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!

 

Dinner for Two: Buttery-Garlicky-Spicy Calamari with Israeli CousCous

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I must credit two people for introducing me to what has become my favorite special-occasion-feeling fast-food meal. The first is Melissa Clark, who wrote the recipe for the dish you see above, and the second is my dear friend, Tracie, who gifted me Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now, the book that contains said recipe.

I adore Melissa Clark because she takes dishes that seem complicated and makes them super simple and un-intimidating (like this one). And then once you make the dish, stand back and admire your work, you feel like a superhero / star chef. I love that feeling.

I grew up eating a lot of calamari, usually fried. It was a staple of our Christmas Eve menu as well as our Good Friday one. Good ol’ Italian Catholics and their affinity for seafood. My mother makes the lightest fried calamari you’ve ever tasted. It’s never greasy or rubbery or heavy or fishy, probably because my mom knows how to buy seafood, and she knows how to fry. I’ve become comfortable cooking fish fillets in the last six months, and while I can do a lot with shrimp and I’ve finally figured out how to sear scallops (hot pan! hot pan!), I have stayed away from squid. A—I don’t fry food, and B—I had distinct memories or seeing it inky, sandy and slippery on the kitchen counter from my childhood. Gross.

Ms. Clark introduced me to buying cleaned squid and sauteing it in butter and olive oil. Life-changing, let me tell you! Cleaned squid, tentacles and all, takes minutes to prepare. You cut the bodies into half-inch rings and leave them on paper towels to dry, then pat dry again. Leave the tentacles whole, unless they’re huge, in which case you just split them in half with your knife. It’s totally not gross. Also, something my mother taught me—fresh seafood doesn’t smell fishy. It smells like the sea. So if you get home and unwrap your squid and it stinks, wrap it back up and take it back to your fish dealer. Get a refund, and don’t buy from them again.

Israeli couscous is a great partner for the squid here – it’s light and creamy yet still has some bite, it absorbs the sauce well, and if you get the tri-color kind like I did, it certainly looks pretty. I found some beautiful snap peas at the market, so I served them steamed with the squid & couscous. You could substitute broccoli or baby spinach as well.

One word of note: This dish takes ten minutes to prepare, but to achieve greatness in those 10 minutes, have all your ingredients ready and the table set. You and your sweetie will be treated to an amazing meal, I promise.

RECIPE:

Buttery-Garlicky-Spicy Calamari with Israeli CousCous

adapted from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cooking time: 10 minutes
  • Serves: 2

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup stock (chicken or vegetable)
  • pinch of salt
  • 2/3 cup Israeli (pearl) couscous
  • 2 tsbp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 pound fresh raw squid, bodies cut into 1/2 rings, plus the tentacles, patted dry
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 basil leaves, cut into ribbons
  • handful of parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • quarter of a lemon (to squeeze)

Method:

  • Add broth & pinch of salt to a 1.5 or 2 quart saucepan, then bring to a boil. Add the couscous, return to a boil, then cover and turn the heat to its lowest setting. Set your timer for 10 minutes.
  • This would be a good time to prep a vegetable for steaming in the microwave. Or, you could whip a green salad together. Just sayin’.
  • When the couscous has 5 minutes to go, heat a large skillet (not non-stick) over high heat. After a couple a minutes, add the butter and olive oil. Once the butter is melted and the foam subsides, add the squid and stand back (there may be some sputters and pops – careful!). Be patient and don’t poke the squid for a solid minute.
  • Add the garlic, basil, parsley and pepper flakes and stir everything together. You’ll see some sear marks on the squid (this is good), and you want to cook it till its just opaque throughout, which is really easy to see. Sprinkle salt and pepper on top and remove from heat.
  • Stir in the couscous till its coated with the sauce, then squeeze the lemon over the mixture (watch out for pits!) and stir again. Serve immediately with a nutritious green vegetable and a glass of something light and crisp, like a Grüner Vetliner.

Video & Recipe: Cheesy Rutabaga Mash

Today’s a very exciting day on the blog. I’m posting my first video demo! Making a video for MITK is something I’ve been wanting to do for years. I have a background in video production and I love to cook, so you’d think I would have done it sooner.

May I present to you my entry for the CreateTV Cooking Challenge

I chose to make rutabaga the subject of this video for lots of reasons. I discovered it earlier this winter after I (once again) found myself exhausted with butternut squash and sweet potatoes. I had a hard time finding references for what to do with rutabaga – there are very few videos and articles devoted to this often-ignored vegetable, which is really a shame because it’s DELICIOUS! Seriously. And what I really love is that it’s not sugary-sweet the way that butternut & sweet potatoes can be. Rutabaga is wonderful roasted, but it’s positively ethereal when mashed with potatoes and cheddar.

You will love this, I promise.

Recipe: Cheesy Rutabaga Mash

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Prep Time: 15 minutes / Cook Time: 25-30 minutes / Serves 8 as a side dish

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds rutabaga (1 med-large)
  • 1 pound Idaho baking potatoes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2.5 tbsp kosher salt, divided
  • 2 quarts tap water
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter (salted is OK, but you may want to decrease the kosher salt)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1.5 cups shredded cheddar cheese (the sharper, the better!)
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh chives, plus more for garnish
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Use a Y-peeler to peel the rutabaga, making sure to peel away all the wax and skin. Cut into 2″ pieces and set in a large pot or Dutch oven. Next peel the potatoes and cut into 2″ chunks, then add to the pot. (If you want to do this ahead of time, you can refrigerate the rutabaga and potato separately- potato should be kept in cold water to avoid browning up to 4 hours ahead of cooking).

Add the bay leaves, 1.5 tablespoons of the salt and water, covering everything in the pot. Cover and set on high heat until boiling.

Once the water boils, continue cooking for 22 minutes, or until a fork easily pierces the rutabaga. If it crumbles a little, that’s okay – this is a situation where a little overcooking is actually quite fine.

Drain and remove bay leaves. Return vegetables to the pot, then add butter, milk, and the remaining salt. Using a potato masher, mash the mixture until it’s uniform and silky.

Next add the cheese and 1/3 cup chives and stir with a wooden spoon until the cheese is melted and fully incorporated. Top with the extra chives, freshly ground pepper and serve.

Storing: If you have leftovers, or do what I do and cook a lot of food on Sunday, this dish keeps up to 4 days stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator and reheats beautifully in the microwave.

A couple of things I learned as I was researching rutabaga and testing this recipe:

Make sure to cook the rutabaga uncovered once the water starts boiling. While it’s cooking rutabaga releases a gas that’s kinda smelly, so you don’t want to contain that within the pot. Including the bay leaves in the cooking water is essential for this reason, and it also helps neutralize the bitter edge rutabaga can sometimes have.

Rutabaga will keep for weeks in the fridge, but keep in mind its taste will get sharper the longer it sticks around. You can still cook with it, but you may want to add more butter & cheese so it’s not as pungent.

Potato is a key ingredient here because it has the starch that rutabaga lacks. Potato is what gives this mash its silkiness and body.

You could use another cheese or combination of cheeses here, like Pecorino Romano or Fontina or even goat cheese. Just remember that some cheeses, like Pecorino, are saltier than others, so you may want to adjust the second addition of salt.

You could use cheddar and skip the chives, instead seasoning the rutabaga with a combination of spices, like chipotle chile powder and smoked paprika. This would go wonderfully with pork and chicken. I prefer my cheddar & chive version with steak.

 

Sweetcakes: Banana Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Muffins

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A surplus of overripe bananas is never a bad thing in our house. For one thing, my husband actually eats them. And when he forgets—or when I’ve really bought too many bananas, as I did this week—I make banana bread.

Here’s the thing: I rarely make banana bread the same way twice. Sometimes I feel virtuous and make it with whole wheat flour and flaxseed meal. Other times I’ll brown the butter in a saucepan before mixing the batter, which gives it a nutty flavor. Occasionally I’m inspired to throw in some chopped dark chocolate, or when I really want a treat, I make my banana bread with peanut butter.

Today I decided to modify my approach. My thought process went something like this: I wanna make banana bread, but I can’t keep it in the house because we’ll eat it all. I’ll give it to Paul to take to work. But bringing a bread to work is kind of awkward, the cutting and all. Okay, so! Muffins it is. Let’s add some chocolate chips. I have the end of a jar of peanut butter, so maybe i can scrape away about a quarter cup… now to Google recipes. Nothing for banana peanut butter chocolate chip muffins? Internet, you disappoint me.

I found a recipe for banana chip muffins, took it apart, then put it back together my way. What I’ve created here is a super-easy, incredibly decadent-feeling, flavor-packed breakfast, dessert, or snack.

Here you go, America.

RECIPE: BANANA PEANUT BUTTER CHOCOLATE CHIP MUFFINS

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Time: 12 minute to prep / 20 minutes to bake

Serves: 15 (12 muffins, plus a mini-loaf for 3)

Ingredients:

2 c. all-purpose flour

2 1/4 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. coarse salt

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

3 very ripe bananas, mashed (1 cup)

3/4 c. dark brown sugar (not packed)

1/4 c. butter, melted and cooled slightly (4 tbsp. or a half stick)

1/4 c. creamy peanut butter

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 large egg

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners. Spray a mini-loaf pan with Pam, or rub some vegetable oil along sides and bottom to coat.

Combine the first four ingredients together in a medium bowl and stir with a whisk. Next, combine the banana and sugar in a larger bowl, mixing quickly with a whisk to break up any lumps in the sugar. Next add the rest of the wet ingredients, the butter through the vanilla, and mix with a wooden spoon until the mixture is uniform.

Fold the flour mixture into the the wet mixture until just combined. Then stir in the chocolate chips until evenly distributed throughout the batter.

Divide batter first among muffin cups, filling each about 2/3 full. Put the remainder of the batter in the loaf pan, and using a spatula try to even out the batter.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The mini-loaf may take a few minutes longer than the muffins. Cool everything in-pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then turn out carefully onto a plate and allow to cool completely.

Serving suggestions:

These muffins go equally well with coffee or tea. If you think that’s a really tame suggestion—well, fine. Do it. Get the vanilla ice cream or the fro-yo. Mash it all together in a bowl and have yourself a banana peanut butter chocolate chip muffin sundae. BOOM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

A Burst of Red & Gold in Winter

Beets

Beets, along with lentils and escarole, are foods I avoided in my childhood and grew to love in my twenties, when I was broke and teaching myself how to cook.  I was living in Brooklyn at the time, it was winter, and I had my fill of butternut squash. Beets are cheap and widely available, so I decided to give them a try.

I remember being in the produce department at Fairway, stunned by how inexpensive the beets were. Fifty-nine cents a pound! Always one to get the best bang for the few bucks I had, I bought the largest beet I could find. It was about the size of a grapefruit, enough to supply me with a week’s worth of beet salads.

I went home and consulted the oracle: Mark Bittman. In How to Cook Everything, Bittman advises that the most foolproof way to cook beets is to roast them, and so I followed his directions: trim the beets of any hairy-looking roots, wrap in foil, and roast for an hour at 400 degrees, or until the tip of a knife can easily cut through the beet’s flesh.

An hour went by, and I went to the oven to check my shining wrapped beet. It was hard as a stone. I gave it another fifteen minutes, then another thirty, and then finally, after two hours and twenty minutes of cooking time had elapsed, the tip of my knife was finally able to slice through the beet.

The long cooking time was a result of the size of the beet. Bittman didn’t mention anything about that in his recipe, and although I got the biggest beet of the bunch at Fairway, it was not significantly larger than its neighbors. Roasting a single vegetable for over two hours seemed like a waste of energy, but I decided to refrain from judgement until I tasted the beet.

“Earthy” is not an adjective that I equate with “delicious”; earthy-flavored foods remind me of the dirt they came from. Beets do have an earthy taste, much the way chard does. But roasting brings out their sweetness and cuts that earthy undertone, which is particularly strong in larger beets. I recommend going for the smaller ones.

Here are some helpful tips that I’ve learned from my blunders in the kitchen:

—Don’t roast red and golden beets together. You want to keep these guys separated as they’re cooking and after you cook them.
—Have a couple pairs of disposable gloves standing by. They will protect your hands from looking like you’ve just murdered a large animal.
—On that note, wear an apron.
—Allow the beets to cool before you peel them. Handling a steaming hot beet is like handling a hot potato—it won’t stay in your hands for long!

Without further ado, here’s my recipe for…

Roasted Beets

 

Overall time: 2.5 hours
Active time: 15 minutes)

 

Ingredients:
—3 small to medium red beets
—3 small to medium golden beets

 

(You want beets that are smaller than a tennis ball here. The bigger the beet, the earthier the taste, the longer the cook time. No, no, and no.)

 

Tools:
—A paring knife
—Aluminum foil

 

(Heavy duty foil is nice but not necessary. Avoid the cheap thin stuff, unless you have enough to wrap them multiple times. You don’t want an explosion of beet juice in your oven, do you?)

 

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Place a rack in the lower third of the oven.

 

Rinse and dry your beets. Use your paring knife to trim the hairy roots, and carefully shave away any blemishes. You don’t want to cut into the beet that much, otherwise the juices will run out in the oven and your beets will be dry.

 

Wrap the golden beets in foil, making sure they are completely enclosed. Then do the same with the red beets.  Put the beets in the oven and set the timer for 55 minutes. Then go find something to do.

 

When the timer goes off, carefully remove the foil packages from the oven, and open one of them (you can wait a few minutes to do this. No sense burning your fingers!). Take your paring knife and put its tip to one of the beets. If it cuts into the flesh easily, you’re done. If you have to apply some pressure to cut into the beet, wrap the package back up and return it to the oven. Give it another 10 minutes of baking time and check it again.

 

When you are done, set the beets aside to cool in their packages for about an hour. Then, put on your disposable gloves and set about the business of peeling. The peels should slide right off. Place the red beets in one container and the golden ones in another, and leave them out and uncovered until they are completely cool. Then refrigerate. I don’t recommend slicing the beets until you’re ready to use them. This way they stay moist and sweet. By the way, one cup of beets cooked this way is 0 (that’s ZERO) Weight Watchers Smart Points.

 

Now, what do you do with them?

 

Put them in a salad. Not only will they add gorgeous color, they’ll also make the salad more filling.  My favorite combination: beets, baby spinach, goat cheese, some crushed walnuts gently coated in a balsamic/honey mustard vinaigrette. It’s the same salad I posted on Monday.

 

Or, if you wanted to make a super healthy, delicious and eye-catching appetizer, you could put your beets to work in this recipe.

 

Happy Cooking!
J.

My Summer in Food

It has been a very hot and very busy summer.  I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for fall. Apples, apple cider donuts, pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin ice cream, butternut squash, hearty vegetable soups, braised beef…

The chilly air means sweater weather. Orange is the dominant color of my wardrobe. I am never without a hot beverage (or a chronic case of the sniffles). And every Sunday, the apartment will be filled with aromas of simmering soup, roasting vegetables or a bubbly, baked pie. I can’t wait.

But before autumn comes to Brooklyn, here’s a look back at some of my favorites this summer—the home-grown, the raw, the cooked, and the more successful experiments…

Late June

I discover garlic scapes at the farmers’ market. I’m so fascinated by their shape and aroma that I buy 2 bunches…and have no idea what to do with them.

Voi-la! Pesto. Made with garlic scapes, olive oil, parsley, parmesan, and some pecans I had in the freezer. As potent in flavor as it is bright in color.

JULY

Yellow corn grits with shrimp and bacon. A lovely mess, worth every minute spent in an infernally hot kitchen.

Cooking Light’s lightened-up Lemon Bars. Tart & creamy custard, crunchy nutty crust. A new fave.

August

My birthday cake, made from scratch by my mom. Layers of golden sponge cake, vanilla custard and chocolate cream, surrounded by toasted almonds and hazelnuts. I rationed out portions for myself for the week. The cake didn’t last longer than 3 days.

Raspberries from my mother’s garden. The bushes grow wild, and no matter how much she cuts them back, they take over half the yard every summer.

The fig tree dominates the other half of the yard, and threatens to take over the house. By the 17th of August, the tree has fruited completely, but not one of these little guys is ripe for the picking. Wait for Labor Day, mom advises.

Is there nothing in the world more emblematic of summer than a perfectly ripe peach?

Oven roasted ratatouille with garden grown eggplant, tomato and zucchini…

…makes an excellent topping for pizza!

I finally got around to making The Kitchn’s Magic One-Ingredient Ice Cream. Google it, read the recipe, follow it to the letter, and be amazed by the texture and flavor (helped immensely by cinnamon and vanilla).

Early September

I love my mother’s hands in this shot. She’s shaping the foundation of our dinner…

Foreground: Mushroom/Sausage Pizza. Background: Margherita

More raspberries. This time, I make sauce: raspberries, sugar, Grand Marnier. Right now I’m having some with fro-yo. Mmm.

Sunday September 2nd. Finally, the figs are ready.