Category Archives: vegetables

Spring supper (or breakfast)–with asparagus

IT WAS NEARLY DINNER TIME and I had just decided what to have. Asparagus with baked or fried eggs, a few roasted potatoes and some buttered toast. That sounded about perfect, as I had just bought some nice asparagus the day before.

asparagus in jar

My daughter taught me you could put asparagus in a glass or jar with cold water and it would keep really well. And in the meantime, it looks good too.

Asparagus and eggs seems like a natural combination. Nutritionists go back and forth about whether eggs are good for you or not. But in any case, one egg won’t kill you. I remembered that I once wrote a blog post about this dish, so I looked it up. Yes, it’s funny that I had to consult my own blog — but when you think about it, it’s just like consulting all those little recipe cards I’ve kept over the years.

The original inspiration for the dish came from something I’d read that had baked eggs on top of steamed asparagus. I never did find the recipe I was looking for, (though I later saw a similar recipe for asparagus with eggs that was called “Asparagus Milanese.”) — but I ended up making a variation with roasted potatoes and asparagus.

Here’s how it went: I cut up a few Yukon Gold potatoes and half an onion, tossed them in a tablespoon or two of olive oil and some salt and pepper and put them on a cookie sheet in the oven (400 degrees) to roast……

After about 15 minutes or so (20?) I tossed some asparagus on top of the potatoes (I also drizzled a little oil over them, and sprinkled on some salt) and then, after those were mostly done — the timing so far doesn’t need to be really precise–I cracked open an egg and carefully let it sink over the asparagus (if I’d had the asparagus a little flatter, the egg might have looked even better.) The original recipe called for one egg for each person, by the way.  I just kept checking to see if the egg was as done as I like it, the yolk still a little runny (but not so much. It’s hard to order an egg like this in a cafe, by the way. You have to say “over medium — plus a little more). A guideline for the eggs is somewhere between 8 and 12 minutes.

In the last minute or so, I sprinkled on just a tiny bit of  grated cheese. Parmeggiano, Romano, pecorino or sharp cheddar — any of these would do.  Or skip it.

asparagus and eggs

In the original post,  I baked the eggs, but this time I didn’t feel like waiting and checking the oven so often, so I opted to simply fry them in the pan, while I melted a bit of Parmeggiano over the asparagus in the oven.

I had some nice bread to make toast with this tonight, but in my original post I was more ambitious and made biscuits. You might have noticed that I have a lot of posts about biscuits, but just in case you’d like that recipe again and don’t want to search for it, I’ll keep it here as well. Happy asparagus season to you all.

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Years ago I wrote about biscuits in an essay called “Still Living with a Biscuit State of Mind.”  (published in Christian Science Monitor). That essay still applies, except I now dispense with the two knives and just use my fingers to “cut,” or more precisely, rub the butter into the flour….

And here’s that biscuit recipe once again:

Biscuits

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons cold butter, cut in four pieces
  • 3/4 cup cold buttermilk

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Mix the flour, salt, baking powder and soda together in a bowl and cut or rub in the butter until it’s in little pieces. Stir in the buttermilk with a fork until the mixture comes together as a moist, but not sticky dough.

Turn onto a floured board and knead just a couple times (you never want to overwork a baking powder/soda dough). Roll out the dough about 3/4″ thick with a rolling pin (or a wine bottle if you don’t have a rolling pin), cut into biscuit shapes with a biscuit cutter or the rim of a glass dipped in flour. You’ll have 10 to 12 biscuits or so. Any leftover dough can be just formed by hand into a little patty (or you can make them all this way).

Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for about 10 minutes, or till they’re golden. The time will vary depending on the size of your biscuit cutter. Serve hot.

Tip: I like to roll out the dough, then fold it in half and roll again. This makes it so the biscuits break open neatly in the middle when you want to put on some butter, jam, honey, etc.

This is my favorite biscuit cutter, which I’ve had for about 100 years. Well, at least 25.

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Filed under baked goods, spring, supper time, Uncategorized, vegetables

Spring is still soup season

THE OTHER DAY IT WAS SO BLUSTERY AND COLD that I decided soup was in order. A nice between-season soup is the leek-potato one, and you can add fresh parsley or other greens to it just before serving to give it a fresher spring flavor. I found that I’d written a blog about it years ago, and it sounded good enough to recycle. It reminded me to sweat those leeks (awful as it sounds)! And though I was lacking stock or broth of any kind, I just used water and it was still just fine. With some bread or popovers, and perhaps a salad — I’d call it a meal fit for the season.

Fresh leeks are a glorious, yet humble, sign of spring. A few years ago, when I was visiting Cathy in California, a neighbor brought over a big bagful of freshly picked leeks, and I set to work on some leek-potato soup.

Most of this work took place around the sink, as leeks like to hold on to dirt in their layers, so they demand a lot of cleaning.  Basically, you cut off the dark green leaves and the root-y bottoms, then run the rest (the white and light green parts) under running water, making sure you clean between the layers. (Alternatively, sometimes  you can find trimmed, cleaned leeks in your grocery store.)

If the leeks are very fat, slice them vertically before cutting your horizontal slices.

I had never been quite happy with the texture of leeks in the soup I’ve made previously, so this time I consulted Cathy’s cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen, and these experts supplied the ultimate tip: sweat the leeks.

It’s not the most attractive term, but basically it means that you saute the slices of leeks in some oil or butter (use your judgement for how much) and then put a lid on top for 15 minutes or so. The leeks continue to cook in their own moisture, and they will become meltingly soft and intense.

Now all you need to do is to add some vegetable or chicken broth, a bay leaf and perhaps some thyme, salt and pepper, and a few potatoes — red or white or Yukon gold — cleaned and cut into about 1/2-inch dice. You can leave the skins on if you like. Cook till the potatoes are soft, then smash some of them against the side of the pot to thicken the soup.

It’s nice left chunky like this, with pieces of potato and leek in your soup bowl, or you can blend some or all of it for a silkier texture. Some minced parsley or other greens, and a dusting of Parmesan, is good just before serving.

I found this advertisement in a store flier. Were the mushrooms leaking out of the strudel?

Do not confuse a leek with a leak. If in doubt, please contact me for proofreading advice.

 

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Filed under fall, Praise for other cooks, soup, spring, supper time, Uncategorized, vegetables, winter

Eating green

It’s time for a St. Patrick’s Day post — so I’m recycling this one from 7 years ago. I just made my favorite green soup (parsley-potato) and I’m keeping things simple this year, with a toast to my Dad and the idea of America welcoming immigrants!

toby's kitchen notes

My family always celebrates St. Patrick’s Day.

It’s not that our Jewish family has any Irish ancestry. But my father always talked about the “Irish luck” that allowed him to escape Nazi Germany and arrive in the United States on March 17, 1939.

After he’d made the decision to leave–in 1936, when he lost his job after his boss was ordered to dismiss all Jewish employees–it took years and many obstacles before he could obtain a visa to America. By that time, February, 1939, there were no more boats leaving Germany. He packed a few belongings in a brown steamer trunk, said goodbye to his parents and brother, and took a train to Holland.

In early March, he boarded a small ship bound for America.  Because of rough seas, the voyage lasted fourteen days and the ship arrived in New York on March 17, 1939 – St. Patrick’s Day.

A…

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Filed under musings, soup, spring, Uncategorized, vegetables

What’s for supper?

potpie2

“WHAT ARE YOU COOKING for supper, Toby?”

Many years ago, when my dad was in his late 80s and early 90s, at least once a week, he would call me about 5 p.m. and ask me that question.  It was a great way to start a conversation — even on days when I really had no idea what we would have for supper and could laugh with my father about my lack of a plan.

At 5 p.m. Pacific Time, it was already 7 p.m. in Chicago so my parents had eaten and the dishes were cleared, and I could find out what they’d had for supper.

Although I will always miss hearing my dad asking me that question, I’ve taken his cue and often ask my adult children that same question. There is a difference: while my father was not planning to replicate my recipes, both my children are great cooks, and often finding out what they’re making for supper gives me a good idea what to make.

Such was the case a couple nights ago, when Aviva told me she was making a pot pie with a biscuit topping. “Oh, that sounds delicious!” I said. “I’ve made that last winter — but I forgot all about it.”

After we hung up the phone, I went into the kitchen and scrounged around. Sure enough, I had all the ingredients for such a pie. Previously, Aviva had showed me about cooking the vegetables (in this case, a little onion, some celery, carrots, chopped potatoes and  sweet potatoes, peas, etc. etc.) and chicken if desired, in a cast iron skillet, then making a sauce with a flour-butter roux and putting the biscuit batter on top.

The beauty of this method was the one-skillet method — which I’ve written about in a former post (which also includes a puff-pastry topped pie and a delicious lentil-carrot soup which I intend to make again soon).

The next day, Aviva and I compared notes on our pot pies. She’d warned me that the sauce (gravy?) might get too thick, by the time the biscuits were baked — and mine was. Aviva said she’d overcompensated and made the sauce too thin. I think that next time, I will put the filling in a regular pie pan (which has less surface area) so the filling won’t get quite as much direct heat. Like life, cooking is a work in progress.

What are you making for supper?

p.s. (By the way, though you can use any type of biscuits atop your pot pie, I do like Mark Bittman’s recipe for a cobbler-style biscuit topping).

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Filed under baked goods, musings, Praise for other cooks, supper time, vegetables, winter

Small comforts

chicken-pie

I KNOW IT’S A CLICHÉ to write about “comfort food,” but the anxiety I’ve experienced  since the election has made comfort seem more necessary than ever. There is something calming about the normality of cooking, especially if you’re making something both comforting and nourishing.

Last week I made a mushroom-chicken pot pie topped with biscuits that fit the bill. Aviva showed me how to do this basically in one pot: saute onions and garlic with your choice of vegetables –some options: mushrooms, chopped potatoes or sweet potatoes, carrots, peas, cauliflower greens– in butter and/or oil in a cast iron skillet. Add a few tablespoons of flour and seasonings (salt, pepper, rosemary or thyme) and then add enough broth (chicken or vegetarian) to make a nice “gravy” for your pie. Add cooked chicken or leave it out for a vegetarian version. The sauce should be a little thinner than you want it as it’ll thicken in the oven. You can top with a biscuit dough, as I did here (Mark Bittman’s biscuit topping works well) or with a typical pie crust.

puff-pastry-pot-pie

Or, for the easiest method, do as I did recently and use puff pastry (buy it frozen and thaw it). Lay a circle of puff pastry over your filling, and cut a few slits for the steam to escape.

For any of these toppings, bake at 400 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the biscuits or other crust is golden.

The pot pie is a little more ambitious than my usual comfort nourishment though. I gravitate toward the simplest form of cooking. Faithful readers of this blog (thank you!) know that I love SOUP, especially in fall and winter, when my go-to supper is soup and bread (or toast, popovers, cornbread, etc.).

Indeed I have a long family history with soup, one part of which I wrote about in my latest sketchbook:

soupspoon-jpg_0001

In just the last few weeks, I’ve run through a lot of my soup favorites: lentil with spinach and lemon, parsley-potato; chicken soup with matzo balls, red lentil soup; and of course, minestrone.

My latest soup creation is another lentil soup, this time with lots of carrots to brighten its color, and some seasoning to perk up the flavors. I adapted it from a recipe by British food writer Diane Henry for “Turkish carrots and lentils with herbs” in the book Plenty (no, not the Ottolenghi Plenty).

Henry’s recipe is more a side dish with fewer lentils and no real broth; I doubled the lentils and added more water for a soup-ier version. She suggests fresh mint, parsley or dill for the herbs — I chose to use cilantro (but I do want to try the mint version sometime.) Henry also adds 2 teaspoons of sugar, but I left it out; it didn’t seem to need it. The coriander seeds and red pepper, along with the lemon and herbs give it a bright and lively flavor.

carrot-lentil

This first serving was more stew-like; when I heated it up the next day, I added more water to make it more of a soup. Really good either way.

Carrot-lentil soup

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly chopped
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds, crushed
  • 1/4 – 1/2 dried red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup lentils
  • 6 large carrots, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste (or you can use tomato puree)
  • 4 or 5 cups vegetable stock or water
  • salt and pepper
  • chopped cilantro
  • lemon juice
  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan and saute’ the onion until soft. Add garlic and spices and cook for two minutes. Then add everything else except the cilantro and lemon juice.
  2.  Bring to a boil and cook until tender, about 30 minutes. Add more water or broth as you like — it can be more of a lentil stew or a soup.
  3. Adjust the seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste. If desired, add a glug of olive oil to the soup (I don’t but you might want to).
  4. Ladle into bowls, adding a generous squeeze of lemon juice and a good sprinkle of cilantro into each bowl.

I love Diane Henry’s concise description: “This shows just how delicious frugality can be.” And comforting too.

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Filed under Praise for other cooks, soup, supper time, vegetables, winter

Fresh from the pantry (almost)

RedLentils

Red lentils are also called Egyptian or Mansoor lentils

THE ENTRY FOR LENTILS in the Oxford Companion to Food follows closely behind the one for lemons — and that seems right, as lemons add brightness to this easy-to-cook-but-sometimes-a-little-dull legume. A recipe on my lemon blog for Lemony Lentil Soup with Spinach (scroll to second recipe) is testimony to this great marriage.

Lentils have been cultivated since antiquity in Egypt, and evidence of lentils has been found in many prehistoric sites in Europe. In India, the largest producer of lentils today, they are an everyday food called dal, often cooked with onion and spices and served with rice. Next to soy beans, lentils have the highest protein content of all vegetables.

There are dozens of different colors and sizes of lentils, each with their own character. Brown or green lentils are fine, but red lentils are very nice for soups as they cook quickly and break down into a puree. And, of course, there’s the color. Some of that lovely salmon color fades with cooking, though, so I was happy to find New York Times’ food writer Melissa Clark’s recipe for Red Lentil Soup with Lemon, which adds carrots and tomato paste to the pot to bring some of the color back. And this time of year, when it’s often grey and dismal outside, I really appreciate a burst of color in the soup bowl.

Lemonsqueeze

When cooking any kind of lentils, don’t forget the lemon

Another thing to love about this soup is that (as long as I’ve got the red lentils in the pantry), I usually have all the ingredients on hand. Lemon, onion, garlic — check. Cumin, chile powder or cayenne, tomato paste — check. I don’t always have fresh cilantro, but parsley or even chives will do in a pinch.

Truth be told, I very rarely follow a recipe precisely (often not even more-or-less) but this one was so simple and easy — and didn’t call for any unusual ingredients — that I didn’t have my usual tendency to depart from it. (That is, aside from adding an extra carrot for more orange flecks, and a good squeeze of lemon juice in the serving bowls for brighter flavor.)

I made some popovers and a green salad to go with it, and called it supper.

RedLentil soup

 

 

 

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Filed under Praise for other cooks, soup, spring, vegetables, winter

Pistou!!

cranberry beans

I’d bought some fresh cranberry beans at the farmers’ market, which were very tasty and tender

IT’S THAT TRANSITION TIME — warm and summery one day, cool and rainy the next. During the cool rainy (and windy) days last week, I wished I had some soup to eat. . . but I didn’t feel like making my usual fall and winter soups. I didn’t want to rush the season.

Then I saw this article and recipe in the New York Times for soupe au pistou, the Southern French vegetable soup flavored with basil (usually a basil pesto without the pine nuts).

stringbeans, potatoesThe lovely thing about this particular recipe by David Tanis is that it uses all those vegetables that are in season right now, in September. However, it’s also very adaptable, and there are countless variations. For example, in a second batch I made, I cooked dried, soaked white beans instead of the cranberry beans. (Yes, I imagine you could substitute canned beans). And I couldn’t find romano beans, so I just used more regular green beans.

Another adjustment I made to the recipe was to skip the separate step of blanching the vegetables, and just cook them right in the pot (as one reader suggested), to my liking. I kept them bright and slightly crunchy for the first serving; the next day, when I reheated the soup, the vegetables were less bright but more tender. Both variations were good.

Some people use rice or macaroni instead of potatoes, or insist that tomatoes are essential if you want to call it soupe au pistou  (Here, for example, is a completely different recipe).

I like the potatoes, though, and I think the soupe is fine with or without the tomatoes. Since I’ve never had an traditional soupe au pistou, I can’t judge its authenticity except to say I like this soup, whatever you call it.

The dollop of basil pesto (without nuts, but if you have some usual pesto on hand, no one will object) adds a distinctive seasoning, but this soup is flavorful even without it (maybe then you should call it something else).

pistouReally, this soupe au pistou is so good that it led me right back into the soup-making season–without regrets.

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Filed under fall, Praise for other cooks, soup, vegetables

August fixin’s

pasta and vegAUGUST REMINDS ME of my childhood: the sticky hot humid days in Chicago, barely relieved by the big swamp cooler in the basement. We had no air conditioning and my two sisters and I slept in an upstairs attic-type room, catching what little breeze we could from the open window and a fan. A thunderstorm was an evening’s entertainment:  From our screened-in back porch, we’d listen to the thunder, watch the streaks of lightning and smell the oncoming rain.

But best of all, August meant we would pack up the car (I always had a case full of books) and leave the city for a rented cabin in Ephraim, Wisconsin, or South Haven, Michigan, where we’d swim in Lake Michigan (Yes, we did that at home too, but here it was even better) and eat fresh peaches and blueberries, corn and tomatoes, trout and smoked whitefish, and bakery white rolls. And cherry pie.

Wherever you are, fresh produce is abundant this month, and dinner doesn’t have to be salad. On these lazy days, I love to center an August meal around corn on the cob. Or potato and green beans in a vinaigrette. Or cherry tomatoes, as in the photo above, roasted (or sauteed) with some garlic and oil and sprinkled with basil, to dress a pasta. With a side of green beans with lemon zest, and a simple salad with beets (dressed in another vinaigrette) and hazelnuts, it was a light but satisfying meal that didn’t take long at the stove.

blackberry cobbThis kitchen blog began in 2009 with Blackberry Cobbler No. 8, a recipe for the eighth version I had made of blackberry cobbler.

This week my daughter and I picked  blackberries (it’s been unusually hot here so it’s almost end-of-the-season) for a cobbler and decided that the No. 8  version is still hard to beat, with very tender biscuits with a touch of cornmeal. There’s not too much sugar in it, and a dollop of ice cream on the warm cobbler will suit it just fine.

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Filed under dessert, fruit, musings, summer, supper time, vegetables

Taste of Sicilia

sicilia insalata_0001As we’re getting ready for a trip to Sicily, I was reading through a little travel journal I kept from a visit there eight years ago, when I went to research lemons. I came across this page with a tuna-lemon-olive oil salad with artichoke hearts and green beans that I made in a lemon orchard agriturismo above Sicily’s Lemon Riviera, on the eastern side of the island (we are going there again!). We usually had a kitchen in Sicily, so we could shop in the markets, and we ate some variation of this salad nearly every day we were there — and with tuna so good and produce so fresh and delicious, we never tired of it.

This salad (with variations) became a standard once we were home, too. You may have to substitute Meyer lemons or preserved lemons for the Sicilian lemon if you want to eat the lemon peel, but otherwise –except for the gorgeous views of Mount Etna and the Mediterranean — it translates well, especially in the spring.

tuna insalata

I’m sure we always had bread or breadsticks with “My Sicilian lemon insalata (good for il prazo–lunch–or antipasta). The bottom line reads: “good with Etna red or white, iced tea or lemonade.”

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Filed under salad, spring, Uncategorized, vegetables

Börek? Not really.

Claudia Turgut’s blog, A Seasonal Cook in Turkey, is often an inspiration, and it especially called out to me last week, when I wanted to make a special appetizer to share at Jennifer’s house while we watched the Oscars together. I was considering the luscious looking savory pastry called  börek that Claudia made with various fillings and served at teatime.

But I was not in Istanbul, so how could I possibly make börek?

It wasn’t the filling that was the problem; it was the lack of yufka, that special dough that comes in big round sheets. You can easily buy yufka fresh in Turkey, it seems — but not so here. The closest you can come (unless perhaps you are near a Turkish market) is frozen filo dough, but that is thinner and smaller and rectangular — and just not the same.

The answer? I couldn’t make genuine börek, but I could make my own approximation of it — and as soon as everyone tasted it, no one seemed to care if it was genuine or not.

Claudia’s recipe called for a filling of sauteed onion and parsley, but since I didn’t have parsley, I  added some spinach and crumbled feta cheese to a lot of sauteed onions, and a little salt, pepper and cayenne to taste.

The filling

I unwrapped a couple sheets of thawed filo dough, brushed them with a mixture of melted butter and oil. After my first attempt, I decided that two sheets of filo was still too thin, so I added a third sheet, with another light brush of the butter/oil mix. Then I scattered the filling across the sheets of dough.

making borek

Then I rolled it up the long way, and cut it into pieces.

borekroll

borekbeforebaking

The pastries on a cookie sheet just before baking

I mixed an egg yolk with a few drops of water and brushed them on the pieces, then sprinkled them with sesame seeds, the usual ones and black ones  (poppy seeds are good too) before popping into a 350 degree oven. They took about 20 minutes or so before they were golden brown and smelling delicious. I took some of them out just a bit early so I could reheat them at Jennifer’s house that evening.

borekonplate2

Mmmmm……they weren’t real börek, it’s true — but they were irresistible!

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Filed under baked goods, Praise for other cooks, Uncategorized, vegetables