Smashed Winter Squash Toast with Za’atar and Feta

IMG_1627Back in October, I was lucky enough to be a guest instructor at South End Kitchen in Burlington, VT, the joint restaurant and cooking school run by my cousin chef Sarah Langan. Recreational classes have a big focus on chocolate, as South End is run in conjunction with the Lake Champlain Chocolate company. The theme of our class was all things Mediterrean and focused on authentic ingredients like za’atar, sumac, sesame and orange blossom water with local Vermont dairy, eggs and gorgeous produce. Here’s what we made:

  • Smashed Winter Squash Toast with Za’atar and Feta
  • Shakshuka (Eggs Poached in Spicy Tomato Sauce)
  • Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Pomegranate
  • Orange Blossom Yogurt with Sesame and Citrus
  • Apple Bitters and Prosecco  – we had to have a cocktail, of course!

Thank you again to the entire South End team for the opportunity! I will definitely be back to Burlington soon.

Here’s the recipe for the toast – perfect for brunch or cut into pieces as an appetizer.

Smashed Winter Squash Toast with Za’atar and Feta

Serves about 8

  • 1 small winter squash, such as kabocha or delicata, cut into 1” pieces*
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt and fresh black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon chile flakes, plus more for topping
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 8 or more thick slices country or sourdough bread (or your favorite artisan bread)
  • 1/2 cup fresh feta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon za’atar*
  • Handful chopped fresh mint

Heat oven to 425F. Toss squash with a few tablespoons of oil, a big pinch of salt, pepper and chile flakes. Spread onto a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes until soft and caramelized.

While squash is roasting, caramelize onions. Heat a few more tablespoons of oil in a medium saute pan on medium-low heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until dark and jammy, about 30 minutes. Add a splash of water to the pan if onions dry out. Add vinegar and syrup and cook about 10 more minutes.

In a large bowl, combine squash and onion mixture and smash with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon. You want some texture here, not a completely smooth mixture. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.

Toast bread in a toaster or better yet, drizzled with a bit of oil, salt and pepper and toasted on a sheet tray @ 375F until golden brown. Spread squash mixture onto toast and sprinkle with feta, za’atar and more chile flakes. Finish with fresh mint.

*No need to peel kabocha or delicata (really). If using butternut, make sure to peel.

*Za’atar is a an ancient Mediterranean spice blend typically made with thyme or oregano, sumac, sesame seeds and sometimes cumin. Sumac is a dark red spice that has a tart lemony zing. Za’atar is delicious on grilled or roasted meats and fish, hummus and even roasted sweet potatoes. Find it online, in specialty Mediterranean shops or Whole Foods. Or, makeyour own using this recipe from 101 Cookbook 

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Toasted Hazelnut-Pear Muffins

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I’ve been posting more pastry recipes than usual here lately. No heavy hitters, like crème brûlée (you can typically find me making those at work). When I’m home, I like to bake simple. When I’m not tasked with blind-baking 8 tarts or 32 perfectly set butterscotch pots de crème, I take it easy. Granola, quick breads, healthy-ish muffins – not exactly French pastry, but in real life most people aren’t (and quite frankly, shouldn’t be) eating croissants everyday.

These hazelnut-pear muffins have been in my mental recipe file for awhile. You know when you see a recipe, and then all of a sudden, you see it everywhere? That seemed to be the case with the hazelnut/pear combination. I didn’t want a sugary cake-like muffin, rather I was going for something a bit more wholesome (does that word even exist anymore?) I eschewed my brown butter tendencies in lieu of coconut oil and a generous pour of pure maple syrup. A couple bruised red pears perked right up when folded into the dark, spiced batter. Lemon zest is the secret here. I used Meyer lemon, which has a hint of tangerine flavor, and that bit of citrus added the right amount of interest. Don’t skip the sprinkle of crunch, either. Fish around in your pantry for something, anything, crunchy. Seeds, nuts, grains, they it all add much-needed texture.

These muffins are not flaky French croissants, but they make an excellent late-night or morning snack. Perfect for fueling me through a marathon tart-making session.

Toasted Hazelnut-Pear Muffins

I love these not-too-sweet muffins with a almond-milk latte or cup of tea.

Makes 6 muffins (recipe doubles easily)

  • Nonstick baking spray
  • ¾ cup hazelnut meal*
  • ¾ cup whole-wheat pastry flour**
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • Pinch ground cardamom (optional)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest (try Meyer lemon)
  • ¼ cup pure maple syrup
  • ¼ cup coconut oil, melted if solid
  • ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons milk (any type, I used a vanilla almond milk)
  • 2 medium ripe pears, cored and diced into 1/2″ thick pieces
  • 3 tablespoons raw amaranth, millet, quinoa, ground flax, rolled oats, hazelnut meal, chia or a combination
Preheat oven to 350˚ and line muffin tin with paper liners. Spray liners with non-stick spray and set aside.
Place hazelnut meal on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place in oven and toast for about 10 minutes, until lightly golden and fragrant. Let cool. Combine with flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt.
In a separate bowl, whisk together egg, maple syrup, zest, coconut oil, and milk. Pour into dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
Fold pears into the batter. Divide muffin batter into muffin cups. Sprinkle with crunchy topping of choice. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.

*Bob’s Red Mill makes a great hazelnut meal. If you’d rather, try making your own by grinding hazelnuts in a food processor until powdery (don’t go too far or you’ll get hazelnut butter!)

**While I haven’t tested it, I expect you could swap in a gluten-free all-purpose flour here. I like Thomas Keller’s Cup4Cup.

Millet Fritters with Cojita and Spicy Lime Crema

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While I teach others how to make dinner, I rarely sit down for the meal myself. See, when you are in the business of food, you’re usually working during most usual mealtimes. I grew up sitting down to a square, hot meal at 6pm each night, but nowadays, it’s leftovers from the fridge at 9. This is real life.

Last week I found myself home at dinnertime, hungry and with a bit of time to tinker around in the kitchen. Going back out into the world to food shop was just not going to happen. A pantry meal it was.

I recently taught an Ancient Grains class at SLT and everyone was obsessed with the Quinoa Fritters, a recipe riffed from the wonderful Ancient Grains for Modern Mealsl by Maria Speck. Topped with tangy lime mayo and smoked salmon, they were altogether satisfying, the perfect balance of crispy/gooey/cheesy/salty/creamy. I swapped the quinoa for millet, a couscous-like whole grain popular in parts of Asia. You cook it the same way, with a 1:2 ratio of grain to water. It has a mild flavor and a pleasant softness that’s unusual for whole grains. It’s also gluten-free, a nice bonus in this day and age. I’m kind of obsessed.

A plate of these millet fritters with a bowl of spicy, creamy dip was just the thing for my night-in supper. The new square meal.

Millet Fritters with Cojita and Spicy Lime Crema

Inspired by Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck

Fritters:

1 cup millet*
2 cups water, vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 cup crumbled cojita cheese (or feta)
1/2 cup flour*
1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
1/4 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
2 green onions, minced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Olive or grapeseed oil, for cooking

In a medium saucepan, combine the millet and water or stock. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes or until water is absorbed. Remove from heat and let sit, covered, for about 5 minutes. Allow to cool completely.

In a large bowl, combined the cooled millet, cheese, flour, chile powder, paprika, green onions and eggs. Fold to combine. Season with a big pinch of salt and pepper. Chill for 30 minutes or up to 3 days.

Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add a few swirls of olive or grapeseed oil.  Form the millet mixture into patties (I used an ice cream scoop). If the mixture is not sticking together, chill for a bit longer or press the mixture into a ball with your hands. They will be delicate, but will firm up when cooked.

Fry the fritters in the skillet for a few minutes on each side or until golden brown and crisp. Drain on paper towel. Serve with a dollop (or three) of Spicy Lime Crema.

Spicy Lime Crema

1/2 cup Mexican crema, sour cream, plain yogurt or mayo
Zest and juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
Chipotle hot sauce, to taste

Combine all ingredients, adding more of everything to taste.

Notes:

*Where do you buy millet? Check the bulk area or ethnic section. Bob’s Red Mill is another brand worth seeking out.

*I’ve made these with white all-purpose flour and also millet flour (I had some lying around, definitely not necessary to go out and buy it). I suspect almond flour may work, but the mixture may be a little more crumbly. Stick to a somewhat neutral, light flour here – this is not the place for nutty buckwheat or whole wheat flour.

Watermelon-Jalapeno Gazpacho with Lime Yogurt Crema

It’s currently 90 degrees in NYC. It’s so hot I actually look forward to riding on the air-conditioned subway. I saw an ad on the train the other day for Seamless that justified ordering takeout as an alternative to sweating it out in the kitchen. Fair enough, Seamless. I cook in hot kitchens on the reg for my personal chef clients. When I come home, the thought of cooking something (anything) for myself on the stove is just…no. I’ve been doing a lot of salads and far too many smoothies. But alas, (wo)man can not live on salad alone.

Let’s talk gazpacho. It’s soup, but it’s cold. It’s exotic (does Spain count as exotic?) It requires no cooking whatsoever.  Not convinced yet? Check out this beaut:

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That’s right, I went ahead and made this Spanish street food into a full-fledged first course. It’s as easy as making a smoothie, but it tastes kind of like a salad. #Winning

Watermelon-Jalapeno Gazpacho with Lime Yogurt Crema

Inspired by Relish by Daphne Oz

Makes about 10 cups

Ingredients

For Gazpacho:

  •  5 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 small red onion, chopped
  • 3 cups watermelon, chopped
  • 1/2 English cucumber, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
  • 1 small garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • Handful fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Red wine vinegar, to taste
  • Kosher salt, to taste

For Lime Yogurt Crema:

  • Plain Greek yogurt
  • Lime juice
  • Kosher salt

For serving:

  • Torn basil and mint (optional)
  • Olive oil

Directions

  1. In a blender, combine the tomatoes, red onion, watermelon, cucumber jalepeno, garlic, lime juice and cilantro. Blend until smooth (you may need to do this in batches). Add red wine vinegar and salt, to taste. Chill for a few hours before serving.
  2. For the lime yogurt crema: stir together the yogurt, lime juice and a bit of salt to taste.
  3. Ladle cold soup into bowls (I like to freeze mine for extra refreshment!) Top with a dollop of crema, basil, mint and a drizzle of olive oil.

Shirazi Salad

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I have a high devotion to Dinosaur BBQ. They originated in Central New York, where I grew up, and no early summer gathering was complete without it. Pulled pork, honey hush cornbread, tangy/sweet baked beans…yeah, you get the picture. One of the unsung heroes at Dino was their Tomato-Cucumber Salad. You see, with all that pork fat, butter and brown sugar, you need something fresh and acidic to balance it out. A BBQ palate cleanser, if you will.

This Persian-inspired salad in the same vein, but brightened up with fresh herbs, lime juice and sumac. Never worked with sumac? It’s a wonderful ruby red herb popular in Middle Eastern cooking. It adds a unique fruity tartness to meat, veggies and grains (try it sprinkled over hummus). It’s just the thing to add like to early season tomatoes and cucumbers. I have big plans on making this salad all summer with grilled lamb and chicken kebabs. And maybe some of that honey hush cornbread.

Shirazi Salad

Inspired by The New Persian Kitchen  by Louisa Shafia

Serves 4

  • 5 Persian cucumbers, diced
  • 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 teaspoons dried spearmint
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh mint
  • 2 tablespoons minced chives or scallions
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground sumac (optional)

In a large bowl, combine the cucumbers, tomato, dried and fresh mint and chives. Add lime juice, olive oil and salt to taste. Sprinkle with sumac before serving.

Creamy Carrot-Ginger Soup

When you are surrounded by food all day, it’s sometimes hard to decide what to feed yourself. The food I prepare for my clients ers on the side of traditional: proteins, veggies, starches. There are a lot of requests for boneless skinless chicken breasts, quinoa and freezable meals. At the end of the day, the thought of turning on the stove, well, turns me off. I liken it to people who spend all day on a computer – you just want to do something (anything) else when you get home. This soup is the exception. I make this creamy (creamless) carrot-ginger for clients, in some shape or form, all the time. It can be made in advance and reheats well, so it’s perfect for dinner parties (or lazy Wednesdays on the couch). A few tips:

  • Don’t stress about chopping the onions and ginger perfectly. All of their imperfections will be forgiven once blended.
  • Depending on my mood, I add curry or garam masala – or not. It’s delicious either way.
  • This can be made entirely vegan by using vegetable stock or water and subbing the yogurt drizzle for my new favorite thing – cashew cream (as pictured above).
  • Yes, you can freeze this one.

Creamy Carrot-Ginger Soup

Makes about 8 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons oil (olive, grapeseed or my favorite coconut oil)
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 2″ piece ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tsp. curry powder or garam masala (optional)
  • 1 large bunch carrots (about 7 medium-sized carrots), peeled and chopped
  • 4 cups or more vegetable stock (or chicken stock or water)
  • 1-2 cups coconut milk
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Cayenne pepper, to taste
  • For serving: plain yogurt (thinned with a little water) or cashew cream(optional)

In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, ginger, curry powder (if using) and a large pinch of salt. Cook until onions are soft, about 5 minutes (you just want to sweat them, no color). Add carrots and cover with stock and/or water. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Simmer until carrots are very soft, about 30 minutes. Add 1 cup coconut milk. Let cool slightly. Puree in a blender, adding more coconut milk or stock to thin out. Season to taste with salt and cayenne pepper, for a little heat. Serve with a swirl of plain yogurt or cashew cream.

Creamy Dill Hummus with Crunchy Cucumbers

Sour cream dill dip with pumpernickel bread was a favorite growing up in Upstate New York. Thick, creamy, rich yet refreshing, the dip was plopped in a scooped-out round pumpernickel loaf. The hollowed-out pieces were used for dipping. When the bread pieces were gone, we ate the bread bowl, too. I channeled the dill dip experience here, using fresh ingredients. My standard hummus recipe is jazzed up with a handful of dill, while cucumbers add a satisfying crunch and pickle vibe. Other good dippers: toasted whole grain pita, carrots, endive, jicama and cherry tomatoes.

Creamy Dill Hummus

Ingredients

  • 1-2 garlic cloves
  • 1 15-oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (liquid reserved, optional)
  • 2 T. tahini
  • 1-2 lemons, juiced
  • Handful fresh dill, washed and roughly chopped (leaves only)
  • 2 tablespoons water or reserved liquid from the chickpeas
  • Extra Virgin olive oil (optional)
  • Kosher Salt
  • Cayenne
  • Sliced cucumbers, for serving

Directions

In a food processor, combine garlic, chickpeas, tahini, a few tablespoons lemon juice, dill and a pinch of kosher salt and cayenne. Pulse to combine. With machine running, stream in a little water or reserved bean liquid until you reach a creamy consistency (this may take a couple minutes), scraping down sides. For an even creamier dip, stream in a few tablespoons of olive oil. Taste and adjust with additional salt, cayenne and lemon juice. Chill before serving. Serve with cucumbers.

Edamame “Guacamole” with Chili-Dusted Pita Chips

Edamame goes south of the border in this creamy dip. While I love me some avocado, edamame is a nice high-protein swap. Don’t be that guy and tell your friends it’s avocado – this dip has a vibe of its own and honestly, unless you are Jessica Seinfeld, that’s just mean.


Edamame “Guacamole” with Chili-Dusted Pita Chips
Ingredients
“Guacamole”
Yield: Approx. 3 cups
  • 3 cups organic frozen shelled edamame, thawed
  • 2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
  • warm water, as needed
  • 1/2 diced small red onion
  • 1/2 cup bottled diced roasted red bell peppers
  • 1/2 cup diced yellow bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 minced jalapeño or a few drops of hot sauce
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
Chili-Dusted Pita Chips
  • whole wheat pitas or flatbreads
  • salt and pepper
  • chili powder
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 400°. In a food processor, combine 2 cups edamame, 2 T. extra-virgin olive oil, and enough warm water to create a thick purée; set aside.
  2. Combine remaining 1 cup edamame with red onion, roasted red bell peppers, yellow bell pepper, lime juice, jalapeño or hot sauce, 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, cilantro, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Fold into purée.
  3. Slice pitas into eighths, and brush with olive oil; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, and chili powder. Bake for 10 minutes. Serve with edamame mixture.
Recipe adapted from Chris Santos of The Stanton Social in NYC via  Health Magazine

Cheesy Pepper Jack Wafers

Cheese + crackers are a classic  combo. Now put cheese IN crackers and that my friends, is a game changer. These buttery little wafers pair well alongside a glass of wine or beer, but are equally tasty with chili or black bean soup. Think of them as dressed-up Cheez-Its!

You may also top them with slices of cheese. I may or may not have tried this and it may or may not have been ridiculously delicious. Maybe.

Cheesy Pepper Jack Wafers

Ingredients

1 stick butter, melted

2 eggs

few dashes garlic powder

few dashes cayenne pepper

few dashes ground pepper

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 to 3/4 cup grated Pepper Jack cheese

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

2 cups all purpose flour

Directions

Preheat oven to 350.

In a large bowl, beat together melted butter and eggs until creamy. Stir in the cheese and mix until combined. In a small bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Stir the flour mixture into the cheese mixture until thoroughly combined.

Transfer dough onto a floured surface and roll out until it’s about 1/4 inch thick (pretty thin!) Cut out shapes with a cookie cutter and place onto a parchment paper lined sheet tray.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Wine + Cheese = Instant Party!

I love the idea of a low-key Friday night with good friends, some vino and of course, a little nosh. So a few weeks ago, we did just that. After a particularly long week, it was nice to come home, gather up the troops and catch up on life. Here’s what I picked up on my way home..

  • Brie
  • Goat cheese
  • Sun-dried tomato stuffed olives
  • Sopressata
  • Tomato foccacia (which I warmed and sprinkled with pecorino)
  • Baguette (I sliced into little crostini and toasted)
  • Dried apricots
  • Spiced almonds
  • Chianti

I got everything from my favorite Italian grocer in Park Slope, Russo’s. I LOVE this little import shop – it really takes me back to the old country (I spent a semester in Florence and still miss it). Love Russo’s!

I ran across the street and got the wine at Big Nose, Full Body. Aside from the name, there is really nothing epic about this wine shop. I did score a mini tasting while I was shopping, but their prices were a little on the high side for my 2-buck-Chuck budget.

To add to the spread, my friend Tim brought sharp cheddar, crackers and multiple bars of Hershey’s chocolate. You see, there’s been a bit of a lull in baked goods around the apartment, so I hear. I get the hint, Tim.

My other friend Tim trekked all over Soho for Malbec (my fave) and kalamata olives (which I did not serve but will pop up in a recipe soon enough!)

Thanks, friends!