Sweet Potatoes with Yogurt, Spinach, and Chickpeas

Inspired by this recipe on Epicurious, I took these in basically a totally different direction, so here’s my version.

For the potatoes (4-6 medium-sized sweet potatoes): cut in half, brush cut sides with oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast, cut side down, in a 450° oven for 25 minutes, or until fork tender. Let cool until handle-able. Scoop out the edible bits and mash together. Add butter, honey, cinnamon, cardamom, salt and pepper to taste, mix, and spoon back into skins. Throw in the oven for the last ten minutes or so of the chickpea cooking time.

For the chickpeas: drain and rinse 2 15-oz. cans of chickpeas. Mix with olive oil, cumin, paprika, chili powder or crushed chili flakes, salt and pepper, to taste. Roast at 375° for 15-20 minutes, until roasty and delicious.

For the spinach: honestly, it looks good, but the spinach doesn’t need to go on top. You could just make your favorite spinach preparation and have it on the side if you want. I sautéed sliced shallots and minced garlic in butter until soft and golden, then threw in a bunch of baby spinach and cooked it until it was wilty. Season with salt and pepper, and I like some nutmeg.

All together: top the sweet potato with a spoonful of Greek yogurt, then the chickpeas, then the spinach.

Ricotta Dumplings with Spinach and Peas

These pretty much came about because we had ricotta and spinach that needed to be used, but they were good enough that I want to save the recipe so I can make them again. As you can tell from the photo, I didn’t exactly get the shaping down, but nobody seemd to mind.

Serves 4

For the dumplings:
16 oz. whole milk ricotta
1 cup grated parmesan and/or pecorino
2 eggs
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup flour, plus more for dusting

For the rest:
4 TB butter
2 TB olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
5 oz. baby spinach
1 cup frozen peas
juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper

1. Mix the ricotta, cheeses, eggs, salt and pepper thoroughly in a large bowl. Add the flour and mix gently, just to combine (you don’t want to work it too hard, or you’ll end up with tough dumplings). Depending on how wet your ricotta is, you might need more flour, but it should be soft and sticky.

2. Flour a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spoon out a small spoonful of ricotta mixture, and shape gently into an ovoid (again, you want to avoid roughly handling it). The dumplings expand to almost twice their original size when you cook them, so keep that in mind. Keep making dumplings until you’ve used up all the ricotta mixture, placing them on the baking sheet. Dust them with some more flour and let rest for about 20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, heat up a large pot of salted water for the dumplings.

4. In a sauté pan, heat up the butter and oil. Cook the onions until soft and golden, then add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, or until fragrant.

5. Add the spinach to the pan and cook until wilted, then add the peas, and cook until hot. Add the lemon juice, season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, stir, and turn off while you make the dumplings.

6. Drop the dumplings into gently boiling water one at a time (you may have to do more than one batch depending on how big your pot is). Cook until the dumplings float, then cook for 4-5 minutes more (I did a test one to check the time – you want it to be light and fluffy, not doughy).

7. Using a spider or slotted spoon, fish the dumplings out and add them to the pan with the spinach and peas. Turn the heat on to low, add the lemon zest and enough pasta water to make things saucy. Stir gently, heat through, and serve with more grated cheese if you like.

Vegetarian Chicken and Dumplings

I love the recipe for Chicken and Dumplings in Patrick O’Connell’s Refined American Cuisine, but my daughter is a vegetarian, so I came up with an alternate version for her, which is basically potato stew. It’s really good, though, and very filling, and uses mostly pantry staples, so I thought I’d share. The dumpling dough recipe is O’Connell’s, but the rest is mine.

Serves 6

Dumpling Dough
3/4 cup milk
3 TB butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 TB baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup club soda

Potato Stew
3-4 large potatoes (boilers would be good, but all we had were Russets, and they were fine), diced
3/4 cup frozen peas
1 large onion, diced
3 carrots, diced
1 celery rib, diced
3/4 tsp each dried sage and thyme (or fresh, if you have them)
4 TB butter
4 TB flour
6 cups vegetable broth (it will go faster if you heat it up)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup-ish chopped fresh parsley, again, if you have it
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the milk and butter until the butter is melted. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

2. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Add the milk, butter, and club soda, and mix gently just until everything is incorporated.

3. Cover and let rest 30 minutes or so, while you get everything else ready.

4. Cover the potatoes with cold, salted water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until just cooked through. Toss in the frozen peas at the last minute just to thaw them. Drain and reserve.

5. Sauté the onion, carrots, and celery in the butter until soft and golden. Add the thyme, sage, and salt and pepper to taste.

6. Add the 4 TB flour to the pan and cook, stirring often, until light golden. Stir in the broth, a little at a time, until it’s all added. Bring to a boil and then simmer for five minutes.

7. Add the cream, parsley, peas and potatoes. Taste and season as necessary.

8. Bring back to a lively simmer, then drop the dumpling batter in small spoonfuls (it’s supposed to be teaspoons, but that takes forever) on top. Cover and simmer for ten minutes, or until dumplings are cooked all the way through. They should be light, not dense and claggy (that’s a technical term I learned from GBBO).

You want to use a wide pan to cook the stew and dumplings in, so that you can cram as many in as possible. Also, I said to dice the veggies, but if it’s easier to just chop them, go for it. Just keep in mind that the cooking times will change, depending on how large the pieces are.

Quarantine Cuisine Week 1: Stress Baking

If you follow me on Instagram, you already know that I spent much of our first week of voluntary self-isolation baking, but I thought I’d do a quick round-up here. Because both baking and eating baked goods are good stress relief.

Salted Butter Chocolate Chunk Shortbread from Smitten Kitchen

Ligurian Focaccia from Salt Fat Acid Heat

Malted Buttermilk Biscuits via Lottie + Doof

Bagels via Epicurious

I hope that you’re keeping safe and well, and finding your own ways to deal with these difficult days.

Irish-Italian-American Soda Bread

The traditional Irish Soda Bread is a plain loaf, basically just a big biscuit/scone. The traditional Irish-American Soda Bread has a bit more going on, usually in the form of raisins, caraway seeds, and added sugar. Now, I like the idea of the Americanized version, but I can’t stand caraway seeds, so I developed this modified version.

Both of my grandmothers were the children of immigrants — from Ireland on my mom’s side, and from Italy on my dad’s — so when I was looking for alternate ways to flavor my bread, I decided to try anise seeds. It worked better than I expected, and now this is the version I make for Saint Patrick’s Day every year.

Makes one loaf

3 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
6 Tb butter
1/2 cup raisins or currants
2 Tb anise seeds
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg

1. Preheat oven to 350°

2. Combine dry ingredients and cut in butter (processor, knives, fingertips, whatever).

3. Add the currants and anise seeds.

3. Mix buttermilk and egg and add to flour/butter mixture.

4. Knead briefly, turn onto a baking sheet, and shape into a dome around seven inches across.

5. Slash a deep X across the top of the loaf.

6. Bake at 350° for 60-70 min (until it sounds hollow when rapped on the bottom).

Peasant Pie

Happy Pi Day! My mom has been a vegetarian for longer than I’ve been alive, and this, along with mushroom stew, was her traditional Thanksgiving dinner. She still makes it every Thanksgiving, but it’s so good that none of us want to only eat it once a year.

Crust:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp salt
16 TB butter (2 sticks)
½ cup buttermilk

Combine the flour and salt. Add the butter (I usually use a food processor, but you can use a pastry cutter or freeze and grate the butter, or your preferred method for pie crust). Gently mix in the buttermilk until a dough forms. Press into two disks and refrigerate while you’re making the filling. This actually kind of makes more dough than you usually need, but you can always find something to do with leftover pie dough.

Filling (part 1, veggies):
4 TB butter
2 onions
½ small head of cabbage
2 peeled potatoes
1 peeled turnip
1 large carrot
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp whole dill seeds
Combine chopped fresh or dried herbs to taste (suggestions: parsley, dill, marjoram, rosemary, savory, tarragon, thyme)

Slice all vegetables (except the garlic) thinly — I usually break out the mandoline for this. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat, add all the rest of the ingredients, plus salt and pepper, and cook, covered, until just tender but not mushy.

Filling (part 2, sauce):
2 TB butter
3 TB flour
½ cups milk
¾ cups broth (veggie or chicken)

Cook the butter and flour over medium heat. Add the milk and broth and cook, stirring, until thick. Add salt and pepper and nutmeg to taste and mix gently with the vegetables.

Preheat the oven to 425°. Using a deep-dish pie pan, roll half the dough out and line the bottom of the pan. Dump the veggies in and arrange evenly. Roll out the other half of the dough and place on top, crimp the edges together and make slits in the top to allow steam to escape. Bake for 15 minutes or so, then reduce oven to 350° and cook for 30 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned and the filling is bubbling. Serve warm or hot, with sour cream or plain yogurt.

Rage Baking

Today I went to the library all on my own. Before I hurt my knee I wouldn’t have commented on the independence of it, but being able to run small errands in the sun feels like a little miracle right now. I picked up Rage Baking by Kathy Gunst and Katherine Alford. You may have heard of it — a book of recipes accompanied by essays, stories, and poems by women activists, artists, and bakers — and you may also have heard that the authors failed to properly credit Tangerine Jones, a black woman who had popularized the hashtag ragebaking on Instagram. Frustrating, and why I got it from the library rather than buying it as I had originally planned. As a book it’s a little lightweight. There are definitely some recipes that I want to try, and I have a lot of empathy for the women whose anger at everything happening these days is overwhelming, but I thought it could have included more recipes, more women, more perspectives, more food history, &c.

And yet, as a concept, I am all in. While I was laid up, all I could think of was all of the things I would bake when I got well again. Yesterday I managed to make banana bread*. I gritted my teeth to get it done, even though I had to stop three times to rest while making it. Ridiculous. Banana bread is so easy to throw together, before Christmas I could have done it half asleep. Yesterday it was such an effort, but I did it anyway. There were overripe bananas that needed to be used, of course, but there was also the feeling, of needing to do something, right now. And this was something that I could do, right now. I’m not advocating baking as a replacement for voting, volunteering, and donating, but when you’ve done all of that, and you still need to do more, yeah. Better preheat the oven and get your apron on.

* My favorite banana bread recipe is on Epicurious, although I increase the salt to 1/2 tsp, use brown sugar for half of the sugar, and add 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp nutmeg.

Baked Filled Buns/Ju Bao

So, it’s been a little while! The short version, for those of you not following me on social media, is that I injured my knee right before the holidays, and have been resting/recovering for the past two months. Oof! I’m only just back on my feet, and I’m still not up to doing a lot of cooking yet, by myself. Fortunately, my son volunteered to help me make these delicious buns from Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen.

These are a pretty simple yeast dough, and you can make the filling ahead of time, so if you wanted to throw them together for a snack, or a weeknight dinner, that would be very doable. We ended up making two batches, one with a curried chicken filling, and one with a potato and cheese filling.

Makes 16 regular-size buns, or 32 mini-buns

Dough
10 TB whole milk
4 TB butter
2 tsp instant yeast
2 1/2 TB water
1 large egg
2 1/2 TB sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for forming the buns
(the recipe doesn’t call for it, but we added 1/2 tsp salt)

Filling
You’ll need about 1 1/3 cups of whatever filling you choose. If you’d like, I can do a follow-up with fillings, but you can go with just about anything, just make sure it’s fully cooked, and cooled.

For cooking the buns:
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 TB honey mixed with 1 TB warm water

1. Put the butter and the milk in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until the butter is melted. Set aside to cool for 5 minutes.

2. Whisk the water and egg into the milk mixture.

3. Combine the sugar, flour, yeast, and salt in a food processor (or in a bowl if you want to do it by hand). Pulse a few times to mix, then slowly stream in the wet ingredients while running the processor (or, while stirring) until you have a smooth, slightly sticky dough.

4. Oil a clean bowl, and put the dough in it to rise, covered, for about 45 minutes.

5. After the dough has risen, divide it into 16 or 32 pieces, covering them up when you’re not working with them.

6. To fill the buns, roll each piece out into a circle, 3 1/4″ diameter for regular, 2 1/2″ for mini. Lightly flour as necessary to keep from sticking. Place 4, or 2 teaspoons of filling in the center of the round, gather up the edges and pinch them together, sealing the filing inside. Flip over, and round them off as needed. Place all the filled buns on parchment-lined baking sheets, cover, and let rise for 30 minutes.

7. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350° F. Right before baking, brush the buns with the egg. Bake for 18 minutes regular, 14 minutes mini, or until a rich, golden brown. Let cool for 5 minutes.

8. Brush the honey mixture on the buns. Enjoy while warm, or refrigerate and reheat for snacks (or eat them cold from the fridge!).

Panna Cotta

As far as desserts go, Panna Cotta has it all. It’s dead simple to make, but absolutely satisfying and delicious. Depending on what you top it with, it can be rustic or elegant, or anywhere in between. It’s creamy and sweet, but it’s not full of eggs, so it’s lighter than a custard, mousse, or pudding. Basically, if you have baking fatigue right now, but still have some festivities to get through, consider this my gift to you.

This version is from The Italian Country Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper, and it serves 8 in very small ramekins, but I usually do 6 larger portions.

1 1/2 tsp unflavored gelatin
2 TB cold water
3 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar, or more to taste
Pinch salt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream

1. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water, and let stand for 5 minutes.

2. Heat the rest of the ingredients, except the sour cream, in a saucepan over medium-high heat, until hot, but not boiling, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Stir in the gelatin until completely dissolved. Remove from heat and cool for 5 minutes.

3. Put the sour cream in a bowl. Gently whisk in the warm cream, a little at a time, until completely combined and smooth. Taste for sweetness, and add a little more sugar if needed.

4. Pour into ramekins or custard cups, Cover, and chill for at least 4 hours, or over night.

Because there are very few ingredients involved, please use the best ones you can find. You can top it with fresh fruit, jam or compote, any kind of sweet sauce, crumbled cookies, or, honestly, just have it plain. You can also substitute yogurt, chevre, or any other creamy-but-sour dairy semi-solid for the sour cream. I always serve it in the dish I make it in, but you can unmold it and plate it up if that’s more your style.