Saturday, April 7, 2018

April Fool!

What’s cooking? Cauliflower Soup and Roasted Cauliflower with Raisins and Almonds

My friend Kathrin Bergin in NJ posted this less than a week ago.

I know it’s spring because the flowering trees in Texas have bloomed, and the bluebonnets are out. Yesterday, it hit 84 degrees. But when I woke up today, it was 47. And as I type this, it’s dropped to 43, with a wind chill of 36. I checked my phone for the weather conditions in those cities where my children live, and the temperature was the same as here in Allentown, PA, Philadelphia, and NYC. It’s APRIL, for goodness sake – would someone please tell Mother Nature?

My beleaguered daughter-in-law – mother of a lively 4-year old and 6-year-old – says, “the most recent snow day was supposed to be a holiday, but since we’ve had so many snow days, it was changed to a make-up day. So we had a snow day on a make-up snow day and we will continue to have snow days forever because spring has forsaken us and all hope is lost... but other than that, everything is peachy.”

So I’ve been thinking all day about what I can post that will raise my DIL’s spirits and get the warmth in my toes back. And I think cauliflower soup may be just the thing.  Back in February, I discovered a recipe from the folks at America’s Test Kitchen that is really something: a truly creamy soup without an ounce of cream.

Then while I was thinking about that soup, I recalled that I’ve not posted about another cauliflower recipe I liked from the March issue of Food & Wine magazine. They called it a Cauliflower Korma, a reference to a classic Indian dish in which meat or vegetables are braised in a yogurt sauce. The treatment in this case adds raisins and almonds and places the sauce under the vegetables, which was just unusual enough to pique the Kitchen Goddess’s interest.

The appearance of these two recipes for cauliflower confirms a suspicion I’ve had for a while, which is that cauliflower is a rising star in the food firmament. Sooo... you heard it here. The Kitchen Goddess is In. The. Know.

Cauliflower Soup

Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen.

Aside from the short cooking time – total, including prep, is less than an hour and 15 minutes – the best thing about this soup is the flavor, which comes about by having some of the vegetable cooked more than the rest. It turns out that cauliflower cooked just a little has a light, grassy flavor, while cauliflower cooked a lot longer has a warm, lightly sweet and nutty flavor. So when you add the cauliflower in two stages, you get a remarkable combination of both flavors. And when you top the soup off with fried florets and a drizzle of brown butter, you get my hubby to say, “This is really good,” instead of “Yes, but it’s still cauliflower.”

Serves 4-6.

1 head cauliflower (about 2 pounds), outer leaves removed
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1 leek (white and light green parts only), halved lengthwise, sliced thin, and rinsed well
1 small onion, halved and sliced thin
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 cups water
½ teaspoon sherry vinegar

Cut out the core and stem of the cauliflower and trim off the fibrous outer layer. Cut the trimmed stem crosswise into thin slices, about ¼-inch thick. Separate enough ½-inch florets to make a heaping cupful and reserve. Slice the remains of the head into ½-inch thick slabs.

Note that the KG does her cauliflower deconstructing in a rimmed baking sheet, thus containing the mess.

In a 4-5-quart Dutch oven over medium/medium-low heat, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter and add the leek, onion, and 1½ teaspoons of salt. Sauté, stirring often, until the vegetables are softened but not browned (7-8 minutes).

Add the water and half of the cauliflower slabs, including all of the sliced core, and stir. Raise the heat to bring the mix to a simmer, then adjust down enough to keep that simmer for 15 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Add the remaining cauliflower – except for the cup of florets – and stir. Return the liquid to a simmer and continue to simmer the soup until the cauliflower is tender, which should take another 15-20 minutes.

While the soup simmers, melt the other 5 tablespoons of butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the reserved florets and cook, stirring constantly, for 6-8 minutes, until the florets begin to take on a brown crust and the butter is well browned. At this point, the butter should have a slightly nutty smell. Remove the pan from the heat and use a slotted spoon to strain out the florets from the butter. Save the butter and florets separately in small bowls.

Sprinkle the vinegar over the bowl with the florets and add salt to taste. Stir. Reserve.

When the cauliflower in the soup is tender, remove the pot from the heat and process the soup in a blender for 1-2 minutes until it is very smooth. If it seems too thick, add water a few tablespoons at a time to get a consistency you like. Ideally, the soup should be just thin enough to settle back into a flat surface after being stirred.

You may want to return the soup to the pot and reheat – just remember to remove any remnants of cauliflower from the pot before you do. Season with freshly ground black pepper to taste. To serve, garnish each serving with a few of the browned florets, and drizzle on a teaspoon or two of the brown butter.

* * *

Cauliflower Korma with Blackened Raisins

Adapted from Food & Wine magazine, March 2018.

This dish uses a exotic mix of warm spices redolent of India – ginger, cardamom, and garam masala, which itself is a mix of spices. If you don’t have garam masala, you should be able to find it in the bulk spice aisle of your supermarket.

The KG loves the unusual presentation of this dish: the sauce is under the veggies. And note that this recipe also includes blackened raisins – another flavor profile that’s trending now... We are nothing if not trendy at Spoon & Ink.

Serves 4-6.

One large (2-pound) head of cauliflower, or two small heads
4 tablespoons (divided) canola oil, or other flavorless oil like grapeseed
kosher salt
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 piece fresh ginger, about 1½ inches, peeled and finely grated (use a rasp)
1 rounded teaspoon garam masala
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
pinch of cayenne pepper, or ¼ teaspoon Aleppo pepper
½ cup ground almonds, or almond meal (from bulk aisle of supermarket)
1 tablespoon honey
6 ounces plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
½ cup whole milk (can use 2%)
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 350º.

Remove the cauliflower stem and trim off the tough outer layer. Slice the stem into thin (⅛-inch thick) disks. Break the cauliflower into bite-sized florets (about 1 inch across). In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower with 2 tablespoons of the oil and ½ teaspoon salt. Spread the cauliflower in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet lined with either parchment or foil. Roast the cauliflower for 40-50 minutes, until it’s tender and lightly browned. Kitchen Goddess note: If the cauliflower is tender but not browned, run it under the broiler for a minute.

While the cauliflower is cooking, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to a large skillet over medium/medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook 10-12 minutes, stirring often, until they are soft and lightly caramelized. Add the garlic and ginger and continue to stir about 1 minute, or until fragrant, then add the four spices. Once the spices are well mixed in, add the ground almonds, honey, and ¾ teaspoon salt.

Stir continuously for about 2 minutes, until the almond meal clings to the onions, then add the yogurt and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer the sauce 8-10 minutes, until it thickens and turns lightly golden. Add the milk, stirring for 2-3 minutes or until the sauce is smooth and will coat the back of a spoon. At that point, remove the sauce from the heat and season to taste with salt. Cover until ready to serve.

Set a small skillet over medium heat and add the raisins and sliced almonds. Cook, stirring – you can shake the pan instead if you prefer. The goal is to let the raisins – but not the almonds – burn a little. The raisins will puff up as they start to blacken. This will all take about 3 minutes.

To serve, pour the sauce into a large plate and spread it around with a spoon. Add the cauliflower and top the presentation with the raisins and almonds.

Kitchen Goddess note: Food & Wine recommends serving this dish with a dry Gewürztraminer.

Stay warm and hopeful – spring will come for sure one of these days!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Springing Forward

What’s cooking? Pork Medallions with Fennel-White Wine Sauce

Well, it’s almost spring. Just not yet, even though here in Texas, we’ve got blooms aplenty on the flowering trees, and my pansies are exploding with happiness at having survived the winter. But I’m getting really tired of the hearty soups and roast chicken dinners. And the asparagus isn’t quite “local” yet, if you know what I mean.

So I was delightfully surprised to find a recipe for pork tenderloin that didn’t require roasting or bundling my prince up so that he could grill it in the cold.

I don’t remember ever having pork tenderloin from my mother’s kitchen. We often had pork chops, and occasionally pork roast, so maybe this is one of those cuts – like a tri-tip roast – that wasn’t really popular or well known back then. In any case, as a grown-up, I’ve become a big fan. It’s as tender as a beef filet but much less expensive; it’s also juicy, flavorful, and very lean. Would you like to know why it’s so tender? I thought so. The cut comes from an area along the spine, so it’s a muscle that’s used for posture instead of movement.

Even better, this particular treatment is so fast and easy, it blew me away. The cooking part of the recipe takes... drum roll, please... less than 10 minutes. Can you believe it? The Kitchen Goddess was more than a little skeptical until she made it herself.

If you’re not familiar with fennel, you may be tempted to try this recipe with celery or onion. Don’t do it. Just allow me a short digression on the vegetable, then go out and introduce yourself to it.

According to wikipedia, fennel is a highly aromatic member of the carrot family. (News to me.) It’s also a rich source of protein, dietary fiber, B vitamins and several dietary minerals. The plant came originally from the Mediterranean coast, which is why you’ll find fennel popping up in Italian cuisine. The tall, feathery fronds are often in salads or omelettes; the seeds look and taste a lot like anise; and the flowers produce a potently flavorful pollen that the Kitchen Goddess has raved about more than once. Fennel bulbs – which look like a marriage between a head of celery and a spring onion –  have a faint licorice-like taste when raw; cooked, they’re completely different. Aside from their use raw in salads, fennel bulbs make a wonderful addition to soups and risottos, and they’re terrific grilled or braised on their own. Here, the bulb adds a light, spring-like flavor to the sauce.

So now that you’re ready for the magic to happen, the most important part of the process is our old friend, mise en place. Remember: less than 10 minutes to cook? So there’s not a spare instant to pour the wine, measure the broth, or chop the herbs. Get it all ready before you turn on the stove; otherwise, you will find yourself deep in the weeds, as they say in the restaurant industry.

The recipe here is written for a one-pound piece of meat, which in my experience is about average for pork tenderloin. So it feeds two people, with some left over for a lucky soul the next day. At most, it’ll work fine for three. If I were cooking for four, I’d double the meat and use a whole fennel bulb that’s more of a medium size than large. The use of the herbs in the preparation is so fabulous, I’d at least double it if you’re cooking for four. You’ll also have to cook the meat in two shifts.

This recipe comes from A Good Food Day, by Marco Canora, chef-owner of Hearth, in New York City. In spite of (or perhaps because of) his success as a chef, Canora discovered, at age 40, that he was pre-diabetic, with high cholesterol and gout, and 30 pounds overweight. But he wasn’t willing to give up flavor for health, so he developed a way of cooking based on “simple, natural recipes fit for a food-lover’s palate.” Twenty-five pounds lighter, he published 125 of the recipes in this book.

Pork Medallions with Fennel-White Wine Sauce

Adapted from A Good Food Day, by Marco Canora (Clarkson-Potter Publishers, 2014).

Serves 2-3.

1 large garlic clove, peeled
1 rounded tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 rounded tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1-pound pork tenderloin, sliced in ½-inch thick medallions
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ large fennel bulb, diced small (¼-⅜ inch dice)
¼ cup dry white wine
¼ cup flavorful chicken broth (or ¼ cup water and ½ teaspoon Knorr Chicken Broth Powder)

Mash the garlic clove with the flat side of a chef’s knife and chop it coarsely. On a cutting board, combine the chopped garlic with the rosemary and sage, and finely chop them all together. Set the mix aside in a small bowl.

Use paper towels to blot the pork dry, and season the medallions on both sides with salt and pepper. Have a warm plate ready to receive the pork once it’s cooked.

Kitchen Goddess note: The hot oil and the moisture in the meat will make for a fair amount of grease splattered around your skillet. If you have one of those clever things called a splatter guard or splatter screen, the KG recommends you dig it out of its place behind those cake pans, or whatever obscure place you keep it. You’ll save yourself a lot of clean-up.

Set a 12-inch skillet with high sides over medium-high heat. Add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil to the skillet, and bring the oil to a shimmer. Once the oil is hot, add the medallions in a single layer and cook – without touching – for 1½ minutes. Using tongs, turn the medallions and cook the other side – again without touching – for another 1½ minutes. Transfer the meat to the warm plate to rest.

See those nice bits of brown crustiness? That's what comes from NOT TOUCHING the meat while it cooks.

While the meat rests, add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the skillet – still on medium-high heat – along with the fennel and a pinch of salt. Cook for 1 minute, using a wooden spatula or wooden spoon with a flat edge to stir the fennel and scrape up the fond (those bits of brown meat that stuck to the bottom of the skillet).

Stir the garlic and herb mixture into the fennel for 30 seconds, then add the wine, the broth, and any juices from the meat that have accumulated on the plate.

Bring the sauce to a boil and cook for 2 minutes, until it reduces by about half and thickens. Spoon the sauce over the pork medallions and serve.

The sauce is so delicious – light and herby – that I like to have something to soak up any that I can’t get with the meat, so I usually serve the meat with French bread or rice and a salad or green vegetable. If you choose rice, you’ll want to prepare it completely before you start cooking the meat, and let the rice stay warm, covered, in its saucepan while you cook the meat and sauce.

Bon appétit!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Fishy Thoughts and Oranges for Dessert

What’s cooking? A Round-up of Seafood Dishes and Oranges in Cardamom Syrup

 Again with the Lent. Seems like it was just here. And while I don’t ordinarily find some way of punishing myself for the season, I have discovered something to give up this year.

The idea came to me while I was reading the latest news from the good folks at Kellogg. Apparently, the company is launching – in a limited edition, mind you – a cereal called Unicorn Froot Loops. Really. And if you’re not offended by the spelling of “Froot,” and if the word “Unicorn” doesn’t make you want to rush out and buy some, you’ll surely be enticed by what’s in it: red, blue, and purple cereal pieces with white “crunchlets” and a “magic cupcake” flavor.

The company is so psyched about this news that they’ve opened a cereal-focused café at Union Square in Manhattan, ironically in the same area as one of the premier farmers’ markets in the country. The highlight of the café is a DIY cereal bar with more than 30 “playful toppings,” but you can also get “specialty” cereal drinks, Pop-Tarts, and ice cream sandwiches. Also an Instagram station where you can artfully photograph this crap that you’re about to shovel down your throat. Or – even better – down your kid’s throat.

Let the Kitchen Goddess offer a translation of some of these terms:
● crunchlets = pieces of candy that are cheaper to make than the actual cereal and take up weight in the box that would otherwise be actual cereal.
● magic cupcake flavor = let me take a wild guess... sugar?
● playful toppings = because I can see some of them in the website’s photos, these include marshmallows, crumbled chocolate chip cookies, multicolored white chocolate chips, jam, and what looks like crumbled energy bars drizzled with white frosting. Yum-my.

With all this in mind, I’m excited to announce that I’m giving up all Kellogg cereals for Lent.

Instead – for contrast – I’m going to focus on fish. I know that many of my friends, Catholic or not, like to observe meat-free Fridays for these 40 days. And the Kitchen Goddess supports any reasonably healthy eating habits. So we’ll start with a handful of the best fishy dishes I’ve recommended in the past. (Click on the name to get to the recipe.) And we’ll close this post with a really lovely salute to citrus season.

No-Fuss Crabby Cakes with Tartar Sauce

Fennel Flounder

Tuna-Spinach Soufflé 

Simple Salmon Cakes with Tartar Sauce

Best Broiled Fish with Roasted Fingerling Potatoes

So now that you’ve decided on dinner, let’s remember that we’re still in the heart of citrus season, and take advantage of the outstanding variety of oranges available while they’re all at their best prices.

For the dish below, the Kitchen Goddess used Cara Cara oranges and standard navel oranges. Cara Caras are also called red-fleshed navel oranges, and from the outside, the two are almost indistinguishable – at least, I haven’t found a way to tell the difference. Inside, the Cara Cara flesh is the color of ruby grapefruit but with the sweetness of standard navels, and a more complex flavor that includes hints of cherry and blackberry.

I found this recipe in a search for a way to serve stewed oranges with budino (Italian pudding). They went beautifully with the pudding, but were equally delicious the next night with nothing more than a dollop of whipped cream. You could also serve them with pound cake, angel food cake, or baked meringues (as with a Pavlova).

The strongest flavor in the syrup comes from the cardamom, a spice found frequently in dishes from Asia – India, Bhutan, Nepal, Malaysia,... Along with cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg, it’s one of the warm spices that may remind you of fall, and it’s frequently combined with them. A little spice trivia: my research says it’s considered the queen of spices (third in price after saffron and vanilla), and is useful in treating or guarding against gastrointestinal diseases including colorectal cancer, stomach disorders and urinary tract infections, improving cholesterol and blood circulation. It’s also a remedy for nausea and vomiting. And most significantly, it has aphrodisiac properties. Better stock up! Dried seeds and pods – stored away from heat or sunlight in containers with tight-fitting lids – will keep 3-4 years. Test by crushing a small amount and smelling it – if the flavor isn’t obvious, replace it.

Kitchen Goddess notes: (1) When we finished off the oranges in the first batch, I saved the syrup and added more oranges. The syrup flavor wasn’t as strong as with the first batch, but still quite good. (2) Somewhere in the process of making the syrup, the KG decided that – because ginger and oranges are a great combo – it would be really fab to add a splash of Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur, or perhaps one of the orange-based liqueurs (Grand Marnier, Cointreau, Triple Sec). Then the doorbell rang and the thought went clear out of her head. She plans to try this another time, but you can try it on your first go. Please report in if you do.

Oranges in Cardamom Syrup

Adapted from Bon Appetit, January 2002

Serves 4.

Mise en place -- what you see here is cardamom seeds on the left and pods
 to their right. Either will work.
5 oranges in a combination of navel and Cara Cara
5 cardamom pods, or ½ teaspoon cardamom seeds
3 cups water
1½ cups sugar
one 5-inch long strip of lemon peel [KG note: This is the way it was described in the original recipe, but frankly, five 1-inch pieces would do, if you get my drift. You just need lemon peel.]
1 cinnamon stick
Optional: splash (1 tablespoon?) of Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur, or an orange-based liqueur (Grand Marnier, Cointreau, Triple Sec)

With a vegetable peeler, cut a strip of peel about an inch wide and 6 inches long from one of the oranges and set it aside. Using a sharp knife, cut the peel from all the oranges, being careful to remove as much of the white pith as possible. Slice the peeled oranges in half lengthwise and cut each half crosswise into slices about ⅓-inch thick. Transfer the oranges to a large bowl.

Use a mortar and pestle or spice grinder (I use a clean electric coffee grinder) to pulverize the cardamom pods or seeds to get ½ teaspoon of powder. Don’t worry about making it a perfectly fine powder, as you’ll be straining the syrup of solids at the end; and if you are using the pods, it’s ok to pulverize the husks as well.

In a small (2-quart) heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the cardamom, orange peel, water, sugar, lemon peel, cinnamon stick, and liqueur (if using). Stir only until the sugar is dissolved. Bring the syrup to a boil, then reduce the heat enough that the mixture is only simmering. Continue simmering until the liquid is reduced to 1- 1½ cups, which will take a little more than an hour.

Once the syrup is reduced, move it off the heat and let it cool for 10 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve, and discard the solids.

Pour the warm syrup over the oranges and chill (covered) at least a couple of hours or overnight. Serve oranges with a dollop of whipped cream or over slices of pound cake or angel food cake or baked meringues. Or warm budino, for which you can find the recipe by clicking here.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Super Food -- What to Eat While You Watch

What’s cooking? Cheese Crisps and Mexican Popcorn

It is a tenet of the professional football players’ code that if you haven’t played in a SuperBowl, you don’t attend as a spectator.

Well, that does it for me: a baked-in excuse for never making it to the game. I did once participate in a game of flag football, but could never get the hang of dodging and weaving my way down the field. I grew up in Texas, where not liking football is considered at least a misdemeanor, so I faked my way through the high school games. Then I went to Vanderbilt, where football wasn’t really much more than a fun excuse to drink too much. It’s a great school, but hopelessly outnumbered in large, muscular types by its cohorts in the SEC. So the idea of taking a perfectly good weekend and immersing myself in all things football is, well,...

And now that I mention “a perfectly good weekend,” I would like to call your attention to the fact that this year’s game is being held in Minneapolis, where, as I write this post, it’s 4 degrees Fahrenheit. Hahahahaha...

So not only is it warmer to watch the game – if that’s your plan – on TV, but the best food is at someone’s house.

Speaking of food, here’s another amazing factoid: the National Chicken Council – just the thought of which makes me laugh – released its annual estimate of chicken wing consumption during the Super Bowl, and they’re predicting 1.35 billion wings (that’s billion, with a “b”) will be eaten this Sunday.

Friends, friends – as much as I like chicken wings, which, okay, isn’t all that much, there are so many more gratifying things to eat that won’t get red goop all over your hands. And just to prove it, the Kitchen Goddess presents six of her very best crowd pleasers that also won’t leave you wondering what to do with the bone.

Curried Butternut Squash Soup:  A lovely down-to-earth taste, served in small glasses or cups

Cheesy Black-eyed Pea Dip: One of the all-time great party hits, and yes, I did recommend them for last year’s game.

Sausage-stuffed Dates: Ditto.

Marinated Zucchini:  A healthy snack – who’d have guessed?!

Parmesan Gougères: Not as frou-frou as they sound, and you can make the dough, form the balls, and freeze them. Pop ’em into the oven frozen, and add a couple of minutes to the cook time.

Ultimate Mac 'n Cheese: Yes, you’ll need a plate, but who doesn’t like macaroni and cheese at this time of year?

None of these take much time, but in case you’re really strapped, here are two more that are so simple and easy you can practically make them with your eyes closed (though I wouldn’t recommend it).

Cheese Crisps

Pre-heat oven to 375º. Line two half-sheet baking pans (13" x 18") with baker’s parchment. [N.B. The Kitchen Goddess is here to warn you against trying this recipe with anything but baker’s parchment or a Silpat sheet. Without one of these treatments, that cheese will harden to something like permafrost on your pans.]

For the cheese, you’ll need a tablespoon of grated cheese per crisp, so if you want 16 crisps, for instance, you’ll need a cup of grated cheese (about 4 ounces).

The cheese should be coarsely grated using the large holes on a box grater, or the grater blade on a food processor – not the fine grate of a rasp. Hard cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano or Peorino Romano work well, as do cheddar and Manchego (Spanish sheep’s milk cheese). You can also make the crisps with a mix of cheeses.

Using a tablespoon measure, place mounds of cheese onto the parchment. With your fingers, spread the cheese out to form thin circles 2½ -3 inches in diameter, making sure to leave 1-1½ inches between the circles.

Bake 5-7 minutes, watching carefully in the last couple of minutes because some cheeses will cook faster than others, to make sure they don’t burn. Cool them on the baking sheet, and store them in an airtight container.

If you’re feeling adventuresome, add a bit of cayenne pepper or other favorite herb or spice to the shredded cheese; but really, they’re just fine as they are.

* * *

Kitchen Goddess notes: (1) You will notice here that the KG has used store-bought popcorn, which normally she would see as heresy. But sometimes you just want to go the easy route. If you’re in this camp, just be sure to buy popcorn with the least amount of seasoning, so as to maintain the flavor profile of the spices you’re going to add. (2) Nutritional yeast sounds like some weird, hippy thing, but it’s available in the bulk food area of most grocery stores. It’s a deactivated yeast – so no making bread with it – that has a great cheesy, slightly nutty flavor. And it’s a “complete protein,” so it comes with iron and B12, as well as other B vitamins. It’s low in fat and sodium, sugar-free and gluten-free. (3) The KG had no limes (!), so she pulled an Omani dried lime out of her spice pantry and ground it to a fine powder. If you have Omani dried limes – and a few friends do – it’s a fabulous substitute here.

Mexican Popcorn

1 6-ounce bag low-sodium, low-fat popcorn (or pop your own)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ cup nutritional yeast flakes (see note above)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper (freshly ground is best)
zest of one lime

Put the popcorn into a large bowl and toss it with the melted butter, starting with about a quarter of the butter and working in 3-4 stages as you toss the popcorn and add more butter.

Mix the salt and spices and lime zest together well. When the butter has been evenly incorporated into the popcorn, add the spice mixture, also in 3-4 stages: sprinkling some over the popcorn, then tossing it.

Enjoy the game!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The No-Cost Gift

What’s cooking? Curried Squash &  Red Lentil Soup with Parsley Oil

In this Age of Acrimony, the Kitchen Goddess has been thinking that maybe we just need to start small, rebuilding trust and good will on a truly local level. So here are a handful of suggestions – admittedly, not all of which are no-cost, but we have to start somewhere...

The truly no-cost gift

1. Shake someone’s hand, and while you do, look them in the eyes and tell them how glad you are to see them or how much you appreciate what they do or who they are in your life. If hand-shaking seems inappropriate, try putting your hand on his/her arm or shoulder. Scientific research now correlates physical touch with a broad assortment of benefits, including decreased violence, increased trust, greater well-being in terms of reduced cardiovascular stress and increased production of white blood cells, and increased cooperation.

2. Hold the door open for someone. Expressing kindness to others, even strangers, makes you feel better about yourself.

3. Take a moment to tell a sales clerk “Thank you.” It’s a pretty brutal time of year for those people – they have to find the energy after work to do their own shopping. So say something nice to them. Especially grocery store clerks – you have no idea how many of them get little acknowledgment of their work or their presence in your life.

The low-cost gift

1. Drop a $5 bill in a Salvation Army bucket, and thank the man/woman in the Santa suit for helping out.

2. Pay it forward. Cover the cost of the car behind you in line at your favorite drive-through. At one fast-food restaurant in Canada, the spirit was so infectious, it caught on for more than 200 cars in a row.

OK, maybe this one might cost more than a little

If you keep your eyes open, you’ll find opportunities everywhere. In my grocery store the other day, the elderly man in front of me was having a hard time making his credit card work. “Let’s use this one,” I said, as I swiped my card through the machine. When he realized I was offering to pay for his groceries, he was so overwhelmed, I thought he was going to hug me. The clerk and I just grinned at each other. Made my day, I can tell you.

And in the spirit of feeling warm and fuzzy, here’s the Kitchen Goddess’s gift to you. It takes about an hour and 15 minutes in total (even with the chopping!), as long as you can find pre-cut butternut squash – if not, add another 20 minutes. It’s gluten-free and lactose-free, and it tastes like a quiet evening in front of a crackling fire.

Kitchen Goddess notes: (1) Ginger is one of those herbs or spices that pack a tremendous punch in raw form – so much more than the powdered stuff. It may be the most important ingredient in this soup, so make an effort to pick up a nice big piece of ginger root at the grocery store for this recipe. Freeze what you don’t use – peeled or unpeeled – there’s always a knob of ginger in the KG’s freezer, and it’s almost easier to grate in the frozen state. To remove the skin – even when frozen  use a veggie peeler or scrape the edge of a spoon against the ginger. Grate it on a rasp.

(2) The Omani lime I mention is a great flavor-enhancer for soups and stews, especially ones like this with a Middle Eastern flavor. Small limes boiled briefly in salt brine, they are then dried in the sun for several weeks, until they start to resemble..., well, something that’s been boiled in salt brine and dried in the sun for weeks. Dimpled, musty smelling, and almost black on the inside. Sort of like some of the lemons and limes in the bottom of my fridge’s fruit drawer. Only these are rock hard and have an amazing citrus flavor. An article in The NY Times described them as “one of those power ingredients that can transform a whole range of dishes with virtually no effort on your part.” The KG gets hers from – where else? – A 4-ounce bag will run you about $8.

(3) The parsley oil (or cilantro oil) isn’t a must but it adds another level of flavor to this dish. I know, it sounds very frou-frou, but it’s really easy to make and will last quite a while in your fridge. If you make it with parsley, use only leaves (the stems are bitter); with cilantro, you can use leaves and stems.

Curried Squash and Red Lentil Soup

Adapted from a recipe by Ruth Cousineau in Gourmet magazine, February 2009

Serves 4-6 (main course)


For the soup:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1½ pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
1 large onion, diced (about 1¼ cups)
2-3 medium carrots, diced (¾ cup)
2 celery ribs plus leaves, diced (¾ cup)
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2½  tablespoons grated ginger
2 tablespoons mild (sweet) curry powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper (can substitute ¼ teaspoon chili flakes or a dash of cayenne)
1 cup red lentils, picked over and rinsed
2 quarts water
6 teaspoons Knorr powdered Chicken Bouillon (or 3 large bouillon cubes)
1 dried Omani lime (optional – see Note above)
1-1½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice

For cilantro/parsley oil:
½ cup chopped cilantro (or parsley)
½ cup vegetable oil or grapeseed oil
½ teaspoon salt

Accompaniment: cooked basmati rice (optional)


In a large heavy pot over medium heat, melt the butter with the oil until the foam subsides. Add the squash, onion, carrots, celery, garlic, ginger, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, about 20 minutes.

Add the curry powder, cumin, and Aleppo pepper (or chili flakes) and cook, stirring constantly, for another 2 minutes.

Stir in the water, then add the lentils, the Knorr powder, and the dried lime (if you have any). Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook, covered, until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes.

While the soup is cooking, make the cilantro/parsley oil: purée the herb of your choice in a blender with the oil and the salt.

Take the soup off the heat and stir in the lemon juice plus ½ teaspoon salt. Discard the dried lime. If you like a creamier look, purée a cup or two of the soup in a blender, and add that back to the pot. Season to taste with additional salt and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle about a teaspoon of the herb oil on each serving of soup.

The original recipe called for serving the soup over Basmati rice, but the Kitchen Goddess prefers it straight, and only adds rice when there’s not enough soup for a meal.

Happy holidays to you all, and may the spirit of giving embrace you and guide you throughout the year.