Beet Salad with Hazelnuts and Goat Cheese

At the farmers’ market the other day, I heard a man ask the farmer how to prepare beets, “You boil them, right?”  Please don’t boil beets!  It is SO much easier to pop them in the oven, wrapped in foil, then simply slip them out of their skins after they’ve roasted.  They taste better, too! This recipe calls for both red and golden beets, though you could, of course, use either color.  Red beets STAIN, so you might opt for golden beets if you are feeding children.  I wish I could come up with a fancier name for this salad.  There is nothing particularly novel about combining beets, goat cheese and nuts.  What makes this dish special is the use of toasted sesame oil in the dressing.  It amps up the nuttiness of the dressing, which goes so well with the other ingredients.  This makes four servings.  Enjoy!

3-4 golden beets, preferably with their tops
3-4 red beets, preferably with their tops
¼ cup hazelnuts
2 T. plus 1 tsp. hazelnut or walnut oil
2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1 T. good quality balsamic vinegar
2 oz. goat cheese

Arrange oven shelves so that one is one-third of the way off the oven floor (the usual place to bake) and another is at the half-way point. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Cut off the tops of each beat, leaving about an inch of the foliage attached. Rinse the beets of any loose dirt, then wrap each one completely in foil. (It’s OK to trim off any protruding roots.) Spread hazelnuts on a cookie sheet and place on the lower shelf of the oven. Place beets on the higher shelf, taking care that each beet is resting above the cookie sheet.

Toast hazelnuts for 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove the nuts from the oven and pour onto a clean kitchen towel. Return cookie sheet to the oven (so to catch any drips from the beets). Roast the beets 50 minutes longer.

Skin the hazelnuts. (You do this by folding the towel over the warm nuts and rubbing them briskly. Most of the skin will come right off. It is OK to leave on any that sticks.) Coarsely chop them and set them aside.

Measure the hazelnut oil, the sesame oil and the balsamic vinegar into a small glass jar.  Shake to combine.  Set aside.

Remove the beets from the oven and let them cool. Unfold each beet from the foil and skin it (over the sink!) by squeezing gently with your fingers. The beet will slide right out. Take care to keep the golden beets separate from the red beets, as the red beets will exude stain.

Starting with the yellow beets, cut each beat into ½-inch rounds, then each round into quarters. Place the yellow beets into a small mixing bowl. Do the same with the red beets, placing them in a separate bowl. In total, you should have about 3 cups of beets.

Crumble half of the goat cheese over each bowl. Divide the dressing between the two bowls and toss to combine. Pile the red beets into one side of a rimmed serving dish, then add the golden beets to the other side. Sprinkle the chopped toasted hazelnuts on top.  Serve at room temperature.

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Butterscotch Pudding

This has become my go-to recipe when I have extra milk on hand.  It comes together quickly, and the kids like to help.  I found it years ago in Cooking Light magazine, though I omit the non-dairy topping (yuck!) and add a little almond extract.  The flavor is deep and the texture creamy.  This makes 5-6 servings.  Enjoy!

¼ c. cornstarch
1 c. dark brown sugar
½ tsp. salt
3 cups 1% milk, divided
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 T. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
¼ tsp. almond extract

Whisk together cornstarch, brown sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Once well-combined, whisk in 2 cups of milk. Set over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until little bubbles form along the edges of the pan.

Meanwhile, in a medium-sized bowl, whisk together egg, egg yolk, and remaining one cup milk.

Pour a cup or so of the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture to temper the egg, then pour contents of the bowl back into the pan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, over medium-to-medium-high heat. Boil one minute and remove from heat.  Stir in butter, vanilla, and almond extract. Divide among six dessert cups. Place plastic wrap directly on the surface of each pudding (to prevent a skin from forming) and chill at least 4 hours. Serve cold.

Note: For special occasions, you could garnish each pudding with a tablespoon or so of whipped cream and a little ground nutmeg.

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Red Lentil Dal with Greens

This recipe was inspired by an interview I heard with with Madhur Jaffrey.  Apparently, collard greens are a staple food in Kashmir province, often served  as a main course with rice and dal.  I couldn’t find collard greens at the market, so I used curly kale instead.  I also combined the greens with the dal.  The creamy lentils and chewy kale are almost addictive in their appeal.  The spicing is subtle, the dish is all about texture.  Be sure to taste for salt before serving, though.  Chances are, you’ll need to add quite a bit.  This makes 2-3 servings. Enjoy!

1 c. red lentils
4 c. water
¼ tsp. turmeric, divided
3 T. canola oil
1 tsp. brown mustard seeds
½ tsp. whole cumin seeds, crushed or ground
½ tsp. coriander seeds, crushed or ground
1 red hot pepper, finely chopped
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1 large bunch curly kale, ribs removed and coarsely chopped
1 tsp. tamarind paste
1 T. hot water
Sea salt

Lime wedges
Cooked Rice

Rinse and sort lentils and place in a medium saucepan with water. Bring to a boil. Skim off any foam and stir in 1/8 tsp. of the turmeric. Partially cover pan. Turn down heat and simmer lentils until they begin to fall apart, about 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, warm the canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and cook until they start to pop, about 1 minute. Add the remaining turmeric, cumin, coriander, and hot pepper and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add garlic and onion and cook over medium-low heat until soft, stirring frequently.

Add half the chopped greens to the skillet. Use tongs to press and toss greens into the oil and spice mixture, adding a little more oil to the pan if necessary. Turn heat up to medium. Cover and steam greens a little to wilt them down. Add remaining greens to the pan and toss mixture again. Add a tablespoon or so of water to the pan and cover. Cook covered greens until soft and wilted, about five minutes, taking care to stir them once or twice to promote even cooking. Remove cover and cook off any excess liquid.

Stir tamarind paste into 1 T. of hot water. Mix into the lentils. Add the lentil mixture into the kale and stir to combine. Add salt to taste. Bring back to a simmer.  Serve with hot cooked rice and lime wedges on the side.

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Roasted Rainbow Carrots with Hot Pepper Honey

I found the most wonderful hot pepper-infused honey at beekind in San Francisco.   I used it Sunday night on roasted baby rainbow carrots.  It was absolutely delicious.  Enjoy!

1-2 bunches baby carrots, rainbow-colored if possible
Olive oil
Coarsely ground sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
2-3 tsp. hot pepper honey
Pre-heat oven to 375°F.

Peel baby carrots but leave whole (you can leave some of the tops on, if you want). Toss carrots with enough olive oil to coat, and spread single-layer in a 9x13x2-inch glass or enameled baking dish. Season generously with salt and pepper.

Place carrots in the oven and roast for 40-45 minutes, shaking pan 2-3 times to turn different sides of the carrots down on the pan. The carrots are done when they are soft with crispy, caramelized edges.  Dribble with honey and serve warm or at room temperature.

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Haitian Lamb

In honor of Spring, here is my mother’s recipe for Haitian Lamb. It is spectacular. Enjoy!

Leg of lamb, 8-9 lbs
Salt and pepper
1 T. olive oil
1½ c. finely chopped onions
1½ c. finely chopped carrots
6 c. chicken broth
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs parsley
½ tsp. dried thyme
2 cloves garlic, chopped

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Trim fat from lamb. Rub with oil and season with salt & pepper.  Brown over medium-high heat, about 8 minutes.  Remove lamb and pour off any fat. Lightly saute onion and carrot. Place lamb on top of vegetables, add remaining ingredients, and bring to a boil. Cover loosely and put in the preheated oven. Bake 3 hours.

Reduce heat to 275 and bake for 2 more hours. Remove lamb and strain pan juice into bowl. Discard veggies. Skim off surface fat. Reheat liquid. Serve falling-off-the-bone lamb with pan juices.

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Black Bean Soup

This black bean soup has old-world, slow food flavor.  The bacon is optional, but be sure to use a good quality sherry.  You end up with about 9 cups of soup. Enjoy!

16 oz. dried black beans
Olive oil
3 slices flavorful bacon, diced
1 large onion, diced
4 medium carrots, diced
1-2 stalks celery, diced
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 small red hot pepper, finely diced
1 bay leaf
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
½ T. dry mustard
2-4 pinches cayenne (to taste)
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 T. tomato paste
4-8 c. beef or mushroom broth, plus enough water to make 10 c. liquid
½ c. dry sherry
Feta cheese (for garnish)

Soak beans overnight.

Lightly coat the bottom of a soup pot with olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add bacon and slowly fry, rendering as much fat as possible. When bacon is crispy, remove about two-thirds of it and set aside. Add onions, carrots and celery to pan and cook, gently, for 5 minutes or until vegetables are soft. Add garlic, red pepper and bay leaf to the pan cook until the garlic is fragrant. Add black pepper, dry mustard and cayenne and cook 30 seconds or so.

Drain beans and rinse them under cold water. Add beans, Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, broth and water. Bring ingredients to a boil, turn down heat, and simmer, gently, until beans are tender (2-2 ½ hours). Let soup cool slightly.

Puree 5 cups of soup in a blender and return to the pot. Add salt to taste. Add sherry and reserved bacon to the pan and bring it up to a simmer again. Simmer for 10 minutes, then check seasoning. You may need to add cayenne or salt. (Note: Do not oversalt soup as the feta cheese will be salty.)

Serve hot, garnished with feta cheese.

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5 Has-Been Trends and Some New Ideas

Last week I listed 10 Of-The-Moment Trends in food.  Someone asked what trends these new ideas replaced.  I don’t think one trend necessarily replaces another, but in order for creativity to flourish, old ideas must give way to new.  And so, without further ado, 5 food-related trends that have reached their saturation points, or even started to recede.  Also, for good measure, 5 foods and ideas that I would love to see gain ground.

On Their Way Out

  1. Gourmet food trucks– Mostly, this is a matter of function.  Food trucks require a certain population density.  Weather, too, plays a role.  Certainly, food trucks are alive and well in certain venues  (New York, cities along the West Coast), but let’s face it: Most areas of the country cannot support a thriving food truck culture.  Those that can, have them.  Those that cannot… Well, let’s just say the trend has gone about as far as it can go.
  2. Artisan Chocolates–  Artisan and small-batch food, generally, is very much in vogue. This includes carefully made small-batch chocolates.  But in many places, the number of specialty chocolatiers that the community can support has reached a saturation point.  The chocolate shops aren’t going away, but the rate at which new shops are opening is definitely slowing.
  3. Cupcakes– Enough already.
  4. National Coffee Houses– People still drink coffee, but today they are much less likely to run to Starbuck’s or Pete’s than they might have been a few years ago.  Instead, they are heading to smaller, local coffee houses or, yikes, even making their coffee at home! The big names aren’t closing up shop, but their dominance is in notable decline.
  5. High-End Teas-  Yes, we now drink green tea and white tea and chai, but our interest in further tea exploration seems to have waned.  I’ve tried, but 9-out-of-10 times when I’m drinking some top-of-the-line tea, I’m wishing for my stand-by, grocery-store brand. Expensive teas just don’t seem to consistently deliver a big enough bang for the buck.  I certainly understand why our flirtation with them is passing.

Really ought to be Up-and-Coming

  1. Macarons
  2. K-12 Food Education
  3. Waldorf Salad
  4. Herb Salts
  5. Dates

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Les Macarons de San Francisco

While in San Francisco this past weekend, I made two mouth-watering discoveries at La Boulange on Columbus Avenue.  The first was house-made potato chips sprinkled with coarse sea salt and very fresh herbs de Provence.  The hints of fennel and lavender were irresistible, and I can’t wait to try my own potato-and-lavender dish here at home.  Equally inspiring were the bakery’s Macarons de San Francisco.  These thick, soft, not-too-sweet cookies tasted like fresh hazlenuts, and their crumbly-but-chewy texture was addictive.  I couldn’t resist bringing a package home.  I found both of these worth-the-trip delights at La Boulange in North Beach, though they are undoubtedly available at any of the cafe’s locations.   Love San Francisco.  Would take years to eat one’s way through it!

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Spider Cornbread

At our local farmer’s market they sell maple cream, maple syrup that has been heated and churned until it is the consistency of frosting.  This time of year, I start to crave it smeared on another New World staple, warm cornbread.  Originally, corn bread was made without flour, and the recipe I grew up with follows this tradition.  Early american cooks also put a premium on finer white cornmeal, but yellow works too.  I usually make two batches of this, as my kids scarf one pan down within minutes.   I slice any leftovers into individual servings and wrap with foil.  They rewarm beautifully in the oven this way.  Try splitting and filling each piece  with pb&j before throwing them into to reheat.  Makes for a great breakfast.  Enjoy!

2 T. butter
1.5 c. white cornmeal
1 T. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 c. buttermilk
2 eggs, well beaten

Place butter in a 10” cast iron skillet and place in a cold oven. Turn oven to 450°F to preheat. (Alternatively, you can use a glass 8×8” pan and 425°F.)

Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and add buttermilk and eggs. Remove warmed pan with butter (now melted) from oven and tilt to grease the bottom and sides. Pour remaining butter into batter and quickly mix. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.*

*Note: You may also use cast iron corn stick molds, but you will need to use additional butter to grease them prior to preheating. Melt the 2 T. butter called for in the recipe in the microwave and add to the batter as above.
Bake at 450°F for 20 minutes.

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2012 Ideas, Ingredients & Philosophies

Ok, so I’m a little behind the New Year, but these things are always evolving… Now that holiday excess and New Year’s resolutions have… well, resolved themselves, most of us have settled back into our usual patterns of eating. Looking around, I’ve noticed certain food-related trends— Some of them are broad and well-established, others just starting to gain ground. All of them deserve a little consideration, for they are coloring our views and impacting our choices. Here are 10 of-the-moment ideas, ingredients, and philosophies that definitely provide food for thought.

1. Small-batch, Artisan, Local– This is more a movement (evolution? revolution?) than a trend. We’re obsessed with thoughtful, intentional, conscientious food– the more carefully, caringly produced, the better. This new ideal has begun to change the way we eat (and shop!). This, in turn, is having an effect on the billion dollar food industry: Bigger is not necessarily better—Good news for cheese, heirloom vegetables, charcuterie, marshmallows, chocolate, coffee, spirits and beer, to name a few.
2. D-I-Y- What happens if you carry the idea of small-batch, local food a few steps further? An burst of interest in D-I-Y foods. Evident for a while (think brewing, canning), this trend has exploded in the last twelve months or so, with books and kits for everything from curing your own bacon, to making your own Mozzarella, to growing (and drying) your own mushrooms. I’ve tried a few such projects myself. While I cannot unequivocally profess that D-I-Y always results in better food, I can adamantly state that a few such undertakings will help you appreciate all those small-batch and artisan entrepreneurs who put time and energy into crafting something wonderful (so that you don’t have to!). Still, the D-Y-I trend is present and growing. And it is causing people to venture out and try new foods, reason alone to encourage more of it.
3. Organic – This trend, too, relates to the emergent concept of mindful, intentional food. Gone are the carefree days when we assumed that all corn, strawberries, beef… were created equal. We are increasingly aware that even if we cannot taste a difference (though sometimes we can), the environmental and global effects of conventionally raised food are troubling. Many of us have additional concerns about the health impact of pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals prevalent in large-scale farming. Statistics don’t lie. Even in this economy, Organic is growing. 😉
4. Lower-alcohol wines– I heard an NPR piece on the ascendency of Muscat wine, and it got me thinking. Lately, I’ve noticed people discussing the virtues of lower alcohol wine. No one is saying, I’m drinking this wine because I don’t want to get crocked. Rather, the idea seems to be more that lower alcohol wines are refreshing, appealing, and easier to drink with a wider variety of food. And yes, you can drink more at one sitting. It is not that the big, New World juice bombs are out of style, it is just that we seem to want sleeker, less temperamental options for those times when wine is an accompaniment, not center stage. Look for more Old World wines, especially whites, as the weather turns warmer and more people discover their allure.
5. Greens, esp. All Things Kale There seems to be resurgence of interest in greens. One sees them featured in restaurant menus, published recipes, even in smoothies (!). Greens are at the convergence point of several trends: They are a perennial favorite of organic farmers, grown locally in many places, and prominent in various traditional cuisines. They are also undeniably healthy. Look for greens to move beyond traditional preparations (braising, stir-fry’s, soups) and into more innovative dishes, like the coleslaws, croquettes and the kale “chips” we have started to see.
6. Comfort Food– Yesteryear’s Slow Food Movement seems to have evolved into something broader. Our collective trepidations (the economy, chronic disease, food safety) seem to have turned our attention backward, to dishes that nourish body and soul. Unlike the comfort food of the 1950’s, which is clearly around, just not dominant, the comfort food that is gaining momentum is steeped in tradition. It is often peasant food or food of scarcity, of turning vegetables and (sometimes just a little) meat into something savory and satisfying. We are rediscovering how to eat real food, and coming with that is a new appreciation for the traditional, reassuring foods that are lodged in our collective memory. Look for us to broaden the cuisines we pull from, so that our definition of comfort food comes to include more foods born of other cultural traditions.
7. More Veggies, Less Meat– You can see this trend at every turn– cookbooks, magazine articles, even at high-end restaurants. Meat is starting to take a backseat. Maybe it is a concern over the environmental inefficiency of raising meat, or an objection to factory farming, or even a growing awareness of diet’s impact on health, but vegetables are taking center stage again, or at least dominating many of the acts. Financial concerns could also be playing a role in our food choices, but Meatless Monday is giving a way to meatless entrees 2-3 times a week, at least in some homes. And as this practice becomes habitual, look for synergetic effect: More meatless options at restaurants and for special occasions, more acceptance of eating meatless at home.
8. Whole Foods– Lynne Rosetto Kasper of APM’s The Splendid Table uses the phrase, “eating close to the ground.” She seems to mean food that is less expensive, lower down the food chain. I love the phrase, but for me, “eating close to the ground” means eating food in its simplest, most natural form. I hesitated to include “whole foods” as its own trend. Yet, it is hard to have a discussion these days about food or the philosophy of good eating without running into the phrase. For many, it is the cornerstone of how to eat. And it seems the more thought someone gives to eating, the more likely s/he is to embrace the idea that minimally processed food is often the best food. Look for the trend to continue, as our society becomes more educated and more people come to understand the undeniable connection between the quality of our food and health.
9. Honey– It seems strange to include a food that has been valued for thousands of years on a list of “current” trends, but after decades of taking a back seat to sugar, honey is making a comeback. Long valued for certain “traditional” uses (warm milk, tea, cornbread), the proliferation of artisanal and specialty honeys on the market seems has inspired a new appreciation for the gooey, sticky substance. I see it more on the coasts, at this point, where honey drizzled over cheese plates or featured in artisanal yogurt is quite common. Look for this trend to move inland and for honey to inspire even greater reverence, especially if bees continue to decline. Honey cakes, anyone?
10. And lastly, Eggs– Now that we all understand the role eggs don’t play in most people’s cholesterol levels, we are increasingly turning to eggs for quick, healthy, satisfying meals. Even organic and pasture-raised eggs are a relative bargain, and the possibilities are almost endless—We’re rediscovering frittatas, tortillas and tians, making bread puddings, baking soufflés, and layering fried eggs on top of vegetable skillets and Asian-inspired rice dishes. Nothing seems to make a meal come together faster. These preparations are adaptable, so eggs are a delicious and economic option for using up odds and ends. People also love eggs every meal of the day. Any food this versatile is here for the duration. Watch for eggs to become even more prevalent at dinner, especially as meatless and whole-food-eating gain further ground.

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