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When Life Gives You Lemons

Have you ever looked through a cookbook and you find a recipe think you’d love, but it has an ingredient you’ve never heard of and you just don’t want to deal with it so you  turn the page and decide to make something else? Preserved lemons always used to capture that feeling for me. They are almost impossible to find in stores, and few cookbooks give clear directions on how to make them at home. The truth is that they are incredibly easy to make and essential to many Moroccan, Middle Eastern and even Mediterranean dishes. They have become an essential ingredient in our house and we regularly teach students how to make them in our Spice Market classes.

 lemons selected to be preserved

 

This ingredient is seemingly exotic but oh-so-simple and will give so much zest to your meals that I just had to share it. Preserved lemons are tangy and have an interesting texture, a perfect addition to grilled meats in the summer, stews in the winter, or cous cous year round. Here’s how you make them:

 fresh lemons

 

First, try and find  small and ripe organic lemons. You will need between 8 and 12 of them, along with ¼ cup kosher salt and a one quart sterilized canning jar. Wash lemons thoroughly. Remember, you will be eating the peel, not the pulp. Cut a thin slice from the top and bottom of the lemons.

 

both top and bottom sliced

 

Make four deep vertical cuts three-quarters of the way down the fruit, but make sure the lemon is still attached at the base.

 

lemons sliced in 4 quadrants

 

Place a generous tablespoon of salt on the bottom of the sterile jar.

 

place salt on bottom of jar

 

Carefully open a lemon and generously sprinkle salt evenly throughout the quarters (about one generous teaspoon per lemon).

 

lemons sprinkled with salt

 

Place the lemon in the jar.

 

stuffing lemons in the jar

 

Repeat the process of salting and stuffing the lemons in the jar, making sure to press the lemons down hard with a clean spoon to release the juices and make room for the remaining lemons.

 

filing up the jar!

 

When the jar is full, place the remaining salt in the jar (it should be at least a tablespoon) and fill in the gaps with fresh lemon juice. Store the lemons in a cool place for at least a month, and shake the jar daily to evenly distribute the salt and juice

 

pouring the lemon juice to the top

 
When the lemons are ready for use, rinse the lemons as needed, or else they will be too salty. Cut away the pulp inside and then slice or chop the rind according to the recipe you are using. Preserved lemons will keep for at least 6 months before opening the jar, but do refrigerate them once they are opened. Enjoy!


finished preserved lemons

 

lemons ready to be preserved

As Seen at the Market: Pasta with Kale and Butternut Squash

 

Several weeks ago I was speaking to Keren Kurti-Alexander, the Manager at the Cityseed (link) Farmers market about our demos for the summer. I had all kinds of yummy surprises involving fun fruits and vegetables like blueberries, strawberries, and corn. But it was late May and the crops have been slow for his year, and she asked me the question I’ve been dreading ever since I started: “Could you do something with kale?”

 Picture of kale

Panicking, I punted and promised that I definitely would sometime during the season. I could push it off until late fall since it is such a hearty vegetable that always seems to be available and just hope that inspiration struck at some point in the interim. And of course Keren being a nice person said okay, I could do the fun stir fry and make great strawberry breakfast smoothies I was planning instead. But I could tell that in her heart of hearts she was hoping for some kale. I realized that it really was time to get over my kale fear. I’ve been cooking for longer than I can remember… surely I could find a way of making a dish that wasn’t bitter and didn’t look like putrid green slime.

 

Squash:  They're so cute, aren't they?

 

It happened that we had just made some vibrant roasted butternut squash with a bit of butter and sea salt, which made Gabrielle remember that her friend Mia had raved about a pasta she’d had with kale and butternut squash at a restaurant in New York. From there, everything else fell together – I could tell that the colors, textures and flavors of these ingredients would compliment each other perfectly, and I could already see that with a little inspiration and improvisation, we could create something really memorable. The recipe that follows is probably one of the healthiest, tastiest and certainly one of the most colorful pastas ever. Here are the steps:

 

First peel the squash, admittedly one of my least favorite jobs. The skin is tough on this curvaceous vegetable and it is difficult to peel. If you’re wise you’ll get somebody else to do it.

 

Peeling Squash: Seriously, avoid this if you can ;)

Be sure to get all the stringy stuff out of the middle (we use a tomato de-seeder to scrape out the seeds and pulp, but a ice cream scoop, a spoon or your fingers will work just fine)

 

Scooping out the squash

 

Some very silly textbooks would tell you to trim the squash so you have perfect squares and discard the rest.

 

I suppose it's wrong that we've stooped to eating squash that isn't perfectly square.... the horror ;)

 

But seriously, look at the waste. Just cut it up to be as square and uniform as you can and distribute the squash over two parchment lined cookie sheets. It may not be culinarily correct, but we’ll deal I think.

 

And can you even believe that these aren't perfect cubes?

 

Melt some butter, sprinkle some sea salt and pepper and roast the vegetables for about 30 minutes.

 

 salt and pepper squash!

 

Here is the finished product. (The recipe, by the way, calls for three squashes, about twice the amount you will actually need, but trust me you will want left over squash, the smell is so heavenly and it makes such a wonderful side dish to any meal.)

 

Seriously, squash is so yummy i feel like you could eat this instead of squash

 

In the meantime prepare the kale. Make sure you buy kale that is deep green and fresh. Don’t wait until it gets like this.

 

isn't it hauntingly beautiful?

 

Tear the leaves from the tough spine.

 

I feel like you could put this in a horror movie

 

Chop into bit size pieces, and set aside.

 

whatever you say about it, it is super cute and curly though

 

You will need two cups of chopped onions and/or scallions of any sort. We had plenty of spring onions left over from a cooking demo at Wooster Square from Sun One Farms in Bethlehem, so that’s what we used.

 

artsy!

 

Sautee the onion mixture until soft and glassy, about five minutes and add some garlic.

 

 

Add the kale and cook only until it is soft but still bright green. Add two cups of cherry tomatoes and continue cooking for about a minute, or until the tomatoes just begin to soften and are slightly warm but not mushy.

 

this stuff is not good yet, but we're going to fix it

 

In the meantime, boil a pound of dried fusilli or another favorite medium sized pasta, and cook according to instructions. Drain and add an 8 ounce container of mascarpone cheese. Stir well.

 

calories make everything taste good

 

Add the kale mixture to the pasta, and then the squash with the parmesan cheese.

 

omnomnomnomnom

 

Mix well and Serve. This dish is so hearty, it doesn’t really need any bread.

 

we did it! and so can you!

 

Click here to see the recipe on Food52.com. Enjoy!

Grain of Salt: Daily Bread

After watching HBO’s Weight of the Nation (which you have to see if you haven’t yet) our entire family has decided to go on a health kick. Mom has made a brave (and miraculously successful!) first attempt at cooking kale (see post Friday or so), Francesca has taken up Irish step dancing, Isabella has been dragging me on these miserable runs, and dad has agreed to keep on eating whatever we put in front of him.

 

Good things are coming your way

 

But as luck would have it, a week into this health kick, mom was scheduled to teach her famous fried chicken class, with lime creamed corn, buttermilk mashed potatoes with crispy (deep fried) shallots and Jack Daniel’s fudge pie. The foodpocalypse was essentially zooming towards us, with nothing we could do to stop it. The only way for us children to keep ourselves in check was to eat a light dinner, and hopefully only be hungry for a drumstick or so when we got home. So as class time approached, the girls and I ventured out for an evening of Panera (which has healthy options), Froyo (which is not healthy, but is healthier than some things) and nerdy cavorting at Barnes and Noble.

 

And this is what we found

 

It was a lovely time, and we actually ended up learning a lot of lessons over the course over the evening. We learned copious amounts about whales, Irish history, graphic design, and not letting the pigeon drive the bus, and we learned how to fail at moderating ourselves at Froyo World (The toppings are just right there for you to take! These people are marketing geniuses!)

 

Froyo isn't froyo without 5 cherries

 

But of all the lessons we learned, the best was certainly how much you can benefit from being an indecisive nut. We spent such a long time trying to figure out which option at Panera would maximize health and yumminess, that I felt a bother correcting the lady when she thought I said I wanted tuna on honey-wheat instead of whole grain and had already put in my order. By some miraculous stroke of luck, honey-wheat bread turned out to be so soft, gently sweet and perfect that it has since become my default bread of choice. And since mom’s last post was about butter, what could I do but write a fresh baked bread post to match.

 

three's a charm

 

This is the first time I’ve made bread on the blog, so this is going to be a tutorial, not just a recipe. Even if you’re an experienced bread maker, there are a lot of steps that a lot of us just dutifully do, which we ought to try and understand. To begin we have a starter, which is some permutation of water, flour and yeast, as you see above. It actually has little to do with making the bread rise, but instead is mostly about making sure the bread actually tastes like something. The starter we’re making  here is called a sponge, and is made with equal parts flour and water, along with a little bit of instant yeast. As it sits at room temperature for about an hour (or up to 4) the yeast ferments and takes your bread from bland to boss.

 

 

First, we add instant yeast to the water, and immediately whisk it in to prevent clumping. Following Rose Levy Beranbaum (the queen of Bread) I advise you to almost always use instant yeast, which is more convenient for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it can be activated in room temperature water, not just the 90-100° required by active dry (although that temperature will work too – it’s very flexible – just don’t use super hot or super cold). It is also called rapid rise, leading to the misconception that it causes your bread to rise faster, which it doesn’t. But it is very easy to use, and serves our purposes in almost every case.

 

It looks icky but trust me it's good

 

We then whisk in the flour, until we get this nice pasty thing. Rose Levy Beranbaum says that she likes her sponge starters to be more liquidy because the yeast makes more bubbles, resulting in a lighter, more even bread. So that’s what we made. To let the bubbles and flavor develop, we let it sit at room temperature for an hour. We could have gone longer, but I’m impatient. Go until your starter looks at least kind of like this:

 

 

See all the bubbles? That means it’s alive! If that doesn’t happen, start over/buy new yeast. Cover it tightly while it’s fermenting. It prevents the dough from drying out, and also you get to see the plastic wrap dome up as the yeast releases carbon dioxide. Also note that some the gas will bubble up and pop on the surface. Which means it’s working and is also fun to see. Meanwhile get everything else together. First off, we have crisco…

 

Don't worry, every fiber of my being is dying right now

 

…which is usually really bad for you – worse even than butter, which we usually advocate above all else. But in baking, butter can make things harder and drier, which only good when when we want a nice crisp cookie. In this case, when what we were looking for was a moist, soft bread above all else, shortening was the only option. Adding a little bit of fat to the bread tenderizes it, making it soft and addictive, just like you want. And since we’re using it in low quantities, this bread is still healthy and low-cal.

 

This is a picture of honey mixed with water

 

Next we have honey. Sometimes sweet things (sugar, honey, etc.) are added so that the yeast has something to eat and makes more bubbles, but here it’s really just a flavor thing. Before you add all the other ingredients, whisk the honey in with the water so that it’s less sticky, and distributes nicely.

 

 

Finally we have the flour, which gets whisked with the salt. This means the salt doesn’t get added all at once, minimizing its contact with the yeast (otherwise a lot of the yeast will die, which would suck).

 

 

We are ready to mix! Whisk the yeast into the honey-water, then add the shortening, flour-salt mixture and your starter. You can begin kneading it by hand, but please consult The Bread Bible for instructions on how to do that. I’ve found that my best results by far come from using a KitchenAid. Using a dough hook, mix the dough on setting #2 for about 1 to 1.5 minutes, until it looks like this:

 

As you can see, there's little bits of shortening and everything. That's fine.

 

Then we let it rest, covered, for 20 minutes. This lets the flour absorb the water better, and means our mixing time will shorten. Meaning, among other things, we won’t get impatient and make the bread mix on too high a setting, breaking all the gluten bonds and essentially killing any chance of our bread being edible.

 

This is a picture of dough about to rise

 

Then turn the mixer back on and let it mix on setting #4 for about 15 minutes, or until it’s pretty stretchy. Then cut the dough in half, and form it into two rounds, and put on wax paper. Cover with a warm, moist towel, and set to rise in a decently warm place for about 40 minutes. When you’re forming it into rounds, pull the sides out a bit, and then fold them around back, and then tuck the ends under, so the top is nice and smooth, like you see above. Otherwise you can end up with a kind of craggy looking top. Like this silly looking thing:

 

This is picture of a very silly looking bread

 

Yours probably won’t look so extreme, because this dough was super dry… but still, lets not take chances. Once the dough has risen, you can either transfer it to a loaf pan, or bake it on its own directly on the baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 350°F convection/375° conventional and let it rise for about another 45 minutes, preferably in a warm area, covering again with a warm, moist towel. You’re ready to bake! A loaf in no pan takes about 25 minutes, while a loaf in a pan can take up to 10 minutes longer. To be on the safe side, insert a baking thermometer into the center. It’s done when it reaches between 190 and 200°F. Let cool for as long as you can stand it (at least 10 minutes), slice, and eat!

 

 

You can find my full recipe on Food52 by clicking here. Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions. I highly recommend making this bred, whether you’re very experienced or brand new to the process. I think you’ll agree that a slice of this bread is pretty much the best thing since (wait for it…) itself.

As Seen on TV: Thai Scented Asparagus Soup

Cooking for a living has begun to take over all of my thoughts. Isabella’s newly sewn pink dress isn’t an article of clothing, but a piece of watermelon. Everywhere I go I think about new dishes and ingredients, and there is no off button to press. Just dials on the stove to let me make more food. I feel like a composer sometimes, only instead of notes, I hear shallots, pancetta and fried chicken. It’s driving me crazy, really it is. I love love love teaching people to cook… but seriously. Enough is enough.

 

Though as problems go, this is probably a good one to have...

 

 

This recipe was born out of one of these fits of inspiration. We often teach a cream of asparagus soup in our spring classes, but I was making a Thai dish one day and the idea to infuse it with coconut, lemongrass and ginger just jumped into my head.  It has quickly become a family favorite and it worked out so well that I used it for my latest appearance on Connecticut Style. Although a video exists on WTNH, it was very fast, and we thought you’d appreciate seeing how to make this lively Asian inspired soup step-by-step, so here it is:

 

 Good things lie in store

 

We start with the freshest ingredients, which includes, lemon juice, lemongrass, ginger, asparagus and coconut milk,  but there are others as well, including yellow onions and chicken or vegetable broth.

 

Visions of coconuts dance in my head

 

First, we need to peel the lemongrass, an ingredient commonly found in Asian food stores and in some supermarkets, especially Whole Foods.

 

This is the reason, by the way, that thai food is so amazing. This is the secret. Right here.

 

Then you have to cut most of the stalk away. We only want the part of the lemongrass that has purple rings.

 

You want it to look like this, otherwise there will be tons of aweful tough bits

 

Then – and really pay attention to this or the lemongrass with be tough and stringy – you have to smash it hard several times with a knife. Until it looks like this

 

Smashingly beautiful :D I would recommend going even farther than this, because it will assure you have very very small pieces.

 

 

Then put the lemongrass in a mini food processor with a teaspoon or two of oil until finely minced and looks like this:

 

 

Finely Chopped Lemongrass

 

 

Then you need to peel the ginger. You can peel it in many different ways by using a melon baller, sturdy spoon or vegetable peeler. Afterwards, finely  mince the ginger in a mini chopper as well. You can, obviously, do that by hand, it will just take much longer.

 

 

 

 

After sautéeing the onions until they are glassy, add the lemongrass and ginger and continue sautéeing until the ginger and lemongrass start to soften, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the asparagus, salt and pepper and cook for another five minutes.

 

Make sure everything is coating everything so the flavors all blend nicely together

 

 

Add the broth (chicken or vegetable – we like to use vegetable when we’re cooking for a crowd, since then we can make this vegan and everyone can eat it!) and give the mixture a good stir in a large pot, such as a Dutch oven. Cook for 15 minutes and then puree the soup either in a blender (after letting the mixture cool) or an immersion blender right inside the pot, our preferred choice.

 

 

 

Add a bit of lemon, give it a good stir, and serve. The great thing about this soup, next to the amazing flavor, is that it tastes great for several days and can certainly be made the day before company. And there you have it! Serve with a garnish of mint, or chives.

 

 

Click here to get the complete recipe written up on Food52!

Grain of Salt: Damage Control

I’ve realized that every time I make a transfer from home to school, I seem to try my absolute hardest to make you guys extra jealous of the food I get to eat at home. When I’m home I wax poetic about foods like boeuf bourguignon, Persian jeweled rice, and plum crumble with vanilla bean. When I’m away, I whine about how much I miss them. I suppose that’s my way of handling my joy/sorrow. To be truthful I’m pretty sure mom just makes all that stuff to keep me around. But I am a very defiant girl, and I will not let her win, which is why I try to make as much of her food as I can at school. It has nothing to do with the fact that I miss home. Nothing at all. So of course, you would imagine my distress when I came home this week to discover that she was taking the recipes I had tried so hard to steal and *dramatic pause* innovating on them. The woman will stop at nothing. All my defiance was for naught because, what’s worse, it was all for the better… almost.

 

something is, indeed, amiss

 

One of the recipes I had stolen was this awesome leek and goat cheese quiche. It’s so popular at school that one of my friends once ate half of it in one sitting. Mom teaches it all the time in her 20 Minute Dinners class, and every time I eat it, it reminds me of home. Because it’s supposed to be quick and easy, and because homemade pie crust is almost never worth the effort, we use good pre-made crust. But last night, mom was teaching 20 Minute Dinners, and she thought it might be a good idea to replace the pie crust with puff pastry pressed into a tart shell. Now granted, it did sound like a pretty good idea, but it sounded like a *bit* more effort than I was going to go into on your typical Wednesday night, and I just knew I was going to end up missing home again and we just can’t have that. But mom insisted, and so she took the puff pastry out of the freezer and let it defrost… forgetting, as we chatted over smoothies, that you have to unfold puff pastry as quickly as possible before defrosting. Lo and behold, we tried to unfold it and ended up with the sticky monster you see above.

 

Preview of things to come

 

I, of course, was thrilled. Not only were there very literal holes in this silly plan, but I had just acquired a whole sheet of puff pastry to play with. I made some cinnamon sugar, got out some Hershey Special Dark Kisses and Reese’s Peanut Butter Chips, and got to immediate work. I wrapped pastry around chocolate, around bunches of peanut butter chips, and sometimes around combinations of the two. Sometimes I dipped these in cinnamon sugar, sometimes not. And then sometimes I just tied pastry in a knot or twisted it up and dipped that in cinnamon sugar – like the cinnamon twists you’re currently overpaying for. It was a lot of fun. I really love puff pastry.

 

Doesn't this look like it was left by the druids or something?

 

I baked them at 375 until they were browned and sugar was caramelized. I removed them from the oven and redipped all of the cinnamon sugar ones, so that they had a layer of caramelized sugar and a layer of fresh (do that while they’re hot so that it sticks). They were heavenly, especially the chocolate-filled cinnamon-dipped ones, which tasted kind of like rugalach. It was quite a success, especially considering this was all happening at 10 am.

 

Would you ever know these took about 30 seconds to make?

 

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, mom was still trying to make innovation worthwhile. She took out a new sheet of pastry and pressed it into a tart pan. But somehow, much as we tried to keep it in shape, the sides refused to stay up and we ended up with a beautifully puffy gallette. Having finished my pastry bits, I came to the rescue again, filling it with dried cranberries, apricots and almonds…

well half of it at least, we have to leave something for francesca ;)

 

And topping it with dark chocolate.

 

Disaster makes the best dessert

 

Seriously, how does my family even function without me? Granted this part was kind of her idea… but I did it, and my point makes more sense if I take credit. I then baked it until it was sort of toasty and the chocolate was melted (which doesn’t take long, next time I’m going to bake the puff pastry longer first). I spread it around and topped Francesca and Isabella’s half with some sugar because that makes it taste like a chocolate croissant (did you know that’s why they taste the way they do?). Seriously, I could sell a prettier version of this for so much money at a pastry shop.

 

That piece was never even there. Don't ask.

 

In German tradition there’s a time, around 3 or 4 o’clock, where everyone sits down for Kaffee und Kuchen, or coffee and cake. But since I don’t think my family comes from the fancy part of Germany, we call it yowza (yauße?) (does anyone know anything about this?). So yesterday afternoon, once I’d picked up my sisters from school, we sat down to a lovely yowza of mini pastries and chocolate tart. It was ever so classy, and the puff pastry was all saved from a monstrous end. And of course, my mom was forced to concede that quiche should just be left to the pre-made crust. I guess she’ll just have to find better ways of getting me to come home.

 

The real question is how do these people even function without me?

 

There are several morals to this story, all of equal importance. Moral number one: daughters may need their mothers, but mothers need their daughters just as much. Moral number 2: there is no disaster so big that it can’t be made into pastry. Moral number three: you can try all you want, but you just can’t improve on pre-made pie crust.

Find your Inner Gourmet: Vinegar & Salad Dressing

 

As you can see in the video above, making salad dressing is so easy you can practically do it in your sleep! In the video you can see a demo of what making dressing looks like, and tips on what vinegars to buy – and where to get them for cheap! But here are some quick refresher notes!

 

So many possibilities! Almost all bought at Marshalls ;)

 

The combinations are endless depending on the flavor of vinegar and herbs you choose.  Salad dressing is a simple ratio of 3:1, oil to vinegar. So let’s say you want to use 1/3 cup vinegar, you would need 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil (or another oil if you like, depending on the flavor you want). If you wanted to use ¼ cup of vinegar, you would use ¾ cup of oil.

 

1/3 cup vinegar, 1 cup oil

 

 

But we can’t just combine them and call it a day! That would be an unspeakably, tragically boring… and also they would separate. First we need to add salt and pepper to the vinegar. And you can throw in a teaspoon or two of anyherb you like – see what is in your fridge or garden, especially in the warmer months. It is actually a good way to use herbs that are wilting, or slightly past their peak because they are going to be finely chopped. If the fresh herb cupboard is bare, you can add a ½ a teaspoon or more of most any dried herb

 

 Pepper and Thyme

 

 

If you want a dressing that stays suspended/emulsified, add a teaspoon or two of dijon or whole grain mustard and mix well. It’s the same process we use to make mayonnaise. We are essentially forcing the oil and vinegar to mix against their will… cruel, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

 

Dijon and Whole Grain – either one works. We do not recommend using french's however ;)

 

This is how you add it... it's terribly difficult

 

Now you are ready to whisk in the oil, but do it very gradually or it will not combine properly.

 Gradually pour and whisk

 

You did it! As you can see, the dressing looks a little cloudy. That’s how you know the oil and vinegar are suspended and will remain mixed, at least for a little while. It won’t last forever, so if you aren’t pouring the oil on right away, be sure to give it another good whisk before you pour it on to salad greens.

 

 Pour it in a salad, or store it in a jar.

 

The great thing about dressing is that it lasts for days. Ball canning jars are great for storing and (little known fact) you can get them at Wal-Mart for just $6 for 12! If you store it, just be sure to take it out of the refrigerator about an hour before you use it so the oil has a chance to come to room temperature. Then give it a good whisk/shake, pour it over your salad and enjoy!

Grain of Salt: Lady is a Ramp

A few years ago I read an article in Psychology Today about the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain thet controls rational thought, and how it doesn’t mature until we’re about 25. Not being one to take responsibility for much, I’ve blamed every irrational thing I’ve done since then on my undeveloped mind… especially my tendency to impulse buy. So my prefrontal cortex was hard at work at the farmer’s market last week when I bargained a vendor down to the only $2.60 I had in my wallet for a bunch of 10 ramps without the slightest clue in the whole world what they were or what I was going to do with them. After calling my mother and hearing her speculation on the potential reasons that ramps (also known as wild leeks) “never really caught on” I walked away thinking, “Oh my Lord, what have I done…”

 

 

 

That is, of course, a total lie. I was excited out of my mind. As a student, it’s my job to learn about mysterious things, and since I figured lots of you are probably in the same boat as me, it seemed like a great opportunity to learn alongside you. There’s not a multitude of information about them, but here’s what I was able to discern. Ramps haven’t “not caught on,” it just happens that they barely have a growing season, and they only grow in the Eastern United States. They have a wonderful scent, strong, garlicky and sweet, that reminds me of the random chives my friends and I used to pick in our front yard growing up. Which is a cool coincidence, because they’re completely undomesticated. They’re highly valued among foragers, and apparently a lot of them are very secretive about where they find them (kind of like mushroom harvesters). They’re especially popular in West Virginia and Quebec, and can be found everywhere from South Carolina to Canada.

 

The leaves are ramps, the red bits are rhubarb ;)

 

So how do you cook with them? The farmer’s market told me that you use them just as you’d use leeks or chives. Which is odd, because you use leeks and chives really differently. And predictably, the truth lies somewhere in between. I’d say you use them in about the quantities you’d use scallions, but they have a much smoother flavor than scallions. The best way to cook them is to chop them up and sautee them in butter for about 2-3 minutes until they get soft (about 1 tbsp butter for one bunch of 10-ish ramps) and then use them in a simple dish that will really highlight their flavor, so they won’t get lost, and you get the biggest bang for your ramp buck. You can use the white and green parts (I couldn’t figure out if that includes the red, in between bit – does anybody know anything about that?), and they can go with everything from salmon to soup to risotto.

 

Look mommy – pastagarlicandcheese is growing up!

 

But this being my first ramp experience, I decided to take things as simple as I could, and harken back to one of my favorite childhood dinners. Whenever we were in a rush, or had nothing good in the house for dinner, I knew I could always count on PastaGarlicAndCheese (pronounced as one word, like LMNOP), a simple but dependable combination of spaghetti, olive oil or butter, garlic and Parmesan. And even today, it’s probably my favorite dinner in a lazy pinch. Sometimes, if I’m feeling ambitious, I add peas, tomatoes or whatever I have in the house, but if I don’t there’s really nothing lost. So I decided that since I wanted to highlight the ramps, and I only had the one bunch, I was going to keep the sentiment, but replace the garlic with my sauteed ramps. I also crumbled in some goat cheese for added fancy factor. And oh my goodness was it good. Simple, easy and delicious.

The whole point of this recipe is that there is none. My one bunch of 10 ramps was probably good for 1/3 of a pound of pasta, but beyond that just add however much cheese makes you happy, and then top it with a little drizzle of olive oil. If you want to add other vegetables, just add more ramps so you can be sure you’ll be able to taste them. And if you’re a ramp enthusiast and have something special you like to do with them, let me know and I’ll be sure to try it out!

 

UPDATE MAY 3rd  – Bizarre fact, but the New York Times just published an article on teenage minds! Check out the article here :)

Grain of Salt: The Sandwich on Fire

Happy National Grilled Cheese Day! Since we’re on a Hunger Games kick, this sandwich is also inspired by our culinary book of the month. It’s a hybrid between the fruit-and-nut bread with goat cheese that Gale and Katniss eat at the beginning of the first book, and the apple and goat cheese tarts that Peeta serves at his bakery. If you haven’t read Hunger Games, then this is just an unaffiliated, super classy Grilled Goat Cheese Sandwich on Cranberry Pecan Bread with Apples. Enjoy!

 

 

I tried to take a real picture of it… but *somebody* kept eating it during my photoshoot. I got what I could ;)

 

 

Grain of Salt: May the Odds Be Ever in your Flavor

I apologize if this post comes out a little incoherent, but if it does, you can blame it on Suzanne Collins and how I haven’t been sleeping. On the suggestion of absolutely everyone, I finally started reading the Hunger Games books a few weeks ago and several sleepless nights later I had finished the first one. And when I finished and began deeply reflecting, I realized that Suzanne’s ultimate goal must have been to make her readers hungry. I was hungry for more book, because my sister was harboring the other two in Connecticut, I was hungry for a visual, since the movie had not yet come out, and most of all, I was hungry for the Lamb Stew with Dried Plums that Katniss waves in our faces at least ten times over the course of the book. The Capitol (bad guys) may be the epitome of evil, but it would appear they really know how to eat.

 

why the ball jars you ask? i wish i could tell you, but then i'd have to kill you.

 

I would know, because I’ve had that stew, or at least my mom’s perfect rendition, a million times before. It’s my family’s resident Jewish Holiday Meal – we make it every Passover and Rosh Hashannah and then some. There’s a reason that, even when she has chance, Katniss consistently picks this – if the Capitol version is anything like mom’s, it doesn’t pay to be creative. You just can’t do better. My craving was sadly unappeased by the otherwise excellent movie, which ignored the culinary scene altogether. So when I called home last Wednesday to plan my upcoming weekend in Connecticut, I could only think of the one thing vital to my survival.* With three extremely important holidays (Easter, Passover, My Birthday) to observe in three extremely short days, I was terrified that maybe we’d had to abandon our tradition in favor of simpler options. So when mom affirmed that we were, indeed, having Lamb Stew for Friday night dinner all I wanted to do was sing it to the world. “Ah ha!” I thought. “The movie is still relatively new and buzzworthy… I’m going to capitalize on this to the max.” And so, dear readers, I would like to ask that you get very excited right about now, because I am about to change your life forever. This stew, which actually hails from somewhere in North Africa, is succulent, savory and satisfying. The sweet tartness of the plums make it perfect for autumn, the substantialness of it makes it amazing in winter, and the tenderness of the lamb makes it sing all the way through late Spring. It is great for any day, though we like to save this one for Holidays, since it’s perfect for Easter, for Passover and, of course, for any extremely important birthday. I certainly ate some of it every day this weekend. And the recipe is below, right before your very eyes!

 

Consider our gift to you, for whatever holiday (or lack thereof) you celebrated last weekend. If you’re Christian I hope the Easter Bunny brought you as much chocolate as he brought Francesca, if you’re Jewish I hope you remember that butter and honey make Matzah palatable, if you’re a half-and-half like me, I hope you’re a bit less confused than I am, and whoever you are I hope you celebrated my birthday in style. Happy Passover, Happy Easter, Happy Hunger Games, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

 

 

*I would not last long in the Hunger Games

Batter Up

Pancakes!

 

You may have been wondering whatever happened to the mommy part of Fig Test Kitchen? Did teaching a full load of cooking classes, several appearances/fundraisers a month, raising six, fifteen and nineteen year olds (oh yes, Gabrielle still needs me!) (note from GOS – Oh puh-lease… Also I’m 20 now ;) Happy Birthday to Me!), and singlehandedly taking care of a house finally, you ask, just put me over the edge? Well obviously, but that’s nothing new. But I talked to all of my super-organized friends who are, in fact, the opposite of me… methodical tall, athletic and sometimes blond. I’ve taken a lot of their advice, and gotten my life at least somewhat in order. As you may know from the first two videos posted recently we’re starting with the basics – salt, equipment, spices, and moving toward easy recipes before we’ll finally move on to stuff like seared duck breasts or Persian jeweled rice. What all this means is, I’m back on the blog.

 

Don't you want to make these?

 

But you want recipes.  And I made pancakes! We’ve had an unusually early and beautiful spring here in New Haven, and I’ve been thinking about flowers. I was making creme fraiche pancakes during a cooking demo at the Elm City Market in New Haven and lavender just hit me. And a recipe was born. Creme fraiche is rich and creamy like sour cream (it actually has a higher fat content), but a bit more tart. Perfect for pancakes. Combine it with chocolate and lavender, you get pancakes that are fragrant, sweet and irresistible. Here’s what you need to do:

First, you will need to gather the ingredients and make sure your ingredients are in place, measured and ready to go. Believe me it pays to do, especially when baking. It seems like an extra step, but it saves so much time in the long run, and keeps you organized. You don’t want to add the baking powder twice. Not that we’ve ever done that…

 

GOS says: And yes, you absolutely must arrange your ingredients like this or the recipe will not come out.

 

Chop the dark chocolate to any size you like. I wasn’t done chopping when I took this photo, I’m just posting it because I like it. They were eventually the size of the chocolate in vanilla chocolate chip ice cream. Obviously you can use store-bought chocolate chips if you want.

 

Chop chop!

 

Once you have all your ingredients measured and ready, add all the dry ingredients in a medium size bowl and whisk well.

 

Whisk these...

 

Then add all of the wet ingredients in a separate bowl

 

 

And blend with a hand mixer or immersion blender or whisk. Then add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and mix once again. Do not overmix or your pancakes will be tough. Then add the chocolate chunks and stir gently with a  spatula until just combined.

 

So close you can (and should) taste it

 

After melting unsalted butter in a large skillet, pour about a ¼ cup of batter per pancake, and cook on the first side for about two minutes, until light brown. Turn over to cook the second side for about another minute until light brown.

 

GOS says: Ahhhhhhh!! (I haven't even had these yet. I'm dying right now)

 

Find some plates, and serve with or without syrup.

 

They're done!

 

Here is the full recipe. Enjoy your breakfast, enjoy the birds chirping, and welcome spring in style.

 

Click for Printable!

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