Lighten Up, Already

You might be noticing that there aren’t a whole lot of pictures from this trip to France I’m sharing with you. Part of it is because I had one of my cameras stolen at the very end of the trip.

Another part of it is that I was such a novice photographer then. I was using a camera I borrowed from my mom for the trip. Not only did I not know how to use it very well, at some point I realized it was taking terrible pictures because the lens was incredibly dirty in a place I could not clean. I didn’t have much experience with the DSLR format, and I had by no means learned anything about making my camera an extension of myself.

The third, and last part, is that I was so overwhelmed by how awesome everything was that I just plain forgot to take pictures. I was too busy living it.

Which is how it’s supposed to be on vacation anyway. Just like how when you’re on vacation you probably also do things you didn’t intend to do, you often forget to do the things that were on your list of “must-do”s. I definitely had a list like that, and probably didn’t do half of the things on it. I did however do amazing things I never would have thought of, like crawl through abandoned German Pillboxes from WWII, or swim in a chilly river to cool down from the 95º heat, or tour the Hennessy distillery.

I definitely also had a list of things I wanted to eat in France. In this case, I probably ate all of them. Bread, cheese, wine. Dessert. Sausages and classic roast chicken. More wine. Oh, and Pastries.

One thing I don’t specifically remember eating is quiche.

I was probably drinking too much wine…

Anyway. I do remember eating quiche with my Grandmother many many times in other places, however, so I’m sure we must have eaten quiche at least once. It was probably nothing like this quiche.

In France you don’t have to ever feel like you should be eating lighter. You never have to make excuses to yourself about why you just ate that crème brûlée after consuming some other rich thing for the main course. It’s because you ate a hearty, veggie laden salad for lunch and you walked halfway across whatever city you are in to do something spectacular like play pétanque or window shop.

You might be doing your normal thing, eating yogurt and toast for breakfast, and suddenly you realize you have eaten half a baguette smeared with thick, sunny gobs of salty french butter along with your full fat yogurt and delicious fruit straight from some quaint farm further south than you are. And then you go march up some steep hill to visit a tiny church with a gorgeous window and it totally doesn’t matter.

Here at home though, I’m not as active. Mostly because I’m on the lazy side when I’m not working, and also partly because I have a small kid and it’s kept me home and sort of stagnant a lot more than I’ve been used to in the past. Not that that’s an excuse, but I am not the slimmest I’ve ever been.

So lately, I’ve been attempting to lighten things up a bit. It’s been hard because the weather has been very reminiscent of a time other than summer, so the food part of that longed for season hasn’t exactly caught on all that strong yet. There’s been a few picnics and light summer suppers, sure, but so few that I can still count them on 2 hands.

I wanted to make this quiche with all cream and an all butter crust.

But I resisted.

It was kinda easy actually, because I knew it would be just as good as regular old rich French style quiche. Just…lighter. Rose would be proud. The peas get so sweet when they are baked into the custard, it’s really a treat. The tang from the buttermilk adds a layer of depth that you can’t get from just plain milk, and it plays so nicely with the eggs and the thyme. Just enough spicy (veggie) italian sausage to add a bit of heat, and just enough fat to make the whole thing seem indulgent and you’re set.

The polenta crust is a little different. When I saw this recipe from The Wednesday Chef, I put that on my list of things to try. Of course, I didn’t follow the recipe at all when I made it, I just made polenta like I would if I was going to cut it up and broil it so that it would be thick enough to mold into a crust. You could try adding an egg like she does, but I didn’t think it needed it. I would probably add cheese next time though, so if you give it a whirl let me know how it goes. The whole thing has a nice soft “this feels good to me” texture. The flavor is more delicate than a more traditional flour pie crust, and definitely won’t weigh you down as much.

Eat it with a salad and it will be good to you.

Then you can go back to eating richer things for dessert. I promise.

Buttermilk and Snap Pea Quiche with Polenta Crust
serves 6-8

For the Crust:

(I used Mark Bittman’s recipe from How to Cook Everything. It’s very straight forward and comes out great ever time, even if you can’t pay as much attention to it as you should. I’m going to repost it here with the adaptations I made for this recipe. It makes enough for 2 quiches or 1 quiche and some polenta to broil and serve with something else spectacular)

3 1/2 cups water or half water half broth (the original calls for 4, I reduced it to make the polenta set up thicker)
1 tsp salt
1 cup medium-grind cornmeal
fresh ground pepper
2 tbsp olive oil (or butter as the original recipe calls for)

Bring the water to a boil in a heavy bottomed medium sized pot. Salt the water and turn down the heat to medium. Add the cornmeal slowly while constantly whisking. Once you’ve added all the cornmeal, turn the heat down to low. Continue cooking while whisking once every minute for the first 5 minutes.

Switch to a flat bottomed wooden or silicone spoon and stir frequently (at least once a minute) until all the liquid is absorbed. It should begin to pull away from the sides of the pot, which will take about 15-20 minutes. Turn off the heat and taste for salt and pepper. Divide the polenta into 2 cake pans and allow to cool enough to handle before moving on to the next step. You can also use a larger pie plate if you are planning on making only one quiche, but the recipe will not make enough for 2 regular sized pie plates (9″).

Once the polenta has cooled so that you can touch it, cover it with a sheet of plastic wrap and slowly begin pressing the polenta out to the corners of the dish, continuing up the sides. You want the polenta to fill in the corners and to be evenly spread across the bottom and sides of the pan. For a 7″ pan, half of a batch will go all the way up the sides, for an 8″ pan it will be a little shallower. Allow the polenta to chill a few minutes in the fridge while you prepare your fillings.

For the filling:
(for one 7-8″ quiche–easily doubles)

3 eggs
1/3 cup lowfat buttermilk (up to 1/2 cup for a larger quiche)
1/3 cup whole milk (up to 1/2 cup for a larger quiche)
3-4 oz italian sausage (I use veggie to keep it kosher/vegetarian)
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup sugar snap peas, roughly chopped
leaves from 1-2 springs fresh Thyme
2-3 oz shredded sharp cheddar, gruyere or similar cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375º F.

In a large skillet, brown the sausage and onions until the meat is well browned and the onions have softened. Pour into the crust(s) and top with the chopped peas. Sprinkle the thyme, salt, and pepper over. Mix the eggs and milk well in a separate bowl, then pour over the other fillings, being careful not to splash the mixture over the sides of the crust. Top with the shredded cheese and a bit more salt and pepper.

Baked until the mixture is completely set in the middle and the cheese is well browned, about 40-50 minutes depending on your oven. Allow to rest for 10 or so minutes before cutting, or it will be very loose.

Biscones

It’s been gorgeous here in Seattle.

Warm enough for BBQs and rose on the deck at sundown. Warm enough for all day picnics and (almost) lake swimming.

I’m sure it won’t last for long. It never does.

Since I’ve been training again for a triathlon that is coming up in June, I’ve been trying to eat better, mostly so I will look hot in my wetsuit. So far, I’ve had mixed results. I can easily eat a salad for lunch most days…but others I must have potato chips and PB&J. And cookies. And there was that pie that I made twice last week.

Moving on.

I have been trying very hard–last week I ran almost 6 miles to an event at our synagogue (Then I devoured 4 pieces of pizza and 3 s’mores.)–and I have discovered that it’s all about balance. Balance healthy things with things that make you feel like you did something naughty. Balance an extra scone on the edge of your plate covered in salad and lean proteins.

These scones are the payoff for an extra 20 minutes on your bike. They’re light and flaky like a biscuit, but just dense enough that a couple are plenty satisfying. They make a good breakfast for a busy morning, and are equally at home on a decadent brunch buffet as a counterpoint to sweeter fare. Or you can eat them for lunch, or a snack, or eat them with soup for dinner…Basically they’re good anytime.

These babies inspired a small family altercation at our Mother’s Day Picnic, they’re that good. Just saying.

 Potato, Cheddar and Chive Scones

makes about 12 scones

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt + big pinch
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
6 oz small potatoes
3 Tbsp chopped chives
3.5 oz grated cheddar cheese
2/3 cup whole milk or buttermilk
1 egg yolk
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, cold
olive oil for frying potatoes

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Wash the potatoes and remove any bruised spots, but leave the peels on. Slice them thin, and if the potatoes are bigger than about 1 1/2″ across, cut the slices in half. Heat about 1 Tbsp olive oil in a heavy skillet and then add potatoes. Toss on a big pinch of salt, and fry the potatoes, stirring occasionally, until they start to brown and are tender all the way through. Set aside to cool while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

Cut the butter into about 20 cubes, 1/2″ or so big. Set aside. Mix together the egg yolk and milk in a small bowl and set aside. Grate the cheese and chop the chives and set aside. Lastly, roughly chop the cooked potatoes into small pieces.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or another large metal bowl, stir together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda, and black pepper. Toss in the butter and either mix on low or use either your fingers or a pastry cutter –cut in the butter until the chunks are about the size of peas. Add the egg yolk mixture and mix just until there are no longer visible puddles of liquid on the surface. Next, add in the remaining ingredients and mix until the dough starts to clump together.

Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and use your hands to gather it all together into a ball. Knead it gently a few times if necessary until it holds together, then pat the dough out with your hands to about 3/4″ thick. Using a 3″ circle cutter, cut the scones by pressing straight down and lifting the cutter straight back up. This keeps the layers of fat from smooshing together on the edges so they rise up nice and tall. Place the scones on a parchment lined sheet pan about 1″ apart and repeat with the remaining dough.

When you can’t cut any more circles, gently scrunch the dough back into a ball and press out flat again. You don’t want to mash it all together, or the fat will start to melt and the gluten in the flour will activate too much and the scones won’t be as tender. Repeat as necessary until you get 11 or 12 scones. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate and bake for about 10 more or until the tops are lightly golden and the bottoms have a good firm golden crust.

The Hunger

During Passover it was hard to find a good snack. Normally if I’m looking for a good satisfying mid-day snack I will eat a handful of tortilla or pita chips dipped in hummus, a bowl of fresh popped corn with garlic salt, or a rice cake with peanut butter. But all of those things–corn, peanuts, garbanzo beans, rice, and leavened wheat–are forbidden by Ashkenazic tradition during Passover.

We ate a lot of eggs and fruit and cheese, which is OK for a little while but can get old pretty fast when you can’t mix it up a bit. And there’s always matzah roca, which is a good sweet bite when you need to satisfy that sort of craving–but you can’t eat too much of that without feeling some good old fashioned Jewish guilt.

So what’s a girl in training to do?

Eat nuts.

Handfuls of them raw in yogurt, almond butter spread over matzah with a drizzle of honey, or nuts like these:

Words like salty and sweet don’t really do these mixed nuts justice, because even though they are those things, that’s not enough. There are more layers of flavor to them than there are layers of matzah in matzah lasagna.

With an immediate crunch and a lingering heat, these are pretty much the perfect snack. The orange zest adds a brightness that isn’t easily brought by other ingredients, and the cardamom adds a floral zing. The chipotle knocks on the door and says “HI!” at just the moment, when you’re thinking you might need a way to get off the phone with the sweetness. And of course, salt. All good toasted nuts have salt.

Even though we ate a big bag of them during Passover, I couldn’t resist making a fresh batch to go with us on the train to Vancouver, where we are right now. It’s supposed to be pretty rainy here this week, and even chillier than the city we left behind, so a good homemade snack was essential to keep up our spirits on this Not-So-Tropical vacation. Along with the bottle of wine no self-respecting international train traveller leaves behind, they make the perfect travelling snack. They’ll cure pretty much any hunger pangs, and be easy to carry around to boot.

Stovetop Toasted Orange Spice Nuts
makes 12 1/4 cup servings

1 cup each raw Cashews, Almonds, and Walnuts, or any nut you like.
1/2 tsp Ground Cardamom
Zest and juice from one orange
1/2 tsp Ground Chipotle pepper
1/2 cup Granulated sugar
1 tsp Salt, or to taste
2 Tbsp butter

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or foil.

In a good, heavy bottomed skillet (cast iron is the best) melt the butter. Add the nuts and sugar, stirring to coat, then add the other ingredients. Cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until the nuts have turned a rich golden brown and most of the liquid has evaporated from the caramel. You want it to be thick but still a little bit sticky–it should take about 15-20 minutes. Turn the nuts out on the sheet pan and allow to cool, stirring every few minutes, all the way through. Once the caramel is no longer sticky or flexible at all, they’re cool enough to store in an airtight container for several days.

The Eleventh Plague

Time to get serious folks: Passover is coming.

I wanted to give you a minute to either let you totally freak out because you haven’t really started thinking about it yet or else be really confused about why this would be a big deal.

Passover’s imminent arrival means that Jews everywhere are cleaning out cupboards, using up the last of whatever flours, rices, and beans they have sitting around, and pulling out the boxes of passover dishes. Not to mention stocking up on things like matzoh, matzah, and matzo–otherwise known as the Eleventh Plague (I swear I didn’t just make that up…OK maybe I did…a little).

Our house is no exception. It’s got sort of a slow build up and then one night (a week ago Sunday for me) you are laying in bed just on the edge of sleep and suddenly it stikes you: you have to clean your house and convert it for passover in a little under 2 weeks. This is when the panic can sink in if you aren’t accustomed to it.

If you aren’t familiar with the inner workings of a Passover kitchen, this might seem like much ado about nothing. But, I can assure you it is not. Some might compare Passover to Lent, since it involves giving up something in order to be a more spiritual person–better connected with the soul and your ancestors, less concerned with the day to day and the material. There are similarities, but Passover is much stricter and in my own experience, much much harder. For Lent you aren’t required to give up several entire classes of foods, nor are you required to enact a physical change over your dwelling space to ensure that those forbidden foods do not come in contact with your person. And though Lent lasts far longer, each person is at liberty to choose what they will give up, so it can be easier to exercise will power over this extended period.

Passover is meant to be a time to reflect deeply on ones roots–the ancestors of the Jews who were exiled from their homeland of ancient Israel, instead serving as slaves to despotic and racist Egyptian pharaohs. We are asked to place ourselves in the shoes of these ancestors, for good and bad. We give up leavened bread (and lots, lots more) and humble ourselves so that we can imagine what it was like as slaves fleeing our captors. And then, we celebrate the exodus from Egypt as if we ourselves had been there and were set free. But there is lamenting also, for ourselves in the desert, and for the Egyptians who were the victims of the Ten Plagues.

For me, Passover is also a way to discover how I came to be where I am. There are some who believe that when G-d handed down the 10 commandments to Moses all those many years ago in the desert, every single soul of every single Jew who ever existed or ever would exist was in attendance, hovering around to see that historical moment. Sort of mind boggling to be sure, but it is heartwarming to think that even a humble convert like me was actually intended to be Jewish–that somewhere deep inside me was a seed of this spirituality, nurtured into existence by my life experiences up to the point of contact with the Jewish world, when it then came into full bloom.

I have mentioned before that I was not born into Judaism. When I met my now husband, Joe, I was not a religious person–I still don’t consider myself to be. I was raised by parents who had respect for others’ spiritual practices, but none of their own beyond pretty much just being. My parents were, and for the most part still are, total hippies. They taught me to question anything that seemed outwardly authoritarian and religion was included in that group. I went to church occasionally with friends, and even had some friends who were Jewish, but I didn’t have a sense of what that meant.

As I started getting serious with Joe I realized that I needed to learn more about what it was he was doing with his spiritual self or I would never be able to truly connect with him. And since he kept kosher, I needed to learn something about that so that we could share meals together, especially ones that I had prepared. I realize now that this was my diving board into Judaism. I already had a passion for food, which I was building on by going to pastry school, so it was fitting that this was a way I could connect with him. Plus, you know. The way to a man’s heart is totally through his stomach. Whoever said that was not lying.

When I eventually chose to become a Jew there were a lot of elements at play. What it came down to was the spirituality that being a Jew can imbue into the everyday experience. Even beyond praying (which to be perfectly honest, I still have a hard time with), daily activities–and in some cases, restrictions–are meant to elevate the Jew beyond the physical world. And to me, food was the culmination of these ideas. Keeping Kosher is about treating things right: our G-d given bodies, the bodies of the animals who give their lives to nourish us, and the earth that houses us all. It’s about using food as a tool to connect you to the being that is G-d.

So, like that time Joe and I were dining out in a restaurant for one of the very first times and he wouldn’t share a bowl of measly clam chowder with me because he didn’t “eat shellfish,” I now find myself answering questions about how I won’t eat this or that, or why this or that dish isn’t something you will find in my repertoire. I still have a hard time with some things–nobody is prefect and it is incredibly hard to be a newly converted kosher foodie–but I do my best and I occasionally rededicate myself to “keeping Kosher” in the home and out. There are some modern rules for keeping kosher that I continue to have a hard time understanding, like why you aren’t supposed to mix poultry and dairy, even though chickens don’t make milk (and it’s therefore impossible to cook a chicken in it’s mother’s milk).

Here on Kernels and Seeds, I reflect this in subtle ways: many of the recipes are in a kosher category, and I try very hard to make sure they are all at least kosher style. The recipe I’m sharing today is kosher too. Yes, even for Passover. But it’s not really a recipe so much as an idea. I mean, you should be able to bake a potato and do whatever you want with it–but sometimes you just need a little inspiration.  I’ve been loving these potatoes and I will continue to do so all the way through passover–they don’t even require you to bring the Eleventh Plague upon your house.

The earthiness of the potatoes is a natural partner for tangy, buttery blue cheese and sweet roasted leeks. Pair it with a big green salad for lunch and you’ve got yourself a matzah free meal that even the pharaohs would have had trouble turning down.

Baked Potato with Roasted Leeks and Blue Cheese
serves 4 for lunch or a light supper

4 medium sized organic russet potatoes
olive oil
4 oz good quality blue cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup sour cream
1 lb of skinny young leeks, or one larger leek per potato
milk or buttermilk, just a splash or two
salt and pepper to taste

Bake the potatoes however you normally would. I do this in a 375 F oven. Take your potatoes and really scrub them, then lightly coat in olive or canola oil. Rub in a tiny bit of salt and poke it all over with a fork. Place directly on the rack, with a baking sheet on another rack just below the potatoes to catch any drippings. They’ll bake anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour or more, depending on how big they are and how many you are baking.

While the potatoes are baking, you also want to bake the leeks. Slice each leek in half and soak in cold water to remove any grit that is hiding in between the leaves. You might have to gently rub the layers to work any remaining grit out. Remove the darkest green parts–you just want the whites and palest green leaves as they are the most tender. Place the leeks on a baking sheet and coat in a light splash of olive oil. Sprinkle just a small pinch of salt over. Toss to coat. Place the baking sheet in the oven with the potatoes and let them roast until they are tender all the way through and starting to get crispy. When they’re done, let them cool a bit and then chop them roughly, place them in a bowl. Cover with foil and set them aside.

While the potatoes and leeks are in the oven, prepare the blue cheese topping. Crumble the cheese into a bowl and stir in the sour cream, kind of smashing it all together as you go. Add milk or buttermilk until it’s a consistency you’re happy with. It will thicken a bit more as it sits, so you can add more later if it thickens too much. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

When the potatoes are done, slice each one almost through into quarters or sixths, and let each person top their own potato with leeks and blue cheese. Serve with more salt and pepper if need be.

World Party Day: Snack Time

This is a post for World Party Day, which is coming up April 3rd. If you don’t know much about it, you can find out more here, and catch up on the previous tutorials at Big Things, who are organizing this whole big shindig.

Let’s face it you guys. It’s not a party without some snacks.

You can forget about filling up on candy from the piñata, because that will only take you so far. A delicious breakfast is a good way to start the Day, but late in the night you might need a little something extra. Well, there’s always bags of chips and hummus…But that’s just not REAL party fare, am I right? And who wants to spend hours in the kitchen making snacks before hand (well, besides me…)?

Here is a snack that is super easy to make and IT’S TWO FOR ONE.

That’s right! You can do the work for just one awesome home made snack and still get two different ones. That’s what I call a win-win.

We’re gonna make little snacky bread puddings. They’re snazzy snacks. We’re gonna make 1 batter, then split it in half and flavor it 2 different ways. This version is vegetarian, so you won’t have to worry about all those non-meat eating party guests. BUT–this is a super versatile recipe. If you don’t like the add-ins I have here, you can swap them out for similar ingredients, just be sure to keep the same ratio.

Here’s what you need:

1 1/2 loaves of bread: any bread will work, but decent bread is better. Not too fresh now, you want the bread to be a little bit thirsty.
4 cups of whole milk, or even 1/2 & 1/2
4 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar plus 2 Tbsp
1 cup dried cherries
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 14oz package of a savory veggie sausage, I used Tofutti brand Italian style
3-4 good sized sprigs fresh thyme or 1 1/2 tsp dried
1/2 cup or so sliced raw almonds
salt and pepper to taste, plus a pinch of salt for the custard

Here’s what you do:

Put on a fancy apron, if you’ve got one.

If the crust on the bread is particularly tough or thick, cut it off. If your bread isn’t sliced, use a serrated knife to cut it into good thick slices, maybe 3/4″-1″ thick. Now either cut the slices into cubes or get down and dirty with your bread and tear it into bite sized chunks. Divide the chunks in half, and put each half into a big bowl.

Chop up the cherries and add them to one of the bowls of bread. Add the thyme to the other bowl–if you’re using fresh, strip the leaves from their stems first.

Next, heat up the milk to a simmer. Add a pinch of salt in there. When it’s good and warm but not boiling, pour out 2 cups (important to measure here) and add that to the bowl with the thyme. Add the sugar and almond extract to the remaining 2 cups of milk, give it a good stir to dissolve the sugar and then pour it into the bowl with the cherries.

Put a plate into each bowl and weigh it down with a can or something heavy. You want the bread to be immersed in the liquid as much as possible.

Let the bread sit for an hour or so. Then, preheat your oven to 350 F and put racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven.

When you’re almost ready to bake these babies, take out your sausage and heat up a skillet. Slice the sausages into 1/4″ rounds and toss em in. Let them get good and brown on at least one side, then turn off the skillet and set aside.

Grease 2 regular muffin tins with butter or pan spray. Don’t use cupcake liners to bake the puddings in, you want them to get brown and crusty from contact with the metal pan. Save the cups for later when you serve the puddings.

Now, take the “lids” off your bread and give each one a good stir. Crack 2 of the eggs into a little bowl and break them up with a fork. Add them to one of the bowls with bread. Repeat for the other bowl. Stir the eggs in really well, so that no streaks of egg are visible. Add the sausage and the crumbled feta to the pudding with the thyme, then a big dose of fresh cracked black pepper and an extra pinch of salt, and toss to coat.

Fill each tin with one type of pudding. You want each cup to be full and heaped out of it’s little well. For the cherry almond puddings, sprinkle a pinch of sliced almonds on top–they’ll get nice and toasty when they bake. If you have leftover bread mixture, that’s OK, just bake more once the first batches are done.

If you have large roasting pans, you can put each muffin tin into a roasting pan and add some boiling water until it reaches about halfway up the sides of the cups. You can skip this if you don’t have pans big enough–the puddings might not stay as moist but they’ll still be delicious, I promise.

Bake for about 15 minutes then spin them around, switching the top pan for the bottom one and vice versa. Bake for about 15 more minutes, until the tops look nice and brown. Let the puddings cool for a few minutes, then pop them out of the muffin tins so that they don’t steam themselves as they cool. If you need to bake more mix, be sure to re-grease the pans and fill the wells in the middle of the tin first so the puddings don’t burn before they’re done baking.

This recipe makes about 2 dozen, and it can be made a day in advance–just wrap the puddings in foil and reheat for 10 minutes or so in a low (250 F) oven before serving. They’re good at room temp though too.

Smooth Moves

Two True Facts:

1) We are doing a lot of travel by airplane this year, and also some by train. Three quarters of it is international and so I am super excited. (That was an extra fact. 3 for the price of 2.)

2) Lilli loves to dance. I would show you a funny video of it but every time I try to video her the little radar inside her head telling her when I’m thinking about turning my camera on starts alerting her to the fact that I’m thinking about turning my camera on for the sole purpose of actually photographing her and she freezes up. Either that or she comes over and starts adjusting knobs and stuff on the camera and it turns into a video taken by Lilli instead of of Lilli.

Lilli’s new favorite dance move is inspired by the fact that we are doing a lot of travel this year. The mascot for the website Hipmunk does a little arm waggle dance when you are waiting for the site to turn up search results. For a while Lilli would imitate the chipmunk and it meant that she wanted to see him on the computer. Now it’s just a part of her dance repertoire.

My favorite new dance move involves an immersion blender and a jar of almond butter.

That’s because it’s not a dance move, it’s a smoothie.

I have historically had a hard time with smoothies. I want to love them. I’ve tried lots of combinations of fruits and veggies and protein powders and other weird add-ins. I’ve tried them with milk, I’ve tried them with water and juice, and both with and without ice. I serve them to my family at breakfast and sometimes I get a “Wow, that’s tasty” and other times half of the smoothie gets fed to the chickens. I just can never seem to get it quite right.

Recently I tried some new smoothie recipes that had peanut butter in them. They sounded like they would be good, but instead they just smelled like the inside of an empty peanut butter jar that’s been soaking in the sink for too long.

Then I came across a smoothie that included almond butter and *chocolate* in the form of protein powder. This is something we keep on hand because both Joe and I find that a good protein shot is really key in overcoming the fatigue after an exceptionally exerting exercise day. (And, yes, that was exactly the right way to phrase that…)

It also had banana in it, and ice and water. I had already had a banana with breakfast, so I wasn’t particularly in the mood for that again but I was hungry and a smoothie sounded like just the ticket. Since I didn’t want banana and I have slowly come to realize that I don’t really care for the texture of a smoothie made with ice (plus I didn’t want to use an actual blender) I decided to look in the freezer and see what kind of fruit I had in there.

That’s when I saw the cherries, and knew my snack destiny.

The frozen cherries were leftover from the tart that went with me to cookbook club. The one where we each consumed approximately a stick of butter, because all the food was from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Just thinking about that makes me sort of cringe, in a good way.

Anyway, there was only about a cup of cherries in the bag so I dumped them into a big old jar. Then I put in a scoop and a half (3/4 serving) of the chocolate protein powder and a few other things. When it was all blended and I was just on the verge of drinking it, I realized it was sort of like drinking a smoothie made of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia and then I did a happy smoothie dance. Then I got back to work.

Chocolate Cherry Smoothie
makes 1 big smoothie or 2 small ones

1 cup frozen black cherries–you could also use canned or fresh (pitted!) and add a handful of ice.
1 Tbsp or so almond butter–either creamy or crunchy will work
3/4 serving (or more if you’re really really hungry) chocolate protein powder
1 cup water or milk of choice

Put all the ingredients into the cup that came with your immersion blender or a wide mouth quart jar. You can also use a regular blender for this. Blend it all together until there aren’t any big chunks left. This part is especially important if you use crunchy almond butter like I did.

Drink up!

Ten Easy Steps to Get to Mexico

I was getting ready to tell you more about how spring is right around the corner, but then it started snowing again. I don’t know why it was doing that, because then it was sunny again like 20 minutes later.

Sometimes the weather in Seattle is just plain dumb.

Because of this we will eat tacos for dinner many times between now and forever. Here’s how we do it at Casa Goldberg.

Step 1). Boil up some black beans.  A lot of black beans.

Step 2.) Get out some sweet potatoes and cut them into bite sized chunks.

Step 3). Remark on how much you love sweet potatoes because they are so freaking delicious and go with almost every food in existence.

Step 4). Step outside into the muck and pick the remainder of the winter chard/kale/whatever from the garden. Failing that, open up the crisper and pull out any leafy green things that need to be used up. Rinse it all up and give it a good hacking with a big knife.

Step 5). Add a lot of garlic to a pan.

Step 6). Cook everything together.

Step 7). Heat up some sort of taco delivery device. Tortillas and crispy taco shells are the go-to in our house.

Step 8). Add a gazillion delicious toppings. Sour cream, avocados, cilantro, thinly shredded cabbage, any salsas you have hanging out in the fridge, cheese in varying degrees of saltiness. And hot sauce.

Step 9). Squeeze some lime over the whole thing.

Step 10). Devour.

See how easy that was? Now you can pretend you are in Mexico and it’s not 40ºF outside.

These tacos are so simple you can practically make them in your sleep. Some days in the middle of winter, that is how I feel, and yet they still manage to be 100% delicious every time. They are endlessly variable, as long as you know what you like. Eat them in warm flour tortillas as a burrito, in little corn tortillas or crispy corn shells for a true taco, or just heap it all on a plate and call it a salad. The toppings are endless. A rainbow of salsas, crunchy pickles carrots, salty cotija cheese and spicy peppers are all probably more traditional that what we usually eat, but this is NW style Mexican at it’s best.

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Tacos
feeds one hungry family of 5, plus leftovers

3 cups cooked (or canned) black beans
2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/2″-3/4″ cubes
3 large cloves garlic, finely minced
4-5 heaping cups chopped leafy greens, like chard
3/4 tsp chipotle powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp onion powder
salt to taste
juice of about 1/3 lime
olive or vegetable oil

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add enough oil to just coat the bottom of the pan. Toss in the sweet potato cubes and the garlic and add a big pinch of salt. Stir it all around to coat it in the oil. Let it sit for a minute until it starts to brown, and then stir. Repeat this step until most of the pieces have at least a couple of brown sides, then add a splash of water to the pan and cover. Let steam for 5 minutes or so, checking to make sure the water doesn’t completely evaporate or you will burn the heck out of your potatoes.

Once the potatoes have started to soften, add the black beans and the spices. Add another splash of water, give it a good stir and then let steam for a few more minutes. Again, repeat this step until the beans and potatoes start to meld together and the potatoes have softened to the point that they are edible. Taste for seasoning. Now add in the greens. Add one more splash of water and cover, letting it steam just until the greens have started to soften and cook down, and most of the water has evaporated

If you want it a bit more saucy, add more water, a tiny bit at a time, until it’s a consistency you like. Check again for seasoning, then add the lime juice.

Serve it up nice and hot with plenty of toppings and an ice cold beer. A little mariachi music might help set the mood, if you are that type of person.

Winter’s Last Hurrah

Think about Winter for a second.

OK, stop. That was long enough, right?

Mercifully, that’s about how long there is left of this season. A second or two. In my haste to get to spring, I’ve been eating a lot of things that aren’t the usual cold weather comfort foods. Even though I’m still pretty much stuck with all the same winter ingredients.

Like kale.

And cabbage.

And apples.

But you know what? Even though I’m probably not the only one who is more than ready for the first sweet snap peas and their best buddy spring onions, I found that I can make do if I come up with a new recipe for those tired ingredients every now and then. Sometimes it takes a trip to the P-patch for a little inspiration (especially when you wake up to snow…in March), but after that I’m home free.

Heres a salad that’s got a lot of good things going for it, considering it’s full of foods that need a tropical vacation. It’s verdant, tangy crunch almost makes it OK that it isn’t a salad of tender greens and spicy-sweet young alliums.

Wait a minute…it is a salad of tender greens. And maybe those alliums are’t the youngest things on the block, but they still have a bit of kick left in them. And once they pick up cabbage off the curb and take her out on her blind date with apples, they’re pretty much a multiple marriage of the best kind. It’s sorta like a gussied up spring version of this salad, without the comforting starch of sweet potatoes and grains.

For this slaw, avoid the sometimes tough larger leaves of kale you get in the bunch and go for the littlest, tenderest ones. The ones that are so tender, even the stems almost don’t seem worth the trouble to remove them. And mince the onion pretty small–it lets the zing of raw onion shine without being overpowering.

Kale and Cabbage Slaw
makes 4 good sized side servings

2 heaping cups of the tenderest kale you can find
2 heaping cups shredded cabbage, about 1/4 of a small head
1 apple such as pink lady or braeburn
1 small red onion (think golf ball) or 1/2 a larger one
3 Tbsp good olive oil
2 Tbsp champagne vinegar
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp honey

Whisk together the last 4 ingredients in a good sized bowl and set aside.

Finely dice the onion. You could also leave them in thin slices if you want to save time, but I like the contrast of the smaller size. Whisk them into the vinaigrette.

Slice the 4 sides of the apple. I left the skin on, but you could peel it if you felt like it. You’ll have 2 largeish “halves” and two little end pieces. Cut each piece into thin slices and then do it again in the opposite direction. They’ll essentially be julienned. Toss them in the vinaigrette to keep them from browning.

Thinly slice the cabbage and add that in on top of the apples, but don’t toss yet. Next, chiffonade the kale leaves. Add those on top of the whole thing and then toss well to coat. Serve chilled. The salad will keep well for about a day, but like most salads, I wouldn’t recommend making it in advance.

Inkling of Spring

This morning I woke up to several glorious things.

Light streaming in the window, which indicated that it actually was morning.

And a small sound from the room one door down, a little voice chirping “Mama, mama.”

An amazing sound when you’ve spent the last 1.5 years week being awoken at all sorts of ungodly hours to crying, whining or just plain screaming. Gonna be honest here friends, night weaning is a bitch.

Even when your kid is the most adorable thing ever.

And then I started dreaming of it being warm enough to picnic. A semi-decent nights rest after weeks and weeks of nights where you only get, on average, 5 hours of sleep a night can make you think crazy thoughts.

I really love a good spring picnic, and pretty much can’t wait for spring days that are sunny enough to enjoy from outside the windows and doors of my house. Maybe bundled up enjoyment, but enjoyment nonetheless.

Until then I’ve been making loaves and loaves of bread to be eaten with too much butter (which is a misnomer because there is no such thing as too much butter) and also salad.

Salads help me pretend that Spring is already here, especially ones like this one.

Take some veggies just barely painted with color, like fennel and endive:

Add several fruits that signal how near the end of winter is:

Next, a modest splash of color:

And pretty soon you have a salad that will, if need be, feed 8 adults and 2 kids and still leave leftovers. Leftovers that hold up admirably well for a salad, slightly dressed even. Or you could just make 1/2. Or eat more. It’s salad after all–no limits.

You could serve it next to little fried beet chips, like I did, if it seems too healthy. Fried food is a good antidote for “too healthy.”

But, no matter what you serve it alongside (We also ate this, for a big family dinner on Friday.) it will be delicious and give you a little taste of spring.

Shaved Fennel and Watermelon Radish Salad with Meyer Lemons
makes about 10 side servings, or 4 larger lunch servings

1 bulb fennel, fronds removed and reserved
3 meyer lemons
4-5 large watermelon radishes
2 small heads endive
2 Tbsp olive oil, or to taste
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Line up all the endive leaves and chop into 3/4″ bite-sized pieces. Spread out on a large platter and cover with a damp paper towel while you prep the rest of the ingredients.

Supreme the lemons, and chop the supremes into little bitty bite sized pieces, about the size of your pinky nail. Set these pieces aside in a small bowl. Do not wipe off your cutting surface, you want the fennel to sit in the lemon juice that’s left on the cutting board.

Remove any tough or bruised parts from the outside of the fennel and slice very thin using a mandoline. Pour any extra juice that has collected in the bottom of the lemon bowl over the fennel and toss just lightly. Add the shavings in one big heaping layer on top of the endive. From the reserved fronds, take the just best looking two or three and chop them finely, saving to use as a garnish. Cover again with the damp paper towels.

Peel any tough spots from the outside of the radishes. If you can’t find watermelon that’s ok. You can use any radish here. Slice them as thin as you like using the mandoline. I didn’t slice mine as thin as they could go because I wanted them to stay pretty crunchy. Add them as the next layer in the salad.

For the last layer, add the lemon bites over the top. Follow with the chopped fennel fronds. Next pour the olive oil over the whole thing slowly working over the whole salad. If you feel like you need more, by all means add it. I deliberately left this a very lightly dressed salad. Sprinkle some salt and pepper, and call it done!

If you, like me, are preparing this salad ahead of time for an evening dinner, leave it in the fridge without the oil, salt, and pepper, covered with the same damp paper towels you used throughout.

Tomato, Tomahto

My step-sons are way way into Garfield comics. And Joe told me he thought Garfield was like the funniest thing ever, when he was a kid.

Well I thought he was funny too but not like they do. Maybe it’s a boy thing. They almost always get a new Garfield book when we go to the library and then they battle over who checked it out so that they know who gets to read it at bedtime. It’s such a kid thing.

Well what I am way way into is comfort food that is comfortable in it’s own skin because it’s healthy without skimping on the good stuff. Like lasagna with a whole bunch of veggies.

I made a really amazing version of this classic last night, and I think Garfield would have approved even though it wasn’t your traditional tomato and ricotta style dish.

The kids approved too, considering how many unlasagna-like things were in it. Pine nuts, kale, onions. And squash. A big heaping serving of it: as much as the noodles or more. Because I like to go easy on the noodles, even though they are really my one true love. They even asked for seconds.

And you know, what would a lasagna night be without a big bowl of Caesar salad, complete with homemade croutons (made from a few rolls leftover from the first time I baked with my sourdough starter) and freshly grated parm. I normally don’t eat this kind of salad because I like salads with a lot of stuff in them, but we had it last week when we went for dinner at a friends and I just needed more, you know? If that’s wrong, then I don’t want to be right. I made myself feel better about how bad it can be for you by making the dressing myself. The boys wanted seconds on croutons too, of course.

And I couldn’t say no because I’d been eating them straight off the pan for like 10 minutes before dinner.

There might be some lasagna purists out there among you, who say that it should always be the traditional thing. And maybe you would say that this is just a casserole with some noodles in it. But I say to you “Don’t be so quick to judge! Lasagna loves you no matter what.” So you should try this dish, no matter what. After all, potato, potahto. Let’s just drink a glass of wine.

What? Those aren’t the lyrics?

Butternut Alfredo Lasagna
Makes one 9×13″ pan

2 lbs butternut squash, peeled and sliced in 1/8″ slices. You could sub another squash here, but the butternut makes nice big slices so that’s why I went with it.
1/2 box lasagna noodles
1/2 bunch kale of choice, or about 4 loosely packed cups, roughly chopped or torn
1 jar alfredo sauce (Yeah, I cheated. Sorry.)
2 medium sized onions
2 cups grated parmesan, more or less depending on your tastes
freshly grated nutmeg, about 1/2 a nut
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
salt to taste
white wine, about 1/2 cup

Heat a large skillet oven high heat, and when it’s good and hot add a splash of olive oil. Toss in the squash slices, add a pinch of salt and the grated nutmeg, and let them cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to soften and some of the pieces are getting browned. Put into a bowl and set aside.

While the squash cooks, prepare the noodles. Just follow the directions on the box for al dente, but subtract like one extra minute so they are very al dente. After draining them run cool water into the pot so that they don’t stick together while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

After taking the squash out of the pot reheat it and add another tiny splash of oil. Toss in all the onions and cook till nice and brown and soft. Deglaze the pan with the wine and let it reduce by about half. It will go pretty fast, so add more if it evaporates too quickly. Then add the kale. Cover and let steam for a couple of minutes, until it’s just soft, then give it all a good stir and turn off the heat.

Coat the bottom of your dish with a couple of table spoons of alfredo sauce and top with a layer of noodles. Next add half the kale and onions, 1/2 the pine nuts, then a handful of grated cheese following that with a layer consisting of 1/3 of the squash. Spread the pieces of squash out to make a flat surface for the sauce to go on, then spoon about 1/2 a cup of alfredo, more if you need it, on to that and spread it thin. Next go back to noodles, and do another round all the way through, using the remaining half of the kale. Once you get to the top layer of noodles, add the remaining squash, top with whatever sauce you have left in the jar and the rest of the cheese. Give it another good grating of nutmeg all over and let it sit for 1/2 hour or so, at room temp, so the noodles can absorb some of the sauce.

While the lasagna sits, heat up the oven to 350ºF. Put the lasagna in the lower third of the oven and bake for about 1 hour, or until it’s bubbly and getting browned on top. Let stand for 10-15 minutes before serving. I know it’s hard to wait, but seriously the lasagna will be sooo much better if you do. Mostly because you won’t have burned your mouth with molten hot cheese and you’ll be able to taste it.

It’s even better the next day. Promise.