Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Fresh Takes on Old Friends – Day 4 in a Marathon of Sides
What’s cooking? Root Vegetable Gratin

Good news! If you are still hunting for that one more dish, here it is. The even better news is that your grocer might be out of potatoes, but they’re hardly ever out of rutabaga, turnips, and parsnips. Why? Most people don’t know how delicious they can be with the right treatment. And the Kitchen Goddess has just the right treatment.

For years, I thought rutabaga was a made-up word. Maybe that’s because a dear family friend – a slightly nutty guy who was in the advertising business – often used it as a curse word.

“Rutabaga!” he’d shout after he’d stubbed his toe or bumped his head on a cabinet door. And all the kids would laugh. He was always making jokes and puns, so I naturally assumed it was a word he’d invented. And it seemed like a fun thing to say.

Even after I discovered the truth, it was many years before I tasted one. It’s a cross between a cabbage and a turnip, with the texture of a turnip but the subtle sweetness of a cabbage. And while they’re most often served in a mash, they can taste remarkably like potatoes, with half the calories. So this gratin is much easier on your figure than the same thing made with potatoes, and it’s a great taste. Much easier to justify the cheese and cream. And the dicing/parboiling of the veggies can be done the day before.

Kitchen Goddess note: The KG knows you’re just about crazed by now with the cooking, the last-minute shopping, and the ridiculous list of things you’re trying not to forget. But she wants to just call your attention to two bits you may have not yet focused on, and links to those topics on which the Kitchen Goddess has done her best to help:

1. Candles – Don’t forget the candles. They make everyone look better; they encourage everyone to relax, and they make the meal more celebratory.

2. Table settings and napkin folding – Not that I have the best ideas, although I think they’re pretty good. But sometimes, you just need a tiny pinch of inspiration.

* * *

Root Vegetable Gratin

Serves 8.

1½ pounds rutabaga (about 3 small), peeled and cut into ¾-inch dice
1 pound white turnips (about 3 medium), peeled and cut into ¾-inch dice
1 pound parsnips (about 6 medium), peeled and cut into ¾-inch dice
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1¼ cups grated Gruyère (about 5 ounces)
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk

Bring a large pot with about 4 quarts of water to a boil, and stir in ¼ cup of salt. Cook the rutabaga until crisp-tender, 7-8 minutes, and transfer with a slotted spoon or long-handled strainer to dry on paper towels.

In the same water, cook turnips until crisp-tender, 3-4 minutes, and transfer with slotted spoon or long-handled strainer to dry on paper towels.

In the same water, cook parsnips until crisp-tender, 3-4 minutes, and transfer with slotted spoon or long-handled strainer to dry on paper towels.

Toss together the vegetables in a large mixing bowl. The vegetables can be prepared to this point a day ahead and chilled, covered.

Preheat oven to 350° and butter the sides and bottom of a 2-quart gratin dish (about 12 x 9 x 2 inches).

Stir together the milk and cream and set aside. In the gratin dish, arrange one-third of the vegetables and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon flour, ¼ cup of the Gruyère, and salt and pepper to taste. Add another layer of vegetables – half of the remaining vegetables – and sprinkle on the remaining tablespoon of flour, another ¼ cup of cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Arrange the remaining vegetables over the cheese and pour the milk/cream over all. Sprinkle the remaining ¾ cup of cheese over the vegetables.

Cover the casserole with foil and bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake the gratin until bubbling and golden, about 40-45 minutes more.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Fresh Takes on Old Friends – Day 3 in a Marathon of Sides
What’s cooking? Asparagus Flan

I’ve just realized that each of the first three dishes in this year’s Marathon of Sides requires a food processor, a tool that wasn’t even available when I started cooking.

I warned my husband early in our marriage that appliances were not acceptable as gifts. I’d been witness to the disappointment – maybe even rage – in my mother’s reaction to kitchen-related gifts, and figured I should head that likelihood off at the pass.

Then one day shortly after our first son was born, my darling man showed up with a gigantic box containing a microwave oven. I scoffed at him. (I did. Must have been the hormones.) I said it was impractical and almost useless and took up a ridiculous amount of counter space. “Whatever will we do with it?” I said.

Well,... I discovered that it could take the baby’s bottle from cold to just the right temperature in less than a minute. And when you’re-really-really-tired-and-you-have-to-be-at-work-the-next-day-but-the-kid-has-to-eat,-right?, that’s a lifesaver and worth whatever the damned machine cost.

A couple of years later, I called my Aunt Marcy for the recipe for cranberry relish she’d always made. She told me she was now using a great new machine – a food processor – that took all the work of grinding those oranges and cranberries down to mere minutes. So I had to get one. It took a bit to convince my hubby when I put it on my Christmas list, but there it was.

In more recent years, I’ve put any number of appliances in my letters to Santa. An electric ice cream maker, a KitchenAid stand mixer, and last year, a VitaMix, which the chef/author Michael Ruhlman recently called “the Maserati of kitchen equipment.” Is this what it means to eat your words?

So tomorrow’s post will not require any electrical appliance other than an oven. But for today, you really should try this asparagus dish. Even though asparagus is now available pretty much all year long, it still carries the caché of a “company” vegetable, and it’s endlessly adaptable. The flan seems particularly novel to me. I usually make it in individual custard dishes, but you could as easily bake it in an oven-proof casserole dish and allow guests to serve themselves. In either case, you will be carried away by the marvelous custard texture, firm but creamy with melt-in-your-mouth asparagus flavor. I’ve served it often at dinner parties, and it always delivers.

Kitchen Goddess note: The recipe calls for 2 pounds of asparagus, but it works best if you have 2 pounds of the veggies to work with – i.e., without the woody ends. So I prefer to buy 3 pounds and use as much as I need to get to a working 2 pounds.

Asparagus Flan

Adapted from Gourmet magazine, April 1996

Serves 8.

2+ pounds asparagus (see note above), woody stems trimmed
3 tablespoons heavy cream
½  teaspoon dried tarragon, crumbled
¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter well the sides and bottoms of eight 6-ounce soufflé dishes or custard cups. Line the bottoms of the dishes with rounds of wax paper or parchment, and butter the paper as well. (I find a glass that fits and use it to trace around.) Line a baking pan large enough to hold the dishes with a kitchen towel.

Cut the asparagus stalks into 1-inch pieces, saving the final 2 inches of the tips. Cut the tips in half lengthwise, unless they're very thin, in which case you can use them as is. In a steamer rack set over boiling water, steam the asparagus tips, covered, until crisp-tender, about 1 minute. Transfer the tips to a colander or large sieve and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Drain the tips well and lay them out on paper towels on a rack to dry.

Steam the asparagus stalks, covered, until tender but still bright green, about 8 minutes. Transfer the stalks to paper towels on a rack and pat dry. In a blender or food processor, purée the stalks with the cream, tarragon, cheese, salt, and 3 tablespoons of the butter until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs until combined and add the asparagus purée in a stream, whisking until smooth.

Divide the mixture among the dishes and arrange them on the towel in the baking pan. Add enough hot water to the pan to reach halfway up the sides of the dishes and bake the flans in the lower third of the oven for 40-45 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted in the center of a flan comes out clean. Remove the dishes from the pan and let the flans cool on a rack for 5 minutes.

While you are waiting for the flans to cool, heat the asparagus tips in a small skillet with the remaining tablespoon of butter. To serve the flans, run a knife around the edges of the dishes and invert the flans onto plates. Top with asparagus tips.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Fresh Takes on Old Friends – Day 2 in a Marathon of Sides
What’s cooking? Sweet Potato-Ginger Soufflé

I think most people, when they look at the menu in a restaurant, focus on the entrée item. But increasingly, I find that I choose my entrée by what comes with it: the wild mushroom risotto, or the spiced quinoa, or maybe the baby onion compote. I call it “getting sidetracked,” in the sense that sometimes, I can’t even remember what I ordered. The right sides – or maybe just the most interesting ones – are what appeal to me.

This particular side could be the whole meal, as far as I’m concerned. I found it in an ancient little cookbook put out by Williams-Sonoma – the publication date is 1993 – and you can only now get it through resellers. It’s Chuck Williams’ Thanksgiving & Christmas, and what I like most about it is its simplicity. A handful of instructions on equipment and carving techniques, then six full menus for those two holidays. A photo of each item, and never more than a page of directions. For such a small collection, I’ve enjoyed many of the recipes.

I’ve made this soufflé for groups large and small, and there’s never any left over. And for my money, this beats the marshmallow treatment for sweet potatoes by a mile. It’s lighter and more savory, with the occasional tiny burst of sweetness when you bite down on a sliver of candied ginger.

Kitchen Goddess note on candied ginger: The KG flat-out loves candied ginger, and has even been known to eat it straight. But she learned the hard way that the taste can vary widely. And it’s not cheap, so she recommends that you buy just a little and taste it before you plunge in for a big package. The Kitchen Goddess buys only from either Penzey’s or Spice Island. Generally speaking, the ones she doesn’t like come in large lumps.

My chopped ginger. The pieces in the upper left corner are the size I buy.

By the way, Chuck Williams calls this a pudding, but it’s much more in texture like a soufflé, so that’s how I refer to it. Also, you should know that you can boil and purée the sweet potatoes ahead of time. If you are not boiling the potatoes ahead of time, use that 30 minutes to get your mise en place, if you know what I mean. Grate the zest, chop the ginger, separate the egg whites. There’s a lot to do, but the results are soooo worth it.

Sweet Potato-Ginger Soufflé

Serves 8.

2 pounds sweet potatoes, not peeled
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
⅓ cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped
1½ cups heavy cream
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 egg whites

Put the sweet potatoes – whole and unpeeled – in a large saucepan with a tablespoon of salt and cold water to cover. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer the potatoes, covered, for 30-35 minutes or until fork-tender. Drain the potatoes and let sit until cool enough to handle.

Preheat the oven to 350º. Butter a 2-quart soufflé dish.

Peel the cooled potatoes (the paper-thin skin will come off with amazing ease) and process to a smooth purée using a food processor. Transfer the purée to a large bowl and stir in the lemon zest, ½ teaspoon of salt, and the crystallized ginger. Add the cream and nutmeg, and stir until well combined. Adjust seasoning (salt and nutmeg) to taste. (This is where I invariably add more fresh nutmeg. You can rarely have too much fresh nutmeg.)

In a separate mixing bowl, beat the egg whites on high until they form soft peaks. Lighten the sweet potato mixture by gently stirring in several tablespoons of the whites, then use a rubber spatula to gently but thoroughly fold the remaining whites into the mix. (You want the combination to be consistent without deflating the whites any more than is necessary.) Spoon the mixture into the buttered soufflé dish.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 60-70 minutes, until the top is relatively firm and slightly golden in color. Serve as soon as possible.

 Kitchen Goddess note: As with any soufflé, this one looks best right out of the oven. But the heaviness of the sweet potato mixture will keep the soufflé from rising much, and it won’t deflate the way a standard soufflé will. Which means there’s no cause for panic –  it’ll still look pretty good even if it has to wait a few minutes.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Fresh Takes on Old Friends – Day 1 in a Marathon of Sides
What’s cooking? Watercress Purée

Start your engines! In my days as a New Jersey person, the opening notes of the Thanksgiving season were sounded by the obligatory gathering of the neighborhood cooks: my next-door neighbor, Anne; my backyard neighbor, Claudia; and I. We were the original Kitchen Goddesses.

It took a full morning for us to construct a Turkey Day menu, balancing the needs of each family for preferences in stuffings, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, and desserts. Then, in the spirit of healthful eating, we’d each take on something green to prepare. And as we counted 7 teenage boys among the eaters, we included calculations of roast turkey, smoked turkey, and ham in our deliberations. Usually, by the time we had the list of dishes firmed up, we’d planned enough food for our own group and any wandering armies that might pass by.

I miss those years. But my younger son (a doctor) will be working that day, and the older one will be with in-laws in New Jersey. Life moves on. My husband and I will be driving to San Antonio to spend Thursday with my brother and cousins; so this morning, I called my cousin, Helen, who’s hosting that dinner, to make sure I knew what I’d promised to take. We went over the dishes each of us and a third woman will contribute, covering important points like who will make the whipped cream, and oblique issues like serving spoons and candles. It took a good half hour, at the end of which I felt as satisfied as if I’d actually had a meal.

“Well, that was nice,” I said.

“Yes,” said Helen. “There’s nothing like a good menu chat with someone who cares.”

So if you’re cooking this week, I hope you’ll take an opportunity to call a friend and have a menu chat. It helps to get your thoughts organized and to bring a semblance of order to what can often veer dangerously close to chaos. Thus begins the giving season.

* * *

Last year, on the theory that what looks good will taste even better, the Kitchen Goddess vowed to help you give a face-lift to four vegetables:

Haricots Verts garnished with Toasted Panko Crumbs

Gem-cut Carrots garnished with Quinoa Crispies

Spinach and Sautéed Mushrooms

Asparagus Coins

So if you’re looking for side dishes, those are still great choices. This year, my focus again is the sides, in which we’re going for a slightly different take on a traditional food. If it’s not Thanksgiving unless you can serve those marshmallow-blanketed sweet potatoes, I will apologize. But consider for a moment that variety may actually be the spice of life, and give one of these treatments a whirl.

I’ll be posting four different dishes over the next four days. So if today’s offering isn’t what you want, check back tomorrow or the next day or the next.

Today, I want to introduce you to a stand-in for the traditional puréed spinach. Watercress, according to Wikipedia, is one of the oldest known leaf vegetables eaten by humans. Smart choice – it’s high in iron, calcium, iodine, and folic acid, as well as vitamins A and C and all those antioxidants. So it’s great for you, and has two other attributes that push it way ahead in my book: (1) it’s lots easier to clean – none of that soaking and rinsing and soaking and rinsing some more that you have to do to get rid of the sand on spinach; and (2) it has none of the tannins that characterize the “funny” mouthfeel you often get with cooked spinach.

Watercress also has a peppery taste that gives it a bit more zing. And the cooking process for this recipe is almost negligible. So it’s fast, easy, and tasty – what more could you want? Unless you don’t like cooked spinach and didn’t want it or a substitute on your menu. In which case, you should check back tomorrow, when I’ll have another delicious option.

This is about half the amount of watercress you'll need, but the photo has needs as well, so...

Watercress Purée

Adapted from Garlic & Sapphires (2006), by Ruth Reichl

Serves 4.

1 medium potato (9-10 ounces), peeled and cut into 1-inch dice
1½ pounds watercress (3 large bunches), rinsed
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1½ teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
freshly ground pepper

Bring a large pot of water to boil with 2 tablespoons salt. Add the potato and cook 20 minutes.

While the water continues to boil, remove the potato and set aside. Add the watercress to the water, and when it returns to a boil, cook for 1 minute. Drain the watercress in a colander, pressing with the back of a large spoon to remove as much of the water as possible.

Put the watercress and the potato into the bowl of a food processor and run until it becomes a smooth purée. Add the butter and process again until the butter is completely incorporated. Add the lemon juice and ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and pulse until incorporated. Adjust the seasoning to taste and serve.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

When the Warmth of Summer Is Already a Faint Memory
What’s cooking? Pork & Cider Stew

I took my husband to the beach last weekend. Not historic and sophisticated Nantucket, where we’ve been many times to visit friends, nor the luxury real estate of Kiawah Island, where he’s often played golf and where he thought – briefly – we’d spend our retirement years. Instead, I took him to Port Aransas, a scruffy, ramshackle fishing village at the northern end of Mustang Island, on the Texas coast just north of Corpus Christi. Home to as many crusty shrimpers as deep-sea sport fishing boats, and the beach where I spent my summers as a child.

I know, it’s not really that time of year when you go to the beach. But our younger son had a group of friends who’ve been reuniting every few years since college, and they’ve decided that our house in Austin is the place they most like spending these mini-reunions. Maybe it’s the Austin effect, or the normally great weather, or maybe just the idea that we have enough beds and the price is right. I love the fact that we built a retirement house in a place where the “kids” want to visit. Still, with six 30-somethings showing up for a few days, I also knew the right response – from all perspectives – was to remove my hubby from the scene.

I was a little nervous about taking him to “my” beach. I know my perceptions of the place are colored by my memories of those childhood summers, and I am not deluded by rose-colored sun glasses into thinking the place is pretty by anyone’s standards. Yet the town’s salt-eaten, weather-beaten, funkiness retains a charm for me, and I hoped my mate wouldn’t be put off by it.

Then there was the weather. Yup – record lows, the occasional sprinkle of rain, and not even a glimpse of the sun the entire time we were there. I was pretty sure these weren’t the best circumstances for introducing one love to another. Undaunted, I showed him the nature preserve, the birding center (next door to the town’s wastewater treatment plant, naturally), the golf course, and the thriving downtown. Ok, so not thriving, but relatively unchanged from my youth. And we took the obligatory tour through what a writer friend and I call the tacky stores, where you can get T-shirts for $7 and spongy visors for $4. Then we walked the beach.

As we packed to head home, I apologized for the crappy weather and the lack of excitement.

“Don’t apologize,” he said. “I get this place. We should come back – when the sun is out.”

What a guy.

* * *

By the time we got home, I was ready for a meal that would take away the 3-day chill. On the drive, I scoured my latest issue of Food & Wine, and found a recipe that fit the bill perfectly. In fact, I liked it so much I didn’t bother taking pictures, but made it again a few days later for the photo op. That batch I have happily frozen for when the next big norther hits Austin. I tweaked it a bit the second round – shortening the cooking time, adding the Granny Smith apple for a little extra tartness, adjusting the spices. It’s simple to make and smells and tastes like fall. Both my son and my husband raved over it.

Kitchen Goddess notes: (1) As you know, the Kitchen Goddess likes almost any dish that contains alcohol. For this recipe, I used a local hard cider, Austin Eastciders’ Gold Top Cider, which is medium-dry and deliciously tangy. Check with your local liquor store for a good, dry or semi-dry hard cider. Some grocery stores also carry sparkling hard cider.

(2) The Kitchen Goddess served this dish with baby new potatoes that were boiled in well-salted water for 30 minutes, then peeled while warm. As you know, the KG is a glutton for punishment, but peeling potatoes – even little ones that have been boiled – is a pain in the butt. So next time, she’ll be buying baby yellow potatoes, which don’t have to be peeled. And if you’re not a fan of potatoes, this dish would also be swell with nice, wide egg noodles.

Pork & Cider Stew

Adapted from Chef Fernanda Milanezi of Maeve’s Kitchen in London

Serves 4-6.

3 pounds boneless pork shoulder roast (also called Boston butt)
Kosher salt and pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
5-6 ounces thick cut lean bacon, sliced in ½-inch pieces (or slab bacon, cut into ½-inch dice)
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
3 large garlic cloves, chopped fine
one 500-ml bottle sparkling dry apple cider (see Kitchen Goddess note above)
2 cups chicken stock
½ medium Granny Smith apple, cut in ½-inch dice
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons cornstarch
½ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
1 teaspoon dried sage, or 2 teaspoons finely chopped sage leaves

Prepare the meat by trimming off much of the fat then cutting it into 1½-inch cubes. Blot the meat with a paper towel and season well with kosher salt and pepper.

In a large enameled Dutch oven (I use a 5.5-quart Le Creuset round Dutch oven), melt 1 tablespoon of the butter with 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add one-third to one-half of the pork in a single layer – don’t overcrowd – and sauté until well browned, about 7 minutes. [Kitchen Goddess note: To get a good browning on the pork, put the meat into the oil on one side and don’t touch it again for about 3 minutes; then use tongs to turn it over and let it cook on the other side. For the last minute or two, you can rotate some pieces to a side that hasn’t browned.] Remove the browned meat to a bowl and continue sautéing with the rest of the pork, adding the remaining butter and olive oil. Reserve the browned meat.

Add the bacon pieces to the pot and cook until golden. Remove the cooked bacon to the bowl with the browned pork.

Discard all but about 4 tablespoons of the fat from the pot and reduce the heat to medium/medium-low. Add the sliced onion and the garlic and cook, stirring, until golden and softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the cider and deglaze the pan by scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spatula.

Add the pork, the bacon, the chicken stock, and bay leaves to the pot and bring the stew to a simmer. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to simmer the stew gently for 1½ hours.

[While the stew is simmering, you’ll have plenty of time to cook the potatoes or noodles.]

When the meat is tender, stir together the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons water, and add it to the stew along with the cream, the mustard, and the sage. Continue to simmer the stew until it has thickened, about another 5 minutes. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Discard the bay leaves before serving.

Serve with boiled baby potatoes or over wide egg noodles, and a green salad or green vegetable such as broccolini.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Basking in the Glow
What’s cooking? Creamy Lima Bean Soup

The Kitchen Goddess lost her mind recently and invited 40-some-odd people for gumbo last week. Now, I use the phrase “some-odd” here in the idiomatic sense – in fact, none of the people were odd. Okay, a few odd ones, but odd and lovable.

I revel in the planning phase of a party. What to serve, how to decorate the tables,... I can see the event unfold in my mind. But the mind is a funny place, and mine is festooned with light-hearted fantasies that include warp-speed movement in the kitchen, time-travel (as in “Beam me up, Scotty”) from one store to another, and a need to cook for about 20% more guests than will actually be there. Usually, about a week before the date, I start realizing what I’ve let myself in for, and then I also have to make time for a chiropractic appointment or two. My hubby calls this phenomenon “cumulative reality.”

I swear each time that the next one will be different. Less complicated. Ready earlier. But after all these years, I’m not sure I’m physically or mentally suited to that state people call either “simple” or “early.” In the end, I rely on my friends and relatives to forgive me my sins, and to have another hors d’oeuvre while I get the dinner on the table.

One of the really wonderful by-products to entertaining is that, for at least a couple of days after a party, you have all this good food to nosh on, and you don’t have to work to get it. So any energy you have left after the giant clean-up effort can be devoted to binge-watching last season’s episodes of NCIS, or whatever your particular brain candy. Moreover, the Kitchen Goddess is something of a whirlwind through the course of the party, and rarely gets much of anything at all to eat. And after a two-week marathon of cooking, the last thing I want to do is cook some more.

Even after the leftovers are gone, it still often takes me a couple of days to get energized for real cooking. What do I want in the meantime? Comfort food, which for me means one thing: soup.

For a soup that wraps a soft, warm blanket around your heart and stomach, you will not believe how easy this one is, and how little time it takes. Creamy without cream, hearty but not heavy, and gluten-free to boot. It’s one I increasingly rely on when the weather turns chilly. Eliminate the bacon and/or ham to make it vegetarian, and feel free to tweak the herbs for whatever flavor profile you prefer.

I ordered my fennel pollen online, from My Spice Sage
A Kitchen Goddess Note about Fennel Pollen

Fennel pollen appears to be a minor ingredient in this recipe. But appearances can be deceptive. True, you can make this soup without it, and the soup will not suffer, in the same way that the sky without a rainbow will not suffer. But the presence of the rainbow changes everything. And so it is with fennel pollen.

The fennel plant, which is native to Tuscany but also grows wild in much of California and other areas of the West Coast, produces a pollen that is sold as a spice in culinary specialty shops around the world. It has long been used in Italian cuisine, where it’s added to pastas, pestos, and white meat dishes such as pork, veal, and chicken. Although the primary flavor of the fennel bulb is licorice, the pollen carries a much more nuanced mix of flavors that convey a sweet, musty richness that reminds me more of curry. As little as a pinch of the stuff can add a mysteriously rich, savory flavor to anything from soups to roasts.

Fennel pollen has been gaining popularity in the U.S. since Mario Batali began to cook with it in the 1990s, and it’s now available in specialty spice stores, some high-end groceries, or online.  In an article for Saveur magazine, the award-winning food writer Peggy Knickerbocker wrote, “If angels sprinkled a spice from their wings, this would be it.” You’re welcome.

Creamy Lima Bean Soup

Inspired by a recipe in Gourmet magazine, September 1991

Serves 4-6.

4 thick-cut slices of lean bacon
4-5 ounces ham (in a single slab), diced
1 medium onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
1 large rib celery, diced (about ¾ cup)
4 cups chicken broth
3 10-ounce packages frozen baby lima beans
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, or ½ teaspoon fennel seeds plus ½ teaspoon fennel pollen
1½ teaspoons fresh thyme leaves or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ cup plain yogurt (2% or whole-fat) or cream (light or heavy)
½ cup dry white wine
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
Additional yogurt as optional garnish

In a large, heavy pot, on medium-high heat, cook the bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon to paper towels to drain. Add the ham to the bacon fat, and sauté briefly (for color). Remove the ham and reserve. Pour out all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat, and reduce the heat to medium/medium-low.

Add in the onions and celery. Sauté 4-5 minutes, until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the chicken broth, the lima beans, the fennel seeds (and pollen, if using), and the thyme. Simmer 10-15 minutes, until the beans are tender.

In a blender, purée half of the beans with about ½ cup of the broth. Return the purée to the pot and stir it into the rest of the soup, along with the yogurt or cream, the white wine, and the reserved ham. Heat just to a simmer and turn off the heat. Add salt and white pepper, adjusting seasoning to taste.

Serve immediately with a dollop of yogurt and crumbled bacon as garnish.

Kitchen Goddess note on reheating: This soup was wonderful the night I made it, but even better the next day, when the beans had soaked up even more of the broth, intensifying the creaminess. If it gets too thick, thin it out with extra chicken broth.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Holiday Hosting
What’s cooking? Marinated Olives, Sweet and Spicy Nuts, and Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

“How about if I ask the group to come for a glass of wine before we go out to dinner?” says my darling hubby.

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Even Grumpy wants to do a bit of hosting. Then he adds those endearing words that speak volumes to wives everywhere: “Don’t worry – you won’t have to do anything.”

I nod and smile, and of course I say “Fine,” even as I roll my eyes and try to imagine how much cleaning up – before and after – it’ll take. Because – let’s face it, folks – men don’t see things the way women do.

Now, of course, this is just my view, but I think women walk into a room and survey the scene. They’re performing a scattershot analysis – pillows on the sofa, hors d’oeuvres on the coffee table, chairs moved around to allow group seating, maybe even flowers on that chest against the wall. Looks like it’s set for a party. Except for that balled-up paper napkin on the wing chair.

Men are more single-minded. They walk into a room and see... nothing. Yep – it’s a room. Probably the living room. But unless they’re, like, on the hunt for the big-screen TV, not much else registers. Wing chair? Balled-up napkin? Huh?

Case in point: I went to water aerobics one morning last week, and when I got back, I felt strongly in need of a short nap. I put on my bright pink robe and lay down on the bed – on top of the blue coverlet, in our very blue bedroom. And just as I was drifting off, the bed shook rather violently, and I heard the sound of a suitcase zipper moving around its track. He’s packing for that golf trip. But if I don’t say anything, he’ll see that I’m sleeping and go away. That’s what I figured.

Sure enough, after a few seconds, he left the room quietly. Then about 5 minutes later, the bed shook again, and I heard the sounds of shoes dropping onto the chest at the end of our bed. Now, when I’m tired, I will admit to not being my usual kind and cheerful self. But when I sat up and said something sharp, along the lines of “What the ...,” he almost jumped out of his skin. He hadn’t seen me.

In the discussion that followed, we agreed that:
(1) I should adopt a more civil tone when speaking to the man I love; and
(2) He should try to notice when I’m in the room/on the bed/not dressed in camouflage.

So while this story starts out being about how “You won’t have to do anything” is a laughable statement for many women, I think it mostly illustrates one more difference in the way men and women go through life. Women actively accumulate information, while men are going, “TV here? No. Ok, next room.”

Being Prepared

I actually do enjoy hosting during the holiday season. And I’ve learned that one way to make the next couple of months less stressful is to have a handful of noshy foods available for those spur-of-the-moment gatherings, or to ease the amount of last-minute prep you have to do for a dinner party.

Olives and nuts, for instance, are great nibbly foods to have on hand. But even better is if you take the time now – well in advance of any thought of entertaining – to add some small touches to those foods that will have your friends thinking you are amazing.

And then there are the dips/spreads you can make and freeze for whenever. Many recipes make enough to split the batch in half and freeze one half while you use the other.

So today, the Kitchen Goddess offers you three ways to plan ahead – or rather, just do ahead and don’t bother with the planning. The first is a recipe for marinated olives, inspired by one I saw in the A16 Food + Wine book I mentioned last week. I thought it needed just the tiniest bit of sweetness, so I added the orange strips, and as usual, I substituted Aleppo pepper instead of chile flakes. These olives will keep at least a month in the fridge, though after you taste them, you’ll think it’s a miracle they’d last more than a week.

The second recipe, for sugared and spiced nuts, is a merging of one from the Silver Palate New Basics cookbook and one from Gourmet magazine (September 1999). The Kitchen Goddess tinkered with the combination of spices and sugar until she got what she thought was the perfect balance.

The third is a sun-dried tomato pesto adapted from the Silver Palate New Basics book, and it is a guaranteed winner. Moreover, it freezes beautifully. I like to serve it with endive leaves and lightly blanched asparagus, but it works well as a dip with any crudité platter. You can also serve small dollops of it on top of ricotta mounded on crostini.

Happy entertaining, everyone!

Marinated Olives

Adapted from A16 Food + Wine.

For this recipe, the Kitchen Goddess used large green and black Cerignola olives, but any good quality mix will do. Just don’t use pitted olives, which will inevitably get smashed in the cooking process and look terrible. The Kitchen Goddess places a small ceramic or glass pitcher next to the olive bowl, where guests can discretely discard the pits.

¾ cup good quality extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, smashed using the side of a knife
1 sprig fresh rosemary
¼-½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or ¼ teaspoon dried chile flakes)
4 four-inch strips orange peel, separated (Use a vegetable peeler, and with a paring knife, remove any white pith from the underside)
1 cup green olives
1 cup black olives

In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Stir in the garlic, rosemary, Aleppo pepper, and 2 of the orange strips. Adjust the heat to allow the oil to simmer until it’s aromatic and the garlic turns golden, about 3 minutes.

Add the olives to the oil and stir well to combine. Reduce the heat to low and cook gently, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and let the olives steep in the oil until cool. Replace the cooked orange peel with the reserved strips. Cover and marinate for 6 hours before serving, or put the mixture into a large jar and store in the fridge for 2-3 days. Remove the rosemary before serving.

The olives will keep in the refrigerator for a month.

Sweet and Spicy Nuts

Makes 4 cups of nuts.

½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon garlic salt
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper)
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups whole almonds or pecan halves or a mix of both
1 large egg white
1 teaspoon water
½ cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 325º.

In a small bowl, mix the first 7 ingredients well and set aside.

Heat the oil in a nonstick skillet over low heat, add the spice mix, and stir well. Simmer 3-4 minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the nuts and the spice/oil mixture, and toss well. Spread the nuts out on a large rimmed baking sheet and bake 15 minutes, shaking the pan once or twice.

Let the nuts cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally if you want to speed the cooling process.

When the nuts are cooled, reduce the oven temperature to 250º. Lightly grease a large baking sheet. (You can use the same one as above – just wipe it clean or use baker’s parchment.)

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the egg white with the water until foamy. Stir in the nuts (and any spices that didn’t adhere to them in the baking), mixing well to coat all the nuts with the egg white. Combine the brown sugar and the salt, and stir well into the nuts.

Spread the nuts onto the greased baking sheet and bake in the middle of the oven until dry, about 60-65 minutes. Let the nuts cool before you touch them, then break them into bite-sized chunks.

Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

Adapted from the Silver Palate New Basics cookbook.

Makes about 2½ cups.

2½ tablespoons good quality olive oil
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 large can (28 ounces) whole Italian plum tomatoes in purée
1 jar (8 ounces) sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

You need to get the canned tomatoes from this...
In a large skillet (I prefer either cast iron or enamel-coated cast iron), heat the olive oil and add the garlic. Cook gently for 3 minutes without browning. (Browning makes garlic taste bitter.)

Add the plum tomatoes (with the purée from the can), and using a wooden spoon, crush them gently against the bottom of the skillet. Simmer uncovered over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce becomes very thick, which will take 60-70 minutes.

... to this.

While the tomatoes cook down, strain the oil from the sun-dried tomatoes and reserve ¼ cup of the oil. Coarsely chop the sun-dried tomatoes.

Turn off the heat and stir in the chopped sun-dried tomatoes. Cover and let the mixture rest for 5 minutes.

Transfer the tomato mix to the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth, adding the reserved ¼ cup of sun-dried tomato oil in a slow stream while the processor runs. Add the salt and pepper and pulse until well combined.

Refrigerate, covered, until ready to use. You can make the pesto 3-4 days in advance, or freeze it in a tightly covered container, where it will be good for about a year.