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Posts from the ‘Herbs & Spices’ Category

Salade Nicoise

A Salade Nicoise is a classic French salad named after its birth city of Nice (pronounced neese). I have always loved it for sentimental reasons, but it’s perfect hot-weather fare because every ingredient can be prepared in advance and kept cool, and then you simply assemble the plate. It’s crunchy and salty and zippy, and when you add a pinch of nostalgia, I could make a case that it’s the greatest salad of all time.

In typical French fashion, there is often great debate about what is traditional and what is not in certain classic dishes (in this case, raw or blanched green beans, tuna or anchovies), but I will simply represent the first one I had over twenty years ago, as a college student in Grenoble at an outdoor cafe table, as it remains the one I still make today. There are easy alterations but this is my standard.

The salad is quite simple, it’s roughly six or seven ingredients and a dressing, but it’s about each ingredients’ quality and preparation that makes it a classic.

Dressing:
3T Good olive oil
1T good white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar
1T good Dijon mustard
good salt, preferably fleur de sel
freshly cracked peppercorns
Whisk & taste – This is the magic.

Ingredients, for one salad:
Several leaves of lettuce – dark romaine or soft boston lettuce
Ripe tomato, one small or several cherry tomatoes
3-5 Nicoise olives (small, jet-black cured olives, may also be Moroccan olives, never pitted)
One organic hard boiled egg (instruction below)
Several blanched green beans (instruction below)
1-2 anchovy fillets, room temperature (buy jarred if you can find them and don’t be afraid!)
One or two fingerling or small potatoes, boiled – Optional, but since I’ve never met a potato I didn’t like, I add them; also, you can boil the potatoes and add the green beans for the last minute to save time.

When you are ready to plate, tear the lettuce into bite size pieces and top with peeled, sliced egg, sliced potato, sliced tomato, anchovy fillets, green beans, Nicoise olives at the center. Add one or two tablespoons of dressing (always start with less). Et voila! The best extra ingredient, if you’ve got it, is warm alfresco weather to sit and enjoy it outside.

Perfect Hard Boiled Egg:
Place 1-2 eggs in water in pot, bring to full boil, put the lid on, turn the heat off, remove pot from burner and allow to steep for ten minutes. Drain eggs and run under cold water.

Boil potatoes & green beans: Add two or three potatoes to pot with pinch of salt and bring to boil, allow to boil steadily but not furiously for roughly 20min, checking after 15min (especially if potatoes are small) with a fork for tenderness; add green beans for last minute and drain.

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Sweet Potato, Green Apple & Celery Salad

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Here is a perfect dish for trumpeting Spring: crunchy vegetables, bright lemon juice, spicy grated ginger and sweet honey – like a deep breath of fresh air after a long winter. I stumbled upon this recipe on Food52: I stopped on this one when I read ‘raw sweet potato’, intrigued, and made it that afternoon. Yum! Indeed, the starchy sweet potato acts like jicama might: sturdy and crunchy, as the backbone for the other sweet and spicy components.

The only labor for this raw salad is the dicing, which I find enjoyable, but which can be easily done with a mandolin.

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This recipe can officially kick off picnic season, with the extra scarf and sun hat of course. Welcome Spring!

Sweet Potato, Green Apple & Celery Salad (adapted slightly from http://www.food52.com)

2T lemon juice

1T freshly grated ginger

1/2T – 1T honey

2T extra-virgin olive oil

coarse salt and freshly grated pepper

1 small sweet potato, peeled and finely julienned into matchsticks

1 tart Apple like Granny Smith, cored and finely julienned into matchsticks

1 celery stalk, thinly sliced, with leaves

2 scallions, thinly sliced

3 radishes, quartered and finely julienned

3T toasted sesame seeds

1/4c packed fresh cilantro leaves

Instructions:

1. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, ginger, honey and olive oil; season to taste with salt & pepper

2. In another bowl, combine sweet potato, apple, celery, scallions, radishes, sesame seeds and cilantro. Pour dressing over and toss gently.

Enjoy!

Sweet Potato, Pear & Bacon Soup

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I love when a soup like this comes together! I found myself with a handful of sweet potatoes and a few juicy Bartlett pears, both which needed action before being past their prime. When I discovered a recipe for a sweet potato, pear & bacon soup, I happily plucked some bacon from my freezer and got right to work!

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In this Mark Bittman recipe, he calls for browning the bacon, removing it to a paper towel lined plate and adding the shredded potatoes and pears to the salty hot grease…yes, an excellent start…

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Then to the softened shredded vegetables and fruit, add allspice, cayenne, stock or water, and cream and let it bubble away for a quick 10 or 15 minutes. Once the squash is tender, whirr the immersion blender to carefully puree. Taste for seasonings – it should be a lovely mix of earthy sweet potato, fruity pear, a little smoky, with the perfect amount of kick from the cayenne. Garnish with the crunchy bacon and you will be one happy camper. Here’s to surprise victories while cleaning out the extras!

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Sweet Potato Soup with Pears & Bacon
By Mark Bittman

Ingredients:
8 slices of bacon
1 1/2 lbs sweet potatoes
2 large pears
1 small onion
1 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
salt & pepper
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock, or water
1 cup cream

Directions:
Chop 8 slices bacon into 1-inch pieces.
Add bacon to large pot over medium heat.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 5-10 minutes.
Peel & trim sweet potatoes, cut into small pieces to feed into food processor.
Peel & core pears.
Trim, peel & quarter the onion.
When bacon is crisp, transfer it to paper towel lined plate with a slotted spoon. Turn heat to low.
Shred vegetables & fruit in food processor with grating disk; empty work bowl into pot as it fills.
Raise heat to medium-high; add 1t allspice, 1/4t cayenne, sprinkle of salt & pepper.
Cook, stirring, until spices are fragrant, about one minute.
Add five cups stock or water and one cup cream.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat so that it bubbles gently but steadily.
Cook until squash is fully tender, 10-15 minutes.
Turn off heat and run an immersion blender through the pot, or working in batches transfer it to an upright blender and carefully puree.
Reheat the soup for one or two minutes if necessary. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Divide soup among four bowls, garnish with bacon and serve.

Spring Potato Salad

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My thoughts this week are drifting to Spring’s arrival on Friday. It was a great winter for cooking, lots of new recipes, lots of tinkering with past ones, but the sun’s angle has shifted, clocks have been changed and the snow is finally melting a bit. So this week as I gaze at fingerling potatoes, I’m seeing Spring colors in the form of one of my favorite, simple dishes: potato salad. Violet hued shallots, light green celery, and dark green parsley. Lots & lots of parsley.

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Of course, you’ll want some good sea salt and freshly cracked pepper.

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Potatoes, steamed & smashed, skins on, crispy celery, crunchy shallots, mayonnaise, champagne vinegar, and a little salt & pepper. Preferably, all of it still a bit warm from the steaming.

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For me, potato salad is not a summer thing, it’s a spring thing and, if I may speak on behalf of all New Englanders, we are ready for a little Springtime.

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Enjoy!

Parsnip Soup with Leeks, Apples, Pecans and Nutmeg

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‘Tis the season to embrace the season. We are in the deep winter now. Here in New England, we are buried in snow, with snowbank peaks and valleys higher than our heads. By these involuntary or voluntary means, it’s time to slow down, reflect a little more often and cozy up. It’s also a great time for Parsnip Soup.

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This soup starts with a pound of parsnips, which may look like a lot, but between their thick heads and spindly bottoms, you’ll peel and chop down to the right amount in no time. Same goes with the apples and potato: a quick peel and chop, and suddenly you’ll have a beautiful blend of white wintry colored chopped ingredients: parsnips, apples and potato.

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It’s simply a one-pot process after that. Start with browning the leeks, add the chopped ingredients, a little broth, a little water, boil and simmer. Then puree, add a bit of cream, salt & pepper and garnishes.

Creamy Parsnip Soup
Serves 4, prep time 20min, cook time 45min

2T unsalted butter
1 lb (2 cups) prepared sliced leeks
1 lb parsnips, trimmed, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium baking potato (about 1/2lb), peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 can (14.5oz) reduced sodium chicken broth
3T heavy cream

K’s added garnishes:
1/2c chopped apple
1/3c chopped pecans
fresh nutmeg

A quick note about broth: I often use Better Than Boullion Chicken Base for any recipe calling for broth; it’s has a great chicken broth-y flavor and because it’s a paste you mix with water, you can adjust potency for a recipe, like this one, which calls for reduced sodium.

1) Heat the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the leeks (reserving 1/2c for garnish). Cook, stirring for five minutes.

2) Add the parsnips, apples, potato, broth and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until the vegetables are tender, 20-25 minutes.

3) Working in batches (or with a handheld immersion blender), puree the soup until smooth. Stir in the cream. Taste for salt & pepper, and season accordingly. Top with your preferred garnishes.

4) Garnish: Make just before serving: In a large skillet, heat 1T butter over medium-high heat. Add the leeks, cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Lower heat to medium, add apple and pecans, stir together, cook for 2 or 3 minutes (goal here is a quick warming and mixing of ingredients – be careful not to overcook). Sprinkle salt and a bit of pepper, and generous grate of fresh nutmeg.

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The end product will be a hearty and comforting soup with sweet apple, crunchy pecans, crispy leeks and fragrant nutmeg. Enjoy!

Marinated Mushrooms with walnut and tahini yogurt

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Here is a perfect summer mushroom plate. It is light & healthy and travels very well for lunch al fresco. It starts with a tangy marinade of olive oil, white wine vinegar, maple syrup and lemons whisked and poured over a mix of button mushrooms and beech (or shimeji) mushrooms. I love the use of white button mushrooms here, since their simplicity is often over looked. Whip up a tahini yogurt with greek yogurt, tahini paste, and garlic and set it aside. Finally, give a quick boil to some bright fava beans (skin them if you like afterwards, which I do), chop some walnuts, fresh dill and fresh oregano and it’s simply assembly time. Add the beans, walnuts & cumin to the mushrooms, stir well, check for seasonings. Then add a dollop of tahini yogurt and sprinkle with fresh herbs. A welcome addition to summer picnics or a park bench lunch.

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Marinated Mushrooms with walnut and tahini yogurt

Plenty p. 58, by Yotam Ottolenghi

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/apr/11/yotam-ottolenghi-new-vegetarian

Lavender & Lime Cookies

Lavender & Lime Cookies

My, oh my, oh lavender. I love the fragrance of this dried flower, but could never dream of how intoxicating its undertones could be nestled in a butter cookie with a lime glaze. When I recently sampled a friend’s mother-in-law’s cookies with this combination, I knew I would have to beg for the family recipe, which was so kindly shared. If you do decide to bake with lavender, be sure you purchase culinary lavender (vs ornamental).

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A quick bake, with the cookies perfuming the kitchen, a full cool down, and a zesty, sweet lime glaze, we arrive at cookie bliss.

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Dreamy.

Wild Sockeye Salmon with Herbs

Wild Sockeye Salmon with Herbs

How about salmon! There are of course a few questions to consider: is it wild salmon season (generally late summer)? Which salmon season is it (coho, sockeye, chum, pink)? If it isn’t salmon season, how about wild frozen? Or if not frozen, what about fresh farmed (atlantic vs pacific)? Which state or country farmed it? I do taste testing experiments on a topic like this for my own knowledge and taste, and on my clients’ behalf. Defrosting deep frozen wild salmon and buying fresh farmed salmon, and cooking them with the same treatments yields interesting differences: colors (dark coral for wild vs. light pink for farmed), taste (firm bite for wild vs. softer and slightly fattier for the farmed), and the cost (roughly $12/lb for frozen vs. $15/lb for the farmed, give or take). Even if your friendly neighborhood fishmonger offers fresh wild salmon out of season, he/she also received it frozen and defrosted it that morning for you (the majority of salmon species have their peak season during June, July, August; it gets fished and a good portion frozen immediately).  Either way, salmon takes very little preparation: Preheat oven to 425F, add one tablespoon of butter or olive oil in roasting dish and place dishes in oven; in a food processor puree a mix of herbs (I like parsley, cilantro, dill, oregano) with some olive oil, add salt & pepper; spoon herb mixture onto salmon fillets; carefully remove dish from oven, slide fish into bubbling butter, return to oven and roast for 8-12min, per your oven and preferred doneness.

If you eat fish often, it’s good too to investigate if there is a local seafood CSA in your area, to keep your household menu in season and to support local industries. If not, just check the labels on your frozen purchases for the source. The photo above happened to be Frozen Wild Alaskan Sockeye from Trader Joe’s which was a delicious off-season fix. Happy fishing!

Tamara’s Ratatouille

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This is jam packed with red peppers, butternut squash, parsnip, zucchini and eggplant, and feels healthy and filling and cozy. I’m continuing to work through the Yotam Ottolenghi cookbook Plenty and am filled with inspiration and ideas! Let me make this for you soon.

Barley, celery & cranberry salad

Barley, celery & cranberry salad

A really nice winter pick-me-up kind of dish here: the barley offers a heartiness, the crunchy celery folded in adds a bite, dill & parsley keep it interesting, and little surprises like allspice and sherry vinegar keep it very bright and playful. The original recipe, from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty, called for pomegranate seeds, but I just missed the last batch of them at the market, so I substituted dried cranberries. A feel-good bowl of goodness for you!