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2014 0420 IMG_4155 Pea pancakesSpring-flavored pea pancakes even taste green. The combination of crème fraiche and chives and spunky smoked salmon made a perfect counterpoint to the flavorful pillow-y cakes. Everyone at our Easter buffet lunch enjoyed them and I can now add a notch to the list of vegetable-laden pancakes that have been a theme around here for a while. They make great finger food for those fundraising events I am frequently invited to cater.

Peas figure large in our spring gardens. Tendrils of the Austrian winter peas that acted as a cover crop for our former-driveway-turned garden will be clipped and used in salad, or spun into pesto. The extra pea seeds that I didn’t plant have been sprouted into lanky shoots to be sprinkled around as garnish or layered in an egg salad sandwich (they’re pictured on the left aside a chicken salad). Meanwhile, the shoots of bush peas are patiently poking up from cold soil and the climbers are inching their tendrils up poles and along strings.

We won’t be eating peas from our garden for a good month but that doesn’t stop the longing. I used good quality frozen peas for this recipe, which worked just fine. Later on, when local shelling peas are available, I’ll do a side-by-side comparison and will not be surprised if the frozen ones win.

Sweet Pea Pancakes, adapted from Suzanne Goin, The A.O.C. Cookbook

2 c fresh or frozen shelled peas

1½ tbsp butter

1 egg

1 egg yolk

½ c heavy cream

1/3 c all-purpose white flour or gluten-free flour (such as Cup 4 Cup)

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

Optional: finely chopped chives

2 tsp or less butter for the griddle

Topping: Crème fraiche or sour cream mixed with chopped chives and maybe a little Meyer lemon zest, smoked salmon, and maybe some pickled capers

If using fresh peas, blanch them in boiling water for a couple of minutes, drain and cool them. If using frozen peas, thaw them at room temperature for 20-30 minutes until they are soft but not mushy. Place the peas in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.

Meanwhile, in a small pan over medium heat, cook the butter until brown (but not burnt) and pour it into a small cup to cool.

Pulse the peas in the food processor to 20 seconds to chop the peas to a chunky consistency. Add the egg, egg yolk and cream, and process until smooth.

Pour the mixture into a bowl and stir in the flour, salt and pepper. Add the chopped chives if using. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

The batter can be made ahead to this point. It’s best to use it within a couple of hours.

Place a griddle over medium heat until uniformly heated. Add butter to coat the pan and turn the heat down a little. Drop about a tablespoonful of batter on the griddle and cook the pancakes for about 4 minutes, being careful not to brown them too much. Flip and cook for another 3 minutes or so until cooked through.

Serve warm or at room temperature, topped with sour cream or crème fraiche mixed with chives and a small piece of smoked salmon. Capers and lemon zest are other possible garnishes.

Makes 20-30 pancakes depending on the size.

The garden variety of “my blue heaven,” the saga of a 28-pound blue Hubbard squash continues… and continues… 

2014 0412 IMG_4140 Winter squash soup closeupSoup is one of our kitchen rituals. It takes care of any meal (I’m a savory breakfast type), and voluminous produce (even zucchini). It can be premeditated or spontaneous. It’s comforting and nutritious. We all like it.

At the end of the saga of a ridiculously huge squash, and at the beginning of the growing cycle when we are sowing its seeds, we made lunch for our farm buddies. The heart of the lunch was soup made from roasted blue Hubbard squash combined with local sweet potatoes and onions, two other long-lasting crops, plus the kicker, smoky chipotle chili powder. We appreciated the kick, and then the cooling effect of cilantro pesto with sour cream. Yum.

Chipotle Winter Squash Soup with Cilantro Cream

3-4 c roasted mashed winter squash (Hubbard or butternut)

1 medium onion, chopped

1 tbsp light olive or vegetable oil

1 tsp chipotle chili powder

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

3-4 c vegetable broth, light chicken stock, or water

Salt

Optional: chilis in adobo or other pepper to adjust seasoning

Optional: Milk or cream

Optional garnish: cilantro and /or cilantro cream (recipe follows)

Mash the squash well and set aside. In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, saute the onion in oil until translucent. Add the chipotle chili powder and stir to combine. Add the sweet potato cubes and cook slowly for a few minutes. Add half the liquid, cover the pot, and simmer until the sweet potato starts to soften, about 10 minutes.

Add the mashed squash, enough liquid to moisten the ingredients, and about a teaspoon of salt. You will adjust the liquid level later; at this point you are aiming for a loose puree. Simmer, partially covered, until the ingredients have fully come together and the sweet potato is very soft, about 40 minutes.

Puree in a food processor to a smooth consistency, or use an immersion blender. Adjust the liquid (add water if you’re out of broth or stock). At this point, adjust the seasoning. If it’s not spicy enough, add a small amount of sauce from chilis in adobo, or red pepper flakes. Add milk or cream if using.

Serve hot, garnished with cilantro and/or cilantro cream. Serves 6+.

Cilantro Cream. Finely chop ¼ c cilantro (you can use a food processor), and combine with a few drops of olive oil and a pinch of salt to make pesto. Add ¼ c sour cream and mix thoroughly. Thin it with a little milk or cream.

2014 0405 IMG_4116 pepper moussaka finished 2While not exactly a Proustian moment, it started with a seed. I was in the midst of watering spindly seedlings planted from last fall’s thick-walled red peppers – one a squat dumpling and the other an elongated bullhorn – when I craved roasted peppers of any variety. I can hardly wait the 10-12 weeks until these diminutive plants line the garden, much less the months until they yield delicious fruit. Peppers piled high at the farmers market, brought home by the peck, were the stuff of waning summer, crisp days like now at the opposite end of the year. I saved the seeds, but it remains to be seen whether they propagate purely or, because peppers cross-pollinate, they become something entirely else. We experienced a crop of Franken-squash last season.

2014 0405 IMG_4104 Roasted peppersMy craving gained hope when I rescued a couple of hearty organic red peppers from the “soup bin” at our local health food store. I first thought to stuff them with rice enveloped by a spicy sauce of tomato and ground lamb. I made the sauce and was about to parboil the peppers when I realized that they would just get waterlogged. That was the breakthrough. Instead, I roasted the halved peppers, cut side down, in a 400-degree oven until the edges were charred and the sidewalls collapsed, cooked too long for stuffing peppers but perfect for lasagna. Or my alternative moussaka.

2014 0405 IMG_4126 Pepper moussaka servedWith a base of peppers, an intermediate layer of spicy meat sauce, all I needed was a blanket of custard. For an 8×8-inch baking dish, I used ½ cup of ricotta cheese, ½ cup of milk and two lightly beaten eggs gently seasoned with freshly grated nutmeg, a few red pepper flakes and salt. Baked in a 350-degree oven, the light and lovely red pepper moussaka was ready in 30 minutes and rested for ten before being devoured on the spot. This is a dish my mother would call “more-ish,” meaning that one spoonful left you craving more. Now if I just could get that garden started….

2014 0324 IMG_3995 cassoulet of chicken, fennel, sausageLike tagine or daube, cassoulet is named after its pot, the cassole. Typically earthenware, this slant-sided low-slung vessel embraces a hearty combination of meat, poultry, sausage and white beans cooked for hours and served to a crowd. The classic dish hails from the south of France and reminds me of a convivial dinner with family and friends on a wintry evening. This lighter, simpler, and faster version of cassoulet gains its personality from the addition of a fennel bulb, fennel seeds, and homemade fennel pollen salt. It was a perfect early spring supper for two.

2014 0324 IMG_3999 cassoulet of chicken, fennel, sausage servedSince we cook a pot of dried beans just about every week, I had white cannellini beans on hand, but you could use canned beans. In addition to the vegetables, the dish included chicken thighs that were roasted in a hot oven until browned, and sweet Italian sausage. The ingredients are all tossed together with homemade chicken stock, topped with a combination of panko and Parmesan cheese, and baked.

This was delicious the first night but even better the second, when the sausage and fennel seed hit their stride.

2014 0324 IMG_3990 Cassoulet ingredientsChicken “Cassoulet” with Fennel and Sausage adapted from Curtis Stone, F&W

4 chicken thighs or whole legs, trimmed of excess skin and fat

Approximately 1 tbsp olive oil

Salt and black pepper

½ lb sweet Italian sausage (2 links), casing removed

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 medium fennel bulb, halved, cored and cut into ½-inch dice

1 carrot, cut into ½-inch dice

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp minced rosemary needles

2 tsp minced thyme leaves

2 tsp fennel seeds

Optional: fennel pollen salt

2 c cooked dried white cannellini or kidney beans (or use canned)

2 c chicken stock, preferably homemade

½ c panko or bread crumbs

1/3 c grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Lightly brush the chicken with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast on a baking sheet and bake until browned and cooked through, about 30-35 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a deep skillet, heat a little of the olive oil and sauté the sausage until browned and cooked through, about 8 minutes. Pour off excess fat, if any, add a little more oil if needed, and add the onion, fennel and carrot, and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary, thyme and fennel seeds, and cook until fragrant, another 3 minutes. Add the beans.

Place the vegetables and in a shallow roasting dish (you can cook it in the skillet if it has an ovenproof handle). Add the chicken stock. Taste for salt and add salt or fennel pollen salt. Nestle the chicken legs in the stew. Mix together the panko and cheese and pat on top.

Bake in the upper third of the oven until the stew is bubbling and the topping is crisp. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

Serves 4.

Pulled Pork Chili

2014 0323 IMG_4004 Pulled pork chiliWinter’s cold blasted so long that I’m onto a third chili adventure. At once smoky, sweet and spicy, this one is hearty fare based on pulled pork, a summer barbecue favorite. Like other chilis I’ve made this year and last, the idea came from a cook-off at Whole Foods around Super Bowl Sunday, when various departments in the store compete for the best dish. Of course, wouldn’t you know, they also try to use the greatest amount of packaged ingredients to boost sales. I therefore always dial the recipes back to basics. This one came from the Marketing Department and was called “Val’s Smokin’-Sweet Pulled Pork Chili.”  I thought it was a little sweet and not hot enough, a little heavy on meat versus beans and peppers, so I ran with the idea but overhauled the recipe.

You start by smoking or slow-roasting dry-rubbed pork butt for hours and then shred it with a pair of forks. I did this the day before, cooking the pork in the oven for 6 hours at 250 degrees.  I added most of a bottle of dark beer halfway through, a good trick for making the pork moist. I cooked black beans in the oven at the same time. After a couple hours of soaking in water, the beans and their liquid went into the warm oven until tender, about an hour.

This made nearly a gallon of chili, though you could cut back on the liquid. I actually liked it soupy when served in a bowl, but strained off some of the liquid when serving it wrapped in a tortilla. It froze well, which was a good thing, since I like to feed workers who come to our house to fix or build things over weekends but I rarely know when to expect them. This was perfect for those hardy hungry guys. They were as grateful for the chili as I was for their work.

Pulled Pork Chili inspired by a Whole Foods Chili Cook-off

2½ to 3 lb pork butt

Dry rub (2 tsp each paprika, salt, onion and garlic powder, dried oregano and thyme)

12-oz bottle of dark beer

¾ lb (about 11/3 c) dried black beans, or 2-3 15-oz cans, drained

2 tsp vegetable or olive oil

4 slices bacon, diced

1 large onion, diced

1 tsp salt

1 tsp chipotle powder

½ tsp smoked paprika or pimenton

2-3 tbsp chili in adobo sauce

1 tsp dried oregano or 2 tsp chopped fresh oregano

2 red Bell peppers, seeded and diced

1 orange or yellow Bell pepper, seeded and diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 qt canned tomatoes, chopped, or 1 32-oz can

1 qt meat stock (I used chicken), or 1 32 oz container

¼ c molasses

2 tbsp cider vinegar, or a combination of cider and balsamic vinegar

Optional: ¼ c smoky prepared barbecue sauce (use to round out flavors)

Garnish: cilantro leaves, lime juice combined with sour cream

Heat the oven to 250 degrees. Place the pork in a roasting pan. Combine the dry rub ingredients and coat the pork. Roast, uncovered, for 6 hours. At the 3-hour mark, add the beer. When the pork is done, set it aside until slightly cooled, and shred it with the grain, using a fork. I use two forks, one to hold the meat and one to shred it. You can cook the pork in advance.

If you are starting with dried beans, soak them in ample water in a Dutch oven with a lid when you put the pork in the oven. Around the same time that you add the beer to the pork, amply salt the bean water and place the pot, covered, in the oven. Check the beans after an hour. When tender, remove them from the oven and set them aside (drain them if they seem soft to avoid over-cooking. You can cook the beans in advance.

When you are ready to make the chili, place the oil and diced bacon in a large, heavy pot over medium heat and cook until browned. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add salt, pepper spices and oregano and stir to combine, cooking until they are fragrant.

Add the diced peppers and cook until softened. Add the minced garlic.

Add the tomatoes, stock and molasses, cook over medium heat for about 30 minutes or until the mixture starts to come together.  Add the vinegar, taste for seasoning and add more chili in adobo sauce if needed.  Add more stock or water if it seems too thick.

Add the pulled pork and cook for another 30 minutes over low heat. The chili should be quite well combined by now, Add the beans, which have been drained of any liquid and cook for another 15 minutes or so. Adjust by adding prepared barbecue sauce if you want. (I didn’t, but the original recipe used it.)

The chili can be cooked in advance since it will improve in flavor by the next day.

Serve with chopped cilantro and a dollop of sour cream that’s been flavored with lime juice.

Serves 8.

The garden variety of “my blue heaven,” a saga of a 28-pound blue Hubbard squash continues…

2014 0322 IMG_3982 Squash soup chai spicesWinter squash plays well with others. It is adaptable to a variety of herbs and spices and complements other foods. This soup was based on infusing simmering milk with chai spices and adding it to squash puree to make a creamy, aromatic and delicious result. I used a cup of low-fat milk but you could use anything up to full cream according to your preference for “mouth feel” and tolerance for cholesterol. I set the milk mixture aside for the 30+ minutes it took to make the soup base. The soup base was simple: onions and squash puree simmered in lightly salted water. It did make a difference to puree the soup thoroughly before gradually adding the milk, poured through a strainer to capture the spices. 

My squash was already roasted. If yours is raw, cut it into large pieces, and roast it cut side down in a 350-degree oven until soft. Let it cool and scoop the flesh from the shell. 

Creamy Winter Squash Soup with Chai Spices

1 c milk (low-fat is fine)

½ tsp each coriander seeds, cardamom pods, allspice, and black peppercorns

1-inch piece of cinnamon bark, crushed

4 cloves

½ star anise (optional)

2 tsp butter or vegetable oil

1 medium onion, chopped

3-4 c roasted winter squash (such as butternut, blue Hubbard)

Approximately 2 c water, depending on the density of the squash

Salt

Garnish: cilantro leaves, Korean red pepper flakes

Heat the milk in a saucepan over medium-low heat just until it starts to simmer. Remove from the heat. Lightly crush the spices and add them to the milk, steeping them for about 30 minutes, or until the soup base is prepared.

Heat the butter or oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat and add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent. Add the squash and some of the water, stirring to smoothen the texture of the squash. Adjust the liquid, remembering that you will add the milk later.  Add salt. Simmer the soup over medium-low heat until thoroughly cooked, about 20-30 minutes.  Puree in a food processor or with an immersion blender and return to the stove. Strain the spices from the milk and add it to the squash mixture. You may not want all of it. Simmer for 10 minutes. Do not let the mixture boil.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with cilantro leaves and a dash of Korean red pepper flakes.

Serves 4.

2014 0316 IMG_4060 Irish soda biscuitsSupermarkets are piled high with Irish soda bread for St. Patrick’s Day.  Traditionally made with only flour, baking soda, sour milk or buttermilk, and salt, soda bread can be a dry affair. Add some raisins, and it becomes more flavorful, and more colorful as it assumes the moniker “spotted dog.”  (A relative of the raisin pudding known as “spotted dick?”)

I passed up the supermarket variety, opting instead to follow the lead of Melissa Clark, food writer at The New York Times, and whip up a batch in only 30 minutes.  Calling hers “soda bread buns,” she added sugar, butter and an egg to the traditional four ingredients, and folded in caraway seeds and currants. She also used a combination of white flour and whole wheat pastry flour, which imparted a slightly nutty taste while still yielding a tender crumb. Clark’s recipe gave measurement in both weight and volume. I tend to favor weight when working with flour and here it was a good thing. My all-purpose flour was heavier than hers, possibly since I used unbleached. As with drop biscuits, you need a light hand when combining the wet and dry ingredients or you will end up with hockey pucks.

I liked Clark’s suggestion to shape the dough into eight patties instead of one big loaf. This allows every bite to savor the delicious crust. Whether authentic or not, these were light and fabulous served fresh from the oven. If not consumed immediately, they’re best served within mere hours of baking, though toasting or griddling them the next day works great. I won’t wait until St. Patrick’s Day to make them again. 

Oh, and remember to follow tradition and snip a cross into the top of the dough before baking. It lets the bad spirits out. You can always use the luck of the Irish.

Irish Soda Biscuits with Caraway and Currants adapted from Melissa Clark, New York Times

115 grams (1¼ c) all-purpose flour plus more for dusting

95 grams (¾ c) whole wheat pastry flour

55 grams (¼ c) sugar

1½ tsp baking powder

¾ tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

3 tbsp cold butter, cut into small cubes

1 large egg, room temperature

2/3 c buttermilk, room temperature plus a little more for brushing

2/3 c currants (or raisins)

1½ tsp caraway seeds

Heat the oven to 375 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper (or lightly oil it).

Place the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl and stir to combine.

With a pastry cutter or your fingers, work the cold butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture forms coarse crumbs.

Lightly beat the egg in a small bowl and stir in the buttermilk. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just until moist dough forms. Lightly fold in the currants and caraway seeds.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Pat it into a circle about 7 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick. Cut the dough into 8 wedges. With lightly floured hands, pat each wedge into a ball and place it on a baking sheet, leaving 2 inches or so in between.

Snip a small “x” in the top of each biscuit with a pair of scissors. Brush the tops lightly with buttermilk and lightly sprinkle with flour.

Bake until golden brown and slightly firm, 20-25 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes on a rack before serving.

Makes 8 three-inch biscuits.

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