Apricot Pecan Rugelach

Sometimes a recipe comes along that’s so good that it really doesn’t need modification. That’s how I felt about Ina Garten’s rugelach recipe. The only changes I made were to omit the raisins and to use 8oz of chopped pecans instead of a cup of chopped walnuts. Also, unless you’re super speedy in the kitchen, factor in at least an extra hour beyond Ina’s time estimate.

These were a big hit with our neighbors and will definitely be filling our kitchen with their sweet scent again soon, maybe next time with raspberry preserves instead of apricot…

rugelach2

Sweet Potato Pie

Not only had I never baked a sweet potato pie before this one but I also had never tasted one either! I had heard from others that sweet potato can be even better than pumpkin for pie but I never believed it… until now. After getting around 3lbs of sweet potatoes from a local farm, I decided that it was finally time to experiment with sweet potato pie.

I didn’t like most of the recipes I found online, each one for a different reason. So, I combined and adapted several to come up with my own. Though they weren’t the most beautiful pies because the crusts were a little shallow and uneven, husband and neighbors loved them.

Pie Ingredients (yields two pies, cut quantities in half for a single pie)

  • pie dough (for example, the one I made here)
  • 3 cups cooked and peeled sweet potatoes
  • 6 eggs (yolks and whites separated)
  • 1.5 cups brown sugar
  • 1.5 cups milk
  • 1 cup melted butter
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Maple Whipped Cream (optional)

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1-2 tbs maple syrup

Make and chill dough for a pie crust of your liking. If you’re making two pies, use a double pie crust recipe. I was just a little bit short on dough and so my edges didn’t come out as high and wide as I would have liked. While your dough chills, start by boiling the sweet potatoes over medium heat for about an hour. After they cook, drain them, let them cool, peel them, and chop/mash before using.

crusts

I like to blind bake my pie crust for about 15 minutes at 350°F to make sure that the bottom cooks through and gets nice and flaky. It was my first time using this method with parchment paper and a pie chain. I discovered that the sides of the pie sink down a bit with this method – not ideal but still better than soggy/raw crust. Next time, I might try filling the paper with dried beans instead to see if it does a better job of providing structure for the sides.

blind bake

While the crusts cook, prepare the pie filling. Combine all of the ingredients in one bowl except for the egg whites (and also the pie dough, of course). Start by beating the yolks with the brown sugar, add in the spices, melted butter, milk, and lastly the sweet potatoes. You can use a hand mixer to get a smooth texture. Next, beat the egg whites with a clean hand mixer until peaks form but they’re still glossy and wet.

beaten egg whites

Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the rest of the mixture until just combined. Pour the filling into the cooled pie crusts. Bake at 350°F for approximately 50 minutes or until the filling looks set.

pie in oven

pie puffed up

You’ll notice that the pie puffs up a little bit like a soufflé while baking. When you take it out of the oven and let it cool it will deflate back down but will keep a light texture from those beaten egg whites. Let the pie cool to room temperature and serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream, lightly sweetened with maple syrup.

slice with fork

Chicken Velouté – Romanian Ciulama de Pui

I had a hard time figuring out what to call this in English. Thankfully, after some Google searches, I discovered that the closest equivalent to Romanian ciulama in English is actually the French sauce called velouté. Though the name sounds fancy, this is really just simple comfort food. Plus, as our family found out this week, it’s amazing when you’re fighting a cold. Makes sense – it has lots of chicken broth, fresh garlic, and parsley.

Ingredients, serves 2

  • 2 tbs butter
  • 2 tbs flour
  • 1-1.5 cups homemade chicken broth
  • 2 servings of cooked chicken (legs, breasts, wings, back, anything goes)
  • 2-3 cloves of freshly pressed garlic
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a few sprigs of parsley for each plate

Start with two small pots. Heat the homemade chicken broth in one pot while making a simple roux in the other. You’ll want to bring the broth up to a boil and then turn off the heat. Remember to prep your ingredients before you start making the roux because you’ll want to stir constantly once that starts.

Debone and shred your pieces of chicken into bite-sized or smaller pieces. I usually use the chicken that was boiled to make the broth. Boiled chicken isn’t usually particularly flavorful and so this is a delicious way to use it. If you don’t have that on hand because you’re using frozen broth that you made earlier, you can also use roasted chicken for this recipe. Set the shredded meat aside for later.

To make the roux, melt the butter in a pan until it starts to bubble. Sprinkle the flour onto the butter and then stir the mixture over medium-to-low heat for a few minutes to cook the flour. Slowly add hot chicken broth, one ladle at a time, while stirring or whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Stop adding liquid when the mixture appears to be a little thinner than you’d like but not fully liquid either. It will thicken a little bit more as it cooks. Taste it and add salt and pepper if needed – it depends on the seasoning level of your broth.

When the sauce looks ready, add the shredded chicken and continue to cook for a few more minutes. Remove it from the heat and add the freshly pressed garlic. Feel free to scrape out the garlic fibers that remain inside the press and also add those to the pot. Stir to combine and pour into two bowls. Tear a few sprigs of fresh parsley and place them on top of the chicken velouté or, if you’re Romanian, ciulama de pui.

Dig in with a big spoon and enjoy the garlicky goodness!

 

Liquid Gold aka Homemade Chicken Broth

Perhaps even more important than getting your flu shot, replenishing the freezer supply of homemade chicken broth before flu season begins is essential. When you’re sniffly, achy, and exhausted you’re not going to want to make anything, much less a soup that takes several hours to cook. As there’s nothing more soothing and restorative than a hot bowl or mug of homemade chicken broth, I always keep a few containers on hand in the freezer. It’s also great for cooking, though I never seem to get that far with it. Really, with a broth this good, you just drink it as is – no need for meat, vegetables, noodles, matzah balls, or even a spoon!

Ingredients

  • 1 chicken, cut into parts
  • water
  • 4-5 carrots, peeled or unpeeled, whole
  • 3-4 parsnips, peeled, whole (or parsley root, if you can find it)
  • 1 large celery root, peeled, cut in four
  • 3 stalks of celery, cut in half
  • small bunch of flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 small or 1 large onion, peeled, whole
  • salt
  • cayenne pepper, ground
  • white pepper, ground

Getting a good quality bird is really important when it comes to making soup. Mom and grandma always said that the bigger and older the bird the richer and tastier the broth. Though I don’t usually select my chicken based on age or size, I do like to get mine from a local organic chicken farm. I like to know that she roamed around in the sun, pecking at insects in the grass. The factory farm alternative is not so picturesque and, frankly, I think it affects the quality of the meat.

Cut your fresh chicken into parts (legs, wings, breasts, breast bone, back). Place the pieces into a large soup pot and cover with cool water. I usually go a couple inches above the level of the chicken but leave enough room to be able to add veggies to the pot later.

Bring the water and chicken to a boil. Use a skimmer to remove the foam that rises to the top after it starts to boil. When foam stops rising, add the vegetables. I mentioned above which ones I leave whole or cut. I usually tie the parley together gently with one of the thicker pieces of parsley. It requires a little finesse to tie it without breaking it but it makes it a lot easier to remove from the soup later. I add the parsley last so that it floats on top. After you add all of the vegetables, season with salt, cayenne pepper, and white pepper.

At this point, lower the temperature on the stove to a simmer and cover part-way with a lid. Simmer the soup on low heat for around 2 hours after adding the vegetables.

When the soup is done, remove all of the vegetables and meat. Throw away the onions, parsley, and celery. If you don’t mind mushy, you can eat the carrots, parsnip, and celery root. The vegetables were really just there to give the broth an amazing flavor. The meat, however, should be really tender and delicious after boiling for so long. In fact, the cartilage even start to break down and get soft. It’s not the most flavorful meat preparation but it can be dressed up with a sauce or combined with more dominant side dishes. I actually like it the way it is out of the pot. Again, the star of the show is the broth. So, ladle some liquid gold into your favorite mug or bowl right after making it and freeze the rest for a rainy day.

Black-Eyed Pea and Lamb Stew

The leaves are changing color and it’s starting to feel more like fall outside. So, I feel more like cooking warm and soothing meals like this black-eyed pea and lamb stew. Luckily, here in the Bay Area, it’s still fresh bean season and so there’s no need to soak dried beans overnight!

shelling black eyed peas

The first two steps (the beans and the meat) can be prepared the day before and kept in the fridge separately until you’re ready to cook the stew.

Ingredients (these are approximations, feel free to change to your taste and local ingredients)

  • 2lbs of fresh black-eyed peas
  • 1.5lb lamb roast
  • olive oil
  • sea salt
  • white pepper (ground)
  • turmeric (ground)
  • cayenne pepper (ground)
  • 10 cloves of garlic (5 for the meat and 5 for the stew)
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 small sweet peppers (I used yellow corno di toro peppers)
  • 6-8 carrots
  • 2-3 stalks of celery
  • 3-4 heirloom tomatoes
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • bunch of parsley, chopped
  • 2-3 bay leaves

done shelling

These black-eyed peas were definitely more time and labor-intensive to shell than the cannellini or cranberry beans. They made a delicious stew but feel free to substitute a different type of bean that’s available in your area and/or use dried beans (just remember to soak dried beans overnight).

start to boil

After rinsing the shelled beans, cover with water and bring them to a boil.

change water

If you see this kind of slimy film and big bubbles form while boiling, drain the beans into a colander and rinse them again.

bring to boil again

Rinse the pot, return the beans, cover with fresh water, and bring it up to a boil again.

beans done

Cook the beans for around 35-45 minutes, or until they are soft enough to smoosh with the back of the spoon. Remove them from the stove and let them cool before refrigerating to use the next day or to use to make the stew in the same day.

lamb roast

The meat can also be roasted a day ahead. Stab the roast several times with a small sharp knife and insert a piece of garlic (either a small clove or a thick sliver) into each hole. Drizzle olive oil all over the roast and season liberally with salt, cayenne, and white pepper. Bake at 400°F for about an hour. After the roast cools, you can either refrigerate it or use it immediately to make the stew.

cut lamb

I refrigerated both the beans and meat overnight. Before making the stew, I sliced the meat and then chopped it to make small uniform bites to be added later to the stew.

drippings

I also saved the drippings from the bottom of the pan that solidified in the fridge overnight. These add some extra flavor and richness to the stew.

veggies

Time to prep and chop all of the fresh veggies.

cooking veggies

Saute the chopped vegetables in a generous pour of olive oil. I like to add them one by one to the cooking pot as I prep the next vegetable. Since some vegetables take longer to cook than others, chop in the order you’d like them to cook in, for example: onions, celery, carrots, peppers, and tomatoes. Season this mixture with lemon juice, sea salt, cayenne pepper, white pepper, and a generous amount of turmeric. Remember to add more salt than you’d normally use because you did not season the beans when you cooked them earlier.

now add meat and beans

After the vegetables start to cook, add the bay leaves and most of the chopped parsley (reserving a few sprigs for presentation).

add meat and beans

Once the vegetables have cooked down and the carrots are softening, add the black-eyed peas (and their cooking liquid), cut pieces of lamb, and reserved pan drippings.

and boil some more

Boil for another 20-30 minutes.

remove bay leaves

When it’s ready, remember to remove the bay leaves. They give great flavor but are tough and not edible.

it's ready

Serve a couple ladles of stew with a few sprigs of fresh parsley on top and, if you wish, some fresh country bread on the side. This stew, like most stews, is even better the second (and third) day because the flavors combine and penetrate all the ingredients while in the fridge overnight. So, you can prepare this stew in advance and/or enjoy leftovers for a couple days. Either way, if your family is anything like mine, they’ll be asking for seconds.

bowl of stew

Fresh Cannellini Bean Salad

Shelling Cannellini Beans

In summer, making beans doesn’t have to require planning the day before and cooking for long periods of time. And, no, I’m not talking about popping open a can. These fresh cannellini beans were easy to prepare and the uses are endless. I decided to use half to make a bean salad and saved the other half for another use (or, since it was so delicious, maybe more of the same) later this week.

I’m a big fan of beans but rarely cook them because they require soaking the night before and then a fairly long cook time on the stove. So, I was very excited to discover that Good Eggs is currently selling fresh cannellini beans from Dirty Girl Produce in Santa Cruz. I quickly signed up for two pounds (comes out to about 2 cups shelled) in this week’s delivery and now wish I had purchased more!

One of my favorite parts of preparing fresh beans (and peas too) is the shelling process. It’s simple and relaxing. In some ways, it reminds me of knitting or other repetitive tasks that can become almost meditative. Sometimes, I shell them while watching TV or chatting on the phone. Other times, it’s a welcome break from screen time and an opportunity for some quiet reflection.

Boil Cannellini Beans

After giving the beans a quick rinse in the colander, set them on the stove, with some water, over medium to medium-high heat to just bring them up to a boil. Once boiling, lower the temperature and simmer them for about 20-30 minutes. Cooking time will vary based on the freshness of the bean (if it’s older, it’ll be drier and take longer) and also on personal preference.

Cooked Cannellini Beans

I tend to like my beans soft and squishy. So, I cook them until I see some of them start to break apart. After straining in a colander, they’re ready to use!

Other Bean Salad Ingredients

While the beans cook, you’ll have more than enough time to prepare the other bean salad ingredients:

  • half of a small red onion, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, pressed or chopped
  • a small handful of cilantro (basil or parsley work great too), chopped
  • 15-20 “sweet 100” or other small cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped
  • a generous pour of olive oil
  • a few splashes of red wine vinegar
  • a liberal sprinkle of salt
  • cayenne pepper, to taste

and, of course,

  • 1 cup of cooked cannellini beans

I like to stir the beans in with the rest of the ingredients while they’re still hot. I’ve noticed that this helps the flavors combine faster and also helps to mellow the raw garlic and onion flavors. These quantities yield enough for two people enjoying this as a main course or for four, as a side dish. Serve at room temperature with some toasted or grilled ciabatta bread.

Cannellini Bean Salad

Feasting on Fresh Figs

Kadota Figs

I grew up eating dried chewy figs from Greece or Turkey that were sold in small pressed round wheels. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered the pleasure of a fresh ripe fig. These kadota figs from a local farm require no special preparation or fancy pairing. You could have some creamy camembert and toast or some nicely aged manchego with these gems but, really, even a knife is optional…

kadota fig