Monday, February 3, 2014

fennel and blood orange salad

blood orange fennel salad with mint, hazelnuts

This salad improves winter morale. It’s for times when all of the usual charms of winter — snow that’s fallen like a cashmere blanket over the city overnight, reducing all of the usual ruckuses (trucks, sirens, deliveries and your own child’s tantrums, which you may or may not have discovered last week you could hear from a full city block away) to the decibel of thick socks padding over hardwood floors — have waned on you; when the “snow” is, in fact, two inches of gray muck, when you are convinced that it will never be warm again and when you fear the next hunt around the apartment for where the snow mittens/hats/scarves/boots were last scattered will be the end of you. Whereas most cold winter comfort foods are soft, rich, carby and white, this is everything but: brightly hued, crunchy and piercingly fresh. It cuts across everything that’s lost its charm; it will be even brighter in your social media feed than the photos of those so-called friends who have abandoned you for sandy shores and island blue skies. This salad has your back.

what you'll need
ribbons of fennel

It falls into the all too thin category of Great Winter Salads. Kurt Gutenbrunner wrote an article about his favorite ones for the New York Times in 2002 that I go back to every winter when I need a reminder that many of my favorite foods are excellent year round — cabbage, fennel, celery root, cucumbers and potatoes. I’m not surprised that this one is clearly still one of his favorites (it’s in his recent cookbook and we even spied it on the menu at Blaue Gans on Saturday night) because it’s perfectly balanced. The refreshing fennel is dressed with lemon for brightness, then tossed with blood orange segments (though I think any orange or grapefruit segment would work), toasted hazelnuts (though he calls for walnuts) and mint leaves. The dressing is just the juice from the blood oranges and olive oil and it’s all so pretty, it’s nothing short of a sun lamp beaming forth from a salad bowl.

thiny sliced fennel, dressed with lemon

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

garlicky party bread with cheese and herbs

garlicky party bread with herbs and cheese

My mother’s standard party donation is a boule of pumpernickel bread with the center scooped out and filled with a spinach dip that includes water chestnuts because, of course. The sides are cut into fingers that remain attached at the base (as “severed fingers” would be unsettling, yes?) and can be torn off when the urge comes to swipe one through the center. The urge will come often, so I try to position myself in any room that the boule is not. Nevertheless, I hadn’t considered that there were other approaches to party bread until I came upon this 1998 recipe for one in Taste of Home, the belly full of dip forwent for a multi-pronged attacked of butter, cheese, scallions and poppy seeds, all toasted until melted and crisp.

what you'll need (i skipped the proscuitto)
cut your loaf like this

But why stop there? You could pretty confidently argue that you’ve happened upon a lucky series of life choices when you get to spend half an hour on a Wednesday morning at Whole Foods debating what you’d like to put on your party bread in addition to butter and cheese. There was so much to consider! I considered rarebit-ing it, with a boiled mess of butter, beer, mustard powder, paprika, cayenne, Worcestershire and a scattering of cheddar that I might dream about tonight. I wondered if we ought to go French, with gruyere, shallots and herbes de provence or style it like an American baked potato, with chives and bacon, sour cream and cheese. And then I realized that I’ve never once covered garlic bread on this site and was suddenly filled with purpose and couldn’t wait to get home and start playing in the kitchen.

someone asked if I use a garlic press. yes, I do!
butter. sea salt. so much garlic.

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Monday, January 27, 2014

cheese blintz

cheese blintz with loose strawberry jam

Today, it’s time to correct one of the greatest oversights of the last 7.5 years on this website — sorry, no, not the grammar or excesses of commas and em-dashes, oops, there I did it again — we’re going to talk about cheese blintzes. I mean, really, what have I been waiting for? I’ve got all of the bases covered that would prequalify me for a cheese blintz proclivity: I love crêpes and Eastern European food, I’m Jewish, married to a Russian, had a deep cheese blintz addiction* when I was pregnant, and our little half-Russkie predictably cut his teeth on grandma’s homemade cheese blintzes (and Salad Olivier). And with this, I think we can isolate the real reason I’ve never made cheese blintzes for you: I don’t have to, because my mother-in-law makes them for us.

blending the crepe batter
my crepes always have funny moon shapes

But, I had an excess of farmers cheese in the fridge after I ran out of time to make these (unbearably good) Crescent Jam and Cheese Cookies before the end of the year, an intense hankering for a dessert crêpe to drizzle last week’s Dulce Manna over, it’s late in the coldest January I can remember and I’ve had it just about up-to-here with kale-tinged resolutions — cheese blintzes didn’t just make sense, the situation demanded them.

crepe don't stick to each other, so stack 'em up

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Friday, January 24, 2014

homemade dulce de leche

homemade dulce de leche, oops

Guess what, guys?! This weekend, we’re going to make dulce de leche. Or maybe cajeta. Or maybe both.

Step away from the cupboard; I don’t mean like that, the way we’ve always made it. It’s time to break up with the can of sweetened condensed milk; it’s us, not it. Because I’ve tasted the other side, the one where you take that milk in your fridge that you needed to use up anyway, the sugar that’s already in your pantry, a bit of salt, the smallest snippet of vanilla bean and maybe a cinnamon stick, if you so desire, and boil them together until it smells like the heavens exhaled in your kitchen and the mixture becomes the most complexly flavored thick copper caramel with a deliciousness will bring tears to your eyes. And no, I am not being melodramatic; you’ll see.

vanilla bean, canela, goat's milk, sugar
to begin, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon

It’s the perfect weekend project because you’ll want to set a couple hours aside, but only about 20 minutes of it will require actual work. Plus, the Polar Vortex came back to mock those of us who didn’t take the first one seriously enough to invest in all of the silk, thermal and Gore-Tex left in the city, or so it seems this week, and really, it wants you to stay inside and cook. And it’s now late enough in January — a month that included two soups, one salad, a dairy-free dessert and a whole-wheat muffin, seriously, Resolutions, I did my time — that you’re probably ready to reintroduce decadence (or, at least refined sugar and carbs) in measured quantities. I think this is how you should do it.

approximately 15 minutes inapproximately 30 minutes inapproximately 45 minutes inat approximately the 60 minute mark

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

warm lentil and potato salad

warm lentil and potato salad

You don’t have to look at me like that. I know, I know how you and most people feel about lentils. About how they’re mealy and brown and generally lackluster, like health food putty; about how you’ll eat them, sure, but only if you must. And how if I were trying to convince you that lentils are something that you will very much love if only you could try them this way, my way, that this yellow-and-muddy-purple-brown speckled thing up top, despite the ambitious efforts of the bright green parsley chop scattered over it, is not going to be the thing to pull it off.

what you'll need
lentils cooking with bay, thyme and shallot

But I wish it would. This warm lentil salad is a perfect mid-winter everything — a gorgeous pack-for-work lunch to keep you on this side of your Resolution karma, a perfect side dish to a roast, chops or sausage, and my new favorite thing to break a softly-cooked egg over. The creamy golden potatoes nestle among the perfect discs of thyme-scented lentils and the entire salad zings with finely chopped cornichon, capers and minced shallot that’s been lightly pickled in red wine vinegar, and a good grassy/fruity olive oil. It lightly crunches when you take a bite.

cornichon

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