Chicago dyes their river green, NYC hosts a parade, and me…I bake up some Irish soda bread to celebrate St. Patrick’s day. Head over to my post at babycenter.com for my Irish mother-in-law’s delectable recipe.
How do you feel about appetizers? Do you make them? Do you like them? I love them. When I get invited to a fancy Manhattan soirée orchestrated by a ritzy caterer, I’m in heaven. I adore the small bites, always taking note of creative presentations. Caterer Peter Callahan, known as the originator of the mini slider, serves up delightfully clever savories like shrimp lollipops and pig-shape salmon and rye on a stick. Tastings Caterings, another favorite of mine, serves up equally exquisite dainties like mini truffled grilled cheese sandwiches and petite toast rounds with Roquefort, fig puree and pecans. I’m continually amazed by the artistry that goes into the production of these wee snacks, and ugh, the time! Hours upon hours of prep!!
When Martha’s Hors D’oeuvres Handbook (Clarkson Potter, 1999) debuted, I had Post-its on more pages than not (and it’s one thick book!). Look at these stunning breadsticks and precious beet chip and goat cheese bites, are they sweet or what?
And check out the colorful soup shots, vertical veggie wraps, and chilled tofu.
I had grand plans of serving beauties like these at every dinner party, but after hollowing out endless cucumber cups and piping minted pea puree on a potato chip stacked with a scallop and held together with a chive tie, I thought, “really?” And that was before kids.
While I still look to Martha’s book for inspiration, I opt for easier appies these days like kale chips, homemade hummus, spiced almonds, and savory tarts. While these items may not be charmingly diminutive, they’re big on flavor.
Tarts still demand some time investment, but preparing one seems like a cinch compared to the task of forming individual Parmesan pepper cups for one of those aforementioned mini presentations. And better yet, rustic tarts, which require no special fluted pan, are even less fussy than traditional ones. You only need to bring the dough up around the filling to form a crust, easy as 1-2-3.
A rustic tart shell may serve as a vehicle for all sorts of tempting ingredients; a combination of squash, pear, and blue cheese makes an extremely satisfying filling. The sweetness of the squash and pear are balanced by the onions that top the tart, which become soft and tender as they bake. The cream cheese crust is the perfect combination of flaky and buttery, and holds together well.
You can make this tart up to a day ahead, and heat it up for a few minutes before serving. Although not attractively tiny like a canapé, this tart may be cut into wedges for a more homely, yet no less charming, presentation.
A generous slice of this tart, accompanied by an arugula or other mixed greens salad, makes a great light dinner or brunch meal too.
SQUASH, PEAR AND BLUE CHEESE RUSTIC TART
For the filling
2 large pears, peeled and thinly sliced
½ butternut squash, peeled and thinly sliced (about ¾ pound)
1 cup onion, sliced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
½ teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese
For the crust
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
3 ounces cold cream cheese
7 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
2 tablespoons ice water
Prepare the crust
1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour and the salt. Pulse several times.
2. Cut the cream cheese into several chunks and place in the processor. Pulse several more times until combined.
3. Sprinkle the butter over the flour mixture and pulse 8 to 10 times until the fat clumps are the size of peas.
3. Sprinkle the water and vinegar over the flour in the processor. Pulse another 8 to 10 and then see if the dough sticks together when pressed between your thumb and forefinger. If it does, turn the dough out onto a cutting board. Using your hands, shape the dough into a disk and wrap it in wax paper. If the dough doesn’t come together, pulse a few more times or add another teaspoon or two of water. Do not allow the dough to come together in the food processor bowl. Place the wrapped disk in the refrigerator and chill for at least 30 minutes hour before using.
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put the squash and onion in a bowl and toss with the butter, rosemary and salt. Spread the mixture on a baking sheet lined with parchment and roast for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool slightly.
2. Meanwhile, take the dough out of the refrigerator and allow to soften for 10 minutes if needed. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a 12-inch round.
3. Line an 11×17-inch baking sheet with parchment. Place the dough round on the baking sheet and arrange the roasted squash, onion, pear in an overlapping circular pattern on the dough about 1-1/2 inches in from the edge, heaping the remaining filling in the center of the round. Gently fold the dough up over edges of the filling, pleating as you go.
4. Chill the tart for a minimum of 30 minutes. After it’s chilled, bake the tart for 30 minutes then sprinkle the blue cheese over the filling and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes. Cool slightly before serving.
So my February “ramp-it-up veggie month” was a success. I pushed outside my comfort zone of broccoli, spinach and asparagus, adding edibles like fennel, rutabaga and turnips to my weekly rotation. While these vegetables are by no means alien to me, harder to prepare or less tasty, they just aren’t what I grab for when in auto-pilot weekly shopping mode. Like a pair of favorite jeans, there are just certain dishes that are more familiar and comforting than others.
Because I was varying my veggie routine last month, I neglected making my usual lunchtime winter staple: carrot ginger soup. I make a big batch at the beginning of a month, freeze individual portions, then defrost as needed.
I find each spoonful of the fresh, light soup satisfying every time. Knowing that it’s made from simple, healthy ingredients, it just makes me feel good, satiated yet not overly full.
My carrot ginger soup recipe does not differ much from the hundreds of others out there: carrots, onion, stock. But I do add lemon juice and zest—it adds to the zing of the ginger. The resulting taste is clean and smooth, a true standby.
While this recipe only uses broth, you can replace 1/3 the broth with coconut milk for a creamier soup (you can also just thin it down with coconut milk). I like to add a small spoonful of crème fraîche and some sourdough croutons when serving. You can also sprinkle with chopped cilantro, dill or parsley. And really, it’s just delish with no adornments.
Because I’m declaring my love for carrots, I’m also going to share three of my other go-to carrot recipes: carrot and parsnip puree, carrot fries, and copper pennies.
The first, a carrot-parsnip puree comes from an old Martha Stewart cookbook, What to Have For Dinner (Clarkson Potter, 1996). It’s the perfect accompaniment to lamb chops or roast chicken (and a great dinner party side…make a day in advance and just heat through before serving).
Martha Stewart’s Carrot Parsnip Puree
6 medium carrots (about 1 pound)
3 medium parsnips (about 14 ounces)
1 tablespoon salt
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
4 springs fresh thyme, plus 1 tablespoon leaves
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon cream
1. Peel the carrots and parsnips and cut into 2-inch chunks. Fill a medium saucepan with about 6 cups water, bring to a boil, add salt. Place carrots, garlic, sprigs of thyme in the water, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add parsnips and continue cooking until vegetables are soft, about 15 minutes.
2. Remove from heat, drain and discard thyme sprigs. Transfer carrots, garlic and parsnips to the bowl of a food processor. Add butter, cream and thyme leaves and process until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot, immediately, or make ahead and warm in a saucepan over low heat.
photo provided courtesy of elanaspantry.com
Another favorite side dish is carrot fries. I alternate these with sweet potato and russet potato fries. Elana’s Pantry can tell you how to whip these up (if you haven’t visited this site, it’s a gem—especially for gluten-free folks!).
Lastly, I would be remiss not to include a recipe for copper pennies because it is a Ffrench family favorite. My father-in-law requests this dish be included in any celebratory meal.
These are not, however, the southern copper pennies—tangy carrot rounds marinated in vinegar. My mother-in-law Renee’s version is just a simple glazed carrot, which with its glossy sugar coating could remind one of a copper penny. She always made these. Although a bit on the sweet side, this nostalgic dish will always have a place at our birthday and holiday meals as a tribute to Renee.
Renee’s Copper Pennies
NOTE: I also like to add a little pinch of freshly ground coriander too.
1 pound carrots, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch of cumin and kosher salt
1. Steam or boil the carrots until tender in a saucepan. Drain well.
2. Melt the butter and brown sugar in the saucepan. Add the ginger, cumin and salt. Return the carrots to the saucepan and toss with the butter-sugar mixture over low heat until thoroughly glazed. Season with freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately.
And finally, carrots as the main course…my favorite carrot soup…hope you find comfort in it too.
Comforting Carrot Ginger Soup
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced
8 cups chicken or vegetable broth, plus more for thinning
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1. In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and stir until softened, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the ginger and stir for another minute.
2. Next pour in the broth and add the carrots then bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the carrots are tender when pierced, about 20 to 30 minutes. Turn off heat the and allow the soup to cool slightly.
3. Using a stick blender, puree the soup (or puree in a blender in batches) until very smooth. Return the soup to the pot.
4. If needed, add more stock or water to thin the soup to your desired consistency. Stir in the lemon zest, juice, coriander and white pepper. Season with salt and pepper to taste (I like to add about 4 generous pinches of salt and several turns of the pepper grinder). Warm over low heat until thoroughly heated through. Garnish with cliantro, dill, parsley, crème fraîche, sour cream, and/or croutons. Serve.
Carrot harvest photo credit: Chiot’s Run / Foter.com / CC BY-NC
With the exception of small prizes (bubbles, lollipops, whistles), you probably already have almost everything you need to get your games on…classic kids’ party games that is.
There will always be a solid argument for outsourcing the entertainment portion of your child’s birthday party. (Is there anything more panic-inducing than overestimating how long they’ll spend on the craft project, then realizing that you have 30 excruciating minutes to kill before the pizza arrives?)
But here’s the thing: Since everyone else in your son’s class is having a Super Mario, superhero, or super-something party, it’s never been easier to differentiate a birthday by booking (and spending) next to nothing. If your kids are old enough to sit in a circle, they’re old enough to be entertained by the same classic party games you grew up loving. Check out my post over at babycenter.com for game details and ideas.
Last night my 10-year-old daughter Camilla separated 33 eggs, washed 6 pans 3 times each, and and wrapped up 15 mini pink angel food cakes—one for each of her classmates. Like me, she loves sweet holiday celebrations and, for better or worse, spends uncountable hours attending to small details…why clean the basement when we can hand-cut cupcake wrappers?
Several weeks ago Camilla spied a clever cake pan in the King Arthur catalog that produced mini angel food cakes and knew right then she just had to make these for her 2013 Valentines (last year she bagged up homemade pink popcorn for her comrades). She alerted me as to her plan and asked if I’d buy her the pan and a bag of gluten-free flour because she didn’t want Sam, her gluten-free classmate, to feel left out. I was proud of her thoughtfulness and told her I’d split the cost of the pan and pay for the flour.
The splitting part inspired her to do some comparison shopping. Camilla diligently searched online and found several options, including Wilton’s individual pans with removable bottoms, just like those of large tube pans. She seemed to think those would work better than the King Arthur pan, and I heartily agreed. Angel food tends to be a little sticky.
Using the Heavenly Angel Food Cake recipe from the Sweet Home cookbook, Camilla doubled the recipe for her first batch. And to make them Valentine-y, she added pink food coloring at the same time she folded the flour into the egg whites.
She used one cup of batter for each 4-1/2–inch mini pan and baked them for about 20 minutes. For the third batch she replaced the one cup cake flour with 3/4 cup King Arthur’s Gluten-Free flour and 1/4 cup cornstarch. The cakes turned out just as beautifully using GF flour—and tasty too.
I, not having the perseverance of my daughter yesterday (she definitely got the patience gene from Dad), decided to opt for a simpler Valentine’s treat. I wanted to experiment with the newly-purchased King Arthur flour. Having used Bob’s Red Mill GF flour in the past, this blend seemed less gritty. It also had a milder taste (I swear I can taste a garbanzo flavor in Bob’s blend).
These kid-friendly, vegan and gluten-free heart cookies take just a few minutes to mix up. The cutting out takes a bit longer, but nothing compared to separating 33 eggs! The small little sweets are crispy with a slight crunch, sweet with an ever-so-slight hint of nuttiness—delectable.
GF Heart Cookies
Note: This recipe uses a combination of ingredients not typical for all pantries. If you do not have a gluten sensitivity, you may replace the GF flour with whole wheat pastry flour or even all-purpose flour. You may also make almond flour by pulsing blanched slivered almonds in the bowl of a food processor. And never fear, if you don’t have coconut oil, you may use canola, safflower or vegetable oil. This recipe is very forgiving. Lastly, if you want to cut the process time down, forget the cookie cutter and just roll the dough in walnut-sized balls between your palms, make an indent with your finger and you’ll have thumbprint cookies!
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup almond flour
1-1/2 cups gluten-free flour, such as King Arthur brand
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup maple syrup
½ cup coconut oil, liquefied
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¾ to 1 cup fruit preserves such as raspberry or strawberry
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Put the oats in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely ground.
2. Add the almond and GF flours and salt and pulse until thoroughly combined.
3. Pour in the maple syrup, coconut oil and vanilla. Pulse until just combined.
4. Turn the dough out onto a clean surface. The dough will feel somewhat wet and oily but should not stick to your hands or a counter surface. Divide the dough in half and using a rolling pin, roll the first piece out to an 1/8-inch thickness. Use a heart-shape cookie cutter to make as many cookies as possible.
5. Once you’ve transferred the cookies, use your forefinger to create a small heart-shape indentation in each cookie, mimicking the shape of the cookie
6. Gently spoon a small amount of jam into the indent of each cookie (I used a ¼ teaspoon of jam for each 2-inch cookie).
7. Bake cookies for approximately 15 minutes of until just golden around the edges. Allow the cookies to cool slightly on the baking sheet before removing to a rack. Repeat the procedure with the second half of the dough.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Have you jumped on the green smoothie bandwagon? I admit I have. While I’d added handfuls of spinach to smoothies in the past, I never did it with any regularity—until recently when a friend gave me a sip of a beautiful leaf green concoction she’d just blended up. “Mmmmm,” I professed, VERY good. Why wasn’t I routinely mixing these up, especially for my girls who head out to school before dawn? Now I am.
My aforementioned friend had just paid a bundle for a similar drink from Manhattan’s Organic Avenue (OA) and was determined to create something like it at home. OA’s fourteen-ounce Green Monkey smoothie costs $10 a shot.
My interest was piqued so yesterday I finally stopped in a midtown outpost of the popular juice bar (not sure how I’d managed to stay away until then). The store’s clean white interior accented with bright orange graphics is aesthetically pleasing and the neatly displayed drinks are packaged in cute milk-bottle–shaped containers.
It was hard to resist the promise of health, energy and detoxification. As much as I would have loved to purchase a three-day cleanse, I managed to escape with only a Green Berry Protien Smoothie in hand, saving myself $200.
So the test came: how did it taste? Not bad. It didn’t elicit the same response as the homemade smoothie. It was fresh, I could taste mint and lemon, and although quite thin, the drink was not completely without texture, there was a slight powdery aftertaste. In defense of OA though, this particular smoothie contains spirulina powder and the homemade one did not.
Not realizing the extent of this vitamin-packed fiber-rich drink trend, I searched “green smoothie” on Amazon and over three dozen books came up, including The Green Smoothie Bible, Green Smoothie Magic, and my favorite, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Green Smoothies. There are plenty of recipes out there for those ready to dive head first into a forty-day green smoothie program. For me, I’ll settle for a couple times a week. The refreshing, zesty flavors brighten my taste buds in the morning and for mere cents, I can blend up delicious smoothies for a family of four. Needless to say, it’s helping further my February pledge: Eat More Veggies!
Refreshing Green Smoothie
Note: This recipe really just serves as a starting point. You can add or substitute most anything here: collards or kale for the spinach, raspberries or blueberries for the apple (the drink will become a murkier green), omit honey, add 1 tablespoon almond butter or a scoop of spirulina powder, add handful of mint, and so on. Have fun experimenting!
1/2 cup almond milk or coconut milk
2 cups spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
1 frozen banana
½ cucumber, seeded and coarsely chopped
½ apple, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
2 ice cubes
1 teaspoon honey
juice from ½ lemon
1. Put the milk and spinach in a blender and process on high until thoroughly blended.
2. Add the banana, cucumber, apple, and ice cubes and continue to process until smooth.
3. Add the honey and lemon juice to taste.
We’re one month into 2013…how are you feeling? Did you make any sweeping declarations on Jan 1? Were you going to cleanse? Fast? Juice everyday? Or how about eliminate sugar and carbs altogether? I find the pressure of New Year’s resolutions overwhelming. Returning to a normal routine after the holiday hubbub is enough without some new daunting commitments.
That’s why I love February 1. All is quiet and it’s a good time for a fresh start. I’ve read that it takes twenty one days of repeated behavior to form a habit. I’ve also read that’s bunk and it takes over sixty days. Whatever the number, this month is a great one to try something different or take on a goal. It’s a twenty-eight day commitment. For some reason, the short month makes the plan more mentally achievable (am I revealing what a pitiful rationalizer I am?).
My resolution is simple: to add as many vegetables to each meal as possible this month. I know when setting goals, not only is timing key, but the objective must be doable. Only one at a time. I’ve tried for the big overhaul and it just doesn’t work. Baby steps toward a better self is the path for me.
So why veggies? When I was at Haven’s Kitchen teaching a class Monday, I was inspired by the gorgeous bright-orange carrot ginger soup with fennel salad they served for lunch. A complete, delicious meal. Nothing else needed. I always feel pressure to add or carb or meat. But why? Habit I guess.
Instead of basing my meals on meat, I’m working this month to focus on the vegetables, and think of the animal protein as a side, if not eliminating it altogether. I’m not opposed to fish or meat by any means, but I want to see how I feel after a month of ramped up vegetables.
One dish that will surely make an appearance at our table several times is my favorite Kale and Lentil salad, inspired by a similar one from Candle 79, an elegant yet relaxed vegan restaurant on Manhattan’s upper east side.
On my very first visit, I became obsessed with several items on the restaurant’s menu, the salad below included. I did my best to recreate it, then in November 2011, the Candle 79 Cookbook came out. My version was pretty similar to theirs, the most notable difference is their use of spelt berries instead of lentils. The recipe below is a hybrid of the two.
Jam-packed with kale, turnips and green beans, this salad is hearty yet refreshing. When I first developed the recipe it was summer and I grilled the kale and green beans using my favorite Williams-Sonoma grill pan, which you can still do in winter if you have access to a grill. I’ve amended the recipe for indoor prep.
I will not lie, you’ll be intensely peeling and dicing for this salad but keep the end goal in mind: loads o’ veggies. The good news—it keeps well in the fridge so you’ll have a healthy lunch for the next couple of days. Just put on some music, enjoy, and get choppin’ (another part of that February commitment: just do it already). This recipe also makes a very large quantity, which makes it great for taking to a dinner or event. Be the one who brings the veggies—that’ll be me this month!
Kale and Lentil Salad
Adapted from the “Kale, Vegetable, and Spelt Berry Salad” from the Candle 79 Cookbook, Ten Speed Press, 2011
1 cup dry French green lentils
1 bay leaf
4 cups peeled turnips, cut into ¾” cubes
4 cups trimmed green beans, cut into 1-1/2” pieces
1 large bunch kale, about 1-1/2 pounds, stemmed and cut in 2-inch strips
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 peeled and pitted avocados, cut into 1/2” cubes
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Using a strainer, rinse the lentils and remove any stones or foreign matter.
2. Place the lentils in a saucepan with the bay leaf and cover with 3 to 4 inches of water (about 2-1/2 cups but will depend on the size of your pan). Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes partially covered or until the lentils are tender but still firm. Drain the lentils and set aside. (Keep an eye on the lentils to make sure they don’t boil dry. Add more water if needed.)
3. Place the turnip cubes in a steamer with at least 1 inch of water underneath. (Collapsible steamer baskets work well in a saucepan if you don’t have a pot fitted with a steamer basket.) Bring the water to boil, then reduce the heat and cover the pot and steam for about 20 minutes or until the turnips are tender when pierced with a fork. Remove the turnips from the steamer and set aside.
4. Place the greens beans on a large baking sheet and toss with 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil and a generous sprinkle of kosher salt. Arrange in a single layer on the pan and bake for about 12 to 15 minutes or until slightly browned, tossing after 7 or 8 minutes. Remove from the oven when done and set aside.
5. In a bowl (you can use the large serving bowl you’re going to assemble the salad in), toss the kale and the 1 tablespoon olive oil. Transfer the kale to a large sauté pan and cook over medium-high to high heat for about 5 minutes or until softened. See if you can get a little char on the leaves. Return the kale to the serving bowl.
6. Phew, you made it! Now you can assemble the salad. Add the lentils, turnips, green beans, and onion to the kale in the large serving bowl. Toss with several generous tablespoons of chive vinaigrette and then sprinkle liberally with kosher salt and 5 to 6 big turns of freshly ground pepper. Toss again. Taste to see if you need more dressing. Add as desired then add the avocado and sunflower seeds (saving a handful or two to sprinkle on top). Toss gently one more time. Serve.
1/4 cup minced chives
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons honey
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 peeled and pitted avocado, coarsely chopped
1. Place all the ingredients in a blender or food processor except the olive oil and avocado and process until blended. Slowly add the oil until the vinaigrette is emulsified. Add the avocado and process until blended.
You free next Monday morning? If so, please join me at Haven’s Kitchen—we’ll be baking up ooey, gooey cinnamon buns, cherry-pistachio and orange-currant scones, cardamom cake, and other tasty morning treats in my Baking for Brunch class. Haven’s Kitchen (HK), the genuis of Alison Schneider, is a recreational cooking school, specialty food shop, and event space housed in a charming carriage house two blocks off Union Square.
Photo by Brent Herrig
On 17th Street between 6th and 7th avenues, the HK storefront envelopes you with a sense of community. There are many regulars from the ‘hood who run in to grab their morning coffee and scone, but just as many are seeking out HK for its classes and camaraderie offered in the inspiring steel kitchen (you can peek in from the coffee bar).
The two equally picture-perfect floors above, tastefully decorated with eclectic yet modern furnishings, may be rented out for private parties.
The completely hands-on classes are limited to a small number of students so you get lots of attention, and while the focus is on learning, it’s on fun too. Afterward, the table is set with fresh flowers and mismatched silver cutlery so you may sit down with your classmates and instructor for a meal. They even pour you a glass (or two) of wine. It’s so darn civilized!
While the feeling is all warm and fuzzy, Ali’s mission is clear in every aspect of HK: sustainability. From the artisan-made products on the shelves to the local organic produce used, the environmentally-friendly practices to the nurturing, educational environment, her goal is evident. And when you’re there, you want to be a part of that goal too—go ahead, buy a canvas tote and head to the farmer’s market (the granola and spoonable butterscotch are hard to resist too!).
If you can’t make my class, stop in Haven’s Kitchen (109 West 17th Street, NYC) for a coffee or pastry Mondays through Fridays 8am to 7pm, or Sundays 10am to 7pm. They’ll make you feel right at home…problem is, you’ll want to move right in, I do!