begins. But I’m wondering when this extra time in my week translates into more time to do that big project I’d love to sink my teeth into? Namely, working on my photo albums.

I’m not talking about starting up knitting again, or quilting, or a big home improvement project. And the ground is frozen, which means I’m not gardening. But come on—just a few hours to sit down and start sticking those photos in an album, maybe making a few notes about the event or the date. We’re not talking heavy-duty scrapbooking, here. Just photo albums. I’ve chosen the photos, and over the last three years, I’ve even brought my discs down to Keller’s to have them printed. I just picked up my latest batch of pictures last week, certain that I’d finally have time to get going.

But so far, I haven’t made the time to actually get started. Notice I say “made” the time, rather than “had” the time. Because I have had time to do other things. I’ve made nice meals for my family. I’ve worked with Dan on purging and cleaning many drawers, cupboards and shelves that haven’t seen the light of day (not to mention a dust cloth) for months or years. And we even had a little neighborhood Halloween party. In fact, I could be working on those photos right this minute instead of writing this post. (Meredith has a friend over and they are busily making programs and tickets for their ukulele and marimba concert—coming soon to a basement near me.)

Somehow the project just seems so daunting. So many years’ worth of photos. Since we started the bakery, I just haven’t kept up. So right now it seems easier to just write about how I feel intimidated by those stacks of pictures than to actually buckle down and get started. It’s a little bit of a relief when I come up with a cooking project to fill up the couple of spare hours I am suddenly blessed with this afternoon. I’d better just write a blog post while my chickpeas simmer.

I know intellectually that once I get my teeth into the project, I’ll feel excited and realize that it’s going to be fun. I’ve always been like this: until I get started on something, it seems big and scary, and I feel paralyzed. But once I force myself to get started, I realize that it’s feasible, and nothing can stop me. I guess it’s the activation energy that’s lacking right now.

Which, I’ve decided, is fine! I can putter away on my cooking and my blog, enjoy my clean drawers, and maybe tomorrow or next week I’ll have the energy to start work on those photos. Until then, I’m not going to worry about it.

cabbage salad with apples and spiced pecans

This salad is so unexpected and surprising—full of great flavors and textures—crunchy, chewy, sweet, tangy, and savory…  I just love it! The recipe is based on one that Nancy Lampman put in last week’s Glacier Grist, the recipe newsletter that comes in our Glacier Valley Farm CSA boxes of produce. She wrote that the only problem with the salad is that she ends up eating all the spiced pecans before the salad is ready. So… I changed my recipe to make twice as many pecans! Also I made the salad part a little bigger, too, since my sliced cabbage made more than five cups. Nancy said that her recipe was a version of one in Bon Appetit Magazine, January 2007. Thank you, Nancy!

I made all the parts of this salad ahead of time yesterday morning. First I made the pecans, then the dressing. Then I sliced the cabbage in my food processor and put the shreds in a big bowl. Then I sliced the apples in the processor, too, but put them in a separate bowl and tossed them with lemon juice so they wouldn’t brown. Then, later, I just tossed all the pieces together for a lunch salad for myself, and I had lots of leftovers for lunch for today and tomorrow! The apples are still not starting to brown, even today!

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups pecan halves (you can use raw nuts,  or toast them first for 12-15 minutes at 350 degrees)
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon (scant) cayenne pepper
——————-
¼ cup seasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup olive oil
sea salt or kosher salt
freshly-ground pepper
——————-
2 medium unpeeled apples, quartered, cored, and thinly sliced
juice from one lemon
6 – 8 cups cups thinly sliced green cabbage
1 cup dried cherries (sweet or tart—whatever you have)

1. In a medium-sized nonstick skillet, melt the brown sugar with the olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, and cayenne; let the mixture bubble for about three minutes, until the mixture is nice and thick and caramelly. Add the nuts and stir until nuts are coated, about 2 minutes. Transfer nuts to parchment or foil sheet and cool. This makes a light coating on most of the nuts—it’s not a thick one. If you think you’d prefer thicker caramel, double the sauce part.
2. Whisk vinegars and mustard in small bowl. Gradually whisk in the 1/4 cup olive oil. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Toss apples with lemon juice in large bowl. Add cabbages and dried cherries; mix. Add dressing and toss. Crumble pecans on top of each serving of salad and season salad with salt and pepper.

 


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Sunday, October 24, 2010

roasted brussels sprouts with mustard, walnuts and crispy crumbs

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Mystery Reader

Last week was my first chance to be a Mystery Reader in Meredith’s kindergarten class. “What is a Mystery Reader?” you might ask. Doesn’t it make you curious? Interested? Even a little excited? Well, that’s just what it does for Ms. Rakos’ kindergartners! A Mystery Reader could be ANYONE coming into the classroom to read a couple of books to the class! It could be someone from the school, or a parent, or a person from the community… and the fun thing is, the kids get to guess who the person is before they arrive. Ms. Rakos gives them three clues, and then they each get to name who they think it might be.

I arrived right on time, and as I walked down the hall toward the classroom, I noticed two of Meredith’s classmates hanging around outside the door. I didn’t know if they were supposed to be out there. Were they young miscreants being disciplined in the hallway, and I shouldn’t be spotted by them? They didn’t seem the type—both the kids had been nice when I’d been in class before. I hid behind the door of the adjacent classroom for little while, waiting to see if they would go back into the classroom.

They didn’t move. How could I approach unnoticed if they were standing out there, clearly watching and waiting? I would spoil the Mystery! But if I waited any longer, I’d be late. So I popped out of my hiding place, and walked up to them. “Are you the Mystery Reader?” they asked. I admitted as much.

“But what are you two doing out here?”
“We’re waiting for you!”
“Oh! What do we do now?”
“We welcome you in.”
“OK.” We all stood there for a few seconds, and then I realized that I had been thereby welcomed. So we walked into the classroom together. Phew!

The clues for me: female, blond, and loves to read. Some of the kids even guessed me correctly! (Of course, I had been in their class helping for an hour that morning, so that might have given them an additional clue.) I was all excited to read two of my (and Meredith’s) favorite and spookiest books, in honor of Halloween. First I read The Widow’s Broom, about a lonely widow who is left a magical broom when the broom falls from the sky, no longer quite powerful enough to hold up its witch. And then I read Heckety Peg, about seven children (each named for a day of the week) who are tricked by a witch and then turned into various kinds of food. Their mother has to outwit the witch to rescue them…

I had a great time reading, and I think the kids enjoyed the books! I can’t wait for my next stint as a Mystery Reader. I just found three more fun and Halloweeny books when I was going through Meredith’s books: Too Many Pumpkins by Linda White, The Little Scarecrow Boy by Margaret Wise Brown, and Stellaluna by Janell Cannon (It’s about a bat! That fits the theme, doesn’t it?). Should I ask Ms. Rakos if I can come back next week? I don’t want to wear out my welcome. Maybe I should I just start setting aside Thanksgiving books. Hmm. Do we have any books about turkeys? Pilgrims?

 

roasted brussels sprouts with mustard, walnuts and crispy crumbs

This is a fantastic recipe that just adds to the deliciousness of plain roasted Brussels sprouts (already heavenly) with a little Dijon mustard, Worcestershire, and caraway seeds…  and then a crispy, nutty topping. The sauce doesn’t overwhelm the sprouts, just adds to their already complex flavor.

I first tried this recipe when Nancy put it in a Glacier Grist, the weekly recipe newsletter we include with our Glacier Valley Farm CSA boxes. I don’t remember what her source was, but I recently ran across it on Fine Cooking‘s website (searching for new recipes to try on my sweet and delicious Alaskan sprouts), and was so excited to be reminded of it that I made it immediately. I really think you’ll love this recipe! 

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted lightly and crushed
sea salt or kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed, cut through the core into quarters (or cut into halves for the smallest sprouts)
————
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, or if you have it, cold-pressed walnut oil (I love the Loriva oils)
1 cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs
½ cup chopped walnuts

1. Position racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F. Spray two rimmed baking sheets with cooking spray (this makes cleanup easier).

2. In a large bowl, whisk ¼ cup of the olive oil with the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, caraway seeds, ½ teaspoon of the salt, and about 10 grinds of pepper. Add the Brussels sprouts and toss to thoroughly distribute the mustard mixture. Spread the sprouts in an even layer on the two baking sheets.

3. Roast until the cores of the sprouts are just barely tender and the leaves are browning and crisping a bit, 20 to 25 minutes (if your oven heat is uneven, rotate the pans midway through cooking).

4. While the sprouts are roasting, make the topping. Heat the 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil or walnut oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the breadcrumbs all at once; toss to coat with the fat. Reduce the heat to medium, add the walnuts and the remaining 1/4 tsp. salt, and cook, stirring pretty constantly, until the crumbs are browned and slightly crisp and the nuts are golden, 4 to 6 minutes. Dump the breadcrumb mixture onto a plate so they don’t keep cooking and burn in the hot skillet.

5. Transfer the sprouts to a serving platter and season to taste with salt and pepper if necessary. Or just scoop them off the baking sheet onto your plates. Let people sprinkle the crumbs over the sprouts as they eat them, or sprinkle them yourself just before serving. (I like to add the topping stepwise as I eat this, so the topping stays really crispy.)

 


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Thursday, October 14, 2010

wintertime roasted tomato soup

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We took a couple of weeks’ break in between our two bakery seasons: after we finish baking our bread for the farmers market, we start our wintertime gig, selling bread over the website and delivering on Wednesdays. This year we flew to Washington D.C. for a double-decker family vacation!

It was a country-mouse/city-mouse experience—first we went to rural Maryland for a week to stay with Dan’s mom and stepdad, and had a wonderful time. We rode bikes on the gently rolling roads, went boating on the St. Mary’s River, swam in the beautiful new pool at the college nearby, and went running on the local trails. Despite the monsoon that was washing out roads and flooding houses, we remained cheerful. After all, it was still warmer than Anchorage!! And we could soak in the hot tub after our wet bike rides. And cold weather is great for cooking! Butternut squash and apples from a local farmstand made great soup, and zucchinis and tomatoes were wonderful grilled (the former) and sautéed and eaten on toast (the latter).

Then for the city-mouse portion of our adventure! My amazing and wonderful mother-in-law and stepdad-in-law, Karen and Chris, had happily agreed to keep six-year-old Meredith with them for four nights and five days while Dan and I went to Washington D.C. on our own! Chris even provided the shuttle service to Washington, two hours away. This was our very first getaway vacation for Dan and I together, and I’m not sure who had more fun, the Maryland crew or the D.C. crew. Suffice it to say that Dan and I had an absolutely fantastic time, and now that we’re home, Meredith is periodically melting down in tears because she misses her grandma so much.

Dan and I stayed in a little ground-floor studio apartment in a row house on Capitol Hill, only about a fifteen-minute walk from the Mall. So perfect! We had a great time seeing the monuments, some museums, lots of gardens, and most of all, eating at some incredibly wonderful restaurants. Oh my goodness, that was the best part! The first night, we had reservations to eat at Komi, which is one of those restaurants you have to try for a reservation a month in advance, but we only started trying a week in advance. (Thank you again, Karen, for persevering on the phone, waiting out those busy signals!) The only reservation we could get was at 9pm, and we took it! We called Meredith as we were having drinks in our apartment, waiting until we could catch a cab to the restaurant, and she reported excitedly that she had eaten hotdogs for dinner!  (and vegetables!) Unbeknownst to us, we were also destined to eat hotdogs—because in the middle of our fabulous tasting menu at Komi, they brought out a tiny, spicy “hotdog” of house-made sausage topped with chipotle ketchup and mustard, served in a fresh-baked bun. It was a playful homage to Ben’s Chili Bowl, a D.C. institution (of which I’d never heard). Anyway, we all enjoyed our hotdogs!!

The strangest thing we did was visit the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, a National Park located deep in the heart of Anacostia. Dan told me, and our cab driver agreed, that this would not have been a safe destination when Dan had lived in D.C. as a teenager. Even though the crack wars were no longer waging, our cab driver was concerned that we’d not get a driver to come back and pick us up. We had a lovely morning wandering through first the ponds with exotic lilies blooming over gigantic prickly lily pads, and then experiencing the last remaining native D.C. swamp on a mile-long trail, seeing egrets and blue herons, reeds and rushes and bogs and river sloughs, with the occasional background noise of sirens. A little bit surreal! And a cab driver DID come to pick us up, after all!!

One of the things I love about Washington, D.C. is that I didn’t feel like a dork being a tourist there. Because there are SO MANY TOURISTS there! From all over the world! I haven’t spent that much time in big cities, but when I do, I usually feel like I’ve just fallen off the back of a turnip truck: so unsophisticated and not wearing nearly enough black. But in Washington, I just felt welcomed. The people working at the museums and parks and gardens were happy to receive us as interested visitors, and the servers and bartenders at our restaurants seemed delighted to have us, as excited and appreciative as we were for their phenomenal food and drinks. What a great city! I can’t wait to go back!

Now that we’re back in Anchorage, and it’s below freezing every morning, the order of the day is definitely warming soups and stews. This is a soup I made before I left and froze, and I’m really enjoying it now! It’s a tomato soup, but it’s different than the other one I’ve posted. You can never have too many tomato soup recipes up your sleeve! I think you’ll really like it, too! You can serve it with a grilled cheese sandwich, or with garlicky croutons!

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wintertime roasted tomato soup

I made this soup using the giant-size (6 pound, 6 ounce) cans of whole tomatoes from Costco. Yes, it makes a big batch, but it freezes really well, and that way you’ll have lots of leftovers to eat with a quick toasted cheese sandwich whenever you need a warming meal!!  This recipe is based on one in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

Even though there are a lot of vegetables to prep here, if you have a food processor, it’s really fast. Because the soup will get pureed, you can just slice everything thinly in your machine and not worry about dicing onions or carrots.

1 institutional-size can of whole tomatoes (6 lbs, 6 oz)
1 cup loosely packed dried tomatoes (not the kind packed in oil), about 2 ounces
olive oil
3 medium onions, halved
8 cloves of garlic, minced
6 carrots
4 stalks of celery
2 tablespoons dried thyme
sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Put the dried tomatoes in a bowl and cover with 2 cups of boiling water. Drain the canned tomatoes and reserve the liquid. Halve each tomato and put them on rimmed baking sheets, or in shallow roasting pans, or a combination. Drizzle with olive oil—a couple of tablespoons to ¼ cup, whatever you feel like. Roast in the oven, turning once or twice, until the tomatoes are dried and lightly browned, 30 to 45 minutes.
2. While the tomatoes are roasting, slice the onions, carrots, and celery thinly—if you have a food processor, this is the time to use it!
3. When the tomatoes are done roasting, pour the dried tomatoes and their soaking liquid into the roasting pans. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, breaking up the tomatoes as you do so.
4. Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a deep skillet or large saucepan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion to the oil and cook until it begins to brown. Then add the garlic, carrot, and celery, and the thyme. Cook until the vegetables start to release their liquids. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
5. Add the reserved liquid from the canned tomatoes, as well as 2 to 3 quarts of water, and the tomatoes from the roasting pans. Turn the heat to high and bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat so it bubbles gently. Cover and cook until the vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes. As you cook it, you’ll probably need to add more water—just make sure there is plenty of liquid so it’s nice and soupy.
6. Let the soup cool until it’s not much hotter than room temperature, and then puree it in batches in your blender until it is nice and smooth. A hand-held immersion blender really doesn’t do a good enough job here—it’s got to go in the blender to get really smooth, with all those dried tomatoes and celery bits and carrots.
7. Put some of the soup in the freezer (well-labeled) for later, and return the portion that you’re going to eat to the stove and heat until bubbling.
8. Make the garlickly croutons, below, or a grilled cheese sandwich, and enjoy!

The Croutons

5 slices hearty whole-grain bread
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed in a garlic press
¼ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mash the garlic with the salt in the bottom of a medium-sized bowl. Stir in the olive oil. Cut the slices of bread into ½” cubes and toss them in the garlicky oil until the oil is thoroughly absorbed and distributed.
2. Spread the bread cubes out on a baking sheet and bake for 15-25 minutes, until the croutons are crispy and golden-brown.

 


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Friday, October 01, 2010

Chinese-marinated cucumbers

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older-sisterly love

A couple of weeks ago I was in a bike shop, and the bike mechanic/salesperson was ringing up my purchases, noticed my name, and said “Hey, are you Ben’s sister?” Since I didn’t change my last name when I married Dan, this does tend to happen fairly often—especially since Ben and I look a bit alike, and he is a minor celebrity among skiers in Anchorage. For many years, he’s been a coach for Winter Stars, a year-round training program for cross-country skiers, from junior high school students to masters. So not only do all his skiers know him, but all the parents of the younger skiers know him, too. And from what I hear, they all love him! I’m so proud of him for making such a name for himself, and it’s so nice to hear people’s compliments when they realize that I am, indeed, Ben’s sister.

Except for one thing. I’m older! He’s my little brother! So I always correct them. “No no no, you are mistaken, I’m not HIS sister, he’s actually MY brother.” Sometimes they get it—they apologize to my injured ego, and laugh. But other times, they just look confused, apparently wondering why I don’t embrace being Ben’s sister as my claim to fame. Ben loves it when I am recognized by my relationship to him, and will thank anyone who mentions it. It’s well-deserved come-uppance for me! From elementary school through high school, he was plagued by expectations of his teachers and coaches: “You’re Alison’s brother?” I admit, I deserve all I get, and probably a lot more!

But here’s the funny thing. When we’re out skiing on the trails, or biking together, or running, he IS the older brother now! He’s such a fantastic coach—encouraging and fun, yet offering constructive criticism when needed—that I find myself working hard to follow his instructions, and am pleased and gratified by his praise when I earn it.

I’m proud of you, Ben!

Love, YOUR sister, Alison

Chinese-marinated cucumbers

A couple of weeks ago I discovered two cucumbers in my crisper drawer from last week’s CSA box the day before I was due to get the next vegetable installment, so I had to eat them pronto. This recipe is a variation on a celery recipe in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. It looked easy and fast, but I had absolutely no idea how amazingly delicious it would be. I am embarrassed to say that I sat down and ate practically the entire batch by myself for lunch.

I added tomatoes to the original recipe, and I have to say, they are absolutely divine with the cucumbers and the soy flavors. However, if you don’t have ripe, delicious tomatoes, don’t buy the bland mealy kind at the store. Just omit the the tomatoes—it will still be really yummy.

2 large English cucumbers
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
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1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 large clove garlic, minced or pressed
½ teaspoon chili oil (optional)
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2 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into wedges and then in half, to make bite-sized pieces

1. Cut the cucumber lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a spoon and discard them. Cut the cucumber into ½-inch pieces. Mix with 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon sugar and set them aside for 10 to 30 minutes.
2. Whisk together the remaining sugar, sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, and chili oil.
3. Rinse, drain and pat the cucumber dry, then toss with the dressing. Add the tomato chunks and toss again. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to a day. Serve chilled.

 


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