Dinner with the Sweet Baby

At Downtown Abbey, Mr. Carson suggested he make Jamie Oliver’s “Vegan Lentil Sloppy Joes, and I said, “Oh I love sloppy Joes.” I admit the ground beef version is not my usual fare, but deep-seated fond memories stir. Our younger son replied the same way when I proposed them at his house. They are deliciously sloppy and nurturing.

By my second visit (after a week away) Sweet Baby had gained 10 ounces and grown an inch! She begins to fill out – with a hint of the double chin and chub to come.

Most days, after my treasured early mornings with her, I’d walk in the California hot sun up the nearby hill in Eagle Rock – a well-worn knob above Occidental College. From the top it provides a 360° view of Los Angeles: downtown, the Hollywood hills and Griffith Observatory, the San Gabriel Mountains behind Pasadena, freeways – and Sweet Baby’s house a speck in the distance.

She is so tiny to live in such a huge city! But her small world comforts and protects her. She spends time on her parents in a Solly Baby wrap – pale pink with polka dots. She peeks up at their faces, and you can see the outline of her little form within the wrap. During “tummy time,” she turns her head from side to side, staring at the black and white and red books favored by the very young.

In a very happy event, the Sweet Bride’s mom and a cousin are coming for a month from Thailand to meet the Sweet Baby. Perhaps they will try this all-American fare:

Sauté a small, diced onion, diced red or yellow pepper, and two sticks of celery (also diced) in a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat until soft. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of ground cumin and one of chili powder.

Add a cup of French lentils, three cups of water, a 28-ounce can of tomatoes (sauce or crushed), three tablespoons of tomato paste, and one of Sriracha sauce. Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered until the lentils are soft (a while – at least half an hour). When tender, add a teaspoon of salt and two teaspoons of balsamic vinegar.

Serve the lentils in sloppy Joe fashion, over or in a buttered and toasted whole-wheat bun. Add toppings – big scoops of avocado for sure. (Oliver suggests homemade zucchini relish, but that’s for another time.)

What used to be happy hour in Eagle Rock with chips and beer on the veranda now coincides with the ill-famed “witching hour,” when babies need most to move and be comforted by contact. I loved watching the Sweet Baby in the front wrap on her dad, as he paced his garden and shushed her gently.

Sloppy Joes can wait, ready when you are.

pepper

 

Blistered Tomato and Lentil Salad

Fresh tomatoes and squash sit side by side on the kitchen counter this time of year – bounty that encourages cooking after a summer of flagging interest.

Our CSA arrived with beautiful tomatoes and a recipe for using them. And tomatoes padded in my carry-on, I headed north to Anchorage earlier this month.

And very glad I was to see Lady Baby! We did all our usual things – playgrounds and much, much reading – she knows many books by heart, but is quick to point to text and request “say these words” when she doesn’t.

I attended her music class, and observed with her and her mom at a preschool. We met the bunnies, Lefty and Righty (named for their cage alignment), watched children raking patterns in fallen leaves, sliding, running, digging potatoes, and pulling carrots and washing them to make soup (feeding the tops to the bunnies). It looked like great fun for next fall.

Before I arrived, Mr. Carson had cooked lentils, and a batch of Deborah Madison’s “White Bean Soup with Pasta.” (The soup provided dinner, warming lunch many days, and a reminder that soup matters in autumn. The trick to that soup is to cook for a long time.)

If you haven’t lentils already prepared, the recipe for “Blistered Tomato and Lentil Salad,” adapted from honestcooking.com, says to soak half a cup of rinsed brown lentils in three cups of water (for at least three hours to shorten cooking time), then rinse and cook with dash of salt and three cups of water for about 15 minutes.

Blister a cup of halved or roughly chopped tomatoes by cooking on high heat with a garlic clove, tablespoon of olive oil, and salt in a sauté pan (about five to seven minutes).

Combine the cooked and drained lentils with the tomato mixture in a large bowl. Add a cup of thinly sliced kale (I’ve used all kinds in this) and quarter cup of chopped red onion.

Dressing puts the zing in the lentils and kale. Combine one tablespoon each of Dijon mustard and white rice vinegar, half tablespoon of tahini, two tablespoons of olive oil, and half teaspoon of cumin powder. Whisk. Dress the salad and serve right away or refrigerate.

I got almost this far, salad ready to dress, Hassleback potatoes in the oven, when Mrs. Hughes came home and took over while I read more books with Lady Baby. (Such a treat to have help with cooking from the other staff at Downtown Abbey.)

Mrs. Hughes sautéed zucchini (a Lady Baby favorite), roasted cut-up purple carrots with olive oil and salt, and in the perfect finishing touch to the lentil salad – fried an egg to top each serving.

Hearty autumn meal (and great leftovers the next day). I’m inspired to cook again!

Fried egg - paper

Fried Rice With Vegetables

When the sweet bride made fried rice with kale, it was delicious! “Oh sure, I will send you my recipe,” she said. Sounded simple.

Sauté minced garlic with olive oil in a pre-heated wok or skillet on medium high heat. After the garlic is golden brown, add diced carrots, and stir for five to six minutes until the carrots are soft. Add one or two diced tomatoes. Stir. Cook for a few minutes more, then add cooked rice and combine.

Make a hole by pushing the mixture to the sides of the pan, add two or three eggs, let them stand for a few minutes and stir as you would scrambled eggs. Then finish by mixing the eggs into the rice. (Add the kale at this point.)

There are pitfalls for the inexperienced: the threat of gooey rice, the risk of eggs not mixing in well. One voice of caution suggested that in the hands of a non-expert, things might get mushy.

Some cooks suggest beginning with cold (even frozen leftover rice). And Frugal Feeding recently posted (here) about cooking the eggs separately as a little omelette, then rolling it up and cutting it into pieces before adding. Foolproof he says, and the bites of egg stay separate and taste great.

I also happened on Post Punk Kitchen’s recipe for “Brussels Sprout Fried Rice” (here). She cooks the sprouts (trimmed and quartered) with the carrots (and outlines some other possibilities).

I asked the sweet bride if she thought that would work – “Of course,” she said, “that would be delicious!”

kale

Yotam Ottolenghi Dresses My Fridge

The great strength of our London flat was location. From a bus stop at the top of our street, we could ride for five minutes, hop off at Notting Hill Gate Tube station, and be transported to royal London, business London, theatre London.

And just a short walk from our flat, making it easy to bring home boxes of delicious food, we found the famous chef Yotem Ottolenghi’s Notting Hill establishment, on Ledbury Aveue. It’s a tiny skinny place with just one big communal table at the back for eating there, but in the front space, which can’t be more than 10 feet across, huge platters of salads and meats are on offer each day. In a display window on the street, delicious desserts vie for attention.

Thanks to Ottolenghi’s cookbooks, you can do it all at home with your own fresh, seasonal ingredients. I have his book “Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi,” and, most cherished in a recipe book, it’s full of inspiration. (The links here are from his Guardian newspaper recipe column.) Ottolenghi’s meal-making salads combine unexpected ingredients and dressings. The wordsmith recently made “Sweet Winter Slaw”( http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2008/jan/12/recipe.foodanddrink) using green cabbage and substituting kale for savoy cabbage – so good!

I read his recipe “Roasted parsnips and Sweet Potatoes with Caper Vinaigrette” (http://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2008/jan/19/weekend7.weekend4) before tackling the motley, approaching antique, vegetables I found in my fridge when we got home. An investigation of the crisper drawer revealed parsnips, turnips, some of which turned out to be very large radishes, and some mature beets. I also had a big sweet potato, several shallots, a garlic bulb, sprigs of rosemary from the garden and thyme from a pot on the porch. Ottolenghi magic transformed this bunch into an amazing winter meal!

His hints about the order and time for roasting make this work. To begin he mixes olive oil, parsnips, red onions in a bowl (I used the shallots and the other vegetables I had). He roasts these (at 350°) for about 20 minutes. Then adds the sweet potato, chopped into wedges to the mixture, and stirs to coat.

After another 40 or 50 minutes, he adds halved cherry tomatoes. (I didn’t have those.)

I had to make substitutions in the dressing – I didn’t have the called for lemon, so squeezed a little tangerine juice into two tablespoons of olive oil, maple syrup, Dijon mustard, capers, and salt. Ottolenghi also calls for roasted sesame seeds.

Lately watching “Downton Abbey,” I think how we certainly don’t dress for dinner. But we should dress the vegetables, giving then a new life out of the drawer, a dressier life. Delicious.

Parsnips with Hats - cropped

Pumpkin Muffins – Prescribed

At my annual checkup, my doctor suggested I try the muffins she makes for her family’s breakfast, and scribbled the recipe on her prescription pad. The muffins are delicious and satisfying – no added sugar – just real food in the fun form of a muffin. Tasty, nurturing, and nutritious.

I took the last of a batch to Downtown Abbey, planning to eat a muffin with my oatmeal while Lady Baby ate toast with her oatmeal. No. Lady Baby pointed at the muffin. I said, “Well maybe try a little bit?” That piece gone, she pointed again and again, saying politely each time, “More pease!” A hit.

To make the muffins you combine two cups of almond flour with one-half teaspoon of salt and two teaspoons of baking powder in a large bowl. Set aside. (At this point I add powdered ginger, cinnamon, and a little grated nutmeg.)

Blend in the food processor a half-can of pumpkin, two or more whisked eggs, two ripe bananas (approximately a cup), and a half-cup of olive or coconut oil. (I’ve only used olive oil but suspect coconut would be good.)

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk. Fold in blueberries, and nuts if you like. (Pecans add a good crunch.)

This single batch of batter fills a tray of 12 muffins. (I often double the recipe and freeze the muffins in foil-wrapped packets of three, then warm them up in the toaster oven before eating.)

To allow the muffins to come out of the pan more easily, I’ve learned to cut a little parchment paper circle for the bottom of each oiled muffin compartment. (Cupcake papers leave too much muffin on the paper for me.)

Bake at 400° for approximately 22 minutes (my oven takes a little longer). Let cool before gently removing the muffins.

If any bits break off in the process, eat immediately, and gladly – after all, doctor’s orders!

Pumpkin cropped

Vedge – A Vegetable Restaurant

On the visit back East, we stayed in Center City – what Philadelphians call the heart of their city – full of historic sites, shopping, a broad thoroughfare with world-class museum offerings – and restaurants!

And I discovered maybe my favorite-ever restaurant! Located in an elegant townhouse on Locust Street, Vedge has a lively atmosphere, an attentive, enthusiastic wait staff, good lighting, and comfy seats. To eat in such a beautiful, “hip” restaurant and be able to eat everything was such a treat for me.

While Vedge’s chef/owners, husband and wife team Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby, use no animal products in their kitchen, they choose to call Vedge “a vegetable restaurant.” The title reflects the stars of the show, “vegetables at the forefront,” not an after thought or side dish. Vegetables dominate the menu – the starters, the hot dishes and, of course, “The Dirt List.” Seasonal and local goes without saying.

On our night The Dirt List included Brussels sprouts, broccolini, beets, green beans, zucchini, mushrooms, and fingerling fries. The plates are small, a little like tapas, providing multiple opportunities for taste adventures. From the saffron cauliflower soup to the über chunk chocolate dessert – it was all beautifully presented and so flavorful!

Two nights later we returned to Vedge with an old friend who lives nearby (I love repeating a known pleasure on a trip, and it’s fun to become a little bit of a “regular”). It was Restaurant Week in Philadelphia and no reservations available, but we were invited to show up in hopes of nabbing one of the unreserved tables overlooking the open kitchen.

No luck – but – the creative seater at the front desk found us a little velvet couch in a corner with three stools – one for sitting and two for plates of food – a cozy spot on a rain-splattered night to catch up with our old friend and explore more Vedge dishes!

On the plane back to the West Coast I read all of the chefs’ newly published cookbook: “Vedge: 100 Plates Large and Small That Redefine Vegetable Cooking.” I heartily recommend this book – a great treat for the cook at your house (that would probably be you!). The chefs travel the world seeking ways to adapt traditional flavors to their vegetable-centric menu.

The book is inspiring. The second night home I made their Portobello frites (an adaptation of Steak frites you’d find in a French bistro) featuring “a juicy red wine reduction that sings with tarragon and a touch of Dijon” – terrific! (And quicker and easier than it sounds.)

I’ll be revisiting Vedge’s cookbook in the blog – and dreaming of revisiting Vedge!

Brussels sprouts