Fattoush! (Gesundheit!)

FattoushI couldn’t resist. The name sounds like a sneeze to me, which is exactly what happens when I open a jar of ground sumac and take a big whiff. It’s like snuff for culinary gurus.

So, what is sumac? It’s the ground berries, or bobs, of the sumac shrub. And, no, this isn’t the poisonous kind, so you can put away the calamine lotion. It’s used in Middle East as a souring agent and it’s bright red color also adds some punch to things like hummus or tabbouleh or red lentil soup. You can buy it online (we like Penzey’s) or if you’re local, check out Ed Hyder’s on Pleasant St. in Worcester.

NaanYou can use toasted pita, but we’re loving the naan that’s available in most groceries, especially the whole wheat version. Remember, this is not a salad with croutons; it’s more along the lines of a panzanella or bread salad, so don’t be alarmed by the amount of bread. You can embellish, of course, with things like grilled chicken or goat cheese or other veggies, like grilled eggplant. The fresh mint really makes the dish, so be generous!

Our Favorite Fattoush
(4-6 servings)

1/4 Cup olive oil
2-3 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt & pepper to taste
3 big handfuls romaine or other lettuce, shredded
2 small cucumbers, tiny diced
2 Cups cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
½ red onion, tiny dice
Big fistful fresh parsley, chopped
Big fistful fresh mint, chopped
1/2 teaspoon sumac
2 whole grain naan breads, toasted

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, garlic, and salt and pepper. Taste it: it should be fairly sour.

Add the remaining ingredients and toss gently. Let stand at least 15 minutes before serving (or refrigerate for up to 4 hours).

Not enough for ya? Add some crumbled feta or grilled chicken or little lamb meatballs or oil-packed tuna, or black olives, or roasted red peppers…

Kids and Crisp

IMG_4438Kids Cooking Club is a Monday afternoon staple here at Culinary Underground. From September through mid-June, our kid chefs are here weekly, learning all manner of things. Today the menu included vegetarian chili, a roasted vegetable parfait, and a fruit crisp.

Is there an easier dessert than berry crisp? The berries are so nice during late spring and into the summer; we also buy too many! This dessert is best with perfectly ripe berries, but if they’re starting to soften a little, that’s okay, too. This is one of the easiest desserts for kids to make because there’s no slicin’ or dicin’ here – unless you use strawberries that are super large. And even then, who cares? It’s rustic dessert time!

The topping here doesn’t contain nuts, but you could add some pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped. The melted butter lets you skip that whole “cut in the butter” business that seems to trip up non-bakers. In fact, we quadruple the crump part of the recipe and store the crumb topping in a bag in the freezer, so it’s always ready when we want a quick summer dessert.

Mixed Berry Crisp
(6-8 servings)

4-5 Cups mixed fresh berries
1/4 Cup sugar
Juice of 1/2 lemon

1-1/2 Cup flour
1-1/2 Cup old-fashioned or instant
3/4 Cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon favorite spices – like cinnamon or 5-spice
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 Tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees  Spray a 9” x 13” pan with cooking spray.

Arrange the berries in the pan. Add sugar and lemon juice. Toss well to combine.

In a medium bowl, mix flour, oats, sugar, salt, and spices. Pour in the melted butter and toss with a fork (or your fingertips) until the mixture is clumpy and lumpy. Sprinkle topping evenly over fruit.

Bake about 35-40 minutes, or until the fruit is bubbling – that’s a sign that it’s done. The topping should be lightly brown, too.

Serve warm with whipped cream or our favorite: melted vanilla ice cream!

Rhubarb, Robins, and the Regular Season

Rhubarb StalksRhubarb season is here! And about time, since all the ‘barb cut and frozen last year is gone. Chuck is planting some this year, and it should be ready to harvest in about two years; until then, I am dependent on the kindness of strangers to provide me with the scarlet stalks.

RhubarbPictured is a strawberry-rhubarb tart I made last week; the appearance of Florida berries and rhubarb, not robins, is the first true sign of spring. (Too bad, Mr. Robin.) I’m not going to give you the pie recipe, though, because you’ll either (a) sniff that you don’t eat sugar any more; (b) whimper about past pie crust failures; or (c) confide that your kids “don’t care for pie”, in which case I strongly advise you to get a new set of children.

Soda Syrups
No, instead, I’m going to start you off with a simple, simple recipe that will start you on to learning to love rhubarb. Flavored syrups easy and have all sorts of uses in the kitchen – just the kind of recipe you want in the pantry. Use it to make your own soda by mixing with club soda; it’s great in lemonade, too. Because it’s a simple syrup, you can make all kinds of cocktails out of it. How about mixing it with into hard cider? You could call it a Red Robin, if you don’t feel silly naming your alcoholic drinks. Or ordering them, for that matter.

(Oh! And “rhubarb”, in the argot of baseball, is slang for a fight on the field. And since Opening Day of the regular season is a springtime event, too. Watching a ball game, eatin’ pie, and drinkin’ soda – there’s no end to the wonder that is rhubarb!)

Rhubarb Syrup
(about 12 ounces)

1 pound rhubarb, cut into ½” pieces
½ Cup sugar
½ Cup water

In a saucepan, bring rhubarb, sugar, and water to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.  Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes.

Pour the contents of the pot into a fine-meshed strained over a bowl or large measuring cup. Let the mixture stand for about 30 minutes. Gently press on the solids to extract all the juice.

Bottle it and save it in the fridge for several weeks.

Crazy for Fish

Fish SoupThink Naples, think pizza. But I make pizza all the time and it’s usually the same old pizza, because my family likes the same pizza toppings every week. So, when I think Naples, I think fish. Campania’s coast is famous for its seafood creations – everything from stewed baby octopus to salt cod with raisins and pine nuts to Chritmastime fried eel. I love the challenge of cooking tentacles and giant worms and stuff, but, again, people around my house are more comfortable with the familiar.

Once a week, on my way back from robbing a convenience store, I’ll swing by the seafood department for a pound or so of whatever looks good. Never go in with a fixed idea – select what’s available and what’s freshest, and then decide how to cook. This week, the cod was good lookin’. So how to make it? Simple, fresh, healthy – cuz it’s April and lighter meals on the menu. But it’s unseasonably cold and rainy this week so something hot and soupy calls out.

A favorite: fish in crazy water. This is simply fresh fish fillelts gently poached in a garlicky, tomato-y broth. Sparkling water is the “crazy” part here. Just add toasted peasant bread and…mmm. This dish is worth being featured in the weekly Police Blotter.

Pesce all’Acqua Pazza
Fish in “Crazy Water”
(4 servings)

1/3 Cup olive oil
Dash crushed red pepper flakes
4-6 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 Cup dry white wine
1/4 Cup capers, rinsed and chopped
1 Cup cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 Cups sparkling mineral water
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1-1/2 pounds white fish fillets, about ½” thick
Fistful of fresh parsley and basil, chopped

Bring olive oil, red pepper, and garlic to a sizzle in a 12” sauté pan over MEDIUM heat.

Add wine and cook for 1 minute.

Add tomatoes, capers, sparkling water, and salt.

Bring liquid to a gentle simmer; cook for 3 minutes, to get the flavors to meld.

Add the fish fillets in a single layer. The fish should be submerged halfway in the liquid. Reduce heat to MEDIUM-LOW.

Without allowing the liquid to return to a boil, cook the fish for 4 minutes.

Distribute the fish among 4 warm bowls.

Taste the  broth for seasonings, and correct if necessary. Ladle the broth over fish, and serve hot, sprinkled with pepper and garnished with the parsley and basil.

Serve with toasted, crusty bread.

A Pie for Pi Day

Vegetable TartToday is Pi Day! Celebrate the beauty of the mathematical constant for the ratio of the circle’s circumference to its diameter! Yeah, beautiful. Geometry class was a circle, too…a circle of Hell. Just thinking about pi conjures up a curious mixture of anxiety and ennui. Perhaps I’ll join the Tau Movement.

Celebrating 3/14 by baking a pie is much more fun than thinking about circles and ratios and angles. Although most pies are round. And those wedges…they’re triangular! Oh, for the love of a2+b2+c2! There’s no escaping pi! This is why I’m a math athiest.

I chose a savory tart for this year’s pie – mostly because we have a lot of grilled veggies hanging around (this tart is perfect for leftover veggies) and because I like to use my tart pan with the removable bottom, for a classy look.

The press-in pastry is a favorite, especially for people who don’t have a lot of experience with rolling pie crusts. A little rye flour – just a couple of tablespoons – makes the crust seem more rustic. Or something. Now, I know that some of you will drag out one of those refrigerated, pre-rolled things. As a pie snob, I would never use one; as a pragmatist, I understand that we’re all busy, etc. What worries me is, how does Pillsbury achieve that smooth, Play-Dohesque consistency?

It’s a mystery, like math itself.

Grilled Veggie ‘n Feta Tart
(9” or 10” tart)

1 recipe Press-in Tart Pastry (see recipes)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red onion, sliced
1-1/2 Cups grilled veggies (peppers, zukes, etc.)
2 large eggs
¾ Cup heavy cream
Small handful fresh herbs, minced
Fine dry breadcrumbs
4 ounces feta, crumbled

Preheat oven to 400OF.  Prepare the pastry and press into the tart pan. Partially blind-bake the pastry for 10 minutes; remove weights and bake 5 minutes longer. Cool.

Saute onions in oil 5 minutes. Add the veggies and stir for about 1 minute – just to warm them through. Season with salt and pepper.  Remove from heat and cool.

In a bowl combine eggs with cream, herbs and salt and pepper.

Place the tart shell on a baking sheet. Sprinkle bottom of pastry with breadcrumbs. Spread veggies in the shells; crumble cheese on top. Pour egg-cream mixture over the top.

Lower oven temperature to 350OF. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until set. Cool 5 minutes before cutting.

Press-in Pastry
(9” or 10” tart shell)

1 1/2 Cups flour
1/2 Cup cold butter or solid Crisco, or a mix of the two
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
1 large egg

Mix together dry ingredients. Cut in shortening with a pastry blender until fine crumbs form.  Add egg; mix with fork until dough begins to hold together.  Add 1-2 t. very cold water if mixture seems too dry.  (You can do this all in the food processor, too.)

Spray a 9″ or 10″ tart pan with removable bottom with Pam.  Press dough into bottom and up sides of pan.

TO PARTIALLY BLIND BAKE:  Dock pastry well with a fork.  Line tart shell with foil, shiny side down.  Weight shell with 1 Cup dry rice or beans.  Bake @ 425 degrees F for 10 minutes; remove foil and weights; bake 5-10 minutes longer.

Salad Scorn

ArugulaIf there’s one thing I loathe more than the word “dieting”, it’s salad.

Salads are usually a pain to make, if they’re interesting. (What’s uninteresting? “One of those mixed-up salads which men will eat with complete docility in restaurants, although they would probably start yelling if their wives tried to feed them one at home,” as Phil Marlowe observed. Smothered with bottled Ranch dressing, of course.) And eating a big salad makes me impatient. Like a trip to the dentist, I just want to get it over with, losing interest and my nerve about two-thirds of the way through the whole lousy experience.

I want to make salads that are as simple and as weird possible. Like a chopped “garbage” salad, with everything thrown into a bowl and mowed down with a pizza cutter. Brazilian potato salad with apples and olives. Shredded, raw butternut squash slaw with cranberries. Warm collards topped with toasted coconut chips, to which I am addicted. Do I need to say that all of these sport homemade dressing? Last night, salad was a handful of Romaine, grapefruit wedges, and peeled cucumber half-moons with a drizzle of olive oil. It really doesn’t have to be complicated.

Suzanne and I try to make a salad every day during the work week. (This translates into maybe, oh, two salads a week; we then switch to overstuffed liverwurst-and-onion “bombs”.) Recently, we’ve been lovin’ arugula, a favorite green because it’s easy to clean, requires no tearing or cutting, and has an interesting, peppery taste. With slivered pears, sliced shallots, and toasted walnuts, it’s been our go-to for a while.

Pears are kind of overlooked here in apple-centric New England. Comice and red Bartletts are great eating pears, but choose your favorite. How to tell if it’s ripe? Gently press around the stem at the top; it should have a little “give” if the pear is ready to eat.

Favorite Arugula Salad
(1 big or 2 side servings)

4 big fistfuls baby arugula
1 large, ripe, Comice or red Bartlett pear
1 shallot, thinly sliced
Small handful toasted walnuts
Olive oil, Sherry vinegar, salt, and pepper

Wash and dry the arugula – the drier, the better, so your dressing clings to the leaves. Place in a bowl.

Halve and core the pear; slice into thin wedges. Add to the bowl, along with the shallots and walnuts. Season with salad and pepper.

Drizzle with a little olive oil and add a splash of vinegar. Don’t overdress! Serve immediately.

Tierney’s Famous Codfish Balls

Codfish BallsSuzanne here, with a heriloom recipe! Can anyone remember every detail of Christmases past? I remember the colorful-and-always-tangled tree lights, the carrots left out for Santa’s reindeer, and the endless hours (okay, minutes) we spent lying awake, waiting for Mom and Dad to get up so we could race down to see what Santa brought us.

The truth is, my adult Christmas memories are better then those of my childhood. I can’t pinpoint the exact year, but best Christmas Eves started for me during college. I would return home from school, tired from exams, ready to see old friends, and enjoy some home cooking. Even in my 20’s, I’ll admit I still got as excited as a six-year old when Christmas Eve rolled around. I did enjoy opening a few well-thought out and much needed gifts from M&D. Mostly, though, I enjoyed the carefully planned and exquisitely executed eve menu at my house.

Cocktail hour was the best: my mom’s perfect codfish balls paired with Dad’s vintage champagnes was, and is, my favorite thing to eat and drink all year.

Now, back then, it was Mom who worked tirelessly in the kitchen, soaking, mashing, assembling, and frying these delicate fish delights. Fast forward a decade. Graduation, marriage, kids, and retirements changed the location and the chef in charge of the celebration, but the menu? Hardly a change at all. Read more

A Gluten-Free Recipe, Okay?

GF BananasJust because I like you, here’s a gluten-free snack recipe that’s (a) easy to make, (b) cheap, (c) made with ingredients that are usually hanging around, and (d) kid-friendly. Oh, and they’ve got that “Ooo-I-saw-these-on-Pinterest” vibe because of the popsicle sticks. (We always have popsicle sticks around, courtesy of the Job Lot which sells them in packs of, oh, 5,000.)

Naturally, these would be even better prepared with real chocolate but then we’re defeating the purpose of this “healthy snack” (a term I loathe, only because people are always asking me for healthy snack ideas. When I snarkily suggest an apple, they recoil in horror. Healthy eating is pretty easy, you know.)

So, we’re going to forgo the melted chocolate (boo-hoo!), and use non-fat yogurt instead. We use vanilla, but you could use chocolate yogurt, or any other flavor. The cereal here is Chocolate Rice Chex, a nice GF cereal that’s low in sugar. But bananas are sugary enough, so if you want to really bring it down, choose a crispy brown rice cereal, like Erehwon.

GF Banana Pops
(4 servings)

1 Cup rice cereal
4 large bananas, peeled and halved crosswise
4 popsicle sticks
5-ounce container vanilla or plain non-fat yogurt

Place the cereal in a ziploc bag and crush it to fine crumbs. Pour onto a large plate.

Insert a stick into the cut end of each banana half. Use a knife to spread yogurt on the bananas. Immediately roll in the cereal crumbs, pressing gently to make the cereal adhere to the bananas.

Arrange on a plate and refrigerate them for 15 minutes. Or eat them right away. Or put them in the freezer – they’re great frozen. In fact, why don’t you double or triple the recipes and freeze them solid before transferring to a ziploc bag and storing for quick snacks?

Delicata Deliciousness

Delicata SquashMost people rush through the produce department like their pants are on fire. It’s not a fear of veggies per se – more just a fear of not knowing what to buy or what to do with the darn thing once you haul it home.

Now, New Englanders love them some butternut squash and feel very comfortable cooking it, commonly roasted, pureed, or served as a smooth and creamy soup. We love it grated raw in a slaw, but it’s also good au gratin with lots of olive oil and Parmesan. But around January 28, we start getting that gaggy feeling at the sight of it.

Better to branch out into some of the other winter squashes – and the Delicata is a favorite. It’s that cylindrical one, rather on the small side, bright yellow with orange or green racing stripes. If you’ve never had it, you’re in for a treat. It’s sweet, cooks quickly, and best of all – you can eat the rind. No peeling! And that, and it’s canoe-shape, makes it perfect for stuffing and baking.

Fastest and easiest method is to roast it, which really highlights the sweetness of the squash. Then you can eat it hot, warm, or cold, or use it in salad. By the time the season is over (Delicata become harder to find by the end of December), we’re ready to get back to butternut, Hubbard, acorn, and their cousins.

Roasted Delicata and Shallots
(4 servings)

2 to 4 Delicata (depending on size)
4 large shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise
Olive oil, sea salt, and fresh pepper

Preheat the oven to 425OF. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment or foil.

Slice the squash lengthwise; remove the seeds with a spoon. Slice the squash into ½” half-moons.

Place in a bowl along with shallots. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat with the oil.

Spread the squash and shallots on the baking sheets. Roast for 25-30 minutes, turning the vegetables once or twice, until soft and well-browned.

Too Many Peppers?

Jalapeno1Did you plant peppers, specifically jalapenos? And did you plant way too many of them? Of course you did! Well, they’re ripening now and the only thing to do is make a batch of jalapeno jelly. (Yes, we’ll cover jalapeno poppers some other time.)

This recipe is easy even for canning newbies. You can go natural or add a drop of green food coloring. The liquid pectin is generally available in the grocery store, alongside the powdered stuff.

How to use it? Well, the classic way is as a topping for cream cheese and crackers. But we like it as a glaze for grilled chicken or pork. And gifting others with a jar ain’t a bad idea, either.

Jalapeno Jelly
(4-5 half-pint jars)

3/4 pound jalapenos, cored and seeded
2 Cups apple cider vinegar
6 Cups sugar
2 pouches liquid pectin
3 drops of green food coloring (optional)

Wash, seed, and core the jalapenos – you’re going to want to use gloves for this, unless you’re a masochist.

Place the peppers in the food processor; add 1 Cup of the vinegar and puree them – a coarse puree is fine, if you want to see specks of pepper.

Transfer the mixture to a large saucepan. Add the remaining vinegar and the sugar. Stirring constantly, bring to a full boil over HIGH heat. Adjust the temperature to boil for 10 minutes.

Stir in the pectin and return to a full boil; boil for 1 minute. Remove the pan from heat and skim off any “foam” with a metal spoon. If desired, you can add food coloring.

Ladle jelly into clean, warm canning jars, leaving a 1/4″ head space.  Wipe the rim of the jar and put on sterile lid.  Screw on the top. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes.

Remove the jars, let them cool, and check for good seal. And here they are: