CreateTV says “Cheesy Rutabaga Mash” is a Winner!

I am so thrilled to announce that I’m one of the winners of the Create Cooking Challenge! My “Cheesy Rutabaga Mash” video was 4th place among the 18 finalists, judged by a panel of prestigious judges that includes some of my idols—among them Christopher Kimball! Jacques Pepín! Sara Moulton! And yes, I am REALLY excited that these people even saw my work, and liked it.

While I’m looking forward to the arrival of a swag basket, the true joy in this is that I made the video, and I wouldn’t have without the impetus this contest provided me. So, thank you, CreateTV, for lighting the fire under my butt to do the thing I really wanted to do and was heretofore terrified of doing, and for recognizing my work.

I also have to thank the group of talented people who helped me produce the video—my colleagues and friends: Ian Smith, who reminded me to smile and not be so nervous; Whitney Cusack, who made sure my mise en place was never out of place; Bill Bourbeau, for his badass color correction skillz; and last but never least, my husband Paul, whose skill at motion design, story, and encouragement never cease to amaze me. Thank you, my darling, for all the time and effort you put into making my dreams come true.

What’s next? The resurgence of the rutabaga (maybe), more magic (very soon), and more videos (coming this summer).

For now, it’s time for Sunday dinner. Happy cooking!

 

Food To Warm Your Bones: Soup, Pizza, Bread, and Brownies

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Soup, pizza, bread, and brownies. With a seemingly never-ending blizzard going on outside, really—what more do you need?

(Please don’t say bourbon or wine or a Dark & Stormy, because I’m on Day 23 of Sober January, and I am determined to make it to Day 31.)

Anyway, back to the food. When I asked my husband if he wanted me to make anything special for blizzard weekend, he replied with an enthusiastic “Bread! Make bread! Please please please!”

The bread he’s referring to is this, a perfectly round boule with a dense, crisp crust and soft, chewy interior. Hot out of the oven, it is exactly what you want when you’re trying to defrost yourself after several hours of shoveling. The dough is actually the easiest thing to put together, and takes about five minutes since there’s no kneading involved. As I was gathering the flour, yeast and salt, I figured I might as well make pizza dough. Bring on the carbs!

The pizza dough requires minimal kneading, and it also takes almost no time to prepare—if you have a food processor.  I highly recommend that you use bread flour if you’re making pizza or bread. You get a much crisper crust and a wonderfully airy, chewy center.

Making pizza from scratch is like creating a blank canvas on which to paint your dinner. You could go traditional and use tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, or your could try something different. My best pizzas have been inspired by the leftovers in my fridge.

That pizza you see in the picture?  I cooked a batch of beans in my slow cooker last Sunday and had about a cup left in the refrigerator. Beans on a pizza? I’ve heard weirder. Herbed, creamy white beans are a natural fit with garlic, so I lopped the tops off two bulbs, roasted them, then mashed the cloves into a paste. As for cheese, I had three to choose from: chevre, Pecorino and mozzarella. Pecorino has the salty-tangy-pow of flavor that really punches up the beans and garlic. I finished with a generous drizzle of olive oil and a smattering of kosher salt. Voi-la: a classy, photogenic and mostly importantly DELICIOUS dinner. This is a pizza you can have on its own, or if you’re feeling more virtuous you can have a slice with a green salad or bowl of soup…

Soup! Of course—what could be more perfect on a cold, blustery, blizzardy day?  This one was entirely improvised, and I built the recipe around two ingredients: beluga lentils and lascinato kale.  What’s funny is that both these foods sound so much fancier than they actually are. Beluga lentils are petite black lentils that, like the French green lentils, maintain their shape and texture well in soups. Bonus: they don’t require nearly as long to cook. Lascinato kale, (or Dinosaur kale, or black kale) is my favorite of the kales. It has this unique pebbly texture, it keeps in the fridge for weeks, and the leaves are so versatile. I find they’re more tender than regular curly kale, so they work equally well in salads, soups and sautes.

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Here’s the recipe for the soup. Keep in mind I used the seasonings and vegetables I had on hand, but you can use whatever you like. Cumin, coriander and garam masala lean on the earthier side of the spice spectrum. You could add more heat, or flavor the soup with herbs instead.

Recipe: Lentil Kale Soup

Time: 90 minutes, prep to table
Serves: 4

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp oregano
scant 1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp aleppo pepper
1/2 large vidalia onion, finely diced
1 shallot, chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
2 small parsnips, peeled, cored and chopped
5 ribs celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 cup beluga (black) lentils
1 cup beef stock
4 cups water
1 bunch Lascinato kale (AKA black kale or dinosaur kale), washed, trimmed of stems and cut into 1” ribbons
4 sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat for 2 minutes. Add oil, swirl to coat pan. Add all the spices (cumin through the aleppo pepper), and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. The mixture will be dark and fragrant.

Add the next six ingredients (onion through garlic), and stir to coat with the spice mixture. Lower the heat to medium-low, add a dash of salt, and let the vegetables cook undisturbed for about 10 minutes, until they soften.

Add the lentils and stir, raising the heat back to medium high. Add the beef stock and the water. Allow the mixture to come to a boil.

Once it starts boils, reduce to a simmer and let cook for ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add the kale, stirring it into the mixture. You may have to reduce the heat, but you want to keep the soup at a steady simmer for about 35-40 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.

Turn off the heat, add salt and pepper to your taste, and sprinkle the the thyme leaves over the soup. Stir and serve immediately, or allow to cool completely before portioning. Refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze up to 3 months.

I didn’t forget the brownies, by the way. Here’s a recipe for fudgy brownies that has all the flavor and a little less guilt than standard recipes. And here’s a tip: If you want to amp up the chocolate flavor, add a teaspoon of instant espresso to the dry ingredients, and a tablespoon of chocolate liquor to the wet ingredients. Your inner chocaholic will thank you.

 

In Praise of Mom: An Easter Dinner to Remember

I am still full from Easter dinner.

This is not a complaint—I know I overdid it, but I overdid it on a seemingly endless parade of lovingly, masterfully prepared foods, courtesy of my mom. The meal began shortly after 1pm with hot and cold antipasti: homemade salami (thanks to mom’s neighbors, Dominick and Rosa), olives, fried artichoke hearts with tomato sauce for dipping, fresh mozzarella, and a favorite from my childhood—spinach-ricotta triangles.  These are a little like the Greek favorite, spanakopita, except my mom makes individual triangles of the phyllo dough (instead of a pie) filled with spinach and ricotta cheese (instead of feta). They are crisp, feather-light, and dangerously addictive.

For the next course, pasta. But not just any pasta—this being Easter, my mother made raviolini. Some were filled with spinach and cheese, and some were filled with veal & pork. The raviolini were tossed in a tomato sauce, accompanied by sausage and meatballs (made in the classic tradition with veal, pork and beef, and very little breadcrumbs).

After finishing the pasta, we took a breather. There were more raviolini and meatballs left on the stove, but was there room?  Possibly. But the scent of the roasting eye-round from the oven was a reminder that more food was coming.  A serving platter of sliced, pink roast beef arrived on the table in a few minutes, accompanied by a salad, gently dressed with olive oil and red wine vinegar.  A perfect, clean finish.

Well, “finish” might not be the right word. There was dessert to be had, but not until after a good stretch and a long walk. I helped my mother clear the table, and then my boyfriend, our friend Nat and I ambled around the quiet streets of Kenilworth, New Jersey, basking in the sun and rubbing our stomachs, praising the wonderful food we had eaten and wondering how we could possibly fit more in our bellies.

When we returned to the house, we found two platters  on the table, filled with the gorgeous, labor-intensive cookies I see in this house on specific holidays: rainbow cookies, brownies, amaretti, and the ones you see in the picture below—the ones my mom and I simply call “the lemon cookies”.

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These fluffy pillows of lemony goodness are my favorites. The cookies are baked, cooled, and then delicately covered with an icing made of lemon juice and powdered sugar. Simple, elegant, and delicious. I love these cookies so much that I don’t want the recipe for them. I don’t want to even try to make them and risk the chance of screwing up, or make them successfully and have the opportunity to take credit for them.  These are cookies I love because my mother makes them for me. They are her art, a showcase of her skill, her talent, of how much love she puts into cooking and baking for the holidays. And every day.

So thank you, Mom, for an amazing meal, a delightful afternoon, and for always welcoming my friends to your table.  I can only hope that I make my guests feel as special as you do.

xo,

J.