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Here is the savory Swiss chard tart I tried to trick out today and messed up to an as-yet-undetermined degree (it’s still cooling):

http://www.cookingchanneltv.com/recipes/savoury-swiss-chard-tart-recipe/index.html

The tart-damning modification that kicked off a series of issues was the decision to use my new springform pan. I thought: oh yes! Geological layers of beautiful food – plus I won’t need or want to have a full pie crust’s worth of dough!

So, to make the layer idea happen, I placed jewel-like nubs of roasted squash on top of the Swiss chard mixture before pouring the cream fraiche and egg concoction on top to finish the tart.

It looked like soft orange ships had been wrecked in a sea of dairy – not pretty. But the true trouble started when white liquid began dripping from bottom of the pan, around the edges.

Why did no one tell me spring form pans aren’t water-tight? Isn’t the point of them that you can make molded things in the oven then, voila, remove the sides and serve? Once my sad lunch labor springs free, I will have to investigate if I assembled it wrong or if I just misunderstood the concept of the pan.

The one good modification I made to the recipe was to add in mushrooms in a new way, a duxelle. (Thanks to Peachie Keen for the hot tip.) This French mushroom preparation involves dicing mushrooms really finely then throwing them in a pan with a little butter, minced shallot, and an acid of some kind (vinegar or lemon juice seem popular). The idea is that the mushrooms release all their moisture, which you cook away, and are then left with a rich, savory paste. The end product would be as delicious as part of an entree ensemble (as in this tart) but also could be an egg dish protagonist. I’ll probably add this to risotto right before serving, too.

Finding out about duxelle is incredibly exciting not just because it will make the dish better but because I have found a way to enjoy mushrooms. I’m all about their flavor – it’s the rubbery, molar-slippage texture that I find revolting.

Time to try the tart…

Forensic evidence below:

Duxelle prep

Layering on the squash

Swiss chard (stems and leaves), duxelle, and Gruyere

Squash shipwrecked on dairy seas. MAY DAY.

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A few years ago, my Mom typed up recipes of hers that I like (as well as some random ones, featuring both foods I don’t eat or dishes I’d never seen her cook or even heard about until the recipe appeared in its plastic sleeve). Yesterday, arriving on a red eye flight from Colombia, land of varied potatoes, I went looking in my glossy stack for the recipe for her delicious potato leek soup. It wasn’t there.

When she called to say hello later in the day, I asked her why she hadn’t included this recipe, one of my favorites growing up, and was told in approximate seriousness that “you’d have to be an imbecile not to know how to cook something so simple.” Ah, maternal affection. But she does have a point: it would be pretty hard to not manage to assemble a passable soup out of potatoes and leeks (assuming you know how to clean them and not end up with sandy soup).

That said: When I cook, I can usually imagine how I would prepare a dish if forced to give it a shot without a recipe, but really do prefer speculation in context. I’m happy to modify a recipe, but like to see the theoretically BEST way to prepare something before just trying A way. That’s why I usually read over at least three or four recipes before cooking something myself. It’s not that I’m not capable of creativity or improvisation: it’s simply that, not having gone to cooking school or being a truly dedicated home cook, there’s too many things I don’t know, and it seems as bizarre as it would be frankly dumb to dismiss the accumulated wisdom so easily accessible these days via food blogs and websites or even YouTube videos.

Long story short: I looked up a recipe today for potato leek soup and made it, with some modifications that were in truth very subtle (though not altogether without merit) in terms of overall effect.

I used this Food Network recipe from Emeril, though I consider him the biggest charlatan (at least Rachel Ray doesn’t claim to be more than she is) on the network. His line of jarred pasta sauces – all made with tomato paste instead of actual tomatoes,  and with inferior oil – offends me, in particular. Whatever, though, the recipe looked fairly standard and easily adaptable.

So, what did I change? I’d just read an article on root vegetables in a November issue of The New Yorker and so was itching to incorporate some of the less loved roots veggies of the world. Spurred on to my own rememberances by the author’s description of wisp-light, creamy celeriac soup, I decided to grate this ungainly root into the soup for some complexity of flavor (Idaho/Russet potatoes not being the most nuanced of foodstuffs). Celery root has an appealing bitterness and looks like one of those filamented, inky horrors illustrated in the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books.

Also, I added more butter by a TBSP. The recipe called for only two. Two TBSP for a pot of soup? What are we, ascetic monks? Also, instead of going all leek, I figured that shallots make everything better, so added in a few of those into the bubbling butter, pre-leek. Lastly, I used half and half instead of cream. Cream is seriously intense stuff and if you “treat yourself” as much as I do, you just can’t mess around with anything that heavy at home. Going out to eat is one thing, but there’s definitely something to be said for not throwing all caution to the wind.

Here are some relatively unexciting – but highly descriptive! – photos of the soup stages staged:

Ingredients, looking handsome and wholesome

Pile of soup-thickening grated celeriac, looking for all the world like a heap of Fontina

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble

The final product, whizzed baby food creamy and cast in queasy gold light, compliments of my patchy camera skills

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A friend turned me on to http://www.101cookbooks.com recently, which I hadn’t realized was the creation of one person (and just one facet of the very enviable life of blogger Heidi Swanson) because it comes up so high in search rankings when I lazily troll for recipes involving specific ingredients (versus going to an actual recipe site like http://www.epicurious.com). I was impressed by how cleanly executed and recipe-driven a food blog it is while still being quite personal. I was even more impressed–and by way more senses–by the revelation of a savory muffin recipe I found there.

Now, your regular savory muffin isn’t much to write home about: same basic ingredients as the sweet breakfast standard, but with blueberries swapped out in favor of, say, gruyere and grated zucchini. I don’t turn my nose up at that kind of muffin (though my torrid muffin phase did crest and taper off after age 15) so much as I’m uninspired by them, transparently composed cakelets that they are. So what’s so special about these muffins? They are really mini-quiches, for one, and are aggressively tasty and receptive to flavor experimentation. Secondly, they have cottage cheese and ground almonds as the base: not a combination I would have ever predicted, but the spongy density and general heft and richness were so right, I couldn’t believe I’d never used that kind of mixture as a base for anything before. Also, the fact that this is a “throw everything in the bowl and stir” recipe makes it really easy to make. A good hangover breakfast for the somewhat ambitious (grocery store trips can be prohibitive)!

I don’t even like cottage cheese, usually: it reminds me of the anthropological distance and wistful, lightly naseauating time travel that happens when I scan the diet plates section of the menu at old-fashioned diners. Cottage cheese, tomato slices, served on a bed of romaine with a fruit cup. Or cottage cheese served with bun-less burger patty which, even as a non-meat eater, makes my heart sad.

Ok, back to low-carb muffins. (Low carb for variety, not for low carb sake! I weary of my bread-as-first-fiddle sometimes.) Heidi suggests lots of different flavoring options from chipotle to pesto, but I was taken with the simplicity of chopped thyme and lemon zest. The original recipe calls for sun-dried tomatoes, but those chewy monsters–whose late 90’s omnipresence I’ve still not forgiven them for–are best substituted out. Even after day 3, I was only borderline weary of eating these, and the shredded broccoli and carrot slaw I made to go with them. (NB: 2 parts greek yogurt to one part sour cream with a little sugar and whole mustard makes a great mayo-free dressing for coleslaw-type chilled salads.)

Without further ado, here is the recipe, now twice-removed, from Rose Eliot’s Vegetarian Supercook. My notes are in somewhat alarming caps throughout (can’t find the font color option…):

Sun-dried Tomato Cottage Cheese Muffin Recipe

You can use the flour of your choice in this recipe. The original recipe calls for soy flour (great for people looking for a gluten-free option), I use white whole wheat flour – unbleached all-purpose flour will work as well. To grind the almonds I gave them a whirl in my food processor. You are looking for a flour-like consistency – be sure to stop short of turning them into an almond paste.

1 cup plain cottage cheese (low-fat is fine) TRUE
3/4 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated I’M A CHEESE GLUTTON, AND YOU CAN USE LESS HAPPILY
1/4 cup flour (see headnotes)
1 cup almonds, very finely ground ALMOND FLOUR, 3/4 CUP, WORKED GREAT
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (in oil), finely chopped
1/4 cup basil, finely chopped
1/4 cup water
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400F degrees. Line a muffin pan with medium-sized paper baking cups, you’ll need nine of them.

Put the cottage cheese into a bowl with all but 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese, the flour, ground almonds, baking powder, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, water, and eggs, and season with salt, then mix all together.

Spoon the mixture into the muffing cups 3/4 full, scatter with the remaining Parmesan, and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until set, risen, and golden brown. Serve as hot or at room temperature.

Makes 9 muffins. MY MIX MADE 12. I HAVE NO THEORIES ON THAT, THOUGH.

Here’s the link to the full recipe, post, and comments: http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/cottage-cheese-muffins-recipe.html

The urge to make a wince-worthy thyme/time-related joke for closure is almost too much…Um, yay for a most welcome new (to me) breed of muffin?

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In my family, Thanksgiving dinner is such an important meal, we actually have a “turkey dinner,” as my Dad calls it, for Christmas, too. As a non-turkey eater, Thanksgiving doesn’t exactly set my heart afire, having–for better or worse–had my former obsession with Pilsbury Crescent Rolls, a longstanding holiday staple, wane significantly over the years.

That said, one can still construct a delicious and memorable non-meat plate from the Thanksgiving staples. And, setting aside my commitment to eating out as the less stressful (peace out, dishes), cheaper (have you tried to buy non-Kraft cheese lately?), and more delicious (ok, only sometimes true) approach to feeding myself, I decided to cook up some of my most combinable favorites on Sunday: brussel sprouts and mashed potatoes.

As much as the meal, itself, the key to delicious Thanksgiving-type food is the meal’s projected/imagined later deliciousness, as leftovers. It now being a day later, I have feasted again on the Sunday bounty, so am feeling a light wave of success, which is why I share the recipes, here, with the idea of cooking them together being a good, fairly simple veggie dinner option. Key to liking this somewhat odd and/or incomplete pairing is holding the belief that meals should ideally be comprised of equal parts starch, veggie, and fat, hopefully with some protein part and parcel (say, beans). Without further ado, I present:

Vegetarian Partial Thanksgiving Dinner Meal

Brussel Sprouts

  • I plastic square container Brussel sprouts (1/2 pound?), quartered
  • 2 TBSP honey
  • 3 TBSP red wine vinegar
  • 2 TBSP butter
  • 2 big shallots, sliced
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • splash of water

Add butter to a medium saucepan that’s got some depth/high sides and sautee your shallots on medium heat until they’re soft. Be sure to salt the bejesus out of them. Then, add in the vinegar and honey and let the shallots melt into themselves and get a little caramel-colored.

Throw these in your medium-large serving bowl once not burning hot.

In the same pan, add the olive oil and quartered brussel sprouts. Cook for 10 mins on medium-high heat, stirring no more than every 2 mins to ensure your mini-cabbages have time to properly brown on the edges (but do keep a nose out for burning smells). Pour on a splash of water (3 TBSP?) and let them cook for another 2-3 minutes, making sure you quit when the sprouts are still bright green.

Toss these into your shallot-filled serving bowl, and voila!

Spinach-Garlic Smashed Potatoes

  • 1 lb. red potatoes, the smaller the better (more delicious, nutritious skins)
  • 3 TBS butter
  • I bunch of baby spinach, stems removed
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 TBSP olive oil

Bring a big pot of water to a boil and throw in whole (or halved, if they’re bigger) red potatoes after scrubbing them well. Boil until very soft (but before skins start floating scum-like to the water’s surface…), adding in the washed spinach leaves for the final 1 minute of cooking, to wilt them.

Drain potatoes and spinach in a colander, and return them to the pot, smashing them up with a large fork.

Use your brussel sprout pan to heat up the TBSP of olive oil. Add the sliced garlic and sautee for 2-3 minutes on medium heat. Pour garlic into the pot full of potatoes and spinach, mashing and salting the mixture.

Now serve the two together, contemplating the intensifying of flavors a little mellow refrigerator time will impart to each dish for later!

NB: Brussels sprouts smell baffilingly and succulently of fresh popcorn when cooked in butter.

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For me, food and mood are more intimately related than even orthography would indicate. Beyond the dissociative mania induced by low blood sugar, having a good balance of nutrition, tastiness, and an element of the interesting or new is key to my satisfaction with a meal, and meals are certainly highlights of the day, joining pleasure to necessity with a stakes-raising precision bordering on the alchemical.

My boyfriend brought home a motley clutch of vegetables from a drunken 5am post-party grocery store trip last night/morning. The subsequent lunchtime result–ribbons of melted carrot dyed with earthy beet and counterbalanced by tangy goat cheese, then made meal-ready by the accompaniment of nutty brown rice– was nothing short of mood-altering. Here’s how it went:

VEGGIES:

  • 2 beets, halved and sliced
  • 4 carrots, made into ribbons by a peeler
  • 1 small zucchini, julienned
  • half a big onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • a hefty shake of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 8 oz goat cheese

RICE:

  • brown rice, prepared
  • a bunch of spinach, steamed
  • a handful (1/2 cup?) of cilantro

Sautee the onion and garlic in a few tablespoons of olive oil for 3-4 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and vegetables and cook on medium heat for 20-25 minutes. Pour the fragrant mess into a large bowl with the goat cheese, tossing to coat as the cheese melts.

Puree the spinach and cilantro together and stir into the cooked brown rice.

Salt heavily if you share the love, and serve veggies and rice side by side for a festive, if seasonally displaced, lunch or dinner of Christmas colors made (vegetable) flesh.

Note: I get a little weary of goat cheese, but it becomes a more mellow proposition–and, appealingly, the world’s speediest pseudo-sauce–when used as essentially a dressing for a warm salad, as here.

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