29 April 2012

Turn around the winter blues

We may be well into spring here in southern California (I've been eating asparagus for a month now), but since it's still snowing in parts of the country, I don't mind writing about kale in April.

Kale is one of my go-to winter vegetables. It's delicious braised or sautéed, in soups or gratin, and I'm shocked to see that I have not put a single kale recipe on this site.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. It's not the most photogenic of foods, and for me, at least, kale tends to find itself sautéed, perhaps seasoned with garlic and herbs or soy sauce and sesame, and relegated to the oft-forgotten category of side vegetable.

sesame kale

And this is no exception, but it is, at least, a little bit more unusual. Pickled kale.

You heard me right. When I was flipping through Liana's fantastic cookbook late last fall, I saw those words and nearly ran to buy new canning jars that minute. Kale is available nearly year-round here, but I made these in mid-fall, when it seemed to be overgrowing all the farmers' fields. Since appearances aren't so important for a humble pickle, late season kale would also be ideal; just snatch it up before the weather gets too warm, because that's when it starts to be bitter.

spicy pickled kale

Now, if you're anything like Mike, my sister, or anybody else that I told about this recipe, you're probably wondering what the heck you might do with pickled kale. I wasn't sure myself when I made it. Liana suggests serving it stirred into Jamaican rice and peas (still on my list) or on a sandwich. My first thought was to pair the zing and little bit of spice with pastrami.

It was a revelation. A smear of spicy dijon mustard, several slices of pastrami and Swiss cheese, and a generous layer of pickled kale slapped between two slices of rye bread, and we ate almost an entire jar (half-pint, in our defense) of pickles with one meal. Since then I've also experimented with a meatless version—grilled Swiss on rye with mustard & kale pickles—and it's just as good.

kale pickles

Spicy Pickled Kale
Adapted from Canning for a New Generation
Note: Liana's recipe called for 7 cups cider vinegar and 1 cup balsamic, but I was running out of cider vinegar (and using a bit less kale) and so changed the amounts.

two big or 3 smaller bunches of curly kale (I had 3.5 pounds total)
3 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon whole allspice
1 tablespoon green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
3 cups apple cider vinegar
3 ½ cups white vinegar
½ cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
3 large or six small habañero chiles
6 cloves garlic
1 small onion, cut into 12 wedges

Wash the greens, then pull the leaves off of the hard ribs. Discard the ribs and stems or keep for another use. Chop the kale into medium chunks then shake off most of the water (the cookbook recommends putting them in an old pillowcase and shaking it outside. I just used the salad spinner in batches).

Combine the mustard seeds, allspice, and cardamom in a small bowl; set aside.

To prep for canning, heat water in a large canning pot; wash the jars and keep them in the pot, and put the lids in a small heatproof pot or bowl.

Combine the vinegars and water with the salt or sugar and bring just to a boil; cover, remove from heat, and set aside.

Ladle boiling water from the canning pot into the bowl with the lids. Remove the jars from the canning pot (returning the water to the pot) and carefully place them on a towel.

Halve the chiles, if you have large ones. Place one chile or chile half, one garlic clove, and a wedge or two of onion in each jar. Pack the greens into the jars (tightly, as they will shrink when processing). Distribute the spices into the jars as well. Carefully ladle the hot vinegar mixture into the jars, using a chopstick as needed to remove air bubbles, and leaving ½ inch headspace.

Put the lids on the jars and screw rings on just finger-tight. Return the jars to the canning pot and process at a full boil for 15 minutes. Remove the jars to the folded towel and let rest overnight. (Check them after an hour or so to make sure they have sealed; if not, transfer to the fridge.)

Makes about 6 pints

22 April 2012

A farewell and a soup recipe

I've got a whole list of recipes to post, but frankly, I haven't been much in the mood.

We lost somebody—somebody that I haven't written about much, if at all, but who had wormed his way into every part of my life.

RIP Magnus

This is Magnus. We adopted him, along with his sister Greta, just over six years ago. He was a giant of a cat: 17 pounds of solid muscle, built like a mini mountain lion. After surviving 3 surgeries for an aggressive but benign tumor in his leg, he got hit with a battle he couldn't beat: lung cancer. Thankfully, it was fast—he started having trouble breathing (we thought it was his normal springtime allergies) on a Friday, and we said goodbye on the following Tuesday.

As a cat who couldn't get enough playtime and acted like a kitten every single day until that Friday, I can only assume that had he a choice, he would have chosen ten great years without the frustration of aging. Not that it makes it any easier for those of us who are left.


Magnus took after his mama when it came to food, too. While I was a little bit fanatical about feeding him well (yes, I am one of those pet parents), his tastes were quite broad. Nothing made him happier than a piece of pineapple. He once crept up behind Mike and stole a piece of smoked gouda—he speared it on one claw and ran away on three legs before devouring it. He would come running when he heard me open a yoghurt container, knowing that he got to lick the plastic seal before I threw it away. In perhaps my personal favorite example of his devilry, he once caused a diversion in the kitchen—jumping onto a counter and throwing a bag of bread on the ground—so that he could steal a plate of leftover barbecue when Mike ran into the kitchen.

He may have been bad, but he was also the best.


That being said, I have been cooking. I have another iteration of my walnut cake, I have pickled kale and daikon (separately, not together), I have lemon pie and caramelized! white! chocolate! pudding! But today, I have something simple, comforting, and warm. Something to eat when spring vegetables are arriving but evenings are still cool; something to serve in a big mug and to eat while wrapped up in a wool blanket. I'm talking about spiced carrot soup.

ready for blending

Carrot soup is always good, and it's a fine way to make use of sad, starchy winter carrots. However, this soup really shines with the sweetest, small spring carrots you can find. With good, sweet carrots, you don't even need to use stock in this soup; I just used water and added a crushed garlic clove and bay leaf to the vegetables while they were cooking.

spiced carrot soup

Spiced Carrot Soup
Adapted from a Bon Appétit recipe for "Moroccan Carrot Soup" (which bears no resemblance to anything I ever ate in Morocco, for the record).

2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
½ large yellow onion, chopped
1 pound (usually one bunch) small-medium sweet spring carrots
1 clove garlic, peeled and lightly crushed (if using water)
1 bay leaf (if using water)
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
pinch smoked paprika (optional)
2½ cups water or mild vegetable broth
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, plus more if needed
salt to taste
a few dollops plain yoghurt, preferably whole-milk

Set a dry heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the cumin seeds and stir/shake until fragrant and deep brown, 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a mortar and crush into a coarse powder; set aside.

Heat the butter or oil in a medium pot. Add the onions and cook until translucent and softened but not browned, 5-7 minutes. Meanwhile, wash the carrots and chop them into a rough dice (there's no need to peel them if they are sweet young carrots; if they are older or woody, you may wish to do so). Add the carrots, garlic & bay leaf (if using), allspice, paprika, and about ½ teaspoon of the cumin and stir to combine.

Add the water or stock and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and mostly cover. Simmer until the carrots are very tender, about 20 minutes.

Purée in batches in a blender (letting a cool a bit for your safety), or—the much easier option, in my opinion—take the pot off the heat and use an immersion blender to purée until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the honey, lemon juice, and some salt; taste and adjust seasoning as desired. With sweet carrots you may prefer a bit more lemon juice.

Return the soup to a bare simmer. Serve in bowls or mugs with a dollop of yoghurt and a generous sprinkle of spiced cumin, preferably with some warm crusty bread alongside.

Serves 4 (maybe 5?) as a side, 3 as a main dish

08 April 2012


It helps, when planning a trip with limited internet access, to finish and publish a blog post before you go. Oh well. I had a fabulous trip, part of which included hanging out with my college best friend—on our old college campus no less. The nostalgia-fueled meals, coffees, and ice cream weren't bad, either.

Happy Easter! I don't have anything Easter themed ready for the day, but here's a sunny picture to tide you for a few days.

Meyer lemon macarons

And another taste (sorry, couldn't resist) of what's to come:

caramelized white chocolate pudding

That's Meyer lemon macarons filled with Meyer lemon curd up top, and Caramelized White Chocolate Pudding below. My dessert making has been a little bit haphazard of late, but the stuff I've been making, when I get around to it, has been pretty fantastic. In honor of Easter and the tail end of Meyer Lemon season, I will be making a Shaker Lemon Pie this evening, but for you, I'm adding to the endless piles of chocolate that appear on this holiday.


These cookies, however, are much better than a boring hollow chocolate bunny. Kind of like a brownie in cookie form, these have chocolate three ways, brown sugar and oats for a perfectly chewy texture, and just a touch of cinnamon. Also like brownies, they're a bit fragile, especially when warm, so I prefer to make smaller cookies.

I've noticed a real dearth of cookie recipes on the blog, which is weird—cookies are some of my favorite desserts, and I have all sorts of classics that haven't gotten up here yet. I've been making these cookies for several years, and finally they're here, thanks to a promise to provide the recipe to several online friends.

triple-chocolate chewy cookies

Oatmeal Brownie Cookies
Heavily adapted from a recipe in Baking: From My Home to Yours. This is a cookie that, in my opinion, requires a cold glass of milk, but they'd also probably be great with ice cream or even a cup of coffee. I'd also imagine that they would be pretty good with some chopped nuts, but as I'm not usually partial to nuts in cookies, I've never tried it.

2.5 ounces unsweetened cocoa powder, natural or Dutched (about ¾ cup)
7 ounces unbleached flour (about 1¼ cup) (Note: last time I used 3 ounces whole wheat pastry flour and 4 unbleached flour, and it added a nice body to the cookies)
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped and divided
9 ounces dark brown sugar (about 1¼ cup packed)
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, in pieces (cold is fine)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 ounces rolled oats (about 1½ cups)

Place the oven racks in top & bottom thirds of the oven and preheat to 350ºF. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone; set aside.

Sift the cocoa powder into a large bowl. Add the flour, soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon and whisk to combine; set aside.

Set a medium heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Add the sugar and 8 ounces of the chocolate (reserving the rest) and stir regularly. When the chocolate is about half melted, add the butter and continue to stir until the entire mixture is melted—it will still be grainy. Don't overheat, or the butter will separate.

Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the eggs one at a time; the mixture will become very shiny. Beat in the vanilla, then scrape the mixture into the dry ingredients. Stir until mostly combined, then add the remaining chocolate chunks and the oats and stir just until there are no more streaks of flour.

Drop the dough by level tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets; a dozen to a sheet should give them space to spread out. Bake 12-14 minutes, rotating top to bottom and front to back halfway through the cooking time. Transfer to a rack to cool. If the cookies are very fragile (especially if you made bigger ones), leave on the pan to cool for a minute or two before transferring.

Repeat with remaining dough, cooling the sheets between batches. You can chill the dough before baking, but the cookies will spread a little bit less and take longer to cook.

These will keep, well wrapped, for several days at room temperature and for a couple months (if you can stand it) in the freezer.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies