Creamy Vegan Celery Root Soup

Final Stage of soup below:

I don’t usually post soup recipes (because most soups don’t need a recipe), but I was especially pleased with something I discovered making this creamy vegan soup. It’s light yet richly flavored, and creamy (because of the soaked cashews). It has protein! It’s a good receptacle for any mildly flavored vegetable scraps you might have. You’ll need apple and/or white wine to add acid and verve.

I used 4 pounds of celery root (after peeling), 2 leeks, 1 bunch green onions and a few scraps of shallots, 3 Tbs avocado oil, 1/2 bunch parsley, 2 peeled and cored apples, 1 1/2 cups of leftover champagne, and 1 pound of raw cashews, soaked. Filtered water. White pepper, nutmeg, and salt.

Saute the leeks/onions in oil a few minutes, add the cubed celery root, then the apples and parsley or whatever vegetable scraps you want to use up (make sure they don’t have strong flavors–you want the celery root to shine), and the soaked (an hour, drain soaking water) cashews. Simmer with water or wine or a combination (at least 1 quart) and a teaspoon of salt for about 40 minutes, or until the celery root is soft. Add seasoning: about 2 tsp each ground white pepper and nutmeg, and 3 more tsp salt. Add the seasoning in stages BEFORE you blend, so there’s no grit. Add filtered water if it’s too thick. Keep tasting until it’s a bit spicy. If you correct the seasoning, do this in small amount of the soup in the blender, blend again, and then stir into the larger amount. It took me three tries to get the right amount of pepper, nutmeg, and salt.

I love the creamy color of the soup and the fresh taste. Don’t be tempted to use vegetable stock or garlic or anything that could overwhelm the celery root. You could garnish with some minced chives or parsley or lovage and a swirl of extra virgin olive or avocado oil.

Chocolate Cream Caramels

Like many things I make, this batch of candy resulted from my own craving. Why buy caramels if they are likely to be too sweet, stale, expensive, or all three? These scratched the itch and were easy, even without a candy thermometer.

1 pint heavy cream

2 1/2 cups sugar

1 cup corn syrup

1/2 tsp salt

10 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I used 75%, you could make them more bitter by using a higher cocoa percentage.)

I stick unsalted butter

1 tsp. vanilla extract

flaky sea salt for garnish

Line an 8×13 (or so) pan with parchment paper. (The smaller the pan, the higher the caramels.) Spray the parchment with cooking spray.

Whisking constantly, simmer the cream, sugar, corn syrup and salt until it thickens slightly and reaches 220 degrees, 10-15 minutes.. Off the heat, whisk in the butter and chocolate. Cook (and whisk) until it reaches “firm ball” stage (240 degrees)–this may take 20 more minutes. Be patient. You’ll see the mixture thicken yet again; the simmering bubbles will be large. To test, put a bit on a cold plate and see if it holds its shape. Stir in the vanilla and take off the heat.

Pour into the prepared pan and sprinkle the top with Maldon or other flaky salt, as desired. Allow to sit 8-12 hours in a cool place. Unmold onto cutting board and cut into squares or rectangles, then wrap each piece in parchment or wax paper.

Tempering Chocolate, or “Le meglio è l’inimico del bene”

When I was teaching food writing at Westminster College, each of the students (some of whom were pretty good cooks) and I went around the circle and shared a cooking tip. Sharp knives, vinaigrette, tearing lettuce, home brew kombucha, etc.

My tip was that every one who likes to cook and bake should learn to temper chocolate. One student said, “they make it sound complicated” to which I responded, “yes, and that’s why people who actually have mastered far more complex tasks avoid it.” In fact, I read a cook book by Giada de Laurentiis which contained a recipe for fig and almond butter-filled chocolate bites. Her recipe called for adding oil to chocolate chips and then dipping the balls in this– then storing the bites in the refrigerator. Why on earth melt chips, which are designed not to melt, and then add OIL? Why not temper the chocolate so that the bon bons don’t have a finger-marking gooey smear? (For that matter, why do home candy makers settle for chocolate without cocoa butter, made with palm or coconut oil? It’s easier to use, but not that much easier, and the flavor suffers. Real chocolate, as opposed to “coating products,” tastes better. Plus, the snap you get from tempered chocolate is better.)

So, a few weekends ago I had friends over to make cookies. One of the cookies (Elise Lebkuchen) is covered in dark chocolate. I wanted my friends to see how easy it is to temper chocolate, the difference it makes in the finished product, and the way in which this one technique opens the door to more professional candy and cookie baking.

I usually use 72% bittersweet. Melt as much as you can work with in 15 minutes–start with eight ounces until you get the hang of it. You can easily remelt and retemper what’s leftover. Imagine dried fruit soaked in eau de vie or brandy, combined perhaps with roasted nuts, becoming quick little chocolate clusters. You can soak the cherries in Kirsch overnight (or fast soak in the microwave) and then dry them on a paper towel. Or prunes soaked in Armagnac brandy. Pistachios and apricots snipped into sixths. You get the idea–you can also just use nuts OR dried fruit and if you will be using the treats within a few hours, you can use fresh fruit, say raspberries or blackberries. You can also drizzle the tempered chocolate over cookies or make lacy designs with it, say by putting the tempered chocolate into a plastic bag, snipping off a triangle at the end, and writing “Happy Birthday” on a piece of foil or silicone liner. Once it has hardened, place it on a cake or plate.

The amount of cacao in the chocolate determines the tempering temperature–milk chocolate requires a lower temperature and white chocolate, which is just cocoa butter and sugar, even lower. In any case, tempered chocolate will harden within a minute or two when in contact with the cookie or dried fruit or… Steven Hill, a chef at 209 1/2 in DC in 1981, taught me to make chocolate ganache-filled candy. He piped the ganache into little mounds or pieces, froze them, and then dipped the pieces into tempered chocolate. We offered them to diners as a special “friandise” at holiday time. I ate a lot of them.

Because I’m impatient, I melt chocolate in the microwave instead of the safer way, in a double boiler over simmering water. In the microwave, you can zap the chopped chocolate at one minute, then 15 second intervals. Take the temperature with an instant read thermometer after each minute and stir well. You want the bittersweet (72% cacao) chocolate to reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and then cool down to 80 before you dip or coat with it. (Perfect tempering demands you bring it back up to 88 degrees, but I don’t do this. ) Don’t panic if the thermometer reaches a few degrees more or less. Depending on the temperature of the room, the cooling can take 15-25 minutes. To speed the process, stir in some finely chopped chocolate and stir until it, too, melts. You can put the bowl in a cool place (but take care to keep stirring so the sides don’t congeal before the rest).Your tempered chocolate might have a few streaks or not be absolutely shiny, but here, the perfect is the enemy of the good. And if you mess up, you can always remelt the chocolate or use it for brownies.. The Valrhona website says that holding the chocolate for a longer time at just above (88-89) the dipping temperature makes better coating. I’ve never done this, but now that I have an induction range, I might try. But if it turns out to be hassle, I’ll be satisfied with “good enough” tempering.

When the chocolate has cooled to 80 degrees, dump in the nuts and/or fruit, stir well to coat, and working fast, scoop teaspoons or tablespoons of the mixture onto parchment, silicone, foil, or a flat plate. I suggest starting with 8 ounces of chocolate so you can finish making the clumps before the chocolate hardens. When the chocolate is too stiff to work with (say when you see it harden on your fingers or on the spoon), then let it cool and begin the tempering process all over again.

The bon bons in the photo are prunes soaked in whisky (that’s what I had) for a few days and then filled with a roasted hazelnut, just before I dipped them with a fork. They don’t need to be refrigerated. They remain edible a long time, because each of the components is shelf stable. Be sure to dry the fruit well on a paper towel and let the pieces sit on the counter a few hours before coating in chocolate so that your chocolate doesn’t get alcohol in it. You can use a fork to dip, or buy a special tool that looks like a loop. Remember that you can remelt and reuse any chocolate. If you are a perfectionist, see the Valrhona website for more instruction.

But why not make some holiday chocolates right now? Trust me, you will reach “good enough” skill level on your first or second try.

New Kitchen!

The word “kitchen” comes from the word “to ripen,” also the root of apricot, pumpkin, charcuterie, biscuit, and ricotta. Each of these words makes my mouth water. In staring down into what will likely be my last kitchen, I have room to maneuver and room to talk to whoever is across the counter.  But not so much room that I have to walk steps with a heavy pot or platter. Rather, my last kitchen allows me to pivot and spin. The “farm sink” is deep enough to hide dirty dishes. The sink came in a box the size of a small child. In fact, I could bathe a child in the sink, or wash the cat’s litter box or a thick sweater—or several of them. In that sink I could soak my largest roasting pan, stuff a turkey, wash a bushel of apples. Repot a peace lily or a miniature Meyer lemon tree. Defrost or fast-chill two gallons of Tuscan Bean soup. A big sink—originally I wanted two, this one and a smaller one nearer to the refrigerator but positioning the plumbing drain line was complicated and this kitchen is not, after all, that big.

Still: see the grey pottery bowl in the middle of the “continent”? I bought it more than ten years ago, and it dwarfed everything it sat on until now. And the Italian tiles above the sink? 35 years ago, I bought them framed from Baltimore’s Turnover shop, and now finally they are set into the backsplash. I love the induction range, but made a mistake with the wall oven (should have gotten a model with cafe doors). And the 41 cabinets? All full.

BEAT (Bacon, Egg, Arugula, Tomato) sandwich

The last bites of the best sandwich–on my own spelt-flaxseed sourdough bread. I’ve always thought the classic BLT was a bit protein-poor–the egg changes that. And what is mayonnaise but egg and fat? I put a thin smear of mayo on the toasted bread, then layered on an egg gently fried in bacon fat, sliced tomatoes, applewood smoked bacon , and arugula. Messy to eat but utterly delicious. You could, of course, not make it open face. Even though I love bread, I love bacon and tomatoes and arugula more, and this style gives me two eating opportunities.

B2 Cookies

Biscoff cookies offered by the airlines are irresistible: crunchy, sweet, spicy. But the ingredients are terrible: sugar, flour, oil. I set out to make a better cookie with better qualities of flavor and crunch. And due to the almonds, these cookies actually contain fair amount of vitamin B2; sesame seeds contain B6 and minerals. These are a variant of Flo Braker’s Pain d’Amandes, i.e. “crunchiest almond cookies” I posted a year ago, but better. (David Leibowitz has a version, too, with twice the sugar.) Hence, B2. These contain less sugar and more flavor, more protein (from the nuts and sesame seeds).

1/2 cup water

1 stick butter (salted or not, you’ll adjust for flavor)

150 grams Turbinado sugar (do not substitute any other kind)

250 grams all purpose flour whisked together with:

1 Tbs. cinnamon, 1 tsp. cardamon, 1/2 tsp. baking soda

8 ounces sliced raw almonds

100 grams hulled white sesame seeds

Boil the water with the butter. Take off heat and stir in turbinado sugar. Add 1/2 tsp sea salt if you have used unsalted butter. Stir in flour (that has been mixed with spices and baking soda). Transfer to a large bowl and stir in sliced almonds and sesame seeds.

Pack mixture into a loaf pan that you have lined with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours (or many days, if you like). It will be like fudge.

When you are ready to bake, preheat oven to 325. Remove dough from plastic and tin and slice thinly (1/8 inch–use a large, sharp knife) and place on cookie sheets. This recipe requires all three of my large cookie sheets on three oven racks. Bake for 10-12 minutes, then remove from oven and let cool until you can turn the cookies (I use a small angled spatula or my fingers). You will see the unmelted sugar crystals sparkle–these help make the cookies so crisp. Put the turned cookies back into the oven and bake another 10-12 minutes. They will become even more crisp as they cool, but are somewhat fragile until then. Mine stay tasty for weeks when kept airtight.

If you like to cook, I predict this method for making crisp cookies and crackers will inspire you. I’ve made many variations of crackers and cookies with different kinds of flour. Used fig jam and reduced the water and sugar. Added flax seeds. I’ve cut out the “sweet”spices and used more salt and savory spices. I’ve made a gluten-free version of the cookies with chestnut flour and even less sugar (100 grams for 50 cookies) because the flour is naturally sweet. Let me know what you discover?!

Almond Pancake for One

This is my new favorite protein-packed breakfast–in under ten minutes.

Combine 1/2 cup almond flour with a pinch each of stevia and salt and 1/4 tsp baking powder.

Mix one egg with 1/4 cup milk.

Combine (gently–don’t beat) the mixtures in a bowl.

Spoon the batter into a hot frying pan. I use clarified butter, but you can use oil, cooking spray, or no grease at all if you have a nonstick pan.

Cook for about five minutes on medium high heat, using a spatula to turn the pancake once the edges are firm and it has puffed a bit.

That’s it!

Serve with a drizzle of maple syrup and/or fruit or preserves. The combination of proteins gives this breakfast staying power. I promise you won’t be hungry again in a couple of hours. You can, of course, flavor the pancake–with citrus rind or essential oil, or almond or vanilla extract. I like it plain. Use any kind of milk, and know that the recipe is forgiving, so don’t stress on exact measurements.

Sugar-free Gluten-free Coconut Macaroons

A taste for sweets is acquired through exposure (just like a preference for spicy food) and thus can also be tamed, by gradually reducing how much sugar you ingest. I routinely cut the sugar in recipes, especially when I see that it is not needed for structure. For instance, a friend recently sent me an apple cake recipe cut from a magazine that called for a cup of sugar to 1.5 cups flour, plus only one egg and a stick of melted butter. It was leavened with baking soda, like a muffin recipe. Whoah! Why make an apple dessert and cloud it with that much sugar? Why not use the sugar for structure? I suggested he reduce the sugar to 1/2 cup, cream it with the soft butter, use 3 separated eggs (i.e. whip the egg whites for natural leavening), reduce the flour to 1 cup, and use baking powder instead of soda. This produced a more refined cake with better nutrition and flavor.

If you want to try reducing sugar in what you bake, look at similar recipes and see what the standard amount is in relation to the flour. You might notice that European recipes use less sugar. Often you can cut 20% and sometimes as much as 50% as in my example above. When the sugar is reduced, other flavors become more prominent.

Another way to reduce sugar calories is to substitute sugar alcohols such as erythritol and xylitol (a common sweetener in chewing gum because it does not cause tooth decay). Plant-derived sugar alcohols are much more expensive than sugar and they can cause bloating and diarrhea if consumed in excess, but they do not require insulin and thus do not spike your blood sugar. Their flavor is closer to sugar than the sweetening provided by stevia or monk fruit.

These macaroons would be appropriate for folks trying to reduce their sugar calories or counting carbohydrates (each macaroon has about 3 grams of carbs, from the coconut and the erythritol). They taste chewy and rich, and to my taste much better than commercial or other homemade macaroons which contain so much sugar. Other recipes use sweetened coconut and then add even more sugar in the form of sweetened condensed milk. These macaroons are naturally gluten-free.

I like the contrast between the bitter chocolate and the sweet coconut, but the topping is optional. The recipe makes about 25.

6 egg whites

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 to 3/4 cup powdered erythritol, depending on how sweet you like your sweets!

1/2 tsp. almond extract

1 tsp. vanilla extract

8 ounces unsweetened coconut flakes

1-2 ounces unsweetened chocolate

Beat the egg whites with salt until foamy, then add the erythritol and the extracts. Stir in the coconut flakes and let the mixture sit for 20-30 minutes to allow the coconut to be hydrated.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with parchment. Use a small ice cream scoop (or teaspoon) to make mounds on parchment. Bake in preheated oven 15-18 minutes or until lightly brown. Let cool.

If desired, temper 1-2 ounces unsweetened chocolate (melt, stir, and bring temperature to 110 degrees, then cool to 80 degrees) before drizzling on the macaroons.

Cauliflower Fennel Soup

I’ve only been cooking mostly vegetarian foods for about twelve years. I used to think that all stocks and soups are improved by long cooking–because, for instance, one must cook beef and chicken stock for many hours, until the bones release their flavor and meat falls off the bone. What I’ve learned about vegetable soups is that shorter cooking times are often better. For instance in this Cauliflower and Fennel soup. If you cook it too long, the cauliflower changes and becomes cabbage-y, not necessarily bad, but not as refined as when you cook the cauliflower only to tenderness. Note that you need a Vitamix or other high power blender for this soup. No one will believe it is vegan, because it seems creamy. I’ve stopped adding pepper because I like the pure taste of the vegetables. The soup freezes well. Makes about 7 quarts.

1/4 cup avocado or other neutral vegetable oil. Don’t use extra virgin olive oil in this soup; the high heat destroys its value.

2 medium yellow or white onions, peeled and chopped (I use the food processor)

2 heads of fennel (save the lacy fronds for garnish)

1 large head of cauliflower

water or light vegetable stock

salt (good salt is worth it in this recipe)

parsley (optional: if it’s growing outside, I add a handful.

Clean the fennel by slicing off any brown edges or the bottom and rinsing the heads. Save some of the fronds for a garnish. Chop the rest by hand or in a food processor.

Clean the cauliflower by cutting off any brown pieces and rinsing. You will use the whole thing, including the core and the leaves. This is an economical soup! Cut or break the head into pieces about 2 inches in size.

Heat the oil in a large heavy pot and add the chopped onions. Cook about 5 minutes. Then add the chopped fennel and cook another 5 minutes.

Add the chopped core and leaves of the cauliflower and 4 quarts of water or stock. Simmer another 5 minutes or so.

Finally add the cauliflower florets (and the parsley if you have it) and simmer until a knife pierces the florets easily, about 10 minutes.

Immediately blend the soup, first on low, then on high, in batches the size of your blender. Dump the blended soup into a 11 or 13 quart bowl or a stock pot. If you want to be fancy, you can put the bowl or pot in an ice bath. Once the entire soup has been blended, taste for salt. If you used water, you’ll want to add a couple of tablespoons of salt, but whisk them in one at a time and taste after each addition. If you are freezing some of the soup, you might like to delay adding more stock or water (to save freezer space), but the soup should not be thick! It should be the consistency of half and half.

When you are ready to serve the soup, reheat it gently (don’t boil it too long), possibly with more liquid if it is too thick. Garnish with a swirl of cream or extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of minced fennel fronds or chopped parsley or chives.

Double Chocolate Double Crunch No Bake Tart

I wanted a dessert I could make well ahead of a dinner, and also one that featured both white and dark chocolate, plus hazelnuts. The results of my brainstorm are a tart shell that remains stable at room temperature for more than a month, and once filled, a tart that can be refrigerated for up to three weeks. The shell is candy like, the filling is a simple ganache which could no doubt be gussied up with liqueur or other flavoring or decorated with raspberries or strawberries. I’m going to give you a range for the crust ingredients because you might want to make tartlets or cookies with the extra and you might like a thicker crust or your pan might be 9 or 10 inches in diameter. One issue I had when cutting the tart (8″ serves 12) is that when the crust is thinner (as in photo above) the side can break off. This didn’t happen all the time, but it did happen, and I haven’t figured out how to fix it other than making a thicker crust which to me is not as aesthetically appealing. (Update: the last time I made this I put the crust only on the bottom of the springform pan, using 2 ounces each of chopped hazelnuts and crisp rice, plus 5 ounces of white chocolate. I expect to be able to run a knife around the perimeter of the springform to release the tart–which is really more like candy. You can pick up a piece like a bon-bon.)

For the crust, coarsely chop 8-10 ounces of toasted, (preferably skinned), hazelnuts and combine with 2-4 ounces of crisp rice cereal. I used Trader Joe’s rice cereal, and I wanted a slightly more salty crust, so I added a few grinds of sea salt. Melt 8-10 ounces of good quality white chocolate (made with cocoa butter) and stir in the nuts and rice crisp. See the first photo.

Press the sticky mixture into a straight-sided springform or tart pan (8″-10″ again, I’m giving you a range) that you have not only greased but also lined the bottom with greased parchment. Use a glass to very firmly press the mixture against the sides and to the bottom of the pan. You have about 25 minutes before the chocolate hardens. This is sticky work, so grease your fingers and be patient.

For the filling, I use a 50/50 ganache of half 72% bittersweet chocolate and half heavy cream. I heat the cream and chopped chocolate in a microwave for one minute, then stir (and perhaps heat again for 15 second intervals) until smooth and well combined. 8-10 ounces of chocolate and cream will fill an 8-10 inch tart shell. Chill the tart before unmolding so that it is firm and easier to handle.

Once the tart is filled it needs to be refrigerated for longer storage, but it’s also fine held at room temperature for 4-6 hours. I think it tastes better when it’s not so cold. I think it could also be frozen, but the components are so stable and easy to make ahead, you don’t need this extra step. Total work time is less than 20 minutes!