Thursday, January 28, 2016

Winter Dinner Starring the Carrot

Carrots survive the cold, often in a root cellar or in the ground of moderate climates. So they're usually available at winter Farmers' Markets--in coats of many colors. The carrot isn't just orange any more. It's purple, yellow, white, even  red. Actually, the familiar orange carrot is the come lately; the originals until the 15th Century were purple, yellow and red. Afghanistan is thought to be their ancestral home.

Carrots are siblings of parsnips and cousins of fennel, caraway, anise, parsley, dill and cumin--which is why they taste so good paired up with any one of these.

We all know carrots are good for eyesight. It's that Vitamin A at the heart of orange beta-carotene. They're top of the crop antioxidants with other phyto-chemicals recently found to inhibit colon cancer cells. They're significant sources of hard to find Vitamin K and potassium. Orange carrots seem to be  excellent defense against cardiovascular trouble. And thanks to Bugs Bunny, they're kid friendly. So why not indulge in carrots right now?

Speaking of kid friendly, I think my version of an old Nepali recipe may be the most popular potluck dish I've ever prepared. I know when I gave it to a 5th grader assigned to talk about Nepal at Geography Show and Tell, every mother in the room rushed for the recipe. It's in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking (still selling well on Amazon), but here it is again. Great dessert, terrific breakfast.

Carrot Pudding
serves 6
(Photo: carrots for sale in Nepal)

2 c  grated carrots, 4-5 large carrots (you can chop in a food processor but do not purée) 
4 c (1 quart) whole milk 
½ c confectioner’s (powdered) sugar (use regular granulated sugar if you don’t have this. I use it because the cornstarch mixed with the sugar makes thickening go faster)
1 tbsp light brown or Turbinado sugar
2½ tablespoon unsalted butter
½ teaspoon ground cardamom 

½ cup white raisins
1/4 cup cashews, split and lightly toasted* -Optional 
2 tablespoon unsweetened shredded coconut, lightly toasted*-Optional 
*Put them in separate piles on the small baking sheet of a toaster oven or on a small baking sheet in a regular oven and bake at 300 degrees for 10 minutes until they are lightly golden.

In a large sauté pan over medium heat melt butter. Add carrots and cook until they’re buttery and very mushy.
  Meanwhile in a large heavy bottom saucepan or medium sized casserole, put milk on high heat and bring it to a boil. Immediately lower heat just enough so the milk continues to boil but does not bubble over. The aim is to boil it down without burning it or losing it over the top of the pot.

   When its ready, pour and scrape the carrot mush into the milk. Add cardamom and raisins. Stir to blend. Continue to boil over the highest heat at which it will not boil over, and stir occasionally to determine if the mix is thickening and to keep anything from sticking to the bottom. Do this until you start to feel it start to thicken against the spoon, which could be up to 30 minutes.
   Stir in sugar and continue cooking another 10 minutes or as long as it takes for the mixture to stick to the spoon or seem wiggly. This means you can see the bottom of the pan because the pudding wiggles aside as the spoon passes through it.
   Pour into a serving bowl and cool. It will continue to thicken. To serve, optionally top with toasted coconut and cashews.

Simple Carrot Timbales

Makes 6

10 med/lg carrots, peeled

3 tbsp butter plus 2 tbsp to grease the ramekins

1 cup half and half

3 extra large eggs

1½ tbsp. brown sugar

¼ tsp ground ginger

1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

Salt and freshly ground pepper to your taste

     Preheat oven to 350º. Heavily butter six ramekins.

Cut carrots into 2” pieces, put in a large saucepan, cover with water or vegetable broth, add a good pinch of salt and cook until carrots are very soft. Drain and purée.

    Melt 3 tbsp butter in the bottom of that saucepan, add carrots and spices (not salt), stir to blend.

Stirring continually, cook the mixture 3-4 minutes. Be careful nothing sticks or burns. Remove from heat and cool down.

     In a small bowl with spout or large measuring cup, whisk together the half and half, eggs, brown sugar and salt so they are totally blended.
     When carrot purée has cooled, slowly pour in the milk mixture, whisking all the while. Be sure everything is blended and smooth. Pour the mixture equally into the six ramekins.
      Place the ramekins in a long, high-sided baking dish and fill the dish with water halfway up the sides of the ramekins.  Bake at 350º 35-45 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Immediately remove from heat, remove ramekins from the water bath and cool one minute.

       Place a small dish on top of each ramekin and carefully invert to release. If the timbale doesn’t come right out, reverse, remove the plate and carefully run a flat icing spatula or small dull knife around the rim. Then put a plate on top and invert again.  Serve immediately.

French Carrot Salad (very kid friendly)

 (another Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking recipe)
 serves 6
7 med/lg carrots, peeled and grated
1 bunch curly parsley, stems removed, leaves minced
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup walnut or fruity olive oil

Combine carrots and parsley in your serving bowl and blend the colors.
(You can do this ahead if you cover tightly and store in the refrigerator.)
To serve: season with salt and pepper, blending carefully.
Combine lemon juice and oil in a small cup, shake well to mix and pour over salad.
Serve immediately.

Uzbek Cooked Carrot and Chickpea Salad for those who like to be exotic

3 turnips, peeled and washed
1 sm onion
2 med/lg carrots, peeled and washed
1/2 can (7 oz) chickpeas, drained
1/4 c sour cream or  creme fraiche
salt to your taste
1 tbsp freshly chopped dill fronds
Steam or boil the turnips and carrots until al dente. Drain and cool. Cube them as close to the size of the chickpeas as you can. Dice the onion. In a serving bowl, mix the onion, chickpeas, carrots and turnips. Season with salt, Stir in the sourcream and dill and serve.

Gingered Carrot Soup (Warm or Cold)
serves 4-5
1 c thinly sliced leeks (about 2 lg), scrubbed clean and drained
2 tbsp butter
1/2 med onion, diced
3-4 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced in disks
1 1/2 " fresh ginger, peeled and grated or minced
1 med all purpose potato, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 c chicken stock or vegetable broth
 3 c Half n Half
fresh chives or dill, diced for garnish
In medium saucepan, melt butter. Add leeks and onions and cook over med heat until they are wilted and translucent. Add carrots, ginger and potatoes. Stir to blend and cook another minute. Add chicken stock, pepper and salt. Cover pan and simmer until vegetables are very soft, maybe 12-15 minutes. Pour pot contents into a blender or processor and quickly  purée. Pour in the Half n Half, ladle into bowls and garnish. Serve immediately.
  NOTE: This can be served chilled. You chill the purée and when ready to serve add the Half n Half and garnish.

Roasted Carrot Salad, a bit of work (from Ottolenghi)

serves 6

½ teaspoon ground cumin

1½ lbs small carrots, approximately 5 inches in length, scrubbed clean and tops trimmed

1 bay leaf (fresh, scored)

1 head garlic, cut in half

5 to 7 sprigs fresh thyme

⅓ c extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the blood-orange vinaigrette
2 blood oranges, juiced
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 tbsp granulated sugar
½ tsp kosher salt
⅓ c extra-virgin olive oil
For the cumin crème fraîche
1 c crème fraîche
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsps ground cumin
Pinch kosher salt
For the salad
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp roughly chopped roasted almonds
2 blood oranges,
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp finely chopped tarragon
1 tbsp finely chopped chives
1 tbsp finely chopped flat leaf parsley
Fleur de sel

Preheat oven to 400º.
In a small fry or sauté pan toast all cumin over medium heat until it becomes aromatic—about 60-75 seconds. Remove from heat, and set aside.
Place carrots, bay leaf, split head of garlic, thyme and olive oil in a bowl, and mix. Sprinkle in 1/2 tsp toasted cumin and mix again.
Tip the carrot mixture onto a sheet pan, and spread evenly into one layer, then season with salt and pepper and place in oven. Roast until the carrots are soft and beginning to caramelize, 30 to 45 minutes. Remove carrots from oven, discard bay leaf, garlic, and thyme leaves. Cool carrots.
Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette. Combine blood-orange juice, vinegar, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl, and whisk to incorporate. Slowly add the olive oil while continuing to whisk, until the dressing is emulsified. Add the carrots to the bowl, and toss to combine.
To make cumin crème fraîche: combine crème fraîche, lemon juice and remaining toasted cumin in a mixing bowl, and blend. Thin the mixture slightly with a few tablespoons of water. Add a pinch of salt.
Assemble the salad on a large serving plate. Put the crème fraîche in the center of the plate, and using the back of a spoon, spread it evenly across the bottom. Arrange the carrots on top of the crème fraîche. Sprinkle the onion and the nuts on top of the carrots, then add the sliced blood orange. Sprinkle the herbs across the top of the salad, and finish with a pinch or two of salt. Make a mess when serving, so that everyone gets plenty of crème fraîche along with the vegetables.
Rich Carrot Bread 
recipe was in a recent post.

 French Carrot Stew (from Thomas Keller)

serves 6
2 lbs sweet carrots
1 tbsp coriander seed
1tbsp caraway seed
6 tbsp unsalted butter
coarse salt
1 tbsp dry sherry
1 c carrot juice
lg pinch Garam Masala or yellow curry powder

Peel the carrots and cut them into oblique shapes. Make a sachet of the coriander and caraway seeds by wrapping them in a piece of cheesecloth and tying it with kitchen twine. Melt 2 tbsp butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add carrots, season with salt, and cook, stirring often, until the carrots begin to give off their juices, about 7 minutes. Lower heat if necessary to keep carrots from browning. Add sherry and cook 2 minutes. Add carrot juice, curry powder, and sachet and, and cook, swirling the pan, for 2 more minutes, or until the carrots are just tender. With a slotted spoon, transfer the carrots to a bowl. Discard the sachet. Simmer the carrot juice until reduced to a light glaze. Whisk in the remaining 2 to 4 tablespoons of butter, depending on your preference, 1 tablespoon at a time. Season to taste with salt, add the carrots, and swirl to glaze the carrots. Transfer to a serving bowl. 

And finally, in honor of Afghanistan, supposed birthplace of the carrot,
This is a qorma lawand, a fragrant Afghan curry thickened by nuts and made creamy by yogurt that's naturally sweetened by carrots (native to Afghanistan)and raisins. 
serves 4
1/2 cup almonds
4 garlic cloves
2" fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced
1/2 c water or chicken broth if you prefer 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs (breast meat won't be as tasty or tender)
1/4 ghee or unsalted butter
2 tsp ground turmeric
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground nutmeg
2 yellow onions thinly sliced
1 Serrano pepper, seeded and minced (2 if you like hot food)
2 med carrots, peeled and sliced in thin disks
1/3 cup dark raisins
1 heaping cup plain thick yogurt
salt and black pepper to your taste
1/2 c chopped fresh cilantro leaves
In a food processor purée the nuts, garlic, ginger and water. Put this into a large bowl. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces, stir into the marinade. Marinate at least 1 hour in the refrigerator. Melt the ghee in a large heavy gauge lidded casserole over medium heat. Add the spices and sauté about 30 seconds until they are fragrant but not brown. Stir in the onions and chili pepper. Sauté until the onions are soft and starting to brown, maybe 7 minutes. Stir the chicken into the pot with all its marinade. Simmer 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to your taste. Stir in the carrots and raisins and yogurt, blending everything. Add 1/2 c water or chicken broth to make gravy. Bring to a boil,then reduce heat to low simmer, cover the pot and simmer 40 minutes, adding water or broth if the dish seems to be drying out. Most important: keep heat low to avoid curdling the yogurt. Serve with the chopped cilantro on top as garnish. Serve with rice, roasted potatoes or naan and perhaps a simple spinach salad

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Food News with parsnips

Food news you can use: Tuesday night PBS' Frontline in conjunction with the New York Times exposed the gargantuan snake oil sham that passes for the food supplement business. Nothing is sacred. Nothing is as it seems: more than half the bottles do not contain one iota of what the lead product is promised to be. They're full of powdered poison from China. Half the fish omega oil is rancid, i.e. toxic. And worst of all, there is absolutely no evidence that absolutely any of this stuff actually helps you. Much of it can kill you, or some functioning part of you like your liver.

So again, the moral is: eat real food your great grandmother would've recognized, the widest variety of it you can get your teeth on. And mostly plants. That's were so many honest nutrients are, you shouldn't need supplements.

More food news you can use: I attended a talk by Oxford food historian Bee Wilson whose brand new book, First Bite, explains that all of our eating habits are learned. None of them come naturally. Unfortunately we learn most of them when we are most vulnerable to the influence of others, at 2 and 3, and what we learn to like then we tend to keep for life as "natural." But eating habits can be changed, literally bit by bit, which is to say by tasting the tiniest little shreds of stuff you've never tried before or disliked as a kid. Once...twice...three times.  Diets can be expanded. Again, eat real food, mostly plants, and all will be well.

Wilson did bring up the tricky issue of palateability, something food processors have mastered to the bliss point. The fact that we've now all learned how to "burn" Brussels sprouts to bring out their incredible flavor is the reason this formerly shunned veggie has soared in popularity. Ditto cauliflower. It's no longer bland white mush.

So in the interest of palateability and nutrition, here's a new recipe to bring another hermit vegetable out of hiding to the table: the parsnip.  They're available at farmer's markets now and will be especially plentiful in March/April because when they winter over--one of the few vegetables that can stand their ground in snow--they become ever so much sweeter, and popular.

They're a food supplement, full of Vitamin C, magnesium, Vitamin B-6 and a good bit of iron to boot. So tempt your taste buds with this silky rich soup.

Parsnip Chowder, with mushrooms and shallots

Serves 4-5

3 lg parsnips, peeled and washed

1/3-1/2 lb. mushrooms, cleaned

½ sm roasted red pepper, chopped, or 1 tbsp chopped pimentos

1 sm onion, peeled and diced

2 shallots, peeled and diced

1 tsp. cumin seed

½ tsp. celery seed

½ tsp. ground coriander

½ tsp. ground cumin

4 tbsp. butter (1/2 stick)

3 c vegetable broth or water

1 12oz can evaporated milk

½ c half ‘n’ half or light cream

½ tsp. salt (more to your taste)

Freshly ground black pepper to your taste

½ c cracker crumbs or crumbled croutons

¼ c finely chopped fresh flat parsley leaves

Slice the peeled parsnips into thin disks. Cut the larger disks in half so all pieces are close in size for better cooking. Chop mushrooms.

In a medium size, heavy gauge pot, melt 3 tbsp. butter. Add onion, shallot, mushrooms, cumin and celery seed. Stir to blend and sauté until vegetables are soft. Add parsnips, ground coriander and cumin. Stir to
blend and sauté 60 seconds. Cover the pot contents with broth or water, bring to a boil, cover the pot and lower heat. Simmer 10-12 minutes until parsnips are tender but not mushy. Add liquid if necessary so there is always some even with the top of the vegetables.

Stir in the evaporated milk and half ‘n’ half, salt and pepper. Cook over low heat until soup is hot. Do not boil. Stir in 1 tbsp butter, the crumbs and parsley. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

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Just fyi and btw:
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Friday, January 15, 2016

BS Alert

In honor of Jon Stewart who said to call out bullshit when you smell it, I would like to alert you to a new op-ed article that appeared today, Friday January 15, 2016, under the Gray Matter rubric of the New York Times. In a few paragraphs of very convoluted prose, an economist in Minnesota claims the rapid expansion of farmers' markets across America has caused food borne illnesses to rise significantly. Then, weirdly, he uses another paragraph to negate and deny everything he just said.

 His correlation factors seem to make no logical sense. They read like a calculated contortion aimed to produce a desired result: a stealth attack on those he labels educated, upper income farmers' market patrons--people who have been very publicly turning up their noses at industrially processed food, denting its bottom line.

In the lamest of lame conclusions, he says maybe all this is because customers don't think to wash what they bring home from the market. They trust their farmers to be squeaky clean because they're local and maybe even organic and don't mean to hurt anyone. He doesn't venture to say whether or not we regularly wash food that is continually being spritzed by fancy supermarket chains. But his implication is that supermarket food may be cleaner. He doesn't mention how even organic chickens sold there have to be dipped in arsenic for sanitary safety.

About a week ago, Dr. Marcia Angell retired as editor of the venerable New England Journal of Medicine, claiming it was no longer possible to trust any medical research since it was now all funded covertly or not by corporations with a very vested interest in getting wanted conclusions. So I brazenly wrote to the New York Times public editor asking if ConAgra or General Mills paid for this article whose headline and lead line seem carefully calculated to spread a panic that injures our local farmers in a stampede back to the industrial supermarket.

Jon Stewart may be gone, but he has not been forgotten.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Heartwarming food for the days of bonenumbing cold

There's still plenty of fabulous food to be found at winter farmers' markets: citrus, squashes, carrots of all colors, potatoes and all types of kale. So it's not hard to support your local farmer when you can put tasty, colorful and nutritious dishes on the table. Here are a few you might even throw together as a surprisingly hearty vegetarian meal.

Citrus Salad with Chili Almond Dressing
serves 8

2 lg oranges (1 lb)
1 pink grapefruit
1 lg Satsuma mandarin or clementine
1 pomelo (or a large pink grapefruit)
1/4 c pomegranate arils
1 sm radicchio
1 bunch watercress with small leaves
1/4 c fresh cilantro leaves chopped
1/4 lb roasted almonds
3 Serrano chilies (seeded)
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1" fresh ginger root
1 1/2 tbsp poppy seeds
3 tbsp sherry vinegar
1/3 c olive oil
Coarse sea salt
a good grind of black pepper

Make the dressing by combining everything from the almonds to the black pepper in a food chopper or processor and whiz into a thick dressing. It will look more like a thick sauce. That's okay.

Remove the peel and the pith from all the citrus. Cut the stems off the watercress and half any large leaves. Slice the orange into disks, then half each disk and half it again. Put the pieces into a large bowl. Separate the other citrus fruits into their natural sections. Toss the mandarin pieces into the bowl. Cut the grapefruit and pomelo sections into bite-size chunks and add to the bowl. Toss in the pomegranate arils and the watercress leaves. Mix everything.

Chop the radicchio and line a large high sided serving platter with it. Spread the fruit bowl contents on top. Spoon the chili almond dressing over everything saving one spoonful. Garnish the top with the cilantro and that last spoon of dressing.

Kale Lentil Soup

Serves 4 hearty portions, 6 smaller ones

Double for parties or potluck

¼ cup olive oil

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp cracked black pepper

1 tsp celery seed or 2 tbsp chopped fresh celery leaves

1½ tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 medium onion, diced

2 medium carrots, peeled, halved and thinly sliced

3 whole cloves

1½ cup lentils, rinsed

pinch ground cinnamon

4 cups vegetable broth (if it doesn’t contain tomato, add 1 Roma diced)

2 cups water

3/4 cup loosely packed chopped kale (I used 4 large Tuscan leaves)

1-2 tsp salt (to your taste)

1/3 cup ditalini or small macaroni

juice of ½ lg lemon

4-5 flat leaf parsley sprigs, chopped for garnish (optional)

In a medium casserole, large saucepan or small soup pot, heat oil over medium flame. Add spices and sauté 1 minute to flavor oil. Add onions and sauté 2-3 minutes to soften.  Add carrots and cloves. Continue to sauté 2-3 more minutes. Add lentils and cinnamon. Stir to blend. Add broth and water, then the kale. Raise heat and bring soup to a boil. Immediately lower heat to medium low, cover pot and cook 25 minutes.  Add salt, pasta and lemon juice. Cover and cook another 15 minutes. Ladle into bowls and optionally garnish with freshly chopped parsley.
Kale, Sweet Potato and Polenta Layer Cake
 Serves 6
  2/3 cup polenta

3 cups water

1 tsp dried oregano

2 tbsp minced roasted poblano pepper

Pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 c crushed corn kernels

¼ tsp salt

¼ cup shredded or grated mozzarella cheese
2 bunches kale

1 med white onion, diced

5 garlic cloves, minced

3 tbsp olive oil

¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 tbsp pine nuts

¼ tsp salt

½ cup ricotta cheese (fat free is fine)

2 lg sweet potatoes

¼ tsp salt

2 cardamom pods, cracked or ¼ ground cardamom.

2 tbsp mascarpone

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

pinch of nutmeg

1 tbsp olive oil for the pan
Grease an 8 or 9” springform pan with 1 tbsp olive oil and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375º.

Peel and coarsely chop the sweet potatoes. Put in a pot and cover with water.

Add the salt and cardamom pods. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat slightly and cook until potatoes are soft, 12-15 minutes.  Remove cardamom pods. Using a slotted spoon or spatula, put the sweet potatoes in a food processor. Add 1 tbsp of the cooking water and hold the rest. Add the mascarpone. Quickly puree.  Set aside.

Remove kale leaves from their thick stems. Wash and drain carefully. Combine kale, garlic and pine nuts in a food processor. Using the pulse button, chop the kale into small pieces as though making pesto.

In a small skillet, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium/low heat. Add onions and black pepper. Sauté 5 minutes until onions are soft.  Stir in the chopped kale mix. Sauté 3-5 minutes until kale is soft but still

bright green. Remove from heat. Add salt and ricotta and blend well. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup sweet potato water with 2 cups water. Add salt and bring to a boil. Whisk in the cornmeal and continue whisking until it is absorbed and the mixture starts to thicken, 5 minutes. Add oregano, pepper flakes, crushed corn and minced poblano pepper. Continue cooking over low heat 2 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon. Add mozzarella cheese, stirring as you go and continue cooking 3 more minutes so all cheese is melted.  Polenta should be thick and creamy now.

Cover the bottom of the oiled springform pan with an even layer of 1/2 the polenta.

Cover the polenta layer with an even layer of kale mixture.

Top with an even layer of the sweet potatoes.
Cover with remaining polenta, smoothing the top.

Top with grated parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of nutmeg.

Cover the pan with aluminum foil. Bake at 375º for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking 15-20 minutes until top is lightly brown. Remove from heat. Cool in the pan 10-15 minutes. Remove sides of the pan. Serve cut in wedges like a cake.

Winter Squash and Potato Gratin

serves 4-6
1 large butternut squash  peeled, seeded, and cut into 1½" chunks
1 small acorn squash (about 1 lb.), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1½" chunks
1 3/4 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes peeled, halved lengthwise, and thickly sliced
8 cloves garlic, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
2 c milk
4 c grated Gruyère 

 Preheat oven to 400°. Put the butternut and acorn squash into a large pot, cover with salted water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until squash are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain well, pressing out any excess water. Meanwhile, put potatoes into a large pot, cover with salted water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until just tender, about 10 minutes. Drain.

 Put squash into a large bowl and mash coarsely with a potato masher. Add the drained potatoes, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste and gently fold together. Transfer squash mixture to a deep 9" × 14" roasting pan or baking dish. Pour milk evenly over top and sprinkle with cheese. Bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.