Friday, September 28, 2012

A Magical Root

Dear Boo,

I've spent a considerable amount of time extolling the wonders of the beet, it's sweet, earthy flavor, its deep purple stain, its rough, hairy exterior hiding a smooth, silky texture that is neither potato, nor carrot, nor melon, nor radish, but is also a little bit of all of those things, its ability to pair perfectly with everything from cottage cheese to beef...

But this is not about the beet. 

Sure, the dish you see above was delicious, and got rave reviews: "the highlight of my meal!" said Cousin Sam, "The beets are fantastic!" said our very discriminating uncle, "They weren't disgusting!" said our mother the beet-hater. "I just want to cry while I hold my cookie!" said the wise and self-reflective 3 year old in attendance (also, she ate some beets). But I'd like to draw your attention to the sauce dolloped not so artfully atop this dish (I never claimed to be a food stylist). For in it is an ingredient often overlooked, unsung, or just plain mocked.

Horseradish, people.

who knew it was so beautiful? not I.

What else, praytell, enhances the flavor of both a cocktail, and a roast beef? What is strong enough to blow up your skirt, singe your nasal passages, and put hair on your chest, and yet can be trusted to encrust a delicate piece of salmon or top deviled eggs? Horseradish. 

It makes a frequent appearance at Jewish holidays, atop the oft-maligned gefilte fish or whole and unadorned on the seder plate, and at sunday dinner tables all over the UK. But did you know it is it is also "widely used in research for immunohistochemistry labelling of tissue sections, e.g. in biopsies of subjects suspected to have cancer."? Or that it can be used to treat everything from "urinary tract infections, bronchitis, sinus congestion, ingrowing toenails and coughs." (I'd have to do some more research to know whether one ingests it or rubs it on one's feet to deal with the toenail thing.) And I'm pretty sure that raw, it could be used as a biological weapon. How badass is that???

But seriously. I think it's time we paid more attention to horseradish as a condiment/flavoring/pancaea. I'm not sure hard core foodies would say horseradish actually contains umami, that magical mysterious fifth taste found in things like parmesan, tomatoes, fish sauce, and ketchup, but it comes damn close with its mix of spicy, sour, bitter, and tang (from the vinegar that gets added to the prepared stuff). I'm all for adding it to sandwiches, spreading it on cheese and crackers, stirring it into salad dressing, heaping it on hash browns, dolloping it on a bagel and lox, and introducing it to a few more drinking buddies beyond Ms. Mary. Oh, oh, and what about a take on fried chicken wings with a creamy horseradish dipping sauce!

I'm getting carried away. I just wrote an entire post on horseradish.

Make this and you'll know what I'm talking about.
If you have an ingrown toenail, let me know how that goes too.


The Mouse

Roasted Beets with Horseradish Creme Fraiche 
from Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers with Lucques 

4 bunches different-colored beets 
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
1 tablespoon diced shallot, plus 1/4 cup sliced shallots 
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar 
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 
2 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice 
1/2 cup crème fraîche 
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish 
1/4 cup heavy cream 
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 

 Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut off the beet greens, leaving 1/2 inch of the stems still attached. (You can save the leaves for sauteing later—they are delicious!) Clean the beets well, and toss them with 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt Place the beets in a roasting pan with a splash of water in the bottom. Cover the pan tightly with foil, and roast for about 40 minutes, until they're tender when pierced. (The roasting time will depend on the size and type of beet.) When the beets are done, carefully remove the foil. Let cool, and peel the beets by slipping off the skins with your fingers. Cut them into 1/2-inch-thick wedges. While the beets are in the oven, combine the diced shallot, both vinegars, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl, and let sit 5 minutes. Whisk in the 1/2 cup olive oil. Taste for balance and seasoning. Whisk the crème fraîche and horseradish together in a small bowl. Stir in the heavy cream, remaining 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice, ⅛ teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper. Toss the beets and sliced shallots with the vinaigrette. (If you're using different-colored beets, dress each color in a separate bowl so the colors don't bleed.) Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and a pinch of freshly ground black pepper, and toss well. Taste for balance and seasoning. Arrange on a platter and dollop (more artfully than the Mouse) on the beets.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bringing It: Rosh Hashanah Plum Tart

Dear Mouse,

Happy New Year!

Let it be known that I started writing this post as soon as I walked in the door  from the family dinner where I served the item to be discussed below. I think that's a first.

"... the late August abundance of italian prune plums, which i find better cooked than eaten out of hand."
                                    -Sarah Leah Chase, Nantucket Open House Cookbook

(Longtime readers will recall that the above words signify The Boo's unhealthy  obsession with said Chase cookbook, since she committed them to memory upon first reading Chase's "Purple Plum Crunch"   recipe (yes, republished by Ina) years ago. She now cannot mention, eat, or think  about prune plums without muttering this phrase inanely like some kind of fruit mantra. Oh, and lest she forget, The Mouse also likes to helpfully repeat it every time plums come up in conversation (surprisingly often). It's like that South Park when Cartman can't even think of the song "Sail Away" without having to sing the entire thing...? Anyway.)

As I mentioned in my last post and will probably repeat, I am Super Excited to greet Fall. And  I'm just going to keep it real for a second and say I'm maybe more excited than usual this year because, for me, the summer of 2012 .... sucked. Yep.  Winter/spring was great (work! love! income!). Then, come June, all of it, in the words of the great Eddie Izzard, "slowly collapsed, like a flan in a cupboard."
(He was talking about the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but that's basically the same thing as my life.)

Fortunately, I'm a big girl now and I recognize these droughts for what they are: droughts. End of career and personal life? Probably not. Hard? Yes. But there's always a choice. I could have spent all summer lying on my floor complaining to the fan.  Or,  I could do what I did: lie on the floor 60% of the time, and spend the rest in Spiritual Boot Camp. I read kind of every helpful Text I could get my hands on. I went on Yoga Retreat (Thanks Mom!) . I talked to various Advisors.  I - yes - cooked. And..

I re-enrolled in "Shouting Aerobics"!

...which is totally not what it's called but it makes me giggle every time I say it to myself.
And when you're sweating through 60 -75 minutes of cardio while also shouting positive statements like a New Age Cheerleader ("I GIVE! MY BEST! THE REST I LET GO!!"), you feel A) AMAZING, there's no way around it... and B) SO RIDICULOUS that it helps (at least the first time) to keep a little NYC snark on hand for balance. Whatever gets you through the squats.

                                                         Best Plum Tart (pre-cooking)

I think I really thought I was so out of shape that if I went back to class I might actually die. Like, I just flat-out couldn't and wouldn't make it. Then I did. And THEN, after not dying,  I had two Big Thoughts. One was "I am capable of more than I think"...  and,  right on its heels: "... and I should be acting like it more often."

Attention Must Be Paid: The Mother's showstopping version of  Beatty's Chocolate Cake (L), (so light and fluffy yet so deeply chocolatey!) and your take on Smitten Kitchen's Apple Charlotka ("more apples than batter") (R), both of which graced the Rosh Hashanah table. (Why don't I have a picture of The Aunt's cheesecake? Too busy eating.)

What if, I thought, I really, actually, did my best, in everything I do? What if I brought my best game to every task, no matter what, even if my best isn't that amazing on everything?  What would that be like? I decided I am going to spend this Fall finding out. Or, as I put it to Mr. Poet at our lunch the other day:

" I'm making a plum tart for Rosh Hashanah... 
and it is going to be the Best Damn Plum Tart I can possibly make! "  

                                                                   Here it is.

We clinked our (second round of) bloody marys together, and I went off to buy 14 italian prune plums...whichifindbettercoookedthaneatenoutofhandohmygodicantstop.

The experience was a great mix of improvisation and careful attention to detail. I went basically with Dorie Greenspan for both the filling (layer of jam, layer of plums, walnuts and sugar on top) and the crust (her Sweet Tart Dough). But I threw in a little cassis liqueur as homage to Chase. And I mistakenly bought an 11.5-inch pan when the recipe is meant for a 9-inch pan. ("Oh no don't burn it!" - alarmed Mouse Text.) But I decided I would just refrain from preheating too long, and then watched it like a hawk. It worked out great - I like a thin crust.  

Moral of the story? Success! The crust did not burn or tear. The plum juice did not ooze excessively. And it was consumed - almost entirely! - by our discerning family!  And I felt GREAT for having given my all to something and done it to the best of my ability. On one level, you could say it's just a small thing that doesn't have anything to do with Big Life Issues. On another, it makes me realize again how everything, actually, IS connected ... because the feeling of Kicking Ass in one area just makes you want to Bring It in others. A good reminder to always Give Your Best ... then, the Rest You can  Let Go. 

Happy Fall (again),

The Boo

The Boo's Best Plum Tart



Make Dorie's "Sweet Tart Dough" (scroll to bottom of page for recipe). Follow her instructions exactly except the part about the 9-inch pan. For this recipe, you want my happily wrong proportions (11.5 - in tart pan with removable bottom). Crust-making-phobics (of which I am one) will note joyfully that you don't have to roll it out -- just press it into the pan with your fingers and chill that s*t for at least 30 minutes.


12-14 italian prune plums (ok if they're large you'll use fewer, I think I had about 10 in there. If you have extra, roast them and put them on your oatmeal, your chicken, anything.)
1/4 C plum jam (I used Sarabeth's "plum and sour cherry spreadable fruit", but my tart was quite tart. If you like things sweeter, maybe use regular sugary jam)
3 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp chopped walnuts
A splash (2 tbsp?) of cassis liqueur if you have it
1 tbsp cornstarch

Halve and pit the plums and put them into a bowl. If they're big plums, maybe slice each half again. Toss with cassis and cornstarch and set aside.

Mix walnuts and sugar in a bowl. Set aside.

Take out chilled tart shell and set on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, or a silpat, or whatever.

Spoon jam into chilled tart shell and spread across bottom. 

Arrange plum halves or slices in concentric circles on top of the jam, starting at the outer edge of the shell and working your way in.

Scatter sugar/walnut mixture over the fruit.

Cover in plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place for 30 minutes. 

Now, maybe with like 5 minutes to go, preheat the oven to 425. 

Remove plastic wrap from tart! (I almost forgot to do this), and put baking sheet with tart on it in oven for 20 minutes. (at 10 minutes give it a glance and check speed crust is browning).

After 20 minutes, take it out, tent it loosely with foil (to keep the crust from getting too dark) and put it back in for another 10.  It's done when the crust is a lovely golden brown and the fruit is bubbling. 

Let cool for at least 45 min, then remove outer ring of pan and slide the rest (with bottom) onto platter, Serve warm or at room temp.    

Thursday, September 13, 2012

So Long, Summer. It's Been Real.

Dear Boo,

Have I told you about my realization that our country's school system has ruined my life?

No, not in any of those boring child left behind, teaching to the test, slipping through the cracks kind of ways. Mine is a far worse affliction.

I cannot, no matter how many years of real life I have under my belt, get past the feeling that summer = free time and fun, while fall = anxiety, anticipation, homework. As a result, I spend two months of the year feeling perpetually ROBBED as I truck myself to and fro, home to work, work to home. And then, come this time of year, I suddenly kick into overdrive, ready for something to HAPPEN. As the weather gets cooler, I find myself practically at the edge of my seat, picking out my first day of school outfit and cracking open that composition notebook. So while in some ways it's hard to say goodbye to summer (AGAIN), having as usual, not eaten enough tomatoes, not wiggled my toes in the sand enough, with three sad peaches (the first I've had this season!) languishing on my kitchen table looking a little sad and out of place, and only about a hundred freckles to my name, I'm also sort of ready for a change, you know?

But let's not be too hasty.

Below: the summer smorgasbord of loveliness that has become somewhat of a tradition...

Shrimp tossed with some fish sauce, lemon, cumin, coriander, and garlic, grilled on our lovely All-Clad grill pan, a wedding gift which is a summer savior for those of us cityfolk with ZERO outdoor space. (Again, ROBBED.)

Grilled flank steak and chorizo with a different version of my new favorite sauce

Potatoes with butter and herbs, endive, avocado and mango salad, and off to your right--don't be deceived by the terrible placement--a bowl of the most delicious, indulgent, thumb-your-nose-at-fall corn dish. 

So, our friend ED, who technically knew the Husband before he knew me, but who, as it turns out, is dating my old co-worker who I knew and loved way before I knew him, and who I wrangled into joining my theater company and who then got conned into playing the love interest in that little play I wrote and who I recently spent a weekend in the wilds of the Poconos with, reading a hundred plays in four days and cooking up a storm, and who is currently the tyrannical leader of some fantasy football nonsense  endeavor that my Husband, aka Dream Act This, is valiantly competing in, prides himself on the fact that he makes one dish very well. He is an odd eater, to say the least, with objections to perfectly harmless things like POTATOES and BEANS and TOMATOES, which makes it difficult for me to count him among my friends. But, he makes a killer Mexican corn. As he's originally from Mexico City, I feel safe in claiming this dish has some authenticity to it. At least when he makes it. 

Here's the deal:

Cut the kernels off a bunch of earns of corn. Throw them in a pot/sautee pan with a bunch of butter (like a whole stick for let's say, 6-8 ears?) and salt and let em cook. Stir in a great big blob of mayonnaise, and one of sour cream. Dump in a bunch of chili powder, "so it changes color some", and cook to your liking. Taste and adjust, taste and adjust. Throw in a generous amount of grated cheese (queso fresco or cotija or some such), and squeeze in the juice of a lime. Taste again for salt. Serve. Summer street food at its best.

Boo, I know fall is your favorite season, and I have to say after the blazing summer we just survived, I'm eagerly looking forward to the turning leaves and turned-up collars. But before we succumb completely, make a batch of this and hold onto summer just a little bit longer. Maybe we can eke out one more lazy day before it's back to school. 


The Mouse

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Back to School (Almond Flour, NYC)

Dear Mouse,

"Sorry when I go dark
It must have been I forgot about the spark
Sorry when I go lame
I got no reason I should ever complain..."
-Don Chaffer, 'Son of a Gun', coming SOON to NYC's Theatre Row (November 1-18)

It's happened. Our Auntie's Labor Day BBQ has come and gone, everyone's putting up "first day of school!" pictures of their kids on FaceBook, and I just brought home a striped burgundy cardigan from the Free People sale rack. True, the Equinox is a couple of weeks away and there are still peaches at the Greenmarket... but there's no denying that Autumn is nearly upon us.

I, for one, am thrilled. For one thing, orange-yellow-wine-colored-smoky-windy Fall has always been my favorite season, and for another I'm going into rehearsal again!!!  after a Very Quiet Summer (not my favorite).

My friend Mr. Poet has this great way of describing the phenomenon of the way creative jobs often lead to other creative jobs...

... or, as he puts it, "Gig Babies".

Actual (not Gig) Baby: Newest Addition to the Poet Family! Just had to share.

I woke up thinking about the show, and how this particular Gig Baby, like so many, came not from any conventional hiring process but from relationships:  a recommendation from another artist who knew me and thought someone else should too. And, because there's almost nothing I can't connect to food, I was also thinking about the "gig baby" phenomenon as regards recipes; how new/shared recipes naturally lead to other new discoveries. 

Also, I just met our costume designer and there's nothing like the word "lingerie" to make you get Very Interested in Lower Carb Alternatives to your favorite dishes. 

The point is, I made this chicken. 

                                  The Boo's Parmesan Chicken: A Family Staple Makeover. Read on.

Now, Mouse, I know you think you recognize this from, say, any weeknight at our house growing up, when The Mother would come in from a long day of Living Truthfully Under Imaginary Circumstances and have to put something on the table. That simple dish, of chicken breasts dipped in melted butter and rolled in 'Italian-Style' breadcrumbs and Kraft Parmesan from the green can, has always been one of my favorite meals of all time. It could not be easier or more comforting, and I often whip this up in my own kitchen when Circumstances have gotten just a little too Truthful.

Then, Enter my New Best Friend:

Almond Flour. It's Flour ... Made of Almonds .
I'm sure you see where this is going.

Long story short, the "gig baby" that resulted from my recent love affair with Dorie Greenspan's Isphahan Rose Cake was ... well, anything and everything that can be done with this nut flour. One night, I was making sweet potato fries in the oven and I impulsively rolled the little orange sticks in almond meal as well as olive oil. OMG. Sweet, nutty, textured, high-protein and delicious. A revamped version of The Mother's classic chicken recipe seemed inevitable.  Here it is, below. In my version, almond flour replaces the breadcrumbs, olive oil replaces the melted butter, and a layer of "Enjoy" (caramelized onion jam, which The Mother likes to call by one particular favorite brand name)  added just to liven things up.  

And now I'm off to make a peach tart with (you guessed it) almond flour crust.


Love ,

The Boo

The Boo's Almond-Crusted Parmesan Chicken With "Enjoy"
(Warning: There are no measurements in this highly forgiving and improvisational family recipe. But you kinda can't go wrong)


boneless, skinless chicken breasts (i sometimes cut in half to make them skinnier/crispier)
Kraft Parmesan Cheese from the can (this ingredient stays)
Almond Flour or Almond Meal
"Enjoy", or your favorite brand of savory onion jam
olive oil

Preheat oven to 350.  Make a pile approx half parmesan, half almond flour on a plate, enough to coat all your chicken. Add salt and pepper to this mix, to taste. Sometimes I add herbs de provence too, if I have them. Coat a chicken breast in olive oil and spoon/slap some Enjoy all over it as well (it won't all stick and it'll be messy - recipe still in progress) and press each into parmesan/almond pile. Flip and press the other side. Place in baking pan/roasting pan. Repeat with each chicken breast. Feel free to add more parm/almond coating to the breasts when they are in the pan, covering up bald spots. Bake in oven for 45 minutes. They should be golden/brown and a little sizzly, and juicy not dry (but done!! No pink! of course). ENJOY.