Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Before the Frost: Roasted Carrot Soup

Well, it's done.  I've preregistered for my maternity stay at the hospital.  They've been trying to get me to do this since I showed up at my OB/GYN for my first prenatal visit, but I've been slow to act, knowing that preregistering might not exactly be a good idea.  Or at least that it might be premature.  But now it matters for things like figure out whether we're going to take refresher Lamaze or the full length Hypnobirthing class.  Hard to believe that would happen so soon, but the snowy days of January are really not all that far away.  Still, it feels a little audacious (despite the fact that the Bean is doing the backstroke in there right now ... must be the cupcakes I just made ... more about those later, though).

And it's pretty hard to conjure up January when the days here lately have been warm, even swampy.  My friends in California have been posting Facebook statuses with temperatures in the 100s; while it's not been that bad here, late September shouldn't be in the 80s, should it?  Apparently it doesn't count as Indian Summer unless we've had a frost, though.

We've still been harvesting a few things from our garden; every once in a while I go pick a few beans, and the stubborn plum tomatoes are just now finally ripening, one at a time.  I'm even still getting zucchinis from my squash-bore-resistant little plants, and the other day I roasted the few pint-sized butternut squash that survived the untimely death of their vines.  We also pulled up the carrots (there were actually about twice as many as there are in this picture), figuring that we'd probably be getting some from the CSA at some point and better to use them before we got sick of carrots.  While Ian does like carrots in his lunchbox (I give thanks daily for a child who eats vegetables), he can only make so much of a dent in the crop.  And of course, the easiest way to use any vast quantity of vegetable seems to be to turn it into soup.

The secret here is to let the carrots caramelize a bit, allowing their natural sugars to figure prominently in the flavor of the soup.  If you prefer your soup to be a bit creamier, you can even add a splash of milk or soymilk or ... dare I say it ... cream ... to the finished product.  I didn't find that it curdled, despite the lime juice, but you could always skip that if you prefer a sweeter soup.  Whatever you do, you'll want a crusty loaf of bread to go with it, that you can use to sop up all of that extra soup that sticks to the sides of your bowl.

Roasted Carrot Soup

4  t. butter, melted
1/2  t. black pepper, divided
2  lb. carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces
Cooking spray
1 1/2  c. water
2  t. chopped fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1  t. butter
1/2  t. ground cumin
1 1/2  T. honey
1  T. fresh lime juice (optional)
2  (14 1/2-ounce) cans vegetable broth
Preheat oven to 400°.

Combine 4 teaspoons melted butter, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and carrots in a jelly roll pan or shallow roasting pan coated with cooking spray; toss to coat. Bake at 400° for 35 minutes or until tender, stirring every 10 minutes.

Place the carrot mixture, water, and oregano in a food processor, and process until smooth.

Melt 1 teaspoon butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the ground cumin, and cook 30 seconds or until fragrant, stirring constantly. Add pureed carrot mixture, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, honey, juice, and broth, and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Little Indulgences: Banana Chocolate Chip Bread

On Wednesday it was Ian's real birthday.  We went to Sonic (his request), gave him our present (a new bicycle helmet), and lit a candle on a single cupcake (two cakes in a week was one cake too many).  He was thrilled with the whole thing, and I think, felt pretty celebrated.

Our neighbors also gave him a gift, a book with a wind-up train that runs around a cardboard track built into the pages of the book itself.  It was a cute gift.  Ian's still making thank you cards (we do this with all of the gifts he gets ... little does he know what torturers we are), but when he saw one of the neighbors outside, I encouraged him to go say thank you and offer her a hug.  This neighbor is in her mid to late eighties, and still drives around and sweeps the street and has her nose in everyone's business: let's just say she's pretty active for her age.  She means well, but you sort of need to take what she says with a grain of salt (or several), because she has a lot to say; she's the sort of person who will continue her one-sided conversation long after you've turned your back and waved goodbye.

She accepted Ian's hug gratefully, and followed him back to our porch to chat, and suddenly, noticed my belly.

"Are you pregnant?" she asked, staring at my protruding belly.

"Yes, quite," I answered.

"Ohhhhh ... And when should we expect the baby?"

We?  "Late January, early February, we hope," I replied.  (Busybody though she is, she doesn't know about our losses, or my diagnosis of secondary infertility.)

"Oh, that'll be nice.  Are you excited?"  She looked at Ian, then at me.  "He's four?"  she said.  "You know, you shouldn't have waited so long to have another.  Now you'll have to start all over again."

I took a deep breath, looked her straight in the eye, and said, evenly, "well, A., things don't always work out like you might want them to, now, do they."

She chewed her lip a little, thinking.  Then agreed, looking at me, almost surprised at the realization.  "You're right.  I guess you can't really plan that."

On the one hand, she's old.  And she says things without thinking.  On the other hand, this is another instance of how deeply ingrained the expectations are in our culture: expectations of motherhood, childrearing, women's roles.  We've come a long way, baby, but dammit, we still have a long, long way to go.  I wonder, why can't I tell her about our pregnancy loss?  About the frustrating diagnosis of secondary infertility, about being convinced I wasn't being treated for hypothyroidism and that it was messing with all of my hormones?

Keiko has a great post this week about self-nourishment.  She reminds us to take time for ourselves.  To allow ourselves little indulgences that renew us, allow us to keep going when the questions, the doctors' visits, the anxieties of the everyday make us feel like we've been kicked.  When I cook, I try to balance health with a little indulgence, because I cook to feed the body and soul.  This bread is a good example: it's not the healthiest thing in the world, but it's a nice occasional indulgence.  Most recently, I made it for our new friends from northern New England who have taken the plunge and moved to the mid-Atlantic (hi, C!). That time, I put in one less banana, thinking maybe I'd be left with less batter, but I think it made a difference in the moistness, so as strange as it sounds, do go with the five bananas recommended below.

This is my stepmother-in-law's recipe.  She's tweaked it a bunch over the years to make it healthier (my father in law complains bitterly about this), but I think it's just as good as the first time I tasted it.  The one thing you need to remember is to pull out some extra batter and make a muffin or three for yourself ... the down side of packing so many bananas in there is that the center takes a LONG time to cook.  Happy indulgence.

Banana Chocolate Chip Bread

1 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter
2 eggs
1 1/2 c. mashed bananas (~5*)
2 1/2 c. flour (I use half whole wheat pastry flour)
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
chocolate chips (half a bag, maybe?  or more if you're feeling particularly indulgent)

Preheat oven to 375.  Cream sugar and butter.  Add eggs and beat.  Add bananas and mix well.  Mix dry ingredients in a small bowl and add in two additions, mixing well.  Add chocolate chips and mix well.  Pour into greased and floured loaf pan.  Bake 45 minutes to an hour (I find that sometimes 1 hour 15 minutes is necessary).

* You can freeze bananas that are headed into overripe territory, right in their skins!  They make great banana bread or smoothies later on; all you need to do is run them under some hot water, and they will slip right out of their skins.  Note: while convenient, this is a messy affair, so be prepared.
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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Taste of Childhood: Caldo Gallego

As I was growing up, food was a central part of my experience of my Spanish heritage. My father was from the north of Spain, near San Sebastian, which is Basque country; if you don't know much about the region, suffice to say they have their own language and customs ... in many ways, the mountains define the Basque people as different from Castilians, closer to Portuguese, a little more rustic and less refined, a little more "salt of the earth," somehow.  Though my son has never known his grandfather, I talk about him, and I memorialize him in food, because I think it's important for my son to know where he comes from, beyond our little corner of the Northeastern U.S.  I've written before about the black bean soup and plantains of Union City, but as I got older, I also remember going to the ironbound district of Newark, where the Portuguese and Basque restaurants are.  

One my favorite dishes from these restaurants is caldo gallego, essentially "Galician Stew."  (As Ana points out below, it's not Basque, but then again, I never claimed it was!)  It's often served automatically at the beginning of the meal, to everyone at the table.  I always loved the salty, comforting aroma and taste; it conjures up smiling black-haired waiters and crusty bread and white tablecloths, on the one hand, and my Tia Rosin's kitchen in Spain, on the other.  There are a number of variations on this, but most of them involve white beans, kale or collards, and some kind of smoked meat (ham, chorizo, etc.).  The great news, for me, about caldo gallego is that it uses about a pound of greens.  While my original recipe calls for cabbage and kale, I used collard greens and chard (see? I knew I'd be sorry I was so forgiving of the chard ... we got practically a pound of it this week!).

Vegetarian caldo gallego is sort of an oxymoron in Spain, but if you're vegetarian, you might want to throw in some vegetarian bacon or andouille style sausage, to get the smoky, salty flavor ... or use a flavorful vegetable broth in place of the water.  If it gets too chunky for you, feel free to water it down; the flavor doesn't seem to suffer from a bit of thinning.

Tell me: what are the tastes of your childhood?

Caldo Gallego

1/4 c. onion, diced
4 c. water
1 ham hock or smoked turkey leg
1 lb. ham, diced (or as much as you want, really ... I went light this time)
1 small chorizo (optional; if you can't find authentic ones, don't bother)
1 15 oz. can white beans (I prefer the small ones)
1/2 t. salt (optional; I find that the ham hock makes it plenty salty)
1/4 t. pepper
1/4 lb. kale or collards, chopped
3/4 lb. cabbage, chopped
1/2 lb. potato, peeled and chopped

Put the onion, water, ham hock, ham, chorizo and beans in a large pot and bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer over low heat for two hours.

Add the kale, cabbage, and potato; bring to a boil again and simmer over low for 1/2 hour, partially covered.

Take out the ham hock and remove any meat.  Return the meat to the pot and discard the ham hock.  Slice the chorizo and return it to the pot.  Simmer for another 1/2 hour, partially covered.  Add more liquid if necessary.
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Sunday, September 19, 2010

It's His Party: Vanilla Birthday Cake

We've been asking Ian for about three months how he'd like to celebrate his birthday this year.  Somewhat unfortunately, he goes to a school where many of the children come from families of means, and have elaborate parties to which they invite his entire class: renting out a movie theater, paying admission for his whole class and family members to the Crayola factory, renting out the county art museum.  I've always preferred home parties, at least for younger children, because I feel like the child is more likely to feel celebrated without feeling overwhelmed.  One of the best parties I think Ian attended (well, at least, one of the best ones I attended with him) was in a friend's back yard, bug-themed: they played old-fashioned party games, ate home made cupcakes, and even had little containers to collect and look at ladybugs, which the mom had ordered from a garden company, figuring that the escapees would do her garden good.

Last year we rented a pavilion at our local park for Ian's party, but unfortunately it rained on the day of the event, so we wound up having the kids over to our house anyway, for what turned into a large (though small by his classmates' standards, at only 8 children) playdate.  Though they all seemed pretty happy, I'm not sure if it was that experience or something else that make Ian decide that he wanted an "adults only" party this year; he was pretty insistent that he was going to invite his only grandparents (all three sets), his uncle, and our next door neighbor.  There would be pizza, and presents, and party blowers, and vanilla cake with vanilla frosting.  He even made goody bags with rainbows on them, saying "Thank you For Coming," for the adults to take home, complete with a pack of rainbow goldfish, granola bars, a multicolored click pen, and parachute farm animals.

This plan was just fine with me ... I love a sane party (except that I'd see my mother, who, as predicted, did not ask how I was feeling or about my recent ultrasound and did not express any interest in knowing the sex of the baby ... but that's not what this post is about).  But of course, it meant that I had to make the perfect birthday cake.  This recipe comes from the Magnolia Bakery cookbook, and though I'm not really a fan of Magnolia cupcakes, I think it makes a wonderful layer cake.  I microwaved some Polaner All Fruit (apricot) for about 30 seconds to spread between the layers, and it lent just the right amount of tang and sweet.  I even pulled out my piping tip and pastry bag, and decided, as I finished piping around the edges, that even if it wasn't perfect, I still rock ... after all, it was my first attempt at doing anything besides the standard frosting job.  (Well, it's good to pat yourself on the back once in a while, isn't it?)

My friend, who is a much better cake-baker and designer than I can ever hope to be, bakes it for her son's birthday every year, and every year, I consider whether it might be impolite to try to hide a hunk in my bag to take home.  Luckily, we'll have our own leftovers this week.

Happy birthday, I-bug ...your giggles and hugs and hilarious comments remind me what's really important in life.

Vanilla Birthday Cake

1 1/2 c. self-rising flour
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 c. sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 c. milk
1 t. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line two 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake papers (or grease and flour 2 9" cake pans).

In a small bowl, combine the flours. Set aside.

In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated but do not overbeat. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended.

Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about three-quarters full. Bake for 20–25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean. (If you would like to make a layer cake instead of cupcakes, divide the batter between two 9-inch round cake pans and bake the layers for 30-40 minutes.)

Cool the cupcakes in the tins (or cakes in pans) for 15 minutes. Remove from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

Vanilla Frosting
Makes enough for one 2-layer 9-inch cake or 2 dozen cupcakes

1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
6 to 8 c. confectioners’ sugar
1/2 c. milk
2 t. vanilla extract

Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add 4 cups of the sugar and then the milk and vanilla. On the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat until smooth and creamy, about 3-5 minutes. Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition (about 2 minutes), until the icing is thick enough to be of good spreading consistency. You may not need to add all of the sugar. If desired, add a few drops of food coloring and mix thoroughly. (Use and store the icing at room temperature because icing will set if chilled.) Icing can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
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Friday, September 17, 2010

House Calls: Lentil-Chard Soup

Is it weird that my endocrinologist calls me at 11 p.m. to tell me that he's going to increase the dose of my medication, even when it's not an emergency?  Or calls me at 9 a.m. on a Sunday to tell me that he thinks I should start taking iron (that was months ago)?  Or answers his own phone when I call his office sometimes?  Or is there alone when I arrive for my 8:30 a.m. appointment?

Or is it just that he subscribes to the old-fashioned image of the medical professional, who still makes house calls?

I'm glad he does, though, even if it is a little weird.  Poorly treated (or untreated) hypothyroidism in pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, preenclampsia, congestive heart failure, and anemia.  It's one reason I switched doctors; I just couldn't ignore the fact that my losses may have been linked to a poorly treated (though identified) medical condition I already knew I had.  It's also a reason that I still can't be completely confident about a safe delivery, even if the Bean is doing backflips in there somtimes.  There are still days, especially if I don't feel anything in there for a while, that I can only close my eyes and hope.  Four months is a long way to go.

Time does pass, though, and it's starting to feel more like fall, here, which means soup season.  I was feeling a little bad about slighting chard in my last post (though of course, I may not feel so bad once I get the email telling me what's in this week's CSA share).  I'd just rather eat spinach, in most cases.  This soup is an exception, though; something about the slight bitterness of the chard really complements the sweet of the lightly caramelized onion and the broth.  I suspect that cooking it first helps, too.

And of course it's full of protein and all sorts of things that are good for you, no matter what shape you're in right now.  And since doctors don't often make house calls these days, you have to take good care of yourself.

Lentil-Chard Soup

1 c. brown lentils, rinsed
4 c. water
4 c. stock or low-sodium broth
3 T. olive oil, plus more for serving (optional)
1 large onion, finely chopped
Pinch of crushed red pepper
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 c. coarsely chopped cilantro
1 bunch green Swiss chard (1 1/4 pounds), ribs removed and reserved for another use, leaves coarsely chopped
1/3 c. fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground pepper

In a medium saucepan, combine the lentils with the water, stock and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and bring to a boil. Cover partially and cook over moderately low heat until the lentils are barely tender, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion, crushed pepper and a pinch of salt and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is lightly browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cilantro and cook for 1 minute. Gradually add the chard leaves and cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted, about 3 minutes.

Add the chard to the lentils, cover partially, and simmer until thickened, about 15 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls, season with pepper and olive oil and serve.
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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

21 Weeks, and What's In the Oven: It's A ... Zucchini Bread!

Actually, according to the results of my scan today, the answer to the question "what's in the oven" is ... a healthy baby!  Things seem to be going well, and somehow, despite my indulgences this summer, I'm not even gaining too much weight.  My midwife seemed pretty pleased with progress overall.

OK, ok.  Do you want to know?  It's a girl!  But really, the healthy part is the most important.  (Aside: I confess, though I'm excited, I'm a little daunted by the idea of a girl.  I love the idea of a little person who might enjoy something like this, but I also know, first hand, that mother-daughter relationships are fraught with complication.  Oh, Bean.  I should start your therapy jar now.)

And there was zucchini bread in the oven.

We've been getting a steady stream of it now for a few weeks, between our garden and the CSA share, but somehow I don't tire of grilled zucchini and zucchini in baked things and stuffed zucchini and zucchini soup (you get the idea) in the same way I tire of ... say ... chard.

Heidi Swanson suggests that the reason zucchini bread is so popular is simply because it uses up zucchini.  And the recipes that seem to get passed down through the ages are the ones that use up the most zucchini.  You'll notice, she says, that most recipes make two loaves.  Why?  Because if you only made one loaf, you'd only use up 1 1/2 cups of zucchini.  Seems logical to me, but then, why put so much time into a crop that you turn into quick bread, at your wits' end?

Zucchini Bread

1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts, plus a few to sprinkle on top
zest of two lemons
1/2 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped (optional)

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup fine grain natural cane sugar or brown sugar, lightly packed
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups grated zucchini (about 3 medium), skins on, squeeze some of the moisture out and then fluff it up again before using
3 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Butter the two loaf pans (5 x 9 inches), dust them with a bit of flour and set aside. Alternately, you can line the pans with a sheet of parchment. If you leave a couple inches hanging over the pan, it makes for easy removal after baking. Just grab the parchment "handles" and lift the zucchini bread right out.

In a small bowl combine the walnuts, lemon zest, and ginger. Set aside.

In a mixer, beat the butter until fluffy. Add the sugars and beat again until mixture comes together and is no longer crumbly. Add the eggs one at a time mixing well and scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition. Stir in the vanilla and then the zucchini (low speed if you are using a mixer).

In a separate bowl, combine the whole wheat pastry flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon. Add these dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in two batches, stirring between each addition. By hand, fold in the walnut, lemon zest, and crystalized ginger mixture. Save a bit of this to sprinkle on the tops of the zucchini loaves before baking for a bit of texture. Avoid over mixing the batter, it should be thick and moist, not unlike a butter cream frosting.

Divide the batter equally between the two loaf pans. Make sure it is level in the pans, by running a spatula over the top of each loaf. Bake for about 40-45 minutes on a middle oven rack. Keep in mind it will continue to cook even after it is removed from the oven as it is cooling. Remove from the oven and cool the zucchini bread in pan for about ten minutes. Turn out onto wire racks to finish cooling - if you leave them in their pans, they will get sweaty and moist (not in a good way) as they cool.
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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Expecting: Scalloped Tomatoes

It seems that a lot of people have been posting recently about expectations (see Serenity Now, and Stirrup Queens).  Perhaps it's Rosh Hashanah, or the beginning of the school year, or the change in seasons, but there's something about this time of year that seems to make people reevaluate what they are expecting from life, and of themselves.  (I was saying just the other day to some colleagues that we in academe celebrate New Years' in September, resolutions and all.)

I'm one of those people who has always had high expectations of myself, and of the world.  I was bred to it: my father, an old-world Catholic from Spain, demanded nothing less than perfection from me as a child--in my schoolwork, at the piano bench, in my ladylike behavior.  I internalized expectations early, and soon I didn't need anyone expecting anything from me; I expected things from myself.

The thing about expectations is that they make you ruminate, and not always in the most productive of ways.  You worry endlessly about the future, hoping that things will turn out as you've planned, and you bemoan the failures of the past to live up to those plans.  You put incredible amounts of pressure on yourself, and you flog yourself when you don't perform, or when you have no control.  You see other people running half marathons, and wonder why you're so damn winded after 3.5 miles.  You run into former students writing books, and berate yourself for not writing one too, not producing anything but a single child since your college graduation (never mind the PhD and the creation of a new program at your place of employment).  Then there are the real failures of expectation: miscarriage and later a diagnosis of secondary infertility made me distrust my body, which had pretty much always done what I'd asked it to.  And then surprise ... a pregnancy when I didn't think it was possible turned everything upside down all over again.  Given that I'm used to being in control, or at least making a good show of being in control, it was enough to make my head spin.

Right now I am full of expectation, all over again, both literally and figuratively.  My belly button sticks out, a hood ornament on my noticeably expanding belly.  Next Monday I will be 21 weeks pregnant; my ultrasound scheduled for Wednesday will count fingers and toes, measure growth, identify the baby's sex.  It's taken me a long time to come to terms with having expectations this time around, because on the one hand, I'm human, and I can't help but envision a future ... but on the other hand, I know a thing or two about how the universe can thumb its nose at you.  I've been speaking more these days in terms of a definite future for this child, which is a scary thing, but also a good thing, for the sake of the life in my belly.  On the other hand, I'm also worried about how the program I direct will succeed without me during the six crucial weeks of the semester when I'll be less available (my timing could not have been more inconvenient, given that I will be taking "leave"--with my laptop at my side, no doubt--during the busiest and most high-pressure time of year).  I've been given an ultimatum both to account for how the work will get done, and identify my replacement.  It's a lot to wrap my brain and heart around.  How can I live for now, for the occasional kicks and flip-flops that make me half-grin to myself in the middle of the day, without trying to predict the future, feeling like who and what I am, and what this is right now, is enough?

I'm including this recipe, because I expected it to come out better than it did.  Don't get me wrong; it tasted fine (if just a little bit too sweet--I've adjusted the sugar down for you here so you don't have to make that mistake), and it was only a little more soupy than the pictures on other blogs led me to believe it would be.  And it's a good way to use up tomatoes, if you, like me, have an irrational fear of canning.  It was not a beautiful dish.  But you know what?  We ate it, and we were full.  And sometimes, maybe that's enough.

Scalloped Tomatoes

3 T. olive oil
2 c. bread from a French boule, in a 1/2-inch dice, crusts removed
2 1/2 lbs. whatever good tomatoes you’ve got, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1 T. sugar (or better yet, 1 1/2 to 2 t. agave nectar)
2 t. Kosher salt
1 t. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c. thinly slivered basil leaves, lightly packed
1 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high. Add the bread cubes and stir so that they are evenly coated with oil. Cook cubes, tossing frequently, until toasty on all sides, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine tomatoes, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper in a large bowl. When the bread cubes are toasted, add the tomato mixture and cook them together, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in the basil. Pour into a shallow (6 to 8 cup) baking dish and top with Parmesan cheese. Bake 35 to 40 minutes until the top is browned and the tomatoes are bubbly.
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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What We Leave Behind: Heirloom Tomato Tart

The wind blew a new front in today, and the air is cooler tonight.  Sitting next to the window overlooking our porch, I'm enjoying the breeze, listening to the katydids and crickets, the gentle tinkling of neighbors' chimes, a faint rustling of leaves.  Our garden is beginning to look more  barren now: we've pulled up the carrots and dried cilantro, the tomato vines are just starting to wither and brown, and the raspberry canes around the edges have produced their last fruit.  The beginning of the end of the harvest makes me think about what we leave to the next generation, and to the next year: as we pull in the summer vegetables, we start to gather and dry seeds from our produce, planning next year's garden before this one is completely empty.  It's interesting to me that this process coincides more or less with the Jewish New Year in the northern hemisphere ... we take stock of what we have, and plan for the future.  Cilantro, grape tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes.

In some ways, too, this season makes me think about what I'm leaving not just to the next garden, but to the next generation.  What will our heirlooms be?  I'm not talking about the jewelry and furniture ... but the things that really matter.  What legacy will we leave?  As I feel the bean stir in my belly, I can't help but hope that my heirlooms will make the world just that much better.

We finally got some heirloom tomatoes in our CSA box this week; I've been looking forward to them all summer.  You can't cook heirloom tomatoes, though.  (Well, I suppose one could, but it feels so wrong to spoil the flavor.)  I found this tart on 101 Cookbooks, and knew that I had to try it ... between the heirlooms and the huge bunch of basil in our box, it was meant to be.

L'shanah tovah to my friends who celebrate Rosh Hashanah, and to all of you, here's to the endings that are also beginnings.

Heirloom Tomato Tart in a Parmesan Crust

6 perfect, colorful, medium-sized heirloom tomatoes - washed and sliced 1/6-inch thick
1 t. fine-grain sea salt
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unsalted organic butter, well chilled + cut into 1/4-inch cubes
4-ounce chunk of good fresh Parmesan, microplane-grated (you should end up with about 2 cups loosel ypacked grated cheese. Save any leftover grated cheese for sprinkling on the crusts when they come out of the oven.
2 T. ice cold water
2T. best quality extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup slivered basil

Preheat the oven to 350˚F.

Prep the tomatoes: To avoid a soggy crust later on, you need to rid the tomatoes of some of their liquid. Clear a space on your counter and put down a double layer of absorbent paper towels. Place the tomatoes in a single layer on the paper towels and sprinkle them with about 1 teaspoon fine-grained sea salt. Top the tomatoes with another layer of paper towels and press gently. Let the tomatoes sit here until you are ready to use them.

Make the tart crust(s): Place both flours, butter, and Parmesan in a food processor and pulse quickly about 25 times. You are looking for a sandy textured blend, punctuated with pea-sized pieces of butter. With a few more pulses, blend in the 2T of ice water. The dough should stick together when your pinch it between two fingers. Pour the dough into the tart pan. Working quickly, press the dough uniformly into the pan by pressing across the bottom and working towards the sides and up to form a rim. Place in the refrigerator and chill for 15 minutes.

Bake the tart crust: Pull the tarts out of the refrigerator and poke each a few times with the tongs of a fork. Cover the tart with a square of aluminum foil and fill generously with pie weights. Place on a baking sheet and slide the tart onto the middle rack in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, pull the shell out of the oven and very gently peel back and remove the tinfoil containing the pie weights. Place the uncovered tart back in the oven, weight free, and allow to cook for another 10 minutes, or until it is a deep golden brown in color. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with a little shredded Parmesan (this will act as another barrier to the tomato liquid). Let cool to room temperature before filling.

Assembling the tart: Just before serving, arrange tomato slices in a concentric pattern inside the tart shell. Drizzle with your best quality extra-virgin olive oil, and sprinkle with the slivered basil. Serve at room temperature.
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Monday, September 6, 2010

I Feel Fine: Gluten Free Chocolate Beet Torte

One interesting thing about being obviously pregnant is that now everyone asks me how I'm feeling.  "Fine," I say.  "How are you feeling?"   People look surprised when I ask them this, as if the question somehow has less relevance for them.  Why don't we always ask each other how we're feeling?  And why don't people ever ask pregnant women "what are you thinking" or something else more unpredictable?

The thing is, I suspect that most people don't really want to know how I'm feeling.  It's more like making conversation, just something you ask pregnant women.  Or they want to know, and secretly hope I'll tell them some juicy story about lurching over to the toilet bowl in the morning.  Well, I'm not going to tell them I feel like I'm constantly hungry, and that I'm eating way more bad-for-me things, it seems, than I did when I was pregnant with Ian.  I'm not going to tell them I rummage through the cabinets at midnight, looking for bits of chocolate, and ruing my virtuousness at the grocery store, when I didn't pick up that jar of white chocolate peanut butter or at the health food store when I didn't buy this brownie.

I mentioned the other day that I was tired of roasted beets, and that I had  yet another bunch waiting to be used in the refrigerator.  Wouldn't you know it: we were invited to two potlucks this weekend, and one of them was the lucky recipient of this decadent little number, lifted from Elana's Pantry.  Unlike the brownies, you'd never know there were beets in here; it's just pure, fudgy goodness, and gluten free, to boot.  We served it up with a few dollops of whipped cream and some fresh raspberries, just picked from our bushes this afternoon, still warm from the sun.

It's hard not to feel fine after a slice of this cake.

Chocolate Beet Torte

2 1/2 c.grated beets
1 c. agave nectar
4 eggs
1/2 c. grapeseed or canola oil
1 T. vanilla extract
1/2 t. almond extract
1/2 c. cocoa powder
1/2 t. salt

In a medium saucepan, heat the beets and agave to a boil, then cover.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, until beets are soft.

Transfer beet-agave mixture to a Vita-Mix (or other high speed blender) and puree on highest speed until smooth.  Blend in eggs, oil, vanilla, almond extract, cocoa and salt until thoroughly incorporated.
Pour batter into a well greased 9-inch cake pan.  Bake at 350° for 30-35 minutes until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool and serve.
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Friday, September 3, 2010

Battle of the Bulge: Scallion Pancakes

Yesterday morning I woke up and realized that I no longer had anything in my closet that fit me, because the three dresses I own that still fit my baby bulge (it's no longer a humble bump) were at the dry cleaner's shop. In the immortal word of Homer Simpson: Doh.

I was able to dig up a suit for today that has always been too big on me, to go to a University Senate meeting where I have to sit with the President and Executive VP, and I'm feeling a strange sense of relief to be hiding in my clothes.

I have, unfortunately, been eating for two lately, it seems.  I know that you're not supposed to, but I'm hungry ALL. THE. TIME.  I don't remember this with Ian; it's a little frightening, actually, that even when my stomach feels like it's about to burst I find myself salivating over all sorts of things.  Things that are bad for me.  Cake.  Chocolate.  Ice cream.  Fried things.  We pulled out pictures of me last time I was pregnant, and I don't look too much bigger this time around, but still, this must stop; I need to be able to fit into at least some of my clothes again some day!

I'm sure that some of what I cooked this week didn't help, either.  What do you do with too many scallions?  Madhur Jaffrey, wise in the way of things vegetarian and ethnic, says you make scallion pancakes.  Seems harmless, right?  Well, despite my reputation for healthy cooking, these are not even remotely good for you, and I'm almost ashamed that I served them for dinner (I redeemed myself only marginally by offering grilled zucchini and eggplant as the other half of our meal).  Ian had a virus this week, so he didn't help us eat them, either; we were left to our own devices.  A word to the wise: though they are dangerously tasty, don't eat two or more pancakes' worth of wedges at once if you want to fit into your clothes the next day.  Even if you really are pregnant and hungry.

Scallion Pancakes
(there is a lovely step-by-step photo essay at Almost Bourdain, but my recipe is just a little bit different; I recommend my recipe, with AB's step-by-step photos.)

3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour, extra for dusting
1 1/4 c. warm water
10 scallions, cut crosswise into fine rounds (both green and white sections)
10 T. vegetable or peanut oil, divided (yes, go for the unhealthy here ... it's just not the same with olive oil)
1 t. salt
1 t. freshly ground black pepper

Put flour into a big bowl. Make a well in the middle and add the warm water and, mixing as you go, make a soft dough.  Collect the dough together and make a ball.  Knead briefly and make a ball again.  Cover the dough with a damp cloth and let it rest for 15-20 minutes.

Flour a large work surface thoroughly.  Put the dough ball in the center and flour the dough ball; roll out into a 20 inch round, dusting with flour when you need to.   Brush the surface with oil, and spread the scallions over it.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Starting with the edge closest to you, roll up the dough into a long fat log and pinch the ends to seal in the spring onion and oil.

Break the log into four smaller equal logs.  Lightly flatten the roll, then roll it up again from one end like a snail, pinching the end to seal it.   Press the dough down with the palm of your hand. Roll out to a 7 inch (or so) circle.  Flour the work surface again, and foll out all of the cakes this way, making sure that you keep them in a cool spot well dusted with flour.

Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat with 3 T. of oil.   When the oil is hot, add your pancake to the pan. Cook for 3-4 minutes on each side, turning once, until the pancake is light golden brown and crisp.  Remove the cooked pancake to a paper towel to drain and add 1 T. oil to the pan.  Repeat the cooking process until all of your pancakes have been fried.

Cut into wedges and serve immediately with a dipping sauce of 2 T. soy sauce, 1 T. mirin, 1 t. sugar, 1 t. sesame oil, and 1/4 c. very light stock OR 1/4 c. soy sauce, 2 1/2 T. rice vinegar, and 2 t. sesame oil.
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