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Archive for the ‘recipes: small savory snacks/sidedishes’ Category

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I adore eggplants. People complain about their tough skin, strange, seedy innards, and pallid white-green flesh, but I find that they’re elegant and so confident in their glossy rotund bodies and handsome purple hue. Eggplants make me happy with their classy adaptability: they can be prepared in a million different ways so you never get tired of them. On our honeymoon, I put on a purple t-shirt dress and asked H., “Do I look like an eggplant?” “Yes,” he replied and explained to our friend, “She takes this as a compliment.”

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I like eggplant broiled, mashed and cooked with spices until it becomes hot, soupy, baingan bartha, shoveled in my mouth with naan; I like it roasted and mixed with yogurt for a cool summer raita and I love eating eggplant with tomatoes and milky mozzarella, olive oil and salt. Of course, I like babaganoush, eggplant parmigiana, and eggplant in spicy garlic sauce and I plan on learning to make all of them. But last week, I made an eggplant caponata that was so deliciously intense, winey and dark and romantically simmering with flavor that instead of making one of the aforementioned dishes, I’m going to make this caponata again, today, using the dark plump beauty sitting in my fridge.

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I think this eggplant, slick with slow-cooked flavors, is perfect for wooing a sweetheart with your romantic prowess in the kitchen or for wooing yourself when you’re despondent and in the mood for a soul-satisfying dish. Preparing this caponata takes a little time but pressing your knife into the tight skin of an eggplant, softening carrots for a tomato sauce, and adding a cloud of cinnamon so the saucepan smells like spring flowers is sure to banish your I Miss Living In New York Blues, or I Miss the Spring and the Fall Blues or I Miss My Friends Most Of All Blues or really, whichever blues you might be feeling.

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Cooking this caponata lets you mull, and daydream, and hum when you’re finally feeling up for it, because sweetening the eggplant in the browned onions and prunes takes time, and making the pungent tomato sauce that the cubed eggplants absorb takes time; and in that time, after all those minutes spent chopping and stirring and wallowing in the smoky, certain smells of cooking eggplants and tomatoes, cinnamon and thyme, you will most likely feel better and ready- for what’s next, for the first forkful of caponata, which will be resonant with sweetness and spice and all that you hunger for, and have, right in front of you, on your plate.

You can eat this caponata on toasted bread, or with pasta, or with nothing else at all.

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Eggplant Caponata to Fix the Blues
adapted from Molto Italiano

makes 8 servings

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large red onion or about 3 medium-sized Indian onions
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 Tbsp. pine nuts
3 Tbsp. dried prunes
1 Tbsp. hot red pepper flakes
2 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (about 4 cups)
1/2-1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
3/4 cup basic tomato sauce
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground pepper

1. In a 10-12 inch saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Add the onion, garlic, pine nuts, prunes and red pepper flakes and cook until the onion is softened, 4-5 minutes. Add the eggplant, sugar, cinnamon and cocoa and cook for 5 minutes.

2. Add the thyme, tomato sauce (recipe below) and vinegar and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. (The caponata can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

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Basic Tomato Sauce
from Molto Italiano

makes 4 cups

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, cut into a 1/4-inch dice
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme, or 1 Tbsp. dried thyme
1/2 medium carrot, finely shredded, or 1 whole red Indian carrot, shredded
3.5 – 4 cups blanched whole tomatoes, skins removed (about 15 Indian oval tomatoes) or two 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes

1. In a 3-quart saucepan, heat, the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and light golden brown, 8-10 minutes. Add the thyme and carrot and cook until the carrot is quite soft, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the tomatoes, with their juice, and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer until as thick as hot cereal, about 30-40 minutes. Season with salt. The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 6 months.

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After the glorious indulgences of our honeymoon, which included a full spread of such items as almond croissants, roquefert cheese on toast, eggs florentine and brioche french toast every morning, H. and I decided we needed to conscientiously watch our diet for a while.

eggs florentine at uufa

We both came back, relaxed, tanned, and a few pounds heavier. Knowing H.’s penchant for rich foods and my desire to bake when bored, I’m not sure how long this “diet,” will last; though, actually, I wouldn’t even call it a diet, just an effort to eat more carefully and incorporate more of these foods into our meals.

So we started with the beet. Last night we made a beet tzatziki inspired by the one I had eaten at Sofra, a Middle Eastern bakery/cafe in Cambridge started by Ana Sortun, the James Beard award-winning chef behind another Cambridge restaurant, Oleana and the author of Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean.

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My friend R. took me to the sunny cafe when I visited home in dreary January and to start, we ordered the mezze platter. The mezze I liked the most was the beet tzatziki, which was surprising, because, to tell you the truth, I don’t like beets that much. I eat them all the time because they are good for me, but I always feel like they’re missing depth; I want something to round out their initial metallicy sweetness. But one bite of Ana Sortun’s tzatziki fixed my beet hang-ups.

Her beet tzatziki is a vivacious salad, bright and snappy yet supported by a cooling, herby depth. Rich and mellow from the ultra-creamy yogurt enveloping the virtuous shredded beets, it’s also herby from the grassy dill. Loads of garlic and a few squeezes of lemon liven up the dish till it has a spicy-sweet, creamy kick and its provocative pink color enticed us into following our heaping first helpings with seconds, and then thirds.  I don’t know about calories or whatnot but when you’re using such basic, healthy ingredients- beets, yogurt, olive oil, dill- you can only be doing your body good.

beet tzatziki

H. and I adapted the recipe to suit our tastes; basically we doubled the amount of garlic, lemon and dill from the original to give our tzatziki a livelier bite. If you want, try the original first (just halve the amounts of garlic, lemon and dill in the recipe) and see if you’re still looking for something more.

Beet Tzatziki
adapted from Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean, by Ana Sortun

5 baby beets
2 teaspoon minced garlic
4 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt
2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt, preferably Greek-style, or 2 1/2 cups regular yogurt, strained through a cheesecloth (which will result in about 1.5 cups of yogurt)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Black pepper

Boil beets until tender. Once cool, rub skin off beets and coarsely grate.

In a mixing bowl, combine garlic, lemon juice and 1 teaspoon salt, and let sit for about five minutes.

Stir in strained yogurt and olive oil, then beets and dill. Add salt and pepper to taste, and chill until ready to serve.

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I’m home for a few days. I like looking out at the trees in our backyard, some with curving leaves still hanging from branches, rusty hooks suspended against the bleak sky. On the ground the leaves look chalky, shivering and scattering when the wind blows. It feels like fall, but Hi, spring. You’ve finally arrived. On a walk I spotted tiny nubs on branches, dark knots framed by gray, soon to unfurl glossy new leaves.

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Last weekend we cooked for a few hours for a late lunch party, climbing out on the fire escape in between dishes to breathe. The sun was throwing gold on us and our forbidden jungle of a backyard.

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We made an Onion Tart with Mustard and Fennel that turned out surprisingly well. I was worried that the dough wouldn’t rise- it was my first time working solo with yeast- but I placed the bowl in a sunny spot and in a little over an hour, a smooth, shiny balloon had formed. In that hour, we slow-cooked three pounds of onions until brown and sticky-sweet, brightened by fragrant fennel seeds. I punched out the dough on a baking sheet and spread a spoonful of mustard across it, then heaped on the onions and sprinkled the Parmesan, dry and sharp.

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After around 30 minutes in the oven, the crust had baked to a crisp, tender, pizza-like dough. The various elements melded together beautifully. The sweet, fennel-speckled onions sitting atop the spicy mustard and covered with a layer of bumpy, browned Parmesan formed a tart that exploded with possibilities of the nutty, the sweet and the heat. It tasted like a new season.

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We also made Sauteed Swiss Chard with Sliced Garlic, gorgeous and juicy (and healthy), a bowl of savory flowers. We added lemon and hot chile flakes to the original recipe to give it an edge.

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We served the swiss chards and the onion tart with L’s excellent turmeric-tinged breakfast potatoes and an Algerian Fennel and Carrot Slaw with Olive Dressing. We had made the salad a couple days back and as the sweet fennel and crunchy carrot sat marinating in the warm oils from the olives and sundried tomatoes, it evolved into a full-bodied cold entree.

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Many more Saturday lazy lunches to come!

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Rice is the undisputed queen of making me awesome mix CDs. Before her mixes, I received compilations that I listened to with a sense of obligation- you know, the kind you trade with your psuedo-boyfriend in middle school but never really get into because both your tastes are still ill formed. But Rice’s mixes, which started in high school, were the first that I ever took seriously, listening to once and then over again, and again, on repeat. Her tastes are diverse and her unearthing abilities impressive- she can find old hip-hop, obscure indie tunes, classics, mashups, rock, sad melodies, energetic jumping songs, British stuff- and she has a gift of figuring out exactly what her friends want to hear. She left for Italy yesterday to work at Spannocchia, a farm where she’ll learn how to craft prosciutto and practice sustainable agriculture. Here are some snapshots from her goodbye party, which took place Saturday night.

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A pile of thinly sliced portobello
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Olive oil dressed sweet potato chips with Parmesan, parsley, salt, and pepper
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Sticky taleggio, parsley, and parsnips

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Hanami Ale is the spring seasonal beer from NH-based Smuttynose. I loved the cherry blossom label and the slightly sour taste, and surprise surprise- I’m suddenly itching to visit DC to see the blossoms!
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Jugalbandi‘s versatile roasted parsnips, a quick and simple party food that’s proven to be a favorite among my friends.

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Taleggio and portobello pizza with caramelized leeks and fresh garlic, parsley and lemon rind. We made the dough but we felt turned out more like springy focaccia than the crispy crust promised from the recipe. Still tasty.

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If you’re making the trek down to Tribeca, stop by Mangez Avec Moi for vegetarian-friendly Southeast Asian cuisine with a array of soul (fake) chicken options. Mangez Avec Moi’s menu spans across Asia, hitting China, Thailand, and Vietnam, although I’m not sure which country is the lucky home to these Sticky Rice Pancakes.

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I approached these hefty pancakes cautiously, taken aback at their size. I didn’t know what a sticky rice pancake entailed and I was worriedly anticipating a rice cake. Thankfully, these were anything but boring; upon cutting a piece of one, fragrant steam rose from the glutinous rice. A coating of fried egg gave these pancakes a crispy, salty skin that contrasted appealingly with the chewy filling, and for pancake perfection, I crowned my piece with the scallions and a quick dip in the sauce. Sharp and sweet, these pancakes were packed with punch.

Mangez Avec Moi is at 71-73 West Broadway, near Warren St., New York, NY. (212) 385-0008

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On Saturday night, Anthony and I threw our Bermuda Sleighbell Groundhog Day party. Bermuda Sleighbell refers to a drink recipe in which Jamaican ginger beer is mixed with whiskey or rum. The combination- warm, spicy, sweet, but above all, refreshing, was our drink of choice for this party. My favorite was the ginger beer mixed with the $4 champagne from the store around the corner. $4 champagne, when mixed with other, tastier beverages, is not that bad.

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As for the food, we were quite ambitious, as usual. We wanted to make one baked good, and fortunately, I found these instructions for Groundhog Day Cupcakes, which I used as I guide to make the shining stars of the evening. They look slightly evil, but also pretty cute, so they fit in well with the mischief-merry mood of the party. I’ll post my decorating instructions below.

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And finally, this picture illustrates our attempts at making the jerk sauce that we used to marinate vegetables before we roasted them, for our jerk-roasted vegetables side dish. We found a recipe for jerk sauce here, and after doubling it, followed it religiously. (Missing labels in the picture: thyme, black pepper, lime, rum; this picture was taken before we added those ingredients.) Of course, it was INSANELY spicy, just incredibly, painfully, spicy. And we had a whole blender full of it. So we bought some yogurt and mixed spoonfuls of the sauce into a much larger proportion of yogurt, and added some oil, and salt, and then used that sauce to marinate sweet potatoes, parsnips, onions, and regular potatoes. Once we toned down the insane heat, the sauce was pretty delicious; with so many scallions, it was bound to be good. I would recommend NOT doubling the recipe, perhaps adding a little oil to the ingredients before blending, and then mixing the blended paste with yogurt, because the paste will still be spicy. But if you store the paste in a separate container, and mix small quantities with yogurt when needed, you’ve got yourself a handy supply of very good marinade.

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Elana and Janki’s instructions on how to make Groundhog Day Cupcakes, adapted from here. You can use any type of cupcake (chocolate, vanilla, coconut…) as your base, but it should taste good with the coconut filled Almond Joys.

Ingredients

• Baked cupcake
• Almond Joy candy
• White frosting
• White jelly beans
• Chocolate sprinkes
• Watermelon slice candy
• Chocolate chips

Cut out a piece of cake from the center of a baked cupcake. Set the Almond Joy upright in the hole, then spread white frosting on the cupcake.

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For the groundhog’s eyes, cut a white jelly bean in half, use frosting to stick the pieces in place on the groundhog’s face, and then make pupils by sticking one chocolate sprinkle in the center of each halved jelly bean. For the nose, either cut a tiny triangle from a watermelon slice candy (which is difficult) or cut pink jelly beans in half, which is easier and works just as well. For the ears and cheeks, stick chocolate chips on with frosting. Sprinkle chocolate sprinkles around the partially emerged groundhog for dirt. After showing off your creation, eat, but beware of probable sugar highs. These cupcakes are extremely sweet.

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I was intrigued when I found a recipe for Roasted Parsnips with Rosemary, Chilli and Lime on Jugalbandi. We made these in addition to our dumplings the other night. Very easy and another savory, unusual snack. We coated thick rounds of parsnips with olive oil, salt, and cayenne, spread them out like pale flowers on the baking sheet, and topped them with sprigs of piney rosemary. We roasted them until the middles of the slices browned and bloomed, then decorated them with another dusting of cayenne and drops of tart lime juice. The parsnips softened to a buttery sweetness inside their crispy, cayenne-coated skins and tasted great with the woodsy aroma of the rosemary and the tart lime.

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Slender but heavy lighter-skinned parsnips are generally the freshest and sweetest.

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