Fish En Papillote

Fish en papillote or "fish steamed in a packet" is the perfect healthy weeknight-dinner-in-a-flash or prepare-ahead-presentation to amaze your fancy friends dish. I also love it because, like most of my techniques and formulas, it is versatile and can be completed with various types of fish and whatever vegetables, citrus and seasonings I have on hand or feel like using. It works in all seasons - just vary the contents. Spices and fats are optional. So versatile, in fact, everyone in the family can make a personalized version suited to his or her exact tastes and preferences. Last but definitely not least, it conveniently uses up that opened bottle of white wine hanging out in the fridge that no one is ever going to drink.

The amounts listed are for 1 serving or 1 papillote pouch. You can easily multiply to provide as many servings as you need, plus an extra for tomorrow's lunch. This provides a meal unto itself, but also pairs well with additional roasted, steamed or sautéed vegetables, roasted potatoes or steamed rice.

What you need:

  • 3-5 oz fish fillet (cod, arctic char, salmon, monkfish, trout are all good choices)*
  • 1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil or melted butter, optional
  • 2-3 pinches sea salt or kosher salt
  • ground spices, such as black pepper, cumin, cayenne, garlic powder, crushed red pepper flakes, optional
  • 1-2 tablespoons liquid. I prefer a dry white wine, but beer, broth and even water do the trick.
  • 1/4 cup finely sliced or diced vegetables. Use what you have on hand. Carrot, zucchini, bell pepper, cabbage, jalapeño, brussel sprout, and sweet potato are all great.
  • 1 slice of lemon, orange or lime
  • parchment paper cut into large "hearts"

How to prepare the parchment for papillote:

*Note on fish selection: Where you live will determine the best fish choices for you, for freshness and sustainability. Check out this resource by Oceana and Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch for a guide on selecting fish. You can choose printable pocket guides that are specific to your region or download their nifty phone app.

What you do:

Note that fish cooked en papillote will cook faster than if you are roasting fish outside of parchment. The steam trapped inside the papillotte is hotter than your oven and will cook fish faster.

Vegetarian Dolmas: Grape Leaves Stuffed with Spiced Lentils and Rice

Wrapped and rolled foods are the ultimate kids-in-the-kitchen activity. After preparing all of the components, allow kids to help combine the filling. Then enlist their support to do all of the wrapping and rolling. After a brief demonstration, some coaching and practice, you can probably even walk away and allow your little one to complete the job.  Share this instructional video provided by 6-year-old Emory with your child.

Vegetarian Dolmas: Grape Leaves Stuffed with Spiced Lentils and Rice

Dolmas or stuffed grape leaves are often made with a combination of gently spiced ground lamb and rice. We make a savory and satisfying plant-based version using french lentils. I also choose brown basmati rice for additional fiber, nutrients and texture. Omit the honey entirely or substitute agave nectar to make this recipe suitable for vegans.

Yield: approximately 3 dozen

 I generally use jarred grape leaves. They work just fine but, of course, if you are on the west coast or are fortunate enough to have access to fresh grape leaves when they are in season, use them. Just soak fresh leaves in hot water while you prepare the filling. 

I generally use jarred grape leaves. They work just fine but, of course, if you are on the west coast or are fortunate enough to have access to fresh grape leaves when they are in season, use them. Just soak fresh leaves in hot water while you prepare the filling. 

What you need:

Grape leaves:

  • ½ pound fresh grape leaves, soaked in hot water or 1 pound jar preserved grape leaves, rinsed and drained well, picked through with broken or ripped leaves reserved for lining the bottom of the pot

Rice:

  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ½ cup long grain brown rice
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup mint leaves, minced
  • 4 scallions, minced
  • ¼ cup pine nuts, chopped
  • ¼ cup currants
 Line the bottom of the stock pot with grape leaves to prevent your dolmas from burning or browning. Use the broken or torn leaves.

Line the bottom of the stock pot with grape leaves to prevent your dolmas from burning or browning. Use the broken or torn leaves.

Lentils:

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, small dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¾ cup cooked lentils (dark brown, green, or beluga)
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon allspice
  • 1 tablespoon dried mint (or one mint tea packet)

Simmering Liquid:

  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons honey (omit or agave for vegan)
  • 1 cup water or vegetable broth
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
 Roll tightly, but gently, so as not to tear the leaves, pushing in the sides as you go. Walk away, and let the kids do all the rolling while you do the dishes...or take a nap.

Roll tightly, but gently, so as not to tear the leaves, pushing in the sides as you go. Walk away, and let the kids do all the rolling while you do the dishes...or take a nap.

What you do:

  1. Bring 2 quarts (8 cups) water to a boil. Add cinnamon stick, rice and ¼ teaspoon salt. Reduce to a rolling boil and cook 20 minutes or until just tender. Drain and rinse in cold water.
  2. Combine cooked rice with fresh mint, scallions, pine nuts, and currants.
  3. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. When it shimmers, add onion and a pinch of salt. When onion is soft, add garlic and sauté 1 minute. Add lentils, nutmeg, cinnamon, cumin, oregano, allspice, and dried mint/tea. Combine with rice mixture. Allow to cool slightly.
  4. Set aside the 36 best leaves for stuffing. Line the bottom of a heavy stock pot with the remaining leaves. Stuff each with about 1 to 2 teaspoons of rice/lentil mixture. Place leaf smooth side down, with stem close to you. Trim long or thick stems. Fold stem end over rice and hold in place. Fold in sides and roll away from you. Use any broken leaves for lining the bottom of the pot. Arrange dolmas (stuffed leaves) snugly in the pot, in layers if needed.
  5. In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, honey or agave, water or stock, salt and pepper. Pour this mixture over the leaves, cover with a plate to hold dolmas down.
  6. Cover, bring to a simmer, and cook 1 1/2 hours, basting occasionally.
Note: Use the "pasta method" for cooking the rice used in dolmas. Rather than steaming rice with an exact ratio of water, you will boil the rice in a large pot of salted water until al denté and then drain. You could certainly use leftover rice that was made using the standard rice cooking method but the texture may be slightly mushy in the grape leaves.
Tip 1: The simmering liquid makes a delicious soup or broth after the dolmas are done simmering in it. Use it to store dolmas in the fridge up to one week, drink it or serve as soup!
Tip 2: When I don't have fresh mint available, I just increase the amount of dried mint used. Just add all of the dried mint together to the lentil mixture to sauté before adding to the rice. I've also successfully substituted chives for the scallions in a pinch.

Shopping in your Freezer

 Miso Ramen Noodle Soup with Broccoli, Edamame and Jalapeno

Miso Ramen Noodle Soup with Broccoli, Edamame and Jalapeno

Every once in a while, I attempt to dig out my freezer and use up all of its contents, to save $ at the grocery store and free up space for new creations and the bounties I'm anticipating from local crops. It's my version of spring cleaning, aptly named using a term coined by my Grammie. She routinely bears gifts of clothing, fabric and housewares. When asked if she's been shopping, she says, "oh yes, shopping in my closet!" 

I've been sharing some of my recent mouth-watering creations out of goods I found stashed in my freezer, which prompted many of you to ask, how big is your freezer? How do I get that out of my freezer?

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So, in response...

...my freezer is pretty standard. I live in a Brooklyn apartment, after all.

...here's a list of my tips for finding ingredients and inspiration in your own freezer. Armed with these, you too can make a quick meal, prevent waste and avoid the grocery store, but you might also discover a new family favorite, test your culinary muscles and make something out of the ordinary.

  1. Organize it. Occasionally, take everything out of the freezer and sort it, consolidate similar items and return them to the freezer in an organized fashion. For example, put all animal proteins in one corner, vegetables in another, and stack ready-made meals, like soups and stews together. I also use a narrow bin for lining up my purées and sauces in their liquid storage bags (I use re-purposed breast milk storage bags I have in excess).

  2. Choose wisely. Either randomly select two items, such as one protein and one vegetable to give yourself a challenge or choose two to three items you know go together well (more on that later). Better yet, have your partner, child, roommate, or sister that you're texting, choose the items for you. Set those chosen items in the fridge or out to thaw. Now you're stuck with those, Chopped style. So make it work.

  3. Use formulas. Refer to a list of go-to recipe templates. The types of recipes I'm talking about are best described as "plug and play". Think of general recipes that have a base, a procedure you are familiar with, and a few interchangeable components. My templates include pasta dishes, soup, stew, muffins, quiche, pizza, risotto, grain bowls, pot pie, or stir fry.

  4. Brainstorm flavor combinations. Determine which ingredients and flavors go together. Did you just take peas and ground turkey from the freezer? So ask yourself, what else do I make with peas or what spices and vegetables were in that poultry dish from my favorite restaurant? Or conduct a quick internet search for recipes by ingredient. One resource I love for brainstorming flavor and ingredient combinations is the Flavor Bible. A dear friend gave me this book years ago and I still reference it weekly. Just learned that there is a Vegetarian Flavor Bible now too.

  5. Ignore measurements. It does not matter if the package is half full, or if you don't have as much sauce as you usually use. It's not an exact science. Just add more or less liquid or crunch as needed.

  6. Set a time limit. Again, Chopped style. If you limit how much time you have to either think about what you are going to make with the freezer finds or actually cook dinner or both, you will force your creative side without losing too much time.

  7. Re-purpose freezer finds. Turn something you don't like into something you love or that the kids and picky eaters of the world will eat. Change the texture and overall structure of the ingredient. For example, I had a purée of steamed sweet potatoes, apples and carrots that the baby suddenly turned his nose up at (after liking it for a few months). That purée just became the star ingredient in my famous sweet potato waffles. And all the rejected old bread ends that will never qualify for a BLT or PB&J make beautiful garlicky croutons for a panzanella salad.

  8. Allow yourself an out. You do not have to eat your failures. If it is truly terrible, you can toss it, compost it or feed it to the dog. It's okay, you shopped in your freezer and you gave it a try. Or you might even re-purpose it to another step. We made a risotto out of crab meat, sofrito and peas. It was just okay, and there was a lot remaining, so rather than force ourselves to eat the leftovers, I thought, why not mix in some cheese, roll into balls and pan fry for arancini magic!

And many of you want to know, how do I get all of these things into my freezer to begin with? That's a topic for another day or series of posts. Stay tuned and in the meantime, see here for my chowder freezing tip.

Vegan Winter Chili

In case we weren't sure, mother nature reminded us with a swift kick that it is still winter for a couple more weeks. So warm up with a batch of hearty vegan winter chili.

This vegan chili even satisfies my carnivore husband. If you use enough of the right blend of spices, and bloom those fully in oil, your meat lovers will get the same unctous flavor they expect from traditional chili. However, I also have a trick for making both a beef chili and meatless batch at the same time. Just cook the beef in a separate skillet with spices, while making the vegan chili in a large pot. Once all vegan ingredients are added to the pot, remove a few cupfuls and add to the beef in its separate skillet. Continue cooking both over low heat until the vegetables are cooked through.

The recipe below is for my Vegan Winter Chili. In late summer I will exchange the sweet potatoes and perhaps the carrots for bell peppers of various colors, zucchini and yellow summer squash. My summer chili also utilizes very ripe fresh tomatoes instead of or in combination with canned. Now I'm anxious for August and you can expect a Vegan Summer Chili recipe from me then.

Before the recipe, here are some tips.

 Cut vegetables into a small dice to ensure quicker cooking, even distribution in each spoonful of chili, and to make them more appealing to picky eaters.

Cut vegetables into a small dice to ensure quicker cooking, even distribution in each spoonful of chili, and to make them more appealing to picky eaters.

 To cut vegetables into a small dice, first cut 1/4 inch thick planks, then strips, then cubes. (see steps from left to right above)

To cut vegetables into a small dice, first cut 1/4 inch thick planks, then strips, then cubes. (see steps from left to right above)

 Sauté onions until they are soft before adding garlic, then spices, followed by other ingredients. If you add garlic or spices too soon, they may burn or you risk not cooking onion thoroughly.

Sauté onions until they are soft before adding garlic, then spices, followed by other ingredients. If you add garlic or spices too soon, they may burn or you risk not cooking onion thoroughly.

 "Bloom" or sauté spices in oil first to awaken their flavor compounds and infuse flavor throughout the chili through the cooking oil.

"Bloom" or sauté spices in oil first to awaken their flavor compounds and infuse flavor throughout the chili through the cooking oil.

What you need:

Note: In this recipe post, I have not provided a photo of all of the ingredients. I even hesitate to give you an ingredients list for this and other stews and soups because the quantities and specific ingredients listed below are merely suggestions. Add more of the ingredients you love, less of those you just want a taste of and add as much liquid to get the consistency you desire. Personally, I add a lot more heat than most, but this recipe as written is at a moderate heat level.

Yield: Makes about 10 cups, or 6-8 servings

 The combinations and amounts of ingredients are up to you. Add other vegetables you have on hand, swap out for different varieties of beans, amp up the heat with more jalapeños or spicier pepper varieties, or tone it down. Reduce liquid for thicker chili.

The combinations and amounts of ingredients are up to you. Add other vegetables you have on hand, swap out for different varieties of beans, amp up the heat with more jalapeños or spicier pepper varieties, or tone it down. Reduce liquid for thicker chili.

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large red onion, diced
  • sea salt or kosher salt
  • 3-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground chipotle chili flakes
  • ~5 cups home-cooked or canned, drained and rinsed, beans. My favorite is a combination of black beans and cranberry or pinto beans.
  • 1 28oz can diced tomatoes, liquid included
  • 2 large carrots, small dice
  • 1-2 cups water
  • 1 medium sweet potato, small dice
  • 1-2 jalapeños, sliced, optional

What you do:

  1.  Heat a large sauce pot over medium heat. Add oil.
  2. When the oil is shimmering, add the onion and a pinch of salt.
  3. Once the onion has softened, add the garlic and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring often for about 1 minute, careful not to burn.
  4. Add the spices and a little more oil if pot is dry. Stir into a paste and cook for 30 - 60 seconds.
  5. Add the beans, tomatoes, carrots and ~1 cup of water. I usually rinse the tomato can and use this water to get all of the tomato into the chili. I learned that trick from my mom, who I've watched make Italian tomato sauce for nearly 4 decades now.
  6. Once the carrots are partially cooked (about 15 minutes), add the sweet potatoes and jalapeños, if using. Add water if needed. Cook on medium low, until carrots and sweet potatoes are tender, (about 1 hour) partially covered. You can simmer on lowest setting for an additional 2-3 hours to further reduce and develop flavors. If you need to continue simmering when chili is already fully reduced, keep on lowest setting and cover with a tight fitting lid. You can also add more water at this point if needed.
 To serve, top with additional slices of fresh jalapeño, cilantro leaves, lime wedges, and sliced avocado. You can set up a bar with various toppings for eaters to add, including tortilla chips, chopped red onion, cheese and yogurt/sour cream. Everyone likes to enjoy chili their own way!

To serve, top with additional slices of fresh jalapeño, cilantro leaves, lime wedges, and sliced avocado. You can set up a bar with various toppings for eaters to add, including tortilla chips, chopped red onion, cheese and yogurt/sour cream. Everyone likes to enjoy chili their own way!

Lemon Ricotta Blueberry Pancakes

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Our family honors Pancake Saturday. My older son has even created a song and dance to celebrate it. With a little extra time on the weekends to prepare and enjoy breakfast, and because we're all in need of a sweet treat at the end of the week, pancakes are perfect. This is also a great dish for kid kitchen assistants. My little helper measures ingredients, cracks eggs, and mixes, while repeating the mantra "we never over mix the batter." Don't over mix your pancake batter.

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To save yourself even a little bit of time and a lot of mess when making weekly pancakes, mix your dry ingredients (flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt) in a large batch and store in the pantry. If you are like me and use multiple flours (I like a blend of whole wheat all purpose, white AP and cornmeal for most of my pancakes), this will allow you to just take one canister out of the pantry instead of 3 or 4! Now you have absolutely no reason to buy that packaged stuff. PLEASE don't buy that packaged stuff anymore.

We make a variety of pancakes but a favorite go to for their classic Italian origin and to help fatten up our skinny baby is Lemon Ricotta. While visiting my sister last week, I was inspired to make these after cleaning out her fridge and finding a pound of ricotta cheese and fresh local Florida blueberries. In return, she documented the finished stack you see above. It's nice to have a professional photographer for a sister.

These lemon ricotta pancakes are fluffy and creamy all at once. I adapted the recipe from a few sources, but mostly from Cooking Classy.

Makes ~8 6-inch pancakes

What You Need:

  • 1 1/2 cups flour (I like a 50/50 blend of white AP and whole wheat AP flour)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for brushing the pan
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup ricotta
  • zest and juice of 1 large lemon
  • 1 pint fresh blueberries, rinse and drained

What you do:

1. Whisk together the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt. Or if you have premixed your dry ingredients, measure out 1 3/4 cups dry ingredients and add to a large bowl.

2. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the 2 tablespoons butter and melt gently.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, ricotta, milk, lemon zest and lemon juice, It may curdle a little bit, but that is okay. You also do not need to break up all pieces of ricotta. It's nice to bite into that creaminess in the pancakes.

4. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Add the 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Stir a few times with a spatula just to combine. Do not over mix.

5. Reheat the skillet over medium high heat. Brush with more butter if needed. Drop 1/2 cup of batter onto the hot pan and top with a handful of blueberries. Flip after 2-3 minutes or when you see bubbles on top and edges are lightly browned. Cook another 2-3 minutes.

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Perfect Soft Boiled Eggs

There's no mistake. Poached eggs are heavenly. Who doesn't love lazily rolling out of bed on a Sunday and strolling to brunch for a hash or hollandaise-smothered dish with a perfectly runny, bright yellow poached egg on top? But soft boiled eggs are so much more... practical. And I appreciate the practical. While poached eggs are cooked one at time in a carefully watched barely simmering pot of water, soft boiled eggs can be made by the dozen, left bubbling away on the stove, monitored by a timer, cooled, and stored for a week's worth of breakfasts on the go. If you're hosting brunch, this is a smarter option for advanced preparation. And those soft boiled eggs are easily transported as compared to their delicate poached cousins.

What you do:

For soft boiled perfection every time, follow these 6 simple steps. All you need to remember is 6 minutes. Do this just once a week for daily enjoyment.

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Peel and enjoy soft boiled eggs immediately on your favorite benedict, with a toasted bagel or over a hash like my Spicy Root Vegetable and Sausage Hash (pictured below). Store any remaining soft boiled eggs in their shells in the fridge (this makes them sturdier and prevents breaking when transporting in your lunch box). Make at least a half dozen at once so you have soft boiled eggs to add to kale salad, caesar dressing, roasted veggies, and avocado toast throughout the week.

All Hail the Stale

Make your own Breadcrumbs

When life gives you stale bread, you take that brick and turn it into breadcrumbs. Did you know that a canister of store-bought breadcrumbs contains approximately 40 different ingredients, many unpronounceable? And those sawdust particles are rarely ever made from whole grains. Compare that to just 5 or 6 ingredients found in breadcrumbs made from a loaf of your favorite local bakery or home-baked bread. Why? It's all about the shelf life - how long can that canister sit in a warehouse, 18-wheeler, grocery store, and your pantry? With those ingredients, likely through the next nuclear winter. You don't need that, though. Do you?

So make your own. They won't survive nuclear winter, but they will last at least a month or more in an airtight glass jar. It's so simple and you will feel so satisfied knowing you spared a dried out loaf from the garbage chute and now have a wholesome ingredient on hand. And your friends might refer to you as Martha Stewart. Wait, don't let that be the reason you don't try this at home. Please try this at home.

 


How to use them:

There are so many uses for homemade breadcrumbs. Here's just a few. Please share yours and I'll add to this list.

  • veggie burgers (black bean, lentil walnut, kasha potato, the list goes on and on)
  • stuffed mushrooms
  • breading or coating for croquettes
  • meatballs of all varieties (note that if you are mimicking the "Italian style" breadcrumbs used in classic meatballs, you will want to add a little dried parsley, oregano, basil and a pinch or two of salt)
  • crunchy topping for a casserole like my pasta, cauliflower and cheese bake (recipe coming soon) or my vegan green been casserole
  • to add texture to a salad or grain bowl
  • as an alternative to croutons in caesar salad or this roasted romanesco with lemony anchovy dressing

2 notes for the gluten free crowd:

1. The above procedure might be a lifesaver for you. Now you can make your own gluten free bread crumbs with your favorite gluten free bread or crackers and save yourself the trouble and expense of finding rare packaged gluten free breadcrumbs.

2. There are gluten free substitutes for the uses of breadcrumbs I listed here. Stay tuned for some recipes and techniques coming soon. First up: my gluten free alteration of a family classic stuffed mushroom recipe.

What you do:

Variations on Hummus

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Stop rolling up to the school potluck with a store-bought tub of ordinary hummus and some crunchy carbs for dipping. Hummus is simple to make from scratch. And it does not need to be boring. You can add spices, change up the acid and even hide some vegetables in it. Here's a straightforward formula followed by various modern spins, including a colorful roasted beet hummus you can spread on your kids' sandwiches. My sweet potato black bean variation below is exactly what your Superbowl party ordered. Bonus: these spreads make great baby food too, especially to pack a smooth high protein punch for a little peanut like mine who needs to pack on some pounds.

Basic Hummus Formula

Makes about 1½ cups

What you need:

  • 1-2 cloves of garlic

  • 1 1/2 - 2 cups cooked legumes (chickpeas, black beans, white beans, lentils, etc.)

  • 1-3 Tablespoons tahini

  • 1/4 cup oil (olive, canola, avocado, etc.)

  • 1-2 Tablespoons acid (lemon juice, lime juice, apple cider vinegar, etc.)

  • salt & pepper to taste

  • 1/2 - 1 cup cooked vegetables (optional)

  • 1-3 teaspoons ground toasted spices (optional)

What you do:

Simply put all ingredients (except the acid, spices and salt) into a food processor and purée until smooth. Taste and add acid, spices, and salt gradually to get desired texture and taste. You can always add more salt, acid and liquid but it is difficult to take it away or add more of all of the other ingredients if you go overboard on, say, the lemon juice and cayenne. If your spread is too thick, add more acid (lemon juice, vinegar, etc.) or plain old H2O if you want to thin it without altering the taste too much.

Note on beans: When using canned beans, I drain them and rinse off the liquid first to get rid of any extra salt or any taste imparted by the canning process. You can also easily cook your own beans. More on that in a future post.

Try these variations:

  • Add a roasted beet and toasted ground cumin, cinnamon and cloves. You could also follow my recipe for Roasted Beet Hummus.

  • Substitute a sweet potato for the beet and roast without foil. Use cumin, cayenne, dried ground chipotle and/or smoked paprika for the spices. Substitute black beans or stick with the chickpeas.

  • Instead of beet or sweet potato, use ½ cup of any cooked vegetable (skins removed, roasted, grilled, or steamed), such as broccoli, red bell peppers, carrots, or squash.

  • Add ½ cup of prepared pesto and decrease the olive oil to 2 tablespoons.

  • Use lime juice, apple cider vinegar, sherry vinegar or white wine vinegar in place of the lemon juice.

  • Add an entire head of garlic roasted in olive oil. Decrease the olive oil to 2 tablespoons. Use chickpeas or substitute navy or cannellini beans.

Roasted Romanesco with Lemony Anchovy Dressing & Garlic Herb Croutons

This recipe was born out of a plan to make kale caesar salad that took a turn when I realized my fridge did not actually contain kale. Armed with a can of anchovies, a lemon, and herb garlic butter from my freezer, I was determined and craving caesar salad. That’s when I discovered a head of romanesco. So I married my simply roasted romanesco with the components of caesar salad and got this delightful result. Warm and toasty, it’s a more satisfying dish, particularly in the winter, and you'll appreciate the caramelized sweetness of the roasted garlic cloves.

Make for an easy and healthy, vegetable forward weeknight dinner, perfect for the busy holiday season. It serves two as a main dish or 4-6 as a side or appetizer.

Note: You may choose to whisk a runny egg yolk into the dressing, as in a traditional caesar, but I’ve made it with and without the yolk, and didn’t find much difference, so save yourself the step or top your finished dish with a soft boiled or poached egg.

Here's what you need:

  • 1 head romanesco (if unavailable, this will be equally delicious with cauliflower)
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • Kosher salt
  • ¼ - ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 2-oz can anchovies in olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • ¼ cup grated romano cheese (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • ¼ cup toasted garlic herb breadcrumbs or croutons

Here's what you do:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Remove the stem and leaves from the head of romanesco and discard. Slice the head of romanesco into 1 inch planks. It’s okay if florets fall from the core. You’re not looking for romanesco “steaks” but rather just attempting to use as much of the romanesco as possible, including its core. You should have a mix of planks or “steaks” and florets.

Toss the romanesco and garlic cloves with 2 Tablespoons of the olive oil, a few pinches of kosher salt and the crushed red pepper flakes and spread out onto a sheet pan.

Roast for 30-35 minutes or until browned, turning occasionally.

While the romanesco is roasting, make your dressing. Zest the lemon and set it aside. Squeeze the juice into a large wooden bowl.

Roughly chop the anchovies. Set aside a portion, approximately 1 fillet per person. Add the remaining chopped anchovies and oil from the anchovy can to the wooden bowl. Add the dijon mustard and ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Using the back of a wooden spoon, mash the anchovies into the lemon juice and dijon until well incorporated. Add more freshly ground black pepper to taste and olive oil to thicken if needed.

Remove roasted romanesco from the oven, drizzle and brush about half of the dressing onto the romanesco. Return to oven and roast an additional 5-10 minutes.

Add the lemon zest and cheese (if using) to the bowl with the remaining dressing.

Toss the roasted romanesco and garlic cloves with the remaining dressing. Serve topped with reserved anchovy pieces, chopped parsley, and toasted bread crumbs or garlic herb croutons.

To make toasted bread crumbs, I took about 1 tablespoon of herb garlic butter from my freezer stash (didn’t even defrost it first) and added to a hot pan. Once it started to melt, I added about ¼ cup of breadcrumbs and sautéed on medium heat, stirring constantly, until toasted.


Romanesco, which also goes by Romanesco Cauliflower or Roman Broccoli is a member of the Brassica family of vegetables, resembling both a cauliflower and broccoli in appearance, taste and texture, but it is unique with its bright green hue and spiked geometric pattern of florets. When cooked, it has an even nuttier flavor than its cousins. Like its cousins in the Brassica family, it is high in Vitamin C, Vitamin K and dietary fiber, so eat up!

Possibilities for Fresh Pumpkin Puree

Don't get me wrong. I love pumpkin puree in any form I can get it any time I can get it, including the canned stuff. However, American supermarkets have it all wrong. Those aluminum pyramids of mashed orange pulp should be displayed in March, not November. Why, at the height of harvest, would I eat last year’s (at best) pumpkin packed into a can when I can eat this week’s pumpkin fresh from the oven? Furthermore, what else are we going to do with the pumpkins we bought at Halloween and had every intention of turning into jack-o-lanterns? This works for those actually turned into jack-o-lanterns, but please don't smash your beautiful untouched mounds of flavor that could be transformed into good eats.

Making homemade pumpkin puree is so simple. Here's what you do:

Note: This method works for all types of pumpkin and squash. I find sugar or pie pumpkins are as their names suggest and work best for breads and pies, but try other squashes, such as kabocha, acorn, butternut, and delicata for all of these recipe suggestions. You can freeze any unused portion.

Now, what to do with all that pumpkin puree?

The possibilities are endless. But for now, here are 13 ideas and one fabulous recipe for Vegan Pumpkin Flax Bread. It is my every intention to gradually fill in the remainder of these pumpkin recipes over the life of this blog, as well as add another 13 uses for fresh pumpkin puree.

  • Bread
  • Pie
  • Soup
  • Cream cheese
  • Ravioli or manicotti filling or layered into lasagna
  • Pureed side dish with spices
  • Blended with other fruits and vegetables for baby food
  • Oatmeal, porridge or overnight oats
  • Whoopie Pies or cookies
  • Baked custards
  • Bread pudding
  • Hummus
  • Risotto

Radishes 5 Ways

Recently, I've found myself answering lots of questions -- from cooking class students, fellow CSA members, and other parents -- about radishes. So I'm delivering on an overdue recipe post promise. These tightly packed peppery spheres produce passion. Previously, I was passionately opposed to radishes, which caused me to diligently leave bunches on a certain colleague's desk (you know who you are), but then I discovered how to prepare them. At this point, we generally only make them one way, because this is how a certain 5-year-old (he knows who he is) will have it. Pickled. Which, when mentioned in my house, will provoke a high-pitched squeal and the "yummy dance." I get it. But I feel like I'm cheating for my older son's vegetable appreciation because they are probably the easiest thing I make for him.

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Here's what you need:

  • 1 bunch of radishes
  • 1 cup or so rice wine vinegar
  • 1 scant teaspoon of honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
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Here's what you do:

One bunch of radishes usually fills a half pint jar. Use this jar to measure out the vinegar, about three-fourths full. Put that in a small pot and heat it with the honey just until the honey dissolves. While this is heating, thinly slice your radishes and pack them into your jar with the spices. Pour hot liquid over the top. Put cover on and refrigerate. These are best after one day but can be eaten in one hour or kept for weeks. I've never processed them to be shelf stable because the aforementioned 5-year-old eats the entire jar in 3 days. Warning: they smell a little funky, but taste delicious and are a great addition to toast smeared with chickpea or fresh green pea hummus, or a salad, sandwich or taco.

Maybe you're not so into pickles? Try these other great applications for your radishes.

Butter Braised: Scrub radishes, remove stems and tips. Cut into quarters. Put in a small pan and cover by an inch with water. Add a few pinches of salt. On medium-high heat, cook until nearly tender and water is mostly absorbed, adding more water if needed. Add about 3 tablespoons butter for each bunch of radishes, and cook stirring frequently until radishes are tender and slightly browned. When you add butter, you can also add your choice or dried spices or finish the dish with chopped fresh chives or parsley.

Roasted: Add cleaned, trimmed and quartered or whole radishes to a roasting pan with chicken and onions. Occasionally toss the radishes with the chicken drippings.

Potato Hash: Add diced radishes to your hash along with other root vegetables. Top with runny eggs.

Slaw: Shred or julienne radishes and combined with shredded cabbage, carrots and/or cucumbers and dress with a light citrus vinaigrette.

Tip: for stable cutting of a radish or other vegetable with a rounded edge, slice off a tiny piece on one side to create a flat surface for your sphere to rest on your cutting board.

Presto Pesto

Pesto is a comforting stand by, a loyal friend that rarely lets you down. Here are 5 reasons I love to produce pesto:

  1. You can assemble it in a matter of minutes.
  2. You don't need a recipe or any specific ingredients. See below for the "formula" and suggested combinations. It's a great way to use up herbs you have on hand (Do you have an entire $2 bunch of cilantro remaining after your recipe called for a teaspoon minced for garnish? Are you pruning back your herb plants to promote their continued growth? Did you get bundles of herbs in your CSA bounty?)
  3. It can be used immediately, saved in a jar and eaten throughout the week or frozen in batches for a February day when the herb plants have all but dried up.
  4. It's kid helper-friendly. Little hands are great at plucking leaves from stems and can help blend items safely in a locked food processor.
  5. Pesto has endless applications: top fish before baking it, thin it out and use as a sauce to spruce up a protein presentation, mix into a pasta, risotto or other grain dish, dress some zucchini "noodles", spread on a sandwich, mix into scrambled eggs or quiche, or top a soup.

Presto Pesto - A Formula
Once you have this basic formula for pesto, you can make all types with whatever leaves you have.
 
Here's what you need:

 the measurements are guidelines, not requirements

the measurements are guidelines, not requirements

  • 2 cups of aromatic leaves (basil, mint, cilantro, parsley, arugula, even carrot and radish greens)
  • 2-4 cloves of garlic (or garlic scapes or green garlic)
  • 1/4 cup lightly toasted nuts or seeds (pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds)
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1/4 cup grated cheese (parmesan, pecorino romano or another hard cheese, optional, see note)
  • salt and pepper to taste

 
Here's what you do:

Put all that stuff in a food processor (like one of these), and just let it go. If you want to be more technical, purée the leaves, garlic and nuts first until ground, evenly sized, and well combined. Scrape down the sides, replace the lid, and then process again while streaming the olive oil into the mixture slowly. Add cheese, salt, and pepper at the end to taste and process again until evenly incorporated.

Some recipes suggest adding lemon juice or zest which provides a nice balance of flavor. However, be careful with the acid. It will turn your greens to a less appetizing olive color. If at all, only add right before serving and not if you plan to store your pesto for any length of time.
 
*Note: you can also go vegan and omit the cheese entirely or replace it with a tablespoon or so of miso paste or a teaspoon of umeboshi paste to get that umami flavor you expect in a pesto. We often omit the cheese for a certain member of the family who is cheese-phobic. (I know. Eye roll, plus incredulous look that says, "how is it possible that an adult human does not like cheese?" Don't get me started. You will read many other posts from me about avoiding & replacing cheese, so you are in luck if you cook for a lactose intolerant or simply cheese intolerant person.)
 
Here are some of my favorite combinations:

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  • basil + pine nuts + olive oil + garlic scapes - garlic cloves
  • parsley + walnuts + walnut oil
  • arugula + pine nut + olive oil
  • mint + almond + canola oil
  • oregano + hazelnuts + hazelnut oil
  • mint + pistachio + garlic + olive oil
  • cilantro + coconut meat + coconut oil - cheese (technically not a nut, but it fits the formula)
  • radish greens + pistachios + parmesan + olive oil
  • beet greens + walnuts + ginger - garlic

You can also mix and match herbs and nuts. Play around with it. There are few rules in pesto. What tastes good to you? What combinations do you use?
 

Herb Garlic Butter

I attempted to grow a few things this summer. Overall it was a big flop. Between the lingering spring frost, weeds, rodents, and gnats, my garden was doomed. So I decided to focus on what I could control and invested some time and research into growing my herbs. For the first time, I actually re-planted my herb plants into spaces big enough to accommodate their sprawl. I took it to the gnats, inserting glue traps in all of my indoor pots, and re-potting them in clean fresh soil after shaking off the gnat infested soil. I spent hours one Sunday watching countless youtube videos about harvesting my herbs and then practiced, scissors in hand checking the computer screen over my shoulder. I'm so glad I did. This year, all of my herb plants inside and out, even those most difficult to grow for me, like cilantro and sage, flourished. So, now, per the instructions on all those youtube videos, I'm pruning my herb plants like crazy to encourage their continued growth. Since we can't really predict when this river of herbs might suddenly dry up, my plan is to preserve as much as I can in as many ways as possible for later.

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 Here's that same sage plant just a few weeks later.

Here's that same sage plant just a few weeks later.

This recipe for herb butter is versatile and freezable. The measurements are just suggestions.

For best results, make sure your herb leaves are completely dry. In fact, if I'm using herbs cut from my own plants, I don't even wash them. If you must wash the herbs, be sure to shake off the excess water and dry them thoroughly on a clean kitchen towel before mincing.

This herb butter is perfect for making garlic bread, seasoning a whole chicken to roast, or topping some freshly steamed green beans. What will you use it for? Please share in the comments.

Ingredients:

  • 4 ounces salted butter, at room temperature (I have a particular preference for Vermont Creamery's cultured butter for this recipe)
  • 2 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon parsley leaves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

With a wooden spoon, thoroughly mix garlic, herbs, pepper and salt into the butter. Stir until evenly combined.

Transfer to a glass jar to store herb butter in your fridge for about 2 weeks or wrap tightly in plastic wrap and freeze for up to 6 months. I used to freeze this butter in small silicone or plastic containers, but learned the hard way that the garlic flavor never really washed out afterwards, so I've switched to storing in plastic wrap.

New England Corn Chowdah

I'm from New England. This IS how you say it and spell it.

Here’s a recipe for a New England classic made vegetarian and gluten free. Of course, you can still use bacon for the extra richness or add lobster for a decadent summertime delight. See variations below. A traditional chowder might use a roux -- equal parts butter and flour cooked to a paste -- for thickening, but I’ve found that a purée of fresh corn kernels plus potatoes cooked down into the broth create the exact same result and help the chowder maintain it’s fresh light consistency rather than becoming gelatinous. Note: this chowder will also work well with leftover previously cooked corn on the cob. Just remove kernels from cobs and use both as if they were fresh. You might not extract as much flavor from the previously cooked cobs and the kernels won’t be as crunchy in the chowder but it’s certainly a great use for leftover corn on the cob.

Ingredients:

  • 5 ears of corn
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 teaspoons sea salt, divided
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or unsalted butter, plus more butter for serving if desired
  • 1 onion, medium dice
  • 4-5 medium red potatoes, small dice
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
  • pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 3 cups whole milk, half-n-half or combination
  • ¼ cup fresh thyme leaves (from about 6-7 sprigs)
  • 1 teaspoon minced parsley leaves
  • black pepper to taste

1. Cut corn kernels from cobs. Using the back of your knife, scrape the remaining kernels and juices from the cob. Set aside.

2. Boil 3 cups water with 2 teaspoons sea salt and add cobs (with kernels removed) and bay leaf. Simmer for 10 minutes. Drain and reserve liquid. Discard the cobs and bay leaf.

3. In a soup pot, heat the olive oil on medium high heat until it shimmers. Add diced onion and a pinch of salt and sauté until soft, about 3 minutes.

4. Add potatoes, another pinch of salt, dried thyme, and cayenne if using, and reduce heat to medium. Cook for about 5 minutes or while you prepare the liquid.

5. Put the reserved corn stock and 1 cup of the corn kernels into a blender. Blend until smooth. Alternatively, you could just add the corn kernels to the liquid in a large measuring cup and purée with an immersion blender. Add this liquid to the pot and simmer for about 20 minutes or until potatoes are very tender. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

6. Add remaining corn kernels and cook for about 4 minutes.

7. Add milk and thyme leaves, and warm until liquid just begins to steam. Be careful not to boil your milk. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with an additional pat of butter, if desired, and minced parsley leaves.

With Bacon: At step 3, cook the bacon until crispy in the soup pot. Remove bacon strips and lay on paper towels. Drain excess grease so that you are left with about 2 tablespoons in bottom of pan. Sauté diced onion in the 2 tablespoons of bacon fat and continue with recipe. Add roughly chopped bacon bits to the chowder just before serving.

With Lobster: At step 7, add previously cooked and shelled lobster meat, cut into bite sized pieces, with the milk and thyme.

To freeze: After adding the corn in step 6, remove from heat and allow to cool. Freeze the partially finished chowder at this point. To reheat and finish, simply defrost in the fridge or in a pot over low heat. Bring to a simmer and ensure potatoes are heated through. Add milk and thyme and continue with step 7.