Monday, January 27, 2020

Starry, Starry Nights

What’s cooking? Chocolate Star Cookies with Pistachio Stardust



 

Generally speaking, winter is that time of year when we’re mostly waiting for it to be over. But if you think about it, there are lots of things winter is great for. When else would you get to wear those soft, warm sweaters? Or a fur coat, if you have one? As long as it doesn’t go on for too long, clomping around in fuzzy boots and mittens is fun, as is the snow. And I wouldn’t be the Kitchen Goddess if I didn’t mention thick soups and stews, like this Curried Squash and Red Lentil Soup, or Coq au Vin.

Curried Squash and Red Lentil Soup

Coq au Vin
 It’s also the season for mushrooms, as in this Wild Mushroom Soup with Madeira. Mmmmm...

Wild Mushroom Soup – for two – with Madiera

You know what’s also great in winter? The stars. That’s right – the night sky in December, January, and February is darker and clearer than in the summer. The major reason is that cold air can’t hold as much moisture as can warm air, so the winter skies offer a drier, crisper light, while summer skies – beautiful though they may be – come across as hazier. Winter night skies (in the Northern Hemisphere) allow a richer, deeper, and darker shade of blue that only sharpens the contrast with the wintertime constellations.

And here’s one I didn’t know before I did all this research: our view of the night sky improves in winter because of our solar system’s position in the Milky Way. In summer, we’re facing the center of the galaxy, toward the combined light of billions of stars, so the sky is more crowded. In winter, we face the opposite way, toward the galaxy’s outskirts. There are fewer stars between us and extragalactic space. It’s another morsel of knowledge from the KG.

With all this thinking about stars, I was thrilled to receive a recipe for star cookies from a friend in Florida. She’s a terrific cook and an ultra-talented designer (see her website at Fina Design), so I was intrigued with these cookies mostly because they were so beautiful in her photo. Mine didn’t emerge with the same level of beauty, but they looked good enough to wow my book group, and the taste is outstanding – rich without being cloying. Who doesn’t like chocolate dipped in more chocolate and pistachios?

I cannot tell a lie: these cookies  and the photo  were made by my friend Barbara. 

Because there’s no egg in the recipe, the cookies have a shortbready texture – not fudgy, but soft and crumbly. Until they cool from the oven, they need to be handled carefully – like with as wide a spatula as you have for moving them from the baking pan to the cooling rack. The Kitchen Goddess broke three until she figured that part out, and then had to eat those that broke. Bad news for the book group, good news for the KG.



Kitchen Goddess note on cocoa powder: (And here I rely on the expertise of Stella Parks, the pastry queen at SeriousEats.com, and my friends at America’s Test Kitchen.) For big chocolate flavor in baking, the weapon of choice is usually cocoa powder, which comes in two forms: Dutch-processed and natural. Both are derived from the cocoa bean. Like chocolate, cocoa is naturally acidic. In Dutch processing, the cocoa is treated with an alkalizing agent that neutralizes that acid. So Dutch-processed cocoa is darker and browner in color, and has a smoother chocolate flavor. Because of the lack of acidity, most recipes using it call for baking powder only.

The color difference is starker when viewed from above
Unsweetened Natural Cocoa is reddish brown in color, and has a chocolate flavor characterized by some as bitter, by others as sharp and almost citrusy. Many recipes using it call for baking soda to help neutralize its acidity.











You’ll notice that Barbara’s cookies are a lighter shade than mine, which I attribute mostly to the type of cocoa powder. Hers, on the right in this photo, is Ghirardelli 100% Unsweetened Cocoa, which is natural; mine, on the left, is Hershey’s Special Dark, which, according to the label, is a combination of Dutched and natural cocoa.  Both hers and mine are delicious and chocolatey, and impressively easy to make.

I’m still working on the technique for getting mine to be as perfect a star shape as Barbara’s. Very frustrating for a Kitchen Goddess. But if you follow the intermittent chilling instructions and don’t crowd the baking pan, you’ll come very close.


These are the Kitchen Goddess’s, before she realized the cookies look even better when thicker.

Chocolate Star Cookies with Pistachio Stardust

Adapted from my friend Barbara Fina

The flavors in these cookies are simple and straightforward, so it’s good to use the best quality ingredients you can find.

Yield: This recipe makes 2 dozen cookies.

Ingredients
For the cookies:
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
½ teaspoon kosher salt
175 grams all-purpose flour (approximately 1⅓ cups)
½ teaspoon baking powder or baking soda, depending on the type of cocoa you choose*
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder*
2 tablespoons whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

*Note: If your cocoa powder is “natural” (i.e., not Dutch-processed), use baking soda; if your cocoa powder is Dutch-processed, use baking powder.

For the pistachio stardust:
1¼ cups semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate pieces
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup shelled, unsalted whole pistachios

Directions
In the bowl of an electric mixer on low speed, use the paddle to cream the ½ cup butter with the brown sugar and salt until the mixture is smooth, then raise the speed to medium for a good 30 seconds to aerate.

In a small bowl, sift or stir together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda (or baking powder, depending on your type of cocoa). Set aside. Separately, combine the milk and vanilla.

To the butter/brown sugar/salt mixture, gradually and alternately add the milk/vanilla and the dry ingredients. Mix until the dough is a smooth and consistent texture, scraping the sides of the mixing bowl occasionally.

Divide the dough into two relatively smooth balls and flatten them slightly for easier rolling out. Wrap the two disks in plastic wrap or wax paper and chill for 30-60 minutes. (The Kitchen Goddess absent-mindedly left hers in the fridge for 2 hours and was very sorry.)

Before you start rolling/cutting, preheat the oven to 375º.

On a lightly floured surface, working with one disk of dough at a time, roll out the dough to a ¼-inch thickness and cut into stars with a cookie cutter. (The KG uses a 3-inch star.) Transfer the stars to a parchment-lined (or lightly greased) baking sheet, being careful to leave them 1-2 inches apart for best results. Refrigerate each sheet for 5 minutes before baking. Re-roll unused dough as many times as you like, refrigerating occasionally to keep the dough firm. Note that these cookies are thick. It’s part of their charm.

Bake 7-8 minutes or until edges are firm. KG Alert: Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 1-2 minutes before moving them to a wire rack. Cool on wire racks completely before dipping.

While the finished cookies are cooling, prepare the Pistachio Stardust:

1. In a double boiler, combine the chocolate pieces and the butter. Stir until smooth.

2. Before you turn off the oven, scatter the pistachios into a small baking pan and lightly toast (4-5 minutes). Use a cutting board to chop the pistachios into a relatively fine texture (or however fine you like). While somewhat tedious, chopping nuts by hand will give you a more consistent texture. (Barbara says it also looks more “artisinal.” And, of course, she’s right.)

Once the cookies are cooled, dip two points of each star into the melted chocolate, allowing the excess to drip off, then into the pistachio bits. Return the decorated cookies to the cooling racks until the chocolate is completely firm.

These cookies keep well for up to 10 days in airtight tins. (Separate the layers with wax paper.) You can also freeze the undipped cookies, then thaw and dip them when you’re ready.

One final Kitchen Goddess note: While I do think the star shapes are about the cleverest and most artistic I’ve seen, do not despair if you don’t have a star-shaped cookie cutter. You can always make these any shape you want and dip some portion of each into the chocolate/pistachio mix.

Kitchen Goddess Bonus Recipe: Chocolate Bark

When you have finished dipping all those stars, you’ll find that you have both chocolate and pistachios left over. What can you do? Make bark. Spread the chocolate out in a pan lined with parchment or foil and sprinkle the nuts on top. Add other nuts or dried fruit or (KG’s fave) candied ginger, and let it cool. Break it up and store it in an airtight container. Serve on its own or with ice cream/sorbet for dessert.


A Final Note about Star-gazing


If you want a truly eye-opening experience, head to one of the Dark Sky spots in the U.S. These are places far enough from city/highway lighting that the nighttime conditions are essentially the same as they were before the introduction of electric lighting. As your eyes become accustomed to the dark, you’ll be blown away at the number of stars you can see. The Milky Way appears as if by magic, and the universe literally opens up to you.

The brightness of a full moon can wash most stars out of the sky. For most stargazing, you’ll want to plan to be out on or near the new moon, which for this month, began the 21st and runs through the 29th, at which time the visible percentage of the moon will be less than 20%.

And you can make some of these cookies for the trip!


Friday, November 22, 2019

On the Light Side -- Marathon Day 3

What’s cooking? Ginger- and Molasses-Glazed Root Vegetables, Fennel-Celery Salad with Lemon and Parmesan





I’ve done it! I’ve made time to give you all four recipes in just less than a week before Turkey Day. I should have a glass of wine. Maybe even two. But first, let’s get on with the reason you clicked in here.

Today’s recipes may seem wildly different, but they have one major factor in common: the mandoline.

Ordinarily, the Kitchen Goddess understands that not everyone has a complete inventory of cooking utensils/equipment. The KG herself has no rice cooker, no sous vide immersion circulator, no air fryer, no instant pot, no slow cooker. Not even a toaster oven. But she has a mandoline slicer.

Both of these recipes are a snap with a mandoline slicer. And this is not the first time I’ve suggested getting one, so.... On the other hand, both recipes can be made the day before you’ll be serving them, which goes a long way toward making the dishes attractive even without any special equipment.

A mandoline is not a machine. It’s a cooking utensil used for slicing. The fancier ones also make julienne cuts, but let’s just stick to our knitting today. According to wikipedia, the name mandoline derives from the back-and-forth wrist motion of the user, which mimics the motion of someone playing the musical instrument of the same name (though the instrument is spelled mandolin, while the utensil is spelled mandoline). How clever is that?

With a mandoline, you can slice fruits and veggies faster than even a skilled chef with a knife. Which will improve both the look and the cooking of your foods in the sense that even cuts produce even doneness. As my CIA chef teacher told the class, “looks the same, cooks the same.”

Ideally, you want a mandoline that’s both easy and safe to use. The blades are sharp and you can wound yourself without even noticing – until the blood starts showing up on the food. I have more than once sliced into a fingernail, and even managed one time to remove the tip of a finger. That was exciting.

Through exhaustive testing, the America’s Test Kitchen crew has pronounced the Swissmar Borner V-1001 V-Slicer Plus Mandoline 5 Piece Set ($49.95 at amazon.com) as the easiest and safest to use. Also, they liked the Kyocera Advanced Ceramic Adjustable Mandoline Vegetable Slicer w/ Handguard ($17.82). The one I use is a Benriner, which though cheaper and easy to use, is not nearly as safe, as you can tell from my history with it. So I’m thinking maybe the Swissmar should be on my Christmas list.

Once you have a mandoline or decide to just plow ahead with a knife, these two dishes are easy and can be made a day ahead (yes, even the salad!).



Ginger- and Molasses-Glazed Root Vegetables

Adapted from David McCann in Food & Wine Magazine

Root veggies – some people don’t even recognize the names, like rutabaga or parsnips or celery root. So I recommend not telling your guests what’s in this dish. After all, once you say, “turnips,” people get that look on their faces and you can just tell they won’t even try it. Just say, “root veggies” when they ask, and move on to the ginger-molasses part. It would be a real loss not to try this.

Serves: 8

Ingredients
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut diagonally into ⅛-inch-thick coins
1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut diagonally into ⅛-inch-thick coins
1 pound medium-sized turnips, peeled, halved, and cut into ⅛-inch-thick rounds
6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3 ounces), cut into pieces, divided
2 teaspoons grated garlic
2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger
2 tablespoons unsulfured molasses (such as Grandma’s Molasses)
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Garnish: fresh flat-leaf parsley (whole leaves or chopped)

Directions
Kitchen Goddess note: In my usual way, I could not leave well enough alone. The directions below for the blanching made me go searching for the best method, and I came upon instructions from the great chef, Thomas Keller. Because of the density of root veggies, he says to start them in the pot with cold, lightly salted water ( I used ½ cup salt to 6 quarts water), bring the water to a boil, and remove the veggies when they taste done. I tried this with only carrots, and was happy with the taste/texture after they had boiled 1½ minutes. But I used the original instructions (below) when I made this dish, and was happy then, too. Your call.

Just be sure to have a really cold ice bath – equal amounts of ice to water. Once the veggies are done, you want to have the cooking stop as quickly as possible.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil over high. Set a large bowl of very cold ice water to the side. Add the carrots and parsnips to the boiling water. After 3 minutes, add the turnips, and continue the boiling for another 2 minutes. As you reach that 2-minute mark, test to see that the vegetables are crisp-tender.

Turn off the heat and, using a slotted spoon or a spider, immediately transfer all the veggies to the ice bath. Let them sit in the ice bath for 2 minutes, then drain. Lay a kitchen towel out on a baking sheet and top it with a couple of layers of paper towels. Spread the veggies out on the paper towels. In the interest of getting them as dry as possible, I made several layers of the veggies, separated by more paper towels.




When you are about ready to serve, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat until it sizzles. Add the garlic and ginger, and cook, stirring often, for about 2 minutes. Add the vegetables, the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, the molasses, 2 tablespoons water, and salt/pepper. Cook, folding the vegetables gently into the glaze in order to cover them completely. Stir continuously until the vegetables are fully glazed, 3-4 minutes.


Remove the pan from the heat, and transfer the veggies to a serving platter. Garnish with parsley, and serve immediately.

Kitchen Goddess P.S. –
What you can do ahead: 
Carrots, parsnips, and turnips may be blanched 1 day ahead.

* * *

Fennel and Celery Salad with Lemon and Parmesan

Adapted from David Tanis in The New York Times

The most wonderful thing about this salad – aside from the fresh, zippy taste, is that it was as crunchy and flavorful on the second day as it was on the first. I can hardly wait to make it again. Next time, I may consider adding julienned (matchstick) pieces of crisp, green pear.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients
For the dressing:
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus zest from one large lemon
1 or 2 garlic cloves, crushed
Kosher salt and black pepper (start with ¼ teaspoon salt, pepper to taste)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the salad:
2 medium fennel bulbs (tops removed, fronds reserved), sliced 1/16th-inch thick (about 2 cups)
1 or 2 celery hearts, including pale ribs and leaves, sliced 1/16th-inch thick (about 2 cups)
8-10 radishes, trimmed and sliced ⅛-inch thick
¼ cup roughly chopped parsley
Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 2 ounces), for serving
Garnish: reserved fennel fronds




Directions
For the dressing, combine the lemon juice, zest, and garlic in a small jar. Add salt and pepper. Stir in the olive oil and shake well. Set the dressing aside for at least 10 minutes.

In a salad bowl, toss together the fennel, celery, radish slices, and parsley.

Discard the garlic from the dressing, and shake the dressing again. Pour the dressing over the salad, and toss gently but well. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Serve in the salad bowl or transfer the salad to a platter. Use a vegetable peeler to shave Parmesan generously over the salad. Garnish with reserved fennel fronds (optional, but they do look pretty!).

Kitchen Goddess P.S. – 
What you can do ahead: 
1. Make the dressing.
2. Slice the fennel, celery, and radishes. (Wait until you’re ready to serve before chopping the parsley.) Keep the celery and radish slices in an airtight container in the fridge. Wrap the fennel slices and fennel fronds in damp paper towels and store overnight in an airtight container.




The Kitchen Goddess wishes you all a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving, filled with gratitude for our many blessings!

Thursday, November 21, 2019

On the Light Side – Marathon Day 2

What’s cooking? Crushed Potatoes with Spiced Oil





Here’s something I just realized: Not a single onion was sacrificed for these dishes. (That would be yesterday’s dish, today’s, and two more coming tomorrow.) I was trying to figure out what made this group of Thanksgiving recipes so easy, and that’s certainly one reason. No endless scratching at the papery outer skins to get to the insides, no “Whoops!” moments with the knife when you see blood seeping across the bulb, and – most important – no tears. The Kitchen Goddess loves cooked onions in a dish, but not the process by which they get there.

For today’s contribution, I must say that I haven’t made a potato dish this quickly... ever. Of course, they’re not mashed potatoes. But they’re pretty damned close, and with a very interesting texture. They’re called crushed potatoes, because you that’s just what you do – you crush them through the grid of a baking rack. Lay a potato on top of the rack, smack it good, and push it through those little squares. Wham, bam, and there they are. Add the spiced oil and you’re ready to eat. The texture is great and the spiced oil adds a mildly exotic flavor that works when you serve the dish warm or at room temp.

The original recipe, which I found in the most recent issue of Food & Wine Magazine, suggested that pushing the potatoes through a baking rack would also easily remove the skins. So, fool that I am, I believed them. I boiled my potatoes, cut them in half, and crushed the first half of the first potato down on my little rack. Take a look at this photo and see what I learned. Notice that the thin skin of the potato gets a death grip on the wires of the baking rack, and you can spend the next 5-10 minutes digging it out. Multiply that process against 6-8 potato halves, and you have what we used to call a screaming meemie in the kitchen.


So I peeled the rest of my potatoes, which wasn’t hard because after boiling, that skin comes off pretty easily. But the Kitchen Goddess said to herself, “Maybe there’s a better way.” And by gum, she was right. It turns out that any number of clever folks have discovered that if you take a sharp paring knife and make a shallow cut around the circumference of the raw potatoes before you boil them, the skin literally lifts off in two whole pieces when they’re done. That tip is too late for the Goddess this season ... unless she decides to make this dish again soon, which is not a bad idea. If you’re not sure what I mean about the technique, check out this video.


Once you’ve boiled your potatoes, you will want a couple of pieces of equipment for this preparation.

A baking rack/wire cooling grate. I call it a baking rack; but it’s listed on the website for my local restaurant supply store as a “wire cooling grate.” And it’s $1.99. Also available on amazon.com for $1.99, but amazon wants to charge $19.74 for shipping. So I’d recommend you look around for a restaurant supply store in your area. (On further inspection, I see that the rack sold by amazon is shipped from Ace Mart Restaurant Supply, which is the store I go to. Hahahaha!)


To grind the spices, the easiest way is with a spice/coffee grinder. If you don’t have one of those, use a mortar and pestle. If you don’t have one of those, try wrapping the seeds in a clean kitchen towel and taking a hammer to them. But a spice grinder (a.k.a., coffee grinder) is a nice piece of gear to have, and the best (according to America’s Test Kitchen) is the Krups Fast-Touch Coffee Mill ($13.88 on amazon.com). If you’re an amazon prime member, you can have it tomorrow!

So after all that preamble, here at last is the recipe. I want to say that the trio of toasted spices – caraway, coriander, and fennel – brings lovely, warm flavor notes to the potatoes, especially in combination with the olive oil. Caraway has a distinctly sweet but tangy flavor, often used with winter vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and cabbage. Coriander is sweetly aromatic with a hint of citrus, and found in many curries. And fennel has a sweet, grassy flavor, with notes of anise and licorice.




Crushed Potatoes with Spiced Olive Oil

Adapted from Justin Chapple in Food & Wine Magazine (November 2019)

Serves 8-10

Ingredients
5 pounds medium-sized red potatoes or Yukon Gold potatoes
3 tablespoons kosher salt, divided
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Kitchen Goddess note: For the photos on this post, I made a half recipe instead of the quantities listed here. I still had more than ample servings for 6 people.

Directions
Into a large pot, place the potatoes (after scoring the circumference for peeling, of course). Add water to cover by 1 inch, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of salt, and reduce the heat enough that the potatoes are only simmering. Simmer until tender, 25 to 30 minutes. (Test by piercing a potato with a fork or a skewer; if it slides in easily, the potatoes are done.)

While the potatoes are cooking, combine the caraway seeds, coriander seeds, and fennel seeds in a small skillet over medium heat. Stir almost constantly, until the spices are very fragrant, about 5 minutes. Transfer the seeds to a spice grinder or mortar, and process or crush until the seeds are slightly finer than a medium grind. Stir the crushed seeds into the olive oil in a medium bowl until well combined. Set aside.


Kitchen Goddess note: If you don’t have a spice/coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle, and you don’t feel like crushing the seeds in a kitchen towel with a hammer, you can always use the pre-ground versions of caraway, coriander, and fennel. The grind will be finer than recommended, so the look of the dish won’t be quite so rustic, but the taste should be close to the same, as long as your ground spices are fresh. To tell the freshness, take the lid off the jar and put it up to your nose; fresh spices should have a good strong smell.

When the potatoes are done, drain them and cut them in half lengthwise. Lay your wire rack over a large bowl, and place a potato half, cut side down, on the rack, and press completely through to the bowl.




Fold the spiced olive oil gently into the potatoes, so as to preserve that lovely crushed consistency. Stir in the pepper and remaining tablespoon of salt. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Kitchen Goddess P.S. – 
What you can do ahead:
1. Cook the potatoes.
2. Crush the potatoes.
3. Mix the spiced oil.
4. Assemble the entire dish.

You can do step 1, or steps 1 & 2, or steps 1, 2, & 3, or all four. Reheat the potatoes to serve warm or at room temperature.



Wednesday, November 20, 2019

On the Light Side -- Marathon Day 1

What’s cooking? Butternut Squash with Spicy Yogurt and Cilantro Sauce




It’s that time of year again, when cooks everywhere in the U.S. wrestle with old foods versus new foods, remembering which dishes were disasters and which are only sort of okay but you serve it anyhow because Aunt Minnie loves it, and thinking what they can do to bring a little life into the old menu. My friend Joy told me about the first Thanksgiving she and her hubby shared with their blended family of 7 adult children (including one spouse). Joy asked everyone to bring a dish they loved from life-long Thanksgiving celebrations, and the one spouse said, “Do I have to? I didn’t like most of them and am happy to try a whole new experience.”

If you feel that way, or maybe just wish for a new idea, the Kitchen Goddess has been doing the research for you. She has combed her voluminous sources and found a salad, a root vegetable dish, a butternut squash recipe, and a whole new way to serve potatoes – and all with you, dear readers, in mind. We’ll do this like vitamins – one a day – unless I get a burst of energy and pile two on one day, but if I tried posting them all at once,... let’s just say it wouldn’t be pretty.

I did come up with a new modus operandi, however. In the spirit of a marathon – which is what I’ve historically called this period – I made all my decisions early, then shopped for everything at once; and Monday, spent the entire day in Kitchen Goddess mode, cooking, taking notes, and photographing the resulting splendor. Sixty-two photos in all, in case you’re wondering – though many of the same dish at a slightly different angle or with a change of scene. The Kitchen Goddess focus was intense, and, in a show of great wisdom and insight into his wife’s personality, her hubby found a way to stay out of the house for most of the day.

Toward the end, looking around at the various finished dishes, I realized how many days it would take the two of us to eat what I had cooked, and how unprepared I was to store it all. So I called several friends and invited them to drop by with plastic containers to take away parts of whatever they thought looked good. One couple – at my invitation – actually brought grilled chicken and joined us in an impromptu pre-Thanksgiving dinner. What a day! I went to bed a good two hours early.

* * *



So here we are with the first dish, which probably looks complicated, but is not. In fact, none of this year’s dishes are complicated in the way that the KG often adores. Also, they all have elements that can be done ahead of time, and none are ridiculously butter- and cream-filled – hence the “light side” of the title. (There’s butter in one, but really, remember it’s Thanksgiving.)

I had a number of clues that this recipe would be a winner. First, the original author is the famous  Israeli-English chef, restaurant owner, and food writer, Yotam Ottenghi. Second, it was picked up by the Food52 website among their Genius Recipes, which they call “foolproof” –  passed down from cookbook authors, chefs, and bloggers who “rethink cooking tropes, solve problems, get us talking, and make cooking more fun.” And finally, in my research, I ran across it on the Williams-Sonoma website. What better evidence could you want?

What really made this easy is that – for the first time ever – I didn’t have to peel the squash. It worked so well that I am now done with that in my life. I also loved the combination of crispy skin with soft squash, the bit of heat paired with the cool yogurt, and the perky cilantro sauce. It’s a real treat for the senses. And you don’t have to serve it hot – it’s great at room temp.

Please note that I’ve included a postscript of what you can do ahead and substitutions you can make.



Yotam Ottolenghi’s Squash With Chile Yogurt and Cilantro Sauce

Adapted from Kristen Miglore at Food52

Serves 8.

Ingredients
For the squash – 
1 large (3-pound) butternut squash
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons olive oil

For the cilantro sauce –
1 small bunch (50 grams, or 1.75 ounces) cilantro, leaves and stems, plus extra leaves for garnish
1 small clove garlic, crushed
4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the yogurt sauce –
1 cup (200 grams or 7 ounces) Greek yogurt (full-fat, low-fat, or no-fat)
1½  teaspoons Sriracha or other savory chile sauce (I used Momofuku Ssäm sauce)
Water as desired

Garnish: 2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds (shelled), toasted

Directions
Preheat the oven to 425º.

Rinse the squash skin well and trim off the ends. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and discard the seeds. Cut the squash into half-moons about ¾-inch wide, then cut the larger half-moons into wedges about 3 inches long, leaving the skin on.


In a large mixing bowl, toss the squash pieces with the cinnamon, the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the salt, and 5-6 grinds of pepper. Mix well to coat the squash evenly with the oil and spices. Place the pieces on an uncoated sheet pan, skin side down whenever possible, to promote a tasty crispness. Roast 35-40 minutes, until the squash is soft and the edges darken. (Like people, some pieces will refuse to follow orders and will fall over. That’s okay.) Remove the squash from the oven and set aside to cool.

For the cilantro sauce, combine the herbs with the garlic and oil in the bowl of a food processor and pulse – periodically scraping down the sides – until the mixture forms a smooth paste. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.


For the yogurt sauce, stir in the chile sauce to combine well.[Kitchen Goddess note: Some yogurts are thicker than others. You may want to add water a tablespoon at a time to adjust the thickness of the sauce to your liking. I added 2 tablespoons, to get it thin enough to spoon loosely over the squash.]


Roast the pumpkin/sunflower seeds on a baking sheet in a 350º oven for 6-8 minutes, or in a skillet for 5-6 minutes on medium-high (stirring often – it’s easy to burn them this way).

Presentation
When you are ready to serve, scatter the squash pieces on a platter and spoon dollops of the yogurt sauce on top. Drizzle the cilantro sauce on top as well. (Williams-Sonoma suggested that you swirl together the yogurt sauce and the cilantro paste, but the Kitchen Goddess likes the look of the separate colors.) Scatter the pumpkin seeds on top, add a few extra cilantro leaves for accent, and serve.


Kitchen Goddess P.S. – 
What you can do ahead:
1. Cook the squash. Bring it to room temperature before adding the toppings.
2. Stir together the yogurt and chile sauce.
3. Make the cilantro sauce.
4. Toast the sunflower/pumpkin seeds.

Possible substitutions (not tried by the Kitchen Goddess):
■ Acorn squash for the butternut
■ Other herbs (mint or parsley or tarragon, or a mix) instead of cilantro
■ Light sour cream instead of yogurt


Sunday, November 17, 2019

Third Time’s the Charm

What’s cooking? Three-Bean Soup with Lemony Dill Pesto






My brain is as good as it ever was – it just doesn’t offer same-day service. That’s a line I heard not long ago that resonated with me as I put together this post.

So... a year and a half ago, I was food shopping and spotted a pile of what the grocery store called Romano beans. I love hanging out in the produce aisles, and, while the beans looked vaguely familiar, I’d never heard of the name “Romano beans.” So I bought some, then looked around the internet for an interesting recipe using this “new” veggie. I found a nice soup, tested the recipe – and loved it. Made it again and took lots of photos. Then because of the time of year – like right now – I got caught up in the whirl of Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas activities and never posted it.

Last week, as I shopped, I once again came across a bin of these Romano beans, and remembered that lovely recipe. I remembered cooking the soup, so figured it must be on the blog somewhere. But no. Back at my desk, I rummaged around looking for the photos and found... not one, but two files of photos for this same recipe. And the second file I found was dated six months before the one I thought was the first file. Which means I’ve now come across Romano beans three times in the same grocery store and have three times determined to write about them. I’m reminded of another line that circulated recently among my friends: “I haven’t lost my mind – half of it just wandered off, and the other half went looking for it.”

The good news is that I’m finally passing on this truly marvelous soup. I made it last night, but the process was lots faster and easier because I just had to take notes – no photos!

Before I start telling you about Romano beans, I should say that if you can't find them, the recipe will work just as well with your basic string beans. And now, about the Romano beans. Here’s a photo of the ones I brought home just this week. Impressive size, yes? According to wikipedia, they’re also called “snap beans,” and are in the family of “common beans” – sort of the teenagers of the bean family, in that they’ve been harvested before the seed development phase, so the pods are tender enough to eat. Other youngsters in the family are your standard string beans and French green beans (a.k.a., haricots verts). Romanos look a lot like overdeveloped snow peas, but snow peas are..., well, part of the pea family. (In the same way that string beans and snap beans are the youth of the bean family, snow peas and sugar snap peas are the youth of the pea family.) And this is the end of my research into beans.

Because I hadn’t done this research in my previous dealings with this soup, I didn’t realize why the beans seemed vaguely familiar. But as I chopped the Romanos for my mise en place yesterday, I decided – for the first time – to try a taste of the raw bean. Like emerging from a time machine, I remembered that flavor from Saturday afternoons at my grandmother’s house, when we’d sit out on her screened porch and “snap” these beans into small enough pieces to be cooked the next day for Sunday lunch. She called them “snap beans,” and I never made the connection. The notoriously strong olfactory memory – stronger even than visual memory – carried me back to that screened porch through a single bite of the raw pod.


Three-Bean Soup with Dill Pesto

Adapted from Molly Baz at epicurious.com (April 2018)

What an amazing soup this is: low-fat, high-veggie, and soooo savory. Especially the garlic pieces, which cook into these magical mounds of mild and sweet softness. The most time-consuming part of this recipe is the chopping. Even so, the Kitchen Goddess – who is notorious for careful, precise chopping and therefore takes way more time than most – managed the entire process, including the pesto, here in 2 hours. Speaking of the pesto, I’d say it’s a very good soup without the pesto, but why stop short when the view is so good from the top?

Kitchen Goddess note about the beans: Once again, if you can’t find Romano beans, basic string beans will work just as well.

Serves 8

Ingredients
2 medium leeks, dark green parts of the stalks removed and discarded
1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and separated
3 slices bacon, cut in ½-inch pieces
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 small fennel bulbs, chopped in ½-inch dice, fronds reserved for pesto
1 celery stalk, chopped in ½-inch dice (about ⅓-½ cup)
3 sprigs of fresh thyme (or a rounded teaspoon of dried thyme)
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon kosher salt
6 cups well-flavored chicken or vegetable broth
2 ½ cups frozen lima beans (or ¾ cup large, dried lima beans, soaked overnight)
1½ teaspoons Aleppo pepper (or ¾ teaspoon red pepper flakes)
8 ounces Romano beans/snap beans, cut into 1" pieces
8 ounces sugar snap peas, trimmed, cut crosswise (small ones in half; large ones in thirds)
¼ cup crème fraîche, sour cream, or light sour cream
4 teaspoons lemon juice (from the lemon used in the pesto; see recipe below)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Garnish:
thick shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano
Lemony Dill Pesto (see recipe below)

Directions
For the mise en place*, quarter the leeks lengthwise, then cut crosswise into ½-inch pieces. Rinse the leeks in a fine-mesh strainer and pat dry with paper towels. Using the flat side of a chef’s knife, smash the garlic cloves. Set aside 1 large or 2 small cloves for the pesto.



Cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium heat for 8-9 minutes, until starting to crisp.

Add the 2 tablespoons of oil and all but the reserved clove(s) of the smashed garlic and cook, stirring often, for about 4 minutes, until the garlic is just beginning to turn golden.

Add the leeks, fennel, celery, thyme, bay leaf, and 1 tablespoon of salt. Cook, stirring often, until vegetables are beginning to soften, about 4 minutes.


Add the lima beans, Aleppo pepper (or red pepper flakes), and the broth. Bring the soup to a simmer, then partially cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low, and gently simmer until the beans are al dente but not quite creamy, 20-25 minutes.

Add the Romano beans and the snap peas. Return the soup to a simmer and continue to cook about 15 minutes more, until the limas are creamy and the other beans are just cooked through.


While the soup is in this final 15-minute phase, make the pesto. (See below.)

Remove the soup from the heat and stir in crème fraîche/sour cream, black pepper, and 4 teaspoons of lemon juice. Stir well then taste and adjust the seasoning.

Ladle soup into bowls. Drizzle with pesto, then top with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve with crusty toast and the remaining pesto alongside.

*I have harped on this before. Mise en place is French for “Get your shit together.” If you have the veggies and seasoning all chopped and measured and ready for the pot, you will not be cursing at yourself when you have to take the pot off the burner and let it cool down while you finish cutting up the damned fennel. Trust the Kitchen Goddess. Once you have your mise en place, you will dance through the recipe process like Fred Astaire. You might even have time for a glass of wine while you cook.




Lemony Dill Pesto


The bright flavors in this pesto offer the perfect finish to the creamy bean soup. The original recipe had no nuts in the pesto, but I thought it needed a little body. Here’s what it looked like without the nuts. It still tastes delicious, but... well, the KG likes the thicker texture of pesto with nuts. You should make it however you like.



Yield: 1½ cups

Ingredients
Fronds from 2 small fennel bulbs (can include some of the daintier stems)
1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic (reserved from mise en place for the soup)
Small bunch dill, including thinner stems
1 cup pecans (or walnuts or pignoli nuts)
zest of 1 lemon, plus 2 teaspoons lemon juice
¾ teaspoon kosher salt

Directions
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the fennel fronds with the reserved garlic, the dill, the lemon zest, and the pecans, until the mixture is well chopped and crumbly. With the motor running, slowly stream in ½ cup oil. Stop the motor to scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the ¾ teaspoon of salt and the 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. Process the pesto until well combined and relatively smooth. Transfer the pesto to a small bowl and set aside.




Saturday, November 2, 2019

Book-ish

What’s cooking? Zucchini Spirals with Mushrooms






I spent all day last Saturday at the Texas Book Fair, an annual event that takes over a sizeable portion of downtown Austin near the capital and draws upwards of 50,000 attendees.  I started my tour with barbecue king Aaron Franklin (of the legendary Franklin Barbecue), who talked about grilling steaks and his new cookbook, Franklin Steak. Next up, I heard Malcolm Gladwell interviewed about his latest book, Talking with Strangers; then I hotfooted it from one side of the fair to the other to hear Sean Brock, former chef at McCrady’s in Charleston and the Husk group of restaurants across the South, talk about his newest project in Nashville and his latest cookbook, South, as well as his passion for Southern/Appalachian cuisine.

My last stop was a conversation between two authors who are also copy editors: Mary Norris (Between You & Me and her newer book, Greek to Me), who is also a writer and copy editor for The New Yorker; and Benjamin Dreyer (Dreyer’s English), executive managing editor and copy chief for Random House. The topic of their talk was “Word Nerds: Famous Copy Editors on the Glories of Grammar Punctuation.”

I had thoughts that a session with that catchy title might not draw a single person, so I was determined to put at least one face (mine) into the audience. Imagine my surprise when, arriving a full 15 minutes before the start of said session, I learned that there were no seats left. Wait – not only were all the seats taken, but a fire marshall had posted himself outside the room because it was “at capacity,” with people sitting on tables and standing at the back. Amazing, right? Who knew that many people would care so much about punctuation? I considered leaving, but then the fire marshall got called away, so I sneaked into the back.

The conversation was about as riveting as you could imagine, with bits about the “Oxford comma,” writing tics (subconscious gaffes committed on the page by writers), and styles of punctuation and usage that determine a writer’s voice. I’ve written before about finding “my people” in a room of food writers or bridge players, but these were true “ word nerds,” and I felt included, happy, at home.

So what did I learn on my day at the Book Fair? Well,...

■ From Aaron Franklin, I learned that grass-fed steak always has a beefier flavor than grain-fed steak. Also that you should never cook a filet mignon on the grill: there’s not enough fat on it, and what’s there drips down onto the coals or gas burners, leaving the meat dry and tasteless. According to Franklin, the best way to cook a filet mignon is to cook it on the stovetop in a skillet with butter. This was big news to the Kitchen Goddess.

■ Gladwell spoke about his prevailing premise in this latest book: that humans “default to truth” in our communications with others. That is, that we tend to take at face value things other people tell us, even if we should know better. It’s a level of trust that con artists and cheats rely on. But in the modern world, we have no choice but to talk to strangers. To assume the best about another person is “the trait that has created modern society. ... the alternative – to abandon trust as a defense against predation and deception – is worse.”




■ Sean Brock has taken the past two years away from the restaurant business to investigate Southern cuisine. By his measure, the South covers an area equivalent to that of continental Europe, and has at least as many cuisines. Even within one state, the cuisine of, say, southern Virginia differs markedly from the cuisine of the Chesapeake Bay area. These microregions of cuisine have developed as influenced by the types of people who live there (natives, immigrants, Native Americans), the geography of the place, and the plants available in the area. His goal is to understand how these cuisines have developed and how they relate to each other. A food as simple as cornbread will vary widely from one community to the next because of the types of corn available, how it’s stored, and the cooking methods dominant in the area.

* * *


It will not surprise you that by the time I got home, the last thing I wanted to do was cook dinner. And fortunately, my prince was out of town on a golf trip. (Yes, the sport I hated most as a young mother because of the time it took is now a great gift for the time it takes. Not that I love my mate any less, but everyone needs a little alone time now and then.)

I didn’t want to cook, but I also didn’t want take-out. Hmmm... I stopped at the store on my way home and picked up these interesting veggie spirals I’ve been meaning to try, and a box of sliced mushrooms. That’s right – the Kitchen Goddess bought sliced mushrooms. Do as I say, not as I do. They’re not as fresh as if I’d sliced them myself, but when you’re really beat...

It was a perfectly wonderful meal, and embarrassingly simple given the Kitchen Goddess’s leanings. You have to be careful not to overcook the veggie spirals, but that’s easy if you just sample a piece occasionally. And some people will want their zucchini more al dente than others. That’s up to you, as is whether or not you add the chicken broth. I mostly did it for the Knorr flavor, and because I wanted a little liquid.




Zucchini Noodles and Mushrooms


Serves 2.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
8 ounces crimini (a.k.a. Baby Bella) mushrooms, in ¼-inch slices
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 package (about 10 ounces) zucchini spirals (a.k.a zucchini noodles)
½ cup flavorful chicken broth, or ½ cup water with ½ teaspoon Knorr Seasoning Chicken Bouillon
Garlic salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Garnishes (optional): freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, chopped parsley



Directions
Heat the butter and oil together in a large, high-sided skillet, over high heat, until the butter foam begins to subside. Add the mushrooms and sauté, stirring, for about 4 minutes, until they begin to brown.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic. Cook 30 seconds, stirring, then add the zucchini spirals and continue stirring – gently, in a folding style, so as not to destroy the texture/shape of the squash – until the zucchini is al dente, another 3 minutes.

Pour the broth over the mixture and continue cooking about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and season to taste with salt/freshly ground black pepper, and serve. Garnish – if you want – with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or chopped parsley.

I served this to my husband a few nights later, and plated it with apple wedges and a nice slice of crusty bread toasted with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Outstanding.