Crispy Cabbage with Vegan Caesar-ish Dressing

food

I’m going to tell you a secret that isn’t a secret: I’m not vegan. But here’s another secret: I think we should all eat less meat. The pandemic has made me take a critical look at my relationship with meat. How often do I eat meat and animal products and how often do I realistically need to eat meat and animal products? As someone who eats even less meat than most, I wonder why it has such a stronghold on American diets specifically. Factory farming takes insane tolls on society; it’s detrimental to our climate and the safety of meat processing laborers. However, locally sourced meat at the same consumption level isn’t the answer either. Neither is lab grown meat (in my opinion).

But a strict vegan diet can also be out of reach for many, especially due to the cost of some vegan products and the barriers to the “health and wellness” industry (who is represented and to whom is it marketed). So the best I can do and ask of others is to eat less meat and more plant-based meals. Starting with the obvious salad.

I really believe that there are two types of food that are just lesser homemade: salads and sandwiches. Sure, either can be good from your own kitchen, but infinitely better elsewhere. Inexplicable phenomena, I tell you. I attribute this salad success to the dressing and textures. This dressing gets its creaminess from aquafaba, the viscous liquid in your can of chickpeas used most often as an egg-white substitute. I know some plant-based creams use a nut base but I find not everyone has the equipment make a cashew cream or the like. I certainly don’t have a fancy blender, and why would I ask you to dull your blender blades when there’s an alternative?

Lemon juice, olive oil, egg, Worcestershire sauce, anchovies, garlic, Dijon mustard, Parmesan cheese, and black pepper create a traditional Caesar dressing, a savory, tangy, and rich emulsion perfect for coating lettuce and croutons. This is also typically whisked by hand like a mayonnaise (or aioli if you want to be fancy). While these are all pretty common ingredients, sometimes a salad dressing just needs to be simple. The tangy, savory components in my dressing come from lemon juice and grainy mustard. While I love a fancy vinegar, I believe lemon juice makes the superior salad dressing. Plus, I find that the juice from half a lemon is the perfect amount for most batches of dressing, which is easy to figure out. A whole grain mustard brings the umami flavor lacking from this dressing without anchovies and cheese – it’s more pungent than Dijon mustard and compensates for the other missing ingredients. It’s a Caesar-ish dressing for a reason: it satisfies a craving but probably is not an exact dupe.

For the salad: I could wax poetic my love for crispy vegetables covered in a flavorful dressing. Especially when you get some thin and crispy wisps of craggy green edges doused in tangy sauce. That’s salad heaven if such a thing even exists. And this salad showcases the oft unsung hero of affordable, long-lasting produce: cabbage. My mom first turned me onto this and I haven’t been the same since. Plus, when you use the aquafaba to make your dressing you already have another ingredient prepped – a can of chickpeas. Chickpeas get coated in the creamy dressing and give you enough protein to keep you satisfied all afternoon. Totally optional!

While this recipe is for crispy cabbage, you can certainly give this treatment to a number of delicious roasted vegetables like kale or broccoli. Imagine basically eating a bowl of kale chips with Caesar dressing? Amazing! You can also put the dressing on romaine lettuce or massage it into uncooked kale and add croutons for a more traditional Caesar salad experience. Whatever gets you eating more veggies!

I’m not joking, this salad was so good I had to resist chopping and dressing more cabbage and licking the bowl clean. I mean have you ever heard someone rave about a salad? A homemade salad? No, never.

Vegan Caesar-ish Dressing

Juice from half a lemon
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp grainy mustard
2 tbsp aquafaba
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt
Pepper

  1. In a blender, combine lemon, garlic, mustard, and aquafaba.
  2. While the blender is running, drizzle in 1/4 cup of olive oil. Alternatively, add the olive oil 1 tablespoon at a time, blending to combine between each addition until the full 1/4 cup is incorporated.
  3. Add salt and pepper to taste.

These quantities are ultimately suggestions. The aquafaba and olive oil quantities seem to emulsify best at this ratio, but add more or less garlic, lemon juice, and mustard to meet your taste preferences.

Crispy Cabbage

1 head of savoy cabbage
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp celery salt
Salt
Pepper
Olive oil

  1. Preheat your oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with foil.
  2. Chop cabbage into “steaks,” removing the core.
  3. Place cabbage slices in a bowl and coat with olive oil.
  4. Add paprika and celery salt and toss to combine. Taste and assess for saltiness – season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Place cabbage in a single layer on the baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until desired crispiness, tossing occasionally.
  6. Let cool before tossing with dressing and chickpeas.

You can use this cooking method and seasoning for a variety of vegetables: cauliflower, kale, broccoli, chickpeas. Salad aside, this is a pretty delicious and easy way to roast vegetables.

The Really Very Old Pumpkin Cookie Recipe

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When I asked my mom to send me her pumpkin cookie recipe she sent me a recipe card with my own handwriting on it. I likely copied this out of another handwritten recipe book, or based on verbal instructions. The recipe, according to a younger me, is from my grandma and, as is tradition with these old family recipes, there are no step by step instructions. Just an ingredient list, an oven temperature, and a cooking time. However, I’ve watched my mom make these for most of my life that I remember the technique that achieves the cake-like texture.

May I draw your attention to “cinnomon?” How about “pumpkin peree?” I think I wrote this when I was 8.

I called my mom to confirm some of the quantities on the recipe and she clarified that this recipe is probably HER great grandma’s recipe and it’s been fool-proof as written for all these years. That makes these my great great grandma’s cookies. The cake-like consistency comes from creaming together the butter and sugar, combining the sugar into the softened butter until light and homogenous. The baking powder gives them some extra oomf. And oomf is right! I certainly dream of the day when I turn a couple of these cookies into an ice cream sandwich or a whoopie pie, abandoning all self-restraint in the name of fleeting festive whimsy. I admitted to my mom that I bought my first can of pumpkin puree and she assured me that despite growing up making these cookies with her fresh pumpkin puree, it’s perfectly fine to crack open a can and make the most of it. And what else can I expect from myself and others right now? Just crack open the can and enjoy the damn cookies.

Just one day after asking my mom for this recipe, my best friend said she had also asked my mom for it. My friend Sara is practically a sibling; we used to spend basically every day together when we were kids. She has spent more holidays with my family than any other friend or relative, including my mom’s boyfriend to whom Sara said “you gotta step up your game” when she hit the 10 year mark before he did. We know each other’s family traditions like they’re our own. These cookies are just as comforting to her as they are to me; they’re part of our own silly tradition that we’ve maintained for a miraculous chunk of our lives.

Honestly, it’s hardly the holiday season without Sara. That will likely be the greatest loss for me this year in terms of beloved traditions, but completely worth it to preserve our health and wellness. These cookies can be one of many connections we have to one another this year as we continue to limit our interactions. Next year I’ll tell Sara’s boyfriend that she’s already busy for the holidays and we’ll pick up where we left off.


Really Very Old Family Pumpkin Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 cups flour
2 tbsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. You will need at least 2 baking sheets and, depending on cookie size, may need to use them more than once.
  3. Cream together the softened butter and sugar. This can be done in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or by hand with a rubber spatula. You’ll want the butter to be really soft, but not melted to achieve the ideal creamy texture.
  4. Beat the 2 eggs into the butter-sugar mixture.
  5. Add ingredients as listed, mixing after each addition. You want a homogenous looking cookie batter, but if some butter and sugar does not mix you will have some crispy sugary bits and that’s nothing to be mad at.
  6. Using an ice cream scoop, meatball scoop, or tablespoon scoop the cookies onto the parchment lined baking sheets about 2 inches apart. The cookies will spread a little and rise, forming muffin-top-looking cookies.
  7. Bake cookies for 15 minutes. This is the minimum. Check at 15 minutes and see if cookie bottoms are slightly browned. I find that 18 minutes is usually my sweet spot, but that’s based on the size cookie I scoop.
  8. Allow to cool before breaking open a soft, fluffy cookie. These cookies freeze well in zip top bags or airtight containers.

This Kabocha, Date, Nut Bread Kept Me Occupied While Social Distancing

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Cut it out. Yes, I’m talking to you, regular person who feels the need to criticize anyone baking during this time. It’s a great time to bake anything – whether you’re using up overripe bananas or making a focaccia and pretending you’re in Italy. Let people enjoy THINGS. Let baking be the escapism folks flock to for comfort during a scary and anxiety-inducing time.

So apologies to anyone who wants to force professional productivity on others. No, I will not be writing my magnum opus or conducting vital research. I will be baking because that will keep my body and soul fed and at peace. Stay mad about it.

NOW – why am I using squash for a springtime recipe? Well, because it’s important to use what you have on hand right now. As we all take stock (and make stock – AYYY) and assess what constitutes a necessary trip to the grocery store, we should see what we can use from our home inventory first, and that means checking the freezer.

For as long as I can remember, we never wasted pumpkins or squash. After Halloween and Thanksgiving my mom would take decorative, but edible gourds and kill them. This means roasting and steaming pumpkins and acorn squash and pureeing the flesh into smooth, orangey-yellow sustenance, roasting the seeds too for a salty savory snack. We would be pumpkin’d out with soups, pies, cookies and cakes before running out of puree, so into the freezer went pints and quarts of creamy orange goo for months. Since the apple doesn’t fall far in my case, that’s exactly the chain of events that lead me to unearthing pureed kabocha from my freezer. I also had pecans I used to make a Basically Baking recipe and dates that I found on sale at my shopping sanctuary, Ocean State Job Lot. It was a perfect storm.

This recipe can be catered to whatever winter squash you have, though I’d steer clear of the heartier butternut squash or stringy spaghetti squash. Acorn squash and pumpkin, sharing similar flavors and consistencies with kabocha, would be welcome replacements. This bread will also work with walnuts instead of pecans. You can also omit the dates or nuts and substitute with a full cup of one filling if that’s your jam. You can also omit the dates and nuts altogether! It’s your world, I’m just living in it.

Don’t skip the parchment paper lining if possible; this will make the cake easy to lift from the pan and reduce unwanted crispiness. This kabocha date nut bread should come out moist but not dense and wet – the end product will be delightful enough to eat sliced, and hearty enough to toast and spread with peanut butter.

Baking with a limited kitchen gives you, dear baker, the ability to riff as you please. So riff on people. And take lots of pictures and gloat to your heart’s content online – hell, tag me and I’ll gloat for you.

Kabocha, Date, Nut Bread

1-1/2 cups sugar

2 eggs

1 cup pureed kabocha squash

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tbsp. cinnamon

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 cup chopped dates

1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

  1. Place oven rack on the middle to upper racks of your oven (we’re baking the cake up there, but we want space so it doesn’t touch the heating element). Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease the inside of a loaf pan and line with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar and eggs until light yellow and a little bit bubbly. Once combined, add squash puree, vanilla and cinnamon and whisk until incorporated.
  3. Slowly stream the vegetable oil into the batter.
  4. Sift together flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder into the wet ingredients. If you don’t have a sifter or you just hate sifting, whisk flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder in a separate bowl and whisk into wet ingredients until combined, without lumps.
  5. Coat dates in a pinch of flour. This will prevent them from clumping together.
  6. Fold in pecans and dates until they feel evenly dispersed throughout the batter.
  7. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.
  8. Bake for 1 hour, or until golden on the outside, and a cake tester inserted in the thickest part comes out dry.

Tangy and Bright Marinated Beans

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You may be like me right now: using pent-up anxious energy to haul your Dutch oven to the stove at 8 a.m. to prepare a big pot of beans. I feel like I’m on nonna time – waking up early and letting bread rise or soup simmer until some shoulder tension eases. It’s only a matter of time before I’m in a “house dress” and wearing leather soled shoes while I putter around my house. For now, the meditative stirring and gentle burbling of long cooked beans melts the worry away. And bonus, I get extra creamy, flavorful beans at the end of it all!

I typically make my dried beans the same way each time, not for a lack of creativity, but for the broad application of the flavors. For starters, I soaked my beans overnight and put them in fresh water in the morning to cook. I just like using fresh cooking water to have a clean start – I leave my beans on the countertop overnight. Who knows what the night goblins drop in there, you know?

Right into that heavy Dutch oven go lemon peel, crushed garlic, salt, black pepper, bay leaves, red pepper flakes and a good amount of olive oil. A pot of beans loves a little fat, so feel free to put in bacon, salami, or other fatty, salty meats. I personally just like to keep my beans vegetarian – truly rated E for everyone beans. Over a gentle heat, simmer the beans until they are infused with flavor and creamy inside.

Now after this you will undoubtedly have an overabundance of beans. Even using a fraction of the dried beans will yield just SO MANY beans. Whether it’s cause for concern, or a cause for celebration you will need to find ways to consume said beans without getting sick of them. Maybe on day one you make a plate with crusty bread, a pile of beans and some bean liquid and top it off with a runny egg. Another time you add the beans to some greens and serve that over pasta with a generous sprinkling of cheese…Then what?

You definitely don’t want your beans to go bad – so why not give them an olive oil bath to preserve them for as long as possible? Inspired by Marcella Hazan’s marinated eggplant and marinated pepper recipes from Marcella’s Italian Kitchen, I thought marinating beans would yield a product equal parts delicious and sustainable. These marinated beans use lemon juice and olive oil, but any acidic liquid could replace the lemon juice. Red wine vinegar would also be lovely. Additionally, any herbs, spices or funky additions like chilis would yield both flavorful preserved beans with a delicious vinaigrette.

What I love even more than the long shelf life is the ability to just add more beans to the existing liquid. Got a jar of olive oil with a few beans in it? Add more string beans or white beans. As long as the olive oil prevents bean-air contact, your beans are safe to enjoy.

I like to pile these beans onto some crusty bread with sliced radishes and some salty, hard cheese. These are also a welcome addition to salad (using some marinade as dressing, obviously) or a side to fish. You could even make a zesty, cold pasta salad with the beans and marinade for a riff on a picnic staple. Regardless, you’ll have bottled springtime you can crack open even when there’s snow on the ground in March.

Marinated Beans

1/2 cup cooked white or navy beans

1/2 cup blanched string beans, cut into half-inch pieces

Juice from 1 lemon

Extra virgin olive oil

  1. Get yourself a little glass jar to store your beloved beans. I’m using a stout little Ball jar from some leftover jam.
  2. Layer your white beans and string beans in the jar. They don’t have to be stacked one way or another, the jar will get a good shaking later. Just leave some room between the beans and the lid.
  3. Juice the lemon right over the jar, being mindful of seeds. Now is when you can also add any herbs to the mix.
  4. Cover the remainder of the beans with olive oil, making sure all beans are submerged and there’s still room between the top of the jar and the oil.
  5. Place the lid on tightly and shake to combine the beans with the liquid. It will separate during storage, but it’ll at least give all the beans a chance to get to know the flavors.
  6. Keep refrigerated and dive in whenever you want.

The Sourdough Starter Guide I Send My Friends

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Hey! What’s up? It’s ya girl, The Bread Doula. So…you want to bring a sourdough starter to life? I’m so proud of you! But this shit is like having a real baby, except you can leave it on the counter all day. So it’s not like a baby at all, but it is a high maintenance kitchen project so buckle the fuck up chica.

First things first: The Jar. You want a pretty big boy in terms of jars. I would recommend at least a 3 cup jar or larger. No lid? No problem! You can cover loosely with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap. If using the actual jar lid, only screw it on loosely so that shit doesn’t explode. Before you put anything in the jar, boil it in water to make sure it’s as sterile as possible!

Now you can make that baby ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) When starting this bitch you want equal parts BY WEIGHT of flour and water. So get a kitchen scale for accuracy. They’re like super cheap anywhere. I think they’re like $5 at Target. Water weighs more than flour so you’ll always use what looks like twice the amount of flour compared to water. This is CORRECT!

So how much flour and water do you need? Start by mixing 4 ounces of flour and water together. By this I mean 4 ounces of flour and 4 ounces of water. I’m worried you may have thought I meant 2 ounces of flour and 2 ounces of water. Just clarifying. I have anxiety.

Anyway. Mix it until no streaks remain and scrape off any from the sides with a rubber spatula. Leave this in a warm corner of the kitchen with the lid loosely screwed on (or one of the other options I suggested above).

If you do this in the morning and leave it all day, you might come home to a mixture with a few bubbles in it and that shit is EXCITING. But wait, there’s MORE! Feed it again! Another four ounces each, mixy mixy and scrapey scrapey. Cover it and leave it overnight.

By this time it will literally GROW! It’ll look all bubbly and weird. Now before feeding again, it’s smart to discard at least half of what’s in the jar. It’s not REQUIRED but no one wants to find starter all over the counter because it outgrew the jar. That’s like the sourdough equivalent of your baby yaking all over their crib in the middle of the night. The worst, probably. I don’t know.

“But Marcella that’s WASTEFUL!” Ya bish I KNOW! Which is why you can make a bunch of shit with the discard INSTEAD! I’ve made crackers, biscuits, pancakes, pizza dough and popovers. It’s so good but damn so many baked goods.

After about 5 days of this – your starter might be active enough to use in bread! To check if it’s ready, drop a little bit of starter in a glass of water. If the starter floats, you can make some bread!

Now, what if you can’t keep up with feedings? Slap that bad boy in the fridge! You can pull out the starter in the morning, feed it, leave it out all day, and then put it in the fridge overnight. Or just feed it once a week after putting it in the fridge. Whatever you want man, I haven’t fed mine in weeks and it’s probably fine.

So get real in touch with the yeast around you and make everyone you live with INSANE! Have fun, be yourself and also call me if something goes wrong at 1-800-is-ur-bread-fucked

Prove Your Love: Make This Lasagna for Someone Special

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What’s the most romantic food? Mass produced strawberries dipped in chocolate arranged like the finest rose bouquet? Spaghetti and meatballs served to you and your loved one in an ally accompanied by two old Italian men singing? Probably neither of those. For me, I say it’s lasagna and here’s why.

Lasagna is no small feat. It’s not an easy weeknight dinner you can just throw together. At least mine isn’t. This layered, decadent treat takes planning, multitasking and easily a full day if not longer. It’s a labor of love that requires the thought,” I’m going to make lasagna as a special meal for a special person.” It’s like making an intricate birthday cake but instead it’s savory and creamy and fills your home with a loving, familiar scent. Italians have taken tomatoes, cheese and carbs to new heights, but no other variation can top the end result that is cutting into layers of lasagna baked to perfection. I decided to make this for Valentine’s Day, but just like how you show love on Valentine’s Day, it’s appropriate for any time of the year.

Now this particular recipe from my great grandma’s recipe box still remains a mystery. As mentioned in the mysterious meat sauce that makes up one third of this lasagna recipe, no one knows who wrote this recipe and how it ended up in the box. My grandma tells me that all the recipes in the box were either written by my great grandma or my grandma assisting her. The only other potential scribe would be one of my great grandma’s friends, but unfortunately it’s impossible to track down that information now. What I know for certain based on the pin holes in this worn piece of loose leaf is that this recipe was well loved by previous owners. There’s no doubt.

While many people make lasagna with a cheese only layer, this recipe calls upon béchamel to achieve even, creamy layers to hold the lasagna together. Upon doing some research, this is common for lasagna from the Emilia Romagna region (you know, the Italian region that has given humanity absolute hits like parmigiano reggiano, balsamic vinegar and Massimo Bottura). While béchamel is really one of the French mother sauces, it’s used widely as the base for only the creamiest dishes. If you’ve had a home made mac and cheese that blows the blue box away, you can probably thank béchamel.

While this recipe clearly outlines how to make the bolognese sauce and the béchamel sauce, as well as how to order the layers (bolognese, grated parmigiano reggiano, and béchamel), it leaves out how to cook the noodles and for how long and at what temperature to bake the assembled dish. Some people cook the noodles fully before assembling, some people don’t even bother to cook the noodles at all, but since this recipe does not use the otherwise popular mozzarella and ricotta mixture in the assembly, I knew I had to do my research. And as luck would have it, Chris Morocco from the Bon Appetit test kitchen uploaded a whole video on Bon Appetit’s Best Lasagna, and by luck, once again, his version uses bolognese and béchamel sauces. Bingo. Therefore this recipe combines the translated Italian recipe found worn and well-loved in my great grandma’s recipe box with the technique approved by the Bon Appetit test kitchen. After all, it’s probably a good sign that the two are so similar.

The Perfect Lasagna

For the mysterious meat sauce

Olive oil

4 tbsp. butter

1 carrot, diced

1 celery stalk, diced

1 medium onion, diced

1 pound ground beef

1 – 28 oz can or jar of tomatoes (I like to use passata or pureed tomatoes)

Salt & pepper

  1. Melt the olive oil and butter in a 4 qt Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot.
  2. Once the butter is melted, add the carrot, celery and onion and salt. Cook the vegetables until soft, then add the beef. Cook everything, breaking up the ground beef and stirring until the beef is cooked, and everything is combined.
  3. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook for about an hour until the crumbled beef and diced vegetables are thoroughly mixed and the sauce is at your desired consistency.
For the béchamel sauce

4 tbsp. butter

4-5 tbsp. all purpose flour

1 liter of milk

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. In a saucepan melt butter.
  2. Add 4 tablespoons of flour to start and whisk together. For a thicker sauce, add one additional tablespoon. Stir the flour and butter continuously, careful to not let it take on too much color.
  3. Add milk in small quantities while whisking.
  4. Stir while allowing the mixture to cook for about 10 minutes or until it’s thick enough to coat a spoon.
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste.
For the noodles

1-lb box of lasagna noodles

  1. Boil a pot of water as if about to make pasta, but add olive oil. Adding olive oil will prevent the noodles from sticking together while cooking and after if making them ahead of assembling your lasagna.
  2. Boil 2-3 sheets of lasagna noodles at a time. Like in the Bon Appetit recipe, they should be far under al dente, “until just starting to soften but still snap in half rather than bend when folded.”
  3. Once to desired consistency either place them directly on the lasagna in a full layer, or drizzle with more olive oil and let cool on a baking sheet.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until the whole box is made.
For the assembly
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 325 F.
  2. Add one layer of bolognese sauce to the bottom of the casserole dish. This should be 1 to 1-1/2 cups of sauce.
  3. Layer the sheets of lasagna noodles over the sauce. It’s okay if the noodles don’t cover every square inch because they will expand but be sure to fill as much space as possible. This may mean cutting noodles and filling spaces with tiny bits.
  4. Continue the assembly in this order until the final layer: bolognese, shredded parmigiano reggiano, béchamel, and noodles.
  5. Once you reach the top of the casserole dish (or you run out of noodles), finish the top of the lasagna with a final layer of béchamel and shredded parmigiano reggiano. Top with fresh black pepper.
  6. Loosely cover the lasagna with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour. This will prevent the dish from drying out. After an hour, increase the temperature to 425 F and bake uncovered for 10-15 minutes or until it is browned to your liking.
  7. THIS IS IMPORTANT: let the lasagna cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting and enjoying. The layers need to settle down so you get nice and clean slices.

These Anisette Cookies and a Pot of Coffee are a Match Made in Heaven

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Everyone is getting engaged and married and truly I feel sorry. Because no one will have a stronger, more solid union than my great grandma’s anisette cookies and an entire pot of black coffee. Honestly, where’s that love comparison? I just want someone to compliment me the way anise biscotti compliments hot coffee. Where’s that romance?

“Ninety nine cents would get you a pound of these cookies.” Thinking about the light-weight of each crispy baked wedge made me realize the sheer volume that equates. “We would bring them home and drink a whole pot of coffee,” says my mom. It’s true, these cookies practically beg for a dunk before each bite, after which the harmonious union of coffee and anisette simply transports you to an old-fashioned Italian-American bakery of yore. So good you almost don’t feel bad about eating a few for breakfast. Oops.

This recipe, another mysterious find from my great grandma’s recipe box, was entirely written in English which could mean one of two things: it is once again not hers, or she had serious help writing it. In a comparison between this and her snippets of attempting English in other recipes, it appears that this is her handwriting. Impressive if so, but also curious. Someone definitely helped her, perhaps speaking the translation and showing her how to spell each word with some corrections on the way.

This recipe is also one of the rare recipes from the box that includes all measurements, oven temperature and a procedure. Truly miraculous when all others are written in at least two languages and have little clues pertaining to how the flour and baking powder eventually become a sponge cake. That being said, this recipe was also easy by most baking standards: add ingredients to the bowl, beating after each addition, then pouring the batter into a greased cake pan, baking until golden brown, slicing and baking again for maximum crispiness. This technically makes them biscotti.

Biscotti, though typically what Italians call a cookie, literally translates to baked twice. Most traditional biscotti have nuts or candied fruit in them and turn out just a touch drier, denser and tougher. Still absolutely delicious, but this recipe is unlike those cookies. These cookies are lighter and more tender. Still crispy, but you won’t have to clamp down on the cookie with your molars in order to take a bite. The coffee isn’t necessary to soften the cookie, it just tastes good.

I prefer espresso in general over coffee, but, as Ina Garten would probably say, if you can’t make espresso then regular coffee is just fine. Just try to resist eating them all.

My Great Grandma’s Anisette Cookies

4 eggs

1 cup sugar

3 tsp anise extract

3/4 cup cooking oil (canola oil)

1-1/2 cup flour

2 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Add all ingredients in order given beating well after each addition. Pour into greased 9×13 pan.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove from pan and slice into 1 inch strips.

Place on an ungreased cookie sheet for another 10 minutes to toast.

Garlic and Ginger Hot Sauce to Spice Up Your Life

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I used to go to a Zumba class and we would dance to a song with lyrics “you got da sauce, you got da sauce,” and I’d be like yeah I DO got the sauce. Anyway, the hot sauce making continues and this time I added a few twists.

As always, I followed Joshua Weissman’s lacto-fermented hot sauce recipe and added my own spin on it. Previously I’ve used this recipe to make a green version and I’ve encouraged other people to add their own flare, including my mom who made a version with roasted tomatillos. For my sauce I knew I wanted to incorporate another toasted flavor in addition to the garlic. Enter ginger. Instead of the original recipe’s eight cloves of garlic, I used six cloves and about an inch of ginger root cut into thin disks. Like the recipe says, I toasted the garlic in a neutral oil with the ginger to create this aromatic, infused oil. Since this gets drizzled into the sauce at the end, the flavors become amplified.

For the peppers I also wanted to try something new. In addition to fresno chilis I found some long hot peppers. Initially I was only going to use the long hot chilis but I tasted a teeny tiny piece and thought it would be a bit much. I fermented these peppers in the same jar for six days. Water got cloudy. Some bubbles developed. All that good stuff.

But what will this be for? When it comes to hot sauce some may say I have it all. Although, chances are, no one is talking about my hot sauce collection. While the standard hot sauces tend to pair well with anything (I’m talking from lamb barbacoa to boxed mac and cheese) I wanted something a little more niche. You can find gourmet hot sauces with all sorts of additives like peach, blueberry and smoked peppers. I wanted in on that with something almost exclusively for noodles and rice. I’ve been on an Instant Pot rice kick and the leftover rice is ideal for fried rice. A little kick from this would knock leftover stir fry out of the park. Not to mention, the spicy, ginger flavors would kill any cold immediately and be a welcome addition to winter soups.

So stoked to once again have da sauce.

 

The Mysterious Meat Sauce

food, recipes

Bestowed unto me, a box of hand-written recipes from my great grandma’s house. Among them are time-stained index cards with recipes written in a combination of English, Italian and dialect with ambiguous instructions, cook times, measurements and temperatures. Except for one. One is written out with clear instructions and ingredients. Clearly not written by my great grandma, the recipe uses full sentences and proper Italian. My great grandma notoriously spoke broken English and wrote in that confounding amalgamation of languages that only which another immigrant could fully empathize.

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The whole sheet of loose leaf paper, speckled with pin holes as if it was passed around and pinned to bulletin boards by a number of people, contains a recipe for a luscious lasagna, including a bolognese sauce with optional mushrooms, cream and prosciutto and a buttery bechamel sauce in lieu of layers of melted cheese. Without a proper baking dish, I couldn’t make a full on lasagna, but I knew I needed to understand why this recipe of mysterious origin earned a coveted spot in the recipe box. I decided to attempt the bolognese sauce.

There’s something truly magical about cooking from a hand written recipe. Nostalgia kicks in, even if the recipe or recipe writer is unfamiliar. I felt like the essence of the author was right there with me, instructing me on how to properly brown and season the ground beef. Maybe it’s intuition, but despite never making this recipe or tasting the end result before, I knew exactly when the sauce was at it’s peak and ready to serve.

Now this recipe is by no means revolutionary. It was incredibly simple. The key, however, was in the fats. A little bit of oil and about 4 tablespoons of fat get things going. The carrots, celery and onion then cook in that rich liquid along with the beef and a good amount of salt. Then it’s a waiting game. Once the vegetables have sweat out enough liquid and the beef has cooked, tomatoes are added and the pot simmers for a hour, allowing the meat and vegetables to become soft and homogeneous and the sauce to thicken.

Good lord this rich, thick boy sticks to your bones on a winter night. The tomato sauce gains a silky texture from the rendered fat and butter and the vegetables make the whole dish sweet and complex. Rigatoni is the ideal pasta shape for bolognese, holding beefy treats within each tube. No exceptions.

Whoever wrote this recipe: thank you. This was a real treat (a beefy treat) and I can’t wait to layer this inside a lasagna.

Ragu Alla Bolognese

Olive oil

4 tbsp. butter

1 carrot, diced

1 celery stalk, diced

1 medium onion, diced

1 pound ground beef

1 – 28 oz can or jar of tomatoes (I like to use passata or pureed tomatoes)

1 pound dry rigatoni

Salt & pepper

  1. Melt the olive oil and butter in a 4 qt Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot.
  2. Once the butter is melted, add the carrot, celery and onion and salt. Cook the vegetables until soft, then add the beef. Cook everything, breaking up the ground beef and stirring until the beef is cooked, and everything is combined.
  3. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook for about an hour until the crumbled beef and diced vegetables are thoroughly mixed and the sauce is at your desired consistency.
  4. Cook the rigatoni in generously salted water to the box’s instructions. Reserve some pasta water.
  5. Combine pasta and sauce in the Dutch oven, adding pasta water if the sauce is too thick. Serve immediately with cheese.

 

Vegan Ricotta with Cherry Preserves

Challenges and Joys of Vegan Cheese

food, lifestyle

I’m not vegan, but I understand and participate in the shift towards a more plant-based diet. Enter the meat substitutes and dairy facsimiles that start trends, line health aisles at the grocery store and ignite meaningful conversations about our food system. Again, I eat pant-based as often as I can. I’d consider myself closer to being vegetarian than vegan, but I try to stick to vegetables and grains instead of the substitute products available, especially if those products have unfamiliar ingredients or are no better for me than good old-fashioned vegetables. I guess my biggest concern is: what are in these substitutes, and how are they made?

Now, I don’t consider tofu a meat substitute. I eat it when I’m in the mood for it and in my eyes it’s a protein on its own, with recipes geared towards its unique texture and flavor abilities. I know meat substitutes are often made from tofu. You’ve heard of tofurkey, right? Therefore, I’m not considering tofu as I talk about vegan substitutes because it is not a substitute.

I had the opportunity to fully understand these substitutes when a friend recommended a vegan cheese making kit. I’ve made fresh ricotta, which is easy enough to do if you have a big pot, whole milk, lemon juice and some free time, but I have never even tasted vegan cheese. My first step in understanding the vegan cheese making process was breaking down the traditional cheese making process.

Cheese is just curdled milk. Sorry to burst your bubble. It’s basically strategically spoiled milk that tastes delicious and gives me relentless acne. As I see it, most cheeses require milk, an acid like citric acid or vinegar, and rennet. Specific flavors can be added and the curds can be aged, but at its core cheese contains those basic ingredients.

  • Acid: would you drink a glass of milk followed by a shot of vinegar? Probably not. When you add acid to milk it begins to curdle, forming solid pieces. Doing this over medium heat while skimming those curds away from the whey forms ricotta in it’s most basic form. This is how most cheese making processes start.
  • Rennet: rennet comes from enzymes found in cow stomachs, so not exactly vegan but plant-based substitutes have existed for years. Vegetarian rennet, derived from artichokes, cardoons or nettles, does the job just as well and has been used in traditional Spanish and Portuguese cheeses. The rennet helps the soured milk curds solidify into cheese by working with proteins to coagulate. In order for rennet to work, milk must already be high in calcium and phosphate (which is why rennet might not work well with older milk or goat’s milk).
  • Aging: I love fermentation. Allowing the flavors in cheese to develop over time with bacterial growth gives certain cheese that funky allure. Earthy rinds on brie and savory umami from Parmesan turn the curdled milk into culinary delicacies.

So then how does rennet coagulate almond milk despite a lack of calcium?

In my short experience making vegan cheese, the process involves no coagulation at all. In fact, vegan ricotta involves no cooking at all. The ‘curds’ are not formed by intentionally spoiling the milk, but by incorporating macadamia nuts. The nuts add fat content as well as texture (just make sure to both soak and blend them enough so you aren’t left with any grit in the finished product). While the vegan cheese did not behave like ricotta and did not melt, I’d say that what it lacked in textural satisfaction it made up for in flavor. And yes, I love a good cheese pull and much as the next person, but I believe cheese should act as a flavor enhancer to the dish and not simply a textural layer (unless we’re talking grilled cheese or pizza, then the pull is crucial to the dish, and flavor and texture are equally important). The citric acid provided that curdled tang and the bits of ground macadamia nuts added that grainy texture that ricotta takes on after some time draining.

Vegan products, until very recently with the injection of ‘bleeding’ plant-based burgers into the main stream, have been engineered to behave like their non-vegan counterparts and not necessarily taste as such. Vegan cheeses offered textural similarities to dairy cheeses, but struggled to emulate flavors unique to cultured dairy. Slices of vegan cheese could melt like American cheese but could not offer any flavorful addition to a dish (I mean, American cheese offers very little but STILL).

Recently, vegan cheese makers have employed culturing and aging methods to better assimilate vegan cheese into the world of artisanal cheese plates, moving away from coconut oil-based emulsions and leaning towards something based on fats naturally found in cashews and macadamia nuts. Flavors from nutritional yeast add the missing umami lacking from other attempts.

Now to the more philosophical stuff: is vegan cheese even cheese?

When it comes to finding a food substitute, I understand the inherent identity crisis. Artificial meat is still not meat. Almond milk is technically not milk, but calling it creamy almond juice does not necessarily have the same ring to it. Therefore, vegan cheese by definition is not actually cheese. Cheese by definition is formed by curdling milk, and as I mentioned earlier, alt milk cannot curdle. However, who cares when environmental, ethical or dietary needs are on the line? I think progress in the vegan cheese world proves that artisanship and flavor do not need to fall to the wayside to craft a substitute. Relying on crutches like soy often minimize the clientele as more folks see soy farming as problematic to the environment, and can’t shake soy’s bad reputation despite contradictory research. With advancements in vegan cheese making, there could soon be environmentally sustainable, health conscious and flavor-comparable substitutes hitting the mainstream as hard as imitation meat burgers.