Monday, May 25, 2015

Beet Salad with Orange and Pine Nuts

It’s baseball season. The time for hotdogs and beer. Nachos. Maybe even hot chocolate (hey, it’s San Francisco: more often than not, a night game when the fog rolls in requires hot chocolate, a hat and gloves, maybe even a blanket). I do not eschew such pleasures, especially in the summer. But to balance such indulgences, the regular days of my life need food that’s a little lighter, a bit more aware of its composition and construction, a fraction healthier. This is where Sarah Britton’s new cookbook, My New Roots steps in.

I’ll admit, this cookbook is not for everyone, what, with its “cheese” made from cashews, “bacon” made from coconut, “scallops” made from leeks, and “tuna” made from sunflower seeds. I avoid substitutions on principle (if I want tuna, I eat tuna; I don’t substitute it with sunflower seeds.  That said, I’ll admit, I plan to just put actual tuna atop her recipe for pan bagnat with dill, spring onions, capers, cucumber and sprouts because, lordy, that sandwich just looks so good in the book).

But don’t let the Britton’s substitution recipes stop you from snagging this pretty little book, for she also includes recipes for roasted red pepper walnut dip, oyster mushroom bisque apricot rhubarb clafoutis, cornmeal pancakes with gingered plum compote, fig and buckwheat breakfast tart (which has the prettiest picture in the whole book), and ginger-rosemary roasted grapefruit. I highly suspect that this book will prove handy as we try to eat through our weekly CSA box.

Which is precisely what we did when presented with two bunches of beets recently.

Earthy and acidic, this beet salad, which Britton entitled “Beet Party with Orange and Pine Nuts,” is quite delightful, for it has the elements of a satisfying dish (especially with a crumble of goat cheese across the top) and the fundamentals of sensible eating (no unidentifiable ingredients, which cannot be said of my ballgame hotdogs).

Britton also argues it has the rudiments of a palate-pleasing party with all of its textures and flavors, and I would have to agree. She adds raw beets to this salad, which added a pleasing crunch next to the chewy lentils and the velvety roasted beets.

Britton soaks the lentils overnight, which I generally don’t do; however, said pre-soaking shaved oodles of time off of this recipe, especially since I roasted the beets the night before as well. All that was left to do come dinnertime was to cook the lentils and to make the dressing. This recipe lasted a while, too, for what was last night’s dinner became today’s lunch. 

It’s one of those recipes from a book that that proves a necessity for the committed health-food eater and guarantees to be a fine addition to the cookbook shelf for those of us who like an occasional hotdog but then need to rebalance the basics.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.


Beet Salad with Orange and Pine Nuts

Serves 4

½ cup black lentils, soaked overnight, if possible
6 beets (about 2 pounds) *red, golden, Chioggia, white are all fine
¼ cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. orange juice
2 tsp. honey
Grated zest of 2 oranges
½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
¼ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
Salt and fresh pepper
4 ounces goat cheese, optional

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Wrap 4 beets in aluminum foil and put them on a baking sheet. Roast the beets until they are cooked, about 35-50 minutes depending on the size of the beets. Remove from the oven, let them sit in their foil for about 15 minutes, and when cool enough to handle, unwrap the foil and slide the skins off the beets. Chop the beets into bite-size pieces, and add them to a large bowl.

3. Drain and rinse the lentils, put them in a saucepan, and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until tender but not mushy, about 10-20 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Add them to the cooked beets.

4. With a vegetable peeler, peel the remaining 2 beets. Using a mandolin or a sharp knife, slice the beets into thin rounds. Then slice the rounds crosswise to make matchsticks. Add the raw beets to the lentils and roasted beets.

5. Whisk the olive oil, vinegar, orange juice, honey, and a pinch of salt together in a small bowl, and pour this over the salad. Add the orange zest, chopped parsley, pine nuts, and season with salt and pepper. If using the cheese, sprinkle it on at the very end, and do not mix (for the beets will stain the cheese pink).

Friday, May 15, 2015

Lentil Salad with Herbs

Last weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity to go to Portland to visit three schools and see their English programs. What a pleasure it is to see good teachers thinking about their craft and to see the intersections between programs. Even in May, the act of seeing wonderful people teach can be inspiring and I am brimming with ideas for my own teaching back here in California.

The only problem on this trip was that it was 80 degrees and sunny.

People, you know I could move to the Northwest for the coastal climate, and I did not sign up for Midwest summer weather in May. Apparently, as soon as I returned home to California, the Oregon weather was far more seasonable and regional--overcast and 60s. Oh, Oregon, why do you disappoint me with all your bright sun and cloudless blue skies?

Upon my return, I did some cooking, in part to prepare for the next installment of the CSA box. If anything, the hardest part about the CSA box is upping our daily vegetable intake in order to ensure that we don't leave any to waste from week to week. Thus, I pulled down Mark Bittman's ur-text on how to cook everything and put together this lentil salad. (On a side note, Bittman has a new book, A Bone to Pick, that is now on my "to-read" list.)  Bittman's reliable master recipe for beans became the basis for a much meddled with recipe for a simple lentil salad with (straight from the CSA box) herbs. This is a pretty loose recipe, so substitute what you have on hand.

I really like the concept of lentils, both historically as well as etymologically. Lucky for me, I also love the way they taste. I have already spoken about how the word lentil means from "lens" in Latin, which delights me to no end. But I also love that lentils are one of the world's first cultivated foods, probably from about 8,000-10,000 years ago in what is now Syria and Iraq. Pretty cool stuff in my book.

Bittman points out in his book that there are three basic kinds of lentils--Brown, Red, and Green. Let's take a moment to set up a primer on the differences between these three, shall we?

Brown--Your basic lentil, the one you see the most often at the grocery store. They holds their shape relatively well, so these lentils are great in salads but also in soups, and their flavor is kind of a mild, earthy one. These lentils cook up in about 20-30 minutes.
    • Varieties include Spanish Brown, German Brown, Indian Brown.
    • Black Beluga are also brown lentils, although their color appears quite dark (almost black even) and their size is adorably small.
Red--Their colors range from orange to gold with even some deeply-hued red ones, and they are most often split. The quick quickly (about 30 minutes) and they often fall apart or become mushy; thus, they are great in dal, curries, and stews where structure doesn't matter quite as much. These lentils are mild and a bit sweet.
    • Varieties include Red Chief, Petite Crimson, Petite Golden, and Sutter's Gold.  
    • They are also known by their Indian names: masoor (red lentils) or channa (yellow lentils).
Green--These are the most flavorful lentils, with a rich, peppery flavor. Like brown lentils, they hold their shape well, and thus are great in salads, too.  These take the longest to cook (about 45 minutes)
    • Varieties include French Green and Letilles du Puy (the most revered--and expensive--for its robust, earthy flavor).

I used brown lentils for this little salad, and green lentils would have been just as tasty. What I appreciate about Mark Bittman's recipe is that it is flexible and forgiving, and it is just the perfect vehicle for some of the fresh dill and arugula from the CSA box.

Now if only I can take this salad with me to a rainy, overcast Portland--well, then, all would be right in my world.


Lentil Salad with Herbs

6-8 Servings

2 cups dried lentils
1 bay leaf
3 parsley sprigs
1/2 onion wedge, split in half (in other words, two 1/4 wedges of onion)
2-4 Tbsp chopped shallot
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more to taste
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/2 cup chopped arugula
1/4 cup chopped chives
1/4 cup chopped dill
1 Tbsp chopped thyme

1.  Put the lentils, bay leaf, parsley sprigs, and onion wedge in a large, deep saucepan with water to cover. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  After 30 minutes, if lentils are tender and liquid is absorbed, the dish is ready. If lentils are not tender, add enough liquid to keep bottom of pot moist, cover and cook for a few more minutes. If lentils are soft and there is much liquid remaining (which is unlikely), raise heat a bit and cook, uncovered, stirring once or twice, until it evaporates. Discard bay leaves, parsley stems and onion wedges. 

2.  Stir the vinegar and shallot together in a large bowl.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir in the olive oil.

3.  Add the lentils to the bowl while they are still hot (they soak up the vinaigrette more if they're hot). Toss gently until the lentils are coated with dressing, adding more olive oil if you like.

4.  Let cool to room temperature (or refrigerate), stirring once or twice to distribute the dressing. 

5.  Stir in the parsley, arugula, chives, dill, and thyme just before serving, then taste and adjust the seasoning.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Wilted Mustard Greens and Prosciutto Rolls

Mustard greens are trying to ride the coattails of their kissing cousin, kale. As you know, kale has skyrocketed into popularity with kale chips, smoothies, even kale cakes. Bon Appetit declared this kale salad with lime dressing their best recipe of all of 2012, and in 2013 the first National Kale Day was declared (head's up: start steaming your kale for October 1, 2015). It appears there is nothing this brassica cannot do.

However, mustard greens want to sit at the cool kids table, too.

With a distinct and pungent horseradish bite, mustard greens may not be for everyone. However, with their cholesterol-lowering abilities and their purported cancer protection, mustard greens demand a second (and definitely a third) taste. While mustard greens are available year round, they are at their peak from January to April. Their brilliant green hue (although you can find some of the red or purple variety) adds a splash of color, which is a welcome addition in this Chez Panisse appetizer.

The combination of mustard greens with prosciutto is hardly a surprising one. I love a strong sausage with the bite of a tangy mustard. And I'll sign up for any winter greens with pork recipe out there. The bitterness of the greens pairs so perfectly with the smokiness of pork. Given that Alice Waters argues for local food, I don't feel guilty indulging in this merging of two flavors, for mustard greens are abundant around these here parts. Many vintners plant mustard throughout the rows of grape vines in a nod to the Spanish friars who established California's missions and spread mustard seeds as they went. Should you plan a February trip to wine country, you will be well rewarded with the stark barrenness of the vines outlined against the explosion of yellow mustard flowers. (See this almost improper display at Kelleher Family Vineyard in Oakville).

Greens wrapped in prosciutto make a fine and simple and peppery first course bite (and we all know how much I love morsels). Do choose smaller leaves, as they are more tender and the most mild; but in a pinch, the larger leaves will do, especially if you want even more of a peppery shot. No need to worry about variety--for mustard greens boast a whole host from fine to curly, jagged to smooth. Just choose the ones you think are the prettiest or the freshest. Like spinach, mustard greens tend to hold onto soil and sand, so a good wash is always in order.

So, welcome the mustard green to your table, you cool kid. Kale needs a buddy, too. (Alright, if you must, you can substitute kale or any other winter green for the mustard greens below, but that's on your head.) The only problem we had with this appetizer, which was exceptionally quick to make, was to not eat all of them in one bite.

Wilted Mustard Greens and Prosciutto Rolls
Adapted from  Chez Panisse Vegetables

Serves 4-6

2 bunches mustard greens (or chard, escarole or kale)
1/4 cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Red pepper flakes
1-2 Tbsp Red wine vinegar
Salt and Pepper
12 thin slices prosciutto (about 1/4 pound)

1.  Remove the stems from the mustard greens, wash the leaves, and drain them. Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan and add the garlic.  Let it sizzle for an instant; then add the greens. Cook, covered, for about 5 minutes, until the greens are tender.  Let them cool, season with a pinch of red pepper flakes, the vinegear, salt and pepper, and more olive oil, if necessary, to moisten them. Taste and adjust any seasonings. Cool and then chop the mixture coarsely.

2. To make the appetizer rolls:  Lay the prosciutto slices out on a flat surface and cut them in half vertically. Place a small ball of the greens on each piece of prosciutto and roll the greens up inside. Serve at room temperature or cool. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Seven Spoon's Chocolate Chip Cookies

I'll admit, I am late to the bandwagon of Seven Spoons. Tara O'Brady's blog, however, has been leading the food blog parade for years, given that she started hers a decade ago! In 2005. Whoa. Finally, she has her very own cookbook to accompany what is a beautifully presented and a longstanding collection of musings on food and its connection to her world centered in Ontario, Canada.

Her book, published just last week, is oddly calming. Perhaps it is her dreamy photographs or maybe it's just the sense that you always be able to find something tasty to eat. I love a cookbook that includes a breakfast section, mostly because my trusted first meal is generally a smoothie of greens, almond milk, flax seeds, and some sort of fruit. While a trusty way to fill up in the mornings (especially if I am running a little late, which--let's face it--is almost every day), these smoothies are a let down on a Sunday morning when one has time to linger. Watch out Blackberry Buttermilk Whole Grain Scones. You will be mine once the summer blackberries are bursting.

Further, she has lovely lunches that can easily be beefed up for dinner (or supper or whatever your particular regionalism calls that final meal of the day) and suppers that can be pared down for lunches. And most delightfully, she rounds out the book with a couple of libations, including Rhubarb Rose Gimlet and Lime Ginger Ale. This cookbook assures me that I am in good hands.

Thus, I turned to that most comforting and guaranteed of cookies, the chocolate chip, to give the cookbook a real whirl. If you can make a good chocolate chip cookie, you can make all true and right with the world.

Turns out that the secret to making the world stand at a moral attention is salt.

(Sorry for that "stand at a moral attention" line. I have been reading The Great Gatsby.)

I did make a few adjustments. O'Brady calls for 12 ounces of chopped chocolate--she states that she prefers the spread that chopped chocolate can bring rather than the tight mounds of chocolate found in chips (due to stabilizers in the chips). I had a bag of 10 ounce chopped chocolate chunks, and I found that was more than enough, and, people, I like my chocolate.

I also added a pinch of salt again after the cookies came out of the oven, and that has made all the difference.

(And sorry there for that little Robert Frost nod. Clearly, we're at the end of the school year.)

Finally, a little secret: O'Brady suggests making only part of the batch and saving the remainder in the freezer. Whenever you need a cookie (or a dozen), take the dough out and bake at 330 degrees until golden brown (which might be a little longer than the normal 10-12 minutes). 

Now that's a cookie I can embrace.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Seven Spoon's Basic, Great Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

1 cup butter (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chopped
3 1/2 cups (415 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups (320 grams) packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
10 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1.  Preheat the oven to 360 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

2.  In a medium saucepan, melt the butter, ensuring that you do not bring it to a boil (so that you lose as little moisture as possible). 

3.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

4.  Pour the melted butter into a large bowl.  Whisk in the brown sugar and the white sugar. (O'Brady cautions that the mixture may look like it will seize; just keep stirring, for it will relax.)

5.  Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking briskly to combine. Stir in the vanilla.

6.  Using a wooden spoon, stir in the dry ingredients until they are mostly blended. Then stir in the chocolate, folding until all of the dry ingredients are completely incorporated.

7.  If the dough looks glossy or is too warm to easily shape into balls, refrigerate for 5 minutes.  Scoop out approximately 3 tablespoons of dough and roll into balls. Arrange on the baking sheets, leaving about 3 inches between each cookie. Sprinkle with sea salt.

8.  Bake until the tops are cracked and light golden, about 10-12 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. Pull from the oven, leave the cookies on the sheet for 2 more minutes, then lift them gently with a spatula to a wire rack in order to cool. Continue shaping and baking the remaining cookies.

9.  Once cool, add another pinch of salt if desired and serve.  Cookies will keep in a covered container for about a week.