Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wednesday: Home again home again

Simple pasta with tomato and bell pepper sauce, topped with grated parmesan.

This was our first meal this winter made with ingredients from our frozen CSA, Winter Sun Farms. Both the tomato puree and chopped bell peppers came to us in cute little frozen packages. Otherwise, this is a pretty typical pasta sauce for us and a good way to ease back into the post-holiday routine.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Dinner 3: Return of the Brisket

Philadelphia Christmas 2009, clockwise from top: beef brisket, garlic-sauteed chard, butternut squash with mustard seeds, Lukas's cabbage, spinach-mushroom kugel, and mashed potatoes with gravy.

Well, you all KNEW we had left the door open to a sequel, didn't you?

We helped Lizz's parents with Christmas dinner in Philadelphia. They were mainly responsible for the brisket, cooked with 36 cloves of garlic (from the Gefilte Variations cookbook), and the mashed potatoes. You'd think we'd have tired of kugel by now, but we really liked this variation in which we swapped out the leeks for fresh wilted spinach. The squash recipe was a particularly nice addition to this meal since it is cooked with some brown sugar and is very sweet - it filled the spot typically occupied by something like a sweet potato casserole. (Which comes with marshmallows, if you are in Ohio. Which we luckily are not.)

Dessert was once again a couple of lovely pies made by Lizz's dad: one made with real mincemeat, and one pecan.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday cat blogging, Santa's Little Helper edition

Trying to get himself on the "nice" list for once this year, Oscar volunteered to help wrap Christmas presents.

Christmas Dinner 2: The Kugel Strikes Back

Clockwise, starting at top: cornbread, cranberry-beet sauce, quick-pickled collards, mushroom-leek kugel, mashed potatoes, gingered collards, and turnips in mustard sauce.

This was the sequel to last week's Christmas dinner. Like all good sequels, it is primarily derivative of the first dinner, but with a few new twists. In addition to the gingered collards, we made a quick pickle (more or less this, but without the pineapple). We also substituted Tokyo turnips in mustard sauce for the red cabbage. In this dish, the turnips are fried until lightly browned, braised in stock, and finally tossed in a thickened mustard-stock sauce.

And with that, we put Christmas dinner 2009 to a rest...or did we??

Farmer's Market Haul, 12/18/09

This mini-haul was just for our second Christmas dinner...

mushrooms (cremini, chanterelles, shiitake)

cream from Milk Thistle Farm

Thursday, December 17, 2009

PSA: On Food Preservation

These days, most people would think nothing of going into a supermarket in December to pick up fresh strawberries, tomatoes and Brussels sprouts. Not too long ago, we did just that. But as we started to increasingly buy local and eat seasonally, we realized it's not possible to have those three things together. Not only that, but on some level it's not even desirable - when you regain a sense of seasonality, you get excited when you see the first strawberries appear in spring, and you wait anxiously through June and July for the first colorful heirloom tomatoes. Things taste better when you only eat them while they're at their best. Who needs strawberries all year?

When you eat seasonally, you also quickly come to understand food preservation in a whole new way. Jam isn't just a dessert - it's a way of preserving precious summer fruits when they're at their most bountiful. Same with pickling, which used to be one of the only ways to make fragile summer veggies last into the wintertime. All the myriad methods of food preservation actually only operate on a few different mechanisms, so we thought we'd share them here:

Adding a certain quantity of sugar to a food will inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria. That's the basic idea behind all jellies, jams, "candied" fruits, and similar preserves - which is why they have to contain a certain percentage of sugar in order for them to be stored safely outside of refrigeration. (All the traditional Christmas desserts that contain candied fruits make a lot more sense when you realize that was the only fruit people had around during the winter.)

Large quantities of salt will also preserve foods - thus salted fish like cod and all manner of pickles (sometimes with an assist from vinegar, but not always). In the industrial food system "pickle" is treated as more or less synonymous with "cucumber," but basically any vegetable can actually be pickled. These days at the greenmarket you can find pickled beets, pickled green tomato, or pickled asparagus. Salt curing is also the mechanism for preserving hard cheeses like Parmesan, which keep much longer than softer types.

The basic theory of fermentation is that by encouraging the growth of certain good types of bacteria, you can inhibit the growth of the bad ones. This produces all types of tasty foods like yogurt, miso paste and soy sauce, and of course wine.

Plenty of foods are dehydrated for storage, including seaweeds, fruits, seeds and herbs, legumes, and even meat (that's what beef jerky is, after some marination). When foods are completely dried out, bacteria can't grow in them and cause them to spoil. Apparently these days you can buy small home dehydrator units over the internet to make your own dried fruit slices.

Not as important as some of the others, but smoked salmon is tasty enough to merit its own entry on this list. Many other fishes and meats are smoked as well. Lots of things that are smoked are simultaneously salt-preserved.

Ever since World War II, freezing has been a dominant form of food preservation in the US - not always with good results. Freezing slows down the chemical activity in a food until it almost grinds to a halt, making it last much longer before spoiling. This is obviously a more energy-intensive form of preservation than the others, which makes it somewhat less sustainable, but it can have definite nutritional and taste advantages. When turned to purposes other than processed instant dinners, freezing can be a force for good.

Thursday: Curried Squash

Curried acorn squash with walnuts, served with soba noodles.

Though it's "curried," this isn't actually an Indian dish - it's Japanese. Premixed "curry powder" is popular in everyday Japanese home cooking. Here the squash is just cooked in a little butter and curry powder, followed by a quick braise in a little water.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

CSA haul, 12/16/09

Get excited, because today is your first look at our other CSA: Winter Sun Farms. This is a pretty unique model - they buy produce from local farmers during the summer months, flash-freeze it, and then store it for distribution during the winter. You might feel a little skeptical about frozen vegetables, as did we at first, but we quickly learned that starting with good quality vegetables makes a world of difference. These veggies are flavorful and retain a good texture - and it's hard to express how exciting it is to see the bright reds, yellows and greens of summer veggies and fruits just when you're starting to get a little tired of potatoes and beets...

green beans
red tomato (this comes frozen in a bag in a quasi-pureed form)
bell peppers
yellow and green summer squash
pea shoots


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tuesday: Holiday Antidote

Mustard greens sauteed with ginger and topped with fried cashews, served on quinoa.

Having finally finished the first batch of Christmas leftovers, the last thing we wanted was another rich meal.

CSA Haul, 12/15/09

You might be wondering what a CSA is, and why we are hauling from it as opposed to the greenmarket. Well, CSAs are often called farm shares - you pay a lump sum to a particular farm early in the season, and then pick up a box of produce delivered by the farm at regular intervals during the harvest. You get whatever is fresh, so the mix of vegetables varies with each pick-up. This particular CSA is different, because we've only bought a winter share. The harvesting is done - instead, we'll be getting a selection of vegetables that have been stored in root cellars, a few fresh vegetables still being grown in hoop houses (small makeshift greenhouses), and some other special items (like eggs, milk, and pickles).

CSAs are great for farmers because they're a way of raising money before the season begins, instead of having to go into debt, and because people who buy in each receive a share of whatever the farm produces - if one crop does badly that year, the farmer doesn't lose money on it. They're also great for people like us because it's quick and easy to pick up your CSA box every so often (depending on the CSA, generally once a week or once a month) and then enjoy wonderful local produce. We really enjoy going to the greenmarket in the summer, but come wintertime, it's often hard to get cellared items reliably. This gives us a way to keep eating locally...and it means we don't have to eat the same few meals over and over again all winter!

Just as we did last year, this winter we've joined two CSAs: this one, Norwich Meadows Farm, provides the types of items we described above. (The other, Winter Sun Farms, is a bit more unusual, but you'll hear about it soon enough.)

Without further ado:

jar heirloom tomato puree
green cabbage
acorn squash


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas Dinner 1

Clockwise from top: mushroom-leek kugel, gingered collard greens with fried cashews, cranberry sauce, cornbread, Lukas's red cabbage, and mashed potatoes.

We had a few friends over for an early Christmas dinner at our apartment, the first of two. (When you have a small apartment, it takes multiple Christmas dinners to accommodate all your friends. We suppose there are worse problems to have.) Many of the dishes above are familiar holiday fixtures, but a few deserve further comment.

Faithful readers will remember the pumpkin kugel that we made at Thanksgiving. The mushroom-leek kugel above was a variation in which we substituted sauteed leeks and mushrooms for the pumpkin puree and added two types of soft cheese, ricotta and fromage blanc. Finally, thyme and chopped sage were mixed in. We found this semi-original creation more interesting than the pumpkin version.

Lukas's cabbage is a recipe given to us by a former roommate. It's sort of a sweet-and-sour quick pickle of red cabbage. The cabbage is cooked with green apple, red onion, a little sugar, and a lot of balsamic vinegar.

Farmer's Market Haul, 12/12/09

German butterball potatoes
collard greens
red cabbage
curly mustard greens
red onion

mushrooms (oyster, crimini, shiitake)
fromage blanc and ricotta from Tonjes Farm
fresh egg noodles

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday cat blogging, deep thoughts edition

It might look like Oscar is pondering something very weighty, but he's probably just considering whether he's hungry right now.

Friday: Beauty and the Beast

Potato, celeriac and green onion gratin.

For this casserole-type dish, thin slices of celeriac and potato were layered with Jarlsberg cheese, sprinkled with chopped green onion, moistened with sherry and vegetable broth, and baked until everything was soft.

Nobody would accuse celeriac of being an attractive vegetable, but they sure are delicious once they're peeled and cooked:

Proving that looks aren't everything, they mixed it up with these beautiful purple potatoes:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thursday: Quick and Easy

Sardine-caper toast with carrot-mustard seed salad.

We were pretty tired this evening, so we just threw together two quick and easy dishes. For the salad, grated carrots were doused in mustard seeds that had been popped in oil. In a classic combination, canned sardines were mashed with a little lemon juice and chopped capers (see here for an example).

We usually use nonpareil capers (the little kind), but today we happened to have the larger, nicer caper berries in the fridge:

Caper berries from the Italian market

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Special Christmas PSA: Stollen

What is stollen, you ask? You must not have German grandparents. But seriously, stollen is a family Christmas tradition in the vein of panettone or fruitcake. But don't be put off by the mention of fruitcake - stollen is a soft, bready concoction studded with candied fruit, really more akin to challah in taste and texture.

Why only make it once a year? Well, aside from being a Dresden custom, making stollen is a huge pain in the butt(er). Because it needs several cycles of rising to develop its rich flavor, it takes about a day's worth of on-and-off labor to make one big batch. The process is much like that of any yeast bread, with a few extra complications: the batter is mixed, then left to rise and stirred down several times over the course of a few hours, adding butter halfway through. Afterwards even more flour is added to get the dough to its final bulk, followed by a few more cycles of kneading and rising. Some lemon juice, cardamom, vanilla, and almond extract are added for flavor.

The best part, of course, is adding your choice of candied fruits. Half of D4SA (Giselle) doesn't take too kindly to raisins, so we left them out, but traditionally they provide the bulk of the added fruit. We decided to stick with these guys:

Candied clementines, purchased from the Italian market

Green candied citron

Closeup of candied cherries

After some final cycles of kneading and resting, the dough is rolled out, braided into loaves, brushed with beaten egg and sprinkled with slivered almonds, and finally baked. When it comes out warm and shiny the final touch is a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

One day of kitchen craziness is worth it for this much Chrismas cheer.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tuesday: Comforting Winter Stew

Chestnut-lentil soup with homemade biscuits.

In our pre-blog life, we had purchased chestnuts a few times and had always roasted them and eaten them plain. But this year we've discovered how versatile chestnuts are in cooking. Perhaps chestnuts have faded from the American culinary memory because of the blight, but good recipe ideas can be found in other countries, particularly Italy and Japan.

This thick soup, really more of a stew, combines chestnuts with brown lentils and carrots. The chestnuts and carrots both add a little sweetness and texture to the otherwise fairly standard lentil soup.

Biscuits are surprisingly easy and quick to make from scratch, and they require very few ingredients. You'll probably see them from time to time on this humble blog.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Monday: Squashmas

Pasta with roasted butternut squash and ricotta salata, served with hot mulled apple cider.

We originally got this recipe from the Times, but have made it a few times since then and come to love it. It's quite easy: just cube and roast the squash, then toss with cooked pasta and grated ricotta salata cheese. A little parsley and sage or rosemary go in for flavor and color.

Oh - and as you can see, Christmas has arrived here at D4SA...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Saturday: Spelt Soup

Spelt-leek soup with grated Parmesan cheese.

As our faithful readers no doubt recall, we purchased what we thought was local farro at the Morningside greenmarket. After a bit of research, we realized that what we actually had was probably spelt.

In our defense - if you aren't too appalled at our ignorance to continue reading - spelt and farro are quite similar grains. Both are close relatives of common wheat, and they bear a strong family resemblance. Spelt, however, takes significantly longer to cook - which is how we realized that it's what we had.

Farmer's Market Haul, 12/5/09

curly mustard greens
all-blue potatoes
multicolored carrots

Bosc pears

milk from Milk Thistle Farm
yogurt from Milk Thistle Farm
eggs from Flying Pigs Farm
apple cider

Friday cat blogging, fashion forward edition

Oscar showing off his new flannel shirt. We never should have taken him on that shopping trip to Williamsburg.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thursday: Hake with a mustard-amaranth crust

Mustard and popped amaranth crusted hake with steamed broccoli Romanesco and couscous.

The amaranth plant is one of those agreeable vegetables that produces both a leafy green and edible seeds. The seeds, which are quite small, can be used as a grain, but they will also pop (like popcorn!) when dry-roasted. Popped amaranth can be used as a topping in the manner of breadcrumbs; it has a nice texture but not a particularly strong taste.

We improvised this topping for hake: mix dijon mustard with melted butter and a little lemon juice and coat the fillet, then cover with popped amaranth. (Although we usually broil fish, this was instead baked at 450 F for 10 - 12 minutes - we've learned from experience that the crust will burn if broiled.)

The broccoli Romanesco was cut into florets and then steamed in the microwave with a dash of crushed red pepper. We put the florets in a small microwavable bowl with a few tablespoons of water and covered with plastic wrap. We then microwaved the florets on high power for two minutes, then in additional one minute increments as needed until they tasted done.

Farmer's Market Supplement, 12/3/09

A supplement to last us through to Saturday: one butternut squash, a couple apples, eggs, chestnuts, broccoli Romanesco, milk, and bread from Buon Pane.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wednesday: Bare Cupboard

Green onion omelette with roasted beets.

We're down to our last vegetables here at D4SA, since we didn't make it to a greenmarket over the Thanksgiving holiday. Fortunately this is our last dinner before our regular Thursday supplement. Anyway, this meal wasn't half bad - plain roasted beets make a nice side dish.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tuesday: Aloo gobi chaat

Aloo gobi chaat.

We've already blogged about chaat - an Indian snack food that can serve as a quick weeknight dinner. This was more or less a reprise of our previous chaat, but with the substitution of a small head of purple cauliflower for the tomatoes (no longer in season, sadly).

To save time, we once again used pre-cooked canned chickpeas instead of dried black or green chickpeas. Since the taste of canned chickpeas leaves something to be desired, we followed Madhur Jaffrey's method for quickly improving their flavor: drain and rise the chickpeas, then simmer for five to ten minutes in water to cover with whole spices (a bay leaf, cumin, coriander, cloves, or whatever you like) in a tea strainer or tied up in a little cheesecloth sachet. Although we don't use this technique every single time that we use canned chickpeas, it can really make a difference for dishes like chaat where the chickpeas are to be eaten whole without any additional cooking.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Monday: 'Tis the Season

Mung dal on basmati rice.

Yes, 'tis the season...for dal! In the winter months, when fresh local produce is spare, we turn to dal and other dried legumes more often. We've already blogged about the quick-cooking masoor dal and toor dal with green beans, but mung dal is yet another favorite of ours. Mung dal, the split form of green mung beans, takes about an hour to an hour and a half (almost completely unattended), like toor dal.

One of these days we'll post a more comprehensive introduction to dal, so stay tuned...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday: The great pumpkin (soup)

Apple-cheese pumpkin soup with cranberry-walnut pumpkin bread.

This soup is possibly the simplest preparation of a soft-type winter squash - butternut, pumpkin, buttercup, etc. (If you're not familiar with the majestic cheese pumpkin in its natural habitat, check out our recent post here.) Any soft winter squash can be cubed, sauteed with a little onion, simmered in stock until soft, pureed, and then reheated with cream or milk if desired. We did the same here, just adding a couple of tart apples, sliced, to saute with the squash.

The bread is an import from Metropolitan Bakery in Philadelphia. (Highly recommended to our Philly readers.)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Book Review: American Chestnut

American Chestnut: The Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree
Susan Freinkel

(Find it in our widget at right under food nonfiction!)

In light of some of the chestnut recipes featured recently on this blog, it only seemed right to read a book about the sad fate of the American chestnut tree and the improbable but exciting efforts to bring it back.

You may not know the story of what happened to the American chestnut tree, especially if you’re in your 20s – because the tree has been for all intents and purposes extinct in the wild for your entire lifetime. How would we know to miss something that has never been there? Well, back in the day chestnut trees used to comprise a huge amount of the deciduous forest from Maine all the way down to Georgia, across the eastern seaboard and west to Ohio. The trees were particularly important in Appalachia, where they provided a free source of animal feed for impoverished farm families. In fact, there used to be an interesting east coast chestnut economy: many poor mountain families would gather chestnuts each fall and winter after big storms and take them to the general stores which used to serve as the centers of Appalachian commerce. There they’d be paid in little metal tokens which would serve as store credit for shoes, sugar, and other things the families could not make on their own – each store used these credits like its own mini-currency. From there, the general store owners would bring the loads of chestnuts to dealers at train stations; even the train conductor on these trips would get a cut, which was often his best pay for the whole year. The huge chestnut haul would finally be shipped to cities like Philadelphia and our very own New York City, and distributed to street vendors – before the blight, street carts roasting chestnuts were a classic scene and aroma on cold early winter New York City nights.

But in 1904, in the park which today has become the Bronx Zoo, a forester first discovered the fungus known as the chestnut blight – Cryphonectria parasitica. C. parasitica, unbeknownst to anyone, had taken advantage of increased international commerce by hitching a ride in from Asia, where it attacks Japanese and Chinese chestnuts. Those related species carry a high degree of immunity to the fungus and therefore usually survive infection. Not so for the American chestnut tree: this fungus creeps under its bark and eventually chokes off the flow of its sap, killing the tree within a couple years. Only some of the root system remains intact, and it sends up new shoots for several years more in an effort to regenerate. However, in a disturbingly Sisyphean manner, every time those shoots start to get big enough to be a viable sapling, the fungus attacks again and suffocates them. If you take a hike in eastern forests you may well see the little shoots of these frustrated American chestnuts, but you are extremely unlikely ever to see an adult tree. By midcentury, the blight had killed about three to four BILLION American chestnut trees, basically eliminating them from the wild but for some miraculous old survivors.

Susan Freinkel’s American Chestnut tells this story, and goes on to chronicle the various 20th-century efforts to save the chestnut from its blight. The first third of this book reads roughly like a disaster movie, with the blight creeping down the coastline despite all efforts of frantic state governments to save this valuable tree. (Ironically, many of them made it worse by chopping down vast swaths of chestnut forest in an effort to quarantine the fungus or to get maximum value out of the chestnut lumber before the trees were attacked.) The next third is more of a detective novel – chronicling how various scientists and enthusiasts, from the start of the pandemic to today, have come up with ideas as to how to save the chestnut.

One idea is called “hypovirulence,” and basically consists of introducing a parasite upon the parasite. Yes, this has a disturbing give-a-mouse-a-cookie quality – but it turns out there actually is a virus that weakens C. parasitica (as Frienkel says, it’s like the fungus catching a cold), which can give an individual American chestnut a fighting chance. Unfortunately, the chestnut as it previously existed almost always isn’t strong enough to ultimately fight off the virus even where hypovirulence is employed.

Freinkel also devotes a chapter to efforts to genetically engineer a blight-resistant American chestnut. The resources haven’t been devoted to this that have been brought to bear on, say, creating Monsanto’s “roundup-ready” crop monstrosities, but a couple researchers have tried to add foreign genes to the chestnut to help it resist the blight. (Research still hasn’t revealed which genes give the Chinese and Japanese chestnuts their immunity.) So far, it hasn’t worked out so well; Freinkel deals with this subject evenhandedly, and expresses justifiable concern about things like adding antimicrobial frog-skin genes to an edible plant. (Believe it or not, that was actually one idea.)

But the majority of this section concerns efforts to breed blight-resistant chestnuts, both by crossing the rare surviving American chestnuts with each other and – the most promising method – by “backcrossing” American chestnuts with their resistant Chinese cousins. Basically, this means making an American x Chinese match, and then crossing the result with other American trees over and over and over, selecting the best offspring that still have good resistance, until you have a tree that is almost entirely genetically American but isn’t susceptible to the blight. The American Chestnut Foundation took this approach. Of course, trees grow slowly, so the timescale for doing a project like this was many decades – far longer than one individual researcher’s career. That’s part of what makes the story of the chestnut a good book and an interesting exploration of environmental tragedy, the power of human nostalgia, and faith in science to ultimately put things right.

But what makes this book stand out to me is not just the compelling story, but the author’s thoughtfulness about the ultimate consequences of releasing a new, blight-resistant “backcrossed” American-ish chestnut tree into the wild once we do have one. What does environmental restoration really mean? After all, we can’t actually recreate the forests that existed back before the blight (which were filled with passenger pigeons – oops – and not yet devastated by coal mining). Is it meaningful to create our best approximation? Are we kidding ourselves to think that’s even possible? Does it just make us feel better about the next time we make a huge environmental mess, because we presume we can just clean it up later? Freinkel comes down on the side of restoration, but you can see why it’s best to be cautious where we have insufficient scientific knowledge to really know the consequences of our environmental tinkering.

This book was written in 2006, so the story ends right at the cusp of developing a truly resistant, mostly-American chestnut tree – and I’m happy to say that since then, the news has been good. Check out this Times article from September on the first efforts to reintroduce a brand new blight-resistant tree:

For what it’s worth, since this IS a food blog: real American chestnuts are apparently a little smaller and therefore harder to peel than Chinese ones, but they are sweeter, with a carroty taste. I like the hybrids we can buy at the market today, but I still hope that someday I can try a real American chestnut.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009: Turkey-free edition

Thanksgiving 2009, clockwise from top: polenta cakes with cranberries, kohlrabi-carrot slaw, prosciutto-wrapped sweet potatoes with sage, pumpkin noodle kugel, garlic-roasted Brussels sprouts in balsamic vinegar, and cranberry-beet sauce.

Welcome to a special traveling edition of D4SA! We cooked this year's Thanksgiving dinner at Lizz's parents' house in Philadelphia. None of us are crazy about turkey, so instead we decided to pick several smaller, mostly-vegetarian dishes that were seasonally appropriate and called on traditional Thanksgiving flavors. For this we relied heavily on this list created by Mark Bittman, author of the standby cookbook How to Cook Everything. It contains tons of ideas for holiday dishes that can be made in advance so that everything isn't competing for the oven at the last minute. Although most of these dishes could be prepared ahead of time, we decided instead to do the traditional Thanksgiving cooking marathon for several hours before dinner. Below are some before-and-after photos of each dish, for your viewing pleasure.

Some beautiful fresh local cranberries:

In a traditional cranberry sauce, the berries are just simmered with water and sugar until they all pop and break down. (Some people add gelatin for a firmer texture.) But Mark Bittman suggested adding sweet and earthy grated beets:

The beet and cranberry are simmered together with a little orange juice, grated orange rind, and maple syrup to taste:

With time the ingredients broke down and combined; the sauce ended up with a naturally and pleasantly thick texture, and a more earthy, complex flavor.

Check out the museum-quality flatware!

For the only meat dish of the meal, we wrapped wedges of pre-boiled sweet potatoes in sheets of prosciutto, enclosing a sage leaf in each one.

The wraps are thrown into the oven to roast briefly, just until they have attained a nice crispy texture.

The pumpkin-noodle kugel required a couple more steps than some of our other dishes, but would have been easy to do if we had started with some frozen pureed pumpkin. Instead we used this beautiful white "moonshine" cooking pumpkin, purchased by Lizz's parents at a local food stand:

The pumpkin was scraped out and cut into quarters, then placed cut side down on a baking sheet and baked until soft. We then scraped out the flesh (using a grapefruit spoon....very high-tech) and pureed it in the blender.

From that point, it was simple to add it to the kugel: we just boiled some egg noodles, and separately mixed eggs, milk, pumpkin puree, melted butter, and cinnamon in a bowl. We then layered the noodles and the milk mixture in a couple large casseroles and topped both with breadcrumbs. The kugel baked for a little under an hour, until a knife inserted in the center came out clean.

Meanwhile, we made the kohlrabi-carrot slaw our faithful readers may remember from its recent appearance on our blog. Here the kohlrabi slices are draining in a colander after being tossed with salt:

For a big holiday meal, it's nice to mix dishes you already know how to cook with ones that are new to you - we enjoyed making the easy kohlrabi dish but also trying out our first kugel.

For a green veggie, we reprised the balsamic Brussels sprouts which were also featured on the blog recently.

We put a twist on the traditional cornbread by instead making Mark Bittman's polenta cakes this year. Polenta can be a soft, creamy "pudding"-like dish or it can appear in a more solid form like this. The final texture is determined by the amount of liquid you add and how long you cook it, but you can also crisp up polenta by pan-frying or (as we did here) broiling the individual pieces. For this recipe we made polenta as usual, using a relatively smaller amount of liquid, and also mixing in some chopped fresh cranberries. After spreading the polenta in a baking dish to cool, we cut it into these little cakes and put them on a baking sheet under the broiler until they became crisp on both sides.

As Bob Dylan once said, behind every beautiful thing there's been some kind of pain - and this meal was no exception. Sadly, Lizz's bicep was a casualty of the baking process. It made some inopportune contact with a hot oven door and now bears a dramatic two-inch-long burn mark.

...but ya shoulda seen the door!

Of course, the meal wouldn't have been complete without dessert. But in this, D4SA had the assistance of a special guest chef - Lizz's dad made one of his famous pies. We had requested pecan, and that is what we got:

For those of our faithful readers who made it this far - we're thankful for you this year!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tuesday: A light pre-Thanksgiving dinner

Roasted purple cauliflower with parmesan, white beans, and quinoa.

This recipe calls for roasting cauliflower florets in a baking dish with a little oil, garlic and lemon juice. This preparation results in a whole different flavor profile for cauliflower compared to how it tastes boiled - some people who don't think they like cauliflower might be interested in trying it out.

Although white cauliflower is the most common cultivar, you can also find it in peachy-orange and purple. (Yes, the color is completely natural!) This purple cauliflower took on a red tinge when roasted.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Monday: Light lemongrass soup

Tofu-lemongrass soup with pak choy and dried shiitake mushrooms.

This Thai-style soup featured a very strongly-flavored and interesting broth due to the combination of lemongrass, shiitakes, brown sugar, soy sauce and cayenne. It reminded us of a sweet-and-sour (and spicy) soup.

Yes, occasionally we do just follow random recipes from strange internet sites....but only when they look good...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday lunch: Simple Brussels sprouts

Brussels sprouts with almond and lemon rind.

From the classic Italian cookbook The Silver Spoon, it doesn't get much simpler than this: Brussels sprouts are boiled until tender; garlic and almonds are sauteed until fragrant in melted butter, and the chopped rind of one lemon is added along with a couple teaspoons of breadcrumbs; finally the sprouts are tossed in this mixture to coat.

Farmer's Market Haul, 11/22/09

It's an abbreviated cooking week due to the impending holiday, so this list really looks more like a "supplement" than a "haul"...

purple cauliflower

Bosc pears

whole wheat bread from Meredith's Bakery

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Saturday: The "C" word

Celeriac-pink potato mash on field mustard bed with roasted pumpkin seeds.

You might notice one very common grocery store vegetable which is missing from our list of tags at right...celery. Lizz has hated celery passionately for as long as she can remember, so it is basically banned from our house. We have, however, enacted a celeriac amnesty policy.

What is celeriac, you ask? Well, it's otherwise known as "celery root." It is in fact a variety of celery grown for its globe-shaped, knobby underground root rather than the stalk, and it is the default form of celery in some countries, including France. The taste is celery-esque, but milder and a bit earthier, and it has a uniform fine texture similar to that of kohlrabi - none of the watery stringiness of stalk celery.

This is a dairy-free mash of celeriac and potatoes. Both vegetables are peeled and cut into chunks, then boiled for 25 minutes until soft. Finally they're mashed with just a little added oil. We sauteed a couple bunches of wild field mustard in olive oil and used them as a bed; they provided a nice sharp contrast.