cooking

A Plant's-Eye View of the World

Michael Pollan has written more than a half dozen books on humans' essential relationship to plants. But my favorite remains, The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World.

In The Botany of Desire,  Pollan looks at four epic tales—the Irish Potato Famine, Johnny Appleseed, the Dutch Tulip mania and the ongoing debate around marijuana. And he illustrates just how these particular plants thrive largely because of their successful domestication of us!

Our mutually beneficial relationship with these plants has helped them thrive sometimes at our own expense: our reliance on a monoculture of potatoes, for example, caused a mass famine and emigration from Ireland;  the planting of crab apples in America encouraged alcohol consumption among early settlers;  tulips leveled the 17th century Dutch economy;  and marijuana still sparks political debate.   Pollan is a thoughtful and accessible writer. His Food Rules - especially as illustrated by Maira Kalman - is another great read.

Citibike route: Brunch to Bouldering

Our new favorite route to ride a Citibike is from brunch at the South Street Seaport's Made Fresh Daily bakeshop—over the Brooklyn Bridge—to Dumbo Boulders.

Made Fresh Daily is a sweet café in hundred year old former ice-house on cobblestoned Front Street. Their name says it all: everything they serve is Made Fresh Daily including housemade hummus, soups, chilis, and baked goods. The Weekend Brunch menu includes pancakes, all kinds of delicious eggs, sandwiches and salads.

The bike ride itself is a breathtaking twenty minutes best done in the early morning before the crowds. Be sure to bring sunscreen, sunglasses and/or a hat because there is no shade on the bridge. (And practice Brooklyn Bridge etiquette - staying in the bike lane).

At Dumbo Boulders where you can exert yourself climbing with a $9 daypass (gear included). 

If you're new to Citibike - you can go online to ensure there are bikes available at Peck Slip and Front Street just a block from the bakeshop.  Even better, download the Citibike app. Pay right at the docking station with a credit card ($13.50 for a day pass that allows you to ride 30 minutes at a time before checking in or docking). We like to request a paper receipt to keep track of our docking code. Just enter your code and your bike will be unlocked. Then use the app to find a convenient docking station when you get to Brooklyn. There you can pick up another bike anytime throughout the day to explore Brooklyn Bridge park, or head back to Manhattan. 

 

Lemony Sweet Corn and Sweet Pea Salad

This is a tart twist on the three bean salad that includes farm fresh summer corn, sweet peas and lemon thyme.

Julienne two cups of sweet peas lengthwise. Remove kernels from one fresh ear of corn. Mix with 15 ounces of chickpeas and 15 ounces of black soybeans (either drained and rinsed from a can or freshly soaked overnight).

Put the juice of one lemon (roughly 1/2 cup) and an equal amount of olive oil in a jar with a tablespoon (or less) of dijon mustard and a tablespoon of fresh lemon thyme leaves. Shake to emulsify. Add sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste.

Toss together vegetables and vinaigrette and chill for about an hour before enjoying. You can also throw the last few servings of this into a summer salad or gazpacho.

Marinating Bocconcini in spring herbs

Marinated bocconcini is a year-round favorite because it lasts and lasts and lasts (until we devour it!).

We bake it into focaccia, melt it on pizza, toss it with cherry tomatoes and vinegar and call it a salad.

Readily available at just about any market (but more delicious if purveyed locally), it's super easy to marinate with whatever flavors you have on hand - lemon zest, black peppercorn, rosemary. This week we combined lemon thyme, parsley, spicy nasturtium, sea salt and red pepper flakes.

Simply rinse your bocconcini, put it in a sterilized glass jar, add herbs and enough olive oil to cover the very top of the cheese. Keep it in the refrigerator and eat it any which way you can as fast as you can! 

Bouquet Garni

 

The classic French bouquet garni is a bundle of fresh thyme, parsley, and a bay leaf tied with string. We tied this one with a tiny white carrot we found in the garden.

If you’re growing your own herbs you can bundle them at the end of the season and let them dry in anticipation of making stockBundle them with butcher’s twine and dry on a drying rack (ours doubles as a pizza tray). Or cinch them into a small square of cheesecloth and add a teaspoon of whole black peppercorn, star anise and two cloves of garlic.

You can also liven up your bouquet by adding other herbs like rosemary, basil, tarragon, or savory. Throw in some Asian accents like lemongrass, lemon verbena or kaffir lime. 

 
 
 
 

Making Vegetable Stock

 

A tetrapak of vegetable stock is a pantry staple - but homemade vegetable stock is almost effortless to make - especially if you are a dedicated composter. Compost is so loaded with the stuff of a hearty vegetable stock, you can easily divide your compost bin in two - dedicating one to 'stock'.

Just save your washed, chopped vegetable scraps in the freezer throughout the week - no cover necessary. Avoid stinky brassicas and red beets. Throw in ginger, lemongrass or kaffir lime if you want to make an Asian broth. Look for a ratio of 2 cups veggies to 1 cup stock.

Once you have about four cups of scraps - including the equivalent of least one onion, two carrots,  three celery stalks, and four cloves of garlic - you're ready to begin. Other great vegetables to toss in include:

  • asparagus
  • beet greens
  • bell peppers
  • carrots
  • celery
  • fennel
  • leeks
  • lettuce
  • mushrooms
  • potatoes
  • squash
  • tomatoes

To make stock,  you can either roast or boil your vegetables.

To roast,  toss your scraps with olive oil and sea salt on a parchment paper lined baking tray and roast at 450F until tender (about 45 minutes). Then put them in a blender with enough water to cover them.

To boil - consider using an asparagus pot with a built in strainer. Include a bouquet garni,  a teaspoon of whole peppercorn, a tablespoon of sea salt, two cloves of garlic and some star anise. Add enough water to cover and simmer over low heat for at least an hour - stirring occasionally.  

Whichever method appeals to you, when finished, strain through a cheesecloth lined colander to separate out your now compostable veggies from your broth. Stock freezes well in plastic containers and/or big ice-cube trays if you expect to need smaller amounts for a risotto, for example. Cool before freezing.

 

'70s Suburban Mac 'n Cheese

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I imagine this mac 'n cheese - with a crunchy topping of wheatgerm - was born somewhere in the wilds of the suburban New Jersey in the 1970s. I can only tell you that we found it instantly addicting in the early '80s and it became the standard mac 'n cheese in our house.

 

  • 16 oz. ziti or penne
  • 8 oz. grated sharp cheddar
  • 12 oz. Heinz chili sauce
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup toasted wheatgerm

Preheat your oven to 350F and line a small jelly roll pan with parchment paper.

Cook pasta until al denté (do not overcook!). Drain the pasta, and return it to the warm pan. Toss the pasta with chili sauce,  sharp cheddar, and unsalted butter until cheese and butter are melted. 

You can bake the pasta in a 9x12 glass or ceramic baking pan or, if you prefer it crunchy, on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with 1/4 cup milk. Top with wheatgerm.

Bake at 350F for twenty minutes (or until desired crunchiness is attained).

Best Molasses Roll Cookies

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Molasses roll cookies in the shapes of leaves, acorns, and squirrels are a sweet Thanksgiving tradition  dating back a good forty years when I was first trusted with a rolling pin and a one foot square of the kitchen counter.

Over the years I've looked for the perfect recipe to make spicy, gingery cookies that are moist, not crunchy. This recipe - published by Food & Wine circa 1996 is by far the best. It's easy to assemble and perfect for rolling, You can even make and freeze the dough in advance. (I flew New York to Atlanta with frozen dough in my suitcase and it arrived at perfect temperature!)

  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 Tbsp cocoa
  • 5 tsp ginger
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup unsulphured molasses

Sift together all dry ingredients onto a piece of parchment paper. Cream the softened butter with the sugar. Beat in the egg, then gradually beat in the molasses. Slowly pour and beat in the sifted dry ingredients. Chill dough for at least an hour. Roll the dough out 1/4 in think and cut. Bake at 350F on parchment lined tray for 8 minutes.

 

Arugula Pesto

 

The classic Italian basil pesto with extra-virgin olive oil,  garlic, toasted pine nuts and mediterranean sea salt is incomparable.  But what do you do when summer basil disappears from the farmer's market before you've stashed some in the freezer?

Substitute greens!

Basic pesto ratios are easy to remember:

  • two cups greens  
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup grated parmesan
  • 2 Tbsp toasted nuts
  • 1 tsp salt

You can add the juice of a lime to add some zest, substitute pine nuts with garbanzo beans for a nut-free meal, or throw in some fresh mint when it has overtaken your garden.

When basil is scarce,  substitute another leafy green like kale or arugula (which won't turn dark green like Basil). Try doubling the garlic to compliment the kale or adding a knob of ginger to draw out the peppery flavor of the arugula. 

Always make your pesto the day you acquire your herbs or you will be disappointed by its bruised appearance.

And never make just one batch. Simply withhold the cheese and freeze it in ice-cube trays for future use. It defrosts quickly to be spread on toast or added to eggs. Toss four frozen cubes into a ½ pound of warm pasta along with ½ cup of freshly grated parmesan and some freshly toasted pine nuts for a taste of summer in the dead of winter.

 
 
 
 

Cold Protein Bowl

 
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Looking for a quick, cool, protein-rich lunch? This tofu - almond bowl is inspired by Korean bee-bim-bop without the rice.

Simply start with half a block of tofu, dress it with a 1/2 a teaspoon sesame oil, a tablespoon of  seasoned panko crumbs, a dozen cracked almonds, a tablespoon of black sesame seeds, and a chopped scallion. Spice it up from time to time with sliced French radishes, shredded Japanese daikon, carrots or hot sesame oil. 

The sesame seeds and oil really give it an amazing aroma and flavor - but they also increase the cholesterol-free fat. Another approach might be to make some sesame seed infused olive oil!