Crazy Spring Veggie Cheesy Toasts

Posted by on Wednesday Apr 23rd, 2014

I miss a lot of things. Epic YouTube videos that everyone saw six years ago. Anchorman references. Jokes. Despite loving food more than videos, for the last several years, I’ve also missed favas, peas, and fiddleheads. Too busy eating ramps, I guess. Those I never miss.

This year is different. I ate all my spring produce at once, on these cheesy toasts. If there was a quota, I’ve filled it.

Around here, a lot of the produce is fleeting. We check the farmers’ market  bins for ramps week in and week out, only for them to appear once or twice, then disappear again. Do we like them more because they’re so transitory? Maybe. I do also like radishes and asparagus, though, both of which appear for longer stretches.
Anyway, I filled my quota by cheating. See, I wound up with this yield after a photoshoot for work. I don’t know if any of these have been sighted at local vendors yet, but at least I got a jump on the vegetables and am getting this chance to show you what I do when I cook with fleeting, tender, spring-like veggies: not much. My go-to prep is a flash in the pan with some sautéed onion (or shallot) and garlic. None of the vegetables need much cooking time, and a sauté allows you to monitor cooking so you don’t go overboard and turned the prized veggies into mush. 

Apple-Cinnamon & Almond Smoothie

Posted by on Monday Apr 21st, 2014

I love the feeling of a recipe developing in my mind. A little bit of this, a pinch of that–I can almost taste the combinations as I think them. They say if you imagine a yoga routine step by step in your head, you get a good fraction as flexible and calm as if you go through the poses with your actual body. Since I adore cooking and do its motions so much, when a recipe from my head comes into existence, the tastes and textures ordinarily resemble my unwritten, unmade version. Sometimes, though, the dishes come up short, like a lentil salad I made the other day to go with some crispy hake, where the lentils got overcooked and the toasted pine nuts didn’t add enough crunch to balance out the mush, and also the hake was barely crispy.

Sometimes, the actual preparation surpasses the fantasy, and that’s what happened with this breakfast shake, which I believed would taste like almonds, apples, and cinnamon and instead tasted like candy.

Candy! For breakfast! But I’m not actually talking Peeps and Peanut Butter Eggs.This is a drink whose added sugar content comes from a single teaspoon of honey and then just makes the most of all the natural sweetness of almonds, apples, ripe banana, and honey.

Roasted Eggplant with Pine Nuts & Raisins

Posted by on Thursday Apr 17th, 2014

Like the rest of the Northeast, I can hardly wait for summer. 

A couple of weeks ago I got so impatient I bought a (gasp) off-season eggplant. I quartered and sliced it, then roasted the slices in a hot oven with generously poured olive oil–my approximation of the way I really like my eggplant: in the summer, on the grill. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before, but my mom grills some incredible zucchini and eggplant each summer, and I look forward to the planks of charcoal-blistered vegetables all year long.

One of my favorite ways to serve any vegetable–beloved grilled eggplant or plain old spinach–is with the illustrious ingredient combination of plump raisins, rich toasted pine nuts, and bright parsley. The pairing has a Middle Eastern vibe, though I think of it as Italian, and from what I can learn, both are true. The raisin/nut-savory union has a Sephardic origin, and where Sephardic Jews went–Italy, Turkey, Greece–the raisins and nuts went too, flavoring meatballs, sautéed greens, and now my eggplant.

Homemade Reese’s-Style Peanut Butter Eggs

Posted by on Wednesday Apr 16th, 2014

Natalie of Good Girl Style is back today to share a perfect indulgence for Easter, once that involves both peanut butter and chocolate. Natalie joins us each month to share incredible desserts with Big Girls, Small Kitchen readers–desserts that are entirely gluten-free, but not like obviously gluten-free. That means no specialty flours or hard-to-find ingredients, just good old-fashioned butter, sugar, chocolate, cream, and rich, creamy peanut butter. Don’t miss her most recent posts, about Strawberry Mousse and Classic Chocolate Truffles.

There’s just something about Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs that remind me of being a little kid. Easter morning held a new dress, a wonderful breakfast, and the anticipation that these egg-shaped Reese’s might be sitting in my basket by the dozens. They are still one of my all-time favorite candies. Clearly, none of the other shapes of Reese’s can live up to the eggs, so I tend to stockpile this time of year.

The homemade version has been floating around the internet, but I wasn’t convinced it could live up to the real thing. Truth is these homemade treats are just as creamy and peanut-butter-chocolate-goodness-y as the originals–and they’re easy to make. Friends: now we won’t have to raid the shelves of six-packs of Reese’s eggs any longer, because we can make them at home any time we want. Happy Easter!

When I was a kid, I learned to make my own hot chocolate by combining cocoa powder, sugar, and hot water to form a paste in the bottom of a mug, then stirring in hot milk (the recipe was on the back of the Droste’s cocoa container). Only problem: I didn’t understand the proportion. Why would you use a mere 1 teaspoon of cocoa in a whole cup of milk? I opted to use 1 tablespoon, triple the amount. And so, the recipe for chocolate syrup that follows originates from my dissatisfaction as a hot cocoa-drinking chocoholic child.

(I originally shared this recipe and story on Food52 but wanted to make sure you didn’t miss it.)

I also made another change to the recipe on the back of the box. I would add a small handful of chocolate chips to my cocoa paste–for even more richness and body. Then, I would pour a bit of boiling water over the cocoa and sugar and stir this into a paste. Once I had the paste, I either made hot chocolate or chocolate milk, depending on the milk’s temperature.

Chocolate syrup is just one step more refined than that paste I used to stir into milk. Instead of dissolving an individual portion of the chocolate paste immediately in milk, I simmer more of it in water until the mixture reduces into a silky sauce. I like to make the syrup in batches and stir a few spoonfuls into milk (or banana peanut butter smoothies) whenever I please.

Even better, the syrup itself is dairy-free, unlike hot fudge, which means that I can mix it with whole milk while dairy-avoiding Alex can mix it into almond milk (right on trend with what’s going on in my eCookbook!).

In the end, chocolate syrup is incredibly simple — it requires just one more step and one more pan than that cocoa paste — but there are a few important tricks. First, always use at least some brown sugar — the molasses flavor brings out the chocolate. Second, keep the chocolate-to-sugar proportion in a ration of 3:2. Third, melt in a tiny bit of chocolate (not cocoa) at the end, for richness and body. And finally, no chocolate-friendly flavor is ever unwelcome in chocolate syrup: I like to add a dash of mint extract, espresso powder, or cherry liqueur.

Pot Roast with Rutabaga & Parsnips

Posted by on Wednesday Apr 9th, 2014

Just popping in quickly today to share a recent variation of my favorite (aka my mother’s) brisket. With Passover approaching, I thought you might like to see a vegetable-rich approach to serving a big hunk of meat. In this recipe, I throw in rutabaga and parsnip for added sustenance–and a little change.

So if it’s the same as a brisket, why do I call this one a pot roast? Well, I actually didn’t use the cut of meat known as brisket for this dish; I ordered a small chuck eye roast  from Fleisher’s, via Good Eggs. Apparently, chuck eye comes in smaller chunks than brisket, so if you’re not feeding a crowd, I recommend the cut.

Most of the time, though, brisket refers to the meat and pot roast to the method of cooking it low and slow in a pot. (You can actually roast the pot roast, but I prefer to do it on the stove.) For me, “brisket” sounds like Passover and Hanukkah and other Jewish holidays, whereas “pot roast” seems more non-denominational. So you can see why the names might have come in and out of fashion over the last hundred years or so.

A few weeks ago, when spring seemed like it would never come, I finally conceded to winter’s vegetables, which I hadn’t cooked with all that often throughout December, January, and February. Perhaps it’s counterintuitive, but to me the diced parsnip and rutabaga, though they should remind me of winter, make the pot roast herald the beginning of spring.

You can see more Passover recipes here.

Once, when I was living in France, a friend’s French boyfriend looked at me and said, “you’re a hippie, right?”

It was so weird, because while there have been Birkenstock phases in my life, my, er, French period was more a time of fitted black outfits and mascara than brown rice and lentils. (As it went, the French guy turned out to have used my curly blond hair as a window to my soul.)

Of course, as health and wellness have become de rigueur, granola crunchy has morphed into granola chic. Case in point, the extreme non-crunchiness of this delicious recipe which features kale, hemp seeds, and flax oil.

That means my jars filled with beans are hip, not hippie, as is a practice I’ve taken on: soaking my beans and grains before I eat them.

I mentioned soaking lentils as a timesaver in this Curried Lentil Soup recipe. And soaking does reduce cooking time–brown rice takes a mere half hour, and bean cooking gets whittled from several hours to just one (or even less). Pouring water over your beans or grains before you leave for work hardly counts as prepwork, but it’s a simple move to make dinner that night happen more quickly. As I learned from Michael Pollan and Isa Chandra Moskowitz, soaking also has nutritional benefits, as soaked grains can more easily convey minerals and vitamins to you. If you don’t get a chance to cook your soaked food when you intended, no worries! Just cook it the next day–for an even shorter period.

Here are a few ideas to get started soaking:

  • Your Morning Oatmeal. I always soak my oatmeal overnight. I find a noticeable difference in how long the bowl of oats keeps me full when it’s been soaked (til a late lunch!) versus not soaked (til 10am!). I stir in a couple teaspoons of yogurt, too, which helps break down the grains, making them even more digestible. I heat my oatmeal in the microwave, but you don’t have to.
  • Your Mixed Grains Bowls. Combine your favorite combination of grains and beans and pour water over in the morning. When you go to cook, you can use about 25% less water than you’d ordinarily use, and cut cooking time by about the same amount. I recently soaked 1 cup of brown rice, 2 tablespoons of pearl barley, and 1/4 cup brown lentils all day, then boiled them with 2 cups of water for 30 minutes. The amount of water and cooking time will depend on how long you soaked, so you’ll have to experiment with doneness–or try cooking them like pasta, which will give you more control.
  • Your Chicken Chili. This recipe for Healthy Chicken Chili is an all-time favorite. When I made it recently, I soaked the barley and about 3/4 cups of Rancho Gordo pintos overnight before adding them both where the recipe says to add the barley. I used only 4 cups of water instead of 5. Dinner simmered for just 30 minutes–and was incredibly delicious.

Have you ever soaked beans or grains? Are you interested in hearing more about it?