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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Maple Pumpkin Spice Quinoa Granola

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A recent NYMag.com headline stated: “America Hits the Pumpkin Spice Saturation Point”. They’ve got a point. If you’ve been to Trader Joe’s in the past two months, you’ll notice the PS (pardon the abbrev) domination in all manner of prepared foods. From beer to baking mix and frankly, All The Carbs, food marketers have jumped on the PS bandwagon and they’re not getting off.

The pumpkin squash, in itself, is not super flavorful. But when combined with cinnamon-spice and everything nice, it becomes an obsession. In an effort to stay as true to it’s roots (pumpkin pie, remember that?), this granola hits all of fall’s high points. Maple syrup, toasty oats and warming spices create a simple topper for yogurt, ice cream or simply stuffed in your face by the handful (…ahem…) I stopped buying cereal regularly a few years ago, so this tasted liked heaven to me with some almond milk and banana. I got in the habit of adding quinoa to my granola after I ran out of sesame seeds one day. Granola is really a blank canvas for anything lurking in your pantry – so add those sesame seeds, or pumpkin seeds, or dried cranberries. Don’t be afraid of the olive oil here, it’s not going to taste like salad. This recipe can be doubled (or tripled!) and lasts for about a month.

Maple Pumpkin Spice Quinoa Granola

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (I like Fleur de Sel)
  • 3/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or make your own)
  • 1/3 cup uncooked quinoa (any color)
  • 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup chopped nuts or seeds (optional)
  • 1/3 cup chopped dried fruit (optional)

Heat oven to 325F. In a large bowl, whisk oil, maple syrup, pumpkin, salt and spices. Stir in quinoa and oats until evening coated. Spread onto a large parchment-lined rimmed sheet tray. Bake for about 30-45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so. If you’re using nuts or seeds, add them in the last 10 minutes so they toast. Remove from oven and press down on granola with the back of a spatula. Sprinkle on dried fruit, if you’re using it. Allow to cool completely before breaking up into chunks.

Endlessly Adaptable Scones

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One of my favorite “work perks” is free reign of a fully stocked pantry. I love rummaging through the cabinets looking for snack inspiration. I often make a simple snack for my cooking class students, especially if they’ll be eating towards the end of class. I’ve made countless cast-iron fritattas, crostini variations and cheese plates. But as the weather cools down, the oven turns up. Scones have become my go-to classroom snack lately, and for good reason. They are ridiculously simple to pull together and the flavor combinations are endless. Depending on my mood or the theme of the class, I’ll throw in fruit, nuts, herbs or even cheese. Unlike biscuits, these are more akin to English cream scones, relying on a heavy dose of the white stuff instead of butter. Yet somehow they come out of the oven super flaky and buttery. They would make a perfect addition to your next brunch or alongside a cup of coffee or milky tea. Let me know what flavors you come up with!

 

Endlessly Adaptable Scones

makes about 20 to 24 small or 8-10 medium scones

adapted from King Arthur Flour via Joy the Baker

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream plus more for brushing the top
  • about 3/4 cup of anything (chopped fresh or dried fruit, chocolate chips, toasted nuts, etc.)
  • 1 teaspoon citrus zest (optional)
  • Raw sugar for topping
  • Jam, curd and/ or whipped cream for serving (optional)

Directions:

Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, backing powder, salt, and sugar.  Set aside.

In a liquid measuring cup mix together vanilla extract and 1 1/3 cups cream. Drizzle the cream mixture into the dry ingredients tossing and stirring as you pour in the cream.  Add any mix-ins and zest, if using. Toss together.  Add 2 more tablespoons of cream if necessary to create a moist, cohesive, but not sticky dough.

Dump the dough onto a lightly floured work surface.  Gently gather and knead the dough into a dish and press the disk out into a 3/4″-thickness.

Use a small biscuit cutter to cut small 1 1/4-inch circles from the dough disk.  Brush each circle with heave cream and sprinkle generously with turbinado sugar.

Place 1-inch apart on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.

Remove from the oven and serve warm.

 

Add-in suggestions:

1 T. orange zest + 1/3 cup dried cranberries + 1/3 cup chopped toasted pecans

1 T. lemon zest + 1/2 cup fresh berries (such as raspberries or blueberries)

For savory scones, you can omit the sugar and add a few handfuls of shredded cheese and/or herbs

 

Salted Maple Crunch Yogurt Bowl

yogurt bowl
Over elbow-to-elbow margaritas at my friend Kelly’s birthday dinner, our friend Joey, an avid baker, asked what I’ve been cooking lately. The answer? Not much, kids. You see, for the past month and a half, I’ve been involved in an intensive cooking video project. Truly a labor of love, it has not left much time to eat, let alone cook.

One of the major perks of working in the food business is, well, a lot of free food. What we don’t end up shooting is up for grabs. Random vegetables, half-empty bags of grains and other odds and ends make their way back home with me in the hopes of being cooked.

When the weekend rolls around, I am left with a fridge full of mismatched ingredients What the heck can I make with radishes, hibiscus blossoms and Parmesan? It’s like an episode of Chopped, for real.

This seedy, crunchy, salty sprinkle is the product of my random pantry, breakfast boredom and the latest issue of Bon Appetit. Inspired by Sara Britton, who’s behind the gorgeous site My New Roots, this granola-like topping is perfect over creamy yogurt and fruit. It would also be divine in a leafy salad or on top of oatmeal. What I like about this recipe is that everything is done on the stove-top, no oven required. Now about those radishes…

Salted Maple Crunch Yogurt Bowl
Recipes adapted from Bon Appetit via Sara Britton of My New Roots

Salted Maple Crunch
  • 1/4 cup raw shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 1/4 cup raw shelled sunflower seeds
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seed
  • 2 tablespoon pure maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • Kosher salt
For the yogurt bowl:
  • Good quality plain Greek yogurt (I like Fage or Olympus)
  • Fresh fruit (I used berries, but pineapple, mango or stone fruit in the summer would be great)
  • Honey or pure maple syrup, for drizzling

Instructions:

For salted maple crunch:

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. In a dry medium skillet, toast pumpkin and sunflower seeds over medium heat, tossing frequently, until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add sesame and fennel seeds and toss to toast, a few minutes longer.
  3. Add maple syrup (it will sizzle) and stir and toss until clumps appear, about a minute. Remove from the heat and sprinkle in chia seeds, stirring to coat. Season with salt. Transfer to the parchment-lined baking sheet and allow to cool.

For yogurt bowl:

You know the drill – spoon a big dollop of yogurt in a bowl, sprinkle with fruit, maple crunch and a drizzle of honey.

Whole Wheat Waffles (of Insane Greatness)

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Despite working in the food business, I am surprisingly basic when it comes to kitchen necessities. Sure, I have a food processor, a blender and an ice cream maker, but I prefer old-school elbow grease to modern machinery any day. There’s not much that can not be accomplished with a sharp knife, a heavy cutting board and a couple of pots and pans. The exception? Waffles. You can’t jury rig a waffle. Oh, how I adore my waffle iron. Sure, it’s a single-purpose piece of equipment, but these are waffles we’re talking about, people. I know you’ll find the space, time and appetite to use it – after you try this recipe.

Whole Wheat Waffles (of Insane Greatness)

Adapted from Food52

Makes about 4 large waffles

1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 c. cornstarch
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
3 tsp. sugar
2 c. buttermilk, shaken
2/3 c. vegetable or coconut oil
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flours, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. In another bowl, combine buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and whisk until just combined. Let set for 30 minutes. Cook in preheated waffle iron for about 4-5 minutes (follow directions for your waffle iron). Don’t bother spraying the iron with cooking spray – there’s enough oil in the batter. to prevent sticking. To keep warm, place on a single layer on a baking sheet in a 250F oven.

Winter Vegetable Hash with Poached Egg and Crispy Shallot

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From what I’ve observed, people in NYC really like brunch. I’ve always been a little ‘meh’ about the meal. There’s often a long wait for a table, you feel rushed the entire meal and to be honest, I’m just not big on drinking mimosas at 1pm.

Yet, the other weekend I found myself at Freemans, a tucked away Colonial cottage-turned-restaurant located in an alley (!) in the Lower East Side. As I caught up with a friend over poached eggs and cheddar grits, I suddenly understood the hype about brunch. Weeknight plans often get in the way of our best intentions for a leisurely dinner. But we can all set aside an hour or two on a Saturday or Sunday.

Here’s my take on the veg-heavy hashes popping up at some of the ‘cool kid’ brunch spots. Daytime mimosa optional.

Winter Vegetable Hash with Poached Egg and Crispy Shallot

Serves 1-2

Olive oil
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
Handful or two Tuscan (lacinato/dinosaur) kale, ribbed removed and thinly sliced
3-4 Brussels sprouts, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 tsp (eyeball) fresh thyme leaves (or another herb, like rosemary)
Pinch smoked paprika (optional)
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper
Eggs
White vinegar

  1. Bring a small saucepan of water to a simmer.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a medium skillet over low heat. Add shallot and cook until lightly golden brown and crisp (be careful not to burn!) Remove crispy shallots (leaving oil in the pan) and transfer to a paper towel to drain.
  3. Add kale and brussels sprouts to the skillet and saute about 5 minutes, until kale is tender and Brussels are a bit crisp. Add thyme, paprika and salt & pepper to taste. Set aside while you prep the eggs.
  4. Use this method to poach your eggs. It’s the best way I’ve found for beginners (or anyone, for that matter).
  5. Rewarm kale mixture. Serve eggs on top of veggies with the reserved crispy shallot.

Cranberry-Almond Pancakes


Something about making pancakes makes me feel like Ruth Reichl. Those who follow her idyllic Twitter feed know what I mean. Those who don’t: she is a former NY Times dining columnist and former editor in chief at Gourmet magazine. From what I gather, she spends most of her mornings in an Upstate cabin complete with outdoor shower, misty hillsides and an unending supply of butter. Her breakfast tweets make me think twice about eating yet another bowl of oatmeal (or more lazily, muesli). Here’s what I mean:

From September 9th…Outdoor shower in golden light. Birds singing. Deer on the lawn. Hot coffee. Lightly scrambled eggs. Hot biscuits. Heading into the city.

September 24…
Bright. Cool. Pumpkin pancakes flecked with orange peel. Scent of nutmeg, ginger, clove. Thick dark maple syrup. Feels like fall. Welcome!

See what I’m saying? It makes you want to put on a cozy sweater, crunch through fallen leaves and adopt a diet fit for a lumberjack. Or develop a pancake-induced inferiority complex. My solution: these cranberry-almond pancakes. They’re Tuesday-quick, but quite fit for a Sunday.

Here is my homage to Ruth, 140 words or less:
N train rumbles me awake. Gray day. Delicate almond pancakes dotted with sweet-tart cranberries. Hot coffee. Much better.

Cranberry-Almond Pancakes

1 cup whole-wheat flour*
1/2 cup almond flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill, you can also make your own)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 tablespoon real maple syrup
1 – 1 1/2 cups almond milk + 1 tsp. lemon juice (or substitute buttermilk)
2 tablespoons melted coconut oil or butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 – 1/2 cup dried cranberries

1. Sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs. Whisk in the maple syrup, 1 cup almond milk, canola oil and vanilla. Quickly whisk in the flour mix. You can add more almond milk for thinner pancakes. Fold in the cranberries, do not over mix.
3. Heat a griddle or a large skillet, either nonstick or seasoned cast iron, over medium-high heat. Brush with butter or oil. Cook pancakes for a couple minutes or until there are many bubbles on the surface and edges appear dry. Flip and cook another few minutes until golden brown. Serve with real maple syrup.

Recipe adapted from the NYT

*You may substitute another type of flour if you’d like. All-purpose is a safe bet or Cup 4 Cup, for a completely gluten-free option.

Purple Potato and Kale Fritatta

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In early 2008, I spent a semester abroad in Florence, Italy. I had never left North America, and there I was, living with 6 other girls in a real Italian apartment on Via della Scala. We had a tiny, European kitchen with a tiny, European refrigerator. We shopped at the corner grocery or the Mercato Centrale, an indoor farmer’s market of sorts, buying only as much as we could carry. We lit our stove with a a match. I bought a lot of leather accessories. I stayed in hostels. I also took my very first cooking class. Each Wednesday, we prepared a 3-course meal (plus wine, certo).  For a cash-strapped student, this was one of the best meals I would eat all week. I still credit the class for my decision to attend culinary school 4 years later.

In Florence, I learned about Tuscan cucina povera cuisine – literally translated as ‘poor kitchen’. Tuscan cooks are like alchemists, transforming kitchen odds and ends into something delicious. Classics like pappa al pomodoro, ribolitta and crostini toscani are all based on what would otherwise be trash (stale bread, random bits of vegetables, livers).

A fritatta is a humble dish, an amped-up omelet with no right or wrong way about it. This is a version I dreamed up in a mad dash to clean out my fridge before the storm.

Purple Potato and Kale Fritatta

1 small shallot, thinly sliced

2 cups Tuscan/Lacinato kale (cavolo nero), thick stems removed, thinly sliced

2 small purple potatoes, diced into 1/2″ pieces

1 tsp. fresh oregano, minced

Pinch Spanish smoked paprika (‘pimenton’)

4 eggs, preferably organic

Freshly grated Parmesan, manchego or pecorino cheese

Salt, pepper and olive oil

Preheat oven to 375F.

Place potatoes in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until potatoes are fork-tender. Drain and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, in an 8″ oven-proof skillet or cast-iron pan, heat a couple teaspoons of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the shallot and a pinch of salt and sweat for a few minutes. Add the kale and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the smoked paprika and oregano. Transfer kale mixture to a bowl.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs. Add cooled kale mixture and potatoes. Season with a bit more salt and pepper. Heat a bit more olive oil in the same 8″ skillet you used for the kale. Add the egg mixture. Using a heat-proof spatula, nudge the egg mixture toward the center, tipping the pan slightly (like you would an omelet). When fritatta is set around the edges, transfer to heated oven. Bake until egg mixture is cooked in the center, about 8 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle on grated cheese. Turn your oven to broil (or place in your broiler…that’s the drawer underneath your oven where you may keep pots and pans, for those with old-school stoves). Broil until just browned. Slide fritatta onto cutting board before slicing into wedges.

Pumpkin Spice French Toast with Roasted Walnuts and Warm Maple Drizzle

It seems like everyone is on the pumpkin spice train these days. This French toast rolls the best of Fall into one. Earthy pumpkin + warm cinnamon + toasty walnuts + sweet maple syrup. Throw in some plaid, a cute pair of boots and a fuzzy sweater and you might be the season’s poster child. Best of all, this dish comes together in about 10 minutes (who says French toast is only for Sundays?)

Pumpkin Spice French Toast with Roasted Walnuts and Warm Maple Drizzle

Serves 2

Ingredients

French Toast:

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil or butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk (your choice, I used vanilla almond milk)
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 tablespoons canned pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt
  • 4 slices whole grain bread

Maple Drizzle:

  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • For garnish: 2 tablespoon walnuts, toasted and chopped*

Directions

  1. Heat  canola oil or butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat.
  2. In a shallow dish, thoroughly whisk together the eggs, milk, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla, pumpkin puree and a pinch of salt.
  3. Place the bread in the egg mixture and flip to coat each side. Transfer to the preheated skillet. Cook on medium-low for about 4 minutes or until bread slightly puffs up and the bottom is golden brown. Flip and continue cooking an additional 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a plate or to a sheet tray in a 200°oven until ready to serve.
  4. For the maple drizzle, in a small microwaveable dish, combine  maple syrup with pumpkin pie spice. Microwave for about 10 seconds.
  5. Top the french toast with toasted walnuts and drizzle with the warmed maple syrup.

*To toast walnuts, preheat oven to 350°. Place walnuts on a large rimmed sheet tray. Toast for about 8 minutes or until fragrant and lightly golden (check them often – they burn easily!) Toast up a whole mess of walnuts and store them in the freezer.

Rustic Lemon Cornmeal Cake with Warm Peach Compote

During our pastry module at school, we made some pretty impressive cakes. Layers, buttercream, ganache, the works. There is a time and a place for a fancy iced cake, and for one that is simple, rustic and weekday-quick. Like a sweeter cornbread, this cake is perfect for brunch, an afternoon snack or dessert. A gently spiced peach compote gives a nod to the cinnamon season to come.

Rustic Lemon Cornmeal Cake 

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

  •  1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, cooled
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch diameter cake pan.
  2.  In a large bowl, sift together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs, lemon peel, vanilla and almond extracts, honey and melted, cooled butter. Pour buttermilk mixture into flour mixture, gently folding to combine until just blended (do not stir). Pour batter into prepared pan and spread evening.
  3.  Bake 30 minutes or until cake pulls away from the side of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for a few minutes. You can invert the cake or serve it straight from the pan for a rustic feel. Serve warm or at room temperature with Warm Peach Compote.

Warm Peach Compote

Yield: About 1 cup

Ingredients

  • 2-3 peaches, peeled* and sliced
  • 1 T. honey
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • Pinch cinnamon
Directions
  1. In a small saucepan, combine the peaches, honey, nutmeg and cinnamon. Cook over medium, stirring occasionally. Simmer for about 10 minutes or until thickened.

*To peel peaches, bring a large pot of water to boil. Make an ‘X’ mark on peaches with a sharp knife. Set up a bowl with ice water nearby. Drop peaches into boiling water and remove with a slotted spoon after about 1 minute, or until skin starts to peel away. Place peaches in ice water for 30 seconds. Remove skin and slice.