Saturday, June 20, 2015

Minted Lima Bean Dip

I have been preparing dozens and dozens of cookies for a friend's wedding (more on that later), which is a project that requires freezer space. And my freezer.... well, it does not have space. Instead, it has four-year-old coconut flakes. And bags of frostbitten vegetable trimmings I once intended to turn into stock. And... well... is that tomato paste? Chipotles in adobo? A curry base from that cookbook I checked out the library a few years ago? C'mere, take a sniff and tell me what you think. No? Fair enough.

So yeah, it's a bit of a(n overcrowded) state. To clear some room, I purged some of the more ancient and unidentifiable items. And then I set about trying to take some of the miscellaneous remainders out of the deep freeze, and into something edible.

I have absolutely no idea why I bought frozen baby lima beans. Were they on sale? Did I have some plan? Maybe some Persian recipe? Literally no idea. This bag expired a year ago, so the initial motivation is now lost to the ages. And yes, I probably should have thrown them in the compost — but I am just this kind of devil-may-care thrifty danger-skirter.

I briefly flirted with a Greek-inspired bake, pairing the beans with feta and dill and heaps of garlic. But it's a bit too hot to bake these days. So instead, I went for a dip (which, as bonus, could also involve several of the odd bags of baguette slices and bread heels also loitering around the freezer). I simmered the beans, and then tossed them in the food processor along with a few sprigs of mint (thanks, neighbors' garden!), some garlic and lemon, and a handful of spinach (not necessarily, but I always love me some greens). The result is simple, green, and fresh-tasting — and given its frost-bitten origins, that's quite a feat.

Minted Lima Bean Dip
yields ~2 cups

1 bag frozen baby lima beans (10 ounces)
1 handful spinach
a few sprigs fresh mint
1 large garlic clove, roughly chopped
juice of 1/2 lemon
glug olive oil
salt and pepper

Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. Add the lima beans, and simmer until tender, ~15 minutes. Drain.

Throw the softened beans in the food processor, along with all of the other ingredients. Process, scraping down as needed, until a rough puree forms. Taste to adjust seasonings, and serve.

Friday, May 22, 2015


I know, I know. I don't call, I don't write. Well, it's because I've been working on a Russian cookbook!

Given the glacial pace of publishing, you'll sadly have to wait until 2017 for your own copy. But in the meanwhile, I'll be working with Kachka on the delicious recipes and stories of Russian cuisine. And stopping in to tell you about non-herring-related items along the way. Did you know that there hasn't been a Russian cookbook from a major press in 25 years? Let's change that.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Pizza with Cilantro Pesto, Roasted Broccoli, and Red Onion

I have been making (and eating) a lot of pizza. It tends to be a Friday night ritual, a sabbath of sorts, when you want to mark the end of the week but not leave the house, and linger over something delicious. It's a ritual I may love even more than challah, with a similar religious fervor. But, at the same time, it can get a little boring.

When you have pizza every week, there are a lot of benefits. There's the ritual of it all, the removal of the daily crap-what's-for-dinner scramble, and the fact that you (mostly) remember to set up dough the night before. Also, you get good at it. You learn how much yeast, which oven rack works best, what proportion of whole wheat flour you can get away with. But when you make pizza regularly, you also start to hunger for a bit of variation. Yes, I still love a classic red pie, with a pile of thinly-sliced mushrooms and a few green olives (and a good shake of the addictive pizza pizazz spice mix that came along with a tin of cookies in my Christmas package from a dear friend). And lately, I've been back on my seasonal spate of asparagus pies. But with pizza after pizza, I sometimes want to mix it up. Sometimes this does not go so well (okra curry pizza, I'm looking at you). But this pie was pretty great.

I don't know why, but this worked. Cilantro pesto is bright and bracing, and roasted broccoli has got that fusty caramelization. Add red onion (and, of course, lots of cheese), and it's surprisingly successful — a welcome little bit of variation within the comfortingly delicious ritual.

Pizza with Cilantro Pesto, Roasted Broccoli, and Red Onion

Pesto (enough for multiple pies):
1 bunch cilantro, washed and dried
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
2-3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon mild vinegar, such as rice or cider
2-4 tablespoons olive oil

2-3 broccoli crowns (I tend to make a lot, as I end up eating a good amount of broccoli off the pan)
olive oil
1 ball of dough, ~10 ounces
1/4 - 1/3 pound mozarella, shredded
1/4 a small red onion, thinly sliced

To make the pesto: Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor, and blitz until a loose paste forms (you may need to scrape things down a few times until it gets going). Add more olive oil as/if needed, then add salt and additional vinegar to taste. Set aside.

Preheat your oven to 425° Fahrenheit. Place a pizza stone on the bottom to heat up, and a rack in the middle for your broccoli.

Break or cut the broccoli into bite-sized florets, and toss with olive oil. Place on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt, and bake until beginning to soften/caramelize (it'll bake more on the pizza, so don't go nuts). Remove, and let cool somewhat. Turn the oven temperature up to 475.

To assemble the pizza:  Place the pizza dough on a lightly-floured counter top, and press outward into a thick disk (leaving a 1" unpressed area along the edge as the crust). Pick up the disk and let it drape over the backs of your hands, letting gravity help you stretch it into a 12-14" circle. If the dough resists, let it relax for a few minutes (covered), then try again. Place the stretched dough on a peel (or overturned cookie sheet or cutting board) that's lightly dusted with semolina or other type of flour.

Spread a generous portion of the pesto over the dough, up to within an inch of the crust (refrigerate any leftover pesto for another use, such as pasta). Sprinkle on the cheese, then scatter the roasted broccoli and red onions. Slide the pizza onto the preheated stone in your oven, reduce the heat to 450, and bake ~7-10 minutes, until the crust browns and the cheese melts and everything looks delicious. Remove the pizza from the oven, let cool for a moment, then slice and serve.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Chocolate Macarons

A few years back, I was having a drink with a bunch of writers here in town. And one woman (whose work I admired, but whom I had never met) walked in with her two little kids, and plopped them down at a nearby table with a clatter of crayons. And then she explained how she was late because, well, she'd jumped out of bed earlier to deal with some household emergency, slipped on a sheet, and cracked a rib against a bedpost. And by cracked, I mean fractured. So here she was, trussed up, tending to her kids, sipping a glass of wine. Oh, and her husband was traveling, and not slated to return to the country until later that night. How was she even here, we wondered? How was she even upright? She waved away our concerns. "I kinda feel like I can do anything right now," she laughed. "I'm just running on fumes." And, likely, painkillers.

I've had a spate of those weeks as well recently. Wherein you produce story after story, jump at the feast-or-famine freelance chance to do some background reporting/recording for another radio program, field an unanticipated spate of calls for a separate project (more soon), and, oh yeah, get ready to host a dozen people for Passover. Lordy. Fumes indeed.

Thankfully the madness is mostly over. Stories were filed, floors were scrubbed, food cooked and folding chairs purchased. After a few weeks of overworked insomnia (which involved a 5 am bathroom cleaning one Saturday morning), I even slept in. Exhaaaaaale.

And part of the secret to my success lay in these cookies. I knew that my schedule was about to explode, and in the pre-madness weeks, I did what prep I could. And thankfully, these cookies freeze beautifully.

I have long been a fan of the delicate cookie plate as a Passover dessert, mostly because we're full of the meal (and it allows me to supply saucers instead of proper dessert place, which is generally all that's left in circulation at that point in the evening). Yes, these particular cookies are a wee bit fussy. But they're delicious, all chocolate and almonds and air. Also, sometimes a bit of fuss is nice — especially when you can get it out of the way before the madness begins.

Chocolate Macarons

adapted from David Lebovitz's The Sweet Life in Paris
yields ~18 finished cookies (I doubled the recipe for a crowd)

If you're making this for Passover, you can omit the corn syrup, and make sure you have kosher-for-Passover powdered sugar (most of them have cornstarch). Also you can swap out a dairy-free cream and margarine for the butter, and end up with a dairy-free dessert.

1 cup (100 grams) powdered sugar
½ cup almond flour (50 grams)
3 tablespoons (25 grams) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
5 tablespoons (65 grams) granulated sugar

½ cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons light corn syrup (optional)
4 ounces (120 grams) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon (15 grams) butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat your oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Stack two cookie sheets together, and line the top one with parchment paper (this isn't necessary, but in my experience gives you the best results). Prep three stacks of cookie sheets — if you don't have enough, just lay out three sheets of parchment paper.

Sift or grind together the powdered sugar, almond flour, and cocoa powder. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, beat the egg whites, gradually and then increasing the speed to high, until they begin to rise and hold their shape. While whipping, sprinkle in the granulated sugar, and continue beating a few more minutes until you form stiff peaks.

Carefully fold the dry ingredients into the beaten egg whites with a flexible rubber spatula. Continue to mix until it becomes a batter that will pour off of your spatula in a thick-yet-pourable (not plop-able) stream — the party line in macaron-making is going for something that "flows like magma". You want it so that when the batter pours down it will hold its shape for a few seconds, but then gradually slump down into the remaining batter. Yes, you will be deflating things. But that's okay. Think about the fact you're going to pipe cookies that you want to hold their shape somewhat, but not maintain the peak from where you piped them.

When the mixture has reached this stage, transfer it into a pastry bag, or plastic bag (if the latter, then snip off a corner). Pipe one-inch circles onto your parchment paper, with about an inch between them (I just aim for as small as I possibly can). Repeat with remaining batter and sheets.

When the cookies are all piped, rap the baking sheet against the counter once or twice to pop air bubbles (if you have free range sheets of cookies, you can lift up the parchment by both sides, and then drop it from a height of a few inches). Bake about 12-15 minutes, until the cookies are set just enough on the bottom where you can almost peel one off. Remove, let set on the sheet a few minutes, and then remove the cookies to a cooling rack. Repeat with remaining cookies — if you're recycling cookie pans, let them cool slightly between batches. And don't worry about the cookies sitting out on the counter awaiting their turn in the oven — some recipes actually recommend that.

When the cookies are baked and cooled, heat the cream and corn syrup in a small saucepan. When the cream just begins to boil at the edges, remove from heat, and add the chopped chocolate. Let sit one minute, then stir until smooth. Stir in the pieces of butter. Let cool until it becomes thick-yet-still spreadable (I kept trying to speed this up in the fridge, then missing my window and needing to microwave it — seriously like 3 times). When the ganache is ready, take a spoon or knife or small spatula, and place a small spoonful of ganache on the flat bottom of a cookie. Find a similarly sized cookie (if yours, like mine, um, vary a bit), and sandwich them together. Let age a day before eating, or store in the freezer for a few weeks.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Fresh Pasta in Lemon Cream Sauce with Seared Scallops

Sometimes I make meals that transform humble, dare-I-say-cheap ingredients into something fancier. Roasting some carrots and dressing them up with sauce and garnish, or elevating potatoes with a pile of North African spices. All delicious. And then there are meals on the flip side — where I take fancy, indulgent, special occasion ingredients. And do almost nothing to them, and just let their simple deliciousness shine through. Like I did the other night.

I recently had a friend over for dinner, and did that lovely fake math wherein you decide well, since we're not eating out as we'd initially planned, I'm still actually saving money by buying these fancy ingredients, right? Perhaps you are familiar with these batshit calculations? Anyways, in this case, it involved a leisurely walk down pick up some fresh-made pasta, and a tub of creme fraiche. Then some scallops — which, admittedly are terrifyingly expensive, but luckily you only need a few per person for a transcendent meal. And this was transcendent.

This is one of those meals that's more about shopping than cooking. After we enjoyed a delicious salad (butter lettuce, leftover roasted cauliflower, kumquats and feta), I ducked back in the kitchen to pull this together in just minutes. The scallops seared, the pasta boiled, and a plop of creme fraiche, lemon, and arugula hit the pan. That's it. I took a hasty cellphone pic, and we ate in amazement.

Fresh Pasta in Lemon Cream Sauce with Seared Scallops

inspired by the pasta dish in Amanda Hesser's Cooking for Mr. Latte, but tweaked beyond recognition
serves 2

~6 large fresh scallops
high-heat oil, like grapeseed
1 pound
1 cup creme fraiche
zest and juice of a meyer lemon
a few handfuls arugula, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and bring a large skillet to a screaming high heat. Set the scallops out to dry (I just set them out on a plate lined with a piece of a brown paper bag).

When your pan is very hot, pour in a bit of oil to slick the surface, and place in the scallops. Sear for a few minutes, until they develop a nice crust, then flip and sear on the other side. Remove from the pan, and set aside. Salt.

Place the pasta in the boiling water, and cook until done. Drain (I like to pour some of the pasta water into the serving plates to warm them, as this dish is best warm). Turn the scallop pan back on, and add the creme fraiche and lemon juice/zest. Stir to mix everything together (including that delicious flavor from the pan), then stir in the arugula and pasta, and toss everything together until the arugula is just wilted. Salt to taste. Drain your serving plates if you filled them with pasta water, then fill with pasta, and top with scallops. Serve. Moan. Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Cookie-Style Hamantaschen

For the past several years, I've been making hamantaschen — jam-filled Purim pastries — with a cream cheese crust. It's tangy, delicious, and creates something that's almost like a flaky little triangular tart. But the hamantaschen I grew up with weren't like tarts. They were like cookies. And I kinda wanted something like that.

These hamantaschen are indeed cookie-like — if you fancy deliciously buttery cookies. The dough is basically like a sweet butter cookie, all fat and flour and sugar and egg yolks. For a wee bit of fun, I added a touch of orange zest, to offset the sweet jam, and a bit of rye flour, for that Patisserie-by-way-of-Poland edge.

The end result isn't particularly dressed-up or fancy. No sweet cheese filling, no mashed-up international triangular turns, no need to fuss and freeze. Just butter, flour, and the jams I made myself back in the sunny late fall days, sent right from the counter to the oven (and then to my mouth). And right now, it feels perfect.

Cookie-Style Hamantaschen
adapted from Joan Nathan in the New York Times
yields ~ 3 dozen small cookies

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, warmed to room temperature
zest of 1 orange
2 egg yolks
1 cup powdered sugar
hefty pinch salt
1 cup rye flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour


Place the butter, orange zest, and egg yolks in a food processor. Pulse to mix, then add the powdered sugar, until well blended. Add the salt and flours, processing (and scraping down as needed) until the mixture just comes together. Turn out onto a square of waxed paper or plastic, shape into a chubby disk, wrap well, and refrigerate for a few hours (or overnight).

When you're ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350° Fahrenheit, and line a few cookie sheets with parchment paper. Take the dough from the refrigerator, and unwrap onto a lightly floured countertop.

Roll out the dough until it's somewhere between 1/8-inch and 1/4-inch thick. Using a cookie cutter or a glass dipped in flour, cut out rounds (I favor smallish cookies, ~2 1/4-inch (also because that's the size cutter I have)). Place a dollop of jam (about a teaspoon) in the center of each round, and fold the sides around to create a triangle (after doing a few, you'll get a sense of how much jam you can fit). Mush any dough scraps back together, and repeat.

Bake the cookies until lightly browned, ~10-12 minutes. Let cool, transferring to a rack if they seem like they're too brown on the bottoms. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Grain Bowl with Barley, Mustard Greens, Chickpeas and Tahini

I often speak disparagingly of my old favorite of "hippie dinner." Some whole grain, steamed or sauteed vegetables, maybe a bit of tofu, and tahini. It's a healthy standard, sure, but it also pegs you as a dated, stubbornly unstylish old hippie. And then I happened upon a few articles, in the space of a week, that made me realize I was branding it all wrong. It wasn't hippie dinner, see —it was a grain bowl! My cooking is so au courant.

Thus rebranded, my quinoa-tofu-broccoli grain bowl seemed due for a bit of an update. Or, to be honest, I was thinking that I should try to put a dent in the enormous vat of barley that seems to have landed in my pantry. And then there were the mustard greens I had bought because they were just so pretty, but I didn't have much of a destination for (as my initial suggestion of "mustards pizza?" was roundly dismissed for the bad idea it so clearly was). And so, revamped hippie dinner! Excuse me, I mean, grain bowl.

As with hippie dinner of the so-dated past, grain bowls can really be anything. I had the aforementioned greens and barley, and some leftover chickpeas I'd simmered up a few days prior for whatever. I made up a standard tahini, but also tossed in some ground turmeric and freshly grated ginger (which both added a bit of flavor that stood up to the bitter blanched mustards, as well as some psychological witch doctor immunity against whatever late-winter illnesses seem to be circulating out there), and topped everything with a few random fresh herbs. Being trendy turns out to be delicious. I had no idea.

Grain Bowl with Barley, Mustard Greens, Chickpeas and Tahini

yields 2 servings

Ginger-Turmeric Tahini Sauce:
1/3 cup tahini paste
juice of 1/2 lemon or lime
1 clove garlic, pressed or grated
1-inch piece of ginger, grated
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
pinch each sugar and salt

Grain Bowl:
1 bunch mustard greens, washed and torn/chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 cups cooked barley (I favor cooking mine like pasta in big pot of boiling water, as I'm less likely to scorch it)
~ 3/4 cup cooked chickpeas (warm to at least room temperature if they're coming out of the fridge)
handful of fresh herbs, if you've got (I had some scallions and cilantro)

To make the Tahini: mix together the tahini paste, lemon juice, garlic, ginger, turmeric, sugar and salt. Add a splash of water, and mix, adding more water (or, if it seems like it needs more bite, lemon juice) until you reach a thick-yet-pourable consistency. Set aside.

Bring a kettle of water to a boil while you wash and chop the mustard greens. Place the greens in a large heat-proof bowl, then pour the water over them. Let sit for a few minutes to soften, then drain (this both cooks the greens and leaches out some of the bitterness, and has the added benefit of making it harder to overcook).

While the greens are blanching, assemble your bowls. Divide the barley between two bowls, then top with the chickpeas. Add the blanched and drained mustard greens, top with a healthy dollop of tahini sauce, then sprinkle on the fresh herbs.