Monthly Archives: December 2011

On life lessons and red cabbage

Phew! What a whirlwind the last couple of weeks have been. A pleasant whirlwind – a trip to a warm place, a lot of good food, many generous gifts, and cherished time with loved ones – but a whirlwind nonetheless.

As a result, I obviously have not been back here to share with you the recipes I promised last time. So much for being optimistic about the amount of time I would have to devote to this blog while on my winter break! Ah well, optimism is better than its opposite, no?

I did make some successful Christmas treats, including the Food52 Pine Nut Brittle (aka object of my obsession), which was just as good as I imagined it would be.

pine nut brittle

Its flavors are a bit unexpected in a brittle, so it might not be for everyone. For me though, the surprise is delightful and the salty, herbal flavor coupled with the toasty taste of the pine nuts sets the caramel sweetness off just perfectly.

Now, the holidays are nearly over though and the time for sweets has come to an end…er, well, at least it has slowed down a little, as we recover from our two months of indulgence. So, I won’t linger on the brittle recipe today. But if you are looking for something sweet to serve at your New Year’s party, I highly recommend it.

Instead, I want to tell you about a warm, complex, soul-satisfying red cabbage salad that, despite some strong resistance on my part, I just love. You see, I have been in a stand-off with a head of red cabbage that has been in my refrigerator for longer than I care to admit. It has taught me things though, this red cabbage, things about life.

warm red cabbage salad

It all started when I bought the red cabbage for a specific recipe that I had stubbornly decided to make, even though I sensed that I probably would not like the dish. I never just have red cabbage lying around; it is not a piece of produce that is in my regular rotation. I happened upon this recipe though and doggedly decided that I was going to give it a try. So, I bought a head of red cabbage that I knew was way too big for what I needed (like, WAY too big…), but it was the smallest head I could find and I was going to make this recipe, dammit!

I made the dish, using just 1/4 of the head of red cabbage, and hated it. Lesson #1: trust your instincts – when it comes to the size of produce and the food you like.

Before we left for our Christmas trip, we of course did our best to eat all the perishable food in the fridge and I managed to use up everything that would have gone bad during the time we were gone…except for the rest of the red cabbage. I couldn’t bring myself to throw so much food away though, so I left it in there, thinking that maybe it would still be good when we returned and I would figure out what to do with it then.

Well, it was. It survived our five-day absence and sat there in the crisper drawer taunting me upon our return. So, this week I have made it my mission to use up the red cabbage that apparently would be left standing, with the Twinkies and cockroaches, after a nuclear bomb.

so much red cabbage

It’s not that I couldn’t find a recipe that used red cabbage, it’s just that I kept thinking back to Lesson #1 and tried to steer clear of recipes that I knew I wouldn’t like given their ingredients and flavor profiles, which, in the world of red cabbage recipes, narrowed things down considerably.

After a half-hearted initial search I decided to do what I have done so many times before when I find myself with a vegetable that I don’t know what to do with, or when I want to do something different and unexpected with it: I turned to Heidi Swanson. You may remember how much I love her cooking from this gushing post a few months ago.

On her blog I found a recipe for a red cabbage salad that seemed, well, weird. But also intriguing.

toasted nuts and salty cheese

I decided to trust Heidi and give it a try. What did I have to lose, after all, besides the cursed red cabbage that I didn’t want to eat anyways?! And I am so glad I did. Lesson #2: Don’t be afraid to try new things just because you fail once (or many times!)

The flavors in this salad are definitely not what you likely think of when you think of dishes made with red cabbage. This is, however, precisely why I like it. It is rich, nutty, salty, crunchy and just slightly sweet.

The balance of sweet with the other components is what gets me, I think. Most red cabbage dishes where the cabbage is cooked (as opposed to a raw slaw) are just so sweet, over-the-top sweet. The sweet in this salad is subtle, and it is layered – coming as it does from several different elements: the toasted and caramelized sunflower seeds, the dried fruit, and the balsamic vinegar.

on its way to deliciousness

We ate it served over the nutty, chewy grain farro, and I am sure it would work just as well over another grain such as barley, wheat berries, or even quinoa. I might also try it on top of some creamy polenta. I’ve also been eating it on its own as a light lunch. It is the perfect winter dish and has been particularly comforting upon our return to our cold and wet Seattle home after spending several days in the southern California sun.

And so, Lesson #3: don’t give up and don’t throw away good food (especially a veggie!), because there is always something new and delicious you can do with it. You simply must give this dish a try, whether or not your relationship with red cabbage is as complicated as mine.

winter yumminess

Warm Red Cabbage Salad

Adapted from 101cookbooks
Makes 4-6 servings

The substitutions I made in my version of this recipe were mostly changes of necessity because I didn’t have certain ingredients on hand. The fact that it still came out so well is yet another testament to how wonderful this dish is. As long as you keep your ingredients in the same general vicinity, you can play around with it to your heart’s content – use different nuts, different fruit, different herbs, different cheese, anything that sounds good to you. And let me know if you land on another good combination, I will definitely be making this again soon.

  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound head of red cabbage (or 3/4 of a larger head, in my case), quartered and cut into thin ribbons
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme, minced
  • 1/2 cup dried tart cherries (or another chopped dried fruit – the original recipe calls for golden raisins)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 3/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a bit of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to garnish

Roast the sunflower seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until golden brown. Sprinkle on the sugar, and a couple pinches of salt. Stir until the sugar melts and coats the seeds. Transfer the seeds immediately to a plate or bowl so they don’t stick to the pan. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the onion for 2-3 minutes with a couple pinches of salt. Stir in the garlic and cook for a minute more until fragrant.

Add the cabbage and a few more pinches of salt. Stir and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the cabbage softens up just a touch. You don’t want it to get too soft – it should still be a bit crunchy in the final dish – but how long you need to cook it will depend on how thick/thin your cabbage is sliced so it is difficult to give a precise cooking time.

Once the cabbage is slightly softened, stir in the thyme, dried fruit, and the vinegar. Fold in 1/2 cup of the feta cheese and most of the sunflower seeds, then taste. Season with more salt if needed.

Serve garnished with the remaining feta, sunflower seeds and Parmesan cheese.

Enjoy, and Happy New Year!

4 Comments

Filed under Food, Main Course

Books no cook

Ok, that title is not completely true. I HAVE been cooking, but it has mostly been in the harried manner of someone who lives in cave and scurries out to gather food, but the sun burns their eyes and skin because they’ve been in the cave so long, so they quickly scurry back in.

That might be a little dramatic… But I have been in the throes of the end of my first quarter of grad school and finals, or as close to we get to them in library school. I feel a little bit like I’ve been in a tunnel or a black hole, just trying to make my way out.

frosted leaves

I have had precious little time away from my computer screen and the documenting of my culinary escapades has been one of the casualties.

That all changes tomorrow though. Tomorrow! Tomorrow I turn in my last paper and have 2 1/2 blissful weeks before the next quarter begins. I completely forgot how awesome winter break is, but man, it is awesome.

rainbow

Right now, as I procrastinate finishing the draft of that final paper, I am thinking about what I’m going to use that precious time to do and I wanted to share those thoughts with you.

I am definitely going to get back in the kitchen and spend some quality time there. I made a delectable Roasted Red Pepper Soup last week that I am planning to recreate and share here.  I am also going to eek out some last-minute Christmas baking to take with us when we go to visit my boyfriend’s family in California.

dinner table

I have been thinking a lot (almost obsessively) about this Pine Nut Rosemary Brittle from Food52 while I’ve been chained to my desk.

These Buckwheat Cocoa Nib Cookies from Orangette have also been making their way into my dreams ever since we bought a canister of Cocoa Nibs when we toured the Theo Chocolate Factory here in Seattle just after Thanksgiving. (Live in Seattle and have family in town over the holidays? I recommend this tour, it was fun and informative!) So, those two recipes will likely make an appearance.

While we’re on the topic of fun things to do with family in Seattle: I did allow myself one night off in the past two weeks and I used it to take a holiday baking class at The Pantry at Delancey. It was such a good time! And, I came out of it with lots of lovely homemade Christmas gifts that I never would have had time to make at home. You don’t need to posses any special cooking skills to take one of their classes, and it would be a super fun activity for anyone you have in town who likes to cook or EAT (which is everyone, right?)

The Pantry at Delancey

Annnnyways, more to the point, I got some great holiday recipes from that class too, so I have a lot of yumminess to choose from now that I have the time to go with it. Expect good things soon.

The Pantry at Delancey

In the meantime, can you help me with something else? I also want to read a book during my break. Between moving across the country and starting grad school, I have done very little reading for pleasure this year, which is unlike me and really pretty sad.

Here is a partial list of the books that have been on my list to read this year (they’re not all from this year, but they came to my attention this year). Have any of you read any of them? Can you recommend any? How about a book that is not on this list? I am all ears! And if you too need a book to read over the holidays, I hope this list gives you some inspiration:

  • Stuffed: Adventures Of A Restaurant Family by Patricia Volk
  • The Recipe Club: A Tale of Food and Friendship by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  • A Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier
  • Use Me by Elissa Schappell
  • Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan
  • When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
  • A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me about Love, Friendship, and the Things that Really Matter by William Deresiewicz
  • We Had It So Good by Linda Grant
  • Cakewalk: A Memoir by Kate Moses
  • Fannie’s Last Supper: Re-creating One Amazing Meal from Fannie Farmer’s 1896 Cookbook by Christopher Kimball
  • Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

I hope you and yours are having a lovely holiday season! I’ll be back soon with a recipe for you to enjoy.

christmas

6 Comments

Filed under Books

Post-Thanksgiving equals salad

Hi friends. Welcome to post-Thanksgiving! Or pre-Christmas, or December, or whatever you call it. I hope that if you celebrated Thanksgiving last week you had a lovely one filled with lots of butter and cream.

I know I certainly did – and loved every minute of it! We are vegetarians around here so our big meal didn’t include the turkey, but it certainly did include plenty of butter and cream.

We had pumpkin soup topped with buttered chanterelle mushrooms and cream biscuits for our starter. If you’ve never had cream biscuits, I implore you to try these. The cream makes them effortlessly flaky and tender. No worrying about cutting the butter in enough and into the right size pieces, no worrying about overworking the dough. Just perfect biscuits. The soup was also to die for, it will be gracing my table many more times this winter.

pumpkin

Then we dove into a host of veggie dishes, starring roasted brussels sprouts with pine nuts and Parmesan, garlicky green beans, ginger-spiked mashed sweet potatoes topped with pecans, and vanilla cranberry sauce. I can never make enough of those brussels sprouts, they are a huge favorite of ours. And the cranberry sauce hit all the right notes – it was citrusy, lightly spiced, sweet and pleasantly sour.

cranberries

The sweet potatoes really stole the show though. Smooth and creamy, like the best mashed potatoes should be, they were also shot through with fresh ginger – a perfect foil to the natural sweetness of the potatoes. The crunchy nut topping added just the right amount of crunch and didn’t go anywhere near the “candied yam” territory. I would make these sweet potatoes for any winter meal. I don’t have a recipe to link to for those because I kind of made them up as I went along, but maybe I will post about them here in the next couple weeks (oooh what a tease!)

thanksgiving

Our main event was a decadent, fancy macaroni and cheese with mushrooms, Gruyère and Emmental, topped with homemade croutons and baked in the oven. Oh boy. This was truly a grown-up version of mac and cheese. I can’t say that it’s something I would make often, given the calorie count, but It. Was. So. Good.

mac and cheese

For dessert, I eschewed the standard pumpkin and apple pies and made instead a maple and nutmeg custard pie, as well as a cranberry upside down cake. Both were extremely tasty, but I have to admit that we missed the pumpkin pie and I ended up making one this week with my extra pie crust.

pumpkin pie

I would definitely recommend the maple and nutmeg pie though. It tasted like pancakes in custard form – so mapley and delicious!

It was a great meal, a great day, and a great weekend filled with people I love and lots of good eating. And I was very thankful.

But man oh man, do I need lots of salad now!

I know it’s not an epiphany that our bodies crave a balanced diet, but it always strikes me how strongly my system pushes me in one direction or the other depending on what nutrients I am lacking.

apple and parsley

The recipe I have to share with you today is not the type of recipe I would normally be drawn to while thumbing through a magazine. Let me tell you though – after last weekend, my body was pushing me towards this salad.

carrots and apple

I don’t generally love things that are sweet and sour, or savory things that have sweet notes. They just don’t do it for me. This salad brings both sweet and sour in spades, but it is so bright and tasty. I couldn’t help but love it. The flavors dance on the tongue. It is decidedly wholesome after a weekend of decadence, and it’s exactly what I need right now.

pretty salad

If you, like me, are feeling a bit weighed down by your Thanksgiving celebration, give this one a try. It will have you ready to take on the rest of the holiday season of eating in no time.

salad on spinach

Tangy Carrot-Apple Salad with Cider Vinaigrette

Adapted from Vegetarian Times
Makes 4 servings

  • 1 1/2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 2 cups carrots, grated
  • 1 red apple, diced
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups baby spinach

First, start the dressing by combining the cider vinegar and garlic in a small bowl. Let stand for at least 15 minutes, or longer if you have the time. The vinegar mellows out the garlic so it’s not as much like you are eating raw garlic.

Next, make the salad. Stir together the carrots, apple, parsley, and cranberries in a large bowl.

After your garlic has mellowed, finish the dressing by whisking the honey and olive oil into the cider vinegar mixture.

Add the dressing to the salad and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Ideally, however, you would let the salad sit in the fridge overnight. The longer it sits the more the flavors meld and deepen.

Once the salad has chilled, serve it on a bed of fresh spinach leaves.

Leave a comment

Filed under Food, Sides