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10.29.2007

D-e-s-s-e-r-t

You guys are so nice. Really. You let me rattle on about bratwurst, and butternut squash, and tomato sauce, and through it all, you just smile and nod. You’re so polite. Especially when I know that all you really want, deep down, is dessert.

You heard me. D-e-s-s-e-r-t. You don’t have to hide it anymore. I know how it is, because I feel the same way. I mean, let’s be real: bratwurst is nice, and so are chickpeas, and so is tapenade, but for crying out loud, people, pass the damn cookies already.

I have long held that a day without dessert is a day poorly lived. We all have different definitions of dessert, I’m sure, but whatever yours is, I hope you’re eating it. There are 1,440 minutes in a day, and if you don’t set aside at least some of them for a square of chocolate or a wedge of apple tart, well, I just don’t know what to say. Maybe you should rethink your schedule? 1,440 minutes is a lot to waste. Which is why it’s so deeply disturbing, so utterly wrong, that there hasn’t been a recipe for cake, pie, cookies, compote, ice cream, mousse, sorbet, or quick bread on this site for over four months. FOUR months. That’s 175,316 minutes. That’s a long time to go without dessert.

I owe you an apology, for sure. And some cookies.



It’s not that I haven’t been eating dessert for the past four months. I assure you, that’s not the case. It’s just the opposite, really. It’s rare that a day goes by without a sweet baked something winding up on the counter, first on a cooling rack and then sealed in plastic wrap, trailing a ragtag parade of crumbs. There have been pies and cakes and cupcakes too. There’s been a lot of dessert around here. It’s just that it’s all for the book, which is to say that it’s a) still in development and b) top secret, and that c) I’m a terrible tease to even mention it here. What I really mean is that I haven’t been doing much pleasure-baking, that’s all. Except for that stupid apple cake, and it made me cry.

But then I remembered a certain cookie that I first made sometime last year, when I saw a version of it over at Baking Bites. I don’t know why on earth it’s taken me so long to tell you about it. Maybe it’s because they settled so seamlessly into my repertoire that I kind of forgot that they hadn’t always been there. (By the way, how lovely is it to say “my repertoire”?! I’ve always wanted to be one of those cooks who has a repertoire. Maybe then, I thought, I would feel like a real grown-up.) These cookies are totally dreamy. Imagine a brownie in cookie form, and you’ve got the idea: chewy, dark, and dense with chocolate flavor, but not too sweet. Now, imagine this: that all the ingredients are common pantry items, just waiting in your cupboard and fridge. And that they take barely half an hour to make, including baking time. And that they’re kind of [shhhhh] low-fat. Just typing that makes my fingers itch to go flick on the oven.




I must have made these cookies at least a dozen times by now. I baked them for a barbeque last June and a picnic on the 4th of July. Sometimes I make them just for the freezer, to stash away for snacks. About two weeks ago, I made a batch for no reason at all. We ate about half of them one evening, me and Brandon and our friend Sam, while sitting around the living room, trying to decide what to eat for dinner. And then, last Saturday, because it was the end of the week, and because I had written a lot, and because writing a lot makes a girl feel kind of hypoglycemic, I made another batch. Plus, the sun was out this weekend, and I’ll bet you’ve heard the old saying “make cookies while the sun shines”? Sure you have.

Anyway, when cookies are such a snap to make, you hardly need an excuse. In fact, you’d need a pretty good excuse not to. So hop to it. No reason to let another minute go by.



Chewy Cocoa Cookies with Chocolate Chips
Adapted from Alice Medrich

The original version of these cookies doesn’t have chocolate chips, so I guess you could leave them out, but I think they’re pretty important. This is a relatively virtuous treat, as cookies go, so that extra boost of richness is nice. Plus, there’s no such thing as too much chocolate. No. Such. Thing. Don’t even try to argue.

Of course, you’re welcome to throw in other additions as well. I’ve put chopped pistachios in here, and they were wonderful. I’ll bet dried cranberries or cherries would be good too. Or toasted walnuts. Whatever you choose, I’d keep the quantity of additions to about ½ cup in total. And I’d make sure that at least some of that ½ cup is chocolate chips. For example, when I do pistachios, I use ¼ cup, plus ¼ cup chocolate chips.

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. (½ stick) unsalted butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
7 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup plain yogurt, preferably not low- or nonfat
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup chocolate chips, preferably Ghirardelli brand, either semisweet or bittersweet

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.

Place the butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl, and microwave briefly, until just melted. Add the sugars, and sift in the cocoa. (You can skip the sifting if you want, but my cocoa almost always has lumps, and I don’t like cocoa lumps in my cookies.) Stir to blend well. The mixture will be somewhat thick and pasty, like wet sand. Add the yogurt and vanilla and stir to mix thoroughly. Add the dry flour mixture, and stir to just combine. Add the chocolate chips and stir to incorporate.

Drop the dough by generous tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheet. (I use my tablespoon-size measuring spoon to scoop and shape the dough into little domes. Rinsing the spoon regularly helps to keep the dough from sticking, and leaving the spoon slightly wet after each rinsing helps too.) You should be able to fit about 8 or 9 cookies, nicely spaced, on a standard sheet pan. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies have crackled slightly and look set. Transfer the sheet pan to a wire rack, and cool the cookies on the pan for 10 minutes. Transfer them to the rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.

Note: These cookies keep nicely at room temperature for a couple of days. I store mine in a large plastic bag, and I usually stick a paper towel in there with them. It helps to regulate moisture and keep the cookies fresh and chewy. (It’s a trick Brandon taught me, one he learned from an ex-girlfriend’s mother. Thank goodness for ex-girlfriends, right?)

Yield: About 20 cookies

10.22.2007

Bigger and fuller and brighter

Today I want to tell you about a friend of mine. You’ve heard of her, I’ll bet, and if not from me, then because of her own site. Her name is Shauna, and people, the lady knows how to live.

I first met Shauna a couple of years ago, in September, I think, when, after a series of long, chatty e-mail exchanges, we decided to sit down for some tea at Mr. Spots Chai House, a little hippie haven of sorts in Ballard, a neighborhood about halfway between our apartments at the time. I should tell you at this point that I have a terrible fear of chai, due to the fact that after having my first mug of the stuff about ten years ago, I went home and had horrible, horrible dreams - like, he’s-chasing-me-with-a-chainsaw kind of dreams, the sort that make you never want to sleep again. But Shauna and I sat down one Sunday afternoon and shared a cup or two, and both the conversation and the chai were delicious. Then we went to the Ballard farmers’ market and strolled around in the early autumn light, and watching Shauna swoon over a crate of red onions, I knew she was somebody I wanted to keep around.

(In case you’re wondering, though, I did have nightmares again that night, awful ones about ex-boyfriends and drive-by shootings - both of them utterly terrifying in their way - and needless to say, I haven’t had chai since. Don’t ask. Shauna and I have since moved on to coffee, other teas, or, preferably, wine. Lots of wine.)

I want to tell you about my friend Shauna today because her first book, titled Gluten-Free Girl: How I Found the Food That Loves Me Back . . . & How You Can Too, has just been released, only ten days ago today. I know I’m biased - oh and how - but hers is a story that everyone should hear. You don’t have to have celiac disease to read Shauna’s book, or to care about what she has to say - about how she went from a childhood of processed foods and frequent illness to a diagnosis that could have devastated her; about how she chose instead to see it as a gift, a chance to start over, to live bigger and fuller and brighter, the way she does today: in good health, in love, up to her elbows in good food.

Shauna is passionate about celiac awareness, but she’s even more passionate about this dirty business we call life. I always thought I was pretty good at appreciating things, at scraping every drop of sauce, so to speak, from my dinner plate. But this lady, I swear. If I’m scraping the plate, she’s licking the darn thing. She’s going after life with both hands.

My friend Shauna lights up the room. I’ve never met someone who could make obstacles disappear the way she does, like magic. And though she may seem sweet on her website, the girl can be downright gritty in real life, which I secretly love. She’s a terrific partner for watching the Oscars, when lots of catty commentary is required. And for someone with such an open, ready smile, she can swear like a seasoned sailor. You should have seen how hard she laughed at me when she saw the chair I used to sit in at my desk. I’d chosen it because my desk at the time was an old Hoosier-style hutch, and it was a funny, too-tall height, so this was the best solution, albeit a somewhat uncomfortable one. Shauna howled when she saw it. (Needless to say, I’ve since moved on to real, big-people chairs.)

Really, there’s nobody with whom I’d rather share a dinner of pork chops and plum sauce, or a plate of homemade sausage and polenta, or a platter of zucchini carpaccio, or a spur-of-the-moment snack of green olives and hard cheese, or - as we ate a couple of nights ago at Volterra, when she came by to drag me out of the house after a day of writing - an arugula salad with fennel, slices of cucumber smeared with a soft cow’s milk cheese from Italy, and (gluten-free) pasta with stewed wild boar and red wine. Hers may be a diet with some serious restrictions, but to sit at her table, it doesn’t feel that way.




I thought about sharing a recipe from Shauna’s book today. Maybe the lemon olive oil cookies or the chocolate banana bread? It seemed only fitting. But in truth, I’d rather that you read them in her words, from the pages of her book. And anyway, a week or two ago, while perusing the October issue of Gourmet, I came upon a recipe that I know she would love, a recipe for bratwurst served with a compote of apples stewed in white wine and cream. Really, that recipe all but sat up on the page and said, HELLOOOOO SHAUNA. Not only was it naturally gluten-free, but I happen to know that the lady loves sausage, not to mention other forms of pork - like I said, she’s a good one - and she has more than once sung for me the praises of the humble apple.

So yesterday, come lunchtime, I browned a bratwurst in her honor and ate it with a cream-cloaked jumble of apples and onions. Given a good simmer in white wine, the apples soften and the onions relax, and with finishing dashes of sugar and vinegar and a lashing of cream, the combined effect is both sweet and savory, rich and tart, like something you might find on a farmhouse table in Normandy or Alsace. It’s a lusty, rib-sticking, delicious mess, perfect Sunday fare for a cool October day. I have a feeling that Shauna would approve.


Bratwurst with Creamy Apple Compote
Adapted from Gourmet, October 2007

The original version of this recipe calls for the bratwurst to be split and broiled, but I usually pan-cook mine, so that’s what I chose to do here. I like the look better, anyway, of a whole, nicely browned brat.

Also, the original version calls for 8 brats for 4 people, but given the richness of the compote – serious and seriously delicious richness – I don’t know about that. I’m more inclined to steer you toward 1 brat per person, and then a green salad alongside.

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, quartered from root to stem, sliced
2 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 8 wedges
1 Turkish bay leaf
½ tsp. salt
1 cup dry white
4 bratwurst (see note above)
Vegetable oil
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

Combine butter and oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet, and warm over medium-high heat until the butter is melted. Add onion, apples, bay leaf, and salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Add the wine, cover, and simmer gently until the apples are tender but still hold their shape, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove the lid and briskly simmer until the wine is reduced by about half, 2-3 minutes.

Meanwhile, while the apple mixture cooks, prepare the bratwurst. Place a large heavy skillet – I like cast-iron for this – over medium heat, and let it get nice and hot. Then add a small glug of vegetable oil: preferably safflower or grapeseed, since they have a higher smoke point than other types. Then add the bratwurst. They should sizzle nicely. Cover the pan and cook, flipping the bratwurst a couple of times, until they are evenly browned and cooked through. (I usually have to cut into one of mine to check for doneness, but it doesn’t really bother me: the juices that run out help to coat the pan a bit more and give the brats a nice sheen.)

While the brats are cooking, finish the apple compote. When the wine is reduced, stir in the cream, brown sugar, and cider vinegar. Briskly simmer until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Discard the bay leaf. Serve the compote alongside the bratwurst.

Yield: 4 servings


P.S. Fellow Seattlite and blogger Sarah Jio interviewed me on her site last week. (Thanks, Sarah!) Click here to see what I had to say.

10.15.2007

The nitty-gritties

Hi, everybody.

A few of you asked, in the comments last week, if I might tell you a little more about my book, the project that’s been eating up a large portion - wait, did I say large? I meant all, or darn near all - of my thoughts for the past several months. I really haven’t told you much about it, have I? I guess I didn’t really think to until now. I’m so glad you gave me a nudge. I just got swept up in the wedding for a while there, and then, when it was over, I dove so deep into writing that it never really occurred to me to climb out, grab a dry towel, and tell you what I saw down there.

To tell you the truth, it’s pretty murky sometimes. It’s kind of hard to see where I’m going. It reminds me of a quote I read a while ago, an E.L. Doctorow line that goes something like this: “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” I’m not writing a novel, mind you, but I know what he means. Most of the time, I just try to write, to follow the headlights, to not think too hard. That’s all I can do, anyway, and it’s hard enough, just that. When things are going well, I feel like a million bucks, like I just discovered a new planet, or the cure for AIDS, or a lifetime supply of chocolate hidden under the bed. Then again, sometimes - like, oh, yesterday - I cry a lot, over things like French toast.




(While we’re at it, let me tell you that nothing, nothing, is worse than recipe testing on Sunday mornings. Listen: if you ever write a cookbook, or any sort of book with recipes, and if you need to test breakfast foods, DO NOT test them at breakfast time, or on weekend mornings when you should really be sleeping. You and your husband will wind up hungry, and then you’ll give him the silent treatment when he tries to make you feel better, because you desperately need to pout for a while, just to get it out of your system, and so it goes until lunchtime, when you’re too starved to be mad anymore. Like I said, don’t.)

Writing a book is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But when it works, it’s so fun. I used to write poetry as a teenager - I know, I know; who didn’t, right? - and one of my teachers, a poet named Peter Fortunato, once told me something that I’ve been thinking about a lot. He was talking about writing, and about how utterly free we are when we write, about the worlds we can imagine and create for ourselves, about how rip-roaring fun it can be. He said, and I wrote in big letters in my spiral notebook: “You’re riding Pegasus! Isn’t it amazing?” He was just trying to cheer us brooding teenage poets, I’m sure, but I still remember it, after all these years. I’m riding Pegasus! This is amazing! Of course, Pegasus ain’t no carousel pony, people. He bucks and skitters all over the place. But some days, I never want to come down.




Speaking of which, before he carries me away again, let me give you a few nitty-gritties.

My book’s tentative title is Orangette: The Stories My Kitchen Tells Me. The title may be entirely different by the time it shows up in bookstores next fall, but that’s what I’m working with for now. It’s what feels right. The book grows out of the format and style of this blog, meaning that it’s a collection of recipes and the stories that go with them, sixty-some-odd in all. Roughly two-thirds of the book will be new material. I want to give you as much new writing and as many new recipes as I can, but some old stories and dishes feel like classics now, and they belong in there too. Plus, even the more familiar recipes have been tweaked and retested, made to work better and tastier than before. (Remember this banana bread, for example, with chocolate and crystallized ginger? I reworked it, using a different banana bread base, and it’s even better. I can’t wait for you to try it.)




Each recipe will have been tested by a minimum of three people, or four, if you count me. The way it works is this: first I work on a recipe in my own kitchen - often with Brandon’s help; if you like something, be sure to thank him too - and then, when I’ve got a handful of recipes ready, I send them to my team of testers. They have a month to try them, during which time I get the next handful ready, and then we start again. I have 12 testers, all of them volunteers, working for nothing but my gratitude. (There’s lots of that to go around, thank goodness.) Some of them are family (my sister Lisa and my mother, namely, both wonderfully precise cooks), and some are friends. Some live in Texas, and some live in Sweden. Some are readers of this blog, some are bloggers themselves, and some I have never met. I have been stunned by their generosity and energy, and by their willingness to buy expensive vanilla beans, port, and Parmigiano Reggiano on my behalf. You’ll hear a lot about them in the acknowledgments section, which is, so far, my very favorite part of the book to write. When all else fails, I work on the acknowledgments. Thanking people is easy.




I’m learning all the time. Writing is such a strange, mysterious process. I say that even now, as I sit here, doing just that. In writing this book, I’ve remembered some of the weirdest, most wonderful things. Like my first kiss, for example - which, let me tell you, was pretty weird. Or that my mother and her siblings went to school with John Waters and Divine. (Weird and wonderful, right?) Or how much my father loved mayonnaise. I’d forgotten all that. It feels so good to remember. It’s what keeps me going, what keeps me from freaking out entirely, with only eight weeks left to finish this manuscript. December 15 is coming up awfully soon.

Hopefully, next fall, the date when it hits the shelves, will come even faster.

I can’t wait to share it with you.



Fennel-Potato Soup with Dilled Crème Fraîche
Adapted from Bon Appétit, November 2007

I didn’t want to leave you without a recipe this week, because heavens knows we all have to eat, even when we’re on a deadline, right? I made this soup last Friday and have been eating it for lunch ever since. It’s a terrifically easy one, just the thing for a filling-but-healthy fall lunch. It’s subtle and soothing, a blend of sweet leeks, perfumed fennel, and rich, earthy potatoes. As flavors go, this one is utterly reassuring. And with a dollop of cool, green-flecked crème fraîche on top, it feels a little fancy too.




The original version of this soup calls for chopped smoked salmon as a garnish, rather than the dilled crème fraîche I use here. Though I love the flavor of smoked salmon, I didn’t like the idea of its chewy, flaky texture in soup. And, as it happened, I had some crème fraîche kicking around the fridge, along with some fresh dill left over from a recipe test (my dad’s potato salad; wait till you see, it’s really delicious). This soup seemed like a fitting use for both. Plus, I love the way it looks and tastes with a spoonful of tangy, herbed cream.

For soup:
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 medium (or 1 large) fennel bulbs, trimmed and sliced
1 large leek (white and pale green parts only), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1 ½ lb. russet potatoes (about 2 large), peeled and cut into coarse cubes
5 ½ cups chicken or vegetable broth (such as this one), plus more to taste
Salt, to taste

For serving:
Crème fraîche
Finely chopped fresh dill
Salt

In a heavy large pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the fennel, leek, and fennel seeds, and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 8 minutes. Add the potatoes and 5 ½ cups broth, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil; then reduce heat to medium and simmer, partially covered, until potatoes are tender, about 12-15 minutes.

Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender. (When working with hot liquids like this, never fill the blender more than 1/3 full, as the liquid can expand and cause some nasty burns. Brandon currently has a scab over his eyebrow from just this sort of soup-explosion accident.) It should be very smooth and creamy. Return the pureed soup to the pot and rewarm over medium-low heat, stirring regularly and thinning with more broth by ¼-cupfuls to reach your desired consistency. (I added an additional ½ cup.) Season with salt to taste. It’ll need a pretty good amount.

Just before serving, spoon some crème fraîche into a small bowl, and stir in finely chopped dill to taste. This sort of thing can take as much or as little dill as you like. Taste, and add a pinch of salt. Stir well.

Divide soup between bowls, and serve dilled crème fraîche on the side, so that each eater can dollop a bit into their soup.

Yield: 6-8 servings

10.08.2007

Lots of trouble

You already know by now, I’m sure, that I like the idea of a simple recipe. For whatever it’s worth, I like the notion that you can take a few well-chosen, high-quality ingredients, treat them kindly, and come out with a pretty nice meal. When I started this blog, I had no idea that this was a schtick of any sort, much less my schtick: it’s just sort of happened that way. It’s how I like to eat.

It also, however, gets me into lots of trouble sometimes. I am constantly – I mean constantly, people; it’s pathological – falling prey to cookbook and magazine recipes that are way too simple, with too few ingredients to taste like much of anything. I mean, it’s one thing to take a can of tomatoes, five tablespoons of butter, and one halved onion, bang them into a saucepan, and call it tomato sauce. That’s fine. That’s classic. But to take four pounds of thinly sliced tart apples, three measly tablespoons of sugar, and two even more measly tablespoons of butter, bake them together overnight in a low, low oven (while you toss and turn, I might add, waiting for the house to burn down), and expect a magical transformation, a delightful gâteau aux pommes, something that looks and tastes like the burnished, beautiful top of a tarte Tatin?




That’s silly. Like, stupid-silly. Like, thump-your-forehead-with-the-palm
-of-your-hand-silly. Like, I’m-going-to-throw-the-cookbook-that-inspired
-this-down-the-basement-stairs-and-I-just-might-go-with-it-silly. That’s the recipe I made last night. ARRRRGH.




That’s also the recipe I won’t be sharing with you today. I’ll just say this: that if you have a cookbook whose title rhymes with The Ban Brancisco Berry Blaza Barmers’ Barket Bookbook, please do not make the cake on page 173. That, and listen to your husband when he tells you to just stop, to stop cursing the apple corer, to stop it RIGHT NOW and come sit on the couch and end the weekend nicely, with an episode of Brothers and Sisters. Take it from me. I know these things.

On the upside, however, I do have a backup recipe for you, a little something that we made as part of dinner on Friday, when we didn’t have much in the house but felt too cheap to go out for groceries. It’s pretty darn simple, too, but unlike, ahem, some things, it actually worked. For every stupid, lumpy, watery-tasting gâteau aux pommes, may there be a radicchio salad with radishes and parmesan.

It happened the way most dinners do when we’re busy: with us digging in the fridge, dredging up scraps and drips, and throwing them together. In the crisper drawer we found a head of radicchio left from a recipe test a couple weeks back, along with some radishes - they’re a constant around here, always at the ready - and a raggedy-edged wedge of parmesan cheese. I sort of wrinkled my nose at the combination, worrying that the radicchio might be old and bitter, but Brandon forged on. He sliced the radicchio into thin strips and the radishes into wafers, and then, while we boiled water for some pasta, he tossed them in a bowl with a last of a jar of vinaigrette from the week before. Then he shaved some parmesan over the top, and while the pasta cooked - it would later be tossed with some pesto from the freezer - we sat down to a surprisingly pretty, fittingly fall-like salad.

The radicchio was crisp and wonderfully mellow, tamed by a good dose of vinaigrette and the rich, salty punch of parmesan. The radish, for its part, crunched pleasantly, sweet and cool. Brandon commented than a few slivers of pear would be nice too, and he’s right: their sweet, perfumed flavor would be perfect here, and perfectly in season too. I don’t have a photograph to show you, because we ate it all on the spot - so sorry! - but given the trauma I’ve detailed above, I hope you’ll let me off easy. Anyway, you can imagine it for yourself: a tangle of purple leaves dotted with red-edged disks of radish, big shards of parmesan, and couple slices of slivered pear, its green skin curved like a line drawing. (See? So pretty! You don’t need some stinking photograph.) It’s lovely; it’s s-i-m-p-l-e; and come to think of it, it might just be dinner again tonight.


Radicchio and Radish Salad with Pear and Parmesan

The dressing that we used on this was my standard vinaigrette, but made with Cognac vinegar. I know that not everyone lives with a vinegar fiend, as I do, so if you don’t happen to have a bottle of that fancy stuff lying around, know that you can use most any white wine-type vinegar.

6 radishes
1 medium head radicchio
½ firm-ripe pear, green or red or most any color (optional)
Parmigiano Reggiano

For vinaigrette:
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp. Cognac vinegar (see note above)
½ tsp. salt
5 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more to taste

First, make the vinaigrette. In a small bowl, combine the mustard, vinegar, and salt, and whisk to blend. Add the olive oil, and whisk vigorously to emulsify. Taste, and adjust as needed. Depending on your vinegar, you made need more oil. (We often add an additional teaspoon.) This is a more acidic dressing than some, but it shouldn’t hit you over the head with vinegar. Set aside.

Prepare the salad. Trim the radishes, and slice them very thinly. Quarter the radicchio from stem end to tip, and peel away any ragged outer leaves. Working with one quarter at a time, slice crosswise into ¼-inch-thick strips. If you are using the pear, cut it into very thin slices. Combine the radishes and radicchio in a large bowl, and toss with vinaigrette to taste. Add the pear slices, and toss very gently, so as not to break them up.

Serve, using a vegetable peeler to shave a few shards of parmesan cheese onto each serving.

Yield: About 4 standard-size servings, or two Molly-and-Brandon-size servings


P.S. Does anyone besides me read the title of this post and want to yell “Lots of trouble! Lots of bubble!” à la Fred Schneider in “Rock Lobster”? I didn’t think so.

10.01.2007

Sneaky, sneaky

I tried to hold it off. Really, I did. I swore to myself that I wouldn’t buy a winter squash until at least October 1, if not later. I mean, there are still a few nectarines to be had, for crying out loud, and Romano beans, and cherry tomatoes, and fat, pristine eggplant, fruits as big and heavy as my head, begging to roasted and mashed. There’s plenty to eat. There’s no need for winter squash. Nor potatoes, nor pears. No need at all.




But then, you know, there they were, the hard-shelled squash and the new potatoes and the Asian pears, at the farmers’ market on Saturday morning, and it was cloudy and cold, and they just looked so sad. So sad, really - bumping around in their big crates and bins, with no cushions or canopy, no shelter to speak of. Those pesky butternuts, too, they know how to get to you. They’ve got those long, curvy necks, and they know just how to hook them over the side of the bin so that you’ll see them there, peeking at you, giving you the eye. They’re trouble, those butternuts. Watch out. Trust me, I know. Because one of them wound up in my bag on Saturday morning, and it was only September 29.

(If it makes my willpower look any less weak, note this: that Brandon and I also made a pact to not turn on the heat before October 1, and by god, we made it. Keep in mind, too, that I’m the one at home most days, writing, with a scarf on, and wool socks, and my teeth chattering. Oh, I’ve got willpower, people. Our little place gets downright cold, even when it’s not that chilly outside.)

So yes, about that sneaky, sneaky squash. Well, I brought it home, and since I figured I should at least try to make the most of things, September 29 or no, I set to work. There was (and yeep!, still is) a teetering stack of cookbooks on my side of the bed, and in it was a little beauty called Casa Moro, the second cookbook by Sam and Sam Clark, chef-owners of the London restaurant Moro. I’ve never been to Moro, and some of you - ahem - know the place much, much better than I do, but it didn’t take long for me to feel right at home in the pages of that book. It’s beautiful, for one thing, a cookbook-meets-travelogue with lush, seemingly effortless photographs printed on uncoated stock - think The Kitchen Diaries, but set in Spain and North Africa, and with even more recipes. Needless to say, I pulled it from the pile, and before I knew it, I had folded down a half-dozen pages. And then, ta da!, there it was, on page 242, a pretty little vehicle for winter squash, a warm salad bulked out with chickpeas, red onion, and tahini.

So I flicked on the oven and set to work with the peeler, slipping the squash out of its skin. Then I chopped it into coarse hunks - so reassuring, I was reminded, the sound of the knife as it clears that dense, rich flesh to meet the cutting board again - and then tossed it in the oven with some olive oil, crushed garlic, and allspice. While it roasted, I whisked up a sauce of tahini, lemon, garlic, and olive oil, drained a can of chickpeas, and took a few whacks at a bunch of cilantro, and meanwhile, oh my, the house even warmed a little.

By the time I sat down to eat, with a glass of wine and another cookbook to read - Brandon was out for the evening - I was feeling almost pleased with that butternut squash, I have to say, for having pulled a fast one on me. Under a thin blanket of tahini sauce, with some crisp onion and cilantro to cheer things along, the spiced squash cozied up to the chickpeas as though the two were old pals. The salad was warm here, cool there, and everywhere earthy and restoring. I inhaled the whole plate in about five minutes flat, and to tell you the truth, I felt pretty chuffed, as the Brits would say, about it all.

I saved the leftovers for Brandon, and we shared them as a brunch of sorts the next morning, with Asian pears for dessert. He already wants to make it again. Thank goodness it’s now October 1, so we can.


Warm Butternut and Chickpea Salad with Tahini
Adapted from Casa Moro

This salad pretty much speaks for itself. It’s a little exotic but also pleasingly familiar, and it’s totally, totally delicious. It’ll be a standby in our kitchen until next summer, I’m quite certain. But just in case you want one last sales pitch, I should also tell you that it seems to have miraculous properties where sobriety is concerned. When I first ate it on Saturday night, I drank a glass of wine. (Though it pains me to say it, that alone should have been enough to get me a little tipsy. But it didn’t.) Then I went to a birthday party at the home of some friends nearby, and I drank three glasses of beer - !!! - and was completely and utterly fine. Fine. Like, talking-about-mortgages-and-number-crunching fine. Just so you know.

For salad:
1 medium butternut squash (about 2 to 2 ½ lb.), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
1 medium garlic clove, pressed
½ tsp. ground allspice
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt
One 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
¼ of a medium red onion, finely chopped
¼ cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves

For tahini sauce:
1 medium garlic clove, finely minced with a pinch of salt
3 ½ Tbsp. lemon juice
3 Tbsp. well-stirred tahini
2 Tbsp. water
2 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large bowl, combine the butternut squash, garlic, allspice, olive oil, and a good pinch or two of salt. Using a large spoon or your hands, toss until the squash pieces are evenly coated. Turn them out onto a baking sheet, and bake for 15 to 25 minutes, or until soft. Remove from the oven and cool.

Meanwhile, make the tahini sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic and lemon juice. Add the tahini, and whisk to blend. Add the water and olive oil, whisk well, and taste for seasoning. The sauce should have plenty of nutty tahini flavor, but also a little kick of lemon. (I found that my tahini was a little bitter and that the lemon was a bit much, so I added additional olive oil to tame both.)

To assemble the salad, combine the squash, chickpeas, onion, and cilantro in a mixing bowl. Add tahini sauce to taste, and toss carefully. (Alternatively, you can also serve the salad undressed, with the tahini sauce on the side. That way, each person can use as much or as little as they want, and the individual ingredients taste a little brighter, too.) Serve, with additional salt for sprinkling.

Note: This salad, lightly dressed, keeps beautifully in the fridge. (Hold a little of the tahini sauce on the side, for dressing at the table.) Before serving, warm slightly with quick jolt in the microwave.

Yield: 4 servings