Monday, January 31, 2011

Potato Fennel Soup

How often does this happen to you? I was looking for some fennel the week before last to make pot roast out of a beautiful chuck shoulder roast that was on sale at the Apple Market, but it just didn't look good, so I passed it over and used celery root instead. No biggie - it was just as tasty that way.

But last week, of course, the fennel looked gorgeous so I had to pick up a couple, even though I no longer had a specific use for them. I also had a five-pound bag of organic yukon gold new potatoes (they were cheaper than the three-pound bag) I had to find ways to use. So I started thinking about the two together. I try not to eat too much meat, so I didn't want to make another roast so soon after the last one (although the other half of that chuck shoulder is sitting in the freezer, waiting). I thought of chicken, but I'm just not in the mood for that, either (although there are four Amish chicken quarters also waiting in the freezer thanks to Amish Healthy Foods, which if you live in Chicago and haven't visited yet you really ought to treat yourself to a visit).

What does that leave to make in this colder-than-usual winter? (Not that I'm complaining. I'm not. I much prefer winter to summer, no matter how cold and snowy it gets. At least I keep telling myself that.) Soup is the next logical step. I had the fennel, potatoes, some beautiful chickpea broth from the last time I cooked chickpeas, and a little cream. That seemed possible, so I got to work.

And now I feel the need to say a word about chickpea stock, or whatever you call it. I no longer remember where, but a few years ago I read a tip that you should save the cooking liquid from when you make chickpeas, if you're not going to use it in the dish for which you cooked them. So I started freezing it whenever I had it, and whenever I was out of chicken or vegetable broth I would use it. As it turns out, it's quite tasty and adds a beautiful, velvety texture to your soups. It doesn't smell like much, and you wouldn't think it had any taste, but it also adds just the hint of nuttiness that enhances just about anything. I cannot recommend this highly enough. I wouldn't use the liquid in canned chickpeas (even organic, but that's just me), but it is worth it to cook your own chickpeas so you can have this wonderful, rich broth as much as it is because the chickpeas themselves are much better cooked from fresh than out of a can.

It made a huge difference in the Potato Fennel soup. I only added about one-fourth of a cup of cream, but it tastes and feels like much more due to the creaminess of the chickpea liquid. Do yourself a favor and give it a try. I think you will be as pleasantly surprised as I was.

And because I had fresh dill around, I thought it would complement the potato and fennel, which it did. Some fennel fronds and toasted fennel seeds make the perfect garnish.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

Makes 8 servings.

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp butter
2 medium fennel bulbs, quartered, cored and chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 tsp coriander
3 cups liquid from cooked chickpeas (or vegetable broth)
1 cup water, plus more as necessary
3 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup cream
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 Tbsp toasted fennel seeds for garnish
Fennel fronds for garnish

Heat oil and butter in a large dutch oven over medium low heat. Add the onions and fennel and sweat them until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add coriander, salt and pepper and cook for about one minute, until the coriander is fragrant.

Add the chicken broth and the potatoes. Bring to a boil, skimming off any foam that accumulates on top of the pot. Lower heat, cover, and cook for 20 minutes, until the vegetables are all tender.

Remove from the heat puree with a stick blender or in a blender or food processor. Return to the heat. Add more water if it is too thick. Add the cream, lemon juice, and dill. And stir to incorporate.

Taste and adjust for seasonings. Serve hot, garnished with fennel fronds and the toasted fennel seeds.

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Zucchini with Fennel Seeds

I was looking for a quick side dish for the African Chicken that I made with my homemade ketchup, and I had two beautiful organic zucchini in the crisper. I decided to give them a quick saute with a little onion and fresh parsley. As I was slicing them up, I had a last-minute inspiration to see how they would pair with fennel seeds.

Ok, it might seem like a no-brainer to some folks, but I did not grow up with fennel seeds and, until recently, had never cooked with them. But now that I've started, I really like that slightly sweet, slightly sharp way they spice up a dish. This was simple, easy, and quick to prepare, and would go well with just about any main dish, meat or vegetarian.

Makes 4 side servings

2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into 3/4-inch thick slices
1/4 cup chopped parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 Tbsp lemon juice or red wine vinegar

Heat oil in medium skillet. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add fennel seeds and cook for one minute, until they are fragrant. Add the zucchini and saute, stirring frequently, until the zucchini just turns opaque. Remove from the heat and add the parsley and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Baking Class: Buttermilk Fritters

I have fallen in love with a Russian cookbook called Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook. I was lucky enough to have stumbled across it at the Printer's Row Book Fair the year before last. It's a big book, both in size and content. The authors traveled across what was the entire Soviet Union collecting recipes from everywhere, not just Russia, so there are Eastern European, Middle Eastern, and Asian influences represented as well.

By the time I had gone through the first chapter after getting it home, I had already earmarked several recipes that I wanted to try. But something came up, as it often does, and I left it half finished. I recently decided that it was time to finish looking through it. By the time I was done, I had marked 36 recipes that I knew I wanted to make.

I find it somewhat amusing that of all the choices I had, from borscht to dumplings to stews, I decided to make buttermilk fritters. What influenced my decision was the buttermilk in my refrigerator that was already ticking away well past the "sell by" date. That, plus the fact that, according to the author, children all over Russia are as familiar with the aroma of them cooking as American children are to the smell of popcorn popping at a movie theater. Had to give that a try!

These are made in two steps, which makes them perfect for a weekend brunch. First you make the batter, using two egg yolks. Then you let the batter sit for an hour (which gives the egg whites time to come to room temperature and you time to do other things), after which you beat the egg whites and fold them into the batter.

These were quite good. Beating the egg whites and adding them separately at the end makes for a light fluffy pancake, but the buttermilk gives it that hearty flavor that makes buttermilk pancakes so good.

These are not technically fritters, which are usually coated with batter and fried. They are actually pancakes, but a lighter version of the buttermilk pancakes with which I am familiar. They are quite good with powdered sugar and a fruit compote, like the blueberry compote I made here, and which is actually more blueberry looking and appealing in real life than it is in the picture above.

This recipe makes about 20 fritters, which is enough for four people. It's a lovely way to start a weekend day.
2 eggs, separated
1-1/2 cups buttermilk
1 Tbsp vegetable oil, plus additional oil for frying
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda

In a small bowl combine the flour, sugar, salt and baking soda and whisk until well blended.

In a larger bowl, combine the egg yolks, buttermilk and oil and whisk until it is well mixed. Add the flour mixture to the wet in three batches, whisking well after each addition to make sure it is well blended.

Let the batter stand for one hour. Leave the egg whites out so they come to room temperature.

In a stainless steel or glass bowl using a hand mixer, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Gently fold them into the batter.

Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a large non-stick or cast-iron skillet or griddle over medium heat. Drop the batter approximately one-and-a-half tablespoons at a time into the skillet. Let them cook for 2 to 3 minutes, and then turn and cook on the other side for an additional 2 minutes, or more if necessary. Repeat until the batter is gone.

Keep the fritters warm in an oven that has been preheated to 225 deg. F.

Good with powdered sugar and jam, honey, or sour cream.

from Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook, by Anya von Bremzen and John Welchman (Workman Publishing, 1990)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Braised Red Cabbage and Kale

Here's something I didn't know: red cabbage will last for weeks, even after you have cut into it. I bought a small head of red cabbage to make the slaw for the carnitas tacos I made the week before Christmas. That used a scant third of the head. I used another third after I got back from Austin to make some breakfast frittatas, and then that last little third fell down to the bottom of my vegetable crisper and I forgot it was there. Or maybe I was tired of it, anything is possible.

Until last night, when I was getting ready to cook some of the kale I got on sale at Whole Foods last week. I needed something green to go with the pot roast and root vegetables I had braised over the weekend. I went into the crisper to get the kale and my hand found that last little third of cabbage. I pulled it out and figured it would give the kale a little boost and some color.

Granted, the edges were a little yellow and slightly limp, so I just shaved them off and it was fine under there. I shredded the cabbage, sliced some onion and minced some garlic, shredded the kale, and got to work.

The result was bright and fresh, and gave an acidic undertone to the richness of the root vegetables and the beef. The addition of my homemade mustard, brown sugar, and apple cider vinegar punched it up with some sweet and sour. A smattering of caraway seeds brings all of the flavors together.

So if you're feeling a little drab during these drab winter months, brighten up your plate with some healthy greens.

2 Tbsp grapeseed or canola oil
1/4 large onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
1/3 head red cabbage, shredded
1 bunch of kale, stems and leaves separated, stems cut into 1/2-inch pieces, leaves shredded
1 Tbsp whole-grain or Dijon mustard
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup vegetable broth or water
1 tsp brown sugar, or to taste
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar, or to taste

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, then the garlic, and cook until the onion is translucent. Add the caraway seeds and cook them for a minute, then add the mustard (if using whole grain mustard; otherwise add it with the vegetable broth). Cook for another minute and then add the red cabbage and the kale stems. Season with salt and pepper.

Saute the cabbage until it is translucent and wilted. Add the vegetable broth and the brown sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves. When the broth starts to boil, lower the heat and let the cabbage simmer for 10 minutes. Add more liquid if necessary.

Add the kale and cook until it is well wilted, about 10 more minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the apple cider vinegar. Taste and adjust for seasonings.

Makes 4 side servings.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Pebre Pizza with Tomato (and/or Mushrooms) and Garlic

Pebre is a chilean sauce, much like Argentinean chimichurri, And like its counterpart, there are many different ways to make it. I believe the original called for just cilantro, but I liked the idea of both cilantro and parsely. Many recipes and photos that I saw had tomatoes (which then, according to Wikipedia, would make it Chanco en Piedra - not to be confused with the Chilean Funk-Rock band) and looked more like a salsa, but I decided to stick to the idea of the pebre.

As usual, I looked at several online recipes and then went with what felt right. Many recipes called for 1/4 cup of water, which in my opinion would have made it much too thin and watery.

Turns out I was right. This was just the right consistency without the water. It looks a lot like my chimichurri, but I suppose that is not too surprising, since they are so similar.

Like chimichurri, pebre's main use is on the grill, with steaks or chicken. But I wanted to make pasta and I was pretty sure it would turn out something like pesto, so I made a batch of pasta and added the pebre and some blanched broccolette that was on sale at Whole Foods.

And it was good. Not spectacular, but good. Maybe there was too much green on the plate, even with the sun-dried tomatoes I added both for color and flavor. The sauce was a little too subtle to make its presence known through the stronger vegetables on the plate. Not great, like I said, but good. But I needed to find something that would highlight the more delicate flavors.

I had only used about a third of the sauce with the pasta. I haven't made pizza since I got back from Texas, so that seemed like the next thing to do. My sister, who was obsessed with all things pesto and experimented with several variations of it, once made me a pesto pizza that was quite good. So I decided to use the remaining pebre on pizza.

I bought some mushrooms (half button and half crimini) at the store and used them with the pebre for the first ball of dough, and it was quite good. I spread the sauce around the dough, then added the mozzarella, the sliced mushrooms, and then the minced garlic, and finally topped it all with Parmigiana Reggiano.

It came out of the oven golden and bubbling and delicious. So delicious I was sorry that I had used all of the mushrooms for that first pizza. What to do for the second?

I thinly sliced two plum tomatoes lengthwise and layered them over the cheese instead of the mushrooms. The result, pictured above, was superb. I think I liked it a little bit more than the mushroom version, although it is really too close to call. I can only imagine what it will be like next time, when I use both.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


1 batch Pizza Dough*
1 batch Pebre**
Cornmeal (approximately 1 Tbsp)
4 ounces (approximately 1 cup) shredded mozzarella cheese
4 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced lengthwise (and/or 6 medium mushrooms, sliced)
6 cloves garlic, minced
Olive oil (for drizzling)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

*Dough can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. You can also make the pizzas separately, at different times.
**Can be made in advance.

Prepare pizza dough and let rise. While the dough is rising, prepare
the pebre. Be sure to let the pebre sit for an hour before using it if
you did not make it ahead.

Move a rack to the bottom slot of the oven and preheat the oven to 475 deg. F.

Sprinkle cornmeal around the bottom of a pizza dish. Using your hands, spread the dough around the dish, allowing for a slightly raised edge. Spread half of the pebre sauce over the dough, then half of the shredded Mozzarella cheese. Layer half of the tomato slices over the cheese, then sprinkle half of the garlic over the toamatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle about 1 teaspoon of olive oil over the tomatoes and garlic.

Sprinkle half of the Parmigiano Reggiano over the pizza. Place the pizza on the bottom rack and cook to for 18 to 20 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and the crust is golden brown.

Repeat with the second ball of dough.

Makes 2 pizzas.

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Makes 2 small pizzas

1-1/4 cup warm water (105 - 115 deg. F.)
1 Tbsp active dry yeast (or two 1/4-oz. packets)
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached white bread flour, plus more for kneading
1/2 cup semolina flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 Tbsp olive oil
cornmeal, for dusting the baking sheet

Combine the flours, salt and sugar in a small bowl and whisk together to mix well. Place warm water in a large bowl and add the yeast, whisking it together. Add the oil, and then the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together.

Turn the mixture onto a floured surface and set the bowl aside. Bring the dough together into a ball and knead, sprinkling more flour over the dough if necessary, until the dough is smooth and elastic and is just at the point where it is not sticking to your hands. Try not to add too much flour. Cut in half and make two balls. Dust with flour and put each ball into a plastic bag (leaving room for it to rise) and put the balls in the refrigerator until you are ready to make the pizza. If you are making the pizzas right away, then just put the dough in an oiled bowl, turning it to make sure it is covered with the oil, and let it rise until doubled, about one-and-a-half hours.

You can also freeze the dough at this point. Just give it time to defrost before you get to work.

Follow the directions for the pizza you are making.

adapted from the recipe on the package of Bob's Red Mill Unbleached White Flour.

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (
Home Cookin Chapter: Sauces

2 cups fresh parsley leaves
2 cups fresh cilantro leaves
3/4 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1/4 to 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup Tbsp olive oil

Combine everything but the oil in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until smooth, then slowly add the olive oil.

Let sit at least one hour before serving. Can be refrigerated up to one week.

adapted from several online recipes.

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Thursday, January 13, 2011

African Chicken with Homemade Ketchup

I was so excited about my homemade ketchup that I hadn't really thought about what I was going to do with it. Other than the obvious, of course, and I wasn't ready to order a cheeseburger and fries just so I could give a test run. The whole point of making my own condiments is so I can eat a more healthful diet, and not as an excuse to eat crap. On the other hand, I suppose I could have looked at it like those people (of whom I used to be one) who order a diet coke with their cheeseburger and fries. And I guess you could look at it from the perspective of every little thing making a difference. Issues of sugar substitutes aside, think how much worse that meal would be with a full-sugar soft drink, or a milkshake.

But I actually have not been tempted at the thought of a cheeseburger, or fries. So I had a jar full of my beautiful home-made ketchup and no plans for it. Until I started thinking about how I could use it.

I don't know where I got the idea to use it instead of tomato sauce for African chicken. I was sure the balance of sweetness and tartness would pair perfectly with the peanut butter and onions, and I was right. It was super delicious. Delicious enough that it is well worth the effort of making my own ketchup just for this recipe alone

To get the recipes, just click on the links. Just substitute ketchup for the tomato sauce for a remarkable dish.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Baking Class: Granola

I hope everyone had a Happy New Year. Mine was about as low key as any evening can get, let alone New Year's Eve. I was at my brother's house, as usual, where we all went our separate ways until around 11:30, when we all gathered in the back room to watch Dick Clark Ryan Seacrest welcome in the New Year. You know things are bad when the high point of your evening is catching the long-awaited reunion/teaming of Backstreet Boys New Kids on the Block. Is it just me, or do they need to rethink their names?

And it wasn't just the evening that was low key. My niece and I have gotten into the habit of setting our goals for the year during that evening so we can get started on them on the first. The closest we got this year was talking about talking about them. So we decided that for us, the new year would start the second week of January. And once we made that decision, it was so much easier to just relax and enjoy the rest of my visit, come home and take a breath, and then get started on the new year.

Which might explain the little vacation I took from Blogging. It was unintentional, but I just couldn't get my brain into blog mode, so I decided to wait until the second week of the new year for that, too. So here we go 2011 - I hope it's a better year for everyone than last year was.

I finally bit the bullet and made myself a batch of granola. Actually, I made several. It has taken me a month or so to get it right. The first batch was dark and toasty, the second batch was underdone, and the third batch almost burned to a cinder in my brother's oven in Austin over the Thanksgiving holidays. Then I re-read the recipe and discovered that I was setting the oven too high. After that, it came out golden and crunchy.

It was smooth sailing after that, and I have been enjoying granola on a regular basis ever since. I have been sharing it with all of my friends (it makes a lot), with great success. I'll have a few handsful for a quick snack and it's quite good sprinkled over yogurt.

But my favorite way to eat is something my sister taught me years ago. As I believe I have mentioned before, she was the first one in our family to discover whole wheat, brown rice, and the benefits of vegetarian eating. That was the first time I became a vegetarian. I think it lasted six whole months.

For breakfast, we would take some granola, grate an apple over it and pour in some milk. It was delicious. The sweeteners in the granola would melt into the milk just like the way sugar cereals would, and the apple added a bright, sweet flavor of its own that elevated the whole thing into a delicious, satisfying way to start the day. The only drawback was that it took so long to grate the apple that it was a bit of a challenge, and it was impossible for me to find a way to make it transportable. So it fell by the wayside along with that first bout of vegetarianism.

After I made the granola and didn't know what to do with it, however, my mind went back to that lovely breakfast and I wondered if there wasn't a way I could make it a little easier. Maybe if I chopped the apple instead of grating it?

I got out an apple, made thin slices, then chopped them up as fine as I could manage. I put it on top of the granola, poured milk over mixture, and took a taste. And was immediately transported back to when I first tried it. The chopped apple works as well as the grated, and I can take the apple to work with me and cut it there, so I can take it to work with me.

This recipe is adapted from Molly Wisenberg's (of Orangette and Bon Appetit fame) adaptation of Nigella Lawson's recipe. This recipe just screams adaptation - you can easily tailor it to your tastes. It can be expensive, so you can adjust the ingredients to help keep it more cost effective. Just keep the basic ratios in mind and you can substitute just about anything anywhere, as long as you have the same wet to dry balance. You can also add anything you want to the cooked mixture - dried fruits, coconut, chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, peanuts - the possibilities are literally endless.

A few notes. The first time I made it, I was too impatient and did not read the instructions clearly and I added the dried fruit before I baked it. Not the end of the world, if you like hard, crunchy, slightly burnt pellets of fruity rock. If not, be sure to add the dried fruit after it comes out of the oven.

When I made this at my brother's house, they didn't have two regular-sized baking sheets with lips, so I used their two oversized sheets. It didn't help that I had the oven too high, but even with it lower the granola was spread to thinly and cooked much faster than it should have, which is why it came out burned to within an inch of its life (it was edible, thank goodness, but just barely). The next time I made it I just one of the oversized pans. It took longer, but worked out much better.

Be sure to take it out and stir it up every ten minutes. Use the cooking time as a guideline; it will stay soft in the oven so you have to go by sight - when it is nice and golden then you know it is done. If you take it out too soon, though, and it is not as crunchy as you would like, simply put it back in the oven and bake it, checking every ten minutes, until it reaches your desired crunchiness.

This was successful beyond my wildest dreams. I fully expected to like it; I did not expect to like it so much that I have made it over six times in the past month or so. It keeps a long time, but it's never stayed around long enough for me to test how long. The recipe says to keep it in the refrigerator, but I haven't bothered and it hasn't been a problem yet. I did still have some here when I was getting ready to leave for Austin for ten days so I put that in the fridge, and it was fine when I got back.

It's a little labor intensive, because you have to check it every ten minutes, but only for about 40 minutes. That's actually a small amount of work for the payoff that you get. Because it has such a great shelf life you can throw some in a bag to take with you wherever you go so if hunger strikes you have a healthy choice on hand and don't have to struggle with the choice between potato chips or fritos.

Do yourself and your friends a favor. Get crunchy and make some granola.

p.s. Do you like the bowl? I made it a few years ago, when I took some pottery classes.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


NOTE: I use the same measuring cup for the applesauce, the brown rice syrup, and the honey, and I measure out the applesauce first, leaving a pretty solid coating when I empty it into the bowl. It coats the cup so the stickier liquids are easier to get out of the cup.

5 cups rolled oats
1 cup raw almonds
1 cup raw pecans
1 cup hulled raw sunflower seeds
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup ground flax seeds*
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1/3 cup brown rice syrup**
1/4 cup honey
2 Tbsp grapeseed or other vegetable oil

Set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 300°F.

In a small bowl, combine all of the wet ingredients. Stir to mix well and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients. Take the time to stir everything together so all of the ingredients are mixed well.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry mix. Again, take the time to stir it well, so that the wet ingredients are fully incorporated into the dry.

Spread the mixture evenly on two rimmed baking sheets. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until evenly golden brown. Set a timer to go off every ten minutes while the granola bakes, so you can rotate the pans and give the granola a good stir; this helps it to cook evenly.

When it's ready, remove the pans from the oven. Stir well - this will keep it from cooling into a hard, solid sheet - and set aside to cool. Set the timer for ten minutes and stir it one more time to make sure it is not sticking to the pan. The finished granola may still feel slightly soft when it comes out of the oven, but it will crisp as it cools.

Store the cooled granola in a large zip-lock plastic bag or other airtight container. The granola will keep in the refrigerator indefinitely.

*Flax seeds have an extremely short shelf life, so if you buy them ground be sure they are fresh, and store them in the freezer.

**Available at Whole Foods or any other health food store. Or, you can substitute with Lyle's Golden syrup.

Yield: about 10 cups

adapted from Molly Wisenberg (who adapted it from a Nigella Lawson recipe) at:

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

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