Recipes. Words. Whatever.

Just making it up as I go along

Hello weeds, nice to eat you.

dandelion greens

Yes, I’m that neighbor. You know, the one who doesn’t spray chemicals on her lawn. The one who believes anything that flowers is pretty, be it purposefully planted or seeded into the lawn by the will of the wind. Clover, Queen Anne’s lace, lamb’s quarters, even dandelions are all welcome at my house. As well as the birds, bees, butterflies, squirrels and rabbits they attract.

After all, according to Mother Earth News, many weeds are helpful in the garden by holding topsoil, pulling up water and nutrients, controlling insects, and helping to balance soil over time.

Many of them are also edible.

Take dandelions. High in vitamin A and C, with lots of iron, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and copper, their greens are more nutritious than spinach.

You can juice them with carrots, beets, fresh ginger, and a green apple. Or toss them into soups and beans at the last minute. Or use them as you would spinach in a gratin. Or simply sauté in olive oil, and finish with a little vinegar or harissa, then top with a fried egg. (What isn’t better with an egg on top?)

Deliciously earthy and slightly bitter, prepare dandelion greens just as you would spinach, kale, or any other hearty green. And keep in mind, if they benefit from a generous splash of lemon juice or a good drizzle of balsamic or wine vinegar at the last minute to lighten and brighten and a heaping spoonful of freshly grated Parmesan to depth.

If these edible wonders are not growing in abundance in your yard or garden, look for them at your local farmers market.

Sautéed mushrooms, roasted peppers and dandelion greens

  1. Sauté mushrooms (any type you like) in olive oil for ten or more minutes, adding a splash of white or rose wine when they begin releasing their own liquid.
  1. Add a clove or two of minced garlic and sauté a few minutes more.
  1. Add diced roasted red peppers when mushrooms are almost done.
  1. Add dandelion greens (I like to remove the tough stems and tear the leaves into slivers), stir, and sauté a minute or two more.
  1. Add a generous splash of lemon juice.
  1. Top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Perfect as the center of any vegetarian plate accompanied with garlicky cannellini beans and a nice chunk of bread, or as an accompaniment to a roasted chicken thigh, oven baked cod fillet, or well-marbled rib eye.

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Chickpea salad with carrots — carrot tops, that is.

chick peas and carrot tops

“Waste not, want not,” my mother used to say. Though truth, I’ve been known to waste a bit now and then. I’ve wasted money I didn’t have on shoes I didn’t need and couldn’t really walk in. I’ve wasted hours watching Legally Blonde over and over, and over again. I’ve wasted years in jobs I didn’t want and relationships I knew could go nowhere.

But there’s one thing I have not and will never waste. And that’s food.

Maybe it’s an attempt to atone for the massive reams of paper towels I rip through, or maybe it’s my need to feel like I have even a modicum of DIY resourcefulness within me. Not sure. Whatever the reason, I heartily try to squeeze every bit of use out of every food related thing I possibly can.

Pulp left from juicing goes into muffins or becomes a veggie tea. Stale bread becomes croutons and breadcrumbs. Bones left from a roasted chicken go into broths and stocks, as do miscellaneous vegetable scraps.

Speaking of vegetable scraps; let’s talk carrot tops. Light and bright, with a taste akin to parsley yet redolent of carrot, and rich in chlorophyll, potassium, calcium and vitamin K, they’re well worth saving from the trash can or compost bin. And rumor has it that they have 6 times the vitamin C of carrots themselves.

I use them as I would parsley: in pesto, omelets, soups, and salads. Take this delightful chickpea and carrot top salad, adapted from Vegetarian Times. It’s a perfect accompaniment to whatever you’re grilling this fourth of July.

Or, it makes a quick and light summer main on its own or atop a bed of mixed field greens. Perhaps accompanied by a slice or two of ancient grain toast topped with an herbed feta and red pepper spread or smoked Gouda. And a glass of dry rose, of course.

Warm Chickpea and Carrot-top Salad

1. Heat a generous teaspoon of olive oil over medium heat.

2. Add a heaping teaspoon of ground cumin and sauté one minute, or until fragrant.

3. Add one small onion, minced, and sauté until golden, about two minutes.

4. Add one small clove garlic, minced, and sauté about one minute.

5. Add one can chickpeas, drained, and sauté a minute or two more until just heated through.

6. Remove pan from heat and add one cup of finely chopped carrot greens.

7. Toss, then transfer to a serving bowl and season with lemon juice before serving.

Optional: Feel free to dice the actual carrots and add them when you add the onions. And if you’re feeling a tad indulgent, add a bit of feta, preferably made of Sheep’s milk.

Gone pasta (ahem, winter), gone.

shrimp pasta 1

It may be in the 20s here in the frigid northeast on this, the second day of spring. But I shall not be daunted. Nor will Leo.

We walked for 45 minutes, then he frolicked in the backyard, and then we had a fine spring feast of homemade pasta with Gulf Shrimp and a luscious zesty feta cheese sauce that was every bit as rich as Fettuccine Alfredo, but with none of those rueful heavy-cream after effects.

It was, dare we utter such a trite and over used term, delicious.

And may I also add that it was so-so-so easy? Other than making the pasta and sautéeing the shrimp, the only thing you need do is marinate the feta. Sheep’s milk is my preference. It has just the right tang.

 What to do:

1) Crumble a 1/3 or so cup of feta into a bowl (for God’s sake, don’t buy pre-crumbled.) Drizzle enough extra virgin olive oil it to get it nice and oily, then crack a generous pile of black pepper over it. Grate the zest of a whole lemon over it, throw in thinly sliced basil, and take a dinner fork and whip it till it’s nice and creamy.

shrimp pasta 4

2) Make the pasta dough. (One egg per ¾ cup flour: mixed, rested, kneaded, and run through the pasta machine.) If you’ve never made pasta, I suggest Guliano Hazan’s Homemade Italian Pasta course on craftsy.com.

shrimp pasta 3shrimp pasta 5

3) Boil the pasta.

4) Sauté the shrimp in olive oil, garlic, and white wine.

5) Open a nice bottle of unoaked Chardonnay, or a perfectly balanced and lightly oaked French one.

6) Add the cooked pasta to the shrimp directly in the pan, then add a generous dollop of the marinated feta cheese and mix it all up. Transfer it to a bowl. Then, drum roll, you’re ready to dig in.shrimp pasta 2

7) Don’t forget to share a bit of the pre-sauced pasta and shrimp with your dog and/or cat.

leo

Happy 2nd day of spring.

My First Gnocchi. Or why fluffy is so overrated.

Featured image

I never had gnocchi growing up. I never had a dumpling of any sort, unless you consider matzo balls dumplings. Which I suppose you could. They are light and fluffy concoctions (unless made by mother in which case they’re dense and chewy) made with matzo meal, which is basically crushed matzos, which are made from flour and water, which technically, makes them flour dumplings.

Anyway, back to gnocchi. I had them for the first time a couple years ago at an Italian restaurant in New York City, the name of which escapes me at the moment. Perhaps Eataly. Perhaps not. Doesn’t matter. The important thing to know is they blew my mind. They were in some sort of cream sauce, with sage, and pancetta, and Parmesan. I think. I probably had several glasses of wine, so (though not as bad as Rachel, of The Girl on the Train) I am an unreliable narrator.

Now, I recently took the gnocchi making class at craftsy.com so I felt sure I could do this. And I had scoured recipes from cookbooks and from across the Internet far and wide. I’d even watched Mario B. on a New York Times video.

Additionally, I had my flour, my egg, my measuring cup, my wooden cutting board, and my cute little apron. I was ready.

As for the sauce: I didn’t want tomato. Too obvious. But I didn’t want cream either. Too decadent. So I decided on a light white wine, shallots, scallops, mushrooms, sage, and pancetta sauce. With oodles of Parmesan cheese, of course.

And I’m here to report to you that making gnocchi is easier than I thought — as easy as making pasta, and certainly easier than making bread.

Full disclosure, of course: the sauce might have wanted a little cream. Just a little. And my gnocchi, while delicious, were certainly not perfect. They were in fact more dense than fluffy. But come to think of it, perhaps that’s as it should be. After all, the dumplings — er, matzo balls — I happily devoured whenever my mother made them were dense and chewy, too.

Gnocchi with Scallops, Mushrooms, Pancetta, Baby Broccoli and Sage

The Gnocchi:

  1. Bake four to five small starchy potatoes in a 400 degree oven till jackets are crisp and insides are soft,
  1. Let cool then remove skins and mash in bowl.
  1. Pour mashed potatoes onto wooden surface and mix with about 1 cup of regular flour. Make hole in the mixture and add an egg. Mix it all and knead the dough till it no longer feels tacky, and your hands no longer stick to it.
  1. Roll the dough into sausage like lengths then cut into 2 inch pieces.rolled gnocchi5. Press a fork into the tops of the gnocchi to give them they’re classic indentations.forked gnocchis6. Drop small batches of the gnocchi into boiling salted water and remove as soon as they float to the top.

The sauce:

  1. Sauté pancetta then remove with slotted spoon. Pour off fat from pan.
  1. Add olive oil to pan and sauté shallots briefly then add sliced mushrooms. When they begin to release their water add a generous splash (about ¼-1/3 cup) white wine.
  1. When mushrooms are cooked and sauce has thickened a little (add more wine as needed) add baby broccoli.
  1. When broccoli is just about done, add the scallops and julienned sage and cook till scallops done – about two more minutes.
  1. Add gnocchi to sauce then transfer to serving bowl and top with lots and lots and lots of Parmesan.

Unstuffed Stuffed Cabbage.

unstuffedstuffedcabbageI was at Wegmans earlier. You know, the store I have a love/hate relationship with. I won’t go into that now, that’s a post for another day. So back to Wegmans — and the aisles and aisles of Passover goods. Is it really that time of year already?

Apparently it is.

Now, as those who know me may know, I’m Jewish, but not exactly observant. So I walked past the matzos, the gefilte fish and the macaroons, and went about my business of buying dog and cat vittles. But, as I was checking out, and wondering how I had come in for pet food and pet food only yet had somehow amassed a $94 register ring, I thought of the family Seders and other holiday dinners of my childhood, and my Aunt Frances’ stuffed cabbage.

Maybe it wasn’t Passover that she made it. Maybe it was Rosh Hashanah. Does it matter? It was rich and tangy and soul sating. Ground beef and rice wrapped in green cabbage leaves and swimming in tart and sweet tomato-y goodness. I could eat her entire Pyrex dish. And I wanted them now. Today. This minute.

Lucky for me, I had half of a giant farmers market cabbage in my fridge, as well as homemade beef bone broth and marinara sauce, and ground bison.

Unluckily for me, I had a lot of shoveling to do so steaming cabbage leaves then painstakingly wrapping a dozen or so cabbage rolls was out of the question.

Ergo, the lazy version. It tastes like my mom and dad and Aunt Frances and Uncle Sam are at the table with me. But requires half the work.

Unstuffed stuffed cabbage.

1. Cut up an onion, a couple clove garlics, a couple carrots, and a bunch of green cabbage.

2. Sauté the onion until translucent then add the garlic and ground bison or beef, and a bay leaf or two. Add salt and pepper as you see fit.

3. Once beef is nice and brown, add about 1/3 cup brown sugar, give it a stir, then add the cabbage and a cup or two of canned tomatoes or marinara sauce, and two or three cups of beef broth. Then add the juice of half a lemon.

4. Bring to a boil then let it simmer, bubble, do it’s thing, covered, for an hour or an hour and a half, till the cabbage is soft. Throw in a couple handfuls of golden raisins at the end.

5. Serve over basmati rice, or just slurp up with a spoon, and perhaps a crusty loaf or French bread on the side, or a nice dark pumpernickel.

A Duck, Black-Eyed Peas, and a New Years Day Cassoulet. Sort of.

FullSizeRenderTo all my vegetarian and vegan friends, I love you, I feel you, and I get you. I too was a vegetarian for 10 years. Then I got pregnant and began craving steak — charred rare, thank you. (And Spaghettios…what, I ask, was up with that?)

Anyway, because I believe one should listen to what one’s body says, I’ve embraced my inner omnivore ever since. Most recently, I have developed a love of all things duck, even though Ferdinand is my second favorite character in Babe.

I first fell in love with duck as a busboy at Gianni’s, an upscale Italian restaurant in Austin back in the day. Whenever there was a mistake order of Duck a l’orange, I was first in line at the devouring station.

So, what do I love about duck? To quote the great Russell Hammond out of context in response to William Miller, “To begin with, everything.”

As in, how the skin crisps up and crunches like candy. How the rendered fat adds richness to whatever mundane thing you sauté in it. How it pairs so nicely with Chinese 5 spice powder, and fennel, and star anise, and hoisin, and chipotle, and cumin…

Now, you can roast it whole and have a perfectly delicious duck experience and call it a day. But, be forewarned, it’s a rather greasy affair requiring you to flip the bird mid-roast, and if you’re not careful, you could start a small kitchen fire, as I did my first time.

Don’t worry, I only lost the plastic utensils and cloth napkins in the drawer next to the oven. All is well. The metal and steel utensils survived and you can’t see the burnt wood when the drawer is shut.

But you can understand why I now prefer to play it safe and butcher my duck, cutting it into quarters. If you choose to go this route, be sure to save the bones and skin and fat that you trim away. You’ll be glad you did. I promise. Here’s why:

You can make a lovely broth with the bones. And you can make to-die-for potatoes with the rendered fat.  But the real reason you want to render the fat is so you can eat the tasty cracklings.

cracklings

My mother used to make them when roasting a chicken for our Sabbath dinner,  though she referred to them by the Yiddish term, grievenes, AKA gribbenes. I’d steal the crunchy, succulent morsels straight from the pan. Perhaps this explains why I never developed a sweet tooth. My palate was sated before dessert was even a discussion.

The other benefit to butchering your bird is that you can enjoy multiple culinary delights throughout the week.

Slow-roasted wings with Korean barbecue sauce. Sautéed skinless boneless breasts with Hoisin served over grilled pineapple, peppers and onions. Duck Confit with herbed polenta or risotto. Duck nachos with feta and poblano peppers.

I could go on and on. But I won’t…so, without further ado, here is my 2015 version of the requisite New Year’s Day Good Luck dish. Not quite Hoppin’ John, and not quite a cassoulet, but you may like it nonetheless.

Happy New Year! May 2015 be delicious and ducky for us all. Wait, I didn’t really just say that, did I?

Black-Eyed Peas with Carrots and Parsnips, and, yes, you guessed it: Braised Duck

 1. Preheat oven to 300°F degrees.

2. Cook your leg and thigh quarters in a large enough sauté pan to give each piece room to brown nicely on both sides. (About 4 to 5 minutes per side.) Remove duck to plate when skin is browned and pour off all but 2 Tbsp. oil.

3. Sauté diced carrot. parsnip and shallot with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in remaining duck oil, stirring in minced garlic, thyme and fennel near the end. (If needed you may add a spoonful of rendered duck fat leftover from the making of the greivenes), scraping up any browned bits on bottom of pan. Cook until vegetables soften and onions begin to turn golden.

4. Stir in 1/2 cup liquid (I used combination of white wine and homemade duck stock – you could use just stock, just wine, or even a nice Belgian beer) simmer for a few minutes to loosen any browned bits remaining on pot’s bottom.

5. Add cooked black-eyed peas, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste; stir well to combine with vegetables. And, if you have them on hand, which I try to always, throw in a handful of oven-roasted grape tomatoes with thyme. (Easy peasy: simply slice tomatoes in half, toss in olive oil, salt and pepper, add thyme leaves, and roast for 30 minutes in a 325 oven. So versatile and much tastier than anything from a jar or a Mediterranean bar, but again, I digress…)

6. Back to task at hand: tuck your duck into the beans, but don’t submerge the duck Add a cup or so more stock (and wine), leaving skin exposed, and bring to a boil. Cover pot and bake 1 1/2 hours.

7. Check the liquid level every so often, and more boiling broth if needed to keep beans moist and almost covered. You may find that your duck skin is not as crispy as you’d hoped. If that’s the case, remove the lid during the last half hour or so.

8. In the last half hour, you may want to also add some Kale or Collards. Green, after all, is the color of prosperity.

9. When the kitchen smells like heaven, and the bird is crisped to perfection, spoon the beans into a bowl with a slotted spoon, leaving rich liquid in pot, and serve the duck on top. By the way, that liquid you left in the pot… let it sit in a jar in the fridge overnight and remove the layer of fat that forms, and you will have a lovely sauce for adding to broth, pouring on vegetables, mixing into mashed potatoes, or simply reheating whatever leftover black-eyed peas you may have.

Lentil, Sausage & I’ll-Get-To-It-Later Soup

lentil sausage whatever soup

It is, perhaps, my favorite phrase.

Laundry needs washing? “I’ll get to it later.” I still have at least one pair of clean socks. First draft of short story due in two days for Writers Group? No worries. That’s 48 hours away. It can wait. Besides, the dog needs walking. The floor needs sweeping. The living room windows are smudged. Wait, did anyone see where I put the Windex?

Anyway, Car Talk is on. And I still have to read Wild before the movie comes out. Oh, and look at that chow.com post that just came in through my Facebook feed: Nine recipes for making the most of your muffin tins. Spaghetti Pie and Mini Tamale Pie Muffins…aren’t they cute? I must make them now, this minute. Except they both require a trip to the grocery store. Sigh. That can wait as well.

I know. I’ll make soup. That Italian sausage needs to be cooked today, and the pantry has needed cleaning for quite sometime.

Besides, it’s not even noon yet. Plenty of time to write that story later. There’s always tomorrow. Right?

heirloomlentil

1. Remove the casings from four Italian sausage links and add to well-oiled soup pot. Break the links into bite size bit and brown over medium heat.

2. Add three to four minced garlic cloves and two small onions, diced. After a few minutes, add three to four diced carrots and, if the mood strikes you, a parsnip or turnip or two or three.

3. Sprinkle liberally with cumin, coriander, thyme, and oregano, and add a bay leaf for no real reason other than my sister thinks every soup needs one.

4. Add a couple tablespoons of white wine and give it a stir, then turn the heat up a bit to let the wine reduce.

5. Once wine has reduced, add a cup or two of chopped tomatoes, and three to four cups of chicken broth. Then add a diced potato or two, some butternut squash cubes if you have them, and a cup or two of rinsed and sorted lentils.
I like an heirloom lentil mix but you may certainly use any lentils you like.

6. Bring to a boil, then simmer, partially covered for 40 minutes or so. Stir occasionally, skimming any surface foam that may arise, while mulling over who and what your short story will be about. Or what you’ll cook next instead.