April 2009

Soft, moist, and chewy, these cookies are a beloved treat in our peanut- and tree nut-free household.  Of course, you can use peanut butter instead — the unhomogenized, natural kind is best.

A note to the uninitiated:  After a few hours, the cookies will turn a rather surprising shade of green on the inside.  This, according to the folks at SunButter, is caused by a chemical reaction between sunflower seeds and leaveners.  It’s peculiar, but harmless.

Sunbutter and jam thumbprint cookies

Yield: 2 1/2 dozen

1/2 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 c. sunflower seed butter (Trader Joe’s is my favorite)

1 c. light brown sugar

1 tbsp. vanilla

1 large egg

1 3/4 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. fine sea salt

1/2 c. jam, any kind (I like strawberry)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter, sunflower seed butter, and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add vanilla and egg and beat to combine.

Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

With mixer running on low speed, slowly add dry ingredients to bowl and mix until well-combined.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.  Roll a tablespoonful of dough into a ball, then gently flatten onto pan, pressing into the center with your thumb to form an indentation.  Repeat with remaining dough, spacing cookies 2-inches apart.  Fill center of each cookie with about 1/2 tsp. jam.

Bake 12-15 minutes, or until edges of cookies are set.  Let cool at least 5 minutes on tray before removing to wire racks.  Cookies will keep in an airtight container for a few days.

Make it vegan: Use a non-hydrogenated, vegetable shortening (I use Earth Balance’s Buttery Sticks) instead of butter.  To replace egg, combine 1 tbsp. ground flaxseed and 3 tbsp. boiling water, whisking until thick and viscous.  Let cool to room temperature before adding to creamed butter/sugar mixture.  Alternatively, you can use commercial egg-replacer, prepared according to package directions for replacing one egg (if you’re also baking gluten-free, this is the preferable substitution).

Make it gluten-free: A lot of tinkering with ingredients, but a result as good as the original:

1/2 c. shortening (I like Spectrum Organic’s palm shortening)

1 c. sunflower seed butter (Trader Joe’s is my favorite)

3/4 c. light brown sugar

¼ c. honey

1 tbsp. vanilla

1 large egg (or commercial egg replacer prepared for one egg)

½ c. sorghum flour

½ c. millet flour

½ c. tapioca starch

¼ c. potato starch

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. xanthan gum

1/4 tsp. fine sea salt

1/2 c. jam, any kind (I like strawberry)

Follow directions in recipe above.


Don’t flinch at the anchovies in this classic, Italian sauce — their savory saltiness balances the crisp, fresh herbs beautifully.

Salsa verde

Adapted from Food and Wine

Yield:  About 1 c., serving at least 4

1 medium shallot, chopped fine

1 tbsp. white wine vinegar

2 c. fresh, flat-leaf parsley leaves

1/2 c. fresh mint leaves

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 anchovy fillets, chopped

1 tbsp. capers, rinsed and drained

1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Combine chopped shallot and vinegar in a small bowl and let stand for 10 minutes.  In the bowl of a food processor, combine the parsley, mint, garlic, anchovies, and capers and process until finely chopped.  Add shallot and vinegar and pulse to combine.  Scrape down bowl with a spatula.  With processor running, slowly drizzle in oil.  Season with salt and pepper.

Sauce will keep in the fridge for a few days.  Bring to room temperature before serving.

A few things to do with salsa verde

  • Serve with just about anything grilled.  Chicken (I marinate mine in garlic, lemon zest, rosemary, and olive oil), steak, pork, salmon steaks, skewered shrimp, and vegetables such as eggplant, summer squash, red onion, mushrooms, and even potatoes are all fitting choices.
  • In cooler weather, try it with roasted meats (like leg of lamb or pork shoulder), fish (salmon is fabulous, or try a firm-fleshed, white fish), or vegetables (especially winter squash and potatoes).
  • Stir a spoonful into egg or potato salad.
  • Drizzle over thick slices of tomato and fresh mozzarella cheese (replace mint in the recipe with basil, if you like).
  • Toss with hot pasta.  Add steamed green beans, boiled potatoes, oil-packed tuna, or all of the above.
  • Add a spoonful to a bowl of minestrone soup.
  • Serve alongside ricotta and feta-stuffed eggplant rolls or sausages and lentils.
  • Eat it for breakfast with a piece of toast, slice of tomato, and fried egg.

The very best recipes, to my mind, are the easy ones:  easy to remember, easy to prepare, and — most importantly — easy to adapt to the season, the occasion, or the current contents of the fridge.  More guidelines than instructions, these are the dishes that let you put away the cookbooks, forget the grocery list, and buy whatever strikes your fancy.

Julia Child’s magnum opus, The Way to Cook, is full of such “master recipes,” and her all-season bean salad is one of my favorites.  The key to a good bean salad is to dress the beans while they’re warm (the same goes for potato salad).  If you cook the beans in advance, refrigerate them in their cooking liquid.  When you’re ready to make the salad, warm the beans and liquid in a saucepan, then drain and toss with the dressing.

I’ve fiddled with the original recipe a bit — the lemon juice is my addition (I like a little acid in almost everything) — but the spirit of Julia remains.  To her list of additions, I’d add cheese (anything from mozzarella to feta will work) and lots of vegetables (roasted beets and winter squash; fresh tomato and grilled eggplant).   This week I made it with diced salami and fresh mozzarella, served warm over fresh spinach.

Julia Child’s all-season bean salad

Adapted from The Way to Cook

Yield: At least 4 cups, serving 6-8

4 c. cooked, warm beans (from about 1 1/2 c. dried)

1/4 c. very thinly sliced green onions

1 large clove garlic, peeled and mashed to a paste with a pinch of salt

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice (from 1 small lemon)

Heaping tbsp. chopped, fresh herbs such as oregano, thyme, or sage

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Additional ingredients, according to taste and season, such as red or green bell pepper strips, sliced red onions, hard boiled eggs, salami, sardines, oil-packed tuna, fresh spinach or lettuce.

In a mixing bowl, combine green onions, garlic, oil, lemon juice, and herbs.  Add warm beans and toss to coat.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Let stand about 30 minutes, tossing occasionally, before serving.

This salad is the perfect foundation for an elegant, composed salad.  Or simply toss the beans with any additions you like and serve over salad greens.

I haven’t been cooking this week (my spring cleaning involves eating our way through the contents of the freezer), but I have been gardening.  A trip to the farm store last week resulted in several additions to our seed collection (the little packets are so colorful, and the kids are incorrigible impulse shoppers), notably beets, radishes, and marigolds.  We also picked up a few handfuls of onion sets, which are tiny, 1-inch bulbs that can be grown to full size or harvested as green onions.

I gave the kids free reign over three old flower boxes filled with planting mix.  12 onion sets went in one, and they “sowed” radish and lettuce seeds in the others (results should be interesting).  Evening temperatures have been consistently above freezing for a few weeks now, so hopefully they’ll fare well.

Construction of the raised bed is complete!  With $34-worth of dimensional lumber and deck screws, we assembled a 4×6′ frame (loosely following this plan) and leveled an area in the northwest corner of the backyard (the west edge of the frame is buried 9″ into the soil to compensate for the slope of the lawn).  The bed will be filled with a combination of organic topsoil, planting mix (which is topsoil plus compost and peat), compost, and composted manure in a 6:6:1:1 ratio.  The northern edge of the box will be planted with tomatoes, the rest filled with red and green leaf lettuce, red and yellow onions, bush cucumbers, radishes, beets, carrots, parsley, basil, and marigolds (which, I’ve read, help control pests).  To keep things orderly, I’m going to divide the box into quadrants (a la the square foot garden) using bamboo skewers and kitchen string.  Hopefully onions, lettuce, carrots, and beets will go in this weekend, with cucumbers and marigolds following the week after and herb and tomato plants as soon as they become available.

I feel a little silly admitting that I love smoothies.  Maybe because in my mind, which has been known to over-compartmentalize on occasion, smoothies are akin to those gigante chocolattes and other achingly sweet, frosty beverages sipped through 18-inch straws whilst texting/chatting and/or walking/driving.

But really, there’s more to smoothies than you can find in a 32-0z. plastic cup.  When you make them at home you can raise the bar a little and whip up something wholesome enough to serve for breakfast (set a glassful– with a bendy straw — in front of your yogurt-guzzling 2 year old and see her eyes go saucer-wide).  Try strawberry (my favorite), blueberry, raspberry, blackberry, mango, pineapple, kiwi, cherry, banana, or any combination thereof (you can freeze fresh fruit — especially extra bananas or any leftovers from picking expeditions — or just buy it frozen from the store).  You may use lowfat or nonfat yogurt instead of whole, but you’ll probably need to increase the honey (the lower the fat content, the more sour the yogurt).  I like thick, creamy, Greek- and French-style yogurts, but the regular kind works just as well.

For a decent frozen yogurt without need of an ice cream maker, freeze your leftovers.  Let stand at room temperature for 10-20 minutes (or transfer to the fridge for a few hours) until soft enough to scoop, then serve.

Fruit and yogurt smoothies

Yield:  Makes 1 quart, serving 4

16 oz. frozen fruit

16 oz. whole milk, plain yogurt

2 tbsp. honey, or more to taste

Whiz fruit in a food processor until finely chopped.  Add yogurt and honey.  Process until smooth.  Or combine everything in a blender and puree.

Use any greens you like in this recipe — all you need adjust is the cooking time.  Spinach is done as soon as it wilts.  Swiss chard and tender beet greens cook in about 5 minutes.  Hearty, bitter kale, mustard, and turnip greens take 15-20 minutes to mellow and soften.  Collards, though milder in flavor than kale and mustard, need 20 minutes or longer in the pot.

Braised kale with shallots and bacon

Yield:  About 4 cups, serving 3-4

2 bunches kale, stemmed, chopped, washed, and drained (about 5 quarts)

3 slices center-cut bacon, chopped

2 tsp. olive oil

2 shallots, sliced

1 c. chicken stock, apple cider, or water

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 tsp. cider vinegar or fresh lemon juice

Drizzle a large pot or dutch oven with oil and add bacon (I find bacon cooks more evenly and renders more fat if you start it in a cold pan).  Put pot over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until bacon is brown and crispy, 8-10 minutes.  With a slotted spoon, remove bacon to a paper towel-lined plate drain.

Add shallots to pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and starting to brown, about 3 minutes.  Add kale and stock.  When kale is uniformly bright green and reduced in volume, turn heat down to low, cover, and cook 10 minutes.  Stir kale, season with salt and pepper, replace lid, and cook about 5 minutes more. ( Taste it — if kale is still chewy, recover and cook another 5 minutes.)  Uncover pot, raise heat to medium, add vinegar, and cook a few minutes longer, until liquid is mostly evaporated.  Taste and add more salt if necessary (greens can take quite a bit).  Stir in reserved bacon and serve.

Make it vegetarian/vegan: Omit the bacon and use 1-2 tbsp. olive oil to cook the shallots and kale.  Or replace the bacon with 1/2 c. sauteed mushrooms (from 1 heaping cup raw), use vegetable stock or water, and sherry vinegar instead of cider vinegar.

There’s a pizzeria in New York City called Patsy’s that makes a crust so perfectly thin, tender, and crispy that I can almost taste it right now, even though I haven’t eaten there in more than two years.  I can’t replicate their pizza, exactly, or at least I haven’t tried.  But as far as my own pizza-making goes, they’ve spoiled me for anything other than homemade dough.

The mounds of dough you can buy in the grocery store (or even from the local pizza place) tend to make thick, bready, chewy crusts.  I generally find them too stiff and resilient and nearly impossible to stretch thin.  The following recipe, by contrast, is wonderfully supple, easy to work with, and produces a light and crunchy crust.

The semolina flour lends a golden color and a nice flavor (it’s what pasta’s made from).  You can substitute bread or high-gluten flour for some or all of the all-purpose flour to make a sturdier dough.  If you have a pizza stone and a peel, you’ll want to keep your crust a little thicker.  If you’re making it thin, take it easy with your toppings — spread them too thick and you’ll end up with a sodden pie.

Semolina pizza dough

Yield:  Makes two very thin, 12-inch, round pizza crusts

3/4 c. warm water

1 pkg. active dry yeast

1 1/3 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour (or use bread flour, if you have it)

2/3 c. semolina flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill)

1 tsp. granulated sugar

3/4 tsp. fine sea salt

3 tbsp. olive oil

In a small bowl or liquid measure, add yeast to warm water.  Use your fingertips to gently break up clumps of yeast, and stir until dissolved.  Set aside while you measure remaining ingredients.

In a mixing bowl, sift together flours, sugar, and salt.  Add yeast mixture and olive oil, and stir with a wooden spoon until dough comes together into a sticky ball.  Turn out onto a floured counter and knead for a minute or two until dough is smooth and elastic.  Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn once to coat dough with oil.  Cover bowl with a barely damp dish towel or piece of plastic and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about an hour.

At this point you can refrigerate the dough in a tightly sealed container for up to a day, freeze for up to 3 months, or stretch it and bake it right away.

To make two round, thin-crust pizzas, divide dough into two balls of equal size.  Flatten balls into discs and, using additional flour as necessary to keep dough from sticking, roll or stretch each disc to fit pan.  Sprinkle each pan lightly with cornmeal, then lay dough in pan.  Top pizzas as desired and bake in a preheated, 425 degree oven for 12-15 minutes, switching pans from top rack to bottom and vice versa halfway through.  (If you have a pizza stone, you can sprinkle the cornmeal on a large, rimless or inverted baking sheet, then slide the pizza from pan to stone.)

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