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A Feast of Green (Spring is Here! Edition)


This was the first weekend my Saturday market produce haul has truly felt exciting in quite some time. And even though I’m usually tempted to purchase a rainbow of vegetables on these outings, this was a monochrome venture and that was fine with me. The bright greens of pencil-thin asparagus, Brussels sprouts, spring onions, and cilantro captured my eye. Some of this was imported from our neighbors to the south, admittedly, but I’ll take their hinting promises; no peas yet, but they are assuredly on the way.

Back at home, there was also a largish pile of actual cookbooks that I had been stocking up all winter and have now finally put to use (as opposed to looking again to my normal kitchen fuel—the cooking blogs of others). I first turned to Nigel Slater’s doorstop of a vegetable Bible Tender, a book I had been drooling all over, with its vegetable-by-vegetable recipes and amazing garden photographs. Even though my own vegetable patch will once again be restricted to about 18 sq. ft. this year, I’m looking forward to following him in the kitchen as if I was producing much more. To start, I put some of the asparagus towards his Tart of Asparagus and Tarragon. Though I had a bit of a pastry fail here (my error, as I added too much water to get the dough to come together, and then disliked the texture of the bottom crust, so take care) the interior was rich and silky. I tossed in a handful of chopped spring onion because I could not resist. (I know! I’m bad like that.) If I had managed the dough with more finesse, it would have been a perfect addition to a spring brunch table, for sure.

Tart of Asparagus and Tarragon

Tart of Asparagus and Tarragon Makings

Next up was a bag full of Brussels sprouts. It sometimes shocks those who have never eaten these beauties roasted in Balsamic vinegar that this vegetable is a household favorite, but even we were getting a little tired of that method. Epicurious kicked out a Roasted Brussels Sprouts recipe in the Momofuku fashion that two out of two Baltimoreans definitely agree should be added to the regular dinner rotation. Don’t be afraid of the high oven heat, but do keep an eye on them. My delicate sprouts needed a bit less time to brown darkly. Also, mind your salt/sugar/heat balance in the dressing and don’t be afraid to adjust to suit your tastes, then only add enough to coat, not to drown. I had plenty left over, into which I scooped enough peanut butter to thicken it a bit. It will serve as a fantastic salad topping for the week.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

A recipe from Heidi Swanson’s inspiring Super Natural Cooking rounded out this feast. I had a mix of red and truly, deeply purple fingerling potatoes that were much too small (some not much larger than jelly beans) to Hasselback as her roasting recipe indicated, but her dish did include harissa (!) which I just happened to have a nice jar of, plus a garlic yogurt dressing. I was in heaven just reading about it and would not, could not let size stand in my way!

Roasted Purple and Red Potatoes with Herbed Garlic Yogurt

Roasted Purple and Red Potatoes with Herbed Garlic Yogurt
Adapted a bit from Super Natural Cooking to suit smaller potatoes

2 lbs. fingerling potatoes, mix of red and purple, in 1-inch chunks
3 T olive oil
2 tsp. harissa

For the dressing

1 cup Greek yogurt
2 garlic cloves smashed and minced
3 T cilantro, finely chopped
3 T fresh mint, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
black pepper
lemon juice (optional)

Preheat oven to 375F.

Mixed the oil and harissa together, drizzle over potatoes and toss to evenly coat. Spread out on a foil-lined baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with salt. Roast 40 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Meanwhile, to prepare the dressing, mix the yogurt, garlic, cilantro, mint, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Thin with a bit of lemon juice if desired.

The Beet of My Heart


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.

There’s Nothing To Eat (Holiday Prep Edition)


In the days running up to Christmas, my mother would traditionally take masking tape and affix dire “Do Not Eat!!” warnings to all of the food she had prepped and packed into the refrigerator. Then, she would express exasperation when my father and I would complain that we were starving. What were we talking about? She had been cooking for days!

Now that I find myself in my mother’s shoes, I can completely empathize. There is perhaps nothing more vexing than being tired and hungry and elbow deep in fancy food preparations, and realizing you’re at a complete loss as far as how to subsist until the festivities begin (unless you just keep sneaking cookies out of the freezer!). With that in mind, I actually planned (just a little!) this year and made up some quick items that I knew would reheat well and fuel me throughout the week while I took care of other business. Here are a few ideas.

How are you feeding your house before the holiday?

cream of mushroom soup

Cream of Mushroom Soup
Adapted for health and speed from this stellar Balthazar Cream of Mushroom Soup recipe. The full fat/fresh herb version is even tastier, as you might imagine, but I was going for convenience as much as gourmet points this round.

.5 ounces dried mushrooms
3-4 T olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. Herbs de Provence, crushed
1 pound mixed mushrooms, cleaned and roughly sliced (I used a 50/50 mix of shitake and portobello from my farmers market stand)
3 cups stock
1/2-1 cup milk
1 T unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste


Soak the dried mushrooms in a cup of warm water to reconstitute.

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot and sauté the onion, garlic, and dried herbs until softened. Raise the heat and add the mushrooms, stirring occasionally as they give off their juices. After about 10 minutes, add the stock, the dried mushrooms, and their soaking liquid (strain liquid through a coffee filter to remove sediment if needed). Lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes, then add milk, butter, salt, and pepper to taste, and puree until smooth.

Adjust seasonings and thin with additional milk or broth as needed.

Brussels Sprouts

Baked Brussels Sprouts in Balsamic Vinegar

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

Clean and halve the Brussels sprouts and place them in a casserole dish (for a softer, more steamed version) or on a roasting pan (for a crisper, more caramelized version). Sprinkle generously with Balsamic vinegar and a few glugs of good olive oil, plus salt and pepper to your taste. Toss well to coat (and cover, if using a casserole) and place in the oven. Re-toss every 15 minutes or so to re-coat vegetables with dressing and to assess doneness. Mine take about 40 minutes in the casserole, less if using a the roasting pan (you want to achieve caramelized sprouts, not burnt little cabbages, but even a pretty toasted Brussels sprout is tasty!).

sweet potatoes

Hasselback Sweet Potatoes

Honestly, I wasn’t sure this would work, but I had seen white potatoes roasted in this fashion and they were so pretty that I really wanted to try them out. In the interest of time, I simply peeled and sliced the sweet potatoes, coated them with olive oil, and sprinkled each with salt and some of the Vindaloo seasoning that I had on hand. They went into the oven with the sprouts outlined above at 425°F for about 45 minutes. They came out tasty but a little dry. Next time, I think I’ll make a juicy stuffing like this one.

Stores of Good Luck: Sauerkraut and the Birth of a Preservationist


The Saturday before Thanksgiving was our last CSA pickup, and since I was traveling for the holiday rather than cooking for an army of gathered family members, I wasn’t quite sure what kind of produce investment to make. It seemed regrettable to waste this last hurrah, but also a shame to let perfectly lovely vegetables rot in my crisper drawer while I was out of town. That’s where the cabbages come in.

A few weeks ago, I got a copy of Canning for a New Generation and got really excited about, well, canning. Since it was already November, I figured I’d pretty much missed the boat this round but could spend the winter months making plans for storing next year’s bounty. However, towards the back of the book was a recipe for sauerkraut that was more or less “chop this cabbage and shove it (into a food-safe container for three weeks while it ferments).” I think somehow I also found the labor description of squeezing and massaging the salt into the vegetable (characterized as a “difficult immigrant experience”) somehow personally compelling. Anyway, I didn’t have a fancy crock, but I did have my gallon wine bucket and the two beautiful heads of green cabbage I’d finally settled on as my CSA pick. If it wasn’t fate, it was at least a good use of resources.

So there I was chopping and massaging this massive pile of shredded vegetable (a couple of tablespoons of kosher salt per head). I found a kind of scrubbing motion–as if I had an imaginary wash board down in the bucket that I was running the cabbage along–especially effective. Though I put my back into it, I never did get the cabbage to release enough water to cover the mixture well, so I boiled and cooled an additional 4 cups of brine to top things off.

Now my bucket sits patiently in the dining room, and if all goes as hoped, I’ll stuff fresh kraut into glass jars, water bath them, and have “put up” my first pantry treat, all ready for luck in the new year.

UPDATE: Kraut is canned!

So, I tasted a bite of the sauerkraut on Friday, and I’m honestly surprised to be able to report that it’s really, really good! This project somehow had a lot more of the “science experiment” vibe to it to me than even the cheesemaking did, but it worked and now that I’ve stored it so neatly I can hardly wait for the consumption to begin. I think some pierogies must be made, STAT, to accompany the ethnic feast I’m plotting in my mind.


The canning piece of this process was simple, the biggest investment simply waiting for all that water to boil in the huge canning pot. Meanwhile, into my large stock pot, the sauerkraut went and I brought it up to a boil for ten minutes. (This kills off the good bacteria of the ferment, so in future I may opt for smaller batches for eating fresh.) Once the jars were washed and sterilized and the lids took a dip in the boiling bath as well, the kraut was stuffed into the jars, the lids added, and then it was back into the tub for 10 minutes processing. Afterward, they rested on a towel, setting off satisfying “pops” as they cooled and the lids sealed. One didn’t quite seem to seal (ahem) and will need to be eaten immediately. Oh, darn…

Epic Feast: Giving Thanks in Advance


I’d like to slip in an early “I’m thankful for…” acknowledgement to say that I’m thankful for cozy weekends at home with family and friends. It probably seems like a ridiculously simple thing, but a concentrated stretch of “closed laptop/turned off work life” and some steady human interaction provides powerful recalibration in life. My own priorities realigned, I was back at my desk this morning with fresh focus and a smile on my face.

That in our house the embrace of these warm and comforting times usually centered around the kitchen is probably not a shocker, and Brian and I decided to throw a little pre-Thanksgiving feast on Sunday evening to cap it all off. There was food and food and more food, plus three wines to pair it up with. We may just have to make a habit of this: Sunday Suppers in Wonderland, anyone? I think I smell a 2012 project coming on…

So anyway, a plan was hatched.

The Menu

The food:

Spinach Salad with Bosch Pears, Cranberries, Red Onion, and Toasted Pecans w/goat cheese rounds rolled in pepitas (a riff off of this)

Kaddo Bowrani (Baked Pumpkin) from The Helmand Restaurant (secret recipe revealed to the world thanks to this)

Roasted Parsnip and Pear Soup (a decadent, non-vegan variation on this)

Cheddar and Dill Biscuits (pretty much these, but sans bacon)

Roast Chicken Provençal (Brian made this as outlined, while I subscribed to the blog that provided the recipe, because it’s amazingly lovely.)

Simmered Root Vegetables with Swiss Chard (more or less this, though we only used kale, carrots, and potatoes. It was fairly plain, so next time I think I’ll do a version of the the pot pie gravy and filling instead)

The wines:

2011 Georges Deboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau
2009 Perrin & Fils Cotes de Rhone Villages
2008 Domaine de Ferrand Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Not a dud in the bunch. We enjoyed them all and they complimented the food (right down to the Lake Champlain truffles we ended the night on) perfectly.



And now, a sampling of the recipes. The rest were so close to the linked originals above that they don’t seem to bear repeating.

Roasted Parsnip and Pear Soup
adapted from Vegan Workshop

3 large parsnips, peeled and cubed
2 medium pears, cored and cubed
1 small onion or a few shallots, peeled and quartered
2 T hazelnut oil
1/2 cup whole milk
2 T maple syrup
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Place parsnip, pear, and onion chunks on a large baking sheet (I line mine with foil first for easy clean up). Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to evenly coat.

Roast the fruit and vegetables for about 40 minutes, stirring halfway through for even browning.

About 15 minutes before roasting is complete, bring 5 cups of vegetable broth and 1 bay leaf to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add roasted fruit and vegetables and leave to simmer 10 minutes more. Remove bay leaf and puree the soup. Stir in milk and maple syrup. Add additional vegetable broth or milk to thin to desired consistency, and adjust seasoning to taste.

Kaddo Bowrani (Baked Pumpkin)
from The Helmand Restaurant in Baltimore (via the Baltimore Sun)

1 small pumpkin
3/4 cup sugar (Overwhelmed by this amount, I used a lot less sugar–a 1/4 cup, if that–but then found the dish lacking. Still, that’s a lot of sugar, so more experiments will be needed. I think I’ll give brown sugar a try next.)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
Dash salt

Remove seeds and peel pumpkin. Slice remaining flesh top to bottom into 2-inch crescents. In a large, oven-safe sautée pan with a lid, heat oil and add pumpkin. Cook on medium covered for 10 minutes, flipping slices over with tongs halfway through. Remove from heat and sprinkle the pumpkin with the sugar and cinnamon. Replace lid and bake at 350°F for 20 minutes or until soft.

Stir yogurt, garlic, and salt together until smooth. Plate warm pumpkin, drizzle with yogurt sauce, and serve immediately.

Cheddar and Dill Biscuits
adapted from Bon Appétit

3 3/4 cups bread flour
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup chilled unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 12 ounces)
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1 3/4 cups chilled buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to mix. Cube up the butter and add to the flour mixture, pulsing again until butter is reduced to small bits. Place this mixture in a large bowl, along with cheese and dill. Toss with fork to evenly incorporate. Pour in buttermilk while stirring and mix just enough to wet all ingredients and produce a sticky dough.

Pull off small handfuls (approx. 1/4 cup) of the shaggy dough with your fingers and drop onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake biscuits until golden, about 18 to 20 minutes.

A feast shared and well enjoyed.

A feast shared and well enjoyed.

Dirty Little Secret


Considering how often those with the most vehemently expressed opinions end up being exposed for blatant hypocrisy, this may be a small matter in the grand scheme, but I am a girl with a confession. Despite my claims that processed foods are the devil, I secretly eat instant mashed potatoes when no one else is looking. I just can’t help myself!

This little habit of fast and furious carb consumption tends to come to a head when Brian is off on tour and I forget to make proper meals for myself until my body demands to be fed immediately. However, when those friendly pleas for starch started growling around the other day, I took a few minutes to look in the fridge, Google a bit, and come up with a dish that was at least marginally more well balanced before I hit the pantry. In the end, I managed to get a handful of mushrooms and that bunch of swiss chard out of the crisper drawer and into the pot as well.

This is not an elegant or especially attractive side dish, but if it’s just you and the family on a cool fall night, it sure is a tasty one. Add a piece of smoked salmon and it is a full feast for familiars.

Layered Mashed Potato, Mushroom, and Swiss Chard Casserole
heavily(!) adapted from Eating Well

(Every single ingredient in this casserole can be included in the amount that suits your preference. In the end, you’re only baking it to heat the dish through and melt the cheese, so just make adjustments to the cooking times as needed.)

Layered Mashed Potato, Mushroom, and Swiss Chard Casserole Ingredients

6-8 cups instant mashed potatoes, prepared according to package instructions
1 large egg plus 1 large egg white, beaten

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pint mushrooms (I used shitaki), chopped
1 bunch swiss chard, deribbed and chopped
1 cup vegetable broth
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon thyme
Cheese of the amount and variety to suit your taste (I used about cup of a shredded Italian blend I had left over from pizza making)

Prepare mashed potatoes. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a non-stick skillet, heat oil and sauté the onion until softened and translucent. Add the garlic and mushrooms, and cook until mushrooms release their juices, about 10 minutes. Add thyme and pepper to the pan.

Whisk broth and flour together and add this liquid and the swiss chard to the pan. Cover and allow greens to wilt, about five minutes, then remove lid and toss the vegetables until greens are cooked through and broth has thickened. Remove from heat. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed, considering you will also be adding cheese (so mind the salt—I needed no salt aside from what was in the broth and cheese already).

Stir the egg/egg white mixture into the potatoes. In a 3-quart casserole dish of your choosing, place half the potatoes, topped by half the cheese and then all of the sautéed vegetables. Continue with the remaining potatoes and top with cheese.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, and then switch to broil and brown the top. Watch carefully as the cheese can shift from browned to burned quickly if not well monitored.

I can’t say this is a health food, but at least I get an automatic serving of greens every time I cave and eat more of the leftovers!