food

An Experiment in Turnips

Several months ago I was enjoying a few weeks in France with my girlfriends when we struck gold.  We were in Antibes (outside of Nice) cooking nightly dinners and overdosing on wine and cheese when we came up with the restaurant idea of the century: “Gratin.”  We brainstormed for hours, and ever since I’ve been gratin-ing anything I could get my hands on.  Remind me, next time there are berries in the house, to show you how gratin can be a dessert…

But until then, tonight’s experiment was to gratin turnips (this is due to an excess of turnips showing up in our CSA deliveries: there are only so many ways you can cook turnips).  Since we had an extra potato in the house, I threw that in as well.  This is actually a pretty throw-together meal, once you have everything sliced – you only need to pop it in the oven for about half an hour.  So here it is: my Turnip Potato Gratin (influenced by several different recipes, cooking method adopted from Bon Appetit).

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Prep: Preheat oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit. Peel and slice (as thin as you can) one large turnip and one large potato.  Slice one half of an onion and saute for five minutes in butter, until translucent.  Add 2 cloves minced garlic to the onions: cook no longer than 1 minute.  In a medium casserole dish, melt 2-3 tablespoons of butter.

Assemble: Build the gratin layer by layer in the buttered casserole dish.  First, place a layer of turnips.

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Sprinkle on top of the turnips salt, cayenne pepper, thyme, and paprika.  Shred gruyere cheese atop the spices.  Then, layer two: potatoes.  On top of the potatoes, again sprinkle the spices and grate the cheese.  Layer 3, turnips, and so on, until all of the root

vegetables are used up.  Sprinkle with gruyere cheese and pop into the oven (covered with tin foil) for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are golden brown, slightly crispy.  Remove from the oven and pour a cup of cream on to the vegetables.  Grate some more gruyere on top and return to the oven for 30-45 minutes, covered (depending on how soft or crispy you like your gratin).

Enjoy.

(Thanks to A for his help tonight.)

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An Updated Classic: Macaroni & Cheese

I have always been a lover of cheese, plain and simple.  In fact, when I die and if there is a heaven, it would probably reek of epoisse and gouda and gruyere.  I imagine that would be some people’s hell, but hey, their loss.  So of course, by extension, I have always been a lover of macaroni and cheese.  Not the dainty kind with a light “dressing” of white sauce, but the rich, hearty, there’s-so-much-cheese-I-don’t-even-think-there-are-noodles-on-this-plate kind.  At home, we only had homemade macaroni and cheese on “special” occasions (at my grandmother’s, her baked macaroni and cheese was served steadily), but I ate the Blue Box every Friday or Saturday night when my parents left me and my siblings at home with a sitter so they could have a life.

Still, I asked for macaroni and cheese all the time.  And I mean all the time.  I’m not being sarcastic or hyperbolic in the slightest.  It got to a point where my mother said: “Fine. I will feed you macaroni and cheese.  All the time.”  (Probably not the healthiest of ideas, but she’d heard of someone curing her child’s chocolate addiction by allowing him to eat nothing but).  She decided that I would be allowed to only eat macaroni and cheese for a week.  Thank god it was summer.

We went to the grocery store, bought ingredients for every variety, and also a (again, unhealthy) quantity of the Blue Box.  It started on a Friday.  I happily ate macaroni and cheese breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.  Until Sunday.  Sunday, I had a playdate.  My mother’s good friend Donna brought over her two kids, and a tray of homemade cupcakes.  I had to watch while they and my siblings devoured them.  And cupcakes are not a snack that appeared in my house often.  I felt like I was Cinderella watching everyone else get ready for the ball: I was never going to be able to eat a cupcake like them, ever!  I moped around the house the rest of the afternoon.

The next morning, I caved.  And I have a feeling my mom was about to cave as well (wonder how many pounds I gained that weekend…).  Fortunately for me, I did not grow sick of macaroni and cheese.  In fact, its still my favorite food–although I’ll never eat the Blue Box again.

Here is my favorite grown-up version of macaroni and cheese.  The key, of course, is the cheese.  I prefer a hearty smoked gouda, but this tastes just as good with cheddars or gruyeres or a combination oh whatever you have in the house.  I apologize for the lack of precise measurements, but when I cook this dish, I play it all by ear after the roux.

Megan’s “Grown-Up” Macaroni & Cheese

While you boil water and cook your pasta, make the sauce.  Start with a roux: sauté half of a chopped white onion in 2 tablespoons of butter until translucent and soft.  Then, add a tablespoon and a half of flour (all-purpose really works best for this) and stir in with a whisk so that there are no lumps.  Stir the roux over medium-low heat for 5-10 minutes.  This is so that the floury flavor is cooked out of the sauce.  Then, begin to pour in room temperature milk (I use 2% when I cook), while stirring the roux.  The flour and butter mixture will thicken the milk; keep adding until the sauce approaches the thickness you want for your macaroni and cheese.  Again, cook this for about 5-10 minutes, continually stirring.

At this point, add the cheese.  I thinly slice a good smoked gouda (as thin as possible, so it melts quickly), and add it slice by slice.  Keep stirring until the sauce is smooth again.  At this point, if you feel that the sauce is too thick, add more milk (I err on the side of caution, and so my sauce is usually always too thick.  It’s easier to thin a sauce for this recipe than it is to thicken it).  Add about 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, ground nutmeg, and paprika.  The cayenne gives it a nice kick, the nutmeg enhances the flavor of the cheese, and the paprika?  Well, I just like the flavor of paprika.  Season with salt to taste.  Pour over your cooked pasta.  Serve while hot.  And voila–easy!  And delicious (I’m still nibbling from the pan as I type this).

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Simple Sundays Part III: Dessert

This week we hauled home about two pounds of peaches from the CSA pickup.  Unfortunately, they ripened and then went bad pretty quickly, so I only had two left for tonight, right on the edge of turning rotten.  So I called in my southern backup: Paula Deen.  Now I have to admit that I although I love watching her on the food network, I have a hard time bringing myself to make one of her recipes.  It’s almost as is Paula Deen has become synonymous with butter, sour cream, or mayonnaise (sometimes all 3!).  But her peach cobbler recipe, with a few modifications, didn’t seem so unhealthy.  And so what follows is a slight spinoff (with, of course, modifications for having only 2 peaches, and a ton of extra blueberries).

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Blueberry Peach Cobbler

Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.  Slice and peel the peaches (as I said before, I used 2).  In a saucepan, combine the peaches with 1/4 cup of sugar and a couple tablespoons of water.  Bring to a boil and simmer, so that the sugar, water, and peach juices reduce to a syrup and start to caramelize the fruit.  While the fruit is simmering, make the biscuit topping.  Combine 1 cup of flour with 1/2 tsp of baking powder, 1/2 tsp of baking soda, and 1/4 tsp of salt.  Then stir in 1 cup of sugar, and 3/4 cup of milk.  Stir to combine, leaving no lumps.  That’s the cobbler part.  Now to build the dessert:

I used individual gratin dishes, in which I melted 1/2 tablespoon of butter in each.  Then I ladled the cobbler mixture into each gratin dish, without mixing it into the butter.  On top of that, layer peaches (strained of the syrup) and blueberries.  Then spoon a little bit of the syrup on top of the fruit and sprinkle with cinnamon.  Put in the oven for about 30 minutes; the cobbler will cook over and envelop the fruit.  We served ours solo, but it would have been even better with unsweetened freshly whipped cream (or, of course, ice cream).  Dig in!

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Simple Sundays Part II: Frijoles Negros

I have to give credit to A to turning me on to Cuban food, and black beans and rice are now a staple at my house.  The best part? Yes, yes, you know: quick and simple.  That is, when you make them my way (A’s mom actually soaks her own black beans with spices overnight, which makes them even better.  I take the easy way out and just buy cans of black beans).  Put some white rice on to cook, and while you wait:

Chop up a white onion and some red and green pepper and saute them with olive oil in a large pan.  While waiting for the onions to become translucent, mince 2-3 cloves of garlic.  When the onions and peppers are cooked, add the garlic, and add several tablespoons of cumin, a teaspoon of cinnamon, salt, and pepper (and some crushed red pepper flakes if you like a little heat–I don’t).  When the garlic has been allowed to cook for a minute or two (no more), add two cans of black beans, with their liquid.  Cover and simmer, for about 10 minutes.  Taste the beans and add more spice if you find necessary.  Then using the back of a spoon, crush about 1/8 of the beans, to create a nice sauce for them to sit in and pull the dish together.  Ladle over the rice and enjoy!

This is something that I cook in vast quantities, so right now there are 3 tupperware containers in my fridge with individual servings of rice and beans, all set to take for lunch this week.  So be wary!  This makes tons of food.

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Simple Sundays Part I: “Grilled Cheese”

Today I’m going to play catch up, since I was out of town for most of this week unexpectedly.  I thought since its the week end, and I’ve been mostly rushed, that I’d put up some of my favorite quick and easy meals that got me through the week, for lunch, dinner, and dessert.  I hate sacrificing flavor just because I’m short on time or groceries, so one of my favorite things to do is pull together meals with little or no effort or ingredients.  Let’s start with brunch.  Sometimes on a Saturday afternoon, all I want is a good (but light) sandwich, one that feels like a healthy meal rather than something shoved between two slices of a bread.  And while grilled cheese is a favorite of mine, I can rarely bring myself to eat it the way I think is the best: big white bread, lots of butter, and heavy on the (cheddar) cheese.  So while chatting in the kitchen with my sister, I came up with a nice knock off “grilled cheese” sandwich:

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I’m not sure what to call this, so let’s go with Mozzarella Dijon Grilled Sandwich.  First I chopped some red onion, grape tomatoes and scallions, which I mixed together with dijon mustard and a little salt.  I used Honey Wheat bread for a nice sweet flavor (greasing the pan up with olive oil so the bread got nice and crisp), and loaded it up with Mozzarella Cheese.   Then I layered on some fresh spinach, a couple spoonfuls of the dijon mixture, and some more cheese.  Then I closed up the sandwich with another slice of bread, flipped it a few times, and voila!  Simple, quick (I think under 10 minutes) and using only things I had around the house.  I got “delicious” approval all around (I was at my parents’ for the weekend) and a nice suggestion from my sister: for a little more kick, add some horseradish to the dijon mustard mix.  I’ll have to try that next time…

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Spinach Carbonara: a vegetarian evening

As you’ve come to know, Tuesday nights are CSA nights. I grab a huge bag and head over to the sidewalk outside of Boerum Hill’s YWCA, where there are tables set up groaning under the weight of fresh produce, and gather my share.  This week, it took two bags just to get everything home, and will probably take two weeks to eat everything.  I think another dinner party might be in order…  The only issue I have with CSA nights is two-fold: a) I want to eat everything that we’re given all at once, but b) I always struggle to figure out what to whip up, since I’m so used to having some sort of meat in my meals.

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So I got to improvising.  I always find that the best way to get started on a good meal is to simply start cooking something.  So I heated up a saute pan, threw in some extra virgin olive oil, and diced the farm fresh white onion I’d just picked up.  Everything has to start with an aromatic (in my opinion), so I tossed the onion into the pan and started mincing garlic.  This is when it struck me: why not a vegetable carbonara?  Carbonara has always been my go-to dish.  It’s something simultaneously hearty and light that you can throw together with what you have in the fridge, all under half an hour.  I didn’t have bacon, but why not concoct a healthier version?  I put some pasta to boil, added the CSA spinach to the pan to wilt, and then threw in some garlic for a minute before taking it off the heat (any longer and the garlic gets bitter).

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While I finished waiting for my spaghetti to cook (timing has never been my strong point), I beat a single egg and into it grated some parmesan cheese.  I like a lot of cheese, but the amount is completely up to you.  When the spaghetti was cooked and drained, I added it to the saute pan and turned the heat back on.  After cooking the pasta for a few minutes so it could absorb the flavors of the garlic, onion, and spinach, I poured the egg and cheese mixture onto the pasta and stirred it quickly, so the egg couldn’t scramble.  Once the egg and cheese had coated the pasta and slightly cooked, I loaded it up on to my plate, topped it off with a dash of sea salt, and dug in.  Success!

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