Rosemary and Brown Butter Applesauce

I can’t write much today. My migraines continue to take their toll, and this past weekend we took a trip to Southern California to see our nephew, getting back on Monday and not catching up on nearly enough sleep yet. I should probably be sleeping right now, really. But I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t tell you about this recipe in time for your Thanksgiving shopping list.

apple

The recipe is for rosemary brown butter applesauce.  If the name alone doesn’t make you want to drop everything and head to your nearest orchard, let me say it again: Rosemary. Brown butter. Applesauce.

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If you’re still reading this, and not running out to purchase your apples, or maybe even wondering why I’d be putting rosemary in my applesauce, let me explain.  Brown-butter applesauce tastes similar to something you’d find in a delicious apple pie: sweet and buttery, with a background warmth and nuttiness from the browning and the cinnamon.  It kind of tastes like a warm blanket, with a cup of hot chocolate, on Christmas morning, if you were five years old and staring at the biggest pile of presents you’d ever seen.  Or rather, dang delicious.

apples

The thing is, though, that cinnamony-sweet brown butter in your applesauce can taste a little too apple pie if you’re not careful.  It would be fine for breakfast or a midday snack, but placing a bowl of apple pie filling on the Thanksgiving table just doesn’t work so well. This is where the rosemary comes in, taking the dessert level down a few notches by adding a woodsy, Christmas-tree aroma and savory side notes.  The perfect, wintry foil.  If I don’t speak with you before then, Happy Thanksgiving!

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Rosemary and Brown Butter Applesauce

adapted from Bon Appétit, Dec 2008

3 cups unsweetened apple juice
3 4-inch fresh rosemary sprigs
1 1/2 cinnamon sticks
3 1/2 pounds (7 to 8 medium) Braeburn apples or other tart-sweet apples, peeled, cored, and chopped into chunks (or cut into eighths)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

In a large pot, combine the apple juice, rosemary, and cinnamon.  Add in a big pinch of salt and put the heat on medium, to bring the juice to a boil.  Reduce the juice by half.  Mix in the apples.  Cover the pot, and cook for about 35 minutes, or until the apples are mushy.  Uncover and discard the rosemary and cinnamon.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat until it browns, stirring occasionally.  Mix butter into applesauce. (Can be made a few days ahead.)

Maple Roasted Squash

Sorry to be away so long, I’ve been missing this blog lately, but migraines, MRI’s, and doctor’s visits have kept me away (not to mention all the applesauce making and pork shoulder braising…) but today, on one of my first migraine-free days, I couldn’t resist it anymore, I had to post.  There’s a lot of stuff I want to tell you guys.

Squash

I recently found out about a fantastic food blog through the equally fantastic language blog, Language Hat.  This food blog, The Language of Food, is similar to Harold McGee’s Curious Cook in that it let’s me think about food and get my nerd on at the same time.  These types of blogs hold a special place in my Google Reader, and are read religiously because, while I adore great photography, and baking babies, studies in food really whet my appetite. (Hardy har har. Can you tell I’ve been totally out of it?)

Ready to be roasted.

Dan’s most recent post sparked my interest, and hunger, a few weeks ago.  The topic is dessert; he ate subjected himself to a bacon doughnut, and the experience spurred Dan’s thinking about the mixing of savory and sweet in desserts, and main courses, and about desserts in general.  I’d love to recount some of the insightful, educated things Dan says, but I think I mentioned the two weeks of migraines I just had, and well, brain don’t work so good.  So you’ll have to go there (go on, click) and read for yourself. (Please do, too, it’s a great read.)

Squash, peeled

The post got me thinking, in a much less articulate way, about my own food tastes.  I only recently started mixing sweet with savory.  As a kid, I didn’t understand applesauce with pork.  As a self-satisfied twenty year old, I thought that I had exceptionally nuanced tastebuds, and that was why I was so skimpy with the chutney I added to my cheese (my woefully unstinky cheese).  But recently, as adulthood continues to humble me, I realize I was all wrong.  It started with a dish of thyme roasted apples and onions (I promise to post it soon) that I could not get enough of.  I was giddy, ecstatic, repeating over and over to Jim how happy I was with this dish that I’d cooked (yes, I did say humble in the last sentence, so what?) I couldn’t believe how well the sweet apples played against the onions and thyme.  I made the dish over and over again.  And then I realized that I needed more of this sweet/savory combination.

Salt, pepper, maple, olive oil

Maple roasted squash was next.  I’d always thought squash was itself sweet enough, no maple syrup, or brown sugar, or marshmellows were needed.  But given my new-found love of sweet thyme roasted apples, maple roasted squash would be a test.  If I liked it, that would be it: I would forever be a girl who embraces sweet things with her savory courses. (I have big dreams, I know.)  The squash turned out lovely, subtly sweet; the maple syrup lending a warming quality, offset by the bits of charred edges and the round, clean flavor of olive oil, and,  totally autumnal.

Suffice it to say, I’m that girl.  A little sweeter than I used to be, and better off for it.

Maple Roasted Squash

Maple-Roasted Acorn Squash

This is hardly a recipe: I don’t want to give quantitative amounts because who am I to tell you what size squash to get?  Uniformity is not a squash’s strong suit, so don’t get too caught up with finding the perfectly sized one for your recipes.  Just go for an approximate size, and use your better judgement with the rest of the ingredients.  This particular recipe is forgiving; just start slow with the maple syrup, and remember that you can always add a touch more olive oil, or salt, to mellow out the flavor.

2 small acorn squash, peeled, cut in half, deseeded, and sliced
a glug or two of maple syrup
a more generous glugging (or two) of olive oil
a big pinch of salt
a big pinch, or grinding, of black pepper
chives, for garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 350F.  Have a baking sheet pan, lined with parchment paper or a silpat, ready.  In a large bowl, add the squash, maple syrup, olive oil, salt, and pepper and mix well with your hands.  Tip the contents of the bowl out onto the baking sheet, letting all the excess oil pour out, too.  Put the pan in the oven and bake to your desired donneness (I like mine a bit charred), anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.  Serve garnished with some snipped chives, if you like.

P.S. Have you heard that Barry Estabrook has started a blog?  He did. Cue ethical-meat-eater’s rejoice.

P.S.S. (Or is it P.P.S.?)  I have a Muntz fix for all you cat lovers, posted on my friend’s blog. You’re welcome. Update: More Muntz, this time it’s a video! (with sound)

Roasted tomato and garlic soup.

I have to warn you, I may start waxing sentimental over fall during the next few weeks. I love this time of year — early fall — when I can still get tomatoes and corn but pears, squash, and figs are also in market.  The stress of the holidays hasn’t kicked in, an evening walk is comfortable in a long sleeve shirt, and the windows can be left open all night to enjoy the chilly breeze.  It’s the specific time of year when seeing a pumpkin on someone’s steps isn’t just another pumpkin and when thoughts of ghouls and wicked witches are delightfully wholesome.

The leaves start to turn—but aren’t taking over the yard—and the idea of spending the weekend snuggling on the couch with my fiance seems just right.  And then there’s soup.  Soup shines in fall; I’m not conflicted about it, like I can be with summer soups.  Roasted tomato and garlic soup, in particular, is  suited to early fall, when roasted garlic is wholly, utterly, in my thoughts again.  Sticky, sweet, and slyly pungent, roasted garlic will turn you on your head, and combining it with its true love, the roasted tomato, is even better.

You’ll have to act quickly to make this soup.  At least in the Northeast, tomato season is coming to a close, which is a sad, sad thing.  So sad, you know, that I think it’d be okay to make this soup with tomatoes that are a little less-than, if you don’t catch any before they are gone.  Or, as I know I will this winter, try making this with canned whole San Marazanos by just taking them out of the can and washing off the excess sauce before continuing with the recipe (you can leave the tomatoes whole, here.)

If you like tomato soup, you’ll love this one; it tastes like tomato soup should taste, not too salty like the processed varieties, nor too sweet.  The garlic adds background depth and a touch of caramel sweetness, but isn’t going to prohibit anyone from kissing strangers later in the day.  And, at least for me, this soup epitomizes the beginning of fall even more than meatloaf.  I may be a little biased, though, since this soup is also a part of my livelihood.  I’ve started a little project, the Stockton Soup Lady.  I’m selling soups about town and this is one of my favorites.  Homemade Soups, Hand Delivered is my slogan, and I’m a wee bit proud of thinking it up.  It’s a teeny-tiny project now, and I rather like it that way: I can spend lots of time going from farm to farm, choosing my ingredients, and I don’t have to bribe friends for freezer space to store all the chicken stock I’m making.  It’s really a lot of fun.

Roasted Tomato and Garlic Soup

adapted from Gourmet

4 lb tomatoes, halved lengthwise
8 garlic cloves, left unpeeled
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1/3 cup heavy cream

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat to 350°F.

Arrange tomatoes, cut sides up, in 1 layer in a large shallow baking pan and add garlic to pan. Drizzle tomatoes with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast tomatoes and garlic 1 hour, then cool in pan on a rack. Peel garlic.

Cook onion, oregano, and sugar in butter in a 6- to 8-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, garlic, and stock and simmer, covered, 20 minutes.

Purée soup in batches in a blender (use caution when blending hot liquids), then force through a sieve into cleaned pot, discarding solids. Stir in cream and salt and pepper to taste and simmer 2 minutes.  Serves 6-8.

Simple tomato salad.

When I first started to throw dinner parties, just a few years ago now, I would work myself into such a tizzy over the damn things, overextending myself, liable to melt into a pool of nervous tears halfway through.  I needed to make enough food to feed an army, in the vain hope that everyone would be so enraptured by my talents that they’d eat until it was all gone.  I chose recipes that were vastly above my skill level, deciding on them before even hitting the market. There’d be hard-to-find ingredients hailing from Asia, or Morocco; cheeses I was supposed to use though I’d never tried them (and had no sense of their potency). And when something would go wrong—I couldn’t find the ingredient or hated the cheese—I would turn into a ball of nerves, believing there was nothing I could do, that I didn’t have any other recipes to turn to.

Thankfully, those times are past.  Lots of dinner parties, and problems, later, I’ve learned that you go to market without a set plan, with your head full of possibilities.  I still follow recipes, but loosely.  I keep a pantry full of basic ingredients—for a basic vinaigrette, a basic sauce—and I revert to the simplest food whenever a problem arises (or even, before.)  After a few years of chefs and cookbooks drilling simplicity into my head, I’ve finally come around.

The lovely thing is, simple food doesn’t have to taste simple.  Duh. But I think that fact eludes most fledgling cooks, entering a world of complicated techniques and endless cuisines.  It eluded me, that’s for sure.  I think I picked complicated recipes because I couldn’t bear the thought of screwing up simple, while making a mistakes in advanced cooking were easily shrugged off.  Simple can be scary.  But simple food is worth learning.

Especially in the summer, when you don’t want to spend too much time cooking (I certainly prefer swimming), and when you can take full advantage of the tomatoes you (or your magical elves) grow in the garden, and when even the measliest herb garden will do its part.  During the dog days of summer, simple isn’t just best, it’s the only option.  This simple tomato salad is a must too, or at least it was for me, because I got to spend a lazy summer day driving around the pretty countryside along the Delaware river, picking up tomatoes down the road, and a fancy goat cheese at the market; to come home and feel very accomplished while I picked French sorrel and herbs from my little potted garden.

I used a variety of tomatoes; some from down the road, some from the little gourmet shop where I got the cheese, and one from a fancy grocery store.  We did a blind tasting before making the salad and it was hard to judge these tomatoes, they were so different — though surprisingly, the fancy grocery store won by a small margin. (They did cost about 4 dollars per small tomato: don’t judge me people, I knew full-well it was ridiculous!).  I also used a variety of herbs: lemon thyme, a few leaves of peppermint, basil, parsley, a load of chives, and some very biting sorrel.  The goat cheese, a pepper crusted capricchio, was a perfect addition; it made the watery juice of the tomatoes taste creamy and it tempered the bite of sorrel.  Pick a goat cheese that  packs a load of creaminess and some sort or herb or spice crust is a nice.  And if you don’t have an herb garden, you can just use whatever herbs are on your shopping list, two of them at minimum, because without the variety of herbs, you risk your good, simple salad turning bored.  We ate this with a chicken slathered with marsacapone that practically knocked me off my chair, which I’ll write about next, promise.  It was one of my favorite meals I’ve made, summery and, duh, simple.

Simple Tomato Salad

serves 2-3

3-4 heirloom or garden tomatoes, tasted for quality
small bunch sorrel leaves (or watercress or arugula)
handful of mixed herbs, such as mint, basil, lemon thyme, and chives
soft goat cheese, preferably with a pepper crust
balsamic vinegar, for drizzling
good quality olive oil, for drizzling
fleur de sel, or kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Slice tomatoes into thick slices and season with a bit of salt.  Leave in a colandar to drain for 15 minutes.  Toss them around so any excess water comes off, then arrange them on a platter.  Tuck the sorrel leaves under and around the tomatoes.  Tear or chop up the herbs and scatter over tomatoes.  Crumble the goat cheese over tomatoes.  Drizzle balsamic and olive oil over the tomatoes and season to taste with fleur de sel and fresh black pepper.

While we’re at it…

Let’s talk about summer soups.  Love them?  Loathe them?  Do you prefer cold and icy, like gazpacho, or do you think hot soup is the only way to slurp?  I’m torn, really: I love hot soup, and considering I put the a/c on during the summer, there’s no reason not to eat something hot.

Since tomatoes have a week or so until they reach their summer prime (gazpacho is out for now), lately my mind has been on corn.   We’ve had our fair share of corn on the cob, tossed in garlic and basil brown-butter, or saffron infused French butter, or plain with lots of sea salt and pepper.  Corn eaten off the cob (with dental floss nearby for afterward) is the ultimate summer side; it’s always messy, and wet, and fun (especially for me, since I spent years and years of my childhood in braces, corn on the cob-less).  But corn on the cob every night, no matter how much you change up the condiments, can get tedious.

So, when I was jolted back into soup-mode with zucchini basil soup last week, I got a hankering for corn soup.  Corn soup, in my experience, has always been heavy, made with cream, or whole milk—more creamed corn than corn soup.  But, like I mentioned last post, I’m in teeny bikini mode right now, with another visit out to the Hamptons very soon, and heavy cream is a definite no-go.

I opted for a simplistic version, the corn purist’s corn soup.  A dozen ears of corn go into it with a few cups of water and some salt.  Easy-peasy.  Except that cutting corn off the kernel takes some time, not to mention the husking (the annoying price you pay for fresh corn), but if you give yourself a quarter hour or so to prep, it’s no problem.  Unless your immersion blender breaks: looks as if it’s working, sounds as if it’s working, with the blade spinning around like it could lob off a steel-plated thumb, but it isn’t freaking working, not blending a damn thing, and you haven’t used a stand blender to blend soup in years and you hardly know how it works, and you picked today of all days to have not one but two pots of soup on the stove-top that need to be pureed because wouldn’t it be stress-relieving to have enough soup to last through the weekend; and you fill up the blender halfway with hot-hot corn and press puree and it promptly spits boiling liquid all over your arms and face and the ceiling and you thank the gods that you bought yourself a proper apron last week and that you didn’t choose to cook in that teeny bikini of yours and your eyes start to water and your chin crinkles up and you feel yourself start to cry, but you stop. Because Jim isn’t home and crying over your boo-boos isn’t the same when your muscle-bound fiance’s not there to wipe your tears.

Unless that happens, you should be alright.  Just make sure you put a towel over the cover of the blender and you hold it down like your life depends on it as you press the purée button.  If you’re not a stickler, you could get away with straining the blended soup once through a medium sieve, though I ran it through a food mill and then a sieve, pressing the solids dry as it passed through the sieve with the rounded back of a ladle.

On first bite, this soup makes a statement: I am corn! Corn it is, purely, like corn on the cob intensified, with no starchiness, or skins stuck in your teeth.  It’s almost too much, a bowlful of pure corn flavor just may be too, uhh… corny.  To cut the flavor, I added a flurry of freshly ground black pepper and a hefty snipping of chives.  The result, with the oniony bite and peppery kick, is perfection. I hope you get a chance to make it this weekend, before the perfect tomatoes take over, when corn is still king.

Fresh Corn Soup

adapted from Gourmet Magazine

  • corn kernels cut from 12 ears of corn
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • handful of fresh chives
  • freshly ground black pepper

Simmer corn with salt in the water, covered, 20 minutes, or until very tender.

Purée soup in batches in a blender until very smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids). As each batch is puréed, pour through a coarse sieve, pressing on solids, into a saucepan.  (Or you can pass it through a food mill, then a sieve, or through a sieve more than once, to get a flawlessy smooth soup.)

Reheat soup, stirring. If soup is too thick, thin with water.

With scissors, snip a good amount of chives into each bowl, and sprinkle with black pepper to taste.

Zucchini basil soup.

So, what have you all been doing with your zucchini lately?  Baked goods? Fritters? Maybe grilled, or roasted, or raw?  It seems there’s so much zucchini come mid-July that I quickly exhaust all my zucchini recipes by August.  After a few weeks of summer, I could go a year at least without setting my eyes on the squash.  But not this year.  This zucchini basil soup will keep zucchini in my kitchen as long as the farmers are growin’ it.

It’s fresh, creamy, with a soft but certain hit of basil.  The zucchini acts as the base (and the texture if you add julienned strips of zucchini skin) but the basil’s the star; which is a good thing, as basil here in Western NJ has been on this summer.

It seems that every farm market in town is flush with basil—spicy, sweet, verdant basil—and one market is selling theirs for 99¢ a pound, damn-near giving it away.  I just hope that everyone has the good sense to make soup.

The soup is quick to make, but plan a bit of time for your julienned zucchini skins to wilt once you set them aside in a sprinkling of salt, so that later when you have them in the soup they’ve got a good texture, and won’t turn to mush.  It would also help to have a handyman like Howard.

While being quick to make is a plus, man if I wouldn’t cook all day for this soup.  Once you sit down to a bowl, you’ll understand.  It’s immediately delicious, fresh and vegetal, creamy without any cream, and then there’s a long finish that’s full of basil and a touch of salt, a taste that clings to your tongue and reminds you of sweet grass, and garden herbs, and summer.

And I’m sure your heard me, I said creamy without any cream.  Without cream, or butter, and with a piddlin’ ¼ cup of olive oil, this decadent soup is healthy undercover.  A big added bonus for the season of bathing suits and short shorts, since hamburgers and coleslaw seem to have forgotten that I’m trying to fit back into my bikini.

Zucchini Basil Soup

serves 3-4, from Gourmet, July 2008

  • 2 pounds zucchini, trimmed and cut crosswise into thirds
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 cups water, divided
  • 1/3 cup packed basil leaves

Julienne skin (only) from half of zucchini with slicer; toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt and drain in a sieve until wilted, at least 20 minutes. Coarsely chop remaining zucchini.

Cook onion and garlic in oil in a 3- to 4-quarts heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add chopped zucchini and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Add 3 cups water and simmer, partially covered, until tender, about 15 minutes. Purée soup with basil in 2 batches in a blender (use caution when blending hot liquids).

Bring remaining cup water to a boil in a small saucepan and blanch julienned zucchini 1 minute. Drain in a sieve set over a bowl (use liquid to thin soup if necessary).

Season soup with salt and pepper. Serve in shallow bowls with julienned zucchini mounded on top.

Candied kumquats with vanilla and cinnamon

I’ve been anxiously awaiting canning season this year. Last summer I didn’t preserve nearly enough as we needed for the upcoming year.  We’ve been out of jam for months now and this year I plan on making enough cherry, strawberry, blueberry, and peach preserves to last a year of ravenous monkeys.

But until I’m able to find the best fruits of the season—and it’s about time for cherries!—I’ve been playing with some of the fruits that, in New Jersey, I never get to buy locally. These kumquats aren’t local, and I’m not sure when their season is (I’m guessing winter) but, cooked slowly in syrup, they were delicious nonetheless.

Anyway you candy kumquats will yield sweet-tart, marmalade-like preserves, but this recipe is really special.  I spotted it in a recipe for a gingerbread cake topped with candied kumquats, and the thought of cinnamon and vanilla bean must have flipped on a switch in my brain, because I couldn’t think another thought until I had the kumquats I’d bought earlier that week swimming in a sweet pool of honey and spices.

Orange honey is a perfect match here, the background floral and citrus is a real no-brainer to pair with kumquats, but any honey would do.  I used a vanilla bean and I don’t think vanilla extract would work here (vanilla sugar would be fine); you could leave it out if you don’t have (or want to buy) a vanilla bean.  You can’t totally see it in the pictures, since the syrup was still hot, but the magical black specks of vanilla bean came out to sparkle by the next day.  The jar didn’t last much longer than that, though.

Candied Kumquats with Vanilla and Cinnamon

makes one 8-oz jar with a bit leftover

1/2 cup water
3/4 cup orange honey
scant 1/4 cup natural sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 of a vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 pint kumquats, halved and seeded (about 14-18 ounces)

Add first five ingredients to a saucepan over medium-high heat, scraping the seeds from the vanilla bean and adding both seeds and pod.  Stir to dissolve sugar.  Add kumquats and bring back to boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or so, until kumquats are tender and the syrup has reduced some.  Cool and store in a jar in the fridge.

Craving kumquats without the bean? Try Elise’s Candied Kumquats or get fancy with some of Cannelle et Vanille’s Candied Kumquat and Pistachio Financiers.

Thank you, with dill.

Hi.  I want to thank you guys for all the lovely comments and emails last post.  You guys are great for putting up with my complaining.  I’d like to thank you with a fresh, springy, picklely side dish: marinated yellow squash and green beans with dill.  It may not sound like the best thank you gift, but it’s made with my very best olive oil and a fabulous sherry vinegar and with lots of love from me. (Yes, Mr. Colicchio, love is an ingredient, here.)

It’s a really nice spring dish but an even nicer spring is being a fickle lover over here on the east coast dish; the vinegar adds a nip and a kick but the oil smooths everything over and warms you up.  And dill is such a happy, spring herb, isn’t it?  I made this with all the unused fresh vegetables we had from the weekend (Jim got sick and when that happens in this house we like to order take-out sushi and crawl up together on the couch until it passes.).

I julienned the squash mainly because I have a cool little one-purpose tool (I otherwise loathe one-purpose tools but this one is small and handy) that I don’t get to use often enough.  I don’t know how you julienne but this is how I do it: with my little orange julienner; his name is Howard and he makes quick work of a squash.

There’s a bit of prep-work involved in this thank-you dish (it’s sounding less and less like a thank you…), and though a tool like Howard would help, you could do this all with a trusty knife.  Julienne the squash, trim the green beans, and slice the mushrooms.  After that’s done, you’re practically there.  Blanch the vegetables quickly in boiling water, drain, and add to a vinagairette of sherry vinegar, your best olive oil, dill, and scallions.  Let it cool for an hour or so—I put mine out on the porch in the cold spring air—then season again with more salt, pepper, and dill.  And there you have it; thank you, with dill.

Marinated Squash and Green Beans

serves 4 – adapted from Saveur

We had this with some codfish lightly battered in flour and Urban Accents Pride of Prague spice blend, which has notes of paprika, fenugreek, dill, caraway, nutmeg, and pepper.  Very delicious.

  • 3 or so yellow squash
  • 1.5 pounds green beans
  • a few handfuls of button mushrooms
  • 4-5 scallions, chopped
  • fresh dill, to taste
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1/4 good olive oil
  • salt, pepper

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.  Julienne squash and set aside.  Trim green beans and cut in half crosswise (or lengthwise if you don’t mind the extra work).  Slice mushrooms.  Once the water is boiling, add vegetables and blanch for a minute or two.  Drain well, trying to rid of any extra water—shaking the colander around helps.

In a medium bowl, add all the vegetables while they are still warm, then add the vinegar, oil, dill and scallions.  Salt and pepper.  Let cool for an hour or longer.  Season with more dill, salt, or pepper to taste.  Serve with a drizzle of that good olive oil.

Braised asparagus.

I have no idea how to plan my wedding.  I don’t even know where to start. I don’t know when I’d like to have it, even, and Jim foresees a wedding a bit farther in our futures than I do; though I’m not, honestly, even sure of that—I’m not sure that I don’t want to have a long engagement, except for the nervous but-does-that-leave-enough-wiggle room-in-my-engaged, married for a handful of years before having kids-life plan? and I’m not a life planner. I don’t even know that I want kids.

Getting engaged makes me feel ridiculously ill-prepared for adult life and I’m honestly running on the knowledge of things I’ve seen on TV and the ability to stick fingers in my ears, clamp my eyes shut, and hum until it all goes away.

Though I only feel that way when I start wedding planning; when my heart starts beating a little bit too hard, and I begin to sweat.  Because I can go all day thinking about the food and the fun we’ll have but the logistics, I’m not ready for them yet.  So for now, I’ll stick to braised asparagus and that warm, comforting feeling that I’m a fiancée who will be able to make a damn-good dinner for her husband, even if she needs to stick fingers in her ears, clamp her eyes shut, and hum over everything else.

Braised asparagus can surely comfort and it’s especially good for these cold spring days we’ve been having, when braised asparagus with slices of gruyère is much more appropriate than quickly blanched stalks with lemon.  By braising, you get all of that deliciously woodsy asparagus flavor, it’s just a little quieter, sleepy maybe.  The dark green color is a good indication of the taste—darker than quickly cooked asparagus, less biting but deeper too.  And really, really good.  Good enough to make me feel a little weepy and happy that I have some braised asparagus around to give me a warm, green hug.  (Though nothing beats a hug from my fiancé.)

Braised Asparagus with Gruyère Cheese

serves 2-4

  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 big shallot
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ cup water
  • salt, pepper
  • gruyère cheese
  • parsley, tarragon, basil, or mint, optional

Trim asparagus, peeling the ends if they are large stalks.  Mince shallot and garlic together.

Heat butter in a pan with a lid over medium-high heat, add shallot mixture and cook for a minute, until they are softened.  Add asparagus, water, and season with salt and pepper then cover pan with lid.  Cook until asparagus are very tender, 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice gruyère very thinly, using a cheese slicer or y-shaped vegetable peeler if you have one.  Chop herb or your choice, if using.

When asparagus is tender, transfer to a plate, pour remaining shallots and sauce over, and arrange cheese slices on top.  Season with herbs, salt, and pepper to taste.

Celery Root and Okra Dal.

I’ve been hiding a recipe from you.  This is my second year of making it too, and I’ve made it more times than I can remember.  Dal.  Or I suppose that’s what it is, though I’m a real amateur at Indian cooking and I’ve never had an aficionado give me the thumbs up on whether this constitutes a real dal.

I’m not sure it’s authentic. I’m slowly turning away from the pursuit of authenticity, anyway.  I know I love this celery root and okra dal and that’s enough for me.  And I know that celery root is the star here, whether it belongs or not; it’s the reason why everyone I serve this to loves it so much.  It’s less bracing than celery stalks, brighter and fresher tasting—which is a lot to say, since it’s stewed for quite a while.  Sitting in a bowl with earthy, dense lentils, sticky okra, and cooked-down tomatoes, a fresh, bright component like celery root really does a lot.

Which is not to say the other players don’t matter.  If celery root is Michael Jordan, then okra is Scottie Pippen (Jim just gave me that metaphor, and I’m trusting him on it.)  If okra is Scottie Pippen, then the tomatoes are a player that none of us remember but who was actually quite a lot of help to the team.  Red lentils also made a few baskets.  Even the mire-poix of onions, peppers, and carrots can play a good defense.  I’ve taken this metaphor too far.

But you know what I’m saying.  My dal is the perfect balance, at least in my eyes.  Spicy, filling, a touch sweet, bright, with a lovely scent of garam masala.  Perfect on its own atop basmati rice.  Perfecter with a fried egg on top.  Great for vegetarians, but you’d be downright dumb not to serve this to anyone who likes food.

I like to slice up my okra—which is a bit of a slimy mess—and combine them in a bowl with diced tomatoes, some spices and white vinegar, and after it sits for 15-20 minutes, add it to the dal.  Pressed for time or energy, though, you could just add the okra and tomatoes straight to the dal with a splash of vinegar.

Celery Root and Okra Dal

Season to your tastes at the end.  Add more spices, more jalapeno, some hot sauce, whatever suits you.  The good part of throwing authenticity to the wind is you never need to sacrifice your tastes.

  • 3 tablespoons ghee, butter, or olive oil (or a combination)
  • 1 celery root, diced
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 1/2 cups red lentils, washed and picked over
  • 6 cups water or vegetable stock (1 cube vegetable boullion if using water)
  • 1/2 pound okra, sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 3-4 small hothouse tomatoes, diced
  • cilantro

Heat ghee, butter, or oil in 6 quart dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat.  Once melted, add celery root, onions, green pepper, carrots, jalapeno, and garlic.  Cook for 10-15 minutes, or until softening and beginning to brown.  Add garam masala, salt, and cumin and cook a few minutes more, stirring.  Add red lentils, stirring to mix, and then the water or stock.  Lower heat and cook, halfway covered, for about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, add okra and tomatoes.  Mix in garam masala, paprika, vinegar, and sugar.  Let marinate in the fridge until the lentils are cooked.

When lentils are done to your liking, add okra mixture and heat through.  Serve on basmati rice with lots of cilantro, a drizzle of olive oil, and maybe a fried egg on top.  Since it gets better with age, try to leave some leftovers for lunch.