Roasted Parsnips

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Easy. Shockingly easy. Are you ready? In one paragraph, here we go (courtesy of David Tanis and his marvelous book, “A Platter of Figs.”) Buy parsnips (4 to 5 pounds). Heat the oven to 375. Peel the parsnips. Quarter them lengthwise; remove the central core. If they’re large, cut them into 3-inch lengths. Toss with olive oil (appx. 3 Tablespoons), salt and pepper and roast in a small baking dish for 45 minutes until they’re tender and brown. They’re sweet and earthy and delicious and go great with roast chicken, pork, or other roasted root vegetables. And they take less than one paragraph to make.

Braised Cabbage

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Last week, on a chilly night, I wanted a healthy, inexpensive dinner. I popped open one of my top five favorite cookbooks ever, Molly Stevens’s “All About Braising,” and re-read her recipe for braised cabbage. I’d read it a few times before but was never quite convinced that braised cabbage could taste all that good.

Boy, was I wrong! There’s a reason she calls it “World’s Best Braised Green Cabbage”–it’s tender, flavorful, and, paired with Rachel Wharton’s Bodega Beans, a deeply satisfying, cold-night vegetarian dinner.

Here’s the quick version. Preheat your oven to 325. Oil a 9 X 13 baking dish. Cut a 2 lb green cabbage into 8 wedges. Lay the wedges in the dish. Then scatter one thickly sliced yellow onion over the top, along with 1 large carrot cut into 1/4 inch rounds. Drizzle 1/4 cup olive oil over the top, and 1/4 cup chicken stock or water. Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes; cover TIGHTLY with foil and bake 1 hour. Remove, flip the cabbage over, re-cover with the foil, and bake another hour. Once the cabbage is tender, remove the foil, increase heat to 400 and let the vegetables brown, another 15 minutes more. That’s it! Sprinkle with fleur de sel and serve.

As a nice corollary to this recipe, I wrote a piece a few months ago about my grandmother’s boiled cabbage from childhood. I didn’t have the stamina to submit it everywhere for publication, so I’ve decided to publish it below. Hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed Molly’s cabbage.

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We Go Together Like Beets And Carrots

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Let’s play the Kevin Bacon game with beets and carrots.

Beets are in Borscht; Borscht comes from Russia; Russia was part of the original U.S.S.R.; “Back in the U.S.S.R.” is a song by The Beatles; The Beatles have a song called “Glass Onion”; onions are part of what the French call Mirepoix; carrots are in Mirepoix too.

Therefore: beets and carrots are separated by six degrees. You can bring them together with the logic above or use this Epicurious recipe from Suzanne Goin for Roasted Beets and Carrots with Cumin Vinagrette, Chickpea Puree, and Flatbread. (Diana and I skipped the chickpea puree and flatbread and instead bought sourdough and cheese from the farmer’s market where we also bought the carrots.) It’s a bright colorful preparation and a fun unexpected pairing. Like linking Kevin Bacon and Shirley MacLaine…

(Kevin Bacon was in “A Few Good Men” with Jack Nicholson who was in “Terms of Endearment” with Shirley MacLaine. Guess that wasn’t so hard to link.)

(Note: the above photo was edited by James Felder of Snapshot Artifact. Thanks James!)

Clotilde’s Carpaccio

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I’ve been sleeping with Clotilde. Since Craig’s left for Seattle to shoot his first feature (I’ll be there in a week to join him for two weeks), I had no choice but to find a substitute. And that substitute is everyone’s favorite Parisian food blogger. Well. Ok. Not her. Her cookbook. I’ve been reading it in bed and when I wake up the next morning it’s right there next to me smiling “hello.” Is it weird that I talk to it at breakfast? Help it to the bathroom? Take it out to lunch? That’s the normal way to treat a cookbook, right?

Well can I help it if I’m smitten? The book is adorable and smart and filled with good ideas, just like its creator. And even though I’ve had the book for a few weeks, I’ve found it very difficult to choose a first recipe to try from it: they all look so good. The mustard chicken is the one that makes my lips smack the loudest, but I think it’s too hot for mustard chicken. Plus I made chicken last night for dinner. And it’s called “Chocolate & Zucchini,” shouldn’t I make something with zucchini in it?

The picture you see above, then, was my solution. I was at the farmer’s market today and saw, for the first time this season, piles of gorgeous, bright green zucchini. I chose two large ones (even though Clotilde says to choose three small ones–I didn’t have the book with me, I had taken it to the park where it wanted some private time) and brought them home and proceeded to make her “Carpaccio De Courgette Au Vinaigre De Framboise.” Only I didn’t use Vinaigre De Framboise (raspberry vinegar): I had Balsamic. But that was ok: Clotilde mentions Balsamic as a variation.

This recipe is so simple you can just memorize it. You slice the zucchini very thin (I need better knife skills, as you can tell by that photo), put them in a circular pattern on the plate, scatter goat cheese over the top (I bought fresh chevre at the farmer’s market too). Then you make a vinagirette with olive oil and the vinegar, though I just drizzled the olive oil over the top, along with a few drops of the Balsamic. I spinkled on some nice sea salt and a few grindings of pepper and did as Clotilde commanded: covered it with plastic and let it sit, at room temperature, for ten minutes.

Ten minutes later, I sat down and consumed this strange and delightful dish. It’s hard to explain why it’s so good: maybe because the zucchini is so good right now, and this dish highlights its vegetal brightness? Or is it the way the cheese gives it body and the oil a slickness and the vinegar a zippy punch? I don’t know, but I loved it. Along with some fresh bread, this was my dinner. And I was happy.

Only the book hasn’t come home yet. Maybe I shouldn’t have left it at the park? Who will I sleep with tonight? Any takers?

Two Things You Can Do With Asparagus (Asparagus with Eggs & Asparagus Panzanella)

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I’m very proud of myself. I improvised not one but TWO recipes this week with asparagus. In both cases, I bought the asparagus at the farmer’s market. The first time I brought it home to use in a Heidi Swanson recipe involving farro, but then my store didn’t have farro. It had pharaoh, but that didn’t help. So I came home defeated and made pasta and then the next day, instead of going to lunch, I looked at that asparagus and said, “I’m going to eat you. I don’t care if I don’t have farro!” So I stemmed the asparagus (you do that by bending it until it snaps, then throw out the lower half) and tossed the good parts with olive oil, salt and pepper on a baking sheet. I heated the oven up to 500 and popped the asparagus in there for, approximately, 7 minutes. But you’ll know when it’s done because the asparagus will get color. Then, once it came out, I fried up two eggs in olive oil. That’s easy too: just heat olive oil in a non-stick skillet, when it’s hot add two eggs, sprinkle salt and pepper on top, and when the eggs get golden around the edges and the yolk is still runny, take it off. I placed it on top of the asparagus and grated parmesan cheese on top. I did the same for Craig and we both agreed it was a terrific, easy-to-do lunch. (When the yolk pops, it coats the asparagus in creamy goodness–who wouldn’t like that?) 3rd grade teachers agree: Adam gets a gold star.

And then, tonight, I made this:

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Asparagus panzanella!

I had a real eureka moment with this. You see, at the farmer’s market I bought asparagus and cherry tomatoes and then I started walking down the stairs to the subway and once I got down there I was like, “What can I make with asparagus and cherry tomatoes?” I was almost through the turnstile when I realized that if I bought bread and basil and cheese, I could make a killer panzanella salad. And that’s exactly what I did! I climbed the stairs back up to the farmer’s market and bought basil, cheese (pecorino) and a loaf of sourdough and when I got home I cut the crust off the bread (just a thin shave, so I didn’t lose too much) and then cut the bread into cubes. I preheated the oven to 350, and tossed the bread with olive oil, salt and pepper and put on a cookie sheet. I toasted in the oven until it got golden brown and then, in a large bowl, I put in one minced clove of garlic, about 4 or 5 Tbs red wine vinegar, and then about 3/4 cup olive oil (though I eyeballed all of this, so use your judgment.) I whisked it all together and then, after cutting up the raw asparagus and cherry tomatoes, tossed it all together with the bread and slivers of pecorino cheese. Paired with the Sauvignon Blanc that was in our fridge and the finale of American Idol (I miss Melinda! She was the best), everyone agreed it was a triumph.

And those are two things you can do with asparagus.

You Can Beat These Beets, Despite My Beautiful Presentation

I went to Whole Foods yesterday with a goal in mind: Heirloom tomatoes. I knew they sold them at the farmer’s market but it was late and I knew Whole Foods (which is way closer) carried them too. So I went there with the Barefoot Contessa’s heirloom tomato salad recipe in mind (tomatoes, fennel, an orange for the vinaigrette) and arrived to find the grossest looking tomatoes ever. Now I know heirlooms can be funny looking, but these look scarred and some were split open and there were tiny bugs flitting around them. It was quite the unappetizing table.

I made an executive decision then and there to buy something else. Earlier that day, I’d had lunch with Patty (you’ll read about that shortly) so I wasn’t that hungry. I wanted something light for dinner, hence my heirloom agenda. So as I examined the produce I stumbled upon the beet section and I said to myself, “Adam, you’ve never made beets, maybe this is your moment.” I remembered that beets and goat cheese were a killer combination and I also remembered reading a recipe for beets and tarragon in some cookbook. So that’s what I bought: beets, tarragon and goat cheese.

I used the Gourmet technique for roasting beets. After having done it, I don’t recommend it, but it might be praised for its simplicty. You just wrap each beet (after trimming them) in a double layer of foil and put it on a baking sheet.

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You bake at 400 degrees for either 1 1/4 hours or 1 1/2 depending on if you can stick a knife through it or not. That was the fun part. It’s like stabbing a person because it bleeds:

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Not that I want to stab a person or anything.

After that you let them cool in the foil pouches for another half hour—the steam loosens the skin. Then you unwrap and rub with paper towels and get rid of the skin. That was pretty easy but it makes your fingers red.

Here’s what they look like all done:

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Very pretty, better than canned beets, surely. But the flavor was severly lacking. Now that I’ve read a few more recipes, I see that the beets are best coated in olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper before wrapped. Or other recipes have you peel them first and roast them open in a pan. Whichever technique you use, I recommend you think about flavor infusion during the roasting because it makes a difference.

So as you can see in the above pic, I chopped up some tarragon and tossed the beets (which I sliced) with olive oil, red wine vinegar, some tarragon, salt and pepper. Very nice.

Then for the goat cheese. I bought Coach Farm goat cheese because everyone’s always like, “Yo, Adam, buy Coach Farm goat cheese! It’s the best!”

That may be true but I didn’t like this kind of goat cheese. Maybe I bought a special weird kind that had a hard outer edge and a soft middle. I prefer the whole log to be creamy. But I sliced it like the beets and made this gorgeous presentation:

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At least I think it’s gorgeous. I just wish it tasted better. I mean it didn’t taste bad, but it didn’t taste as good as it should have. I had a baguette along with it and I was glad for that. And a glass of wine. That helped too.

Now imagine I just posted that final picture with no text, you’d think I had a winner there, wouldn’t you? Let that be our lesson for today. Don’t judge a book by its cover.

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Potluck Passover Preparations: Mock Chopped Liver and Nigella Lawson’s Spinach

As you will soon read, tonight I sedered at Billy and Kate’s. The rule was: everyone brings something! (This is known in Judaism as “potluck.”) So I scratched my head and did some investigation (what were other people bringing) and settled upon mock chopped liver and Nigella Lawson’s Passover spinach.

I can’t type “mock chopped liver” without thinking of my grandmother. She LOVES the stuff. She buys kegs of it at Whole Foods and does mock chopped liver keg stands with grandpa watching. For a woman who decries regular chopped liver an “organ meat” as if to say it’s poison, mock chopped liver is the perfect solution. Grandma is to mock chopped liver what that Campbell’s soup lady is to Campbell’s soup. She thinks it’s oy oy good.

There are two recipes for mock chopped liver in Joan Nathan’s “Jewish Cooking in America”: the one at the front of the book and the one in the back of the book. The one in the front of the book comes from Mandy Patinkin and Isaac Bashevis Singer (they had a cooking show together: “Mandy and Isaac”) (Just kidding–I think think they’re both mentioned as liking that recipe) and the one in the back of the book has no celebrity endorsements. The one in the front of the book requires that you cook 5 onions for an HOUR until they’re golden. The one at the back of the book lets you cook the onions until translucent.

I made the Isaac/Mandy recipe two years ago for a seder I went to. It was a hit but caused much shvitzing with all the onion-chopping and sauteeing and rendering. I wanted to avoid that today so I went with the easier back-of-the-book recipe. I’m glad I did!

I doubled the recipe because the original only makes one cup. So here’s the doubled recipe and you can halve it if you want to make a cup (and honestly, I made too much so maybe the halved recipe is better).

I took two small onions and roughly chopped them. (I chopped them big so they wouldn’t dissolve in the food processor.) I took 1 lb of mushrooms (about two cartons) and also roughly chopped them. Put 6 Tbs of vegetable oil in a large sautee pan and heat. Add the mushrooms and onions and cook until the onions are translucent:

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Then put 2 cups chopped walnuts into the food processor. (I put whole walnuts in and pulsed a few times before adding the other stuff.) Then add the other stuff (all the cooked mushrooms and onions) and salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (be generous, it helps!) and 2 Tbs of water.

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I pureed it but not too much—you need that chunky consistency to make it feel livery. Here’s the end result:

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You have to admit it looks like chopped liver, no? And it’s healthier and easier to make. (Plus it was a hit at the seder! People really liked it.)

Now as for Nigella Lawson’s spinach recipe. It’s in her “Feast” cookbook under PASSOVER. I chose this because there was a need for side dishes and this seemed simple and unusual (you add pine nuts and sultanas—golden raisins.)

Spinach is an economist’s nightmare. For this recipe I bought 5 bags–count ’em, 5 bags–of baby spinach at $3 each. That is so expensive! I also sliced an onion:

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You sautee the onion (which you slice into half moons) in 2 Tbs of olive oil until golden and soft.

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Then you add two Tbs of white wine (it sizzles and deglazes) (I opened a whole new bottle for this because I thought it would be worth it, but I’m not sure it was!). Now you add all that spinach:

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Isn’t that a ton of spinach? You push it into the heat and eventually, miraculously, it begins to wilt. “I’m wilting! I’m wilting!” it might say if it were in The Wizard of Oz.

Once it’s wilted and you cook off the water you add 1/4 cup of sultanas which you soak beforehand in boiling water. (I didn’t find sultanas but I found green raisins.) You also add 1/3 cup of pine nuts which you’ve toasted in a skillet.

Here’s what you’re left with:

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It’s pretty, yes, I know–but think of all the spinach that went in there! And look how little there is now!

But it tasted good. A little watery, I must admit. I should have let the water cook off for longer. Anyway, this was popular too. Jewish Popeye was very grateful.

Disappointing Butternut Squash and Potato Pie with Tomato, Mint, and Sheep’s Milk Cheese

One book that’s sat on my bookshelf for a while is The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen by Paula Wolfert.

One reason for that is that by the time I decide to cook something, I don’t have time to make anything slow. Last night, however, even though it was 6 pm, I was willing to cook something slowish. I eschewed Friday night plans to read “Hamlet” for class on Monday, and thought the smell of something cooking slowly might propel me along.

I chose a vegetable recipe because they require no marination or expensive ingredients. I chose “Butternut Squash and Potato Pie with Tomato, Mint, and Sheep’s Milk Cheese.”

So first there’s mint:

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I love fresh mint. It tastes awesome in lemonade, iced tea and Mario Batali’s lamb ravioli (which I ate at Babbo). Too many assosiate mint with toothpaste, but it has a culinary life all its own. Fresh mint adds a cool, refreshing component to any dish. Next time you cook, why not cook with mint? (This paragraph brought to you by the Mint Association of America.)

We chop the mint with flat-leaf parsley, garlic, salt and black pepper:

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Paula calls for 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper and then just “salt.” This proves to be disastrous later, but we’ll get there soon enough.

Now we grate a tomato using the grating feature on our food processor: (but we forget to take out the blades, so the tomato gets semi-pulverized):

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Toss the tomato with half the mint mixture and butternut squash:

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Add manchego cheese (a Sheep’s milk cheese):

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Add fresh ricotta: (did you know Whole Foods sells fresh, home-made ricotta?):

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Mix it all together:

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Meanwhile, slice red and Yukon Gold potatoes (peeled according to Paula, but I was too tired to peel). Toss with the other half of the mint mixture:

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Add the potatoes to the bottom layer of a 2 1/2-quart earthenware baking dish. I had a 2-quart glass baking dish so I went with that. (The voice of Julia Child rings in my head lately; she and Jacques Pepin on one of the clips I watched say that any chef who doesn’t do a recipe because one little thing is off—they don’t have the right baking dish, say—isn’t really a chef. Good chefs make due.)

I made due and added the squash layer:

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Add the rest of the potatoes and pour in milk:

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You sprinkle flour and olive oil on the top in the hope they will form a crust.

This bakes for 40 minutes at 350 and then for 30 minutes at 400. In my case, the top still looked floury and oily and Paula wants you to wait until it browns completely. But time kept ticking by and the top still looked floury until finally I took it out:

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No matter. What’s a little flour?

I served up a heaping bowl and sprinkled some reserved parsley and cheese on top:

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Smelled great, that’s for sure. And how did it taste?

Sadly, devastatingly–bland. Texturally pleasing, sure, and the mint was nice and refreshing but it needed, it begged for salt. I ran to the pantry and grabbed some and sprinkled it on, but it was too late. I wished that Paula was clearer with how much salt needed to be added earlier on. Had I gone back in time I would have seasoned every layer heavily and then I bet it would have tasted delicious. But we fail so we can grow, right? Maybe next time I won’t be so slow when I attempt slow Mediterranean cooking.