January 2010


I love a cookie with a story.  This one originates beside a pond in Marblehead, Massachusetts, in the kitchen of a Revolutionary War veteran called Black Joe and his wife Lucretia.  Legend has it that their home sometimes served as a tavern where the locals could drink grog, listen to Joe play the fiddle, and enjoy Aunt Crease’s cooking.  One of her specialties was a saucer-sized, rum-spiked molasses cookie.  These so-called Joe’s froggers, named for their likeness to the lily pads on the nearby pond, were favored by fisherman who brought barrels full of the sturdy cookies on their ocean voyages.

A little like a gingersnap, a little like gingerbread, this Yankee favorite was new to me when I saw the recipe in the paper this weekend.  I used unsulphured molasses, because that’s what I had, and cut them smaller than tradition dictates.  You can use thick and sticky blackstrap molasses instead, if you like (you’ll probably need to reduce the flour by 1/2 c. to accommodate it).  Shortening makes a crisper cookie with a longer shelf life, but butter will work as well.

Joe froggers

Adapted from The Boston Globe

Yield:  Makes about 2 dozen, 4-inch cookies

2 1/2 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. fine sea salt

3/4 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/8 tsp. allspice

1/8 tsp. ground cloves

1/4 c. non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening (or use butter)

1/2 c. granulated sugar

1/2 c. molasses

3 tbsp. hot water

1 tbsp. dark rum

1/2 tsp. baking soda

Sift flour, salt, and spices into a mixing bowl.

In the work bowl of an electric mixer, cream shortening or butter and sugar until very light and fluffy, for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a separate bowl or large liquid measure, whisk together molasses, hot water, rum, and baking soda.  Mixture will bubble and foam.

With mixer running on low speed, add flour and molasses  mixtures to butter mixture in alternating additions until well combined.

Divide dough into two balls, the press each ball into a disc and wrap in plastic.  Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight, until firm enough to roll.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  On a floured counter, roll out one dough disc to between 1/8 and 1/4-inch thickness.  Using a round cutter or the rim of a drinking glass, cut out cookies as close together as possible.  Place cookies at least 1/2-inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Gather scraps and set aside.   Roll and cut second dough disc.  Combine all scraps, roll out and cut remaining cookies.

Bake for about 9 minutes, or until centers of cookies are set and edges are starting to brown.  Let cookies cool briefly on pan, then remove to wire racks.  Cookies keep well at room temperature in a tightly sealed container for a few days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

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My husband was in Buenos Aires last week for work.  Since that’s on a continent I’ve never been to, he departed with strict instructions to take copious notes on everything he ate.  I already knew some things about Argentinian food — the Pampa beef, the big red wines — so what I was most interested in was the everyday food.  How do they like their coffee?  Where do they buy their groceries?  What do they eat for lunch?

I struck gold with that third question.  After one catered mid-day meal — platters of tiny ham sandwiches on sweet rolls — the Americans joined their Argentine officemates at their usual lunch spot, a local panaderie.  The bakery sold sweet pastries as well as empanadas and a variety of savory pies called “tartas.”

It was these humble tartas — not the massive steaks — that I heard the most about.  Filled with zucchini (courgette, they call it), or corn and hard-boiled egg, or spinach and whipped pumpkin, each sounded more delicious than the last.  I knew I had to try making one myself.  As it’s not especially eggy or cheesy, I thought tarta might adapt well for our egg- and dairy-free household.  And adapt well it did!  I can’t speak for my version’s authenticity, but I can attest to its deliciousness.

Making this pie is a labor of love (read: a lot of work) but is well worth the effort, especially if you’re looking for a showstopping alternative to quiche for brunch.  Feel free to vary the vegetables, or omit the bacon for a vegan or vegetarian version, just keep in mind that you’ll need at least one binding element (like a puree) to hold the pie together.

Savory vegetable pie

Yield:  Makes two 9-inch pies

For pastry:

2 1/2 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour

3/4 c. butter, Earth Balance Buttery Sticks, or dairy-free margarine, cold and cut into pieces

4 tbsp. cold, non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

About 1/3 c. ice water, as needed

For spinach layer:

3 10-oz. packages frozen spinach, thawed

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 Spanish onion, finely chopped

1/4 c. currants, soaked in hot water to plump then drained

3/4 tsp. ground cumin

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper to taste

For cauliflower layer:

1 large head cauliflower (about 2 1/2 lbs.), cored and roughly chopped

3 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. butter, Earth Balance Buttery Sticks, or dairy-free margarine

2 tbsp. unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 c. low-fat milk or unsweetened rice milk

Pinch ground or grated nutmeg

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

A few teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)

For squash layer:

4 slices bacon (optional) or 2 tbsp. olive oil

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 3/4″ dice

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

1 tsp. finely chopped, fresh thyme or oregano leaves

Make pastry:

Sift flour and salt into a mixing bowl.  Cut in butter or Buttery Sticks and shortening with a pastry blender (or whatever method you like best) until mixture is sandy, allowing some pea-sized chunks to remain.

Slowly drizzle in most of the water, stirring constantly with a fork until dough starts to come together.  If you press the dough into a ball and it crumbles when you let go, add another tablespoon or two of water.  Divide dough in half and roll each half into a ball.  Don’t worry if it’s a little crumbly — it will come together when you roll it out.

Flatten dough balls into discs, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or overnight (or make them in advance and freeze for up to 3 months).

Make spinach layer:

Press spinach in small handfuls between your palms to extract as much water as possible.  Set aside.

Warm a large skillet over medium heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add onion.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft and tender, about 10 minutes.  Stir in currants, cumin, and spinach.  Set aside.

Make cauliflower layer:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Toss chopped cauliflower with oil and spread in a single layer on a large, foil-lined baking sheet.  Season with salt and pepper.  Roast, turning cauliflower once or twice, until tender and browned, about 20 minutes.  Transfer to work bowl of a food processor.

While cauliflower roasts, make white sauce.  Melt butter or Buttery Sticks in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add flour to pan and stir with a whisk until smooth.  Slowly pour in milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps.  Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes, whisking often.  Season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

Pour sauce over cauliflower in work bowl.  Process, scraping bowl once or twice, until cauliflower is very finely chopped.  Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.  Stir in lemon juice to taste, if using.  Set aside.

Make squash layer:

Cook bacon in a large skillet, over medium heat, until crisp.  Remove to a paper towel-lined plate.  Pour off all but 1 tbsp. of fat from the pan, raise heat to medium-high, and add squash.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until squash just starts to soften and brown, about 5 minutes.  Stir in thyme or oregano and remove from heat.  Crumble bacon and stir into squash. (If not using bacon, saute squash in 2 tbsp. olive oil.)

Make pie:

Roll one dough disc into a circle about 1/8″ thick on a lightly floured counter.  Don’t worry if the edges crumble a bit.  Transfer dough circle to an ungreased pie plate, trim edges (use scraps to patch edges as needed), and crimp.  Refrigerate the first crust while you roll the second.

Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees.  Spread half of spinach mixture into the bottom of each pie crust.  Top spinach layers with cauliflower mixture, then squash  mixture.  Bake pies for about 50 minutes, switching racks top to bottom and vice versa, until crusts are lightly browned.  Serve warm.

Vegetable pies keep well in the fridge for 4-5 days, and reheat beautifully in a 350 degree oven or toaster oven.

I’ve made this enormous, easy, and addictive pickled salad twice already since the new year began, in an effort to make good on a resolution to eat fruits and vegetables at every meal.  It’s an old recipe of my grandmother’s that I remember fondly from my childhood, with just a few alterations (fresh green beans instead of canned, bell peppers in place of jarred pimentos).  We like it for lunch, with just about any kind of sandwich.

Overnight vegetable salad

Yield:  A week’s worth, for at least two people

1 lb. green beans, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces

2 c. frozen peas

2 c. fresh or frozen corn kernels

1 red bell pepper,  diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

1 sweet onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1-2 jalepenos, seeded and finely diced

1 15-oz. can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

3/4 c. white or apple cider vinegar

1/2 c. granulated sugar

1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp. paprika

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Blanch green beans in boiling, salted water until just tender, 3-4 minutes.  Meanwhile, measure peas and corn into a colander set in the sink.  Drain green beans into colander with peas and corn.  Rinse with cold running water to stop cooking.  Drain well.

Combine all vegetables and kidney beans in a large mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together vinegar, sugar, oil, and paprika until sugar dissolves.  Pour dressing over vegetables, tossing to coat.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Cover and refrigerate at least 24 hours, stirring occasionally.

I’ve mentioned before how much I love boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  They’re inexpensive, kid-friendly, and incredibly versatile.  I broil them, braise them, grill them as kebabs, and grind them up for sausage, meatballs, and, most recently and to my family’s great delight, sliders.

Purists will argue that my miniature chicken burgers are not really sliders (technically thin rounds of beef steamed between a pile of onions and a squishy, white bun), but who cares?  They’re adorable and delicious!  We ate them on tiny sweet potato rolls with thinly sliced avocado and plum tomatoes (ketchup for the kids), with oven fries and coleslaw on the side.

Chicken sliders

Yield:  One dozen, 2-inch burgers

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into small chunks

Scant 1/4 c. chopped chives (or 3 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced)

1 tsp. kosher salt

Freshly ground, black pepper

Canola oil, for the pan

Slider buns or small dinner rolls and sliced avocado and plum tomatoes, for serving

Pulse chicken in a food processor to grind.  Be careful not to over-process: running the machine for 4-5 seconds, then scraping the bowl, then running it 4-5 seconds more should do it.   You want a chunky yet cohesive mixture.  Don’t turn it into a paste.

Transfer ground chicken to a large mixing bowl.  Add chives or scallions, salt, and a few grindings of pepper and mix until evenly combined.

Warm a lightly oiled, large skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat.  While pan heats, roll chicken mixture into small balls, then flatten into patties.  Cook in two batches until nicely browned and cooked through, 3-4 minutes per side.

These burgers reheat nicely in the oven (on a foil-lined baking sheet, at 350 degrees, 5-8 minutes or until warmed through).

The nutty warmth of cumin and sweet tang of cider vinegar tame red cabbage’s pungent bite in this addictive, mayo-free coleslaw. If you have one, a food processor with shredding and slicing attachments make quick work of prepping the vegetables.  Otherwise, figure on about 20 minutes of chopping.

Coleslaw with cumin seed and cider vinaigrette

Yield:  Makes about 12 cups

1/2 head red cabbage, cored and shredded (about 8 c.)

4 carrots, peeled, trimmed, and shredded

3 stalks celery, trimmed and thinly sliced

2 red peppers, cored, quartered lengthwise, and thinly sliced

2 bunches scallions (about 10), white and tender green parts only, thinly sliced

1 tbsp. cumin seed, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant then roughly chopped

1/3 c. apple cider vinegar

1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil

1 tbsp. honey

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Combine vegetables and cumin seed in a large mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together vinegar, oil, and honey with a generous pinch salt and a few grindings of pepper.  Toss vinaigrette with vegetables and adjust seasoning as needed.  Let stand, tossing occasionally, at least 30 minutes before serving.  Leftovers keep well in the fridge for a few days.

Make it vegan: Substitute granulated sugar or agave nectar for the honey.