Roasted Root Vegetables with Herbs and Vinaigrette

>> Monday, September 30, 2013

Roasted Root Vegetables with Herbs and Vinaigrette

The time of year when farmers and gardeners are digging up root vegetables is always a bit exciting for me. When you're pulling up the plants that have been flourishing all summer, you don't know exactly what bounty has been growing under your feet.

With other vegetables, you watch them develop from flower to little swelling nubs to lusty ripe full-grown foods. Root vegetables are more dramatic, growing quietly underground, maybe peeking out a shoulder from a crack in the soil, until their big reveal at the end of their season.

Root vegetables are also some of the most long-storing of all produce, something that people in regions of long cold winters have counted on since the early days of agriculture.

I learned just how important cold storage and root cellars can be to these people when I was researching for my book,  The Complete Guide to Food Preservation: Step-by-step Instructions on How to Freeze, Dry, Can, and Preserve Food.  Without those methods of storage, many people would not have made it through a winter on a meat and grain diet alone.

This recipe gives you a chance to branch out and try some vegetables you may have passed by in the past. Experiment with any combination of parsnips, turnips, beets, radishes, celery and cassava root, rutabagas, fennel and kohlrabi bulbs, and yams, along with the familiar potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic. I bet you'll find some new favorite veggies in this mix.


4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinaigrette
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp rosemary, snipped
2 tsp thyme, snipped
2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 tsp prepared horseradish
2 pounds root vegetables, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
8 fingerling or tiny new potatoes, scrubbed


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Whisk together the garlic, oil, salt and pepper, rosemary, thyme, parsley, and horseradish. Toss with the vegetables, then spread them out on a baking sheet. We covered the baking sheet with foil to make clean-up easier, but this is optional.

Roast the vegetables at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally so that the veggies don't stick or get too browned on one side. Check the densest vegetables, like parsnips, cassava, or radishes, for tenderness - they will take the longest to cook.

Serves 4-6.


Grilled Squash and Almond Quinoa

>> Monday, September 23, 2013

Grilled Squash and Almond Quinoa

It suddenly feels like fall here in Chicago - crisp apple weather, bright leaf weather, comforting cable sweater time. Fall kind of crept up on me this year, but I really noticed it last Thursday.

Graceland Cemetery, flooded path 2013

I'm taking an urban photography class right now, and last week we were in the famous Graceland Cemetery in the Wrigleyville neighborhood of Chicago. Graceland was founded as Chicago grew northward into the Lincoln Park area. The cemetery there was dug up and transported to Irving Park road and Clark Street. This is where many of the most famous Chicagoans are buried: Marshall Field, Potter and Bertha Palmer, Louis Sullivan, Mies van der Rohe, and George Pullman.

Graceland Cemetery, Field monument
Graceland Cemetery, Field monument

It was pouring when my class gathered in the coffee shop to critique last week's photos - and when I say pouring, I mean flash-flood storm. But at the cemetery, there was only a quiet drip of rain off the enormous spreading trees, and a warm blanket of misty air that muffled all the noise from the surrounding streets.

Graceland Cemetery, Glessner grave
Graceland Cemetery, Glessner grave

Graceland is famed for its park-like setting and Gilded-Age mausoleums in Romanesque, Art Nouveau, and intricate Art Deco styles. When I took my eyes from these statues and simple graves, I noticed that the first reds and yellows were appearing on the leaves. In few places, leaves and crab apples scattered across the graves.

Graceland Cemetery, fall 2013

It was a beautiful place to spend a day, wandering among breathtakingly beautiful monuments and lush, overarching trees.

Graceland Cemetery, fall 2013

I'm not a particularly superstitious, but one monument has sort of haunted me since that visit. It is the tomb of Peter Schopenhofen, shaped as a pyramid. To the left of the door stands a statue of an angel facing anyone who approaches; to the right, lying side wise facing anyone touching the door handle, is a Sphinx. He's a little unsettling.

Graceland Cemetery, Shoenhofen tomb

What I do have is an unfortunately vivid imagination, and as I focused my camera closely on his face (my side to the bronze asp curled around the door handle), I suddenly imagined his eyes coming to life, and knew that if that happened, I would drop dead immediately of a stopped heart.

By the time I got home, after lunch at Reza's Persian restaurant, my shoes were soaked and muddy, and I had a chill. I changed into a warm sweater and started the grill for this luscious winter squash and toasted almond quinoa. I had quite an appetite that night.

Later, when I looked through the images of the day, I was so pleased with the photos. Except the Sphinx. I thought of that statue endlessly staring at the wing of the angel across from him. It was full night, a harvest moon, and he was standing guard at the door of a stone grave. I may not be superstitious, but this was somehow sad. I wonder what the sculpture might have meant to the owner of the tomb, or the designer who created it.

This is what I do with my excess of imagination, when I'm not cooking or working on my novel.


1 to 1 1/2 pound butternut, acorn, or other winter squash
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 cup quinoa
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 tsp rosemary, snipped
1/3 cup scallions, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup slivered almonds or peeled pumpkin seeds (pepitas), toasted


Heat the grill to medium. Cut the squash into quarters and scoop out the seeds. Drizzle with the oil and sprinkle the nutmeg on the cut side of the quarters. Place on the grill, skin side down, and cook 10 minutes. Flip over and grill the other side for 10 minutes. The flesh should be slightly charred but still a little firm. Remove and let it cool until you can handle it.

Cut the squash from the skin. Place in a medium pot with the rest of the ingredients except the nuts. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Cover, reduce heat, and cook the quinoa about 10 minutes, or as the package directs. Remove the cover, fluff the grains, and let it sit for a minute before serving. Sprinkle with the nuts before serving.

Makes 4 - 6 side dish servings.


Pumpkin Patch Cheese Bites

>> Monday, September 16, 2013

Pumpkin Patch Cheese Bites

These cute little cheese balls are fun for a fall party or an appetizer for an afternoon football game. You'll really be surprised how easy they are to make. We gave an appetizer cooking class a week ago, and the pumpkin balls were a hit.

In this cooking demo, Joe also got a chance to talk about his passion for sharp knives, which sounds a little scary, but he really does love cooking with razor-sharp knives. We have two different knife sharpeners, and I begin to drool like one of Pavlov's dogs when I hear him sharpening, because I know something delicious is on its way to the table.

Anyway, back to these appetizers. You can make these several days ahead of time and store them in the fridge until you're ready to serve them. Put the pretzels in last, if you won't be serving them for a while, because they tend to get a little stale. We like our pretzels crunchy.


4 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 8-oz package cream cheese, softened
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp onion powder
2 tsp ground mustard


About 1/4 cup curly parsley leaves
About 15 pretzel sticks, cut in half
1/2 cup chopped pecans

pumpkin-shaped cheese balls


In an electric mixer or food processor, cream the cheeses and spices together until well mixed, about 5 minutes. The mixture is completely mixed when you can no longer see cheese shreds and the mixture resembles dough. If the mixture is too dry and crumbly, add a little milk; if it feels sticky, add a little bit of flour.

Scoop 1/2 tablespoon of cheese mixture, then roll it between your palms until it forms a smooth round ball. This might be easier after chilling the cheese. With a butter knife, press lines into the ball in three angles to look like the ridges on a pumpkin. Press half a pretzel stick into each ball, then press the bottom of the ball in the chopped pecans.

With a toothpick, press small parsley sprigs into the top of the pumpkins to resemble leaves. They should stick pretty easily.

Makes about 30 pumpkin bites.


Fab Four Mexican Recipes

>> Friday, September 13, 2013

Some people think that Cinco de Mayo is the Mexican Independence Day, but Mexicans really celebrate their independence from Spain on September 16. On this date in the year 1810, they began a revolt against Spain, and eventually became a free country. It's a national holiday in which people make special foods and enjoy great celebrations, fireworks, fancy cakes and cookies, and lots of decorations.

In honor of the holiday, I'm presenting four fabulous authentic Mexican dishes -- some ancient, some modern, all perfectly easy to make. These talented Mexican cooks and bloggers deserve a good look, if you love Mexican food as much as we do!

1: Empanadas of the Immaculate Conception (meat turnovers)from  Pati's Mexican Table.

2: Stuffed Chicken with Mango-Poblano Sauce, from What's Cooking, Mexico? - luscious mangoes and tangy poblano peppers dress up chicken breasts.

3: Red Pork Pozole Soup, from Mexico in My Kitchen - a traditional savory soup with large white hominy kernels.

4: Polvorones Ricas (holiday cookies dusted with powdered sugar), from De La Tierra - these sugar cookies are especially popular at Easter.

Viva Mexico!


Shoyu Pork Ramen Noodles

>> Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Shoyu Pork Ramen Noodles

In our last free issue of Bon Appetit magazine (September 2013), they're featuring a recipe for pork shoyu ramen. Shoyu is a type of soup base made with soy, and their version sounds wonderful. The only thing is, it takes 3 days to make.

We are crazy about authentic ramen dishes, but not so crazy that we'd plan ahead to start making the broth one day, cooking the meats the next, and assembling the soup on the third day before serving. Granted, it's not a whole lot of work, it's just that we're a bit more spontaneous about dinner than that. So we took their recipe, made a few short-cuts, and loved the results.

If you start this recipe in a crock pot, final touches and assembly at the end will take only about 10 or 15 minutes. This makes a quick and easy restaurant-quality dinner for a weekday meal!

I'd made chicken stock the week before because I had boiled some chicken thighs with vegetable scraps to make Cranberry-Chicken Pasta Salad. Chicken broth from powdered bouillon or canned broth works, also. If you can't find kombu, the thick dried Japanese kelp that flavors the broth, or dried Bonito fish flakes, drop in a fish bouillon cube from Knorr or Better Than Bouillon. The flavor boost is fantastic.

Crazy about ramen too? Try our Spicy Chili-Chicken Ramen.


For the soup

1 1/2 lbs boneless pork shoulder
2 4x2" pieces of kombu
1/4 cup bonito flakes
1 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sake
2 tbsp rice vinegar
6 cups chicken broth or bouillon
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 bunches green onions, chopped
1 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1 5-oz can bamboo shoots
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2" coins

For the garnishes

3 large eggs
Six 5-oz packages fresh wavy ramen noodles, or 3-oz. packages dried wavy ramen noodles (try to find ones that haven't been fried)
About 3 tbsp chili-garlic paste
About 3 tbsp sesame oil


Tie up the pork shoulder in kitchen twine so that it doesn't fall apart during cooking. In a large stock pot, brown the pork on all sides in the oil. Place the kombu, bonito flakes, soy, sake, vinegar, chicken broth, garlic, half of the green onions, and ginger into the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, covered, until the meat is tender, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Note: this part can be done in a crock pot on low heat, simmering hands-free all day.

Remove the pork from the stock pot and allow it to cool. Strain the broth through a sieve and return to the pot; if there are less than two quarts of stock, add more water or broth. Place the bamboo shoots and carrots in the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.

In a separate pan, cook the noodles according to the package directions, then drain and set aside. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil, then gently add the eggs, and boil for 7 minutes. Rinse them in cool water, then peel them and slice them in half. Slice the pork into 1/2" circles.

To assemble the bowls of soup, divide the noodles between six deep bowls, then divide the pork between them. Ladle the soup and vegetables over the noodles, then add an egg half to each bowl. Sprinkle with the other half of the green onions. Bring the chili-garlic paste and sesame oil to the table, and let each diner drizzle over the soup as much as they choose.

Serves 6.


Blueberry Crumb Cake

>> Monday, September 2, 2013

Blueberry Crumb Cake

I made this coffeecake to bring along on the family camping trip this weekend, where we romped on a gorgeous Lake Michigan beach for two days. If you ever get a chance to visit Grand Haven, Michigan, you shouldn't miss it; there's a reason Michigan is called "The Third Coast". The sugar-sand beaches here are as gorgeous and well-maintained as those on the Atlantic or Pacific - without the heavy waves or eye-burning salt water.


Grand Haven State Beach, Michigan

If you ever get tired of splashing in the surf, playing in the sand, or relaxing on a blanket in the sun, it's fun to head into Grand Haven proper. The boardwalk leads up the river to a lighted musical fountain, ice cream shops, and a pretty little town with some interesting stores and cafes.

Lighthouse, Grand Haven Michigan

Grand Haven pier, with its iconic red lighthouses, is a pretty walk. Teens perform back flips into the water and boats anchor along the edge to watch the sun set over the lake. The sunsets over Lake Michigan are stunning; sunrises over the lake, from the Illinois side, are just not the same to me.

Grand Haven Pier, Sunset,

We even saw a huge tanker come in off the lake and cruise up the river past the dwarfed yachts and sailboats. Grand Haven is beautiful.

Say hello to my parents, and the tanker Cuyahoga.

We devoured this blueberry coffee cake yesterday while pulling up stakes and stowing camping gear. My nephew Alex was the last one to stumble out of my sister's pop-up camper in the morning. When he took his first bite, he just said, "WOW." It was a good "wow". This is teen-approved food, from a teen who needs serious fuel.

Alex skimboarding
I really want to skimboard like Alex does.

Then I took the fork out of his hand and told him to eat with his fingers, because I was doing the last of the dishes.

blueberry crumb cake camping

We headed out of the PJ Hoffmaster State Park and down to the beach for another day in the sun. None of us really wanted to leave on such a gorgeous day, but eventually we drove off for Ann Arbor and Chicago and Toledo. Today we're relaxing and slowly sweeping sand out of everything (really, EVERYTHING), and washing everything that smells like woodsmoke and bug spray. I really wish I'd made a second batch of this rich and moist cake for us to enjoy today. And by the way, I'm sunburned in places I didn't even know I could burn.


For the cake:

1 stick of butter (8 tbsp)
2/3 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp lemon zest
2/3 cup sour cream
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
2 tbsp flour

For the crumb topping

1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
6 tbsp butter, melted
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x11" baking pan.

Cream the butter and sugar together in an electric mixer. Add the eggs, vanilla, lemon zest, and sour cream; beat on low speed until combined. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Slowly add the flour mixture to the batter, while beating, until just combined. The batter will be fairly thick.

Place the berries in a bowl and sprinkle with the 2 tbsp of flour (this will help them from falling to the bottom of the cake). Gently stir them into the batter. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and spread it out over the pan.

Combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a bowl. Stir in the melted butter and then the flour. Sprinkle over the top of the batter.

Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Serves 6-8.

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