Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Classic Latkes

It's back-to-back latkes! I'd apologize for the lack of variety, and for the fact that I'm yet again shunting you to another website to get the recipe (this time to The Oregonian), but honestly I'm too busy trying to avoid skinning my knuckles on the box grater to care. Hannukah starts this week, people! Where did that come from?

In addition to preparing for our own household celebration, I'm busy filling our freezer with a small army of potato pancakes for our annual Latkesplash party. I'll probably also make a batch of ruggelach, and a pot of matzo ball soup to warm people up (and round out the Taste of Ashkenaz sampler). But, as the party title suggests, it's all about the latkes. And my latkes, they are delicious. Check out the story here, and learn how to make simple latkes stellar.

And as a bonus, I toss out another oil-themed tidbit: a recent radio story I produced on Oregon farmers who are trying to grow olives. Happy Hanukkah!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sweet Potato Parsnip Latkes with Feta and Leeks

Sometimes I give myself ideas by accident. A few weeks ago I was writing an ode/guideline to the classic potato latke for our local paper. I wanted to sing the praises of simplicity, contrasting its potato perfection against all the ridiculous, nouveau-what-have-you variations. So I wrote that my classic potato latke could hold its own against the frou-frou trimmings of a latke with...say... caramelized leeks, hashed parsnips, and... oh, feta and sweet potatoes. I smirked a little. And then I looked at what I wrote. And then I got hungry. Challenge accepted!

These latke won't be mistaken for peasant food, but essentially they're not too far from the model. Sweet potatoes are grated with an equal amount of parsnips, which provide an earthy edge to balance out the sugars. Instead of yellow onions you have sauteed leeks, and briny, creamy feta to provide savory accents. Usually I'm a purist when it comes to potato pancakes, but these fancypants latkes have won me over. I guess the joke's on me.

You can find the recipe over at the most excellent Food52 website (and thanks to Food52's contest for the inspiration to turn that idle threat a reality). Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Carrot Fennel Parsnip Soup

I don't always travel well. I try to be game for life's adventures and experiences, but more often than not find myself overcome for a powerful longing for the pleasures of home -- namely my dog and my contoured neck-supporting pillow. And fresh vegetables.

I just returned from a lovely road trip of the Southwest with my dear friend Katie and her 5-year-old son. Between hiking the true-to-its-name Grand Canyon, checking out centuries-old cliff dwellings, meeting up with old and new friends, comparing hotel fitness rooms and singing lustily along with the Glee soundtrack (whilst dodging tumbleweeds on the abandoned highways of the Texas panhandle), I barely had time to miss anything. Except vegetables.

With the exception of the chili pepper, vegetables don't seem to feature too prominently in that part of the country. A squirt of lime into my nightly cocktail ensured I wouldn't get scurvy, but some lower-on-the-food-chain options would have been nice. I was ecstatic to see a wealth of sides listed at this gem of a roadside restaurant we encountered on our last night, but discovered that pork was a fairly liberally-used condiment, and my vegetarianism ruled out the turnip greens, cabbage, green beans, and even the potatoes. Ah well. I enjoyed my catfish, and resolved to cook some veg-heavy dishes upon my return. Like this soup.

This creamy carrot-fennel-parsnip soup tastes rich and satisfying, but is really nothing more than a whole mess of vegetables cooked down and blitzed into a delicious puree. The carrots, fennel and parsnips are all both earthy and sweet, given a slight edge with a glug of white wine. It has an elegant sophistication for any dinner party, but is easy to throw together any night of the week. The loss of vegetables was a small price to pay for all that I saw the past week. But still, it's good to have them back.

Carrot Fennel Parsnip Soup

yields 1 large pot
inspired by Amanda Hesser, but rendered nearly unrecognizable through my incorrigible tweaking

2 Tbsp butter or olive oil
1 leek, cleaned and sliced in thick rings
1 bulb fennel, cut in thick slices (use it up to where the stems get fibrous)
1 large or 2 small parsnips, peeled and cut in thick slices
1 1/2 lbs carrots, cut in thick slices
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 cup white wine
~6 cups vegetable broth
salt and white pepper to taste

Melt the butter (or heat the oil) in a pot over a medium high flame. Add all of the vegetables, and stir occasionally for several minutes until they begin to lightly caramelize on the outside. Add the white wine, and allow to boil off for a minute. Add enough broth to cover by an inch or two, raise the heat until it comes to a boil, and then reduce the heat until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer. Cover and simmer until everything is very tender, ~half an hour. Puree in batches in a food processor or blender (I like a nice smooth puree, but feel free to leave it chunky if you prefer). Return to a pot, add additional broth as needed to get a nice soup consistency, and adjust seasonings to taste.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Huevos Rancheros (My Way)

I flirted with giving this recipe another name, since calling it huevos rancheros will cause me to lose serious cred with a certain demographic. So by way of disclaimer, I'm aware it's likely nothing resembling this dish has ever gone by this name in Mexico. Or New Mexico. Or Texas. But man is it good.

This particular creation was born after a glut of leftover salsa, and is in the tradition of the breakfast all-star shakshouka, or the invitingly-named eggs in purgatory. Instead of following the usual huevos rancheros policy of frying up eggs and topping them with salsa, eggs are poached directly in the salsa. You just warm up an inch or so in a pan, crack in as many eggs as needed, and cover the pan until they're cooked to your runny-or-not liking. This move is brilliant for several reasons:

1. The eggs sop up the salsa, becoming infused with its spicy flavor
2. You can cook up a whole pan of eggs at the same time, making it ideal brunch-party fare

We fed six adults at a recent brunch, and it was ridiculously easy -- I prepped the fixings ahead of time, then just cracked the eggs into a large pot of salsa, covered them, and rejoined my guests for another cup of coffee until they were done. Breakfast burrito coma ensued. After your eggs are cooked, where you go next is up to you. I tend to toss them in a warmed corn tortilla with a slick of refried beans (the vegetarian version of these are my guilty pleasure), cilantro, guacamole, sour cream (or its house substitute, yogurt), and maybe some radishes or chopped red onions if I'm feeling fancy. Who needs authenticity when you could be having this for brunch?

Huevos Rancheros

serves 2, but take this as a rough template and adjust to your taste/crowd size

3/4 - 1 cup salsa, depending on your pan size (I'm especially fond of this, and buy ridiculous amounts when it goes on sale)
4 eggs
4 small corn tortillas
3/4 cup refried beans, warmed
1/2 cup guacamole, or 1/2 avocado, diced
2 radishes, thinly-sliced
1/3 cup crumbled Mexican white cheese (such as queso fresco), or creamy French- or Israeli-style feta
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
additional hot sauce and lime wedges for serving

Pour the salsa in a pan large enough to accommodate 4 eggs, and warm over medium heat until it's just simmering. Crack the eggs into the pan, cover, and keep the heat just high enough to maintain a simmer. Cook until the eggs are done to your liking (I go for somewhere between runny and set, ~7 minutes). While the eggs are cooking, you can assemble your topping ingredients and warm the beans.

When the eggs are almost done, heat the tortillas directly over a burner to warm and soften them (a small amount of char is fine withe me as well). Ladle an egg into a warmed tortilla, top with whatever other ingredients you desire, and enjoy.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Compost Cookies

Halloween is something of a crapshoot here. Sometimes the kids flood to the door in clumps of nearly a dozen, and other years we're lucky if we get that many the whole night. This past Sunday the doorbell kept ringing, and my helper hellhound and I greeted scores of neighborhood kids.

We were quickly cleaned out of our peanut butter cups. and I frantically biked to the grocery store to restock. Sadly the quality salty-sweet peanut butter candy was gone, so I grabbed a couple of bags of the "fun" size chocolate bar samplers, and rushed home. To total radio silence. We had two more trick-or-treaters the entire night. And so, with a bag full of Mr. Goodbars and Krackle, I turned to compost cookies.

Like many of my fellow Pacific Northwesterners, I'm something of an obsessive composter. So of course these cookies appealed to me. They're from baker Christina Tosi of New York's Momofuku Milk Bar, and are reputed to be a perfect repository for anything you can find in your pantry: bits of cereal, candy bars, goldfish crackers, pretzels, and, if stories are to be believed, a dollop of coffee grounds (I did, however, draw the line at the salt-and-vinegar potato chips lingering on a back shelf). You could probably try this nifty trick with any cookie recipe, but Tosi's particular variation whips the bejesus out of the butter and sugar, moving beyond creaming to create a crispy-outside, chewy-inside ugly-yet-delicious cookie. The most unexpected ingredients (I went with tortilla chips, a Chex-like cereal, and the assorted chocolate bars) create a deep combination of flavors, with that prized salty-sweet edge. Clearing out the leftovers should always be so delicious.

Compost Cookies

from Christina Tosi, via various blogs
yields ~15 large cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp coarse salt
1 1/2 cups salty snack food (chips, crackers, pretzels, cereal, etc)
1 1/2 cups sweet snack food (candy bars, butterscotch chips, chocolate-covered whatever, etc)

Place the butter, sugars and corn syrup in a mixer, and beat with a paddle attachment until pale and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides, and add the vanilla and eggs. Beat on low to incorporate, then raise the speed to medium-high and beat for a full 10 minutes. It will become paler in color and larger in volume.

While the mixture is beating, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside. Chop or crush or crumble your snack foods into little bits, and set aside.

When the butter mixture has been beaten for a full ten minutes, add the flour mixture and beat for a few seconds until just combined. Add the snack foods, and stir until combined. Cover the mixture, and chill at least an hour (and up to a few days -- do not forgo the chilling, otherwise terrible meltage and nasty flat cookies will ensue). After chilling, scoop into 1/4 cup portions, place on a cookie sheet (or plate, if your fridge, like mine, doesn't have space for a full sheet sheet), and chill another 1/2 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the shaped cookies on a greased or lined cookie sheet, and bake until they've browned on the edges, and are just beginning to brown on the tops (this takes less time than you'd think -- only about 10 minutes for such large cookies). Let cool on the sheet for a few minutes, then move to a rack and cool completely.