Category Archives: recipe

My Go-To Peanut Sauce

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I am an inveterate procrastinator. In school, I was one of the kids who stayed up into the wee hours of the night the day before the project or paper was due, frantically trying to get the thing done. From elementary school onward, it only got worse. In college, I felt pretty good if I had formulated a thesis by midnight. It meant I might get an hour or two of sleep in before I had to go to class. (It was, I now realize, a classic strategic deployment of what Julie Norem calls defensive pessimism, but that’s more than enough about my armchair psychological self-diagnosis.)

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In keeping with that procrastinatory mode, I have resisted making things ahead of time, meal prep included. When I hear people say they make all of their meals for the upcoming week on Sunday and put them in the freezer to reheat later, I wonder what planet they come from and why on earth they think that sounds easier than making dinner on the same day they’re going to eat it?

But I have begun to relent here and there. I now make extras of some things to stash for later. I have homemade chicken stock in the freezer and jars of jam stacked high on top of the refrigerator. I have a big container of granola in the refrigerator, and usually, somewhere close by, I have a pint-sized jar of this peanut sauce.

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This peanut sauce has saved me more times than I can count. It’s become my go-to back up dinner plan.

If I have some kind of long noodles–spaghetti, soba, rice noodles–in the pantry and some vegetables with crunch–cucumbers, snow peas, carrots, red peppers–knocking around the crisper drawer, I can have peanut noodles ready in about 15 minutes, give or take the amount of time it takes the pot of water to boil and the particular noodles to cook to al dente.

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I no longer remember exactly where the recipe came from. It was something I scratched down on a piece of paper years ago. I’ve fiddled with the proportions and probably made a few dozen different versions of it over the years. This particular version is, I think, easy to like. It’s a well balanced sauce that’s rich from the peanut butter and the sesame oil, salty from the soy sauce, sweet from the honey, sour from the rice vinegar, and hot from the sriracha, with added flavor from the garlic and ginger.

It isn’t particularly aggressive on any front, it’s smooth and thin enough to coat noodles without feeling like spackle. It keeps easily for a few weeks in the refrigerator, and it would make a nice dipping sauce for satay or spring rolls or fresh vegetables. It doesn’t take long to come together, and when I have it around, I know we have a good option for a dinner when we’re hungry and want to eat now. We have yet to get tired of this one. It’s worth making ahead of time, but if you, like me, tend toward procrastination, it’s even doable on a weeknight at the last minute.

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My Go-To Peanut Sauce

This is a simple sauce with a big payoff. I’ve made many different variations on it over the years. Sometimes I use sugar instead of honey (which would make it vegan) or limes instead of rice vinegar or sambal oelek instead of sriracha. Sometimes I up the hot sauce for extra heat. I’ve skipped the ginger if I don’t have any around. It’s a flexible sauce that you can adapt to your tastes. I used to make it with natural peanut butter, and philosophically I still think I should use the natural stuff, but I just think it tastes better with Skippy, and for now I’m okay with that. I like to make it in a wide-mouth pint jar and blend it in the jar with a stick blender, which means I don’t need to transfer it to another container for storage and makes for easy clean up, but you could also use a blender, food processor, or even just stir until it comes together. This is great on any long skinny noodles you like. I often use it on soba noodles, good old fashioned thick spaghetti, or rice noodles (lately I’ve been loving this on Tinkyada brown rice spaghetti, which happen to be gluten free). I’ve used it as a dressing on a cabbage and carrot slaw and drizzled it over a bowl of blanched sugar snap peas. It would also make a good dipping sauce for satay, tofu, fresh vegetables, or spring rolls. It’s also pretty good right from the spoon.

1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (natural works, but I usually opt for Skippy for this)
1/4 cup soy sauce or tamari
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 inch piece of ginger, grated on a microplane
or finely minced
1 medium garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon sriracha
1/4-1/3 cup water (start with the smaller amount and add more to thin the sauce to your liking)

Combine all of the ingredients in a wide-mouth pint jar and zizz with a stick blender until smooth (alternately, blend in a blender or food processor or stir in a bowl until thoroughly combined). Add a little more water if you’d like your sauce thinner. I usually go with about 1/3 cup total, but depending on the thickness of your peanut butter, you might want an extra tablespoon or two to thin it to your preferred consistency.

Store in an airtight container (if you blended it a jar, just screw on the lid) in the refrigerator. Keeps for at least two weeks (probably safe for longer).

Yield: About 1 1/2 cups

 

Spicy Summer Bean and Chickpea Salad

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Summer calls out for salads like this one. It’s bold and colorful and crunchy and spicy and refreshing.

I’ll admit I don’t think about green beans all that often. It’s not that I don’t like them. It’s just that I forget about them amid the bounty of summer vegetables that are crowding the farmers markets by the time they come into season. I’m distracted by the bins of tasseled sweet corn and the spiraling fractals on the romanesco cauliflower and the rainbow colored bunches of carrots and the fragrant mounds of fresh herbs.

And that’s before I get to the fruit.

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But when I saw these green and yellow and purple beans at the market last week, they caught my eye. I sampled one and they were crisp and juicy and sweet enough to eat raw. I couldn’t leave without bringing some home.

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I thought of this salad. It comes from a book, Peter Berley’s Fresh Food Fast, which was one of my favorites for a stretch during my mid-twenties. I still love the book, and if you’re looking for a way to up your vegetable game, it’s a good one to add to your collection. I don’t turn to it nearly as much as I used to because of all the new books on my shelves competing for attention, but it has some great gems in its pages, including this one.

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The beans get blanched in boiling water for a few minutes, just until they get tender while retaining their crisp snap and then run under cold water to stop the cooking. A bit of onion gets sliced paper thin and sits in lemon juice to get ever so slightly pickled. A bold blend of spices gets toasted and crushed, a clove of garlic gets grated, olive oil gets drizzled in, and then the beans and chickpeas get tossed in with the whole delightful mess.

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It’s a brash, big flavored salad with a generous dose of heat from the cayenne. It’s a substantial salad that makes for a great summer meal, and it makes a good case for me to think about green beans the next time I’m at the market.

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Spicy Summer Bean and Chickpea Salad

Adapted from Peter Berley’s Fresh Food Fast

This salad gets visual interest from the different colored beans, but it can be made with all green or all yellow beans if that’s what you have. I should note that purple beans (like purple asparagus) turn a dark green when they’re cooked, so they don’t add any purple to the finished dish. This packs some real heat. The spice averse may want to dial back the cayenne to a 1/2 teaspoon. I used a small red spring onion here, but I’ve made it before with a regular old red onion, which is just fine. I like to turn the garlic to a pulp by grating it on a microplane but you could use a garlic press or mince it finely with a chefs knife if you prefer. I find it easiest to get the onion sliced paper thin on a mandoline, but I’ve also done it many times with a chefs knife. I like this salad at room temperature or cold from the refrigerator. It holds up well for several hours, so you can make it ahead of time and keep it chilled and covered until you’re ready to serve it.

1 pound assorted green, yellow, or purple beans, ends trimmed
1/4 red onion, very thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (or one 15-ounce can, rinsed and drained)
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seed
1 teaspoon caraway or fennel seeds (I used caraway)
1/2 teaspoon coriander seed
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
juice of one lemon
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

 Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a generous sprinkle of salt. Add the beans and cook for about 2 minutes, or until crisp tender. Drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking.

Add the sliced onion to a large mixing bowl and add the lemon juice. Toast the cumin, caraway (or fennel), and coriander seed in a small skillet over medium heat for about 1 minute, or until fragrant. Transfer to a mortar and crush with a pestle.

Grate the garlic with a microplane zester (or press with a garlic press) to form a paste. Add the garlic, toasted spices, cayenne and salt to the bowl with the onion and lemon juice and stir to combine. Whisk in the olive oil.

Add the beans and chickpeas to the bowl and toss to combine. Serve immediately or cover and chill for a few hours.

Yield: 4 servings as a main or more as a side

Mango Lime Popsicles

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These popsicles taste like summer. They are icy and refreshing with a turn toward the tropical. They taste intensely of mango, with just enough lime to enliven the whole thing.

They remind me of one of my favorite agua frescas, the one I inevitably, invariably order when I find myself sitting at O’Hare for any length of time within a reasonable distance of Tortas Frontera, the airport outpost of the Rick Bayless empire. The mango lime flavor combination just hits the spot for me. It makes everything, even waiting at the airport for a delayed flight, better.

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Here, I’ve taken that flavor combination and frozen it into popsicles. I can think of nothing I’d rather let drip down my arm while sitting outside on a hot summer day.

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I start with frozen mango pulp. It’s easier than peeling and pureeing fresh mangoes, but you could certainly do that if you like. I break up the frozen block and gently thaw it in a saucepan over low heat until it turns to liquid.

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Then I put some water and sugar in a saucepan and add some lime peels and heat until the sugar dissolves to create a thin lime-infused syrup.

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I let the lime syrup steep while I squeeze lime juice into the thawed mango pulp. Then I strain the syrup to remove the pieces of peel.

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Then it’s a simple matter of stirring the mango-lime juice mixture into the syrup and then pouring the resulting mixture into popsicle molds, popping them in the freezer, and waiting for them to freeze.

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There are about a million different popsicle molds out there, but most of them are plastic. I’ve been trying to cut down on the plastic in my life over the last few years. These stainless steel molds are the best plastic-free popsicle molds I’ve found. They’re sturdy, easy to clean, and my popsicles never taste plasticky, which is a win for me.

This might just be my summer of popsicles. I’ll get to making more, just after I have another one of these.

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Mango Lime Popsicles

I can’t get enough of these popsicles. They’re sweet and refreshing. They taste like mango with just a hint of lime. I start with frozen mango pulp (which is 100% mango, no sugar, stabilizers, or preservatives added) which I find available at Latin grocery stores. You could start with fresh mangoes and puree the flesh in a blender or food processor or use the frozen chunks of peeled mango in the frozen fruit aisle of your grocery store if you have trouble finding the pulp. If you don’t have popsicle molds, you could freeze this mixture into a shallow pan and scrape it with a fork every 30 minutes to make a granita. You can use any popsicle molds you like, or even tall shot glasses or small disposable cups to make these. If you are using molds that don’t have lids to hold the sticks in place, let the popsicles freeze for about 2 hours or until they start to set up and then add the popsicle sticks.

14 ounces (397 grams, about 1 3/4 cups) mango pulp
2 limes
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar

If using frozen mango pulp, break it up into chunks and place in a medium saucepan. Heat over low heat, just to thaw. You don’t want to cook it, you just want to melt it. Set aside.

Add water and sugar in a small saucepan. Using a vegetable peeler, peel off large pieces of lime rind and place in the saucepan. Heat over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and let the lime steep for about 10 minutes.

Juice the limes and add the juice to the thawed mango pulp. Strain the lime syrup into a large mixing bowl or pitcher (something with a pouring spout would be idea) and discard the lime peels. Add the mango pulp and lime juice to the syrup and mix until combined. Pour into popsicle molds, leaving a few millimeters at the top to allow for expansion. Place in the freezer. When the popsicles have begun to set, after about 2 hours, place the popsicle sticks in the center of the popsicles (if your molds have lids to hold the popsicle sticks in place you can do add the sticks before putting them in the freezer). Freeze until solid, at least 5 hours or overnight.

Run molds under cool water for a few seconds to unmold.

Yield: varies depending on molds, this made a little more than fit in my molds, I froze the extra in a jar and scraped it to make granita

Rhubarb Syrup

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It’s getting to the time of summer when it seems that what I want more than anything is a cool drink in my hand.

It can be anything from water to lemonade to cold brewed iced tea, but something I’ve done more and more in the last few years is make homemade syrups to add sweetness and flavor to sparkling water for my own not-too-sweet homemade sodas. (A home carbonating system, like this soda stream with glass bottles makes that incredibly convenient, but I’ve done this with store bought sparkling water as well.)

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I prefer sodas with a flavor that can balance the sweetness of the sugar. Citrus syrups are winners for this, as are things with spices like ginger or cardamom, hints of floral flavors like orange flower water, and aromatics like lemongrass. One of my favorite syrups at this time of year is made with rhubarb.

It was something I remembered a little more than a week ago when my friend Charlotte was in town and we got to talking, in a circuitous way, about things to do with rhubarb. This is a great thing to do with rhubarb.

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I love rhubarb’s puckery sour flavor. It works well for a soda that isn’t a candy-level of sweet. I also love the way it turns the syrup a brilliant deeply saturated shade of pink.

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It’s a color we don’t get naturally in food very often, and it’s lovely to look at.

Syrups like this are a snap to make. It’s a simple matter of simmering some kind of flavoring with equal parts sugar and water until the sugar dissolves and then allowing it to cool to room temperature before straining it at storing it in an airtight container.

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For this syrup, I just chopped up a few cups of rhubarb and tossed it in a saucepan, zested a lemon for some extra brightness, and poured some sugar and water over the whole thing.

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I let it simmer for about 15 minutes, long enough for the rhubarb to turn soft and release its juices into the syrup.

Then I strain it through a chinois, which is a fancy extra-fine mesh strainer, but any fine mesh strainer will work just fine. If you want to be extra careful about straining out the tiny thready rhubarb bits, you could line a strainer with cheesecloth. Then I let it cool and funnel it into a bottle and have it ready in the refrigerator for whenever I want one of those cool summer drinks.

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Rhubarb Syrup

If you’re looking for something other than pie or crisp or compote to do with rhubarb, this is a great option. I love this rhubarb syrup in soda water, but it would also be great in cocktails (especially with gin) or poured over vanilla ice cream or added to black iced tea for a little extra sweetness.

2 cups rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
zest of one lemon
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water

Add the rhubarb, lemon zest, sugar, and water to a medium saucepan. Bring a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the rhubarb is slumped and soft. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Yield: about 3 cups

 

 

Lentil Arugula Salad with Feta and Red Wine Shallot Vinaigrette

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This salad is creamy and tangy and salty and earthy. The lentils give it a heartiness while the arugula lightens the dish and adds some much needed greenery. But what makes it work is the pungent bite from the shallots and the acidity from the red wine vinegar in the dressing combined with the creamy tangy richness from the feta cheese.

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Lentils look so boring, and to be honest, when they aren’t prepared well, they can be, but I’ve eaten this salad three days in a row without growing tired of it. It’s easy to throw together a big batch, and it keeps well. It’s good cold or at room temperature.

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There’s nothing fragile or delicate about this dish. It’s kicky and sharp and sturdy. It would definitely travel well. I could see bringing it along on a picnic or to a summer cookout.

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It’s simple, which means every component is important. The vinaigrette will be better if you start with a good quality dijon mustard and red wine vinegar and olive oil. The lentils should be cooked to the point where they are tender but not yet mushy. The arugula should be spry and lively. And if there is a feta that you love, especially if it is on the creamier and not so aggressively salty side of the spectrum, that’s one you should use.

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And don’t tell Dan, but this is also excellent, and more classically French, with a soft goat cheese in place of the feta.

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This has become a regular lunch for me. It’s something I can make ahead and have available in the fridge for the next several days. I made it for dinner last week, and the next day, when Dan saw that I was making peanut noodles–something else he likes–he said “I was almost hoping we were just going to have leftovers for dinner because that lentil salad was so good.”

I can’t remember the last time he asked for leftovers for dinner.

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Lentil Arugula Salad with Feta and Red Wine Shallot Vinaigrette

This lentil salad is creamy, tangy, salty, and earthy, with bright acidity. I used a Bulgarian sheep’s milk feta, which was less salty and creamier than the most common grocery store varieties like Athenos, but use any feta you like. You can also substitute a soft goat cheese for the feta. If you want a shortcut, I’ve made versions of this starting with the precooked lentils at Trader Joe’s, which means this can come together in minutes instead of about a half an hour. You could also cook the lentils a day or two ahead of time and then throw the rest of it together later. I use salt packed capers, which need to be soaked and rinsed of excess salt before adding them, but brined capers are fine here too. This salad is a great make ahead dish. It keeps well in the refrigerator for several days.

1 cup green or brown lentils
1 bay leaf (optional)
3 ounces (2-3 cups loosely packed) arugula
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
3 ounces feta, crumbled
1 tablespoon minced shallot (about 1/2 medium shallot)
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and fresh cracked black pepper for seasoning

Fill a medium saucepan about half-full with water, cover and bring to a boil. Add the lentils and the bay leaf (if using) and reduce heat to low. Cook the lentils, uncovered, in barely simmering water for 20-25 minutes, until just tender. Drain the lentils and discard the bay leaf.

In a large mixing bowl, add the minced shallot, the red wine vinegar, and the dijon, and stir until combined. Add the olive oil and a pinch of salt and whisk until emulsified.

Add the lentils and stir until coated. Then add the arugula and capers and toss until coated and well combined. Add the crumbled feta and toss until distributed throughout. Taste to see if it needs more salt (this will depend on your feta). Add a few good cracks of black pepper. Serve, warm, cold or at room temperature.

Will keep, refrigerated, for about 3 days.

Yield: About 4 servings as a main, about 8 as a side

Quinoa Cakes with Asparagus and Mushrooms

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When I hear the  words quinoa cake, I’m skeptical. They sound so earnest. So healthful. And sort of like they would be a pain in the ass to make.

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If I hadn’t tasted these at a chef demonstration by John Chiakulas of Beatrix at the Green City Market and discovered first hand just how freaking delicious they are, I likely never would have made them.

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So many vegetable and grain fritters or croquettes are dense and heavy and have a tendency to fall apart, but it turns out quinoa might be the ideal grain (well, technically, grass) for this treatment. These cakes get crisp on the outside and have an almost bouncy, toothsome texture in the middle. The blend of the softer white quinoa with the firmer, almost seed-like red quinoa provides structural support and textural variation to these cakes.

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They’re savory from bits of sautéed onion and garlic, and they’re held together with a couple of beaten eggs, a bit of parmesan cheese, and a little bit of rice flour. They hold together pretty well in the pan if you let them fully cook on one side before you try to flip them. Like when making pancakes, you might need to sacrifice the first one as you get the timing and the temperature of the pan right, but you’ll get the hang of it after you cook a couple of them.

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These particular quinoa cakes are topped with lightly sautéed asparagus and oyster mushrooms and a sprinkle of feta and soft herbs, because those happen to be in season and plentiful right now, but I could imagine topping them with just about anything. Chef Chiakulas said that at the restaurant they change the topping every few weeks or so.

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They could be made half-size and make wonderful appetizers for a party. The flavor base is fairly neutral and could be taken in many different directions. They could be topped with cucumber and tzatziki or shaved carrots and harissa and tahini or roasted cauliflower and romesco sauce or just about any vegetable you like sautéed in olive oil with a little garlic and a sprinkling of cheese and herbs. Or they could be topped with wilted greens and a poached egg for an incredible breakfast.

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I can already tell I’ll be making these again and again. Dan said these might be his favorite quinoa preparation ever. It might be mine too.

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Quinoa Cakes with Asparagus and Mushrooms

Adapted from John Chiakulas of Beatrix

These quinoa cakes are great for a light meal, and if you make them smaller, they would make great appetizers (think plant-based crab cakes). I plan to make these for breakfast topped with a poached egg. The two kinds of quinoa make for pretty presentation, but they also improve the textural balance. You could make these with all white quinoa if you don’t have red quinoa. I wouldn’t make them with all red quinoa, which I think would be too seedy. You could make the quinoa cakes ahead of time and reheat them briefly in the oven before serving or serve them at room temperature. Top them just before serving.

Quinoa cakes

2 cups cooked white quinoa (from about 2/3 cup dry)
1 cup cooked red quinoa (from about 1/3 cup dry)
1/4 medium yellow onion, minced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons rice flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Asparagus and Mushroom topping

1 small bunch (about 1/2 pound) asparagus
8 ounces mushrooms (I used oyster mushrooms, but cremini or hedgehog or other mushroom varieties would be good too)
2 spring onions (or 1 leek)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
a small handful of fresh herbs (such as parsley, tarragon, or basil), stems removed and leaves chopped coarsely
about 1 ounce of feta, crumbled
salt and pepper, for seasoning
wedge of lemon, for seasoning

Heat a bit of olive oil a skillet over medium heat add onions and garlic and sauté until light golden and tender. Let cool.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs. Add the cooked quinoa (both kinds), the cooked onions and garlic, parmesan cheese, rice flour, and kosher salt and mix until well combined. Let the mixture rest for at least 10 minutes.

Heat a bit of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Firmly pack some of the quinoa mixture into a 1/4 cup measure to form a cake. Really pack it in there–you want it to come out in one piece. Invert the measuring cup and gently shake out the formed cake into your hand. (If it falls apart, pack it back in, tighter if possible, and try again.) Gently place into the skillet. Sauté until golden brown on the first side, about 5 minutes, and carefully flip over and cook on the other side until that side is golden brown and the cake is cooked through. Transfer to a serving plate. Once you have the hang of it, form more cakes and add them to the skillet, leaving enough space in between to allow for maneuvering with your turner. Repeat until all of the mixture is used up and all of the quinoa cakes are cooked.

Prepare the asparagus. Rinse under cold water to remove any grit. Trim off the woody bottoms and discard. Thinly slice the stalks on the bias. Clean the mushrooms and slice into bite-sized pieces. Clean the spring onions, trim off the root and any parts of the top that look dry or wilted. Thinly slice both white and green parts (if using a leek, use only the white part).

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onions (or leek) and sauté until pale golden. Add the asparagus and a pinch of salt. Sauté for 1-2 minutes, then add the mushrooms and sauté for an addition 1-2 minutes. Add the herbs. Taste to see if it needs more salt or pepper. Spoon over the quinoa cakes. Sprinkle with crumbled feta and squeeze the lemon wedge over the top. Serve.

Yield: 10-12 quinoa cakes.

Momofuku Milk Bar Crack Pie

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This pie is a homely little dessert.

But there’s a reason it’s named crack pie. It is rich and sweet and salty and addictive. It’s a pie for the sweet-toothed who like a generous dose of salt in their desserts. It has enough sugar to bring on a high and crash. So slice it into slivers, and proceed with caution.

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It’s another one from Christina Tosi’s Momofuku Milk Bar, which inspired this cake and this tart. This time, though, I played it straight and pretty much followed the original recipe.

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I’ve seen a few versions of this recipe floating around the internet that differ from the one in the book in two significant ways. First, they omit the corn powder, which is probably not such a big deal. I assume someone somewhere along the line decided to leave it out because it seems like a strange ingredient for the home cook, but really, it’s not so hard to find. All you need is freeze-dried corn (which I’ve seen at Whole Foods and the Spice House and at local health-food stores and on Amazon) and a food processor or coffee grinder or a blender. The corn powder helps to round out the flavor and firm up the texture, but you can leave it out and leave all the firming up to the milk powder and have a good crack pie. Second, they neglect to instruct you to freeze the pie for at least 3 hours or overnight, which Tosi says they always do at the bakery and is crucial to achieving the dense, rich texture that’s one of the key reasons this pie is so good. In my opinion, the corn powder is optional, but the freezing is not.

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This pie is pretty easy to make, even if some of the steps are unconventional. The crust is essentially a big oatmeal cookie that gets zizzed in a food processor and mixed with a little extra brown sugar and butter and salt and patted into a pie tin.

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I had to exercise some restraint to refrain from eating the oatmeal cookie part all by itself. (The great thing is that when you break it up to put it in the food processor, a little piece of the cookie might accidentally not make it into the bowl, and that little piece just might turn out to be a tasty snack.)

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The filling needs to be made in a stand mixer. Tosi says this is essential to getting a smooth, dense, gooey texture at the end. Making the filling is a simple matter of mixing the sugars and the milk powder and the corn powder and the salt followed by the butter, followed by the cream and vanilla extract, followed by the egg yolks for a couple of minutes at each step.

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When this pie comes out of the oven, it looks hopelessly sunken and all kinds of wrong, a flat beige disk with a shiny top and wrinkled edges. But stick with it.

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After it cools completely, after it spends the night in the freezer and the morning in the refrigerator, after it gets sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar, this unassuming pie lives up to its name. It’s sugary, oat-y, salty crack.

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Momofuku Milk Bar Crack Pie

Slightly adapted from Christina Tosi’s Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook

This is a sugar custard pie, a descendant of the old Southern category of chess pies. It’s something like pecan pie without the pecans. Yet it’s got that oatmeal cookie crust and a generous sprinkle of salt that make it a whole different beast. The corn powder is simply freeze-dried corn that has been pulverized in a food processor. You can find the freeze-dried corn at natural food stores like Whole Foods or online. You can also omit the corn powder if you’d prefer. But don’t skip the freezing step–it’s key to creating the dense, rich texture that makes this pie so good. Tosi calls for a 10-inch pie pan, but the disposable pie pans at my grocery store all seem to be 8¾-inch (interior upper rim diameter) like these, which are equivalent to standard the 9-inch pie pans you’re likely to have at home. The times I list here reflect how long this took to bake in one of those pans. 

Oatmeal Cookie Crust

84 grams (6 tablespoons) room temperature unsalted butter, divided
45 grams (3 tablespoons) light brown sugar, divided
20 grams (1½ tablespoons) granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
40 grams (¼ cup) all-purpose flour
60 grams (¾ cup) old-fashioned rolled oats
.25 grams (scant pinch) baking powder
.25 grams (scant pinch) baking soda
2 grams (½ teaspoon) kosher salt, divided

Filling

150 grams (¾ cup) granulated sugar
90 grams (¼ cup + 2 tablespoons) light brown sugar
10 grams (2 tablespoons) milk powder
12 grams (2 tablespoons) corn powder (optional)
3 grams (¾ teaspoon) kosher salt
113 grams (8 tablespoons, 1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
80 grams (¼ cup + 2 tablespoons) heavy cream
2 grams (½ teaspoon) vanilla extract
4 egg yolks
confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Make the oatmeal cookie crust. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Combine 57 grams (4 tablespoons) of the butter, 38 grams (2½ tablespoons) brown sugar, and the granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high until the mixture looks fluffy and pale yellow, about 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the egg yolk, and mix on medium speed until the sugar granules dissolve and the mixture looks very pale (closer to white than yellow), about 2 minutes.

Turn the mixer to low speed, and add the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, and 1 gram (¼ teaspoon) salt. Mix just until the dry ingredients are fully incorporated, about 1-2 minutes. Dump the mixture onto your parchment lined sheet pan and flatten it out with your hands until it’s about ¼ inch thick. It won’t come close to filling the sheet pan, and it’s fine if it’s an irregular shape as long as the depth is mostly even (you’re basically making one very large oatmeal cookie). Bake until golden brown at the edges and set in the middle, about 15 minutes. Cool completely.

When the cookie is cool, break it into pieces and add them to the bowl of a food processor. Add the remaining brown sugar and salt and pulse until the mixture is broken down into fine crumbs.

Melt the remaining 27 grams (2 tablespoons) butter. Transfer the crumbs to a small mixing bowl and add the butter and mix until you can form the mixture into a ball. Press the mixture evenly along the bottom and up the sides of your pie tin and place on a sheet pan.

Make the filling. Preheat oven to 350°F.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add the both kinds of sugar, the milk powder, corn powder (if using) and salt and mix on low until combined. Add the melted butter and mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened, about 2-3 minutes. Add the heavy cream and vanilla, and mix on low for another 2-3 minutes, or until the mixture looks homogenous with no streaks of cream remaining. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add the egg yolks, and mix on low speed for another 2-3 minutes or until the mixture is glossy and thoroughly combined. You don’t want to aerate the mixture–this is supposed to be dense, so keep the speed as low as your mixer will go and stop mixing as soon as the yolks have completely disappeared and the mixture looks homogenous.

Spread the filling over the crust, and bake for 15 minutes. Open the oven door and reduce the temperature to 325°F. Keep an eye on the temperature (if you have an oven thermometer or an oven that notifies you of its temperature) and when it reaches 325°F, close the door and bake the pie for an additional 10 minutes (if you don’t have a precise way of monitoring your oven temperature, leave the oven door open for about 5 minutes and then shut it and bake 10 minutes). The pie should still jiggle in the middle, but look mostly set around the edges. If it still jiggles at the edges, bake for another 3-5 minutes.

Transfer the pie to a wire rack to cool to room temperature. Then freeze it for at least 3 hours or overnight. (Well wrapped, the pie will keep for 5 days in the refrigerator or for a month in the freezer.) Transfer the pie to the refrigerator at least 1 hour before serving.

Sift confectioners’ sugar over the top of the pie. Serve in small slices. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.

Yield: 1 (9-inch) pie, serves about 8-12 depending on how you slice it.

Thai Tea Parfait Tart with Almond Crunch Crust and Lemon Mascarpone

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This tart is sweet and salty, creamy and crunchy, tannic and, well, tart. It tastes like Thai iced tea with an almond cornflake crust and dollops of lemon mascarpone on top.

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Our friends Traci and Dan were having a garden party and they were making David Chang’s Momofuku pork which was succulent with a gorgeous crispy sugary crust served with lettuce leaves for wrapping and not one but two incredible dipping sauces. This pork is the stuff of legend. It’s the kind of special occasion dinner that spends most of the day in the oven. We had heard about it, and even had the leftovers from their party last year, but this was the first time we had it with those incredible crispy bits right from the oven. Let’s just say the main course lived up to its billing.

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It was my job to come up with a dessert to follow that.

No pressure.

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I stuck with the Momofuku theme and turned to Christina Tosi’s Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook. I’ve made plenty of cakes lately and I was ready for a change. It wasn’t quite the weather for ice cream, and I wanted something portable and sharable, which meant individual custards or panna cotta type desserts were out. And somehow cookies just didn’t feel special enough. Which left me with pies and tarts, which seemed like just the kind of dessert that I like at the end a family-style dinner party.

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I figured I would need two pies or tarts to feed the crowd. And because I apparently can’t just take the easy route and make two of the same thing, I decided I needed two different varieties. I easily settled on Momofuku Milk Bar’s famous salty sweet crack pie for one of them (I’ll be writing about that soon), but I was a little stumped for the second one. Nothing seemed quite right.

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But I kept coming back to this beautiful plated dessert that Tosi had served at Ssam Bar. It had a molded thai tea parfait on a schmear of lemon mascarpone, all sprinkled with an almond thai tea crunch topping. The flavors sounded just right, but I wasn’t going to mess with a plated dessert and I didn’t have the right molds anyway.

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One of the things that I love about the Momofuku Milk Bar book is that it has given me a window into Tosi’s brain to see how a real pastry chef thinks. She works with what she calls mother recipes, which are components that serve as building blocks for her desserts. I realized I had the components I needed, I just needed to put them together in a different way.

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The crunchy topping could become a tart crust. The molded parfaits could be rejiggered into a filling and the lemon mascarpone could move from being a schmear on a plate to dollops on top.

With a little bit of adapting and scaling, I was pretty confident it would work.

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It’s projects like this, where I get to exercise some creative muscles, that make cooking and baking so satisfying for me.

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This made for a light and refreshing dessert. It also inspired some lively conversation (on how it was covered with enough nips to suckle a litter) and even some impromptu musical accompaniment.

I’d say it worked.

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Thai Tea Parfait Tart with Almond Crunch Crust and Lemon Mascarpone

Adapted from Christina Tosi’s Momofuku Milk Bar

The filling of this tart tastes like Thai iced tea sweetened with condensed milk. The crust here is unconventional. It’s salty and crispy from cornflakes and rich from almonds with some more Thai tea flavor and a hit of sour from the citric acid. This crust is gluten free if you make it with a gluten free corn cereal (the classic cornflakes are sweetened with malt syrup, which contains gluten, but there are many gluten free variations in the cereal aisle these days). You should be able to find the Thai tea and tamarind concentrate in most Asian grocery stores (I found them at Golden Pacific in Andersonville) and I’m sure you can find them online if you don’t have a local source. I found citric acid at the Middle Eastern Bakery (also in Andersonville) and the prepared dulce de leche at Edgewater Produce. It’s worth exploring ethnic grocery stores in your area for these ingredients, but I’m sure you can order everything online. None of it should be too hard to find. This needs to freeze for at least 3 hours and then thaw for at least three hours before serving, so plan ahead. I found it easiest to make everything except the lemon mascarpone the day before, let it freeze overnight, thaw in the fridge during the day, and then pipe on the lemon mascarpone within a few hours of serving for best appearance. You’ll need a tart pan with a removable bottom for this to come out cleanly. I used a 14″ x 4.5″ rectangular tart pan like this but it would also work in a standard 9″ round tart pan like this.

Almond Crunch Crust

30 grams (4 tablespoons) sliced almonds
110 grams (1/2 cup) almond butter
80 grams (1 cup) cornflake cereal
60 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) confectioners’ sugar
4 grams (1 teaspoon) kosher salt
16 grams (3 tablespoons) Thai black tea leaves
.5 gram (scant pinch) citric acid (optional)
15 grams (1/2 ounce) white chocolate, melted

Thai Tea Parfait Filling

200 grams (1 cup) water
20 grams (1/4 cup) Thai black tea leaves
2 gelatin sheets or 1 teaspoon powdered gelatin
150 grams (1/2 cup) sweetened condensed milk
32 grams (2 tablespoons) store-bought dulce de leche
12 grams (2 teaspoons) tamarind concentrate
1 gram (1/4 teaspoon) kosher salt
150 grams (2/3 cup) heavy cream
70 grams (1/4 cup) sour cream

Lemon Mascarpone

3 lemons
100 grams (1 cup) granulated sugar
4 eggs
1 gelatin sheet or 1/2 teaspoon powdered gelatin
113 grams (8 tablespoons, one stick) unsalted butter, cold
2 grams (1/2 teaspoon) kosher salt
100 grams (1/2 cup) mascarpone cheese, cold

Make the crust. Combine the slivered almonds, almond butter, cornflake cereal, confectioners’ sugar, salt, Thai tea leaves, and citric acid in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed for about 2 minutes, or until the dry ingredients are thoroughly moistened and the mixture looks well combined. Dump into the tart pan, and press into an even layer along the bottom of the pan. Don’t worry about pressing it up the sides for this one, the filling is stable enough it doesn’t need sides to hold together. Using a pastry brush, spread a thin coating of melted white chocolate over the crust (this will protect the crust from getting soggy from the filling). Freeze for 10 minutes to set the chocolate.

Make the Thai tea parfait filling. Place the water and Thai tea leaves in a blender and blend four about 30 seconds. Let steep for a half hour and then strain through a coffee filter into a small saucepan to remove the fine tea bits. Bloom the gelatin (David Lebovitz has a great primer on how to do that). Heat the strained tea water until it is warm to the touch, add the gelatin, and stir until it’s dissolved. Pour into a mixing bowl, add the condensed milk, dulce de leche, tamarind concentrate, and salt and whisk until thoroughly combined.

Put the bowl in the refrigerator for about 30-40 minutes, whisking every 5 minutes, until the base has started to thicken but isn’t fully set. You want to be able to fold in the whipped cream and sour cream mixture and have it hold its shape some. It should be thick but still pourable. Depending on your bowl and your refrigerator, this may take more or less time, so pay attention to the texture each time you whisk it.

When the base is looking close to ready, whip the heavy cream and sour cream in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until the mixture holds medium-soft peaks.

When the parfait base is ready, pour it into a large mixing bowl, and fold the whipped heavy cream and sour cream mixture into it with a rubber spatula until the mixture looks homogenous. Pour over the tart crust, smoothing the top with a spatula, and freeze for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Thaw at room temperature for 3 hours or in the refrigerator for approximately 8 hours (or up to 24).

While the tart is thawing, make the lemon mascarpone. Start by making lemon curd. Zest the lemons into a blender. Squeeze about 1/3 cup of juice from the lemons, removing any seeds, and add the juice to the blender along with the sugar. Blend until the sugar has dissolved. Add the eggs and blend on low until thoroughly combined. Transfer to a medium saucepan and clean the blender. Bloom the gelatin. Heat the lemon and egg mixture over low heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens to a spreadable consistency or comes to a boil, whichever comes first. Immediately transfer back to the blender, add the gelatin, buttern and salt, and blend until the mixture is thick, shiny, and smooth. Pour through a fine mesh strainer and refrigerate until thoroughly cooled, at least 1 hour.

When the lemon curd is cold transfer it to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, and mix on low speed for about 30 seconds to smooth it out and loosen it up a bit. Add the cold mascarpone and mix on low speed until just combined. Be careful not to overmix this because the mixture could break and become an unsightly mess. Err on the side of undermixing and finish it with a spatula if need be. Chill until ready to use.

Within a few hours of serving (or right before serving), transfer the lemon mascarpone to a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip or plastic zip top bag with a corner snipped, pipe dollops of lemon mascarpone over the top of the tart. You may have a little extra (which is great on toast or pancakes or stirred into yogurt). Slice with a chef’s knife, and serve.

Yield: One 14 x 4.5 inch rectangular tart or one 9 inch round tart. Serves about 8 full size slices or more smaller ones.

 

Asparagus and Spring Onion Farro Salad with Quick Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette

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The Green City Market is finally back outside, which means my Wednesday mornings are occupied with shopping for local produce. It’s been a late spring rendering the early markets a little more sparse than usual. The first week there were almost more storage apples and overwintered potatoes and frozen berries and pickles and preserves than new crops on offer.

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It’s that time at the market where it seems that the only vegetable that is currently being harvested in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin is asparagus. And so in the last couple of weeks, I’ve probably eaten asparagus about half a dozen times.

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Lucky for me, I love the bold grassy, vegetal flavor of asparagus. When I had my first bite of it this year, I was reminded of just how much more fresh and vibrant it tastes when it has just come out of the ground than when it’s spent days on a truck. It reminded me why I go to the trouble of visiting the farmers markets in the first place. Of course I like the idea of supporting sustainable agriculture and small farmers in the region, but I’m not just doing it out of a sense of obligation. The fruits and vegetables there really do taste better than what I can usually find at the grocery store.

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Asparagus is great paired with rich and salty flavors like eggs and prosciutto or roasted and topped with shavings of parmigiano reggiano. But I especially love the way asparagus plays with lemon and bright herbs. The combination accentuates rather than blunts asparagus’s inherent grassiness.

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Here, I’ve sautéed it with the sweet and mild spring onion and spring garlic that I also found at the market and tossed it with farro, which is probably my favorite whole grain. I then topped it all with a preserved lemon vinaigrette and some flat-leaf parsley and chives.

Because I didn’t plan this out weeks or months in advance, I didn’t have time to make traditional preserved lemons, so I used a quick version that only takes a few minutes of work and a few hours of sitting that I learned from Mark Bittman. It’s easy enough that I could imagine throwing it together before work if you wanted to have it ready for dinner, and it keeps for at least a week, so you could really make it whenever you find ten minutes to spare and have it ready when you are. You just dice a lemon, rind and all, remove the seeds, toss it with some kosher salt and granulated sugar and let it sit in a jar for three hours (or longer).

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Then you whisk some of the preserved lemon bits with some lemon juice, champagne vinegar, honey, and olive oil to make the vinaigrette.

This lemony, herby, asparagus farro dish tastes like spring. I can’t get enough of it.

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Asparagus and Spring Onion Farro Salad with Quick Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette

Quick preserved lemons adapted from Mark Bittman, vinaigrette inspired by Paul Virant’s excellent The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickles, Preserves, and Aigre-doux (which is also a great source if you’d like to make preserved lemons the traditional way or if you’d like to explore the savory side of canning and preserving).

I love the combination of asparagus with lemon and herbs, especially when combined with the nubbly texture of farro. The quick preserved lemons are easy to make, but they do need to sit for at least 3 hours before they’re ready to use (traditional preserved lemons take weeks to be ready). They can be made up to a week in advance. In a pinch, you could substitute grated lemon zest. You can also substitute scallions or leeks and mature garlic if you have trouble finding spring onions and spring garlic. This is great warm or at room temperature. It’s also good cold from the refrigerator the next day.

Quick Preserved Lemons

1 lemon (preferably unwaxed organic)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar

Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette

1 tablespoon preserved lemons, finely diced
juice of half a lemon
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Asparagus and Spring Onion Farro Salad

1 cup farro
1 bunch asparagus (about 1 pound)
5-6 spring onions (you could substitute scallions or leeks if you can’t find them)
4-5 stalks of spring garlic (also known as green garlic, you could substitute a couple of cloves of mature garlic if you can’t find spring garlic)
a handful of fresh flat leaf parsley
a small bunch of chives
salt, pepper, and olive oil for seasoning and sautéing

At least 3 hours in advance, make the quick preserved lemon. If you have a conventional waxed lemon, scrub it under hot water to remove the wax. Dice the lemon, rind and pith and all. Remove the seeds. Scrape the diced lemon along with its juice into a bowl and stir in the kosher salt and sugar. Transfer to a jar, cover, and let stand for at least three hours at room temperature. (It will be fine at room temperature much longer than that if you want to let it sit out overnight or while you’re at work.) Stir. Refrigerate if not using right away.

Fill a medium saucepan about two-thirds full with water and bring to a boil. Add the farro and a generous pinch of salt, lower heat to medium-low and simmer until the farro is al dente, about 22-25 minutes. Drain through a fine mesh strainer.

While the farro is cooking, trim the woody bottom few inches from the asparagus and cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Trim the roots from the spring onions and spring garlic, and slice finely, both green and white (or purplish) parts.

Heat a large skillet with about a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the asparagus and spring onions and garlic and saute, stirring frequently, until the asparagus is crisp-tender and the onions and garlic have softened, about 2-3 minutes.

Add the farro and the asparagus mixture to a large bowl.

Make the vinaigrette. In a small bowl, whisk together the preserved lemons, lemon juice, champagne vinegar and honey. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until emulsified. Pour over the farro and vegetables and toss to coat.

Chop the parsley and chives and sprinkle over the salad. Season with salt and freshly cracked pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: Serves 4

 

My Favorite Granola

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This granola has been a breakfast staple for me for years. I’ve made more batches of it than I can count. It has evolved slowly as I’ve figured out how to make it the big-clustered, not-too-sweet, crunchy-but-not-so-hard-it-scrapes-the-roof-of-my-mouth cereal I crave.

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There are, if I count correctly, approximately eleventy-billion versions of granola out there. People add everything from cinnamon to chocolate to shredded coconut, not to mention all the various seeds and dried fruits that get casually tossed in. It gets sweetened with everything from brown sugar to honey to maple syrup. People play fast and loose with the ratio of oats to nuts and use neutral oils like vegetable oil or canola oil or flavorful ones like olive oil or coconut oil or omit the oil altogether.

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It’s one of those foods that’s hard to make wrong.

But this version is, I think, something special. It’s not the cheapest version of granola out there. It relies on a triad of good quality ingredients–maple syrup, coconut oil, and vanilla bean–for flavor (though you can substitute vanilla extract for the vanilla bean if you’d prefer). It gets its big clusters from a combination of quick oats and classic rolled oats and a restrained hand when it comes to stirring. I personally love the textural combination of sliced almonds, chopped pecans, and chopped cashews here.

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I sometimes add fruit, either dried or fresh, to a bowl of granola along with milk or yogurt just before serving, but I never add fruit before baking because dried fruits have a tendency to get unpleasantly tough and leathery when they spend that long in the oven. I no longer bother with seeds, which invariably seem to collect at the bottom of the container (I don’t need a bowl of flax seed and oat dust, thank you), and I think that pretty much everything else is extraneous.

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Granola is incredibly easy to make. It’s a simple dump-everything-in-a-mixing-bowl, stir, and bake job. As I said before, it’s hard to screw up, even for a beginner in the kitchen. If you like granola, this one is worth trying.

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My Favorite Granola

This is granola is almost always present in my kitchen. When I run out of it, I don’t quite know what to do for breakfast, so I quickly go out to get the ingredients to make more. Granola is so easy to make, and it’s easy to scale up or down to suit your needs (I usually make a double batch). The real maple syrup is essential to the flavor here. It looks like a lot, but this granola isn’t too sweet. I look for the darker, more flavorful grade B maple syrup when I can find it. The vanilla bean is nice, but I’ve made this with vanilla extract and it’s still delicious. I discovered that I get better clusters when I use half of the finer quick oats along with the old fashioned rolled oats (thanks Melissa!). If you don’t want to buy two kinds of oats, you can zizz some rolled oats in a food processor to approximate quick oats. Look for unrefined coconut oil, which has more coconut flavor than the refined versions. This is vegan as is and it could be gluten free if you use certified gluten free oats. Because nuts can go rancid, I like to store this granola in the refrigerator to prolong freshness. 

2 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
2 1/2 cups quick oats
3/4 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup cashews, chopped
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup maple syrup (I use grade B)
2 tablespoons coconut oil (preferably unrefined)
1/2 vanilla bean, split or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F and have a 9″ x 13″ metal baking pan ready. In a large mixing bowl, add both kinds of oats, the almonds, cashews, pecans, and salt, and stir until mixed.

In a small saucepan, add the maple syrup, coconut oil, and vanilla bean (if using) and heat until the coconut oil is melted (this should smell fantastic). Remove from heat, add the vanilla extract (if using) and stir. Pour over the dry ingredients and stir with a rubber spatula until all of the oats and nuts are moistened. This can take a few minutes of stirring. Pour the mixture into the 9″ x 13″ pan and spread in a relatively even layer.

Bake for 60-70 minutes, stirring gently once around the 30 minute mark, until the oats begin to look golden and the mixture feels mostly dry to the touch. Let cool completely in the pan (it will get crisper as it cools). Transfer to an airtight container, breaking up any oversized clusters.  This will keep at room temperature for a few weeks or in the refrigerator for at least a month. Serve with milk, yogurt, fruit or just eat out of hand.