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Pretty in Pink Week: Market Strawberries

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We’re not really a fruit household. I mean, there’s Brian’s banana-a-day habit and my endless juicing of lemons, but aside from that, it’s the rare apple or lime that crosses our threshold; like cakes and cookies, the sweets just don’t carry much traction. Give us brussels spouts or give us broccoli, but please hold the peaches, pineapples, and grapes.

Still, even a hardhearted Team Savory fan such as myself could not resist the loveliness that was the first market strawberries of the Maryland season. And when my friend Marie helpfully prompted that I could “totally put a couple in a salad,” my defenses were crushed.

At home, I did indeed find a way to work them into an arugula salad with a tangy herbed buttermilk dressing. But I also got to thinking about that colonial fruit preservation method known as the shrub. I’d kept a jar of this vinegar-laced syrup a couple summers back and put it to good use in generous glasses of seltzer (yes, my homemade seltzer contraption is still going strong!). Perhaps it was time to make some more? Yes, yes indeed.

Strawberry Salad with Herbed Buttermilk Dressing
Serves 2

2 generous handfulls of baby arugula, spinach, or greens of your choice
6 strawberries

For the dressing

1/2 cup buttermilk
1 T white Balsamic vinegar
1 T fresh chopped basil or dill (or a mix)
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all dressing ingredients.

Rinse the greens (if necessary) and hull and slice the strawberries. Plate and drizzle with the dressing.

The Strawberry Shrub

After some internet research and reflection, I decided to go with the 1:1:1 ratio of fruit:sugar:vinegar. I macerated the fruit with the sugar (now that is a satisfying feeling) and left the mixture to sit for 24 hours. At that point, I added a cup of apple cider vinegar and will now mind it, shaking daily, for seven days. Then it’s strain and refrigerate until needed. Here is a helpful post, if you’re looking for more detailed background and instructions. The last time I did this, I worked in the reverse order, first infusing the vinegar and then cooking in the sugar. So we shall see how this new experiment compares.

Warmer Than Springtime

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Sunshine: 87 degrees worth this past weekend, to be exact, triggering that desperate need for shoes that are not boots and a few new dresses free of olive oil stains. Yes, these are the signs, here in Mid-Atlantic Wonderland Kitchen, that we have finally shut the door and thrown the deadbolt on the chilly months and plunged into the humid swamp that will keep us cooking well into October.

Even more than all that, however, it was the scent coming from the bag of dill, cilantro, and basil that I had picked up at one of my favorite market stands that got me excited about the possibilities of the…new year? Yes, this time has always felt like much more of a beginning than that celebrated calendar change buried in a case of snow and ice. Trailing the smell of fresh herbs with every step, home I came with enough feeling of prospect that I snapped the first petite “market haul” pic of 2012:

market haul

See that cloth bag up there at right? My regular sister-in-produce Marie gifted me a few of those snazzy sacks sewn as part of a great initiative here in Baltimore, and I am hooked. You can learn more about the project here.

Once all these fine bits of produce were unloaded onto my counter top, my favorite game of “suss out the magic formula” began, during which I wracked my brain, my bookcase, and the internet for the perfect use of the assembled raw ingredients. This week’s winners?

Rhubarb Chutney

First off, the inaugural canning project of the season was successfully completed: Rhubarb Chutney. Thanks to a lovely, small-batch recipe I discovered through Food52, the exercise proceeded without a hitch. It’s sweet and tart and cries out to be smeared on grilled cheese sandwiches, served with fancy crackers and goat cheese, and probably tastes lovely with roasted fowl, if you’re into that sort of thing. Honestly, the only real usage challenge I anticipate will be to keep from eating all this newly jarred deliciousness immediately.

rhubarb chutney: process

I also snuck a few more flats of Mason jars and a gallon of apple cider vinegar into the house over the weekend, so this preservation adventure has only just begun!!

Ahem. Okay, back to the food at hand.

Spring Radish, Asparagus, and Potato Salad

1 1/2 lbs baby red potatoes, cut into 1″ pieces
1 bunch asparagus, tough ends removed and lower stalks peeled if necessary
1 bunch mild radishes, quartered

For the dressing

1 cup strained yogurt (I happen to have a lot of this on hand because I love its sour cream-like consistency and because I’ve been using the whey in fermentation projects. It’s easy if you have one of these. However, any thick yogurt will do.)
1-2 spring onions, finely sliced
2 tsp. chopped dill
salt and pepper to taste
sunflower seeds to garnish (optional)

Boil potatoes just until fork tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside to cool.

Blanch asparagus for 2 minutes, or just until tender crisp. Immediately plunge into an ice bath. When cool, slice into 2″ pieces.

Place the potatoes, asparagus, and radishes in a large bowl and set aside while you prepare the dressing. Combine yogurt, onion, dill, salt, and pepper and spoon dressing over the vegetables. Toss to coat. Adjust seasoning and chill. Garnish with sunflower seeds before serving if desired.

celery soup

Cream of Celery Soup
adapted from Twelve Months of Monastery Soups

I often find soups too heavy to start a meal with, especially in the warm months, but this one is truly light and appetizing. It works well served both hot and chilled.

Celery Soup

4 cups celery, diced
3 shallots, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 white boiling potatoes, cubed
6 cups water
1 1/2 cups milk
2 T corn starch
2 T butter
scratch of nutmeg
1 T chopped dill
salt and pepper to taste

Place celery, shallots, garlic, and water in a large stock pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the white sauce. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed sauce pan. Dissolve the cornstarch in 1/2 cup of the milk and, when the butter begins to bubble, add this mixture and stir for several seconds. Add the remaining milk, salt, pepper, and the nutmeg, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and continue cooking, stirring often, until the sauce has thickened. Reserve.

When the simmering time is complete, puree the soup and return it to the pot. Add the white sauce and the dill, and adjust the seasonings as needed. Enjoy hot or cold!

Playing With My Food

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This post was inspired by two things.

1. The $14 salad I ate last week that arrived looking like an SNL sketch ripping on modernist cuisine. Once I tamped down the snarky commentary in my head, it tasted so delicious I was shamed (at least until the check arrived) for my quick judgment call. An 1/8 of a pound of split pea pods and artichoke hearts perched on a slick of fennel dressing (accented–I’m not making this up–with a single, paper-thin radish slice) never tasted so lovely.

2. The fact that when I opened the refrigerator to figure out dinner last night, nothing was cooked besides the beets, and it was already 8 p.m.

Oh, and part 2b. I had been wondering if you could dye strained yogurt, which I also had on hand, with turmeric to make a bright yellow, tasty sauce.*

Okay, and 2c. For the past two weeks, every time we sit down for dinner and dig into the asparagus/greens/broccoli/brussels sprouts/sweet potatoes/etc., I wonder aloud, “How could anyone not like vegetables? They taste sooo good!” Granted, in our house they usually get served with all kinds of fun dressings made up on the fly, but that all really just brings me up to the actual point of this disjointed preamble.

Playing with food–especially as a gateway platform to enjoying vegetables–is to be encouraged.

I don’t actually find the time to create art much anymore, but for two minutes before I sat down to eat last night, I decided to get out the big plate and just get ridiculous. Maybe it’s the insidious influence of the Food Network, but that little creative vacation almost made up for the preceding 48 hours of stress and anxiety. It was just fun. And then I ate it.

Non-toxic finger painting that’s completely safe to lick off your finger tips.

* You totally can use turmeric to make a bright yellow, tasty sauce. I added one pressed garlic clove (mince it instead if you prefer a less potent dressing), 1/4 tsp salt, and a 1/4 tsp turmeric to about a cup of strained yogurt. Now I think I might just have to design an entire set of yogurt-based “paints” for plating/saucing/taking things too far. Beet juice? Blueberry juice? What else might make a good edible yogurt dye?

Ladies Who Lunch: Spring Fling Potato Salad

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It doesn’t seem quite fair to have slipped the freeze of winter as neatly as we have this year. Still, with flowers pushing their way up into the light yet again and the weatherman promising 70° days this week, I’m ignoring the calendar and daydreaming about lazy afternoon picnics like it’s…well, April at the very least.

first flowers

Admittedly, there are flaws in the fantasy. Local produce amounts to little more than the crates of apples and turnips the fields produced last season, though thanks to a little help from our neighbors to the south, the delicate, hinting green of spring is available for import–a telegram that the season is on its way. Taking full advantage, some of those bright, crisp flavors inspired this perfectly packable potato salad, with just a bit of creaminess to keep the chill off until the danger of frost has truly passed.

Spring Fling Potato Salad

For the salad

3 lbs. mixed red and gold waxy Idaho potatoes, cubed
1 1/2 cups green peas, frozen or fresh
1/3 cup dried cranberries
2 small cucumbers, seeded and diced
4 scallions, sliced
1/4 cup sliced almonds

For the dressing

3 T white balsamic vinegar
2 T pomegranate molasses
2 tsp. kosher salt
generous handful fresh basil
leaves from a few springs of fresh mint
3/4 cup buttermilk, plus additional as needed
3/4 cup mayonnaise

Boil the cubed potatoes until just fork tender, about ten minutes. Drain and reserve.

While potatoes cook, bring a second pot of water to a boil and blanch peas for one minute, then drain and plunge them into an ice water bath to shock and stop the cooking. Set aside.

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To make the dressing, place vinegar, pomegranate molasses, salt, and herbs in the small bowl of a food processor and pulse until leaves are minced. Combine this mixture with the buttermilk and mayonnaise in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake until dressing is well mixed. Thin dressing with additional buttermilk as needed.

In a large bowl, place potatoes, peas, cranberries, cucumbers, scallions, and sliced almonds. Toss with enough of the dressing to coat. Chill until ready to serve.

Disclaimer: This recipe was written for the Idaho Potato Commission, and I was financially compensated for its creation. Previously, Wonderland Kitchen’s Take the G Train: Masala Knishes post was part of their February “Potato Lovers Month” promotion. Both of these dishes were honored with an award for “Best Recipe.”

The Beet of My Heart

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It started with the beets.

This weekend I went on a bit of a tear cooking with my eyes more than anything else, and it all began when I spotted a lovely box filled with deep purple beets from Gardener’s Gourmet at the farmers’ market. Since I’d also managed to stuff some cilantro, limes, buttermilk, and broccoli into my basket while shopping, when I got back home, I worked out a plan of attack that looked like this:

First, I got the oven going and made another one of these for the husband.

Then, while the oven was hot, I cleaned, cubed, and roasted the beets like this, though the yogurt dressing I made was pressed garlic, grated ginger, and a whole lime worth of juice. I also made a batch of my favorite chutney.

Beet Hummus and Chutney

Hands stained and taste buds pleased, I knew that I had more roasted beets than even a girl like me could want to eat straight, so I took about half of them and, once they were cool, mixed them with a cup of chick peas and more or less made this version of beet hummus. Meanwhile, I roasted the broccoli pretty much like this (though not for quite as long, as it was getting quite dry).

In the end, lunch looked like this:

Which was pretty in its way, but later I realized I was imagining something a little more dramatic, like this:


Beet Tower Appetizer

I’ve got a couple avocados and some Mexican limes still hanging out in the crisper drawer, so I’m not sure I’m done building yet.

Thoughts on a Celeriac

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I have always wanted to buy a celeriac, but I never had a reason.

Still, when swiss chard, more swiss chard (not that I have anything against an additional bunch of awesome swiss chard!), or a bulb of fresh, organic celeriac presented itself as a shopping decision two weeks in a row at my CSA stand, I could not resist temptation. Luckily my copy of Yotam Ottlenghi’s Plenty had not one but two recipes for this knotty little root vegetable, and I had all the makings for one of them. Good thing since, based on recent dinners, the husband was beginning to think that our vegetable drawer was producing an infinite swiss chard supply of its own volition.

Though I was disappointed to weight my “one small celeriac” and discover that it was significantly smaller than the small 1.5 lbs. vegetable indicated in the recipe, I recovered as soon as the cooking was done and the eating began. Celeriac is a type of celery, as you might have suspected, but in this case it’s the root bulb that is its most attractive feature. To me it conjures a parsnip/potato/celery cross in taste, but it’s significantly less starchy than your typical Yukon. I found it to be quite wonderful, and will be keeping an eye out for more of these little hobbit treats at this weekend’s market. Apparently, they store well!

The variety of textures alongside the amazing tastes are what really make this dish a standout in my mind. In addition to the loveliness of celeriac, the lentils keep their shape and marry very well with the herbs, vinegar, and oils. The hazelnuts add richness and crunch, while the mint keeps things just on this side of summer. This seems to be one of those dishes that just keeps getting better as it marinates in the fridge, so do not fear the leftovers. Even at room temperature, this would serve as a phenomenal picnic or brunch dish without its features getting muted.

Celeriac and Lentils with Hazelnut and Mint

From Plenty by Yotam Ottlenghi

1/3 cup whole hazelnuts
1 cup French green lentils
3 cups water
2 bay leaves
4 thyme springs
1.5 lbs. celeriac bulb, peeled and cubed
4 T olive oil
3 T hazelnut oil
3 T red wine vinegar
4 T chopped fresh mint
salt and pepper

Roast the hazelnuts in a 275˚F oven for 15 minutes. Cool and roughly chop.

Combine rinsed lentils, water, bay leaves, and thyme in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 15 minutes or until lentils are al dente. You definitely want them to retain their shape. Drain.

While the lentils cook, bring a second pan of well-salted water to a boil and cook the celeriac for 8-10 minutes, until just fork-tender. Drain.

As soon as the lentils are drained, pour them into a large bowl and stir in the red wine vinegar, the olive oil, and 2T of the hazelnut oil, salt and pepper. Add in the cooked celeriac and half the mint and hazelnuts and toss. Adjust the seasonings as needed. Plate, using the reserved mint, nuts, and a drizzle of hazelnut oil to garnish.