Fregola Sarda with Braised Carrot Tops

My mommy came to Chicago this week.  I only got to see her a couple times, and not for very long.  And my little rain cloud was following me around.  But I got to escape my downward spiraling for a while, and relax.  And eat.  And go grocery shopping.  We all know how I adore grocery shopping.

Among my purchases Tuesday evening were purple, yellow, and classic orange baby carrots (not the baby-cut carrots that you get in a bag, which are trimmed down from mature carrots, but actual immature carrots), arugula, meyer lemons, and the star of this post, fregola sarda.  I'd never personally used this cute little pasta before, but I've heard Giada de Laurentiis rave about it.  It's a small, spherical semolina pasta from Sardinia, which is sundried and then toasted.  The toasting process makes this product unique among pastas, with a depth of flavor that would be difficult to recreate.  But if you can't find fregola in your grocery store, I'm sure you could try toasting some Israeli couscous in your oven to make a comparable substitute.

Also, what's with the carrot tops?  From my beet salad post you should know that I don't really like throwing away any edible parts of the ingredients I'm working with.  You'll get to see the actual carrots from which these leafy green tops came in a couple days when I post again, but let it be known that yes, you can eat carrot tops.  Now, there's been a lot of debate about this, with people arguing that they're toxic to eat.  The only thing toxic about the greens is that they're easy to confuse with those of another plant, like parsnips or Queen Anne's lace, which are actually toxic.  But if you're buying your carrots from your grocery store, you're not going to have a problem; and if you're getting them from a garden, just be careful to note from which plants your greens came.  Easy peasy.  

Fregola Sarda with Braised Carrot Tops

1/2 pound fregola sarda
Handful Kosher salt
Olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 bunch carrots, tops removed (save the actual carrots for another purpose)
1 1/2 c stock (chicken or vegetable)
4 sprigs thyme
1 lime
5-6 large green olives, roughly chopped
Handful arugula
Hunk aged manchego cheese, broken into small pieces

Fill up a large stock pot halfway with water, then cover and turn the heat on to high.

Heat ~2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat.  Mince the garlic and add to the pan while the oil is still relatively cool.  Trim away the stems of the carrot tops from the leafy part, then chop this leafy part roughly (you can reserve the stems for making vegetable stock or something later, or just dispose of them).  Once the oil has come up to temperature and the garlic is starting to brown, add the carrot tops and a liberal dash of salt.  Saute ~4 minutes, allowing the leaves to caramelize, before adding the stock.  Strip the thyme leaves away from the stems and add to the pan, then cover and simmer aggressively over medium or medium-high heat until the tops have softened completely, 15-20 minutes.  

Once the water has come to a boil, add a handful of salt, then the fregola.  Once the pasta is al dente, reserve 1/2 c of the cooking water, then drain off the rest.  The braising liquid from the carrot tops will be the sauce for the dish, so if it's too thick add some of the reserved cooking water.  Immediately add the cooked fregola and juice from half the lime into the braising pan, tossing to thoroughly combine.  Off the heat, fold in the arugula, olives, and manchego, then salt and more lime juice to taste.  Serve with a final drizzle of olive oil.

Fig Newtons

It's been too long since I last wrote, dear readers.  Almost two weeks, in fact.  Did you miss me?  Don't answer that.  I've been running around and around in circles, and when I've felt too desperate to keep running I've just stopped and smothered everything in Nutella and watched Star Trek.  It's very therapeutic.  I also ordered new shoes.  They're gonna be cute.  The problem is, that I've become too strung out even to want to cook.  I can't believe I just wrote that - I never thought I would feel that way.  But it's true.  And it's not really due to my course load so much as to my administrative responsibilities with the crew team, to my projects at work, to homesickness, to my desire to relax for just a moment and not to experience the nagging sense that I should be doing something else.  I feel guilty for thinking this way about myself and my activities - in comparison to a lot of other people's responsibilities and stressors, especially in light of the recent events in Boston and Watertown, mine are superficial, and petty - but I am a slave to my own experiences, and so my exhaustion looms and seems important enough.  I take it out on other people, people who care about me deeply and people I don't even know.  Misery loves company.  And I suppose I'm taking it out on all of you now, some of you who know me personally and some who have never met me before.  I won't say that I'm sorry, since I'm tired of saying that I'm sorry, but I will stop now and talk about food.  Okay?  Okay.

So Fig Newtons.  Yes.  They are delicious, no?  They're one of my go-to pre-practice first-breakfasts.  There were a lot of hyphens in that sentence, oh my.  Anyway, I made these for Sunday's episode of Game of Thrones (which was glorious, by the way).  They taste very much like the packaged ones, except that the cookie is softer and more luscious, the fig filling is subtler in its sweetness, and the whole effect is made more aromatic with the perfume of orange zest.  I thought about calling these more generally fig bars rather than Fig Newtons, but they really do evoke the central essence of the prackaged product and elevate them.  The dough is very very soft, so it must be handled delicately, and a food processor is required to make the filling - so they require some dedication.  It was worth it for me though, even in my little rain cloud.

My discussion of Fig Newtons here is bound up with another of my food writing outlets I should tell you about.  I contribute to Nonpareil, a food magazine here on campus.  At the beginning of this quarter we launched our first issue, and by the end of this quarter we'll launch another.  We will also have more frequent content posted online.  It's pretty rad.  I made these Fig Newtons for our upcoming issue, so I won't give away the recipe here - you'll just have to get your hands on a copy (I could figure out a way to get one to you if you're not in Chicago), or visit our online content when it's up.  Just enjoy the pretty pictures of my Fig Newtons, and I'll have some more material ready to post in the next few days (spoiler: fregola sarda).

Blood Orange Yogurt Cake

This is the best thing you've ever made, and you make a lot of good things.

Alexander, you are lovely.  And those of you who read this blog hopefully consider me, at least, a competent force in the kitchen.  That quote is lightly paraphrased, since we were amidst the chaos of friendly chatter, laughing, and beligerent (but loving) demands for food that define Maclean study break - but you get the idea.  Just take it from Alexander, you have to make this.  I've made it may times before, using the original recipe from Ina Garten which features lemons rather than blood oranges.

How fabulous is that?  

Some people find Ina and her show insufferable, but I love her.  I can understand the aversion of others, though, with her near-constant remarks about Jeffery this and Jeffery that, her fabulous bffs from the Hamptons, who never fail to arrive exactly when dinner is ready, bearing subtly elegant (and incredibly expensive) flower arrangements, not to mention bottles upon bottles of wine.  Oh, and her insistance on using beautiful, seasonal produce from her immaculately groomed garden, of which I myself am all too jealous, would be enough to create a significant barrier between her show and the viewership of Foodnetwork (especially those who watch this channel for Cupcake Wars and Foodnetwork Challenges, *facepalm*).  I'm sorry, but after the fall of Emeril Live and Good Eats, I became cynical about the quality of actual cooking shows on Foodnetwork.  Some oases of real cooking remain, but they've become fewer and farther between.

I'll admit that I tend toward the more yuppie, buy the best ingredients you can afford, let's all hold hands and skip to the local farm stand, end of the foodie spectrum.  I am a food snob.  Self-diagnosed. It's true and I accept it.  So on some level, Ina and I have similarly refined, or otherwise snobby, sensibilities about food - that you should use the best ingredients you can get your hands on, or at least the best ones you can afford.  But we agree that these ingredients need not be upscale or at all inaccessable.  We're not talking about fois gras, caviar, and black truffles here.  We're talking about unbleached flour, fresh cream, and seasonal produce.

This goes back to my wholesome foods rant back in December (I think it was December), which illustrates where Ina's cooking perspective and mine diverge somewhat.  We both devote ourselves to this best-ingredient philosophy, but I am more conscious of how these ingredients, and what I create with them, interact with my entire body as well as with my mouth.  The flavors, textures, and sensations that these pure ingredients allow me to compose and to express through my food drive my creative process - but I remain aware of how the final composition of these ingredients will contribute to the health of my body (which, as I have said, does not simply reduce to counting calories; it takes into account the physical and psychological wholesomeness of what I eat).

Okay, clearly I'm not always so meta about my food.  I'm not always this conscientious about what I put into my body.  But I've found that my best and most creative meals have come from this consciousness of and intuition about ingredients and their composition.

Now let's back up for a second to the actual recipe again.  I made this for Maclean study break on Wednesday night, since it's both incredibly delicious and incredibly simple to put together.  I quadrupled the recipe, and it was just as easy to make as when I've made a single batch.  Even if you're not a Barefoot Contessa believer, trust me.  You should make this.  It may just be the best thing you've ever made.

Blood Orange Yogurt Cake

1 1/2 c unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 c plain whole milk yogurt
3/4 c sugar
3 eggs
2 blood oranges
1/2 c canola oil
Confectioner's sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease and flour a loaf pan, then set aside.  In a large bowl, stir together the yogurt, sugar, and eggs.  Zest both oranges into the bowl, and stir.  Add the flour, baking powder, and salt, then stir to combine.  Gently fold in the canola oil.

Segment the oranges by cutting away the top and bottom to reveal the flesh beneath and creating a flat base.  Stand the orange on one these now-flat ends, then run your knife down the side of the orange, removing the peel and the pith (the white part).  You should be left with a naked orange, stripped of everything but its flesh and the membrane separating each segment.  Now, cut along the membranes on an angle to liberate each piece of pure flesh from the membrane, then drop it into the bowl of batter.  I would perform this segmenting process over a bowl to catch the juices (you'll need them later).  Reserve the remaining core of the orange with the membranes and bits of flesh.  Fold in the orange segments, then pour batter into the reserved pan.  Bake for ~60 minutes until set.

Meanwhile, squeeze the remaining orange core into the bowl of juices.  You could even squeeze the peels, if any of the flesh came off with them, but don't bother if you think it's too tedious (I didn't).  Add enough confectioner's sugar to thicken the orange juice into a glaze, then pour into a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil over low heat, simmer for ~2 minutes, then set aside to cool.  Once the loaf comes out of the oven, prick the surface lightly with a fork or toothpick, then pour in the glaze.  Let cool completely before slicing.

Beet Greens with Tempeh Salad

Beet greens are such underutilized veggies.  

Like carrot tops and fennel fronds, beet greens often end up composted or thrown in the garbage rather than eaten.  Most home cooks either don't know that they're edible, or don't really know what to do with them even if they did.  Beet greens are akin to such dark, leafy vegetables as kale, swiss chard, and spinach, which are all tremendously wholesome and, when prepared properly, tremendously delicious.  I also appreciate that beets, beet stems, and beet greens each have their own characteristic flavors and textures, with so many different applications that you're getting several vegetables for the price of one.  Not to mention that beets are my absolute favorite vegetable.  Braised, steamed, or simply tossed in a salad like this one, beet greens have amazing potential.  They just need a little love.

Clearly, beets aren't the whole story for today.  If you're of a more carniverous persuasion, you may read the title of this post and wonder, what the heck is tempeh anyway?  Tempeh is a fermented soybean product, which, unlike tofu, maintains the integrity of the whole soybean, thus better maintaining its nutritional benefits (high levels of protein, fiber, vitamins, the works).  I enjoy the nuttiness of tempeh and its toothsome texture, both qualities which you don’t get with tofu - but if you really have a thing for tofu, or can’t find tempeh, you can certainly use it for this recipe.  If you’re feeling ambitious, I would try marinating the tempeh in some lemon juice, salt, and pepper before coating in the egg mixture.  Just be sure to pat it down before dunking in the egg, to ensure proper adhesion.  You could also omit the egg entirely, but I find that the egg coating gives the tempeh a little something extra.  Now I'm having a Legally Blonde moment...

Callahan:  Do you have a resume?
Elle:  Yes, I do.  Here it is.
Callahan:  It's pink.
Elle:  And it's scented.  I think it gives it a little something extra, don't you think?

I could go on.  But you're not here for Legally Blonde quotes.

I made this salad last summer, actually.  A particular haunt of mine, when I wasn't in Cambridge, was the farm stand at Wilson Farm in Litchfield, NH, one town over from Hudson where I live.  Not only is their chocolate milk absolutely divine, in the cutest glass jugs I've ever seen (I have a thing for mason jars and glass milk jugs, don't ask, I don't understand it myself), but their produce is also beautiful and fresh.  I consumed countless pints of strawberries and so many armfuls of beets and zucchini during that all too short vacation from Chicago.  Not that I don't enjoy Chicago, but there are days when I just want to go home and cruise around the back streets of New Hampshire, where everything's familiar and green and decidedly not urban.  Thus nostalgia compelled me to share this particular recipe with you today.  It may seem like a lot of work for a salad, but if you are a fan of beets like I am, then this recipe will be worth your while. 

Beet Greens with Tempeh Salad

2 bunches assorted beets with greens (I used chioggia and golden beets because they looked lovely, but use whatever you can find)
1/2 pound yellow wax beans, washed and ends trimmed
1 package three grain tempeh 
1 egg
2 lemons
1 teaspoon honey
1 bunch parsley
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Trim away the beet greens and set aside.  Clean the beets well, trim away the roots from the bottom, and lay each on its own sheet of tin foil.  Drizzle with enough olive oil to coat, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and wrap up each individual foil pouch.  Roast for 45-60 minutes, until the flesh is tender to the touch.  Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, trim away the beet greens’ stems where the leaves themselves begin.  Save the stems for another purpose (I like to saute them to eat with soft eggs for breakfast).  Chop or tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces and wash thoroughly, then place in a large bowl.  Bring a pot of water to a simmer and steam the beans for about 3 minutes.  Once barely cooked, just crisp-tender, plunge them into the bowl of ice water to cool rapidly - this is called shocking, and it stops the cooking process while maintaining the vegetable's color.  Once cool, dry off the beans and add them to the bowl of beet greens.

Once the roasted beets have cooled, the skins will peel off easily - just run your thumb around the beets, pushing the skins off with the tips of your finger.  Cut the peeled beets into wedges and add them to the greens and beans (that’s a nice rhyme, no?).  Salt and pepper the veggies to taste.

In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining lemon juice, zest from 1 lemon, honey, as much parsley as you like, salt and pepper to taste, and enough olive oil to make an emulsified dressing.  The general rule is 3 parts oil to 1 part acid, but I like things particularly acidic, so I usually do 2 to 1 oil to lemon, or even 1 to 1.  Toss the veggies in enough dressing to coat, reserving a little to dress the tempeh.

Heat a small frying pan over medium with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  In a small bowl, beat together the egg, 1 tablespoon of water, the zest of 1 lemon, 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper, and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice.  Cut the tempeh into 8, 1/4 inch thick rectangles.  Dip each piece in the egg mixture, then pan-fry until a crisp crust forms, and the tempeh is warmed through - about 4 minutes each side.  Finish the salad with the remaining dressing and final sprinkle of parsley.  

Dirty Blondes

I'd just like to state for the record what food I made during this spring break (in no particular order), so that I may look back and reminisce at the amount of food consumed in that apartment:

Chicken pot pie (I think I ate 4/5 of this myself... It was incredible)
Sourdough bread
Sesame bread
Ricotta cheese
Macaroni and cheese to feed 50+ hungry rowers
Roasted garlic bread to feed 50+ hungry rowers
Soft pretzels
Baked doughnuts with chocolate glaze, mango glaze, and cinnamon sugar
Dirty blondies for the Game of Thrones season premier 
Chocolate chip oatmeal cookies
Tamales filled with sweet potato and oregano filling or golden raisins

Am I forgetting anything?  If I am, I'll add it later.  In any case, you may feel slighted that I didn't share all of these creations with you.  Hollyyyy what about that chicken pot pie, hmmm?  Don't you wanna share with me?  Am I worth nothing to you?  You are worth so much, dear readers, but I didn't want to give you foodie blog over-load.  Nor could I produce a post, or multiple posts, every day, since I needed to be at the rowing site, sleeping, or working when I wasn't involved in food-related shenanigans.  Lastly, some of these endeavors were first steps in my process of developing and perfecting certain recipes for my enjoyment, and yours (Exhibit A: Chicken pot pie.  I want it to be absolutely positively unequivocally irrevocably perfect before it takes its rightful place as a Holly favorite on this site).  For all these reasons, I've been holding out on you.

But today, witness as I reveal to you a Frankensteinian creation of the most sinful proportions: the love child of a brownie and a blondie, the dirty blonde.  I write blonde rather than blond to encourage to you to decide whether or not to pronounce the e, as you see fit.  Are you making a pun on the phrase dirty blond like a person with dark-blond hair, or on a blond-e like a brown sugar brownie minus the chocolate?  Tell me woman! I haven't decided which way I like it better.  In any case, whatever you call them, they are delicious.  Delicious I say!  And with good reason, since I don't know what can go wrong when you swirl brown-sugar-buttery-ness with chocolate-vanilla-buttery-ness.  Both of these recipes were co-opted from Deb's Smitten Kitchen because she's basically wonderful and funny and has a really cute son and I like her food style.  Yes.  She is lovely.  And I have her book, which is glorious indeed.  You should too.

Deb's favorite brownies and her infinitely adaptable blondies would be heaven on their own, but united, they bring out the best in each other.  I'm pretty sure John ate 3/4 of these in one night.  He, his roommate Kevin, and two of our crew friends, Sophia and Dhruv, gathered in the apartment on Sunday to watch the season premier of Game of Thrones.  Naturally I felt that I had to whip something up for the occasion, and I'd been fantasizing about making these.  They're incredibly easy to make, and you only need one bowl.  I made the blondie batter first, dropped spoonfuls of it into the prepared pan, then just wiped down the bowl with a paper towel and made the brownie batter.  Super duper easy peasy lemon squeezy.

I don't really watch much TV of my own accord.  John has made me more of a TV person, but I'm still not anywhere close to his level of TV consumption.  I actually find it remarkable, and I sometimes wish I were more in-the-know about such pop culture things.  Excuse me, but you haven't  ever watched Mad Men or Friends or Walking Dead?  You heathen!   I know, I know.  I hadn't ever watched Game of Thrones until this event either, so I didn't really know what was going on.  Oh well.  But I will say, to redeem my pop culture dignity, that I've watched every episode of Friday Night Lights (thank you, John), I'm halfway through season 2 of the original Star Trek series, I'm on season 3 of Deep Space 9, and I think I'm on season 3 now of West Wing.  Yeah, fight me.  But actually I'd just be content to watch Food Network.  I know, that must come as a shock to you.

Dirty Blondes

2 sticks butter
1 c brown sugar, packed
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 c flour
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and prepare a square baking pan with butter and flour.  For the blondies, melt 1 stick butter, then add in 1 c brown sugar.  Whisk in 1 egg and 1 teaspoon vanilla.  Add 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt and 1 c flour until just combined.  Drop spoonfuls of dough into the prepared pan (you'll swirl them in later so it doesn't matter how big they are or how they're distributed).

For the brownies, melt 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate and 1 stick butter in the microwave at 30 second intervals.  Whisk in 2/3 c sugar, then 2 eggs.  Add in 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt.  Stir in 2/3 c flour until just combined, then pour over the drops of blondie.  The blondie batter is pretty thick, basically cookie-dough-like, so be patient and swirl as best you can.  Bake ~30 minutes until just barely set, then devour.

Sesame Bread and Ricotta Cheese

Back to reality I go.  Tonight is the last night of the freedom of spring break.  I'm pretty excited about my course schedule for next quarter, so I'm not feeling all that bitter about it; but it's hard not to whine about returning to class.  I'll be taking a creative writing course, The American City in Literature, to fulfill one of my mandatory art credits and a psychology course called Language, Thought, and Action.  This one I'm really excited about, since my primary academic interest is in the psychological mechanisms surrounding language comprehension and production, and how those processes influence behavior.  I'm nerding out about it pretty hard.

This bread though, oh my.  I think it may be the best bread I've ever made.  The toasty sesame seeds are subtly nutty, the crust toothsome, and the center ethereal and light, with a soft crumb.  It's heavenly, actually, with the heady aroma of yeast and almost buttery scent of the sesame seeds together perfuming the kitchen.  Combined with the silken, pure ricotta cheese, a sprinkle of coarse salt and slip of olive oil, every bite is a pleasure.  I never knew it was so easy to make ricotta cheese - my recipe was from Alex Guarnaschelli and didn't even require cheese culture.  Better yet, it's only three ingredients: buttermilk, cream, milk.  You need only to simmer them together until the curd begins to separate from the whey, let cool slightly, then strain gently through cheesecloth in the refrigerator for a few hours.  That's it.  The bread was also incredibly simple to make, as far as bread goes, but comes out beautifully.  Both the bread and cheese require some time and patience, but most almost all of that time is inactive.  I would recommend making the cheese the night before you want it, stowing it away in the fridge until morning.  As for the bread, that was great spring-break project for me; I made the dough, watched the original Star Trek and worked on projects for an hour and a half, punched down and braided the dough, continued my lounging for another hour and a half, then added the egg white coating and sesame seeds and baked the loaf.  Once I took it out of the oven I went off to practice, and returned to a lovely aroma and even more lovely slice of bread.  I think I may make it again soon, this time using the whey that remains from my cheese-making adventure.  Alex Guarnaschelli recommended that this would be a great use for the cheese by-product, and I'm not one to argue with food legends.

 Sesame Bread

3 3/4 c unbleached bread flour
1 teaspoon diastatic malt powder (don't worry about it if you don't have this, it just helps the yeast work)
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
~1 c warm water
~3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 egg white, beaten

In a medium bowl combine flour, malt powder, yeast, salt, olive oil, and water, and knead until the dough is soft and silken, tacky but not sticky.  Let rise in an oiled bowl, covered with plastic wrap or a clean towel, for 1.5 hours.

Gently punch down the dough, then divide into 3 equal pieces.  Roll each piece into a rod about 20 inches long, then place on an oiled baking sheet.  Pinch the tops together, braid loosely, then pinch the ends together and tuck them underneath.  Brush with egg white (save the remainder, you will need it again), then cover and let rise for another 1.5 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Brush the loaf again with the remaining egg white, being very carefully not to deflate the bread.  Sprinkle on the sesame seeds, then bake 20-25 minutes until golden.  Let cool completely before slicing and serving with your ricotta cheese:

1 c heavy cream
3 c whole milk
1 1/2 c buttermilk
Salt to taste

Combine in a saucepot and heat over medium heat, until the curd begins to come to the surface and coagulate.  Turn off the heat and let cool ~20 minutes.  Gently spoon curd into a fine mesh strainer lined with a few layers of cheesecloth, then pour the whey over.  Place in the fridge for ~3 hours until the cheese is thick.  Season with a sprinkle of salt.