107 Cookbooks Rotating Header Image

Comprehensive Cookbooks

big, comprehensive cookbooks such as The Joy of Cooking or How to Cook Everything

Christmas dinner: chicken, candles and company

roast chicken with herb butter

RoastedChicken

For Christmas we had a friend come over, and I wanted to make a meal that would be nice but not overly demanding. I settled on roast chicken, along with roasted potatoes and roasted Brussels sprouts (our friend brought some cold appetizers plus truffles for dessert and some vodka), and leafed through my books for a good recipe.

HerbsInButter

You would think roasting a chicken would be part of my basic skills now, but I’ve tried out a number of different approaches trying to find the best one for me. For years I used a technique from Cook’s Illustrated that involved starting at very high heat and with the chicken breast-side down, then turning the bird breast-side up partway through and maintaining the high heat until the skin had browned, then turning down the temperature to finish, plus basting every 8 minutes or so. It was pretty labor-intensive, and I quickly lost enthusiasm for repeatedly reaching into a 500-degree oven. When I got fed up with that one I tried versions with a lower starting heat, more or less basting, some with the bird starting breast-side down and some not, but all fairly fiddly. Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything promises simple roast chicken in one recipe title, but I have to say that his roast chicken with herb butter is equally simple during the roasting process itself, which is what matters to me and my oven-heat-warmed face.

PreppingTheBird

The recipe is much like the simple version: starting the bird hotter than the final cooking temperature (450 instead of 500), starting it breast-side down and turning it over partway through (to help ensure that the breast is moist), and basting sparingly. The difference is that first I mashed together half a stick of butter with a tablespoon of minced fresh herbs (I used thyme and chives) plus some salt and pepper, then rubbed the butter mixture all over the bird, loosening pockets of skin and rubbing butter between skin and flesh as well. (This is easier than it sounds.) I also put two quarters of a lemon, a couple of cloves of garlic, and a couple of chunks of ginger root into the bird’s cavity. I melted the other half stick of butter in the roasting pan, then added some water and put the chicken on a roasting rack atop it all, and into the oven it went. I cooked it breast-side down for about 20 minutes; then I basted with pan juices, turned the bird over, basted some more, and returned it to the oven for another 8 minutes or so. At this point I basted it once more, turned the temperature down to 325, and inserted my probe thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh so it could track the temperature up to the desired 160-165 range without my having to repeatedly stab the hot chicken. At this point Bittman lets you stop basting, which takes away a lot of the fuss factor that you find in other recipes, though I did give it one more wash about 20 minutes later when I was turning the roasted vegetables anyway.

PanSauce

When the temperature was in the right zone — I forget just how long that took, though it was a little longer than the suggested time of an hour total because my chicken was kind of large — I tipped the bird up to pour the juices out of the cavity and confirm they were clear. (This also helps make carving less of a catastrophe later, though for me that is frankly a lost cause and always will be.) I let the bird rest about 5 minutes, and in the meantime I poured the pan juices into a saucepan and added some wine and cooked the mixture until it reduced by about half, whisking periodically. This was not technically a gravy, since I didn’t thicken it, but it was a nice flavor complement to the bird, though the meat was very moist and didn’t need gravy to help in that respect. I carved the chicken as best I could, which is not that great considering I only do this a few times a year. But I wasn’t trying for a magazine spread, I just wanted to have light and dark meat easy to choose from the platter, and I did manage that.

RoastedSprouts

The roasted vegetable sides were very easy. I made the Brussels sprouts as I usually do: trim the stems, cut in half, toss with olive oil, pepper and salt — in this case, paprika salt. For the potatoes I mixed together Yukon golds and purple potatoes, cutting the larger ones to try to get reasonably uniform chunks, and tossed those with olive oil and salt and pepper as well. (By the way, yes, those purple potatoes are purple all the way through. And if you rinse and blot them dry on a towel they’ll bleed a little purple onto the cloth. Heh.) Those I put in the cast-iron skillet to ensure a good crispy crust. I put them into the oven when the chicken went in; the sprouts came out a little earlier than the bird and the potatoes did.

PotatoesToRoast4

I didn’t get any photos of the dining table because we had it candlelit, with votives in the holders that we had made the night before using cheap glassware and Mod Podge and tissue paper. I don’t like the effect of my camera’s flash, and there was nowhere near enough light to go without it, so I didn’t record the moment but let us simply experience it. That was the point anyway, right? To enjoy good friends and a holiday meal, to celebrate in the now, to be fully present.

VotiveHolders19

Cherry Pie for the Fifth of July

cherry pie, from How to Cook Everything

PieWithCreamThis has been a busy year. I’ve made no progress on the remaining cookbooks from my collection, and I’ve done rather less original or interesting cooking in general than I’ve wanted to. There have been a lot of simple stir-fries and sandwiches, rather too much take-out, and more pizza than I should admit to. (Homemade pizza, at least, but not exactly health food.)

Cherries3There are a few reasons. I’ve been working a lot. I will be taking four weeks of vacation starting later this month, during which I expect to cook a lot more (among other things; I have a writing project to work on most of my time), and so I haven’t really taken more than one or two days off since December. This sounded like a much better idea last fall, when I scheduled the four-week AddingButterleave, than it did this April, when I found myself three writing projects deep and no leave time in sight. And work has been busy, as I’ve taken on some new projects, including several things that are new kinds of work for me. It’s all been very rewarding, and I am glad of what I’ve had a chance to do; but I’ve had an awful lot of evenings where I got home later than I meant to and PittingCherrieswas in more of a mood for take-out empanadas than for chopping and sauteeing something for myself. Normally I’d pick up the slack on the weekends, but I’ve also taken on a Saturday volunteer teaching project that’s extremely rewarding in its own right but doesn’t leave as much time for weekend grocery roundups and cooking ahead.

CherriesInCrust2Still, I get the bug once in a while, especially when there’s a good call to action, and Shauna James Ahern of Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef sent out a good one recently: a Pie Party. The idea is to make, photograph and post about pie in time to put up the posts and pictures on July 5. My pie isn’t gluten-free, but I don’t think that was a stipulation.

FirstCrustI got it into my head to make a cherry pie. I haven’t made a cherry pie before, unless perhaps I’ve made one with canned filling, though since it’s been at least 25 years since I’ve made pie with canned filling I kind of doubt that counts. I had seen that cherries had arrived in the Greenmarket near my work last Wednesday, though I didn’t buy any because I was going to be out right after work and didn’t want to haul them around. So yesterday I got up a bit earlier than I might have on a holiday and went to the Greenmarket at Union Square, which was mercifully quiet — usually the place is a mob scene — and found cherries as well as a few other goodies for the week. Once home, I skimmed through my cookbooks and settled on a straightforward recipe from How to Cook Everything, a longtime favorite.

TopCrustOn3I started with the crusts, so they’d have time to chill. I killed our food processor some time last year and haven’t had a chance to replace it, but the hand mixer has a little food processor attachment, and it’s just big enough to do one crust at a time, which is perfect; I’m not that great at evenly dividing a doubled amount. I whirred together flour, salt and sugar, then added butter and processed it briefly into coarse powder. I then turned the mixture into a bowl and added just enough ice water to form a ball (more or less), which I patted into a flat disk and wrapped in wax paper to chill, then did the whole thing again for the second crust.

BakedPieShauna talks in her blog about how people are often afraid of pie crust. I’m not, really, though I can see why people get intimidated. Things can go wrong. It takes practice to get the proportions exactly as you want them — and without practice it’s easy to forget that it’s probably still going to be good if things aren’t exactly as you intended. Then too, we’ve been exposed to a lot of really bad pie crusts, and we have conflicted expectations. It should be light and flaky, yes, but also rigid enough to hold a perfect wedge shape when you cut it? How does that work? No. The edges should be artfully crimped? If you like that sort of thing, sure, but the pie will still taste good if you’re a bit less picky about the shape of the crimping. Cooking is an ongoing practice, not a pass-fail exam, and unless you psych yourself out so badly that you can’t manage to do anything right you will still probably get a good result even if it isn’t picture-book perfect.

SliceOfPieWhile the crust chilled I pitted the cherries. I don’t actually have a cherry pitter, and in fact have never used one. I started out by halving the cherries with a knife to pop out the pits, but then discovered by accident that if I just pressed gently on the bottom the pit would pop pretty easily out of the top without losing that pretty whole-cherry look. So I pitted and got pretty little cherries. This surprised me, which then struck me as odd. I thought, these look like cherries should look. And then I thought, of course they do, you nitwit, they’re cherries. They’re not cherry-flavored bits, or Cherry Brand Imitation Whatsit; they’re actual cherries.

PieWithCream3I realized that while I’m not intimidated by cooking, I do get intimidated by food images. In one sense, by the good blog photography, such as you find in What Katie Ate; I can’t hope to match that level of exposure and staging, though I’m sure I could make good enough versions of the food if I gave the recipes a shot. But I also get cowed by the marketing images. I’ve gotten used to assuming that the pictures on the restaurant menus and advertising, and on the processed-food packages, are Platonic ideals of the food you might actually get. But there I was pitting cherries, and because they were cherries, they were turning out right. I was then reminded of a recent Mark Bittman column in which he talks about the advantages of cooking over eating out; he says, “When I cook, though, everything seems to go right.” The “though” is part of a comparison to dining out, which he considers a gamble; sometimes it’s satisfactory and sometimes it isn’t. And while I wouldn’t always say everything I cook goes right (I am still a bit haunted by that carrot cake), I can point to very few dishes I’ve cooked using real food and simple techniques that have truly disappointed me.

Before too long, I had a bowl full of pitted cherries, plus a spattered countertop and a mess in the sink. I wiped the counter right away to prevent staining but then returned to the pie filling, combining some sugar, cornstarch, almond flavoring and nutmeg, which I mixed with the cherries.

Then I rolled out the crusts, keeping the disks between waxed paper to avoid having to add more flour. I pressed the bottom crust into the pan, poured in the cherry filling, then rolled out the second crust and laid it over the pie. (I realized much later — like, after the pie was out of the oven — that I had forgotten to dot in a bit of butter before putting on the top crust, but the crusts were very buttery, so I crossed my fingers that would save things.) The pie went into the oven for 10 minutes at 450, then baked for 350 for another 50 minutes, and then I had to let it cool for a few hours.

So after dinner I whipped some cream, then sliced the pie and plated it. Nervously, I lifted the spoon. Would it taste good? Had I used enough sugar? Too much? Was the crust too tough? But it was great. The cherries were tart but balanced well with the sweet sauce and the rich crust. The crust was flaky, not tough or doughy, and it seemed to have lent butter enough to the filling after all. The cream was a nice complement as well. And the cherries were very pretty.

Verdict: Success. And that’s my contribution to the pie party: One cherry pie, not gluten-free and not perfect but darn good.

New Recipes From Moosewood Restaurant: Autumnal Flavors

creamy squash soup, Middle Eastern carrot salad

SoupInBowlNew Recipes From Moosewood Restaurant appears to be one of the last comprehensive vegetarian cookbooks left on my list. I thought of putting it off, saving it for later so I wouldn’t have too long a run of Recipes of the Damned books. But I had picked up acorn squash at the Greenmarket and needed to find something to do with it. None of the other cookbooks yielded CarrotSalad3satisfactory options, but Moosewood came through. I may shed a tear later this fall as I wrangle Jell-O and canned pineapple, but it was all smiles at the dinner table last night.

We have a houseguest, staying for a time while professional cleaners take care of smoke damage from a fire near her building. We’ve been indulging in AcornSquasha fair amount of Thai delivery, I admit, but we’ve also done some collaborative cooking, and last night we decided to put together a light and flavorful dinner. She contributed poached tilapia, rice pilaf and steamed summer squash, and I provided creamy squash soup and Middle Eastern carrot salad.

AcornSquashSeedsI started the soup by cutting an acorn squash in half and scooping out the seeds. I rubbed some olive oil on a baking sheet and put the squash halves in the oven for an hour. While it baked, I put together the carrot salad, which I’ll describe below. When the squash was done I set it to cool, and did my prep for the soup base: I chopped up a couple of onions, a carrot, a couple of small SquashRoastedpotatoes, and two Granny Smith apples. I heated some olive oil and sauteed the onions until they were soft and translucent, then added the carrot, potatoes and apples along with 3 1/2 cups of water. I brought this to a boil and let it simmer about 20 minutes, until the chunks were softened. Then I added the squash, scooped out of its skin, plus 1 1/2 cups of apple juice (one could also use milk or SoupBasecream, but our guest can’t eat dairy).

Now it was time to do the magic. The directions say to combine all the ingredients and puree the soup in batches using a food processor or blender. I think our food processor is still out of commission, and there are a whole lot of things I’d rather do than transfer hot liquid back and SoupBaseCookingforth from pan to blender jar. But I have an immersion blender attachment for my hand mixer, so I was able to puree the soup without dirtying any new vessels. Well, mostly; I had a very brief practical reminder that when you are using an immersion blender, it is crucial not to lift up the stick while it’s running. Unless you like mopping puree off random surfaces. I lost very little soup to ScoopingOutRoastedSquashthat, happily, and in less than five minutes I had a nice pot of smooth, pleasingly colored puree. I returned the pan to the heat, stirred in a bit of cinnamon and some salt and pepper, and let it keep warm while we got the rest of the dinner together.

While the squash cooked I did all the salad prep. I had picked up some enormous, delicious carrots SoupPureedat the Greenmarket as well, and I spent a fair bit of time shredding them to produce four cups of carrot bits. To these I added lemon juice, olive oil, ground cumin (it was supposed to be coriander but I was out and cumin is close enough in my estimation), chopped fresh mint, chopped fresh parsley, and salt. I stirred it all together, tasted, and considered: Did I want to add the ShreddedCarrotsoptional touch of sweetener? The mixture was fairly aggressive as it stood, with the carrots’ blend of bitterness and sweetness, the fresh burst of mint, the sharp tang of lemon juice. I decided to go for it, and stirred in a teaspoon of maple syrup, then tasted again. The difference was surprising; the sweet tones pulled together the more extreme of the savory flavors, and the distinct ParsleyAndMinttaste of maple played beautifully off the carrots. I stirred once more and put the salad in the fridge to chill.

When the meal was all ready, I brought out the salad and spooned soup into small bowls. The flavor of the salad balanced nicely against the smooth, rich fish and the earthy rice pilaf, but the textural contrast was also a IngredsForCarrotSaladbig part of its appeal. And the soup was surprising: sweeter than I had expected, it had a velvety texture that was light and not cloying but very satisfying.

Verdict: Success. I should make up some more batches of the soup to freeze for winter. I have squash left.

Real Vegetarian Thai: Spicy Goodness

mussaman curry paste, mussaman curry with seitan, rice noodles with broccoli, cucumber salad, coconut ice cream

MussamanCurryI love Thai food, but I’ve always assumed that it’s difficult to make: so many unusual ingredients, plus the effort of making your own curry paste. I’ve had Real Vegetarian Thai sitting on my shelves for years, and it looks like in that time the only dish we’ve tried is the Pad Thai, which Scott prepared (with the marginal note “double everything”). So with the holiday weekend ArbolChiles2approaching, I decided it was time to throw a dinner party, invite a few people who haven’t been here for the last few blog efforts, and put together some Thai food.

I leafed through the book and decided to make a cucumber salad, a noodle dish, a curry, and dessert. I made a list of ingredients I’d need, and was CorianderCumin2impressed to find that the only thing I hadn’t found locally before was lemongrass, which would be a base for the curry paste. I canvassed the stores in the neighborhood; no lemongrass. A few shopkeepers said “sometimes we have it, but not now.” I finally found some at an organic store in Park Slope, Brooklyn, that I was passing on my way to do something else, and my shopping Lemongrass2list was complete.

I began with the coconut ice cream. This is a dairy-free dessert, and very simple: You cook coconut milk with some sugar, then let it cool, then churn the mixture into ice cream. After I’d chilled the mixture I was startled to find that it had separated into thick solid and liquid, but with some effort I was CurryIngredientsable to break up the solid part enough that it would blend well in the ice cream maker. I set that going and proceeded with my next effort, mussaman curry paste.

Curry pastes are the bases for curry sauces in Thai food. The basic ones are green curry, yellow curry, red curry and mussaman; mussaman is basically red curry CurryIngredients2with some additional spices that import a little more of an Indian flavor, the name deriving from the Muslim traders who brought goods from elsewhere in Asia. I began by breaking the tops off about 15 red arbol chiles, shaking out as many of the seeds as I could, and then soaking them in hot water for about 20 minutes. While they soaked, I chopped my lemongrass stalks into small MussamanCurryPaste4pieces and put them into the bowl of the mini-food-processor attachment for my mixer. To this I added chopped shallot, cilantro, ginger and garlic. Now it was time to dry-toast some cumin and coriander seeds, then grind them in a spice grinder with some peppercorns. I zested a lime and added that to the mixture, then added some cinnamon, ground cloves, nutmeg, cardamom and Cucumbersalt; these are the spices that make the difference between red curry and mussaman curry. I drained the chiles and added them to the bowl, and pureed it all into a thick paste, adding a bit of water as necessary to keep the blades moving and grinding. I offered it to Scott to smell and he didn’t want to give it back.

I put the curry paste into the RedOnion2fridge and prepared the marinade for the cucumber salad: sugar, salt, vinegar and water, boiled together and then allowed to cool. Closer to dinnertime, I peeled and chopped a couple of cucumbers, minced a red onion, and chopped some cilantro, then mixed these together and added the vinegar mixture. The bowl went into the fridge, and I chopped some peanuts and pulled some cilantro CucumberSaladleaves to garnish them with just before serving.

For the curry I was going to need seitan balls. The cookbook gives a recipe for old-school seitan, mixing a flour paste and then rinsing away the non-gluten part. I don’t have the patience. I mixed some vital wheat gluten flour with some nutritional yeast flakes, garlic powder, soy sauce and Seitan2water, following a recipe I use for my Thanksgiving vegetarian feast; I kneaded the spongy mixture briefly, then shaped it into chunks, and browned them in olive oil. I set them aside.

Closer to mealtime I began the other dishes, starting with the mussaman curry. I did my vegetable prep: two diced sweet potatoes, two diced white RiceNoodlespotatoes, and some chopped onions and garlic. I heated 2/3 cup of coconut milk in my big Calphalon pot; when it was warm I stirred in two tablespoons of the curry paste and cooked it together for a few minutes, then added more coconut milk to total two cans, some vegetable broth, the vegetables and seitan, and some spices including cilantro and cardamom pods. I brought the CucumberSaladPlatedmixture to a boil and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. Then I stirred in some peanuts and let the mixture sit keeping warm. Technically I was supposed to let it sit 5 minutes, but I forgot to start the rice cooker until it was nearly dinnertime, so I let the curry mixture sit a little longer while the rice finished cooking. We served the curry with rice, and warned guests to be careful RiceNoodlesWithBroccoli2about the difference between cardamom pods and peanuts when chewing.

The last dish was the noodle dish, which was pretty simple. I soaked some dried rice noodles in hot water to reconstitute them; while they soaked I sauteed garlic, mushrooms and broccoli, then set those aside and added fresh oil to the pan. I drained the rice noodles and sauteed them. At this point I was supposed to add beaten eggs and cook them, but one of our guests was a vegan and I decided to just skip the eggs. Once the noodles were sauteed I returned the vegetables to the pan and added a mixture of soy sauce, brown sugar, and vegetable broth, and tossed it all together.

I brought out the cucumber salads first, garnished with peanuts and cilantro, then the noodle dish. The rice was ready about 10 minutes after that, so we brought out the curry and dug in. Everyone loved the food; the noodle dish was especially delightful, and we were all tempted to fill up on it without leaving enough room for curry. But the curry was tremendous. It wasn’t overly spicy, though I think if I made more for just me and Scott I’d add a little more curry paste to the sauce mixture. We ate so eagerly that we were a little worried about having room for dessert, but the coconut ice cream was light and refreshing, a perfect end to the meal.

Verdict: Success. I’ll be using the mussaman curry paste again, and making other dishes from this as well.

Lidia’s Italy: What to Do With a Greenmarket Haul

smothered eggplant and summer vegetables, Anna’s spaghetti and pesto Trapanese

AddingBasil2Lidia’s Italy is another cookbook I bought through a club and hadn’t used until now. Lidia Bastianich is a cookbook author, TV personality and restaurant owner (most notably New York’s Felidia), and it is clear she knows her way around Italian cuisine. The book is organized by the regions of Italy, with a wonderful range of flavors and ingredients within each chapter and from region to SpaghettiWithPesto2region.

I chose two recipes from the chapter on Sicily. This seemed appropriate; the Sicilian climate is hot and intense, which meant the summer selection of Greenmarket produce would find good use here. I wanted something I could make ahead, because I was having friends over for a sewing party, so I wanted to spend most Eggplants2of my time out of the kitchen once they arrived. I opted for a caponata or eggplant dish, which I could offer as a snack while we worked, and a fresh tomato sauce for spaghetti, which I could add to noodles when we were ready for dinner.

The smothered eggplant dish took a bit of preparation. I began with the eggplants, three modestly EggplantChunkssized beauties from the Greenmarket, which I cut into chunks about an inch wide and two inches long. More or less. Quite a few chunks were closer to an inch and a half or an inch, but I didn’t think that would matter. I tossed the eggplant chunks with some kosher salt and put them in a colander for the excess moisture to be drawn out and drained away. Next, I cut about OrangePlumTomatoes3two pounds of plum tomatoes into wedges, scooped out the seeds, and put them in a sieve for their excess moisture to drain as well. The tomatoes were orange, a lovely but unexpected color. I also chopped up some onions, celery and green olives, drained a jar of capers, and plucked and rinsed 12 large basil leaves and set them aside.

CeleryOnionsOlivesI took a few minutes to set up the flavoring syrup: I combined half a cup of red wine vinegar, half a cup of water and two tablespoons of sugar in a saucepan and brought the mixture to a boil, then let it cook until it was reduced by about half. This was easy to do, but I quickly discovered that it’s a bad idea to be downwind of the gust of steam from a pan in which you are CaponataIngredsboiling vinegar. That is one intense smell. My sinuses sterilized, I moved to the other side of the stove and set about frying the eggplant, which I had rinsed and dried after its salting time was up.

I put about a cup of canola oil into a large pan — the cookbook says to use a skillet, but I thought my big Calphalon pot would be a FriedEggplant3better choice — and heated it to medium, then added the eggplant and fried the pieces, stirring often to ensure even cooking and coloration. I removed the fried pieces to a dish lined with paper towels and let the excess oil drain off; I then discarded the cooking oil, wiped out the pan, and added a smaller quantity of olive oil to heat. When it was warm, I added the onions and celery and a AddingOlivesCapersbit of salt, and cooked them until the onion had softened and just begun to brown, about 8 minutes. Then I added the olives and capers, and stirred the mixture until the new ingredients began to sizzle a bit. I added the tomato wedges and a little more salt, stirred everything up, and let it cook for about 5 minutes.

AddingTomatoes2At this point I added the eggplant back to the pan and mixed it in, then poured in the vinegar syrup. I let this mixture cook for a few minutes, then drizzled in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and let the mixture cook for about 10 minutes more. When the timer went off, I turned off the heat, tore up the basil leaves and added them to the pot, and pulled the whole pan aside to cool to room temperature. I also began AddingEggplant2to rethink my serving plan. I had expected the vegetables to fall apart into a softer, more indistinct mixture, based on comments in the introduction such as “use it as a sauce for pasta or as topping for bruschetta.” The chunks in the pan were certainly soft, but still far too large to make an effective topping for bread or crackers. I decided to postpone any further PestoIngreds2decision until the mixture was cool, and turned to my other dish.

Pesto Trapanese is a much faster dish to make. I rinsed and dried about three-quarters of a pound of globe tomatoes, and put them into a food processor with 12 large basil leaves (clearly a popular quantity), one clove of garlic that I’d peeled and crushed with the flat of a knife blade, 1/3 PestoPureedcup of toasted almonds, a pinch of red pepper flakes and about half a teaspoon of kosher salt. I processed the mixture until it was a smooth liquid, then drizzled in about half a cup of olive oil and kept processing until the puree was a bit thicker and even in texture. I think it may have been meant to be thicker, but my tomatoes were a little larger than the cherry tomatoes called for in SpaghettiWithPestothe recipe and probably had a bit more liquid in them. If I had been making the pesto closer to dinnertime I could have just set it aside, but since I was working ahead I put it in the refrigerator.

Not long afterward, my friends arrived and we sat down for a snack before turning on the sewing machine. The eggplant mixture was indeed too chunky to easily spread on bread or a cracker, though we tried. But it tasted phenomenal. The flavors of the individual vegetables came through, and the overall mixture had a great tangy undertone (from the vinegar syrup, no doubt) and a richness, with a thick base from the portion that had broken down a bit. I think that if I were to make this again and wanted to use it as a dip or bruschetta topping, I’d throw it in the food processor and give it three or four pulses to break it down just a bit more. But in its chunky form I’m itching to try another of the suggestions from the recipe header: “use it as a sauce for pasta.” That’ll be Wednesday night, I think.

When we were ready to have dinner I cooked a pound of dried spaghetti. I realized while the water was coming to a boil that I was supposed to have brought out the pesto earlier so it could come to room temperature. Luckily it was fairly warm in the kitchen, and the sauce wasn’t really cold by the time the spaghetti was done. I drained the noodles and put them into a large pasta bowl, then added the pesto sauce and tossed the mixture together until the spaghetti was evenly coated. I passed around a chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano and a microplane zester, and invited people to add cheese if they wanted it. Everyone raved over this one, including me. I know it’s bad form to praise your own cooking, but I didn’t feel I’d really done that much, just followed excellent and simple instructions. I’m going to have to make this one again and again. In fact, I may have to do a serious Greenmarket run and make a large batch to freeze in portions. I don’t know how well the sauce freezes; we didn’t have enough left over to find out. But I think this deserves to be in weekly rotation for as long as tomatoes are in season.

Verdict: Success. Both the work-intensive dish and the easy one were well worth doing again.

The Food and Life of Oaxaca: Holy Mole!

amarillo (thick yellow mole), frijoles negros colados, arroz con tomatillos, basic corn tortillas

DinnerPlateI’ve had The Food and Life of Oaxaca for a number of years, but have never cooked from it until now. This is partly because when I lived in Portland, I wasn’t sure where to find the authentic Mexican ingredients. Then I was supposed to use it in November, but November sort of spun out of control. And in fact I made the dishes nine days ago, but by the time I was done that night I didn’t have time to format and load my photos and start writing before I had to get my suitcase packed and get to bed for an early morning flight. So here I am, better late than never.

Ingredients3If you are coming to Oaxacan food, it is better to do it late than never. This stuff is amazing. I have only last Sunday’s dinner to judge by, I admit; I have never been to Mexico (though I’ve been within shouting distance a couple of times, but was too well-mannered to do that), so I have never had Oaxacan food in Oaxaca cooked by Oaxacan cooks. I think I need to do something about that before long.

For those who don’t already know, Oaxaca is a state in Southwest Mexico in the area Tomatillos2where the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico draw near each other. It features rugged mountain ranges and fertile valleys, and was home to the Zapotec people starting thousands of years ago; they dominated the area until the Aztecs and the Spanish made their conquests. I learned all this from the introduction to this cookbook, which is a rich resource for both history and cookery.

Because Oaxaca’s growing areas range from tropical lowlands to cool mountains, the variety of food available is immense, and the recipes offer a vast range of choices: meats, seafood, rice, corn, beans, fruits, vegetables. It was hard to choose what to make, though I was able to narrow the selection down right ToastingJalapenos3away by the constraints of our dinner party. One guest is lactose-intolerant, one is vegetarian, and Scott avoids shrimp because it exacerbates his gout. I ruled out meat-centered dishes, food that called for cream or cheese, and a surprisingly vast list of items made with ground dried shrimp. I bet they were good, but with me gone for three days, Scott would have nobody to tend him while his foot swelled, so I struck those off the list.

ToastingVegs3Fortunately, I did not have to rule out any mole sauces, the heart of Oaxacan cuisine. Most Americans are probably familiar with mole as a spicy sauce that contains chocolate, but in fact the key to a mole is ground dried chiles, and only a few of the sauces presented include chocolate. Author Zarela Martinez dances around the difficulty of defining mole — it can mean many things to many cooks — but suggests that a mole will be a sauce that has a large number of ingredients, most especially dried chiles, that can be used to give depth and flavor to a broad range of ingredients. The cookbook gives recipes for the sauces and meats or seafood to go with them, but notes that any sauce can be used with any suitable meat, vegetables or seafood.

ToastingAvocadoLeavesI decided to try five dishes: a mole, a pepian (similar to a mole but with pumpkin seeds), refried black beans, rice with tomatillos, and corn tortillas. I made a list and set out in the neighborhood, prepared to go to several stores to find all the things I would need. I didn’t have to do that. I started at Key Food, where I had seen a section of Mexican ingredients. Guajillo, ancho, and arbol chiles, dried? There they were. Dried avocado leaves? Check. Masa harina? Several sizes of bags. Fresh tomatillos and jalapenos, dried black beans, cilantro, all were ready to hand. The only things I still didn’t have when I left that store were a hard green tomato (but I decided a standard hard red supermarket tomato was essentially the same thing), epazote in either dried or fresh form, and a tortilla press. I found dried epazote at Penzey’s, and with garlic, onions and rice already in my pantry, I was ready for a busy day.

EpazoteAndBeansI read through the recipes and saw that the prep was far more elaborate than the actual cookery in most cases; the stovetop time for a complete dish was far shorter than the time spent getting all the ingredients ready to combine. So I just tied on my apron, emptied the sink and got started. I was cooking black beans from scratch, so I washed and picked through a bag of dried beans, then put them into a pot with a whole onion, a head of garlic, and some dried epazote, an herb similar to but not quite like cilantro, which apparently is standard for cooking dried beans. It’s going to be for me from now on; the green flakes had a delightfully grassy and savory flavor.

ToastingDriedChilesWhile those cooked, I started to on several rounds of skillet dry-roasting. First up were the dried chiles; for each dish that called for them, I rinsed the appropriate dried chiles, shook off the excess water, then pan-toasted them for a minute or so on each side, until the remaining water droplets had disappeared and the chiles began to release their scent. I then DriedChilesDrainedpulled off the tops and extracted the seeds and pith of each dried pepper, as best I could; this turned out to be easier than I expected. I put the peppers into bowls (grouping each recipe together), poured boiling water over them, and let them soak for about half an hour.

SeedingChoppingJalapenosThe next things to dry-roast were the fresh vegetables. Jalapeno peppers, an onion, tomatillos in the husk, that not-truly-green but truly hard tomato, and garlic cloves in their peels all spent some time in that dry skillet. I turned them periodically to give them even charring or discoloration. When each item was done I removed it to a bowl (again, grouped by recipe), and removed the husks or peels. The jalapeno peppers actually went into a paper bag to rest for a bit before peeling; this was supposed to make the skins easier to slip off but I probably needed to roast them longer.

DicingTomatillosThe other key item of vegetable prep was to soak and then dice some tomatillos for the rice. Tomatillos have a center pulp that can be sticky, which works well for some dishes but not for others, and the rice dish called for its removal. So I pulled off the husks and quartered four tomatillos, soaked them in cold water for about half an hour, then cut away the center pulp and diced the flesh.

AllspiceClovesOreganoOften when I’m writing these blog entries I will say “at this point I did X,” but that’s a bit tricky to do here. I was working constantly, and I hadn’t made a cooking plan — and if I had, I would have been way off it within half an hour because I’d never done most of these things before and didn’t really know how long any given task would take. So I just kept working and paid attention to my timers to keep up with when I needed to drain off the soaking water for chiles, when I needed to add salt to the beans, when I needed to lower the heat. Now that I’ve made these dishes I could probably write an accurate cooking plan for the next time I do it. For the purposes of this blog entry, I’m going to shift now to describing how each dish is made in turn.

PepitaBlendFailI’ll start with my dish of failure, pepian con pollo, which was going to be pepian sin pollo anyway because I wasn’t going to use chicken. A pepian is a pumpkin-seed sauce, and you don’t have to gut a pumpkin to get its seeds; retailers in many areas, certainly in my neighborhood, offer both hulled and unhulled seeds. And this is where I went wrong, because I didn’t double-check the recipe when I made my list and I bought unhulled seeds. The recipe required hulled seeds. The difference is not unlike that between peanuts in the shell and peanuts out of the shell. So imagine making peanut butter with peanuts in the shell. I realized my mistake at a fairly advanced point; I had toasted jalapenos, and ground cloves and allspice berries and oregano, and was ready to throw it all into the blender with the seeds and some broth. Hmm, I thought, the balance seems pretty liquidy; perhaps I can go ahead and blend it and then sieve out the hulls. This was the wrong answer. Within about 10 seconds my blender began to make unhappy grinding noises and I could smell its motor overheating. I turned off the blender, dipped in a spoon and tasted the liquid. Absolutely inedible. I felt very Iron Chef (“I was going to have five dishes but one of them didn’t work out”) as I disposed of the chalky, salty slurry.

MoleIngredsInBlenderFortunately, the mole went much better. Amarillo mole takes its name from the deep orange-yellow color, and mine would have been a bit yellower if my tomato had been genuinely green. In a blender I combined three tomatillos, pan-roasted and husks and stems removed; one onion, pan-roasted and peeled; two garlic cloves, pan-roasted and peeled; one hard tomato, BlendingMole2pan-roasted and peeled; three dried guajillo chiles and one dried ancho chile, rinsed, dry-toasted, seeded, soaked and drained; and 10 peppercorns and 8 cloves, ground together in a spice grinder. I put on the lid and hit puree, and within a few minutes I had a gloriously deep orange, smooth, thick liquid. At this point I was supposed to force the sauce through a medium-mesh sieve, CookingMolebut I didn’t have a medium-mesh sieve, only a fine one, and I was running out of time and patience as well. I then heated some oil in a saucepan (the recipe recommends lard but when you are cooking for vegetarians that’s not happening), then added the sauce and covered and cooked it for about 10 minutes. While it cooked I mixed two teaspoons of masa harina with some water; MolePlusMasaHarinawhen the 10 minutes were up I added it to the sauce and whisked it in. At this point the recipe says to whisk constantly for another 15 minutes, but I was far too occupied with the other dishes coming together to do more than occasional whisking, and it turned out just fine. The sauce was done ahead of the other dishes, which was my goal; I set it aside and kept going.

BeansAvocadoLeavesChiles2The beans were the next focus of attention. I had started cooking my dry beans, and after they’d been cooking about 30 minutes I tested them fairly often for doneness, because this can vary depending on how old the dried beans are. These took probably an hour to cook, maybe a tad longer; it’s possible they’d have been ready a little sooner if I had waited longer to add the salt, which I think made them slightly tough, but they softened after a while. I drained the beans, reserving about 1 1/2 cups of the cooking liquid and discarding the onion and garlic. BeansPureedWhen they were cool — or, more accurately, when I had time to pay attention to them again — I put the beans into a food processor (I was giving the blender a rest after the pepian disaster) and added three dried arbol chiles (pan-toasted, soaked and drained) and 12 dried avocado leaves (pan-toasted and crumbled). I pureed these until they were an even consistency. I was supposed to push these through a sieve too, but I had decided by this point that if things were a bit coarse I would call it “rustic” and invoke Julia Child’s admonition to never apologize. I set aside the pureed beans and sliced three large onions into thin rings; I heated some oil and cooked the onions in it for about 8 minutes. Then I scooped out the onions and added the bean puree. I was supposed to discard the onions, but I had a qualm about wasting them, decided that rustic is as rustic does, and added back perhaps one-third of the onions. I mixed it all together, covered the beans and turned down the heat, and let them cook for about half an hour, stirring when I thought of it. Which was at least twice.

TomatillosCilantroThe arroz con tomatillos also required some food processing. I took the tomatillo flesh that I had diced and put it in the processor with a chopped onion, a chopped clove of garlic, and about half a cup of fresh cilantro leaves. A few whirs later and I had a lively green puree. In a saucepan, I heated some oil, then promptly forgot about it until I smelled it scorching. I pulled the pan away and put it on the windowsill to cool. In a different saucepan I heated some oil and paid attention this time; when it was hot but not scorching I added a cup of long-grain dry rice, stirring it for several minutes until it began to color and smell nutty. The recipe says it should “sound like sand as you stir it,” and this is surprisingly accurate; I can’t improve on the description. I added the tomatillo puree and stirred the mixture for about three minutes more; then I added 2 1/4 cups of vegetable stock, covered the pan, reduced the heat, and let it cook about 18 minutes.

MasaHarinaBalls2Now it was time for the final piece, the one with the least prep time and most cook time, for a change of pace: corn tortillas. (I took a few minutes to cut up some zucchini and green peppers to saute with mole, but I ended up delegating the cooking on that to a helpful guest.) Corn tortillas are easy to find in grocery stores; really good ones, not so much. The cookbook advises finding RusticTortilla2fresh masa, ground from lime-treated corn, which can be obtained from tortilla manufacturers. There is one in Queens, but not in my neighborhood, so I opted for the second-best step, combining masa harina (not cornmeal) with water and shaping it into balls. Once you have a tortilla dough ball, you are supposed to flatten it with a tortilla press, but I didn’t TurningTortilla2have one; the book says that you can use a flat-bottomed pan instead, which after my hardest pressing turned my corn dough spheres into inch-thick round slabs. I decided to roll them flatter from that point with a rolling pin, and was able to produce tortillas with a fairly consistent thickness but jagged edges. Pardon me, rustic. Once I’d flattened the tortillas (which I CookedTortillas2stacked in layers of wax paper to keep them from drying or sticking together), I heated some oil in a skillet and cooked each in turn, about 90 seconds on the first side and 60 seconds on the second. The first was not quite the best texture but the remaining 11 were pleasantly toasty. I toasted and turned while Scott and our friends set the table, cooked the zucchini and peppers, and plied me with lemonade. The tortillas were not flexible enough to roll as for soft tacos, but they made a very nice flat base for the other dishes.

VegsInMoleFinally the food was all cooked and we were ready to eat. I was worried that the dishes wouldn’t be good enough after all my labors, and maybe they wouldn’t have passed muster with a Oaxacan cook, but everything tasted fantastic to us. The beans were rich and savory, with a good smooth texture even in their rustic un-sieved condition. The rice was really delightful, fresh and bright and nutty. The tortillas had a deep corn flavor that put them far beyond store-bought. And the mole, oh, the mole! It was remarkable. Despite the dominance of chiles the sauce was not so much hot as complex and multi-layered; it had smoky and sweet overtones.

Verdict: Success. (Even despite the pepian failure.) I will be cooking from this cookbook again.

Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook: Pasta Salad for a Warm Evening

asparagus and carrots with pasta; chickpea saute with garlic and olives

PastaSaladDressedYou’ll have noticed that I haven’t posted in a while. You know how it feels when you’re busy all the time but if you stop and look back it’s hard to point to anything specific that quite accounts for all the time that passed? Yes, I did the AIDS Walk last Sunday, but that’s only one day. OK, we went to a movie the day before that and had dinner out. I worked quite a bit, but not exceptionally ChickpeaOliveSaute2late. No single thing that explains such neglect.

Cooking for yourself, even from scratch, doesn’t have to be time-consuming. Most of the recipes I’ve chosen (especially recent ones) are not in and of themselves time-consuming. Where this blog project takes time is in going through the cookbooks and choosing what to AsparagusSlivers2try. That’s what I have balked at doing when work runs late and the weekend starts to fill up.

For last night I knew I had to make time for a blog project, because we’re about to take a trip and I won’t be able to cook during it. (I suppose that theoretically I could find something that requires no cooking or chopping, or mixing in KalamataOliveHalves3bowls I won’t have available, and that won’t produce leftovers we can’t store…it doesn’t seem that likely now that I examine it in detail.) I promise to get back in the swing of things when we return. Heck, I’ll have to.

It’s been warm the past few days, so I chose a couple of light and easy dishes from the Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook. I’ve RedOnionused this book before. My chief memory is that dishes that claim to be hot or spicy aren’t really; this is true of the magazine as well. But the dishes generally taste good. I made my way through the salad chapter and lit on a pasta salad with carrots and asparagus, and then added a chickpea saute for good measure.

I began with the prep for both BlanchedAsparCarrdishes. The trickiest thing is to quarter the asparagus spears lengthwise. The recipe says to do that before cutting them into shorter pieces (about an inch and a half), but I found it easier to cut the shorter pieces and quarter those lengthwise. I cut up a couple of carrots to similar proportions, and minced some parsley, and that was it for prep for the pasta salad. For the CookedPastachickpeas I minced some garlic and red onion.

The pasta salad is a breeze. I cooked some whole-wheat spirals according to the package directions, drained the pasta, tossed it with some olive oil to help prevent the noodles from sticking together, and let them cool. In the meantime I blanched the carrot and asparagus slivers. PastaSaladBeforeDressingWhen the pasta was cool I mixed the vegetables and parsley in (yes, I know parsley is a vegetable, I’m just trying to be specific). I could have added capers as well, but didn’t have any. They’re optional. I then whisked together a dressing of balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper, and poured it over the salad, mixing well so it would be evenly distributed.

ChickpeasPlusOlivesThe chickpea dish is easy too. I sauteed the red onion and garlic in olive oil for a couple of minutes, then added a can of chickpeas (rinsed and drained) and some dried thyme, and cooked for a few more minutes. Then I added salt, pepper, and a bit of water, plus some kalamata olives (pitted and halved), and cooked that all together for a few minutes more.

ChickpeaOliveSauteThe recipes say both dishes are best at room temperature. This was convenient, because it meant I could cook ahead and then get the kitchen cleaned up and get some other things done before dinner. It also meant that when our dinner guests were running late, we could assure them it didn’t make a difference.

The pasta salad was really tasty, and the vegetables were still crisp enough to have a good bite to them. The chickpea dish was also good, with a rich, savory flavor.

Verdict: Success. And that will have to hold until we’re back from our travels next week.

Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites: Light Veggie Goodness

zucchini saffron pasta

PastaPlated2This is the pasta dish that I meant to make yesterday but saved for this evening. A good choice, as it turned out, since it was even hotter today and very stuffy. Last night’s hour-by-hour weather report forecast storms coming in by 4 pm, which would reduce the heat only a little but improve the air quality considerably. As of 9 pm there is no rain, but the pressure is SlicingZucchini2enough to make one’s head explode. The cats are sprawled in the hallway, sniffing at faint breezes. The kitchen is cooling down from the baking I did earlier (I never said I was a smart planner). So a light and easy pasta dish was just the ticket for tonight.

I’ve used Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites often in the past. ZucchPastaIngredsI had to dig a bit to find something I hadn’t already tried. Chili burgers? Been there. (Mash beans with grated carrot, oats, ketchup, and a few other odds and ends, and pan-fry — surprisingly good.) Seitan fajitas? I haven’t actually made that one but Scott has. Quinoa black bean salad? Already tried it, but thanks for the reminder — that will be good this summer. I turned more SaffronThreadscarefully to the pasta section and realized that I’ve flipped past zucchini saffron pasta before because it calls for saffron.

Ah, saffron, luxurious and expensive spice. The stigma of a crocus, saffron is known for its rarity and its intense color. I’ve often substituted turmeric, which doesn’t quite match the flavor or color but costs considerably less. OnionsZucchInPan2But as it happens, I have some saffron on hand, since I bought a jar for the Indian food I made in December, when I knew substitutions would not be right. A little saffron goes a long way, and while a jar with what looks like a modest number of thin red filaments seems expensive, you’re going to be able to do a lot with it. The per-use price may not be much worse than that of SaffronWatervanilla.

This dish is fairly simple. I did my vegetable prep first, juicing a couple of lemons, slicing some zucchini into rounds, mincing some garlic, and slicing a large onion. Then I put a pot of water to boil for the penne pasta. While that heated, I sauteed the garlic and onions in olive oil, then added the zucchini. When the onions VeggieMixture2were translucent and the zucchini had started to brown a little, I crushed some saffron threads — or tried to, anyway — and mixed them with some water, then poured that into the pan. I rinsed the saffron bowl with the lemon juice and poured that into the pan as well, added a bit of salt and pepper, then lowered the heat and covered the pan to continue cooking while the penne finished.

PastaInBowl2When the penne was cooked, I drained it and poured it into a large pasta bowl, then added the vegetable mixture and stirred it well so the chunks were evenly distributed and everything was a pleasant, warm, golden color from the saffron. I grated on some romano cheese and served it up.

This dish is delightful. The saffron PastaBowlCheese3gives it a rich and unusual flavor, which is accentuated by the brightness of the lemon juice. It was ideal for a hot, sultry evening.

Verdict: Success. This goes on the list for as long as I have saffron left — which ought to be a while.

The New Hostess of To-Day: In Which I Rediscover the Joy of Custard Sauce

apple snow, with boiled custard (soft)

CakePlusSauceThe New Hostess of To-Day dates from 1916, so it’s not quite as impenetrable as Miss Leslie‘s work but is still chock full of vague directives and alarming ingredients. Pigeon Galantine, for example, though I may just be biased by living in New York and therefore seeing any pigeon recipe as no different from one calling for rat. (Possibly you’d find more meat on a rat here.)

YolksNSugarLinda Hull Larned offers introductory chapters on various kinds of entertaining: the formal luncheon, the informal dinner, the informal dinner with but one both to cook and serve (ah, for the days when you could take servants for granted), the wedding breakfast, the card party and more. She has an extensive section on chafing-dish cookery, leading me to suspect she’d YolksNSugar2received several for her own wedding.

So I was a little nervous as I flipped through the book looking for recipes, but I was determined not to set myself up for failure this time. Linda Hull Larned might not have had an electric mixer, but I do, and I was determined to use it if necessary. I was also determined to rule out any CookingCustardrecipes whose instructions truly mystified me. And as usual I opted against anything with scary or impossible-to-find ingredients, so it didn’t take me long to narrow my choices to a manageable number. The dessert chapter didn’t look too challenging, and soon I settled on a two-part dish: apple snow with custard sauce.

GratedAppleI spent a semester studying in London, and our host family often prepared desserts with custard sauce. Custard sauce on steamed pudding, custard sauce on fruit; hell, if they’d poured custard sauce on rusted nails I’d probably have lapped it up and asked for more. I knew that one could find mixes for the right version in shops that sell British foods, but it had not occurred to me to make it BeatenEggWhite2from scratch. I’d assumed it would be hard, and I was wrong.

I started by making the custard. I beat two egg yolks with 1/4 cup of sugar until the mixture was fluffy (and surprisingly light in color). I then scalded some milk, then added the egg yolk mixture and stirred the mixture while it cooked. Larned’s instructions say “Cook until spoon is coated,” and SnowMixturefor a while I was not sure just what that might mean, but as the sauce continued to cook and thicken, I could see the effect she meant: as I lifted the spoon from the pan, the custard clung to it, more and more thickly as I continued to cook. I kept cooking and stirring until the consistency seemed right, then added a teaspoon of butter, removed the pan from the heat, added a bit of CakeAndJam2vanilla, and was faced with the direction “Beat until cold.”

Now what kind of a cooking instruction is that? I considered two possibilities; if the idea was simply to incorporate cooler air into the mixture to chill it in a pre-refrigeration age, I could just put the sauce in the fridge to cool down. But if the stirring was necessary to maintain an CakeJamSnowemulsion — to keep the custard from separating — then I couldn’t skip that step. I decided to try stirring for a while and see how it went. It went slowly. I checked periodically, and while the custard wasn’t immediately separating if I stopped stirring, it was showing a certain paleness at the edges that prompted me to keep at it, but it was very slow to cool. After a while I got the bright idea to pour SnowOnCakeit into a cool bowl instead of the hot saucepan, and that helped considerably. By the time I quit and put it into the fridge it wasn’t exactly cold, but it was far cooler and not separating.

After that I made the apple snow. This was a fairly simple mixture: a grated Granny Smith apple — which I peeled, on the assumption that the “snow” was CakePlusSauce2not intended to have a green tinge — plus 3/4 cup of powdered sugar, a pinch of salt, and three egg whites beaten stiff. The recipe said to beat them together until fluffy, which threw me at first because adding the apple and sugar to the puffy egg whites deflated them quite a bit; however, I kept beating the mixture and it reached a point that I could consider fluffy, just not as fluffy as the egg whites alone.

The apple snow was to be served over sponge cake spread with a layer of jam, and topped with custard sauce. You probably know sponge cake as angel food cake; I used a store-bought cake because I didn’t want to go to the trouble of making my own, but I probably should have, as the cake was just OK. I opened up a jar of the peach jam I made last summer, which was rather better. I spread jam on cake and scooped on some of the apple snow, then poured on some custard. The combination was delicious: tart apple, light creamy foam, rich custard, fruity jam. It felt elegant and rich, belying how easy it was to make.

Verdict: Success. And I have lots of custard sauce left over. Now if I can just find some nails…

The Enchanted Broccoli Forest: The Cute Overload of Casseroles

enchanted broccoli forest

BakedBroccoliForest2I’ve had the book The Enchanted Broccoli Forest for probably 20 years now, and it’s a great cookbook. It has a wide range of tasty entrees, plus one of the best instruction sections for how to make bread that I’ve seen anywhere. But I had never tried the title recipe, “enchanted broccoli forest,” before tonight. It really seemed kind of silly, and I was always more interested in BroccoliTrees3distinctive dishes like soups or pasta than in a rice casserole. But of course when I reached this title in my blog planning, Scott and I agreed: I needed to make the forest.

The idea is fairly simple, really: spread a brown rice casserole mixture in a baking pan, add broccoli florets so that they look like little trees, drizzle on some CookedRicelemon butter, cover with foil and bake. The assembled ingredients don’t sound all that exciting — as I said to Scott, “If I’d said I was going to make a broccoli-rice casserole you’d have yawned” — but the presentation makes it rather fun.

I started by cooking some brown rice. While it cooked, I cut some broccoli into long-stemmed SpicedOnionsflorets, then set it to steam; when it was just tender I rinsed it with cold water to stop the cooking. I also chopped up some parsley, beat some eggs together, juiced a lemon, melted butter, and mixed up spices, while Scott chopped an onion and a clove of garlic and shredded some cheddar cheese.

When the rice was ready, I pulled it from the heat and fluffed it with AddingCheeseMixture2a fork. Then I sauteed the onion and garlic in some melted butter, and added a mixture of dried dill, dried mint, salt, pepper and cayenne. I mixed the onions into the rice. Then I lightly beat the eggs with the parsley and cheese, and mixed that into the rice as well. I spread the rice mixture in a baking pan.

Then I poked the broccoli RiceInPan“trees” into the rice mixture, finding that I had to trim a few of the stalks so they would stay upright. As a once and future Oregonian, I also added a few of the bare stalks to the pan as “stumps of mystery.” With all the broccoli in place, I mixed the lemon juice and melted butter together and drizzled it over the broccoli. Then I carefully covered the pan with foil and put it into the oven.

BroccoliForest2The baked dish looked a little more finished than when it went into the oven: the rice mixture had firmed up a bit, and the broccoli had lost a bit of its brightness during cooking. I didn’t bother to photograph the mixture on the plate, because it’s really not possible to keep the stalks standing up and it didn’t look particularly exciting. But it tasted terrific: the rice had a rich and hearty flavor, and the lemon butter made the broccoli really delightful.

Verdict: Success. I’ll want to make this again. I don’t know if it would be an effective way to get kids to eat broccoli, but it might motivate adults who know they ought to be eating fewer cheeseburgers.