Chicken Soup with Shallot-Shiitake Matzo Balls

Here’s a wee excerpt from a article and recipe I worked on for The Kitchn. Read the whole thing, and get the recipe on their site.

Passover Recipe: Chicken Soup with Shallot-Shiitake Matzo Balls

I am all for getting creative in the kitchen. But sometimes, you just don’t want to mess around with a classic. Take chicken soup. Whether you call it “goldene yoich” (golden broth in Yiddish), “Jewish Penicillin,” or just plain old soup, not much can top the basic, soul-satisfying combination of tender chicken, carrots, celery, and onions swimming in soothing broth.

Besides, people tend to get a little particular about what foods they expect to see on the Passover table. So when the holiday rolls around, I make sure to give my friends and family what they want: pure, unadulterated, intoxicatingly fragrant chicken soup. When it comes to the matzo balls, however, I feel much more comfortable experimenting. Made from little more than eggs, matzo meal, and a little seltzer for lift, they make the perfect blank canvas for adding flavor.

more…

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A Modern Passover Seder for Saveur

What do you do when the wonderful folks at Saveur ask you to develop a contemporary Passover seder menu? You rock a little happy dance, and then you get cooking.

Check out the full menu over at Saveur.com. It features a sneak peak of a couple of recipes from The Modern Jewish Cookbook - including the sunset-colored pureed carrots with orange and ginger pictured above and my rosemary-maple roast chicken - and a few I dreamt up just for them.

Enjoy and happy Passover!

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The Loveliest Birthday Dinner with NY Shuk

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I have never been so big into birthdays. My Midwestern tendencies simply bristle at the idea of having too much attention paid my way. 

But as I entered my 32nd year this weekend, whether I knew I wanted it or not, I got showered with well wishes, Facebook love, phone calls, good old fashioned birthday cards (thanks Mom), and a glorious day of brunch and massages with my sisters-in-law.

The absolute highlight was attending a dinner hosted by Noah Arenstein of the Crow Hill Supper Club, and prepared by Ron and Leetal Arazi of NY Shuk. The dinner was feast enough - a table groaning with 10 Middle Eastern-inspired salads (charred eggplant and bell pepper salad; freekeh with caramelized onions and herbs; a lima bean and garlic stew flavored with mace), homemade bread, haddock patties served in chickpea and turmeric stew, and their signature hand-rolled couscous cooked in milk and topped with chopped nuts, sour cream, and fruit preserves.

As the meal was winding down, and glasses of mint and sage tea were being passed around, Leetal came out with a stunning, chocolate-frosted poppy seed cake. My head swirled a bit as a I realized the dessert, festooned with candles and accompanied by a Moroccan take on the Happy Birthday song, was for me. (There I am above with Yoshie. He’s beaming. I’m closing my eyes for a wish - but also trying to steady myself!)

Somehow I pulled it together, blew out the candles, and focused on the task of serving impossibly soft and fudgy slices of cake to the table. That particular tradition - which obliges the birthday celebrator to cut everyone else’s cake - suits me just fine! 

Yoshie and I ambled home, stuffed and chatting about our favorite dishes. Despite my tendency for embarrassment, sometimes it really does feel great to get properly celebrated. 

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Find out more about the dinner and NY Shuk in my article for the Forward.

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Cinnamon Baked Apple Hamantaschen

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Things have gotten a little out of control in hamantaschen land. The triangle-shaped cookie, which was born in Eastern Europe and is eaten on the Jewish holiday of Purim, traditionally comes filled with ground poppy seeds, prune butter, or apricot jam.

In recent years, however, bakeries and home cooks have started thinking out-of-the-box, swapping out the usual spreads for other fruit jams (strawberry, fig, blueberry, raspberry), marzipan, chocolate chips, Nutella, chopped nuts, and quince paste.

Now, I am all for creativity expressed via baked good - but sometimes things go too far. I feel comfortable asserting that there’s no defensible reason to ever put gummy bears or candy canes inside hamantaschen. (Both have happened.)

More importantly, not everything that is sweet and comes in a jar makes a good filling for hamantaschen. Like all filled cookies, it is best to start with a thicker spread that won’t ooze out in the oven, encrusting your baking sheet with piles of sticky, burnt sugar. So while lemon curd and grape jelly are delicious, they are not great candidates. 

Most years, my hamantaschen strategy consists of opening the fridge and slapdash-edly pulling out a bunch of half-full jams. I might fill a row with blueberry preserves, followed by raspberry jam sprinked with white chocolate chips, or a traditional apricot or two. But this year, I thought I would do one better - combining my hamantaschen with another beloved Jewish dessert: baked apples

I started with a jar of apple butter, which was ideal because 1. it’s super thick and 2. I happened to have some on hand. Into that flavorful base I stirred all the classic baked apple components: brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, raisins, and chopped walnuts. The result was sweet and tangy - a familiar taste with just the right touch of the unexpected. They might just become a new tradition.

You can find the recipe for Cinnamon Baked Apple Hamantaschen below. But first, some helpful hamantaschen rolling and filling tips:

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Rolling: A chilled dough and a floured surface are your friends when making hamantaschen. Be sure to flour both the counter you’re working on and the rolling pin, and work quickly so the dough does not get too soft.

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Cutting: If you have a 3-inch round biscuit or cookie cutter, you can use it to stamp out your hamantaschen circles. My mom (and I’m pretty sure every Jewish mother and grandmother before her) used a juice glass, so that’s what I do too. Empty Bonne Maman jam jars are the perfect 3-inch size. Dip the rim in a little flour to keep it from sticking to the dough. 

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Filling: Scoop 1 rounded teaspoon of filling into the center of each circle. Resist the temptation to overfill, or your dough could break while folding.

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Fold 1: Here’s the secret for leak-proof hamantaschen folding/pinching: Start by folding one side of the dough over the filling at a slight angle. 

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Fold 2: Fold the second side over at an angle, slightly overlapping the first side.

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Fold 3: Fold the bottom flap up, tucking one end under the side flap to make a triangle-shaped pocket; pinch the seams firmly to seal.

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See? Pretty! And certain to keep the filling tucked safely inside while they bake.

Cinnamon Baked Apple Hamantashen
Makes about 3 dozen

For filling:
1/2 cup apple butter
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup black raisins
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts

For dough:
2 1/2-2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour**, plus more for dusting
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp orange juice, plus more if needed
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp lemon zest

**I strongly recommend that you use the “spoon and sweep" method for measuring your flour into cups. The "scoop and sweep" method tends to pack down the flour, giving you more than you need and can lead to a dry dough.

1. Make the filling: Stir together the apple butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl until smooth. Fold in the raisins and walnuts, cover and chill until ready to use.

2. Make the dough: Whisk together 2 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the orange juice, vegetable oil, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest until combined. Slowly stir in the flour mixture, mixing until the dough begins to come together. Turn the dough out onto a flat surface and knead it a few times with your hands until it is smooth, but not sticky. If the dough appears too dry, knead in more orange juice, 1 tsp (and no more!) at a time. If it looks too wet, knead in up to 1/4 cup more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. 

4. Gather the dough, then divide it in half and form into two flat disks. Wrap each disk tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.

5. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Remove half of the dough from the fridge (keep the other half wrapped and chilled). On a floured surface, using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough to 1/8 in thickness. Use a 3-in round cookie cutter or glass to cut out as many circles as possible and carefully transfer them to a large rimmed baking sheet. Gather the dough scraps, reroll, cut out additional circles, and transfer them to the baking sheet.

6. Spoon 1 tsp of the filling of your choice into the center of each dough circle. Fold the left side over on an angle, followed by the right side. Fold the bottom flap up, tucking one end under the side flap to make a triangle-shaped pocket (the filling should still be visible in the center); pinch the seams firmly to seal. Repeat the rolling and filling process with the remaining dough.

7. Bake the cookies until lightly golden and browned at the corners, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven and let cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to three days.

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Cookbook Photo Preview

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Here’s just a tiny sampling of the gorgeous photos being taken this week for The Modern Jewish Cookbook (Chronicle, 2015). The top one shows my chocolate raspberry babka (homina homina!) and the bottom one is of my roasted eggplant and tahini crostini.

I wish I could be there in San Francisco with the photographer, Sang An, and food stylist, George Dolese, to watch them while they work. And eat the leftovers.

To say I am excited to see the rest of the photos - not to mention the final book - is an understatement. Meanwhile, I would love your feedback!

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Za’atar Burgers with Grilled Onions

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2014 is off and running, and I must say: so far, it has been downright lovely. Yoshie and I rang in the New Year together at the Hazon Food Conference. While there, I led a cooking demonstration on shakshuka and participated on a panel called Heirloom Recipes about sharing family memories and wisdom through food.  

I also had the honor of assisting the inimitable Joan Nathan in her demonstration about eggplants - an experience I enjoyed greatly, despite my face in this photo. (I’m taking caption suggestions!) Here’s a better one of me and Joan with Hazon’s founder, Nigel Savage. 2014: the year of the puffy coat?

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Yoshie, meanwhile, helped bring the house down on New Year’s Eve with Zion 80 - among my favorites of the 9 million bands he leads or is in. It was the best.

The following week, we flew west to Seattle to visit my best friend, her husband, and their new baby. While there, we also spent time with Yoshie’s best friend, his wife, and their their two young kids. Twas a friends-and-children tour of the Pacific Northwest with some delicious vegetarian brunch, meat-free pho, and salted caramel ice cream thrown in for good measure. 

After all that vegetable-eating, I came home with burgers on the brain. Now, I know what you are thinking. Or well, I know what I am thinking: Burgers are summer food. Food to be slapped on a grill and enjoyed at a picnic, not touted on a blog in the middle of January.

Well, maybe its the arctic chill outside, but I’ve been craving summer, so burgers it is. And thanks to my cast iron grill pan - perhaps the least appreciated and most underutilized pan in the kitchen today - there is no reason to wait for warm weather to make them.

These burgers mix beef or lamb with tangy lemon zest, garlic, shallots, and a hearty dose of the Middle Eastern herb mix, za’atar. They come topped with tender, smoky grilled onions and a spoonful of mayonnaise stirred with more za’atar for good measure.

We ate them fresh from the grill pan, while spindly fingers of frost spread across our window. But something tells me that I will be making them again when grill season officially arrives. 

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Za’atar Burgers with Grilled Onions

Serves 2, in my house anyway

1 1/4 pounds (570 g) ground beef or lamb (or half of each)
4 tablespoons za’atar, divided
zest of half a lemon
2 garlic cloves, minced or pushed through a press
1 small shallot, finely chopped
vegetable oil, for the grill
1 onion, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch rings
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup (70 g) mayonnaise
4 hamburger buns of choice, toasted
lettuce or salad greens of choice, for serving

1. Combine the beef or lamb, 3 tablespoons za’atar, lemon zest, garlic, and shallot in a medium bowl; mix with your hands until thoroughly combined; set aside.

2. Preheat a grill pan over medium heat and brush with about 2 teaspoons vegetable oil. Arrange the onion slices in a pie plate; drizzle with vinegar and toss to coat. Place onions on grill, cover, and cook, turning once, until softened and lightly charred, 6-8 minutes total. Transfer back to the plate. 

3. Form the lamb mixture into four equal sized patties, about 1-inch thick each. Sprinkle lightly on both sides with salt and pepper and lay on the grill pan. Cook, flipping once, until medium-rare, 8-10 minutes total. Transfer cooked burgers to a plate let rest for 5 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, mix the mayonnaise with the remaining tablespoon of za’atar in a small bowl.

5. Assemble the burgers: Spread a layer of mayonnaise on the top and bottom of a bun; lay a piece of lettuce or a layer of salad greens on top, followed by a burger, a layer of grilled onion slices, and the top bun. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

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Chocolate Pomegranate Gusher Candies

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Pomegranates are awesome. Peeling back the crinoline layers of membrane to expose clusters of ruby seeds is an exercise in patience - and also in letting go, since the fruit’s scarlet-colored juice is almost certain to end up splattered across the wall, table, and whatever shirt you’re wearing. What other food manages to serve up such important life lessons while being so utterly delicious? 

While writing my first cookbook, The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook, I discovered a recipe that makes the ancient fruit even more awesome: Chocolate Pomegranate Gushers. I wish I could say making them involves some kind of impressive culinary prowess, but it doesn’t. All it takes is melted chocolate, and lots of it.

And yet, there is real magic in these things. They are perhaps not the most beautiful confection in existence. But the mix of sweet, velvety chocolate and tart seeds that gush forth with juice as you bite into them (hence the name) is entirely addictive. Like, “oops I just ate a fourth” addictive.

This past weekend, when making a batch to bring to a friend’s house for dinner, I sprinkled a little sea salt on top of the cooling clusters. I will do this again and again, from now until forever. 

Hanukkah may be over early this year, but there are still plenty of holiday parties, potlucks, and winter gatherings penciled in on the calendar before the end of the year. Meanwhile, pomegranates, which are in season from late September through late January, will only be available (or rather affordably available) for the next couple of weeks. 

It would be a shame if you missed your chance to try these candies this year. And I would feel terrible for not posting about them sooner. Save us both the heartache and make them ASAP, alright?

Fortunately, they are so straightforward, you almost don’t need a recipe. (Never fear I included it below just in case.) Simply:

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Remove the seeds from a pomegranate. (Technically the seeds are called arils, but I think that sounds kind of gross and unappetizing.) Everyone has their preferred method for deseeding. Recently, the “cut a pom in half and bang on it with a wooden spoon,” method has taken the internet by storm.” But I find the “old bowl of water” trick to be less messy and more reliable.  

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Next, roughly chop up 1 pound of the best baking chocolate you can find - bittersweet, semisweet, or milk, your choice. Ghirardelli’s bittersweet bars are my favorite.

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Now melt the chocolate in a double boiler or the microwave and stir in your seeds.

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Finally, scoop the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, sprinkle the tops with a little sea salt and a couple more pomegranate seeds if you like, and chill in the fridge until set. That, my friends, is it.

Chocolate Pomegranate Gushers
Slightly adapted from The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook
Makes about 2 dozen

1 pound (16 oz/455 g) bittersweet baking chocolate, roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups pomegranate seeds (typically from 1 large pomegranate)
flaky sea salt

1. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Add the chocolate to a double boiler set over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until melted, 3-5 minutes. (Or place chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave, stirring every 30 seconds, until melted.)
2. Remove chocolate from heat and add pomegranate seeds (reserving a couple tablespoons of seeds for later); stir thoroughly to coat while being careful not to pop any seeds.
3. Use two spoons or a small ice-cream scoop to drop mounds of chocolate-covered seeds onto the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle the tops of each candy with a little sea salt and the reserved pomegranate seeds. Chill, uncovered, in the fridge until chocolate sets, at least 30 minutes.

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Check out my recipe for Fennel-Lemon Latkes with Toasted Caraway Sour Cream on The Kitchn’s website.

Check out my recipe for Fennel-Lemon Latkes with Toasted Caraway Sour Cream on The Kitchn’s website.

Mulled Apple Cider Sangria for Thanksgiving or Hanukkah

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Alright guys. Now haven’t we all had quite enough of Thanksgivukkah by now? Can we just stop with all the turkey-stuffed-sufganiyot-served-with-cranberry-gravy talk? Please?

Pardon my frustration. When I first heard about this year’s confluence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah - a once in a lifetime occurrence - I was excited too. Two of the year’s best food holidays overlapping in a raucous smorgasbord of culinary delights? The anticipation was almost too much to bear. At the same time, I almost immediately began dreading the onslaught of wacky fusion recipes, listicles, and “worst of Thanksgivukkah” roundups that were likely to come. And then did come in droves. The internet really has a way of taking the fun out of things sometimes, you know? 

Before I sound like the Grinch who stole Thanksgivukkah, let me say: some very good things have come out of this calendrical phenomenon. Rivka at Not Derby Pie posted a gorgeous recipe for Nutmeg Donuts with Cranberry Curd Filling. And Molly at My Name is Yeh created some very tasty looking Brussels Sprout Latkes with Balsamic Dijon Sour Cream. These, my friends, are the kind of Thanksgivukkah recipes a girl can get behind. 

But it’s enough already. Thanksgiving and Hanukkah’s food traditions are so similar already - what with the seasonal root vegetables and tangy-sweet sauces - there is almost no need to improve upon either. And much of the time, trying to find ways to merge, say, tzimmes and pecan pie, like jamming together two mismatched puzzle pieces, ruins both. As a wise friend put it, “Why bother fusing the two holidays? Just celebrate Thanksgiving and then you still have 7 more nights to fry latkes.” 

Indeed. And what better way to celebrate than with a festive drink? Like Mulled Apple Cider Sangria. A fusion recipe in its own right, this boozy punch mixes the clove and cinnamon-spiked mulled cider so popular this time of year with a party-friendly drink, red wine sangria. It’s lightly sweet, mellow, and brimming with juicy pieces of fruit. (Use organic if you can, since you don’t peel the fruit.)

Serve it on Hanukkah, alongside a plate stacked high with crispy potato pancakes. Or keep your guests happy before Thanksgiving dinner while your turkey finishes roasting. However and wherever you drink it, enjoy - and make a toast that Thanksgivukkah comes but once a lifetime!

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Mulled Apple Cider Sangria
Serves 8

3 cups/710 L apple cider
2 cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
zest of 1 orange, plus 1 whole orange, thinly sliced and cut into half moons
1/3 cup/80 ml maple syrup
1 small Granny Smith apple, quartered, core removed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup/85 g halved green or red seedless grapes
1 bottle/750 ml dry red wine
1/4 cup/60 ml brandy
ice cubes

1. Add the cider, cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice, and orange zest to a medium pan set over medium high heat. Bring to a simmer, then remove from heat; stir in maple syrup, then allow to cool completely.

2. Strain cooled cider through a fine mesh sieve into a large pitcher. Add the orange slices, apple, grapes, wine, and brandy and mix to combine. Refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour. Serve over ice.

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Back to Work: Barley Pilaf with Roasted Fennel and Cauliflower

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Back in high school I did a lot of musical theatre. Meaning, I auditioned for school plays and got cast as a backup dancer. But whether I played the lead role (never happened) or a member of the chorus, I got really into the process.

I loved the long hours of rehearsal, even if I spent most of them reading biology homework on the sidelines. I lived for the camaraderie that formed with my fellow actors, enjoyed the feeling of building toward something, and thrilled over those electric moments just before the show began.

And then. The show’s run would end, the cast parties would dry up, and life would continue as usual. And every time, without variation, I would just completely deflate. All of the excitement that had built up during the show would evaporate, and I would flop around the house with a baffling, empty-at-the-core kind of melancholy. 

Turns out, that same feeling applies to manuscripts.

After 10 months of dreaming, testing, tasting, writing, and tweaking, I sent the manuscript for The Modern Jewish Cookbook to my editor at Chronicle. The moment of pressing send was incredible - like flinging the entire contents of my heart into the ether. But barely 1 hour later, on the walk home from a celebratory coffee and almond croissant, that old familiar “What next?” sadness began to settle in. 

Maybe you know the feeling?

Now here I am back at the office - or as close to the office as I get, anyway. I am working at a magazine for two weeks, fact checking while they get an issue ready to send to the printer. I am grateful for a bit of stable income to help bridge the gap as I start pitching articles again. But whooo boy, it is a change.

In the meantime, I look forward to lunch. While testing recipes for the cookbook, lunch consisted of whatever I was working on, along with leftovers from the previous day’s work. One day there might be apple cider braised chicken and leftover kasha varnishkes with shiitake mushrooms. The next maybe spiced lentil patties and a batch of butternut squash and sage bourekas. 

But now that I am on the 9-5 grind for a while, the temptation to forego making lunch for a few extra minutes of sleep is tempting. Unfortunately the lunch I would then buy - usually some wilted chopped salad or mediocre sandwich purchased within a 4 block radius of the office - is enough to downgrade my already mopey mood into despair.   

I am determined to not let that happen. Inspired by Food 52’s awesome NotSadDeskLunch column (Do you work in an office? If so, read it immediately!), I am working to maintain a bit of respectability and excitement in my mid-day meal. Not only are my lunches better off for it (and Yoshie’s too, since he gets the leftovers), but it gives me a chance to reconnect with the culinary creativity that writing a cookbook allows to blossom.

First up, Barley Pilaf with Roasted Fennel and Cauliflower. Barley is one of the starring ingredients in The Modern Jewish Cookbook. The nubby, nutty-flavored little grains, which are at the center of many traditional Jewish dishes, are nutritious, filling, and flavorful. For this warm grain salad, I simmered the barley in vegetable broth and paired it with cauliflower and fennel that I roasted in the oven until tender and caramel-sweet. A handful of golden raisins and shower of sliced almonds rounded things out beautifully.

This dish travels well, holds in the fridge, and reheats nicely, making it a satisfying and unexpectedly elegant office lunch. Paired with a small hunk of gouda and some saucy beans (I particularly like these), it offered a big dose of comfort - even spooned out of a Tupperware at my desk.

There is not much I can do about my post cookbook melancholy. Just like the anticipation of starting a new project, and the slow-burning focus of being in the middle of one, it is just part of the process. But at least now I can invite it to a proper lunch. 

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Barley Pilaf with Roasted Fennel and Cauliflower

  • 1 medium head cauliflower (about 2 lb/910 g), cut into 1-inch florets
  • 2 medium bulbs fennel, quartered, core removed, and cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 head garlic, cloves peeled
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme, plus 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, divided
  • 1/4 cup/60 ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup/180 g pearled barley, rinsed and drained
  • 2 3/4 cups/660 ml vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup/80 g golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup/55 g sliced almonds
  • shaved parmesan, optional

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a large, rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Add the cauliflower, fennel, garlic cloves, and 2 thyme sprigs to the baking sheet. Drizzle with 1/4 cup olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Roast, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and lightly browned, 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven, discard thyme sprigs, and set aside.

2. Meanwhile add the barley, broth, and 2 teaspoons chopped thyme leaves to a medium saucepan set over high heat; bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until barley is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 40 minutes. Pour into a colander to drain off any excess liquid, then transfer barley to a large bowl.

3. Add roasted veggies, raisins, and almonds to the barley and toss to combine. Taste; if desired, drizzle with a little more olive oil and season with additional salt and pepper. Divide into bowls and sprinkle with shaved parmesan, if desired. 

What is your favorite ##notsaddesklunch?

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