Fennel & walnut croquettes

Fennel and walnut croquettes

Fennel and walnut croquettes

Olga Von Till was born in the 1890s. As a girl she lived in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She played piano for silent movies, providing a soundtrack for their voiceless antics. She was sent to Hungary to study with Bela Bartok, and became stranded there when World War I broke out. She made a living as a companion for wealthy, eccentric women. When she returned home she lived in New York City for a while, and she taught classical piano to Bill Evans, amongst many others. In the 80s she lived in a small town next to New Brunswick, and it was at that point that I met her – she was my piano teacher all through high school. She was an intimidating teacher, exacting and persistent. She heard the tone of each note, and she heard the silence between notes, which were as important as the notes themselves, and needed to be given their exact space, their exact weight. Ms. Von Till would hold your arm with her strong hands, feeling the muscles, and she’d put her hand under your hand, so that your fingers stretched to the piano keys from a seemingly impossible height, but with just the right force when they finally touched. She had a hard round belly that she’d prop a blank music-lined book on, and she’d write careful instructions for the week’s practice in strange and wonderful felt tip pens that I coveted, but never found in the real world. She had two pairs of glasses, one with round thick lenses and gold frames, and one with horn-rimmed frames and small blue flowers. Everything in her house was exactly as she wanted it, and she could tell you stories about choosing the fabric on the walls or the rugs on the floor. She had two steinway grands, and she talked about them as if they were living creatures – each had its own tone, its own voice. Her husband Sam played the violin, and he’d been a child prodigy, but his career had been disappointing. He heard music in his head, and would gesture passionately as he listened to it. I was a mediocre student, we all knew I would never amount to much as a pianist. But I loved to sit with Ms Von Till. After I left for college, I would visit her every time I came home. I’d bring her flowers every time, and I’d sit and listen to her stories. As she got older, she wouldn’t come down the stairs, and we’d sit upstairs in her study, side by side. She would tell stories of her remarkable life, sometimes the same stories over and over, but they were worth hearing again. She’d hold my arm, and feel the muscles, she’d support my hand with her strong hands. She could tell I hadn’t been playing piano. Sometimes we’d sit in silence, and then she’d look at me with a beaming smile through her thick round lenses. I didn’t talk much, she couldn’t have known much about me, but I felt that she loved me. I felt that she was a good friend, despite the more than seventy years between us. I still dream about her sometimes, about the world that she created with her music, her elegance, her strength, her stories, and her expectations.

Obviously I admired her very much! So this week’s Sunday interactive playlist will be about songs of admiration for other musicians. The tribute can be in the lyrics or in the tunes. I thought I had a lot of these stored up, but I’m struggling, so I need your help!

And these fennel croquettes – I wanted to have a combination of comforting and wintery and bright and fresh and summery. I used fresh thyme and fresh rosemary, and I made them light and crispy. But they also have bread crumbs and melty cheese to get you through the winter evening. We ate them with a simple tomato sauce, but you could eat them with any kind of sauce you like.

Here’s the interactive playlist as it stands so far. Feel free to add whatever you can think of!

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Eggplant-french lentil burgers and rosemary buttermilk buns

Eggplant-french lentil burger

I’ve been so distracted lately! I just can’t sit still! I just can’t focus. I’m an important person, dammit, I’ve got a busy schedule, I’ve got important things to attend to! There’s work to be done. Important work. And only I can do it! And it’s not getting done. Today I’ll gladly blame the boys, because they’re home from school. But yesterday…there’s really no excuse! I literally sat and read in Malcolm’s science almanac about endangered animals. For quite some time. Did you know that when sailors found dodos, they ate the birds, cut down their habitat, and released cats and other animals that destroyed their nests? What is wrong with people? I looked at pictures of baby okapi and baby tapirs. I looked at pictures of puppies (on rescue sites) that I can’t afford at the moment. Sigh. Today, though, after a staggeringly unproductive morning and cranky boys and lots of messes and more crankiness and unproductivity, we went to the Princeton art museum, which is one of our favorite places to go. There’s something heartening about all of the animal-figure art, from all over the world and all through the ages. Dogs, deer, opossums, pigs, cows, lizards, frogs. They all show up somewhere. When we go to an art museum, each person in the family picks an animal before we enter, and then we count how many we see. It really makes you look at all the little corners of the paintings, and at each little sculpture!

Buttermilk rosemary rolls

Of course I don’t really have any important work to do, I was just kidding. But I have made a lot of food lately I’d like to tell you about. Let’s start with these eggplant-french lentil burgers and buttermilk rosemary buns. We’ve gotten a lot of eggplant from the farm, and I’m trying not to bread and roast all of it. So I roasted a whole eggplant, pureed the flesh, mixed it with toasted ground oats and walnuts and some yummy french lentils, and made big juicy burgers. While I was making them, David tried to decide if he should use the crusts of bread for his sandwich, or save them for burger buns. I said, “Don’t be silly, I’m making burger buns. Who do you think I am?” And he said, “A crazy person!” And, of course, he’s right. But these buns were very tasty. They’re yeasted, but they have buttermilk in them. Very tender and delicious.

Here’s Jungle Brothers with Sounds of the Safari. It has lots of animal sounds. I don’t think tapirs or okapi make much noise, though.
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Cabbage and potato galette with a walnut crust

Cabbage and potato galette

We’re making great leaps in swimming this summer, here at The Ordinary. Isaac learned to swim. It’s a breath-stoppingly cute move. His be-goggled face takes on a look of fiendish glee as he plunges into the water. He squiggles and flounders his little arms and legs until you don’t know if he’s rising or falling, and then he pops up, triumphant and joyful. And Malcolm, who can now do a front flip off the diving-board, invented a new stroke suitable to his sleek water animal status. No splashing, no flailing, just a smooth squiggle move that propels him through the water. We were at a pool in the poconos this week, and I was catching my bubbly little Isaac as he popped out of the water, when I chanced to hear the words “cabbage,” and “beets.” Well! A food conversation. I decided to eavesdrop. Four older men and women were bobbing tranquilly in the water, oblivious to the childish chaos all around them, sharing recipes for stuffed cabbage. They all had very definite ideas about how it should be made. One suggested the importance of making your own lard. He buys a slab. A slab of pig? Exactly. A woman in a purple bathing cap, balancing with odd solidity on a giant purple styrofoam noodle, declared that she doesn’t use lard, because she “doesn’t eat the fat.” Klondike bars, however, she’ll eat five a night! Despite the triglycerides! They decided to get together for dinner. To cook. I’d love to see that! I really would.

I have some cabbage from the CSA. I decided against stuffing it with klondike bars and lard, and opted instead to make a galette. I wanted it to be sweet and cripsyish, but also soft and comforting. I like cabbage when it’s very lightly cooked, so that’s how I approached this galette. I made a walnut crust (surprise!) and threw a few handfuls of toasted walnuts into the filling as well, for crunch. I was determined to add potatoes to the filling, and so I did, after frying them in olive oil. They were lovely! I flavored it with tamari (in a nod to moo shoo vegetable, which is one of the few cabbage dishes I like), white wine, and basil, tarragon, and thyme. I think it turned out really tasty! David liked it, too, and he’s not a fan of cabbage in any form. Score!! It’s not the prettiest thing you’ll ever make, so serve it with something colorful and crunchy, like a crispy salad with lots of fresh tomatoes and basil.

Here’s Goin up the Country, by Barbecue Bob.
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Creamy zucchini, walnut, and white bean sauce (with sage)

Zucchini walnut sauce

One of my favorite lines from any movie is spoken by Ballou the bear in Jungle Book. “Fall apart in my back yard,” he says. It’s always seemed like such a tempting invitation. I’ve had a stressful week of cut fingers and a sick boy, making hard decisions about cut fingers and a sick boy (hard for me, anyway, indecision is my m.o.) trying to pretend I’m strong and that I’m not freaking out about everything when inside I’m a mess, and not sleeping much. Silly, I know, when taken individually, but it all added up to wear me out a little bit. So last night I spent a little time in my own backyard, in the the dark, cool evening, just enjoying the soft sounds of summer-night bug flights and the smell of the herb garden and yesterday’s fire. And then I saw a face in the witch hazel bush! Not as if somebody was standing there, but as if the witch hazel itself had a face. Two kind, softly glowing eyes in a dog-like face. I sat and stared at it a long while. I moved to another seat, and it was still there. I like to think about spirits all around me. When I clean the bathrooms (remember that I have two little boys!!) I always imagine a pee spirit living behind the toilets. A mischievous noisome yellow blob of a spirit, that I angry up when I bleach his home. I’ve always seen faces in tree trunks, and in stones, I see dog’s eyes and noses in knots in planks of wood. I swear it sometimes seems like everything has a message to tell me. And then, of course, there are the fireflies. (Fireflies and zucchini, again!?! Yup.) I love our witch hazel bush, with its wintertime flowers like fragrant fireworks. I felt oddly comforted by the idea of a witch hazel spirit. I sat for a long while, reluctant to go up to bed despite being exhausted, and thought about spirits. I finally went inside and locked everything up, and turned out all the lights, and through the window I could still see softly glowing eyes in the witch hazel.

If there was a spirit in our back yard, I imagine it would eat the sage in our vegetable garden, because sage seems like good spirit food. Well, I harvested some myself to make this pasta sauce. This is a good quick-meal-after-work sauce, and it’s a good way to use up some of my over-abundance of zucchini. The zucchini is blended with white beans, walnuts, and broth to make a thick and creamy, though cream-free sauce. I used the broth from the millet stew I’d made, and it was very flavorful with sage and bay leaves, but you could use any broth you have on hand, or even water. I also used caramelized onions, because I’d made a huge batch over the weekend (and cut my finger!) but if you don’t happen to have them lying around, a shallot or a regular onion would be fine. And that’s all I can say about that at the moment because Malcolm is desperate for the computer.

Here’s Aretha Franklin’s remarkable Spirit in the Dark, live in Philly.
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Zucchini, walnut and raisin pastries

Zucchini walnut pastries

A few months ago, my friend Tony described something I’d written in these virtual pages as an “essay.” That idea was so pleasing to me, and it’s something I’ve thought a lot about since. I like the idea of writing essays. In school I used to love essay tests. I felt like I didn’t really understand whatever I was writing about until I started writing about it, and then connections would come flying out at me. I found it quite exciting (I was a weird kid).

On the one hand, essays feel so substantial and victorian. On the other hand – the smiling side of the janus face, if you will – is the fact that “essay” comes from the word “to try.” How lovely is that! You’re not succeeding (or failing). You’re not even worried about that! You’re just giving it a go. According to the highly reliable dictionary that pops up on my computer when I press a button (definitive source!) the “try” in “essay” doesn’t just mean “attempt.” It also means “test,” or “weigh.” As in “I tried the strength of the rope bridge that crossed over the fiery ravine before I commenced my journey upon it.” Interesting! If you’re following along at home, you’ll recall my infatuation with the word Selah, which also meant “to weigh.” I think of selah as being about feeling the weight of the words, and valuing that, and essay as being about testing the weight of the words by sending them out there and watching whether they sink or swim.

One thing I’ve been thinking about essays, as it directly relates to this collection of recipes, is that cooking is like writing essays. You have an idea, you try it. You weigh the possibilities, you weigh the ingredients. (I’m almost done, I promise! I’ve nearly followed this unravelling line of thought to its illogical conclusion.) You don’t know how it will turn out, and that’s why it’s fun to try. If you think that it might not come out well, you’ll won’t make the attempt. And there’s so much joy in trying!

I have a lot of zucchini from my CSA, and I’ve been thinking for a while about combining it with raisins, walnuts, goat cheese, cinnamon and basil, in some sort of dish. I thought I’d try (segue!) rolling it into a pastry, because a crispy layer would be so pleasant with the soft zucchini and goat cheese. I put a bit of lemon zest in the pastry dough, for piquancy. And I wanted to have a couple of sauces to dip the pastries in, so I decided to shape the pastry like little christmas crackers, so that when you broke it in half, you have two little tabs to hold onto, while you dip, and then you have a nice, buttery-lemony crispy bite to end with. I think it turned out well! I’m going to make other stuffings for this shape of pastry, because it’s so much fun to eat with your hands and dip things! For dipping sauces I used two leftover from a takeout Indian meal (lazy, I know, but they’re so good you can’t just throw them out!) That’s the sweetish tamarind one, and the cilantro mint one. And then I made some good old-fashioned basil/pine nut/garlic/parmesan pesto. I mellowed it out a bit by adding a teaspoon of honey, and by roasting the garlic.

zucchini walnut pastry

Here’s James Brown’s Try Me, one of my favorite songs ever!

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French lentils with roasted beets and walnuts

French lentils and roasted beets

When I was a kid, people used to say, “that was beat.” That meant it was bad. I’m not sure if this was specific to where and when I grew up, or if it was more of universal phraseology, but it was quite prevalent amongst my peers. (When I was even younger, people used to say “feeling crunchy,” when somebody was put down or proven wrong. I’m fairly sure that was specific to my middle school! Ooooooh, feeeeeeling cruuuuuunchyyyyyy…”) So, if something was beat, it was bad. To use it in a sentence, “That party was so beat, because the music was beat, and the people were really beat, too.” I’ve decided to make it my life’s work, my raison d’etre, to bring the phrase back, but as a description of a good thing, and changing it slightly to “beet.” “That party was so beet, man, I never wanted to leave! My job is so great, it’s roasted beet. Awww, they’re my favorite band of all time…they’re golden beet.” Maybe I shouldn’t have been thinking about this before bed, because I had a dream about beet brickle, which I think we can all agree I shouldn’t try to make. I also thought of this recipe, which turned out deeeeeelicious. Totally beet. It’s got french lentils cooked with a little red wine, orange juice and balsamic; it’s got lovely little roasted beets and shallots; it’s got toasted walnuts, for crunch; it’s got fresh basil, sage, and tarragon, for spring-herb-garden-deliciousness; and it’s got tiny cubes of mozzarella, which get nice and melty when they hit the warm lentils.

Crusty bread

We ate it with some fresh black pepper bread, and I’m extremely excited about it. As you know, if you’ve been following along at home, I’ve been trying for some time to make a crispy-crusted bread that doesn’t have a dense crumb. I wanted big airy holes inside. Well…I think I’ve done it! I left the dough very very wet and soft. It was messy to knead, I tell you. And I let it rise the last time, in the pan I baked it in, for well over an hour. Oh boy!! Look at the airy crumb on this baby! It’s soooooo beeeeeeeeeeeeet!

Crusty bread

Here’s LL Cool J (and Adam Horowitz!) with I Need a Beet

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Artichoke, walnut and feta croquettes

Artichoke croquettes

We don’t have cable in our house (conscious choice, cable companies! Don’t come calling.) But sometimes at work I can persuade my fellow restaurant patrons to watch the cooking channel. My favorite is Chopped. I can imagine a version at my house. Instead of gleaming counters and well-coiffed judges, you’d have tables full of school work and drawings and old bills, walls coated with little hand prints and globs of paint, and an elderly dog clattering through, bumping into everyone. And the challenge would be to look in my fridge, pick 2 leftovers packed away in plastic boxes, and make something special out of it. I’d win this round!! I had some leftover mashed potatoes, a half-used can of artichoke hearts, and a bit of extra sandwich bread on hand. What did I make? Lovely croquettes – crispy, flavorful and delicious. Croquettes can be a little stodgy, what with the bread and potatoes, so I wanted them to have bright flavor – something that would go well with feta and artichoke hearts. Hence the fennel and lemon. They turned out really nice! We ate them with a smooth roasted red pepper sauce (open jar of roasted peppers!), which the kids later happily ate on pasta for lunch.

Here’s Vaios Malliaras with Aginara (artichoke) Greek folk clarinet music from 1933. Odd and really lovely!
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Butternut squash flatbread stuffed with greens & walnuts

butternut squash flatbread

I seem to cook a lot with butternut squash in the winter time. I’ve made empanadas, enchiladas, big pies, little pies, soups, stews, dumplings, soufflés… on and on it goes. So when presented with half a roasted butternut squash (I’d used the other half in soup), I decided I wanted to do something different with it. I decided to bake with it. I’ve never done it before, but it makes perfect sense! I’ve baked with sweet potato puree, and pumpkin puree – people do that all the time. So why not butternut squash puree? Why not, indeed. I decided to make a yeasted dough, and to make it into a flat bread, because I feared it might be a bit dense, and in these situations it’s a good idea to keep it thin. I thought a lot about how to flavor it. Butternut squash goes well with so many herbs and spices. I decided on a mix of sage, nutmeg and allspice. A little bit savory, a little bit sweet, very nice together when all baked in a bread!

And then I decided to stuff it, because I love how butternut squash tastes with greens and nuts and cheese. I think arugula, goat cheese, and hazelnuts is my favorite combination with it, but this time I decided to go with chard, walnuts and mozzarella, because it’s February, I guess! I made two fat rolls out of extra dough, because I was curious about how they would come out. They were nice! The flavor really shines through, and the texture was dense, but not unpleasantly so. Extra good toasted the next day. And my Isaac gobbled one down, which means he’s getting some vitamins, right?

Here’s a nice little ditty from the Arctic Monkeys called The Bakery Song. Do you think they sell roasted squash bread in this bakery?
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Fennel, white beans, walnuts …

… tomatoes, olives, capers, white wine, rosemary…
We’ve decided to have a lot of saucy soups and stews this week. Not sure why, it just seems like a good second-week-of-January menu. This particular saucy stewy dish is the kind of meal that is quick and healthy, but that you would make even if it wasn’t, because it tastes so good. Everybody in my family ate it in a slightly different fashion. I had it as a kind of warm salad, over red leaf lettuce and arugula, topped with gorgonzola, which got a little wilty and was really nice with the walnuts and fennel. My littlest son had it with pasta. Which is to say he ate a bowl of pasta and butter. My older son had the white bean … ragu, shall we call it? over gemelli pasta, and my husband had a mixture of pasta and arugula with his ragu. My favorite part of this meal was the walnuts. A nice unexpected crunch, a lovely toasty flavor. This would also be good with rice, or just a nice loaf of crusty bread.

Here’s King Curtis’ wonderful Memphis Soul Stew. I love this kind of song, I really do.
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mushroom walnut dumplings

mushroom walnut dumplings

Inside: Roasted mushrooms, walnuts, parsley and cheese. Outside: a biscuit-like crust made with whole wheat flour, toasted oats, rosemary, black pepper and buttermilk. I called these dumplings because of their shape, but it might be more accurate to call them stuffed biscuits. They’re not soft and flaky, like anything made with paté brisée. They’re a little heartier-tasting, so they’re nice with soup or something saucy. Or even a sauce! Like the herbed walnut sauce, perhaps. Each bite has subtle flavors of baked rosemary and black pepper, and you can pick them up and eat them with your hands! Always a bonus.

Here’s Big Joe Williams with King Biscuit Stomp
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