The JP Special

Life itself is the proper binge.
Lunch. With some parsnips in there for good measure, then, mixed with torn kale and an extra squeeze of lemon juice. 

Lunch. With some parsnips in there for good measure, then, mixed with torn kale and an extra squeeze of lemon juice. 

A Tale of 2 Pizzas

Pizza making is one of those endeavors that once you get it down, is so easy and delicious to do at home, you are reluctant to ever order out again.

Don’t get me wrong.  Between Zio’s, and Santucci’s, and Rustica, we have got some dang fine shops in Philly that will bring it to your door and sometimes that is just the thing. Like after your third 12-hour day in a row, for example.

However… I’m finding that more and more often, I just turn to making my own. Making one’s own pies is more economical, it’s fun, and it’s a good way to use up bits in the fridge.*

I have my favorite pie toppings, but on this night, we decided on 2 very differently topped versions. 

Version 1:  Tomato pie with garlic, olive oil, red pepper flake, and fresh oregano.  A Philadelphia classic.

Version 2:  Here I’ve riffed off of one of Pizzeria Stella's pies or so I read.  I haven't eaten this one there; indeed I haven't been there since 2 weeks after they opened and…well… if I'm going for fancier pizza, I'll choose Zavino every time. 

Anyway, I’d read about Stella’s fontina, red onion, pistachio pie with rosemary which sounded heavenly and thus:

The only recipe that matters is the dough.  I journey to the Italian Market for Tipo 00 flour, though you can easily order Caputo brand online.  It’s expensive compared with other white flours, but worth it.  The first time I baked up dough with it, I couldn’t believe the difference.  Tender, crusty, chewy with lots of flavor.

Follow the dough-making instructions here.  I do weigh everything in grams, and I do portion the dough out.  One can only make pies so big in one’s apartment oven anyway, so go for 3 rounds. Plus, then you can make a couple of kinds of pies at a time.  Extra dough holds well in the fridge for about 3 days, and freezes nicely too.  If you want pizza on a weeknight, make the dough on a Sunday when you have several hours.  Then, let the dough come up to room temp while you warm up your oven for about an hour to hour and a half.  Then just go for it. 

General pizza baking tips:

1. Crank your oven as hot as it will go and be sure to preheat your baking stone with it.  I preheat for about 45 minutes- don’t be shy about getting it really hot.

2.  Use your hands to stretch your dough.  No rolling pins.  If the dough starts to spring back at you, set it down, walk away for 3 minutes, then resume stretching.  Go for thin crust.

3.  Dress your stretched pizza dough on a cornmeal-dusted peel, slide it in, baking 7-9 minutes or till the crust is golden and the bottom crispy.

4.  Transfer finished pizza to cooling racks to avoid soggy pie!  And let the poor thing set up for 5 or 10 minutes before diving in, lest your toppings slide all over the place.

5.  Serve up with chopped salad, a crisp pils or a nice barbera wine.  Then, do it all again 2 weeks later.

* A few thoughts on wintertime toppings— thinly sliced yukon gold potatoes with rosemary and pecorino, caramelized onions with sauteed spinach, olives and feta, roasted winter squash, goat cheese, romesco sauce and parsley, or mixed roasted mushrooms with lots of woody herbs, fontina, and truffle oil.

A Better Salad

Morocco, and indeed other parts of North Africa are on my to-do list for life, though I have yet to travel to that part of the world. The closest I ever got to proper couscous was a journey to Paris several years ago.  Then, I tried to do something similar at home

The dish that follows is even less like the delicious stew I had at Omar’s but no matter.  It’s fast, healthy, economical, and a wonderfully warming dish for winter.  And so much of what I needed was already in the pantry. I’d happened to have cooked up chickpeas a few days before putting this together, accessed a growing number of dried fruits that ordinarily end up in oatmeal, and even managed to have tomatoes on hand.

I paired an easy chickpea and date tagine, courtesy Vegetarian Times, with a light and tangy salad featuring a bed of sweet butter lettuce, and studded with chopped dried apricots, thinly shaved carrots, toasted almonds, green olives, cilantro, and a lemony harissa dressing.  

The tagine was great over whole wheat couscous— and it held up beautifully in the fridge.  But I have to say, it was the salad that I loved most. 

Tagine Night Salad

Serves 2


4 c. tender salad leaves, like butterhead, green leaf or red leaf lettuce

2 small or 1 large carrot, washed, peeled, and shaved into long strands with vegetable peeler, then chopped into 2” segments

4 dried apricots, slivered

4 large green olives, pitted and quartered lengthwise

2-3 Tbsp. toasted slivered almonds

a few sprigs of cilantro


2 teas. harissa

1 garlic clove, chopped and smashed into paste

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1-2 Tbsp. lemon juice

1/2 teas. honey

1/2 teas. salt

Whisk all dressing ingredients together.  Layer plates with first 4 salad components  Drizzle each with 1 Tbsp (or more to taste) of dressing, then finish with almonds and cilantro.  Extra dressing can be enjoyed on any green, finished steam veg, or as a tofu marinade.

Favorite Book of 2011

One of my resolutions for 2011 was to get to the library at least once per month.  I probably averaged that over the past 12 months, and have read some amazing books, old and new.  Perhaps the best part of having books due, and books on hold, and just so many waiting for me in general, is the way the library has forced to me to take lunch.  I usually just eat at my desk, never breaking away, just going going going.  Well, the Rittenhouse branch of the nation’s oldest library system is a 10 minute walk from the office, and my resolution to read more and to really better support an amazing public service, inadvertently made many work days brighter by bringing me extra fresh air, sun (and sometimes rain), people watching, window shopping, and daydreaming.

My favorite book of the year, however, was the one my sister pre-ordered for me for my birthday last April.  I have made no less than half of the recipes already in Super Natural Every Day

And as much as I love SNE, 101 continues to rock out great ideas, recipes, and stories.  Case in point— this simple red lentil soup.  Thrifty, packed with nutrition, delicious.  My one alteration involved giving the soup a tiny dash of asafoetida.

Served with Heidi’s avocados with mustard seeds, found in SNE. I am grateful for the inspiration her writing and cooking gives me each week.  Which may sound silly to some, but sometimes the little lifts that accumulate over time do a world of good for one’s mental and physical health.

Happy New Year.  May yours be filled with good health, good cooking, and good adventures.

Tacos de Invierno: Hongos y Patatas en Adobo

Tacos!  My go-to when there are odds and ends of veggies and other tasty things in the fridge.  In the case of tonight, I had a pint of cremini mushrooms on hand, leftover steamed fingerling potatoes, avocados, and feta.  Try to choose whole corn tortillas free from preservatives and additives.  Good corn tortillas’ ingredients include ground corn, water, traces of lime, and nothing else.

Any kind of vegetable— winter squash, sweet potato, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots— could be roasted for these tacos, just like any kind of fresh cheese would be appropriate— feta, ricotta salata, queso fresco, cotija, chevre.  Further, any toppings will do but I always work to go for a variety of textures, flavors, and I try to boost my greens where I can.  Plus, tacos are prettier with many colors tucked away inside.

Winter Tacos with Mushrooms, Potatoes in Adobo

Serves 2

1 pint cremini mushrooms, stems trimmed but not removed, and for small mushrooms, quartered, for larger mushrooms, chopped into 6-8 chunks

2 medium or 4 fingerling potatoes, steamed to cook, slices into 1/2” coins

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil

2 teas adobo sauce from chipotle packed in adobo (for lots of heat, chop up a pepper too)

1/2 teas honey

1/4 teas salt

1/4 teas pepper

6 small corn tortillas stacked and wrapped in aluminum foil


2 cups slivered baby spinach

1 avocado, smashed up with lemon juice, salt and pepper

1 oz feta, crumbled

cilantro leaves

hot sauce

Make it:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Place mushrooms and potatoes into a large bowl.  In a small bowl, whisk together adobo sauce, oil, garlic, honey, salt and pepper.  Pour adobo glaze over vegetables and toss gently to coat.  Spread vegetables out into even layer on sheet pan and roast in the oven 15-20 minutes until vegetables browned and tender.  Toss once halfway through to ensure even browning.  During last 5 minutes of cooking time, place tortillas in oven to warm through.

Assemble:  Layer tortillas with spinach first, then top with warm mushroom-potato mixture, then avocado, cilantro, feta, and hot sauce.   Serve immediately.

Season’s Greetings

There are no shortage of mushroom stews, bourguignons (this one is excellent), and soups in this world.  But the one below is something extra special.  Maybe it’s the dried porcini and in my adaptation, making and using my own mushroom stock.  Maybe it’s the acidic tomatoes.  Or maybe it’s because it was made for me by a good friend on a cold winter’s night in DC when there was nothing more my soul needed.

Note: The recipe below is exactly as my friend Melissa makes it.  Not soaking dried mushrooms made me nervous, so I took the opportunity to soak them in 4 cups of hot water, then drained and chopped them up.  I used the mushroom soaking liquid to make a quick veggie broth, along with some bouillon.  I also chose to use cremini mushrooms.  Final note, egg noodles would have been wonderful, but at the time, I only had some orzo in my cabinet for serving and it worked out just fine.

Make this for friends and loved ones this winter, after they’ve had a long journey or as a vegetarian holiday main.  It is a winner.

Hearty Mushroom Stew (aka Melly Stew)

1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp  butter (unsalted)
1.5 pounds white mushrooms, stems removed
coarse salt
black pepper
3 stalks celery, cut crosswise into 1/2 inch pieces
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 large spanish onion, peeled and cut into 8 wedges
1 cup dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed and crumbled
2 Tbsp all-purpose floor
1.5 cups red wine
2 quarts reduced sodium veggie broth
5 canned italian plum tomatoes, drained of excess juice and crushed by hand
5 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
2 tbl chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
egg noodles or patina — optional

1. In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tbl of the butter over high heat. Add the white mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook until well browned, or even slightly charred, about 5 mins per side. Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl using tongs or a slotted spoon and set aside. 

2. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tbl butter to the pot and melt the butter over medium high heat. Add the celery, carrots, onion, and porcini, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until softened and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Sprinkle with flour over the vegetables and stir for 2 to 3 minutes, to coat them well. It’s okay if the flour browns a bit. 

3. Add the red wine and bring to a boil, stirring to scrape up any bits of mushroom or flour stuck to the bottom of the pot. Cook until the wine has almost evaporated, about 4 minutes. 

4. Add the broth, tomatoes, thyme, and bay leaves and stir. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Bring the liquid to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the the vegetables are softened but still hold their shape, about 35 minutes.

5. Return the mushrooms to the pot along with any liquid they have given off while resting. Bring to a boil over high heat, and boil for 8 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the stew rest, uncovered, for 30 minutes. If not serving immediately, let cool, cover, and refrigerate for a few days or freeze up to 1 month. 

6. To serve, gently reheat the stew. Stir in the parsley. remove and discard the bay leaves and thyme sprigs, and ladle some stew into bowl(s). 

To make the stew into an even more substantial main course, add preecooked and cooled egg noodles or pastina. One quarter pound pasta will be plenty when cooked.

A Pretty Table

I intended to post this adaptation of Ina Garten’s cauliflower gratin when I made it nearly two months ago.  But as it goes, time got away from me.  Then, I found this photo:

And it got me thinking about how much I needed to slow down, to stage the day, to take it in, to feel gratitude, to set the table and breathe. 

My adaptation to this recipe was simply to swap out half of the cauliflower for winter squash.  I employed half of a large Hokkaido variety that was gorgeous in color, flavor, and texture. I also used sauteed leeks in the sauce.  The silky sweet squash played beautifully off the toothy, funky cauliflower and seemed to make it this gratin more entree than side.  So that’s how I served it, along side a raw kale salad and some toasted no-knead rye bread.  The flowers were a cheer-up gift.  It’d had been, and continues to be, a pretty trying time.

So, here’s to slowing down and to making the time to break bread with family, friends, and any other loved ones on a regular basis.  It really is the only way.

The McDermott Apple Cake

I come from a long line of cooks who don’t rely on recipes- they just DO.  While it has its moments of being frustrating— “No really, Mom, how much milk in your creamed onions?  Wait, how many pounds of onions?”— it’s become a fact that I find encouraging and familiar, as more and more I rely less on recipes and more on instinct.  And on skills.  On the basic tenets of cooking and the formulas of baking. 

Thankfully, though, this particular gem is in writing.  My grandmother’s apple cake that follows is barely cake, to tell you the truth.  Indeed I think that’s why I love it so.  It’s loads of apples, just barely held together with the moistest, most tender and tenderly-spiced crumb that is as good for dessert with whipped cream as it is for breakfast with stovetop espresso.

A few notes: 

1.  Any apples will do, but I like a mix of tart and sweet apples. I made this cake with Empires, Fujis, and Jonathans I picked in Chester County (in a Where’s Waldo moment, I must ask, can you find me in that photo? Me neither.). Go for balance here, and mix up your apples, but be sure no matter their flavor that it’s a firm, crisp apple.  Softer varieties like McIntosh just don’t hold up to the long baking time.

2.  You can swap out whole wheat or whole grain pastry flour for the white flour.  This particular cake was for a celebration, so I went with tender white flour. 

3.  Finally, I almost always make a double recipe, which is what is written here.  If you need or want less for whatever ridiculous reason, just halve all ingredients, use a 8” x 8” square pan, and reduce baking time by about 10-15 minutes.

My Nan’s Apple Cake

Serves 16, or more or less, depending on your willingness to share

6 medium-sized apples, peeled, cored and diced into 1/2” chunks

1/2 lb. butter, softened to room temperature

1 1/2 c. sugar

2 large eggs

1 teas. vanilla extract

2 c. all-purpose flour

1 teas. baking soda

1 teas. baking powder

1 teas. cinnamon

1/4 teas. salt

Bake it:

Preheat oven with rack in bottom third of oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour 9” x 13” x 2” rectangular baking pan.

In medium-sized bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients.

In separate large bowl or mixing bowl, cream together butter with sugar till mixture is light and fluffy.  Add and beat in eggs one at a time, scraping down the mixing bowl thoroughly in between egg additions.  Beat in vanilla.  On low speed, beat in dry ingredients in 3 parts, thoroughly scraping down mixing bowl between additions.  Be sure not to overmix batter— just mix till combined.  On lowest speed setting on mixer, or by hand, fold in apples till evenly distributed in batter. 

Tip cake batter into baking pan and use spatula to spread evenly, as the batter will be chunky and thick.  Bake 50-60 minutes, or until cake just starts to pull away from sides of pan, and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. 

Cool on rack and serve warm or at room temperature.

We miss you, El.

Simple Celeriac Soup with Lemon & Gruyere

Winter weather has begun to settle into Philly.  I can’t help but love it.  I’d rather wear long running tights, hat and gloves, than try to escape unrelenting 100 degree summer days by running at strange hours and still feeling miserably overheated.  Crisp air!  Wood smoke!  The Delaware gone icy!  Festive city streets!

Soups like the one below are meant to be the kind for quick, warming nourishment. Bringing together a handful of ingredients in about 45 minutes, this makes a great weeknight supper or weekend lunch, the latter of which I chose amidst a busy morning of chores and outdoor scooter repairs.  Moreover, I always appreciate a creamy soup that doesn’t actually employ cream.  While cream-free silky soups are often accomplished with multiple passes through a sieve, in this case, just really cook down the vegetables so they whirl right up into a smooth puree. 

Prep tips: To prepare celeriac, simply trim both ends so that you have a flat surface on which to place the root.  On the knobby, gnarled side, using a sharp paring knife, simply cut away the worst of the knobs.  Trim off, scrape out, and cut away all woody areas that may be fibrous and/or harboring dirt.  Then remove the rest of the skin by placing the root trimmed side down, and paring away the skin from the top down, in sections, moving strips in the direction of your cutting board. Give the trimmed celeriac a rinse under water to remove any grit, pat dry and chop. To make this soup vegan, omit butter and Gruyere- there’s plenty of flavor left to go around.

Simple Celeriac Soup with Lemon & Gruyere

Serves 4

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp butter

2 shallots, finely chopped

1 large celery root (about 1 to 1 1/2 lb), trimmed and cut into 1/4” dice

2 small potatoes (about 1/2 lb), peeled and cut into 1/4” dice

4 cups light vegetable broth (I used one Rapunzel bouillon with 4 c. water, but low-sodium broth cut in half with water works)— make sure it’s light or you’ll overwhelm the celeriac flavor

1 1/2 teas. fresh thyme, chopped, divided

2 Tbsp lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 c. finely grated Gruyere

Make it:

Set large pot over medium-low heat and add butter and oil.  Allow to heat and turn around the pan to coat.  Add shallots, celery root, potato, and small pinch of salt to the pot and stir to soften about 7-8 minutes.  Be careful not to let brown or stick, so stir, and if necessary, lower heat.  Add stock, pinch of black pepper, and 1 teaspoon of the chopped thyme, stir, and bring to a simmer.  Cover pot, simmer 30 minutes, until celeriac and potatoes are very tender.  Remove from heat and puree with immersion blender.  Stir in lemon juice, then adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.  Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with Gruyere and remaining fresh thyme.  I also sprinkled a bit of this on, to really bring the celery flavors home. 

On the virtues of the sunchoke.

Every December it begins.  The rather sad end of the bounty.  I end up feeling torn over my dedication to eating as much healthy, sustainably, locally grown and produced foods as I can, while allowing myself to…. mix it up.  I’m not uber-dogmatic about my food, though I do the best I can because it tastes better, is better for me and my region, and really, what kind of foot soldier would I be if I didn’t practice what I preach?

Case in point.  I love apples.  LOVE.  Gold Rush and Ida Red’s especially.  And pears, and Asian pears and cranberries.  But I also love Florida grapefruit.  I have been known to eat one per day over the winter, for as long as they are worth eating.  I figure, the body wants what it wants.  It’s a philosophy that’s worked for me for an awfully long time.

So it goes that sunchokes were available locally, for the tiniest window of time and were offered at a price much, much higher than usual thanks to an incredibly rainy summer and fall.  I missed the window, I closed my wallet.  I ended up buying a pound of Canadian sunchokes at Whole Foods a week later. Guilt ensued.  Then it faded.

So this recipe is not so much of the local as usual.  Rather it ended up being a “ahhh, so I bought those knobby little buggers, what to DO with them?” 

But let’s back up a sec. Sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes) you say?  What are those? Well first, they’re heaven.  After that, they are a root vegetable that when cooked are soft, silky, with a tender but much less starchy consistency of potatoes.  There’s an artichoke-like flavor buried under there, but really, they’re just delightful roasted, steamed and mashed, sauteed with other veg.  However, these lovelies alone do not a dinner make.

Hello, half bag of frozen chopped spinach that had been in the freezer for(ever) several months!  And hello wild rice blend l serendipitously picked up this past weekend!  Languish no longer!

You could swap out spinach for any kind of cooking green and it’d be tasty.  And while I use shallots, onions would work, as would any rice, though I do love a good wild rice blend for flavor and texture reasons.  The sweetness of the chokes with the savory rice is a wintery treat that comes together in no time at all.

And so it was: 

Creamy Spinach and Wild Rice with Roasted Sunchokes

Serves 4

1 lb. sunchokes, peeled or not (up to you!), and sliced into about 1/2” rounds

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp butter

2 shallots, finely chopped

1 c. wild rice blend

1 c. water

1 c. vegetable stock

about 6-7 oz. frozen chopped spinach, or, 4-5 cups chopped fresh

1/2 c. heavy cream (or light cream, half & half, or whole milk; I had to use up leftover cream from Thanksgiving, which was really the right thing to do here)

pinch freshly grated nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

1 Tbsp. chopped parsley (optional)

Roast the sunchokes:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss sunchoke slices with drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of salt.  Roast 30 minutes, tossing every so often, till pieces are browned and fragrant.

Cook the rice:

While the ‘chokes roast, get rolling on the rice.  Heat large saucepan or deep saute pan over low-medium heat.  Add fats and allow to melt and tilt to coat pan.  Once butter and oil and hot, add shallots and stir till softened, about 5-6 minutes.  Stir in rice to coat and toast in pan about 5 minutes.  Stir in the water and stock and cover to simmer.  Simmer on low heat about 30 minutes, or until nearly all of the water is absorbed, and the rice is tender.  Remove lid, stir in spinach, cream, and nutmeg.  Heat to warm through, season to taste with salt and pepper.  To serve, heap rice into bowl, top with sunchokes, and sprinkle with parsley.  Or, sprinkle with something extra special like truffle salt, extra olive oil, or other herbs you may prefer.

And of course, you can gild that lily and/or get more serious protein going should it strike your fancy.  Say it with me now:  Put an egg on it!