RSS Feed

Tag Archives: cheese

Easy Cooked Carrot Recipes

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 2.32.42 PM

When a student told me that my tupperware container of balsamic roasted baby carrots looked like dead fingers, it was exactly what I needed to stop forcing forkfuls of the overwhelmingly sour, otherwise flavorless “fingers” down my gob.

We wasted a few more minutes of my plan time and his brief break from in-school-suspension talking about why he didn’t eat cooked vegetables, and then I made a trip to the vending machine. I think I ended up with a Kit Kat. 

I’m a big fan of Cristina Ferrare’s cookbook, Big Bowl of Love, but I’m not crazy about her penchant for drizzling roasted vegetables with reduced balsamic vinegar. Maybe I’m doing it wrong? You tell me. Not reducing the vinegar enough to sweeten it? Dumping instead of drizzling? Seriously, I want to be classy and drizzle a balsamic vinegar reduction over my vegetables… But the dead carrot finger experiment was off putting. 

Anyway, I can go through cooked vegetables like candy because they taste so sweet and buttery after cooking. Here is Ferrare’s cooking method, minus the balsamic glaze: 

Blistered Baby Carrots

  • Heat a LARGE frying pan over medium high heat. 
  • Scoop out a sizable chunk of ghee (clarified butter — it doesn’t burn at higher temperatures) and swirl to coat the pan. 
  • Shake in the whole bag of baby carrots and season generously with salt and pepper. Make sure all the carrots are lightly coated in butter. Add more butter if necessary 🙂 
  • Cook until the carrots get a little char on them, and feel crisp-tender. 
  • Chop some fresh dill and sprinkle on top. 

Bonus: this recipe is Whole30 compliant! 

Speaking of kid-friendlier toppings for roasted vegetables that I can fully endorse, my new “jam” (a parent kept using that word during conferences about her daughter’s interests, it’s on my mind :)) is a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

These Parmesan roasted carrots are as lip-smacking to me as French fries. (I recommend halving the bigger carrots.) Roasting a large bag of large carrots whole feels refreshingly resourceful to me — bags of large carrots often linger in my vegetable drawer, and the good thing about roasting vegetables, ahem, is that you can work with the slightly shriveled, spotted stuff. The Parmesan precludes these from Whole30 compliance, but it’s a wholesome cheat… Just a sprinkle 🙂 

Next I want to try Parmesan on zucchini wedges. 

Meanwhile, I’m on the hunt for a low calorie veggie dip that isn’t mustard and isn’t guacamole… Any tips??

Winter Brunch Menu

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-11-38-09-am

Last summer I posted quite a bit about my experiment with the Whole30, a nutritional plan that is similar to Paleo: you’re supposed to eat mostly meat, vegetables, and healthy fats, along with some small servings of fruit. The idea is to drastically reduce your intake of sugar, only consuming sugar in its natural form (fruit). I got really enthusiastic about

eating the veggies

and

flank steak suppers

and

chicken with coconut curry

and I could go on… and maybe I will: since resolving to go back to a more Paleo-centered lifestyle a few weeks ago, I’ve dabbled more in tasty ways to make green beans and brussels sprouts, and I’ve fine-tuned my go-to-guac recipe. The results were pretty lip-smacking, so stay tuned for another Eating the Veggies post.

I did, vow, however, that when I entertain, I am allowing myself to create all the sugar and carb-laden concoctions I want. Aside from the joy of eating that stuff, it’s so much fun to cook! So here’s a winter brunch menu that I’ve put together for a few dear colleagues tomorrow on our day off:

  1. Baked Eggs with Tomatoes, Mozzarella & Oregano, from School Night
  2. Baked Parmesan Hash Browns
  3. Roasted Pear and Chocolate Chunk Scones
  4. Winter Fruit Salad with Lemon Poppy Seed Dressing

Pantry Items Needed
(In order of each recipe)

  • Olive oil
  • 28 oz crushed or diced tomatoes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • All-purpose flour
  • Granulated sugar
  • Baking powder
  • Unsalted butter
  • Baking spray
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Honey
  • Parchment paper

Grocery List
(In order of grocery store layout)

  • Yellow onion
  • Garlic
  • A bundle of scallions
  • Fresh oregano (or another fresh herb of your choice)
  • 3 firm pears
  • Bag of clementines
  • 4 Honeycrisp apples
  • 4 kiwis
  • 4 bananas
  • 3 large lemons
  • Pomegranate
  • Heavy cream
  • 1/4 lb fresh mozzarella
  • 1/2 cup grated Parm
  • A dozen eggs
  • Frozen hash brown potatoes — Simply Potato recommended
  • Chocolate chips
  • Poppy seeds

Mix the Roasted Pear and Chocolate Chunk Scones and the lemon poppy seed dressing a day head.

I make smaller scones using this pan from King Arthur Flour. I find that this pan results in really fresh, moist tasting scones.

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-12-54-16-pm

Instructions, Scones

  • Generously spray your scone pan with baking spray. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Cut 6 T. of unsalted butter into small pieces and place in the freezer. Place 1/4 cup heavy cream in the refrigerator. Bring eggs to room temperature.
  • Peal and core pears. If you’re making smaller scones, like me, dice them instead of cutting them into chunks.
  •  Roast the pears for 20 minutes, until they are dry and slightly browned.
  • Slide the roasted pears onto a plate and place in the refrigerator to cool down to lukewarm. Turn the oven off.
  • In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whisk 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/4 cup sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt together.
  • Add the cooled pear, diced butter, heavy cream and 1 egg to the dry ingredients. Mix on low speed until the dough comes together.
  • Add 1/4 cup chocolate chips and mix for a few more seconds.
  • Press the dough into the well-buttered pan.
  • In a small bowl, whisk one egg with 1 teaspoon water and a pinch of salt. Brush the tops of the scones with the eggwash. Then sprinkle them with 1 1/2 Tablespoons sugar.
  • Tightly cover the pan with foil and place in the freezer.

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-12-55-38-pm

Lemon Poppy Seed Dressing

  • Measure 3 T. fresh lemon juice and 3 T. granulated sugar into a bowl. Whisk together until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Slowly pour in 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup vegetable oil, and 3 T. honey until everything is blended thoroughly.
  • Mix in 2 teaspoons poppy seeds. 
  • Transfer to this convenient salad dressing bottle and put it in the fridge.

Morning of…

  1. Bake the scones straight out of the freezer for 30 minutes at 375 degrees F. This is the time for large scones; I would check at the 15 minute mark to see if the smaller scones need less time to bake.
  2. While the scones are baking, prep the Baked Parmesan Hash Browns
  3. While the hash browns are baking, prep the baked eggs
  4. While the baked eggs are baking, prep the fruit salad

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-1-17-53-pm

Instructions, Hash Browns

  • Spray a muffin tin with baking spray.
  • Squeeze the frozen hash browns with paper towels to make sure they’ll get super crispy.
  • In a large bowl, mix the bag of dried hash browns, 4-5 sliced green onions, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon Kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and 2 T. olive oil.
  • Spoon the mixture into the muffin cups and bake 45-60 minutes at 400 degrees F. until crispy.

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-1-19-56-pm

Instructions, Baked Eggs
(Serves Four)

  • Chop 1/2 the onion and mince 2 cloves of garlic. Open your can(s) of tomatoes.
  • Bring 8 eggs and 1/4 cup heavy cream out to room temperature.
  • Chop the mozzarella into 1/2-inch pieces.
  • Roughly chop the fresh oregano into 1/4 cup.
  • Set a saucepan over medium-high heat and add 2 T. olive oil. Let the olive oil warm up.
  • Add 1/2 small yellow onion and sauté until translucent. This may take about 5 minutes.
  • Add 2 cloves minced garlic and sauté until soft, about 2 minutes.
  • Stir in 28 oz diced or crushed tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil.
  • Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, and simmer about 15 minutes until the  mixture is thickened.
  • Season to taste and set aside to cool.
  • Place four large ramekins (the cookbook specifies 4 1/2 inch ramekins) on a baking sheet.
  • Spoon 5 T. of the tomato sauce and 1 T. of heavy cream into each ramekin. Top with the mozzarella and the oregano, dividing them evenly.
  • Once the hash browns are done cooking, break two eggs into each ramekin and season with salt and pepper.
  • Bake about 15 minutes in a 350 degree F oven — you want the egg whites to be opaque and the yokes set, but still runny in the middle. The eggs will keep cooking a little after you take them out of the oven.
  • Let cool slightly.

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-1-22-12-pm

Instructions, Fruit Salad

  • Peel and segment 8 clementines
  • Chop 4 apples
  • Peel and dice 4 kiwis
  • Peel and dice 4 bananas
  • Cut pomegranate arils out of large pomegranate
  • Combine in a large bowl and top with dressing

Enjoy! Here’s to brunching on your day off.

 

 

“Healthy Dish of the Day”

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 10.56.45 AMA cheesy frittata packed with spinach, a pea salad dotted with pieces of feta and mint — two of my favorite dishes from “Healthy Dish of the Day: 365 Recipes for Every Day of the Year,” a Williams Sonoma cookbook by Kate McMillan. It’s a book for celebrating the seasons, for embracing the variety and abundance of seasonal produce and the color and vibrance of healthy cooking.

In addition to “seasonal vegetables,” the introduction proclaims an emphasis on “lean proteins… whole grains and good fats…” Each month’s recipes start with a calendar of meals, accompanied by a brief explanation of reoccurring themes and ingredients for the season. In my view, the calendar would be far more useful if it was organized around using up ingredients in successive recipes. Instead, it’s a way to whet your appetite at a glance, with each day’s dish calling for its own separate set of fresh, aka expensive ingredients. Take the first and second of March — a “spicy vegetable hash” calling for both sweet and Yukon gold potatoes, jalapeño pepper, plain yogurt, lime wedges and fresh cilantro, among other things, right next to “stir-fried pork and sugar snaps with soba noodles,” requiring Asian sauces/vinegars/oils, green onions and fresh ginger in addition to the title ingredients. Especially with the emphasis on fresh ingredients, you’d think Ms. McMillan would repeat more of them and organize the meal plan accordingly. Then again, it does bear the Williams Sonoma brand, so frugality may not be a fair expectation 🙂

That said, the monthly calendars can just as easily be used as a source of inspiration for ingredients to try. Say you’re visiting your local farmer’s market in March. A quick peek at the March spread might nudge you toward more generous helpings of swiss chard or fava beans, as opposed to that helpless feeling when confronted with large quantities of fleeting, seasonal produce. The large amount of recipes — it’s practically a tome — means that every five or six suppers receive their own full page photograph, which makes perfect sense but is still a little disappointing, in this digital age where food blogs display ten or twelve process photos for a single recipe. You can’t help but gravitate toward the dishes that are photographed. On the plus side, each recipe is accompanied by a note that either summarizes the essence of the dish — “fluffy ricotta-and-artichoke-stuffed ravioli sit in a pool of light, fragrant vegetable broth” — expounds on its nutritional value, provides historical context or suggested variations.

Here’s a brief sampling of each month’s themes and ingredients:

January

The emphasis is on root vegetables and “warming spices, such as turmeric, cayenne, curry paste and red pepper flakes.” Traditional comfort foods are made healthier with alternate cooking techniques, such as pan-searing instead of frying, and the abundant use of rich and creamy vegetables. As you might imagine, stews and soups are a natural way to create healthy food out of comfort food: A version of minestrone uses extra vegetables and low-sodium chicken broth, and “Asian-Style Chicken Soup” transforms your basic chicken noodle into something greener, spicier and more piquant. A vegetarian cassoulet replaces the traditional pork and breadcrumb mixture with meaty mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, beans, celery, carrots and potatoes.

February

McMillan encourages the reader to infuse winter dishes with color and fresh produce, and to pay attention to the flavor enhancing properties of sauces and garnishes. Winter’s inclination toward meat and potatoes is acknowledged, but the protein and carbs are lean — scallops, salmon, lentils eggs, quinoa, barley and whole-wheat penne. I’m especially keen to try the “Moroccan-Spiced Roasted Vegetables and Quinoa” and the “Roasted Salmon with Avocado-Grapefruit Salsa.” Oh, and “Broccoli Rabe and Olive Pizza.” Oh, and “Cauliflower Steaks with Caper-Anchovy-Garlic Sauce.” Okay, I’ll leave it at that.

March

The March dishes place spring’s green produce center stage — asparagus, snow peas, arugula…the list goes on. A platter of grilled endive and asparagus, boiled fava beans and orange slices tossed with orange juice, olive oil, salt and pepper is an unusual, textured take on a spring salad. On March 31st, McMillan tosses blanched asparagus, baby carrots and sugar snap peas with angel hair pasta, tomatoes, fava beans and Parmesan cheese.

April

The emphasis on green, seasonal produce continues, alongside grilled meats and spring herbs like dill and chives. “Roasted Asparagus Farrotto” takes the nutty, magnesium-rich grain farro and cooks it (with olive oil and balsamic vinegar roasted asparagus) in the style of risotto. Here’s the pea salad whose praises I was singing earlier:

 Pea, Feta & Mint Salad

3 cups shelled English peas
2 T. olive oil
2 T. minced fresh mint
Salt and pepper
1 T. red wine vinegar
3 oz crumbled Feta cheese

1) Blanch the peas for 1-2 minutes in a pot of rapidly boiling, lightly salted water. Immediately transfer them to an ice water bath. Drain and pat them dry.

2) Toss the blanched peas with the olive oil, mint, 1/2 tsp. salt and a crackling of pepper. Just before serving add the vinegar and the cheese.

May

May celebrates lighter, al fresco dining — think salads, fish, grilled pizzas. Polenta is also frequently used as a foil for spring veggies: on May 1st, McMillan braises artichokes and serves them with shallots, peas and fresh herbs over a bed of polenta. On the 29th, she roasts asparagus and cherry tomatoes with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a few tablespoons of parmesan cheese, accompanied by wedges of grilled polenta. Apparently polenta contains “cartenoids,” which is good for your eyes and heart.

June

June presents simple combinations of fresh summer vegetables, whole grains and lean meats. I’m into the June 15th salad that mixes roasted peppers, eggplant and zucchini with goat cheese and crisp red leaf lettuce. And the idea of grilling whole wheat pizza dough and topping it with nothing more than a simple salad of mixed greens, sliced plum tomatoes and parmesan shavings. Or on June 27th, brining pork chops in cider vinegar, brown sugar, berries and red pepper flakes and serving it with grilled plums, peaches and nectarines.

July

Corn and tomatoes get their due in July — tomato and arugula frittatas, scallops with avocado-corn salsa, smoky grilled chicken and corn, tomato and bean salads with toasted bread crumbs… McMillan also suggests grilling traditional summer dishes to vary flavors — for example, “Ratatouille on the Grill.”

August

“Vine vegetables” are recycled throughout the month, such as tomatoes, eggplant and peppers. For example, eggplant is broiled and puréed with Greek yogurt, parsley, lemon juice, garlic, mint, salt and pepper, then spread across grilled Naan and topped with grilled red onions. On the 22nd, zucchini and peppers are julienned and sautéed, then served with buckwheat fettuccine, melted goat cheese and fresh herbs.

September

More tomatoes and zucchini, and a transition into fall with light soups and stews. A grilled portabello burger with tomato-ginger jam and sautéed red onions looks particularly scrumptious.

October

This month’s meals emphasize the expected assortment of fall produce such as pears, apples and butternut squash showcased via more pastas and whole grains. For example, there’s a roasted butternut squash whole-wheat pizza with goat cheese, Parmesan and arugula, and a whole-wheat flat bread with caramelized shallots, Monterey jack cheese and thin slices of grilled chicken and raw apple. Here’s the recipe for the spinach frittata:

Frittata with Spinach, Roasted Peppers & Gruyère 

8 large eggs
2 T. low-fat milk
Salt and pepper
2 cups baby spinach
2 olive-oil packed roasted red peppers, drained and chopped (or a cup fresh)
1/4 cup shredded Gruyère
1 T. unsalted butter
2 T. olive oil
2 T. finely chopped yellow onions
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. fresh chives
1 tsp. fresh parsley

1) Whisk together the eggs, milk, 3/4 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Add the spinach, peppers and cheese.

2) Preheat the broiler. Meanwhile, melt the butter and oil in a 12-inch ovenproof frying pan. Over medium-high heat, sauté the onion for 2-3 minutes and the garlic for an additional minute.

3) Pour in the egg mixture, reduce heat to low and cook until the edges are firm, about 4-5 minutes. Lift the edges with a spatula, tilt the pan and let the uncooked eggs run beneath. Cook 4-5 minutes longer, until the eggs are almost set.

4) Broil the eggs for about 2 minutes, until the top sets and browns slightly. Transfer the baked frittata to a flat serving plate and sprinkle with the fresh herbs. Cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temp.

November

For heartier, fall fare, more protein is mixed in during November, such as turkey, pork and lamb. Star produce items include cranberries, pumpkin and dark greens. For example, on the 29th, McMillan stir-fries lamb with broccoli and mushrooms and on the 25th, she fries chard, eggs and polenta in olive oil and tops them with a yogurt garlic sauce. But even in November, the produce has a fresh, crunchy flair, including an apple-jicama relish for “Pulled Chicken Sliders” and a pineapple-avocado salsa for Mahimahi.

December

McMillan suggests lightening the rich foods of the holidays by using olive oil as a substitute for butter and root vegetables (again) as complex carbohydrates. In addition, whole grains pepper the menu, such as “Spaghetti with Collard Greens, Hazelnuts and Caramelized Onions” and “Kale, Turkey Sausage and Barley Stew.” I’m also drawn to a dish of seared scallops garnished with shredded brussels sprouts and prosciutto.

The great thing about cooking with so many vegetables is that most of these meals can be enjoyed year round, even though it’s ideal to enjoy produce at its peak. I made the October frittata this spring. Happy eating, and healthy cooking 🙂

Saint Louis Days, Saint Louis Nights

eddiejdf a thousand forks CC BY-NC-SA 2.0It’s been 12 days and 13 nights since Padraic and I made our way from Chicago to Saint Louis. I’m taking a break from willpower talk to celebrate some of the good food we’ve enjoyed here since our wind down I-55, in full view of funnel clouds and spectacular displays of lightning, in the thick of that eery calm and loaded sky that characterizes tornado weather in the Midwest. We stick pretty resolutely to a weekend night dinner out, so no sooner had we unloaded the U-Haul, set up (temporary) house in my grandmother’s guest cottage and rid ourselves of the wet dog smell that was a byproduct of hauling boxes in thick sheets of rain, we were on the prowl for a good restaurant. And now, I’ll savor it once more by describing the stuff we ate! And I mean…in detail…thanks for indulging me in this notably privileged, comfortable business of blogging about food 🙂

Publico

This new, Latin American gastropub is located in the Delmar Loop, a strip of restaurants, shops and music venues near Washington University (and a throwback to my weekend nights in high school). We got there around 8 o’clock, so we decided to keep our small plate sampling very small: two tacos al pastor consisting of “spit roasted pork shoulder, pineapple, guajillo, crema, charred onion salsa” and an arepa, or corn pancake, topped with roasted meat. Our meal was delicious, notwithstanding the frozen margarita that I ordered because it was cheaper than the classic version. Sipping tequila in semi solid form gives me quite the brain freeze.

Whiskey and Soba, Sauce Magazine, and Feast Magazine have put their collective finger on the pulse of this place, so I’ll do my best to summarize: The star of the menu, as described by Feast, is the restaurant’s “custom-made wood-burning hearth,” on prominent display towards the back of the space. As outlined by Whiskey and Soba, “the menu is split into 5 sections: crudo (raw dishes), Platos Pequenos (small dishes), Arepas (corn ‘pancakes’), Tacos, and A La Parilla (grilled).” The decor is sleek and modern, with a big, backlit bar occupying considerable space in the center and a line of brown-toned booths underlying wooden tree sculptures along the wall. We sat at the bar — the bottles grouped casually on large countertops, without fussy shelving, and cutting boards with slices of lemon, lime and other garnishes in full view. You really get to watch the bartenders do their thing. The food was served on colorful china with vintage floral patterns. The meal was at once light and rich, a welcome change from the heavy, sticky, cheesed-out feeling of so many Mexican joints. For two small plates and two drinks, I think our tab was a scant 30 bucks.

Robust Wine Bar

On our second Saturday night in town I had the chance to sample the dinner menu of this Webster Groves hot spot, alongside a flight of crisp, summery whites. A mixture of California and Oregon brands, the wine description touted notes of peach, pear, mango, honey dew and passion fruit, tasting subtle and fragrant while maintaining a desired acidity and dryness. As for food, I recommend the plate of Délice de Bourgogne cheese from France, with a moderately sized but uber creamy cheese wedge, thin slices of buttery toast, dried apricots and salted Marcona almonds. The Bresaola Carpaccio Style is also delicious: paper thin slices of salt-cured beef topped with arugula, shaved Parmesan and truffle oil. Check out their dinner menu for a full list of what’s available — next time I’ll have my eye on the Green Goddess salad with oven-roasted beets, the Shrimp & Grits and the Roasted Mushrooms, and possibly a taste of the Goat Cheese Cheesecake, you know, when I’m taking a break from my pursuit of willpower.

Robust’s wine menu is organized by wine profile, dubbed the “robust factor,” which makes the beverage selection and food-pairing process more intuitive, less painstaking for a wine novice like myself. The chef is Robert Hemp V, with a food philosophy that keeps things simple and local. As Evan Benn writes for the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, he “manages to take broad cooking influences — European, American, Meditteranean and Asian elements populate Robust’s menu — and present them in ways that complement rather than compete with what’s in your glass.” A few years ago, the restaurant opened a Washington Avenue location in downtown Saint Louis that caters to a crowd of “locals, tourists…and conventioneers.” There’s also a Robust in Edwardsville, Illinois.

Meanwhile, I’ll recommend a local cookbook, titled “Saint Louis Days, Saint Louis Nights,” compiled by the Junior League of Saint Louis, to tide you over between weekend night dinners out. I’ve been making French onion soup from this book for years, requiring nothing more than a few onions, beef or chicken broth, a spoonful of flour, butter, Parmesan cheese and a sturdy, crusty loaf of bread. It also contains a notably no-fuss recipe for a whopping three loaves of pumpkin bread. In fact, all the recipes are decidedly no-fuss, one reason I gravitate towards them when I want something substantial and simple, or on the rare occasions when I’m cooking for a crowd. For a light but filling dinner series of spring dinners, try making a batch of “Scrumptious Eggs” on a Sunday afternoon. Happy eating.

Scrumptious Eggs

Tools

9×13 casserole dish
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Sauté pan
Large mixing bowl
Whisk or fork
Measuring cups
Measuring spoons

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
3/4 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
1/2 large onion, chopped
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted, plus extra for the dish
1 cup cubed ham or bacon
11 eggs, beaten
1 3/4 cups milk
3/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

  • Butter the casserole dish and place half of the cheese on it.
  • Clean the mushrooms with a moistened paper towel and cut into slices. Chop the onion. Sauté the mushrooms and the onion in the butter until tender. Place the cooked vegetables over the cheese.
  • Cook, cool and chop the bacon, if using, then spread the ham or bacon on top of the mushroom mixture.
  • Beat together the eggs, milk, flour, parsley and salt.
  • Pour this mixture evenly over the casserole and top with the remaining half of cheese.
  • Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes.

Finding the Spirit This Christmas

matee, but who cares? Christmas Tree CC BY-NC-ND 2.0I haven’t exactly been a model of good cheer this holiday season. Christmas tree? Meh. I hung a wreath on the door, pieced together an advent wreath with a few candles, and called it a day. Fresh batches of Christmas cookies? More like pragmatic pots of potato soup. Christmas carols? Instead, my ears have been ringing with Cuban jazz and NPR. Last weekend, I saw a group of decked-out carolers cavorting through the streets of Chicago and felt myself marveling at their energy from a comfortable distance.

So I was grateful when at church last week the priest mentioned a different way to prepare for Christ’s coming: repentance, seeking forgiveness. It’s so easy to get caught up in traditions that might best be described as decorative, that punctuate the holiday season much like the garlands on a Christmas tree, but never quite penetrate its central meaning. In the midst of preparing our homes for Christmas, it’s a refreshing prospect to do the more sobering work of preparing our hearts for the Lord.

What does this mean exactly? When I take good, long, honest look at myself with Jesus’s coming in mind I feel like one of those handmade, cobbled looking ornaments, my faith clumsily pieced together, a shadow of the smoothly crafted, well-integrated Christian life that I aspire to. But perhaps this is what the priest’s suggested examining is meant to yield — a reminder of how much we need the God who is coming for us on Christmas day, a humbling awareness of our own mediocrity and our unceasing need for him.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the book Quiet, including the author’s reflections on evangelical Christianity, how the evangelical movement is a bastion for the extrovert ideal, rewarding and revering those who live their faith out loud. I happen to be both an introvert and one who quickly became disillusioned with the non-denominational, evangelical church partially on the grounds of its bias toward extroversion, but for a short while I found the evangelical community very alluring, I’m sure partially owing to the charisma, aka extroversion, of its leading members. One of the phrases I remember being tossed around was called “active dependence,” the notion that we are called to proactively cultivate our dependence on God, to live fully in the reality of our need for him. Perhaps the most authentic preparation we can make this advent is to deepen our dependent relationship to the Lord.

In the meantime, there’s soup. Along with prayer, a good bowl of soup goes a long way toward refreshing the soul, I think. The pot is a repository for disparate elements, slowly transforming them into something new and life-giving, not unlike a prayer. You might consider this potato soup a token of my resistance against all the pretty, powdered, finely shaped edibles of the Christmas season, an invitation to pare down what is tangible about Christmas and leave space for the invisible turnings of the heart. Here’s the recipe:

Potato Soup
Adapted from the Pioneer Woman

Ingredients 

6 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
Medium onion, diced
3 whole carrots, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
6 small Russet potatoes, peeled and diced
8 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Paprika
Cumin
Red pepper flakes
Chili powder
Freshly grated cheddar cheese

Tools

2 Cutting boards
Chef’s knife
Potato peeler
Mixing bowls
Measuring cups
Measuring spoons
Frying pan
Plate
Paper towels
Wooden spoon
Whisk or fork
Immersion blender or blender

  • Chop the vegetables and the potatoes. Measure out the stock, milk, and heavy cream.
  • Cut the raw bacon into pieces using a separate cutting board and cook in a frying pan over medium heat until crisp.
  • Remove the bacon to a plate and pour out most of the grease.
  • Cook the onions, carrots, and celery in the same frying pan over medium-high heat.
  • After about 2 minutes, add the diced potatoes. Cook for about 5 minutes, adding the salt and dashes of paprika, cumin, red pepper flakes, and chili powder.
  • Add the chicken stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Cook for 10 minutes, or until the potatoes become tender.
  • Whisk the flour with the milk and add to the pot, cooking for another 5 minutes.
  • Using a blender or an immersion blender, process the soup until completely smooth.
  • Stir in the cream. Serve with cheddar cheese and bacon bits.

In Praise of Peasant Food

Alan Levine Three SpoonsThere’s something especially delectable about humble ingredients mixed together in a big container and served up with a spoon. That is what comes to mind when I think of peasant food. Stratas, casseroles, gratins, puddings, soups… it all involves mingling an eclectic collection of ingredients, transforming their texture into something smooth, thick, creamy, and comforting, and digging in.

Recently I made two dishes that fall squarely into the category of peasant food: a cheddar cheese, scallion, and corn strata, and a rich pot of tomato soup. I highly recommend these recipes as you forge your way through the coming winter months. Peasant food translates into easy, effortless cooking and lip-smacking results that reheat well, stretching across the week. Peasant food is comfort food, and comfort food is winter food. Dig in below:

Dricker94 Corn Cropped

Corn, Scallion, and Cheddar Strata
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

Butter
4 cobs of corn (approximately 3 cups)
A bundle of scallions (white and green parts)
8 cups bread cubes
2 cups freshly grated cheddar cheese
1 cup freshly grated Asiago cheese
9 large eggs
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 3/4 cups milk
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

Tools

9X13 inch baking dish
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Measuring cups
Measuring spoons
Mixing bowls
Box grater
Whisk or fork
Plastic wrap

  • Generously grease your baking dish.
  • Saw the corn off the cobs and measure to see that you have approximately 3 cups. Chop the bundle of scallions and mix in a bowl with the corn.
  • Grate the cheeses and combine in a mixing bowl.
  • In another large mixing bowl, gently beat the eggs with the mayo, milk, salt, and pepper.
  • Cube the bread and measure it out into a large bowl.
  • In the baking dish, layer one-third of the bread cubes, the corn mixture, and the cheese mixture. Repeat this process twice and then pour the egg mixture over the strata. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or an entire day.
  • Set the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until puffed and golden brown on top.

Ross Pollack Tomatoes

Tomato Soup
Adapted from Ina Garten

Ingredients

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups chopped yellow onion (2 onions)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
4 cups chicken stock
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup orzo
1/2 cup heavy cream*

Tools

Large pot
Measuring spoons
Measuring cups
Chef’s knife
Cutting board
Wooden spoon
Small pot

  • Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  • Add the onions and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute.
  • Add the chicken stock, tomatoes, 1 tablespoon of salt, and 1 teaspoon of pepper and bring everything to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Fill a separate, smaller pot with water and 2 teaspoons of salt. Bring to a boil.
  • Add the orzo to the boiling water and cook for 7 minutes, then drain the orzo and add it to the soup.
  • Add the cream and simmer for 10 more minutes.

*If you want to give the soup a little extra love, Ina Garten recommends serving it with grilled cheese croutons 🙂

It’s All in the Pasta

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 1.06.14 PMAuthor Daphne Kingma suggests that we all have a signature strength, or a few, allowing for resilience during times of distress. She encourages her reader to get in touch with theirs, for example:

endurance
the ability to analyze things
the ability to look at life from an upside-down or inside-out point of view
the ability to organize and sequence things
the ability to see core truths
the ability to read energy and empathize

How about a deep and abiding love of good pasta? I remember a yoga teacher once saying that “focus is the opposite of depression,” key word being “focus” rather than “happiness” or “optimism,” words that tend to sound phony and inaccessible when you’re actually feeling depressed. But pasta? Pasta sounds delicious when you’re actually feeling depressed. And it takes focus to execute a tasty pasta dish. So, according to my logic, pasta equals the opposite of depression. Am I right?

Kingma articulates the significance of a “signature strength” in loftier terms:

“Just as your spinal cord runs all the way through your spine, there is a through-line of giftedness, a unique and powerful way of responding, that runs throughout your life. Certain things that were true of you at age seven, fourteen, and twenty-one are still true, no matter how much life may be rocking and rolling around you.”

If I really dig deep, there’s a through-line that involves pasta from the age of seven, and then at fourteen, and even at the age of twenty-one. Just recently I spent a long weekend visiting my parents and we made fettucini noodles by hand, something my dad used to do with my brothers and I when I was really little. This time we used a Kitchen Aid Mixer with the fancy attachments.

In recent years, I’ve experimented with various recipes for homemade macaroni and cheese — I’d vouch for both Martha Stewart’s recipe and Cristina Ferrare’s, sans truffle oil — and secretly I want to cook my way through Giada De Laurentiis’s Everyday Pasta, which I’ve owned for a few years. When I’m low on groceries, I like making her rotelli with walnut sauce, which makes a hearty and satisfying meal out of little more than parmesan, walnuts, milk or cream, butter, and olive oil. It’s rather like Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for sphagetti with cheese and black pepper which has been on my “must try” list for years. Okay, there’s another through-line that runs through my life as sure as my spinal cord, and it’s a deep and abiding love of CHEESE. Don’t tell anyone.

To me, Ina Garten’s recipe for pasta, pesto, and peas epitomizes late summer pasta eating at its finest — a balance of fresh, resourceful, and cheesy 🙂 In my opinion, since fettucini noodles are more filling and somehow more elevated than bowtie pasta or spaghetti, they pair well with the richly flavored and textured sauce. Homemade noodles are even better 🙂 When I cooked this meal with my parents, we used all 4 cups of pesto instead of the 1 1/2 cups listed. It turned out delicious.

Tools

Measuring cups
Liquid measuring cups
Food processor
Measuring spoons
Mixing bowls
Chef’s knife
Cutting board
Colander
Salad spinner
Paper towels
Small skillet
Spatula
Lemon juicer or fork
Cheese grater

Pasta with Pesto and Peas
Adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe

Ingredients, Pesto

Fettucini noodles, cooked according to package directions*
1/4 cup toasted walnuts
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
3 tablespoons minced garlic (9 cloves)
5 cups fresh basil leaves*
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 to 1 1/2 cups olive oil
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Asiago

Ingredients, Sauce

1 10 oz package frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/4 cups mayonnaise
1/2 cup Parmesan
1 1/2 cups frozen peas, defrosted
1/3 cup pine nuts. toasted
3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoons pepper

*If the fettucini noodles are homemade, cook for 3-4 minutes in boiling water, or until al dente.

*To clean the basil, place it in a colander and briefly run under cold tap water. Dry the basil in a salad spinner and remove any extra water by squeezing the basil between paper towels.

  • Get out all the ingredients, for both the pesto and the sauce. Measure out the ingredients for the pesto and place set everything out in mixing bowls. Toast the walnuts and the pine nuts together in small, dry skillet, until the nuts are fragrant and warm.
  • In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, process the nuts and the garlic for about 15 seconds. Add the basil, salt, and pepper and process until the basil is cut into small pieces. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed.
  • With the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil down the feed tube until the pesto has the consistency of a thick, liquidy purée. Add the Parmesan and purée until combined.
  • Squeeze the defrosted spinach with paper towels. Repeat this process until barely any water can be squeezed out. Squeeze and measure the lemon juice. Add the spinach and the lemon juice to the pesto in the food processor. Add the mayonnaise and pulse to combine.
  • Measure out the remaining ingredients for the sauce and have them ready. Once the pasta noodles are cooked, combine the noodles and the sauce in a big bowl. Sprinkle with the Parmesan, defrosted peas, toasted pine nuts, salt and pepper.

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 1.19.47 PM

%d bloggers like this: