Hummus, pumpkin hummus, and light hummus

May 31, 2009 at 1:21 am (Beans, Cook's Illustrated, Peter Berley, Quick weeknight recipe, unrated, Website / blog)

I’m updating this old post to include a new hummus recipe that I just created.  It’s based on the recipe for Lemon Walnut Hummus in Peter Berley’s cookbook Fresh Food Fast, but I made a few substitutions/alterations, and created pumpkin hummus instead.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Buttermilk strata with mushrooms and leeks

May 24, 2009 at 10:09 am (Peter Berley, Spring recipes, unrated)

This is another recipe from Peter Berley’s cookbook Fresh Food Fast.  Derek bought a loaf of white bread at the cheese store, and then left for the states before eating much of it.  I tossed it in the fridge and then decided to use the stale loaf in this strata recipe.

  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/4 pound whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 medium leeks, thinly sliced
  • 3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil (I used 2)
  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 Tbs. fresh thyme leaves (I only had about 2 tsp., so I added in another 1/2 tsp. of dried thyme leaves)
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt (I used 1 tsp.)
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly milled black pepper
  • 1 pound portobello mushrooms, stems removed and caps diced (I used about 15 ounces of white mushrooms, with the stems)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 pound day-old, country-style artisanal bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

The basic strategy is:

  1. Mix together the eggs, buttermilk, cheese, and parsley in a bowl.
  2. Brown the leeks in a large, dry oven-proof skillet, then add the oil, garlic, thyme, and salt.  Saute briefly then add the mushrooms and wine.  Bring to a simmer and stir in the bread cubes.
  3. Pour the egg mixture over the top and stir to combine everything.  Sprinkle the top with grated cheese, and bake at 450 until the strata has set, about 25 minutes.

If you want the full instructions, buy the cookbook!


I used a 12 inch anodized aluminum cast iron pan with 2 side handles.  I’m actually not sure if it’s supposed to go in an oven at 450 degrees, but it looked okay when I took it out.  Berley recommends a 10-inch saute pan, but my 12-inch pan was totally full, and it’s rather deep, so I don’t see how this recipe would fit in a ten inch pan.

I cut the salt by 1/2, and thought the salt level was perfect.  If you like things more salty maybe use 1.25 tsp.  I also cut the oil to 2 Tbs., and it still seemed perfectly rich.  I didn’t measure how much parmesan I added, but it couldn’t have been more than an ounce.  The flavor of the dish was  good, and especially tasty when I got a big chunk of bread, but the more leek-y bites I didn’t care for as much.  Perhaps I put in too much of the green part.   The texture of the leftovers was good, but when it was just out of the oven I occasionally got a “soggy bread” bite.  Perhaps I should have cooked it for another 5 minutes.

This recipe works well.  The dish is beautiful to look at, holds together well, and tastes fine.  Despite all the positives, I’m not sure whether I would make this recipe again.  It took quite a bit of work, and despite tasting good, neither Derek nor I really wanted to eat any of the leftovers.  I really don’t know why, but for some reason it just did not appeal to us.  It took me about 35 minutes to get it in the oven, and another 10 minutes to clean up, plus 25 minutes to bake.  If I had help I probably could have gotten it done in 20 minutes.  Still, it didn’t quite seem like a weeknight recipe to me.  There were just too many different ingredients to buy and chop.

I must admit, however, that the recipe is a nice dish for spring.  I got new leeks and parlsey and thyme and eggs from the farmer’s market.   The leeks had a very hard core, the texture of a stiff rhubarb stalk.  I’d never come across a leek with a hard core before, and wasn’t sure if I should try to cut it up or discard it.  I ended up saving it for vegetable broth (along with the leek greens, parsley and thyme stems, and a few bruised mushrooms).  If anyone knows what to do with hard leek stems, please post a comment.

Berley suggests a spring menu of this strata and asparagus roasted with garlic and lemon. I think it sounds like a nice combination.  However, at first glance it seemed kind of silly to suggest roasting the asparagus.  Unless you have two ovens, you have to wait for 25 minutes for the strata to be done to start cooking the asparagus.  Then I thought about it more and I realized that it probably takes 5-10 minutes to prep the asparagus and garlic, and another 5-10 minutes to clean up from both dishes.  So in the end the wait isn’t really that long.  Plus, the strata has to cool down for 5-10 minutes, which is just enough time for the asparagus to cook.  Also, once the oven is on you might as well use it to roast the asparagus.  Perhaps you can even cook both dishes in the oven at the same time?  Another option would be to just steam the asparagus on the stovetop.

Berley doesn’t say how many this strata recipe serves, but it’s quite large.  I think with 3 bunches of asparagus this dish would serve eight.

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Vegetarian tortilla soup with miso

May 19, 2009 at 4:57 pm (A (4 stars, love, favorite), Cruciferous rich, Mexican & S. American, Miso, Monthly menu plan: dinner, Peter Berley, Quick weeknight recipe, soup) ()

I’ve tried to make vegetarian tortilla soup before, and although I don’t know exactly what the chicken-based version tastes like, I know that I’ve never achieved it.  Recently, however, I tried a recipe for tortilla soup from Peter Berley’s cookbook “Fresh Food Fast.”  The key innovation is that he uses a miso broth instead of a simple vegetable broth.  I thought it would be strange—miso soup with lime in it?—but it was delicious, and tasted like (what I imagine) tortilla soup is supposed to taste like.  It definitely tasted more Mexican than Japanese. Everyone in our family really likes this soup, including five-year-old Alma.

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French no-mayo potato salad

May 10, 2009 at 6:05 am (Cook's Illustrated, French, Starches, unrated)

Derek picked this recipe out of the Cook’s Illustrated light recipe.  It’s a light potato salad recipe, with a vinaigrette instead of mayo.  Unlike a typical American potato salad, the French version uses sliced potatoes, and is served warmed or at room temperature (never cold).  It’s much more refined and elegant than the typical American mayo-laden, pickle-studded potato salad.

Tips from CI:  It’s important to slice the potatoes before boiling them so that the slices don’t break apart.  Plus the potatoes cook more evenly and you don’t have to burn your fingers trying to cut hot potatoes.   To keep the potato slices from getting damaged over overcooked, CI has you lay the potatoes on a baking sheet and pour the vinagrette over them, and let them cool before moving them to a bowl.  To cut back on oil, CI recommends adding some of the potatoe cooking water which is starchy and so acts as a binding element to hold the salad together and keep the potatoes from drying out.  CI says that white wine can also be used.  They also blanch the garlic to tone down the aggressive raw garlic flavor.

  • 2 pounds medium red potatoes (about 6, 2.5 ounces each)
  • 6 cups of water (1/3 reserved for the salad)
  • 2 tablespoons salt (or reduce a bit if you’re salt sensitive)
  • 1 medium garlic clove, peeled
  • 1.5 tablespoons white wine or champagne vinegar
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustanrd
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 small shallot, minced (about 2 Tbs.)
  • 4 Tablespoons mixed french herbs (CI recommends equal parts chervil, parsley, chives, tarragon)
  1. Bring the potatoes, water, and salt to a boil in a large saucepan, then reduce to a simmer.  Skewer the garlic on a fork tine and lower it into the simmering water for about 45 seconds, then cool it under cold running water.  Simmer the potatoes uncovered until they are tender, about 5 minutes. (A thin bladed paring knife should slip into and out of the potato slice with no resistance.)  Drain the potatoes, reserving 1/3 cup cooking water.  Arrange the potatoes on a rimmed baking sheet, ideally in a single layer.
  2. Mince the garlic, and combine in small bowl with the oil, reserved cooking water, vinegar, mustard, and pepper.  Drizzle the dressing evening over the warm potato slices.  Let stand for 10 minutes.
  3. Chop the shallots and herbs and toss them together in the vinaigrette bowl.  Move the potatoes to a serving bowl, and add the shallot-herb mixture.  Mix carefully.

My notes:  My potatoes were a bit larger than called for and so my potato slices looked a bit large and awkward.  I misread the recipe and accidentally added 1/2 cup of cooking water, so my salad was slightly wet, but still very tasty.  I had white potatoes not red, and as a result the potato salad was not quite as pretty as it should have been. I couldn’t find fresh chervil or tarragon, so I used a little frozen box of minced “French herbs” that I bought in the grocery store.  I added the herbs to the dressing before drizzling it over the potatoes, which seemed to work fine.  I used a white balsamic vinegar, which tasted fine.  Overall I thought the potato salad was very tasty, although perhaps just a tad too salty.  My friend Alex really liked it–she said it was the best potato salad she’d ever had, and kept “encouraging” me to post the recipe.  Derek and my mother were less enthusiastic.  First of all, they argued that the recipe could not be called potato salad, perhaps because the potatoes were sliced instead of cubed.  Also, they just thought the recipe was a bit boring.  I thought it was delicious, however, and I’ll definitely make it again.

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