A Few Gift Ideas

labels

1. Something homemade: Toasted Muesli

Since discovering toasted muesli this past summer, I can’t get enough of it — seriously, we make double batches of it twice a week. Its virtues are countless — healthy, whole grain, full of fiber, gluten free, easy to make, delicious, delicious, delicious — and I can’t introduce enough people to it.

If you are interested in printing these labels at home, these are the two sets of Avery stickers I ordered:

Circular: Avery, 2.5″ diameter, White
Rectangular: Avery, 3″x3.75″, Ivory

Here are the label files to download:

off white
blue
blue & off white
rectangular

Two other foods I love giving as gifts this time of year are rosemary shortbread and orange and ricotta pound cake. This pinboard has more ideas, too.

filling the jars
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Thyme Dinner Rolls

basket of thyme dinner rolls

I know that some of you might be thinking there is no possible way you have time to add one more item, let alone homemade dinner rolls, to your Thanksgiving Day timetable, but I’m here on this snowy November morning to encourage — to insist! — that you do. You absolutely have time. Here’s why:

1. This dough, especially if you use instant yeast, takes five minutes to mix together. There is no kneading, no pampering.

2. Moreover, there is no need to flour up a workspace or to get your hands dirty shaping individual rolls. If you have a 12-cup muffin pan and someone lurking in your kitchen hoping to help, you’re in luck. Put that friend to work buttering the muffin cups, punching down the dough, portioning out the rolls. Handling this dough requires no skill.

3. This dough can rise in the corner of your kitchen all morning long. While that turkey roasts away, you can punch the dough down as often as you need, and when at last you find the oven free of birds and stuffings and gratins, in will go your rolls.

4. These rolls bake in 25 minutes. If you plan on letting your turkey rest for a good 30 minutes before carving, you’ll have plenty of time to let these rolls make their second rise (17 to 20 minutes) and to bake them before your guests are seated around the table, at which point you will pass around a basket of steaming hot, thyme-flecked rolls.

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White Bean, Escarole & Sausage Soup

white bean, escarole & sausage soup

There is a not-so-little known deli in my town called Gershon’s, and the first time Ben and I stopped in, we found ourselves in the to-go line staring up at the overwhelming menu board during the midday rush, the trail of hungry regulars growing behind us with every passing second, the decision of what to order becoming harder with every beep-beep-beep of the opening front door.

Fortunately, the man standing behind us offered us guidance, telling us to order the #1, a corned beef and pastrami sandwich, the one he orders every week, the one he has ordered every week since discovering Gershon’s 21 years ago. It seemed like a safe bet.

Served on rye bread, this sandwich, buckling with meat, dripping with Russian dressing, spilling with slaw, couldn’t have been more delicious. And as we chomped on our pickles and picked at our chips, we wondered if we too might fall into the #1-for-life routine. But fortunately, something happened — the weather turned — and when we found ourselves at Gershon’s again, this time to dine-in on a Saturday afternoon, we decided to warm up with a cup of the daily soup, white bean with escarole and sausage.

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Super Easy Summer Squash Gratin

Summer Squash Gratin

This time of year I suspect few of you are thinking about summer squash. Many of you are more likely celebrating the last prune plums of the season or refusing to eat anything but tomatoes before they disappear for too many long cold months. And some of you may have already moved on to pumpkins and apples.

But it’s been an odd summer for me. I just haven’t had my summer squash fill. So last Sunday at the Schenectady farmers’ market, I stocked up — they’re practically free at the market these days — with visions of spending the week making bread and fritters and spaghetti and salads with shaved Pecorino.

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Baking Steel Pizza: Tomato & Mozzarella // Caramelized Onion & Burrata

cutpizza2

In September 2008 I returned from Slow Food Nation convinced I would, by the end of the week, build a mud oven in the alleyway next to my apartment and, as a result, have wood-fired pizzas at my disposal from then on out.

I had watched volunteers at SFN stomp in the mud and cobble together an oven in two days, and I couldn’t stop dreaming about the pizzas, thin and crisp with a blistered bubbly edge, that emerged from that wood-fired oven.

After doing a little research, I made a list of supplies and stuck it to my fridge. I even bought a book: How to Build Your Own Hearth Oven. It was going to happen. I would get my wood-fired oven.

But a few weeks passed, and I never got around to building it. And before I knew it, a few years passed. And then a few children appeared. And then a few dreams disappeared.

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Burnt Eggplant with Za’atar Flatbread

Burnt Eggplant with Za'atar Flatbread

Last summer I discovered eggplant caviar, a dish made from peeled eggplant roasted in a foil-covered pan, a preparation that, with minimal oil, produces the creamiest lightest flesh imaginable. Seasoned with fresh herbs and macerated shallots, spooned over grilled bread, this mashup makes a wonderful summer hors d’oeuvre.

This year, I’ve been using my grill to make the eggplant caviar, and I think I might love it even more. After reading about charring whole, unseasoned eggplants over coals or in the oven seemingly everywhere I turned — in Mark Bittman’s Flexitarian column, in Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem, and in the book I always rely on this time of year, Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables — I had to try the method myself.

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Ricotta with Thyme, Olive Oil & Grilled Bread

ricotta

Last week, while packing away a few cookbooks, an old newspaper clipping tucked between two books slipped off the shelf and swooped into my lap, opening as it landed to reveal a photograph of a mouth-watering spread: a bowl filled with herb-and-olive oil topped ricotta, a few slices of grilled bread, and a handful of halved black mission figs. A quick glance through the article led me to discover that this appetizer, described as “stupid simple” by the chef of A Voce at the time (2008) was the most popular appetizer on the menu.

With the task at hand long forgotten — I’ve always been a hopeless packer — I made my way to the kitchen, hoping to find cheesecloth and heavy cream, making ricotta the order of the hour. And thirty minutes later, the stupid simple appetizer had materialized: creamy curds seasoned with sea salt, fresh thyme, dried oregano, and a drizzling of olive oil.

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Pissaladière/Focaccia: What to Do With Past-Prime Lahey Pizza Dough

just-baked pissaladière

Happily Ever After: or so ends the tale of so many kitchen accidents, this story of a batch of past-prime Jim Lahey pizza dough being no exception.

Once upon a time, an avid admirer of the Lahey pizza recipe opened her fridge to discover two rounds of several-days old dough, their plastic-wrapped seams bursting with nubs of desiccating dough. Not wanting to see the dough go to waste, the girl began experimenting, first in the form of focaccia. After letting the two rounds of dough rest briefly in a well-oiled 8×8-inch pan, she stretched it gently, using all ten fingers to create dimples, then sprinkled the surface with sea salt and rosemary. In no time the dough, with oil pooling in its myriad craters, began looking like a pretty decent focaccia, and it ended up baking off even more beautifully. Later that evening, the girl split the focaccia lengthwise and served roasted red pepper and herbed goat cheese sandwiches to some friends, none of whom would have suspected they had a batch of tired pizza dough to thank for their delectable dinner.

And that’s just the beginning of this tale’s happy ending. About a week later, the girl visited her family in CT, where the familiar sight of days-old pizza dough in her mother’s basement fridge — it turns out her mother’s planning is sometimes just as poor as hers — sent the girl scouring for other leftovers. When she found some caramelized onions, a tub of salt-packed anchovies, and a jar of olives, an impromptu pissaladière began to materialize.

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Rhubarb Ice Cream • Rhubarb Jam

scoopoficecream

The trouble with homemade ice cream, in my experience at least, is its half-life: what tastes smooth and creamy, light and airy on day one, becomes icy and hard, choppy and crystalized on day two. The texture after a day in the freezer just doesn’t compare to the best store-bought varieties.

So when I tried Jeni’s Splendid ice cream recipe for the first time a few weeks ago, what struck me more than the flavor — dark chocolate heightened by coffee — was the texture: dense and creamy, almost chewy, a consistency that persisted for days. Jeni’s ice cream scoops as well as the big dogs even after a week in the freezer.

For those unfamiliar with Jeni, let me fill you in: Jeni Bauer opened Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in 2002 in Columbus, Ohio, and her company now operates nine shops in Ohio and one in Tennessee. In her book, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, Jeni shares her ice cream base recipe, which can be transformed however your heart desires. So far, I’ve made the darkest chocolate ice cream in the world, a recipe from Jeni’s book, and this rhubarb ice cream, a combination of Jeni’s base and a vanilla-bean flecked rhubarb jam, which I only wish I could can by the barrel-full before rhubarb season passes.

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