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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

spicy lentils with roasted squash and greens


If I post a healthy and delicious recipe that I did, in fact eat this week (several times, actually—it was a big batch), will that earn a few credits to counter the demerits I’ve collected eating all manner of holiday-themed treats (read: chocolate) and incredibly rich food (dang, I just can NOT resist that egg nog) these last few weeks? As my friend Meggan mused in her blog about a package of bacon, sometimes you just need to finish off those pesky ingredients. Then they won’t tempt you further.

Which maybe works in a normal month? I mean, depending on how many cartons of ice cream or tins of home-made cookies or half-eaten boxes of chocolate truffles you usually have hanging around the house. I know myself better than to stock my cabinets with those items on a regular basis. Anyway. Does the following summary look familiar to anyone?

Dec 20:  I love egg nog. Especially with fresh-ground nutmeg sprinkled on. Especially after already eating tea and gingerbread men for dessert. Because, you know, it’s just a beverage. And anyway, no point in leaving just this little bit of egg nog in the carton. Might as well just finish it off. Whoops! Sorry, Dan…  did you want some of that?

Dec 21: [To self with best of intentions.] “Oh good, eating this second bowl of vanilla ice cream will finish off that pesky carton and then it won’t be tempting me any more!” [Sprinkles ice cream with fresh-ground nutmeg to see if it will therefore taste more like egg nog. It does, kind of. Because what is egg nog other than not-yet-frozen ice cream, anyway? Helpful tip: one time we put a half-gallon of egg nog in an ice cream maker and guess what? It turned into ice cream!]

Dec 22: [Receives a package of delicious homemade nut candy from Margo, a beautiful Harry & David basket-o-goodies from Uncle Al, and there is still part of a loaf of cranberry bread in the drawer from Alice yesterday. Not to mention the box of Frangos from Rosemary and Allan, yum, mint chocolately chocolate.] “What to finish off NEXT?”

Dec 23: Just baked how many hundreds of dark chocolate and cherry bread for bakery customers? And the fruited almond, too…  [must… not… eat… entire… loaf…]

Looking ahead:
Dec 24…  This is NOT the day to adopt a new slimming regimen. I’ll try not to make myself sick eating too many helpings of Martha’s fantastic desserts. That’s about the best I can hope for.

Dec 25…  This day is especially wonderful…  I’m likely to get some of Claire’s spectacular homemade egg nog!

Dec 26: Time enough to turn over a new leaf. Or, just get back to the old, non-holiday leaf. Just as soon as I finish off all these leftover goodies!! 

So anyway, back to the lentil recipe. You’re going to love it. Eat it, love the flavor, and feel extra-virtuous for being so healthy. Then you can eat a big ol’ dessert of holiday treats afterwards. 

spicy lentils with roasted squash and greens

This recipe is based on one in Peter Berley’s book, The Flexitarian Table. But instead of cooking the squash or pumpkin in the lentils for the last 20 minutes, as he does, I like to use leftover roasted winter squash cubes. You can do it either way, but the roasted squash is yummier—and it looks pretty as a garnish, instead of being cooked in the soup. (Not that I’m all about pretty food, but I’m trying to convince you to do the roasted squash cubes recipe. You’ll never go back.) You can get the smoked paprika (and other spices) from Summit Spice & Tea Co., at 1120 E. Huffman Road. Of course I like to make a double batch, and then I freeze half before adding the kale and squash. This is a complete meal on its own.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, diced
2 tablespoons hot or sweet Spanish smoked paprika
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted in a skillet and freshly ground
2 teaspoons coriander seeds, toasted in a skillet and freshly ground
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup French green lentils, soaked for 2 to 24 hours
28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, with their juice
1-2 pounds of leftover roasted winter squash cubes, or raw squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound lacinato or regular curly green kale, tough stems discarded

1. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and cook the onions until starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the spices and cook, stirring, for 2 more minutes. Drain the lentils and add them to the onions, along with the tomatoes and their juice. Add enough cold water to cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 40 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. If you’re starting with raw squash, add the squash cubes after the lentils have cooked for 25 minutes, and cook them with the lentils for the last 15 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the kale and boil for 3-6 minutes, until tender (keep testing!). Drain and chop coarsely.
3. When the lentils are quite tender, add the kale to the lentils and season with salt and pepper. If the soup seems a little bitter, add a drizzle of honey to take the edge off. Just add a little at a time, though! Sometimes the collards and the smoky paprika can be a bit much, and the honey really mellows things nicely. Also, don’t be afraid to season nicely with salt.Simmer for another 3 minutes while you heat the leftover roasted squash (I use the microwave). If you’re using the leftover roasted squash, serve the lentils with a dollop of roasted squash in the center of each bowl.

roasted winter squash cubes

Smooth-skinned squashes (like butternut and banana squash) are easiest for this recipe, because it’s very easy to peel them before they are cooked. When I make this recipe, I usually roast two pounds of squash because the cubes make such great leftovers.

1 pound piece of banana squash, or 1 large butternut squash (at least a pound)
½ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon honey

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
2. Peel and seed your squash and dice it into ½” pieces (the pieces don’t have to be square).
3. Coat a large baking sheet with non-stick spray or oil. (This makes clean-up a lot easier.)
4. Toss the squash cubes with the olive oil and salt. Spread them out in a single layer on the baking sheet.
5. Roast for 20-25 minutes, or until starting to get brown and slightly shriveled. Remove the squash from the oven, keeping the oven on, and drizzle a little honey over the squash. Toss the cubes with the honey and return to the oven. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes more, until the squash is browned.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

soft and chewy gingerbread men


Run, run as fast as you can!

I love to take Meredith on long walks. I’ve been training her to be a good little hiker ever since she was two years old…  I’d bring a good book, the baby stroller, and let her dawdle and wander her way the whole mile and a half to the park. I’d read a chapter (and not hassle her to hurry up) while she stopped every few yards to strip the seeds off dandelions with gusty puffs, amass stockpiles of rosehips, swozzle around in mud puddles, or scrutinize insect maneuverings. After she exhausted the delights of the swings, the slide, and the rocking motorcycle at the playground, I’d push her home in the stroller. Now, at four, she can easily walk both ways—and with a little encouragement, she can run a lot of it!

To facilitate speedy journeys to and fro, I have a few tricks in my hip pocket. The most effective one is when I tell the story of the Gingerbread Man. Nothing motivates Meredith like “Run, run, as fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!” Finally, it’s December, and it’s time to bake some of our own galloping goodies! We kept a sharp eye on our gingerbread men to make sure none of them ran away… and any likely-looking escapees got their legs eaten off!





soft and chewy gingerbread men

This recipe is based on a back issue of Cooks Illustrated (November 1999), and these cut-outs are way yummier than the usual hard, dry gingerbread men.  There is plenty of butter in them, so if you don’t overbake them, they remain soft and chewy—the way I like my cookies! Just bake them a bit longer if you prefer crunchy cookies.

The dough is quite soft when you make it, so it’s very easy to smoosh and then roll out between sheets of parchment paper. Don’t try cutting the dough into shapes right away, though—it’s way too soft until it’s been frozen. The key is to have the dough FROZEN solid. (Wait until a cold day like we did—it was zero degrees and the dough chilled nicely on the back porch!) Because you roll out the dough between pieces of parchment paper, and don’t add extra flour, you can keep re-rolling the dough scraps as necessary, and the cookies don’t get tough.

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1½ sticks butter (12 tablespoons), cut into 12 pieces
¾ cup molasses
2 tablespoons milk

1. In a food processor bowl fitted with steel blade, process flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt, and baking soda until combined, about 10 seconds. Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture and process until butter is incorporated, about 15 seconds. Dump in the molasses and milk and process until the dough is evenly moistened and forms a soft mass, about 10 seconds.
2. Scrape dough onto a piece of parchment paper, and divide in half. Working with one portion of dough at a time, roll out somewhere between 1/8-inch and ¼-inch thick between two large sheets of parchment paper. This is a little bit tricky, since the piece of parchment on the bottom side will tend to wrinkle up as you roll the top. Just keep flipping it over, and straightening out the wrinkles. It’s also challenging to know how thin you’re getting the dough, since you can’t see it very well—but it doesn’t much matter. Just do the best you can to get a fairly even layer, and don’t get too obsessive about it. Leave the dough sandwiched between parchment layers, and place on cookie sheet. Freeze it on the cookie sheet until firm, at least 30 minutes, or overnight.
3. Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees. If your cookie sheets aren’t non-stick, coat them with cooking spray, or line them with parchment paper.
4. Remove one dough sheet from freezer; place on work surface. Peel off top parchment sheet and gently lay it back in place. Flip dough over; peel off and discard second parchment layer. This first step is genius (pre-peeling the parchment off the dough, then putting it gently back on). It lets the dough come off the bottom sheet easily after you cut the shapes out.
5. Cut dough into desired shapes, transferring shapes to cookie sheets as you go. If it’s really frozen, the dough will stay in the cookie cutters when you pick up the shapes, which makes it easy to poke them out onto the cookie sheet—but only if you use the metal cutters that are open at the top. I wouldn’t recommend using closed-top plastic cutters with this recipe, since I think it would stick badly, and as soon as the dough warms up, it’s very soft and gooey. If the dough stays on the parchment when you cut it out, transfer them to the cookie sheet with a wide metal spatula, spacing them ¾-inch apart; set scraps aside. Repeat with remaining dough until cookie sheets are full.
6. Decorate the cookies with raisins or nuts or whatever else suits your fancy.
7. Bake cookies for 7 to 8 minutes. They will be soft in the center, and just firm at the edges. Do NOT overbake. Cool cookies on sheets 2 minutes, then remove with wide metal spatula to wire rack; cool to room temperature.
8. Gather scraps; repeat rolling, chilling, cutting, and baking. Repeat with remaining dough until all dough is used.
9. Store the cookies in an airtight container with sheets of waxed paper or parchment paper between the layers.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

green salad with pears, fennel & pear vinaigrette


cooking with kids

This time of year, we all have so many traditional sweet treats to make—for our friends, family, and ourselves! I remember making lots of special holiday cookies with my mom when I was little. Some that come to mind are the spritz butter cookies that I loved to squirt out of the press in green wreath shapes and decorate with red hot candies, the krumkake that we made in a special waffle iron and then rolled around a wooden cone, and the peppermint-flavored dough that we rolled into pink and white snakes and then twisted into candy-cane shapes. For a few years, my mom even made rosette cookies, with the heavy iron molds she dipped into the cookie batter and then deep-fried in her electric wok. Remember those? Dusted with powdered sugar, they left a grease slick on the roof of my mouth… With all those fond memories, plus plenty more of my own favorite cookie recipes, it’s pretty easy to think of holiday treats and cookies to make with my four-year-old, Meredith. I’m sure it’s the same for you.

But why do we only think about including our kids when we’re making treats and sweet things? I didn’t learn how to cook until I went to college—my mom didn’t think to include us kids when making dinner—I think she just wanted to get dinner on the table, and didn’t need us underfoot. So in the interest of teaching Meredith to cook healthy, delicious meals (not just desserts), I try to include her in all sorts of cooking projects. She’s not always quite as interested in making a salad as making treats like graham crackers (eating raw dough is one of her favorite hobbies), but there is almost always a fun part in even the most ordinary meal. If I’m not rushing to finish lunch or dinner, I’ll ask if she’s interested in helping. And usually she is—for a little while, anyway!

My greatest inspiration for Meredith-inclusive cookery is my friend Cate, who writes a fabulous blog about cooking with kids: Tribeca Yummy Mummy. She is all about including our kids in cooking real food—using real, raw ingredients, and making meals and FOOD, not just treats. Thank you, Cate, for encouraging us to raise our expectations of what we assume our kids are interested in, and are capable of doing in the kitchen!

For this salad, Meredith chopped up the pears for the dressing with a table knife, helped measure the rest of the dressing ingredients into the blender jar, and then picked pomegranate seeds. (Oh, and then she helped eat it!)




green salad with pears, fennel & pear vinaigrette

This salad is one of my absolute favorites—and it’s great with winter pears. It’s based on a recipe from Annie Somerville’s Everyday Greens. I love fennel, but the key to eating raw fennel is slicing it really thinly. It’s quite a tough vegetable when raw, so if the slices aren’t thin, you really get a jaw workout. I use a mandoline—a fancy slicer that allows me to get paper-thin slices—but if you’re careful to use a very sharp knife and take your time, you can get thin enough slices by hand. (If you want more justification for buying a mandoline, see my recipe and story for the cabbage & fennel salad with apples & raisins.)

The dressing is really fun, too—it’s just pureed pears with some pear vinegar and a little olive oil and salt. SO tasty, though, and it’ll keep for a couple of days in your refrigerator if you have leftovers. I’ve found a couple of different brands of pear vinegar in grocery stores and specialty stores in town, but if you can’t find any, you can substitute 4 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and 2 tablespoons apple juice.


1 medium pear, peeled, cored, and chopped coarsely
6 tablespoons pear vinegar
½ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
sugar, as needed

Place the pear in a blender with the vinegar and salt; puree it until smooth. Drizzle in the oil while the blender is running. Taste for salt and sweetness. If your pears weren’t very sweet, you might want to add a little sugar to the dressing, or you can add more olive oil to tame the vinegar’s sharpness. Refrigerate until ready to serve the salad.


2 large heads of lettuce, or about 10 cups of baby salad greens
1 large fennel bulb, cut in half, cored, and sliced very thinly crosswise
1-2 ripe pears
Optional garnish in winter: ¼ cup pomegranate seeds

1. Wash and dry the greens and make the dressing.
2. When you’re ready to serve the salad, cut the pear(s) in half, cut the core away, and slice thinly.
3. Put the greens and fennel into a bowl and toss them with dressing to your taste, then add the pears and toss gently. Arrange on individual plates, and if pomegranates are in season, top with their seeds. 


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Sunday, December 07, 2008

roasted sweet potato slices and broccoli with parsley pesto


eating with your eyes

It’s a cliché, but true…  if something looks pretty on the plate, it’s more appetizing and appealing to the palate! I’m never one for constructing elaborate garnishes; carving radish rosettes or deep-frying sage leaves has never been my forte. But I do love to serve vibrantly-colored and contrasting dishes together! This has two benefits: the plate looks lovely and the meal is packed with nutrients! A classic combination is orange vegetables with dark greens, as shown here…  and I can’t ever seem to get enough of this pairing in the wintertime. When I’m planning a meal, I try and imagine what color the dish will be, and then think about what foods would provide good contrast.

This is one of my favorite suppers (not to mention great lunch leftovers), and it couldn’t be simpler…  You really don’t need anything else! The slow-roasted caramelized sweet potatoes go so nicely with the savory broccoli. You can use my parsley pesto recipe, or just use pesto from the store.


roasted sweet potato or yam slices

This recipe is based on one from Cook’s Illustrated.  First, let’s get our terminology straight. Sweet potatoes like the ones I’ve used in this recipe are usually called yams in the grocery store—for example, garnet yams.

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. Trimming the small ends of the sweet potatoes prevents them from burning. If you prefer not to peel the potatoes, just scrub them well before cutting.

3 pounds yams or sweet potatoes (about 6 medium), ends trimmed, peeled, rinsed, and cut into 3/4-inch thick rounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt

1. Toss sweet potatoes in large bowl with oil and salt until evenly coated. Grease a large rimmed baking sheet with olive oil or cooking spray.
2. Arrange sweet potatoes in single layer on baking sheet 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 30 minutes.
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; transfer to platter and serve.

broccoli with parsley pesto

You can make this recipe with my parsley pesto, below, or just use prepared pesto from the store. Either way, it’s great with the sweet potatoes! And it’s great left-over, as well.

2 pounds broccoli
½ to 1 cup Parsley Pesto
sea salt or kosher salt
freshly-ground pepper

1. Make the pesto, and put a generous dollop of it in the bottom of a large bowl. If already made and frozen, put a nice-sized hunk of frozen pesto in the bottom of a large bowl to thaw. (I usually put it in a big ceramic bowl and nuke it for a minute in the microwave.)
2. Peel the broccoli stalks if the skin is tough, starting from the bottom of the stem, using a paring knife—the thick skin will peel away from the stalk. Then slice the stalks into coins less than ¼” thick. Cut the florets into bite-sized pieces.
3. Put about an inch of water in the bottom of a pot that you can put a steamer basket in. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. When the water boils, put the broccoli stems in the steamer basket and steam for 4-6 minutes until barely tender. Check them every minute after 4 minutes, poking with a sharp paring knife.
4. Remove the stems, shake excess water off, and toss them in the bowl with the pesto.
5. Put the broccoli florets in the steamer, and steam for 3-5 minutes until just tender, keeping a close eye on them. Toss them with the stems and pesto. Taste for more pesto and add more if you like. You’ll need to use more parsley pesto than basil pesto, since it’s not quite as pungent as basil pesto. Season with salt and pepper if needed, and serve!

Parsley Pesto
This recipe makes more than you’ll need for the broccoli recipe, but you can very easily freeze the extra. Make sure to label it “parsley” because you don’t want to mistake it for basil pesto, later.

2 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
4 cups packed parsley leaves
½ cup pine nuts
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

1. In a food processor, chop the garlic with the salt.
2. Add the parsley leaves and pine nuts, and turn on the motor, beginning to grind the parsley. It’s OK if all the leaves aren’t incorporated yet.
3. While the motor is running, pour in the olive oil gradually. Let the blade run for a while to puree the mixture. It won’t be very smooth, but I find it impossible to get the parsley pesto smooth, anyway—the leaves are too tough. But it’s still delicious! 
4. Taste for salt, and add more as needed.
5. Use what you’d like for tonight’s dinner, then scoop the rest into a freezer ziplock bag and freeze flat.



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