Chard, Chickpea and Carrot Salad-y Side Dish

by Caroline

I got the idea for this dish from Yottam Ottolenghi’s gorgeous new cookbook, Plenty, but I really only had the three key ingredients: chard, carrots, and chickpeas. Ottolenghi adds coriander seeds, mint and other herbs that probably make the dish extra-specially delicious, but really, it’s fine the way I did it, too. Is it a warm salad? A side dish? It’s up to you.

3/4 lb (that translated into two bunches) Swiss chard
1/4 cup olive oil
4 medium carrots, peeled and diced
15 ounce can chickpeas
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice, or the juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup greek yogurt

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.

Separate the chard leaves and stalks. Blanch the stalks in boiling water for 3
minutes, then add the leaves and continue cooking for 2 more minutes. Drain well (squeezing to get the water out), then chop.

Heat the oil in a large saute pan, then add the carrots and saute for 5 minutes, then add the chard and chickpeas. Cook another couple minutes, just to heat through, then add the garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and serve with the yogurt.

Roasted Squash & Black Rice Salad

by Caroline

Suddenly after a pretty mild, dry winter it has turned cold here in San Francisco and all I’ve wanted to eat are hearty salads and soups. I spotted this in Sunset, my go-to magazine for new recipes, and while I didn’t have all the ingredients (pomegranates are out of season) I had enough — and added a few more (like dried cherries, which I’m adding to everything lately) — to make a great lunch for several days.

I’ve linked to the original, and am posting the recipe here as I adapted it:

2/3 cup black rice
1 pound butternut squash
4-5 scallions
1/2 teaspoon sweet smoked Spanish paprika
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped, or pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup dried cranberries or dried cherries
Juice of half a lemon
Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375°.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the rice, adjust heat to maintain a simmer, and cook until rice is tender, about 30 minutes. Drain and rinse with cool water, then drain well again before tossing into a serving bowl.

Peel and seed the squash and cut into 1-in. cubes. Toss the squash with paprika, salt, and oil. Spread on a baking sheet in a single layer and roast, stirring occasionally, until browned and tender, about 30 minutes. Put the squash in the bowl with the rice and use the baking pan to roast the scallions for 5-6 minutes, until nicely browned and wilted. Let cool, then chop into bite-sized pieces and add to the growing salad in your bowl. Squeeze half a lemon into the bowl and toss.

Spread the walnuts or pumpkin seeds on the baking sheet and toast until fragrant (6 to 8 minutes), stirring once, then add to the salad along with the dried cherries or cranberries. Toss and serve.

The Boys’ Granola

by Caroline

For years, I was unwavering in my granola routine. I started with the recipe in Nigella Lawson’s Feast and while over the years I abandoned certain ingredients (the applesauce, the ginger) and eventually all measurements, the granola still remained essentially Nigella’s recipe and my daily breakfast.

But then there was that new granola I started to make, which renewed the boys’ interest in (and taste for) granola. Except Ben was picking out the pumpkin seeds and Eli was picking out the pistachios. So I invited them to make their own.

A lot of this granola-making exercise for kids is simply teaching them about the process: assembling the ingredients; learning how to open bags of nuts and seeds so they don’t explode all over the kitchen; remembering to finish measuring the dry ingredients before measuring the sticky liquid ingredients; getting comfortable with leaning a little ways into the hot oven to stir the pan of baking granola; cleaning up afterwards (the first time the boys did this, I had to leave the room while they cleaned because they are simultaneously so deliberate and ineffective).

But the more exciting part of this, clearly, is cooking something to their own tastes, and I love giving the boys that opportunity. Ben’s granola is a bit sweeter than I like, and Eli’s a little paler (he always eats a bowl unbaked). But they are making granola. We eat it every morning. The last time they made a batch (our third time in what they’ve now dubbed GranoLab) was the most pleasant half hour I’ve had in the kitchen with my children in a long time.

Ben has updated his recipe twice since I first drafted it here on the blog and continues to tinker with it every time, measuring carefully. Eli, like me, just eyeballs the ingredients. Either way, the method is the same: combine the dry ingredients, stir in the liquid ingredients, spread into a baking pan and bake at 325 for 20-50 minutes, stirring occasionally, until toasted brown to taste.

Ben’s Recipe

1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/3 cup maple syrup
3 cups oats
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons sesame sends
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons wheat germ
1/2 cup pine nuts

Eli’s Granola

3 cups oats
a sprinkle of sesame seeds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup sunflower seeds

Brown sugar
Rice syrup
Vegetable oil

The Cupcake Super Bowl

by Caroline

The other day when I picked Eli up from school, he grabbed my hand and started to pull me back inside to the lunchroom.

“C’mon, Mama! We need to get a recipe from Chef Ric!”
“What recipe?”
“Wacky cake!”
“Wacky cake? Is that like our crazy cake?”
“I don’t know. I just know it’s a good chocolate cake.”

So we found Chef Ric and we compared notes. Indeed, his wacky cake is just like our crazy cake (or your cockeyed cake, or 6-minute cake), except he uses apple cider vinegar and I use raspberry. I’ve always imagined that the raspberry vinegar gives the cake a little fruit note in the background, perhaps deepens the chocolate flavor a bit, but suddenly talking to our school chef I wasn’t so sure. Does it really make a difference, or is it all in my head? Tonight, with no particular investment in football’s Super Bowl, Eli and I decided to test the theory by making three different crazy cake batters: one with plain white vinegar, one with apple cider vinegar, and the last with raspberry vinegar.

we labelled the batters according to each type of vinegar

I gave Tony and the boys coded servings of each cake

they took careful tasting notes

we tallied the results; the sheet with the red dots is the key to my code

Tony then served me my own coded cupcakes and the results from our limited sample are pretty decisive: the vinegar doesn’t matter. The kids and I each identified only one vinegar correctly and Tony didn’t even get one. The vinegar Eli and I got right (apple cider) was also our least favorite, so we won’t use that again. But given that white vinegar is less than a quarter of the price of raspberry vinegar, from now on, I’ll save it for salad dressings and other places I can really taste it.

Now, I’m really not a Cooks Illustrated, recipe-testing kind of cook. I am fairly imprecise in my baking, I measure casually, and I am always tinkering with recipes. But I do love a cooking project inspired by my children, and I love it when the cooking includes a bit of science. It was a nice change to be more careful baking these cakes so that each one would differ only in its vinegar, and fun to think about how best to keep track of which was which. But Eli definitely summed up the experiment best: “The thing I like about it is you get three cupcakes.” No argument here.

Edited to add: we shared some sample cupcakes with Chef Ric and his kitchen staff and (drumroll) we are impressed — but not surprised — to report he identified the three vinegars correctly!

Roast Squash and Kale Salad with Cheddar and Almonds

by Caroline

I spotted this salad on the terrific Food52 blog and had to try it. I am not yet tired of kale salad in all its variations, and this one wisely adds cheese. I’ve linked to the original recipe so that you can see some specific amounts, but this is how I did it:

For 4-6 servings
one small kabocha squash
one bunch of kale
2-3 handfuls of chopped almonds
4-6 ounces of sharp cheddar (I used a caramelized onion cheddar I find at Trader Joe’s)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 425.

Peel and seed the squash, cut it into bite-sized cubes, and toss with some olive oil. Roast for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender and brown around the edges.

While the squash is roasting, strip the kale from its stems and slice the leaves into very thin ribbons. It’s easiest to do this by stacking up a pile of leaves, rolling them into a cylinder, and then cutting across the rolled-up leaves. Toss the leaves into a large bowl and squeeze the lemon juice over the leaves; I used a whole lemon.

When the squash is done, add that to the bowl of kale, and toss with the almonds, cheese, and a generous drizzle of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

If you’re pressed for time, you can heap a couple spoonfuls of salad onto a slice of bread, smashing the squash and cheese, and make a fine bruschetta to take on the road: