Recently in Pasta, Rice and Grains
Friday, November 5, 2010

quinoa with pine nuts and cumin-lime vinaigrette

quinoa with dried fruit

Can I tell you how hard it is to write a post about quinoa? I’ve been staring at the screen all morning, trying to figure out how to drum up excitement for something perceived as uber-boring. Let’s face it, “health” food isn’t sexy, it doesn’t come with the same cache of chocolate, or caramel, or homemade ricotta. Quinoa is that ingredient you read about in fitness magazines (yawn) and it’s told in health food stores (another yawn). In other words – boring, snooze-inducing, what-your-mom-would-want-you-to-eat food.

quinoa with dried fruit

The fact that there’s no mysterious dark side to quinoa is true. You even feel wholesome eating it – there’s absolutely no guilt associated with it (crazy, right?). There is no food coma afterward. You feel satiated, alert and healthy – it’s kind of boring, really. I’ve only been eating it at the Whole Foods’ salad bar and while always enjoying it, feeling a little bit unexciting afterward; it always tempted me to reach for a piece of bacon post meal (if only there was a piece of bacon to be found!). It might be why I had never previously purchased quinoa for the home.

sunshine yellow pepper

So why am I telling you about something that’s boring? Well, because it happens to be delicious, and shockingly exciting. After we got tired of rice, pasta, and potatoes (did I just write I got tired of potatoes? Someone please check to see if I’m running a fever!) – I decided to look elsewhere for our grain fix. And while reorganizing my pantry, I found a box of red quinoa sitting pretty on one of my shelves. Unsure of how it got there, I checked the expiration date and it seemed fine. And after trying to figure out how it snuck into the apartment, I assumed it must have been something a visitor brought in with them – as this apartment has served as a mini-hotel for so many. Perhaps my mom brought it with her, or maybe it was another sneaky house guest. There it was, staring me squarely in the face, as if issuing a silent challenge, “Can you handle me?”

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

butternut squash lasagna

butternut squash lasagna

I woke up the other night having dreamt of butternut squash lasagna. I often dream about what I’m cooking in real life, and sometimes have dreams about what I might want to be cooking when I wake up. Even while I sleep, my world often revolves around food. Some might find it odd, others – boring, but if nothing else, this dreaming peculiarity led me to gem of a recipe and for that I am forever grateful to that odd head of mine that not only conjures up food ideas, but also offers solutions to real-life pickles I face in the kitchen.

lasagna mise

In my dream, I was sitting at my dinner table, thinking about what to make for supper. The previous night (the awake, real-life part), I had decided upon a braised chicken with Moroccan spices and dates for our Sunday supper, but at the last minute, changed my mind and promised Andrew his favorite soup, scrapping the planned-on lentil soup. That, of course, threw a wrench in the works because no one wants to eat chicken soup followed by a chicken main course. I thought that something vegetarian might be a good, sensible idea, but I couldn’t make up my mind on what that something would be. With my supper plans unresolved, I went to bed with next evening’s meal on my mind.

butternut squash lasagna butternut squash lasagna

In my dream, I was making a list of possible main courses for dinner. I normally make lots of lists and they are strewn about all over the apartment. So it makes perfect sense that I’d be doing the same in my dream, but still, that consistency in my dream struck me as pretty funny.

As I was jotting down possible options, I thought perhaps a vegetable, spinach butternut squash (eureka!) lasagna would be perfect: the autumn flavors of cooked squash, layered with béchamel, and fresh mozarella and Parmesan, sounded perfect.

In general, I prefer my lasagna sans meat, using vegetables instead to create layers of flavor. While lasagna Bolognese sounds heavenly in theory, immediately upon eating a piece, I am compelled to take a nap. For the rest of the night. Even though I adore pasta Bolognese, and could eat it by bowlfuls regularly, the lasagna Bolognese doesn’t quite do it for me. Apparently, I’m not the only one.

butternut squash lasagna butternut squash lasagna

So how did this idea, conceived in the wee hours, come out? Let’s just say that I pray for all my dreams to have such delicious results. The lasagna turned out to be even better than I originally expected. It was delicate, autumnal and felt light as a feather. The combination of the melted burrata and Parmesan gave the butternut squash that unmistakable taste of October – the kind that is accompanied by mulled cider or fabulous red wine. Sage and pistachios, finely chopped and mixed with the squash, added a nice earthy dimension and some needed texture.

butternut squash lasagna

And best of all, no one at the table complained about the absence of meat. Everyone ate their portion and then immediately demanded seconds. A tiny piece was left over at the end of the night, lonely and abandoned in its baking dish. It became part of Andrew’s lunch the next day. Had I known the lasagna was going to be such a hit, I would’ve doubled the ingredients. Unfortunately, my dream never told me to do that. Tant pis. Clearly, there’s some room for improvement with the logistical portion of the dreams, but at least it gets the meals right.

butternut squash lasagna

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

brown rice with chanterelles and caramelized onions

rice with caramelized onions and chanterelles

My mother is a clever and resourceful woman, and that’s not a compliment – it’s a fact. Years of living in Russia trains you to be wired that way, and she is. I’m not sure how she does it, but no matter the season, mom is always prepared for the onslaught of visitors. Should anyone drop in unexpectedly, there is a slew of picked snacks (hello, Russian household), salads, Russian salamis and cheeses, not to mention various cookies, and chocolates, and fruit. Should you choose to show up at 2 o’clock at night, save for the some nasty glares, you’ll be sitting down to a full table in less than ten minutes. It’s that kind of Russian preparedness I have always admired.

rice with caramelized onions and chanterelles

rice with caramelized onions and chanterelles rice with caramelized onions and chanterelles

When I was visiting last month, I volunteered to cook our dinner. I wanted to play with the light in my mother’s beautifully lit kitchen as my own kitchen, lovely as it may be, lacks natural light. I quite liked the soft, diffused daylight from the cloudy day – busying myself with apple sauce, chicken with mustard, and this dish. Earlier that afternoon, I had found a bag of frozen chanterelles in my mother’s freezer and I was curious. I have a soft spot for the yellow mushroom – growing up it was my favorite, and we ate it with abandon. It’s been more difficult, and costly, to find chanterelles in the US, but according to my mother, many Russian stores now carry bags of frozen chanterelles, which is a wonderful, and affordable compromise.

rice with caramelized onions and chanterelles

I decided to throw our old mushroom-chanterelle favorite combination together with some brown rice. We were under time constraints to eat before Yom Kippur started and I needed a quick and low-maintenance side dish. While the components were cooking, I prepared the chicken for roasting, and made a simple salad on the side. And then I curled up with a book in the living room, while our family cat decided to fall asleep at my feet, but not before kneading my soles with his. Sharp claws, is all I have to say on the matter. But the cuteness and the purring totally made up for it.

rice with caramelized onions and chanterelles

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

noodle kugel

noodle kugel

A few weeks ago a reader emailed me and asked me for a recipe for noodle kugel. A delicious mix of egg noodles, cottage cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, eggs, and other awesome stuff, noodle kugel is a traditional Jewish dish particularly popular around the holiday time. Popular, but here’s the kicker – noodle kugel is yet another traditional dish I grew up without. I think this is unacceptable, considering I have some pretty deep shtetl roots to show off. Mom, I’m looking at you – kasha varnishkes, and now this! What else are you hiding from me? This guilt thing, well it can work in reverse too.

yum

Despite being so deprived in my childhood, I’ve made various versions of noodle kugel before, mostly because friends would ask for it, but, frankly speaking, it always left me wanting more. I was the Goldilocks of noodle kugel. It was either too sweet, or not sweet enough, or too goopy, or too noodly. I was looking for the perfect noodle to custard ratio, and I couldn’t find it. It was never just-right. And though it’s in my nature to challenge notions when I hear the I-don’t-like-such-and-such, for some reason, in this particular instance, I just accepted what I thought was a fact about noodle kugel – it was just one of those things that was never going to excite me. In other words – I gave up!

eggshells

But that email above, gave me pause. Maybe it wasn’t the noodle kugel giving me problems. Maybe it was the fact that I failed to think properly about the recipe. What would make it good? What would make it so good, in fact, that I would want to eat it all the time? This weekend, determined to make it work for me, I got in the kitchen and played around with enough proportions and combinations, that by the time Andrew was up and ready to have breakfast, I had the winning recipe, cooling on the table. Andrew, an experienced noodle kugel eater, pronounced it a success, and I’m hoping he wasn’t just being nice because he ate a pretty large piece. I ate two whole plates, which hardly constitutes a “proper” breakfast, but I felt that given my 7 o’clock waking time and making a few batches, I felt I was owed a “treat”. Owed by whom – I’m not so sure, but owed nonetheless.

noodle kugel

I look back on this year (and by year I mean the Jewish calendar year) and I have to say that the second half of it has been particularly, ridiculously good to me. It’s been pretty much the bees’ knees kind of a year, all in all. With a year like this, I can’t wait for what the new one will bring. On the almost-eve I enter the New Year with a delicious, new recipe I perfected, a new tradition, and some second helpings of noodle kugel. If this is what the year is foreshadowing for me, I can’t wait. Shana Tova.

noodle kugel

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Friday, August 13, 2010

couscous, corn, and mushroom salad

couscous salad with corn and mushrooms

Last week was a bit of a whirlwind, and I’m still recovering. Darting between work and blog events and friends’ birthdays can sure be exhausting. I’m dreaming of a beach chair with an umbrella drink and hours upon hours of reading. Alas, a vacation is but a few months away, so I must comfort myself with periodic lazy weekends in Brooklyn! Brooklyn, you complete me!

salad mise

Well, dear readers, last week I got to check out the BlogHer conference in New York, and it was mere minutes away from my office – bonus! The impetus was seeing good friends in town, particularly the lovely Alice Currah, of Savory Sweet Life, who crashed at my place for the weekend and ate some of my homemade mango sorbet! I finally met Kamran, an old twitter friend (amazing what the interwebs has done for us, isn’t it?), in person. And I also got to met Ree, of the incredible Pioneer Woman, and Elise of the encyclopedic Simple Recipes, at the amazing party that Ree, Elise, and Jaden (of the spicy Steamy Kitchen) threw on the roof of the Peninsula Hotel. It was good to see some old friends there: Lisa, Deb, Marc, and Jennie. And meet some new ones whose blogs I’ve been reading for so long. Sadly, I missed saying hi to a few folks as well. Sometimes, it seems, we forget about face time, given how much time we spend online: working, playing, maintaining our lives. In person, face-to-face is so much nicer, I think. While Twitter and Facebook and blogs have been instrumental in building beautiful communities and bringing people together, there’s nothing like saying hello to them and shaking their hand, or hugging them because you feel like you’ve been reading them for so long, you’ve known them forever.

israeli whole wheat couscous button mushrooms!

Martha's Circle Blogger Soiree

On the heels of the conference, the lovely folks at Martha Stewart Circle (see the turquoise circle on the side of this site? That’s them!) threw the most beautiful party for bloggers, with a private tour of the building for their charter members. I was elated to finally meet Mark Ganem, who looks after MC members, after we exchanged a flurry of emails, as well as other folks who work for MSLO (thanks, Amie, for sheparding me through). I finally got to meet Aran, the voice behind one of my favorite blogs, http://cannelle-vanille.blogspot.com/, and Matt Armendariz and Adam Pearson of Matt Bites.

sauteeing mushrooms & onions

We were sent home with a gift bag full of Martha’s publications: Living, Everyday Food, Bride, and Whole Living, and I spent a good portion of the past Sunday curled up in a chair leafing through the complete stack. I remember getting a subscription to Martha Stewart Living at fourteen (along with Gourmet (sob!) and Bon Appetit! I devoured each new issue immediately upon its arrival. I think my parents were relieved I wasn’t reading magazines like YM or Seventeen, but by and large they were puzzled by my addiction. I clipped a whole bunch of recipes, but this one here – really caught my eye. I was contemplating cooking a Sunday supper, when I saw: Israeli couscous, fresh corn, sauteed mushrooms – sold! It sounded simple and fresh – summer embodied.

avocado

I loved the recipe, but made a few tweaks: upping the corn to three ears from two (because there’s no such thing as too much corn, don’t you agree?); and sauteing the mushrooms with the onions (because caramelized onions make everything, and I mean, everything better!); and throwing in some cilantro (because when you ask me to complete a sentence: “Corn, black beans, lime, jalapeno, and…”, I want to shout out “Cilantro!”) I realize all too well that to many folks cilantro tastes like soap, so if you’re one of those people, by all means do leave it out, but I think it works rather nicely here. Also, the recipe didn’t call for whole wheat couscous, but I wanted to try it and loved its hearty bite.

cooking the corn and the scallion whites

Perhaps the weekend following this one, I will whisk Andrew (my plus one has a name!) and myself to Prospect Park, armed with some Arnold Palmers, ripe tomatoes, olives and this salad. We might sit under a tree and read, and snack, and read some more. We might even nap. Summer is passing us by, and I don’t want to waste single moment soaking it in. It’s not quite a beach vacation, but I think it’ll do just fine.

mixing with the corn

couscous salad with corn and mushrooms

Oh Wait, there’s more!! Bonus! Lookie here, I made a wee bit video with the folks at Yahoo! Shine while at the BlogHer conference. I was egged on by Alice – she thinks I do well on camera, but I can’t quite bring myself to watch it. You be the judge!

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

sweet potato gnocchi

sweet potato gnocchi

It is customary, when making something for the first time, to start with the basic building block and build on out from thereon. I, on the other hand, like to raise the stakes a bit. Normally, you’d start with plain gnocchi to get a feel for it, learn how to get them just right before trying a variation. And even though making gnocchi was on my to-do list for quite some time, I fully got on board to make them only after seeing the October Gourmet recipe listed as Ruth Reichl’s Top 10 recipes in the issue. They were sweet potato gnocchi and I pretty much find sweet potato anything irresistible. There was just one catch – gnocchi is one of the dishes that for some reason scared and intimidated me. Hence the reason I haven’t made them yet.

one of these things is not like the other!raw milk parmesan is how i roll
sweet potato gnocchisage from my window!!!

But surely, you must remember what I said to you about fear and conquering it? Well, I decided to put my money where my mouth was and tackle that which made me nervous. If I tell you to be bold, shouldn’t, myself, adopt the very mantra I seemingly espouse?

the potato wellsweet potato gnocchi
my ball of doughrolling the dough

Where do I begin with gnocchi? My love for gnocchi goes beyond words. Made properly they should be like little clouds of goodness, whisking you away upwards to the sky. Made poorly, they’re heavy clumps of dough that stick to the roof of your mouth. In between, they’re perfectly palatable, but once you’ve tasted amazing ghnocchi, that’s pretty much all you think about when you’re eating the so-so ones.

like little pillows

It’s the kind of dish that makes me think: one false move, and it’s ruined. I suppose while something like stewed prunes is impossible to run into the ground, a dish like gnocchi takes practice. You get a feel for the dough, its consistency. You’ll know immediately if needs more flour, or if your potatoes aren’t dry enough.

sweet potato gnocchi

Because these gnocchi are made with sweet and regular potatoes, and there are a few things I’ve learned that I’d like to share with you. First, is that it’s very important to use the right potatoes – Russets have a high amount of starch and lower amount of water, compared to their other spud cousins – and that’s exactly what you want – a nice, starchy potato. Sweet potatoes, however, are much more moisture-laden, so next time I make these, I will cook the sweet potatoes a wee bit longer to dry them out a bit more. Having more moisture in your dough will yield a more doughy gnocchi – and what you’re after are little clouds of goodness; sweet potato goodness, no less!

sweet potato gnocchi

I chose to serve these in (what else?) a little brown butter (because I can and I will) and olive oil sauce where you slightly brown the gnocchi after boiling them, and sprinkle a bit of fried sage and shaved Parmiggiano Reggiano and some freshly ground black pepper. And when I finished my plate and used some bread to absorb some of the residual brown butter sauce, I once again was amazed at how incredibly sublime simple food tastes.A few ingredients, a little time, a hungry me. For that kind of bliss, I’ll raise the stakes any day!

sweet potato gnocchi

Quick note:
Here as Sassy Radish, we’re doing a little bit of maintenance and will be migrating over to a new platform (shhhh, that’s all I can tell you, but trust me it’ll be awesome when it’s done!). So, if things are a little wonky here, please be patient! When all is said and done Sassy Radish will be snappier and sassier and have more functionality than ever before.

Continue reading sweet potato gnocchi.