Sunday, January 25, 2015

Roasted Carrots with Tahini, Parsley and Pomegranate



I am in a sporadically meeting book club. And my preparation seems to be somewhat sporadic as well. Some months I read the allotted portion long in advance, mulling over themes and reflecting on resonances. And I prepare for the potluck portion as well, thumbing through recipes that may be arguably thematically linked to the subject material (paella for Don Quixote!), or pulling out a dish I've had pinned for months, or leisurely strolling through the market to find the peak-of-the-season produce for inspiration. And then there are the other times.

So yeah, this past meet-up I didn't quite finish reading the book. Well, to be fair, I didn't quite like it (Memoirs of Hadrian is not making any of my top-five lists). So there was that. So, in possibly related news, when it came time for the potluck contribution, I didn't quite rally. In fact, I didn't think about it at all until that morning. And then it was that afternoon. And it was raining. And thus, Iron Pantry Chef rides again!

This game, for those of you not intimately familiar with my kitchen ecolect, is a recurring favorite — subtitled "what can be made for dinner without leaving the house?" The end result is always thrifty, often inventive, and, every now and then, even tasty. And oh, this one was tasty. And although my single, blurry, low-light phone pic doesn't do it justice, it was also beautiful.

This recipe is befitting a last-minute pantry meal — cheap, humble, and composed of the usual suspects knocking around your pantry and crisper (especially if you spend your winter obsessed with pomegranates, and got a bit too eager when tahini was on sale at the grocery overstock store). But despite this on-hand familiarity, the results feel fresh and surprising. The buttery-soft roasted carrots are enlivened by the unexpectedly herb-spiked tahini, and the pomegranate adds a bright pop of sour-sweetness (in addition to just being so very pretty). It's tempting to see the moral of this story as the benefits/rationalization of lack of preparation, but that has bit me in the butt far too many times for me to push for that takeaway. Let's just say it's a damned fine dish, and the fact that it can be easily whipped up on the fly is just gravy.

Roasted Carrots with Tahini, Parsley and Pomegranate

adapted from Blogging Over Thyme
yields one potluck-worthy large salad

~15 carrots, peeled
olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/3 cup tahini paste
1 clove garlic, pressed
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup chopped cilantro or parsley leaves, plus a handful for garnishing
arils from 1/2 a pomegranate

Preheat the oven to 400° Fahrenheit.

While the oven is preheating, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the carrots, and boil until tender-firm, ~10 minutes. Drain, and toss on a rimmed baking sheet with a bit of olive oil to coat, and the cumin seeds and a sprinkling of salt. Roast until fully soft and beginning to brown, another half hour or so. Remove and let cool to room temperature.

While the carrots are roasting, prepare the tahini sauce. In a blender, or in a small bowl with a whisk or fork, blend together the tahini, garlic, lemon juice, and a good pinch of salt. It will get a bit pasty. Add water, bit by bit, until it thins out to a thick-yet-pourable consistency. Taste, and add more lemon juice or salt if needed. Stir in fresh herbs. Set aside.

To serve, place the carrots on a platter, and top with a puddle of the tahini (if you don't need all of it, reserve any remaining for your salads or hippie dinners). Top with a tumble parsley or cilantro leaves, and the pomegranate arils, and serve.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

North African Oven Fries



Were we talking about comfort food? Well, the conversation cannot conclude until we mention potatoes. I mean really — who are we kidding here?

Oven-baked fries are something I seem to rediscover every few years. Buttery yellow potatoes, oil and heat and a mess of salt — instant deliciousness. And, you know, vaguely healthier than deep frying. Inspired by a sadly-no-longer-updated Algerian-American blog, I gave these potatoes a bit of a North African spin. They're tossed with a savory dose of cumin and paprika, and then given a bit of harissa for heat (optional, yet delicious). And then, after they roast up into soft, starchy, crisp-edged warmth, they're tossed with a bright hit of lemon juice, fresh herbs, and raw garlic (which gets just barely tempered by the hot potatoes). Pair with a pile of steamed greens, and it's a perfect dinner. Even the day after (apologies for my wan pictures), they make a fine lunch.

And if you're looking to learn a bit more about North Africa, I recently produced a story about the Berber New Year. I had only the most passing knowledge of the Berbers a few weeks ago, but had the good fortune to be able to dig into their history and culture, and how it all wraps up in a NYE blowout. In mid-January. You can listen over at NPR.


North African Oven Fries

adapted from 64 Square Foot Kitchen
serves ~3-4, especially  paired with a nice green vegetable

2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
~3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons harissa, or your favorite hot sauce (optional)
6 large waxy potatoes (or more smaller ones), scrubbed but not peeled
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, pressed or minced

Preheat the oven at 400° Fahrenheit.

While the oven is preheating, mix the paprka, cumin, olive oil and harissa together in a large bowl. Peel the potatoes, and slice into wedges or fries, and add them to the bowl. Toss to coat the potato wedges with the oil and seasoning, and a generous sprinkle of salt.


Spread the potatoes on a baking sheet in a single layer, and bake until golden brown and crisp on the outside, about 25-30 minutes (depending upon how thick you've cut them), turning once.

While the potatoes are cooking, place the cilantro, lemon juice, and garlic in a bowl (you can re-use the same bowl you used earlier). When the potatoes are baked, tip them into the bowl, and toss to coat. The hot potatoes will temper the garlic, and everything should smell amazing. Taste, add additional salt or harissa as needed, and serve.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Armenian Pilaf with Shrimp, Cilantro and Feta



For the record, I am a big fan a brown rice. Nubby, healthy, delicious. It's my weeknight staple. But I also love love LOVE white rice. A few months back I invested in a mega-sack of Basmati rice. How big is the sack? I don't know, as it's shoved out of the way on an inaccessible shelf, decanted into a more manageable jar as needed. I don't dip in very often, but when I do — oh man. It's aromatic, amazing, delicious. It's like a big warm good-smelling hug. Others may slide into a bowl of mac'n'cheese, or mashed potatoes. And I do so love the both of those. But a delicious pilaf with buttery white rice — that's my comfort food.

A few weeks back, I had some friends in need of a good comforting dinner. So I took my trusty rice, along with some delicious shrimp, and an Armenian cookbook I've had out from the library. I cooked up this easy dish, leashed up my dog, and hauled the cast iron pot through the neighborhood (along with a salad, and mason jar full of Mai Tais). And it did the trick.

This recipe is one of those simple, greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts bits of magic. Shrimp shells are simmered in stock, to give an extra richness to the rice, which is further bolstered with saffron and tomato paste (the original recipe offered either, but I, in my wisdom, opted for both). The shrimp are stirred in at the last minute, so they stay nice and tender (I take the extra step of brining, which also helps), and then everything is topped with feta and cilantro. The end result is intriguing enough to keep you reaching for bite after bite — yet simple enough to wrap you up in starchy comfort. 


Armenian Pilaf with Shrimp, Cilantro and Feta

adapted from The Armenian Table by Victoria Jenanyan Wise
serves ~4

1 pound uncooked shrimp, in shell
3 cups broth (vegetable or chicken)
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1/4 cup finely diced onion
1 1/2 cups long grain white rice
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 hefty pinch saffron
1 large handful cilantro leaves, plus additional for serving
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon aleppo pepper, plus additional for serving
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

Shell the shrimp, leaving the tails intact (if you fancy, for dramatic effect), and reserving the shells. Place the shrimp in a small bowl of water, along with a hefty pinch of salt and a small bit of sugar (this brining is optional, but I feel improves the flavor and texture). Place in the refrigerator.

Place the reserved shrimp shells in a small saucepan along with the broth. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat until high enough to maintain a brisk simmer. Cook until the shells are pink, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside.

To make the pilaf, melt the butter (or pour the oil) in a good-sized saucepan or pot over a medium-high heat. Add the onion and rice, and saute until the rice is translucent (but not colored), ~2 minutes. Strain the shrimp broth into the pot through a fine-mesh strainer. Add the tomato paste, saffron, cilantro, salt and aleppo pepper, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 22 minutes, until the rice is tender.

When the rice is done, turn off the heat, and take your shrimp from the refrigerator. Drain, and stir into the pilaf. Cover the pot again, and let sit for 5 minutes, until the residual heat cooks the shrimp until they're just barely pink. Serve warm, garnished with the feta cheese, and additional cilantro and aleppo pepper, if desired.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Poppyseed Rugelach



There's the hackneyed (and true) saying that defines insanity as doing the same thing and expecting a different result. And yet. I saw a blog post on rugelach, all splayed and fallen-over, which said that the recipe is both ridiculously flawed and ridiculously delicious. So I somehow thought oh, let me make them! Cut to: scene of a tray of rugelach, all splayed and fallen-over, and me shaking my fist at the recipe. And then swooning over the cookies.

So yes, this is not a foolproof tested recipe — even if the previous intrepid blogger already did some of the heavy lifting, like clearing up actual typos and conversion errors (sigh). But this oh-well-here's-my-best-guess recipe, with its misshapen results, yields one of the most delicious cookies I've eaten in a good long while.

I've long been a fan of our family rugelach recipe, yielding a crisp-yet-flaky cookie studded with cinnamon, rich nuts, and sweet-tart apricot jam. But these are a different animal. They use a cream cheese dough (versus my sour cream version), for a cookie that's also rich and flaky, but softer. The dough is scented with fennel and a spot of black pepper, then rolled around a lightly sweet, rich-yet-nubby poppyseed filling. The whole result is a bit more European, a grown-up, less sweet cookie with a whole lot going on. Oh so perfect with a cup of tea (or, as we proved, a glass of wine and some latkes).

So yes, accept that this is recipe has some flaws. You've got to take some leaps of faith (how big is that rectangle?), and make peace with the fact that the beautiful spirals you put into the oven might look a bit different when they come out. But they're also be very, very good. And even though they're different from my rugelach memories, they still feel like a holiday.

And if you're looking for more holiday food and flavor (without the frustration), here's a recent story I did on the Norwegian-American tradition of Christmas lefse. It's what it all comes down to, really. Listen over at NPR.


Poppyseed Rugelach

adapted from Bar Tartine by Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Burns, as first adapted/trouble-shot by Lottie and Doof
yields ~3 dozen rugelach

Poppyseed Paste:
3/4 cup poppyseeds
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 large egg
Dough:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light rye flour
1 cup kamut flour (I substituted whole wheat pastry flour for this)
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon fennel pollen (I swapped in 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seeds)
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound (1 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch dice, chilled
1/2 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons sour cream, at room temperature (I tossed some full-fat yogurt to drain in a dishtowel, which seems close enough for just a few tablespoons)

Egg wash (an egg beaten with a splash on milk and pinch of salt)
coarse sugar for sanding

To make the poppyseed paste: In a spice or coffee grinder, pulse the poppyseeds in batches for 15-20 seconds until broken up and powdery.

In a small saucepan, heat the butter, milk, sugar, honey, lemon juice and zest, and salt over a medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter melts and the sugar and honey dissolve, and it starts to barely steam.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg. Gradually drizzle in the hot milk mixture, whisking constantly, until incorporated. Return the mixture to the saucepan, and heat over a medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, ~5-7 minutes (this won't be full-on pudding-type thickness, but it will thicken, like a custard sauce).

Remove from heat and whisk in the poppyseeds and salt, then let cool completely (it will thicken further as it cools — you can do this up to a week in advance).

To make the dough: In a food processor, combine the flours, sugar, fennel, salt and pepper. Pulse to combine. Scatter the chilled butter over the flour mixture, and pulse until the mixture is crumbly, with rice-sized pebbly bits. Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer, add the cream cheese and sour cream, and mix briefly until a smooth dough forms (you can do this by hand as well, with a wooden spoon). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 4 hours, or for up to 24 hours.

To make the cookies: On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to a rectangle about 1/4-inch thick (if it's too square-like, you'll have a nice long spiral, but a greater chance that the whole mess will tip over, so aim for something long). Spread the poppyseed paste in a thin layer over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch or so on the far long edge. Starting from the inside long edge, roll up the dough into a log, with the seam on the bottom. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap or parchment, and chill until firm, at least 2 hours or up to overnight.

When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Brush the log with the egg wash, and sprinkle generously with the sanding sugar. Cut the log crosswise into 1 1/2-inch thick pieces (you can go for 1-inch, which are more delicate, but a bit more inclined to flop over).

Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches between cookies. Bake until golden brown, ~15 minutes. These cookies are best the first day or two.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hanukkah Gelt!



Oh, Hanukkah gelt. These foil-wrapped chocolate coins, required holiday noshing for Jewish children, are, so often, waxy and nasty. Like, unbelievably so. And yet, I love them. They're like tokens I can slip into a time machine, and go back to childhood. Where they were hoarded, and relished. I counted them, clacking them against each other, until I prized from their wrappers, which could be flattened with a thumbnail and folded into shiny golden origami.

I've been looking into the history of Hanukkah gelt for a radio story, and bought a few bags of the coins to take a picture. And then I ate coin after coin, loving each one. Sure, now I nibble them with a cup of coffee instead of milk. But beyond that, it's pretty much the same.

And if you'd like to hear a bit more about the history of Hanukkah gelt (spoiler alert: not always chocolate!), you can take a listen over at NPR.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Persimmon Smash



Prior to this year, I had eaten exactly one persimmon in my life. One. And the past few weeks? I've been averaging one every other day. I LOVE PERSIMMONS.  I'm talking the firm fuyu persimmons (perhaps I'll leave hachiya for next year) — all orangey-salmon and squat, with their somewhere-between-tomato-and-peach texture, and tropical-yet-autumnal confusingly delicious flavor. Where have persimmons been all my life? It's like suddenly getting a whole new color added to the rainbow.

For the most part, as with any new love, I've been content to just loll about with persimmons, enjoying the simple pleasures. Wedge, peel, consume. Repeat. But as we've gotten to know each other a bit better, I've felt emboldened to play around.

The persimmon smash takes my new best friends and cooks them down into an essence-of-persimmon syrup, perked up with a bit of citrus. I stripped the spices out of the initial recipe (as persimmon itself has enough crazy layered floral notes to more than carry things through), cut down the citrus (same reason), and oh my it's delicious.

And if you're looking for more seasonal drinks to discover, might I interest you in a glass of switchel? You can find my story about this colonial cocktail (well, mocktail) and its resurgence over at The World.


Persimmon Smash

inspired by Marcus Samuelsson, but heavily tweaked
yields 2 drinks (with syrup for about 3-4)
Persimmon Syrup 
3 fuyu persimmons, peeled and chopped  (you can make this without peeling, but it yields a smoother puree)
2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar

Finished Drink
2 ounces whiskey
2 ounces persimmon syrup
3/4 ounce lemon juice 
1/2 ounce orange juice 
sprig of mint, for garnish (I decided to go with rosemary, rather than brave the rain and harvest some neighborhood mint, but mint really is best)

To Make Persimmon Syrup: 
Place the persimmons, water and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer. Cook until the persimmons have softened and the liquid has thickened slightly, ~15 minutes. Cool, then puree in a blender. Chill.

To Make Cocktail:
In a cocktail shaker (or, as it's known in this house, canning jar), combine the persimmon syrup, whiskey,  lemon juice, and orange juice with a bit of ice. Shake well, taste to adjust as needed, and strain (or, if we're being honest, pour) into a cocktail glass with ice. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Almond Sticks with Cacao Nibs



I've been trying to make my peace with the coming winter. The shortening days, the rain, the wind, the farewell to reading in the backyard on a camping chair in the last of the light. The light that now disappears before 5:30. Sigh.

I once read a list of ways to make yourself happier around the home, that included this excellent suggestion: If you can't get out of something, get into it. This mantra, cribbed from one of the legions of how-to-get-happier books on the market, encourages you to let go of what you would have frankly rather been doing, and just embrace where you're at. Doing the dishes? Do those dishes! Heckyeah dishes! And so forth. So I'm trying to do that for winter. I'm flirting with picking up a cheap little sunny picture to tack to my walls, as a sort of wintertime gift that'll make me feel better about the gray outside. Oh, and I'm baking cookies.

Far be it from me to decry the value of a gooey, oozy brownie. Or a galette that spills sugary fruit syrup over its edges. But bittersweet cookies seem just the thing for turning my bitter feelings into sweetness.

These particular cookies, from pastry guru Alice Medrich, have been likened to biscotti. But really they're more of a shortbread stick, with ground almonds taking the place of some of the butter. And then they're studded with cacao nibs, the full-flavored-yet-unsweetened building blocks of chocolate (which, as a bonus, add nice little crunchy nubbins throughout). As the days darken, and the possibility of something called a "wintery mix" enters into the forecast, I'm still struggling to get into winter. But cookies? I'm so into those. I'm trusting the rest will follow.


Almond Sticks with Cacao Nibs

adapted from Alice Medrich's Seriously Bitter Sweet
yields ~18 cookies

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour  
3/4 cup whole almonds (Medrich recommends blanched, but I'm not that fancy)
2/3 cup sugar  
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt  
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed  
1/4 cup roasted cacao nibs  
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cold water

Pulse the flour, almonds, sugar, and salt in a food processor until smooth. Add the butter, and pulse until pea-size crumbles form. Add the cacao nibs, vanilla, and water, and pulse just a few times until a crumbly dough forms.

Form the dough into a 6- x 9-inch rectangle, about 1/2-inch thick, and wrap in plastic wrap, parchment, or a plastic bag. Transfer to your refrigerator, and chill at least 2 hours, or up to overnight.

When you're ready to bake the cookies, preheat your oven to 350° Fahrenheit, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or two baking sheets, if yours are small). Unwrap the dough onto a cutting board, and slice crosswise into 1/2-inch x 6-inch thick batons. Transfer to your baking sheets, leaving an inch between cookies. Bake until cookies are golden around the edges, ~20 minutes. Transfer to a rack, and cookies cool completely before serving.