Monday, November 18, 2013

Sweet Potatoes with Praline Sauce

* Photos coming soon, guys. Bear with me.

Last week, my mother and our friend Debbie talked oyster dressing with the same polite fervor and thoroughness that must have characterized the Lincoln-Douglas debates. My mother tinkled the ice in a glass of ultra-weak Scotch and trumpeted her mother's beef-centric recipe, while Debbie threw garden herbs in a pot of red beans and defended her own mother's meatless version. All the while I listened and thought: conversations like this just didn't happen in Oklahoma.

It's good to be home.

When I was away at grad school, I had some beautiful Thanksgivings with friends and colleagues willing to adopt a lonely Southern orphan too poor to fly home from the Plains. I wouldn't trade those Thanksgivings; they were wonderful. But for me, there's nothing to match the beauty and comfort and deliciousness of an only-in-New-Orleans Thanksgiving, the kind that features oyster dressing, stuffed mirliton, and these sweet potatoes with praline sauce. Once you try this praline sauce, you'll swear off mini-marshmallows forever.

Praline Yams

From Recipes and Reminiscences of New Orleans Volume II


2 (16 or 17 oz.) cans yams, drained
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup pecans
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla


Arrange yams in greased baking dish. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Add cream, sugar, pecans, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Simmer and stir five minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour over yams and bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Serves 6.

Fall Salad with Pear and Pomegranate Seeds

Hold onto your hats. I'm about to get poetic and analytical all over this crazy fruit.

Some religious scholars believe that the fruit in the Garden of Eden was not an apple but a pomegranate.

I have no idea what the basis for this belief is, but if true, the notion has profound theological implications. A person might eat a forbidden apple on impulse. It takes determination and forethought to eat a forbidden pomegranate.

Little wonder that the pomegranate worked its way into myth. Just opening a pomegranate feels a little bit like an epic quest: the nearly impenetrable rind hiding row upon row of brilliant, pellucid arils, each aril in turn housing within its magenta flesh a small, thin seed, deep and quiet as a buried secret. Seeding a pomegranate engages the visual and tactile senses in a way that makes reality seem more real; at the same time, the material world-- not just the fruit in your hands but the plastic cutting board and Formica tile and the football game on television in the next room-- opens up and takes on a strange, even spiritual aura. You stand at the kitchen counter, hands slick with tap water, and coax seeds from a membrane, and suddenly you find the sweet spot where a sense of usefulness and industry intersects with wonder at the world and three or four different kinds of sensory pleasure.

Of course, it helps even more if you have a good salad to throw your pomegranate seeds into when you're done extracting them.

"There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

In addition to the tart, gently crunchy pomegranate arils, this salad features sweetness from pears, creaminess from beans, crunch from pecans, and bite from a maple-Dijon dressing. It's a great way to celebrate fall.

A salad worth three months in the underworld and expulsion from Paradise? I couldn't say. But it is good.


1 tablespoon each olive oil, maple syrup, and balsamic vinegar; feel free to throw in some lemon juice if you like
1/4 tsp Dijon mustard
2 cups greens
1 pear, chopped
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup red beans
1/4 cup pecan halves
Salt and pepper to taste


Whisk together olive oil, maple syrup, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, and Dijon. (Hint: if you use the olive oil first, the maple syrup will glide right off the tablespoon, no muss no fuss.)

Toss everything in a bowl. Boom.

Variation: If your pear is a little under-ripe-- or even if it isn't-- try roasting it with a cup of broccoli in a tablespoon of coconut oil, 425 degrees for 20 or 30 minutes, tossing once halfway through.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Mushroom, Butternut Squash, and Lima Bean Stew

Some dishes are doorways, marking the passage of time from one season to another. It isn't summer until I've had a roasted rainbow salad. Spring is officially here when, and only when, I've stuffed an artichoke, and winter arrives with the fist batch of brown sugar cookies or the first bowl of thick, steamy cassoulet.

And fall? This stew is the herald of fall.

(Insert loud slurping noise.)

If you've never tried kale before, this is a great way to start. Kale is sturdy enough to be mixed into a stew without turning into clumps of green mush, and cooking it mellows out the slightly bitter flavor.

An excellent source of Vitamin C, Vitamin K, fiber, and yuppie credentials.

 Brothy, hearty, savory with a hint of sweet, this is the kind of soup that takes cold, rainy days and turns them into a pleasure. Pairs nicely with a grilled Havarti sandwich.

Mushroom, Butternut Squash, and Lima Bean Stew

From Whole Living


1 cup dried lima beans
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
1 large onion, diced (2 cups)
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
16 oz. mushrooms*
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 bay leaf
8 cups low-sodium chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you're me)
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 bunch kale (8 oz.), stems removed and leaves thinly sliced (6 cups)
Kosher salt
*The original recipe calls for 8 ounces of shitake mushrooms and 8 ounces of Portobello mushrooms. I'm sure that's great, but since I can't always find shitake, I often substitute cremini or even white button in a pinch.


Soak beans overnight in water. Drain.
Heat 1 Tablespoon oil in a large pot over medium flame. Add onions and garlic. Cook until tender, 6 to 8 minutes; transfer to a bowl.
Turn heat to medium high. Heat the other tablespoon of oil. Working in batches, add mushrooms; cook until golden brown. Transfer to bowl and add more oil to cook remaining mushrooms.

 Return mushrooms and onions to pot and add squash, beans, bay leaf, and stock. Season with pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cover partially. Cook until beans are just tender, about 50 to 60 minutes.
Stir in kale and cook until tender, about 5 minutes more. Season with salt. Like all soups, this sucker is even better if you let it sit and percolate for a day. Makes about 10 cups.

Fall is so on. Now I just need an ascot and some decorative gourds.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Homemade Pizza

DISCLAIMER: You do NOT need a Kitchen Aid stand mixer to make this dough so keep reading!  I have made this dough with just a sturdy spatula, a pyrex and my hands and really couldn't tell any difference!

Don't run out and spend $200 on a kitchen aid just to make pizza, but DO spend $10 on a kitchen scale! 

Pizza is by far my favorite food and has been since I can remember.  I'm totally like my Dad.  Call it nature or nurture, I remember his love for pizza, ice cream and popcorn, and I have loved them unwaveringly since childhood as well.

The main difference between me and my Dad is that I have become more of a connoisseur of pizza (read: judgmental) and the perfect crust is always the baseline for a pizza to receive a decent rating from me.

A few years ago, my husband was stationed in rural Texas, and when the kids and I got there we immediately, to no avail, sought a good local pizza place.  Sorry folks, Pizza Hut doesn't cut it for me.

This adventure in the badlands inspired me to learn how to make my own from scratch.  I was very intimidated since I had never worked with yeast before.  However, over the past 4 years I have realized that bread making isn't difficult. It just takes practice.

There is an inexplicable value that comes with just working with dough that I can't fully explain here--it's a kinetic experience.  You have to become accustomed to the feel, texture and smell.  Don't be intimidated.

 The best way to approach baking is to follow the directions the first several times with a perfectionist's attention to details---get that kitchen scale (if you haven't already) and weigh your flour.  As time goes on you will learn, almost absorb without trying, what to do and how your crust will come out just from the feel of the dough.


33.5 ounces of regular, white flour (approx. 7.5 cups)
1 TBL Instant yeast
1/2 TSP sugar
2 2/3 cups water, divided into 1 cup and 1 2/3 cups
2 TBL Olive Oil
1 TBL Salt


First proof the yeast.  This involves dissolving the yeast and sugar into water.  Heat 1 cup of water to about 110 degrees (get an instant-read candy thermometer for accuracy, better to err a little hotter than colder in this step).  Stir until well combined and let sit for about 8 minutes.

Add the rest of the water (1 2/3 cup) also heated to 110 degrees and 9.5 ounces of the flour (approximately 2 1/14 cup).  Beat vigorously with a whisk, scrapping the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure all is dissolved and combined.  Let sit for 15 minutes.

Add the salt and olive oil and about a 1/3 of the remaining flour, and either turn on the mixer with a dough hook attachment or mix to combine with a sturdy spatula.

Continue to add flour, a cup at a time, until the dough takes form.  The biggest mistake you can make with bread is to add too much flour.  Your dough should be sticky but have form and not be soupy.

Whether you are using a mixer or a spatula, mix and combine the dough for about 8 minutes, then scrape out onto a floured surface and let it rest for a few minutes.  Lightly oil the bowl that it will rise in.

Rub your hands in olive oil then hand knead the dough for another 5-8 minutes, folding and pushing the dough into itself.  It will be sticky!  It will stick to you hands! Add only small palm full amount of flour to help reduce this, but if you flour it until it is firm then you have added too much.  The dough should remain on the sticky side and very soft, like an earlobe.

When you are done, roll it around the oiled bowl to lightly coat it, then cover it with a wet dishtowel and allow to rise for about 45 minutes.  Preheat oven to 450.

This batch will make three medium pizzas.  Divide the dough and lay out on your pan.  Brush with butter or olive oil and sprinkle with garlic powder, salt, pepper, oregano, etc.

Bake the crust for 8 minutes.  Top with sauce, cheese, any desired toppings and return to oven for another 8 minutes (you may need to broil it a minute or two to get it golden looking but it will be fully cooked).


Friday, August 2, 2013

Stracciatella Semifreddo

And the angel choir sings: Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh....

Two words.
Dinner parties at my house may never be the same.
The word "semifreddo" is Italian for "half-frozen." To make a semifreddo, start with a classic custard. Then fold in fresh whipped cream, pour the whole mixture into a loaf pan, and freeze.
The result is a rich, creamy dessert, more velvety than ice cream, that starts to melt into a great big pile of divine mouthfeel a as soon as you take it from the freezer.
If you've never made a custard before, it's not hard. Ish. Make sure your heat's on high enough, and make sure to whisk constantly. Whisking for fifteen minutes or more is tiring, but keep at it. Channel Tina Turner's backup dancers.
A word about the crust: this recipe calls for a cookie crust made from almond biscotti, but the only kind I could find, weirdly, was chocolate. I'd say the crust was fine, okay, nothing really wrong with it, but since the semifreddo does contain such a high volume of chocolate already (see next paragraph), I think I'd prefer a different flavor, maybe plain or almond biscotti, maybe graham cracker. Furthermore, I'm not sure that the butter-to-cookie-crumb ratio came out exactly right, as my cooked crust was still very greasy-looking. The chocolate coating on my biscotti may have had something to do with this, or my measurements may not have been accurate. Next time I make semifreddo I'll be extra careful to make sure that the crust mixture isn't too liquidy.

Be sure you have a really big, sharp knife for cutting slices, because that crust, it does not give in easily.
 Next, a word about nut butters: I've made this twice. The first time I used Nutella, and the second I used chocolate peanut butter. While both were good, I preferred the Nutella. Peanut butter, as much as I love it, is a bit too loud for this sophisticated, grown-up dessert. I couldn't quite bring myself to spring for expensive chocolate hazelnut butter, but I suspect that a really high-quality ingredient like that could take this semifreddo to ineffable heights of culinary glory. Let me note, too-- and I can hardly believe I'm saying this-- for me the highlight of this dessert is not the chocolate. Hey, the chocolate is great. But what really makes this dessert worth writing home about, and writing Congress about, and trumpeting through the streets with a megaphone and a sandwich board about, is the sweet delicious creaminess of the custard. The chocolate's just there to throw the custard into relief. Frankly, I think you could reduce the amount of hazelnut butter and not miss it.
Don't tell anyone I said that, okay? I mean, I have a reputation to uphold.


Recipe: Stracciatella Semifreddo

Adapted (barely) from Giada De Laurentis




 Cooking spray
4 ounces biscotti
1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts (I subbed almonds)
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted


 8 egg yolks, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar, plus 1/4 cup
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup chocolate hazelnut spread at room temperature (You could go down to half a cup, I think)


For the crust: Put an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x5x3 nonstick loaf pan with cooking spray. using 2 pieces of parchment paper, line the pan, allowing the excess to hang over the ends and sides.
In a food processor, blend biscotti and nuts together until finely ground. Add the meted butter and pulse until the crumbs are moistened. Using a flexible spatula, press the crumb mixture into the bottom of the prepare pan. Bake or 8 to 10 minute until the edges of the crust are golden. Cool the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes.

Egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, salt.

For the filling: in a medium stainless steel or glass bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, 1/2 cup sugar, vanilla extract, and salt until smooth. Put the bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Whisk until the egg mixture is pale, thick, and creamy, and an instant-read thermometer registers 160 degrees F, about 10-15 minutes.
Keep whisking...
You're done.

 Put the bowl into a large bowl of iced water to cool completely.
In another medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the cream until thick. Add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until the cream holds stiff peaks. Mix 1/4 of the cream into the cooled custard. using a spatula, gently old the remaining cream into the custard. Drop spoonfuls of the chocolate hazelnut spread over the custard mixture and gently fold until just incorporated but still chunky. Spoon the mixture onto the prepared crust. Fold the overhanging parchment paper over the custard and freeze for at least 8 hours or up to 3 days.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Eggplant Parmesan Salad

It's everyone's favorite comfort food--in salad form!

Did you just run screaming from the computer? No, seriously, folks-- this salad is delicious. You know I'd never tell you to make a salad if it wasn't delicious.


If you're vegan, or if for some other reason you want to leave out the Parmesan, I'd recommend throwing five or six unpeeled cloves of garlic into the pan with the eggplant cubes. Even if you don't leave out the Parm, I never heard of roasted garlic hurting anything. (Except maybe vampires.)

Eggplant Parmesan Salad


Greens (spinach, mixed greens, or arugula are my preferences. Mm, arugula.)
2-3 cups eggplant cubes, about 1/2 lb.
5 unpeeled cloves garlic (optional)
1 Tbsp olive oil
3/4 cups chopped tomato
5 sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed), chopped and rejuvenated with hot water
1/2 cup white beans (or red beans or whatever. Lentils work well, too.)
1-2 Tbsp grated Parmesan (Freshly grated works best. That goes without saying.)
Lemon juice
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar


Salt the eggplant and let sit for an hour or so. Then rinse off the salt and pat cubes dry. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss eggplant cubes (and garlic, if using) with olive oil in a baking pan and roast for about twelve minutes, toss, then pop back in the oven for another twelve minutes, until the cubes are browned and blistered.

Peel the garlic cloves. Throw greens, roasted eggplant cubes, roasted garlic, tomato, sundried tomato, and beans in a bowl. Sprinkle some Parmesan on there. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and balsamic vinegar. Toss. You're done.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Greek-Style Vegetable Casserole

Hey, kids: wanna see a magic trick?
You see before you a perfectly ordinary set of wholesome and not particularly exciting ingredients. I'd like a member of the audience to confirm that these are, in fact, regular, blechy, ho-hum vegetables.
I shall now, in just a few simple steps, change these humdrum, mother-made-me-eat-these ingredients into a side dish to write home about.
First, I shall transform raw zucchini and red onion into something tender, sweet, and charred.

 For my next trick, I will, with the help of canned tomatoes, turn green beans and potatoes into something not just potentially appetizing, but visually appealing as well.
Looking tasty already and I'm not even done yet.

And finally, the piece de resistance.
Transformatus Delicioso!
 Nothing up my sleeve. Presto!
 Eat your heart out, Harry Potter.

Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week.
Okay, okay-- it's not magic. It's dill. Dill, combined with the wondrous effects of a hot oven and a little bit of time, infuses the vegetables with a perky, piquant liveliness that steals the show. Feta is an accent rather than a main player, and that's fine with me. Too much, I think, would overwhelm what is already a richly flavorful dish.

Recipe: Greek-Style Vegetable Casserole

From Bon Appetit


1 zucchini (about 8 ounces), cut crosswise into four sections, then lengthwise into quarters
1 small red onion, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Kosher salt
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch wedges
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed
1 14-ounce can peeled whole tomatoes, cut into quarters, juices reserved
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 tablespoon chopped fresh dill (I used 1/2 tablespoon dried dill, since that's what I had)                                            
1/4 cup crumbled feta


Preheat oven to 450°. Place zucchini, onion, and 1 Tbsp. oil in a medium bowl; toss to coat. Season with salt. Transfer to a large baking dish (9x13" or larger) and roast until zucchini is slightly dried and beginning to turn brown, 12–15 minutes. Transfer zucchini and onion to a wire rack.
Meanwhile, toss remaining 3 Tbsp. oil, potatoes, green beans, tomatoes with their juices, garlic, lemon juice, and oregano in a medium bowl. Season with salt. Place mixture in same baking dish; top with roasted zucchini and onion. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and stir vegetables; bake until pan is nearly dry and potatoes are tender and beginning to brown, 25–35 minutes longer.

Sprinkle dill over and let casserole sit for 10 minutes. Garnish with feta and serve. (Don't forget to check for seasoning!)